If you visit Mt. Vernon, Virginia or Quincy, Massachusetts at night these days you might hear some strange thumping sounds.
President George Washington in his farewell address in 1796 talked about the dangers of partisanship and the formation of strong parties.
John Adams, concerned with the Constitution’s limitations, said, “There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the Republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader and concerting measures in opposition to each other.”
So, the sounds you might hear in Mt. Vernon and Quincy are Washington and Adams flipping in their graves because their biggest fears have come true. The system they helped design has morphed over time, especially in the last 40 years, into a system that does not benefit citizens, only the political stakeholders within the two-party system.
(This is my 250th article and took several weeks for me to process and write so I hope what I learned might help you think differently about our government.)
Why Competition in the Politics Industry is Failing America. For about 15 years I taught strategic planning and during every course my students would read about and use Michael Porter’s Five Forces Framework to analyze the competitiveness of different industries. Porter is one of the world’s most astute experts on the structure of industries and how these structures impact competitiveness and serve customer needs.
About a month ago I listened to a podcast that stopped me in my tracks. It was a Freakonomics podcast called America’s Hidden Duopoly and it included Michael Porter and Katherine Gehl talking about their study of our Country’s two-party political system, which they concluded is a type of industrial monopoly they call an “uncontrolled duopoly”.
Porter and Gehl used Porter’s Five-Forces Model to evaluate the “Politics Industry,” which they say is now a “private industry.” The evidence they used to conclude our two-party political industry is indeed an uncontrolled monopoly or “duopoly” is very compelling. Their report finishes with suggestions for how we citizens can begin to change this monopolistic system.
Here are the key points I found most interesting. (In full-disclosure, because I do not want to misrepresent their great work, I often copy their words exactly as I try to give readers a shortened snapshot.)
The political system or industry isn’t broken. Our two-party “politics industry” that we have today is financially very healthy and is even growing. It is healthy because the competition between the two parties for their own interests is quite robust. Over the last 40 years, especially, the politics industry has morphed and been re-designed to grow itself. In most industries, this is a good thing. However, the problem now is this particular industry only serves itself and not the public it was originally designed to serve.
Citizens should expect four outcomes from a healthy political system and currently the two-party system delivers none – zero. The four outcomes are:
(Photo by Estée Janssens)
Practical and effective solutions to solve our nation’s important problems while expanding citizen opportunities. Historically our government has done this, but the researchers found no examples over the past 20 or more years.
Action. By action the authors mean legislation that actually matters and gets enacted.
Reasonable broad-based buy-in by the citizenry over time. Good solutions should be able to gain support across a wide-range of citizens with varied beliefs. This requires leadership that is ahead of popular opinion and can inspire citizens, not divide them. Today’s structure gets its strength by dividing.
Respect the constitution and the rights of all citizens. Good solutions reflect the rights of all citizens, not just special interests or simple majorities.
The current political system is now a private industry that sets its own rules. It has become a type of monopoly called a duopoly. A duopoly is an industry controlled by two entities – two entities that make all the rules. These rules are mostly customized to benefit just the powerful stakeholders / customers within the industry at the expense of the less powerful. In a conventional duopolistic industry, like the soft drink industry with Coke and Pepsi, there are several external forces including Antitrust laws that impact the rule-making. There are no such external forces that impact rule-making in the politics industry.
There are five customer groups in this industry. The two parties prioritize service to these customers based on “the two currencies of politics – votes, money, or both.” Here are the customers from most powerful to least powerful:
Partisan primary voters
Special interest groups
One piece of research Porter and Gehl referred to regarding customer power was when researchers studied 1,779 policy issues handled by Congress, they found that average voters and non-voters had a statistically “near-zero” impact on those actions. They also found that politicians from both parties talked a great deal about these groups and the issues they faced and did virtually nothing for them.
The structure of the politics industry has created unhealthy competition that fails to advance the public interest. When the writers get into the structural problems of the political industry and the competition between the two players, you can really appreciate their expertise. Porter’s strengths are in his assessment of competition and how it shapes industries. Here are seven key points about competition in the politics industry and why it can be viewed as a type of monopolistic structure.
The two parties control all five key “inputs” into the industry – candidates, campaign talent, voter data, idea suppliers, and lobbyists. As a result, new political parties cannot gain access to these inputs. If “new entrants” can’t access the most important inputs, you have a monopoly. (SAW Note- The first major case and example was the Standard Oil Company owned by John D. Rockefeller, which controlled all the oil inputs. Standard Oil was broken apart in 1911 after the Supreme Court ruled they were violation of the Sherman Antitrust law.)
The two parties’ control “media channels” for reaching voters. Because of partisan and special interest messaging, each party has coopted significant social and broadcast media outlets, which reinforces partisan competition and limits third party access.
The two parties have erected nearly impossible “barriers to entry.” There have been no major parties created since the Republican Party in 1860.
The “rivalry” between two competitors in a duopoly is constrained to avoid mutual destruction. Both parties know they each benefit when they reinforce their differentiation and separation from each other. They really compete by dividing up their customers into two ideological bases and reducing or eliminating any overlaps.
Competing on division reduces accountability to a broad range of voters. Division allows each party to offer voters poor choices between either/or solutions. Examples are big government vs. small government, free trade versus protectionism, and regulation versus deregulation.
