Gill Hickman earned her PhD at the University of Southern California in 1978 with fields in Public Administration, Organizational Theory, Organizational Behavior, and Human Resource Management. In 1973, she began a long association with California State University, largely on the Dominguez Hills campus, including but not limited to, Associate Professor and Professor, School of Management, 1979-1991; Interim Dean of Faculty Affairs, 1987-1988; and, Interim Dean of the School of Health, 1988-1990. In 1992, she became a founding faculty member of the Jepson School of Leadership Studies, where she remained until her retirement in 2012. She has authored or co-authored, edited or co-edited numerous books, book chapters, and articles. Her two most recent books include The Power of Invisible Leadership: How a Compelling Common Purpose Inspires Exceptional Leadership with Georgia Sorenson (2013) and the third revised edition of Leading Organizations: Perspectives for a New Era, (2015) for which she served as Editor. The International Leadership Association awarded her a Leadership Legacy Lifetime Achievement Award in November 2016.
Scarpino: Today is Friday, November 4, 2016. My name is Philip Scarpino, Professor of History at Indiana University/Purdue University, Indianapolis (IUPUI); and, Director of Oral History for the Tobias Center for Leadership Excellence, also at IUPUI. I’m interviewing Dr. Gill Hickman in a suite in the Hyatt Regency, Atlanta, which is the headquarters hotel for the annual meeting of the International Leadership Association. This interview is a joint venture undertaken by the Tobias Center and the International Leadership Association. We will include a more detailed biographical summary with the transcript of this interview, but for now, I will provide an abbreviated overview of Dr. Hickman’s career. Dr. Hickman earned her PhD at the University of Southern California in 1978 with fields in Public Administration, Organizational Theory, Organizational Behavior, and Human Resource Management. Starting in 1973, she began a long association with California State University, largely on the Dominguez Hills campus, including but not limited to, Associate Professor and Professor, School of Management, 1979-1991; Interim Dean of Faculty Affairs, 1987-1988; and Interim Dean of the School of Health, 1988-1990. In 1991, she moved across the United States to accept the position of Acting Dean, School of Community and Public Affairs, Virginia Commonwealth University. Finally, in 1992, she became a founding faculty member of the Jepson School of Leadership Studies, where she remained until her retirement in 2012. She has authored or co-authored, edited or co-edited numerous books, book chapters, and articles. Her two most recent books include The Power of Invisible Leadership: How a Compelling Common Purpose Inspires Exceptional Leadership with Gloria Sorenson (2013) and the third revised edition of Leading Organizations: Perspectives for a New Era, (2015) for which she served as Editor. She has earned numerous awards and recognitions, including but not limited to Jepson School Award for Leadership and Service, the Distinguished Educator Award, University of Richmond. The award that brings us here today is the International Leadership Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award. The primary is live. As I mentioned when the recording was off, I’m going to start by asking your permission to do the following: I’m asking your permission to record the interview, to transcribe the interview, and to deposit the recording and transcription in several places; in the IUPUI Special Collections and Archives, with the Tobias Center, and with the International Leadership Association with the understanding that both the recording and the transcript can be used by their patrons. That may include posting all or part to their internet sites. Are you okay with that?
Hickman: Yes, I am.
Scarpino: Just by way of explanation for you and for the benefit of anybody who uses this in the future, I’m going to start with some big-picture questions to get the conversation going. I hope they’re fun, and we’ll have a good time with them. Then I’m going to ask you some basic demographics. Then we’re going to talk about your youth and young adulthood, sort of organized around the question: Who is Gill Hickman? Then we’re going to move through your career, more or less chronologically, talking about teaching, publications, and all the things that you did. I will point out, obviously, the reason we’re here together is that you’re a recipient of the International Leadership Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Congratulations on that.
Hickman: Thank you.
Scarpino: So, bigger-picture questions. I actually had some trepidation about asking this first question until I went to the keynote address this morning. For the benefit of anyone listening, our keynote speaker this morning was Ronald Heifetz. He noted among the profession of people who publish on leadership or teach about leadership, he said there is disagreement in the field about the basic terms of reference. Then I felt about the question I’m about to ask you. You spent a lot of your adult life practicing leadership, teaching leadership, writing about leadership, and explaining leadership. In order to get us started, can you define leadership? What is leadership to you?
Hickman: No. (laughter)
Scarpino: I wasn’t expecting that one! (laughter)
Hickman: But I tell you what we do at the Jepson School. We’ll get back to that. I’ve known Ron for a long time, and we have been in the Kellogg Leadership Studies Project together, which was a five-year project for leadership scholars. We spent a lot of that time arguing about whether there is a definition of leadership and whose definition rules. At the Jepson School, we decided to get out of that whole process, and we decided to identify something that we call a family resemblance among all definitions of leadership. So instead of defining it, we said that definitions of leadership identify the fact that it’s a process that involves leaders and followers who are moving together toward a common goal. Those are elements in common among definitions, but we don’t try to define the word itself, and we’re fine with it. Ron is not fine (laughter) with it. It doesn’t bother us. We identify that family resemblance, and we move our students from there. They seem to be okay with that.
Scarpino: You have more of a holistic look where you’re integrating followers and leaders. With that said, are there any qualities that distinguish effective leadership?
Hickman: Well, I’ll tell you – the way I look at leadership, I rarely look at individual leaders. I rarely do that from my perspective, even though I teach organizational leadership, and I write about that. I try to set up a framework that talks about them sharing the process that they’re going to go through, even sharing the way that the organization – the philosophy that the organization is going to have about leadership. So, I don’t particularly look at qualities. I look at what the collective needs to do together. There are going to be people – of course, there are leaders in the process, but it moves. You can be a leader in this context, and you can be a follower in the next. Even within your own organization, you can come into a team process and part of that time you’re in a leadership role, and part of that time you’re not. I think for me – as you know from what I write about, there is a lot of focus on the common purpose. To me, people bring to the common purpose those qualities that they have that are going to push that purpose forward. Whether it’s from the official leader or not is not as important as the fact that together you’ve decided what needs to happen, how much you are committed to it, and then the people who have the capabilities to do different parts of it, do that. I really don’t identify qualities unless – I mean, I can say that certainly you don’t want people in the process who are not honest with each other, who can’t be trusted, but that’s on both sides. You don’t want leaders or participants that don’t meet those. And they’re solidly committed to the reason they’re there, that common purpose.
Scarpino: You talk about a collective process. Is there a process whereby – if the system is working, is there a process whereby a group develops a shared vision?
Hickman: Sure. I think people are drawn to certain organizations because of the vision that organization has, or the way that they understand that organization to operate. I talked yesterday after I received the award about the fact that I was – I didn’t say all of this background, but I was in California reading the Chronicle of Higher Education because I was looking to move back to the East Coast where my family lived. I was divorced, and I was looking to move back. I saw this ad for the Inaugural Dean of the Jepson School. I read the mission about a school where students learn the ethical qualities of leadership, and they go out into the world to serve and use those qualities to better society. I thought – I actually said this out loud – I said, “If I could work anywhere, it would be there, but I don’t want to be the dean.” Been there, done that, don’t want to do that again.
Scarpino: We’re going to talk about that, but you had several stints as an interim dean.
Hickman: I know, I know. So that’s why I knew what I wanted to do at that point and I didn’t want to be dean. So, I put that aside, and I moved on. That common purpose is really what drew me to that job, but I didn’t get into the job until my husband got a position here in Richmond. At the point that he got that position, they were hiring faculty. When I saw that, I told my husband, I said, “That is my job.” And he said, “That’s very egotistical.” I said, “I don’t mean it that way. I mean, that is my job. That is for me. That is what I should be doing in life.”
Scarpino: It was like they wrote it for you.
Hickman: Like they wrote it for me. That’s kind of how I’m drawn to the work, and that’s how I see some people as being drawn to a certain organization or the other. I tell my students that ideally, they will work for organizations where it is a good fit between who they are and what that organization does. But I said, “I’m realistic. I know that early on, you’re going to have to work wherever they give you a job.” I said, “But, you keep your eye on that goal.” Going back to your issue, I think that it’s best to be drawn to the work by what that organization does. The question again? Give me. . .
Scarpino: I asked you, looking at a system where leaders and followers are developing a common purpose, is there a process for developing that common purpose?
Hickman: Yeah. So, when you get to the job – I mean, it could be in different phases of development. When I went to the Jepson School, it was all curriculum on paper. Nobody had ever taught the courses. We hadn’t set up the structure. That’s one level of figuring it out. No matter what level, when you come into the organization, whether it’s a young or old established organization, I think you should be able to contribute to that vision. We revisit our vision a lot leadership studies. We revisit our purpose, and over time it has changed slightly. It hasn’t gone away from its original values, but we invite the new people who come in to challenge it, to put part of their stamp on it. I know organizations don’t always do that. A lot of times, somebody in a room writes up a vision, and then they say, “This is the vision,” but I don’t think that’s the best way of going about it. I think you need to engage new people in what you do so that they have that personal internal commitment. Those are just my thoughts on it.
Scarpino: You mean vision works if people feel a sense of buy-in?
Hickman: Not just buy-in; ownership. We felt when we came to it that we owned the Jepson School in our hearts and minds and the way it was going to go. Things happened along the way that could have dismantled the school, but we picked up the ball and we kept it rolling in between deans, and in between things like that because that was our commitment. We owned that school. And that’s what we want people to think about when they’re going into jobs, or as they move up the career ladder – where do I want to be that’s so close to alignment with what I believe that I own that? I’m not just buying into somebody else’s vision.
Scarpino: If you look at leadership as a process that involves leaders and followers and development of a collective sense of purpose, and so on, how do you assess whether or not it’s working? How do you assess the effectiveness of the process?
Hickman: I had a chance to try some of this out in my own leadership. I did it within a bureaucratic context. A lot of people say, “Well, I can’t do that. I work in a bureaucracy.” Coming from a public administration background, everything was a bureaucracy that I worked in practically (laughter). But it didn’t stop me from – if you’re in a leadership role, part of what you get to do is define how you’re going to lead in that role. One of the first things I did was have everybody write out what they were doing at the time and what they hoped to do, what was working and what was not working, and what they needed help with. Every member of the staff, from the clerical staff on through, came together in the retreat. We went around the room and we had everybody talk about this. We talked about what were the stumbling blocks, what is getting in your way / what will get in your way to try to accomplish this. People put that out there. It was just kind of remarkable because a lot of people didn’t know what the other people did, particularly the support staff. The professional staff didn’t know what the support staff did and that they had timelines, and they had things that had to happen at certain times, and the faculty’s timelines. And they started putting things together. They start seeing the whole of this organization; how it works, why it works, what we were trying to achieve. Then they started helping each other. After a while, I was just sitting there because they were saying, “Oh, well I know a person over at such-and-such a place that does this.” So, every so many months, we would get together and do this. I knew it was working because each person talked about to what extent they achieved their goals, what was getting in the way of that, who needed to help to move it. We were accomplishing what had to be done. For the most part, I wasn’t telling them what to do. Most people want to do a good job at what they’re doing. They need support, they need the structure to do it, they need the trust to do it. That’s how I operated. I thought my job was to build a context for this, to build a context so that I convene the right people together so that I made it safe for them to talk about what was working, what was not working, and where they needed help. I really didn’t have to do performance evaluations because they were doing it themselves. They were saying what got accomplished and what didn’t. It made it easy for me to do the evaluations. The other thing I found is that people really didn’t want to let their peers down. The convening process and trying to bring forth all the support that people need to do the work, and then seeing that that work was accomplished – I knew that it was working. I’ll give you an example. We needed to hire someone. I can’t even remember what we needed that person to do. I had my list of what I had accomplished, what I hadn’t accomplished, and what the problems were. One thing on my list was to hire a person in to do this job. So, I came into work one day a few weeks later and they said, “Well, Gill, here’s your new employee. We interviewed him, hired him, and here he is.” I was like, “Yes!” (laughter) “Yes, it’s definitely working!” If I had to be away for some reason, the fact that everything went on like clockwork and I didn’t really have to worry about it – when they don’t need you anymore, except to keep that holding environment for them, then you know it’s working.
Scarpino: Would I be reading too much into this to say that part of your own success was your ability to build a team?
Hickman: Yeah, to build a group of people who can really trust each other, depend on each other, and who became more and more engaged as they could see that they were in charge of the work. One of the things I did, I tried to be really honest with them about things; we were short-staffed, and in a bureaucracy, they will tell you, “You know, we don’t have any money,” or “We don’t have a position.” One thing that my supervisor said to me is, “Well, I know this is backwards, but you have to prove that you can do the work before we give you a position to do it.” (laughter) So, I went back to my staff, and I said, “This is unfair. We’re going to have to work all out to prove that we need this work in order to get the position.” I said, “It’s backwards. I think it’s ridiculous. But let me promise you this: If we work all out and they don’t give us that position, I’m not going to ask that of you anymore. We’ll come back and figure out how we can do the best that we can do without that position.”
Scarpino: That also reflects trust.
Scarpino: One of the things you had to do was establish trust, build trust.
Hickman: Definitely build a tremendous amount of trust. I was willing to follow through with that if it hadn’t happened. The other thing is, I believe that people establish rules because at one point in time they were probably needed. But I revisit them all the time. I’m a counter-bureaucracy person in that way in that I figure somebody made the rules so somebody can change them, and I will volunteer for that job. So, of course, like most organizations, you have times when the office should be open, from 8:00 to 5:00 or whatever. So, I came in one day, and I said, “You know, the office has to be open from 8:00 to 5:00, but that doesn’t mean that everybody has to be here from 8:00 to 5:00.” I said, “You decide every day who’s going to be here by 8:00, and you can rotate that. I don’t care. We just have to have the office open.” That’s the way – you know, I mean, I just don’t think in set terms about how one has to go about doing something. I think, “Let’s figure out how to make this happen without disadvantaging one group or the other.” Why does this one clerical staff member have to be the one that’s here every day at 8:00? That’s how we operated.
Scarpino: The model of leadership that you sketched out is really one that applies to organizations.
Scarpino: So, suppose you’re, I don’t know, the mayor of a city or the governor of a state, president or prime minister of a country, you probably have a staff, so you have to work with them, but I would assume that your followers then would be the citizens, some of whom may have voted for you, and some of them may not have voted for you. How do you make it work with a bigger universe of followers and a more diverse universe of followers?
Hickman: I think that part of the problem with this is that people don’t invite everyone to the table that needs to be there. Then they don’t listen to why that person is there and what is it they need from the process. So, I would use a similar process, but starting off by inviting people to the table, and then talking about why their presence is so essential, letting them talk about why their presence is essential at the table. Again, starting with this trust-building process because it really doesn’t matter whether you agree with me or you don’t agree with me. It’s the fact that your voice should be represented there. Together, even with these differences – as you get to know somebody, it’s difficult to not like – I mean, you may not like a certain personality, but it’s difficult to hate somebody sitting right next to you, and you work with them every day, and you have to depend on them to get the work done. I’ve had employees like that. I had an employee that – I was – my first personnel director job. I was 25. My immediate professional assistant was 64. She had been a person in the office that sabotaged everything. She was a person that felt that she was never going to be the director, but she could have power by sabotaging things and by holding things in her own area that nobody else knew how to do. She had personnel directors in the middle of the office telling them off, all kinds of crazy stuff like this. Definitely, she was not ready for me to be (laughter) the Human Resource Director. So, everybody came to me and told me what a terrible person she was, what a horrible challenge she was. In fact, she did try to do a number of things to undermine me and other people in the office, but she was the person I had to depend on. She was my professional staff person. I needed her. So, I brought her in and I basically expressed that, that “I need you. I need your experience,” on and on. I believe in you’re trying to separate as much as possible a personality type that you don’t like versus their capacity to do what needs to be done. So, to the greatest extent possible, I did that with her. So, she came in one day – because people didn’t like her, they punished her in ways that they had power over. So, one of the ways they punished her was not letting her take her vacation time when she asked for it. So, she came into my office one day and she said, “You know, I like to get together with my family at Christmastime, and I like to take this time off.” I said, “Absolutely!” I said, “I think people should take their vacations when they want them and need them unless there is some dire crisis.” That started to turn her around because people punished her for what they didn’t like about her. So, I’m saying that you really have to get to know the person, and you have to be fair with that person. You don’t have to love them. You don’t have to like their personality, but you have to respect them as a human being. Once you do that, a lot of barriers fall away.
Scarpino: You yourself have had a considerable amount of experience as a leader. I mean, it may be the leader of a team, but you have been in a number of leadership positions.
Scarpino: Do you think of yourself as a leader? What I’m really after here is that when you were teaching leadership, did you model leadership in the classroom based upon your life experiences?
Hickman: Actually, I wrote an article on that – modeling leadership in the classroom. (laughter) Oh, you read it? Okay. Yeah, I did. I knew I was in a leadership role. I mean, I always know when I’m in a leadership role, but I don’t think I usually live up to what people think people do in leadership roles. I don’t try. I know what I would like to do when I come in there, and I’m not trying to live up to anybody else’s concept of leadership. So, yeah, I would tell my students early on – and I would write this in the syllabus, but it would take a while for this to sink in – that we are all going to do some of the same things. You and I will do some teaching. You and I will do some learning. You and I will do some development of activities. All of that. At first – as a matter of fact, they put together a book for me from my former students and presented it to me last night, of comments they made. One of the most striking ones for me was that I had a student say to me, “When I first entered your classroom, you told us that we were expected to be fully engaged in our learning, and it wasn’t going to be from me telling them what they should know, but from them getting involved in what they should know.” He said, “At first, I thought that was a cop-out, thinking that, you know, you just didn’t want to teach kind of thing.” And he said, “Once I got engaged in that and realized how much I learned, I knew it wasn’t a cop-out.” That’s basically what I think of when I’m in any leadership role. I also respect the intelligence of the group because followers are not sub-leaders. They’re as intelligent and capable as I am; I just happen to be in a leadership role at that time. I respect their intelligence, so I put it to work.
Scarpino: When you look at teaching that way, do you think it’s easier or harder to teach when you bring the students into the process?
