Tag Archives: Administration

88 – Leadership in Administration (Selznick, 1957)


Selznick, Philip
Leadership in Administration
Harper and Row, New York, 1957

Philip Selznick (January 8, 1919 – June 12, 2010) was professor emeritus of law and society at the University of California, Berkeley. A noted author in organizational theory, sociology of law and public administration, Selznick’s work has been groundbreaking in several fields in such books as The Moral Commonwealth, TVA and the Grass Roots, and Leadership in Administration.
Selznick received his PhD in 1947 from Columbia University where he was a student of Robert K. Merton. (Source: Wikipedia)

The nature of critical decisions and the functions of institutional leadership.

Summary and citations:

• “Pragmatism is not a flight from principle. It is an argument for discovering principles and for making them relevant to everyday life”.(Preface)
• Efficiency the most significant problem? The book explores ” the nature of critical decisions and of institutional leadership”. “the logic of efficiency applies most clearly to subordinate units” (p3)
• “The executive becomes a statesman as he makes the transition from administrative management to institutional leadership”
• Organization: technical instrument, rationañity and discipline, expendable tool
• Institution: “natural product of socail needs and pressures” p5
• “One objective of sound management practice is to direct and control these internal social pressures” (on informal structure) p8
• “Of these problems, organizational rivalry may be the most important” p9
• “The tendency to emphasize methods rather than goals is an important source of disorientation in all organizations” p12
• Natural communities: the development of defensive ideologies, the dependence of institutional values on the formation and sustaining of elites, the existence of internal conflicts expressing group interests.
• “Institutionalization is a process” p16
• “”To institutionalize” is to infuse with value beyond the technical requirements of the taask at hand” p17
• “The test of infusion with value is expendability” p18
• “There is a close relation between “infusion of value” and “self-maintenance”. As an prganization acquires a self, a distinctive identity, it becomes an institution” p21
• “Leasdership is not a familiar, everyday idea, as readily available to common sense as to social science” p22
• 1) leadership is a kind of work done to meet the needs of a social situation; 2) Leaderhsip os not equivalent to office-holding or high prestige or authority or decision-making; 3) Leaderhsip is dispensable”
• Institutional leader (“is primarily an expert in the promotion and protection of values”) vs. “interpersonal” leader (efficiency of the enterprise”).
• Static (responsive behavior, routine) and dynamic adaptations (character-defining, the area of “critical experience”)p33-35
• Organizational characer: “characer is:1) a historical prodict; 2) an integrated product; 3) functional; 4) dynamic” p38-39
• “Hence leadership, character, and critical decision-making are linked as aspects of the same basic phenomenon: the institutionalization of the organizational life” p41
• Character as Distinctive Competence or inadequacy. “…another aspect of organizational character-definition is control over the social composition of the membership”p42-46
• “The assessment of industrial firms also requires study of distinctive capabilities and limitations” p53
• “The formation of an institution is marked by the making of value commitments, that is, choices which fix the assumptions of policymakers as to the nature of the enterprise –its distinctive aims, methods, and role in the community. These character-defining choices are not made verbally; they may not even be made consciously” p55
• “In asserting the continuity of policy and administration, we are saying that certain organizational practices can enter the critical experience of leadership”: 1) recruitment of personnel; 2) training of personnel; 3 )Co-operation with other organizations. p57-59
• “But where leadership is required, (…), the problem is always to choose key values and to create a social structure that embodies them.” P60
• Functions of the institutional leader: 1) the definition fo the insittutional mission and role; 2) the institutional embodiment of purpose; 3) The defense of institutional integrity; 4) ordering of internal conflict. P62-64
• “(The leader) must specify and recast the general aims of his organization so as to adapt them, without serious corruption, to the requirements of institutional survival.” P66
• “In defining the mission in the organization, leaders must take account of 1)The internal state of the polity (commitments) […] and 2) the external expectations (pressures)” p67
• Retreat to technology: “A characteristi threat to the integration of purpose and commitment … is an excessive or premature technological orientation” p74
• “A role is a way of behaving associated with a defined position in a social system” p82
• “Role-taking is in effect a decision by the individual –not always consciously…” p83
• “An institutional role cannot be won merely by wishing for it or by verbalizing it clearly. It must be founded in the realistic ability of the organization to do the job.” P87
• “aspects of social structure that affect the maintenance and change of policy decisions: 1) assigned roles; 2) internal interest-groups; 3) social stratification; 4) beliefs; 5) partticipation; 6) dependency.” P91-100. “to become the master of the organization, the leader must know how to deal with the social structure in all its dimensions… in order to provide support to a policy, it may be necessary to alter the social structure” p100-101.
• “Leadership declines in importance as the formal structure approaches complete determination of behavior. Management engineering is then fully adequate to the task.” P92
• “Certain types of problems seem to characterize phases of an organization’s life-history:…1)The selection of the social base; 2) Building the institutional core; 3) Formalization.
• “….developmental changes that have create new risks and opportunities:…1) personnel crises and growth stages; 2) decentralisation to social integration” p107
• “The need for centralization declines as the homogeneity of personnel increases.” P113
• “Once the task of unification… extensive delegation of responsibilitymay be worked out…” p115
• “The maintenance of social values depends on the autonomy of elites” p121. 1) Elite autonomy and cultural viability; 2) Political isolation and the combat party; 3) Administrative autonomy and precarious values.
• “If a man is to take risks, he needs social supports. Yet the role of professionalism will vary in different types of organizations…” p133
• “The cult of efficiency in administrative theory and practice is a modern way of overstressing means and neglecting ends.” P135
• “In going beyond efficiency, leadership also transcends “human engineering”” p136
• “The limits of organization engineergin become apparent when we must create a structure uniquely adapted to the mission and role of the enterprise.” P138
• “This process of becoming infused with value is part of what we mean by institutionalization. As it occurs, organization management becomes institutinoal leadership.”p138
• “The integrity of an enterprise goes beyond efficiency, beyond organizatino forms and procedures, even beyond group cohesion. Integrity combines organization and policy” p138
• Responsible leadership: p142
• From a personal standpoint: commitment, understanding, determinatino, self-knowledge, self-summoning process
• From a policy standpoint : the avoidance of opportunism (must look to the long-run) and the avoidance of utopianism (i.e. overgeneralization of purpose)
• Creative leadership; 1) institutional embodiment of purpose; 2) creativity by strategical and tactical planning. P149
• “effective leader must know the meaning and master the techniques of the educator” p150
• “… most importatn of these techniques is the elaboration of socially integrating myths.” “myths are institution builders” P151-152
• “The executive becomes a statesman as he makes the transition from administrative management to institutional leadership” p154

