(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.