Leadership Style Of Malcolm X Essay

Length: 6 pages Sources: 15 Subject: Leadership Type: Essay Paper: #26568964 Related Topics: Malcolm X, Leadership Development, Benjamin Franklin, Decision Making Style
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Malcolm X and Leadership

The Leadership Styles of Malcolm X

Malcolm X was a natural born leader, according to Manning Marable in his biography Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention (2011:33). What made him so was his incessant drive and ability to command others through repetition of "pet themes" as well as his ability to speak rapidly and overtop others (Marable 2011:33). In his early days before his conversion to Islam, Malcolm X demonstrated a remarkable effectiveness as a "leader of the pack" of assorted hoodlum with whom he fraternized. In this sense, contingency theory best applies to this stage of Malcolm's life, because given Malcolm's social context at the time, his style of leadership -- assertive, combative, and harping -- fit the situation and the type of people with whom he operated: people who respected only muscle and might, of which Malcolm had the intellectual and willful kind. In his later career, Malcolm X demonstrated a transformational and confrontational leadership style that allowed him to develop a focused and militaristic following. This paper will discuss Malcolm X's leadership styles based on these and other leadership theories.

Part of Malcolm's appeal in his later life was his authenticity and genuineness. He would reiterate his conviction that he and his people should never "sellout" (Marable 2011:154). Selling out on principles was against everything he stood for, and to do so would be to lead his people away from the truth and back into the hands of the entity they were opposing -- the government, the social system, the attitudes of the those in power. Malcolm essentially built on his style from his youth but transformed it into a more positive conduit, developing a "chemistry" between his own expression and the atmosphere of the times in order to push forward in a meaningful way for social change (Conger 1999:145). This was his "art of empowering others," his ability to transform the lives of his followers by giving them the confidence which he himself displayed to confront the injustices of the system that racially profiled and oppressed other blacks: "making others feel more powerful…[by] instilling a sense of power" in them, via his lectures and his example on and off the street, Malcolm X showed expert transformational leadership qualities (Conger 1987:17). He rose to the top of an organization, the Nation of Islam, through his masterful orations, and attracted many blacks to the movement through his absolute conviction in the rightness of the cause as well as through his powerful arguments and steadfast deliveries to those who represented the opposition.

Malcolm's leading of the black protesters in LA outside the city prison to demand the release of blacks unjustly imprisoned was a demonstration of authentic leadership as defined by Avolio, Walumbwa and Weber (2009), who view it as a style of leadership that is founded on ethical actions, openness, and honest exchange. Malcolm's leading of the protest and the protesters absolute faith in his decisions showed the kind of trust that the people had in his abilities to judge rightly of the police. When Malcolm went inside to negotiate the release, the protesters waited outside in a line, showing order and discipline, awaiting his command. He had embraced them by acting on their behalf and they had embraced him as being their representative of rightness.

Malcolm was certainly a confrontational leader, as Eubanks, Antes, Friedrich, Caughron, Blackwell, Bedell-Avers, and Mumford (2010) define the concept. His confrontational style allowed him to lead his loyal followers forward, when he left the Nation of Islam after learning of the corruption and


Malcolm confronted Elijah rather than attempting to collaborate with him any further. This confrontation set Malcolm X for a different path, but it also offended Elijah and many others who still supported Elijah. This example of Malcolm X's leadership style may have actually contributed to his assassination, as he continued to confront people with the truth. Thus, it may be argued that had Malcolm taken a less confrontational approach and developed a more collaborative style with Elijah, he may have had a longer and more effective career. However, collaborating with one whom he no longer trusted or admired would have meant going back on his principles, and this would have turned him into a hypocrite, which would have potentially harmed his own transformational leadership style and his authentic leadership abilities. Thus, while it is difficult to accept his confrontational style in this instance, it does fit in with his overall ethics-based authenticity. As Eubanks et al. (2010) show, confrontational leadership allows leaders to continue on with their policy -- and this is what Malcolm X did: his policy was to transform himself and others into a better person according to principles of goodness and justice as he came to understand them.

