Wednesday, August 10, 2011

INTUITIVE LEADERSHIP


On June 26, 1963, President John Kennedy stood in Berlin, looked over the sea of people and declared:  “Ich bin ein Berliner” (I am a Berliner.)

Twenty-four years later standing by the Berlin wall, President Ronald Reagan challenged the Soviet Union and Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall”.

In each of these instances, the President understood the power and scope of intuitive leadership.  They owned the uniqueness of the moment and gave it significance.

That is precisely what leadership is about particularly in a democratic society.  Leaders seize the moment.

Time and time again during the administration of President Harry Truman an endless array of challenges arose and each and every time he allowed his leadership instincts to guide him.  We are familiar with the big decisions like dropping the atom bomb, closing the war, establishing the containment of the Soviet Union, and conducting the Korean War.  But how about the other ones like dealing with steel, transportation and coal strikes while trying to guide America from a wartime to a peacetime economy that could absorb the millions of returning veterans and deal with the needs of employment, housing and transportation.  On top of that, he had to make highly unpopular decisions like firing General Douglas McArthur.  He took a beating, but he still led.

In 1948, the Democratic Party was torn apart when former Vice President Henry Wallace led the “Progressives” out of the party and Strom Thurmond formed the southern Dixiecrats and stormed out of the convention.  Truman did not whine.  No.  He went out and campaigned with abandon.  He knew the soul of America and touched it.  His stunning upset victory was all about intuitive leadership rather than endless polls, political consultants and special interest money.

A different kind of intuitive leadership came on the eve of the Normandy invasion on June 6, 1945, immediately following General Eisenhower’s order to launch the invasion the following morning.  He clearly understood the enormity of the task, its’ complexities, and the risk of possible failure.   What guided him was not fear but rather full confidence in this “Great Crusade” when he declared to all allied troops that the “tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory!”

This was a summons to greatness – a clear example of intuitive leadership.

Several years ago, Malcolm Gladwell published a book entitled Blink which perfectly encapsulated this whole concept of trusting intuition which is the processing of the sum total of all our life experiences.   For instance, that is why some art critics can simply look at a masterpiece and immediately determine its authenticity or a conductor can listen to a few notes played on an instrument and conclude brilliance.

Leadership is about using that instinct and knowing the importance of these historical moments.

Unfortunately, this quality seems not to be present in President Obama.  On Monday of this week, we waited for the President to speak – to rally us – to summon us to a higher mission – to instill in us and the markets a sense of confidence.  We, as a people, believe in American exceptionalism and are committed to the belief that we must give to our children more opportunity, more chances for success than we had.  We further believe our leaders embrace the furtherance of that commitment.  If the President calls upon us to sacrifice for the greater good, we welcome that challenge.

However, when the President spoke, there was no call to action, no special session of a vacationing Congress, no summit of political and financial leaders.   Simply put, it was a small talk for a big occasion.

Now, this Presidency can still recover.  Yes, it needs more vibrancy, more openness, more coalition building.  But, it also needs a new sense of resolve that firmly places the Presidency in charge of protecting and enhancing the long-term common good.  Toward this end, it cannot waiver. 

Remember, we, as Americans, want our leaders to succeed.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Please No More Gossip

Today’s (August 7, 2011) Star Tribune contained an excellent analysis of the financial problems of the United States as well as a broader understanding of the downgrade by Standard and Poor’s.   In addition Eric Wieffering’s column (Tribune article) on the deficit is a must read.  This is journalism at its best.

But then we see a large spread on the personal life of Ted Mondale written by a person known as “CJ”.  It is little more than gossip and fiction and is not subject to any journalistic standards.  More importantly it makes no known contribution to the public good.  Instead it reinforces the fear capable people have of entering public service.

Below is an excerpt of a letter I wrote on April 29, 2010, to Mr. Michael Klingsensmith, publisher and CEO of the Star Tribune.  Sadly, I have a yet to receive a response.

