“A Lot Less In-fighting”

Posted by jlubans on June 13, 2019

Caption: Kurt Lewin, (1890—1947) German-American behavioralist.

A perennial question: What is the best way to lead a workplace?
Over 75 years ago, Kurt Lewin responded with some preliminary answers on which leadership style - democratic, autocratic (aggressive or passive) or laissez-faire – was most effective.
A recent WSJ video gives us a real world peek
at personal leadership styles among recent White House Chiefs of Staff (COS).
Given the fervid reporting (largely negative) on matters Trump, a COS must be ready to “suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” from all sides. I suspect this sort of nervy exposure adds clarity to how each COS goes about doing the job.
The current COS, Mick Mulvaney, appears to favor, the democratic model under which staff have some flexibility and responsibility commensurate with their jobs. He says his way of leading is a middle ground between the autocratic and the laissez-faire, neither heavy handed or hands off.
The autocratic COS was retired four-star Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly. Mr. Trump appointed him presumably in an attempt to impose order and discipline following a chaotic first several months of taking office.
Taking over from a laissez-faire COS the General decided what to do and when to do it, all under his close supervision. He turned what might be termed a freewheeling cowpunchers’ bunkhouse into a “militaristic Marine camp”.
Mr. Trump’s first COS, was the laissez-faire former Republican National Committee Chairman, Reince Priebus.
His, as implied above, was a “wild, wild west” style, obviously with minimal supervision.
As we know from Lewin’s experiment these three types of leaders produce different results:
Individual expression was pronounced in democracy and negligible under autocracy. Lewin and his researchers concluded something all of us have observed in rigid hierarchies: “Autocracy kills individuality.”
Time on work: It should be noted that when the autocratic leader supervises, “the work proceeds as intensely as in the democratic. But, the product frequently shows a poorer quality.”
The lower quality of what is produced and that the work disintegrates when the autocratic boss is away suggests that the democratic way may well be more productive. Similarly, Lewin’s laissez-faire boss was pretty much “absent” and had the least production and lowest quality.
As one might suspect, infighting – flying elbows - was most pronounced under the laissez-faire and the autocratic models. Lewin found that aggressiveness and egocentric behavior was highest under an aggressive autocrat leader.
“Friendliness and we-feeling” was highest under the democratic leader.
Now, according to Mulvaney, “there is a lot less in-fighting.”
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And, My 2010 book, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright John Lubans 2019

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