If you've read the shock and surprise of the past two weeks, you'd be certain no one could have predicted the Trump and populist win. But you'd be wrong. Some commentators were alert to the electoral change. Both before and after the election, a passage from Richard Rorty's 1998 book, Achieving Our Country, circulated on the web.
I often refer to my wife’s early death from Alzheimer’s complications as a "good death." If you have experience with Alzheimer’s you’ll understand that comment. But what made death easier for her and us was our love of music. An NYT opinion article by Mark Vanhoenacker, described some basic end-of-life planning and focused on his deathbed playlist. It rang a lot of bells because of my wife’s death from Alzheimer’s nearly five years ago.
Vanhoenacker’s very human insights resonate: the music that gives our lives meaning can bring comfort at the end. Lest you think I’m describing sad, gloomy funeral music, let me disabuse you of that thought. Paul Simon once said that music should continue “right on up until you die.” And Simon’s music was never funereal...
A few days ago while having lunch at a local grill, a young guy sat down beside me. Shortly, we were engaged in a fast and hot conversation and I found out that he was a residential architect and he learned I was an executive coach. Learning that I too was fascinated by architecture, he began to quiz me about my specific interests and background. Finding that I grew up in metropolitan Detroit in the ‘forties and ‘fifties, he wanted to know about some of the great residences near the still-beautiful Fisher building on Woodward Avenue. An enlightening conversation about the monstrous costs and impossibility of building such magnificent homes today followed.
The question As he began to leave nearly an hour later, he asked one question I’d heard before: “what’s the most important communication rule I need to know for my business?” “Well,” I responded, “not the talking I’ve been doing here. Instead, ask a couple highly relevant questions and listen, listen and listen. Then clarify the responses with another question or two, and listen, listen, and listen some more. At the end of an hour you’ll know a great deal of highly useful client information.” He nodded in very strong affirmation.
Listening is frequently and sometimes naively associated with only information gathering about tasks and the background of an individual. Often the more important information from listening is assessing the talker’s intent or motives—what that person is trying to achieve. Many times the partner’s goals and motives are not explicit, sometimes purposefully kept private. Over time, listening can enable us to figure out why...
If you voted Trump, don’t expect too much. If you voted Clinton, the world is not at an end.
Candidly, I was 80% shocked and surprised, and about 20% merely reflective. What created these stats for me was last week’s blog, What’s the noise really all about?--a blog that defined populism and that has now become predictive of Trump’s success. Populists believe in their own virtue—and that they are being mistreated by a small circle of elites. Added to that belief is the view that “if we work together, we can overthrow those elites.” That just happened in our election. What’s unique is that Trump’s win is the first time populism has elected a president--even though populist ideas have impacted voting throughout American history.
American history of populism This morning I rechecked the history of populism and gained a number of fascinating insights...
One of my regularly frustrating experiences is listening to legislators and ordinary people talking about what CEOs and senior executives should know about employees are doing five levels below them. That’s nearly impossible in big companies, unless like Wells Fargo’s CEO, John Stumpf it’s a widespread behavior that’s been going on for years. So I’m always watching for examples of business reality for my readers—reality, that is, that reflects my years of experience with top companies and my own philosophical orientation. All the better if that reality is supported by trustworthy research. A recent issue Economist dealt with a superb example of business reality: that lock-‘em-up mentality for white collar crime.
But first, let’s be candid about business magazines and newspapers. All of my antennae are out when I’m reading the Wall Street Journal and nearly all the American business magazines. More than anything else, before I look seriously on any article I’m watching to make certain the writer or the magazine takes a responsible attitude toward the community. My read of too many American business magazines is that they are too capitalist or too individualist and very little oriented to the greater good of the country. That’s not only a political issue, but also a moral issue.
The one obvious exception to that cautionary rule is the Brit magazine, The Economist, what some call rather snobbish in its appeal. But it regularly critiques itself, takes a stance toward the greater good, reflects wisely on business strategy and never fails to challenge conventional wisdom. It’s an expensive magazine, but brilliantly, often hilariously, written. The Economist has the largest business circulation in the world, except for the Wall Street Journal. That’s not necessarily good company since the Journal seems to have gone on a downward slide ever since the Murdochs took over. I get some sense, however, that Murdoch’s sons may be a bit more communitarian and responsible. But we’ll see. (FYI: I’m neither correspondent nor salesperson for The Economist)
Why this tangent and all this explanation? It’s not just that too few business people pick up an intelligent piece of news. Though I’m clearly a capitalist, I agree fully with David Brooks, that intriguing conservative, who has stated on numerous occasions that we need to be more communitarian and less individualistic, more moralistic and less utilitarian, more emotional and less cognitive. More emotional and less cognitive applies directly to techie algorithms. They have their uses, but they’re extremely biased. As Cathy O’Neil has wisely written, they are Weapons of Math Destruction: they increase inequality and threaten democracy.
Are we soft on white collar crime? The Economist’s Schumpeter points out that both right-wing populists and left-wing progressives think that society is too soft on white collar-crime. That’s the conventional perspective, but how accurate is it? Two new books, one by Harvard’s Eugene Soltes and the other by Duke’s Samuel Buell, who was the lead prosecutor in the Enron case, provide the research and evidence demonstrating that we are now tougher on white-collar crime.
