Servant Leadership

Since at least Jim Collins’s Good to Great, the world of management – and educational administration – has been intrigued by the notion of humble leadership. I’ve written before about it here, and it captivates my thinking to this day.

Some researchers, J. Andrew Morris, Céleste M. Brotheridge and John C. Urbanski, developed the line of thinking in “Bringing humility to leadership: Antecedents and consequences of leader humility.” (Human Relations 2005 58: 1323.)

The paper is a truly interesting read. While the researchers don’t develop a suitable measurement tool, nor take the further step of validating the concept through empirical data, they do provide “a clear conceptualization of humility”, “ (offer) several potential predictors of humility and indicated the specific ways in which humility may impact the leadership process.”

Their propositions:
1) Higher levels of narcissism predict lower levels of humility.
2) Machiavellianism predicts lower levels of humility.
3) Low self-esteem predicts lower levels of humility.
4) Defensively high self-esteem predicts lower levels of humility.
5) Higher levels of emotional awareness and management predict higher levels of humility.
6) Leader humility predicts supportiveness toward others.
7) Leader humility predicts a socialized power motivation.
8) Leader humility predicts participative leadership.

And their conclusion:
“… individuals whose personal traits include narcissism, Machiavellianism, low self-esteem, or defensively high self-esteem are likely to have low levels of self-awareness, openness, and transcendence, the dimensions of humility; and that the latter characteristics are more likely to be found in individuals with high levels of emotional awareness and control, components of emotional intelligence. Humility, in turn, is expected to generate servant leader-type behaviors such as engaging in supportive relationships, presenting a socialized power motivation, and leading through participation.”

Introverts Unite?

I’ve written before – quite a lot, actually, here, here, here, here, and here – about cognitive failures. I think these failures – our ability to see the truth, put simply – corrupt many of our organizations, especially on matters of hiring. We choose to hire people, for the most part, based on a faulty set of ideas. And then we live with those decisions, in a kind of confirmation-bias prison, unable to see the folly of our ways.

I proceed from well-established premises: that schools can improve; that teachers are the most important factor in establishing quality schools, and that leaders are second only to teachers in their importance. One more: hiring the right people is crucial.

The kinds of traits selected for in the hiring process appear to be just that: traits. Not skills or abilities, but personality markers; markers that the hiring teams tend to be swayed by in the way we are sometimes swayed by a clever salesman. We end up with overly gregarious types, men who are tall and possessed of a firm handshake. This is especially true of leadership positions. And when these larger-than-life types create mediocre results, we pawn it off on outside factors (“Boy, that’s a tough job – I wouldn’t want it”), and sometimes even muse “how much worse it would have been without him.”

Enter Susan Cain. A Manhattan-corporate-lawyer-turned author, she tries to salvage the lowly introvert in the TED clip below. Like (the extroverted) Jim Collins in his wildly influential Good to Great (in his insistence that humility and will constitutes the best leadership), she points out that some of our most beloved leaders are introverts. If all we were looking for was a broad smile, firm handshake, and wonderful small talk, we would have missed out on some of the best, Abraham Lincoln included.

Also see Carla Luchetta, of TVOs The Agenda, on a similar theme.

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.”