They Need to Fix It. They – Who?

Pop! Culture sometimes reveals everyday leadership better than any scholar. If you have ever wielded authority – as a boss, parent, owner, manager, principal, superintendent – and you have never viewed Oscar Rogers’ take on last year’s financial meltdown, then do yourself a 1-minute 59-second favor and watch this hilarious Saturday Night Live video before you go any further. (It won’t kill you to start Monday with a laugh.)

I don’t know about you, but I especially love the part at about 1:40 where straight man Seth Meyers asks Oscar to move beyond the “fix it” prescription to at least tell us who should “fix it.” The apoplectic Oscar blurts out “they” should – they broke it; they need to fix it. The video underlies the absurdity of the notion that Obama, Geithner, Bernanke or some other superhero can reverse the effects of literally millions of bad decisions by lenders, borrowers, speculators, regulators, and executives. If, and as, people build their savings, banks revalue and write off toxic assets, companies get leaner and healthier, and government plays a constructive role, we’ll get out of this mess. If there are any magic wands, they’re like rooftop solar panels or backyard wind spires: it’s gonna take a lot and it’s gonna take a while.

Jen and Jack and I saw “This Is It,” the movie about the making of Michael Jackson’s never-to-be-held-concert. Despite the movie’s unsurprising Michael-centric indulgences, the producers also revealed and celebrated the enormity of talent and teamwork among the dancers, technicians, musicians, choreographers and others who were building the show. Michael was a complicated, afflicted, unusual and controversial person. And he was inspirational and poetic. In the concert he planned to rally people around defending the environment, and in one short passage, he says it’s up to us to do it. He says so many people think “they will take care of it,” and then he stunningly asks in two words, “They, who?”

Oscar Rogers shows how we follow with our worst, fearful self, crying like children, “Fix it.” And Michael, like him or not, asks the everyday leader’s question, “They, who?”

They me, they you.

Lead with your best self,


  • Dan,

    As usual, you hit the mark when it comes to an important aspect of leadership – in this instance, responsibility.

    Especially in politics, lines of responsibility are often blurred. Is it Granholm’s fault that Michigan’s unemployment is above 15%? Is it Fritz Henderson’s fault? George W. Bush’s fault? All or none of the above? Etc.

    Which leads me to fixing it up. Regardless if who is at fault for a situation, it is the leader’s responsibility to ensure that it gets cleaned up in a quick, responsible manner. It is up to Granholm to do all she can to lure jobs to Michigan (and in my humble opinion, she has done so). It is Obama’s responsibility to do what a resident can about the economy, Iraq, Afghanistan, global warming, healthcare, and on and on.

    Which leads to another point: What if your best is not enough? In our society today, leaders are blamed for things that happen on their watch, regardless of whether or not they deserve it. As hard as Granholm has worked to create and keep jobs in Michigan, look how many people are out of work. Likewise, who knows if Obama’s best efforts will lead to practical solutions to the vexing challenges we face?

    Leadership can be stressful. Most of that stress has to do with responsibility.

    • Scott,
      I think these are really interesting points you raise. (On a humorous note, I enjoyed the typo where Obama became resident not president:-).
      Your point about “What if your best is not enough?” is fascinating to me in the most personal of ways. Jennifer struggles with it in every minute that she’s trying to move Michigan forward to a more prosperous place. I think there are two questions at play:
      1. Is “the” leader trying to take us in the right direction? Rs and Ds divide on this, so 40% out of the gate think “Obama is wrong on health care,” or “Jennifer (or Bishop) is wrong on taxes.” Guaranteed opposition. MSU wins and the coach is a genius. Obama wins on health care and Rush hates him MORE! Bishop thwarts any revenues and Dems despise him more. So politics is one tough game, when you always start at 40% and the boo-birds are ALWAYS louder than the cheerleaders! That makes it interesting.
      2. Is “the” leader moving us fast/far enough in the direction they seek. Of course in politics, they are always dragging that 40% who oppose them. Thus, wow does Jennifer bring radical school improvement to meet the high standards when the Rs won’t accept any revenues and teachers will soon be laid off? It just doesn’t add up. Of course, then she has to ask herself: what more can I do? Have I tried enough? Have I marshaled others? Have I clarified the vision? Have I used every tool? Tough questions to ask yourself!!

      But, fascinating as it is to talk about Granholm, Bishop, Obama or Mulally, for me, the point comes back to the “the” leader. For Jennifer can no more turn around a post-GM-bankruptcy, post-manufacturing (as we knew it) Michigan in 4 or 8 years times than I can, or the local party store owner can. The task requires too much change from too many people, and the tools she (or Engler or the next guy) are no match for a global economy, a weakened manufacturing sector, and a cash-strapped country. Together, on the other hand, we can do a lot:
      * educate our kids better
      * become more entrepreneurial
      * invest in the public
      * make government more efficient
      That’s a lot of work for all of us.
      Again, fascinating comments!

