Ira Chaleff

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    Saturday, January 28th, 2017

    The historical moment in which we find ourselves drew me to reread Maccoby’s work. His observations are uncanny descriptions of our new national leadership.

    Ten years ago, I co-hosted the first national conference on Followership. One of our presenters was the psychoanalyst and leadership expert, Michael Maccoby, author of the book Narcisstic Leaders: Who Succeeds and Who Fails. The thesis of his book is that, contrary to our impression of narcissism, there are productive narcissists who can use their personality traits to create significant breakthroughs in the world; at the right historical moment they are essential to disrupt old patterns that allow for the introduction of new ways of human achievement.

    There is general agreement that for too many years there has been dysfunctional gridlock in our national government resulting in failure to address trends that adversely affect millions of citizens. The political consequence was a tide of resentment that swept into office an outsider who has the forceful personality to break up existing patterns, offering the hope of more responsive and effective government. However, as Maccoby notes, this same personality type has the capacity to undo their own successes and lead followers down painfully destructive paths. This is very problematic in high office.

    Author, Michael Maccoby
    © David Cohen Photo DC

    Here is Maccoby’s list of weaknesses of the productive narcissist.

    • Not listening
    • Oversensitivity to criticism
    • Paranoia
    • Anger and put-downs
    • Overcompetitiveness and over control
    • Isolation
    • Exaggeration and lying
    • Lack of self-knowledge
    • Grandiosity

    As you readily see, Maccoby, writing ten years ago, is frighteningly descriptive of the weaknesses of our new head of government and state.

    Because of the very traits identified here, the closest followers, the senior aides working for the narcissistic leader, have little chance of helping that leader self-correct. Nevertheless, they must try. If they do, the leader will break logjams that hold unsustainable patterns in place and restore the capacity of government to productively address problems. If they don’t, the narcissistic personality will create havoc that will not be easily undone.

    The best chance of getting through to the narcissist is to frame issues in light of the potential opportunities for his success, or of the potential danger for tarnishing his reputation. Many people are counting on the skill of these followers to contain the excesses of the narcissistic personality. We fervently wish you success.

    Ira Chaleff
    Jan 2017

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    Bright Spots Amid “The Carnage”

    Sunday, January 22nd, 2017

    A peaceful but seismic change of government occurred this weekend in Washington. The newly sworn in President chose to describe the national landscape as one of “carnage” that was difficult for many to recognize. In the midst of the uncertain course of this presidency it is important to not lose sight of the capacity of this country to reflect on its flaws and take steps to remedy them. One such step occurred this week.

    Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

    Eleven national police organizations issued a model policy that prescribes using a range of de-escalation techniques that will reduce the use of deadly force in questionable situations (Tom Jackman, The Washington Post – Janaury 17, 2017).

    This is how citizen-centric democracy works. It is how it must continue to work from the local level upwards. Those on whom we confer the authority of the state largely exercise that responsibility with care and professionalism. Nevertheless, for a multiplicity of reasons, at times that power is not optimally used and is occasionally abused. As long as we are committed to dialogue, reflection and reform we will continue to make the adjustments needed to create a more perfect imperfect union. From the local level to the national level.

    Thank you to all who participated in making this timely improvement in law enforcement.

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    Followership at the 2014 Navy Leadership Conference

    Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

    I had the honor and pleasure of participating in a conference whose theme was Followership at the US Naval Academy this week.

    It is deeply gratifying to see one’s life work enter the fabric of such institutions. The panel on which I served was titled “Ethics: The Leader, The Follower and The Organization.” The program description of the panel asked the questions: “What responsibilities does the follower have to ‘lead from below’ when defining ethical guidelines in business, warfare or politics? How does a follower toe the ethical hardline when a leader vacillates?”

    My fellow panelists included a Navy Seal, a CIA consultant, a former Ambassador and a pilot charged with defending the Capitol on 9-11.

    The real life experience of this panel truly warrants the description of awesome and their individual wisdom was impressive. My hats off to the young midshipmen who chose the theme of this year’s conference. In addition to the Naval Academy, 60 other military academies and top tier universities sent their representatives. I look forward to these ideas taking firm root as this generation of courageous leaders and followers rise in responsibility and service.

    2014 Navy Leadership Conference

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    Tidings of the Season

    Thursday, December 20th, 2012

    As a nation, the tidings – the news – has been shocking and we are each in our way coping with how to celebrate our holidays in the knowledge that for some there is no way to celebrate.

    The event of the recent shootings penetrated deeply into our consciousness because it is unfathomable that seven-year- olds would be butchered for any reason on earth. Yet human history is strewn with such hideous acts. 12 years ago I wrote another book in response to the atrocities in Sierra Leone in which so-called rebels cut off the hands and arms of hundreds of children. I wept, and then I wrote. If you are interested in my response to those events they are available online at

    The events in Connecticut this month did not even have a revolutionary pretext. Unfortunately, the closest we may ever come to an answer will be found in the writings of Ernst Becker in his books, Denial of Death and Escape from Evil.

    Red book jacket with red lettering of "Escape from Evil"

     He postulates that what terrifies humans is not the prospect of dying but the prospect of leaving no trace behind that we ever existed.

    Most of us deal with this prospect through progeny or through civic or scientific or creative works that outlive us. Some conclude the way to be remembered is to create mayhem that will be talked about and written about widely. Genghis Khan, Adolph Hitler, Napolean, all succeeded in this regard. If there is a modicum of truth in this theory, by revealing and repeating the Connecticut perpetrator’s name a million times we sow the seeds for the next wave of deranged mass murder. Yet how do we avoid this in our information-addicted culture?

    I cannot bring you tidings of a breakthrough answer. I can only continue to do the work I have found to make some difference in the use and abuse of power. I can be grateful that today I received an e-mail from the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth asking me to comment on my model of courageous followership. It will be included in the course being developed for future field grade officers on the importance of developing appropriate followership.  That is a good tiding.

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    Avoid Fatal Crashes: Leaders and their Blindspots

    Monday, October 15th, 2012

    I’ve published a new article on leadership blind spots in the October 2012 issue of Leadership Excellence magazine. It’s a quick read and one that you may want to share with your own leaders and followers. Could save you and them from a nasty crash.

    LE 1012-chaleff copy

    (Scroll down to page 2)

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    Letter Published in the NY Times

    Saturday, September 15th, 2012

    One of my roles in Washington DC is Chairman Emeritus of the Congressional Management Foundation, known to Capital Hill staff as “CMF”. CMF is one of the very few non-partisan (and non-profit) organizations that has earned the trust of congressional offices on both sides of the political aisle. For three decades CMF has provided research, guidebooks, training and facilitation services to help individual congressional offices serve their constituents better. As we all know, there are many points of dysfunction in Congress and recently CMF expanded its mission to try to address some of these at the institutional level – no mean feat to attempt.

    But while institutional dysfunction is serious, individual congressional offices do a very credible job helping constituents interface with federal bureaucracies to address problems such as lost social security checks, backlogged visa requests and veterans’ benefits – collectively known as “casework”.

    And they do this without ever asking which party the constituent belongs to, who they voted for or who they support with campaign contributions; this is one function in which “the little guy” is actually served.

    On Sunday, Sep 9, an opinion piece in the New York Times attacked the validity of this function. This called for a response, which I penned that very morning. Here is my letter the Times published later in the week. It’s the 3rd one down on this topic.

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    Followership-Related Pre-Conference Workshops 2012 International Leadership Association Conference

    Thursday, August 23rd, 2012


    August 23

    I’m excited to tell you about two pre-conference workshops that have been scheduled for this year’s International Leadership Association conference (Denver, October 25th-27th).

    I am co-leading one of them, Teamwork Tango: Bridging the Divide between Leaders and Followers, with Yael Schy, of Dynamic Strides Consulting. As you may know, I produced a video on the tango as a means of visually demonstrating the partnership in dynamic leader-follower relationships. Our workshop continues in this spirit by giving leaders the experience of what followers need from them and enabling followers to better understand the challenges and needs of the leader.

    Through movement exercises, each participant will experience both leading and following and the need to gracefully change in synch with changes in the environment.

    Yale Schy, MSW, is a coach and organization consultant who draws heavily from her background in dance and improvisational theater. She will be the real leader in this workshop, and I will enjoy being a courageous follower!

    When: Wed. October 24th, 2012; 13:00 – 16:00

    Where: Hyatt Regency, Denver
   Price: $55 (Includes Beverage Break)

    For More Information

    The other pre-conference workshop I am enthusiastic about is “Dynamic Governance: Combining the Creative Power of Hierarchical and Horizontal Organization.  Dynamic Governance was developed in the Netherlands where it is known as “sociocracy”. It emphasizes consent-based decision making among individuals, reducing the power differential in traditional leader-follower relationships. It will give participants the best tools and structure for achieving this that I have seen.

    The tools include circle structures to improve feedback, double-linking between levels of groups to “hard wire” servant leadership and courageous followership, and “many-mind” decision-making for resolution of policy issues. The workshop will include representatives from organizations in the Denver area that use Dynamic Governance.

    The workshop presenters are Sheella Mierson and John Buck from The Sociocracy Consulting Group and Gregory Rouillard from Storm Integrated Solutions. John Buck co-authored  We the People, Consenting to a Deeper Democracy: A Guide to Sociocratic Principles and Methods, a book which explains and draws heavily upon the original ideas and models of Gerard Endenburg.

