A Moral Revolution?

…The larger culture itself has become morally empty….

 David Brooks, NY Times June 7, 2016


New York Times Columnist Tom Friedman described the Republican Party as morally bankrupt.

Washington Post Columnist Richard Cohen wrote that Donald Trump is “without principles.”

People roundly condemned Speaker of the House Paul Ryan for putting his policy ambitions ahead of his values in supporting Trump despite Trump’s racist comments.

And on and on I could go about the lack of values and morality in Donald Trump and much of the Republican Party.

Some call for a moral revolution in America.

We don’t need new values, a new morality or a moral revolution.

We already have national and personal values worthy of our allegiance and commitment. Many of us simply lack the awareness and audacity to live true to our values. For many our courage has become lazy. Too many of us succumb to the worst elements in the workplace, the neighborhood, the statehouse and the congress. We gladly join with the mediocre to avoid conflict. We dumb our brains and our hearts down to fit in and give up part of our selves and lives when we do so. We stay silent and look the other way. I don’t know about you but, unlike Paul Ryan, I would say no to the team, the organization and the political party before I would sacrifice my values to be accepted by disgusting people, hollow presidential candidates or a political party on a path to irrelevance.

Had Republican primary voters been more mature, aware and value-driven and had they voted from wise discernment instead of their anger, Donald Trump wouldn’t be the Republican nominee for president of the United States. But they weren’t grownups and now the rest of us are called to be the adults in our political system.

If we are to solve the problems that engulf us, we won’t do it with the version of human being that created the problems. We need a new kind of ourselves: more awake and aware, more thoughtful, more value-driven and more loving and compassionate towards our planet, other people and ourselves. To consciously evolve ourselves takes courage. We become courageous one small brave act at a time.

Each of us can do what we can to live more true to our values in our day-to-day lives. We can stand up, speak up and put the moral implications of life front and center and do what we can to be the change in morality we want to see in others and in our leaders. In doing so, we do our part to bring forth a more mature version of ourselves.

The recent mass murders in Orlando, FL call us to do something about guns in our society. Our attitudes and behaviors towards mass violence is a form of insanity. Climate change, immigration, and income inequality continue to call for change each in their own ways. We must heed these calls to action or suffer the consequences of continued avoidance of serious issues that threaten our democracy and our way of life. We cannot stay as we are. Either we go backwards in our human evolution or we move to the future and a better people, nation and world. We are responsible. Our deepest values guide us.

Has our national character deteriorated so much, have so many abandoned their values so completely that Donald Trump, brought forth from the dark side of a small group of Americans, could actually be elected president? Will we turn our future and our nation over to this twisted and deluded man? Maybe, if masses of people stay indifferent. People need to vote on November 8, 2016.

America especially needs the young, the minorities and the immigrants—who so often don’t vote–to cast ballots for those who represent their values. You see, if we want change in this country (immigration, gun laws, income disparity, climate change and more) we can’t have 51% to 49% election results that only maintain gridlock. We need Democrats—from the top to the bottom of the ballot–to win a blow-out election that evolves our acceptance of diversity, which makes us a more alive and resilient nation, our partnership and cooperation with one another that allows every person to contribute to our success and our dependence on each other: we are all in this together.

Clear thinking and our value-driven actions must decide our destiny—not passive silence or by putting political agendas before honor.

A vote against Donald Trump who offers us “xenophobia, bigotry, misogyny and a crypto-fascist approach to government [Paul Waldman, Washington Post, June 13, 2016], may be the most moral thing each of us can do in the months ahead.

Happiness at Work

On-site exercise equipment. Paid volunteer time. A wall of baking tools you can borrow. These may sound like the perks some flush tech companies extend to their engineers.

Can leaders and organizations make people happy at work?

I learned that being in the happiness business led only to frustration and disappointment. Happiness is too elusive an idea.

I learned that it was better as a leader to create conditions where employees could come to work and feel valued, involved, and informed and have their talents and passions utilized–if they wanted to.

That way, employees felt alive in pursuit of noble goals and profits grew along with happiness.

A Voice in the Wilderness

I’d consulted with a major Midwestern power company for a while, when a leader in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (I.B.E.W.) said to me, “You are a voice in the wilderness.”

At the time, I didn’t think of myself as a voice in the wilderness or an advocate for some obscure theory. I focused my work—based on my real-life experiences–and attention on transformation and the leadership necessary to bring forth such difficult change in organizations. There was dire need for such renewal: few organizations achieved excellence and fewer yet could sustain distinction once realized.

I was fresh from my 18 year career at the Star Tribune newspaper where, in my last position, I had led a successful transformational change effort in a large business unit. When we began, I thought of how much I would be able to change the enterprise. But I was probably changed the most. My eyes were opened to the vast untapped human potential available to those who learned to think differently about leading groups of people. I left the company to complete a Ph.D. in leadership and organizational change and to share what I’d learned with leaders.

I tried to teach the leaders of the power company how to free their employee’s potential by inviting workers to get involved and to create conditions where each person could feel valued, involved, and informed—alien ideas in a mechanistic system. I wanted leaders to embrace tough love, lead from their values and humanize the huge enterprise. I believed the leaders would leap at the chance to improve the bottom line in dramatic fashion and reduce the time, energy and vast expense of constant conflict and litigation with the union represented employees.

I was mistaken.

The personal growth the leaders must make to lead such change felt too scary for them. I found the same in other organizations. Leaders wanted change; they didn’t want to do the hard work of change. My personal goal changed from “change the world” to “do what I can.”

I made each job an effort to plant the seeds of organizational enlightenment: those moments of metanoia that changed the inner person. Over 13 years I met a handful of leaders who understood and embraced the insights. But most could not summon or sustain the courage and commitment to undertake their own transformations and to confront angry and painful resistant to deep change.

After 13 years, tired and in need of renewal myself, I retired.

I never thought that calling on people to embrace the humanity of others would be a voice in the wilderness. The wily veteran of the I.B.E.W. was right.

We need many voices with moral courage to call out in the humanistic wastelands of our organizations and institutions.

More so today than ever before.

Moral Courage

A man wrote me:

The seduction of the hiring process convinced me I had arrived in an organization that would embrace my methods. A place I thought my heart and talents could finally grow and flourish. I offered too much of myself unprotected and was “wacked” into reality.

I watched as the president of the company berated, humiliated, and then fired a good and stable sales representative. He did this in front of all the employees of the company. I sat and squirmed in my seat, metaphorically visualizing the owner shooting a hostage in the head to instill fear and ultimate control over the rest of us. The president noticed my discomfort. He asked, in a threatening manner, if I wanted to stay with the company. I felt compelled to quit on the spot, which I did. I managed to speak my mind a little as I left. I am now home, unemployed and recovering. (I wrote this man’s story in an essay entitled, Bearing Witness).

This story exemplifies moral courage: doing what you believe is right in the face of loss, criticism, rejection, or retaliation.

Over 18 years in many leadership and change agent roles at the Star Tribune newspaper and 13 years as a consultant to leaders of dysfunctional organizations, people tested my commitment to my values many times. The decision to stand up for my values was sometimes painful, and I wrestled with self-doubt at times. But I had vowed to live a value driven life, and I believed in value driven leadership. The values my parents had taught me were deepened and solidified as a young Secret Service agent where I experienced the might of ethics, excellence, and purpose and as a lost soul in a tough alcohol treatment center where I came to believe that my life depended on a value driven life.

I abhor rankism, dishonesty, disrespect, unfairness, mediocrity, and irresponsibility. I value respect, justice, fairness, integrity, excellence, and responsibility. I never thought of myself as having moral courage: I tried to be a good person and leader and fought through my anxiety and fears to do what I believed was right the best way I knew how.

Acting from our values often comes at a cost. I know well the fear of losing a job, and the loss of status and relationships along with humiliation and marginalization. It takes courage to stand alone in danger, to defy the unwritten rules, to illuminate the dark side, and to go against the cultural grain.

Why take the risks of moral courage at all? I do it to support values and to live an honest and authentic life and to do what I can to make the world  healthier and more ethical. And to stand up for those with less power and to go against the villains of our world. I do it so I can like myself. Aristotle said we become brave by doing brave acts. Think of moral courage as a muscle that grows stronger with use.

Robert Greenleaf, author of Servant Leadership, wrote that the problem in the world is not the evil, lazy, crazy, immature, disrespectful, and irresponsible people. They have been with us forever. The problem is the good people who have gone to sleep. We live surrounded by the need for moral courage to stand up to abuse, injustice, dishonesty, willful ignorance, the ism’s of the world, and the lack of compassion.

Moral courage may be the most needed courage in the 21st century and the mark of personal maturity and true leadership.




