HEROIC LEADERSHIP

 I alone can fix it.

Donald Trump referring to America’s problems.

 

Dee Hock, the founder of Visa, wrote that heroic leaders, once a godsend, are now a public menace. Many of Donald Trump’s followers think of him as a heroic leader—the godsend kind. I don’t think he’s a leader, godsent, or heroic, but he does menace us daily.

Heroic leaders become especially prevalent in times of crisis and transformation when traditional mechanisms for change and conflict resolution struggle under great strain or have broken down: customs; traditions; established authority; and shared vision, values, and purpose. Our president causes great anxiety and conflict and batters our democracy daily. And his disarray adds to the already existing national and global problems and is bad for the health of the American people who he pits against one other.

In his book Leadership, James MacGregor Burns defined leadership as, leaders inducing followers to act for certain goals that represent the values and the motivations–the wants and needs, the aspirations and expectations–of both leaders and followers.

He wrote: …beyond that, the transforming leader looks for potential motives in followers seeks to satisfy higher needs, and engages the full person of the follower. The result of transforming leadership is a relationship of mutual stimulation and elevation that converts followers into leaders and may convert leaders into moral agents.

MacGregor Burns described a dark side of heroic leadership as a relationship between leader and follower in which followers place great faith, often unfounded, in the heroes ability to overcome obstacles and crises. The followers don’t think for themselves and avoid personal responsibility by projecting their fears, aggression, and aspirations onto the hero as a symbolic solution to the conflict inherent in change. Jessica Flanigan, a philosopher at the Jepson School at the University of Richmond wrote that charismatic or heroic leaders can inspire non-thinking followers to act wrongly for the wrong reasons. Stephen L. Carter wrote in the NY Times that supporters will think the wrong thing is right.

Followers and politicians who deify leaders collude in the heroic leader syndrome. It’s difficult for even normal people, much less Trump–the poster boy for narcissism, to resist being treated as someone special. It feels good to be treated like an all-powerful and perfect man who receives mass support from followers. Trump demands idolization, and his boot-licking supporters feed his ego daily. Their conformity and compliance enable Trump’s immoral behavior and his repulsive personality. By enabling him, they diminish themselves. They lose themselves and by doing so try to escape personal responsibility.

How can a leader who is a hoax surrounded by second rate advisors and lily-livered politicians be effective or make good decisions? The truth-tellers have disappeared from Trump’s Cabinet and White House. Trump lost his humanity somewhere and sometime long ago. He’s not capable of healthy relationships with followers. He’s a figurehead watching Fox News surrounded by toadying underlings. Lots of “executive time” on his calendar gives him time to construct the appearance of competence and contribution while he eats KFC and watches television. Trump tries to appear a “winner” by lying chronically, blaming always, and covering up his messes. And his true-believers fall for it all. Mediocrity is the norm.

Such a sub-optimal operation becomes vulnerable to outside threats: Russia interferes in our elections, and Trump/McConnell block efforts to protect our votes. History will not be kind to the Trump years or those who lost their values and aided and conspired with him.

Trump’s contributions are often illusionary, inflated greatly, with credit for anything good frequently belonging to others and those who preceded him. Some of what he claims as great achievements cause a threat to the country and planet: fossil fuels and climate change.

The belief that he can direct and control global and national forces is delusional. Living systems, in time of great change, are too complex and unmanageable for one leader to bring about superlative performance, much less a bungler.

People who think know that one person cannot rescue us even as we look for heroes in the strangest places. We need value-driven leadership behavior by many at all levels of our nation and political system. Political leaders must first know America’s reality. Trump and those around him live in a false past; they do not live in the reality of America today.

We need, however, more than distributed leadership in our government and organizations. We also need the few extraordinary women and men who go far beyond leadership in their own development. People, who move through the chaos with courage, maintain their ideals, carry our hope, and reflect back to supporters the deep potential within each of us. They are our heroes and heroines.

Often invisible, people with such gifts are the rebels and outliers of the government, organizations, and enterprises. The get marginalized often because they threaten ineffectual leaders. Trump marginalizes people every day. We need these rebels and outliers to be courageous as they stand out from the ordinary and lead our own development.

The leadership Burns described is about whole people in a symbiotic and transforming relationship with one another–leaders and followers. This leadership is about the character: “The intellectual and moral texture into which all our life long we have been weaving up the inward life that is in us” (Oxford dictionary). Leadership is about who we are as men and women.

True leaders strive to live by core values–not what is politically correct, expedient, in their self-interest, or even fair.

Stephen L. Carter said of integrity:

Integrity, as I will use the term, requires three steps (1) discerning what is right and what is wrong; (2) acting on what you have discerned, even at personal cost; and (3) saying openly that you are acting on your understanding of right from wrong.

Courage is how we demonstrate our character.

In 2020, we will have one of the most important elections in our nation’s history. When I evaluate a presidential candidate, I think first of their character. A person of character models goodness: caring, empathy, and compassion for all of humanity. A person of character has a strong inner core: deep values they will not betray, and a purpose greater than her own ego. A visionary, she has a positive, hopeful, sustainable and forward-looking dream for the future of America and the planet. And she has plans for how she will make the vision real–she also tells the truth.

Donald Trump ran for president in 2016. Had he been a positive person he would have been seen as a clown to laugh at. Instead, a malicious man, he brought to light and gave power to the dark side of America’s history. Not heroic; not a leader. Trump uses presidential power to try to return America to her darkest ways and become the bleak hero of people who do not think for themselves.

