Author Archives: Bob MacDonald

Trump’s Actions Show that Change is Messy

 

The election of 2016 was billed as a “change election.” It is clear now that a large portion of the electorate had reached such a level of frustration and feeling of disconnect with the status quo that they were willing to vote for change – any change. Even though they came from different sides of the political spectrum, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders were the only presidential candidates to recognize and tap into this powerful undercurrent of the desire for change.

Unfortunately for Sanders, his message of change was blunted by the Democratic National Committee that had effectively rigged the party nomination in favor of an establishment status quo candidate. On the other hand, Trump benefited from the fact that, while the Republican National Committee favored establishment candidates, a gaggle of 15 other candidates diffused the establishment support. This allowed disaffected Republican voters to coalesce around Trump’s message of change. Even though Trump never received a majority of Republican primary votes, the concentration of voters driven by the desire for change pushed him to the nomination.

The same phenomenon (plus a little help from Russia) also impacted the general election. Even though Trump and his message of change failed to garner a majority of the popular vote, he was able to cobble together enough disaffected voters to flip a number of traditionally establishment Democratic states in order to win the majority of Electoral College votes (the votes that really count) and win the presidency. Much to the chagrin of the bulwarks of the government establishment status quo – the mainstream Democratic and Republican parties and the national media.

Learning the Lessons of Change Management

As president, Trump is now challenged to live up to his promise to be a change agent. He is quickly learning the lesson that any person in a position of leadership who seeks to bring about change must understand: Change is not something that is simply announced, it has to be created.

Change has two natural enemies: Those who resist change and those are frustrated by the status quo, but fear what change will bring. Those who are comfortable with the way things are and view change as a threat to be resisted. For them, change is the answer to a question they never asked. Ironically, those who most vociferously call for real change can become fearful of change when the answer to what change means is not clearly answered. As a result, change, no matter how beneficial it may ultimately be, is always difficult to implement and accept. And change becomes downright messy and chaotic when what is to replace the status quo is muddled or nonexistent.

Real change is about being positive, not negative …

For a leader to be a successful change agent, it is critical for them to shift the focus off the desire for change itself and focus on the benefits that will be derived from change. In other words, for followers to accept change, the debate should not center on what they are losing, but on what they can gain from the change. If that does not happen, change will be stillborn.

A good example of this change dynamic at work is the current debate over Obamacare. From its inception, the majority of Americans have had a negative opinion of the program. The Republicans seized on the unpopularity of Obamacare to promise that if given the power to act, they would “repeal and replace” it. Likewise, during the campaign Trump railed against Obamacare and promised that his first act as president (right after tearing up the Iran nuclear agreement) would be to repeal and replace Obamacare.

But now with the Republicans in full control of the government, the effort to deliver on the promise of repealing and replacing Obamacare has become, at best, messy and chaotic. Even the Republicans are fighting among themselves as to how to implement this change. There is no clear, coordinated plan being offered by Trump or the Republicans; despite the fact that they have had years to develop one.

As a result of this befuddling Republican approach to change, even those who disapprove of Obamacare have begun to have second thoughts. For the first time in years, public opinion polls have shifted and more people approve of Obamacare, than oppose it.  

Why is it that even those who were demanding change (and voted for it) are now uneasy with change? The problem is – and this is a great lesson for any leader to learn – that by simply announcing the intent to repeal Obamacare and not coupling it with a clear plan for going forward, Trump and the Republican leaders have allowed people to focus on what they will be losing (as bad as it may be) rather than on what they will gain by a new approach to healthcare. 

What Trump and the Republican leaders are missing in their effort to implement the promised change (not only for Obamacare, but other issues as well) is the understanding that while people may be frustrated with the status quo and claim to want change, they are even more fearful of an uncertain future. As a result, there is nothing but confusion, frustration and fear of what the change will bring.

Again, the key to effective change management is for the leader to focus on where they are going, rather than where they have been. No matter how much people may protest against the status quo, unless they clearly understand the benefits of the proposed change, they will resist the change.

For example, Trump and the Republican leaders could have said something like, “We are going to repeal Obama care and replace it with an expanded Medicare system that would be available and cover all Americans.” By offering an alternative to the status quo, rather than simply attacking it, leaders can marshal support needed to make change positive.

Living with change …

There is a good lesson here for anyone who seeks to implement change in an organization. No matter how passionate people may be about seeking change and especially for those who do not recognize the need for change, the best approach for gaining acceptance of change is to debate the future, not the past. It is the duty of the leader to paint that future and explain the benefits to those who will live it. Only that way will real change come about.

