Organizations and Leadership: Fly High Like a PLANE

Dion Ginanto (2014)

Michigan State University

Organizations are complex and dynamic. Bolman and Gallos (2011) asserted that organizations, including universities and other types, have their complex mission, dynamics, personnel structures, and values that require a distinct set of understandings and skills to lead and manage them well. To deal with the complexities and the dynamics of organizations, a strong and applicable leadership style is needed. Leadership and organization are like two sides of the same coin. Each one supports the other. If we want to succeed in our organization, we need to have good leadership within the system. If I compare leadership and organization in a real situation, the analogy that I use is a plane and its pilot. The plane is the organization, which includes passengers, flight attendants, crews, etc. Meanwhile, leadership is what the pilot needs to have. A smart and brave pilot will make sure that his plane and its passengers are safe to the final destination.

There is no fixed leadership style that can be used to manage organizations, and as Green (1992) mentioned in his paper, there is not yet agreement on what that leadership should look like. This paper, however, elaborates the basic standard of organization and leadership. I discuss the notion of organization and leadership in the form of PLANE and PILOT. PLANE and PILOT are abbreviations for the elements and attributes of organizational development. PLANE is short for: 1. Plan your goals and vision; 2. Lead by doing; 3. Actualize trust; 4. Notify the job descriptions as accountable and distributed; 5. Enjoy your team. Meanwhile, PILOT is short for: 1. Persistence; 2. Integrity; 3. Liability/Responsibility, 4. Openness; and 5. Taking a Risk/Risk Taker.

Fly High like a PLANE

What is organization? There are a lot of definitions offered by scholars and researchers, such as Weber, who focused on bureaucracy and authority; Barnard, who is known for his conscious and purposeful coordination; and Marx, who stressed organization in its collective activities and outcomes (Hall, 1996).  Regardless of the many definitions of organization, PLANE tries to give us five pillars that develop the most basic elements of organization.

  1. Plan your goals/vision

A Plane will not be able to land without knowing its destination. Goals and/or vision are the destination that a plane will land on. A leader and his/her team should collaborate to decide what goal and vision they need to accomplish in the following years. Goals can be long-term or short-term. Rowley and Sherman (2003) contended that the organizational setting (i.e., universities) should be able to collegially set up its goals by using effective leadership. In envisioning the future, leaders define a mission, set priorities, communicate a sense of direction, and inspire others to take initiative; all of these should be done collaboratively (Green, 2011).

  1.  Lead by Doing

All leaders are learners. Therefore, in managing an organization, both leaders and subordinates need to always learn to achieve organizational goals. Leading by doing means “Do What You Say You Will Do-DWYSYWD” (Arnold, 2013). It does not mean that what we do in our organization is always correct; rather, everybody (not only the leader) should learn from their mistakes and turn their mistakes into a valuable experience. Green (2011) questioned how individuals find out ways to enhance their ability to envision the future, to exercise symbolic leadership, and to understand themselves and their institutions in all their complexity (Green, 1992, p. 62). Also, a good quote from a golden rule “treat others as you yourself would wish to be treated- applies when managing in an academic setting” (Rowley & Sherman, 2003, p. 1061), is a good illustration of how to lead by doing.

  1. Actualize Trust

Trust is the most valuable element in an organization. There will be no good collaboration without having good trust. Rowley and Sherman (2003) defined trust as follows:

Trust cannot be commanded. Trust must always be earned. Leaders and managers earn trust by being thoroughly honest in every respect, by distributing resources fairly and openly, and by maintaining a positive relationship with peers and subordinates. (p. 1061)

Trust is a model for building a good collective and collaborative action within the organization. Gregory and Kuzmich (2007) asserted, “People need to feel safe. If we are asking people to risk, they need to do so in trustworthy environments” (p.xvi).

  1. Notify the Job Description as Accountable and Distributed

I quote a nice statement from Bolman and Deal (2008) to describe how important job descriptions are “If things are out of control, then the system needs clearer rules and procedures, as well as tighter job descriptions.” This statement indicates that an organization needs to set clear, accountable, and distributed job descriptions. Green (1992) suggested that greater complexities and workloads require individuals to manage more effectively, think more broadly, and interact with different parts of the institution.

  1. Enjoy your team

A team is different from a group. Within a team, individuals maintain communication and collaboration to achieve a goal. A group, however, does not need collaboration to achieve its goal. Organization is an example of a team. Therefore, individuals within an organization should work collaboratively. Hall (1996) asserted that organizations require communications, willingness on the part of members to contribute, and a common purpose among them; each individual needs to communicate, be motivated, and make decisions. Therefore, each organization must enjoy their team, respect others, celebrate diversity, and maintain collaboration.

These five foundations of organization are mostly generated from scholars who focuse on higher education contexts. However, these values can also be applied to K-12 organization. A school as an organization should have its goals, should lead by doing, should be able to create trust, and should notify its job descriptions and make them accountable and distributed, and the school should enjoy the team. These five elements are flexible and general. I believe that by applying these five elements, every organization will fly high like a PLANE.


The PLANE will not fly high without a PILOT. An organization without good leadership will not achieve its goals. Therefore, every organization needs leadership qualities to set the direction of an organization. Five basic qualities that I propose for an organization are: 1. Persistence; 2. Integrity; 3. Liability/Responsibility, 4. Openness; 5. Taking a Risk/Risk Taker (PILOT).

  1. Persistence

Persistence is defined as staying fixed on the goals, despite interference (Northhouse, 2013). When the goals of the school (organization) have been set, then as a leader we need to keep our goals on track.  Leaders who have determination and persistence are willing to assert themselves, are proactive, and have the capacity to persevere in the face of obstacles (Northshouse, 2013, p. 25).

  1. Integrity

Integrity is the quality of honesty and trustworthiness. People who adhere to a strong set of principles and take responsibility for their actions are exhibiting integrity (Northhouse, 2013, p. 25). My school principal when I was teaching in a rural school back in Indonesia, is one example of this leadership trait. Our school is located in a very rural area, with no paved roads nor electricity. His house is two hours away using motorcycle. However, he is always at school almost every day. His integrity inspires the teachers to work sincerely.

  1. Liability/Responsibility

Liability, or Responsibility, is one of ten characteristics which is associated with a positive leadership by Studgdill. Stugdill (1997), in Northhouse (2013), put responsibility as the first survey item: “Drive for responsibility and task completion.” Liability/responsibility is one missing characteristic in my school environment, based on my observation during five years of teaching. The unavailability of walkthroughs and classroom visits by our school principal, made almost every teacher not really do his or her job well. Based on my observations so far, there are a lot of teachers who ask students to write a resume of a book chapter, while he or she leaves them for breakfast or coffee time.

  1. Openness

Openness is defined as having confidence that communication is not withheld and that it is freely shared (Whitehead, Boschee, Decker, 2013, p. 342).  In line with this, Northhouse (2013) described openness as the tendency to be informed, creative, insightful, and curious (p. 27). In developing a country setting like my school back in Indonesia, openness is becoming a major concern. The issue of corruption that has spread all over sectors, including schools, has created some reforms within our school environment.

  1. Taking a Risk/Risk Taker

Risk taking is also part of Stogdill’s second survey: “Risk taking and originality in problem solving” (Stodgil, 1997, in Northouse, 2013). Not all leaders are brave enough to take a risk. Most inexperienced leaders tend to stay in their comfort zone, and they are not willing to make a big impact by taking risks for their decisions.


To conclude, organization settings such as K-12 schools and higher education have different quality and systems. Therefore, there is no fixed system that can be applied and is generally applicable to every organizational setting. For instance, a high school in East Lansing has a different quality of organization and leadership than a high school in a developing country, as in Indonesia. It is our rule to find out what best practices of leadership are applicable to our organizational setting. This is what some scholars have called the contingency approach. Galbraith (1973), in Senge (1996), defined the contingency approach as the condition in which there is no best pattern, but at the same time not all patterns are equally effective. As mentioned by Peterson (n.d), every organization needs to be ready with the notion of changes and dynamics; therefore, we must be ready with new organizational models. Therefore, PLANE and PILOT are basics concepts/models, which may or may not be applicable to all organizations. The key point is that as a leader, we need to cultivate our environment to find the best practices for an effective organization.



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