This Is What a Leadership Failure Looks Like

Lance Communication, Leadership Comments

Reading Time: 17 minutes

Reader note: This isn’t political. At least, not in the mode of the Red vs Blue tribalism that seems to infect almost everything anymore. But, if politics is the lens through which you view most things in the news and culture, then this will certainly feel political. If that is the case, please keep in mind that is not the intent of this post. Rather, the purpose here is to discuss the effects of superior leadership at critical moments in which the political actors and situation are merely the source material for that discussion.

Also, this is the longest post I’ve written here to date. I know such a warning runs the risk of scaring you away from reading, but I think it only fair to let you know. Hopefully, you will find this a worthwhile use of your time. One of these days, I’ll get back to writing smaller, easier-to-digest posts. Today is just not that day.

Being a leader isn’t the same as being the Team Captain who stands at the head of the line of like-minded mates who are all pursuing the same goal. That is where the privileges of being the Leader may lie, but not the work. The work of leadership is in the persuading those who aren’t already on board to set their disagreements, misgivings, and even mistrust aside and join the effort to pursue the team’s goal. In those moments, leaders dig in their heels and rise to the occasion, confronting the forces of chaos that threaten to pull the team apart and wrestle those forces into submission. When leaders do this, they create inflection points, thereby changing the course of destiny by sheer force of will, exertion of effort, and wielding of skill. This is what leadership is and what leadership does.

In his leadership masterpiece Good to Great, Jim Collins‘ entire focus was studying the inflection points that defined how a good company suddenly separated itself from a similarly situated competitor and became great, thereafter sustaining excellence over an extended period of time. The conclusion of Collins’ research — which he was adamant applied to any organization, and not just for-profit corporate structures in the business world — was simple: The soil from which that destiny-changing course alteration grew according was an extraordinary level of leadership.

At times, events can have an inertia of their own, just like every physical object in the universe. Like a modern airliner set on autopilot, events have the thrust of historical forces behind them and a heading where those forces will ultimately end up if no extraordinary intervention occurs before then. Here are two historical examples to illustrate this concept in real terms:

1. Lt. General Matthew Ridgway Takes Command in Korea – December, 19501

On Christmas Eve of 1950, Lt. General Matthew Ridgway (above, left) landed in South Korea to take command of a situation that was dire. General Douglas MacArthur had ordered Ridgway to leave his Pentagon desk job2 and assume command of the 8th Army in Korea after its commander, Lt. Gen. Walton Walker, had died two days earlier in a jeep accident. In reality, the expectations of Ridgway were pretty simple and hardly ambitious: lead the 8th Army and other United Nations forces in a retreat while inflicting as much damage as possible on the advancing Chinese forces.3

What Ridgway found when he arrived in Korea was an exhausted and demoralized force that half expected “to be pushed into the sea.” But, instead of leading a retreat, Ridgway climbed in a jeep and drove along the front lines, visiting his soldiers and learning what they were suffering the most: lack of hot food, nothing with which to write home, and freezing hands. Fixing these problems were among Ridgway’s first acts as commander: “he ordered an immediate remedy for the situation, with field kitchens to be moved forward to provide plenty of hot food, stationary flown in by helicopter, and a large supply of gloves for their hands.”

These were more than simple acts of compassionate leadership. They were tangible evidence to the men on the front lines of the 8th Army that Lt. Gen. Ridgway understood what they were going through and cared about their circumstances. The sight of Ridgway regularly riding in a topless jeep at the front, “sharing the snow, sleet, mud and freezing cold with them,” produced a profound psychological and morale effect. This change, forged through the application of Ridgway’s leadership, turned a demoralized and retreating army into a fighting force capable of going on the attack. By mid-March, 1951, those same troops — who had been despirited with “bugout fever” in December — had rallied under Ridgway’s leadership and succeeded in retaking Seoul, pushing the Chinese Communist forces back across the 38th parallel and into North Korea for good. Of Ridgway’s work in Korea, General Omar Bradley had this to say:

It is not often in wartime that a single battlefield commander can make a decisive difference. But in Korea, Ridgway could prove to be the exception. His brilliant, driving, uncompromising leadership would turn the tide of battle like no other general in our military history.”

Without a leader like Lt. Gen. Matthew Ridgway to seize the moment and create this inflection point, the historical forces of inertia would’ve continued apace. Here are just a few things that would not exist today had that been allowed to happen:

2. The Cuban Missile Crisis – October, 19624

“The Loneliest Job” – photo of President John Kennedy in the Oval Office by George Tames

On October 14-15, 1962, an American U2 spy plane flew high over Cuba and captured photographic evidence that the Soviet Union was in the process of installing nuclear-capable missiles on Cuba. The photos captured by that U2 flight were shared with President Kennedy on the morning of October 16, confirming the threat of nuclear missiles 90 miles off the coast of Florida with the ability to hit nearly every major population center in America within a matter of minutes. The “13 Days” of the Cuban Missile Crisis were underway — the most dangerous series of days humanity has ever experienced since time itself began.

