Monday, June 11, 2018

Pinker - Enlightenment Now

I read Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist (2010) two years ago and found it very provocative and encouraging. The point Ridley made, and substantiated it with considerable evidence, was that humanity has progressed over the millennia and that, regardless of the apocalyptic pronouncements of the media and some of today’s politicians, the world is getting better.

Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress (2018) confirms the same prognosis for the future of humanity as Ridley. The difference between the two books is that, while Pinker similarly provides ample evidence for his assertions of hope, he built his argument around the belief that the “Enlightenment” era that began in the 19thcentury has had great influence on the progress of humanity and that its principles are worth defending and pushing forward.

“History shows that when we sympathize with others and apply our ingenuity to improving the human condition, we can make progress in doing so, and you can help to continue that progress.” (Part 1: Enlightenment) This assertion is based on the Enlightenment principle that human flourishing is often, if not almost always, the result of applying reason in a sympathetic way in a cosmopolitan and classically liberal tradition. The principles of Enlightenment offer a contrast to the qualities of human nature of loyalty to tribe, deference to authority, magical thinking, and blaming misfortune on evildoers. Reason, science, humanism, and progress replace the irrationality and illiberalism of this tribalism and assumed need for individualistic competition.

How did Enlightenment come to be? Once humanity was more effective in agriculture and had established exchange through barter or economics, the surge in human thriving allowed for the creation of larger settlements (cities), it offered the chance to establish a class of intellectuals and sages, and it allowed men and women to move from short to longer-term harmony and mutual work. There have always been those who did not embrace Enlightenment ideas but, most importantly to the current issues we face in the Western world, the 1960s brought a decline in trust for our public and private institutions and the 21stcentury has now seen the rise of populist movements that contradict Enlightenment’s core ideals. This populism is based on beliefs that fundamentally challenge reason, science, humanism, and progress. First among these is religious faith that proposes mystical causes for what humanity experiences. The second belief is that “people are the expendable cells of a superorganism – a clan, tribe, ethnic group, religion, race, class or nation.” (Chapter 3: Counter-Enlightenment) The final challenge to Enlightenment is the rejection of science and the scientific discovery and refinement of knowledge.

The entirety of Part II of Enlightenment Nowincludes chapter after chapter documenting that progress has been, and is being, made. Areas included are; health, life expectancy, food, wealth, inequality, the environment, peace, safety, terrorism, and civil rights. The assertion is not that all of these areas are resolved and perfect – far from it. The point is that substantial progress has been made which offers all humans a better quality and longer life compared with the past. Pinker acknowledges that good news doesn’t sell books and papers nor does it play well on the nightly news. Thus, professing panic, condemnation, and disillusionment are the currency of media and this over-attention to what isn’t going well is largely responsible for the fear that many people feel. Yet, the fact is, the successes far out-number the failures and we continue to make progress.

Pinker minces no words in warning that the principles of Enlightenment are under attack. He does not blame Donald Trump’s bid and success in his election as President of the U.S.A. Instead, he proposes that Trump has simply exploited the illiberal, evidence-free, and stark individualism that has emerged in response to the real progress that was made over the last 200 years of Enlightenment. The “mobilization of an aggrieved and shrinking demographic in a polarized political landscape” (Chapter 15: Equality) is a symptom of success rather than evidence that a “century-long movement toward equal rights” is being undone.

Education is, as one might expect, a central pillar of the Enlightenment. By becoming more educated, “you unlearn dangerous superstitions such as that leaders rule by divine right, or that people who don’t look like you are less than human.” Education also teaches that “charismatic saviors have led their countries to disaster.” (Chapter 16: Knowledge) For whatever reason, Enlightenment, and education that supports it, does not necessarily result in greater happiness, at least in the context of the U.S.A. The antidotes to this disillusionment are most likely to be found in the level of freedom citizens believe they have and in the degree of meaning they see in their lives – connected to others, feeling productive, and not being alone. The good news in that young people in the U.S.A. today appear to be happier than their baby-boomer parents. There is a reality to the disappointment of the baby-boomers – more progress is needed on important human issues. However, as Pinker proposes, “progress is not utopia, and that there is room – indeed, an imperative – for us to strive to continue that progress.” (Chapter 20: The Future of Enlightenment) The “challenge of our era is how to foster an intellectual and political culture that is driven by reason rather than tribalism and mutual reaction.” (Chapter 21: Reason)

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Kellerman - Professionalizing Leadership

The leadership industry, as Kellerman and some others refer to it, has been in a growth mode for nearly forty years. While she acknowledges successes here and there, her book (Professionalizing Leadership, 2018) raises deep concern about the resources that have been, and continue to be, poured into fostering leadership with little to show for it. The book is a challenging read for leadership educators. Whether one agrees or not, Kellerman raises many very important issues and she is courageous in raising the bar to advocate that leadership learning and practice needs to become more professionalized in the way it conceptualizes, delivers, and measures progress.

