Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Milgram Redux

Here is an article about the most recent replication of the Milgram experiments

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Educational leaders required: Blending envisioning with humility

Picture retrieved from:

I have to admit that I have been very resistant to political issues and specially politicians’ behavior since I remember. It has been hard to understand how our supposedly servant leaders have tended to pave the way to their own benefit and profit rather than to introduce real education politics that can be at the basis of mending our fragmented society. Our last three Presidents, including the governing one, have been involved in bribery scandals and trial. I have the impression that Greenleaf (1977) himself will find them as perfect examples when the act of lead precedes any kind of act of service.

Consequently, I have been trying to approach to this issue working in the education sector. I have been consistently interested in how different actors interact and build social relationships, and how they handle power relationships. Schools were appealing institutions to observe that. Although the relationships between teachers and the directive team implied tension, I could observe that when the school’s principal assume his or her role in a collaborative approach, he or she was planting the seed of trust to introduce change (Packard, 1998; Nadler, 1990). But when principals assumed that schools were hard to manage due to the continuous conflicts among teachers, they deny their responsibility to intervene.

Pedagogical change was the result of an individual or small group effort in the class setting. But when looking for innovations in the school’s management, the school’s principal was a key piece to generate a shared sense of accomplishment and an optimal climate to work. But he or she will rarely affirm that it was his or her contribution what made things happened, instead the principal will refer the results to everybody’s contribution and commitment with the school and, especially, with enhancing students’ performance (Collins, 2005).

Afterward I worked at a university. It was like a tangled network that was far from the more sophisticated school organization I have ever met and looked very different from the memory I had about it when I was a student and, later on, a teacher assistant. I realized that there was not anything that can be called “the university” – as I used to call it in my former years of student -, there were a multiplicity of universities, determined by who was talking, that is, a teacher or a student, an undergraduate or a graduate student, a syndicated employee or a non-syndicated one, etc. However, this is the place were social capital is reinforced through the efforts of academia, as Brian Heuser (2000) states in his article Academic social cohesion within higher education.

I worked very close to many academics in order to assist them to develop their annual plans. The different departments I worked with were challenging and each one them reclaimed that the university was reluctant to recognize their specific needs about human and financial resources.

When new deans of schools and chairs of departments were elected each three years, the new academic authorities assumed those positions being aware of the implications, even the ones that assume this sort of academic-administrative function. Nonetheless they intended to continue and/or introduce different perspectives about how the academia can do their job better aligned with the institutional goals, I can observe that their qualified reputation as brilliant scholars and professors made this process tough the first two years and then they are almost ready to leave. Surely their perspective about the university has changed but sometimes their energy to face the challenges has also diminished due to a recharged administrative labor with scarce time to think big about their school, department or even the university (Sashkin, 1989).

So I wonder if this situation is probably related to the academic culture related to the cultivation of strong self-images, based on the knowledge acquired and expressed by academic degrees, publications in indexed journal, grants or funds received, and so on. Therefore I wonder if this kind of culture is not dangerous not only for the university’s process of authorities’ succession within universities but also I am worried about the implications in the relationship with the students. 

I do not intend to say that academic culture damages the ethics of younger students, when stimulated to be competitive, self-centered and base their achievements in the academic arena. But I have the feeling that this can be a sort of hidden curriculum with pervasive effects when this former students become active part of the civil society being enrolled in different job positions but due to their focus in their egos, reserve very little time to think big, to identify ways to commit with social change and with improving the education in our country. I am really concerned if this way or being focused on oneself and give little time to think about the organizations we are part of is also at the basis of our permissive behavior about the representatives that lead our country and systematically make it more fragile.

Rise of Followership: Product of an Empowering Leadership

I wrote this post back in October before James and I decided to name our Leadership model as Empowerment. I forgot about this post after composing it, but it did subconsciously spark many ideas for our model...

Since our class discussion on the topic of followership, I have been fascinating by the potential seen in the rise of "the masses," the increase in agency followers have garnered over the last half-century, and some leaders' respect for individuals working in their enterprises. The previous theories of leadership had not attended to the individuals whose roles were to solely execute orders that were delegated from upper levels of "management." The central focus of written texts remained on the main figurehead of the institution, who was commonly praised for his strong personal mastery, charisma, sharp functioning, and ability to reap a high profitability from lower-level workers.