We need a president who puts the sustainability of our planet and our democracy ahead of personal greed, selfishness, and addictive lust for power. A president who will evolve our goodness as Americans, restore America as the role model for the nations of the planet and a president who will drain the swamp Trump brought to the White House.

President John Kennedy was to deliver a speech in Austin, TX on the night he was assassinated.

A quote from the speech for our nation’s Senators and Representatives at all levels of government:

Neither the fanatics nor the faint-hearted are needed. And our duty as a Party is not to our Party alone, but to the nation, and, indeed, to all mankind. Our duty is not merely the preservation of political power but the preservation of peace and freedom. So let us not be petty when our cause is so great. Let us not quarrel amongst ourselves when our Nation’s future is at stake. Let us stand together with renewed confidence in our cause — united in our heritage of the past and our hopes for the future — and determined that this land we love shall lead all mankind into new frontiers of peace and abundance.

SUGGESTIONS FOR OUR GRANDCHILDREN

Earth is Not a Platform for Human Life

It Is a Living Being

We’re Not on it But Part of It

Its Health is Our Health.

Thomas Moore

 

In 2001, I was asked to write a letter to my grandkids to be posted on The Grandfather Chronicles website.

An excerpt:

Previous generations leave you the greatest responsibility any generation has inherited from those who came before them. The unintended consequences of the successes of previous generations are devastating to all of nature—including the people of our world. Your job is to save the planet for future generations.

We leave you with the population explosion, the greenhouse effect, and the extinction of species of animals and plants at a rate 1,000 times faster than at any time in the past 65 million years. We live a philosophy of life that pollutes the air and the water, destroys the rain forest at the rate of 1 1/2 acres a second, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and floats homeless waste filled barges in the ocean.

The destruction of forests endangers almost half of the 235 species of primates. Another 20 percent approach threatened status. Our way of life produces spreading deserts, drying seas, and topsoil loss. Our beliefs alienate people from themselves, from each other, and from nature. Our mechanistic worldview destroyed and homogenized thousands of diverse cultures that lived in sustainable ways. Our thinking threatens the sustainability of the planet that you will try to save.

Fast forward to 2019:

Well, dear grandchildren: Over the past 18 years, we failed to face and confront our many existential threats. America (and many other countries) has regressed: lies, threats, corruption, incompetence, demonization, and blaming the powerless for our many problems dominate the news every day. Our democracy is threatened by an autocrat.

Climate change is here and has taken center stage among all of the threats to the environment. Climate change is settled science: 97% of climate scientists agree that climate change is real and that we caused it (and here and here).

Our president denies climate change, or perhaps he just doesn’t care. Republicans in Congress don’t seem to care either. We should not vote for any candidate of either party that does not publically state that climate change is real, that we caused it, and offer a plan for actions to take.  We can argue about when the worst of climate change will be or how bad the loss of life and destruction will be. But anyone who wants to still argue about whether climate change is real or that humans cause it just isn’t thinking straight (See Twilight of American Sanity by Allan Frances, MD.) The attacks on nature accelerate. Everything on the planet is affected because everything is connected and interdependent (See Our Planet on Netflix).

We need new, diverse, and younger leaders at all levels of government in America. Leaders who can articulate an inspiring vision, have the courage to lead, get things done, and never go against America’s or their own deepest values. People outside of government do great work on climate change and other environmental issues that threaten us. But we need a functioning government to provide money and right legislation.

Each year we fail to answer the call to transform how we live on our planet, the more difficult change will be. Forget about climate change for a moment: the way we live on our planet cannot be sustained climate change or not. Every day, we consume more of the planet’s biomass. The longer we ignore the environment, the more people will suffer and die, the more destruction there will be, and the more nature will go to extremes to get our attention.

We feel sad, scared, and anxious as we see more clearly the realities of climate change. I recall reading a speech by a trusted author in 2001: I felt so shaken by his predictions for the environment that I had to jump in my car and go for a long ride to process my emotions of grief, fear, and anxiety. Not many people talked about how they felt about what was happening to our natural world back then. They are now.

I Googled “climate grief” and found 47,900,000 results. In 2017 the American Psychological Association found “gradual, long-term changes in climate can also surface a number of different emotions, including fear, anger, feelings of powerlessness, or exhaustion.” (See David Brooks, An Era Defined by Fear.)

Many who mourn our planet and dread the future have lost hope for a secure life. They are not crazy (See Yuval Harari’s, Homo Deus.)

Misery precedes a new transformative vision that gives people new hope and aliveness.

We’re sealed into climate change that we cannot stop, but we may have time to turn things around before the worst happens. Denying our emotions is the wrong thing to do. Trying to ignore what is happening or hoping for a hero or heroine to rescue us is the wrong thing to do. And, God won’t rescue us.

We need to see reality clearly, deepen and broaden our awareness, reconnect with science, and find our way to the truth in a world of lies. Once we “get it,” we can get engaged, connect to others, connect with nature, and connect with the vision that offers the best chance for a hopeful and secure life ( See Johann Hari: Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solution).

The inhabitants of Earth must join together and cooperate to confront our collective future. The United States cannot go it alone: it would be immoral and unsustainable.

Dealing with the massive issues before us requires a deep transformation in how we live on Earth. Our economics have to change dramatically. Our use of fossil fuels has to diminish significantly. We can no longer have unlimited growth, and we must simplify. Our values need to shift: we can no longer give status and respect to those who deny the need for action. They will be the pariahs of the near future. Political conflict is inevitable and will continue to threaten our democracy.

At the same time, the world of work will continue to change dramatically adding more grief, fear, and anxiety to your lives, You will need to see the future of work and learn to adapt to even faster change than before. You will need to learn 21st-century technologies: AI, robotics, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and information technology. You will have to redefine yourselves routinely to be relevant and have a place in the world of work.

John Gardner wrote in Self-Renewal:

If we indoctrinate the young person in an elaborate set of fixed beliefs, we are ensuring his early obsolescence. The alternative is to develop skills, attitudes, habits of mind, and the kinds of knowledge and understanding that will be the instruments of continuous change and growth on the part of the young person…this means more attention to basic principles…. In all subjects, it means teaching habits of mind that will be useful in new situations—curiosity, open-mindedness, objectivity, respect for evidence and the capacity to think critically.”

Chaos offers opportunities and danger. Prepare yourselves to be aware of the dangers but find the opportunities. I believe you can and will rise to the occasion. Other generations have throughout history. It is possible, however improbable, to create a new and better world from the ashes of the Industrial Revolution.

To guide you in life, identify your values, articulate your purpose in life, and create your vision for your lives and for the kind of world you want to live in. This spiritual journey is hard work; most don’t do it. Life will pass them by.

Do what you love in life. Let your values and purpose guide you when chaos surrounds you, when you feel lost, confused, bewildered, and disillusioned. Transform your grief and anxiety into a powerful motivation. Fight for the planet.

You will feel alive if you do.

REPULSIVE

To destroy the dignity of a human being is evil.

Peter Koestenbaum, author of Leadership: The Inner

Side of Greatness

 

I read M. Scott Peck’s book, People of the Lie in the 1990s.

Donald Trump ran for president in 2016. When I evaluate a presidential candidate, I think first of their character.  A person of character models goodness: caring, empathy, and compassion for all of humanity. A person of character has a strong inner core: deep values and a purpose greater than himself. A visionary, he has a positive, hopeful, sustainable and forward-looking dream for the evolution of America and the planet. A president of character shows us wisdom, bravery, fairness, knowledge, emotional maturity, and transcendence.

If a candidate fails the character test, I eliminate them regardless of party, experience, grievances,  positions on the issues, or likes and dislikes. Nothing can take priority over a candidate’s integrity. In my evaluation of Trump’s character, he received zero points. Therefore, from my perspective, those who voted for Trump simply were not thinking straight.

With help from Russia, Trump squeaked into the presidency via the Electoral College. He lost the popular vote by almost 2.9 million votes.

Since then: lies, chaos, blunders, craziness, scapegoating, criminal investigations, guilty pleas, and decline for America. The dysfunction of the Trump administration smothers us and threatens our existence on our heating planet. The Republican Congress sits by quietly.

I had always thought of evil, when I thought about it at all, as huge events like the Holocaust and people like Adolph Hitler or gruesome and macabre murderers like grave robber Ed Gein, who murdered women and exhumed bodies from graves around Plainfield, Wisconsin in the 1950s.

Peck defined evil as “…the use of power to destroy the spiritual growth of others for the purpose of defending or preserving the integrity of one’s sick self. Evil …is that force, residing either inside or outside of human beings, that seeks to kill life or liveliness. And goodness is its opposite. Goodness is that which promotes life and liveliness.”

Not all hurtful acts are evil. Peck wrote that the consistency of their harmful actions defines evil people. The abusive husband who humiliates his wife day after day for 20 years; the cruel boss who sucks the life from employees year after year; the political demagogue who lies and scapegoats others in speech after speech, year after year, and the blabbermouth talk and television hosts who spread lie after lie to gain followers and sell books.

Peck—one of my favorite writers–wrote about evil in our normal lives and in everyday people: in families, churches, schools, politics, and in our organizations and institutions. His words alarmed me: I, and people I knew and cared about—ordinary people–could be evil, do evil, be part of evil systems and be unaware of evil in and around us.

Evil people diminish others. Evil people exhaust and devalue those around them. They blame others falsely and demonize people to justify the destruction of people’s spirits and make themselves look like upright people.

Scapegoating allows bad people to pretend to be good. Evil people look just like us so we have to pay attention to their acts and behaviors. Roy F. Baumeister, Ph.D. wrote in Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty that evil people intentionally inflict harm on the good and innocent outsider for the pure pleasure of doing so.

When we experience scapegoating, we often feel confused. I call that crazy making. Have you listened to someone talk persuasively about something and felt confused: suddenly up was down, right was wrong, the earth is flat, and climate change is a hoax, and you felt the rug had been pulled out from under your experience of life?

A friend’s advice about crazy making was sound: “Don’t try to make sense of nonsense.” If you decide to confront an evil person, I would add, expect to spend much time doing so and beware: confronting evil will exhaust you and probably hurt and diminish you.

We often feel instant revulsion in the presence of obvious immorality. Tearing others down to elevate himself is our president’s special talent, dastardly as it is. Revulsion makes us want to get away from the person—to escape them. The damage evil people cause means nothing to them: evil people see themselves as the sufferer, justified in their actions.

