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Monthly Archives: November 2014

Racism, Rankism, and Nonviolence

It’s not only about Michael Brown, and Darren Wilson.  It’s not only about Ferguson, Missouri, St. Louis County, or the State of Missouri.  It is about a culture of extreme rankism.  Rankism is abusive, discriminatory, or exploitive behavior towards people because of their rank in a particular hierarchy.

Once you have a name for it, you see rankism at the heart of many infringements of human rights, far away, or close to home. Rankism is the root cause of indignity, injustice, and unfairness. Choosing the term rankism, places the goal of universal human dignity in the context of contemporary movements for civil rights. Identifying rankism in all its guises and overcoming it is the next step in human evolution. 

Human beings are evolving towards democracy, partnership, and egalitarianism.  Unfortunately, we are also experiencing a time of tremendous pushback as those who have more power in our hierarchical culture use that power to protect their power and gain even more power.  Yet, people are finding and exploring their power within mass movements.  Gradually human beings are coming to a deeper realization of their innate power, and the ways that they give up that power to their leaders.  As mentioned in earlier posts, people are becoming less willing to give their power to their leaders, to be obedient followers. 

One lesson that can be gleaned from the recent shootings of young black men by police officers is that violence begets violence.  Violence does not contribute to peace with justice.  Although police officers think they are using violence to keep the peace in their communities, they are really just participating in escalating cycles of violence. 

Our inability to enact sensible gun controls = increasing use of guns by criminals.  When criminals can easily obtain military assault style weapons, then law enforcement justifiably feel the need to acquire military assault style vehicles and weapons.  Once they have those weapons, they feel justified in using them against their own neighbors and within their own communities.  Now we see images that evoke feelings that our government is literally at war with our own citizens. 

As a practitioner of nonviolence, and a conscientious objector to war, I have never had any desire to possess firearms.  However, as a person who believes passionately in our right to nonviolent assembly, seeing the police show up to a demonstration for racial justice with assault rifles and armored vehicles helps me to understand how my libertarian neighbors think they need absolute rights to own firearms (to protect themselves from our government).  It is a vicious, costly, and very sad cycle of violence leading to tragic deaths and increased violence.

Rankism supports the use of violence by those with more power against those with less power; the culture of might makes right. 

Racism is our most visible rankism.  People of color cannot blend in. Even when they excel and achieve positional power within a hierarchical culture, the color of their skin is always visible. 

Rankism depends on underlying beliefs that the lives of some people are more important or valuable than the lives of other classes of people.  #BlackLivesMatter and #BlackoutBlackFriday are movements (primarily nonviolent) that are actively and creatively taking collective action to raise awareness of the impact of racism in our communities. 

Yes, there are also violent uprisings occurring in Ferguson and other cities.  Young black men are outraged.  Violence is used to keep them oppressed, and much of what they know is violence.  They do not understand the power of nonviolence.  Yet, there are people of color and white people coming together in loosely organized leader-ful movements throughout our country.  We are experiencing the end of authoritarian leadership and the emergence of people powered movements. (At least that is my hope).

We want your stories!  How does rankism contribute to racism?  Have you felt like the hierarchical system treats you as a human being of “lesser value” because you are a person of color, and immigrant, gay/lesbian/transgender/or queer, a woman, a person who lives in extreme poverty (resource deprived)?  In what ways do you fit into a category of people with some privilege that has been granted by a culture of rankism?  Do you ever feel trapped within that system, unable to break down the hierarchy of rank and privilege?  What actions are you taking to create a world of partnership, collaboration, and shared-power?

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We won’t even let our President lead

My last post was about the imbalance of power among our national leaders, and the low levels of confidence and trust that citizens have for our leaders. 

The crisis in elected leadership is very complex.  How can an elected body effectively lead our country forward if their approval rating is below 20%?  To me, that indicates that more than four out of five citizens are not willing to follow the people they elect into office.  We have leaders who no longer represent followers.  Who do they represent?

For as long as we have had mass media, presidents have used that mass media to make appeals to their citizens.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt used his fireside chats (radio broadcasts) to explain his uses of executive powers.

On Thursday, November 20, 2014, President Obama notified the major network tv channels of his intention to talk to the people about his exercise of executive powers related to our immigration challenges.  He requested ten minutes of prime time air time.  ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox denied his request.  Previous presidents have never had trouble getting prime time coverage for major public addresses.

When the news got out, the networks lied and tried to claim that the President never requested the airtime. Later they claimed they refused to air the speech because it was “overtly political.’ 