Hickman: It’s both easier and harder (laughter), and that’s not a cop-out answer. The easier part is, at a certain point in the semester, they truly take over, and I just sit there and watch in amazement the incredible, outstanding things that they do that I never would have thought of that comes from their own imaginations and creativity. But, putting it together is very hard. For example, the way I teach theories and models of leadership is that I bring in all those theories that generally bore people to death, and I say, “I have recruited five, or four or five, organizations, and I would like for you do a leadership assessment in these organizations. These organizations have real issues, and what you do has consequences. They’re going to use the information that you come up with, and so this is not just classroom learning. This is real life.” Then I say, “We’re going to take these theories, and we’re going to apply them to these organizations where you do the leadership assessment,” and I said, “If theories are not useful, they’re not good theories. And we’re going to figure out which ones really help, and which ones are not that useful.” So, then each group of four to five gets an organization. They have an interview scheduled where they have to interview people at all levels of the organization. I do design the questionnaire because they don’t have a concept of how that’s supposed to come together until the end. So, they do all these interviews, they keep the notes. Then at the end, they put it together to feed back the information to the organization, but with the overlay of which theories help, where there are gaps in the organization, where there are problems, recommend what they need to do to fix them. They put that in a report form, but they also – I have them invite the organization in, and they deliver it to the organization. By the time they do this, the organization is just in awe. “How could you understand us this well?” and they’re taking notes when the students are giving the recommendations. They take these reports, go back, and implement them. The students are just in awe.
Scarpino: Part of the learning process is you giving your students real-world clients to work with.
Hickman: Real-world clients to work with. These theories are just not things you memorize and put on the test. These are things that they have tested in an organization.
Scarpino: When you were in the process of developing your career, which in my mind I would actually divide into parts – I mean, you were working in Human Resources and then went to leadership – did you have mentors. . .
Hickman: Oh yes.
Scarpino: . . . people who helped you out along the way?
Hickman: Oh yeah. I had phenomenal mentors. The mentoring started in my second job more so than my first job. In my second job at the California State University system, when I went in, I was the youngest professional they had. I was the only professional of color in that unit.
Scarpino: How about female professionals? Did they have very many of them?
Hickman: Actually, they had a high-level female professional in that unit. The number two person was a female, but she was much older. I was in my early twenties, and the people at the top were in their sixties. The white male who was at the top of this organization, everybody was terrified of him. The power positions were very clear. His office and his number two person was physically separated from the rest of us. We had to walk down the hall, and go into the inner sanctum, and that kind of thing. Everybody had warned me that he was kind of a tyrant-type and whatever, but I actually was accepted into the PhD program at the same time. I was just 26. I found out that USC’s program was a full-time, daytime program, and I had a full-time, daytime job. So, I called his office and I asked his secretary to schedule a lunch, that I would like to take him out to lunch. I said, “Where is his favorite place?” and we went out to lunch. I said, “I really do like this job. I would really love to stay in this job, but I have been admitted to the PhD program, and they made it clear that this is a full-time, daytime program. And I wonder what kind of accommodations we can make for me to do it, or else I know I’ll have to find a different kind of job.” I mean, I just laid it out on the table. He said, “I have been waiting for a young professional in my area to want to do this.” There was nobody else, no other professionals at my level working on a doctorate or whatever. He had a doctorate and actually helped write one of the key textbooks in that field and that kind of thing. He was elated. Now, I didn’t know how he was going to react. I thought, “We’ll see.” He became my mentor. He told me, “I’m going to do everything in my power to help you and support you,” and he did. He started taking me to trustee meetings. I was a member of a professional society at that point, and I held an office. I said, “Well, how does this work?” I said, “I need to go to these professional meetings. Does the organization sponsor me in that role, or how. . .” “Oh, sure!” Because other people had not been doing this, and people were afraid to ask. That’s one thing, I’m not afraid to ask anything of anybody.
Scarpino: Would you say that’s one of your distinguishing qualities is that you’re willing to step up and ask?
Hickman: Well, I mean, this is passed down through generations in my family. My grandmother taught my mother that they can only say no. Just ask the question. So, they’re going to say yes or no, and the worst thing that can happen is they’re going to say no. So, my mother passed that to me, and that’s probably yes because most people – people in that office were just absolutely terrified of this man.
Scarpino: After that experience, did you mentor others?
Hickman: Oh yeah, I mean, I can’t even think – I’m still doing it today. People actually write to me. I had a woman write to me through LinkedIn the other day and say, “I just want a little bit of your time to help me think about where I take my career next.” I think giving that back to others is – when you have so much, you need to share that with other people. I love it. I love doing it with my students, with other professionals. I had two mentors. I had a highly-placed white male mentor, and I had a highly-placed black female mentor. So, I had two. It was perfect for me because it gave me both sides, and it advanced my career tremendously. I mean, just moved it along fast.
Scarpino: Do you feel any particular commitment to mentor women or people of color?
Hickman: Oh sure. Yeah. Absolutely. Especially women and people of color don’t always get that opportunity. They don’t know how to ask for that opportunity. I tell my students, “You need mentors, and if there isn’t a mentoring program, you create one for yourself.” You know, you just ask people. They’re so willing, usually, to help you. It’s flattering to them, and it really helps them give back. I said, “But to get where I’ve been, I had to have a mentor that was like me and one that was unlike me.” I had to learn how power was used, and what works well. As wonderful as this first mentor was to me, he had some awful characteristics. He was a bully. That’s why people were afraid of him. He was a bully. People were afraid to stand up to him. I just didn’t have that way of thinking. The first, and only, run-in we ever had was I had sent something to his office that he requested. He called me and said, “I lost the work that you sent me. Can you bring me another one?” and I said, “Oh, certainly.” So, I went to the copy machine, and somebody was using it. So, I stood there until they finished, and then I used it. Then when I got back to my office, he called me back, and he said, “I asked for such-and-such-a-thing, and when I ask you for something, I want it right then!” Bang! Hung up the phone. I guess other people would have gone running down there trying to pacify him. I thought, “Oh well!” (laughter). . .
Scarpino: . . . He’ll get over it.
Hickman: . . . That’s pretty crazy, but . . . Then the next day – he didn’t leave it alone – the next day, he came down to my office and he mentioned it again. I said, “Well, when I went to the copy machine, there was somebody ahead of me, and I didn’t feel that I could just throw them off the machine. So, you know, I wasn’t procrastinating. I just could not do it at that minute.” Well, people just didn’t say things back to him. He didn’t say too much. He just walked out.
Scarpino: Were you surprised when this, at that time, really old, older than me, white guy said he would mentor you, and was eager to do it?
Hickman: Yes! Absolutely! I really didn’t know that it would wind up having him as a mentor, but I just went and asked for something I truly needed. I was ready to take the consequences that I might have to get another job in order to finish my PhD. He had seen my work by then, and he trusted it. He did not want me to leave. He told me he was going to expose me to things that I needed to know in the organization, and that really prompted my career.
Scarpino: I’m going to ask you a couple more general questions. One, just to make it work, I’m going to play off something that James MacGregor Burns wrote in his 1978 volume Leadership. He said, page 2 if somebody wants to look it up. . .
Hickman: . . . I know that book well. I know him well. I knew him well.
Scarpino: I was privileged to meet him and interview him. He is a really nice – was a nice man.
Hickman: He was a wonderful person.
Scarpino: So, he said, “There is, in short, no school of leadership intellectual or practical. Does it matter that we lack standards for assessing past, present, and potential leaders?” This was in 1978. Since then, of course, you know the field and literature and everything has exploded, but have we reached the point where we have standards for assessing past, present, and future leaders, or past, present, and potential leaders? Do we have the tools to do that with what has been published since 1978?
Hickman: Well, we certainly don’t have a standard set of tools to do that. Barbara Kellerman, along with my colleague in the Jepson School who is into leadership ethics, Joanne Ciulla, said something that I thought was very significant. They said, “Good leadership is both effective and ethical; not one without the other.” I think it’s a good lens through which – it’s not a set of tools where you check off that he did this or she did that or whatever, but it certainly is a good way to evaluate whether that leadership is both effective and ethical because you can certainly have effective without ethical and ethical without effective. But when you have those two things together, you have a good basis for looking at somebody’s leadership capability.
Scarpino: As I just mentioned, one of the things that stands out about the field that you have been in for so many years is the proliferation of literature: books, articles, studies, and so on and so forth. If we take your own work and set it aside for a minute, given the huge number of books that are available that someone could read on the subject, which books, say three or four, would you recommend somebody start with? What are the must-reads?
Hickman: Okay. Well, it’s interesting when we went to the Jepson School, we had a stack of must-reads that we were given, and then we would sit around and discuss them. Certainly, Jim’s book was one of them. Depending on what kind of leadership you’re in, but – ethics, leadership and ethics is a very important area. My colleague Joanne Ciulla has a volume on leadership ethics that I think is really fundamental. I’ll tell you the work that influenced me the most when I came into the field was the work on followership that Robert Kelley did because his work started to give me a way of thinking about what I had conceived leadership as all the time. He would say in his writings things about: Leaders and followers do leadership. I thought, “Yes!” Then he said, “Leader and follower are just two roles. You can be leader in one setting and follower in another.” Then he talked about carrying out the responsibility of each role as you’re in that role. That was a big influence on me. Subsequently, he published an article in 1988 about – it was on followership, and I can’t even remember the whole title of it now. It’ll come to me. But then he published a book in that field. I think people need to read that because people don’t think about leadership and followership in that way. They think, “Would you rather be a leader or a follower? And if you’re a follower, you’re a sheep.” He gave a framework – I don’t know if you have already read this, but he gave a four-part framework. He had sheep over here. He had effective followers here. An effective follower is just like a leader. They carry out with a lot of independence the role that needs to be carried out and the work that needs to be carried out. They’re a support system to the leader. They are equal with the leader, but they have a different role at that point in time. That – I thought, “Okay. This person really says what I’m thinking about.” You know, we have become great friends over the years. That influenced me tremendously, and I think people should read that. I’m trying to think of other things that I would have them read. Of course, I am very influenced by shared leadership, and there are a number of articles on shared leadership that I think people should read. I’m blocking names today like crazy, but I think they should read about shared leadership. Not because leaders aren’t important, but people need to kind of turn the pyramid upside down for a while and think in a different way about this. There’s a lot about leaders. There is no end to that. But you need to shake up mindsets that it can only be this way, and that you’ve got to have this charismatic person on the top that can tell everybody what to do. Those are the kind of readings I would say do. Dick Couto, one of my colleagues – do you know Dick?
Scarpino: I do know him.
Hickman: He would say, “There are books that are read in airports, and then there are books that are written in airports.” (laughter) Some of the leadership things out there seem like books written in the airport. Look for books that really have a scholarly base. They have research. There is just effective, solid thinking behind their concepts and not just platitudes, you know, eight ways to do this. You have to read broadly because it crosses so many fields. I would read the book on followership, on shared leadership, and then I think you should get familiar with your history about how leadership theories have developed, what the leadership – how we got from great man to shared and e-leadership and things like that. You will notice in my textbook there is a collective of readings. I would say I would like to see people read broadly. Now, this is around organizational leadership, but in Jepson, we have two intro courses. One is Leadership in the Humanities, and one is Leadership in the Social Sciences. I would recommend that people read across both of those areas.
Scarpino: Just playing off of what you said about followership and shared leadership, in the present when we can hardly turn on the TV or get on the internet or whatever and somebody is complaining about a crisis of leadership, is it a crisis at the top, or is it a crisis of followers, or some combination thereof? What’s going on?
Hickman: Yeah. It’s some combination thereof because, first of all, I think we the people who send other people to lead should not be passive in this process. First of all, we should know that in the presidency, nobody leads by himself and herself maybe, because they have this whole team of experts. This is the way life is now. One person is not going to know enough to make all these decisions. So, you have this team, and we have the checks and balances in our system. As people in participatory roles, along with leadership, we need to understand sending leaders to represent us who we know will have to deal with at least two other branches of government, no matter where they are, and what’s possible for them to deliver and not deliver; and we need to educate ourselves more about the process and then demand people be there, or not stay there, if they’re not working cooperatively in the process, if they’re not fighting for the values that they say they believe in and that you also align yourself with. We have to hold them accountable. We can’t just say, “Oh, the leadership is terrible.” Well, who are we sending there? That’s one thing. Then the leaders – somebody once asked me if I would run for public office and they said, “You’re the kind of person we would really need.” I said, “No, I’m not.” I said, “Nobody wants to hear…” – you realize that if I go to Congress, I will have to work with other people, make deals, compromises. I can’t just say I’m going to do this. I can say this is what I believe in, and this is what I’m going to go to fight for, but I can’t say I’m going to deliver this. Like Ron Heifetz said today, people want to be lied to. Well, that’s on us. Then the fact that then you have people stepping up to the plate who are willing to lie to us, that’s on them too. We are each responsible for one-half of that process. So, I think it’s definitely both, but I think that if people who ran for office knew that people wouldn’t stand for that, then they wouldn’t do it so readily. But, you know, we let them get away with platitudes. We look at their commercials. We don’t read. We don’t find out anything about them. And sometimes we don’t know our own values and what we want people to represent on our behalf. So, there’s equal responsibility on that part.
Scarpino: One more general question: You joined the Jepson School in 1992 . . .
Scarpino: You were clearly a pioneer in developing leadership education. As you pointed out, the courses were titles on pieces of paper, but they hadn’t been developed yet. But since 1992, leadership studies and leadership programs have proliferated. Question: Should leadership be taught more widely than just in leadership programs, or dedicated classes? Should leadership be taught in high schools or colleges as part of a regular curriculum?
Hickman: We help those kinds of programs get started. We felt that, given all the resources that we had, that somebody donated $20 million to build the building and staff a program and all of that, that we should share. So, we invited anybody who wanted to come to Jepson to come, sit in, and have conversations with us. We didn’t expect them all to pattern their program after us, but they could at least see what we have been doing and going through and trying to get settled. Then, especially in the early years, we took on K-12 programs, integrating leadership into these programs. Several years, we had institutes for teachers. We taught K-12 to integrate -- we taught sessions to help them integrate leadership thinking and concepts into their courses. I worked with – particularly Georgia Sorenson and I and several people in the leadership scholars program worked with the Leadership Training Institute at John F. Kennedy High School in Montgomery County, Maryland where they had started a leadership program. We helped them with their curriculum. Our students went out to schools and helped them develop the curriculum, helped students. So yes, this should be something that’s proliferated throughout the society. I think if we had more of that, people would be less willing to stand for what they get in certain leadership roles.
Scarpino: When you talked about the leadership scholars, you were talking about the Kellogg. . .
Hickman: . . . Kellogg Leadership Scholars Program, yes.
Scarpino: Now I’ll ask you some easy questions to put some demographics in the record. When and where were you born?
Hickman: Baltimore, Maryland, March 28, 1948. Georgia asked me, “Is Baltimore a part of your life?” I’ve never – most people don’t know that because . . .
Scarpino: . . . That’s how she found out (laughing).
Hickman: Yes, because my parents - well, she didn’t reveal too much. She just asked me if Baltimore was a part of my background, and I said, ”Yeah, most people don’t know this because my parents divorced when I was three and I moved from Baltimore. So, I don’t talk about it that much because I don’t know that much about it.” But yeah, that’s where I was born.
Scarpino: I was chuckling because I asked her to verify that you were born in Baltimore. She said, “Gee, I don’t know.” A few hours later, she emailed me back and said, “That’s right.” I figured she probably called you. Your parents named you Gill.
Scarpino: Where did they get that name? Why did they name their daughter Gill in 1948?
Hickman: I have a very smart mother, a very smart mother. She gave this considerable thought. She decided – well, she was a black woman growing up in Alabama and she had faced discrimination. She decided that she did not want anybody to know what gender I was, or probably you can’t even tell what race by the name. She did not want me to be discriminated against before I walked in the door. Gill is part of my father’s middle name, which is Gillespie. She took the Gill part and gave it to me. She said, “Now, people will not know until you show up.” That has worked my entire life. I mean, especially when you send in an application, and they look through your credentials, and then they call you to the interview. So, every time, people are like, “Ahh,” and they have said, “We didn’t expect you.” A lot of times, since I went to predominately white schools and all of that and I lived maybe close to that area, they just couldn’t guess.
Scarpino: Huh. So, she thought this through and came up with a gender-neutral, I don’t know what a racial-neutral name is, so that people couldn’t figure out who you were until you presented yourself.
Hickman: Right. Because my maiden name was Daniels. So, Gill Daniels. What does that tell you? Nothing.
Scarpino: It sounds like a movie star’s name. (laughter).
Hickman: It tells a lot of people that I’m a white male because of where I went to school and whatever. I figure I get a fair shake most of the time.
Scarpino: Your mom was born in Alabama.
Hickman: Yes, she was, in Bessemer, Alabama.
Scarpino: Bessemer is located where?
Hickman: It’s just a few miles outside of Birmingham. It’s like a suburb of Birmingham.
Scarpino: Bessemer – that’s a steel-making process. Was her family involved with the steel mills?
Hickman: No, no. My grandfather – I think she said for a very short period of time he worked in the mines, but that was very short. They were from a rural town, my grandparents, called Greensboro, Alabama. It’s about 100 miles from Birmingham. They actually owned their own land and owned their own farm and sent their five children through college. My mom – one of the reasons that she knew this so well is – my mom was a First Lieutenant Army nurse in World War II. She served with the Tuskegee Airmen.
Hickman: She has a Congressional Gold Medal.
Hickman: Before I was born, she had been an Army nurse in World War II. One of her patients was General Patton. So, this lady. . .
Scarpino: . . .So, she served overseas in a combat zone?
Hickman: She did not. General Patton was sent stateside for some reason when he was injured. So, she knew what it was like to pioneer because there were very few women officers, black women officers. She knew what it was like to be discriminated against because she was female and because she was a woman. Where she received her nursing training, at Grey Memorial right here in Atlanta, they had a black class and a white class. They had white teachers, but they were segregated in their classes. So, she had experienced it and still achieved, still become a First Lieutenant and whatever. She had a lot of experience by the time she had to name me, and she thought it through well. She was a bright woman.
