Reach Out To Lead

Shake On It
The New York Times today had an editorial called “Our Unrealistic Hopes for Presidents.”



In this piece, Brendan Nyhan lowers the bar on all leadership, and most importantly on the President of the United States. 



He advocates for us to “give up on the idea of a leader who will magically bring consensus and unity to our politics.”



While I agree that there is no “magic” in leadership or politics, it is precisely a leader’s job to see to the vetting of ideas, compromise and consensus, and a way forward for the people, organization, and/or nation.



The leader, especially the president, establishes the vision, motivates and inspires, so that we are elevated from being focused on our own selfish motives  to being “One nation under G-d with liberty and justice for all.” (Pledge of Allegiance)



Or as JFK stated:



“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

This is the type of greatness that our leaders can raise us to and it defies race, party, or creed.



Certainly it wasn’t easy for the founding fathers of this nation to come together and write the Constitution and Bill of Rights that is not geared to the right or left, but is just plain brilliant and correct!



Yes, this is precisely what leadership is–not blame, finger pointing, go it alone, or defeatism–and that is why NOT everyone is cut out for the “top job” and why we seek the the 1 in 311 million for the job!



Nyhan writes “At election time, candidates seduce us with promises to bring America together, but inevitably fall short and end up leaving office with the country more polarized than when they arrived.”



In plain English…this is called broken promises and failed leadership!



A leader, absolutely, must bridge the divide, create an overall unity, a sense of purpose, bring the commitment of the hearts and minds–whether to feed the hungry, land a man on the moon, or win the war whether against fascism or terrorism.



Nyhan states disparagingly about us that “The public and the news media still want someone…a uniting figure who works across the aisle to build support”—Uh YES, how else will we ever get anything big and meaningful really done?



He tells us to “stop asking who can achieve the unity,” that times have changed, and that instead we should accept the “norm of polarization,” conflict, and disharmony in our nation. 



Sure, there are times of urgency and crisis, when a leader must decide and act in lifesaving haste; however, in most usual cases, decisions and actions can come about by joining together rather than tearing asunder. 



No, we should never stop demanding great leadership–those who can overcome both the petty divides as well as the more substantial differences, to see through to a greater good, common purpose, and a better future for us all. 



We can’t do this as Nyhan proposes by giving up on working together, and trying to go it along, without anyone who thinks differently than us, and “govern well without their support.” 



In corporate America or politics, leadership by decree is known as dictatorship, and that is not what this democracy or for that matter real success is about. 



Whether in the boardroom or the Oval Office, we need to demand leadership that explains their point of view, listens to other perspectives, and is able to form compromise and win-win scenarios.



When one side feels ignored or that they’ve been worked around instead of with, then the result is sure to be bitterness and prolonged fighting to overturn the “my way or the highway” decision or to poke the other side right back in the eye when they have the chance. 



We don’t need excuses, but strong leaders who know how to “work the room” or “reach across the aisle”– to bring facts to the table, and sentiment to touch people’s hearts, to give clear vision to help us see “the bigger picture” of what can be done, if we only can act deliberately as one.



(Source Photo: here with attribution to Niels Linneberg)

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What Would MLK say?

What Would MLK say?

Bloomberg BusinessWeek writes about how Congress orders NASA to complete a testing tower for rocket engines at Stennis Space Center that is no longer needed, since the rockets themselves were cancelled.

The price tag of this tower is $350M!

But not to worry because NASA caught in this muddle says they will maintain the tower in case it’s needed in the future at a cost of just $840,000 more a year.

Why does this happen?

Pork barrel politics, where the the Congressmen and -women (in this case of Mississippi) don’t want to lose out on the federal spending, so they make deals whereby they get what they want and others what they want for their home states–even if the taxpayers end up getting little to nothing.

Peggy Noonan writes in the Wall Street Journal that while public servants are “expected to be less selfish than the average Joe…they are [actually] the locus of selfishness.”

She writes, “there isn’t a staffer on the Hill who won’t tell you 90% of members are driven by their own needs, wants, and interests, not America’s.”

Essentially what Noonan describes is a broken political system, where we elect individuals as politicians to represent us, but they take our vote of confidence and their elected office platform and instead use it to vote either for what they think should be done–not what their constituents think or want–or they work the system in order to make themselves look good and line up votes for their next run at office.

Either way, we don’t get representation of the people, for the people, with big picture strategic decisions for the future of the nation, but rather we get narrow thinking and voting driven by self-centered thinking of what’s in it for me (WIIFM).

Freedom is not free, especially when we make bad decisions to fund testing towers that are no longer needed or bridges to nowhere.

How we fix this is by having politicians with a genuine vision of where we need to go, anchored in the thinking of the people they represent and a foundation of integrity.

The leader can create a shared vision by explaining why, what, and how and building a genuine consensus around it.

Selfishness is not an inherent trait of politics–it can be replaced by selflessness when the greater good of the nation is placed above any one “I”–whether that be a person, party, state, or special interest.

(Source Photo: here)

Talebearing and Other Trivialities

Talebearing and Other Trivialities

What do you really care about?

Your family (and close friends)–health and wellbeing, your finances, your job, your soul…

If you’re a little more social and aware, perhaps you care about the environment, the dangers of WMD, human rights, our national debt, and more.

Yet as Rebecca Greenfield points out in The Atlantic (5 Sept 2013) “the dumbest topics [on the Internet] get the most attention.” She uses the example of all the chatter about Yahoo’s new logo, which mind you, looks awfully a lot like their old logo.

The reason she says people focus on so much b.s. on the web–or derivatively at work or in social gatherings–is that it’s sort of the lowest common denominator that people can get their minds around that get talked about.

