Leadership and authority

1. Chester Barnard

Chester Barnard joined forces with Mayo when he cited him to the effect that ‘authority depends upon a co-operative personal attitude of individuals on the one hand; and the system of communication in the organization on the other’ (1938: 175). What managers should communicate are strong moral values, which it was management’s duty to provide, said Barnard. Good management requires emo- tional work, and it is the task of the managerial elite to configure others as servants of responsible authority through guiding them emotionally, thought Barnard, and Mayo (1975) seemed to agree with this diagnosis.

For Barnard, authority relations were not a given but had to be worked at by managers. Authority only exists in so far as people are willing to accept it. The per- vasiveness of authority can be expanded by gradually enlarging the ‘zone of indif- ference’ within which compliance with orders will be perceived in neutral terms without any questioning of authority by employees. Managers should seek to extend the borders of this zone through material incentives but more especially through providing others with status, prestige, and personal power.

Communications, especially in the informal organization (which Mayo had ‘discovered’ in his interpretation of the Hawthorne experiments), are absolutely central to decision making. Management’s responsibility is to harness informal groupings and get them working for the organization, not against it. Everyone should know what the channels of communication are and should have access to formal channels of communication that should be as short and direct as possible. All of these new technologies of power should not replace the scientific manage- ment of work and organization design but should supplement it, be added to it as new forms of persuasion.

Where individuals worked with common values rather than common orders, they would work much more effectively. While Barnard had realized that it was more effective to work on the enrichment and advancement of consciousness as a technol- ogy of power rather than merely the body, Mayo also seemed to realize that the unconsciousness and the state that he referred to as ‘reverie’ – a kind of semi-consciousness – needed attention as well. It was the hidden fire that had been illuminated by Freud and his followers. Most people’s actions were driven by the unconscious, and this was as true of people at work as at war. Agitators and radicals were victims of neurotic fantasies that could be traced, invariably, to infantile history. If individuals could be guided by therapy in work, they would be healed of their neu- roses. Organizations should organize teams and use personnel interviews to aid members, as Mayo (1985) put it, to get ‘rid of useless emotional complications’, ‘to associate more easily, more satisfactorily with other persons – fellow workers or supervisors – with whom he is in daily contact’, and to develop in the worker a ‘desire and capacity to work better with management’. The manager was to be a good shep- herd, educating and leading his flock, through ‘clinical’ and ‘counseling’ skill.

One should note that Barnard did not always represent authority in such a pastoral mode. More often than not he was, as Wolin (1960: 411) suggests, a no- nonsense rationalist who, in common with later theorists such as Nobel economics laureate Herbert Simon (1957), saw authority in far more rational and power-full terms. When superior power in a hierarchy commands the other to do as they are told, whether they want to or not, that is power. Communication skills can soften power but they do not replace it. Behind the smooth words and clever communi- cation campaigns it is evident that power relations are still being constituted, ready for managerial intervention and action, should the gentler, softer tools of persua- sion prove less seductive than imagined.

2. The humanization of work

In the UK, Australia and much of Europe, especially in Scandinavia, these concerns fused into the humanization of work movement.7 Morale and attitude surveys became significant instruments for calculating and ranking the importance of specific issues and measuring the effectiveness of measures taken to address them. The measures taken were usually drawn from the new disciplines of management communication, leadership studies and the explicit management of the person and collective body of employees – personnel – or, as it became in the 1980s, human resource management (HRM). Communication had a special role to play. HRM should align employee values with the objectives determined by management authority. It would do this by ‘explaining the situation, clearing up misunderstand- ings, and allaying fears and anxieties’ (Rose 1989: 72). The nature of managerial authority should not be left to chance. It should be shaped by the appropriate lead- ership style. As Rose put it, ‘autocratic leadership produced aggression or apathy … laissez-faire leadership produced chaos, democratic leadership produced not only feelings of loyalty and belonging but also the most work of the highest quality. Democratic leadership was … good ethics … good psychology and good business’ (1996: 145). And, in a faint echo of utilitarianism, such leadership offered a science of the happiness of the greatest number:

It appeared that one could utilize the dynamics of group life to rethink work in a way that fused the values of democracy, productivity, and contentment. There was no antithesis between what was good for the worker and what was good for the enterprise. The worker’s interest in work was more than merely that of maximizing wages and min- imizing the severity of labor in terms of effort and hours. Through work, the worker obtained psychological and social benefits: fulfillment and a sense of belonging. And as a corollary, the productive worker was one who felt satisfied and involved in work. Hence the boss’s interest in the laborer should not be restricted to the technical organi- zation of the labor process, and the establishment of effective systems of command, authority and control. It had to encompass the happiness of the worker, the human rela- tions of the enterprise … This psychology of the worker as a social subject was explic- itly fused to a radical project for transforming the conditions of labor and the authoritative relations of the workplace in the name of ethical principles, political beliefs, industrial efficiency, and mental health. (1996: 142–3).

The conduit from leaders to employees ran through the personnel department, where these new truths were lodged in the many innovative personnel management techniques that were developed.8 The personnel officers (a term that seemed to have been incorporated seamlessly from military usage) documented values and senti- ments, diagnosed malaises, and dispensed good counsel to ‘create the internal har- mony that was the condition of a happy and productive factory’ (Rose 1989: 72).

Source: Clegg Stewart, Courpasson David, Phillips Nelson X. (2006), Power and Organizations, SAGE Publications Ltd; 1st edition.

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