Jason Easley, a writer for politicususa.com wrote, “It is shameful that the networks have decided not to inform their viewers. The corporate run broadcast networks are acting like the airwaves belong to them. It is long past time for the networks to be reminded that the airwaves belong to the American people, not the corporations. If the networks refuse to do their civic duty, they need to be held accountable.”

Here we have an example of the failure of leadership on a number of levels.  Corporations and corporate media have been granted certain powers by the citizens.  Our country’s founders were revolting against the control of English corporations as well as the King of England.  In the early years, our nation retained a healthy fear of corporate power.  Initially, the privilege of incorporation was granted selectively to enable activities that benefited the public.  How things have changed!

The corporate networks may have decided that a major announcement that would impact 5 million people was not newsworthy.  It is more likely that they were more concerned about their advertising revenues. 

How can the President of the United States represent the people, if our major media networks think his major policy announcements are not newsworthy?  How can we expect our President to do his job if he is thwarted and blocked in every direction?  Do you care?  I do.

We don’t trust our national leaders

On Thursday, November 20, President Obama made a televised announcement of changes to policies regarding enforcement of immigration laws.  This is just one of many issues that have a major impact on the lives of citizens of our country that the Republican controlled U.S. House of Representatives has been unwilling to address.

The President of the United States has considerable executive authority.  The United States has a long history of presidents issuing executive orders. In fact, even the nation’s first president, George Washington, issued some executive orders.  This is one of the constitutional powers of the office of the President.

Our founding fathers, our constitution, our democracy rests on a foundation of three branches of government:  Legislative, Executive, and Judicial.  Lately, our three-legged stool of democracy is a striking example of the failure of leadership.  The Legislative branch refuses to legislate.  The Senate has been incapacited by fillibusters, a tactic used by the minority to block bills.  The House has been taken over by a brand of conservative/libertarians who would prefer to destroy democracy and the institutions that maintain a civil society.  The Supreme Court has become an activist court, meaning they are exercising their power to legislate or create laws, not just interpret laws.

When one of the three branches of government fails to engage in the work that they are constitutionally required to do, the balance of power is disrupted.  When one of the three branches of government exerts too much power, it disrupts the balance. 

Some presidents were aggressive in their use of Executive power.  For example, Franklin D. Roosevelt issued over 3,500 (in twelve years), Theodore Roosevelt issued 1,081 executive orders, while Woodrow Wilson issued 1,803 and Calvin Coolidge 1,203.  President Barack Obama, on the other hand, has issued only 193 so far in his time in office. (http://www.ourmidland.com/opinion/editorials/how-about-leadership-instead-of-orders/article_0d58b466-c12a-564a-bbed-7519aed543ad.html)

An imbalance of power in the three branches of government is not unusual. However, when you examine the whole picture of our U.S. Government, clearly we are reaching a crisis of leadership beyond what we have experienced in modern times. 

After the recent midterm elections, polls indicated two-thirds of Americans say that the country is on the wrong track.  A majority (56%) want Congress to take the lead in setting policy (passing legislation).  63% want their elected representatives to make compromises instead of continuing the divisive partisan politics.  Congress has an 11-14% approval rating (but a strange 96% reelection rate – evidence of the power of big money in our political system). (http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/first-read/it-never-happened-public-shrugs-midterm-results-poll-shows-n252011).

The citizens do not trust their elected leaders!  The Executive Branch is only one of the three branches.  The President, although very powerful, is only one man.  I cannot imagine how challenging his job must be; to try to exercise the power of the President of the United States (positional, hierarchical power) during this paradigm shift in our national and global leadership culture.  We are experiencing the end of the hierarchical authoritarian industrial age culture of leadership – shifts are happening.

Societal trends impacting leadership

Christopher Gergen and Gregg Vanourek (authors of the book, Life Entrepreneurs, 2008) describe three overarching societal trends that are affecting our leadership culture.  The nature of work and life is evolving and what is emerging is reshaping our workplaces, schools, communities, and our world.

Untethering.

The first trend is called untethering.  People are severing their ties to traditional hierarchical institutions and structures and replacing those structures with virtual connections.  Many of our emerging entrepreneurs are freelancers, free agents, and sole proprietorships (entrepreneurial firms without employees). 

People are also untethering from other connections, resulting in a general decline in social capital, religious affiliations, and civic involvement.  We are increasingly dependent upon technology; while expecting and giving less of ourselves to authentic in-person relationships (Sherry Turkle, 2011). 

Untethering is an act of personal leadership; you are choosing to lead your own work life, and create your own work.

Gergen and Vanourek issue this warning; “It is worth noting that the increasing prevalence of free agents carries the danger of creating a toxic hyper-individualism and disconnected physical communities.  How can communities be structured to embrace entrepreneurial living in ways that bind us together instead of driving us apart?” 

