Observations on political leadership in the age of Corona

For the life of me, I cannot understand why people are so disappointed by the quality of political leadership during this plague.

Let’s look at what leaders need to do in order to get elected. They need to distort the truth, promise things and renege, divide and conquer, please as many people as often as possible , explain away complexities and compromise core beliefs in order to build as wide a power base as possible. None of these skills are in any way relevant to the challenges of coping with Corona.

How do elected politicians communicate? They hammer home simplistic messages and sloganize; they work with professionals who wordsmith away obstacles, stepsidding controversy when needed and create controversy out of non issues. But dealing with Corona presents challenges that are hard to comprehend, involve balancing between complex forces and present  issues that are very hard to communicate.

What drives politicians? Being elected again. Dominating palace intrigue. Pleasing people with populistic garbage. Once again-not all that relevant to coping effectively with corona.

I don’t understand why people expect Trump to tell them to wear a mask. Trump wants to be get reelected, that’s all. And he assumes that telling people to wear masks will not serve his purpose. So why the disappointment? Who are the dumb ones-the leader or the disappointed?

There are very few political leaders who care anything else except for the skin on their own asses. And the sooner that people realize it, the healthier we will all stay. Get smart and take care of yourselves.

 

 

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Israel is losing its battle with Corona-and here’s why

With 3000 new cases a day, Israel is ranked at present as number one in the ratio of corona cases per million inhabitants.

And there are very good reasons why this has happened. I want to point out the major ones,  most of which stem from Israeli culture, which has been a periodical subject of articles in this blog.

  1. Everything in Israel is political. Sports, flight schedules, licensing food outlets, planning bus lines, advertising, accreditation of universities; you name it. Because of our political system, or lack thereof, neither the left or the right can form a government without the ultra-religious factions, and so-most decision making serve as a platform to placate the ultra-religious minority. In the case of corona, religious politicians want to preserve their style of communal life, which means life-as-usual.
  2. Due to their life-style dominated by lots of family-based activities, large families living in cramped quarters and large study halls for religious studies, the ultra orthodox cities and neighbourhoods are petri dishes for breeding corona. Yet the political power that they hold (see 1), prevents decision making which would negatively impact their way of life.
  3. Arab Israelis have a lifestyle rich in family occasions with multiple generations in one home. They also tend to view themselves as victims all the time, and dish out blame and responsibility to the state at the same time as not fully cooperating. This mentality when coupled with religious based fatalism creates a “what will be will be” mentality, which impacts the lack of mask wearing and social distancing.
  4. The secular Israeli community are sprint runners. Creative, highly undisciplined, innovative and short cutters, this community has created a plethora of innovations in telefonia, agriculture, water management, IT solutions, fintech,  traffic control and what have you. Most of this has been done by doing things differently and challenging common accepted practice. This community can solve impossible problems, but cannot deal with problems that need routine and discipline. “We can outsmart problems” is a typical mindset of this sector. Which is the major reason why almost all Israel innovation gets acquired by companies abroad and does not scale up from Israel; our behaviours are not disciplined or scalable. Fighting corona entails following routine with discipline. Need I say more! 
  5. Israel is held together by a state of conflict with our Lebanese, Syrian and Iranian neighbours. Other than that, there is very little cohesion between the sectors of Israelis society. We all go to different schools; we do not pay the same level of tax; the threads which bind us together are very thin. The solidarity needed to fight corona is totally non existent. For example, when the government wants to limit prayer to 20 people, it quickly comes to “we cannot agree to limit prayer participation if people flock to the beach by the thousand”. So no decision gets made.
  6. There is very little enforcement in Israel, except for tax collection and speeding. Everyone has an excuse and the heavy hand of enforcement just isn’t there.
  7. The political elite  initially set down a list of limitations on public behaviour and then were the first to violate them, caught red handed. So leadership lost the trust of the masses. No one believes anything that leadership says anymore.
  8. Israelis have the capacity to live in very tough situations for the longest time. In other words, life can and does go on as we absorb a severe and constant beating. So Corona has become another missile from Gaza or Lebanon, that is, something that you need to live with. This ability to live along side of tragedy is a gift, yet a two pronged sword as well.

So what will happen? My guess is that when the virus subsides, it will subside here as well. Israel is like a boxer with a glass chin. We have a great punch, but corona has landed a left hook and we are out on our feet. Or, when someone finds a vaccine, the nightmare will end. Until then, wish us luck.

 

 

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Skills and competencies in the age of Corona

This is an extraordinarily difficult  time during which to manage.

The odds leaders face are almost insurmountable, yet some are doing much better than others in navigating this awful, prolonged mess.

I have observed people shining, and I’m sharing what I have seen as working.

Project calmness

In her masterpiece Becoming, Michelle Obama describes how Barack Obama would become calmer and calmer in the face of challenge. The harder the challenge, the more calm he projected. This was a great gift for the people who surrounded him.

No doubt, this is one of the greatest assets one can have as a leader in the age of corona, nor only in politics, but in business as well.

One day at a time

This is no time for long term vision, dreaming and wow-wowing. No one knows where this is leading, and almost everything we know and do is being threatened. We are not creating reality; we are responding to exogenic forces which are shaping our reality. Some days are bad and others are worse. One day at a time projects a realistic platform onto which people can hold,and this creates trust.

Fairness

Fairness is the ultimate ersatz currency in an time when costs can be chopped, perks cut, and people axed with the drop of a hat.The return on investment for being fair is at its  peak.

Being there

Elifaz, Bildad and Zofar who came to comfort Job waited seven days before they started providing him with (some say) misguided advice. They were just there for him. Being out there, available and present, is yet another powerful tool for your folks, who are, like you, seeing everything around them crumble.

 

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From bad to worse: Corona in Israel

Israeli summers are hot and whilst wearing a mask, they are hotter. It is almost unbearable to wear a mask all the time when outside. But wear a mask I do, because Corona is everywhere. It is lurking in every meeting, in stores, on handles, and on elevator buttons. In car washes, on paper money, on buses, trains and on banisters.

Not in pools however. Because the pools are closed. Synagogues, where so many people have become ill, are open yet pools are closed. Yes, the virus has created a lot of hatred and sectarianism as well. As if that was lacking.

Every plan is tenuous because people are coming in and out of quarantine. And if  they are in quarantine and Zoom is being used,  be prepared for chaos  because for some very strange reason, Zoom has voice issues in Israel. Voice issues meaning no voice. Just to be clear.

Poverty is ubiquitous. Closed stores, depleted goods, grim faces and seething anger as things go from bad to worse.

My hands are raw from washing and I find it harder to go out of my home each day to work for fear that I will be infected. Indeed I am in (very) good shape for someone my age but I am, alas, a bit frightened. Strangely enough and against all odds, I have a lot of work, all of it face to face. We sit 2 meters apart with doors and windows open.

Recently I have been reading a lot of leadership biographies: de Gaulle, D’Israeli and Truman. I do wish someone like Truman was our leader now, or even like a Disraeli.

But we are led by ineffective, corrupt, and idiotic scum. Each member of our government fought battles about “who could reopen fastest”, and we all got fucked.

Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,
But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out.

 

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Fifth Letter from Tel Aviv

With some of the corona-related  bans having been lifted, I am out and about again. To be honest, even during the lock-down, I did my daily nine kilometer walk wearing one mask or another, all of them suffocating in the summer heat.

I have also started to work again, my clients apparently not haven given up on me despite Israeli media’s constantly harping on the over 65 crowd’s upcoming extinction. To be a journalist in Israel during corona, you need to be under 25,  have a microphone, and suffer from a panic disorder.

Many stores near my home have folded. Those which have not folded are empty, or lines form outside so that only a number of clients can enter. Shopping is a nightmare ; the mood in public spaces is grim.

The dysfunction of our government is transparent-contradicting directions, finger pointing to shift blame, and a gross lack of personal example in leadership. The political crust of our society is pure scum, the bottle of the barrel. It is shocking, but not surprising; this is certainly not limited to Israel.

All adult education takes place on  line and as an adult-education junkie, I can bear about two hours of online learning a day, and that’s it. The best lectures I have heard over the last few weeks are “Stalin’s use of religious symbolism in Soviet propaganda”, and “Jews and Arabs in the Palestinian Police in the 1930’s”. Yes, esoteric. I know. And I have also started reading a lot about the pied noir of Algeria and Harry’s Truman’s presidency.

I have met with family and friends at restaurants, eating outside. Menus are digital; staff is semi compliant with regulations; and fear is looming  in the air.

We are presently experiencing the second wave of corona, with about 200 cases a day in a country with 9 million people. But there will be no more curfew, because the economy cannot take another blow. In many ways, the economy is out on its feet yet stumbling along.

