Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Notes on the Passing Strange

A good coach must know how to help a client to read a situation objectively. They he must help him to formulate a plan to deal with the situation, and to put it into action.

Whether the problem concerns personal or professional life, the structure is the same.

You may not be a CEO, but you ought to be the CEO of your own life. And rest assured, if you cannot manage your life, no one is going to want you to manage their company. But if you have no sense of how a CEO functions you will have great difficulty dealing with your everyday life.

Coaching is about leading people to take action. It is not about reading minds, you own or anyone else's. And it is not about gaining a richer fantasy life. If those are your goals, stick with psychotherapy.

An effective coach must first know how to analyze a real-world situation objectively. That means not overlaying it with fantasy, not turning it into a mythic narrative, and not becoming emotionally overwrought.

A coach learns this through experience. But, he or she also learns it by observing and analyzing situations that are in the public domain. Contrary to what therapy seems to imply, there is more to your existence than your private life.

You hone your objective analytic skills by working on those in which you have no direct personal involvement. If you cannot analyze a situation in which you do not have an immediate emotional stake, you will be at a loss when you need to deal with a person problem.

Take the election. Some people have so little interest in politics per se that they have decided to make a public spectacle of their emotional reaction to Sarah Palin.

Theirs is a good example of what not to do. One among many newspaper articles has described their reactions as running the gamut from incandescent anger to visceral hostility to a desire to "vomit with rage."

It is a sad day when political debate has been reduced to a my-paroxysm-is-bigger-than-yours contest. In my view the two clear winners of this contest are Sarah Bernhard and Naomi Wolf. Bernhard wins her award for a torrent of misogynist obscenities that are unfit to link. Wolf wins hers for giving Palin a starring role in her own paranoid delirium.

If this is the way they all deal with problems in their everyday lives, this can only mean that they have overdosed on therapy.

Now, take a step back and look at Bill Clinton's remarks about Palin on The View: "My view is... why... say anything bad about a person. Why don't we like them and celebrate them and be happy for her elevation to the ticket? And just say she was a good choice for him and we disagree with them."

Why, indeed. The answer is not that difficult. Where Bill Clinton speaks from a depth of political experience, the celebrities and attention-seekers have none. Where Bill Clinton would revel in the chance to debate policy, most celebrities do not have either the knowledge or the intelligence to debate anything at all.

I have already blogged about the notion that policy, not personality, will be decisive in the election. Some complementary views have been expressed by Jacob Weisberg and Christopher Hitchens, both on

Weisberg argues more persuasively than I did that winning candidates most often have a clearer message, call it a slogan, that sticks in people's minds and tells the world what they are going to do when in office.

And Hitchens offered a similar point, declaring that with John McCain having a very bad week Obama should be running away with the election. The reason he is not, Hitchens avers, is that he has nothing like a message, he has never stated clearly what his policies will be.

Weisberg and Hitchens explain this differently. Weisberg suggests that it is lack of executive experience. Hitchens believes that Obama does not really want to win the election, because he had never intended to be the candidate.

To know this you would have to be a mind reader, so I prefer Weisberg's explanation.

The fact is, McCain, Obama, and Biden are all legislators. And legislators spend their time trying to get noticed. They do not have to watch what they say because everyone knows that their words do not risk becoming policy.

Last week McCain tried to be decisive about the financial crisis, and he sounded like he was flailing. When you solution to a seized-up credit market is to fire the head of the SEC, it means that you do not understand what is going on. This does not inspire confidence in your leadership.

McCain's flailing undermined him, even while Obama was retreating into gauzy populist platitudes.

Of course, Joe Biden has been the champion of this season's gaffes. This also demonstrates a lack of executive experience. His best was the assertion that when the market crashed in 1929 FDR went on television to address the nation.

Of course, the only candidate who has remained on message is Sarah Palin. Perhaps because she is the only one who has exercised executive authority.

I will mention in passing that understanding leadership does not just matter to executives. Every individual has domains where he or she must exercise leadership. Perhaps it is in organizing a household, perhaps it is in choosing a course of study, perhaps it is in getting a group of friends together to throw a surprise party. And you must know that these are not the times for tirades and tantrums.

As for the policy/leadership question look at the debate surrounding the Paulson bailout plan.. Let us stipulate that I do not understand very much, if anything, about the financial system, and so will nor presume to offer an opinion about whether the plan is good, bad, or indifferent.

One thing I will say: it is clear, concise, and to the point. It requires exactly one and a half pages. It is an action plan. It represents an effort to do something, not everything.

That was, until it hit Congress. There it looks as though our Solons are engaged in public posturing. One day Chris Dodd says the plan is unacceptable, and then, the next morning Charles Schumer says that it will likely pass Congress.

The great thing is that Congress-- on a bipartisan basis-- has introduced layers of nuance and obscurity, thereby confusing the markets.

What they should do is heed the advice offered by Franklin Roosevelt in May, 1932-- that is, before his nomination, before the election, and before the invention of television. Speaking in Georgia FDR said this: "The country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly, and try another. But, above all, try something."

No comments: