This talk was accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation. To see the slides, please follow along with the full video on YouTube.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: Good afternoon, and welcome to the Carnegie Council lunchtime webinar series. Like many of you, we're working remotely these days, so we're using this time to reach out to our Senior Fellows, friends, and constituents to talk about the important issues in ethics in public life that are at the heart of the Council's work. Thank you all for taking this time to join us.
Today's topic is "Ethical Leadership in Times of Crisis," and our guest today is our good friend, Carnegie Council Senior Fellow Jeff McCausland. Jeff brings a distinct set of skills and experiences to the topic of ethics and leadership, and for me he embodies the topic in both word and deed.
Jeff is a West Point graduate. In his Army career, among his many accomplishments, he commanded a field artillery unit in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and he also served on the National Security Council during the Kosovo crisis. Jeff holds a Ph.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and he has published and lectured widely at the service academies and war colleges as well as at colleges and universities around the world. Jeff is currently a visiting professor at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Some of you may recognize Jeff as a military analyst for CBS News, where he appears frequently as an expert commentator on military affairs.
I'll just mention that I first met Jeff at a conference he hosted many years ago, when he served as the dean of the U.S. Army War College. It was a memorable event in which I was first exposed to the intellectual and moral resources available to us through institutions like the War College and individuals like Jeff, and I have been a student ever since.
Before turning to Jeff, just a word about our format. We have asked Jeff to kick things off with a short presentation. After that, Jeff and I will have a dialogue, and the back half of the program will be interactive, so please use the Chat function to pose questions as we go, and our moderator, Alex Woodson, will read the questions on your behalf when we get to the second half of the program.
So again, thanks all for joining us, and over to you, Jeff.
JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: Thanks very much, Joel, for those very, very kind remarks. I appreciate that very much.
It's really great to be here and to work with Joel and Carnegie. I had forgotten, Joel, exactly when we met, so thanks very much for reminding me of that. I should "back 'atcha" and say that I have been a student of yours and a student of the great efforts by the Carnegie Council for now many, many years, and treasure the fact that you offered me the opportunity to be a Visiting Fellow. Here we have hopefully another opportunity for us to work together.
As Joel said, I'm going to talk to you about this particular crisis and some of the ethical and leadership implications. I should say at the beginning that I have a couple of things I need to get off my chest. As I looked at my calendar, actually at this particular moment I am supposed to be in Honolulu, Hawaii, aboard the USS Arizona, teaching a leadership workshop, so I was going to show up in a Hawaiian shirt, but I decided against that and determined that I would spruce up my appearance, which has deteriorated as some of ours have while working at home, so I did shave and put on a jacket for the first time in several weeks. But I apologize for the fact that I also need a haircut pretty bad.
I am a bit intimidated by the fact that I am following Ted Widmer, who spoke so well last week. Joel put the bar pretty high for me in offering me this opportunity, and I have decided to use a couple of slides to hopefully stimulate your thinking and your eyes as we go along. So let's move on quickly.
It always seems to me when you talk about leading during a crisis you have to think about certain things. I came up with my six Rs as a method to remember them:
- You have to Reassure your team. I think that's very important because they'll be concerned about the organization's safety as well as perhaps their own and their family's,
- You have to React very quickly in making some very, very tough decisions. We all had to do that who run organizations as things shut down about six or seven weeks ago,
- You've got to think about Resilience: How do we bounce back now and in the future?
- Look at your Resources to include the time available,
- Start Relearning and adapting—more on that as we go along,
- And pay close attention to what is really our Reality, and I will touch on that a bit more as we get into it.
I think you have to keep in mind this particular symbol, which I like a lot, which is the Chinese symbol for the word "crisis." What the Chinese do in written language is put together two symbols or more to create a new word. This word for crisis brings together two Chinese symbols. One is danger—that makes sense—and the other one is opportunity.
I think one thing leaders can do is think about it in those terms: What is the opportunity that is here? To quote Rahm Emanuel, former chief of staff to President Obama and former mayor of Chicago, "Never waste a perfectly good crisis."
That's not to underestimate—let's be candid from the onset—the sad amount of death which now has exceeded all of the people who were killed in the Vietnam War as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the serious economic dislocation for the nation as well as for individuals, but I still think if leaders think about the opportunity at hand, this will help them guide themselves into perhaps putting in effect those six Rs I just mentioned.
Historically you might even think about the following:
It's a fact that Sir Isaac Newton did a lot of his best work while quarantined with his family on his farm following a pandemic in Great Britain. He studied gravity and the groundwork for his laws of motion.
And Pushkin in Russia wrote some of his most outstanding masterpieces while in quarantine for a cholera outbreak in 1830. He wrote the last two chapters of his versed novel Eugene Onegin and several short stories, plays, and others.
So I think thinking about a crisis as danger obviously and opportunity is important for leaders.
I want to dispel a notion that I get sometimes by using this quote by John Maxwell, who has written a great deal about leadership. Some people I think have the false belief that there are different aspects or different categories, if you will, of leadership, depending on your profession. There is military leadership, and there is business leadership.