Professionalizing Leadership (2018) is a follow up to the End of Leadership (Kellerman, 2012) in which she first raised concerns. She indicates in 2018 that her cautionary voice of 2012 is now reinforced by other scholars and organizations that are saying that learning about leadership is making little difference among the millions of individuals who participate in what is estimated as a $50 billion per year investment.

The critique begins with a number of unsettled questions that hold leadership educators back (pp. 4-6) including; who is a leader, what if any is the difference between a leader and a manager, how to teach leadership, who should teach about leadership, and ultimately whether or not it can be demonstrated that leadership even matters. With no consensus on these questions, she calls for leadership educators to get serious by striving for professionalization, a topic that she explores throughout the book.

Beginning with the question of who is a leader, Kellerman relies on a number of classic authors and philosophers who have explored over millennia the question of what leadership is and how to learn to do it. The earliest treatise focused primarily on positional leading but shifted beyond position and status as a result of late 18th century "Enlightenment" thinking. Among those credited as particularly important during this shift were Mary Wollstonecraft in A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) and Thomas Paine in Common Sense (1776), both of whom advocated that women/citizens should free themselves of tyranny of all types. In Kellerman's view, this marked the first time that followership was noted as important and deserving of equal attention to leadership.

Confidence in all sorts of leadership began to decline in the 1960s and was the impetus for James MacGregor Burns in writing Leadership (1978). Burns called for a sharper focus on leadership in the wake of the American political leadership crisis of the time. Burns and others created an explosion of theoretical perspectives which offered definitions and models of leadership that are used in various approaches to teaching leadership in education, for-profit and not-for-profit, government, and other sectors. Student affairs (referenced as student services) was also acknowledged for providing much of what is available in undergraduate leadership learning and given credit for providing some coherence to the way leadership was approached - primarily targeting students who want to make a difference and informed by the "Social Change Model of Leadership Development." But Kellerman's critique is that the work in leadership studies, and in teaching and practicing leadership, lacked coherence and cohesion, thus contributing to a number of conditions (enumerated on pp. 57-58) that are wasteful and show minimal impact.

The idea that leadership should be professionalized ran throughout the book. Two of the reasons that she asserted this are; 1) fields that have professionalized (i.e. medicine and law) have a level of expertise and credibility that can be trusted, and 2) the one industry that she cites as having made a real difference in leadership training, education, and development is the U.S. military, which has clearly used a professional model. Professionalization would require that the leadership industry have; a common body of knowledge, a system to certify those who teach and practice leadership, a commitment to service beyond the benefit of the individual, and a code of ethics (p. 102). In other places in her book, she mentions additional criteria for professionalization such as recognized experts to teach leadership, pedagogies to guide its learning, standards by which to judge it, continuing personal and professional development, and methods to evaluate the effectiveness of teaching and the practice of leadership. The accolades to the military are based on the broad availability to enlisted and officer ranks of the three distinctive areas of leadership training, education, and development and the long-term commitment to the unfolding of leadership development as a result of advanced learning coupled with experience. Perhaps most importantly, the U.S. military "assumes that no one ever would or should take on a leadership role without being properly educated, trained, and developed" (p. 154).

Adding to the thousands of leadership definitions in the literature, Kellerman proposed her own - "a leader is an agent of change, for good (a good leader) or ill (a bad leader)" (p. 77). Conditions that she identified as essential if the leadership industry and the practice of leadership itself are to gain credibility, thus moving toward professionalization, include: differentiate management from leadership; offer leadership training, education, and development, each with its specific focus on enhancing leadership capacity; recognize that bad leadership exists; give credit and equal attention to teaching and cultivating followership; make leadership learning urgent; and acknowledge that learning to be effective and ethical in leadership is a life-long learning and developmental commitment. Recognizing the ever-changing context that is so important to leadership, Kellerman indicated "You cannot be a leader in the twenty-first century, should not be a leader in the twenty-first century, without having some understanding of other people in other places, of other cultures in other countries" (p. 177). Other specific criteria that are more outcomes of professionalization include; "bestow on leadership programs a greater measure of dignity and respectability, restore to leadership a measure of the esteem that was presumed in the past, and elevate leadership in the eyes of the public" (p. 172).

