by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note.
You know why there are so many people not getting ahead in the world? Oh, there are plenty of “reasons” that the non upwardly mobile give, like…
The boss doesn’t like you.
You are a corporate blabbermouth.
You are always pestering the boss for a raise.
You come and go like the wind to suit yourself, never being able to make the deadlines required.
You’re inclined to mouth off, when “mouth in” would make a hell of a lot more sense.
Your cubicle in the office is so dirty, rats exclaim “Eureka!” when they arrive after you’ve gone home.
Oh yeah, there are plenty of excuses that are holding you back. But one, if you absorb, will move you ahead like a space rocket. That is… take the hit.
The first rule of life within a corporation or other business entity is that the leadership must be allowed to lead. And as sure as God made little green apples, when they lead they are going to make mistakes. I want to tell you a whopper mistake that almost blew up the nuclear bomb. That was the run up to the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1972.
It has been my horror to review the private records of President Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy. These boys were scared. Let me give a for instance. The archival papers are filled with one ongoing theme: the demand of the Kennedy brothers to the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Cuban revolutionaries that none of them tripwire the operation and let the genie out of the bottle, rather making sure that no one in and around the White House could possibly be blamed should anything go wrong. But of course, nothing ever would, right?
Mama mia! Now think for a second about what was going on. You had military personnel being told they’d blow the whole operation should any part of it become public. Well let me ask you something. Mr. Reader. If someone asked you whether a bunch of warriors could get from the Caribbean or Florida to Cuba and keep it all quiet, this is what you’d say… “Orville, that is downright the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. You can’t keep these people under wraps with duct tape on their mouths.” In other words, plausible deniability was the stupidest assumption the President of these United States ever made.
But Kennedy knew one thing… something you learn when you grow up in a family as big as his. There must always be a Plan B, which is Alfred E. Newman’s well known line… “What, me worry?”
And so, when the Bay of Pigs fiasco blew up with everyone and their brother predicting the end of the world through just one tidy A-Bomb or two, Kennedy acted. Not to clear the decks, not to tell the truth, not to make up with Khrushchev (kiss kiss), but CYA.
And the poor schlepper he dumped on was Adlai E. Stevenson (1900-1965), Ambassador to the United Nations.
Stevenson was in a bad place. The President was telling him the United States was not involved in this Bayside fiasco, but Stevenson was hearing from everyone and their brother that not only were we involved, we were leading the parade. What’s a body to do?
Find a dodo, and drop the hit right square on his head, just the way Kennedy did with Stevenson, and the way Bush ‘41 did with General Colin Powell (maybe there’s something in the water down there at the United Nations; it certainly is unpleasant enough).
I can very well imagine Stevenson’s plight in those days approaching Armageddon. On the one hand, he is told from the White House, “Don’t worry, we didn’t do anything”. And on the other hand, every information source that made itself available to him (he didn’t have to go far) told him that he was being lied to by his President, the President of the United States, liar.
Kennedy and Stevenson didn’t get along as it was. Kennedy despised Stevenson, after all, he had been crushed in the 1952 presidental election by everybody’s favorite boy scout, Dwight David Eisenhower.
And then if that wasn’t enough, he went and got himself crushed in the 1956 election by that same boy scout, the hero of Europe, and cute to boot.
Stevenson infuriated him further. In 1960, when he allowed his name to go forward for the Democratic nomation for President, Eleanor Roosevelt
kept the waters roiling by pushing for Stevenson – again! Stevenson had no chance in 1960 (frankly, he didn’t have a chance at any time), but his candidacy signalled to the left wing of the Democratic party that they just couldn’t stomach Jack Kennedy on any terms.
Now this is a moment tailor made to make everyone unhappy. Eleanor Roosevelt, the matriarch of the party, couldn’t stand Kennedy. Not only was he too young, but he didn’t revere Mother Roosevelt nearly as much as she thought he should. And as long as she was calling any shots on the left wing, and as long as she kept Adlai in the race, old man Kennedy and his brood lived in a state of barely supressed rage.
Now you can imagine once they screwed up the invasion, how desperately they needed a scapegoat. That scapegoat had Adlai E. Stevenson written all over it.
And now we come to his problem, and yours.
President Kennedy realized that if he accepted responsibility for the Bay of Pigs invasion, his standing in the international community, not to mention rural America, would plummet. But since Adlai E. Stevenson was entirely disposable, the Kennedys kept him dangling on a string until they decided what was the best way of slitting his throat.
