Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Folly of Leaders

In case anyone's following this blog, here's a great article about the Washington D.C. public school system's current struggle to improve its station. More to the point, the article deals directly with personality driven reform - a topic I have been wrestling with since I started the H3P.
To sum up, no reform or movement of any value (regardless of arena - politics, education, business, etc.) can survive as a result of an individual's Vision alone.  Successful movements are sustained through the careful (read slow) implementation of systems engineered to uphold the original vision. To succeed, any human effort must be taken from the realm of personality, charisma and heroics and placed squarely and securely in the realm of systems. Systems of course make for boring copy and rarely elicit the passion and ardor of the lone heroic reformer.
To wit - the struggle of Michelle Rhee and the Washington DC Public Schools. As Ms. Rhee struggles to improve her school district, she is perceived as being the lone driver, ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the schools. This is of course a gross oversimplification but, so long as Ms. Rhee is perceived to be the heart and soul of education reform in DC, anyone opposed to the reforms will operate with a clarified objective: remove Michelle Rhee. An objective which once reached will signal the collapse of the movement and an immediate re-trenching of the status quo.
I'm not trying to argue for or against the reforms as presented in DC. Rather, I am utilizing the situation in DC to try and understand the follies of leadership in America. These situations seem to play out quite often in the USA - a strong idea surfaces, one person or group champions the idea and struggles internally with issues of ownership and authority over the idea, the battle becomes political and personal rather than practical and objective, positions are taken, enemies are made and reputations are made and destroyed regardless of the actual idea in play.
I've begun to see it in my experience: hospitals fight for dollars to the detriment of real work, non-profits spend big money on marketing, people jockey for hierarchy...
The situation in DC is unfortunate in that a groundswell of support for reform is becoming apparent, but the inertia of the current system is equally present. Sending up a juggernaut like Rhee in the hope that her velocity will pull us all to the next level is foolish.
An old Turkish saying I learned from an employer who was trying to convince me to work overtime for no pay applies here - "If you make something good throw it into the ocean. If the fish don't understand it, god will."