By Jeff Ziegler
Wealth Creation or Bailout?
In the early morning light of the 21st century, American business culture evidences an insidious infection marked by the symptom of what could be described as a fuzzy relational and communal malaise. This weepy sentimentality has dispossessed the will to win, a desire to beat the competition, and to emerge singularly victorious in commerce. Such relationalism values a second-rate socialistic business ethic over and against the rambunctious spirit of enterprise, competition, and intoxicating ale of triumph once common in our great nation. In essence, Sesame Street has usurped Wall Street and there are no winners or losers just the marvelous mediocrity of the mushy middle. Hence a reliance on Federal power, interventions, bail-outs and a host of other blunt force tyrannical instruments have become the vogue not only among government elites, but also the executive class.
I recall a consultation with one of my customers. At the time we were engaged in the development of an aggressive marketing plan that would propel his business to far greater visibility. Inherent in the plan was the defeat of one of his chief competitors whose product line while similar was nevertheless inferior. My client was appalled that I actually spoke in terms of defeating his competition. “He has a right to work too!” he exclaimed. I responded that his competitors right to work was not at issue, it was whether or not my client felt it was his responsibility to guarantee his rivals success. My man certainly wanted to win, but not completely. He wanted to prosper, but not too much. He had a vision for expansion, but not if it meant the vanquishing of lesser opponents. Such double-mindedness is the Keynesian primordial ooze from which Obamanation has spawned.
Now, in the midst of recession, is the time to redefine our current business environs in a more traditional light. A world of winning and losing, of struggle and vigor, and the hope of prosperity and greater personal freedom. Decisively, this generation has a cardinal opportunity to envision a new golden era of strapping American enterprise, to rebuff defeatist ideals, and replace them with time proven principles that will reinvigorate a business world-view of victory!
After all, “You can’t beat something with nothing.”
The importance of having a fully articulated world-life-view is paramount in any successful business venture. By worldview I mean a set of beliefs and presuppositions that govern your sense of reality or how things work in time and history. It’s never a question of worldview or no worldview, but only a question of whose worldview has gained the ascendancy in your life or vocation. Fascists, Communists, and Socialists have a worldview. Christians, Muslims, and Hindus have a worldview. Environmentalists have a worldview and capitalists have a worldview. Children have a worldview that is dramatically at odds with the worldview of adults. The concept itself is inescapable.
Most people are something of a composite of various views. Subconsciously they attempt to harmonize these sometimes desperate elements into something unique for them. The common refrain “It works for me…” has a certain merit. Unfortunately, such amalgams rarely work long term in that the smorgasbord of ideas that form an immature world-life-view are often in contradiction. Some like this “dynamic tension” and tend to ride their own shockwave enjoying a time of success until the inevitable breakdown takes place. It is precisely at the time of breakdown that unhealthy and non-productive notions often enter into the life of an entrepreneur or the management of given corporation. In other words without a well thought out sense of reality, of values, and of your place in the business world, your life may be easily hijacked to places you never intended to go. Remember, if you are not conscious of any particular worldview governing your life, someone, some institution, or some circumstance will cheerfully supply one for you. The question then will be whether or not such views find you successful in the marketplace or utterly miserable, lost, and groping for the reasons why.
The American Way
The American economic miracle is a three-century exercise in applied worldview. There is no question that America has long been the world dominant standard for prosperity. To illustrate, while consulting with a member of the British Parliament, it was remarked to me in a rather nonchalant manner, that Europeans are rich, but Americans are that much richer. This is true not only in terms of the sheer size of our economy, but the vast array of economic choices that are available to us. The question remains why are these things so? Why has America prospered so much and for so long even when saddled by more modern innovations such as the “welfare state” and the ever greater encroachments of government regulation and burdensome taxation? The answer again revolves around worldview and the practical applications, ethics, traditions, and tactics, which are derived from the same.
We have all heard of the “Puritan work ethic.” But what exactly does it mean? Is it simply a call to frugality and saving? Or was there something endemic to the embryonic American colonial period that helped shape a dynamic vision of prosperity? In other words what was the worldview that birthed the most prosperous and industrious people in the long history of the world?