Scarpino: Good for her. But you left Baltimore at the age of three and moved to Birmingham, so you actually grew up in Birmingham. Is that right?
Hickman: Actually, yes, I did grow up in Birmingham, but when I left Baltimore, I went to live with my grandparents for four years in rural Alabama. So, what a big change because back when I was little, my mom was a working professional and there was very little childcare. She was able to pay for childcare. She was able to pay for somebody to come in and be with me, but she could not get consistent, good-quality childcare. So, my grandparents suggested that she send me to them until my mom could move closer to Alabama. She moved there and started working at the Veteran’s Hospital in Birmingham. She met my stepfather. They got married. After they got married, I moved with them. I was seven or eight.
Scarpino: Your grandparents lived in rural Alabama. What did they do for a living?
Hickman: They were farmers. They owned their own land. They owned lots of land, actually. My mom and my aunts and uncles have written this family history. Apparently, one of my grandfathers, great-grandfathers learned how to bake when he was in slavery. He would go around with the person who owned them and sell these cookies and baked goods and whatever. Once slavery was over, he continued to do that because he had already established a relationship with the clients. He was one of the first people to own land in Hale County, Alabama. He started buying these acres of land. My grandparents were well respected, even though they were black, even though it was a segregated system. They were landowners. . .
Scarpino: . . . But the money to buy the land came from your great-grandfather’s baking.
Scarpino: Were they raising cotton?
Hickman: They did raise cotton. They had cows, cotton and corn. They had a big enough farm where they were able to hire farmhands to work for them.
Scarpino: Did you as a small child work on the farm?
Hickman: Absolutely not! They would not let me. (laughter) They were like – my mother still laughs about this. They’d say, “No, no, no, baby. Go sit over there in the shade. You can’t do this.” They would not let me do it. I wanted to. I would beg them. I was like “I want to try.” “No, no, no. You go sit over in the shade.” But my mom did, my mom and her siblings. He sent all his kids to college. Some of my grandmother’s siblings went to college as well because after my grandfather was able to make this money and whatever, they lived a really good life. They built a nice home. My grandmother was a society lady who entertained Mrs. Booker T. Washington. . .
Scarpino: . . . Gee!
Hickman: . . . and things like that. Yeah, they did well. That’s on my mother’s side. On my father’s side, three generations of college graduates. My grandparents met on a college campus.
Scarpino: Also from Alabama?
Hickman: That side of the family is from South Carolina – Orangeburg, South Carolina where South Carolina State and other historically black colleges are.
Scarpino: Do you have any brothers and sisters?
Hickman: I do. I have two half-brothers. I was an only child for eight years, and then when my mother remarried, had two more siblings. However, we’re all eight years apart. It’s kind of like we’re all only children (laughter). I mean, you know. So, my mom had my brother when I was eight. Then when I was sixteen, she had another child. So, we’re all eight years apart.
Scarpino: Your mom, after she got out of the service, became a nurse.
Hickman: She was a nurse before she went in the service.
Scarpino: But I meant she was a civilian. . .
Hickman: . . . Oh, yeah, yeah.
Scarpino: Then when she went to Birmingham, she had a job in the V.A. Hospital as a nurse. What did your stepdad do?
Hickman: He was a teacher. It was interesting. The disparity in salaries were based on race, and so black teachers did not make a lot of money. They made less money than white teachers, so he also worked in the Post Office. We had three jobs -- incomes coming into our household, which meant we never wanted for anything. We were just very privileged.
Scarpino: You talked a little bit about your mom, but I’ve a feeling there is more there. What impact did your mother have on you as you became an adult, and also as you began to think about what it meant to lead?
Hickman: Oh, she was always my role model. Whenever people would ask that question, you know, “Who’s your role model,” and these people would come up with celebrities and whatever, I’d say “My mom.” You know, hands down, my mom. She was here yesterday when I got the award. I just look up to her because she has so many wonderful qualities. I remember one of the theories in leadership has to do with achievement motive – McClelland, I think it is – who said that the way you raise high achievers is you give them a task to do that is above their ability, but not so far above their ability that they can’t do it, but it stretches them. Well, that’s the way I was brought up. I mean, my mom always had all this confidence that I could do things, and so she gave them to me to do. Then in the segregated South, in the black community, anyone who had capabilities, the whole community nurtured that: your church, your school, your parents. They didn’t wait for you to volunteer for things; they volunteered you. If they knew you had certain capabilities or they wanted to develop those capabilities, they just – for example, a lot of my teachers would say, “Okay, Gill, you’re going to deliver this speech.” “What? I don’t like public speaking.” “Oh no, you’re going to deliver that.” Okay. Then one day my minister said, “I want to develop the youth in this church, so I’m going to turn the Sunday school over to the youth, and Gill, you’re going to teach the adult class.” “What?” I said. “My mother is in that class!”
Scarpino: Approximately how old were old then?
Hickman: Fourteen, fifteen, something like that.
Scarpino: What church did you go to?
Hickman: This was a Baptist church at this point. So, I said, “Well, let’s see. What do I have to do?” I started reading all these sources. I was terrified. I mean, all these older people in my class, and they had been studying the Bible for years, and I’m fourteen. That’s when I started learning to teach and didn’t realize it because I had to read different sources so I would understand what I was going to teach. This is the way it was in that community. People really supported you and nurtured your capabilities. That’s what got lost in integration. Of course, I wouldn’t go backwards and purposely have segregation, but you had a group of people who believed in you, who nurtured you, who didn’t question your intelligence because of what your skin color was. So, I carried that with me into adulthood. The other benefit – you asked about where leadership is coming from – the other benefit was having lived with my grandparents for four years, my aunts and uncles were in college. They were coming in and out of my life, and I became like the baby sister of their family. My aunts and uncles were here yesterday. I had a whole village that brought me up.
Scarpino: It must have been nice to have that whole village here when you received that award.
Hickman: It was. It was wonderful. When I said that I stand on these people’s shoulders every day from what I do, I’m not kidding. They nurtured me, they were as invested in me as my parents, and so, I mean, it really – what it does – unconditional love gives you total self-confidence. You don’t start to doubt who you are or why you are who you are. It’s not cocky. It’s just that you know that somebody believes that you have what it takes, and they’re going to support it and nurture it. Other people can tell you anything they want to.
Scarpino: But it also seems as though they really expected you to measure up.
Hickman: Well, you know, it didn’t feel like pressure though. I was looking at them. Here they were all graduating from – I went to a lot of their graduations. Here they were graduating from college. Who they put the pressure on was their own kids because they expected their kids to be me.
Hickman: I didn’t realize how much pressure that was until I got older and I talked to my cousins about this. But they all reached the mark.
Scarpino: But growing up in that environment with all that positive reinforcement and all that encouragement to do well surely had to shape the adult you became.
Hickman: Oh, it totally shaped the adult I became.
Scarpino: It sounds a little bit like the description of leadership that you started off with at the beginning of this interview.
Hickman: I guess that’s why I believe in the collective so much because I’ve seen it work so well. I saw it work in the Civil Rights Movement. All these people who think that Martin Luther King was the person that generated all this action – I mean, a group of women in Montgomery invited him in to become the spokesperson for the movement. These women were already leading. They passed out the flyers to announce the Montgomery Bus Boycott. They organized that. Martin Luther King – you can’t take anything from him, he was a wonderful leader, but people came to that leadership because they wanted to, because they believed in that purpose.
Scarpino: Sort of a magical case study of followership too, isn’t it?
Hickman: It is, absolutely. Absolutely.
Scarpino: We talked about your mother and your stepfather, your grandparents, your pastor. Were there other people that you encountered while you were growing up that had a significant impact on the adult you became? People who really stand out?
Hickman: Oh, my teachers. They were just incredible. I went to a high school where there was one counselor for the whole school. I forget how many students there were in that school, but a couple thousand maybe. She knew every single one of us. Again, they didn’t send out a notice saying, “Oh, we have the opportunity for this volunteer.” No. She would come to your classroom and call you out and say, “Gill, there is a program called A Better Chance that sends African-American students from the segregated South to boarding schools in the East. You are a candidate. I want you to apply for that. Here is the application.”
Scarpino: You went to school in Massachusetts.
Hickman: I went to a boarding school in Massachusetts, in Lenox, Massachusetts.
Scarpino: I’m going to ask you about that in a minute, but it seemed like a good idea to get it in the record now. So, you grew up in Birmingham. I’m trying to do the math here in my head. You were born in 1948. By the early 1960s, you were thirteen, fourteen years old. I’m just going to put a little bit of information here in the record for anybody who uses this because, minus this context, they’re not going to get it. I’m just going to talk about Birmingham. Mother’s Day 1961, the Freedom Riders arrived in Birmingham. The Commissioner of Public Safety was a guy named Bull Connor. Well, that’s not his given name. We will get to that in a minute.
Hickman: That’s the only name – Eugene Bull Connor I think is his name.
Scarpino: He allowed the KKK to terrorize these people, and then they did. In 1963, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, led by people like Martin Luther King, Fred Shuttlesworth, but as you pointed out, all of the local people, all of the followers who made this happen, organized a protest to call national attention to segregation in Birmingham. So, once again, the infamous Bull Connor stood against these attempts. Fire hoses, police dogs were shown on television. Martin Luther King is arrested and wrote the famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” all of which certainly contributed to the passage by the United States Congress of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. So, that’s a quick history lesson for anybody who is listening to this, and for a little context for you. You grew up in Birmingham, both in the period of Jim Crow, and – were you still there in the early 1960s, or had you gone on to high school in Massachusetts?
Hickman: I went to high school in 1964.
Scarpino: You were there for 1961 and 1963. What stands out in your mind about growing up in Birmingham in that time period, particularly the period when people were really pushing hard against Jim Crow?
Hickman: What stands out for me the most, and I think it colors everything I think about leadership, is the way that as a young person we could contribute to that change – at any age, at any stage – but young people were particularly in a position to contribute to that change. A lot of people’s parents were in positions where they could not afford to boycott because they would lose their jobs, but we actually skipped school to participate, and with a nod from our teachers. I mean, they didn’t say, “Yeah, you can skip school,” but our teachers were all on our side. Unfortunately, I was very sick during that time. I have lupus now, and I had my first lupus episode, but nobody knew it. I was sent to the hospital. They ran tests. They did not know what was going on. I was sick, so I could not go down to march where they turned the dogs and fire hoses. But I did all the other things I could do – like if they said that the buses were desegregated, I went to try it out. I would sneak away from my parents because I didn’t ride the bus. My parents tried to shelter me from the harshness. Most middle-class parents tried to shelter their kids from the harshness of segregation. They would drive me to places I had to go. They would take me out of the city on vacations. But when I heard them say that the buses were now integrated, I was going to try it out. I went down and got on the bus. A friend of mine and I were talking about this this summer; we went down together, we got on and sat on the front of the bus. They had these bench seats that faced each other on the front. I went and sat down. This little old white lady comes on the bus. She looks at us sitting there, and she just becomes enraged. She hit me with her umbrella, and she said – I’m just going to quote what she said – she said, “Well, these niggers are worse than dogs. If you hit a dog, at least they won’t come back for more.”
Hickman: When I got off the bus at the end of my ride, this man’s fist missed my head by just a little bit, just a few inches. He tried to hit me to stop me from doing these things. Then I went home and told my mom, and she had a heart attack (laughing). Then when I heard that we were supposed to be able to eat at the lunch counters – I mean, the first day they would announce something, I would try it out. I went down – everybody was boycotting the stores to get them to change, using the economic boycotts to get them to change. So, my mother had given me some money. The first day they said that the lunch counters and the stores were integrated, I said, “Okay. I have some money. I’m going to buy some new shoes if they serve me at the lunch counter.” I went downtown, I sat down at the lunch counter, and everything stopped. It got really quiet and people started looking at me. Then I ordered, and of course they have black people working in the kitchen. This is how stupid segregation was. And so I ordered, and I could see the black people in the glass behind me going, kind of like (laughing). I ate my hamburger. Nobody did – they didn’t – I guess they thought maybe that was a test or something – but nobody moved. There was just silence. Then I got up and went and bought my shoes. I went home and I told my mom. Again, she was like, “Oh my God, you could have been killed!” But we felt – this is again believing in the common purpose – we knew what was going on was wrong, we were willing to take chances with our lives and anything else to change it. I started to think, “You know, if young kids can be involved in leadership, this is something that most people can do.” I don’t know why these theories say only certain kinds of people can do this.
Scarpino: You went to elementary school in a segregated system?
Hickman: I did.
Scarpino: What was your elementary school like? What do you remember about that?
Hickman: I went to two different kinds of elementary schools. I started first grade in the rural South with my grandparents.
Scarpino: That’s out in the countryside.
Hickman: Out in the country. So, I’ve always stood out as different, even in that context because here I was in the rural South, in a rural, very under-resourced school with these kids who some of their parents worked for my grandfather on the farms. They were poor. My mother was sending me outfits from New York boutiques and I was going to school dressed up like a Christmas tree, right? These kids had nothing. I loved school, loved school. So, the teachers loved that. Plus, my aunt and uncle taught at that school. So blending in was difficult. I never really blended in, but I learned how to make friends even though I had the odds kind of stacked against me. But I remember knee socks came into vogue, and my mother sent me every color.
Hickman: Exactly. I rolled them down every day to look like everybody else’s socks. I started in first grade there. Then I moved to Birmingham in second grade. I remember walking a long, long ways to elementary school, way out of my neighborhood. There wasn’t a school in my neighborhood. At that point, I’m not sure I realized how little these schools had. It wasn’t until my mom and other people petitioned to have a school in our neighborhood that I got to go to a brand-new school. There were things that I noticed that – parents, they could – we were given the school and the desk. That was it. Nothing else. No textbooks. No chalk. Not even, at that time, typewriters for the office. No pianos. So, parents had to raise the money for everything we got in that school.
Scarpino: That was not the case in the white schools, just for the record.
Hickman: That was not the case in the white schools. But our teachers were so dedicated and they so wanted us to succeed. We got a lot of good attention. But I remember the school district set the books for each school; I mean, the white schools and the black schools. I remember having a 1924 math textbook. That’s the year my mother was born.
Hickman: If you go to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, you will see two classrooms side-by-side. You will see the white classrooms with really nice desks and nice classroom and a black classroom and the disparity was obvious.
Scarpino: Before I ask you about the boarding school that you went to, which was Windsor Mountain, right . . .
Scarpino: . . . I want to ask you a question about leadership. This is either going to work or it’s not. I’m going to just talk about Birmingham, but this question has much broader implications. We talked about Bull Connor, and I actually looked up his real name. It’s Theophilus Eugene.
Hickman: I didn’t know Theophilus.
Scarpino: You can see why he called himself Bull.
Hickman: I remember Bull Connor well.
Scarpino: He was Commissioner of Public Safety for the City of Birmingham. He was a rabid segregationist. He is the guy who gave the KKK license to beat up the Freedom Riders and all kinds of things. As you understand leadership, is a person like Bull Connor or George Wallace – are those kinds of people leaders?
Hickman: Well, like I said, no, because when we look at leadership, we look at effectiveness and ethical leadership, both being effective and ethical. Obviously, they were effective at what they did, but they certainly weren’t ethical. So, no. I would not. . .
Scarpino: So, cracking heads with sticks and making people do things, that’s not. . .
Hickman: . . . Well, Barbara would disagree with me maybe on that.
Scarpino: Well, that’s okay. I mean, I’m just. . .
Hickman: . . . But she also says, “Good leadership is effective and ethical.” But in that case, from the standpoint of some of the white community, not all of the white community, some of the white community, it was effective, but it certainly wasn’t ethical. I mean, there is nothing ethical I can think of about it.
Scarpino: Let’s talk about Windsor Mountain, which was in Lenox, Massachusetts.
Hickman: Lenox, Massachusetts.
Scarpino: What part of the state is that in?
Hickman: Eastern – well, Tanglewood – you know. . .
Scarpino: . . . So, it’s in the eastern part of the state, near Boston.
Scarpino: Okay. You indicated that you were invited to apply, so you must have been a good student, figured this was a good risk.
Scarpino: You were a sophomore then? Second year of high school?
Hickman: I went in as a junior. I was recruited as a sophomore and went in as a junior.
Scarpino: Did you have to take a test or something?
Scarpino: Then you were selected?
Hickman: There was a test that was – the results were then sent out to various boarding schools. Windsor Mountain was very interested. We weren’t the first African-American students that they had ever had. They were a very different kind of boarding school, which I will talk about in a minute. They were interested in bringing African-Americans out of the South to their school. We had seven students from my school interviewed, and one student from Tuskegee. They came, and they were supposed to select two, I think, two or three of us. The assistant headmaster went back and said, “I can’t do it. I can’t select,” and so they brought all eight of us to Windsor Mountain School. Not everybody graduated. But they brought eight of us. The young woman from Tuskegee and I have been friends since we were fifteen and sixteen. We’re still friends today. I dropped by to see her on my way here. So yeah, that’s how I got there.
Scarpino: You’re then going to move from Birmingham, with all its racial problems, to the North, where it snows (laughing) among other things. But on top of that, a very different kind of society, but not free of racism either. What was it like to move to Massachusetts? Plus leaving your family behind and things?
Hickman: Well. I couldn’t wait for the adventure. My mom was all for it. My stepfather was all for it. I was excited out of my mind. My mom kept telling me, “You’re used to making straight A’s here. When you first get there, you’re not going to make straight A’s. There is going to be a big transition. You know, that’s why they’re bringing you.” That just kind of went in one ear and out the other. The first sight I saw when we got on campus was a black teacher hugging a white teacher. I went, “Oh my goodness!”
Scarpino: A different kind of place.
Hickman: This is a different place. It was on a beautiful estate and walking distance from Tanglewood. The interesting thing about Windsor Mountain School is that it was founded by a Jewish couple from Germany that escaped the Holocaust and eventually brought other people with them through the school. But they had started a school in Germany, and they had a very unique philosophy. They believed that young people were equal to older people and that they could make decisions, and they could participate in the process. At Windsor Mountain School, we had a council comprised of primarily students who made the decisions for the school. Now, they had a couple of adults on it, but we made the rules for the school. We were treated with respect, as whole human beings. We were given responsibility. We called our teachers by their first names. Most of our teachers lived on campus, not all. We had all our meals with them. I was privileged not only to have one of my teachers at my table – we were assigned tables – but the founder of the school, who was a woman who was a psychiatrist who studied under Freud.
