Jim Brown – a simple name, but a complex man, may he RIP

Before Tina Turner passed away, another icon died, named Jim Brown. Brown was a legendary football running back for the Cleveland Browns and was arguably one of the best who ever played that position.

But, he was far more than that. He retired early to become an actor and was in a few dozen films. Most notably, he was in one of my favorite films called “The Dirty Dozen,” but more on that later.

What he should be also remembered for is he was an outspoken civil rights advocate and worked closely with Martin Luther King. Brown and three other legendary black athletes, Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar (then known as Lew Alcindor) of the UCLA Bruins all jointly spoke out for the rights of blacks. Brown was the centerpiece spokesperson.

Their outspokenness differs from the relative silence of Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan and their contemporaries who did not want to risk their endorsements. It is good to see current athletes like Lebron James and Colin Kaepernick speak out risking their careers. Kaepernick’s career has been ruined because of the backlash against his efforts.

Brown led the way with the other three stars of his day. He was not perfect and there are stories of domestic abuse. If true, this is an awful and a severe indictment of the man. It shows that notoriety does not mean they can do no wrong. Yet, to not mention his sins and crimes would be an unfair rendering of his life.

Let me close with a positive story from a boy who loved “The Dirty Dozen.” Brown’s character was sadly killed after a heroic scene in the movie. It was befitting his heroic nature as a football star, but was sad to see. Maybe it is a good reflection on sports heroes in general. They are very good at their craft and can use their platform for good as Brown did. But, that does not mean they are perfect. And, they should be held accountable for bad behavior just like all of us would.


The truth will set you free

As an old fart, I have gleaned several truths over the years listening to and reading the words of people much smarter than me. Here are just a few of those truths, at least per this editor of information.

A great leader is one who defers more credit to others and accepts more blame even when it is undue. Think of this when you hear a notorious former president (or any elected official for that matter) take credit and blame others on a routine basis. Bad leaders use too many “I” and “me” words to define success. “I, alone, can solve our problems” was uttered before the presidential election in 2016 at the GOP convention, but that is as much narcissistic as it untrue.

Telling your creditors you can’t pay your bills is not part of productive strategy to balance your budget. If the US does not raise its debt ceiling, it is very poor stewardship and tells our creditors we are bad risk. Legislators who say it is not poor stewardship are very much mistaken. Let’s pay our creditors, then have serious discussion around changes to increase revenue AND cut spending.

Lying and embellishing is not foreign to politicians. Yet, lying pretty much about everything is beyond the pale. George Santos, Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis have achieved a greater level of deceitfulness than others. Santos has emulated the two older people and has created both a fake history and allegedly acted criminally. We deserve better than this. What he has not learned as well is how to be smug when called out on lying.

Vladimir Putin still wins the prize for untruthfulness. What has been difficult for him is the Ukraine invasion has gone so poorly for Russia, he cannot cover-up his lying. The word is getting out, sometimes within 24 hours that he was lying the day before. Ukraine is achieving success. So, it is hard to maintain a lie, when the evidence is shown in real time. The problem is coming clean will have to be a part of his exit strategy. He will need to say folks, this is not working, so we need to exit Ukraine.

Each of us lied about something in our lives. To say you have not is not being honest with yourself. One thing you must do is not believe your own BS. The first step in coming clean is to admit to yourself you lied or weren’t as truthful as you should have been. Here is a good example – having been in management and consulted with HR, everyone thinks they are a better than average employee. But, that is not possible. The only way to improve is to recognize your shortcomings.

This is one of the challenges for our former president as we often debate if he knows he lies as much as he does as he tells so many sometimes repeatedly. I am reminded of the CBS reporter who finally got tired of a routine misstatement about a law he said he passed and told him you know that law was passed before you became president? He did not know.

We need as much truth as possible from our elected officials. I try hard not to refer to many elected officials as “leaders” as just because they are in a position of leadership, does not make them a leader. Telling the truth will set them apart from the others and free them to walk down the better path.

Wednesday walkabout early in May

What a great day for a walkabout. As I wander, here are a few thoughts I might take with me.

A general thought that I cannot seem to shake is it would be nice for legislators to focus on solving problems and getting something done, rather than grandstand.

To this purpose, it would be helpful if they took the time to study the issues we need to focus on and stop telling us what funders have paid them to do.

It is depressing how low the US Supreme Court has fallen. Not only has it become more political than before, it has added unethical behavior to the mix. Part of the reason is when the needed Senate votes dropped from 60 to 51 to approve someone. As a result, we have people on the court who are more strident in their views.

Stepping away from Washington, we have a more than the two most notorious governors in Florida and Texas who have decided leadership of all citizens is not what they are there for. They have also decided civil rights need not be evenly distributed or warranted. That is shameful in my view.

It would help if all of these folks noted above could spend a little more time with the truth and less time asking for and counting their money. We hear about the flood of people coming across the border, but the real crisis is we are purposefully bottlenecking folks from crossing. While the former president was awful as he created this mess, the current president has not followed through on improving the process.

Whether it is climate change, water, environment, debt, healthcare, et al, let’s focus on the truth and address these issues. And, stop exaggerating or contriving issues that are not that important, but designed to distract voters.

Now, that I have gotten that off my chest, I can finish my walk.

Adding a gun to a mix of testosterone and alcohol yields unwise and lethal behavior

In an article by Edwin Rios in The Guardian called “Texas man fatally shoots five neighbors after noise complaint, sheriff says,” the following paragraphs tell an all-true and common story in America.

“After neighbors complained about the noise he was making, a Texas man went next door with an AR-15-style rifle and shot them, killing five people – including an eight-year-old child – as well as wounding three others at a home in Cleveland, Texas, on Friday night.

Law enforcement patrolling the community more than 40 miles outside of Houston were searching for Francisco Oropeza, 38, who had been intoxicated and fled the scene, the sheriff of San Jacinto county, Greg Capers, told reporters on Saturday.”

Alcohol affects judgment and seems to remove the filter in the brain that stops people from making extremely poor decisions. Testosterone adds to the cocktail, as a drunk male is not the best judge of situations, as the worst of male behavior can more easily appear. Note, I am not giving drunk women a hall pass, but as a 64 year old man, I have witnessed some very unflattering male behavior when heavy drinking is involved.

Yet, when you add access to a gun, then these two ingredients become more toxic and can be lethal. This is a key reason allowing concealed carry of guns is so scary, as the lethal cocktail becomes more possible.

In short, five people, including a child, are dead because the noisy, drunk man had a gun. If he was just a noisy, drunk man, he could have still been offended by being asked to be quieter, yet no one would be dead. He would have likely gotten his lights punched out, at worst, as a drunk man is not the best of fighters. Yet, even a drunk dumb ass can fire a gun.

I am reminded of a man who was drunk at a college football game in Raleigh and was driving dangerously in the parking lot after the game. When two men stopped his car and asked him to be mindful of the kids and adults in the parking lot, the man went home, retrieved his gun and came back and shot the two men. These men stopped him from vehicular manslaughter and a DUI, but he decided to up the ante and murder them.

Although, I don’t know if intoxicated individuals were involved, I just read last night eleven people were shot at a party in a South Carolina park. I don’t know if any of the people died, but they are likely just lucky. It is sad that any outing, especially on weekends, can be dangerous. But, when people get shot in their own home for living next to a noisy, drunk neighbor, that is even more scary.

People who follow this blog know I try not to curse in print, so my reference above is unusual. But, continuing on, we Americans need to ask our legislators to stop being dumb asses and do something very tangible about gun violence. In Tennessee, the legislators fired two fellow legislators who were strongly advocating better gun governance – instead of acting to pass better gun governance, they fired the complainers. Really?

In fact, I will keep the legislators who are blocking action in my thoughts and prayers and maybe they will remember they are parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and act. But, unlike the less than judicious folks in the Tennessee legislature, the actions need to be to improve gun governance not punish those who are advocating for it.


As a 64 year-old man who has made mistakes throughout his life and is destined to make a few more, I need to throw a proverbially “Really?” question at more than a few public servants.

Justice Clarence Thomas claims he did not know he needed to report the vacation travel gifts of a friend. Really?