Competing on division avoids compromise and reduces making real progress on important issues. A major law only passes now when one party has a majority and forces the law down the throat of the other party.
They only cooperate when they make rules that make the industry stronger and create more barriers. Some examples include – Partisan primaries that draw all of the voters attention; gerrymandering or changing district lines; ballot access rules; fundraising biases that hurt independents; and governing practices within Congress that work against compromise.
The current structure has three devastating implications for citizens. First, the current system provides no incentives for the parties to solve problems. Second, there is no accountability for results. Third, and I think most important, there are no countervailing forces to restore healthy competition. For example, there are no antitrust laws that apply to our political “industry”, although in the podcast the authors did mention there are some people studying whether our two-party political system might be challenged in court using our Sherman Antitrust laws.
The system has gotten worse over time. Using data and sample bi-partisan efforts like Simpson-Bowles, No-Labels, and the Concord Coalition, the authors show how since the mid-1970s the two parties have tweaked the rules of the system so much that very thoughtful bi-partisan efforts are fruitless and unsupported by leaders trying to satisfy more powerful bases.
The situation is not hopeless, there are strategies we can execute. I liked how the authors did not just analyze the two-party political industry, they made recommendations for how we can repair the system. Their strategies propose fixes to these four “pillars.”
Restructure the election process. Several of their ideas for this pillar are being tried now in different places. Here are several-
States should move away from party primaries and establish a single, non-partisan “top-four” primary. The votes for all the states’ top four candidates are added together and the top four vote-getters nationally enter the national election.
(Photo by Arnaud Jaegers)
Institute ranked-choice voting in all general elections with instant run-offs. This ensures that no one candidate is elected without a majority. Maine was the first state to do this for a general election in November 2018 and it did affect the outcome.
Institute nonpartisan redistricting based on a fair method. This ensures that undemocratic advantages are not given to one party or another.
Rewrite debate access rules for presidential elections so candidates of other parties have equal access.
Restructure the governing process. Eliminate partisan control of House and Senate rules and processes. Of all the pillars, this appears to be the most challenging because it would require Congress itself to change its own rules.
Reform money in politics. Money is very influential and restricting it without violating the First Amendment is challenging. Porter and Gehl point out that by changing many of the other rules will make “investments” in politics less attractive.
Open up near-term competition, without waiting for structural reform. Of course, if states can continue to push for ranked-choice elections like Maine this will be a beginning. Porter and Gehl also recommend implementing the Centrist Project’s “Senate Fulcrum Strategy.” This is a movement to elect three to five centrist independent U.S. Senators, which would be a way to break the current gridlock in Washington.
I think the last time we heard the thumping sounds in Mt. Vernon and Quincy was during the Civil War. Since I don’t see another Abraham Lincoln on the horizon, my hope is we citizens think about the analysis done by Porter and Gehl and take control of our country and end the current Uncivil War.
If you are in business or work as a police officer, it is hard to do good today. Between social media and what seems to be lots of angry people and lawyers, no good deed goes unpunished.
That is why this cool story from 1959 caught my eye. It happened in the eastern Maine community of Calais, which is right on the Canadian border. The story was shared by Al Churchill, a local attorney there and writer of a Calais historical blog we enjoy and often published at the St. Croix Historical Society website.
The characters in this story are the local state trooper, Francis “Bull” Powers, the local newspaper editor, Jay Hinson, and the owner of a popular motel with beautiful water views, Mrs. Harry Heslin.
Calais Advertiser Story from 1959. “After she and her husband had once been extended the courtesy in Texas a few years ago, Mrs. Harry Heslin, co-owner of Heslin’s Cottages on the River Road, had always wanted to stop a tourist on the highway and offer them a free supper, a night’s lodging and breakfast.
“As part of publicizing Calais’ 150th anniversary she decided to ask State Trooper, Frank “Bull” Powers, and Editor Jay Hinson to stop an out-of-state motorist on the afternoon of July 3rd and extend the offer of hospitality.
“Trooper Powers pulled over a dozen cars for “routine inspections” while he and Hinson queried the travelers about their plans. Three people were actually asked to stay over but declined with thanks because of having to meet schedules.
(Advertiser picture, left to right: Mrs. McKay, Mrs. Heslin, Mr. McKay, Beverly McKay, Melvin McKay and Trooper Powers)
“Finally, a car from Ontario drove up and stopped. The driver, Fred McKay of Catherine Ontario got out and unfolded a sad tale to Trooper Powers. Mr. McKay, his wife and two children had driven from Waldoboro, Maine that day and somewhere along the line had lost their luggage carrier and four suitcases and all their belongings off the top of their station wagon. They had notified the Sheriff’s Department, who had been trying to contact Powers.
“Powers and Hinson decided to kill two birds with one gift and extended Mrs. Heslin’s offer of supper, a night’s lodging in a beautiful, newly decorated room and breakfast. While they were spending the night the trooper said he would attempt to find the luggage. Mrs. Heslin welcomed the family, brushed away their fears and presented Mrs. McKay with a fine gift.
