Monday, July 31, 2017

Leaving Your Family at Disneyland

I think I've mentioned Corner Office before -- an on-going series of interviews with CEOs of different companies and organizations that appears in The New York Times. I'm not a subscriber, but for some reason the RSS feed to the series just keeps working, plopping a new interview in my inbox every Monday morning.

I like them. They tend to reinforce things I already know about leadership, and sometimes they contain real nuggets of new-found wisdom. But every once in a while, I read something that makes my jaw drop practically to the floor.

So what are your best [interview] questions?

To understand their work ethic, I do ask this question: Would you be willing to leave your family at Disneyland to do something that was really important for the company?

Some people have said no, and I haven’t hired them.

This from an interview with Don Mal, the chief executive of Vena Solutions, a software firm, and my first reaction was one of horror. You refused to hire someone because they told you in an interview that they wouldn't leave their family at Disneyland to do something important for the company?

But then I read on...

It’s interesting because I did leave my wife and kids at Disneyland once. It was to close the biggest deal of our company’s history. I left for two days. It wasn’t like I was leaving them there for the whole vacation.

To me, it’s not so much a loyalty question. It’s more of just trying to understand their work ethic.

But I can imagine someone saying: “That’s outrageous. Vacations should be vacations.”

To which I would say: “Well, here’s the deal. I did it. I felt it was important, and I’ll tell you why. It advanced my career. It helped the company, and my wife was actually O.K. with it because I got a pretty big check to pay for our entire vacation because we closed the deal.”

And as I read on I realized, much to my own chagrin, that I had once done exactly the same kind of thing -- leaving a family vacation (not at Disneyland, but in Gatlinburg, Tennessee) for a few days to see to a work commitment in another city. And, unlike Don Mal, my reason for leaving was much less critical than the biggest deal in my company's history.

How do I explain such cognitive dissonance? Horrified at the prospect of actions I myself had taken?

I remember my wife driving me through the Tennessee countryside to the Knoxville airport, the kids back at the rental house with their aunts, uncles and cousins. Neither one of us were exactly happy about the circumstances, but neither of us were angry about it either. This, after all, is what I did for a living. Getting on airplanes and working for a few days in another city is what the job frequently required of me, and we both had come to understand and expect it. It was a little unusual to be leaving in the middle of a family vacation, but we had even rolled with that punch, simply packing a separate suitcase with business clothes and a second set of toiletries for the side trip.

Is it because I expect more of myself than I expect of the people who work for me? Or, if not more, than at least something different?

I'm the CEO. That's a different position with a different set of responsibilities. If I look at the state of play around something, and I decide that my presence is required, then I'd better figure out a way to get myself there, even if there is a long-planned family vacation that overlaps the same set of dates. That's the weird set of privileges/responsibilities that come with being the CEO. You can decide which meetings you do and do not attend -- no one is going to tell you otherwise, or compel you to attend something against your will -- but failing to show up at certain meetings can jeopardize the strategic objectives of your organization.

Does this same dynamic not apply to other positions in my organization? Not with regard to the same set of stakes, but within the context of each person's responsibility there are undoubtedly places they need to be and meetings they need to attend to see their responsibilities to their successful fulfillment. Should they not be just as committed to those objectives as I am to those of my organization? If there is a conflict between a family vacation and one of those responsibilities, is not the right answer the difficult reality of laving your family behind at Disneyland?

Yes. I think it is.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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Monday, July 24, 2017

Getting New Voices Heard at the Board Table

The Board of my association uses a structure we call Strategic Task Forces. I think I've written about them before on this blog. They are task forces of the Board, but we invite a number of non-Board members to serve on them as well.

Their role is to help the Board examine our key areas of strategy, work to define what success “looks like,” codify that description into a set of metrics, and track our progress over time. We have found it especially helpful to have important stakeholders from outside the demographics of the Board serve on these task forces, as those voices help us shape and define strategy in ways that serve a constituency broader than the Board itself.

The other nice trick about our Strategic Task Forces is that they meet at the Board meetings themselves. Our Board meets three times a year, roughly for a day and half at each meeting, and the segment that is the Strategic Task Force meetings is a couple of hours at most. We err on the side inclusion by inviting the non-Board task force members to not just attend their task force meeting, but instead to attend the length of the Board meeting itself, essentially participating as non-voting Board members in all the other sessions and social functions. Since many of the folks that we ask to serve on the task forces are candidates that we are considering for future Board service, this tactic gives the existing Board an opportunity to meet and interact with the candidates, and gives the candidates a great orientation to the Board and its operations.

This past week I reached out to one of these candidates and asked him to serve on one of these task forces during our upcoming fiscal year. His company represents one of those stakeholder groups whose voice we want to hear more from. When I spoke to him on the phone I could tell that he was surprised by the invitation. His company just joined our association in the past year, and he has been in his position at the company for about the same amount of time. He didn't ask this question directly, but his tone of voice seemed to question why we would want to bring such a newbie into our Board discussions.

And that made me realize that inviting fresh voices into Board discussions like we do with our Strategic Task Forces is still something relatively rare in the association community. Lots of associations still view Board access as something to be earned, not to be given away so cavalierly. Yes. You just joined the association and are still relatively new to our industry. Not only would we like to hear what you think of the strategy we have built -- the ends we want to achieve on your behalf and the methods by which we are pursuing them -- but we'd like to give you a hand in shaping them for the future. That, for many associations, is still a fairly scary proposition.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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Saturday, July 22, 2017

American Pastoral by Philip Roth

This is the first Philip Roth that I have read, and I suppose that I’ll read more, although I’ve been hearing lately about how dark and nihilistic he can be. American Pastoral certainly has its darkness and its nihilism, but I think it also attempting to do something profound.

I was ten and I had never read anything like it. The cruelty of life. The injustice of it. I could not believe it. The reprehensible member of the Dodgers is Razzle Nugent, a great pitcher but a drunk and a hothead, a violent bully fiercely jealous of the Kid. And yet it is not Razzle carried off “inert” on a stretcher but the best of them all, the farm orphan called the Kid, modest, serious, chaste, loyal, naive, undiscourageable, hard-working, soft-spoken, courageous, a brilliant athlete, a beautiful, austere boy.

This is on page 9, and our first-person narrator (who seems to disappear as the novel wears on) is reflecting on a baseball morality play that made a big impact on his young mind. As he continues, he speculates on what the lessons of the book might mean for our actual protagonist, a boyhood hero of the narrator nicknamed the Swede.

Needless to say, I thought of the Swede and the Kid as one and wondered how the Swede could bear to read this book that had left me near tears and unable to sleep. Had I the courage to address him, I would have asked if he thought the ending meant the Kid was finished or whether it meant the possibility of yet another comeback. The word “inert” terrified me. Was the Kid killed by the last catch of the year? Did the Swede know? Did he care? Did it occur to him that if disaster could strike down the Kid from Tomkinsville, it could come and strike the great Swede down too? Or was a book about a sweet star savagely and unjustly punished -- a book about a greatly gifted innocent whose worst fault is a tendency to keep his right shoulder down and swing up but whom the thundering heavens destroy nonetheless -- simply a book between those “Thinker” bookends up on his shelf?