Authenticity

The search for authenticity is the second major trend.  One of the contributing factors for the lack of employee engagement is the disconnect between the work that people are doing and their authentic selves.  Engaged employees, freelancers, and social entrepreneurs, work with passion and feel a profound connection to their work.  According to the research of the Gallup organization, matching employees’ distinctive gifts, talents, skills, and interests to their specific job responsibilities is essential to high levels of engagement with our work.  People who have an opportunity to use their strengths every day on the job are six times more likely to be engaged. 

Effective leading demands authenticity.  Michael Kernis identifies four core elements of authenticity: self-awareness, unbiased processing, relational authenticity, and authentic behavior/action (Kernis, 2003).  Authentic leaders understand their distinct gifts, passions, and purpose.  People who live and lead authentically are not only more satisfied with their lives, they also have the potential to create organizations full of highly engaged employees who are also living authentic lives. 

Integration and Integrity

Integration is the final overarching trend mentioned by Gergen and Vanourek.  Integration is much more than merely the “restoration of coherence and congruence in our lives.”   

Parker Palmer also wrote about the human yearning to live integrated lives, although he used the term ‘living undivided lives’ (Palmer, 2004).  Integration and integrity involve the state or quality of being entire, complete, and unbroken.  “The divided life is a wounded life, and the soul keeps calling us to heal the wound (Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness).”  However social systems and corporations have been well served by requiring individuals to compartmentalize and engage in activities that are not congruent with our values and our souls. 

Living an undivided life, or being a person of integrity, begins with self awareness.Yet in many ways no matter how hard we try to become fully aware of ourselves, we are ‘strangers to ourselves’ (Wilson, 2002). Wilson provided research that suggested that introspection does not lead to deep self awareness. Wilson advised, If you want to know who you are, or what you feel, or what you’re like; pay attention to what you actually do and what other people think about you. Palmer (2004) also suggested that because human beings have an endless capacity for self deception, we need the support of other people to restore our wholeness; to live undivided lives. Palmer recommended a “circle of trust” or a trusted community to help individuals find their core identity (Gergen & Vanourek, 2008).

In my coaching and teaching I use a number of exercises and assessments that help you discover your core identity through a process of identifying your (external elements) personal history, current circumstances, relationships, (internal elements) needs, behavior style, motivators, and strengths.  At the intersection of those internal and external elements is your core identity, values, and purpose.  

With the breakdown in social capital many people find it difficult to find opportunities to engage in deep group processes, but it is within these groups that the most powerful transformations of self occur.

Integrity and living an undivided life are essential qualities of authentic leading.  As we untether it makes it more difficult to receive trusted feedback from other people.   We are not meant to live isolated lives.  Knowing how other people experience us and perceive us are essential components of self awareness for authentic leaders.

Are you interested in belonging to a circle of trust, or a community of practice designed to deepen the consciousness of the participants?  What would work for you?  Would you prefer in person gatherings?  Would you be willing to step forward and organize a circle of trust in your community?  Would you prefer to travel to retreats for this work?  Help us design programs that would accelerate our personal transformation and create a sense of belonging to something bigger and more powerful – a movement of evolutionary co-leaders.

If you have not already completed the survey this week, please participate in our brief survey.

Beyond the leader follower dichotomy

Younger generations are restless and suspicious of hierarchical leadership, for good reason. They prefer to be actively engaged in the causes that they care about. However, they may not possess the maturity and skills to be evolutionary co-leaders.  We must face the fact that the United States has not invested in the type and quality of education designed to create millions of thought leaders and activists prepared to address the challenges of our age.  We teach most students to follow instructions, not create new possibilities. [And there are lots of exceptions to this, I am inspired by some of the young social activist leaders I know… but they are not the majority].

One of the most important aspects of the new culture of leadership is that people will no longer have the luxury of simply being followers.  People will shed the false notion that they are powerless. 

Although we all have innate abilities to lead, we have drastically different social locations and contexts.   Oppression is a powerful force that convinces people that they cannot change their circumstances or context.  Rankism, racism, sexism, classism and many other systems rob people of their innate power. 

Taking back our power can be dangerous, even life-threatening.  We need to create supportive structures and contexts for people that allow people re-discover their innate ability to use their power.  

We also need to retrain adults, to take back their power, by teaching them to make countless small daily choices that dismantle the hierarchical power systems.  Many adults shy away from leadership roles, particularly women.  We need to support people as they strive to be less dependent (they can no longer depend on their employer to provide for their needs), to be more generative (to create meaningful work), and to be more generous (we are in this together, and we need to give those who are struggling a hand up). 

