Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

The real crisis is not the U.S. southern border. Rather, my ongoing study of media, politics and social change has yielded a list of much more serious concerns. Here are a few:

Most policy decisions are now being made by one person, the President… whose behavior is consistently autocratic, and who is most comfortable in the company of other autocrats.

Social media is being used as a weapon… individuals and governments are using new media to generate chaos, create confusion, attack enemies, and bring about social unrest.

Growing widespread anger is causing dangerous social division… in congress, political extremism is causing the parties to focus on battling each other. At the same time, virtually all areas of the executive branch are issuing directives that create social division and disrupt whole communities.

Institutions important to a democracy are under daily assault… rather than setting up nonpartisan study commissions, members of the administration and their partisan supporters are focused on discrediting the FBI, the CIA, the State Department, the office of the attorney general, education institutions, and more.  A republic is only as strong as its institutions, and leadership must be about making them stronger.

Deregulation has been extreme … public health and the overall environment are being threatened every day. Business leaders are encouraged to ignore interest group pressures… thereby maximizing corporate profits at the expense of public health.

Allies have become confused about U.S.policies… presidential attacks on NATO allies damage U.S. and European security, and advance the causes of our adversaries.

Scientific findings about the impact of climate change have been rejected by our partisan leaders… thereby insuring that weather catastrophes will multiply, that natural landscapes will be destroyed, and lives will be upended.

Media revolutions are changing everything… a new media ecosystem is creating information clutter and confusion, making it almost impossible to separate facts from fiction. Digital media has also changed the way politics, families, and even religion function. Resulting individual isolation is also beginning to reveal behavior and mental health issues. More media and civic literacy education in schools and elsewhere is urgently needed.

The constitution-protected role of the press has been upended… a proliferation of competing broadcast channels, print organizations, and social media platforms, has created problems related to commercial influences, intended biases, and unintended mistakes.

Generally accepted morality is being lost… leaders without moral character, or qualifications for the office they hold, or personal ethics, or capacity for empathy, are initiating reforms based on the belief that “ends by any means” are now acceptable. Simply put, when their “means” are filled with lies, deceptions, and gross exaggerations, our values-based American culture is being corrupted. This is the real American crisis.




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Much of my work in the past was helping institutions become better understood. My first task was to clarify each institution’s founding purpose, to show how that differentiated it from others, and to explore how that difference might be its competitive advantage. Simply put, “who are you,” was my first focus group question?

The “who are you” question led me to founding purpose-inspired answers such as “we are all about service to the community,” or, “we develop the talent of each and every student,” or, “we will immerse you in American history,” and the answer almost always also included a set of values. In other words, how they went about their work was as important as what they did. I found that this was also true about the founding purpose of the United States of America.

I have been referencing the Constitution when writing about long-held American values. But the Declaration of Independence is clearly the best “founding purpose” document. And it declares our nation’s independence in the context of unifying values such as human rights, the rule of law, and the complete rejection of monarchical rule.

Additionally, the Constitution promises freedom of speech, religion, and the press. But when angry and polarizing speech results in tribalism and chaos, the Declaration of Independence is there to remind us about our unifying values. Never totally selfish. Never an autocracy.

Both the letter and the spirit of the Declaration of Independence assume the election of leaders with high ideals and strong character. And since we now live in a time of background checks for important positions, should we not be able to expect political parties and precinct chairs to require some level of character qualification before putting candidates on the ballot?

And should we not be able to expect political parties and political action committees (PAC’s) to have professional codes of conduct to guide the work of their communicators… i.e. political statements will be factual, promises will be doable, and personal attacks will not be tolerated?

Yes, I know. You think I am hallucinating! But if citizens and journalists scream long and loud enough about integrity in politics, maybe mobilized public pressure can eventually do some good.

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For many, 2019 could be called… “The year of the search for new leadership.” But first, here are fifteen reasons to brace yourself for more division and chaos:

  1. Mueller will complete his investigations. Trump might fire him, or refuse to release the report. But, the basic findings will become public via Congress and the courts. It will not be good news for the Trump family.
  2. Trump chaos will continue to divide us. The border wall will remain controversial. Border security will now be a separate topic. Periodic demonstrations and shootings will continue.
  3. American exceptionalism will be revisited. Historians will be interviewed more frequently about America’s founding humanitarian values.
  4. Trump’s control needs will worsen. It’s the only style of management he knows. His only comfort is in the company of autocrats.
  5. Discontent among Republicans will grow. Worry about a president-caused disaster will convince more and more Republicans to separate themselves from the administration.
  6. Economic ignorance will be more apparent. Ongoing trade wars, political chaos, and international instability, will continue to produce up and down stock market swings.
  7. Actual consequences of recent tax-cuts will be better understood. Little difference in paychecks. Growing national debt. Little new job creation. The rich were the beneficiaries.
  8. Partisanship will worsen. Battles across the aisles will continue. Few statesmen will emerge.
  9. Affordable healthcare will continue as a major issue. A solution is too complicated for 2019.
  10. The Kavanaugh debate won’t go away. His second hearing emotional outbursts and partisan attacks will be referenced repeatedly whenever sexual harassment charges are in the headlines.
  11. Business deregulation and selling-off pubic lands will continue. All this in spite of the fact that extreme rulings in these areas endanger both the environment and public health.
  12. Facebook, Google, etc. will experience mild regulation. This will be their slap on the wrist for not paying attention to growing privacy issues.
  13. The Obama’s will resurface. The success of Michelle’s new book, and Barack’s need to push back on Trump, will bring each of them back in the spotlight.
  14. Fake news will be a permanent reality. Social media used as a weapon, unintended consequences of news competition, biased sources, and overall information clutter, will continue to confuse the public.
  15. Starting 2019… the need for changes in political leadership is already widely recognized. But can Democrats sort out their various factions and many candidates to bring together a united vision? And will Republicans be able to regain and articulate a winnable conservative identity? Or, will it be necessary to find a political outsider who has the ability to bring the nation together around a set of traditional values and ideas?

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The resignation letter of General Jim Mattis will quickly become an important document in American history, and will be read by students around the world for years to come. This carefully thought out statement describes “the idea of America,” that Americans have shared since their country’s very beginning: No nation can go it alone for very long; every nation must respect and work with its allies and partners; foreign policies must identify threatening adversaries and call for appropriate actions; and basic human values are the bedrock of American exceptionalism.

Despite Trump’s “we won” pronouncement to justify pulling out of Syria, those who serve on the ground in the military know better. Actually, the autocrats in Russia, Iran, Turkey and China are the ones who won the day. Terrorists will likely take advantage of what looks like a U.S. government in turmoil. And our long-standing allies and partners already know that our collective security is very fragile.

Wall Street is also going crazy trying to process all this… the president’s continuing tariff wars, his affinity for autocrats and dictators, his endless White House scandals, his foundation forced to shut its doors, criminal investigations and indictments all around him, and now staging a government shutdown over a five billion-dollar border wall that the majority of Americans don’t support. We not only have a stock market problem… we have an economy that’s beginning to look unstable.

Except for a few self-serving talk show hosts, a handful of right-wing extremists in the House of Representatives, and family members who always had to do what daddy said, the president pretty much stands alone. “Only I can do it,” might be the most stupid remark ever uttered in a presidential campaign… except maybe for “the Mexicans will pay for it!”

Using “making good on campaign promises” as a reason to reject the advice of experts on life and death situations has no credibility, especially when uttered by someone who lies everyday about everything. What we have here is a bully who knows no other way.

Many of today’s wisest and most experienced thinkers are now concluding that this presidency (and possibly even the nation) is beginning to unravel. So, during this Christmas season I will be praying hard for “peace on earth and goodwill to humankind,”  and maybe you should be doing the same.

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Thankfully, during this holiday season many of us have been able to see and hear news stories about hometown generosity all over America. But at the same time we have also been learning that this presidency is now under as many as 17 criminal investigations.

Yes, we are hearing about… local charities collecting toys and bicycles for children in need, churches gathering canned goods for ailing elderly people, agencies feeding the homeless and others who cannot afford a good holiday meal, and the man who each year hands out hundred-dollar bills to a wide range of people in desperate need. Compassion in America is not dead.

But in Washington we are also continuing to hear about… presidential criminal investigations, more associates headed to prison, more cabinet officials leaving the White House over ethics violations, extreme deregulation putting public health at risk, threats of a president ordered government shut-down over a billion dollar border wall that few people want, continued support of a Saudi leader in spite of evidence that he oversaw the murder of a Washington Post reporter, reports that the Trump family’s political interests have always been tied to advancing their businesses, foreign and U.S. officials booking people and events at Trump properties in Washington and around the world, and more. And while all this is causing chaos in the country, the president is leaving town for a two-week golf vacation at his resort in Florida.

However, signs of serious anxiety in the White House are appearing. Angry tweets and personal attacks by the President are multiplying. And even some of his close friends are suggesting that he might be worried that the end could be coming soon.

So this holiday season might actually be an ideal time to reflect on solutions. For example, what kind of president does this young country need? One who creates mindless chaos, calls his critics nasty names, and grabs all the power and wealth he can for himself? Or, one who works to insure equal opportunity and the rule of law for everyone at home, as well as for all those around the world who want to share those values?

One thing is certain: Sometime during 2019 and 2020 we will be forced to make up our mind.

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Digital technology and new media permanently changed the dynamics of international relationships. Here are some of the realities:

  • Suddenly anyone with a laptop could do business with anyone else in the world.
  • A global economy quickly evolved as a result of rapidly developing technology… revealing countries where labor is cheap.
  • Businesses began to plan their growth beyond their national borders.
  • Most industries that leave their towns will not find it economical to return.
  • Thus, people lost their jobs. Globalization failed them. And they were also forgotten in Washington.
  • Trump promised them jobs, healthcare, and more. So they became his base.
  • But his promises cannot be kept. Updated training and education are the only solutions.
  • Many corporations have been operating beyond national borders for years. They see themselves as above any one government.
  • Thus, nations now shape their foreign policies to operate in an already interconnected global economy.
  • Clear national identities require constantly repeated simple messages. But in the final analysis, a nation’s identity is what is perceived by other nations and people.
  • And the behavior of partners and allies either reinforce or undermine that identity.
  • Foreign policy understanding requires government officials to speak from the same page. The larger the government, the more complicated this becomes.
  • Diplomacy is defined as nation-to-nation communication and is conducted by departments of state through embassies.
  • Public diplomacy is defined as people-to-people and government-to-people communication and is conducted by departments of state, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), various associations, educational institutions, and citizen travelers.
  • Digital technology and new media could enhance global understanding. But so far they have mostly magnified differences. Anger around the world seems to be increasing.
  • Question One: Can the current rapid expansion of international education, cross-cultural people exchanges, and overall foreign travel, eventually produce a more peaceful world?
  • Question Two: Is there a leader somewhere out there capable of bringing the heads of influential nations together under one common cause… freedom and justice?
  • Question Three: Maybe the next American president?

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Was the funeral service for Bush 41 in Washington the relic of a time gone by, or was it a reminder of the complexities and necessities of true public service leadership?

In other words, will our current president still think he was elected to change all of this by any means possible? Or, did seating him next to the other four living presidents make a statement that could lead to constructive change?

We now live in a politically polarized and divided nation. Even as this evolved, Bush 41 clearly preferred bipartisan problem-solving. Newt Gingrich was railroading Republicans into a totally partisan, hard-line conservative, combative, party. His aggression eventually morphed into Tea Party extremism, which laid the foundation for Trump’s victory. But even in a polarized environment, Bush was able to pass clean air, disability, civil rights, and other domestic legislation. Gingrich’s idea was to focus mostly on defeating the democrats. Bush’s was to find constructive ways to get things done.

Bush’s view of “America first” meant putting world peace first too. He combined quiet persistence with skillful diplomacy to negotiate the end of the cold war and the reunification of Germany. Both easily could have backfired into chaos. Pulling it off was a huge achievement. But he never bragged about it. He was not an “it’s about me” leader. He gave credit to others. For him, it was the American people who won the cold war.

Bush wanted everyone to think public service. He coined the phrase “1000 points of light,” setting the stage for an organization of volunteers serving others. Bush 43 later tried to float the idea of “compassionate conservatism” in his campaign. It didn’t stick. But it did stick as a theme for the entire Bush family.

I have been teaching a class about media and social change, and this week we discussed institutional leadership. I asked for thoughts about lessons they learned from Bush. They all agreed: Lead with a good measure of humility. Recruit a staff of highly experienced experts. Listen actively, and do things to make sure they enjoy working together.

It’s interesting that the deaths of John McCain and Bush 41, both Republicans, came so close together. Both showed courage in war. Both were competitive campaigners. Both preferred bipartisanship to gridlock. Both were remembered as compassionate. And both were contrasts to the Trump administration.

Morning Joe co-host Joe Scarborough noted that, unlike others, Bush 41 felt no need to write a book about his presidency. He was simply content to have historians judge his value. My bet is that Bush will do well with historians… and will also become our “back to the future,” road map for electing only experienced, informed, decent, truthful, and public service-minded politicians.

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