We hear the terms leader and leadership tossed around a lot. Some are good leaders and others, not so much. And some, like Trump, are a frigging disaster.
But what is a leader? What does it take to be a leader and more importantly, what does is take to be a really good or even great leader? The answer is simple. People, it takes people. Every enterprise on this planet is created by, run by, and improved on by people. As a leader, you will only be as good as the people you are leading.
You don't teach leadership. You can teach techniques for dealing with various issues that might come up in the role of being a leader. You can teach things like developing mission statements and strategies for accomplishing a mission. You can teach budgeting, and accounting, and capital investment and ROI kind of stuff, but none of that leads people; it merely gives them the tools to execute certain tasks.
I dare say that if most people had won the Powerball game that just dropped a billion dollars in someone's lap last night, before taxes, most of us would not suffer an damn alarm at 5:00am any longer, or spend our morning in a traffic jam eating a pastry and sipping coffee while we worked on our profane vocabulary.
Work is a necessary evil of a society. If you quit your job and sold all your worldly possesions and moved into the forest as far away from people as you could, you could be free of bosses and schedules and mandatory tasks. You could get up when you felt like it, or if you heard a bear trying to get into your cabin.
You would be your own boss. Still, there would be things you "had" to do. If you're where the winters are cold, you would have to stockpile firewood and food stuffs to supplement what I assume you would eat according to your hunting and fishing.
Survival would be the only boss you had to salute. That life in the wild is neither practical or maybe even possible for a majority of us, especially with the shrinking wilderness areas in our country. If we all tried to do this, the wilderness would have the density of Manhattan.
So, we work out of a necessity; that is also true for the leaders. Each of us, then, tries to find something in our job that motivates us to answer that alarm every morning. We look at our jobs and try to find a way to see what we do in our jobs as making a contribution to something more than just us. That's human nature. That's what drives most humans. Unlike most of the rest of the animal world that seems content with munching grass or licking termites off of a stick, we humans tend to strive for something more than just being part of the herd.
And, this is where true leadership comes in. As the leader, you need to get to know your people. You need to understand, and I mean truly understand their specific skills, talents, and ambitions. Not as a collective, but on an individual basis for those people you interact with daily. It is not enough to broad-brush the situation and say something like, "Oh, I have a bunch of talented people in my organiztion. You need to know what each of them brings to the party; how each of them makes a special contribution to the success of your operation and subsequently to your own success.
And, once you acknowledge their talents, and you do have to mean it when you say they do a good job, you are on the right track. You have to truly believe that last statement and see the value they bring to the whatever the mission is that you are responsible for as the leader. If you don't respect and value the people closest to you as well as those more removed, then you're in the wrong job. You need to get an individual-contributor position where it's just about you. These exist and you can still make a lot of money and perhaps even gain significant recognition, but for chrissaske, do not take a job as a leader if you don't like and believe in people.
That, among other problems, was where Trump failed so miserably. He doesn't like people, except maybe his children. He respects no one. He does not see people around him as having value unless they are committed to making him look great ,and if they fail at that, he slams the door on them quicker than on an encyclopedia salesman. Trump is a lot of things, most of which require a degree in profanity, but he is definitely not a people person.
Leadership is about people. It requires liking people and taking the time to know them, at least those who are our direct reports, well enough to appreciate, respect, and embrace their unique talents as employees and has human beings. You should be able to project at least some of them into moving up in the organization and perhaps beyond you in your particular enterprise. You should take pride in the fact that as their leader, you may have helped them rise to be your boss someday; nothing in your mind should be seen as a greater accomplishment than helping to develop the next generation of leaders.
You will not be a leader forever. You will grow old and your skills and knowledge will gather dust and rust. You will become obsolete and the people you have worked with and mentored will step into your slot. They have watched and learned from you the way a young lion watches the alpa male in their pride and when their turn comes, they will reflect what they learned from you. If you can embrace that view of being a manager, you will become at least of good leader.
I feel confident that Joe Biden is a good and probably great leader. I think he brings out the best in people and clears a path for them to succeed to their individual maximum potential. President Biden is a people person and I think we'll find that people will go to the ends of the earth to help Biden succeed and in so doing, help our nation and as a byproduct of that, succeed themselves.
Expectations! OMG! Don't get me started!
Expectations are both the driver behind our evolution from tree-swingers to space-travelers and it is also the biggest boogeyman in our arsenal of tools that we use to completely screw things up.
We create expectations without even having to think about it. Our morning coffee; our commute to work; celebrating an anniversary with our partner, or a dish we've ordered in a restaurant; you name it and it comes with a trainload of expectations, both wonderful and horrifying about how these and all events might play out in reality and they can make us crazy.
Needless to say, with a Democratically controlled government, we all have some expectation of our incoming president, Joe Biden and his VP, Kamala Harris.
We progressives are dancing like hippos in a Disney musical and the conservatives are cowering under the bed with their assault rifles convinced the end days are at hand.
I suggest we both take a deep breath and look at reality.
Biden is not a democratic socialist, period. True, he has been driven a bit to the left during the campaign in order to garner the votes needed to get elected. Biden is more a moderate than anything else. A compassionate moderate to be sure which may cause him to be sympathetic to those on his left, but as a moderate, he's not likely to fly off the handle and nationalize any industries; that's not his shtick and hasn't been for some 40 years in government.
So, progressives, don't expect miracles from Biden. He's not likely to jerk far left and institute free housing for everyone and redistribution of Bezos' unseemly wealth. We were jerked far right by Trump and that turned to shit so we don't need the trauma of being jerked to the other extreme.
