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Posts Tagged ‘leadership

After the death of Nelson Mandela, many of us are pondering what the man and his life meant to us and to the world. Prolix’s post about leadership was very thought-provoking, asking us to put ourselves in Mandela’s place and think about what we hold so dear that we would spend 27 years in jail to honor it.

My answer is: Nothing.

You see, I am an agnostic and a person of action. I am not a person of faith. It takes a person of faith to say, “Hey, I’m in this prison cell. I’ve given up my family, my home, my freedom, my friends, and yet, I can still be effective in standing up for my beliefs by doing…nothing.”

I would have a very hard time believing that it is more effective to sit in a prison cell, being an example to whomever you’d like to inspire, than to go out and take action on your beliefs. Clearly Mandela’s faith proved correct, but I don’t know how he stuck to it for 27 years. I’m sure he had many moments where he stopped believing. He was, after all, only human.

And this brings me to a very interesting article I saw on Think Progress. Apparently, Mandela was not a perfect man destined for sainthood. (Insert outraged gasp here.) He held some controversial views that might shock some of us. I admit they shocked me. But then I asked myself, why? What is it that makes someone a great leader, even if you don’t agree with everything that person says?

I think after some consideration, I have arrived at a conclusion that works for me: A great leader is someone who lives his/her values. That is the essence of integrity and trust. You may not agree with some of those values, but you at least accord the leader the respect that s/he deserves because of his/her faithful adherence to them.

So what I am saying is, if you are a great leader, you don’t need to be perfect. You don’t need to have your opinions sanitized to fit the current political climate. Instead, you can hold some views that are standard “progressive”/liberal, and hold some that are downright cray-cray. It doesn’t really matter, as long as you hold true to yourself and stay consistent to your values and beliefs.

Do you agree? Do you disagree?

From the Think Progress article linked above, here are the six thing Nelson Mandela believed that are now controversial. Please let us know in comments whether or not you feel any of these causes you to de-sanitize and/or de-sanctify Mandela.

1. Mandela blasted the Iraq War and American imperialism.

2. Mandela called freedom from poverty a “fundamental human right.”

3. Mandela criticized the “War on Terror” and the labeling of individuals as terrorists without due process.

4. Mandela called out racism in America.

5. Mandela embraced some of America’s biggest political enemies.

6. Mandela was a die-hard supporter of labor unions.

This is an open thread.

Good afternoon and a great Friday Widdershin friends.  Here’s hoping there’s only a few more hours until you start enjoying a “Widderful” weekend.

Tuesday I wrote about some of the eye-popping instances of irony amusing us this week.  I purposefully omitted one.Laptop  It’s a big one and one meriting a full post.  Here it is:

How can the most technologically sophisticated candidate for President in the history of the country so badly botch, so incompetently execute, and so perfectly blow the technical execution of the website of his signature domestic achievement?

Simply put — short of producing a picture of a Kenyan mud hut manger scene or droning the Lincoln Memorial, how could this President do more to bolster the thirty year right-wing meme about government?  You know the meme — government isn’t the answer, government is the problem, yada yada yada.  Honestly, if any one of us were told, “You have three years to write your epitaph,” wouldn’t it be more than a “box-checking” exercise?

What went wrong?  Was it waiting until only 8 months ago to start building such an intricately complex site?  Was it the need to interface the website among various legacy mainframes?  Was it a pandemic of incompetent contractors and subcontractors and sub-subcontractors?  Was it failing to beta-test and appropriately stress test the site?  Was it making a decision to front load information on the application shortly before going live?  Was it like I, Robot, there were just too many ghosts in the system?

Who knows?  And what’s more, I don’t particularly care.

This is why:  No matter what the problems are, there should have been a strategic imperative in place beginning three years ago.  That strategic imperative:  Defeating the thirty-year right wing meme of government can never be part of the solution — government is always the problem.

Since those holy words were laid down from the mountaintop by Saint Reagan, they have served as a convenient cubbyhole of last resort for every conservative’s weak refrain for continuing some form of human need.  This botched website experience has done nothing but embolden this excuse for inaction.

Spokes-apologists have been quick to point out that Obama, Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, and Secretary Kathleen Sebelius had no idea of the problems prior to the launch on October 1st.  While I’m sure the spokes-apologists believe that is an appropriate absolution, I think it is an indictment.  To foster an environment where bad news is buried by low-level staff is the most cancerous form of management and more over, it leads to abysmal policy and even worse execution.

I won’t venture a guess as to the ability of the President, McDonough, or Sebelius to engage in strategic thinking.  I do know strategic thinking is relatively rare with only about 12% of the population exhibiting a natural talent for it.  I do know if you want to see a CEO fall to the floor in a fetal position and openly weep, tell him/her they lack strategic thinking talent.  I do know nothing so completely inhibits strategic thinking more than an unbridled ego.  I do know, “If anything crashes, including a website, first look to the pilot.”

The ThinkerI also know this reads like the musings of Captain Hindsight, but in my defense, I will point you to previous posts about Obama’s horrendous inability to “make sense of experience.” Making sense of experience is essential to leadership and strategic thinking is a primary component of that ability.  When you render strategic thinking down to its essence, it is about seeing patterns — connecting the disparate, errant dots and making sense of them.  Leaders must do that for those being led.  Without it we feel rudderless.

