Sunday, November 04, 2012

Thurman - I want to be me without making it difficult for you to be you

I recently attended the 2012 International Leadership Association meeting in Denver.  There were several good things about it - two being particular highlights that added to my ongoing journey in discovering/understanding leadership.

The first highlight event was Ambassador James Joseph's keynote.  Interestingly enough, just before going into the auditorium where he would speak, one of my former students from Miami walked up to greet me. Seeing Jeff Zimmerman again blew me away as he is now a full-fledged Ph.D. and a faculty member in organization behavior at Northern Kentucky University.  Jeff was involved in LeaderShape and the Scholar Leader program while we were both at Miami and it was great to reconnect with him and to discover that we have continued to grow in the similarity of our own intellectual interests, particularly related to expatriate work.

Jeff and I sat beside each other to listen to Ambassador James Joseph speak.  One particular statement by Joseph that struck me in powerful ways was, "I want to be me without making it difficult for you to be you," a quote attributed to Howard Thurman, a mentor to Martin Luther Kind, Jr.  While Joseph's keynote at ILA isn't available on-line yet, the text from a similar speech given at another conference in October 2012 includes the same quote and more context for its meaning.  The thing that was fascinating is that, as I continued to listen to Joseph speak, I turned to Jeff and said that I bet that Joseph was a Yale Divinity graduate because he sounded so much like my deceased step-father, Dr. John L. Peters.  Sure enough, a few minutes after I said this to Jeff, Joseph commented about his days at Yale Divinity School.  It was utterly amazing to be able to hear the words of John through this other great living witness to the importance of interfaith work that affirms the connection across all cultures.

The second highlight of ILA was seeing Barbara Kellerman offer remarks about her newly released book, The End of Leadership.  I always enjoy following Barbara's ideas and find her views most provocative.  This time (and I haven't read it yet) she raises the question of why the rise of leadership studies over the last 30 years hasn't contributed to the improvement of leadership.  After all, it seems that the rise of leadership scholarship has, indeed, been synchronous with the fall of all forms of leadership in government, business, theology, and elsewhere.  Barbara's views are always thought-provoking.  They are not cynical but they do push us to think of what we are doing and to seek deeper understanding of the things we advocate.

All in all, the ILA meeting was good as a way to reconnect with valued colleagues (i.e. Anne Magnan, Susan Komives, and others) and to renew my career-long exploration of leadership questions.  I wonder if there will ever be a point at which I will cease to be fascinated by the perplexing conundrum that is leadership - probably not...

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