EARCOS 2004 Keynote Address
The East Asia Regional Council of Overseas Schools held its annual conference in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, with the theme "Leading International Schools— the Consummate Global Community." President Durden was featured as a keynote speaker at the conference.
Dear EARCOS participant:
I wish to thank you sincerely for the opportunity to be with you recently in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I always enjoy being among international educators and you all were most gracious hosts. I also appreciate the invitation to address you through a keynote speech. I hope that you enjoyed my reflections. As stated, I now make the text of the speech available to you on the Dickinson College website. I have included additional text that I had available at the time of my presentation but did not use given time restraints.
Again, I hope this text proves useful to you as you ponder the issue of leadership and accountability. Please do not hesitate to contact me at email@example.com if you have any further questions about my presentation or you simply want to continue the discussion.
All the best.
Leadership, Language Study, And Global Sensibility
I am delighted to be again among old friends internationally and to meet new ones. I respect highly and profoundly all of you who engage the world by being out in it daily and preparing through your schools and respective communities a next generation-a new, increasingly hopeful generation-of global citizens.
Most of you know me as a person who has spent decades studying and advancing special needs students-especially highly able students (and that includes those with learning challenges). About eight years ago, however, I asked myself a fundamental question-"To what use is this high academic talent to be put?". Of course, you might smile at this. My query reveals a distinctively Anglo-American prejudice-that an idea is only as worthy as it can be applied (more on this prejudice later). But to this end, my interests morphed into the study of leadership-leadership for citizenship and societal contribution as a worthy end and application for human talent and high ability. Coincidentally, my pursuit has coincided with a raging preoccupation with leadership in general. The media and popular press are filled with books on leadership and management-not just good leadership, but as of a few months ago, even books dedicated to bad leadership. Anything apparently sells related to this topic.
Last year, about 3,000 books on leadership in business were published in the United States. According to last week's ECONOMIST, leadership studies is now a distinctive genre of intellectual pursuit. But there is a rub. That enthusiasm exists only in the United States. In fact, most other countries-such as the U.K.-find this U. S. obsession bizarre-chiefly because of the U. S. linking of leadership with the personality trait of "charisma" which the Brits think is fleeting and insubstantial. They also distrust anyone who possesses it. Additionally, the Brits find the American advancement of leadership for the world to be highly ironic given its obvious ( as perceived by the Brits) challenge to leadership in its own business world and that of politics.
Leadership is big business. I think of Jim Collin's book, GOOD TO GREAT and his "hedgehog" concept, or Malcolm Gladwell's TIPPING POINT. Millions and millions of copies of these and other leadership books are being sold. I am convinced that this leadership frenzy explains in large part the overwhelming fascination with the U.S. founding fathers of date and the proliferation of books by McCullough, Ellis, etc. treating them in great detail. I am convinced that this fascination with leadership grows out of the singular question of global and political leadership-or lack thereof-in our contemporary world.
That said, I am also convinced that this focus on leadership-now among the general public, in the world of business and finance, politics and increasingly taught at undergraduate, graduate and professional schools-- will soon be a required subject at the pre-college level. Leadership is coming your way. You will feel the pressure to teach it. It will be the new buzzword. You will have many speakers in the future seeking to address you here and at other conferences von the topic and they will all link it, I predict, to another current issue-some say "buzzword"-one with a few years headstart-accountability. Your charge, of course, is to determine how you will react and ultimately, how you will teach this new area of study. This is a crucial decision. You will either teach it as a separate field in and of itself or you will integrate it into all your existing subjects. You face the same choice you had with, for example, critical thinking and problem solving-stand alone subjects merely self-relating or skills set in more comprehensive academic contexts. Those who know me know my strong prejudice. I prefer the latter option.
Today, I wish you to think out loud with me about your new subject and to think in a revolutionary manner-to go where no one has yet gone but where you must go if leadership as a subject of study is going to have any sustained import in education. I am going to ask you to take leadership out of the more common context of business, finance, and politics and place it in that of a liberal arts subjects. I'm am asking you to see what you are currently teaching as a surprisingly rich source of leadership skill that is transferable to all areas of vocational and life pursuit. I shall also challenge you to enrich your emerging contribution to leadership study by drawing upon your distinction-pre-college education offered within a global context, a global commitment. And finally, I ask you as educators to seize leadership for yourselves and your profession because you now need it. There is a sense of urgency today for concerned educators to produce their own leadership that will provide a powerful challenge to leadership readily taken by others-even within education-- who are following a course to reduce you to being mere mechanics and your students to mere widgets.
Let us begin this urgent journey together. I intend as always to be provocative and educationally sacrilegious throughout for we must jolt out of place prevailing paradigms of educational theory and practice or at least examine them so thoroughly that they are applied with a sense of limitation-and this includes "No Child Left Behind." There is much at stake here for us as educators. I look forward to your reaction-good, bad or ugly.
GENERAL LEADERSHIP SKILLS
The proposition that the study of foreign language/ESL and culture advances leadership skills in a variety of professional settings-military, business, diplomatic, academia, service, for example-appears perhaps to be counterintuitive and confounding, if not disingenuous. Educators today appear to view leadership originating outside the traditional subject areas-the liberal arts-and place its source exclusively in business and management. However, I contend that such a claim is valid and I assert this on the basis of both research in the field of leadership and perhaps as importantly, on decades of personal in multiple adult leadership spheres-as a military officer, the entrepreneurial head of an academic center at a major research university (The Johns Hopkins University), the chair of a U.S. Department of State advisory committee to advance the education of youth throughout the world, the president of a division of a publicly-traded for-profit company and simultaneously, the vice president of yet another publicly-traded, high-tech company, and, currently, the president of a traditional, yet feisty national, "top-tier" liberal arts college-Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania---with a recognized leadership role in the globalization of American higher education (visit www.dickinson.edu/global). I assert this association of leadership and foreign language/culture study on the basis of my own long-term study of the German language and culture.
I shall begin with what I consider general leadership skills and then demonstrate how these skills emerge out of the study of language and culture.. Most importantly, leadership involves both the telling of a story and the ability to persuade others to engage that story as fully as if it were their own Leadership at its most sublime is narrative. Like a finely-crafted novel or poem, the story should appear effortless in execution and conceal the exhaustive energy and toil that are expended in maintaining and advancing it. Leadership is exhausting, but it must not appear so.
The concept of leadership as narrative or storytelling is not without precedent. The Harvard educational theorist, Howard Gardner, in his provocative1995 book with the collaboration of Emma Laskin, LEADING MINDS: ANATOMY OF LEADERSHIP states unequivocally that "leaders achieve their effectiveness chiefly through the stories they relate"(p.9). Leadership is thus a matter both of composition and communication. However, for Gardner, it is not enough to draft a story and relate it to others-you must also as a leader embody it, you must live the story yourself-through your own actions-- with such integrity, intensity, and lucidity that your story becomes the others' story, your vision becomes their vision, your plan of action, their plan of action. In addition, Gardner identifies those stories that are the most effective in persuading followers and to bring about major alterations across a significant population. They are stories that concern issues of "personal and group identity" and "must in some way help their audience members think through who they are." Ultimately, those who follow absorb and use the words and phrases of the leader and his or her story often believing they are their own.
According to Howard Gardner in his most recent book, CHANGING MINDS (2004), a leader spends most of his or her time attempting to change minds-that of others and her own, if necessary. But a leadership story is not just a message, a slogan, an image or a vision-especially if it is to change your mind and that of others. It contains the three elements of any good narrative: a protagonist, goals, and obstacles to be overcome. Gardner offers the example of Margaret Thatcher as a prime example of a person forwarding an outstanding leadership story. The protagonist was the British nation, if not British society. The goals were the restoration of stature and the proper international role for the U.K.. The obstacles were the misguided consensual governmental policies of recent years, the willingness of the British government to cede leadership to other countries, the power of the unions, the fractiousness of the Commonwealth nations, and the absence of a directed national will. For Gardner, in order for a leader to change minds he must know how to create a story, how to communicate that story effectively, and how to alter it if changes are warranted. She must possess interpersonal intelligence, that is, she must have the ability to understand readily other people, be able to motivate them, listen to them carefully, and respond to their needs and aspirations. And lastly, a leader requires a considerable measure of existential intelligence. A leader thus must be comfortable with posing and dealing with fundamental questions of human life and resolutely confront "big", existential ideas as part of daily functioning.
I have found in the course of my professional life other elements that contribute significantly to leadership and that are derived, I believe, from my study of language and culture. Some are quite obvious; others are more complex.
For example, I have found throughout my career that it is important for leaders to be able to identify quickly the core challenge in any circumstance and to visualize immediately a way to meet the challenge. There is the need to balance the ability to compose a story that communicates your vision for leadership with a solid knowledge of the more mundane facts of the domain in which you exercise leadership. A leader must temper vision with the practical. A leader is reminded again and again that while a primary focus is upon the strategic, to be totally successful, you must make sure that the details are attended to-often personally. Failure to account for the details, to follow up, often leads to an incomplete, if not unsuccessful mission.
Before one actually leads, a leader must grasp the "big picture" and deal with "big ideas-not just "little" ones. Big ideas are those that evoke the soul and spirit of people and have a substantive context in the history of ideas as an historic notion. They deal with questions of life, death, aim (purpose), and sensibility. What I am asking is precisely what our Monday keynote speaker, Mike Chinoy, CNN's Senior Asia Correspondent, demanded of the media, that it/we move beyond an understanding of news/education as mere event to news/education as a process over time with deep, complex interrelating roots. That said, I am not naïve about those "big ideas" that are captured in the context of radical idealism and presented in all innocence and good intention. They can be powerfully destructive. I think of a passage from Graham Green's QUIET AMERICAN that took place not far from this very spot. Foster, the seasoned British reporter says of the young, ambitious American Pyle ( working with the nascent CIA involvement in Vietnam) upon first seeing him on the then rue Catinat-today Dong Khoi, "Why does one want to tease the innocent? Perhaps only ten days ago he had been walking back across the Common in Boston, his arms full of the books he had been reading in advance on the Far East and the problems of China. He didn't even hear what I said; he was absorbed already in the dilemmas of Democracy and the responsibilities of the West; he was determined-I learnt that very soon-to do good, not to any individual person but to a country, a continent, a world. Well, he was in his element now with the whole universe to improve." We know now, decades later, the destructive effect of that idealism, that "big idea", on the peoples of both the United States and Viet Nam. Additionally, a leader understands of what leadership is all about in the domain in which skill is to be exercised and anticipates the likely outcomes of such leadership. There should be no surprises when leadership is exercised. A leader is prepared for the chance moment when leadership is required and is willing to cross all borders in thought and deed to achieve a creative solution to a demanding situation. A leader "envisions the future." A leader, however, must never underestimate, nor prematurely dismiss, potential sources of insight or inspiration, however unlikely they may seem. For example, there is ample evidence that a number of the world's scientific leaders made their discoveries while experimenting in a totally different context than the one projected for results. They were receptive to chance and absorbed readily in the unanticipated context a source of new knowledge. One only has to think of Roentgen's accidental discovery of the x-ray. Additionally, I personally have profited from never underestimating or dismissing aspects of my own life. A leader must be both constantly active-in motion and engaging the world-exposing herself to a variety of experiences that give a new edge to leadership and yet, simultaneously, be reflective, thoughtful about the implications of experiences gathered and how they are to be applied to move people and organizations forward. A leader must apply "peripheral vision" to a domain of action and thus create a knowledge base that is deeper and more expansive than that of others. A leader "connects the dots" in this frame of reference and thus, leads with distinction. This process of building a large framework of knowledge for leadership is similar to a theory of giftedness proposed by the South African scholar, Ochse. She states that a gifted person possesses a framework of knowledge deeper and broader than most other people and is constantly scanning that base seeking the unexpected, the inconsistent, that which others have not yet discovered. It is a combination of the span of the knowledge base, the constant motion through it and the ability to pick out the remarkable and yet unseen, that makes a person gifted
A leader must have the interpersonal and emotional intelligences to appreciate which approach or voice, which "grammar and syntax" are most likely to influence one person rather than another and to know always to whom one is speaking so that that person can be reached with the leadership story. The effective leader, no matter how acclaimed on the basis of past successes never becomes passive in the face of leadership demand, never confuses the authority of reputation-which is short lived-with the authority of voice-which is daily reinvented. And finally, belonging to any attempt to provide leadership to a group of people are two closely associated elements-urgency and change. A good leader creates and/or maintains a sense of urgency for change. Leadership literature abounds with commentary on the indisputable existence of change as the principal environment in which leaders act. For example, Charles J. Schwahn and William G Spady in TOTAL LEADERS:APPLYING THE BEST FUTURE-FOCUSED CHANGE STRATEGIES TO EDUCATION state, "The common theme running throughout futurist and leadership literature that has most influenced our work is the inevitability of change everywhere. You can't deny or hide from change. It's constant, accelerating, and here to stay." (p.19). If change is not confronted, is not advanced through leadership in an organization or society, negative consequences abound. Here lies the urgency: Change or be damaged-perhaps even cease to exist. Again, Schwahn and Spady on the subject: "In this new era of rapid rather than gradual change, organisms and organizations face a certain reality-either adapt, change, and survive, or die" (p. 19). This imperative provides the leader with a sense of urgency to his or her story that can permit people to confront the necessity to deal with change rather than to ignore it. John Kotter of the Harvard Business School is most eloquent on this topic in his book, LEADING CHANGE: "Ask almost anyone over thirty about the difficulty of creating major change in an organization and the answer will probably include the equivalent of 'very, very tough.' Yet most of us still don't get it. We use the right words, but down deep we underestimate the enormity of the task, especially the first step: establishing a sense of urgency….Establishing a sense of urgency is crucial to gaining needed cooperation. With complacency high, transformations usually go nowhere because few people are even interested in working on the change problem. With urgency low, it's difficult to put together a group with enough power and credibility to guide the effort to convince key individuals to spend the time necessary to create and communicate a change vision." (pp. 35-36).
To summarize then, the general traits required by a leader as I perceive them are:
Compose a leadership story;
Communicate persuasively a story to others;
Create a sense of transparency to leadership that masks the difficulty of the leader's effort to compose the story and execute it;
Embody a story as leader;
Identify quickly the core of a challenge requiring leadership;
Combine effortlessly vision of the "big picture" with a concern for the practical details of context and follow-through;
Anticipate leadership opportunities;
Remain open to diverse experiences and people that give an edge to leadership;
Appreciate all sources of knowledge and experience as sources of insight to leadership;
Appreciating emotional and interpersonal intelligences;
Accept change as a normal condition;
Create and sustain a sense of urgency
Engage the world and connect experiences rapidly-connect the dots among a wide range of elements-connect where others see no connections;
LEADERSHIP SKILLS EMERGING DIRECTLY FROM LANGUAGE STUDY
Having offered these several components to leadership, let's now relate them more directly to their origins in my foreign language and culture study-and add a few more skills.
Learning well a language other than one's first, and learning it well,, is truly a matter of intense, unrelenting composition of the most intimate order. As one acquires a new vocabulary, syntax, grammar and idiom, one rewrites a self- narrative that takes an existing personal story written through one's initial tongue and redrafts it into a new story, albeit with familiar components anchored by who one is fundamentally, and challenged by the expressive, emotive limitations and possibilities of the new language. Language learning then is at its core a basic act of self-story, self-composition. However, it is more. It is also about storytelling and communication to others. With one's additional language one must be able to express to others not only what one desires, but also, convey a truthful representation of who one is as a person-definition and character-apart from the new verbal construct. One strive as a learner to inhabit the "second" language so fully that one's fundamental self definition is transparent regardless of the new vehicle of expression. Thus a person who studies and acquires another language has intense exposure with at least two primary components of leadership-composing a story and communicating that story persuasively to others. And that first story is of the most intimate nature; it is the self story.
Language learning also involves a constant crossing of borders-linguistic, cultural, aesthetic and geographical-particularly as one literally travels constantly to the countries in which a new language is used. And when first traveling to that new country, onedoes what all novice language learners do and what even exiles do who return to their home after years at a remove-one attempts to interpret what one now sees and hears in the framework of what one's first language and culture or in the case of exiles, one's adopted language and culture, have imposed upon one. Unter den Linden in Berlin, for example, is first made accessible through association with Park Avenue, New York; the new cuisine is scanned for aspects that resemble what you eat at home. Andre Aciman describes this inclination well in his book FALSE PAPERS: ESSAYS IN EXILE AND MEMORY (2000) that examines his return to Alexandria after years in New York City: [you do], "what all exiles do on impulse, which is to look for their homeland abroad, to bridge the things here to the things there, to rewrite the present so as not to write off the past" (p.38). However, this act of crossing borders and reinterpreting numerous elements on the other side within the context of who one is or has become, is an act that permits a leader to keep a focus on a well defined, centered self while extending to engage others of differing persuasions and dispositions. This gesture-practiced early in new language acquisition-is the same movement that builds the character of a leader and permits him to welcome and deal with change on the basis of a solid self definition and thus lead compellingly.
