Omnipotent and symbolic leadership styles

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The approach of leadership is one of the most important part of any organization. The success of the organization depends on the type of leader it has. Finkelstein, Hambrick & Cannella (2009) defined leadership as a type of authority accorded to a person by their followers or subordinates. The literature on leadership is quite diverse and deep, and it is no news that a lot of books have analyzed the perspective of leadership in several organizations and scenarios. A general agreement in these books is that the performance outcomes are judged in a predictable manner depending on the type of leadership quality and styles portrayed by the top management of the organization. Different leaders use different styles in managing subordinates.
Efficient leadership, like Finkelstein, Hambrick & Cannella (2009) observes, is one which emphasizes on teamwork, ethics, and professionalism. In this paper, two key leadership types have been analyzed: Omnipotent and symbolic leaderships. Consequently, two case studies have been used as key references: the leadership styles of General Savage and Colonel Davenport in the movie Twelve O’clock High and General Honore and Mr. Brown in Hurricane Katrina. The paper draws from a wide array of literature to support the analysis. The two leadership perspectives are compared based on their conventional attributes as demonstrated in the cases and the literature.
Whichever type of leadership adopted in any organization, how leadership responsibilities are conducted is essential in influencing the outcomes. The two case scenarios describe two different types of leadership and managerial perspectives. General Savage and General Honore are leaders whose hands and minds are always on the task and have full and direct control over all activities being carried out by their juniors. Savage believes that the failures and successes of the force depend entirely on his leadership (King, 1949) and so does Honore. For these reasons, he is often tough on his subordinates, making sure that all orders are executed in the right way, and to the standards, he has designed.
Although the two leaders use different approaches to go exercise control, both are at the centre of all operations in their respective organizations. For instance, Honore gives everyone a chance to express their views and positions on various activities. After issuing an order, Honore allows each employee under him to choose their ways of doing it. He is too liberal to the junior employees’ opinions and responds positively to those opposing his orders, taking them as positive criticisms which give him a chance to look at an issue from a different angle to seek alternative means. Savage, on the other hand, exercises absolute control over all affairs of the organization. Everything must be done according to how he feel right. He is directly in full control over all unit’s operations as well as the subjects. All in all, the two leaders are in direct influence of all activities undertaken in their organizations, a characteristic which is associated with the omnipotent leadership approach owing to their direct influence and control over all operations in their respective organizations (Finkelstein, Hambrick & Cannella, 2009).
Honore and Savage’s styles of omnipotent leadership approaches reflect the opinions of (Finkelstein, Hambrick & Cannella, 2009) regarding the approaches to organizational control. According to Finkelstein, Hambrick & Cannella (2009), control can be exercised either directly or indirectly as is evident in the two scenarios. Depending on the leaders’ individual ways of dealing with their employees, some, such as General Savage, prefer to take the high-handedness approach. In this approach, the leaders are the centre of command; themselves irrefutable by the junior employees. This approach is common with the police and military scenarios where the powers of the superior are absolute, and so are the commands they issue (). The other approach is the passive approach in which the omnipotent leader exercises control from behind the scenes. The leader defines the commands concerning what needs to be done but allows everyone to execute them in their own ways (Honore, 2009). These approaches are utilized by General Savage and General Honore respectively to exercise controls in their organizations.
According to Vickrey (1995), the omnipotent approach to leadership, demonstrated by the two leaders, is effective since it ensures that all activities are carried out perfectly as they need to be performed. A leader who is always present to ensure that all things are done as required also commands the workforce effectively to ensure that everyone’s participation yields positive outcomes to the organization (Finkelstein, Hambrick & Cannella, 2009). General Savage and General Honore’s leadership styles fit perfectly in this description of leadership. For instance, Savage fires or demotes any officer who does not perform to his expectations or commits a mistake contrary to the military codes. As a result, everyone is kept on their toes, always committed to doing only what is right, and profitable to the organization.
