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Liz Claiborne: Leadership Analysis Essay

Liz Claiborne was a revolutionary in the fashion industry. She overcame failures in her childhood and early adulthood to become a leader in the business world. Determined to find her place in the fashion world, she wanted to a design company with her own vision. She wanted to empower her customers with quality clothing at an affordable price. In 1976, Liz Claiborne, along with partners Art Ortenberg and Leonard Boxer, created Liz Claiborne, Incorporated. As a designer she was programmed to be task oriented. Because she was task oriented, her leadership skills main weakness in her leadership style. Nevertheless, because she was a role model and supporter of career driven woman, Liz predominantly portrays the transformational leadership style. Liz was able to create a company and a vision that moved milestones for women in the professional world and created higher standards for the fashion industry. The company made $2 million in sales its first year and went public in 1981. (need citation-Fortune 500?) Liz Claiborne, Inc. became the first company founded by a woman to make the Fortune 500 in 1986. (need citation-Fortune 500?)

II. Biography

Anne Elisabeth Jane “Liz” Claiborne was born March 31, 1929 in Brussels. Her parents were descendents of Louisiana ancestry. Liz was the youngest of three. The family returned to New Orleans in 1939 at the beginning of World War II. Years later, the family relocated to New Jersey. Liz attended primary and secondary schooling, only reaching her sophomore year. When she was teen, Liz was inspired by an art history teacher. (Ortenberg, page 25-27) A man of the times, Liz’s father did not encourage her education. He did, however, approve of her ambition for art. He deemed it “a proper activity for a woman.” (Ortenberg, page 27) With her father’s approval, she immersed herself into the art world.

Liz Claiborne won the Harper’s Bazaar design contest the year of 1949. The prize included a trip to Paris for ten days. After a year in France studying art, Liz returned to America. (Ortenberg, page 28) Soon after, on a trip with her parents, she announced her choice to begin a fashion designing career in New York. Without emotion, her father handed Liz a fifty dollar bill and her suitcase. He wished her, “Good luck,” got back into the car, and drove off. (Ortenberg, page 30) Liz did not speak to her father for another twenties years.

Determined to find her way, Liz worked the Harper Bazaar opportunity and landed a job interview. Although she did not get the job, she did get a date and later on married the interviewer, Ben Schultz. Liz’s marriage was short lived with Ben, but did produce her only son Alex. Through the next handful of years, Liz worked through her apprenticeship and raised Alex. Liz Claiborne was becoming the women she would later design for, a career driven woman.

One year after Alex was born; Liz met her future husband Art Ortenberg. Art was department head of the dress department at Juniorite, a junior sportswear company. Liz was a new designer. Liz and Art were both currently married. When the company found out about the affair, Art was fired. Liz stood by Art and quit. The two began a relationship that led to marriage in July of 1957. Art Ortenberg and Liz Claiborne were married for forty-nine years. (Ortenberg, page 245-247)

Over the next fifteen years, Liz Claiborne waited patiently to pursue her dreams fully until her son was able to support himself. She had found job security as a designer at Youth Guild for those fifteen years. In 1975, Liz passed on an opportunity to break off and develop Youth Guild separate from its mother company, Jonathan Logan. She new it was time to begin a design company with her own vision.

In the seventies, the working woman was making a name for herself. Liz was there to dress her. Liz Claiborne, whom was also career driven, understood what her customer needed. As a woman, she new the daily insecurities females face. She wanted to empower her customers with quality clothing at an affordable price. In 1976, Liz Claiborne, along with partners Art Ortenberg and Leonard Boxer, created Liz Claiborne, Incorporated. Liz would head the design team, Art would be in charge of operations, and Leonard would work the production side. In the beginning, Liz was the salesperson for the company.

Looking for feedback, Liz would present merchandise and sketches to potential and experienced buyers. She wanted the truth. She found it: price. (Ortenberg, page 247-251) The foundation of Liz Claiborne, Inc. would be created upon the idea of comfortable, easy-to-match separates. Although a simple concept “women should not have to spend a fortune to look good,” (Hayes) the notion revolutionized the way woman presented themselves in the workplace. The company made $2 million in sales its first year and went public in 1981. (need citation-Fortune 500?) Liz Claiborne, Inc. became the first company founded by a woman to make the Fortune 500 in 1986. (need citation-Fortune 500?)

Liz Claiborne had her own sense of design, but she also had her own theories on management style. Liz emphasized equality in the workforce. According to Hayes, she thought with the team in mind and fostered their enthusiasm. (Hayes) Liz was also geared to teach techniques. She loved to teach through demonstrating. She thought of her work force as family. She believed good teachers and good programs involved good parents. According to Ortenberg, Liz and Art thought of themselves as the parents of the company. (Ortenberg page 37) Towards the end of her reign in 1989, Liz felt she was too far away from the actual process and could not make accurate management decisions.

Therefore, she resigned as manager in 1989. Liz Claiborne was highly regarded in the fashion industry. Her success was marked in 1990 and 1991 with many awards and recognitions, including induction into the U.S. Business Hall of Fame and the Marketing Hall of Fame. She also received an honorary doctorate from the Rhode Island School of Design. (Ortenberg page 145-152) According to Ortenberg, this was the “highest point of Liz’s professional life.” (Ortenberg page 147) In her life after the company, Liz was an avid conversationalist.

She took part in and donated too many wildlife-conservation groups. To date, Liz and Art’s foundation has given away $40 million to wildlife grants. (Johnson) In 2007, Anne Elisabeth Jane “Liz” Claiborne, fashion icon and industry revolutionary, lost her ten year battle to cancer. Following her death, she was awarded a plaque on the Fashion Walk of Hall of Fame in 2008. Liz was a leader that understood the beauty behind the design of her clothes. More importantly, Liz Claiborne understood the beauty behind the design of life and the people we share it with.

