Posts Tagged ‘anthony marchese’

Doug Walters and I continue our six-part televised conversation. Poet David Whyte offers a complementary reflection on personal identity and function. See the poem and then the video below.

Sweet Darkness

By David Whyte

When your eyes are tired the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark where the night has eyes to recognize its own.

There you can be sure you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb tonight.

The night will give you a horizon further than you can see.

You must learn one thing: the world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness to learn anything or anyone that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.



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The conversation continues. Greater self-awareness of our distinctiveness can be harnessed to help us make choices that resonate with our “Birthright Gifts”. The result- increased engagement, happiness, and creativity.

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Doug Walters and I are back! We recently taped two television programs divided into six parts examining what it means to live a fully engaged life.

On this program of The Reflective Leader, Dr. Tony Marchese and Mr. Doug Walters utilize the metaphor of a Personal Owner’s Manual to challenge viewers to meaningfully consider the relationship of their unique constitution to their unique contribution to this world. This program explores the deeper dimensions of human diversity and its powerful impact when fully realized.


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Doug Walters recently completed fifty years of service to Education. This interview with Dr. Anthony J. Marchese explores his legacy in three segments.



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New Public Television Show!

Published on Jul 10, 2013

Dr. Anthony J. Marchese and Mr. Doug Walters discuss the relationship of emotional intelligence to leadership effectiveness in their new public television program, The Reflective Leader with Tony Marchese and Doug Walters.

The program was developed for the thoughtful leadership practitioner. In an era that emphasizes quick, one-size-fits-all solutions to significant organizational problems, leaders often find themselves regularly revisiting the same issues as meaningful, lasting change seems evasive. The Reflective Leader with Tony Marchese and Doug Walters contains a series of discussions that attempt to provide an interdisciplinary, reflective analysis of the phenomena of leadership and organizational change that is grounded in the presupposition that thoughtful leadership is better leadership and is most conducive to positive organizational transformation.

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By Anthony J. Marchese, Ph.D. & Kim Cook

White Paper Published by ICF International

(Tables modified due to formatting limitations)

 Bookshelves are increasingly populated with tomes challenging those committed to improving job performance not to neglect the strong relationship between “soft skills” and success. Psychologist Daniel Goleman (1998) explains that, in a study involving 15 global businesses, 90 percent of the difference between average and exceptional leaders can be explained by emotional competencies such as self-confidence, empathy, adaptability, and conflict management. Similarly, research conducted by the Weatherhead School of Management of Case Western Reserve University (Bilimoria, 2009) indicates that what is called emotional intelligence is two times as important as intelligence quotient (IQ) and technical expertise combined and four times as important as IQ for overall success. As Bradberry and Greaves (2009, p. 17) explain, emotional intelligence is the “ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships.

 One characteristic distinguishing emotional intelligence from conventional perspectives of IQ is that most observers agree that emotional intelligence is not static; rather, it can be developed over the course of one’s life. Individuals can experience growth in two broad categories of emotional intelligence: personal and social competencies. The components of each competency are presented below:

 Personal Competencies:

  • Self-Awareness
  • The ability to recognize your own emotions and how they affect your thoughts and behavior, know your strengths and weaknesses, and have self-confidence.
  •  Self-Management
  • The ability to understand the emotions, needs, and concerns of other people; pick up on emotional cues; feel comfortable socially; and recognize the power dynamics in a group or organization

 Social Competencies

  • Social Awareness
  • The ability to control impulsive feelings and behaviors, manage your emotions in healthy ways, take initiative, follow through on commitments, and adapt to changing circumstances
  • Relationship Management
  • The ability to develop and maintain good relationships, communicate clearly, inspire and influence others, work well in a team, and manage conflict.

 Categories of Emotional Intelligence (Segal & Smith, 2010)          

 Emotional Intelligence and K–12 Outcomes

 While the self-improvement and leadership development sections of bookstores are replete with texts advocating for the integral relationship that emotional intelligence plays in the development of an effective workforce, what evidence suggests that these soft skills should become a greater learning priority for K–12 educators across the nation? More specifically, what are schools within the Appalachian region doing to introduce social and emotional learning (SEL) as a tool to increase student engagement and academic performance? Is there an advantage to developing emotional intelligence prior to entering the workforce.