The book our narrator is referring to is called The Kid from Tomkinsville (although even he contemplates that it could have better been called The Lamb from Tomkinsville or even The Lamb from Tomkinsville Led to the Slaughter), but, of course, behind him it is Roth referring to American Pastoral. The Swede -- Seymour Irving Levov -- is the Kid, in the sense that the Swede is also a “sweet star savagely and unjustly punished,” but that juxtaposition is not the profound thing that Roth is trying to do. For that, we have to understand that the Swede is not just a man, but an entire generation of Americans, and that the thing that brings him down, is not cruel fate, but the beloved generation that follows them.

But before going there, Roth offers the reader a caution. He doesn’t know if he can actually succeed in doing what he’s attempting to do.

An Astonishing Farce of Misperception

You fight your superficiality, your shallowness, so as to try to come at people without unreal expectations, without an overload of bias or hope or arrogance, as untanklike as you can be, sans cannon and machine guns and steel plating half a foot thick; you come at them unmenacingly on your own ten toes instead of tearing up the turf with your caterpillar treads, take them on with an open mind, as equals, man to man, as we used to say, and yet you never fail to get them wrong. You might as well have the brain of a tank. You get them wrong before you meet them, while you’re anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you’re with them; and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion empty of all perception, an astonishing farce of misperception.

Roth can’t truly know the subject of his own book, just, as we will come to see, the two characters within it who come to represent the older and younger generations of America -- Swede Levov and his daughter Merry -- can’t truly know each other. It is the desire to know, and the inability to doing so, that creates the bitter tragedy.

And yet what are we to do about this terribly significant business of other people, which gets bled of the significance we think it has and takes on instead a significance that is ludicrous, so ill-equipped are we all to envision one another’s interior working and invisible aims? Is everyone to go off and lock the door and sit secluded like the lonely writers do, in a soundproof cell, summoning people out of words and then proposing that these word people are closer to the real thing than the real people that we mangle with our ignorance every day? The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It’s getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That’s how we know we’re alive: we’re wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride. But if you can do that -- well, lucky you.

And don’t try to take sides, Roth seems to caution us. One is not right and the other wrong -- or at least there is no way for us to tell, given our basic ignorance of another’s interior working and invisible aims. Better to just go along for the ride.

The American Pastoral and the American Berserk

Here’s the passage that gives you the clue you need to decipher Roth’s profundity.

The disruption of the anticipated American future that was simply to have unrolled out of the solid American past, out of each generation’s getting smarter -- smarter for knowing the inadequacies and limitations of the generations before -- out of each new generation’s breaking away from the parochialism a little further, out of desire to go the limit in America with your rights, forming yourself as an ideal person who gets rid of the traditional Jewish habits and attitudes, who frees himself of the pre-America insecurities and the old, constraining obsessions so as to live unapologetically as an equal among equals.

This is Swede Levov, the child of Jewish immigrants, a generation of people embracing the American dream and all of its totems and rituals.

And then the loss of the daughter, the fourth American generation, a daughter on the run who was to have been the perfected image of himself as he had been the perfected image of his father, and his father the perfected image of his father’s father … the angry, rebarbative spitting-out daughter with no interest whatever in being the next successful Levov, flushing him out of hiding as if he were a fugitive -- initiating the Swede into the displacement of another America entirely, the daughter and the decade blasting to smithereens his particular form of utopian thinking, the plague America infiltrating the Swede’s castle and there infecting everyone. The daughter who transports him out of the longed-for American pastoral and into everything that is its antithesis and its enemy, into the fury, the violence, and the desperation of the counterpastoral -- into the indigenous American berserk.

And this is Merry, the radical, a generation of people disillusioned with the very totems and rituals that define the generation that came before.

In the course of the novel we will discover that Merry took her radicalization seriously, bombing a drugstore in her hometown, killing the proprietor, and spending years on the run and out of touch with her father -- all as a protest against his politics, his country, his generation, him.

And we will also discover that, for these things, the Swede can only blame himself.

I am thinking of the Swede and of what happened to his country in a mere twenty-five years, between the triumphant days at wartime Weequahic High and the explosion of his daughter’s bomb in 1968, of that mysterious, troubling, extraordinary historical transition. I am thinking of the sixties and of the disorder occasioned by the Vietnam War, of how certain families lost their kids and certain families didn’t and how the Seymour Levovs were one of those that did -- families full of tolerance and kindly, well-intentioned liberal goodwill, and theirs were the kids who went on a rampage, or went to jail, or disappeared underground, or fled to Sweden or Canada. I am thinking of the Swede’s great fall and of how he must have imagined that it was founded on some failure of his own responsibility. There is where it must begin. It doesn’t matter if he was the cause of anything. He makes himself responsible anyway. He has been doing that all his life, making himself unnaturally responsible, keeping under control not just himself but whatever else threatens to be uncontrollable, giving his all to keep his world together. Yes, the cause of the disaster has for him to be a transgression. How else would the Swede explain it to himself? It has to be a transgression, a single transgression, even if it is only he who identifies it as a transgression. The disaster that befalls him begins in a failure of his responsibility, as he imagines it.

But, perhaps as you can begin to see even in that excerpt, it is always important in this novel not to view Seymour and Merry Levov as individuals -- as people that Roth has told us we are incapable of truly knowing anyway -- but as generations, wrestling with each other for the soul of America. The Swede, in blaming himself, embodies the mindset of an aspirational generation, while Merry, in rejecting all that her father has arranged and decoded for her, embodies the mindset of a nihilistic one -- the American pastoral versus the American berserk.

Because what is it, exactly, that Merry finds so objectionable about her father, that the young generation finds so objectionable about the older? The narrator alludes to it when he meets the Swede for dinner as adults in the opening pages.

I was impressed, as the meal wore on, by how assured he seemed of everything commonplace he said, and how everything he said was suffused by his good nature. I kept waiting for him to lay bare something more than this pointed unobjectionableness, but all that rose to the surface was more surface. What he has instead of a being, I thought, is blandness -- the guy’s radiant with it. He has devised for himself an incognito, and the incognito has become him. Several times during the meal I didn’t think I was going to make it, didn’t think I’d get to dessert if he was going to keep praising his family and praising his family … until I began to wonder if it wasn’t that he was incognito but that he was mad.

And the Swede’s brother throws it in his face much deeper in the novel.

“No, you’re not the renegade. You’re the one who does everything right.”

“I don’t follow this. You say that like an insult.” Angrily [the Swede] says, “What the hell is wrong with doing things right?”

