With the best presidents, loyalty should be to an ideal, a vision or a legislative programme, not just to one man e.g. the President.” [1] This was never clearer than with President Lincoln as described by eminent historian Doris Kearns in 2005 recent book, “Team of Rivals. Being in service to some code of loyalty can put the organization above morality and above the truth.” [2]

Loyalty

With the best presidents, loyalty should be to an ideal, a vision or a legislative programme, not just to one man e.g. the President.” [1] This was never clearer than with President Lincoln as described by eminent historian Doris Kearns in 2005 recent book, “Team of Rivals. Being in service to some code of loyalty can put the organization above morality and above the truth.” [2]

“Truth”

Nothing is more important in running any organization than learning the truth about it. It is harder to learn that those who have never led might think. My boss, Jep Dalston, at the University of Michigan Hospitals when we were in the 1925 building got his haircuts on the top floor from an ancient barber who must have been there since it was built. Anyway, Jep used the occasion to visit with the “little people” among his 5,000 employees. [Once when walking through a ward, he told me that the previous Director had an 8X10 picture of himself placed at every nurses station with the caption, “You may not know this man, but if he comes around, be nice: he is your boss!]

Taking the elevator to his barber he took the occasion to visit with the man who operated it from whom he learned the scuttlebutt the operator heard from earlier passengers From the barber he learned additional rumors etc. When I worked at Stillwater Municipal Hospital 1959-62 I went to the same barber as Hank Iba. Sometimes we would be in getting our haircuts at the same time which allowed me to hear him telling anecdotes about OSU athletics. Leaders have to learn things through informal as well as formal channels to learn what is really going on. President Truman was an artillery officer in WWI where he formed friendships that lasted a lifetime. Throughout life and through his presidency, he kept in touch with public opinion through his routine poker games with among others Brig. General Harry Vaughan from WWI days and Senator, later Chief Justice Fred Vinson.

Doris Kearns wrote of President Lincoln appointing to his cabinet known opponents who were unafraid to oppose his views [Salmon Chase, William Seward.] Leaders are not omniscient and need to have their opinions and decisions challenged by insiders. This is especially true when the issue involves myths having disastrous consequences such as myths supporting the War in Vietnam such as the ‘domino theory’ and Gulf of Tonkin attack and Weapons of Mass Destruction [WMD’s] in Iraq.

I experienced conflict between truth and loyalty as Associate to the Director of the University of Michigan Hospitals when relations between the Medical School, University, and the Hospital were deteriorating. The Number two officer of the University called and asked my honest opinion of the situation. Pressed to be candid and honest, I told him the hospital was governed using a legislative model when we needed a strong-executive style. [The Director’s degree was in political science and Ph.D. research was of the Oklahoma legislature.]

Asked if any of our top managers were effective using an executive style, I recommended the Director of Medical Center Personnel. Subsequently, my boss left to head a nationally—prominent hospital, and the Director of Personnel was appointed to replace him. By then I was back in academe and heard that the administrative situation was improved. But, for decades I have lived with deep and aboding guilt about this brief telephone conversation. My boss was a good man and achieved a great deal at U of M Hospital in his tenure there, and he was good to and for me. One suffers a personal cost in placing the organization’s welfare above loyalty.

Strategy

In teaching strategic management I had to begin by defining ‘strategic.’ Many have observed the effects of a changing strategy as when IBM ceased selling desktop computers but very few have ever experienced it. It refers to decisions at the highest level affecting the vital interests of the entire organization. Recently I tried to donate a vintage [1917] postcard picturing the Second Church of Christ Scientist in Los Angeles. It was returned with no forwarding address. Efforts to trace it failed. It simply died. Why?

Once I had a pastor who had an earned Ph.D. from [then] our best seminary whose field research concerned dying churches. He found that churches usually died rather than adapting by making the tough strategic changes required. ‘First’ churches so named because they were literally the denomination’s original congregation in the city’s downtown have been declining for a century mainly the result of demographics e.g., centrifugal growth of the city. . Drive north on Robinson from downtown OKC and you will pass several magnificent church buildings that once were such churches. The church I was born into in what is now the MLK area of OKC moved several times chasing white flight.

Of all the tasks of top management, it is understanding key variables underlying growth and bending to inevitable, irresistible trends in its environment. Research reported in “The Big Sort” indicates churches are not really for ‘everybody.’ “Today, we seek our own kind in like-minded churches, like-minded neighborhoods, and like-minded sources of news and entertainment.” [3] Normatively, that isn’t the biblical ideal, but descriptively it is a fact.

[1] The Economist, April 21, 2018, p.9

[2] Kearns, Doris, Team of Rivals, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2005.

[3] Bishop, Bill, The Big Sort: Why the clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing us Apart, Houghton-Mifflin, 2008 pg.39.