Malicious folks do not suffer a lack of self-regard; self-absorbed, they have excessive self-esteem (actual accomplishments may be few). Often they do have empathy: they know exactly how to hurt people–usually the powerless. They consider themselves above reproach; they would be appalled to hear that someone considers them evil; they often think of themselves as the victim. Driven by the fear of exposure, they lash out at those who criticize them to avoid seeing themselves accurately. For the scoundrels, the opposition is all bad; their side all good. Hence the title of Peck’s book: they are the People of the Lie who deceive others as they deceive themselves.

Trump lies constantly. The Washington Post reported: “In the first nine months of his presidency, Trump made 1,318 false or misleading claims, an average of five a day. But in the seven weeks leading up the midterm elections, the president made 1,419 false or misleading claims — an average of 30 a day.” Who does he lie to the most? The people who attend his rallies.

The Trump persona is his biggest lie. He is not who he says he is.

My favorite quote from Ernest Becker in The Denial of Death comes to mind: “If everybody lives roughly the same lies about the same things, there is no one to call them liars. They jointly establish their own sanity and call themselves normal”

That’s Trump-land.

Trump and the Republican Party are tearing America apart with amazing speed in their lust for power and money. Our suffering is the correct response: “It’s no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society” (Jiddu Kriishnamurti). Do not despair. Evil responds to power, in this case, political power. Accountability is on the way.

We must judge and stand against evil people. Many of us try not to judge others, but Peck wrote that the Bible did not require us to never judge but we should judge ourselves (and the groups we belong to) first before we judge others. We must make moral judgments that support life and aliveness. To refuse to make those judgments is to collude with the words and acts we abhor.

Frank Bruni “Michael Cohen Got Wise. Will America?” In the New York Times, December 14, 2018:

Michael Cohen put his chips on, and faith in, someone who didn’t deserve it. He was dazzled. He was entertained. He wanted a patron. He needed a guide. So he disregarded all the warning signs, ignored all the bad stuff. It was so much easier to believe.

At one point or another, haven’t many of us done that?

 Didn’t Americans do that when they turned to Donald Trump in the presidential campaign of 2016?”

 And what he [President Trump] required of America was what he required of Cohen. We had to bury values that should never be buried. In our case that meant condoning Trump’s racism; indulging his corrosive conspiracy theories and self-preserving lies; permitting his demonization of institutions and people and whole countries; interpreting cruelty as candor and provocation as strength. Too many of us assented.

 Cohen told the judge that he had lost his moral compass. The many Republicans who continue to stand by Trump have lost their moral compasses, too. There should be parameters for tribalism and a limit to loyalty, as Cohen says he now understands. Trump is on the far side of that limit.

For every leader, there are at least 10 followers ready to trade the burden and bedlam of independent thought for a playbook that tells them exactly what to do. Some of them find it in religion, others in business, still others in politics.

 And con men like Trump can spot them a mile away. Trump looked at Cohen and correctly saw someone who wasn’t going to be in the fast lane unless hitched to him, and he sensed that Cohen knew it. Trump looked at America and correctly saw an anxious, uncertain populace that was ripe for facile answers, scapegoats and a narrative of unjust victimization. So he pounced. And here we are, in an even more uncertain place, with a sentence yet to be handed down.

 Values do matter.

 

 

Why Didn’t James Comey Confront Trump?

Lordy, I hope there are tapes.

James Comey

 

During former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee (June 8, 2017), Senator Marco Rubio asked Comey why he didn’t air his concerns about Trump immediately while he was still FBI director.

“I think the circumstances were such that I was a bit stunned and didn’t have the presence of mind, and I don’t want to make it sound like I’m Captain Courageous; I don’t know whether even if I had the presence of mind I would’ve said to the president, ‘Sir, that’s wrong.’ I don’t know whether I would have. But in the moment, it didn’t come to my mind; what came to my mind was, ‘Be careful what you say.”

James Comey’s history reveals a courageous man. Was he showing false humility to avoid telling a deeper truth that he may not have been totally aware of?

I can imagine a different response from Comey to Rubio’s question:

I was stunned and caught off guard by the things President Trump said and the underlying messages he sent to me. I also felt repulsed by the nature of the man. My instincts told me at our dinner meeting (Jan. 27, 2017), ‘This is a dangerous moment’ and I better remember what he says and document it for he will lie about what he said if the meeting became important in the future. I focused on Trump, his words and his unspoken messages to me. I had to get through this meeting with my integrity intact and without getting fired. Not to save my job: I wanted to protect the Russia investigation from him and survive long enough to gather whatever evidence the President wanted to give me. I decided that I would document all future engagements with Trump. 

I knew some things intuitively: Confronting Trump would be futile and unproductive. He attacks anyone who confronts him. He would have refused enlightenment and efforts to educate him. I was not the President’s lawyer or advisor and it was not my job to school the President on how to do his job or to stop him from going down an inappropriate path that may become criminal. Besides, he wasn’t naïve, ignorant or inexperienced; he knew exactly what he was doing.

I talked to the Attorney General about not leaving me alone with the President. He said nothing. I did not trust him enough to say more to him. Resignation would have harmed the investigation and the FBI and there might not be a Special Counsel today had I quit. I knew without thinking about it that I would stay and do what I could to advance the Russia investigation and protect the integrity and independence of the FBI.

