What I Learned about Leadership from Brendan Byrne

Few outside the Garden State will probably note the passing of Governor Brendan Byrne, who served two terms from 1974 to 1982.  He never ran for President, nor did he have any notable scandals in his administration.  For most of his tenure, New Jersey played the butt of the jokes from other 49 states, with the emergence of Bruce Springsteen as the notable exception.  However, I learned a little bit about leadership from him, thanks to my grandfather, that I carry with me to this day and, I hope, I live up to.

If my meeting the Governor happened by chance, my grandfather helped the odds a bit.  Before his career in government, Byrne practiced law and had my grandfather as a client in the 1950s.  In 1980, my grandfather celebrated his 65th birthday by taking his children and grandchildren to Bermuda for the Memorial Day weekend.  We ran into the Governor in a hotel lobby.  My grandfather strode across the carpet and shook the Governor’s hand, exchanging greetings and asking after each other in a polite but genuine fashion.  As a 10-year-old, I stood awestruck that my grandfather spoke so easily with, by my reckoning, the second-most-powerful politician in America.

Years later, I spent a summer working at my grandfather’s demolition company doing everything from driving him around to jobsites to picking steel rebar from the rubble of recently-dismantled buildings.  Among other things, I saw my grandfather interact with the men who worked for him as foremen, truckers, equipment operators and laborers.  And that’s what he called them, “the men.”  Never “the guys,” “the fellas” or even the faux-honorific “the gentlemen.”  Always “the men.”

He spoke frankly and genuinely with them.  He had an easy familiarity with them that he did not put on.  It was how he talked.

Years later, I would note that he spoke as easily with his men as he did with the Governor.  And that’s when I realized a great truism of dealing with co-workers.  The opposite was even more true: he spoke with his men with as much respect as if they had been the Governor of New Jersey.

Plannerben’s Foreign Policy

Last fall, John Chipman, the director-general and chief executive of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, advanced the notion that in our globalized world, “every company needs a foreign policy.”

The New York Times, 31 January 2017

I can’t say that as the owner of a very small business–as small as you can get before you cease to exist–that I’d ever considered the need to have a foreign policy before.  However, executive orders issued by our nation’s President have inspired me to think about the global nature of my business and to respond accordingly.

If it seems ludicrous that a consultant should have a foreign policy, consider this: most of my clients are multi-national and global companies.  Over the past 27 months, I’ve worked with one ad agency that’s part of a Paris-based holding company and another agency based in London.  Those agencies’ clients, in turn, include a global bank accused of bribery in China and a UK-based company with businesses across the globe.  I helped a mid-sized US agency pitch a bank holding company based in Japan.  I’ve even worked for two companies based in that most foreign of locales, New Jersey.

So, while I don’t jet-set around the globe, I do recognize that my work depends in a large part on working with people from anywhere and everywhere.  These people include foreign nationals, naturalized Americans, undocumented residents and people with countless political and religious beliefs not to mention gender identities and sexual preferences.  I can’t count ’em because it’s none of my damn business so I don’t keep a record.

As such, I commit Plannerben | Anecdata to support and work with people and companies in any nation as long as they believe that our differences are strengths and not weaknesses.  I will work with people of any political stripe, with any belief system as long as they recognize that what connects us as humans outweighs what separates us.

I strongly reject President Trump’s attempt to wall off America from the world.

Like my daughter, I support international diplomacy

I recognize that I’m not Apple.  I’m not Hard Rock Hotels for that matter.  And it’s not like Kim Jong Un is burning up the phone lines trying to hire me.  I do not anticipate any substantial negative or positive reactions to our policy.  However, I accept John Chipman’s challenge above as an opportunity to think about my business and how I conduct it.  Even in New Jersey.

Thank You

With the first year as a solopreneur under my belt, I wanted to take a moment to look back and to thank everyone, as the dear departed Yogi Berra would have said, who made this day necessary.

While year one involved some tough sledding, I got to do some amazing things and work with some amazing people.  I’ll brag about my accomplishments another time, perhaps.  Today I want to focus on the people who helped me along the way: you.

Maybe you helped me in a very material way, by hiring Plannerben|Anecdata to undertake a project.  Maybe you helped me make a contact somewhere.  Maybe you saw one of a hundred variations of my sales materials and website and maybe you gave me some advice about them.

Maybe you said or wrote some words of encouragement.  Maybe you said them directly to me.  Maybe that encouragement came in a conversation we had years ago or in a blog post you wrote about something else.

Maybe you read, commented on or shared one of my blog posts.  Google Analytics said that someone read it, so it must have been one of you.

Maybe you bought me a coffee, lunch or a drink.  Maybe you heard me sound off about the frustrations of launching a business.  Maybe you nodded your head or slapped me upside mine when I said “this is all bullshit.”  Maybe you sent some good vibrations my way, somehow.

Whatever you did, whether you did it specifically for me or not, I offer my humble thanks.

I wish you success in 2016 as you helped me achieve success in 2015.

And, in return, let me ask: what can I do to return the favor?