Yet, even before that clock started ticking, there were forces already at work whose inertia would carry the US, the Soviet Union, and the rest of humanity over the edge into the abyss of cataclysmic self-destruction if left unchecked:

  • the natural progression arc of new weapons technology and its use5;
  • the fear (and political bludgeon) that Jack Kennedy was “soft on communism” just like his father, Joe Kennedy (who had proclaimed the Cold War to be “politically and morally bankrupt”);
  • the failed “Bay of Pigs” fiasco in April, 1961, which not only exposed President Kennedy as potentially in over his head, but also illustrated in blood the perils of half-measures when it comes to matters of war;
  • the public humiliation of President Kennedy by Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschchev two months later over the issue of Berlin during their summit in Vienna in June, 1961;
  • the upcoming mid-term Congressional election of November, 1962;
  • the public allegations made by political rival Senator Kenneth Keating (R-NY) in August, 1962, that the Soviets were moving missiles into Cuba … and challenging President Kennedy to do something about it.6

While these dynamics were playing inside Kennedy’s head as he tried to figure out how to respond, they also were undoubtedly at work in the heads of those advising Kennedy that a forceful military response against Cuba was the only answer. One the those heads belonged to General Curtis LeMay, the aggressive head of the Air Force’s Strategic Air Command and commander of America’s nuclear forces. General LeMay had invented the tactic of firebombing the Japanese population centers during WWII and believed a global thermonuclear war could be won if executed correctly.

On October 19th, during a meeting between the President and the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the White House, General LeMay pressed the case for an all-out military assault on Cuba, using the shame of Joseph Kennedy’s appeasement towards the Nazi’s to try to goad JFK into action:

GENERAL LEMAY: Now, as for the Berlin situation, I don’t share your view that if we knock off Cuba, they’re going to knock off Berlin. We’ve got the Berlin problem staring us in the face anyway. If we don’t do anything to Cuba, then they’re going to push on Berlin and push real hard because they’ve got us on the run. If we take military action against Cuba, then I think that …

PRESIDENT KENNEDY: What do you think their reprisal would be?

GENERAL LEMAY: I don’t think they’re going to make any reprisal if we tell them that the Berlin situation is just like it’s always been. If they make a move we’re going to fight. Now I don’t think this changes the Berlin situation at all, except you’ve got to make one more statement on it.

So, I see no other solution. This blockade and political action, I see leading into war. I don’t see any other solution for it. It will lead right into war. This is almost as bad as the appeasement at Munich.


Because if this [unclear] blockade comes along, their MiGs are going to fly. The IL-28s are going to fly against us. And we’re just going to gradually drift into a war under conditions that are at great disadvantage to us, with missiles staring us in the face, that can knock out our airfields in the southeastern portion [of the United States]. And if they use nuclear weapons, it’s the population down there. We just drift into a war under conditions that we don’t like. I just don’t see any other solution except direct military intervention … right now.

Despite all of these pressures pushing Kennedy towards actions that would’ve carried the world into the nightmare of nuclear war, the President found his footing and stood firm: the response would be a blockade, coupled with diplomatic pressure.

Kennedy’s commitment to this strategy was tested to the limit on “Black Saturday,” October 27th: while one American U2 was being shot down by the Soviets over Cuba, killing its pilot, Major Rudolf Anderson, another U2 piloted by Captain Charles Maultsby had mistakenly wandered off-course and spent over 70 minutes flying over Soviet airspace.

President Kennedy had every reason to overreact behind him, and multiple opportunities to justify issuing the order that would very quickly snowball into World War III in front of him. As author Michael Dobbs makes clear, Kennedy was consciously aware of the historical gravity of the moment, and wrestled with how history would judge his handling of it. By virtue of this long-term perspective, Jack Kennedy ignored the inertia of the moment and created an inflection point in history, steering the world away from bombing itself “back to the stone age” as General LeMay was known to say.

Because of the leadership that bent the course of history during those 13 days in October, 1962, this is not how New York looks today:

Which brings us to the events of the past week.