The proposal of followership is freshly appealing because followers are observed and treated more as individuals along the principals of "Theory Y", by McGregor. No longer is the treatment of followers formulated from a pessimistic view that employees are lazy, passive, and disagreeable. The follower, once overshadowed by daunting CEOs became more prominent as some institutions became aware of the power of team work, and reaped powerful results when they allowed workers with practical experience to hold some authority and control over their positions. A removal of some of the leader's authority placed onto her followers vastly changes the leader's outlook of herself, the followers, and the enterprise; and the transformation from an authoritarian approach to a follwership approach requires the leader to limit her exercise on positional power and gravitate towards a respectful relationship with her team.

Followership is a twist in the traditional bureaucracy of how most institutions perceive leadership and casts previously unheard of attention to subordinates in organizational hierarchies, which now are termed "participants," or individuals who are active and engage with the leader to work towards a common cause. It departs from the traditional dominant-subordinate model which is still pervasive in global cultures, in families, gender differences, sexual orientation, and the workplace.

Kelley's "In Praise of Followers", presents the notion that what defines a group of competent followers is no longer a passive obedience, but a "self-reliant participation...in the pursuit of an organizational goal...serv[ing] as team players" (195). This type of follower relies on the skills she internally possesses, even her own leadership skills to further the organization, but even as she is confident and adept, she chooses to take up the position as a follower because it is valued and a vital role to the group. What may come as a surprise to leaders who establish authority in themselves is, that the follower who is placed in the ideal environment can accomplish what leaders cannot. He or she is not bound to conforming to the lowest rung of the hierarchical structure; that is, potential and capability does not wane in the presence of an executive or upper management. Followers who take on an active role in assisting the team towards its goal should be given credit where it is due. Those who have successfully implemented the idea of followership into their leadership models reap the benefits of a thriving, healthy organization.

This notion of followership alters the dynamics of conventional leadership, and Rost's article, "Leaders and Followers Are the People in This Relationship" states that followers and leaders work together in interchangeable roles when it is necessary. Furthermore, "this ability to change places without changing organizational positions gives followers considerable influence and mobility" (192), a quality the traditional leader may not have acquired in his genre of experience. Rost proposes a change in the meaning of "followers," that they are as versatile as being a leader in one situation, as to assuming a follower role in the next project. They are no less competent than the leader, but also demonstrate the ability to work effectively in teams, without the glory and title as leader.

Finally, the leader herself must come to reshape her position, authority, and how she perceives her group members. The relationship represents a symbiotic one, with both the leader and follower relying on each other for survival in competing organizations. She must be the one who draws out the qualities of an active mind, and should go as far as personal understanding of each person according to his or her interests, level of development, and ability contribute to the group. She seeks to encourage advisers among the team rather than yes-men, and halts the behavior fawning subordinates that are quick to obey and execute the plan laid out for them.

But there's more to followership than we first see. The concept itself does not necessarily advocate for the absence of a leadership position, but rather, is contingent upon the leader's initiative to develop this process for his institution. He is the one whom others look to for the atmosphere and tone of the group. It is his advantage to design an environment which facilitates learning and equal collaboration, and seeks to encourage individual involvement. He is a figurehead, but specifically one who can foster this type of followership characteristic on his team. Moreover, he attempts to prolong the life and strengthen members of the organization by allowing followers to gather practical experience in leading smaller groups. This is derived from a leader who acts as a mediator, facilitator, and empowerer, but someone who does not overpower. He must have something to impart initially, then must provide the geographical and intellectual space for followers to gain experience for learning. Thus the process of reciprocity is etched out, as followers gain knowledge to participate and work alongside the leader.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Parents as Leaders

When the last group presented their leader as gardener model, I was taken. Of course since we had a tree in our empowerment ecosystem, I drew parallels, but there was also something about the nurturing, anonymous service of the gardener that felt familiar. The same group also made reference, I believe, to the idea that leaders are not just situated in organizations, but may be in families. This has stuck with me. Of course, its true, parents are leaders. Older siblings are leaders too. As I have been writing about our integrative model, at times my mind has drawn connections to the kinds of leadership I have experienced through family. Maybe it is the oncoming holiday season and my upcoming anniversary that have taken my thoughts there, but there is something more too, a recognition that our life experiences teach us some pretty essential conceptions about leadership. I bet, perhaps, through examining what my exposure has been I will also see why I have certain biases, preferences about what leadership should look like.