III. Analysis of Leadership

Liz Claiborne had her own sense of design, but she also had her own theories on management style. In the following section, the leadership approaches Liz Claiborne used will be discussed. In addition, the least descriptive and the most descriptive theory will be outlined and supported. A. Skills Approach

The skills approach is the idea leadership is based upon capabilities that can be learned and developed. The skills based concept describes what a leader does. Skills are important because leaders must be able to communicate their vision and effectively accumulate and structure information to facilitate problem solving and performance. Mumford, Campion and Morgeson (2007) examine leadership based on cognitive, interpersonal, business, and strategic skill. In addition to the four capabilities, different levels of management require different levels of skill. For example, upper level management positions require more strategy skills than lower level management. (Kalargyrou)

As Liz took an upper-level position of power within the company, she grew out of her task oriented comfort zone. Liz thought as a designer, “The further one removes oneself from the actual work, the less value one adds to that work.” (Ortenberg, page 151) Towards the end of her management days, Liz had come to a point where she was not gaining more knowledge and developing herself as strategic partner. The company was developing into a new environment around her. It was not the family size that she had once known. When she realized the weakness in her leadership approach, she retired from the upper level management position at the company.

B. Style Approach

Leadership can be separated into two types of leadership behaviors: task behaviors and relationship behaviors. Task behavior focuses on the production factor of the organization. Task behaviors are also concerned with the technical aspect of how duties are performed. Relationship behavior is geared towards the social awareness of the organization. It is the concern for the people of the organization. By combining different levels of each of the styles, various leadership styles can be formed. In The Relationship Between Paternalistic and Leadership and Organizational Commitment: Investigating the Role of Climate Regarding Ethics, the geru takes in a chela that is helpless and dependent.

The guru recognizes it is his goal to nurture and develop the chela into a confident teacher. He encourages the chela to ask questions. By empowering the chela, the guru leads his disciple to success. Much like the guru, Liz Claiborne took on a nurturing and guiding role within in company. In this aspect, Liz takes on a paternalistic/maternalistic view of leadership. She considered her team a family, where she and Art Ortenberg were the parents. (Ortenberg) Liz encouraged her team to ask questions and lent her experience to help develop them into better designers. Liz used task behaviors to teach her subordinates and relationship behaviors to cultivate a learning and family-like environment.

C. Contingency

To effective lead subordinates, a leader must have the appropriate styles contingent upon the situation. The effectiveness is dependent upon the leader’s style and how it interacts in situations that are favorable to the leader. (Cruz, Nunez & Pinheiro) Leaders are primarily motivated by the tasks and relationships. Fiedler’s theory takes those motivations and applies them to situational variables. (Cruz, Nunez & Pinheiro) Three key components to the Least Preferred Coworker Scale (LPC) are the leaders/members relationship, the task structure, and the position of authority. (Cruz, Nunez & Pinheiro) Liz Claiborne had close relationships with her subordinates when she first started up the company. She had hired Nancy, a pattern maker. Nancy respected and had confidence in Liz’s position. Liz was the only designer at the time and had full control over the task structure in the beginning. Liz had maximum influence over her company.

Therefore, she was task oriented and had a low LPC. As her company grew and her lack of control over the design process diminished, Liz Claiborne should have molded herself into a stronger, relationship-oriented leader. Because she did not adjust her leadership style based on the situation and of the company and what it need for growth, Liz Claiborne was not as an efficient leader towards the end of her time as CEO of Liz Claiborne, Inc. An important stressor is that the contingency theory allows for a leader not to be effective in all situations. (Northouse 2007) Liz was more efficient she was working in a one-on-one, task oriented environment. When Liz was taken away from a task oriented environment, she lost the structure that made her the career woman she started out as.

D. Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership is a process between the leader and follower. Leaders motivate followers to strive to a higher level of achievement. In doing so, the follower is transformed. The first component of transformational leadership (TFL) is idealized influence. (Phipps, Prieto, Verma) Liz Claiborne inspired women through her leadership. She was a role model that many women could look up to. The second component of TFL is inspirational motivation. (Phipps) Liz had fought through adversity growing up and had still com out on top. She wanted to empower woman through clothing. Being designers and customers, many of her followers believed in her vision. The third component of transformational leadership is intellectual stimulation. (Phipps) According to Hayes, she always encourages employees to challenge themselves. Liz would conduct weekly meetings to spark new ideas. She loved to teach, and in doing so encouraged the promotion of many female designers. (Hayes)

The fourth and final component of TFL is individualized consideration. Liz individualized the followers’ needs and would focus on their personal development. She loved to teach, and in doing so encouraged the promotion of many female designers. Was a transformational leader in and out of the business. Transformational leadership is most descriptive of Liz’s leadership style. She used transformational leadership in her company to promote organizational performance and employee motivation. She met upheld the standards of the components of the theory. It is the author’s belief that the transformational leadership approach Liz Claiborne took with the company led to her success as a business leader.

IV. Conclusions

Liz Claiborne’s determination and life experiences as an early adult and child helped shape her into a great business leader. Thanks to the encouragement in the development of her love and eye for art, she had the drive to follow her dreams to be a fashion designer. Struggling to reach the top as a single mother, made her a great leader because she could later on relate to her demographic of consumers and the followers she would one day lead in her company. Liz had her leadership ups-and-downs in the latter part of her management, but she knew when she was out of her scope. As a strong and determined woman, Liz Claiborne’s legacy will live on in the fashion industry as a leader who transformed the industry of women’s fashion design.


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