IRA CHALEFF (Kensington, MD)

Welcome to this website's first author profile. The book is The Courageous Follower, and the author is long-time friend and idea-builder Ira Chaleff. By day Ira is an "executive coach" and blue-chip consultant. By night, and on vacation, Ira is a visionary writer who always finds his way to the practical side. Now in its second edition, The Courageous Follower is a valuable, and at times delightful, offset to America's cult of "leadership" and swamp of leadership books. In contrast, Chaleff shows us how to build upon this workaday mega-fact: Millions of hard-working people do not hunger to be "leaders," yet they are ready to do their part inside and around great enterprises. Now they have a guidebook that covers every critical aspect of "followership." Be prepared, though, for the rigors of that role. When navigated with courage, nothing about it is wimpy or weak...

My favorite marketing writer is Al Ries, and he says you have to "own a word in the prospect's mind." When people hear that word, they'll automatically think of you or your product. So I find it fascinating how The Courageous Follower has played off the exaggerated use of "leadership" in this culture. You took the counterpart word "followership" which didn't have a lot of luster -- and attached a positive adjective.

IRA CHALEFF: But I didn't approach it as a marketing device. The genesis of the book occurred when I was reading M. Scott Peck's People of the Lie in some ways an eccentric book, but some of its discussions are very powerful. One chapter looks at the My Lai massacre [by U.S. forces in South Vietnam, March 1968].A cross-section of reasonably average young American adults are under both duress and indoctrination. Put in a position where they see themselves as followers, they abrogate their moral responsibility for acts, and sort of "invest" the leader [Col. William Calley] with that power. As a result, you could have 200+ Americans either committing atrocity or standing by while the atrocity occurred, or covering it up for a year.

At that moment, I had an epiphany, and wrote in the margins of that book [by Peck]: It sounds like a book on followership is needed. The word had never even occurred to me before.

For a summary of Chaleff's book,
see www.CourageousFollower.com...

GREGORSKY: In the '03 edition, you report being "thrilled to receive communication from people in all walks of organized life who have used the principles in this book. Therefore, I've learned more about the subject than I knew when writing" the original [1995] edition. Discuss the interaction of an author with readers, in this case between the two editions of the book.

CHALEFF: Other than life experience and my passion for the subject, I did not have any "credentials" to write this book. So, to some degree, the whole process was an education. Very little was available to read. Much more now, I'm glad to say but very, very little then. As soon as I had something that could coherently be called a first draft it was almost more of an outline I started the interactive process, sending it to people I trusted.

GREGORSKY: Did you have the title that early?

CHALEFF: No. The first title was "Power in Balance." The concern was how could you create balance [as an offset to] destructive power when leaders go awry. I then went through three or four iterations of the draft asking for peer input. Along the way, it became clear that courage was the essential ingredient.

GREGORSKY: Where did you first look for a publisher?

CHALEFF: I was a consumer of books from Berrett-Koehler Publishers. So I wrote a proposal letter to the publisher and, on one of the most exciting nights of my life, he called. He told me how the book spoke to him and offered several anecdotes from his own life. He talked about various [related] writings and I was thrilled that I knew about almost all of them in other words, the informal research had been good preparation.

GREGORSKY: His name?

CHALEFF: Steven Piersanti. He encouraged me strongly. He also said, "This isn't a book yet, and I'm not offering you a contract." I had been concentrating on the problematic aspects of leadership, and how did followers deal with those. He felt that a comprehensive treatment would work better: Not just how do you deal with a leader who's abusing power, but how do you support a leader who's using power well. In fact, that became a very, very important part of my model. In terms of marketing, leaders who write the checks [for book and workshops] don't want to have their people just hearing about how to correct them [laughter] they want to make sure their followers really are supporting them.

GREGORSKY: So you never had to do the "first-author grind" of shepherding a manuscript through 20 rejections.

CHALEFF: I've only had to do that for all subsequent books [strong laughter].