Chapter 8, "Professionalization," begins with the assertions that the leadership industry:
  • does not take sufficiently seriously its responsibility for teaching people how to lead,
  • has the human and fiscal capital and pedagogical tools to improve, and
  • includes experts and educators who must lead the charge (p. 162).
Hard to hear the critique but difficult to argue that a multi-billion dollar industry dedicated to leadership learning can't do better. And we should!

I have selected issues and perspectives from Kellerman's book, obviously choosing those that resonated for me. While I generally agree with her critique in calling for much deeper work in leadership training, education, and development (previously raised through my own book, Deeper Learning in Leadership, 2007), I regret that the work and literature of students affairs educators was not a body of knowledge with which Kellerman demonstrated deep familiarity. I was extremely grateful for her acknowledgement that differentiating training, education, and development purposes occurred "a few decades ago" (p. 59 & p. 63). To be accurate, it was copyrighted by Peg Anthony and me in 1979 and was published in Student Leadership Programs in Higher Education in 1981. While she advocated the TED framework as an essential distinction that leadership educators should make, she criticized those teaching leadership for not having seriously attempted to create a consensus about what matters in leadership learning (pp. 37-38).

I part company with Kellerman on the assertion that no consensus has been sought. The unfortunate reality of U.S. higher education is that faculty often do not know what student affairs educators do and of their scholarship. Thus, her book does not reference Student Leadership Programs in Higher Education (1981) nor the fact that it provided the basis for the CAS Standard for Student Leadership Programs; it also provided a model for leadership learning through multiple processes (courses, seminars, workshops, consultation, etc.), multiple purposes (TED), and for multiple populations (women, multicultural, positional/non-positional, adult learners, etc.). The larger body of research, scholarship, model building, and advocacy through journals and conferences that students affairs educators have contributed since the 1970s is substantial. Kellerman's vision of professionalizing leadership is already partially completed, or at least could be accelerated, if this body of knowledge were embraced.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Dasgupta - The demise of the nation state

Rana Dasgupta's recent article in The Guardian (Dasgupta, 2018) predicts the continued decline of the nation state and proposes new ways of relating globally are underway. While the decline of the nation state may frighten those from historically strong western nations, the reality of the world in which we live is that a new international order will emerge that includes:

  • Global financial regulation - building systems to track transitional money flows, to transfer a portion of them into public channels, and seriously address global redistribution.
  • Global flexible democracy - national governments themselves will be subjected to a superior tier of authority.
  • New conceptions of citizenship - deregulating human movement will match the deregulation of capital: it is unjust to preserve the freedom to move capital out of a place and simultaneously forbid people from following.
Key quotes from Dasgupta's essay that substantiate the need for, and reality of, these changes:
  • The most momentous development of our era, precisely, is the waning of the nation state: its inability to withstand countervailing 21st-century forces, and its calamitous loss of influence over human circumstances.
  • ...the current appeal of machismo as political style, the wall-building and xenophobia, the mythology and race theory, the fantastical promises of national restoration - these are not cures, but symptoms of what is slowly revealing itself to all: nation states everywhere are in an advanced state of political and moral decay from which they cannot individually extricate themselves.
  • Today's failure of national political authority, after all, derives in large part from the loss of control over money flows. At the most obvious level, money is being transferred out of national space altogether, into a booming 'offshore' zone.
  • The destruction of state authority over capital has of course been the explicit objective of the financial revolution that defines our present era.
If Dasgupta is correct, the opportunities and mandate for leadership and citizenship will be inescapable. Those who will benefit most in the world-wide and connected community, and will create mutual benefit for all, will be those who understand leadership and citizenship in very different ways.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Wood - John Adams and Thomas Jefferson - Friends Divided

Citizens and politicians often debate American exceptionalism. Gordon S. Wood’s Friends Divided: John Adams & Thomas Jefferson (2017) explains that this debate goes all the way back to the founding “fathers” and how they viewed the basic qualities of humanity and how that would influence the structures and processes of governance.

As very influential figures in the days leading up to the American Revolution, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson came from very different backgrounds which led to divergent ideas about how to structure the new government of the American colonies. Adams arose from humble beginnings, strove for credibility, and was suspicious of those with privilege, believing that the power of money would corrupt. Jefferson was an aristocrat steeped in privilege, holding vast property and utilizing slave labor to work the land, and confident that the “Age of Enlightenment” would create a free and prosperous society. Even with their differences, the two men found ways to complement each other’s ideas as they drafted the ideals and structure of the young nation.