“While they were talking, Trooper Powers called his Orono, Maine headquarters on the radio and gave them the necessary information. Then, just like they do in the storybooks, Trooper Darrell Hartley of Pembroke interrupted to say that he had found all four suitcases and the luggage carrier and that he was en route to Calais. That did it. The McKays were just about broken up with joy and relief and apparently overwhelmed by Mrs. Heslin’s generosity. The McKays met Trooper Hartley in Robbinston, Maine, retrieved their belongings, and returned to Heslin’s Cottages where they spent a very happy and memorable holiday.”
Steve Comment. Can you imagine what would happen to a State Trooper today if he did this? Or what could happen to the newspaper and business once one lawyer filed some sort of law suit on behalf of one of the dozen drivers stopped with no probable cause?
Of course, we can all do good today, but sometimes it gets complicated. Fun to remember when doing good was simple.
I did not hear any of our political leaders apologize to the 800,000 federal workers they used as poker chips during the record government shutdown. As I thought about it, I couldn’t remember many other apologies for past political decisions either.
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
This made me wonder why more leaders don’t apologize and if they did, what made the apologies effective or not.
Why Do Most of Us Willingly Say, “I’m sorry?” If you have any level of empathy, it is naturally human to feel badly when your actions hurt someone else. Beginning at a very young age most of us are taught to offer repentance for any of our actions. Apologizing is one form of repentance.
Let’s be honest, apologizing can also be a selfish action. Why? Because when our actions hurt someone, we usually feel guilty. Apologizing reduces that feeling of guilt.
Most of our apologies are given to people close to us – people we have relationships with. We intuitively realize that when we hurt the other person, our relationship has been damaged. Their trust in us has been diminished. An effective apology can help rebuild that trust. More about that later.
Why Don’t We See More Leaders Apologize? In researching leadership apologies, there seem to be three reasons we don’t see very many. First, the people harmed by a leader’s decision do not have a close relationship with the leader – they are too far removed. Therefore the leader does not feel the loss of trust firsthand and is less compelled to feel the need to apologize.
Second, many leaders lack empathy or, at least, see it erode as they rise-up to the highest levels. They have learned how to use power to advance through the system and believe they have advanced because their decisions are good.
Finally, leaders often see the costs of an apology are too high.
(Photo by Felix Koutchinski)
Costs of Apologizing. The cost of apologizing for leaders can be substantial. A “cost” can be political or financial. If a political leader publicly apologizes to people harmed by a decision, he or she may be viewed as being weak. And, no doubt, they will see or hear their apology and weakness used against them in the next political campaign. Thus, their political advisers tell them not to apologize.
The most widely reported reason business leaders don’t apologize for mistakes, however, is financial. Financial damages or costs come from either legal action or a loss in reputation.
Last week I listened to a podcast called Apologetical on RadioLab. I learned that until recent years it has been widely known in legal circles that when a person or business says something like, “I’m sorry for this, it was my fault,” this can be used against them as an admission of guilt. Thus, most business leaders are advised never to admit they or their business did something wrong and to never apologize.
However, that began to change in 1986 when Massachusetts passed the first “I’m Sorry” law to protect individuals and organizations for apologizing. Now, over 30 states have some form of these laws on the books.
Research is showing that when businesses and organizations develop processes for letting leaders and employees personally apologize for harmful actions, the financial damages drop substantially. One interesting case described in the Apologetical podcast involved an infant death at Stanford’s Hospital. The outcome of this powerful example was that the mother did not sue the hospital and was later actually hired as a parental advocate. (The story starts at about 33 minutes into the podcast, if you are interested.)
How to Make an Effective Apology. Quite honestly I never think deeply about how to make an effective apology. Like most of you, I just do it. But then I listened to and read about business apologies in the article How to Optimize Your Apology published by Freakonomics, and I see helpful suggestions to apologize better.
(Photo by Lina Trochez)
According to Karen Cerulo, a cultural sociologist at Rutgers, we need to remember the purpose of an apology is to begin to rebuild trust. She goes on to say there are three things you don’t want to do as you consider an apology. First, don’t delay, do your apology quickly. The longer you wait, the deeper the resentment and the harder it becomes to reduce the harm felt.
Second, do not apologize for what people thought, apologize for your actions. Her example is if you hear yourself saying, “I’m sorry people misunderstood me,” that’s wrong.
Third, don’t use context to justify what you did, harmed parties don’t care. Context is when you try to explain what outside forces impacted your behavior.
Cerulo concludes by giving us a very simple three-step formula for constructing the most impactful apology. First, describe the harm done to the victim; this validates how the victim feels. Second, express how sorry you are. If you feel it will help your relationship, tell them why you are sorry. Finally, if possible, say what you are going to do to help rebuild the lost trust or mitigate the damage.
From my reading, I have one other piece of advice – remember to do what you say in step three. This is your “commitment” to the victim. If you don’t do this or you commit the same offense again, their level of trust in you drops further than if you did nothing.
And maybe that’s also why some leaders don’t apologize – they know what happened once will likely happen again.
Maybe it’s just me, but lately I’ve been baffled by some decisions people make. Quite often I say to myself, “What Were You Thinking?”
Dogs making bad decisions, like getting a head stuck in a cat door, now that’s understandable. But managers and leaders have something dogs don’t have, the “ability to reason.” At least that’s what I learned in biology class.
