Monthly Archives: January 2013

Just like me to respond to the pressure of having to focus on finding a topic and a question. Tonight in class Professor Smith asked people to talk about their topic and the question that they will attempt to answer in their paper.

That was enough to chisel away the excess thought regarding my topic of leadership, transformative leadership and leadership succession. Way too general. So I narrowed it down by thinking about all of the examples of leadership I have seen in my life. I’ve witnessed people who had the ability to coax great performances out of individuals and groups.

These were transformative leaders in the true sense of the term in that they could empower people. The one thing that they could not do is institutionalize their successful formula so that the institution could continue its success after the leader left the scene. That led me to a couple of questions. First, what qualities constitute a transformative leader? Why is it so difficult for successors to maintain that same level of success?


The servant leader is a style of leadership developed by Robert K. Greenleaf and explained in his 1970 book “The Servant As Leader.” Greenleaf’s concept of leadership is that a leader first and foremost must serve.

In the previous modesl of leadership, leaders accumulate power and the perks and privileges of power and delegates responsibilities. According to the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership “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? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?

For the spiritual minded, Jesus Christ is the best example of the servant leader. Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King can also be called examples of the servant leader. The concept does sound like it makes sense. However, does servant leadership work in the real world? Will the servant leader be bound down by the duties of his or her responsibility avoiding followers or will the servant leader simply be ignored?

I have a soft spot in my heart for nurses. My mother was a nurse, and I had great nurses while receiving   treatment for cancer.

I don’t have a hard time visualizing nurses as servant leaders and transformative leaders. The best example of how a nurse can be a servant leader and a transformational leader occurred outside of the hospital ward. My mom worked for 20 years at a nursing home. Nursing homes are often heartbreaking places. Some clients never receive visits from family members. In some cases, the resident might be the only surviving family member. Sometimes families put grandma in the nursing home and forgot about them.

Holidays are the saddest time for nursing home residents. Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas were happy times in my house. My mother found a way to share that joy. For several years, she invited a certain resident to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with us. This lady dined with us. I believe we gave her a Christmas gift.

I don’t know if the woman lived far away from surviving family members of if she had been warehoused and forgotten. I know she enjoyed those short visits. She got out of the nursing home and spent some time around people of different ages.

I benefitted from those visits. Unlike many younger people, I was never uncomfortable in the presence  around sick or older people. Service to the community has always been important to me. I think my mother’s example of  servant leadership is a big reason why.

Something significant transpired a little more than halfway into Orwell’s story “A Hanging.” Those who don’t understand an tyrant’s need to make the oppressed a participant in their own oppression will miss it.

. The scene occurs as the prison guards lead the condemned Burmese man to the gallows. Orwell describes the hangman as “a grey-haired convict in the white uniform of the prison…”Now, the reader does not know why this executioner is in prison. He could have been convicted of crimes ranging from petty theft to murder. Perhaps he was jailed for supposed crimes against the state.

Prison authorities entrust or draft this inmate into carrying out death sentences to another Burmese man. I thought about other instances where oppressed people are forced in one way or another to participate in actions that extend their subjugation. I remember reading details of the Emmett Till murder and how the perpetrators forced some of the community’s black men to participate.

Taylor Branch describes instances in which guards at Mississippi’s Parchman Prison forced hardened inmates to harass Freedom Riders who were jailed in 1961. What accounts for the oppressor’s need to  employ the persecuted as a tool of their own oppression? Is it a raw exercise of power or a recognition by the oppressor of the basic immorality of their position? Maybe both.

Today is the day that we celebrate the birthday of the Rev. Martin Luther King. There will be a lot of things taking place today. President Obama will be publicly sworn in as president. There  will be many activities surrounding that event and the King holiday.

I wonder how many people will give serious thought about what it means to be an oppressor, and how truly crippling it is to subjugate another person. It’s understandable why the oppressed don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what oppression does to the oppressor.  They’ve got a full time job trying remove the boot of oppression from their collective necks.