“Nothing. Nothing. Except that’s what your daughter has been blasting away at all her life. You don’t reveal yourself to people, Seymour. You keep yourself a secret. Nobody knows what you are. You certainly never let her know who you are. That’s what she’s been blasting away at -- that facade. All your fucking norms. Take a good look at what he did to your norms.”

“I don’t know what you want from me. You’ve always been too smart for me. Is this your response? Is this it?”

“You win the trophy. You always make the right move. You’re loved by everybody. You marry Miss New Jersey, for God’s sake. There’s thinking for you. Why did you marry her? For the appearance. Why do you do everything? For the appearance!”

The Swede is a man so swamped in the cultural ideal of his generation that nothing individual, nothing messy, nothing radical, ever swims to the surface.

There is a powerful scene early in the novel that illustrates the Swede’s need for this control, for this all-consuming normality, and the hidden frailty that secretly lives within him, the shattered self he can show no one but which is a direct result of Merry’s betrayal. He is giving a young woman named Rita a tour of his family’s glove manufacturing business, and Roth dives deep into Melvillian detail as the Swede discusses, demonstrates, and diagrams both the art and science that is glove making. It goes on for so long, and in so much obsessive detail, that I began to wonder what it all meant. It’s clearly not just an interlude. And then this.

This is the silking, that’s a story in itself, but this is what she’s going to do first. … This is called a piqué machine, it sews the finest stitch, called piqué, requires far more skill than the other stitches. … This is called a polishing machine and that is called a stretcher and you are called honey and I am called Daddy and this is called living and the other is called dying and this is called madness and this is called mourning and this is called hell, pure hell, and you have to have strong ties to be able to stick it out, this is called trying-to-go-on-as-though-nothing-has-happened and this is called wanting-to-be-dead-and-wanting-to-find-her-and-to-kill-her-and-to-save-her-from-whatever-she-is-going-through-wherever-on-earth-she-may-be-at-this-moment, this unbridled outpouring is called blotting-out-everything and is does not work, I am half insane, the shattering force of that bomb is too great. … And then they were back at his office again, waiting for Rita’s gloves to come from the finishing department, and he was repeating to her a favorite observation of his father’s, one that his father has read somewhere and always used to impress visitors, and he heard himself repeating it, word for word, as his own.

There’s a kind a sad beauty in both this device and Roth’s writing. It’s one of those rare moments in literature where something is set-up and the unexpected pay-off delivers seven-fold. It really captures of emotion of the Swede’s impossible situation.

The Awfulness of Her Terrible Autonomy

That’s a phrase I circled when I encountered it on the page. Much of the novel will be consumed by the Swede’s consuming obsession, and his inability to understand his daughter’s actions.

Nor could he say he hated his daughter for what she had done -- if he could! If only, instead of living chaotically in the world where she wasn’t and in the world where she once was and in the world where she might now be, he could come to hate her enough not to care anything about her world, then or now. If only he could be back thinking like everybody else, once again the totally natural man instead of this riven charlatan of sincerity, an artless outer Swede and a tormented inner Swede, a visible stable Swede and a concealed beleaguered Swede, an easygoing, smiling sham Swede enshrouding the Swede buried alive. If only he could even faintly reconstitute the undivided oneness of existence that had made for his straightforward physical confidence and freedom before he became the father of an alleged murderer. If only he could be as unknowing as some people perceived him to be -- if only he could be as perfectly simple as the legend of Swede Levov concocted by the hero-worshipping kids of his day. If only he could say, “I hate this house!” and be Weequahic’s Swede Levov again. If he could say, “I hate that child! I never want to see her again!” and then go ahead, disown her, forevermore despise and reject her and the vision for which she was willing, if not to kill, then to cruelly abandon her own family, a vision having nothing whatsoever to do with “ideals” but with dishonesty, criminality, megalomania, and insanity. Blind antagonism and an infantile desire to menace -- those were her ideals. In search always of something to hate. Yes, it went way, way beyond her stuttering. That violent hatred of America was a disease unto itself. And he loved America. Loved being an American. But back then he hadn’t dared begin to explain to her why he did, for fear of unleashing the demon, insult. They lived in dread of Merry’s stuttering tongue. And by then he had no influence anyway. [His wife] Dawn had no influence. His parents had no influence. In what way was she “his” any longer if she hadn’t even been his then, certainly not his if to drive her into her frightening blitzkrieg mentality it required no more than for her own father to begin to explain why his affections happened to be for the country where he’d been born and raised. Stuttering, sputtering little bitch! Who the fuck did she think she was?

Pages and pages of this: self abuse, shame, and torment. He loves her. He hates her. He can’t understand her.

Hate America? Why, he lived in America the way he lived inside his own skin. All the pleasures of his younger years were American pleasures, all that success and happiness had been American, and he need no longer keep his mouth shut about it just to defuse her ignorant hatred. The loneliness he would feel as a man without all his American feelings. The longing he would feel if he had to live in another country. Yes, everything that gave meaning to his accomplishments had been American. Everything he loved was here.

The voice of one generation. Struggling to understand the mind of another.

For her, being an American was loathing America, but loving America was something he could not let go of any more than he could have let go of loving his father and his mother, any more than he could have let go of his decency. How could she “hate” this country when she had no conception of this country? How could a child of his be so blind as to revile the “rotten system” that had given her own family every opportunity to succeed? To revile her “capitalist” parents as though their wealth were the product of anything other than the unstinting industry of three generations. The men of three generation, including even himself, slogging through the slime and stink of a tannery. The family that started out in a tannery, at one with, side by side with, the lowest of the low -- now to her “capitalist dogs.” There wasn’t much difference, and she knew it, between hating America and hating them. He loved the America she hated and blamed for everything that was imperfect in life and wanted violently to overturn, he loved the “bourgeois values” she hated and ridiculed and wanted to subvert, he loved the mother she hated and had all but murdered by doing what she did. Ignorant little fucking bitch! The price they had paid!

And all of it -- the Swede and Merry, the two generations they represent, the American Pastoral and the American Berserk -- Roth ruthlessly allows all of it to circle high above the reader like a desert scavenger, only and always to eventually come down to feed on that one powerful phrase. The awfulness of her terrible autonomy. We do what we want. And there is nothing, not even generations of toil and fealty to a dream, that can stop us.

The Kiss

At first, I was not going to include this, both because I didn’t think it was crucial to one’s understanding of the novel, and because I wasn’t sure I could adequately convey its subtle subversion. But as I reflect back on the novel, re-reading all the pages I’ve dog-eared and passages I’ve underlined, I’ve come to realize I do have to address it.

I found him in Deal, New Jersey, at the seaside cottage, the summer his daughter was eleven, back when she couldn’t stay out of his lap or stop calling him by cute pet names, couldn’t “resist,” as she put it, examining with the tip of her finger the close way his ears were fitted to his skull.

This is the narrator again, looking into the life of the Swede as a grown man, not “as a god or a demigod whose triumphs one could exult as a boy but his life as another assailable man.”

