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Sep 26, 2014

An American Addiciton

America's Addiction

By Colin D. Baird

Okay, I admit it, I’m a recovering addict.  No, not like that, I was worse than that, I once was addicted to command and control. Like many other Americans and our government, I too was drawn away from creating a truly meaningful purpose for those who worked with, or for me. Instead, I was attracted by the alluring narcotic of serving myself, and fellow stakeholders while measuring success based largely on my collection of dead presidents on paper. What I was left with was little money, a marriage that needed work, and little to no soul from the experience of trying to control others. I was left pondering: how do I overhaul myself first, and then help American leaders avoid jumping into the same empty pool?

My family, along with the leadership principles of American statistician Dr. W. Edwards Deming, ultimately helped me improve my thinking. They convinced me that I was born with all the influence over my fellow man I would ever have, or need to have. In the eyes of my family and employees whose future interests I currently represented, it was what I did with this intrinsic influence that determined who I had become as a father, husband, and business person. Unfortunately, before my ability to favorably influence others could get better, it had to get worse so I first could reach my ultimate personal tipping point. That tipping point came recently one beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon.

On Father's Day my family and I had headed off to the beach. While we were all waiting at a stop light, standing on the curb was an obviously pregnant mother to be. She had a sign that read "homeless, mother of one with one on the way, everyone needs help once in a while, please help." I turned to my wife, and with my kids within earshot, needlessly made a snide remark about this young person's condition.  It's one that I will never forget, but one that need not be repeated here because of its complete and blatant disregard for my fellow man.

In a surreal moment, another homeless person was walking up the sidewalk towards the mother to be. My silent, but immediate reaction to myself was "oh great, here comes the father." As he proceeded closer to her he was fumbling around looking for change in his trench coat. With impeccable timing, he reached into the pocket containing all his worldly possessions, emptied them into her hand, then crossed quickly in front of my family’s car as he ran to the other side of the intersection. The expectant mom who would never see him again, graciously thanked him and accepted his gifts. As tears began to flow down my face from my sheer remorse from being such a jerk, my young son in the back seat said "you see dad, if I do something good and somebody else does something bad with my something good, it's on them, but if I don't do something good and I could have, it's on me."

This is the type of behavior we must cultivate, one where adults learn how to work with one another with the instincts of innocent children.  Innocent children, who have not yet gone into battle with one another, yet instinctively when given the chance, know how to treat one another with respect, dignity, and honor. We must then nurture and grow these intrinsic qualities further to help each individual develop and continuously improve throughout their entire career. Employees and leaders who see intrinsic motivation as their extrinsic reward, bring forth the tremendous contributions of man that everyone wants to give, but can’t in America because they are so routinely stifled by our current culture. These are contributions where the mind, heart, body, and soul all come together to reward stakeholders, the employees, and society.


Today, family and business ecosystems very much reflect one another in terms of how they behave, and function as an entire system.  Think about their similarity. This concept first appeared in James F. Moore's May/June 1993 Harvard Business Review article, titled "Predators and Prey: A New Ecology of Competition", and won the McKinsey Award for article of the year.


Moore defined "business ecosystem" as:


“An economic community supported by a foundation of interacting organizations and individuals—the organisms of the business world. The economic community produces goods and services of value to customers, who are themselves members of the ecosystem. The member organisms also include suppliers, lead producers, competitors, and other stakeholders. Over time, they coevolve their capabilities and roles, and tend to align themselves with the directions set by one or more central companies. Those companies holding leadership roles may change over time, but the function of ecosystem leader is valued by the community because it enables members to move toward shared visions to align their investments, and to find mutually supportive roles.”



With many of the leadership choices the Chief Executive makes today closely scrutinized by employees, family, friends, and the media, their decisions have a tremendous impact on current and future generations of employees, but their impact can also be used to improve society overall. While mothers and fathers must do their part by keeping the intrinsic motivation of their youth high today, CEO’s are ultimately responsible for raising it to an even higher level tomorrow. As executives increase intrinsic motivation, parents can envision worksites where their children can work in the future as ones of enjoyment rather than ones of abandonment. This new type of out of the box thinking by the CEO can be passed down generation to generation and from leadership team to leadership team. Joy in Work can be brought back to, and remain a uniquely American asset available to all employees, not just a select few.

This is the vision Dr. Deming once had for American leaders that they were largely unwilling to grant, and it’s the one the Japanese were very willing to furnish. This is the leadership transformation Deming knew America had to make sooner or later. Our existing employment culture and history itself has now proven cultural transformation is our future, one way or the other. It solely depends on what we do with it now.