During the era of John Cowles, Jr. the Star and Tribune (both separately and combined) defined so much of the progress that made Minneapolis and Minnesota so successful.  Their outstanding leadership and talent was a large driving force in coalescing business, labor, community, and political leadership to come together and work toward common goals.  Political parties were challenged to offer their best and brightest and the agenda always drove towards the center.  Just look at how this coming together of leadership built Minneapolis and Minnesota and, ultimately, was rewarded when Governor Wendell Anderson was on the cover of Time Magazine with adage about Minnesota being a state that works.  The Nicollet Mall, major theater, the arts, the Guthrie, Walker Art Museum, major league sports, metropolitan governance, transit, environmental protection, national leadership in health care, equitable school funding, improving the quality of higher education, and on and on is a testimony to the greatness of that partnership and the fingerprints of the Star Tribune are all over it.

Their “gossip” columnist was Barbara Flanagan who was a perpetual advocate for every exciting and creative project in Minneapolis from building design to sidewalk cafes.  She understood the people part of projects and always pushed for livability.  There should be a statue of her on the Mall.

But it does make a point and that is a quality newspaper gives a positive meaning to community and appeals to the very best in people.  That is your challenge.

Simply put, you are in the integrity business and there is no way you can be successful in preaching integrity from the pulpit while operating a bordello on the side.

I pray that you will drive the Star Tribune back to greatness and I will do all in my power to assist.

I think the public has a stake, a very vital stake, in how it gets its information.  As a society, we give special status to the media both in terms of taxes and certain protections from slander and libel.  But when that privilege is abused, we have the right to protest and insist that journalistic standards be explained and applied.

It is not too much to ask the Publisher about journalistic standards and whether he is willing to allow his personal life and the personal life of his family to be publicly reviewed in the same fashion he permits CJ to examine the lives of others.

A public dialogue is clearly warranted and, preferably, a true change made.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

THE HUSTLE AT AMES


On August 13, 2011 in Ames, Iowa on the campus of Iowa State University, the nation’s first political test for the Republican Presidential nomination will take place.  It has been billed as “important” and as a “bell weather” event.  Over 250 media outlets are expected to be on hand.

In many ways, the Ames Straw Poll is simple.  The GOP State Central Committee of Iowa has determined that the names of nine Presidential candidates will be placed on the ballot.  This includes the six who reserved space and the three who did not.  The latter includes Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney.  Missing entirely will be the name of Governor Rick Perry of Texas who has not yet announced.

On the face of it, the Ames Straw Poll would appear to be a slice of Americana with Iowans 18 years of age and older visiting the Iowa State Campus and casting their ballot for the candidate of their choice.  One does not even need to be a Republican to participate.

But upon examination there emerges a much darker picture.  It is not about an open nomination process but rather a shabby large-scale fundraiser for the state party disguised as an exercise in democracy.  Look at the facts:

1-Candidates in order to participate purchase booths in the poll area for a minimum of $15,000.  Ron Paul paid $31,000 for his better location.

2-People desirous of voting must pay $35 per ticket which entitles them to vote, hear the six Presidential candidates who paid, and enjoy a variety of foods and beverages.

3-the Iowa GOP brings in over $900,000 for sponsoring this event.

Further, candidates will buy those $35 tickets for their supporters and they will bus them into the event at no cost.  But there is a huge cost to candidates.  For instance, in 1999, George W. Bush and Steve Forbes spent over $2 million apiece on tickets and activities according to Conservapedia (http://www.conservapedia.com/Iowa_Straw_Poll).   The same source reports that Romney spent up to $1,000 per voter in 2007.

And then we have the attendance factor.  Iowa has a registered voting population of approximately 2 million with the following breakdown:  Democrat – 710,017, Republican – 607,567 and No Party – 772,725.  The total number of people who participated in the Ames Straw Poll in 2007 was 14,302.  That is approximately .7 percent of the eligible registered voting population in Iowa.

Now, others have used words ranging from “shakedown” to “bribery” to describe this process.  There can be no doubt that it is more reminiscent of Al Capone than Abraham Lincoln.

But that is not my point.  The real issue is whether this is the image of democracy that we want to teach our children?  Is this the picture of America that we want to project abroad?

The sad reality is that this ugliness survives because we and the national media assign value to it.   But the truth is that this petty hustle warrants our disdain and little else.