Policy vs. Character: Who Wins?

driveway2

Years ago I had a driveway issue at my house.  It was cracking and sinking.  A real eye sore.  I knew it was going to be expensive to deal with but it was time.  So I began to gather some bids.  It’s interesting how you go about finding people to do things that you don’t have a lot of knowledge about.  In my case, I just began asking around.  I also leveraged the local chamber of commerce, etc.  I got two or three bids back and leaned into the lowest one.  Although my gut said that it probably wasn’t the best way to go – it was  the cheapest and, in addition, the business owner said he was a Christian.

And how is that relevant?

Well, at that time I was a protestant minister – and he knew that.  He said he wanted to do something nice for the “preacher.”  I appreciated that – obviously.  But by saying he was a Christian I assumed it would be safe to go with him…after all…Christians have a policy that they will work hard and do a good job for their customers — right?  And he was the lowest bid…so…he got the job.

From the start the group that came to do the work seemed a bit unorganized.  I had worked out the details with the guy who took my bid – but the crew that showed up did not seem to have gotten word regarding those details.  Let’s just say some retrofitting had to take place because some tearing out had occurred that wasn’t on the agreed bid list.  The biggest issue came when the crew knocked on my door on a Friday afternoon and asked me to pay them before they were finished.  They promised to finish before the end of the day.  They just didn’t want to wait until the next week to get paid.  So I paid them.

You can see where this is going.

They did get finished…mostly.  But there was some finish work that was not done correctly.  I had to call them back out.  They did patch what was not done correctly…but it looked like a patch in my opinion.  I was disappointed.

Fast forward in time – maybe a year or two – a friend of mine is asking for advice on hiring someone to do some work for him.  He happens to be a Christian.  He tells me that he’s got a bid from another “Christian” guy but it just doesn’t feel right to him.  But he’s struggling because, after all, the guy giving the bid should have a set of principles that support him being able to deliver – right?  I laughed.  I told him that when it comes to choosing people to do work for me – I’ll take character over Christianity any day of the week.

Final story.  I promise.  Several years later my mother calls me.  She is needing some work done on her car.  She says that she has gone to the local yellow pages and found some options.  She is leaning toward one mechanic shop because they post the sign of the “fish” on their ad.  I laughed.  My advice to my mother was to “run”.  I encouraged her to speak to her friends – ask who had done good work for them and treated them right – and go there.  To me, when it came to a mechanic, the reputation of character and good work was much more important than saying that you identified with a set of principles…even Christian principles.

So…why these stories?

In recent days I’ve been hearing a new set of arguments surrounding the presidential election.  Implications of “lack of character” are being leveraged on both sides of the race and, if I might say so, rightly so.  Each candidate has found themselves spinning, justifying or outright lying about past actions.  But emerging from these issues has been an interesting proclamation.

Policy is more important than character.

Really?

I’ve got to tell you – this is a bit of a head scratcher for me.

I’m certainly not saying that policy doesn’t matter.  It does.  Policy is your professed code.  It is the platform upon which you say you stand.  Your policy tells those around you about your world view and about how you will tend to make decisions.  All of us have a form of policy (stated or unstated) – politicians, business people, parents, schools, you name it.  Sometimes we link all or part of our policy to religion (like Christian or Muslim) or organizations (like NRA or NAACP) or political parties (like Republican or Democrat) and more.  In most cases our policy is a variation of many of these things – but in all cases the work of clarifying policy has value.

But character is important too.  Character is how we actually represent ourselves when push comes to shove.  How we really are.  No matter who I say I am….my character tells others who I really am and what I really believe.

Referring back to my earlier stories – please know that it is not my intention to just pick on the Christian faith.  I actually call myself a member of it.  Generally speaking I feel that the policies it espouses have value and I identify with them – at least in how I interpret them.  But if I lie about things on a regular basis – and the Christian faith says that I shouldn’t do that – what does that say about my connection or commitment to my stated policy?

Now – just to be clear – I believe that policy can withstand people of lacking character.  Faiths and governments of all kinds have withstood generations of individuals who have lacked character and yet declared themselves faithful congregants/citizens.

Does that mean that policy wins over character?

It is far from unprecedented how leaders impact how policy is shaped in organizations and societies of all kinds.  In my experience leadership absolutely impacts culture.  More specifically, culture drips from the top down.  Therefore policy, and the tone with which it is carried out (be it home, church, business, government, etc.), is directly connected with the character a key leadership propagates.  Policy follows character.  And no matter what policy a leader identifies themselves with, those policies will be shaped out of that person’s character.

Does that mean that character wins?

I’ll let you be the judge of that.

I offer this parting thought.  I encourage all of us to think harder when it comes to declaring either policy or character is being more important than the other.  Both are intertwined in ways that can’t be undone and to say that one will not be as relevant in how a president leads is wishful thinking.

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Another Leadership Case Study: Pervasive Civic Ignorance

As another case study/interpretation of the current political climate in the USA, and the type of leadership needed to help us make progress in it, I offer the following video.  The video is a response from former Supreme Court Justice David Souter concerning the appropriate role of schools in producing civicly engaged students.  Before you declare this a snoozer…please give it a chance.  You might be surprised.

I find  Souter’s comments particularly curious, in part, because they occurred four years ago.  Just to clarify…it is not my intention to point to or blame any of the current candidates in this sharing.  I’m simply asking…is there any relevance to this?

NOTE:  The entire video is almost 8 minutes.  That’s kind of long…so if you don’t have time to watch the full video, start watching about 3:50 until the end.

DIVIDED: An Open Letter to the Next President – whoever you may be

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Dear President,

We’re divided.  Significantly divided.  I’m talking about us…the American People.  The United States of America.  I’m sure you have gotten this news.  But as one of your constituents I’m making an appeal to you – please take this seriously…very seriously.  More seriously than balancing the budget.  More seriously than foreign wars.  More seriously than immigration.  I can’t think of anything more serious than this issue right now.

This isn’t something that has snuck up on us.  This has been alive for a long time.  I recall many months ago Barrack Obama saying that if there is anything he wished he would have worked harder on in his presidency it was the work of mending the division in our government.  In my opinion – he is right.

If the polls that I’m seeing these days are correct you will have won by the narrowest of margins.  Which means that approximately half of the country did not vote for you.  In addition, I’m guessing that a notable number of those that did vote for you did so only because they felt you were a better option than your opponent – not necessarily because they think you’re a great choice.  Please don’t be lured by the idea that your win means that you now have the larger support of the American people.  You don’t.

I’m begging you to do the work of mending the divide.

This will not be easy work.  Making progress on a polarized democracy is adaptive.  No act of authority is going to get this done.  No amount of heath care.  No amount of tax breaks. No amount of border walls.  It just won’t.  I’m not saying that the issues behind all of these matters are not important.  What I am saying is that the work of developing a trustworthy process among our people to get this work done feels largely abandoned in our current day and will require a different kind of leadership.

I feel quite confident that some of your most loyal supporters will encourage you to take some time to gloat in your victory.  Perhaps they may even vaguely encourage you to lift your middle finger to your opponents with a smug “Gotchya!”  I beg you to resist that.  Victory is a seductive thing.  It can lead you to believe that you have the power to do as you wish.  If you take this path I predict that you will regret it.

Why?

Because these acts further the division and division is a powerfully destructive force.  Just look around you.  It’s everywhere.  But you…you have an opportunity…an opportunity that is arguably among the most challenging of any president in history…to give priority to the work of mending.  No one act will get it done.  Neither can it be executed by simply a well-articulated plan.  It must come with a long term commitment.  It must come with a daily schedule that integrates acts of presidential work that build trust…even among those with whom you vehemently disagree.

The choice is yours to make.  I know that I am only one voice among the throngs who will be vying for your attention but I beg you to give this notion some thought.  It will require a different kind of leadership than what I’ve been seeing on the campaign trail.  It will require thoughtful listening, slowness to anger, curiosity and the valuing of people who you may not have felt value from in the past.  This idea is based in the idea that progress is profoundly more potent when we do it together.  Even more – it is founded in the assumption that progress is not really progress at all when it looks at those around them and basically says, “Screw you.”