Language learning also offers a future leader insight into and practice with a field of endeavor that balances simultaneously the "big picture" (the maturely functioning language and its use in sophisticated conversation and written word) with detail. The detail, of course, is grammar and syntax. Any language learner knows that if attention is not paid to grammatical and syntactical detail, communication is incomplete and meaning is distorted. With regard to this balance one fuses together two personality traits-those who live in the "bone" and those who live "in the connective tissue." This balance is a most healthy one for leadership for a leader needs both perspectives to function well. Those who "live in the bone" require order, routine, the efficient use of time, and structure and predictability from life. Their measure of everything good is that which already exists. Old habits are the only habits. The people bred in "the connective tissue", in contrast, thrive on anticipation and ambiguity. They enjoy prolonged reflection without necessary resolution and tend to weave for themselves and others a delicate thread of ideas from a variety of conflicting, often previously unassociated sources.
Language learning further advances leadership skill in that to be a successful learner, one often has to engage in activities that, through daily application of one's native language, one would never approach. However, in the spirit of gaining comprehensive exposure to a second or third language, for example, one indulges in all sorts of "different" activities,--one eats "strange" foods, dines at "odd" hours. For example, to advance my learning of German, I have watched more soccer, sat still in more pubs for longer periods of time, viewed more television (for the pure language exposure), participated in and watched more parades and town festivals, and sampled more varieties of sausage than is perhaps healthy for me. This exploration into new territory (what more "serious" people may consider trivial), however, nourishes that leadership trait of openness to engaging all aspects of life, from which emerge the distinctive elements of a persuasive leadership narrative suited to a diverse and rapidly changing world. The key, again, to successful leadership is to be out in the world constantly and to appreciate and make things happen where others are too wary and cautious to go. I think of the renowned literary critic of the twentieth century, Hugh Kenner. He related to me once how he engaged the world and thus created a world for himself-indeed, a vocation-when others might have been to reluctant to take the steps he did. As a young, yet impoverished graduate student he desired to meet a world famous author. He bought a cheap ticket to Paris and found a really inexpensive hotel room. Night after night he sent a note to the author requesting a meeting. After ten days and no response and with his monies running out, he was about to return to America when there was a knock at his door, The porter brought a note. It said simply, "Dear Mr. Kenner-I am sorry not to have responded sooner. I was away and just returned. By all means come over right now. Simply bring some bread or wine-Samuel Becket." An initial meeting with Becket in Paris lead to an incredible, and life defining dinner for Kenner the next weekend in London with Beckett, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot. Professor Kenner's career was launched in a most distinctive and compelling way.. But again, Kenner displayed leadership traits of significance. He look himself out into the world, he persisted, and he displayed ambition and confidence that he would be successful in his pursuit-that it was indeed possible to meet Beckett. Persistence, ambition and confidence are increasingly viewed as significant leadership traits. They are related, however, to a distinctively American disposition towards leadership, I posit. For Americans, leadership is almost exclusively an outward, often aggressive entity and is fixated on the achievement of tangible results in limited periods of time. In the process, high intelligence and wisdom are often denigrated. For example, psychologist Rosabeth Moss Kanter, in a recent NY TIMES article, ("If at First You Don't Succeed, Believe Harder," Sunday, September 19, 2004, p.7, Business Section) states, "Confidence isn't optimism or pessimism, and it's not a character attribute…It's the expectation of a positive outcome." The TIMES then comments, "As Ms. Kanter sees it, talent, intelligence and knowledge are nice, but confidence is essential…." And in a review of Joseph Ellis's new biography, HIS EXCELLENCY, of George Washington, the quintessential American leader, it is concluded that "What remains surprising about the narrative of Washington's life is the extremely ordinary nature of his virtues. He was not a military genius…he possessed neither the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin, the intellectual sophistication of Thomas Jefferson…What Washington did possess in spades was ambition, stamina, and the dogged ability to learn from his mistakes. To be sure, there are distinctive traces of anti-intellectualism in what Americans seem to admire in leadership. Prolonged reflection and changing of mind are not highly rated.
Further, comprehensive language acquisition affords practice in getting quickly and efficiently to the core of a subject or issue, a skill that, I believe, necessary for effective leadership. For example, when I taught German language for some 15 years at The Johns Hopkins University, I passed on to my students a pedagogical construct that I introduced them to in the first few minutes of instruction. Initially, as a high school student, I was frustrated by the fact that grammar books never started with an overview of how the language worked comprehensively-how the language "danced." I never received the "whole picture" of the language's basic functioning until the end of 4 years of high school study (my 5th year in high school concentrated upon literature). In college I developed an spatial insight and design that permitted me to penetrate to the core grammar of German-that basic "dance"-that got me immediately to the heart of the language's structure and which in the years to come, would merely be slightly adjusted according to differing grammatical and syntactical demands (to include exceptions), and a maturing vocabulary.
In my classes as a teacher, I would begin the first few minutes of instruction by telling my students that I was going to teach them in the next two minutes everything they needed to know about the fundamental structure of German, would then proceed to place the design before them and state that basically they would merely manipulate this construct for the rest of their lives as they acquired more vocabulary, artistic sophistication and minded grammatical and syntactical exceptions. My students usually appreciated this immediate gesture to the core of the language and could proceed by possessing this overview with confidence from that point forward. Penetrating quickly to the core or challenge-knowing where you are going at the start of any journey, be it linguistic or professional-is, I believe, an essential capacity of a good leader.
Foreign/ESL language learning also gives one practice in anticipating events, in rehearsing events before they even occur-"visualizing the goal"-an essential skill of leadership. Often as a beginning German-language learner, I would have to anticipate both what I was going to say in German to the person with whom I was to speak and, at the same time, I would have to anticipate what they were perhaps going to say then to me. Here I also had to listen well. Without this dual anticipatory state, I would be both incapable of completing a full sentence in German, much less a complex thought, nor would I be able to comprehend what was said to me in return due to the rapidity with which the language was spoken by a native speaker. Of course, as I gained fluency in German, this practice was no longer necessary.
