Two quotes from a nice and effective public servant

The Charlotte Observer reported today that Boyd Cauble, a long time aide to many mayors of both parties passed away. Three things stand out about Cauble – he did not bring attention to himself, he was very effective working with officials in Raleigh and DC, and was a genuinely nice guy.

More than several of Charlotte’s major accomplishments can be traced to Cauble’s tireless advocacy. Rather than list such milestones, let me focus on two bookend quotes from Cauble from the article penned by Jim Morrill.

Morrill writes “Boyd Cauble lived by a simple credo: ‘Just be nice to people – you’ll be amazed what will happen.'”

When Cauble retired from the City, in an Observer article called “The City’s most influential guy you have never heard of,” he said at the time:

“‘I am a firm believer that if you don’t care who gets credit, you’ll gey a whole lot of things accomplished.'”

I encourage you to read these two quotes and contrast them to today’s partisan win/ lose debates that are a poor substitute for governance. All politicians (and business people or any team) from top to bottom could learn from these words.

Mayors from both parties lauded Cauble’s efforts. Vi Lyles, Charlotte’s current mayor and long time City leader, said “He helped bulld Charlotte.'”

Tuesday’s truths

Tuesday will arrive shortly Greenwich time, so let me borrow tomorrow for a few truths of the day.

An interesting dichotomy occurred courtesy of the US Supreme Court which ruled discrimation on the basis of sex in employment includes sexual orientation. This is a huge win for the LGBTQ community and allows the US to join 74 other countries who have a similar law. The dichotomy is only last week, the Trump administration rolled back equal treatment for LGBTQ people under the Affordable Care Act. The SCOTUS ruling could very well be argued that it should apply to the Trump change finding it discriminatory.

One would think the police would be a little more careful with detaining African-American civilians, with the active protests going on. Yet, in Atlanta the police shot and killed Rayshard Brooks, a black man running away with a taser. Now, I realize the man had a taser he took off an officer, but why shoot at all and why shoot to kill? Did an intoxicated man doing something stupid need to die?

COVID-19 cases and deaths are on the rise in the US and elsewhere. As of today, the US has around 118,000 deaths about 27% of the global total, with only 5% of the global population. Yet, the US president is in desperate need of his ego being stroked, so he will risk people’s health and lives, just so he can hear applause. We know about his tone deafness to scheduling it on Juneteenth, which has now been moved, but Tulsa has its own horrific racial history.

On top of all of that, anyone attending a Trump pep rally, must sign a hold-harmless statement should they catch COVID-19, meaning they cannot sue the Trump campaign. Think about that. Trump wants your money, your applause and your vote, but if you get sick, you are on your own. And, that is a good metaphor for the US president.

Pandemic accelerates renewable energy surpassing coal energy in US

In an article by Brad Plumer of The New York Times (see below) called “In a first, renewable energy is poised to eclipse coal,” the growth of renewable energy has been further fueled by the pandemic. This year, renewable energy (solar, wind, bio-mass, geothermal and hydroelectric), will surpass coal as the second largest energy source.

Per Plumer, efforts by the current president to keep propping up coal-burning plants have proven ineffective against market conditions. He notes “Those efforts, however, failed to halt the powerful economic forces that have led utilities to retire hundreds of aging coal plants since 2010 and run their remaining plants less frequently. The cost of building large wind farms has declined more than 40% in that time, while solar costs have dropped more than 80%. And, the price of natural gas, a cleaner-burning alternative to coal, has fallen to historic lows as a result of the fracking boom.”

Plumer adds the impact of COVID-19 which has reduced electricity usage with fewer stores and restaurants open is hastening this trend. “And because coal plants often cost more to operate than gas plants or renewables, many utilities are cutting back on coal power first in response.”

Further, “Coal is the dirtiest of all fossil fuels, and its decline has already helped drive down US carbon dioxide emissions 15% since 2005. This year, the (Energy Information Administration) expects the US emissions to fall by another 11%, the largest drop in at least 70 years.”

