The Rules Rule

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


The upside is that rules mandate stability and conformity – eliminating disorder. The downside is that rules mandate stability and conformity – eliminating resourcefulness.

Rules. They’ve always been with us. In fact, when archaeologists found evidence of the first written language deep in a cave in Mesopotamia (circa 3200 B.C.) it’s reported the researchers translated that primitive attempt to use writing to communicate as follows: “No drawing on this wall!” With this one primitive scrawl, rules were born. And we’ve been dealing with them ever since.

Not only have rules existed since man dragged his knuckles across the African Savannah, the more advanced man and his activities have become, the more copious and cumbersome are the rules that decree how to go along to get along.

Rules are necessary and can be good things, because they promote structure, organization, conformity and consistency. Without rules chaos would surely follow, but there are also times when a little flexibility and nonconformity can create a positive type of chaos; the chaos that allows for innovation and progress. The key to being a successful leader is to learn how to use rules to promote stability and structure, without killing the initiative to create and innovate.

Rules are Especially Prolific in the Business World

It seems the rule is that the larger the company, the more the rules. As companies become successful, rules governing process and procedure are implemented in an effort to codify established activities. That’s fine, but the downside to these rules is that they stifle innovation, creativity and risk taking; all components necessary for a company to attain and retain success. All too often complying with these rules becomes the sole objective, rather than progress and performance.

This conflict between the rules of conformity and the freedom of creativity calls for a delicate balance that is rarely resolved by the rules imposed in the business world. It seems that the managers and bureaucrats who support the rules of conformity almost always end up winning; even if the company loses. We’ve all heard the refrain. “Those are the rules and we’ve always done it that way.”

The perceptive leader discovers that, in reality, there are two types of rules: Those that are called “rules of direction” and those that are identified as “rules of performance.”

Rules of direction dictate to people exactly what the task is and how to perform it to achieve an objective. On the other hand, rules of performance set out the objective and broad guidelines outlining what the organization will or will not do to achieve it. The striking difference is that the latter approach to rules gives those charged with realizing the objective the power and freedom to determine the what and how part. Both types of rules promote structure and organization, but only the rules of performance allow for any innovation or creativity.

For example, let’s say you are leading an insurance company and the objective is to become a leader in providing retirement products. Under rules of direction, employees would be told exactly what the products are and how they are to be sold. Using rules of performance the objective would be the same, but those working in the company would be empowered with the freedom to develop and market any variation of product they could conceive, so long as that product met the company guideline of providing income for retirement.

Rule the Rules to Make History

You can’t avoid the reality that you are going to have to live with rules, but that does not mean that you can’t make rules work for you. The key to being a successful leader depends on understanding the two types of rules; along with the strength and weakness of each.

One thing a leader should recognize is that reliance on rules of direction is a clear sign of lack of trust in the worker, while rules of performance send a message of trust and respect. And most workers will echo back the message received from the leader. This means that the leader who makes an effort to rely on rules of performance will ultimately have the best chance to maintain the needed structure and organization, while still giving breath to innovation and creativity.


If People Vote Based on How They Feel, Not What They Fear, Trump Will Win in a Landslide

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


Have you ever been in a position where you wanted to tell a boss exactly how you feel about something, but held back, because you were afraid you might lose your job? Have you ever had a boss who would praise you to your face, and then make disparaging comments about you to others? Have you ever had a boss who is forever promising to do something, only to do nothing or even the opposite? Have you ever had a boss who talks about “letting people do their job,” only to micromanage every activity? Have you ever had a boss who constantly favors a small group of others in a way that makes you feel left-out and unimportant?

If you can answer “yes” to any of these questions, you are the type of person who could be drawn to supporting Donald Trump. Sure, he is crude, rude, and raucous and has the temperament of angry drunk, but there is something almost hypnotically compelling about watching Trump take on the “bosses” of both parties. Maybe it is the same attraction as watching a car wreck, but there is no denying his appeal to those who feel powerless, abused or discarded by the bosses of the establishment; and that includes most of us. Trump is willing to talk smack to power and express the gut feelings of those who have been given nothing but false promises and lies from political leaders and deemed irrelevant and outsourceable by the economic elite.  