Scarpino: Gee. Did going to that school founded by Holocaust survivors have any influence on your worldview?
Hickman: Oh yes! Absolutely! I mean, in so many ways because we celebrated both cultures, Jewish and Christian cultures. We had Jewish and Christian holidays off. We had foods from both cultures. The thing about – well, first of all, I was telling somebody this today – I was not discriminated against in that environment. It was the first time in life where I was known as Gill, not a black person, not a woman. I was me. That’s the way each person was treated. I did not have to think about whether somebody was doing something because I was black or because I was a woman. It just wasn’t a part of the environment. When you have an environment where you’re totally free to be who you are, well, nobody can change you or stop you after that. I mean, I was pretty much on that road with my parents, but then to get in an environment where it was mixed, you know, you did have people from all kinds of backgrounds. We had a lot of Hollywood influence there too because we had a lot of celebrities’ kids there.
Scarpino: Anybody whose names we would recognize?
Hickman: Oh yeah. Well, we had Harry Belafonte’s daughter. Both his daughters went there. His oldest daughter went there with me, and his youngest daughter came after we graduated. Celebrities would come there to work with Gertrude, who was the psychiatrist, after some traumatic thing had happened to them. So, Eddie Fisher came there after he broke up with Debbie Reynolds. They would stay in residence for a little while while she worked with them. Or, people whose kids were there, they would come up – well, celebrities would just come up and give impromptu concerts. We had like Leontyne Price came up and she sang for us. Roscoe Lee Browne invited us to his plays. I’m trying to think of the comedian that showed up one day. But it was very connected with a lot of show – people whose fathers produced the sitcoms of the day. . .
Scarpino: . . . Gee.
Hickman: Yeah. We had a lot of celebrities’ kids there.
Scarpino: That must have been a big change from rural Alabama.
Hickman: (laughter) Yeah. It was a big change. But the way the school operated, you didn’t feel like you were in a system where people were above you and below you and whatever. It just didn’t operate that way. The amazing part about this experienced, over and beyond being just treated as the individual you are, is the learning environment was incredible. I mean, of course, we read books that people read in college and whatever, but we continued to discuss them at the dinner table. We even made puns from books at the dinner table. It was just a totally intellectual environment. I wish could do this for my own students, but I remember being excited to take my final exams because I could not wait to see what the question was. I just couldn’t wait, you know? That changed everything about my life. I mean, of course, the first year I struggled a lot in areas where there was a deficit. For example, I had had Algebra I in my previous school, but we only got halfway through the book because the whole class couldn’t keep up, so we had to slow down to bring others along. So, we never really finished that book. So, in theory, I had Algebra I, but in practicality, I didn’t.
Scarpino: You had part of it (laughing).
Hickman: I had part of it. So, then we went to Algebra II. It was the same series of books, actually. That was very unusual because we usually didn’t have current texts. I got into Algebra II, and I was completely lost. I had no idea what was going on. I don’t understand this, I don’t understand – and I had done well in math, I liked math. I was thinking, “Why am I having so much difficulty with this?” They hired tutors. They had the teacher work with me. Everything. I didn’t get it. One day, the teacher had a review of Algebra I. Light bulbs went on all over the place. “Oh! I understand now. I didn’t know this!” From then on, I went from like D’s to A’s in that class. So, I was able to make up a lot of ground the first year, and the second year was great.
Scarpino: Junior and senior year, you’re at this high school. Other than being founded by Holocaust survivors and, I mean, where was the student body from? You talked about celebrities’ kids, but they couldn’t have all been African-Americans from Alabama and celebrities’ kids. Who made up the corpus of the student body. Where did those kids come from?
Hickman: There were about 200 students in the student body, and I would say mostly well-to-do families, except for in my group there were like two middle-class kids, me and my friend from Tuskegee. Then the other people who came from my school – the high school that I went to was actually located in a very poor area. The other kids who came with me, five out of the seven kids or how many ever we were, were from very poor families. They were overwhelmed by the wealth at that school. Most of these kids were from wealthy, Northeastern families. There were just two people from California. Mostly Northeast and wealthy families. But the kids who were from poor families really had the worst culture shock because I can say as a middle-class kid, I had some of everything that wealthy kids had. I just didn’t have as much of it, but I had some of all of it, and I was pretty indulged anyway by my parents. Merrill (Spelling???) and I, my other friend – we didn’t feel as overwhelmed by this environment in terms of what people had. But the other kids coming from – there was one young woman who came from such a poor environment that her mother was always calling her asking her for help. She would go to the headmaster and ask if they could send her parents some money. One of her sisters or brothers was stabbed while we were there. So when people are from that kind of situation, it becomes difficult for them to live with the dichotomy of those two environments. She dropped out, went home to help her family, she thought. A couple others dropped out because they were just – one kid’s parents were janitors. Adrienne Belafonte had all these beautiful clothes and wealth, and they looked at that and they went home and tried to demand that from their families. You know, things like that. So, we lost some, but the rest of us were very successful in that environment and went on to college.
Scarpino: What did you take away from that experience that stuck with you?
Hickman: About the whole Windsor Mountain experience?
Hickman: Well. It certainly widened my worldview. The other thing is, the way we were taught to think was so different from anything else I had experienced, and really I experienced afterwards, because they challenged everything you grew up to believe. Not just for the sake of it, but to get us to do critical thinking. For example, I had grown up in the Baptist church. They would say things like, “We don’t want to discourage you from believing in religion. We want you to challenge it though. We don’t want you to take it on face value just because somebody told you ‘This is what you believe.’” This is what we did with everything. That’s why, like I said about bureaucratic rules – I don’t accept those because I say somebody made them up, somebody is going to change them. That’s the way we were taught to think, that we think beyond what the obvious is or what tradition is. Think for yourself. Think about other ways, third ways of doing things. Not just A and B, but there is a C.
Scarpino: You graduated in 1970. No, sorry. . .
Hickman: . . . 1966.
Scarpino: 1966. I was reading my notes wrong. Then you went to the University of Denver where you graduated in 1970. Why the University of Denver?
Hickman: The headmaster called each one of us in and said, “Where would you like to go to school?” I said, “Well, I lived in the South. I’m in the Northeast. What about the West?” (laughter)
Scarpino: Seems like a teenager’s reasoning process.
Hickman: I did apply to some Northeastern schools, and I also got into Boston University. But I went up there, and it was overwhelming to me. Here I’m coming from a school with 200 students, and Boston University is huge in the middle of a city. It just didn’t feel like a good fit for me. The University of Denver was smaller. It was 9,000 I think at the time that I went there. There was just something very appealing about it to me. At that time, I went on a couple of college visits, but I didn’t go all the way out to Denver. When they sent the brochures and I looked at the campus setting and I looked at what they had to offer, I just decided to try it.
Scarpino: You decided to major in political science.
Hickman: Well. Not at first. I wanted to major in International Relations, but the year that I went, they eliminated that as an undergraduate major. It just became a graduate major. So, they said, “Well, everybody who wanted to go there, go over to Political Science.” I didn’t decide to major in Political Science until my junior year. I just took all my requirements and gave myself time to decide if that was really what I wanted to major in. I double-majored, actually. They didn’t give double majors, but I took all of the requirements for Elementary Education. I don’t know why. I guess because there are so many teachers in my family. But, when I took student teaching, I knew that was not for me.
Scarpino: That happens, doesn’t it?
Hickman: Yeah. It’s a good thing, too. It’s a really good thing.
Scarpino: When you were a young woman at the University of Denver and you were making up your mind finally to major in Political Science, and that maybe teaching isn’t your cup of tea, what did you imagine your future was going to hold for you? What were you thinking was out there waiting for you after college?
Hickman: Very early I did decide to go to graduate school because Political Science had a couple of Public Administration classes. I took them, and I really liked them. I did see myself working in the field of public administration but had not thought much further than that. I was just open to whatever was out there. I had a mother who encouraged me to try new things, to take risks, you know, don’t get stuck in one area. I didn’t know exactly what was out there, but I knew that it had to be something different than I knew already because I wanted to try something else other than a family of teachers and nurses.
Scarpino: In 1970, or in the early 1970s, political science was still a field dominated by men. Did you know that?
Hickman: No. (laughter) I didn’t care though. I didn’t know until after I got into my field, but I really didn’t care.
Scarpino: While you were at the University of Denver, did you encounter teachers or other people who had a significant impact on your future? Was there anybody who stands out?
Hickman: Yeah. The chairperson of Political Science was my advisor and also just a wonderful person. He just kind of embraced me. When there would be visiting scholars, people from Russia and places, he would always invite me. We would have dinner. I would have dinner with them. He was just another person who just kind of took me under his wing. I was there one Thanksgiving – I got married in college – so my husband and I were there one Thanksgiving, and he invited us to his home for dinner. He was very supportive. He told me a story that when he was young, he fell in love with a woman from Japan. Her family did not want her to marry a white male. They absolutely rejected him and took her away and he wasn’t able to marry her. I don’t know. I guess from that experience, he had a very open mind to diverse students because there weren’t very many at the University of Denver. I think there were fifty blacks and Africans out of 9,000 students, or something like that.
Scarpino: I went to the University of Montana in 1966, and I can tell you there were not very many African-American students there in 1966.
Scarpino: You graduated from the University of Denver and then you decided to go to the University of California, Los Angeles where you’re going to earn a Master’s of Public Administration You had taken some classes in Public Administration. You had decided that you liked that, but what drew you to UCLA?
Hickman: I got married in between my junior and senior year in college. My first husband was from California. I did not necessarily want to move to California, but he had kind of the opposite background from mine. He came from a poor family. He wanted to go back and help his brothers and sisters. We kind of had this agreement that we would move there, he would take some time to mentor and help them, and then we would try other places to move. But that did not happen.
Scarpino: You were there for a long time.
Hickman: I was there for 21 years. That’s how I got to California because I really wasn’t looking to go to California.
Scarpino: But you did earn the M.P.A. in 1973. I’m going to kind of step back though, unless I’ve already asked you this – in 1970, as I said, political science was a field that was still dominated by men. I assume public administration also would have been that way. When you were at UCLA, did you ever consider that being a woman or being an African-American woman was going to place extra obstacles in your path? Did that ever occur to you?
Hickman: Yeah, actually. I mean, I didn’t occur to me until it happened because, as I said, when I went to Windsor Mountain School, I had a very liberating experience. Even though I had had all this segregated background, I thought of discrimination as blatant segregation. I didn’t think of discrimination as being more subtle until I got to UCLA. Nobody thinks of UCLA as being a place where discrimination occurs. That’s not the case. When I got there, I just proceeded as usual to be me and to take my courses. Again, loving school, and just going through all of this. But the chairperson of Public Administration had gotten a grant to bring in more students of color and a few more women. The interesting thing about it is I think that he did that because he thought that would be impressive to the university, but I don’t think he believed in it. I know he didn’t believe in it. He may have thought he did, but he didn’t. Once that mixture of white, black, brown students came together, we actually got along. And as we got along, he got more intimidated. He asked a group of us – he actually asked us to put together a panel for the American – for the ASPA, for public administrations, their professional society for public administration – on being a diverse group of students and how diversity was working. So, we took him at his word, we start working on it. We were doing pretty well with it. For some reason, that intimidated him, even though he asked us to do it. He started doing things to divide us up. I don’t know what he thought we were going to do, try to take over his job, I don’t know. But he started letting information get into the group that one group was a problem. So then finally one day, he called a meeting and came to the group and said, “Well, you know, we don’t really have the money to send you there. We’d like for you do this, but we don’t have the money.” So, we thought, “Oh. Well. We’ll go to the local ASPA chapter and ask them to send us.” I mean, we were just taking him at his word, literally. We went, and they did. They gave us the money to go, and he was angry.
Hickman: He was angry. He started to give people information. For example, he had some kind of list that he showed to other students. There was a list of agitators to the program and influenced by agitators to the program. Apparently, I was on the influenced by agitators to the program list. This was plain craziness. It took me a long time to realize what was going on. So then when I realized what was going on, I decided, “I’m going to stay under the radar because I’m getting this degree.” So, I just took my classes. I pretty much disappeared from that office unless I had to go in there. The process was when you get to the point that you’re ready to take your exams – we had both oral and written exams – that you had to meet with the chairperson. I’ll never forget that meeting. I come into his office and he looks at my transcripts, he looks at me, and he says, “Why, you’ve done, w-w-well!” I mean, he stuttered, you know. It was just like, “Oh my God. I didn’t stop her. You know, she got through.” He just really pretty much was a stumbling block, and I had to think of ways to get through this program without him sabotaging me.
Scarpino: You did get through the program.
Hickman: I did get through the program. And he would not write me a letter of recommendation for the PhD program.
Scarpino: For UCLA. I mean, for USC, sorry.
Hickman: My professors would, but he wouldn’t.
Scarpino: But you got into the program at USC.
Hickman: I got in anyway.
Scarpino: And you earned your PhD in 1978. . .
Hickman: . . . Yes, I did.
Scarpino: . . . in Public Administration. It looks to me as though you had fields in organizational theory, organizational behavior, and human resource management. Did you write a dissertation?
Hickman: I did.
Scarpino: What was your dissertation about in that field?
Hickman: It was interesting. I like to think of all these crazy theoretical things, and I proposed something to my committee. They said, “That’s really interesting, but you probably – it will take you forever to get through doing that. We would recommend something more practical.” (laughing) Because I came up with this concept while I was in the program called transformistic organizations. I’ll never forget that because I had been influenced by Warren Bennis and his whole – Bennis and Slater wrote this book and it was about transforming society, and this whole thing. The Temporary State, I think it was called. (SIC – the book is The Temporary Society.) That really influenced me a lot. They gave me a project at the very beginning of the program that said, “Take all this theory and project it into the year 2000.” It was 1970-something then. I love that stuff. I mean, I love that stuff. I start working on it, and this is where this concept transformistic organizations came about. It was an organization a lot like I’ve described now, but way into the future. I wanted to a dissertation around this. They said, “Don’t do that.” I was working in a school district as the Human Resource Director at the time. Collective bargaining had just come to public schools. I was the Human Resource Director, so I had to be on the collective bargaining team. I thought, “What happens to managers in the public sector when collective bargaining comes?” Everybody focuses on the employees, the bargaining team. But in the public sector, managers aren’t as differentiated as in the private sector. And so, now they are. They’re set aside in this whole different group, but they have no representation. So, what happens to them? So, that’s what my dissertation was on.
Scarpino: Was this the City of Inglewood?
Hickman: No. At that time, I was in Ontario-Montclair School District. Everybody else wanted to know what happened too, what happens to people. I did this study where I interviewed people from school districts that had already unionized about what they did with their professional management employees, and what worked, and what didn’t work. The superintendent of my school was so excited about that that he had me present it to the board because he wanted to influence the way in which – I mean, the really worst ways to do this was to give managers the same raise as they gave employees. Well, the incentive would be to help employees bargain more money onto that. The better ways turned out to be comparing it to other professionals and doing the comparable pay kind of thing. They were anxious for me to present this so that the board would take the best course of action. So, that’s what I wound up doing. When they heard about what I wanted to work on, they said, “Oh, there’s this guy over there in the School of Education who is supposed to be an expert in this particular area. So, go over there and talk to him.” So, I went over there, I talked to him, and I asked him to be on the committee. He said, “Oh, sure.” Then he told me the best place to meet all these people who would know this would be at a conference in Las Vegas they were going to have, and for me to go there. He told me the people to interview. I got to the conference and there was six-feet posters of him all over the conference. I had no idea that this was the authority in the field.
Scarpino: Who was that?
Hickman: Oh God, Lieberman. I can’t think of his first name. His last name was Lieberman. Anyway, when I would go up and ask people, I would say, “Doctor Lieberman is on my committee and he suggested that I interview you.” “You? How did you get to be a student of Doctor Lieberman’s?” So, doors opened, interviews happened, and that’s what my dissertation was about.
Scarpino: But it seems to me that you wrote a dissertation that combines theory and practice. . .
Hickman: . . . I did.
Scarpino: . . . which is something you continue to do and after you got out of your doctoral program.
Scarpino: So, it occurs to me that we’re at a point – I mean, I want to ask you one or two more questions about California, but we’re at a point where you’re headed to Virginia. We have been talking for just a couple minutes under two hours.
Hickman: Ha! That’s hard to believe. I wondered how we were going to fill two hours.
Scarpino: Well, I’ve been doing this for a while (laughing).
Hickman: I know you have. I knew you knew what you were doing.
Scarpino: So, I’m going to suggest that we quit three minutes early.
Scarpino: And tomorrow I’m going to talk to you about Jepson and about your scholarship and so one. We’ve got a little under two hours, but I’ll make it fit.
Scarpino: I thank you so, so much for doing this.
Hickman: Oh, thank you. This is a great project.
Scarpino: Let me get this one off, and let me turn that. . .(RECORDER TURNS OFF)
Scarpino: Alright. Here’s my primary, and it’s live. Today is November 5, 2016. This is the second recording session with Dr. Gill Hickman. The first one was yesterday here at the Hyatt Regency hotel in downtown Atlanta, Georgia. We are both attending the meeting of the International Leadership Association. She is here as a recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award by that organization, which is why I am interviewing her. Once again, I want to ask your permission to record this interview; to have the interview transcribed, and then to deposit the transcription and the recording with the IUPUI Archives and Special Collections, the Tobias Center, and the International Leadership Association with the understanding that those things will be used by their patrons, and that could include posting all or part to their websites.