Donald Trump’s corporation and its CFO have been recently convicted of tax fraud and he settled a fraud case regarding using his Foundation money for personal purposes, yet folks want to give him hall pass on alleged fraudulent use of money to pay off multiple trysts? Really?

The Tennessee state legislature decided to expel two members of its chambers for leading a protest against gun violence in their state rather than actually debating doing something tangible about it. Really?

We have serious problems that need serious people to solve them. I am long past tired of public officials failing to do their jobs focusing more on zero-sum games to protect one tribe while punishing the other. We Americans are the tribe. Try not to lose sight of that and work on our problems.

When people in positions to lead choose not to

Just because someone wins an election does not make the person leader. The winners are in a position of leadership, not a leader when they choose not to lead.

A key failure is to forget an important lesson – the elected official is supposed to represent all people in the district, not just those who voted for the candidate. And, the winner should especially not kowtow to a vocal minority who makes more waves.

This more vocal group is of concern to me as with gerrymandered districts, they have more influence than they should. More strident people will vote in a primary and the folks who listen less to those voices, will suffer. And, when the elected official gets to office due to the gerrymandering, the winner will play too heavily to the vocal audience.

At times, I feel we are seeing a version of “The Hand Maid’s Tale” play out. We see too much influence from the strident few. So, we must ask more questions and, if they go unanswered, ask them again. We must demand leadership that we deserve where our real concerns are addressed and not blown off. We need leaders not people creating sound bites shouting at that wind.

In America, we have a gun governance problem, we have a water crisis, we have a climate change problem, we have a debt and deficit albatross, we have a threat to civil rights, and we have health care cost increase pressure among others. Let’s deal with those issues.

Just a quick thought on weaponizing labels

Labels. They are a lazy way to argue. If a politician or party can craft a label and paint it in a derogatory manner, it becomes a weapon. This is true even if folks can’t define what the label means, either the user or the listener.

One thing I have surmised is labelling politicians will see opinion entertainers like Carlson, Hannity, et al, cover a topic like wokeness, critical race theory, LGBTQ+ pervasiveness, etc. and weaponize a rebuttal, start deploying said weapon and then watch the opinion entertainers pick it up and run with it. It comes full circle and people will start believing their own BS.

To me, it is a lot like these legal TV networks looking for court cases to merchandise into viewers and money. If you ever wondered why certain cases get more intention, it is because they are hand-selected and sold as such. The court case miners are looking for “wedge” topics that will translate into viewers.

So, do yourself a favor. If you see a politician or opinion show host use a label, ask more questions. See if the labeler knows what it means. It may not be as bad as it is portrayed. Then ask questions about issues of import. Like why is a governor surrounded on three sides by ocean spending all of his time on labelling and not what he intends to do about the most at risk city to rising sea levels in the world – Miami.

Just a thought.

A Leadership miss

In my previous post, I repeated a story of Paul O’Neill, who turned Alcoa around even though his first press conference was less than overwhelming. He avoided all the usual buzz words and said he was going to focus first on worker safety. As it turned out, he did this as he knew worker safety was the only thing the unions and management could agree on. That real focus improved communications, productivity and idea sharing and the company performance took off.

One financial analyst in attendance was so unimpressed he told people to sell their Alcoa stock after O’Neill’s first press conference. The analyst later said that was the worst decision of his life. The analyst’s expectation of the CEO saying the right things reminded me of a CEO I met who was fired from at least three companies for unsuccessfully parroting the same bumper sticker slogans for change.

One parent company hired him as CEO for a subsidiary which he proceeded to wreck, then they surprisingly moved him to another subsidiary which he also wrecked. For his less than competent leadership, he was given $12 million in severance. It made people at the company ask, what do you have to do to be fired for “cause” denying severance? Apparently, he did the same thing at another company, using the same buzz words for change.

If that were not enough, a real example occurred when he went to see a huge client of the second subsidiary and he proceeded to so offend the other CEO, the other CEO told his CFO to fire the subsidiary. Someone in attendance from the offensive CEO’s company later said it was like watching an escalating battle of who had the bigger ego, more cars, more houses, more boats, etc.

What makes the story even worse is the relationship manager from the offensive CEO’s company was unaware his CEO was going to see his client. So, there was no personal briefing to get his CEO prepared. And, the relationship manager was not invited to attend.

To be frank, that is just abysmal leadership. Yet, it is just one example. Before this episode, someone relayed the story to “not let the new CEO go see your client.” So, he was eventually let go, but he still got $12 million in severance.

Great leadership is sadly not common. That is why when examples appear they are applauded. I have said this before, but a leadership consultant would tell our clients that a great leader deflects credit for success to his team and takes the blame for problems even when he or she is not at fault. And, I read this morning from the Leadership Institute, a great leader can be identified as someone who handles dissenting opinion with aplomb.

Let me close with one final point. In the military, there is one unstated rule that must be followed. Leaders eat last. The soldiers come first.

A revisit to Paul O’Neill and his leadership at Alcoa and in the US Treasury (Liz Truss should have taken notice a few months ago)

The following is from an older post, but highlights what true leadership looks like in a man named Paul O’Neill when he was CEO of Alcoa. It also shows what a man of integrity looks like when, as Secretary of the Treasury, he cautioned President George W. Bush against a tax cut to stimulate the economy, a lesson Liz Truss could have used.

I am in the middle of a fascinating book by Charles Duhigg called “The Power of Habit – Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business” and a very useful example appears involving Paul O’Neill. The name rang a bell for another reason, but more on that later. Who is Paul O’Neill? O’Neill was the CEO who turned Alcoa around during his tenure from 1987 – 2000. He joined a company in turmoil, and under his leadership, the value of the company doubled and the annual revenue went from $1.5 Billion in 1987 to $23 Billion. How did he help Alcoa achieve these results?

Ironically, when he made his first speech to investors and stock analysts, they came away unimpressed. He was not a well-known quantity having served as a in the VA Administration, Office of Management and Budget and as a Vice President and President of International Paper. Yet, what he said in that speech gave everyone pause. He said “I want to talk about worker safety.” He went on to discuss how Alcoa had a horrible safety record and his goal was “to go for zero injuries.” Many stock analysts were stunned by this focus as he did not use any of the typical words around synergy or rightsizing, etc. Several told their clients to divest of Alcoa stock after that meeting. One analyst later said “It was the worst piece of advice I gave in my entire career.”

Why the focus? The purpose of the book is to understand the role habits play in everything we do. If you can find a keystone habit and get someone to change it, then other better habits will follow. Companies were no different. O’Neill recognized before he took the job, he needed to help Alcoa change, but the unions did not trust management, communication was poor and processes needed changing. So, he decided to focus on the one thing everyone could agree on – worker safety. By focusing on worker safety, he would help change that habit and watch it spillover.

O’Neill instituted a policy that his managers had to notify him of an accident in the company within 24 hours along with a plan on how we learned from it and how we could avoid it happening again. Many thought it was just window dressing, but two weeks into his tenure, a young man acted rashly to fix a machine and was killed. O’Neill took this to heart and said “I killed this man. All of us in this room killed this man.” Everyone saw this was meaningful and things started to change. But, it was more than safety improving. To receive a report within 24 hours with a plan, a leader needed to know about the accident, what happened and how it could be avoided. Communication up and down the ranks improved, so the safety improvements could be conveyed and understood.

To improve safety, though, you had to improve processes. You had to make things easier to work with and provide the equipment to be safe. Not only did safety improve, but so did productivity. And, with these better communications, ideas from the manufacturing floor started to flow up. Some of the ideas had been bottled up for years, but now people felt empowered to share them. And, before the internet got up and running, they were using an intranet to communicate these ideas which kept them ahead of the competition and let information pass quickly. So, the company took off, because of O’Neill’s purposeful focus on one keystone habit – let’s make our jobs safer.