 In this era of high-stakes accountability, educators are increasingly interested in exploring, developing, and applying emotional intelligence as a tool to increase student engagement and academic performance. In fact, educators and researchers have found that integrating emotional intelligence into broader SEL initiatives helps reduce adverse behaviors, including poor attendance and disciplinary infractions such as bullying. In one study cited by Goleman (2008), students who received social and emotional skills instruction scored higher on every administered assessment of prosocial behavior and lower on assessments of antisocial behavior. In addition, fewer students reported being depressed, anxious, or alienated. “What’s more,” says Goleman, “the study showed that the positive gains were biggest among ‘at-risk’ kids, who are most likely to fail in their education. In the era of No Child Left Behind, where schools are rated on how well students score on standardized tests, that’s a huge advantage for individual students and schools alike” (2008).

 Likewise, a meta-analysis of research on the effects of SEL initiatives reveals that students receiving such instruction earn higher grades and perform better on standardized tests (11 percentile points higher than students in control groups). Furthermore, students in the treatment groups also demonstrated improvement in five key nonacademic measures, including increased social skills, diminished emotional stress, improved attitudes toward learning, fewer antisocial behaviors, and more positive behaviors such as cooperation. The study also indicated that the effects of the intervention were still observed six months later.

The existing evidence is not conclusive, but it does suggest that SEL initiatives may be used to combat the high student dropout rate in Appalachian states. As the table below reveals, nearly 51,000 students in the region dropped out of high school during the 2008–2009 school year.

Table 1: Number of Public High School Dropouts in the Appalachian Region during the 2008–2009 School Year


# of dropouts

Enrollment grades 9–12




North Carolina









West Virginia



                         Source: http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2011/2011312.pdf


In the report, Current Distribution of Early Warning Indicators Analysis, Robert Balfanz and Vaughan Byrnes (2010) overview the indicators signaling that middle school students may be at risk of dropping out in West Virginia. Among these are attendance below 85-90%, suspensions or serious disciplinary infractions, semester course failures, and failing mathematics and/or English language arts courses. As the research cited earlier indicates, SEL initiatives impact precisely these indicators, improving student achievement—decreasing disciplinary infractions, and alleviating student stress.

 Taking Action: CASEL’s Commitment to Cultivating Success in School and Life

 One organization offers some promising strategies for how SEL can be scaled up to help diminish the likelihood that students will drop out. According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), “social and emotional competence is the ability to understand, manage, and express the social and emotional aspects of one’s life in ways that enable the successful management of life tasks such as learning, forming relationships, solving everyday problems, and adapting to the complex demands of growth and development” (Elias et al., 1997, p. 2). CASEL is the nation’s premier center for SEL research and education, and its organizational vision expresses a commitment to ensuring that SEL is identified as a vital component of education. Interestingly, CASEL presents a vision that is inclusive of both children and adults:

 To promote children’s success in school and life.

We envision a world where families, schools, and communities work together to promote children’s success in school and life and to support the healthy development of all children. In this vision, children and adults are engaged lifelong learners who are self-aware, caring, and connected to others and responsible in their decision making. Children and adults achieve to their fullest potential and participate constructively in a democratic society.

Source: http://casel.org/about-us/mission-vision/


Social and Emotional Learning

The 5 Competency Areas of SEL

Defined by CASEL: Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning



Relationship skills

Forming positive relationships, working in teams, dealing effectively with conflict

Social awareness

Showing understanding
and empathy for others

Responsible decision making

Making ethical, constructive choices about personal and social behavior


Recognizing one’s emotions and values as well as one’s strengths and limitations


Managing emotions and behaviors to achieve one’s goals

How SEL Creates Greater Success in School and Life

Defined by CASEL: Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning


Positive School Environment

  • Safe and supportive environment
  • Challenging curriculum
  • High expectations
  • Respectful, caring relationships


Social and Emotional Skills Training

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Social awareness
  • Relationship skills
  • Responsible decision making


Student Outcomes

  • Academic success
  • Good relationships
  • Good health
  • Engaged citizens

Among the key findings linking SEL to academics, SEL:

  • Improves academic performance and education outcomes
  • Promotes deeper understanding of subject matter
  • Helps students learn well from others
  • Increases student engagement in school
  • Decreases behaviors that interfere with learning

 Source: Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (www.casel.org)

 SEL in the Appalachian Region

  Despite growing evidence of the positive relationship among SEL, improved academic performance, and increased prosocial behaviors, the establishment of explicit SEL learning goals appears focused primarily on students at the pre–K level. Little evidence suggests that SEL programs have been brought to scale and introduced to students at all learning levels from pre–K to postsecondary.