The themes in my family have been leadership as service and teaching. Greenleaf, Depree and Senge would see their ideas in the flesh in the home I grew up in. Service has always come first in the Nardella family. My father has worked with at risk youth as a school counselor for forty years. Thirty of those years, throughout all my childhood, adolescence, and college years, he was the head counselor at a center for incarcerated youth, what were called juvenile delinquents at the time. Each morning he gently woke my sister and I, served us breakfast, packed our lunches, dropped us off at school, and drove the forty-five minute commute to work. He made no complaints about the drive because the schools near his center were not nearly as good as the schools where we lived. Service was modeled daily, even though I only can consciously recognize it now. It is no surprise, however, that my older sister is a licensed marriage family therapist who spent the first ten years of her career counseling at risk youth and now directs a treatment program for teenage and young adult women in San Diego. Nor is it odd, given this experience, that I married a woman who has given her life to serving African communities in need of clean water and care for HIV and AIDS. Servant leadership has been the clear model in our new family too. I have learned to value those who “are challenging the pervasive injustice with greater force” (Greenleaf, 1977, pg. 20)

Both of my parents could be described as “less coercive, more creatively supportive” as Greenleaf puts it. My mom, like many, made it a mission to encourage my sister and me in whatever hobbies took our interest. We were given space to be curious, creative, and adventuresome. Days after school were spent playing team sports, swimming in the creek by our house, or building igloos in the Pennsylvania snow, all of it exploratory, experiential learning. Though we were not wealthy, what was available went to paying for the few years of dance lessons, and then instrument lessons, then karate, then horse back riding, a real smorgasbord of creative activities. There were not consequences for trying new things and giving them up. We only had to stick out the season. In the way Depree describes it, we felt like we had the trust of our leaders which gave us the grace we needed to try new things and operate in a creative world. Still we had time for directed learning as well.

In the way of Senge’s conception, our family was a learning organization. Our natural curiosity and impulse to learn were actively cultivated. Each evening after dinner, whether we had homework or not, my father facilitated a “homework hour”. During our elementary school years, when actual homework was nominal, this time often consisted of homegrown interactive exercises. My dad would create rhyming pairs or multiplication flash cards, handing us the question cards and hide the answer cards about the house. We would scavenge our way through learning. It was not performance based; we did not need to be excellent academics to earn our parents’ approval. Our parents were more stewards or facilitators, designing activities to foster growth, strategic thinking, and more insightful views of our current reality (Senge, 1990).

Our parents were not authoritarian experts teaching us the right way. They were there to encourage, just as the gardener cares for the sapling, and rarely criticize. It is no wonder that I am now creating a model that argues for leaders to make room for critical thinking, creativity, and curiosity.

