One of the greatest challenges for a new leader is earning the respect and cooperation of his or her subordinates, and using that respect to make the organization or work team more effective. In the assigned scenario, I am a newly promoted leader assigned to replace a highly respected and recently retired organization veteran of 23 years. My work team consists of five mid-level managers with between four and twelve years of experience in their positions, and they have all worked together for four years. To best address the challenge of facilitating an effective transition, I will draw on the organizational behavior metaphors of Gareth Morgan (1986) in his book, Images of Organization, to focus on three important areas of management: perception, interpersonal relations, and effective communication. I will then use those insights to discuss the obstacles and solutions that may arise during my transition into leadership.
Morgan’s book approaches the problem of defining organizations by outlining various images, or metaphors, for how people understand organizations to function. These range from concrete metaphors, such as organizations as machines or organisms, to abstract concepts, such as psychic prisons. Morgan examines the theories related to each metaphor, and concludes each segment by discussing the strengths and weaknesses of each imperfect comparison. Each metaphor prioritizes different theories about human behavior and provides insight to different organizational or managerial problems. By considering these metaphors, Morgan claims, a manager can develop a “diagnostic reading” of a given situation and address problems with an appropriate degree of flexibility (p. 16).
The first Morgan metaphor, of organizations as cultures, is useful when considering how to handle perceptions in my new work team. As Morgan states, “[o]rganizations are mini-societies that have their own distinctive patterns of culture and subculture…such patterns…can exert a decisive influence on the overall ability of the organization to deal with the challenges that it faces” (p. 121). The culture of an organization manifests “shared realities” in an organization through external artifacts, including norms, language, and symbols (Morgan, 1986, p. 135). In the case of a transition of leadership, it is important to perceive the existing culture of the team, and the role that the previous leader played in it. Morgan states that “culture is not something imposed on a social setting…it develops during the course of social interaction” (p. 127). I will need to be flexible and adapt to the existing culture until I am accepted and incorporated into the group.
Rainey (2003) offers some suggestions for managing this process of both observing the existing culture and then shifting it as needed (p. 313). He draws on A.M. Khademian’s cultural roots framework of work environment, resources, and organizational task to propose a cultural change process that incorporates clearly...