Thursday, March 12, 2009

Reset = Tough Choices

Reset requires figuring out what of all that you say value is really important and must be preserved, and what of all that you value you must leave behind in order to adapt to a fundamental new reality.

Doing that work is not a lot of fun. It forces you or your organization to modify your self-identity, change who you are, and take a loss of something that was important to your sense of self.

Those are tough choices. We want it all.

A good example of these tough Reset choices is the issue facing the non-profit and foundation community, around the stimulus bill and the Obama budget proposals.

Understandably, the non-profits cannot wait to get their hands on the stimulus money that might flow to their suddenly thin coffers. They are mission-driven organizations and they are facing shrinking resources and increasing demand. The stimulus bill includes about $574 million in various pots for non-profits to continue their good works.

They also say they love the Obama commitment to health care and education in his budget bill, which is consistent with their espoused values of fairness and equal access to those two of the most basic elements of a decent life.

But the non-profits do not like Obama's proposal to pay for universal health care coverage and quality education in part by capping the deductions for charitable contributions. A cover article in the current issue of The Jewish Week, a New York City-oriented publication, reports that United Jewish Communities (UJC), the voice of local Jewish Federations all around the country, is applauding the budget proposals on health care and education while busy on Capitol Hill fighting the plan to cap the contributions deduction.

Who do they think is going to pay for the health care and education proposals, the people who now have no health insurance and lousy educations?

It is not an easy choice. The non-profit or third sector is a unique characteristic of American life, different from anywhere else in the world, commented on by Alexis de Tocqueville 134 years ago. And no question but that the generous deductions for charitable contributions have helped non-profits do their good works. And many commentators have argued that capping those deductions for wealthy people will hurt the non-profits. On that dimension, at the margins at least, they are probably right. The deduction provides an incentive, although we would like to believe that we donate to charities out of the goodness of our hearts and not because of the tax break. But because of the tax break, our charitable gift actually comes partially from us and partially from the Government.

But if what those folks in the non-profit are all about is creating a more humane and just society, isn't it about time we made good on our espoused commitment to make decent health care and a good education the life experience of everyone who lives in this country?

Are they more interested in the preservation of their institutions and their particular mission than in the welfare of the people they and other organizations serve?

It is understandable but unseemly for them to want to have it both ways. We all want to have it both ways. We all want to honor all the values we care about and not have to choose among them.

Reset is about having the courage to make those choices.

The Reset Watch. The indomitable Jim Rosenberg has found another Reset reference. In her page one New York Times piece on Monday, about the rich cutting back writer Shaila Dewan said: "If the race to have the latest fashions and gadgets was like an endless, ever-faster video game, then someone has pushed the reset button."

Another reference: in a long and informative interview in BusinessWeek, my friend, former student, former teaching assistant, and, much more relevantly, former CEO of Fannie Mae Dan Mudd said about housing policy and the Obama Administration: "And it seems to me that the opportunity here is to say: "O.K., let's hit the reset button."

And, while he had not used the language of Reset and Hunker Down, Tom Friedman's last two columns in the New York times, March 8 and March 11, are all about the likelihood that what we are experiencing is a sea change rather than a big bump in the road, where pulling back and waiting until the storm blows over will not be an adequate response.

Reset Reading.

Doug Trainer sent along an article from a newsletter called The Systems Thinker, which starts from the assumption that the current mess is systemic, and provides some practical if high-level guidance for how managers should actually do Reset.

Finally, if you are interested in the issues around gender and leadership, take a look at this week's Washing Post blog, On Leadership, for a range of perspectives on the question of whether we would be in this big of a mess if more women were in senior executive positions or on the Boards of Wall Street firms.


Anonymous said...

A quote I've always liked is "what are you willing to give up in order to get where you want to go." Maybe Marty said it?
Tough choices require give up's.

Unknown said...

Sometimes we choose to reset -- most times, situations simply demand it. Some people can do some immediately, for many, it takes time, and some never can.

I was at a conference recently talking about voter registration reforms, and a national leader from ACORN got up and said, "We need a new system. We want out of this business." That's bravery. A universal registration system, such as they have in many european states, or a same-day registration system, might mean many more registered voters and much higher turnout. But it would mean a lot less election year revenue for a group like ACORN. It takes bravery to embrace that kind of change.

Marty Linsky said...

Nice, Avi. Yes, leadership is almost always about not speaking from your short term self-interest or personal aggrandizement. That's what makes it risky. Do you have a reference for the ACORN quote?

Rodrigo Silva Ortúzar said...


That's the point. Like others & you said, Reset is about "giving up".
Unfortunatelly, most of the people don't want that, they prefer other to do so.
I guess, leadership and reseting is about putting are Selfishness away.
I think Selfishness is the worst evil in the world.

Anonymous said...

Here is a tentative response (actually, not a response, it is more an essay for a line of reflexion...) on M. Linsky
''challenge ( for the group'': We are all experiencing in some way, in our personal and/or professional lives, effects of the current economic crisis. How can you use this crisis as an opportunity to make some hard decisions and to live closer to your values, rather than to hunker down and hope it will all soon pass? What if the world is never going to be the same again? How can you make decisions now both to prepare for that and to shape the future? What decisions are now before you that you could make assuming that it is time to "reset" and start fresh, rather than conserve?

I have actually read the blog above cited, some articles and links quite good, prime quality. The world will never be the same again, this situation can become as bad as the crashes in economy in the XXth century. We all trust in, well, let us all say it out loud, yes, in our...leaders. That they will strive and deliver and get us all out of this mess. It is our hope. Most of us put a brave smiling face and ignore the homeless or even the nearby misery or recent fatality of this mess. But this will leave quite some scars.

Concerning decisions, I cannot yet take them. I will probably will have to ponder on a few. But it may turn that all the risks taken in the past 3 years (cf. some chapters in M.Linsky's book 'leadership on the line' on why providing a line to others to follow (aka, sort of leadership) is very dangerous indeed. In short:

* I have been shortlisted (but may not get it...) to become a ''sort of CEO'' for the national coordination of Sciences and Technology at our NSF equivalent. It is a promotion in terms of amplitude of impact of my actions, but it may imply leaving a small town near the Spanish border, leave the family (forcing a weekly commuting of 4h30 (slow!) train each way, 250Km away, and move to Lisbon, to a zero-bedroom flat, same salary as before, more expenses... Now tell me if this may not become a difficult choice... I may be rejected in the end so, this is an academic exercise, but... what shall I do, in case if...? On the one hand I can participate in shaping the core of graduation for the new generation in Portugal and (very) indirectly in the EU, but on the other hand, it will imply a considerable sacrifice in physical, mental, perhaps emotional, family terms....

* I may also take (depending on a nasty final run of the elections for the 'supremo' leader at the university) other posts. Not that I asked or waiting. i am just being sensible and reasonable and if the winning 'party' is of mine maybe I can have this: a chance to shape some areas at the local university, a better salary, better working conditions, more\better visibility (to some already asking for a post in advance of any ballot result this may mean a better local social a very small local society where vanity is sometimes having a few extra mortgages on few more car(s), house(s), villa(s) in the seaside...

* On the whole, the two above is between same salary plus more expenses plus distance from family or better salary, better 'position', also a an opportunity to contribute but strictly local: Mr Smith takes a post in Congress as 'CEO' consultant or Mr Smith stays at 'home' and assists where really needed and get some payoff for that (eventually).

* I can also ignore all this and also withdraw from the general council of the university and run again for Dean of Faculty. But I am not looking at this, really.

* Or then, if loosing all, I can go to another desert crossing period, taking some Saint-Exupery books on how life was exciting at Cap Juby maybe doing a bit of Rick's, never however having had a Ingrid in my past life...; It will be probably the desert (again).

In the whole, life for some academics is that brief scene in 'A Beautiful Mind' when J.Nash is watching from the door when a Professor has won a prize and the other colleagues pay homage. It is all about being recognized, it all about getting an incentive, a tap on the back for a 'job well done'. In a global society where there is (sometimes) no mercy to stab the opponent in the back, it is getting hard. Yes, I am a bit tired, if not exhausted: research, supervision, book writing, original papers, conducting the Faculty, coordinating with the Departments, lack of coordination from the many 'aboves', only instructions and targets, not many 'why's', even fewer 'how's'. I share Saturday's 7 Feb article in Martin's blog, the 'Piece of Mess-II'', namely the second paragraph. What can I do? Maybe sometimes it can be rephrased 'What can we be allowed to do'? I have been taking considerable risks in the past 10 to 5 years (this may sound to dramatically to some ...) but it is my true feeling. In a way, I will (only in part) learn in the next few weeks how these risks, the sacrifices were worthy or not. I fear that all this effort and struggle is now already consuming a bit of inside my own 'soul'. So,

How can you use this crisis as an opportunity to make some hard decisions and to live closer to your values, rather than to hunker down and hope it will all soon pass? What decisions are now before you that you could make assuming that it is time to "reset" and start fresh, rather than conserve?

I will let you know in a few weeks.

My very best regards

Paulo Vargas Moniz

(Ps. I have been posting to since all others seem to have abandoned it; Sorry for this long comment)


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Paulo Vargas Moniz


Paulo Vargas Moniz
Associate Professor

Departamento de Fisica
Universidade da Beira Interior
Rua Marquês d'Avila e Bolama
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