Scarpino: Alright. Thank you. Yesterday we had talked about your graduate education and talked about the fact that you earned an M.P.A. from UCLA in 1973 and a PhD from the University of Southern California in 1978. I wanted to ask you a question about something that you were doing while you were earning those degrees, and I stopped because I didn’t want to rush you. I noticed on your resume that while you were studying for your M.P.A. and while you were studying for your PhD, you were also working. You talked a little bit yesterday about your boss allowing you a lot of latitude when you were going for the PhD. But, I mean, you had an amazing array of work experience while you were a graduate student. From 1971 to 1973, you were an administrative assistant for the City of Inglewood; 1973 to 1976, personnel analyst, Office of the Chancellor, California State University; 1976 to 1977, Director of Classified Personnel, Ontario-Montclair School District; and then 1977 to 1979 you were back at Cal State Dominguez Hills, as Director of Staff Personnel. Here’s the question: How did you do it? How did you work? You changed jobs four times, you earned two graduate degrees. How did you keep all those balls in the air? You had a family.
Hickman: Well, I was totally and completely out of my mind (laughter). I mean. . .
Scarpino: . . . For the record, I didn’t say that (laughter).
Hickman: When I advise other people who were going into graduate programs, I tell them not to do that. Actually, I really had no clue how much pressure that was going to be. I was working, and I had a husband and a newborn because in between there I had my daughter in 1973. When I started the PhD program, she was one.
Scarpino: She was needing a lot of care, as one-year-olds do.
Hickman: And we bought a house, and then I realized, “Oh, I can’t drop to part-time. I have to keep up my end of this bargain with the house.” My ex-husband was in law school and graduated, passed the bar, and all of that. But we were very early in our careers. Then I said, “Well, I can see working in higher ed that I am going to need a PhD.” So, I applied, and I got started. The first day I went to class they said, “We don’t care what else you’re doing, this is a full-time, daytime program.” That’s when the shock set in (laughing), when the reality set in that I had all these things at one time. I just kind of plowed through it, which I did not realize was not good for my health because I was undiagnosed at the time with lupus. I was sick a lot. I was sick a lot. I mean, every two weeks I was ill, in bed. I used my vacation for sick leave. I’m just determined to do things and having the mother role model that I have, I just had that kind of determination from the beginning. Someone, a good friend of mine, told me, “Gill, your body can’t keep up with what your mind wants to do.” At the time she told me, I didn’t like that, but then I realized she was absolutely right because I didn’t know I had lupus, but when you have lupus, you have to do things differently. I would have done all those things. I just would have done them differently. I would not have tried to do them all at the same time.
Scarpino: You were working. You had a young child. First a Master’s and then a doctoral program. Were there other students like you?
Scarpino: How did that work for you? How did your professors treat you when they realized that’s what you were doing?
Hickman: They really didn’t care. They said they didn’t care and they really didn’t care. As a matter of fact, they made other demands on me. I made friends with other students who were married and working, but none of them were married, working, and had a young child. Nobody had all those responsibilities. But the friends that I made were extremely supportive. When we studied together, I would bring my baby with me, and we would put her to bed at my friend’s house while we worked on things. When I was taking my exams, comprehensive exams, they would come over and get my baby and keep her for the weekend. I had a wonderful support system. And I had a family member there on my father’s side. Her whole family embraced us, and they treated my daughter like their grandchild. I made a village for myself. Where I didn’t have many family members, I incorporated – I truly believe in making – I really believe in the village. I believe in not trying to be a solo participant in the world, but that you need the support of other people, and you need to give other people support. Among my friends and my one family member and her family that I had there, they gave me total support.
Scarpino: Much of the work you did while you were earning your degrees had, one way or another, to do with human resources, personnel management, that kind of thing. Some of it looks like it might have been related to affirmative action and Title IX. In case somebody using this interview doesn’t know, Title IX is of the U.S. Education Amendment of 1972. It deals with equal access to education in institutions receiving federal funds. Is that accurate? Is that the kind of work you were doing?
Hickman: Not really.
Hickman: I did that. . .
Scarpino: . . . I’m trying to guess from the lines on your CV.
Hickman: . . . Yeah. When I was at the City of Inglewood, which was my very first professional job, I started there as an intern, and that was part of my M.P.A. program. What they gave me to do was really unbelievable. Before a lot of those acts passed, they wanted me to retrofit their human resource office to be inclusive of women, minorities, people with arrest records. They were very ahead of the curve. They gave me the task to do this.
Scarpino: As an intern?
Hickman: As an intern. I applied for a grant, a federal grant. I interviewed lots of people. I put together this program. I applied for the grant. We received the grant to implement that at Inglewood. It funded my first professional job. The internship paper that I wrote from that really actually amounted to a whole program for their human resource office. That was the time when I did things for Title IX – well, pre-Title IX and pre-affirmative action, which subsequently in that first job I did. After that, I really didn’t have much responsibility for those areas on purpose.
Scarpino: But where I really wanted to go with this is that it seems as though the kind of work you were doing was kind of the practical side of your degree studies that they took together. Did you do that on purpose, or did you just take what came along?
Hickman: No, no, no. I did that on purpose. I found an internship because we could do any kind of internship, but I really started building that after I got out of my undergrad program. I had a summer job and the job was supposed to be bookbinder. I went over to – it was Martin Marietta then – I went over to Martin Marietta, and they were hiring summer workers. I walked into the human resource department. The guy was interviewing me. He was almost not even looking at me. It was just kind of pro forma. Then I said, “You know, I will be happy to do this job as a bookbinder, but I want to go into human resource management. I wonder if there is anything in the human resource area I can do.” He looked up at me, and he said, “Sure. You can work in this office.” So, I had been preparing for that. I was a real planner. I was talking to somebody about this the other night. I planned every step of my career. What kind of experience do I need? I realized I needed collective bargaining experience, so I would move to a job that offered that if I couldn’t get it where I was. I would ask for it where I was, but if I couldn’t get it, I’d just move to a job that offered that as a part of the job. I was very deliberate about these jobs. It changed after I graduated because I thought, “Well, I see that my human resource director is about 33, so maybe by 33 that’s about when I’ll become a director.” Well, I became a director at 28. So – then the Ontario-Montclair School District – but then I became a director again at the Dominguez Hills. While I was at Dominguez Hills – and I know this is skipping a little bit ahead, but while I was there, I started teaching courses for free because administrators didn’t get paid for teaching. I started teaching Public Administration courses. So, one day I’m sitting in my office in the Human Resource Department and the department chair of Public Administration and the dean of the School of Management come into my office, and they say “Gill, have you ever thought about teaching?” I just kind of looked at them. They said, “Well, you know you have been teaching for free; you must love it.” All of a sudden, the lightbulbs go on. I feel like a complete idiot. I feel like I have been doing all this planning, and right in front of me, here is what I really love. I loved the other things that I was doing, but this was my heart right here. I didn’t realize. . .
Scarpino: . . . And they noticed.
Hickman: . . . And they noticed! And they told me!
Hickman: I said, “Well, I hadn’t thought about that.” They said, “Well, here’s the offer we would like to make: We have a vacancy. We would like to offer that you try it, that you are a visiting professor for one year,” – or temporary, whatever they called it – “for one year. If you like it, we want you to apply for the job.” So, my supervisor started clearing the way to make that happen. He hired a temporary person to be in my position for a year. I went to the faculty for a year, fell in love with it, and applied for the job. That is how I got into. . .
Scarpino: So, I noticed when I looked at your resume – this is University Cal State Dominguez Hills – that you started as an Associate Professor. Once you decided you liked it, did you come in with tenure?
Hickman: No, no.
Scarpino: They just gave you a rank so they could pay you a salary that you were used to.
Hickman: Right, and I had already been doing teaching for them for a while. With my administrative background directly related to public administration, they thought that was an appropriate level.
Scarpino: So, even though you were an Associate Professor, you still had to earn tenure.
Hickman: Oh yeah.
Scarpino: From 1979 to 1991, you looked like you were on an academic track at Cal State Dominguez Hills. You started as an Associate Professor. You were then promoted to Professor, School of Management. You also held two temporary deanships: Interim Dean of Faculty Affairs, 1987 to 1988, and Interim Dean, School of Health, 1988 to 1990. Once again, it just seems like you’re a juggler. Why the two interim deanships? Were you trying it out to see if you were interested in administration, or looking for experience?
Hickman: Not at all. They had to twist my arm. I kept telling them, “I do not want to leave my classroom. I love my students. I want to have time to do some research and teaching.” “But you have to do this. We don’t have anybody else.” I guess the mistake – well, not mistake, but – the fact that I had worked at every level of that system, and I started in the chancellor’s office, I knew everybody throughout the whole system, had a reputation for working well with people. Whenever they needed a tough job done, they would come and get me. I would go kicking and screaming. As a matter of fact, the last dean in the School of Health, where I have no technical expertise – there was a huge nursing program under that – they told me that the person who was running that program was not the greatest administrator. She was very good at putting together this program and all of that, but they needed someone who could bring together three departments into a new school. The statewide nursing program was very unique because there were 170 sites all across the state of California, so they were delivering nursing education, bachelors’ and master’s degrees, throughout California. They had gotten a grant – oh, not a grant, but funding from the state legislature to do this. What they would do is they had almost like mini-department chairs throughout the state who would coordinate the people who were going to teach and all of that. They would set up maybe at community colleges or wherever they got space to deliver this. They delivered it in one-unit modules. If you had a three-unit class, they would have one unit, and maybe they would give you that this time at this location, and the next part of the class would be at another time, all to accommodate the nursing schedule. It was very unique.
Scarpino: Because the students were already in the profession?
Hickman: They were already in the profession, so they were getting their bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Nobody had ever located a program like that on a campus. It started on it the chancellor’s office, but they wanted to move it to a campus. The president called me in. I knew somebody who was very interested in being the dean. They would ask me for my advice a lot around there, so I thought, “Okay, I have the person for them. I’m sitting here waiting.” They said, “Well, Gill, you’ve been,” – I was on some committee to help bring this to campus, and they said, “Well, Gill, you’ve been on this committee,” and they start talking and they said, “We want you to be the Interim Dean.” I said, “What? (laughter) I don’t want to be the Interim Dean!” “Well, it’s either you, or we’re going to have to go off campus and find somebody because the director is struggling here, and people aren’t cooperating with her, and we need somebody who knows everybody and can bring this together.” I really didn’t want to do it, but I said, “I will do it for two years, and I’m going back to my students.” So, no, a lot of people have ambitions to be dean and then president. People wanted to push me in that direction.
Scarpino: You had a profile that really wasn’t typical for academics. You had a lot of real-world administrative, roll-up-your-sleeves experience.
Scarpino: Which is not common for people in the academy.
Hickman: I took a very unusual route because I had not planned to teach and did not know that was my love and passion at the time.
Scarpino: But in the process and all those years that you spent at Cal State, you were developing teaching experience, classroom experience, and leadership.
Hickman: Exactly. That’s why the leadership – the school of leadership was perfect for me.
Scarpino: Alright. That answers my question about what you were doing in the School of Health. They needed somebody to administer the program.
Hickman: Yeah. They needed somebody to be able to bring together three departments and administer the program. For example, the first faculty meeting I had, and my faculty would have to fly in from all over the state, but we met I guess maybe once a month or once every two months or something like that. The first thing I found out at the first meeting was that they were not getting their paychecks on time.
Scarpino: That’s a good way to ruin morale.
Hickman: I said, “What?” and they said, “No, I mean, we get our paychecks late.” I thought, “What?” so I said, “Okay.” So, we had a break. Well, I’ll just go over to the Payroll Director, who I had to work directly with as Human Resources Director, and I said, “My faculty says they’re not getting their paychecks.” She said, “Give me an hour.” I walked back in and handed out the paychecks that day. Wow. I didn’t have any more problem with the faculty. But that is why – I learned that’s why they wanted me in that position because I could just break through all the levels of bureaucracy based on my personal relationships with these – and professional relationships with everybody from the campus through the chancellor’s office. I didn’t think about that. That was not on my mind at the time.
Scarpino: But that was sort of an extension of who you had been becoming for most of your adult life.
Hickman: Yeah, and, you know. . .
Scarpino: The girl who was the first to ride the desegregated bus system and sit at the lunch counter. It seemed like you sort of made a career out of pushing against limits.
Hickman: Well, and the thing about it is, I never used my telephone to talk to people in the university. I just went to their offices. I just have to have those face-to-face relationships. I got to know these people really well. That makes all the difference. The people who run the place are the people you want to get to know.
Scarpino: Do you think that those are qualities of effective leaders?
Hickman: Absolutely. One of the interesting things that I discovered in my two Human Resource Director positions is the real separation between faculty and staff. It happens at the K through 12 level, and it happens at the university level. I just thought that was appalling. I just couldn’t conceive of why that would be. People would tell me that they were not used to personnel directors thinking of them as equivalent to the faculty. I thought, “Well, you’re the same kind of person; why would I think any differently?” I thought that was just awful. I just couldn’t conceive of having a caste system like that because what everybody does is valuable to this organization. If they stop doing it, it would be awful.
Scarpino: Without a support staff, the whole system would grind to a halt.
Hickman: It would crash! So, I mean, I think, I did not know at the time that that’s why the president wanted me to do these things, but that’s why he wanted me to do this. I didn’t particularly want to do this. While I was in that position, someone came to me and said, “We’re gathering a committee together to nominate you for president,” because the president left that university. I said, “No you’re not.” (laughter) They said, “Yes, we are.” I said, “No. You’re not. I don’t want to be a university president,” and I didn’t. I knew university presidents really well. I had worked with them from the chancellor’s office on to my president. It was just not the job for me, and especially as it was turning into a fundraising position. Oh no, that is just not my forte.
Scarpino: Fundraising is not one of the things you enjoyed.
Hickman: I did not. Just cultivating a relationship with somebody because they have money – that’s not why I cultivate relationships. I just couldn’t imagine doing that. So, if I could actually be the academic head as the president, which presidents used to be, that would have been a completely different thing. But I really valued what they were doing at Cal State Dominguez Hills. They were taking first-generation college students and turning them into middle-class people whose lives would be changed forever. I thought that was an incredible mission.
Scarpino: Did you have that interest in common with Larraine Matusak?
Hickman: I found out I did, but I didn’t know that until I met Larraine many years later.
Scarpino: Okay, yeah. We’re going to transition to the part of your career at the Jepson School. In 1991, you packed up and moved all the way across the country to accept a position as Acting Associate Dean, School of Community and Public Affairs, Virginia Commonwealth, Richmond. You stayed there for a year or so until 1992. What prompted you to move all the way across the country for an interim deanship?
Hickman: I didn’t move all the way across the country for an interim deanship. I got married in 1990 to my current husband. He actually took my position as Human Resource Director later. He came into that position at Cal State Dominguez Hills. He had moved to California thinking he was really going to love California, and he didn’t. Anyway, we got married – we met on campus – we got married. We had a very public relationship because everyone on campus knew me. When we started dating, my husband told me people came into his office and said, “If you hurt her, we’ll kill you.” (laughter)
Scarpino: There’s some pressure (laughter).
Hickman: You know, on my behalf they just volunteered to come in. But anyway, the whole campus gave us a reception. We had a campus-wide wedding reception. But anyway, he decided he didn’t want to stay in California. I was looking to move back here because I wanted to be closer to where my mom lived. So, that was fine with me.
Scarpino: Was she still in Alabama?
Hickman: Yeah, she’s always been in Alabama. I’m the one that moves. She is the one that stays still. So, he applied and got a position as Assistant Vice Chancellor for Human Resources for the Community College System of Virginia. So, he got the job. I didn’t have a job. I took a leave of absence from my job, and I came with him. The only school that I could find nearby that had a Public Administration program was Virginia Commonwealth University. I went over there, and I made an appointment with their department chair. He said, “Well, all of our faculty positions are filled, but the associate dean of our school just left, and the dean is desperately looking to hire another associate dean.” So, he said, “Can I send him your resume?” and I said, “Sure.” We were living in a hotel. We hadn’t even found a house yet. By this time, I had a one-year-old baby, my grandson. This is another thing. So, I’m multitasking once again. My daughter got married at 17.
Scarpino: So you had a child of your own, and. . .
Hickman: I have a daughter, and my daughter got married at 17, which gave me almost a heart attack, right? She married someone that she didn’t need to marry, but they had a baby. So, that marriage ended. My husband and I took the baby. Now, we had only been married ten months by this time. We took an eight-month-old baby. She had gotten accepted into USC. We said, “You go onto to USC. We’re going to move from Michael’s job, and we’re going to take the baby.” So, we moved with a new marriage, a new baby, and two new jobs. And so, here I am, okay, so I go for this interview, and they hire me. Well, actually, this is what happened. It was a permanent position, and I knew I did not want to continue to be an administrator. As I told you, I kept fighting to go back to my classroom. I knew I wanted to continue to research and write. They kept pulling me out of my position, and I didn’t get to do my research the way I wanted to do. So, I said, “I am determined to get in a position where I can do my research along with my teaching.” I negotiated a one-year appointment with them. They had an inside candidate, and they had me. Obviously, I had a lot of experience. So, the dean called me, and he said, “Well, it’s down to two candidates.” I said, “I know this is going to be an unorthodox thing to say,” I said, “but I really don’t want a permanent position. I can do it for a year, but I would really like to find a teaching position.” He was thrilled because I solved all his problems. The inside candidate got to have the permanent job, and he had a job opening where someone else left, and he could fund me for a year. I got home, and I told my husband. He said, “Are you out of your mind? You turned down a full-time job?” I said, “I know this is not the job for me.” I’m going to tell you something really eerie about getting this job at Jepson. I think I told you that I read the description about the Jepson School, and I said. . .
Scarpino: . . . While you were still in California.
Hickman: . . . While I was still in California. Well. I kind of put that out of my mind until I got to Richmond. The department chair for Public Administration at VCU was Bob Jepson’s brother-in-law, the guy who funded the Jepson School. So, I went to lunch with him and I said, “Tell me a little more about that Jepson School. What do you – ” He said, “That’s something my brother-in-law is doing, and, you know, they’re just getting it started up over there and whatever.” It must have been three months from there that they advertised those three positions that I told you I said, “That’s my job.” All those things just – it all came together for me.
Scarpino: I’m going to follow up on this topic in a minute when I ask you about your current scholarship, but while you were in graduate school – as long as you brought it up, I’ll just say it out loud -- you faced the crisis of divorce, right?
