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Monday, September 1, 2014

The Emperor: Above the Clouds of Petty Protocol

In complex social arrangements, such as exist in governments, business firms, and religious organizations, a person must climb through many levels before reaching persons of sufficient height and occupational breadth that what had been said to be binding requirements suddenly become as though unfettered butterflies. Astoundingly, the mid-level subordinates may even object as the rules are relegated back to their true status as guidelines. Beyond the element of greater authority, a greater perspective in terms of what truly matters is profoundly important in this regard. Having many decades of lived experience, plus a certain maturity in place of pettiness, is also in the mix. A Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, for example, may be more likely to pick up on a sincere heart of the sort Jesus would praise than run through a laundry list of doctrinal requirements.

In the film Emperor (2012), religion and government are intertwined in the Japanese emperor, who was until shortly after World War II also officially a living god. Although his aides attempt to put General MacArthur into a straightjacket of protocol for the meeting with the emperor at the end of the film, both the general and the emperor are off sufficient maturity and perspective to disabuse themselves of the protocols and focus on the truly important stuff. To discern the petty from the profoundly important is a key feature of upper-echelon leadership.


The entire essay is at “The Emperor

Wage Theft: More Companies Flouting Trust

If you are playing by the rules, not trying to cut corners at others’ expense, you need not let the bastards get you down. Of course, if your detractors catch you with your hand in the cookie jar, then blaming them only confirms that a sordid character flaw undergirds the stealing. As a business strategy, accusing union officials of having an agenda simply because they have identified cases of wage theft by the company is not exactly good public relations; in fact, the ploy sends a message that the managers at the helm are more interested in shifting the spotlight onto distractions than “manning up” to take responsibility for the unethical and illegal conduct at the employees’ expense.


The entire essay is at “Wage Theft” 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Behind the 2014 Summer Movie Flops: It’s the Narrative, Stupid

With box-office revenue in the U.S. and Canada expected to come in at only $3.9 billion for the summer of 2014, or 15% lower than the year before, and no film hitting $300 million domestically,[1] the question is whether the dip could be explained by a cycle or some larger, irreversible trend. I contend that two factors push the answer past the typical response that most of the movie franchises would be out in force in the summer of 2015.

 The complete essay is at “Behind the 2014 Summer Movie Flops



[1] Andrew Hart, “Film Industry Has Worst Summer Since 1997,” The Huffington Post, August 29, 2014.

Populism for the People: A Hometown Pastor's Leadership

Having studied comparative religion, I occasionally still visit the gathering places of various religions. On one Sunday morning during one of my visits to my hometown, I listened as the pastor of an evangelical Christian megachurch talked about leadership as influence in a sermon that took up nearly the entire service. Parents, teachers, students, and artists—the cashiers at Walmart—and many other roles are actually leadership roles, according to the middle-aged pastor dressed in casual clothes presumably to fit in.

The entire essay is at "Populism for the People"

Budget Austerity in the E.U.: Turning the Russian Invasion of Ukraine into an Advantage

With economic growth in the E.U. flat-lining in mid-2014 after a modest recovery, pressure mounted to relax the federal "austerity" constraints on the state budgets. According to The New York Times at the time, "(p)olitical and financial instability related to Russia's confrontation with Ukraine and the effects of escalating economic sanctions between [the E.U.] and Russia have further clouded the economic outlook."[1] Mired in the austerity vs. fiscal stimulus dichotomy, E.U. leaders may have been missing an opportunity here.

The entire essay is at “Budget Austerity in the E.U.



[1] Liz Alderman and Alison Smale, "Divisions Grow as a Downturn Rocks Europe," August 29, 2014.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Servant Leadership Christianized: Self-Effacing Love in Business

Although servanthood is a very important biblical concept for leadership, according to Richard Higginson, the role of servant “is not reserved only for those who are leaders. Christians in general are “servants of God” and are expected to serve other people.”[1] Moreover, to be ethical in a servant style is not distinctly Christian; leaders who are not Christian can nonetheless operate as servants. The term servant does not in itself have a religious connotation. Yet under theological auspices, a distinctly theological sense of servant leadership can be understood and practiced. I contend that such servant leadership is something more than the notion that has been popularized.

The complete essay is at “Servant Leadership Christianized



[1] Richard Higginson, Transforming Leadership: A Christian Approach to Management (SPEK: London, 1996), p. 48.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Should the ECB Buy State Bonds and Encourage State Deficits?

In remarks at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, European Central Bank president Mario Draghi urged greater fiscal and monetary coordination to boost the E.U.’s economy. A ship cannot move along at full speed if all the sails are not coordinated so that each is poised at its optimal angle to the prevailing winds. So too, various policies in a political economy must all sail in the same direction for a full-sail recovery to really take off. Just as a sailing ship must avoid jagged pitfalls lurking in rocky waters, so too must policy makers; for it is all too easy in focusing on one point on the horizon to ignore or dismiss baleful downsides to the dominant policies.




Friday, August 22, 2014

A Biblical Basis for Integrity in a Business Leader

For Christian and Jewish business leaders, integrity can have considerably more depth than merely consistency between word and deed. In the Bible, a sustained adherence to substantive ethical principles is part of integrity. To be sure, this could be said of integrity from a non-religious, or secular, standpoint. The Bible adds a consistency whose nature transcends ethics, and thus adds a deeper dimension available to those leaders who are people of the book.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Subtle Anticipations in Film Narrative: Foreshadowing A Single Man

Tom Ford’s approach in screenwriting and directing his first feature film, A Single Man (2009), which is based on Christopher Isherwood’s novel of the same title, can be characterized as thoroughness oriented to the use of film as art not merely for visual storytelling, but also to probe the depths of human meaning and present the audience with a thesis and thus something to ponder. As Ford reveals in his oral commentary to the film, that thesis is that we should live in the present, attending to it more closely, because today might be our last day of life. George, the film’s protagonist, supposes that in intending to commit suicide at the end of the day—the film being confined temporally to it—he chooses the final day. Yet though an exquisite use of prefigurements—foreshadowings that subtly anticipate. Just as a film with a depth of meaning operates at different levels in the human psyche, the prefigurements in such a film should also be hung at different levels with care—and varying distance’s from the tree’s center. For such meaning is nuanced, or multivalent, rather than entirely opaque and transparent. In this essay, I take a look at Ford’s use of prefigurements to anticipate George’s death as an event that is finally unanticipated, at least from the standpoint of George’s plan to kill himself at the day’s end.


The full essay is at “A Single Man.”

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

On a Hometown’s Pathological Fear of Change

Perhaps it is simply a fact of nature that some people are intrinsically oriented to motion, whereas human beings find stasis as more natural. As organizations and societies are populated by people, we can generalize to postulate that some collectives are less averse to change than are others. Both the leadership and culture are decisive in this respect. Whereas a change agent is celebrated in a goal-directed organization or city, the very same person is said in half-jest to be a trouble-maker from the perspective of people instinctually defending themselves and their organization and/or locality from the threat of change. That is to say, a pathological fear of change subtly warps perception such that any actual or even potential reformer is instantly transformed into a problem rather than part of a solution.


The entire essay is at “On a Hometown’s Pathological Fear of Change 

National Leaders Lag Global Crises: A Systemic Explanation

Surveying the world on August 19, 2014, the UN’s Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon, claimed that the greatest humanitarian crises in the history of the United Nations were outstripping any solutions coming from the organization’s members. World leaders, he said, “have to sit down together with an open heart to negotiate in the interests of their people,” Ban said.[1] Yet there’s the rub, for even though the Secretary-General avoided the point (perhaps because it implies structural reform at the UN), national officials acting in the interest of their respective citizens do not necessarily have an interest in coming together with other such officials to take care of the mammoth human external costs of countries at war with themselves.

The full essay is at “National Leaders Lag Global Crises



[1]Oren Dorell, “U.N. Chief: Crises at New High,” USA Today, August 20, 2014.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Religion in Ethical Leadership in the Secular Context of Business

In Peter Berger's terms, the sacred and the profane are like oil and water. In Augustine's terms, the heavenly and earthly kingdoms are two distinct realms, a Christian being only a pilgrim passing through the latter, hence not to be "of it" while in it. I contend that such "white and black" dichotomies are artificial, and thus ill-fitting as paradigms in which to situate religion and ethical business leadership. Perhaps a devoutly religious CEO can unabashedly apply ethical elements of his or her religion without severing them from their theological underpinnings, and therefore without the need for subterfuge. I suspect that the legions of the CEO's subordinates would feel more, rather than less, respected. 


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Mergers and Acquisitions: What about the Stockholders?

Why do companies merge and acquire other companies? Synergy is the textbook answer. Typically, the stockholders of the target company see an appreciation in the value of their stock, while stockholders in the initiating firm see a downtick. The reason why is simple: corporations typically overpay. The value-added of the anticipated synergy must be greater than not only any overpayment, but also the intangible costs in aligning the corporate cultures. Yet another factor—an opportunity cost, really—is frequently overlooked: that of whether the extra cash on hand should be returned to the stockholders as dividends.


The complete essay is at “Mergers and Acquisitions” 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Managing a Hometown's Library Without Comprehension

A city’s public library stands as the font of knowledge for the citizenry. Both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams held that an educated and virtuous citizenry is vital for a republic to endure. Being socialized in the rarified culture of university environs, I gradually lost touch with the general public’s grasp of knowledge as well as logical reasoning. On the visits back to my hometown in which I made use of the public library, I had a sense of the patrons’ general level.  I had overlooked the librarians, however, until one summer day. What I found was yet one of several accumulating evidences of just how decadent my hometown had become. The profound ignorance—as startling as it was to me—just scratched the surface of the dysfunctional mentality pervading the city.


The entire essay is at “Comprehension Issues

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Global Geopolitical Risks: Is Wall Street Hypersensitive and Reductionistic?

The Dow dropped 140 points in August 5, 2014 on a rumor that the Russian military is about to invade eastern Ukraine. Three days later, amid hints of de-escalation and the end of troop “exercises” on the Ukraine border, the Dow gained 186 points. Three days later, as Russia’s president approves a deal wherein the Russian OAO Rosneft and the American ExxonMobil can begin drilling a $700 million well in the Arctic Ocean, the Dow gains 16 points.[1] Are stock analysts and Wall Street investors really so hypersensitive to day-to-day changes in geopolitical risk? It may be simply that such news sells.

The entire essay is at “Global Geopolitical Risks



[1] All quotes are from Adam Shell, “If Russia Sneezes, Wall St. Gets a Cold,” USA Today, August 12, 2014.