The colonial period in America was a distinctly religious time. Christianity dominated New England and the basic worldview birthed by such convictions formed an economic ethos that exploded into unprecedented material prosperity and political freedom. The cornerstone of this worldview was a belief in the transcendent nature of God as the creator and governor of life. Under this belief system man created in God’s image was handed the earth to dominate and to become productive. This productivity and “fruitfulness” was to then be utilized for the expansion of Christianity and its message. The colonial “Puritan” understood this creator-god to have given gifts, talents, opportunities, and spiritual blessings to each of the faithful in order achieve prosperous ends. At no time was the Divine seen as the direct dispenser of wealth. Each individual was responsible to use whatever talents they had to achieve as much they could for a greater end. Therefore the average colonial American saw striving for mastery and victory in commerce as a matter of eternal weight and significance. The ideals of excellence, craftsmanship, the accumulation of wealth, of leaving an inheritance and building a family legacy, of material and territorial expansion, all were generated by this religious fervor. Indeed, all of life was considered a gift from God, and man had the responsibility to preserve, develop, and rule the creation.
As a consequence of this “divine imperative” to economic growth, a limited system of government in the form of the American Republic was developed that would safely guarantee the personal freedoms needed to enjoy private property, work, and productivity, and in the parlance of Jefferson; ” … the pursuit of happiness.” The greater manifestation of this world-life-view formed a sense of economic, cultural, and political destiny that engineered the great westward expansion of the United States and the conquest of the continent. This overarching sense of destiny gave birth in rapid succession to the great Industrial Revolution, the age of invention, and the spirit of competition that was best exemplified by that “force of nature” Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt believed that is was through strife and the readiness for strife that a man or a nation achieved greatness. His was not a view that heralded conflict for the sake of conflict, but instead a striving for mastery, for dominance, and yes, for greatness.
Now I can hear the cacophony of commercial pacifists with a long whining list of what I call ” yeah buts.” The “yeah buts” will get you every time! Their carping will always sound the alarm of abuse and malfeasance that are at times exhibited in free markets and in the rarified air of freedom. Yeah, but what about the monopolies, the robber barons, child labor, the “greed” of the 1980’s or the more recent scandals with Enron or Worldcom? Nowhere have I suggested that the freedom to strive, to compete, or the desire for success and achievement in business is to be devoid of ethics! This is a subject that will be taken up more fully another time, but for now, suffice it to say that we are to battle with a sense of purpose, destiny and ethics that will not only see the accumulation of wealth but the enjoyment of the same with a good conscience.
Sphere of Influence
Few of us will be motivated by the idea of conquering a continent, as was the case with our forefathers. Yet, we all have a sphere of influence that takes into account geography, economics, relationships, and the role we are to play in shaping that micro-world. Do you look upon all you survey with a sense of destiny and leadership? If not, why not? And if not you, then who? Oh there will always be the armchair critic, the casual expert who will be all too glad to give you advice on why you won’t be able to achieve. These defeatist fear-mongers may even come from within your own family. But what of that sense of destiny, that nagging desire to achieve, and the impulse to be the head and not the tail that burns deep within your heart? That inward sense of achievement must be fed, nurtured, and directed.
A strategic worldview of victory must be translated into tactical plans for commercial and personal success. In other words “what you view is what you do.” If your world-life-view is one of doom and despair then you will accomplish little toward victorious results. But if you are intoxicated with a sense of destiny and a vision of expansion and prosperity, if you love the sting of battle and will not shirk from rigorous competition, if you wish to lead in your sphere of influence and to dominate the market place ethically, then you have laid the foundation for success and satisfaction. In fact you’ve decided to become a “John Wayne” while eschewing “John Whine.”
Having a fully articulated world-life-view is the key element in defining the battlefields of life. That is to be the one that establishes the rules of the game, who takes the initiative and makes the “other guy” respond to you! In political life, the paranoid candidate is always concerned about “opposition research.” Such insecure creatures are only assuaged when they think they have all of the appropriate responses to whatever their rival might do or say. For such, the idea of fielding their own agenda and even ignoring the opposition’s lesser ideas is somewhat foreign. Yet, the true statesman always stakes out the philosophical high ground and makes his opponents respond to his initiatives. The same principle is true in business and in all of life.
