Managing worldview polarity: Gerzon and the art of leading through conflict

Gerzon begins his book “Leading through conflict” (2006) by outlining three different kinds of leaders: the demagogue, the manager, and the mediator, however these simple classifications don’t do justice to his meaning. The demagogue is Gerzon’s example of a leader who operates in the field of conflict but rather than using conflict for organizational transformation, uses conflict for personal self-gain. The manager is the myopic leader who operates primarily in the short-term (p.43-44) and who is limited by his frame of reference (p. 32), while the mediator isn’t necessarily a figure but rather a set of skill development that the manager or demagogue can use in order to transform themselves. One of the key problems at my university has been the demagogic systematization model of leadership for the professors in the graduate and post-graduate programs, wherein to keep their funding they must compete with one another as tiny demagogues in tiny kingdoms. This has created spillover into the students, as they often take the role of the manager and are forced into compartmentalized cultures of short-term bursts, without the power to actually affect the demagogic system one way or the other.

In order to counter this negative environment, I would like to divide Gerzon’s ideas into developmental stages and action-step processes. The four developmental stages are: systems thinking, presence, conscious conversation, and dialogue, while the four action-step processes are integral vision, inquiry, bridging, and innovation. I will give a short illustration of how these work together in my own personal context. I will look at how to manage the the worldview conflict between the national staff and a foreign expert who disagree on educational philosophy, namely in the way scores are given to students, as the Chinese worldview regarding scores often differs greatly with western ideals.

As a mediator (being trained in the stages and steps above), I must first position myself properly so that I can clearly understand each side’s point-of-view (p. 77). This can be achieved as simply as relating to national staff as a third party or even as an observer. Then I must begin the process of identifying stakeholders and relating to each stakeholder the realities of the situation from both sides (p. 91). During this process however, I must center myself in self-reflection so that my actions translate into engagement rather than disengagement or fear with an illusion of apathy (p. 112). Once I have established myself an an integral authority comes the hard work: discovering the source of discontent on both sides through a gentle journey of questioning and using those answers to paint a story, nothing more (p. 124). There are two key developmental stages that must occur within me, however: I must treat each conversation as a relationship (p. 144), working towards mutual transformation (myself and the conflicted party), and I must discipline myself to question even the most basic assumptions I might hold about the situation (p. 172). Finally, there must be an implicit agreement within both parties for the accomplishment of a finite goal (p. 191 as example), as any strategies can only come out of the process of discussion while in recognition that the conflict exists (p. 211).

When I utilized this method in my work, the following occurred. After positioning myself an an authority on both parties, I was able to gain the trust of both (miraculously). I explained the complexities of the problem to both parties from each point-of-view, namely the Chinese mentality about scores coming from the culture of the gaokao (national exam), and the American mentality about scores coming from the grade-point average system. After convincing both that I truly wanted to be involved in the solution, I began the process of asking where the tension lay. The American was offended by the Chinese staffer’s critical attitude, while she did not even consider it a problem; she felt that was her job. Therefore, I had to present each case to the other and help each agree that mutual transformation was most beneficial, even though I had my doubts about the stubbornness of both parties to be reciprocal. However, to my amazement, both parties were willing to bend once they understood each other’s reasoning, and while a perfect triage wasn’t the result, both were transformed. The Chinese staffer was less critical about her assessment of the American’s methodologies, and the American was less sensitive about the Chinese staffer’s critical attitude. The healing process is still happening, but I believe with the gentle care of a healer, both will come through.


ASP Integral vision – positioning oneself geometrically so that all sides of the issue are visible, “Instead of staying ‘in your seat, climb the stairs’ and view the situation from a higher level – ‘a bird’s eye view.’” (p. 77)

DS Systems thinking – finding connections between disparate elements within a complex system, “the consciousness of each stakeholder [must be] raised about the complexity of the issue.” (p. 91)

DS Presence – self-reflected awareness translated into engagement, “Despite the range of methods for catalyzing presence, virtually all of them combine one of two paradoxical elements: disciplined, focused ritual or utterly authentic spontaneity.” (p. 112)

ASP Inquiry – context-driven questioning, painting a story. “True listening involves entering the perspective of another human being.” (p. 124)

DS Conscious conversation – relationship-orientated discourse towards mutual transformation, “when sender and recipient become truly interactive, with each able to shape the relationship, it is no longer mere communication. It can become a conversation.” (p. 144)

DS Dialogue – not a skill or activity, but a capacity, “While they claimed to want ‘dialogue’ they ultimately failed to practice one of its cardinal principals: questioning assumptions.” (p. 172)

ASP Bridging – bi-acculturation process of taking two worldviews and merging towards a finite goal, example of Soviet/American film directors coming together to crush the Soviet/American stereotypes found in their relative film industries (p. 191)

ASP Innovation – ideas come from exploration of conflict, “Mediators are ready to change the rules of the system… they do not ask how to ‘alleviate’ it or ‘minimize’ it. They ask how to ‘end’ it by redesigning the system that causes or perpetuates it.” (p. 211)

“Fix the process, not the problem.” (p. 222)


Gerzon, M. (2006). Leading through conflict. Harvard Business School Press: Boston.

Discovering cultural acumen through social science

Project GLOBE defines itself as: a network of 170 social scientists and management scholars from 61 cultures throughout the world, working in a coordinated long-term effort to examine the interrelationships between societal culture, organizational culture and practices, and organizational leadership. The meta-goal of the Global Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness (GLOBE) Research Program is to develop an empirically based theory to describe, understand, and predict the impact of cultural variables on leadership and organizational processes and the effectiveness of these processes. (GLOBE monograph, Cultural influences on leadership and organizations) Both Mansour Javidan and Robert House are key members of GLOBE and are important members of the content of what I wish to discuss in this article, as they wrote “Cultural acumen for the global manager: Lessons from Project GLOBE.” (2001) Javidan is the current director of the Najafi Global Mindset Institute at the Thunderbird School of Global Management, and House is known for being the author of the Path-Goal theory (which attempts to explain the relationship between leader and follower in the workplace).

Understanding GLOBE’s mission statement is important in understanding GLOBE’s stance on becoming a culturally proficient manager in a global organization. In Javidan and House’s article, the authors define cultural acumen as: the knowledge about cultural differences, knowing similarities among countries, understanding the implications of differences, and using and developing culturally appropriate skills. However, while GLOBE maintains that their goals are to “understand and appreciate cultural values, practices, and subtleties in different parts of the world,” their chief source of inspiration for the cultural dimensions comes from Geert Hofstede, a Dutch social scientist who categorized cultural differences around the world into four basic categories, all of which are included within GLOBE’s cultural dimensions along with five additional dimensions.

GLOBE’s cultural dimensions are assertiveness, future orientation, gender differentiation (Hofstede’s masculinity), uncertainty avoidance, power distance, collectivism-individualism, in-group collectivism, performance orientation, and human orientation. These cultural dimensions are what Javidan and House term motivators, or desires in a particular occupation, very similar to Edgar Schein’s career anchors (2006), except that unlike the concept of career anchors which deal primarily in workplace progression, cultural dimension motivators are an unchangeable Spinozan concept that is chiefly defined by the worker’s home culture. GLOBE’s definition of culture, therefore, is: “a set of shared values and beliefs.”

To appreciate Javidan and House’s presentation of GLOBE’s cultural dimensions, one must first recognize that they are writing from a positional bias. For example, in the article Javidan and House address the issue of performance orientation by describing strong performance oriented cultures are moving towards “deliverable results” while weak performance oriented cultures function “without any commitments or desire for results.” Living in a foreign country myself, I will be the first to admit my bias every time I step into the classroom; I feel guilt when I cannot identify and rigorously defend the results of my pedagogy, and I often reflect upon the Chinese staff at my school with a certain amount of contempt as I cannot visually ascertain and intuit that they are seeking results, and therefore view them in a lesser light as being less or not committed at all.

Therefore, for me as an expatriate educator to operate from a bias even though I have lived in this country for almost ten years and then to read about American scholars promoting a positional bias in cultural acumen, I find myself at a loss. For many Chinese teachers at my university, the concept of “deliverable results” is achieved not through the score of a test or even from the personal learning of a student, but rather from the value of the classroom relationship being maintained and the harmony of each in his or her station upholding that station to the best of his or her ability. One of my students flatly told me that when a teacher assigns him homework, he does not do the homework for himself but rather for the teacher, as a gift to the teacher. In such an environment, how can we possibly assign the concept of performance orientation, when what we perceive to be green is actually blue?

Javidan and House describe the concept of uncertainty avoidance as “the society’s reliance on social norms and procedures to alleviate the unpredictability of future events.” Even approaching this description I am at a loss for how to interpret the culture in which I live. The survey example question that Javidan and House utilize is: “In this society [China, for example], societal requirements and instructions are spelled out in detail so citizens know what they are expected to do,” with a question breadth between 1 (strongly disagree) to 8 (strongly agree). In other words, cultures that score high in uncertainty avoidance are “focused on facts” while countries low in uncertainty avoidance operate “without clear conclusions.” Is this really the case?

China traditionally ranks very low on uncertainty avoidance charts, which would insinuate by Hofstede’s definition that mainland Chinese culture is philosophically relativistic and lacks organizational strength (1980). While I have struggled with conclusions in China (especially regarding job expectations), there are just as many unsaid expectations that are just as important and require a different ear to discern. Success and failure in China often revolve not around your ability to function in a given task, but your ability to discern what the task is and then complete the task. China is not any less specifically task-oriented than Germany, except in the language used to communicate the tasks.

Finally, Javidan and House explain that for societies weak in humane orientation “generosity is not a key criterion in the process” (for example, Spain), as “the process and message tend to be simpler, more direct, and less focused on being supportive or caring.” I dare anyone to walk up to a Spaniard or German and tell them directly that they are not being generous with their words, and listen to what he or she might have as a response. Growing up in a German home with a father who spoke German as a second-language, while the surface of the words may not sound supportive, there is a great deal of support in the meaning. As scholars we must take care with our bias that we do not delegitimize another culture just because we do not understand it.


Hofstede, G. (1980). Motivation, leadership, and organization: Do American theories apply abroad? Organizational Dynamics: Summer:42-63.

Javidan, M., & House, R. (2001). Cultural acumen for the global manager: Lessons from Project GLOBE. Organizational Dynamics, 29(4):289-305.

Finding virtue among spamburgers and dim sum: Hofstede’s misplaced trust in Hong Kong culture as a Chinese cultural foundation

Hong Kong: 2010. My wife and I are walking under the colossal towers, moving between street and cloud as we escalate the Skyway, our eyes carefully scanning the perimeter of sidewalks and into glass-bound buildings for any kind of restaurant that would serve, well, Chinese food. After two hours of walking past spamburger joints and dim sum parlors, we give up and go into McDonalds. For an international city, Hong Kong is pretty barren of traditional Chinese restaurants. At the end of the week based on an internet recommendation, we head to Hong Kong’s premiere Chinese restaurant, the gaudy Jumbo Kingdom’s “Dragon Court”, but we barely start eating before we realize the food is cold and there isn’t a soul in the banquet hall except for us. Meanwhile, the cheers and hoopla from the upstairs “Topdeck” restaurant are in full furor, and for the next hour I had the sneaking suspicion that perhaps I should learn to eat spam if I wanted to appreciate to true beauty of Hong Kong’s culture.

You can’t judge a culture from the warped struggle of trying to find a style of restaurant. My wife is from northern China, but she has a love for the spicy Sichuan pepper but has no taste for the sweet southern style. Our experience in Hong Kong was a memory I will never forget, for the one reason that I felt more at home than she did; growing up in San Francisco, Hong Kong is the reflection of my home of San Francisco, or perhaps San Francisco is America’s reflection of Hong Kong.

Geert Hofstede, in his article entitled “The Confucius Connection,” (1988) makes a striking comparison between traditional Confucian philosophy and Chinese culture, going so far as to equate the former as not only having tremendous influence on the development of the latter but also incredible influence on the day-to-day operations of Chinese cultures. Hofstede uses the Hong-Kong based CVS (Chinese Values Survey) to determine the rank of 20 different countries in regards to the importance of traditional Chinese values, according to four key principles commonly ascribed to Confucius: unequal relationships between people, the family as prototype for organization, self-reflective human benevolence (not treating others as you would not want yourself to be treated), and perseverance towards virtue according to one’s station. Hofstede terms these four principles (and the accompany CVS differential values) as being “Confucian dynamism,” a uniquely eastern concept (dealing with the societal search for virtue) as opposed to the unique western concept of “uncertainty avoidance” (the search for truth, as obviously in the east they have no concept of the search for absolute truth).

Last week in my class, I spoke with a student about the concept of the generation gap. He was concerned because he felt that his parents and grandparents did not understand him at all, because they grew up in a different time. Specifically, his grandparents and parents lived through the reign of Mao Zedong, and suffered through one of China’s most intense periods of all time: the Cultural Revolution. More than a revolution, the Cultural Revolution was a period of time when friends became enemies, family members disappeared, and traditional culture was thrown into the bonfires of a country already suffering under a famine that killed 1 out of every 20 people (in addition to normal deaths). Schools were closed down. Neighbors whipped neighbor in public courts, and anything not necessary (chairs, even) were either given to the state or used as kindling. When I talk about a generation gap between myself and my parents, I am referring to the Free Love movement of the 60s and the hippie generation of the 70s; my concept of generational gap is nowhere near as extreme as my students.

Certain areas were spared of the tragedy of China: Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and Japan, four areas which hold the top four slots of the CVS. According to a research project by Shen Jianping writing in the Journal of Moral Education (1998), the values among early adolescents in Taiwan and the mainland are starkly different, with adolescents from Taiwan favoring people-orientation and inter-personal relationships (CVS values) while mainland adolescents favoring task-oriented values toward service to society and country, predominantly Maoist/socialist values. Even when speaking with my Chinese tutor and reviewing flashcards developed for spoken Chinese in Taiwan, she constantly wrinkles her brow when we discuss certain cards: “We never say it that way here! I have never heard it…” Even certain cultural axioms listed on the cards are alien to her, and while I wouldn’t call her a traditionalist, she is a woman who is highly educated and respectful of the ancient customs of China and aware of the existence of certain concepts.

Hofstede uses his four cultural dimensions to show the stark differences between the Chinese Values Survey and his own culture measurement, going so far as to actually score all of Chinese culture on four Asian “countries”: Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, and Singapore. Never mind that Hong Kong was ruled by the British for 100 years, that Taiwan was the bastion of the Confucian-based civil government chased off the mainland, that Japan isn’t even Chinese, and that Singapore is only 74% Chinese, with the rest coming from Malaysia (a Muslim culture) and India (a Hindi and Muslim culture). Hofstede makes his most blatant statement when he lumps the mainland into these other four cultures: “We can only infer that in spite of Maoism [emphasis mine], many Confucian values remain strong in the People’s Republic.” There is a danger in lumping together huge variations into a pool and then labeling them the same. When I first arrived in China I was convinced I would find people practicing taiqi on street corners and quoting Confucius in school for their finals. However, I discovered a far stranger situation: people practiced taiqi but only when the sky was dark, and people talked about Confucius only as a “silly old man.”

I admire Hofstede’s attempt for syngery. Hofstede quotes a worker of a U.S. corporation complaining of his East Asian regional manager (an expatriate American in Hong Kong who was not complying with certain company rules) to the president of the company, to which the president replied: “I fully agree. His behavior is stupid and against policy. I have only one question. From the time he worked in headquarters, I have known [him] to be an intelligent man. How can a man be so intelligent in Los Angeles and so stupid in Hong Kong?” Hofstede’s argument ends with a passionate interplay between Confucian dynamism (in his words, a uniquely eastern concept) and uncertainty avoidance (uniquely western). According to Hofstede, uncertainty avoidance is the search for absolute truth, where the polar opposite would be holding to a purely relativistic perspective, and Confucian dynamism is strictly a societal search for virtue.

Virtue, however, cannot be understood without truth, even if truth is written as subtext. Truth is the lifeblood of all philosophy, even truth that claims truth is changeable, because truth then would be self-defined (based on context). Virtue, then, becomes transformative in itself. Therefore virtue (according to Confucius) is also based on context, except in matters of the state which is absolute. Hofstede’s bias shows clearly by his claim that cultures which do not ascribe to his absolute truth must not ascribe to absolute truth at all, just as his claim that societies that do not seek virtue first cannot be found outside of Asia. While the United States may not hold to the specific cultural tenets of saving face and honoring your elders, societal virtue is just as important of a dream, regardless of whether American democracy is as valid to societal perfection as the Americans believe.


Hofstede, G. (1988). The Confucius connection: From cultural roots to economic growth. Organizational Dynamics, 16(4):5-21.

Shen, J.P. (1998). Moral values held by early adolescents in Taiwan and mainland China. Journal of Moral Education, 27(2):191-207.

The art of cultural conditioning: A query into Geert Hofstede’s early work into culture

Geert Hofstede fascinates me. As a young man, he took a trip to Indonesia and England. The first time out of his native country of Holland, he was struck with how different people behaved, and over the next fifteen years he developed his theory of culture based on the research he performed while serving as a director of personnel research at IBM. During that time, he traveled to various IBM sites around the world and conducted interviews; realizing the vast information bank of culture that IBM had, he asked them if they would be willing to open up that bank for the purpose of more in-depth cultural research. They told him no, so he left the company and joined both INSEAD and EIASM, two centers for academic business research.

Hofstede’s most well-known academic work, “Motivation, Leadership, and Organization: Do American Theories Apply Abroad?” (1980) is a classic, as his paper introduced the four cultural dimensions that have since been applied to almost every rigorous study of culture: power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism-collectivism, and masculinity. While many other researchers have expanded on the four (Javidan & House, 2001; Jackson, 2002; Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner, 1998), Hofstede was one of the first academics to create a toolbox that academics could use to deconstruct and reconstruct a culture using a few simple tools, an analytic process which he called “cultural conditioning.”

Cultural conditioning, according to Hofstede, is the collective programming of a people group, according to family structure, education, religion, government, associations, law, literature, settlement patterns, scientific theories, architecture and buildings. These cultural conditions act as variables that differentiate one culture from the next, resulting in stark divergences between how a society views class structure (power distance), strength of organization (uncertainty avoidance), strength of identity (individualism-collectivism), and societal progress (masculinity).

His research took place between 1967 and 1973, using a 150-question survey, with 60 of those questions related indirectly to values and beliefs. Based on the results from approximately 2200 participants in 20 different language groups, along with an additional 400 managers queried between 1971-1973 Hofstede collated the index data for each question for each of his four dimensions of culture, finding statistically significant correlation among 31 national indicators. While it would be impossible to discover the source of Hofstede’s four dimensions (without asking him, of course), I find the need to associate a discrepancy of bias to Hofstede’s results given his indexing method used in the initial data collection, as data was collected inductively rather than deductively and inductive studies represent a certain bias on the part of the researcher.

More importantly, however, are Hofstede’s identification of particular cultural variables (a research track that seems to be lost in his later research) with leadership, motivation, and organization. For example, Hofstede explores the differences between Freud’s self-obligation (Austria) and Maslow’s self-actualization (United States) as differences in national motivation. He goes on to present three different leadership practices based on significant scholarship: Machiavelli’s strategic manipulation (Italy), More’s strategic idealism (England), and McGregor’s strategic participation (United States) as indicators and value systems of leadership. Finally, Hofstede addresses differences in organizational theory, using the examples of Weber’s formal structure (Germany) and Mao’s mutualist structure (PRC) of organizational management.

Hofstede’s original question of the relevancy of American theories in other countries is valid and important, but sadly a question that he doesn’t seem to ask again in his later research. Hofstede’s later research plays on his four cultural dimensions to such an extent, that the beauty of his initial analysis of variables is lost, and he becomes stuck in the miasma of his own Dutch cultural conditioning of identification rather than observation. I am not dense enough to recognize that were it not for his study of the four dimensions he would not have recognized the cultural variables, but his initial study was tainted with bias. For example, his description of the four cultural dimensions could be classified with the following table:

  Weak Strong
Power distance Classless Hierarchical
Uncertainty avoidance Relativism (dissipation) Organizational strength
Individualism-collectivism Lack of self Strength in identity
Masculinity No progress Progress

In many ways, Hofstede is a spiritual successor of other Dutch philosophers such as Spinoza (who claimed that people could not deviate from their design), Huizinga (who argued that history’s primary variable was cultural artifacts rather than more traditional concepts like war and disease), and Romein (who wrote that history had to be integrated in order to be valid). Hofstede attended the university of Gronigen as did Huizinga, although Spinoza (in a less official capacity as a participant in their study groups), Huizinga, and Romein all taught at the University of Leiden. Nevertheless, the bias that Hofstede presents in his cultural dimensions (strength versus weakness) is inimitably visible. Hofstede misses the key difference in his bias: that sometimes weakness is strength, or sometimes perceived weakness has nothing to do with perceived strength. As a general frame of reference, the four dimensions of culture have the inherent danger of misinterpreting the paradigm of a culture as being somewhere it is not.


Hofstede, G. (1980). Motivation, leadership, and organization: Do American theories apply abroad? Organizational Dynamics: Summer:42-63.

Transforming values

Society is fundamentally ruled by the powerful, who maintain their power by offering others security. The powerful offer physical security, personal security, familial security, and quite often moral security that is based out of how that particular powerful group views the family and how they view the interplay between different members of the community. Opposing this “security” is more often viewed as a threat to the whole and put down immediately. The Pope was a shining example of how a leader could offer both moral authority and security, while at the same time stand out as a monstrous vehicle of power and dictatorship, “the leader of the world.” However, the United States was one of the first forces to truly challenge the papacy, and they did so through offering not only moral authority but intellectual authority through their espousal of freedom as a human right. During the beginning of the United States, scholars and thinkers were obsessed with the motivational forces that ruled over the human soul, and today, those motivational forces have evolved to values-based leadership. Leaders recognize today that people mobilize not only from the recognition of their own human rights, but from leaders who offer a living model of those values of human rights.

“Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know, / but leech-like to their fainting country cling, / rise like Lions after slumber / in unvanquishable number — / shake your chains to earth like dew / which in sleep had fallen on you — / ye are many — they are few.” (Shelley, 1819) Even in the 19th century, popular culture had begun to embrace the idea that values could transform the world. Shelley’s criticism that leaders were so distanced from their followers that they were blind, unfeeling, and stupid, was a bold thing to say when rulers still felt they had divine authority on their side. The idea that followers of a divine authority actually had chains was less a statement that people needed freedom, and more a claim that people had a right to live their own lives without being chained in the dreams of a leader who was blind.

Are one set of values any better than another set? How can you make a differentiation, without making a judgment? For example, we look at modern-day Sharia bound cultures, where women are forced to wear headdresses and covers so that they are not seen in public, when in fact many of those women support that culture and when westerners criticize those cultures, the westerners are the ones who are in turn criticized for being immoral. Do leaders need to stand for the values of their followers, or do they need to reframe those values and transform those under them? Should the leaders in closed countries such as China and Saudi Arabia seek to transform their countries to become more like other countries and their values, or should they seek to solidify themselves in favor of their own people’s values?

I often struggle with knowing where my values lie in the country I live. I am an ex-patriot, and for many people I come into contact with I am the first ex-patriot (or foreigner) they have ever met. When they see me and watch me, everything I do becomes everything the other world is. If I cry or scream or smile, I begin to form their own minds about the actions of people who are not Chinese. If I cheat or steal or sin, that is added to the value system of other countries, at least in the eyes of those who are watching me, in the exact same way that I erroneously attached the ethics and values of China to Tracy, that tiny little Chinese girl in my second-grade class, or how I also erroneously attached a judgment of Iran by observing the parents of my friend whose family fled to the United States in the 80s. However, I am an image of the West, and there is nothing I can do about that. The values I espouse become the main line in inquiry for anyone I meet, unless that person is lucky enough to meet someone else and grow their judgment set. As a leader however, the values I espouse are even more important, not because it should matter to me whether or not someone has a favorable opinion of the values of people from other countries, but because that will affect my effectiveness in reaching that person and trying to help them grow.

Ten myths of talent

According to Buckingham and Clifton (2001), talent is a relatively misunderstood and abused concept, especially in the workplace. In this short essay, I will explore ten myths about talent (and strength) that are emphasized in Buckingham and Clifton’s book, “Now, Discover Your Strengths,” which I have attempted to give a stronger emphasis than in presented in the book by relating several insights as popular myths modern culture has propagated about the power and paradox of talent.

Myth #1: “Self-improvement (and success) comes through cultivating and increasing abilities in a wide variety of necessary skills for the workplace according to standards of excellence in the industry.”

In our modern world, the myth of “skill gaps” and “areas of opportunity” is a widely propagated deterrent to maximizing on our greatest talents and turning those talents into strengths.  Companies and organizations encourage workers to retune their weaknesses into strengths instead of focusing their efforts on increasing the capacity of their workers’ strengths, in order to create a more balanced workforce, but in the end the only result is a rather mediocre set of employees that work not out of passion but need.

Myth #2: “Education and mentorship unlock inner potential for greatness and must be built slowly through expert advice and institutional programs.”

Talents are “recurring patterns of thought” that are identified through yearnings (childhood passions), instinct (natural actions), and satisfaction (positive emotions).  Education and mentorship may assist the transformation of talents into strengths, but each person has been designed or formed from a young age to respond in certain ways, our unique signature.  The catastrophe of modern education is that the focus on a multifarious liberal education based on societal temperaments has replaced the tutorial education of the past, and many students find themselves stuck like a broken gear in a machine they barely understand or know how to respond to and struggle through like itinerant farmers in a famine.

Myth #3: “Some people are born with the rare gene of genius; everyone else is ordinary and must accept that even with schooling and training, they may be able to get a good job but shouldn’t hope for any more.”

Talents must be reinforced with knowledge (factual and experiential) and skills (structural procedure).  Talent by itself is like a lump of clay, which when molded by hands (knowledge) into a visual piece of art (skill) transforms into a strength, which can then be focused in one’s work or career and used proficiently.  Every person in the universe has talent, just as every person in the universe has the ability to breathe.  Genius isn’t a cause but a result.

Myth #4: “A liberal education (education in a mixture of fields) guarantees and prepares students to be good stewards of an intellectual legacy, and is the most important element of showcasing intelligence and preparedness for a complex, challenging, and invigorating career.”

Our lives must be focused on our talents.  It is not enough to identify one’s own talents, but career, education, family, all these must point toward an end in which the talents we possess are of use.  While a liberal education may be exciting (much like trying out various hobbies can be invigorating) a liberal education cannot be the sole source of knowledge and skill, but must serve as a stepping stone in a direction to focus the energies of the student.

Myth #5: “Human potential is limitless; people have the capacity for brilliance in any field, as long as they follow the correct method, the right teacher, and are inspired by greatness.”

Talents are built into our biological systems, part of our unique blueprint as individuals.  Talents are not a mystical branch of the ether.  Talents are electrical impulses that jump back and forth between the canals of our brain, and as we get older we are awarded with fewer talents, while the ones that remain become stronger.  While human beings are limitless, a human being is not.  People have the capacity for brilliance, but not in everything, and while a good teacher can help them in the path to unlock their potential, people are ultimately responsible for their own progress.

Myth #6: “The trendsetters and world-changers possess a quality of rare talent that most people could never imagine of themselves; such talent comes as the result of extraordinary circumstances, forging people of incomparable mettle.”

Strengths are not born but must be built with talent, knowledge, and skill.  In most cases, the giants of the world are not any different from anyone else.  They were all children once, they all went through puberty and experienced their first kiss.  And they will all grow old, weary, and pass away into dust.  The only difference between the giants of the world and the giants of the next is knowing what they loved, and their focus on doing what they loved.

Myth #7: “Many factors contribute to a person’s profession and career, including education, age, experience, sex, as well as previous successes, failures, and relationships. These factors constitute a person’s primary currency in the realm of job value.”

Too often, we find ourselves in a position because of exterior circumstances beyond our control.  However, position must be according to strength, not any other factors, a motion easier to say than to do and often requiring sacrifice of comfort in order to find a place where we can be truly valued and feel our contributions have value.  External circumstances are hindrances, barriers, and arguments against our true value.

Myth #8: “Standards of excellence promote positive value in worker output, defined from years of experience, planning, and research; such hallmarks secure the foundation of a company or organization’s success, and help to forge a path into an uncertain future, presenting employees with a model to transform themselves toward.”

Each person has a unique collection of strengths, and so each person has to contribute in a slightly different way to be the most effective.  Companies that focus on creating a singular worker according to an ideal model will never capture the essence of effectiveness, as much as an organization that focuses on utilizing the unique strengths of each person in the beautiful way he or she was designed.  A person who is invigorated, passionate, and strong is infinitely more valuable than a person who is stretched, confused, and tired.

Myth #9: “In order to maximize a person’s potential, the wheat must be cut away from the chaff.”

Learning how our weaknesses contribute positively to our strengths will help maximize our strengths instead of managing our weakness and wasting our potential.  Weaknesses stem from fundamental value decisions, and are part of the building blocks of our strengths.  Therefore, focusing on weakness means opportunities to maximize strengths are wasted.  Trying to separate the two inevitably causes a fracture in our strengths as well; however, focusing on the strength will generally transform the weakness into an asset.  For example, a worker who is lazy but incredibly creative, by putting opportunities for the worker to practice his creativity will transform his laziness into patience.

Myth #10: “Natural capacity and genius are shown at their highest in the image of the Renaissance Man, a person of flexible modus operandi who can seamlessly move from field to field in a quickly changing modern society, and who can understand a wide berth of disciplines and apply those across boundaries.”

You can’t and shouldn’t try to be the Everything in terms of strengths.  Focus on core strengths, and your effectiveness will be far greater, even if you are massively talented.  Leonardo da Vinci, while a great man, is celebrated far more for his art than his engineering, even though engineering was for many years his career and how he earned his keep.  We have faded notebooks of his engineering designs, but The Last Supper as evidence of his art.  There is a noticeable difference.  His art consumed him; had he not been a painter, we probably would never have known about his mechanical designs or his scientific theories.

Talents are a rare gift that each person born onto this earth possess, but which are left to despair to dry in the sun and wither away.  Only by possessing those talents and transforming them into strengths through careful study and critical praxis, and then pointing ourselves like an arrow in the right direction, will those strengths hit their mark.  The beauty of strengths is that unlike an arrow, they are a force of growth and beauty, and immediately upon hitting their mark, if watered will grow into a beautiful tree and bear fruit for everyone around us.

The skills approach to leadership: lecture script

Do you believe that leaders are born, or that leaders can be trained?

This is one of the most pertinent issues in leadership today.  Do we choose our leaders based on how they make us feel (ie: charismatic leaders, such as President Obama) or based on their abilities as leaders, even if they are dull and not inspiring?


The skills approach to leadership claims that leaders can be trained and developed, and need only a few traits in order to grow and create results.  There are two central parts to the skills approach, which can be summed up in the Three Skills Approach and in the Five Capabilities.  These two approaches are not competitive but rather synergistic, as the Three Skills Approach outlines the kinds of skills a leader needs and the Five Capabilities explains how those skills operate and showcase on the battlefield of an organization.


The Three Skills are technical skills, conceptual skills, and human skills.  Think of technical skills as the know-how and the details of a particular kind of job, with human skills being people skills (or the abilities to communicate effectively with those you work for you), and finally conceptual skills being abilities aligned with strategy, visionary thinking, and seeing the Big Picture.


The Five capabilities begin with competencies, which are basic measures of effective performance, or how well leaders perform their skills in the organization.  In other words, competencies are the leaders aptitudes for generating results.


Individual attributes are trait-like and at first glance seem more aligned with behavioral tendencies, but unlike the trait approach to leadership which seeks out leaders based on whether they have particular attributes, individual attributes in the skills approach to leadership deal with intellectual abilities and how well the leader processes information, which unlike traits, is actually something that can be trained through practice, training, or education.


Leadership outcomes are essentially the limits of acceptable probability, which in layman’s terms deals with the social visibility the leader showcases based on how well he performs the functions of his duties; again, at first glance the outcome of a decision may seem like it is tied with the leader’s instrinsic qualities, but the skills approach argues that the outcome is based on how well the leadership performs, which is something can be improved over-time.  Performance is not a trait but a skill.


Career experiences are the skills gained in praxis; in other words, over-time the skills of a leader will grow.  So breaking down which skills are growing and in which situations will help the leader define how they are progressing upwards and help him understand what needs to improve.


Finally, environmental influences factor in heavily for the skills approach, as they are essentially contextual abilities such as flexibility and adaptability in different situations.  Sometimes these situations can be varying organizational or national cultures, while other times these situations can be reactionary skills; in other words, how well a leader knows a particular culture and how to interact with it, or the speed and efficacy a leader has in reacting to difficult situations.


I feel it is necessary to give you some background information on these two models of skill-based leadership.  The Three Skills were developed by Robert Katz in 1955 (who is still alive today, running a leadership consultancy out of Portola Valley, California) in an article he wrote entitled, “Skills of an Effective Administator.”  During the course of his life, he was a professor at Dartmouth, Harvard, and Stanford University.  He was the City Planning Commisioner of Portola Valley, the Director of the United States National Resources, Incorporated, as well as a Commisioner of Yosemite National Park.  Most of his work over the course of his life dealt with the training of public officials in positions of the United States government, post World War II.  His understanding of effective leadership cannot be dismissed from the system of government in which he worked, which was essentially a reformed British parliamentary system inspired by the French revolutionary ideals of a standard civil code, people’s representation, and military effectiveness, four ideals which are in truth, not common to many governments and cultures around the world.

