Thursday, November 20, 2008

Discipline or the Lack Thereof

When a person or an organization is disciplined, they usually have plenty of options…many of them good ones.

When a person or an organization is undisciplined, options are usually limited…and none of them are good!

We are seeing or have seen quite a few examples of the second of these statements in recent days and in recent months. Where does one begin?

· The auto industry…
· The financial industry…
· The housing industry…
· And the list goes on…

Oh, how about the American government?

Doesn’t seem like our government has many options these days…and none of them seem to be good ones.

I have made clear over the past eleven months that I believe that culture starts at the top…and in this case, it starts with the leadership of the United States government. Right from the beginning the current administration exhibited an exceptional lack of discipline…except for the requirement of loyalty to its own people and programs. Large tax cuts followed by an expensive war underwritten by the monetary authority could in no way be considered to be a “conservative” economic program. And, this was just the start!

But, the culture spreads…and once others began to see that “lack of discipline” was the standard of the day, they too began to feast on the beast. And, the lack of discipline spread throughout the land.

My biggest disappointment is that financial discipline broke down in a major way. My background is in finance and I was brought up with the idea that finance people were the ultimate arbiters of discipline, both in terms of individual behavior as well as organizational behavior. The first CEO I worked for told me that I had to speak up strongly from the discipline of finance for if I didn’t…there was no one else in the organization that would take that position!

Well, we have seen that when the financial standards break down…there is no one left to maintain discipline.

That is the past. We now have to deal with the future. The options are not good for anyone!

Let me reiterate the statement I made above…

I believe that culture starts at the top!

Right now there is no leadership at the top and we will not have any until January 20, 2009. This is nothing new…we have not had any leadership at the top for quite some time now…and that is one reason for our current dilemma. Those at the top, early on, wanted to sneak out of the door before things broke loose in the financial or product markets…but they didn’t make it. Even though their hearts were not in it and they had no idea what to do, they were forced to act in some way in an attempt to alleviate the financial mess. But, now, more than ever, they are looking for the door.

So here we are…and we still have to do something…invest our money…run our businesses…live our lives…

There are several things, I believe, that have to take place…

First, we have to re-establish discipline…individually…in our families…in our businesses…in our government.

Second, we have got to retrench. Here we have conflicting objectives. On the one side, we have to get back to basics, strengthen our balance sheets, and focus on what we do best. In this we have to do the best that we can…and we should not assume that someone is going to bail us out. If we do…we are bound for disappointment.

The other side of this is that retrenchment weakens the economy because the basic plan is to “pull back”, cut spending, reduce debt, and, if we can, save. This is the other side of the lack of discipline. It is fun on the upside when discipline is eased…it is tough on the down side when discipline is being re-established. This leads to the third point.

Third, we must also be community focused, locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. While we are establishing discipline once again, we must not isolate ourselves and refuse to talk with one another. We must engage one another, talk and dialogue about what is needed, and work together to introduce solutions that build up communities in this time of trial. This will include government programs to stimulate the economy. This will include new regulations to improve the process of finance and economics. This will include new efforts at international cooperation to help us to work together and support one another. This must include the acceptance of change because the world that is coming is going to be different from the world that we have left behind.

But, this effort is going to require leadership and it is going to require leadership at the very top. Hopefully, we are going to get that leadership.


People are looking for the bottom…the bottom of the stock market plunge…the bottom of the housing collapse…the bottom of the financial crisis…and so on.

My view is unchanged. Until the United States gets some leadership in place with a strong vision of what it is going to do and moves forward in a very disciplined way…the search for a bottom in these areas is premature.

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