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 am interviewing Dr. Barbara Kellerman 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. For now, I will provide an abbreviated overview of Dr. Kellerman’s career. Barbara Kellerman earned her Ph.D. in Political Science at Yale University in 1975. Early in her career she held academic and administrative positions at Fordham University, Tufts University, Fairleigh Dickinson University, and George Washington University. From 1998-2000, she was the Director of the Center for Advanced Study of Leadership, James MacGregor Burns Academy of Leadership, University of Maryland. Since 2000, Dr. Kellerman has been affiliated with the Center for Public Leadership, Harvard Kennedy School, serving as Founding Executive Director (2000-2003), Research Director (2003-2006), and James MacGregor Burns Lecturer in Public Leadership (2006-present). Dr. Kellerman has a distinguished publication record in leadership studies. Her unpublished dissertation was Willy Brandt: Portrait of the Leader as Young Politician. Since then, she has authored or co-authored, edited or co-edited sixteen books. Among her most recent and highly influential books would be included: Followership: How Followers are Creating Change and Changing Leaders (2008). The End of Leadership (2012). Hard Times: Leadership in America (2014). She has also published several dozen articles and book chapters on leadership topics. Dr. Kellerman has received numerous recognitions for her work. For example: She has been awarded a Danforth Fellowship and three Fulbright Fellowships. She was ranked by Forbes.com among the “Top 50 Business Thinkers” and by Leadership Excellence in the top 15 of “thought leaders in management and leadership.” The Financial Times listed The End of Leadership as one of the Best Business Books of 2012, and Choice highlighted it as essential reading. The recognition that brings us here today is the Leadership Legacy Lifetime Achievement Award [resented by the International Leadership Association, November 2016.
Scarpino: Here’s my primary and that should be working. I’ve already sound-tested these so if you want to trust me, we can go ahead and get started.
Kellerman: I trust you.
Scarpino: Alright. So as I said when the recorder was off, I’m going to ask you permission to do what you agreed to in writing. I’m asking your permission to record this interview, to transcribe the interview, and then to deposit the recording and transcription in the IUPUI Collections and Archives so that it can be used by the patrons, including posting all or part of the recording and transcription to the website of the IUPUI Special Collections and Archives and the same condition with the Tobias Center and the ILA. So, can I have your permission to do those things?
Kellerman: Absolutely. No problem.
Scarpino: For the benefit of anybody who listens to this in the future or reads the transcript, I’m going to start by explaining that I’m going to begin with some big picture questions, just to engage you on the topic of leadership. Then I’m going to ask you some basic demographic questions to get it all in one place. Then, from there, I’m going to talk to you about your youth and young adulthood, sort of aimed at providing users some insight into the question: Who are you? Who is Barbara Kellerman? And then when we’re done with that, we’re going to work our way chronologically through your career focusing on leadership. What I’m not going to do is ask you about every one of your books because people can read your books. What I will do is ask you what brought you to the point where you were intellectually prepared to write the book? Okay, so let’s get started. The first question I’m going to ask you – I had some trepidation but then I listened to Ron Heifitz this morning who said that there’s a disagreement about the basic terms of reference in the field. Having spent much of your adult life writing about and otherwise explaining leadership, how do you define leadership?
Kellerman: Well, first of all, Ron was right. There is incredibly little agreement among senior scholars, not only about definitions but about how to look at this thing, what we’re even talking about. It’s a field that, in that sense, has not matured. It depends on what is one’s definition of a mature field? If maturity is equated with there are certain things that the senior people in the field think that everybody should learn, such as, for example, in medicine or in history or in psychology, certain principles, leadership has not reached that level of maturity. In other words, it transcends differences of definition. It’s much more, and the book that I’m working on now is making me think a lot about this. It’s that nobody anyplace is really teaching leadership, either how to be a leader or what is leadership in a way that is similar. Everybody’s doing their own thing without any obvious rhyme or reason, and I can speak from my own experience, as well as everything I’ve read on the subject now. Each individual institution organization, whether it’s academic or other, simply develops their own idea of how to teach leadership, how to teach about it or how to teach how to do it. So, again, Ron is absolutely right. Because, as I’m sure you know, I early on in my career have been as much interested in bad leadership as good leadership. I’m I think still one of the few in the leadership field who does not put the word good in front of the word leadership. Mostly when we talk about leadership in this country, since the development of what I call the leadership industry about 40 years ago, we assume that I’m taking a leadership course, I’m learning how to be a leader. We assume the word good is in front of it, so I’m learning how to be a good leader. I’m taking a course about good leaders, about all those things that we associate with good leaders. I do not do that. I have a value-free – this is unlike Ronny and unlike, in fact, most of my colleagues -- but having been steeped in history from early childhood…
Scarpino: Ronny is Ron Heifetz, right?
Kellerman: Ron Heifetz. Thank you. I appreciate the clarification. Having been steeped in bad leadership from early childhood on, I never in my life thought that leadership would end up being equated with good leadership. To me, leadership is sometimes good and sometimes bad. So it is value-free. My definition of leadership is if person A can get person B to do what A wants them to do, whether or not B wants to do it, whether or not B shares A’s values, whatever, whatever, if A can get B to do what A wants B to do, then A is leading. Sometimes as Mao said, that leadership power grows out of the barrel of a gun. We don’t like it, but do I consider Syria’s Assad a leader? I sure as hell do. So to me it’s a term that is value-free.
Scarpino: I’m going to follow up on that, but you mentioned the fact that leadership programs have developed all over the country in a rather idiosyncratic way, you know, each program…
Scarpino: How does somebody who is not in that discipline from the outside looking in know what to believe?
Kellerman: They don’t. The short answer is they don’t. But I assume if I’m talking too much you’ll stop me.
Scarpino: (Laughing) You’re not talking too much. Kellerman Okay. One of the things to remember about this business is how new it is. People have been interested in leadership since the beginning of recorded history, so we can go back to Confucius or whatever, Plato, Machiavelli through the ages. But this notion of leadership as a business, I call it, again, the leadership industry, is new. So what do I mean by new? I mean it’s slightly older than the International Leadership Association, but the International Leadership Association itself was a product of the burgeoning leadership industry. I go back – if you’re interested, we can talk about why this happened. I wrote a book about this, too. I wrote a book about almost everything. We can ask ourselves why this happened when it did? But there’s no question that the mid to late 1970s were the years that marked the inception of the leadership industry, which is now a huge business, which is now a multimillion dollar global business.
Scarpino: What were some of the factors that to that emergence?
Kellerman: That’s an interesting question to which I have paid some considerable attention. Why then? Why here? By here, I mean in the United States of America. After World War II, the United States, as I said, this is a homegrown industry – homegrown USA, made in the USA. It’s now spread but it originated in the USA, no question about it. So why? First of all, it’s in keeping with an American attitude which is sort of can do, how to. We have always assumed, Americans, that you can learn how to do and be most anything if you pay enough attention and you do it enough. So it historically fits in with our culture. But why at that moment? After the second world war, this country was riding high. Then came the 1960s and 1970s and in two areas – I document this in my book and write about this in my book, Reinventing Leadership, which came out in 1999. So you’ve had, in the private sector and in the public sector, for the first time in a long time, major problems; in the public sector, beginning with the assassinations of John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and then continuing to a series of failed presidencies – presidencies that include not just John Kennedy but Lyndon Johnson, who withdrew because he felt he was so unpopular he could never win again; Richard Nixon, who was, in effect, forced to resign from office; Gerald Ford who couldn’t win a term in his own right; Jimmy Carter who couldn’t win a second term. It took until Ronald Reagan until we had again what could by most measures be called a successful president, including the fact that he was elected a second time. So all these years, beginning with the assassinations, the American body politic was starting to fracture in certain ways, including a gradual decline in popular approval. The 1960s were the peak of our trust in leaders. It’s been deteriorating since then, beginning in 1970s. Just talking about public sector leadership now, if you combine trauma with distrust and failure at the nation’s highest office in some ways, important ways, you have great public dys-ease for the first time in a long time. That’s combined with what was going on in the private sector, in corporate America. In corporate America in the 1950s and early 1960s, great, unstoppable, conqueror of the world. What happened in the late 1960s and, in particular, in the 1970s, is you started to have what we now call global competition. Fairly you could say it hit the car industry first. Whoever heard of this thing called a Volkswagen? Whoever heard of this thing called a Toyota? It’s hard for us to remember that relatively recently we didn’t know such things existed.
Scarpino: (Laughing) Made in Japan used to be a joke. Kellerman Made in Japan used to be a joke and then made in Japan because equated with a fabulous car for relatively little money. These were two countries. They were, of course, the demolished countries after World War II and from that rubble arose, in both countries, formidable competition to America’s private sector. What you had, more in the 1970s than in any other decade, an amalgam of problems in the private sector and in the public sector that were causing great anxiety. And what do people do when they’re anxious? They start to think about leadership. This is a point that Ronny Heifetz made this morning. So that was the beginning, first in the nation’s business schools. It actually goes back longer in the nation’s business schools, but I won’t go into that now unless you want me to, because it wasn’t part of what I call the leadership industry. It was small, it was confined. What was different in the 1970s is that it began in the nation’s business schools, then spread to corporations, then spread to schools like the one I’m in now, schools of public administration, schools of government. The 1970s were the beginning of the industry – this idea in particular that teaching how to lead – we can talk about how I divide the leadership field in a moment into two different parts. But the how to lead part, in particular, became a driver of what I call the leadership industry and it became a moneymaker. It became a moneymaker for business schools, became a moneymaker for schools that offered executive education, became a moneymaker for the individuals, the academics, the coaches, the consultants, the trainers, you name it, who were profiting mightily handsomely from this notion that, if you give me a week, if you give me a semester, if you give me a weekend, whatever, I will teach you how to lead. Then 40 years later, this is sort of where we are, that we have this large, multimillion, multibillion dollar operation where the idea that leadership can be taught has infiltrated you name it and it has spread around the world. It is of course by no means any longer, as this International Leadership Association meeting will attest. It is now a global phenomenon.
Scarpino: Can leadership be taught?
Kellerman: Well, you ask different people, again, there is very, very, very little agreement on that. Some people assume it as a given. Most people assume it’s a given. Most people who teach leadership don’t self-reflect, don’t question, don’t measure very much. They assume what they’re doing is teaching leadership. On the other end, you have a much smaller number who says, no, leadership can’t be taught. And in the middle you have a mix – I suppose I would put myself in the middle -- of people who say that maybe perhaps under certain circumstances, certain things can be taught. But when people ask me that question, I will say, “Can playing the piano be taught?” Well, yes. Can you be taught certain skills? Even the most unmusical person can be taught over time to play reasonably good piano. Can they be taught to become a wonderful pianist? Unless they have innate skills, innate musical skills, bloody unlikely.
Scarpino: Is there value in teaching the majority of individuals who take leadership courses to be okay players of the piano (laughing) as opposed to maestros?
Kellerman: It depends on what you mean, Phil, by a majority of leadership courses. We have, for example, at the college level, as I know you know, leadership courses all over the place. Now you have to ask yourself: What do they do? They say they do lots of things. They say they train people to be leaders but, along with that, they say they give them confidence, they teach them certain skills. “I can be a better speaker, I can maybe make decisions a little better, be a negotiator.” So am I questioning that they give something? No. Am I questioning that they make leaders? Yes. We certainly don’t have any metrics that prove that. Part of the problem, speaking of definitions again, is that the word leader has become so ubiquitous and, therefore, so watered down that “Everybody can be a leader.” Well, everybody can play the piano. What meaning does that have for society as a large? It may have meaning for them personally, like I can feel comfortable walking into a room or trying to run a group. I can feel comfortable that when I play the piano I don’t embarrass myself? But is that a leader in any sense that the word was originally conceived, which is a far more lofty and noble conception?
Scarpino: How do you divide the field?
Kellerman: I divide the field always into essentially there are two halves except one half – this sounds sort of awkward – one half is much bigger than the other half, so it’s really two parts.
Scarpino: (Laughing) It’s alright. This isn’t a math class.
Kellerman: This is not a math class. So the first part – but it’s two parts. The big elephant in the room is the leadership development part. That’s the part where people, again organizations, particularly schools beginning in high school or even younger, I can teach leadership. I can learn leadership. Stick with me and you, too, can be a leader. God knows at the college level, all over graduate schools. In my book, The End of Leadership, I document how at Harvard, the word leader or leadership is in every one of Harvard’s professional – Harvard Medical School, Harvard Law School, Harvard Business School, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Ed School and more, they all have the word leader or leadership in the mission statement. I’m going, like, “Why?” You know, if I want an attorney, I hope he’s a great attorney. Do I give a damn if he or she is a leader? Not really. But there you go. It’s the fashion of the time. The word leader has become ubiquitous but it’s become watered down. But the idea is to make all these people leaders. The much smaller other part is what I call leadership studies. Leadership scholarship. That part has not grown the way I wish it would have. If you interviewed everybody here at this meeting, I guess there are whatever number of people, over 1000 people at the meeting, overwhelmingly they would be people who teach how to lead. The smaller number would be who do leadership scholarship. And there has not been, even if you have a certain number doing leadership scholarship, there’s no repository of serious leadership scholarship that motivates other leadership learners, students, teachers, whatever, to sort of sign on. Everybody’s doing their own thing. Somebody just came up to me this morning and said, “Gee, I would like to listen to you and Ronny Heifetz debate.” Well they were onto something because Ronny Heifetz and I do very different kinds of work. We’re at the same institution and have been for a long time. We’ve known each other 40 years. We don’t particularly collaborate. He does his thing, I do my thing, other people do their thing. So, curiously, nobody in the field of leadership has been able to exercise intellectual leadership and, either individually or institutionally, become a place to which other people go to study the subject.
Scarpino: We’re going to talk about the ILA later on, but you brought it up, so I’m going to follow up. You describe the ILA as a product of the burgeoning leadership industry.
Scarpino: How do you connect those dots?
Kellerman: Well, the ILA was, among other things, my idea and maybe some other people’s, too, but let’s say it was my idea or a small knot. We were at the University of Maryland. I looked around and other people looked around and we said, “Wow! There’s lots of people doing leadership, why don’t we try to from an association?” And that’s exactly – it’s a little like, you know, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in the old movies; why don’t we put on a play and see if anybody will come? And Cynthia Cherrey was involved in that very first meeting in 1998. I think it was me or maybe Georgia, whoever approached her, and said…
Scarpino: Sorenson? Georgia Sorenson?
Kellerman: Georgia Sorenson, whoever approached her, and said, “Would you be willing to host this?” She said, “Sounds good to me.” And the small number of us at the time went out to USC and we held our first meeting and, indeed, people did come. We realized there was a there there and that’s how it started. As I said, it was a product of because I looked around, we looked around, and said, “We’re not the only ones doing this so why don’t we try to have a critical mass?” If we had done it ten years earlier, we couldn’t have done it. So it was the right moment to start something like this.
Scarpino: I started all this by asking you to define leadership. How do you go about assessing the effectiveness of leaders or leadership?
Kellerman: Well, it’s the big problem. That’s the 100 or 800 pound gorilla…
Scarpino: (Laughing) Indeed it is.
Kellerman: …in the room. Indeed it is. If there’s anybody who’s done a good job of it, it hasn’t been a good enough job to persuade everybody else that they should do it. People have their own – you know, the Center for Creative Leadership, they have metrics, individual people have their own metrics, but what they’re measuring is what they’ve done in their classroom. They’re not measuring what other people have done. Among other problems is the measures are short-term. There’s no serious longitudinal – and by longitudinal, I mean over decades. You say you’re training a leader in their teens, 20s, 30s, you need to look back when they’re 50 or 70. What has happened to this person? Has that person really led? Has that person really made a difference? The complexity of measuring leadership in any serious sense has, so far to my knowledge – now somebody could be sitting here and say, “I’m doing a great job of measuring.” To my knowledge, I have never – I’m just saying, so far as I know, nobody has done it successfully. But then, I hasten to add, nobody teaches how to lead, in my view, successfully with one arguable exception which is one of the things I’m looking at now. The American military to me is the only American institution that teaches leadership in any serious way.
Scarpino: Do you think the kind of leadership that is taught in the American military, I assume we’re talking about the service academies and so on…
Kellerman: Well, in part. And that’s a subject I don’t want to get into now because it’s what I’m writing about now, in part. It’s not as if I’m writing a book about military leadership.
Scarpino: No, I actually wasn’t going to ask you to sort of out your scholarship, but I was going to ask you are those skills transferrable outside of the military?
Kellerman: They aren’t transferrable unless – they are and they aren’t. They aren’t unless you replicate the circumstances. I mean, one of the things I’m persuaded of is that the alacrity with which we profess to teach how to lead is ludicrous. Plato said, “You need a lifetime of teaching how to lead and maybe when you’re 50. If you’ve studied all these 150 different things and you put your body and your mind through all these different circumstances, then maybe at the age of 50 you can be a leader.” But this idea which, again, is rather American, that you take my course and will be a leader, in other words that you can do this kind of thing quickly and easily strikes me as idiotic. It’s not idiotic if you define leadership in some very simple, low level way. But if you associate that word with something serious and substantive, how the hell you supposed to learn it in an executive program I have no idea.
Scarpino: What would be serious and substantive?
Kellerman: Well, in this context, over time.
Scarpino: What do you tell your students when you teach leadership?
Kellerman: I tell my audiences, not just my students, “If you’re in this room expecting to learn how to lead, you’re in the wrong room.” I level with them. “If you want to learn about leadership, you’re in the right room. We’re going to have some great conversations about that.” And my classes are fabulous, but they know – I make it plain at the outside – “If you want to learn how to lead, you need to go someplace else. That’s not what I do. I have no idea how to teach you how to lead.”
Scarpino: When you teach students…
Kellerman: Can I piggyback one sentence on that?
Kellerman: I do add, in fairness to myself or to whoever, that do I think there’s a relationship – this is extremely important and that’s why I wanted to say it -- Is there a relationship between learning about leadership and learning how to lead? Absolutely. Is there a relationship between music theory and playing the piano? Is there a relationship between learning anatomy and being a surgeon? Absolutely. There’s a relationship between what you know and what you do, but it’s going to be up to you to forge that relationship. A cognitive experience is not a “how to” experience. It’s connected to the “how to,” but it is not in and of itself a “how to” experience.
Scarpino: How do you recommend that somebody makes that transition?
Kellerman: That’s a very good question. That’s what I’m working on now. That’s what I’m working on now. I feel two things simultaneously that go back to my comment about how it takes years and years and years and years. I really believe that if you’re going to be serious, you need to understand this is a life-long learning process to learn how to lead. At the same time, I’m not an idiot. I recognize the exigencies of the contemporary marketplace. People are not going to spend a lifetime. So the question that I’m working on now is what can you do in a year, let’s say? I don’t think you can do it in a weekend or an executive program. But what can you do in a year or two or three that will take you down some serious trajectory? Let’s make it parallel to law school and medical school, which are now three or four years, or even business school which traditionally has been two years, although even that’s now, as you may know, the new MBA or the new business school programs tend to be more one year programs than two years for various economic-driven reasons. But the question is what can you put in a one, two, three year, four year program that would make you serious about this as opposed to let me take a crack at it? And that’s what I’m working on now.
Scarpino: In addition to being a scholar of leadership, do you think of yourself as a leader?
Kellerman: In some ways, yes.
Scarpino: In what ways?
Kellerman: Oh, damn. I knew you were going to ask that (laughing).
Scarpino: (Laughing) You set me up.
Kellerman: Well, I know, I did. I could have said no, but that would have been a lie. Well, first of all, setting aside leadership, I did things sort of ass backward. This is a personal note, which is I had my kids very young. I had two children, the first one at 20. I had dropped out of college. Then I went back in my 20s and I got my Ph.D. when I was 36. So when I was at Yale as a graduate student, I was in political science, there had never been a woman with children, there had never been a woman who lived off campus. One senior professor said, “What are you doing in this school? You should be home taking care of your children.” This sounds antediluvian but it wasn’t that long ago. So I think in some ways simply that I’m of a generation that women didn’t do what I did at the time. If I won a Fulbright fellowship to someplace, I took it. I lived abroad, took my kids, took my dog, went there. I think in some ways simply as an early woman career, I think in that sense. But in the field of leadership, I played along the way several leadership roles, entrepreneurial roles, may be a better way, certainly at the University – beginning at Fairleigh Dickinson University where I was part of something at the time called The Institute for Leadership Studies. Then at the University of Maryland, I think I was Director for the Center for the Advanced Study of Leadership in the James MacGregor Burns. And we did, as I said, at that time we started the International Leadership. Jim Burns was, of course, affiliated with us so we had that intellectual heft at that moment, which has not been easy since to replicate in the International Leadership Association. And then when I went to Harvard, I was paired -- Ronny Heifetz, David Gergen and Barbara Kellerman. They were the founding directors. I was the founding executive director. We started this thing called the Center for Public Leadership which has had an interesting history which I won’t particularly go into. It’s not what some of us had originally hoped or imagined, but it is alive and well and that’s an important accomplishment. Many of these leadership centers die for various reasons, but this one is alive and well and it serves a function. So do I think of myself as a great leader? Absolutely not. Do I think of myself as having played some kind of leadership role in certain areas? Yes.
Scarpino: Okay. I’m going to follow up on that actually later on.
Kellerman: Oh just one – I’m sorry, one thing I want to add. Jim Burns wrote about something called intellectual leadership. I think I played a bit of a role in that by being a dissident, by writing a book about bad leadership. I’m not even saying it’s a great book. I think it’s a pretty good book, but simply writing the book – because everybody else is writing about good leadership -- writing a book called Followership, am I the only one? No. As with bad leadership, there’s one or two others that’s done it. As with followership, there’s a few others. But 99.99% of books about leadership are about good leadership; 99.9999% about books about leadership are about leaders, not about followers. And I think over time with a whole bunch of books that I’ve written in the last 10, 15 years, in particular, more than the early ones, by dissenting from conventional views of these things, I think I have played a bit of the role of an intellectual leader. Yes, I do.
Scarpino: As you were developing your career, particularly in the leadership area, did you have mentors?
Kellerman: The only one who would vaguely fall into that category was mentioned earlier. It was Jim Burns. There’s one moment that I will single out because it’s sweet and it’s interesting. I would say the only real time that he played that role, he didn’t even know he was doing it. Once I became even a bit mature, he didn’t play that role anymore; in fact, we would argue. But there was a moment. So I’m at Yale, I’m a graduate student and I’m thinking this thing, leadership – I’m in political science -- it was called elite studies. The board leadership was not even in the damned lexicon. But I was interested in leadership and I took a psych course as, again, a graduate student in political science, and in that course, I did something on political leadership and it went well. I thought, “Wow! Why isn’t it…” I went to what then was the card catalogue. I looked up leadership. There was nothing in there.
Scarpino: (Laughing) I remember card catalogues.
Kellerman: I know We’re enough in age close. So I’m this lone idiot doing leadership. So I’m looking at Jim Burns’ book, the first one, Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox, was that the first one?
Kellerman: If you look in the back of that, it came in 1956. This is now the 1970s. But it was still around, as it is now. In the very back of that book, there’s something called Added Note on Leadership. I’m going, “Oh my God! Added note on leadership?” I’m thinking, “Wow! There’s one other person interested in leadership and, by the way, it’s James MacGregor Burns.” The book had won a Pulitzer Prize. Not some dipshit guy with a dipshit book. This book had won a Pulitzer Prize. It was widely – I looked at that note. It’s only – let’s say it’s eight pages, ten pages, I don’t remember. It still holds up, it’s still good. Nobody looks at it anymore but it’s still good. And I – I was going to say e-mailed. No. I wrote him, or called him, who knows? Whatever. I said, “Oh my God! You’ve done this thing on leadership. Can we ever talk about it?” And he said, “Well sometime when you’re up here and you come up, why don’t we talk about it?” And I met with him and he said, “Great. You’re interested in leadership.” And that was the – you know, what a mentor often does is nothing more than validate and that is the role that he performed at that moment. When I was a graduate student interested in leadership, I went – he says this is good; if says it’s good, it’s good. Nobody at Yale gave a shit. I guess there’s room for me to say this; I did have two dissertation advisors. I ended up winning a Fulbright to study Willy Brandt, who then was the chancellor of West Germany, and the title of my dissertation was a foreshadower. It was called, “Portrait of a Leader as a Young Politician.” It was his young adulthood. And I had two people, one in the Psych Department and one in Political Science, who were willing to sponsor this dissertation. So that was then the validation that I needed. But my early teaching was not about leadership. I fit myself into courses on, let’s say, the presidency because that’s how I got a job. I certainly would never have gotten the job in those early days as a leadership person. So, just to finish with Jim Burns, once he gave me that validation, that was kind of all I needed because I was that interested enough in the subject. And subsequent interactions, I would ask him occasionally for a letter of reference or something, but it didn’t make much of a difference one way or the other. What mattered is that early moment of validation. And then when I matured, as I said, we became intellectual sparring partners as much as him in any way mentoring me.
Scarpino: Speaking of James MacGregor Burns, Leadership that he published in 1978, I pulled a quote off page 2 and I’m going to read it for the benefit of anybody who uses this interview. 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?” Well, as you pointed out, since 1978, the whole leadership industry has exploded and so, too, has the leadership. But the question is, given the proliferation of leadership studies, have we developed standards for assessing the past, present and potential leaders?
Kellerman: No. I think I really answered that question earlier.
Scarpino: You did.
Kellerman: In spite of the explosion or arguably because of it. The industry, as I said, is money-driven. It’s not driven by people who are intellectually ambitious or curious. I’m not saying there aren’t any. I’m saying the driver of the industrialization has been money and markets, not intellectual curiosity. Jim Burns would be as frustrated now -- in the early days of the ILA, he would come to all these meetings, and I did too. I don’t now anymore but in the early days, we would all come to ILA meetings. We would all try to work on these issues. There was a Kellogg grant, which you may have heard about, which sponsored some of these early meetings.
Scarpino: And I’m going to actually talk to you about that later on.
Kellerman: Okay. But they did not lead to what he fervently hoped would be some kind of – I think he even used to call it a uniform theory of leadership. None of that. None of that. It’s much more Mao’s “let a hundred flowers bloom” and, indeed, there are a hundred flowers. Whether they’re blooming or not is a difficult question (laughing). His dream was not realized.
Scarpino: One more general question and then I’m going to put some demographics in the record. One thing that stands out about leadership studies is the proliferation of, let’s just say books, never mind the articles and all that stuff. Your own work excluded for the moment, if somebody asked you where to start, what three or four books would you recommend?
Kellerman: Oh, that’s easy. That’s easy. Really easy. By the way, to your point, Phil, those books are largely about how to lead. They’re not leadership studies books. They’re books about how to lead.
Scarpino: That’s true. I misspoke, didn’t I?