Omnipotent and symbolic leadership styles contrast one another sharply owing to the manner in which leadership responsibilities are carried out in each. Consequently, the outcomes of every organizations’ operations are influenced greatly by the leadership efforts invested. Although many successful organizations are those whose leadership is directly responsible for the activities and operations being carried out, i.e. the leader is at the center of every operation, concerns are raised regarding their effectiveness in the long-term (Finkelstein, Hambrick & Cannella, 2009). The omnipotent perspective of leadership accords the leader unlimited control over the organization and its entire purpose. In this regime, the leader is at the center of all undertaking (functions, purpose, and operations) at the company. As a result, it is only the leadership (managers) who are responsible for the successes and failures of the organization. Finkelstein, Hambrick & Cannella (2009) refer to this type of management as an ‘absolute’ management system.
Although omnipotent leadership yields positive outcomes since the leader’s presence compel everyone to work hard and accomplish all tasks accurately and beneficially, this style of leadership/ administration may pose serious setbacks which when not controlled or managed effectively, may result in serious backlash to the organization. For instance, since the leader is directly in charge of every activity undertaken in the organization, fear among the subordinates may make it impossible to contribute their valuable opinion to help to steer the organization upfront (Lussier, 2015). Also, depending on the personality of the leader, this type of leadership can undermine participation willingly by employees, result in frustration due to compulsion, and retrogress support from junior leaders due to dominion. A case in point is when most of the pilots in General Savage’s troop tender their requests for transfer due to constant humiliation, frustration and lack of support. It based on these reasons that omnipotent leadership approaches are said to undermine growth by focusing solely on productivity and success (Lussier, 2015).
The previous approach is contrasted with that of Davenport and Mr. Brown whose leadership roles are second to those of their seniors. As opposed to Savage and Honore, Mr. Brown and Davenport’s leadership actions are controlled and influenced by powers all originating from other quarters. Although they exercise command on their respective units, they act on commands issued from other powers above them and only relay these directives to their unit employees. This approach to leadership, referred to as ‘symbolic,’ sharply contrasts the previous approach, whereby the leaders act on commands issued by other people in more senior leadership positions rather than have absolute leadership controls (Vickrey, 1995).
Symbolic leadership view is contrasted with omnipotent leadership view depending on how the operations of the organization are run and managed. Here, the leader only serves a symbolic role other than taking an active position in influencing issues, purpose and operations of the organization directly. In this approach, the leader/ manager takes a passive role as opposed to an active role in management. As a result, the leader is not considered responsible directly to the successes or failures of the organization. Symbolic leaders have only limited impacts on certain substantive operations, purpose or outcomes of the organization while a huge chunk of the leadership decisions is influenced from outside (Vickrey, 1995).
Leadership is an essential bit of any organization. The type and mode of leadership style or approach adopted in any organization bear direct influence to its success. The success of any leadership approach depends largely on how activities, operations, and events are coordinated by the organization to bring about success. This study has made an illustrative comparison between two distinct types of leadership perspectives: Omnipotent and symbolic leadership approaches. Using the case studies: Hurricane Katrina and Twelve O’clock High movie, the differences between the two leadership approaches is evidently illustrated. Although omnipotent leadership approach is results oriented and makes every employee alert to meeting the targets, it discourages participation and thus diminishing output. On the other hand, symbolic leadership perspective encourages participation from all quarters thereby enriching the outcomes of every operation hence its strength over omnipotent approach.
Lussier, R.N. (2015). Management Fundamentals: Concepts, applications and skills development. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.
Finkelstein, S., Hambrick, D. C., & Cannella, A. A. (2009). Strategic Leadership: Theory and research on executives, top management teams, and boards. Oxford University Press, USA.
King, H. (Director). (1949). Twelve O’Clock High [Motion Picture].
Honore, R.L. (2009, January). A Military General’s Leadership Lessons: Lieutenant General Russel L. Honore offers subtle and surprising insights into the art of leadership in organizations. (R. Jennifer, Interviewer) Business Journal.
Vickrey, J. (1995). Symbolic leadership: The symbolic nature of leadership. Concepts for Air Force Leadership: AU, 24.

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