Category Archives: Leadership

It’s Different for Some People

Nice shirts!

I noticed that the story about the UCLA jocks who were arrested for shoplifting in China disappeared pretty quickly. Some stories stay on the Internet news sites as “Breaking News” for weeks, but not this one.

I wonder why.

You had to love the press conference that was arranged for their public apology where they were all wearing matching UnderArmour shirts with the UCLA logo.

Do you think they all might have stopped to buy those shirts together at the campus bookstore? I’m not saying the company gave them to the school, who then gave them to the ball players. But, then again . . . .

What if, instead of jocks, this incident had involved science, technology, engineering and mathematics students? Would the President have gone to the Chinese leader and asked for them to be released?

Silly question:

  1. Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba would never invite boring science, technology, engineering, and mathematics students for an all-expense paid trip to China.
  2. Those are the kind of people who know that it’s wrong to steal sunglasses from anybody on any continent for any reason.

Educational Cause and Effect

I realize that people in general, and Americans in particular, have never been genteel when it comes to discourse. Throughout history we attributed it to our pride in rugged individualism and the Protestant work ethic. Anyone can be president; I can achieve anything I set my mind out to do; we celebrate Edison, Bell, Fulton, because those individuals invented things to change the world.

We claimed territory, as our right under “Manifest Destiny,” without regard to who or what stood in our way. Passenger pigeons? Bison? Native Americans? Forests? These speed bumps were quickly removed.

We settled our differences by swordfights or pistol duels. Our politicians—those we elected to represent us—settled arguments by shouting, spreading lies, and even bludgeoning one another with walking sticks in the very halls of Congress.

Not much has changed. Today, if you disrespect me, there’s today’s version of a duel—I drive 60 miles per hour through the neighborhood blasting away and hope that you are one of the people I hit. It doesn’t matter that: a) the bullet most likely will hit someone other than the intended target, and b) there’s a high likelihood that one (or more) of the gazillion security cameras will catch me and be used to send me away for twenty-five-to-life.

Today, there’s a lot of shouting, with nobody listening. It’s far more important that I get my position clearly stated—”I’m right and you’re not only wrong, but also an idiot—not to mention that your mother was ugly and you have terrible taste in clothes!”

Although I just clearly stated my position (the paragraph above, you buffoon!) you can’t tell me what it is. I can’t either, but that doesn’t matter, does it? The fact remains that I’m right and you’re wrong.

[Okay, let’s all take a deep breath, grab a cold one—if you like, and smoke ’em if you got ’em—assuming you can afford to pay eight dollars a pack.]

A theory—presented for you to think about and challenge in a professional, factual manner. Perhaps, when we began to focus on standardized testing, the school systems were forced to teach the correct answers, not how to arrive at a correct answer. What to think, not how to think. Ideas are no longer the raw material used for thinking; they are pre-packaged and ready to serve. No human interaction required.

There are parallels—in a world in which our youth do not know how to interact with others except via social media, we no longer teach etiquette or how to write a letter. They are not taught to introduce their friends to their parents or when a thank you note is appropriate. Civility is at the bottom of the required skills list.

Teachers didn’t make the rules and probably dislike them more than anyone although they have to abide by them.

But we all can teach. What if each of us added the following to our more contentious discussions:

  1. “Why?”
  2. “Tell me more.”
  3. “How would you solve it?”

Then listen—actively, intensively listen.

This just might prove interesting.

Founding Fathers vs Today’s Leaders

In my many years, I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm, and three or more is a congress.

John Adams

The Founding Fathers, for all their myriad imperfections, did manage to design a workable form of government. The operative word is “work.”

The Congress was tasked with making laws, the President with either signing or vetoing those laws—although the President’s veto could be overridden with a two-thirds majority of Congress—and the judiciary with interpreting how the laws should be applied.

Congress is made up of two houses; the House of Representatives, with 435 voting members elected for two years, who represent the states and 6 non-voting members, who represent the US territories. The House focuses on the latest legal or social fad.

Each state has two senators, who are elected for six-year terms and are expected to be more deliberative and sophisticated. However, the Senate has spawned members like Joe McCarthy, who are generally dangerous to the country.

Sometime in the last century, Congress decided that certain laws would be unpopular, meaning that a member might not get re-elected and have to get a real job, so many laws were made by virtue of the decisions of the Supreme Court. This gave the members of Congress more time to pontificate and profess their principles without actually doing anything, other than raising campaign funds and running for re-election. Since this gave them more time to talk, even (if you ever watch C-SPAN) if most of their colleagues were not in attendance, they were happy. They rarely had to do anything, except talk, talk, talk. Making sense was optional (and rare).