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Of course, this was not the first time KKK members, Neo-Nazis, and other believers in white racial superiority have gotten a permit to hold a public rally and exercise their First Amendment rights to assemble and speak. Nothing new there. However, it would be the first time for such a public spectacle in the midst of the political/cultural/sociological undercurrents of this particular moment in US history. Just as was the case with Kennedy in 1962, last weekend’s flashpoint set of events have preexisting but interrelated contextual currents flowing behind them:

  • the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement in reaction to a series of fatal encounters between law enforcement and young black men;
  • the rise of a new breed of American left wing protest movements — from Occupy Wall Street to Antifa — whose activities have increasingly become less protest speech and more violent, destructive action;
  • the coalescing of ardent support of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign under the banner of the “Alt-Right,” a term loosely connecting a hodgepodge of groups, ranging from disaffected conservatives to muckraking meme-makers to “natural conservatives” focused on white identity politics … all the way over to virulent racists, neo-Nazis, and self-proclaimed “1488ers”;
  • the belief that Trump obliquely courted the support of white nationalists through Trump’s prodigious use of his massive Twitter platform over the course of his successful presidential campaign — whether this belief is actually true or not, it is simultaneously held by both Trump’s critics as well as the voices of the white nationalist strain within the Alt-Right. As a result, the belief is itself a contextual force with its own inertia irrespective of it’s validity;
  • the anti-semitic harassment of conservatives critical of Donald Trump by the Alt Right and the racial undertones of their favorite slur against Trump’s critics: “cuckservative”;
  • the loud and unambiguous accusations that Donald Trump is an actual racist. (Again, the presence of this as a historical force is completely separate from whether it is true or not.)

It is among these currents that the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, took place. It is among these currents that the march by torch-light on Friday night, August 11, mimicked the aura of the Third Reich by evoking the imagery of its torch-lit parades of Stormtroopers. One of these currents — the increasingly violent Antifa movement — collided with this event in real time on Saturday, before the official events and speakers of the day could even begin. And, it is among these currents that an Alt-Right proponent of white nationalism drove his car into a crowd of counter protesters opposing the “Unite the Right” message of white nationalism, killing one and injuring 19 others.

Suddenly, this was not just another public KKK rally to be tolerated, maybe even protested, but then forgotten. A neo-Nazi murdered a woman for the crime of voicing her opposition to the idea of white racial superiority. This wasn’t a clash with the violent Antifa group that just got out of hand. To be sure, those had happened aplenty earlier in the day. But, when James Fields aimed his Dodge Challenger down the narrow street and mashed the accelerator, it wasn’t the violent black-clad, mask-wearing Antifa he was aiming at.

With all of these factors in motion, the historical inertia of this awful moment is clear: towards a deepening of the rift among Americans, with its ultimate destination being an eruption of violence that could well usher in a Second Civil War.7

It was into this moment full of inertia and pregnant with both risk and opportunity that President Trump stepped before the cameras last Saturday. The original plan for his remarks was to comment on the work done to address the many failings of the Veterans Administration. Instead, flanked by a handful of American Veterans there for the occasion, the news of the day demanded that President Trump issue his reaction to the events in Charlottesville.

For a leader to bend history, fortune favors the bold over fearful political calculation. For example, as President Kennedy faced those dangerous days in October, 1962, the political calculations all pointed in the direction of —

  • not looking weak compared to Khrushchev,
  • not taking a half-measure when using military force, and
  • not giving the Soviets anything as an inducement for removing their missiles from Cuba.8

As a result, JFK had to run a massive political risk in order to take the steps necessary to turn that moment into an inflection point and avoid the unthinkable which appeared to be inevitable.

On the other hand, the political risk President Trump would have to run to take a narrative-changing stand last Saturday was remarkably less. By employing his usual blunt and bruising rhetorical style, President Trump brought the full weight of the “bully pulpit” of the Presidency to the task of halting history’s inertia and forcing it into a new direction through the power of these words:

Ladies and Gentleman, before I get started discussing the great work that has been done to help our wonderful Veterans — truly great people, our Veterans — there is something else I must address first, unfortunately.

Earlier today in Charlottesville, Virginia, a terrible tragedy occurred as a lovely young woman was murdered and 19 other Americans were injured when a dumb coward drove his car into a crowd of people like we have seen in Europe so many times. I say a coward because that’s what he is. Using a car like a weapon like that an act of total weakness. Very terrible.

For sometime now, people who have supported me have been lied about by those on the left and in the dishonest media as being racists and bigots. This has been extremely unfair to a great many of honest, hard working Americans who supported my campaign as a way to have their voices heard. These people are very good people, and it’s sad how they’ve been unfairly treated.

But, let me make something perfectly clear: the losers we all saw parading around in Charlottesville last night and again today, chanting the ugliest, most despicable things about Jews and Nazi slogans — these people with their Nazi flags and their KKK outfits: they’re total losers. They’re just full of hate and have nothing positive to add to the conversation about how to make America great again. They may say they support me, but I don’t support them. They’re totally wrong, and I’m here to make sure they know it, and the rest of America knows it.

I mean, it’s very telling that these goofy people are marching around a town as beautiful as Charlottesville — a really beautiful place. Really. Thomas Jefferson’s home is there. Just a great place in America. But it’s just sad how these dopey losers are goose-stepping all over Charlottesville carrying the flags of the sides that lost two pretty big wars that we in America won. I mean, we literally fought two wars to defeat the evil of racism, and yet here these stupid thugs are, proudly flying the Swaztika and the Rebel flags.

Of course, I know there are many good and decent people who view the Confederate flag and statues of Robert E. Lee and others as pieces of southern history, and not necessarily symbols of hateful racism. I get that, and that’s a discussion we can and should have. But not today. Because today, we all know what was in the hearts of the people flying those flags in Charlottesville, and it wasn’t southern hospitality and history. These jokers made it plain as day by their words, their chants and their Hitler salutes: they think a white America is the best America, and to them I say … <leans into the microphone> WRONG.

The hate and the division must stop, and it must stop right now. We have to come together as Americans with love for our nation and true affection — and really I say this so strongly — true affection for each other. Above all else we must remember this truth: no matter our color, creed, religion, or political party, we are all Americans first. We love our country, we love our God, we love our flag, we’re proud of our country, we’re proud of who we are.

Of course, President Trump said none of these things.9

As has been noted by many, taking a firm stand against the KKK and Nazism is the easiest thing for any American politician on any level in either party to do successfully. It is, quite literally, what the captain of America is expected to do.

Mom, baseball, apple pie … and Cap fighting Nazis. #Merica

Even in the risk-averse world of modern American politics, this is the true “just leave your putter in the bag and pick it up” gimme putt — almost impossible to miss no matter how you approach it.


That is, until President Trump stepped up to the podium at his Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, NJ, and swung his rhetorical putter:

We’re closely following the terrible events unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia. We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence that’s on many sides. On many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama, it’s been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America. What is vital now is the swift restoration of law and order, and the protection of innocent lives. No citizen should ever fear for their safety and security in our society. And no child should ever be afraid to go outside and play, or be with their parents, and have a good time.

I just go off the phone with the governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, and we agreed that the hate and the division must stop. And must stop right now. We have to come together as Americans with love for our nation and true affection — and really I say this so strongly — true affection for each other.

Our country is doing very well in so many ways, we have record, just absolute record employment, we have unemployment at the lowest it’s been in almost 17 years. We have companies pouring into our country, Foxcon and car companies, and so many others, they are coming back to our country. We’re renegotiating trade deals to make them great for our country, and great for the American worker. We have so many great things happening in our country, so when I watch Charlottesville, to me, it’s very, very sad.

I want to salute the great work of the state and local police in Virginia. Incredible people, law enforcement, incredible people. And also the National Guard, they’ve really been working smart and working hard. They’ve been doing a terrific job. Federal authorities are also providing tremendous support to the governor, he thanked me for that. We are here to provide any other assistance is needed. We are ready, willing, and able.

Above all else we must remember this truth: no matter our color, creed, religion, or political party, we are all Americans first. We love our country, we love our God, we love our flag, we’re proud of our country, we’re proud of who we are. So we want to get the situation straightened out in Charlottesville, and we want to study it. And we want to see what we are doing wrong as a country where things like this can happen.

My administration is restoring the sacred bonds of loyalty between this nation and its citizens, but our citizens must also restore the bonds of trust and loyalty between one another. We must love each other, respect each other, and cherish our history an our future together. So important. We have to respect each other, ideally we have to love each other.

And with that, in less than four short minutes and with less than 500 words, President Trump stepped out of the way and let the inertia of the destructive forces discussed above barrel past him without meaningful interference. The moment had passed for leadership to grab history by its horns, wrestle it to its knees, and create an inflection point towards a new direction.

To be clear: this is not to say that the President’s statement was bad in the sentiments it expressed — unity; love, respect and loyalty to our country and to our fellow countrymen; the long-running history of hatred and bigotry; the condemnation of violence; and yes, even the much-derided notion that political violence is a real concern from the far sides of both ends of the political spectrum. Expressing these noble aspirations and frank realities is not bad at all.

Unfortunately, it was a small statement ill-fitted for the gravity of the moment. With all of the currents running around issues of race and violence and President Trump’s campaign and his still young presidency, this simply wasn’t a moment for an above-the-fray, “many sides” are to blame posture for the country’s leader to take. There have been many opportunities to talk about the violence of the leftwing Antifa movement, and there will likely be many more to come, sadly. What made Charlottesville tragically unique — and the potential to become an inflection point of lasting importance — wasn’t that it was another episode of a Jets-vs-Sharks-style rumble between right-wing racists and left-wing communists.