Where the name sounded familiar is O’Neill became President George W. Bush’s first Secretary of the Treasury in January, 2001. However, with all of his success and track record, he was fired by December 31, 2002. Why? O’Neill was very outspoken in his criticism over the now famous “Bush Tax Cuts” and our going to war with Iraq. As Secretary of the Treasury, he had seen a report that said the US had a looming deficit problem that would require tax increases and spending cuts. That report was suppressed by Bush and we went ahead with the Bush Tax Cuts that unbalanced our surplus budget left by President Bill Clinton aided by his Chief of Staff, Erskine Bowles.

Quoting a footnote in the book, Duhigg notes “However, O’Neill’s politics did not line up with those of the President Bush, and he launched an internal fight opposing Bush’s proposed tax cuts. He was asked to resign at the end of 2002. ‘What I thought was the right thing for economic policy was the opposite of what the White House wanted,’ O’Neill told me. ‘That’s not good for a treasury secretary, so I got fired.’”

I put O’Neill’s quotes in bold for effect. I would add that Warren Buffett, another pretty smart cookie, largely said the same thing at the time. Buffett said “You are giving me a tax cut I do not need.” So, just to state the obvious:

– we had a balanced budget, even a small surplus;

– President Bush wanted to push tax cuts to stimulate the economy;

– his Secretary of Treasury, a pretty competent leader, reads a report that forewarns of deficits down the road and tells the President and Vice President Dick Cheney (by the way, he recommended Cheney to Bush’s father for Secretary of Defense), that tax cuts are not the right answer for the economy and we need increases and spending cuts;

– the President and Vice President (who wielded more power than many VPs) ignores his advice and asks him to resign;

– we now have budget deficits heightened by the Bush Tax Cuts and two unfunded wars; and

– we continue to fight over these Bush Tax Cuts and need to raise revenue as well as cut spending to address the deficit, two ideas the suppressed report and fired Secretary of the Treasury espoused in 2002, eleven years ago.

Hindsight is usually 20/20, but the last bullet is very important. We have leaders who refuse to see that we must increase tax revenue and cut spending. No greater authorities than Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles reached that same conclusion in the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Commission report. O’Neill, a very successful and competent CEO told his bosses, Bush and Cheney, this very thing and got fired. He also told them this before it would happen and before Bush actually threw gasoline in the fire and made it worse. Not to beat a dead horse, but Presidential historians have also noted President Bush as one of the worst presidents we have ever had and contrary to what his brother Jeb said last week, history will not judge him any better looking back from a future date.

So, to recap. Paul O’Neill, Warren Buffett, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, all pretty capable people, said we need tax increases and spending cuts to address our deficits.However, O’Neill said it in official capacity as Secretary of Treasury and got fired. And, now we are living with not only the failure to act, but actions taken by Bush that are perpetuated today. I think O’Neill and these other people’s opinions matter and we should listen to them.

Queens and Kings

The world is mourning the death of the longest reigning monarch in the UK, Queen Elizabeth. Just thinking she is the only monarch that the significant majority of her subjects have ever known is quite amazing in and of itself. Although not without imperfections, she was a class act which we need more people to emulate. Dignified public service is something we should use an example – just look no further than Boris Johnson as the most recent contrarian to that premise and what happened to him.

What is interesting is that if her Uncle Edward had not abdicated the throne allowing her father George to become King, she may never had served as Queen. I find that amazing how these two very different stories weave together in history as bookends. A dutiful Queen who served through thick and thin and a self-centered King who shed the crown for love. Her namesake, the first Queen Elzabeth, also served a long time, as did her great-grandmother Victoria. Just think of that – three women served as Queen for just shy of 180 years – almost two centuries.

King Charles will not be able to serve as long, but he has been waiting in the wings for a long time to serve. Using an American analogy, I hope he will not be a worn-out relief pitcher who warmed up too long in the bullpen and was spent by the time he entered the game. One thing about Charles, he has been more outspoken about the environment and climate change, which has been good. As King, he may need to be more silent on these subjects as the Prime Minister runs the show.

There is also a good documentary on him about funding and sponsoring a program to teach teen kids and young adults about the hospitality profession – see link below. It is called the “Belling Hospitality Training Centre at Dumfries House Estate.” When I saw this documentary, I came away with a much more favorable impression of now King Charles.

So, may the Queen rest in peace. Thank you for your service and stewardship. And, long live the King.