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.