Phronesis: Practical Wisdom for Leaders

Dr. Barbara Kellerman - Leader, Followers, & Contexts

July 19, 2020 Scott J. Allen Season 1 Episode 13
Phronesis: Practical Wisdom for Leaders
Dr. Barbara Kellerman - Leader, Followers, & Contexts
Show Notes Transcript

Dr. Barbara Kellerman
Barbara Kellerman is the James MacGregor Burns Lecturer in Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School. Kellerman received her B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and three degrees from Yale University: an M.A. in Russian and East European Studies and both an M.Phil., and Ph.D. in Political Science. She was awarded a Danforth Fellowship and three Fulbright Fellowships. Kellerman is a co-founder of the International Leadership Association (ILA).

Quotes from This Episode

  • “How do you talk about leaders or leadership without talking about followers or followership? How do you talk about leaders and followers together, without situating them in the contexts?”
  • “People have been at this for at least 50 years since the so-called leadership industry was founded. Yes, I do call it that, because I think of it as largely a money-making proposition.”
  • “People have been struggling with the issue of definitions, particularly of the word leader or leadership...what is a leader? The way I define it is completely different from the way virtually every one of my colleagues at Harvard defines it.”
  • “In some cases, they say we’re training leaders, and other cases they say we’re educating leaders, and other cases, they’re saying we’re developing leaders. Nobody ever bothers to distinguish among those three verbs. What do you mean when you say you’re educating? What do you mean when you say you’re training?”
  • “So the business schools are not very different now from the schools of government, and they are light years away from the military.”

Dr. Kellerman's Website/Selected Books

Resources Mentioned in this Episode

Scott Allen :

I've been looking forward to this conversation for? Well, actually a couple weeks now that we've had it scheduled. I have Barbara Kellerman with us today. She is the James McGregor Burns, Lecturer in Leadership at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. That's a mouthful. And, you know, Barbara I've been following your work for years, ever since the publication of Multi-Disciplinary Perspectives, and James McGregor Burns wrote the foreword to that book, would you tell us a quick story about Jim Burns that maybe our listeners don't know? Can you think of anything?

Barbara Kellerman :

Well, I think it won't be so much a story as it will be a comment on him. You know, some of the old timers have since passed. But his place in the leadership firmament, I think, is really secure. He came out with a book in 1978, I'm sure you know, of course called Leadership that I think was the single volume that put leadership as an area, which is really what interests me, as an area of intellectual inquiry on the map. Since then, what I call the leadership industry has gone in a, I would argue somewhat different direction. It's focused very heavily on teaching people how to lead, which is not actually what Jim centered on. He centered on leadership, as I said, is a multidisciplinary, complex area to be uncovered, full of frustrations, but endlessly interesting. That book still stands on its own. It's a seminal volume. Whereas, you know, 99.9% of other leadership works die on the vine, or at least within a few years of their publication. That one really does remain a classic. So if any of your listeners are interested in leadership as a subject to be explored from every possible direction, I would recommend Burns' Leadership even though it's now whatever I'd have to count whatever number of years old.

Scott Allen :

Well, and I love your description of "endlessly interesting." And so we're going to explore some of those nooks and crannies today. And so for one of the books that I absolutely love that you wrote was called Bad Leadership. And what I loved most about that book, it may be somewhat peculiar, but you also discussed this concept in professionalizing leadership, but this relationship between the leader, the followers, and the context. That it's hard to separate any one of those from the other. And so whether it was Bill Clinton or Marion Berry or any of the other individuals that you featured in certain elements of that book, we looked at the leader, that individual the followers who was who is around them, and in some cases enabling them, and then the context what was happening in the context that allowe this to occur. Would you talk a little bit about that and have and how you think about that as as foundational to doing this work that we're doing?

Barbara Kellerman :

Well, you're using the perfect word, Scott, I never talk when you use the word foundational. I never just talk about leadership anymore. I never write about leadership anymore. I always talk about the leadership system.

Scott Allen :

Yes.

Barbara Kellerman :

That is, as you said, it's, it's slightly more complicated than focusing only on the leader, which is what most of us tend to do. but not a lot. It has instead of one component to you know, zero in laser like on it has three as you said, leaders, followers and context. To me they're absolutely indivisible.

