Tag Archives: Politics

Margret Thatcher is Leadership

“Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end.  It is not a day when you lounged around doing nothing.  It’s when you’ve had everything to do, and you’ve done it.”

Margaret Thatcher

No question, she had a lot of supremely satisfied days.  That quote has sat on my desk for years, and I  only wish I lived up to it more often.  Margaret Thatcher was an absolutely amazing leader.  While I will never say anyone was “the best ever”, I will say she sits squarely in any Top Ten List.

If there is one trait above all others Lady Thatcher had, it was conviction.  She had a vision, a plan, a mission, and she was absolutely committed.  Leadership means a great many things, but in the end it is the ability to inspire people to reach new heights, to take them beyond where they are and take them to a level previously unattained.  As Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher knew exactly the direction she wanted to go, she had a very specific vision of the world and her country, and she was without question committed to that vision.  She was The Iron Lady; it was a fitting moniker.

However, with that conviction went a very pragmatic side.  To her critics she was cold, unwilling to compromise, uncaring.  While she never wavered in her convictions, she was very pragmatic in meeting her goals.  She knew that relationships, working with others, bargaining and shared visions were the key to real, long-lasting change.  For all of her rhetoric and staunch committment as a “cold warrior”, when Gorbachev came onto the scene she realized she had a partner with whom she could work to truly bring about change.  Though her goals never changed, she was pragmatic in working with the Soviet leader to help bring an end to the Cold War.  Commitment without pragmatism is just being stubborn.  Not sacrificing the vision while working with others is real leadership.

Clear, concise and compelling.  Leaders are by nature great communicators, they are able to relate to an audience, to convey a message.  There is no question, Lady Thatcher was all that…just google some of her quotes…amazing.

Though there are many, many things I have always admired about Lady Thatcher, one of the most treasured leadership, and quite frankly life lessons, I have gleaned is that she never took things personally.  It seems so simple really, yet it is so terribly important.  The Falklands War put the “special” relationship with the United States and especially her friendship with President Reagan under extreme pressure.  She accepted that the United States, and even her personal friend, would not support her and the UK in their mission.  It was a bitter pill, yet she understood that it was not personal.  The Falklands War passed and the US/UK and Reagan/Thatcher relationship returned to normal.  There were no hurt feelings, no grudges, no recriminations.  It was just business.  It was not personal.  A leader has to put aside their own needs and even at times their own feelings, hurt or otherwise, and remain focused on the bigger picture.

Lastly, Lady Thatcher was just that, a lady.  She carried herself with a poise, a confidence, a grace; she had a presence that a great leader must posses.  She was clearly bright, witty and by many accounts warm.   She was able to utilize humor and direct language in such a way that made one see her as a leader first.  Obviously she was a woman in a male dominated profession, yet she never saw that as an issue.  The Lady had class…you could just tell.

In the final analysis, when you are compared to Winston Churchill, you must have done something right.  Take away the political, social, and economic policies and just look at the person, their accomplishments and their legacy; Margaret Thatcher certainly is in that category of great leaders.  She was ahead of her time in many ways, yet she was also the absolute right person, in the right place, at absolutely the right moment.  However, what made her such a great leader is truly timeless.  Her conviction, her vision, her ability to relate that vision, to give and take without ever sacrificing her convictions.  Those are the benchmarks of great leadership.

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Filed under Current affairs, leadership, Politics

How Things Change…Sometimes Quickly

Paradigm.  It is something we tend to revisit often.  Know the lens you see things through, appreciate how and why others see things the way they do.  Timeless really.  We think about it with generational communications, in interviewer/interviewee scenarios, client relationships, professional and personal relationships, even in how one frames a picture.  Yet it was a conversation with a recent college graduate that is starting his first “real job” that really drove home the lesson of how things change depending on one’s paradigm.

It has been one of the things I have enjoyed most over the years, working with college students and/or recent graduates as they embark on their professional journey. Fortunately it is something I have gotten the chance to do for close to 20 years now, both formally when teaching, and now on a volunteer and professional basis. We do seminars and one-on-one coaching, resume writing, interview training, and just general professional counseling and guidance for various campus organizations and individuals. Fun stuff really – helps keep us sharp and timely – generations change – we have to keep up.

So what did we learn – well the fact that the “smarter” or “savvier” recent graduates were aware enough to stop smoking pot back in February or March to ensure they were ready for company drug testing was reassuring…relatively speaking.  An eye opener, but at least made us realize that some folks are, well somewhat aware of the “real world”.   Also, it is a theme we have seen for years, and it does not seem to be getting any better, the lack of “financial education” in our society is staggering. Most, not all, but certainly the vast majority of youth have no idea how things like 401(k)’s, IRA’s, interest, dividends, debt, credit, or all of the other myriad of things work in the real world.  We as a society continue to produce woefully unprepared sheep for financial slaughter.  It is amazing anyone survives…financially speaking.

