the Global External Environment With The Individual’s Internal Environment:
Resigning, Recalling and Car Culture
My recent blog about Eric Cantor’s loss
last Tuesday being due to his losing touch with his constituents suggested that
being one with the political environment, in this case those people a
politician represents, might have been a better formula for longevity in office
than the one Cantor pursued with DC lobbyists and national power brokers.
Perhaps. But oneness with the environment is probably not a formula for
longevity in life.
In his terrific book about the birth of
modern Israel called My Promised Land, Avi Shavit discusses the revolutionary
doctrine of the French physiologist Claude Bernard who first understood that
life is not an adjustment to the environment. That’s death (“dust to dust”).
Rather life is preserving an internal environment contrary to the one faced by
the organism from the external environment. Surely, this is correct, for each
of us is distinguishable from our environment as long as we breathe. We become
one with nature the moment we cease living. Is the same true in organizations?
Do individuals within organizations benefit the greater good by becoming one
with the organizational environment?
All organizations have environments. These are usually labeled
“cultures,” what my friend Harry Gibbs defines as the “way things are done
around here.” There is no doubt that one key to longevity within an
organization is adopting its culture as your own. But that may not be good for
the organization in the long run.
For example, Cyrus Vance chose to resign as Secretary of State when
President Jimmy Carter went forward with what proved to be a failed raid to
free the American hostages in Iran. Vance thought the plan foolish and he turned
out to be correct. There is no reason to doubt that Mr. Vance enjoyed being
Secretary of State but his inner environment could not be one with the culture
of Presidential ineptitude and he left the administration. That culture was not
his and it turned out he got out before the ship sank.
Consider what our current situation in that part of the world would
look like today had Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice or Susan Rice taken the same
principled posture as Vance instead of “going along” with the mischievous
presidential adventurism and frank lawlessness of Bush 43 (the invasion of
Iraq) or of Barry (thanks Maureen Dowd) Obama (The thus-far private Sgt. Bergdahl).
Sometimes, to be loyal to your country, you have to resist the President. This
is especially true with presidents who have lost the ability to differentiate
themselves from the organizations they lead and have become narcissistic
leaders. This was surely the case with Mr. Bush after 9/11. It was always the
case with Mr. Obama who actually believed all the stuff that Oprah said about
It is also true of Dr. DePinho, although I would love to know who
told him that he and MD Anderson were one and the same. I guess it could have
been John Mendelsohn, but I doubt it. I am not sure that Pres 3 and Pres 4 talk
much, which is really too bad because Pres 3 did great for his first 5 years.
To lead an organization, you must assume the responsibility that
gasoline and the engine have in a car. You are the energy driving the vehicle
forward (or, rarely, in reverse). You cannot be everywhere. You cannot know
everything you need to. You must place trust in the clutch, electrical system,
coolant and drive train that is your staff to understand your vision and plans,
know their part in fulfilling them, and, as in modern cars, provide rapid
feedback to the engine about the well-being of the portion of the system for
which the staff is responsible. The brakes must have veto power over the engine
to avoid a collision, much as an in-house attorney must have veto power over a
president’s misguided actions. Of course, that can only take place if the
lawyer is asked before the misguided action is taken.
A great assistant to an effective president is like a good set of
brakes with new pads. They won’t let the engine crash the car and in some newer
cars, the brakes even have veto power over the driver.
So why has Dr. DePinho’s tenure (there’s that word again) been so
Either he’s got no Cyrus Vance around or he won’t listen to what
the brakes are telling him?
I do not know which it is. There have been some high profile
Vance-like disappearances from DePinho’s drive train like Tom Burke, Raef
Pollock, Adrienne Lang, Razelle Kurzrock and others. Were they bad brakes or did
they just apply themselves too late? I am not sure, but I know these people and
I cannot believe they didn’t try to stop the demolition derby that has been
DePinho’s first three years.
I don’t know why the car keeps crashing. I do know that the newly
installed brakes in the executive suite are faulty and additional crashes are
likely. My only question for the Board of Regents is how many additional
crashes will be sufficient for you to issue a recall?