Wrapped in a towel, she would run through the house and out to the clothesline to fetch a dry bathing suit, shouting as she went, “Nobody look!” and several evenings she had barged into the bathroom where he was bathing and, when she saw him, cried out, “Oh, pardonnez-moi -- j’ai pensé que--” “Scram,” he told her, “get-outahere-moi.”

She, of course, is Merry, and the time is one of innocent and adoring love.

Driving along with him back from the beach one day that summer, dopily sun-drunk, lolling against his bare shoulder, she had turned up her face and, half innocently, half audaciously, precociously playing the grown-up girl, said, “Daddy, kiss me the way you k-k-kiss umumumother.”

Merry is eleven and, as described earlier, suffering with an awkward stutter.

Sun-drunk himself, voluptuously fatigued from rolling all morning with her in the heavy surf, he had looked down to see that one of the shoulder straps of her swimsuit had dropped over her arm, and there was her nipple, the hard red bee bite that was her nipple. “N-n-no,” he said -- and stunned them both. “And fix your suit,” he added feebly. Soundlessly she obeyed.

It was stunning because the Swede had made fun of her stammer, something he had never done before, something he had previously seemed incapable of doing. He immediately regrets it.

“I’m sorry, cookie--” “Oh, I deserve it,” she said, trying with all her might to hold back her tears and be his chirpingly charming pal again. “It’s the same at school. It’s the same with my friends. I get started with something and I can’t stop. I just get c-c-carried awuh-awuh-awuh-awuh--”

To deepen the sense of betrayal, Roth next gives us the following long paragraph.

It was a while since he’d seen her turn white like that or seen her face contorted like that. She fought for the word longer than, on that particular day, he could possibly bear. “Awuh-awuh--” And yet he knew better than anyone what not to do when, as Merry put it, she “started phumphing to beat the band.” He was the parent she could always rely on not to jump all over her every time she opened her mouth. “Cool it,” he would tell Dawn, “relax, lay off her,” but Dawn could not help herself. Merry began to stutter badly and Dawn’s hands were clasped at her waist and her eyes fixed on the child’s lips, eyes that said, “I know you can do it!” while saying, “I know that you can’t!” Merry’s stuttering just killed her mother, and that killed Merry. “I’m not the problem -- Mother is!” And so was the teacher the problem when she tried to spare Merry by not calling on her. So was everybody the problem when they started feeling sorry for her. And when she was fluent suddenly and free of stuttering, the problem were the compliments. She resented terribly being praised for fluency, and as soon as she was praised she lost it completely -- sometimes, Merry would say, to the point that she was afraid “I’m going to short out my whole system.” Amazing how this child could summon up the strength to joke about it -- his precious lighthearted jokester! If only it were within Dawn’s power to become a little lighthearted about it herself. But it was the Swede alone who could always manage to be close to perfect with her, though even he had all he could do not to cry out in exasperation, “If you dare the gods and are fluent, what terrible thing do you think will happen?” The exasperation never surfaced: he did not wring his hands like her mother, when she was in trouble he did not watch her lips or mouth her words with her like her mother, he did not turn her, every time she spoke, into the most important person not merely in the room bu in the entire world -- he did everything he could not to make her stigma into Merry’s way of being Einstein. Instead his eyes assured her that he would do all he could to help but that when she was with him she must stutter freely if she needed to. And yet he had said to her, “N-n-no.” He had done what Dawn would rather die than do -- he had made fun of her.


There’s so much here. The competition between a mother and a daughter; the love between a daughter and a father; the struggle of a child to understand what growing up means; the struggle of a parent to keep from shaping children in an idealized image. Universals, all; and all expertly bundled together in this little vignette about a beach cottage and an adolescent stammer. There’s so much here, but there’s so much more to come.

“Oh, cookie,” he said, and at just the moment when he had understood that the summer’s mutual, seemingly harmless playacting -- the two of them nibbling at an intimacy too enjoyable to swear off and yet not in any way to be taken seriously, to be much concerned with, to be given an excessive significance, something utterly uncarnal that would fade away once the vacation was over and she was in school all day and he had returned to work, nothing that they couldn’t easily find their way back from -- just when he had come to understand that the summer romance required some readjusting all around, he lost his vaunted sense of proportion, drew her to him with one arm, and kissed her stammering mouth with the passion that she had been asking him for all month long while knowing only obscurely what she was asking for.

Yes. That. A single but singularly horrific lapse of parental judgment and betrayal.

Was he supposed to feel that way? It happened before he could think. She was only eleven. Momentarily it was frightening. This was not anything he had ever worried about for a second, this was a taboo that you didn’t even think of as a taboo, something you are prohibited from doing that felt absolutely natural not to do, you just proceeded effortlessly -- and then, however momentarily, this.

When I first read this, I really struggled with it. Despite Roth’s elaborate context and the self-tortured inner dialogue he provides the Swede, the kiss still feels out of place. It goes too far. As my college creative writing teacher would have said, he hasn’t earned it.

Never in his entire life, not as a son, a husband, a father, even as an employer, had he given way to anything so alien to the emotional rules by which he was governed, and later he wondered if this strange parental misstep was not the lapse from responsibility for which he paid for the rest of his life. The kiss bore no resemblance to anything serious, was not an imitation of anything, had never been repeated, had itself lasted five seconds … ten at most … but after the disaster, when he went obsessively searching for the origins of their suffering, it was that anomalous moment -- when she was eleven and he was thirty-six and the two of them, all stirred up by the strong sea and the hot sun, were heading happily home alone from the beach -- that he remembered.

And it does fill that niche in the story. The Swede, as we have seen, desperate both to blame himself and to find the reason for “the disaster,” for Merry’s radicalization and her bombing of the local drugstore, will obsess and obsess and obsess some more over this transgression.

Did it have to do with him? That foolish kiss? That was ten years behind them, and besides, it had been nothing, had come to nothing, did not appear to have meant anything much to her even at the time. Could something as meaningless, as commonplace, as ephemeral, as understandable, as forgivable, as innocent … No! How could he be asked again and again to take seriously things that were not serious? Yet that was the predicament that Merry had forced on him all the way back when she was blasting away at the dinner table about the immorality of their bourgeois life. How could anybody take that childish ranting seriously? He had done as well as any parent could have -- he had listened and listened when it was all he could do not to get up from dinner and walk away until she’d spewed herself out; he had nodded and agreed to as much as he could even marginally agree to, and when he opposed her -- say, about the moral efficacy of the profit motive -- always it was with restraint, with all the patient reasonableness he could muster. And this was not easy for him, given that it was the profit motive to which a child requiring tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of orthodontia, psychiatry, and speech therapy -- not to mention ballet lessons and riding lessons and tennis lessons, all of which, growing up, she at one time or another was convinced she could not survive without -- might be thought to owe if not a certain allegiance then at least a minuscule portion of gratitude. Perhaps the mistake was to have tried so hard to take seriously what was in no way serious; perhaps what he should have done, instead of listening so intently, so respectfully, to her ignorant raving was to reach over the table and whack her across the mouth.

