On 9/11, the devastation, both physically and emotionally was visible wherever we turned. There in that vulnerable state everything became so incredibly clear. The wounds of our country that day were transparent…wide open for all to see the bleeding! The vision was unquestionable.
So, what is the teamwork and leadership lesson? It validates the most basic ancient beliefs about leadership and teamwork. When leaders are at their BEST, they are leading a clearly focused shared vision by example. They are coaching and developing the performance they need with clearly articulated expectations and feedback loops. They are partnering with those around them to get important things done efficiently and with shared resources. They are solving problems in a way that shares information and ownership. They are providing the right incentives by recognizing the contributions of those who make progress toward the vision, and creating pressures on those who are not helpful. Americans are intuitive about teamwork. They don’t need teamwork to be taught to them. Certain processes and circumstances, combined with superb leadership just brings teamwork out in Americans. What we need is ownership in a compelling vision, leadership integrity, and the freedom and empowerment to find the best pathways to success.
In other words, when empowered by leaders to use their talents to solve compelling problems Americans just do their BEST WORK…plain and simple. We know it when we experience it! The biggest job of leaders is to achieve the mission by building empowered team ownership, commitment, and sustaining consistent follow through for accountable results.
Unfortunately, we too often create marginal to downright frustrating bureaucratic organizations, too frequently seen in the workplace today. Indeed, the 9/11 Report found many of the dysfunctional problems in the government workplace before 9/11 contributed greatly to our vulnerability that day.
As we confront the most devastating economic crisis in many decades, we face an economic 9/11. Can we turn those frustrating organizations around and make them a part of the teamwork needed to recover from this crisis? Private companies will have to function with excellence or die (unless of course, they are big enough to qualify for the recent rash of government bailouts!). But even with bailouts, failure will continue unless these companies transform with transparent and shared vision, strategic plans, empowered teams and process improvement imperatives. We are seeing the beginnings of these rolling failure trends now with tightening credit lines and boarded up buildings where some of our favorite small businesses once stood. These are the businesses that are on the receiving end of the larger failures without a time or financial margin for reform.
What does this mean for government agencies? Government is growing faster than manufacturing and has been given a complete pass in the current financial disaster. Further, they are spared the natural consequences of poor management and low performance. They never go out of business! They invisibly weigh down our economy with little accountability and little to show for resources continuously diverted as taxes from the private sector to keep government going and growing. The money continues to flow in, while results fail to flow out of such agencies. Influence is to government what profit is to the private sector. And the budget for buying influence in a self-serving culture is never enough. Political influence is a hungry monster with a very expensive appetite.
Some solutions being considered include and expansion of government through the funding of more government make-work programs. These ideas fail to recognize that what we need is to build our wealth creation teams. That only happens in the private sector. Government jobs do not create wealth in the economy. They gobble it up. So, larger government is exactly the opposite of what Team America needs right now. It is a move to put our players in the wrong positions to win the game.
While private businesses find themselves in survival mode, government must support the private sector belt tightening with a commitment to sliming down. They must streamline work processes, dismantle convoluted burdensome systems, reward results that truly serve the people, eliminate waste, and create consequences that shut down non-performance.
And this is possible! There are government agencies taking on these streamlining challenges today. Government and the private sector must all cut back on waste together in order to make the economic gains America needs. Team collaboration and bold leadership can find the innovative path through this frightening wilderness.
Government partnerships with business can eliminate duplication. Businesses should never find their government in competition with them. Government agencies where this is understood, find ways to achieve their mission while bringing business partners into the solution. Businesses are always able to operate in more flexible agile change strategies. That is the part of the team they should play. There is really no evidence that government agencies can operate more competently than business, so they shouldn’t try. Together, both sectors can team up to create a healthy economic whole. But this will only work if government becomes smaller and business larger. It doesn’t work the other way around.
We will recover only if we are willing to change ourselves in order to change organizational cultures and their leaders that breed bureaucracy, lack of communication and rewards for mediocrity. Leadership and team commitment to be the Best and do the tough work to sustain America’s Best Work is where the recovery begins. 9/11 proved America is strong and worthy of our trust. Americans are resilient and always work to recover from a crisis. In fact, it seems to be inherent in our culture to love a crisis. And it’s a good thing, since we have no margin for error in recovering from these economic woes. We have a really critical crisis on our hands. We need the incentives and pressures in the right places to reinvigorate our free enterprise economic machine and to support it with a lean and streamlined government enterprise that is not a burden to business recovery.
If you share this commitment, or believe you can develop it, this book is a model and a toolbox for leading and teaming up to do America’s BEST Work for this and other critical missions. Let’s apply the lessons of 9/11 and not let our fellow Americans’ deaths be in vain. Let’s demonstrate that we can team up for excellence without another tragic disaster. We can learn together and honor our heroes’ memories with daily acts of courage to make the American workplace the strongest foundation for our domestic and economic security. Make your commitment to be America’s BEST your personal tribute to American bravery and to the blessing of being an American.
The double blessing in this commitment is that reinventing ourselves will be a fun trip. After all we’ve shown that we want to team up! So what’s so hard about that? The following pages will provide you with principles as well as tools for making your company or agency one of America’s BEST.
Welcome to America’s BEST Work!