What was going on?
Just this: Kennedy couldn’t afford to take the hit, and so he threw Adlai Stevenson to the crocodiles. Now this wouldn’t have been quite as bad as it was if Jack Kennedy had sweetened the pie just a little bit, and given Stevenson what he really wanted – to be Secretary of State.
That would have involved kicking Dean Rusk out of Foggy Bottom, and giving him something like, say, the Ambassadorship to Trinidad. But Rusk was Kennedy’s boy, and Stevenson wasn’t. Therefore, Kennedy just forced him to take the hit, but gave him nothing for it but a Hallmark card that said “happy happy”.
Of course in retrospect, Kennedy should have given Stevenson anything he wanted, as long as it didn’t involve Washington D.C. or Mrs. Roosevelt, for they all cordially hated each other by now.
So what’s the lesson to be learned here, the one that can make or break your corporate career? Whenever possible, and whenever your boss has screwed up, let him know you’ll be glad to take the hit.
I’ve got a friend who needs to learn this lesson yesterday. He thinks nothing of fighting back when the boss says “Do X.” And my friend says, “Wait a minute, we agreed on Y.”
Now maybe the boss and my friend did or didn’t agree, but that is not the important thing. The important thing is to take the hit for the boss, and come back in a reasonable time (like 2-3 days) and claim your goodie, and not do what my friend cannot cease doing – lifting his fist, looking right in the boss’s eye, and saying “This is what we said. Are you saying we didn’t?”
Many corporate careers have been broken (or made) at this moment. Everybody knows the big boss makes mistakes, sometimes it’s some real whoppers like the Bay of Pigs, which almost wiped out the whole planet. But we all know that the big boss cannot take the hit, and so an alternative must be connived.
Most people in most businesses spend a considerable amount of their time yapping about how lame and stupid the big boss really is. They may actually believe it, or they may just be saying so to pass the time of day and indicate that they are just an ordinary guy or gal. But you’re not ordinary. And that’s why at all times, you must be prepared to move with events, not just stand by and look at them happening.
When the boss needs you don’t hide under your desk or stand on the sidelines kibitzing, go and proclaim to him that you are available to help right now… and then do so.
Every leader in the world needs loyal followers. There is nothing more loyal than falling on your sword… so long as you know that you will rise like the phoenix in short order, with your leader’s enthusiastic assistance.
Now, while others scratch their heads about whatever actually happened, you’ll know because you’ve been a part of securing the glorious administration of leadership of the man or woman who calls themselves your boss. As a result, you will move up fast. Oh, even faster if you gather together all documents pertaining to the incident in question.
Sadly, Adlai Stevenson didn’t have it in him to do this. And this clouded his last years on Earth. He must have wondered how different things might have been if he submitted, at a moment of his choosing, all the private documents in question. Why, Mr. Julian Assange, the leader of Wikileaks, could have told him how sweet that is. Just watch your back.
About the author
Dr. Jeffrey Lant is well known worldwide for his insight into corporate events, leadership, personnel, etc. He is the author of over 60 books, and over 1,000 articles on a wide variety of topics. He is known for telling it like it is.
To get access to all of Dr. Lant’s many ideas, projects, programs, books, and materials, go to www.drjeffreylant.com. Don’t try to do all of this alone when you have such superior assistance available right now.
She wasn’t up to Harvard standards, she was not a woman of education, not a woman of merit, and most important, NOKD, “Not our kind, dear.” As these words, written and implied, rolled out, I knew in my bones that come hell or high water, I would be present, in full regalia, to honor the lady and what I knew would be her message of hope, inspiration and empowerment.
And so yesterday, on the unexpectedly hottest day of the year, I went back to Harvard, on the day of my own 43rd graduation anniversary… to show solidarity, support, good manners and discerning judgement. And no one cheered her more loudly and with greater sincerity than I did… for I recognized that this was not merely an event to honor a single woman, no matter how deserving of such honor. But far more important to honor the sisterhood and their gentle revolution, an epochal event that changed the world and liberated not just women but men, too, for the liberation of women has certainly meant the liberation of men, though not all such have recognized this yet.
