Research Summary

Leadership and Leadership Development: An Ontological Approach

by Michael C. Jensen

Description

This summarizes my research program over the last twelve years (with my co-investigators Werner Erhard, Steve Zaffron, and more recently Kari Granger) in which the objective has been to rigorously distinguish leader and leadership and to create a technology for providing access to being a leader and exercising leadership effectively (in short, a technology for reliably creating leaders). Our research program involves not only discovering the technology, but also to create a course that would be available to others to use, experiment with, research, improve on and innovate from. Our efforts thus required an experimental laboratory to discover what will enable us as educators and trainers to efficiently and effectively create leaders. 

Dean Mark Zupan of the U. of Rochester Simon School Of Business provided us with a research/teaching laboratory during the five years (2004 - 2008) we worked there with students, alumni, executives, and faculty from various academic institutions. This laboratory allowed us to investigate leader and leadership as phenomena, and to create technologies for providing actionable access to leader and leadership.  The course is now also taught at the U.S. Air Force Academy, was delivered in 2009 at the Erasmus Academie (Rotterdam), and a version of which is taught at the Erasmus University Law School, and will be taught at the Mays School of Business, Texas A&M University in June 2010.

The course is designed to leave participants being leaders and exercising leadership effectively as their natural self expression, and to contribute to creating a new science of leadership.  We have two or three more years of development left to do and eventually we will produce the product as papers and perhaps a book.

The technology and the course is founded on what we term an ontological model of human nature. The ontological approach is uniquely effective in providing actionable access to being a leader and exercising leadership effectively.

While ontology as a general subject is concerned with the being of anything, here we are concerned with the ontology of human beings (the nature and function of being for human beings). Specifically we are concerned with the ontology of leader and leadership (the nature and function of being for a leader and the actions of effective leadership). Who one is being when being a leader shapes one's perceptions, emotions, creative imagination, thinking, planning, and consequently one's actions in the exercise of leadership.

Being a leader and the effective exercise of leadership as one's natural self-expression does not come from learning and trying to emulate the characteristics or styles of noteworthy leaders, or learning what effective leaders do and trying to emulate them (and most certainly not from merely being in a leadership position, or position of authority).

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 (playing a role or pretending to be a leader), deadly in any attempt to exercise leadership.

An epistemological mastery of a subject leaves you knowing. An ontological mastery of a subject leaves you being.

Gaining access to being a leader and the effective exercise of leadership as one's natural self-expression also requires dealing with those factors present in all human beings that constrain each person's freedom to be - and constrain and shape one's perceptions, emotions, creative imagination, thinking, planning, and actions. When one is not constrained or shaped by these factors - what we term "ontological constraints" - one's way of being and acting results naturally in one's personal best.  We work with the students so that they accomplish this for themselves.

The Underlying Theory of the Course: Part I

The Three Foundational Elements of Leadership

Integrity (in our model a positive phenomenon):

  • Being whole and complete - achieved by "honoring one's word" (creates workability, develops trust).

 Authenticity:

  • Being and acting consistent with who you hold yourself out to be for others, and who you hold yourself to be for yourself. When leading, being authentic leaves you grounded, and able to be straight without using force.

 Being Committed to Something Bigger than Oneself:

  • Source of the serene passion (charisma) required to lead and to develop others as leaders, and the source of persistence (joy in the labor of) when the path gets tough.

The Underlying Theory of the Course: Part II

A Context That Uses You

·       Our research has led us to distinguish leader and leadership through four different lenses or levels of analysis:  1) as linguistic abstractions, 2) as phenomena, 3) as concepts, and 4) as defined terms.  Viewing leader and leadership in these four dimensions creates leader and leadership as a powerful context.

  • We work with the students to create for themselves what it is to be a leader, and what it is to exercise leadership effectively, as a context that uses them. By "a context that uses them", we mean a context that has the power to leave students in any leadership situation being a leader and exercising leadership effectively as their natural self-expression. (As it has been said: "the context is decisive".)
  • By "a context that has the power to leave students being a leader and exercising leadership effectively as their natural self-expression", we mean the following:
    • A context that has the power in any leadership situation to shape the way in which the circumstances the students are dealing with occur for them such that their naturally correlated way of being and acting is one of being a leader and exercising leadership effectively.
    • Note: being and action are a natural correlate of the way in which the circumstances that a person is dealing with occur (show up) for that person.
  • Students begin to create this context for leader and leadership for themselves by first freeing themselves from the constraints and shaping imposed by their network of unexamined ideas, beliefs, biases, social and cultural embeddedness, and taken-for-granted assumptions relative to what it is to be a leader and what it is to exercise leadership effectively. This then allows students the freedom to create for themselves this new context for Leader and Leadership that has the power to become their natural self-expression.
  • We give students access to creating this new context for leader and leadership by distinguishing Leader and Leadership from the perspective of four distinct aspects, which when taken together as a whole create this new context (as illustrated in the graphic below): the context that in any leadership situation shapes the way in which what is being dealt with occurs for the student such that their naturally correlated way of being and acting is one of being a leader and exercising leadership effectively.

We distinguish Leader and Leadership, each as:

    Linguistic Abstractions (leader and leadership as realms of possibility")

    Phenomena (leader and leadership as experienced; that is, as what one observes or is impacted by, or as exercised)

    Concepts (the temporal domain in which leader and leadership function)

    Terms (leader and leadership as definitions)

  • All founded on Integrity*, Authenticity, and being Committed To Something Bigger Than Oneself.

*See:http://ssrn.com/abstract=1511274

   http://ssrn.com/abstract=1542759

   http://ssrn.com/abstract=920625

   http://ssrn.com/abstract=932255

The Underlying Theory of the Course: Part III

Ontological Constraints

  • Ontological Constraints: Having distinguished what it is to be a leader, and what it is to exercise leadership effectively, as a context that has the power to give students the being of a leader and the actions of effective leadership as their natural self-expression, we provide students with exercises that allow them to become aware of and remove the ontological perceptual and functional constraints imposed on their natural self-expression.
  • Ontological Perceptual Constraints: The source of our ontological perceptual constraints is our network of unexamined ideas, beliefs, biases, social and cultural embeddedness, and taken-for-granted assumptions about the world, others, and ourselves. These ontological perceptual constraints limit and shape what we perceive of what is actually there in the situations with which we are dealing. As a consequence, if we do not remove these perceptual constraints, then in any leadership situation we are left dealing with some distortion of the situation we are actually dealing with.
  • Ontological Functional Constraints: In everyday language the behavior generated by an ontological functional constraint is sometimes referred to as a "knee-jerk reaction". Psychologists sometimes refer to this behavior as "automatic stimulus/response behavior" - where, in the presence of a particular stimulus (trigger), the inevitable response is an automatic set way of being and acting. From a neuroscience perspective, many ontological functional constraints could be termed amygdala hijacks. When triggered in a leadership situation, one's ontological functional constraints fixate one's way of being and acting. Saying the same thing in another way, these ontological functional constraints limit and shape our opportunity set for being and action. As a consequence, the appropriate way of being and appropriate actions may be, and in fact often are, unavailable to us.
  • Thus, gaining access to being a leader and the effective exercise of leadership requires that we loosen the grip of these debilitating Ontological Constraints. Or to put it more simply, we must take away what is in the way of our being a leader and exercising leadership effectively.

For the pre-course reading assignment see: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1513400  

 And for the full 478 pages of the course material used in the Erasmus Academie course, Rotterdam, NL, June 8-12, 2009 see http://ssrn.com/abstract=1263835