However, it is infinitely better than it was during the shut down and “זה מה שיש”-that’s what there is.

And as Tuvya said, “and if our good fortune never comes, here’s  to whatever comes, drink l’chaim, to life”.

 

 

 

 

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The irrelevance of OD in combating racism

OD has absolutely nothing to bring the table to combat racism.

It is very “in” to try to lend a helping hand to combat racism, especially since the Floyd incident was recorded on an I phone.  “Social justice”, whatever that means, is often adopted by OD practitioners who are prone to try to change the world, not content with changing the organizations that they support.

Not only does OD has absolutely nothing to bring to the table; even worse, OD can do lot of damage by signing up to help.

Here are 3 major reasons why OD has no value to add.

Here is some of the damage that OD can bring to table in trying to combat racism.

 

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So, why did I postpone this for ten years?

Before

Martin my optometrist told me ten years ago that I had 2 cataracts which were ready for extraction. Born in London, “Mahtin” is a by-the-book type of guy; he added that “you should not waste money on new glasses every year or less, just have the cataracts  done”.

Were I to be honest, I could not say that I am merely  frightened of doctors. That is incorrect. I am absolutely  petrified of any visit to any doctor, except to a dentist which for some strange reason, I do not fear at all. Of course, many people fear dentists more than doctors, but I guess we all have our own bizarre nature. There are no words to describe how much I fear a visit to a doctor.

When I visit a doctor, not only does my blood pressure soar, but I sleep poorly the night before. I imagine that only bad news will come my way, and that any ailment that might be found is incurable.

Of course I know that the only incurable thing about me is my fear of doctors, but knowing that does not really help. At all.

I waited ten years (and 15 changes of glasses) to finally get the cataracts done. After endlessly complaining about the “size” of street signs, the lack of street lighting, the unclear size of train station signs, the very small print of the newspaper, I was faced with unrelenting internal and external pressure to get this done.

First step was an eye doctor, who checked me out said to me, in a thick Argentinian accent, “I sure don’t want to drive with you at night”.  I asked her for a recommendation to  a surgeon, and was told that Prof Asya. is the gold standard. I checked my insurance and found out that I was fully covered. I then  waited 7 gold standard months plus 7 weeks of corona during which the clinic was closed.

Today, at 915 AM, the second extraction took place and I am already sitting in front of my PC with perfect vision. Here is what happened today.

Upon entering the clinic, an attendant took my temperature questioning me icily about corona symptoms. This took one minute. Then an insurance approval was handed over another attendant who types and types and types as if she is printing an airplane ticket. Then I was asked to sit in front of a sign which ominously declares: Operation Theatre-Entrance only to authorized people. With me waited three other patients and we were seated far away from each other-another corona reality.

Operating Theatre

I starred at this bloody  door for half an hour. After which, I was whisked into an anesthesiologist who asked me if I wanted a tranquilizer, which I did not. She asked me what my name is, which eye was to be operated on, my name, what eye was to be operated on until she made sure about who I am and why I was there.

Then into another room where my blood pressure was taken twice because for most people, not only me,  B P is sky high measured the first time before an operation. Then my pupil  was dilated with about 20 eye-drops “until you look like an owl”, words of the nurse in charge.

From there to the laser machine, where I was strapped down and told “don’t move, talk, cough or sneeze” and for about 30 seconds, I saw nothing but a very strong light. After which I was told to stand up and walk to the operating room and asked to sit down and the chaired reclined into a bed. Something was inserted into my eye to prevent me from blinking, which was probably the worst part of the entire procedure, besides of course having my BP taken!

In the background, I heard soft Israeli music, people chatting about my eye / and or machine readings in English and Hebrew along with other utterances.  Ten minutes passed rather quickly.Then Prof Asya  said “Allon you can get up”. Unfortunately, I was not attentive and kept lying still until I snapped into my senses as I felt a hand on my shoulder.

15 minutes later I was on the road going home. And now sitting in front of my glowing PC, with new bright colours all around me.

The ten year wait was, let’s put it this way, a fucking stupid thing to do.

Over and done

 

 

 

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Premature Resolution of the Mourning Process: Corona and Culture

The corona virus has changed life and the changes have been painful.

Even with some of the easing of restrictions, the emerging reality is dismal: the loss of civil liberty, the face masks, ruined economies, financial stress, inability to distinguish between real and fake, no face to face time with old cronies, no swimming, no beach and lots of new technology to learn to get things done.

I have a wide set of friends and acquaintances all over the globe, thanks to my many years working globally, and I have had lots of conversations about what’s going on.

For my Israeli friends, this is just another hardship, like being bombed from Gaza, paying lots of tax and getting fucked by the government, sitting for hours in horrendous traffic jams or the stress of constant political conflict. Just another bundle on our back.

My Asian friends have a stoic resilience, which accepts albeit with resignation, that it is what it is.

The American response seems to feign positivism or even at times reek of positivism. What can we “learn from this”. “Let’s make lemons from lemonade”. Or “at least we are all in this together, forging a sense of community”. I have even heard that this is a “great window of opportunity to change our lives”.

I try not to be judgmental, although ultimately I fail. Like all Israelis, I accept the present limitations as just another hardship, but a tough one. I am 70 years old, fit, and want to enjoy the rest of my life. With the present limitations, the outlook for that is not brilliant.

I am not a stoic. I wish I were. But I am not. When stoicism was handed out, I was the last in line.

Most certainly, I do not share the worldview of my American friends and colleagues. I cannot fight against  mourning for what and whom I miss. Premature reconciliation with the loss will only serve to bite me in the bum later on. I don’t want to think about the lemonade now. I want to feel the loss. Otherwise, I will build stairs of sand and pretend to “have a nice day”.

Mourning is a basic right no one will take from me.

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Cultural resistance to post merger integration-case study

Soren called me today, after asking me via Whatsapp if I am free for a short call. Soren and I have worked together in the past when he was EMEA manager for a German company.

In his present capacity as Business Development Manager, Soren has acquired a software security firm with offices in Tel Aviv and Mumbai. Soren is now driving the post-merger integration team, which is encountering resistance to the implementation of changes to supply chain directives. According to the directive, local purchasing cannot sign off on any purchase more than $100, with a monthly limit of $1000. Everything else must get a sign off from corporate finance, in Britain.

Sanjeev from the India purchasing team has agreed to implement the change, and yet, exception after exception keep piling up. Soren told me “this guy invents more excuses than anyone I’ve ever managed in my 25 year career”.  Soren added, “Sanjeev often does not answer his phone when I need clarification”. Adina from the Israeli purchasing team has called the changes “pathological mistrust” and “micromanagement at its worst”. Adina has, strangely enough, complied, yet bad mouths the change and gives head office bad PR in the Israeli office. Adina sent an email to the Israeli staff saying that “I have been turned into a rubber stamp”.

I told Soren to speak with Sanjeev’s boss, who is probably lurking behind the resistance whilst Sanjeeb is the fall guy. Soren said, ‘it can’t be; he’s boss is so amenable”. So I asked Soren why he called me.

I told Soren that Adina’s resistance is only verbal and that over time, she will quiet down. The best way to gain her trust is to let execute the only right that Israelis demand-the right to complain.

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External factors that may impact the cultures of organizations as the plague unfolds

It appears that this pandemic is not “one shot and you are dead”. Rather, it’s here for a long time, and even if a silver bullet is found and deployed in the near future (which won’t happen), the shock waves will last for a protracted period.

I have explained in this blog that organizational culture is formulated far more by external forces than by any other factor. True, leadership, idiosyncrasies and  luck all make a difference, yet external factors remain the dominant architects of organizational culture.

In this post, I want to point out a few external factors which will hugely impact organizational culture the longer that this plague lasts.

  • Jobs will become very scarce. Very scare. Like 4 leaf clovers. And that means that it becomes an employers’ world: sans work-life balance; sans perks; sans engagement; sans paid vacation; sans lunch coupons.
  • Choppy choppy is back in season; 3 jobs will become one. Three departments will become two. Six  engineers will become four. And until that happens, organizations will be war zones between people vying to be retained.
  • The roles and functions focused on gender equality and diversity will be totally marginalized and wither away. It’s a world of many people drowning and very few life jackets. If the virus continues to spread, organizations may develop filters for certain types of staff during recruitment, so as to minimize risk and possible quarantine.
  • This is the time for CFO’s, financiers, and risk-aversive folks to shine. Dreams, vision and big ideas will be relegated to the back burner.
  • With massive, rampant, extreme, widespread poverty at the gateway, companies will need to invest in security in a similar way that airlines did after 9/11. That means bogging things down with tremendous regulation and expense, which need to come from another pocket.

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