Posted tagged ‘leadership’

Who Is Rex Tillerson Working For?

October 2, 2017

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, by any measure, had a very successful career with Exxon-Mobile. Tillerson rose to the top and traveled the world negotiating important “deals’ which benefited Exxon and its shareholders. I would guess that in Tillerson’s mind, his Exxon time was near the end and a position as arguably the second most important job in the public sector, Secretary of State, would be the perfect capstone event.

I wonder how Tillerson thinks things are working out?

My guess again is that if Tillerson did not feel some other responsibility greater than himself, he would be out of his current situation in a heartbeat. Who in the world would want to work for Donald Trump, a “know it all” who actually “knows nothing”.

When Tillerson was tapped for the State job, Tillerson must have felt a great deal of pride and harbored all sorts of expectations about contributions he could make. It certainly has not taken long for Tillerson to recognize he is working in the Trump State Department and all the important calls are the boss’ to make.

While there is a similarity to a corporate board (final authority), Corporate Boards do not keep CEOs around unless they have full confidence in them. When that confidence begins to fade, the CEO is sent packing.

This past weekend President Trump put down his Secretary of State remarking that negotiating with North Korea was a waste of time and he (Trump) wondered why Tillerson was frittering away his time. For most cabinet members, and certainly most CEOs, those words would be clear enough to elicit an offer to resign. So far, not from Tillerson.

Pundits have speculated that President Trumps rebuke was scripted and the President was acting as the “bad cop” while Tillerson was the “good cop”. Could be but unlikely given the rest of President Trump’s actions to date.

An ominous and intriguing idea is that Tillerson along with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, while reporting on paper to the President, both think they report to a 5th Estate, some nameless group of “patriots” who think they hold the real strings to power.

For Democracy, this is a dreadful prospect. The Country has a Constitution and the lines of authority are clearly spelled out. There is no place for an unelected “board of directors’… or is there?


November 14, 2013

The President is called the “chief executive”.  I wonder whether anyone who has pursued this position has thought that title through?

“Commander-in-chief” is also used in reference to the President.  I think most candidates identify with that moniker because that sounds more like “I’m the top dog, what I say, goes”.  Isn’t reality a hoot?

President Obama fits in the “commander-in-chief” category.  He has spent a lot of presidential time

determining what is sound domestic policy given where the country is, or how to minimize risks foreign events are posing.  He seems to be dedicated to getting policy right and then leaves implementation to others.  If “others” did what they were supposed to do, the President’s policy decisions would sell themselves, he seems to think.

So far there does not seem to have been many “sales”.

President Obama in his private moments might also say, “Hay, I’m not that bad, look at the mess that George W Bush made… and left to me to clean up”.   Hmmm.

“W” was clearly a “commander-in-chief” type too.  To be sure, he seemed to love getting his picture taking and visiting with other heads of states.  He told the country he was the great decider.  Hmmm.  Some pretty awful decisions.  Hmmm.

Comparing the two, it seems “W” delegated and followed his staff’s recommendations.  Not much (maybe no) personal effort to decide a course of action.  Like in Texas where death row prisoners knew the outcome of their appeals before they filed them, “W” stuck to the script and did not wander.  Just the same, he came across as someone you would want to have a beer with.

President Obama has continued to drift further and further back from his first election spot light.  His oratory skills do not connect with his logic and decision making.  Most of the time we know what he wants, we just don’t know why.

Chief executives are about direction (vision), implementation (making things happen) and buy-in (motivating popular support).  An effective executive must get all three right. President Obama has vision (maybe not progressive enough for some) but he seems lost at sea on implementation and popular support.

History will cause our thoughts about Obama’s poor implementation and popular support to fade.   If the vision turns out to have been correct, the overall rating of the chief executive will rise.

If the Country wants better, we had better start electing chief executives instead of commander-in-chiefs. But then the chief executives will need to have more main stream visions.  Hmmm


What Makes A Good Leader

February 25, 2012

In this presidential season, everyone has an opinion on who should be the next President.  Some say President Obama has failed and therefore is unfit for another term.  Others say the GOP field is full of totally unqualified candidates.  The November elections is when a decision is made, but on what basis will that decision be made?

Being an effective President is about both leadership and policies.  Simplistically, saying “follow me” and then leading others over the cliff, no matter how dynamic or persuasive  those words are said, is not the leader you want.

Presidential leadership must consider both what has to be done and also how to get others to agree to do it.  It is possible “problems” can be solved in more ways than one. This makes the job of convincing others who hold a different view even more difficult.

Another problem all candidates, including President Obama, face is why what needs to be done is really necessary.  The rationale is not transparent.  For a variety of reasons, ranging from political ideology to outright co-option due to campaign contributions, it is almost impossible to determine whether a candidates position on any issue is due to principle, a political compromise, or due to personal advantage.  A sorry state to be sure.