Leadership Development Programs in Higher Education

If you are looking for a job after graduation, you may (under more normal economic conditions) wish to consider Leadership Development Coordinator positions if you are planning to work in higher education. Much the way many industries have recently fallen in love with leadership development, so have colleges and universities throughout the country. Massive amounts of money are being poured into leadership development initiatives but the unfortunate aspect is that these programs are often flawed and misleading in their name. Schools around the country are hosting programs for current presidents and other top leaders of campus organizations with many of the objectives being to teach the students campus policies, help these various leaders meet other leaders on campus so as to facilitate cooperation in the future, and allow for goal-setting for the upcoming year or semester. While such a program is certainly valuable to the campus community, the only thing relevant to leadership development is goal-setting and eve n that is a stretch. Then to compound the issue, the feedback on these sessions usually comes in the form of a survey distributed at the end of the event or made available online to measure how satisfied the attendee was with the program they just experienced.
The interesting part about the leadership development programs is that they fail to actually educate the students on leadership, particularly the core elements described by Ordway Tead. There are certain core elements pointed out by Tead as absolutely necessary for any leadership development program, and they include: “knowledge of the general characteristics of human nature;” “self-knowledge of one’s own combination of qualities;” “a working grasp of the right attitude to possess in dealing with people; an ability to apply all of this knowledge to the mobilizing of energy and enthusiasm for the special objectives of the organization; and deliberate efforts at broadening of the total personality (Tead, 1935).” These, the bare bones of any program, are entirely missing from these “educational” programs.
This highlights two flaws that currently exist within higher education. Students today are being catered to in ways I never thought imaginable. For example, at High Point University students have live music in the cafeteria, speakers in the trees playing music, hot tubs, complimentary valet parking, a campus concierge, free ice cream trucks and snack bars, and perhaps the most outrageous of all, morning wake-up calls (Gioia-Herman, 2008). This desire to please students has rapidly spiraled out of control, and making sure students have fun is even prioritized over educational value for leadership development programs. The second flaw primarily compounds the original issue, and is shown in reviewing Craig Russon and Claire Reinelt’s article, The Results of an Evaluation Scan of 55 Leadership Development Programs. They point out that very few programs are actually based on any leadership theory, are more concerned with mass inexpensive data from surveys immediately after programs, rather than spending some more resources on a multi-level evaluation based on the actual learning goals of the program (Russon, 2004). However, in attending the Association of Fraternal Advisors Annual Meeting this week, there was an overwhelming emphasis in the educational sessions on establishing learning goals and conducting proper assessment of programs. Hopefully this can be a sign that in the future we can count on more relevant and truly necessary training of leaders. While true leadership can not actually be taught in a classroom setting, a proper training program can lay the foundation and help to equip leaders with some of the necessary knowledge and tools to be successful.

Below is the article regarding High Point University:

Herman Trend Alert: Consumer-Driven Higher Education September 24, 2008
The Law of Supply and Demand is alive and well in higher education. Responding to market needs of increased competition, a college in North Carolina has begun to offer leading edge services to its students. Under the brilliant leadership of Dr. Nido Qubein, a serial entrepreneur and renowned professional speaker, High Point University (HPU) provides students with levels of service and perks never before seen in higher education.
Walking through campus is an experience in itself. The main greenway, the Kester International Promenade, features loudspeakers in the trees, playing classical music. HPU recently added six fountains to the campus and six more are planned. Other assorted extras include live music in the cafeteria, a sand volleyball court, and a 16-person hot tub.
HPU students are never hungry. During the warm months of the year, there is an ice cream truck touring campus, offering literally hundreds of varieties of complimentary ice cream and ices. Plus the campus has two snack kiosks providing complimentary refreshments, including pretzels, juice, bottled water, fruit, and hot chocolate throughout the day.
Students also enjoy complimentary daily valet parking and the services of a campus concierge who arranges for dry cleaning, restaurant reservations, tickets for on-campus events, and even wake-up calls. Their new multiplex will feature a movie theatre exclusively for student use. Presuming the students' have money on their cards, their HPU "Passports" (student ID cards) may also act as debit cards at local restaurants
"Our extra services are more than what they appear to be. We are modeling values like generosity, that we want our students to adopt", said Roger Clodfelter, HPU's Director of WOW! "That's why we also recognize students on their birthdays with a card, a piece of cake, balloons, and a small gift. In addition, we send a get-well card and gift when they are sick", he added. It is a "holistic approach to education to prepare students for the real world". Clodfelter is responsible for these value-added services at HPU. (See a later Herman Trend Alert for more about HPU's holistic approach.)
Enrollment has grown significantly with the addition of these welcome perks. You can expect more colleges and universities to follow suit, looking for innovative ways to add value to attending their schools.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A classic piece of Chinese political philosophy & my interpretation

