Audacity of Leaders or …The Sunset Grill Syndrome: DeMarco Banter

Listening to some Don Henley this morning…Sunset Grill–a couple things jumped to mind.  The song references Sunset Grill, a hamburger restaurant at 7439 Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, California  But as much as there is nothing better than a good burger… this is about leadership… and the last stanza of the song struck me as relevant:

Let’s go down to the Sunset Grill Watch the working girls go by

Watch the “basket people” walk around and mumble And gaze out at the auburn sky

Maybe we’ll leave come springtime Meanwhile, have another beer

What would we do without all these jerks anyway? Besides, all our friends are here

Is this how we look at problems today?   Status quo is fine?  Are we just watching the “working girls” go by like a bunch of cows watching cars pass? Have another beer? “Maybe we will leave come springtime?” By no means do I think that one strong leader can solve all the problems in an organization, the U.S… or the world.  But that leader could go a very LONG way to solving many of them.  It has never been ONE man or woman that has stepped up to great challenges and solved them, but it has been that one person that is able to coalesce an amazing team of leaders around himself/herself with a vision for the future and thus develop the team that solves a great many of the complex issues of the day.

“All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership.”  –John Kenneth Galbraith

This quote has to be something close to an absolute truth… and to have the willingness to confront these anxieties–requires audacity.  A favorite definition of audacity is, “A bold and blatant disregard for normal constraints.”  Audacity is a highly-charged word with both positive and negative connotations, but if a leader’s “bold and blatant disregard for normal constraints,” is motivated by love and a desire to create a better world–if that leader is motivated by “the greater good” mountains can be moved.  We’ve all heard the old cliche, think outside the box, ad nauseam. The audacious leader would say, “what box…wait–there’s a box?” To win big, one has to risk big.  Have we become risk averse?  So is it caution?  Caution is a disease that can infect leaders says commentator Dan Goure.

True… citing examples of audacity like Gen. George S. Patton, Goure says that the United States cannot win with consensus; the country needs bold ideas and passion, I would add audacity. The ultimate audacious question (and agenda) for any leader is, “How are we going to change the world?” Or if that’s too big a question, it’s no less noble to ask: “how are we going to change the world of our agency/customers/employees/industry/ marketplace, etc?”  Individuals become frustrated with the direction of their company, organization, or perhaps even their country….but most are quickly silenced when asked a simple question… what are you (we) going to do about it?

Answer either one of the questions above, and you’ll generate more energy than a laminated vision statement ever could.  And it’s exactly the kind of audacity that we all need right now. Give it a try–top of your head.  Think about the country…your business, your work, your team’s talent, your customer’s challenges and complete the thought in your head, on paper, in a blog…how are you going to change the world (or at least your corner)?

We are not too old as a nation to forget our great beginnings.  Does anyone remember General George Washington as an audacious leader… or has he been tamed?  Audacious, brilliant, reckless–these seem strange adjectives to apply to George Washington.  Our nation was born in audacity: taking on the greatest military force in the world with a rag-tag military led by a great man who inspired an incredible team of leaders to include Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Paine, Samuel Adams, James Monroe, etc. What are we going to do to keep our nation/organization/team great?  Or sit in our armchair and complain?  So…Let’s go down to the Sunset Grill or….Get audacious…

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3 thoughts on “Audacity of Leaders or …The Sunset Grill Syndrome: DeMarco Banter

  1. The problem with audacity is that is lives on the edge a cliff, with a plummet resulting in a free-fall into the depths of mutiny; at least that is what our education system is based on. How many classes did the youth of yesterday, today and tomorrow take which prepared them only to move from point A to point B? And how many classes did the youth of yesterday, today and tomorrow take for the sole purpose of expanding their minds? If something does not result in immediate and very obvious rewards, people are afraid to take the plunge rather than maintain the status quo. Thinking outside the box is a social abnormality now and it carries more risk than reward. If your boss does not agree with your thinking, then you are ostracized for having been a non-conformist who is not afraid to speak his mind. The result is a meek approach to everything, which bureaucracy rewards because of its very nature. The bureaucracy works best when its parts function as one, like a fine watch. If one gear is out of whack, then the whole watch suffers; or so it believes. Even if the change makes the watch better, the watchmaker generally “repairs” it and then takes credit for fixing the problem.

    Business today is becoming an exception to this rule. With innovative processes in huge companies like Apple and Google paving roads to success, people are beginning to see that sometimes it just takes an idea and a spine to make changes in the world, rather than an expensive MBA. Unfortunately, for bureaucratic behemoths, such as the government or military, it is harder to teach the proverbial dog, more accurately likened to a brontosaurus if you consider its cerebrum to body ratio, any new tricks.

    My question is, when is the behemoth ready to learn and accept audacity as valued trait?

  2. Vooj: great points, so I would have to go back to the paper above and ask “what are we going to do about it?” many thoughts on this and none of them are quick…. Would love to banter about it… But there is a quote from George Kennan that came to mind while I was reading your comment

    “But I sometimes wonder whether in this respect a democracy [buracracy] is not uncomfortably similar to one of those prehistoric monsters with a body as long as this room and a brain the size of a pin: he lies there in his comfortable primeval mud and pays little attention to his environment; he is slow to wrath — in fact, you practically have to whack his tail off to make him aware that his interests are being disturbed; but, once he grasps this, he lays about him with such blind determination that he not only destroys his adversary but largely wrecks his native habitat. You wonder whether it would not have been wiser for him to have taken a little more interest in what was going on at an earlier date and to have seen whether he could have prevented some of these situations from arising instead of proceeding from an undiscriminating indifference to a holy wrath equally undiscriminating.”

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