Like so many of us in the United States, my grandfathers were immigrants. It is actually so boring a fact I rarely reflect on their journeys, but I’m drawn particularly to one of those trajectories now.
My Grandpa Hermann Menck wasa boisterous man, all bluster and rage… quite like the person who now resides in the People’s House. His family ushered him out of the Vaterland at the beginning of World War II because he was braggadocios and given to tirades, political and otherwise. In the burgeoning Nazi regime, none of those characteristics were portents of good, so off he went to America.
He spoke no English when he got here, and had only a pittance of money to settle. His most prized possession was a letter to the German owner of a company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin… which is where he landed. He did not have a college degree. He worked his way up. He became the president of the company. My dad grew up in a modest home in the suburbs of Milwaukee, where he met my mom – whose immigrant father had also become the president of another manufacturing company.
My mom and dad knew each other in high school, and went to different colleges, then re-met in some 1950’s matchup, and got married. My dad was a Republican by birth. He lit the Republican flame at the White Schoolhouse in Ripon, Wisconsin. My grandfather referred to my dad as “The Prince.” He went on to become one of the first graduates with an MBA from the University of Indiana. He became a CFO at several Fortune 500 companies. He controlled a lot of money, and prestige. He was amazing.
And then, six months before my birth, my dad was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis… and everything changed. My life was a tracing of his decline. Over a period of thirty years, he lost all ability to move. My mom stayed with my father until the day he died. She gave up all of her aspirations to care for him and raise me, and my sister and brother.
As the arch of his disease impacted my parents, they slowly changed.
I was born when my mom and dad were 38 years old. Somewhere in my early teens, my father had a major heart attack (watching me play tennis). His company forced him to work from home, and we became the proud owners of an Apple II… the first of its kind.
Eventually work was no longer an option. My father and mother were graced with a pension and insurance, but the road was not light. I still remember walking past my parent’s room when my mother was on the phone with the insurance company, crying, because they wanted to charge us thousands of dollars for some useless procedure that insurance would not cover.
My mother became steel. And my father; he became a Democrat.
My father was eloquent, but not verbose. When he spoke, his words were well chosen and almost like a laser with their intent. He thought before he spoke, and his words held meaning because they were so sparse in their coming. When he spoke about the Republican Party, he dismissed them, and their policies.
At the end of the day, when confronted with his disease, even he, a well-heeled Republican with excellent pedigree, insurance and reputation, struggled to make ends meet. Had it not been for the tenacity of my mother in her dealings with the insurance companies, and his relentless drive to be The Prince… we would have been on the street.
My father died in 2009, but not before, he saw Barak Obama sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America. My father beamed with pride when he spoke of that day, because he saw it as the beginning of a new time… one in which we cared for those who did not have the good fortune he had.
I am the second generation of immigrants to this country. I am blessed to have won the DNA lottery – my hair is blonde, my eyes are blue, and I am as healthy as can be expected for a person whose lived the life I have. This present political regime of hate is not looking for my kind.
And I am disgusted by what I see in my homeland now. I may be the blustering grand-daughter of a man kicked out of his country for his blustering opinion… and I’ll be damned if I don’t live up to that heritage.
Access to healthcare is not a lottery.
Immigrants are not chits on the board in some gold-plated casino.
Donald Trump and the Republican Party are working to degrade everything I know and understand as American values and truths, and I refuse to accept that. You are not my president, and I will fight you in every way I can.
My father lives in me… so you’ve got that spirit to battle as well as mine. I wish you luck with that. You are going to need it.
I recently had a former student contact me about his frustration with his cooks. He feels like nothing but a babysitter. I wish I could say his is an isolated case, but it most certainly is not. I’ve not only heard this from dozens of managers, but I’ve also felt it myself at various points in my career. My former student went on to wish for a time when he could just pick his own staff, because then there would be no problems. Ah, if only it worked that way! This conversation led me to pause and reflect on what it means to build a team and deal with failure.
When I was in culinary school, and later in my MBA program, I learned a very specific set of technical skills related to cooking and running a business. These are the transactional activities of management (i.e. scheduling, inventory management, etc.). However, I was never introduced to the softer, more ambiguous transformational skills of leadership (i.e. teach, strategize, motivate, discipline). Sometimes these two things overlap. Leaders certainly engage the tasks of management, but managers do not necessarily engage, or even know, when to become leaders. All leaders manage, but only the best managers lead.