The authors of the Five capabilities adds even more color to this very interesting picture.   Michael Mumford was and perhaps is the principal investigator of million dollar grants to the Department of Defense, as well as being the editor of Leadership Quarterly.  Stephen Zaccaro is one of the editors of the Journal of Military Psychology, as well as a professor at George Mason University, a university well-known to producing military scholars.  Edwin Fleishman was in the Navy and the Air Force for 12 years as a director of many psychological research labs, before becoming a full professor at George Mason University, and Thomas Jacobs is a professor at the National Defense University and the US Army Institute.

Military science and procedures for training officials and representatives of the United States government is therefore, a huge influence on the skills approach, and must be taken into consideration when thinking about how to move the skills approach across cultures.


What are the implications of these facts upon the skills approach, and how can we evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the skills approach as a methodology leaders can incorporate into their lives and their organizations?

Firstly, let’s talk about some weaknesses.  The skills approach is severely lacking in intentionality. No where in the skills approach is there a question of why the leader wants power, and this is for good reason.  Government officials are trained to do a job, not to care necessarily about the implications of their work, and soldiers are trained to be obedient even if they disagree with the attitudes of their superiors.  So the skills approach lacks that foundational ethic of why the leader would even seek power, and assumes that everyone can learn to be a leader, even if they don’t want to be.

Secondly, the skills approach has an over-focus on intellectualism, without accountability.  What do I mean by this?  Leaders often make bad decisions but those bad decisions may be ignored because the result was a success.  The skills approach does not take into account the ethical implications of bad decisions if the end result was successful.

This means that fundamentally, the skills approach is positivist and slightly utilitarian.  Utilitarian leadership is the opposite of transformational leadership, because it assumes that people don’t necessarily have to grow, but only need to perform their duties for the benefits of others, creating a strange paradox within the skills approach that seems to encourage skill-building while ignoring heart-building.

Positively, the skills approach is progressive, focused on institutional growth and creating a stronger systematic approach to defining and creating leaders where there is only desert.  This makes the skills approach ideal for organizations suffering from the insidious disease of leadership succession.  Furthermore, the skills approach offers a great theoretical framework for building training programs, whether your organization is training managers or CEOs.  And finally, the malleability within the skills approach is such that even people without any training can become great leaders, as long as they are put into a program that takes them step-by-step and focuses on the long-term rather than the short-term.

The skills approach to leadership is for the long haul; is it not a simple solution, but an elegant system which over-time, slowly builds confidence and skills and creates effective, intelligent, and results-driven leaders.










Mao’s last poem: The dialectical journey from idealism to broken dreams, and the sorrow of the lone leader

Suffering from tuberculosis and schizophrenia, Feng Laiheng lay on his deathbed at the young age of 62, plagued with the nightmares of China’s Cultural Revolution and the persecution he received from Chairman Mao’s avenging angels, the Red Guards, because of a painting he completed almost 23 years before his death (Sullivan, 1996). In 1959, Feng Laiheng, known more popularly by his moniker Shi Lu, completed one of the masterpieces of the 20th century, Fighting in Northern Shaanxi. This “Chinese Van Gogh” (Jia, 2005) had created a bold landscape painting that hearkened back to Shi Lu’s admiration of the painter Shi Tao and his encapsulation of the lone daoist contemplating the vast emptiness of the universe in Waterfall on Mount Lu (17th century), except instead of the hero admiring everything and nothing, the hero in Shi Lu’s painting is standing in pyrrhic victory over the bones of his fallen comrades (Chang & Halliday, 2005), the sun filled with blood as a constant reminder to the Great Helmsman of the cost of change. Inspired by one of Mao’s personal poems (released in 1958 to the public), Fighting was a victory song of brutal and martial language (Appendix II:4-5), exclaiming both the tragedy of war and the power of a singular vision. Shi Lu encapsulated Mao Zedong’s mythic power as a leader in his painting: the utter loneliness of his character, contrasted with the roiling world beneath him, swirling in chaos, tragedy, and the lifeblood of people he had sworn himself (Chan, 2011).

Fighting in Northern Shaanxi (Shi Li, 1959)

Fighting in Northern Shaanxi (Shi Li, 1959)

In this paper, seven significant time periods of Mao Zedong’s life will be discussed, and in each time period I will discuss how, in my opinion, Mao saw himself change as a leader through the circumstances that impacted him (by discussing seven of his poems). Mao was an intensely personal but public man, his feelings both open to all for scrutiny and worship, but also closed even to himself. I will begin by discussing his coming into power as a Communist leader, and end with the events that eventually caused his downfall, with several significant events serving as descriptions of his leadership.

The lone hero. In 1925, Mao Zedong had left the honeymoon stage of his tenure as the representative of the Communist Party for the province of Hunan. After being criticized by Sergei Dalin (an envoy from Moscow shepherding many CCP activities in China), Mao was fired from his position and promptly joined the Nationalist Party (Chang & Halliday, 2005), fleeing from Shanghai back to his hometown for a brief respite, where he wrote the poem entitled Changsha, his first major poetic work and a startling clear account of his vision as a leader.

Mao’s poem Changsha introduces several core aspects of what would eventually define his unique model of leadership, the Lone Hero model. While he viewed companions as necessary to accomplish tasks (Appendix I:14), his particular dialectical materialistic point-of-view supposed that morality had less distinction with absolute principles of good and evil, but more distinction as a scale of transformation. “Who are our enemies, and who are our friends?” (Pye, 1976) For Mao, everything was mutually transformable, including enemies. For this reason, Mao states with vivacity that he “counted the mighty no more than muck” (Appendix I:22), showing a rare worldview that did not abide by the Confucian respect of authority in which the leader was a man of virtue, benevolence, and authoritarian sagacity (Chen & Lee, 2008), but instead was as malleable as “the waters” struck by Mao and his companions, in order to “stay the speeding boats” (Appendix I:24-25).

Another important attribute of Mao’s leadership philosophy was his loneliness (Tay, 1970). From the first line of the poem (“alone I stand”) to the end of the first stanza, Mao writes about his singular calling to save China from the calamity of the age (Tay, referencing the Huainanzi) and rule over the destiny of his country (Appendix I:13). Mao was very reticent in publishing his poems, whatever critics may accuse him of using his poetry to inspire his followers (there is no evidence of this), and agreed only when the aim would serve a political purpose (Li, 2010). Perhaps he saw in himself, the “man” referenced by the historian Ch’en Liang (Mao’s favorite author), who stated that “which heaven and earth and all the gods and spirits cannot change, is changed by man.” (Tay)

The philosopher. Mao was a trained classicist; from a young age to his elderly years, he was known to have slept on a “bed of books,” often sleeping on a custom-designed bed to make room for his library of Chinese classics next to his pillow (Chang & Halliday, 2005). One of the most well-read men of his age (at least in terms of Chinese classical education), Mao was also a prodigious philosopher and wrote a book on dialectical materialism called “On Contradiction” which claimed that the most basic law in the universe was the law of opposites (Chen & Lee, 2008). How did his philosophical discipline and his practice of writing poetry influence his practice of leadership?

One of Mao’s most famous poems was Snow (Appendix III), a verse he wrote after he had completed the Long March and effectively taken control of the Chinese Communist Party, or at least their military. In a moment of sublime meditation, Mao looked upon the lands north of the Great Wall, and imagined himself like the heroes of old: Qin Shihuang (who built the Great Wall), Han Wudi (founder of the Han Dynasty and the largest people group i China), Tang Taizong and Taizu of Song (the two kings of China’s “golden age”), and Genghis Khan (the only foreigner to conquer China).

However, his estimation of them, at least according to his poem, is quite low, stating quite plainly that both Qin Shihuang and Han Wudi were illiterate fools (Appendix III:17), Taizong and Taizu with shallow souls and petty appetites (19), and Genghis Khan as a man whose primary accomplishment was the fact he could shoot arrows better than any other man (22). Imagining himself as a conqueror, he planned to establish a base in Mongolia (Chang & Halliday, 2005), and perhaps much of his inspiration came from that feverish moment, looking upon the vastness of the Great Wall in the dead of winter, dreaming himself the prime hero of the ages, physical strength coupled with intellectual brilliance. The last line of his poem encapsulates perfectly his belief: “For truly great men look to this age alone” (Appendix III:24-25). In many ways Mao Zedong saw himself as one of the immortals, relating himself to the the intellectual hero of the Chinese classic Sanguo, Zhou Yu, through the art of alluding to another heroic poem, “Thoughts of the past at Red Cliff” (Tay, 1966).

The harbinger. 1961 was a tumultuous year for Mao Zedong. In the late 50s, Mao had attempted to force China into the position of a global superpower, through his policies of the Great Leap Forward. However, his policies backfired, and close to 30 million people died from famine, starvation, and disease. Mao’s own daughter grew sickly and diseased during the Great Leap, because she was forced to eat university rations and wasn’t allowed at her father’s table (Chang & Halliday, 2005). However, in 1961 the CCP took action and ousted Mao as the president, electing Li Shaoqi in his place at a little place called Lushan, a retreat center for top government officials with a lake for swimming, nestled in the heart of the mountains. Two poems written in 1961 point to how Mao saw himself transforming as a leader, The Fairy Cave and Ode to the Plum Blossom, written four months apart from each other but showcasing a dangerous metamorphosis worthy of Kafka.

In August of 1961, the CCP met at the beautiful retreat of Lushan. As Mao and his comrades were swimming in the lake (even holding meetings in their swimsuits), there was a tense feeling in the air (Fenby, 2008). Mao was ignored by many of his former friends, and he began to form a dangerous liaison with his former enemy Lin Biao, a monstrous (but effective) man whose wife wrote of him that his greatest virtue was his ability to hate (Chang & Halliday, 2005). A few days after the retreat ended, Mao wrote a frightening poem, The Fairy Cave, in which he stated that beauty could only be found in danger: “On perilous peaks dwells beauty in her infinite variety” (Appendix V:4). Earlier in the poem, Mao wrote, “riotous clouds sweep past, swift and tranquil” alluding to his struggles at the Lushan Conference, but then he continued, “Nature has excelled herself in the Fairy Cave,” referring to the mythic cave of the Eight Immortals, buried deep within the mountains of Lushan.

Four months later during the harsh winter in which he daughter had returned home from school after having grown too sick to study, Mao wrote another poem, Ode to the Plum Blossoms (VI), in which he called himself the “harbinger of Spring” (VI:6). Calling upon the ancient forces of classical Chinese poetry, Mao related himself as the plum blossom, ushering in a rebirth of Nature (Tay, 1966).

The visionary. The last leadership element of Mao’s Lone Hero model would be his capacity for visionary leadership. In a strange way, Mao believed that he was fundamentally transformational in everything he did, if we understand his concept of transformation as being a social architect (as proposed by Bennis & Nanus, 1985) who designs and fashions a society through the demolition of the old. However, unlike Bennis & Nanus’s social architect, Mao saw trust as his reliability as “the desire to be worshiped” (Pye, 1976) rather than articulating consistency and straightforward direction. In Mao’s poem Swimming, he relates a Master stating, “Thus do things flow away!” (Appendix IV:9). In 1956, Mao had just obtained nuclear technology and told his inner circle, “we must control the earth!” (Chang & Halliday, 2005). However, his aspirations for nuclear power went far beyond a simple arms race: being a superpower was a passion, a way for him to step beyond Soviet control (Fenby, 2008), a symbol of self-sufficiency. Much of Mao’s leadership decisions come with an attitude of risk, to where Mao even trivializes through arguments of dialectical logic (Pye).

Beyond turning China into a superpower, though, Mao sought to establish an immortal legacy for himself in his own country. Much of his poem, Swimming, relates his visionary dream to complete the project that Sun Yat-Sen (the first president of the Republic of China) began, but later was abandoned because of the rise of the warlords. Mao sees his dream of building the dam in mythic proportions, relating how even the mountain goddess will look in awe upon his creation (Appendix IV:18-19), foreshadowing the belief that he was equal to the gods and could alter the course of Nature as a chaotic harbinger of change, uniting a land that for thousands of years had been fractured.

Looking back on Mao Zedong’s leadership philosophy, much of what he believed was admirable: a man of vision to even rival the ancient mythic heroes, a force of change and transformation, a deeply educated mind with a passion for beauty, and a heroic nature which aims for the most basic of societal changes: elevating us to progress, so that we in turn can transform our world.

So what happened?

A refraction of logic: why talk about Mao’s leadership philosophy at all? Transformational leadership theory is most weak when viewed through examples of “heroic leadership” (Yukl, 1999), such as cases like Mao Zedong. Transformational leadership is easily abused, and the danger of transformational leaders is the lack of accountability; even today, scholars have not figured out acceptable ways to measure the factors and variables (Northouse, 2013). Even transformational leadership prophets (such as James MacGregor Burns) make the mistake of equating the best transformational leaders as an exercise of dictatorship in retrospect (2004), as evidenced by Burns’ two favorite transformational leaders, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, presidents who are more or less equated as benevolent dictators or beloved princes.

Two final poems must be discussed, to find an answer to the enigma of Mao Zedong’s transformational leadership. In autumn of 1963, Mao and his inner circle finally made a move that would alter them forever: they broke away from Russia. For more than 50 years, the U.S.S.R. had infiltrated and controlled Chinese politics, from training the Nationalist army and supporting the Nationalist Assembly, to even writing checks for their Com-interns (such as Mao and his peers in the CCP) around China. But in 1963, Mao finally ideologically split from Russia, refusing to even speak with them any more about issues of political importance. To Mao, the day he split from Russia was a day of salvation. In the last poem Mao ever wrote, he proclaimed: “Don’t you know a triple pact was signed / under the bright autumn moon two years ago? / There’ll be plenty to eat, / potatoes piping hot, / beef-filled goulash” (Appendix VIII:14-20). But one line later, be bemoans, “Stop your windy nonsense! / Look, the world is being turned upside down” (21-22). Somehow, from the moment when he broke away from Russia, from that bright and beautiful autumn evening in 1963, to his last poem (1965), something went terribly wrong. Something had transformed Mao into the conquering hero he so despised; after he wrote that fateful final line, he never wrote another piece of poetry again. His lasting legacy would not be a poem, but the Cultural Revolution, the moment that took Shi Lu’s soul.

Guo Muoru: from friend to foe, to the end. Comrade Guo Muoru was one of a kind. An intellectual who fell in love with communism, he came from a long-line of scholars, was swept into revolutionary fervor, and became a close friend of Mao Zedong. Muoru went abroad to study in Japan (much like Sun Yat-Sen and Lu Xun, contemporaries of a generation before), married a Japanese Christian woman and had several children. When the war against Japan broke out, he returned to China while his wife stayed in Japan (she was not allowed to come with him), she discovered to her sadness that he had remarried and had several more children with his second wife. A fiery intellectual, Muoru wrote several treatises on the slave society of old China, and Mao became enamored of him, even going to far as to put Muoru’s diatribes into his own speeches as justification to rail against the old Confucian society.

However, in 1963, Guo Muoru wrote a poem criticizing Mao Zedong’s policies. Muoru’s son had just been sent to the countryside for re-education, and was upset enough to publicly humiliate Mao with a poem criticizing Mao’s divisive tactics in trying to destroy those who tried to take his power. Unlike other criticisms, Mao was incensed, relating Muoru like those “flies [that] dash themselves against the wall, humming without cease… shrilling… moaning… [trying to] topple the giant tree” (Appendix VII:1-7). At heart, Mao was an optimist, and he could not believe that people did not understand what he was trying to do; yet they did not. Not only did his peers not support him after the failure of the Great Leap, but his plans for turning China into a global superpower also failed, and his allies that he spent years nurturing and millions of currency supporting… most of them were toppled in revolutions much like his own. In his final poem, Mao (with a bit of sage-like wonder) writes, “Gunfire licks the heavens, / shells pit the earth… / a sparrow in his bush is scared stiff! / “This is one hell of a mess!” (VIII:6-9). In 1965, almost immediately after writing that poem, Mao Zedong began plans for the Cultural Revolution, setting up Cultural Revolution offices around the country, and preparing for the moment when he would unleash his “avenging angels” against his enemies.

A retrospective. The importance of maintaining healthy leadership philosophies is paramount, even equal with the work a leader does in his or her capacity. Mao Zedong transformed his country, but at great cost. Were he here today, he might even reply, “The cost was inevitable.” But was the cost for Mao’s soul worth it? In the end, he became like those leaders he laughed at in his poem, Snow. Violent dullards who only knew how to conquer and little else. By the end of Mao’s life, he was hanging on by a thread. Hundreds of mistresses later, four wives, and out of ten children, only three survived to adulthood. One of his sons died in the Korean War, two of his sons died or disappeared during the Chinese Civil War, and the rest of his children either died in infancy or were abandoned. Mao was a figure who was constantly in flux, never in one place for long, and obsessed with the idea that through dissolution could come re-imagination; even in his own life.

Mao Zedong was purity, if purity could be composed of the essence of change. Yet I have to question if the purity of philosophy as a leader is viable to long-lasting positive change, especially as a Christian who believes that God’s grace is immeasurable and Christ’s love can heal all wounds. Mao truly believed that he was above the par, and he longed for that spiritual connection that he absolved himself with every night, sleeping on his bed of books. He longed to be welcomed into the abodes of the gods, into the cave of the immortals, and into the annals of great men. There is nothing wrong with that by itself. All leaders desire legacy.

However, we do not live in a vacuum. Mao’s concept of the lone leader, while he was able to accomplish many things, in the end he could not save himself. None of us can. We are incapable of self-salvation, and we will always fail when we try. There is only one way of salvation, and that is to make peace with our Creator, and understand that while we may live in a world where destruction breeds life and life is destroyed, our path as living creatures lies along the road of love. As leaders, there is a humbling to that – we cannot live without community, and we cannot live without love. To go without one or the other lies the loneliness of lamentation. To go with – is beyond purity: the eternal.


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Chang, J., & Halliday, J. (2005). Mao: The unknown story. New York: Anchor Books.

Chen, C.C., & Lee, Y.T. (2008). Leadership and management in China. Cambridge: Cambridge.

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Sullivan, M. (1996). Art and artists of the twentieth century. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Tay, C.N. (1966). From Snow to Plum Blossoms: A commentary on some poems by Mao Tse-tung. The Journal of Asian Studies, 25(2): 287-304.

Tay, C.N. (1970). Two poems of Mao Tse-tung in the light of Chinese literary tradition. The Journal of Asian Studies, 29(3): 633-656.

Yukl, G.A. (1999). An evaluation of conceptual weaknesses in transformational and charismatic leadership theories. Leadership Quarterly, 10(2): 285-305.


I. Changsha (1925)

II. Loushan Pass (1935)

III. Snow (1936)

IV. Swimming (1956)

V. The Fairy Cave (1961)

VI. Ode to the Plum Blossom (1961)

VII. Reply to Comrade Guo Muoru (1963)

VIII. Two Birds: A Dialogue (1965)

Conflict throughout history: Following the changing thread

From time immemorial, mankind has been in conflict with one another. And from time immemorial, mankind has desired to not be. Every loss of human life is a slight against us, and as death is the affliction of life, so life designates the necessity of death. Throughout history, philosophers have mused on the nature of conflict, and over time our basic understanding of conflict itself has evolved. Originally conflict for philosophy was a basic tenet of the physical and spiritual life, almost as if conflict was matter that had been woven into the universe. It was part of everything, plants, animals, rain, even the shadows cast from the sun. Today, our understanding of conflict is an intensely personal struggle, a struggle that many theorists are framing as a methodology for not only self-development, but a necessary requirement for a stronger society.

​        Heraclitus and Han Feizi claimed that conflict was woven into the universe and was part of everything, including all human relationships. However, much of the early theory of conflict states that it should be used by political or economic factions as a mechanism for development. Han Feizi, especially, believed that conflict was so prevalent between people that the only way to manage a society was to use conflict as an arbiter. Plato and Aristotle believed that conflict was a mechanism that should be used by the elite to either control followers (Plato) or as a defense mechanism to protect ones’ sovereign power from the masses (Aristotle). Augustine taught that conflict was endemic within each person as a mechanism of self-support, that with the acquisition of reason and knowledge self-conflict was tempered. Both Machiavelli and Hobbes believed that conflict was a mechanism for stability, although Machiavelli wrote that conflict should be used in order to generate social stability, while Hobbes believed that civil society was a passive effect of two forces in conflict.

​        Malthus stated that conflict was proportional to the population, and with an increase in population conflict would inevitably increase, being one of the first theorists to propose that science was related to social development rather than as mechanism for the securing of power. Smith continued this line of reasoning, by stating that within each person conflict was necessary as they drove themselves to self-interest. Finally, Darwin cemented the absolute nature of conflict by turning it from a mechanism of political machinations, to a science of observation in the eternal between between survival and growth. In general, discussions of conflict pre-Darwin characterized it primarily as a political or economic tool for stability, which kings, princes, lords, and intellectual leaders could use in order to establish themselves. However, after Darwin the study of conflict entered into a discussion of social and cultural scientific observation.

​        In the modern era of sociology, Gumplowicz expanded on the Darwinian concept of conflict by expanding the science to a study of not only natural and physical conflict but societal. Essentially, Gumplowicz transformed the study of conflict by tying the nature of his new science directly with context, claiming that conflict is the key force behind social and cultural evolution. Pareto, following the contextual relevance of Gumplowicz, stated that conflict (more particularly, revolutionary movements) was the key to national evolution, when one group of elites eventually replaced the old regime. Madison went into even more detail by cementing a system of checks and balances that not only utilized the conflict within political organizations, but fastened the conflict together, believing that the inherent conflict within the varying cultures of politics would create boundless progress and eventual stability.

​        Sumner, however, gave conflict a personal quality by claiming (in an eerily similar but non-sacred fashion as Aquinas) that only through the individual struggle against rivals, antagonists, and displacement, would people truly define themselves. Sumner personalized the nature of conflict. Whereas pre-Darwin conflict was seen as a mechanism or tool used by the powerful, post-Darwin conflict became a set of skills that people or factions could adopt in order to transform themselves, turning weaknesses into strengths. Ward built on Sumner’s ideas by claiming that the personal growth and stability of conflict was actually a function of social efficiency and relational stability (those being the end goals). Finally, Parsons entered into the debate and strongly stated that conflict had an ideal state which one could progress towards. While Parsons claimed that this ideal state was one free of deviance, other thinkers such as Mills and Dahrendorf criticized Parsons. Mills that that the equilibrium theory (conflict being counter-actions towards deviance) was actually self-destructive, as it served only as a defense of privilege rather than as an offense against oppression. Dahrendorf went so far as to state that the ideal state to work towards was actually deviance and abnormality, while equilibrium was the actual conflict of the age. Dahrendorf believed that change was a creative force which shattered the status quo (or equilibrium theory), and hence the true conflict of the age was the battle of progressing past old ideas into the new.

​        Perhaps it is oversimplification to arrange all of history within a few paragraphs. However, something has changed in the nature of conflict. There is truth to the adage that there is nothing new under the sun, but there is also truth in the capacity of self-improvement through constant reassessment and rebuilding. We are vessels of conflict: when we are born, we come bawling out of our mother’s womb; when we die we lay on our beds, gasping for that last breath of air. Our lives are defined by struggle, and our moments of glory are struggle in victory. Why should we seek to take that away? Why run away from conflict? Why not run toward it?

​        We are also creatures of sorrow and pain, and seek peace. While conflict may define who we are, we can never allow conflict to guide our hand, only understand it. Leaders who use conflict knowingly in order to create chaos where there is order are monsters, no matter their good intentions or selfish machinations. Love is the ultimate arbiter of conflict, because love is a concept that stands between two foes and offers warmth. Yet in our organizational models, where does love come into play? How can leaders truly love their followers without risking their own weaknesses? How can leaders show weakness for the purpose of gifting themselves without losing their organizations?

​        The evolution of conflict throughout history I have mentioned makes some starting claims. The first is that pre-Darwin, many thinkers believed that conflict existed as a tool or mechanism which was requisite in the field of politics and economics, which if used could propel people to change outwardly. The second is that post-Darwin, conflict became a set of skills that cultures, nations, governments, and eventually people could adopt into order to self-develop. Today, conflict continues to transform, and I foresee the future of conflict as being an intensely personal quest. Many thinkers teach conflict not as warring ideas between two parties, but as trainable skills for self-development. Scholars believe today that “conflict potential” is something that can be maximized for inter-personal growth. There are also many scholars today that teach about role specialization in organizations, not only as a way of complementing strengths but as a way of creating value networks that challenge one another. Conflict resolution and avoidance have been replaced by the science of conflict management, a way of looking at conflict that shows the ultimate potential of inter-cultural issues so that both cultures in the end can be maximized.

Two foxes and a hen: The mask of harmony and illusion of the masses

Imagine a dinner table. At the table sit two foxes and a hen, and all three are discussing what to have for dinner. The analogy of the two foxes and a hen is often used to describe the concept of “the tyranny of the majority,” a theory in political science that epitomizes the power of the masses over the elite and the power they wield over the existing regime in establishing change. While “the tyranny of the majority” has been hotly debated for hundreds of years (ever since John Adams coined the term in 1788), any discussion regarding the influence of mass movements and harmony in society cannot progress without acknowledging the power the masses have played in national movements throughout history. Some experiments in nation-building (such as the Weimar Republic and the Republic of China) have proven to be disastrous, with many blaming those failures on a dictator seizing the power of the masses to gain absolute power, while other experiments in nation-building (the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China) have like-wise proven wildly successful, resulting in the formation of two of the most powerful nations on this Earth. However, whereas in the United States a dictator did not seize the power of the masses, in China one did, and yet both have proven to be successful examples of statecraft and leadership.

​        It would be a mistake to simplify the past in terms of what we do not understand. Many have characterized the rise of Nazi Germany as the fault of a people who allowed a dictator to take control because they were tired and disenfranchised (which may have been true, given that a loaf of bread in 1919 cost 1 German mark, but by 1923 that same loaf of bread cost 100 billion marks). However, the truth is that underneath the veil of a different time and culture, life was just as vibrant, with networks of various people in connection with each other (even in small villages), such as athletic clubs, religious organizations, charities, trade guilds and unions, and professional associations. In China before Mao Zedong, the country was perhaps even more vibrant, with a new literary era on the cusp of transforming word and art, modern technology and contemporary strategic theory introduced into the military, the establishment of universities and higher educational academies, a unified banking system, political and constitutional reform, as well as joining the international spectrum of athletes as a contender for the Olympics. The idea of a “mass society” composed of a “social void without attachments, alienated, rootless, and normless” is as fallacious as stating that dictators come to power because the people don’t want them to, but had no choice because the dictator seized this mysterious element in society and forced them to bend to his will. In most situations, the dictator is merely a sign of the culture, and the masses are an illusion used by political scientists to try and absolve the details of significance. While Hitler rose to power in Germany, similar movements inspired by race and despotism were taking place all over the world; Hitler may been at one side of the extremes, but he was not an outlier.

​        This discussion leads us to the question: if the masses are an illusion, then why did the 20th century see such an upswing of dictatorial governments and fascist tendencies? Societies are formed of complicated and amalgamated structures of inter-twining realities, and many of those realities influence one another like vines growing onto the trunk of a tree and branches joining with other trees to form multifarious organisms. It is not simple enough to say: the Great Depression allowed Roosevelt unprecedented power in changing the role of government, and neither is it simple enough to say that the struggle of China’s peasants empowered Mao Zedong in overcoming the Kuomintang elites. However, a more important question rises from this: how can we understand the complexities of culture, as well as train our leaders in the abilities to recognize and manage positive change in this hidden web of interests? As observers of other cultures and nations, how can we identify cultures of “false harmony” and prevent the volatility of violent revolution that inevitably will justify itself?

​        Many people see truth as an absolute concept, rooted in the interplay and consequences of moral quandaries as they unveil themselves in our chosen culture. When those consequences change, the subtle underpinnings of our morality may also shift, and if shifted too far in one direction may justify the radical movements we saw in the 20th century. The fallacious “cloaked outrage” that spurts out in revolutionary violence is a myth we used to absolve ourselves of the moral responsibility we have in guarding ourselves against own selfish desires for criminal justification or unethical ineptitude.

​        In China, one of the key political phrases of Hu Jintao was for his country to become a “harmonious society.” Overused, underestimated, and laughably hopeless, nevertheless it was the dream of the politiburo to wean China of inward tendencies towards social outbursts and contain the massive growth of a country heaving in an industrialized fervor from throwing itself off the mountain too quickly. The two foxes sit on the other side of the dinner table and have a staring contest with the hen, but who are the foxes and who is the hen? In political theory the foxes have often been considered as the masses, but in China logic defies and the masses are actually the hen, with the two clever foxes looking at the hen, knowing they could never withstand a full-frontal assault so they must play the angles.

​        We started this discussion trying to understand why the masses elected Hitler and Mao to be their defenders. However, what we have not recognized as yet is that Hitler and Mao understood exactly the play of the field and wielded the complexities brilliantly. Both men in their respective countries played people against one another, stole power from their contemporaries, and were intense intellectuals who understood and loved power. Leadership, as we can see, stands at the crossroads of the illusion of the masses. We believe that we live in a world that is free from the sins and madness of the 20th century, but we only delude ourselves. Napoleon believed that genius was the ability to recognize opportunity, but opportunity is more complicated than just random chance, but a nexus of circumstances sacrificing themselves on the same altar, under the shadow of the opportunist.

Multidimensionality in the follower dichotomy

James MacGregor Burns, for most of his life, has been known for his writings on transformational, transactional, and visionary leadership through his biographies of notable presidents. Burns even won the Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, making him an accepted expert on American leadership during the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. He also believes strongly that leaders, especially visionary leaders, are the cornerstone to change, as evidenced by his strong support of repealing the American constitutional amendment to limit terms of office. For this reason, when reading Burns’ theories, we must take into consideration the extreme importance he places on the singular individual in the sea of complexity. Burns’ model of multidimensionality in the follower-leader spectrum is a fascinating study of the various layers that exist in change agency, particularly those of systematic change.

​        Burns’ model of multidimensionality centers around the central conflict between two parties: the opposers and the innovators. Between the two parties lies the inheritors, or people who stand for the status quo. Innovators introduce radical change to the status quo, while opposers introduce gradual reform. Outside agents known as partners then mobilize opposers and innovators into smaller organizations known as coalition builders, who go in one of three different directions: as supporting agents of opposers or innovators, or into break-away factions known as splitters, moving in a different direction than either opposers or innovators. Sometimes splitters will return to the inheritors, but most of the time they form nonfunctional organizations that end up moving into passivity.

​        In addition to this already complex array of ideological individual groups, a group known as the passives sit outside the action, watching, observing, and only taking action in the form of inaction and only from operative incentive from coalition builders. Some of these passives move further away and form isolates, passives who want to take stronger action and become short-term followers of the coalition builders, but in the end are too separated from the process to make any significant difference and end up being alienated from the core group.

​        Traditional theories of the follower-leader dichotomy generally focus on a single follower and a single leader, whereas Burns’ model displays a huge array of various kinds of followers with differing incentives for action. He stresses that situation (context) and agency (leadership capabilities) are important in distinguishing the level of strength for each of the inheritor sub-groups; situation and agency must constantly be evaluated, and the sub-groups can drastically change if the context shifts or leadership changes hands.

​        Burns’ model focuses primarily on visionary leaders such as Roosevelt, Kennedy, and the nature of the US presidency as examples and warnings for models of transformational leadership. His positive models, however, are dictatorial, singular, and heroic, extremely strong in trait-based leadership. For this reason, I question whether Burns’ model of transformational leadership can be applicable in today’s late modern world, where traits such as servanthood, collaboration, role-based leadership, and the learning organization are a focus of many businesses, and the heroic qualities of the 20th century contain too little accountability, both legally and financially, to be acceptable models today.

​        Abstract models are tricky, because they can be misinterpreted and misused without context. Burns uses the example of F.D.R.’s presidency to explain multidimensionality. In my own experience, multidimensionality exists although because the contexts I operate in are different and the leader is different, the way I interpret sub-groups of the inheritors is going to be altered. For example, in my university the inheritors are the older teachers, enmeshed in more traditional methods of teaching. The innovators are more like the isolates, as they are not respected by the traditional authority or given power to make changes, while the vast majority are opposers (who seek gradual reform, by referring to the status quo and moving towards the outside innovators but not recognizing they are moving in that direction). Splitters are generally composed of innovators who have not been accepted by the inheritors or opposers, and the true people who have power in my situation are the partners. They have the most power because they control the flow of information from the innovators to the opposers, and finally directly into the belly of the beast: the inheritors.

​        In my situation in China, the dichotomy between leader and follow is still just as complex, but the rules are different. Multidimensionality exists, and for the leader in China it is terrifying. The rules are constantly changing, and leaders not only have to have a strong sense of where the various coalition builders are, but have to be keenly aware of the partners behind the scenes. In that way, leaders are not leaders as we know of in the west (as instigators of change) but more as moderators of various groups as they charge into the future, trimming the branches here and there to make way for the power of the partners as they, over-time, transform into the inheritors.

Genius out of time: Napoleon Bonaparte and his quest for the center of the universe

Napoleon died at the young age of 52. His contemporary and admirer, Thomas Jefferson, by comparison lived to the ripe age of 83 years old. While Napoleon died young for his time, during those brief 30 years when he served as an influential member of French leadership, he accomplished more than almost any other ruler did for any country, ever. He was a passionate fool, a discriminate student of strategy, and an indiscriminate follower of his own shadow. He was a genius, a man who remembered each incident in photographic clarity, who could recall numbers and statistics from newspapers, and take the whole and put them into rigorous use not only on the battlefield but in the bedroom. He recognized and embraced the trends of the time, and saw a vision no one on Earth could imagine: a people separated by nothing except the beauty of ideas. While he was a fervent disciple of nationalism, he could not separate the transformer from the transformation, and so in his vanity believed (as many a genius fall prey) he was France’s, and by proxy, the world’s savior. He believed, much like Alexander the Great, that all the lands from the Indies to the colonies would fall under his enormous intellect and unlock their vaults for his descendents. In return, he would give them everything he had. But at what price?