We’re punishing white-collar criminals more severely because of two bills: Sarbanes-Oxley (2002) and the Dodd-Frank (2010). Other countries are moving in the same direction, including states as diverse as South Korea, Oman and Spain.
Although I appreciate Senator Elizabeth Warren’s highly productive rhetorical indictment of the Wells-Fargo Company and CEO, as Schumpeter points out, even prosecutorial zeal does not always result in convictions. Prosecutors face very difficult trade-offs and that includes protecting the rights of unpopular bankers.
This piece of reality is very significant and goes against the grain. Those mortgages that brought down several finance institutions were perfectly legal. The people doing the buying were probably just as much in the dark as the people doing the selling. And furthermore, most corporate crime is not individual, but the result of collective action.
Right vs. wrong Populists like to think there is a bright line between right and wrong. Step over the line and you should go to jail. That’s naïve. Here’s what was initially surprising to me, but I quickly realized very accurate: “a great deal of wealth-creation takes place between what is legal and what is questionable.” (Remember the old truism? Ask for forgiveness, not permission! Having gone through numerous IRS audits, myself, and suffering only one small fine, that’s a great recommendation.)
Want some public examples? Bill Gates was hauled before the authorities for using Harvard’s computers without permission. Steve Jobs was involved in backdating stock-options to increase their value. Technology firms typically work with outdated legal regulations. Uber and Airbnb are regularly engaged in legal battles with regulators.
Fact of the matter—and this is something never to forget—new business typically tests the rules. That can result in updating the rules. Significantly for all of us, new businesses pushing the envelope often end up offering services that people want and that advance the common good.
So don’t be too quick to criminalize white collar behavior.
Although Trump is the most obvious noisemaker, today’s political arena is driven by populism. Populists believe in their own virtue—and that they are being mistreated by a small circle of elites. Added to that belief is the view that “if we work together, we can overthrow those elites.”
But not just the above, a large number of issues keep surfacing, making understanding the noise more difficult. For example, there’s no doubt that Hilary Clinton is the recipient of latent sexism and wounded male (the old white men) prerogatives. In a recent phone conversation, my brother (79 years old) commented that he didn’t know what to do about the election. He wouldn’t vote for Trump, but couldn’t vote for “a woman.” I decided, based on years of experience, not to go there. I just grunted. My brother is reflective of the toxic triad of populism: anti-pluralism (“a woman”?), denial of complexity (“all you need to do is. . . “), and a crooked version of representation (“all politicians are liars”).
So how can we understand all this? Although there are a lot of confusing issues built into today’s political confusion, Andres Velasco, former finance minister of Chile and now at Columbia, summarizes the most informative insight this history/political science major has picked up on for some time.
Velasco believes that neither bad economics, nor taxation (or jobs or income inequality) drives populism. Instead, he argues that populism today—and historically—is about representation: who gets to speak for the people and how.
Though I’m no great lover of the politics and thought of "W's" speech writer, Michael Gerson, when he gets passionate, my brain says yes, yes. It’s amusingly simple to tell when he’s passionate about something. He departs from his evangelical, Wheaton background and uses mild expletives like “damn” and “hell.” Recently, he’s started using them in his columns, so you can tell he’s really pissed off and wants his evangelical, conservative readers to pay attention.
In the last few months he’s been going after the extreme “rightists” and Donald Trump. I’d be thrilled to...
The least used and one of the most productive tools for conversation is high-level questioning. But for a number of reasons, questioning has always gotten short shrift. Traditionally, asking questions is thought of as revealing your incompetence, which is then rewarded with a loss of influence. Even today, when the need ought to be obvious, few actually get questioning. Neither yesterday’s traditionalist nor today’s knowledge worker understands that questioning is a linguistic device that can make great contributions to the organization—and grant profound influence and power to the individual.
All questions are speech actions that affect the way individuals and teams organize their thinking about people, problems, and processes. The better questions can often...
Anger is usually viewed as a disrupting, destructive emotion, especially in business — unless, of course, you’re a well-placed executive without those limitations. The religious typically view anger as bad stuff, something we should set aside and, to quote St. Paul, never go to sleep with. Paul, however, never kept his own rule. So like most generalities, there are exceptions. Indeed, there are times when anger is strategic, and also times when it’s simply not useful to set anger aside, much less forgive the target of your anger.
To be clear, studies have shown that anger evolved as a means to help us...
Question any leader or executive about their success and eventually they’ll tell you that their mentor played a big role. Today, however, there is no Jedi-Master Yoda, wise and powerful, taking on people and unlocking the paths to business immortality. The onus is now yours to find numerous mentors, build the relationships, learn from them, weave the skills together, and create your successful identity. No single master, but a collage of mentors.
Finding your mentors You’ll normally rub shoulders with skills mentors, people willing to help and mentor, during your first week at a company. It’s important from the outset to find the more capable people. Relational mentors, in contrast, are more difficult to locate. But you should watch interactions both within and outside your discipline, looking for potential mentors. Relational experts tend to be excellent facilitators, know how to question without making people defensive, have a lot of language at their fingertips, can read people well, create a motivational atmosphere and readily engage in team problem solving. As you become a good “noticer of mentors” you’ll have a leg up on your competition.
Locating career and strategic mentors is a much more difficult game...