By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.
Director, Yeshua Catholic International Leadership Institute
In the last issue of The Catholic Leader, we discussed some of the problems that arise in compliance cultures — where leadership sends the message that the chief expectation of followers is that they do only what they are told to do.
This past month a friend sent us a book that outlines more problems in organizations that rely on compliance to achieve their objectives. Dr. Thomas Gordon, author of Leader Effectiveness Training but probably better known for his Parent Effectiveness Training book and programs, says the impact of coercive "power-based authoritarian leadership ...reduces communication from group members to the leaders .... builds status barriers between leaders and their subordinates, thus reducing member-initiated interactions ... (encourages) members (to) cover up their problems and lie about their mistakes ... generates hostility and resentment ....(and) requires people to be afraid and dependent."
Dr. Gordon also talks about the price paid by authoritarian leaders. "A leadership style that depends heavily on coercive power will require you to maintain a rather consistent attitude of suspicion and distrust. You'll have to be guarded in what you tell people, be on guard to detect signs of resistance to your power (or outright insubordination). Along with this vigilance, as an authoritarian leader you will find yourself viewing others as possessing limited capacity and low potential for self-direction, for constructive change and personal development, for thinking for themselves.
"If you choose coercive power as your way of leadership, it will make an impact on your personal life in other ways. ... by assuming all the responsibility for group decisions and taking on the total burden for implementing and enforcing policies and rules you will pay a price of increased tension, worry, and anxiety — and ultimately have poorer physical and mental health."
Perhaps what's most interesting about Dr. Gordon's findings, as quoted here, are that they appear in a 1977 edition of his book. That's 33 years ago! But perhaps that shouldn't surprise us. We still have some work to do in getting out the message about how to be effective leaders — ideally as S3 Leaders as Jesus taught and modeled 2,000 years ago.
Meanwhile, the body of research that contradicts our traditional way of understanding leadership as compelling the compliance of people keeps growing and growing. An updated (2001) edition of Dr. Gordon's book can be found by clicking here.
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