Thursday, July 7, 2011

My way or the highway, the bridge, the….

Whether it’s sung by Frank, Liza or Elvis - “My Way” captures the zeitgeist that we all want to have when our time comes. “I've lived a life that's full … Regrets I've had a few… I took the blows … I did it my way.” It’s an anthem of independence and assurance that when reflecting on one’s life one can do so proudly. Doing and living “my way” is distinct from getting “my way.”

Successful entrepreneurs often create value for themselves and their companies with a passionate and exacting belief in their vision done in their own way. These innovators have been the driving force of innovation and the economic engine of the world from the beginning of time. For over twenty years I’ve worked with entrepreneurs in a variety of capacities, largely as a consigliere (one who advises and guides the principal). My expertise is in strategically delivering results whether for-profit or not.

In a not-for-profit situation the challenge is magnified since the Board of Directors is in the role of principal – there are more dynamics (and agendas) in play. It’s especially rewarding to work with a volunteer group of individuals who are passionately committed to a cause and guide them towards a result that grows the organization and benefits their constituents.  (Wait...isn't that the description of Government service?!?)

There are commonalities between all types of organizations that allow results to be produced. Fundamental is the premise that the result is specific and universal. With a business that usually is to generate a profit. With a charity the premise is the organization’s mission statement – it’s stated reason for existing. Frame actions around the premise and results can be produced. Easier said than done, which is why I'm available for hire!

I have a very particular process that I like to use when I work with an organization to identify issues, evaluate opportunities and implement solutions. The baseline of  the process is flexibility. Arrive with a preset agenda then there is no benefit to the organization being serviced.

Wouldn’t it be nice if our elected leaders had the same commitment to the country? It has become heretical for politicians to approach the issues of the day with a commitment to resolution, which requires at its core flexibility. Compromise doesn’t equal capitulation.

Both the Democrats and the Republicans have deep divisions on the philosophical approach to nearly every issue.  At least they do rhetorically.  Those divisions once were the beginning for forging a middle ground. Today those divisions are the end point. “It’s my way or the highway.” (With earmarks, that includes bridges, tunnels and other assorted projects for their districts.)

Both parties would benefit politically to let the debt ceiling deadline pass, have the government stop payments on some obligations. The 2012 campaign would be President Obama saying that the Republicans drove the country to default while the GOP will say that in less than 1 year in office they got the country to a balanced budget. Meanwhile the credit markets will be spooked, the cost of the existing debt will increase and cable TV news will delight in the finger pointing.

California is a good lesson for the GOP. For years Republicans were able to control the budget process through their minority representation in order to extract concessions that met their philosophical goals. In early 2011 Governor Brown reportedly had ceded on nearly every demand they had just to agree to have the public vote on continuing the 2-year old sales tax rate increases. (The GOP wasn’t being asked to extend the increases, just to allow the voters the ability to vote on them – which faced an uphill battle.) After much back and forth, including the vetoing one budget, the Governor and Democrats created their own solution and California started its 2011-12 fiscal year with a balanced budget, only the third time in the past 25 years. The Republicans got nothing. Congress: take note!

There are some reports that the President might go around Congress (again) under the theory that the 14th Amendment requires him to “keep the validity of the public debt.” It’s a suspect approach since the Constitution very clearly puts all funding (including debt funding) with Congress. What to do when nobody is willing to move off of their philosophical ground?

We need leadership.  Any member of Congress can introduce a bill. Why doesn’t a group of Democrats – perhaps led by Nancy Pelosi – submit a compromise bill, one based on the (flawed-but-still-better-than-nothing) Bipartisan Debt Commission Report? The “tea party” activists would be outraged, spitting fire. The left wing activists would be jumping up and down waving and wailing. The problem would actually be addressed.

Entrepreneurs make it their way; Toddlers get their way. Politicians try to do both. It’s time for us as a nation to do it our way – together.  Cue the orchestra.

Related:  Ready my January blog about the Debt situation
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