Success, and the many over-simplifications of its elemental substance.

I have enjoyed sharing my thoughts with those of you who may have an interest. I have developed a love for writing and I enjoy this venue and the open arena for discussion and criticism.

I read, too. I have read many posts describing the “balance” of work and personal life. I believe that to be a valid and interesting discussion. In many of these, the authors discuss the need to balance various elements of life and project this “balance” as a key to success in business.

My background includes many years of management. Some of those were the management of turn-arounds of troubled companies with significant issues and universal failure. Always, the environment was one of excuses. Always the failing company was full of individuals with “balanced” lives.

When someone had to stay to complete a difficult task that required late night work those who chose to respect their obligation to the company did so as others left promptly for grade school soccer or a party or whatever. I was left with the few who chose to remain to pick up the pieces.

The eventuality, of course, was that I chose to surround myself with those who I knew I could rely on – no matter what. The person who I saw working all night so that our client was given what we promised as a company, or even what I promised for our company. These were, inevitably, those who rose to the top of the heap. I heard, so many times how unfair it was that I promoted X when Y had more experience, education, etc.

I did not promote those who were most capable. I promoted those who I could trust most deeply. A brilliant marketing man once told me “Scott, if it wasn’t for my friends, I would be a complete failure” He said this to me in answer to a compliment that I gave him. He always cared deeply for the experience of our clients, those who chose to trust us (and him). He made himself always available to them and he always was, indeed, their friend in every respect of the word.

I reflect on my own success and I readily admit that all success that I have found is the direct result of my trusting friends, men and women who knew that if they called me at midnight, I would be there before morning. People who knew that I would do anything to not let them down. People who I genuinely cared for, and who genuinely cared for me.

We serve as examples to our children. They have playmates. What they perceive as normal is what they see us doing. For myself, I would rather tell my beautiful daughter that I am sorry that I missed her recital and take the time to explain honor and obligation and the personal contract between business people when they put their trust in one another. It is a sacred thing and it is a great measure of the value of a man – if his word, or his contractual responsibility is subordinate to a soccer game, he is not the man who I would choose to handle my project.

Scott Cahill

What Truly Motivates

I attended a meeting last night of the Sustainable Opportunities Development Center, a local non-profit supporting industrial development in north east Ohio. Jim Tressel, the president of Youngstown State University, spoke.

As a man with a great background in coaching, of course, he spoke of motivation and what it takes to meet a goal. The talk and the meeting was entertaining and on point to the task that we face in our area.

I spent the time as the speakers spoke to the slides of a Power-Point presentation  thinking. What motivates men? What single elemental need drives men to achieve in spite of the insurmountable or the impossible?

At last it came to me, Desperation! Yes it is that simple – Desperation.

Reflect on the greatest odds – the insurmountable that were overcome – things that never should have happened that happened. The settling of North America, The civil rights movement, World War II, The immigration and nationalization of our forefathers. The challenge met had one common denominator, Desperation.

So many times companies are built by great men, only to be squandered by their sons or grandsons – what is missing? So often companies grow bigger and bigger, driving markets, only to flounder and to fail. What has left them? Desperation

Martin Luther King stepped onto that balcony so many years ago. He knew that a bullet awaited him. He knew not the time nor the place but he knew that, perhaps, he must die. He did die on that balcony. A bullet took the life of a great man, a man who put others before himself. Like Gandhi, a fool’s hatred ended his life. But his legacy lived on. All too soon, J.F.K. and Bobby would fall, too. Each knowing the threat, each knowing that they could hide, each knowing the cost. Each stood, each endured, each refused to be marginalized, and each became greater even in death, than in life. That, my friends, is desperation.

A family huddles around a fire in a tenement of New York CIty. They are cold and skinny, and tired, a man sees his children and he knows that even if it kills him, he will work his way out of this and he will find, for them, a better world. That is desperation.

A free world looks to the east and sees everything that they stand for at risk, a mad man is swallowing up nations and the freedom that they had gained, and enslaving them to falsities. Young men, like my father, lie about their age to go to war, to spill their blood on distant shores. The only option is to stop them there, or stop them here. There is no plan b. That is desperation.

A young man sits on the bench. The game is almost over. He looks in the stands and sees his girl, his parents, his friends. It is time and he takes the field. He will run like he has never run before with one thing in mind – the goal. In his head there is no failure, there is no threat of pain, there is only the goal and the cheers and the win. That, too, is desperation.

