Creating an Effective Organizational Culture through Competent Leadership, Thesis Paper Example

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Thesis Paper

Introduction 

Undertaking the exercises of examining my own leadership style and creating an action plan for my post-EDMA work life is, perhaps, one of the more significant challenges I have faced in a long career. Part of that has to do with the fact that I am not a greenhorn; I have functioned in management roles and positions of authority for many years. Because I have what I consider to be fairly extensive experience as a manager, my efforts to examine my own leadership style and to plan for the future are no mere academic exercises. This is not simply a matter of taking material I have learned in the classroom setting and figuring out how to apply it as I enter the world of management; instead, I am tasked with teaching an old dog –myself- some new tricks. Fortunately I am in a place in my personal and professional lives where I relish such challenges; rather than viewing them as unpleasant, I look forward to seeing how the lessons I have learned in the academic setting will bear fruit as I apply them to my role as a manager.

Leadership as a Vocation

In considering “leadership as a vocation,” and the context in which I see myself embodying the precepts of such, I again had to consider not just where I see myself heading in the future, but also where I have been in the past. I do not feel that leadership was a “calling,” and that I heeded that call. My entry into the realm of leadership was not an inevitability, nor was it a lifelong goal to which I had set course. It was as much a happy accident as it was any sort of plan, and the eventuality that I began to see leadership as a vocation was not sudden, but was an ongoing process of which I was not always entirely aware. Therein lies the value in processes such as this; by stepping back and considering the manner in which I became a leader, and the manner in which I lead, I can hopefully gain insight into how to be a better leader.

A vocation is not just something to which a person feels called; it is also an occupation or activity to which someone is suited, for which someone has a natural proclivity. It seems that for an occupation to qualify as a vocation, one must not just feel called to it; one must also be, at least to some degree, good at it. Just as I did not necessarily feel called to leadership, I can also see that I was not necessarily naturally suited for the role. I have always had a drive to succeed, and in my career in the construction industry I rose from an employee to a management position to eventually owning my own company. Being the owner of a company –or even a manager- does not always equate to being a leader. That was a lesson I had to learn the hard way, and one which has led me to where I am now, seeking my Master’s Degree and looking for ways to improve myself personally and professionally.

To properly elucidate how I have come to perceive leadership as a vocation, it is necessary for me to explain how my career developed. Like many in the construction industry, I began at the bottom. I worked as a laborer on job sites, hauling cinderblocks, digging holes, gathering trash, and other less-than-glamorous tasks. Over time I worked for various subcontractors, and learned framing, painting, and other more specific skills. The construction business is not for the faint of heart; it is a tough, noisy, dirty way to make a living. It can also be quite rewarding, both physically and monetarily. I came up through the ranks at a time when the American economy was doing well, and I never lacked for work.

It was in this context that I learned what few lessons I did about leadership. Leadership, at that level of the construction industry, was typically comprised of foremen barking orders at their crew members. In terms of “leadership style,” most foremen are of the Authoritarian type; it is not a particularly democratic environment. It does not require a group meeting where foremen pick the brains of their subordinates to get ideas about how best to tackle a project. Project managers delineate to crew leaders how and what to do; these crew leaders then issue commands to the crew members. It is a relatively straightforward and ubiquitous approach, and that was my school-of-hard-knocks “education” in leadership. I eventually owned my own construction company, and what I brought to my leadership role at the time was the set of skills and behaviors I learned on job sites.

I did not have a leadership philosophy, aside from “I’m the boss; do as I say.” I wasted little effort on getting to know my employees on a personal level, or even on the niceties of saying hello in the morning and goodbye in the evening. To be frank, I saw no need for such efforts; my business was financially successful, which at the time was the only standard by which I measured success. My employees were simply components in my business whose role was to assist me in carving out my piece of the American Dream. In those days I viewed myself as a strong leader, and dared not show any signs of weakness to my employees, my clients, my vendors, and even to my family. I had fully embraced the Authoritarian approach to management to which I had been exposed throughout my career. Not only did it not occur to me to consider other ways of leading, I did not really consider that there were other ways of leading.

When the economy began to slow down it was the housing and construction industries that were hit first, and hit the hardest. My once-thriving company seemed to evaporate almost instantly. It was a painful death, and I felt hopeless for the first time in my life. I began to consider how poorly I had treated my employees and how often I neglected my family in service of building my business. I was raised to value hard work and entrepreneurship, and I believed that by working as hard as I did, by spending as much time at the job as I did, that I was giving my family the best I had to offer. Those first few months that I was out of work proved revelatory, and I began to question everything about my role as a leader, as a father, and as a person.

Though I was tentative at first, I eventually embraced the role of stay-at-home dad, spending more time with my sons than I ever had before. Like my employees, my sons had learned to fear me, and to do what I told them to do or face the consequences. In my new role as a full-time father, I cultivated an entirely different relationship with them. We have become closer than I would have imagined possible, and my sons have taught me more than I ever taught them about what it means to love and to be loved. It was during this period that my value system was completely transformed; I knew that I would return to a leadership role in one capacity or another, but now I would do all I could to be a good leader, and not just an intimidating boss.

Values

Had I been asked a decade ago what I valued the most as a leader, I would have likely responded that I placed the most value on the position itself.  Power for power’s sake, authority for the sake of authority; that is what I valued. I enjoyed intimidating people, whether it was making my secretary cry because she had lost an important phone number or browbeating a crew leader for eating up too may budgeted hours. I gave little consideration to the satisfaction of a job well done, and none at all to such considerations where my employees were concerned. All of that has changed, and is the very reason why I am seeking to expand my knowledge and my abilities, and it is why I now see the idea of leadership in entirely new ways.

The most significant, overarching change is that I now do consider the feelings, interests, and aspirations of those around me, from my family to my co-workers. I no longer regard people solely in terms of how they can help me achieve my goals; I now seek to understand what they value, and what they hope to achieve, and I see my responsibility as a leader in terms of how I can help both myself and those around me succeed, and aspire to greatness. With this newfound approach to and consideration for the concept of leadership, I have begun to examine the fundamentals of leadership style so that I may better understand where I am now and better plan for the future.

Leadership Style

Just as my values have changed, so too has my leadership style. I do not necessarily feel that an authoritarian approach to leadership was my “natural” style, and that I had to learn new ways of doing things that were in any way “unnatural.” Had I fallen into a different line of work, I may well have developed a different leadership style long ago. My authoritarian style was, however, deeply ingrained in my psyche after so many years of taking only that approach, so I did have to, and continue to, take concrete, purposeful steps towards developing a new, more comprehensive leadership style. In so doing, I have cultivated a leadership style that is both more satisfying on a personal level and far more effective on a professional level.

Whereas my leadership style used to flow in only one direction –from me to my subordinates- I now see leadership not as a “position,” but as a process. The process of leadership is not a linear, hierarchical construct –at least not all the time- but is instead a collaborative process that involves input from those I lead as much as it does output to those I lead. In learning to value those around me on a personal, human level, I have also learned that such understanding has afforded me the opportunity to be a better, more effective leader. I now make it a point to get to know people on a personal level, and make an effort to understand what they value, and to what they aspire. By doing so, I also learn what it is that they can and want to contribute to their work, and what their strengths are.

Along with getting to know those I am charged with leading, I try to let them in, to let them get to know me as well. It is important for me to understand what I can expect from the people that I lead; it is equally important for them to know what they expect of me. By making leadership a collaborative effort I am not abdicating my responsibilities as a leader; rather, I am embracing them in new ways. It is my responsibility to get the best I can from my team members, and to do so I must allow them to communicate with me so that I know what they are capable of doing. This approach to leadership has exponentially-expanding benefits: by challenging my team members to do their best, they often learn more about themselves and each other, which then allows everyone to embrace the collective strengths and talents of the entire team.

In concrete terms, I take different approached to leadership depending on what the situation calls for. I am no longer strictly authoritarian; I now seek participation and delegate tasks as needed. Just as I no longer adhere strictly to one style of leadership, not everyone responds to the same style of leadership. In my collaborative, communicative environment I am able to learn what ways work best with which team members, just as I can adjust my leadership style to particular functions and tasks.

I am in no way suggesting that my transformation into a different type of leader means I am now without faults, though I will say that what liabilities I do have are largely leftovers, echoes from my earlier, authoritarian approach to leadership. When I ran my own company I was very competitive, and I fostered a competitive environment in the work place. Because I did not take the time to really get to know my employees, I had a tendency to make prejudicial, off-the-cuff assumptions about them and their abilities. I had no qualms about “playing favorites,” but what was worse is that the criteria on which I selected such favorites were typically arbitrary. I see in retrospect that I often confused my employees by creating an atmosphere that rewarded or punished them in ways that had no basis in reality. Unfortunately I have not entirely rid myself of such tendencies, which is a problem on which I intend to continue working.

In one fairly recent instance, for example, I had an employee who, because he clearly felt favored, overstepped his authority and attempted to make decisions that were not only beyond his purview, but were potentially problematic for the organization. Because he was perceived as being favored by me, it was difficult for other team members to approach me about the matter. In the end, the dissension on the team came to my attention, and I was able to circumvent the problem. That incident served as a reminder that while I may have come a long way in terms of reinventing my leadership style, it is not a goal, but an ongoing process.

Feedback

I currently serve as the Director of Construction for a family-owned and operated transportation company. After so many years of being the owner of a company, it is an unusual position for me to now be taking orders as well as giving them. Had I not found a way to fundamentally transform my approach to leadership, I may have bristled at the thought of having to answer to someone else. Now, however, I actually look forward to seeking and receiving feedback from my team members and from my superiors. Just as I expect the best from my team, my superiors expect the best from me. Fortunately they are not the types of leaders that I used to be, so I can and do receive constructive feedback which I can use to improve my own performance and that of those on my team.

In order to ensure that the feedback process is effective, I have regularly-scheduled meetings with my superiors to discuss issues related to my team, and how I lead them. I am not seeking only praise; I need to know if I am doing something wrong, or have areas in which I can improve, just as I need to know when something is going just right. The biggest change in my leadership style is that I no longer do everything based on assumptions and unwarranted expectations. I also do what I can to keep my superiors abreast of the important aspects of my decision-making processes, and seek their input as warranted. I have been told that my approach to leading my tea has made the lives of my superiors easier, and I have seen firsthand how my more open, collaborative approach hs brought out the best in my team.

Competency Development

            This is an area of consideration that would take a lifetime to fully explore. There are innumerable ways in which I would like to improve myself personally and professionally, and just as many areas of competence on which I could focus in order to make that happen. Any effort to narrow the list down to just a few items will be incomplete, but I have learned that in order to reach any goal it is necessary to have a plan for how to get there. With that in mind I have selected three competencies on which I intend to focus in my post-EMBA career.

  1. Communication- in order to be an effective leader, it is imperative that I communicate effectively and accurately. This affects all areas of my field, from having the interpersonal skills that allow me to get to know my team members or my superiors, to effectively communicating my expectations or the specifics of a task to those on my team, to adequately apprising my superiors of any problems or successes faced on a particular task. I am far more communicative as leader than I used to be, and I recognize that communication is a two-way street.
  2. Honest, Integrity, Ethics- I have come to understand the fundamental significance that integrity plays in my capacity as leader. In my previous life, I did not highly value integrity; it mattered little to me whether I was acting in an ethical manner as long as I got what I wanted in the end. If that meant hurting or disappointing someone else, that was simply not a problem for me. It is no longer possible for me to see myself as an effective leader without placing integrity, honest, and ethics at the core of my approach, and to expect the same from those I lead.
  3. Judgment and Accountability- though these are two different things; I tend to view them as two sides of the same coin. As a leader, I am of course expected to exercise good judgment. When I discussed an earlier example of how my tendency to unconsciously play favorites has at times been problematic, I was readily admitting that my judgment is not always perfect, and that I as a flawed human being I can be prejudicial or make poor decisions. What is important is that I recognize this, and that I hold myself accountable for my own shortcomings. It is also crucial that I have accountability to my superiors; if I can reap the praise for a job well done I must also accept the consequences when I fall short of the goal.