So, regardless of which party win the White House, the question will remain whether the winning candidate can put forth a winning set of policies and rationale or not.  There are so many untruths and mistakenhoods that permeate our every day lives, what any politician may says should be view with a grain of salt.

There is, in addition to all of this, the unknown and unexpected.  Great Presidents result from successfully handling unanticipated situations.  For these occasions, it will be the temperament of the President under fire that will win the day.  This quality is not always obvious during the campaign process.

This November, the task facing each American is whether their choice for President is based upon a real understanding of the policies or simply an opinion about the person.

Regardless of each person’s rationale, they should ask themselves on what basis do I think these are the right policies or for what reasons do I think this is the wrong person.  Then, each should ask, why do I think his opponent has better policies or why is the other candidate simply a better choice to be President.

In reality, even with such a process, there is no guarantee that the person selected President will be successful.  Democratic elections are not science.  There is no absolutely correct answer.  The best we can hope for is that both parties (and any third parties) put forward competent and capable leaders.  Then we can chose what we think is the best from the best, and not the least worst from the worst.

He’s Not A Leader

October 10, 2011

“He’s not a leader”.  It’s been decided.  Most leading media spokespersons and pundits have concluded President Obama is a poor and ineffective leader.  Their evidence is the ranker in Congress and the weak economic vital signs.  So, there.

My question is what are we supposed to do with this information?

I remember the last Administration.  I remember a budget surplus disappearing and turning into a steady stream of deficits.  I remember the debt doubling.  I remember no action on reining in Medicare and Medicaid while at the same time adding an unfunded Medicare Part D.  I remember the start of two costly foreign wars, both with no end game in mind.  I remember the near total collapse of the world banking system following 8 years of regulatory slumber.  I remember from a bright start in January 2001 a ignominious descent from the world’s number one country to just another one.

So tell me again about leadership.

I also have read the news beyond the headlines.  Unemployment at 9.1% is a serious problem to be sure.  The vast middle class earning just about the same as it did 40 years ago actually represents a far more serious problem.

I have questions too whether it is Constitutional to mandate that all Americans must buy health insurance.  But I have far more questions about why America’s health care delivery system costs more than any other country in the world and delivers only average results.

I have questions why we do not see the need to borrow 40 cents of every dollar of spending a serious national security issue.  What do you think would happen to the interest rate we pay on this debt if there was a break down in relations with China?

I have questions about why taxes need to be higher when about 47% of American families do not pay any income tax today.  These are not the rich, rather these are the lower earning Americans.

What I can not comprehend is why we turn away from the information that each Congress member backs certain loopholes or outright tax credits for specific people or corporations.  Race horses?  Sam Adams beer?

But most of all, I have questions how reducing regulations (remembering the financial sector implosion) and lowering taxes, especially for the wealthy jobs creators who are not creating jobs (remembering the growing deficit and the 9.1% unemployment) can be a campaign platform of leadership?

I am inclined to agree that President Obama is not the leader I expected based upon his 2008 campaign rhetoric.  I think he has missed many opportunities to take principled yet unpopular positions but with the machinations of Congress, it is difficult to see how that would have made any difference.

With so many “safe” Congressional seats (thanks to gerrymandering), it is unlikely Congress will change its behavior after the next election.  Sadly, the strongest recommendation for President Obama might be that America will be safest from extremes with a slit Congress and a Democratic President.

In an ugly and disappointing period of American politics, maybe the slit outcome is the best way to remain in the center.

Central Falls Syndrome

December 15, 2010

In May of this year, the Central Falls, Rhode Island school board fired all its high school teacher.  The charge, failing to educate the student body.  The crime was not in dispute, the test scores and graduation rates were proof.  What was in dispute was who actually was the guilty party.  Later, the school board reinstated the teachers and classes resumed as normal this September.  According to a report yesterday on NPR, Central Falls High is in worse shape now than last Spring.  What really has failed?

This story, or something pretty close to it is being played out today all over America.  In inner cities, the crime is the same but the symptoms feature high drop out rates and violent and sometimes unsafe environments in the schools.  In the suburbs, test scores are not meeting goals and drugs run wild.  What these examples have in common with Central Falls is that teachers and the teachers’ union have been blamed.  Is this fair?

I remember my grade school teachers saying when you point the finger of blame at someone, remember there are three other fingers pointing back at you.

Anyone who has had children in public schools knows that not all teachers are “superman”.  They also know that the teachers union protects all teachers from any competency based complaints and works tirelessly to impose rigid work place rules.  The teachers union has made it nearly almost impossible to implement change in primary and secondary schools across the country.  But that is not the main problem although without changing the role of the union, public schools will fail.

As important and key to cause school under performance are three other factors.

