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,