​        I find it impossible to relate the many aspects to which Napoleon enhanced and added to qualities of leadership we find indispensable in modern society. He empowered the bourgeoisie (the middle class) and thereby overruled the feudal system. He freed the serfs and in effect ended the feudal slavery that had existed for thousands of years (although he did not end slavery among the French colonies, a puzzle to this day). He established government schools that taught universal education, taught by teachers who were singularly schooled in the national ethic at a single university; in addition, schools required students wear uniforms, use the same textbooks, and attended classes that followed the same syllabus – all prerequisites for any successful school today. He not only centralized education, but he centralized law by introducing the Civil Code, a key aspect of law today and a descendent of the antiquated Roman law. He took these ideas and in each of his conquered territories (which stretched from Egypt to the border of Russia) he instituted them, forever changing the our paradigm of how government functions. He set his radical reforms into the fertile earth he himself had prepared, first by blasting the weeds out of the garden with his artillery, then by marrying his family into royalty, and finally by granting freedoms but requiring the use of the codes he himself had masterminded.

​        Napoleon famously claimed, while living his last years on the island of St. Helena, that he hoped in the future to spread the ideals of the American constitution to the rest of the world. Even to his death, he was a revolutionary and believed in the power of ideas to transform the world. However Napoleon was a transformational failure, for he failed to recognize that in transformation, not only the follower but also the leader must change through that fascinating interchange that occurs between the two agents. Napoleon also famously said that like Caesar, his last battle would be no different than the first. He was a genius, there is no doubt about that, but with that pride of intellect comes the vanity of invincibility. When he finally realized that it was the Russian army that was invincible and not himself, he lost heart and returned to Paris a broken man, only too happy to abdicate his honors to the next man in line.

​        Leadership is at its hardest, work that is both admired by others but in need of constant self-assessment. But if the leader doubts himself, how can he be confident of the outcome? Wellington said of Napoleon that the emperor was worth 40,000 soldiers alone, for his sheer charisma and belief in victory. Yet on St. Helena, even in the throes of arsenic poisoning and a tumor in stomach, he still managed to maintain that optimistic hope that the world could be changed for the better, with only the application of intellect. By the end of his life, he still was not able to recognize his pride as the center of his fall.

​        Unlike Napoleon, my work does not hold me in commands of regiments filled with 30,000 young men seeking to make a name for themselves in battle and earn wealth and immortality for their families. But like Napoleon, my work as a leader is solitary. While Napoleon’s work was solitary, it did not have to be… he chose it to be. The unique circumstances of his life gave him the opportunities of leading armies of a country he was not even a citizen. Napoleon by birth was Italian, spoke Italian, and only learned French when he was ten years old. He spoke French with a harsh accent, believed in the independence of his home, and was an inconstant spouse of Christ, believing less in a vibrant faith and more in the Prophet Muhammad’s teachings of finding a way to centralize social custom, political action, religious attitudes, and economic regulations.

​        Napoleon would fit right at home in our modern world. While such a fantasy would be impossible (for the modern world would not be the same without him), with his calculating mathematician’s mind Google or Microsoft might find him better company, and he might very well enjoy the experience more than he enjoyed his experience as an immigrant soldier seeking to apply his philosophy across the spectrum of the world, even to the chagrin of people mired in the traditions of the past.

​        My work as a teacher often finds me in the same situations, battling philosophies and wills of a different culture to my own, living in a land where handshakes and dinners are of a different sort than I might have experienced back home in California. Yet Napoleon’s biggest mistake was believing that his solitary existence was per-ordained by fate. But I should state this for posterity: Napoleon was not a vain man, only a stubborn one who had accepted that in order for success, he would have to make certain sacrifices and those sacrifices entitled him to putting up gates at the borders of his mind. I find that much of what Napoleon worked for and lived as very inspirational: he saw the gaps in the system and by taking advantage of opportunity (what many would classify as ‘luck’) he opened up new avenues. He understood the system in its complexity, and on the battlefield he understood the value of a great general. But in the end, he did not believe he himself had anything to gain from them.

​        Perhaps he didn’t have anything to gain from them. Or perhaps he had everything to gain, if he only opened up his heart to hear their voices add harmony to his song. Beethoven saw this, when he struck Napoleon’s name in dedication to his 3rd Symphony when the commander forced the Pope to crown him emperor at Notre Dame. For leaders, being able to listen, learn, and change is key to transformational leadership. Napoleon transformed his society, but failed to be transformed himself.

Righteous anger ex nihilo: A portrait of Mao Zedong

Much of what we know about Mao Zedong lies in legend: an abusive father, a beaten son and mother, brothers loved more than himself, a poor laborer whose mother gave him all the benefits she believed she never had; a sworn nihilist, learned and angry, angry at a world that never offered him what was offered others and which he took by force. Mao is a complicated subject, but less able to be completed in the breadth of this short space. A man by whose hand millions perished, who believed that might ruled over light, except when the light when preparing for the darkness. Mao was a man who by his own pen, claimed that the only path to the future lay in the ruins of the past, no matter how many perished in that dream. A lover and a tyrant, a reformer and a dreamer, he was hated, scorned, mocked, feared, and loved madly during his life. He was a model of transformation, but perhaps not the transformation where the people who emerge from the pool are the same who entered.

        ​Mao ran away from his homeland nightmares to the metropolis of Beijing, where for his first job he took the lowly position of a librarian at Beijing University. He loved books. Mao was known to sleep on a literal bed of books, with such prodigious notes that even today scholars are riddling out his messages in the margins to discover the man beneath the monster. He was Plato’s Philosopher King, a man who believed that only through ideological purification and struggle could a classless society emerge from the madness of the battle between the capitalists and the proletariat. He was a conceptual demagogue who was not afraid of giving violence in order to reach a greater end. But above all, he loved power; the power over his colleagues, the power over his lovers, and the power over his people. His weakness, if we could choose one, was that he spoke two languages: the language of polity in which he used conflict as a vehicle to transform his society, and the language of narcissism in which he used conflict as a vehicle to secure personal power. He knowingly fashioned conflict to crush his rivals, to halt emergent opposition, and to maintain power until his last breath. Even at his death, many considered him to be a god. Yet by his hand, perhaps more than any other ruler in China’s history, a country was transformed and yanked through time by at least two or three hundred years, ripped through the portal of sacrifice until all she could do was lay on the side of the road, crying and bandaging her own wounds while the rest of the world looked down upon her, amazed but unmoved.

​        Mao was an inconstant lover of Marx. He believed that only by being refined in the fire could a better civilization emerge. He believed that by destroying the relics of the past, by killing the heroes in the hearts of his people, and by the annihilation of the old world could the new world be born anew. Many of us would look down upon his work, the lasting legacy of his politic, with scorn; yet how many of us would repeat what he did on a smaller scale were we to restructure an organization? The Hundred Flowers movement was a government sponsored catharsis of free thinking, in which intellectuals spoke out for the first time in years about their beliefs, yearnings, and hopes for China’s future; at the end of the Hundred Flowers movement, Mao took a pair of shears and cut the heads off the flowers. He organized raids, imprisoned people for what they had said, and brutalized the people he had sworn to protect. Were he to be asked why he did this, he might reply that only through struggle would the classless society, free from the landlords, free from the old thinking, emerge. While we as leaders may not take just drastic measures or go to such lengths, how many times have leaders taken power only to cut down the heads of the old regime? For Mao, the inconsequential held incredible weight and power, and every little petal had to be taken into account.

​        I write this short meditation from my relative’s home in the countryside of northern China. I am here solely because of Mao Zedong. After the Hundred Flowers movement and his horrifying experiment where he canceled all school, gave high-school students weapons and badges and told them to question, arrest, and beat any intellectual they could find, and then sent them on a government sponsored field trip to every village in China to cleanse wrong thinking, an entire generation changed. This wasn’t a subtle change, like what happened to American youth when the news was allowed to carry an opinion; the change in China rocked the world of an entire generation, uprooting them from their families, charging them with a sacred quest, and turning the streets of China into a bloody sponsored rampage the likes we have not seen since young striplings took up muskets during the American Civil War.

​        During that serendipitous time, my father-in-law, the son of an intellectual and landowner, was sent to the frozen wastes of China’s north to work in a mine, barely seventeen years old. He married the mine boss’s daughter, they had a daughter, and later he moved his family back to the city of Tianjin where my wife grew up. There is not one person in this entire village (where I am writing from) who does not have emotions about Mao Zedong. It was his ideals that established this village, and everyone from my grandmother, to my three uncles, to my many, many cousins, have been affected by the singular political philosophy of a man who desired to transform his country. Does China exist in a classless society today? Has the old world of Confucius, the Imperial Throne, and long queues braided behind silky and wind-blown robes been destroyed?

​        The answer is yes to some, and no to others. Such is transformation. Transformation is not perfect, and carries the struggle and sacrifice by those who were forced through it willingly (or unwillingly). The scars of the past remain on the faces of my loved ones, and their triumphs and failures remain etched into the hillsides and broken villas of Qidaogou. To claim that transformation is without refinement is to claim that a caterpillar can become a butterfly without being wrapped in a slimy cocoon for weeks at a time. To claim that transformation can occur without the blood of the innocent or the tears of the rejected is to hope that a country or organization can persuade the old regime to gently give up their livelihoods.

​        I am not defending Mao Zedong. He was a man who believed in terror to achieve his ends. He was a pirate, a lord of thieves, and a master of manipulation. He loved his country, and he also loved the power she could give him. He loved books, reading, and writing poetry, and he loved old churches. But he brought his country from a feudal state in which the king was the son of God, a country that even creeping into the 20th century made eunuchs of men who would enter into the imperial government, and a country where the Dowager Empress made a boat out of stone just so she could spite the poor. Perhaps there were other ways of transforming and carrying China into the future, but we shall never know.

​        My child plays in the next room, dancing on a bed heated by the fires that cooked our dinner. Trees comb the mountains outside the house like a military buzz-cut, and my grandmother is gazing at my son in the kind of love that tragedy has no power over, not even transformational tragedy.

Augusto Boal and the Theater of the Oppressed: An experiment into crowd-sourcing the heart through art

The theater has had a long history of challenging the status quo. Even back to the days of ancient Greece, playwrights could become national heroes or national scoundrels based on the plays they wrote. In Elizabethan England, the production of Richard II on the stage of the Globe became so contentious that the theater was burned and later rebuilt, once the fervor had been silenced. Theater is a combination of collaboration, conflict, and art, with people acting out the part of conflict on a stage with each other and exploring what it means to die by the blade or come to terms with the social issues glaring the audience in the face. The theater has always been a place to either challenge the status quo or praise it; in this way, playwrights and directors are as much leaders as are presidents and prime ministers, because they lead through ideas and practical expose of the hidden shadow people are afraid to show in public.

        Hallie Flanagan, an observer of the American theater scene, wrote about the power of the theater to evoke the most primal of emotions; Harry Hopkins, the leader of the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression, then hired Flanagan based on her careful and brilliant insights to bring demoralized people across America the joy of free theater, eventually helping to bring about an end to the social plague of slumlords and decrepit capitalistic housing projects.

        Most astounding of all, however, was Augusto Boal. A Brazilian director, he sought to not only infuse his beliefs into the theater in order to enact social change, but to transform the theater scene into a place where people could not only voice their grievances but help alter the story itself, creating a method for collaboration in culture where patriarchal attitudes and qualities of singular power dominated. He encouraged the audience to step in and enact their own stories on the stage, creating a second voice in a traditionally monologuist artform.

        Augusto Boal was jailed for his efforts to encourage the people to speak out their grievances in a public arena. He did not return to his family for 15 years, being forced to leave the country after his prison sentence. However, in 1992 he was asked to come back in a much calmer environment and was hired by the government to become a correspondent to the people about inequalities in the country by using theater. His story is one of victory, but only after years of isolation and sadness of being separated from his home.

        In countries where the inequalities are enforced by the politics, is it possible for artists to thrive as leaders? Boal’s approach was bold, but perhaps too bold. He was not jailed and imprisoned because of his plays; he was jailed and imprisoned because the people wanted him to lead a rebellion against the government. He did not go seeking for that, but art is powerful and causes normally sane people to question the foundations they built their lives on, and temporarily become insane, open to paradigms they never even knew were possible. Great art fastens those paradigms to our experience, while other art gives us moments and then fades away. How can artists thrive in closed countries and continue to make a difference? Is defiance to authority an absolute in regards to altering the fate of oppression?

​        Art is held to the highest moral code in China. Artists like Ai Weiwei are held under house arrest, imprisoned, and never heard from again for 10 years. In a word: loudmouths don’t do well in China. They are cut down from top to bottom, and if they are not silenced, they only grow louder; at least that is the fear, and so the silencing grows more powerful with each new circumstance. I am keenly aware of the limits of art, and so are the artists. A visit to the Beijing 798 Art District showcases paintings and sculptures groaning in the excess of China’s grossly-expanding urbanization, in the starving capitalism that is consuming traditional culture, and the vast seas of people who don’t care. Art has become a contact point for the dispossessed spirit and a lost generation who find themselves without a compass, but that is as far as art can go. More creative leadership is needed, the kind of creative leadership that understands the dangerous context and knows how to both work within it as well as create change. Boal was imprisoned and exiled for 15 years; for a time, anyway, he shone.

An American theory of everything: Mutual self-actualization clothed in self-determination

I admit, I find Maslow’s triangle of appreciating needs satisfyingly secure as an American. Abraham Maslow, a psychologist and professor at a private college in New York City, was an extreme individualist. He was the first scholar to clearly state that human need was more than just material; he elevated psychology into spirituality. The psycho-spirituality of Maslow’s self-actualization, beginning with basic physiological needs, then increasing to security, belonging, self-esteem, and finally self-actualization, was an answer to many prayers for a more evolved form of psychology that moved beyond the trait-like (and dogmatic) approach of behavioralism and tried to forget about the mythic and slimy fallacies Freudian psychology brought; Maslow brought humanity back into psychology.

​        The application of self-actualization to leadership is when a group of individuals together seek to become self-actualized together, thereby creating a space for mutual self-actualization. The leader, recognizing this basic drive for people to self-actualize, also pursues this with his followers and together they are able to move towards the penultimate point of human spirituality as a unit and a team, but ultimately is fueled by a personal desire for improvement. The commitment of mutual self-actualization within an organization is a commitment to a value than is higher than anyone one person, but has the capability to help each person “become everything that one is capable of becoming” and turn each person into change agents whose self-determination contingency (upon the group value) becomes a destiny. The keystone to the mystery of self-actualization is a concept known as effectance, which is an ability which if utilized properly, people can remain undeterred by the events that surround them if they have learned how to train themselves to continual growth in paradox. Effectance is the most important skill to have when pursuing self-actualization and any leader should be well-acquainted with the theory and methodology of training people to strengthen their effectance.

​        Maslow’s ideas, as heroic and idealistic as they sound, contain one major flaw, and that flaw is actually the strength the ideas are built upon: individualistic self-determination. When he was 20 years old, Maslow married his cousin and left his parents forever. He could not stand the sight or even the thought of his mother, and he hated his father for most of his life. As a child, his father had physically abused him, and his mother had both mentally and physically abused him severely. He hated himself as a child; a victim of extreme antisemitism, he forsook people and hid in the library, abandoned the faith of his parents and became an atheist (later seeking to revisit faith by comparing his self-actualization with an actual spiritual experience), and when he finally was free of his family, became a sexuality researcher for most of his life, trying to discover why a woman in a sexual relationship with a man, felt the need to show dominance over him through manipulation or ‘castration’ while at the same time yearn for his respect. He finally deduced that human sexual behavior was almost identical to primate behavior, and through these conclusions deemed that needs were less based on the materialistic needs of the enlightenment and more based on self-propagated conception of a deeper level, because he had noticed in his monkey studies that their sexual behavior was primarily driven less by natural instinct and more by social attitudes.

​        Two singularly important issues arise from this discussion. Firstly, in cultures where individualistic determination is not only taboo but undesired, his theory of social attitudes desiring self-actualization falls short. Secondly, the fact that his theories were derived primarily by analyzing sexual attitudes of domination and submission falls prey to the fallacy that perhaps not everyone’s self-determination is driven solely by their sexual propensities, but perhaps by a deeper and more fulfilling role, especially for people who have allowed the Holy Spirit into their lives and given their sexual being to God instead of using it for their own desired ends. I question as a leader, how it is possible to even use Maslow’s theories in countries where self-actualization is considered poor form, and what’s more, how to implement his theories as a Christian with self-actualization taking the place of Christ.

​        Maslow was the first psychologist to define “humanistic psychology” which was composed of the following five claims:
​                1. Humans cannot be reduced to parts.
​                2. Humans exist in a wholly human context.
​                3. Humans are continually conscious of context.
​                4. Human choice leads to responsibility.
​                5. Human intentionality is rooted in meaning and value.

​        Essentially, Maslow says that our actions are not rooted to context, but rather are rooted to meaning. Context is important for Maslow (as people exist in context), but in the end there is a greater desire, a “transpersonal” desire to self-actualize to a more spiritual-type of existence. For a person whose context is derived from his or her desires to self-actualize, the five claims of humanistic psychology carries tremendous weight. However, for a person whose self-perception (and even self-actualization) is derived entirely from their context, humanistic psychology is a vapid and empty set of statements that has little bearing on reality.

​        The Ideal Man, in Chinese philosophy, is someone who has achieved ren, or humaneness. Humaneness is Confucius’s mirror-image of Maslow’s self-actualization, but in the opposite direction. Harmonious, self-sacrificing, humble to a fault, an inveterate nepotist and a wholly functioning contextualist, the humane person in Chinese philosophy disdains anyone who attempts to self-actualize and berates them for their pride, cutting the head off before wings can be grown. Today, many western ideas have filled the halls of China and transformed many into those who seek self-actualization, but usually if those people want to pursue their dreams they must leave the country. And usually they do, fondly remembering their homeland, but never forgetting that in their homeland leaders are but specters who hover behind the curtains, and workers are the cogs in a giant socialist machine, spinning into eternity so that the state, an inhumane creation, can self-actualize and find spirituality in itself.

Symbols of a stateless society: Satyagraha, swaraj, and Gandhi’s vision-casting of a society without limits

Mohandas Gandhi, better known as Mahatma (venerable) Gandhi, was a man of complexities and paradox. Born into the Brahmin caste and into a wealthy merchant family, he became an expatriate in South Africa where he lived for most of his adult life, finally returning to India and by the end of his life advocating economic and political freedom from Great Britain and the abolition of the Indian state, with self-sustaining villages replacing the state government in a political philosophy known as swaraj. He wielded a two-armed approach to reform: satyagraha, which was a practical methodology and school of political philosophy teaching the art of self-suffering, patience and compassion as a means to an end, and the elimination of antagonisms (not antagonists); the second arm was known as swaraj, a political reform discharging the state from duties of rulership and granting power directly to independent villages, free from any power be they colonial or national. While the latter was never fully implemented (and thrown out by India’s national government), the former was used as a vehicle for showcasing the Indian desire for freedom from the British Empire and was a key factor in the reformation of Indian political philosophy for self-rule, including the desire for Pakistani and Sri Lankan independence from the Indian sub-continent.

        Gandhi understood the power of symbols. While he stood above most Indians (from his caste), he continually surrounded himself in community, and wherever he lived he worked with other Indians in energizing local expatriates or learning with each other what it meant to be Indian. For Gandhi, living in London or living in South Africa, knowing who he was and where he came from was incredibly important, but taking the lessons of cultures that he lived in was equally as important. He understood the power of the Indian mindset of disciplines and over the course of his life, satyagraha became more than just a methodology for achieving political results, but a life-calling and school of philosophy. Satyagraha and swaraj were more than just concepts like democracy or representative rule. They were living embodiments of being; they were transformative vehicles for people to grow in and within; they were catalysts for not only personal change, but national and cultural change. While satyagraha was the ethos to follow, swaraj was the gleaming model of perfection at the end once satyagraha had been practiced, mastered, and weaved into the being of each and every Indian. Gandhi embedded these two concepts with cultural power, and through that connected each man, woman, and child with a common goal. However, when his concepts are deconstructed, they show far more similarities to enlightenment and modernist philosophies than the holistic and religious observances of traditional Indian philosophies. Gandhi took the trappings and heartstrings of Indian philosophy and used it as a cloak for reforming political standards, even if he was a bit ahead of his time.

        The Salt March was Gandhi’s practical offspring of satyagraha, and the experiment of Bihar Village was the model for swaraj. However, much of Gandhi’s vision for India never came into the public arena. His Indian National Congress was criticized by many as an exercise in communism, and India’s independence has often been more attributed to the lack of funds for Great Britain to maintain her colonies than any movement Gandhi may have organized or any national consciousness he may have stirred. Gandhi was first and foremost a community organizer, secondly a philosopher, and thirdly an Indian. While I marvel at his dreams of reforming not only the landscape but the soul of his country, I wonder how effective change is when so much philosophy but so little accountability has been infused into the principles. Gandhi was known as ‘Venerable’ Gandhi, and was considered by many to be a sage; there were many cults that sprang up in India following him, which he not only accepted but nurtured in his discipleship of satyagrahis, or followers of satyagraha who studied in specific schools and had to follow highly regimented rules, more like a martial training centers for pacifism than a traditional Indian school of philosophy.

​        The concepts of satyagrahi and swaraj, while in theory sound invigorating, leaves me wondering if Gandhi’s place as a cultural icon bedeviled him from the start without proper criticism and conceptual reformation. Gandhi said at one point that he believed the Jewish people in Germany should adopt the standards of satyagraha in their quest for relief from Germany, even during the Holocaust when they were being baked alive in giant ovens, their remains tossed into ditches, and the German elites stealing their jewels, properties, and bank notes. I’m not sure when Gandhi lost sight of the objective, or when his objective ran so far ahead of him that he could not catch up.

        Contextualization is the dangerous middle-ground between all-out syncretization and cultural conformity. The tenets of contextualization consider a cultural principle that is considered to be absolutely good, and then clothe that principle in different words, robes, and philosophies to match the target culture. Contextualization has primarily been used in the spread of the Gospel, particularly from the United Kingdom and the United States, in the goal of teaching Christian ideals and tenets to various cultures that are predominately not based on Judeo-Christian foundations. The primary use of contextualization is to transport and transform belief systems.

​        When I look at Gandhi’s contextualization of modern principles into Indian culture, the philosophy he espouses seems more like the applique on a fancy robe, whereas the robe itself is composed of Marxist principles; at the basic level, Gandhi’s primary villain in the subjection of the Indian people lies in his own Hind Swaraj, with the claim that Indians are suffering because Great Britain has impoverished India by taking away their money, important jobs, and subjecting the people to a form of economic slavery. In essence, Gandhi’s claim is that the material wealth of India has been taken away by the Imperialists (the final evolution of capitalism) and so freeing India of the ‘capitalists’ makes Gandhi a tantamount Marxist who believes that Great Britain has engineered India’s degradation by offering her the trinkets of security in exchange for her soul, the material wealth of the country. For me, recognizing the source of leadership philosophy is key to unraveling the source of discontent and desire for change. We must analyze leadership suppositions for not only cultural foundations, but the underlying incentive for change and the proposed end goal of such changes.

A paradox of nonsense: Karl Marx and his fight for Utopian Neverland

In a very sad letter, Eleanor Marx wrote to Frederick Demuth, her bastard brother through the family maidservant, “I do not believe that you and I have been particularly bad people, and yet, dear Freddy, it really seems that all we gain is punishment.” (January 13th, 1893) Five years later, at the suggestion of her common-law husband, Karl Marx’s daughter committed suicide. Out of the 8 children Marx fathered, only four survived to adulthood; out of the surviving children, Eleanor and Laura both killed themselves (as well as Laura’s husband), and ‘Jennychen’ (Marx’s eldest daughter) died from bladder cancer, most likely stemming from either the environmental pollution of 19th century London or a smoking habit passed down from her father. Marx’s bastard son lived the longest but was never publicly claimed; that honor fell upon Marx’s best friend, Frederick Engels.

​ Reconciling these facts with the knowledge of his upbringing, being the son of two God-fearing Jews who constantly urged their son to consider the divine’s place in his life, who were encouraging, hopeful, and supportive, who sacrificed their heritage so that their children might have better lives, and who suffered under the same conditions as Marx did himself but even to the end of their lives remained filled with a surging joy – these facts leave me questioning how the lives of Marx and his family transformed into such tragedy. Marrying the daughter of a baron and inheriting the baron’s wealth, and being the best friend of a capitalist mill owner (Frederick Engels, who constantly helped Marx with his financial troubles – in addition to masquerading as a socialist caped crusader), the tragedy of Karl Marx may lie chiefly in his philosophy rather than his economic circumstances, which in turn, might answer some important questions about the impact that philosophy has on the concepts of socialist leadership.

If leadership is the response to human needs, then where do human needs come from? For Marx, human needs must be separated into two categories: artificial and fixed needs. Fixed needs are compelled upon people through the act of social formation, while artificial needs are unfairly created by capitalists, taking advantage of the desire for pleasure in order to subject people to products which are entirely unnecessary; the capitalists’ attempt to fleece their consumers of their livelihoods. In turn, capitalism then creates anger when the consumer lacks those particular products, and that anger is transformed into violence and a plethora of other sins, as wealth becomes a barometer for fulfillment and the lack of wealth becomes a letter of shame and deprivation. For Marx, need is fundamentally fueled by the lack of material goods, while want is fed by people hungry for what they do not have.

The original question: if leadership is the response to human needs, then how do leaders operate in a society where need is fundamentally ruled by a lack of material goods? Leaders take needs and transform those needs into values, which they use in order to carry their organizations forward to specific outcome measures and authentications, thereby legitimizing those values as agents of change. Individual needs, institutional values, and societal structures may influence those values to some degree, but in the end, the outcome measures and authentications the leader reviews and receives serve as the key indicators of success, and through this process of evaluation the leader is transformed and begins the process of needs translation into values once again. However, the key question is: if needs are chiefly fueled by a lack of material goods, what kind of values can be interpreted from those kinds of needs? Marx denied the spirit early in his life, even to the consternation of his ever-supportive parents. Marx was so anti-God that he viewed the philosopher Hegel as overly spiritual. It is no surprise then, that in socialist systems, spiritual values cannot be generated by leaders (even if they desperately desire them, like many leaders in China), as they do not view issues of the spirit as fundamental generators of fixed needs.

The paradox of Marx’s life floods into my life every single day. Working in a strongly socialist institution in China where issues of the spirit are denied as mere fantasy and teaching students who believe that the material, scientific world contains their nation’s hope, nevertheless both parties express extraordinary doubt. The government and media raised the alarm, decrying the lack of goodness in people’s hearts, that they seek only to better themselves and not their neighbors. Certain Confucian values are accepted, namely that of protecting your family, but the values of other philosophers such as Mencius and Laozi have been laughably shoved into the garbage bin of history, unfit for a country that seeks to conquer heaven. There is a fascination with the Monkey King, the deistic and mythic hero of Journey to the West (one of the four famous classical novels of China), a blond-haired wizard-monkey who conquers heaven, is imprisoned by the Buddha for doing so, and seeks redemption by becoming the slave of a man who tortures him for his transgressions of thought by shackling a crown of pain around his head; eventually the demon is cleansed and becomes a good man.

​ For modern Chinese socialists, however, the Monkey King is their own paradox: a creature both primal and evolved, both fighting against and bowing to the indomitable spiritual forces of the outside world, while maintaining himself and his philosophy throughout the affair and coming out as a singular individual and force of nature. While the Monkey King uses cosmic forces at his whim, his true desire is not to find peace with God, but rather to conquer his own weaknesses and become a god through a eerily similar materialistic philosophy that seems far more prevalent to the 19th century Marx.

​While Marx remained a staunch atheist for his whole life, the impact that had on his family was tremendous; even his children knew something was wrong and could not stand to live with that lack of certainty in their lives. Marx loved his father to his end, and I believe he truly believed in his father’s words when he told his son that one day he would transform the world and live a happy, healthy life if only he would accept the fullness of God’s wisdom and goodness in his life. Marx did the former, but not the latter; his life is a testament to his self-reliance on the savagery that he believed ruled reality.

An Evaluation of Goodboy’s “Student Use of Relational and Influence Messages in Response to Perceived Instructor Power Use in American and Chinese College Classrooms”

The striking nature of Goodboy’s conclusions come not from the actual conclusions, but rather from what he does not conclude. In “Student use of relational and influence messages,” Goodboy answers his question, “does ‘the model of relational power and instructional influence theory’ (posited by Mottet, Frymier, & Beebe, 2006), from a student perspective, communicate any relevant data to explain relational and social influence from the instructor’s use of power?”, although his conclusions while common (instructors should “use confirming messages which communicate to students they are recognized and acknowledged as valuable and significant individuals”, 202) are striking because of the conclusion not answered. Goodboy posits that instructor uses of prosocial power empower student satisfaction, while uses of antisocial power encourage the use of student BATs (behavioral alteration techniques), a reaction to a lack of trust from student to instructor based on the student’s perception of how the instructor uses power in and outside of the classroom. (195)

While Goodboy concludes that in the United States the most powerful method of fostering student satisfaction is the proper use of referent and expert power, the usage of reward power, previously thought to be a prosocial power base, actually causes an equal amount of positive and negative relationships among students and instructors (200), not helping foster student satisfaction at all. Goodboy also concludes that among Chinese students, the instructor’s use of referent power and legitimate power (previously considered to be an antisocial power) creates positive student satisfaction, while legitimate power and expert power helps to encourage student BATs, which actually has a more powerful affect than the United States in encouraging positive relationships among students and teachers; although no direct form of power has any affect on student-teacher relationships in China.

The two most significant studies prior to Goodboy’s survey on instructor power use was Mottet, Frymier, & Beebe’s model of relational power and instructional influence theory, which served as a foundation to the study by positing that the “instructor-student relationship . . . involves influence . . . [and] . . . by conceding power to one another in that prosocial power use yields long-term influence and antisocial power use yields short term [sic] influence.” (192) The second most important previous study was Golish (1999), as within Golish’s study was provided “19 compliance-gaining strategies, or BATs . . . which reported the students’ use of the guilt, flattery, public persuasion, evidence of preparation/logic, performance, utilitarian justice, punishing the teacher, reference to higher authority, and verbal force/demand BATs.” (195) These 19 compliance-gaining strategies were then compiled into Golish’s Student Behavioral Alteration Technique Typology, which along with the TPUS (Schrodt et al., 2007), SCSS (Goodboy et al., 2009), and SAST (Wanzer, 1998) were used to corroborate interlinked data to find appropriate Cronbach alphas for each subscale and associated power.

The data collection and procedures in calculating the data Goodboy used were highly advanced statistical algorithms and without extensive training, I would not be able to replicate his methods. Goodboy mentions that the coefficient obtained for the legitimate power subscale had low reliability, and “produced low reliability estimates in other research, . . . [so] instructional communication scholars may consider revising the subscale items of this measure.” (204) He also mentions that the questionnaire translation (from English to Chinese) was a weakness of the study, and while the grammar was correct, semantic meaning could have been different. (205) In all, 445 undergraduate students were selected to report on 248 instructors in the United States and China.

This article is a ground-breaking discovery into not only communication studies, but also the study of power. Goodboy’s weakness is the distance he places between pedagogy and standard teaching practices (due to statistical complexity). However, Goodboy proves that use of referent power and not reward, coercive, or even expert power, is the major influence on student satisfaction in both the U.S. and China, while legitimate power only has a positive influence in China if used correctly. As my goal in China is to learn how to foster relationships with students, this helps me immensely.


Golish, T. D. (1999). Students’ use of compliance-gaining strategies with graduate teaching assistants: Examining the other end of the power spectrum. Communication Quarterly, 47, 12-32.

Goodboy, A. K. (2011). Student use of relational and influence messages in response to perceived instructor power use in American and Chinese college classrooms. Communication Education, 60(2), 191-209.

Mottet, T. P., Frymier, A. B., & Beebe, S. A. (2006). Theorizing about instructional communication. In T. P. Mottett, V. P. Richmond, & J. C. McCroskey (Eds.), Handbook of instructional communication: Rhetorical and relational perspectives (pp. 255-282). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Book Review: Upside Down

The essence of servant leadership comes from Christ and his relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit, in their inter-relatedness, diversity, and old world “Early Christian” equality. The disciples and the life of Jesus are our direct models for how to utilize these principles in a very direct way for the church, to eliminate the spread of the “McChristians” and develop a huge network of people who know their individual callings, and are working towards the establishment of the kingdom of God.

There are several focii in the book: on Jesus as the ideal servant leader, the disciples as the servant leaders he taught through modeling, and the equality (and hence, servant leadership qualities) shared by the Early Christians. The qualities of a leader are: intimacy with Christ, being above reproach, solitary authenticity, rooted and growing in grace, submitting to authority, but above all, leading others through developing and equipping them with their God-given gifts, and then releasing them.

Rinehart is in danger of being labeled a polytheist. Beyond the odd relationship between the trinity he espouses, his servant leadership model seems primarily aimed at increasing the size of the church of believers, as he intimates that servant leadership is primarily relegated to Christians who are working for the church. However, his commitment remains to discovering how the scriptures root all Christians in the concepts of servant leadership, and his discoveries are insightful and sometimes amazing, specifically when he mentions that “serving” appears over 250 times in the New Testament. It makes one wonder why more scholars have not caught onto this, unless they have but did not have the benefit of Rinehart’s paradigm.

