Archive for the ‘Current Affairs’ Category

Mindful Mondays: Considering Spock’s Legacy and Ours March 2 2015 one response

spock1When I looked earlier this morning, more than 1,000 people had left comments on The New York Times obituary of Leonard Nimoy, the actor who played Mr. Spock. Obviously, I haven’t read all of them, but I have looked at a few dozen. Many of them are quite moving in the way that they describe the impact that Nimoy’s portrayal of Spock had on their lives. Susan in Madison wrote that she’s a scientist at a major university and that as the news of Nimoy’s death spread:

“faculty office doors quietly closed for five to ten minutes, and then reopened, its occupant looking a little sheepish and bleary-faced. The role of Mr. Spock meant so much to many of us. Mr. Nimoy’s character made science cool, made being a scientist cool. Countless colleagues are STEM professionals because of him.”

A reader named Ron wrote that Spock “so inspired me as a child that I later went into nuclear submarines to do acoustic research then got my pilot’s license and flew for many years.”

Reading about Nimoy’s life and the impact that Spock had on so many leaves me thinking about the legacy we create with the life we live. The biggest insight for me on this came from Nimoy himself in a video interview he did for the Yiddish Book Center Wexler Oral History Project in which he describes the origin of the Vulcan salute (most often presented with the phrase, “Live long and prosper.”) You can watch it on the Times web site and you should because Nimoy tells the story masterfully.

It turns out that Nimoy first saw what became the Vulcan salute when he was a young boy taken to synagogue by his father and grandfather. The elders of the congregation conducted a mystical ceremony that ended with them extending their hands forward with the middle and ring fingers separated to make a V shape. It made a very strong impression on young Leonard.

Years later, Nimoy was shooting a Star Trek episode in which Spock was going to interact with other Vulcans for the first time in the series. He said to the director that they should have some kind of special greeting that Vulcans do. As he recalled in the interview, “Humans, we have these rituals, these things that we do. We shake hands, we nod to each other, we bow to each other, we salute each other. What do Vulcans do?”

Nimoy drew on the legacy that his father and grandfather bequeathed him and decided that the Vulcan salute would be a raised hand with the third and fourth fingers separated in a V.

In finishing the story, Nimoy recalled that:

“That just took off. It was amazing. Within days after it was on the air, I was getting it on the street. It’s been that way to this day. It’s almost 50 years later and people are still doing it. It just touched a magic chord. Most people to this day still don’t know what it’s all about. People don’t realize they’re blessing each other with this.”

Being present and paying attention – as a young boy and as an adult – enabled Leonard Nimoy to fully embody a character that changed lives in ways big and small. Some people chose career paths because of Spock, others have spent time extending a blessing to others without knowing it.

All of us, through being present and paying attention, have the opportunity to create legacies that can change lives. Sometimes we’ll clearly see the impact of that; most of the time we won’t. Some of us will have big platforms like an iconic television show to multiply the impact of our legacy; most of us won’t. All of it matters though.

As Spock himself might have said, live long, prosper and leave your legacy.

Angela Merkel Shows Leaders How to Lean In February 12 2015 no responses

angela-merkelGerman Chancellor Angela Merkel deserves to take the weekend off. As I write this, the outlines of a cease-fire in the Ukraine have been announced following an all-night negotiating session that Merkel and French President Francois Hollande mediated between the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The agreement wraps up more than a week of non-stop shuttle diplomacy on Merkel’s part that took her to Moscow, Washington and various other locations in Europe. Her schedule has left me wondering how she’s gotten any sleep.

Given his track record, it’s hard to be optimistic about the efficacy of any agreement that Putin signs on to, but you have to admire Merkel for pushing for a diplomatic solution to a dangerous situation. After all, what’s the alternative? Someone had to take the lead and Merkel leaned in.

I’ve been in Germany twice this month for business and have mentioned Merkel’s efforts to a number of German colleagues I’ve met. To a person, they all appreciate what Merkel has been doing. Several of them commented that while they didn’t support her when she first became chancellor they’ve grown to respect her seriousness of purpose and resolve.

Angela Merkel may not be the flashiest leader on the world scene today but she commands and, I think, deserves respect and admiration. She’s diligent, persistent, well informed, reaches out, is cool under pressure and makes her positions and priorities clear. In short, she shows leadership by leaning in and sticking with the issues that she thinks matter the most.

If you’re looking for a leadership role model, Angela Merkel strikes me as a good place to start.

Three Interesting Reads from the Week of January 26 January 30 2015 no responses

ereading1As the week wraps up, I thought I’d share three articles that have caught my eye and made me think this week. Here’s the list:

Bitcoin and the Digital Currency Revolution:  A couple of weeks ago I was talking with a CEO who told me that Bitcoin puts a lot of companies in the same position that Kodak was in at the beginning of digital photography. This essay from the Wall Street Journal is the best article I’ve seen for an explanation of how Bitcoin works and why it could be a game changer.