Scott Allen :

Yes.

Barbara Kellerman :

Inseparable, intrinsically threaded and intertwined with each other. How do you talk about leaders or leadership without talking about followers or followership and how do you talk about leaders and followers together, without situating them in the contexts - plural? So usually, I mean, I should say it's never just a single context.

Scott Allen :

Yeah.

Barbara Kellerman :

It's like this series of concentric circles. So when is in an immediate context, but then a context? That is somewhat more, you know, I could be teaching in Cambridge, and then I would be at Harvard, Harvard is in Cambridge, Cambridge is in Massachusetts, Massachusetts, in the United States. And it just continues on and on. And of course, it's also temporal. So what we're talking about in 2020, would necessarily be different from what it was five years ago, or 10 years ago, not to speak and 50 years ago, and it will again, be different five years from now.

Scott Allen :

Yeah, yeah. Well in in the professionalizing leadership book, which was my homework for this week, and I finished it, and I loved it. You write about a few things that I'd love to touch upon. That also kind of goes along with leader, followers, contexts. But another challenge that we have in this domain, you call it the leadership industry. The challenge of definitions and definitional challenges that is it Leadership Studies, leadership learning, leadership education, leadership development, leadership training, leadership experience. It's confusing. And I think if we don't have a clear understanding of even some of our basic definitions, how do we ever move forward? It seems to me, can you, it seems to me that's the ground floor. And then from there, you start moving forward, but we haven't even built the ground floor. Can Can you think of something before even those basic definitions?

Barbara Kellerman :

Well, I you know, people have been at this for at least 50 years since the so called leadership industry. Yes, I do call it that, because I think of it as largely a money making proposition. But that's a separate conversation. People have been struggling with the issue of definitions, particularly of the word leader or leadership, what is a leader? The way I define it is completely different from the way virtually every one of my colleagues at Harvard defines it. As you very well know, Scott, there are literally quite literally, hundreds of different definitions. So all I ask is when somebody talks or somebody writes, whether it's a student, or leadership expert, is that they make clear how they're using the word. Everybody is able to, has the right, since there are so many damn different definitions, should feel free to define it as they wish. Just tell me what you mean. And you're right about the semantics, the semantics play, for example, use of the word leadership versus use of the word management. So there are many institutes and centers and leadership and that's what they call themselves and then they'll list the courses, and the courses have the word management in it, not the word leadership. And how is the poor student to know? What is the difference between them. So we ourselves are incredibly guilty of this muddling. It seems a lost cause to try to clarify it and get people to use terms in a consistent way. But being aware of it as a help and the last semantic issue I'll use I'll draw your attention to, or your listeners attention to is the word follower. As you know, Scott, or probably know, I have struggled with that word which interests me at least as much as the word leader, for years now. And when I came out with a book called Followership in 2008, or whatever it was, my publisher said to me, now you can't call a book Followership, people don't like that word. They don't know that word. But in English, the logical antonym of leader is follower you can get you can come up with euphemisms. constituents, and collaborators, and co-worker, whatever it is. But again in English, the logical antonym of leader is follower. However, it's important as I do to define follower by rank, which means that just as leaders don't always lead, so followers don't always follow.

Scott Allen :

Yes

Barbara Kellerman :

You could be in a position of being a subordinate. But that doesn't mean you necessarily act like one,

Scott Allen :

hmmm.Yes. And you of course, you mentioned some of the work of Ira Chaleff and I love Ron Riggio - I had a conversation with him on a podcast a few months ago and, and he said that Ira's book, "standing up to and for our leaders." That's one of his favorites - favorite titles, Right? Courageous Followership - Standing Up to and For our Leaders. standing up to them when we need to and for them when it's appropriate. Right?

Barbara Kellerman :

Right. But you earlier Scott, in passing use the word enabler. So a follower isn't necessarily standing up to or standing for a follower can be an enabler. And in fact, I'm writing a book now I have a book coming out in September, but I'm writing another book now. And this one is actually called The Enablers. Wow. So I'm very interested in followers, not just who were noble and who stand up to leaders, but followers who enable leaders particularly obviously bad leaders.