In one of our early classes, we had a lot of discussion about the relationship between a leader and his followers.I was then reminded of a well-accepted notion in Chinese political philosophy, which says: The relationship between a leader and his people is comparable to that between boat and water: water can contain a boat, and it can also capsize a boat. Derived fromA Proposal to the Emperor:Ten Notions,this boat-and-water notion dated back to Tang dynasty(618–907). It was authored by a senior government official named WEI Zheng, who was renowned for his righteousness and straightforwardness. As suggested by the title, WEI Zheng was appealing to the then emperor,LI Shi-min, pointing out ten things LI should keep in mind in order to make the state prosperous and stable.WEI's suggestions were well-received by LI, who kept the essay on his desk as a motto.

I first encountered this piece in my classic Chinese literature class as a freshman in high school.Impressed by its literary merit,I learned the whole piece by heart, which is no more than 450-Chinese characters-long,succinct and pertinent.However, only after our leadership theory class did i come to recognize the essay for its merits in addressing important aspects of leadership. Here i'd like to share with you this thought-provoking piece of literature. I hope you'll enjoy it as much as i do.(I spent a good amount of time translating it into English. Hopefully my translation can preserve its original strength in argumentation:)

A Proposal to the Emperor—Ten Notions

To make a tree grow better, one must reinforce its root; to make a river flow farther, one must clear its source; to make a state stable and prosperous, one must found it on virtue and morality. You don’t grow a tree by cutting off its root, nor do you vitalize a stream by blocking its spring. That’s common sense. By the same token, dwelling in peace and prosperity, Your Majesty should nonetheless be prepared for potential hard times and exercise economy. Otherwise, it would be impossible to build an empire as stable as prosperous.

Previous dynasties have witnessed the rise and fall of scores of emperors. Although many of them did reign with conscience and morality at the beginning, few could stick to the end. Why did they fail? I guess it’s because: in case of plight, a leader often treats his followers wholeheartedly, sparing no effort to consolidate them and mobilize them. However, once the difficulty is overcome and the common cause is realized, the leader is tempted to indulge in the hard-won success with a larger ego. Sincerity and sensibility can unite conflicting parties, while egocentricity and indifference attenuate bonds as strong as that between father and son. Sometimes a leader can get his way by overawing or coercing his followers. However, this will only encourage shrewd followers, who act to shun punishment rather than act out of conscience. A leader can never trade coercion for cohesion: all he harvests is superficial support,let alone respect. The relationship between a leader and his people is comparable to that between boat and water: water can contain a boat, and it can also capsize a boat. This is one thing leaders should always bear in mind.
Here I have “ten thoughts” to propose:

(1) Whenever you find an object desirable to possess, you should remind yourself of complacency instead of pursuing it straightaway.
(2) Before mobilizing extensive manpower to construct new palaces, think about moderation and necessity. People need peace, so try not to bother them too much.
(3) Aloft in position, Your Majesty is susceptible to aloofness. So always bear in mind the idea of humbleness and modesty, and never stop self-development.
(4) To avoid self-conceit and egocentricity, remember that the formation of a broad river is the joint effort of numerous brooks and streams.
(5) If you want to go hunting, go no more than three times a year.
(6) To prevent from slack attitudes, you should attend to a task with uniform diligence from beginning to end.
(7) To avoid being under-informed, you should be open to criticism and advice from your subordinates.
(8) If you fear that some ill-willed flatterers and immoral forces may erode the establishment, being a moral role model yourself will help to get rid of them.
(9, 10) When you award or punish people, don’t entitle to them more than what they deserve. Don’t simply award a person for pleasing you or punish one for annoying you.

If you can exercise these ten notions and glorify the Nine Virtues (loyalty, trustworthiness, respect, firmness, flexibility, harmony, stability, righteousness, and obedience), then good results will follow. Recruit the able ones into your cabinet, fit each into the right position and follow the wise advice. In this way, the smart will capitalize on their talent, the brave stretch every muscle, the kind-hearted spread their kindness and the loyal exercise fidelity. By delegating to the right persons, Your Majesty would reign effectively and effortlessly!