Supporting Trump is the way millions of frustrated voters can give the middle-finger salute to the ever expanding bastions of elitist political and economic power in this country. Americans have a history of cheering for the underdog, because all of us are underdogs. For millions, Trump is their David sent forth to slay the Goliath of economic inequity and rigged political power.

Trump is not qualified to take on the establishment

The triad of the economically powerful, the political establishment and the mainstream media all disparage Trump on the basis of his inexperience at governing, his blunt tell it as he sees it rhetoric, combined with his perceived racist feelings and disrespect for women. All of which is true about Trump. Trump may be the least qualified by temperament, experience and talent to ever be a serious candidate for president, but the establishment critics miss the point of Trump’s appeal.

Those who support Trump don’t care that he is not experienced or qualified. They don’t see that as a deficiency, but as an asset, because they know firsthand how poorly they have fared under the rule of experienced and qualified politicians. People who support Trump don’t do so out of logical reasoning, but out of a feeling of despair and frustration brought on by the existing political and economic establishment. There is a feeling of, “enough is enough and nothing could be worse that what we have.” Someone better qualified than Trump may come along to challenge and change the system, but those who support Trump are tired of waiting. They want change now.

It may seem incongruous that Trump, a billionaire member of the establishment, would become a crusader for those who feel disenfranchised and powerless, but it takes one with power to challenge power. There is little those outside the establishment can do to change it, but when one of its own attacks the system, it becomes a real threat. Trump may not be the perfect candidate, but his supporters feel he is the only hope they have to change the system.  

Voters have a choice

Not since the 1964 election between Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater have voters been presented with such a clear choice as they have now. While Johnson trounced Goldwater, a comparison is not exactly parallel, because Johnson was an incumbent president, still riding the emotional momentum of John Kennedy’s assassination and organized conservatism was still a nascent movement.

On the other hand, Hillary Clinton is the epitome of the establishment. She has spent 30 years trying to prove to the establishment that she is the establishment. No one is more experienced or qualified to represent the way things have been and how they will stay the same than Clinton. In Hillary’s own words and actions she communicates that if you like the way things have been in the past, you will love the way they will be in the future. The last thing Clinton stands for is change. In truth, Hillary’s campaign is all about resisting change.

If you listen closely, you will note that the core of Clinton’s campaign message has a negative tone based on fear. Her effort is to stoke the fear of Trump and the fear of change. Hillary offers the not so subtle message that you may not really like me, but that a vote for Trump is a vote for the unknown; and the unknown may be frightful. She is playing to the peculiarity that as much as people are frustrated and unhappy with the known, they are often paralyzed to act, based on the fear of the unknown that change can bring.

While Trump offers few specifics as to how he will bring about change, his core message is about challenging and changing the political and economic status quo. He seems to be basing his entire strategy (if he has one) on the belief that voters are so frustrated with the status quo of the establishment that they will vote for any change; even if they don’t understand what form the change will take.

How the voters decide

Change only comes about when people detest the status quo more than they fear the unknown of change. If the voters cast their ballots based on a stronger fear of the unknown that change will bring, rather than their negative feelings for the status quo, Clinton will win. But if they vote based on how they feel about continuation of the establishment status quo, irrespective of what form change will take, Trump will win.


Raise Your Hand if You Don’t Like Hillary



Hillary Clinton may be the luckiest person in the world; certainly in presidential politics. No presidential nominee of any major Party has ever entered an election with lower “likability” ratings than Hillary Clinton; except for one, Donald Trump. No presidential nominee of any major Party has ever entered an election with a longer list questionable and seemingly corrupt activities than Hillary Clinton; except for one, Donald Trump. No presidential nominee of any major Party has ever entered an election under an active investigation for possible illegal actions, except for Hillary Clinton; not even Trump.

