We Have Met the Enemy


I will go into battle at 8:00 AM, PST today, perhaps just after you have opened this.  I shall be leading a revolution.  Let me tell you the victory I seek and then the enemy(ies) I must conquer. I hope that it might help you, should you choose to lead . . . a revolt against how things have always been done.

Here’s Monday’s theater of operations: Boalt Hall, Room 12, with 20 brilliant Berkeley students. Seven are lawyers from Russia, Georgia, Turkey, Greece, Mexico, Australia; most of the others are on their way to being lawyers (a handful are grad students in business, education and public policy). I will reach victory at the end of 15 weeks when they have become not only masters of their own learning about leading in politics, business, and law; but they will also have taken on the job of leading each other. I win if they are modeling, and stretching, encouraging, and empowering each other to learn and lead.

Here’s victory in tomorrow’s first battle:  I will win tomorrow if we emerge with a set of shared values and processes to support and build on those values.  I have asked them to think deeply about the three values that matter most to them in their lives, the way they want things to be around them. It could be about growth, honesty, caring, innovating, serving God or family or community, passion, prospering, challenging, being powerful, achieving, etc. I am hoping that we can carve or discern a set of perhaps three or four values that we hold in common.  And then we will create for the semester the systems, structures, and behaviors that will support those values.  So, for example, if there is a strong consensus around caring, then we might find a way to hear about others’ particular joys or pains; maybe we’d build a system to give some time to hear about that personal stuff of life. If it’s honesty, then we might figure out how to get past politeness, but also to create the safety that allows truly open thought.  I like the way this sounds as I explain what victory looks like.  So, you ask, what’s the problem, who’s the enemy?

The enemy is the most consistently powerful enemy of all progress – the fear of lost control.  I’m like a dog under control; I’m inside that invisible fence! I learned long ago teachers (or bosses, parents, principals, CEOs, police officers, priests) set the rules, and my/our job is to follow (or else there will be pain if you’re the rebel, or the prospect of rebellion if you’re the leader).  Here are some of my assumptions which operate without my invoking or even being aware of them:

  • teachers teach, students follow; (likewise with parents, preachers, CEO’s, etc.)
  • school (or work or almost anything public) is about cognitive content not “spiritual” values or things emotional)
  • all students (workers, worshippers, etc.) want the same things from the teacher/class; yet, paradoxically:
  • it would be impossible to cater to 20 different students’ (workers, customers, congregants, etc.) needs, hopes, etc.
  • if you let students (“followers”) decide important things you will lose control.  I have to stop on this last one to ask: Is there a parent in the world that did not at some point feel a terrifying fear when one of their children was screaming “NO” – in three-year old words or adolescent acting out – that they were about to lose all control forever and all times?
So, we have met the enemy, my friends!  The fear is lost control.  It’s the enemy of innovation, of authenticity, of individuality, of humility and blessed ignorance.  We can pretend they’re (students, customers, etc.) all the same, they all are following, they’re all bought in, they accept that we must play by the rules and be “the” leader.  Or we can venture out, truly engage them – on their turf, with their dreams and visions and fears – and together mobilize so that we can ALL,
Lead with our best selves,
  • Dan –

    You are in pursuit of man’s noblest goal … inspiring others to greatness. I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes by John Ruskin:

    “When we build let us think we build forever. Let it not be for present delight nor for present use alone. Let it be such work that our descendants will thank us for, and let us think, as we lay stone upon stone, that a time is to come when these stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them, and that men will say, as they look upon the labor and wrought substance of them, ‘See! This our fathers did for us.’ ”

    Thank you for the work of making the world a better place than when you found it.


  • Helping students define their “intangibles” is a very good place to start, Dan.

    Being clear on the intangible elements of one’s identity can build a strong foundation for greater self-awareness, purpose, well-being and building competencies in those areas that are important to you.

    Here are intangible elements defined:

    •Assumptions/beliefs: A reality map formed through your collective reinforced experience. This would be a manifesto of the mental models you use and believe in to create your work and personal lives.

    •Values/Aspirations: An attitude or world-view depicted by one word or one single concept observed through one’s behavior. Values often influence people’s choices about where to invest their energies. Please recognize that values change over time. Being “fair” means something different for a person at 44 than at 4 years old.

    •Vision: A word picture of the future leading from now through near to far reality. You energize people to support your purpose or life signature with an overarching description of what you see.

    •Guiding Principles: A universal operating standard that guides decision-making both personally and organizationally. Use guiding principles to align, create trust and walk the talk by putting everybody on the same playing field. Energy isn’t wasted in the politics of the team, organization or community because there aren’t different rules for everybody.

  • Dan, You are so correct about this. Fear of loss of control and fear of failure hold us back from greatness. I admire the risk takers because they are the ones who move forward and are not deterred when they slide backward once in awhile. Keep up the good work!

  • Dan, I know something about loss of control and the concommitant fear. It is utterly terrifying to have (what you assumed was) control of your life ripped away. Anyone diagnosed with a serious illness knows what I mean. Life is a river that can get rough from time to time. You cannot control the river, you can only control your own actions and choices, and find innovative and effective ways to “go with the flow.” It is discovery, not control.

    When you are not alone in the boat, sucess…even survival…depends on working together. When shooting down a rapids, arguing over who should get the best oar becomes a dangerous waste of precious time. I suppose a true leader will grab the tiller and help the others find their best place in the boat…so everybody makes it to the calm water ahead.

    (Time to mix metaphors…) You mentioned feeling like a dog under control. I find it best to remember that, on the other end of that leash is an entity, both frustrated and afraid to let go of the leash. If you’ve ever seen professional dog walkers with upwards of ten or more dogs on leashes, you know just how much energy and concentration he needs, just to hang on.

    You will lose control of things. Children will do what they will. Personally, I give advice, set examples when I can, and make sure I have one super-huge catcher’s mit, ready to cushion their falls.


  • Dan, I would love to hear a follow up in future posts about how the battle is going! I’m a couple of weeks in to leading the Leadership Development and Assessment course in our MBA in Healthcare Management program here in Oregon, and I have that same sense of responsibility and challenge and inspiration working with our cohort of working-professional physicians, nurses, hospital administrators.

    I think you are right on target about fear of loss of control being the “enemy” for all of us seeking greater authenticity and connection in our work as leaders. I want to encourage you and your readers to take 20 minutes to watch a TED talk by Brene Brown on “The Power of Vulnerabilty” in which she connects the fear of loss of control with shame and fear of disconnection, and identifies vulnerability, the willingness to take the risk of being real with another human being, as the primary (only?) antidote. Have a listen:

  • Fear of loss of control is a wonderful course topic, for any kind of leadership. It is unfortunate that highly paid consultants to business teach exactly the opposite of your conclusion: we can venture out, truly engage them – on their turf, with their dreams and visions and fears – and together mobilize so that we can ALL, Lead with our best selves.

    They teach putting down anything that can be taken as dissent, anything. I know a local large employer who used such a consultant, and then started firing employees for any slight, or any comment that did not show complete agreement with the employer’s top executive. These are not combative people, but people who saw problems which needed correcting.

    I know a former executive at a Fortune 500 corporation. He was a second level executive in charge of operations in a large population state. Likewise, his corporation hired a consultant who said that a corporation has to be united, and that total effectiveness depends on having employees who in your words, “Follow the leader.” People were fired and fear ruled the day. The executive says it worked to improve the company profits. I replied that there are other ways to obtain company unity.

    Anyway you could get one of these kinds of consultants to speak to your class at the end of the 15 weeks? It would be a Socratic teaching situation. It would be hard to arrange, and hard to manage, but if you could convince such a consultant to present an opposing model of management, I hope that would produce a useful dialogue, and test the students understanding of what they were taught.

  • >