Desperately Needed Now

Last month I wrote about the value to be found in breaking through the noise all around us. For many readers the question remains: What do we need to better focus on actions that matter?

At the same time so many of the prior norms we may have taken for granted have deteriorated, I’ve had the joy of watching several business teams succeed. I continue to study closely how they are doing it, how they are staying focused, how they are transforming adversity into moments of triumph. There are commonalities in these observations that I hope become more accessible as we make our way through our national election and look forward to recovery from this awful pandemic.

What I am suggesting may sound like getting back to basics, but when those basics escape us, it can only help us to recognize the kind of leadership that allows us to traverse hurdles rather than be consumed by them. Here are three basic rebuilding blocks I think are helping the people I see emerging from crisis stronger—three basics I believe are desperately needed now.

We Need Confidence

We have to believe our concerted actions will get us somewhere. If we are asked to sacrifice we need a reason. If we are asked to embrace a plan, we need to understand the components of that plan. If we are told certain tactics will help us achieve a strategic goal, we need facts that support the premise of the actions we are asked to take.

When we are given specific examples of the kinds of masks that will protect us, we hear in those specifics a well-reasoned recommendation that is worth following. When we hear from historians that mail-in ballots have been used without measurable distortion since the Civil War, we know we can trust the results of an election with their expanded use in a time where location-based polling places are difficult to staff. These are simple examples where demonstrated expertise reinforces our confidence.

Curiously enough, it is precisely the twisting of confidence that lets a con artist win the day. The root of every “con” is the abuse of confidence. When we put our trust in leaders to help us navigate our way out of turmoil, we can be led to safety or over a cliff. There is always a risk in ascribing confidence to an unworthy teller of tales, but without confidence in testing the path of an outcome, what real hope do we have of escaping the status quo?

We crave confidence, and while skepticism is a healthy ally in committing one’s trust to another’s vision, it is incumbent upon us to sift through contradictions and congregate around a confident way forward. Confidence in leadership is the path to eliminating chaos, but only if that confidence is won nobly, with authenticity, care, respect, and a roadmap of trusted conclusions.

We Need Clarity

There is no progress without common ground. It is easy to argue about the many ways we differ. While those arguments may or may not ultimately resolve the most elusive issues of our world, we can’t go very far if we don’t agree on something. Clarity of both what critically matters and can be resolved is what lets us take a few steps together rather than remaining in place.

Sometimes I call this shared purpose. Other times I refer to it as consensus. In the fog of war, we must identify what can still be seen similarly and agreed.

I’d like to think we can agree in a battle-tested democracy that if we have an election and the results are certified, we can acknowledge the winner as a legally elected official. We may not agree with that elected official’s point of view, as is our cherished privilege in a democracy, but when the election is over, we must acknowledge the peaceful transfer of power as have past generations.

I’d like to think that if a majority of the nation’s foremost medical experts tell us that a fully vetted, FDA approved Covid-19 vaccine is ready for deployment, we can methodically proceed to adopt it, tempered by the recommendations of our own personal doctors. If we can’t achieve clarity around when the remedy to an ailment is ready for prime time, then we will stay stuck where we are without a way out.

I’m sure it isn’t lost on you that clarity and confidence are equally rooted in trust. Without trust that defines some standard of building consensus, we may be right to reject leaders and solutions, but the result will be ongoing chaos. That brings us to the need for each other.

We Need Connection

Zoom is not enough. Yes, Zoom and other forms of video technology are serving a meaningful role in bridging the gap where seeing each other in person used to be our norm, but it isn’t a substitute for the depth of human connection.

While I don’t think everyone who has been working from home will go back to commuting, I do wonder when I hear some people express they have lost little in not being together. I think about restoring confidence, about restoring clarity, about forming the kind of trust that lets us accomplish more together than we ever could individually, and I want to believe we can reinvent the many ways we connect.

When healthy circumstances allow, I want to see us back together at concerts, plays, sporting events, school recitals, art shows, favorite restaurants, and dare I say it, office meetings. Successful give and take requires nurturing. Brainstorming is powerful—it is the collective assembly of multiple points of view into the kind of shared purpose that creates our future.

Shared purpose? We get there through personal connection. Solving hard problems together? We get there through personal connection.

Endemic isolation frightens me. In the past week alone, I have learned of irreversible decisions individuals have made that might have been resolved otherwise were they not alone. Facebook is not doing much to resolve our differences. Twitter is a flyswatter we use on each other’s raw attempts at abbreviated expression.

How do I know we can do better at connecting with each other, at finding confidence and clarity? Because I am already seeing it in the worst of times with individuals I admire who are changing the world by deciding that matters more to them than being ground down by noise.

Make the choice to seek confidence, clarity, and connection. Ignite these basics throughout your community in leading by your own example—and as opportunity emerges, we might begin to capture the full potential of shared purpose. That inspiration is something we all surely need.

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Photo: Pixabay

5 Key Learnings in Crisis

Many of us are trying to decipher some level of meaning in the Covid-19 crisis. I must admit, I’m unable to find any. This is an act of nature, an act of environment. I see no message in either the depths of pain and loss this disease is causing globally, or the resulting social and economic havoc that is its byproduct. I think if you’re looking for a clear definition of existential occurrence, this is as clear as it gets.

For better or worse, the dialogue doesn’t have to end there. Like any shock to the system, Covid-19 does offer us some learning opportunities. I’ve been thinking a lot about this the past several weeks. Here are five modest headlines I believe can be some of our more instructional takeaways once we together find a way to cross the chasm.

Leadership and trust are inseparable.

In the absence of recognized authority, chaos will fill the vacuum. We are seeing this and suffering with it day after day. The issue is not whether we are politicizing a deadly disease, whether our polarization is obstructing more sensible activity. In times of distress, we all crave calming leadership around which we can rally. As I have written many times before, trust cannot be assigned, it has to be earned. Effective leadership cannot be mandated. Leadership is acknowledged by example.

There is no such thing as alternative facts. A fact is a fact. While scientific practice can be revisited by disproving the conclusions around previously applied data, it can only be done so with more disciplined inquiry and even more rigorously evidenced data. An intelligent, educated population hungers for touchpoints of agreement that can be demonstrated empirically. without hype, manipulation, or ulterior motives. Our nation and our planet have indeed managed through historical crises worse than Covid-19. If you look back at how those triumphs occurred, you will likely see the link between leadership and trust on grand display.

Investing in readiness is not a luxury.

I wish I could find the words to express my dismay in how flat-footed our nation has proven itself in addressing a severe threat to our fundamental health and wellness. Even the most basic understanding of chain of command is absent in our adopted strategies and tactics. Many wonder if our collective investment in government will be there to protect us when we need it most. Today we turn on the television and hear wailing debate, not cohesive response. In a nation as wealthy and with as much advanced expertise as we have, how is it possible that medical personnel are making their rounds wearing plastic garbage bags rather than professional scrubs?

Few enterprises can survive a substantial blindside without some playbook on the shelf. If you have worked in a well-run company, you have been a part of scenario planning—deep discussions and studied research around abstract calamities. Sometimes teams immersed in these simulations consider the use of resources inefficient. If you’ve ever come out the other side of a whirlwind attack, you know how important having most of the debate behind you can be. Game theory developed with care is how bad problems become less bad, and opportunities become apparent in the fog of war.

We are more resilient than we may think.

When I think about the crises that have come before—our Civil War, the Great Depression, two world wars, nuclear proliferation—it’s hard to understand how we are still here. When you listen to survivors of monumental suffering talk about how they endured the unbearable challenges of their lives, it becomes clear that perspective and context are necessary to frame whatever tests may be interrupting our current plans.

We can handle more than we think we can. We can solve problems that at any given moment seem unsolvable. I’m not sure this crisis is as much about Covid-19 itself as it is about how poorly we are addressing it, and yet, the losses we will suffer will not be the last losses we endure. To lose a family member or loved one is untenable. To lose someone unnecessarily is impossible to rationalize. To lose one’s livelihood is a level of devastation we likely all fear and some of us will inevitably experience. As we work our way down the scale of loss, the true strength inside of us may as yet be untapped. Called upon to continue, we might see that the historical odds suggest there are brighter days ahead if we bolster the fortitude of resilience.

Bonding ahead of distance allows shorthand.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we have been asked to work at home in a time where technology makes that proposition possible. Could the notion of sheltering in place two decades ago without broadband internet even have been an option? That said, not all teams were ready to work remotely, particularly leadership teams. If you were working well in a shared space there is a good chance you are succeeding with distance. If there was tension, anxiety, and aggravation before you had to communicate through a screen, I can only imagine your turmoil without in-person connection.

I know in my company it would be a lot harder to manage our way through daily operations with a newly assembled management team than with teammates who already know each other reasonably well. Of course the timing of crisis doesn’t come with the convenience of established tenure. To the extent you believe something like a novel coronavirus will interrupt us again—and how could it be otherwise—I would suggest we use the ordinary times of our work to prepare for the extraordinary times that might otherwise derail us. This starts with the bonds we establish in normalcy.

All behavior is consequential.

I think about the difference between the business partners who are working cooperatively in this havoc to achieve long-range, positive outcomes and those who are shortsighted and only see the coming weeks ahead of them. Asserting one’s will, even asserting the letter of the law in a contract, is not how relationships are formed. Give a little now and you may have a customer for life. Insist on taking all that is rightfully yours and it might be the last speck of gold you extract from the mine.

Tone matters in a negotiation. Listening matters when opinions differ. If you choose to assert leverage because you think you can get away with it, if you believe that bullying tactics are how you protect the fort, you’re unlikely to enjoy a long and lasting impact on your industry. Business is a rollercoaster of cycles, and we aren’t all going up or down at the same time. Never forget that old cliche: Jobs in context are relatively brief; careers may be long or short depending on how you manage your timeline.

When I was circulating an early draft of this post for feedback as I often do, I was reminded by a wise friend not to miss the obvious lesson before us, the simplicity of appreciation. He reminded me that gratitude is profound, and it is always powerful to celebrate the goodness in what we have, the majesty in sharing each new day where the gifts within our reach should not be taken for granted. I think that’s good advice. I wish you the wellness that will return us to a revived global community.

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Image: CDC

 

Wrestling with Wrong

trump-elected-2016I went to bed last night demoralized, my faith in democracy challenged in a way I never believed was possible.

It was late, after the acceptance speech by President-elect Donald Trump. I was exhausted. I slept very little.

I awoke this morning in a state of confusion, a daze that still lingers over me. My fear of half the nation’s voters, more than 50 million of my fellow citizens, brings grief and anxiety to my every thought. Can our ideas about what defines the United States of America be that different? Yes, they can.

I’ve worked a lot of campaigns as a volunteer. This one was different. This one was unprecedented in its vitriol and disgust. This one was personal. This one was moral. The fog of war created cover for absurdist antics and human abuse. This behavior was not taught as acceptable when I learned as a child to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

I have been physically threatened on multiple occasions for my writing about the election, almost entirely by anonymous sources online, for expressing my views, activating my right to free speech. I have experienced anti-Semitism. I have been asked to leave the nation to which my family immigrated generations ago. It is always strange to see words like this in print because I do not experience them at all in real world life, yet those words are always out there masked in cowardice. They never go away. Hate may sit in the background, but it is always with us.

I won’t stop writing. I won’t stop talking. You may have won an election but you haven’t won the bullying match. Don’t believe me, just watch.

I received an email early in the day from a dear friend asking for my advice on how to address his community this morning in the face of shock. I told him I was still forming my thoughts, but here was a start:

I would say human beings are fallible and the wrong answer has always been the risk of our democracy. Majority rule is by nature imperfect, but we haven’t identified a better system.

I would remind people we are now almost perfectly divided, that Trump prevailed by geography and demographics, not by intellectual mandate. Clinton won the popular vote, albeit by less than 1%, which tells us how few minds have to change for sanity to return.

I would make the point empirically that education is the basis of democracy, and while a precious few students enjoy the highest privilege on earth, that is not the norm in this nation by a long shot and if we don’t fix that divide we will destroy the American dream. With intelligence must come humility or Progressives will continue to be seen as elite and detached. Regardless and without apology, reading beats YouTube and a tweet is not a policy statement. Rigorous thought matters over the long haul, no matter how many trivialities consume our hours.

I would tell them to stand by their beliefs, that courage is only real when you oppose the tyranny of the majority and risk losing something for what others can have later. History is written in the future, not the present. Fight hate, fight oppression, have empathy for your opponent or you can’t win them over, have compassion for the hungry, never betray your morality for material gain, and prepare now to fix this error four years from now.

He’s the President, not the King. We bond together now to keep him from having more authority than our Constitution will allow. False prophets are always exposed. This one will betray his following like all others have and then our good work can continue.

Teach your children well.

Shortly after I sent that I watched the live concession speech of Hillary Clinton and felt pressure crushing my heart. Then I watched the live remarks of Barack Obama committing his team to the peaceful transition of power. Following that I spent a few hours reading numerous posts from friends, strangers, journalists, and pundits either trumpeting the success of their candidate or, like me, attempting to find a path to wrestling with wrong. Only now I am I beginning to come to a point of view on where to look next:

Clinton supporters vastly underestimated the power of disaffection and blame.

Trump supporters are even more vastly underestimating our commitment to our values and hard-won gains.

We are separated by the thinnest of all margins. We tip the scales by standing our ground. In the letdown of our opposition, which I believe is inevitable, a few will join us and then we’ll right the ship.

Don’t underestimate a committed cause. It cuts both ways, but reality will expose delusion.

Stand your ground, speak your voice, recommit to goodness.

I don’t have it all figured it out anymore than you do. There is still a brick on my heart and it won’t be lifted anytime soon. I will learn to live with that, and fight harder because I feel the perpetual discomfort. We will not teach the next generation that our ultimate experiment in democracy is won or lost on who is the most effective liar and stirrer of hate. That is too cynical a pill to swallow.

We also won’t cave under the auspices of, “It’s time to come together and heal.” I have no business with the alt-right. I have no interest in excusing racist, misogynist, bigoted hate speech. You want to build an idiotic wall? We will oppose it. You want to round-up millions of people you don’t want here? We will stand in front of their homes. You want to take away medical care from 20 million Americans? Not without the fight of your life.

Blind faith that your super-hero Trump can bring back jobs that are no longer economically viable is ill-founded. People who bet on a whim will discover that quickly. The notion that random change for the sake of change will improve lives is equally empty. People who embraced rhetoric absent a fact-based plan will also discover that quickly. It is illogical to reject globalization and automation. You don’t have to like it, but you can’t make it go away. If you try to put up walls, you will have wars, and they are way more costly. The change you think you want to embrace cannot occur without mass loss.

This reality will take place in record time. Remember some of the disillusionment that followed President Obama’s first few years in office? The exponential disillusionment coming your way will make that seem like a full slate of promises kept. If you were disaffected before, watch assets as they shift at lightning pace to the 1% when they go on sale. Then you will realize that you have been duped by a con man, and when a very few cross back over the line to sanity, we will get back to work moving forward.

We wrestle with wrong by exposing it. That path began this morning. The sooner we recommit to course correction, the sooner this injustice is corrected.

Yes, we can.