Ira Chaleff

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    ICE Agents must intelligently disobey inhumane orders

    June 19th, 2018

    A trick question is sometimes asked by the prominent leadership scholar, Barbara Kellerman, from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. “How many people did Hitler kill?” The correct answer, which almost no one gives, is “none”. The killings were all done by the followers of the Fuhrer (which means leader in German)

    After the war, justice was meted out to Nazi officials through what became known as “The Nuremberg Trials.” The most famous of these called to account for their crimes senior officials who had survived the war. Lower level professionals who participated in the atrocities also stood trial. A principle that emerged from these trials is there was no moral or legal defense in claiming “I was just following orders.” If there were any way you could refuse and survive, then obedience to inhumane orders was itself a crime.

    It is time for US Immigration and Enforcement (ICE) agents to understand and act on this principle. There will be no sympathy for those who followed orders to separate toddlers from their mothers, and for obeying orders to not touch or attempt to comfort a traumatized child.

    ICE agents can individually or collectively refuse to execute these orders. Will there be penalties for disobedience? Probably. But they will be short lived, whereas the guilt and stigma of obeying those orders will last a lifetime.

    In his famous experiments on obedience, Stanley Milgram observed that subjects went through four stages as they realized the potential harm they were causing by obeying harmful orders. First they cooperated, as it seemed the order served a reasonable social purpose. Second ,they began questioning the order when they realized that following it might be inflicting harm. Third, they experienced severe psychological stress over whether to obey the authority or to follow their conscience. Fourth, they had to resolve the severe stress and could do so in one of two ways: they could stop resisting the authority and just do what they were told, or they could refuse to continue to obey the authority. Only the latter choice freed them from ethical culpability.

    ICE agents need to understand that resolving their discomfort by simply obeying orders to implement the inhumane policy does not relieve them of moral guilt. Their moment of truth is now. Will they claim “I was just following orders” and thereby align themselves with historic crimes done with this justification, or will they say “no” and live the rest of their lives justly proud of the integrity they displayed?

    For those of us who are not on the front lines needing to make this choice, we can and should be contributing funds to the support of those agents who may lose their paychecks or who incur legal fees to defend their stance. And when the dust settles on this morally repugnant chapter of our history, any remaining funds can be used to erect plaques and award medals to those who courageously disobeyed on principle. They will be remembered and honored.


    Follower Power – Ununderstood, Unappreciated, and Underestimated

    February 1st, 2018

    My colleague, Barbara Kellerman, of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, has been a champion of Followership for years. She has used my book in her courses and has written her own book titled “Followership”, as well as more recent work on Leadership that always includes Followership as an integral and dynamic element. Her examples of the power of followers in this blog post are powerful.

    To study leadership without studying followership is impossible. And that to be a good leader without having good followers is equally impossible. (Of course, the converse is also true. Bad leaders depend absolutely on bad followers.)

    Read full original post

    About Barbara Kellerman


    Train the Trainer, Brusels 2017

    December 3rd, 2017

    For the following two days I worked in Brussels with a dozen wonderful professionals in the training and executive coaching field. Most were from Europe though one came from Australia and another from Indonesia. The purpose was to equip them to fulfill any demand stimulated by my presentations for the EU institutions and for other clients who would benefit from including courageous follower training in their leadership development programs. What a wonderful group of people!

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    European Union, 2017

    December 3rd, 2017

    For those familiar with the many quirks of the US form of government, let me assure you that it looks almost rational next to the complexity of the EU institutions designed to achieve commonalities among its 28 widely varying member nations. I presented two workshops on Courageous Followership at the European School of Administration, one for the most senior level of civil servants from all the EU institutions and the other for the mid-level managers of the European Commission, which is the largest of the EU institutions. Both were very well received.


    International Leadership Association (ILA) Board Meeting, Brussels, 2017

    December 3rd, 2017

    From Cambridge I and my fellow International Leadership Association (ILA) board members from the ILA took the “chunnel” train to Brussels, one of the centers of the European Union. We held our board meeting that evening at Deloitte University. For the following three and a half days I participated in presentations on every aspect of leadership and followership. One of these was a panel on teaching followership. I walked the audience through the 7 conceptual thresholds we cross in my workshops to dispel old ideas and introduce new ones on the power of the follower role when it is played well.

    In December I will have completed my second term as a board member of the ILA, six years in total. As we are term limited I received a lovely warm round of thanks from my colleagues at our community meeting. I will continue to be active in the ILA and I encourage you to join us at our next annual conference in West Palm Beach, Florida October 24 – 27, 2018. View brochure


    Cambridge University, 2017

    December 3rd, 2017

    On October 2017 I participated in a panel on leaders, followers and populism, which became an energetic dialogue. It was held at the Moller CentreChurchill College and organized by the James McGregor Burns Academy of LeadershipUniversity of Cambridge.

    Georgia Sorenson who chairs the Academy, has invited me to be a Cambridge Visiting Scholar for the coming year. I am looking forward to using that platform to further explore how courageous followership creates better leadership.

    Cambridge is the site of the 800 year old university whose 31 colleges are found everywhere in that historic town. Only Oxford is older. Burns is widely regarded as the father of leadership studies based on his groundbreaking 1978 book “Leadership”.

    From 2017 3Q Newsletter


    Partners in Courage

    August 28th, 2017


    I had the great pleasure of visiting my colleague Bill Treasurer at his home in North Carolina this past week, on my way back from viewing the awesome total eclipse from high up in the gorgeous Smoky Mountains. Bill and I are comrades-in-arms. He published his first book Right Risk about the same time I published the first edition of The Courageous Follower, both of us with our wonderful publisher, Berrett-Koehler. Bill’s next book was Courage Goes to Work and his most recent is A Leadership Kick in the Ass. All of his work is written with great heart. We took advantage of our visit to take this photo of us holding each other’s work in one of our hands while with the other clasping each other’s hand in a show of unity and commitment to bringing greater courage and authenticity to both the leader and follower role. The awesome rope bridge in the background is actually a piece of art that Bills wife, Shannon, bought for him. It can be imbued with endless symbolism including bridging to the two roles, making the journey we each need to in order to live with courage, a path to the future, etc. When I saw this piece of art I told Bill the story of the swinging bridge I had to learn to cross when I did a writing retreat twenty five years ago in North Carolina to help finish the first edition of The Courageous Follower. Sometimes life comes full circle.


    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.


    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.


    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.

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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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