A few weeks ago I watched Jamie Dimon’s interview on C-SPAN after Joe Leddy recommended it to me. Dimon is the CEO of JP Morgan Chase and is a great example of a competent leader. Given how most of us feel right now about leadership incompetence, Dimon is a breath of fresh air. Even if you only watch a few minutes, you will quickly see how Dimon oozes common sense.
AP Photo of Jamie Dimon
Common sense, a commodity in short supply these days, is at the center of good decision-making. Dimon in his interview offers five suggestions for making good decisions and I have added five other tips I use.
Ten tips for making good decisions.
Never make a decision when you are angry. (Dimon)
Never make an important decision on a Friday. Wait until Monday. (Dimon)
Never make a decision when the wrong people are in the room. (Dimon)
Never make an important decision when you have the wrong people on the team, execution will fail. (Dimon)
Never promote someone you wouldn’t work for. (Dimon)
Don’t promote someone into a leadership role you wouldn’t want at your Thanksgiving table. (Ryan Mountain)
Don’t make a decision when your choice “is the lesser of two evils”; find another solution. (Steve)
Never make a decision solely because it is the lowest cost. (Steve)
Never make an important decision mostly because you like the person presenting. (Steve)
Never make an important decision when you lack information and are up against the clock. Get a new clock. Sometimes making no decision will get you a better outcome. (Steve)
I hope these tips help you or someone else you know make better business and leadership decisions.
It seems like it was just a few years ago that we relied only on our faithful mail carriers to deliver our very few mail order packages. And most of this mail was delivered by two legs on the sidewalk.
But two relatively new consumer habits have changed all that and are helping clog our streets – 1) Single product, online purchases from places like Amazon; and 2) The use of Uber and Lyft.
And soon a third force is going to really impact traffic – driverless vehicles commonly called autonomous vehicles or AVs.
Package Delivery. In the days leading up to Christmas it seemed like I saw more delivery trucks swerving around each other than passenger cars. And, in many cities, these trucks were doubled-parked everywhere causing further traffic problems.
As I mentioned in my last article Holiday Wonder Ugly Sweater or Food holiday package delivery has exploded. This year the big three – Post Office (915 million), UPS (814 million), and FedEx (588 million) delivered 2.3 billion packages between Thanksgiving and New Year, up 64 percent or 1.1 billion packages since 2013.
These are just holiday stats – this buying behavior is the new norm and isn’t going to change anytime soon. I read somewhere, that over 50 percent of these deliveries are single package or “micro” deliveries. This increase in “micro-deliveries,” especially in cities, is having a profound impact on traffic.
Use of Uber and Lyft. Sam Schwartz was for many years the chief engineer of New York City’s Department of Transportation. Today he is one of the world’s most prominent experts on traffic. His new book No One at the Wheel: Driverless Cars and the Road of The Future, includes many fascinating observations on the history of and future of traffic, especially in city areas. (I also recommend Terry Gross’s interview with Schwartz on her program Fresh Air.)
Regarding Uber and Lyft, Schwartz writes they really caught city transportation officials off-guard and have had two unintended and significant side effects. First, they have increased the number of single passenger cars driving around in cities. And these cars actually drive 60 percent more miles in the city than the average car and with only one person on-board, the driver.
The second side effect is that 50 percent of Uber passengers in New York City come out of mass transit – therefore there are fewer bus and subway passengers. In California, Schwartz notes, 33 percent of Lyft passengers say they use Lyft instead of public transportation.
So Uber and Lyft, a real convenience service for consumers, contribute to more traffic congestion and put price pressure on transit authorities.
Impact of Autonomous Vehicles. Schwartz says autonomous vehicles will be the most disruptive technology worldwide since the invention of the automobile over 100 years ago. And while safety continues to be the biggest technological barrier facing the industry, he writes how several other industries are going to be impacted. Several he mentions, which I wrote about in my article Leave the Driving to Your Car, are:
Most AVs will be owned by fleet companies and leased or borrowed by consumers. This will reduce the need for local repair shops.
Car dealerships catering to consumers will largely disappear.
Truck drivers of today will become obsolete as long-haul transport becomes automated.
Insurance companies will shrink because automobile crashes caused by human error will decline significantly. Schwartz says one-third of the auto insurance industry deals solely with accidents. This will also impact the auto-body repair facilities.
Fewer crashes means fewer court cases. This will impact the court systems and legal profession.
Schwartz also writes about how AVs will likely increase traffic because there will actually be empty cars on the road which are not on the road now. One example, your car delivers you to work, then drives empty back to your home or to a nearby parking lot.
He also envisions many positive trends. One that intrigued me is the automated medical vehicle that could be a mini-treatment center on wheels – it could come to an accident, your home, or your workplace.
Selfish Drivers and Gridlock. Schwartz, who is credited with inventing the term “gridlock”, also notes how much selfish drivers contribute to traffic problems by blocking intersections. This behavior causes more gridlock than anything else and is why many cities now issue expensive tickets to any car that blocks an intersection during a red light.
Schwartz, now an urban traffic planning consultant, sees many changes that could improve the roads and how traffic could flow in the future. And, while this could be decades away, he believes if transportation and governmental people work together, we should be able to improve traffic flows that can handle the increased volume.
This may be true, but only if we exclude people currently in Washington. Otherwise we’ll need to turn back to just the two legs on pavement method of yesterday.
Why is it we can order an ugly holiday sweater on-line and have it delivered tomorrow, and at the same time throw away 40 percent of our food while 40 million Americans don’t have enough to eat?
This is one question I am curious about this holiday season. Ultimately the food problem is a distribution challenge in need of leadership and there is one leadership story on the food front I’ll share in a moment.
Package Delivery Innovation. This week I happened to spot this 1931 picture of a New York City post office flooded with packages at Christmas. Since the zip code wasn’t created until 1963, imagine how difficult it was to sort these packages.
In contrast, look at this picture from a Mark Spera post of a typical high-speed distribution center today.
This holiday season it is expected UPS will deliver 750 million packages, FedEx 400 million, and the Post Office around 15 billion pieces of mail.
This is wonderful example of innovation in the world of distribution.
Amusing Innovation. A side effect of the huge increase in home package delivery is the increase in package theft. Daring thieves in simple disguises ignore the many cameras now in place to photograph them and steal our ugly sweater packages off our front steps.
One very clever customer, Mark Rober, a former NASA engineer, has fought back. Perhaps you are already a follower of Mark’s antics. But, if not, you’ll enjoy this 11 minute YouTube video showing how he trapped package thieves with built-in package cameras, fart explosives, and, just for the holiday season, glitter bombs.
Food Distribution Innovation Leader – Maria Rose Belding. I have long been involved and interested in feeding and housing people in need. And, given our massive innovations in distribution, I have been perplexed why we throw-away so much food when so many people are hungry.
Maria Rose Belding – CNN Photo
My brother-in-law, Vic, shared with me the wonderful story of Maria Rose Belding. When Belding was only 14 years old in Pella, Iowa she volunteered in her church’s food pantry. Before reaching college, she developed a passion and an idea for an on-line database that would get expiring food into the hands of people who need it.
Then, as a freshman at American University, Belding connected with Grant Nelson, who wrote the computer code to create a free online platform called MEANS – this database connects businesses with extra food to charities that feed the hungry.
Just last week Belding, 22, won CNN’s Hero Award for how she successfully created this nationwide system of 3,000 partners in 48 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
Belding, who has natural leadership and entrepreneurial talents, cleverly dealt with many challenges including some in the legal realm. You can read or view her story at this CNN Link.
Maria Rose Belding’s story is a hopeful one – one we all need this holiday season.
Last week many Americans paid their final respects to George H.W. Bush, our 41st President. I had a very high regard for President Bush, as many people here in the seacoast of New Hampshire and Maine did. Thousands of we locals met him, as I did four times including when I played one hole of golf with him a few decades ago.
Our daughter, Alie, has fond memories of serving he and Mrs. Bush when working at Foster’s Downeast Clambake, a Maine business owned by our friend Kevin Tacy, who did a dozen or more clambakes for the Bushes in Kennebunkport and at the White House.
So, I especially appreciated watching his funeral and reading more about him last week. I try my best to avoid politics in my articles and focus only on leadership lessons. Like many others, however, I could not avoid applying the leadership lessons President H.W. Bush taught us to our current President, sitting on the aisle at the funeral right across from the Bush family.
You be the judge. Here are five leadership gifts I took away from the life of President H.W. Bush last week.
Do the right thing and stay humble. In his article on the University of Virginia’s website Dean Allan Stam writes how President Bush had the courage to raise taxes in 1990 just two years after he said, “Read my lips, no new taxes.” He believed a tax increase would stabilize the country’s debt/deficit situation, a position I have long supported. And he did this knowing his Republican supporters would not be happy.
Stam goes on to write, “With the benefit of hindsight and with his passing, GHW Bush leaves us with a powerful lesson about doing the right thing as a leader. Making choices that benefit your whole organization or community at the displeasure of key individuals may hurt you in the short run, but it is the long run that really counts.”
At Bush’s funeral Senator Alan Simpson said this of President Bush, “Those who travel the high road of humility in Washington, D.C., are not bothered by heavy traffic.”
Engage the disengaged. My friend Steve sent me a very interesting story told by Dana Perino. President Bush during his time as the head of the CIA once saw a young CIA agent in training sitting alone eating lunch. Bush approached him and asked if he could eat with the young agent. Bush asked many questions and learned the agent was uninspired by the teacher and his colleagues. By the end of the conversation Bush had inspired the young agent by reminding him that if he continued to withdraw, he was hurting his classmates and the mission of the agency. Why? Because they would be missing the gift of the agent’s insights.
Reminding the disengaged what they bring to the team can inspire them.
Don’t hate anyone – hate changes you and how you view others. During his eulogy Senator Simpson said President Bush hated no one. He reminded us of what President Bush said to him, “Hatred corrodes the container it is carried in.”
Hate changes the leader and distorts how he or she views and subsequently treats other people.
Stop talking, ask questions, and listen to people close to the action. Our Pastor, Reverend Emily Heath, in her sermon last week referenced a NPR Interview with presidential historian, Jeffrey Engel, who spoke about President Bush’s remarkable ability to ask questions and then sit back and listen.
Specifically Engel talked about how when Engel read phone transcripts of President Bush’s telephone calls with many world leaders at the time of the break-up of the Soviet Union and the unification of Germany, he was stunned by one thing – how little Bush talked. Every call had Bush asking questions and then long stretches of sections where Global leaders talked and Bush just listened.
