Howard Robard Hughes, Jr.

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Background Information:
Howard Robard Hughes, Jr. was born December 24, 1905 in Houston Texas. He was an aviator, a movie producer, a philanthropist, and a billionaire, among countless other things. Throughout his life, he produced several well-known movies such as Hell's Angels, Scarface, and The Outlaw, in addition to making enormous contributions to aeronautics. He set many world air-speed records as well as greatly expanding Trans World Airlines. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute, founded by Hughes, is a visible sign of his legacy today.

Additional Biographical Information.

Early Trait Theories Applied to Hughes:
Attitudes Toward Goals: Hughes demonstates leadership attributes with his active attitude and curious imagination in every aspect of his career. His passion for movies brings him to Hollywood in 1924, where he starts a movie subsidiary of his Tool Company, and eventually ends up owning the RKO movie studio from 1948 to 1955.
Conceptions of Work: Hughes again portrays his leadership qualities by being a high risk taker. He always had new ideas and fresh approaches for problems that arose in his various companies. When he lost 1.8 million dollars on a World War II film, he used it as an opportunity to pursue his interest in flying. In 1932, Hughes formed the Hughes Aircraft Company division of Hughes Tool.
Relationships with Others: As a leader, Hughes was comfortable with working in solitude. Toward the end of his life he became aloof and shut himself out from the world completely. He worked alone from his home, and rarely accepted visitors.
Sense of Self: As a creative mind and inventive leader, he struggled with a sense or order for things in his life. He jumped from idea to idea and always questioned his passions. He began with Howard Tools and branched out into a wide variety of firleds from film producing to aviation.

Management vs. Leadership:
While Hughes possesses traits of both managers and leaders, he is definitely categorized as a leader. Leaders create uncertainty and change while managers reduce uncertainty and stabilize organizations. It is obvious that Hughes was an advocate of change. No matter what field Hughes was in, he was always looking to innovate and go in new directions. This is clearly shown when he was in the film business. His movie Hells Angels is an example of his strong drive toward new and different things. It was the most expensive movie of its time, costing $3.8 million. Hughes is classified as a leader also because he was always the figure head of whatever company he was running - RKO, TWA, etc. In addition, he possessed leadership traits such as setting the direction of the company and aligning people with that direction as well. Furthermore, Hughes was a formal leader rather than an informal leader. This is because formal leaders are officially sanctioned as leaders based on their authority and position. Hughes, by owning companies such as RKO Pictures and TWA, was definitely in a formal position of leadership.

Leadership Style:

According to Lewin, there are three basic leadership styles - autocratic, democratic, and laissez-faire. Of the three, Hughes most enacts the autocratic style of leadership. An autocratic leader is described as directive, strong, and controlling in relationships. Followers have little to no influence in relation to the decisions made by the leader. Hughes certainly displays all three of the characteristics which comprise an autocratic leader, but he is most well-known for being controlling in relationships. He was especially controlling over his employees whom he was often in conflict with due to his excessive need to dominate. In fact, when he was in the aircraft building business, arguments between Hughes and his employees constantly threatened military contracts. In addition, the autocractic style of leadership is also closely linked to the directive method of leadership in Hersey-Blanchards Situational Leadership Theory. A directive leader must tell employees exactly what to do because they are often unwilling and unable to perform the task at hand.

Fiedler's Contingency Theory & Hughes:
Fiedler's Contingency Theory assumes that the favorableness of a leader's situation along with the leader's orientation style (task-oriented or relationship-oriented) determine the leader's effectiveness in accomplishing a task. In this theory, leaders are classified as either task-oriented or relationship-oriented based on how they would describe their least preferred coworker, or LPC. It can be assumed that Hughes would describe his least preferred coworker in negative terms, thus he would be categorized as a low LPC or a task-oriented leader. A task-oriented leader is described as having constant influence over employees by setting rules and closely supervising them, as well as focusing on accomplising the task that needs to be done. Hughes' situation as a leader must now be analyzed. A leaders situation has three dimensions according to Fiedler; these dimensions are task structure, position power, and leader-member relations. While in the aircraft building business, Hughes' task structure, which describes how clearly rules and procedures are defined, was only somewhat structured; the building of the HK-1, Hughes' giant plane, is a good example of how Hughes' system lacked structure. It was an extremely costly endeavor, and while the employees knew what to do in order to build an airplane, they were unsure if the HK-1 was even feasible because nothing like it had ever been built before. Even though Hughes' situation may have not been completely structured, his position power was strong. This means that Hughes always has legitmate authority over his employees. The last aspect of his leader position is leader-member relations. As previously stated, it is clear that he did not relate well to his employees, so his leader-member relations were poor. Overall, this means that Hughes' situation falls into the moderate favorableness category. Hughes being a task-oriented leader in a moderately favorable situation is not a good fit. Task-oriented leaders do not perform well in this situation, unlike relationship-oriented leaders. Hence, this explains why Hughes lost several military contracts and constantly was not able to produce the ordered aircrafts on time.

Fun Facts:

  • Despite never having finished high school, Hughes was able to attend the California Institute of Technology because his father donated a generous amount of money to the school.
  • Hughes took a break from aeronautics to develop the half-cup bra, which was modeled by one of his Hollywood discoveries, Jane Russell.
  • In 1938, Hughes flew from New York to Paris in half the time Lindbergh did - the trip took only 3 days, 19 hours, and 17 minutes, creating a new world record.
  • Howard Hughes' favorite flavor of Baskin-Robbins ice cream was Banana Nut. Today, however, Banana Nut ice cream from Baskin-Robbins is discontinued.
  • As a child, Hughes was very interested in mechanics, and he modified a bicycle by adding a motor to it.

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