I am getting tired of the presidential race. We know who is running for the Democrats, but we have no idea who will win the Republican nomination. I am not holding my breath because none of them rock my boat. Today’s Wall Street Journal had an interesting article about Newt Gingrich. The article discussed his evolving platform. He now has a pro-growth perspective and a voluntary flat tax. He is also promoting Reaganomics as opposed to Obamanomics. As I read this I wonder what it will take to be our leader, one who has the responsibility of leading the free world?

These thoughts have motivated me to about what it takes to be a leader? Obviously, a successful leader is someone who has the skills to lead. Throughout history we see individuals who desire to be out front, and even those that did not want the job of being front person, but in most cases these individuals had the skills to do the job. The next question is what are those skills?

In my estimation these skills are holistic. They encompass the whole person. They have communication skills, in other words they can paint a picture of what they want to accomplish in such as manner that we buy into it and collectively “get er done.” A leader is someone who personifies some type of moralistic reality that is important to his or her constituency. There is something right about what they say, and they say it in a way that a shared vision is created. We can believe in the leader and what they say.

A leader also has an aura of power. This is a socialized power that demonstrates this person is on the job for the good of the people. This leader has a charisma that helps us follow. The dyad is real and meaningful. There is a positive end in sight.

However, all of these charismatic characteristics can be misleading. Hitler is a classic example of a leader who was able to communicate, create a shared national vision people grasped on to, and lead a nation into a Fascist culture that wanted to create the Millennial reign of the Fuehrer.

We have to be careful with leaders. Gringrich is a guy who has been around for a long time and brings some baggage. Can he lead? He was the speaker of the house at one point in time, so he can be out front. However, I am not too sure he is a person that can be what we need today to lead us back to the high ground of world leadership. I am not to sure any of them can do that, but maybe that is not what we need?

Although I am tired of the debates and attack ads, I know I have a responsibility to pay attention. I have a duty to cast a knowledgeable vote. If I don’t I will get what I deserve. If we don’t maintain engagement, we will be led down Hayek’s “road to serfdom.

And that is my thought for the day!


Various Thoughts On The New Year

This morning was dry so I had an opportunity to play golf. A friend of mine and I finished our round, walked off the course, and it started raining. We were very fortunate.

As I walked around the course this morning I thought about topics to write about today. I thought about the differences between Fascism, a violent dictatorship controlling a nation while attempting to control the world, and Socialism. I thought maybe I could write about the Road to Serfdom.I decided that it was too heavy of a subject for the end of the year.

I also thought about my lunch with my daughter Tracy, grand daughters Alex and Belle, and grandson Charlie. The grand daughters have grown up to be beautiful young ladies. And Charlie, my gosh he was a ball of fire. He loves his cars. I thought about how important family is and maintaining ongoing relationships with kids and parents. The subject of family will come up another time.

I also thought about my upcoming trip to Honduras. My wife, grand daughter Gracie, and three students leave tomorrow night for La Cieba, Honduras. We will painting around the school there and teaching some workshops on creation of business plans. This is our second time going there, and have made some good friends. I think I’ll leave that subject for when we get back.

One thing I know though is that all of these thoughts have reinforced why I write this blog, and what I feel is important when it comes to business. This is a blog about management. It is about how one group of people, managers, treat another group of people, employees. It is about managers treating their employees with respect. This blog is about decisions. I believe there is no such thing as just a business decision. Every business decision made by managers affect employees, and employees are people.

All of us can think of managers who exploit employees. We can all think of managers we have had in the past that have made some really stupid decisions. And, those of us who are managers have made blunders that we look at and wonder what the heck we were thinking. Discussing these realities is what this blog is all about.

So here is to a new year. A year that brings hope and new experiences. And here is a pledge, that I will continue to write about the good and bad of management, hoping that I can make some kind of difference in a very complex world. And while we go down this road together, maybe we’ll have a little fun too. Happy New Year!

And that is my thought for the day!

Lessons For the New Year From John Parker and Smedley Butler!