My desire is to see a model of servant leadership that has no goal but to serve, and I believed I had found that in Rinehart, but ultimately, his focus was less on the debt we owe to God for our lives, and more on the Christianization (in a good way) of society; thus the incentive for us to be salt and light having a purpose beyond that of being a servant, but of the expansion of all believers. However, Rinehart has done tremendous work in bringing in context verses from the Bible which talk about servant leadership in a very accessible way, as well as explaining how New Testament servants were very different from Old Testament heroes because of the influence of Christ. Most intriguing to me was the extent which Christ went in teaching his followers practically how to be servant leaders, something definitely to emulate.

Bibliographic information/citation

Rinehart, S.T. (1998). Upside Down: The Paradox of Servant Leadership. Colorado Springs: Navpress.

Leadership Integrity

The following is a series of notes taken from a class on organizational behavior I took from Rev. Colin Buckland, back in the summer of 2010. The class took place at Kingsfield, in Baldock, Hetfordshire, England.

Worldwide, the issue about leadership is Integrity — “We want our leaders to have integrity.”

Psycho-spiritual dynamics:

  1. Acceptance: people are desperate to be accepted by others
  2. Achievement: if people can’t achieve they will get ill; God built us to achieve
  3. Significance: feeling of being here not by accident; three basic human requirements

Normal (secular) teaching about significance:  Aim for Blue Ocean, when you will pitch your business; in which there are not so many products, so you can achieve a niche; but the Blue Ocean is everyday disappearing faster and faster

Our treatment of others gives or takes away significance.  We have these things already in Christ; our goal should be to teach others they already have these because of Jesus.  These three aspects are twisted in humanity; in Christ they are fulfilled and healthy. Even outside of Christ, the Christian principles can still be applied through leadership.

The key to success and behavior is how you behave within an organization.

  • ‘Coal face’ — where the rubber hit’s the road; the reality
  • Christian organizations do not do well; we are not leading, we are trailing

We must always be aware that the organization is composed of the human element.

  1. Human behavior within the setting
  2. The organization itself
  3. The relationship between the human and the organization

‘The Big Eye’ — the big overview; being able to discern the subtle paradigms that operate within an organization: Organizational behavior is their DNA.  Change is successful through incremental change, not massive and major change.

  1. ‘Soldiering’ – when the workers agree to work together under their capability
  2. ‘Piece-rate’ – earnings are now related to the pieces you make
  3. ‘Esprit de corps’ – spirit of the upper management
  4. ‘Span of control’ – the upper management having command and controlling without question the employees
  5. ‘Vac job’ – holiday work
  6.  Rules — stifles creativity but creates clear expectations
  7. Divisions — narrows specialization and forces limitations; soul destroying
  8. Hierarchy — creates judgment (good and bad, hard worker and lazy) among workers
  9. Technical — the resolution of what merit becomes has no standard; technical competence is standard

Therefore, advancement is narrowed to certain kinds of people; copies.

  1. Rights — Lack of identity for workers
  2. Documentation — Policy ends up mastering the organization

The idea of ‘employee satisfaction’ was a paradigm shift in business — which leads to the question, what mistakes are we making today that will require another paradigm shift?

X=Modernists (Traditional Leadership), Y=Post-Modernists (Servant Leadership)

‘You can lead a horse to water — you can’t force it to drink.’  We should resist the spirit of poverty which says ‘I am nothing and I am no one.’

  • Maslow: Not a Christian source, but still has a lot of wisdom.
  •  FISH (a study about fun in the workplace)

We are currently in a Post-Literate culture. People are only interested in seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling, touching it.  Story is the currency of this age.

  • The Dream Society (book about the future in 20 years), Rolf Jenson

Thoughts today:

1. Overview on how various secular and perhaps ungodly systems can be used in order to propose systemic change to organizational behavior, perhaps in a Christ-like way.

2. A background of organizational history which is focused on seeing the wisdom in traditional forms of systematic theory and historical and cultural blindness, and how we should use a positivistic point of view in viewing the future and believing we can personally change it.

3. Trying to capture and critique contemporary society and culture in the lens of how we move forward through organizational evolution and past paradigms.

4. Trying to understand how to implement this kind of traditional organizational structure in a classroom setting, to encourage students to learn on their own and take responsibility for their lives rather than being spoon-fed information and regurgitating stuff.

Emergent Leadership

The following is a series of notes taken from a class on servant leadership I took from Rev. Colin Buckland, back in the summer of 2010. The class took place at Kingsfield, in Baldock, Hetfordshire, England.

Leadership is: serving; influential; role-modeling; influencing people; creating a context for human flourishing; communication and modeling; discipline; situational but consistent; transformational; an embodiment of what others desire to follow; visionary; trustworthy; inspiring; and equipped and empowered.

  1. Maximizing potential in people
  2. Serve people so that they can grow
  3. Raising the morality of the organization 

Leadership is NOT about telling people what to do.

The leader must always have followers. Followers are volunteers.  There is a human agreement between the leader and the followers — in which the leader thanks the followers; the realization that nothing could happen without the team.

Leadership is never imposed; it is only gained.  If leadership is something that influences, then icons become global leaders.  Often we become reactive: what we see we don’t like, we do not want to become.

Most times our views of leadership are shaped by Thought-Leaders.  Leadership is not highly looked upon, across the whole world.

Leadership is idealized.  The ideal motif of the leader is replicated throughout humanity; projected upon icons (who may not be leaders at all).  Within Christian leadership, God-like Energy is projected upon the clergy by those below them. Humans want to be told how to live, not how to grow.

All people can affect a small portion of society, that eventually will go on to change other elements. There are things we can do.

Leadership is Power. How do we tap into the power dynamic in a healthy way? The moment a person has power, there is a psychological response, both in the holder and the recipient of power.

Some people desperately want to be leaders, for all of the wrong reasons.  Christ, therefore, becomes our central figure as leaders.  The trend of rising cynicism drives toxicity into people’s lives — that the world is slowly dying, and so we begin to focus on the death of our souls.

  1. A shift in power = where the workers now demand control of their own lives, rather than being in control by their work.
  2. Changing contract = jobs are now longer for one’s entire life — but short-term.

This shift of power is leaning towards China and the East. Now western blue-collar needs to re-train, and workers in the west need to specialize.

Eventually, the Farmers in China will disappear and become the workers of New Industry — once they realize how they have relocated all of their Farmers to the cities.

The West will eventually become major Specialists, and will be forced to become the idea people of the rest of the world.

Because of this we need to train companies how to be innovative. If they cannot innovate in the long-run, they will die.

Perhaps in the future this will cause the United States and the west to become the manufacturers.  There is a desperate need for excellent leadership.

What is we are sitting on a powerhouse, and we just don’t know how to let it loose? What could happen?  The days of the Heroic Leader needs to come to an end. The heroic nature of it is in releasing the organization. The Cult of the CEO is dead.

Leadership becomes facilitative, the forward journey for people, fabric, and company.

Book Review: Images of Organization, by Gareth Morgan

Gareth Morgan’s book, Images of Organization, is a challenging look into how organized groups of people can be understood in terms of eight different categories of thinking. These categories or images are tools that Morgan uses to identify, medicate, and reorganize thinking about organizational structure. The example story written in sectional intervals is an example of all eight images in motion (machine, organism, brain, culture, political system, psychic prison, transformation, and domination; in that order) and will serve as an analogy as I go through each of the eight images and explain how Morgan introduces these topics. The eight images Morgan uses in his book are not only methods for understanding current organizational models, but also tools in which the listening can recognize important organizational needs and faculties which normally are ignored due to either being invisible to the naked eye or due to miscalculated beliefs about an organization.


Figure 1: Image of Organization, based on Gareth Morgan’s Images of Organization, modified by Benjamin Seeberger (2012)

Machine. According to Morgan, organizations which run as a machine operate through the foundational principles of scientific management, a top-down method dividing chain of command to the coordination of function and hierarchy so as each particular aspect of the organization fulfills a specific role (pg. 29). Classical management theory, also known as bureaucratic thinking (pg. 25), attempts to precisely define jobs through defined vertical structures of command; in other words, those above control, while those below follow. However, the crux of machine-like behavior deals with the concepts of time and motion. Just as a machine’s parts must function collectively in-time with each other, so the job of management is to train workers exactly how to complete an assignment within a given period of time (pg. 30); in order to do this, the scientific method is utilized and each task becomes an experiment, where each worker is a variable rather than a changeable human being.

As the teacher walks into the classroom, the gears and gyros begin to spin. Heads swivel to the front, eyes locked on the instructor standing before them, and time slows until the first words boom out of the teacher’s mouth, calling the students to attention.

Organism. Another method of understanding organizations is to view them as a “living system” (pg. 39), or an organism that must sustain itself through the satisfaction of particular needs unique to that organization. Morgan defines the Organization as Organism as being required to meet particular “organizational needs” (pg. 43), which he bases on the five pillars of Maslow’s Hierarchy (Physiological, security, social, ego, and self-actualizing in that order) but differ on slight points within the scale based on the particular “open system” (pg. 46) the organization evolves as.

All functional organizations must at some point recognize the futility of attempting to complete tasks in utter loneliness. Although different organizations adopt different attitudes towards shared power, organizations that adopt the concept of a “shared future” can be determined to be operating within the capacity of an organism (pg. 69). Organizations that operate with shared futures, in order to complete tasks, will resort to methods in which for brief moments they adopt other aspects, such as machine-like thinking with the Matrix Organization (temporary teams shifting into particular roles based on the circumstances, pg. 57). Although Organizations as Organisms will often adopt other methods, they are first and foremost concerned with the self-sustainability of their own being, given the unique traits and persons working within that organization.

“Good morning!” At once the visage of sternness and sterility fade from the teacher’s face, his eyebrows arching upward and a smile appearing on his face. “How was your week?” he asks, pacing around the classroom, trying to lock eyes with a stunned audience, unsure of what to return to him for fear of giving an incorrect answer. Although they lay in stillness, they understand what he means: that they can relax, take a breath of fresh air and stop counting the seconds until the beginning of class. They are here together, and there is no reason to worry.

Brain. The key to understanding Morgan’s view of the Organization as Brain is to understanding the concept of cybernetics, in which organizations “engage in self-regulating behaviors and maintain steady states” (pg. 85). Just as memory can reconstitute itself from various parts of the brain if lost by utilizing a part of memory from a different location of the brain (pg. 80), so the Organization as Brain has the ability to use holographic systems embedded within the design and structure of the operation as methodology to inform, reform, regulate, and rebuild itself in times of crisis. The Organization as Brain is able to miraculously self-regulate through the use of negative feedback (pg. 85), which allows members to engage in self-questioning and if implemented in a healthy fashion can result in operations such as the Ringi process where decision-making in the organization is a collective-process rather than a dictatorial process (pg. 93).

The instructor marches to the front of the classroom, puts a stack of papers on the first table, and then tells students to come to the front to pick up graded worksheets from last week. “If you have any questions about the markings on the papers,” he suddenly says midway back to his desk and turning half a face to the students, “please come to my desk at the end of class and ask and I will answer any questions you may have. I am here for you, and I do not want you to struggle through this work. I know it is difficult, but we are all here to learn, so please, ask away.”

Culture. Organizations are naturally like little worlds, in which rules, regulations, rituals, beliefs, philosophy, and archetypes emerge and forge new participatory cultures. While most organizations can be understood in terms of having a unique culture, Morgan stresses that the Organization as Culture actually attempts to reconstruct reality through “interpretive schemes that underpin systems of control” (pg. 132). Whether they recognize the construction of reality or not, many organizations attempt to reconfigure perceptions and assumptions about life not only through direct processes, but through indirect methodologies and expectations of workers. Morgan states that “organizational society” cultivates routines, ethics, and rituals (pg 112), and depending on the amount of time required for a work process to be completed, can consume someone’s life entirely. However, Morgan counters that even within the main organizational society, there exist subcultures formed from individual work groups, departments, and even like-minded individuals which will often enhance the main culture or create a counterculture within the organization itself (pg. 121). In analyzing organizations, it is helpful to carefully understand what kind of culture the organization is encouraging, and how that culture is fashioning a new kind of reality for followers.

The lecture the professor discusses with his class details a very difficult application of using Aristotle’s Categories and Rhetoric to the concept of the modern essay. He tries to weave in these two disparate topics by using pictures and videos, but throughout the lecture he is worried the students may not have understood fully. When the lecture is completed, he hands out a worksheet to the students and asks them to work with a partner and read an article in the textbook. The worksheet is meant to break down the material in the lecture in a practical way, explaining ideas through the practice of observing and remarking.

Political system. All organizations, according to Morgan, follow a “system of rule,” which he divides into seven different types (autocracy, bureaucracy, technocracy, codetermination [sic], representative democracy, and direct democracy, pg. 146). Morgan further divides the seven types of political rule as requiring one of the fourteen sources of power, to which he details a majority of his chapter on political systems. The fourteen sources of power are (in my own words): legitimacy, resource control, regulation delegation, decision influence, information gate-keeping, boundary management, uncertainty buffering, technology manipulation, alliance cultivation, countervailing management, symbolic integration, gender management, ecology of action, and personal charisma (pg. 159-185). Based on only the seven types of political structures and fourteen sources of power, there are almost 100 different kinds of power leaders will utilize in any given circumstance within a particular political association. Morgan maintains that due to the vast differences in political power, it is important for leaders to remember organizations are coalitions of “people with divergent interests who gather together for the sake of expediency,” what he terms “loose networks” (page 154). These networks when gathered together comprise the political makeup of an organization; in other words, the politics are chosen by the people, not by the leader.

The worksheets use the same structure each week, so the students know what to expect; however, the material of each worksheet differs from week to week and reading to reading. In this way, the students understand how to function with the curriculum, but are still challenged by new reading material each week. At one point a student raises her hand and the teacher stands from his desk, hovers over her paper and sees where she is confused. “Remember what I said in the lecture,” the teacher reminds her. “I know it is a tough concept to grasp, but do you remember that image I gave you to help you remember?” The teacher waits for a response while the student taps her pen on the table and then nods after a moment. “Oh,” she flusters, “of course, that makes sense. Thank you teacher.” He nods to her and returns to his desk.

Psychic prison. As much as organizations are carefully designed by leaders and followers (as has been shown in the previous images), organizations are also created unconsciously by dreams, desires, and fears of people involved in them, notably the leader or group of leaders who set the vision for an organization. The unconscious organization is what Morgan calls “the shadow of the organization… a reservoir not only of forces that are unwanted and repressed but of forces that have been lost of undervalued” (pg. 225). Morgan also illustrates how actions people take within an organization are not based on rationality, but rather on “reaction formations” in which repressed feelings and unconscious drivers manage the pool of actions someone takes within an organizational setting (pg. 207). Based on the unreality of the organization and the unreality of action within an organization, Morgan admits to the “illusion of realness” (pg. 213) and how people involved in an organization attempt to preserve an image in their minds based on fantasy and desire for immortality.

As he is waiting for the students to complete the work, he doubts himself. Is he too hard? Are his methods for teaching too difficult, that he needs to sit down and explain every concept to his students? He wonders if the design of his pedagogy, meant to fill a vacuum from his own life as a student back in undergrad, really necessitates the difficulty of teaching students whose second language is English, when native English speakers would most likely have a difficult task of completing his assignments. But even though these doubts plague him, he pushes them aside for the greater goal: to craft beautiful and intelligent writers.

Transformation. When one element in an organization changes, another also changes. The “mutual causality” of action and reaction within the organizational environment is what Morgan terms “holoflux… the flowing nature of implicit order” (pg. 234). Mutual causality is a recognition that within an organization no one person or procedure has full control over the direction of that organization (pg. 250). While an organization’s power can be understood in terms of political systems, the vision in terms of the organization’s shadow, the culture in terms of interpretative schemes and rituals (and so on), the direction of an organization can only be understood when doing a dialectical analysis, a three-pronged survey into the methodology of change: the struggle of the various elements in opposition, the organization’s methods of struggling against that struggle, and plan of action to exact a “totality shift” and force a social organization to abandon particular elements in favor of strengthening other elements (pg. 258). In order to arrive at a point where an organization can even embrace the dialectical method, however, they must first have a “dialectical imagination” (pg. 265), which allows leaders in an organization be not only be aware but open to change.

He understands there is a give and take in the process. Every term he teaches he must scale back the workload and find new ways of challenging his students so that no moment of time in the classroom is wasted and no word written on a page is without meaning. He is commonly criticized by former students as being a very strict teacher, and he tries to amend his classroom assignments and policies by offering help outside of the class, skimming down assignments, and listening to student issues and changes in the university system. However, even though there is a give and take, he is still the teacher.

Domination. The last image Morgan introduces is that of the Organization as Domination. While similar to the Organization as a Political System, Domination differs in that while people based on inherent differences choose a political system and a leader chooses a source of power which to utilize, systems of domination are invisible much like the shadow of an organization. Domination is a form of rationalization (pg. 278), which results in one of three different forms: charismatic, traditional, or rational-legal domination (pg. 276). The modern form of the organization, Morgan argues, developed from the rise of the oligopolistic market (pg. 284), in which a few major sellers controls the decisions of other organizations involved in the same operation.

Additionally, since the advert of diversification, the market has become internationalized, and the once domestic players have become players on a global stage (pg. 302), setting trends for their entire dominated market. Multinational organizations (or organizations which operate across national boundaries) have increasingly used forms of social domination in controlling followers, including using wage slavery (pg. 310), transfer pricing (pg. 311), hard bargaining (pg. 312), and most importantly resource dependencies (pg. 307). Whether the result of social domination is a conscious act or a rational reaction to market forces, organizations still play a huge role in controlling markets and setting cultures for not only followers, but those on the receiving end of organizational services and goods.

Being the teacher, especially in China, requires a certain form of social antagonism. He wants to be there for his students, but the culture demands otherwise; the culture demands without apology that a teacher be not only a practitioner of knowledge but also a bastion of respect and authority, whom the students recognize has a vast amount of knowledge intrinsically, not only extrinsically. To do this he must be stern, give out assignments that challenge not only the mind but also the body, and refuse to back down when a student challenges him in front of the class. He must have confidence and control, and through this gain the respect of his students so that he may come alongside the shining stars in his midst and help them shine even brighter and perhaps if he is lucky, forge a friendship that will last.


Morgan, G. (1986). Images of organization. Sage Publications: Beverly Hills, CA.

Towards a Cross-Cultural Ethical Framework

Textbook piracy in China is rampant and out of control, and forces many educators into a terrible ethical dilemma of how to handle curriculum. However, as an educator in a cross-cultural environment approaching the task of handling this ethical issue is delicate and requires a strong moral conviction as well as a healthy, cross-cultural ethical framework. In this essay I introduce the CCEF (cross-cultural ethical framework) and review the methodology through literature and on a casuistic basis, using the example of textbook piracy as a mediator in discussion. The CCEF is a five level, 11-step process of identifying ethical foundations and the applying those through culture, faith, and personal beliefs, so as to come to a distinct understanding on how to handle dilemmas across culture. The CCEF is fundamentally Christian, with strong foundations in faith, the purpose of faith, and serving other.

 In my own experience, cross-cultural work is a double-edged sword. Cross-cultural work enthralls the soul with mystery, investigating the boundary line between the known and the unknown but at the same time poses a danger to ethical systems. The ethical danger in cross-cultural work straddles the divide between maintaining a strong moral foundation and allowing that foundation to falter with the influx of new, untested but necessary elements found in foreign worldviews. No one ethical system is perfect. In the United States the desire for independence warps the familial relationship between child and parent to that of a friends, or at worst acquaintances (Jekielek & Brown, 2005). In China the emphasis on family degrades the strength between neighbors, as care and love should only be given to blood relatives and once exhausted then the community (Xu, 2007).

When someone works in a cross-cultural system and a conflict between worldviews occur (whether those system are between the United States, China, or elsewhere) that person must decide which worldview is ethically sound and what action to take, a reaction that profoundly affects that person’s relationship with his or her own moral compass. In order to function wholly in a cross-cultural setting, I propose the following model, my own personal framework of cross-cultural ethics. After reviewing current literature and forcing myself to apply ethics to a cultural dilemma I faced in China, I developed this personal framework of cross-cultural ethics which I believe will be helpful to anyone working in a foreign culture.

Cross-Cultural Ethical Framework

Description. The Cross-Cultural Ethical Framework (CCEF) divides into five levels (see Table 1) Level 1 focuses on the ethical dilemma or issue, both as a local phenomenon and as a global ethic. Level 2 responds to human behavior, as culture defines the acceptable modus operandi for societal acceptance (Martin & Siehl, 1983), while morality defines personal standards of behavior (Chiu et al., 1997). Level 3 corresponds to faith (although I refer to Christian faith), as James states when referring to the law of God: “But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom… will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:23, New International Version). Along with the “perfect law” however, is grace: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13, New International Version). While it may be possible for an ethical judgment to be influenced by human systems of law, in the CCEF human systems of law are based in Level 2, within the sub-section of culture (for the sake of the model).

Global dilemma Level 1 – Dilemma
Local dilemma
Culture Level 2 – Behavior
Law Level 3 – Faith
Love Level 4 – Action
Authenticity Level 5 – Purpose & Foundation



Table 1: Levels of the CCEF model

Level 4 is a call to action. In the passage immediately following Colossians 3:13, Paul states: “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:14, New International Version). Love in this way acts as an essential key to the unity of global worldviews, local dilemmas, cultural understanding, moral guidance, holy law, and grace to others, as love is a cause for accomplishing those abstract and invisible functions through ethical action in a practical fashion.

Level 5 is base of undergirding principles which an ethical agent must agree to in order to rationally make decisions for the betterment of his or her situation. The three principles of authenticity, integrity, and responsibility are interlinked with each other through the concept of telos, stemming from teleology (grand purpose or final cause). However, this model is not linear as the table supposes, but rather non-linear, with the dilemma focused at the center of Levels 1-4, supported by healthy principles from Level 5. The key to this model is Level 4: the act of love, the “perfect unity.”

I distinguished the various levels at the beginning of this paper, as in further discussion I will break down each element of the ethical framework, specifically in terms of literature and application. However, understanding how the CCEF operates as a level-based system is imperative to application and recognition, as without a basic structure the elements in themselves are just good principles but not worthy of application as a personal ethical framework.

Breakdown and Application to Case Study

Background of case study. Before I break down the CCEF, a short introduction to the ethical dilemma presented in this paper is needed. While cross-cultural ethical models do exist (see Wines & Napier, 1992), these theories are fundamentally theoretical rather than practical and are focused on utilitarian benefits of doing business in foreign countries rather than as a personal model of ethical behavior when approaching specific dilemmas. Wines and Napier argue that due to the theoretical nature of ethical models, “a useful model should address more than one level of values” (p. 837). Other cross-cultural models are significantly dichotomous and fallacious in the assumption culture is divided between individualism and collectivism (Robertson & Fadil, 1999), when in fact culture is a continuum (Adeney, 1995), not a polarity. Therefore, application of CCEF as a level-based exploration into the continuum of culture in regards to Chinese textbook piracy will be discussed below.

As early as 2004 (two years after China joined the World Trade Organization) western media outlets began to discover and report on the existence of Chinese textbook piracy. Media critics learned that from a young age many Chinese students had a significant lack of education regarding copyright law due to copying being counted as an academic achievement, and by the time those students had entered university, “copying of published papers [was] widespread among university students” (“Experts question”, 2004). In my own experience, not only is textbook piracy a reality, but a justified principle and sometimes inalienable right for many students at my university (a prominent Chinese University). Therefore, the approach to this topic must be done with delicacy and care, in order to fully understand the logical underpinnings behind such a mass delusion and know how to respond in a loving fashion.

While a lot of media attention has played on China’s lack of ability to police piracy, only a few articles have been published in western media outlets regarding textbook piracy. In 2004, the journal Chronicle of Higher Education published an article written by Jen Liu-Lin and Burton Bollag exposing the internal problems of textbook piracy in China including the 2001 shutdown of the state-owned publisher Guanghua which was pirating academic financial journals. In 2006, China’s Ministry of Education officially called universities to stop photocopying textbooks, notably foreign textbooks, and then called for a comprehensive investigation (Mooney, 2006). Then in 2009, the Anti-Illegal Publications Office seized more than 4 million pirated teaching materials, shutting down 182 print shops, and closing over 100,000 illegal textbook shops (“Pirated teaching materials,” 2009, September 19). However, as a government priority textbook copyright protection in China does not seem to be high on the list, with only three publicly announced initiatives.

Part of the problems relating to textbook piracy in China is due to the organizational structure of publishing houses in China. Most university presses in China only have at most three employees (Lin-Liu & Bollag, 2004), and only 12.27% of Chinese publishers surveyed by Wang (2009) actually have a separate office for staff involved in protecting copyright, while 84.05% of Chinese publishers combine the task of protecting copyright within the normal duties of the editorial staff.

The CCEF (see Figure 1) will be applied to the issue of textbook piracy through a step-by-step process. I will narrate the step-by-step process through the usage of the pronoun, “I,” although other pronouns may be substituted if one wishes when reading the following process.



Figure 1: CCEF model

Level 1: The dilemma. Before I can approach an ethical dilemma, I must first clearly understand the prevalent view regarding the issue as a global problem, regardless of culture. Hume argued, “But when he bestows on any man the epithets of vicious or odious or depraved, he then speaks another language, and expresses sentiments in which, he expects, all his audience are to concur with him. He must here therefore depart from his private and particular situation, and must choose a point of view common to him with others” (1975). The important phrase in Hume’s argument is another language, the language which is necessary to understand before any relevant judgments can be made about culture. Blackburn (2001) believes that speaking a common language is possible, especially when related to deontological ethics. According to Blackburn, when analyzing Kant’s categorical imperative, the “other language” or “universalization test” (as Blackburn puts it) “become[s] not only a particular argument within ethics . . . but the indispensable basis for ethics” (p. 117). Wilkens (1995) relates how “certain standards of truth . . . have been the North Star which I have checked each approach” (p. 191), guiding him to right decisions about ethical dilemmas.

However, back in 1924, F.H. Allport stated “that people often assume that others are responding in a given situation in the same way as they and imagine that their own response is universal,” identifying the illusion of universality. Therefore when approaching an ethical dilemma I must also consider the individual, local approach. The theory of cognitive dissonance, proposed by Goethels, Messick, and Allison (1991), states that as individuals generate knowledge they naturally justify their actions according to that knowledge, meaning that before people perceive of another language (or a common view) they have already made a determination based on the current situation in which they find themselves. So while I do need to be aware of the universal view, I must also take into consideration how the local situation affects the dilemma. One key method for determining the dissonance between the global and the local is Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

Picture men dwelling in a sort of subterranean cavern with a long entrance open to the light on its entire width. Conceive them as having their legs and necks fettered from childhood, so that they remain in the same spot, able to look forward only, and prevented by the fetters from turning their heads. Picture further the light from a fire burning higher up and at a distance behind them, and between the fire and the prisoners and above them a road along which a low wall has been built. . . . See also, then, men carrying past the wall implements of all kinds that rise above the wall, and human images and shapes of animals as well, wrought in stone and wood and every material, some of these bearers presumably speaking and others silent.” (Republic 514a-515a)

Plato then inquires, “Do you think that these men would have seen anything of themselves or of one another except the shadows cast from the fire on the wall of the cave that fronted them?” (Republic 515a) As I operate in a different culture, I am tempted to stand on the road in the cave overlooking the men shackled in chains below me and judge them, as they only see the shadows in front of them and I can see further and with more clarity because I have a torch and they do not. Herodotus (Histories 3:38) proclaimed that King Cambyses was “completely mad” for not respecting the religious rites of a culture he visited, but rather mocking and deriding it. Herodotus goes on to relate how King Darius of Persia summoned a group of men from two different cultures in order to ascertain whether it was proper to eat one’s ancestors or burn one’s ancestors, to which they both cried out in horror. Therefore I have to conclude I would be “completely mad” to not take into consideration the world under the road in the shadows of Plato’s cave.

Application of level 1 to case study. According to Lee (2007), the average price of an economics textbook in the United States is somewhere between the range of $24.4 and $45.7, which in Chinese currency translates as ¥151 and ¥283. From my own research, the price range of pirated textbooks from a copy shop in my university ranges from ¥10 to ¥30, a 89% → 94% discount off the cover price. However, most Chinese textbooks range between ¥30 → ¥50, a much more suitable number for a Chinese student who pays ¥3.5 for lunch and ¥110 for unlimited international internet each month (to put the numbers into perspective).

Tsinghua University Press, the sister university to my university (and across the street) reported back in 2004 having lost 20% of its profits due to piracy (Lin-Liu & Bollag, 2004). According to the average cost of a Chinese textbook (¥30 → ¥50) and the price students pay in a copy shop (¥10 → ¥30), those numbers average around 20%. What is amazing, however, is that even with such low prices for Chinese textbooks ($4.76 → $7.90) students still prefer a pirated copy to the real textbook, saving them only $3.17 while feeling absolutely justified.

Su, Lu, and Lin (2011) describe this phenomenon as the difference between cost and benefit: as a cost, students only concern for textbooks are whether or not they will be prosecuted, and whether or not they will save money. If there is no implemented justice system, and the price for a pirated textbook eases the pocketbook, then it follows a large proportion of students will believe no one is concerned and therefore there is no danger. Before I can clearly delineate a plan of action in how as a teacher I respond to the matter, I must take this into account. In 2001, western academic journals reported having lost over $150 million to piracy in China alone, exempting other educational publishers (Liu-Lin & Bollag, 2004). So while piracy is a problem, I must ground myself in realities first.

Level 2: Behavior. If I could make one statement which I was absolutely sure of, I would say that there is not one culture that is the same as another. Wilkens (1995) claims that “ethics can be done only on a casuistic (case study) basis” (p. 139). If ethics can only be done on a case-by-case basis, then by far the strongest delineation of difference among cases would be a culture. While I may believe that my culture has higher standards of other cultures, how I act on that when I interact with people from other cultures takes precedent. Melville Herskovits (1972) spoke about the self-importance of one’s culture (also known as ethnocentrism) when exerted only humbly as “a gentle insistence on the good qualities of one’s own group, without any drive to extend this attitude into the field of action,” however when the drive to extend that attitude into action occurs, my condemnation is both not understood and not respected. The concepts of coherent and absolute knowledge distinguish between context and ontological reality (Lindbleck, 1984), meaning that regardless the culture, each culture will have different coherent knowledge, resulting in incoherent views (Adeney, 1995) and a distortion of how I even represent my ontological views.

Adeney (1995) continues by stating that the stages of inculturation exist within a continuum rather than a specific categorical truth, meaning that culture in itself is an act of growth, a living knowledge that evolves, shifts, and transforms individuals differently depending on time and place. As I move through the process of inculturation, “a ‘third-culture perspective’ is possible only through a synthesis of cultural values achieved through reidentification [sic] with both cultures” (p. 73). I must remember that as I go through this process “different communities and different cultures have different conceptions of justice, because they have different histories, different social structures and different conflicts” (p. 109).

While culture defines how a societal behaves, morals dictate how an individual behaves. My moral compass determines how I react to situations both good and ill, and therefore the study of morality is intrinsically personal. Aristotle states that “action must proceed from a firm and unchangeable character” (Nichomachean Ethics 1105a), meaning that at the root, my character is what defines my goodness; if I gave good character my actions will be good, while if I have bad character my actions will be bad. In Joseph Conrad’s novel Typhoon, the captain MacWhirr shows “us that moral leadership can draw on the depths of our lives, on something deep down within heart and mind, something real and important to us that is reflexive rather than necessarily related to the easy come, easy go of the intellect’s habits” (Coles, 2000, p. 50). In this way, I come back to Aristotle’s understanding of a virtuous life being inter-related with the concept of eudaimonia and a complete life: “For one swallow does not make a summer, nor does one day; and so too one day, or a short time, does not make a man blessed and happy” (1098a).

I can be a man of Character with a capital “c” and yet still be empty. Who am I without a source to draw upon when I am empty and wasted? While the vast experience and joy in my life may sometimes inspire me, I am left alone with myself at the end of the day facing the darkness of my personal tragedies. When Coles (2000) narrates the life of a young girl living in dire conditions during the height of the racial conflicts in Boston and her relationship to God, he relates how “the notion that God is a moral companion of sorts to us, that He observes us and comes to conclusions about our episodes of wrongdoing, no matter our claims, excuses, self-justifications” (p. 222). As the little girl associates God as a moral companion with her conscience, so does the journalist and saint Dorothy Day: “I speak to the Lord, through prayer, and I speak to my conscience . . . I hope with the Lord’s will in mind, not just our own” (p. 192). In this way, a deep part of my morality is joined with my perception that God is walking with me through the travails of my life, through which I draw strength, attitude, and joy, allowing me to draw what Coles calls moral passion, a “passion within oneself, [to] set it in motion among others, and do so resourcefully, pointedly” (p. 192), and through that transform the dilemma from a tragedy to an opportunity.

Application of level 2 to case study. On September 23rd, 2011, the United States Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner made a startling statement about China. He claimed that the Chinese “have made [emphasis mine] possible systematic stealing of intellectual property by American companies” (Martina, 2011), inferring that theft and stealing was an intention in China’s fundamental design behind the protection of intellectual liberties. As a statement belittling and envenoming another culture, Geithner’s claim is mind-boggling for a United States diplomat in the 21st century. Nevertheless, his claim is understandable, as in 2009 the United States lost an estimated $48 billion due to piracy in China, according to the International Trade Commission (Martina, 2011), which accounts for nearly 18% of the total trade deficit the United States currently has with China.

