Enabling Others to Act Research Paper

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Old and New Leadership Styles

Max Weber was correct that in modern society, the power of the bureaucracy increased exponentially with urbanization and industrialization, particularly when it was called upon to deal increasingly with social and economic problems. Such organizations were hardly designed to enable others to act within a democratic or participatory system, but to act on their behalf and direct them from above in a very hierarchical system. For example, during the Progressive Era and New Deal in the United States, the civil service was expanded to regulate capitalism in a variety of ways, to administer large parts of the economy and the growing social welfare state. Of course, with the growth in the power and influence of the civil service, opportunities for bribery, corruption, authoritarian behavior and catering to special interests instead of the public interest became far more common as well. Building public trust and confidence in the civil service and political system in general has been a chronic problem in the U.S. And other Western nations in recent decades, particularly given this widespread perception that these are not acting in the public interest.

This same process of bureaucratization occurred in Fordist mass production industries, in the education system, and all other large organizations, including hospitals and nonprofits. Starting with the railroads, all these large institutions and corporations borrowed authoritarian, top-down leadership models from the military, in which an elite group of planners, designers and administrators made the decisions for the masses of employees and consumers. This anti-democratic system was rationalized by popular writers like Frederick Taylor and Walter Lippmann, who argued that only the educated elites and technical specialists were capable of dealing with the complexities of running modern society. Mangers, public administrators and leaders must therefore find ways to increase popular participation in decision making, and ensure that they are held accountable while at the same time controlling the power of special interests instead of catering to them.

Bureaucratic and Democratic Leadership

This authoritarian-bureaucratic model runs contrary to most new theories of management and leadership that have become popular over the last thirty years, which advocate pluralism, diversity, ethics, democratic participation and respect for unique, individual talents. In Max DePree's Leadership Jazz, for example, the central theme maintains that the leadership of a jazz band in which the performers are allowed great leeway for improvisation, imagination and creativity is the best model for any type of organization. DePree believes that the jazz band leader sets the pace and the tempo, finds the music and then performs in public, while allowing for a great deal of diversity and individual creativity among the musicians. They can perform well or badly, and the quality of their work depends on many factors, including the environment, their own skills and abilities, their desire to play well and the ability of the leader to solicit their best work while still treating them as unique individuals. Jazz band leaders are servant leaders rather than distant, authoritarian or bureaucratic, and they know how to obtain the best performance out of the players by recognizing the special gifts and talents of each while also recognizing that the future is not really predicable. As DePree puts it, "creative work needs the ethos of jazz" in which the leader "will pick the tune, set the tempo, start the music and define a 'style'" (DePree, p. 102). Some bands may be very formal and restrained, while others are spontaneous, wild and creative, but all types of bands should play the music because they love it and want the audience to enjoy it as well. Great leaders will also realize that musician must be able to play both solo and as a group in order to infuse the band with vitality.

Communication or 'finding one's voice' is essential to effective leadership, and leaders who are unable to do so will not be successful. Leaders have to develop an understanding of "human strength and potential" through meaningful interactions with employees and colleagues and notes that "the best leaders, like the best music, inspires us to see" (DePree, p. 49). He describes water carriers as people who are "imbued with the qualities and attributes of humor, compassion, an acute sense of history, the ability and desire to teach new members, and an unflappable commitment to the prosperity and posterity of the tribe" (DePree, p. 69). In business as in personal life, all relationships are based on trust and ethics, and "a leader's commitments and beliefs are part and parcel of the same thing. A true leader cannot commit herself without beliefs....action must follow closely a solid sense of one's ethics" (DePree, p. 139). He calls leadership a job rather than a position, and states that "as a job, it is important for leaders to recognize an ongoing need for what DePree calls 'tuning oneself'" (DePree, p. 184).

Great leaders face problems directly rather than attempting to conceal or ignore them, or allowing them to grow worse through procrastination. This is also the far more difficult course of action, especially in rigid organizations that have become comfortable with certain routines -- as all organizations do over time. Great leaders must also have been followers at one time in the past and have learned what it is to see the world through their eyes rather than living in an Ivory Tower. People in charge of organizations should always stay grounded and connected to realty rather than losing touch with themselves and their followers. Many organizations fail because of this, and also because both leaders and followers have become bored with their jobs and no longer truly enjoy what they do. For this reason, Depree also praises amateurs, not in the sense of those who are inexperienced, but who still love their work and get enjoyment from it.

During the 1960s, despite the tremendous economic prosperity and power of the nation, public administration and corporate management often failed to serve the public interest, particularly in the implementation of all interests and political operatives who exploited the obvious weaknesses within the system itself (Wood, 1955, pp. 3-4). Government did attempt to address a host of issues that had been long neglected such as poverty and civil rights. Its failures of implementation led to a considerable backlash against Washington from both the Left and the Right, with many members of the public angered that their ideas were not being respected and that they had no real voice in matters affecting their communities (Ruscio, 2008, p.3). To many critics like Theodore Lowi, the Great Society was thus very different from Franklin Roosevelt and his implementation of the New Deal in the 1930's. Many different private and corporate interests wanted his new programs and regulations to be restricted or reduced. FDR refused to bend on this and instead focused on the needs of the public. This allowed his administration to create polices that were openly embraced by the public, which increased their confidence in him and ensured that he would be elected to four terms (Edward, 2005, pp. 1 -7).the new programs. Part of the reason this was occurring because of the decentralization of power given to the executive branch in the Constitution.

Theodore Lowi's The End of Liberalism was written during the same period as Implementation and expressed many of the same frustrations at the failures of Great Society liberalism. Lowi was very critical of interest-group liberalism and the corruption of the public sector, as well as vague, hastily conceived and poorly implemented programs that did not really deal with the nation's social and economic problems as promised. Instead, they merely increased public cynicism and distrust of government, and played into the hands of conservative politicians who wanted to roll back the welfare state (Lowi 1969, 2009). Anthony Downs was especially critical of old-line bureaucracies in his classic work Inside Bureaucracy (1967), and argued that bureaus in decline showed evidence of rigidity and sclerosis, becoming too formal and routinized, as well as corrupted by various special interests. Lyndon Johnson also agreed with this, ironically, and often asserted that new programs should never be handled by old, stagnant agencies. On the other hand, many of his new initiatives like the EDA and Office of Economic Opportunity were hardly very successful either, particularly as Vietnam starved them of funds and conservatives pressured to abolish them. In another work that appeared during the same period as Implementation, Morton Grodzins also pointed out in The American System that many of the new federal programs were being very badly coordinated and implemented on the state and local levels, which was a subject of frequent complaints by governors and mayors at the time (Grodzins 1966, 1984).

Contrary to most conventional managers, who are task and process oriented, DePree maintained that the best leaders always take time to acknowledge and praise the contributions of followers, and to mean it sincerely not simply as a pro forma exercise. Once again, this is easy to say but difficult to put into practice, and few…

Sources Used in Document:


Adrian, C. (2006). Political Democracy, Trust and Social Justice. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press.

Coles, R. (2001). Lives of Moral Leadership: Men and Women Who Have Made a Difference. Random House.

DePree, M. (1992). Leadership Jazz. Dell Trade Paperbacks.

Dobel, P. (1998). "Political Prudence and the Ethics of Leadership." Public Administration Review, 58, 74 -- 81.

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