Like in the “old country,” when gossipers and talebearers where scorned, but also widely listened to, there has always been an issue with people making noise about silly, mindless, and mind-your-own-business topics.

Remember the Jerry Springer show–and so many other daytime TV talk shows–and now the reality shows like the Kardashians, where who is sleeping with whom, how often, and what their latest emotional and mental problems are with themselves and each other make for great interest, fanfare, and discussion.

Greenfield points out Parkinsons’s Law of Triviality (I actually take offense at the name given that Parkinson’s is also a very serious and horrible disease and it makes it sounds as if the disease is trivial), but this principle is that “the amount of discussion is inversely proportional to the complexity of a topic.” (Source: Producing Open Source Software, p. 91)

Hence, even in technical fields like software development, “soft topics” where everyone has an opinion, can invoke almost endless discussion and debate, while more technical topics can be more readily resolved by the limited number of subject matter experts.

This principle of triviality is also called a bikeshed event, which I had heard of before, but honestly didn’t really know what it was. Apparently, it’s another way of saying that people get wrapped around the pole with trivialities like what color to paint a bikeshed, but often can’t hold more meaningful debates about how to solve the national debt or get rid of Al Qaeda.

We may care about ourselves and significant others first, but most of us do also care about the bigger picture problems.

Not everyone may feel they can solve them, but usually I find they at least have an opinion.

The question is how we focus attention and progress people’s discussion from the selfish and lame to the greater good and potentially earth-shattering.

I recently had a conversation with my wife about some social media sites where the discussion posts seem to have hit new rock bottom, but people still seem to go on there to either have their say or get some attention.

I say elevate the discussion or change sites, we can’t afford to worry about Yahoo’s logo and the Kardashians’ every coming and going–except as a social diversion, to get a good laugh, or for some needed downtime dealing with all the heavy stuff. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

To Die or Not

One_way_to_freedom

Yesterday, I read in the Wall Street Journal (7-8 July 2012) about end of life decisions.

With healthcare costs spiraling out of control, driven especially by the care given to those in their final year of life, as a society we are confronted with horrible decisions.

When do you do “everything possible” for the patient’s survival and when do you make the call to “pull the plug.”

The article was about one man specifically–age 41, I think–who needed a heart transplant–which was expensive but successful, but then infection and complications set in over the course of the year and resulted in doctors removing part of his lung, his left leg above the knee, his gallbladder, and with the patient eventually living off of a ventilator.

The medical staff described the patients wincing in pain and the horrific image of at times with the tube down his throat, his screaming with no sounds coming out.

Doctors and the hospital’s ethical counselors spoke with the parents of the man (as his wife had divorced him prior) about discontinuing care.

Part of the conversation was about the practically futile attempts to keep the man alive, the pain of the patient, but subtly there was also the notion about the high cost of care and the patient having reached Medicare limits.

When the father was told that the nurses were having ethical questions about treating the man, the father wanting to keep his son alive at virtually all costs said, (rather than his son being taken off of the medical care he was receiving) maybe these nurses who had an issue with it shouldn’t be working on his ward!

The patient died within the year and at a cost of something like $2.7 million dollars (and the man leaving behind a 9 year old son himself).

There is no question that we want to provide the best care for our families and loved ones–they mean everything to us.

But when does the greater cost to society (i.e. the greater good) outweigh the benefits to the individual?

Yes, can we come up with hard and cold actuarial calculations about what a person contributes into the system, how much value they bring the world, what the anticipated cost is to keep them alive, and what are the chances of success–and then we can draw a line of what as a society we are willing or able to spend to save this person.

That is very matter-of-fact–objective, but practically devoid of feeling, compassion, and hope.

What if the calculation is wrong and the person could’ve been saved, lived longer, at lower cost, and/or would’ve been a great contributor to society–how do we know how to really figure individual life and death decisions.

And what of the cost–the meaning–to the family that relies and loves this person and needs him/her–the cost is priceless to them.

But what about others who don’t, can’t, or won’t receive proper care because others ended up taking more than their “fair” share–aren’t they also human beings deserving as well of proper care–and to their families are they not also invaluable?

From an ethical standpoint, this is one of those horrible dilemas that plague our consciousness and to which answers do not come easy.

An almost insane question– but can we be, in a sense, too giving to an individual, too generous societally, and with some things trying too hard to be ethical?

Like we are seeing now with the financial decline of the European Union and the frightening fiscal challenges ahead for America–how do maintain the traditional “safety net” (Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and more) without bankrupting the system and underlying society itself?

In essence, what happens when in our effort to be humane to people and give them a basic standard of living and care, keep our country safe, drive research and innovation, and secure human rights and democracy around the world–we overextend ourselves.

Like many a great society before us that flourished and then declined and even disappeared–do we get overconfident, overly ambitious, and ultimately become self-defeating?

No one–a family member, a compassionate and caring human being, and especially an elected politician wants to say “no” when these decisions hang over us.

But the reality is we will soon be faced not only with the life and death decisions of today, but also generations of built-up overspending and borrowing to finance generous, and yes even corrupt, spending habits.

This will affect present and future generations requiring harder and longer work lives to get a lower standard of living and care, and could even result in our noble society’s decline.

The result is we not only face individual life and death decisions every day, but we also are facing a potential existential threat to our way of life.

Expect gut-wrenching decisions over the next decade(s) and prepare for life to change in painful ways for all of us–on and off the deathbed.

While no one wants to face these questions and make the hard decisions, this is exactly what will need to happen–sooner or later.

Fiscally-speaking, there is no longer one way to freedom, but through a collective fight to secure our nation’s future.

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)