      • Dan,

        First let me begin by stating that Keenan Thompson of SNL (I hope I spelled his first name correctly) is hilarious regardless of who he portratys.

        Secondly, a leader has to have clearly defined goals and a system of achieving those objectives. This is something I know you have covered either in this blog or in your book and I’m sure you have highlighted in your presentations on leadership.

        Furthermore, I believe a leader can have clearly defined goals that strive to achieve a positive outcome such as those eneavors pursued by Governor Granholm or a leader can have clearly defined goals that are pursued to achieve negative outcomes for the sole purpose of promoting indvidually or collectively selfish objetives. The Governor’s opponents in the legislature who are willing to trash the common good come to mind.However clear the goals, one has to have vision that goes beyond the attainment of those objectivesbeing sought. Dwight Eishenhower had clear goals of the strategy he devised with the Alies to Invade Europe but he had to develop a a military and political vision
        even with his adversaries who were part of the allied effort. No, the Governor cannot
        change the difficult siutation she inherited in 8yrs, but all parties to this crisis have to develop a common and innovative vision to combat this economic war we in Michigan are fighting instead of hunkering down to pursue goals and platforms that have a facutal history of failure.

  • Dan,

    One of my favorite quotes is from Viktor Frankl, who said: “I recommend that the Statue of Liberty be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the west coast.” Dr. Frankl understood the complicated relationship between freedom and responsibility. He also said: “Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness.” In other words, liberty and responsibility are two sides of the same incredibly valuable coin, forever dependent upon each other and forever joined.

    Louis Sullivan said: “The tragic truth is that the language of ‘victimization’ is the true victimizer – a great crippler of young minds and spirits. To teach young people that their lives are governed – not by their own actions, but by socioeconomic forces or government budgets or other mysterious and fiendish forces beyond their control – is to teach our children negativism, resignation, passivity, and despair.” This is perhaps the true tragedy of the “they will take care of it” and “they will fix it” phenomena. It seems nearly everyone feels like a victim these days, and we have plenty of lawyers to help support that fiction. They are always on the hunt for the next legal scapegoat. As President Dwight D. Eisenhower said: “The search for a scapegoat is the easiest of all hunting expeditions.”

    As you said, the idea that we can hire, elect, or pledge to any kind of superhero who will “fix it” is absurd. It is building a castle of dreams on a foundation of false hope. The tools to fix the future are in our own hands and the magic is in our own hearts.

    I will finish with a lesson I learned while endeavoring to “fix” the 135+ year old house we live in: You can’t do it overnight, and you can’t do it all at once. It will take time, funds, and lots of hard work.

    • Mick: “You can’t do it overnight, and you can’t do it all at once.” You’re absolutely right, and that’s a very important statement. Just as fixing an old house takes time, people who have put on too many pounds over time know that you can’t safely and effectively lose that weight in a few weeks. It’s the same for government or anything else. We didn’t get into the situation we’re in overnight … Michigan has been losing population and manufacturing jobs since the mid-1950’s, and the market share of American vehicles has similarly been dropping over time.

      To all readers here, I’ll humbly suggest one possible way of helping to “fix it.” For anyone who is currently fortunate enough to be able to afford a vehicle, new or used: Take time to research quality, reliability, fuel economy, performance, comfort, and price of the new vehicles. Then, based on what Ford, GM, and Chrysler have to offer, ask yourself if it’s really worth it to purchase a vehicle from a company that’s based in a country that practices unfair trade practices against all of us Americans. (E.g., does that country limit the import of American vehicles to 30,000 per year, or do they supplement the price of every one of their vehicles sold in the United States by an average of $4,000 or more?)

      Similarly, even if you’re not currently in the market for a vehicle, after doing that research on trade practices, think about writing to your senators and congressman. Tell them that we want to level the playing field. We don’t want to be protectionist, we simply want things to be fair.

      • Tony,

        I enjoyed your comments about researching the purchase of vehicles on many of the criteria you highlihgted.

        I did that religiously. Then I stopped. The Reason: I have been purchasing or leasing Ford Products for over 25 years. All of the news that has broken recently about the quality coming out of the Glass House in Dearborn does not surprise me at all. I could and did tell anyone I could about the quality of Ford Products. While I have no clue what the exeriences of others may have been, I can only relate to my own. Why it took auto critics over 20 years to discover what a great product Ford manufactures makes me suspicious of why they were so quite on their recognition in years past. In fact, I strongly believe that the American Auto Companies have never made a better product than they do now since the 1940’s. Even Chrysler shich is being trashed about it’s quality probably hasn’t manufacutred products this good since the 2nd World War.

