This paper aims at analyzing the interviews of two middle managers working for an enterprise selling automotive components, who wished to preserve their anonymity. The questions for the interviews were developed using the leadership theory proposed by Cashman and focused on resilience mastery in particular. In this paper, Cashman’s leadership theory will be described, with special attention paid to resilience mastery. Further, the relevance of the interviews to the themes of new business realities and thinking habits will be discussed. Finally, the personal experience of interviewing leaders will be analyzed, and some recommendations for the development of middle-level managers will be provided.
The interview questions were developed based on Cashman’s leadership theory described in his book, Leadership from the Inside Out. The core idea of Cashman’s leadership theory is that leadership is not an external construct; rather, it is an integral part of the personality. Cashman (2017) opposes a common view of leadership as something that exists outside a leader, such as performance, power, or achievements. Instead, he argues that a leader is inseparable from a personality, and personal development eventually leads to the development of leadership skills (Cashman, 2017). Avadhani (2016) supports this point of view, stating that “performance of a leader with regard to trustworthiness, reliability, and/or the effectiveness as a leader will be logically influenced by the social and interpersonal skills” (p. 1). Thus, to be a good leader, one should pay much attention to one’s personal development.
Cashman distinguishes eight fields, in which a person should achieve mastery to become an effective leader. These areas are personal mastery, story mastery, purpose mastery, interpersonal mastery, change mastery, resilience mastery, being mastery, and coaching mastery (Cashman, 2017). The focus of the interview questions was resilience mastery, which is also referred to as balance mastery. Resilience mastery is about maintaining a work-life balance and finding the energy to pay proper attention to all life priorities. According to Cashman (2017), many leaders devote too much time to work, which takes a toll on other areas of their lives. Cashman (2017) himself used to make this mistake, which resulted in “strain in relationships, reduced energy level, diminished passion, and physical stress” (p. 153). Furthermore, a leader’s role is concerned with a higher risk of strain and stress at work, and it leads to adverse consequences if leaders cannot deal with this issue. Therefore, developing resilience mastery is essential for leaders since it helps achieve balance in life and produces the energy needed for effectively performing the leadership role in an organization.
The interviews with two middle managers support Cashman’s leadership theory. Since this theory emphasizes the role of a leader’s personal traits, the questions were focused on managers’ personal contributions to their work. For example, one of the questions was concerned with managers’ perceptions of their personal responsibility for decisions that they make to maintain a dynamic work environment. In response to this question, both managers admitted that they were aware of the influence that they had on their working environment. They also recognized their role in building positive working relationships with their subordinates and encouraging employees to build relationships with their coworkers through various commitment practices.
The answers to the question about the development of individual forms of workflow monitoring also appeared to support the chosen leadership theory. One of the managers said that he monitored the performance of his subordinates by asking customers and other employees about the work of a particular worker. This manager was sure that his well-developed interpersonal skills allowed him to effectively use this way of monitoring workflow. The other manager stressed that he considered excessive monitoring wrong; therefore, he preferred to clearly explain to employees what was expected of them and make sure they understood everything right. Yet, he also confirmed that his interpersonal skills were important for making people listen to him. Thus, the interviews support Cashman’s leadership theory by proving that leaders’ personal strengths are essential for effective leadership.
As for a particular mastery that is part of Cashman’s leadership theory, interview questions were mainly concerned with resilience mastery. Southwick et al. (2017) argue that one of the important characteristics of resilient leaders is realistic optimism, which is the belief in the organization’s bright future without underestimation or overestimation of real risks. Since leaders are supposed to be optimistic, one of the interview questions aimed at finding out whether managers considered optimism part of their leadership approach. Both managers agreed that their leadership styles were optimistic with a reasonable share of realism, which allowed them to motivate their employees to perform better and, at the same time, be aware of existing risks.
Another significant focus of resilience mastery is a leader’s ability to manage stress. The interview contained a question related to handling stressful situations, namely, how leaders planned working hours when there was a large number of orders. One of the managers said that he always compiled a list of workers who expressed their desire to work additional hours. So, when there was a need to process more orders than usual, these employees were called on to work. The other manager tried to predict episodes of excessive workload and assign workers responsible for handling orders during those periods. Thus, both leaders were doing what they could to control and influence stressful situations.
Common Learning Themes
According to the New Business Realities of the 21st Century, there are five driving forces that shape contemporary business and society: knowledge, e-business systems, net communications, system dynamics, and social-cultural expectations. Among these themes, the net communication topic is the most relevant to the conducted interviews. As was mentioned, the interviewed middle managers are employed in an enterprise selling automotive components. Therefore, sales are the core business of their organization, which revolves around networked communications. Communication is key in the contemporary business environment, and it involves new ways of sharing messages with stakeholders: e-mails, chats, visual media, and voice messages, and calls. These new ways of communication contribute to the formation of new communities, the members of which are more interconnected with each other than ever before. The interview demonstrated that leaders could effectively use networked communications to connect to their employees or reach customers and other stakeholders. For example, these networked communications allowed one of the interviewed managers to question customers and other employees about the work of a particular employee whose performance needed to be assessed. The manager could use phone calls or e-mails to achieve his goal.