Frankly I think that is false. As Maxwell says so eloquently here: "Leadership is leadership, and leadership principles stand the test of time. They are irrefutable whether you are leading Hebrews in the Old Testament or a current major corporation." I actually discuss that in greater detail in a book that I have coming out later this summer using the Battle of Gettysburg as a case study to learn leadership, and we can talk about that more if you wish during Q&A.
I also think it's important for us to think about the following: How do we define this thing called "leadership?" If we Google the word "leadership," goodness gracious, we would get hundreds if not thousands of different definitions, some long, and some short.
Over my years of working on this, I have decided I like this definition for the following reasons:
1) First of all, as you can see, it's very concise: "Leadership is the ability to decide what has to be done and then get people to want to do it." It's concise,
2) It comes from what I would argue is a pretty doggone good leader, Dwight Eisenhower, a five-star general, commander of the largest military operation—for the United States, at least—in the Second World War, D-Day and the Invasion of Normandy, also the 34th president of the United States. You might not know, but Eisenhower also was an educator. From the time he leaves the Army until he becomes president he will be the president at Columbia University in New York. So it comes from a pretty good leader, I think,
3) Last but not least, I like the last half of this definition, "get people to want to do it," and that is certainly critical in a crisis because you might think, Well, hey, if I'm a five-star general, president of Columbia, president of the United States, all I have to do is give orders, and everybody's going to run off as fast as they can. But what I think Eisenhower is suggesting to us very wisely is that you have to get buy-in from people if you're going to get max performance. You have to get them to buy into the direction that you want to take the organization, again very crucial during the time of a crisis.
I'm going to throw this question out to you real quick and then answer it myself, but is there anything missing from this definition? If Ike was on the call, why would we question his particular definition? And I think we might.
We might ask him the following question: "Were these guys great leaders?" Of course, you see Kim Jong-un; Joseph Stalin; Jim Jones, the religious leader who took people to South America; Adolf Hitler; Osama bin Laden; and the gentleman in the lower right-hand corner is actually Pol Pot. Because if you took the definition, "Decide what has to be done and get people to want to do it," you would have to say, "Hey, all these guys did that."
Did they decide what they thought should be done? They did. Did they get people to want to do it—and in fact in some cases very enthusiastically? They did. Would anybody call them great leaders? I would hope not.
The reason is simply that they are missing that one essential aspect, and that is character or integrity. As you see there, good old Norman Schwarzkopf, who I worked for in the Pentagon and who was the commander during Desert Shield and Desert Storm, said, "Leadership is a combination of strategy and character, but if you must do without one, skip the strategy."
In a talk that Schwarzkopf gave at West Point to cadets shortly after returning from the Gulf War, he talked for only about 20 minutes, and he said to them: "There are two essential characteristics of leadership"—and I think this applies again to any type of organization. The first thing he said was most fundamental was character, because without character there will be no trust. People will not trust you. Therefore, you will not get max performance, they will not necessarily follow you, particularly back to a crisis when things are very difficult.
The second thing he argued for was competence. You have to be competent in what particular field that you are involved in, whether you're a military officer, an educator, or a business leader, because people want the organization to succeed, and therefore you have to understand the particular activity, profession, or business that we're involved in. So character and competence are important.
Again, to stress character, you see on the right where I say that people actually leave, they join a company but they quit because of their boss. Sociologists actually call this "idiosyncratic credits" that you build up. It's a very fancy word I think for trust that you spend during a crisis.
I would even go so far as to say this, using these three people: Leadership at the end of the day is character in action. The immediate test of character, but your credibility is built up over time and low stress, and you spend that during periods of high stress.
A very good friend of mine, a Chinese American educator in New York City, was principal of a Pre-K through 5 elementary school in Lower Manhattan. On September 11, 2001, she had 1,500 kids in the building when the planes struck the World Trade Center, and she spent the next five days in that building until the last child was reunited with a member of the family. Her staff went above and beyond during that time, and I think it's because they had absolute trust and confidence in her built up over 10 years of working together.
Some people use the words "leadership" and "management" interchangeably. I think that's a little bit imprecise. Certainly there is an overlap, but I think they are distinct.
As you can see here, management I think is all about work standards, resource allocation, and organizational design, how you run complex institutions. History of the study of management will take you back to right around the First World War with the creation of an MBA program at Harvard University.
Leadership, as you see on the right there, I think is more about vision, motivation, and that essential element, trust, moving organizations in the future, dealing with change. Both are critical to the success of any organization, and frankly in my work the challenge I find for many leaders, regardless of the area they're working in, is how they find time to think strategically.
This is particularly difficult during a crisis. We are spending so much time taking care of the day-to-day tasks that present themselves to us, we're working long hours, we're very, very busy, but is our being busy necessarily being productive? And we have to spend some time where we step back and think, Okay, we're getting through today, but what does this mean for us a week from now, a month from now, six months from now, and a year from now?
