As I was sitting on the steps this beautiful fall morning, I remembered back to the middle of August when five minutes in that chair could cook you.
How my mind managed to dredge up my corporate days, I cannot explain. But I started remembering my days at Apple.
While I had some wonderful years among the nearly twenty that I spent at Apple, the last few were not a lot of fun.
There are a lot of reasons why that was so, but mostly it boiled down to the five managers I had in the last two years. Most if not all were unethical.
As a director of a publicly traded company, I took my responsibilities very seriously. A number of people worked on my national team and counted on me to help them to do their job and be paid fairly. I felt very responsible for their well being.
The team that I built had been extraordinarily successful and profitable for Apple. They had made a significant inroad into the federal computing market and reversed Apple's precipitous slide.
Much of the success had come while I was working for a terrific manager who been forced from the company when a new younger management team had been installed.
This is not unusual in American business, but if often happens for the wrong reason. Some companies, and Apple is one of them, believe that "tough love" is the only way to get results from employees. They would also rather have employees who ask no questions.
The reason they think that way is that they have missed some of the basic principles of leadership. They may know how to manage, but they do not know how to lead. By not knowing how to lead they mostly are unable to take advantage of the collective wisdom of the group.
In case there are some managers out there who would like to learn how to lead, here are some basic suggestions that can help you make the transition.
Rule one is never ask someone to do something you are not willing to do yourself. In fact if you have not done it yourself, you should do it just to learn what you are asking.
Rule two is make sure your people have what they need to do their jobs as professionally as possible. One of those things just might be space from upper management or the corporation.
Rule three is make sure you mean what you say and deliver on those promises to the best of your ability.
Rule four is to care more for your team than you do for yourself. You should never let them be blindsided or sell them down the river.
Rule five is to not do anything which will violate your own ethical beliefs.
Of course if you do not have any beliefs, that might be a fairly useless suggestion. While at one time it was hard for me to imagine people without real beliefs, now I have no trouble. I have seen plenty of them, and this being a political season, the television is now full of them and their glib comments.
I learned my principles early in life from my family, mostly my Mother, and as a Boy Scout. Later I was a young scout leader. Those lessons were reinforced by fours years at McCallie, a Presbyterian military high school and my years at Harvard.
Ten years of farming in the wilderness of eastern Canada also taught me a lot about people, relationships, and why people do things for other people.
One of the great things about your principles are they make you feel comfortable as a leader. I always felt empowered because the right direction was usually pretty clear. Also you know your people will follow you because they know you have their best interests at heart.
You do not need to threaten them, bribe them, or promise to take things away if they do not meet your expectations. Those are signs of a manager pretending to be a leader.
If you are a real leader, you know that unless something beyond your control happens that your team will exceed your wildest expectations.
However, you can still get in that hot seat. Management can tell you to do things that are not in your employee's best interests. Or they can set your employees up to fail because they would like cheaper or different employees. They may offer you a promotion to follow along meekly. It is not worth it.
A quick question would be why would you replace employees that are doing very well? A simple answer is that as a country we have lost our way on making sure we have the best person in the job. Often now the best person in the job is defined as my buddy. Some companies have fully embraced the cult of the buddy.
In the last few years this has become rampant. I personally like the story about a high school classmate of Sara Palin becoming a high ranking official in the Alaska Department of Agriculture because she liked cows.
It is similar to the new executive at Apple who replaced my former most excellent manager. The new executive had never sold Apple products or even computers, but he expressed a like for Macs. He also admitted once that he had been brought in to clean up Apple's poorly performing sales force.
It was not the sales force that was doing poorly. They were doing a heroic job of keeping Apple's customers at a time when making a decision to buy Apple products was not very popular.
Mostly the new executives at Apple replaced very good managers with buddies of his own who immediately started getting all of the stock options Apple was distributing for the division. They spent their first year reinventing the wheel.
For whatever reason I was the first of my team to end up in the hot seat. In the environment created by today's government standing up against a corporation is a losing proposition even if you are right and they are perhaps breaking the law.
So I ended up losing my job and got to watch as one after the other most of the people on my team who gave their hearts and souls to Apple for years were replaced by former colleagues of the guy who replaced me.
I will never regret having stood up and fought something that was really wrong. It would have been easy to tuck my tail in and just do everything I was told whether it was right or wrong.
Unfortunately for my career, that was not the way I was made. Sometimes you have to take a stand even if it is suicidal. Surviving to fight another day only makes sense if you can do it and live with yourself. In that case I could not.
While it has taken over four years for me to say it, leaving Apple was the best thing for me. While the financial challenges have been immense, I can look back on my career and be proud that I was true to my values.
At a time when few seem to have values, it is nice to be different. I have seen dumb requirements come down from management over the years. Most have been because the contract that many companies believe they have with employees is one way and does not work very well anymore.
We have allowed a corporate culture which cares little about its employees to thrive. The consequences are immense. Employees become less loyal and the management techniques used to get "more and/or better" results are questionable at best.
Self interest has to tempered with care for a larger group. If we cannot figure out how to rebuild that sense of responsibility for others, we have an ugly future because there will be no trust.
Once you have no trust, it is not much fun, and even less productive. There are no systems that work really well at getting the most out of a team or organizations that has no trust with the rest of the organization.
It is then that everyone ends up in a hot seat on their own which makes working its own private hell.