This was a time when the world was in a very vulnerable position and listening accomplished three objectives – it gave Bush more information about what was really happening in vulnerable places, the leaders grew to trust him, and it calmed down leaders who were getting pressured internally to take action that might have undermined the progress.
Don’t take yourself seriously, people will trust you more. There are many articles like this one by Michael S. Rosenwald in which we learn how President Bush used humor all the time to keep the work climate more comfortable. And he loved to make fun of himself, especially when he said things that made no sense. Like when he said, “Fluency in English is something that I’m often not accused of.”
President Bush loved it when comedians did impressions of him and grew to especially enjoy Dana Carvey. I learned last week that Bush even invited Carvey to an event at the White House to cheer-up his staff right after he lost the 1992 election.
One of the best eulogies was by Bush biographer, Jon Meacham. When Meacham tried to tell a President Bush story in Bush’s voice, he reminded us of what Dana Carvey said about how to do a Bush voice. Carvey said, “The key to a Bush 41 impersonation is to imagine Mr. Rogers trying to be John Wayne.”
He was kind and firm.
These are just five leadership lesson gifts I have appreciated from President George H.W. Bush. I hope they can be gifts that keep on giving, we need them more today than ever!
One of the problems with low-unemployment is that young workers find it too easy to quit and find another job. What they do not understand is that quality employers recognize this pattern as a symptom of low resiliency and often pass on hiring them.
Photo by REUTERS/Brian Snyder
At least that used to be the case.
Many employers are getting so desperate today they ignore this symptom and hire candidates knowing they might be short-term solutions. And, of course, all this does is enable the low-resiliency job jumpers unless you add resiliency-building to your work culture.
What Can Employers Do? Resiliency is a very important quality we look for in team members. Why? Because we know everyone will encounter challenges at work and we want to know how they are going to react to it. Resilient people understand they will bump into adversity and want to fight through it and learn from it, not run from it.
I think there are three things an employer can do to help construct a resiliency-building culture. First, ask two important interview questions. Second, introduce effective coaching in first few days on the job. And, three, practice actions that help people build “grit”, a phrase coined by Angela Duckworth in her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.
Photo by Tim Gouw
Two Interview Questions. If you are not a professional interviewer, you might not think to ask these two questions that get right to the heart of resilience –
Tell me about the biggest obstacle you faced, what you did, and what you learned from it?
Tell me about the toughest feedback you have received and what you learned from it?
The answers to these two questions give us wonderful insight into the resiliency capacity of the person. If it becomes clear they have little proven resilience-capacity, and you want to take a chance and hire them, then you should focus on coaching them in a way that helps them build this capacity.
Effective First Week Coaching. Whoever will be supervising this new hire should practice Connector Coaching and beginning on day one include objectives the new hire will need to learn to achieve and receive feedback about. When they learn to receive feedback, they are building resilience.
If you read my article No More Negative Waves, Coach you might remember that younger workers often only want feedback that “confirms” their strengths. Here is one of the steps I wrote about that can help coaches during that first week –
Before a coaching session begins you should have at least three clear objectives for yourself, the Coach. First, address how you will act in a relational way during the session. This means how you will behave to strengthen your relationship with the person (eg. they feel valued, confirmed or validated). If stumped, think back to when a motivating coach made you feel valued and confirmed – what did they do? Second, develop in advance an opening “problem framing” question that leads to an objective. And, third, develop a closing “next steps” question.
To give an example for the second and third steps let me use one from one of our business units. In this business we provide personal services to individuals with disabilities and the writing of “progress notes” is critical. A “problem framing” question could be, “Why do you think we need to write progress notes for the individuals we serve?” A follow-up question could be, “What skills do you think you need to write an effective progress note?”
A closing question could be, “What are a few things you need to do beginning this week to master this skill as soon as possible?”
You likely noticed how these questions put responsibility for development back on the person. This subtle, but important step, helps to build resilience.
Actions that Help People Build Resilience or “Grit.” Angela Duckworth also refers to resiliency as “grit” and defines this as “having the passion and perseverance to achieve especially long-term goals.” If you missed my articles a few years ago on Duckworth called The Link Between Grit and Success here are links to Part 1 and Part 2.
One of the interesting concepts I took away from Duckworth’s book is how parents and team leaders or coaches can help others develop grit. Here are four you might find helpful.
Follow-through. A personal quality coaches and parents should teach and model themselves is “follow-through.” Many studies including the Personal Qualities Project conclude that children who develop a follow-through capacity are grittier and become successful team members and workers.
Practice the “hard thing” rule. While Duckworth writes about this in terms of families, I think it can apply to the workplace. The “hard thing” rule means everybody in the family or on the team, including parents/supervisors, work on one specific hard thing at a time. In the family this could be music lessons, a new sport, language lessons, tougher exercise, or college classes. In the workplace it could be a stretch project. No one can quit the “hard thing” until a long trial is complete. And you cannot quit the one hard thing until you have another hard thing to replace it. Although Duckworth writes that for teenagers every hard thing should last more than a year because it helps build resiliency, follow-through, and grit, I think this also applies to the workplace.
