i387c managing information services and organizations





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Module 4. Unit 2: Understanding Leaders and Leadership

The wise leader is like water. Consider water: water cleanses and refreshes all creatures without distinction and without judgment; water freely fearlessly goes deep beneath the surface of things; water is fluid and responsive; water follows the law freely. Consider the leader; the leader works in any setting without complaint, with any person or issue that comes on the floor; the leader acts so that all will benefit and serves well regardless of the rate of pay; the leader speaks simply and honestly and intervenes in order to shed light and create harmony. From watching the movements of water, the leader has learned that in action, timing is everything. Like water, the leader is yielding. Because the leader does not push, the group does not resent or resist. (Heider, 1985).


This unit is designed to:

  1. Develop an understanding of the theories of leadership and how they may be applicable to you as a manager or employee.
  2. Understand the differences between management and leadership, and how they overlap.
  3. Develop insights into your own strengths and weaknesses in relation to your management style and prepare a plan for self-development.


The study of leadership goes back to ancient times, and the qualities that we associate with leadership today, (such as self-confidence, visionary, communications skills, etc.) were not as highly regarded. For example, the Greeks included "shrewdness and cunning" high in their list of desirable qualities. In most circles today, these traits are not highly regarded. Early theorists tried to identify different types of leadership, and to relate them to the functional demands of society. In addition, they sought to account for the emergence of leadership either by examining the qualities of the leader or the elements of the situation.

Defining Leadership

Early definitions viewed the leader as a focus of group change, activity and process or as L. L. Bernard (1927) put it, "Leaders are influenced by the needs and wishes of the group members. In turn, they focus the attention and release the energies of group members in a desired direction." Munsun (1921) called it "the ability to handle men so as to achieve the most with the least friction and the greatest cooperation." Bundel (1930) said, "The art of inducing others to do what one wants them to do." These theorists tended to regard leadership as unidirectional, and an instrument for molding the group to the leader's will. Machiavelli's The Prince is a good example of this approach. Bass, whose Handbook of Leadership: Theory, Research, and Managerial Applications (Bass and Stogdill's, NY: Free Press, 1990) says "we cannot ignore the fact that much leadership authoritarian, directive, and even coercive. Its effects are seen in public compliance, but not necessarily in private acceptance."

In this last statement we find a great deal of food for thought because we have come to understand that unless the group, or individuals in the group find the goal desirable, they may comply at first but later find ways to subvert the goal. Thus, our perception of how leadership works has evolved into understanding that persuasion and even inspiration are more powerful tools than direct or even implied threats of coercion.

The whole concept of leadership is intertwined with the concept of power, and how it is used. People have power for a number of reasons including the following:

  1. Holding a particular position (being appointed "Director" or "Supervisor")
  2. Exhibiting expert knowledge (which may exceed the knowledge of other members of the group
  3. Being able to reward or punish
  4. Owning referent power (given by the group because they like and respect the person "in power" or may be given to a member of the group who is not the formal leader.)

Power is very potent. A key task for the administrator is to learn to use it wisely, and as your text notes "each leader must, through actions, appearance and articulated values, present a model that others will want to emulate" (cited in your text, p. 287 from Maccoby, The Leader. NY: Simon, 1984, p. 14.)

A newer concept of leadership is the idea that "different members of a group make different contributions to goal achievement, and insofar as any member of the group contribution are particularly indispensable, they may be regarded as leader-like (Newcomb, Turner, and Converse, 1965, cited in Bass and Stogdill, 1990.) This concept of role and leadership as something that several members of a group can participate in is well supported by research findings (Bass and Stogdill, 1990).

Following is a brief summary of the major theories relating to leadership:

  1. Great "man" - heroes and leaders are born, not made.
  2. Luck theory - developed by 18th century rationalists which simply takes the position that one has to be in the right place at the right time to take advantage of unique opportunities. They cited many leaders in history who were able to do this (all male, of course; women were ignored in those days.)
  3. Some theorists have said that the situation is not in itself sufficient to account for leadership. How many crisis situations arise that do not produce a person equal to the occasion?

About the only theory that is somewhat in disrepute these days is that of the "great man." Most people would tend to agree with Warren Bennis who said, "Leadership seems to be the marshaling of skills possessed by a majority, but used by a minority. But it is something that can be learned by anyone, taught to everyone, denied to no one." This is a direct denial of the "leaders are born, not made" theory, but in our view, it has the ring of truth. Bennis goes on to talk about the levels of leadership. "Only a few will lead nations, but more will lead companies [read libraries]. Those who aren't department heads will be supervisors."

Many of you will be in positions where you are the only librarian or information officer or IT manager or preservation administrator, or perhaps there are only two or three of you. In such situations, your challenge is great. You are the sole interpreter of what fine service can be. Among the opportunities to present our profession, leadership is the most interesting and challenging one that exists!

==> Continue to Module 4 Unit 3



Evans p. 294-301

Explore the Web sites on leadership.

Assignment (Individual)

Complete the self-assessment exercises found at the following Web site.

  1. Complete the Leadership Assessment.
  2. Complete the Personal Leadership Agenda form.
  3. Attach to this form to a report that includes:
    • Your personal definition of leadership based on your own experience as well as your readings. (Note: You will find that some of these Web sites are more relevant than others to this course. Include any comments you may have (very brief) on which of these sites were the most useful to you.)
    • A short report (no more than 3 pages) summarizing the results from the above instruments used to assess your strengths and weakness.
    • Keep the agenda and report for your personal reflection and use over time.
  4. Submit the report with your Personal Leadership Agenda using the Assignment Section of Bb to the assignment entitled Personal Leadership Agenda .
  5. Place the Personal Leadership Agenda e-Portfolio.
Post Upload to the Assignment Section of Bb to the assignment entitled Leadership Agenda naming the file lastname-lead.doc

July 6 11:30pm

Discussion Board Participate in the forum entitled Leadership and You with your classmates.
Due June 28 11:30pm
thanks to patrick williams for template design
Last update 26 june 2006