Article Calls for Organizations
To Build "Everyday Leaders"
Posted June 26, 2003
HOLLAND -- For organizations to succeed and re-
establish public trust, a Hope College professor believes
that businesses, and educational institutions in teaching
their students, must do more to develop the capabilities of
middle managers--or "everyday" leaders--instead of focusing
on those at the top.
Vicki TenHaken, visiting associate professor of
management, is the author of "Everyday Leaders," published
in the May, 2003, issue of the "International Economics &
Business Research Journal." She feels that the celebration
of "larger-than-life charismatic Leaders, with a capital
'L'" during the 1980s and '90s has, with disastrous results,
diminished emphasis on the more important role played by
those who contribute quietly every day.
"This focus on the Leader is at least a partial
cause of the lack of trust we are witnessing in our business
organizations today," she writes. "Leaders believe they
must behave in some larger than life way. With the
expectation that they must see things the rest of us do not,
they make riskier and riskier decisions, desperate to prove
they deserve the role."
It hasn't helped, she noted, that managers in turn
were denigrated in the CEO-enamored era. For example, in
his best-selling 1989 book "On Becoming a Leader" Warren
Bennis used descriptions like "The manager is a copy; the
leader is an original"; "The manager imitates; the leader
originates"; and "The manager accepts the status quo; the
leader challenges it."
"Given these types of views, is it any wonder no
one wanted to be considered a mere manager?," TenHaken
writes. "Are we surprised that the leaders of our
organizations aspire to be 'charismatic visionaries?'"
The unflattering portrayal of managers, TenHaken
feels, hid a crucial truth: that the mid-level "everyday
leaders" are key in a variety of ways. "Most situations
requiring decisions are everyday challenges that don't come
with time out to check with a Leader who has all the
answers--they are woven into the very fabric of managers'
jobs," she writes.
"Everyday leaders may not leave a bold mark on
history because they work on a different scale," she writes.
"The efforts of everyday leaders may not be noticed by the
media or recorded by the business press, but they matter.
They matter because it is the everyday leaders who keep our
companies and our countries running."
TenHaken cites employee morale as just one area in
which a competent, conscientious middle manager can make a
major difference. "There is research supporting the fact
that the single most important factor in an individual's
satisfaction with his or her job is the immediate manager,"
She sees signs that priorities are changing. In
his 2001 book "Good to Great," for example, James Collins
credits behind-the-scenes leaders "comfortable with the idea
that most people won't even know that the roots of the
[organization's] success trace back to their efforts." In
September of 2002, a "Business Week" search for leaders who
had built solid companies with superior performance found
none who were visionary recent recruits charged with
remaking culture or strategy; instead, they had a passion
for their firms and had led their companies an average of 18
years. Also in September of 2002, "Fortune" magazine
announced that "The era of the dominant CEO died a quick and
It is a trend that TenHaken hopes will continue.
Business students, for example, can be taught lessons at the
operational rather than corporate level--providing them with
perspective more likely to apply to their work situation.
It is a tact she has taken in including a module on
"operational planning" in the Management Theory course she
teaches. She developed the material on her own, since
textbooks didn't include it.
"Perhaps now that we have seen the problems
resulting from this Leader-focused approach to running our
organizations, we can return to a more reasonable approach--
one that is actually attainable by mere mortals--where many
are called upon to be good, competent, everyday leaders,"
she writes. "If we begin to focus on developing the skills
and characters of these everyday leaders, our organizations
will not only be more successful, but surely more trusted
than they are today."
TenHaken has taught at Hope since 2000. She came
to the college with 25 years of business experience, most
recently as an executive at Herman Miller Inc. and earlier
with General Electric. A 1973 Hope graduate, she holds an
MBA from Grand Valley State University.