July 22, 2010
Bullies, Oil and Terrorism--Leadership Lost
By Ronald Arrington
For over 40 years, American leaders have ignored training youth. There has been too many, too inept and too few sober leaders willing to tackle this sustained problem. Politics and profits, rather than logic and action typically prevails every 2-4 years. "I dare you" to bite into this: all young adults are now America's most endangered species. Better get busy!
Bullies, Oil and Terrorism--Leadership Lost
"The price of greatness is responsibility" Winston Churchill
Americans distrust their government and leaders. That's the bad news. The good: there's no shortage of folks willing to get rid of ineffective ones. Everybody wants leaders who are accountable and responsible to them. Yet, in practice, some leaders refuse taking responsibility for anything gone awry. When they do, it's so meticulously scripted; it literally requires a PhD in Linguistics to sort it out. Let's take a look at "Bullies, Oil, and Terrorism," three endless examples of "Leadership Lost." Working Working definitions of "Bullies" and "Leadership" are offered. "Bullies" are people, organizations, institutions and systems that enjoy oppressing others weaker than them." Whereas, "Leadership"--governance and stewardship--"is creating ways for people to make, and contribute, something extraordinary happen for the good of most." (Allen Keith, 2010)
Lead, Follow, or Step Aside Great leaders and effective stewardship are as rare as hens' teeth. Typically we only honor them posthumously; with the passage of time. And unless trust is cultivated among groups, people and processes early, those dependent relationships between people and leaders never thrive. Trust then is a pivotal variable for leadership success; it's also a vital benchmark for measuring effectiveness. America's election of President Barak Obama as the 44th President was a classic example of this. Albeit "change" was his call-to-arms, a referendum on waning public trust in leaders and government fueled, and eventually won, the election. Then, how is "Leadership Lost?"
Envision leadership in the terms of "Bullies, Oil and Terrorism." Few linked the events to leadership before 911, Katrina, Ft. Hood, Columbine school massacres, the alleged NY City bomb plot and, recently, the Gulf oil disaster. Now, if those terms are searched on Google, more than 180 million hits appear. Prior to these events those numbers were drastically lower. America is uniquely democratic and permissive. However, leaders who persistently avoid making critical decisions, or taking responsibility for mistakes, erode public trust in their character, judgment and ability to lead. This results in leadership opportunities being lost. Sometime citizens get angry, frustrated and feel betrayed by government, e.g., Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Tea Party, et.al, they create maverick movements against government that prolong and distract leaders from finding viable solutions for problems. Adding insult to injury, many maverick movements are homegrown; thus, they know how to cripple American institutions. Bureaucracy is, by design, slow to react to these threats and challenges, so they exploit system flaws and our adversaries do too.
This rigid, normative and permissive governance model can be traced back to the Industrial Revolution. Frankly, using it has created a dangerous 21st century nightmare for post-revolution American leadership; namely, it sends a clear message: "it's about me, regardless of us", and "don't trust anybody but those in power and authority." And under no circumstances trust each other. It's resulted in numerous "silent majority cultures" being formed to zap power from formal institutions. Unless--or until--America broadens access to these pivotal leadership roles for all citizens, we'll likely continue skimming marginal leaders off the top: barely able to manage existing processes and unable to invent new ones for years to come.
Origin of "Bullies"--Who, Me!?
My father, Adam Arrington, had a 6th grade education. As a kid he was my private "Bully.' As an adult, he was sharper than most postgraduate PhDs for 95 years. He'd tell me, "An idle mind is the Devil's workshop," if he found me wasting time. Having Southern roots, he valued "time" and "work". Thus, he kept me busy--daily. For him, it didn't matter what I aspired to do--a job, go to college, be trained as a principle, pastor, carpenter or surgeon--he demanded my best. He only trusted results, not promises; thus, he monitored my time as if it was his own. Any wonder why some people with too much extra time on their hands--latchkey kids, bullies, terrorist, prisoners, et.al.--get into trouble? America is a permissive nation, yet, freedom isn't free. Choice must carry consequences for this privilege and actions. Therefore, choosing school, college, military service, training, homelessness or jail (some prefer it), should be subject to oversight that manages those choices and optimize that time for all Americans. Those with too little time, too much structure and overly educated or trained, can stray as well. Finding efficient ways to manage, utilize and balance ones' time is a key ingredient in developing character. Who me!? Absolutely!