For years now, Chinese publishers have had systems for detecting and prosecuting piracy. Almost 22% of Chinese publishers have a public face to their copyright departments, and 27% of Chinese publishers use a piracy hotline for suspected infringements to be called in (Wang, 2009). According to Long Zhenshan, the head of Tsinghua University Press’s copyright division, publishers “don’t have the resources to go out and investigate ourselves” (Lin-Liu & Bollag, 2004), and so they rely mostly on outsiders (informants) calling the publisher is a copyright infringement has been found.

When a system is as entrenched, established, and unknown as the system Chinese publishers have for enforcing piracy, how can I as an educator and a moral individual fight it? The system in China has become so deeply embedded into university culture that even students of mine who consider themselves to be highly moral, upright, and trying their best to follow in the Confucian ethical system, still purchase pirated textbooks. Primarily, this is due to education. I discovered this semester that when I approached students and asked them if a copied textbook for a course was still in print, they returned blank stares and then innocently asked, “Do you think this book is illegal?” When I shrugged and told them, “Maybe,” they breathed in sharply with visible lines of concern etched on their faces. As much as I would like to comfort them that they did not break any laws by submitting to the will of their professors, those few seconds from an authority asking them a simple question sparked the creation of a struggle with a giant ethical dilemma they perhaps did not even realize they had. By educating students about the international laws of copyright, enforcing those laws in class through deliberate decisions in choices of text, and personally holding a student ethically accountable (not necessarily legally) educators such as myself can make a huge impact with this issue right on the front lines of battle: the classroom.

Level 3: Faith. In the Bible, there is a significant correlation between the grace given to me from above and the grace I give to others being in perfect relationship: “ For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:12, New International Version). Within both the Old Testament and the New Testament God’s grace is made evident (Augsburger, 1986), making grace an indelible part of God’s character. Aquinas argues: “The material sun sheds its light outside us; but the intelligible Sun, Who is God, shines within us. Hence the natural light bestowed upon the soul is God’s enlightenment, whereby we are enlightened to see what pertains to natural knowledge; and for this there is required no further knowledge, but only for such things as surpass natural knowledge” (Summa Theologiae I-II.109, a. 1, ad. 2.). By being filled with God’s light, I am in fact filled with God’s grace, spilling out of me through the act of forgiveness to others. Morality, according to Adeney (1995), “is fundamentally seen as a response to God’s grace in choosing, liberating, blessing, forgiving, and judging us . . . if we really are free, then we must live in the true freedom of obedience” (p. 97).

My understanding of Christian law is found through two avenues: the natural law ordered by God since the beginning of time, and the Decalogue. Based on these two sides of law, nature and order, I find a place when planning out a structure of action. Natural moral law finds root in Romans 1:19-20, which states: “Since what may be known about God is plain to them [men who suppress the truth], because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (New International Version). However as Rogers (1998) says of Aquinas in that “the Gentiles had detained the natural knowledge of God in unrighteousness” (257), so human law while based in the natural law of God has been fundamentally warped, yet there is still a figment of that law present in any system of law.

Therefore, there are two basic precepts apparent to me: that the law in which I operate in cross-culturally must be respected due to its inspiration from natural law, but that the law of God (the Decalogue) takes priority, as a divinely spoken and given set of laws for guidance. Given that the Decalogue was written as a moment of time, however, Fletcher (1967) argues that “situation ethics has good reason to hold it [the Decalogue] as a duty in some situations to break them . . . any or all of them. We would be better to drop the legalist’s love of law, and accept only the law of love” (p. 74). Fletcher is not arguing that the Ten Commandments don’t hold sway today, but that they should be viewed through the Second Great Commandment, “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39, New International Version). We are bound to the meaning of the law (Adeney, 1995), not necessarily the specific cultural imperatives.

However, are there laws that cannot ever be broken, regardless of culture or creed? Adeney (1995) argues that prima facie rules “ought to be absolutes in all cultures and all times” (p. 153). Kant (2005) states explicitly that in the practical or real world, human-based laws which emphasize freedom and justice contradict natural law, meaning that those prima facie rules would not necessarily be specifically present in human-based laws, as rules that were absolutes would have to spring from natural law, not human law. Therefore, according to Kant’s Categorical Imperative which states that “my maxim should become a universal law” (p. 63), my maxims must come from God and from God’s natural law, not from human-created systems of law, even as I respect or admire those “inspired laws”.

Application of level 3 to case study. One of the biggest issues with Chinese textbook piracy are the educators of Chinese students, specifically the teachers. Lin-Liu and Bollag (2004) reported that a pirated textbook saleswoman named Wang sold over 500 books to a teacher who came down to Beijing from Shandong (a nearby province), claiming in her interview that “business was not bad.” Not bad, indeed. For many of my students, being handed a textbook in class by the teacher warrants no cause for suspicion. “Most of the piracy is committed by either administrators or professors within the university who photocopy textbooks, or by professional pirates who sell unauthorized copies to university officials, who may or may not know that the books are pirated” (Lin-Liu & Bollag, 2004). Even though the rules set by the Ministry of Education explicitly restrict universities from using pirated textbooks, administrators and teachers continue the practice, either out of lack of funds for the real textbook or just for the profit. With Gary Locke as the new ambassador to China from the United States, the issue of Chinese piracy has grown to such heights as to “put the defense of U.S. Intellectual property among his chief priorities [emphasis mine]” (Martina, 2011).

As an educator myself, I take into my ethical account several statements from the Decalogue: the eighth commandment reads: “You shall not steal,” and the ninth reads: “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:15-16, New International Version). The concept of stealing and showing false testimony means (through applying the meaning of the law) that copying intellectual property regardless of the situation without asking or giving credit and without following the proper structures of cultural law is unethical, and lying to my students under the pretense of righteousness about where and how those materials were acquired would also be unethical. However to judge my students for their collaboration with the educational system through the act of piracy requires grace and more importantly forgiveness, meaning that were I not to forgive them these behaviors there would be no reason for myself to be forgiven for other behaviors I may or may not be complicit in. As an educator, my job is not to judge nor even to exact justice, but rather… to educate.

Level 4: Action. If the second Great Commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39, New International Version), then how can this love be achieved? Love has been expressed in popular culture as an emotion, but equally as an active agent of change. “Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18, New International Version). Fletcher (1967) further defines this particular kind of love expressed within 1 John:

Christian situation ethics has only one norm or principle or law (call it what you will) that is binding and unexceptionable, always good and right regardless of the circumstances. That is “love” – the agapē of the summary commandment to love God and the neighbor. Everything else without exception, all laws and rules and principles and ideals and norms, are only contingent, only valid if they happen to serve love in any situation. (p. 30)

In the CCEF, love as action is the outer ring and the visible and external result of every other aspect of the model. While the principles of level-5 (authenticity, integrity, responsibility, and telos) are the foundation behind making solid decisions in ethical dilemmas, it is love as action that constitutes the change agent. Smedes (1986) argues, “Where love is lost, humanity is lost, and all our human associations become bloodless combats where aggressive egos manipulate each other . . . what love wants is action, and not just a lot of talk” (p. 54, 56). Smedes goes on to claim that out of the two absolute rules that define everything, love sits next to justice in importance of ethics. Kant (2005) differentiates delight from benevolence, as in delight no obligations can apply, whereas the goal of benevolence is beneficence, a practical application that can in Kant’s opinion be termed as a universal maxim.

However, love without God is no love at all. Adeney (1995) claims that all laws in the Bible must be viewed in context of the First and Second Great Commandment of love, and if divine or natural law is my source for love, then I must always consider love in context of my relationship with God. “It is not by ideals and programmes or by conscience, duty, responsibility and virtue that reality can be confronted and overcome, but simply and solely by the perfect love of God” (Bonhoeffer, 1995). Through the exercise of the love shown to me by God, my love outwardly becomes the only confrontation to the world; whereas conscience, duty, responsibility, virtue, ideals, culture, morality, law, integrity, and authenticity are invisible worlds within me, love is how I express those to others, especially within the context of a different culture which shares different concepts of those invisible worlds.

Application of level 4 to case study. “I’m definitely not going to prevent students from individually copying books. If we need something for class, we will certainly continue to make photocopies,” said a student at Peking University interviewed by Mooney (2006). For me this hits home, as everyday I step into the halls of my university and try to make a difference. Furthermore, Peking University along with Tsinghua University are the top two universities in the People’s Republic of China. If a student at Harvard or Yale made that same statement, how would the public react?

Three kinds of beliefs predict behavior, according to Azjen and Driver (1992), summarized in their Theory of Planned Behavior: attitudes, norms and perceived control. Based on this theory, Su, Lu and Lin proposed that one possible method to fighting the behavior supporting textbook piracy at the university level was through analyzing the attitudes students held about that behavior, reducing the benefits and increasing the cost (or norms), and instituting stricter control systems and through this process the researchers could cause students to feel guilt and thus defer their decision to buy a pirated textbook. However, this method would be impossible unless the publishers had control over the market. At Fudan University in Shanghai, the libraries have rows and rows of copies of foreign textbooks and teachers quite often distribute these materials in class (Lin-Liu & Bollag, 2004). If schools such as Peking University, Tsinghua University, and Fudan University (think Harvard, Yale, and Stanford) are systematically allowing for pirated materials to be distributed to students without any prosecution, how is making students feel guilty going to change things, and how does that show love?

As an educator, all I can do within the delicate position I have at my school is to love my students: as learners, as scholars, and as partners in the quest for knowledge. If I cause them to stumble, what love is that? My love for them is a practical action of informing, educating, and expecting quantity of quality with the work I give them. While I may be only one teacher, I can make a difference through the simple actions of Christ-like love. “No one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light” (Luke 8:16, New International Version). As a feasible action I need only be aware and help others to be aware, and through a few change begins. I can force a man to move his cart but unless I speak to his heart, the cart will return the next day.

Level 5: Purpose and foundation. The CCEF model is nothing without a solid foundation of personal authenticity, integrity, and responsibility, bounded together by a pure purpose. The weakness of moving forward in love without a strong foundation is that when a strong wind blows through the room or an earthquake shakes the floorboards, the lamp mentioned in Luke falls to the ground and both the light and the warmth are extinguished.

Authenticity is the strength of my belief, while praxis is how I live that life. Starratt (2004) says that as I am “a unique being who will exist only once in the entire universe, my originality is something that only I can discover, author, perform, define, and actualize” (p.66). Starratt calls this actualization a moral imperative, and by disowning or feigning knowledge of my possible actualization, I am not living out my life with authenticity. Praxis is the growth of my beliefs through day-by-day steps of action, which can only actualize through practice within context, bonding with diverse cultural elements, and committing myself to the Second Great Commandment (Adeney, 1995). Furthermore, authenticity has both a personal and social moral dynamic (Starratt, 2004, p. 80), shaped “in the dialogue that occurs between parent and child, between siblings, between friends” (p.67).

Price (2008) names morality as “an explicit component of personal integrity” (p. 102). Yukl (2002) adds that integrity must be “consistent with espoused values . . . [that] the person is honest, ethical, and trustworthy” (p. 192). According to Price, personal integrity is the cornerstone of deciding whether or not a decision made is justified and therefore necessary. In other words, without personal integrity, any decision I make regarding anything is balancing on the tip of a pin, liable to fall at any time. When my world is built onto the tip of that pin and that pin falls, there is no way to pick it up again.

Besides the personal elements of integrity, socially I must recognize that “humans cannot be treated indifferently, as if they are gravel to be swept aside or parts of a machine that can be thrown away when they wear out” (Starratt, 2004, p. 68). The integrity of the known, as Starratt calls it, means submitting myself “to the message of the known, willing to be humbled by the complexity of the known” (p. 77). Starratt’s point is especially integral to understanding educational ethics, as the known is the meeting or mating of intelligences, and so because the act of caring for knowledge is a social action, knowledge becomes a moral dilemma. Through knowledge and the mating of intelligences, the educator learns “more about the human condition, about the social, political, cultural, and natural worlds that make up the curriculum the school intends to teach” (p. 50). Therefore, for me to be a teacher of integrity I must care for the respect of knowledge as both part of my personal character as well as a vehicle for change in the social community of learners.

Starratt (2004) divides responsibility into three key areas: responsibility to myself, responsibility to my stakeholders, and responsibility to civic virtue. In this way, as a human being I am “responsible for taking a stand with other human beings – not above them, as someone removed from the human condition, but as one sharing fully in it” (p. 49). Spiritually however, responsibility is fundamentally anchored in Christ. “It is the fact that life is bound to man and to God which sets life in the freedom of a man’s own life. Without this bond and without this freedom there is no responsibility” (Bonhoeffer, 1995, p. 221). Bonhoeffer describes responsibility as a matter of deputyship; as Christ “became a man . . . and thereby bore responsibility and deputyship for men” (p. 223), so must I be responsible towards Christ and understand that the boundaries of my calling are “broken though not only from above, that is to say by Christ, but also in an outward direction” (p. 253) in serving others besides only myself. In the end both Bonhoeffer and Starratt recognize that responsibility begins at the heart and ends at the hands.

The binding factor between these three elements is telos, or grand purpose. Without a goal or a purpose, the strength of will or the ableness of faith to withstand trials and tribulations comes to nothing, just as a rock having no feet or legs cannot move but must stay stationary. In an article from the Formula of Concord (a Lutheran confessional) the purpose or telos of the law given to men by God was “that outward discipline might be maintained against wild, disobedient men . . . that [they] may be led to knowledge of their sins, and that after they are regenerate. . . they might on this account have a fixed rule according to which they are to regulate and direct their whole life” (Epitome 6:1). Bonhoeffer (1995) claims that the Good News is the goal of this statement, also known as the primus usus, and therefore as a fundamental telos serves as the blueprint for all my actions in the intersection between authenticity, integrity, and responsibility. Kierkegaard identifies telos being founded on faith when he describes Abraham’s decision to kill his son making him either “a murderer or a man of faith” (Fear and Trembling 85), meaning that my faith ultimately underscores my ability to function under the law of God, as the law is my map for living my life as I was meant to be according to God’s plan. Therefore without faith, telos fails, and the glue holding my body (authenticity), heart (integrity), and hands (responsibility) falls apart.

Application of level 5 to case study. Douglas Hunt, a professor at the University of Missouri at Columbia, received an e-mail one morning notifying him that an anthology he had edited and even contributed to was being pirated in China, being sold by a university publishing house for $2.50 each with his name removed and instead, the name of a Chinese professor claiming authorship (Lin-Liu & Bollag, 2004). In the end, Dr. Hunt did not press charges, as he “didn’t feel terribly violated,” rather he “felt [he had] made enough money off of the book” himself, even though the book had already sold 4,000 copies in one city alone. The fear westerners have in approaching China with regards to textbook piracy is tantamount to madness. Ian Taylor of the Publishers Association stated that publishers are not bothering to check piracy in China because the market has expanded so quickly, leaving them little time to pursue infringements, even while they seem quite content in complaining to the media or their respective governments. Lin-Liu and Bollag explain this paradox of fear: “The Chinese government, citing national legislation, has also refused to allow foreign publishers to hire local investigators to determine the extent of the problem,” leading to a fear of backlash from the Chinese government if a foreign publisher were to pursue litigation in regards to a supposed piracy case.

If foreign publishers are refused access to pursuing legal courses of action, if the systematic structure of the Chinese publishing house does not allow for individual investigations into piracy violations, and if presses are relying entirely on the good nature of people to come forward to expose piracy, where is the hope for a future where educators in China are credited with the hard work they do? While in Taiwan many educators prefer to use guilt mechanisms to push students into an ethical corner (Su, Lu, & Lin, 2011), guilt management is hardly worthy of Christ-like behavior or of an honest, authentic educator, and is more a short-term solution in lieu of any long-term solutions.

However, I don’t believe the future is stark. I can only speak from my personal experience, but with the proper ethical framework even educators can become transformed, and through education students will gain a sense of morality passed on to them by their teachers. Whether they choose to adopt that moral worldview is personal, but without the knowledge that ‘obtaining prior consent’ is necessary when it comes to textbook printing, nothing will change. The solution is simple, but the process is far from simple; nevertheless, it is necessary.


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Junzi on the Cross

Junzi on the Cross: A Discussion of Servant Leadership on the Dialectic Between the Son of the Ruler in Confucian Philosophy and the Son of Man in the Christian Worldview

This study’s objective was to develop leadership qualities within students in a Chinese university, through creating models of compromise between eastern and western philosophies, and then putting variable testing tools in place to observe whether changes took place. This research took place over two school terms, in which 36 leaders of small workgroups each term was examined. The aim of the research was to instill servant leadership principles into these leaders, and that through modeling they would instill those values into their group members. At the end of the research, while it has been proven that certain servant leadership have been instilled in student leaders, it is inconclusive whether or not those values have also been instilled into group members. However, student leaders did showcase humility and personal responsibility towards group members, two important qualities not normally present in Chinese leadership, but major qualities of traditional servant leadership.

This research began with the question: is it possible to raise servant leaders in China? China is well-known for being a country with authoritarian leadership. As early as the Zhou Dynasty (late B.C. 500) leadership in China was top-down, a society where each individual had their place written in Heaven as to role, responsibility, amount of land that could possibly be owned, to even salary. Today, there are studies being done to gauge the impact of servant leadership in China, but the majority of those studies are being conducted after-the-fact (see H. Yong’s study on servant leadership in the PRC). There are few studies being done today that are experiments of impact. This research is meant to remedy that injustice to some of the great leadership theories that are present in China’s vast history of philosophy and religion.

This research delves into the development of leadership agency in China (21, Chen); specifically leaders of student work groups in the college classroom who take charge of a team of students and create social programs which impact the local student population. This is a qualitative case study, but more importantly, it is exploratory research, to even see if there are viable paths for progression. I used an unstructured approach, as well as implemented an experimental method of instilling value into students which to my knowledge, has not been done before.

I also conducted a textual analysis of key texts in Confucian philosophy (the Analects) as and the Christian worldview (the Gospels) to compare the two leading philosophies/theologies from both eastern and western society. In order to conduct this research I selected outstanding students not of merit, but of leadership quality, which I shall refer to as pillars, as in Chinese philosophy a pillar is a person who stands out from the crowd in leadership quality (29, Sheh).


Leadership in China has traditionally been authoritarian, and to this day this style of leadership is prevalent in politics, business, even down to the family (193, Chen). Leadership is also extremely pragmatic, which says that regardless of the means, the end is the final goal (35, Rinehart). While this may be ethically unsound, this style of leadership does accomplish results. For the most part, Chinese government and Chinese business has remained paternalistic. In Chen and Lee’s book Leadership and Management in China, a group of researchers made an intense study on the peculiar aspects of paternalistic leadership, concluding that most Chinese leaders fall into a degree combination of three elements: authoritarianism  benevolence, and morality (176, Chen).

While many Chinese today do realize the importance of looking to other countries or cultures for guidance with leadership, many still accede to subordinate traditionality (181, Chen). Therefore, my premise for this research aims to change the paradigm of leadership by teaching the concept of servant leadership to Chinese students in the university, who are actively engaged in team building activities. While the concept of servant is somewhat present in traditional Chinese philosophy, far more comes from the words of Jesus himself in the Gospels, which has been watered down by Greenleaf (himself, a under-aggrandizing Quaker) to try and fit into a secular model anyone regardless of religion can adopt (27, Greenleaf). The goal of the research is to empower student pillars into a process of transformation (39, Rinehart); but in order to do that, I needed to take part in what Graen calls “the shared network leadership” model (289, Chen), which states that in order to successfully pass leadership principles into another culture, the transmitter must first understand the culture they are going to try and transform.

Research Topic

This study begins with the creation of leadership groups, but it goes beyond just creating situations for leadership. Conceptual leadership is the foundation of servant leadership (47, Greenleaf), because servant leadership deals not with issues of the hands but issues of the heart, deep passion and love for each person involved in the process. This foundation is the bedrock of all actions the leader makes (97, Rinehart), and were I modelling this leadership as a teacher from my own life, the foundation which stretch all the way to Jesus Christ, my own model for servant leadership. However, a key aspect of conceptual leadership is that it requires looking at both the forest and the trees, which in this case requires a careful analysis of operational power from a Chinese context. Whereas in the West operational power may rest on a leader’s positive qualities and past accomplishments, operational power (79, Greenleaf) in the East is focused on relationship and form. Therefore, I had to not only take this into account, but also move forward and begin to hand out responsibility in a way where the expectations matched the culture. This kind of delegation was absolutely essential to model for the pillars I intended to try and teach about servant leadership (52, Hayward).

I invoked the principle of primus inter pares (84, Greenleaf). In a college institution, there are no stakeholders involved in the process, and to find the archetypal trustee that Greenleaf describes as all servant leaders requiring to keep them accountable was impossible. Therefore, I became the trustee to each pillar, and we formed a relationship in that fashion. My goal was to help students form mental models to perceive leadership, while encouraging formation of relationship not only between myself and them, but between themselves and fellow team members. In this way the institution we set up was serving us (62, Greenleaf).

Target Group

Chinese leaders are natural at the art of self-cultivation. To cultivate the self is a means towards the self-evolution against instinctual desires and the movement towards wisdom and sagacity (61, Chen). Prime examples in Chinese history are the sage kings Yao and Shun, quoted often in the Analects of Confucius as pure examples of servant leaders. Other examples that are steeped in Chinese myth are the god-like Monkey King Sun Wukong, and his guide to human enlightenment, the sage-priest Sanzang, a reincarnated king in the body of a servant of Buddha. These stories serve as examples which many people who are concerned with leadership immediately think of; hence it is necessary to mention them.

One further aspect of the target group that needs be mentioned in the concept of harmony. Harmony is more popular today, due to the current President of China, Hu Jintao, having made the “harmonious society” a goal for his political tenure, although the concept has a much longer history in Chinese history than the 21st century. The saying of Confucius, “harmony is precious” has been used for thousands of years as a goal people in power should aspire (247, Chen). This is important to discuss because the pillars I chose to lead groups will often elect harmony over quality or task: if people in the group are not contributing to the work process, the leader will take it on him or herself to do the group rather than confronting that person about the issue.

Being top-tier students, they also desire achievement, as they are taught from a very young age that learning is more important than anything else (149, Sheh), except for money (which comes in a very close second). However, while achievement does occur high on the lists of goals for individuals, caring for members of the group does rate important as well (17, Chen).


As a Christian in an atheist country, I am in a unique position. Furthermore, the rejection of all religion, including Christianity, from having any place in government dialogue elevates my position as an educator in a top university for people who eventually go into either government or the social sector. While there are many Christians in China, there are many more non-Christians, some who ideologically refute the existence of any supernatural occurrences or even natural occurring acts of God. Part of what I am trying to teach these pillars of society is the concept of modeling, and by doing that myself I hope I can fill them with at least part of my philosophy and belief that serving others should be a naturally occurring phenomenon instead of something that is only guided my incentives (103, Rinehart).

I am also a foreign worker in a country that largely has remained ignorant of foreign concepts for the last 4,000 years (save for a brief period during the late 20th century until now, since they have been open). Therefore, the diversity of ideas that I offer the students as well as the depth of history that I carry with me (multiple cultural influences) can help in the process of modeling (38, Rinehart).

However, as a variable in this study, this information can only be useful if I am active in pursuing relationship with my elected pillars. I must be especially aware however, of the distinct historical imagination that already exists within my students; their ability to gauge the past and look towards the future is dependent on their perception of self-identity, if they can see a bigger picture, and if they consider the picture I offer to be of any value to them. Nevertheless, their historical imagination combined with mine, if put together would be highly beneficial to them as future leaders (9, Hayward).


To train servant leaders requires a different methodology than normal leaders. Where this research differs from other leadership training seminars is that all of the training I am doing will be hands-on, with in practical work groups doing meaningful projects which have the possibility of continuation past the end of the course. Students are given incentive in the form of grades rather than monetary promises or promotion, but due to the lack of a crisis situation (such as a training seminar or an actual crisis in the company) I have to personally help each pillars understand how they can best serve their group while maintaining distance and allowing them to discover the process on their own (68, Sheh). Not only do the pillars take charge of a group whom they have been told to serve, but they also embark on a community project which is focused primarily on social responsibility, something that comes naturally to most Chinese organizations and serves to place double-emphasis on the concept of servanthood (246, Chen)

There are four steps to the methodology of this project: (a) to analyze past efforts, (b) to set into motion a system which can be used both on-site and off-site in training leadership, (c) to carefully follow the variables throughout the two terms, and (d) follow through with the activities of the term and continue to promote leadership concepts throughout the semester.

Prior to this project, various activities had been subjected to students, including: a weekly leadership seminar, intended to train students in basic concepts; and electing class monitors in lieu of group leaders to maintain control of a class. However these two methods, both used in Fall and Spring of 2009 failed as engines of leadership; the class monitor found his or her job to be overwhelming, while the leadership elective remained as such: an optional elective for extra points, which few students considered important other than receiving a slightly higher score.


Students suffered from a lack of unity of purpose (100, Sheh) within work groups (having no leader), and monitors suffered from having insufficient execution power to set up systems of control, due to an overwhelming amount of work (23, Sheh). To deal with this issue student leaders were selected from student election, but often these leaders lacked both intution and willfulness, required abilities of servant leaders (37, Greenleaf, and 148, Hayward respectively).

When setting up a new system for guidance of pillars (servant leaders), I had first of all to put aside old notions of classroom management, and decide on a radical new approach. Personal communication on a weekly basis with leaders was required, as well as designing a system that promoted flexibility and impartiality towards all participants  The principle of impartiality states that all things have use, even if at first glance they do not seem so (87, Sheh). By acquiescing to this notion, facilitating a personality-based system (Myers-Briggs) for electing leadership was implemented, as I gave pillars far more opportunities to meet with me to discuss issues that occur on a weekly basis, from home meetings, weekly e-mails, personal phone calls, to even one-on-one leadership consultations. I opted for a flexible system, showing no partiality towards any student (such as a monitor) but allowed all to speak with me anytime (even at 9pm) without criticism. I hoped I was modeling basic values of servant leadership.

With the establishment of a system of accountability, setting roles and defining responsibility for group efforts, then focusing on analyzing specific variables: leaders, group response to the leader, and leader’s response to the “servant ethic” (209, Greenleaf), I hoped to forge a foundation of conceptual leadership the pillars would be able to take to the next level (47, Greenleaf).

Development of Original Model

The model developed for this research was composed of several aspects: (a) theoretical, (b) practical, and (c) intellectual.

In the theoretical model, I envisioned that servant leadership could be taught to students through a holistic lifestyle class, in which teaching was passed down through modeling as well as task. For example:

 original model (servant leadership)

Fig. 1

At first glance, the model above in Figure 1 seems like a fairly obvious concept for teaching a class. Concepts on servant leadership are delivered to the student via individual coaching sessions as well as through a weekly group task, which is individual according to each group member. For the leader of a group, he or she has a specific task which I will discuss shortly. The goal of this current model is to emulate holism, a concept that is deeply rooted in Chinese philosophy and which indicates that everything in the universe is inter-related and yet inter-dependent (83, Sheh).

As we can see from the model, the teaching is flexible and methods taught per week vary depending on the results and feedback from larger group projects, in which it is apparent whether or not servant leadership has been practiced or not. Servant leadership requires authenticity; otherwise it becomes nothing more than rote practice, but when coming from the heart, servant leadership has that amazing ability to bring people together as a team and function in the same heart (40, Rinehart).

The practical model used in this research deals with the individual group assignment given to each group or team pillar. At the beginning of the term the pillar must identify two qualities in each group member they will endeavor to work with an help improve, one strength and one weakness. In the following weeks, they must deliver to me a report on how they are progressing in helping that individual grow in that area. In this way, many team pillars have learned the art of submission, which is another quality that servant leaders possess: humility before others (10, Rinehart). For many pillars, this was the hardest element of their work, because of the abstract quality of the assignment and a fear to be seen in lower status than other group members; however due to the nature of upper leadership (myself, the teacher) they had litle recourse to deny the request, as strange as it may have sounded to them.

The final model used was the intellectual model. In this model, I would send e-mails to each pillar on a weekly basis instructing them in particular servant leadership concepts, beginning from the simple, and moving on every week to something more difficult. This model was taken from a paper Spears wrote in 1998, and illustrates many key elements of servant leadership that if applied to one’s paradigm, would greatly enhance abilities not only as a servant, but also as a leader.

servant leadership progression

Fig. 2

 From the beginning of the model (listening) begins the easiest of tasks: to learn how to listen instead of demand, to hear instead of tell. Each concept comes with specific rituals and routines the pillar must practice with his or her group members, finalizing in the concept of building community. By this point, the education portion of servant leadership has been completed, and the group may safety proceed with their projects and continue along the theoretical model to fruition. By using this model concepts such as vision and respect can be given to each pillar; whether or not they desire to utilize these models in their lives, however, is purely subjective.

The goal of this model was to create a practical model and basic set of theories on which servant leadership as a science could be based. In my studies on servant leadership, most of the research seemed bent towards learning to do goodwill to others: the Light side of leadership, wheras a writer like Robert Green, who wrote The 48 Laws of Power, would be the Dark side of leadership.

If we look into the foundations of servant leadership from both eastern and western philosophies, we find a very different source, and we can begin to build one final model.

In Confucian philosophy, servant leadership exists as form and pragmatism. For example, when Confucius says “Love your fellow men,” (217, Lin) he follows up later with, “It is harmful to make friends with three other types: the obsequious, the double-faced, and the smooth-tongued.” (291, Lin) The core concept of servant leadership from an eastern perspective is to give to others selflessly, either to be an example to other men, or to truly serve people without endangering yourself. “Why should that be?” Confucius asks, when his disciple inquires whether a man of honor (in Chinese, “junzi”) would jump into a well to save a drowning man. “A man of honor will try to rescue to man in the well, but he won’t jump in himself. He may be deceived, but he will not act foolishly.” (111, Lin) Therefore, if the man of honor (or “junzi”) could only rescue the man by drowning himself, he would refrain, as servanthood towards fellow men only extents as far as what is pragmatically allowed by one’s life. However, for the sake of ideals, the man of honor would gladly give up his life (269, Lin).

In the western perspective, servant leadership is founded on the principle of serving God with the whole heart, and modelling one’s life after Christ, who has modeled his life after his Father. The second concept that is widely spoken by Christ in the Gospels is the idea that “the humble shall be exalted, and the exalted shall be humbled,” (133, Cheney) a beautiful paradox and one which Christ repeats over and over again in a variety of different situations. The final concept that Christ repeats a number of times is to “love your neighbor as you would love yourself.” (157, Cheney) Whereas Confucius makes the statement, “Do not do to others what you do not wish others do to you.” (203, Lin)

From these two comparisons, we can begin to make a theory into a model for the Chinese leader. Whereas in eastern philosophy, serving others is dependent on form, pragmatism, and circumstance, western philosophy posits that serving others is about obeisance, humility, and selflessness. Eastern philosophy does contain selflessness, as Mencius states “the best practice of a leader is to help others do good,” (55, Sheh) but Mencius is still not willing to take that step outside of form and appear weak, whereas Christ says, “For he that is least among you all, he shall be great.” (107, Cheney) Now, to keep this from turning into a battle between philosophies, I will make some general observations and then develop a model useful in reaching eastern audiences with a western frame of mind.

When dealing with my Chinese pillars, I focused on teaching them to be humble, although I found that by doing so, many leaders felt that their position as leader was threatened and held little importance in the overall frame of group work. However, when these leaders took hold of the second concept: to take responsibility, and combine that with the authority which drafts and molds vision, suddenly the three concepts were congruent with each other. According to Figure 3, we can see that when eastern and western philosophy come together, if held together by responsibility and authority, the form is maintained and the sanctity of the pillar is maintained for all to see.

servant leadership keystone

Fig. 3

Few sensations are more painful than responsibility without power.” Churchill

Summary and Conclusions

My research was very idealistic. Much of the intended research which I have described in this paper did not actually happen, due to a number of factors. As a pilot study into whether or not servant leadership qualities can be instilled into Chinese students at the university level, I have concluded that they can be, but were not. I will first list the successes of this mission, and then list the reasons why certain aspects of this project failed.

Among student pillars, dogma prevailed. Greenleaf claims that without dogma, no activities within an organization can survive to fruition (117, Greenleaf). Pillars instrinsically understood the policies I set out for them and followed them as best they could, even when the assignment was incredibly abstract. The system was solid, and the educational model was easy to follow, even if they had to consult their friends about clarifications.

Benevolence was greatly practiced among student pillars. Benevolence is one of the key factors of Chinese leadership, be it servant leadership or not: it is to care for your followers in a holistic fashion, treating them as family and watching over their well-being (163, Chen). By creating groups that fostered friendship combined with task-oriented education, benevolence naturally blossomed in groups from pillars to participating group members. In some rare cases when the pillar was not present, instead of benevolence frustration became the driving incentive, but in most cases, pillars took very good care of their fellow colleagues.

Finally, because of the challenges students faced during the course of the semester, loyalty was highly prized among student pillars. For group members who participated fully in group acitivities, they were given the benefit of the doubt almost anytime they had to excuse themselves from work. Other students gladly covered for them.

