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Book Excerpt: The Intentional Leader by Kenneth A. Shaw

A former chancellor of New York's Syracuse University provides techniques and practical guidance on the art of effective leadership.
University Business, Sep 2006

Kenneth A. Shaw was chancellor of Syracuse University from 1991 to 2004. He is the author of The Successful President as well as several articles and book chapters on leadership and issues about higher education. He is former president of the University of Wisconsin System and former chancellor of Southern Illinois University. He teaches leadership courses.

His new book includes theoretical methodology and practical advice on the art and skill of leadership. He offers a concise definition of leadership as a process of persuasion and goes on to show how specific methods are applied to reach that goal. The book covers a wide range of topics, among them, self-awareness, conflict resolution, motivating others, decision making, communicating effectively, and group dynamics.

Shaw's work encompasses broader views of leadership including issues of diversity and ethics, international leadership, and women in leadership roles. Throughout, he draws on his personal experience to present concrete examples of leadership successes. This book is a tool for those who want to study, practice, and perform at the highest levels of leadership whether it is with small groups or international organizations.

The book is available from Syracuse University Press. In this excerpt the author defines leadership and discusses the tasks of leaders, including leadership frames--the different ways to view leadership.

But of a good leader, who talks little, when his work is done, his aims fulfilled, they will all say: "we did this ourselves." -- Lao-Tzu

First, a workable definition of leadership. Here I turn to John Gardner1 and Ronald Haifetz,2 and my modest additions to their thinking. Leadership is a process of persuasion and example, by which others are motivated to take action. That's easy enough to understand. Note the emphasis on persuasion, example, and taking action, as I will frequently refer to these activities. As with most definitions, a few "yes, buts" are needed for clarification. Although leaders do persuade others, as we mentioned in the introduction, others also persuade them. Leaders, then, must understand the mission, values, and vision of the institutions and groups with whom they work. Leaders give and take.

As Haifetz states, influencing others to act means that the tough problems are tackled. The effective leader helps to clarify what matters most and helps others to understand and to deal with trade-offs.

Effective leaders, then, do more than motivate others to take action on the easy things. Haifetz calls the work of leaders "adaptive work." That means that our effectiveness as leaders is measured by our efforts and the results of those efforts--getting people to address real problems in a real way.

Reality Exercise. Think of a person you know who best exemplifies this definition, someone who persuades, and by example, induces others to move toward action--taking on the difficult challenges--while being sensitive to institutional and personal needs. Think about formal leaders you know who don't fit this definition. Name some of them. Is the definition too limiting or are some "formal" leaders simply not true leaders?

The foundation of effective leadership is thinking through the organization's mission, defining it, and establishing it clearly and visibly. --Peter Drucker, The Essential Drucker

Leaders do leadership in four major ways. They:

Envision and affirm mission, goals, and values;

Articulate mission, goals, and values;

Implement mission, goals, and values; and

Serve as the keeper of mission, goals, and values.

Envisioning and Affirming Mission, Goals, and Values

Someone has to point us in the right direction. Otherwise we are like the pilot lost over Newfoundland who radios back that he's lost, but he's making record time. Lou Gerstner, IBM chair, reminds us that any road taken gets us to the same place if we don't know where we are going.3 This visioning process generally does not occur through an overnight epiphany. Often, mission, goals, and values exist, but not in writing. The leader may have a strong hand in establishing them, but they generally come from the combined thoughts of many.

For example, in higher education everyone--motivated by different needs--seems to be doing something different. Students busily study, form friendships, and have fun--although not necessarily in that order. Faculty members occupy themselves with their courses, scholarship, and, of course, parking. But a university president is charged with defining the overall vision and guarding the institution's core values. His rooftop view is one that others, too busy trying to meet their own responsibilities, miss. Some examples from Business: The Ultimate Resource4 will help explain the importance of this task.

We note how successful business leaders have used their vision to guide their companies.

Michael Dell, chairman and CEO of Dell Computers, built his company's business model around a unique vision requiring little capital: build products to order, using the Internet as an inexpensive, efficient, direct link to customers. Pretty simple--and it worked.

Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett's vision is to invest in undervalued companies with low overhead costs, high growth potential, strong market share, and low price-to-earnings ratios. Buffett's vision has certainly worked for him!

Herb Kelleher's vision for Southwest Airlines when he established it in 1971 included two key principles: keep customers happy and keep costs down.

In 1955, the late Ray Kroc built his McDonald's fast-food empire on four pillars: quality, service, cleanliness, and value.

When I came to Syracuse University, I talked and listened to hundreds of people. Those conversations made clear to me what our institutional values were, even though they were not in writing. They were quality, innovation, caring, diversity, and service. When I spoke of them at my inaugural convocation, the reaction was, "ah-hah!" Everyone knew these values were right for us, even though they had been unstated until then.

Later, as we negotiated a very serious financial restructuring period, I announced that our mission was to be the outstanding student-centered research university. That also resonated well and prompted a variety of initiatives that I'll explain later.

Yes, the vision thing is important.

Vision and direction are essential for greatness. In world-class organizations everyone has a clear sense where the organization is going. Only when the leaders in an organization know their people understand the agreed-upon vision and direction can they attend to the organization's ability to deliver on that vision. --Ken Blanchard and Jesse Stoner, "Leader to Leader," 2004

Even the best ideas die on the vine if they're not communicated effectively and often. The leader's job is to make certain that these messages are carried by every means available. Kotter5 believes that undercommunicating the vision stifles innovation. He describes an organization that developed a good vision but communicated it by holding just a single meeting and sending out a series of written messages, using a miniscule 0.001 percent of the company's yearly internal communications. It didn't take. A second, more vigorous approach was equally ineffective. The head of the organization spent considerable time speaking to employee groups in addition to the written communications, but most people still didn't get it--not surprising, since the vision captured about only 0.005 percent of total yearly communications.

Such efforts are important enough, but much more needs to be done. What we do communicates tons about what is important. The mission is more apt to take if, in addition to repeating it, we actually reinforce it with our decisions.

Effective communicators also make good use of storytelling--using examples from the organization that illustrate the vision. One very successful college president, James L. Fisher, who led Towson State University (Md.) for 10 years, used the coffeepot approach to storytelling. At least once a week he hit some of the major coffeepots on the growing campus. For several hours, he saw and talked with staff, faculty, and students who happened to be around the coffeepot. The discussions often involved individual personal issues but invariably led to larger university issues. He viewed these discussions as important opportunities to communicate his approachability and to receive direct, unfiltered information about what's going on at the university. In addition, it gave him an opportunity to tell "the story," using examples of how his vision for the university played out in real life. Fisher was open and friendly, but he remained presidential during the encounters.

At Syracuse University, I often used brief paper communications called Buzzwords, which we later put on the web. I covered a variety of important issues, such as diversity, athletics, civility, quality management, managing change, and working in teams. People were invited to comment, and I attempted to answer each response. This was a way for me to tell my story and to learn from other sources.

In other settings, I often brought together a random group of staff, faculty, and students for a brown-bag discussion. Together, we settled on a half-dozen topics for our chat. Taking one at a time, I heard their views, tried to summarize when a consensus existed, and then gave my view, which led to further discussion. I learned a great deal from people I would not have encountered otherwise, and they had a chance to hear me "tell the story."

Another university president regularly opened her office on Friday afternoons for half-hour meetings to discuss issues, ideas, or concerns with members of the university community. In the first few years, she was heavily booked, with many people bringing their problems to her. It turned out that many problems were not caused by the organization, but some were, and change occurred. These meetings communicated very quickly that she meant business.

One corporate leader uses the employee cafeteria to learn about what was going on and to tell his story. It was his way of managing by walking around. Sometimes he planned the cafeteria meetings; often he would venture in alone. He feels that it helped him to break down barriers between managers and their subordinates as other top people began to eat in the cafeteria. It became a great place to test new ideas, to assess the general mood, and of course to tell the story.