Bad Guys Win

I recently finished season 1 of The Wire. 

What struck me the most was the human corruption:

Crooked politicians, office politics driven cops, layer upon layer of lawbreakers with each layer having less of a soul to lose.

The crooks with a chance to live a decent life got killed.

The crooks who did the least lawbreaking got the longest sentences.

The crooks who did the worst got off or got the lightest sentences.

The bad cops and politicians got promoted or elected.

The good cops had to fight to do good, honest work.

The good cops got badgered, threatened, demeaned, and intimidated–by their bosses.

The good cops got marginalized in the hinterlands of the police department.

In the end, mediocrity and disillusionment prevailed.

The shadow side of humanity cuts across all organizations and communities. The details are unique in each system but the deeper dark patterns are the same.

Yet brave souls continue to live authentic and value-driven lives always striving for excellence because they feel alive when they do so. They are the models who go first and show us the way.

The ROC’s

I led a transformational change process that changed my life forever. Fifteen teams were located in offices through the Primary Market Area of the Star Tribune newspaper. Each team had a secretary. The secretaries came to be called ROC’S: regional office coordinators.

We created role groups around specific elements of work. We hoped the groups would be the structure we could use to institutionalize learning around selected topics, develop strategies, and create action plans. For example, we had a group for employee safety, one for employee satisfaction, one for customer satisfaction, and one for the administration of team budgets. Each team member was on a role group. Role group membership rotated each six months. We challenged the groups to establish a learning objective in their subject area, and to then put something new in place from what they learned. Each role group did a presentation to management each six months to share their experience and accomplishments.

Some of the groups did better than others. Those that set their own objectives did better than those whose team leader set the objective. Some topics seemed easier to manage than others. For example, employees could get their hands around safety; customer satisfaction seemed harder for them to impact in a strategic way.

The first presentations to management were just okay. What else should we have expected? The groups had struggled with process issues, goal-setting, and how to carry out their plans. But they all put forth effort, and a start had been made.

The ROCs made up a role group. Their job was to work together on systems development and office procedures. I attended their first presentation. They were enthusiastic and wanted to know what they could do to continue learning and how they could increase their involvement. I encouraged them to read Peter Senge’s book, The Fifth Discipline. I offered to provide some consulting help as they tried to apply the concepts of the disciplines, especially systems thinking and personal mastery.

Six months later, we were invited to the next regional office coordinator role group presentation. When I arrived at the conference room, I noticed it was decorated. The walls and ceiling had stars pasted on them—references to the future and to visions.

At the conclusion of their presentation, I, along with everyone else, was speechless. They had scripted their presentation around vision, systems thinking, personal mastery, and creating your own future. They had transformed the concepts into reality. They described their goal-setting process, how they divided up the work, and the results they achieved. They talked of reengineering work processes they managed and the savings this generated (without the help of consultants). They were alive, energized, and enthusiastic. They took responsibility for their own learning. Their presentation was a moment of “what could be.”

One thing I learned during this transformation was that front-line folks were often awfully smart—sometimes smarter than vice presidents—and the fear of such smart people can lead to resistance to employee involvement by senior managers.

Excerpted from my e-book, Value Driven Leadership: A Story of Personal and Organizational Transformation available at Amazon.com

My New Book: Value Driven Leadership

I am happy to announce the publication of my second e-book: Value Driven Leadership: A Story of Personal and Organizational Transformation at Amazon.com 

You may not be interested in leadership and organizations or in a more than 20-year-old story but stick with me for a moment.

Some times in life we have an unexpected experience that dramatically alters the trajectory of our life forever.

This book is about one of those experiences in my life.

I didn’t set out to be a change agent at the Star Tribune newspaper in Minneapolis, MN. I needed a job. On my first day, the union steward told me what the rules were: dress down, cheat on expenses and overtime, and don’t make other union guys look bad.

I wasn’t going to conform to mediocrity or let someone else decide the course of my life. I set out to change the place. About 15 years later, a vice president told me that I was making others mad by leading change in the culture of the company. I continued to do what I was doing.

In between those sickening moments, I led change in the work, culture, and performance of the company through nine promotions and steps on the organizational chart.

Sometimes people come together and create something special and when that happens, it is mystical.

Challenged by a Teamster’s Union organizing effort and revenue shortfalls in the newspaper industry, we had to cut millions of dollars from the budget and defeat the union. We decided to do something different. We defined Value Driven Leadership for ourselves and choose to live true to our values. We created a vision for our work lives. We got everyone involved. We made sure everyone felt valued, involved, and informed.

