Priestly Advisors and Warrior Kings – Susan Cain, Again

We need “priestly advisors” in addition to “warrior kings” – Susan Cain

One of the most popular non-fiction books of this year has certainly been Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I’ve written before about her ideas here, but there are a few quotations I still find worthy of remembrance. (And as we’ll see below, others might benefit from her words, too.)

Don’t Extroverts Rule the World – and Rightly So?
Despite the assumptions made by schools like Harvard’s Business School, extroverts don’t always make for better leaders: “If we assume that quiet and loud people have roughly the same number of good (and bad) ideas, then we should worry if the louder and more forceful people always carry the day… yet studies in group dynamics suggest this is exactly what happens.” (51)

Does this sound like your last faculty meeting?
“Groups are like mind-altering substances. If the group think the answer is A, you’re much more likely to believe that A is correct, too… (The study subjects) were utterly blind, in other words, to how much their peers had influenced them.” (92)

Ever feel for the quiet, capable students who wish to work alone?
“Our schools should teach children the skills to work with others – cooperative learning can be effective when practiced well and in moderation – but also the time and training they need to deliberately practice on their own.” (94)

Ever wonder if school leadership might be more subtle, more thoughtful, more reflective?
Cain argues, examining the soft power examples from other cultures, most obviously those like like Gandhi, show the value of those who lead “by water rather than fire” (197)

And why repeat a posting on Cain?
And evidence Cain’s warnings have been in the news recently – indirectly. A large section of her book is devoted to critiquing Tony Robbins’s Unleash the Power Within seminar, including the extroverted-mad ending where session participants are exhorted to walk across burning coals.

The extrovert bravado can literally defy the forces of physics! Believe in your own gregariousness and tower over the laws of thermodynamics!

Except not. From a July 23rd news article in the Vancouver Sun – apparently there are limits to the Power Within:

21 injured in hot coal walk at Tony Robbins motivational event

Fire officials in California say at least 21 people were treated for burns after attendees of an event for motivational speaker Tony Robbins tried to walk on hot coals.

The San Jose Mercury News reported at least three people went to a hospital and most suffered second-or third-degree burns.

Robbins was hosting a four-day gathering called Unleash the Power Within at the San Jose Convention Center.

Witnesses said a crowd went to a park on Thursday where 12 lanes of hot coals were laid out on the grass.

Witness Jonathan Correll said he heard “screams of agony.”

Robbins’ website promotes “The Firewalk Experience” in which people are encouraged to walk on superheated coals.

Fire Capt. Reggie Williams said organizers had an open fire permit and emergency personnel were on standby.

Good to Great – Part I: Leadership

Leadership = Humility and Will

Few management gurus have had an impact in educational circles as great as Jim Collins has had.  Following in the footsteps of management profs like Douglas McGregor, Collins seeks to understand what makes organizations thrive.  And many – so many as to suggest cliche – educational consultants, writers, and leaders have turned to Collins for answers on how to build great schools.

His methodology is as good as it comes in management circles – he and his team identified companies that outperformed their sector and the market generally.  Then, they decided to identify factors that these “good to great” companies had in common.  (There are ways to find fault still, though – stock markets don’t always know what’s best; but compared to most management books, it’s an incredibly reliable methodology.)  He writes well, uses compelling evidence, and goes beyond mere platitudes in his analysis; it would be hard to ignore the work.

Not suprisingly, one of the topics explored by Collins is leadership.  Indeed – it’s the first meathy topic he settles on.  And while much of his analysis is familiar (a good leader has a strong will, for example), perhaps his most powerful assertion on leadership is that the best leaders aren’t necessarily the most charismatic; in fact, he points out in the speech below, many of the best leaders seem to have a “charisma bypass.”

Too often, in organizations generally but in education specifically, we turn to the gregarious and the charming to lead us, believing that personality is more important than insight.  Collins counters: “Leadership is not about personality… we should never confuse charisma with leadership.” I would agree, and put it this way: until we prize competence over handshakes and haridos, we are doomed to inhabit mediocre schools.

In fact, extending this thinking even further, Dr. Nassir Ghaemi, professor of psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine and director of the Mood Disorders Program at Tufts Medical Center, argues that those with mental illnesses like depression actually make better leaders than the happy-go-lucky types.

“‘Normal’ nondepressed persons have what psychologists call “positive illusion”—that is, they possess a mildly high self-regard, a slightly inflated sense of how much they control the world around them,” argues Ghaemi.

“Mildly depressed people, by contrast, tend to see the world more clearly, more as it is. In one classic study, subjects pressed a button and observed whether it turned on a green light, which was actually controlled by the researchers. Those who had no depressive symptoms consistently overestimated their control over the light; those who had some depressive symptoms realized they had little control.”