Therefore, "Bullies, Leaders, Terrorists", even some "Bureaucrats", aren't excluded from this model. All are creatures of time, none are born that way. They're every day people in society, top down to bottom up, inside-and-outside of formal bureaucracy. As such, no single institution, organization or government can monitor every citizen for everything. Nor is America immune from rouge attacks by frantic people with too much time. Logically then, ones' time is critical because institutions are too big and global to handle it alone. Just look at the data.
Current research suggests bullies learned their craft from bad experiences in school, at home, and even worse, in communities where they live. No wonder TV reality and Soaps are so popular? A causal relationship between TV, "Bullies and Terrorists" may be a stretch. But, a plausible one seems to be; "They just don't know how to fully connect with others.' Lacking interpersonal skills and the wherewithal to plug-in-with others, surfaces on playgrounds, in cubicles at work, and other lofty or obscure places hidden in bureaucratic circles. Here's a question: "How can America get regular folks to speak up, step up, and not shut up--or go underground--when their liberties are threaten?' Taking a personal interest in teaching a young adult that trust is earned--not entitled by a degree, power, fame, gun or a badge: not even by several 1000 friends on Facebook, MySpace or Twitter--is a partial answer.
Endangered Species--America's Youth Warning--the new Millennials, born 1982-2010, aren't duped by their parents' pursuit of the "American Dream." They shun it at all costs. Misguided, many blame corporations, parents, schools, family and government for trying to lure them into a capitalistic ideology awarded by dead-end-jobs divvied out by bullies masquerading as patriots. Many grow up and learned to distrust formal organizational leaders, and America's hypocrisy. This isn't unique to America; it's worldwide. Some "Me Generation," prefer texting, chatting and spending 100 hours weekly on the Net, than being paid by an employer they don't trust. Recently a researcher at Iowa State University found too much time on a screen doubles attention problems among children and young adults (2010). Facebook alone has 500 million subscribers, and growing. Cyberspace is their new venue of choice. It's forced ISPs to improve site security. So, what harm is it sharing private information in a public domain? It impacts public trust and profits! Clearly, the internet now faces similar issues of public trust, as are governments and formal leaders.
Regrettably, too many young adults are endangered of dropping out of school, settling for menial jobs and joining gangs instead of aspiring to lead America. It cost dearly. Young casualties include those being pushed-out, picked-on and stereotyped as ADD, ADHD or ODHD way too often. The US Army alone has more recruits holding GEDs than high school diplomas. Mind you, they're "proudly' defending us.
To allow young talent to drift, unmonitored or challenged guarantees three things: success is left to chance, LFPRs will plummet, and it puts America At-Risk. Never forget, Bill Gates, Aristotle, Einstein, Gandhi, Freud and other powerful figures were mislabeled early too. Fortunately, they ignored critics to pursued their dreams. Many youth today aren't as disciplined, emotionally stable and intellectually endowed, as those cited. For some, texting, hiding out unobtrusively in a chat room, dropping out, or take menial jobs until time and failure forces them to act out, is easier than being responsible. Feeling left out, it costs taxpayers billions annually in lost revenues: "leadership lost.'
Question one: What type (s) of education, training and life experiences are essential to reviving the scarce value of trust, time and work among all Americans? And, whose responsibility is it?
