Is it Obliviousness that is Really Bliss?

Oblivion and Bliss - 1I know that there are some things that I know. And I know there are some things that I don’t know. The problem is that there are potentially a lot of things that I don’t know that I don’t know. Do you know?

That sounds almost like a line from a Gilbert & Sullivan musical. For those of you who are not theater buffs or who are under the age of 50, go Google it.

I received a lot of comments via Facebook and other social media on my article on ignorance in leadership from earlier in the week. And those comments and conversations made me take another look at this issue of ignorance and bliss.

For me, I can almost assign the category of “Ignorance” to those who know that there are things that they don’t know. The word, ignorance, has taken on a cultural meaning that is not etymologically correct. The dictionary defines ignorance with words such as; unaware, inexperience, illiteracy, unfamiliarity and lack of knowledge. It does not assume that an individual is incapable or lacking the capacity to become aware, experienced, literate, familiar or knowledgeable. Indeed it is society and culture that makes that assumption about our nature.

Oblivion and Bliss - 2But the category of “Oblivion” may best be described as one who does not even know what they do not know. And here I would go further and suggest that Continue reading “Is it Obliviousness that is Really Bliss?”

Ignorance is Bliss – Except in Leadership

Ignorance in Leadership - 1I don’t know very many folks who don’t know the cliché, “Ignorance is bliss.” But I am wondering today just how many know where where the phrase comes. It comes from a poem written in 1742 by Thomas Gray. The phrase is in the closing lines to his poem entitled, “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College.” And the full sentence is:

Where ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise.

There are many thoughts as to Gray’s purpose for ending his poem with such words. In those final lines he may be expressing thoughts on returning to his old school and there remembering the simplicity and innocence of his youth. It also appears that he is joining two worlds together in this line of the poem. He is joining a world that has not grown up yet with one that has. In a sense it is a world that shaped him into a man and perhaps, as with many, has beaten out those innocent aspirations of early life.

The modern day interpretation of the lines in the poem and the implications of the cliché are significant if examined in the light of leadership principles. The implications can be summed up in these two statements:

  1. You are more comfortable if you don’t know something.
  2. Lack of knowledge results in happiness.

Statement number one is pretty bad. I am never comfortable in the state of lack of knowledge. In fact it scares me and motivates me to seek after knowledge and understanding. Statement number 2 is downright ridiculous. Happiness is not a state of intellectual ascent. Rather, happiness is a conscious decision to maintain a positive and joyous outlook on life regardless of the circumstances.

So, what is the leadership principle here? Continue reading “Ignorance is Bliss – Except in Leadership”

Leadership and “Coasting”

Coasting - 1Is it ever OK to just coast along for a while?

That is the question that I am pondering this morning.  You see, I am tired.  I am probably not near as tired as some of you.  But I am still tired.

I am thinking right now of a young man who is probably the hardest working guy that I know.  He is up very early every morning and heads out the door long before the sun is even thinking of rising.  I am thinking of a single mom who is doing a great job with a couple of very “energetic” children.

I can only imagine how tired they must be.

I have just finished a very busy phase of a major project that I am working on.  I have a very busy and hectic schedule for the next few weeks.  And then I will have some down time between projects.  But right now, all I want to do is stop peddling and coast for a while.

Do you ever feel that way?  Is ”coasting” ever an option for leaders?  Is it ever acceptable to just to just put things on autopilot and let things run on their own for a while?  If so, how long is an acceptable time to coast?

Coasting - 2Here are my thoughts.

It is physically impossible to be a hard charger every moment of every day.  As leaders we must have some down time.  Perhaps this is the strongest argument for developing young leaders around us.  Continue reading “Leadership and “Coasting””

Thursday Thought: Failing Organizations

Failing Organizations - 1Being involved in the realm of leadership coaching and leadership development, I choose to observe things that many do not take notice of.  And there is a constant that is visible to all those who would look closely.

“Failing organizations are usually overmanaged and underled.”

Warren G. Bennis is credited with this quote.  Bennis grew up within a working-class Jewish family in Westwood, New Jersey.  He enlisted in the United States Army in 1943 and would go on to serve as one of the Army’s youngest infantry officers in the European theater of operations.  He served bravely and was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.  (I like him already!)

He spent much of his career in the academics and in leading great academic institutions.  He authored or co-authored 30 books.  He may have been the one to coin the phrase “ . . .  is like herding cats.”

Failing Organizations - 2One of his most well-known works, On Becoming a Leader, originally published in 1989, lays the foundation that a leader must be authentic.  He uses words that speak of the need to Continue reading “Thursday Thought: Failing Organizations”

Leadership Lessons from 1776

LL from 1776 - 1“Men make history…not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.”

—Harry S. Truman, 33rd U.S. President (1945–1953)

Is there a better quote to have for today than this one?

My goal today is to be short and sweet! And I would just leave you today with a few thoughts on this most important secular holiday of the year. Here are those thoughts:

We are living in a chaotic world of rapid and revolutionary change. Unfortunately, much of that change is not positive. Therefore, rising above the current situation and learning to adapt, manage, and lead a positive change process is essential to survival. Wisdom, agility, discernment, and expertise in the area of change leadership are essential to leaders today. All leaders must learn to navigate change, but all of the truly great leaders today are masters of leading change, revolutionary change. Whether international, institutional or organizational change, a mass movement, a world-wide protest, or a nonviolent revolution; learning to lead and organize people and resources around a positive, constructive, creative, and dynamic shared vision of change is indispensable to success.

LL from 1776 - 2But we must do so much more than organizing people and resources. These are skills of a manager or an expert in logistics. What this country needs is another generation of Washingtons, Jeffersons, Adams, Franklins, Reveres, Hancocks, and so many other brave men who put ink on a piece of parchment that for many, sealed their doom.

But their leadership and signature did something else. Continue reading “Leadership Lessons from 1776”

Leaders of the Past – Better than Today?

Better than today - 1Sitting at lunch yesterday with one our most prolific authors on and with a new author who is going to be providing some interesting content in the coming days, our conversation was about leadership and the leadership crisis in our culture today. One of my hypotheses is that we are just one generation away from losing our society and our culture due to the lack of leadership skills today. One of my lunch companions had a much more optimistic view that we are several generations away. All I know for sure is that there is a distinct lack of leadership exhibited today. And it “seems” that there were better leaders and more leadership skills in the past.

And it seems that leaders of the past almost always seem more effective than those of today. Perhaps it is a perceptual bias: We long for what we don’t have, and mythologize what we used to have. But even taking this bias into consideration, many of today’s leaders don’t seem to measure up to our expectations.

According to a survey conducted by the Harvard Kennedy School several years ago, 68% of Americans believe that there is a “leadership crisis” in the country; and leaders in only four out of thirteen sectors polled inspire above average confidence. Those sectors were the military, the Supreme Court, non-profit organizations, and medical institutions. Leaders of the news media, Congress, and Wall Street receive the lowest scores. Who is surprised by this?

Better than today - 2My parents used to tell me that the leaders of their day not only inspired confidence, but respect and reverence as well. They talked about Roosevelt, Churchill, Eisenhower, Gandhi, and others of that generation as larger than life figures. Growing up, I had the same impressions of John and Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev, Lech Walesa, and others. Sure they had their flaws, but they were courageous and decisive, and could communicate in ways that made it clear what they stood for.

But today’s public figures don’t seem to inspire the same confidence. According to recent Gallup figures, only 29% of Americans think that President Obama is doing a good job; and only 7% have a favorable view of Congress.

The irony is it’s likely that more money has been spent on leadership development in the last two decades — in both the public and private sectors — than was probably spent in the previous ten decades combined (admittedly I’m guessing here; no figures seem to be available). All I know for sure is that my personal leadership consulting practice is up this year over last year and that year was up over the previous year. So why are we not turning out better leaders across the board? Let me suggest two possibilities — and perhaps readers will add others: Continue reading “Leaders of the Past – Better than Today?”