A noted management expert takes issue with the omnipotent role the academicians, practicing managers, and the general public has given to the concept of leadership. He says, in the 1500s, people ascribed all events they didn’t understand to God. Why did the crops fail? God. Why did someone die? God. Now our all purpose explanation is leadership. When a company succeeds people need someone to give the credit to. And that’s typically the firm’s CEO. Similarly when a company does poorly, they need someone to blame. CEOs also play this role. But much of an organization’s success or failure is just a matter of being in the right or wrong place at a given time. This point was illustrated in California during e summer of 2003. California’s economy was in bad shape and the state faced a $28 billion deficit. Angry and frustrated, Californians wanted someone to blame and that someone was the state’s governor. Gray Davis. With Davis’s popularity ratings dropping as low as 21 percent citizens petitioned for a recall vote on the governor. He was voted out in October 2003 and replaced by actor, turned politician Arnold Schwarzenegger. In reality, Davis had little to do with the budget deficit. Most of it due to the collapse of the dot.com craze which had powered the state’s economy in the 1990s, and the stock market decline of 2000-02. In 2001-02 for instance state revenues declined by early 17 percent. But Californians wanted a target for their fiscal pain and frustration, and Davis played that role. The key leadership question should have been, How is ousting Gray Davis going to close California’s budget deficit? The answer is: It won’t. One may or may not think Schwarzenegger is a good governor, but the point is that leaders cannot do everything. There are limits.
In this article, we present two perspectives that challenge the widely accepted belief in the importance of leadership. The first argument proposes that leadership is more about appearances than reality. You don’t have to be an effective leader as long as you took one. The second argument directly attacks the notion that some leadership will always be effective regardless of the situation. This argument contends that in many situations, whatever actions leaders exhibit are irrelevant.
Leadership as an Attribution:
It deals with the ways in which people try take sense of our cause and effect relationships. We said when something happens we want to attribute it to something else. The attribution theory of leadership says that leadership is merely an attribution that people make about other individuals. The attribution theory has shown that people characterized leaders as having such traits as intelligence, outgoing personality strong verbal skills, aggressiveness, understanding, and industriousness. At the organizational level, the attributions framework accounts for the conditions under which people use leadership to explain organizational outcomes. Those conditions are extremes in organizational performances. When an organization has either extremely negative or extremely positive performance, people are prone to take leadership attributions to explain the performance. This tendency helps to account for the vulnerability of CEOs and high ranking state officials and their organizations suffer a major financial setback, regardless of whether they had much to do with it, and also accounts for why CEOs tend to be given credit for extremely positive financial results – again, regardless of how much or how little they contributed.
One of ore interesting findings in the attribution theory of leadership literature is the perception that effective leaders are generally considered consistent or unwavering in their decisions. One of the explanations for why Ronald Reagan (during his first term, as US president ) was perceived as a leader was that he was fully committed, steadfast, and consistent in the decisions he made and he goals he set. Former US President George Hebert Bush, in contrast, undermined the public’s perception of his leadership by increasing income taxes after stating categories during his campaign: Read my lips. No new taxes.