Being in Three Places at Once

This fall I have the opportunity to learn in three very different settings.  In the first setting, I am co-instructing (as I mentioned in a previous post) an undergraduate course called Emerging Leaders.  The second setting, I am the only leadership studies doctoral student in a class with higher education leadership masters students called Making Meaning of the College Experience. The third setting is with my fellow doctoral classmates in two research courses: Advanced Qualitative Research and Action Research.

Although its only been the first few days of each course, I already feel different in each class because of the role I play and how I choose to take up that role.  In the undergraduate class I feel like a nervous “new” teacher.  I am used to being in a more formal professor role from when I taught business courses to adult learners, but this is a discussion based co-instructor model so I have to be careful not to “lecture” but instead facilitate group learning.  Hence the nervousness.  I’m new to the social change model as well, so I really am learning along with the students. I always learn something new when teaching, but I really do feel like a bit of a newb in this case.

As for the masters class, in talking with some of my classmates they expressed their assumptions of me: that I must know “a lot” already, since I’m a doctoral student.  Rather than trying to exert authority as a phd student, I was frank about being new to higher ed leadership, and that I’m learning just like everyone else.  During class, I felt out of place, as I am not a student affairs professional. But my excitement over learning about student development is the common connection to my new classmates; one that I need to remember and tap into.  Had I allowed my insecurities to get the best of me, I could have tried to play up the doctoral aspect, but consciously chose not to as that may  impact our future classroom interactions in a negative way.

My research courses have me learning with other phd students from a variety of cohorts, several of which are close to entering their dissertation phase.  This may create a hierarchy between the students, not to mention the natural inclination for competition among graduate students–I don’t deny its existence.

So why is this combination of classes important? Because we often don’t realize what role we take up in different situations and how we exercise leadership especially when our resources vary in each situation.  With the masters class, I have to be careful not to behave in a dominating way which may silence others.  With the doctoral classes, I have to be careful not to “hang back” thinking the more “senior” students are in control. And with the undergraduates, I have to create a holding environment where the students and the co-instructors can learn together.

Talk about juggling a lot of balls in the air. But man am I excited!

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The Introverted Teacher

Today was my first day teaching an undergraduate leadership course called Emerging Leaders.  My co-instructor is an extrovert while I am an introvert. I’ve had years of teaching experience: 5 years piano, 2 years SAT prep, 3 years college business courses, etc. But this was the first time I had to co-instruct a class with someone else (that was not my mentor); an experience that has me being more mindful of how I bring myself into the classroom.

But what does it mean to be an extrovert or introvert? Today, most people see the two as synonymous with outgoing and shy, respectively. But that’s not what Carl Jung intended them to be.  Extroverts focus on outward motions and get their energy from the environment. Introverts focus more on the inner world and gain energy in quiet solitude. How my co-instructor and I choose to tap into our energy sources while in the classroom will make for interesting dynamics.  It will be a good learning opportunity for me, as well as for my students who will get to experience our interactions in the class.

As the group discussed the class expectations about participation and openness, I decided to be vulnerable in front of my students and told them I am an introvert, and that I have to actively work in order to engage in groups, but that I especially enjoy groups within the classroom setting.  Moreover, I wanted them to know that it is ok to be an introvert, acknowledging that some in the classroom may identify with this personality trait. Whether we like it or not, there is an American cultural bias towards extroverts.  But it does not mean that one is better than the other. I hoped that the syllabus overview which emphasized the class discussions and activities had not made the introverts in the class nervous about what is to come.

In a class that teaches freshmen about leadership, being able to embrace the facets of our personalities in order to engage with others will be one of the first things the students learn. How else can we work with others until we know how to work with ourselves?

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Another perspective: Measuring human worth

Gavin Aung Than beautifully illustrates the words of Bill Watterson on the creation of a life that reflects one’s true self. 

