Many years ago, when I was just a little tiny ethicist and ran a research foundation for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, I was invited to a Chamber executive retreat. By far the most interesting feature was a working lunch with young Congressman Newt Gingrich as the speaker. This was long before most American knew about Newt, who was considered something of a wonk and proved it that afternoon.
Rep. Gingrich gave the clearest presentation of organizational structure and function I had ever heard or have read about since as part of his seminar on long-range planning. He handed out a chart showing a pyramid with “MISSION” at the point, “GOALS” beneath, “OBJECTIVES” beneath that, “STRATEGY” next going down, then “TACTICS,” and finally OPERATIONS as the long base. He went through many examples of failed and successful organizations, making many fascinating points, including (I still have my notes somewhere):
You can’t have a strong organization without a strong and clear mission.
An organization in which the goals start to become inconsistent with the mission will lose its integrity and direction.
If the organization’s strategies are polluted by parochial and personal goals of staff and leadership, the goals will become eccentric and scattershot, and mission will become meaningless.
Even the best mission cannot survive inadequate operations, which is why idealists and ideologues so often make poor leaders.
The best operations imaginable won’t save flawed mission (Newt’s example: Nazi Germany), and
“If you don’t know where you’re going, it’s easy to get there, but it won’t be worth the trip.”
The latest rationalization for the list came to my attention when I used it myself.
I have been reading various opinion pieces and reports about the stance of anti-vaxxers as researchers push to develop a vaccine as quickly as possible for the Wuhan virus. A Daily Beast essay cautioned that the need for haste had to be balanced against the consequences of failure:
“Urgent as the need is, public health leaders warn, moving too quickly could have disastrous consequences not only for reining in COVID-19, but for vaccines more broadly. If a vaccine is released that doesn’t work well or yields dangerous side effects—especially in the face of an historic pandemic—it could empower anti-vaccine activists and reduce support for other longstanding vaccines that have gone through rigorous and exhaustive testing”
My reaction to that was instant: “What sense does it make to moderate your efforts to solve an urgent problem because you are worried about a possible future irrational reaction to an adverse result? “You cross that bridge when (and if) you come to it,” I thought. Then the faint sound of an ethics alarm ringing caught my attention. Continue reading →
The second Comment of the Day on the recent Ethics Alarms post about a United attendant killing a French bulldog puppy through her ignorance, cruelty and stupidity focuses on a crucial factor not covered in my post: the harried mother who allowed it to happen. I have seen this issue raised on social media, only to be followed by “how dare you blame the victim?” attacks. Well, the immediate victim was the little dog, and anyone who adopts a pet has accepted the responsibility of keeping the trusting animal safe from authority-abusing fools and the perils of being imprisoned in small, hot, airless spaces like a furry piece of luggage.
This is a reply to several people at once who wondered about the pet owner…It’s also not a defense of the pet owner, but more an attempt to pin point where the ethical breach was on her part. A number of people here have wondered what she was thinking. From reading the article, Jack’s description, and a few other recountings across the net I can tell you exactly what she was thinking.
She was traveling with an infant, another daughter (I haven’t seen the kid’s age)* and a dog. With an infant, there’s probably a 70% chance the mother didn’t get enough sleep the night before. Then she got both kids ready to go, and trekked through an airport, clearing security, keeping track of all of their stuff, feeding the baby, keeping the puppy quiet, making sure the other kid got her shoes off and back on, getting to the gate, getting everyone boarded…
Then a flight attendant tells her there’s a problem with the dog’s carrier. Now, from what I read elsewhere, it was a TSA approved carrier, so I’m not sure what the problem was. Maybe she also had the diaper bag crammed under the seat, maybe it was an older model bag or plane, maybe she didn’t have it closed right. But whatever the case, the flight attendant tells her to put it in the overhead.
She points out there’s a dog in it, and the flight attendant insists.
I can tell you that pet owner was not thinking clearly, and had no mental space to be thinking about her pet while dealing with the two kids. I’ll be honest: she might even have been relieved to have the dog someplace “safe” and tucked away for the flight, assuming (as other people have suggested, and I agree) she didn’t know much about the overhead compartments and expected the flight attendant to know what she was talking about.