Hickman: No. That was after my PhD.
Scarpino: Afterwards. Okay, so while you were still in California.
Scarpino: Your daughter married young and had a child. Then you ended up taking on the child to raise while she went to college. You moved all the way across the country with a new husband and a new baby and just hoping against hope that you would find work when you got there. Later on in your career, you began to look at the relationship between personal crisis and leadership. Did any of that personal experience. . .
Hickman: . . . Oh, absolutely.
Scarpino: . . . prompt you to think along those lines?
Hickman: Absolutely. When I got to the Jepson School, not too long after I got to the Jepson School, I thought about that as a topic to research while I was working on leading organizations and all of that. I had a diverse research agenda, to say the least. I sat down with my dean, and he said, “Look, you don’t need to pursue all these things at the same time. You’re going to have to pick and choose.” Oh, by the way, no one came into Jepson School with tenure. I guess I said this before – we had to go through tenure again. So, since I had to go through tenure again, he said, “You’re going to have to focus this.” Well, Jepson gave us research funding during the summers to research different things, and I had gotten a grant to research this leadership during personal crisis. I definitely directly connected that, that I knew what I did when I had the personal crisis: that I called in my staff; I told them “I’m having this horrible crisis. When I come in, I’m not going to be the same some days, and you’ll know why.” That’s what I did, but I started thinking, “What do other people do?” Just because I did that doesn’t mean that that’s the way other people handle it, and there is nothing out there on it. So, I conducted about seventeen interviews. I wrote a brief two-page thing for Cynthia Cherrey, some publication that they were doing on cutting-edge research. Then I had to put it aside. I said, “Look, you know, I teach leading organizations, I teach leading change. We need textbooks for those classes. Let me focus here.” But I was determined to do it.
Scarpino: It was there on the backburner for several years.
Hickman: It was always there on the backburner. I thought it was really important and something that people in leadership roles need to know about, what other people do because I certainly didn’t know. I had my huge support system there for me. I had therapy. I had all of those things there for me, but I didn’t know what other people did. When I got ready to retire, I said to my colleague Crystal Hoyt, I said, “I have to do this. It’s just a passion. It’s got to be done.” I went to her last summer, and I said, “I need a clinical psychologist to work with me because the things that are coming out of this research are psychological. I mean, there are all of these things . . .”
Scarpino: . . . That’s her field, right?
Hickman: . . . And that’s – well, she’s a social psychologist. So, what I said to her is, “Who do I need to work with?” and she recommended Laura Knouse, who is a clinical psychologist who is a professor over in the Psychology Department. It has just been a perfect pairing. It’s just been wonderful.
Scarpino: I will follow up on that, but it just seemed to me that was the time to sort of begin to introduce that topic. So, just to get this in the record, you started at the Jepson School in 1992.
Hickman: Correct. That was the inaugural year.
Scarpino: You’re listed as a founding faculty member, but you were hired in the second cohort. There were a few people there before you got there.
Hickman: No. So, I should be listed as, I call it, the inaugural faculty year. . .
Scarpino: . . . You are, yes.
Hickman: . . . because there were four people hired to do start to develop the ideas for the program.
Scarpino: I mean, they were there when the building was going up sort of thing.
Hickman: I was there when the building – I mean, I came the year that they opened the building and they officially started. That’s our official opening date, is 1992.
Scarpino: The dean who hired you was Howard Prince?
Scarpino: He came from West Point.
Scarpino: Okay. So, University of Richmond has this newsletter. It’s called The News Room. It has a cover article about your pending retirement in April of 2012. The article pointed out the fact that you had seen this ad for the brand-new Jepson School in The Chronicle. Then it quotes you saying, “I had actually heard of the Jepson School before I moved to Richmond,” which we talked about, “but I saw the ad, and thought the mission of the school sounded wonderful – and that if I could work anywhere in the world, that’s where I would work.” Then the article goes on to say that you walked through the Jepson Hall while it was still under construction. It finishes up with you saying, “But I knew then that was where I belonged.”
Scarpino: How did you know that? I mean, what made you feel like: I want to be in this place, and the building is not done?
Hickman: I mean, when I read that – Cynthia Cherrey was right that my life is built on purpose. I mean, I look at a purpose and see is this something that I want to join? Does this mean something to me? Is it something that I know I can contribute to? When I read that purpose, I just thought, “Everything in my life has led me to this. This is what I want to do.” When I went to the interview, I forgot I was being interviewed. It was just like, “Oh my God. Here are my colleagues. I can’t wait to be here.” I mean, it just – I guess if I hadn’t gotten the job, I would have been devastated. I just knew. I have nothing else to say except that everything I’ve done I feel like led me to that place and that purpose.
Scarpino: I mean, I don’t know, or have not met, all of the founding or inaugural faculty, but I have met one other, Richard Couto . . .
Hickman: . . . and Joanne Ciulla was the first faculty member they hired.
Scarpino: I don’t think I’ve actually met her.
Hickman: Oh, you haven’t met her. Okay.
Scarpino: But, one of the things that Dr. Prince told me is that there weren’t people out there who were experts – academic experts – in leadership.
Hickman: Right. Exactly.
Scarpino: He hired people because they had experience, or because they had written about the subject, or they could bring something to a developing field. That certainly fit you to a “T.” I mean, you had leadership experience, but to the best of my knowledge, you hadn’t published anything on leadership up until that point.
Hickman: No, no.
Scarpino: So, why do you think he took a chance on you? I mean, because in a sense, he took a chance on everybody he hired.
Hickman: He took a chance on everybody he hired.
Scarpino: Not just you, but I’m talking to you right now, so. . .
Hickman: . . . Yeah.
Scarpino: Why do you think that he looked at you and said, “I want that woman on the faculty?”
Hickman: Yeah, I think that he looked at my background, and he thought, “This woman does know about leadership. I mean, she may not have published on it.” I had this publication that – not a publication – I had this unpublished paper that I had written in the doctoral program. I really love theory, as much as I love practice. I have always combined those two. So, when I was in the doctoral program, I wrote this theoretical paper on the transformistic organization. It walked about transforming all the way – an organization that actually continually transformed itself by the way that it set up its leadership, and in relationship to events that were going on in the external environment. So, as we study public administration, we study how an organization relates to its environment. Bureaucratic organizations relate to stable environments. Changing organizations relate to changing environments. The faculty asked us to project the theories that we were studying into the future. I mentioned that the other day. When I started reading Bennis and Slater’s The Temporary Society and things like that, I started thinking about what kind of environment is that future going to have? They were talking about transforming, and the ability to adapt, and all of that. So, I geared my concepts of what that organization would look like toward a transforming, turbulent, dynamic environment. That’s when I started thinking about what kind of leadership would it take to have an organization in those contexts. So, the work that I do now really started in my thinking back in the doctoral program. When I met James MacGregor Burns, who wrote about transforming leadership, he asked me – he was such a wonderful mentor, and he took me out to lunch and asked to read something that I had written. He got that paper, and he was like, “Wow!” And I said, “You wrote your book in ’78. I wrote this paper in ’74.” He was just surprised. So, I think Howard, you know, when I – actually, I asked to see the dean. I took my vitae over in person because I wanted to talk to these people to see who they were and what they were doing. When I took my vitae over, I asked if I could talk to the dean. I went in. Actually, the first thing I said is, “This program is phenomenal! This is just –” You know, I was so enthusiastic about. Then, I guess my enthusiasm countered with my experience made him think that “Yeah, this woman is interested in this. She really is.”
Scarpino: The way the search process worked was: you read the ad, you hand delivered your resume – your CV – and you said, “I want to talk to the dean.” The dean said okay, and you went in and sold yourself.
Hickman: Well, I wasn’t trying to. I just wanted to know what – you know, what is this? Tell me more about it. I was just so excited about it. I just went in and started talking about why I was – you know, why I thought this was phenomenal, and I was listening to him talk about what the program was. I really didn’t think about it that way. I just wanted to know more, you know.
Scarpino: Was that your only interview, or did they call you back for another?
Hickman: Oh no, no. That wasn’t an interview, you know. It’s just – I had to know who these people were. I believe totally that there should be a fit between a person and the organization as much as possible. I just wanted to know more about this.
Scarpino: But that was sort of consistent with your past practice, and the way you ran things professionally and personally.
Scarpino: The dean came out of a military background. He came from The U.S. Army Military Academy.
Scarpino: Did your philosophy and understanding of leadership square with his?
Hickman: Here’s the beauty of that: He had written a book on leadership in organizations for the military. He gave me two courses to develop: Leadership in Organizations and Leading Change. We all had to develop courses. As I sat down and I thought about the course, I would come in and share my ideas with him because he was the only other person on the faculty who had any organization background. That was really a good thing. We really were able to communicate around that because he did understand leadership in organizations, having written – co-written – a book on it. So, I said, “I’m used to teaching adult students, and now I’ve got to teach somebody about how leadership happens in organizations, and they are 18 to 22. So, I’ve got to come up with a really new way of approaching this.” So, I would think of ideas, and then I would go in, and I’d say, “What do you think about this, Howard?” We developed a really good collegial relationship around the fact that we both knew about leadership in organizations.
Scarpino: When you reported for work, so to speak, at the Jepson School, did you have any sense that you and your colleagues were leading the way nationally, maybe internationally, in leadership studies? Did you realize – I mean, I used to cross-country ski. So, did you realize you were out in front breaking trail and maybe there was nobody behind you? (laughter)
Hickman: Yeah, we became quite aware of that very soon. I think I love pioneering. It’s just fun for me. It was such hard work. You know, it was hard work. We were there on Sundays, we were there every day. We only had each other to depend on. It was really hard and exhilarating work. But, yeah, we started to become a laboratory for everybody else. We wanted to do that on purpose because we knew how hard it was for us, and we figured other people shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel if we could do something to help them have a headstart. People would come, sit in our classrooms, and talk with us all the time – people who wanted to start leadership programs. Yeah, we knew – I guess you can never know what a huge challenge that is, but we did know it was considerable.
Scarpino: Did you ever think about the fact that while you were pioneering in this area, and pioneering, in a sense, in a highly public way because people were looking at what you were doing, that there was a risk, that maybe it might not work?
Hickman: Oh, sure (laughter). The university made it pretty clear that it was a big risk for them. Howard Prince and I talked about this some since, and he said, “You know, we were – it was huge.” He said, “I realize what a tremendous responsibility it was,” because everybody was looking at us. The university had invested all this money, and we couldn’t fail. If we failed, it would be horrible. So, I don’t even think about failure as an option in those cases, but he’s right. It was. It was a gigantic risk, and that’s why they didn’t tenure any of us in. They were testing us out to see – you know, if this experiment didn’t work, we didn’t want to have all these extra faculty members that we didn’t know what to do with. They didn’t tenure any of us – except Howard – in.
Scarpino: That’s why, because they weren’t entirely persuaded it was going to work.
Hickman: Right. And then there were a lot of faculty against it in the arts and sciences. There were a lot of faculty who did not think that was an appropriate school for the university. They were already mad because there was a business school and a law school on our campus, and they didn’t want anything else that they thought might be a professional school, which we are not. We are really developed around the liberal arts, but they saw that as perhaps another kind of business school, and that’s just not what it is. But, yeah, we knew it was a huge risk, and we were constantly fighting misperceptions about us on campus. We had faculty members that would actually say to our students when they realized they were Leadership Studies majors, “Why are you majoring in that lightweight area? There’s no ‘there’ there,” kind of. Our students knew differently, but it was horrible. They would call them out in classes.
Scarpino: It’s my understanding that Mr. Jepson gave money to the university with the idea they would develop it, but that there was a campus-wide conversation. . .
Hickman: . . . There was.
Scarpino: . . . then they developed the whitepaper and so on. And I’m sure not everybody agreed with that, but there was some effort to bring the faculty on board rather. . .
Hickman: . . . It’s called “Draft No. 4.”
Scarpino: I’ve read “Draft No. 4.”
Hickman: Yeah. Yeah.
Scarpino: I assume there were three other drafts, which I didn’t read.
Hickman: Yeah, and so it was well thought through, really. I mean, we took that very seriously as our marching orders in a way, and we believed in it. We didn’t do it just because the faculty had developed it, but we thought conceptually that is what we want to do. I think that paper still holds up.
Scarpino: As you pointed out, the inaugural faculty came into a situation where there were names of classes on paper, and that was about it.
Hickman: That was it.
Scarpino: And you developed, or you were assigned by the dean, Leadership in Organizations and Leading Change.
Scarpino: I assume that the dean assigned those classes to you because of your background and experience. . .
Hickman: . . . Right.
Scarpino: . . . that you were the person in that area.
Hickman: Because the organizational theory and behavior were really solid areas of my background, so I used that as a launching pad. And in public administration, you learn the leadership theories, and you teach the leadership theories that come out of management. Those are the theories that we were using then.
Scarpino: So you were reading Peter Drucker and . . .
Hickman: Not Peter Drucker as much as McGregor and Theory X and Theory Y, and Mary Parker Follett, and people like that. I taught those to my students, so I did know the dominant management theories – management writers who were writing about leadership at the time.
Scarpino: I will say, just to put this in the record, that I did talk to Dean Prince. . .
Scarpino: . . . who is now at University of Texas at Austin.
Scarpino: I also talked to Crystal Hoyt. She told me that one of your strengths was combining theory and practice. So, you – and you had clearly -- we’ve already talked about that. You had been doing that in California, but when you got to Richmond, you got to the Jepson School, how did your prior work experience inform the ways you developed your classes?
Hickman: I was still determined that the only way to teach 18- to 22-year-olds the kind of information that I had to teach was to combine theory and practice. I worked out over the years in each of those classes a way for them to do that. The thing that I did in the Leading Organizations class is we built an organization in the classroom using leadership theories. The first half of the class I introduced them to leadership theories about organizations, and I looked at it – they had these course packets because I did not have a book that I thought worked for them. There was one book on leading organizations, which is – I’m trying to think of the author right now, but it was very theoretical, and to me, it was more graduate level. I didn’t think my students could understand that.
Scarpino: I’m going to go back to this in a minute, but you literally wrote the book when it came to those courses.
Scarpino: I’m going to ask you about that in a minute, but in the beginning, you’re using course packets because. . .
Hickman: I’m using course packets.
Scarpino: . . . there wasn’t really a. . .
Hickman: No, but I started with a framework about how I thought leadership should occur in organizations, and then the course packets matched the framework. The first half of the class, they would be introduced to the theories. The second half of the class, their assignment was to develop a new organization using those theories. So, they were divided into groups. There was a vision and mission group, and there was a leadership concept group. You know, what kind of leadership is this organization going to have? Each group led the class in conversation about -- they decided what kind of organization they wanted to build, and it just ranged all kind of interesting things. One year, they decided they were going to do – the farms that are now rejected, but where you grow fish -- I forgot what you call those. . .
Scarpino: . . . Agriculture.
Hickman: . . . Yes, yes. They decided to do that one year. Another year, they did something in advertising. I didn’t care what they chose, as long as we built this organization. So, they would come up with a brand-new organization. Each team led the whole class in coming up with the vision and mission. One team led the class in coming up with, “Well, what philosophy of leadership do we want to use in this organization, and how does that fit with the organization, the vision, the mission?” So, we had like five or six teams for different areas. Then they had to put it all together at the end, and they had to present it. I invited people to the class for them to present it to. Then it got even more complex as it went along because then I said that whatever organization you come up with, you have to visit other organizations like that. So, if it’s a restaurant, you’re going to have to send a team out and look at out how they do this. So, it got more and more – but always combining theory and practice. When they gave the presentation, they would present it as though this is a new offering, we want people to invest in our business. So, I would bring business people in and people to listen to it. It’s just phenomenal. And when we started the part of the class where they would work with their peers to come up with these visions and whatever, I couldn’t get a word in edgewise because they would be so engaged with each other. I would say, “Well, I, I, I haven’t—“ But it was just – that thrilled me to no end when we got to that point.
Scarpino: You were also layering in communications skills, and research, and synthesis, and all kinds of things.
Hickman: Working in teams, learning how to have shared leadership, that kind of thing. Yeah. They had to go to the speech center because the people who were going to present it had to learn how to present. They had to write it. They had to write the paper. The wrote different parts of it. It had to come together as a whole. They had all of that to do.
Scarpino: This was for your Leadership in Organizations course.
Hickman: My Leading Change course, the first time I did it, I didn’t like it. I just didn’t do it right. They did a lot of reading. They applied it to, I don’t know, different – the different readings that I had. But I said, “You know what? They don’t have any sense of what this actually means, what change feels like.” So, I started the next semester by having them lead a change on campus. They had to pick something that they wanted to change on campus, and then they had to apply the change theories and work with campus organizations to do it. I abandoned that because they did a good job, but students, you know, there was nobody to carry it on really after they started it. I thought, “No, this is not working.” So, then I went to community organizations, and I would send out a request for proposals in the summer. I would say, “You’re going to get free labor to help you make this change. Now propose something you would like for them to change in these areas.” So, we looked at organizational change, community change, political change, and social movements. There were times when we had four different organizations in those four areas of change, and then there were other times when we had one organization that had change in each of those areas. Then the proposals would come forward, and I would present the proposals to the class and let them choose the project they wanted to work on. For the semester, we would work with that organization while they learned the theories and applied them. Then they again presented them at the end to the organization.
Scarpino: Let’s just pick one of your courses: Leadership in Organizations. This is an undergraduate program, so I assume that, like most undergraduates, they went on to different, you know, careers and various. . .
Hickman: . . . They did.
Scarpino: As you look back on it when students took that class, what do you hope stuck with them? What do you hope that they would remember in five, or ten, or fifteen years that would just become a part of them?