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Measuring Success In Other Ways

When I was an undergraduate at the University of San Diego, a theology professor used an analogy to explain God’s existence which has stayed with me for the past ten years.  Since then, I have used the analogy to explain God’s existence to my church youth group.  Simply put, there is not a single, definitive piece of evidence that proves God’s existence, but rather numerous pieces that when combined together, present a strong argument, like a strong cable which consists of multiple wires.  After experiencing Mondragon, listening to the different speakers on what makes Mondragon successful, and learning about the different cooperatives, I realized that this analogy can also be used to describe Mondragon in two ways.  Firstly, instead of measuring success solely in monetary terms, Mondragon’s success can be expressed in a “bundle” of aspects: length of time, number of employees, social impact, the culture, sales, profits, number of cooperatives, etc.  Secondly, the analogy illustrates how cooperation works: the worker-owners are grouped within the numerous cooperatives to create Mondragon Corporation, thus representing the strength of cooperation like the strength of a bridge cable.  This analogy came to mind as I listened to the questions and comments from classmates as well as friends on how the cooperative model can be successful.

Focusing solely on one factor, such as financial success, ignores the multi-faceted nature of humans.  I had begun realizing this in recent years; that income was not a measure of a person’s worth, and that positions or titles did not make one individual better than another.  The Mondragon experience gave me concrete terms and examples of how success can be measured in other ways such as social impact, relationships, and adaptability.  I intend to take share this perspective with my students so that they can understand that a person’s self-worth is more than their paycheck.  I hope that, instead of chasing high paying jobs they hate, these young adults can find a career they love while also contributing to society.  I’ve recently been revising clients’ resumes to transition them from high paying jobs, into new professions they are passionate about.  If my students can figure out their dream job sooner rather than later, then I will be happy.  As Father Arizmendiarrieta of Mondragon aptly wrote, “What is a human being? An imperfect being. A perfectible being. A being whose destiny is not to contemplate but to transform.  To transform oneself, to transform all around us” (2000, p.33).  Thus it is through teaching, that I have the opportunity to transform.

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Drink Cooperatively

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I am currently in Basque Country (in Spain) learning about the Mondragon Corporation. One fun experience so far is how Basque people practice cooperativism even in their socializing–a pub crawl. Each person puts in 5 euros to an appointed money manager, and the party goes from bar to bar getting wine and beer tastings (the serving size is a full glass) along with tapas. The money manager handles the payment while everyone enjoys their drinks and food. This continues until the money runs out. More money contributed means more bars the group can visit. With our initial 5 euros, we were able to visit 3 bars.

Aside from the eating and drinking, socializing in this cooperative manner sets aside people’s socio-economic status (income, class, job, etc.) Everyone is equal in this space.

It was a lot of fun and an easy way to learn and practice a bit of cooperativism with old and new friends. I got to practice some of my high school Spanish with a Mondragon retiree and discuss my research with a faculty member from the Mondragon business school.

A fun pub crawl is one creative way I can teach cooperativism to my friends… The next time we go bar hopping in San Diego. Stay thirsty my friends.  Remember to drink responsibly! And cooperatively!

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Book Review: Oh Myyy! (There Goes the Internet)

I was interested in reading George Takei’s book because he discusses how he grew his social media presence (while I’m just starting out mine in this blog).  Like his Facebook page, George uses photos in his book (I have the Kindle version) to illustrate his points. He points out that posting funny images on  Facebook results in more likes and shares than posts without images; I can see how images in his actual book make reading it more enjoyable and something that can be shared (which I ended up showing to a few friends).

The book is very humorous and as I was reading I felt like I could hear Uncle George’s voice narrating in my head.  Chapters aren’t too long, and focus on a specific topic like Twitter, Facebook, science fiction, the apocalypse, and bacon (yes, bacon!)  George also talks about certain celebrities he does not agree with (or those who do not agree with him), such as his disappointment with then-Governor Schwarzenegger’s veto on the California same-sex marriage bill or Gilbert Gottfried’s antagonistic tweeting.  He discusses some of the frustrating aspects of sharing one’s life on social media such as dealing with trolls, Grammar Nazis, and George Fakei (an online impostor).

Other general highlights I enjoyed:

  • Learning more about George’s activism, although he noted that some of his fans prefer him to stay on the lighter, funnier side of things.
  • The story behind his “Happy Dance” which can be seen here.
  • Demystifying how Facebook and EdgeRank works (like why I can’t see all posts by people I am following, including George’s page.)