King spent a lot of time thinking about how oppression deformed the psyche and soul of the oppressor. The movement had redeeming the soul of the oppressor as one of it’s goals. As blogger Darnell Lamont Walker noted in a quote found here, keeping another man down is hard work.

That also appears to be the point that George Orwell is making in the short story “Shooting An Elephant. His narrator/protagonist is a British policeman working in a town in colonial Burma. He is tasked with “dealing with” an elephant that escaped from his owner and is wreaking havoc in the city.

The officer investigates and quickly concludes that the elephant is not a threat to the town, despite the fact that the animal killed one person. He figures that the elephant will attack only if it feels threatened. However, the officer requests an elephant gun and correctly realized that he must put the beast down.

Why? The calculus of the relationship between the oppressor and the oppressed makes killing the elephant necessary. Once he asks for the elephant gun, he has to use the weapon. Not to do so will make him appear weak, and weakness is a quality that a person in his position  could not show. So even though the officer knows that it is wrong to kill elephant and that he personally believes that colonialism is wrong, he must act in a way that maintains the power relationship between the oppressors and the oppressed.

Three years passed between Rusbridger’s description of the newspaper industry under siege from the internet and his more upbeat assessment. Three years is an eternity when it comes to digital technology. Myspace was all the rage in 2006, but that social media site had been supplanted by Facebook. The protest in Iran showed how Twitter and smart phones can turn everyone into a journalist.

By 2009, Rusbridger’s paper The Guardian was starting learn how to harness some parts of the web and to collaborate with those citizen journalists. These innovations  require the mainstream media (MSM) to cede control to tweeters, bloggers, smart phone users. That means we journalists could be collaborating with a cast of millions.

That’s scary. These people bring their motives, skills and beliefs to the game. They are partisans. But so are the government, religious, social service folks that  journalists  interview daily. They just speak our language, and we see them at the same social events..

That brings me to Rusbridger’s description of the debate between Walter Lippman and John Dewey. Lippman believed that many of the issues of the day were “too complex to be grasped by the public – whom he likened to “a deaf spectator in the back row.” Dewey thought the public needed journalists and academics to explain  the game and the rules of government, business and foreign affairs.

Dewey disagreed. He had more faith in the public’s ability to understand the rules of the game. Lippman viewed public life as a lecture where the elites dumbed down the complex sausage making process of governance and parsed the informatio to the ignorant masses. Dewey saw democracy as more of a Socratic conversation in which all members of society had the ability to participate and learn.

It’s easy to understand why Lippman’s viewpoint prevailed in journalism for so long. It’s also easy to see why that model is insufficient now. Lippman debated Dewey in the 1920s. Vast swaths of people were illiterate, women had just received the right to vote and blacks were denied the franchise in much of the south.

Today, the vast majority of Americans can read and write. Massive amounts of facts are available at the touch of a computer keyboard or smart phone keypad. Additionally, years of betrayal by government, business and the media means that all three of these institutions have earned the mistrust of the American people.

At it’s extremes, this mistrust has people doubting the 9-11 terrorist attacks, climate change, President Obama’s birth place and whether the Sandy Hook shooting actually happened.  More often than not this mistrust is manifested in a healthy skepticism on the part of the public.

Rusbridger tells journalists that social media tilts the debate in Dewey’s favor. Readers don’t want to be spectators. They want to be a part of the game. Successful papers find ways to let readers play.

Rusbridger describes four instances where Guardian journalists collaborated with their readers to write investigative pieces, break news, crowd source information and invite more diversity onto the paper’s opinion page.

These methods are  risky. Rusbridger cites an instance where another paper placed unfiltered tweets on their home page and the publishing a bunch of messages that we unfit for a family paper. However,  inviting the highly informed, passionate, technically savvy and insightful readers to be citizen journalists can improve  the product and engage the public in ways that enhance democracy – and the bottom line.