The success of any organization depends on its leadership. Not every boss is a true leader; assuming a position of authority does not necessarily signify the ability to lead. In this paper, three leaders – Albert John Dunlap, John Woolman, and James Burke – will be analyzed with regard to their leadership style, communication style, ethics, and effectiveness. Although there is no one proper way to lead, the research is aimed at establishing which qualities are needed to become a successful leader and manager.
Albert John Dunlap
An unfortunate example of a business leader is Albert John Dunlap. Also known as ‘Chainsaw Al’ and ‘Rambo in Pinstripes’ for his harsh managing technique, he orchestrated one of the most notorious accounting frauds and led Sunbeam Corporation, the company of which he was the CEO, to bankruptcy. Following his scandalous firing and several lawsuits, he is now banned from assuming similar positions in the business.
As can be seen from Al Dunlap’s nicknames, his ill-famed reputation is caused not only by fraudulence. According to Gupta and Van Wart (2015, p. 428), besides the fact that Dunlap ‘deployed dishonest management practices, exaggerated sales and earnings reports, and presented a falsely optimistic picture of the company’s financial health to investors and analysts, he also ‘used intimidation tactics to emotionally abuse employees’. It is needless to say that despite being in a position of leadership, he was by no means a harmonizer, a teacher, or a mediator of self-interest for his subordinates. On the contrary, Dunlap demonstrated no empathy toward his employees and no concern about their needs, not thinking twice about downsizing or belittling the staff.
In his book and many interviews, Dunlap denies being a ‘bad boss’, arguing that he was merely strict and demanding, which by themselves are not inadequate qualities in a leader. To a certain extent, they may be attributes of an achievement-oriented or a directive approach to leadership. While it may be true that Al Dunlap is an example of a directive, or autocratic, leader, he does a disservice to other representatives of this type, for he embodies its negative features without manifesting the strong suits, such as a high level of instructing and structuring. Dunlap’s variation of a directive style can be referred to as an ‘authoritarian’:
Telling becomes commanding or being bossy, informing becomes dictating, clarifying becomes threatening, and planning becomes micromanagement. At its worst, this sub-style is typified by rigidity, complete lack of input from others, leader-centeredness, and the treatment of subordinated as replaceable parts. (Gupta & Van Wart 2015, p. 41)
Thus, Dunlap not only exercised a rather old-fashioned leadership style, but he also amplified the very traits that made it obsolete, at the same time demonstrating the absence of moral integrity and sociability, which are highly valued in present-day business relations. That is why, even though ‘[his] determination and self-confidence are consistent with Trait Theories of leadership, […] his lack of integrity and poor social skills with colleagues violate the recommendations of Trait Theories’ (Howell 2012, p. 231), making him ill-fitted for being a leader.
According to Clikeman (2013, p. 205), Chainsaw Al did not believe in being friendly with his subordinates, emphasizing that his goal was to achieve success, not forge friendships, and giving preference to the company of his two German shepherds over that of other human beings. It is no surprise that his communication style would be considered shocking by many experts: he yelled at his subordinates, insulted and demeaned them, could become belligerent and violent to the extent of using profanity and throwing objects. Howell (2012, p. 231) states that ‘[Dunlap’s] negotiating skills consisted of threats or the promise of huge riches through deceptive tactics’ and that he was ‘very poor at boundary spanning’, exhibiting ‘almost no consideration and supportive behaviors toward those who worked for him. It goes without saying that the employees did not consider him to be a role model.
However, many of them followed in his footsteps and became accessories in fraud. Although Dunlap’s authoritarian approach meant that the vast majority of employees were members of the out-group and had no way into the inner circle, many were nonetheless tempted by the prospect of enrichment. Moreover, sometimes even the workers who would otherwise eschew unlawful accounting methods had no other choice but to do as they were told, falling victim to Dunlap’s intimidation and blackmail. Therefore, Al Dunlap was neither a moral person nor a moral manager, as is evidenced by the fact that he committed fraud, laid off numerous employees without a trace of concern for their prospects, cut down financing for research and development, ‘told managers not to get involved in community activities, [and] eliminated all corporate contributions to charity (Bolman & Deal 2011, p. 31). In addition to that, he set an immoral example for his subordinates and encouraged them to achieve the end by any means necessary, promising a financial reward. His leadership was extremely unethical, on account of both fraudulent actions and his conduct with employees.
An unethical leader can not be effective. However, for a long time, Al Dunlap was celebrated for his ability to revive struggling companies, to keep them afloat, and find a way to bring profit. What became apparent only after Sunbeam reached the point of bankruptcy was that his actions resulted only in short-term success, while their consequences slowly destroyed the business. Besides, he failed to create a working environment, in which all employees would be genuinely motivated to use their skills and abilities for the benefit of the company. Though it is true that Dunlap was often pressured to show rapid improvements and had no other way to achieve the goal in a short time, in the long run, his leadership turned out to be the exact opposite of effective.
While his determination is worthy of recognition, resorting to law-breaking is undeserving of respect, and so is the demeaning attitude toward subordinates. Al Dunlap was feared, but not respected envied, but not admired. Instead of yelling at employees, he could have treated them with dignity and understanding, could have shown them the recognition and appreciation that they yearned for. If Dunlap demonstrated moral integrity, honesty, and trustworthiness in the face of people that worked for him, he could have maintained discipline without turning it into tyranny, and the dynamics of the whole organization would be different, possibly to an entirely different result. In any case, even if he failed to save the company from bankruptcy, he could have at least admitted defeat in a dignified manner, instead of getting fired and banned from the business.
John Woolman represents a different kind of leader than Al Dunlap. Not only was his sphere of activity more concerned with religious and social matters than business and economics, but his whole manner of behavior was in stark contrast to Dunlap’s. While ‘Rambo in Pinstripes’ is often seen as a remnant of the past, Woolman’s leadership is a vision of the things to come – of a future, in which all leaders are perceived as servants of their followers and whose first and foremost concern is to ensure that the followers’ needs are satisfied. This itinerant Quaker preacher is a brilliant example of a servant leader, who gently, but persistently led others by persuasion, recognized the need to change the world by changing oneself first, and acted accordingly.
His leadership style includes elements of supporting style, which ‘is demonstrated by showing consideration toward followers, displaying concern for their needs, and creating a friendly […] environment’ (Gupta & Van Wart 2015, p. 42). According to Scully and Dandelion (2013), John Woolman, who was a spiritual leader of the anti-slavery movement, ‘avoids being judgmental of others’ (p. 71) and ‘appeals to Quaker slaveowners not by condemning them for owning slaves, but by emphasizing a concern for the moral burden placed upon children by inheriting slaves’ (p. 76). In his writings and speeches, he assumes a humble and understanding manner; they are aimed at empowering the perceivers to realize the need to abolish slavery and cut down the expenses by themselves. His autobiographical journal and other writings are still considered by ‘Quaker and non-Quaker readers […] as a model for their own spiritual discernment (Scully & Dandelion 2013, p. 71), which proves that Woolman successfully applied inspirational style of leadership. According to Gupta and Van Wart (2015, p. 49), ‘It relies heavily on acceptance of the leader’s wisdom and/or integrity by followers’ and therefore works best if the leader is charismatic and persuasive, as is the case with Woolman. Moreover, inspirational leaders are often ‘seen as heroes’ (Gupta & Van Wart 2015, p. 49), and John Woolman ‘came to be revered as ‘the Quaker saint’, and […] was singled out as the most important early leader of the Quaker antislavery movement’ (Plank 2012, p. 4). Therefore, his leadership style, which is a combination of the inspirational with some features of the supportive style, is rather effective.
The same can be said about Woolman’s communication style. Scully and Dandelion (2013, p. 73) state that he ‘wrote in an attractive plain style’. His methods of persuasion rely significantly on ‘the power of reason’ and ‘carefully structured arguments’ (Scully & Dandelion 2013, p. 73). Woolman expressed his ideas clearly and without embellishment, using logic to motivate his followers to abolish slavery or to cut down unnecessary expenses: ‘He saw a direct cause-and-effect relationship between the desire for luxuries and the decisions that took nations to war’ (Scully & Dandelion 2013, p. 78). Not only did he explain the need for the proposed reforms, but he also conceptualized them, offering practical solutions to the problems instead of theorizing about their nature.
John Woolman embodies all qualities of an ethical leader. He was a moral person and inspired others to follow his example, at the same time remaining humble and respectful. He was honest and admitted having made mistakes, which made him easier to relate to. Among the most well-known stories about his early years is the one about mindlessly killing a robin with a stone and experiencing a feeling of deep remorse afterward (Scully & Dandelion 2013, p. 72). Owning up to this mistake makes Woolman more approachable, and leads others to believe that they can atone for their mistakes by following his example. In addition to that, he did what he preached, literally. Despite being a successful merchant, he believed that reducing consumerism tendencies would be beneficial spiritually and economically, and being ‘[unable] to curtail his growing business, he left it altogether and instituted a regimen of relentless simplification’ (Shi 2013, p. 131). Therefore, he was a moral person, acting according to his beliefs, and a moral leader, since he encouraged others to do the same through his words and his own example.
Although John Woolman was not a business leader, his success as a merchant allows us to conclude that he had at least a basic understanding of economics. His activities helped bring about tremendous social and economic change. Thus, despite his leadership resembling spiritual guidance more than some political or economic movement, it had a real impact on life at that time. According to Plank (2012, p. 8), he ‘helped pioneer a form of protest that has gained power and influence steadily to the present day. The influence was gradual and sometimes slow, but nonetheless effective since the desired outcome was achieved.
John Woolman realized that great change requires a lot of time and effort and will not happen at once. His patience was calculated. Moreover, Plank (2012) suggests that presenting Woolman as a lone fighter for his cause is strongly exaggerated and that he had a lot of followers and exerted power over them: ‘He took many initiatives, but he never acted alone’ (p. 5). Therefore, Woolman was also a good strategist and an excellent manager who valued his human resources and knew how to use them.