Leadership skills do not have neatly defined S.O.P.s (standard operating procedures). There is no easy way to engage conflict, or take strategic risks. The only thing that is certain in leadership is that there is a very large margin for failure - and that is not fun. It’s much easier to follow a sequential list of tasks than it is to risk the potential for error that leadership requires. Ultimately, the responsibility of failure falls on the leader, and the joy of success lives with those who follow. The best leaders own 100% of their team's failure, and hand over 100% of their team’s successes.
This is the paradox of leadership... without failure you can’t have success. In his book Leadership Without Easy Answers (1998), Ronald Heifetz speaks of the “disorienting dilemmas” of leadership. Leaders make space for their team to investigate new things, learn and grow. All of those activities require a lot of mini failures on the long road to success. If we perceive failure as a negative activity that requires persecution to “fix”, then we’ve lost the golden opportunity that failure holds. If we can use failure as a reflective tool it becomes a teaching implement.
Allowing for this kind of structured failure is a luxury that most managers see as inefficient, or a waste of time/money. The typical response to failure in a manager’s mind is “how much is that going to cost me”, or “why am I paying you if you can’t do it right?” I would argue that both of those statements are not only shortsighted and wrong, but the real source of the problem.
First, if we as leaders take the time to digest failure, discuss it, and teach our way out of it, the longterm return on investment includes variables like: creating a safe space for exploring what went wrong, team building that results from working together to fix the problem, and improved technical skills that come from learning what was done wrong in the first place. These are the intangibles of leadership, and they have a long term monetary value in improved quality of product, and decreased costs of turnover.
To the second point, I would counter any manager who suggested a failure occurred because one of their employees didn’t do “what they were supposed to” with this question: “aren’t you being paid to clearly communicate the job functions, tasks and goals of your employees to your employees; and then monitor those activities for success?” If your staff doesn’t know what you want, or if they don’t know how to do what you want, you’ve failed them because you haven’t given them the tools they need.
If they DO know what and how to do the tasks you’ve requested of them, then it is your responsibility to engage them about why they chose not to do the things you requested of them. It might be there is some reason your way doesn’t work. In that case, you create an environment in which employees feel they can share critical insights with you without fear of repercussions.
If that’s not the case, and they are willingly disobeying you, as a leader you need to have the strength to engage the conflict of the situation and discipline the person. These are the hard conversations of leadership, and without them your staff will hold you hostage because they know you won’t do anything about it.
Failure is not an event, it’s a process. Part of that process includes the heartbreaking aspects of poor results, but those can be the seeds for learning and discovery that come through confronting the activities of recovery and overcoming.
I have a friend who asked me to blog about giving up cable for a mere wireless lifestyle. No cable. No phone.
It's funny to me, because that is what I am used to. I've lived without a TV since 2006. I gave up a landline phone in 2000.
I bought a "really big ass" TV last year when i got a "real job." That television has been sitting idle (forgive Doctor Who and Saints games) since that time.
$125 a month for TV that you don't watch is a lot. Not to mention the issue with being assigned a recycled phone number that was originally assigned to a lass with a lot of unpaid debts. Those collections call (not due to me, requiring that I justify that I was NOT that person) caused a lot of hassle... so I just unplugged my phone. My Triple Play was down to a deuce, half of which I didn't use.
So I called it quits. It took two calls.
The first time I was shamed out of it. The second time I stood on hold for 20 minutes and finally cut it. My rep, Jack, was fine once I clearly told him I did NOT want local TV access. "Why bother," I said, "no NBC." Silence. "Can you wait while I disconnect your service?"
"Yes, Jack. I can wait. Thank you."
My internet access is now $65 bucks (plus tax). That's still a lot to me, but I use a lot of internet so I have a higher connection speed, which I'm willing to pay for.
I set up a Skype "land line" today for $30 for the year, and another $30 for unlimited long distance calls in the US and Canada. I live in a steel box, so my cell doesn't work inside... requiring the land line. I tested it with my mom. It works. We'll see if I buy a hand/head set.
I ripped out the cable box, and relocated the router thingy. That required a bit of a tech support call because it reset itself when I plugged it back in. It is now back online, and so am I. My ChromeCast is broadcasting my music, and I'm typing this.