When I worked with General Shinseki a little bit, who was chief of staff of the Army and then former director of the Veterans Administration, Shinseki used to say, "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less." So during a crisis, the leader has to take care of those immediate managerial tasks just to keep the organization going. I had to do it for the small organization I head up, but he or she has to find the time to think about the future.
Let me talk about a couple of these Rs, and then we'll go to a Q&A real quick.
First, I want to talk about is Resilience. How do you bounce back when something adverse happens? I think it has to do with all these things right here: innovation, empowerment, initiative, and accountability. Peter Drucker, a guy who I like a great deal and has written an awful lot about management and leadership of complex organizations and is looked on by many people as really one of the sages of this field of study, particularly in the area of management, defined innovation as "change that brings on a new level of performance." He talked about organizations innovating in terms of three different things: new products, new processes, and new organizational structures.
By default over the last six weeks we have seen organizations innovating, certainly in terms of process as to how they do different things. Restaurants, which were all for sit-down dining, are now doing delivery, organizations that had massive numbers of people working together in offices are now doing it by distance as we're doing right here. Some of this happens almost automatically as organizations adapt. I think the key word here in Resilience is adapt.
I was fortunate before the pandemic in January to go with my youngest son, and we spent two weeks in South America. We spent a week on the Galápagos Islands traveling around the various islands and studying the flora and fauna and learning a lot more about Charles Darwin and his studies way back in the 19th century.
Perhaps one of the most important things that I learned is that Charles Darwin did not say, "Only the strong survive." You may hear that, but to tell you the truth, he never said that. What he said was that those who could adapt to a new environment survived and prospered; those who could adapt, not necessarily the strongest.
I remember examining and being talked to by a naturalist about a small bird who over time developed a longer beak, which as the climate became more arid allowed that particular bird species to gather food from cacti with long spikes because it could get to the actual meat of the plant. So it adapted, even though it was very small, and it consequently endured. So leaders have to think about innovation. That can only occur I would argue if you empower your organization and you encourage initiative, particularly during a crisis.
I've done this a couple of times, and it's always great fun, to stand in front of a corporate group and say, "Let me see a show of hands of all the people here in the room who are totally opposed to initiative and empowerment." Every time I say that, nobody raises their hand. It's amazing.
Then I ask them the second question: "What do you do to create a climate in your organization that encourages innovation and empowerment and initiative?" And everybody is a bit stunned. Well, one thing you have to do I would argue is this: You have to think about accountability. The leader, particularly in a time of difficulty, who wants to unleash innovation, creativity, and initiative in the organization can certainly talk about it all they want to, but people will follow their actions.
As you can see here, "Success has a thousand fathers, but failure is an orphan," and the search for someone to blame is always going to be successful. So at this particular time, it's critical for a leader who is trying to unleash that creativity in their team to do that, while realizing that certain things are not going to go pretty well, and when it goes wrong, what happens? Do I take that particular member of my team out? Do I publicly—by Zoom or however—criticize him? Or do I basically say: "You know, I'm the team leader. That one's on me. I'm a heat shield for the organization"? The leader has to be willing to accept accountability if she or he is going to set off initiative and innovation.
You have to figure out what you're doing and when you should be doing it, and you also have to think as you're perhaps trying to be creative or trying to do new ideas when those ideas aren't working out and shut them down as quickly as possible. It takes a decisive matter of choice and decision making by the leader.
The other R I'm going to talk about is Reality. What is ours? As I like to say, "Denial is not just a river in Egypt."
One of the classic examples of this is by this gentleman here, Admiral James Stockdale. James Stockdale was one of the longest-held prisoners of war in North Vietnam in the infamous "Hanoi Hilton." Later, when he returned to the United States, he became a professor and writer on philosophy at Stanford University, and he talked an awful lot about what became called the "Stockdale Paradox." He said, "What got me through was the following paradox: That I knew they could control everything about what I did—what I wore, what I ate, when I got up, when I went to sleep, when I exercised, when I did not. They had full control over everything that I did except what I thought."
So he said, "What I had to do is retain a faith that: I'm going to prevail in the end. I'm going to get out of this somehow. Regardless of how horrible or difficult this is, I will in fact prevail and maintain that mental attitude, while at the same time confronting the most brutal facts of my current reality, whatever they might be."
He said, "Those who perished or those who didn't make it through prison camp were those who said, 'Okay, well, now it's April, but we're going to be home by Christmas,' and then Christmas would come, and they were still in the prison camp, and that basically destroyed their intellectual support and foundation."
So it's a paradox of absolute ironclad faith—I'm going to get through this—and determination while understanding the most brutal facts of our current reality.
We have to be careful when we think about our reality because too often I find lately that we have a problem which has been described as "motivated reasoning," which is a way of basically challenging the facts. In other words, if facts are presented to us that we find inconvenient or not fitting into our view of the future, we don't sit back and look at those facts logically, we just challenge the facts. This is where emotion is triumphing over logic, and it's really the opposite of critical thinking, when critical thinking is meant for you to look at things critically, dispassionately, and make your particular decision on what you're going to do.
In terms of that reality, I think one has to maintain what I'm calling "realistic optimism." Leadership, at the end of the day, is what I call "background music." Let me give you an historical example.