Woolman’s contemporaries respected him for his quiet persuasive manner, and he undoubtedly deserves recognition as one of the most honorable leaders of all times. His contribution to the abolition of slavery had great significance for the present-day socio-economic situation and helped make the world a place where human rights are valued above everything else.
According to a famous saying, attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte, ‘A leader is a dealer in hope’. This is the best way to characterize the role of James Burke in the course of the J&J crisis regarding Tylenol poisonings. It should be noted that Burke is in a different category than Al Dunlap or John Woolman. Unlike the latter, he dealt with a large business company and thus had to take into account not only the public opinion but other factors as well, such as keeping J&J profitable. In contrast to Dunlap, on the other hand, Burke is an excellent example of a moral and ethical leader, who is willing to take calculated risks and lose a great deal of income in order to retain the general trust and enable the company to recover from the fatal blow.
James Burke is famous for his handling of the two Tylenol crises in the 1980s. After several people died as a result of taking the capsules that had been tampered with, J&J faced a lot of bad publicity. According to Gupta and Van Wart (2015, p. 428), one of the measures taken to ‘ride out the Tylenol crisis’ was to assemble a team of 28 senior managers to study the corporate credo of values’, which resulted in its revision and subsequent ‘[infusion] throughout the organization via communication and training’. J&J’s recovery is contributed to Burke’s decision to act by the credo – to care about the customers first and the profit later, which was especially important for an organization that manufactures medicine and health care products.
James Burke’s leadership style is best described as inspirational since it includes ‘using intellectual stimulation’ (namely, the credo), ‘expressing confidence in […] the organization’, and a lot of charisma (Gupta & Van Wart 2015, p. 57). Not only did he convince the customers to trust J&J, but he also made the employees believe that the chosen course of action was the right one.
He is often quoted saying: ‘Somehow or other this organization functions the way I think a business institution ought to function. And I think it does so because of its value system’ (cited in Gini & Green 2013, ch. 6, para. 1). Burke is praised for his high moral standards and honesty toward employees and customers. Gini and Green (2013) state that even before the Tylenol incidents, his high regard for truth was beneficial for J&J. When he saw that a competitor’s advertisements were deceitful, his position was fierce and uncompromising. He demanded that the competitor stop the deliberate spreading of misleading information. In the end, succeeded in persuading the leading TV networks to stop running them. In his turn, he never tried to conceal the truth about the poisoned Tylenol from the customers. On the contrary, Bethel (2012) states that he encouraged them to stop using it and to get reimbursed for the previously bought merchandise. His reaction to the problem was ‘swift, responsible and courageous’ (Bethel 2012, ch. 2, para. 1), and helped avert the end of the company’s days.
In general, Burke’s communication style is open and sincere. During his leadership, he made sure that the employees did not perceive the company’s credo as empty words, but understood its significance and acted accordingly. Bolman and Deal (2011, p. 141) characterize Burke as one of the leadership ‘wizards’ and point out that he ‘honored and reinforced the soul of J&J – customer health comes ahead of shareholders and any other interests’. Gulati, Mayo, and Nohria (2013, p. 317) emphasize another important trait of Burke’s – his self-confidence. According to the Trait Theory, it is one of the essential qualities of a good leader, along with intelligence, determination, integrity, and sociability, all of which Burke exhibited in his management of the crisis.
James Burke is, without a single doubt, an ethical leader. He acted in accordance with the moral standards and encouraged others to do the same, not only by giving directions but also by setting a good example. His decision to recall every bottle of Tylenol in America and to alert the public in order to prevent the possibility of further poisonings most likely saved many lives.
Burke was held in high esteem by his employees and customers. Therefore, the former supported him and eagerly followed his lead, and the latter put their trust in him in spite of the scandalous episodes, which would have destroyed another company. This proves that he deserves respect not only for his morality but also for being an effective CEO. After all, his ability to do damage control and remain calm and controlled under pressure saved J&J. He understood that it was better to suffer a financial blow than to lose the customers’ trust. By exhibiting a high level of concern for the customers and the company’s accountability, Burke enabled J&J to bounce back without losing the market. Moreover, the decision to invest in the development and manufacturing of the tamper-proof packaging helped prevent future incidents, and consequently, future losses. Therefore, James Burke had the ability to develop a winning strategy and to choose the best way out of a bad situation, which is what a good leader is meant to do.
All things considered, different spheres of activity call for different approaches. Being the CEO of a health care company is not the same as leading a social movement or heading a home appliances business. Thus, the consequences of their actions may differ, too. Al Dunlap’s fraud did not pose a direct threat to anybody’s life, or else he would not be able to settle a lawsuit. However, being in a position of power requires a lot of responsibility and integrity, regardless of the company’s field of involvement. Otherwise, the rights of other people get violated. In order to be successful, a leader must be ethical and wise. Authority without wisdom is like a fire that got out of control: instead of providing warmth, comfort, and protection, it scorches everything around, bringing chaos and destruction.
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