Often, we get so excited about telling our story that we forget our audiences. We make the story too long and complex. Kotter6 offers excellent advice:

"If you can't communicate the vision to someone in five minutes or less and get a reaction that signifies both an understanding and interest, you won't be able to move your organization or group toward transforming change."

Finally, Fred Greenstein7 has carefully researched the leadership effectiveness of American presidents. He concludes that Woodrow Wilson was the first to use rhetorical skill to tell a story. Wilson introduced a new tradition of appearing before Congress in person and delivering the State of the Union Address. In it, he proposed a "new freedom" program for the country.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt surpassed Wilson by setting the standard for public communication. His inspiration of the American public during the Great Depression and World War II led actor/director Orson Welles to call him "the second-best actor in America"--after Welles himself. Greenstein also identified John F. Kennedy as an effective presidential communicator, particularly in giving formal speeches. Which of us who grew up hearing his memorable words, "Ask what you can do for your country," can ever forget them?

And there's Ronald Reagan, the great communicator, who earned his reputation as the "Teflon president" for his ability to escape sticky situations unscathed. Reagan forcefully and simply communicated his vision: cut the size of the federal government, cut taxes, and rid the world of communism. He stuck on that agenda and communicated his views repeatedly.

Communications, then, take on a variety of forms. The effective leader tries to use them all.

Language is among the most powerful methods for expressing a vision. Successful leaders use metaphors and figures of speech; they give examples, tell stories, and relate anecdotes; they draw word pictures that offer quotations and they recite slogans.--James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, Leadership Challenges

Implementing the mission is often called management. If we don't implement, nothing's going to happen. Gerstner reminds us that we shouldn't be credited for predicting rain. Building an ark is another matter. In other words, good ideas from articulate people aren't enough.

In my earlier days as a president, long before it was easy to obtain information from the web, I excitedly waited for a nationally noted college president to deliver his annual speech to the faculty. His ideas were visionary, and he spoke with compassion and eloquence. I waited for a published copy to see which of his great ideas I might implement. Ironically and sadly, this president's institution implemented few of these great ideas because of a lack of follow-through. On the other hand, Michael Dell maintains close contact with his company, even occasionally manning the customer hotline to hear firsthand what people say about his products.8 And he utilizes a 360-degree evaluation process in which employees, including him, are reviewed by those above and below.

Buffett prides himself on hiring strong direct reports, seeing them as excellent long-term investments. He rarely contacts his operating executives, but he knows what's going on, and they know they can call him whenever he's needed. Herb Kelleher often travels on Southwest Airlines simply to hear what customers are saying. During Kroc's lifetime, his McDonald's restaurants, even though franchises, followed strict and uniform guidelines. A central laboratory ensured consistency in the food's preparation, down to the exact water content in those French fries.

Much of skilled managing means the ability to identify, nurture, and motivate people. Charan and Colvin9 say top leaders most often blow it when they fail to put the right people in the right jobs or when they fail to fix people problems in time. Specifically, they find leaders who are unwilling or unable to deal with those who aren't with the program. Everyone knows there's a problem, but nothing gets done.

Colin Powell, in discussing the lessons he learned in leadership, reminds us that we can never neglect details. "When everyone's mind is dulled or distracted, the leader must be doubly vigilant. All the great ideas and visions in the world are worthless if they can't be implemented rapidly and efficiently. Good leaders delegate and empower others, but they pay attention to details, every day."10 And, of course, Powell believes, as many of us do, that all the plans in the world would come to naught if it were not for people who make things happen.

Finally, in managing people, Bennis and Collingwood11 argue, leaders make a big mistake by becoming overly involved with the sickest members of a group. "Forced to the sidelines of the confrontation and envious of the attention lavished on the sickest members, the healthier members will begin to resent you and question the legitimacy of your leadership." They describe the experiences of Deborah Kasatos, senior vice president for human resources at Charles Schwab and Company. She observed that when a company launches a change initiative, employees divide into three groups: evangelists, who eagerly support the change initiative; passive observers, who neither support nor oppose the initiative but wait to see what's going to happen; and "squeaky wheels," who for a variety of reasons vocally oppose any change. Too often, she says, the leaders focus on the "squeaky wheels" and ignore the others, particularly the passive observers. Since they are strongly influenced by their relationships with their leader, they can easily go the other way.

