Ira Chaleff

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    Thursday, January 10th, 2019

    In a world where the sand is continuously shifting underfoot, courage is a lifeboat. Yes, we need lifeboats even on land in these times of rapid transition, uncertainty, and abuse of power.

    Sharna Fabiano, Life Coach, Followership trainer and Tango teacher extraordinaire has written on How To Be Brave in her current blog post. She is a beautiful observer of life and a wise guide to living it with grace and courage. At the end of her post she offers a deceptively simple exercise that holds great potential power. I commend it to you.

    This year, the International Leadership Association, home to the Followership Community of Learning I founded ten years ago, is holding its global conference in Ottawa, Canada on the theme of Courage. Check it out. There is still time to submit proposals for presentations.

    Here in 2019, may you find the courage to listen deeply and speak thoughtfully, to be still and to act each in its time, to remember the consequences of history and to influence the history just now being written. May your courage open doors in mental prisons and liberate the power of the principled mind and the true heart.

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    Why Followership Coaching?

    Thursday, August 6th, 2015

    My fellow authors and remarkable Followership trainers, Marc and Samantha Hurwitz of Toronto, Canada, recently included the following in their newsletter:

    A few weeks back, Marc and I were in Orlando, Florida at a conference. We did a session and had a book signing in the conference bookstore. We arrived at the bookstore nice and early, as did Marshall Goldsmith. Marshall has the #1 bestselling business book in America right now and is considered the top coach of CEO’s and executives in the world. Although we hadn’t met face to face before, Marshall had been reading our ideasletter for a few years and generously supplied an enthusiastic endorsement for our book. We were excited to connect with him, hang out, and have an opportunity to let him know how much his work has inspired us.

    Marshall and I popped off to get a coffee together before the signing and had a lovely chat. As I do executive leadership and followership coaching, I was dying to ask him, “Of all the CEO’s you are coaching right now, how many are you coaching for followership rather than leadership?” Marshall looked away for a quick second, then smiled and nodded, “Four!” or about half.

    Interestingly, this has been my experience, too. About half the people who come to me for leadership coaching actually need followership coaching, and sometimes, quite desperately!

    Why Followership Coaching?

    1. Like leadership, people can be good, indifferent, or simply awful at followership.
    2. We don’t talk about followership – it can be the ‘F’-word in organizational life. Because of this, feedback, training, and mentoring of it are almost always insufficient.
    3. Executives who only focus on leadership often derail – poor followership is the leading cause of careers going off the tracks
    4. Good followership is empowering. It greatly improves and expands a person’s influence in an organization – more broadly, more strategically – and not just with the leader.
    5. Bad followers devilishly suffer from the Pitchfork Effect, i.e., it doesn’t matter how good they are at everything else, poor followership is what gets noticed and taints whatever good skills they have! This is the opposite of the Halo Effect, when being good at one thing is taken as a sign of being good at everything.

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    Why America Is Indebted to Potential FBI Director James Comey

    Thursday, May 30th, 2013

    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.

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    “Would people choose to follow me?”

    Friday, December 2nd, 2011

    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!

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    Courageous Followership and Horizontal Organizations

    Thursday, November 10th, 2011

    The Courageous Follower model is very clear: followers do not serve leaders; rather leaders and followers serve the common purpose.

    Yet, because society is largely organized around hierarchical structures, this model talks extensively about how positional followers relate to positional leaders: how followers help leaders use power beneficially, and their responsibilities when power is being misused or abused by those leaders.

    Now along comes the “Occupy” movement with its commitment to horizontal organization. Technically, this is known as anarchist from the Greek an (without) and archos (leader). It is a movement that rejects the role of leader. Is courageous followership relevant in this context?

    If there are no leaders then there can be no followers. This does not mean, however, that there is no leadership. Leadership scholars from a conference I participated in visited the Occupy London encampment and reported that, far from being leaderless, the movement was leaderful. Leadership came from every point. Therefore,  so did followership.

    How does this relate to courageous followership? I believe it relates in two ways. First, the horizontal organization philosophy is committed to consensus. This requires coming to decisions that most people agree with and that all can live with. Sometimes followership requires subordinating one’s own preferences, as long as the chosen path doesn’t violate ethical values.

    Second, just as positional leaders can misuse power, so can horizontal groups. It requires as much courage to stand on one’s principles in the face of peer pressure as it does in the face of positional power. In a non-hierarchical setting this might better be called courageous citizenship, but it requires the same strength and skill-set to stand up and speak out as does courageous followership.

    I believe that the greater use of horizontal organization improves large group dynamics. I also believe that on very large scales there will be a natural need for vertical organization and representative democracy. One interesting effort to combine these forms of human organization is found in a system known as sociocracy, to which I was recently introduced by Sheella Mierson and John Buck of the Sociocracy Consulting Group.

    Perhaps it is time to seriously explore such alternatives. Better systems for the distribution of power reduce the level of courage needed by all group members to speak from their ethical centers in service of the organization’s mission within the context of its social responsibility. Nevertheless, courageous followership, or courageous citizenship, will still be required whatever blend of these organizing systems are used.

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    Ten Followership Guidelines to Help Leaders and Groups Succeed

    Sunday, September 25th, 2011

    It is critical to help good leaders succeed and to know how to detect and correct poor leaders. Here are some guidelines based on twenty years thinking about these issues:

    1. Use your gifts generously to help leaders succeed; resist cynicism.

    2. Know the purpose of the activity and the positive values that guide it.

    3. Give great support to leaders who advance this purpose and act true to its values

    4. Stay conscious of speech and actions that diverge from the purpose and values

    5. Call divergences and discrepancies to the attention of the leader and group

    6. Help the leader and group remedy or resolve discrepancies that endanger the group purpose and values

    7. Develop consciousness of your own internal rules regarding authority

    8. Draw on the sources of courage you possess to speak with clarity, candor and impact to authority

    9. Help leaders who are working to become better leaders and human beings despite their inevitable flaws

    10. Let others help you become better as a leader, follower, collaborator and human being

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    Author’s Retreat

    Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

    I have just completed the annual Author’s Retreat sponsored by the Berrett-Koehler Author’s Co-operative. This is a wonderful gathering of about 50 authors who publish with this unique independent California publisher. All three editions of my own book, The Courageous Follower: Standing Up To and For Our Leaders were published by Berrett-Koehler.

    The focus of Berrett-Koehler books is on personal growth, organizations and business, and social and economic justice. We engaged in three days of conversations on how our work produces change from within organizations and systems as well as from outside of them. If you’d like to see the full range of titles published by Berrett-Koehler go to

    Large group of smiling people, dressed informally, standing in garden outside modern building.

    Here’s a photo of the retreat participants. I’m in the middle of the first row in the brown shorts and white top.


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    Studying and Transforming Extremist Followership

    Thursday, June 30th, 2011

    Some of the best thinkers in the field of Followership have at one time or another called for more research into why people follow toxic leaders.

    In the Art of Followership, Robert Kelly asks “Why are we not making a followership inquiry into the issue of suicide bombers?”

    In The Allure of Toxic Leaders, Jean Lipman-Blumen observes “Once we fall under a toxic leader’s spell, escape is likely to be painful, sometimes nigh impossible.”

    In her book Followership, Barbara Kellerman describes one of five follower types: “Diehards are as their name implies – prepared to die if necessary for their cause … We wonder why ostensibly ordinary men and women are willing to blow themselves up because someone somewhere asked or ordered them to do so.”

    These critical observations and questions are being addressed at this moment in a unique conference being sponsored by Google Ideas, a self-described “think/do tank.”  Some 120 former members of extremist organizations are being brought together to examine how technology can be used to create alternative paths for those who would otherwise be called to the dark side of followership.

    A conference organizer stated the aim of the conference this way: “The hope from the conference is that we will figure out some of the ‘best practices’ of how you can break youth radicalization.”

    This is a worthy endeavor that I trust will be followed up with more research and application. Ultimately, it is only by transforming the dark tendencies of followership into courageous and principled followership that we will break the hold that toxic leaders can exert on whole populations.

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    Courageous Leadership and Followership in Congress

    Monday, June 20th, 2011

    Several years ago I had the honor of facilitating the design of a meeting of the Club of Madrid.

    The 80 members of the rarified Club of Madrid are former Heads of Government or Heads of State from Democratic countries who have been invited to lend their experience to help other newly formed or emerging democracies. At least 75% of members must come from countries that have transitioned to Democracy since 1975. Some of them are true heroes of the transition of their country from authoritarian regimes.

    One of the outstanding Members I met at that time is Dame Jenny Shipley, former Prime Minister of New Zealand.  I shared with her the Op-Ed I wrote on Congress’s Tragedy of the Political Commons that was recently published in The Washington Post.  Dame Shipley sent me back a typically poignant observation:

    “I read your OP-ED with interest. It is a fascinating conundrum that so many people around the world are fighting for democratic freedom and yet those of us who enjoy it do not really understand how we are in our own way unwinding its very strengths.”

    Whatever combination of leadership and followership roles we play as citizens, as elected officials, as the staff who support them and the constituents who vote for or against them, we must relearn to deeply value the freedoms we have, the institutions designed to defend them, and the processes and tools that exist for correcting them. We each must take our own stand against behavior that tears down our institutions and for behavior that works to improve them. THAT is courageous followership and courageous leadership.

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