The Washington Post ran a story today on President Obama’s anticipated nomination of James Comey as FBI Director. These unauthorized “leaks” are usually trial balloons to see how well a plan might be received or how vociferously it might be opposed. This is good politics on Obama’s part as Comey is a Republican and not fully trusted by the civil liberties community.
I am using this blog to “rise in support” of Comey’s nomination. He was the key figure in blocking the efforts by the Bush White House (most probably with then Vice President Dick Cheney’s sponsorship) to get an incapacitated Attorney General Ashcroft to sign off on extending warrantless wiretapping.
There were a number of heroes that day who rose to defend the constitution and who lived up to the highest level of courageous followership. While I did not cite Comey by name in the video clip you can watch on this incident, it was he who was most energetic in thwarting the power play.
All the senior justice department and intelligent officers who refused to support the White House were loyal Republicans, making their actions toward the Republican White House all the more admirable. President Bush was politically alert enough to reverse the policy when these courageous followers took their principled stance. As a nation we are indebted to Comey, Ashcroft and their colleagues for recognizing the right thing to do and then doing it. It is a standard a future FBI Director must set and all government servants should follow.
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 www.lessonsofarevolutionary.org
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 (www.ila-net.org), 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.
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.
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.
“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.
How much pressure would it take to get you or me to rig election results? Hopefully we won’t need to find out. But Tatyana Ivanova knows: She can’t be intimidated.
Tatyana is a teacher in Russia who also enjoyed working as an election monitor until she was asked to inflate the vote count for Putin’s United Russia. She was offered a bribe seven times her official compensation. When she declined to do so, she was brought before the education official in charge of her school and told she needed to get an extra 200 votes.
Her reply: “Not a single parliamentary deputy is worth my imprisonment.”
“Fine,” they said, “Someone else would do it, but you keep your eyes closed.”
Instead Tatyana kept an eagle eye on the ballot box. Her reward: Her principal was pressured to not give her an annual bonus. She liked the principal and quit to protect her from further pressure. She took her story to the newspapers. Thirteen school principals wrote an open letter criticizing her. She stood strong. A citizens group, The League of Voters, has published her case and offered legal assistance.
The twist to this story that I find interesting is that Tatyana will still vote for Putin. “I still believe in him” she said.
So Tatyana could refuse to be complicit in fraud while still supporting both her principal and Putin. It is a noteworthy example of the variety of choices one can make when confronted with an ethical situation. Neither courage nor ethical stances need be absolute to make a difference.
Do you have a story of a time you took a stance that drew attention to an unethical situation even if you couldn’t turn around the whole situation?
We have left 2011, which was an extraordinary year in terms of follower-leader relationships. “Powerless” followers overturned several mid-east governments, changed the national conversation in the US regarding the cost of government (the Tea Party movement) and the disparity in opportunity between the very well off and the struggling (the Occupy movement), and led Time magazine to name “The Protester” as person of the year.
What will 2012 bring?
In this context, the subject of “Followership” has become more urgent to study, understand and teach. In September the Navy retained me to give a keynote address and facilitate breakout groups for 400 Naval Public Affairs Officers. This month, the Consular Affairs Bureau at the Department of State invited me to talk on the topic “Follow Courageously”. The video of this talk is being made available to every US Embassy and Consulate to use. “Follow Courageously” is one of Consular Affairs’ 10 Leadership Tenets and it is the one on which staff are being asked to focus this year during their Consular Leadership Day activities.
2011 saw the words “follower” and “followership” enter the social media lexicon as a natural role that we assume in relation to others and that they assume in relation to us. The power of social media to help people self-organize into economic and political forces became irrefutable. A 23 year old young woman was able to mobilize hundreds of thousands of customers in days to get the mighty Bank of America to reverse its decision on assessing additional fees on debit cards—another watershed event.
The Occupy movement went a step further and shunned the whole notion of formal leaders. Note though, there is still horizontal leadership and this then requires a whole new way of doing followership. The result is exquisitely greater attention to group process and consensus building.
Whatever else 2012 brings, it will require governents, schools, businesses, non-profits and social movements to create environments in which participants at every level can meaningfully express their views. If those conditions are not created and supported, the conversation will quickly migrate into the public online forum and from there to the streets.
For those of you managing, training, consulting, coaching, researching or organizing in the group dynamics space, it is a time to think deeply about how individuals and organizations create the conditions of respectful candor in service of their collective mission. Whether we think in terms of followership or membership or citizenship, the world has shifted and we, our organizations and our clients need to shift as well.
Washington Post sports columnist, Sally Jenkins, landed her column on the front page of today’s paper with a story on why the Denver Broncos are following the leadership of the quarterback Tim Tebow, and why the teams of high-profile coaches in Maryland and Washington D.C. are not. It is a story of the power of followership to give support to good leaders and withdraw it from bad leaders.
The very fact that Jenkins’ column appeared on the front page is a sign of the increasing recognition of the ultimate primacy of followers. Jenkins quotes anthropological research by Christopher Boehm on the range of strategies used in traditional societies as “leveling mechanisms” when leaders misuse their power. Another important book on anthropological record of leadership and followership that I recommend is Naturally Selected by Mark van Vugt and Anjana Ahuja.
The Maryland and DC coaches Jenkins cites became increasingly abusive in their desperation to achieve results. Followers may respond to this type of behavior in the short term but ultimately tune out and shut down. Tebow, on the other hand, is a source of inspiration and strength to his teammates. Jenkins observes, “A leader is worth nothing without voluntary commitment, because the followers are actually more in charge of the outcome.”
She’s right of course. But the power of followers goes beyond simply supporting the leader or withdrawing that support. Followers can also shape leaders to be more of their better selves, and draw less of their dark side (that most of us have) and which tends to emerge under excessive stress. How?
Followers can be very clear that they, too, want to succeed, and will vigorously support the leaders’ efforts to make the team successful. But they will not tolerate any bullying behavior. I have seen this work with junior staff towards the member of Congress for whom they worked, for teachers with their principals and for administrative staff with their senior executives. This is much more effective than people often believe possible. And the literature on bullying behavior says that if two or three people stand together against the bullying behavior it almost always stops.
So followers, continue to use your power to support good leadership, and, if necessary, withdraw support from bad leadership. But remember that you can also help leaders use their gifts well while getting them to stow away their toxic behaviors – - as they will not be countenanced here!