Conserve your praise. While you should encourage children and your team members, be careful not to always praise them for doing something well when the they did not. (I would guess Duckworth is not a fan of programs where all the children get trophies.) Teach the team member to try something a second or third time to make it better. The sooner you do this with very new workers, the more it becomes part of their natural behavior.
Don’t be an overbearing coach. As I wrote about in the Connector Coaching article don’t be an overbearing coach, this erodes intrinsic motivation. Leave space in a team member’s schedule for learning and exploration.
In conclusion, if you are a job-jumper yourself, I suggest you explore why you are switching jobs. Perhaps you need to add resiliency-building to your list of development goals, it will make all the difference in your long-term professional development.
In a moment I have a connection challenge for you.
Workshops on storytelling and writing narratives are very popular for leaders right now. Why? Because good stories create human connection. Better connections with team members help us inspire and retain them. Creating a connection with a candidate can make all the difference in recruitment.
Our Love of Stories. Our company is in its 37th year and most of our senior team has been together for between 20 and 25 years. I believe one of our cultural threads is that we are open, we like each other, and we can laugh at each other. How? We tell stories.
One example is that when we each hit our 20th anniversary we have a kind of celebration/roast for the person in front of our whole management team. When it was my turn a few years ago they staged a Jeopardy game with my colleague Ryan playing Alex Trebek and another colleague, David, playing me. (And he was very funny, I just watched the video again.) All the answers and questions in the game were related to something unique about me – it was fun.
My favorite answer-question was the following:
Answer –Steve says this before he tells a story.
Question – What is “Stop me if I’ve told you this story before.”
As I go around and visit all our managers and teams almost everyone has heard me say, “Stop me if I’ve told you this story before.” They rarely stop me and I’m grateful for their indulgence and hopefully the stories have some redeeming value.
I know I tell stories because it is my way of building a connection with a person or group. And, because I am a lifelong teacher, I understand that when I can use a story to connect the learner to a concept overall learning improves.
And, as Uri Hasson, a neuroscientist at Princeton, says, “When you tell me a story, our brains get coupled in a very real way.”
The Challenge. If you are in a leadership role or aspire to be, here is my connection challenge for you – write and orally deliver a talk titled – This isMy Story That Inspires Me to Work Here.
“I’m Just Not a Good Storyteller.” I know I am only an average storyteller and some of my stories are delivered better than others. But I know the more I do it the better I get. I have heard some of you say, “I’m just not a good storyteller.” And I say, “Now is your time. If you want to be a successful leader in the future this is a skill you need to master.”
Step 1 – Discover Moth Radio. If you ever want to passively learn about storytelling, I strongly recommend you listen to The Moth Radio Hour. The Moth is where people tell brief stories about whatever theme has been selected for the night. Dan Kennedy, the host, has many tips for storytellers. I also recommend Moth champion, Margot Leitman’s article Six Rules for Great Storytelling on the Fast Company site.
Step 2 – Understand the Purpose of Your Story. Before you craft your story, it is important you know the story’s goal or purpose. Is it simply to make a personal connection? Is it to teach a point or concept? Is it to inspire someone? Is it simply to entertain?
The reason you want to think about the purpose is that it helps you construct the story. Sometimes you have the basics of a story already in mind, but you might wonder what to do with it. Thinking about your purpose lets you begin to think of how the story is relevant, how you might connect it to your objective, and, finally, how you will arrange the pieces of your story.
Step 3 – Remember the Story is about the Listener. I found Jasmine Bina’s advice in her article How To Tell A Story People Will Never Forget very enlightening. She reminds us, “The stories people remember — whether they are brand stories, personal tales or cultural narratives — are the ones that reveal something about the listener, and you can’t do that if you‘re stuck in the perspective of the teller.”
Her advice is connected to my Step 2 in that when we think about our story’s purpose we must think about what’s in it for the listener.
Step 4 – Never Forget Your Characters. In case you hadn’t noticed, all good stories have human characters in them. Even my family and friends who like dog, cat, and bird stories will notice that the good stories have people characters in them. This is how we truly connect with the listeners. So, invest in understanding your main character and his or her trials, tribulations, and emotions because he or she is your foundation.
A few weeks ago when I wrote about using Improv to improve your coaching I referred to Alan Alda’s book If I Understood You, Would I Have this Look on My Face?. In the book Alda told us about the scientist David Muller of Cornell University, who recently invented the thinnest layer of glass – only one molecule thick. This invention, which will likely impact the future of chip technology greatly, got almost no attention.
But as Muller learned in one of Alda’s story-telling classes, talking about atomic structure and molecules just didn’t work as a story. But when Muller talked about how he and his assistant, Pinshane Huang, invented the glass by mistake, suddenly he had a story that resonated with an audience and got international attention.
Step 5 – Follow a Simple Process to Construct Your Story. In the same book, Alda wrote about how Christine O’Connell, who teaches story-telling at the Center for Communicating Science, reminds us that every good story follows this basic flow.
We introduce a situation and character or ask a question.
We build suspense and present obstacles.
We create a turning point for the character.
We resolve the situation and conclude.
Step 6 –Practice Telling the Story. Begin this final step by telling yourself the story, out loud. Work on your timing and language and how you pivot from building suspense to and through the turning point. Then carefully construct your ending for optimum impact. This closing or “resolution” should link back to your purpose. It is the lesson you want the listener to think about, again and again.
