Hillbilly Challenges



During this election year, J.D. Vance’s book Hillbilly Elegy has been received as providing insight about Appalachian people.  With some solidarity they supported Presidential candidate Donald Trump during the primary season.  In the blog amendoon we have discussed Appalachian heritage.  One article “Encrypted Appalachian” documents my own family’s travel from Southeastern Tennessee to California in the early 20th Century.


“Encrypted Appalachian” considers values that support resilient actions.  The essay also observes Appalachian cultural actions do not appear to advance transformational educational opportunities.  This is similar to the engaging story presented by Mr. Vance in Hillbilly Elegy.  He presents a heritage and a daily existence full of violence and alienation.  He overcomes it by perseverance, intelligence, Marine service, prodigious college academic performance, support by strong women, and a Yale Law Degree.

Culturally, many Appalachians have sought a better life.   Often they have not been agile enough to overcome economic displacement from industrial change.  They have remained tethered to their mountain life-style.  As J.D. Vance documents incidents of substance abuse and strong personalities predominate.  In the older Appalachians there is often a strong individuality but basic decency.

I have always tried to advance pride in hillbilly ancestry to my children.  They are all upwardly mobile and most of them seem to manifest little interest in their Polk County, Tennessee history.  They loved their grandfather who was born in Tennessee, but who lived most of his life in Central California.  His lifestyle exhibited so many Appalachian characteristics and he personified Appalachian values such as independence, self-reliance, pride, familism, love of place, and patriotism.  These values came from a powerful historical context, which was the migration of the Scots Irish and other Protestant groups into the mountains of Southeast America.

I have come to learn that my father was exemplary of a historical tradition that began in America when his Scot (Campbell) and Huguenot (Bodine) ancestors moved from New Jersey to Virginia and then onto Tennessee in the 18th and 19th Century.  The journey of the Scots Irish is well documented in an online video the Appalachian people.


The context for this was described by Theodore Roosevelt in his work The Winning of the West.

‘The Presbyterian Irish were themselves already a mixed people. Though mainly descended from Scotch ancestors—who came originally from both lowlands and highlands, from among both the Scotch Saxons and the Scotch Celts,—many of them were of English, a few of French Huguenot, and quite a number of true old Milesian Irish extraction. They were the Protestants of the Protestants; they detested and despised the Catholics, whom their ancestors had conquered, and regarded the Episcopalians by whom they themselves had been oppressed, with a more sullen, but scarcely less intense, hatred. They were a truculent and obstinate people, and gloried in the warlike renown of their forefathers, the men who had followed Cromwell, and who had shared in the defence of Derry and in the victories of the Boyne and Aughrim.’”   Michael Cullinane, “Roosevelt in the Strangest Places”,  http://blog.theodoreroosevelt.org/roosevelt-in-the-strangest-places/, March 24, 2014.

Though for his time President Roosevelt was precocious on racial issues dining at the White House with Booker T. Washington in 1901, he nevertheless retained strong opinions about the qualities of races and “people”. (For the complexity and contradictions of Theodore Roosevelt’s views see Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex, pp 52 – 58).

Theodore Roosevelt could see both stubbornness and the ferocity in the mountain people.  Possibly because of these qualities and historically a larger cultural presumptive focus on them, they were for many years lost to the view of the common American culture.  If seen at all, they were the stereotypes of the movie Deliverance and the cartoon Li’l Abner.  These diminishing and two-dimensional presentations did nothing to recognize the hearty and resilient qualities of a mountain people.

J.D. Vance’s book presented a compelling and personal story about hillbilly communities, largely in Ohio and Kentucky.  It partially explains their current position as a constituency in the American election.  The New York Times’ columnist David Brooks captured this in his column “The Revolt of the Masses”.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/28/opinion/revolt-of-the-masses.html?emc=eta1&_r=0    I provided a context for it in my essay, “Rubes, Barbarians and the TVA”  http://amendoon.net/rubes-barbarians-and-the-tva/

Appalachian groups have been relatively ineffective in advancing their priorities through public forums.  This may be inherent in their lifestyle which is characteristically remote and independent.  I am not aware of an established movement that achieves the visibility through public dialogue to advance hillbilly achievements and progress to the general American public.  I am not aware of a prominent network of hillbilly anti-defamation and political groups that interact with the media, state and federal entities and non-profits to develop programs advancing hillbilly people.  Some publicity from Mr. Vance’s book may help the cause, but it will not directly advance the success of the hillbilly people over more than a media moment.