In fact, President Trump’s words were so generic that if you listened to them and hadn’t yet seen the news, you wouldn’t have any idea what had happened. You’d be forgiven for thinking a young child had been murdered in front of her parents while playing in her front yard rather than that a white supremacist had deliberately used an increasingly popular ISIS-inspired terrorism tactic to try to murder dozens of Americans protesting racism. The President’s Saturday statement about Charlottesville gave far more attention to totally irrelevant topics like unemployment, the economy, and foreign trade than the crime for which he was there to discuss. Conspicuously absent were any words at all about —

  • the KKK, neo-Nazis, and other strains of white supremacy on display beneath their chants of “Blood and Soil!” and “Jews will not replace us!” which animated James Fields’ actions;
  • the fact someone had died — much less was deliberately murdered — and that she was a 32-year-old paralegal named Heather Heyer;
  • that 19 other people were injured while protesting against the hateful ideologies that animated the vanquished sides of both World War II and our own Civil War.

While much of the criticism centered on whether Trump’s generic words served as encouragement for radical elements of the Alt-Right, the bigger leadership miss was in the failure to speak directly to the fears of those who see the KKK and fear lynchings … or who see Nazis saluting by torchlight and fear gas chambers. While these people probably don’t support Donald Trump as President, they are nevertheless still Americans, and that alone makes them worthy of his empathy and leadership.

In the days that followed, the White House was hounded with questions about Trump’s statement, prompting him to issue a second statement on Monday. While this statement was very direct, calling out “the KKK, neo Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans,” it didn’t matter. The moment to redirect the inertia of this horrible set of events had passed on Saturday. Monday’s statement was dismissed as an insincere reading of a teleprompter script, delivered under duress due to the intense political pressure. And then, Wednesday came, and whatever help Monday’s statement did was washed away thanks to a free-wheeling, off-script and combative Q&A session with the press in the lobby of Trump Tower:


After that performance, there can be little doubt that the destructive currents that preceded the ugliness of Charlottesville were strengthened. The people who see President Trump and his administration as being too comfortable with the racially-focused bigotry of the Alt-Right are even more convinced of this view. On the other end of the spectrum, the white nationalists of the Alt-Right interpreted the week in much the same way.

People often quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in saying “The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.”10 But that’s not quite right. The “arc of history” doesn’t bend itself. It is bent by the choices of the men and women who in the great moments of history, grab its arc and force it in a new direction. It is bent by those who step forward and lead.

The value of having an experienced and capable pilot on the flight deck of a modern airliner is not for the periods of placid cruising at altitude, or even the routine takeoffs and landings.11 Where the pilot’s expertise really counts is in the moments of unexpected emergency, mounting stress and grave danger. Strong and capable Captains are needed the most when unplanned scenarios suddenly become undeniable reality, and the only way to turn the freezing river filling up the windscreen into a safe landing strip rather than a frigid tomb for the passengers entrusted to the pilot’s care is to pull off a piloting miracle.

The value of having experienced and capable leaders is much the same. By this measure of leadership, President Trump has proved himself this week to be not up to the task. Here’s hoping that changes soon.


The 2 Insights That Led Me To My Radical Career Change

Lance Fear, Forbes, Ideas Comments

Reading Time: 1 minute

Much has been written about today’s Millennial workers who enter their professional career expecting to change jobs and even professions multiple times throughout their working years. From this perspective, more than a few years in the same role feels like stagnation, or even punishment. The opportunity to make a drastic career change doesn’t feel so daunting if you expected to do it in the first place.

But, what if you’re not a Millennial who’s quite comfortable in an environment of rapid change? What if, like me, you looked to your professional career as a safe harbor of stability rather than a multi-chaptered book of adventure? When an opportunity to change presents itself, even the most promising chance of a great outcome can feel like Thelma & Louise moment. How can a person with this mindset navigate the fears and uncertainties in order to embrace the adventure of change?

