This question makes most people except politicians and psychotics (hmmm...) nervous - they are impervious to the concept of responsibility; they're good at laying blame, but have this remarkable ability to shake accountability.
The Emancipation Proclamation was a landmark moment in American history - it recognized the rights of a people theretofore viewed as property. Just as America has a human rights framework (based in part on the Emancipation Proclamation and the Declaration of Independence), surely there should be a more rigorous governance framework for the country?
I can think of three (vain) efforts at Federal political governance - the voters (elections and term limits for the President); the players (separation of powers); and the outers (GAO and the media). But each has failed - the voters are simply not smart enough to know what's going on, too partisan to vote based on actual performance, and too removed from the failures to "get it"; the players are overly self-centered and inbred; and the outers are in the former, employed by the politicians, and in the latter, too obsessed with sensationalism to make a difference.
What is the legislative equivalent of the Emancipation Proclamation? I was having a conversation about changing the mission in Afghanistan with some friends and the proposed 1% increase in income taxes to cover war costs. I think this is good, but not enough - let's take it further:
As of 2009 the gross (cumulative) American national debt is just under $13 trillion - or just over 90% of the country's entire GDP!! By the end of 2010, it will roughly equal the US GDP - this is horrible! Worse, Congress feels ZERO accountability; and since virtually NONE of their equally guilty predecessors have ever been spanked, and many actually rewarded by being reelected, they are convinced they will never have their feet held to the fire.
What if we changed that - what if we created another proclamation - the Balanceation Proclamation, which mandates a balanced budget? Simply, if the budget exceeds income, Congress must raise income taxes to cover the overage. Every taxpayer/voter must immediately feel the pinch their representatives cost them (the IRS should document your hit in your tax return). This would help the voters more directly tune into and respond to bad behavior, require Congress to proactively defend their actions within their constituencies, and generally make Congress pucker just a little bit.
But what about economic depressions, when only the Feds are in a position to stimulate the economy, and taxes will impede growth? The easy answer might be "tough," but society is responsible for those that can't help themselves, and we can't ignore that. My compromise is that the Proclamation have a clause requiring a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and Senate to secure debt-financing solely to stimulate the economy and avert or mitigate a depression - it cannot be used for any other purpose. Subsequent budgets must set aside funds to pay back the debt as quickly as possible. In the ideal case, this would be funded by the federal surplus emergency fund, but given our current debt, that won't be a reality for many years.
To help the outers, legislators (and political parties) may NOT receive contributions from anyone (individual or organization) that benefits from the spending that caused the deficit. For example, if the budget included new subsidies or credits for oil exploration, or if there was a new war, Exxon or Chevron, and Halliburton, Blackwater, Lockheed or Boeing, etc. would respectively be banned from any political donations for the duration of the benefit plus six years (Senators serve six year terms).
Quid pro quo. If we're punishing Congress for excessive spending, we should also reward them for good behavior. Every year that there is a budget surplus, all Federal employees will receive a bonus of X% (1 or 2%?) of the total surplus, divided equally (same percentage of salary). When they've also retired the gross deficit, the percentage should double. There should be no cap on this - the better they do, the better they do.
Today Congress exhibits the worst kind of partisan behavior, with almost zero focus on the electorate, and excessive focus on self-aggrandized power brokering. This is so because the incentive system is broken - success is getting funded and reelected, not actual public service.
The Balanceation Proclamation would reward good behavior and punish bad. If the country does well, they get paid; Congress will be incented to serve the citizens and fight for programs that help their constituents; but they know that excess spending will directly harm their electorate.
When leaders are asked about how they got to where they are, many share a story; a story that makes visceral the journey they traveled, the experiences that influenced them, and hints at some of the challenges they faced.
The leaders I admire most embrace the principles of Aikido - when confronted, they seek to at least neutralize their opponent (without causing either party harm), and ideally transform that negative energy into something positive for both sides.
This approach doesn't just lead to progress, it leads to sustained progress where in time, nay-sayers might even become advocates.