Action Plan

  1. Communication- In order to further develop my communication skills I plan to attend a workshop that focuses on the areas of Communication and Leadership. One way to improve my communication skills is through the process of Active Listening. At its core, Active Listening is a process of repeating and rephrasing what a speaker is telling a listener, rather than just waiting to speak and respond. This ensures that the listener is attentive and understands the speaker. It also gives the speaker the opportunity to clarify that which is unclear, and further ensures that the listener is both heard and understood.

As one who holds a position of leadership, it is important for me to foster an atmosphere that allows communication to flourish. I have a responsibility to communicate my thoughts and concerns to my team members in an effective and appropriate manner. While I have learned entirely new paradigms in which to view the process of leadership, and have engaged in both academic and real-world processes to push myself –and by extension, the organization in which I work- in new directions, it is imperative that I continue to see this as an ongoing process, and one in which I can constantly improve. By taking advantage of the workshop setting, I can gain insights from experts in the field of leadership and interpersonal communication, apply what I learn to role-playing situations, engage in feedback sessions, and ultimately translate those skills to the organizational setting.

  1. Honesty, Integrity, Ethics- Integrity is sometimes described as “doing the right thing even when no one is looking.” It is important for everyone in the organization to act with integrity, and to adhere to a code of ethics. To that end, I intend to work with the leadership at my organization to develop an organizational code of ethics that will be disseminated to all members of the organization. While being honest and acting with integrity seems as if it should just be a given, it is always helpful to take the time to consider what it means to act with integrity, and to define it as more than just “being honest.”

The George S. May International Company offers the following self-assessment checklist to help identify some common examples of unethical behavior

__ telling “little white lies”

__telling racist or sexual jokes

__treating fellow employees and others poorly

__writing and forwarding non-business-related emails

__padding expense reports, time sheets, etc.

__taking office supplies home

__failing to meet commitments

__conducting personal business at work

__breaking work rules

__failing to share credit with others

__not working to the best of one’s abilities

The above list is just a set of examples; specific unethical behaviors come in a variety of forms. By committing myself to a process of self-assessment where my integrity and ethics are concerned, I can work to ensure that embodying the role of ethical leadership is an ongoing process, and one subject to regular review and consideration. By working to establish an organizational code of ethics –and involving members of the organization in developing that code- I can take responsibility for creating an organizational environment that values and supports integrity, honesty, and ethical behavior.

  1. Judgment and Accountability- Leadership and accountability go hand in hand. In order to be a leader, one must also take responsibility for the successes and failures of those one leads. An accountable leader does not blame other people or external circumstances when things go wrong. An accountable leader understands how to learn from mistakes and move forward. The Michael Hyatt Intentional Leadership program notes that “until you take responsibility, you are a victim. And a victim is the opposite of a leader.”

In order to solidify my role as an accountable leader, I will establish an accountability program both with my team members and with my superiors. The team leaders who answer directly to me will be responsible for submitting a monthly accountability report, just as I will be responsible for submitting my own monthly accountability report to my superiors. The purpose of these reports will be to provide an overview of the month’s activities, detailing the successes and failures of my department. In both cases –mine and those who report to me- this report will assess what things went well and what things could have gone better, identify the ways in which the accountable parties were responsible for each, and suggest ways in which improvements can be made in the future.

In addition to these monthly reports, I will conduct monthly accountability meetings with my team members. The purpose of these meetings will be to engage in dialog that views accountability as a two-way street, demonstrating that I am accountable to my team members just as they are accountable to me. If I fail to live up to my responsibilities as a leader where my team members are concerned, it is important that they have a forum in which they can discuss the issue with me in an honest and direct manner.

These reports and meetings align with the competencies of Communication and Integrity & Ethical Behavior. The need for accountability at all levels of the organization is a core component of an effective code of ethics; establishing the Accountability Reports and Meetings is simply a manner in which the ethical concepts and codes can be put translated into concrete, practical actions.

The fundamental competency of Communication is a key component of bringing all other leadership competencies to bear in the organization. With the ability to effectively communicate, and to foster effective communication at all levels of the organization, these competencies are nothing more than abstract ideas. It is through communication that they will become established, valued components of the organizational culture.

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