Sunday, February 20, 2011

Thoughtful, Committed Citizens

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Meade

As we watch the revolutions and upheavals live on TV it is easy to forget these momentous changes are actually happening and are real. TV is full of staged "reality shows" that succeed or fail based on bringing out the worst of our human nature. Back stabbing, cattiness, cruelty, avarice, lust, mean spiritedness, vulgarity, and just plain nastiness bring in the audiences and ratings.

For the last few weeks TV has brought us true reality with scenes of real courage in the face of the full force of dying regimes. Men on camels wielding clubs charging into crowds of people, tear gas and percussion grenades lobbed into swirls of women and children, police wielding sticks beating anyone within their reach – all the scenes of violence as dictators desperately try to hang onto power.

This is reality TV. I’m writing today from a lovely town in the French Alps, looking out over a postcard scene of the town below and the country side stretching into the distance…so far from the struggles in the streets…yet a flick of a button and the BBC brings it all to life. I can’t escape and don’t want to.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. Margaret Meade was absolutely correct. This blog usually focuses on the U.S. revolutionary generation and the framers of the Constitution. When I first found this quote, I thought about it in those terms. But today it takes on new meaning.

But we should not forget that thoughtful, committed citizens come in all varieties of human imagination. Just last week, in South Carolina, thoughtful, committed citizens were gathering in period costumes to attend a ball and reenact the inauguration of Jefferson Davis as president of the Confederacy. These people are serious about maintaining a fanciful view of the old South and the glory of the Cause for their peculiar institution…the obscuring language of the old South for the days of slavery and oppression in the distorted name of self-determination and democracy.

The U.S. founding generation held widely differing views on slavery and its place in a Republic based on the lofty words of the Declaration of Independence. But whether they abhorred it, sanctioned it, practiced it, or thought it would somehow disappear on its own, they enshrined slavery in the Constitution. A few paragraphs in a blog are not enough to explore the topic. The fact remains, even these men whom we admire so much, who had faced down the greatest military power of the day, who had been courageous in the face of superior numbers with superior organization and fire power, who had faced death, these men were not prepared to stop slavery.

The neo-Confederates danced the night away, basking in the reflected glory of a world that never was, a world that was shockingly cruel and dehumanizing to blacks and corrupting to whites. Meanwhile, half a world away, people are standing up to dictators and facing death for a chance to run their own lives in the real world.

The neo-Confederates and their ilk in the political arena yammer about states’ rights, nullification, self-determination, interposition, secession, and the other discredited catch words of a bygone era. Like the dictators who are being forced out and confronted today, the "neos" are appalled and frightened by the rise of something that cannot be repressed in humans forever – the desire to live free.

Democracy is a messy affair. The history of its evolution in the U.S. bears testament to this. Our bloody Civil War in which over 600,000 of us were killed by our fellow citizens and the deadly clashes over civil rights and war in the 60s remind us all too well that thoughtful, committed citizens can have vastly different views of what democracy means.

We have no newsreels to show us the reality of the Boston massacre or Lexington and Concord, the charging of the redoubts at Yorktown, or the actual battles and skirmishes of our Revolution. We have eye witness accounts and grandiose paintings. Today as I watch the BBC I see the actual chaos and brutal reality of these clashes. How many of us would stand up while we were fired on with live ammunition and "rubber" bullets, while being gassed, clubbed, and assaulted?

Luckily our ancestors did it for us. TV gives a little insight into what they actually did. But we must be thoughtful, committed citizens in our own lives whether it’s voting, working for a candidate or fighting for an important cause. All the time, however, we must remember there are other thoughtful, committed citizens who are opposing us. As soon as we forget the humanity of the other side, we slip into a frame of mind that allows us to hate, to oppress, and to commit cruel acts ourselves.

We will not know the outcomes of the uprisings, revolutions, and protests taking place today for many years. If democracy emerges, it will be messy, have its missteps, and setbacks. Here in the U.S. we must treasure our own democracy not fictionalize or sentimentalize it. The neo-Confederates are just one manifestation of the anti-democratic impulses that are also part of our human nature.

In full disclosure, I must share that I rejected membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution and United Daughters of the Confederacy. My grandmothers were mad at me for years. But I could not join organizations dedicated to the distortion of history. Observers of the current protest will be tempted to see things with their own coloration. Only with time will the narrative be clearer. For the time being, we can be thankful for the technology that allows us to communicate and watch as history unfolds before us. We can look for our best selves and strive to be thoughtful, committed citizens.

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©Rebecca Staton-Reinstein, President, Advantage Leadership, Inc.

Read more about the failure of the framers to confront slavery effectively in the constitution in Conventional Wisdom: How Today’s Leader Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding Fathers.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Rabbit Chases Tiger – Good News?

Today the Year of the Rabbit dawns on the Lunar New Year. What will it bring? For those born in one of the Rabbit’s years if should be a quiet time for developing relations and propitious for starting a new business. For the rest of us, those who follow the lunar zodiac predict a calmer year with things running at a much slower pace.

"The Rabbit is one of the most gracious personalities of the zodiac…It'll be a time to nurture relationships at the many social events that will happen this year.” At least that’s what Laura Lau, co-author with her mother, Theodora Lau, of the best-selling The Handbook of Chinese Horoscopes, tells us. She believes the Tiger delivered on its reputation of unpredictability and lots of major disruptions. Many people report being happy to see the Rabbit chase the terrible Tiger out of the neighborhood.

But what does all this portend for you as a leader or business owner?

I happened to have been in Singapore as the Year of the Tiger dawned, blogged about it, and showed a clip of the Tiger making his way through the airport with much noise and excitement. That won’t be the case with the quiet and conservative Rabbit.

Lately there’s been a call for greater civility in our political discourse and that’s definitely a Rabbit-oriented wish. Whether it happens or not is another story – perhaps as fanciful as belief in mythical beasts.

However, in the world of business and work, a call for greater civility might not be so far fetched. When I entered the corporate world I was struck by the constant use of war analogies tossed off without much heed for what the words really implied. Early in my management career my boss handed me The Art of War and insisted I take it to heart and use it as an important supplement to my penchant for Drucker and Deming. Over the years I’ve come to see that in successful businesses with progressive leadership, the Rabbit rules over the Tiger.

Why? Because to get anything done in an organization with 2 people or 2 million, you must have cooperation. The old cliché, Together Everyone Achieves More, happens to be correct. When the Constitutional framers were hammering out their plan for the new nation, they had to cooperate; despite the fact the 55 delegates had strong opposing views. When John Zumwalt, CEO at PBS&J came to believe the company should reflect the communities in which it had offices, he needed the entire workforce to take on the mission. He didn’t set quotas or impose a program. He talked about the mission to everyone and enlisted their cooperation. In a few years the national engineering firm was being recognized and receiving awards for its diversity.

5 Actions to Usher in the Year of the Rabbit and Chase the Tiger

Stop the War Chatter – Record your next meeting. How often do war-related terms crop up? How often do you shoot down an idea; praise a straight shooter; develop a killer app? Ever hear the expression, As a man thinketh...? We don’t even hear the subtle messages we put out every day and reinforce in our own minds.

Stop Thinking the Competition is the Enemy – Our competitors are not our enemies. When I first started my business I was getting advice from a more experienced business owner. She bragged about how she had driven her major competitor out of business. I wasn’t impressed then or now. Why spend all that energy destroying someone else? Has airline or banking service improved with all the gobbling up of the competition? Personally, I want strong competitors. They keep me on my toes, innovating, and improving.

Start being Likable – Machiavelli helped spread the idea leaders should be feared rather than loved. Why do we associate likability with weak leadership? Joe Caccavo, the absolutely best boss I ever had, was loved and admired by his team. He was also tough and demanded our best from us. He took us to task when it was necessary. He was fair, patient, and supportive. He wanted to see each of us succeed and did everything he could to make that possible. We would have followed him anywhere and did more than any of us believed possible.

Start Looking for Synergy – I joined a new mastermind group recently. All of us are involved in the professional speaking business but none of us see one another as competitors. Instead we are all working together to help one another be more successful. Ideas and insights flow. We share our challenges and fears. The group dynamic creates a heady mix of inspiration, innovation, and tough love.

Start Caring for those you Disagree with – When we demonize those we disagree with, we stop having a dialogue; we stop learning; we stop understanding the complexity of our world. Corporate politics are just as nasty as the government-related kind. Enormous losses accrue to every organization when the politics become toxic and anti-productive. When Michael Howe took over Arby’s, he turned the chain around by leading a cultural revolution. It was certainly not easy but his efforts created a people-focused positive culture that doubled cash flow and grew revenue dramatically in a few years.

So give it some thought. Could you be more successful pursuing positive relationships and embracing your inner Rabbit and chasing out a little of your inner Tiger? I don’t know about you, but I’m certainly going to give it a go…It’s a New Year, so why not a new approach? Especially when it’s proved so successful as a business strategy.

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© Rebecca Staton-Reinstein, President, Advantage Leadership, Inc

Want to know more about the leaders in today’s blog and others who have transformed their organizational cultures to improve bottom- and top- line results? Check out Conventional Wisdom: How Today’s Leaders Plan, Perform, and Progress Like the Founding Fathers.