What is a Professional?

According to (my alma mater) UCLA’s James Q Wilson, “a professional is someone who receives important occupational rewards from a reference group whose membership is limited to people who have undergone specialized formal education and have accepted a group-defined code of proper conduct.”

Don’t you just love deep and well-thought through definitions.

Heifetz on Leadership Without Authority

1. Leadership can be exercised from a position of no authority, formal or informal.  Since these people have no authority to shape the holding environment, they must make use of existing vessels.

2. There are benefits to leading without authority:

  • one has more latitude to raise disturbing questions, for creative deviance.
  • it permits one to focus singularly on one issue.
  • it allows one to have frontline information, to better understand details on the ground.

3. Distinguishing leadership and authority is a means to describe the personal experience of leading.  Many people wait until they gain authority to begin leading, seeing authority as a prerequisite.  Yet those who do lead usually feel they are taking action beyond whatever authority they have, experiencing leadership as an activity performed without authority, beyond expectations.

4. Because benefits and constraints differ, those who lead without authority adopt a different set of strategies and tactics:

  • one has little control over the holding environment – a leader without authority must regulate distress by modulating the provocation.
  • one must take into account one’s vulnerability of becoming a lightning rod for attacks.
  • one should resist the temptation of identifying the authority figure as the audience for action, rather, attention ought to be targeted towards the source of the authority.

5. A leader needs indicators of systemic distress.  A leader without authority typically lacks these indicators.  One is the behaviour of people in authority.

6. Leaders without authority must be sure of where to direct their challenge.  The challenge ought to mobilise the real stakeholders, rather than just the proxy (typically the leader acting on the stakeholders behalf).

Deconstructing Heifetzian Leadership

I’ve done about half of Heifetz’s Leadership on the Line, and this is my attempt at breaking it down into a few bite-sized pieces. And hey, I know people are busy and may not have enough time for the book, so this is it (Disclaimer: Use this for your exams/assignments at your own risk!):

1. We talk about leadership as something that is desirable. This is because it is not just about power and authority, it is about values. It is about mobilizing people to tackle tough problems. The book addresses leadership in terms of adaptive work, defined as the learning required to address the conflicts in the values people hold, or to diminish the gap between values and reality.

2. Authority is the conferred power to perform a service. In societies with established and coherent institutions, authority is always there. In times of adaptive challenges, the role of authority is paramount.

3. Adaptive challenges are different from technical challenges-those for which the appropriate response has already been developed. Type I situations are purely technical; Type II situations are those in which the problem is definable, but with no clear-cut solution in sight. Type III situations are those in which the problem is not defined, and technical fixes are not available.

Leading With Authority

4. People in authority have powers at their disposal for mobilizing adaptive work. The following are the tools built into a framework: one, the power to provide and manage a holding environment (defined as a relationship in which one party has the power to hold the attention of another party and facilitate adaptive work); two, that to command and direct attention; three, access to information; four, to control and manage the flow of information; five, to frame the issues; and six, to orchestrate conflict and contain disorder.

5. Leadership is a razor’s edge because the leader in authority oversees a sustained period of social disequilibrium. The tools above can be arranged into the following strategic principles:

i) Identify the adaptive challenge.
ii) Keep level of distress within tolerable range for doing adaptive work.
iii) Focus attention on ripening issues, not on stress-reducing distractions.
iv) Give the work back to the people, but at a rate they can stand.
v) Protect voices of leadership without authority.

6. While his civil rights policy worked according to these principles, President Johnson’s Vietnam policy, however, showed how not to exercise leadership. Here, he played lone warrior, did not present the adaptive challenge to his people, let distress levels exceed productive levels, did not discipline attention and distribute responsibility to his people, and did not use dissent as a source of insight and options.

This is not the end, of course. It’s just where I’ve read to. Will continue as I read.

And welcome to the first post entirely done on a mobile device. 🙂

Israel vs Hamas…Now On Twitter

Two civilizations that write right-to-left (which I maintain is the correct way to write) fight each other in a language that goes left-to-right (which I maintain is not).

The conflict was dubbed “The First Social Media War”, precipitated by Hamas rocket attacks into Israel, as well as by Israel’s assassination of the chief of Hamas’ military wing Ahmed al-Jaabari.  While Palestinian leaders condemned the attack, Israel justified its action as one of self-defense, with Prime Minister Netanyahu claiming that a fifth of its population had been living under a constant barrage of Hamas rocket fire. Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense lasted a week, ending with a ceasefire, 158 casualties on the Palestinian side, and 6 Israeli casualties (numbers subject to updates).

While the kinetic aspect of the conflict was not significantly different from 2008 (see my book on the rise of non-kinetic warfare written aeons ago, sold on Amazon.  But why pay $13.99 plus shipping when you can download it off Air University Press for free), the key difference this time round was played out in the realm of social media, especially YouTube and Twitter.  The Israeli Defense Force fired the first virtual salvo, posting the strike on al-Jaabari’s moving car on YouTube immediately after the deed was done.  At the same time, they tweeted an ominous message to their Hamas adversaries:

 We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead.