Coupled with people driving less and avoiding traveling by airplanes, an upside to COVID-19 is 2020 will be an impactful year on less carbon usage which will help in cleaning air (which is noticeable from satellites) and addressing climate change. As the economy slowly recovers with the majority of people being cautious in their movements and spending patterns, at least this positive impact will continue for more than 2020. And, hopefully with the coal plants being used more and more in the bull pen for extra need, more may be retired.

Still, some folks are surprised by the news of the decline in coal. They should not be. About eight years ago, oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens was on “60 Minutes” and said the future energy source in the windy plains states is wind energy. He added fracking for natural gas will buy time until the cost of wind is more economical. Now, oil rich Texas bears that out with wind energy surpassing coal by itself this year. While Texas produces more wind energy than any other state, Iowa gets over 40% of its electricity from wind and most of the top states in percentage of electricity are plains states.

Not only has coal become relatively more expensive due to the cost declines in other sources, its costs and risk continue beyond the life of the fuel and the plant. Duke Energy and TVA have had to clean up messes from coal ash that have bled into the water systems. And, Duke’s Dan River spill was from a long-ago retired coal plant.

The people I feel for are the coal miners whose hopes have been propped up by politicians who have not been forthcoming. I have known about coal’s demise since that Pickens’ interview and through other news and reading sources. My guess is so have the politicians, yet rather than be truthful and help them plan for new careers, they kept feeding their hopes. And, last time I checked, the wind blows and sun shines in those coal producing states. So, these miners are owed long-time-coming truths and help to find and train for new jobs.

What we have here, is a FAILURE to communicate

These are the immortal words of Strother Martin who played the tyrannical southern warden in “Cool Hand Luke.” The word “Failure” is capitalized as it must be drawn out.

Failure to communicate is its own virus that compromises many a person. It is especially true for those trying to forewarn the self-professed smartest guy in the room.

The previous president, the transition manager and multiple people on the staff of the newly elected president told him “DO NOT HIRE MICHAEL FLYNN.” Yet, among his many shortcomings, the president does not listen very well. He also does not have the patience to vet candidates.

But, the president hired Flynn anyway, Flynn committed a crime working with the Russians before he had authority to do so and then he lied to the FBI, which is also a crime, to which he later confessed.

Early on, people who would vote for him said Trump would hire the best of people to make up for his inexperience. Well, he did hire a couple of well regarded people, but they are long gone, tiring of their boss’ shenanigans and inability to communicate concerns to belay inappropriate actions.

But for the most part, Trump’s inability to listen and lack of patience created many obstacles and more than a few questionable hires and candidates. Trying to appoint his personal doctor as head of the Veterans Administration, nominating more than a few candidates who later pulled because the Senate would vote them down, picking a governor with no science degree to manage the Department of Energy, and so on are just a few examples.

If he listened or would take the time to ask beforehand, he could have saved himself a lot of embarassment. It is hard to communicate with someone who won’t listen or take the time to hear you. Yet, one thing is for certain, Trump does not accept responsibility for his inability to listen and bad hiring decisions. But, that is precisely who has the responsibility for hiring Michael Flynn when told not to – his name is Donald J. Trump.

Born on third base

There is an old saying about people with inherited wealth who seem to forget that leg up. The baseball themed saying is “He was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.”

Last week, I wrote a post that was searching for the ideal metaphor for the incumbent president. But. If we go back to the beginning, we can focus on the more lasting metaphor.

Donald Trump tells the story that he started out with a $1 million loan from his father. That is not true. Per an investigative report by the financial reporters of The New York Times, Trump’s father transferred over $400 million dollars tax free to his son before he died. That story did not even make a ripple, because it of course was deemed fake news and was a complex read.

But, it leads me to the metaphor that Trump created the economy that grew until the COVID-19 gave us all a bitter pill. This economy which was the longest growth economy in US history at over 126 consecutive months, has interesting arithmetic. Trump has only been president for just over three years. So, subtracting his tenure, his presidency inherited an economy that was 90 consecutive months strong.

Further, the stock market more than doubled under Trump’s predecessor and the unemployment rate was less than 5% when Trump took over.

Trump said just last night that the US economy he created was the best ever. He added that it was the best ever in the world. Neither of those statements is true.

