Two Harbors grad Dr. Gordon Curphy to speakWhen Gordon Curphy was growing up in Lake County, he says he had little idea that his later life would include graduation from the U.S. Air Force Academy, a Ph.D., authoring 16 books and a career that takes him all over the world as an organizational consultant.
By: Tammy Francois, Lake County News Chronicle
When Gordon Curphy was growing up in Lake County, he says he had little idea that his later life would include graduation from the U.S. Air Force Academy, a Ph.D., authoring 16 books and a career that takes him all over the world as an organizational consultant.
In high school, he said, he couldn’t see beyond the pulp peeling and tree planting. He spent several years working with his dad, who was a logger and teacher in Two Harbors for more than 30 years. His mother had a long career with Lake County Human Services.
Curphy said he spent much of his childhood doing the “normal northern Minnesota things guys do — hunting fishing and playing sports,” including hockey, the dynamics of which, he quipped, were the reason he became a psychologist.
“I observed behavior, listened to conversations and was fascinated by interactions and the development of pecking order,” Curphy said.
As a high school student he played on the team that included Randy Bolen, Sr., father of Two Harbors’ mayor, and Art Smith. The scoring record set by the team still stands.
Curphy was admitted to the Air Force Academy in 1974 and later became assistant coach of the hockey team there. He says it was these experiences — his time as an exchange officer in the Royal Australian Air Force, teaching leadership at the Academy, and doing organizational consulting with the Department of Defense during his military career — that allowed him to develop his theories of effective leadership and how leaders can facilitate engaged, productive “ followership.”
“I went to a military academy and we spent the first year or year-and-a-half just learning to be a good follower,” Curphy said, something he says is somewhat counter to our cultural belief and the structure of our organizations and businesses. Americans are groomed to “make it to the top,” and our emphasis on promotions, awards and other forms of recognition rarely include lessons in playing the supporting role.
Outcomes, however, are determined by how well team members function in their roles as leader and as follower, he said.
“I think we have it backwards. If you can’t be a good follower, you can’t be a good leader. Followership can make the difference between having a successful team and a losing team,” he said, stressing that following doesn’t mean checking one’s brain at the door. Curphy describes a good follower as someone who contributes ideas, challenges leaders to look at options and think outside the box, but also as someone who will “salute smartly” and move on toward the next goal when a decision is made, he said.
The other side of the coin is that good leaders should be able to deliver results by exercising sound judgment in decision making, behaving ethically and developing the interpersonal skills to listen, build relationships and motivate a “cohesive goal-oriented team.” Without those qualities and skills outcomes suffer and employees disengage.
“I’ve seen a number of people moving up the ladder, but no one would follow them to save their lives,” said Curphy. “My role is to make sure people in positions of authority are doing the right things.”
This message seems to have resonated with corporations, organizations and academics here and abroad. Curphy authored a textbook, “Leadership: Enhancing the Lessons of Experience”, used in college and university classrooms all over the world, and “The Rocket Model: Practical Advice for Building High Performance Teams”, published last year. He has written 14 other books and logs over 150,000 miles in work-related travel. Upcoming destinations include Copenhagen and London.
First, however, he plans to present “Followership: An Overlooked Component of Organizational Success” in Duluth on March 19, at Allete-Minnesota Power from 11:45 a.m.-1 p.m. Curphy says the topic has relevance to anyone, whether they work in business, with volunteers or on a sports team.
Quoting Bob Dylan, another Minnesota guy, Curphy made his point : “’…everyone has to serve somebody