Sunday, May 25, 2014

Kellerman - The End of Leadership

“while the leadership industry has been thriving – growing and prospering beyond anyone’s early imaginings – leaders by and large are performing poorly, worse in many ways than before, miserably disappointing in any case to those among us who once believed the experts held the keys to the kingdom.”  A pretty sobering assessment of the impact of the work of educators, consultants, coaches, and institutions which over the last 40 years dedicated considerable time and resources to leadership learning.  Is Kellerman on target in her End of Leadership (2012) or was the book intended as provocation for serious questions that will improve the field?

Kellerman’s perspective isn’t only about the ineffectiveness of leadership programs but it is also about disillusionment with government and business, the academy and in the professions, and even religion.  As a result of failures in leadership in so many areas, the esteem in which leaders used to be held has eroded and for some evaporated.  “Power and influence have continued to devolve from the top down – those at the top having less power and influence; those in the middle and at the bottom having more.  For their part, followers, ordinary people, have an expanded sense of entitlement – demanding more and giving less.”  The point – focusing on the heroic role of leader is not effective, or practical, in the 21st century and the importance of followers, or collaborators, has become much more important – especially as an antidote to bad leadership.

I have been a great fan of Kellerman’s work and have cited her widely in my writing, especially in Deeper Learning in Leadership.  I embrace her perspective as a challenge that all need to hear.  Her recommendations include, “the leadership industry must, at a minimum, make four changes.  It must end the leader-centrism that constricts the conversation.  It must transcend the situational specifics that make it so myopic.  It must subject itself to critical analysis.  And it must reflect the object of its affection – change with the changing times.”  Things aren’t good and we appear not to be making progress in cultivating good leadership and followership.  However, I wish she had included reference in The End of Leadership to the work of student affairs educators who, in many ways, have embraced the values and perspective she advocates from the very beginning of their work in leadership learning. 

The omission of student affairs as part of the “leadership industry” may be a good thing considering Kellerman’s critique.  However, the student affairs programs deserve both the same recognition and critique that Kellerman delivered to the rest of the industry.  Kellerman has been aware of student affairs at least from 1998 forward when she chaired and  I attended the first conference of what would eventually become the International Leadership Association.  The first conference was focused on the scholarship of leadership; it was very exciting but I made the point to Kellerman at the close of the meeting that there was an entire cadre of student affairs staff who had been involved in leadership learning for quite some time.  She was very responsive and asked me if I would help to draw them into the organization.  I was delighted at her response and proceeded to tap the network of student affairs people to get them involved the next year.  The influx of student affairs people the next year boosted the attendance and led to the creation of the “Leadership Educator” interest group that has provided the structure for member involvement since that time.

The End of Leadership is a compelling and eye-opening indictment that 40+ years of leadership learning efforts in all sectors has failed!  All those who are interested in leadership and followership should heed Kellerman’s provocative critique and should double-down to make certain that these efforts are worthy of both critique and accolade.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Molinsky - Global Dexterity

Although intended as a resource for expatriate workers, Molinsky’s Global Dexterity (2013) proposes a model that can be used for a variety of purposes – understanding the cultural differences among international students, affirming colleagues whose way of interacting is shaped by their family culture, or navigating cross-border educational initiatives.  Molinsky’s approach is based on his own fascination with the expatriate worker experience as well as research, consulting and coaching he has done to help workers in foreign settings acquire the adaptive responses to allow them to be effective.  The “global dexterity” model is not a developmental sequence of growing understanding, as some other cultural development models propose; instead it is a very intuitively understandable model that allows the “foreigner” to diagnose an environment, discern what is different about the new environment, and find an adaptive approach that maintains the guest’s authenticity and values while increasing the potential of being effective in a “different” place.  As an expatriate worker with a short experience in Europe and a longer period in Qatar, I found the model very useful in reflecting on the various cultures I have encountered.

The “global dexterity” model has a six-dimensional framework that includes; directness, enthusiasm, formality, assertiveness, self-promotion, and personal disclosure.  While there are certainly other clues one might use to understand another culture, including low/high context, physical space and power/SES consciousness, the six dimensions are very revealing.  The diagnosis stage using the model involves determining if the culture one is visiting is high or low on each of the six dimensions.  As just one example from the Arab world using the first dimension of directness, Westerners (particularly Americans) tend to be very direct in their communication, making statements or making requests in very specific and direct ways.  So, if someone had something you liked, an American would say, “I really like that – I wish I could have one like it.” The statement was direct but, in America, the other person would not likely offer it as a gift.  By contrast in the Arab world, indirectness is valued, most often as a way of avoiding embarrassing or putting the other in a difficult place.  So instead of being so direct in offering a compliment, the world “mish’Allah,” which means “God has blessed you with this,” always follows the compliment.  The reason - if one doesn’t say mish’Allah, the other person is culturally obligated to give it to you.  This is a form of indirectness that is highly valued.  Indeed, gifts are part of the culture of hospitality and visitors are often overwhelmed by these gestures.  However, the gifts are to be given freely and generously without any expectation of return.

The dilemma that Molinsky explains is that there are three core psychological challenges as foreigners attempt to adapt to a different cultural environment.  The first is authenticity, the second, competence, and the third resentment.  When trying to modify one’s behavior, even when we know we might be more effective if we adapted, the new behaviors don’t initially feel authentic, sometime they are delivered in clumsy ways, and some people just plain resent having to adapt.  These psychological obstacles have to be overcome in order to adapt in ways that will allow one to have dexterity in adapting to other cultures.

Molinsky’s book is deceivingly simple, most likely as a way to appeal to a wider audience beyond academics.  However, the reader should not be lulled into thinking this is a pop-psych book without substance.  The author has degrees from Columbia and Harvard but does not make his academic credentials the central feature of his credibility.  Global Dexterity stands on its own, with a heuristic model that can be very helpful, tools to use for analysis, many examples, and recommendations for how to walk the path of becoming a person of global dexterity.  His last piece of advice - “customizing your perceptions around cultural adaptation is quite simple: embrace the new culture’s logic.  Don’t just change how you behave: change how you think.”  From my experience, truer words have seldom been uttered when seeking to be a more effective global citizen.