Published on: February 10, 2015by Michael Sansolo
Reporting in from the National Grocers Association Show...
LAS VEGAS - There’s no way the National Grocers Association (NGA) expected the opening speaker at this year’s convention to deliver a message filled with wisdom for retailers. Yet that’s exactly what they got from Leon Panetta, the former Secretary of Defense and Director of the CIA.
Of course to divine those lessons you have to do a little extrapolating, but not much.
Panetta delivered a spirited message through both his speech and ensuing conversation with NGA President Peter Larkin. The message took sharp aim at the level of governmental dysfunction in Washington, DC, due to partisan politics and the resulting gridlock.
Listening to Panetta’s comments without any background it would have been hard to tell what his personal leanings are and were. His criticisms were equally aimed at President Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress and with their counterparts in the Republican Party.
That even-handed blasting might well be the reason Panetta got two standing ovations from the crowd. But let’s examine how the issues he raised apply to business.
First, Panetta highlighted how activity in government starts with leadership or crisis reaction. He recalled how throughout his long career in government he witnessed both parties coming together repeatedly to demonstrate leadership to address difficult issues from civil rights to the budget.
More recently though, he said, action only seems to only follow a crisis. And even then, the problems aren’t always addressed; rather they are simply modified and pushed to the future.
Business leaders need to consider that point: are your decisions based on foresight or reaction? We all complain about Washington - and frequently with good reason - but are we any different? Are we being pro-active on the wide range of issues facing us or do we simply wait to fight fires?
The latter could be as bad for business as it is for governing.
Panetta also made a powerful point on collaboration and compromise. He detailed numerous past battles in Washington that were settled only when all sides were willing to address any and all serious issues. Here again, think of your business dealings, especially with trading partners. Win-win solutions never happen if one side needs to win everything.
Collaboration requires give and take and understanding the wisdom from the Rolling Stones that you simply cannot always get what you want.
So sure, it was a political speech from a political insider. But it was also so much more.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at email@example.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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