It was my job to document the facts and my experiences with the President. I would do so until I could no longer contain the situation and was put in a position by the President where I had no choice but to resign or sacrifice my integrity. I wondered how far he would go. I reviewed each conversation with Trump with my FBI staff and we discussed my strategy. I needed the documentation and witnesses to protect myself and the FBI. The evidence I documented led, I believe, to the appointment of the Special Counsel.

People considered Comey a smart political operative within the government bureaucracy. I suspect he was more calculating than he wanted to acknowledge–even, perhaps, to himself. I think his “calculating”–fully conscious and rational or on emotional and intuitive auto-pilot–was a good thing for it served a noble purpose and he carried his plan out ethically. For political reasons, maybe it was easier for Comey–a man who doesn’t like to talk about himself–to be self-deprecating about his personal courage than to share his deepest essence and personal reactions with the Senators. Comey may not be Captain Courageous but he has more nerve than most of us and he’s no naive boy scout.

I had several situations in the corporate world—as a leader and as a consultant—where I was threatened with the loss of my job or income if I did or didn’t do certain things that went against my values. I sat across from angry executives who insulted, demeaned and threatened me and who had no respect for niceties or talents for confrontation. I also sat across from executives who delivered dark metamessages with a soft tone and “safe’ words. Trump embraces both tactics to get what he wants. Like Comey, I felt stunned. Also confused and crazy. Imagining myself interrupting people of questionable intent who had power over me to tell them how badly they were handling themselves makes me laugh. I would have been fired and ridiculed for my naiveté. It is even more ludicrous to expect Comey to do so with Trump. Confront a mean narcissist? Get real. Comey had a greater purpose.

In dealing with such people, I often operated at a gut and intuitive level in real-time without the opportunity to think everything through as rationally as I might have liked. These were new, confusing and dangerous situations with no manual to tell me how to handle myself. My values guided me. It took me years to sort out some crazy situations and to make sense out of nonsense. I suspect James Comey will be reflecting on his “nonsense” experiences with Trump and his own feeling  and reactions for a long time.

The moment always came with those executives when I had to choose to sell my soul, quit or get fired. My commitment to truth and my values was deep and I never gave in to threats made by powerful people. Comey managed his situation as long as he could without selling his soul. Trump fired him before Comey felt he had to resign (May 8, 2017).

It’s hard to stand up for our values in a world filled with madness. James Comey faced darker craziness with far greater things at stake than I ever had to deal with. He did so in the public eye certain to be criticized and attacked. He is a noble and honorable man.

I look up to the James Comey’s of the world who—often alone–stand up to malevolent people with full knowledge that they will suffer personally for their commitment to something larger than themselves: in Comey’s case a powerful allegiance to our Constitution and to the integrity and independence of the FBI and to his own values.

I was once asked disdainfully, “Who do you think you are, the keeper of the values?”

Yes, I am the keeper of the values and so are you and you and you.

Is It Time to Colonize Mars?

Homo sapiens is a serial killer of the ecosystem.

Yuval Harari author of Sapiens & Homo Deus

 

In Expedition New Earth—a documentary that debuts this summer as part of the BBC’s Tomorrow’s World science season—Stephen Hawkins claims that Mother Earth would appreciate it if we would find a new planet to call home.

And do so in the next 100 years.

Because of “climate change, overdue asteroid strikes, epidemics and population growth, our planet is increasingly precarious” wrote the BBC. Remaining on Earth longer than another 100 years places humanity at great risk of encountering another mass extinction, Hawking claims.

We must…continue to go into space for the future of humanity. Stephen Hawking

Another thought-leader said: “There are really two fundamental paths,” [Elon] Musk told an overflow crowd at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico. “One path is we stay on Earth forever, and there will be some eventual extinction event. … The alternative is to become a space-faring civilization and a multi-planet species.” (CBS News; 9/27/16) (Elon Musk is the founder of Space X)

Words from an essay I wrote in 2008 remain true today:

Republicans have made clean-energy legislation a dirty word.

New York Time columnist Thomas Friedman wrote, “We don’t have a ‘gasoline price problem.’ We have an addiction problem. We are addicted to dirty fossil fuels, and this addiction is driving a whole set of toxic trends that are harming our nation and world in many different ways. It is intensifying global warming, creating runaway global demand for oil and gas, weakening our currency by shifting huge amounts of dollars abroad to pay for oil imports…destroying plants and animals at record rates…..”

More fundamentally our problem is that six billion people (10 billion by 2050) are addicted to the consumption of our alive, interconnected, and interdependent planet.

That is not sustainable.

Lester Brown of the Worldwatch Institute, Washington D.C., wrote, “A sustainable society is one that satisfies its needs without diminishing the prospects of future generations.”

Sustainability is the moral issue of this generation.

We will change how we think, and we will figure out how to live sustainably on this planet or we will not. Either way, something spectacular is going to happen. If we change, we will renew our economy, restore American global leadership, and help save the planet. We will experience a new renaissance of ideas and an indefinite future. Nothing less will save our way of life and perhaps the young of today and the unborn of tomorrow.

People I believe (Al Gore, scientist Jim Hanson, philosopher Daniel Quinn, & explorer Will Steger) say we have 10 to 40 years to change. If we don’t change, the momentum that carries us to possible extinction will be too great to overcome.