  • Dan:

    You might be interested to know that the inspiration behind “Man In The Mirror” came from Donald Trump. Trump had told him in a private conversation that it wasn’t up to
    anyone else to solve a problem, it was up to ‘the man in the mirror’..and of course, the rest is history. I don’t believe JDT received any royalties from one of the biggest hits that MJ had in his catalogue. 🙂

    • Geri:

      I think you’re wrong on that one. Siedah Garrett, a colleague and musician, who worked with Quincy Jones wrote “Man In The Mirror” – because they needed additional content for the “Bad” project.
      It would be great if the conversational quote between Trump and Jackson was really true – however it really was the case of a woman being asked to get the job done and the rest is herstory!

  • Dan,
    This is simple
    “They, Who” is Us!
    However the deck does not need to be stacked in favor of a bank or as was sniveled about last week any special groups. The government can cut, the congress can reduce their wages too. Unemployment numbers are a game, eventually, after 6 months or so a person is no longer “unemployed”…not true, they still do not have a job, they are still unemployed. Government programs need to see the next step…cash for clunkers bolstered the economies of Japan, China and other nations. Long term thinking on all of our parts is necessary, not just to the next election, promotion, etc.

  • Once again, more ‘spin’. And another example of omission. Case in point; you stated (excerpted)…..”reverse the effects of literally millions of bad decisions made by…..”. Closest that you came to admitting that the government was complicit, due to greed of individuals, career politician motives, etc… the use of the term ‘regulators’. That reminds me of the ‘spin’ to try to negate in one’s mind the correlation between someone’s loved one, a human being, and a ‘troop’. This war machine must be slowed down. It is costing us TEN BILLION DOLLARS PER MONTH. I pray every waking moment that the gang of wild spenders in Washington……I’ll put names to them, not refer to them as they……Pelosi, Reid, Dodd, Franks, OBAMA, his cabinet, et al will not further their agendas, creating the ruination of a nation.
    Tomorrow, I’ll be voting, for the first time in my life, for a Republican. Not just one, but across the board. Washington needs to know how we feel about their POOR level of leadership.
    With regard to your notion that MJ was iconic, I’d say that his musical talent legacy will be continually overshadowed by his self proclaimed infatuation with little boys who he admitted to sleeping with in his grotesque horror show palacial estate, Neverland. I would not contribute one penny towards anything involving MJ and financial gains associated with or about him.
    Finally, Dan, I’m not just an antagonist, but where I live, I’m an active activist. WE will straighten out this country, starting at home, in our county, then our state, THEN WASHINGTON D.C.

    • I noticed as well that politicians was left off the list and they are as complicit, if not more so than the others. At least we know the capitalist motives but our political leaders are supposed to look out for their consitituents not their own re-election, future political aspirations or pockets. Further, I like the idea of the people fixing it and as a result of the horrible policies being proposed by Congress, I became involved this summer and protested the healthcare plan, only to be called in a derisive tone, “a teabagger” by the governor on a recent Mitch Albom radio show. Not sure the Governor is “leading with her best self”.

      • Vanessa,
        First of all, it’s hard to imagine my wife calling you by that name. I CAN imagine her characterizing a view that boasts of its resistance to all taxes as backwards. But I know she would not mind my saying “sorry” if you felt she was personally attacking you.
        Indeed, I think – and she would agree – that it’s great that you’re getting into the mix. It’s amazing how easily this conversation careens – as I have helped it to – into the politicians’ fault. It’s all our fault. In a democracy we are part of the “polis” the Greek word for the city or the people. We all have a role. And so we have to get into this and help make the tough choices.
        It’s easy to blame the politicians (or blame me for some “spin” because I’m not blaming them. Let’s get past blame to personal and collective responsibility. What’s the Michigan we want?
        For me, I’d say invest invest invest in schools. I just bought some Ford stock (for the second time this year); I believe in them. I believe in our kids, too, and, yes in our teachers! We really need to invest in them!

        • Thank you for your reply. Yes it is true and here is the link to the interview.
          As an indepdendent voter who voted for the governor it struck me as uncharacteristic. My perception is the name calling has become acceptable and all I am trying to do is finally become active in the political process. Perhaps I am only supposed to be active if I agree with the powers that be.

        • Oh, if only we could go back to the days of the polis, when participation in the reasoned discussions of political community was a prerequisite to citizenship!

