Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

It Is Time

Monday, November 5th, 2018

This is not a piece about insurance or health care. It won’t make the cut for Health Wonk Review and it will probably cost us readers (Well, 15 years has been a pretty good run). What this piece is is one that addresses the health of our nation.

Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released a chart showing gains in productivity and hourly wages from Q3 2017 to Q3 2018. It looks remarkably similar to the chart BLS released at the end of Q2. Impressive Productivity and Output gains in both quarters. And, if you didn’t know better, you’d think Hourly Compensation is rising pretty well, too.

However, look to the far right of both charts to see the change in Real Hourly Wages, which are wages after inflation is factored in. The Trump administration and most of the press have trumpeted (pun intended) the nominal wage increase of 2.8% for Nonfarm Business and 2.2% for Manufacturing in Q3, 3.2% and 2.5%, respectively, in Q2, without saying a thing about the negligible, and in some cases decreasing, Real Wages.

Real Wages for Nonfarm Business during this one-year period (Q3 to Q3) are up a measly 0.1%, after rising an anemic 0.5% in Q2; Manufacturing Real Wages in Q3 are actually down 0.4% after being down 0.2% in Q2. And this is not a new phenomenon. In the 40 years since 1979, Real Wages for hourly and non-supervisory workers have increased by a total of only 4.5%. During that same period, the CPI has risen 247.7%.

These are not “alternative facts.”

Since the day Donald Trump and his cronies got the keys to the kingdom, Real Wages per week have risen from $349 to $351 in constant 1982-1984 dollars. Two bucks! For the mathematically inclined among you, that’s an increase of 0.005%. During the same period, the Dow Jones average has grown 20.9%, and that counts the recent decline. I like the stock market as well as the next guy, but barely one-third of families in the bottom 50% of earners own stocks, according to the Federal Reserve. The fact is, lower-income Americans don’t have extra money to put into stocks, and a third of workers don’t have access to a 401(k) or another retirement plan, according to Pew.

The facts make clear that since Republicans took control of everything, the economic gains  have gone to the top earners. Folks in the middle and lower end have, to a large degree, been left by the wayside. Inequality reigns supreme. It is beyond baffling that these people who continue to get the smelly end of the stick resolutely remain, seemingly unperturbed, in the center of Mr. Trump’s base. Look at the enthused, smiling faces at his rallies. Sociologists have written about this, but I have yet to see anything that explains it fully.

Regardless, tomorrow is Election Day. Many of us have already voted. Many more will exercise the option tomorrow. Predictions call for a large turnout, large being defined, God help us, as perhaps a little more than half. I’m now in my eighth decade, and I cannot recall a more consequential election.

Many Americans (as well as some of my friends) are highly satisfied with the tax law changes, the rise in the stock market and the new makeup of the Supreme Court. In exchange for those they allow, without condemnation, the bullying behavior, the constant hyperbole, the ad hominem attacks and the non-stop lying.

It is time for the better angels of our nature to rise to the challenge. It is time to demand decency, and it is time to reject the abject vulgarity that oozes from the awesome edifice where John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln once lived and guided the nation. It is time to raise up America to its true potential. It is time for America to become once again the world’s beacon of hope. Maybe tomorrow America will say, “It is time.” To quote John Milton, “Hope springs eternal.”

Perhaps it is fitting to end this non-insurance piece with the words John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail at the end of his first day residing in the yet-to-be-completed new White House in 1800. Franklin Roosevelt had the words engraved onto the mantel of the White House State Dining Room in 1945. Adams wrote, “May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.” I wonder if the current occupant has ever seen those words.

On Empathy And Thoughtful Leadership

Thursday, May 10th, 2018

In his May 1 column for Risk & Insurance, Roberto Ceniceros, evoking the memory of Abraham Lincoln, describes and recommends a leadership style radically different from that of the tweet-driven current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Like Mr. Trump, Lincoln had quite a temper. However, over the course of his life he came to recognize it as a weakness. In many cases, when someone caused his blood to boil, which happened frequently during the Civil War, rather than immediately lashing out, he would often withdraw and write a letter to the offending party detailing in stark terms his great disappointment. He would then put the letter in a desk drawer and more often than not never send it. This mental health exercise would calm him and allow him to deal with the issue in a more thoughtful manner.

in his column, Mr. Ceniceros suggests Lincoln’s method defines a highly self-aware and empathic person. He writes that this behavioral characteristic was shared by four other historical figures described in “Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times,” written by Harvard Business School historian Nancy Koehn.

As described by Mr. Ceniceros, Keohn’s book:

…includes the story of Ernest Shackleton, hailed in previous business-management books for leading his shipwrecked and isolated crew off Antarctic ice flows. The other biographies feature abolitionist Frederick Douglass; Dietrich Bonhoeffer, imprisoned by the Gestapo and murdered for opposing the Third Reich; and scientist and author Rachel Carson, who raced against cancer to finish her manuscript on the dangers of mass pesticide use.

All five of these courageous people overcame nearly impossible challenges, but Shackleton, who simply refused to let anyone under his commend die on their perilous journey, and Lincoln, who simply refused to let the Union die on his watch, embody an empathy of heroic proportion.

Another person who should be included in this group is Ulysses S. Grant, 18th president of the United States. Grant was a great leader, but a total disaster as an administrator, primarily because of his trustful nature. His presidency is historically noted for profound corruption and scandals. In private life he failed miserably, both before the war and after it. In 1884, after his final business venture left him penniless, he contracted terminal cancer. His friend, Mark Twain, suggested Grant write his autobiography, which Twain would publish, giving Grant extremely favorable royalties (30%). Faced with impending death, Grant simply refused to die and leave his family in abject poverty. He raced to complete the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, an autobiography Twain described this way:

I had been comparing the memoirs with Caesar‘s Commentaries. …I was able to say in all sincerity, that the same high merits distinguished both books—clarity of statement, directness, simplicity, unpretentiousness, manifest truthfulness, fairness and justice toward friend and foe alike, soldierly candor and frankness, and soldierly avoidance of flowery speech. I placed the two books side by side upon the same high level, and I still think that they belonged there.

Grant died five days after finishing the book. His heirs received royalties of about $450,000, which, in today’s currency, comes to about $12 million.

 

 

Lincoln, with his letters, Shackleton, his loyalty, and Grant, with an indomitable will to provide for his family, personify dedication to others on an heroic scale. Roberto Ceniceros’s column is a poignant reminder that character matters, that a forceful personality can be used for good or ill, that humility is the foundation of empathy.

Donald Trump should start writing letters.