Makt utan magi En studie av chefers yrkeskunnande
Sammanfattning: What do executives do, and how do their actions impact on the company’s results? Questions such as these are constantly targeted in leadership research. Despite thousands of reports in the field, there is no consensus on what the concept of leadership entails. Nor can companies and organisations be said to have a clear idea of what executives actually do. Nevertheless, the investments in leadership development seem to indicate that executives are considered vital to the company’s results. The vague notions about what executive work entails, together with assumptions concerning their importance to the company or organisation, lend a certain magical aura to their work.In this study, executives are regarded as a professional category, and are consequently examined with a qualitative method whereby the professionals begin by reflecting in writing on their skills, and then take part in a group discussion on their skills based on their written reflections. This method, known as the dialogue seminar method, has been used on other professional categories with good results. Since executives have not previously been studied in terms of their skills, the results have been compared to leadership research. Leadership studies with a gender perspective have shown that gender impacts on the likelihood of obtaining and practising executive positions and skills. Therefore, the results of this study have also been analysed from a gender perspective.The skills of executives and other staff are described as the capacity to follow rules, i.e. interpreting rules and then applying them in concrete situations. A rule says nothing about how it should be followed, however. If the way in which a rule should be followed were to be described in a rule, another rule would be needed to describe how that rule should be followed, and so on, ad infinitum. Thus, rules must be interpreted as something that requires access to an “archive” of examples. One specific executive skill consists of developing co-workers’ rule-following skills.For executives, following the rules involves making decisions based on tacit knowledge. Tacit knowledge, in turn, is based on an inner vision of what is taking place right now in the organisation, and what is crucial to customers, employees, the organisation and the world at large. It also includes understanding people’s urges, thoughts, needs, wishes, and what they are saying. Tacit knowledge develops in the interplay between reflecting over examples and taking strategic action. Decision-making situations can often be unclear and contradictory. Therefore the executive’s skills must include the ability to handle uncertainty in three different ways. The first is by being honest about the fact that all decisions cannot be made, and that some decisions take time. The second is explaining to employees that an organisation cannot be entirely regulated by guidelines, and that judgement in the form of reflected experience is therefore a crucial element in all action. The third is coping with the fact that an executive position does not automatically entail being able to make the right decision. Thus, the executive must accommodate uncertainty in the world at large, the employees’ uncertainty, and his or her own uncertainty.Empirical analysis also highlights another aspect of executive skills. Executives need to be fast, not merely in the sense of having a high work capacity, but in the sense of never saying no or questioning deliveries.Above all, comparisons with leadership research reveal differences in the interpretation of empirical data. The way in which executives follow rules, for instance, is also described in research on leadership, but only as a phenomenon linked with unusual situations, as when executives need to take emergency action in unforeseen circumstances, or make decisions in cases that are not covered by the general rules, rather than as a day-to-day occurrence. Similarly, there is a difference in perspectives on handling uncertainty. In leadership research, this is described as the executive dealing with something that has gone wrong and putting it right. In the study at hand, the concept is expanded, to demonstrate that the executive’s actions can involve accommodating the worries that this uncertainty breeds within the organisation.Empirical data do not show any differences in the descriptions of the executive skills of women and men. Women and men practise these executive skills similarly. Men’s tendency to identify themselves with senior management, however, is interpreted as a sign of homosocial structures in the organisation. The fact that men are more ambivalent than women faced with the opportunity and responsibility of promoting change consequently indicates that admittance into a homosocial structure restricts their freedom of action.There is a difference, however, between the executive skills of women and men in that women, unlike men, have to relate to the issue of their own gender. Their approach to this can vary between two leadership discourses; one that is gender-neutral, and one where gender is significant. Women’s knowledge of how gender is constructed in organisations, in leadership and in other structures and processes, is thus included in the tacit knowledge that comprises their skills.Keywords: executive, manager, management, leadership, gender, skills, tacit knowledge, follow rules, breaking rules, rules, decision-making, accommodate uncertainty, homosocial structures.
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