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.

True story example

One of the underlying themes of the Ukraine issue is the undercutting of diplomats doing a job without bothering to tell them what is going on without their knowledge. Setting aside the abuse of power and possible criminal activities, what the president did is just a poor leadership practice. A true example that happened to me might help illustrate this point.

I was client manager on a client relationship with a dear long term client. The client was looking to outsource some major internal work, which my company only did a small part. My client was asking me to help them source other providers, so I started to pull together a team to do so.

Without telling me, my company agreed to partner with a larger company to offer a proposal for the outsourcing. After pulling together a team, I was apprised at the last minute we were actually bidding on the project I was going to help source. Really? So, I apprised my client of the conflict of interest and we suggested he consider a competitor for the sourcing work.

None of this had to happen. My company could have told me up front what was going down without me being embarassed. Plus, it embarassed our bidding partner as they got wind of my sourcing efforts. And, it embarassed my main contact.

This came down from the top. In my or any business, you don’t leave your people hanging. You arm them with information and tools to do the job. You want people to have your back, not go around you snd not tell you they are so doing.

This is what was done by the US president to his diplomats in the field dealing with Ukraine. They were playing a hand they were dealt, but were not informed Rudy Guiliani was playing at another card table.

I have said before, not standing up for your people is poor leadership. So, is not informing them of what is happening. But, it does not just affect us. Ukraine and others wonder “who speaks for America?” Who does?

That leadership thing

Just because someone is in a position of leadership it does not mean he or she is a leader. Leadership is earned. A person put in a position of leadership may have a brief honeymoon period, but it can be wasted in an instant.

The military has an unstated rule. The troops eat first. This is a terrific metaphor. They are doing the heavy lifting, so a leader will do what he or she can to make sure the troops are taken care of.

A few rules of thumb to judge what leaders looks like:

– do they defend their team members or do they remain quiet?

– do they throw people under the bus when mistakes occur?

– do they deflect credit to others or assume all the credit?

– do they hide from blame when things go poorly?

– do they treat people with dignity and seek input from multiple sources?

– are they cool under pressure which calms anxious followers?

– do they represent our better angels or our worst?

My son and I watched the excellent movie “Midway” about s highly pivotal naval battle in World War II – if the US lost, the Japanese would have more impunity to attack cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, etc. A key part of the movie was the need to trust intelligence code breakers. Admiral Nimitz (the recently appointed Pacific fleet commander) visited the code breakers to confirm their confidence and methods, asking many questions. It helped him trust their input as a key reason for our success at Midway was we knew the attack was coming on the day it came.

Nimitz went to the sources. It should be noted these same sources told his predecessor of concerns in advance of Pearl Harbor. His predecessor did not heed their concerns and be more alert on December 7, 1941.

With the complexity of our world, leaders need to be editors of lots of information. There is a humility in knowing how much you don’t know. Be very wary of people in positions of leadership who convey a false sense of awareness. There is a Texas term for big talkers – they are all hat and no cattle. They have a big head, but don’t have many steers.

It should be noted an increasing number of corporate leaders are more introverted. The business is more complex and varied, so understanding the moving parts is important. I mention this as we should not assume someone who is more outgoing is a better leader.

We are craving better leaders. The better ones may be the ones who look less like the part.

A few questions to ponder – October 27, 2019

A couple of questions to ponder:

– why is the US president directing the US Attorney General and why is he aware of findings?

– why is it so hard for ardent Trump fans to believe hard-working, diligent ambassadors who have served both Republican and Democrat presidents?

– why are we not celebrating the political courage of these ambassadors who are testifying while knowing the president is very vindictive?

– why are not more questions being asked of AG William Barr who white-washed a more damning Mueller report?

– why did the GOP stormtroopers brag that they had not paid attention to what these heroes were testifying and had not read the Mueller report?

– why are legislators OK with a morally corrupt and likely criminally corrupt president?

– why do two Republican lawyer groups say the impeachment inquiry is justified?

– why do Trump followers think the ten plus year economic growth in the US started January, 2017? Could it be they believed his lie how horrible things were and unemployment was as high as 42%? It is amazing how it dropped to beneath 5% after the inauguration.

Mind you, I am glad economic growth continued, but what concerns me is we borrowed from our future to make a pretty good economy a little better for a little while. Instead of paying down debt in good years, our deficit climbed 26% to $984 billion for the fiscal year ending 9/30/2019. This is the fourth straight year of increases. We are over $22 trillion in debt today and it will be near $34 trillion in eight years sans change.

Trump said the economy will suffer if he is not reelected. The truth is the economy has been softening for more than a year and will continue to soften next and the following year and regardless of whether Trump is reelected.

Just a few questions to ponder.

A man called Ove – a curmudgeon worth a deeper look

The title of bestselling author Fredrik Backman’s book “A man called Ove” or the reference to the subject may not be inviting, but give this book a chance. We all have curmudgeons in our lives and sometimes we may even channel our inner curmudgeon. But, why do some people act the way they do?

People Magazine opines on Ove, “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll feel new sympathy for the curmudgeons in your life.” I agree.

Backman introduces Ove in real time, so you will start off with a full-frontal view of a curmudgeon. But, through changes in his daily life and a series of reveals as Ove remembers the good and bad in his life, you gain a new perspective on how he has evolved to be who he is. You will learn Ove has a tough outer shell, but different layers are buried beneath.

To avoid any spoilers, let me mention what is written on the back cover to invite you to read the book. Ove’s daily routine is disrupted when chatty new neighbors with two young daughters announce they have arrived one November morning by accidentally backing their U-Haul trailer over Ove’s mailbox.

Their interactions and related others take an ice-pick to Ove’s icy outer shell. The book is an easy read, but do give Ove a chance. Your initial reaction to Ove will be like everyone else’s whom the character meets in the book. So, bring your proverbial ice pick along. And, some tissue.