According to the Graen, Uhl-Bien (1995: 224) model of domain approaches to leadership, it may be said that Malcolm X's leadership style was predominantly leader-based, in that it required "appropriate action" on his part, but it may just as easily be said that his style was also relationship-based and follower-based, because his wife was an important part of his life and his close friends were as well -- both of which influenced him in his decision making. But he also enabled his followers to look after themselves and make decisions based on truth and rightness. This ability to operate in all three domains depended greatly on his own personal charisma and his remarkable personality, which was built on ideas of nobility, militancy, and virtue -- all things which can appeal to individuals looking for a partner or a leader (House, Howell 1992).

Of course, Kotter (1990:85) states that leadership has "nothing to do with 'charisma'" -- but that is not the case in the biography of Malcolm X His charisma was dynamic and it drew followers because it was so adamant, upright, and strong. However, Malcolm X did "cope with change," as Kotter (1990:86) states true leaders must do: when he was in jail for his petty thefts, he converted and changed his lifestyle so as to face life in a better in more positive way. He certainly coped with the changes in his own life and he inspired others to do the same through his rhetoric and active participation in their lives (demonstrations, speeches, friendships).

Kotter (1995) may be correct, on the other hand, in why transformation efforts fail: in the case of Malcolm X, his failure was in his establishment of a sense of urgency -- which paralyzed some of his supporters who did not want to leave their comfort zones under the Nation of Islam. Malcolm X urged his point-of-view, but it was drowned out by the greater voice of Elijah Muhammed, who condemned his apprentice with resounding blows.

Malcolm X's ideological leadership style also enabled him to develop events within the Nation of Islam that Elijah Muhammed was unable to do: because he was younger, more energetic, more full of conviction and adamantly against the oppressive "system" of white government, he energized an entire generation of young Muslims, as Ligon, Hunter, and Mumford (2008) have shown happens for ideological leaders. However, his ideology, though violent in its abstract expression, was not altogether destructive, as Mumford et al. (2007) have proposed violent leadership to be, in destructive terms. Malcolm called for his people to stand up to oppressors, to resist them, to be militant: this was his appeal. It was not destructive to his campaign or to his leadership style, because it was never unjust. He was not unjustly violent. In this sense, Malcolm X was the anti-Benjamin Franklin style leader, for he did not seek pragmatic solutions or to work through elites, as Franklin did (Mumford, Van Doorn 2001). He rather strove to be militant and unrelenting -- to resist in the streets in action rather than through diplomacy in the ranks of politics. He was a man of the streets, who was street hardened, who spoke the language of the streets but also the of the enlightened, educated man. That enlightenment is what he brought to the streets in order to lift them up out of their street mentality, to a higher form of expression -- militant resistance.

Because Malcolm X was not an employer type of leader, but rather a leader of a movement, his "ethically normative behavior" does not apply to the job characteristics model posed by Piccolo et al. (2010:261). However, it does fit in consistently with his transformational leadership style and in this sense does apply because he created a working ethic and attitude for those around him which resulted in a greater, wider world of employment opportunities (Marable 2011). By taking himself and others more seriously, he cultivated a more serious work ethic which could then be used beyond the movement.

As far as there being a substitute for Malcolm X, history has shown that he was unique in his role and because of…

Sources Used in Documents:


Avolio, B.J., Walumbwa, F.O., & Weber, T.J. (2009). Leadership: Current theories, research, and future directions. Annual Review Psychology, 60 421-449.

Conger, Jay A. (1989). Leadership: The art of empowering others. Academy of Management Executive, 3 (1) 17- 25.

Conger, J.A. (1999). Charismatic and transformational leadership in organizations

Charismatic politicalleadership. The Leadership Quarterly, 10 (2) 145-179.

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