Tuesday, June 10, 2008

What George the Manager Taught Me About Presidential Qualifications

George was the best manager I've ever reported to, or been around, in my military-industrial complex career. He wasn't a manager in the "Peopleware" sense, i.e. an inspirational, motivational, visionary leader for whom his department would commit to, and accomplish, great things and experience a richness of work and personal life beyond what any reasonable person has any reason to expect from a job.

No, George was a manager in the old school sense, that of being an effective administrator. He wasn't the greatest guy in the world, but the thing is that his department ran well, ran efficiently, and got things done. George knew how to organize his department, plan ahead, acquire the resources, make the deals, and such that were necessary for him and his department to carry out their assignments.

He wasn't the smartest guy in the room, but he knew how to pick 'em, and those are the ones he made into his department leads. His ego didn't require stroking from the leads to reassure him that he was indeed the smartest guy around. George openly stated that his goal was to surround himself with smart people, since from such individuals success is much more likely. He certainly didn't have the technical skills or talent we did, and he knew that to presume that he somehow possessed superior technical insight was, for him, laughable.

He demanded hearing only accurate statuses about our projects, and took what we said at our word, and worked to clear the path to our achieving project success. Whatever we told him needed to be done, he went and made it possible, dealing with all that noisome management and administrative political-type stuff that managers are supposed to deal with day in and day out (which is why too many managers, promoted up from doing techie work, flounder on the managerial tasks and step back into technical whenever they get the chance--it's a lot easier, and less frustrating).

Working in his department was a very positive experience for me, the other leads, and most of those in the department, despite George' personality deficiencies. The fact that our actual work in the company proceeded smoothly, with little drama, with the needed resources, allowed one a sense of accomplishment about their job. Progress was actually getting made, and one got to spend their time doing what they were good at, rather than having to fight with other engineers or departments in order to get their jobs done-George cleared the paths and administered the interactions in all those areas.

Seeing this first hand made it clear to me what it takes to run an organization effectively, and the skill set that it requires.

In this US presidential race I see those organizing and administration skills in full display by the Obama campaign. Seeing Obama's well-organized, disciplined, and foresighted approach to campaigning deeply reverberated with my experience working for George.

The ironic thing is that although I haven't seen George in over a dozen years, I think it's pretty unlikely that he would be an Obama supporter, yet it's the very practices, abilities, and competencies that he exhibited, and demonstrated the importance of, that have impressed me with Obama's demonstrated abilities to meet the demands of being the nation's Chief Executive.

(And just imagine what happens when you combine that kind of executive competence with vision and the fact that he will not infrequently actually be the smartest guy in the room :-)

Friday, June 6, 2008

Presidential Generational Transitions

I was born less than a year after John Kennedy was elected president.

He was the first president of the 20th century to be born in the 20th century, May 29, 1917 to be exact.

He, and then all the subsequent presidents up through the elder Bush, all had the Depression and/or World War II playing a significant role in shaping their personal natures.

And all these presidents were at least 35 years older than me.

So it was a bit jarring at first when Bill Clinton was elected, since he was the first president in my life that was more of my parents generation, than that of my grandparents.

Clinton, and George W. Bush, were shaped for good or ill by the 60s/Vietnam era.

Two of the three candidates competing prior to the recently concluded primaries were also of that era, Hillary Clinton and John McCain.

And now, we're looking at a possible transition to the next generation of presidents. Barack Obama is literally only 7 weeks older than me. We were 8 when the 60s ended. I grew up as a small town kid in that time, and I have only the haziest recollections of Vietnam, hippies, and Nixon. I have no recollection of the assassinations of MLK or Robert Kennedy (although oddly enough I do recall my mom pointing at the TV and telling me the president had been shot when I was a little over 2 years old).

Moving beyond that whole 60s and Vietnam era and mindset is something I have long been looking forward to, and I'm very happy to see that the first candidate of my generation to have a shot at the presidency is one who really is an embodiment of the best that we have to offer.

Obama '08!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Americans take back America!

On the one hand it seems unbelievable.

But on the other, of course it's believable, we're Americans.

The presidential primary season is over, and we're left with the best candidates from each of their respective parties.

Obama beats the most formidable political machine and brand name of modern times.

And McCain resurrects his campaign from the dead to show that you can't keep a good man down.

This is the result I wanted to see when the primary season began, and I'm still a little startled to see it actually come to be.

The voters of both parties, each one American through and through, decided we were sick of cut-throat politicking and fear-based campaigns, and chose the candidates who had the integrity and vision to remember, and to understand, the core principles of this country, and the hope of its people.

Congratulations Barack and John.

Let's make it a good clean fight.