Continue reading at …

Paying Hubris’ Fare at Uber

Lance Accountability, Integrity, Leadership, People Comments

Reading Time: 3 minutes

This morning brought the news that Travis Kalanick has succumbed to investor pressure and resigned his post as CEO of the company he founded, Uber. According to the New York Times, five investors who control more than 25% of Uber’s stock and hold approximately 40% of its voting power issued the resignation demand to Kalanick by way of letter yesterday. This news is hardly surprising, given the PR nightmare that Uber has been driving around with for the past six months. As detailed by Bloomberg News:

In December, Uber pulled its self-driving cars off the road in San Francisco after the California Department of Motor Vehicles said they were operating illegally without an autonomous vehicle license. In January, more than 200,000 people uninstalled their accounts, and #DeleteUber trended on Twitter, after the company was accused of undermining a New York taxi union strike protesting President Donald Trump’s refugee ban. On Feb. 2, Kalanick reluctantly left his spot on Trump’s business advisory council to appease the company’s liberal-leaning employees and users—not to mention its many immigrant drivers. On Feb. 19, a former software engineer at Uber wrote a blog post alleging that she had been propositioned for sex by her manager and that when she’d taken the issue to human resources, an HR rep had said that he wouldn’t be punished, in part, because he was a “high performer.” On Feb. 23, Alphabet’s autonomous car company Waymo sued Uber and its self-driving car company Otto, accusing an Uber employee of stealing trade secrets by downloading 14,000 files onto an external hard drive. On Monday, Uber’s head of engineering resigned after the company said it learned that he had faced a sexual harassment complaint at Alphabet, his former employer. He denied the allegations.

That recitation of recent history was in an article detailing the public humiliation Kalanick and Uber suffered after video of him arguing with an Uber driver became public.

That incident, and the public fallout from it, led to Uber’s CEO to author what he titled “A Profound Apology”:

By now I’m sure you’ve seen the video where I treated an Uber driver disrespectfully. To say that I am ashamed is an extreme understatement. My job as your leader is to lead…and that starts with behaving in a way that makes us all proud. That is not what I did, and it cannot be explained away.

It’s clear this video is a reflection of me—and the criticism we’ve received is a stark reminder that I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up. This is the first time I’ve been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it.

I want to profoundly apologize to Fawzi, as well as the driver and rider community, and to the Uber team.


A lot of digital ink is going to be spilled dissecting today’s news, and the present and future implications of it. What does it mean for Uber going forward? What does it say about the Silicon Valley Startup Culture? As one of Uber’s board members put it:

But, as I saw the news this morning when I awoke, my mind went to the past … to a lesson nearly 3,000 years old: Proverbs 16:18 —

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

A little humility within Kalanick as a 30-year-old would have spared him from having to learn these lessons as a 40-year-old via public shaming. Leading others is more than making the important decisions about course and speed from the big chair while enjoying the perks of rank in the organization’s wheel-house. The ship’s captain’s sacred duty is to protect its passengers and crew.

The wealth and power that come with sitting in the Captain’s Chair of a billion-dollar enterprise like Uber creates space and freedom to act like an “asshole” with seeming impunity. As ancient wisdom and today’s news both demonstrate, that space free of consequences is a mirage. Pride is like a computer virus — a line of malicious code that will wreak havoc on the system eventually. The firewalls of wealth and fame will only hold for so long. Ultimately, pride will infect the system in a way that leads the system to act in self-destructing ways. Believe me, I know: I, too, have been fired before as a result of my pride running amok.

Here’s hoping that among the many lessons leaders will look to take from Uber’s fantastic story overall, and this sordid chapter in particular, this moral of the story isn’t ignored: Either through humility “Leaders Eat Last,” or eventually Pride will at last eat the leaders.

Fighting For Balance

Lance Fear, Ideas, Integrity, Leadership, Simplicity Comments

Reading Time: 1 minute

When you hear the term “work-life balance,” what do you think of? When you read that phrase, does the picture it creates in your mind’s eye look something like this?


It seems whenever the notion of balance is discussed as a function of a healthy life, it is measured in the metrics of time: the blue drudgery of “Work” on one side of the scale, contrasted with the bright light of “Life” on the other. Work, left to its own devices, will steal all of the time that should belong to Life, and achieving “work-life balance” means taking time back from Work and returning it to Life. While contemporary discussions have moved beyond simple “time off” to more expansive notions of “flexibility,” the object of the discussion is still the same: better apportioning of time between two competing worlds — our Work and our Life.

This way of thinking is well-intentioned and has been beneficial. It is conventional to discuss, easy to understand and simple to remedy via a change in policies.

It is also wrong.

Continue reading at …


On Courage

Lance Fear, Integrity, Leadership, People Comments

Reading Time: 7 minutes

It’s been a week-ish full of reminders and living examples of what courage looks like. Whether global in impact or local in scope, these last ten days at the start of the month of June have provided a kaleidoscope of images and sounds along the entire scale of courageously facing the human condition.