While the length of the growth period is record breaking in the US, the rate of growth is very average and has declined to even the same level and below what Republicans complained about during the Obama years. In fact, more jobs were created in 2016, Obama’s last year than in 2017, Trump’s first year.

Yet, people believe the Trump false bravado. I applaud that the economic growth continued on his watch. But, presidents get too much credit and blame for the economy. They provide some headwinds and tailwinds, of which Trump has done both, but the economy is a far bigger animal than the president’s influence. So, for those who laud Trump’s success before the downturn, they must also laud Obama’s.

Invisibles: People who don’t pat themselves on the back (a reprise)

A few years ago, David Zweig was interviewed about his book called “Invisibles – The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-promotion.” The book is a fascinating read which explores the success of those who show up to work each day, do their job well and collaborate with others toward common goals. These folks do not seek the limelight and are definitely not about merchandising themselves. And, each has a very rewarding career doing a job well and sharing the success with others. I was thinking of this book as I read about the courageous and quiet healthcare and retail workers who are doing their jobs in more dire situations.

In my over thirty-three years of working as a consultant, teammate, employee and, at times, manager of people, one observation seems to ring true – “work will find good people.” These are the folks who don’t talk about getting it done, they work with others to get it done. In any business, we find people who are over-committing and routinely missing deadlines or producing less than quality deliverables. We will also find people who talk about good ideas, but fewer people who get up out of their chair and go do something.

The invisible people need not be the “stars” of the team. Sometimes their strength is project or process management competence. They are the machine that gets work product done. In other words, they do the basic blocking and tackling that does not make the headlines. A successful football team is more due to those guards and tackles who make way for the stars.

A business is no different. And, many may not do their job exceedingly well, but do it well-enough, and show up each day to do it again. These are those solid C+ and B- performers that every organization needs to be successful. They have an intrinsic knowledge of how to do things within that organization. If leaders do not heed their value and input, they will not be as successful or may fail.

I had an old management professor who advised his son on how to be successful, advice which I share with others. If you do these three simple things, you will have some success. “Show up, show up on time and show up dressed to play.” It matters not the underlying business or work group. If you are not there, others have to pick up the slack. If you are constantly late, others have to pick up the slack. If you are not there wearing clothes to present yourself as expected to your colleagues and clients or dressed with the right attitude, others will have to pick up the slack. Then, an invisible person becomes visible and management will realize they can do their job without you.

The lesson of the book is a good one. You do not have to merchandise yourself to be successful. Competence is a terrific aphrodisiac to an employer. I often help people network as it is my way of paying it forward. I was helping someone I know well get a job and she is all about competence, efficiency, teaming and effectiveness. She is not as good at merchandising and your first impression would be not to hire her. I used to tell prospective employers, she may not be the one you propose to, but she is the one you want to be married to. She understands strategy, tactics and execution and that is a powerful combination.

Let me close with some observations on what to avoid. If you hear someone say he/ she is a “big picture” person, don’t hire them. If you hear someone use far too many “I’s and me’s” and not many “we’s and us’s” don’t hire them. If someone “throws people under the bus” more than accepting responsibility, don’t hire them. I recognize fully the need to have people who can sell services and merchandise themselves. But, the merchandisers I would prefer to work with know that it is a team of others who back up their commitments. Many of them are in this group called “invisibles.”

Relaxing shelter-at-home requirements must be done judiciously with health in mind

As Georgia governor Brian Kemp more aggressively lifted restrictions yesterday, joining other states like South Carolina, Oklahoma, etc., a concern that is not getting talked about enough is some of these same states have the worst national health care rankings. More on this below. Per two separate surveys in the past few days, 70% of Americans want the focus to be on health first, before reopening. Americans seem to get where the focus needs to be more so than some leaders.

I understand the desire to reopen more fully, but we must be smart about it. I was pleased to see the North Carolina governor Roy Cooper extend the shelter-at-home requirement for two weeks, but actually announcing a three phased plan to reopen. That is what is needed. It could be postponed if the numbers do not improve, but it is an articulated plan.