GREGORSKY: All right, folks, he paid his dues -- later [laughter].

CHALEFF: Having further developed the book, I came back to [Piersanti] a few months later, and he gave me a contract. But the book was still a work in progress. And Berrett-Koehler doesn't use traditional editorial process. They use a copy editor right at the very end, and the publisher wears the traditional role of helping the author think through the "shape" of the book but doesn't slog through the book with the author; [the firm is] too small, they didn't have the resources.

So their process is peer review. They selected four readers from different backgrounds that they felt brought something to this topic, paid them each a couple hundred bucks to read through the manuscript and give detailed feedback. I got incredibly rich feedback from those four readers.

GREGORSKY: How did they give it to you?

CHALEFF: In detailed written form.

GREGORSKY: So, a mark-up plus memo.

CHALEFF: Yeah, exactly. They identified a couple of serious structural issues. This led to another major revision. And then I asked for another peer-review process, which was unusual, and helped put a polish on it. By this time, I knew the book was not everything that it could possibly be but it was all that I could possibly do at that time.

GREGORSKY: During or even prior to publication, how were media and retail interest stirred up?

CHALEFF: Remember that the publication process lasts eight or nine months, and is driven by the marketing cycle [and the] seasons fall publication, spring publication. The process involves creating a catalog of what the next season's publications are going to be.

Because Berrett-Koehler is a small independent publisher, it can't afford a sales force. So it contracts with a middleman sales force I think they're called PGW; they represent two or three hundred small presses. So part of the "art" of getting your book into bookstores is Berrett-Koehler needing to impress on their PGW representative what's exciting about their new titles. Going through all these steps takes time. And then the PGW sales force has to go to the Barnes & Nobles of the world and talk their buyers into ordering.

I also hired a New York PR professional and the publisher cost-shared that with me.

GREGORSKY: Flat rate or -- ?

CHALEFF: Yeah. It was below her market rate [and she] generally did larger projects. But she took this one on anyway -- she liked the book. This was 10 years ago, cost about six grand. You know, it all "helps." None of it necessarily produces a home run.

GREGORSKY: You can't go back and do the cause and effect, but --

CHALEFF: But it all helps.

GREGORSKY: How were you as the "father" of the book? Were you able to participate, monitor, feel pretty good as this process was coming together? Or were you nervous?

CHALEFF: "Father of the book" is very appropriate. Berrett-Koehler is the most author-friendly publisher there is. They are tremendously respectful of their authors and consult them at every stage. They bring you in to meet all their staff [it's part of] an "author's day," where you help the staff understand what this book is about.

GREGORSKY: Hmmph! [Impressed]

CHALEFF: You also sit down with their marketing people to help decide which markets you want to reach. I was very interested in religious and military markets non-traditional markets for a management book, because of the hierarchical nature of those organizations and how important is it for the follower-leader dynamic to be examined [within those institutions].

They [the Berrett-Koehler staff] even consult you on typeface, cover design everything.

So, there was no "I lost control" anxiety.

GREGORSKY: In no sense were you a cog in some publishing machine.

CHALEFF: No, this is true, true partnership. And to this day, Berrett-Koehler creates a community of authors it's extraordinary.

GREGORSKY: Okay, now cite something that went afoul, a surprise on the downside.

CHALEFF: During the book's writing, I didn't understand that the publication of the book was just the birth. Now I had to "nurture" it. Just like with an infant, they're most vulnerable during the first year. It's your window of opportunity. And if you miss it, you've really missed it. People won't cover books that are even a season old. You've really got to have your timing right and your act together. If you get media attention that first year, then comes a sustained campaign of writing articles etc. to keep the issue alive.

Discussion of book tours and radio interviews none done for The Courageous Follower versus independently arranged speeches and workshops, which "were okay. I learned some things, improved the presentation and have continued to do these for a variety of groups."

