MARCH 1, 2023 — Jonathan Clark is a professor and the interim chair of the UTSA Carlos Alvarez College of Business’ Department of Management. He studies leadership and strategic management, striving to understand how leaders and organizations create the conditions in which individuals, groups and organizations do their best collective work.
To date, his work has addressed issues broadly related to leadership, organization design and organizational learning, with a special emphasis on how these issues play out in the health care industry.
Clark holds a Ph.D. in health policy/management from the Harvard Business School, and a master’s degree from the Harvard School of Public Health. His undergraduate degree in economics is from Boston College. He is focused on helping aspiring leaders at UTSA understand, practice and cultivate leadership more effectively in their personal and professional lives.
In collaboration with his father, Kim B. Clark, the National Advisory Council (NAC) Distinguished Professor of Business in the Marriott School of Business at Brigham Young University, and his sister, Erin E. Clark, managing director and U.S. national leader of leadership services at Deloitte Human Capital Consulting, he has been writing a book on leadership with the working title, “Leadership: A New Paradigm to Help People and Organizations Thrive.”
Together, they want to encourage others to start thinking about leadership in a new way.
UTSA Today spoke with Clark about what it means to be a leader and about “the legacy paradigm of power” that is discussed in his book.
What does it mean to be a leader?
JC: So much has been written about leaders and leadership, it can sometimes be confusing. Being a leader means doing the work necessary to mobilize others in a way that makes things better for people and for organizations.
Being a leader is work. It isn’t a formal role or position, and it isn’t about the leader. It’s about the work required to solve tough problems and pursue important opportunities in a way that helps people to experience more meaning and personal growth, helps organizations to fulfill their purpose more effectively and helps both people and organizations to be more productive. And it can be done by anyone, anywhere, wherever there are problems to be solved or opportunities to be pursued.
In the book, you talk about “the legacy paradigm of power.” What does that mean?
JC: The legacy paradigm is a paradigm of power-over-people. It is a pattern of mindsets, practices and behaviors that have long dominated the organization of work. It relies on consolidated power and seeks to achieve control through compliance with a coercive hierarchy, intrusive supervision and a bureaucratic web of rules, procedures and approvals.
In many ways, this paradigm of power has become like a legacy computer system—incredibly pervasive, deeply embedded, very influential and almost invisible. Because it is so pervasive and deeply embedded, many don’t recognize it as the culprit for lackluster performance, a disengaged and burned-out workforce and the frequent moral failings we see in organizations of all kinds. But it is the culprit for a few key reasons: it devalues, depersonalizes, and damages people; it wastes significant talent and potential; and it stifles innovation.
We believe the answer is leadership. In the book, we argue that what so many organizations need is a fundamental shift from the ‘legacy paradigm of power’ to a new paradigm of leadership.
How could reframing the way people think about leadership be beneficial for an organization?
JC: Well, the legacy paradigm has confused our understanding of leadership. The word and idea have come to be associated with authority and position. Many of us even refer to the people with all the authority in our organizations (for example, executives) as “the leadership,” but often what those people are offering us is not leadership but instead the legacy paradigm and the experience of power-over-people.
We believe the answer to what ails so many organizations is leadership. But when we speak of leadership, we are not talking about a heroic CEO, or even a capable team of executives. Real leadership can and should be exercised by anyone, anywhere in all kinds of organizations—in families, companies, universities, communities and societies. But to get that, we need a radically different paradigm of organization, one that gives people all throughout the organization the freedom to lead, but still produces the unity of purpose and effort that makes organizations great.
Tell me about the process of writing this book?
JC: This is a book that has been decades in the making. I have the privilege of working on this project with my father, who is also an academic in addition to being a former dean and university president, and with my sister, who has spent the last two decades doing human capital and leadership consulting with some of the world’s largest and most recognizable organizations.
Eventually, we realized that our collective research and experience were coalescing around some ideas that we felt might be useful to people, so we decided to write a book. We’ve been in that process for the last five years or so, and we’re now to the point where we feel good enough about the product to discuss the book with publishers.
What advice do you have for future leaders?
JC: I’ll tell you the same thing that I tell my students: You are a leader. You may not have thought about yourself in those terms, but I believe everyone can engage with other people to solve problems or pursue exciting opportunities in the sphere of their circumstances and influence.
If you take the time to truly understand leadership, you will begin to see it all around you—on playgrounds where kids organize a game of tag, in homes where families mobilize to support and strengthen each other, on sports teams where coaches and teammates motivate and focus each other to take on the competition, in parent-teacher associations where adults rally the community to support their kids, and of course in employers of all sizes and kinds where leadership is so sorely needed.
If you pay attention, you will see leadership emerging anywhere someone takes initiative, mobilizes others and empowers them to solve problems or pursue opportunities. It’s that simple. You can do it—and probably already have.
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