Action Wheel Leadership

Harlan Cleveland on Bob Terry


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Harlan Cleveland

Harlan Cleveland President, World Academy of Art and Science
Professor Emeritus and former Dean Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota

Harlan Cleveland and Bob Terry were friends and worked closely together for many years at the University of Minnesota. Harlan wrote the forwards to Bob's books Authentic Leadership: Courage In Action and Seven Zones For Leadership.

Forward to Authentic Leadership: Courage In Action

When I came to the University of Minnesota in 1980 to become the first dean of the University of Minnesota's Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, there was no established field for the study of leadership. By its nature, such a field would have to be a creative mix of art and science, of instinct and reason.

To help fill the vacuum, we decided early on to pioneer in leadership studies. We created a sudden "five-foot shelf" of readings, ranging from works by Aristotle and Lao-Tzu to Jean Monnet's insightful Memoirs and the soon-to-be-published Leadership by historian James MacGregor Burns. We started a mid-career course and called it "Reflective Leadership." (Don't you mean "effective"? we were often asked that first year.

But we thought effectiveness in public affairs was a function of reflective thought even more than of action skills---and I still do.) We carved out a special place in our new program for women in leadership, whose sometimes differing skills and aptitudes have enormously widened the talent pool for the generalist role in leadership functions. But who could lead such a venture? No one had yet figured out just how to "teach" leadership.

I frequently faced in those early days the dubious query—can leadership be taught? To which I could only offer an equally dubious riposte: "I'm not sure; all I know from experience is that leadership can be learned."

We searched among people with experience as positional leaders in government and business, learning that the correlation between the position and wisdom is not necessarily positive. We talked to thoughtful academics who seemed to lack the inclination for action.

Then we got lucky. Robert W. Terry had put the University of Chicago's unusual Ph. D. in Social Ethics to use by serving as a consultant in the defense of diversity. This driving, outgoing, yet thinking man was neither an orthodox leader nor an orthodox professor; indeed he seemed remarkably disinterested in power or tenure. But he shared the dream of a Reflective Leadership Center.

To hire a man with a personality so extroverted and a mind so fascinated with theory building was risky, a counterintuitive shot in the dark. We would be introducing into the university setting a free spirit bound to stir up his students, make some of his academic colleagues restive, and baffle his university overseers. But Bob Terry made the dream come true. He also kept reflecting on what he was trying to do, and the result is this unusual book.

In Authentic Leadership: Courage In Action, Terry reviews six major ways of thinking about leadership and suggests a seventh way which is influenced by all the others but proposes a new synthesis.

As educator, leader, or philosopher, Bob Terry defies being pigeonholed. The inadequacy of conventional categories bedevils any effort to describe him. If I present him as a general theorist of leadership, you would not visualize a large, energetic, cheerful, phrase-making lecturer, a highly successful group facilitator, or a racism opponent who once wrote a book (For Whites Only) that sold more than a quarter of a million copies.

If I say he was educated in theology and social ethics, that wouldn't suggest he developed, in the eighties, a practical way to deliver leadership education to executives—although it might explain why he stuck with the title "Reflective Leadership" to describe what he was doing. The practitioner of public affairs, veteran of many conflicts about race, gender, sexual orientation, and national origin, is motivated (as the book you are holding well illustrates) not only to generalize from his own experience, but also to learn from combining and analyzing what other theorists have written. Yet he sees beyond them to propose a fresh perspective eon bringing people together in organizations to make something different happen.

This author grapples courageously with the concept of courage and related notions about fear and violence, sacrifice and scapegoating, imitation and exposure. His comments are deeply influenced by psychology, anthropology, and spirituality—much more deeply than is yet the comfortable norm in the burgeoning literature of leadership.

Bob Terry delights in paradox and irony, in conflict as well as reconciliation. He sees leadership as a remedy to we/they polarities; as an antidote to imitating, and thus becoming what we fear; and as the instrument, in John Gardner's recent words, of "wholeness incorporating diversity." (1992)

His is a trailblazing way of thinking about the common good to be found in diversity. It helps explain why leadership, which Woodrow Wilson called "an exalted function," should be as profoundly disturbing to those who study it as it is to those who practice it for better or for worse.

Not every leader will find the time or feel the urge to think hard about leadership, the get-it-all-together function. Not every leader will summon the courage to think hard, for example, about courage. But the premise of this book, and its promise too, is that hard thinking occurs somewhere near the center of the human experience called leadership—and that, for leaders, to propel ourselves "beyond the comfort zone" is the beginning of wisdom.

Bob Terry is well beyond the comfort zone in this revealing, often self-revealing, book. Because it combines such a personal touch with so rational a congeries of categories, his readers will find him hard to ignore and impossible to forget. Leaders and readers—and especially those who are both—have reason to be grateful for this example of authenticity in action.

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