I've also noticed that leaders are perennial students - it is that openness that creates new possibilities and partnerships. And this almost goes without saying - you won't find a leader whose mission can't be articulated in a single, clear and succinct statement.
I was talking with my dear friend Larry last week about his creation - in his words: "our mission is to create a public." Larry is a great leader, this is his starting point, and his simple and powerful intention.
Parsing this statement, we first discussed it's Jeffersonian connection - schools must reflect all of society, and in the right proportions. It must represent all the peoples of the state (irrespective of gender, race, economic status, etc.) - that's what public means. Sadly, our current system doesn't - while desegregation is law, most schools are in fact segregated, and worse, our policies and philanthropy are intent on perpetuating this segregation! (You get more funding if your school has more underserved students - so schools tend to become all underserved to maximize $$.)
It hasn't worked with prisons (let's put all of societies transgressors together in one place in the hopes that they will rehabilitate while being surrounded by fellow criminals), what makes us think it will work in schools? Every school needs to be a place where all of society mingles, collaborates, and evolves. It is the first representation of that more perfect union, where you bring students from all walks together and give them a place to learn about each other, to work together, and learn from each other. You must create a possibility for tomorrow that is vastly superior to lumping all the poor urban kids in one school, and all the rich in another.
Larry also talks about head and hand - you must learn and do, learning theories and concepts and reading about things is not enough - you must not only build things, you must be those people - to learn biology you must do as biologists do; to learn engineering, you must be an engineer - only then can you really know, and only then can you really choose your own destiny. This is why his graduates are more focused, more adaptable and more open to a changing future.
When you explore his village of six (one elementary, two middle and three high) schools, some things occur to you - first that you would have loved to go to a school like this, second that you'd want this for your children, and finally, you'll ask: "why isn't every school like this?" So much of it is so obvious (and so right) when you see it, that you are shocked to learn that the mainstream school system resisted it because it is different; not "normal," and not how they've always done it (some continue to resist).
But with time and with leadership and with perseverance and with results, minds are changing - there is hope. Maybe one day all schools will be like this.
I'm left with this question - how do we accelerate the transformation? It's not that every school must look like Larry's. It is rather that real leaders must be in charge of all schools. These leaders should be as exacting as Larry is about hiring people, as committed to creating a place that is open to possibilities, and as intent as Larry's teachers are on helping every child find that spark that elevates them from bored to compelled, from observer to participant, from consumer to creator.
We've made education complex - it isn't. We've created a system whose rules require a book that's several inches thick, whose administrators are intent on saying no, and whose staff is only interested in test scores. We've forgotten what it's like to be a student. We've forgotten that it is about graduating children whose future is profoundly more brilliant than anything we might conceive. We've forgotten that it's about creating a public.
America has had a presence in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba since 1903. It is the oldest American overseas base, and the only one hosted in a country with which the US has no diplomatic relationship. Cuba has disputed the US' right to this property, but to no avail.
Over the last decade, the Base has become an icon for critics of American foreign policy - it is emblematic of how the government skirted its own laws and Constitution by denying due process, and imprisoning and mistreating (including torture) those who were suspected of terrorist actions against the United States. This behavior has robbed the USA of moral high ground globally, it is used as a recruitment tool by terrorists, and worst of all, it is a powerful statement about absolutes and integrity.
The government is now seeking to close the prison (not the whole base) and have the prisoners stand trial on US soil; Congress has thwarted this pending the creation of a well-thought out plan.
Setting aside the fact that a country should be unequivocal in adhering to her own laws even when inconvenient, for that is what keeps us from being lawless, what can be done to solve this problem?
I think it's a four-step process:
Declare Guantanamo (as the courts have) American soil and subject to the same rules of law that govern a resident of say, New York City.
Transport a legal team comprising Federal judges, clerks and attorneys to Guantanamo to securely try the remaining prisoners at the base vs. transporting them to the mainland.