  • Parents and the home.  Education begins with the parents and takes place in the home.  If the example a child receives from their parents is not one that values and respects education, the child is beginning many steps behind the start line.  The home is where a thirst for knowledge, a respect for authority, and the drive to complete a task is nurtured.  (This is not confined to an inner city phenomena).
  • Teachers as leaders first.  Most teachers have an adequate knowledge of their curriculum but flounder in the classroom.  These teachers loose control of their students and distraction rules.  Perfectly behaved students can lessen this impact but in today’s world, distractions abound.  A teacher must hold his students attention and lead them through the educational material.
  • Administrators must be leaders and develop other leaders within both the administrative and teaching ranks.  The administrative side of teaching has become the opposition that teachers and their unions fight.  Instead of seeing ignorance as the enemy, it is now the white shirts.

If the Central Falls of this world are to change, teachers must become leaders of students and Administrators must become leaders of teachers.  The union must step out of the way or seek to accept a supporting role as defined by administrators or teachers.  (For example, organizing leadership classes or outreach programs in engage parents).

Please note that I am indicating two of the three factors must change in order to improve our schools.    If a school district can increase the support and involvement of parents, results will only get better.  What do you think is happening in China?


Leadership Primer

November 25, 2010

Our Congressional leaders as well as our Presidential hopefuls are strutting about and talking about taking the country back to its people.  Regardless of whether you cringe at that thought, the slogan has been appealing to a population that has lost confidence that government can be a part of a solution to what ails the USA today.

Here is a way to judge these orators and sense whether they are blowing smoke or, in fact, have a clue how to lead the country to a predetermined spot.  (I would argue that George W Bush never wished that his leadership would lead the US to an unwinnable war like Iraq or the unsavory mess with Abu Ghraib, or the lack of necessary management that lead to Katrina, the housing bubble, and the financial sector implosion.  Rather it was his clear lack of experience leading a boy scout troop that allowed events to take control. “W” had no sense of leadership.  His only recognizable skill was poising for a picture taking.)

  • Leadership requires the leader to articulate a vision of a future state (such as a growing economy where all segments fairly participate).
  • Leadership also requires the leader to describe in unvarnished terms the current state of events (like an education system that serves to few despite enormous expense, a health care system that rates 16th or so in the world but costs 50-100% more per capita despite lacking universal coverage, or that not enough jobs are being created in order to support the life style Americans are used to.
  • Leadership is about voicing a strategy on how to move the Country from where it is to where the vision describes.
  • And lastly, leadership is about following a code of beliefs or values which describe the boundaries that government will keep within on the way to the new vision.

Most simply stated, cutting taxes is not a vision of the future.  Nor is invading other countries or waterboarding or getting government off the backs of its citizens a vision of the future.  It is certainly possible that these references may be part of strategy but by themselves are wholly incomplete.  (Waterboarding should be ruled out for anyone with a decent set of beliefs or values.)

Most all the Republican candidates lack any evidence of a vision or any idea of our current state but President Obama needs to pay attention too.  Change is not a vision nor is it a complete strategy.  President Obama, despite the popular Republican smears, has the makings of a good story.  The story is not self evident and will need to be articulate.  From that story, the President will have a good platform from which to lead.

24/7 Is Tough

January 6, 2010

The radio and television talk shows really have to work hard these days. The Bush Administration seemed to lay out fat eggs that any pundit or news reader could pounce upon. There was simply something to talk about all the time.  But not today.

With President Obama, the first 2-4 months were touch and go with whether the country would experience a serious depression or not. The next 6 months was consumed with health care and plenty of political rhetoric.  This was red meat that a good media pundit could play every which way. But slowly the rate of tabloid type of events has decreased. So what will they talk about now?

Last evening on MSNBC’s shout-a-thon, Pat Buchanan, claimed current events are showing that President Obama is not a chief executive, he is more like a professor. The prompting of this outburst was recent events where President Obama took days before responding formally to a breaking event. The Detroit “underwear” bomber was one case they pointed to. “Why didn’t Obama step up and fire someone”?

Sadly Buchanan may be right and that public opinion may conclude this.   Only time will tell if it will hurt Obama politically. As to whether the charge that Obama is not a chief executive, I believe we must wait since we are operating on too little information. There is a wide range of management styles that can be successful in leadership.

President Obama clearly feels more comfortable in a fact based, deliberative style. He appears to favor doing things “right” and preparing the land before acting. (As one can remember, Bush and Cheney subscribed to the “shoot now, think later” school of diplomacy and their results are all around to confirm how good an approach that was.) A leader who steps forward and hits the proverbial “home run” is always welcomed as the hero. Most people do not think that this same person had, through less rigorous leadership, risk everyone and needed an heroic act to save the day. A quiet, effective, and thoughtful leader can eliminate the need for a spontaneous, shoot from the hip, reaction. Again time will tell if Obama is a CEO or a professor.

The issue not to be overlooked is the 24/7 news cycle and its appetite for anything that be packaged as news, the sensational the better. If there are facts missing, no problem. The event will be reported as “breaking news” and no will expect all the information. We need to watch out that we do not believe these news readers until such time as the facts are on the table.