During my years as a manager we frequently used the phrase “hold them accountable.” At first one would think that it was a phrase alluding to punishment, but it was not. What we tried to do was create an environment where people would feel comfortable with taking a risk to meet their customer’s needs. The Customer being the next person in the supply chain. The accountability was to ensure the needs of the customer were met, and ensure a decentralized decision process was encouraged. Follow through and execution of the plan was critical.

I am a minor history buff, and love little nuggets of truth that appear in the various books I have read dealing. I’d like to relate two of these little nuggets to you today. The first is from 1865 and the second 1933. In both cases a lack of accountability is evident, and both involve the United States government. What has made me think about this was a comment I read this morning in the book “Killing Lincoln.” It was a comment concerning John Parker the body guard of President Lincoln the night he was shot. Parker had left his post at Ford’s theater to have a drink and never returned, and “incredibly he will never be punished for this gross dereliction of duty.” Amazing, here is a guy who was supposed to be guarding the President of the United States and he goes to have a drink. John Wilkes Booth was able to have direct access to President Lincoln and assassinate him.

The fact that Parker was never held accountable for his actions is mind boggling, but this also made me think about another historical event in which the perpetrators were never prosecuted. This one occurred in 1933, it was named the Business Plot. It appears, according to conspiracy theorists, that people from Chase Bank, Goodyear, Standard Oil, the Dupont family, and Senator Prescott Bush were upset with President Roosevelt’s plan to redistribute wealth in the United States. According to the story they hired General Smedley Butler to lead a Fascist overthrow of the United States government. They promised Butler an army of 500,000 soldiers to accomplish this task. General Hugh S. Johnson was to be installed as dictator. Even though this event is considered credible it was hard to prove, and no one was ever held accountable.

It makes me question what could have been? What would have happened if Parker stayed at his post? What if Butler had said yes, instead of exposing the conspiracy? Why wasn’t Parker, or any of the very powerful individuals in 1933, held accountable? What if, what if, what if?

We can live our lives wondering what if, but that is not healthy. The fact is Parker left his post, and our nation went from the best President in our history to the worst in Andrew Johnson. Another fact is Butler did expose the conspiracy, and our government is in tact today. Historical events have made us what we are today, both for good and bad. Although FDR’s plan to redistribute wealth in this country was not a success, we have become the richest nation in the world, and although Booth wanted the South to rise, we are a strong unified nation (although current congressional performance my not support this comment).

Even as our nation has become what it is as a result of historical experience, so do we as individuals. Our lesson for the new year is to stop looking at the past, thinking about what could have been, and look to the future, as what can be. New starts are wonderful. We are now heading into 2012, and I can promise you one thing, new things will happen to, with, and for you. En Carpe Diem, seize the day my friend.

And that is my thought for the day!

Botticelli, Jobs, and Merry Christmas!

Usually Christmas is not my favorite time of the year. There are several reasons for that, but this year is different. I don’t know why but
good will is in my blood this season. My grand daughter said to me last night, “who are you and what have you done with my papa.” I think there are many people like me that struggle during this time of the year but make the best of it. This morning, however, I have been thinking about the bigger issues of Christmas. In other words, what does Christmas represent?

First of all, Christmas is a time we choose to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Actually based on the various concurrent ceremonies described in scripture, Jesus was probably born some time in March or April. Regardless of when we celebrate the birth of Christ the message is clear, God has given the gift of His Son as payment for our deficiencies. This reality testifies to the existence of another world, one beyond our senses, which will be experienced in a positive or negative way based upon our life here.

What got me thinking about this was a couple of articles I read this morning in the Economist and Wall Street Journal. The first is entitled “Gold, God, and forgiveness.” The article got my attention when it began, “Do bankers inevitably go to hell? What many people today merely hope will come to pass was for Christians in the early 1400s a matter of faith.” Although this article argues that usury was condemned by the early church, what it really demonstrates is the struggle between living in this world and humankind’s relationship with eternity.

To illustrate this struggle the article uses a painting by the artist Botticelli. “The Calumny” is a beautiful painting displaying King Midas struggling to overcome ignorance, suspicion, and envy to get to truth. This is an incredible allegory that conveys the intense struggle experienced in life.