    When: Wednesday, October 24th, 2012; 09:00 – 12:00

    Where: Hyatt Regency, Denver
  Price: $65 (Includes Morning Coffee/Tea)

    For more information

    If you are not already an ILA member this is a very good time to consider joining. Yearly dues are modest and membership gives you access to a wide range of benefits worth far more than the dues. You will also receive a significant discount on conference fees. I hope to see you at the conference! Look for the Followership Learning Community welcome table.


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    Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games: A Balance in Leading and Following

    Saturday, July 28th, 2012


    If you are among the billion or two people who just watched the opening of the Olympic Games you are witness to one of the largest scale acts of leading and following that we humans gloriously perform.

    The preparation and coordination required rivals that of massive acts of war, such as the invasion of Normandy that landed 350,000 troops and their equipment in a week. I had the fortune to receive a briefing in London from the organizers of the 2012 Olympics before the International Leadership Association (, nine months prior to tonight’s opening. The numbers were staggering. Two hundred thousand employees and volunteers needed to be recruited, security cleared, trained, equipped and coordinated, all of whom would be dismissed shortly after the games’ end. Massive arrangements were required for ubiquitous security, for thousands of media representatives and ten thousand athletes, as well as their support staff, living quarters and equipment (including 7000 tennis balls). This was in addition to preparing a city not designed to accommodate voluminous traffic while building state-of-the-art stadiums in economically-distressed neighborhoods

    Tonight we witnessed the results of this inspiring effort in the opening ceremonies. Forget for a moment whether or not they appealed to you aesthetically or even if you feel it is the correct way to spend resources in the face of global want. Focus on the very big picture of an entire world co-operating to stage a magnificent, peaceful expression of humanity’s achievements and hopes. That is the real story. In virtually every country on earth, human beings have organized to create the conditions needed to nurture athletes, qualify them for the events, support their participation, and coordinate with the choreographers of the opening ceremonies.

    Torch bearer UK Olympics 2012

    But let’s look deeper at what we witnessed tonight. We saw women athletes from countries that had never included women in their delegations. We saw rich, ethnic diversity within and between country delegations. We saw not one hero-figure lighting the Olympic torch as in earlier Olympics, but a group of young, unknown athletes representing the future, sharing the honor, passing the torch amongst themselves, taking turns leading the final leg of the 12,000 mile torch lighting ritual. Perhaps most remarkably, we saw 500 hard-hat workers, men and women, who helped build the stadium, lining the way as an honor guard while the torch-bearer entered the stadium. From the lens through which I see the world, we witnessed the countless nameless followers being recognized for the contributions that make it possible for the world’s visible leaders to declare success. It was an implicit recognition that the top-down world has become a little more balanced and that the future rests not just on leadership, but on partnerships up, down and across our human institutions.

    The flares and fireworks that exploded in the spectacular finale around the stadium and the city were the sounds and sights of peace, not war, a testament to what humankind can do when leading and following revolve around worthy vision, values and purpose.

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    Followership in the NY Times

    Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

    Followership marks another milestone in its acceptance into the English language and human consciousness. The New York Times columnist David Brooks’ explores the topic in his June 11, 2012 column “The Follower Problem“:

    I don’t know if America has a leadership problem; it certainly has a followership problem. Vast majorities of Americans don’t trust their institutions.”

    Virtually every study of what followers value the most in leaders puts trust at the top of the list. Trust is based on a number of factors including competence, honesty and fairness. Whether it is the behavior of American institutions or the media’s magnifying of inevitable flaws, trust has been damaged in all these dimensions.

    Recently, I read an interview with a professional who immigrated to The United States. His perspective should inform ours. He was so appreciative that in this country he has never had to bribe a bureaucrat to get a driver’s license, building permit or passport. We really don’t know how bad institutions can be.

    Brooks makes a crucial point:

    Question Authority’ bumper stickers no longer symbolize an attempt to distinguish just and unjust authority.

    This is the heart of my own work on courageous followership. Leaders that are trying to get things done and who are not violating core human values deserve support, even though their leadership is inevitably imperfect.  In contrast, leaders who violate core values need to be swiftly corrected before “absolute power corrupts absolutely”. If they do not respond to the efforts of their loyal followers they need to be disempowered through the range of mechanisms available in a technologically advanced liberal democracy.

    Brooks concludes:

    “To have good leaders you have to have good followers – able to recognize just authority, admire it, be grateful for it and emulate it.”

    I agree, with two caveats: do not expect perfection in this “just authority” and do not shrink from standing up to small misuses of authority which, if unchecked, can become very unjust indeed.


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    Ira Chaleff Speaks at the State Department

    Friday, May 4th, 2012

    Click here to watch the full video.

    Posted in Courageous Followership, Video | Leave a comment;

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