Have I overdone the management thing? I don't think so. Not all of us are great managers, but we can't be lousy ones. And we need to assess just how good we are at managing change and our key people.

Those in leadership positions are the conscience of the group. That means asking hard questions. It means foregoing some opportunities in favor of others for the long-term good of the institution or group. It doesn't necessarily make people happy, but it is necessary.

As we went through financial restructuring at Syracuse University, we reduced our base budget by $60 million. We could have cut uniformly across the board, but that would have sent the wrong message. Cuts were made selectively, with heavier reductions falling on administration and even deeper cuts on underperforming units. Guiding us in these cuts were our values and our mission to be the leading student-centered research university.

Ray Kroc, when he was in charge of the McDonald's empire, operated by the principle that everyone would profit or no one would. It meant that he didn't charge his franchisees a markup on supplies and equipment, a practice that cost him a great deal at first but obviously paid off in the long run.

In today's parlance this is called walking the talk. Our best communication, which no marketing firm can do for us, comes from our ability to be genuine in what we do. The best way to ensure that the tasks of leadership are completed is to make decisions and conduct ourselves in ways that enhance our vision, mission, and values.

Reality Exercise. Think of successful leaders you know. It could be someone in the public eye or someone who quietly leads without recognition but in situations where good leadership is happening. Do they apply the four tasks of leaders, and how well do they perform each? What other things, not included in the four tasks I've presented, are a part of their successful leadership?

Self-Awareness Exercise. Throughout our time together, you will have opportunities to think about yourself in relation to what you're learning. Now, after learning the four tasks, think about which are your strongest and which need some work. What might you do to strengthen, overall, your potential to lead in these four tasks?

So far we've learned the four things that leaders do. But your style is also important, and it must coincide with the needs of the situation. Leaders are successful when the leadership approach and the needs of the situation are in harmony. People then say, "She is the right person for the time." Bolman and Deal12 describe the importance of this match using several historical examples.

Winston Churchill was considered a mediocre leader early in his career when he dealt with domestic issues. Then, during World War II, he became one of the world's most inspiring and effective leaders.

Consider China. Bolman and Deal reminded me that when communists were fighting for power in the 1930s and 1940s, they needed a visionary leader. That was Mao Tse-Tung. He provided the necessary vision and inspiration for the creation of a new world order, albeit ruthlessly. Yet, by the 1970s, the importance of the Mao-style ideology had faded. A new situation--the need for economic and social development--called for more pragmatism, which often meant deviating from Mao's revolutionary vision. Enter Deng Xiaoping, who set the stage for China to create a market-based version of communism. If Mao still was in charge, such apostasy undoubtedly would have led to Deng's imprisonment, if not murder.

Lyndon Johnson provides another example of the situation meeting the times. Johnson, the consummate political insider, moved members of Congress to pass the most transforming civil rights legislation in American history. For that cause, he was the right person for the time. But on the world front, Johnson was a disaster, escalating U.S. involvement in Vietnam. It was his demise as a political leader.

So, our approach must be in sync with the situation's needs. The good leader learns the situation and knows himself or herself well enough to adapt as necessary. The good leader knows not to try to lead where his temperament or skills will fail.

What are these leadership styles? Bolman and Deal list four images (or "frames") of leadership. Each frame plays an important role and can be successful under the right conditions. They are: structural, human resources, political, and symbolic.

Great managers may be charismatic or dull, generous or tight-fisted, visionary or numbers-oriented. But every effective executive follows eight simple practices: (1) they ask, 'What needs to be done?'; (2) they ask, 'what is right for the enterprise?'; (3) they develop action plans; (4) they take responsibility for decisions; (5) they take responsibility for communicating; (6) they focus on opportunities rather than problems; (7) they run productive meetings; (8) they think and say 'we,' rather than 'I.' --Peter Drucker, The Effective Executive

Structural leaders focus on designing and building an organization, a team, or some other group. Bolman and Deal refer to them as the "analysts" and the "architects." They focus on building the best structure to get things done. They lead through analysis and design. They do their homework and continually think about the relationship of structure, strategy, and the environment. They focus on implementation. They continually experiment, trying to make things better, and are open to change. Giants in the automobile industry, such as General Motors' Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., and Henry Ford, who democratized the automobile, were brilliant structural leaders.

Although the structural component is extremely important in many businesses, it may be less useful in the political arena for reasons mentioned below. Mostly, though, any organization or group will have rough going if it neglects the structural aspect. Structural leaders can be extremely effective, but they also can go overboard. The extreme structural leader will be seen as dictatorial, petty, and obsessed with detail. Attempting to rule by fiat, she has thought through everything, and knows what needs to be done. For many situations, the structural leader is perfect--our economy has thrived because of them. But not for every situation!

Human resources leaders view themselves as facilitators, catalysts--there to motivate and empower others. They typically advocate openness and are good listeners. Bolman and Deal believe that successful human resources leaders believe in people, try to be visible and accessible, and strive to empower others. In today's world, it's hard to imagine successful corporate, university, or nonprofit leadership without the human resources dimension. Without being sensitive to people's needs, it is hard to inspire and motivate them.

However, in its extreme, human resources leaders are seen as weaklings, creating a "feel-good" environment where little gets done. It is difficult to imagine successful organizations and groups under the management of an extreme human resources leader--unless they are service clubs or the fortunate few businesses that flourish when employees are allowed to do their own thing, in their own time. Most businesses, however, would eventually go bust. There is more to corporate success than a happy workforce.

Political leaders know the importance of getting a "buy in" from individuals and groups that can help make things happen. They know how to network and work the system. They know how to give favors and how to receive them in return. Bolman and Deal describe automobile executive Lee Iacocca as a political leader. He was able to sell the idea that government intervention to save Chrysler was not only good for Chrysler but also good for America--no easy task.

Of course, people in elective positions are required to be effective political leaders, but as the Iacocca example shows, politics is everywhere--in the office, the community, and even the church. Potentially a very important skill, the political dimension also can backfire, as the leader who uses it can come off as being manipulative and dishonest.

Symbolic leaders inspire us to act by their words and manner, as did Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Franklin Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, and Winston Churchill. They appeal to our emotions, using symbols to capture our attention. They tell their story in an inspiring way. Their vision is easy to understand and is communicated masterfully. When they finish with us, we want to march in their support. Most successful political figures are well aware of this frame and use it. The governor in a northern state taking a brief vacation in Florida knows that a blinding snowstorm requires her to return home as soon as possible--even at the risk of life. Not that she, personally, can do anything about the snow, but she needs to be there--to be seen, to encourage.

When President George W. Bush came to the destroyed Twin Towers site to thank the rescuers, he engaged in a symbolic act that strengthened his role as president. It inspired both workers and survivors. Effective symbolic leaders can move people to great things. But ineffective symbolic leaders are seen as fanatics or fools, having little substance.

Now for a little self-disclosure. How do these frames apply to my role as a university president? First, I find that different situations require different uses of the frames. For example, immediately after September 11, 2001, the symbolic frame was extremely important. While we spent considerable time dealing with the aftermath's immediate challenges, I had to be very visible and supportive. We had convocations and daily briefings in person and over the web, and I made numerous visits to gathering places. At that time, symbolic leadership counted for about 70 percent of my efforts. In a typical year, I spent about 30 percent of my time on symbolic matters. My reason for spending this much time was my belief that, particularly in large institutions, people want to know someone is in charge and performing the expected leadership roles. People want their highly visible leaders to act like leaders.

My position also required me to be a political leader, internally and externally. Internally, it is important to balance campus constituencies to find workable solutions to problems. I also needed to work with a board of trustees, key donors, and top local, state, and national politicians. So the political frame counted for about 25 percent in a given year.

