Actualized Leadership: A Tribute to Dr. Jerry B. Harvey

Actualized Leadership: A Tribute to Dr. Jerry B. Harvey

Doesn’t it strike you as odd that our culture defines “cheating” as helping or being helped by others, which is actually how work really gets done?
(from “Encouraging Future Managers to Cheat”)
Jerry B. Harvey

Approximately one year ago we lost one of the most insightful and enigmatic thinkers in fields of organizational behavior and social psychology, Dr. Jerry B. Harvey.  Jerry had a profound impact on me during my time at George Washington University (GW) some 20 years ago.  In fact, his theories, models, and frameworks (“musings” or “sermons” as he called them) still influence me today.  Over this past year I’ve talked with Dr. Harvey’s widow, Beth, and colleague Dr. Eric Dent about ways to more formally memorialize him and his legacy.  The purpose of this blog is to briefly summarize some of his most insightful and controversial musings and to pay tribute to the late, great Dr. Harvey.

As you may recall from My “F” in Life Blog, Jerry quickly analyzed me when I started the graduate program at GW and provided me with very candid feedback about my need to always be “right” and in control, which stemmed from my own insecurity and a “South Carolina chip on my shoulder.”  Confronting me with the observation that the very thing I railed against the most, co-dependency, was actually something that I created, was a turning point in my life.  Or, as Jerry referred to it, my “first test.”

Jerry was somewhat of a walking contradiction.  He was fiercely intelligent, but spoke with a slow, deliberate Texas drawl.  He was a “Bible-thumping Southern Baptist” (his words), but also a tad irreverent as he examined spiritual issues such as “The Organizational Dynamics of the Last Supper and Why Judas Was Not a Traitor” in one chapter, and made the analogy between leading change and passing gas or “Tooting Your Own Horn” in church, in another.

Jerry referred to business organizations as “Phrog Farms” yet he was in constant demand from business leaders to consult and give keynote addresses.  He reminded us that we when get stabbed in the back, “Our Fingerprints Are Usually on the Knife.”  He claimed it was immoral to give someone feedback, but ethical to have “prayers of communication” with them.  He condemned the “Tragedy of the No-Nonsense Manager” and stated time and again that leadership creates loneliness, which then leads to “anaclitic depression” and, if not remedied, a shorter life.  And of course, his classic “The Abilene Paradox,” is a dry, funny and insightful reminder that it is our “inability to manage agreement, not conflict, that is the single most pressing issue of modern organizations.”

To say that he practiced tough love would be an understatement.  He once told me during a rather heated exchange that he didn’t care if I stayed in the program or left, musing aloud that the upside of my departure would mean “one less damn dissertation to read.”  In one class he said that it was about time I “learned to write like I had a cohesive thought” in front of the entire class, but then gave me an “A” without reading my final paper because I brought sweet tea to the last class (he and I were the only ones who partook).  And yet through all of the apparent contradictions, there was love and encouragement behind his approach, and a reminder to always push myself to do more, to think with more rigor, to write with greater precision, and to have the courage to ask and seek the answers to big and often painful questions about life and purpose.

I know of no other writer or professor, before or after Jerry, who has been so insightful and provocative.  People tend to love some chapters and despise others while applying their own rationalizations (“well, it’s easy for a tenured professor who lives in an ‘Ivory Tower’ to say that,” etc.), which he secretly loved to hear.  Jerry may be gone, but it is my sincere hope that his legacy will not only survive, but thrive.  In a world that has turned into sound bites, social media updates, and tweets, we need his existential musings and provocative sermons now more than ever.

RIP Dr. Harvey.

Your #1 Fan, William



  1. Graham Bennett

    Clearly Dr. Harvey influenced your life tremendously Will… your tribute strengthens my appreciation of his uniqueness as an original thinker who nurtured the awareness of numerous souls. I imagine that it must have been a great privilege to have been mentored and influenced by such a great man! I for one know that you personally are already helping ensure that his legacy lives on, and I hope that others are doing the same! Thanks for sharing your personal tribute… it was fascinating to read, and I particularly appreciated your openness in respect of sharing the candid feedback Dr. H gave you.

  2. Bob Freese

    Well done! There can be no higher honor than to take his work and keep building on his thinking and integrity. Thank you for sharing this.


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