Reasoning Skills for Leaders

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Reasoning Skills for Leaders

Q: Critically discuss why management and leadership development programs place more importance on rational and technical capabilities than emotional ones.

Leadership has been defined as “the ability to influence a group towards the achievement of a vision or set of goals”, and managers as “people who achieve goals through other people” (Robbins et al 2008, 695). With these definitions in mind, it would seem that appropriate training for leaders and managers would be highly people oriented; developing emotional intelligence skills, communication skills and appreciating the role of human emotion within the workplace. However, the focus of such programs has been, and still is to a large extent, on technical skills and rational thinking. Many factors contribute to this disparate focus; the historical and cultural context in which such programs are developed and taught, the assumptions and beliefs on how work directions translate into a good or service, the way universities are structured and even the types of students attending management and leadership programs.

Until relatively recently, people were assumed to be “rational creatures” (Ripley 2009, 31). This assumption meant that organisations and educators of leaders/managers were oblivious to the role of emotion in the workplace (Kimura and Yoshimori 1989, 22). The utilization of rigid structures, explicit rules and procedures, designed to control and limit employee behaviour (Napoli, Whiteley and Johansen 2005, 35) illustrate the reliance of business thinkers upon employee’s rational behaviour. Rules plus rational behaviour were thought to produce a predictable and stable labour force, which allowed management to consider employed labour as a steadfast factor of the production process. Given the correct rules and procedures, it was thought that employees would fall into line, and hence management and leaders could focus on the technical and rational aspects of the organisation, and did not have to be overly concerned with employees or affective issues.

Social issues were part of the equation, at least as they affected profit, productivity, or public relations. But sensitivities beyond that were not the province of business. Indeed, they could handicap a manager in making the tough decisions often demanded by the bottom line. (Hancock 1998, 41)

It is not surprising given this context, that traditional management and leadership training emphasised technical knowledge and rational thinking.

In contrast, collectivist cultures have historically emphasised team work, and therefore valued collaborative behaviours, emotional intelligence and effective team skills, balancing these with the technical skills required for their roles. Western organisational philosophy reflects the western worship of individualism and self pursuit, and so traditionally neglected emotion within the workplace; a view that Japanese management consider to be “elitist, technical and not too pragmatic” (Kimura and Yoshimori 1989, 22).

Whilst there is now greater agreement in western organisations that successful managers and leaders require more than just technical knowledge and defensible, rational thinking, there is still a significant acceptance of poor people skills and the neglect of emotion to the great detriment of our organisations. A 2006 UK survey determined that only 12% of employees are ‘highly engaged’, with 65% ‘moderately engaged’ and 23% ‘disengaged’. These figures do not surprise. However, when we relate these statistics to another resource, it demonstrates how conditioned we are to accept lower performance from potentially the greatest asset of an organisation (its employees);

Now, just for a moment, imagine an organisation where only 20 per cent of the computers worked properly, 60 per cent were unreliable and 20 per cent either did nothing at all or spent their entire time infecting the system with viruses … It would be...
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