Social construction of leadership

Social construction of leadership







Social Construction of Leadership

The article, “Problems, problems, problems: The social construction of ‘leadership’” by Keith Grint, gives a closer look at the issue of management, leadership and authority. Grint begins by giving a deeper definition of leadership and management. He contends that managers use defined and tested processes to deal with emerging problems, while leaders try to reduce anxiety when problems arise by developing original ideas. He observes how people respond to different situations and he notes that leaders do not necessarily make decisions by analyzing and contextualizing the situation. He categorizes three different types of situations, which are tame, wicked and critical, and he proposes three different types of power, calculative, ideological and coercive, that are ideal for dealing with each of the situations. Grint proposes that wicked problems require the application of leadership since they are complex and original. They do not have a specific right or wrong answer. Critical problems on the other hand attract a command type of authority since there is usually no time to deliberate on the action to take.

While Grint has explored the subject of management and leadership in a deep meaning, he has categorically failed to mention the subject of change. Leadership and management cannot be fully examined or exercised practically without change taking place. All his illustrations and case studies that concern leadership and management have involved the process of change.  Leaders emerge and are noted when situations cease to be as they were before, and they start becoming more challenging. Leaders and managers do not have to come from senior management and those in the highest positions are not always responsible for the decisions made (Ladkin, 2010). Although Grint mentions this, especially when dealing with tame decisions, he does not mention the fact that other junior members are involved in making decisions. For instance, in the case study concerning Iraq, Grint only mentions the decisions made by the president, and noticeably chooses to omit other people who might have been involved in the decision making process.

Grint is of the opinion that analyzing a situation is not necessary, before making decisions. he states, ‘I am not suggesting that the correct decision-making process lies in the correct analysis of the situation’ (Grint, 2005, p. 1475).  This may not augur well with some of the scholars who support contextualizing situations before making decisions. It is important for a person to analyze the situation so that he or she can decide on the decisions to make. This will also enable the leader to note the trends in various sectors (Gold, et al., 2010). Klann (2003) suggests that it is important for leaders to examine a crisis more deeply, so that they can observe and take advantage of the opportunities that are present. Taking the illustration of the war in Iraq, the leader would have taken the time to analyze the situation before declaring war. He instead chose to declare war before a careful analysis of the situation, although there had been numerous terrorist activities in different parts of the world. His command style of leadership meant that he took an immediate action.

Grint purports that in most cases, leaders usually have many choices, but they make decisions, which are contrary to their beliefs. This is not always the case however, as the most effective leaders will often act according to their beliefs (Marker, 2010). Grint claims that leaders lust after, and are corrupted by power (Grint, 2005, p. 1469). Effective and successful leaders have a vision of what they want to do and which direction they want to take. They are passionate and they are full of integrity and courage (Baltax, 2010; Stephenson, 2011). Grint seems to have focused on the greed embodied by some leaders and he has left out the positive attributes. It is not easy to focus on the personal attributes and values possessed by a leader and try to place everyone who aspires to be a leader in that category. Murray (2010) asserts that great leaders must show the characters of humility and arrogance. While many people may not support the idea of arrogant leaders, Murray is of the opinion that people see arrogant leaders as people who are worth following, yet they should be humble enough to respect other people’s decisions.

When defining and differentiating between management and leadership, Grint suggests that management deals with situations that have existed before and therefore the manager will use past solutions, while leadership supports the use of innovative ideas. This definition is supported by McCrimmon (2010), who suggests that leadership calls for new direction while management executes directions that have existed in the past. Therefore, based on this definition, it is worthwhile to note that many people make conclusions based on past decisions. Very few people come up with original ideas especially when they have a crisis. They would rather do what have been tried and tested before, rather than try to experiment with innovative ideas at that moment. They prefer to remain in comfortable positions, where they are familiar with the limitations and weaknesses.

I do not agree with Grint’s perception of terrorism. He does not see it as something significant and he states, ‘It is not as if terrorism (as defined by the coalition) is – at least as yet – a significant threat to human life, especially compared to other ‘traditional killer’ (Grint, 2005, p. 1485). He compares the number of deaths that have occurred because of road traffic accidents, diseases, and smoking, to those that have been caused by acts of terrorism and global war. This seems as if he is justifying terrorist activities because he does not seem to think these deaths matter. He does not offer a definite way of dealing with such an issue, but notes that terrorism can be perceived as a crisis, wicked or tame problem. It is important that leaders take an active role when handling acts of terrorism or other disasters (Ursano et al., 2003; Meindl & Shamir, 2007). The way that a leader will choose to define such a problem, will ultimately decide how he or she will deal with it. This is seen in the way the United States of America has devoted all efforts in combating terrorism (Winkler, 2006).

Epistemology refers to how people become knowledgeable on different issues. Grint uses rational thinking after carefully analyzing some of the relevant literature. He uses diverse materials such as books and journals. Some of these are not directly relevant to the subject in discussion and they include different fictional works such as a quote from Shakespeare, analogies from different stories such as An Enemy of the People and the March Folly among others. He uses many different books, journal publications and scholarly articles, in addition to several websites. This shows the extensive research he has undertaken and it demonstrates his depth of knowledge.














Baltax, J. (2010). Leading in Times of uncertainty. CPA Practice Management Forum, 6 (12), 5–9

Gold, J., Thorpe, R., & Mumford, A. (2010). Handbook of leadership and management development. United Kingdom: Gower Publishing, Ltd.

Joseph, J. (2003). Social theory: Conflict, cohesion and consent. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Klann, G. (2003). Crisis leadership: Using military lessons, organizational experiences, and the power of influence3 to lessen the impact of chaos on the people you lead. Greensboro, NC: Center for Creative Leadership

Ladkin, D. (2010). Rethinking leadership: A new look at old leadership questions. United Kingdom: Edward Elgar Publishing

Marker, D. (2010). Leadership or management? Management Quarterly 51, (2) 31–35

McCrimmon, M. (2010). Reinventing leadership and management. Ivey Business Journal Online May/June

Meindl, R. J., Shamir, B. (2007). Follower-centered perspectives on leadership: A tribute to the memory of James R. Meindl. Charlotte, NC: IAP

Murray, A. (2010). What makes a great leader. Wall Street Journal (Online)

Stephenson, C. (2011). Leaders of good character. Ivey Business Journal Online Jan/Feb

Winkler, C. (2006). In the name of terrorism: Presidents o political violence in the post-World War II era. Albany, NY: SUNY Press

Ursano, J. R., Fullerton, S. C., & Norwood, E. A. (2003). Terrorism and disaster: Individual and community mental health interventions. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press

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