Scott Allen :

Yes, yes. well, in the book Professionalizing Leadership, it's an interesting...I'm writing a paper right now. And you talk about this in your book. If you look at the definitions, or if you look at the mission statements and the purpose statements and the vision statements of the top 25 business schools in the country. I mean, pick your main list, but I just used US News, top 25. 23 of the 25 have leadership in their mission or their vision.

Barbara Kellerman :

Yep.

Scott Allen :

And to your point, oftentimes that means that there's a class, right? a course on leadership. And what do you think that is? Do you think? Do you have a sense because you write about AACSB. And you write about business schools, some in this in this volume? Do you think it's that some people are just constructing the definition of leadership as well, if we give them a course on ethics and marketing and supply chain, then, of course on leadership, then at the end, we're going to have a business leader? Is that kind of how they're making it up in their head? Is that or are they are they genuinely thinking?

Barbara Kellerman :

Right, this is such a long, interesting question and a long response. It's been a terrific problem, because business schools and schools of government such as my own, the Harvard Kennedy School, they, as you're, as you're just saying, and I pointed this out also, these mission statements, that's what they say they say it is their mission to and I mentioned this in Professionalizing Leadership. In some cases, they say we're training leaders, and other cases they say we're educating leaders, and other cases, they're saying we're developing leaders. Nobody ever bothers to distinguish among those three verbs. What do you mean when you say you're educating? What do you mean when you say you're training?

Scott Allen :

Yeah.

Barbara Kellerman :

So, it is astonishing to me how unprofessional that is, how leadership has remained so incredibly elusive as a thing to be taught. Now "thing." What word do you want to use occupation, vocation? I would love to see it treated as a profession. You know, it's it's a, it's a riddle to me why we spend all this time and travel, educating, developing, you know, doctors and lawyers and bus drivers and hairdressers. They all have to be credentialed.You take a leadership course or two and you say, "Okay, I'm a leader," at least you begin to think of you it's just absurd to me and I, without getting into anything political, about Donald Trump, it can be said, whatever your political leanings that he was elected to the highest position of leadership that Americans can confer on anyone, without any, and I mean, any experience or expertise whatsoever. I mean, if you were going to have brain surgery, would you hire a physician? Would you, you know, have a physician do it? Who had zero experience or expertise? No. You wouldn't want someone to cut your hair, who had never anybody else's hair before. So there's something about how we treat leadership. We denigrate it. By the way we try to educate for it because we educate that in ineptly and incompletely although why that is, again, very powerful. complicated question would take us a lot longer than the time we have to fully explore it. But it's a very, very interesting and important question.

Scott Allen :

Yeah. Because, you know, even a CSP, I think they have they have their five paths forward. It's their vision statement, and it's one of them is something to the effect of, you know, "being the leaders of leadership." And, again, I'm really interested in understanding what that means, and how that's even conceptualized. I just even the conversation, what do you mean when you say that? Because to your point, this is much more complex, it takes much greater intentionality. You do a lot to highlight the military in Professionalizing Leadership. I'd love to hear you talk a little bit about the military because I couldn't agree with you more, that there probably isn't another institution when it comes to leadership - I was literally doing an interview this morning with a gentleman who taught for the General Staff and Command College and he said - this is how he phrased his job - he said, Men and women needed to take this class before they could apply to become a lieutenant colonel. Right? So this is lifelong learning embedded into the system at all levels. And of course, they're not perfect. Of course, it's not a silver bullet. But would you talk a little bit about why the military does it better? And your thoughts on that space?

Barbara Kellerman :

So, of course, you know, I said that in professionalizing leadership, right, it's interesting that you agree with me. I don't even think there's any competition. You know, it's not like "gee the military does it better, but right behind is who...what?"

Scott Allen :

Well, so I had a thought today I was thinking about this

Barbara Kellerman :

Yes

Scott Allen :

The accounting firms. Maybe? They're really big on feedback. They're really big on developing they're very big on, on really kind of consistent check ins and growth. That's the closest thing, I can, again from a leadership kind of slant, right? angles, growth. Yeah, no, no. Right?

Barbara Kellerman :

I think it's an interesting comparison. I still think that military...

Scott Allen :

No it's not even close...

