We recently experienced a mission conference that was a great success. I am analyzing this event in retrospect; in fact, I have been asked to write a news release recounting for what happened, the back story, and the membership’s reaction to the event. Our outcomes were more than double our set goals. What happened? Did we set our sights to low? Not according to past efforts; the goals were a significant challenge over past achievements. So, what went right?
Leader, leading, and leadership concepts and practices are constantly being studied, analyzed, and articulated in a myriad of ways through voluminous writings, to seminars to “hands-on” participatory conferences, to academic courses of study. Every business and organization wants good leaders and successful leadership practices; but how does one fight their way through the morass of writings, studies, and analysis? In addressing this malaise, Mandred Kets de Vries observed, “As far as leadership studies go, it seems that more and more has been studied about less and less, to end up ironically with a group of researchers studying everything about nothing.”Who is a leader and what is leadership, really? is a question asked by MaryKate Morse; she notes that leadership is always taking place; “leadership is influence. Leaders influence others …. ” From my perspective, Morse’s “influence” concept is an essential starting point and a guiding premise in evaluating leadership.
Influence, fundamentally, is about relationships. Mandred Kets de Vries in The Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior in the Human Enterprise draws a sharp distinction between leading structures or systems and leading people. He indicates that his “main objective in studying leadership “is to bring the person back into the organization” The sub-title gives the best hint to the book content, “Leading Behavior” indicates it is people to people; relationship is paramount in leadership. In our cohort’s most recent reading, Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, Albert Hirschman relates “exit” to two primary causes: price and quality in terms of product. Although Hirschman does not relate price and quality to people, I would see personal value to the organization (partly but not solely in terms of pay) and workplace satisfactions as corollary concepts. These are both predominantly relational concepts and impact on relationships.
Vries takes a clinical approach to analyzing organizational behavior. By focusing on people, he is able to encourage leaders to engage in learning “more about leadership and its vicissitudes” in order to “increase their leadership effectiveness.”One of the significant learning highlights in the book is Vries use of self-leaning questionnaires. These “tests” extend the clinical approach to a sort of personal “clinical application” in the reader’s world of leadership.
Vries focuses on three key themes: The first theme is the psychological rationale behind irrational organizational and individual behavior. The second is the dark side of leadership – failure. Varies clinical approach comes through here, “My years of experience,” Vries notes, “have taught me that, like it or not, not everyone has any such [leadership] potential; that, like it or not, leadership failure is a reality – and a common one at that.” The third theme covers the qualities of effective leadership. The characteristics of a charismatic leader and the development of core competencies as displayed in the context in which the leader is operating will determine the leader’s effectiveness.
It is not possible to digest this book in three days reading nor give a comprehensive summary in this short paper. It is a wealth of leadership learning and application. Two chapters especially stand out for me:
Chapter 8 “Characteristics of Effective leadership”
Chapter 9: “Leadership in a Global Context”
In effective leadership, Vries addresses social, political and philosophical changes that are drastically affecting leadership in the twenty-first century. In integrating the property (behavior patterns and personality attributes) and the process (influence and relationships) leaders exhibit seven key competencies crucial to leadership effectiveness: surgency (fire in the belly), sociability, receptivity, agreeableness, dependability, analytical and emotional intelligence. According to Vries, these competencies expressed in action “will stand leaders in good stead as they operate in today’s global environment.” He then presents the dimensions of culture and how global leadership style and ability must transcend cultural differences in creating value and attitude. Leadership is successful when it creates “appreciation and accommodation of culture diversity … [and the] awareness of the need for a shared organizational culture.””
“So, what went right?” My assessment is being influenced (I’m not done yet) by Vries’ article “The Leadership Mystique” (see note 1). He presents several key elements that I think factor into not only our successful mission conference but that permeates all successful leadership experience:
- Create a vision – to see the possibility of doing what was thought to be impossible.
- Get people involved – a broad base participation.
- Express high performance expectations – our experience of presenting a high goal resulted in reaching even beyond the expectations. I relate this to 2 Corinthians 8:3, “They gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability” (NIV).
- Empowerment – enhancing feelings of self-esteem and self-confidence. In the book, Vries relates this to delegating “authority and responsibility” I like Morse’s concept of influence referred to earlier. It is not so much “delegating” as it is sharing.
- Creating a feeling of ownership and a sense of control. People cannot own what someone else controls. Vries quotes General Patton here, “If you tell people where to go but not how to get there, you will be amazed at the results.”
- Energize for success. Channel free-floating and affectionate energy in the right direction.
- Be trustworthy and ensue a spirit of willingness to trust others – in the context of team work, this is an essential element.
According to Vires the keys are: envisioning, empowering and energizing. In both the article and the book there is a wealth of information. The Leadership Mystique allows the leader (in all of us) to dimensionally expand relationship in the leadership experience.
 Mandred Kets de Vries, “The Leadership Mystique” Academy of Management Executive 8, no. 3 (August 94): 73-89.
 MaryKate Morse, Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space and Influence (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008) Kindle, 145.
 Mandred Kets de Vries, The Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior in the Human Enterprise 2nd ed. (New York, NY: Prentice Hall/Financial Times, 2008), xix.
 Albert O. Hirschman, Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970), 22ff.
 Vries, The Leadership Mystique, 2008, xxi.
 Ibid., 4.
 Ibid., 7.
 Ibid., 192.
 Ibid., 260.
 “The Leadership Mystique” 1996,