Leadership – Unifying the Theory

Leadership Reflection (2)In class, leadership seems all so simple.  It is in black and white.  There are diagrams.  One chapter seems to lead logically to another.  Like any new practical skill, the theory is not the same as practice.  Is leadership a science or is it an art?

Excluding the “mystic” part, I have come to realize that it is a bit of both science and art.

I have been studying leadership since I was 18.  It was MS 101, an introduction to military science.  My first professional career military preparation class as an Army cadet.

As I mentioned in an earlier article, one of the difficulties is the use of the word “leadership”.  It is commonly used, but the context changes as it is used as a noun, verb, adverb, or adjective.  The definition has to be inferred through context.  That makes every article you read confusing and, at times, a seeming contradiction to other articles.

My own experience from the numerous classes, beginning with the first class, is that the instructor will emphasize every aspect of leadership on an equal basis.  From an academic point of view it was because you had to be tested.  The equivalency of everything made prioritizing action based on theory confusing.  The history and theories are interesting, but hard to apply on a daily basis.

Over the years and other classes, I was always surprised to see that there was rarely an overlap from one leadership course to another.  It was confusing because how was it possible for leadership traits and leadership principles to morph from year to year, source to source.  The instructors taught from within their narrowed vision of experience or shared the latest article on “The 10 Secrets of Leadership” which also changed from author to author.

How do you know what to apply?  Can you predict leadership success or failure?

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Bill O’Reilly (Memory Challenge)

One of the hardest comments for anyone to say when speaking of Bill O’Reilly is “I have no opinion about the guy.” He makes it almost impossible to separate the messenger from the message.

Human bias is not part of an intellectual process, it is an emotional one. Almost everyone has a bias regarding O’Reilly. If the bias is positive, people agree with him automatically because he resonates with them emotionally and reinforces the group opinion (several documented biases come into effect that strengthens group membership). If the bias is negative, another group of people disagree, also automatically, with biases that enforce their group feeling.

Full disclosure on my part… My own biases of O’Reilly stem from my perception of his abrasiveness and my lifelong cynicism of self-appointed experts and authorities.

I have to put those aside. Ignore the news hype and make a fair analysis so I can fairly judge O’Reilly and ask the question…

Was Bill O’Reilly really lying?

I recently discussed Bill O’Reilly’s media crisis (here).  He responded to his critics and the crisis terribly.  I also discussed Brian Williams’ crisis and the mitigating circumstances that I believe contributed to a faulty memory recollection that blew up into a media frenzy (here).

Does O’Reilly deserve the same benefit of doubt that I feel Williams deserves?  Do the same mitigating circumstances apply?? Continue reading

Ice Station Zebra and the Human Eye

The color green is important here.Night Shot with IR lamp, 04

If you are alive today and watched any kind of television in the last 20 years you’ve seen the green screen of night vision recording: war reporting, “ghost hunters”, traffic helicopters, numerous movies. The pictures are instantly recognizable as having mediocre resolution, but clear enough to see the creepy reflection of light from retinas of the filmed subjects.

The color red is important here.

One of my favorite action movies growing up was “Ice Station Zebra”, a Cold War espionage thriller based on the 1963 book by Alistair MacLean.

One of the scenes that stuck with me was when the crew made preparation for night watch on the conning tower bridge. Before the watch crew went on duty, everyone was wearing red-tinted goggles to protect their night vision. The memory is vivid and it was reinforced through to adulthood: red flashlight filters and maps designed to be readable at night with a red filter (quick explanation: night viewable maps have features depicted in red ink, the assumption is that everyone will use red filters at night and the red ink becomes near invisible when viewed with red light).

Spies, submarines, arctic setting, Super Panavision 70, no kissing… woooohoooo!  The perfect Saturday afternoon movie fare for a kid. (It is rumored that Howard Hughes watched the movie 150 times on a continuous loop, if it was good enough for Howard… well, I digress.) Continue reading

Recommendation “Rationally Speaking Podcast”

I like to sometimes recommend resources that I enjoyed which offer a broader range, more insight, and greater detail than I can possibly cover in 1000 words.  More importantly, I like to recommend resources that have greatly improved my decision making skills.

I have mentioned before that decision making is one of the important topics covered in many leadership courses: the decision cycle, decision methods, etc.  I have yet to come across critical thinking as it applies to decision making.  Specifically, how information (evidence) is gathered and weighed; and if decisions are made in a rational and unbiased manner.

I gladly introduce the podcast “Rationally Speaking”, the official podcast of the New York City Skeptics.

The podcast focuses on rational thought, philosophy, science, and the nonsense that often claims to be the former three.  The topics can be sometimes a bit esoteric, but to become good at something, you have work at a level above your current capability.

“Rationally Speaking” is the bi-weekly podcast of New York City Skeptics. Join hosts Massimo Pigliucci and Julia Galef as they explore the borderlands between reason and nonsense, likely and unlikely, and science and pseudoscience. Any topic is fair game as long as we can bring reason to bear upon it, with both a skeptical eye and a good dose of humor!”

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Brian Williams (Memory and How Time Effects It)

Last week I discussed Brian Williams and the events leading up to his professional predicament and his crisis response to the subsequent public outcry.

The public outcry was one of two responses.  First, silence from the people who knew him, but could not defend his error.  There was no response that would not sound hypocritical and like an excuse to what seemed to be a blatant lie.  Second, the response from other view of the discussion was far more direct and accused directly him of lying.

The error was additionally magnified by Williams’ position of trust as a highly regarded and trusted news voice in the US.  According to a 2014 survey, ABC News and NBC News (Williams’ employer) were both tied as the most well known and most trusted television news sources by both US liberals and conservatives. [1]  His error is considered especially egregious because he “betrayed” his integrity as a journalist.

The major talking points in the media were that he lied to aggrandize himself and he lied which betrayed the integrity and professionalism of the news media.  Neither option is good, but like everything else in the world I don’t think the conclusions are that simple.  The events leading up to the crisis are so well known that it presents a great opportunity to examine memory and it how it (as I understand it) works.

(Please, refer to the time line at the end of the article.)

My question is did he really lie?  I am not contesting that he told an untruth.  There is no doubt that what he said was proven to be wrong.

But, did he lie? Continue reading

Leadership Confusion

DSC07412Leadership… no one seems to be able to agree on a common definition.

A great example of this is in recent posting by Brittney Helmrich from the Business News Daily.  In the article, “30 Ways to Define Leadership”, Helmrich quotes the definitions of leadership by 30 business executives.  Each definition is sensible and stands well on its own.  The comments are intelligent and well informed.  In a professional or classroom situation everyone would agree all of the quotes are good, if not enlightened.

But in the context of all the quotes, each definition is different.  In some cases, the difference is subtle… a simple difference in word selection.  In other cases, the quotes address completely different aspects of leadership: vision, empowerment, motivation, emotional intelligence, taking responsibility, empathy, influence, inspiration, to name a few.  All are great concepts.

Who really knows?

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