July 21, 2020 – An Audience of One

minimalist strategy planning

Last week I had to turn down a potential client who wanted me to lead a strategic planning process. It’s not that I didn’t like the client or that I’m work adverse. It just didn’t feel right ethically.

A strategy plan is developed in relationship to the context in which an organization or group exists and functions. In fact, the strategy is all about how to negotiate the context or environment to ensure organizational effectiveness, sustainability, or overall success. A strategy plan, which usually is a multi-year plan, is dependent on the context being reasonably stable. It assumes the context will be mostly stable throughout the lifetime of the plan. Traumatic disruptions do occur, of course, often in the form of an immediate crisis that occurs and then passes in a matter of weeks. Even then it may be necessary to put the plan on pause or make some adjustments to it.

What if, though, the context is unsettled, unstable, and uncertain? You know, like in the midst of a raging pandemic that seems to have no end in sight? That makes strategy planning nearly impossible. To begin a contract to lead a strategy planning process in the current environment is not only unethical, it would be a nightmare to do. Until the context and environment settles into some time of regular routine (note, I did not say “normal”) again, I’m encouraging my clients to avoid long-range strategy planning.

However, we want to be able to plan. Plus, our understanding of “best practices” for organizational development have conditioned us to have a strategic plan in place…whether we pay attention to it or not, right? (By the way, there was a fascinating segment from On The Media last weekend about “shifting baselines” that relates to this post and is quite interesting and worth a few minutes of your time.)

The alternative is what I call, for a lack of a better term, “minimalist strategy planning.” It sounds fancy, eh? In fact, it is really just the practice of adaptive leadership but, sometimes, folks just need to hear the words they expect to hear.

Early in our pandemic year (back in April which seems a long time ago now), I worked with several colleagues on putting together some resources for nonprofits. The resources were anchored in adaptive leadership. You can access that series, Leading in Crisis, Part 1 and Part 2, at this top of the page titled Work in the Time of COVID-19 on this website and by just clicking on the previous link.

We created those resources believing they would be obsolete within weeks as we all went back to our “normal” lives with the passing of the pandemic. Now, three months later, I am seeing the resources still offer relevant, solid advice for negotiating the future. They allow us to practice “minimalist strategy planning” as we feel our way through these current times.


an audience of one

I’ve been reading Mary L. Trump’s book on her famous, powerful uncle, Donald Trump, over the past few days. It is a fascinating insider’s view of the Trump family, particularly Donald. What makes it quite powerful is that, by virtue of her training as a clinical psychologist, Mary Trump is able to also write the book from a unique professional perspective.

By the way, in case you were wondering, Mary Trump does not diagnose her uncle. She does suggest the possible diagnoses from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual that could explain his behavior, but she stops short of making a diagnosis.

Though I’m still working my way through the book, the one idea that sticks with me is the degree to which Donald Trump has played, throughout his life, to an audience of one: his father, Fred Trump, Sr. Have you ever noticed, in pictures of Trump in the Oval Office, that a picture of his father sits on the credenza behind him? It is as if he is looking over his shoulder…as he seems to have done in life, from the time of Donald’s birth.

This is a point at which I have some empathy for Donald Trump because I have also played to an audience of one for most of my life. In my case, that one person was my mother. It took me until I was over 50 years old and she was 88 years old that I was finally able to exit her theater. Until that moment the sub-plot of my life was to find a way to win her approval and her love. If she ever felt any of these, she did not express them to me. To the best of my knowledge, I don’t know that she ever expressed them to my sisters either.

Many people have an audience of one they are playing to. It is far more common than we’d like to admit in a culture that worships at the altar of bootstrapism – usually described in terms such as self-efficacy, self-sufficiency, autonomy, and independence. Without help we give away our lives in the pursuit of something we will never get from that one audience member. Our desire to play that part in the hope of even a little applause can drive us to other and self-destruction. The stage lighting blinds us making it difficult, if not impossible, to see that we are responsible for our actions in the play by virtue of our choice stay on stage, in the theater, and pursue the approval of the one.

In truth, we are all responsible for ourselves – our actions, our beliefs, our attitutdes – regardless of who is in the audience and what their approval means to us. Hence, I feel empathy for Donald Trump but he is still responsible for managing it in a way that is healthy for himself, his family, and the country that he has been entrusted to steward.

This last weekend Donald Trump sat for an interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News. Kudos to Chris Wallace for a very powerful and revealing interview. I have been watching or listening to him recently on his Sunday morning interview show and have been increasingly impressed with this skills as an interviewer and competency as a journalist.

As I watched the interview this morning I was very aware of Trump’s audience of one. I’m convinced he does not share that same awareness. I’ve put a link to the interview below. It is approximately 40 minutes in the length and it is well worth the time to watch it. Be mindful who Donald Trump’s audience really is -it’s not his base, contrary to what he and many pundits believe. It is his father whose disapproval he has feared more than anything in his life. It is Donald Trump’s refusal – or inability – to get off the stage that Fred Trump, Sr. built, where he is continuously playing to his father, that makes him so very dangerous to all of us in this moment.


chickenman – episode 82

The Masked Maternal Marauder (Chickenman’s mother) has to step in for him while he continues his flight across the Atlantic.


the view from jeff

Jeff explains: With the return of professional hockey I am afraid that I may strain some unused cheering muscles!! I will need to enter in slowly with low stakes cheering – maybe one of the eastern playoff games first.

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, keep wearing your mask, and keep striving for justice, peace, and health for all.

Tom

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