Authored by Christiane Montuori on Monday, February 27, 2012 at 1:34 PM | Add the first comment!
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My son, Max, is co-founder of Longform.org and if, you go to the website and sign up for it, one of the services he will provide in this ongoing peon to long form journalism is to send you a story each week that he has culled from his own scanning of current and archival material and thinks deserves a wider audience.
A couple of weeks ago he sent a piece called “Leadership and Solitude” by William Deresiewicz that was published two years ago in The American Scholar, and had originated as a speech the author gave to the first year students at the United States Military Academy in 2009.
Are you interested in leadership, your own or anyone else’s? If so, read it.
Deresiewicz blasts a Grand Canyon size hole in the common conflation of exercising leadership and exercising authority, with the illusion that having a big job has anything to do with being a leader.
Deresiewicz points out that the route to achievement is by being what he terms “first class hoop jumpers.” He means that the way to get ahead in organizational life and in society in general is to figure out what people, particularly authority figures, expect and deliver it at a high level of competence. We are socialized very early. We learn as infants the wonderful benefits of performing the way our parents want us to: food, shelter, and love. Not a bad deal.
For most of us, myself included, the rewards of first-class hoop jumping have been compelling: applause, more income, another prestigious diploma on the wall, a big office, whatever. In fact, one way we reward the very best of the hoop jumpers, one way we make sure they will never exercise leadership, is by calling them “leaders.” It’s just another bribe.
In the past month I have worked with two groups of accomplished young people, young at least from my perspective, accomplished by anyone’s objective measures. They all thought of themselves as “leaders” because they had been told so again and again after performing like puppets dancing on the end of a string.
As Deresiewicz writes:
“….for too long we have been training leaders who only know how to keep the routine going. Who can answer questions, but don’t know how to ask them. Who can fulfill goals, but don’t know how to set them. Who think about how to get things done, but not whether they’re worth doing.”