Kellerman: You did, and I want to just correct the record. I’m not sure anybody will, as you said, who’s listening but, yes, it’s an important distinction. They’re about how to lead. That’s why there are a million of them because they’re moneymakers. Well, not most of them, but the good ones are moneymakers. Who Moved My Cheese?, that billion dollar little book of years ago, Spencer Johnson. It sold God knows how many copies. It was essentially about how to lead. That’s mainly what it was about. So where to start? That’s an easy answer. I wrote a book about that, too. Better put, I edited a book. The book is called Leadership Essential Selections. It’s, to me, really interesting. Again, this is not self-aggrandizement. This is an intellectually interesting question. Because I asked myself that question. So you look around, you go to a Barnes and Noble or the Harvard Coop and you realize most of it is shit. Crap. And you go, “Is there nothing? How can it be that there’s nothing really great on leadership?” Well, guess what? There is. There is and I developed a course on this at Harvard and then I edited a book and Tom Wren did a similar book earlier, The Leader’s Companion, but he had stuff in there that is eminently forgettable. What I did was confine this book to – by the way, there’s another book out now, a much fatter book. My book is a sort of medium-sized book that has – I introduce the, I’ll say in a minute who, and then I analyze it. But what it is, the first entry in the book is “Loud Soup.” Then it goes to Confucius. I can’t remember who’s next. Let’s say, Plato, let’s say Plutarch, let’s say Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, John Wauck (Spelling??), Lenin, Freud, Max Weber. In other words, is there a great leadership literature? You bet. Since the beginning of time, there’s a great leadership literature. The last entry in the book – I had a test for who goes in the book. The writing had to be universal. The writing had to stand the test of time and the writing had to be great literature. It had to be all those things or it wasn’t going to be in the book.
Scarpino: That shortened the list a lot, didn’t it?
Kellerman: It shortened the list. Yes. I mean, did I leave some things on the cutting room floor? Sure. There are no religious readings in there, nothing from the Bible, nothing from the Quran. Do we need to stop?
Scarpino: No, no, no. No, we’re good.
Kellerman: Okay. But it a wonderful book because these are wonderful writings. The last entry in the book is by Vaclav Havel, who of course ended as president of the Czech Republic, but began as a playwright and eventually one of the most prominent dissidents in Eastern Europe before the fall of the wall. And he wrote wonderfully about leadership and all of that stuff. People like Larry Kramer are in there, the AIDS activist. There are women in there – Mary Wollstonecraft, Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The point is, these are classics of the leadership literature. So is there a great leadership literature? Yes. Do I think that every student of leadership should be reading some of these or at least be familiar with these great works of literature? Absolutely, yes. But they’re not. They have no idea.
Scarpino: Are they in your courses?
Kellerman: Oh, absolutely. Yes. Well, first of all, there’s one course at Harvard that I call Leadership Literacy, but because it’s a professional school, I have trouble getting students. There are diehard students who love the course but they’re there to – “I need to learn budgeting. I need to learn whatever.” So they’re there as professional students, whereas a course called Leadership Literacy is a Liberal Arts course. But of course, I feel the liberal arts ought to be the basis of learning how to lead. But I’m whistling against the wind.
Scarpino: I’m actually going to come back to that in a bit. When and where were you born?
Kellerman: New York and I’m not going to give the year. Everybody knows the year anyway but I’m not going to be – you can find it on Google or wherever. It’s all over the place.
Scarpino: (Laughing) Alright. Mom told me not to do that. Alright. So, where did you grow up?
Kellerman: New York.
Scarpino: New York City?
Kellerman: Yes, New York City.
Scarpino: Any brothers or sisters?
Kellerman: Only child. Can’t you tell?
Scarpino: (Laughing) There’s no correct way to answer that question, is there? Who were your parents?
Kellerman: They were German Jewish emigrates who came over in plenty of time in the middle 1930, but I think it was through them. They were totally secular but were conversations about World War II. It is said that the first word I said was, “Churchill.” That’s family lore. Long before I became interested in leadership, which made sense. My father worshiped Churchill. Was there stuff about Roosevelt? My earliest memories, actually, are political memories.
Scarpino: I was going to probe for that and I was trying to figure out a nice way to ask you if you were from a Jewish background. To what degree did coming out of that background and the conversations you had with your parents and the things you learned from your parents shape the adult and scholar you became?
Kellerman: 100%. 100%. Well, a very simple answer…
Scarpino: (Laughing) Put some flesh on those bones?
Kellerman: A very simple answer is going back to bad leadership. I grew up with, as I said, my parents said Churchill was my first word. But Hitler was part of the conversation. So if Hitler’s part of your conversation (laughing) and among your earliest memories, along with Roosevelt and Churchill and eventually Mao and Stalin, you get – this is a world that’s not just about good leadership, it’s a world about bad leadership. You get those complexities. So do I think those early years had a profound influence on what I ended up doing? 100%. I think there’s a personal answer. I do remember – maybe this is the only child -- being a very strong little girl and kind of watching how people responded to me, you know? I was the president of the class and so forth.
Scarpino: When did you figure out you could to that? Because you’re good at it.
Kellerman: I think there’s a personal level at which people become interested in things and then there’s an intellectual level. The personal level I think is I was a pretty sturdy and popular little girl. The intellectual level is I think I grew up in a household where I understood the importance of leadership and the good and the bad. And I think the underlying mystery, which we have every bit as much today as we did when I grew up, is how is it that we allow bad leaders to do bad things? It’s my book, Jean Lipman-Blumen’s book on toxic leadership and she comes out of the same background. Ira Chaleff’s interest in followers. There are several fairly prominent leadership scholars you could point to whose work I think was originally driven intellectually by that question. How does, you know, like, Stanley Milgram’s obedience to authority experiment. There’s a whole raft of stuff that grows out of that World War II dynamic. How did Germany, one of the most culturally developed, whatever – how did Germans turn into genocidal killers? How does that happen? And I think some of the great social psychologists as, again, I mentioned Milgram, but Kurt Lewin, they come out of a similar background. Again, just to talk about the here and now, Jean Lipman-Blumen and Ira Chaleff and Barbara Kellerman, Ronny Heifetz; I think several of us would have to trace some of our intellectual origins to those early memories, early days, parents telling us, our knowledge of people do to one another. Interestingly, most people, Jean is an exception, end up focusing on good leadership, which surprises me. Jean’s book, toxic leadership, mine, bad leadership. Those two books, in effect -- are there others that I’m missing? Those two books more than anything…
Scarpino: Not of that stature that I can think of right now.
Kellerman: Those two books more than any other go, woah! There’s this whole other universe of bad leadership and bad followership. Why are we not looking at that? Why does our field not look at that? Of course, the answer is, again, money. There’s no money.
Scarpino: Well, but the field has also defined leadership as good.
Kellerman: But it’s driven by money. I agree with you, but why? Because it’s the old line: Follow the money.
Scarpino: I’m going to ask you a question. Either this is going to be fun or it’s not going to work so we’ll see what happens here. In 2011, I had the opportunity to interview Manfred Kets de Vries at the ILA meeting in London. In getting ready to interview him, I read one of his pieces published in 1994 called The Leadership Mystique. One of the lines in there really struck home to me. He said, “All of us possess some kind of inner theater and are strongly motivated by a specific inner script. Over time through interactions with caretakers, teachers and other influential people, the inner theater develops. Our inner theater in which the patterns that underlie our character come into play, influences our behavior throughout our lives and plays an essential role in the molding of leaders.” So here’s my question. Using his term, inner theater, can you tell me about your inner theater?
Kellerman: Well, can you tell me what he means?
Scarpino: Well, I think what he means is that the experiences that we have as a child influence the adult and the leader that we become.
Kellerman: Well, if that is what is meant, I think I just referenced earlier my own memory or reconstruction how did I end up here, is, as I said, on the cognitive level and this goes back to family dynamic but it goes back simply to my earliest memories of what was discussed at the dinner table. And I think it goes back to me as a child, an only child, strong child, easily elected president of groups or organizations, strong kid in camp, a leader much more than follower. So I think it was that. But I honestly think the driver was more intellectual, like, “How does this shit happen?” And by the way, as we sit here and we, you know – after World War II, the old never again. Never again. Of course, technology has – that’s now out the window because we know everything. So what’s interesting now different from World War II is that we know it, particularly thinking of Rwanda, which is known as the most efficient genocide; not the worst but the most efficient genocide in human history, which I’ve written about and which we knew that it was likely to happen before it was happening, we knew about it while it was happening and yet we allowed it to happen. Out of that experience and others – a book that you may know about by Samantha Power, A Problem from Hell, which is about genocide, which won I think a Pulitzer Prize also. She’s now ambassador to the U.N. and is standing by and doing nothing while Syria has – you know, the slaughter and, arguably the genocide or at least the civil war, whatever you want to call it, in Syria that is going on. So as you and I sit here, that syndrome, that bystander syndrome which is a follower issue, not a leader issue, it’s the opposite of leadership, is happening as we sit here. Neither the field nor the awareness of it, not having somebody who objected to this, now Obama’s ambassador sitting at the U.N., none of this has seemed to make any bit of a difference. Certainly the U.S. has stood by and done nothing while the war in Syria has unfolded and chaos in different places. So the world – we have not – this field has not advanced anything and the world has not progressed very much. The U.N. has turned to feckless. What I’m saying is that the problem, speaking of the inner theater, the drive, the problems that some of us were trying to address 25, 35 years ago, they have been intellectually addressed, there are explanations but these explanations have not translated into actions.