And it was midway through the conversation when he asked what a 401(k) was and how it worked.  While discussing 401(k) enrollment and before tax and after tax earnings that it happened…someone’s entire value system as a voter changed.  They asked, so we went down the political road for a few minutes, nothing ideological, just a very rational chat on a very general level, but the reality dawned on a 22-year-old – he was now a producer and he wanted to hang onto what he will be earning.  It was not the idea that anyone was going to be taking from him, we all get it, there is a degree of reality – taxes serve a purpose.  What struck him was the amount.  The starting salary was not nearly as impressive as it seemed, and that the amount very possibly will be more as his earnings grow, left him a bit perturbed.

I asked him what he did his freshman year, back in November 2008 on election day – “we all voted then got some beer and watched the speech, we thought it was pretty cool”.  I totally agreed – it was one of those where were you when historical moments – pretty cool indeed – really was.  I think I was even having a cocktail that night.  I then asked him how he saw things for this coming November  – “a lot different than I did then”.  I welcomed him to the start of his professional career; he is now a producer.  Paradigm is everything.

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Filed under Business, Current affairs, Politics

Thanks to Occupy Wall Street for the Smile

Never been the protesting type. It is not a political or cause thing, it is just a DNA thing I guess. The courage of the Civil Rights marchers, of those in Tiananmen Square, and all who have stood up when they knew what was coming has always been inspiring to me on a very core level.  The courage, conviction and committment of those who literally toe the line without a means of self-defense regardless of the cause amazes me.  Then there are the classic “neo-pro” protester – they crack me up.

As an unabased fan of irony and hypocrisy, the entire Occupy Wall Street “movement” has left me smiling more than once over the last month. From the never-ending stream of “wealthy but acceptable” entertainers whom the protestors embrace, to the willingness to heckle and interrupt the very solidly middle class who are just trying to go about their lives, there has been a steady stream of ironic moments that have come out over the last several months. However, the latest story just made my morning.

Reading in today’s NY Post about the latest bit of reality to settle on Zuccotti Park is priceless…the opening paragraph is brilliant:

The Occupy Wall Street volunteer kitchen staff launched a “counter” revolution yesterday — because they’re angry about working 18-hour days to provide food for “professional homeless” people and ex-cons masquerading as protesters.

Seriously – the entire “movement” about the “other 99%” does not like to be mooched off of and taken advantage of – hilarious.  All day they squawk about equality and redistribution, about deserving more, about giving to those less fortunate, and above all about taking from the “wealthy”, yet now they are upset about feeding the “professional homeless” and “ex-cons”.  Thanks for making my day – they irony and hypocrisy is absolutely amazing.

Again, it is not a political issue, it is a credibility issue.  You want an example of conviction and committment, of someone who did not differentiate who would or would not get fed…

Tank man, whomever he is, or rather was, was no hypocrite.

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Elections and Mad Men

It is almost over. Just a few more hours and the calls will end. Today should be the end of flyers, mailers, signs and placards. And if we are lucky, the air waves will clear and all will return to the norm when it comes to consumer advertising.  And I for one cannot think of advertising without thinking of Mad Men.  I have only really seen the first season, but the portrayal of advertising is absolutely phenomenal.

Looking forward to election day not for what it brings, but for what it ends, is one sad comment.  And if that is not bad enough, I actually decided to listen to and read some of the advertising this year…wow. I am quite literally dumbfounded that this stuff works, that it actually “moves the market”. The market is the voter – the one that makes the decision. Let that sink in for a minute…voters are manipulated by advertising.

All of this reminded me of the amazing scene in the first season of Mad Men when they pitch to Lucky Strike…

So what is the point?   It is not about cigarettes or politics, nor is it about the government, our system, or even the candidates.  What it is about is the message the advertising sent.  Though I will not say all, but a healthy portion of all the political advertising seemed to be negative and frankly not really informative.  It played on fears, stereotypes, and uncertainty.  It used innuendo, snippets and a very skilled selection of facts and statistics.  But in the end all of the advertising lacked any real substance.   Apparently that works in elections, sometimes in business, and clearly in the fictional land of Mad Men and Lucky Strikes.

Advertising is a fact of life.  The fundamental question to each of us in business is what message are we sending with our advertising?  Is it sending a positive image?  Is it reinforcing the brand?  Is it instilling confidence in our clients and customers?  And dare I say is it honest…is it helping people make a better, more informed decision?  Naive maybe, but it seems to be the right thing.  Unfortunately I did not see much of that the last few months.

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Leadership – The Exterior View

Fodder, the stuff of bloggers and reporters, and thanks to BP and Afghanistan, we are awash in material.  It would be easy to pile-on with some witty observations thanks to the multitude of missteps flowing from the Gulf and Afghanistan.  However, BP CEO Tony Hayward and General Stanley McChrystal also offer a reminder that leadership is not just viewed from inside the organization.

Both men are very accomplished leaders – they have achieved great success within their respected organizations.  Though it is easy to bash someone when they stumble, there is no denying that both men possess a track record of superior performance.  One does not become a CEO or 4 Star General by accident.   The above said, both have stumbled recently; quite publically and quite badly.  There is no need to rehash the missteps – most are well-known to even the casual observer.  Let’s just leave it with the fact that both have not exactly made savvy public relations moves of late.