 States in the Appalachian region are among 48 states with SEL learning standards in place at the pre–K level. 

  • Kentucky:standards include concepts such as “shows social cooperation, applies problem-solving skills, and demonstrates understanding of the relationships within family and community.”
  • Tennessee:standards address social and emotional development and learning through documentation of pre–K students’ approaches to learning (self-concept, self-control, cooperation).
  • North Carolina: standards are organized around a student’s sense of self and others.
  • Virginia: SEL standards are organized around pre–K students’ self-concepts, self-control, approaches to learning, interaction with others, and social problem solving.
  • West Virginia: standards are based on development of self-concept, prosocial behaviors, cooperation skills in social relationships, and independence/intrinsic motivation to learn.

 Source: http://casel.org/policy-advocacy/sel-in-your-state/

 In the Appalachian region, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia have state-level pre–K standards but none for elementary or secondary students (CASEL, n.d.). However, several districts in the region are pursuing SEL initiatives. In Kentucky, for example, Jefferson County Public Schools, which serves more than 99,000 students, began implementing the CARE for Kids program for all pre–K, elementary, and middle school students during the 2008–2009 academic year. CARE, an acronym for Creating A Respectful Environment, includes the following components (CASEL, 2010):

  •  Morning meetings—community building time to set the climate for the classroom
  • Implementation of high-quality SEL curricula
  • Home-to-school activities that stimulate conversations and strengthen the link between the classroom and students’ families
  • Engaging students in service projects
  • Continual focused assessment

  At all grade levels, the CARE program is designed to help students develop social responsibility and positive relationships with both adults and classmates. Proactive SEL strategies are integrated throughout the day in all classes. Sheldon Berman, former superintendent of Jefferson County Schools, remarked, “As I see it, the social curriculum is as important as the academic curriculum….An elementary teacher wouldn’t say, ‘I don’t teach math.’ And a teacher shouldn’t be able to say, ‘I don’t teach social development’ because we all teach social development (CASEL, 2010).” Alicia Averette, Principal of Breckinridge-Franklin Elementary School emphasizes the connection between SEL and teaching and learning. “By taking a proactive approach and meeting the social and emotional needs of our students, we lose less instructional time because students are able to solve their own conflicts if they arise” (Jefferson County Public Schools, n.d.).

  In another example of an SEL initiative in the Appalachian region, Tennessee’s Metro Nashville Public Schools held the district’s first Social and Emotional Learning Conference in partnership with Alignment Nashville in 2011. Alignment Nashville is a local group working to bring community organizations and resources into alignment so that their coordinated support of Nashville’s youth has a positive impact on public school success, children’s health, and the success of the community (Alignment Nashville, 2011). Denise Rollins, Metro Nashville’s SEL Director, led development of the conference; her goal was to help educators gain an improved understanding of SEL, a common language of SEL, and an understanding of how SEL impacts school climate. During the same year, Alignment Nashville published Social Emotional Learning: A Resource Guide to Behavioral Health, a comprehensive handbook including descriptions of SEL, along with a list of behavioral health resources available to local staff and their students.

 Emotional Intelligence and Increased Postsecondary Possibilities

 Reflecting its core mission, CASEL explains that SEL does much more than help students succeed in their pre–K–12 academic experiences—it prepares them for life. “SEL helps students become good communicators, cooperative members of a team, effective leaders, and caring, concerned members of their communities. It teaches them how to set and achieve goals and how to persist in the face of challenges. These are precisely the skills that today’s employers consider important for the workforce of the future” (CASEL, n.d.).

  As such, SEL may have value beyond the secondary level, with applications for postsecondary efforts and work environments. A casual review of several mission statements of postsecondary institutions in Appalachia suggests that the collegiate experience offers rich resources for preparing students for meaningful lives and work. However, there is little evidence that SEL is being implemented and studied as extensively at the postsecondary level as it is at the pre–K to secondary levels (Sherman, 2011).

