Cornell's Challenger; Charismatic Leadership and Uneven Power Structure Within the ILR SGA
Organizational Behavior; Professor Besharov
Section 204: Hena Choi
Maximiliano Alaghband, Talia Brecher, Jordyn Fleisher, Daniel Klausner, Arthur Kulawik Due: 12/11
Our group chose to study the ILR School’s Student Government Association (ILR SGA). The SGA was founded in 1994 based on the initiative of students in the ILR School who sought to become more involved in the decision making process for factors that were affecting the undergraduate students. Back then the organization strived to be the voice of the students and to help make significant changes in response to problems that were affecting the student body. 19 years later the SGA continues to uphold its original values and acts as a bridge between the undergraduate students and professors, faculty, and staff. Each fall the ILR student body elects student representatives from within its own population to serve on the SGA, resulting in eight executive board (e-board) members. The SGA also includes e-board members from subsets of the undergraduate population, including freshman representative and transfer representative, so that diverse arrays of opinions are heard. The e-board oversees a general body, which is open to all students in the ILR undergraduate school and at this time consists of about 30 students. SGA meets twice a week, on Mondays the e-board meets and on Wednesdays the general body meets in Ives 217, with each meeting being approximately one hour long. Together the SGA works in coordination with other ILR student groups to provide student services and events to make academic life as successful and fulfilling as possible. In the past these events have included study breaks, fundraisers like holiday candy-grams, and more formal events such as a dinner with Dean Katz.
With all of the events and services the SGA provides we were interested in examining the problems that the organization faces. ILR is the only one of the seven undergraduate schools at Cornell to have its own student government. We felt that this was indicative of the culture and personality type shared by the ILR undergraduate student body, eager to be as involved as possible in all ways available. The SGA acts as an outlet for members (especially the e-board) to exert control and influence over their peers, and occupy a position of power within a large institution. This was what we eventually identified as our problem; charismatic and high status leaders possess too much power and influence over the greater general body, which leads to an uneven power structure within the organization.
SGA subscribes to a charismatic leadership style; the board members have visions and are willing to take risks. They also engage in unconventional behavior: counter to the norms of most college students, the e-board members are extremely proactive. The problematic side of the leadership in SGA is that the leaders are so charismatic that low status members defer decisions and discussions to them and other high status members. The result is that high status members dominate decisions and discussions and subsequently groupthink occurs. The SGA’s discussions and activities being dominated by high status members is a similar scenario to that of the Challenger case in which high status members dominated the conversation regarding the Challenger launch causing groupthink to occur and allowing for a devastating and preventable disaster to take place (Youngdahl 2012). The SGA has not had their Challenger moment yet, but there is the potential for a massive failure due to this status driven and groupthink decision-making process. METHOD
We used observations, a survey, and three interviews to study our organization. We surveyed the 15 members present at a general body meeting with an eight-question survey, which can be found in...
References: Robbins, Stephen P. and Timothy A. Judge. Essentials of Organizational Behavior, 12th edition. Pearson Education, 2010. 178-197
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