This is one of the most famous photographs perhaps to come out of the Second World War. This is Dwight Eisenhower, the fifth of June, 1944, somewhere in the South of England. He's talking to this group of paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division. These young men are going to parachute into France in the early morning hours of the sixth of June, 1944. Sadly, a significant number of the young men in that photograph will be dead or wounded within 24 hours or less of this photograph being taken.
I had the chance to talk to that particular guy in the center, Number 23. His name was Wally Strobel. He sadly has passed away. At the time, Wally Strobel was 22 years of age. I asked Wally what was going on there? Certainly Eisenhower spent the day on the fifth of June traveling around, talking to paratroopers, talking to sailors, talking to the guys who were getting into the landing ships, talking to aircraft crews, and the first question of course, when I talked to Wally, as I said, was, "Was he telling you how to do squad tactics, how to read a map, how to jump out of an airplane?"
Obviously not. We're far beyond all that. His mere presence that day in all those locations was to suggest to everybody he could talk to that this is going to work, this very complex operation is going to succeed.
You see there what he said to his staff in March of 1944: "We are going to focus on success. We're not going to focus on this being a failure."
But I went on: "So, tell me, Wally, what actually happened?"
Wally kind of smiled and said, "Well, first of all, you need to know that we were all in Quonset huts, checking our weapons, checking our parachutes. Some guys were reading. Some guys were sleeping. Some guys were gambling. Some guys were writing a letter home. The normal type of things you might assume a young man might be doing at that particular moment. And a guy runs in the Quonset hut and says, 'Hey, General Eisenhower's outside.'
"Truth be told, soldiers could care less about talking to generals. So we basically told that guy where he could go and take General Eisenhower, and they could collectively spend their eternity together. At which point, the guy who had run into the Quonset hut announces: 'Well, you guys don't understand. He's got a dynamite-looking driver.'" So these guys had really come out to see Eisenhower's driver. Her name was Kay Summersby, and she was a female British soldier. They came out to see Kay. They could care less about Eisenhower. Be that as it may, I would still suggest that Eisenhower was there to ride that realistic optimism.
I then went on and asked Wally: "Well, what's Eisenhower saying? Is this one of those 'win one for the Gipper' kind of speeches that you think he might be delivering?"
He said: "Well, no. In reality all Eisenhower had said to me was, 'Son, where are you from?'
"And I said, 'Sir, I'm from Michigan.'
"And he's saying, 'You know, there's great fishing in Michigan.'"
But still I would argue that his mere presence was that desire to be background music, to be optimism.
Strobel told me that as the aircraft he was on was taking off and he could look out of a small window on the side of the plane the last person he saw before the aircraft took off was Dwight Eisenhower watching the planes taking off, standing on the runway.
But Eisenhower maintained that sort of realistic optimism, which all leaders have got to have, optimistic to an extent publicly while at the same time being realistic like Jim Stockdale. And Eisenhower carried in his pocket a memo that he wrote on the fifth of June 1944. In that memo—back to accountability—he said: "The landings on the beaches at Normandy have failed. Everything that I could ask of the soldiers, sailors, and airmen who conducted this operation was done. Any blame for its failure is mine and mine alone." He wrote that and kept it in his wallet, and his enlisted aide found that about four or five months later. As I understand it, you can find that particular document in the National Archives. He was presenting realistic optimism while being willing to be accountable.
That again is not uniquely military. I have seen examples of this in other fields. Two quick examples:
You can look back to the 1992 NCAA East Regional Finals. Duke University is down by 1 point with 2.1 seconds to go to the University of Kentucky. Coach Mike Krzyzewski calls his team to the sidelines, looks at them, and says, "We're going to win this game," and then tells them what they're going to do, and sure enough, Grant Hill threw the ball to Christian Laettner, Laettner drops a two-pointer, and they win the game as the buzzer goes off. Realistic optimism.
Ernest Shackleton, the British Antarctic explorer, as his ship was being crushed by the ice and he realized they were not going to go home in that ship, came into the tent where his men were at, had a cup of tea for each of them, and said: "Well, I guess there's nothing else for us to do. It's just time to go home." And from there they got into a whaleboat and made the perilous journey to escape the Antarctic. Realistic optimism is certainly what we're all about.
I'm going to wrap up here perhaps with this particular picture. I think it's an opportunity for us to rejoice and be a bit optimistic. We cannot obviously ignore the tragedy the pandemic has put on our country and other countries around the world, the death, and the destruction, but at the same time our job as leaders is to keep hope alive, and as Winston Churchill so wisely said, "We haven't come this far because we're all made of sugar candy." We've been through difficult times, certainly in my lifetime and certainly as a nation. We'll get through this.
And don't forget, being optimistic is infectious in an organization. Optimistic people are happier and have less depression, psychologists have proved that. They're healthier. They bounce back from illnesses more quickly. They're seen as better leaders, have stronger relations, perform better under pressure, and are more successful.