 Of course, there are some examples of postsecondary SEL efforts. Funded by a Title V grant to improve the academic success of first year students, the Javelina EI Program was developed and implemented at Texas A&M University–Kingsville, receiving national recognition in 2003 by the American College Personnel Association. Based on the Emotional Learning System created by Nelson and Low, the Javelina EI Program integrated the academic and student development sectors of the university to help improve academic achievement and retention of freshmen. Table 2 provides an overview of the five steps of the Emotional Learning System (Low & Nelson, 2006), which served as the theoretical foundation of the program.

Table 2: Emotional Learning System (Nelson & Low, 1999, 2003)
  1. 1.    EXPLORE
Person-centered assessment as a foundational discovery process for the learning system
  1. 2.    IDENTIFY
Identification of strengths and weaknesses from personal assessment; an action plan is developed
  1. 3.    UNDERSTAND
Reflect on assessment and action plan; develop an understanding of how
EL can help guide self-directed experiential learning, goal setting, personal responsibility and goal achievement
  1. 4.    LEARN
Completion of lessons and practice sessions to develop and strengthen
  1. 5.    APPLY
EI skills become embedded in daily activities/routines of students such as everyday decision making

 Evaluation of the program revealed that 73 percent who participated earned GPAs above 2.0 compared to 62 percent of students in the control group (Low & Nelson, 2006, p. 5). In addition to higher academic achievement, freshmen participating in the EI curriculum as part of their first year experience (FYE) also were more likely to remain in school compared to those not exposed to the program. For example, 59 percent of the students participating in the EI program were retained versus 53 percent of those in the control group.

 An example of postsecondary SEL programming in the Appalachian region was an aggressive effort to combat the high rate of freshmen attrition; the effort was led by Doug Walters, former dean of students at the University of Charleston in West Virginia, in the early 2000s. At the core of the initiative were assessments of the emotional intelligence of new students to identify those who might be at risk of dropping out of the university and integration of SEL into the FYE. The effort also included seminars and support classes to help students improve their social and emotional skills. Prior to the incorporation of the SEL initiative, the fall to fall retention rate was 70 percent. After six years, freshmen were retained at a rate of 89 percent. Walters attributes much of the increase in student retention to SEL. Walters explains, “The areas of greatest success were in the areas of intrapersonal and interpersonal skills. Once the student or employee had those areas identified as challenges for them, they were able to seek assistance from within each organization. The confidence level became higher, and the student and/or employee felt they had been empowered by the system. This enhanced their personal adaptability, which brought greater consistency into their understanding of role and function in a more deliberate manner. I am convinced that those students exposed to SEL over the course of their collegiate experience performed better in and out of the classroom. Those students exposed to SEL reported feeling more aware of personal strengths and areas in need of attention and confident in their ability to perform well in their new careers.”

 Moving Forward

 Recommendations for K12 Educators

 Evidence of the positive contribution of social and emotional skills to academic success is promising. Although most SEL research and practice has focused on young children, there are increasing incentives to explore how SEL can strengthen graduation rates among high school and college students. For instance, CASEL is “leading efforts to significantly scale SEL in school districts across the United States. This new strategy involves identifying and involving superintendents ready to mount school districtwide SEL programming, bringing evidence-based SEL to students somewhat seamlessly in grades Pre–K–12” (Sherman, 2011, p. 5).

 States in the Appalachian region have established pre–K standards for SEL. Some districts in the Appalachian region are also implementing SEL initiatives to address SEL of older students as well as strategies to identify gaps in services and resources.

 Given this momentum and promising evidence that SEL can improve a variety of outcomes for students and adults alike, expansion of SEL for all learners could be established as a significant regional and national priority. In line with this thinking, a 2009 conference—Social and Emotional Learning: Ready! Creating a National Initiative—convened by CASEL brought together small working groups charged with developing recommendations for working with districts, developing partnerships with stakeholders, and bringing SEL practices to scale. Key recommendations included:

 K–12: (CASEL Report)

  • Building an effective districtwide SEL initiative requires an investment of the district’s own resources and a long-term commitment of time and money.
  • The message that SEL will enhance academic achievement should be central to communications about SEL throughout the district.
  • Districtwide standards and assessment methods should be built into the plan.
  • SEL should be implemented districtwide and at all grades, pre–K–12.
  • Districtwide implementation of SEL should be planned as a sustained effort over a minimum of three years, preferably at least five years.
  • To sustain a successful districtwide initiative, support for SEL is needed from a broad-based communitywide coalition that understands the importance of SEL and wants effective SEL programming for all children.
  • The SEL initiative is more likely to succeed if it starts in several schools—not just one school—and if those schools are highly receptive to SEL.