Finally, tell the story to a family member or friend or co-worker. Pay attention to their reaction so you can tweak the story in places where it is needed.
A Few Examples. Although he did not know it when this was recorded, I think this two-minute video by Ryan Mountain on our website very closely achieves my challenge – This is My Story That Inspires Me to Work Here. See if you can see how Ryan goes through the story construction flow suggested by Christine O’Connell.
In my article a few weeks ago when I wrote about trust and Joe Leddy I tried to challenge myself to create a story that satisfies this topical challenge – This is My Story That Inspires Me to Work Here. That story is at the end of that article.
I think it is a good time to celebrate entrepreneurs because without them the world would be a far darker and undeveloped place. Since this month The Walt Disney Company will celebrate both Mickey Mouse’s 90th birthday and Disney World’s 55th anniversary, I thought it would be a perfect time to revisit the life of Walt Disney, arguably the world’s most creative entrepreneur.
Mickey Mouse continues to be one of the top one or two best known characters in the world and is the image most closely connected to Disney. What many people don’t know is that Disney is the largest entertainment business in the world and owns such well-known businesses as ABC, ESPN, Disneyland, Lucasfilm, Marvel, and now 21st Century Fox.
I enjoy talking about Walt Disney, the entrepreneur, because his passionate creativity never accepted “no” or “you can’t do that” as an answer. In fact, those responses often inspired him. Disney was a man who never saw “barriers”, only new opportunities.
A few years ago I read Walt Disney – An American Original by Bob Thomas. From stories in Thomas’ book I’ve noted here 10 examples of Disney’s entrepreneurial determination, optimism, and creativeness.
When he was 20 In 1922 in Kansas Walt quit his $60 a week job (this was 3 times the average wage in America) to launch his own animation business called Laugh-O-gram Films. He raised money from investors and took a huge pay cut. By 1923 the company had failed and he had no money. Deciding to head to California he worked to raise cash for the train ride. With $40 and one suitcase he bought a first-class ticket and headed west. Who would buy a first class ticket in this situation? An optimist.
By 1928 Disney successfully produced his first animated cartoon Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. What he didn’t know was his New York distribution company unethically hired away his animators so as to force Disney to reduce the value of his contract. It would not be the only time his “partners” would hire away Disney workers to try and gain leverage. As usually happened, Disney remained positive and sent a positive message to his brother, Roy, “Keep your chin up…we will be able to laugh last – that’s the best laugh of all.”
On the trip back to California Disney put the finishing mental touches on what would become Mickey Mouse. He then inspired his remaining team, dealt with serious financial challenges, and created Plane Crazy, the first Mickey cartoon based on Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic. He then went against all the leaders in the movie industry and became the first animator to add voices to another Mickey film called Steamboat Willie.
In 1932 after his chief animator had been hired away by his distribution “partner”, Disney again decided to go in new direction – add color to the cartoons at a much higher cost. Disney was the only one who saw the potential. His brother thought the cost would get no return. Walt knew that color would mean their short animations would have longer runs in theaters and they would earn more money downstream. He was right.
In 1934 short animations were becoming unprofitable so Disney wanted to make a full feature film. The cost was at least $500,000, a huge sum for their small studio. All his advisors told him he was crazy. He held a meeting and personally acted out and told the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The team understood his vision and they made the film, which grossed $8,000,000 worldwide ($100,000,000 today.)
In 1940 the company’s financial condition was in peril. Roy Disney had a meeting with Walt in which he started to outline the seriousness of the problem – Walt started laughing. He couldn’t believe how much they had grown from the days when they had trouble raising a few dollars and now they owed banks 4.5 million dollars. The mood shifted and the Disneys decided to go public and raise extra funds.
World War II seriously impacted the Disney Company. Throughout the difficult period Disney stayed positive and helped the government by making many military films and even used Donald Duck to convince Americans to pay their income taxes.
By 1952 Walt Disney knew that a high-caliber amusement park could be created using many of the Disney characters that had been created over the past 25 years. Again his family, advisors, and Board of Directors didn’t agree – the Board argued it was a different business. Disney countered with, “Disney is in the entertainment business and that is what amusement parks are.” So he created a separate business and funded it initially by borrowing on a life insurance policy.
At the same time, Walt thought television would also provide a great extension for Disney. He then wondered if he could get television to effectively fund the development of Disneyland. Yes they would. ABC agreed to invest in Disneyland if Disney would produce a weekly show, which started as Disneyland and then became Walt Disney Presents. Around 1960 Disney switched to NBC because it would allow Disney to broadcast in color. Many years later after Walt Disney’s death Disney would buy ABC, which it still owns.
Walt Disney knew that Disneyland was really only serving people west of the Mississippi. So he thought they needed to build another amusement park, on a much larger scale, in the east. One of his last significant entrepreneurial acts happened during a secret flight east in November 1963. During that flight he and a few other executives flew around mid-Florida, often at low altitudes, in search of land. That night they stopped in New Orleans and learned that President Kennedy had been shot. By the time they got back to California, everyone knew the vision for Disney World.
Walt Disney was a man whose optimism and “can do” attitude defines the word “entrepreneur” and inspires us still today.