So I'm going to wrap up by saying I remain realistically optimistic that we're going to get through this, and I am convinced I will get to Hawaii in the near future and I will get to conduct that workshop that I mentioned at the onset.
With that, Joel, let me stop there, and we'll go to questions.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: Jeff, that was great. I'm going to lead off with a couple of things here. There's so much to pick up on. And thank you for reminding us of our stoic roots and the fact that stoicism is compatible with optimism and even idealism. I really like that.
To start off the conversation, I want to come back to your point about resilience, and this will tap into some of your military history but also political history. It will also bring you back to Hawaii for a second here.
When I think about American military history, I think the United States has a history of getting off to what I would charitably call "slow starts," whether it was Washington in the Revolution, the War of 1812 with the burning of the White House, and the Civil War with Bull Run. With World War I, if you look at the military history, the American entry was not smooth. That brings us up to Pearl Harbor, and we could go on.
But the point is that one reading of the moment we're in now could be—hopefully, we take a hopeful view—that we're off to a slow start and that this is really just the first chapter in dealing with this pandemic.
So the start has been slow. What would you say to that in terms of your own view of leadership and the way forward, whether it's at the national level or at the more local level if you're dealing with the leader of any organization of how to meet this moment?
JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: I think first of all, realistic optimism. The organization, the team, whether it's a nation or the people who work at Carnegie Council, will never be any more optimistic than their leader is. They may get to his or her level of leadership, but they will rarely exceed that.
So if the leader stands up in front of the organization—whichever organization it might be—and goes, "Well, this is already awful, I don't know, we might get through this, and then again we might not, I don't know," don't expect raging optimism to break out throughout the organization. That's just not going to happen.
They need to have a plan. They need to know that you are thinking through how to get from where we are to where we want to be. Here a unity of effort is key, and one thing that worries me—back to that question of managed reality—is that we seem to be breaking down into two extremes, and it's almost becoming an ideological question: If you want to end the quarantining, then you must be an extreme conservative and right-wing and whatever, and if you don't want to end the quarantine, you want people to stay home, then you must be a liberal.
I think we're making a terrible error that our leaders have to correct at all levels. This is not a question of ideology, this is a question of strategy. Everybody wants the same thing. Everybody wants the population to be as safe as they can be, everybody wants the fewest number of people infected, everybody wants the fewest number of people to die.
While at the same time, we have to understand that the economy is very stressed and that there are more and more people—when I read things that one out of five youngsters in the United States is having difficulty finding sufficient food to eat, that families are now in long lines to get free food, people are worried about paying rent, and all that kind of stuff, where is that balance which the leader has to provide by providing a particular strategy?
Back to Pearl Harbor for a minute, because I find that to be such an instructive time. At the start of World War II, to tell us where we've been, the United States has the 17th largest army on the planet; the United States Army is the same size roughly as Portugal's. That's where we start out. And in a period of four years we win the war in Europe and in Japan. That's called resilience.
At Pearl Harbor I always point out to people that every ship in Pearl Harbor that was bombed, severely damaged, or sunk—with the exception of the USS Arizona and the USS Oklahoma; the USS Arizona, of course, we all knew blew up; and a target ship, the USS Utah, which was a target anyway—by 1945 was back in the fight. Every ship was back in the fight. Every Japanese ship that was on the task force that attacked Pearl Harbor by 1945 was at the bottom of the Pacific. That's called bouncing back.
What I think organizations need to learn and learn quickly is to think through assumptions that were valid that are no longer valid. I have tested this on senior naval officers and historians, and so far they have all agreed: If you got all the admirals in the United States Navy together on the morning of December 7, 1941, in Washington for a nice breakfast at the Army-Navy Club or someplace, and the chief of Naval Operations had said to that group of very, very experienced naval officers: "When I say, U.S. Navy, what picture comes to your mind? What's our brand? What's the one thing that epitomizes our brand?" Everybody I have spoken with agrees that they would have thought of the battleship. "The battleship is what we're all about."
At 7:55 in the morning in Honolulu on December 7, 1941, that was true. By 10:00 in the morning on December 7, 1941, that was no longer true. That was no longer true.
Think about it. In April 1942, about five months after Pearl Harbor, what happens? The USS Hornet, an aircraft carrier, launches medium-range Army bombers from its decks to bomb Tokyo. That occurs in April of 1942. That's the Doolittle Raid. Nobody had ever tried to do that or even thought about any possibility of doing that until after Pearl Harbor.
Then in June of 1942 the most important battle, the turning point of the war in the Pacific, occurs, which is the Battle of Midway. In that particular battle, no ship ever gets close enough to shoot at another one. It's simply aircraft carrier against aircraft carrier. The Japanese lose four aircraft carriers, we lose one. Turning point of the war.
I hate to do this as a soldier and say the Navy learned, but in the period of five or six months this is a classic example of an organization going through a crisis. That forces incredible learning and resilience, the creation of new products, processes, and organizational structures, and enhances their resilience.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: Jeff, let me just jump in there too. There's another dimension that you didn't really get into that I think is implied in your formula, which is really listening by the good leader, in terms of what the inputs are. Maybe you could just say a little bit more about that because obviously leadership implies a hierarchical, kind of vertical notion.