Resilient actions to advance these people are the behavior of individuals or closely associated groups.   The hillbilly’s five minutes of fame from Mr. Vance will not necessarily support a stubborn eye on the prize and effective cultural consolidation and leadership.  Their most pressing need is to address the “moral and cultural crisis” in their communities.  The Federalist makes the point that this pressing need is aggravated by government transfer payments and the lack of mobility among many Appalachian people.  The challenge to hillbilly people is both addressing the immediate crisis of their cultural group and simultaneously developing and improving their prospects as a people.


I admire Appalachians and hope that their recent publicity may lead to national recognition and possible interest towards solutions for the conditions that afflict them.  This will require inspired leadership and concerted organization effort.  It will require networked solidarity based upon a compelling prize that addresses America’s willingness to dismiss and denigrate hillbilly people.  I am hoping Mr. Vance has an interest in this role because he is  intelligent and potentially an effective leader and spokesperson.

Integrating management with leadership (IML)

armistead mlk


Advance & Engage: 

 In defense of the honorable art of management

Improving results by integrating management with leadership (IML)

 Thoughts about LinkedIn article “Why most definitions of leadership are wrong

I found the article “Why most definitions of leadership are wrong”, interesting as a perspective.  From my experience, effective leadership is personal and direct.  Leaders advance, engage and get the job done.  They are persistent to reach their objective.  They focus on the “prize” and are able to compel others to their “mountain top”.

Stereotypes are convenient for they require little thought and investigation.  The leadership stereotype emphasizes personability, directness, and inspiration. In many cases this is exactly the case.  But these features are not necessary conditions to leadership.

I recently reviewed the consensus-choice of the  top ten United States Presidents and found that over history, there have been more introverts than extroverts.  Extroverts derive their “mojo” from other people and are often the stereotype for the leadership-type.  This finding about U.S. presidential leadership is consistent with the article’s theme “We don’t need to be extroverted or charismatic to practice leadership.”

For some reason, we often seem to compare leaders to managers as a dichotomy.  The first is often a “good” while the latter is more pejorative, maybe a necessary, uninspiring component of every organization.  Since my life’s work has been management, I disagree.  My view is that in the circumstances producing the most successful results, leadership and management are woven into an effective and efficient whole.  When developing within a working group, team or organization, the practitioner should endeavor to develop skills that integrate mangement with leadership towards a successful synthesis. (See Amendoon associates, http://amendoon.net/?page_id=78

The article determines that managers address “things”.  This is incorrect because managers operate systems not “things”.  Organizational systems have been established for consistency  and to assure there is the oversight, efficiency and continuity to reach that “mountain top”.   Systems exist to implement standards of “fairness” and accountability, necessary to overcome the perceived favoritism and exceptionalism implicit in the politics that often resides side-by-side with “direction” and “inspiration” in the tool-bag of the “great leader”.

The “great leader”, similar to the “philosophy king” of old, is a beautiful construct.  In all practical application, however, they are few and very far apart, if existent at all.  Certainly there is not always a “critical mass” of great leaders that will move and empower our institutions – the military, federal, state, and local government, education, business both large and local, etc.

To address this and to assure organizational consistency and the skills necessary to maintain our institutions, we establish systems and train managers to tend and care for their metaphorical gardens.  It is interesting that the article dismisses the gardener as an inappropriate metaphor for the leader.  In General Stanley McChrystal’s new book Teams of Teams, this well regarded combat leader of soldiers presents the gardener as an example for the leader

Gardeners plant and harvest, but more than anything, they tend.  Plants are watered, beds are fertilized, and weeds are removed.  Long days are spent walking, humid pathways or on sore knees examining fragile stalks.  Regular visits by good gardeners are not pro forma gestures of concern – they leave the crop stronger. So it is with leaders. (emphasis added)  General Stanley McChrystal, Team of Teams New Rules of Engagement for A Complex World.

While the definition of leadership offered by the article: “Leadership is a process of social influence which maximizes the efforts of others toward the achievement of a greater good,” offers some insight, but is uninspiring.   The article is flawed because of the dichotomy it defines between leadership and management is not necessarily a fact.  In its statement, the definition needs to be more direct and more inclusive.