This is a state-by-state issue. The relative health of the state is important as it increases the relative risk. The Commonwealth Fund is an organization that measures the relative health of a state based on a number of factors and have been doing so for years. A link below is to the 2019 state rankings. As you think about states that are reopening sooner than others, consider the following:

The worst twelve states (and District of Columbia) for overall healthcare, from worst to twelfth worst, are as follows:
51 – Mississippi
50 – Oklahoma
49 – Texas
48 – Nevada
47 – Arkansas
46 – West Virginia
45 – Louisiana
44 – Florida
43 – Missouri
42 – Georgia
41 – South Carolina
40 – Tennessee
39 – Alabama

The Commonwealth Fund uses a robust number of variables to rank the states and is one of the more comprehensive tools. These states tend to have a higher degree of obesity (BMI greater than or equal to 30), some have a greater degree of child hood obesity, and have a greater degree of people who claim poor health. With the higher degree of obesity comes higher propensity of diabetes, although this data is inconsistently reported. Please click on the link and go through the most recent report.

Obesity and diabetes are critical factors. Data from the COVID-19 reported this week noted diabetics are not faring well when diagnosed. People with breathing difficulties – asthma, COPD, etc. also are at greater risk. It should be noted Florida ranks poorly on childhood asthma. Again, this is an underreported data point in other states.

Another key factor for poor ratings is access to health care providers and insurance. Many of these states did not expand Medicaid. Many of these states have seen more rural hospitals close than others. Many of these states have more food deserts and higher degrees of drug overdoses, alcoholism, and suicides.

I mention all of the above, as the states have varying degrees of preparedness and risk exposure. In fact, many businesses have noted they are ignoring the governor’s orders to reopen their doors. That is also telling.

I get it. I understand the desire to reopen the doors. I also know pandemic diseases spread more readily than other diseases. If we do venture out – please use social distancing and face masks. There are many restaurants who are practicing good procedures to protect the staff and customers through take out and delivery orders. Support their efforts. That is a way to invest in our economy.

And, please listen to the truthtellers, the doctors, nurses and disease scientists. Listen to the folks not patting themselves on the back or making the issue more political. Facts must trump politics. But, we should also be mindful, we are learning more about this virus with increasingly better data. Just because new data sets aside a previous notion, that is not unusual with pandemic risks. AIDs and Ebola revealed this based on their initial discoveries (AIDs was thought to impact only gay men at first, until women and heterosexuals started dying, eg).

These truthtellers understand this is an uphill climb. We must be vigilant and patient. And, judicious and humble.

https://scorecard.commonwealthfund.org/rankings/

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – a synopsis

Clint Eastwood’s most famous spaghetti western is “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” The title is a common framework to define a series of events, even preceding the movie. Using it one more time, let me frame a few issues with the coronavirus.

The Good

The few silver linings are seeing people going beyond the call of duty to help. The healthcare providers are heroes putting themselves at risk without all of the tools and resources needed. Volunteers and other good folks are doing their best to help through many means. As Mister Rogers said in times of crisis, focus on the helpers.

Seeing people come together to check if people need food shopping done or errands run is inspiring. Some employers are going beyond the call to help.

Another good outcome is the air quality has improved in major cities and carbon ouput has declined. Why? Fewer drivers and less travel. The lessening carbon output is actually noticeable from space in historical problem areas.

The Bad

Being unprepared to start with. I have shared before examples of budget cutbacks causing key staff cuts hindering the ability to help. Then, when a crisis occurs people look back and say how could this happen? In this case, the Global Pandemic team was cut (once again) in 2018. And, in 2019 the tariff war with China caused the elimination of CDC epidemiologists on site in China to be cut.

These absences with the naysaying early on by the US president has left us in a catch up mode. More people have gotten the illness and exposure continues. Fortunately, more active shelter in place and social distancing measures are helping fight the risk led by state, local and now federal leadership. Hopefully, the stimulus bill will pass to open up funds to help.

The Ugly

The uncertainty and those who have lost their lives and loved ones. We are learning more things, but we still do not know as much as needed. We need data, tools, resources and money. We should not take this lightly. The stimulus bill will help, but it will not be a panacea. The financial recovery will take time, but the health risk must be the focus.