    • Mark,

      I was wondering how long it would take for all of those problems that the current administration inherited on January 20th to become “their fault.” It didn’t take very long. Back in January, even many of the conservative pundits on Fox News admitted that Obama was inheriting one of the worst overall situations since the Great Depression. Two wars, one of which that has now extended the other to 8 years. The worst financial situation since the Great Depression. Deficit spending that John McCain called “spending like a bunch of drunken sailors.” At the state level, there was an unemployment rate that doubled in the last two years of the previous administration, even when economic times were much better.

      I have no doubt that you will vote for a number of Republicans tomorrow. Good luck with that. As Will Rogers said, politicians owe their long careers to the short memories of voters. I’ll never forget how bad things were under the previous administration, and neither will many people. You mention a number of Democrats who you evidently find at fault, but I’ve seen John Boehner, Mitch McConnell on others on Fox News and other networks, and I’ve yet to hear a valid idea from any of them. Mainly a lot of No. That’s not helping.

    • Odd that the President and other Rs who gave this administration the highest deficit in history and a beaten economy is exempted from YOUR list, Mark.
      Agree with you on the wars. Need to ask if we’re just not spread too thin and continue with an old war paradigm that needs re-examination.

    • Sorry to disagree with you but the spending in Washington and the mismanagement of this country preceeded the Current President and Congress. Do you think Regan made a dent to reduce spending?

      The financial mess we are in was carefully and deliberately crafted by the boys from the South, West and Southwest.

      GW blew the surplus left to him by Clinton
      GW insisted on invading Iraq at a cost that no one can estimate and we canot get out of because the Bush Doctrine so destabiized the Middle East

      GW cut medicaid funding to the States
      Created unfunded mandates the states had to pick up

      Did nothing to stop illegal immigration
      Had and encouraged an economic policy that resulted in the loss of thousands of American Jobs both Hourly and Salaried

      Did the best he could to suppress the increase in the minimum wage which hadn’t been raised for more than Ten years

      Consistently ran gigantic trade deficits and fed misinformation to the American Public,

      Remember the Uranium that Sadamm Hussein was collecting to build WMD’s

      All of the above that was supported by the Republican party.

      So I wish you well as you cast your ballot.
      As with All State you will be in good hands until they raise your rates.

  • Dan,

    My disdain for the lack of leadership, the cronyism, collusion, greed, ignorance….. and dare I say outright, treason, of the GWB/Cheney regime is strong. In fact, I feel the same way about GHWB 1’s disastrous four years (1988-1992).
    That said……..

    I voted for a man, Obama, who has not fulfilled his promise of “Change” in the form of campaign promises (looking in retrospect, I need to call it rhetoric) regarding fiscal conservatism, ending the war instead of escalating them, borrowing more from foreign entities, continuation of printing new money to give to Detroit, Wall St., and a slew of other pork issues.

    At least (for me) Bush didn’t ‘fail’ me, as I never voted for him. He failed all of us collectively, just like Obama is.

    It is past due that we have a TRUE to the USA patriot, leading through fiscal conservancy, this country.

  • Dan,

    Perhaps the skepticism that permeates the populace regarding the ability of the “government” (i.e., the bureaucracy) to fix anything is a major source of the deep-seated need to find a superhero legislator, Governor, or President, who can leap over obstacles “in a single bound” and solve our problems “faster than a speeding bullet.” He or she must also stand for “truth, justice, and the American way (defined, I suppose, by party affiliation).

    Also indicative of the skepticism out there is this item, which I believe started out as a joke, but which has taken on a life of its own:

    The Rules of Bureaucracy

    A sadly accurate listing of bureaucratic rules

    1. Preserve thyself.
    2. It is easier to fix the blame than to fix the problem.
    3. A penny saved is an oversight.
    4. Information deteriorates upward.
    5. The first 90% of the task takes 90% of the time; the last 10% takes the other 90%.
    6. Experience is what you get just after you need it.
    7. For any given large, complex, hard-to-understand, expensive problem, there exists at least one short, simple, easy, cheap wrong answer.
    8. Anything that can be changed will be, until time runs out.
    9. To err is human; to shrug is civil service.
    10. There’s never enough time to do it right, but there’s always enough time to do it over…

    I remembered this “joke” today, because of number 2 — it truly is easier to fix the blame than to fix the problem.

    I truly hope we can change our mindsets from searching for a superhero, to finding and supporting our everyday heroes — those folks trying their level best to make a difference and bypass these Rules of Bureaucracy!

  • Hi Dan,

    Great point and reminiscent of an old saying from the late ’70s around my workplace – “If it is to be, it is up to me.”