10,000 Hours with Reid Hoffman: What I Learned:  Ben Casnocha is a bit of a prodigy who wrote his first book, My Start-Up Life, while he was in college and has co-authored two more books with Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn. For the past three years, Casnocha has been in the room (or on the private jet) pretty much constantly with Hoffman while serving as his chief of staff. In this long write-up on his personal blog, Casnocha shares in bite size chunks 16 things he’s learned from working with Hoffman. My favorite: Reason is the steering wheel, emotion is the gas pedal.

A Note to My Readers:  Fifteen years ago, Andrew Sullivan started writing The Daily Dish, his blog of political and cultural commentary.  He was in the blogging game early and had a huge influence on how the form developed. In “A Note to My Readers”, he’s announcing that he’s quitting the blog and explains why. It’s a beautifully written rumination on choice and opportunity cost.

What have you read this week that expanded your perspective?

Mindful Mondays: What Do We Agree On? January 12 2015 2 responses

parismarch1Yesterday, millions of people in Paris and around the world marched in solidarity against hate and for human rights. In Paris, the march was led by 40 heads of government from around the world. On the front line, spaced four people away from each other, were Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.

By marching together, these two leaders along with the 38 others and millions of citizens in Paris and around the world showed a lot of mindfulness. They were all aware of the import of the moment and intentional in demonstrating a strong and clear stand for common values. Netanyahu and Abbas put aside deep and long standing differences to show their support for what they agree on.

All of those who marched on Sunday offer a perspective check for the rest of us. As we begin a new week and a new year, let’s stop and consider how we can work with and build on the values we agree on.

Seven Things Leaders Can Learn from Bill Clinton About Connecting with People November 13 2014 9 responses

bill-clinton1Delivering his monologue after the midterm elections last week, David Letterman was talking about President Obama’s low approval ratings and landed a great line:

“Take a look at this: gas under $3 a gallon – under $3 a gallon. Unemployment under 6%, whoever thought? Stock market breaking records every day. No wonder the guy is so unpopular.”

As Letterman said, before delivering his punch line, being President of the United States is a “lonely, lonely gig.”

Being an ex-President of the United States? Not so much. According to Gallup, the most popular ex-Prez is Bill Clinton. His approval rating earlier this year was 64%. There are probably a lot of reasons for that. Most Presidents are more popular out of office than in. In Clinton’s case, he likely gets a lot of credit for the work he’s doing through his Foundation. He also does a lot of public appearances and is a master communicator and connector.

Earlier this week, I got to see exactly how much of a master he is when President Clinton spoke to a packed house for the Los Angeles World Affairs Council. For just under 90 minutes, Clinton held an audience of 1,500 people rapt as he answered questions on everything from Ebola to education to Putin to what his most favorite thing was about being President (that last question was submitted by the moderator’s 4th grade son).

There were a lot of things I noticed Clinton doing that makes him world class at connecting with an audience. There were a lot of lessons that leaders can use to connect with their people. Here are seven of them:

What Leaders Must Learn from the NFL Fiasco September 18 2014 one response

nfl-logoThe speed and volume of the emerging fiasco facing the NFL has been breathtaking. In the first football weekend after the League’s response to the video of Ray Rice punching his fiancé, there were players with similar charges against them scheduled to play on Sunday. One was pulled just before game time; the other played.

The Vikings’ Adrian Peterson was suspended for Sunday’s game because he was indicted for child abuse a couple of days earlier. After the Patriots beat the Vikings soundly without their star running back in the game, the team reinstated Peterson for this week’s game. Then Radisson, one of their corporate sponsors, suspended their support. At 1:30 am the following morning, the team suspended Peterson again.

Meanwhile, a star player with the Arizona Cardinals has been arrested for domestic abuse, the NFL has recruited four prominent women to advise them on how to move forward and Tuesday night they staged a fashion show in New York complete with models from Victoria’s Secret to promote their new line of women’s apparel.


There are so many things that leaders can learn from this fiasco. The dangers of hubris, the need for transparency in the age of social media, the challenges of becoming huge in a relatively short amount of time all come to mind. All good lessons for sure but there is one lesson that I think leaders must learn and take to heart from the events of the past couple of weeks. It’s the requirement that leaders and their organizations be consistent.

The NFL Shows That Culture Change (Or the Lack of It) Starts at the Top September 12 2014 one response

uphillclimbIn the annals of interesting timing, it doesn’t get much better than an article that ran in the Financial Times this past Monday morning. It was a piece titled, “The HR Guy Cleaning Up NFL Locker Rooms” and described how the League’s new head of HR is on a mission to get rid of bullying, homophobia and racist language in the workplaces of the NFL’s 32 teams. As the new NFL CHRO, Robert Gulliver, said in the article, “Football is special and important, but this is also a workplace and we have to reinforce the idea that there are certain standards of workplace conduct.”

Nice sentiment. And then, as anyone who was exposed to cable news or the internet over the past week knows, on Monday afternoon the celebrity gossip site TMZ released the video of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking out his then fiancé (now wife) in an elevator. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had suspended Rice for two games a few months ago when another video clip showed him dragging his fiancé out of the elevator after knocking her out.  Hardly anyone felt like a two game suspension was enough punishment but Goodell stuck with his decision on Rice. He stuck with it until the second video of the punch became public. Within hours, Rice was cut from the Ravens and suspended indefinitely from the NFL. And now we’re down to a case of what did Goodell and the League know about the Rice case and when did they know it? The timeline will be investigated by a former director of the FBI.