We must understand that the disruption of global climate is not a linear process—predictable and measurable in discrete ways. Climate change is a nonlinear process—unpredictable and uncontrollable. Small changes will have large impacts—on storms, temperature, precipitation, humidity, soil moisture, atmospheric circulation patterns, snow and ice cover, and ocean currents.

Unintended systemic consequences may not be seen until it is too late. Impacts may well happen sooner and with greater destruction than even the worst predictions. Nature is amoral and species neutral; she doesn’t care about us–she just acts naturally. And such changes in our weather will set off equally nonlinear, unpredictable, and uncontrollable reactions that will affect all life forms on this planet—including the human population. A massive chaotic transformation of life may take place on this planet.

Without change, within 200 years we may perish as a species or a few islands of prosperity and privilege may survive surrounded by a sea of misery and violence. We need to move quickly and boldly.

We, like addicts of all types, are experts at denial; we pretend the worst will not happen. We are irresponsible. We expect magic, God, or some heroic leader to rescue us. We need a spiritual awakening–a moment of metanoia: a shift of mind. Scientist Rupert Sheldrake said, “It is like waking up from a dream. It brings with it a spirit of repentance, seeing in a new way, a change of heart. This conversion is intensified by the sense that the end of an age is at hand.”

God will not rescue us. Nor will a hero or heroine save us. We are responsible for our collective fate. The great threats of climate change, population growth, species extinction, resource depletion, and global poverty have called for change for a long time. Are we ready to listen and to change how we live together on this planet….?

Change will be difficult but ease or difficulty is not the issue. The question is: are we ready to change or not? If we are ready, we will get behind a new vision for the renewal first of the United States and then of the world and we will do what is necessary.

We put a man on the moon eight years after John Kennedy challenged the nation. We can be free of foreign oil and produce 100% of our electricity from renewable energy within 10 years.

Whatever we do, something spectacular is going to happen soon. We will experience an evolutionary bounce or an evolutionary crash.

Back to 2017:

Republicans are now leading America. Donald Trump is our president.

I just want to think about the future without being sad.

Elon Musk in conversation with TED’s Chris Anderson (4/17)

Where Did the Learning Go?

The recent United Airlines fiasco illuminated the dark and anti-human side of the machine model of organizations. United has much to learn about leadership.

The following excerpt comes from Learning to Lead, a book manuscript I wrote in 1995. The book described an organizational transformation in the Customer Service department of the Star Tribune newspaper in Minneapolis, MN from 1990-94. These thoughts remain relevant and I offer them freely to United Airlines.

During the fall of 1990, we established five strategic objectives.

They were:

  1. To improve the quality of work life for employees

Technology is important, but we felt that our employees had to come first. If they felt good about themselves, each other, their products, and their company, they would then provide enthusiastic service to the newspaper’s readers. Customer satisfaction and retention rates would then improve.

Quality of work life didn’t mean happiness. We knew we could not make everyone happy. Quality of work life meant creating a culture that treated everyone with respect, involved people in decisions that impacted them, empowered employees to serve the customer, gave employees the tools they needed to serve the readers, and provided opportunities to learn and perform.

  1. To improve customer satisfaction

It would be more important to retain our existing customers than to utilize promotional activities of marginal value to add new and usually temporary customers. We would retain customers by providing outstanding service, recovering rapidly when we made a mistake, and developing good relationships between front-line employees and our readers. These activities would grow our customer base.

  1. To become more creative

We realized that we would need the creativity of everyone as we moved to the future. We would change how we related to one another. We would encourage, draw out, and reward creative thinking and risk taking. To do this, we would have to change how we led. We would give up control, get out of the way, and allow people to be the best they could be. The job of leaders would be to facilitate this process

  1. To become faster moving and more flexible

We would do this through empowerment. Employees would have the freedom to serve their customers and make decisions about work processes they managed. The flow of information would be opened up and would support empowerment; secrecy would end. These changes in how we led people were required to encourage different ways of thinking about work and willingness to doing our jobs in different ways. The results would be speed and flexibility.

  1. To increase profitability

Financial success would be a natural result of realizing the first four objectives. Energized and committed employees would provide outstanding service to readers resulting in satisfied customers who would stay with the newspaper longer. Improved customer retention would mean reduced expense for generating new customers and less money spent on rework and recovery processes. A larger readership impacts advertising rates in a positive way. A creative, faster moving, and flexible workforce, empowered to provide outstanding service to customers, would require less supervision and fewer supervisors.

Creative employees would find new ways to bring revenue to the company. This business unit would eventually conceive of an alternate delivery system that would serve advertisers in targeted ways, initiate the marketing of products bearing the company logo to readers and non-readers, and investigate the use of our distribution system to deliver other products until told to stop by senior management (that wasn’t the business of a newspaper). There was a surge of wonderful ideas–most coming from front-line employees.

In addition to establishing these objectives, we wrote a vision for the business unit and a definition of Value Driven Leadership–those core values that would guide us as we moved toward our vision. Our key strategies were employee involvement, culture change, and market driven quality. We then created new norms for our emerging culture, developed specific planning objectives, and formed project teams. Values and vision drove our planning.

The redesign of our work and the involvement and empowerment of employees awakened those long dead to the organization and led to phenomenal business results and dramatic improvements in already outstanding customer service. Our work was recognized nationally, we spoke at conferences on employee engagement and people from around the country visited us. We had learned and shown that great human potential resides untapped in every group of people. Technology is really important; engaged people are even more vital. We do not have to choose humanity or technology. The right choice is humanity and technology.