Scarpino: Why do you think that is?
Kellerman: Not enough of a critical mass. As I said, I think there was an immense optimism when the ILA was founded and Jim Burns was part of that, an immense optimism that this field was actually going to make a real difference.
Scarpino: I’m going to drop back to your family and we’ll pick up on that in a minute, but what did your father do for a living?
Kellerman: He was a dentist but he manufactured a sort of dental product which he marketed and then sold.
Scarpino: He was both a dentist and businessperson?
Kellerman: Yes. Yes. He, like many refugees then and now, had to reinvent himself when he came to this country.
Scarpino: What did you learn from him about reinventing oneself?
Kellerman: I didn’t learn much about reinventing oneself, but I think I learned he was an inveterate reader and very knowledgeable about world affairs. Very, very – it was the grist for our collective mill in my small family so I think I learned that from him. Absolutely.
Scarpino: And your mother? What did she do?
Kellerman: My mother was a highly independent woman well before her time. She had multiple careers. My entire childhood she worked but at different jobs. She was well-educated, but I wouldn’t say she had a career the way we use that word now. Among other things, she did different things. But very smart and, above all, highly independent and I think I got some of my boldness and, again, a female role model who, as I said about her, I always did what she did. She would have preferred I didn’t work, I didn’t work far from home (laughing), but I did what she did, not what she said. She was a very independent woman well before there was such a thing.
Scarpino: Was there a shortage of role model independent women as you were growing up?
Kellerman: Oh, God! There was no such thing (laughing).
Scarpino: (Laughing) I was trying to be nice.
Kellerman: No, there was no--
Scarpino: Your mom…
Kellerman: Well I’m being hyperbolic when I say literally but very, very, very few. Very few.
Scarpino: Where did you go to high school?
Kellerman: In New York City.
Scarpino: Do you remember the name of the high school?
Kellerman: Yeah. Richmond Hill High School.
Scarpino: When you were in high school, I’m assuming that you were a good student.
Kellerman: Yeah, but…
Scarpino: Can I ask you that – if you were a good student?
Kellerman: Yeah, I was a very good student but I had no – there’s a reason I dropped out of college, which is that I was bored. I was bored with high school, I was bored with college. I had a baby at 20, a second baby at 22. And at 24, I started to say, “Hmm. Now what?” And that’s when I gradually returned to school.
Scarpino: So that actually leads to the next question I was going to ask you. When you were a young woman in high school, what did you imagine the future held for you?
Kellerman: Babies. Babies and marriage. No ambition.
Scarpino: That was your expectation?
Kellerman: Absolute zero ambition. Babies and marriage and whatever. The ambition came, or the consciousness of ambition – I might have been ambitious but I wasn’t aware of it. I just wanted to get out. Get out of the house, get out of this school, get out of this, do something different. I wanted something totally different.
Scarpino: So you were married at a young age?
Kellerman: I got married at 19, yeah. Yeah. Nineteen marriage, 20 baby.
Scarpino: You graduated from Sarah Lawrence in 1969.
Kellerman: Yeah, but that was much later.
Scarpino: So you made an attempt at college that didn’t work out for you?
Kellerman: Well, no, I wouldn’t phrase it that way. It sounds like that it was a failure. No, it’s what you did. That is, in my circles, you graduated high school and you went to school. So I did that, but I never regard it as a failure. I regard it as a bore – boring. Not failed. It was successful. I was doing great. It was somewhat interesting but I was restless. I wanted to do something very different. And so I just stopped and I thought, “Oh, marriage, that’ll be fun. Having a baby, that’ll be fun.” And indeed it was. I loved those years of being a young mother. It’s just that after four years of it, then I started to go, “Well, maybe there’s something else...” That’s when I thought, “Hmm. I don’t think I want to do the…” At first I thought I’d have four kids. Then after two, I went, “Well this has been great. Now what?” And if you look at my career, and I will say this now, you may want to get to it in more detail later, but you will notice a lot of jumping around.
Scarpino: I did.
Kellerman: A lot of jumping around.
Scarpino: I was trying to figure out how to ask you that and be tactful.
Kellerman: It’s about a congenital restlessness. I try one thing and then I like it but I want to do other things. That has stayed with me my adult life and it’s still part of who I am.
Scarpino: As you look back, because you take the long view which you said we should do, do you think that that restlessness has served you well?
Kellerman: Yes. Absolutely. Restless people are much more interesting. I shouldn’t say this as a blanket statement. Oh my God, scratch that. But by and large, people who try different things and do different things and keep at it, they tend to be, I think, more interesting than people who – you know, there’s some people at Harvard where – it’s the longest job I’ve ever held. It’s been fairly long. I’m in my seventeenth year, so I’m not that restless. But there are people at Harvard who were undergraduates there. Then they got their graduate degrees there and then they got an assistant professorship and now – you know, they have never left Cambridge. And I’m going, “Hmm.” That’s inconceivable to me. Living in different places, living abroad, being in different institutions, trying administration, trying teaching undergraduates, teaching graduates, writing this book, writing that, yeah, it’s all interesting.
Scarpino: What was the college that you went to right out high school?
Kellerman: Queens College.
Scarpino: What was it about the courses you took or the professors you had…?
Kellerman: That made me want to…
Scarpino: …that couldn’t hold your interest?
Kellerman: Well, I wasn’t interested in high school and in Queens College, I still lived at home so it was replicating the experience of living – there wasn’t enough money to send me to an out of town school. So it was like a continuation of high school. High school didn’t interest me that much and Queens College certainly. I didn’t rebel a lot because I didn’t, I guess, want to hurt my parents. Who knows? Maybe I was scared. I don’t know. But I rebelled somewhat. The marriage was, curiously, an act of extreme convention because that’s what women did, and it was also an act of extreme rebellion because they didn’t do it quite as young. They didn’t drop out of school and they didn’t do it quite as young as I did.
Scarpino: So you got married, you became a young mom, you had a couple of kids and then you went to Sarah Lawrence.
Scarpino: Why Sarah Lawrence?
Kellerman: Because it was geographically -- I was a dedicated, full-time stay-at-home mom. I lived in Westchester and Sarah Lawrence – two answers. Sarah Lawrence was convenient but Sarah Lawrence also had a path-breaking program for women just like me. It was called the Center for Continuing Education. It was unheard of at the time, but they welcomed women who had dropped out and had kids and never got a BA. So it was a very, very fortuitous combination and I will take you one step further. In my last year at Sarah Lawrence, at that time we had bulletin boards and there’s this bulletin board that had announcements. I looked at the bulletin board and it had something called a Danforth Fellowship. And I went, “I don’t know what the hell that is.” Again, I didn’t know what the hell I was going to do but I thought, “Oh, well. I’ll try for this.” That Danforth scholarship which I won changed my life because it paid for everything at Yale. And, again, it was designed particularly for unusual people who had dropped out, some of them women.
Scarpino: It has an interview process and all that?
Kellerman: It had an interview. It did. Yeah. And it was very rigorous and very – it was one of the best things that ever happened to me because it was at that moment that my professional life began to be set. I had no particular desire to become a professor. At Sarah Lawrence, I still didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I was majoring in Russian Studies, of all things, and, in fact, my first Yale degree was a Masters in Russian and East European Studies. So what I’m trying to explain is whether it was me or whether it was typical of women at the time, it was stumbling along. It was not, “Wow! I can’t wait to become…” I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I didn’t know what the hell I wanted except I did want to be a mother and I loved it, but I didn’t love it enough to want a third baby and a fourth baby (laughing). Then I realized, “Gee, maybe there’s something else.” So I was lucky enough and smart enough…
Scarpino: That program at Sarah Lawrence opened doors.
Kellerman: It led me to that bulletin board and that bulletin board led me to a Danforth, led me to all the graduate studies at Yale.
Scarpino: As I understand the Danforth process, the interviews, did you have to sell yourself?
Kellerman: Every interview is selling. I’m selling myself to you right now.
Scarpino: I understand that.
Kellerman: I need to keep you awake, Phil! (Both laughing) You know? Otherwise if I’m not halfway interesting…
Scarpino: (Laughing) No danger of me falling asleep.
Kellerman: You must have – you’ve conducted – how many of these have you conducted?
Scarpino: Quite a few.
Kellerman: Quite a few. I have no doubt that of the quite a few that you’ve conducted, let’s say there’s a range of three. Some are, “Oh my God, I hope this is over soon.” Then there’s a middle with some interesting moments. And then there’s the best scenario where you’re going, “Wow! This has been a really good conversation.” So everybody who sits opposite you is trying to get into – they’re not conscious of it, necessarily, but, you know, it’s a two-way thing. You’re not just asking me questions. I need to keep you engaged. So was that interview a sales process? Absolutely. Is this exchange me selling myself? Absolutely.
Scarpino: So let’s go back to the first one. Did you learn anything from that process about the ability to persuade other people?
Kellerman: No. I think I was always good at it. I think I was always articulate. I won a debating contest in high – a national debating. No, I think I was always articulate, always a pretty good speaker.
Scarpino: When you were at Sarah Lawrence, you graduated in 1969. In 1968, they went co-ed. Do you remember that process? Did it have anything to do with you?
Kellerman: No, it had nothing to do with me. You have to understand, Phil. I had two babies, 2 and 4. I took my classes. It was not a college experience. It was me getting a college degree. I took the courses. I drove home. Then my next class I drove back. It was not a college experience. It was me getting a degree. I was raising kids.
Scarpino: But you did decide to study Russian Studies.
Kellerman: Yeah, I wanted a BA. At that original point, that’s all I wanted was a BA. I thought I might someday go to law school, who knows? These children were still very young. My husband was a physician, gone all the time, and I was their caretaker. So I had to be home.
Scarpino: What did you learn from going to school full time, raising children?
Kellerman: I learned I liked the children and I learned I liked school. I learned I liked it. And when I won the Danforth Fellowship, there was no doubt that I would take it. I didn’t quite know how I’d manage it but, of course, you do what you want to do. I learned I liked it.
Scarpino: I was going to ask you about the social turmoil of the late 1960s but if you were raising kids, I’m thinking that’s probably not…
Kellerman: I’m driving home.
Scarpino: You’re driving home…
Kellerman: Yep, forget the turmoil, I’m not part of it. I watch it but I’m not of it.
Scarpino: Sarah Lawrence is a liberal arts college.
Kellerman: It is.
Scarpino: You had a Liberal Arts degree?
Kellerman: I do. I did.
Scarpino: What did you take away from that that influenced your ideas of leadership?
Kellerman: I think, as you’ve heard me already say in this interview, I think the lack of tie between leadership learning and the liberal arts is unfortunate. I don’t mean there’s no tie at all. I’m sure there’s a panel here, at least one, on the liberal arts in leadership but it’s scant. It’s weak. It’s meager. I think you ought to learn the liberal arts whatever the hell you do. I think if you want to become a scientist, you should be grounded in philosophy. I’m a believer in the liberal arts. It’s tough but I’m a believer.
Scarpino: Why do you think a person should learn the liberal arts no matter what the hell they do (laughing)? Scientist, lawyer, whatever?
Kellerman: It’s a question that’s particularly relevant now because, as you know very well, people are moving away from liberal arts because they’re so nervous about getting jobs.
Kellerman: So lots of people other than me are rushing to fill the gap and say the liberal –including Drew Faust who’s the president of Harvard – she talks all the time about the liberal arts, as do others, as do I. Again, it’s like saying how do you measure? You can’t. This is not a metric you can measure. Do I think that someone who professes even to teach how to lead, not to speak of teaching leadership, should know something about philosophy, should know something about literature, should know something about history, should know something about several of the different liberal arts, social sciences? How can you teach leadership if you have no awareness of psychology? Or history? Or politics? I mean, of all the subjects that requires an interdisciplinary basis, leadership would seem to me to be very high on the list. It pulls – which is one of the reasons I find it endlessly interesting – because it’s pulling everything together. When I talk about contest, for example, one of the contexts I’m talking about is the historical context. Just to stick to sex for a minute, you can’t understand Donald Trump and the pussy and Anthony Weiner and the 15-year-old girl if you don’t go back to Monica Lewinsky. You can’t. So you need to set everything, including sex and the coarseness that’s associated with it, into an historical context.
Scarpino: I’ll just say, for the record, that you’re referencing the remarks that you made when you accepted your ILA Lifetime Achievement Award, so they’re not on the record.
Kellerman: Yes. Yes.
Scarpino: But if somebody is interested, there’s probably a recording of it somewhere. Part of what you said in those remarks had to do with the decline in the respect for leaders, that Bill Clinton had tarnished the respect of the office.
Kellerman: I do think that was a turning point. I don’t think it was the only thing that happened, but yes.
Scarpino: Why that and not Richard Nixon’s abuse of power and Watergate?
Kellerman: Because the level of popular prurient interest transcended. The Nixon thing was all about lawyers and senators and impeachment, you know? Whatever we do? It was all on a sort of high level. The Monica Lewinsky story was not. It was on a low level with a high level of popular involvement and a high level of exposure of a president’s private parts, and I use that literally and metaphorically. And that collision of popular involvement, popular interest, popular culture with the nation’s highest elected official, that was unprecedented. By then, of course, the media – we had Oprah. I don’t mean to single that show out, but it was emblematic of we now talk about everything. We’re talking about incest. We’re talking about pederasty. We’re talking about adultery. We’re talking about things that we never even used to talk about.
Scarpino: Things that people wouldn’t say out loud or on television…
Kellerman: Things that people wouldn’t say out loud, we’re now whatever. And with Bill Clinton, I’m going to put this down – I’m sorry if you find it crass but it’s part of the public – it’s the New York Times, it’s not me. Just the way the New York Times printed the word, pussy, which they had never done before, after Trump’s declaration, at that time, they printed stuff about the blue Gap dress and Bill Clinton’s semen that was found and the hard evidence, which is another thing. We have the science now. You need DNA evidence to do that. So this coming together of the media and hard science and popular culture and television and 24/7, not to speak of a little bit later social media, that has changed the universe for leaders and it has never returned since then and it is not likely to return to the good old days.
Scarpino: How has it changed the universe for leaders?
Kellerman: Well, it has made it much harder for people to lead because it has debased them. This thing that Ronny Heifetz talks about, this authority, good luck, you know? It’s tough to retain authority when the gap between – if leaders – I’m showing you my two hands – and I offer that for the recording -- if leaders were up here and followers down here, (smacks hands together) that gap has now closed. And we ordinary people have no hesitation saying anything. The internet has fueled that coarsening – the anonymity also of the internet has fueled that coarsening so that nothing is out of bounds anymore. Look, if I had come to Atlanta even a decade ago and I wanted somebody to say, “What’s the best Chinese restaurant in Atlanta?” I probably would have bought some guide written by an expert that would have said what the best Chinese. Now what do I do? I go online, I go to Yelp and the like, and they’re not experts, they’re just ordinary people who were saying this is the best restaurant. So it’s all over the place. If a doctor tells me to take a blue pill and I heard somebody else was taking a pink pill, I’ll go online. Is my doctor – so every figure of authority has been diminished and debased across the board. And, as I mentioned earlier this morning in my remarks, when you have a scandal that cuts across a whole leadership class, such as the scandal in the Catholic church, that has profound implications. That scandal which people sort of treat, if you’re non-Catholic in particular, as a bit of a sideshow. First of all, we know that sexual abuse happens not just in the Catholic church, but whether it’s Penn State or whether it’s Horace Mann, an elite private school, lots of places, institutions have gotten ensnared in this. So I’ll say to my students, “Why did the scandal break in 2002?” By the way, a couple of years after Monica. That’s been going on for a long time. Child abuse wasn’t new in 2002. Why did it break in 2002? Presidents having sex with people other than their spouses is not new; why did we find out about it in 1999? What was different? You need to look at lots of different things which is why I’m increasingly, and I don’t know much you want to do this now or maybe – I know we’re meeting again tomorrow, I am leaving the leadership model as a way of explaining the world. If I had to name this organization now, I might not even call it the Leadership Association because I think leadership is an increasingly weak way of explaining what’s going on. Too many other things.
Scarpino: How do you explain it?
Kellerman: Well, what I call it now is the leadership system. It’s a system. It’s got lots of moving parts. I keep it down to three but those three encompass just about everything, as I said this morning. Leaders, followers or, if you don’t like that word, constituents, others, stakeholders, I don’t care. People other than the leader – everybody other than the leader, so leaders, others, and what’s going on in the multiple contexts? It’s not just a single context. So we’re sitting in the United States. We are also in Atlanta. We’re also in the International Leadership. We’re also in a room where it’s just the two of us talking. Lots of different contexts.
Scarpino: So how in the world does someone manage to lead in an environment where the most important thing is the perception of results? So then you’re tempted to lie or whatever to create that perception and where you’re not rewarded for honest, you know? “I can’t fix this in 24 hours, I’ll look into it.” Those are not acceptable answers in our world.
Kellerman: I think Ronny Heifetz’ idea is that if you just do this and this, then that’s the way to tackle it and fix it. But the Greek guy that’s going to be talking tomorrow, as Ronny himself said, he’s an example of doing what Ronny Heifetz suggested and failing. So I don’t think there’s an easy answer. I’m not sure there’s an answer. I think you’re looking – this is the answer in 2016, that democracy is in trouble. We see it in this country. We see it famously, as I said this morning, in England. We see it in virtually every liberal democracy. I’m excluding just about none…
Scarpino: Colombia voted down its own peace treaty.
Kellerman: Colombia voted down its own – I blogged. I’m a regular blogger. I blogged about that. A result, by the way, of a referendum.
Kellerman: So this notion, “Well, we’ll have referenda,” Brexit, as I’m sure you know as well, David Cameron being a complete idiot, and saying, “Let’s have a referendum on this,” not dreaming that he could possibly lose. Guess what? You have a referendum? It’s possible you’re going to lose. So referenda, not exactly the answer. There is no country – Australia where I actually go with some frequency and have gone, same thing in different ways. Trouble. Hard times leading. Why? Because leaders are weaker and followers as others are stronger. Everybody is shooting their mouth off. The internet is killing everybody. And what you have, again as I said this morning, what you have in the rest of the world is a return to the kind of strong man rule that we thought was out when the Wall fell. And why are they returning to that? Because they’re figuring correctly it’s the only way to guarantee that they’re going to stay in power.
Scarpino: I’m going to take a risk here and ask you a question about the current election. Do you think there’s any possibility that at least some American voters believe that one of the two candidates represents a sort of strong man?
Kellerman: Well, we know that there are plenty of people who are scared to death of Donald Trump. We know that. With, I might add, a fair amount of evidence (laughing). This is not some hallucinatory figment of their imagination. Donald Trump – you know, you have to – when I teach Mein Kampf which, of course, is Hitler’s autobiography, I say, “Every now and then, you might want to take somebody’s word seriously. You might want to assume that they mean what they say.” So if you apply that rule for the sake of this exchange to Donald Trump, that instead of shooting off his mouth or being out of control or shooting from the hip, that he actually might mean some of what he says, be careful.
Scarpino: I’m going to back up here. From Sarah Lawrence you mentioned, you went to Yale on a Danforth and have a Masters in Russian Studies, and then immediately after that you were…
Kellerman: How long are we going?
Scarpino: I figured about an hour and a half because we started late.
Kellerman: Until when?
Scarpino: Let me hit pause. (Turns off recorder)
Scarpino: (Turns recorder on) There we go. Okay. You got the Masters in Russian and East European Studies and then you turned right around and got another Masters in Political Science. So what was going on there?
Kellerman: Okay. You asked me at one point: What did I learn at Sarah Lawrence? And I said I learned that I liked it. And the same thing at Yale and, by that time, I was also getting ambitious and I realized you can’t really do very much with a Masters. The way Yale worked at the time is if you switched – they didn’t offer Ph.D. in Russian Studies and I realized – it was still the Soviet Union at the time – I couldn’t take my kids, I wasn’t going to go without my kids and that to do it right you would need to live there. So I said, “I’m not going to go on with Russian Studies.” But I did want to switch for a Ph.D. into Political Science. That’s when my ambition kind of gelled. And the way Yale did it at the time was you switched into – they had to accept you, you had to apply, you had to be accepted. Then in Political Science, you first got the Master’s degree and then if you did a dissertation, you would get the Ph.D. So at Sarah Lawrence, my ambition had not yet gelled nor – not my ambition, the extent of it nor the direction of it. But once I got to Yale, it was clear that I wanted to be not a lawyer, not a psychologist, not other things but, indeed, an academic.
Scarpino: You mentioned at one point earlier on that while you were at Yale, you were living off campus, you had two children, you were commuting, you were juggling family and studies and that some of your professors were sort of aghast at what you were doing.
Kellerman: Aghast. And hostile. Not simply aghast, much more to the point hostile.
Scarpino: At that point, political science was still largely a male field.
Kellerman: (Laughing) Indeed. Mild understatement. And how!
Scarpino: What made you decide, “I want to be a political scientist. I’m a mom with two kids and I’m going to do this”?
Kellerman: Even once I was in political science, they wanted to shove me into what was beginning to be known as women’s studies. This was then a very male – well most things were male professions, but certainly this was. Psychology was somewhat more female. Education, of course, was somewhat more female, but I wanted to do politics. As I told you earlier, I grew up in a political household, it’s what interested me. Then leadership started to interest me. It was, at that point – now I’m interested in all leadership. At that point, it was political leadership. And that was political science. And that was going to be my home and it was very hard. Those were very hard years. People didn’t get it. They didn’t understand it? I couldn’t have done it without a supportive family, supportive husband, children. And you had to be resilient. You had to be tough, and I was tough enough.
Scarpino: What did you take away from that? Resilience? Toughness?
Kellerman: I didn’t think I took it away. I think I was it originally. Otherwise I would have never survived. I think I took away little from Yale other than the degree and how not to behave. How not to behave. Yale was a hostile – by the way, it was well-known and even in retrospect, Yale, more than Harvard for example, was known to resist women. Dartmouth was maybe of the Ivy Leagues the last to come along. These places were generally hostile to women. The undergraduate level, faculty level, they still, if you look at the percentage of tenured faculty, as I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, what is it? Less than a quarter of faculty at Harvard and these institutions tend to be female.
Scarpino: Let me turn that around a little bit then. What did you take away from having experienced an environment of hostility toward women that stayed with you and shaped not only your career but your attitudes about leadership?
Kellerman: Well, I think the hostility to women was endemic and I found it at Harvard, as well. It’s not as if Harvard was exempt. But I hasten to add, it’s not the only thing I took away. What I took away was that this was what I wanted to do, that I liked the writing, although I didn’t write my first book until after, of course, like most of us, but I liked what I did on Willy Brandt, the chancellor. I loved living in Europe. I loved winning a couple of Fulbrights that supported me and, again, encouraged me. Once I started teaching, I found I liked that. So, you know, the positive thing that Yale gave me is that it confirmed for me, not that anyone else did it, but it confirmed for me that I was doing something that I liked.
Scarpino: Just for the sake of a future user of this, and I can’t say Willy Brandt with the German accent, but he was German, became a socialist in the 1920s. In 1933, he fled to Scandinavia to avoid being arrested by the Nazis. Then he’s back in West Germany after World War II, mayor of West Berlin, Berlin wall built in 1961 and then becomes the chancellor of West Germany. This is a pretty interesting guy. Won the Nobel Prize.
Kellerman: He’s a super interesting guy and…
Scarpino: How’d you pick him?
Kellerman: Well, that’s the question I’m about to answer, which is that the title of my dissertation, as I believe I mentioned earlier, was “Willy Brandt: Leader as a Young Politician.” So the word, leader, was in there. The years that interested me, because I was looking for a good German, were his exile years. He wasn’t actually in Germany in those years. He fled, as you just said. In 1933, he fled to Norway until 1940 or 1941. Then the Nazis invaded Norway and then he fled from Norway to Sweden and he didn’t come back to Germany until the war was over. But the focus of my dissertation was the time of his exile, first in Norway and then in Sweden.
Scarpino: Does your desire to do a German topic have anything to do with your own heritage?
Kellerman: Yes. German was my first language.
Kellerman: Yes. I grew up speaking German and I spoke German before I spoke – I didn’t learn English until I went to school.
Scarpino: My goodness. We’re going to talk some about your postgraduate career. You had Master’s degrees in Russian and East European Studies, Political Science, a doctoral degree in Political Science and then, looking at your CV, you started teaching.
Kellerman: I started teaching.
Scarpino: Pretty traditional academic career.
Kellerman: But without – as you can tell from the CV, without a traditional tenure track ladder job.
Scarpino: You were at Fordham and then you were at Tufts. Between 1980 and 1991, you were Assistant Professor and then Professor of Political Science at the Institute for Leadership Studies at Fairleigh Dickinson, so I’m assuming at that point you were in tenure…
Kellerman: I did get the – yes. That’s correct.
Scarpino: It looks like you skipped Associate Professor (laughing).
Kellerman: I did. All true. It’s true.
Scarpino: So you must have been doing quite well.
Kellerman: Well, I did extremely well but by then I was into leadership. And to this day, you find a job (laughing) that is – oh we give tenure in leadership; it’s rare. Rare as hen’s teeth. So as I said earlier, the way I got into teaching in the first place is out of sheer chutzpah, I said, “I can teach the Presidency and the Congress.” And that’s what I started teaching at Fordham and then at Tufts and I was a good enough teacher, which requires – you have to always stay a step ahead of your students but you don’t have to be way ahead of your students…
Scarpino: (Laughing) I understand.
Kellerman: I’m sure you do. I was able to get away with it until I could really settle into leadership. It took about four years or so for me to go from getting the Ph.D. to become – four to six years to become a real leadership person. And since then I’ve never stopped. Since then it’s been full tilt.
Scarpino: And that opportunity presented itself at Fairleigh Dickerson?
Kellerman: It did. Yeah. That was a – it’s not known as a great school, a great university, but this Institute for Leadership Studies was a fabulous place to do what I did during those years, which is to teach about leadership and teach how to be a leader but also to do a lot of writing.
Scarpino: This was between 1980 and 1991. What was going on at Fairleigh Dickinson that caused them to develop this rather unusual program at that time?
Kellerman: It was extremely unusual. It was actually educational leadership which is not uncommon. Many of the few existing leadership degrees are still in the schools of educational and they’ll call them educational leadership. But we had a relatively light – it was this institute of multidiscipline. It was great. It folded, by the way, as most of these things are going to do. But at the time, for about ten years, it was great and it afforded me the time to start really aggressively writing. I wrote a book in those years that came out in 1984, I think, called, Leadership: Multidisciplinary Perspectives, where I knew I was really – and again I looked around, there’s nothing like it. So I had an anthropologist and a philosopher and a psychiatrist and an arts person. That book still sells to this day. I still get – very modest – but I still get royalties because there’s nothing else like it where you take scholars from different disciplines and you look at leadership. And it’s great. Some of those scholars – two of them were people that I was working with at the time at Fairleigh Dickinson. I hasten to add, if you’re asking about my career, the last three years of my stay at Fairleigh Dickinson, I had won another Fulbright Fellowship to the Haifa University in Jerusalem and I was all set to take it when I was offered a job, an administrative job, which was Dean of Graduate Studies and Research at Fairleigh Dickinson.
