Contingency Theory: Leadership and Multi-Organization

The viable multi-organization, like the effective organizations of today, will require strong leadership to provide direction to the enterprise. Unlike many of today’s effective organizations (e.gthe high-performing container organization) , however, the effective multi-organization will require not just a few such leaders, but many of them. All the evidence of this and other research points to the need for multiple leadership in these complex organizations. As they cope with heterogeneous and dynamic environments, the issues and knowledge involved become too complicated for only a few leaders to understand. Simpler organizations dealing with more homogeneous and stable environments can be led by a few great men, and this gives these leaders great prominence. They fit the picture of the romantic hero. The fact that the multi-organization needs many leaders may reduce the unique prominence of any one of them, but this must not obscure the importance of each. All these leaders will have to face the tensions of making commitments of great consequence. These will be the modern heroes, even if they are not conspicuous to the general public.

Perhaps even more importantly, several different leadership roles will be required in the multi-organization. We saw this in the high-performing plastics firm. Those parts of the organization that are centers of innovation and entrepreneur- ship must be led by managers with the capacity to innovate and take risks. These leaders will have to be skilled in dealing with the unpredictable and ambiguous scientific and market sectors of the environment. They will require the capacity to deal effectively with creative scientific, technical, and marketing specialists. Those parts of the organization performing more routine tasks will require different kinds of leaders who will fit more closely our traditional leadership models. These men will be needed to lead the specialists performing the more programmed tasks that are more likely to appear in production and sales areas.

The need for these two types of leadership for the multi- organization is not particularly novel. Managers have for some time been aware of the requirements for both of these roles. The leadership role that does seem to be unique to the multi- organization is that of the integrator, who must actively link together its many parts. Too often in the past the term “coordinator” has conjured up images of a passive, responsive individual who transmitted information back and forth between more active managers. The findings of this study clearly suggest that this stereotype does not apply to integrators in effective multi-organizations. These people will need to have high influence in decision making, based on their unique perspective. They will need to be leaders who are clearly identified with and committed to the success of their product groups. They will have to be leaders who can take the initiative in setting goals and who have the interpersonal skills to achieve the resolution of difficult conflicts.

Finally, the multi-organization at its top level will require leadership that can formulate a general framework of purpose to guide the efforts of the parts. This will require the highest order of integrative and creative capacity. Perhaps one of the most important functions of these top managers will be the designing of new forms of complex organizations to better achieve the multiple purposes of our evolving civilization. In essence, their problem will be to create and use multiple centers and multiple styles of leadership. In the organization of the future, acts of individual leadership will not be out of date. To the contrary, these acts, given the increased environmental ambiguity and the increased freedom to choose organizational ends and means, will be more crucial than ever in determining organizational health and, beyond that, the well-being of our human society.

Source: Lawrence Paul R., Lorsch Jay W. (1967), Organization and Environment: Managing Differentiation and Integration, Harvard Business School.

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