Jim Tressel refers to it as selflessness, I call it desperation. It is the absolute commitment to a task or goal that you believe in so deeply that you put it before comfort or safety, or anything else. When you find that thing that you can believe in so deeply, you will be capable of perusing it no matter the difficulty and you will achieve true greatness. If comfort, or ease, or communal acceptance exceed that thing in your soul, you will fail. Great things are achieved by those who believe absolutely in them, and who subordinate themselves to the achievement.

Scott Cahill

The Rubaiyat and the little boy

When I was a boy my mother brought me a gift. It was not a “normal” gift like a ball or bat or glove, you see, I was not a normal boy. It was a copy of the Rubaiyat.

“Think, in this battered Caravanserai
Whose portals are alternate night and day,
How Sultan after Sultan with his pomp
Abode his destined hour, and went his way.”

In this epicurean fantasy, Omar considers our place on the earth, and in time, and eloquently lays down an accurate and considered philosophy of life.

“Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the Dust descend;
Dust into Dust, and under Dust to lie
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and–sans End! “

And I, as a youth, considered my time laid out before me as a fuse burning brightly in the night – I can see the flash of now, but through the glare the future escapes me and all I have is the charred remains of the past to assume what one day may be.

“Yet Ah, that Spring should vanish with the Rose!
That Youth’s sweet-scented manuscript should close!
The Nightingale that in the branches sang,
Ah, whence, and whither flown again, who knows! “

..and the spring did vanish, like the rose, and I learned, and I studied, and I lived, until life gave me a respite and I found the time to look around and to assess my place.

Oh, threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise!
One thing at least is certain–This Life flies;
One thing is certain and the rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies. 

 I found that my reward was not in the flash of the present, nor the charred remains of the past. It lay out there in the future beyond the vail, perhaps. I could have been disappointed by this. I was not. You see, we all must play the game, plan or hold, the fuse burns on…

“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.”

The uncertainty of life, the uncertainty of death, the uncertainty of the hereafter – it matters not.

“Alike for those who for To-day prepare,
And those that after some To-morrow stare,
A Muezzin from the Tower of Darkness cries
“Fools! your Reward is neither Here nor There.” 

We have life. With it comes the promise of death. This is the only absolute. We may pray, or worry, we may pontificate, we may complain, but the fuse burns on. What remains after we are no longer, perhaps it is that, which matters the most. Each life changes the world, some greatly, some little, but each breath is a part of the wind. We all must find our place to make our mark, for this is as close as we shall ever get to immortality.

Scott Cahill

1975 Office Procedures

If you are old, perhaps, you might remember. It was a better time, a time of absolutes, of structure, of respect.

In 1975 a morning might start, as I walked into my office “Jan, you look absolutely beautiful today”,(you were allowed to say such things then) a cup of hot coffee was waiting on my desk and a wonderful smile from a wonderful person started my day. I loved Jan, (and later Melody, and Rene). They were my secretaries. I know, dirty word! It was not a dirty word in 1975, though.

In 1975 letters were written by a quick call ” take a letter to Acme Steel – tell Carl I want that damned rebar on that site or I will cut his %^%$^ off”   In your “in” box would be a well-worded, properly punctuated letter explaining to Carl that the reinforcing bar was needed immediately and that if not received by Tuesday, he would be found in conflict with 10.2.1 of his contract and charges would accrue against his payable.

In 1975 you could have a blood bath fight and then go to the corner bar and have a beer together and laugh. There was no time for subterfuge. Meetings were infrequent and for specific issues, which were addressed and then adjourned. If you disliked someone enough to complain, you fired them.

In 1975 if you thought that a girl in your office was beautiful you might say “You look beautiful today” she might respond “thanks”. That was it. If there was an unwanted advance she might say “Buzz off” That was it. You had no need to qualify every word. We treated each other as grownups.

In 1975 your boss told you what to do. He didn’t ask your opinion and then interject what might be a “better way of getting there”.

In 1975 you knew who was boss, who was second in charge and who was low man on the totem pole. There was not a discussion about wether that was a logistics problem or if it was a marketing issue.

In 1975 the title “secretary” was not demeaning. They were respected important, sought-after professionals that did things that executives were unable to do as well. The insult that “anybody” could type a letter or check the math on a quarterly report was never thought or uttered. The executive with the best secretary was often the executive that succeeded. (Secretaries were both male and female.) Secretarial work was often the path to an executive position within the company.