The website will get fixed eventually so why is this important?  This is why:  One-half the states have opted not to expand Medicaid — think the old Confederacy plus those states wishing, “If only they’d had the chance.”  The refusal to expand Medicaid is just plain mean-spirited politics since the federal government pays 100% the first three years and 90% thereafter.  In these states many of the working poor are going to be out of luck, falling in the purgatory of being in between qualifications.  There are six to seven million people falling in this category — nearly half are from just four states, Texas, Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina.

This botched deployment of the Marketplace website just gives these states’  governors another excuse to turn their backs on Medicaid expansion.  Eventually expansion will occur, but according to experts don’t count on it before 2020.

There are few of us on this site who were Obama supporters in 2008, but when it came to a choice between agendas, we have persevered.  Over and above expeditiously and efficiently providing healthcare to millions, Obama missed an opportunity to disprove the governmental incompetence meme and reinvigorate a belief in government.  In many ways, cultivating renewed faith in government would have been a much greater legacy.  He blew it.

This is an open thread.

A super superlative Friday to you my Widdershin friends.  Here’s hoping the day is a great one.

To borrow the words of Sherlock Holmes, “There’s something afoot.”  There are indeed ill-winds blowing when it comes Core Valuesto our shared values.

The Syrian situation got me thinking about sustainable values — an essential element of leadership.  Values are those things we all come to have through our environmental socialization process.  We all have a core set of values.  They just differ in their makeup, intensity, and number.

The core values of some people are unmistakably pronounced.  The core values of others are hidden beneath layer upon layer of unattractive and unacceptable behaviors, but make no mistake they are there.  In speaking and teaching about core values, I firmly believe, “It makes little difference what an individual’s core values are, just that an individual has some sustaining values to serve as moral and ethical guideposts.  The most dangerous leader is the one who has no discernible core values or at the very least, negotiable core values.”

Politicians often prattle on about American exceptionalism.  For what it’s worth, if there is such a thing as American exceptionalism, it has been based in our societal values.  Regrettably for us and the world, those values seem to be waning.

The Syrian situation is a good example.  In our not too distant past, using weaponized chemical agents to indiscriminately kill children and non-combatants would have been an unspeakable atrocity to Americans — an assault upon our collective values.  Now, by a margin of almost two and a half to one, we hang and shake our heads, shuffle our feet and say, “Not our problem, no national interest over there.”

Another example of eroding values is cutting food stamps to millions of the poorest among us in order to funnel tax cuts and tens of billions in non-productive agricultural supports to multi-national agri-corporations.  It has indeed been a fast erosion of values when a $3.00 a day food allowance for the poorest of children falls victim to corporate largesse.

Take for example the decades of our collective chagrin at low voter turnout.  In this age of new values, state legislatures with the imprimatur of the Supreme Court can’t legislate fast enough to make it almost impossible through de facto disenfranchisement for large segments of voters to vote.

Or look at our borders where innocent babies were brought to this country, have grown up here, been educated here, speak perfect English, and know no other home, but now we can’t find a place for them in our new value system.

Value Word BubbleWithout a sustainable set of values, we become a rudderless raft susceptible to the ever-changing whims of fate and circumstance.  Without values, the “shining city on a hill” dims from a beacon to an afterthought.

The incentive to deemphasize our once unequivocal values is intense.  The conservative infotainment complex is awash with untested and fictitious stories to complete the day’s narrative.  Progressives wince and refrain from doing the heavy-lifting when it comes to standing against the political tide.  Both sides too keenly eye the next election cycle when it comes promoting sustainable values in the face of political expediency.

When confronted with tough choices in defense of a position, I have too often found myself muttering, “It’s the right thing to do.”  That is stupid.  I feel stupid as soon as I say it.  Trial and error have taught me something.

Without logical or emotional antecedent or predicate, to utter, “It’s the right thing to do,” lays one bare to the rabid rejoinders of those stoked with the anger of their unknown demons.  I’ve found it much more useful to cast away the general for the specific by asking:

“Is it the right thing to allow children to be gassed?”

“Is it the right thing to allow children to go hungry for corporate giveaways?”

“Is it the right thing to make it more difficult to vote?”

“Is it the right thing to tear children away from the only home they have ever known?”

Only the hardest hearts and the most cynically bankrupt minds could deny those values.  We have an obligation to one another to do a better job of reminding ourselves of the values that once made us exceptional.

This is an open thread.

Sorry to be posting so late this fine Tuesday. Over and above having a wedding hangover, I had difficulty getting the siteHead in Sand to cooperate, but Chat jumped in and saved my bacon and Fredster has helped a technologically blind man see. In any event, I hope this is a fine day for you.

It appears that 36 hours can indeed be the time needed to cure a case of Syrian stalemate. It doesn’t take a “rocket surgeon” to see the idea of dismantling and taking possession of a 100-ton cache of nerve agents was swirling about long before John Kerry threw out his off-the-French cuff statement in London yesterday morning. Within three hours both the Russians and Syrians said, “Yep, sounds good to me,” and shortly thereafter, the U.N. was all warm and fuzzy about the prospects as well.