My interpretation:

The landscape in which an ancient emperor reigned is very different from what most organizational leaders face in a modern democracy.However, different social contexts see something in common in effective leaders.Some of WEI Zheng's theories are still applicable to today's leadership.In A Proposal to the Emperor:Ten Notions, WEI highlighted the moralities of leadership. Believing morality to be the cornerstone of a state,he advocated that an emperor must in the first place be a moral role model for his people, demonstrating virtues and justice.A leader should not coerce his followers by any means.Intimadation and suppression may work for some time, but it will not do in a long run.Not only because it's not a productive way to run an organization, it will eventually undermine the leadership.In case of an empire, people may uprise and overthrow the throne,in the same way water capsizes a boat. Here i see an objection to Theory X.

The second important thing a leader does is to delegate. Instead of attending to every triviality, a leader should delegate tasks to the right persons. This requires the leader to have a deep understanding of human nature, as well as expertise in certain fields.For the emperor,he needed to be familiar with military affairs, public administration and economics.

Some background information:

Tang dynasty (618–907) marked one of the most prosperous times in Chinese history. It succeeded the short-lived Sui dynasty and developed a successful form of government and administration on the Sui model. Besides military prowess and national wealth, Tang also stimulated a cultural and artistic flowering that amounted to a golden age. The creative vigor of Tang let it be a more open society, welcoming foreigners in its urban life from Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, as well as from Persia and West Asia.
The second emperor of Tang, LI Shi-min, known as T'ai-tsung, succeeded to the throne in 626 by murdering two brothers and forcing the abdication of his father, but he became one of the greatest emperors China has known. WEI Cheng was one of LI Shi-min’s Confucian moralist mentors. He had served a rival rebel regime, and later took on the role as Li Shi-min’s public conscience (John King Fairbank, 1992 & Encyclopedia Britannica, 2009).

Friday, December 5, 2008

Obama's "Third Culture Administration"

In a previous email, Dr. Robbins noted that Obama stated he hoped to avoid groupthink within his administration.

According to Ruth E. VanReken, members of the future Obama administration "[share] common psychological traits that could shape his administration" (http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2008-11-26/obamas-third-culture-team/). What VanReken is referring to is Obama's developmental background as a "third culture kid," an increasingly common background among children and adults in our increasingly multicultural and global society.

As a "third culture kid" myself, I am particularly interested to see how the diversity and relatability of some of these appointed leaders' experiences will shape new policies, and how their experiences might shape their leadership ability.

Wal-Mart: Culture and Cheer

Our class discussion about organizational culture sparked my own memory of my experiences at Wal-Mart, where I worked in Arkansas as a high school student. While I believe Wal-Mart is by no means a perfect organization and has many faults, the culture I experienced while working at Wal-Mart played a large role in developing a positive mental image of Wal-Mart while I worked there as an employee. The following is an analysis of Wal-Mart’s core values that underlie its culture.

In 1962, Sam Walton opened the very first Wal-Mart in Rogers, Arkansas. As the founder of this one-store organization, he established the company culture upon three basic beliefs: (1) respect for the individual, (2) service to our customers, and (3) striving for excellence. Today, almost half a century and many stores later, the values and organizational cultural which Walton valued still resonate among many of the over 2 million Wal-Mart associates throughout the world (