Overall, the book is honest and sincere, as well as entertaining.  George provides  helpful insights into building one’s online presence, funny stories about himself, and some of his key successes with social media and activism.  Inspiring and fun to read.  I’d love to meet George someday and have him sign my Kindle cover (right next to Grace Lee Boggs and Edgar Schein).

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Democracy in Business?

I’ll be going to Spain in July to visit the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation (MCC) and learn about how they run their business.  MCC is the largest Basque business group with 92,000 employees and has, for the most part, been able to withstand the global economic downturn with minimal layoffs.  One article I read in preparation for the trip was Rothschild’s Workers’ Cooperatives and Social Enterprise: A Forgotten Route to Social Equity and Democracy (2009).  The author suggests that if companies were run more democratically (like worker-owned cooperatives), that democratic decision-making would expand to the political arena (despite the ability to vote, many Americans don’t).

A few interesting facts to consider:

1. During the 1950s, for each dollar in federal taxes paid by U.S. households, corporations paid 80 cents.  By the 2000s, for each dollar paid by households, corporations aggregately pay 20 cents. 

2. UC Berkeley estimates that in the next decade, some 14 million white-collar jobs will be outsourced.  Furthermore, the U.S. Dept of Labor estimates that new service-sector jobs that are being created pay 25% to 50% less than the jobs being exported.  

3. The U.S. has gone through eight recessions since World War II.  According to the Economic Policy Institute, economic growth typically is strongest in the 3 years after the trough of a recession with corporate profits typically averaging 14% and wages rising 7%.  However, in the last recession that ended in 2002, the average corporate profit gain was 60% and wages fell by 1.7%.  

During my time working at a medical device company, there was a significant layoff in the fall of 2012, followed by smaller, quiet layoffs.  These layoffs made me feel uncomfortable because of the procurement activity I was supporting (outsourcing) and because of the heavy workloads I knew many of my colleagues had.  The executives were not letting people go due to lack of work, rather they were trying to make shareholders happy by reducing costs while increasing profits, and in turn improve the stock price.  Their lack of transparency about the layoffs and outsourcing activities is very different in comparison to cooperatives’ sharing of information and decision-making.  If workers had the ability to participate in decision-making, I do not believe there would be as many layoffs and disparity in salaries.  With my desire to teach and my feelings about corporations, I left the corporate world and chose to partake in the Mondragon experience.  The idea of an organization that thrives through participatory leadership and management gives me hope that capitalism is not the only way.

Rothschild presented five reasons why the cooperative model has not had a bigger presence in the U.S.:

1. American capitalism and the accumulation of wealth without shame.  The rich do not get embarrassed by the large income disparity between them and the poor.  This explains why executives don’t mind laying off workers while increasing their own pay.

2. Agency heads and deputy directors of public-sector agencies have little incentive to share decision-making authority with civil servants. 

3. The “hierarchal culture of capitalism” has become the norm in the U.S.  When talking with a co-worker and my brother about how executives treat employees, both said they would do the same thing; if one were “smart” enough to become rich, even at the expense of others, then one should do it.

4. Thanks to Taylor’s “scientific management” principles, U.S. companies are known for bureaucratic structures with each manager supervising fewer employees.  Those of us at large companies have experienced the frustrating bureaucratic red tape when trying to get decisions made.

5. In other countries, social democratic or labor parties support the development of workers’ cooperatives, but the U.S. has no such group to support cooperatives. And with capitalism the “norm” in the U.S., many look at democratic cooperatives as a strange idea.

The idea of bringing more democracy into the “economic arena,” which I agree with Rothschild should be a way of life, will not be easy.  Especially with those already in power, where there is no incentive to change.  I hope that by going into teaching and sharing ideas like those in Rothschild’s article and knowledge about organizations like Mondragon, new perspectives can be learned and change can happen. It is in this space of teaching that I find my voice and feel empowered.  In the meantime, I look forward to writing more about Mondragon and sharing what I learn.

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