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 nice thing about our country

Our country is weary of having a person in a leadership position who is seemingly in the eye of every storm. He seems to be the lone constant in personal, political, company, country and media attacks. Even his supporters lament some of his tweeting habits.

Yet, our imperfect country has some nice things going for it. Here are a few thoughts.

– when our leaders do not address our real problems, companies, cities, states and people can step up and do more;
– when the president cannot get out of his own way and then has his people spend time, energy and their integrity defending his inane comments, we can choose to tune him out;
– when the president is untruthful more than he is not, we can choose to not believe a word he says or tweets;
– when leaders rationalize indefensible comments as normative, we can push back on them;
– we can choose to act on conservation, climate change and guns by voting with our feet; companies pay attention. Why? What creates profits and jobs are customers.

To this last point, companies like Google, Amazon, IKEA, Walmart, Facebook, etc. and states like California, Texas, Iowa, North Carolina, etc. are active in renewable energy. Walmart, Dick’s and Albertson’s are stepping up on gun sale restrictions. Even ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell are paying attention on climate change due to shareholder pressure.

If leaders choose not to lead, we can all do more. It sure would be nice if they helped some, too. If they do not, they become less relevant.

Credit and blame

UK Prime Minister Theresa May is stepping down today. This imperfect person has received a huge amount of blame for the failure to deliver a Brexit deal. Yet, I believe she had an unenviable task of herding the many and varied egos in Parliament who did not focus on getting the job done.

Living in America, we see this first hand, as posturing is more important than doing. Even before the fear-mongering and storytelling that has replaced civil debate, I have been disappointed in the demise in bipartisanship behavior.

Ironically, the last period of significant legislation occurred when GOP Speaker John Boehner ignored the Freedom Caucus and worked with moderate House Democrats to pass bills the Democrat led Senate would pass into law. He did this enough, that he retired before the Freedom Caucus rebellion ousted him.

Now, only handfuls of significant laws are passed as neither major party wants the other side to get a political win. Actually helping people is secondary to the perception of looking good. We have a president who does the same focusing too much on perception. He even controls his messaging taking credit for things he has little to do with and laying off blame on others when he the finger could be pointed at his efforts.

Blowing a problem out of proportion, making it worse by not addressing the real issues, threatening an action that gets push back from all sides and then coming to agreement on efforts that are already underway, is all a show that is harmful to relationships and commerce. People and companies need more stability in their lives, not less. When applecarts are upset, they have to look at other options.

This month, the US economy will be celebrating ten years (120 months) of economic growth. The president has been sure to pat himself on the back for this and he did provide some short term tailwinds with the tax cut and regulations cuts. Yet, he has only been president for going on 29 months. That means, 91 months of this growth were under Obama and the stock market more than doubled under his watch.

To be frank, presidents get too much credit and blame for the economy, providing at best headwinds and tailwinds. The headwinds this president has caused are more long term – debt, tariffs, immigration focus, pulling out of trade deals, etc. The economy is slowing its growth and more slowing is expected to occur. But, a given is this president will lay blame on others as it slows – he started last fall making the nonpartisan Federal Reserve the bogeyman.

Credit and blame. I have often quoted a leadership consultant I know, who said a great leader deflects credit to others; a bad leader accepts credit even when not due. Think about that as you hear or read tweets from leaders.

Sully and Ben – right people at right time

Seeing a man in leadership who does not value or have the patience for studying issues highlights those who do and execute that knowledge in times of crisis. In recent memory, two heroic events bear witness to such people – Sully Sullenberger and Ben Bernanke.

Sullenberger is the more recognizable name as the pilot who safely landed a jet plane in the Hudson River. Dealing with a rare double bird strike shortly after take-off his calm, learned presence helped him evaluate options, then choose the best path, but still a dangerous one.

What is less known is Sully volunteered to study previous plane crashes to help all pilots and builders of planes. He took the time to know why planes crashed. In particular, he knew what had to be done to keep a plane landing in the water from flipping sideways when one wing touched the water and the other did not. He was the right pilot for the Hudson landing.

