Archive for the ‘leadership’ Category
When I visited Millsaps College a few weeks ago, I got into a discussion about international relations theory with my host, political scientist Michael Reinhard. I asked him why we (social scientists) needed to study famous political leaders, like Julius Caesar or Winston Churchill. His argument was intriguing. He said that highly successful social actors have often spent a lot of time understanding their social world. They are good at what they do – international relations in this case – because, at the very least, they have an intuition about the world that is important and correct. Some, like Churchill, will even explain their views to others. In other words, political scientists should study great leaders because great leaders actually understand power fairly well.
In sociology, we have no such argument, but it is worth thinking about. We are resistant to great leader stories and for good reason. Great man stories often devolve into hero worship, or they rely on “Whig” history. But that doesn’t mean Great people scholarship is not without use. For example, what did Steve Jobs understand about markets that management scholars should learn? Or, a more sociological example, what does a great religious leader understand about religion that sociologists of religion should know? Taking a turn from Bourdieu, we could look at any social field, identify the “masters,” and then use them as research sites where we can understand how the field is put together.
Over a week ago, a colleague called to let me know that our advisor, Harvard Prof. J. Richard Hackman, had passed. For months, I knew that this news would eventually come, but it’s still painful to accept. I will miss hearing Richard’s booming voice, having my eyeglasses crushed to my face from a bear hug (Richard was well over 6 feet tall), or being gleefully gifted with a funny hand-written note imparting his sage advice on a matter.
Richard was a greatly respected work redesign and teams researcher. At Harvard, his classes included a highly regular and popular (despite its “early” morning time slot) course on teamwork. For those undergraduate and graduate students who have been lucky enough to take Richard’s course on teams, the course interweaves concept and practice as students must work in teams, something that most of us get very little practice with outside of organized sports or music.
In July 2012, Richard emailed several of his former teaching fellows asking us to join him in Cambridge and help him rework this course. On short notice, we assembled at the top floor of William James Hall and went over the materials, with Richard expertly leading us as a team, with clearly designated boundaries (those of us assembled for the task), a compelling direction (revising the material to attract students across disciplines), enabling structure (norms that valued contributions of team members, no matter their place in the academic hierarchy), and a supportive context (reward = tasty food, an incentive that always works on former graduate students, and good fellowship).
During this last meeting, Richard asked us about how we thought his course on teamwork could most impact individuals. I opined that his biggest impact wouldn’t be through just the students who took his course, but via those of us who would continue to teach teamwork and conduct research in other settings. This question may have been Richard’s gentle way of telling us that he was passing on the baton.
Here are several ways that I think Richard’s legacy lives on.
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Guest blogger emeritus and burning lady Katherine Chen has a new article out in Qualitative Sociology on the issue of charisma in organizations: “Charismatizing the Routine: Storytelling for Meaning and Agency in the Burning Man Organization.” The idea is simple – story telling is a mechanism in organizations for sustaining interest:
Expanding organizations face the routinization of charisma dilemma in which rationalization, or everyday organizing activities, drains meaning and depresses agency. Using an ethnographic study of the organization behind the annual Burning Man event, I show how storytelling can combat disenchantment by promoting consideration of agency and meaning-making. This research demonstrates how storytelling infuses organizational rationality with meaning and agency, thereby “charismatizing the routine.” Through storytelling, people can derive meaning from even the most mundane routines and inspire listeners to imagine possibilities not covered by rules or conventions. Stories also stave off bureaucratic ritualism by clarifying the boundaries between appropriate and inappropriate activities, encouraging a range of actions over coercive restrictions.
More on Katherine’s Burning Man project can be read here – and buy her book!
Guest blogger emerita Hilary Levey Friedman has a nice article in Slate today about beauty contest winners who go into politics. The take home point? The pageants now focus on scholarship, which attracts a very different type of contestant:
Navigating the reign of reality television, the female athlete-turned-superstar, televised Victoria’s Secret fashion shows, and the soaring rates of women in higher education, Miss America has increasingly become more serious, emphasizing scholarship money and advocacy (though, yes, to win, a woman still needs to wear a bathing suit on national television). In 2012 the broadcast enjoyed its best ratings in eight years. As the Miss America brand evolves, the American political system/media circus continues to devolve. One world gets more serious, one gets less, and the two collide somewhere in the middle: The time seems right for the beauty-queen politician.
Makes sense: free publicity + social skill + strong intellect = political career. I’d also add that in other parts of the world, the beauty queen politician is already common. Imelda Marcos was a pageant winner and model, before going into politics.
Last week, Brayden asked about the firing of Teresa Sullivan, the former president of the University of Virginia. Brayden wondered if it was about an argument about the pace of change at Virignia. I thought it was about the conflicts between conservative trustees and the culture of academia.
Turns out that we’re both wrong. Details are emerging about Sullivan’s firing and they aren’t flattering to the Visitors (Viriginia’s name for its trustees). A number of sources argue that it wasn’t merely a dispute over costs, such as cutting small programs. Based on leaked emails, journalists have speculated that a policy about online education was really about letting Goldman Sachs use UVa to promote the online education business.
And it gets worse. A Chronicle of Higher Education reporter posted a PDF of a letter from the governor to the Board. It’s somewhat ambiguous about what should be done about Teresa Sullivan, but the message is clear – resolve this dispute by Tuesday (tommorrow) or the entire Board will hand in its resignation.
Use the comments to predict what will happen, or provide updates.
The next time your Dean starts giving you a hard time because you’ve never given a TEDx talk, just have them watch this.
To be honest, I think this talk justifies and redeems the entire TED brand.