Archive for the ‘Current Affairs’ Category

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.

What Machiavelli Could Have Learned From Mandela December 11 2013 no responses

macciavelliAlong with his many accomplishments in life, Nelson Mandela logged at least one more in his death. It’s hard to imagine that any other leader could generate the level of praise that Mandela has in the past week from such a wide spectrum of other leaders on the world stage. Obama in the U.S., Putin in Russia, Castro in Cuba and Assad in Syria were just a few of the heads of state lending their voices to the global chorus of tributes to the life and legacy of Mandela. It’s quite a remarkable feat to get the four of them to agree on anything but Mandela did it.

There’s been a lot written in the past few days about why Mandela was so universally loved and admired. At the same time that the remembrances of Mandela are being written, however, one of the most e-mailed articles on The New York Times website this week is an opinion piece by John T. Scott and Robert Zaretsky titled, “Why Machiavelli Still Matters.” In their article, Scott and Zaretsky describe Machiavelli’s 15th century book, The Prince as “a manual for those who wish to win and keep power,” and state that “Machiavelli teaches that in a world where so many are not good, you must learn to be able to not be good.”

It’s fascinating to me that in the same week that so many are singing the praises of the life of Mandela so many are also e-mailing an article on Machiavelli to their friends and colleagues. It’s an interesting window into the yin and yang of the human condition.

I have no idea if Mandela read Machiavelli but from everything I’ve read about the South African leader’s life, I’m pretty sure that he didn’t practice what Machiavelli preached. If, through some miracle of time travel, the two were able to have had a conversation about the practice of leadership, I think Machiavelli could have learned some things from Mandela.

Here’s just one example of what he might have learned.

The Life of Nelson Mandela: Archbishop Tutu Describes It Best December 6 2013 one response

mandela-tutuIt would take days to read through all of the histories, reflections and tributes to the life of Nelson Mandela. I took an hour or so this morning to read as many as I could. There’s so much that can be learned about leadership from the life of Mandela. With the humility, forgiveness, selflessness, vision, creativity, resolve, warmth and so many other traits that he exhibited, he embodied the term servant leader.

In addition to any other articles you read on Mandela this weekend, I encourage you to read the personal reflections of his long time friend and partner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu in today’s Washington Post. It’s a lovely and personal summation of the character of Mandela and the impact his leadership had on his country and the world.

What are your reflections on the life and leadership of Nelson Mandela?

Three Things Leaders Can Still Learn from JFK November 20 2013 one response

jfkThe coverage this week of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy is a stark reminder of the impact his life and death had on the United States and the world. With the perspective of fifty years, it’s easy to argue for or against Kennedy’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s easy to debate what he did or didn’t accomplish. You may think he was a great president or you may not.

Still, on this anniversary of his death, I would argue there are still some things that leaders can learn from JFK. Here (with links to JFK videos that illustrate the points) are three things that I think leaders can still learn from John F. Kennedy.

Mindful Mondays: Our Help is Needed November 11 2013 one response

typhoonAs you’ve likely seen in the news, a typhoon of historic proportions struck the Philippines this past weekend. As communications is reestablished and relief crews are reaching the stricken areas, it appears that at least ten thousand people died in the storm, entire communities have been wiped out and hundreds of thousands of people have been left homeless.

It’s hard to imagine but that kind of devastation could touch any of us at any time. If it did, we would welcome whatever help anyone could provide. As you consider that, I invite you to consider joining me in making a donation to the relief efforts in the Philippines.

There are quite a number of reputable organizations with strong track records in disaster relief that you can contribute to. Here are the links to a few of them:

Oxfam America

Unicef

Doctors Without Borders

If none of those organizations meet your criteria, search online for those that do. Any amount helps. If you can’t make a donation, consider offering a prayer or a thought for the victims and all those traveling to the area to assist them.

Three Ways Leaders Build (or Break) Trust October 30 2013 one response

trust-brokenIt’s a bad sign when a leader gets to the point where both friends and foes are asking, “What did he know and when did he know it?” That’s where President Obama is this week with lots of questions being raised about what and when he knew about big problems with the Healthcare.gov website launch and more than five years of NSA eavesdropping on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone conversations.

While I don’t take pleasure in writing this, my guess is the questions being raised over the past couple of weeks mark the end of the President’s ability to get much done during the remainder of his term. The healthcare and Merkel stories both get down to whether or not Obama can be trusted. Which, by the way, is not at all the same thing as whether or not he is telling the truth. That may be part of it, but it’s definitely not all of it.

The problems the President is experiencing now are representative of the interplay of three critical ways that leaders either build or break trust with their followers. These three factors, first articulated by the linguist Fernando Flores, don’t just apply to top government leaders or big business leaders. They apply to any leader from moms and dads raising their kids to small business owners serving their customers to the leader of the Free World.

