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A Kansans perspective on Roy Williams Part 2

A Kansan's perspective on Roy Williams (Part 1)
A Kansan's perspective on Roy Williams (Part 2)
A Kansan's perspective on Roy Williams (Part 3)
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[Editor's note: This Is Part Two of a three-part article on Roy Williams' leadership abilities and his decision to return to North Carolina, from the Kansan's perspective.]
PART II - Is Williams a Leadership Role Model?
In addition to Williams being a loyal person and coach, I believe he is also a good leader, one who demonstrates a wide range of effective leadership behavior. I'll use Williams' behavior to illustrate particular dimensions of thinking that are important to leading and leadership, for thinking is the heart of leadership. Below I'll examine some of his words and actions, especially those that are consistent over time and get an idea of how he thinks across these dimensions.
Part of effective leadership behavior, by any leader who would become a role model is restraint. That is, having a mental process that restrains harmful behavior. Williams has not been perfect in this respect, although perfection is not the standard. For any leadership role model, bad behaviors should be infrequent and the leader should be effective at correcting any harm caused through effective and genuine apologies
The first issue is his decision to leave KU. In the storm of public commentary here in the Midwest, there has been and still is a great deal of varying opinion as to whether Williams' process of making his decision to leave his job at KU to go to UNC confirms or negates his superb reputation as a coach, a leader, and as a person. I suggest that the evidence indicates that not only is Williams not a traitor, but that, given the factors he considered in making his decision his behavior was exemplary. He was particularly restrained in responding to the criticism aimed at him.
I believe that bitter criticisms of Williams say much more about the critics who wrote them than about Williams. If anyone is a traitor, it is the critics-in presuming to know how Williams should decide between his ailing sister, and aging father and the people at KU, they have betrayed their capacity for empathy. Williams' continued calm, non-defensive approach in response to this kind of bitter criticism is a tribute to his effectiveness as a leader.
Through his success both on and off the court, Williams has earned the right to be considered a leadership role model. But in order to explore this idea in more depth and determine exactly what is being modeled and how to learn the outer and inner aspects of leadership, it is important to define exactly what leadership is, and what it isn't.
Over the last 12 years, I've been specializing as a leadership development consultant in organizations. The work I do is based on theories of cognitive science, theories of leadership, explorations of the thinking of exemplary effective leaders and my experience of what works in my client organizations. What I describe below is a brief description of a concept of leadership based both on history and on the practical requirements of creating descriptions of learnable leadership skills.
What is Leadership Anyway?
The folk definition of leadership suggests that a leader is a person who influences others to achieve a goal. This folk definition creates serious problems for any decent theory of leadership, for it creates the dilemma of determining who is a more effective "leader," Gandhi or Stalin. Because their methods are so far apart as to occupy different moral universes, it is better to define leadership in such a way as to specify a single, coherent set of methods. The way I do that is to distinguish between leaders and rulers. Both rulers and leaders have accomplished great things. For managers or activists, politicians or parents, heads of state or head coaches, two distinct sets of methods of influencing others have emerged over the course of human history.
One set of methods of influencing others-what I call leading-includes persuasion, inspiration, building trust, mentoring, listening to problems, requesting changes in behavior, apologizing, negotiation, appealing to what others value, open and honest communication, respectful diplomacy, reconciliation, friendship, warm-hearted love, and other similar patterns. These methods come from a worldview based on mutually beneficial cooperation. This set of methods tends to exclude coercion in all of its forms, except as a last resort as part of the rule of law. A leader then is someone who pursues causes based on cooperation using cooperative methods to lead allies in a common direction, refraining from coercion and other methods of domination, and hopefully converting bystanders and opponents along the way to join the cooperative cause.
The other set of methods includes all the above-mentioned cooperative methods but also includes force, coercion, intimidation, threats that induce fear, deception, cold-hearted abuse and other familiar patterns of action. These latter methods are easy to understand, for we've all been on the receiving end of them to one degree or another, and seen them portrayed in books, TV programs and movies. These methods come from a worldview based on fantasies of domination. I call this set of methods ruling. At their worst, rulers who influence others with these methods are tyrants-at best, they are bossy authoritarians, however charismatic they may be. A ruler then is someone who pursues causes based on domination, using dominating methods of ruling (as well as cooperation at times) to influence followers in a direction desired by the ruler, and defeating enemies whenever possible along the way. While ruling includes some cooperative methods, coercion in its various forms is not constrained and rulers pursue win/lose goals.
Summing up these two distinct sets of methods and corresponding roles, the leadership historian James MacGregor Burns wrote, "A leader and a tyrant are polar opposites." These differing roles and their corresponding methods play out constantly in the typical conflicts and interactions in organizations, in politics, in social movements, and, most visibly, in world affairs. They come from two differing but universal aspects of human biology and human culture. Dominating through ruling comes from our long history as hunters. It was amplified and enhanced by cultural evolution that rewarded groups that conquered other groups and could defend themselves. Villages, tribes, even nations, that were not good at methods of domination often got conquered, enslaved, expelled, incorporated, or eliminated entirely. On the other hand, Cooperating through leading comes from another source-our biological heritage as mammals that nurture our children in a long, caring, close relationship with one or both parents. This cooperative, nurturing morality was and is amplified by the human desire for happiness through close, meaningful relationships where a deep win-win mutuality benefits the doer even as it benefits the other.
It is important not to confuse the two, especially because rulers, like hunters, like to camouflage their role, posing as rulers in a leader's clothing, so they look like they are pursing the best for all. However, deception is key to ruling while honesty is fundamental to leading.
In leading, cooperative methods are both the means to fulfilling a leader's causes and the way means and ends merge into a consistent whole of a well-travelled journey of change.
Leaders are people who use cooperative methods pursue cooperative causes-causes that go beyond their own personal interests in order to serve the interests and fulfill the values of others. Leaders can have any career role in addition to their leadership role. Leaders can be politicians, executives, managers, business owners, teachers, parents, activists, or, as this article attempts to demonstrate, a leader can be a coach.
Stalin was a ruler. Gandhi was a leader. Rulers and leaders, and their methods, show up in every walk of life. Rulership is the field of study of how to rule effectively. Leadership is the field of study of how to lead effectively. When we actually define leaders, leading and leadership with clarity in terms of cooperative methods, we can approach learning leadership like we would approach learning a sport-that is, we can figure out the behavioral and mental aspects that an effective person uses and then practice them, recognizing that in every case, fulfilling the leader's causes requires relationships with intense bonds of respect and caring.
Sports happens to be an area of life where the polar opposites of ruling and leading play out clearly in public view. Basketball coaches come in both varieties, and the history of basketball tells us that great records in terms of winning percentages, championships and effective teams can arise from coaches who use tyrannical ruling or warm-hearted leading.
Basketball, golf, and many other sports, have clear rules, and are well-defined human activities. Because of how clearly sports are defined, there is no difficulty determining who are the best basketball players and golfers. This clarity allows us to study the Michael Jordans and Annika Sorenstams and learn their patterns. Leading is much like a physical sport in its focus on action and the thinking that underlies action.
Leaders are people who pursue causes that go beyond their own personal interests in order to serve the interests and fulfill the values of others. Leaders can have any career role in addition to their leadership role.
To enable a leader to use those moves effectively in pursuit of his or her causes, leadership involves a variety of external "moves" within a variety of "domains" or "fields," what I call leadership situations
The causes the great leaders design and pursue operate in these three sets of situations: interpersonal, organizational and collective.
Here is how I define them:
Interpersonal Situations: Leaders use cooperative methods to create and maintain interpersonal relationships. These methods include listening for problems, coaching, mentoring, negotiating, mediation, giving speeches, reconciliation, teamwork, forgiveness, apologizing, requesting help with problems, and appreciating the accomplishments of others.
Organizational Situations: Using interpersonal situations as a foundation, leaders create organizations and enhance them, helping organizations learn and grow. They engage in a range of leadership methods including methods of compensation, rewards, appreciation, group communication, group problem-solving and promotion.
Collective Situations: Leaders, as they develop and mature, sometimes extend their causes beyond interpersonal and organizational situations to focus on collective situations that are larger than any one relationship or organization. They use their network of relationships and connections to organizations to develop new causes to benefit others in a broader, collective way, one that includes more people and even future generations.
The greatest leaders, people like Mohandas Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King, achieved their greatest impact on others beyond their immediate interpersonal relationships and organizations-to the larger world. Even in coaching, the best leaders sometimes set such a fine example and promote their ideals and methods so well that they have in influence on collective concerns. Former UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden has influenced, not only his players and a generation of coaches, but also remains a cultural icon who represents the proposition that a good, nice human being can be a powerful, effective competitor. I'd put Coach Dean Smith in that class as well.
Leadership Requires Complex Thinking
Leaders pursue causes across interpersonal, organizational and collective situations requires elaborate, exceedingly complex thinking. So what is complex human thinking?
To describe complex human thinking, the most intricate, mysterious set of processes in the known universe, it is necessary to have a theory of some kind. The trouble is, there are hundreds of them-theories of thinking, and of personality, along with many kinds of research and evidence. I have made a study of various branches of cognitive science to develop a practical, understandable, usable model of complex human thinking with one purpose in mind-to help understand and learn from effective leaders who are available for study. Here is a summary of that model:
Understanding Complex Thinking
Starting in infancy, each person experiences the world around them through consciousness-the integrated display of sights, sounds, body movements, tastes and smells, including the emotions that assign value to what we experience. Very early in life we begin taking these various scenarios of meaning and action and blend them together into new mental scenarios-scenarios that includes one's self as a viewer and "owner" of the integrated scenario. The beginning of this construction of scenarios is apparent to each of us at the appearance of our first "memory" around the age of three.
Each person continues to create new blended scenarios that enable us to make meaning, to plan and to operate in our culture. For example, a child moves along a path to a pond to catch fish. This specific, real-time scenario of walking to the pond becomes a more generic and creates a scenario of creating a career as movement along a path towards a goal. The same child then gets older and moves along through school to create a career.
These new, blended mental scenarios are distinct and separate from the real-time scenarios we experience when we look at and listen to the outer world. Comprehending and producing the simplest sentences is impossible without such blending of mental scenarios. Our ability to blend mental scenarios into to new ones is what distinguishes our thinking from that of any other species on the earth.
Such scenarios as moving down a path towards a goal and many others form a growing set of interlocking mental scenarios. The way we function with money, language, mathematics, scales of time and space, and more, requires blending mental scenarios. The whole collection of mental scenarios that we inherit from our culture and our family combine together to form the inner worldview in which each of us lives and through which we conceive of the outer world.
This worldview becomes then the set of "lenses" through which we organize our world, including our most fundamental perceptions and meanings. As a whole, each person's worldview consists of a number of dimensions of thinking. While the contents, settings and dynamics of those dimensions vary from person to person, the dimensions themselves, because they are based on our common biology, are universal.
An inner theater of thinking for planning action scenarios
Leaders face real situations to which they must respond. In between particular situations they each face and their habitual responses to those situations, lies an inner world of thinking. They can enter their inner world while thinking and rather than responding out of habit, they can plan a creative, effective response to the situation they face if they choose to do so.
When leaders enter their inner world to plan action scenarios, they combine many of their various dimensions of thinking into optimized, "balanced" scenarios that further their causes.
To find such balanced, cooperative scenarios of action, effective leaders constantly fiddle with and adjust their thinking while searching for win/win (or multiple-win) scenarios. Once they get the signal from their values that they are either out of time or that their scenario of action is a good one, they make their scenario their plan. When the time is right for action they implement it. Such a mental process is the basis for leadership intelligence.
By beaming the searchlight of conscious attention on the inner dimensions of thinking, leaders can consciously become the main character in their own inner world theater as well as its director. To read a summary of some of the key dimensions of human thinking, see the box titled: The Dimensions of Worldview
Dimensions of Worldview-The Thinking of Leaders and Rulers
Dimensions of WorldviewLeadersRulers
System of Valuing - A system deep within the brain that creates emotions which guide behavior and attention towards goals, and evaluates whatever is the focus of attention.
Leaders value cooperation for the benefit of self and others. They are moved emotionally by trusting, respectful, and honest relationships and seek to bring about such relationships. They value win/win/win cooperative solutions to problems for self, others and society, and pursue such problems as a first resort. They enjoy forms of art that portray cooperative values. They want to help their allies, and convert their opponents to their cause. Leaders consider violence and deception morally wrong and against their conscience.
Rulers value domination for the benefit of self and close friends and family members. Failing to be moved by the simple pleasures of good relationships as an equal among equals, they have a tendency to be moved emotionally by the booby prizes of life: dominating and inflicting pain on others, ingesting drugs, accumulating wealth as a symbol of superiority, the illusion of absolutely certain knowledge, exaggerated importance attributed to self or their superiors, entertainment that focuses on dominating or Òwinning,Ó sexual exploitation, and their synthesis into blended activities that incorporate many of them at once. In relationships, they value obedience and loyalty In pursuit of their causes, they value the methods of violence and deception if they can get away with using them.
Conception of Self - This is a sense of self as the central, main character in the story of one's life. Sometimes this self includes extensions of the body-based self such as images of the soul, the nation and others.
Each leader conceives of himself or herself, consciously and unconsciously, as a good, worthwhile person. They have healed many of the psychological wounds that might have prevented their sense of self-worth from being positive, or their self-narrative from being a character who helps create a better, more cooperative world.
Each ruler conceives of himself or herself consciously as a superior, important person, and unconsciously as an unimportant, worthless person. Rulers fail to consciously heal the wounds others inflicted on them, therefore they retain a general feeling of desire to dominate others as a means of unconscious revenge for unhealed humiliations and abuses.
Conceptions of Others - These are the varied positive, negative, indifferent ways of representing others including understanding their thought processes.
Leaders see others realistically, with a bias that enables them to perceive goodness in them, even when they behave badly. This enables them to seek cooperative solutions to conflicts, when others are not initially cooperative. The key way they categorize others are as allies, neutral parties to inspire, and opponents to convert. They use similarities in others to help their allies and neutral parties to convert their opponents.
Rulers conceive of others in three primary categories: superiors to be obeyed, followers to manipulate and enemies to dominate. They will use available differences in others such as gender, race, nationality, age or religion as an excuse to turn their followers away from their enemies.
Conceptions of Interactions - These are the different ways of conceiving of interactions between self and others as well as between others.
Leaders plan and perform cooperative interactions as methods of pursuing causes. Their favored interactions include appreciating, coaching, listening to problems, bringing up problems for discussion, win/win negotiating, mediating, mentoring, consensus, apologizing, and speaking to groups to inform and inspire. Coercion of any kind is a last resort and then leaders prefers it be used within a framework of the rule of law or negotiated agreements.
Rulers also plan and perform coercive interactions as methods of pursuing their causes. Their favored interactions include coercion, deception, character assassination, quid pro quo agreements, violence (when it can be done with impunity), hate-mongering, theft, bribery, and charismatic, heroic speeches.
Boundaries of Identity - a shifting sense of 'I' versus 'we.'
Leaders develop flexible boundaries of identity to include ever-growing sense of "we" in an expanding circle of cooperation. In the most highly-developed leaders, their sense of "we" includes not only their organization, but their region, nation and others everywhere in the world.
Rulers keep their boundaries of identity rigidly focused on their immediate circle of friends and family members. Thus, they maintain a we/they or us/them competitive relationship with others.
Conceptions of Time - They consist of past, present and future and various cultural scales of time from seconds to centuries and how the individual uses them.
Leaders develop a rich view of the past and future as coherent stories, that are based on evidence, and that support their cooperative causes. They use this view of the future to guide their causes to benefit not only others in the present and near future, but also others in future generations. They often use shifts in time to activate memories of scenarios that are similar to the experiences of others. That enables leaders to experience empathy for others.
Rulers develop a view of the past and future, that is largely mythic without much concern for evidence, and that supports their causes of domination. They use their view of the past and future to further their quest for maintaining and expanding their power.
Conceptions of Space - near and far, here and there
Leaders develop a rich view of near and far away places in order to support the expansion of their cooperative causes. They use this view to guide their causes to benefit not only others who are nearby, but also for others who are far away.
Rulers develop a view of near and far away places in order to support the expansion of their causes of domination.
Symbolic Reasoning - Using language, logic and other systems of symbols to create, interpret and communicate a variety of scenarios.
Leaders use systems of symbolic reasoning such as metaphor, blended scenarios and logic to support their values and their particular causes. For example, rather than using metaphor to demonize their opponents, they choose metaphors that highlight the benefits of cooperation, and motivate their allies through hope and realistic fear.
Rulers use systems of symbolic reasoning to further their causes of domination. They often use metaphors of war, domination, and humiliation to demonize their enemies and to motivate their followers through unfounded fear, whether in business , government or via activist movements.
Point of View - The place and time from which a person views a given mental scenario. The English pronoun system organizes point of view through the literary distinctions of first person, second person (the Other's point of view), and third person, (an objective observer's point of view).
Leaders use their point of view by shifting it from the default position of their own body, to the point of view of others. In the rich and detailed inner world of human thinking, once a scenario is removed from the constraints of real-time consciousness, a person can "run the scenario" from any point of view. Leaders use point of view to create empathy for others by shifting to the point of view of specific others. To create objectivity, they shift point of view to a neutral position and view the situation from the outside. They keep varying their point of view while pursuing a balance, cooperative, optimized scenario.
Rulers use their point of view differently than leaders do, preferring to see from their own point of view. That's because they believe their opponents and their followers are of less worth and therefore their perspective, their values, their feelings, and their interests are not very important except as a means to help them further their own causes of domination.
Focus of Attention - The place and time towards which a person views a mental scenario
Leaders use their focus of attention according to the guidance of their system of valuing. While creating planning scenarios, they focus on a wide range of interactions, the values of others, and their own values and causes. They keep shifting their attention, much like they shift their point of view, in order to create a balanced, cooperative, optimized scenario for action.
Rulers use their focus of attention according to the guidance of their system of valuing. They focus primarily on how to influence others to fulfill their own values.
Conscience - This is the result of a process of integrating the various dimensions of thinking in order to judge what is right and wrong. In leaders, conscience creates a desire to do what is right and beneficial for everyone affected by a decision, if possible.
Leaders develop a conscience as a result of a complex process of creating mental planning scenarios. When the above-mentioned dimensions are combined to develop a range of planning scenarios, at some point they integrate into a coherent whole. This whole scenario as a plan, represents what is the right thing to do. And leaders feel compelled to do what they have planned. Their plan along with their feeling that it is right and that they need to do it is their conscience. The conscience of a leader is developed through a complex process of thinking that is often customized for each unique situation, and aimed at helping others minimizing harm.
Rulers develop a conscience as a result of a simple process of obeying the voice of an external authority or obeying a compelling feeling that comes from an external authority. Rather than having to engage in a complex process of thinking to develop a mental plan that takes into account the values of all the people involved of affected by an action, they merely follow the rules spoken by their internalized superior, whether it is their father, a scripture deemed as the truth, or an order from their superior.
Kelly Patrick Gerling, Ph.D. is a psychologist, leadership development consultant and freelance writer living in Kansas. He is also a devoted fan of KU basketball. His business, The Leadership Project, specializes in offering consultation, facilitation and training in leadership development to organizations and individuals. You can find out more about his work at To contact him call 913-724-2400 or e-mail