In 1975 a person answered the phone. That person wanted you to reach the department or person who you were calling and they spoke to you. Often they recognized your voice. There were no machines to query you and then drop the line.

In 1975 companies were groups of people together to provide a service. They worked together and each had a personal goal, but each, also understood a corporate goal. When the company suffered, each employee worried and considered how best to make it better.

So much has changed. Some is better, some is worse. Perhaps it is time to look into the past and to retrieve the things lost and to bring into the present those with value.

Perhaps it is time to look at all of this failed pandering to manufactured sensibilities and create a workplace where open opinion is welcome and everyone can express themselves. The hurt of an occasional poorly considered remark is far overshadowed by the loss of the joy that is a corporate community with truly open communication and respect for our differences and our personal value.

Scott Cahill

“I am surrounded by IDIOTS”

Frustration – it is the thing that happens when a clear course of action is difficult or impossible to take.

I hear it often “I am surrounded by idiots” and at times – I must admit – I see it first hand. How do people who fail to understand the very basics of a situation get into a position of management and, more importantly, how do we manage them from our subordinate positions?

Often it is the boss who never cared to keep up with I.T. or the government official who failed to read the regulation. They stumble blindly on serving out mandates to us, never seeing their ineptitude. We, understanding the impossibility or the impotence of the endeavor, must placate and maneuver them around to some, any, workable solution.

By now, you are wondering -“where is he going with this” – does he have an answer to the world’s greatest question? Yes I do. GET OUT! Move! Go! Leave! RUN!

It is perfectly fine to not understand many of the intricacies of a particular company or process. Great managers can delegate things that they do not understand to those who do. They evaluate results. They study to understand, but they allow the expert to, in fact, be the expert. A great leader will not dictate the details of a process. He will set up a method to reach a goal and will allow the expert(s) to find the best way to solve the problem. He will not demand adherence to a plan, but will allow the plan to evolve, steered by others.

My father was a great leader. He rarely told anyone what to do. In fact, he more often asked. He used to say to me “you can’t ask a man to do something that you will not do yourself”, and he never did. He would ask “how are you going to solve this problem”, he would listen. He often made suggestions, but the person who was responsible for the task, a vice president or a laborer, knew that it was they who were responsible and it was they who made the decision.

Sometimes they failed. I suspect that sometimes he knew that they would. He never said “I told you so”. He said “that didn’t work, what do you want to do this time”. He never reprimanded anyone for an attempt that failed. Failure was accepted as part of the process, and , in fact, it is.

Anyone who worked for him took a piece of him with them. He was universally loved. He never took credit. He passed it right on down the line. When complemented by a client, he would single out the person who found the solution. He was unassuming and he was quiet. Everyone knew he was in charge.

If you have such a boss, care for him, enjoy him, and tell him that you appreciate him (or her). You are, indeed, lucky. If you find yourself in a position where you have no control over the outcome, yet are responsible for it, RUN.

Scott Cahill

“We only work with friends”

Imagine what your day would be like if you only worked with friends. You would race to the meeting across town, smiling. You would stay late and look forward to a beer before you head home. A sales call would become an opportunity to catch up, a company meeting would become a happy occasion.

A while back, I was sick of those impossible, difficult, never satisfied souls who find a business situation as an opportunity to lord it over those of us who provide service or supply. I started letting them go, slowly, I replaced them with people who I really liked. I changed our companies’ motto to read “We only work with Friends” It was a wonderful change. It made business and life happy and easy, and I remembered why I had so enjoyed what I did, again.

It may seem impossible, it is not. You may have to work on it. You may have to become a friend of someone who you have little in common with. It is valuable and good in so many ways when you go to work and realize, while getting out of your car, that you are happy to be here.

Scott Cahill

A lesson in managing people

Recently, the Salem Ohio Community Theatre performed a comedy roast and skits in Courtyard Square.

I often go to see the shows at our beautiful historical theatre in our city. They are professional and of very high quality and, indeed the theatre and it’s company are a grand asset of this wonderful city.

Dan Haueter was the Director, and managed a dozen or so unpaid and over-talented actors who, in two weeks put together a show that sold out and changed the entertainment direction of a city.

I am a manager of people. Most of my time has been spent in turn-arounds. I am known for being candid and absolute. I am not known for compassion nor for kindness. I am, perhaps a bit of a dinosaur, a remnant of the days of “If it ain’t broken – break it”.

Dan is very different. He never raised his voice. He never got upset. His management style was gentle and forgiving. The cast love him and I have grown to be yet another of his advocates. His demeanor and his success have caused me to reflect on myself and my methods.

