I am not a famous person by any means. I have been a part of the executive team of a few companies and currently own a company with a partner who is one of the most talented, experienced and just plain smart leaders I’ve ever met. But that is not important to who I am, it’s just my work. If you ask people who know me about who I am, you’ll find that I have gained notoriety among family and friends as simply a good guy who loves people, is a big kid at heart, and who can be a bit of a character at times. I guess that’s a good thing. If I can be known as nothing more than a great friend, a fun guy, and wonderful family man, then that is something I would value above all other accomplishments.

I have also been blessed with the opportunity to visit dozens of countries, have lived in a few of them and was born in one – an insignificant and under-populated little nation called Canada. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Known mostly as the land of friendly people, socialized medicine, Mounties, clean cities, gun controls, intense bone-numbing cold, and of course, Ann Murray and Shania Twain. Less kind people have described Canada as an isolated country of boring intellectuals, due to the tendency of most Canadians to be voracious readers – what else are we going to do when it is below zero for half the year? Then again, with all the cold weather outside, it seems strange to me that Canada still has a low population,… think about that one.

Since I was born Canadian and married a wonderful girl from Canada, I take every chance to brag a bit about her. A few weeks ago I was sitting with a couple of my buddies. We were sitting together reminiscing and of course bragging about how we had set our new wives straight on their duties when we first got married. Gary had married a woman from Pennsylvania. He bragged that he had told his wife to do all the dishes and clean the house. He said that it took her a couple of days, but on the third day he came home to a clean house and the dishes were all washed and put away.
My friend Noel married a woman from Kentucky. He bragged that he had given his wife orders that she was to do all the cleaning, dishes, and make meals. On the first day he didn’t see any results, but by the next day it was better, and on the third day, his house was clean, the dishes were done, and he had a huge dinner on the table.
Now as I said, I married a Canadian girl. I boasted to the guys that I told her our house was to be cleaned, dishes washed, the cooking done and laundry folded. And this was all her responsibility while I worked at my first career. The first day I didn’t see anything and the second day I didn’t see anything, but by the third day some of the swelling had gone down so I could see a little.

So, what does a non-famous, unarmed, semi-talented, and previously frozen Canadian have to share with you today? Just a personal plea – a call to action that could perhaps be the most significant opportunity of your career. A challenge that, if accepted by enough people, would change our country for the better. Something to which you have a right and maybe even for which you have an obligation. I want to encourage you to accept a challenge which is available to anyone regardless of age, race, sex, or social status. My challenge to you is that you become a leader of positive intent.

My dad taught me about leadership at a very young age. I am grateful for the “Dadisms” that he repeated often to my brothers and me, and he is one of my heros. Here are his favorites:

  •  You can be anything if you want it bad enough to make sacrifices and work hard.
  •  Never use foul language in the presence of females.
  •  Before you get married, remember that looks are temporary but personality is forever.
  •  Treat others with respect and value, no matter who they are or what they do.
  •  If you get yourself into trouble, you get yourself out.
  •  I have to live my choices. If I say I can do something, or say that I can’t, either way I am right.

He didn’t just repeat them often enough that they stayed with me, he modeled them. To this day I have never used coarse language in the presence of women, including my mom or my bride of 30 years. As a result of what my parents modeled, I assume everyone has value and is knowledgeable about and good at things which I am not. And I took the advice about marriage to heart, thank God, when I married Keri 30 years ago.

If you wonder whether my challenge should be heeded or not, then consider this: why are senior business executives being viewed today with the same stigma as lawyers, used car salesmen and politicians? People are suspicious of the current executive intent. The general public believes that companies are unconcerned about the environment or their communities or their people. Employees feel like chattel to be used and discarded in a whim and without warning. No one is surprised when yet another company’s improprieties make the headlines. It is becoming the expected norm, isn’t it?

What has happened to cause such a shift in perception of corporate leaders, and hence corporations? People haven’t viewed executives this negatively since the great depression. Are Tyco and Enron and WorldCom and AIG and the like isolated cases, or is there a fundamental shift happening here, and if so, why? Did you know that 40% of all CEO’s were fired by their boards in 2002, and that was up from 25% in 2001? The trend has stayed about steady. Isn’t this incredible? Does it disturb you as much as it does me, that 40% of our corporations were in enough trouble to warrant a change of the senior executive? How do we think that impacts our global competitiveness? When markets such as China and India are growing a huge middle class, hungry for goods and services, are we going to be able to seize our share of the opportunity? The current trade deficit would indicate that we sure are not in the driver’s seat. At a time when the US is already being viewed as a bunch of renegades on the world stage, with a murder rate that kills more people here by far than in any other country at war, other world leaders are not really surprised at the churn at the top of American businesses. They love it, at least our major competitors do. The EU may be our partner somewhat in world peace, but it is also growing more determined and united as one of our bigger competitors. And the developing countries have lower costs, are hungrier to compete and closer to the fastest growing markets. And considering all this, do we think we are still viewed as the land of opportunity and the envy of the world, or are we on a path to become further despised, or worse, pitied by competing countries? I believe it boils down to our intent.

I feel bad about the CEO turnover statistics but I don’t feel too bad about those executives who needed to be changed. Someone once said that when a person assumes the mantle of leadership, they forfeit the right to mercy. In other words, when you choose to accept responsibility to lead others and betray that responsibility, you should pay the price with, as a minimum, your job. I believe that is especially true if an executive has treated severely those below his or her position, or has in any way cheated their stakeholders. No one has the right to abuse another human being, and to do so to the employees, the very people who are the company is not only wrong, it is moronic and parasitic. Dwight D. Eisenhower said you don’t lead by hitting people over the head – that’s assault, not leadership. What is your intent?

Bob Rockwell


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