I am glad to say that loyalty was a strong attribute of student pillars, as it is one of the prime requisities for servant leadership (123, Hayward), and the first step to acknowledging humility towards others. Finally, that humility many times expressed itself in the form of fluidity, in which leaders deign to make themselves invisible. This concept comes from Laozi, who stated, “Because in the end it does not claim greatness, its greatness is achieved.” (78, Sheh)

However, on the other hand, there were several factors that I failed to instill within my student pillars. First and foremost was calling, which is of utmost importance to a leader, but something which my student pillars could never have achieved due to being elected as leaders by me and not by themselves (300, Greenleaf). Greenleaf maintains servant leaders must be seekers, people who are constantly searching for turning points in which they can throw themselves as able servants (22, Greenleaf), which in the end is the ultimate qualification for taking initiative, a quality among servant leaders. Being elected takes away choice from any person, especially in the Chinese classroom, as being elected leave one without a choice to refuse the teacher.

I discovered that several of the pillars, while loyal and benevolent towards their group members, lied and cheated their way into either the good graces of their group members or into my own good graces, surprisingly. According to Hayward in his study on Winston Churchill (as well as both Sheh and Chen), moral character is a prime requirement for servant leaders, and in my course this concept failed to pass onto my student pillars. This is a glaring failure.

Finally, the last aspect of failure that I wish to mention is risk. Sheh comments that risk is a main factor in many Chinese businesses, but in my course, most leaders opted for the risk-less path until instructed not to do so by myself (150, Sheh). In the future, I hope to illuminate some of these principles through both modeling and direct teaching, before habits set in and form.

Evaluation and Recommendation

In evaluating the pillars, I used a variety of different methods. One method was through one-on-one interviews, in which I asked them a specific question about how they proceeded through the leadership process and they answered to the best of their ability. Another method I used was through a quantifiable survey, also known as scientific management (252, Chen), in which questions about team leadership were raised directly and they were asked to answer honesty. By the end of the evaluations, I discovered some striking things.

Firstly, that through the process of leading a group, these students gained in self-knowledge, although perhaps not in leadership ability. Many said that prior to the course they never saw themselves as leaders, but now after having gone through the process, they could tell that they were indeed gifted in certain areas of leadership. A very few said that the my calculations at the beginning of the class were improper, although they may have just been polite. Of course, the goal of any venture in leadership should not only be self-knowledge, but the knowledge of others (101, Sheh), at least in traditional Chinese philosophy.

My recommendations for future efforts include the following aspects: (a) instilling more of a concept of family among all students in a particular class, especially teaching pillars how to make their group members feel like they are a member of a special family (69, Hayward); teaching student pillars how to love selflessly, by eliciting basis responses of trust and responsibility from pillars to members (52, Greenleaf); using modeling to inspire student pillars, and asking them to inspire their own group members using the same methods (148, Sheh); and finally, implementing training and releasing policies, which will ensure leaders have the capacity to create leaders, so that the process can continue without end (148, Rinehart).


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Haubert, K., & Clinton, B. (1990). The Joshua Portrait: A Study in Leadership Development, Leadership Transition, & Destiny Fulfillment. Altadena: Barnabus Publishers.

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On the following pages are the definitions of terms relating to this study on servant leadership:

R.K. Greenleaf Pg. S.T. Rinehart Pg. C.C. Chen Pg. S.W. Sheh Pg.
Awareness 42 Authenticity 40 Authoritarianism 193 Achievement 149
Calling 300 Diversity 38 Benevolence 163 Autonomy 90
Conceptual leadership 47 Empowerment 39 Control mechanisms 20 Execution power 23
Dogma 117 Equipping 133 Dialecticism 100 Flexibility 104
Institution 62 Foundation 97 Excellence 245 Fluidity 78
Intuition 37 Modeling 103 Golden mean 249 Holism 83
Love 52 Pragmatism 35 Harmony 247 Humane 46
Operational power 79 Releasing 148 Humanism 17 Impartiality 87
Primus inter pares 84 Submission 111 Leadership agency 21 Incentive 68
Seeker 22 Paternalistic leadership 176 Inspiration 148
Servant ethic 209 S.F. Hayward Pg. Scientific management 252 Organizational learning 110
Servant leader 27 Moral character 150 Self-cultivation 61 Paradox 81
Trustee 125 Delegation 52 Sharing leadership 289 Pillars 29
Design 91 Sincerity 243 Risk 150
Destiny 153 Social responsibility 246 Self-knowledge 101
C. Buckland Pg. Family 69 Subordinate traditionality 181 Selflessness 53
Coaching 44 Forgiveness 118 Talent 27
Enabling 38 Historical imagination 9 Unity of purpose 100
Faciliation 29 Intellect 34 Visionary 144
Responsibility 4 Loyalty 123
Transformation 36 Relationship 127
Shared vision 38 Respect 71
Willfulness 148

Book Review: The Speed of Trust, by Stephen M.R. Covey & Rebecca Merrill

 As a teacher in China, one of my biggest struggles is learning how to build bridges of trust between myself and my students. Trust in China has a very different meaning, one that when taken to extremes can turn to distrust and even abandonment. Growing up in the United States, I was secure in my notion of trust: having life-long friends who without even a thought are willing to continue being a friends after twenty years of not a word shared. In China, such a thing would not be thought possible – there might be a modicum of congeniality among old friends (much like the errant family member who shows up every three years for a yearly gathering) but trust in China is earned, not given. In the United States, trust often is considered primarily a noun, whereas in Chinese trust is a verb. The quest for learning how to establish boundaries of trust leads me into this study of Covey’s notion of trust, and will serve as a bridge I move through his themes.

One note before I begin: Stephen M.R. Covey is a direct descendant of Stephen R. Covey, the writer of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, a primal book in the infancy of self-help theory and an archon of a new genre of literature. Covey the elder became famous for splitting his theories into neat segments of seven. His son, Stephen M.R. Covey, refrains from making such an outlandish claims that trust can be neatly categorized into seven different themes. For the son’s sake, I have taken inspiration from the father and split the younger Covey’s book on trust into seven themes: 1)Trust thyself, 2)trust begins in the home, 3)trust is collaborative and fluid, 4)trust must be maintained, 5)trust is an external force, 6)trust is developed behavior, and 7)trust is bound to efficiency. These themes do not appear as such in Covey’s book, but I believe they accurately summarize the most important learning points included within the text.


Trust thyself. The key to trust is self-trust, shown as the absolute central “wave” which Covey asserts governs the nature and flow of trust (34). Self-trust is indelibly linked to credibility, notably four separate cores of credibility which compose close to one quarter of Covey’s book: Integrity, intent, capability, and results. These four cores composite the building blocks of a person’s trust capacity for self-government. Covey describes building credibility as “the second most identified behavior of leaders” (48), showing the important of credibility not only as a solid state, but also as a continual action of improving oneself as a leader so that not only will others trust the leader, but the leader will trust the leader. According to Covey, credibility must be constantly improved, the policy for “reinvention is required for longevity” (93), and in today’s changing world longevity is one of the holy grails of efficiency and success.

Personal reflection is necessary for self-trust. Not only understanding but refining personal motives helps to justify intentions to the self (85), but understanding intention must be understood as a two-way process. The first process step deals with the perception of action, while the second process step is reaction to action, or understanding the perception of action through clarity of reasons for personal reaction (86). Through the act of reflection, leaders strengthen purpose and resolve, a core capability Covey believes is required for self-trust (105). All four cores are part of what Covey calls “the Ripple Effect” (135), a meta-theory which relates how particularities of one part of life echo and cause change in another part of life, with the capacity to create chaos or peace depending on how the parts align with the whole.

Trust begins in the home. While not a central theme, the concept of home is heavily rooted in Covey’s trust theory. In almost every corner of his book, the home appears. Covey believes that the family is an organization, and organizational trust is just as relevant to the family as to the organization (258). In order to engender trust within the family, the leader must declare intentions directly, without any rhetoric or illusion (140). Expectations within the family unit define responsibilities (196), and if expectations are not voiced, they are generally assumed in the lack, with responsibilities which remain undefined but accepted. Trust is broken in the family unit when responsibilities (voiced or unvoiced) are shirked; sometimes parents carry heavy expectations on children but fail to voice those expectations, while other times children expect to be treated in a certain way and the parents do not meet their expectations, leading to distrust and betrayal.

In order to create trust within the family, Covey insists to focus on the “little things” at home such as respect and gratitude (148), which can serve as helpful bridges from misunderstanding to forgiveness in times of family crisis. Family leaders should also follow the “10-year rule,” which aligns vision with the future rather than the present (219). By focusing on the short term (“little things”) as well as the long-term (“10-year rule”) family leaders can create an environment of trust and acceptance even in the harshest of climates.

Trust is collaborative and fluid. Just as in family, in an organization all members in theory are directed towards a single purpose or end-goal. The ties which bind members of an organization together create a strong collaborative bond, and trust therefore is inescapable as members of an organization rely not only on themselves but on each other (4). Covey claims that the importance of credibility within a collaborative organization is not maintained by the results of that credibility, but rather by the awareness of credibility (118). As people walk down the halls or sit in an office, others are watching them and trying to discern and map credibility. Rather than focusing on the product, people focus on the image of those surrounding them, which in turn fosters either collaboration (opportunity) or cooperation (256) as trust grows and wanes. For Covey, trust is intrinsically a collaborative economy (256), in which trust as a currency is shared between an organization and credit (166) and desired accountability (203) are used as variables in a complex exchange of human needs.

Covey is quick to point out however, that trust is not a rooted concept which grows over-time. Rather, trust is fluid and one of the fastest and quickest to change of all behaviors within an organization (25). Trust solutions are created by a process of listening (37), in which all resultant dimensions have been fully considered and weighed (112). Such dimensions include understanding the past, present, and the future, not only in their own separate spheres but together and in coordination with each other. Often, unrealistic expectations are a major breach of trust (196); expectations formed due to a lack of proper listening in which all dimensions were not carefully considered in context. By viewing trust dimensional theory in view of context, the levels of trust from one organization to another organization, from one time to another time, from one leader to another leader can vary wildly; even within the same organization an issue of trust may transpire differently one month later; the fluid nature of trust is that trust constantly shifts as attitudes and desires shift.

Trust must be maintained; it is not absolute or static. Early research into trust during the late 1950s and early 1960s tried to state that trust was a part of absolute science in which if a proper methodology was used, trust could be cemented into an organizational framework (Deutch, 1958). By the late 60s, trust was considered, rather than a scientific formula, as a figment of the personality (Rotter, 1967), yet another static element which while changeable takes considerable psychological seismic change to induce a different state. In the 80s, trust was defined as a sociological concept in interpersonal relationships (Johnson-George & Swap, 1982); as a relational attitude, therefore trust could be influenced through cultural outreach and self-management. Understanding trust as an interpersonal relationship insinuates however, that trust is like a ball passed between two feuding brothers; if they could learn to share the ball, they would be able to trust each other .

While Covey does maintain that trust can be improved through the analysis and adaptation of opportunity, risk, and credibility (297), he also claims that trust must be continually maintained, not only when there are problems but when there are none. Covey captures the idea of continual maintenance of trust through his concept of trust accounts, which serve as depositories of reputation and obligation (130). The trustee standard according to Covey is a playing field of expectations cognizant upon all people involved in the trust game and required of all, but whose rules are defined by the people who populate the field rather than a predefined set of notions delineating official procedures and regulations (83). By listening to others not only to words, but also to the eyes and the heart, trust deposits can be put into a trust account (212); when necessary, Covey believes withdrawals from trust accounts can be taken, and the cycle continues. Therefore no one situation of trust is the same; trust must be constantly watched over, acted upon, and analyzed.

While trust must be internally consistent, trust is primarily an external force. For me, one of Covey’s most interesting realities of trust is that trust is brand. Covey states that trust is built upon impressions, which are shown through integrity, honesty, straightforwardness, and other types of behavior (137). These impressions, when combined together create brand, and brand is the external force and outward expression of an organization. Regardless of whether the organization is a business or a family, personal brand results in solid dividends (265).

High trust equals high dividends, and as brand is an image of trust as an external force, so high trust equals high brand. High brand equals high dividends; the comparison of brand with trust is known as the “trust dividend” (17), a key point repeated in Covey’s text as a barometer of trust success. In order to gain the trust dividend, Covey recommends building brand through the steady application of the Core and Wave Principles in his trust theory, by using them as diagnostic tools for analysis in order to bring the greatest returns (269).

Trust is a behavior that must be developed through action. Academic studies today often refer to trust as an attitude, which is generally settled way of thinking or feeling, typically reflected in a person’s behavior. Some researchers have claimed that attitude is a summative evaluation of the consideration of right and wrong behaviors (Martinez-Tur & Peiro, 2009), which leads to risk and interdependence as conditions for trust (Yamagishi & Yamagishi, 1994; Whitener, et al., 1998). However, Covey has a strikingly different conception of trust, as he believes that trust is primarily a behavior which can be developed and changed; trust is not only a by-product of behavior, but an actual action which when trained properly can create openness and allow for credibility and reputation to increase the efficiency of an organization. Covey represents his belief through nearly 33% of his book taken up with methods of improving behavior (127-232). He divides these methods into the “13 Behaviors,” a subset of one of his five waves entitled “relationship trust” which he believes when improved upon can engender trust (34).

In order to change behavior, Covey recommends viewing behavior externally rather than internally; instead of understanding behavior with belief, he insists behavior should be compared with words, which in turn offer themselves as signals construing worth (128). Therefore, as behavior associates with words rather than beliefs, shifts in behavior are more easily managed (130), but only if done so holistically and in context through which Covey suggests using the 5 Waves of trust starting from the fifth and moving to the first in that order (304). Through a method of applying behavioral changes through an analysis of the 5 Waves, one can not only strengthen trust levels but even repair and restore broken trust. Covey strongly believes that the end more than justifies the means in the quest of mending trust issues, as results are the factor which converts distrust into trust (174).

Trust is bound to efficiency. The title of Covey’s book is The Speed of Trust, and Covey consistently claims that speed is bound to trust, just as love and respect are bound to a marriage or dividends are bound to success. He describes this relationship in the Trust Formula, which is: “High trust equals high speed and low cost, while low trust equals low speed and high cost” (13). Covey states that the view that trust is a slow process, one that is built over many years and lasts for many years is wrong; rather than slow, trust is one of the fastest aspects of organizational life that is both gained and lost, gained in a moment and lost in a moment but more powerful than can be imagined (25). The speed is trust is regulated by three different “accelerators”: commitment, principle, and openness, which when woven together in an act of integrity or absolved in an act of dishonesty or corruption, cause trust to be gained faster or lost faster (72).

Covey relates an interesting fact: in the modern era, “people have learned to trust a complete stranger” just through the sheer power and speed of technology (268). “Stranger trust” therefore is tied directly with efficiency and speed. Just as people have learned to trust strangers because of the speed of reputation, so efficiency can be lowered through the imposition of taxes such as the “spin tax” and the “withholding tax” (139) when people in an organization, having lost trust in leadership because of misinformation and white lies, withhold their own information and skill in an aura of distrust. Therefore in order to create an environment of trust, organizations must strive to foster a “spirit of transparency” (154) where nothing is hidden and agendas are questioned early and improved upon in a collaborative process.

Covey does not claim that trust is only defined by speed, however. Without patience, planning, and careful execution of strategies, trust is lost. While speed is integral in efficiency, so is care. According to a professor at Harvard Business School, when considering speed or careful planning, “it is better to have a grade-B strategy and grade-A execution than the other way around” (257). Furthermore, according to Admiral James Stockdale, “you must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be” (186)1, meaning that only through careful planning, discipline, and confrontation of contextual factors can true efficiency be achieved. Covey also believes that efficiency is fundamentally tied to the art of listening; he refers to Drucker’s rule: “Listen first, speak last” (210). Therefore, as trust is bound to speed, speed is bound to efficiency, and efficiency is bound to patience, logically then trust is a complex paradox composed of disparate elements warring against one another while at the same time complementing one another for the end result.

Themes as tools. Covey sees his themes primarily as methods and strategies for improving behavior and increasing brand reputation. Each section of the book carefully divides ideas into steps and procedures, making each chapter very practical. However for me, I view his themes not as methods or strategies but as tools of analysis. For example, in reviewing trust levels in my classroom, applying the 13 Behaviors directly may cause more harm than good as the 13 Behaviors are founded primarily on western concepts of confrontation, upward transparency, and strength of resolve. In China, the eastern concepts of harmony, hiddenness, and soft power play a far greater role in shaping policy and leadership strategies. In order to accurately use Covey’s themes I must treat them as tools to apply to particular situations, sensitive to context and persons or actors involved in a particular context.


I have several critiques of Covey’s book The Speed of Trust. These three critiques are based mostly on particular errors in the genre in which Covey writes for, as he seems stuck between writing a book for organizations or writing a book for personal self-help. Firstly, Covey overemphasizes the role of self and the role of the home in regards to organizations. Secondly, he falls prey to the Narrative Fallacy in his attempt for creative enterprise as a writer. Finally, he utilizes traditional success listology and business rhetoric, causing his material to appear trite and simple, when in actuality his material is quite extensive and full of new paradigms in considering new theories of trust.

Covey believes the home is also an organization. The home is not an organization. To view the home as an organization does incredible disservice to the home. Children should not be considered assets. The love given between parents and passed to the children should never be seen in economic terms. While the parents do act as leaders, ultimately the leader of a spirit-led household is God. The home is often the absolute opposite of an organization, where grief is allowed, tears are encouraged, the bottom line is forgotten in lieu of grace, and success is reliant not on profit or result but on the journey itself. Successful organizations, while they may consider the journey of some importance, ultimately draw a line when learning impedes progress, rent, and profit. A family must always seek to fill the emotional and spiritual needs first, and trust the engines of society to train children in the ways of the world and the proper way to fend for oneself in a given culture with unique requirements and contexts.

Covey, like many of his contemporary business writers, falls into the pit of the narrative fallacy. The narrative fallacy, according to Taleb (2007), is using stories “to overinterpretation and our predilection for compact stories over raw truths . . . [while looking] at sequences of facts without weaving an explanation into them, or equivalently, forcing a logical link, an arrow of relationship, upon them.” Covey’s book is full of stories, so many stories that often the stories run over and through each other. The problem isn’t that Covey uses stories, but that he is following a pattern in genre where current business writing requires to use of stories to maintain relevance; a pattern which he uses only in tradition. In one chapter, Covey relates over ten stories totally unrelated to each other except through the thin veneer of logic he imposes upon them. Furthermore, according to the notes at the back of the book, only 2.7% of the references are actually academic sources. The other 97.3% of the references are collated articles from newspapers, leadership biographies, business agendas, websites, and random media interviews, including almost 50% of the references dedicated to the quotations Covey inserts throughout the book to serve as bookmarks from chapter to chapter.

The last criticism I have of Covey’s work is his use of success listology and business rhetoric. Success listology is the simplification of complex business principles into simple 1-2-3 step procedures: “by following these steps blindly, you too can be successful and happy.” While many of his tactics may show fruit, maintaining an attitude of follow first, understand later, is too blind for my comfort. Answers are never easy, and if true change is to occur people must wrestle with the difficulties of decisions, or else true change does not occur. Change must begin in the heart, and only then can change transform.

In my work in China, I have encountered a crisis in trust. I am a stranger in a strange land, full of complexity and mystery. My hope is that through careful analysis of each particular situation, I can more fully identify with my students, and through that identification understand their language of trust. While the speed of trust changes everything, the language of trust is everything.


Collins, J. (2001). Good to great: Why some companies make the leap . . . and other’s don’t. Harper Business: New York.

Covey, S. M. R., & Merrill, R. R. (2006). The speed of trust: The one thing that changes everything. Free Press: New York.

Deutch, M. (1958). Trust and suspicion. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 2, 265-279.

Johnson-George, C. E., & Swap, W. C. (1982). Measurement of specific interpersonal trust: Construction and validation of a scale to assess trust in a specific other. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43, 1306-1317.

Martinez-Tur, V. & Peiro, J. M. (2009). The trust episode in organizations: Implications for private and public social capital. Social Science Information, 48(2): 143-174.

Rotter, J. B. (1967). A new scale for the measurement of interpersonal trust. Journal of Personality, 35, 651-665.

Taleb, N. N. (2007). The black swan: The impact of the highly improbable. Penguin: London.

Whitener, E. M., Brodt, S. E., Korsgaard, M. A., & Wener, J. M. (1998). Managers as initiators of trust: an exchange relationship framework for understanding managerial trustworthy behavior. Academy of Management Review, 23: 513-530.

Yamagishi, T., & Yamagishi, M. (1994). Trust and commitment in the United States and Japan. Motivation and Emotion, 18: 129-166.

1The Stockdale Paradox, as quoted from Jim Collin’s Good to Great, pg. 86

Ethics and Virtue

The following is a series of notes taken from a class on Ethics I took from Dr. Ray Wheeler, back in January of 2009. The class took place at Daystar University, in Nairobi, Kenya.

Ethics is central to leadership because of the nature of the process of influence.

Influence: Engages followers

Accomplishes mutual goals

Ethics is central to leadership because of the impact leaders have on establishing the organization’s values.


Different forms of ethics:






II. Intention for Ethical Dilemmas

Our intentions assume a right or wrong, against a universal law.

Our intention is based on self-examination.


Ethics is the process of making decisions based on moral assumptions.


How do I handle conflicting values? “On the one side, I value truthfulness; on the other side I value human life.”


III. What is Ethics?

Ethos; customs, conduct or character (what society finds desirable)



Consideration of others



Values: ideas, principles or beliefs that are held as special

Morals: authoritative statements or ideals of what is right or wrong

Virtue: operative habit that is essentially good

Kindness, discipline, honesty, hospitality, etc., are examples of virtue.

Motive: reasons from which an individual determines behavior.

Anger, love, temper, desire for glory, etc., are examples of motive.


IV. A short history of ethics

[Plato] Eudaemonistic ethics: human wellbeing is the highest aim of moral thought and conduct to which the virtues are requisite skills and character traits.


[Aristotle] Ethics as grounded on virtues, but he rejected Plato’s insistence that training in sciences and metaphysics was a prerequisite to understanding the good.



Ethical behavior exhibits virtues in the mean between:




Virtue is contrasted by vice in pursuit of the mean,

The behaviors may be:




ethical grid

We must examine what we drift into easily… We must drag ourselves off in the contrary direction…”


The definition of the mean is determined by society.


The mother tree grows new trees through its roots, rather than scattered seeds

Its roots form new trees, which when are cut at the right time, form new groves

All trees are connected to one another


V. The Moral Agent

Aristotle: the moral agent can fulfill his or her moral obligation.

Example: Someone points a gun at you and says to rob the bank.

Duty: I do not steal.

Prima Facie: I will preserve my life.

I cannot obey both. If fail my duty due to duress, I will not be held morally responsible.


VI. Approaches to ethics

Teleological: decision based on the consequence

Essentially, teleological ethics is based on what happens.

The good (the end) drives the decision.

The result determines the rule.

The result is the basis of the action.

The result is sometimes used to break the rules.

The rule is good because of the result.


Deontological: decision based on duty

Essentially, deontological ethics are based on your beliefs.

The duty drives the decision.

The rule determines the result.

The rule is the basis of the act.

The rule is good regardless of the result.

The result is calculated within the rules.


PRINCIPLE: The more facts you discover as a leader the better the decision.


VII. Northouse’s Foci of Ethical Reasoning

Conduct-based ethics

Consequences (teleological theories)

Ethical egoism: decision made to my greatest benefit

Utilitarianism: what is the greatest possible good for the greatest number of people; using pragmatism as a style of invention

Act utilitarianism: is what is best in a specific case

Rule utilitarianism: is what is generally best in most contexts

Altruism: decisions should be made in light of the best interests of others

Leaders intent on benefiting others will pursue organizational goals.

Conversely self-focused leaders focus on personal achievement and control.

Duty (deontological theories)


Character-based ethics

Virtue-based theories


Can Kant’s Categorical Imperative remain?


Velasquez (1992)









Northouse (2004)

Builds community

Respects others

Serves others

Shows justice

Manifests honesty

Goal: to exercise awareness of the impact of leadership decisions


VIII. Models of Virtue





Self control






Goal: Live well in community. 

What virtues anchor our ethics?


IX. Ethics in organizational leadership

Point: ethics has to do with a) what leaders do and b) who leaders are.

Importance: in any decision-making situation implicit or explicit ethical issues exist.


X. Reflection

A leader is a person who has an unusual degree of power to create the conditions under which other people must live and move and have their being, conditions that can be either as illuminating as heaven or as shadowy as hell. A leader must take special responsibility for what’s going on inside his or her own self, inside his or her conscience, lest the act of leadership create more harm than good.” (Parker Palmer, “Leading from Within”)


What you are has a serious impact on what you do. A leader cannot separate himself from his responsibility. A leader has to accept the responsibilities of leadership. You have this impact whether or not you accept this responsibility. There is a direct teleological response that comes with every decision a leader makes.

Group Dynamics

The following is a series of notes taken from a class on Conflict Dynamics I took from Dr. Macmillan Kiiru, back in January of 2009. The class took place at Daystar University, in Nairobi, Kenya.

Group dynamics:
Focuses on advancing knowledge about the nature of Group Life

The Scientific study of the:

a) Nature of Groups, b) Behavior in Groups, and c) Group Development

The Knowledge of Group Dynamics helps the way we think and/or function in groups


“My life is our life.”


III. Assertive People:

  • Meet conflict directly
  • Does not pretend everything is ok
  • Looks for win/win situations
  • Brings the facts forward
  • Does not let offenses build
  • Willing to compromise to arrive at a destination
  • Open-minded to other solutions
  • Assist others in problem-solving
  • Address problems immediately
  • Let others how they truly feel
  • Upbeat, positive tone
  • Empathic reasoning
  • Seeking out constructive feedback
  • Refraining from ‘beating around the bush’
  • Making certain they are properly understood
  • Establishing healthy boundaries
  • Lack of attacking individual character
  • Always ask tough questions
  • Sensitivity towards feelings of others
  • Hold other people accountable

Honest, initiative, forgiving, trusting, humble, non-defensive, serving, reliable


Vs. being Aggressive:

  • Proud and self-centered
  • Want what it wants, without others concern
  • Always right
  • Must win at all costs
  • Attack others when disagree
  • Offensively opinionated
  • Exaggerated
  • Close-minded
  • Slams doors
  • Always seem angry
  • Constantly interrupts
  • Dominates conversations
  • Intentionally intimidates


IV. The Process

Many achievers are of necessity, aggressive. Aggressive people, however, tend to be very lonely. The environment around us demands certain behaviors that often are not necessarily positive. The backgrounds, the way we are raised at home, sometimes produce an aggressive or passive person. But we should look back, to see where we are. This is a discipline we work through.

How sustainable is aggressive behavior? It doesn’t last long. Aggression leads to “a cliff.” It can be self-destructive. That is why it is not self-sustainable. But assertive behavior is sustainable, because of the responsiveness of those around.


V. Understanding Groups:

1) A group may be defined as a number of individuals who join together to achieve a goal

2) People join groups in order to achieve goals they are unable to achieve by themselves

3) A collection of individuals who are interdependent in some way

4) A number of individuals who are interacting with one another


Groups have goals. They are interdependent, as they interact with each other. Often, though, the goal of the group is not the goal of the individual. How do you harmonize the group and individual goal?

Book Review: Organizational Culture and Leadership, by E.H. Schein

 All organizations contain an invisible culture, with varying strains of subcultures. These cultures can be accessed by analyzing three levels: artifacts (visible structures), values (philosophies), and assumptions (perceptions). Leaders are at the forefront of culture as models; by learning how to discern an organization’s culture, leaders can then create, transmit, change, maturate, and foster the life of what Schein calls a “learning culture.”

The Learning Leader, as Schein says, creates culture by spreading shared assumptions, which result in shared values, and those values then showcase as positive artifacts. The organization is a living structure, which matures alongside the culture and like any living thing, without food (leadership) and water (culture), can die. However, changing culture is complex and often lifelong, requiring the slow and gradual application of principles, while keeping a careful eye the leader’s relationship with the organization in question.

Schein’s opus is the combination of a sociological experiment and the application of metaphysical business principles on a theoretical level, and in some cases, explanation through example. He compares and contrasts two companies, Action and Multi, both organizations which deal in high-tech fields, the former in electronics, and the latter in medical technologies. Schein claims the principles he espouses throughout the book as fact, but whether or not they are is unclear as both companies’ stories end without a proper answer of whether the culture had changed or if anything positive had happened. Market forces appear to dominate the field more than his principles, but as examples of how leadership generates culture, they prove to be adequate for the purposes of the book.

It is my role-modeling in the classroom that essentially sets the stage for learning and cooperation. What this means is not only do leaders affect culture on a subconscious level, but they have the ability (if they train themselves) to affect culture on a conscious level, if they first recognize personal responsibility in the formation of culture, and then endeavor to create change within that culture.


Bibliographic information/citation

Schein, E.H. (1992). Organizational Culture and Leadership. (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Book Review: The Medici Effect, by Frans Johansson

2:30 in the morning. I am sitting at the desk, the light burning, the sounds of snores coming from the bedroom, the sour taste of coffee burrowing into my throat, my eyes bulging with caffeine, and my drive never further from the end. 70 unique essay topics based on 16 different team subjects, composed of students from forty different majors and disciplines: my goal is to give each student a unique topic, which combines not only with their team subject, but also offers a special personal challenge only he or she could complete. The task sounds insane, but the summer before I read through The Medici Effect, a book by Frans Johannson, which ensured me that with a combination of disparate and different elements creativity can flourish. My intention was to see whether even in a stolidly uncreative environment such as a Chinese university creativity could still take root and possibly fly into the sky once given the… proper incentive.

The plan then, based on the book, was to place students of differing majors and years in school together in research teams. Once in a team, I was going to give each team the choice of a different and unique subject, and from that subject I would design a topic based on that particular student’s major, year in school, writing preferences, and writing level. The first essay would be a test to see the methodology the student performed, and the second essay would be a sharpening of the wits, taking the subject heading and defining it even further until specificity was no longer a mystery but a requirement. However, to spin the matter even further, I was going to teach narrative research, a form of research commonly used in popular nature magazines but hopefully transformed into a pure academic subject.

Creative methodology is a particular interest of mine, and Johansson’s The Medici Effect has had a huge impact on my own ability to manage creative enterprise by capturing the moment of creation in an image known as the Intersection. The figure below is my interpretation of how Johansson proceeds to the Intersection and beyond, and I will use the space in this paper to describe the process of not only how to move from zone to zone, but how the Intersection ties in with the creative energy in my own life, work, and education, as the Medici Effect has had a profound effect on my ability to function as a husband, teacher, and student.


Figure 1: The Medici Effect (Johansson, 2006), adapted by Benjamin Seeberger

According to Johansson, people exist within field value networks, or areas of experts such as organizations, companies, informal gatherings… in other words, the contexts of a given field (146). Field value networks exist in what I call Zone 1, or the Comfort Zone. Most people live here, working in their chosen professions, following in the paradigms of those who came before. However, in order to begin the journey to the Intersection, a person must first approach the chain of dependence, the support system designed for the maintenance of value networks (154). The only way a person can approach the Intersection, Johansson believes, is to totally abandon his or her field value network, and enter what I call the “leap instance” (189), a battlefield where a person must break free from the preconceptions of his or her field and embrace the discomfort of fear (157).

Zone 2, or the Risk Zone, is where the magic of intersections occur. Once freely disentangled from the field value network, the process of Intersectional innovation can begin (18). Johansson divides deeply two types of ideas: direction innovation and Intersectional innovation. Whereas directional innovation occurs through evolution and addition, Intersectional innovation occurs with disparate, clashing ideas “hitting head-on” where past experience and knowledge cannot be directly applied (163). Part of the reason for the strange environment of the Risk Zone is the constant barrage from what Johansson terms “associative barriers” (38), assumptions and beliefs about the way things are based on associations developed through professional, academic, and subconscious learning. In the Risk Zone, associative barriers can only be overcome through the application of various methods to rid the self of preconditional thinking regarding established ideas. The four methods Johansson mentions in the text are highlighted in Figure 1 and are integral to breaking down associations so that new pathways are open which can offer different solutions using unique combinations of concepts from varying but different fields (46-58). In order to discover the Intersection, however, concept trials must be constantly taking place, which are growth-over-time seeds placed in various aspects of the Intersectional grid (113), one eventually flowering and allowing for the progression into Zone 3.

The Possibility Zone is where the Intersection explodes and expands. Ideas like the internet, the automobile, and electricity all came out of the Possibility Zone, as once an idea is discovered, a hundred more ideas follow suit and build on the initial concept. Johansson describes the Intersection as “a place for wildly different ideas to bump into and build upon each other” (16) but more importantly as a place that can be found, built upon, and then acted upon rather than just a magical moment in history which luck might grant to a few (84). The Intersection is not just a random evolutionary quirk, but rather a solid action and search an individual takes. Once the Intersection has been found, Johansson states that the exponentials of that action taken explode in a flurry of activity (101), sometimes staggeringly too high to even count. Through this method, a person can not only navigate his or her way towards the Intersection, but he or she can actually create the Medici Effect (186). As compared with Johansson’s initial image of the Medici Effect as being a place in time, such as Renaissance Italy or Peter’s Cafe (2), having the power and ability to actually create the Medici Effect is an amazing and tantalizing goal.

Trying to plan for change however, can backfire. Johansson says that “the problem with all of this is that if we are willing to take risks and pursue intersections only when we are doing poorly, we’ll hurt our overall chances of success” (175). Just as trying to find creative enterprise as a last resort and trying to force action rarely has a chance to work, so sometimes even the very act of trying to create intersections in places where there are none provides little success. Creativity is built upon energy, and the Intersection thrives on this energy. Planting a forest in a desert without water, or pushing change on an obstinate old man will do nothing but cause resentment and possibly catastrophic brokenness. Innovation is a delusion when existing only as a dream without incentive or cause. Leonardo Da Vinci designed a flying machine in the 15th century, but airplanes did not take flight until needed in a multinational war which threatened not only one country but an entire continent, therefore needing intelligence and reconnaissance on a level that had never before existed. Without incentive, drive, and push, change is only a dream in the mind’s eye.

