Ira Chaleff

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    If I Had Known Then what I Know Now

    May 9th, 2017

    US 1936 Olympics gold medal backstroke champion, Adolph Kiefer, the son of German immigrants, died this week at 98 years old. As the US Navy’s chief swim instructor in WWII he is credited with saving thousands of lives by teaching sailors a survival form of the backstroke. He broke world records 17 times, held 14 patents that improved the sport of swimming and remained life-long friends with his fellow Olympian, Jesse Owens, the African-American whose 1936 victories galled the ultra-racist, Adolph Hitler. Yet one thought haunted him during his life.

    At the 1936 Olympics Adolph Hitler shook Kiefer’s hand and reportedly remarked that he is “the perfect example of the true Aryan.” The Washington Post quotes Kiefer’s grandson, Robin Kiefer: “I’ve heard him say a hundred times, if I had known then what I know now, I would have thrown him in the pool and drowned him.”

    This is a great human problem. We can see history backwards but not omnisciently predict it forwards. And we can’t drown everyone who might become a future Hitler. What are we to do?

    Some future genocidal leaders blatantly publish their dystopic plans for the world to see, which Hitler did in Mein Kampf. We can take their words very seriously and vigorously act to block their ascent while they still have only limited power. But some psychopaths mask the fullness of their intentions, or even develop them gradually as their positional power increases.

    This leaves us only with their current behavior and our responses to it. Each hateful use of language, each act dismissive of human rights and dignity must be immediately challenged. Just as not every gene we carry is expressed, not every megalomania trait need manifest if forcefully denied social acceptance. Yet this still may not be enough.

    There are some individuals drawn to power whose temperament and strategy for domination will seek to crush incipient resistance. Your use of measured reason comes up against their use of steel and bullets. The only answer here is the power of individuals to stand together as resolutely as the megalomaniac is resolute on solidifying power; to use every non-violent means at our disposal to unmask the embryonic tyrant so it cannot develop into a full blown toxic agent.

    Because life is lived forward, and acts taken or not taken now alter the future, we cannot know who should be thrown in the pool and drowned without descending into chaos. But we can keep those who show early inclinations to abuse power from getting in the pool and poisoning it with their excretions.

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    Tortured Souls

    May 5th, 2017

    In the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, Army Major General (Retired) Antonio Taguba and Marine Lt Colonel (Retired) Scott Cooper review two memoirs about torture that the authors of the memoirs participated in while assigned to the Mid-East in the “war on terror.” These memoirs are relevant reads for anyone concerned about the uses of torture, its morality, its questionable effectiveness and its adverse impact on our strategic interests. In this blog post I wish to focus on the review itself. The authors of the reviews, both seasoned veterans, are deeply concerned that then candidate, now president, Donald Trump, forcefully advocated the resumption and increase of torture on captured combatants and suspects.

    General Taguba and Colonel Cooper quote Trump’s response to a question during the primary campaign on what he would do if officials refused to torture detainees or to “take out their families”? Trump replied “They’re not going to refuse me – believe me… If I say do it, they’re going to do it.”

    Taguba and Cooper write: “We hope that Trump is wrong. To prevent a return to the darkest days of the so-called war on terror and the Iraq war, military officers, intelligence officials, enlisted people and contractors must refuse to carry out any illegal orders they receive – even from the president himself. Doing so will serve the national interest and their own self-interest.” Why their self-interest? The authors observe “the damage wreaked by torture is not limited to the victims; it also extends to the souls of the torturers.”

    Every person in a sensitive position will sooner or later be tested. Do we do the right thing or do we cave in and obey harmful orders? Research and history confirm this is not an easy test to pass. The social and psychological pressures can be enormous. I hope my book “Intelligent Disobedience” will help you and your team prepare for that test. I hope you prepare now before you are tested; at the moment of being tested there is no “do-over”. Prepare now. Ace the test. Have your team ace the test. The souls you save may be your own.

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    Leading & Following in Law Enforcement

    April 5th, 2017

    The principles of courageous followership have found their way into many aspects of our culture. In California, for example, The Police Officer Standards of Training have for many years included The Courageous Follower in the year long sergeant level training program.

    There is now a new arrival in the application of courageous leadership and courageous followership values and strategies. Robynne Sherrill who focused her doctoral dissertation on the relationship of leaders and followers in the law enforcement community has published a workbook titled “Discussions Matter To Law Enforcement” with an accompanying facilitators guide. Roy E. Alston, Ph D and police lieutenant with the Dallas Police Department has written the foreword and , at Robynne’s invitation, I have written the postscript.

    Click on covers
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    These days there is no shortage of scholarly work on followership emerging from universities. What is in short supply, however, is the creative application of research findings to real world people, groups and problems. Robynne Sherrill’s work is an important exception that is beginning to correct the imbalance. Shifting productively between the lead and follow role is an important element to healing in those communities where the social contract with law enforcement has been strained and frayed. It does not substitute for work on race and economic issues but is a vehicle for the authentic communication these need to be candid and meaningful.

    As her book approached publication, Robynne wrote on Nov 17 of last year

    My writing coaches, Lieutenant Roy Alston, PhD – who also wrote the foreword for my book, and best selling author, Ira Chaleff – who wrote the Postscript, have truly blessed me with their guidance and expertise.