Before I go on I want to take this opportunity to introduce you to the principal players in yesterday’s production. First, there is Mr. Aime’ and Mrs. Mercedes Joseph, born in Haiti, two of the principal reasons why my life works so well and smoothly. I took them to Commencement to thank them, to show them an aspect of Americana they would not otherwise see, and, frankly, because it is easy to trip and fall amidst the undulations of such a huge crowd… and their support was very useful indeed.
Drew Gilpin Faust, President of Harvard University, Lincoln Professor of History.
Sandra Demson, ’58, distinguished attorney in Canada, veteran of the revolution.
Diane Neal Emmons, Ed.M., an old friend rediscovered, another soldier for the cause, her weapons of choice her wit, ebullience, and an optimism that will not waver, despite the provocations life throws at each of us, delighting to see what we will make of them.
As a social scientist, student of the material world in all its manifestations, I should not believe in such matters as destiny, providence, or kismet. Should not. But when a day arranges itself as felicitously as yesterday’s did, the right things happening in just the right order, one is forced to consider the inconvenient notion that something other than random chance is present, “inconvenient” because unpredictable, though that doesn’t necessarily mean bad. Yesterday’s serendipities were anything but…
Since I arrived at Harvard in the fall of 1969, I have passed through the great Class of 1877 Gate thousands of times. But when I passed through it yesterday I was patted down by a female security officer. It is a sign of our times, a blip that tells us the world has changed, and not for the better. Once inside a recollection from “Gone With The Wind” came to mind. It was at the beginning of the film, where the newly engaged couple, Ashley and Melanie, stand on the balcony of Twelve Oaks and look out at their world of grace, luxury and privilege, a world they love, threatened with destruction whether the South wins or not.
I stood for a moment, just next to the president’s office in Massachusetts Hall and looked at the vibrant scene before me. It, too, is challenged, roiled by even positive change… I was determined to see, determined to remember what I saw this day and what was part of me: class marshals in top hat and cut-away; their female counterparts wearing bright red rosettes with bright smiles to match; academic gowns from every renowned and prestigious university on Earth; new graduates wearing the most desirable costume of all, their unflinching youth. They would shortly sing “Gaudeamus igitur, Juvenes dum sumus” (Let us rejoice while we are young.) They would not understand… but the alumni before them would… for the words, once just lyrics of a well-known song, gather their profound meaning with every passing year in an exercise we call wisdom and which we cannot approach unmoved.
Rubbing for luck.
Every alumnus becomes perforce a guide when escorting guests to Commencement, and so, hobbling, I lead the Josephs to the statue of John Harvard, the Founder. Only it isn’t. There are no extant images of the man whose gift of books, lavish as all gifts to Harvard should be, launched the greatest educational establishment on Earth (1636).
What to do? Improvise! And thus a suitably attractive young man of noble countenance from the class of 1884 was invited to pose for the famous statue by Daniel Chester French. It stands in the center of the Yard, the faceless Founder facing eternity in the body of flawless youth. Both have thereby been immortalized, and this is perhaps why one is advised to rub the shoe for luck… for seizing eternity is certainly worth the doing. This is something every Harvard student knows.
When you talk of The President in Cambridge, you mean the President of Harvard. It was my privilege to share a few minutes conversation with the current occupant yesterday, Drew Gilpin Faust, president since 2007. An historian herself, she is a person of history; the first woman to lead Harvard. Let me tell you this: she is well and truly on her way to becoming one of the most respected and beloved leaders of this historic institution and thus one of the great benefactors of the Great Republic and the wider world beyond, for Harvard is universal now and forever more.
When you think of President Faust think of what has happened to and in the world since her historic appointment. You will then understand she has presided over six turbulent years, years when even Fortress Harvard knew anxiety. If she never did another thing, she would find an honorable place in Harvard’s story. But at just 65, she is in her prime… ready to do battle for the light. What will she do? Here’s a clue to one of her projects…
In her remarks yesterday she drove home one essential point; that the impending massive cuts in federal research funding are short sighted, self destructive, ill advised in every way. Research is what gives us the improvements we desire; slicing any part of it gives us less. Does this make sense?
President Faust will ensure Harvard’s clout is used to avoid this folly. And she has my support in doing so. Just as she will always have my support in any and all endeavors to strengthen the liberal arts and humanities, always the great beating heart of Harvard.
“Is this seat taken?”
