| HBS Working Paper Series
The Ontological Foundations of Leadership and Performance: Being a Leader, and the Effective Exercise of Leadership, A New Model
This paper is the (pre-course) introduction document to an experimental course developed by the authors and taught at the U. of Rochester Simon School of Business. The intention of the course is to leave the participants actually being leaders and being able to exercise leadership effectively, and for the course to contribute to creating a new science of leadership. The course is founded on an ontological model of human nature.
By ontological we mean the following: If you have ever wondered what it would be like to be a bird, or wondered what it is like to be your dog, or to be a person of the opposite gender, or what it is like to be some particular friend of yours, you were in an ontological inquiry.
Ontology as a general subject is concerned with the being of anything. However, here we are concerned specifically with the ontology of human beings, that is, the being of a human being.
For a narrower and therefore easier example of being, we can talk about being angry, or being antisocial, or being a man or woman of character. We could examine these ways of being from the comfort of our somewhat familiar perspectives of the science of psychology or neuroscience.
While less familiar for us and therefore perhaps at first uncomfortable, it is also possible to examine any of these ways of being from an ontological perspective. Here we would be examining the being aspect of being angry, or being antisocial, or being a man or woman of character. (Webster’s Dictionary (1998) defines being as "fundamental or essential nature".) From this perspective we clearly see that when we are being angry, we are likely to act in anger. Likewise for being antisocial, or being a man or woman of character. From the ontological perspective it is clear that being constrains and shapes behavior.
The ontological perspective is powerful when dealing with the being of being a leader, and being able to exercise leadership effectively. Like acting in anger when we are being angry, or acting with ease if we are being at ease, or acting with confidence when we are being confident, if we master the being of being a leader, we are likely to act as a leader, and effectively exercise leadership. And, this course is about being a leader, and acting effectively in exercising leadership as a natural consequence of being a leader.
Effective leadership does not come from mere knowledge about what leaders do, or trying to emulate the characteristics or styles of noteworthy leaders, or from trying to remember and follow the steps, tips or techniques from books on leadership, and certainly not from merely being in a leadership position, or position of authority.
An epistemological mastery of a subject leaves you knowing. An ontological mastery of a subject leaves you being. This course is about access to being a leader, and being able to exercise leadership effectively.
If you are not being a leader, and you try to act like a leader, you are likely to fail. That's called being inauthentic, or pretending to be a leader.
If you are being a leader, you will act as a leader.
You will have experienced whatever personal transformation is required for you to leave the course being who you need to be to be a leader, and with what it takes to exercise leadership effectively.
In other words, you will be a leader.
Erhard, Werner, Michael C. Jensen, Steve Zaffron, and Kari L. Granger. "The Ontological Foundations of Leadership and Performance: Being a Leader, and the Effective Exercise of Leadership, A New Model." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 09–022, August 2008.