But what would that have taught her about the profit motive -- what would it have taught her about him? Yet if he had, if, then the veiled mouth could be taken seriously. He could now berate himself, “Yes, I did it to her, I did it with my outbursts, my temper.” But it seemed as though he had done whatever had been done to her because he could not abide a temper, had not wanted on or dared to have one. He had done it by kissing her. But that couldn’t be. None of this could possibly be.

But then I began to think about the novel’s larger canvas, about how the Swede and Merry represented two generations in the American story, the Swede’s humble with its self-importance and Merry’s angry at how easy everything seems to be. And through this lens, the kiss takes on a more metaphoric meaning. The Swede’s generation loves its children, will do anything to keep it from pain and danger, but, in removing the struggle from their lives removes the very thing that builds the kind of character they esteem most. They love. But they don’t parent.

The Swede’s father gets it.

“I remember when Jewish kids were home doing their homework. What happened? What the hell happened to our smart Jewish kids? If, God forbid, their parents are no longer oppressed for a while, they run where they think they can find oppression. Can’t live without it. Once Jews ran away from oppression; now they run away from no-oppression. Once they ran away from being poor; now they run away from being rich. It’s crazy. They have parents they can’t hate anymore because their parents are so good to them, so they hate America instead.”

The tragedy of American Pastoral is that the Swede, and his generation, never does.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

Monday, July 17, 2017

Clarifying the What Not the How

I'm doing performance evaluations with my direct reports this week and, on the advice of one of those direct reports, I'm asking everyone for their feedback on my performance as well. What, essentially, should I be doing that I'm not to help make everyone's job easier, to remove some of the roadblocks and barriers that are holding people back?

So far, two people have zeroed in on the same thing, taken from the list of behaviors that we created to describe alignment with our core values: "Bring purpose and understanding to complex and uncertain environments."

I get it. We work in a complex environment. Some of that complexity is inherent to our organization, and to many associations. I sometimes call it the diffused nature of leadership, in which the authority for determining courses of actions rests not with an individual but with a group -- the Board, a committee, a staff team. But some of that complexity is my own doing. If you've spent any time reading this blog, then you know I'm always tinkering with the process and mechanisms that our association uses to come up with its strategy agenda and operational plans. Sometimes, I know, I can overwhelm people with new terminology and experimental ways of doing things.

So, I'm doing the best thing I can with this constructive criticism. I'm accepting it, taking it to heart, and considering how to adjust my behavior to address it.

But as I am thinking those things through, at least one essential point has occurred to me. As I figure out ways to bring more purpose and understanding to our complex strategic and operational environment, my focus must remain entirely on what we are here to do, not on how we're going to do it.

Of all the experimental iterations that I've introduced in the organization, the one that I remain most committed to is finding ways to better empower (and hold accountable) the people closest to the challenges we face to determine the methods by which we will surmount and surpass them. Our Board embraced this mindset a few years ago, and now has a culture sharply focused on determining the intended outcomes of our organization. The Board is self-policing is this regard, scrupulously keeping itself out of the weeds, and reminding itself whenever necessary that it has formally delegated the determination of the means to achieve our ends to its chief staff executive and his staff.

I'm embracing the same mindset and trying to build the same culture within our staff organization. Yes, I need to be more clear about what it is we are trying to achieve, but in my attempt to be more clear, I have to avoid directives about how we should be achieving those things.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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Monday, July 10, 2017

Multiple Views Around the Board Table

At our recent strategic Board retreat I had an interesting experience. I was sitting at the head of the Board table, as I always do, only the person on my left was not the Board chair that I had worked throughout the past year with. It was the new Board chair that we had just inducted the evening before, at something we call our "Pass the Gavel" dinner.

He wasn't a total stranger. He's been on the Board for several years, the last few in various positions on our Executive Committee. If you're familiar with succession ladders, you know the drill. Secretary, Treasurer, Vice Chair, and now Chair. But the reason he had received the gavel the night before was because today's session was focused on setting our strategy agenda for the upcoming year -- the year in which he would serve the association as its Board Chair.

Like a lot of discussions at our Board table, the one leading up to this important decision was a sometimes fuzzy one, with different Board members expressing different (and sometimes divergent) opinions about what the association should be doing and how it should define our success. I'd seen our new Board Chair in situations like this before, and as before, he ably guided the discussion towards a concrete conclusion -- not something he had predetermined, but something that the table itself created, provided, of course, that it aligned with the agreed-upon strategic direction was had already settled on.

When the discussion was over and we had our outcome, we took a much needed break. Before our Board Chair could get pulled away I grabbed his attention and quickly sketched out a framework for what we had just decided around the Board table. It was something I had been quietly developing while the discussion had meandered towards its conclusion. I wasn't changing anything about that outcome, I was just putting the strategic decisions in a rudimentary operational structure that I thought we could use to guide association activities the upcoming year. All I wanted his initial feedback on it before fleshing it out any further.

He listened and looked at what I was sketching for him. When I was finished he simply nodded and said he had a different perspective. In two or three sentences he described an alternate framework that covered the same strategic bases but attacked them from a different angle.

I nodded in return, realizing that his frame made sense -- more sense than mine -- especially when viewed from the perspective of the Board members. And that realization triggered the interesting experience I referenced in this post's opening line.

My framework, I could now see with his framework placed next to it as a kind of foil, was built around how I would execute functions within our staff organization. It relied on Objectives, Departments and Programs. That's the world I needed to live in if I was going to make things happen in the association. His framework, in contrast, was build around how he would lead discussions around future Board tables. It relied on Goals, Metrics, and Resources. That's the world he needed to live in if he was going to make things happen in the association.

Neither framework was wrong. Indeed, they were both right, but for different purposes. But importantly, they were not the same. Each one offered a different view of our strategy, and each, if used to guide the organization, would require a different structure for its execution. One was about the staff and the other was about the Board and those, at the end of the day, are two different things.

The interesting experience came when I understood that if I and my Board Chair were going to employ our different frameworks in our respective spheres, that neither one of us would necessarily need to approve or understand the entirety of what the other was doing. To work together as an effective leadership team, we would only need to approve and understand the places where our frameworks connected -- where strategy turned into action, and where action delivered results.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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Saturday, July 8, 2017

Lindbergh by A. Scott Berg

A biography of Charles Lindbergh, a prominent figure in American history that, I admit, I knew very little about before picking up this tome. Sure, The Spirit of St. Louis, everyone knows that, and the Lindbergh Baby, most people know that one, too. And a sizeable portion could probably cite something about his activities before, during and after World War II, where his views matured too late for most, especially given his status as an American Hero.

But other than that, what did I really know about Charles A. Lindbergh? Absolutely nothing.

Here, then, are four small anecdotes from one man’s life. I’m not sure they add up to anything, but they are the pieces that are most likely to stick with me.

The Baby

Here’s the grisly scene as Berg describes it.

The officers had a badly decomposed child’s body before them, face down in the dirt. The size of the body, the shape of the skull, the still golden, curly hair all suggested the Lindbergh baby. More police were summoned to the makeshift gravesite. They carefully turned over what proved to be an incomplete corpse. Not only had the figure blackened severely, but its left leg was missing from the knee down as was the right arm below the elbow and the left hand. The body parts had probably been eaten by animals, as had most of the viscera. But the eyes, the nose, and the dimpled chin left little doubt as to the corpse’s identity. The clothes were in bad condition, but intact.

This is 72 days after the crime, after “the most widespread search ever conducted in police history.” The small body was discovered accidentally by a motorist who had pulled over to relieve himself on the side of dark country road. The clothes would clinch it. The police had a detailed description of what the child had been wearing on the night he was abducted.

The officers returned to the corpse with Colonel Schwarzkopf [father of the Desert Storm general and head of the investigation]. Under his direction, an inspector cut and peeled off each layer of the baby’s clothes, manipulating the body with a stick. He accidentally pierced the softened skull, leaving a small hole below the right earlobe. Each article of clothing was exactly as Betty Gow [the child’s nurse] had described, down to the scalloped flannel undershirt with its blue thread. A visible skull fracture suggested a violent blow to the head had been the cause of death.

The subsequent autopsy would reach the same conclusion.

The autopsy by Dr. Charles H. Mitchell revealed no signs of strangulation or bullets. With so much decomposition to the body, there was little for him to add beyond the supposition that “the cause of death is a fractured skull due to external violence.” Because blood had been found nowhere near the crime-scene, not even on the chisel left behind, it seemed logical that when the ladder had broken, the baby had met his death smashing against the side of the house or onto the ground.

What a scene. Like something out of Coen Brothers movie, only real, horridly real, but a real tragic farce, all the same. The bumbling perpetrator, blinded by his own vision of the “fabled catbird seat,” doing the unspeakable, putting disastrous events and accidents into motion, bringing nothing but grief and death for himself and others. Imagine. On the way down the ladder, from the second story bedroom, the Lindbergh Baby clutched in one hand and a rough wooden rung in the other, it breaks, he falls, the baby smacks his head and dies. What does one do? What can one possibly do? Useless. Useless.

The Ladder

That may be the most grisly aspect of that colossally sad tale, but it is not nearly the most interesting.

Since the spring of 1932, the wood technologist Arthur Koehler had been analyzing the kidnap ladder. He began by completely disassembling it, numbering each rail and rung. Several types of wood -- pine, birch, fir -- went into the ladder’s construction, each with its own internal markings of rings and knots and its own external markings from the machinery that milled the raw timber into lumber and from the tools used to build the ladder. One piece of wood -- identified as “rail number 16” -- was especially interesting because it had four nail holes in it that had no connection with the making of the ladder, thus suggesting prior usage. Of low-grade sapwood, with no signs of weathering, it suggested that the rail had been previously nailed down indoors and used for rough construction, perhaps in the interior of a garage or attic.

This “wood technologist” Arthur Koehler was some kind of savant, the head of the Forest Service Laboratory of the Department of Agriculture in Madison, Wisconsin, who claimed that “lumber had specific markings as individualized as fingerprints, from which he could trace its history -- where it was grown, where it was milled, where it was sold.” He was about to prove it.

There were dozens of other clues that kept Koehler on the investigative trail. The rungs of this homemade ladder, for example, were of soft Ponderosa pine but showed no signs of wear, indicating that the ladder had been built for this particular job. The marks on those rungs from the planer that dressed the wood revealed an unusual combination of cutter heads. Koehler mailed a form letter to 1,600 lumber mills on the East Coast, asking if their lumber planers shared the same characteristics. Positive replies came from twenty-five mills, which were asked to send sample boards. From them, Koehler was able to identify the Dorn Lumber Mill in McCormick, South Carolina, as the source of the boards that became the ladder’s siderails. Twenty-five lumberyards had received shipments of Dorn’s southern pine since the fall of 1929. Through scientific deduction, Koehler whittled the list down to the National Lumber and Millwork Company in the Bronx, which had bought its shipment in December 1931, three months before the kidnapping.

Unfortunately, National Lumber and Millwork was mostly a cash business, and few records were kept as to who its customers were. But then, a search of the suspected kidnapper’s house turned up an interesting discovery.

Although the lead detective from New Jersey had been in [the] attic several times, he had not previously noticed one of the pine planks in its southwest corner was shorter than the other boards by a good eight feet. This detective suddenly recalled the wood expert, Arthur Koehler, commenting that rail 16 of the ladder had some prior use. Rail 16 was brought to the Bronx and laid across the crossbeams of the attic floor. Four holes in the rail lined up exactly with four nailholes in the floor joists.

Arthur Koehler was summoned. Although a little more than an inch of wood had been cut away between the rail and the original floor plank, the number, color, dimension, and pattern of the rings indicated to him that the one piece of wood had been cut from the other. Koehler also examined a hand plane taken from [the suspected kidnapper’s] garage, whose blade markings, he said, revealed that it had been used in making the ladder.

Astounding. Not only did the poorly constructed ladder fail on the kidnapper, breaking on his nefarious descent, causing him to lose the precious cargo of both his and the Lindberghs’s dreams, but the same ladder then seems to betray him, revealing its secrets to a wood necromancer and the world. At the trial, Koehler’s testimony was as incontrovertible as it was devastating. This reader, 80 years after the fact, was just as mesmerized by its exactitude and resistless logic.

In the end, Koehler’s testimony had been so dumbfounding in its precision that there was little for the defense to challenge. As Ford Madox Ford observed in a column for The New York Times, Koehler “was like the instrument of a blind and atrociously menacing destiny. You shuddered at the thought of what might happen to you if such a mind and such an inconceivable industry should get to work upon your own remote past -- a man who searched 1,900 factories for the traces of the scratches of your plane on a piece of wood. It was fantastic and horrifying.”

Indeed. It still is.

The War

Somewhat famously, Charles Lindbergh opposed America’s entry into the Second World War. Some thought him a German sympathizer, others an apologist for the atrocities of the Nazi regime. My jury remains out. According to what I read, he was clearly a leading figure in the America First movement, sincerely believing that it was more patriotic to keep America out of the entanglements of European Wars. He was certainly not the only one who felt that way.

But when the War came, Lindbergh was as equally patriotic in his desire to fight, to offer his aid to his country in its time of need. He was, after all, a pioneer of world aviation. The Spirit of St. Louis was just the beginning. He likely knew more about the aerial combat capabilities of the different belligerent nations than anyone else on earth. But to oversimplify the situation, he had angered FDR with his pre-war rhetoric -- especially given the size of the platform he launched it from -- and he was only allowed to play a minor role in America’s aerial action against the Germans and the Japanese.

At it was in the Pacific theater that he first saw the true horrors of war.

[The Japanese stronghold of] Biak also provided Lindbergh with the most grotesque images of war he had ever seen, visions that would haunt him forever. On Monday, July 24, 1944, Lindbergh and several officers drove a jeep to the Mokmer west caves, where the enemy had waged one of its most stubborn stands. They went as far as they could up a crude military road, then walked the next few hundred feet towards the caves. Going down a hill, they came to a pass with bodies of a Japanese officer and a dozen soldiers “lying sprawled about in the gruesome positions which only mangled bodies can take.” Several weeks of weather and ants had eaten most of the flesh from the skeletons. The sight of skulls smashed to fragments prompted one officer to say, “I see that the infantry have been up to their favorite occupation,” namely, knocking out gold-filled teeth for souvenirs.

In a way, the reaction that Lindbergh describes next is understandable.

At the side of the road, they passed a bomb crater in which lay the bodies of another half-dozen Japanese soldiers, partly covered with a truckload of garbage Allied troops had dumped on top of them. “I have never felt more ashamed of my people,” Lindbergh wrote in his journal. “To kill, I understand; that is an essential part of war. Whatever method of killing your enemy is most effective is, I believe, justified. But for our people to kill by torture and to descend to throwing the bodies of our enemies into a bomb crater and dumping garbage on top of them nauseates me.”

But in another way, I think it is hideous, revealing an almost childlike morality at work in his mind, where killing people in whichever way is most effective is “justified,” simply because your nation is at war with their nation. Killing them is justified, but dumping garbage on their corpses is nauseating.

And contrast that to the very next paragraph.

On July 28, 1944, Lindbergh joined up with the 433rd Fighter Squadron, as observer in the No. 3 position of an eight-plane sweep. Their mission was to bomb and strafe “targets of opportunity” on Amboina, a small, Japanese-held island off the southwest coast of Ceram.

Well, that’s okay, right? After all, dropping bombs on people is justified because it is a very effective way of killing your enemies. Just make sure you don’t cover their dead bodies with your garbage when you’re done with them. You land that plane and make sure they get the burial your touching respect for the dignity of human life demands.

But, Lindbergh saw even worse things in Germany, and these began to change his thinking on these subjects.

The next day was even more phantasmagoric. Intimations of what lay ahead came at breakfast, as members of Lindbergh’s party discussed alleged savageries at Camp Dora. “That’s where the Germans had furnaces that were too small to take a whole body, so they used to cut the arms and legs off and stuff ‘em in that way,” said one man. “The prisoners were so badly starved that hundreds of them were beyond saving when the Americans came,” added another.

I’ll admit, I’m fascinated by the horrors of war -- the savage details that are so often missing from a society’s abstract exploration of the subject -- and I think I’m fascinated by them because I believe they have to be better remembered. They have to be remembered in way they seldom are when the next call for war comes marching down the street. I offer only that as my justification for transcribing what comes next.

A short time later, Lindbergh and his party had made their way up the mountainside above the camp, off the road so that they might reach a low, factory-like building. The diameter of its brick smokestack was disproportionately large for its height. At one end of the building, he saw two dozen stretchers, soiled and bloodstained -- “one of them showing the dark red outline of a human body which had lain upon it.” Upon entering the building they saw a plain black coffin with a white cross painted on it. Beside that, covered in canvas on the concrete floor, lay what was unmistakably a human body. In a moment, Lindbergh realized exactly what kind of “factory” he had entered.

Moving into the main room of the building, Lindbergh saw two large furnaces, side by side, with steel stretchers for holding the bodies protruding through the open doors. “The fact that two furnaces were required added to the depressing mass-production horror of the place,” Lindbergh would note. The sight appalled him. “Here was a place where men and life and death had reached the lowest form of degradation,” he wrote. “How could any reward in national progress even faintly justify the establishment and operation of such a place. When the value of life and the dignity of death are removed, what is left for man?”

In these comments, I think, we can see Lindbergh’s moral understanding beginning to change, shoved, as it was, from its position of superiority by the mechanical brutality that surrounded him. But here’s not there, yet. Onward.

A figure walked through the door, something between a young boy and an old man. It was a seventeen-year-old Pole, wearing a striped prison uniform, cinched at the waist but otherwise much too large for his skeleton of a body. Speaking German to Lieutenant Uellendahl, he pointed to the furnaces and said, “Twenty-five thousand in a year and a half.” Then he ushered the two Americans into the room they had first entered, and he lifted the canvas from the corpse on the floor.

“It was terrible,” the boy said, his face contorted in anguish. “Three years of it.” Pointing to the bony cadaver, he added, “He was my friend -- and he [was] fat.” As though sleepwalking, Lindbergh followed the boy outside, his mind “still dwelling on those furnaces, on that body, on the people and the system which let such things arise.” He was jerked back to reality by Uellendahl’s translating again: “Twenty-five thousand in a year and a half. And from each one there is only so much.” the boy cupped his hands together, then looked down. Lindbergh followed his gaze and realized they were standing at the edge of a pit, eight feet by six feet, and possibly six feet deep. It was filled to overflowing with ashes and bone chips. Lindbergh noticed two oblong mounds of clay nearby, evidently pits that had been capped. The boy reached down and picked up a knee joint, which he held out for Lindbergh’s inspection.

Yes. A human knee joint. How could someone not be forever affected by such an experience?

The horrors were not lost on Lindbergh. “Of course, I knew these things were going on,” he would write in his journal on June 11, 1945; “but it is one thing to have the intellectual knowledge, even to look at photographs someone else has taken, and quite another to stand on the scene yourself, seeing, hearing, feeling with your own senses.” His mind flashed back to the rotting Japanese bodies he had discovered in the Biak caves and the load of garbage he had seen dumped on dead soldiers in a bomb crater. He thought in rapid succession of stories he had heard of Americans machine-gunning prisoners on a Hollandia airstrip, of Australians pushing Japanese captives out of transport planes, of American soldiers probing the mouths of Japanese soldiers for gold-filled teeth, of pictures of Mussolini and his mistress hanging by their feet. “As far back as one can go in history,” he told himself, “these atrocities have been going on, not only in Germany with its Dachaus and its Buchenwalds and its Camp Doras, but in Russia, in the Pacific, in the riotings and lynchings at home, in the less-publicized uprisings in Central and South America, the cruelties of China, a few years ago in Spain, in pogroms of the past, the burning of witches in New England, tearing people apart on the English racks, burnings at the stake for the benefit of Christ and God.”

The rhetoric is rising. Is it all just poetry? Or will he make the difficult connection?

