Cleveland packed a lot of living into his ninety years of life. "He was a journalist, an assistant secretary of state, a NATO ambassador, a university president and the author of a dozen books on leadership and public policy, and he was interested in almost everything--in part because he believed that everything is inter-related." Cleveland hated the phrase, "Have a nice day!" As he told one audience in 1989, "What I want is exciting days, passionate days, blessed days, surprising days."
Among Cleveland's books is Nobody in Charge: Essays on the Future of Leadership (Jossey-Bass, 2002). There he tells of how over the decades he reworked and refined a list of attitudes essential to what he called "a generalist mindset . . . indispensible to the management of complexity." Here are the eight attitudes he came to recognize through experience and reflection.
- First, a lively intellectual curiosity, an interest in almost everything--because everything really is related to everything else, and therefore to what you're trying to do, whatever it is.
- Second, a genuine interest in what other people think, and why they think that way--which means you have to be at peace with yourself for a start.
- Third, a feeling of special responsibility for envisioning a future that's different from a straight-line projection of the present. Trends are not destiny.
- Fourth, a hunch that most risks are there not to be avoided but to be taken.
- Fifth, a mindset that crises are normal, tensions can be promising, and complexity is fun.
- Sixth, a realization that paranoia and self-pity are reserved for people who don't want to be leaders.
- Seventh, a sense of personal responsibility for the general outcome of your efforts.
- Eighth, a quality I call "unwarranted optimism"--the conviction that there must be some more upbeat outcome than would result from adding up all the available expert advice.
Leadership of this sort has been conspiciously absent from both the halls of Congress and the White House for many years. It is in short supply in many other venues as well. The good news, however, is that those in conventional positions of power have no unique claim on leadership.
In his 1985 book, The Knowledge Executive: Leadership in an Information Age, Harlan Cleveland predicted that it would no longer be possible for information to be hoarded by leaders and alleged experts, but that leadership would increasingly arise from new sources rather than trickle down from established figures. Leadership would be abundant rather than scarce.
All of us can help this vision become a dominant reality. In diverse ways, we can contribute to the refreshing streams of new leadership necessary for the invigoration of our suffering society. The eight attitudes identified by Harlan Cleveland outline the shape of any future leadership worthy of the name.