I wondered why more leaders and organizations weren’t doing, in their own ways, what we were doing? While on the leading edge, our work was not the first effort to engage and involve employees nor was it unique in the specifics of what we did. Our story was a local one within a larger company, but the deep insights and underlying  dynamics we discovered exist at all levels of organization: The newspaper, the newspaper industry, across industries and across all communities of people and life itself. Why didn’t United Airlines, and thousands of other enterprises (and the newspaper industry) do similar things long ago with the knowledge available to them?

In 1994, I left the Star Tribune to join a movement to transform how we lead, follow and work in organizations and institutions. Under new leadership, the workplace we created was destroyed in short order.

I delved into the deeper dynamics that led to our success at the Star Tribune. I attended a Meg Wheatley dialogue where we discussed the new sciences that led to our success before we knew about the new scientific knowledge. Meg talked of the Fortune 500 clients she had worked with in recent years. When she returned to visit those organizations, she saw no evidence of change or learning. She asked, “Where did the learning go?”

I spent 13 years consulting in organizations and writing about organizational transformation and the kind of leadership required for such change. The movement I had joined had success stories but, unfortunately, I watched leadership in our organizations and institutions regress instead of evolve in life-affirming ways. Promising change efforts were  destroyed routinely; their leaders marginalized. I asked the equivalent of “Where did the learning go?” over and over again.

Today, more than 20 years after Meg Wheatley’s question, we have the United Airlines story within the larger societal context that contains powerful forces for regression and dehumanization. Many feel disheartened. I believe the crazy and dangerous resistance to facts, truth, learning and knowledge along with the marginalization and demonizing of the powerless are the final fearful and desperate efforts of a mechanistic world view that no longer solves our problems. I believe an ecological and living system world view will emerge.

As the rate of change accelerates in the future now upon us, I do not believe that leaders (or anyone else) who want a sustainable enterprise and a good and relevant life can continue to refuse to learn, ignore new knowledge and run from the hard work of human and leadership development. And I believe that new leaders and everyday people who love to learn and relish the hard work of personal growth will emerge from the rubble of places like United Airlines. I believe this because I trust that humanity will, in the end, choose renewal over decline. But then, I am an optimist.

On a global scale, a life affirming awakening flowers in the midst of a strain of madness. We must nurture this movement. If we pay attention, we can see great things happening locally and regionally every day. I hope our human awakening also becomes a great remembering of what humanity has learned through the ages. I hope our conscious evolution and greater enlightenment as a species happens fast so we have time to turn back anti-human forces and the great forgetting not only in our organizations but throughout our human community.

Whether a leader, a celebrity or an everyday person, we can ask, “Am I learning and reinventing myself over and over again so that I can feel alive, be fully human and create a good life for myself and my family?”

The Best Thoughts About the United Airlines Fiasco

This is the best thinking I’ve seen about the United Airlines fiasco. Related, see my blog: The Singularity.

The piece below paints a vivid picture of a culture that demands conformity and compliance from employees. The culture robs people of their freedom, their creativity and their ability to solve problems in the moment. The people try to be machines. But they are not  machines. The pressure to be something other than themselves sucks the life out of them. Had the employees felt valued, involved and informed and had they felt empowered to think creatively and to put the customer first, I believe this incident would not have happened. I thought we had learned these lessons in the 90’s. This is a failure of leadership at the highest levels of United.

From Fast Future Publishing:

“We think the biggest casualties of the recent highly publicized United Airlines service failure may not be the airline, its shareholders or an under-siege CEO. Instead, we believe those who could experience the biggest long-term challenges and consequences are the people running large-scale digital transformation programmes, their technology and implementation partners, and those heralding artificial intelligence (AI) as the future of business.  At the human and operational levels, the investigations, court cases, trials by TV and social media inquests will rumble on. Everyone wants to get to underlying truth of why Dr David Dao was violently yanked from his seat on United Express Flight 3411 from Chicago O’Hare International Airport to Louisville Kentucky on Sunday April 9th. The full commercial repercussions will take a while to work through. At one point, over US$250 million was wiped off the value of United’s stock, and it could fall further should customers choose to fly with other carriers in protest. The debate will also intensify about how long United’s CEO Oscar Munoz can stay in post before either falling on his sword or being bumped by his board.

Image Credit: Staresattheworld
Anyone who has the misfortune of flying United – even in the big bucks cabins – knows that sense of being on board a prison ship where you have to keep the wardens happy for fear of verbal reprimand or punishment. Sit anywhere near the galley and listen to the crew talking – in 15 minutes you’ll hear all the evidence you need of what’s going wrong with the airline.  United’s disillusioned staff are the embodiment of a business that prioritises systems over service, control over customers, subservience over solutions, and profits over people. They are the classic example of an organisation behaving like the machines it employs and seeing staff and customers simply as inputs to be transformed into outputs in the form of profits.

In the grand scheme of things, the incident raises massive warning signs for those embarking on flights of corporate transformation to an anticipated digital nirvana. Around the world, medium to large enterprises are spending hundreds of millions – and in some cases more than a billion – US dollars on digital transformation and AI automation programmes. These are primarily designed to create a hyper-efficient, low cost “algorithmic business” and replace humans wherever possible with smart and adaptive software. The appeal is that these shiny new systems will work 24/7/365, learn, adapt, respond consistently, never have an off day or a day off, and service peaks in business demand at no extra cost.