The second article that got me thinking about the bigger issues of Christmas was in the Opinion section of the Wall Street Journal. Peggy Noonan relates to us the final words of Steven Jobs that were used by his sister in her eulogy. She wrote, “Before embarking, he’d looked at his sister Patty, then for a long time at his children, then at his life’s partner, Laurene, and then over their shoulder’s past them. Steven’s final words were: OH WOW, OH WOW, OH WOW.” Noonan then reflected, “The caps are Simpson’s [jobs’ sister] and if she meant to impart a sense of wonder and mystery she succeeded. Oh wow, is not a bad way to express the bigness, power, and force of life, and death. And of love, by which he was literally surrounded.”

As I read these words I reflected on questions someone asked me the other day about why I as a business professor and retired business person want to make an economic and social difference in this world? Why do you want to create social entrepreneurial opportunities for students? Why are you altruistic in your philosophies? The answer to those questions became very clear to me this morning.

Botticelli’s work reflected the struggle within life that we all experience. The struggle to do good or bad with the resources we have been given, while seeking truth. As I looked at this I realized that this does not need to be faced alone. And Jobs demonstrated the reality that there is something on the other side, something that we will see one day as we all cross over. In other words, there is a reason for our behavior in this life.  Not just regarding our family, friends and community, but an eternal reason too.

Everything I do in this life is flavored by my view of eternity. I have done good things and I have done bad things, but the baby, who’s birth we celebrate tomorrow, grew up and has given me an opportunity to be different then what I would have been. I think that is why my perspective is different this season.

My belief has been reinforced. Jesus Christ was born, died, and rose again for us. The reason He did this so we could pass over and say, “OH WOW, OH WOW, OH WOW.” But even more important, its so we can hear those words, “well done thou good and faithful servant.”

And that is my thought for the day!

Roger Martin, Daniel Pink, Joseph Schumpeter, and Entrepreneurship

Yesterday in my blog I mentioned the connection between Academia and the Agora. I discussed how important this is in relation to a business school curriculum. I received some great feedback on the subject, one that came from my academic dean who stated that this connection is important to all disciplines. This was also alluded to by Immanuel Kant, at least according to Onzono. “Immanuel Kant, the great philosopher, dealt with this question in his opuscule ‘Theory and Practice,’ essential reading for academics, where one of his aims is to overcome the gap between speculative thinking and practical decisions. One of the conclusions of his work is that when theories cannot be applied to practice, they are just bad theories.”

I have been thinking about this subject for several months now. What should we be teaching our students if we are preparing them for the 21st century? There is this guy, Roger Martin, who is considered one of the business thinkers in the world. I wish it were me, but it is not. Roger Martin is the dean of the Rotman School of Business at the University of Toronto. He was the coauthor of “The Future of the MBA: Designing the Thinker of the Future.” Martin’s vision of future business leaders involve, “the high-value decision maker. . .whom they call an integrator, someone who solves problems through effective action, which the narrow specialist can often not solve even in theory.” This individual will have the ability to integrate several disciplines to improve organizational performance.

This is very similar to what Pink calls the conceptual mind. Pink in his book “A Whole New Mind,” discusses the type of leader who will be in demand. He traces the need to an evolution of eras from agrarian, to industrial, through informational, and finally conceptual. During the conceptual era the successful leader will be one who can analyze problems, develop solutions, create implementation plans, and execute the plan. Obviously this will require an integrator, or one who can synthesize multiple disciples.

Ultimately, we will see this played out in the Agora. These skills are relevant in both Entrepreneurial and Corporate environments. It is interesting that our current dialogue around what will get our economy growing again is a debate Joseph Schumpeter participated in during the 1900’s. Just as Schumpeter’s constituency debated the topic, the question of whether small entrepreneurial businesses will stimulate growth, or large corporations, has taken center stage in out time.