There were just three seats left in about the fourth row, and I knew we should grab them. But first I needed a positive response to the question asked through the ages: Is this seat taken? And so I came to meet a new friend, Sandra Demson, Class of ’58. She had come to participate in the 55th Reunion of the Harvard and Radcliffe Classes of 1958. I introduced myself and in just a minute or two we were chatting like a house afire, discovering one person after another we knew and had in common. Harvard meetings are like that.
However, the most important aspect of our conversation concerned my questions to Sandra about the differences she discerned in the situation of Radcliffe students in 1958 and the position of women undergraduates today. And here a pleasant afternoon’s smooth conversation became more than chat, an insight into history, something she wanted to tell… and I very much wanted to hear.
You see, Sandra Demson, smart, attractive, charming, was part of the generation which placed every aspect and feature at the foot of Man… and lived to regret it, like so many other women who not only discovered father didn’t know best; they discovered that father knew hardly anything at all… and this made for many problems, ructions, and difficulties, especially when Man continued to insist upon a superiority he clearly did not possess.
And so Sandra, like every “good woman” of her age and outlook learned to carry on, bite her tongue, and somehow keep the faith alive, that better days, and lasting love, too, would come to her. And, in due course, “this too shall pass” passed… And God granted her marital love, peace, and the easy, “woman of the world” manners which we have all erred in not insisting our young successors should have and which she graciously shared with me on this sweltering day.
It was Sandra Demson who looked at Oprah and said, “She’s nervous. She’s trembling”… No wonder. A poor black girl from the Deep South,had by dint of unceasing work, determination and an attitude of “must” not just “can” do had scaled the heights into the very citadel of American prestige. There she was, physically smaller than her outsized television presence, quivering just a bit but the crowed roared for her… and so the lady of embracements, hugs and love, was soon awash in the huzzas which must have been heard blocks away. In a very real sense, Oprah Winfrey had come home, and she was greeted accordingly.
When the tumult ebbed a bit, Oprah began. Soon, just in passing, she mentioned a tune she loved. I looked it up when I got home and immediately understood her better as well as why she’d referenced it, holding it close, a security blanket. It is “We’ll understand it better bye and bye”. Written by Charles Albert Tindley (1851-1933), an ex-slave and “the Father of Gospel Music”, it is a rousing, barn stormer of a song, the lyrical equivalent of Oprah herself. Go now to any search engine and listen carefully…”We are tossed and driven/ on the restless sea of time… We will understand it better bye and bye.” I prefer the inimitable version by Mahalia Jackson. Listening to this mistress of godly soul, you can believe, deep in your heart, that better times will come as they came to Oprah Winfrey.
Then Oprah told us how they came to her, what she learned, what she had to do… and what she had to share with others. She spoke, like a female Polonius, of being true to thyself, of living your own life, not the life assigned to you or allowed by others. She spoke of the commitment one must make, the unceasing focus one must maintain. And she spoke of what must be done in the inevitable days when troubles come and one faces the reality of dread and defeat. This was not mere eloquence, though the lady excels at eloquence. It was not mere rhetoric, though the lady’s rhetoric is notable… no, indeed. Instead she was speaking from what the world knows as her great heart… so motivational, so inspirational, so uplifting that along with her massive crowd of the eminent, learned and well connected, I was on my feet, not just cheering, but shouting approbation and encouragement… yes, Oprah had come home…. and for the lady who loves there was ample love
My day was, I thought, over and completely successful. Aime’ and Mercedes Joseph had given support. President Faust impressed and reassured. Sandra Demson gave charm and friendship. Oprah gave the formula not merely for success, but how to conquer failure. It was enough, more than enough, but there was more….
Leaving the Tercentenary Theatre, Oprah whisked away by the omnipresent security, I saw a face I knew so well… and it was Diane (always pronounced Dee-On), Diane Neal Emmons. And so serendipity continued, unpredictability its metier, for here was a long-lost friend, benefactor when I was a penurious graduate student, forty years ago, success in the future, but when? Diane and her legendary hospitality helped make waiting bearable. This time she invited me to her home for the 4th of July celebrations when the known world gathers in her front yard to extol the Great Republic. I may even go… for there is a story there… and I want to be the one who tells it, for only thus will we “understand it better bye and bye…”
Oprah Winfrey turned me on to “Understand It Better Bye and Bye.” It is easy to see why she liked it. It is upbeat, toe-tapping, praise God music, written by the Rev. Dr. Charles Albert Tindley (1851-1933). You’ll enjoy it. Play it whenever the world and you are at odds.