Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Harlan Cleveland's Seven Leadership Propositions

From an address by Harlan Cleveland to the World Future Society's Sixth General Assembly, Washington, D.C., July 16, 1989.

`THE option is always temptingly there for each of us to drift along - watching the initiatives of others, not taking the lead, not reaching for or even accepting broader responsibilities as our lives and careers move on. The choice is always there, to modify a John Gardner metaphor, to sit on the telephone wire until it's quite clear where the rest of the birds are going.

About these ads

But each of us who does think that he or she has the quality of leadership will be more than fully employed. Worldwide, the need for people who can bring other people together to make something different happen is growing much faster than the supply.

How are we - each of us, in our own corners of reality back home - going to handle our membership in this get-it-all-together profession?

How, in the marvelous phrase of one of my own teachers, are we going to ``make a mesh of things''? ....

You already have the skills of leadership or you wouldn't be here. What my study of leadership has taught me is that we who take the lead mostly need to develop for our own personal use a set of leadership attitudes - not skills but attitudes - the attitudes that I've been calling ``the generalist mind-set.''

Citizens who lead their leaders into the future - into an information-rich future in a nobody-in-charge world - need, I think, to come to terms with seven propositions: ....

First, a lively intellectual curiosity - an interest in everything, because everything really is related to everything else, and therefore to what you're doing, whatever it is.

Second, a genuine interest in what other people think and what makes them tick, which means that you have to be at peace with yourself for a start.

About these ads

Third, an attitude that risks are there, not to be avoided, but to be taken.

Fourth, the feeling that crises are normal, tensions can be promising, and complexity is fun.

Fifth, the realization that paranoia and self-pity are reserved for people who don't want to be leaders.

Sixth, the quality that I call ``unwarranted optimism'' - the conviction that there must be some more upbeat outcome than would result from adding up all the available expert advice.

And seventh, a sense of personal responsibility for the general outcome of your efforts.

At this hinge of history, I'm in the mood captured by the poet Ted Loder, who wrote that he was tired of being frightened into ``pretended gaiety.''

I'm sick of a string of ``Have a nice days.'' What I want is exciting days, passionate days, blessed days, wondrous days, surprising days.

So the next time someone says to you, ``Have a nice day,'' try giving this offbeat reply:

``Thank you, but I have other plans.''

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.