The human resources component was also important because universities are knowledge industries where people need to feel supported, empowered, and independent (but not overly independent) so that true learning occurs. But if I overdid it there, nothing would ever get done. As I said earlier, if all an institution does is serve its membership, over time it will have a difficult time surviving. Generally, people want to feel engaged in a larger purpose. On an annual basis, I gave the human resources component 25 percent. If one fails in this area, morale gets so low that nothing gets done.

Finally, the structural frame got 20 percent. The place must be well managed, and a larger vision is required. The ship must run efficiently and effectively, while making room for the creativity of others. This frame got less time because I have found that if the right people are in the right positions, and they are held accountable, things will get done.

Just for fun, I canvassed a dozen colleagues at major universities and a like number of business leaders. I asked them how much time they gave to each frame in their work. Because the group wasn't randomly picked and the number was small, it would be dangerous to generalize from their responses. However, I do feel comfortable making a few observations:

Both groups place a high value on the human resources frame, an average (mean) of 30 percent of their time devoted to this frame. There were several scores above 40 and just two below 15. No matter what we do, we can't ignore our people.

There was far greater variability with both the political and the symbolic frames, and the overall weights given were less than for the human resources or structural frames (18 was the average percentage for the political frame and 20 for the symbolic). As is true for all the frames, there is no real difference in the responses from either group. Since I know all of these people well, I can report that higher political scores came from business leaders, whose businesses required them to be "politically wired" to get contracts. The highest political scores for university presidents came from those in highly politicized states or who choose to spend their time in this way. The lowest score (10 percent) came from a college president who said he knew it was important but didn't like doing it; he assigned a very high-level person to represent him--a good example of self-awareness. For the symbolic frame, the range was from 5 percent to 40 percent. The lowest score came from a business leader who was solely responsible for production; marketing was done elsewhere. The highest score came from a private university president whose institution greatly depends on alumni and other private support.

The structural frame (average of 32 percent), received far greater emphasis than I gave it. There were five scores above 35 and a like number below 20. Although the average score was higher than the human resources frame, there was far greater variability. The highest business score came from a production oriented company. But how to explain the several university presidents who reported scores of over 40? I think it is both a matter of personal style and interest, and, perhaps, an institutional need at a particular point in time.

So, what is to be gained from this discussion? Here's what I believe you can take home:

1. Different situations require different leadership styles.

2. The most successful situations occur when style and organizational or group needs coincide.

3. Most situations require more than one frame--and some require all. However, each situation will be weighted differently.

4. Most of us have more than one style. However, we're probably better at some than others. Knowing our strengths and weaknesses, our predilections, is very important.

5. Our personality does influence how we weight the frames and how we delegate responsibility.

Reality Exercise. Think about a leadership situation in which you have been involved or which you have observed. Describe the situation and then describe which frame best explains the leadership approach used. As I did in my example, if there is more than one frame, assign a weight to the ones used, knowing that 100 percent is all you get.

Self-Awareness Exercise. Now describe yourself in relation to the four leadership frames. Which ones best describe you?

1. John W. Gardner, On Leadership (New York: Free Press, 1990).

2. Ronald Haifetz, Leadership Without Easy Answers (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 2003).

3. Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., Who Says Elephants Can't Dance?: Inside IBM's Historic Turnaround (New York: HarperBusiness, 2002).

4. Business: The Ultimate Resource. New York: Perseus Publishing, 2002.

5. John P. Kotter, Leading Change (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press, 1996), 3.

6. Kotter, Leading Change.

7. Fred Greenstein, "The Leadership Qualities of Effective Presidents: FDR to George W. Bush," Center for Public Leadership, Conversations on Leadership, 2000-2001.

8. Business: The Ultimate Resource.

9. Ram Charan and Geoffrey Colvin, "Why CEOs Fail," Fortune, June 21, 1999, 69.

10. Harari, Oren, The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002), 257.

11. Warren Bennis and Harris Collingwood, "Conquer and Divide," Compass: A Journal of Leadership, (Cambridge, Mass.: JFK Center at Harvard Univ.).

12. Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal, "Reframing Leadership," in Business Leadership, ed. James M. Kouzes (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003).

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