The Wall Street Journal this morning argued “Canada, Australia, and New Zealand welcome [future entrepreneurs studying in our colleges and Universities]. America by contrast, lets them come to study and then throws them out when they graduate.” The problem according to the journal, “while skilled immigrants make America smarter, richer, and more influential, the process for obtaining a work visa is dismayingly slow, capricious and humiliating.” The argument for allowing them to stay involves the contacts these entrepreneurs have in the countries in which we are trying to sell our goods. If we allow them to develop their ideas here it only helps our economy.
My blog is about business being personal. There is no such thing as just business, every decision a manager makes is personal. Relationships are critical to good business.  Therefore it make sense to expand our base of skilled entrepreneurs who come from other countries to study in our universities. All it does is make us more competitive.

This is not to say that small businesses are the savior of our economy. Schumpeter believed at one point time that small was better, but he changed his mind later in his life. He felt that large organizations were more inventive than small ones. Schumpeter “argued both sides of the case. In 1909 he said small companies were more inventive. In 1942 he reversed himself. Big firms have more incentive to invest in new products, he decided, because they can sell them to more people and reap greater rewards more quickly.”

The fact is we need both, and we need business programs that stimulate innovation for both endeavors. All large corporations started as entrepreneurial activities that have grown large. Both business are necessary. So how does a Business school support both? By having a vibrant supply chain. The foundation to this supply chain is vibrant business partners. In other words companies that support what you as a school are accomplishing. Another vibrant part of the supply chain involves Alumni. If they are not coming back to support your programs then you need to find out why.

Obviously there is a need  for career support, marketing, strong faculty, and recruitment of strong students. However, there is also a huge requirement for knowledge generation, and professional content. If the supply chain is healthy then the recruitment of strong students will be a natural result. If you build it they will come.

There you have it. A connection between Roger Martin, Daniel Pink, Joseph Schumpeter, and Entrepreneurship. I think I have a plan.

And that is my thought for the day!

The Purpose of Business Schools

Yesterday was a great day. I visited Boeing Portland, and saw many old friends. I even made some new acquaintances. It appears that Boeing Portland has hired about 300 new people recently. The person that is doing the job I used to do, training employees, has been very busy, but does a great job. As I was driving home I thought about the fact that I miss the folks I used to work with, but I love my new job (teaching business) so much that I don’t think about the past. I continue to look forward trying to learn how to do my current job better.

To accomplish this I am a voracious reader. The books I read deal with various topics which help me think about how to teach better and with more comprehensive detail. One of the the books I am currently reading involves a discussion concerning the future of business schools. The section I have in mind talks about how to evaluate the effectiveness of a business school’s program, and where business schools need to go academically to ensure a stronger future. According to Onzono in “The Learning Curve” a business school program can be evaluated on the following principles:
1. Business schools are bridges between Academia and the Agora. Academia is the place where knowledge is generated, and the Agora is where business and trade happen.
2. Business schools are education hubs, whose function is to develop and train leaders, managers, directors, and entrepreneurs.
3. Business schools are catalysts in the process of transforming the local and global society.

I have to say I agree with this assessment. In my classes I try to take a scholar practitioner perspective. In other words I want my students to understand theory, but I also want them to be able to apply it. I want them to connect the theory with reality, and make a determination of what works and what doesn’t work.

I also believe that business schools need to challenge future leaders to be different. In other words, if employees feel that 40% of all companies are inadequately led, and we have more students studying management, then obviously we, as business teachers, must be doing something wrong? Therefore, we need to adjust our curriculum to provide better training for the future leaders of our community, nation, and world. This is also in line with Onzono’s 2nd and 3rd principle.

Richard Branson, of Virgin Enterprises, is a great example of what the new leader could look like. Although he is pretty big on himself, he does make a strong argument for innovative leadership and corporate altruism. Although I agree with reviews that his new book, “Screw Business As Usual,” is clunky, his argument for Capitalism 24902 is a good one. Branson describes his book as “the story of my seven year journey towards realizing that, while business has been a great vehicle for growth in the world, neither Virgin nor many other businesses have been doing anywhere near enough to stop the downward spiral we all find ourselves in.”

