Nobody in charge

20 11 2008

harlanclevelandlLife is theatrical – both in the sense of being the actor/actress (leader) and the audience (learner). A well lived life arrives at a good balance between these two roles. When the balance is off, however, we veer off the road into one of the ditches – the ditch of just observing life go by or the ditch of leading without an astute understanding of context.

Harlan Cleveland lived a well lived life and lived it at broadway theatres (I think I’m living mine at a high school musical – and I don’t mean High School Musical). Harlan Cleveland passed away this summer at the age of 90. After reading his obituary Charles Hoffacker wrote: “I felt as though I was standing beside a theatre entrance as a jubuliant audience flooded out onto the sidewalk: I had missed a remarkable show.”

Cleveland’s authored a dozen books including Nobody in Charge: Essays on the Future of Leadership (© 2002). In this book he tells of how over the decades he reworked and refined a list of leadership attitudes essential to what he called “a generalist mindset . . . indispensible to the management of complexity.” Here are the eight attitudes he came to recognize through experience and reflection:

1) A lively intellectual curiosity; an interest in almost everything – because everything really is related to everything else, and therefore to what you’re trying to do, whatever it is.

2) A genuine interest in what other people think and why they think that way – which means you have to be at peace with yourself for a start.

3) A feeling of special responsibility for envisioning an alternate future – a future that’s different from a straight-line projection of the present.

4) A hunch that most risks are there not to be avoided but to be taken.

5) A mindset that crises are normal, tensions can be promising and complexity is fun.

6) A realization that paranoia and self-pity are reserved for people who don’t want to lead.

7) A sense of personal responsibility for the general outcome of your effort.

8) “Unwarranted optimism” and a love for innovation – the conviction that there must be some more upbeat outcome than would result from adding up all the available expert advice.

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