And you conservatives can relax as well. No doubt, Biden will enact some stuff that you think you oppose because all you've heard for the last four years is how evil the democrats are. Biden will try to reinvigorate the ACA (Obama-care) to make it work better and reach more people affordably. He has already indicated that he will take a full-court press approach to beating this damn pandemic. He has plans to help students with mountains of student-debt and to make higher education more accessible to all students.
Biden has said he favors raising taxes on those making over $400,000 a year ($800,000 for couples). Trust me when I say that is not going to affect most of us. He wants an infrastructure program that will, in addition to repairing our crumbling highways and bridges, provide great-paying jobs for thousands of people. In that same vein, he has proposed plans to address a better education system and pursuing renewable energy, both of which should also improve the job market.
In foreign affairs, he has proposed that we try to reignite the nuclear deal with Iran to foster a better chance for peace in that part of the world. He wants to reenter the Paris Accord and work with all the world to move away from fossil fuels and all the problems of climate change, and air and water pollution that fossil fuels aggravate. I believe he will take a firm approach to dealing with our traditional adversaries like China, North Korea, and Iran while seeking better relations with them and a return to more of a detente approach if not bilateral agreements.
In summary, what I am suggesting is that both progressives and conservatives should tamp down their expectations. Biden is neither a savior or a demon. He is a longtime politician with tons of experience, intellect, and a determination hardened in the fires of personal tragedy that presents us with a man of wisdom and compassion and the ability to get things done.
I see nothing in his presidency that should be seen as a threat to anyone and if my analysis holds true, we will all benefit from his administration of our great nation whether we lean left or right.
Voltaire said, "The best government is a benevolent tyranny tempered by an occasional assassination." When the founders set about designing our democracy, they chose to avoid using an assassination in favor of citizens voting to rid ourselves of an overbearing, under-performing, and totally incompetent idiot with orange skin, but then who could I possibly be referring to.
As we learned in 2016, even our democratic approach does not guarantee that the victor will in fact govern benevolently or even competently once in office. Voltaire's point, I believe, is that with a dictator of any stripe, be they royalty or simply the guy with the most guns, is that if they care about the people they are to govern, if their focus is always on the 'customer' chances are they will make a good leader and governor.
Which brings me to the point of this piece, Amazon. Amazon, the nation builder. Amazon, the slayer of businesses small and large. Amazon, the tyrannical behemoth of commerce. Is it good, bad, or something else?
I am an unabashed Amazon customer. I think what Jeff Bezos, as much as I might distrust him has built is a better mousetrap. He has created a towering and overpowering online business model that (a) caught most people by surprise and (b) has ballooned into only the fourth company in history to have a wealth in excess of $1 trillion - I believe that is twelve zeros as in, $1,000,000,000,000. And, they have done that in just twenty-five years. The other three are Apple, Google's parent company, Alphabet, and Microsoft. That's some pretty heady company.
People don't seem to be as concerned with Apple, Alphabet, and Microsoft as they are with Amazon - have you noticed that three of the four names all start with an 'A'? I'm not sure that that has any bearing on anything - it's just an interesting observation or bit of trivia.
I've heard people railing on the radio about how Amazon is too big and somehow that makes them evil. I'm not convinced of that. Concerned? Perhaps a little, but not panicked, yet. When I look at what Amazon has put together, they are to be admired. First of all, they employ some 800,000 people, give or take a couple. Do they have some labor issues? You bet they do. And while they have put enormous pressure on companies like Nordstrom and Penney's, they have also opened up worldwide markets for small business whose previous customer base was limited to Des Moines, Iowa.
I have no idea what the vetting process might be to get on Amazon, but it appears to me that if you have a food chopper unlike anything else on the market, instead of trying to sell it at the state fair, if you can get it on Amazon, your customer base can now include places like Novosibirsk, Siberia. That alone opens you up to almost 1.5 million customers that you would never have reached in a thousand years.
I'm not naive. I know that companies like Amazon can lose the focus that made them what they are. They can become so obsessed with profits and stockholder dividends that they start screwing everyone in sight. That is why there must be regulations and consequences for bad corporate behavior. This applies to companies like Boeing, Facebook, Ford, and Cartier and many others.
Any company, large or small that engages in dishonesty and deceit needs to be taken to the woodshed. That, notwithstanding the conservative cries of "big government" and socialism and communism is why we have regulatory committees and laws. A few companies or products that went astray are;
Takata: Forced to recall millions of automobile airbags from 19 automakers because some of the airbags could inflate explosively
Wells Fargo: 2 million phony accounts to meet company sales quotas
Monsanto: Has taken a lot of heat in recent years related to its genetically modified seeds and the environmental impact of several of its products
Volkswagen: Automaker’s diesel emissions cheating scandal
Those are just a few examples of corporations behaving badly and without government oversight, regulations, and investigations, who knows how much more harm they might have done.
Back to my point. Just being big like Amazon, Apple, Alphabet, and Microsoft is not a bad thing. Being big and misbehaving by lying, cheating, and intentionally doing harm is a bad thing. The bigger the country and economy, the bigger the government. Just try to run a university with 30,000 students with a staff for a university with 5,000 students; it just can work.
So far, Amazon has more or less behaved like a benevolent tyrant. As long as they continue to balance their efforts between success, profits, and serving the public good, they'll be okay.
So, for now, I'd say the balance is in favor of Amazon for all they have contributed to the world, but we can't go to sleep at the switch and look the other way. When you are the owner and guardian of over $1 trillion dollars of value, you may be tempted to pull some shit and we will have to take you down a notch.
The theme song of democracy is: "We will, we will regulate you!"
Discussing life, politics, and philosophy in the language of the bar.