But my sense is in listening to you and in reading about it, particularly in terms of the training from the military perspective but also leadership generally, is that listening is such an important part and making sure that the leader is getting the right kind of input.
JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: Yes. Absolutely true.
The one big thing about leading in a crisis when you build up those idiosyncratic credits and trust, what that translates into—I always say in a moment of extreme crisis, "the building's on fire," some light goes on, you can tell who's in charge. It doesn't matter how they're dressed, because everybody will look at them, and all they're waiting to do is listen to, "What do you want me to do?" Because the immediacy of circumstances—"I'm ready to go, I trust you, give me my direction, I'll do it."
But more broadly, as you're working through the second- and third-order effects obviously of a crisis like this, listening becomes critically important, and we forget when we talk about communications that communications includes listening. We often think that communications is me speaking and then waiting for a convenient moment for you to say something, and I wait quietly to respond. No. It's listening.
Again, I'm a student of history. Ted Widmer probably knows this and would be amused that I used it from last week, but Lincoln once said: "There's a reason why God gave us two ears and one mouth. He was trying to tell us something, that we should spend probably as much time listening as we do speaking." I think this is particularly critical if you're going to unleash initiative and innovation within the organization.
I was talking to a corporate leader and a mid-level manager a few weeks ago, and the mid-level manager said, "One of my problems right now is my boss has Zoom meetings, but the Zoom meetings are large, and they're all opportunities for him to tell us what he wants us to do." That's important, and you need to do those recurrently, and it's very important to set up a schedule to do that.
He said: "My problem is I can't get access to him to ask him questions about what I'm doing. I can't walk down the hallway and tap on his door or run into him at the water cooler."
One thing I suggested at a couple of organizations is that now might be the time to create something you, Joel, as an academic will be very familiar with, and that is office hours. Maybe every corporate executive ought to say: "Hey, listen. On Tuesdays from 2:30 to 5:00 I'm accessible. You can call me, you can email, you can do whatever. I'll be doing standard administrative tasks, perhaps reading some emails or reading something, but I'm available to you for you to individually contact me in that period of time," just to keep those lines of communications that you're suggesting open.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: That's great.
Jeff, I'm going to turn it over to Alex. We have a bunch of questions from the chat group. Alex, can you tee those up for Jeff?
ALEX WOODSON: I see a few about Washington, DC. You touched on this a little bit before, but I'll put it very directly. This is from Bill Armbruster. Christopher MacRae also had a similar question: "How would you assess Trump's leadership during the pandemic?"
JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: I would not give the president high marks. I think in one set of remarks they asked him to rate himself on a scale of 1 to 10 and he awarded himself a 10. I wouldn't award him a 10 myself, to say the least. I think what the president has missed out on—not to get terribly political about this—is two of the most important aspects of the office.
One of the most important aspects of the office is that the president is the "great consoler." This is a responsibility that has been thrust upon presidents, and I think several of them have not realized how important this is until they got into office. One needs only think back to recent memory: Bill Clinton perhaps after the Murrah Building was bombed, Reagan after the Challenger exploded, certainly George W. Bush after 9/11, or Barack Obama, who turns up in Charleston, South Carolina, after a white supremacist murders a bunch of people in the middle of a church. They played the very important role of the great consoler with the ability to show empathy to others and to heal what are really national wounds as well as individual or local wounds.
I have not really seen Mr. Trump frankly exhibit that. Perhaps it's just not in his toolset. I don't know. But I have not seem him spend any time talking about the impact of this particular crisis in terms of how it has impacted individuals, in terms of people who have lost loved ones and those loved ones have died alone because you can't even do the thing that everybody wants to do in the final act when you lose a loved one, and that is be physically with them to console them. He seems to spend more time talking about the impact upon the economy, and I fear that may have more to do with his own personal reelection prospects than any real outreach of empathy to the nation.
The second thing is, the president is the "great communicator." He has, as Theodore Roosevelt said, the "bully pulpit." Everybody will pay attention to him. At a time of crisis, this is a moment for the president to use that bully pulpit to be the unifier, to bring the nation together for a common purpose, hopefully a bit of that realistic optimism, and a clear strategy that doesn't make this an either/or proposition.
Sadly, rather than being the great unifier and using that bully pulpit to enhance unity, it seems to me the president has spent more of his time using the bully pulpit—and now all of the other social media devices, Twitter being the classic—to divide the nation and not use that particular power of the presidency to unify us toward a common purpose.
Can one imagine Franklin Roosevelt using a fireside chat to castigate his political enemies as opposed to talking about bringing the nation together for a common purpose for the Depression or for World War II? Obviously not. Can anybody imagine George W. Bush speaking from the Oval Office, as he did so eloquently in the day after the attack on New York City and using that as an opportunity to castigate his political opponents? I can't imagine that.
It seems to me those two things—the role of the great consoler and the role of the great unifier using the bully pulpit—are the things I have found Mr. Trump not doing that I think have been to the detriment of the nation.