It is a phrase most have heard somewhere along the way – “would you want to see it on the front page of the New York Times”.  Maybe it is a little melodramatic, and it does seem so quaint, a newspaper reference, but the message is applicable to anyone in leadership.  There is more to being a leader than just taking care of your team.  There are stakeholders inside the organization, superiors, external customers, shareholders, and there is the greater community.  There is an exterior component to leadership and how you are viewed as a leader.

Taking care of your people, hitting the number, and following through on the deliverables are all important, but so is how you do it and how it is viewed from the outside.  It is easy to forget sometimes – especially when the pressure is on.  One has to wonder if Tony Hayward or General McChrystal would have acted differently if they would have considered the exterior view of leadership.

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Filed under Coaching, Current affairs, leadership, Politics

Of Decisions and Repercussions

When do you speak up and when do you toe the company line? One of those life questions and a dilemma no one wants to face, but an all too likely scenario everyone, leaders, managers, and individual contributors alike, have or will encounter.  Sometimes it will be little things – not too public and not too dramatic.  Right and wrong are easy to discern and the course of action is clear.  The repercussions are minimal.  And sometime it just might be a huge, public, multi million dollar, life changing issue.  The potential repercussions massive, a truly defining moment in life.  How you answer that question will speak volumes about you, your character, and the company for which you work.

General Stanley McChrystal came to one of those moments, and he made his decision.  He went public and went outside the chain of command by speaking out about the course of the war in Afghanistan.  He put it all out there – his professional reputation, his livelihood, the respect and confidence of his peers, superiors and subordinates.  He violated two fundamental principles of the military and government – he violated the chain of command AND he questioned the civilian leadership – you just do not do those things.  We are watching play out in a very public setting the realities of making one of those major life decisions.  None of us will ever know all that went into his decision, but rest assured we will all see the repercussions of his action.

Was he right in going outside the chain of command? Not my place to judge. What I do find myself wondering is “what if”. What if a senior military officer would have stepped forward at some point during Vietnam?  What if no one ever spoke out about the tobacco industry?  What if there was no Whistle Blower protection laws?  What if someone who worked for Madoff asked a question, any question?  What if…

When is speaking out the right course, the ethical course?  When must you toe the company line?  Does your “first hand” knowledge trump the decisions of your leadership, or is it just your ego talking?  Are you speaking out or are you complaining?  Is there a greater good that you are not seeing at your level?  Does your senior leadership have better strategic vision than you?  Is silence the right course?   Is speaking out worth the personal cost?  Heavy questions.  Questions every leader must reconcile in their mind.  We all have or will face these sorts of moments.  Some will be quiet, relatively easy, painless decisions.  Some might be painful, public and costly.  Watch and learn from the experience of General McChrystal.  No one knows what will happen, but I can assure you it will be interesting.

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Filed under Coaching, Current affairs, NMS

Kennedy, O’Neal, and The Lessons of Relationships

Regardless of ones political beliefs, it is tough to find two more accomplished leaders in modern politics than those two consummate politicians from Boston, Senator Ted Kennedy and former Speaker Tip O’Neal.  Both were leaders of their parties who held very set views and were champions of countless pieces of legislation.  Each was a seasoned political operator, yielding great power and an ability and willingness to use it.  They were national and global figures – true statesman to some, villains to others.  Both were flawed, vulnerable, yet highly accomplished men.

They each represent an end to an era in their respected houses of the legislature.  Tip O’Neal was the last great leader and deal maker in the House.  Though often at odds with the Reagan White House, he remained cordial “after 6 p.m.” with the President and his party.  Under his leadership negotiating, dealing and compromising were still the mode of operation.  Currently we are hearing countless anecdotes and stories about Ted Kennedy, the seasoned politician and leader in the Senate.  Stories of his working with fellow Senators and multiple administrations, regardless of party affiliation, to effect change and the passage of literally hundreds of pieces of legislation.  Both men showed through their work and legacy that it is in the end all about relationships.  It was the personal touch, the friendships, the relationships they built that enabled them to be the leaders they became.

It is a reassuring and timeless lesson – building true personal relationships is what makes the difference.  It is in the story of two politicians of Boston – Ted Kennedy and Tip O’Neal – that we are yet again shown that real, genuine relationships make anything possible.  It has been said of both men, regardless of political beliefs or personal flaws, that it was their personal touch that set them apart.  From friend and foe, ally and rival; all said they could and would negotiate and compromise for the man.  They were each known as someone who never let policy or politics, business or beliefs become personal.

The question is, are you showing genuine concern and empathy for others, their situation, and their circumstance?  Are you building true lasting personal relationships with your co-workers, your clients, your vendors, your stakeholders, and in your community?   Clearly competition and winning, especially in business and politics, is the primary issue.  One should never loose site of the goal.  However are you winning with others, or in spite of others?  Yet again we can see, it is from the personal relationship that all real success truly springs.

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Filed under Current affairs, Politics