Reimagining Leadership for the 21st Century | Danielle Harlan | TEDxLosGatosHighSchool

good afternoon well thank you for having me here today I'm excited to talk with you all about reimagining leadership for the 21st century know as Bud mentioned my background is as a social scientist and while I consider myself a pretty you know hands-on in the trenches kind of leader the social science part of me just can't resist gathering a little extra data before I do my presentation so I want to thank you for indulging me just real quick I'm gonna do an informal data collection gathering survey from you all on exactly this topic all right everyone ready okay by show of hands how many people in this room approve of the performance of the top five global superpowers that is the United States China Russia the EU and Germany okay now since we're here in the United States today let's talk about US leadership by a show of hands how many people in the room today approve of the work of the US Congress and I don't mean your particular representative or this party or that party I mean Congress as a whole how many people think that Congress is doing a good job okay let's get real local now how many people in this room again by a show of hands have ever experienced working with a terrible leader maybe it was a boss or a team lead and instructor of some sort someone who's either incompetent or just really difficult to work with okay well this is excellent I mean terrifying in terms of what your responses actually say about this problem and how leadership is doing right now in the modern world but I can assure you from a data reliability perspective the responses that I'm seeing here today from you all pretty much mirror what we social scientists have found so let's take a look at the actual data on these questions 22 to 45 percent this is the range of approval ratings right now for the top five global super powers right so on the low end we have 22% on the high end forty five percent and it's not really important who falls where you can probably make some guesses there but the important thing to recognize here is that there is no single country that is able to garner even a majority of the world's approval and on the low end we have some countries barely getting one in five so not good for leadership on the global level let's take a look at some other data fifteen to twenty percent this is actually right now for 2015 the range of approval ratings for the US Congress and these are actually fairly high my backgrounds and political science believe me they dip lower than this but the point here is that actually at best one in five of you approves of the job that Congress is doing right now so I want you to take a moment and imagine that you're one of those five people you think Congress is doing you know at least an okay job they get your approval and now I want you to look to your left and the two people to your left likely disagree with you and now I want you to look to your right and the two people to your right likely disagree with you as well the point is you can pretty much drop yourself down anywhere in this country and if you think that Congress isn't doing a great job you're gonna have a good conversation starter because there's gonna be a lot of people who agree with you okay final piece of data on this 75% recent data suggests that seventy-five percent of workers in the u.s. believe that their boss is the most difficult and stressful part of their job but wait it gets better only 23 to 45 percent of people believe that they work for an unethical or abusive boss so for them not only is their boss you know an unpleasant source of stress that they have to deal with regularly but they actually believe that she or he is a bad person and in some cases they're right so what is my point here why am i showing you all this data why did we do this sort of informal survey my point is it doesn't take a social scientist to see that we have a leadership problem right and it exists at all levels and across multiple sectors okay so with that established I think we can all agree leadership problem so what right how does this affect you how does this affect me why should we care well I think there's a couple of things to think about he first of all whether we like it or not leadership matters the people who make decisions at the top affect our lives in ways big and small everything from how well the economy is doing to you know the education system to equality in America do you know even the micro level how much you enjoy your job how much money you're able to make how far you're able to advance now maybe some of you hear me saying this today and you think well that's great those things do seem serious but they don't really affect me directly and if they don't affect you yet I'd say just wait because they will and if you truly truly believe that you know none of this is gonna affect you it doesn't now it seems like a problem but like not really relevant to my life then I encourage you to consider yourself as being in a place of privilege because it is rare to not be affected by these things and it's okay to have that privilege but if you have it you need to recognize it and think about whether there's a responsibility to your fellow human beings because there are a lot of people who will wake up every day for the rest of their lives and have to deal with the problems of bad leadership and who have no choice but to do so the second thing I think it's important to think about when we look at these numbers is that you know it's easy to look at them and think well we could have a whole conversation today right about how bad leadership is that's actually not my intention I think we need to look at these numbers and just remember that they are not set in stone there is no one saying that these numbers have to look this way sure maybe any one of us as an individual might have trouble kind of tackling these and chipping away at them not that that's impossible but if we band together and decide that there is a better way and commit to change we can definitely cause a movement in the right direction and some of you might think well that sounds great but you know a little overly idealistic maybe even a little naive but if history shows us anything it's some of the most it's that some of the most important and lasting change we've seen in our world started with just a group of people saying hey the status quo isn't OK we can do better and we need to create change and luckily enough we just happen to be alive at a time when an increasing number of people are looking at these numbers and they are recognizing that they're not okay this isn't acceptable and we can do better and more than that they're daring to imagine and bring to life a new and better way of living and leading and these are the people who I call the new alphas right in contrast to that traditional alpha model of leadership and for the remainder of my time today I'm gonna talk with you a little bit about who these folks are how they're different and how they're able to pull it off and before I get started in that though I want to recognize that what I'm gonna say today may sound familiar to some of you all because I'm willing to bet that some of you are already living and leading like this and if so I want to say thank you because we need you we need people like you we're daring to lead differently and I also want to say again this might sound familiar but I hope that it is empowering and affirming and if you're new to leadership or your leadership path or maybe you're a veteran leader who just recognizes that there's a better way to do this then I hope that what I'm about to say gives you some optimism and some inspiration all right so let's get started who are these new Alpha characters well I think the easiest way to think about it actually is to start with the traditional Alpha model and in the traditional alpha model the main aim is achievement right we want leaders who can you know identify the vision the big goal and get folks their influence and motivate them toward it and that's great we don't want that to go away that is in fact an essential skill for leaders to have the problem is that when that's the only aim a lot of other important factors that relate to leading really effectively and honestly just being a good and decent human being kind of go out the window and so I think we can all imagine from our own lives we have experience with this but imagine that leader who's really high-performing right just total superstar high achieving but you know has some other issues either they're unethical or unfair or completely oblivious to their own health and well-being or that but the people they work with and in some cases just plain unpleasant right so clearly this model has some deficiencies and that's where the new alpha model comes let's take a look the new alphas have three aims you can see achievement is still on there we don't want to lose that that's good but there's also this idea of fulfillment and that means we're focusing on long term well-being and happiness and we know this is important from psychology research and I'll get a little bit into that later in the talk but also this idea of impact an impact is different from achievement because whereas achievement is about you know accomplishing tasks getting them done impact is about making sure that what you do in this world goes beyond just yourself that you're making a positive difference in the lives of others or somehow bettering the world alright so usually at this point people say well that sounds really great yes I do like achievement but even better I would like achievement and fulfillment and impact so how do they pull it off and the answer is that it's complex right no one single human being looks just like another there's no magic formula but in studying and working with the new alphas I have found that there are three big ideas that underlie their philosophy and that's what I'm going to share with you now so big idea number one is a commitment to personal excellence the new alphas believe that strong leadership starts by looking inward and working to be the best human beings that we can be so this means not necessarily being better than that person or that person but the best version of ourselves and so this means that they take care of their physical and mental health right because that takes time in the short run but they recognize that in the long run it's gonna give them the energy and stamina to reach really big and go after significant change in the world more than that the new alphas are great at building positive relationships with others and this goes back to that aim of fulfillment we know that having positive relationships actually correlates with long term fulfillment there's good psychology research that shows that but just think about it on a practical level right if you want to do anything in this world that's bigger than yourself you're gonna need some help and people are more likely to want to help you and get on board with what you're doing if they like you and can relate to you and feel good about the work that you're doing so positive relationships are key and then the final piece of this commitment to personal excellence and this to me is a huge difference Jeeter when I think about the new alphas compared to the traditional alphas the new office value character in ethics in fact they value them as much as they value achievement so things like kindness and compassion those matter courage especially in the face of difficult situations matters humility is key being an active and engaged citizen in this world now are the new off is perfect no but the idea behind this big idea is that they are continuously improving and not just like let's do better tomorrow you know compared to today or next month continuous improvement is a part of their life they will do it for years and years and years to come it's not something that they stop so that's big idea number one I commit me to personal excellence let's look at big idea number two in the new Alpha philosophy and that is an understanding of self and purpose the new alphas want to know who they are as human beings and they focus on figuring out what their strengths are their skills their values their passions their interest how they do their best work and they're great also about seeking out critical feedback and this again I think is what differentiates them from the traditional alpha models when you imagine the traditional high achiever you know they don't want people to know that they're not perfect or that they have chinks in their armor new alphas nope perfectionism is out the window they really want to work to figure out what their blind spots are and what their weaknesses are so that they can work to do better and more importantly when you have that that data that understanding of yourself and feedback from others you can figure out what your purpose is your mission your reason for being in this world and again this is important for a couple of reasons first we know that having a sense of purpose according to the research correlates with that second new alpha aim right a fulfillment but also just think about it no matter who you are in this world right even if you love what you do day in and day out there gonna be days when you wake up and do not want to do whatever it is you have to do on that day we've all had him but if you have a sense of purpose and you believe that what you're doing is actually gonna go beyond just yourself then you're more likely to have the energy and the motivation to get through them to get where you need to be all right so two of the three big ideas in the new Alpha philosophy down one a commitment to personal excellence to an understanding of self and purpose the reading I think is deceptively simple three is that the new alphas have the ability to make things happen and again I think you think about this and you think yeah that's great of course you know you figure out what it is you want to do and you go and do it but for anyone who's actually ever taken on something pretty big this is a lot easier said than done and I think because this is the one that I actually personally struggle with the most I want to share with you a story about an experience that I had in trying to make something happen but I think underscores both why it's so important but also why it can be so difficult so I want you to imagine me early in my career I was a new teacher I taught special education kindergarten and I remember we had this math curriculum that we had to use with our kindergarten students and it was you know mandated from the district and it was awful it was just not good it was very difficult to teach and that students didn't really get much from it and I saw that they weren't making progress and I remember feeling so frustrated about this because I thought you know there are some changes we could make to this but it was mandated I was like a new teacher did have tenure I didn't wanna break the rules you know and some changes I think we needed to make there were a lot larger but I felt like I am certainly not a math instruction expert don't get me wrong you know by now that I love data I love crunching numbers on my own but that is very different than figuring out how math works enough you know five-year-old child's head so I thought we need to get some help an instructional coach maybe the person from the district who you know mandated this so I thought all right I'm gonna step up and find this person so I went around and I looked and people were you know understandably busy or unavailable or doing other things but meanwhile I was watching and students just weren't learning it was not a good curriculum and so finally in desperation I went to my principal and I said look we have a problem here this curriculum doesn't work we need someone to help us you know kind of tear it apart redo it and make it work for the students remember I'll never forget what she said and she was by the way totally rockin leader total new Alpha she said Danielle I understand what you're saying but the reality is we don't have any resources to put words and I was like okay she's like but I trust your judgment I believe you if you say it's not working so go ahead and make the changes you think need to be made and I was like no no you're misunderstanding yeah I don't I can't make the changes I mean I'm happy to do the work but I am NOT an expert in math instruction she goes no no no you have two options either you make the changes or you keep it as it is so I thought about it I went back to my classroom well you know there are some obvious things I can do let's just start small right so I made a few changes and they went pretty well so I thought I'll do some bigger changes and then pretty well I thought I'll make some really big changes and it went a lot better and don't get me wrong along the way I made some changes that did not work and those I quickly dropped but then I thought math is going really well math achievement was like through the roof I thought what the writing curriculum isn't very good either so I did and writing went a lot better and then I thought well you know what reading we can make some improvements it's okay but it could be better so I made some tweaks there and before I knew it I had veteran teachers from all around the district coming in to watch me teach and I don't say this to brag or because I felt proud I felt like a total fraud I was like waiting for one of them to be like what are you doing this is not how you teach but it was totally the opposite there were jazzed about what I was doing and they wanted to help and so I ended up working with a lot of them and again student achievement just kept going up and up until by the end of the year a hundred percent of my special education students had completed every single one of their individual education goals you have individual goals in special ed but more than that fully thirty percent of my students finished above grade level they were actually performing better than the general education kindergarten students in the class next door and so why am I telling you the story I mean it seems so obvious now but my point is that if you are waiting for someone to come along someone with more experience you know with better credentials or just more know-how than you to fix that problem that you see or make that change that you think needs to be changed or to give you permission to do that you may very well be waiting forever because they're simply to many important and urgent problems in this world for us to wait for the experts to solve them all and if there is any single most important lesson that I've learned from studying and working with the new alphas it's that there is a new and better way to live and lead and change is definitely possible but change begins now and it begins with us thank you

Maurice Vega

5 Responses

  1. Excellent commentary on the "New Alpha" Millennials , scholarly research, inspiration, and practical advice. It is an inspiring take on the New Alpha and how they take action for high achievement while reaching their goals,  while also finding fulfillment and being a force for good in the world. Definitely worth 20 minutes of your time.

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