I think after many months of pondering the purpose of business education I have come to an important conclusion about the high calling of business programs. If Business is such an important part of our society, then how we do this endeavor is just as important as accomplishing economic growth. Subsequently, I want to make sure my students develop strong business acumen, an entrepreneurial desire, and an ethical concern for others and how they perform within the Agora. Therefore, I agree with Bell’s statement in “The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism,” when he states, “The foundation of any liberal society is the willingness of all groups to compromise private ends for the public interest. The loss of civitas means either that interests become so polarized, and passions so inflamed, that terrorism and group fighting ensures, and political anomia prevails; or that every public exchange becomes a cynical deal in which the most powerful segments benefit at the expense of the weak. Yet even where a sense of civitas remains. . . the ruts into the future may have been cut so deep from the past – the constraints may be so large, the freedom to maneuver and change so narrow, the institutions, particularly the economic ones, so encrusted – that no regime can substantially stop the slide, and a sense of weariness and despair takes over.”

Business educators need to discuss an equilibrium in classrooms. This balance concerns the relationship of economic and social profit. Economic growth is critical to the advancement of our civitas, but how that profit is attained should be discussed in academia, both as a end and a process. The result will include better led businesses, and more benevolent enterprise in the Agora.

And that is my thought for the day!

Soft Power, Vaclav Havel, and Jesus Christ!

Newspapers, TV newscasts, and magazines are all focused on the death of Kim Jong II and his son’s accession to power. The discussion revolves around the tenuous relationship between North and South Korea, Nuclear warheads, and the development of the required coalition for the son to maintain his position as protagonist within North Korea’s political structure. However, when we talk about soft power, we need to look to another leader who has recently died, Vaclav Havel. He became a leader of what used to be known as Czechoslovakia, which is now split into two countries the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Before we discuss Havel, I think we need to define what soft power is, and to do this we need to look at an ancient document entitled “The Art of War,” written by Sun Tzu. “The Art of War” was written 6,000 years ago, and describes how to appropriately wage war. It is a book that has been studied by military leaders, business leaders, and academics from around the world. I had a boss a few years ago that based his management style  on the Art of War, especially the premise of cutting off a couple of heads to get people to fall in line.

“Soft Power” was a term made popular by an American from Harvard University. Joseph Nye, from Harvard and a former Chairman of the National Intelligence Council, used the term to “describe the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments.” This is based on a quote from Sun Tzu, “The skillful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting.” In Marketing we would use this as a description of branding.

When we think of soft power we have to look at Havel. In 1978 Havel wrote an essay, “The Power of the Powerless,” and signed the Manifesto, Charter 77, that led to the peaceful overthrow of the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia. Havel was arrested and placed in jail several times, but eventually was released and led what was called the “Velvet Revolution.” He became president of Czechoslovakia, and eventually led to the dissolution of Czechoslovakia and peaceably create two new countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

What was the philosophy behind his actions? I would have to say if was nonviolent action and fighting indifference. Havel warned us to be aware of “the attractions of mass indifference, and the general unwillingness of consumption-oriented people to sacrifice some material certainties for the sake of their own spiritual and moral integrity.” Havel was willing to suffer the pain of imprisonment, work menial jobs because of his dissent, and endure years of struggle to do what was right.

As I was reading and thinking about this man I remembered something I had previously read that was written 35 years ago. In a book entitled, “How Should We Then Live,” Francis Schaeffer stated, “Personal peace and affluence means just to be let alone, not to be troubled by the troubles of other people, whether across the world or across the city – to live one’s life with minimal possibilities of being personally disturbed. Personal peace means wanting to have my personal life pattern undisturbed in my lifetime, regardless of what the result will be in the lifetimes of my children and grandchildren. Affluence means an overwhelming, and ever increasing prosperity – a life made up of things, things, and more things – success judged by an ever-higher level of material abundance.”

Unbridled consumption and Indifference is a cancer that will lead to an early civic death. Power that leads to an elitist hierarchy leaders to a loss of freedom. Soft power is not an exhaustive answer, but represents a philosophy modeled for us by the One Who’s birth we celebrate during this season. The One Who tells us that we are to wash each other’s feet. The One Who tells us to be a leader we must serve. Jesus Christ has shown us the way, and men and women like Vaclav Havel have demonstrated how we as human beings can serve Christ and make a difference in the world.

I hope all of you have a wonderful Christmas.

And that is my thought for the day!