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A Common Vision and High Expectations – living up to the promise

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 by Warren Bennis

The Age of Bureaucrats, Managers and the Self-obsessed

Eighteenth-century America was noted for its geniuses, nineteenth-century America for its swashbuckling adventurers and entrepreneurs, and early twentieth-century America for its scientists and inventors. Today we celebrate the age of bureaucrats and managers. Unlike either our nation’s founders or the industrial titans, those who manage today’s gargantuan corporations and the elected and appointed bureaucrats have no gut stake in their enterprises and no vision beyond the bottom line. More often than not, they’re just hired guns who follow the money and their own self-interest.

The national rebellion of the 1960s, the “Me Decade” that followed, and today’s success-obsessed Yuppies are the blighted fruit of the mistakes and crudities of sterile, detached organization men who had no talent for advancing anything except their own careers. For all their brass and affectations, today’s business kingpins are not leaders, merely bosses. Like dinosaurs, they may tower over their surroundings, but they aren’t necessarily equipped for survival. These bosses confuse quantity with quality and substitute ambition for imagination.

Much like Washington’s tin soldiers and sunshine patriots, they do not understand the world as it is, much less attempt to provide the genuine leadership it needs.

Like them or not, FDR, Truman, Ike, and JFK were all true leaders, the last that this country has known.

True leaders are made, not born, and they are not made as much by others as by themselves. America’s founding fathers, adventurers, and inventors were dreamers on a grand scale. Today our dreams have given way to fantasies about such things as money. As a dreamless sleep is death, a dreamless society is meaningless. We desperately need uncommon men and women who, having invented themselves, can reinvent America and restore the collective dream by expressing for and to us that irreverent, insouciant, peculiarly American spirit.

A Withdrawal into Ourselves

People have come to retreat into their electronic castles, working at home and communicating with the world via computers; screening their calls on answering machines; ordering in movies for their VCRs, food for their microwave ovens, and trainers for their bodies; and keeping the world at bay with advanced security systems. Trend spotters call this phenomenon “cocooning,” but it might more accurately be described as terminal egocentricity.

Such activity is not all that difficult to understand, given the national siege mentality and disaffected attitudes toward organizations and society in general. Every day we face the possibility of being randomly assassinated by a sniper on the freeway, victimized by backstabbing office politics at work, discovering that a loved one has become hooked on drugs, and hearing that a Congressional investigation has just dragged a rotting corpse out of some high-level government official’s ethical closet.

A nation cannot survive without virtue, and it cannot progress without a common vision and high expectations. Just as individuals must continually challenge society to live up to its promises, society must continually encourage individuals to live up to their promises.

At the moment, neither the individual nor society seems interested in doing better — except on the most primitive level. It abuses us; we abuse it: We coexist in a atmosphere of mutual contempt.


Written by frrl

September 2, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Wow, well said and so true. In the past 50 years, I feel as though I have lived through the whole rise and fall of America. I guess it is inevitable that success leads to sloth leads to decline.

    The first theme I ran across on this web site was how to build a better ham club. I’ve watched it grow to encompass a global view of society and business. It’s always a must-read every morning. Thanks for a great site.

    Elwood Downey

    September 3, 2010 at 3:53 pm

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