The institutionalization of leadership

1. Phillip Selznick

In one of the most sophisticated accounts, Phillip Selznick’s (1957) Leadership in administration explicitly divides the soul from the body. The organization is a cor- porate body, a tool or instrument rationally designed to direct human energies to a fixed goal, an expendable and limited apparatus. However, the body has a soul, something largely natural, living, and unplanned, a distinctive identity, something which Selznick identifies as an ‘institution’ (1957: 21). Organizational tools evolve into something infused with value and meaning, becoming soulful institutions. Or they will if they are managed properly and there is specificity about how to achieve such proper management.

Management is the job of the elites: ‘Maintenance of social values depends on the autonomy of elites’ (1957: 8). These autonomous elites must produce that com- mitment and identification, that great soulful boundless leap, which makes the bodies of the employees more than a mere tool. The elites must make the individ- ual components of the tool identify with and feel committed to the elites and their purposes. They will do this both by stimulating soulful feelings and by controlling them ‘to produce the desired balance of forces’ (1957: 100). These soulful individ- uals sound closer to well-made Replicants than to real flesh and blood people (Scott 1982; Dick 1968). They will have the freedom of human agency but it is one that will always be exercised in such a way as ‘to be consistent with the orga- nization’s objectives’ because of the ‘organization personality’ (Simon 1957: 109) that the elites will have implanted in the Replicants – those simulacra of free men and women – who people the instrument. It makes the Tyrell Corporation seem less science fiction and more organization science. Management, in the form of its elites, seeks to normalize the psyche of subordinates such that obedient self-supervision becomes a reflexive instinct. (Appropriately, the Tyrell Corporation’s emblem in the movie Blade runner is an all-seeing eye.)

There were other options, however, to the Blade runner strategy. One of these drew directly from Follett’s early-century and neglected insights, and only came into definition towards the end of the century whose early possibilities she sketched. The trick was to bring the routines enacted in political economy into cre- ative tension with the routines being constructed to create obedient subjects, and to draw from the soul thus constructed a creativity that both the political economy of the body and the moral economy of the soul denied.

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

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