By lex, on July 1st, 2011

Back at Navy, way back in the way back when, I had a teammate on the sabre team, a year senior to me. He was a lefty, whose defensive prowess – I carried many a stripe on my back and forearm the blazing speed of his ripostes – taught me a great deal about getting in and out quickly on attack.

Which lessons, by the way, were of immense and transferable value to the strike fighter pilot.

Scary smart, got one B in four years at the Academy, the rest being As. As a physics major, where senior level courses attempted to pry open the mind of God. Went submarines, successfully commanded an attack boat and a submarine squadron. Don’t know how he didn’t select for flag.

He retired, started his own business, blogs about leadership. Specifically about traditional “leader-follower *” constructs, and the benefits of “leader-leader *“, a mode whereby leadership is delegated and empowered throughout an organization. If you set conditions wherein you tell your subordinates where you want to be more than how you want to get there, you liberate their creativity and they execute by-exception rather than by-command. Innovation requires the capacity for adding value via intellectual heft – this cannot be commanded, it must be permitted.

He has an interesting new post up about where the jobs are, and are not, in the US economy:*

Council on Foreign Relations working paper in March 2011 by Michael Spence and Sandile Hlatshwayo examined the structural trends in the American economy. They separated jobs into internationally tradable and non-tradable. For non-tradable jobs, think about jobs that have hard-to-overcome advantages to being local – construction, lawn care, health care, government services, and so on.

During the period 1990 to 2008, 27.3 million jobs were created but 97.7% of them were non-tradable. In other words, over the past 20 years America created almost no net jobs in areas where we competed with the rest of the world. Unfortunately, the boundary between  and non-tradable jobs is not fixed.

This is bleak.

The initial posting of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness headed by corporate leaders Jeffrey Immelt and Ken Chennault has fallen flat. In their WSJ editorial, they advocated 5 “fast action” steps – 3 broad and 2 specific. The two specific initiatives were to create more jobs in tourism and construction. These are both non-tradable sectors. In other words, our strategy seems to be to compete where there is no competition.

If we can only create jobs in the non-tradable sector we are doomed. Half of the job growth here was driven by government hiring and health care. Both of these seem unlikely to expand in the future at that same rate. Additionally, growth in value added (which ultimately drives growth in wages) in non-tradable jobs has been half that in tradable jobs. Finally, as emerging economies move up the value chain, more and more jobs are exposed to international competition. The non-tradable sector shrinks.

What’s that got to do with leadership?

An iPad programmer makes about $75/hour. What does it take to become one?

I started a project where I’m developing an iPad application so I wanted to learn a bit about it myself. Here’s what it took. I got a book out of the library (free), I watched Stanford’s computer programming courses on iTunesU (free), I downloaded Apple’s XCode – the program for writing iPhone and iPad applications (free), and spent some time on Apple’s web site (free). Now you’re not going to see any top 10 apps from me next week, but that was it. I needed to speak English, have a current iMac, and an internet connection. No college education, just initiative.

Where does this get to be about leadership?

The competition in tradable jobs has occurred mostly in labor intensive areas first – heavy manufacturing, manufacturing. Labor intensive jobs are those that are most amenable to the leader-follower structure. We commonly think of this as the shift from manufacturing toward services. My sense is that as these jobs leave the advanced economies, the adherence to leader-follower structures becomes more and more at odds with the remaining jobs, and gets in the way of allowing people to make their maximum contribution.

While adapting leader-leaders structures is a part of overall competitiveness, it is an important one.

His lesson, I believe, is this: We cannot wait for instructions. We have to think, and liberate our people to think.

Which concept is in itself thought provoking.

* 10-29-2018 Link Gone; no replacements found – Ed.

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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, Lex, Neptunus Lex, USNA

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