Barbara Kellerman :

So let me just say, you know, we need to separate the military into at least two categories. One is somebody who's an officer training that is beginning at Annapolis or in Colorado Springs, at the Air Force Academy or at West Point, versus even the noncommissioned officers, even the noncommissioned officers get lifelong leadership training, but the ones that the academies, they get them as 18-19 year olds, and they give them an extremely rigorous, undergraduate education, much of which is very deliberately leadership-oriented, and much of which is in, counter intuitively perhaps, in the traditional liberal, liberal arts,

Scott Allen :

okay

Barbara Kellerman :

To me, that is like, that's the way to do it. So if you look at how the great ancient teachers, talking about Plato and Confucius, even Machiavelli, Lao Tzu. The way they taught leadership was from what we would now call a liberal arts perspective. Excuse me, and it was a lifelong learning. You know, Plato felt you had to be about 50, before you would be sufficiently educated to be a leader, so to speak of men. So I think we have, by the way, when business schools in this country started in the 19th century, they did try that they they began with a liberal arts approach, but somehow for again, complicated set of reasons having to do with the private sector getting very involved, that kind of went by the board. So the business schools are not very different now from the schools of government, and they are a light years away from the military, which gets people when they're young, is rigorous, as I said earlier undergraduate education, rigorous graduate education, but then again, to the earlier point, life-long learning.

Scott Allen :

Sure. Well, and it's also close to the work. I mean, I think that's part of the challenge. I was having this conversation with a friend recently and you know, an individual in medical school is close to medicine, they're close to work for four years. And attorney is close to the work. You might have a an average MBA that's 23 or 24 years old, maybe hasn't had a lot of experience isn't managing anyone or leading anyone or in a formal position, I should say. And they're not necessarily close to the work as we're educating them. So what happens is, you educate me on cooking, but then I never really cook.

Barbara Kellerman :

Yeah, I think it's a very good point, Scott. As you know, there's a thread in leadership learning that is very much to your point, which is about, you know, getting people to learn on the job. I would put that in, as you know, from Professionalizing Leadership, I think all leadership learners should have three stages of their education or their learning process. First one ground floor is leadership education. Second one is leadership training. And third one is this leadership, lifelong development. So I think your point is very well taken. And I would put that in the category of leadership training, whereas the liberal arts, psychology, history, philosophy, politics, that would be under the rubric of leadership education, and to me that should be, the as far as I'm concerned, if I were queen of the leadership world, which I'm definitely not, that would be the ground floor.

Scott Allen :

Well, I will be your first follower in Professionalizing Leadership if you need someone to start the start the movement. I have one other thought. And then I'm going to ask you what you're thinking about now, what's top of mind for you right now. But for some reason in my head, I have it that I don't have the book here. It's at my office and I have not been in my office in months. But...

Barbara Kellerman :

oh, yeah, I know the feeling.

Scott Allen :

So in multi disciplinary perspectives, did Kegan and Lahey, you might not even remember this because I'm causing you to go way back in the brain here. Did they write a little bit about parenting? Was that was that a topic that they discussed?

Barbara Kellerman :

Of course, I, Bob Kagan has been a friend for many years. But I can't remember that chapter well enough to say whether they addressed it in that chapter. It's funny that you're saying that because I do think, you know, there's a lot about families and parenting.

Scott Allen :

Yeah.

Barbara Kellerman :

That relates to leadership, by the way, at least as much of it relates to followership, you know, we learned follow...

Scott Allen :

Yes

Barbara Kellerman :

in the family, mommy and daddy say, "do this and do that." And generally, they expect us to do that. And then we go to school, and the teacher says, "do this and do that." And generally, it is expected that we actually do it. So there's a huge amount of that learning that takes place very early in life that is not actually addressed in the leadership literature, either.

Scott Allen :

Yes. And I had a really great conversation with Susan Murphy, who you may know, and she's kind of looked at it, you know, across the lifespan type stuff, and, but my wife and I have been talking a lot about because as we try and influence our children to have either a certain mindset about some of the times that we're in, that are different, and it can be challenging, or as we influence them to just be great citizens in the world. You know, we're a team and it's a leadership role. And to your point, I love how you're thinking about

Barbara Kellerman :

but you're also teaching them about following

Scott Allen :

Yeah, I was just gonna say that! It's so literally my wife, I think I think about About two or three months ago, one of our daughters was trying to say something and I kind of cut her off. And my wife then cut me off. She said, "No, Let her finish." and so my daughter then kind of continued her influence attempts with me. But

Barbara Kellerman :

yeah...

Scott Allen :

It was wonderful, because I think you're exactly right. We're training that we're modeling that we're developing that, and we have very short amount of time. But I think that's a future book for you. How the early the early stages forms.

Barbara Kellerman :

Yeah. It's very interesting. I think you should do it, Scott! No, but you're at you're absolutely right. It's very interesting. So I support the idea. For sure.

Scott Allen :

So what are you thinking about now? Right now, what are you what are you

Barbara Kellerman :

Well, as I mentioned, I have a new book coming out in September, which is called Leaders who Lust and the subtitle is power, money, sex, success, legitimacy, and legacy. So that's about the opposite of how we're taught generally leaders should have balance in their lives. And this is about leaders who have no balance whatsoever who are driven, whose appetites are never satisfied. So that's a book just done, but because I can't seem to stop, I am starting, I have started, I'm well into another book, which will come out in 2021. These are both going to be published by Cambridge University Press. And this one is called The Enablers, but I'm not sure I think I mentioned that earlier, I'm not sure I should give you subtitle, because you may, you may cut me off immediately. But it is very much, I don't usually do this, but this book is entirly, first of all, as you can tell from the title, just the main title, Enablers - it is all about followership, actually

Scott Allen :

Yeah.

Barbara Kellerman :

Again, you can't do followership, without leadership. But I will simply say that I am doing something I don't normally do, except when I blog, which I blog pretty regularly, which is to write. This will be a book about the moment that we are in right now and about the role, the tendency seems to be, given the difficult year we've had and are still having, obviously, whether it's the economic crisis or the COVID crisis or the, you know, the political, social and political unrest in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. So it's been a tough year, the world over have been particularly tough in the United States. I say, particularly because we're doing bad on off badly on all three fronts. So the question I'm asking since everybody's so fixated on one person, which is, of course, Donald Trump, I'm asking the broader question of "does it make sense to put this all on the shoulders for better and worse of one single individual? Or do we need to look at a larger cast of characters?" How do we make sense of this moment? And the way we make sense of it is surely not to fixate only on the person at the top. It goes back to the leadership system. We need to we need to look at the entire cast of characters. And at the moment in which we find ourselves.

Scott Allen :

Yeah. And that's, that will be fascinating because that that gets to whether it's the media that gets to any number of different other components of that system. And fascinating to try and piece together.

Barbara Kellerman :

I'm doing it as we, well not literally as we speak, but I spent almost every day I try to spend some time on and I hope to be done with it in maybe September, October. So

Scott Allen :

Do you have, this my last question, do you have a favorite leadership quote? Do you have

Barbara Kellerman :

a no no one's ever asked me that and I think you're gonna fail. You know, you may know, Scott, and I'm going to worm out of your question by enlarging the question,I have my favorite book that I've ever done is not my book. It's me editing, the leadership classics. The book is called Essential Selections on the Power Authority and Influence. And it has what I call the great leadership literature. There is a great, you know, so much of the stuff that comes out is...how do I put this lightly? Not very good. Garbage is more direct, but there is actually a great leadership literature whether you're going back to the ancient Greeks, or they're going back to the ancient Chinese, whether you're going to Lenin, whether you're going to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, whether you're going to John Locke, whether you're going to Larry Kramer, the great AIDS activist, some of the great speeches. So there is a great, great leadership literature. And I commend any of your listeners who have not thought about this. It's not again, about my book it is that in this book is a selection, my selection of the greatest leadership literature since the beginning of time, really, at least in the western canon a little bit in the eastern canon, and with some introductions and analysis by me, analyses by me. But again, rest assured all of you out there in podcast land, in case you're discouraged at some of the drivel that you read about leadership or by written by leadership experts, Be assured there is a classical, great leadership literature out there, and I commend it to you.

Scott Allen :

Awesome, Barbara, I can't thank you enough for spending some time with us today. We really, really appreciate it. I hope you have one or two Rest of the summer take care of you. Well,

Barbara Kellerman :

I know we all say that now we never used to say the well now we go stay healthy. Well, anyway, take care of very good to talk to you, Scott. Thank you so much.

Scott Allen :

You bet. Bye bye bye