CHALEFF: Something very exciting is happening right now, though. So if I could take a decade-long leap [from when the book first edition of the book came out] --


CHALEFF: We have to find out what in life we have done most successfully and build on that. The Courageous Follower is not a blockbuster, but it has sold about 25,000 copies. It's in its second edition, in several languages. A good training video was made from it. It's quoted in everything from religious sermons to military leadership programs. So, in terms of the contribution I can make, it's probably centered on this idea of followership, and how to make it a more dynamic role in relation to leaders.

In 2004 I formulated a vision for a national conference on the subject of followership. I hope to create a "community of practice" that understands the value, the importance -- maybe the centrality -- of the subject of followership in terms of ensuring leaders use power well. All the workshops in the world, all the books and studies in the world on "leadership," have probably not kept one leader from misusing power -- if they are inclined to do so. Or if the forces around them permit and encourage them to do so.

So I looked for a partner to put on a conference. In December I was surfing the web -- as I do every three months to see where The Courageous Follower is being used, quoted, etc. A new place was a graduate course called "Toxic Leadership," run at the Claremont University Graduate School of Management. The professor had authored a book called Toxic Leadership, so I familiarized myself with her book -- and realized there were a lot of simpatico qualities about our books. Hers questions why followers allow themselves to follow, or even enable, leaders that she describes as "toxic."

GREGORSKY: And her name is -- ?

CHALEFF: Jean Lipman-Blumen. I contacted her, thanked her for using my book in the class, and presented the conference idea to her. (She's certainly not the first one I presented it to -- I'd been doing this for a number of months.) She immediately saw the value of it. "Of course we need a conference." And it turns out Jean is co-director of the Drucker-Ito Institute of Advanced Leadership Studies at the Claremont Graduate School. Claremont University is a consortium of about nine schools, graduate and undergraduate.

And Claremont McKenna, which is an undergraduate school, also has a leadership institute, called the Kravis Leadership Institute -- which has an endowment to put on a conference, on some aspect of leadership, every year. She spoke to the guy who directs that, and he got interested. I happened to be going to California and asked for a meeting, and all of us could be around the table at the same hour. 

We agreed that we are going to do a conference in the spring of '06 on followership. The themes and shape still have to be thrashed out, but a vision is forming, that we need a new cultural model, one that permeates our leadership-studies programs.

So, I'm very excited -- this is 10 years [after the first edition of the book], and the process is still going!

GREGORSKY: What has to happen before "community of practice" develops?

CHALEFF: It's not my language. I think it exists in the OD [organizational development] world, but -- it's very germane here.

GREGORSKY: So "change management" might be another community of practice?

CHALEFF: Yes, exactly. Somebody [rhetorically] asked "when will we know that followership has really entered the consciousness of the culture?" Their answer was that if you type in "followership" on a search engine, it doesn't ask you "did you mean fellowship?"

GREGORSKY: [Laughter] That's great.

CHALEFF: [Smiling] And we're not quite there yet! But many more publications are examining different aspects of the topic now. It's time to bring all these thinkers together [and] for people to know who's doing what. We need at least a "loose" strategy of how we can advance the importance of this way of thinking and way of being.

GREGORSKY: Congratulations on the forthcoming conference. We will insert that Claremont link [right here] when it exists.

For now, here's the Kravis Leadership Institute 
magazine on management...


GREGORSKY: Any other observations on a recent problem or opportunity associated with your best-known book to date?

CHALEFF: I could say something about foreign-language editions -- you really lose control there.

GREGORSKY: Number one, they're hard to proofread.

CHALEFF: Very hard! But the Spanish one came out in Spain. And the title, when I translate it, is horrible: How to Survive Your Boss's Errors Without Losing Your Job.

[Two-way laughter]

Now, maybe from a marketing point of view, it'll do well [with that title]. I much prefer the Chinese version, which is Dances with Leaders: How to Be a Courageous Follower. When I asked the translator "Why do you think they said that?" she replied: "Well, in China, you could never say standing up to your leaders."

So, culturally, it's interesting the way this plays out in different settings.



2005, Gregorsky Editorial Services