Robert Gates – a leader for our times

In today’s WSJ (6/20/2011) the Managing & Careers section features a story about the defense secretary and his tenure leading the department.

What is most striking is Gate’s adaptability, humility and his realistic expectations of others. When he first took office he decided to meet with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in their conference room as opposed to summoning them to his office.  Showing respect to the professional who staff and help lead an institution is critical Mr. Gates said.  The article also states that Gates has an open leadership style and doesn’t dominate meetings, but relishes making decisions at their conclusion.  A former deputy defense secretary states, “He encourages participation, so people have a lot of say,until the decision is made and then, like all good leaders, he expects people to toe the line.” He also worked to ensure that his ideas were embraced not just by the top generals but also mid-ranking and junior military officers To do that he teaches classes at the service academies and gives speeches to the various war colleges. The standard opinion is  that the military is an exclusive command and control culture. Maybe it was but it seems that Gates, at least now, has made a change creating a more empowered, engaged and motivated workforce.

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Raise Above It or Stay In It?

A client truly has an impossible job in that he does not have adequate talent with his department to execute work, does not have a supportive manager, continually is pressed to delivery faster better work and is monitored to ensure that he does not continue or create a hostile work environment. Recently he stated I need to :”raise above it” – Raise above it? – That is the last thing I told my client to do.  He must stay in it – in all the difficult sticky mess of it all – try to manage realistic expectations, pull on her inner resources and find external resources both within the company and outside, that she can give and get support from.  By trying to raise above it I fear that the client is trying to minimize the chaotic and difficult and demanding situation. If a situational depression is the result of this current state so be it but to deny it or not face it on a moment to moment and day to day basis would serve no one particularly himself.

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Conflict anyone?

One trait that seems to afflict a majority of managers is avoiding conflict.  Conflict is inevitable and can be just the beginning of some valuable interaction. Yet why do so many avoid it? The wish to be liked, fantasies of great anger and or violence? Perhaps, but ask yourself, do you constructively address conflict when there is a need? I usually do but not always and I think that is about as good as it gets.

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Google on the Go

A recent NY Times Sunday piece focused on how Google develops good managers and leaders. Not surprisingly they discovered the eternal truth about managers and their employees  reporting to them. These bosses and managers do not have to be as deep technically as the people they work with. What their people need is empowerment, an interest in their success and well-being and being there to both listen and share information. These activities seem so simple and yet are they evident in the manager/employee relationships you know?  In maybe 50% of situations you know? That would be high. Simple but not easy – that is exactly what these activities are. Perhaps not that different from a  ”good” parent but it does get trickier if there are two (alleged) adults working together. I will discuss some of the relationships I have observed and what gets in the way of good management in the future.

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Toughness and Playacting

 

Scott Walker thinks he is a tough guy and  determined not to yield power  and not compromise or give in – is there a connection between the two? According to Gary Willis, theologian and professor, John Wayne practiced his walk and talk quite a bit as he was developing his “tough” guy image.

 

And Scott Walker believes he is taking a “ hardline” strategy and implementing his tough tactics about union rights. However, the facts speak a good deal louder and with more clarity of purpose that anything from the Walker rhetoric. Class war this is – tax cuts for the walker wealthy preceded this tough stance. What will happen next is of most interest. Why do people allow themselves to be fed only part of the whole picture?

 

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In Whose Best Interest?

I have a client who is making great progress on taking more control of his  behavior, truly understanding the impact his actions have on colleagues and in leading his organization through focused energy, wit, skill and passion. When I asked his manager if there was anything that his direct report (my client) could do to enhance his effectiveness and leadership, the manager stated yes. The manager added that he would not mention this to my client until his “problem” raised its head again. “Why” I inquired?  ”Because I only want to give him positive feedback and reenforcement.” he replied. Interestingly the manager knows that this client is very sensitive about NOT making missteps (having had a history of them) and he also knew that the client can very quickly and easily feel guilty about his behavior  Had the client repeated his problem, no doubt the client would feel embarrassed and guilty. So why was the manager reluctant  to address this situation?

Because of HIS discomfort.  Never underestimate the ability of your own vulnerabilities and discomforts to stand in the way of managing and leading as effectively as possible.

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Hewlett Packard CEO Scandal Coverups the Real Scandal

It took awhile however in a story published in The New York Times today we learn the real reasons Mark Hurd was fired as CEO of Hewlett Packard: few liked or trusted him. He focused on short term cuts to boost profits much of which he took while there and even more on the way out the door.  The board trumped up the harassment and expenses issues to cover up their cowardice and taking the hardline and being transparent about the  on going leadership problems at HP.  I suppose it will be easier to “forget” about his rotten management style and ability  if you obfuscate what it was. However the whole situation reminds me of so many of  corporate situations where the real issues are often not addressed and one cover up leads to another.  Can’t the titans of industry act with a bit more maturity and candor?   No.  Below are excerpts from the article in the business section of today’s NYTs.

“He was wrecking our image, personally demeaning us, and chopping our future.”

Are any of these firing offenses? They probably should be, but they’re not, not in the culture we live in. That is especially true when the leader who is busy chopping the future is also posting fabulous short-term profits. And, to give Mr. Hurd his due, H.P. after Ms. Fiorina was a place where the executives’ feet needed to be held to the fire.

