Introduction: Ursula Burn’s Background. Learning to Take Risks
Born in New York City, NY in 1958, Ursula Burns was raised by her single mother and attended a Catholic school for girls. In 1980, she graduated from the New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering with a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering. The same year, she acquired a Master’s Degree in the same field at Columbia University. The fourteenth most successful woman in the world, Burns is also a devoted mother and a wife. In 1980, she became a member of the Xerox Company as a “mechanical engineering summer intern” (Ursula Burns, n. d., para. 1).
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It should be noted, though, that Ursula did not have to create a brand – when she became the leader of Xerox, the company already was a household name. At first, it seemed that all that Burn was supposed to do was maintaining Xerox’s popularity and follow the legacy of her predecessor to retain the revenues. However, as it soon turned out, the company was starting to lose its target audience, since the brand had worn out its novelty by the time that Burn took power in her hands. However, Ursula’s business acumen did not fail her, and she decided to reinvent the company’s image, therefore, pulling it out of a financially precarious situation. By suggesting that color printing should be made more affordable, as well as reconsidering the company’s organizational behavior and putting a very strong emphasis on the relationships between the managers and the staff, Burns has created the organizational culture that is bound to make Xerox even more successful than it is now.
Organizational Culture and the Philosophy of the Leadership Style: What Employees Say
Burns manages to combine the elements of several leadership styles to achieve greater efficacy. For instance, though Ursula tends to resort to the laissez-faire leadership style, leaving her employees enough room for making major decisions on their own and, thus, feel valued (Chaudhry & Javed, 2012), the CEO has used the basic principles of the transformational leadership style quite a few times. The latter seems considerably more promising a strategy, since it helps reinvent the staff’s concept of corporate value and, therefore, motivate them for achieving better results (Luzinski, 2011).
Personal and Organizational Values and Ethical Behavior in Xerox: Compliance at Its Best
According to Burns, reputation is the key personal and organizational value (Highlights on selected winners from the 2012 world’s most ethical companies, 2013, June 4, para. 7). Seeing how Burns considers the reputation of her company and staff the top priority in creating the corporate culture, there should be no surprise that Ursula considers compliance with the company’s rules the key principle of corporate ethics (Abdullah & Aziz, 2013). However, unlike other bosses, who demand that their staff should follow the provided guidelines without questioning them, and avoid direct communication with their employees, Ursula adopts an entirely new approach by establishing direct contact with her staff.
To Err Is Human: Ursula Burns’s Three Greatest Weaknesses
It would be wrong to claim that Burns has no flaws whatsoever as a leader. Quite on the contrary, each of her advantages, including her energy, vivacity, and enthusiasm, is leveled with a corresponding downside. However, what is so fascinating about Burns is that she knows how to use her negative qualities to her advantage. Ursula’s key weakness is her impatience, the second and the third ones being a bad “poker face” and frequent mood swing correspondingly (Xerox Corporation, n. d., para. 2).
Cinderella of the XXI Century: Ursula Burns’s Three Greatest Strengths
Despite the weaknesses mentioned above, Ursula is doubtlessly a very strong and efficient leader with a range of assets and important business qualities. However, weirdly enough, Burns’s key strengths stem not from her being a born leader, but her being an explorer and an innovator. As the Xerox leader herself explains, she considers curiosity her key asset, since it allows her to be innovative and keep in pace with time (Hymowitz, 2013). It was Burns’s curiosity that made her the leader of Xerox and made the company’s senior executive: “He later said (for a New Your Times article) that he thought “she was enormously curious. She wanted to know why we were doing some things at the time, and she was always prepared in a way that I thought was very refreshing” (Lessons from Ursula Burns – chairwoman and CEO of Xerox, 2011, October 27, para. 13).
Another key quality that makes Burns so successful is her compassion towards co-workers and employees, as well as her being interested in the lives of the people, whom she works with. In fact, she not only cares about each and every person employed in Xerox, but also tries to make the idea of companies supporting their employees a common principle: “I think that because we are here, I will bring back jobs, we do bring back jobs, we bring jobs into the United States, as long as the U.S. can continue to be competitive. And we can” (Xerox CEO Ursula Burns’ leadership style and traits, 2013, October 19, para. 4). A quality that can be considered rather unusual for a business person, her sympathy with the employees and readiness to cooperate has provided the premises for creating a unique corporate culture, which has recently become Xerox’s calling card (Kilgore, 2011).
Finally, Burns is not afraid of taking risks. Combined with her ability to analyze both external and internal factors and predict the possible outcomes, the given quality is crucial for Xerox’s success. Ursula Burns is not reckless – on the contrary, she makes weighted decisions.
Speaking Her Mind: Ursula Burns’s Greatest Asset
When it comes to personal preferences in the strategy chosen by Ursula Burns to lead the company to success, I have to admit that her straightforwardness and openness to discussions seems the most appealing to me. Though diplomacy and tactfulness are doubtlessly important qualities of a company leader, I believe that Mrs. Burns’s ability to speak her mind, as she puts it, is her most impressive character trait. Indeed, when one comes to think about it, the ability to express one’s opinion about a controversial or embarrassing issue is what many leaders lack. It is important for a leader not to ignore the elephant in the room and discuss the issues causing ambiguity openly (An evening with Ursula Burns, n. d., para. 2).
Communication, Collaboration, Power, Politics and Group Dynamics
There is no need to stress that building trustworthy relationships with employees, as well as establishing adequate principles of organizational behavior in a company, is crucial, especially for such worldwide renowned companies as Xerox. Therefore, the significance of communication and collaboration with the staff, as well as gathering feedback from the latter, is not to be underestimated. However, a true leader should also be able to organize the work of others, as Burns’s example shows. By analyzing the behavioral patterns and specifics of interactions between the employees, Burns managed to come up with a unique system of addressing the staff’s needs and at the same time put each employee’s unique asset to use fort the company’s benefit. One of the most successful people of the XXI century, Burns deserves to be called a perfect model to emulate for all entrepreneurs.
Abdullah, Z. & Aziz, A. (2013). Institutionalizing corporate social responsibility: effects on corporate reputation, culture, and legitimacy in Malaysia. Social Responsibility Journal, 9(3), 344–361.
An evening with Ursula Burns (n. d.). Web.
Chaudhry, A. Q. & Javed, H. (2012). Impact of transactional and laissez faire leadership style on motivation. International Journal of Business and Social Science, 3(7), 1–8.
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