Scarpino: I saw that on your CV.
Kellerman: And I took it. I opted to reject the Fulbright and to take this. Why? Not because I was dying to be a dean but because I was eager to see if I wanted to go onward and upward in academic administration, be a dean and then a president and run a college or a university. So I did it and the answer was no. And at that point, I actually dropped out of academia altogether. You’ll notice there’s a hiatus there.
Scarpino: I’m glad you brought it up because I was trying to think of a tactful way to ask you about that. But first, you spent 11 years at Fairleigh Dickinson.
Kellerman: I did.
Scarpino: So that was a while.
Kellerman: It was great.
Scarpino: Your kids must have been…
Kellerman: Yeah. Now by then – now the kids are now…
Scarpino: Rocketing into college by then.
Kellerman: Yeah, yeah. The kids and – by the time – certainly by the time I finished, I can’t even remember the exact years, but the point is the kids were a factor at Yale and at Tufts somewhat, but by the time I got to Fairleigh Dickinson, that was finished. Yeah.
Scarpino: What did you learn about studying leadership or teaching leadership after 11 years?
Kellerman: Kind of what James MacGregor Burns did, that this was great. Even then, we were supposed to teach how to. Even then I didn’t do it. But the field? To this day, it interests me as it did 30 years ago, whatever number of years ago. It’s great. It is multidisciplinary. It’s about everything. It’s about families. It’s about organizations. It’s about politics. It’s about what makes the world work. It’s about historical causation. It’s endlessly intellectually interesting.
Scarpino: But what you just described, is it really the way the field has unfolded? It tends not to be so interdisciplinary.
Kellerman: And it tends not to be so intellectually interesting. But if we’re lucky as academics, very lucky and fight hard, we can make our own path and I have been able to do that. Not without fighting, by the way, just for the record, not without fighting. But with fighting, I have been able to do exactly what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it, including now.
Scarpino: With tenure committees and deans and…
Kellerman: Fighting with the academic – well fighting, in the beginning, to even stay in school. As I said, at Yale they were going, like, “What are you doing here?” So fighting first even to stay in graduate school and then fighting to have what could broadly be called a successful career. Yes.
Scarpino: When did you first realize that you were self-consciously blazing your own trail?
Kellerman: Probably at Yale. Sarah Lawrence was a girl’s school originally and this was a cocoon. But when you get to Yale, the cocoon’s gone. No cocoon whatsoever at Yale.
Scarpino: There must have been some other women there.
Kellerman: They were younger than me. They didn’t have – you know, when you have children that you care about and you’re their caretaker and you live 40 minutes from campus, again at Yale I did what I did at Sarah Lawrence. I took my course, got in my car, drove home. The other women – there were some women there but they were not in my status. I wasn’t the first woman in the Political Science Department. I was the first woman to live off campus and have children in the Political Science Department. That was a big deal.
Scarpino: Did you realize what a big deal it was going to be when you took it on?
Kellerman: No, I don’t think so. No. I think not. I think I didn’t. I thought, “Oh, great.”
Scarpino: In 1990, you leave Fairleigh Dickinson and you mentioned that you…
Kellerman: Yeah, I think there was one year in there where I was a Visiting Professor at George Washington but that was – the real other thing to say about that period is that I left academia. I left my tenured job. I was going to start a magazine with a partner. See, you don’t know that.
Scarpino: No, I don’t. What was the subject of the magazine you were going to start?
Kellerman: Well, what do you think the subject was?
Kellerman: And, indeed, it was called Leadership. And by the way, when I got to Harvard, I did it again. I started a magazine. That one was called Compass. But we needed to raise a lot of money. I wasn’t the money person. The other guy was the money person and he never did, so it was a failed – interesting failed venture. It was going to be for the private sector. It was going to be for business, government, leaders across the board, all kinds of interesting articles about leadership. But we had in mind a glossy, beautiful magazine when magazines were still glossy and beautiful.
Scarpino: When people still read magazines.
Kellerman: Yeah, and they held them in their hand. But it never went anyplace. And as much to the point, I realized, hmm, I missed academia. And we can, if you want, end with this question unless you have one or two more, but one way of ending this conversation would be to say I did realize -- it wasn’t just about the failure of the magazine --what I missed was a place to go, a home. And I said to myself, “How the hell am I ever going to get back into academia?” So the way I did it was to apply for yet another Fulbright Fellowship and I won this Fulbright. This is now 1994, whatever, 1995. I won it. I was chair of American Studies at Uppsala University in Sweden. While I was there, I get an email, I’m supposing it was – yeah, I think email, by then it was probably email…from Georgia Sorenson who says, “We’re doing this Kellogg; in the event we win it, can we include you?” And I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I knew I was at Uppsala, this was going to be great, had nothing planned for when I returned and I wrote, “Sure.” I never gave it any thought until sometime later I got a message that said, “Guess what? We won it. And, guess what? Can you come?” And I did.
Scarpino: This is the multi-year grant that Larraine Matusak was…
Kellerman: Yeah. Correct.
Scarpino: Okay. The best that I can figure on that grant, it looks like it was 1993 to 1996, it was a multi-year grant, Kellogg Foundation.
Kellerman: Yeah. It was longer than 1996.
Scarpino: Do you know how the University of Maryland became the home for that grant?
Kellerman: Suffice it to say, here, since this is for public consumption, Georgia and Larraine – there was a real relationship there and that’s where Georgia and maybe one or two others – by then Georgia and Jim had established a friendship or connection.
Scarpino: And she was at the University of Maryland.
Kellerman: She was, at the time, at the University of Maryland. And Jim, then, ended up getting an appointment part time, something at the University of Maryland. But for the details of that, you have to ask them. More to your point, (laughing) and I’m saying this with a laugh…
Scarpino: I am going to talk to Georgia probably.
Kellerman: Yeah. Well she’s won this thing, too, so I guess she’s part of your thing so she’ll tell you her version. More interestingly, not how it got there but how it left there is when I left the University of Maryland to go to Harvard, that was a not happy – I assume you’ve heard this before. It was not a happy parting. I’m saying this for the record. Everybody knows this who has been at all involved.
Scarpino: I will probably ask you to say whatever you want to about that tomorrow. But, I mean, yeah…
Kellerman: It was not a happy parting and then soon after that, it just folded – what was called the Academy of Leadership, I think, or whatever. So it was a great time but, as I said at one earlier point, Phil, in the early days, let’s say the 1980s, when Kellogg gave the grant, so into the 1990s, this was a field filled with hope and optimism. We’re going to change the world. We’re going to train leaders. We’re going to learn about leadership. It’s all going to be great. And for a constellation of reasons, I would argue, others might disagree, that those early dreams were not realized, and so we have now this fragmentation, lots of people doing different things in different places.
Scarpino: We talked about this off and on, but to get it in one place, what do you think the constellation of reasons entailed?
Kellerman: I’ll give you just two for the sake of – for this purpose. One is the resistance of the field itself. Contrary to what James MacGregor Burns had hoped and anticipated, the field really does resist organization, clarity, logic, agreement -- maybe that’s the best word-- agreement on not just definitions but what would be a good sequence of learning? Which is much more important than definitions. So the field is somewhat resistant to that, but not that resistant. One could imagine a situation where agreement could have been reached, which brings me to my second point, the political problems. By that I mean personality problems of getting the group of originators, and you can include Kets de Vries in that, by the way. It’s not all Americans but it includes Georgia Sorenson, Ronny Heifetz, Barbara Kellerman, plus a larger cast of characters. The ability to get these people to work – to play together well was simply not there, for whatever constellation of reasons. The Jepson School, as you know, has been a bit of an exception to this general rule, but it hasn’t broken – even the Jepson School, it’s had longevity, but it hasn’t broken through. People aren’t rushing to the University of Richmond to follow the Jepson model. In fact, I just heard here that Joanne Ciulla, one of the originators, is leaving Jepson. Jim Burns was briefly at Jepson but he didn’t stay at Jepson. There has been no single group of individuals or institution or institutions that has been able to bring together this disparate group of people and to solidify the field of leadership studies or, for that matter, leadership development so that, in consequence, the original fantasy of, “We’re going to make a real impression, we’re going to change the world,” in my view has not come to pass. The International Leadership Association is what it is. It’s great in many ways, but do I think that in 10 years or 20 years it’s going to be, wow, – break down barriers? Maybe. But I’m not sure. I’m not sure.
Scarpino: I’ll close by telling you (laughing) and with a teaser, I have had a chance to read some of the progress reports written to the Kellogg Foundation. Jim Burns helped out with some of those and so on.
Scarpino: They express an astonishing degree of optimism…
Kellerman: That’s what I said.
Scarpino: …for the future (laughing) across a broad range of topics.
Kellerman: That’s in keeping with my own memory. It was filled, as I said, with optimism, which you’re sort of confirming, and I don’t know that anyone could look back on that, including you, and say those original dreams were realized.
Scarpino: Well, I look forward to talking to you a little bit more tomorrow about some of those original dreams. Before I get these things completely shut off, I’ll say thank you.
Kellerman: Thank you, Phil.
Scarpino: Let me hit stop on this one.
(Turns recorder off)