(1) Respect for the Individual. At Wal-Mart, each employee is referred to as an “associate.” This verbalization emphasizes the shared ownership of Wal-Mart each associate has as an employee. This ownership is both a figurative metaphor which serves to open up lines of communication by downplaying the hierarchy between employees and managers, but is also literal, as many employees buy small shares of Wal-Mart stock, which is encouraged in the initial hire orientation.
(2) Service to Our Customers. At Wal-Mart service and servant leadership are key themes. According to Sam Walton, “Effective leaders don’t lead from behind a desk. It's more important than ever that we develop leaders who are servants, who listen to their partners – their associates – in a way that creates wonderful morale to help the whole team accomplish an overall goal” (www.walmartstores.com). Store managers and district managers are often seen on the floor making themselves available to all associates and practicing the “10-foot rule,” which encourages associates to each customer with the infamous, “How may I help you?” which is written on the back of every associates blue vest.
(3) Striving for Excellence. Wal-Mart employees are constantly encouraged to strive for excellence through competition and improvement. Three store-wide weekly meetings (for each of the three work-shifts) are held at which store managers, department managers, and associates discuss sales strategies (merchandise displays, cleanliness, friendliness), sales performance (compared daily, weekly, and one year earlier), and sales competition (among departments within the same store and with other stores regionally and nationally).
These three core values are particularly strongly embedded within the organization and each associate in part by a rigorous orientation which occurs after initial hiring. Before stepping foot on the actual store floor and beginning training, each associate watches a series of videos regarding Sam Walton’s life, core values, and history of the company. By watching these videos, many associates may become inspired. In many ways, the life of Sam Walton encompasses the American Dream of going from rags to riches. By working at Wal-Mart, they to have chance at the American Dream through hard work, promotions, and developing community relationships.
Perhaps one can best show the strength of Wal-Mart culture in the activities which often occur during the store-wide weekly meetings previously noted. These meetings are characterized by an open and inclusive family dinner table-like environment. Managers and associates come together in an open space in the back of the store to discuss store happenings, compare sales performances, share a package of cookies, and announce weekly birthdays of associates throughout the store. Each meeting ends with the infamous “Wal-Mart Cheer”:
Give me a W!
Give me an A!
Give me an L!
Give me a squiggly!
Give me an M!
Give me an A!
Give me an R!
Give me a T!
What's that spell?
Whose Wal-Mart is it?
It's my Wal-Mart!
Who's number one?
The customer! Always!

To me, this cheer exemplifies Sam Walton’s original values of respect, service, and excellence which are still embodied and valued by many Wal-Mart managers and associates, regardless of the negative attention the corporate side of Wal-Mart has increasingly (and often deservedly) received in recent years.

Just For Fun:
Video of the Wal-Mart Cheer:

Innovation and creativity, anyone? Here is an example of some Wal-Mart employees in Sherwood, Arkansas, really taking “ownership” of the Wal-Mart Cheer and making it their own:

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Disaster Preparation: You're Probably Doing It Wrong

Subtitle: This is a blog entry it should not be so confrontational- I apologize.

A little background: E.L. Quarantelli is one of the leading scholars in Disaster Research. He is a Sociologist, and his work combines Sociology with Emergency Management practices. He has been studying disasters since before there was a FEMA or a Hurricane Katrina or a September 11th. A large portion of what we know for sure about how people respond during disasters and much of what we know about disaster response has come from him and his students and colleagues at the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware. He is brilliant, and if you ever want to know more about him and his work drop by Google or come sit by me.

Although Quarantelli does not specifically work in the area of Leadership, many parallels can be drawn between his work in disaster preparedness and that of the theorists we have studied this semester. In particular, the ideas of visionary leadership and leadership as a process are especially applicable.

First, Quarantelli stresses that disaster preparedness in an organization is a process that requires a vision from the outset. Quarantelli (1991) tells us that if your organization is planning for disaster and your goal is to produce a plan, you're doing it wrong. There should, of course, be a plan in place, but that plan should only be a reflection of the vision of the leader and the preparation that has occurred- an indicator of what steps will be taken in the event of a disaster, not a step-by-step how-to.

So what is the most effective way to prepare for a disaster? The first step, of course, is to understand your risk. The primary person who should take on this task is the leader of the organization, both because not being destroyed in a disaster (literally, figuratively or financially) is so important a factor in the success of an organization, and also because it should be the leader of the organization who does the visioning for the way that the organization should respond (Sashkin 1989). That vision should then be communicated to and carried out by other members of the organization.

Of course, a vision is one thing, but as is the case in all organizational activities, conceptualizing is one thing- real-life implementation is another. This is where disaster prevention becomes a process, and in this case, the reasoning behind preparation as a process is entirely practical. Although a disaster is technically any event that overwhelms existing resources, we'll use a fire in your organization's building as a basic example. If and when this fire occurs, not only do you want Brian and Jane to be able to get up the stairs and out of the building in the fastest possible time, but you also want to practice so that you are able to foresee any obstacles they might face. Does the emergency exit have to be manually unlocked? Will the stairwell get too crowded for people to get out? Is there enough light in case of smoke or a power outage. None of these things can be foreseen if your main preparation is drawing an arrow on a map of the building. The preparation is in the process.