I understand 100% what was going through this woman’s mind, as she was juggling a hundred things at once, and that’s where she was unethical.Continue reading →
As you may have noticed, your host has been involuntarily separated from Ethics Alarms for about 24 hours. Several things occurred that under normal circumstances would have had me dashing off a post while waiting for flights or preparing to check out of my hotel—and there were definitely several comments that had me reaching for a phantom keyboard—but I was without laptop, thanks to leaving the power cord behind in my previous hotel.
So I have a little story to tell. I stayed at a decent Boston hotel last night, not a 4 star hotel like the one I just left in Atlanta (The Four Seasons), but a nice one, professionally run, dependable. Yet this morning this was my wake-up call, via recording:
“It’s 7 AM. This is your wake-up call for March 8, 2018.”
Almost at the same time, David Hogg was on CNN, explaining how darned easy it was to create a system that would prevent school shootings forevermore.
Wrong. Systems break down, you experience-free, arrogant, disrespectful, know-nothing puppet. The belief that human beings can devise systems that will solve every problem, or any problem, and do what they are designed to do without failing miserably at the worst possible times and in the worst imaginable ways is signature significance for a fool, or a child. O-Rings fail. Police don’t act on warnings that a kid is violent. Obamacare raises health care premiums. Political parties end up nominating Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Jack Ruby breaks past police security. Communism ends up killing hundreds of millions rather than creating a worker paradise. The Titanic hits the wrong iceberg exactly where it’s weakest. Hitler takes a sleeping pill during the Normandy invasion.
The catastrophic shortage of water in California has prompted rationing and the looming prospect of permanent changes to the state’s economy and lifestyle. Yet this week a citizen with a cellphone captured video of California Department of Transportation sprinklers sewing the precious fluid along a freeway…as a light rain fell following a night of showers. Meanwhile, along the freeways, message boards are warning motorists of the importance of responsible water use in the drought, stating “Severe Drought. Limit Outdoor Watering.”
In my business and corporate ethics programs, I often use a hypothetical based on a true incident at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in which the staff was told that there would have to be a freeze on raises and new hiring because of financial challenges facing the association. They were told that everyone would have to sacrifice for the vital mission of the Chamber. That same week, the General Counsel’s office received a long-delayed remodeling, with expensive new furniture, artwork and carpeting. Morale plummeted, and the absence of trust in management was palpable. I use the incident to demonstrate the consequences of leadership hypocrisy and absence of integrity, when those in power hold themselves to different, and lower, standards than they claim to champion.
While we are on the topic of leadership (in the wake of Harold Camping’s failure to act like a responsibility one), here are highlights from “Inside CRM’s list of 101 Common Sense Rules for Leaders.
The list is specifically targeted at managers, but the principles have broad application to all kind of leadership. If only Harold had given as much study to these as he did to his Bible. President Obama should give them some consideration, however. It’s not too late.
… Meeting Deadlines
11. Only promise what you can realistically deliver. Don’t create deadlines that you know you can’t meet. By only promising what you know you can do, you’ll be able to finish on time.
12. Set clear goals. Once you know what you need to accomplish, it helps to know how and when you want to do it. Put your goals down on paper and make sure everyone on your team gets a copy.
13. Organize a team. … Pick a team that has the right skills to carry out the job.
14. Delegate tasks. Spread work among your employees in a way that doesn’t leave anyone overburdened while also allowing the project work smoothly.
… 16. Keep communication open. Keeping everyone in touch with the status of the project is key to making sure it’s completed on time.
17. Do it right the first time. Planning ahead will help prevent you from delivering a substandard product. Having to redo something for a client costs money, and, more than likely, future business opportunities Continue reading →
Nemisis pursues an arrogant mortal…
Here is slickwilly’s reflection on the breakdown of systems, human error, hubris and nemisis in his Comment of the Day on the post,The Wake-Up Call And The Power Cord: