Your cover ["The Dark Side of Leadership," June] certainly did the job of compelling me to read the article.
Thanks for the affirmation of what many of us in leadership development believe: focusing on positive behaviors alone is not the whole picture; strengths can become weaknesses when not controlled; understanding where positive and negative behavior paths can take one is wise, useful and needed; and leaders affect followers in positive and negative ways that ultimately affect the mission.
I have not read Barbara Kellerman's book but agree with the emphasis on "creating an environment in which followers feel able and encouraged to air dissenting opinions." As a management consultant, I served as a human factors lead with a major airline in a highly successful initiative to change the flight deck culture from one of no one speaking up to one of open communication. This initiative was in the interest of flight safety, but for change to occur, it took more than leaders realizing they had a negative side to their strengths. It took in-depth analysis of the details of various crew-related plane crashes and avoidable disasters. Then and only then did the captains and crew change their perception from "this is charm school" to this is about "excellence" and is "imperative." Pilots learned that if senior professionals made dumb and sometimes fatal mistakes, they could, too. The improved safety records show it worked.
My view is that if this particular focus on leadership development is going to be most effective, it must go beyond awareness of negative tendencies and empowerment of others to include more rigorous and hopefully vicarious learning from the disasters of other leaders. The behaviors that led to these disasters can be identified, understood and linked with the common behaviors we all experience when we are not deploying our strengths in a positive manner. This type of "dark side analysis" of leadership disasters can accelerate understanding, acceptance and change.
The Human Factors Group
The Woodlands, Texas
I found Jack Gordon's "The Knowledge Premium Doesn't Pay" [Straight Talk, June] fascinating. It brings another related subject to mind that I also find endlessly fascinating, and that is the plight of those of us who grew up in a time, area, family, culture, etc. that did not value an education.
I am a baby boomer born in 1958 to a blue collar family, raised in Superior, Wis., (next to Duluth, Minn.). My parents didn't go to college (my dad didn't even graduate from high school). My dad worked his way up in the printing business. I started working when I was 15 years old, as that was expected. And, we had to graduate from high school.
Growing up, college wasn't even a word spoken in our household. Nor did I ask, knowing we didn't have any money. Nobody talked to me about it in school.
I met a wonderful guy who I married at 19, who 29 years later is still the wonderful guy I married. Throughout life I worked at various jobs, and at each, I picked up a number of skills and would match them against any of my colleagues with a college education. I also happened to pick up street smarts, something you can't learn in any college. I have many interests outside of home and work that have been a source of education.
Now, as I am about 15 years or so from retirement, I find myself held back from positions because I lack the college degree. At this point in my life, I'm not going to college. I'm not willing to give up my volunteer work, time with my kids, my genealogy, etc. But it doesn't mean I'm not intelligent and have as much (and more) to offer than someone who does have that degree. Trust me, I've worked with some, and I don't know what they're teaching nowadays, but it isn't common sense.
Bottom line, a college education shouldn't be a guarantee of anything. Smarts, initiative, hard work, skill and enthusiasm need to be where it's at! (Unless, you're going to school to be a doctor, teacher, or other profession that does demand an education—I get that.)
Jill E. Burke
Public Affairs Division
Land O'Lakes, Inc.
St. Paul, Minn.
My colleague and I recently read "Why I Don't Like 'Cheese' " [March]. We loved it. However, we still like cheese. It goes well with crackers and wine, preferably red, but white will do if you don't have red. Of course if you drink the wine with the cheese, you will ask questions—questions that will help you deal with the fact the cheese is gone, or soon will be. Usually the answer is to get more wine, not cheese.
Kerry C. Fina
Ameritas Life Insurance