The attractiveness to Russia and Syria was apparent — anything to buy time, forestall further weakening of Assad, and not strengthen the rebels. The U.N. is just glad and giddy about having some productive role and again not be relegated to feckless irrelevancy.

Over and above the issue of striking Syria in retaliation for the use of nerve gas, Obama has an opportunity tonight in his primetime speech. It is an opportunity to do something that he has been pitifully incapable of doing or to which he has been stubbornly resistant. He needs to make sense of experience — one of the tenets of leadership I’ve mentioned before in this space where he is woefully lacking.

It seems to me the threat of retaliatory strikes brought some strategic logic to the Russians and Assad. All well and good, but for Obama it is merely a small piece of a much larger leadership opportunity for both him and the United States.

Given the almost isolationist mood of the country, we are still suffering from the legacy of having been lied into the Iraq War. In that respect, we are still captive and vulnerable to the failed Bush policies. While learning from mistakes is admirable, allowing mistakes to guide future acts is myopic, a recipe for inaction, and becoming a reactor instead of a catalyst.

Simply put, Obama has an opportunity tonight to put the Syrian mess into perspective. He must elevate the issue beyond the sectarian civil war, he must make the issue about the use of agents of mass murder that have no place in a civilized world. He must make sense of our collective experience of looking beyond twelve years of Iraq and Afghanistan and call to our greater angels of not allowing rogue states to commit mass genocide without repercussions.

In many ways, this isn’t about Syria, it is about Iran, North Korea, Darfur, Rwanda, and any number of other third world despots yet to rise. Obama has an opportunity to bring the country along with a greater sense of morality and ethos in relation to our fellow humans. To fail to make the case for our shared values allows us to calcify into inaction and become hardened to atrocity.

With the threat of war being no longer imminent, perhaps Obama can move the dialogue to a place where it should be — enforcing an international treaty where acts of homicidal genocide are not tolerated. That is an aspirational and quite worthy legacy.

What do you want to hear from President Obama tonight?

This is a belatedly open thread.

Rubber band stretching

Our good friend and front-pager Prolix is having trouble getting in to the admin side to create his post so I’m more than happy to do that for him

Morning Widdershins — taking a line from Breaking Bad, here’s hoping you have an A1 day and if anyone offers you a trip to Belize, politely turn it down.

Every rubber band has its tolerance level.  You can only stretch them so far before they break.  As long as you stretch a rubber band within its tolerance, it will hold its form from Point A to Point B, but if you try and stretch it to Points C, D, and E without making allowances you will be rewarded with a snap.

Leadership is the same.

As we listen to the continuing harangue over the NSA’s data collection and Mayor Bloomberg’s Stop and Frisk Policy, we can see first hand the limits of the elasticity of leadership.

The Patriot Act, passed while the rubble of the World Trade Center was still smoldering, was an Act that stretched the plausibility of information collection to just short of a breaking point in the name of national security.  Now a dozen years later, there are other factors tugging at the frayed elasticity.

Stop and Frisk, started by Rudy Giuliani, began with meager beginnings and Mayor Bloomberg has grown it to over a half-million stops a year based upon nothing more than “furtive looks” or hands in pockets.  About ninety percent of these furtive looks and hands belong to minorities.

When you have stretched a rubber band to its breaking point, changing its configuration is a tricky proposition.  Just the same, no one wants to be the one who changed NSA data collection or Stop and Frisk when the results “could be” calamitous.  For those who have no responsibility or chance of a backlash, it is easy to call for changes because the result won’t catch them in the snap.

The challenge for leadership is to reconfigure the rubber band within the parameters of policy while easing the inherent tension — no easy feat.  The first step is understanding what led to the aberrant stretching and to dislodge them.  The second, is to reduce the inherent tension.  The third, is to make sure those aberrant forces that led to the tension do not return.

In the study of leaders, how do successful leaders go about this?  The first, is essentially teaching — making sense of experience — making sure people understand the parameters of the need to stretch the rubber band.  The second, and this is always the most difficult for leaders — lose the ego.

Leaders always conduct an inherently self-aggrandizing dialogue with themselves, “If only they knew what I know…”  A circuitous waste of time and a pitiful self-serving rationale usually resulting in anemic action at the pace of cold molasses.

Stretching the rubber band of leadership often has a direct correlation to the size of the ego and how deeply that ego is Rubber band stretching 2entrenched with the particular issue.  Mayor Bloomberg seems in full defensive mode surrounding Stop and Frisk and his defense seems more ego than fact driven.  President Obama seems more than willing to lighten the tension around the NSA since the Patriot Act was a Bush/Cheney creation, but even then, he is unwilling to significantly curtail executive powers.

These two issues are illustrative of measuring just about any act of personal leadership.  First, take no act in a vacuum without making sense and sharing experience and second, lose the ego.  Once you have taken measure of those two things, there won’t be any tension in the elasticity of your leadership and how far it may stretch.

This is an open thread.


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