Some of my student papers have succeeded, others have not. Learning, as I have learned myself, is an intensely personal activity and cannot be engineered. Once I believed that with the right system anyone can learn, but I have learned over the last few years that even with the best of designs if the drive and desire is not there, learning does not. On the other hand, when it is there, it is beautiful.


Johansson, F. (2006). The Medici effect: What elephants and epidemics can teach us about innovation. HBS Press: Boston, MA.

21 Days, or More

The book Deep Change, by Robert E. Quinn, is a different sort of business book. Although it does consist of charts and tables, the primary thrust of each chapters are well-told stories of how people in organizations realized their own fallibility and overcame it, changing irrevocably. When I first encountered the book, I placed my own previously learned theories against the principles espoused in the book: the 21-day change.

When I was growing up, my mother always told me that to make proactive change in your life, you needed to do something actively for 21 days straight. On the 22nd day, she claimed, what you were doing would form a habit, and it would become embedded into you like a motor skill. Although that method may seem a little sparse on the details, it is not surprising that Quinn’s book is exactly 21 chapters long (minus the two prelude chapters, which illuminate the background to why deep change is difficult), and each chapter is seemingly intended to be read a day at time. However, Quinn goes into much greater detail in each chapter, covering a variety of subjects, from various steps to overcoming personal change, to specific problems organizations have in transforming, to finally listing principles that both people and organizations need to adopt when making deep change. The book is not only a guidebook on how to create deep change, but it is also a textbook on various subjects that both hinder and support deep change.

Quinn begins by going over several steps to ensure deep change. I have simplified them primarily for myself, so that I could create a model of steps to undertake:


Recognition of fear Begin the journey Finding life in the process Getting rid of old ideas Paradigm shift Establishing core values Building a new foundation


The second part of Quinn’s book illuminates various ways in which organizations have trouble with deep change. Much of this section of the book talks both about positive and negative methods that organizations use to handle change. He speaks of about five problems organizations face when dealing with change, namely: 1. Denial of the need for change, 2. Being lost but not knowing where the answer lies, 3. Complicated politics in upper-level management, 4. Being overwhelmed with the technical aspects of operating a business, and 5. Overcoming dependence and routine that is inevitably established. Although these five problems do plague organizations, they only serve as good examples of troubles that can come up. This is not an exhaustive section on organizational problems when pertaining to deep change.

The last section is perhaps Quinn’s achievement of the book. Overall, this section was very helpful is assessing aspects to attach to oneself or one’s organization when attempting deep change. However, like much of Quinn’s book, it seems like a box of playing blocks that can be put on top of each other to form a very strong structure, as they seem to be random ideas he has played at over the years with little cohesive qualities except for their excellent value as individual essays. As someone who was very interested in the method of deep change, I felt this section was too haphazard to be used outside of specific contexts. It felt more like a reference manual or a glossary of good ideas. I put the ideas into a short chart that hopefully will clarify some of Quinn’s wonderful points. For this chart, the leader is at the center of the diagram imbuing a sense of confidence, and then using organizational empowerment, helps the organization model the exterior attributes.


The Banana Tree: A reflection on conflict dynamics

Once upon a time, there was a banana tree. It was a very large banana tree, so large that her shadows crept across the whole earth. Her roots reached down into the bottom of the earth, and her trunk found solace in the sky, among the clouds. It is said that if you walked among the roots, bananas would fall from the sky like raindrops, sweet-smelling and fragrant tears of their loving mother in the sky. All across the earth were her children, sharing their fruit among a world at war with itself; full of shadows and disease, but among all of these, the banana trees stood, beautifying the earth and giving food to the hopeless, remembering their mother in the heavens.

This illustration is a vivid image in my mind, a memory of my wonderful time spent in Kenya, wandering the backyard of Dr. Kiiru’s home in Sigona, wending my hands through his red soil and the fresh scent of his farm. After a grueling week-long course in group and conflict dynamics, I can recall the instant that suddenly everything made sense. I was standing before a grove of banana trees, while his wife Nelly was explaining the nature and growth of the banana tree, when suddenly it was like a shaft of beautiful light came down and hit me, bringing everything I had learned that week into sudden perspective. The seven most important aspects of conflict dynamics came into reality, with sharp clarity.

There are seven aspects of conflict dynamics that affected me deeply: 1) having a lack of fear toward conflict, 2) recognizing that as a leader, I am an agent of growth, 3) admitting that I am fundamentally part of a group and that my response towards that group is equally important, 4) learning specific communication skills that will develop my competence in delivering my message, 5) learning how to delegate properly, with the fundamental understanding that delegation is a much larger task than simply giving out an assignment, 6) mastering a set of team-building skills that will allow me to not only lead a team from tragedy into opportunity, but foster new growth from that opportunity, and finally 7) working my way through a tragedy using solid steps that turn conflict into growth. Each step I will illustrate by using the example of the banana tree, preceded by the number of the aspect of conflict dynamics.

1) The banana tree begins its life as a small tree, surrounded by hostile plants and animals that would seek to do it harm. Yet it stands alone and soon grows other trees, without fear of those elements that surround it. It begins weak, but becomes exceedingly strong, with bark as strong as bamboo and as thick as a column of stone. 2) As an agent of growth, the banana tree grows in almost any climate, and needs little water or sun. It is flexible and adaptable in many diverse habitats. While there is a central tree, it supports the building of other trees in duplication. They transform the environment by beautifying the earth, not destroying the soil. Finally, they drive their roots deep, deep into the earth, and continually grow in depth. 3) Banana trees are group-oriented. Every tree forms other trees which are then grown and become reproducers of more trees. They are connected to each other through a root system that sustains them and brings them into a kind of harmony.

4) The banana trees are efficient communicators. They transform the environment around them, shielding plants from the scorching sun with their huge leaves and bringing a sense of peace to the earth. As well, the entire grove acts on behalf of the whole system, even when they are relocated. 5) Banana trees are collaborative, as they are all part of a central tree. Each banana tree has a different personality, in terms of amount of fruit and size, but when together, they form a beautiful team of individual personalities that work towards the whole. 6) The banana tree fruits are sweet-smelling and fragrant, plentiful and grown as a team. The mother tree grows new trees through its roots, rather than scattered seeds and are homeless and without roots. The mother’s roots form new trees, which when cut at the right time, form new groves. They all share the same soil, but each grows independently and strong. The more trees rooted in one spot, the stronger the central root becomes. After a tree has grown to a certain height, it immediately begins to grow another tree. Finally, that new tree then helps to feed the mother tree.

7) The banana tree is not affected by the plants around it, but it does not conflict with them. However, it does conflict with the environment through its very large presence, but it collaborates with the environment by taking up minimal space and shooting her roots down far into the earth. At the beginning, a tree starts out rootless when planted, much like we are when God puts us in a new place, but soon turns this conflict into opportunity by using the nutrients of the soil in order to grow strong and eventually reproduce through its roots, causing the whole cycle to beautifully repeat itself, and begin this cycle of perfect leadership once more.

Book Review: Servant Leadership, by R.K. Greenleaf

Servant leadership, in one word, is passion; undying loyalty to a single belief that you cannot help but drive yourself and those around you towards your vision. It comes from knowing yourself totally, building your life “as a piece of art,” and then working your way through society by training others to be as you are: an agents of an institution which has been changed to be driven to serve those under its care in every possible way. Greenleaf’s servant leadership is holistic, and depends on a number of factors.

(a) The servant leader must be a conceptual leader. (b) He must be a seeker, yearning for a better way. (c) He must be balanced with two sides: those who can implement his ideas, and those who through only passion and not gain, seek to keep him on a right path. (d) He must seek to give to others first, knowing that is the natural order. (e) He must then endeavor to create an institution that holds these principles, and serve not only that institution, but the people it helps with “electric devotion.” (f) He must help others to become as he is, and channel servant leadership throughout all who surround him, not through pride or pomp, but by knowing himself and being dedicated to his calling. (g) Finally, he must must always remember that his calling is to grow people.

Greenleaf, while a practicing Quaker, admits proudly that he is not pious, and this is shown in his work. His idealism has obviously been influenced by Christianity, yet he is unwilling to admit this, and so believes that all people should be servants first yet does not take into account the work of the spirit in changing people towards that end. That aside, his servant leader is a workhorse, yet does allow time for family, but is also single-minded towards one end, where the leader and his dream become the same thing (evidenced by Journey to the East, by Hesse). Prexy was able to maintain his lifestyle because of his connection with Christ, but for a common, secular man to attempt this without a lifeline, raises deep concerns.

The core of servant leadership is calling: finding your passion and focusing everything around that worldview. To totally give yourself to that calling however, is about timing, relationships, and opportunities. Had Herschel not been born in Warsaw, or Cowling not attended Yale, their lives would have been very different. Greenleaf challenges me; why have I not embraced my passion? Is it of any worth? Does that great work begin now, or at some more opportune time? He troubles me, and makes it sound all too easy (even though he admits it is not).


Greenleaf, R.K. (2002). Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power & Greatness. New Jersey: Paulist Press.

An Evaluation of Wang’s “Social exclusion and inequality in China”

Wang’s intent is to clarify the problems surrounding the Chinese university entrance exam by using Amartya Sen’s model of social exclusion. This is a curious concept, since he is marrying two different disciplines into the same school of thought (poverty studies and educational theory). While his introduction is short (two paragraphs), his background to the problems related to the university entrance examination is extensive, and is necessary to understand the implications of social exclusion when applied to the policies that surround the test. One of the weaknesses of the paper, however, is Wang’s extensive explanations of historical and economic-sociological concepts. Wang tends to focus more on applying previous literature to support his opinion, rather than creating and using verifiable data and individual case studies in order to show credence to a conclusion.

Two specific categories of literature are used to describe the problem of social exclusion in China regarding higher education. The first category of literature is related to social exclusion itself, a concept originated from Amartya Sen in his paper, “Social Exclusion: Concept, Application, and Scrutiny.” (Sen, 2000) In this way, Wang creates a correlation between poverty and education, specifically as Sen relates poverty through his capability theory by using variations of deprivations that people suffer under political and economic systems.

The other category of literature that Wang employs are economic/sociological statistical literature and political documents which outline state power over education and the dissemination of funds for use in education. In this way, Wang is uniquely advocating a participatory approach to his qualitative study. He utilizes few case studies (although his abstract says otherwise), although he does use political documents and statistics to back up his claims about how the structures of power in China are depriving students of the right to free higher education. His goal however, is to turn heads.

Wang primarily makes use of western scholars who are commenting on the concept of social exclusion (Devaney, Weber, Lenoir, Silver, Popay, Levitas, Rawls, Lindblad, Popkewitz, Vizard, Burchardt, Unterhalter, Robeyns, Saito, Jayaraj, and Subramanian), or western scholars commenting on the value of education (Rothschild, Mellor, Klasen, Healy, Slowey, Bradshaw, and Waters). He does use a few Chinese scholars who write about the college entrance examination (Zhang, Chen, Yuan, Yang, Yin, Liu, Xia, Bao, Chan, and Zhou) although the primary source of his information regarding national statistics is the NBSC (National Bureau of Statistics of China, 2008).

When Sen’s capability theory was applied to the Chinese context, Wang noticed several issues which led to the writing of this study. Those issues derive from an aspect of capability theory which deals with societal deprivations. There are four main problems that Wang describes in his study. The first problem is that the system changed from a free system to a user-pay system, which contributes to what Sen calls constitutive deprivation. The second issue that Wang elaborates on is universities in different regions developing differently and altering their recruitment systems based on familial backgrounds of prospective students, which Wang places within Sen’s active deprivation. The third problem that Wang writes about is the disparity between urban and rural populations, which he fits into Sen’s passive deprivation; what Wang also calls “passive exclusion.” Lastly, Wang speaks about Sen’s instrumental deprivation in the Chinese HE system as schools alter their admission policies and discriminate students according to “migrant status,” or according to their “elite status.”

In conclusion, Wang stresses that HE institutional design, rather than enhancing capability, corrals students to specific states and actions. He states that evaluation for admission should not only be limited to “educational input” and “learning outcomes,” but should return to a merit-based system, and move away from what is now a privilege-based system. Wang offers few solutions outside of system-wide and joint state, market and civil efforts, but he does express that if we apply Sen’s capability theory to HE admission in China, we can view the entire issue through a different lens, focusing on the active and instrumental deprivation within the institutional design of the system itself.


Wang, L. (2011) Social exclusion and inequality in higher education in China: A capability perspective. International Journal of Educational Development, 31, 277-286.

Sen, A. (2000) Social Exclusion: Concept, Application, and Scrutiny. Social development Papers, Asia Development Bank, No. 1.

An Evaluation of Sofo’s East meets West; or never the twain shall meet

Sofo introduces to the reader to the problem of the “mystery . . . with Chinese ways of thinking.” Sofo claims this mystery stems from his understanding that traditionally, China does not have research available with useful frameworks or tools in which to analyze thinking styles. Thinking styles is Sofo’s strong-suit, as over the course of many years (2002-2005) Sofo has developed Thinking Style Inventories (TSI) which he uses to examine leadership preferences. Sofo claims that in order to begin to understand Chinese thinking styles, he must first start from a Western perspective and so apply both his TSI as well as several other scholars’ (who shall be discussed) TSI. His belief that Chinese leaders should think conditionally (just as the party thinks) spurred him into doing this research, with the idea that perhaps they were not so conditional after all.

Sofo’s theory is based on his concept of “reality construction” which states that “thinking is not an ability, but instead a preference to use various abilities in particular ways.” So, rather than perceiving thought as a skill one can build and train, thinking acts as a personality trait which can be either conscious or unconscious, but in either case, creates a framework or structure in which our minds form mental strategies that build our worldview and concept of ourselves in relation to others around us. By postulating that thinking is so fundamental, Sofo believes he can extract leadership thinking styles from Chinese business and education leaders by using various Thinking Style Inventories, or surveys which then rate these styles according to a quantitative scale, although the article did not state examples of the questions nor the structure of the Inventories.

Sofo listed two research questions in his study. The first question dealt with examining the thinking style profiles of Chinese leaders. Part of Sofo’s foundation is that while he is using Western models to do his study, Eastern models will eventually emerge, and through that discovery, he will be better able to construct a profile based on the unique regional differences. Sofo references Hofstede’s framework and the unique but ancient idea that people are nationally motivated; Sofo claims this is an old way of thinking but the only one available, and so he designs himself to discover better, more regional ways to express the thinking styles of Chinese leaders. His second question deals more in specifics, with comparing and contrasting educational leaders versus non-educational leaders, to see if they differ or are the same across the Thinking Style Inventory he personally designed in 2005.

Sofo believes strongly that Thinking Styles are far more useful in determining “academic variables, employment variables, and self-rated abilities” than intelligence tests, and so he begins this study without utilizing tests of skill or logic, but merely by trying to understand motivations and preferences in leadership. Sofo believes that by utilizing Hofstede’s cultural framework, Sternberg’s theory of self-government, and his personal TSI, he will be given key insight into the two research questions he proposed to find answers.

Sofo’s review of literature in his article is vast, far more detailed than can be mentioned in this tiny paper (a good 50% more content than the rest of the paper combined). However, it is worthy to note that in review, he uses the triarchic theory of mental self-government built by Sternberg (1997), Hofstede’s framework for understanding national differences (2001), and the TSI built by himself (Sofo 2004). Sofo’s theory was derived from the work of Boud and Miller (1996), Knowles (1990), Mezirow (1981), and Schon (1987). Sofo also mentioned 31 other researchers who worked over the course of almost 60 years on the construction of “cognition-centred [sic] thinking styles.”

As the process concludes, Sofo concludes and predicts, based on his results, that non-educational leaders in China scored themselves as very independent and exploratory, while educational leaders scored themselves much higher than non-educational leaders in conditional thinking. To Sofo this proves that educational leaders are more comfortable with being told what to do, while non-educational leaders feel a drive to question their society more. While his conclusions are fascinating, his cultural assumptions do create a bias which ends up influencing his results in a negative fashion.


Sofo, F. (2005) Thinking Styles of modern Chinese leaders: Independence and exploration in an historically conditional China. Australian Journal of Adult Learning, 45(3), 304-330.

The art of narrative research: Discovering resonance and creativity in academia

Mindfulness and mission. My task was simple, or so I thought: to put together a book of magazine articles from nature magazines and short stories from old textbooks. My hands were sticky with glue, and ever since the fifteenth article the joints of my fingers had ached from the constant use of the old pair of scissors which when I started were not broken. Most schools allowed teachers to use books from well-known publishers, but no, I had chosen to teach in China where university departments have no budget for purchasing textbooks (Lin-Liu & Bollag, 2004). In the face of ancient grammar books and 1970 conversational English texts, I chose to create my own textbook with stories relevant to not only the students I taught but also to the subject I was trying to teach: narrative research. I worked late into the night until my eyes could barely see and the noises of the night served me as alarm clocks to the resounding sound of logic. My pregnant wife was already in bed, dozing away but even so I could still hear her voice tell me to come to bed. Not so easy.

Later in the term, the night was yet drawing down on me, but this time my wife was standing next to me. She sighed, shrugged her shoulders, and headed to bed. The light burned on, acting as a poor heat source in the frigid and dry Beijing winter. I would never tell myself the life of a teacher was difficult, because how can passion be difficult? I charged through websites, researching topics I had never heard of before: urban economics, linear regression theory, ideological platforming — but not for me. I was designing topics for my students to write about in their papers, topics which would challenge them but also allow them the opportunity to practice what I was teaching them in class. I wanted my students to not only learn how to write, but learn how to write in their specific disciplines but do this under my guidance. Holism, practicality, patterns, and scalability have always been passions of mine, and I hoped to put them into reality while teaching concepts of creativity and collaboration to my students as methods of engineering positive change.

When I was in California the summer before, I struggled with what to teach. My university was handing me a new class: advanced writing. I remember clearly one afternoon on the hill behind our house. My parents built a shed in the back to hold all of the objects from me and my brother’s childhood: books, toys, balls, clothes, and very important to me, old National Geographic magazines I had collected over many years from the throwaway bins at our local Redwood City library. The sun was hot that day; sweat poured down my face as I lifted the dusty box of magazines onto the grass outside of the shed. Picking through the articles, I suddenly realized how excellent the writing was and wondered if I could use the magazines as a textbook for my class. However I soon forgot the insight, although a seed was planted. When I returned to Beijing that fall, walking along the tree-lined university avenues and piles of wrinkled leaves, I discovered a vendor selling English versions of National Geographic. I bought one and a week later I was feverishly snipping away, tearing pages out of the heavy binding, cutting my fingers on industrial staples, washing my hands of book glue, and breaking scissors in my excitement. Perhaps there was something to the idea.

The following autumn, I walked to a print shop with one of my students. She had graciously offered to help me print out the textbooks, gone to the printer, negotiated and bargained for a good price, and then accompanied me when I went to pick up the books. I had never done anything like this before, a project so monumental and important. When we walked into the print shop, my jaw dropped: my textbooks were stacked to the ceiling of the shop, sagging under the heavy weight of pages and ink. XM offered again graciously to help me transport the books to my office, and off we went, our bikes weighed down with the future and hopes for my students; outside I managed to control myself, keep a calm face, but inside I was surging with concern and worry. Were the articles going to be too hard? Were they going to be too easy? Would I be able to read through each article and prepare a lecture which explained the concepts I wanted to teach using this material? I was doubly doubtful because in my frenetic pace to finish the textbook, I had only glanced at a few of the articles in detail, while most I pulled out as I sped-read through the magazines and textbooks I had on-hand.

I was embarking on a quest for a new concept. In my mind swirled the possibilities of a hundred different ideas, classes, concepts, and principles. I was bored to death of college essays, the five-paragraph structure, and simplistic notions which had little relevance in the real world. Looking back on the essays I wrote for my college career, I envisioned them as being somewhat ennobled versions of proper essays but realized in retrospect how simple, unstructured, and dirty they were. My intentions, although severe and possibly insane, were to teach second-language learners of English to write better essays than native speakers of English – to teach second-language learners to write better essays than I could ever hope to write. I had a plan, I had a dream, but I had not the experience or knowledge that it would work. I felt as if I was preparing for a trip to a desert, and the only bottle I had with me was filled with my dreams.

I had difficult decisions to make. In my hand were two articles, one detailing a mountain expedition up the edge of Everest, and in the other a conversation with a Mongolian herder and his family about life on the grassland. The primary goal for my writing course was to ask students to read an evaluate articles, and then glean methods and principles on writing from the actual writers of those articles. My methods were centered on story, imagery, detail, and other aspects of creative writing — while at the same time, teaching methods of collaborative and personal research through reading and absorbing knowledge in a particular field. While the article detailing with the expedition up Everest was exciting and filled with action, the Mongolian herder told stories within stories, even while the writer was telling a story about him and helping to educate the reader on traditional Mongolian culture. Gardner (2008), in his book 5 Minds for the Future, explains that one of the key aspects of synthesis is narrative, which often “require us to put together elements that were originally discrete or disparate” (pp. 47). Therefore, narrative as a function of creativity becomes a far greater tool than action, thrill, or even intense and intelligent argument. In the end, I took the scissors to the Mongolian herder, and he happily (I would imagine so) became a part of my quilt of learning.

The Mongolian, however, was the last part of a long chain of stories, beginning with the very simple story of a Chinese-American woman struggling to make sense of love when comparing the clashing worldviews between her very Chinese family and her French boyfriend, all the way to a travelogue of a worried sinologue trying to understand the impact which the Three Gorges Dam had on the surrounding communities through relating the personal experiences of villagers living on the bank of the mighty Yangtze. The lessons were designed holistically, bringing students from understanding basic concepts of using narrative to communicate deep concepts, to applying tone to vocabulary to rhetorically sway the emotions of the reader through the application of stylistic pathos. In designing educational systems which encouraged the environment for conditions of group flow, cumulative learning served as forward moving momentum (Sawyer, 2007), creating a situation where learners and participants were guided not only by the teacher but also by the system itself. The student was guided through ten lessons about the invisible world beneath the written word, while at the same time reminded and taught about external principles in collaborative research, format, and style.

When I was in college, I studied writing. Learning about the process of writing in college in the United States is a combination of workshops, peer review, and practical writing but has little theory or textbook learning besides emulation. In my classroom at North Park University, I sat in Dr. David Cho’s classes and heard the sound of other students telling me how they would write my short story, but never did I hear an opinion from Dr. Cho – much less teaching. The primarily responsibility of the writing teachers I had in college, from Dr. Cho, to Dr. Matson, to Dr. Acosta was to facilitate the art of writing, not to teach a particular methodology or instruct in the classical traditions of writing. However, one of the requirements for mindfulness “is the capacity to be fully aware of all that one experiences inside the self — body, mind, heart, spirit — and to pay full attention to what is happening around us — people, the natural world, our surroundings, and events” (Boyatzis & McKee, 2005). Only focusing on the self, but ignoring experience, belief and spirit, inspiration, learning, and knowledge, is a grave mistake anyone can make through the inundation of cyclical systems. In my courses I make an effort to not only teach classical traditions, but also to lecture on subjects that are practically important for writing, such as structure, aesthetics, imagery, abstract detail, argumentation and the development of a thesis, trying to encourage mindfulness among my students. Surprisingly, during my four years at North Park, not once in any class was I educated in any particulars regarding writing – rather, it was purely trial and error and the experience of discovering where one found him or herself in relation to the written word.

However, in my mind writing serves a particular and very important purpose in this crazy world of ours: to communicate experiences and knowledge through the application of well-researched data, individual and group narrative, and personal style in an effort to address serious issues society faces which cannot be addressed without speaking to the soul of a people at the same time through the written word. “Students need to understand why they are learning what they are learning and how this knowledge can be put to constructive uses . . . if we are ethical human beings, it is equally our job to use that understanding to improve the quality of life and living and to bear witness when that understanding (or misunderstanding) is being used in destructive ways” (Gardner, 2008, pp. 142). Hence, ethics is a very important charge for writers, but along with ethics is the ability to actually communicate those concepts in words and phrases that can be understood on a universal level. Living in another country opens up new vistas of ethical understanding.

People do things differently, and they don’t think what they do is wrong but rather right. An action as simple as traveling on the train in China and watching the interaction between a mother and son, as she urges her son to walk up to a stranger and interrupt his sleep so that the boy can practice his English with a living, breathing vessel of hope for her child – or studying the architecture of the countryside as it flashes outside the window in a blue, the smokestacks sending curls of gray across the ceiling of a village as if the stars were made of dust – even the small discoveries can wield huge insights into the differences of culture and more importantly, the right and wrong nature of attitudes.

Beyond the ethical mind, however, lies a space of knowledge both hard and soft. Hard knowledge is gained simply enough through raw experimentation and experience, but soft knowledge is a core aspect of learning which can only be discovered through inquiry, conceptualization, and theory-crafting. A large focus on mine in teaching writing is not only to speculate on the ethical nature of basic assumptions, but also to relate the principal of theory in practical speech through writing and story. To accomplish the combination of the ethical and the theoretical, however, requires patience and will. Gardner (2008) describes “disciplinary juxtaposition as “a failure to realize the illumination that may accrue when different perspectives are synergistically joined” (pg. 55). As I design the topics for my student papers, I must model the behavior I want from them and learn about their subjects, sometimes spending an entire week of just learning how ethics can be applied to particular theories in each students’ chosen discipline of study at university, while also allowing for human experience to be utilized in the expression of ideas.

Hope and dissonance. Reading through YDH’s paper, I was reminded of the reason I decided to become a writing teacher. One of the joys of teaching for me is the freedom to learn anything you desire, and through learning become a different person. When I gave YDH the topic of “online gamers” little did I realize he would embrace the topic so willingly, writing an intricate account of ludological concepts both abroad and in China, focusing on a topic that few have the capacity to understand and fewer the ability to write. Resonance is the ability to read people, but not only through knowledge but also emotional intelligence, consisting of dreams, desires and feelings through the demonstration of empathy, concern, and commitment to help each person discover their passions (Boyatzis & McKee, 2005). I thrive on helping students find and expand their passions, and although the approach of using embracing subject matter in assignments have sometimes caused consternation and inconsistency, when resonance occurs from me to the student the results are magifnicent. DH is just one example of students who have been able to pursue subjects not normally covered within academic subjects, yet pursuing those subjects with academic rigor. As a teacher if I can focus my energy on teaching principles to fuel passion, then my service to my students is fulfilled.

Not all topics create resonance, however. The first student to receive the topic of “online gamers” was XTY, a young girl who had barely even played a game on her cell phone. Just as sparks (according to Sawyer) require collaboration to become insight, so TY required extra care, and I had to change her topic to something different that matched her interests, which she then embraced fully. A process of evolution was used for other student topics; in order to achieve resonance with a majority of students, papers were read for particular ideas and then a second topic was assigned asking the student to further research the inner topic, allowing them to use previous research and add to their knowledge by expanding the pool of information. Sawyer (2007) explains that innovation can only occur when insights (also known as sparks) combine over time and in a particular time and place emerge as something new. Insights occur “deeply embedded in the knowledge and social interaction” of collaborative work (pp. 81). For students to truly engage material with experience and narrative, the subject matter must be close to personal interests. Perhaps some might consider interest in writing common sense, but the teaching acting as coach rather than facilitator seems to work much better for me in my discipline.

Interest must be tempered with discipline. Gardner (2008) claims that one key aspect of the mind is the disciplined mind, acute awareness towards repeated self-education, restraint, and building of character. A year before I started teaching writing, I began to prepare by visiting book dealers around Beijing at night. My goal was to find articles from popular books, and use those books are the discipline for my course; weekly readings, and weekly writing assignments which dealt with topics of worldview and cultural integration with a globalized world. Night after night, I traveled to the markets lit only by a single light bulb, with books carried on the back of a wagon and bargained with book dealers. Later, I scanned the articles into my computer, and then when my class website finally opened used those same articles as weekly reading material. Gardner also claims, however, that “students must see information not as an ends in itself or as a stepping-stone, to more advanced types of information, but rather as a means to better-informed practices” (pp. 30). The best discipline is self-discipline, but a second best is classroom-discipline as assigned by a teacher who is aware of procedural and practical development.

Around the middle of the term, cracks began to emerge in my finely tuned plan. Students arrived to class late, with exasperated and long looks on their faces; students dropped the course, sending me a short e-mail politely explaining their other classes had precedence over my class; and at home, the time with family including my wife and baby son stretched thin, as I stayed up longer each night, going to bed commonly at 11:30 and waking up at 5:00 to finish not only the work I assigned the students, but also the work I had to prepare for lectures and worksheet before each segment. In one particular class, each following class one student would not show up, and after the midterm week several stopped coming at all. Sawyer (2007) talks about the “edge of chaos” as a place where ideas are refined and people discover who they really are; in this “edge of chaos” I had begun to find myself and my purpose in teaching, but it would not be until the challenges had passed that I would truly understand the lessons learned.

Around the middle of the term, I had a discussion with HK, a student who expressed concern over loneliness. I had intentionally designed the writing class with teams in-mind, as in previous classes I caught cohesive and collaborative group design worked well, solidifying students together towards a common purpose. However, with the modifications I made to the course this term, my collaboration methods seemed to have failed. HK explained to me that she was Chinese, but because she had been accepted by Hong Kong University as a student next year, Peking University did not allow her to live with the other Chinese students but rather forced her to take residence in the foreign dormitory. While she openly admitted the more comfortable accommodations, she also expressed discontent with the removal of persons she could identify with. I was concerned, because for the first time I realized my methodology may have been flawed; why were her team members not talking to her? Were any other groups collaborating together? Upon checking the internet BBS, I noticed that although some groups spoke with each other, when reviewing the papers submitted by students I discovered much of the online collaboration I had intended to foster connection had only been done as a requirement for participation.

Dissonance erupted after the midterm week concluded. My class on Wednesday, which had begun with more than 27 students (my largest class) suddenly dropped down to 17 students, with ten students deciding to en mass leave the course for safer waters before they had to turn in the midterm paper, safely ducking away from the storm. During the second half of the semester, my best student decided to stop showing up on Wednesday and started appearing on Thursday’s class; she seemed much happier, and continued to be reluctant to attend Wednesday’s class until the end of the term. What happened with Wednesday’s class? Dissonance.

“The ultimate result of enduring a prolonged period of sacrifice, emotional turmoil, and unrest is that it becomes increasingly unlikely that leaders will sustain resonance in their teams and organizations, or among family and friends. When we are in emotional turmoil and under stress for protracted periods and are sowing the seeds of dissonance in those around us, it becomes difficult to maintain top form personally or with the people around us” (Boyatzis & McKee, 2005, pp. 51).

Trust disappeared. Work teams did not click, some teams not saying a word to each other the entire class, even when they were required to speak to each other. Students came to class with a frown on their faces, and left with a sigh. My classes on Tuesday and Thursday, however, remained upbeat, jovial, and often ending in applause.

To recreate hope after a disaster is difficult but necessary. In my past research, a team can be broken if trust is lost and personality fails to ignite interest. For much of my Wednesday class, the students who survived the traumatic events of team members jumping ship were strengthened by the departures and continued to turn in some of the strongest essays I received during the term. One of my initial goals was to engineer groups with a diverse collection of students from different majors; in most classes, this plan worked beautifully, but in the Wednesday class differences did not bring students together but rather divided them. Johansson (2006) claims that “the Medici Effect” can be engineered if organizational members are forced away from assumptions, but he also mentions that often the effects can be disastrous on a organization if the Intersection is not found within the chaos.

At the end of the term, I met with a business professional in a local cafe. When I sat down for our meeting the second time we met, he leaned over in his chair and proudly showed me his cell phone. He was an older man with slightly graying hair, a wide smile, dressed in a tie and suit; a professional under any circumstances. However, on his phone was a picture of the doorway in the cafe, a unique blend of french architecture and Chinese faux imitation – the picture was pasted onto a microblog webpage, to which he proclaimed proudly that much of his business came from being online and posting to Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter. For an older man living in China, he had adapted brilliantly, breaking past associative barriers formed by his generation regarding social functions and rules of conduct in business. Considering my friend Mr. Zhou’s acceptance of the new world and realizing that through encouragement and education people could move past associative barriers in China greatly helped me revision how I perceived my students’ struggles. The Intersection, as exemplified by Johansson (2006), is a place where anyone can arrive, no matter their age, profession, or background, which meant that even my students who had traveled through their own valley of shadows could come out refreshed and renewed.

Specific issues had to be handled first, however. At the beginning of the semester, many students failed to understand the purpose of assignments due to my lack of ability or care in explaining why I was asking them to complete particular assignments. For proper collaboration to occur, all objects within a plan must meet strategic fit (Austin, 2000). Students suffered assignment anxiety, and as I held their essays in my hands and read through their words, I could tell that while some of the principles were clearly delineated (formatting and research, primarily) the more important lessons of the class were untouched (narrative and imagery). “Finding the right fit is a process that entails an investment of time and commitment to dialogue. The alignment task involves meshing missions, matching needs and capabilities, and overlapping values” (pp. 59). I was asking students to ally themselves with my theory and myself as a teacher, but I was failing to accurately communicate those concepts. I needed to spend more time with my students, not only in person but also on paper, but the stress began to affect me in terrible ways, restricting my ability to even process the issues clearly.

By the second half of the term, the dissonance which affected Wednesday’s class finally began to affect me. Sickness invaded my body, tiredness grew on me like barnacles, assignments were given back to students later and later, and eventually I walked into class one day without the ability to even speak. I had finally been infected by the Sacrifice Syndrome. “We have the distinctive ability to create our own stress, with its full bodily response, merely by thinking about or anticipating future episodes or encounters that might be stressful” (Boyatzis & McKee, 2005). The authors continue to explain that stress causes bodily shut-down, destroys immune system protections, and strikes the brain of the ability to process information and learn (pp. 43). However, at the time I was fully aware that the Sacrifice Syndrome had taken over my body, so in order to make the best of a bad situation, I sat down at my computer, pulled out the cord for the projector, and began to type my lecture on the screen. While the students were amused, I was not; yet the class had to continue.

Compassion and forgiveness. Staring at my computer screen, I open each e-mail carefully, read the contents with a discerning eye, and try my best to answer every student with a request for help as soon as they write me. I have made myself open to my students, because I have realized that in a course, feedback is a primarily felt need in learning which is often not stated but always wished for (Santos, Lopez-Serrano, & Manchon, 2010). Sometimes my answers take thirty minutes to type out, requiring research, careful wording, and evaluation of student grades; other times a simple response is needed. One of my challenges this term has been to try and develop feedback mechanisms which were appropriate to student need as well as my needs for them in learning. Among ESL educators, knowing when to use personal feedback, when to use error correction, and when and how to deliver a quantifiable score on a subjective piece of writing is heavily debated, but the one concept that scholars agree on is ethically, a educator should respond to student need (Shabani & Meraji, 2010).

Sometimes meeting students on their level took more than a simple e-mail response. I often found myself sipping a cup of coffee across the table from a student, walk him through his paper step-by-step, trying to be approachable and reachable across the heavy barrier that divides the teacher and student relationship in China. Last semester, to my surprise, I surveyed my students to find out at the end of term if they believed I was approachable and a stunning majority of them said I was not, even though I made a concerted effort to be so. “So people aroused by a need for affiliation look for evidence that their loved ones or close friends really care about them. They value proof such as frequent declarations of affection, frequent calls, visits, chances to spend time together, and even some degree of excluvisity” (Boyatzis & McKee, 2005, pp. 180). Opening my home and my time to students has always been a prerogative for me in teaching, schedules allowing. However, the teacher student relationship in China utilizes a very high power-distance (Zhang, 2011); therefore, meeting the full needs of compassion (according to Boyatzis & McKee) could never be allowed, but empathy could be possible. “Empathy helps us connect with people . . . we must begin with curiosity about other people and their experiences” (pp. 178-179). Therefore, I made an effort to meet students outside of class, and while not in my home, I gave them full attentions as if I were their personal tutor.

Twice a semester, students arrived to class with essay in hand, which they then handed to me and I then handed back to other students to read and review. Thee process of peer review was an activity which required heavy altercation as I gained more experience. The first year I used peer review, students claimed the activity did not help them at all, because the review partners did not tell them what they needed to hear, only what they wanted to hear. “It is evident that organizations and communities work more effectively when individuals within them seek to understand one another (despite their differences), to help one another, and to work together for common goals” (Gardner, 2008, pp. 116-117). However, in China culture often prevents students from being totally honest with one another, preferring to speak words which in no way assign blame to another person for any action (Hu & Lam, 2010; Zheng, 2012). Using blind peer reviews this term, I intended to make sure students had as much freedom as possible in commenting; time will tell if the blind methodology will pay off.

Students also discussed their topics within collaborative topic groups. Last semester I used the same process and discovered that most students did not choose to participate in their topic groups besides sharing a few online links. Currently the collaborative topic groups have been a far bigger success as in the beginning of the semester I told the students how much they personally invested in their group discussion would end up being 10% of their final score, with some teams talking about discussing in over 100 topics alone. “Collaborative conversation accelerates the innovation process because the sparks happen in real time” (Sawyer, 2007, pp. 128). What I have discovered so far is that my best papers inevitably came out of those groups where discussion and sharing carried the most weight.

When I went to my wife’s home in Tianjin for the winter vacation, I brought a collection of my essays from the first semester with me. My mother came to visit us in Tianjin to spend time with her new grandson and be with my wife and me in the process of becoming parents. I proudly handed my mother some of the papers of my last term, as I was stunned students could write papers like this, many far-surpassing the papers I had written in college or even some of the best writing I had read published in the United States by university students. My goals this term have been to increase the level of consistency, pinpoint the functions of creativity and collaboration and try to engineer vehicles for closer cooperation of team activity, coordination of lecture principles to the written word, and an enlargement of the pool of trust between student and teacher. I have tried to infuse hope into my work, as “a combination of clearly articulating goals, believing that one can attain those goals, charting a course of action or a path, and arriving at the goal while experiencing a sense of well-being as a result of the process” (Rand, & Cheavons, 2009). I have used principles I have learned from Austin, Boyatzis & McKee, Sawyer, Gardner, Johansson, as well as Covey & Merrill, Morgan, Shaw, Greenleaf, Price, and more, in addition to an innumerable number of researchers who write on the subjects of EFL learners, Chinese culture, Sino-American and Sino-Western connections, creativity, trust, and general leadership topics dealing specifically with contextual issues I have encountered in my time as a teacher. More importantly, though, my goals have been to teach students a new form of writing called narrative research, in which students come story, imagery, and detail, with the constants of a well written essay with lucid style and an engaging thesis while backing up their logic with research referenced through official academic formats.

From the long hours I spent at the cafe reading through papers and talking with students, to the piles of paper that littered my desk and my office with the smell of fresh ink and A4 dust, to trying to balance all of this with a new baby, the semester has been challenging for me but not without merit. In the past, I would have given up and waited for a future time; dropping courses from my Master’s program when I was unable to finish all my papers due to wedding preparations, or choosing not to respond to student queries and disappearing from the scene, only to appear as a shadow in the classroom and then disappear as a visage or remnant of a teacher with far too many things to do to be bothered with students. Perhaps I am too hard on myself.

The last three years have been a journey of discovery and growth for me; teaching at what most Chinese consider to be the best school in the country has grafted a new kind of skin on me. Whereas once I was content to show quality in my work, now I must achieve the highest in the field, and whether I make that or not is not a question of effort but of skill. For the first time, I have all of my grades ready to turn in; completed all of my assignments (generally; at least by the last day of the course) on-time for my Master’s program, met with students thorough the term, created a system where students could freely engage each other outside of lengthy time commitments outside of other courses, and given students a textbook and material which has planted seeds in them so that even if during the course of the class the stress of time and due-dates overwhelmed their abilities to properly use the principles I taught, later in life those ideas will surface when needed and help them. I have read through and graded 1,200 pages of student essays, scored 600-800 pages of classroom assignments, read through 2,100 pages of research material regarding creativity, collaboration, and trust (in books alone), and written over 120 pages of research. My students have had an effect on me, just as I hope I have had an effect on them. They have made me for conscientious, hard-working, and instilled a belief in me that regardless of situation, the best can be achieved.

Next fall, I change to a new school in the city of Tianjin. I change to a new program, filled with a different kind of student. My hope is that I can take the learning and inspiration I have gleaned from my time at Peking University and affect the students at my new school, while also learning valuable lessons from my new students which could never have been discovered in Beijing. Mindfulness and resonance require two-way learning, although only a one-way commitment. I look around at the piles of papers and baby clothes inhabiting the corners of my apartment, listen to the coos and cries from the bedroom as my son struggles to put together words in his infantile mouth, and smell the crackling of oil and egg as my wife cooks breakfast from the kitchen; I know that this moment is transitory, but that the collection of moments, from today, to tomorrow and then to the next day, combine into something wonderful. I bind that emotion up in a gift, display it proudly on my shoulder, and await for the next challenge.


Austin, J. (2000). The collaboration challenge: How nonprofits and businesses succeed through strategic alliances. Dorchestor, MA: Jossey-Bass.

Boyatzis, R., & McKee, A. (2005). Resonant leadership: Renewing yourself and connecting with others through mindfulness, hope, and compassion. Harvard Business School Press: Boston.

Gardner, H. (2008). 5 minds for the future. Boston: Harvard Business Press.

Hu, G. W., & Lam, S. T. E. (2007). Issues of cultural appropriateness and pedagogical efficacy: Exploring peer review in a second language writing class. Instructional Science, 38(4):371- 394.

Johansson, F. (2006). The medici effect: What elephants and epidemics can teach us about innovation. Boston: Harvard Business Press.

Lin-Liu, J., & Bollag, B. (2004). Textbook pirates find a huge market in China. Chronicle of Higher Education, 50(30): A43-A45.

Rand, K. L., & Cheavens, J. S. (2009). Hope theory. In S. J. Lopez and C. R. Snyder (Eds.), Oxford handbook of positive psychology (2nd ed.) (pp. 323-333). New York, NY, US: Oxford University Press.

Santos, M., Lopez-Serrano, S., & Manchon, R. M. (2010). The differential effect of two types of direct written corrective feedback on noticing and uptake: Reformulation vs. error correction. International Journal of English Studies, 10(1):131-154.

Sawyer, K. (2007). Group genius: The creative power of collaboration. Basic Books: New York.

Shabani, E. A., & Meraji, S. R. (2010). Preference consequentialism: An ethical proposal to resolve the writing error correction debate in EFL classroom. International Journal of Language Studies, 4(4):313-332.

Zhang, Q. (2011). Teacher immediacy, credibility, and clarity as predictors of student affective learning: A Chinese investigation. China Media Research, 7(2):95-103.

Zheng, C. X. (2012). Understanding the learning process of peer feedback activity: An ethnographic study of exploratory practice. Language Teaching Research, 16(1):109-126.

Conflict beyond the clouds: Managing difficult conversations in cross-cultural contexts

In a rather bold introduction, Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen introduce the reader to their book, “Difficult Conversations”, with the amazing story of how the concepts in the book teach people around the world a revolutionary way of handling conflict. They claim that Inuits in freezing northern Canada utilize the ideas to help settle conflicts with global oil companies looking to take a profit from the Eskimo homeland, how Saudi businessmen initiate the difficult conversations in the heat of the Persian gulf with American oil tycoons, of how African tribal leaders used the book to find a peaceful end to hundreds of years of bloody civil war, and even of how astronauts took the book to the International Space Station as a reference guide in dealing with the inevitable conflict between Russian cosmonauts and a menagerie of other cultures all stuck into a tiny glass bottle, rotating around the Earth’s atmosphere and no doubt dealing with dangers most of us could not imagine. Perhaps I am a cynic, but I find it hard to believe, after reading through the authors’ book, that the methodology presented in the book can be properly utilized in cultures without any western intervention.

Much of Stone, Patton, and Heen’s book revolve around cultural paradigms of behavior, which while embraced in many western countries, are often considered to be behavior of the worst sort in others. Working in an Asian context (as I do), the application of the three Conversations must be carefully fine-tuned and applied if used in delicate situations, as the concept of face propriety and the family unit are held in even higher esteem than such notions like the “law”, “proper behavior”, or even “self-awareness”. Stone, Patton, and Heen use the example of the “diplomatic hand grenade” (pg. xxix) in their opening preface to the book, as an image of what many reading the book hope to gain, but just as quickly as they dismiss the existence of such an element, so must I conclude the principles of the book may not work as intended in Asian contexts. In fact, if one applied the principles in the book upon an Asian context directly, the concepts might backfire, and the damage would be extensive.

To understand Stone, Patton, and Heen, we must first understand the final piece to their puzzle: the Learning Conversation. A lot of business theory over the past 20 years has focused on creating intelligent systems which allow an organization to learn and grow as changes occur both on an organizational level but also on a societal level. “Difficult Conversations” attempts to address the issue of conflict resolution with the creation of an intelligent resolution system for conflict: the Learning Conversation. However, such a system is founded upon several pillars. Through some careful analysis and according to Stone, Patton, and Heen, I have identified five pillars which form the foundations of the Learning Conversation, that goes beyond their original vision (the three conversations: interpretation of event, feeling, and identity), but which I believe are necessary to understand in order to contextualize the Conversation so that it can move across cultures.

 The first pillar: A view from the clouds, on the ground – a practically integrated worldview. On page 149 of the text, Stone, Patton, and Heen explore the crux of their conflict theory: the “Third Story”. Essentially, the Third Story is a state in which the observer understands that neither side of a conflict is either right or wrong – only different. The Third Story is the mediator, or in Chinese conflict theory, the “Third Party,” an entity with no stake in the conflict except for the resolution of the conflict between both parties. However, if we utilize Stone, Patton, and Heen’s model, the “Third Story” becomes an objective location where both sides can be seen clearly, which when inhabited by a mediator offers a “better” vantage point to begin to unravel the reasons of why a conflict begin and a healthy forum for discussing alternatives. However, what happens when the observer’s ethical underpinnings show a definitive lack of understanding in cross-cultural situations? For example, what happens when an American mediator attempts to start from the “Third Story” in a disagreement between another American and a Chinese? How can we expect that the mediator be fully aware of the functions of Chinese ethics and know how those differ from American ethics?

The Chinese board game Tu Shangguan illustrates the divide between eastern ethical boundaries and ethics of other cultures. For almost 400 years, Tu Shangguan was played and studied by the Qing dynasty elite, as a model for how to approach the dance of bureaucracy. The player begins the game as low-level bureaucrat, and through both random luck and the offering of bribes to other players, the low-level bureaucrat eventually proceeds through promotions and demotions, with the goal of eventually joining the royal family and ruling all of China. Bribery, during the Qing Dynasty, was not viewed as a perverse corruption. Quite the opposite, actually. The art of bribery has a long history in China, and is far less insidious than the interpretations of bribery among the popularized American political system. Ethical bribery in China often amounts to the building up of guanxi, social capital that people invest in, save, and use when the opportunity demands. However, to someone not familiar with Chinese politics, the use and sometimes abuse of guanxi can appear as rampant corruption. The Chinese concept of renqing adds a further layer guanxi through the promotion of moral imperatives to maintain guanxi. Such philosophical differences are beyond a simple black and white conflict scenario, in which a mediator can safely assume the place of the “Third Story” without being fully aware of the implications of how both ethical systems in conflict operate.

 The second pillar: Facing the music (with a little sacrifice). The second pillar I maintain contributes to Stone, Patton, and Heen’s conflict theory is that conflicts are complex, dynamic events, with multiple “contributions” (pg. 78) by people who because of orientation, see themselves in the beginning as blameless. When a problem is identified, the authors state that the impacted parties transform into “shifters”, truly believing the blame lies in another person’s sphere of influence, rather than their own. The key then, to unravel the conflict, is to create a “map of [conflict] contributions”, which can often only be done by the person starting from the “Third Story”.

However, the reason why conflict resolution can be difficult, Stone, Patton, and Heen maintain, is because “emotions and identity issues are wrapped” around those same contributions made which led to the conflict, and those emotions quietly hinge on “self-image and self-esteem” (pg. 144), core beliefs which act as a foundation to identity and purpose. These emotional burdens hinder the conflict contributors from fully appreciating the vivid qualities of the issue. Stone, Patton, and Heen state that while letting go of anger and emotion is vital to understanding the conflict, time is often an invisible but present character in the drama of resolution. Letting go of emotional burdens, furthermore, comes at great personal cost, especially as those burdens often serve as paragons of self-identity that root perception of self in an intricate fabric of perceived growth, even if that maturation comes bundled with negative experiences (many of which remain unaware, painted as positive trauma). Being able to identify those emotional burdens is essential to understanding the roots of conflict.

 The third pillar: Knowing yourself. One key conversation Stone, Patton, and Heen describe, is the “identity conversation”, a journey of conflict resolution that begins not only with understanding the internal source of conflict but more importantly, understanding how the “landscape of feelings” (pg. 96) affects not only conflict but also formation of complex identities. To know himself, a man must reach beyond the emotional reactions he has, but also evaluate the interplay of emotions in his own heart.

However, knowing oneself is only the beginning of comprehending the measured actions of conflict, especially in complex cross-cultural situations. The authors describe an activity called “role reversal” (pg. 76) in which the observer uses methods of empathy to project one’s mind into the eyes of another and view the actions of the observer – but in a conflict spanning multiple worldviews, this action often fails to ascertain any notable differences, due to issues of cultural blindness and ethical paradigms present in the home culture versus the visited culture.

I maintain that not only must the observer project empathic thoughts onto the conflicted party, but a “reverse role reversal” must take place, wherein the observer views the situation as an observer viewing the situation – by asking the question, “What am I thinking/how am I responding about what they are saying/thinking about my contributions?”, and finally evaluating those thoughts not in the observer’s home culture, but rather through the visited culture’s paradigm. But as the third pillar is about “knowing yourself”, so must the observer endeavor to know, as far as possible, all the “landscapes of feelings” and how those create identity within the conversation, for both parties.

 The fourth pillar: In the presence of wolves. In Matthew 10:16, Jesus counsels his disciples with the following statement: “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Stone, Patton, and Heen write a lot about the particular methodologies of how to proceed through and develop a Learning Conversation. The authors (in the 10th edition) even put together a checklist, a step-by-step process of simplifying the Learning Conversation to a few steps (pg. 233). However, one of the most important yet hardly explained concepts in their theory of conflict resolution is the “blame web” which the authors address as early as the fourth chapter (pg. 59). The primary reason most difficult conversations are difficult is not because of the subject matter, but rather because of the subjects themselves and their refusal to submit to the other. When a mediator steps into the pit, the fangs come out and the claws are released, so to speak.

Therefore, the mediator or observer must be at all times connected to Stone, Patton, and Heen’s concept of “the heart of the matter,” (pg. 189) and continually seek a resolution for the conflicted parties that revolves around the key issues that need to be resolved. In cross-cultural conflicts, “the heart” is often shrouded in language and custom, but is always present. The observer must also be wise in the use of language, and practice the art of wordsmithing, or the choosing and selection of words culturally appropriate and empathically connected to the conflict’s conflagration of identities.

 The fifth pillar: The transformation stance. The final pillar, and most important to resolving cross-cultural conflicts while applying the principles of Stone, Patton, and Heen, centers around the concept of reframation. Reframation is the act of taking the Three Conversations framework by using words, actions, and retold stories through a medium that is better adapted to the parties currently engaged in conflict (pg. 202). The authors use a conversation between an American manager and a Brazilian worker to illustrate the concept of reframation, with the American manager constantly reframing her position and the worker’s position in different ways until the worker finally understands her problems with him without complex emotions coming into the conversation (pg. 203-204). While this sounds good on paper, in reality situations are much more complex, especially when the classic American model of confrontation is largely non-existent in the non-American culture.

Therefore, while reframation is absolutely essential to solving cross-cultural problems, sometimes other solutions must take precedence when trying to create a Learning Conversation. While Stone, Patton, and Heen touch on the topic for less than a page, creative solutions are of prime importance when preparing a situation for reframation (pg. 213). The authors suggest brainstorming as a technique to develop creative solutions, but I would suggest the more radical approach of cross-cultural hybridization, wherein the observer classifies cultural issues relevant to the case, and then researches proven methods within that culture to bring up difficult conversations, rather than the brunt method of American confrontation.

While the book was enlightening, a more serious approach to cross-cultural conflict resolution must always include the target culture’s methodologies for conflict resolution, as well as the innate character of ethical behaviors in that culture. While the Learning Conversation may be universal, the path to that conversation will always vary from culture to culture. The five pillars I have mentioned should serve as useful intermediaries for the cultural jump that is required for Stone, Patton, and Heen’s Learning Conversation primer to be successfully integrated into non-American cultures, although depending on the particularities of each culture, methodologies will need to change and be altered so that the confrontation approach of “Difficult Conversations” does not cause more harm than good.

Soft power in other cultures: a dream. According to the authors, when trying to broach “difficult conversations” in praxis, requires the use of the three-pronged Learning Conversation: the conversation about what is happening (pg. 23), the conversation about feelings (pg. 83), and the conversation about identity (pg. 109). Once these conversations have developed deep enough, the Third Story can be discovered (pg. 149), and by carefully proceeding through the “difficult conversation,” eventually both parties contribute jointly (pg. 257), and creative solutions to the problem-at-hand can be developed (pg. 213). As an English teacher in a college classroom in a non-English speaking country, difficult conversations often seem to arise, although in reality they are merely misunderstandings. As a husband in a cross-cultural marriage, quite often the fiercest arguments stem from the simplest misunderstanding: a word defined incorrectly, a false intent, or a misconstrued reaction to traditional methods. In my experience, “true” difficult conversations are rare, although they do exist and can be quite dangerous if not handled correctly. However, the three-step method Stone, Patton, and Heen propose, while quite ingenious, does not account for varying cultural interpretations of right and wrong, which are often at the crux of “true” difficult conversations.

Stone, Pattern, and Heen attempt to address this minor inconvenience, by introducing the concept of “intersections” (pg. 72), moments in which simple differences can be exacerbated into patterns of estrangement. However, when describing the ramifications, the authors plainly state “that so long as we each continue to see this matter as a matter of right versus wrong, rather than as an intersection, there is no way to avoid a train wreck. In contrast, successful relationships… are built on the knowledge that in intersections there is no one to blame. People are just different.” (pg. 74) While soundly tolerant, this singular statement epitomizes the authors’ belief: that without confrontation and acceptance of different ethical beliefs, there can never be solutions to difficult conversations.

Part of the reason why difficult conversations can sometimes seem unsolvable is the nature of facts themselves. In the appendix to the book, the authors attempted to answer questions from readers. The first question dealt with the supposed relativity of facts, to which the authors answered, “facts aren’t relative, but they can be hard to pin down.” (pg. 238) What is a fact? If a student copies the answers from another student for his exam, was he cheating or working cooperatively to answer a question? If a teacher gives all of his favorite students high scores, but the students who argue with his ideas low scores, does that make him a bad teacher, or a teacher who is suitably preparing his students for their future work in a culture that is defined not by product, but relationship? If a rich student refuses to buy the high-priced textbook, but instead copies the textbook from his classmate who borrowed the book from the teacher… is the teacher then a criminal, or is the teacher wise for choosing a textbook his department refused to purchase for his students, but if studied will allow his students to progress much further than otherwise?

These questions do not have easy answers, or like-wise, compartmentalized solutions. While the authors claim that facts aren’t relative, they also don’t disparage people from individual truths (pg 196). Sometimes, the authors believe, the only way to arrive at a suitable compromise is to first understand where those individual truths come from, but as Stone, Patton, and Heen state wisely, “most difficult conversations… are a series of exchanges and explorations that happen over time.” (pg. 216) The moral of the book, “Difficult Conversations”, is that both sides must come to the middle and agree on concessions in order to refrain from conflict and move forward. However, intentions are complex, often made up of both selfless and selfish acts which remain unsaid to even the source of those acts (pg. 120); add-in another layer of culture, and sometimes the complexificiation of identity (pg. 118) can take years, perhaps even a lifetime to truly understand and implement.

I do not believe that culture can be brushed aside. Under most circumstances, the authors agree with that sentiment. However, the cultural methodology of confrontation and conflict resolution must also be taken into account, and the three-pronged approach suggested in the book must be altered, perhaps in minor or major ways, in order to truly make a difference in non-American conflict scenarios.

Stone, D., Patton, B., & Heen, S. (2010). Difficult conversations (10th ed.). New York: Penguin.

Agent of Peace

Being an Agent of Peace, and the power of leadership principles in changing external and internal behaviors within fictional environments.



This study’s objective was to utilize leadership principles (cited in three different books) as active change agents within a group of people involved in an interactive story. The aim of the study was to change their character behavior from sadistic and violent, towards behavior that was subjected to an undefined but subjective and peaceable moral scale. Kotter’s eight-step process was utilized in order to introduce external change, as well as Quinn’s perspective of deep change to encourage internal change. Finally, Johnson’s Who Stole My Cheese was integral, providing a metaphor of the world in which the players participated. This study’s conclusion indicated participants changed external behavior but was inconclusive in determining internal change.

Leadership Principles in Changing Behaviors Within Fictional Environments

For this study, a group of players were selected. Every Sunday they gathered at a local restaurant and took part in a role-play, in which their fictional characters participated in a shared adventure. Each person’s character linked them to an alternate persona they played during the game. Prior to beginning this study, players’ actions in previous games suggested a high level of sadistic violence (killing innocent civilians, stealing without provocation, burning down cities) while playing the game. The hypothesis of this study was that if the players were presented with moral conundrums each session, if their in-game behavior would change without any forced coercion. To do this, Kotter’s eight-step process of organizational change was utilized (Kotter). In addition, Quinn’s theory of deep change (Quinn) was embedded into the adventures so as internal or subconscious change took root in the players. The end-goal of this study was to observe if the players would begin to evaluate their actions based on a peaceable moral scale. This scale would not be defined by the leader presiding over the adventure, however, but would be formed individually based on the decisions the players presented through their personas. This paper will discuss whether the intended change of incorporating moral fiber within participants, in an amoral and violent system, and encouraging players that violence is not the only answer to solving problems was successful or not, on an internal level and an external level.

The author’s role was to narrate and guide the players. As a leader, it was his job to tell the story and moderate their actions, without forcing them into committing specific actions. During the course of the study, the narrator also used his position as leader of the story to observe the leadership capacities of each player and work the story around their strengths and weaknesses. Leadership potential exists within every person, and one heavy responsibility on the leader is to discover what those potentials are and then utilize those potentials together in a connective leadership capacity (Lipman-Blumen). For this reason, the narrator not only analyzed the qualities of the participants, but designed the story to challenge their weaknesses while ennobling their strengths. However, the narrator also included random elements of chance, to provide that the world was not statically created. The world was modeled after a maze that included safe houses and dangerous locations, in order to provide an accurate picture of how people undergo the process of change. Johnson’s portrayal of the world as a maze filled with small rewards but little direction helped in understanding how to model the world in which the players participated (Johnson).

In sessions prior to this study, the actions portrayed by the players of the group displayed an overabundance of unnecessary violence and sadistic planning. For example, upon entering a city rather than relinquishing their weapons to the authorities, the players decided to attack and kill the guards, and then as they fled the city, they attacked any living thing, burning houses as they ran. While in war such things are not uncommon, from this particular group of players their actions were surprising and gave rise to several members of the group questioning the ethics of their own role-play. In fact, the actions of that session so bothered several of the players that, rather than deciding to change their behavior, they accepted a slow death of their personas and embedded those violent tendencies directly into their own personality maps (Quinn). Some players admitted that because the world was fantasy, it was okay to exhibit those tendencies within the game, a similar argument used today with young players of violent video games.

The author of this study decided it was imperative to shift Playing Styles. Upon discussing the matter with the game leader at the time, they both were agreed that something had to be done, but the game leader was unsure how to actually proceed, and continued to provide sessions for the players but slowly withdrew from the actual planning of events, afraid the players would destroy any created character put in front of them. The game leader stated on multiple occasions he felt it would be impossible to end the cycle of violent behavior, due to what he termed Playing Styles of the players involved, which had developed during his gaming sessions. However, he believed the Playing Styles were static personality traits of the players. The author of this study believed Playing Styles would vary upon the challenges introduced to the players, and that the reinforcement of those Playing Styles with the tradition gaming sessions was unhealthy for the players. If different situations were to be introduced that induced a sense of moral urgency, the author of this study meant to find out if the players would change their Playing Styles and question their actions rather than resorting to unmitigated violence.

Table 1: Decker’s Play Styles prior to the study, actions taken, and potentials of Lipman-Blumen’s Leadership Styles




Kicking butt


Attacked anything living for XP


Power: takes charge



Proficient in killing humans

Intrinsic: excels



Persecuted group members

Entrusting: empowers


Accumulating powers

Used powers to destroy property

Social: networks



Contributed to mass slaughters

Contributory: helps



Confounded and befuddled innocents

Collaborative: joins forces

As can be seen by the chart on the previous page (Table 1), it was clearly in the capacity for the players involved to not only change their persona behavior, but also contribute equally to the enterprise of telling an excellent story, as Lipman-Blumen postulates is possible if a model of connective leadership is active within an organization. However, due to the nature of the story campaign so far, their behaviors had become reckless and sadistic, turned towards their own profit and growth rather than acting with any kind of heroism. Heroism, or at least the recognition of one’s potential to acquire certain aspects of it, often is required for deep or subconscious change (Quinn). However, if these players were given the incentive and freedom to change their behavior towards a self-defined moral scale, then a leader using connective principles, could turn their selfish and violent behavior into constructive and possible heroic actions (Lipman-Blumen).

The plan for effecting positive change was designed on a weekly basis. Every Sunday afternoon, the players convened at a local restaurant, in a central area of the city, where they participated in a shared adventure prepared by the narrator (the author of this study). The narrator’s plan was to slowly incorporate moral elements into the story, specifically tailored to issues the characters had been having, e.g. towards the act of killing, stealing, and acting inappropriately. In addition, the plan consisted of teaching through the story, that every death has consequences both good and bad, but usually not what one expects. It was to be introduced slowly so as players would have an opportunity to draw conclusions and incorporate those conclusions within their general personas, much like Johnson showed with the Handwriting on the Wall (Johnson).

The general timeline of the study was to be seven or eight weeks, or in other words, seven or eight sessions. Each session was to be from four to six hours long. Each session would deliver one major conflict scene, and branching from that one major moral complication in which the players must decide whether or not to kill. Furthermore, the scenario would include peaceable ways to end the conflict, while still gaining something out of it, if the players chose. In some longer sessions, more than one moral complication would be presented, but generally the complication would be minor, so as to prevent an overflow. The sessions would be designed so that one major conclusion could be drawn from each playing day, and then players would have the rest of the week to consider the implications of what they had done, and prepare themselves for the next week.

In order to change the behavior of the players, Kotter’s eight-step process was used. For example, in the first session, players were thrust into a life and death situation, namely being caught in the midst of a civil war they did not belong. In an ordinary situation they would jump immediately into the fray and kill as many people as possible, and they actually did begin that way, but quickly realized they were killing their only allies in escaping from the city. There was a pressure immediately exerted on the players that forced them to re-evaluate life and death decisions. The urgency that was created suddenly put the players in the unfortunate position that the old way would lead them to their own irrelevancy and possible death.

The next step to the process of change, Kotter says, is to build a team dedicated to making the change (Kotter). For this reason, a number of characters not controlled by the players were inserted into the story, whose main purpose was to show how difficult it was to make life and death decisions. In other words, they took violence seriously, and reacted harshly against it. They were role-models for what the players could become, and were also their guides as they escaped the fires of the city they had escaped from.

Finally, when a player did kill something, they were subjected to a consequence. In previous sessions, the only consequence had been an applause of hands and awarding of special points, but in this case, the consequence was directly related to the death. When they killed a young wounded monster lying on the side of the road, her friends came over and nearly annihilated the players in reprise. That was the end of the second session, and the players quickly learned that in a world where life and death do matter, taking it lightly would lead to destruction.

After this point, players became annoyed. The change was too great for some of them, and they began to complain and said it wasn’t fun. Kotter explains clearly that there must be a step of communicating with them so they understand the change. Most people, once they understand the implications of a change and can see bits and pieces of it unveiled would gladly join in the effort, but the problem usually is that they are not informed of how and why and so they fight against the change. The narrator of the game for this reason spent extra time during the week explaining the sudden change is styles, and although many of the players did not agree with the moral consequences of death within the framework of this game, they were happy to be part of a well-told story and for that reason stayed.

Over the next four weeks, things went more smoothly, as players were empowered when they acted kind to others with little rewards given to them, even though the nature of the reward was unpredictable. After saving a life, players were rewarded with a large gift, either a material object or heaps of graciousness. But beyond that, every time they felt secure in their positions as heroes to the community, they were continually challenged by additional obstacles, always presented the need to grow and become stronger. Often their values were directly attacked.

The end result of this seven week experiment was that players behavior did change in-game. Not only did the idea of killing sicken many of them by the end, but even in an instance when they were paid to kill someone who was allegedly evil and wanted by the law, they would refuse to do it, based on some moral conviction their persona had recently adopted. Of course, a game is grounded by rules, so once the players understood the rules of the game, it is plausible they changed their styles of playing just to fit the culture of the story. That is why deep change is so necessary within any organization, be it a small group of seven people or a larger group of one hundred.

During the process of change, many players gave up. There were a total of nine players who participated in the story (with only seven mentioned in this study) but in the end only six remained. The other players, often due to disagreements with the way the story was handled, departed and did not return.

Whether deep change took place within the players was unclear. There was an inherent fear of change in the beginning in which two of the players argued feverishly about the necessity for a moral scale in a war-game such as the one they were playing. The players however, did recognize they would need to change or else become pointless in this world. Once they found out what they could become, they discovered a new kind of heroism and thus a vitality in their new outlook on life. In the end, when the time for came for a rich reward of both experience points and items if they killed, they as a group, made the most surprising decision of the game up to that point: they walked away and left them living, even though they did so with extremely puzzled looks on their faces. They were smiling though.

To gauge whether deep change took place requires more time. Although seven sessions was long enough to make initial change in the players’ behaviors, it was not long enough to observe if any kind of deep change was visible. In addition, the nature of the game is fictional, so whether or not any kind of change took place in the players on a subconscious level was also unconfirmed. Overall, it was excellent practice of using leadership principles in a real situation in lieu of having a real organization in need of change. From this study, the following conclusion can be drawn: external change does not necessarily lead to internal change, but if external change is understood by both the leader and organization and followed-through with the right steps, it can be successfully implemented.



Decker, Jesse. Dungeon Master’s Guide II. Renton: Wizards of the Coast, 2005.

Johnson, Spencer. Who Moved My Cheese? New York: Putnam, 1998.

Kotter, J.P. The Heart of Change. Boston: Harvard, 2002.

Lipman-Blumen, J. Connective Leadership. New York: Oxford, 1996.

Quinn, R.E. Deep Change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1996.