Exercise your right to vote on Tuesday!

I made a trip to Washington, D.C. a few weeks ago. It was a really interesting time to be there—just before a presidential election. I heard a lot of negative statements and a lot of worry about the economy and the election and the state our country is in.  So I want to show you a quote someone sent to me:

“The national budget must be balanced. The public debt must be reduced; the arrogance of the authorities must be moderated and controlled. Payments to foreign governments must be reduced, if the nation doesn’t want to go bankrupt. People must once again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance.”

Do you know who gets credit for that statement?  Cicero, who supposedly said it in 55 B.C.! I’m strangely comforted by the fact that the world has had some of these same problems for centuries. So I made a choice to come away from Washington, D.C. feeling positive about the future. I think we’re going to pull through this. We’ve got a great country—we can pull out of this debt and solve these problems—particularly if we all hang in there together. 

I was so impressed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie when he stated publicly this past week that Barack Obama was “outstanding to deal with” in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Even though Governor Christie is a Republican and a staunch supporter of Mitt Romney, he didn’t play politics; he praised Obama because he felt praise was due. I thought it was refreshing and I think the American people would love to see more examples of this kind of non-partisan collaboration among our leaders. If our national leaders all had this kind of cooperative mentality, we could pull together and overcome any obstacle in our path. We shouldn’t need something like a hurricane to bring American leaders together as problem-solving partners.

My friend Hyrum Smith recently reissued his 2004 book with the title Pain is Inevitable; Misery is Optional.  That’s tied in with what I believe about our country’s difficulties.  Let’s realize that pain is inevitable—problems are inevitable—but misery is optional.  We don’t have to play the blame game. We can choose to be compassionate and loving and caring. When people want you to join in a pity party about how bad everything is in the country, you can choose not to engage.  You can say, “Okay, what can we do to try and make a positive difference in our own community?” and encourage others to be part of the solution.

So, choose to be positive and to do something about it – and right now, doing something means we all have to get out and vote.  Vote any way you want—just vote.  Decide who you think can really make a difference and help us turn the country around. And don’t forget about the local elections and issues—those are just as important as what’s happening nationally.

We can each make a difference where we are. We can be leaders where we’re planted. Encourage others around you and choose to stay positive. And remember to vote on Tuesday!

Is there such a thing as servant leadership in government?

(This is the eleventh installment in my twelve-part blog series A Leadership Vision for America.)

I realize that what I have been saying about creating a servant leadership culture in Washington is not easy to sell. To a lot of people, it sounds like “soft management.”

When I am confronted by these kinds of concerns, I love to tell about an experience I had several years ago at my local branch of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). Stop me if you’ve heard this one!

When you mention the DMV, most people would say it’s a government bureaucracy that often treats them as a number instead of a human being. I felt the same way at the time—but like we all do every few years, I had to go there in person to renew my driver’s license.  I hadn’t been to the DMV in years and headed to the office with low expectations.

I knew immediately something had changed when I walked in the front door and was greeted by a smiling woman. “Welcome to the Department of Motor Vehicles! Do you speak English or Spanish?”

“English,” I replied.

She pointed to a nearby counter and said, “Right over there.”

The guy behind the counter cheerfully said, “Welcome to the Department of Motor Vehicles! How may I help you today?” It took me only nine minutes to get my replacement license, including having my picture taken. I asked the woman who took my picture, “What are you all smoking here? This isn’t the same old DMV I used to know and love.”

She asked, “Haven’t you met our new director?”and pointed to a man sitting at a desk right in the middle of everything. I walked over to him, introduced myself, and asked, “What’s your job as the director of this branch of the DMV?” The man gave me the best definition of management I had ever heard:

“My job is to reorganize the department on a moment-to-moment basis, depending on citizen (customer) need.”

The director obviously had a compelling vision for his department. The point of their business was to serve the needs of their customers, and to serve them well. What did this director do? I learned that he cheered everybody on—that’s why he was out in the middle of the action. He also cross-trained everyone in every job—that way, if a flood of citizens came in suddenly, they would be able to provide the service that was needed. And no one went to lunch between 11:30 and 2:00, because that was the busiest time of day for customers to come in.

This director created a motivating environment for his people. His team members were really committed. Even employees I recognized from past visits—who at the time had seemed stiff and jaded—were now excited about serving.

When leaders are servants first and leaders second, they make a positive difference in everyone around them. Would you like to work for this kind of leader? You’d better believe it. Why? Because he’s a servant leader who treats his people as his business partners in implementing the service vision and solving problems.

If this philosophy can impact a government agency like the DMV, why can’t it impact all segments of society, including the U.S. government? 

To me, what’s needed are leaders in Washington who believe we should:

  • Have a Compelling Vision: If people don’t have a larger purpose to serve, the only thing they have to serve is themselves.
  • Treat Citizens as Business Partners: People who are well informed have a greater commitment to help solve problems.
  • Involve Every Sector of Society: No problem can withstand the assault of sustained collective thinking and action.
  • Elect Servant Leaders:  The more leaders we have in Washington who realize that their job is to serve, not to be served, the better chance we have of breaking our political deadlock and maintaining our reputable standing in the world.

Thanks for tuning in to the Leadership Vision for America series.  America is a great country and I feel blessed every day to be able to live here. Let’s encourage our leaders to do what they need to do to keep America moving in the right direction. And if you’re an American citizen, be sure to get out and vote on November 6, on national, state, and local political races and issues. Your vote counts! 

I’ll have some final thoughts next week as I conclude this series. What are your thoughts as Election Day approaches?

Elect Servant Leaders

(This is the tenth installment in my twelve-part blog series A Leadership Vision for America.)

Now let’s look at the fourth and final secret for fixing Washington. This secret will encompass and bring to life the first three secrets.

The Fourth Secret: Elect Servant Leaders

Assumption: The more that our leaders are in Washington to serve and not be served, the better chance we have to mend what’s wrong with our country.

The world is in desperate need of a different leadership role model. Everyone has seen the negative effects of self-serving leaders in every segment of our society. In fact, to a great extent, the whole economic downturn has been the result of self-serving leaders through the years who thought all the money, recognition, power, and status should move up the hierarchy in their direction, and everyone else be damned.

Yet, when I mention servant leadership to people, they often think it means the inmates are running the prison, or trying to please everybody, or even some type of religious movement.  They think you can’t lead and serve at the same time. Yet you can, if you understand that there are two parts to servant leadership:

  • A visionary, or strategic, role—the leadership aspect of servant leadership
  • An implementation, or operational, role—the servant aspect of servant leadership

The first secret for fixing Washington—having a compelling vision—was focused on the visionary/strategic, or leadership, aspect of servant leadership. Once an organization has a compelling vision, they can set goals and define strategic initiatives that suggest what people should be focusing on right now. With a compelling vision, these goals and strategic initiatives take on more meaning and therefore are not seen as a threat, but as part of the bigger picture.

The traditional hierarchical pyramid is effective for the leadership aspect of servant leadership. People look to their organizational leaders for direction, as Americans look to Washington. While leaders should involve experienced people in shaping vision/direction, goals, and strategic imperatives, the ultimate responsibility remains with the leaders themselves and cannot be delegated to others.

Implementation/operational leadership, or the servant aspect of servant leadership—living according to the vision and direction—is where most leaders and organizations get into trouble. With self-serving leaders at the helm, the traditional hierarchical pyramid is kept alive and well, leaving the customers uncared for at the bottom of the hierarchy. All the energy in the organization moves up the hierarchy as people try to please and be responsive to their bosses, leaving the customer contact people to be “ducks,” “quacking” and saying things like, “It’s our policy,” “I just work here,” “I didn’t make the rules,” or “Do you want to talk to my supervisor?”

Servant leaders, on the other hand, feel that their role is to help people achieve their goals. They intuitively know that effective implementation requires turning the hierarchical pyramid upside down so the customer contact people are at the top of the organization and can be responsible—able to respond and soar like eagles—while leaders serve and are responsive to the needs of their people, helping them to accomplish goals and live according to the vision/direction, goals, and strategic imperatives of the organization.

Since the customer contact people are “in the know,” they see themselves as your responsible business partners and, therefore, are committed to not only serving customers but to solving problems. This is what the second and third secrets of fixing Washington are all about:  We must treat our citizens as our business partners and involve all segments of society to solve our problems.

To wrap up my Leadership Vision for America series, I’ll have some final thoughts for you next time and then a special message on November 3. Let me know what you think!

Invite every sector of society to the table

(This is the eighth installment in my twelve-part blog series A Leadership Vision for America.)

Our leaders need to create a clear, compelling vision for America. They also need to start treating Americans as true business partners. Now let’s look at the third secret for helping to fix Washington:

The Third Secret: Involve Every Sector of Society

Assumption: No problem can withstand the assault of sustained collective thinking and action.

When I talk about sustained collective action, I’m talking about every sector of society being involved. The strategy to do this is an outgrowth of the thinking that went into Sam Williams’ and Eric Swanson’s book To Transform a City. (I’m currently working with Sam and a colleague of his, Mike Carlisle, on an initiative called Vision San Diego, with the goal of making San Diego truly “America’s Finest Region.”)