Once they moved into the Presidency, first Adams as a Federalist and then Jefferson as a Republican, their views changed and they drifted apart, often expressing deep disagreement with each other. The Federalist view was to create a strong executive branch and complementary legislative bodies committed to establishing services to benefit citizens. The Republican view was to minimize government’s role, leaving matters of citizen welfare to the individual or local government. Both opposed Hamilton who had created the financial infrastructure that formed the basis for the political power of the federal government and the fiscal-military state.

Both men had European appointments after the Revolution which biased Adams toward British culture and governance and Jefferson toward France, with a particular affinity toward its revolutionary inclinations. Adams preferred the British separation of powers to protect against abuses of privilege while Jefferson preferred open election to any and all roles (assuming that the candidate was a property owning male). This resulted in Adams being criticized as a “monarchist” while Jefferson was praised for his advocacy of education as a way to prepare citizens for their democratic responsibilities.

“Jefferson told the American people what they wanted to hear – how exceptional they were. Adams told them what they needed to know – truths about themselves that were difficult to bear.” (p. 7) Wood attributed this essential difference as the reason Jefferson was more highly regarded in his day and why his name is more revered today. Yet, the fact is that Jefferson held an inherently elitist idea of himself and America while Adams lauded direct labor and the emerging middle class it birthed.

It took many years after their terms for the two to reunite. The renewed bond of their last years was sealed when both died on July 4, 1826, the day commemorating the 50th anniversary of the founding of country they shaped. Before they came to their deaths, both Adams and Jefferson came to a similar conclusion about the difficulty of democracy - that democracy required a great deal of its citizens, specifically that “each citizen must somehow be persuaded to sacrifice his personal desires for the sake of the public good.” (p. 115) In the end, owing to an overly optimistic view of humanity’s potential, Jefferson was apparently unprepared for the shortcomings of the country he had helped create. Adams remained resilient and hopeful that the systems he created would prevail, even in the face of inequities he believed were natural and persistent in human capacity.

As others have written (most recently Coates in We were Eight Years in Power, 2017), there is copious evidence that the United States has portrayed itself as exceptional but has failed in ways that disprove its claims. Reflecting on Wood’s skillfully crafted compilation of John Adams’ and Thomas Jefferson’s contributions to the founding of the United States, the question of the modern era is if Jefferson’s exceptionalism or Adams’ more cynical view is more defensible. Which is most likely to secure for its citizens a guarantee of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (as drafted by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence)? Jefferson would have relied on the enlightened goodness of humanity while Adams would have advocated separation of powers and checks and balances to protect against the abuses of power and privilege.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

National Geographic - Special Issue, April 2018

My typical posts on this blog are about books I've read, travel, and encounters that stimulate questions or insights about leadership. I don't often review magazines but was compelled to note the April 2018 Special Issue of National Geographic magazine, Black and White, because it is truly boundary breaking.

The introductory message, "To rise above the racism of the past, we must acknowledge it," by Susan Goldberg places this issue of National Geographic in context. After recounting 130 years of evidence that National Geographic has often exoticized or marginalized difference, Goldberg writes, "So let's talk about what's working when it comes to race, and what isn't. Let's examine why we continue to segregate along racial lines and how we can build inclusive communities. Let's confront today's shameful use of racism as a political strategy and prove we are better than this."

From the first page to the last, the story of race as a social construct designed to categorize and discriminate unfolds with data, pictures, and examples that inform in ways National Geographic has perfected throughout its history. I read every word and hope that other readers will as well. With a readership of 5,200,55 in the U.S.A. and 6,685,684 worldwide, National Geographic could make a real difference in shaping the views of race from previous notions that stereotyped and demeaned to one that affirms the diversity within U.S.A. borders and around the world. There is hope since it's "Advertising Opportunities" page indicates that "more opinion leadership read National Geographic than any other magazine."

Monday, April 02, 2018

Coates - We Were Eight Years in Power

I was initially attracted to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ writing when I read Between the World and Me (2015). His We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) is a collection of Coates’ Atlantic articles, contextualized within Coates’ reflections of his own experience surrounding each piece. It draws the sad parallels between the post-Civil War Reconstruction era (which was 8 years) and the election of the first African American President of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama (who held two 4-year terms = 8 years).