 Recommendations for Postsecondary Educators

 While some evidence suggests that SEL initiatives implemented within the postsecondary context can improve academic and retention outcomes, further research is needed to better understand how emotional intelligence can be used as part of larger student engagement and retention initiatives. This could be accomplished through randomized control trials (RCTs) at public and private four-year institutions as well as community colleges and vocational training centers. Both the Javelina EI Program at Texas A&M University–Kingsville and the FYE at the University of Charleston share some common components that postsecondary educators may want to consider as they explore the benefits of implementing an SEL program at their institution.

  •  The Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQI) provides useful information about student strengths and vulnerabilities. This information can help faculty and student services personnel (Residence Directors, Career/Behavioral Counselors, First Year Experience Coordinator) better target assistance and support to students.
  • Universitywide commitment to SEL and agreement on common terminology are key.
  • Connectedness between SEL and academic success and career readiness/success should be made explicit to the university community. In other words, the abundance of research describing the close correlation between strong SEL competencies, academic achievement, and workplace effectiveness should be articulated to the entire campus community to generate interest and momentum for SEL initiatives.
  • Early identification of at-risk students and timely intervention are necessary to minimize student attrition. 

 Sources of Information

 Alignment Nashville. (2011). Social emotional learning: A resource guide to behavioral health. Nashville, TN: Author.

 Balfanz, R., & Byrnes, V. (2010). Current Distribution of Early Warning Indicators Analysis: West Virginia. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Center for Social Organization of Schools.

 Bilimoria, D. (2009 October 27). Introduction to emotional intelligence. PowerPoint lecture presented at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University.

 Bradberry, T., & Greaves, J. (2009). Emotional intelligence 2.0. San Diego: Talent Smart.

 Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). (n.d.). Benefits of SEL. Retrieved from http://casel.org/why-it-matters/benefits-of-sel/

 Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). (n.d.) SEL in your state.

Retrieved from http://casel.org/policy-advocacy/sel-in-your-state/

 Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). (2010). Social and emotional learning: Ready! Creating a National Initiative. CASEL 2009 forum summary and follow-up. Chicago, IL: Author.

 Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1), 405–432.

 Elias, M.J., Zins, J.E., Weissberg, R. P., Frey, K.S., Greenberg, M.T., Haynes, N.M., Kessler, R.,

Schwab-Stone, M.E., and Shriver, T.P. (1997). Promoting social and emotional learning:

Guidelines for educators (p. 2). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and

Curriculum Development.

 Goleman, D. (1998). Working with emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam Books.

 Goleman, D. (2008 August). The secret to success: New research says social-emotional learning helps students in every way. Greater Good Magazine/SharpBrains Guest Blog Post. Retrieved April 18, 2012, from http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/secret_success/

 Jefferson County Public Schools. (n.d.) CARE for kids at Jefferson County Public Schools: Enhancing academic, social, emotional, and ethical learning. Retrieved April 1, 2012, from http://www.jefferson.kyschools.us/Pubs/CareforKidsbook.pdf

 Low, G. R., & Nelson, D. B. (2006). Emotional intelligence and college success: A research-based assessment and intervention model. Darwin. A paper submitted to the Center for Education Development & Evaluation Research (CEDER). Retrieved April 18, 2012, from http://www.tamuk.edu/edu/kwei000/Research/Articles/Article_files/EI_and_College_Success-2006_cederpaper.pdf

 Segal, J. & Smith, M. (2010 September). Emotional intelligence: Five key skills for raising your emotional intelligence. Santa Monica, CA: HelpGuide.org. Retrieved April 2, 2012, from http://www.helpguide.org/mental/eq5_raising_emotional_intelligence.htm

 Sherman, R. F. (2011 September). Social and emotional learning action network white paper. New York: Novo Foundation. Retrieved April 2, 2012, from http://novofoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/CGI-SEL-Action-Network-White-Paper.pdf

 Stillwell, R., Sable, J., & Plotts, C. (2011). Public school graduates and dropouts from the Common Core of Data: School year 2008–09 (NCES 2011–312). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved April 3, 2012, from http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch

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Published in Growth, Spring 2012

By Anthony J. Marchese, Ph.D.


