You Lose Touch, Then You Just Lose



      Poor Eric Cantor.  All queued up to be the first Jewish Speaker
of the US House of Representatives, yet this Wednesday morning he found himself
a lame duck. Quack! Now he will step down from his House leadership position, watch the food fight among his rivals to succeed him, and undoubtedly soon will join the ranks of the “spending more time with my
family” crowd.

He was defeated in the GOP primary in Virginia by
a Tea Party professor of Economics from Randolph-Macon College named Dave Brat.
Cantor out spent his opponent by a 25 to 1 margin. Supposedly he spent more on
steak dinners to gather support than the entire Brat campaign spent on
everything. Cantor surely had his eyes on House Speaker Boehner’s position and
perhaps even the White House. Oops. Another Jewish political leader brought to
his knees by hubris like Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner before him. What is
clear is that in Cantor’s rise to prominence in the Republican establishment, like
Spitzer and Weiner, Cantor lost touch with the people who sent him to Capitol
Hill and with reality. First, he lost touch, then his constituents made sure he
just lost.

      Losing touch with them that brung you to
the dance is a common political problem. Presidents of the US are constantly battling the
bubble in which they find themselves once reaching the Oval Office and no
amount of hand shaking, or National Mall jogging, or McDonald’s visiting seems
to overcome the phalanx of Secret Service and the other accouterments of office
that create that hermetically-sealed environment around a leader. This means
that the occupant of the White House had better have a pretty good grasp of
what the country is thinking and feeling before he takes office because after
that inaugural address, there will be hundreds of people trying to keep him in
the dark (or someday her, but then a Madame President will be less likely to be
kept in the dark as she may be more skeptical of the flattering garbage being
hurled at her).  People keep the leader
in the dark to secure their own oasis of light and power.

Taken more broadly, the entire city of
Washington, DC is out of step with most of the rest of the country. How else
can you explain the passage of borderline inconsequential legislation like the
Affordable Care Act while neglecting the real problems facing most Americans:
rising prices, stagnant wages, and the lack of opportunity to crawl into or
above the shrinking middle class while the Wall Street mavens who created the
mess continue making more messes. I know FAIR is the four-letter F-word, but

But you don’t have to live in Washington to
assume a position of authority and lose touch with the people who either got
you there or who depend on your decisions for their livelihood.

For example, there is good old President DePinho.

If acquiring the sensitivities and skills to be
MD Anderson President were to be in his bag of tricks before assuming the
position much as would be the case for the US President, what would they have been?

The most important skill for the President of
anything is to surround yourself with excellence. It was my former boss Irv
Krakoff who taught me the importance of basking in reflected glory for he
always pushed me to do well and thus strive to be excellent. It reflected on
him if I did and was. Some of the people Irv elevated to leadership positions
are still serving the MD Anderson mission with distinction 30 years after their
promotion and 20 years after Irv himself retired. Now, that’s a legacy!

A President must know when to articulate a
problem clearly, seek input from multiple sources and then decide on a course of action.
Notice there is an order to this. You don’t decide first and then pretend to
seek input on a problem that doesn’t exist, an inverted process all too
familiar to many of us in subsidiary roles in complex organizations. People are
likely to get behind a leader’s decisions, even ones they don’t agree with
initially, if they feel their opinion was sought and heard.

Finally, I think an internal compass of right and
wrong is very critical for a leader to have. It is almost certain that
difficult (shall I say Hard) choices face all leaders. Sometimes the right
choice is not only unclear, but may simply be the lesser of two evils. Make the
call and then explain yourself. Mr. Obama has yet to do that with Kathleen
Sebelius, Sgt. Bergdahl or the ACA. What did he think he was doing? Why did he
make the choices he made and how will he assess how well things worked out and
report back to us?

So Dr. Ron, how’s that Moon Shot thing going?
What are the metrics of success of your initiatives? Which drug has IACS put
into clinical trial? And how the heck do you explain the continuous stream of
bad press that has plagued you since early in your MD Anderson tenure (oops, oxymoron)?

Have you lost touch with your followers? Did you
ever have any in Houston? What say they now?

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