Another "Follower" Takes a Leadership Stand (Against the Supreme Court)
Those of you who occasionally read my blog, or who in some other way are familiar with my work, will not be surprised to learn that every time there’s a story about the powerless intruding on the powerful, I get interested. For in the last couple of years I have become convinced that those who are usually thought of as followers – that is, those without obvious sources of power, authority, or influence – are edging out those who are usually thought of as leaders.
This is not to say that leaders no longer matter, they do. But I have got to the point where I consider the study of leadership pure and simple simply old-fashioned, grist for the 20th century but not for the 21st. In today’s world leaders everywhere are vulnerable in ways they have not been before. And conversely – as the result of changes both in culture and technology – followers everywhere are empowered in ways they have not been before
Each week I could point to numbers of stories that illustrate my point which, given our love affair with leaders, remains counterintuitive. But here’s my favorite recent example. In an item that hit the front page of the New York Times, but that nevertheless remained under the radar, it was reported that an all-important decision rendered by the Supreme Court a couple of weeks ago was based on a factual flaw.
The Court had ruled that the death penalty for raping a child was unconstitutional. In reaching this decision, the Court relied on an inventory which seemed to reveal that only six states currently permitted capital punishment for child rapists, while the other thirty states that had the death penalty did not permit it to be used in these kinds of criminal cases. The Court further took into account the various jurisdictions of the federal government, finding that none extended the death penalty to child rapists.
According to the Times, this inventory was a “central part of the court’s analysis” and “the foundation for Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s conclusion in his majority opinion that capital punishment for child rape was contrary to the ‘evolving standards of decency’ by which the court judges how the death penalty is applied.”
There was just one small problem – the Court was wrong. Justice Kennedy’s assertion about the absence of any federal law applying to cases of child rape was misplaced. In fact, as a military law blog pointed out, Congress had revised the Uniform Code of Military Justice as recently as 2006 to add child rape to the military death penalty. Who was the blogger who publicly humiliated and indeed bested the justices of the Supreme Court? He was Dwight Sullivan, a colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve, who now works for the Air Force on death penalty cases.
Here’s my point. No doubt that Colonel Sullivan is a man of great distinction. But, whatever his accomplishments, he does not rate right up there alongside the nine men and women who have lifelong appointments to the highest court in the land. Did his lesser status stop him? Did it deny him access or preclude him from taking on arguably the most august leaders in the land? Not on your life. Not in this day and age. Sullivan posted his blog – and in the process gave the Court one of its worst black eyes ever.
See original here, by Barbara Kellerman @ Harvard Business Publishing