Ah, but if you just whip up a personal scandal — make sure it has a little sex in it! — then you can get rid of your failed leader on the grounds that he “violated the company’s standards.” The world is full of imperfect people; if everyone who ever fudged an expense report or flirted with an outside contractor were fired, there wouldn’t be many people left in the American work force.

This is not to say that Mr. Hurd should be let off the hook for, in his words, failing “to live up to the standards and principles of trust, respect and integrity that I have espoused at H.P.” (Note, by the way, that he doesn’t concede that he violated H.P.’s standards of business conduct.) But a firing offense? Really?

On the other hand, putting up dazzling short-term numbers that have the effect of enriching himself while robbing H.P.’s future — isn’t that what a C.E.O. should be fired for? Firing Mr. Hurd for that reason, however, would have taken courage, something that has always been in short supply on the H.P. board.

One thing I found surprising this week was learning that to many H.P. observers Ms. Fiorina no longer seemed quite so bad. It was actually her strategic vision that Mr. Hurd had executed, I heard again and again. Her problem was that while she talked a good game, she lacked the skill to get that big, hulking, aircraft carrier of a company moving in the direction she pointed. Mr. Hurd was a brilliant operational executive, but had the strategic sense of a gnat, and knew only how to cut costs.

What H.P. needs in its next leader, Mr. House told me, is “someone with Carly’s strategic sense, Mark’s operational skills, and Lew’s emotional intelligence.” (Lewis E. Platt preceded Ms. Fiorina as C.E.O.)

That is a tall order, but not an impossible one. It is certainly plausible that the H.P. board can find such a person. Given its recent track record, though, don’t hold your breath.”

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SELF DELUSION

I recently was reflecting on some outstanding theatre  I had seen over the past few years.  What is the power of playing against the line in a play be it a comedy or tragedy?  One of the biggest laughs Alex Jennings gets in the National Theatre (UK) production of Noel Coward’s Present Laughter is near the ned of the show.  While assessing the miserable human circumstances around him and responding directly to one of his manager’s laments of unhappiness and unfaithfulness Jennings booms out, as he postures and crosses his legs, “don’t be so theatrical.”

In the Royal Shakespeare Companies production of KING LEAR — i believe about one hour into the play — my heart almost skipped a second beat when suddenly  in a calm stillness, he utters, for the first time, I fear I am losing my mind. The paradox is he is becoming to be perceived as sane and so very very sad for the first time in the evening.   Disowning knowledge in seven Shakespeare plays by Cavil writes of this but Stephens brought it dramatically to life as a real human being.

I think the power relates to our constance omnipotent struggle AGAINST self awareness and our wish to delude ourselves.  This device is very common on the wonderful show FRASIER.  Would not Coward have made a brilliant writer on that show giving it a depth and darkness that might even match O’Neill.

Self delusion — let’s try to keep it at bay — knowing full well it will never go away like  troubling recurring dream.

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Regrets Loss and Facing Ourselves

Lev Dodin, the director of the acclaimed Maly Drama Theatre of St. Petersburg Russia, has directed a riveting production of UNCLE VANYA, which was recently seen at BAM.  Like Ingmar Bergman at his best, Dodin begins the play as well as foreshadows the outcome in the opening few moments. He has also reflected on the play and Chekhov in the playbill.  Here are his thoughts:

Life flows by, and sooner or later a man begins to see his years lived as a treasure he didn’t manage to put to good use.  He starts to see visions of other possible but unlived lives.  In these other lives all his secret dreams come true, all his hopes are fulfilled, all his sweetest fantasies become real.  The man furiously burns up the past, denies the present, and gives himself complete to this other life, which he could have lived, but did not manage to.  The fuller the man understands life, the sharper he feels this gap, this contradiction that grows into a tragedy.  Time goes by, and gradually you are faced with a choice — to either refuse this life completely, or to find courage to live out the life given to you by g-d and fate, which you have been carrying out — alone — with your will power and personality.

Fatally ill doctor Chekhov knew this paradox only too well, and he analyzed it with amazing tenderness and desperate ruthlessness.  This, among many other things, defines Chekhov’s plays, and the most beautiful of them — UNCLE VANYA — carries a simple but eternal melody and themes.

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A Hard Choice In A Life

I recently saw a riveting production of UNCLE VANYA from the Maly Drama Theatre of St. Petersburg Russia.

The play’s director Lev Dodin wrote a short bittersweet piece about this piece specifically and Chekhov in general. One has to make hard choices throughout one’s life as Dodin beautiful notes. To call this phase of life a middle age crisis would demean and marginalize it.

“Life flows by, and sooner of later a man begins to see his years lived as a treasure he didn’t manage to put to good use.  He starts to see visions of other possible but unlived lives.  In these other lives all his secret dreams come true, all his hopes are fulfilled, all his sweetest fantasies become real.  The man furiously burns up the past, denies the present, and gives himself complete to this other life which he could have lived, but didn’t manage it.  The fuller the man understands life, the sharper he feels this gap, this contradiction which grows into a tragedy.  Time goes by, and gradually you are faced with a choice — to either refuse this life completely, or to find courage to live out the life given to you by God and fate, which you have been carrying out — alone — with your will power and personality.”

Fatally ill doctor Chekhov knew this paradox only too well, and he analyzed it with amazing tenderness and desperate ruthlessness. This, among many other things, define Chekhov’s plays, and the most beautiful of them — Uncle Vanya — carries a simple but eternal melody and themes.

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