The most difficult kind of generosity is giving people what they need to sustain themselves.  This level of generosity sometime threatens us because we have bought into the scarcity myth and we are used to playing the capitalist competition win/lose games. 

We fail to see that working 50 or 60 hours a week to keep our job, steals so much of the quality of our lives.  There would be enough work, and enough food and shelter to go around if we practiced an empowering kind of generosity. 

This evolutionary transformation needs to begin within our selves, extending to our families and neighbors, rippling out to our workplaces and markets, impacting the way we vote, and the people we elect. All politics are local, and global transformation begins in our local community. 

The metaphor or image that I hold for this new model of leadership is the image of an ecosystem, or a perma-culture (garden).  It is holistic and highly collaborative.  Each person contributes something to the collective well-being, even if the contribution is as ordinary as receiving love and care (our children and people with severe disabilities).  The leadership culture is an eco-egalitarian culture.

It will not be easy.  It will be the most difficult and courageous thing that human beings have ever done.  Our survival depends on it.  We did not create the web of life; we are merely strands in it.  We can be engaged in restoring the web, and creating stronger connections.  We are in this together. 

The end of leadership?

We are experiencing a global crisis of leadership.  The signs are everywhere.  There are riots in the streets, and governments are nearly unable to govern.  Global economic inequality is out of control.  Our leaders seem unable to deal with global warming and the environmental crisis.  In the United States we just watched another election where dark money and the very wealthiest called the shots.  Voter turnout was low, people are disillusioned with their leaders.

In addition to governing, leaders have historically held tremendous power over markets and employment of workers.  Generally, followers (workers) look to leaders to create jobs and economic activity.  There are an estimated 75 million jobless workers in the world; and 40% of the jobless are young workers under the age of 25 (World Economic Forum, 2013).  Many who have jobs do not appear to be motivated or inspired by their managers or leaders.  On a global basis only 13% of employed workers are engaged in their work; actively disengaged employees (employees who are negative or potentially hostile) outnumber engaged employees two to one.

Barbara Kellerman critically examined the current state of leadership in her book, The End of Leadership.  “Humankind writ large is suffering from a crisis of confidence in those who are charged with leading wisely and well, and from a surfeit of mostly well-intentioned but finally false promises made by those supposed to make things better.”

New York Times columnist David Brooks also described the attitudes of followers towards the entire and their opinions of their leaders as ‘fundamentally self-dealing’, “Levels of trust in and approval of leaders are at all-time lows.”

Where do you see the signs of the leadership crisis? 

How is the leadership crisis impacting your life or your community? 

What story can you share that will resound with others, or that will provide hope for others?  What are your ideas for transforming our leadership culture?

Post your comments below.

We are the leaders we have been waiting for

I don’t want to write about leadership, at least not the kind of positional leadership I have experienced over the course of my life.  Hierarchical leadership triggers memories of many personal experiences of the abuse of power by people in positions of authority.  It may even be part of my destiny to be faced with the abuse of power so that I can confront and dismantle the systems that perpetuate the culture of hierarchical and authoritarian leadership.

I don’t want to point fingers at individual leaders that have abused their power.  Since I have held many positions of leadership in my life, I know that I am also dismantling my tendencies to use power in ways that feel oppressive or harmful to subordinates.  It is helpful to me to recognize rankism in all of its forms.  Rankism is abusive or exploitative behavior towards people because of their lower position or rank in a hierarchy.  In a world where power, wealth, and privilege is concentrated in the 1% at the top of the pyramid, we all experience rankism in one form or many forms. 

I don’t want to participate in hierarchical forms of leadership.  However, I have innate abilities to lead.  So do you! 

As a verb to lead means: 1. to go before, or with, to show the way; 2. to conduct by holding and guiding; 3. to influence, induce, or cause; 4. to guide in direction, course, action, opinion, etc.

We all have the capacity to lead.  We do not all have the same context or foundation to support our innate capacity to engage in acts of leading.  Understanding this simple principle is the genesis of changing the world, and dismantling rankism and hierachy. 

Are you frustrated with hierachical leadership?  Are you disenchanted with political, religious, and corporate leadership?  Do you feel threatened by the attempts to roll back the progress that has been made for women’s rights and full empowerment?  Do you have a desire to dismantle racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism? 

Let’s unite!  Let’s identify and share our innate capacity to lead.  We cannot transform the world, and dismantle authoritarian and hierarchical institutions individually.  Gaining personal positional authority will not get us closer to our goal. 

Here are three steps you can take to join this movement:

  1. Follow this blog and be a part of the conversation for what is possible – a culture of egalitarian compassionate shared leadership.
  2. Participate in the conversation with your comments (below).
  3. Voice your opinion in this short SurveyMonkey survey.