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9 Virtues Blog

Authority vs. Power

by Rob Jenkins

01/27/2016

Anytime the President of the United States sends American servicemen and women into harm’s way, politicians and pundits are sure to argue over whether or not he (or she) has the authority to do so.

I’m not qualified to participate in that kind of constitutional debate. But I can offer the following observation: whether or not the President has the authority to deploy troops in a given situation, he certainly has the power to do so.

That’s because authority and power are not the same thing, even though many leaders fail to grasp the distinction. In particular, an alarming number of academic administrators these days don’t seem to understand the difference between exercising duly constituted authority and merely wielding power.

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Creating a Climate of Hope

by Karl Haden and Rob Jenkins

01/20/2016

(Note: The following is an excerpt from The 9 Virtues of Exceptional Leaders.)

Victor Frankel, a survivor of both Auschwitz and  Dachau, argues in his highly-regarded book Man’s Search for Meaning that human beings are motivated primarily by a quest for meaning in their lives. This was no different for the inmates of the concentration camps, he observed, than for anyone else. Even though they ostensibly had little to live for, the inmates still sought to imbue their lives with some meaning, because, according to Frankel, what kept them all going was the hope of something beyond the camp fences.

In fact, he writes that in the camps, you could always tell who was going to die soon because they would light a cigarette. What does that have to do with dying? Well, it seems that prisoners were granted a ration of cigarettes, but most refused to smoke them as a kind of silent protest against the way they were treated and the conditions in which they were held. When someone lit up, that meant he had given up hope. He was going to die anyway, so why not enjoy a smoke? And die he did, usually within a day or two.

Frankel’s story illustrates both the power of hope and the danger of hopelessness, or despair. As a leader, you will undoubtedly see your organization go through tough times—not as tough as a Nazi concentration camp, of course, but tough enough. That’s inevitable. The question is, how will you collectively get through those times? And the answer is that, as a leader, you have to create a climate of hope.

To understand what a climate of hope feels like, let’s first look at its opposite. A climate of despair is characterized by apathy, lack of accountability, low morale, and a desire to escape. Sometimes those negative attitudes arise in response to the situation itself, and sometimes they’re the result of the way leaders react to the situation. Because the irony is, when leaders see qualities like apathy and lack of accountability in the people they lead, their first reaction is often to “crack the whip”—“you WILL be happy, dammit”—thereby making the situation much worse while lowering morale even further and ratcheting up everyone’s desire to abandon what they perceive to be a sinking ship.

Karl’s experiences with a client a few years ago illustrate this dynamic perfectly. He was working with the dean of a professional school at a large research university in the Midwest where everyone, it seemed, had become mired in a climate of despair. Faculty members had stopped caring about their work or the university’s reputation, there was a perceived lack of accountability on the part of administrators, and a number of people were openly looking for other employment. The situation was bad enough that most employees didn’t even bother filling out the questionnaire Karl sent out as a prelude to his visit, an attempt to gauge the atmosphere of the unit. They just didn’t care.

That state of affairs was explained somewhat when he received an e-mail from the dean outlining the questions he wanted Karl to explore with the department chairs in their upcoming meeting. The list included questions like, “What do you think is your role in facilitating change necessitated by external and internal pressures?” “What is your role in holding faculty accountable in their responsibilities during time of change?” And “What is your role in defusing situations that contribute to negative morale?”

Do you see a theme here? All the questions focused on the chairs and what they were doing or not doing that had led to the current mess. In other words, the dean was transferring basically all of the blame for the situation onto the chairs: “What are you doing wrong? What can you do better?” He wanted to hold them accountable—and expected them to hold faculty members accountable—but he wasn’t willing to hold himself accountable or take any of the blame. No wonder the environment was so toxic. No wonder people wanted to leave!

Compare that dean’s approach to the one demonstrated by Martin Luther King, Jr. in the very last speech he gave, popularly known as “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” Rarely has one person served as such a beacon of hope for so many people, and Dr. King did not disappoint on that spring day in Memphis, less than 24 hours before his assassination. Perhaps foreseeing that event, as some have suggested, he left his followers with these inspirational lines:

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

Whether or not he understood how prophetic they were, those words of hope and inspiration galvanized the people who looked to him for leadership and empowered them to carry on after his death.           

As a leader, one of your primary responsibilities is to foster a climate of hope within your organization. Unless you’re extraordinarily unlucky, times won’t always be bad; but unless you lead a charmed life, they won’t always be good, either. Virtuous leaders plan for both, and a large reservoir of hope is one of the main things will enable you to make it through those difficult times.

Leadership Lessons from Orwell

by Rob Jenkins

01/13/2016

Anyone who thinks that being a leader means you get to tell everybody else what to do either hasn’t read George Orwell’s essay, “Shooting an Elephant,” or else completely missed the point.

Orwell (nee Eric Blair) wrote the essay about an incident that took place when he was a young soldier serving as a kind of constable in a small village in British-occupied Burma. A tame elephant had gone “rogue,” destroying a great deal of property and killing a couple of people. As the primary local authority figure, it was his job to hunt down the elephant and, if necessary, put it down before it could cause further damage.

By the time he caught up to the elephant, however, with most of the villagers at his heels, its fit had passed and it was peacefully eating grass beside the road. “As soon as I saw the elephant,” he writes, “I knew with perfect certainty that I ought not to shoot him. It is a serious matter to shoot a working elephant — it is comparable to destroying a huge and costly piece of machinery — and obviously one ought not to do it if it can possibly be avoided.

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Virtuous Leadership: Not the

by N. Karl Haden, Ph.D.

01/06/2016

Recently published after my two-year collaborative effort with AAL Senior Fellow and Chronicle of Higher Education contributor Rob Jenkins, our leadership book The 9 Virtues of Exceptional Leaders: Unlocking Your Leadership Potential offers practical advice and helpful exercises while avoiding the false promises of easy fixes and quick results that so many gimmicky bestsellers flaunt. Leadership is neither easy nor quick. The only thing simple about leadership is the ease with which you can spend money on advice that fails to live up to the hype.

In this column, I discuss our philosophy of leadership and its inextricable link tovirtuous behavior. Note that final word, because action is all. Everyone knows people in positions of authority who talk a good game but do not walk the walk. Moreover, that action needs to be grounded in virtue, which we define as “excellence in character.”

Thus, our theory of leadership starts with a simple premise: we believe that exceptional leaders are those who behave virtuously. Remember that leadership is not carried out for the leaders themselves–it is for the benefit of the people they lead and the organizations they serve. Leaders who “do good” can inspire others to do what is right as well, to perform acts they otherwise may not have, acts that help not only themselves but also the larger community. This truism has profound implications for every institution.

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