On those occasions that Congress did pass a law, the law was prepared by lobbyists and most members of Congress were ignorant of most of its content (except for pork barrel amendments inserted to get them re-elected).

Eventually, the President wanted to get in on the action and began to issue Executive Orders. Even though the Constitution stipulates that Congress has the power to declare war, it has not done so since 1941. The Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War—and the sequel to the Gulf War, and the War in Afghanistan were not wars but “police actions” initiated by various presidents. While it may have been war to those who fought, were wounded, or died, Congress maintained plausible deniability by not declaring them as actual wars.

Executive orders worked so well that presidents began issuing them for whatever issue caught their attention at the moment. Some were good, some were not. The problem with executive orders is that they can be issued by one president and cancelled by the next.

How do we fix it? All we have to do is follow the US Constitution. If you haven’t read it within the last year, please do. It has been amended 27 times to reflect changes in society and its needs. For a copy, go to https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CDOC-110hdoc50/pdf/CDOC-110hdoc50.pdf.

Labor Day

According to the US Department of Labor, Labor Day was first celebrated in New York City in 1882, although there is some disagreement as to whether the machinists’ union or the carpenters’ union can claim credit. It was a municipal holiday, and other cities were invited to follow suit. After 23 states recognized it in 1894, the US Congress passed legislation making it a national holiday.

As one trained in management, it was repeatedly pointed out to us in college that the real job of management is to remove the roadblocks that prevent workers from being productive. Except in very small businesses, managers and owners produce no products nor do they provide services to the customer. Everybody’s paycheck comes from the efforts of the workers.

In many ways, we seem to have forgotten that and tend to believe that the people in the big offices and the expensive suits are the producers. Meetings don’t generate revenue. PowerPoint slides, slickly bound and printed reports, consume a lot of resources, but belong solely to the Expense side of the ledger.

Even as automation takes over many jobs, reports are that the demand for workers is increasing. The workers may perform different functions, but they are still critical to the process, no matter how much the elites may wish to believe otherwise.

Today there are many industries that produce nothing. Instead they move money around, mix it up, and in so doing make a profit. Some of this “profit” is virtual—it exists on paper, but may never translate into cash. Other profits occur when money is moved from one owner to another; this is a transfer—profit means that there is more, not that we’ve moved it around.

We are becoming a banking and finance nation, which is one of the places where a nation moves when it ceases to be great. The great nations of only a few centuries ago—The Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, France, Great Britain, etc. are only a shadow of their former selves.

So, to those of you who build, grow, design, or otherwise create, thank you. It’s your day—enjoy.

Wise Advice

Lincoln

(I had written this a few days ago, but life got in the way of posting it.)

Speeches, especially speeches by politicians tend to have a powerful opening and a powerful close. The rare speech is powerful throughout; even rarer, it is short..

On this day (19 November) in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln was at the dedication of the military cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. In school, many of us had to memorize that speech, but too few of us could appreciate it at such a young age. Sadly, too few adults appreciate it either. I’d like to comment on two sentences in the middle of the speech, which was only two paragraphs. The first is the last sentence of the first paragraph:

The world will little heed, nor long remember, what we say here; but it will not forget what they did here.

Did Lincoln believe this? It’s quite possible given that these were merely a few words he spoke at a cemetery dedication. Maybe he believed that much of what he did went unnoticed, and that is true of all great men. History has a habit of airbrushing PhotoShopping the warts and frailties of its heroes so the person more accurately resembles the marble busts in hallowed halls; others, history relegates to the footnotes.* Hero or not, recognized or not, a great man or a great woman does what they know to be right regardless of the consequences. The truly great tend not to be on the covers of magazines or offered reality television programs. The truly great understand that there are things greater than them, so they stand by their ideals, and stand in the shadows behind them.

As it turns out, the world did heed and remember Lincoln’s address. It also remembers the important choices the man made. When some began to revise history after the Civil War, Robert Todd Lincoln, his son, charged the president’s two secretaries–who handled his communication and sat in on most meetings–to write the factual history before it was forgotten or corrupted.

The second and final paragraph began:

It is for us rather, the living, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work that they have thus far so nobly carried forward.

That was not a charge merely to those close enough to hear President Lincoln’s speech, nor merely those in attendance, or even those alive in 1863. It is meant for all of us; we are all to continue the work of upholding the ideals of a democratic republic; To continue to view all people as deserving respect. We may be a nation of laws, but the laws are intended to provide order for the citizens. Some forget “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed” as stated in the Declaration of Independence.

Surrounded by death, in the middle of a war that had split the Union, certain that he would not survive his time in office, Lincoln’s focus was to focus on the living, including us, and remind us to keep this precious gift alive.

* e.g. Millard Filmore

Ghost Fleet

ghost-fleet-cover

I found another great book, with an interesting story behind it

Peter W. Singer is a strategist and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, was formerly the youngest fellow at the Brookings Institute, along with many other interesting credentials. He founded NeoLuddite (I love the name), a technology advisory firm, and has written a number of books, including Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry, and Children at War, which explores the use of children-soldiers. Mr. Singer consults for policy makers on these and other important issues.

However, Mr. Singer believed that such information was not getting the attention it needed, so he decided to team up with another writer and present his ideas via a technothriller a la Tom Clancy. The result is Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War. I downloaded the eBook to my Kindle Tuesday morning. By Wednesday evening, interrupted by a 600+ mile drive and a college campus tour with my son, I had finished the book. Here are a few highlights.

The United States and China are strong trading partners, every bit as strong as Germany and Great Britain in 1910. Relations between China and Russia are tense. From America’s viewpoint, things look fine (and quite familiar) until the Russian cosmonauts lock the American astronaut outside the International Space Station. The Chinese have, by this time, orbited their own space station and have covertly installed weaponry. They destroy key American satellites. We’re suddenly at war, and it’s obvious that the Chinese have seriously studied our past to avoid the mistakes made by others; their attack on Pearl Harbor is much better executed and totally successful. The relationship between Russia and China is not tense, but instead they have formed an alliance to allow China and Russia to recapture their positions of power.

The Chinese have one significant advantage–almost every high tech American weapons platform has Chinese manufactured electronics, either because we allowed it, or in some cases because sub-sub-contractors substituted cheaper Chinese components for those specified. Embedded malware in the components renders most of our weapons unreliable if not totally useless. America no longer has the manufacturing base it did in the Second World War, and what capacity it does have has substantial foreign ownership interested in return on investment, not America’s survival.

Our only option is to drag out the old ships in the West Coast “ghost fleet;” obsolete vessels awaiting sale for scrap and some experimental that didn’t quite work out. Similarly, planes stored in the Air Force’s desert boneyard are pieced together, scavenging from several to get one aircraft reasonably operational. Kind of like the “hillbilly upgrades” soldiers did to Humvees in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s a desperate move, but these has-beens and never-weres all predate the use of Chinese components.

Oh, and you’ll never guess how Wal-Mart figures into the story.

The book is a wonderful mix of scary fact and intriguing fiction with interesting characters. It is truly difficult to put down.

If you liked “The Martian,” you’ll love this.

THE Interview

Today, an interview with a man who needs no introduction. Good evening sir.

Good evening. It’s a pleasure to be here.

The world today is chaotic, yet in other ways, not so much. It was not that long ago—less than a century—when a number of nations were either at war or threatening war.

It has calmed down a bit, but one never knows when some radical leader will appear, appeal to those who have nothing to lose, and create all kinds of mayhem.

As the leader of the world’s only superpower, you have, in many ways, a responsibility to keep some semblance of order in the world.

That’s much easier to say from the chair you’re sitting in than from my chair. It’s a lot of responsibility to commit our blood and treasure to some fracas in a far-off land. Maintaining a military that can accomplish that is expensive and complex. When we station troops in some trouble spot, we still have to keep them supplied with everything from food to weapons. That supply train itself is expensive. People forget that our troops are stationed around the world—Europe, Asia, Africa.

Not to mention the fact that your primary duty is keeping the people back home happy.

The economy is always a major issue with the citizens. Everyone wants protection, good roads, and plenty of fresh water, but no one likes paying for those services through their taxes.

And then there’s politics—a truly demanding and dangerous game.

Dealing with politicians is different than dealing with any other group—they’re all trying to hang onto their power, and line their purse. I swear, there are senators that would stab me in the back, if given half a chance.

Well, let’s hope that they never get such a chance. I know your time is precious and your schedule full, but I do wish to thank you for taking time today.

The pleasure is mine.

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s have a round of applause for the most powerful man in the world—Julius Caesar.