I’m not saying that there will not be times when the use of presidential authority will not be necessary.  I’m also not saying that the goal is to not do anything until everyone agrees with you.  I’m just saying that it feels that the work of building a trustworthy process has so been abandoned in our government these days that the sense of “us and them” has become standard operating procedure…and our country is paying the price.

Please.  I beg you.  Work on the divisions – and there are many.  Work on it as if our future depended on it…because I’m beginning to wonder if it really does.

May wisdom and grace be yours in these important days.

Ron Fisher

Citizen, USA

Michael Moore, Glenn Beck and the Importance of Knowing What People are Saying About You

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What an election year.  I don’t know that I’ve seen anything like it.  The entire experience has seemed so unhinged that I’ve struggled to be able to diagnose it.  I’ve struggled to even make an attempt at diagnosing it.  It’s honestly felt like chaos.

Equally perplexing to me is that the voting public seems to have become significantly polarized around the two presidential candidates.  I don’t mean that they have a preference – I mean that they are emotionally invested and it seems to be much more pervasive than I ever remember it.

As I speak with people to try to understand it all, my take is that a notable percentage of those voting for one candidate are basically motivated by a desire to not support the other one.  In other words, in the faction of those voting for Donald – the vote seems to be largely connected with an anti-Obama, anti-establishment leaning.  In the faction of those voting for Hilary – an anti-Donald leaning.

I got a real whack on the side of the head this morning when I happened upon Meet the Press.  This NBC Sunday morning talk show invited Michael Moore and Glenn Beck to speak.  Yes – I said Michael Moore and Glen Beck.  This was too good to miss.  I can’t think of many who represented more of the outer edges of left and right than these two.  I felt confident that I could predict their responses to the current presidential election process.  I was wrong.

When Michael Moore came on he said something that blew me away.  He is apparently predicting a Donald Trump victory.  Yep – that’s what I said.  Not because he wants it – but because of what he views as the response of a disgruntled, unheard faction in America – the struggling, middle class.  He said that this faction doesn’t necessarily view Trump as a great choice for president as much as they view him as a “Molotov cocktail” to throw into the establishment.  My interpretation of Moore’s words is that the middle class is fed up with business as usual and generally feel let down and unheard by the government.  Trump is their attempt at blowing up the establishment.

When Glenn Beck came on I was totally ready for him to bang the Trump bell – but he didn’t.  As a matter of fact he actually fell just short of actual agreement with Michael Moore on his diagnosis.  He shared how the current political state of affairs had left him feeling as if he had no home.  He generally supported the idea that the election had become less about the candidates and more about a pervasive disgruntledness among middle class America.

Wow – this is indeed an intriguing interpretation.  It reminds me of an activity that should be very important among leaders – know what’s happening in the room.  Know what people are saying about you.  Be wise to the multiple interpretations that are brewing below the surface.  You don’t have to agree with them – but you do need to know them and take them seriously.  Because, to those who are feeling them, they ARE serious.  My take on Moore and Beck is that they are agreeing on this point – neither party seems fully awake enough to these interpretations.

Is it possible that a notable number of the votes that both Clinton and Trump are getting are not about them personally?  That both candidates just represent a public reaction to a systemic interpretation?  Trump being the “Molotov cocktail” to the heart of the establishment and Clinton being the establishment?

I’m not asking you to agree with me.  I am asking you to consider this possibility.  I’m not formally polling voters but I am having conversations with my friends and neighbors about this election.  I must say – this interpretation of Beck and Moore is helping me make sense of much of what I’m hearing.  There aren’t many in my pool of acquaintances that fit into the category of great enthusiasm for either of these candidates – but they will vote.  So what will be motivating their decision in the voting booth?  The interpretations of Moore and Beck help me understand a little bit more about that this morning.

My thanks to the far left and the far right for these insights.

Moore Interview:  http://www.nbcnews.com/meet-the-press/video/michael-moore-full-interview-trump-can-win-777547331933

Beck Interview: http://www.nbcnews.com/meet-the-press/video/glenn-beck-full-interview-we-re-losing-ourselves-777549379645