Collateral Casualties: "Oil and Terrorism"
Oil is another instance of formal "Leadership Lost." Directly after the Gulf Oil spill, British Petroleum's (BPs) CEO Tony Hayward and a host of engineers tried frantically to ease public concerns and improve its image. Instead of staying on point in the Gulf, Tony went sailing in England; then was quoted calling Gulf residents "small people". This very public blunder of "Leadership Lost" forced BP to launch a global marketing campaign, spending millions on ads, to counter national backlash from his remarks. It also cost taxpayers several more millions for congressional hearings. While President Obama secured $20B in trust for Gulf residents in the interim, public distrust of leadership never recovered. His ratings fell like the Titanic. You'd think Obama and Hayward could have found time to appear together, somewhere or anywhere, after this crisis to solidify public trust for their leadership. Instead, media frenzy ensued taunting their adversarial relationship from a distance, until Obama called a meeting in Washington, DC: another blatant example of "Leadership Lost."
Arguably, "Oil, Terrorism and Bullies" describe three distinct episodes. Yet, each incident shares a common flaw: namely, lost opportunities for leaders to shine. No wonder Americans continue to ask two rhetorical questions: "What went wrong'? And "Who can we blame?" Neither answer gets us any closer to softening the public's demand for trust in leadership, stewardship and governance.
Question two: Generally speaking, how can trust for leadership be repaired and revived for those seeking, elected or appointed, and for those presently holding formal roles of public trust?
One lesson was learned from "Terrorism", NY's Najibullah Zari, Fort Hood and the Columbine school massacres: all were homegrown in America. Unlike other nations, American institutions and organizations are overwhelmingly democratic. This has obvious advantages and disadvantages for all Americans. Restricting access to some and rewarding others can trigger those left out to rebel against the process in destructive and costly ways. Lacking training, formal education or skills they believe options for success are limited. Other underdeveloped countries tend to tackle this problem differently than America. Some recruit and train "Terrorists' as young as 6 years old. In effect, they start early and then send them to America for advanced training. They return to their host nation with skills and advanced education to invest there. To preserve homeland sovereignty, other citizens are routinely taught to "walk-up, bone-up and talk" to anyone acting, or looking suspicious. Tactically, this is a cultural taboo and too combative for most Americans: including leaders, managers and public officials. Most view it as attacking on our civil liberties and freedom. Avoiding this conflict speaks volumes about American culture, principles and mindsets. Believe me, "Bullies", "Terrorist", and some "Bureaucrats", exploit this flaw. When traveling abroad you noticed foreigners approach strangers much more frequently than Americans do. They're taught to care more concerned about their safety than your right of privacy or passage as a visitor in their country. Again, "Leadership Lost."
Question three: Are traditional and existing systems--schools, colleges, universities, specialized vocational schools, corporations, the Military or the Internet--totally proficient at selecting, training and preparing future leaders? If so, who's monitoring them? If not, who else should train them?
Who's Minding-the-Store? "Bureaucracy is a giant mechanism operated by pygmies--Honore'de Balzac"
Presently America leads the free world in productivity per employee: but, for how long? As alarming numbers of young adults opt out and are pushed-out of traditional institutions charged with preparing them as responsible adults, whose responsibility is it to educate, teach, train and prepare them for life? Consider three troubling trends.
First, a UCLA Report: "American Freshmen: Forty-year trends, 1966-2006", found "wanting to be well off financially" dropped significantly in 1979. Rather, "wanting to develop meaningful philosophy of life" was cited twice as often as making money in this report. (2007) Second, even more riveting is Fortune's lists of the top 500 and 100 American corporations. Companies like Wal-Mart, Exxon-Mobil, Chevron and GMC, where profits score beyond what the average American earns in a lifetime top that list. No, this doesn't suggest profits are undesirable, since we are capitalistic. Though it does begs the question, "should money be the only goal in life". Interestingly, Fortune's list of the "100 best companies to work for" respondents cited such companies as Big Lots, Robert Half, and Chiquita Brands. None are household names for most Americans.
Third, Millennials almost single-handily elected Barack Obama as America's 44th President. No small feat. His campaign perfected technology to "win friends and influence people' by joining them where they live--Cyberspace. As a group they spend a lion's share of time on social networks, texting friends and rehashing trivia; rather than with parents, employers and neighbors. They're more interested in mimicking Jennifer Lopez, JZ, Run-D.M.C., Lady GaGa, Lebron James and Sean "P Ditty' Combs than Warren Buffett, Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. All have amassed lavish amounts of wealth in their careers, but pursued it distinctively different. As Jonathan Tisch, CEO of Lowes Hotels attests, "there's a new kind of volunteerism emerging in America that's more dynamic, based on giving of one's expertise and wisdom" than previous generations". Perhaps this explains, in part, why many choose to work for companies like Apple, Big Lots, Google and LinkedIn. His remarks loudly echo the two reports cited above. So, how is this significant to "Leadership Lost?"
It points directly to "Who's minding the store' that prepares, educates and trains America's future leaders? That's the core problem. Moreover, are we permitting marginal leaders to fill powerful slots that more capable ones in the pipeline should fill? As the world leader of intellectual capital and talent, America can ill-afford to invest in, train, and then export it to other nations competing with us. Hence, relying singly on traditional methods to produce future leaders is a mistake. We need to expand the playing field: unless mastering "Pygmalion's Self-fulfilling Prophecy' and "Peter's Principle' are joint goals for training future leaders. California is notorious at this. They recycle leaders like mixed drinks every 2-4 years. All three trends are menacing problems for resurrecting trust in American leadership; frankly, we're better than that. Finally, "who should train America's future leaders"?
Under Construction--All Hands on Deck Since rebellious "Bullies, Leaders and Terrorists" appear anywhere--schools, churches, corporations, public and private enterprises, including government and NGOs, bad people must be identified early, and often. Hence, "Bullies, Terrorism and Leadership" must be taken seriously. Globally it's as important as the economy, energy, health, the environment and fossil fuel; every nation is affected: not just America. Yet for America, resurrecting trust in leadership and training of future leaders is critical for survival. Kids are now collateral casualties spanning two decades of "Leadership Lost' and neglect. Either adults are preoccupied with self, have given up on kids, or are satisfied with flirting, importing and exporting them exponentially. Training isn't a utopian virtue. We train the Armed Forces, doctors, police and fire personnel, lawyers, diplomats, auto mechanics and Stewarts of God. We routinely train our animals and our hair for preferred styles. Now imagine leaving leadership training, in many respects, to social networks, chat rooms or worse, left to chance. It's tantamount to taking your car to an auto mechanic, then demanding they perform open heart surgery--not a prudent choice.
Granted, America can't be all things to all people. But as my father said, "An idle mind is the Devil's workshop." So, if Americans just depend on schools, colleges, businesses or government to train future leaders, we'll lose a talented generation young adults, essentially by default, because we failed to meet them where they "play and live'.
"I dare you!" Repeal those ancient Federal/State child labor, criminal justice, family protective custody, health, human and social service laws that anointed Uncle Sam, instead of "family and communities", to guard the kids. Watch it! Citizens are so starved and ready for these jobs and strategic mission, they'll likely need remedial training too before deployment. Once these laws and collaborative oversight is back in place locally where kids know they can depend on it, adults (again) are held responsibility for it, "All hands on Deck" is ultimately America's price for sustained greatness.
Can you think of anyone better suited for OJT than those spending 100 hours a week hanging out in Cyberspace?
Authors Website: www.consultantstrainerscoaches.com
Ronald Arrington, MBA, MPA: a Consultant, Trainer, Coach, directs a group of training professionals who recognize the grave need to nurture human capital assuring the effective operation of vital boards, leaders, managers and public organizations, and preserves families and youth in that pivotal process.