June 2: Professor Bret Weinstein

Even if you’re unfamiliar with the name, you’re probably familiar with the story coming out of The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. At the center of this Animal Farm meets Lord of the Flies spectacle come to life is Bret Weinstein. He is the evolutionary biology professor who sent an email voicing disagreement with the university’s restructuring of its “Day of Absence” practice. For decades, students and faculty of color at TESC have observed the “Day of Absence” by voluntarily abstaining from entering campus and participating in classes in order to highlight their importance in the university community. This year’s dynamic was much different. Instead of using their own absence to make the point, organizers this year instructed white students and faculty that in order to participate in this event, they had to vacate campus for a day, thereby using directed racial segregation as a tool for enlightenment about the principles of racial justice.

To this, Professor Weinstein objected. In the words of his email that he sent to a university administrator (the “Director of First Peoples Multicultural Advising Services”):

There is a huge difference between a group or coalition deciding to voluntarily absent themselves from a shared space in order to highlight their vital and under-appreciated roles (the theme of the Douglas Turner Ward play Day of Absence, as well as the recent Women’s Day walkout), and a group or coalition encouraging another group to go away. The first is a forceful call to consciousness which is, of course, crippling to the logic of oppression. The second is a show of force, and an act of oppression in and of itself.

Weinstein’s email objection took place in mid-March. The event’s activities occurred as planned and without incident in mid-April. It wasn’t until late May, when Weinstein’s email was obtained by a student and circulated, that all Orwell broke loose: campus protests, loud and profanity-laced angry confrontations of Weinstein and other faculty/administrators by large groups of students, threats to Weinstein and his family (his wife is also a biology professor at TESC), roving bands of students armed with baseball bats (yes, really), vandalism, terrorizing other students, administrators essentially imprisoned by protesters, and the now obligatory phoned-in threats to come onto campus and murder a bunch of people with a gun.

In his June 2nd appearance on Joe Rogan’s YouTube show/podcast, Weinstein calmly discussed all of this for the better part of 150 minutes. I don’t normally listen to 2.5 hour long podcasts, but the grace and dignity with which Weinstein carried himself through this discussion were as captivating as the facts he described were unsettling.

Standing as one against the many is a courageous act, in matters of principle no less than matters of physical threat. What I found especially interesting about Weinstein’s situation, however, was that it wasn’t an example of a singular individual standing against his ideological adversaries. In situations like that, hard as it is to be outnumbered and alone, the natural juices of “Us vs Them” kick in to help the individual stand tough.

But, when standing up for what you believe in means standing against your own team/tribe? That’s a tall psychological order, indeed, and it produces feelings of betrayal and bewilderment to go along with the standard fears about sticking out from the herd. You can hear these themes throughout his interview with Rogan. Weinstein describes himself in the terms and by the beliefs that made him a perfectly safe member of the Left. He was a Progressive member in good standing with all the appropriate ideological bona fides … until the moment he saw his own ideological tribe take a terrible turn. His courage in calling his own team’s foul and risking the shaming consequences (and worse) as a result is nothing short of noble. Our country would be so much better off with more courage like this across the entire political spectrum.


June 5: Tankman Anniversary

28 years ago, the world watched in horror on June 4, 1989, as Chinese soldiers cracked down on the students who had been protesting for three weeks in Tiananmen Square in central Beijing. During the government’s show of force, hundreds were killed and thousands arrested.

Then came the next day, and with it, a remarkable moment of courage.

On June 5th, as Chinese government tanks began rumbling out of the Square, a single man walked into the street and stared down the tanks until they stopped right in front of him. Here was this lone man standing against the military armor of the repressive communist regime that had slain so many just the day before. An image of the moment taken by Associated Press photographer Jeff Widener and sent out over the AP wire quickly became a global icon. While other media entities captured the moment, included the below video footage from CNN, Widener’s photo of the still unknown man became one of the most recognizable and impactful images ever taken.


June 6: D-Day +73 Years

Words simply aren’t up to the task of capturing the horror of what the men of D-Day would end up facing on the sands of Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword beaches in the early morning hours of June 6, 1944. Of the more than 4,000 Allied troops who were killed during the landing invasion, roughly half were Americans cut down under the withering fire of the German defenses on Omaha Beach alone.

Where words fail, art remains to communicate the things we must never forget. In this case, the cinematic art of the opening scene of 1998’s Saving Private Ryan comes as close to perfection as there is in its depiction of the assault on Omaha Beach.


June 6: Mandy Harvey’s Got Talent

This past New Year’s Eve, Mariah Carey showed an audience of millions what happens when a singer (or lip synch-er) doing a live public performance is not able to hear the music. It was painful.