As a privileged white American, it is hard to summarize the depth of despair conveyed in Coates’ Atlantic pieces and narrative that connects them all. I felt disappointment, disillusionment, and the loss of confidence that racial strife in America can change. Yet my life is not impacted in the same way as persons of culture living in the U.S.A. Still, and it may be my privileged perspective that allows me to see hope, Coate’s writing lifts up the resilience, perseverance, and continued resistance that are required to achieve the essential systemic changes necessary to bring about equity and justice in the U.S.A. and elsewhere.

We Were Eight Years in Power is organized in eight chapters and an epilogue. Some of the most stunning realizations from these chapters include:
  • What white supremacists fear most is black respectability and good governance – because it proves the narratives of dysfunction to be false.
  •  Lauding black Americans as descended from kings of Africa may be uplifting but is generally untrue – most black Americans came to America in slavery and it is their resilience under these circumstances that is most laudable.
  • The founding of America used language of “liberty and justice for all” but did not intend this for any more than a privileged few – the journey of black Americans to respectability and forcing the U.S.A. to live its ideology could save us from continued hypocrisy.
  • The economic system of the early immigrants to America relied on plunder – the land was exploited and people enslaved and abused while trade was pursued to benefit a select aristocracy.
  • Barack Obama was a black American and much more – while clearly seen as exceptional, Barack and Michelle demonstrated that all racial and cultural group members can be so much more than the stereotypes that entrap them.
  • The “twice as good” commitment of black Americans who satisfy the expectations of whites is part of the problem – while black families may encourage their children to be twice as good to succeed, it also requires that they harbor no anger toward those who oppress them.
  • The sins of slavery did not stop with slavery – the systems and conditions that black Americans face are irreconcilable without the willingness for the U.S.A. to have the difficult conversation about reparations.
  • Jim Crow laws and later illegal actions taken by the government and its business entities perpetuated disadvantage – not only must the achievement gap be closed but also the injury gap (i.e. - segregation, red-lining, predatory lending).
  • "The idea of reparations is frightening not simply because we might lack the ability to pay" – not having the conversation threatens America’s heritage, history, and standing in the world. (p. 201)
  • The incarceration of black men is an extension of previous wrongs – the number is out of proportion and far more severe; it can only be interpreted as intended to continue to oppress black men and families.
In the concluding chapter, “My President was Black,” Coates wrote, "Obama’s greatest misstep was born directly out of his greatest insight. Only Obama, a black man who emerged from the best of white America, and thus could sincerely trust white America, could be so certain that he could achieve broad national appeal. And yet only a black man with the same biography could underestimate his opposition’s resolve to destroy him.” (p. 324)

The resentment of many white Americans over a President who happened to be black, coupled with the trust of that very President in the goodness of American citizens, led to a “white tribe united in demonstration to say, ‘If a black man can be president, then any white man – no matter how fallen – can be president.’” Then they elected him...

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Restoring trust

One of the greatest challenges anyone engaged in leadership faces is establishing trust. It's even harder to restore trust when evidence indicates that we or our systems have failed.

I've been struggling for months to figure out how to restore trust in evidence-based decision making in the age of Trump. Trump isn't the only one who assails the mainstream media, accusing journalists of "fake news," or creates alternative facts. Trump and others like him have created a world in which skepticism about pretty much anything we hear or read is justified. In this context, how do we find information, people, and aspiration that we can trust?

Barbara Fister references other scholars who have begun to explore how to help university students find trustable sources of knowledge. She used William Perry's Forms of Intellectual and Ethical Development (1968) to describe the early dualism and the eventual rampant relativism of the typical young adult years. Relativism is a place where many university students settle as they are bombarded with so many different perspectives in their courses and experiences. Relativism becomes a refuge characterized by a belief that "everyone has a right to their own opinion and, after all, there isn't any real authoritative or defensible agreement anyway."

Those committed to broadly fostering leadership capacity throughout education and civil society must tackle this question - How do we restore trust? Not only are many students studying in universities trapped in cognitive cages of dualism, oppositionality, or multiplicity. The challenge of cognitive frames impacts all of us as we attempt to make sense of what we see and hear. Ultimately, a response that cultivates skepticism but recognizes the value of well-considered and documented perspectives appears to be the most promising path.

Ron Heifetz addressed the question of restoring trust during a program at the 2016 meeting of the International Leadership Association. Leaders and leadership educators will have to respond to Heifetz' challenge if we are to find a way of sorting information from disinformation and if we are to reassure students that there are those who can be trusted - and become trustable themselves.