The primary trait of a leader being able to establish readily a sense of urgency is advanced by language and culture study. Foreign/ESL language learning is by definition an urgent proposition. There is a need as quickly as possible to master the language so that one can communicate one's mature thoughts, dreams and emotions. Failure to do this leaves one severely incomplete in the breech between a high degree of first language capacity for expressing oneself and a lesser degree of second language capacity. Secondly, even when one has mastered another language, there is always an urgency to return frequently to the country in which it is regularly spoken so that one maintains a high level of fluency and insures that the language one uses is inclusive of all contemporary changes in grammar, syntax, and semantics that occur naturally in the context of "alive," "active" use.
Successful foreign/ESL language learning and associated culture studies are fundamentally and unequivocally about inculcating a receptivity to change. A language itself embodies change as a living entity. Acquiring a new language and assimilating the essential habits of mind and action of another people, require an ability to become something other while simultaneously anticipating that such exposure will change irrevocably how one inhabits and uses one's primary language and culture. Foreign/ESL language and culture study also offers to the learner another level of familiarity with change when that language is a vital, "alive" one-words, phrases, syntax, cultural narratives and norms-are constantly changing through natural exposure to, as the literary critic, Hugh Kenner, calls it-"Elsewhere Communities." As an example of these communities, the German language and culture are daily evolving through the incorporation of English/American words and the pervasiveness of habits of mind and action from rapidly-growing "a-traditional" populations settling in Germany to live and work..
In order for a leader to advance powerfully a story that can be communicated well and compellingly to others, she needs to tolerate personally the constant repetition in the telling of the story and those key words and phrases that are defining it. To infuse a leadership story into a community, it is not sufficient to tell it once, even twice. The story simply will not "take." Leadership stories must enthusiastically and enthusiastically repeated-time and time again over a sustained period of time and without any evidence what so ever that the leader is bored or tired of the message (the effort must be invisible) The leader must keep repeating the story until he or she hears key words, key phrases coming back from others without extensive or, in fact, any reference to particular authorship. The story must "take" naturally and exist permanently independent of the leader. Many people cannot tolerate engaging in constant repetition of stories, words and phrases-much less repetition with an always fresh, enthusiastic delivery. However, an accomplished foreign language/ESL learner knows that repetition-frequent, often painfully tedious repetition of words, grammatical rules and drills-is inherent in the successful acquisition process. A tolerance is developed that can be unobtrusively applied to leadership.
True leadership is tolerant of risk and the accompanying possibility of failure. There is a recognition that as long as one is well-informed and conscientious, to try and fail and try again, is not a sign of incompetence but of the progressive, positive spirit that informs good leadership. Leaders persist when others lose concentration and drift. Successful foreign/ESL language study is defined fundamentally by a need to deal comfortably with repeated failure as one steps tentatively into a new area of expression. One does not progress unless one begins to communicate with others who already possess the new language and one is open to the internal and external critique that comes from the first incomplete, frustrating steps of trying to express a conceptual complexity residing in one's head with a few words and the grammatical principles of another language.
Foreign/ESL language and culture study is ultimately a community pursuit. One develops competencies-linguistic and cultural-according to the degree of and communication with others in the target language population. Exchange and teamwork are inherent in acquiring a new language and culture. And the ability to work in teams is essential to leadership. Indeed, John P. Kotter, again in LEADING CHANGE, speaks of the need for a "guiding coalition" of key people including the leader or CEO in an organization, as an absolutely "essential part of the early stages of any effort to restructure, reengineer or retool a set of strategies" (p.52) and, in the current, fast-moving leadership context, "only teams …can be highly effective…"(p.55).
And finally, foreign language/ESL study permits one to experience a disposition that must be in place for successful leadership. This disposition is best captured by the Nike marketing phrase, "JUST DO IT." A leader is distinguished most often from the follower by stepping up to a challenge and, by using all previous experience, knowledge and sensitivities as a guide, to move decisively and with unflappable determination against a challenge. The leader can make that tough decision to do something in a timely fashion and once the decision is made, stick with it despite inevitable criticism and distraction. The acquisition of another language contains explicit practice in developing this disposition. One very tentatively and with great insecurity practices a language-learns vocabulary, studies grammar, repeats drills-and then, based on a hunch that one is ready, one boldly begins to speak, to use the language to communicate, despite the sometime criticism from more fluent speakers. One just decides to "Do It."
DICKINSON COLLEGE: A LEADERSHIP STORY
In the above commentary, I have tried to isolate those elements of leadership that I have practiced in a variety of settings and that, I believe, have been advanced by my in-depth study over multiple years of German language and culture. I should now briefly like to illustrate how a few of these leadership capacities are applied to my current role as president of Dickinson College. It is beyond the scope of this paper to illustrate concretely the application of all the traits I have cited, but by concentrating on a few interrelated ones, I hope to advance the credibility of my overall thesis that foreign/ESL language and culture study advances leadership traits. A more comprehensive treatment of the Dickinson College story (and its success) is contained as a separate chapter, "Benjamin Rush's Brat", in David Kirp's new book, SHAKESPEARE, EINSTEIN AND THE BOTTOM LINE, Harvard University Press, 2004.. I also suggest referring to comments relating to this chapter from the Provost, Vice President and President of the College on our website (www.dickinson.edu/news/kirp).