“There is no greater friend than one who teaches you to be a better person” That quote is from me. I have had a few great men who have stopped to help me along the way. First my father, great bosses, great clients, and great employees, and I took what I felt was the best that they offered and I made it my own.

Now, I am confronted with another friend who has shown me that, perhaps it is time to look at myself and assess my style in light of the changed environment of management and to learn from Mr. Haueter’s gentle management style.

Scott Cahill

Political Correctness Gone Awry

I am semi-retired – what that means is that I now do things and run businesses that I never would have considered before. One of those endeavors is a small coffee shop in a Planned Unit Development that I am constructing in Ohio. The coffee shop is up and running and I am turning it over to another to run day to day. It will be run by a wonderful company who’s charge is to incorporate those of us with special needs into society. It is a wonderful effort and I believe completely in it.

I was recently approached by one of our best young employees. She asked if she could go to work in one of the other businesses. I agreed immediately because she is clearly a star, and clearly, such a person belongs in the folds of my endeavors.

The reason that she gave, though, was interesting to me. She left because the company taking the coffee shop was sending her to sensitivity training. I believe that she was hurt by this act. This person, like most intelligent, worldly, educated people does not think of race or background or mental peculiarity as a bad thing, but a simple part of the diversity of man. She is above any lack of compassion and she is beyond the period of awkwardness that precedes this understanding.

She is, probably, the perfect person to help in their efforts of integration. Instead, she will soon be managing the business side of a fine restaurant. What did the new owners do wrong to lose their best employee?

I would feel exactly as my employee felt. “If you think so little of me that you must teach me how to treat others, I will move on and find a place where I am thought more of.” That is, after all, what she did. She knew that I would not treat her as a liability that needed “trained” to act properly. She was secure in herself and knew that she would find gainful employment, in fact, she will find great success and will climb to the top of the organizational chart wherever she goes. She chose not to be treated as if she was a lesser person.

I understand that it is good to have a coordinated method to address these things, but clearly, we must find a way to introduce ideas and methods that does not belittle our people.

Long ago those of us who had mental differences or difficulty were completely integrated in our society. They swept walks and they opened doors. They had jobs, and friends, and people who they spoke to every day. Somehow we failed them. We locked them in green-walled rooms and let them glue macaroni onto construction paper. We stripped them of their humanity. Shame on us. I hope that these efforts bring all of us together again in the fabric of society. I want the different in the mix. The world is better and more complete with us all. It is true that those of us who are different are subject to the taunts of the unenlightened. That is bad, but even worse is this cloistering of the different, shunning them from the social world that is their inherent right.

Scott Cahill

Finding Mr. King

Long ago I knew Martin Luther King. I was not a friend. I was one of the masses. I believed a patter that had been fed to me, and I had taken it as truth and I was poisoned by it. We are all subject to prejudice. Mine was not the simple prejudice of black and white, connecting some inaccurate trait to a whole segment of society. Mine was a prejudice of ignorance, accepting the marginalization of a truly great man. I had been told, and I accepted a story of M.L.K. that was far from correct.

The value of this story is not in my transformation, for men for all of time have studied, and have improved, and learned. The value of this story is in the source.

It was a working day and a long long drive. I was in a company truck, loaded with tools, and towing a trailer. I stopped to pick up my employee, James. James was a black man. He was raised in central Virginia in a time when the education of a black man was seen as unimportant. He was unable to read or write, but he could do simple math (his father had told him “so they can’t cheat you”).

James was hurting. He had been thrown from a horse, who he was breaking for the local preacher. James, as he recalls it, was thrown from the horse by God, because of the impure thoughts that he had for the preacher’s wife. So began a four or five hour trip and conversation between me and James.

James lived on a small farm. He had no electricity because at some point he had a dispute with the power company and he told them that he would no longer buy electricity from them. He had a small generator and he started it when power was required, but that was a luxury that James didn’t need. He had a dog, too. The dog, aptly named “Dog”, would get the pigs and would chase them into the pen each night. James explained that he would come inside and, when asked “did you get the pigs in?” he would smile to let James know that all was taken care of. James drank a bit of beer. It was, necessarily, warm, but “ok”.

Conversation drifted from Dog, to God, to preacher, to preacher’s wife, to horse, then finally to Martin Luther King. James knew much of M.L.K. his knowledge was infused in his little church, and he revered the man. He would say how he changed the world, I would offer my marginalization, he would say the he knew that he was giving his life for a greater good, I would say that he was just unlucky. It went on for the remaining hours of the trip.