Personnal comments, interesting issues and findings:

• Selznick talks about the tasks of the institutional leader as “2) institutional embodiment of purpose” like “shaping the “character” of the organization”: My question is: can a character be shaped? What about change management and its difficulties? Human behavior (“dynamic adaptation”) is not something a leader could do, or at least, not any leader.
• At the MBA, while explaining the Wal*Mart case (Operations), the teacher said that, when the machine is well-greased and the business model is solid, anyone could manage that company. In this sense, the manager was prescindible in a way. Selznick says that institutional leaders are prescindible, in this sense I think, where the institution has embodied the desired values.
• Roethlisberger analyzed the organizations in a broad spectrum, from religious to political to economical. Selznick is focused more on institutions, and referes often to political and military institutions (i.e. pp74 Retreat to technology)
• I liked the Ford case (conversion from the one-model production to more flexible process). It can help to introduce the subject of the ever-increasing product choice to reach the current personal customization of products (through IT and flexible processes and micro-segmentation of marketing).
• Jonas Ridderstále (prof. at Stockholm School of Economics and co-writer of ‘Funky Business’ and ‘Karaoke Capitalism’) says that’s the strength of the US is that it is not a country but a concept. Anyone can become American (and you cannot become Japanese f.i.). US are based on values (the American dream, the American way of life, etc.), so it can be assimilated to Selznick’s institutions. EU for example, is based in agreements, it is a political and economical organization, it lacks the unifying values, “the myth” that Selznick refers in his conclusion. From this sense, the EU would be more as an organization as Selznick defines it.
• “when fluid situations require constant adaptation…this open-endedness generates the key problem of institutional leadership”: yes, but we are in constant-changing environments, institutional leadership is constantly threatened. Thus the importance of the strenght in values. “Leadership declines in importance as the formal structure approaches complete determination of behavior. Management engineering is then fully adequate to the task.” (p92) is never the case as the social, political or economical environment is ever-changing.
• Selznick doesn’t talk about the co-operative organization of Barnard, but about something above it, the institution and its leader.
• “When organization is in good shape from an engineering standpoint it is easier to put ideals into practice”p152. Sounds obvious. The interesting issue is how to embody values in difficult times.