Leadership is getting the job done through others by an inspired organizational effort.  Normally, it involves empowerment and development and the leader always endeavors to advance in a direction and engage.  There are various techniques to accomplish this – some more personality based and others more system based.  Things are accomplished through leader-managers and manager-leaders.  In the end they are all leaders and managers if the job gets done and the constituency is satisifed and the most successful results may be achieved when leadership behaviors are woven with management systems.


Why most definitions of leadership are wrong

Sebastiaan ter Burg/Flickr

A leader isn’t just someone who barks orders.

LinkedIn Influencer Dr. Travis Bradberry published this post originally on LinkedIn.

What makes someone a leader anyway?

Such a simple question, and yet it continues to vex some of the best thinkers in business.

We’ve written several books on leadership, and yet it’s a rare thing to actually pause to define leadership.

Let’s start with what leadership is not…

Leadership has nothing to do with seniority or one’s position in the hierarchy of a company.

Too much talk about a company’s leadership referring to the senior most executives in the organization. They are just that, senior executives. Leadership doesn’t automatically happen when you reach a certain pay grade. Hopefully you find it there, but there are no guarantees.

Leadership has nothing to do with titles.

Similar to the point above, just because you have a C-level title, doesn’t automatically make you a “leader.” We often stress the fact that you don’t need a title to lead. You can be a leader in your workplace, your neighborhood, or your family, all without having a title.

Leadership has nothing to do with personal attributes.

Say the word “leader” and most people think of a domineering, take-charge, charismatic individual. People often think of icons from history like General Patton or President Lincoln. But leadership isn’t an adjective. We don’t need to be extroverted or charismatic to practice leadership. And those with charisma don’t automatically lead.

Leadership isn’t management.

This is the big one. Leadership and management are not synonymous. You have 15 people in your downline and P&L responsibility? Good for you, hopefully you are a good manager. Good management is needed. Managers need to plan, measure, monitor, coordinate, solve, hire, fire, and so many other things. Managers spend most of their time managing things. Leaders lead people.

So, again, what makes a leader?

Let’s see how some of the most respected business thinkers of our time define leadership, and let’s consider what’s wrong with their definitions.

Peter Drucker: “The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers.”

Really? This instance of tautology is so simplistic as to be dangerous. A new Army Captain is put in the command of 200 soldiers. He never leaves his room, or utters a word to the men and women in his unit. Perhaps routine orders are given through a subordinate. By default his troops have to “follow” orders. Is the Captain really a leader? Commander yes, leader no. Drucker is of course a brilliant thinker, but his definition is too simple.

Warren Bennis: “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”

Every spring you have a vision for a garden, and with lots of work carrots and tomatoes become a reality. Are you a leader? No, you’re a gardener. Bennis’ definition seems to have forgotten “others.”

Bill Gates: “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”

This definition includes “others” and empowerment is a good thing. But to what end? We’ve seen many empowered “others” in life, from rioting hooligans to Google workers who were so misaligned with the rest of the company they found themselves unemployed. Gates’ definition lacks goals and vision.

John Maxwell: “Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.”

We like minimalism but this reduction is too much. A robber with a gun has “influence” over his victim. A manager has the power to fire team members which provides a lot of influence. But does this influence make a robber or a manager a leader? Maxwell’s definition omits the source of influence.

So what is leadership?

DEFINITION: Leadership is a process of social influence which maximizes the efforts of others toward the achievement of a greater good.

Notice the key elements of this definition:

  • Leadership stems from social influence, not authority or power.
  • Leadership requires others, and that implies they don’t need to be “direct reports.”
  • No mention of personality traits, attributes, or even a title; there are many styles, many paths to effective leadership.
  • It includes agreater good, not influence with no intended outcome.

Leadership is a mindset in action. So don’t wait for the title. Leadership isn’t something that anyone can give you — you have to earn it and claim it for yourself.

So what do you think of our definition of leadership? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below as we learn just as much from you as you do from us.

Dr. Travis Bradberry is the award-winning co-author of the #1 bestselling book, “Emotional Intelligence 2.0,” and the cofounder of TalentSmart

, the world’s leading provider of emotional intelligence tests and training, serving more than 75% of Fortune 500 companies. His bestselling books have been translated into 25 languages and are available in more than 150 countries. Dr. Bradberry has written for, or been covered by, Newsweek, BusinessWeek, Fortune, Forbes, Fast Company, Inc., USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Harvard Business Review.

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/why-most-definitions-of-leadership-are-wrong-2015-7#ixzz3jHTI5zVJ