September 1, 1997
By Jennifer McNulty
The most powerful forces shaping a leader's success are his or her self-confidence and the degree of trust a group has in its leader. In fact, says organizational management expert Martin Chemers, those qualities play as big a role as talent in forging a leader's success.
Chemers, who has studied leadership effectiveness among corporate executives, college basketball players, fast-food managers, military leaders, and ROTC students, dubs qualities such as confidence and optimism "mettle."
"There are two sources of mettle," said Chemers, a professor of psychology and dean of the Social Sciences Division. "The first is part of an individual's disposition--your belief in your leadership ability--because a big part of leadership is convincing your subordinates that you can do the job. And the second is the degree to which you feel that you fit in and are accepted as a leader."
The second point has important implications for women and minorities in leadership positions who may find themselves in situations that "leach away" their feelings of acceptance as others either purposefully or inadvertently create on-the-job hardships. "Making women and minorities feel a part of an organization empowers them and will allow them to perform effectively," said Chemers, whose specialties include organizational psychology, cross-cultural management, job stress and illness, and management training.
When it comes to powerful social forces such as sexism and racism, added Chemers: "It's up to senior management and top executives to establish a climate of confidence in their appointed leaders."
Each success helps break down persistent negative stereotypes that women and minorities make poor leaders, noted Chemers. Organizations can lend support to their leaders by helping them build up their individual mettle, too. "Organizations today have to be based on the assumption that everyone can do the job," said Chemers. "Failures by minorities and women have to be seen as organizational failures, not individual ones."
Such a climate of shared responsibility, in which everyone feels accountable for the performance and development of every worker, begins at the top, he said. "When managers build relationships with subordinates, it's important to foster a climate of interdependence and mutuality," said Chemers. "You set the tone in your unit, and you can create the expectation of impartiality."
Sports teams provide a useful model of what Chemers calls a "culture of performance." "Good teams stay good for years," said Chemers. "Winning teams--and successful companies--usually have successful leaders."
Chemers is the author of the new book An Integrative Theory of Leadership (Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997) and dozens of academic articles on organizational leadership.
In An Integrative Theory of Leadership, Chemers offers a comprehensive overview of leadership theory and concludes that factors such as confidence, competence, trustworthiness, the ability to provide guidance and inspiration, and the talent to mobilize one's own resources and those of one's team are critical elements of effective leadership. He is also the coeditor of Diversity in Organizations: New Perspectives for a Changing Workplace (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc., 1995).
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