Boston-Cambridge is buzzing at the possibility of Harvard president Larry Summers stepping down before being subjected to a second "no confidence" vote from the Arts faculty later this week. (Perhaps it will have happened before this Blog sees the light.) "Some" are saying that if he steps down it will prove that Harvard is ungovernable; "some" are saying that the general faculty-spurred unrest is a symbol of its unwillingness to deal with Summers' vigorous change agenda. All the above, and more, doubtless have many grains of truth enclosed. But my take, based on utterly no inside knowledge, is that Summers is, as he long has been, "abrasive" (a repeatedly used descriptor) and notably lacking in Daniel Goleman's EQ/emotional intelligence.
It is axiomatic that a change agent will meet resistance, in Cub Scout Troop #349 or when attempting to lead Harvard. And the thin-skinned had best not attempt such change. On the other hand, determined change agents are not allowed to claim that the mountain was impossible to scale because of "their" recalcitrance—it is up to the leader to muster as much "emotional intelligence" as relentless determination to get the job done through those who will be subjected to the newfound approach. Summers' manner apparently borders (crosses the border) on rude and demeaning. Frankly, I think his change agenda is long overdue at Harvard, and I am saddened that he seems to have been born, or developed along the way, such a ratty, haughty, even misanthropic, attitude toward his fellow men and women.
The larger lesson is obvious: "Revolutionary approaches are needed in revolutionary times"—but they'd better be accompanied by first-rate "political"/people skills.
(Come to think of it, Summers in his 20s could have benefited mightily from having read and absorbed the lessons of B. Frankin's autobiography. America's most successful man at its most perilous time had, along with an incomparable vision, people skills to burn.)
Before blogging became all the rage, Tom was posting book reviews and Observations (essentially early blog posts) to this site. You can find the archives below.
What we're talking about
on the front page.