James got to me. I realized that Mr. King was one of the grandest historical figures of our age and I realized that all of my knowledge of him and his life and legacy was superficial heresy.

I studied. I began to know a man who would influence me as Gandhi did, a truly great man, who subordinated his safety and, ultimately, his very life, for the betterment of all mankind, who saw his place in history, who did, indeed, see the cost and chose, nonetheless, to pay it. James was right, it was there in his writings, his notes, his “I have a dream” speech. I began to feel his feelings. My God, I loved this man!

The presidential calls, the communication with Bobby Kennedy, all of the information – it was exactly as James had said it to be. I was so ill advised – so poorly schooled, so ignorant. Could I look life and death in the eye and walk the line undaunted, as he did? Could I, if so tested, be the man who he was? What strength did he draw on to step onto that balcony that horrible day? How could a man be so strong?

We are a composite array of bits of information gleaned from our environment. If we limit our input or the depth, breadth, or diversity of our consideration, we, ultimately, limit ourselves. I am thankful for that long truck ride and for James, and his patience. He taught me about a man who exemplifies honor and selflessness. He taught me of a man who understood the greater good of man. He taught me, most of all, the frailty of obstinate thinking.

I am a better man for having known James and I am forever in his debt for introducing me to a friend, who will forever influence my life, Martin Luther King.

Scott Cahill

Beating up the President

Out of our society, a very few are chosen to lead. Of these, a tiny percentage attain a position of power, be it political, or position-related. The seemingly unattainable position of President of the United States is, no doubt, the pinnacle of political position. Our president, besides being the Commander-in-Chief, the leader of the free world and all of that other stuff, is, necessarily, a smart person.

Any person, so deeply vetted, must have intellect, poise, charisma, and a command of the political environment. Regardless of the talk on the street, few or no dummies ever occupy the oval office. The attainment of such office requires the ability to coordinate a campaign, generate a plan and to execute it under unending scrutiny, to field each question with a rehearsed and proper answer, to incorporate always, and alienate never. One slip and you certainly will fail.

Jimmy Carter is a brilliant man. I believe that he has all of the qualities that would make a great friend or neighbor. He is honorable. He is selfless. He is of high intellect. He is tested and loyal and is stable in times of stress. I do not believe that he was a great president.

Ronald Reagan had none of the appropriate background. He was an actor. He hadn’t a background in business, economics, or even politics. He had seemingly only a handsome face and a good demeanor, yet, I believe, he became one of the great presidents of our time.

One thing that each of these great men share is this – the absolute distain of the unenlightened. I have heard people call our President names, threaten his life, accuse him of subversion. Things that they would never say about their neighbor, they say openly about our President.

It is a wonderful thing, to live in a place where open dialog is allowed that questions or even denounces our government. We are a unique and blessed society to have the freedom that our constitutional government affords us. With this right goes, too, a level of responsibility. We each are responsible to understand the issues and to form opinions on them, to voice our opinions, and to be a part of the process that is our representative republic. This is, unfortunately, not the case.

Many are drawn into these many oversimplifications of complex problems. They fail to understand the need for debate, the building of consensus, and even civility. They accuse Democrats of being irresponsible with money, of buying votes. They accuse Republicans of being elitists, uncaring for the middle or lower class of citizenry. They polarize and alienate and divide. They stand on position without compromise, unyielding to negotiation, ready to fight to the death over any issue.

They refuse to approve budgets, appropriations, they drive our government to the brink of failure – all to prove a point – yet, the point is pointless. If you look back at the political parties that we have today, you will see that they have stood on both sides of the debate over the years. You will find that they just may be simply against what the other wants.

The prime target on the top of the political pyramid is the President. Our disfunction as a society, our disfunction as a political entity, our disfunction as a country, is focused on this one man. Our ignorance, our bigotry, our judgmental tendencies, all are openly expressed without even the filters of decency, at this one man.

What we say about our President, be he white, or black, man, or woman, Republican, or Democrat, is what we believe about ourselves. Reagan showed us; the office of the President of the United States deserves a level of dignity, and every person who is enlisted by us to so serve deserves, too, that level of dignity.

In all steps of politics, we must find, again, open and honest communication. That is dependent on mutual respect and consideration. It is our own failures that we vent at our leader. It is our own ineptitude that causes us to lash out at the one person who we put in the position of ultimate power within our government.

Scott Cahill