In their book, Williams and Swanson established that there are three primary sectors in our society, each having three domains.  They are:

  • The Public Sector – government, military, and education
  • The Private Sector – business, arts/entertainment, and media
  • The Social Sector – faith community, nonprofit organizations, and families

In the past, when it has come to finding solutions for city, state, or national problems, the focus has tended to be on only two of these nine domains—government and business. The self-serving mess we have in Washington is a perfect example. When people start believing that our problems can be solved only by government or by business, it dooms problem solving to failure because the other seven domains are on the outside looking in—and some of them have become our country’s most critical judges.

Take the media, for example.  I’ll never forget when I participated in a Young Presidents’ Organization University program in Singapore in 1984. Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, the leader who transformed that country, spoke to us. He was prophetic when he said:  “I love the United States, but I’m worried about you. I don’t think you are going to get strong leaders in the future because your press does not understand the difference between freedom of speech and national integrity.”  That was almost thirty years ago.

I think if the media were invited in to be part of America’s problem-solving team, they wouldn’t feel the need to set themselves up as judge and jury for our leaders and everything the government is doing. The reality is that all nine domains of society need to be involved for real problem solving to take place.

Next time I’ll explain the difference between Bounded Set and Centered Set decision-making philosophies.

Are the people of America treated as business partners?

(This is the seventh installment in my twelve-part blog series A Leadership Vision for America)

I’ve laid out the first secret that would help our leaders bring America back to a healthy state:  Create a compelling vision by knowing who we are (our purpose), where we’re going (our picture of the future), and what will guide our journey (our values). If our leaders had a clear, agreed-upon vision, it would help them set national goals they could focus on. But they shouldn’t try to figure everything out by themselves. That leads me to the second secret.

The Second Secret: Treat Citizens as Your Business Partners

Assumption: The more that people are “in the know,” the greater their commitment to work together to help solve problems.

In my work in the business world, one of the things that has bothered me the most is watching leaders of companies in financial trouble go behind closed doors and make all the decisions by themselves in an attempt to turn the situation around.  It’s amazing to talk to people in those organizations who didn’t even know there was a problem until major layoffs were announced. Those people certainly didn’t feel like business partners—they felt like victims.

A lot of people don’t know that Southwest Airlines is over eighty percent unionized. When employees were first asked to vote on being union members, they came to cofounder Herb Kelleher to tell him what was going on. He said, “I love unions as long as they will let you sit on the same side of the table as me. If they want us to sit on opposite sides of the table, vote them down.” Union leaders have been present at every leadership meeting I have attended at Southwest Airlines. That’s quite a different story from other airlines that fight with their unions or even declare bankruptcy to break union contracts. At Southwest, they are one big family of business partners.

That’s why I think many Americans don’t trust politicians—because they don’t treat the American people as business partners. They don’t share information with us. We know we’re going through a difficult time but we don’t really know the facts. Politicians are sitting around Washington trying to figure out solutions to our problems and they haven’t asked us to help.

My wife Margie and I were recently in Australia visiting a business colleague, Lindsay Fox, who founded Linfox Transport. When we first met Lindsay in 1977, his company was doing about $10 or $15 million in annual business. Today, Linfox does over $1 billion annually just in logistics—not only in Australia but also in countries all over Asia. He’s one of the most respected businessmen in Australia. Several years ago when Australia was having a big problem with unemployment, Australia’s then-prime minister asked Lindsay and the head of the trade union association to take to the road. They visited major cities and towns in Australia to share the facts about the unemployment problem and to try to convince business owners to provide work for unemployed people.  This approach helped generate over 60,000 new jobs. Why? Because they went to the people, shared the information, and asked for help. Lindsay was quoted as saying, “It’s incredible what you can do when you believe you can work through it. This is why it’s tremendously important to work with the government, with friends, and help people.”

Our leaders need to do the same thing. Be honest with us. Tell the American people what the issues are and then go to communities around the country, let us know how we can help, and listen to our suggestions. I guarantee you that the citizens of this country have lots of good ideas and are willing to work with our leaders to find solutions for America’s problems.

Jack Bowsher, former Director of Education for IBM, agrees with my contention that Washington should treat our citizens as business partners. He argues, “To protect our way of life and our standard of living, we Americans must become more involved in seeking the truth about the key issues that are being debated and voted on at all three levels of our government.”

If our leaders in Washington would start seeing American citizens as true business partners, it’s amazing to think of what we could accomplish together. Would you agree?

When it comes to getting America back on track, I believe involving every segment of society is essential. I’ll talk about that in my next post.