Thus, we come back to Selznick's vision of leadership as a "work" to be done to fit the needs of the situation. This is the essence of good disaster and emergency preparation- doing the work. The plan comes after.

Escape from Jonestown

A few weeks ago CNN aired a special about the Jonestown Massacre and particularly focused on the survivors of this event. The documentary immediately engaged my focus as I recalled some of our class readings and discussions especially echoing Milgrim’s article on obedience as well as the Groupthink article. The question that seems to spring from horrific incidents like this one is how could this possibly have happened? The theories that seem to shed some light on a possible answer to this question lie in these aforementioned articles. But before I continue, the following is a brief summary of the Jonestown Massacre for those who aren’t as familiar:

In 1978, 909 Americans died in Jonestown, an area established in South America by the Reverend Jim Jones, from an apparent mass murder-suicide by poison commanded by the reverend himself. One third of those that died that day were children, most of who were poisoned by their own parents. Only 33 people survived the ordeal. Besides September 11, this incident has been the greatest single day, non-natural disaster loss of American lives.

What struck me while watching the documentary was - what was it about those who lived that enabled them to survive? The answer is likely found in the results of Milgrim’s experiments. Just as Milgrim sought to answer what possessed the Nazi’s to carry out the horrific acts of the holocaust by conducting his experiment, so too might the answer for Jonestown be found.
The results of the experiment and the outcome of Jonestown are contrary to what most would expect and hope to occur. Most people would think that when moral values and obedience to authority conflict that people would choose to follow their morality rather than submit to an authority that breaks with these morals, but sadly this does not appear to be the case. Instead, many people feel psychologically compelled to submit both because they defer responsibility for their actions to the authority and also to avoid the stress associated with disobeying. In Jonestown, this appears to be exactly what happened. The negatives associated with dissenting felt greater than the negatives of submitting to these people and the strength of this feeling swelled to the great level that it was, because of the grip Groupthink had on them.
Groupthink is cultivated in part by the notion of the dilemma of obedience and it became a behavioral tool that Jim Jones used horrifically well. Symptoms of Groupthink, especially in this situation, are paranoia and fear; from the outset, Jim Jones attracted people whose personalities alone made them more susceptible to become victimized by Groupthink. He appealed to the ‘wounded’ side of people who shared a disillusioned view of society because many of them were outcasts and he made them feel that he related and understood their plight. He also had a message that seemed to lift them from their troubles. Yet, Jones grounded this message in fear and in doing so, created a culture of followers that were steadfastly loyal and unquestioning of his mission. To further create an environment of followers that sought to avoid disobedient behavior, Jones began a procedure known as catharsis in which any member who had committed a wrong doing or had been disagreeable was publicly humiliated and punished in front of the entire congregation. This reinforcing mechanism, witnessed in real life by his followers, served to elevate Groupthink, and particularly the ‘obedience factor’, to a tremendously dangerous level. No one wanted to disagree or be known by others as having differing thoughts.
Eventually people became trapped in the thick blanket of Groupthink, yet they didn’t really recognize it. The phenomenon grew so powerful that Jones was able to plant the seed of his mass suicide idea without receiving direct criticism and without causing his followers to discuss their disagreements behind his back. If anyone disagreed, they kept it to themselves and followed along with how everyone else reacted. In November of 1978, when his command came, all but 33 individuals became victims of Groupthink and the obedience dilemma. In the documentary, the commentator describes the incredible courage and strength it took for those 33 to survive by dissenting, which to an outsider looking in would seem like an ironic characterization - why would it take great strength to disagree with someone who is asking you to commit suicide? Yet, when one delves deeper into the psychological components at play here, the dismaying events of this day and why they occurred reveal the extreme courage that these individuals displayed to emerge from the guise that Jim Jones had created.