One of the first activities when I came to Dickinson College as president in the summer of 1999, was to take a day hike with a group of first-year students during Orientation Week. Walking along with me was a senior student who had just returned from a Dickinson Study Abroad program in Bologna, Italy. She and I had a good deal of time to converse over the half-day hike and our dialogue ranged across a host of topics including my perception of Dickinson when I was a student from 1967 to 1971. That evening, I received an e-mail from this student that in retrospect has become a defining moment of my administration. The message started with a few pleasantries, but rapidly moved into a more pressing communication. The student said that she was about to begin her fourth year as a Dickinson student, that she believed she was a successful member of the community having assumed a variety of leadership positions and was recognized publicly for her contribution by induction into a prestigious senior women's honorary society, Wheel and Chain. Yet, she had a question of me--despite all her engagement, all her recognition, she was hard pressed to define to herself and to others what it was to be a Dickinsonian. I was immediately alarmed. If this student who clearly was engaged with the institution was clueless as to the College's identity and comprehensive contribution, what must it be for others? It was then and there that I decided that I had to work with others to give the College a clearly-drawn leadership story, a narrative that would establish unequivocally for its current students and in turn the alumni and general public a sense of identity and through that, a pride. What I needed was a compelling story out of which I could lead the institution to a clear sense of what is was and on that firm basis help it get to where it was going-that is, to take a top-tier national residential, liberal arts college (although at the time just barely "top-tier") and assist it to achieve its next level of engagement and accomplishment in higher education. This had to be a story so intense that it could stir to action a wide variety of constituents of various ages and relationship to the College as well as attract people to the institution who had no previous allegiance.
A quick survey of my colleagues who had been at the college far longer than I , revealed that in its 226-year history, it had never had a comprehensive leadership story-a strategic plan with accompanying vision, mission statement and targeted, concrete objectives to be accomplished within definitive time periods and with assigned staff responsible for execution and all of this linked with financial realities. Even the founder, Dr. Benjamin Rush-revolutionary, scientist, humanist, and signer of the Declaration of Independence-left unfinished his original plan for the College. Here was an opportunity and a need and the decision to proceed was made immediately. The College needed this leadership story and it needed it now. The traditionally recommended timeline and methodology for such an endeavor could not be followed. We didn't have time. The lack of clear identity had in part contributed to some financial challenges that needed attention immediately. A true sense of urgency and intensity had to be created to engage a community in completing this story at a pace and in a manner that challenged orthodoxy.
Working with a small group of key faculty, administrators, and students-Kotter's "Guiding Coalition"-- and using the capacity of technology and on-site meetings for extensive, comprehensive and rapid dissemination and exchange among trustees, alumni, parents and additional faculty, staff and students, the Dickinson community accomplished a strategic plan and Dickinson leadership story in the Spring semester of 2000 and has since been using it daily as a guide to our identity as Dickinsonians and common voice, decision making (to include most importantly when not to do something) and future directions.
The story introduces a distinctive language into the community that while appearing to some as new, actually recaptures the original words and intentions-even personality-- of our founder and his good friend, John Dickinson, after whom the College is named and who served as the first benefactor of the College and chairman of the Board of Trustees. This language and personality are "revolutionary" and require of us a culture and state of mind that balance reflection and decisive action. A sampling of the story follows:
"The American Revolution brought into being the world's first modern democracy and launched an ambitious social and political experiment. Our founders, Dr. Benjamin Rush and John Dickinson, were themselves leading figures of the revolution and the new republic. They recognized that the success of the American experiment would depend on the power of liberal education to remake colonial society and to produce a democratic culture.
Dickinson College, therefore, began life as the first college formed under the internationally-recognized [chartered 5 days following the signing of the Treaty of Paris] young republic and, more importantly, as a revolutionary project-dedicated to safeguarding liberty through the creation of an educated body of citizen-leaders. Although the urgency of the American revolutionary period had diminished. The core mission of Dickinson College remains the same and as vital as ever.
Benjamin Rush was a progressive and complex thinker with distinct views about higher education in America and at Dickinson. His guiding principle was to provide a "useful education. This emphasis on useful disciplines and practical interdisciplinary connections was in deliberate contrast to higher education in the Old World, which, he believed had become rigid, disconnected from the world, and overly aristocratic.
Rush valued the wisdom of the past, but he was also an expansive thinker, who reached across national, cultural, and disciplinary borders. He believed that liberal education should concern itself with those academic subjects which interconnect and reach across to other subjects in a useful manner and to create new knowledge. Modern languages should be taught, therefore, because they provide access to far-ranging knowledge in all disciplines. Rush also believed in crossing beyond the borders of the United States and in study abroad-but with a disciplined agenda to return knowledge to advance the republic.
A further aspect of Rush's founding vision for Dickinson is the spirit of institutional innovation and decisiveness. As a revolutionary, Rush defied organizational stasis and recognized that new external circumstances require appropriate internal changes. He wished to engage the world. He pushed to create a college at the edge of the western wilderness, rallying others with the power and persuasiveness of his vision. Throughout its history, the College has continued to display this penchant for enterprise and its willingness to seize opportunities as they arise…Today, the College needs to remain true to its heritage by being receptive to salutary change and by committed to negotiated change through civil and informed debate."
Thus, according to its leadership story, Dickinson College is an independent, residential, liberal arts college with ATTITUDE. "SPUNK" defines its institutional personality and is a personal disposition of those associated with it.
The themes and key words that define the leadership story and that are repeated and repeated in all administrative letters, speeches and articles throughout the community are unequivocal: revolutionary; citizen-leaders; a useful, liberal education; a sense of urgency; a clear, compelling voice for change and against stasis; crossing borders; interdisciplinary; connectivity among academic disciplines and the creation of new knowledge; field study (Dickinson was the first college or university in the history of American higher education to take instruction out of the classroom and into the :field."; engage the world; Benjamin Rush/John Dickinson; innovation and decisiveness; attitude and spunk; and, civil and informed debate about things that matter.
This language of change for Dickinson is also accompanied in the story with a clear sense of urgency. The strategic plan contains a candid "environmental analysis" of the College's internal and external challenges and opportunities. Initially there is a provocative question here to the community asking members to consider their disposition towards leadership in general, "For Dickinson to achieve its vision, it must benefit from leadership and it must desire to be led." Again, a fundamental question to any community-does it really want to be lead? Internal urgency is further created by a recognition that if the College does not make more timely, sometimes difficult decisions through its administrative and faculty governance systems, considerable momentum and opportunity will be irrevocably forfeited and those with a talent for leadership will disengage from the institution. This internal evocation of lost opportunity is compounded in urgency by a description of external factors that additionally might limit maximization of opportunity: the declining population of the independent, residential, liberal arts colleges; the high cost of financial aid; the emerging competition from for-profit education industry and the strong forces to devalue the degree in favor of the certificate; the challenge of distance learning; the escalating costs of health and liability insurance; the rapidly increasing litigious nature of society and related high costs for legal services; the high costs of technology and scientific equipment; the seeming attractiveness of baby-boomer parents to public education at a lesser price tag for their children (although many of them enjoyed the fruits of a private education); and, the increasing consumer-oriented parents and students who expect business service for all their educational needs. Again, the realities of internal and external pressures upon the College are introduced to advance necessary, inevitable change through a clear sense of urgency and are intended ultimately to position community members to desire to do something, rather than nothing.
This vocabulary, this seemingly new language for Dickinson, now permeates all aspects of our institution and has consequence for its working culture. We must act as we define ourselves. . We are absorbing our new leadership story as a new language and culture and it is the basis upon which the College will articulate its move to its next level of engagement and accomplishment in higher education. Again, every speech, every article, every press release contains aspects of this vocabulary and this institutionalized story. We make all our institutional decisions with reference to it. However, having been in a foreign language class year after year-and here I compare a class to an institution-I can appreciate that not all people acquire a new language to the same degree of proficiency or at the same rate and others just don't take to the new language and culture and migrate elsewhere, to another institution that fits there talents and disposition. And I also know because of my foreign language and culture study that possessing a story and repeating it endlessly is not enough for others to embrace it fully. I must as leader live it; I and others in leadership positions must embody the Dickinson story and not only mouth the words but realize them through deed. In the terminology of leadership research (Schwahn and Spady, p.25), I have to be the "lead learner" and model the core organizational values. I have to create a vivid example of what the story looks like when it is transformed into real life action. I have to animate the words and images. I could not naturally and effortlessly accomplish this movement from word to deed, I could not convince a soul of the validity of the enterprise, I could not establish credence for the story and thus the institution could not proceed to higher levels of accomplishment, unless this was done. To this end, I and my colleagues engage issues that we believe matter through frequent public speeches, articles and letters/op-eds to such publications as the NEW YORK TIMES and the WALL STREET JOURNAL. When I or my colleagues encounter an issue that violates our "story, ", we do not hesitate, but engage through word and deed. Indeed, the very act of engaging-rather than remaining silent-- fulfills our story. Our visible commitment through deed in the last two tears has ranged from freeing a colleague, Yongyi Song, from prison in China where he was being held inappropriately on spy charges and speaking out worldwide against violations of academic freedom and human rights and affirmative action violations to a highly successful counter-celebration with the citizens of Carlisle, PA. and surrounding communities to protest a KKK rally and any form of hate advancement. Writings have ranged from a NEW YORK TIMES letter to the editor protesting against a nationally-recognized television new anchor for glorifying academic non-achievement for college students to numerous editorials, articles and speeches criticizing the exclusive use of the SAT in college admissions (with an accompanying change in Dickinson admission policy to reflect this stance).
Why did I state earlier that now more than at any time in the past, you as administrators (and your teachers) must embrace leadership itself and develop for your school and for your classrooms a strong leadership story and advance it to the public with resolve and tenacity. I say this because your control of what you personally administer and teach is about to be taken away from you-in whole or part. The threat is ACCOUNTABILITY and it comes at you in all innocence. It offers many good measures-principally seeming security and definiteness about good performance versus poor in educational instruction-but exaggerated and turned into an absolute, it possesses the capacity for much harm in education more generously understood.
The paradigm of innocence as destructive is not without precedent, of course. I refer once again to Graham Greene and THE QUIET AMERICAN. When describing meeting Pyle for the first time as he, Pyle, ambled towards the bar of the Continental Hotel in Saigon-the now extinct outside terrace-Foster ironically states, [Pyle] possesses "an unmistakably young and unused face flung at us like a dart. With his gangly legs and his crew-cut and his wide campus gaze he seemed incapable of harm." Of course, for Viet Nam and for a generation of Americans-my generation-Pyle was anything but harmless and innocent. Again, the contemporary equivalent of Pyle for you-a potentially and seemingly beneficial concept gone destructive-is accountability-accountability as interpreted in the "No Child Left Behind" legislation. Permit me to explain this audacious claim-one that will certainly be immediately underappreciated by many in education today as they blithely and unreflectively embrace the latest concept in circulation and favor action at all costs above sustained reflection. I begin by quoting from the "Talk of the Town," "Making the Grade" in the September 15, 2003 edition of the NEW YORKER: "The most striking thing about the sweeping federal educational reforms debuting this fall is how much they resemble, in language and philosophy, the industrial-efficiency movement of the early twentieth century. In those years, engineers argued that efficiency and productivity were things that could be measured and managed, and, if you had the right inventory and manufacturing controls in place, no widget would be left behind. Now we have 'No Child Left Behind,' in which Congress has set up a complex apparatus of sanctions and standards designed to compel individual schools toward steady annual improvement, with the goal of making a hundred per cent of American schoolchildren proficient in math and reading by 2014. It is hard to look at the new legislation and not share in its Fordist vision of the classroom as a brightly lit assembly line, in which curriculum standards sail down from Washington through a chute, and freshly-scrubbed, defect-free students come bouncing out the other end. It is an extraordinary vision, particularly at a time when lawmakers seem mostly preoccupied with pointing out all the things that government cannot do. The only problem, of course,--and it's not a trivial one-is that children aren't widgets"-and, I might add, learning is not merely a matter of what can be empirically assessed by standardized tests. You see, that is precisely the problem. "No Child Left Behind" is actually the direct product of a dogmatic Anglo-American sensibility about knowledge-a markedly incomplete vision-and that is that knowledge is only as worthy as it can be measured empirically and then put to some use. Its history emerges most immediately from British empiricism (look to Cambridge University in the early twentieth century and its departments of philosophy and mathematics) and the American "Metaphysical Club" consisting of Charles Pierce, John Dewey, Oliver Wendell Holmes and William James.. Yet it was already present in the Scottish Enlightenment and in Benjamin Franklin's singular definition of American character-one that prefers practicality to romanticism and holds that the truth of any proposition, whether it be scientific or moral or theological or a social one, is based on how well it correlates with experimental results and produces a practical outcome.
