You Can't Always Get What You Want

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You Can't Always Get What You Want

Popular vote totals suggest that less than half of us got what we wanted by way of the 2016 presidential election in the U.S. Indeed, many had been, as Tom Brokaw said just prior to the election, “curled up in the fetal position saying, ‘get it over with’”, while hoping and praying to avoid getting that which would infuriate, or scare the bejesus out of us.

Well, we got it, and are now destined to get one of those rare chances in a constitutional democracy to find out both what our newly elected president is made of, and perhaps more importantly, what We the People are made of. The big question is, are we (you and I) going to remain on opposite corners of the porch, snarling and barking at one another and passers by, or are we going to get off our butts, leave the parties, socio-economic cohorts and identity labels behind, and act like adult Americans, people who actually have a community of interest again? Alone within the quiet recesses of our being, each of us gets to choose (no, must choose) what sort of American, what sort of person we want to be going forward, and what our fellow countrymen have a right to expect from us. Make no mistake, for as long as we’re doing the “one nation under God thing”, we’re all in this together… drinking from the same water fountain. We’re not squatters here, though. We own the place, and it’s time for us to start acting like it.

Strangely, President-elect Trump (those words are going to take some getting used to) closed both his victory speech and some campaign rallies with the 1969 Rolling Stones hit song, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want in which uber rockers Keith Richards, Mick Jagger and company intone:

“You can’t always get what you want,
But if you try sometimes, you just might find…
You get what you need”

I won’t hazard a guess what significance the lyrics or tune hold for him, if any. To me, the operative phrase for the rest of us is, “if you try.“

Never mind for the moment what America wants. At this point, I dare say that what America (you and I) need is not more free stuff, to wall ourselves off from the rest of the world, or for our nation to become an even tougher actor on the world stage. No, what we need is people who, acting like owners of this great nation, try hard to set better examples, every day… all 325 million of us. If we want to lay claim to American exceptionalism, we’ve got to back up the claim by being exceptional people. The deeds have to measure up to the words.

We need people whose default position is to try (that word again) mightily to reach a high bar for personal behavior, and consistently give a little more than their fair share, while consuming no more than their share of the oxygen. People who realize that this isn’t a TV reality show, where everyone gets to come back at season’s end. No, we’re playing for keeps, for all the marbles… No mulligans or do-overs. Are we going to continue (yes, continue!) as the greatest nation on Earth, or are we going to go the way of the Roman empire? It’s our choice.

As a start, it would help if we treated one another not as adversaries, but as teammates. The fact that we come from different neighborhoods, got here by different paths, have disparate talents, make different wages, have different faiths, and may not look or sound alike isn’t a curse. It’s a blessing! The guy standing behind you on line at the convenience store is not the one who is taking your job, or food from the mouths of your babies! More often than not, those honors go to the exploding use of microchips, and our moribund productivity as a nation. That’s right, greater use of microchips and poor productivity in the very same sentence!

The increasing use of microchips is here to stay, and that’s a good thing. Get used to it. With or without electrical advantage, our productivity won’t improve much, however, until we start seeing better leadership at all levels, in every arena. We’ve done precious little individually, as employers, and a nation over the last decade to improve our leadership capabilities, and it shows. Workforce engagement levels, the font from which discretionary effort (one of the main generators of productivity) flows remain at abysmal levels.

Most of the people reading this either occupy or aspire to paid roles as leaders. At the same time that we are crying out for better leadership on the national stage, we must use the same reflective mirror to critically examine our own capabilities. Why would anyone follow me? What sort of example am I setting? What tendencies do I have that keep my team from doing their best work? When did I last show real courage as a leader? Am I really a leader at all, or just a boss? Where do I need to up my game? If given the choice, would the people on my team re-hire me tomorrow? When does my own improvement effort start, and what help do I need to get this done? Good, now we’re thinking about stuff that’s relevant, necessary, and that we can actually do something about. Let’s get on with it, because time is not our friend.

Good luck, Godspeed, and if we can be of help to you, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Meanwhile, your thoughts and ideas are welcome, as always.

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