And yet, despite carrying around 30 years of scuffed-up political baggage and the rotting stench of a landfill full of political scandal that has made Hillary possibly the most distrusted and disliked candidate in presidential election history, as of now, it appears likely that she will be elected as the next president.

What’s going on here?

Hillary is not even all that popular with traditional Democratic voters. The Democratic primaries were intended to be a parade to her coronation, but instead they turned into a slogging slug-fest against a little-known 74 year old admitted Socialist. In the end it was the system not sentiment that gave Hillary the nomination. Makes you wonder how lucky Hillary is that Joe Biden was unwilling to take her and the system on in the primaries.

In the meantime, political neophyte Donald Trump using bluster, insults, grandiose promises and racist fear-mongering was improbably bulldozing through 16 other Republican candidates to (presumptively) secure the Republican nomination. Clinton is lucky that Trump took the Republican nomination, because he is probably the only candidate the Republicans could nominate that she could beat in the election. While Hillary is loathed by many, the prospect of a Trump presidency is terrifying to even more.

The story goes deeper than Hillary and Trump

Aside from the obvious deficiencies of Trump and Clinton, there is something deeper impacting this election that makes it even more difficult to pick a winner.

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders offer forensic evidence that American voters – of both Parties – are dissatisfied, frustrated and angry with the status quo of the establishment political system. If that were not the case, Trump would have lasted about a month and Sanders would have remained an unknown Socialist senator from Vermont. The electorate has indicated, in no uncertain terms, that they want change; and are so desperate for it they will support one totally ill-prepared candidate and a Socialist.

In effect, Trump has been anointed as a “change agent” in this election, while Hillary embraces a continuation of the status quo. Under normal circumstances, when the voters have the attitude of “throw the bums out,” as a change agent, Trump would have an easy path to victory; especially considering how unpopular Clinton is personally. But these are not normal circumstances.

Trump is not your prototypical change agent who presents a clearly defined and understandable vision of change.  He does not have a history of persistent and consistent opposition to the status quo and, most important for a change agent, he has not been able to build a consensus of trust among voters that he is doing the right thing, the right way. Under normal circumstances it would be difficult to see Trump as an effective change agent, but these are not normal circumstances.

Change to believe in …

The concept of change is complicated and is often seen as both friend and foe. Those most frustrated with the status quo are the most vociferous in calling for change, but for some strange reason, they are often the most likely to resist change when it is presented. Maybe it is the like the old idiom, “better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t.” This feeling is akin to the actions of an abused spouse who desperately seeks to change the situation, but fears what a change would mean for the future. As a result, there is often a willingness to accept the abuse, based on the false hope that the environment will change on its own.     

Real change only comes about when people fear the status quo more than they fear the unknown of change. This axiom was effectively demonstrated in the recent “Brexit” vote in the United Kingdom.  A slim majority of British voters were so fearful of their future in the European Union, they were willing to vote for a totally unknown future.

Trump has the opportunity to be a true change agent for the political system. As much as the idea of political change in this country is appealing and exciting (and needed), the reality of change is unsettling and scary; even for those who clamor for change. In the end, people are willing to embrace real change, only when they have justified trust in the leader who is leading them into the unknown. Earning the trust of the average voter (who does want change) by demonstrating that he is about the right change in the right way, is a bridge that Trump has not yet crossed.

Sure, Trump has the blind trust of his core voters, but they are not the majority of voters. Trump has a unique generational opportunity (just as Ronald Reagan did) to be a positive agent for change, but to do so he must earn the trust of voters. However, earning this trust is not accomplished with bluster, fear-mongering and demagoguery. If Trump fails to pass this test of trust, he will fail and so will the hope for change.

What is ironic (sad) in this situation is that at a time when people are crying out for change, but fearing that they can’t trust the unknown of change presented by Trump, they likely may elect the very person they distrust and dislike the most and she will bring about the least change in the system.