Which brings me back to the Financial Times article. In opening the piece, the columnist Andrew Hill writes that “even by the thankless Sisyphean standard of such culture-change programs, the National Football League is beginning at the foot of the hill.” Later, in summing up the task before the HR chief Gulliver, Hill writes, “So if you are standing at the bottom of the mountain, worrying about the long ascent, remind yourself that the worst thing you can do is to delay starting the climb.”

Fair enough, but you can’t expect to make the climb by yourself. The challenge facing Robert Gulliver or anyone else responsible for a culture-change program is that there has to be alignment between what you’re asking people to do and what those same people see from the top leadership. The hypocritical, craven way in which the NFL has handled the Ray Rice domestic abuse case renders any meaningful chance of culture-change mute. Culture change doesn’t start with a program, it starts with top leadership. And, in that respect, the NFL is sorely lacking.

What’s your take?

What Leaders Can Learn About Trust from Vladimir Putin August 13 2014 2 responses

putin1Given his track record in Crimea and Ukraine over the past several months, you wouldn’t think there is much that leaders could learn about trust from Russian President Vladimir Putin. The shoot down of the Malaysian Air flight, the Russian-backed rebels, the troops massed on the Ukrainian border, the government-stoked propaganda in Russian media and the current “humanitarian” convoy that the Russian army is driving into Ukraine have blown the international community’s trust in Putin out of the water.

So, what in the heck could a leader learn about trust from Putin? It’s one of those what-not-to-do kind of lessons. An article in the New York Times about Germany’s changing relationship with Putin sets the table for the lesson. A longtime German politician named Gernot Erler is quoted in the article. Erler has been working on establishing a stronger relationship between Germany and Russia for decades. He’s done with that. As he said in the article:

“The policy of Vladimir Putin is destroying reserves of trust with breathtaking speed. Russia is not naming its goals and has suddenly become unpredictable. And being unpredictable is the greatest enemy of partnership. Restoring trust will take time.”

And in that quote is the lesson about trust. People won’t trust you if you’re unpredictable.

As I’ve written here before, my favorite explanation of trust comes from Fernando Flores. He believes trust is dependent on three factors: Sincerity, Credibility and Competence. You could argue that when it comes to at least the first two of those three factors, Putin has proven to be predictably unpredictable.

Of course, most leaders aren’t in a position to disrupt the world order in the way that Putin has, but, within their own domain, they can either do a lot of good or damage in the way they build or break trust.

If you’re a leader (or parent or friend or co-worker), it might be really useful to ask yourself on a regular basis, “What am I doing to build or break trust?” Taking a look at your sincerity, credibility and competence are a good place to start the self-exam. For good measure, you might want to throw predictability into the mix.

What’s your take? What are the most impactful ways to either build trust or break it?

Dan Snyder and the First Rule of Holes June 19 2014 one response

daniel-snyder1The first rule of holes is that when you’re in one, quit digging. Apparently, Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder didn’t get that memo. He’s in a deep hole and continues to dig.

Long time readers of this blog know that I am not a fan of Snyder. Back in 2009, I wrote a rant/takedown on his leadership style that, to my surprise, landed me on TV. I am sorry to report that not much has changed since then including his insistence on sticking with the offensive name of his team.

You may have seen the news that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has cancelled the Redskins trademark registration because its disparaging to Native Americans. Of course it is, as this devastating television ad that the National Congress of American Indians ran during the NBA Finals makes clear.

It’s highly unlikely that Dan Snyder would ever call on me for advice but if he did, my counsel would be simple – “Dude, stop digging.”

If you’re a leader, you will sometimes find yourself on the wrong side of an argument. When you do, the best choice is to acknowledge your mistake and look for a graceful resolution.

Chris Christie: “I am not a bully.” Not His Call to Make. January 9 2014 5 responses

christieAs I write this, Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, has just finished a press conference to explain why he’s not at fault for last year’s George Washington Bridge toll lane closures that created nightmare commutes and endangered public safety for the citizens of Fort Lee, NJ. As you may have read, emails have surfaced that prove that lieutenants of Christie engineered the lane closures in retaliation for the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee not endorsing the reelection of the Republican governor. The smoking gun was an email from Christie’s deputy chief of staff to his former campaign manager who worked at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey that said, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”

The story has been brewing for months now and, as has been his M.O. as governor, Christie recently blew off questions about it with jokes that implied people were stupid for even asking about it. Once the emails came out this week that proved that some of his top staffers were behind the closures, Christie expressed his “outrage” that this kind of thing had gone on.

There were a lot of notable moments in Christie’s press conference. One was when he talked about the “abject stupidity” of his just fired deputy chief of staff. Another was when he said, “I am not a bully.”

Alas, if you have to declare you’re not a bully, you probably are.