Trump Tries to Triumph in the Tumult of a Vuja De World

from “If You’re Not Making History, You Are History” by Bob MacDonald

 

Soon, Trump will formally inherit the titles of the office of the president such as “leader of the free world,” “the most powerful man in the world,” and “commander in chief.” But there is one title he will bring to the office with him. It is a title no occupant of the White House has been entitled to for over a century; and that is the moniker of “disrupter in chief.” Not since Teddy Roosevelt was elevated to the office of president by the assassination of William McKinley in 1901 has an individual assumed the presidency more determined to disrupt the status quo as is Trump.

It is apparent that no longer will there be a feeling of “Déjà vu” as Trump settles into the routine of being president. Instead, Trump will bring to reality the concept of “Vuja de” coined by the late comedian and insightful urban philosopher George Carlin.

We are all familiar with the term Déjà vu which literally means “already seen” or the general vernacular of “been there, done that.” On the other hand, as Carlin explained it, Vuja de is the uneasy feeling people have when the status quo is being disrupted and they are in a place they have never been before; not knowing how the rules will change. That uncertainly is the uneasy feeling now being experienced by the political establishment, the mainstream media and a majority of American voters as the era of Trump begins.

Trump is not the first disrupter. Just the first disrupter to lead government

Disrupters in business – those who change the way the game is played – are, when successful, legendary and revered as visionaries. Some of these historical business disrupters would include Henry Ford, Bill Gates at Microsoft, Steve Jobs at Apple, Phil Knight at Nike, Fred Smith of FedEx and Richard Branson of Virgin Group. All of these individuals thrived in the world of Vuja de by being comfortable doing what others had not already seen to do.   

While naturally resistant and comfortable with the status quo, the business world has been susceptible to a Vuja de approach because of the power vested in the leader. But government has never been exposed to a true Vuja de type leader, because by its very structure – the constitution – our government is based on the concept of defused power that is intended to assure the consistent continuity of the status quo. Power is passed from one president to another, while the Republican and Democratic Parties rotate supremacy within the confines of government, the slow flow of the status quo remains. The players may change, but the way the game is played does not change; the rules remain constant. At least they have up to this point.

The intriguing aspect of a Trump presidency is that he will be the first person to bring a Vuja de business leadership style to the highest level of the government. It is an axiom that successful business leaders seek to do what has not been done to create the future, while the establishment that populates the government seek the repetition of what has been done to preserve the past. For many (in both business and government) the feeling of Vuja de is intimidating, while for others it is exhilarating. It will be beyond interesting to see how this conflict between Déjà vu and Vuja de will play out in government over the next four years.

It could well be that this conflict of diametrically opposed approaches to governing will create even more polarization and dysfunction in government. On the other hand, it may open our eyes to the idea that government, just as in business, can function more effectively if it is not shackled to the practice of doing the same thing, the same way it has always been done, because that’s the way it has always been.

A peek at a Vuja de world

We are already privy to a glimpse at how this clash of attitudes may play out in a Trump presidency. Trump has been roundly criticized in the media for being publicly skeptical of the “intelligence community” reporting that the Russian government sanctioned – indeed sponsored – cyber hacking efforts to influence the outcome of the presidential election. It is true that there are other factors at work here, but Vuja de leaders naturally challenge the conclusions of those in the status quo; especially when their conclusions are offered with no dissent. Even if the conclusions of the intelligence community are accurate, that does not mean the process of reaching them can’t be challenged. Trump has not denied the conclusions of the intelligence community, but he has challenged them to prove their point. I have no doubt that the intelligence leaders who presented their case to Trump last week had done much more work and were better prepared to present their case, than if they had not been challenged by Trump.

And history proves the point. In early 1961, John Kennedy, a new president in the continuum of the status quo, accepted, without challenge, the unanimous conclusion of the intelligence community that Castro was a weak leader and the people would rise up against him if America supported an invasion of Cuba. If Kennedy had been more of a Vuja de leader who was willing to challenge the establishment, the Bay of Pigs fiasco may never have happened.     

There may be valid reasons to oppose or even fear a Trump presidency, but unfortunately many of those in the establishment of government and the media are dreading a Trump presidency simply because his style of leadership is so foreign to their traditional thinking. Trump’s style will force them to step out of their comfort zone and this engenders a queasy feeling of uncertainty and loss of power that comes with the surmised safety of the status quo.

The Vuja de style of leadership may fail miserably when applied to managing a government, but on the other hand, it just may be a new way to effectively manage government and make it work. One thing we know for sure is that Trump will not be a Déjà vu president.

Rigged Elections Do Have Consequences

 

Isn’t it beautiful irony that during the campaign Trump claimed the election was being rigged against him, while all along it was being rigged for him?