People are out of work and companies need customers. Hopefully, the risk curve can be flattened, but safety must be the primary lens. We need to avoid being too impatient and further exposing folks prematurely.

This is a long haul battle. But, the next few weeks and months are critical.

A fable about a mistreated woman

Once upon a time, there was a woman who represented her employer in client relations. She had been doing her job well for about thirty years and was now working to assist a growing, but fragile client.

Unbeknownst to her, her boss’ boss had been told she was not doing what he wanted, which was actually corrupt. She stood in the way of her boss’ boss accomplishing is illicit task. The big boss even hired an attorney to dig up dirt and bad mouth her to the client and others.

Sadly, her boss did nothing to support her. He actually participated in the process. Her long time good service did not matter. When the bad-mouthing hit the press, she was chagrined.

She was eventually fired. Yet, what puzzled her is why did they not just fire her? They did not need to drag her name through the mud. They could have simply replaced her.

This is not a fable. The woman’s name is Marie Yovanovitch and she was the US ambassador to Ukraine. Her boss is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his boss is Donald Trump. The attorney is Rudy Giuliani.

Let’s set all the machinations aside. Of course, the president has the right to fire anyone. But, why did he have to run down Yovanovitch’s name and sully her reputation? That is a damn shame. It also speaks volumes about the relative character of those involved.

The limitations of sequential thinking

What does sequential thinking mean, you might be asking? Many of us think in a sequential order. Basically, it means I cannot think about a certain thing, because it comes after what I need to do next. Sequential thinking is at odds with a working or living environment that demands a multi-tasking mindset.

When I say multi-tasking, I am not referring to doing more than one thing at one time, although that is its most common description. What I mean is having a list of multiple things to do and balancing the priority and times of when you plan to do them. It is akin to walking while juggling balls in the air. The key is to not drop any balls while you keep walking.

Let me use a few examples to emphasize my point. I may have a list of ten or twenty things to do. I receive information to do one of the items, but that item is not needed for a week. Sequential thinking would push doing that project until later in the week. But, what if you have a hard deadline and the information provided might be incomplete?

The military doctors and nurses coined an apt term called “triage.” So, a multi-tasking way to think of this would be to triage the information for the later project as an earlier step. Then, if it is incomplete, you could ask the sender to clarify or send additional input. Then, you can move onto other things while you wait.

Another example is moving forward with pieces of a project before having all the needed steps complete. One of the best project managers I have ever worked with would apportion a large report out in pieces for earlier completion. She would have folks working on producing the Appendix, Sections 5, 8, 11 and 14, e.g., while the analysis was being done to complete the key findings and recommendations. So, the supporting sections could be completed, so as to reduce the time crunch at the end once the analysis was done.

Although the last paragraph makes so much sense, it is not as widely practiced as you would think. Neither is the triaging concept, except in medical emergency settings. The other thing these two approaches avoid is the bottle-neck created by other projects and demands. And, in so doing, it enables deadlines to be better fulfilled.

As I write this, I recall a very demanding client. She could be a hard-ass on staff, but at the heart of her criticisms often was a legitimate one. If you told her a deadline, she expected you to meet it. The key was to give her a deadline that could be met, not in a vacuum, but in recognition that you had other things to do.

People like to please and hate telling people no. But, having been a consultant and client manager for ages, I would rather someone tell me they were too busy to help, forcing me to find another source, or avoid giving me too aggressive a deadline. This may not surprise people, but many deadlines that are not met are set by the person doing the work, not the client. Managing expectations is vital.

A favorite author, Malcolm Gladwell, confessed in an interview that he writes in an unusual way that works for him. He said he does not do all his research up front, so he outlines the idea, does some research, writes some, does more research, writes some more and so on. Why? Two reasons – he said he would get bored doing all the research, then writing. Plus, the research is fresher in his mind when he writes soon thereafter. He portions out the work in smaller more manageable segments.

Sequential thinking can get in the way of moving forward. I am not suggesting everyone will think like Gladwell or the best project manager I mention above, but think in terms of smaller, earlier steps to move things along.