However, the warning bells should be ringing, the United case highlights what happens when we place too much store in technology. In this case, there was no real AI involved, just a set of rigid rules embedded in software and a removal of almost all freedom, capacity and incentive for staff to use their own initiative. Anyone – literally anyone – could have told United of the PR disaster that would ensue in today’s smartphone enabled and social media fuelled environment if they chose to send police onto the plane to forcibly remove Dr Dao. Had the United ground staff been able to use common sense and felt the courage to do so, they would have put their own staff on another flight or hired a limo to get them to Louisville, both of which would almost certainly have cost less than the US$800 plus accommodation that they were offering to each of the four passengers they wanted to remove. United could also have offered progressively higher levels of deplaning compensation until someone took the bait – suggestions range from US$1,000 – 1,300 as to what that figure might have been. United’s system doesn’t appear to have been equipped to make such choices or offer sensible suggestions, and the airline staff involved certainly didn’t look like they felt empowered to do so.

Image Credit: Denver Post
This represents a massive red flag for organisational digital change programs and those pursuing “employee” light AI-first automation strategies. The risk is that we create hollowed out businesses that are too rigid and incapable of responding to both predictable variations and truly unforeseen challenges. Embarking on an intense automation path actually requires that we give more autonomy and authority to the remaining humans in the organisation. They need to act fast and sensitively to problems, genuinely putting the customer first – rather than the system and the rules. The test is would you personally feel happy with the resolution on offer if you were the customer on the receiving end? Failure to do so could lead to a lot more United-style problems for many organisations. The United case will be a wake-up call for many firms and could lead to a slowing, suspension, or even cancellation of their digital change initiatives as they take stock to ensure they are not automating themselves off the playing field.

On the positive side, United and others will hopefully be forced to look at and change the nature and tone of their patently insensitive and seemingly inhuman machine generated corporate responses.  The world can see through double speak, as evidenced by the sheer scale of the vitriol directed at the airline, the number of United mocking advertisements from competitors, and the level of ridicule being heaped upon CEO Munoz and his team for the meaningless corporate mumbo jumbo they’ve been spouting on social media, in statements and in media interviews. These are all warnings of what happens when we become the machine.

So, how can we avoid “doing a United” and crash landing our digital transformation programmes? The first step is to be really clear on why we are doing the digital change or AI project. If cost is the primary driver, then we can pretty much guarantee some service failures of the “United kind”, if not always so public. Even though there may well be cost savings, the primary driver has to be delivery of a better, faster, more seamless, less frustrating, and more responsive service to customers. Get the service design right before we build the systems and the cost savings will follow. Secondly, we must look at our investment in people and their capacity to solve problems. United’s latest bout of self-harm highlights a real imperative to develop staff who can think on their feet, truly empathise with customers and come up with creative solutions that get it right when and where it counts – even if there’s an associated short-term cost of doing so for the organisation.

Image Credit: Denver Post
The more the rules and the process design are embedded in the system, the more important it will be for staff to be able to act fast and decisively at the point of customer interaction, especially when the technology fails or throws up patently dumb solutions in the prevailing context. This is going to take a lot of courage for staff to do this rather than choosing the “United Way” and simply following the rule book – employees will need to see, feel, smell, and touch the organisation’s commitment to protect them if they do the right thing for the customer. As organisations automate more deeply and reduce headcounts more savagely, the competition for the few remaining jobs will become more intense. This is likely to create an immense reluctance to take risks to bypass the rules and show initiative unless the firm can provide tangible and believable proof that these are the new winning behaviours that will help you keep your job and earn promotions. Admittedly, such opportunities might be in shorter supply in the highly-automated enterprise.

The biggest challenge lies in changing the leadership mindset. Many technology programmes are currently predicated on the notion that we’ll have far greater transparency and control over everything that happens – everywhere and at all times – the control freak’s utopia! The reality is that with AI, we cannot as yet see how these complex learning algorithms make their decisions and the internal rules they create and evolve, so we will be placing a level of blind faith in the systems. Secondly, the things that truly differentiate us and set us apart from our competitors will not be the clever choices made by our super smart algorithms: The true moments that make a difference will come from the stories of our people going above and beyond to serve the customer when the system wouldn’t allow it or simply failed to do the right thing. The irony is that, almost inevitably, the thinning of corporate headcounts will go too far too fast, and the few staff that remain will not have the time to provide detailed reports of how they did the right thing – perhaps their social media accounts will be the best place to find that out.

Almost inevitably, more attention gets paid to the big-ticket technology expenditure than the transformation of mindsets, enablement of empowerment and development of deep capabilities amongst staff. We often see and hear firms proudly proclaiming their investments in technology transformation as their commitment to a bright digital future for their business. In contrast, it’s a rarity to see organisations making equally proud statements about their investment in people. That pretty much tells us all we need to know about where the “United moments” are likely to occur.

There are many lessons that can be learnt from Dr Dao’s experience, not least to think twice before flying with United. However, perhaps the most transferable teaching point is to stand back and re-evaluate our digital transformation and AI-enablement initiatives to make sure that we are using the technology in genuine service of our people. We need to ensure that we are equipping staff to make empowered decisions to act in the best interests of the paying customer. In short, and perhaps paradoxically, the real goal of digital transformation and automation is to create a very human business.”