Videos put up by the IDF, Hamas and other parties started to populate YouTube from the day al-Jaabari was killed.  This, together with posts and images on Facebook and Twitter, generated much debate online.  In the days that followed, the IDF called up its entire arsenal of social media weapons; liveblogging, a Facebook page, Flickr feed, a Twitter stream, Tumblr and Instagram.  Hamas responded in kind on YouTube and Twitter.  What turned out was a full-blooded social media war taking place alongside the bombing and explosions in the physical world.  Both sides put up by-the-second updates of actions on the ground, providing their respective grisly numbers and pictures of the dead and wounded, exalted themselves, and hurled threats towards the other.  At times this degenerated into downright mudslinging that seemed less than dignified for establishment mouthpieces but at the same time not out of place in a social media environment.  A tweet by @AlqassamBrigade[1] read:

 @IDFSpokesperson Al Qassam Brigades is always ready to smash your arrogant heads.

What ensued was like nothing that has ever been witnessed before in armed conflict. It was the IDF versus Hamas on the battlefield, and @IDFSpokesperson versus @AlqassamBrigade on Twitter.  The latter conflict has continued even as a ceasefire was declared and rockets and bombs have died down.  In the days immediately following the conflict, @AlqassamBrigade was still tweeting about Hamas victory and alleged Israeli atrocities during the conflict, while @IDFSpokesperson was active with questions about why Hamas was celebrating.

[1] Al Qassam Brigades is the name of Hamas’ armed wing.

A Couple of Practical Points after the Shooting Incident in Newtown, Connecticut

I haven’t blogged for weeks and before this I was wondering where the material for my comeback post was going to come from. I wish I were still wondering.

I never thought that this blog might do any community service other than for lefties, but after yesterday’s heartbreaking shooting in Newtown Connecticut, I thought I’d contribute something.

So much of the post-shooting discussion has been about what we need to do to prevent the next one: banning/regulating firearms, treating mental illnesses, securing our schools, etc. Some of it—make it much of it—has been controversial, stirring our emotions, wrenching our souls. Well I have two points to make.

First, without any prejudice as regards to my nationality, this issue needs to be looked at in the cold light of day, not when emotions are running high and certainly not fresh from the incident the day after. Everyone should give it a few days, perhaps after the mourning is over, before seriously studying the issue. This is a time to mourn, a time to cry, a time for grieving, a time for prayers, and a time to let our loved ones know just exactly how much we love and cherish them. Let the emotions settle, the tears dry, the hearts heal and the mind to un-cloud before we start talking about the issues at hand.

The other point I want to bring to everyone’s attention is this phenomenon called the Werther’s effect. In 1774, German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe published a book called The Sorrows of Young Werther. I have not read it, but in it is apparently a beautiful and at the same time sad story of love gone sad. The protagonist eventually kills himself. At the time of its publishing, the book became a commercial success, but also led to first known examples of copycat suicide.

Fast forward exactly 200 years, sociologist David P. Philips conducted research that showed that suicides increased immediately after a suicide case comes up in the mass media, and that the more publicity devoted to the story, the larger the subsequent rise in suicides. He called this The Werther Effect, attributing the rises to the power of suggestion.

Subsequent similar studies have pointed to the influence of suggestion and imitation created by highly-publicized cases of suicide and murder, linking even increased incidence of aircraft and motor vehicle accidents to publicized suicide (hope you’re able to see the link, if not, click the links).

My appeal is for governments, law enforcement agencies, school administrators, parents and everyone who can make a difference to be on the lookout, be vigilant, and help to prevent the next one.

And my appeal to the news media is to not saturate news outlets even further with unnecessary coverage. It is a race to the bottom. Furthermore, granting the killer such publicity is unjust reward for a crime so heinous. It is an unnecessary encouragement for those contemplating similar acts. (I trust my blogging about this issue does not constitute a significant increase in publicity for the incident.) I know there are arguments for the opposing view, for greater awareness and freedom of information (God knows I am curious to know the latest up-to-the-second developments as well). But faced with such grim statistics, some moderation on the amount of coverage is in order, at the very least.

May the Lord provide comfort to those who have lost loved ones in the shooting, and also to those who are grieving with them.

Not Dead Yet. But Drowning For Sure. But Won’t Die. But Painful. But Will Make Me Stronger. But Sapping For Now. But Will End In A Week. But…

I haven’t been posting. I’m not dead yet, at least not as far as this blog is concerned. But what I am though is drowning in papers, page counts and preparation for exams. And I will be back with a vengeance, and it shall be all mine. Watch out for me next weekend.

In the meantime I leave my readers with a picture from the breakfast buffet at the Hilton, of an atrocity from the perspective of all the lefties of the world.


PS. It was me who had just dished from the tray on the left, so it doesn’t count.