On this final day of 2012, I thought I would combine two topics which will make more sense as you read on. I do this as each of us must continue to take on more responsibility for what happens to us and should be less inclined to abdicate that role to others. In the US, I sit here convinced that our leaders in Washington will be unable to reach a compromise to avoid a self-created crisis, the fiscal cliff. As the House of Representatives is at the height of dysfunction, they have shifted over to the Senate to try to come up with a deal that will for the most part be window dressing to solving a problem that going over the cliff would actually bring us closer to solving. My blogging friend Barneysday in www.mountainperspective.wordpress.com keeps advocating for us to go over the cliff. He argues, while more abrupt, it actually makes a greater dent and removes the infamous Bush tax cuts that are a huge contributor to our deficit woes. I do not disagree with his long term eyesight. Yet, smarter people than me say falling off the cliff will throw water on our recovery.
Yet, here is where the dearth of leadership comes in. I have long advocated the need for tax revenue increases along with spending cuts. The math will not work otherwise. If the President and other leaders would shoot straight with the American people and say we need more revenue and here are the numbers, then we would see our role in doing what is needed. I am tired of leaders telling us what we want to hear. Of course, people will say don’t raise my taxes, but don’t cut the things we need. I saw a great line in the paper today, where someone said “put armed guards in schools, but don’t raise my taxes.” That seemed to fit the American psyche. We need leaders to show us the problem and discuss resolutions. We need real data and not contrived data. We don’t need Mitch McConnell burying a report that contradicts his party’s support of trickle down economics. That is not leadership – that is cowardice.
We also have a dearth of leadership in our businesses. The 80/20 rule applies to leaders as well. Only 20% of the leaders are worth what they are paid. The other 80% are underperformers to varying degrees. US companies are sitting on cash as they don’t know what to do with it. I like to paraphrase Warren Buffett who said concern over taxes has never stopped me from investing in a good idea. I have seen some small business leaders say the same thing. Yet, when times get tough, most leaders know what to fall back on – cutting jobs. I am not against making smart cuts nor would I advocate denying that lever to a leader. However, there is a fear to invest and possibly make a mistake. That is one reason, I have been investing more in high dividend payers of late. My thought is if you don’t know what to do with your cash, you can at least give it to me and let me manage it.
On the customer service side, we must be the navigators of our own customer service. Whether it is a bank, health insurer, retailer or some other company, you have to own the customer service navigation process. Each of us know the feeling of talking with a customer service representative who obviously cannot help you when you get them off script. You have to know what the company can do for you to help navigate to a solution. I am often complimented on my patience in dealing with customer service people. Part of the reason is I have such low expectations, that I arm myself with information I think I might need and prepare myself for the call. But, I also know to not make things too complicated for the customer service provider – in other words, don’t get them outside of their white lines. The other reason is it is not my nature to be an asshole and, in these situations, you will be better served to not be one.
If you think about it, you are leading the customer service person to a resolution. You need to be prepared to be more in control and take that responsibility. The same goes for the lack of leadership in other settings. In the absence of leadership, people are reaching across business silos and country borders to get things done. For the younger readers starting out, I encourage you to start saving immediately in any company sponsored savings plan. And, also do what it takes to save money for shorter term crises. These will help you weather storms that occur later and they will. You will be taking more control of your own financial life.
Also, on the job, most work is accomplished in teams. Offer your help and be unlike the US leaders and collaborate. The best ideas tend to come from those closest to the action – real leaders know this and perpetuate opportunities for this to occur. But, if you don’t work in such a situation and cannot leave your current job, try your best to work with others. Be a leader on the ground and work with others. I sometimes call these people the dot connectors, but people gravitate to the informal leadership within any organization. They help make things happen, especially when named leaders do not.
Finally, do you best to understand what is going on. I am not saying to be a political junkie, but have a grasp of the issues. Seek out better sources of information and question things. Also, use multiple sources – I read the paper, watch PBS Newshour, the BBC World News America and the local news. Sometimes, I will watch the national news on CNN, ABC, NBC and CBS to mix it up. For American readers, you will note the absence of a national news agency with some more conservative viewers. I would alway question any source which discredits the other sources as part of its mantra. If you do not believe me, then why were primary viewers of that network more surprised with the Presidential election outcome?
By understanding the issues, you can keep these leaders more honest. We need to be the watch dogs and navigate the our own customer service even from our elected leaders. As for our business leaders, please know they have changed the equation. People will rarely work long term with one company – they won’t let you. So, you are perpetual free agent. Develop your career, save your money and work well with others. That kind of networking will pay off and let you find the jobs that will further your career. It may be within that company or elsewhere. You navigate it.
Everyone, I wish you the best in 2013. Take better control as the navigator of your life and the service you get whether it is from leadership or customer service people. It is your responsibility.