The source Thinking Habits of Mind, Heart, and Imagination describes ten habits that leaders are encouraged to implement in their thinking process. They are complementary thinking, connected seeing, collaborative teamwork, constructing meaning, conceptual clarity, communicating effectively, courageous action, caring empathy, conversational reflection, and continuous learning. The interviews were relevant to the habit of conversational reflection, which is related to reflecting on professional experience during learning conversations. The interviews encouraged professional self-development through a conversational reflection in the questions on resilience mastery. For example, when discussing managers’ planning the work hours during periods with a large number of orders, managers were asked whether they were able to reduce their stress levels. According to Cashman (2017), in order to manage stress, a leader should take action to control or influence things that are subject to control and accept things that cannot be controlled. The interviewed managers said that they were familiar with this principle of stress management, but their reflections on their professional experiences demonstrated that they often failed to implement it in their work. They stated that it was difficult to accept something as uncontrollable, but they promised to practice it.
I think that I performed fairly satisfactory as an interviewer. During the interviews, I tried to clarify my questions and explain learning themes when I saw a shade of confusion on my interviewees’ faces. It seemed to work since it helped me to elicit some relevant additional information, such as the fact that middle managers rarely used the stress management strategy proposed by Cashman. I think that the medium I chose, which was personal interviews in managers’ offices, also worked in my favor and my interviewees’ favor because the ability to see facial expressions and gestures contributes to better understanding.
However, there is one particular thing that did not work and that I would like to do differently next time. I would make more pauses during my future interviews to make sure that interviewees told me everything they had to say on the topic. During these interviews, I tried to proceed with the following questions as soon as I got a response to the current one. As a result, I could have missed some important information that could have come to the interviewees’ minds after a pause. I believe that providing my interviewees with additional time to respond to questions will allow me to enhance the quality of my data.
Perhaps, the main thing that I learned about interviewing is that it is no easy task. It requires thorough preparation and good interpersonal skills to make an interviewee well-disposed toward me and willing to provide me with valuable information. Furthermore, an interviewer should appear as a knowledgeable person if he or she wants to encourage interviewees to engage in reflection on professional experience. I also deepened my understanding of the importance of self-development for leaders and the significance of appreciative inquiries for fostering professional self-reflections. In particular, I learned that interpersonal mastery and resilience mastery are essential for leaders because leadership requires the establishment of many interpersonal and collaborative relationships and is often associated with stress and shifting the work-life balance.
My experience of interviewing leaders at the middle management level was valuable for my personal and professional development. The primary lessons I gained from this experience are that developing personal skills is essential for improving leadership performance and that interviews encouraging professional self-reflection are a good way of leadership development. In my opinion, interviewing leaders has value for both an interviewer and interviewees. An interviewer can get familiar with common leadership practices and find out what works and what does not work in a particular business setting. Interviewees, in their turn, get an opportunity of reflecting on their experiences, notice flaws and strengths of their leadership approach, and come up with ideas as to how to improve their performance. I think that interviewing leaders has a great impact on leadership development because it fosters reflection on personal and leadership skills and allows for determining areas of improvement.
I would provide some recommendations to my current organization about the development of middle managers. Paying attention to the development of middle managers is crucial since they are the main leaders through which the organization transfers its business goals. Since the interviews showed the importance of resilience for leaders, the organization should pay attention to the development of middle managers’ resilience mastery. Middle managers should be educated about strategies of stress management in the work environment and provided with the opportunity of balancing their work and life. It is also necessary to establish an organizational culture that would discourage leaders from engaging in damaging habits and encourage them to lead healthy lifestyles. Resilient leaders are a valuable asset for any organization since they stay motivated and are able to inspire other employees; they lead with energy and can handle stressful situations effectively. In addition, the organization should start using interviews to promote leaders’ personal development. Interviews that encourage reflection on professional experience enable leaders, in particular middle managers, to take a detached view of their leadership approaches and notice their personal and professional strengths and weaknesses.
Avadhani, A. (2016). Leadership development and personal development: is there a connection? SM Journal of Nursing, 2(1), 1-2.
Cashman, K. (2017). Leadership from the inside out: Becoming a leader for life (3rd ed.). Berrett-Koehler.
Southwick, F. S., Martini, B. L., Charney, D. S., & Southwick, S. M. (2017). Leadership and Resilience. In J. Marques & S. Dhiman (Eds.), Leadership Today (pp. 315-333). Springer.