Upon completion of the trial, close the entire Naval base at Guantanamo and return the land to Cuba.
Tear down the Cactus Curtain, formalize diplomatic ties with Cuba, and hope to spark American travel and commerce.
The impact could be significant:
Save money - this is much cheaper and safer than holding trials in the continental United States.
Save more money - reduce Defense expenditures by closing the base (Guantanamo has minimal strategic advantage given bases in nearby Florida).
Stimulate US economy - move the 9,500+ soldiers to existing US bases, thereby contributing to those local economies.
Eliminate terrorist recruiting tool - by legally (and openly) trying the prisoners and closing the base altogether, terrorists can no longer point to Guantanamo to spur recruitment.
Improve global perception - countries and people around the world will view this as a positive step that may spark improved political and economic ties with America.
I've always believed that American influence abroad should be based on economic policy vs. military action. By closing the base, the US can close the chapter on this part of its history, and move forward with less baggage.
Oxford defines vulnerable as "susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm"; empower is to "give (someone) the authority or power to do something."
Someone very close to me died recently, and I've been thinking a lot about the choices we make in life. I was struck by these two words on the flight home from the funeral.
Being vulnerable is viewed as a bad thing - giving up power or control or self-determination or... In relationships I've often heard it said that when you express your true feelings, or if you "give in" too quickly, etc., you're vulnerable - you've put yourself "out there," are weakened and at the mercy (and ridicule) of others.
In business, training classes say assertiveness, authority and decisiveness are the keys to leadership and creating a reputation for getting things done. If you "open up" or become too accessible, you risk losing respect, not being able to lead effectively, etc. It makes you less of a leader. Similarly your company can't appear to be anything but always correct and impervious to failings, or it will lose value in the eyes of the market and its customers.
Western society is obsessed with immediate gratification, with silver bullets, and with the idea that success is measured based on relative achievement vs. actual achievement.
When you buy into that article or book or class that promises you "Ten Sure-Fire Techniques to Find and Keep Your Wo/Man" or "Ten Management Techniques Guaranteed to Make You Succeed and Get Promoted" you are making the same bet for success as the person that buys the "Amazing Pill that Will Melt Away Your Unwanted Pounds in Minutes Without Dieting or Exercise." You are betting that someone else's approach, vision and values matter more than your own, or you.
When we treat people or "manage" people based on a formula or techniques like this, we have taken a shameful step towards treating our fellow humans as objects and not people. This is one of the reasons I'm not a fan of most MBA programs - they tend to distill everything into simple lists and lessons which are then taught as gospel.
Why should I have "Ten Techniques" to solve every problem in my life? That seems insulting, dismissive and inhuman. when we honor our friends, lovers, family, co-workers, customers, constituents, etc. as people, we become better ourselves. When we avoid formulaic approaches, we are more genuine, and create simpler, more real, and more lasting results.
I was re-reading Management of the Absurd (a gift from my friend Larry) and noted an informal survey the author did asking people to recall great moments of parenting from when they were a child, or great moments in management as employees. In both cases, the vignettes that were shared (and remembered) were those that had nothing to do with top ten lists, or being in a teachable moment, or even having any real outcome or victory - they were points at which humanity was expressed and connections were made - it was when the partner/leader became a real person.
We all know that feelings are reciprocated. To think of your partner or employees as "things" to be "managed," you MUST lose respect for them as people. They are now corporate assets, and your loyalty is to the outcome and not the people. Their loyalty is unclear or perhaps irrelevant?
We can all tell when we're being treated as objects, we can all tell when a boy or girl is "working" us, we can all tell when organizations are spinning us. When we "smell" this, do we react with an outpouring of love?
If Toyota had immediately acknowledged the issues with their cars, responded with honestly and action vs. obfuscation and inaction, many cars would already be fixed and they would be secure in the knowledge that they had acted with integrity and lived up to their ethos of caring for their customers and the work they did. Their customers, having sensed that while vulnerable, Toyota acted with integrity and honor, would believe more deeply in the brand and re-purchase knowing that when problems came up, the company would face them. Toyota's vulnerability would become its strength. In fact, I bet that this approach would not only increase loyalty, it would attract new customers - this is the kind of product people want to trust.
When managers genuinely care about their people and their work, they engender a sense of loyalty that not only stands the test of time, but also results in the team doing everything possible (and even impossible) to make sure they don't let the boss down. They will say, "we all pulled together and got it done; when one of us is in trouble, we stand together and act, we take care of our own." They will say this with pride.
When I express myself and how I feel, when I don't hold back, I feel like a load has been lifted from me. That rather than making myself less, I am strengthened. I feel more embraced and less alone.
Being vulnerable is about caring, it is about being expressive and honest. Your vulnerability doesn't imprison you - it sets you free. It gives you the power to have faced and not hidden; it gives you the ability to live and not cope; it secures you in the knowledge that it is OK to care, to cry, to feel because we are human. We respond to genuine feelings articulated badly and tearfully much more than contrived, homogenized PR/legal speak.
"Out of many, one" was the translated motto on the Seal of the United States of America. It is a brilliant phrase, and speaks to the one nation formed of first 13 and eventually 50 states, to the principle of democracy shared by all Americans, to the idea that so much more unites Americans than divides them, to the idea that in being one, we are greater.
This was so from 1776 to 1956, when Congress officially replaced it with the motto "In God We Trust." Just a little bit ironic, especially today that a conceptually pluralist society chose to embrace a monotheist declaration isn't it?
We are human (I suppose Congress-people are as well, but I could be wrong). We each have strengths and weaknesses (not sure they have many strengths). How we deal with them is what makes us more or makes us less; our response, our actions are the true measure of who we are.
In changing the motto, Congress chose to shift accountability, to pass the buck. When management faces their shortcomings, what do they do? I think most embrace Congress' proven skill at passing the buck.
My last post was about the mistake America is making in seeking to measure teachers based on student performance. The meta point was that merit pay doesn't work in most team settings; it pits members against each other, and measures them based on their relative achievement - your "success" requires others in your team to "fail."
Merit is the easiest way to pay people - it is not equitable, but is perceived to be. It does not create a true team, but most MBA and HR-types will argue that it does. There is no e pluribus unum-ness with merit, unless your interpretation is "I emerged from the hoard and am the one." It requires you to not care if the team wins or loses, just as long as you win. Here's the other thing - in normalizing performance, you also normalize roles.
By normalizing roles, contrary to Jim Collin's Good to Great, you don't try to get the right people on the bus, you try and get the same people on the bus. That might be OK for certain jobs, but it's not realistic for most work done today. Having a team filled with like-minded and similarly-abled employees isn't ideal in today's competitive and complex world. Is it any wonder that there is so little innovation and creativity in the workplace?
These same MBA and HR-types will argue that merit is also the way to manage the herd and weed out poor performers. Hmmm... recalling the Congressional buck-passers, isn't merit management's way of compensating for their own recruiting, hiring and management failures? If managers were effective, the right employees would have been hired, perform optimally, work together, and achieve greatness as a team. This is exaggerating to make a point, but it might still resonate for some of us.
Passing the buck isn't just about normalizing the workforce. It's also about trying to get by without making tough decisions or more appropriately, deferring tough decisions to others. Steve Lohr wrote an article in the NY Times last week about the economics of elitism where he reflects on Steve Jobs' rule over product development at Apple. Lohr says: "They are edited products that cut through complexity, by consciously leaving things out — not cramming every feature that came into an engineer’s head, an affliction known as “featuritis” that burdens so many technology products."
As engineers, rather than ex pauci plures (out of few many), they chose e pluribus unum - out of many minds and ideas and approaches, they would make rather than defer the difficult decisions; they would design based on the ideal, and not the compromise.
Matter, people, our very world tends towards entropy - it is easy to accede to chaos. The tougher path is to resolve to be one, to be a team, to make a choice.