ALEX WOODSON: I will go to Erum Sattar now. The question is: "What about truth telling? So much of what we hear from political leaders we know we cannot trust, while we also know that there are plenty who do believe what they hear. Given that the polity feels broken or at least badly fractured, how do we come together and tackle our tremendous challenges?"
JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: That's back to that thing I talked about before in terms of, "Denial is not just a river in Egypt." And we have this problem of managed reality, where people, rather than take what's presented to them and logically analyze it, will immediately attack the facts because the facts don't fit into the reality that I want, and emotion triumphing over logic.
Once again, this is where leaders have got to be the ones to lead the way and demand that we are basing our analysis in fact and not basing our analysis in emotion. Furthermore, what really worries me is that we have kind of accepted a norm that leaders lie and lie regularly.
Have leaders in the past ever lied? Well, sure. No doubt about it. To hold them to an absolute standard where you say well you never lie I think is not a good idea either. When President Obama goes to the White House Correspondents Dinner, I would trust if any news guy had stopped him and stuck a microphone in his face and said, "Mr. President, is it true that a bunch of helicopters are flying to a place called Abbottabad right now to conduct a military operation to capture or kill Osama bin Laden?" that Mr. Obama would have looked that person dead in the eye and say, "That is totally, utterly untrue."
Would he have been lying? Sure he would have. But he was doing it for a matter of national security as opposed to personal gain. It worries me that I see leaders now doing it more and more for personal gain and even doing it on things that are trivial, whether it's their inability to divine truth from fiction or because to admit something shows weakness because they were wrong, whether it's taking a Sharpie and trying to show a map of where a hurricane might go, which is trivial, and why you need to do that is beyond me. But in doing so we slowly but surely, as I think the questioner is pointing out, are sanding away at the credibility and the trust we have in that person.
As I said before, at the onset, I firmly believe—and I would argue with anybody who wants to argue—that the fundamental bedrock of effective leadership is your character and your integrity. From that comes credibility and from trust—"I trust you." But if I can't believe you, if I think everything you say is a lie, then there's no reason I would trust you, and consequently there's no reason I would follow you.
ALEX WOODSON: I have a comment on your answer to the question about Trump. This is from Nancy Jordan: "Thank you for your perspective on Trump's leadership. I highly value it as it provides a wiser approach and alternative to me yelling at my TV." I would agree with that as well.
JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: Quickly, there is a time to yell at the TV. Venting and getting certain emotions out of the body is actually good physiologically.
ALEX WOODSON: This is from Hernan L. Villlagran. He had a couple of questions. I'll try to condense them into one. I think his questions were getting at: How can leaders communicate highly complex situations—scientific information, medical information? How can they connect that to their constituents, maybe at a time like this, during the pandemic?
JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: That's a great question, and obviously it's somewhat subject-specific, depending on the topic.
This kind of goes back to the first question. I think one thing that all effective leaders need to be is self-aware, make an assessment of themselves.
I always tell people: "Don't ever send an email message when you're mad. Don't ever push Send." If you're upset, don't show it in public. As Colin Powell used to say, "Never let them see you sweat." If you get upset, well, you can throw something at your TV. Don't break the TV, it's expensive. Or you can go in your office, close the door, cuss, kick the wastebasket, do whatever you're going to do. But get that out, and then show a face that is calm as you speak to a larger constituency, whether it's just your team or a larger group.
The same goes in trying to convey complex issues. How do you do that? It's really an art form. In many ways you would have to go back perhaps to Ronald Reagan, who many people described as "The Great Communicator," and Reagan really was. One thing he could do was he could communicate very complex topics in a form that the average person understood. He could reach them. It really is a skill. You can surround yourself with great speechwriters—I worked in the White House, and most presidents do that—and depend upon them to help you in conveying those particular topics.
Second, this is a matter of self-awareness and a bit of humility, and humility I think also is a very important leadership trait. What we used to say in the Army is, "Stay in your lane." Don't talk about things if they're complex or technical or scientific that you obviously know very little to nothing about because if you do, you are walking down the path to disaster. That's when you defer to the expert, who is going to explain, "Is this particular drug a good idea, or is drinking Lysol a great idea?"—sorry, but I had to put that in there—because you're out of your lane. There is no leader who is totally conversant on all the topics, particularly ones like we're confronted with now, which have implications of science, etc.
Finally, you have to think through in terms of complexity what are the second- and third-order effects, because there are second- and third-order effects in terms of how you answer one question, which may affect another thing in the area of policy? As a leader, don't forget—as again, we used to say in the Army, and I'll keep using that example—"An officer is always on parade." Everybody is watching what you say.
If you're a national leader, keep in mind that national leaders all around the world are watching what you have to say and taking cues from that, so you need to be very careful when you're talking about things that are complex, that you understand the second- and third-order effects, depend on your expertise, and make sure you do it in a time period where you're calm and collected and can convey that kind of information well.
ALEX WOODSON: This is from Tanya Khokhar. She writes: "I was hoping you could provide a few examples of women as effective leaders. During this crisis we are seeing how women heads of state in countries such as New Zealand and Germany have managed this crisis well. Any thoughts?"
JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: There is a whole bevy of knowledge that says—and I'm not trying to be gratuitous to you, Tanya—that women may make better leaders than men do. If you study—which I'm fascinated by—some of the work by people like Daniel Goleman up at Yale University, who wrote Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, and look at some of the things he has done. If you want a quick summary, just look up Goleman on TED Talks.
The whole characteristic of emotional intelligence, many people now argue, is as important or even perhaps more important to a leader being successful than his or her IQ because it has to do with some of the things I just talked about: self-awareness, the ability to control your emotions, and ability to have empathy, etc.
You took the words out of my mouth. If somebody said to me, "From what you've seen so far, who are the most effective leaders that you have seen in this particular crisis?" Here in the United States I would probably pick a couple of governors, the governors of New York, California, Michigan, and perhaps Ohio would be my candidates at the moment.
Certainly internationally, I would agree with Tanya, I would put Angela Merkel and the prime minister of New Zealand at the very top of the list. They have been very clear, calm, have communicated well, and have tried to unify their countries in a very, very effective fashion.
The other person, oddly enough, that I might add to that list is Queen Elizabeth. If you want to listen to something inspiring, listen to the speech that was taped and sent by Queen Elizabeth to the country about the pandemic. Of course, she can hearken back to the fact that she was a young woman when her father, who was king of England, communicated the same sort of effort to unify the nation at the onset of the Second World War.
ALEX WOODSON: This is from Edward Crook. He writes: "For many companies, innovation (experimentation) is tied to the notion of leaders building safe spaces to fail. How do we reconcile safe spaces to fail with a message of optimism and hope?"
JEFFREY McCAUSLAND: I think he's right. As I said before, it's a matter of accountability, so I have to be willing to be the heat shield for the organization to unlock innovation and move me into the future, and organizations are doing that right now.
I am firmly convinced—sadly—that a number of large organizations and small ones certainly are going to fail over the next several years. When they ultimately go out of existence they will look back to this pandemic as when, if you will, the organization had a heart attack or stroke and has been in steady decline ever since.
Even recent history of big organizations that did not adapt—back to Darwin, again, it's not the strongest that survives, but the ones that adapt survive—have failed to realize the change in the environment and then failed:
Think of Eastman Kodak, who back in the 1990s at a board meeting decided that digital photography was a passing fancy and people would always like film. They're not around anymore.
Think about BlackBerry. They really had the market for cellphones around the year 2000. You don't see Blackberry anymore.
And I'm told—and I was there one time, and it was still there—there is one Blockbuster store still left in the United States. It's in a small town in Oregon.
I was telling Joel the other day that you have to examine the environment and start quickly changing. I was inspired by this the other day, Joel and I were talking about it, so a quick metaphor: My daughter and I were sitting around like most people are one evening, trying to figure out what are we going to do tonight, and we decided we'd watch a movie. So she selected this movie—which I commend to everybody, it's a great flick—called Free Solo about this guy who climbs El Capitan without any ropes. It's a gorgeous film, the scenery's lovely, and it's a great story.
Quickly, what does that have to do with anything? Well, to me that's really what organizations are doing right now. Leaders of organizations are free-soloing. Suddenly this pandemic arrives, which is like this vertical cliff at El Capitan this guy climbed.
What he did was instructive. He spent several years and numerous climbs climbing that cliff over and over, examining the environment he was going to have to go over, every rock, to the point that by the time he climbed the cliff he had memorized every handhold. So he's telling you, you have to react to the environment, you have to learn from the environment and innovate.
Here's the bad news. We don't have eight or nine years. You've got to move on very, very quickly.
I'm going to throw up one more thing if I can. Here's my email address, folks: firstname.lastname@example.org. If anybody was unable to get a question in, send me an email to that email address, and I'll try to answer it.
And that's our new book that's coming out in August. I obviously recommend that to you.
Back over to you, Joel.
JOEL ROSENTHAL: Thank you very much. This is really a message we were hoping to hear, realism, optimism, and not only resilience but the ability to adapt. I think we're all dealing with that now.
I'll just leave the audience with an image that you transmitted to me several years ago, the course that you used to teach on leadership, "Leadership in Four Directions." It's really interesting to think about it in that way, the idea that of course you lead people who are perhaps subordinate in some way but that there are other dimensions to leadership—your peers, but also this idea that you may lead your boss in some way and have some effect in that sense, somebody who may be in some sort of superior position to you or have more power, but you have some influence there.
But then also, crucially one I had never thought of before was to lead yourself and to be thinking in that way. A lot of that wrapped up in this presentation today.
I really want to thank you for that, Jeff, and thanks for being willing to answer questions beyond, so people will be in touch with you by email.
I just want to remind the audience that we have recorded the webinar, so it will be available on the Carnegie Council website. It will also be available on our YouTube channel, and we'll have some clips that you'll be able to refer to and share.
Thanks again, Jeff. Thanks to the audience for joining us, and we'll see you next week.