    As Mr. Jackson’s question begs who “they” may be, it is clearly “we” who must “FIX-IT” all.

    I’m looking forward to fixing it with you.

  • Hi Dan –

    Great conversation starter.

    For me, it conjures up one of my dad’s frequent sayings “It takes you kids five seconds to break something, and it takes me three hours to fix it!” Now that I am a father myself, I see the frustration and the wisdom first hand.

    Perhaps the problem is not all the fixing that needs to be done, but rather we need to spend less energy breaking stuff.

    We started this country with a concept that the government should stay out of people’s business, and protect those (and that – such as the environment) that did not have the wherewithal to protect themselves. Maintain a military to defend against foreign invaders.

    Let people and groups of people (businesses) lead their lives, take risks, benefit or suffer consequences of those risks. Let them self-organize to fund and hire (and fire) individuals to police their streets, manage their public facilities and teach their children.

    No where in there is the concept that the government is charged with the task of creating winners and losers. It seems that every time an individual tries to do that, they break something – and we know how long it takes to fix it afterward.

    • Rick,
      There is a simplicity to this articulation that I love. I agree that we have sheltered an awful lot of folks from an awful lot of stuff.

      On the other hand our world is so much more complex. I suspect that Obama’s (and Bush’s) “bailout” of the capital markets really was hugely necesssary. And given the economic “emergency,” the storm that hit the autos, I think total collapse of GM and Chrysler was probably right. It sure has helped us here in Michigan.

      Not sure how we articulate a balance there.


  • I’m reminded of a story a friend tells of doing management training at a company. He was working with a group of mid-level managers and they complained that when they had good ideas “they” wouldn’t let them go forward. “Who is ‘they’?” Management at the next level up. As my friend trained the next level and the next level higher, he heard the same thing at every level.
    Then he met with the board of directors — and, not surprisingly, he heard the same thing there!
    Having told that story, I also recommend at least browsing through a book called “The Courageous Follower” by Ira Chaleff. The title gives a good idea of the content.

  • Cathy,
    Does this mean that the Bd was the problem? I mean, people could fight their way “up”stream to the top. But presumably if the board acted in a more courageous way then it would percolate down, no?
    I like the elegance of the idea of gravity – the natural inclination of progressive and inclusive leadership at the top is for that to cascade downward. On the other hand, managing up takes effort at every level. Hmmmm.
    Your thoughts?

  • Vanessa,

    If the Governor made the comment about teabaggers, I am right there with her. That was a love tap compared to what the teabaggers and the anti tax and anti government crowd say about her on a daily basis. The malicious and defaming things that are said about her are inexcusable. But one can only look at the personality types coming from that amalgamation of in your face activists and it’s understandable that such derisive remarks suggest the literacy levels among our populace is a factor of our country’s decline in educational achievement.

    • Vanessa,
      I followed your link to the Mitch Albom show, listened to it, and found your message to be misleading. The G did talk about the teabag people, but it was not in reference to you as you seemed to imply, and it was hardly “derisive” either. She was taking them to task in a very calm and analytical manner for a policy position she finds short-sighted.
      It’s remarkable to me that you began this thing with criticism of my list as being imbalanced, and then you wrote something that’s even more so. Note that Jim’s comment above picks up on your “derisive” charge, repeating your initial falsehood. That’s disturbing.

  • Brilliant!

    Wish I had read this before I responded to an editorial in the Oakland Press.

    WE are THEY WHO!!

    Let’s quit the Blame Game!

  • First, thanks for the humor.

    Second, it is so interesting that, under duress, a natural human reaction is to point and blame. (it’s called “anger & blame” in the grief cycle)

    One of the refreshing aspects of this “new economy” is the fact that we all have to pony up and take responsibility for shaping our individual, community, and national futures.

    It could be exciting

  • Ahhhhh……”We The People”

    Last November, I was extremely excited about the electoral results for the presidency. Although I live in rural central Virginia, I was unafraid of the criticism I’d take for my ardent, vocal support for BHO. I was proud of ‘my’ state voting a Democrat into office. Not that I consider myself a Democrat, rather, the term independent suits me much better. However, GWB and anyone inclined to be ‘about his business’ needed to be on the losing side of the election. I was euphoric in BHO’s victory. Now, barely 9 months later, it saddens me to say this……I am now equally euphoric with the election results both here in Va, and in NJ.
    Mr. President, I say to you, “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” There will not be a second chance to fool me, or my brothers and sisters who believe in this country, the Constitution it was founded on, and the leanings of my hero, Thomas Jefferson. Look out, 2010. More lessons to be learned by many politicians yet to come……365 more days and counting.

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