Sunday, April 16, 2017

 

Truth and Rallying


“The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity” -- Yeats, “The Second Coming”

A new study suggests that “intellectual humility,” defined as the serious practice of the idea that you could be wrong, is one of the most important traits of people who make good decisions.  

The finding makes sense; being open to new evidence, even if it’s contrary, is a key part of learning.  When we stop learning, we freeze our abilities at a certain point, but the world keeps moving.  

In a sense, intellectual humility strikes me as the everyday equivalent of the scientific method.  You make the best call you can at a given moment, knowing full well that new information may come along later that will change your view.  Keeping an eye open for that kind of information makes it likelier that you’ll avoid barreling headfirst into an iceberg.

But intellectual humility is often an awkward fit, at best, with the styles of leadership to which many people respond.

They respond to tub-thumping certainty.  They like clear, simple, confident rallying cries.  They perceive changing positions -- if they notice -- as a sign of corruption, hypocrisy, or weakness.  They want answers, and they identify people with the answers they give.  

In other words, a certain kind of follower rewards either dishonesty or shallowness in a leader.  The very trait likely to lead to better decisions can carry a direct political cost.

Some leaders lack intellectual humility altogether, so for them, the conflict is external.  They keep wondering why the world frustrates them.  You can spot them by their remarkable lack of self-awareness.

Some, like the younger George Wallace, consciously choose closed-mindedness specifically because of its political payoff.  When the political math changes, you can always declare that you suddenly see the light.

Others resolve the tension through charisma and/or patronage.  If you’re likeable enough, you may be able to charm your way through some strategic pivots.  I think of that as the Reagan strategy, named after its master practitioner.  (If you prefer, you could say something similar of Bill Clinton.)  If you can charm or buy your way out of the political downsides of shifting positions, then you can respond to the world as it changes.  Nixon can go to China.

The ones I respect, and try to emulate, are the ones who split the difference between means and ends.  Moral positions can be strongly held and effectively irrefutable.  Methods of achieving those ends are contextual, and therefore subject to change.  In the context of community colleges, for instance, I see broad access, high quality, and a commitment to equity as non-negotiable.  If you don’t embrace those, you shouldn’t work here.  But the ways of bringing those to fruition are subject to change, whether by external context or by conscious experimentation.

The experimental ethic can be a difficult sell.  Too many people, when presented with a “what if…” scenario, immediately default to the need for absolute certainty.  It’s a fear-based response, and a potentially deadly one. And some demagogues will consciously stoke that fear for their own purposes. The challenge of thoughtful leadership is getting people past that.

It’s just hard to split differences when people are scared and looking for certainty.

Wise and worldly readers, have you seen that move done well?  Alternately, is there a more effective way to rally the troops while maintaining intellectual humility?

Comments:
I think the way one conceives the people one leads/serves is important. If you conceive of these people as your customers, you lead one way. If you conceive of them as troops, you lead a different way. If you conceive of them as colleagues, you lead yet a different way. What works as a strategy for a political office may not work at all as a strategy for a campus leader.

The best campus leaders I've experienced have led through educating colleagues, building a shared sense of understanding, explaining tough decisions, acting with apparent fairness (i.e. not creating a committee that's mostly white men or exclusionary). Humility, especially when it shows in listening carefully, asking good questions, works well for them.
 
Unsurprisingly, I agree with your preferred approach: openly refer to unbending principles, then allow for changing your mind on the means to try and live by those principles. The fear of the unknown is lessened by the insistence that your approach is not rootless, while de-emphasizing the means allows you to change those means if they aren't working. When it works, it's great. You show the coherence and confidence of the blowhard while also employing the flexibility of the non-idiot.

That said, when that approach goes wrong, hoo doggy. What you define your principles to be is critical. The titles of bad business books are not principles. (How many companies have I worked at that touted "core principles" bereft of meaning? Oh my.) My personal test: a core principle is hot air unless you can imagine a circumstance where it makes decisions difficult. Or, if it doesn't ever force a moral choice, it's not a principle. "We want to create value" does not, because you can redefine "value" to anything you want.
 
I'll approach this backwards. I have seen it done badly. Very badly. It is quite counterproductive to experiment with various ways of fixing a problem without admitting that there is a problem. (My college rarely admits there is a problem, let alone defines it with statistics. The faculty are fed the same marketing p.r. that goes out to the community.) Result: it looks like the leadership is chasing its own tail with changes for change's sake rather than finding out what also doesn't work.

I've also seen it done well, putting all of the financial data out in front of us to make the case that we had to prepare for the appropriation cuts that would result from the Great Recession. Many ideas were generated, and we got out in front by making major cuts before even bigger (and potentially damaging) ones had to be made.
 
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الفك والتركيب والتغليف والتحرك من خلال شركة نقل اثاث بجدة متميزة تحتاج الي ركن البيت للاستفادة من خدماتها التي لا تقدم غير خدمات نقل اثاث بجدة رائعة لتلبية طلبات العميل. فرؤية الشركة لدينا وضعت طريقة جيدة وضعت كخبراء في نقل الخدمات التي يحتاجها العملاء عند التعاون مع شركة نقل عفش بجدة فاختيار المواد الخاصة بك التي تستخدم في تغليف الاثاث فهذه المواد أو الأشياء ستكون موجودة على عتبة المنزل للتحرك بكل آمن و بقوة إلى المكان الذي ترغب فيه
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استخدام الأصول الأولى داخل الاستراتيجية التي تستخدمها شركة نقل عفش بالدمام لدينا تدفعنا إلى التفكير في إعطاء نوع من الخدمات المتميزة الي العملاء التي تترك نجاحا مباشرا يمكن أن تنقش على نفسية الزبائن التي تقدم لهم خدمة نقل العفش.فلدينا ميل إلى أن يشار جيدا إلى العاملون والفنين والمغلفون ان يقوموا بعملهم في شركة نقل اثاث بالدمام نتيجة للمعيار والتنمية والعقل
شركة نقل الاثاث بمكة
مجموعة معينة لدينا في شركة نقل عفش بمكة تساعدنا في خدمتك في أي وقت من اليوم، وأنهم على استعداد للبقاء على طول هذه الخطوط لاعطاءك خدمة متميزة عن باقي شركات نقل اثاث بمكة التي توجد بهذه المنطقة فلا أحد لدينا في خدمات النقل يترك شيئا حتي لا نقع في قليلا من السخط.
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التعبئة والتغليف يبدأ بالعمل المتميز من اجل الحصول علي شركة تخزين عفش بالرياض متميزة تمتلك مستودعات تخزين اثاث بالرياض تحافظ علي الممتلكات الخاصة بكم من الخراب. كما ان التعبئة والتغليف على استعداد فريد للتعامل مع كل نوع من الأدوات والأشياء الزجاجية والمواد التي تميل إلى الإضرار أو تحمل بانتظام أسوأ جزء في عملية الحركة. فخدمات شركة تخزين اثاث بالرياض تقوم بإرسال أفضل مجموعة يتقن الوصول إليها في الوقت المناسب لتلبية طلب العميل وفقا لمتطلبات محددة خاصة بك في هذا المجال بسبب الطريقة التي كانت لدينا مجموعة من الخبراء في كيفية ادارة مستودعات تخزين اثاث منذ فترة طويلة في هذه الصناعة لفترة طويلة جدا.
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