To possess battlefield awareness is to understand your reasons for entering into the arena of commerce. Surely, you want to prosper but to what end? What is your intention and objective? Once you have this understanding, prosperity has purpose and becomes the power to achieve the greater end. This pursuit is in no way a pacifistic endeavor. There will be obstacles, mind-numbing fatigue, seemingly indefatigable foes, and at times a sense of being overwhelmed. It is during these trials that the understanding of the purpose of your mission may very well be your only solace.
Prosperity is the power behind hopes and aspirations. It is a means to an end and not an end in and of itself. Once you see this you have a proper comprehension of the battlefield of business and commerce. What you will have developed is a core world-life-view of victory that will govern and animate all of your endeavors. Without such purpose you will be adrift and aimless, susceptible to the siren song of mediocrity. You literally can’t afford such anthems governing your life!
Once, you understand your environs and have developed a world-life-view to dominate the same you are by default in leadership. “He who reads leads…” is an axiom that bears weight and significance. Yet, whether your personal character, fortitude, and courage can actually demonstrate what you know to be true is another issue altogether.
Leadership is a quality much admired in political and business ranks. Unfortunately, leadership is also quite lacking in today’s commercial environs and most especially in American political life. Much of this is due to the lack of the aforementioned “proper worldview.”
All leadership is driven by vision! It is the engine from which all other aspects related to success are advanced. Yet leadership is more than having a great idea or lofty dream. Leadership must be demonstrated by the courage to act, and maintained by an indefatigable will. These are the essential elements for effective statesmanship or commerce. Vision does not occur in a vacuum! It requires reading and development! This is far more than trendy periodicals, opinion polls, or the latest “Power Point” innovation from some faceless MBA! True enlightened leadership requires the reading of the greater works of philosophy, history, theology, science and that most neglected of documents, The Federal Constitution. In all, these will all act as a furnace to forge great thoughts, great ideas, and a mental acuity that is able to seize the day!
Moreover, effective leadership is able to translate strategic thoughts to tactical plans in a political context, ideology must be married to practical solutions. Add to this rhetoric, personal inspiration of your political base and an unquenchable work ethic and you have the right ingredients that will make others respond to you and your initiatives.
Now we come to that essential element of leadership without which nothing can be accomplished. Courage! Granted courage without knowledge is the realm of fools! Yet, knowledge uncoupled to courage has little value. Teddy Roosevelt penned 35 books and was the winner of The Nobel Peace Prize. His intellect was keen. But, it was that singular act of courage in the charge of San Juan Hill that created the platform from which his knowledge could best be employed.
Further, it takes many acts of courage to lead up to that “San Juan” experience. With TR, many personal challenges, heartaches, and confrontations were faced head-on, long before he led the Roughriders. This character development is evidenced in the deportment and stature of the statesman or executive. Courage becomes a dignified garment more than any singular act. Hence, a true leader is able to command the field, more by what he is, than what he says.
A courageous character is not built through confession anymore than standing in a garage makes one an automobile. The assails of life, the challenge of life, the strengthening of the heart through trial, and conflict, all these take our measure and cause our growth.
Worldview, knowledge, strategic thought and the courage to act, taken together are the minimal requirements for success in business or statesmanship.
Let’s face it: most of our societal interactions are hampered by minimalist expectations.
How many executives know the difference between the economic theories of John Maynard Keynes and Ludwig Von Mises? Have they read the Communist Manifesto? Have they ever heard of the “New Deal” or “The Great Society” let alone understand the combined deleterious effects these programs have had on economic progress? Do they have an understanding of unalienable rights as depicted in the bill of rights? No, these are not questions for the intellectual “elite” and in fact, are basic ideas, that even the marvelously mediocre of our culture once knew! Leadership can and must take the field and fill the vacuum created by our societal lack of knowledge. Without these principles the modern grey flannelled management minion is left to beat the air.
The executive, professional, or statesman that develops a worldview and philosophy of prosperity and cultivates courageous leadership to act upon the same, to him belong the spoils that only victory can bring. Herein is a foundation we can rely on for generations and not the hollow mantra of change Obama style.