By Joel Jones
A loyal reader of this column recently asked, in the context of the several recent "scandals" among American military leaders especially with the egregious corporate scandals of the past decade, conjoined with the brutally ugly campaigning by both political parties the past several months "Joel, do you still believe that trust and love are the touchstones of effective leadership?"
Succinctly, "Yes, and even more so" and let's explore why.
This mosaic-like response will challenge our readers to keep the mind open, fluid, flexible and ready to see connections between and among thoughts that at first glance might seem unconnected.
In the nearly two decades of this column we have gone down this writing path before, hoping that the linkages, the synapses (when and if they occur) will be engaging, entertaining and, more fundamentally, enlightening.
So, as the first in this barrage of anecdotal bullets which hopefully will converge on target as a meaningful story, let's start with one
- The moral and ethical crises in the ranks of American military leaders. Have the four stars on the shoulders of Gens. David Petraeus, John Allen and others created a sense of "entitlement" (the favorite descriptive term in most of the media stories) which has undermined common sense and ethical commitment?
Let's leave Petraeus and his colleagues alone for a moment and turn to two songs I heard recently on the radio:
- Kris Kristofferson's "The Last Thing to Go" on his disc "This Old Road," a favorite of mine for several years. Kristofferson opens "The Last Thing to Go" by quoting the great featherweight boxer, Willie Pep, who said about boxers that the first to go are your legs, the next thing to go are your reflexes and then the next to go are your friends.
Kristofferson builds on that by saying, "Love is the last thing to go." (So, good reader, keep that refrain resonating in your mind).
- Joe Walsh's "Analog Man" is a new song for me, but when I heard it right after Kristofferson, I drove directly to Southwest Sound and bought it, and it has become a theme song for this technoskeptic soul of mine: "Welcome to cyberspace. I'm lost in a fog. Everything's digital I'm still analog É Yeah, I'm an analog man in a digital world." (And it might be acceptable for me, at 75 and retired, to be "an analog man É lost in a fog" but not so, one would hope, for Gen. Petraeus, who, as head of the CIA, should have known that once you hit "Send," anything in "the Cloud" can be traced and tracked anything. Not being judgmental here, just descriptive).
Then, the day after I heard "The Last Thing to Go" and "Analog Man" and with our reader's challenging question about the viability of love and trust as leadership touchstones I happened to read Bill Moyers' interview with Joy Harjo in "The Language of Life."
Harjo is the highly respected Native American poet whose poetic energies were ignited during her student years at the University of New Mexico This statement by her to Moyers triggered several thoughts about leadership: "In one of my poems É I have a line, "love changes molecular structure,' and that line describes something of what a poem does."
For me, that statement about love changing molecular structure opens the door to understanding how loving leadership, with the energy and empathy thereof, will affect all of the players and participants (colleagues and customers) in any organizational dynamic.
Harjo's quote also brings to mind a statement from one of my still favorite books on leadership, Margaret Wheatley's "Leadership and the New Science," (now in its third edition), a statement readers of the FCBJ column have seen several times: "Love in organizations É is the most potent source of power we have available."
So, as we have moved from the several distressed (and distressing) military leadership figures through popular music and contemporary poetry to one of the now classic treatises on leadership theory, have we found grounds to reaffirm my belief in love and trust as the bedrock for effective leadership, especially in our hypertext, cyber-crazy, fundamentally and paradoxically impersonal world (given Facebook and LinkedIn, for example)?
Just the skepticism and cynicism now directed daily and vehemently at military leadership demonstrates markedly the consequences of leadership where trust and love are absent. By "love," of course, just to be clear, we are not talking about some kind of "namby-pamby, touchy-feely" undisciplined emotive state.
In fact, just to give a positive spin to a former general, let's turn to E. Grady Bogue's classic "Leadership By Design" in which he adamantly asserts that we should not be hesitant to link "the L words, love and leadership," and then specifically cites a major general in the U.S. Army, John Stanford, who wrote that a leader should bring love to his or her role and responsibilities, and that "Staying in love [with your organization] gives you the fire to really ignite other people, to see inside other people, to have a greater desire to get things done É "
Succinctly, then, I'll reaffirm my belief in love as a field of force which can positively impact everyone connected with any organization or institution and will reassert my bottom-line thesis throughout the many years of this column that trust is both the means and the end, the method and the measure, of effective leadership.
For this "analog man in a digital world," love must be "the last thing to go," with love being the energy by which trust will be built.
Dr. Joel Jones is president emeritus of Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo. He can be reached at email@example.com.