The Risk of Insularity to


Leonard Zwelling

         Most people want to matter. They want to be heard. They want
to participate in causes in which they believe and contribute to those causes.
They want to make a difference to others and with others. They want to be a
significant part of the world in which they operate. (

         Mattering requires a dialogue. You cannot matter all by
yourself for you really have to matter to someone else.

         Great leaders make everyone around them think they matter
and are contributing to the leader’s vision. (No one did this better than Dr.
LeMaistre). Since it is often true, that a leader has to take those he or she
leads through times of hardship to get to a new and better reality, a great
leader will value the efforts of all his constituents and in doing so make each
of them feel like he or she matters. This gives everyone a stake in a leader’s
success and increases the likelihood of that success.

         A primary impediment to mattering is insularity on the part
of the leader. My on-line dictionary describes insularity as being separated
from other people or cultures, not knowing or interested in new or different
ideas. It’s like being on an island. It is my hypothesis that the insularity of
poor leadership results in those being led having feelings of not mattering and
the eventual failure of those doing the leading.

         Let’s start with my favorite site of lunacy, Washington, DC.
The Obama team is noted for its insularity. The inner circle is tight. They are
possessed by the idea of eliminating leaks. You are either with them or against
them.  Sort of like the Bush team,
actually. (Can we stand 16 years of this?)

is hard to know where this comes from given the mastery the Obama crew showed
in mustering the forces of modern digital communications in raising money and getting
elected. In governing, they seem to be working with abaci. They can raise money
and votes on the big screen, but cannot talk one-on-one to get their bills
through the Congress (I know, that’s Biden’s job).

stewardship of the health care bill through Congress was dreadful. Their
ability to foster relationships with the very people on the Hill on whose
support they will depend has been amateurish. They obviously had no idea how to
implement their signature piece of legislation and would not reach out to
American experts to help them before tripped on its way out of
the starting blocks.

think the same is true at MD Anderson. Rather than turn to the true expertise
in cancer care and cancer research already at Anderson and lined up to help him
succeed, Dr. DePinho ushered in his own crew and has drawn some fancy glass
insular walls around them. But you know what they say about people who live in
glass houses or work in glass offices. This has gone poorly so far. looks like

even had my own personal experience. Prior to Dr. DePinho’s arrival, I sent him
a FedEx package with some ideas he might want to implement to improve what I
saw as the degeneration of research administration in the waning years of the
Mendelsohn-DuBois administration. I explained my credentials. I sent my cv. I
heard nothing.

Dr. DePinho started here in September of 2011, I followed up the FedEx package
with an email. Still no answer.

suspect that I got less than favorable reviews from those he gathered around
himself. I can just hear the comments about me:



a pain in the ass and has no respect for authority”.

not a team player”.

guilty, guilty and guilty. But both in 1995 and currently, research
administration didn’t and doesn’t need someone nice to redesign it. But
redesign is definitely called for and I am talking about completely changing a
system that my office developed. It, like me, is old and insufficiently
resilient to service the needs of a younger faculty and a less forgiving
federal regulatory system and a far less generous federal granting system!

I was not in the DePinho in-crowd and was never going to be as Mr. Fontaine
told me to my face in May this year. So I moved on. So have many others. That’s
a shame because many of them could have made contributions that would have made
Dr. DePinho a far more successful president than he is or is likely to be.

those people, even me, really wanted to matter. We wanted to help the
institution we loved at its time of greatest need, which by the way is

the president’s insularity (I have been told by someone very close to him that
he is not sure who Dr. DePinho listens to, if anyone) has caused many,
including me, to conclude that we don’t matter. So we voted ourselves off the
island before he could do it for us.

great American novelist of The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane, was also a
poet. Here’s my favorite:

man said to the universe

I exist”

replied the universe,

fact has not created in me

sense of obligation”

leaders create that sense of obligation by making those they lead feel like
they matter. The universe can be a cold dark place. Insularity and chaos will
be the default mode there. The second law of thermodynamics applies. Without
energy, a system will go to chaos. It’s true of the universe and it is true of
organizations like the federal government or MD Anderson.

way to generate the energy and avoid degeneration to chaos in an organization,
is to eliminate insularity and let the energy of all who wish to help the
leader succeed do so.

to quote the Jefferson Airplane: “No man is an island. He’s a peninsula”.

Leonard Zwelling