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.

Good governance is needed to protect us from cheating

In our country, it is OK that people disagree. It is OK for legislators to disagree and hold opinions that I do not find appropriate. That is a greatness of our government construct. What I find far less appealing is when legislators cut corners on parliamentary procedures or do not do the right thing when a conflict of interest appears to gain advantage. This short changes the process and makes us less as a result. This is cheating, no matter how you slice it. I will not be speaking about the greater level of cheating and that is following the preferences of wealthy donors and lobbyists. Nor will I address gerrymandering, which puts in office legislators with strident views and insulates them in future elections. Both of these would require their own posts.

Three times in the past year, I have read about or seen a replay of voice votes being conducted by Committee Chairs in the North Carolina General Assembly and US Congress. Voice votes are when the Chair says all in favor say “yes” and all against say “no.” These votes are usually held when they know the outcome will be unanimous or near unanimous. Yet, on these three occasions the Chair, who was in favor of the action, took such a vote on a contentious matter which would have a close vote.

In two of the cases, it was clear the “no’s” won and several folks in the same political party as the Chair said so, but the Chair was predisposed and heard “yes.” When others cried foul, their complaints were not heeded. In the third vote in an US Congressional Committee, the vote followed a very well done impassioned speech trying to give farmers the right to voice their concerns without repercussion against the industry. The industry won in a voice vote, a vote that sounded fairly close and should have warranted a roll call vote. It should be noted that the two votes noted above in NC favored a long-standing industry position.

To further illustrate, we had a former Speaker of the House in NC who led two unsavory votes. On the first, when a legislator realized she had voted wrong, she approached the Speaker to change her vote. Her request was denied and the vote the Speaker favored passed by one. On the second, the Speaker had a tough budget vote. When it passed midnight, he sent everyone home, but told his party to stay close by. He then recalled legislators to the chamber and had a quorum, but many “no” voters were already headed home to their districts and could not return. The budget passed.*

Not to be outdone, we had a former state legislator, who is on record to have participated in two votes where he had a known conflict of interest. He actually had a financial interest in the decision. He did not recuse himself which would have been the ethical thing to do. This is not restricted to NC, where I have seen footage of a Texas legislator who was voting to protect pay-day lenders, while being a marketing person for a pay-day lender. He was admonished on the floor, but that did not stop him from casting his vote.

I recognize fully we have huge problems with money in politics, voter restrictive laws and gerrymandered districts. The money means that the legislator has to win for their funders. The voter restrictive laws and gerrymandering make it easier for them to win an office and stay there. Yet, the money should not permit blatant cheating like the above examples. In each case I mentioned, an industry who had funded a legislator – fossil fuel industry, poultry processing industry, real estate developer industry and pay-day lending industry – each had sway over this politician or the politician had a personal conflict of interest in a vote.

I want to tie these things together, as when you see legislators cheat with parliamentary procedures, it is far worse than Tom Brady’s “Deflategate” cheating with deflated footballs. Brady cheated and is being punished after the fact and his saying that everyone does it is a child’s answer. The greater crimes are noted above.  It is people who have been funded to make votes happen in the favor of the funders. So, we should not say “boys will be boys,” and say everyone does it. We should ask pointedly, why did you cheat like that and who benefits the most? The act of cheating should give you pause about the veracity of the cheater’s position.

* It should be noted we had a previous NC Speaker who accepted a bribe and a previous Governor who got caught up in a real estate boondoggle. So, we have some more tangible cheating issues, but the focus on this post is parliamentary process being short changed to curry favor.