In education-especially that which treats pre-collegiate education-this turn to pragmatism took place in the early twentieth century. We often forget, for example, that it was John Dewey and fellow progressives who framed the intellectual construct for what became the SATs. This empirical turn was motivated in part by insecurity and a feeling of lack of respect by the public towards educators in the early twentieth century because education was not scientifically-based. In a world that was increasingly valuing science as the measure of all things, education remained undercharged and undervalued. Well, educators remedied that immediately and satisfied their "science envy." Standardized testing became suddenly an integral part of educational practice and was introduced in a comprehensive manner. And since knowledge to be assessed had to be subject to empirical assessment, efficiently and generally delivered, it increasingly became itself factual and technical-focused on short-term impact (note the similarity here with corporate American and its focus almost exclusively on short-term quarter results rather than multi-year production) and partial to "little ideas", facts, rather than those big, complex ones involving questions of the meaning of life, aesthetics, moral and ethical judgment that are not readily embraced by standardized assessment. In fact, I would asset that at least since the 1980s. American pre-collegiate education has been dominated by-and you at conferences such as these have been subjected to-a series of ultimately "little ideas"-technical strategies-such as cooperative learning, phonics, whole language, classroom management technique. Education has been short on those big ideas involving the aims of education. This trend is underscored by the now almost total absence of the philosophy of education as a full course of instruction in graduate schools of education. The results are evident. If you ask today's college and university students-as I have-what "big ideas" influence comprehensively the conduct of their lives, they can come up with none. If you ask them the name of a philosopher or a fictionalist or a poet who influences how they live their lives and define themselves and their actions towards others, they are clueless..
I urge you then today-I beseech you-to reclaim for your schools and classrooms "big ideas" that extend beyond the empirically measurable and thus appear trivial and inefficient. I urge you to reclaim the art of teaching--for today we possess merely the science of teaching and that is inadequate to move forward a total child, much less a people. I urge you to redefine accountability-which is an otherwise worthy pursuit-so that it balances the practical and technical-that which can and should be empirically measured-with that which involves the advancement of spirit, soul, creativity, and character of students and which is not so readily subject to general standardization and progressive empirical assessment-much less to short-term results. I urge you to live both "in the bone" (empirical testing) and "in the connective tissue" (the worthiness of intent). I urge you to reject the prevailing mentality of either/or in pre-collegiate education-that is, that it is either phonics or whole language, individualized instruction or integrated instruction-never a blending of the two based on the needs of the individual child. In fact, I would be so bold today as to urge you to replace accountability as currently understood (after all, facts can readily be manipulated and "spun" by the "accountants as we all learned painfully with the Enron and Worldcom scandals a few years ago), with another concept for assessment-TRANSPARENCY. Transparency is here understood as making available regularly to the public all sorts of data-empirical and subjective-and thus bestowing upon the public the trust to analyze and judge as they will of an education.
I urge you today to assert strongly your own leadership story as administrators for you respective schools and for your sector of education-international schools-and for your teachers to do the same for their classrooms. Already, alarming Orwellian versions of accountability are a reality in the for-profit realm of higher education and I guarantee, having worked in the for-profit education industry, that a version of these methods is eventually headed your way. I am, of course, referring to your total loss of control over what you offer to your students as an institution and what you teach in the classroom in the name of universal empirical accountability to the "consumer." The University of Phoenix, the world's largest university, for example, now commissions a panel of third-party subject area specialists to establish a strict curricula for classroom instructors. No deviation from this course of study is permitted by the actual classroom instructors and the tests of this "canned" knowledge are universal across all "campuses." The job then of teachers is merely to deliver and test in a standardized fashion a predetermined course of study. Administrators and teachers are now truly widgets as are the students. All of this is conducted in the name of empirical verification of learning.
As administrators and teachers in international schools, you are in a distinctive position to get accountability (or better, transparency) right-to lead for the sake of others. Firstly, you are essentially free of the accountability as now defined in the United States (pending pressure exerted upon you by the regional accrediting agencies that have taken up accountability in a big way). You are independent institutions and can live up to the full import of that word. Secondly, you possess a really big idea that can be a protagonist in your collective leadership story-global sensibility-an idea that other sectors of education greatly need to (and want to) embrace for future generations. Accompanying global sensibility is an acute appreciation of change since change is an integral part of existing daily on a global basis. What, however, is global sensibility in education? It is the pursuit of all academic and co-curricular activities in a context that takes into account that which is occurring in other nations and among other cultures. It is a fundamental humility that exercises a check upon the imperialism and unilateralism of our own provincial ideas and is based upon the recognition that other nations and cultures possess notions we must gather from afar and integrate into our own pursuit for our own positive advancement.
It is respect for the myriad ways of acquiring knowledge that are gained through the mastering of more than one language-not merely English. It is a recognition that the English language has limitations and does not deliver all areas of knowledge we need for substantive, creative contribution. It is an obligation-through education and experience-to be comfortable and confident in an ever changing world, a diverse set of communities, regardless of place. This is a sensibility that requires a certain type of educational institution-your type of school--defined years ago for America by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson wrote, "[These schools] have their indispensable office-to teach elements. But they can only highly serve us when they aim not to drill but to create; when they gather from afar every ray of various genius to their hospitable halls, and, by the concentrated fires, set the hearts of their youth on flame."
May you lead by the "flame." Best wishes as you achieve your individual and collective leadership stories. Thank you for inviting me to EARCOS and Viet Nam.