In one of the most acclaimed children’s stories of all time, Hans Christian Anderson (1873) reveals the personal and corporate consequences of leaders becoming so inebriated by the effects of power and position that they become oblivious to the intricacies of the world around them as they exist within a realm of adulterated self-contrivance, devoid of truth. In The Emperor’s New Clothes, we become acquainted with an indulgent, narcissistic leader who possesses an insatiable drive to elevate himself before his people. His raison d’être is being the object of admiration. His disposition contributes to an impairment of the highest order. His appetites perpetuate the law of diminishing returns as he foolishly employs two “tailors” to fashion him a magnificent garment to provide yet another opportunity to garner the approval and affection of the masses. The con artists indicate that the cloth is, “invisible to anyone who is too stupid and incompetent to appreciate its quality” (Anderson, 1). Despite the inability of the emperor to view his new garment, he acknowledges its grandeur and concedes to the wishes of the courtiers who encourage him to place himself on display as the centerpiece of a public processional. The emperor, his courtiers, and nearly all of the onlookers reinforce the emperor’s psychosis by acknowledging the exquisiteness of a fabric that does not exist. This manufactured reality is contested by the ignorance of a small child who curiously inquires why the emperor is naked. Soon after, the absurdity of the situation is heard throughout the kingdom as the crowd responds, “The boy is right! The emperor is naked! It’s true” (Anderson, 9).

Truth? How do we know?

In an era that elevates individuals in the public eye to a frightening place of incalculable importance, it is incumbent upon both leaders and followers to ensure that systems of accountability are instituted to minimize the likelihood of a maligned perception of reality infiltrating the kingdom or organization. How can leaders or followers prevent themselves from succumbing to the intoxicating effects of status either by position or association? Attempts to understand what is as we contemplate the world around us renders a reality that is unmistakably altered by the pigmentation of our personalities, preferences, and presuppositions. In other words, that which deviates from our self-construal of normality may be overlooked or altered in order to maintain an order within our contemplative universe.

In their work on human cognition, Maturana and Varela explain that, at any moment, what we see is most influenced by who we have decided to be. Our eyes do not simply pick up information from an outside world and relay it to our brains. Information relayed from the outside through the eye accounts for only 20 percent of what we use to create a perception. At least 80 percent of the information that the brain works with is information already in the brain. We each create our own worlds by what we choose to notice, creating a world of distinctions that make sense to us. We then “see” the world through this self we have created. Information from the external world is a minor influence. We connect who we are with selected amounts of new information to enact our particular version of reality. (Wheatley, 1998, p. 49)

For most of my life, I have heard individuals including parents, teachers, and pastors talk about the truth. Many, especially within the ecclesiastical context, often speak extremely authoritatively and passionately about the matter. All truth claims appeal to an epistemological system by which information is processed, compared to some standard which authenticates its veracity, and then transmitted through behavior that should conform to its tenets. While I am strongly compelled to embrace the existence of objective reality, I am also aware of the impossibility of gauging reality free from personal baggage or those subjective elements which color our perspective. For example, one’s race, religion, gender, socio-economic status, education, geographical origin, and personal tragedies all shape one’s worldview. It is impossible to bifurcate our baggage from our inquiry. When we make truth claims, especially within the presence of others, it is important that we consider how our worldview impacts our process of acquiring and disseminating knowledge.

Much of the impetus behind my initial desire to study Organizational Leadership at the doctoral level came from my need to make sense out of some fascinating behaviors that I observed of some leaders. My observations led to a continuing process of questioning. What qualities are essential for one to be identified by others as a promising leader? To what extent does one’s personal disposition inform leadership decisions? Within the context of religion, what is the relationship of one’s personality to one’s overall conception of the Almighty? As a college student, I was curious about the degree to which the message of a religious leader was influenced by the disposition of the messenger. While I agree with the tenets of organic inspiration, it seems that one’s personality can strongly inform one’s epistemological framework for understanding the will of God. In order to more closely align ourselves with truth, we must be aware of the impossibility of considering truth free from subjective constraints, i.e., personality, human relationships, experiences, etc. We must acknowledge the presence of these factors; consider the manner in which they influence our thinking, and move forward in our inquiry. One of the most important tools that one can use to help expose the subjective elements that shape our viewpoints is the dialectical process, or human interaction. It is within the presence of community that we are able to work together to unravel the complexities of the world in which we live and form some conclusions.

Within the context of leadership, however, some individuals choose to restrict engagement with others that could potentially call to question the perspective of the leader. That is, the leader surrounds herself with people who do nothing but affirm her own viewpoints. While A is occurring in the organization, the universe within which the leader chooses to reside prefers to embrace B as reality. This alternate universe, which closely resembles that found within Anderson’s The Emperor’s New Clothes, is primarily self-referential. I have chosen to refer to this common phenomenon as Organizational Solipsism. Solipsism is a philosophical term that is used to describe a detached, self-centered worldview or, more specifically, one in which the self or one’s existence operates as the only thing of which one can be certain. Miller (1996) defines solipsism as, “…the belief in one reality, the solipsist himself, upon whose thoughts and perceptions all other things depend for their existence” (Miller, 147). More simply, the American Heritage Dictionary posits that solipsism is, “the theory that the self is the only thing that can be known and verified. The theory or view that the self is the only reality” (Solipsism, n.d.). Upon first exposure to this concept, one might immediately recall television portrayals of schizophrenic individuals such as John Nash in A Beautiful Mind or be transported back to an undergraduate psychology course in which the DSM was introduced. For our purposes, organizational solipsism is a condition with varying degrees of severity characterized by a self-generated, self-moderated, insular worldview maintained by a person in authority. Like Anderson’s emperor (1873), this condition may be externally fueled by other stakeholders within the organization who may believe that by seeking favor with the leader, their own agendas may be advanced. Furthermore, this form of solipsism can also act as a fast-spreading contagion within an organization as individuals acquiesce to the perspective of the leader and ultimately placing the health of the organization in jeopardy. Anderson alludes to this in his fairy tale as he describes the inner struggles of the messenger who must make a decision about whether or not to abdicate what he clearly perceives to be the emperor’s nakedness for what the ambassadors call magnificent. Anderson writes, “… and accordingly, he praised the stuff he could not see, and declared that he was delighted with both colors and patterns

The consequences are costly.

Several years ago my scholarly interests in leadership studies were piqued while working at a college wherein the president persistently offered public praise for the fact that the organization was on the move as a result of a spike in attendance and the expansion of the physical campus. While brick and mortar were transformed into numerous buildings, many lives were adversely effected – both students and faculty. The alternate universe in which the president resided did not acknowledge the alarmingly low faculty morale or high rate of student attrition. Divergent viewpoints offered in the spirit of sincerity and collegiality were quickly extinguished and categorized as insubordination. Decisions were made on a regular basis that diminished the value of human capital and perpetuated a crippling cynicism and blatant distrust within the culture. Students and staff members were reluctant to express concerns for fear of losing scholarships or jobs. In this story, the emperor and his courtiers sought frequent opportunities to utilize impression management with the public outside of the campus by emphasizing the growth of the kingdom and the remarkable satisfaction espoused by its inhabitants.

Every leader is capable of succumbing to the temptation of organizational solipsism. The unhealthy synergy of ambition, personal insecurities, mental illness for some, and the blind loyalty of followers, can lead individuals, who may have the best of intentions, down a path of untruth. History is replete with examples of leaders who achieved remarkable success but at a cost. The extermination of human populations, the loss of billions of dollars through dubious financial practices, and countless other incidents reveal emperors and courtiers inhabiting a lie. Though the allure of creating an alternate universe in which the self reigns supreme is compelling, the casualties that may be incurred along the way make it a deplorable course of action. Regardless of our skills, intelligence, or records of success, we must ALWAYS be aware that the baggage that we carry can have a marked impact, for better or for worse upon those whom we serve in our organizations.  Leaders, regardless of their intelligence, successful history, or ethical prowess must be cognizant of their humanness and establish practices that reinforce accountability and the pursuit of what is real.

 Considerations for Leaders

Self Awareness

Since ancient times, understanding the complexity of the self has been lauded as a worthwhile and necessary aspiration. In his Phaedrus, Plato writes, “I must first know myself, as the Delphian inscription says. To be curious about that which is not my concern, while I am still in ignorance of my own self, would be ridiculous. . . . Am I a monster more complicated and swollen with passion than the serpent Typhon, or a creature of a gentler and simpler sort, to whom nature has given a diviner and lowlier destiny?” (Plato,trans.2009).

Much harmful leadership behavior has its origin on the playground when an unkind word was spoken or a classmate refused to play. Old wounds unattended fester over time and can cause irreparable harm to others. Effective leaders understand their vulnerabilities. Remember: hurting people hurt others.

Honest Feedback

Leaders who receive consistent, truthful feedback from a diverse representation of followers are less likely to practice organizational solipsism. Dotlich and Cairo urge leaders to “find the truth-tellers in your organization and ask them to level with you” (2003, 9). This can be facilitated via the Cross the Line Test presented in the table below.

Table 1

 Dotlich and Cairo’s Cross the Line Test


You’re willing to fight for what you believe in. You’re unwilling to give up a fight no matter what.
You believe that your perspective is the correct one You believe that your perspective is the correct one   before evaluating others’ ideas.
You hold yourself accountable when your strategy or   idea doesn’t work. You refuse to take responsibility when your strategy or   idea doesn’t work.
You adapt your strongly held viewpoint to jibe with new   information or developments. You reinterpret events to fit your point of view.
You possess a powerful ego that allows you to make an   impact on others. You possess a powerful ego that causes you to dominate   others.

Formal and informal feedback mechanisms that include individuals occupying positions at various levels, intergenerational perspectives, and gender and racial diversity can provide the leader with valuable breadth and depth of what is occurring. Also, identify an individual outside of the organization who will not hesitate to hold up the mirror and provide truthful insight. Be wary of those who do not offer alternative ideas. This is a red flag.

Take a Risk

Consider spending some time with a harsh critic or two. Invite them to coffee or to lunch. Though a bit unconventional, ask them to spend some time sharing their viewpoints without fear of reprisal. Maintain a posture of humility and openness. What is this person saying? What factors contribute to their position? What of value can be taken from this exchange?

Unlike the emperor in Anderson’s story, leaders who focus on serving their followers and other constituencies rather than their own aggrandizement are less prone to indulge in practices that can lead to the public nakedness experienced by the emperor and the harming of other members of the organization. Leaders who commit themselves to increasing their self-awareness are more adept at identifying and confronting past injuries and personal idiosyncrasies before they negatively manifest themselves in the organization. What is truth? How is it verified? Is it selective and situational? To whom do we listen? To what extent does our understanding of reality correspond to that of others? Are we aware of how our past influences our present behaviors?  Have we engaged in organizational solipsism?


Anderson, H.C. (1837). The Emperor’s New Clothes. Tales from the Brothers Grim. Retrieved February 9, 2012, from http://www.yankeeweb.com/library/storytime/grimmbros/grimmbros_17.html  Dotlich,

D.L. & Cairo, P.C. (2003). Why CEO’s fail: The eleven behaviors that can derail your climb to the top and how to manage them. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Miller, E.L. (1996). Idealism. In E.L. Miller (Ed.)., Questions that matter (pp. 147-148). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Plato. (2009). Phaedrus (H. Yunis, Trans.). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Solipsism. (n.d.). In American Heritage online dictionary. Retrieved February 9, 2012, from   http://ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=solipsism

Wheatley, M. J. (1998). A simpler way. San Francisco: Berrett-Kohler.

Anthony J. Marchese holds a Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership from Regent University and a Master of Liberal Arts in Philosophy from Lee University. He completed advanced graduate studies in law at West Virginia University and earned executive certifications in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution at the University of Notre Dame and Change Leadership at Cornell University. Marchese serves as Senior Manager of Educational Leadership and Development for an international consulting firm and is an adjunct professor of leadership at a local university.

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