    While Robynne’s words are appreciated, it is Robynne who is blessing us with her determination to make the principles for which we each stand more accessible to law enforcement officers and communities throughout the country.

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    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”

    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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    September 30th, 2016

    I teach a class at the Federal Executive Institute (FEI) to government managers on transforming hierarchical relationships into powerful partnerships. In the middle of the week, participants go on field trips to observe leading and following in significantly different settings than their usual work environment.high-school-orchestra

    This week a number of participants in my class chose the field trip that took them to the local high school. They shared with the rest of the class their experience observing young people learning and practicing leading and following in the orchestra in which they played.

    Contrary to the cultural belief that everyone is supposed to be a leader, these students understood their role in this situation as followers of the conductor. They reported that several things made this a satisfying role. The leader respected them. She listened to their input. They felt heard and respected, whether or not she accepted their suggestions.

    Equally important, they were motivated by the mission – to make good music. They diligently practiced at home because they did not want to let their fellow team members down through inferior performance. In the high school setting, two musicians shared a music stand and they needed to coordinate who would turn the page when the other was playing. They practiced doing this smoothly.

    Perhaps the most interesting lesson came when the government manager was invited to conduct the orchestra. The musicians recognized that their new “leader” lacked the skills of their trained conductor and compensated for this by quietly following the student in the “lead chair” who did know the music, its pacing, its variations of intensity and other elements that create a good musical performance.

    This was a great example of people owning the lead and follow roles, being flexible in them and using each team member’s gifts to accomplish the highest level of performance of which the group was capable. Good lessons for managers everywhere!

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    September 19th, 2016

    The fifth “courage” in The Courageous Follower model is the courage to take an ethical stance. One of the more significant ways of taking an ethical stance is tendering one’s resignation to avoid colluding with ethically questionable behavior and to bring attention to that behavior. In US governance this option is exercised less frequently that in other systems such as Britain or Japan. Today’s resignation by the Canada’s chief statistician in protest of his agency’s loss of independence is a principled and courageous action. Click here for the full story.

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    August 16th, 2016

    Star Trek Next Generation fans know that Lieutenant Worf is a Klingon, a race of fierce warriors. Wesley Crusher was a young ensign who aspires to be accepted into Star Fleet Academy. He is about to undergo the final test which is a psychological test that will have him encounter his worst subconscious fear. Worf inquires about Wesley’s obvious distress. The exchange that follows between them is an important lesson for Wesley and for all of us.

    Wesley Crusher “I thought there was nothing a Klingon warrior could fear.”

    Worf: “Only fools have nothing to fear.”

    Courage is not the absence of fear, it is what is needed in the face of fear

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    August 4th, 2016

    Anne Aden is an organization development specialist who performs her work through her company Wellspring Praxis. She has introduced the subject of courageous followership to high level government clients who have integrated it into their leadership development programs. I received a message from Anne today that I am proud to share.

    I was just rereading your preface to Courageous Followership. This book and Intelligent Disobedience both have much to offer given the current political environment. I want to thank you again for the thoughtfulness and depth of your material. It is a reminder that we, individually and collectively, have the moral responsibility to not only respond when abuse or even suggestions of abuse arise, but to actively build the expectation and capacity to do so into the fabric of our culture. Perhaps this chapter of US history will both remind us that our veneer of civility, integrity, and compassion is thin, and serve to galvanize the generations going forward.

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    June 25th, 2016

    We are in a topsy turvy situation when our elected representatives, who are inside the establishment, must resort to civil disobedience, a tool traditionally used by those outside the establishment, in order to have their voices heard. Just as we learned that our primary voting laws and convention delegate rules need to be thoroughly reviewed and reformed, we are now seeing that so must the rules of the House (and the Senate for different reasons).


    Democrats led by Rep. John Lewis staging a sit-in on the U.S. House floor, in a dramatic push for a vote on legislation to enact universal background checks on gun sales. (Courtesy of @repdonnaedwards)

    When a system does not provide legitimate means for dissenting voices to be heard, let alone voices that represent a significant majority on a specific issue, eventually those voices will go outside the system, and sometimes will bring the system down. All systems must have meaningful dissent channels built into them or passionate ideas will create their own channels as we are witnessing with the sit-in on the House Floor being transmitted through the twitter app Periscope.

    We saw an example of an institutionalized dissent channel earlier this week when 51 mid level employees of the US Department of State signed a dissent memo urging the Obama administration to reconsider its policy toward Syria. The use of the dissent memo may have been an embarrassment to the White House but it allows divergent views to be heard without having to leak them to a reporter in a basement garage. Dissent channels are both safety valves and self-corrective mechanisms for the system.

    The House of Representatives needs to examine how it can give the minority party a sufficient voice to work within the system. If there were a way for the minority to bring an issue about which it feels passionate to the floor for debate and vote, it would not now be sitting on the floor.

    Intelligent Disobedience is an act of declining to be part of a specific action deemed to be wrong within a system that is generally regarded as fair. Civil Disobedience is a protest against the unfairness of the system itself and an attempt to transform or overthrow it. It is time for both political parties in our system to sit down and rework the rules to ensure fairness regardless of which is in power. That would be a healthy institutional outcome of the chaos ensuing as this is written.

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