Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Different View of Leadership

            On a ride from the old AT&T headquarters in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, to the Governor Morris Inn, in Morristown about 10 miles away, I sat in the back seat next to Robert Greenleaf, retired Director of Management Research at AT&T.  Bob had retired in 1964, seventeen years before the event that brought us together in Basking Ridge, namely the 25th anniversary of the AT&T Management Progress Study.  Since I had been part of the research team since its inception, I was invited to participate in the anniversary festivities along with 14 others and was especially pleased to learn that Bob Greenleaf was joining us.  

            I remember two things about the short ride that evening:  First, I was wishing I had my copy of Bob's 1977 book, Servant Leadership, with me, so I could have asked him to autograph it. Secondly I recall a brief conversation about his notion of servant leadership as it applied to the university (Out of the group of 15 only two of us were on a university faculty at that time). 

            The best way to explain the concept is to quote from his book, Servant Leadership  (Paulist Press, 1977):

                        "The servant-leader is servant first....  It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.  Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader  first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions....
                        "The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people's highest priority needs are being served.  The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons?  Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?"  (p. 13-14)

            This from an executive at the largest corporation in the world at the time he retired!  How I wish we could continue that conversation today (Bob died in 1990).  I wonder if he would agree with me that we need servant leaders today more than ever.   

            To learn more about servant leadership, visit the website of The Greenleaf Center for Servant  Leadership: 

            Are there servant leaders around today?  I would nominate several of the teachers I have already mentioned in this blog as well as some athletic coaches whose credits, when listed, are primarily the successes of their players.  

            Politics aside, can you think of others who demonstrate servant leadership - in education, business, public affairs, the church, medicine, social services, or any other field, past or present?  Please comment below and also take the survey at the top of the panel at the right.  Thanks for visiting.

                    Management Progress Study 25th Reunion Participants
                                     with Robert Greenleaf (lower left)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Eight Powerful Reasons to be Grateful

My neice, Rosie, asked in a facebook question, "What are the 5 things you are most grateful for in your life?"  That's an impossible question for me to answer.  I thought of my faith and family: Mom and Dad, brothers, Jim and Ed and their families; my wife, Kathy; my children: Peter, Martin, Maureen and Libby and their families; Kathy's parents, brothers and sisters and their families; my high school seminary buddies (we still stay in touch), my teachers, especially English teachers, Sr. Veronica Marie, Father Ermin, Father Leonard, and Psychology teachers and mentors, Professors George Thompson and D.O. Hebb; the Management Progress Study group at AT&T, my colleagues and students at Smith College, Michigan State, Universiteit te Utrecht, Cambridge University, University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point, University of Wyoming: Kerrie and Pat and my other friends at the Northern Colorado Writers and more recently, my facebook and twitter friends, some of whom I haven't met...etc. etc.
Do you see what I mean?  It's impossible and I'm only scratching the surface - What about Art, Herb, Roel and Yolande, Rabbi Frankel, Nancy and Steve, etc. etc. ?
Five, Rosie?  It's impossible.  I did notice that all these reasons for gratitude so far are people, except for my faith, but that's a relationship, too. 
If I have to narrow this down, I'll give you eight - eight people, all young - for whom I am eternally grateful on Thanksgiving and every day of every year.  Here they are, in no particular order, my grandchildren:








Monday, November 14, 2011

Accentuating the Positive

            The lyrics of an upbeat Johnny Mercer tune from the 1940s advised us to "Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, and don't mess with Mr. In-between."  Those lyrics came to mind last week when I asked a sixth grade friend of mine how school was going.  "Great," he bubbled, "I didn't pull one ticket last week."  That was good news, since, at his school, tickets are given for misbehavior and three tickets buy you a detention.

            An hour later I was talking with my daughter. 

            "How are the kids doing in school?'

            "Well, Noah got a 'tiger ticket'."

            "Oh, no.  What did he do?"  (Noah is in kindergarten.)

            "No, Dad.  Tiger tickets are a reward for good behavior.  There are three copies: one for the pupil, one for the teacher, and one goes to the principal.  As they mount up, they give the student more chances to win prizes later in the year."  Noah had solved a conflict with a classmate in a constructive way.

            The juxtaposition of these two episodes on the same day from two different schools reminded me of my days teaching Psychology 101.  There's solid research to support the idea that positive reinforcement in most instances works better than negative.

            Last week was not a good week in this country for children.   It seemed that every day brought another piece of national news that was devastating for a child or a group of children.  It was easy to get angry and lash out and I started to do that.  Then I remembered Libby's comment, "Noah got a 'tiger ticket'," and I decided then and there that I was going to do what Mercer had crooned about:  Accentuate the positive.  It doesn't have to mean sappy indifference to the disgraceful, sometimes felonious, attacks on children, but it does mean that I'm not going to forget that in the midst of this carnage, there are dedicated teachers giving tiger tickets for good behavior.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Great Teachers Come in All Sizes

            If you were to ask Noah today how old he is, he would answer you with convincing precision: "Six and a half."  Ages ago, when he had just turned six, he did something that surprised even his mother, Libby, who happens to be my daughter. 

            One evening as he jumped onto his bed with a book in hand and his older sister, Madeleine, next to him, Libby sat down beside the two for their regular evening story.  But this was to be no regular evening.  Noah took the book back from his mother, proclaiming, "I'll read to you tonight."  Libby humored him, remembering that he did recognize a few words, his own name among them, and that he could sound out a few others.  Hardly enough to read the book in question.  As Noah opened the book and began to read, first haltingly and then with more conviction, Libby sat stunned.  Where had this come from?  The answer came when Madeleine broke into a smile and finally began giggling.

            Libby remembered that throughout the summer on the days when she was busy with laundry or house cleaning, the two siblings would entertain themselves, often playing school downstairs.   But what she hadn't realized was that this was not merely play; this was serious stuff.   Madeleine, two years older than her brother, had made herself the teacher with Noah her only and willing pupil.

             Today, six months later, Noah is an avid reader, tackling beginning chapter books.  For example, he enjoys reading, "Our Haunted House," the chapter book that I posted on this blog several weeks ago, admittedly with some help from his favorite teacher.  

              Do you know some young teachers, either at home or in the classroom?  I'm wondering what makes that teaching take so well.

P.S. Here's a note I got recently from Noah that apparently went out to a number of people via the internet: