Blessed to be a Blessing

Organizational Theory and Leadership

Organizational Theory is a complex and wide-ranging study.  Even defining the organization can be a highly debated topic.  Daft (2004) defines organizations as “Social entities that are goal-directed, are designed as deliberately structured and coordinated activity systems, and are linked to the external environment “ (p. 11).    Organizations are social entities because they ‘people-centered’.  “Entities are social because they are dependent on human activity for their existence” (Fleetwood, 2005, p. 201).  Organizations exist and function because of complex human interactions.  Organizations exist to “bring together resources to accomplish specific goals” (Daft, 2004, p. 12) and are designed with that purpose in mind.  Finally, organizations are linked to the environment.   It must gather resources from outside itself, produce, and function in a complex set of external relationships including but not limited to stakeholders, suppliers, customers, community, market, and competitors.  An organization, “draws its very sustenance from the environment, and if it cannot, it ceases to be a viable organization” (Hunsicker, 2001, p. 153).  The bottom line is that, “The survival and prosperity of an organization depends on effective adaptation to the environment, which means marketing its outputs (products and services) successfully, obtain necessary resources, and dealing with external threats” (Yukl, 2002, p. 16).  In the modern world organizational environments do not only concern local variables but international ones as well.  “One of the most significant changes in the external environment today is globalization” (Daft, 2004, p. 13).  Organizational theory is the study of the complex internal and external relationships, structures, and functions, of the social structure that is the organization.

It is important for leaders to understand the organizations they serve.  “Understanding organizations is more than just an academic pursuit, it is a primary requisite for good leadership” (Hunsicker, 2001, p. 153).  Leadership is deeply tied to organizational theory.  “There is no single “correct” definition” of leadership  (Yukl, 2002, p. 7).  Organizations are social entities and leadership is a social process.  “Leadership is a social process, and though it may be institutionalized through defined formal roles, it is present at entry level and enacted in an ongoing way though continuous processes of communication, inspiration and dialogue throughout the organization” (Bate, Kahn, and Pye, 2000, p. 199).  Yukl (2002) sees organizational leadership as a process of influence that can be carried out by individuals or a group to bring about understanding and facilitation in effort to accomplish goals (p. 7).  Leadership, as it relates to organization theory, is the application of knowledge and influence while considering internal and external factors and forces in an effort to “reasonably balance, integrate, and harmonize the two while leading their organizations toward productive goals” (Hunsicker, 2001, p. 158).  The connection between organizational and leadership theories is complicated and strong.  Some leaders work best in certain organizational theories and certain organizations are more effective with certain leadership theories.  To say the two are interconnected is an understatement.

Organizational theory seems like a field of study that has few practical applications.  Many of the topics and subjects of study are complex and the very nature of the organization, as a social structure, is hard to observe.  The reality of the field is that organizational leaders who can stand in the gap between organizational design (structure) and organizational development (culture) make the field extremely practical.  The theories, when in practice, make a real difference in the implementation and outcome of organizational goals.






Bate, P., Khan, R., & Pye, A. (2000). Towards a culturally sensitive approach to organization structuring: Where organization design meets organization development. Organization Science, 11(2), 197-211. Retrieved from

Daft, R. L. (2004). Organization theory and design (8th ed.). Mason, Ohio: South-Western.

Fleetwood, S. (2005). Ontology in organization and management studies: A critical realist perspective. Organization, 12(2), 197-222.

Hunsicker, F. R. (2001). Organization theory for leaders. In Lester, Richard I. & A. Glenn Morton (Ed.), Concepts for air force leadership (4th ed., pp. 153-158). Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama: Air University Press. Retrieved from

Yukl, G. A. (2002). Leadership in organizations (5th ed.). New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.


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