This past week, an audience of millions saw another singer who couldn’t hear the music, and it was an unforgettable moment:


When a performance like that occurs on such a public stage, it’s easy to recognize the courage of that moment: the bright lights and big stage, an auditorium full of people, the celebrity judges and television audience. But what Mandy Harvey’s story makes me think of is the courage needed to start her journey — the very first steps Mandy had to take towards no longer accepting a fate without her music.

Having been singing since she was four years old, Harvey was studying to be a vocal music teacher in college when an illness took her ability to hear. Think about the psychological hills one would have to climb in that situation to find your way back to being a musician. Of course, there’s the physical and mental challenges of relearning how to create sound correctly without being able to hear it. Beyond that, though, there would be the additional emotional challenge: what if she could learn to sing again, but the result was a thin shadow of what she used to be able to do? The prospect of not being able to measure up to one’s own expectations has caused many journeys and endeavors to be aborted before they even begin. It takes no small amount of courage to face that prospect and to press forward anyway, running the risk that those fears will be proven true.

June 6-7, 9: TEDxDayton Auditions

A year ago at this time, I wrote about the anxiety I experienced leading up to my audition to be a speaker at last year’s TEDxDayton conference. This year, I got to sit on the other side and judge the applications and auditions as one of the members of the Speaker’s Committee.

After sifting through over 130 applications, we invited about 1/3 of the applicants to audition: 3 minutes on the stage at the local improv comedy theater and fielding the committee’s questions afterward with one goal — make us on the committee want to hear more about their “idea worth spreading.” This year’s group didn’t disappoint, as they brought deep study, deep experiences, and deep emotions to the audition stage.

Putting oneself “out there” takes something we too often don’t recognize for what it is: courage. Public speaking is among the things most people fear the most that doesn’t involve mortal danger. As Jerry Seinfeld hilariously put it:


But, of course, there’s more to the fears of a TEDx audition than simply public speaking. It’s the bringing of an idea that one finds important enough to find ways to tell others about. Often, these insights are born out of tragedy, pain or failure. To be willing to stand in front of a group of strangers and serve up one’s stuff like that with the expressed purpose of having it be judged good enough (or not) to become a TEDx talk is … brave. Brene Brown’s “Manifesto of the Brave and Brokenhearted” captures the spirit of many who bravely shared themselves with us in the audition process:

There is no greater threat to the critics
and cynics and fearmongers
Than those of us who are willing to fall
Because we have learned how to rise.

With skinned knees and bruised hearts;
We choose owning our stories of struggle,
Over hiding, over hustling, over pretending.

When we deny our stories, they define us.
When we run from struggle, we are never free.
So we turn toward truth and look it in the eye.

We will not be characters in our stories.
Not villians, not victims, not even heroes.

We are the authors of our lives.
We write our own daring endings.

We craft love from heartbreak,
Compassion from shame,
Grace from disappointment,
Courage from failure.

Showing up is our power.
Story is our way home. Truth is our song.
We are the brave and brokenhearted.
We are rising strong.

June 8: Comey Day

James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday was billed as the “Super Bowl” of Washington D.C. intrigue. Regardless of your politics, the pressure of sitting in that witness seat can’t be denied. First, Comey’s efforts as Director of the FBI had made him both a hero and a villain to both political party’s faithful at different times, depending on whose ox was being gored. Second, although Comey had been at the center of multiple such newsworthy events within the crucible of last year’s presidential election, the intense glare of those moments paled in comparison to the attention focused on Comey’s name this time around.

Here’s the thing: knowing all of this, Comey volunteered to sit as a witness, under oath, and face the questions, the likely political grandstanding, and the endless media opinionating thereafter. That’s not a decision any lawyer anywhere would relish making under normal circumstances, let alone when the testimony’s focus will be the words and actions of the President of the United States.

June 10: 22-Years

Yesterday, my Wife and I celebrated our 22nd year of marriage. There are lots of things that go into a successful marriage over a long period of time, but courage?


It takes courage to commit. It takes courage to sign up for life without any out clauses. It takes courage to trust when you’re hurting. It takes courage to put another’s feelings ahead of your own. It takes courage to forgive. It takes courage to apologize. It takes courage to stay.

Why courage?

  • Because you might end up being the only one who commits and takes it seriously.
  • Because there are out-clauses aplenty that offer off-ramps away from the hard work that lay ahead, if you want to take them.
  • Because there’s no guarantee you won’t be hurt again. If there’s any guarantee to be had at all, it’s that you will.
  • Because your sacrifice may not be reciprocated in the future.
  • Because your spouse may not be as sorry as you believe they should, and that means it might just happen again.
  • Because sometimes admitting the other person was right is even harder than admitting you were wrong.
  • Because staying means the pain will not go away until you fix the problem.

Here’s to the courage to stay for 8,036 days and counting…