They’re three simple, one word ideas that are easy to understand and remember. They’re critical for leaders that want to build trust and not break it. Here they are:

How to Keep From Getting Fired October 25 2013 no responses

jamie-dimonWhen the news came out last week that JP Morgan Chase had agreed to pay $13 billion in fines to settle a case with the U.S. government over the sale of “troubled mortgage securities” I asked myself, “How does their CEO, Jamie Dimon, keep his job? After all, it was less than a year ago that Chase lost $6 billion in bad trades made by the “London whale” and the company paid almost a billion dollars in fines on that one. And then there are the charges about the company offering plum jobs to the children of influential Chinese government officials.

I get it that Chase is a very large and complex organization and that mistakes happen and that one person cannot be personally responsible for everything that happens in an organization of Chase’s size. I also understand that Chase is still one of the top performing companies in its category even with all of its recent problems.

Still, it’s an interesting question to me how the top leader of an organization that’s going to pay out almost $14 billion in fines keeps from getting fired. A recent blow by blow account article in the New York Times about how Dimon has approached the mortgage securities case with the Justice Department shed some light on it for me.

Based on the reporting, Dimon has done at least three things that have helped keep him from getting fired. While few of us will ever run one of the largest financial institutions on the planet, there are some takeaways here that scale for leaders who find themselves dealing with big messes and nervous or angry stakeholders. Consider these three steps as companions to my recent post on “What to Do When the S**t Hits The Fan.”

Why Do Women Work Better Together Than Men? October 23 2013 3 responses

senate-womenOne of the few encouraging things that came out of the Federal government shutdown fiasco that ended last week was that the women of the US Senate were instrumental in working together to solve it. As reported in the New York Times and elsewhere, the women of the Senate from both sides of the aisle took it upon themselves to start talking and keep talking until they figured out a way out. While the men were squabbling, the women were solving.

Which raises the question, are women better at working together than men? And, if they are, why?

A recent article in The Atlantic (hat tip to Dan Pink for flagging it in his newsletter) summarizes a study released by the National Bureau for Economic Research titled “Are Women More Attracted to Cooperation Than Men?”. The answer appears to be yes “because men (generally) demonstrate more overconfidence in their own abilities and distrust in their colleagues’ aptitude.” Sounds like a finding that could have been ripped from today’s headlines.

What do you think? Are women better at working together than men? Why or why not?

Leadership Lessons from the San Francisco Plane Crash July 18 2013 no responses

My friend and Georgetown leadership coaching colleague, Bob Wohlsen, sent a thought provoking email to his friends and clients last week on the recent crash of an Asiana 777 jet liner at San Francisco International Airport. In it, Bob raises a lot of important questions for leaders and their colleagues to consider. With his permission, I’m sharing his thoughts on the Next Level Blog.  You can learn more about Bob and his work with leaders as well as contact him through his LinkedIn profile.

sfo-crashA few Saturdays ago, I was happily engaged around our house in the Bay Area, when I received an AP alert on my iPhone. I was stunned to read Plane Crash at SFO.  I hurried to our deck, where Miriam and I often enjoy watching the huge jet liners turn, line up with the runway, and descend to the airport. I was horrified to see a cloud of black smoke drifting over San Francisco Bay. As I soon learned, Asiana Flight 214 had clipped the seawall at the end of the runway and crashed. It was a tough afternoon to know of the pain and suffering going on nearby.

So, while the extremely capable NTSB teams are combing the wreckage, analyzing the data, and interviewing the crew to determine what went wrong and how to prevent it from happening again, I’ve been musing about what leadership lessons we can learn from the tragedy. Here’s what I’ve learned, based on the information I’ve obtained from news reports and the NTSB briefings:

Should Leaders Ever Lie? June 13 2013 7 responses

lie-detectorNews stories don’t get much bigger than this week’s revelation that government contractor Edward Snowden revealed classified information to The Guardian and the Washington Post that the National Security Agency has a program that collects and analyzes the phone records of millions of Americans.

This post isn’t a commentary on the NSA program or what Snowden did (although I agree with Jeffrey Toobin’s argument on why he should be prosecuted).

Rather, it’s about the question, should leaders ever lie? The question comes to mind because the Snowden case demonstrates that leaders of intelligence agency leaders have been less than forthcoming with the full truth when asked in Congressional hearings about systematized surveillance of Americans.

For example, as reported in the New York Times, in a March open hearing, Senator Ron Wyden asked the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, “Does the N.S.A. collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Clapper’s answer was “No, sir.  Not wittingly.” As further reported in the Times, “in an interview (last) Sunday with NBC News, Mr. Clapper acknowledged that his answer had been problematic, calling it  ‘the least untruthful’ answer he could give.”

The NSA story is a complicated, high stakes case with complex leadership choices and challenges. Most leaders don’t have to play at this level, but almost all leaders encounter situations when they have the choice to tell the truth or lie.  It can be helpful to understand your decision making criteria before you have to make that choice. Here are some ideas to consider if, as a leader, you should ever lie: