Enlightened Conflict

questionable civil discourse, calm the rhetoric … and leading

June 14th, 2017

obama sad thoughtful tough

 

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“We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us. I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.”

 

—-

Barack Obama on January 12th 2011

 

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On a day which we are faced with someone who decided to take a gun and shoot words rememberpoliticians … and appear to target politicians … I am reminded of several things.

 

The first thing is the rhetoric.

The rhetoric of the citizenry but mostly the rhetoric of our elected leaders. I say that because words have repercussions.

 

Yes.

 

I do believe in personal responsibility and choices are made by individuals.

 

But I also believe leaders lead with words <because most of us cannot view their actions>.

 

And if our elected leaders treat their words as if we will not remember them forever.

 

And if our elected leaders treat each other as if they are truly enemies <and even use that word on occasion>.

 

And if our elected leaders treat each other as if the opposite’s behavior is unfathomable behavior for sane, moral people.

 

And if our elected officials treat each other with verbal hyperbole as the standard rhetoric discourse … and the highest of the elected leaders, the president, tosses out the word ‘unity’ on occasion but 99% of the time does nothing verbally or behavior wise to unite … well … the electors will be tempted to do as leaders do.

 

We need to calm our rhetoric. We need to remind ourselves what we teach our children … that you don’t always get what you want and that most progress sis made in mutual effort.

 

We all need to be speaking more calmly and acting more civilly but we should be demanding our elected leaders do so. I get angry with how they act and what they say because it suggests to people that is behavior we should all embrace — and it is not.  Stop, and stop it now.

 

speechless

 

The second thing I am reminded of is one of the best speeches President Obama ever made.

 

To share my thoughts I will borrow <steal> liberally from a NY Times article written by Helene Cooper and Jeff Zelenyjan. The article was Obama Calls for a New Era of Civility in U.S. Politics and it shares the speech Obama gave on January 12th 2011 in Tucson after the shooting of a US Congresswoman and the deaths of 6 other people.

 

Apparently Obama wrote much of the speech himself the day before.

 

I suggest everyone read the speech but today I will share highlights because it is a nice reminder on a day on which we need some reminders.

 

 

President Obama offered the nation’s condolences on Wednesday to the victims of the shootings here, calling on Americans to draw a lesson from the lives of the fallen and the actions of the heroes, and to usher in a new era of civility in their honor.

 

The president directly confronted the political debate that erupted after the rampage, urging people of all beliefs not to use the tragedy to turn on one another. He did not cast blame on Republicans or Democrats, but asked people to “sharpen our instincts for empathy.”

 

It was one of the more powerful addresses that Mr. Obama has delivered as president, harnessing the emotion generated by the shock and loss from Saturday’s shootings to urge Americans “to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully” and to “remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together.”

 

“At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized, at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do,” he said, “it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.”

 

The president led an overflow crowd at the evening service at the University of Arizona in eulogizing the six people who died on Saturday and asking for prayers for the wounded, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who the authorities said was the target of an assassination attempt.

 

He warned against “simple explanations” and spoke of the unknowability of the thoughts that “lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man’s mind.”

He suggested that the events should force individuals to look inward, but also that they should prompt a collective response against reflexive ideological and social conflict.

 

While the tone and content were distinctly nonpolitical, there were clear political ramifications to the speech, giving Mr. Obama a chance, for an evening at least, to try to occupy a space outside of partisanship or agenda.

 

“If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost,” Mr. Obama said. “Let’s make sure it’s not on the usual plane of politics and point scoring and pettiness that drifts away with the next news cycle.”

 

suicide losing care“If, as has been discussed in recent days, their deaths help usher in more civility in our public discourse,” Mr. Obama said, let us remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy — it did not — but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation, in a way that would make them proud.”

 

In the end.

No, I do not believe we will learn anything from today’s event <or the other shooting events that cost people’s lives today> but maybe, just maybe, we can start talking to each other like we don’t want to shoot the other person if given an opportunity. That is a good start.

confusing America First and Economics First

June 1st, 2017

normalizing america bad behavior values phoenix

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“America is great because she is good.

If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

 

Alexis de Tocqueville

 

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“We Americans are a do-it-yourself people.

We are an impatient people.

 

Instead of teaching someone else to do a job, we like to do it ourselves. And this trait has been carried over into our foreign policy.

 

Nixon from his Silent Majority speech

 

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So.

 

It is a little difficult to unpack everything happening with regard to “America First” and what it means for America short term and long term.

 

trump embarrassed point leader bullyI have a lot to suggest on this topic but because there is so much let me offer some overarching ways of viewing it all. I would also like to note that I am purposefully using Trump as a reference point and not Republican or Trump administration because I believe we would be incredibly shortsighted to not believe that his personal views on how the world exists <in his mind> do drive his behavior and the decisions being made:

 

  • How Trump views the leadership concept of dragging up versus dragging down

 

  • How Trump views rules & regulations

 

  • How Trump views I versus team

 

  • How Trump views uncertainty

 

  • How Trump views life only through a dollars & cents lens <driving an economics first, and only, view>

 

All of these views drive America First … all of which <I would suggest> actually encourage an America Alone strategy. In addition … to a larger extent … all actually encourage an “every man for himself” attitude <kind of an extremely perverse version of traditional conservative ideology>.

 

Dragging up versus dragging down

 

As of this writing I have no clue whether America will stay in the Paris Climate agreement but I will use it as an example of how Trump views America leadership and leadership in general <because it applies to almost everything he is doing>.

 

Leaders understand that to lead you need to ‘drag up’ behavior. This comes at shift up or downan expense in that you are demanded to do more things and act a little ‘better’ without any real compensation.

Yes. This makes Life harder for the leader and mostly offers no additional compensation for the extra effort. You do it because it … well … leads behaviors and attitudes.

 

For example, part of the Paris agreement was that United State had higher standards. This certainly places a burden on American companies. It also translates into an innovation push to meet those standards. And, ultimately, because we lead in innovation the rest of the world will eventually buy our innovations. This leadership also encourages other countries to ‘play up’ as close to United States as possible. Our ‘compensation’ for our better behavior may not be apparent short term but bears the fruits long term <and it is what leaders do>

 

Conversely, if United States drops out, the overall leadership standard drops and, as any organizational study will tell you, the overall tide of standards will sink lower as things get dragged downwards.

This is, simplistically, why leaders have higher standards in business. It drags the organization up … and not down.

 

Trump does not understand this. Nor does he believe in this. I feel comfortable saying this because if he doesn’t understand how his current behavior drags down … well … everything it is indicative he doesn’t understand dragging up.

 

 

Rules & regulations

 

I took a big gulp as I found a list of regulations the Trump administration has obey ruleseliminated while we were watching the general incompetence <by the way … I am not suggesting eliminating things is any less incompetent because even on that Trump seems to follow an “if it exists it should not exist” strategy and not “a thoughtful consideration of its impact” type decision> of Trump leadership.

 

Think of it is this way. Trump believes if there had been no rules & regulations he would be the wealthiest man in the world. He has never found a rule or regulation he has ever liked. He also believes that if he thinks that everyone should think that. I have written about capitalism a zillion times and I have argued that unfettered capitalism simply brings out the worst in people and increases inequality. Rules & regulations, done well, tend to herd behavior <and everyone makes money>.

 

Trump doesn’t think rules apply to him so why wouldn’t we expect him to eliminate rules so he doesn’t even have to pretend he plays by the rules.

 

I versus team

 

Trump has never been part of a team nor does he have any desire to be a team leader. How this translates into his decision attitude is that the global interconnectedness is irrelevant to him. No. He actually thinks it is a negative.

We are not a global team seeking to win but rather it is ‘every man for himself.’ Unfortunately this attitude also cascades down into domestic policy.

 

And because I used the Paris Climate deal earlier to make a point on something else I will do so again here. One would think it would be remarkable that someone who has not appointed someone to run the White House Office of Science and Technology <a person who traditionally serves as the President’s chief science officer> or has the majority of posts on the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology <a group of civilian science and tech leaders who advise the president> unfilled would feel qualified to make this Paris decision.  However, if you do not value a team effort and believe “I” is all that matters then the qualified support doesn’t really matter and, in fact, could negatively affect “the I.”

That is what he is doing with … well … everything. “I” is all that matters … ‘fuck office-politics-navigator-sledgehammer-business-jerks-speechthat team thing.’

 

All that said. Everything Trump does and supports gives the finger to anything that could be construed as a team effort. It is “I” in the world. “I” as a country. “I” as a business and … well … “I alone” is the mantra.

 

That said, “it has always been about me and just me” bleeds into everything Trump believes and does.

 

Uncertainty

 

Suffice it to say Trump views uncertainty as a positive <with regard to everything> therefore he is willing to commit to no long term plans or vision and , at the same time, spin the wheel of the ship to wrench it in some direction yet to be identified. It also seems to me that wrenching the entire system 180degrees creates what I offered up as the biggest flaw in Trump’s way of doing business — uncertainty.

 

He does this because he thrives on the belief America will ultimately benefit from uncertainty. He believes that America will swoop in now that is it is free from the shackles of the ‘old order’ <way of doing things, deals, regulations, etc> and dominate what … well … we plans-plus-certainty-fail-uncertaintyalready dominated.

 

The country that has spent decades constructing an international construct based on free trade, multilateral cooperation, a global alliance network, and the promotion of democratic values has now chosen as its leader a man who detests any structure supporting any & all of those things. He wants a demolition derby hoping his car is the winner.

 

This is a bad idea. Very bad. And, once again, while I am disappointed in Trump I am even more disappointed a business man <the secretary of state> thinks this way because it ignores business 101.  Well. It ignores business 101 depending on whether you think America is special, exceptional in some way or that part of what makes America distinct in the world is not the bigness of our economy but rather the bigness of our idea.

 

That said, Trump doesn’t believe in big ideas he only believes in big money. Oh. If you have no ideas the only way to make money is to take advantage of uncertainty. The problem is that America is built on an idea & ideals and not money and while we may <if we are really lucky> benefit economically we will do so at the sacrifice of our ideas, ideals and leadership in this uncertain world Trump desires to play his dangerous game in.

 

Leaders don’t act with uncertainty as their compass they use certainty to lead. Of course, Trump wouldn’t know how to lead even if given an instruction manual with lots of pictures.

 

The dollars & cents lens <economics first>

 

I am not a diplomat or some foreign policy expert but I admit that I took a big gulp the other day when I saw secretary of state suggest that America should american global comercial ineterstmake economic and security needs above American ‘values.’ It seems to be that everything will be decided on an exchange of money and not on an exchange of ideas <where value is a combination of economics and values>. Yes. This means that everything and everyone will be viewed through a dollars & cents lens — if you have money, let’s talk.

 

US foreign policy, Tillerson said, is guided by fundamental values, but he cautioned: “If we condition too heavily that others must adopt this value that we’ve come to over a long history of our own, it really creates obstacles to our ability to advance our national security interests, our economic interests.”

 

Well.

 

This seems horribly misguided.

It seems to me while USA is in the ‘doing & making & selling shit” business we are also in the “doing & making & selling shit with values” business.

It seems to me that USA should not really be in the “partnerships of convenience” business where we can conveniently set aside our values & ideals but rather we are in the “partnership with ideals” business where we are delighted to do business with you but you are gonna have to accept the fact we are gonna showcase freedom, democracy and what we believe people deserve.

 

But, that’s me, because to Trump everything is marginalized excepting economics <money>.

 

Let’s be clear … our values don’t get in the way of our economic interests. To believe that is to not believe in ‘value’ <in which premium price relies on some value equation above a dollar is a dollar>.

 

Anyway. Dollars & cents seems quite short sighted. As Gen. George Marshall, Army Chief of Staff, commented in 1945, Washington could no longer pursue a narrow conception of national interest or limit its strategic horizons to the Western Hemisphere: “We are now concerned with the peace of the entire world.”

 

To me, the pursuit of “America First” can often be accomplished best by protecting and defending the rights of others which actually includes economic relationships.

 

On that note I dug up a speech made on December 20, 1951 by Dean Acheson which laid out a view of American foreign policy very different from Tillerson’s:

 

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The greatest asset we have in all the world—even greater than our material america one heartbeatpower—is the American idea. No one needs to tell an American audience all the things that this holds for us. It is so much a part of our everyday lives that we do not stop to define it, or to put it into packages for export. But throughout the world, wherever people are oppressed, wherever people dream of freedom and opportunity, they feel the inspiration of the American idea.

 

What we are trying to do, in our foreign policy, is to make possible a world in which our own people, and all people who have the same determination, can work in their own way toward a better life, without having to bear the yoke of tyranny.

—————-

 

Look.

 

I have always known the Trump administration would be putting economy, money, above all and I did outline some concerns I had about attacking a foreign policy based on transactional relationships in some past pieces … but it now has become a reality … it is commerce over conscience.

 

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“Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.

Steve Maraboli,

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I think this is a little crazy to think this way as a country. Money is the currency of survival in today’s world and offers an ongoing temptation for “well, just a little bit more would be nice.”

I would be naive to not understand that while 90% of us know money isn’t everything … that same 90% knows money is something. I mentioned it that way because it becomes easy to think money as a ‘this or that’ thought, everything or nothing, and, yet, in this case it is not everything but is certainly still something.

 

That said … Money is 100% everything to Trump and I think Trump yielding the high ground to simply gain some perceived temporary ‘economic advantage’ is simply wrong and will come back to haunt us.

 

To be clear … Trump wouldn’t recognize the high ground if it smacked him in the face.

 

hope light at end of tunnelIn the end.

 

Whew.

 

“The U.S. is, for now, out of the world order business.” <Robert Kagan>.

After more than 70 years, American internationalism was pronounced politically dead.

 

What is really stunning, and upsetting, to people like me is that now the United States is going backwards. It is simply beyond me that we are steering ourselves toward antiquated systems and antiquated thinking rather than moving forward to leading in innovations and ideas. I can only feel a sinking feeling in my stomach as the rest of the world understands what Trump, and his administration, apparently does not … that the United States is about to give away the markets, the technology, the innovation, the jobs and … the leadership. The unifying thread through Trump’s agenda appears to be an attempt to resurrect an earlier antiquated world which marginalizes future considerations and maximizes short term considerations culminating in a stunningly self-destructive United States act of diplomatic and economic isolation.

 

We have faced other crisis in our history and have become stronger by rejecting the easy way out and taking the right way in meeting our challenges. Our greatness as a nation has been our capacity to do what had to be done when we knew our direction and path was right.

 

There is a price to pay if America concludes we are now indifferent to freedoms globally as well as global issues and sit on the sidelines willing to watch it diminished under the guise of “we will not lecture or suggest we know better than you” <which, frankly, is about as un-American as you can get because we DO know better — freedom of thought, religion, speech, etc is better & good> in combination with suggesting “but we will talk with you of you have some money to give us.”

 

I would note that Pew surveys show United States becoming less and less popular and while popularity is not the best measuring stick I could suggest <in looking at the information> that the decline is a reflection of our growing indifference to democratic values and increasing interest in economic values.

 

The world see United States under Donald J Trump assuming a transactional based relationship with the world and not a democratic based relationship with the world.

 

Sigh.

 

There is a price to pay for such positions.

 

Here is what I believe.normalizing america bad behavior values phoenix

 

Trump’s attempt to reverse the shift toward the future is not sustainable. Going backwards never is. And while his quasi-insane onslaught against any rule & regulation under his belief that rules & regulations were the only thing that kept him from being the wealthiest man in the world he is actually going to be a horrible temporary “aberration” in the world’s long march toward the future.

 

I also believe this aberration will come at a terrible cost to America. We may become first but first to the bottom looking up at those who chose to lead the way forward not lead the way backwards.

 

Trump is a profoundly mediocre man with a profoundly dangerous idea of how to make America First.

 

I personally don’t believe Trump has ever known what America First meant … it was simply a slogan to him. It would behoove him to think about this: If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great <Alexis de Tocqueville>. An Economics First strategy sacrifices “the good” which inevitably means America will cease to be great.

For that, I will never forgive Trump. Ever.

 

the fraying of organizational communication

May 8th, 2017

fraying communications

 

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“Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.”

 

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Benjamin Franklin

 

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Ok.

 

It seems like in today’s world leaders are getting the shit kicked out of them if they communicate in a precise fashion, in a measured way and in what appears bland magic in the headto be calculated communicating.

They are called unauthentic, bland and blamed for being ‘less than truthful.’

 

This is creating a sense that semi-impetuous blurbs of ‘here is what I think’ communication is deemed of higher value from our leaders.

 

Well.

 

It is a sad state of affairs if we value the latter in a leader more than the former.

But let me point out the flaws in the impetuous less-than-thought-out thought communicating.

 

I call it the fraying of organizational communication.

 

You learn fairly quickly once you begin leading a larger group of people, and desire them to grow beyond simply being order takers, that precise communications matters.

 

You learn you cannot be everywhere at once, you cannot be in every meeting and you cannot have people simply parrot your own words because … well … they are your words and not theirs <and for them to grow they need to figure out how to articulate things on their own>. Therefore, you learn that you need to precisely communicate an idea so that they can offer up their own words to share that idea.

 

You learn this because impreciseness means people start having to answer not only unnecessary questions … but are also being demanded to explain ‘what you meant.’

 

This is a dangerous slippery slope.good and bad thoughts words

 

People work for you for a reason <you most likely have more experience and have some skills they do not have>.

People have different titles for a reason <they most likely have different or less experience and have yet to learn some skills they do not have>.

 

This means that farther out your words & thoughts have to be explained the more likely the explanation is not going to be exactly right.

Oh.

 

And let’s ad in ‘the stress factor.’

 

This is where ‘fraying’ becomes obvious.

 

The less precise a leader is the more likely the communication fabric is going to be tugged at the edges. The edges being where many of your least experienced people reside. The less precise a leader is the more the pressure at the farthest point of communication.

 

This is where the ‘fraying’ becomes most obvious. As more and more questions are piled upon the person on the edge with regard to the “whys” and “whats” the communication becomes more and more stressed … and mistakes are made.

 

wrong faultThings are said that just may not be exactly right.

 

Something is said in exasperation.

 

Something is communicated as a ‘well, could be’ scenario to offer some space.

 

This is not the fault of the person on the edge … the responsibility lies with the person at the center.

 

Anyway.

 

As a leader, the people closest to you most likely don’t need the precision, calculation and measured words … but you give it to them anyway. You do so because those closest to you will find their own words to say what you said … without losing its meaning.

 

A flawed message at the top doesn’t lose its flaws as it expands … its flaws become increased.

 

Some people call it ‘getting your talking points in line’ … I do not. I simply call it “clarity & precision from the top.” I do that because while it may seem bland and it may seem calculated … it avoids the more difficult problems and criticisms.

 

ato normal center abnormal societyA leader must hold the center verbally. It can sometimes be held with vision and soaring rhetoric but more often it is captures in the calculated pragmatic words which are easily carried by those on the edges out beyond the organization.

 

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‘Things fall apart, the center cannot hold….

The best lack all conviction,

While the worst are full of passionate intensity

 

—–

William Butler Yeats < The Second Coming>

 

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As a leader there may be nothing worse than confidently saying the wrong thing. For when you do the rest of your organization feels compelled to support your confidence … uhm … and the wrong thing.

 

And if the ‘wrongness’ is compounded with any sense of vagueness in meaning ‘wrong’ becomes his multidimensional blob of slime which mucks up the entire organizational engine.

 

I am fairly sure mom & pop businesses don’t learn this lesson <or maybe not as well>. They have no real need to do so. Most words are in the domain of the ‘mom & pop’ and any family members or close knit employees will most likely simply regurgitate whatever the mom & pop say with earnestness … but no real understanding. There is no need to understand … it just is.

 

And maybe that is where leaders, who are precise and calculated in wording, understand what truth about success within an organization is — that understanding matters.

 

People cannot defend what they do not completely understand and, well, you know as a leader you cannot always be there to defend and you need to depend on others to do so … not by interpreting what you said but through understanding what you said.

 

In the end.

 

We may beat the crap out of ‘bland colorless calculated’ communication from leaders but we should all recognize that it isn’t necessarily done out of fear of saying the wrong thing or political correctness but rather done because … well … good leaders know they hold the center. They know that understanding limits spotlight seat lead follow center alonefraying at the edges of the organization.

They know they have a responsibility, boring as it may be on occasion, to pragmatically say what needs to be said in a way that doesn’t encourage guessing or questioning.

 

Clarity really does matter.

And ‘bland’ can be underrated.

But fraying communications farther from the center is a reflection of a leader not assuming responsibility for holding a strong center.  A good leader knows that while they may have a dozen things they really want to say 11 of those things will most likely make the people on the edges edgy and miserable.

A good leader knows that an organization is not just about what the one wants to say <the leader themselves> but rather organizational effectiveness resides in ‘out of many, one.’

 

I imagine what I am saying is that if you see some people on-the-ground who are part of an organization and you start hearing verbal mistakes … 99% of the time it is a reflection of the fact the leader was vague, imprecise and didn’t hold the communication center <that would make them a bad leader>.

 

Enlightened Conflict