Hickman: One of the things that I hope they would remember is that organizations can be changed. You do not have to accept the status quo. They can be made better. Leadership can be made better in those organizations. When you start, you probably start in a team and you’re in the team, and you’re not in a leadership role, but you can still exercise leadership by the ideas that you have, by the work that you do. You already have a holistic focus about how an organization can work with these leadership concepts, even though you might not be able to do it right then. I hope that they could start out contributing more than most undergraduates could contribute. And guess what? They got hired into the Change Management of Accenture, the Change Management Division, and they were the only undergraduates of a bachelor’s degree program that got hired in Change Management because they were already accelerated in what they could do. Many of them have written to me and said, “Oh, Dr. Hickman, you cannot believe, we saw exactly what you were talking about in our organization, and I suggested this, or I found myself much better able to work with a team. Even though I was the youngest one, they started giving me leadership roles,” and whatever. I hope that they would know that organizations should be humane, they’re made up of people, you respect those people’s intelligence and contributions, no matter what level they come from, and you use those in the organization. I think a lot of them have done that quite well.
Scarpino: You used your classes to engage the community, help the students put theory into practice, combining theory and practice. To what degree did you consider community engagement to be a key part of your teaching?
Hickman: That was a part of the Jepson School from the beginning. We were way ahead of that curve in terms of our students volunteering in the community. Dick Couto developed a course on service leadership. It was a course requirement and still is. It is called something different, but it’s still a requirement that students read about social engagement, social responsibility, and social change while they volunteer in community organizations. Well, I found that a really engaging part of the curriculum, and the fact that they have a 240-hour internship. I did purposely include that into my courses, and we did as a whole Jepson School.
Scarpino: You mentioned that no one came in with tenure, so you had to do the things that one has to do to earn tenure. Although, I did talk to the dean and he indicated that he had sort of backed off on the publication requirement for the first couple of years.
Hickman: He did.
Scarpino: But, you did publish a piece in 1994 in the Journal of Leadership Studies called “Practicing What We Preach: Modeling Leadership in the Classroom.” You and I talked about that yesterday, but I wanted to get that in the record. Then in 1997, you also published in the Journal of Leadership Studies. This time, “Teaching Leadership in a Diverse Society: Strategies, Challenges, and Recommendations.” What drew you to that topic? I mean, you had now been teaching for several years in the Jepson program, so you had that experience under your belt along with everything else that you had been doing.
Hickman: One of the things that – we had some overriding themes in the Jepson School, and one-by-one, each one of those things ultimately became a course, as well as these were themes that we were supposed to incorporate across all courses. But that’s difficult. So, one-by-one, each theme, like communication or whatever, became a part of the curriculum. Diversity didn’t as a course. I mean, not that it wasn’t built into other ways, but it didn’t become a course. I was really concerned about that, and so I said, “I’ll tackle that. I’ll tackle that course, but I have no background in it.” One of the things I – somebody said to me, who didn’t stay long at the Jepson School, “Oh, well, Gill, you can teach courses on diversity.” I said, “No I can’t. I went to white schools just like you. They didn’t teach me anything about diversity (laughing).” I didn’t specialize in ethnic studies. There’s a whole body of research in these areas. I don’t know that research. But, I decided that I would call together people on campus from different disciplines who had taught different parts of that to inform me about things I should use in that course, and how to teach it. I did develop that course, but that particular article came out of something I did with the Foundations course. We have changed this, but we used to have one introductory course, which was called Foundations of Leadership. Now that’s two different courses.
Scarpino: You rotated that among the faculty?
Hickman: Yes, yes. Our student body was not very diverse. We got a grant, and one of the things we said we were going to do in the grant is infuse more diversity into the curriculum. We developed a syllabus that infused more diversity. What I did under that grant is I contacted Virginia Commonwealth University, which is highly diverse, and I asked the provost for a faculty member there who could partner with me. She identified the head of African-American Studies, and also a sociologist, a black woman there. We partnered, and we wanted to do a very diverse Foundations course. She brought nine of her students with her. Some of them were like older students returning who had been in the military, different racial and ethnic groups. We combined that with our students. We had two students of color that were in our program, but the rest of our students were white. It was kind of an experiment. What we did is we taught the regular Foundations course with diverse readings infused into it. We divided them into groups because they always had some group project to do. We had them look at themselves about all the ways in which they were diverse, each group. We had them fill out questionnaires about that. Then at the end of the course, we asked them to identify all those ways that they found out that they were diverse and how that diversity affected their group work. We found that in most cases, the more diverse the group was, the better they performed at the end of the course. We wrote that article around that. We did that a couple times, but I didn’t get a chance to – we taught the course together a couple times, but she wasn’t always able to bring her students each time. But it was a very interesting process.
Scarpino: Well, just the fact that you had those students – different ages, different racial background, men and women, different life experience – talking to each other must have produced some interesting results.
Hickman: It did. It really did. They were talking about how they were – I wish that we could do this in the political sector – how they were able, with their differences, to come to conclusions that were much better than they could have if they didn’t have that diversity.
Scarpino: That article was really based on the first time you taught that course.
Scarpino: I’ve got to see how we’re doing on time here. I’m going to take a different tack. I still want to talk about the Jepson School, but you mentioned that you knew James MacGregor Burns.
Hickman: Very well.
Scarpino: Burns was involved with the Jepson School. I think he was an advisor there for a while?
Hickman: He was the senior scholar.
Scarpino: But, I mean, his role was really to. . .
Hickman: . . . mentor all of us, yes.
Scarpino: . . . mentor all of you.
Hickman: Yes. And he was on my selection committee.
Scarpino: Of course, he wrote that seminal book in 1978. I mean, he has written a lot of things about leadership. But he said in Leadership, “Although we have no school of leadership, we do have in rich abundance and variety the makings of such a school. An immense reservoir of data and analysis and theories has been developed.” No leadership school, he says, but there is a lot of stuff out there we could use. When you started working at the Jepson School and you had to put this program together and you had to make these classes, did you and your colleagues find that rich abundance and variety that he said was out there?
Hickman: Sure, but they weren’t in any one place. That’s why we had all these course packets. Every course had a course packet. We all wound up – like the Foundations course, one of my colleagues, Tom Wren, taught so many times that he produced the book from it. We each produced books for our classes because all of that was out there, but it certainly wasn’t integrated in such a way that we – or brought together – in such a way that we could teach from one book, any one book. We did have to develop our own teaching materials.
Scarpino: Another thing that James MacGregor Burns said in Leadership in 1978, he said, “No central concept of leadership has yet emerged, in part because scholars have worked in separate disciplines and subdisciplines in pursuit of different and often unrelated questions and problems.” You know, in the academy, we all work in our silos basically I guess is what he is saying here. When you and your colleagues came together at the Jepson School, were you able to overcome the problem that he identified, that no central concept of leadership because scholars work in separate disciplines? Were you able to reach across disciplines?
Hickman: Yeah, that’s the really exciting part about being a colleague in the Jepson School because we have people from so many different disciplines working together. We are constantly able to draw on each other’s research and work to inform ours. It’s nothing for us to be working on something, and we have – there was a – let’s see, what was I working on? Oh, I know what it was. It was The Power of Invisible Leadership, and I had a chapter on ethics in it. I was able to just walk down the hall and say, “Terry, would you read this chapter on ethics and tell me where the problems are, tell me what needs to be corrected?” It was just so phenomenal. Probably if I had not worked with that diverse faculty, I wouldn’t have even included a chapter on ethics. We learned how each other’s disciplines informed the other. We did not try to become experts on the other person’s disciplines, but we drew on our colleagues for that expertise.
Scarpino: You’re in a School of Leadership Studies, which was your tenure home, right? So, how did they know what to measure you against when. . .
Hickman: Oh, that was challenging.
Scarpino: . . . it came time for tenure and promotion?
Hickman: It took us a long time to work that out. That was very challenging. Finally, we decided what we wanted to see is that people were steeped in their own discipline, they understood that well, and then they were able to use that background to apply it in leadership studies. We expected that the first few years they would continue to publish in their fields, but over time they would bring that knowledge to some area of leadership studies and infuse it there. The difficulty was: what were the publishing the outlets? There weren’t that many to do that.
Scarpino: Because they’re all organized around disciplines.
Hickman: Exactly. We know that people were going to publish in both their home discipline and leadership studies. Over time, certainly more outlets came about – still not quite enough – but came about for them to use their ideas about their field to apply to leadership studies and publish in Leadership Quarterly, or other outlets that have come along that allow them to publish. There are more places for ethics in leadership and things like that now than there were. But that was difficult. I want to go back and say something about Jim Burns. He followed through on that because he and Georgia Sorenson got the Kellogg Grant to start that five-year Kellogg Leadership Studies grant. He brought together – he invited 50 scholars from all disciplines to be a part of that. He invited the Jepson School into that and all of these scholars from everywhere. Not only did we learn from each other, but the greatest thing he did from that was: we know each other, and we draw upon each other’s work in that way as well. I know Ron Heifetz, and Barbara Kellerman, and all those people because Jim invited all those people together. We spent five years hashing out – now, we didn’t come up with one theory of leadership because I was involved in the general theory of leadership project, too. We decided, nope, we can’t come up with a general theory of leadership, but we can identify the themes and the areas that are kind of included in the study of leadership. But we certainly didn’t come up with one principle. We didn’t even come up with one definition, but I think it was a very worthwhile project. That five-year project, just meeting each other, and all of the people that we read about, read their works, and all – we became friends.
Scarpino: I’m going to come back to this is a minute, but there really was a founding group.
Hickman: There really was a founding group.
Scarpino: I mentioned you literally wrote the book when it comes to your classes at the Jepson School. So, Leading Organizations: Perspectives for a New Era, first published in 1998, but you’re on the third edition now, 2015. You also edited Leading Change in Multiple Contexts: Concepts and Practices in Organizational, Community, Political, and Global Settings, which came out in 2010. I assume that was the book for your other class.
Scarpino: Yeah. When you did that kind of work, were you rewarded professionally inside the school for publishing textbooks?
Hickman: Oh yeah, yeah. I mean, I’m sure in other programs, textbooks may be down the line in what they think is the greatest thing to publish, but for us, it was very important because it influenced – it was not only important for our teaching, but it was important for everybody else’s teaching. I mean, because we all were in the same boat. The other people who were starting leadership programs didn’t have textbooks either. When I come to ILA and places like that, I get all this feedback about, “Oh, we’re using your book, and it’s just exactly what we need.” Now it has gone into the business sector because I have this – were you, you were at ILA last year, right?
Scarpino: I was not, no.
Hickman: Oh, you were not. So, there was a co-keynote. Cynthia Cherrey and others wanted to put together a scholar and a practitioner, and so we did a co-keynote. I did it with the dean of Deloitte University. They have a concept about how to train leaders in their university, and I have a concept about what leadership looks like in an organization. We came together with those two concepts. Jorrit Volkers had me come over and work with his team. They’re kind of restructuring their way of teaching their employees and leaders to move up into leadership positions based on the framework of Leading Organizations.
Scarpino: Who was this that asked you to do that?
Hickman: Cynthia Cherrey asked me.
Scarpino: No, no, Volkers?
Hickman: Oh, Jorrit Volkers, J-O-R-R-I-T.
Scarpino: Okay. He is associated with what?
Hickman: He is the dean of the Deloitte University in Europe, and he is a partner in Deloitte Consulting.
Scarpino: Okay. So, in looking back at the program that you helped to create at Jepson, what are you most proud of?
Hickman: The Jepson School, I’m most proud of our graduates. They took a huge risk. We called them the guinea pigs, the first class. Parents would come to us and say, “But what are they going to do with a degree in Leadership Studies?” And we’d say, “They’re going to go into organizations in every field, or they’re going to go out into every field, and they’re going to make a difference in their fields based on their learning and what they know about leadership studies: how to be a team member, how to lead, how to follow, and all the concepts that we teach them.” Now, they are over 1,000; 1,500 or something like that out there, and they are in all fields. We have people who have combined medicine and leadership. We have doctors. We have lawyers. We have musicians. We gave the 20-year Alumni Award to a musician this time. I mean, we have people out there in all the fields. And particularly in medicine, they embraced our students because they’re trying to retrofit their doctors now with leadership development. Our students come in with this, so they hire – they get them into the medical schools very quickly because they want that kind of person.
Scarpino: When you look back at your years at Jepson, is there anything you would have done differently? If you could have a do-over, is there anything you’d like to fix?
Scarpino: Or change?
Hickman: Not really, because I think that when you talk about working around a common purpose, we just went all out toward that. The thing is, even if we made mistakes, we were so conscientious about fixing them or working together to make things better. It’s just a mountaintop experience of my life. I just absolutely loved every minute of it, as hard as it was. There’s nothing I want to change, but we invite every new generation to change things.
Scarpino: Every new generation of faculty.
Hickman: Every new generation of faculty.
Scarpino: So, a mountaintop experience.
Scarpino: What do you mean by that?
Hickman: If I could have gone out and had the vision to create the perfect experience for me in my lifetime, that would have been it. I couldn’t have imagined it. I didn’t know that would have looked like, but if I could have had the foresight to do it, being a part of the inaugural Jepson faculty, being there with the students, building that school, being a part of the development of a whole new field, which is still developing, but being at the front-end of that – I couldn’t have, I couldn’t have made a better choice if I had been able to foresee that.
Scarpino: If you had some metaphorical mountain you could climb and look into the future, that’s what would have been there.
Hickman: That’s what would have been there. And the reason I know that is when I was in public administration, they required us to read the papers of the people who developed the field. They had some kind of retreat, and we had to read those papers. As I was reading them, I thought, “How exciting that must have been. Boy, I wish I could do something like that.” I thought that as a master’s student, and to get to do that -- I actually had a professor in the PhD program who called me into his office one day, and he asked me, “What do you do for a living?” I said, “I’m a Human Resource Director,” and he said, “You’re wasting your time.” I was like, “What?” I mean, I thought that was really insulting. He said, “You are wasting your time.” He said, “You should be writing the books in the field,” and I thought, “That’s ridiculous.” I mean, all I can do is get through every day. I have all this other stuff going on. I don’t want to write books in the field. Now I look at – and I keep saying every week, “I should send him the books I wrote in this field.” He didn’t anticipate that it would be a different field, but I can’t believe he said this.
Scarpino: You should do that if he is still alive.
Hickman: I really should do that. I really should do that.
Scarpino: I have one great regret, and that is that I did not contact the high school English teacher who made a difference in my life. We’re going to switch a little bit here and talk about your involvement with the Kellogg Leadership Studies Project, James MacGregor Burns Academy of Leadership at the University of Maryland. Of course, you were involved in that grant.
Hickman: From the beginning, yeah.
Scarpino: You were invited to be a part of the 50 scholars that were funded by the Kellogg Grant. But out of that grant grew the Kellogg Leadership Studies Project, right?
Scarpino: Yes. And you’ve explained that you were invited to participate, but looking back on it, how would you assess the significance of the multiyear grant and the Kellogg Leadership Studies Project?
Hickman: It was just incredibly valuable. Just the way Jim said in his book that there is a lot of stuff out there, and how you harness that, and how do you – I think that was one of the more important things he did to develop the entire field because brining us together to learn from each other, to argue with each other, to hash out things with each other, even if we didn’t solve the questions that we put for ourselves, we built a community of scholars that we could depend on, that we knew who was doing what in the field, and who to go to for different information, and who to send our students to. It continues today. I mean, we were divided into groups, and I was in the transforming leadership group. We had conveners, and I remember the very first time Jim said, “Gill, I want you to convene that group.” I’m thinking, “What? That’s your group, transforming leadership.” “No, I want you do convene it.” I said, “Well, we’re going to convene it together.” But I had Bernie Bass, Jim Burns, Georgia Sorenson – I’m trying to think who else in that group – maybe Larraine – I’ve forgotten. But just these huge people in the field are all sitting around talking, hashing out their ideas about transforming leadership. Once a year the whole group would meet, and then in between, we would have two to three meetings of our individual groups. One day, Bernie and Jim started hashing through their concepts with each other, and we just sat back like, “Oh my God. I cannot believe this is happening.” Then for Jim to talk about the development of his theory having lived through the New Deal and – well, we weren’t there in the New Deal, and he made it very clear about where these concepts come from, and how a person with leadership vision and care about humanity can change things so that people who are in dire conditions, that it will make a difference in their lives. It was very clear to us after he explained all of this. It was just the most valuable experience, I think, for the whole field.
Scarpino: You have the grant, you pull 50 scholars together to create the Kellogg Leadership Studies Project. You described it as a community of scholars. It was a while ago, several decades ago, so most of you who participated in that have gotten older over time. Is there in the field today a sense of community, common purpose?
Hickman: I don’t think the same way the Kellogg Leadership Scholars group was, but I think that the second iteration when Kellogg gave the grant to start the ILA, the hope was that it would create a community like that. I think ILA has done a phenomenal job, but it’s a different kind of community. I think it’s good, but we still don’t have a community of scholars that come together and do what we did in the Kellogg Leadership Studies Grant. We’ve toyed with that a little bit at the Jepson School. At our 20th anniversary, we brought together a group of scholars and we had a conference. There was talk about having a biannual conference like that, but it hasn’t happened. I think we still need that.
Scarpino: As the field has developed, has it developed more in the direction of teaching people to be leaders as opposed to the scholarship of leadership?
Hickman: No. I think both, because the leadership educators in this conference are the ones that carry on teaching theories of leadership, teaching courses about leadership, as opposed to just development. We have both development, and we have theory. I think one of the ways we are developing that community of scholars is that many years ago when I was on the board, I suggested – and I got this from the Academy of Management – that we have sessions where we bring together senior scholars with younger scholars and mentor that group. We now do that at the ILA, which I think is the way the next group will develop. But it’s still not bringing together a group of scholars who are in leadership studies to just talk to each other about the scholarship. I think we still need that. I think ILA is doing the right thing. There are all these break-off conferences, you know, Women in Leadership, and I think we need to do that with the scholars. It hasn’t happened yet because at first, I kept saying in the board, “We’re losing the scholars. We’re losing the scholars,” because it is rare that you have an organization where you have the scholars, practitioners, teachers all together, and that does it for the scholars. But I think instead, scholars need to develop an offshoot of ILA where we have biannual meetings or something like that. I think we still need that.
Scarpino: In 1997, you published a working paper titled Transformational Leadership: Working Papers for the Kellogg Leadership Service Project. Was that paper an outgrowth of the working group that you just talked about?
Scarpino: It was originally convened by Bernard Bass.
Hickman: Yes. We rotated conveners.
Scarpino: In addition to Transformational Leadership, you co-authored in 1998 another working paper that grew out of the Kellogg Leadership Studies Project. It is called Leadership in the Twenty-First Century. It is co-authored by Kathleen Allen, Juana Bordas, you, Larraine Matusak, Georgia Sorenson, and Kathryn Whitmire. It was published in something called Rethinking Leadership: Kellogg Leadership Studies Project 1994 - 1997. I read your paper. I didn’t read the whole thing, so the co-authored paper. For the benefit of people who may not find the PDF online, it says on Page 1 “For years, scholars have been trying to define or describe the nature of leadership. Today, driving forces exist that suggest the purpose of leadership in the twenty-first century, rather than the definition, must be the focal point of our leadership studies.” So, purpose instead of definition. “Therefore, recognizing the context of these changing times, we propose the purpose of the leadership in the twenty-first century is,” and you have got three points here. Number one: “To create a supportive environment where people can thrive, grow, and live in peace with one another;” number two: “To promote harmony with nature, and thereby sustainability for future generations;” and three: “To create communities of reciprocal care and shared responsibility – one where every person matters, and each person’s welfare and dignity is respected and supported.” Those are amazing points. When you switch from definition to purpose and you were like putting points on the horizon and saying, “Here’s where we’re marching.” Or maybe there’s the mountaintop up there that you used, and that’s where we’re going. But, how did you and your co-authors arrive at a point where you wanted to explain leadership in the twenty-first century by purpose instead of definition? That must have been an interesting discussion.
Hickman: It was a big rebellion. It was a big rebellion within the Kellogg Leadership Studies Project. What happened is that we had all been participating in this project for a while, and we were getting sick and tired of the arguments about definition, about whether leadership has to have charisma, whether – these are important issues, but we were like, “Oh my God, we’re sick of this. This is not what we want to see accomplished.” They usually have these sessions set up where they had breakout groups and whatever. One of those times when they had a breakout group and they had assigned up to go to different places, we just start heading toward each other. We just didn’t go in the breakout groups; we made our own group, and we said, “Alright, we’ve had it. We want to talk about,” and Larraine, you know, a whole group of us were a part of this, and Georgia, and I – because Georgia and I had been sitting in our little transforming leadership group looking at each other, saying, “No. We don’t go for this. There are other forms of leadership other than focusing on the leader. We are not leader-focused. That is not where we want to be.” A whole group of us have come to the same conclusion. When we moved together, we decided we were going to have to identify a place, come together, and write a paper about where we stood on this issue. So, we met in Santa Fe. . .
Scarpino: . . . A nice place to meet.
Hickman: . . . At one of my favorite artist’s places – Georgia O’Keefe. . .
Scarpino: . . .Georgia O’Keefe.
Hickman: . . . Georgia O’Keefe’s place, and we wrote this paper. It reflected what we got out of the Kellogg Leadership Studies Project, and where we thought things should be going. Dick Cuoto had a session at ILA on this, on our paper, two years ago, and he said, “You know what, it still holds up.”
Scarpino: Purpose-driven, create a supportive environment, promote harmony with nature, create communities of reciprocal care and shared responsibility. This was a group decision to settle on these points? There must have been some others that came up for discussion.
Hickman: Oh yeah. We had a long discussion, and yeah, we came to that conclusion that these were the three areas that we wanted to develop in our paper. It wasn’t hard. We were very much of like mind. We didn’t have a lot of argument. We just had a lot of discussion about how we wanted to form the paper, and where we wanted to go, and we farmed out some pieces of it and put it together.
Scarpino: The title of the paper, Leadership in the Twenty-First Century, which you wrote in the twentieth century, toward the end of it – how do you think that leadership and leadership studies in the twenty-first century measures up against the purposes that you outlined in this paper? You had a vision. . .
Hickman: . . . We had a vision.
Scarpino: . . . and now we are in the twenty-first century. . .
Hickman: . . . And we are in the twenty-first century, yes.
Scarpino: How are we doing?
Hickman: We are very slowly working on these areas. I think it is going to be a long time. A long time. But each of use set out to work on this in different fields. You can see Georgia and I did The Power of Invisible Leadership, which carries out that theme. People told us when we first started working on that, “Well, that’s a nice idea, and it would be nice – and I can see it in social movements, but there are no organizations that are going to do this.” We said, “Wrong!” As somebody we know says all the time, “We don’t agree with you,” and we set out to do research to prove that there are organizations coming around to this. There’s a whole website, worldblu.com, which awards democratic organizations every year around the world.
Scarpino: It’s called worldblu.com.
Hickman: Yes, World B-L-U, not B-L-U-E, .com. You go on their website, and you see that their whole purpose is to teach organizations how to be more democratic. There are more and more organizations doing this. Now, it is not a huge number, but certainly many more than anybody could have imagined. I think they’re the kind of organizations that the millennials want to want to work in. I think slowly we’re getting there. I did a paper, which a book chapter is going to come out in a book that Al put together. We did it at Mount Vernon.
Hickman: Al Goethals, I’m sorry.
Scarpino: Goethals, okay.
Hickman: Yeah, we did it at Mount Vernon, and I have a chapter in there on talking about fulfilling Jim MacGregor Burns’ idea about real intent to change in the context that he doesn’t believe in, in organizations. I talk about that a little bit. There is this new concept called benefit corporations. I don’t know if you’ve heard about it, but in their articles of incorporation, etc., they are required to have a societal good or societal benefit component in which they donate money and their services to an aspect of changing society. This is something that was just unthought of and not heard of. It came out of those organizations who were trying to do social responsibility but sometimes were not able – the CEOs who really were dedicated to it could not always carry out the things they wanted. One example was Ben and Jerry’s. When they got ready to sell their company, they wanted to choose a company to take over that was like them and served their same purposes. Their stockholders said, “Well, no, this other company really is going to give us more money.” Out of that kind of experience came this whole concept of benefit organizations where it was actually built into their corporation that they must do this. So, there are more organizations doing this now. That’s the argument I make in this chapter, that even though it’s not Jim Burns’ idea of real intent to change, it has the capability of being huge. So, no, not tons of organizations are doing it, but that’s really encouraging.
Scarpino: I’m going to shift a little bit. I want to talk about a few things that you started when you were at Jepson and then finished after you retired. In 2002, you and Georgia Sorenson published a chapter in Cynthia Cherrey and Larraine Matusak editors, Building Leadership Bridges. The title of your chapter was Invisible Leadership in Non-Profit Organizations. Then you published another piece on invisible leadership in 2004, and you and Georgia Sorenson co-authored The Power of Invisible Leadership: How a Compelling Common Purpose Inspires Exceptional Leadership in 2013. What drew you to this idea of invisible leadership?
Hickman: Georgia and I were sitting in the transforming leadership group, and Bernie Bass and Jim Burns were arguing about whether you need charisma to be a good leader. They were arguing about these elements, and we kept thinking, “These are theories where the leader transforms the follower and actually it doesn’t go the other way around as much.” Jim wanted it to go the other way around, and Jim’s theory actually had transforming each other in it, whereas Bernie’s actually didn’t. It was more leader transforming the follower. But we thought we have seen other forms of leadership where people bring their leadership to a common purpose, and we know that that is not represented in the literature anywhere, and there are people who lead that way.
Scarpino: Did you have personal experience in your lifetime that made you confident of that?
Hickman: Oh, absolutely. Starting with the Civil Rights Movement.
Scarpino: And what, for example?
Hickman: So, for example, in the Civil Rights Movement, I can’t remember that anyone – as powerful as Martin Luther King was, he was not my reason for wanting to participate in the Civil Rights Movement. My reason was the cause had charisma, as we say in our book. We were drawn to it because it was important. We knew it was important. We wanted to participate. Nobody stopped us because of age, or factors like that. It didn’t say, “You can’t lead.” Nobody did that. You could see people were so anxious to bring anything they could toward changing the cause. For example, my parents would pick up maids who were walking to work because they refused to take the bus and take them to work. I mean, people, just anything they had to bring to that cause, they brought to that cause. So, I felt that not only had I seen it in the Civil Rights era, but that it had to exist in other contexts. It wasn’t just the Civil Rights era. Georgia worked in the Carter Administration, and I am sure that she felt that she had that kind of power to bring what she had toward the cause that she believed in. We just both started talking about that. That’s where that came about. I think somebody told us, “That’s not a book.” (laughter)
Scarpino: Well, you showed them. (laughter)
Hickman: We actually presented it at the ILA, the idea, and the whole room was filled. I mean, there was standing room, and everybody came to that session. We knew from that, that it was an idea that had legs. We asked them for their input, and I said, “Shouldn’t we call it something other than invisible leadership?” “No, we like that title.” People actually interpreted that incorrectly for a long time because they thought that meant people who were never seen in the organization. But we were saying, like Mary Parker Follett, that the purpose was the invisible leader. We weren’t talking about leaders who were not seen. We were talking about the real leader was the purpose.
Scarpino: So you were still talking about purpose-driven leadership.
Hickman: Exactly, exactly. So, we’ve been on that a long time, and I think it is finally getting through to people.
Scarpino: I was going to ask you why you partnered with Georgia Sorenson, but you just told me.
Hickman: Did I tell you about Jim putting us together?
Scarpino: You did not.
Hickman: Okay. So, Jim mentored us at the Jepson School. The more I talked to Jim, the more he said, “You have got to meet Georgia Sorenson. You two are so much alike.” I didn’t know who Georgia Sorenson was, and he kept saying it. So finally, he made it happen. He had a panel at the Political Science Association. He put me and Georgia on the panel with him to make sure that we met each other. When I walked up to Georgia and Jim introduced us, we started talking and we have never stopped.
Scarpino: She was at the University of Maryland then?
Hickman: Yes. What Georgia told me that I didn’t know is, Jim did not do that. She said he wasn’t a networker in the sense of putting people together. He brought people together for various projects, but she said that’s the only time in all the years that she has known him that he ever said she should meet somebody. That’s how we met, and that’s how we – and he was right. He was just right.
Scarpino: That was really before the Kellogg Leadership Studies Project because you were on that same working group.
Hickman: Yeah, right.
Scarpino: In 2000, you teamed with Ann Creighton-Zollar, Virginia Commonwealth University, to publish a chapter titled Leadership During Personal Crisis, in a volume edited by Barbara Kellerman and Larraine Matusak. I mention this in the same context that you are continuing to work on that subject in your retirement, which probably isn’t really retirement, is it?
Hickman: It is. It really is.
Scarpino: We talked a little bit about what drew you to the topic, at least some of your own personal experience and encountering others. But, why is this topic important in understanding leaders and leadership? I’m not asking you to scoop your book, but there must be something that you can say about why someone who is interested in the subject of leaders and leadership should care about this.
Hickman: In our presentation the other day - and I have a new partner who is working with me on this – oh, by the way, Ann Creighton-Zollar is the woman who worked with me on the diversity article. I met her at that point in time. She is a sociologist, so, later on, I asked her to work with me on this article.
Scarpino: But now you’re also working with a clinical psychologist.
Hickman: Right. Ann was no longer able to continue on the project because of health reasons, so now I’m working with a clinical psychologist. So, that’s the connection there with Ann. But, I’m sorry, I forgot exactly what you asked me.
Scarpino: What I asked you was why is the topic important for people who are interested in studying leaders or leadership?
Hickman: In the presentation the other day that we made, we had a picture of Obama over the definition of personal crisis. I remember very well that when he was president-elect, his grandmother died. She helped raise him. I remember him shedding one tear, and that’s all the public ever saw of that particular personal crisis. I thought, “Now, what did he do with that?” Because this is the person near and dear to his heart. He has to go own and develop a team. He is the first African-American president. He has a lot of pressure. But there is no getting around the fact that his heart has to be hurting. So, how does he deal with that? Then I think about the fact that that was a question I had after my own experience of how I dealt with it, and how do other leaders deal with this? Because it truly affects your leadership, whether you want to believe that or not. It does affect it, whether you tell other people or not, you have to do something with yourself. Then your issue is how does that affect the people on your team or people who work for you? I also brought this topic up with a group of Kellogg fellows. They were saying there is very little about what happens in a leader’s personal life – the personal side of their lives, and this is an important part. One of the things Laura and I found out when we were looking for our group to survey is that we use Mechanical Turk – I don’t know – Mechanical Turk – if you know about this, it’s an Amazon product, but. . .
Scarpino: . . . I don’t.
Hickman: They have people who are willing to take surveys for a nominal fee. You can -so, we did a pre-survey where we made sure that people who were going to answer our survey, one: were in leadership roles; and two: had had a personal crisis. We were only going for fifty people in this first study, but we put it out there. Three-hundred-and-some people identified as having been in a leadership role and having had a personal crisis. Now, we wound up with 49 people finally answering the whole thing and qualifying. We had to eliminate a couple people, so we had 52, and we wound up with 49.
Scarpino: This was an anonymous survey?
Scarpino: It was not random?
Hickman: Well, it was random in the sense that we don’t know who is going to be in this Mechanical Turk group, but we had them narrow it down to only people who have been leaders and had a personal crisis. Then we sent the full survey to that group. But the fact that three-hundred-and-some people said that they had been in that situation, we know that it’s a bigger issue than people ever talk about. To know what other leaders who have been there advise, what they did, and what they think others should do is just helpful in and of itself. We think that ultimately that should be a part of leadership development, that kind of knowledge. So, we are going to have two others phases of this survey. Half of it was quantitative, and half of it was qualitative. Then I crunched all the qualitative data and put it into software that you can now use to quantify it, and that kind of thing. Then we’re going to have a larger study that is all going to be quantitative this time of leaders. So, we’ll have a bigger group to draw from. But then we also will do a study of employees who have had leaders that have had personal crisis, so we can see how it actually affected the employees because most people we asked in this survey said they didn’t have any idea how it affected people that they didn’t tell about. That’s a big problem. You should know.
Scarpino: I’m going to respect your time, but I’m going ask you some wrap-up questions.
Scarpino: You’ve been involved in as a leader and certainly in leadership studies for a long time. What would you consider to be the major changes in your field in the last twenty years or so? What are the big-picture changes that have taken place that really stand out?
Hickman: Well, the biggest-picture change to me is that leadership studies has become more mainstream in universities. At one time, it was something that people didn’t regard as an important area of study. Now you have a proliferation of majors, minors, doctoral programs, which I think is great. We really needed more university programs where people can study leadership, as well as practice leadership because there are a lot of leadership development programs, but what base do those programs have? We wanted our students to have a solid base of knowledge about leadership before they even practiced leadership because there are a lot of programs that don’t have a lot of substance. I mean, not a lot of programs, but a lot of practitioners out there who just declare themselves knowledgeable about these areas and start selling their wares. I think it just needs much more attention than that. Ron Heifetz keeps saying that we’re not a discipline. That may be true in the old-fashioned sense of a discipline, but can you have a multidiscipline? I don’t know, but I do know that this is an area that can be studied, and that’s something that people used to say wasn’t possible.
Scarpino: As you look at your entire career, what are you most proud of?
Hickman: Absolutely the work at the Jepson School, and being a grandmother who had a big influence on my grandson because he has multiple disabilities. The fact that my husband and I could bring resources to bear to help with that at a very young age is an important thing, I think.
Scarpino: He’s in his late teens now?
Hickman: He is 26.
Scarpino: Oh my goodness. I can’t add in my head, can I? (laughing)
Hickman: He has Asperger’s, bipolar, and ADHD, and yet he’s functioning. He’s living in a house with three other guys. He got his first job. He’s taking those steps.
Scarpino: That must be a really good feeling.
Hickman: It’s a great feeling. It really is a great feeling.
Scarpino: And also part of the matrix of personal crisis that informed your interest in that subject.
Hickman: Yeah. Exactly. I mean, because he had a crisis too while I was doing all these other things. It was just diagnosed – started to be diagnosed when he was three and a half. He was one of the early people diagnosed with Asperger’s in this country.
Scarpino: Do you consider yourself a work in progress?
Hickman: Always. I’m always a work in progress. I think the thing that I keep experiencing over and over in my life is that I like to be on the cutting edge of things, but when you’re on the cutting edge of things, people don’t always understand what you’re doing or why you’re doing it. It’s not so easy to get things published. When I first got out of the doctoral program, and I tried to get this transformistic organizations idea published in the journals in public administration, they were like, “This is very well written, but no.”
Scarpino: And it remains an unpublished paper, right?
Hickman: Well, it remains an unpublished paper, yeah. It’s been in working papers, but part of it is in The Encyclopedia of Leadership. I did do a brief write-up on it in The Encyclopedia of Leadership, so it is in there.
Scarpino: What would you like your legacy to be?
Hickman: I would like my legacy to be a couple things. One: she was always pushing the boundaries and trying to think of ideas that will make a difference in leadership studies and in people’s lives. You notice that I don’t have as many articles. That’s because I have purposely tried to publish in areas that are going to be more widely read. I really respect academic journals, but we know that people who are going to practice and sometimes people who teach don’t always go there. I want to get those ideas out there in the general public. I respect publishing, but I do a lot more books and book chapters than I do refereed journals because I want it to be out there.
Scarpino: Is there anything that I should have asked you that I didn’t?
Hickman: I don’t think so. You certainly did a lot of work and knew a lot about me when I got here, which I knew you would after the way you said you were going to go about your work. It’s been a great pleasure to do this, although I didn’t know what I was going to talk about for four hours.
Scarpino: Is there anything that you wanted to say that I didn’t give you a chance to say?
Hickman: I guess, no. The only thing I can think of is that I really hope I made a difference with my students because they are the ones that are going to carry this forward, everything that we do forward. I get feedback from them that says I did, and I hope that it’ll last.
Scarpino: It’s hard to know as a teacher, isn’t it?
Hickman: It’s hard to know. It’s hard to know.
Scarpino: Teaching really was your passion?
Hickman: Teaching was my passion.
Scarpino: Thank you. Thank you very much. While the record is still on, I thank you on behalf of myself, and the Tobias Center, and the International Leadership Association for being really patient with me.
Hickman: Oh, thank you.
Scarpino: You’re welcome.(RECORDER TURNS OFF)