Bernanke is less known as the former Chair of the Federal Reserve. His tenure overlapped the housing recession and banking crisis in 2007- 09. Working with Treasury Secretary Hank Paulsen, they developed a plan to stabilize the banks and keep the economy going.

Like Sully. Bernanke studied why the US went into the Great Depression and how it came out. He studied helpful decisions and others that were not so helpful. He was the right person for the right time, a calming, analytical influence.

It should be noted being studious is not the only similarity between the two men. Their calm nature is also a key similarity. Their calmness is infectious and enables others to do their job and offer input. In times of crisis, those who lose their heads, are the ones not to follow.

From the books and news reports I have read or watched, neither of these two traits would be top of mind in describing the President. Aides lament his lack of interest to study and limited attention span. And, mercurial is a more common definition than calming.

I mention this as it seems far too many issues are contentious. A recent survey noted our nation is more stressed. And, this is without a real crisis, which worries me greatly. I have this looming sense the man will pick a fight for ratings.

So, kudos to Sully and Ben. May we learn from your lessons and example. The only thing I have learned from the President is how not to act.

 

Voters say reopen the government – another note to Senators

A NPR/ Ipsos poll last week noted 75% of Americans and the majority of Republicans feel embarassed by the shutdown. It is time to make a deal and reopen the government. If the man who caused the shutdown vetoes it, override it.

The wall has been oversold as a solution based on fear and lies. Please check out the real time fact checking by Chris Wallace in an interview with Sarah Sanders where she was caught in three lies the President has been using to support the wall. We deserve better than this.

Help me understand

In probably the best example of tribal thinking in America is the stark contrast in character between the last two Presidents and how Evangelicals have papered over the holes in that of the current incumbent. The reason is the current President will do their bidding, which is questionable, but let’s set that aside for now.

Help me understand how a man who does very little to exemplify Christian behavior is given a hall pass while his predecessor who is devout, raised a wonderful family with his only wife and had no scandals in eight years is demonized?

Help me understand how a man who is a habitual and prodigious liar, an admitted and accused sexual assaulter, a demeaning bully and a narcissistic man can be viewed without concern. How can a man who is such a negative example to Christians and non-Christians be permitted to bring out the worst in us?

For the ultimate goal of whom he might appoint to the Supreme Court and other courts, we have a President who is making America into a pariah around the globe, galvanizing white supremacists into action, diminishing civil rights, demonizing the media while he is such a prolific liar and attacking anyone who dares criticize him. Jesus would weep at such a man for the hatefulness he has espewed.

Help me understand how I can be proud of the man who is in the leadership role of our country, when he embarasses us on a daily basis? I wish I did not have to say this, but I do not believe a word the man says. Help me understand why I should?

Great leaders make everyone around them better

Thomas Friedman, the award winning author (“The World is Flat” and “That Used to be Us”), made an important observation in an interview with Charlie Rose. A great leader makes everyone around them better – think Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Wayne Gretzky or, if you are older, Bill Russell. Donald Trump makes everyone around him worse.

This is a powerful observation. Defending this immoral man requires his people to go to a bad place in their nature. They must lower themselves and lie like he does. General Kelly harmed his reputation by lying about a Congresswoman. Sarah Huckabee-Sanders is not worth listening to as she defends the indefensible with inconsistent and nonsensical statements.

Trump values loyalty over competence, so the tendency to become a sycophant is rewarded. While he does have some competent people, they are fewer in number and the depth of talent is not as much as needed. Many experienced people could have helped him, but they either did not pass the loyalty test or chose not to work with such a narcissistic man. His team is not deep and they are very distracted trying to keep Trump between the white lines, so they cannot focus on global trends, issues and strategy.

On the flip side, I think of great leaders like Paul O’Neill, who turned around Alcoa by opening communication channels which improved productivity and safety. I think about my former boss whose mantra was hire good people and have them go see our clients. He kept senior leadership off your back and empowered you to work with others to serve.

Let me close with a story about Bill Russell, the NBA Hall of Famer with the Boston Celtics. He did all the heavy lifting (rebounding, defense, passing, blocked shots) letting his teammates do most of the scoring. His Celtics won eleven championships, his college team won two NCAA championships and he was on a Gold Medal Olympic team.

Great leaders make everyone around them better.