Fifteen months later, we were a national success story. We melded employee engagement with values and respect for people and brought forth phenomenal business results. Business guru, Tom Peters, wrote about us. We spoke at conferences around the country. People came to visit and see our work. The CEO said out work would change the company forever. Of course there was a dark side to all of this, and I write about that too.

While we did this ground-breaking work, the newspaper industry sat on the edge of a precipice that threatened its very life: The Internet and its impending impact on newspaper readership and advertising revenue.

Soon the industry was in a free-fall decline. The Star Tribune went bankrupt. What happened to our industry-leading work that might help renew an industry?

You may not be interested in leadership, organizations, or newspapers. This story is about much more than those things: the newspaper setting is only the container for a larger story about how life works and can work in all aspects of our lives if we pay attention and learn about the deeper dynamics of life and how to utilize those underlying forces to create a high-energy life filled with aliveness.

My first e-book, Learning to Live: Essays on Life & Leadership tells the story of how my life changed based on the experiences in my new book.

I’d be grateful if you would help me spread the word. Thanks!

Trust & Dysfunctional Groups

I would especially appreciate hearing your thoughts on how trust and courage can be nourished laterally “among co-workers, especially when there is a dysfunctional work culture.” Blog reader

I was asked to lead a new business unit at the Star Tribune newspaper in Minneapolis, Minnesota. One of the departments I would be responsible for was Field Services. This group was unhappy: mad about changes being forced on them, some employees were working with the Teamsters union to gather enough signatures to force a vote for a union.

I met with Field Services employees and shared with them the story of what we were doing in another department of the new business unit. I described our need to grow in new ways, our struggles to define our values and create a new vision for the mature workforce, and our ideas for what might be possible in the new business unit. An employee said, “We don’t know you. Why should we trust you?”

“You are used to managers who come and go and use you to advance their careers,” I said. “You shouldn’t trust me. Pay attention and watch what we do and your trust in us will grow.”

A few months later, the employees who led the union organizing drive were leaders in the company employee involvement effort. Field Services had created a new vision for their department, redesigned their jobs, downsized their department voluntarily, and one of them spoke proudly about their work to the company senior staff. The Teamsters were gone. Trust had grown.

Dysfunctional organizations and work groups are the norm in many enterprises. They are some mix and degree of petty, political, and mediocre places of lies, abuse, denial, conflict, betrayal, immaturity, bad behavior, mangled relationships, and incompetence rewarded. Such organizations lack accountability, and disengaged workers often intimidate good people who remain silent and go along to get along. Dishonesty in such groups is common.  Distrust is an appropriate reaction in a dysfunctional work culture.

Such an organization needs a strong, value-driven leader who will hold people accountable and will engage people and lead a culture change effort and grow trust one action and one conversation at a time.  Outstanding leader Ruth Rothstein, former Chief, Cook County Bureau of Health Services, Chicago, Illinois, said to me:  “I think trust is important. I think most people trust me because I tell the truth — even if it hurts me. Even if it hurts me, I will tell the truth. I think you build trust by being an authentic leader.”

Pseudo-leaders are common. Before trusting the leader, watch what she does. Observe the impacts people have on others before you decide to trust them. True leaders care about people and help others be the best they can be — all the time.  Pay attention to values and authenticity. In assessing a leader, be wary of words spoken; pay attention to actions taken and trust your heart. Absent authentic leadership, permanent change is improbable.

Earlier in my career at the Star Tribune, I was a front-line union represented employee for two years. The department was highly dysfunctional–a hard place to be a hard-working person of integrity. I believed in excellence and worked hard to achieve. I had to stand up to union stewards and other union leaders who demanded mediocrity so as not to make the most disengaged workers look bad.  I refused instructions to cheat and steal from the company. I moved up quickly in the management ranks and eventually was in charge of the department and led culture change.

My advice to employees who work in dysfunctional organizations: If you get a strong leader, support the leader and help her lead change. If you don’t get the leader you need, stay true to your values, stand against mediocrity and dishonesty, and strive for excellence. Join with like-minded people, find your allies, come together to find courage, and do what you can to bring about change. People will trust you as a person of integrity. But know that you may be attacked, threatened, and sabotaged for doing so (See Plato’s Cave).

If you cannot stay true to yourself, leave the organization and go somewhere where you can be an honest and authentic employee.