The Russians (bless their little Ruskie hearts) are being accused of hacking the Democratic National Committee’s computer system in an effort to influence the results of the recent presidential election. Virtually everyone across the political spectrum (except for Trump, who may have benefited from this activity) have expressed outrage over Russia’s blatant attempt to interfere with the delicate balance of American democracy.

And rightly so, because if voters lose confidence in the validity of election results, the divisiveness existing in our current political environment will be exacerbated; maybe to the point of undermining the authenticity of our democracy. This potential problem extends beyond our own shores, because if our election results are brought into question, no longer will America be able to present itself as the model of democracy for other countries to emulate.

If (and there is little doubt) that Russian hackers did make an effort to impact the presidential election, it is a clear violation of our national sovereignty that is so egregious it could be considered an act of war, worthy of retribution. But there is a problem: Russia has, of course, denied any hand in such nefarious activity. For the American government to call out Russia by offering clear evidence that the cyber-attack was initiated and sponsored by the Russian government (maybe all the way up to Putin), the American intelligence services would have to reveal how they know what they know about the Russian activity. Doing so would expose America’s own capabilities to hack into Russian systems; obviously something the intelligence community does not want others to know.

Responding with nothing more than a hissy fit …

In response to Russia’s blatant cyber-attack on our democracy, about all the American government can do publicly is fret and stew over the incident. Investigations can be undertaken and Congressional hearings can shine an indignant spotlight on Russian activities and assume a holier-than-thou stance. The American government can take the high-ground and show the world how despicable the Russian government is by attempting to interfere in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation, but it can do little else publicly.

There is one problem when it comes to America taking this approach. Our government does not come to the party with “clean hands.” It is like the old cliché of “reaping what you sow.” The painful truth is that America has a long history of attempting to meddle, influence and even rigging elections in other sovereign countries. Examples of this type of American meddling in the elections of numerous democratic countries could – and has – filled numerous books.

“Nation building” and “regime change” have been the basic stratagems of American foreign policy for two centuries. The objective has been to try to assure that the governments of independent countries are sympathetic to the political and economic interests of America. Tactics employed have ranged from funding those who support American interests, all the way to fomenting and financing coups against democratically elected leaders who disagree with American policies. Some efforts to “influence” the “election” of governments favorable to American policy went so far as to include military action and occupation.  

One of the clearest examples of American meddling in the internal affairs of another country involves Iran. In 1953 Mohammed Mossadegh was the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran. His “mistake” was to oppose the economic interests of America in the Middle East. The CIA funded and fomented a violent coup that replaced Mossadegh with a guy who became to be known as The Shaw of Iran. We all know how that turned out.

In 1954 the CIA instigated and financed the overthrow of the democratically elected president of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz. His “sin” was to challenge the politically connected United Fruit Company, a U.S. corporation. The CIA subsequently backed a series of dictators who maltreated the people of Guatemala for almost 50 years.

One of the most infamous episodes of American attempts to meddle in and influence democratic elections in sovereign countries occurred in 1973. Salvador Allende, an avowed Socialist, had been democratically elected president of Chile in 1970. His policies of industrial nationalization soon had him on the wrong side of American interests. President Nixon personally orchestrated the overthrow of the Allende government and the installation of the ruthless dictator, General Augusto Pinochet. (Allende was said to have “committed suicide” when the CIA backed “rebels” stormed the Chilean Presidential Palace.)   

One of the most brazen examples of America meddling in the democratic elections of another country involved Italy. The Italian elections of 1948 pitted the weak centrist Christian Democrats against a rising tide of influential leftist parties (some clearly Communist) and labor unions. The CIA entered the fray in support of the Christian Democrats with “bags of money” to finance the election campaign. There were even reports that the CIA organized a secret propaganda campaign that included forging documents intended to sully the reputations of opposition leaders.

The pot calling the kettle black…   

The point of this very limited tour of what have been numerous attempts by the American government to disrupt the democratic elections of other sovereign countries is to point out that if Russia did indeed hack into our election, we are only getting a taste of our own medicine. Modern electronic technology may be more subtle than the ham-fisted actions America has employed in an effort to install a foreign government more sympathetic to our interests, but Putin’s objective in meddling in the election is just the same.

There is no doubt that Putin favored Trump over Clinton. By launching a cyber-attack on the DNC and releasing embarrassing communications, Putin was simply taking a page from an American history of interfering in the elections of other countries, in an effort to see a government more favorable to his interests, While there is (and never can be) any credible evidence that Russian cyber-attacks actually influenced the outcome of the election, at the very least they were able to raise a specter concern as the validity of the presidential election. And by doing so, weaken American democracy in the eyes of the world. The end question is: What are we going to do about?