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University of Massachusetts Amherst

Family Business Center

Manz: Turn Leaders into "Superleaders"

by Shel Horowitz

In any family business, the word "leadership" comes up over and over again. Charles Manz wants to replace that discussion with the word, "Superleadership."

Speaking to the Family Business Center at the Delaney House on June 15, Dr. Manz, the Nirenberg Professor of Business Leadership at the UMass School of Management, said the old styles of leadership have to make way for Superleaders.

Until about 1950, images of leadership were dominated by the Strongman (and it was almost always a man): a hard-nosed boss who laid out his expectations firmly and loudly. His power was based on dictatorship, on intimidation: giving orders and having them carried out. He did not encourage subordinates to provide wisdom or direction. and his underlings complied based on fear.

This model has its place--in emergency situations, for instance. When putting out a fire, it makes sense for one fire chief to direct a crew along chain-of-command lines. But as a long-term business model, it's not only inhumane, but doesn't encourage productivity; workers will try to avoid being noticed and will not "rock the boat" with innovations, constructive criticism, etc.

But in the second half of the 20th century, several new leadership models achieved prominence (they've always existed, but were not talked about much as a model for running a business until recently).

Transactors use rewards, rather than retribution. Everything is incentive-based, and as a result, employees are motivated to perform well enough to collect the reward--but not to do their best. This model encourages workers to do the minimum they feel they can get by with in order to collect the goodies. All the direction still comes from the leader, who spends a lot of time setting goals for the followers and evaluating their achievements. Offering rewards for compliance, Manz says, is "a short-term perspective on leadership."

Then there are the Visionary Heroes: Joan of Arc, Martin Luther King, John Kennedy. They inspire and exhort, persuading with the glory of their mission and their own personal charisma. Their followers would swim an icy river with 100-pound packs on their backs, willing to give their all. But Manz calls these followers "enthusiastic sheep." Once the leader is removed, everything falls apart; these subordinates "have not developed their own legs." This model is popular in management courses today.

Manz feels even this style can be improved upon; that's where the Superleaders come in. Superleaders drive their company from the bottom up, seeking wisdom and direction from their subordinates--and creating a feeling of ownership among them. Followers, organized into "empowered teams," know their voices are heard, their opinions are important, their real-word field-based observations are crucial to the company's future--they become "self-leaders"--and he organization builds multiple pillars of strength.

Manz listed seven steps to develop Superleaders:

  1. Become an effective self-leader
  2. Model self-leadership
  3. Encourage self-set goals
  4. Use rewards and constructive feedback to develop self-leadership throughout the organization
  5. Create positive thought patterns
  6. Promote self-leading teams
  7. Facilitate a self-leadership culture

And if you've succeeded in building a self-leadership culture--if you've become a successful Superleader, "sometimes the best thing when they're ready is to step out of the way!"

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