Coffee with Frank

Discussions about responsible leadership

Trump is getting results on issues near-and-dear to republican voters. He’s putting “right of center” Justices on the Supreme Court, dismantling large government agencies such as the EPA and relaxing regulations that dampen corporate profits. He’s getting things done, so why should we care how he does it? If our only expectation is that elected officials mirror our own views and represent those views in our government bodies and institutions, then what happens when we no longer care how those views are achieved?

13 charged in plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. This was the headline of a recent article on CNN.com. Details are still emerging as the investigation continues, but the intent of the individuals involved seems clear – free the citizens of Michigan from oppressive, Democratic heavy-handedness by disrupting the State Government. It is hard to disassociate the actions of these individuals from comments made by President Donald Trump earlier this year on Twitter – “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” Some of our fellow citizens seem to have taken that quite literally.

Other elected officials, such as Senator Susan Collins of Maine, have been challenged to state whether or not they will vote for Trump in 2020. She has largely avoided the topic, recently stating “Let me say this: I don’t think the people of Maine need my advice on whom to support for president.”

Senator Collins – you are wrong. People do need to hear your advice. They can take it or leave it, but how can you abdicate your responsibility to provide leadership when it is so badly needed? Too many Americans are willing to follow a troubled man in the White House, largely because they will get the outcome they want. But are we really willing to get it by any means necessary? Are YOU willing to remain silent while some of your constituents and your colleagues continue to turn a blind eye to behavior that encourages the kidnapping of a State Governor? Behavior that emboldens white supremacists, racists and bigots?

It is time that we expect our elected officials to not only represent our views on matters of policy, but to represent those views in a responsible way – to lead us, not just represent us. We are being driven off of a cliff, and it feels like the car is getting a push from the GOP. Leaders standing up and telling people it is not okay to vote for Trump is one of the ways we can pump the breaks before we go over the edge.

I have been out of the Navy for longer than I was in it, but some things will never fade. The friendships and life-lessons will remain with me until my last days. Since transitioning to the business world, more than 15 years ago, many of my colleagues have been intrigued by my military service. Some don’t ask about it at all and others bring it up every chance they get. But when it does come up, there is almost always a reluctance to believe that my military leadership experience can be applied in a civilian, business environment. After all, leading in the military is easy – you have rank; you have authority. You can yell at people. Right?

I can very clearly remember my first encounter with a Senior Chief Petty Officer onboard my first ship, a destroyer. I was a brand new Ensign, the most junior of officers, and just barley finding my way around. The Senior Chief introduced himself and said he wanted to talk to me. We stepped into a compartment, or “office”, on the ship. He closed the door and said “let’s get one thing straight, I don’t work for you – you work for me.” I had heard stories about the “salty” senior enlisted men and woman that I would meet, but this was my first real encounter with one. The fact that I outranked this guy meant nothing. Now, he would salute me and call me “sir”, and he would never be disrespectful in front of my Sailors, but he made it clear that there was going to be more to our relationship than rank. He was taking me under his care and, in his own very direct way, letting me know that he was going to look after my development. And I am forever grateful that he did.

Leading in the military does come with a structure that is often not present in the work place. It also comes with a set of stakes that are typically much higher. Most who served will tell you that they have never had to say “I order you!” or “that’s an order!” I never did – even when deployed to a combat zone – even when we thought we were under attack and decisions and actions had to happen instantly with no delay. That kind of teamwork, leadership and follower-ship, only comes with trust. And that trust is built on far more than a hierarchical leadership structure rooted in authority. Yes, you have rank – but it had better not be all that you rely on. You still have to influence and bring others along with you.

What about collaboration? With the weight of your rank behind you, why bother to collaborate?

When I was leading Boarding Teams in the Persian Gulf, we always had a plan. In an asymmetric environment with multiple unknowns, we had to think through the “what-ifs” and contingencies. Seven to eight armed and well-trained Sailors would go aboard commercial vessels and search for weapons and “persons of interest.” The commercial ships were big, often in poor condition, and the merchant sailors were not necessarily happy to see us. On any mission, we had to be prepared for a hostile situation where the team leader was wounded or killed. If that happened, would the team be capable of continuing with the operation? How could we truly instill a sense of ownership in the plan? For starters, each team member had to be part of the planning process. They had to be shaping the solutions to the problems we were anticipating. Collaboration wasn’t a “nice to have.” It was essential. But we also knew that once the team leader made a decision, each of us moved out as if the plan was our very own personally conceived thing of beauty.

Yes, there are Veterans out there who think they can step right out of the uniform and into a suit and tie – with no adjustment to how they interact with others. But that’s certainly the exception, not the rule – at least in my experience. Military service can be hard to translate into terms that others can understand or appreciate. But the fundamental lessons we learn in leadership are timeless and can be applied in any industry. When it comes to leading others, one size definitely doesn’t fit all. Leading teams is challenging anywhere you go, and having a set of bars on your collar doesn’t make it any easier.

For those of you on Twitter, you know that there’s no shortage of political conversation. It’s absolutely overwhelming – and comforting – and maddening! Whatever your political leanings you can find a lot of others who share similar views – for Trump, for Biden, for no one or nothing in particular. But I had trouble finding anyone who was able to, or had even tried to, influence another voter to lean the other way; specifically, anyone who had been able to persuade a Trump supporter to NOT vote for him. Are we so confident in Trump’s defeat that we don’t think we need to even try to influence others wherever and whenever we can? I think that’s dangerous and pretty fucking stupid considering what happened in 2016. [not sorry for the f-bomb]

I have a family member that I’ve tried to persuade. I’ve failed, but I can’t give up. I feel like I have to be doing everything that I can to make sure Trump doesn’t spend another day in our House. Trying to convince this person to drop their support for Trump is not the only thing I will do. But how can I not try to influence someone I’ve known my entire life? I spend plenty of time “tweeting” to total strangers. The only problem is that most of those “tweets” are directed at people who already appear to share my opinion. It makes me feel good but is it going to change anything? Probably not, but neither will me getting one other person to change their vote. But what if we all made an effort to get someone we know to reconsider their support for the most dangerous President we’ve ever had? What if we all try to influence an undecided voter?

In the absence of any advice from the Twitterverse, I did some research and came across this interesting article. VetsForward is an organization that’s making an effort through personal conversations, through listening and sharing. The author, Harry Cheadle, cites a recent study showing that this type of “deep canvassing” is one of the few things that works.

Our country ended up in Trump’s hands for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is because a significant portion of our nation felt like they weren’t being listened to. We have to talk to one another to find out why. We can continue to fire off our angry tweets – I have not intention of stopping – but we have to find some space to share our stories; the stories that help others understand why we can’t let Trump win. And if you have had luck changing a Trump supporter’s mind, please share. We need to hear how you did it. Time is running out.

It’s not about politics…

I’ve put off writing this for some time and I can’t put it off any longer. I’m going to be blunt. In this challenging time for our country, I don’t believe that we can remain silent. Silence is complicity, and complicity is something that none of us can afford. It is not “okay” to re-elect Trump to another four years in office. Period. Full stop.

Most of you have no intention of voting for him. But many of you know at least one person who is going to vote for him, or may be considering it, and you likely won’t confront them in a serious and deliberate way. I understand the desire to avoid the discussion, but that has to change.

As a Veteran who has deployed to a combat zone, I know what it means to take an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States; to protect our values and our way of life. And while I have a deep love for our Country, I recognize that it is far from perfect. Change, on many fronts, is needed and it is needed now. But this President is not the person to deliver it. He cannot lead us there. Real change requires strong leadership and strong leadership requires a moral compass that guides the way. No adult man or woman can say, and be taken seriously, that this President has set an example for us and for our children. He has taken this country’s moral compass and smashed it against the rocks.

I’m not suggesting that you need to change your views on policy issues, domestic or international. There will be disagreements – there needs to be. Only through civil debate and respect for one another’s views and opinions will we arrive at the best possible solutions to our most complex issues.

What some view as “far-leftist” policies are not the most serious threat to our democracy. An elected official who is incapable of setting the example in actions and words, who has no concept of service to a cause greater than himself and who has no respect for the foundational elements of our democracy IS the most serious threat. An independent judiciary, a free press, and a belief in equal rights for all are not optional. These are the things that I put on a uniform to defend. I don’t consider myself a “loser” and I certainly don’t consider those who gave their lives in service to our country to be “suckers.”

Many people that I admire have voiced their concerns about our current President. Admiral Mike Mullen, General James Mattis and the late Senator John McCain are just a few who have done so publicly. Some will say, “great, more wisdom from a bunch of old white men.” But the list doesn’t end there. It includes male and female business leaders of all colors, backgrounds and ages. And it includes plenty of people, like myself, who are far from perfect, but haven’t voiced those concerns in a way that can influence others. We can’t let the fact that we have made mistakes, individually and as a country, relieve us of our civic duty to say something when we see something so grossly against the very grain of our nation.

Sadly, many current elected officials have chosen party and president over country and have remained silent on this gross dereliction of duty. But plenty have spoken out; far too many to be written off as “fake news.” Even if you like the results that this administration has delivered or the agenda that it is trying to further, you cannot look the other way and excuse the lies, the incompetence and criminal behavior.

I am afraid for my daughter; afraid for our country and the world we will leave in her generation’s hands. Selfishly, I feel like I need to be able to tell her that I did something, that I spoke up. I know I am not saying something that you haven’t heard before – but you haven’t heard it from me. We have to talk about it beyond the people we know agree with us, even if we think they can’t be swayed. I’m asking you to stop avoiding the discussion. For those of you who aren’t avoiding it, thank you. I had to start somewhere and I figured I would start with the people I know.

Wall Street Journal Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

The Trump administration recently achieved a diplomatic win with the deal between Israel and the UAE. Taking credit for this implies that Trump and his team were somehow able to influence the outcome. They were able to do that in a situation where they had no direct authority.

The separation of powers between states and the federal government has recently been used to place blame on Democrat Governors for protests that have turned violent in their states. Republicans and others have been quick to point to Blue States that are not “well-run.” Does the President have the ability, and the responsibility, to use his own voice and his administration to influence outcomes at the state level and bring about positive results? Does the party in the White House matter, in terms of what happens at the state level?

Federal Government Uniform Crime Statistics from 1960-2014 show crime rates per 100,000 people in several categories including the following:

  • Violent crime
  • Aggravated assault
  • Property crime
  • Burglary
  • Rape

Is there a difference in mean crime rates when a Republican is in the White House versus when a Democrat is in the White House? And if there is a difference, is it significant? A statistical analysis with a two sample t-test1 shows that there is a significant difference between mean crime rates under Democrats and Republicans in the White House. Mean crime rates are higher under Republican Presidents.

While there are undoubtedly many other factors at play here, I would argue against any insistence that Federalism prevents a President from attempting to influence outcomes, such as crime rates, at the state level. “Who” is in the White House seems to have some impact on what is happening. Using Federalism as a way to place blame robs us of an opportunity to expect more from the President’s leadership. The data shows that it could make a difference.

Notes:

  1. Two-Sample T test conducted using a significance level of α = 0.05
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’m a proud Veteran. I’ve raised my right hand and sworn the oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. I’ve been in harm’s way and I’ve known men and women who have given their lives in service to this Country. And I am worried. And we need to talk.

We have elected officials who think nothing of lying, cheating or stealing. We have elected officials who cannot understand or appreciate serving a purpose greater than themselves and for a greater good, for the better of ALL of our Country. I intend to call behavior like this out when I see it. I don’t care if you are a Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative. The spotlight is coming. If it’s already on you, it’s going to get brighter.

Leadership has been defined by some as the ability to get others to do things they didn’t think possible. Those things that are possible can be good or bad. You can lead with fear or you can motivate and inspire by helping others see a better and brighter future. You can learn leadership. It’s not an all or nothing thing that you are born with or without.

Leadership without a moral compass will run you into the rocks every time. It will destroy things; it will destroy people; it will take lives.

Let’s talk about it. Tell me what you see. Think beyond political ideology.

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