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Saturday, August 19, 2017

A European Utility Re-Envisioning Energy: An Opportunity for Visionary Leadership

When Eneco began a business called CrowdNett in which the company would sell large home-batteries to people having solar panels, the Dutch electric utility was on the way toward putting its electricity-production business out of business. The company would continue, though radically transformed. The strikingly different strategic-course correction was based on a rather unique vision of a novel social reality in which homes generate their own energy and then some. In the context of climate change and accumulating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, Eneco’s CEO had an opportunity in 2017 to lead not only organizationally, but societally as well by promoting the radical social reality already envisioned.

The full essay is at "Re-Envisioning Energy."

For more on visionary leadership and management, see The Essence of Leadership: A Cross-Cultural Foundation, available in print and as an ebook at Amazon. 

The University of Arizona: A Dysfunctional Police State

Imagine asking an organization's security employee to enforce a policy only to hear him refuse because such a policy is beneath him. Then on another occasion you find such employees in the locality enforcing local speed-limits. To be sure, speeding tickets are a lucrative business, but that usually goes for a city's police department. Imagine next crossing a grassy quad on a university campus as two campus security employees slowly pass on bikes--watching. Entering the student union, there is yet another. Then returning with a coffee back across the rectangular grassy area--which had been roped off all summer for "turf restoration"--you see a security employee passing on a motorcycle--again watching people. Then as you return to the campus library, you notice a "police" jeep slowly creeping along opposite from the quad. The resulting sense that students, staff, and even faculty are being perpetually watched far beyond the rationale of protection is common at the University of Arizona. Nevertheless, the administrative offices, including those of the VP for business affairs, the provost, and even the president, look the other way, which in itself can be regarded as passive aggressive. In flagging that university as highly dysfunctional, and thus to be avoided especially by scholars, I draw on my time as a visiting scholar at that university, where I was met with active and passive aggression and, more generally, regarded as less than a nobody by nonacademic staff having an overblown sense of entitlement undergirded with a lack of accountability. The University of Arizona can thus be regarded as "the poster child" for dysfunctional organizational culture. I submit that aggressiveness is nothing short of anathema to an academic atmosphere. That non-academic employees at a university would have so little respect for academia while the "academic" administration betrays its calling, whether out of cowardness, incompetence, or a sheer disvaluing of academic standards is squalid enough to justify whistle-blowing on behalf of academia.

The full essay is at "A Dysfunctional University."

Friday, August 18, 2017

The U.S. House of Representatives: An Aristocratic Democracy-Deficit?

The abrupt resignation of Jesse Jackson, Jr., from the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012 only weeks after being re-elected gave Democratic politicians in Chicago a rare opportunity to get their hands on a Congressional seat. The New York Times observed at the time that such seats “in Democratic strongholds” of Chicago “do not come open very often, and when they do, a line forms fast.” According to Debbie Halvorson, who ran against Jackson, “If someone is thinking of becoming a congresswoman or congressman, this might be their only chance. Whoever gets this will have it forever, they say. That’s why everyone wants to take a chance.” In other words, the office is a sort of personal entitlement. From a democratic standpoint, this represents “slippage.”


Even though the U.S. House Chamber looks large, it represents 310 million people.   Source: Britannica


The full essay is at "An Aristocratic Democracy-Deficit."


Source:
Steven Yaccino and Monica Davey, “Illinois Sets Election Dates to Replace Jackson in House,” The New York Times, November 27, 2012.

Pressuring Employees to Act as Lobbyists on the U.S. Debt: Ethical?

How far a boss can ethically become involved in an employee’s political role as a citizen is a question perhaps more important than whether a business should make demands regarding what an employee does in the privacy of his or her own home (e.g., smoking or drinking products that are legal). It would obviously be objected, for example, were a supervisor to insist on accompanying a subordinate into the voting booth to verify the vote. What about pressuring an employee to lobby as a private citizen in the company’s interest without being paid for that work? Is it even work when it is “voluntarily” done on “off-time”? Finally, would it make a difference if the issue held systemic importance—meaning if it were vital to the country itself or at least the economic system—and the particular stance being advocated by the boss had value in solving the systemic problem (i.e., not just in the company’s interest)?
                 Federal U.S. deficits as a percentage of GDP from 1792 (2012-2016 projected). Notice that the projections take the deficits down from 2008-2010 levels. Notice also 1960-2010 as differing significantly from the "episodic" pattern in the 1792-1930 period. Why?
The full essay is at "Pressuring Employees."


Sources:
Damian Paletta and Kristina Peterson, “CEOs Flock to Capital to Avert ‘Cliff,” The Wall Street Journal, November 28, 2012.
Christina Wilkie, “’Fix The Debt’ CEOs Underfund Employee Retirement, Demand Cuts For Elderly,” The Huffington Post, November 27, 2012.

Ethan Rome, “Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein Wants Seniors to Get Less,” The Huffington Post, November 27, 2012.

Massey Mining: Beyond Regulations

Massey Energy Co. owned the mine in West Virginia where 29 minors were killed in an explosion in 2010. Faulty water nozzles failed to stop a spark from setting a pocket of methane gas on fire, which in turn led to an explosion of coal dust. Other safety violations, such as not cleaning up extra coal dust, contributed to the accident too. While it is unfortunately not unusual for managers to cut corners on regulations, the attitude evinced at Massey may point to a deeper problem in how some companies view law itself--as an obstacle to be overcome rather than constrained by. 

Emergency vehicles head to the Massey explosion in which 29 miners were killed.   AP

The full essay is at "Massey Mining."

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

From Visionary Leadership to Management: Taking a Bite Out of Apple

Founders and otherwise visionary leaders in business can be distinguished from managers, even though a manager may be running a company. For one thing, managers may resent leaders for being able to take in a larger view while relegating—even dismissing the petty, which can be so alluring to the managerial mentality. Leaders in turn may view the implementation of a vision as nugatory at best. More abstractly, change as paradigmatic (i.e., shifting from one broad framework to another) has its fans (i.e., visionary leaders), while the status quo has its own defenders (i.e., managers). Vision and big ideas are typically associated with a company’s founder or visionary leader, whereas bureaucracy tends to go with the implementation-focus of managers (including executives). In short, to suppose that leadership and management are the same is to ignore a lot that separates them. In the case of Apple, the shift from leadership to management that occurred with the passing of Steve Jobs may be at least partially responsible for the subsequent decline in the company’s stock price. In this essay, I explore the change at Apple to demonstrate why management should not be conflated with leadership.

Tim Cook testifying at the U.S. Senate. Is he innately a visionary or is his leadership managerial in nature?    Getty Images

Material from this essay has been incorporated in The Essence of Leadership, which is available at Amazon in print and as an ebook.

The Essence of Leadership

In The Essence of Leadership, leadership itself is reformulated in such a way that what emerges—the essence of leadership—is distinct from related phenomena, including management, presiding, and mentoring. This is not to say, however, that leadership bears no relation to strategy—hence the complex concept of strategic leadership, which is not without risks. Leadership itself contains risks, which a focus on the essence of leadership, rather than, for instance, taking leadership as simply about having influence, can arguably minimize. Such risks include the cult of the leader, to which charisma and attributions of heroism are especially susceptible, and the distorting impact of ideology, such as in Burns’ version of transformational leadership. Shaking out the risks and distinguishing leadership as a unique phenomenon are ways of pointing back to the essence of leadership, which applies in virtually any culture. That is, the essence is cross-cultural. Taking comparative religion as a stand-in for cultures, I demonstrate that the essence of leadership can be informed by Taoist, Buddhist, and Judeo-Christian principles.


Material from this essay has been incorporated in The Essence of Leadership, which is available at Amazon in print and as an ebook.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

U.S. Government Debt: A Constitutional Moment?

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued a report in June 2011 indicating that the debt of the U.S. Government had reached a dangerous level—that is, one likely to trigger a financial crisis. This characterization ought to have garnished close attention by the American people, for the viability of the Union itself may have been at stake. I submit that such a condition, moreover, warrants a constitutional moment—that is, a time when the citizenry focus on solving a basic governmental problem. In other words, the matter of the publicly-held U.S. Government debt may have justified popular sovereignty stepping in. Of course, how this would have been done is itself a problem, particularly because government officials had no interest at the time in relinquishing their power as our agents. This might explain in part why the debt would go on to reach $20 trillion by 2017. 

The full essay is at: A Constitutional Moment.


Nature's Racial Melting-Pot: The American Empire

The 2010 U.S. census reignited the question of racial identity among multi-racial residents.  “I can’t fit in a single box on the census form” was the typical refrain among the fastest growing segment of the US population.  According to The New York Times in February, 2011, "when it comes to keeping racial statistics, the nation is in transition, moving, often without uniformity, from the old “mark one box” limit to allowing citizens to check as many boxes as their backgrounds demand." The number of mixed-race Americans was at the time rising rapidly, largely on account of increases in immigration and intermarriage. In 2010, for example, one in seven new marriages was interracial. Politically, some racial interest groups believed that the use of a catch-all category marginalized minority races in particular. As a result, the Census Bureau created 63 categories of possible racial combinations (a typical bureaucratic solution to a political problem).

The full essay is at "Nature's Racial Melting-Pot."

Susan Saulny, “Counting by Race Can Throw Off Some Numbers,” The New York Times, February 9, 2011.