Lindbergh never considered that his ignoring -- or his ignorance of -- the Nazi slaughter was tantamount to condoning it. Instead, he stood ready to accept only collective blame, as an American and a member of the human race. “It seemed impossible that men -- civilized men -- could degenerate to such a level,” he wrote. “Yet they had. Here at Camp Dora in Germany; there is the coral caves of Biak. But there, it was we, Americans, who had done such things, we who claimed to stand for something different. We, who claimed that the German was defiling humanity in his treatment of the Jew, were doing the same thing in our treatment of the Jap.”

There. At last. A fully mature moral reflection. There is a universal depravity in man, certainly more fully expressed in some instances than in others, but present across all cultures and typically hidden in one own’s cultural context. The fight is not always against the other. Sometimes, and frequently most importantly, the fight is to keep from seeing the other at all.

Unfortunately, this stroke of conscience came much too late for many people of his time and, I’m afraid, for me. Even much later, when Lindbergh had become a crusader for environmental causes, people questioned his zeal.

Some, particularly Jews, found Lindbergh’s newfound passion disconcerting, especially when he flung around such phrases as, “I don’t want history to record my generation as being responsible for the extermination of any form of life.” Longtime editorial writer Max Lerner, for one, wondered, “Where the hell was he when Hitler was trying to exterminate an entire race of human beings?”

The Man

The most interesting part of this biographical journey for me was, I think, the slow and slogging realization that Lindbergh was not a great man. Many biographies put their subject on a pedestal, explaining and often excusing their subject’s human failings as some part of the mystic alchemy that our culture requires for greatness. But not here. Berg maintains a editorial distance throughout, showing Lindbergh, as much as possible, as the man he was.

And, in that respect, there are two episodes from late in Lindbergh’s life that are worth remembering.

In October 1965, Lindbergh invited each of his children and their spouses to join him for several weeks camping in southern Kenya. He and Anne offered to cover most of the costs. Lindbergh flew ahead, on the new weekly Pan American flight from New York to Nairobi, arriving on December eleventh. Over the next few weeks, Jon and his wife, Barbara, left their five children behind on Bainbridge Island, Washington, where they had settled; Anne [Lindbergh’s daughter] and Julien Feydy flew down from Paris with Scott, who had transferred to Cambridge University; and Anne [Lindbergh’s wife] arrived with Reeve, a student at Radcliffe. Only Land -- with his wife and two children on their four-thousand-acre ranch on the Blackfoot River in Montana -- politely declined the offer, anticipating several strained weeks marching to the relentless beat of his father’s drum. “I’m not going,” he told his wife, “--too many people and too tight a schedule.”

Lindbergh, evidently, was a difficult man to be around, even in the opinion of his son. And, as the next episode reveals, also in the opinion of his wife.

Charles assured Anne that she would come to care for Hawaii once Argonauta was completed and that he intended to spend more time with his wife there. He misled her on both counts. It rained steadily the first week in January 1971, when they returned to Hawaii to move into their newly completed house; and they quickly discovered the roof leaked. Worse than that, despite Charles’s admonitions, the architect and contractor had failed to create proper drainage for the house. A torrential downpour awakened them their first night; and muddy streams, just as Charles had foretold, sluiced through the house. They spent the next few hours out in the storm, he digging channels with a bucket while she built a mud dam. The house had not even dried out when they were invaded by armies of ants, spiders, cockroaches, lizards, rats, even a mongoose. And the Lindbergh was summoned to an emergency meeting of the Pan American board in New York.

Anne was, as she scratched in her diary, “furious to be left at this point in this place in this state. A place which is not of my choosing. I do not have friends, family, or interests here. It is not a place I would normally choose to live in alone. I only came for him -- because he loves it & said he expected to be here with me. I am angry not only at him but at myself for hoping that he would at least stay here.” Argonauta did not even have a telephone, and the nearest people were ten minutes away through the mud. Propane gas motors generated electricity -- one for lights, the other for appliances; but, she wrote Lucia Valentine, she would gladly trade her few modern conveniences for a little company. What she found most discouraging was “the pattern of being left” and -- after all her years of weeping to her therapist and wailing in her diary -- her own inability to walk away from such unacceptable behavior.

As Anne alludes above, this was not the first time Lindbergh had acted with such willful disregard to her and her feelings. It was simply the latest example in what was by then more than forty years of marriage.

When they were together, he expected her attention to be focused on him, his self-absorption reaching comical proportions. He sometimes forbade her to pick up the telephone when it rang; and if he found her spending too much time gabbing to friends, he sometimes grabbed his gun from the closet and threatened to shoot the phone. When Anne replaced some seventy-five-year-old mattresses in the guestroom with a new set -- bought on sale at Bloomingdales -- it sparked a sermon on her contributing to the fall of civilization. He became obsessed with the general breakdown of law and order and the upsurge in anarchy, and he often groused about “what’s happening to the country.”

He was, I came to understand, in many respects a cantankerous old man, his mental faculties fading and regressing closer and closer to the baseness of his own self-centered personality.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

Monday, July 3, 2017

Sharing Results from the Board Meeting

Those of you who are chief staff executives of associations, I have a question for you. Each time you come back to the office after one of your Board meetings, what do you tell your staff about what happened at the Board table?

Let me guess. Only what they need to know.

I used to feel the same way. At my Board meetings, there are typically so many different kinds of conversations -- not so many different conversations, so many different kinds of conversations -- that it's often hard to know where to begin.

There are, of course, the action items. Those are the easy ones. The Board voted on this or that issue and here is how the vote came out. But beyond that there are all the different kinds of conversations that swirl around or amidst the action items. I look at these as a kind of running commentary -- on programs, on performance, on strategic intent -- all three of them frequently blurring together into a continuous stream of ideas, suggestions, and direction.

How many of those do you share?

As it turns out in my case, very few. We for some time now have been working with our Board to more clearly define the line between governance and management. The Board handles governance -- which we have come to understand as defining the expected outcomes, or ends, of the organization. And I, as the chief staff executive, handles management -- which we have come to understand as defining the methods, or means, for how those outcomes are going to be achieved.

Board-level discussion then, when placed on this footing, is focused almost entirely on defining the right outcomes and determining if those outcomes are being met. What is our mission and is that mission being fulfilled? If we aren't clear on the mission, we need to get clear. If we are clear on the mission, but we aren't achieving it, we need to find new ways of pursuing it.

In order to help the Board stay in this zone, it's important to have the right structures in place for their review of organizational success. Mission and purpose aren't the kinds of things that should be changing every time to Board gets together, so the focus inevitably turns to how we are measuring success and what those metrics are telling us about the capabilities of the organization. That can sometimes be messy territory, but the end result should always be fairly clear. We're either measuring the right thing or we're not. We're either succeeding against that metric or we're not. Action items, once placed in this frame, almost always steer clear of programmatic micromanaging and stay focused on building the resources the organization needs to do its job.

And that, I've discovered, makes reporting Board meeting outcomes to the larger staff a much easier task. There isn't a long list of disparate programmatic directives. There are really just two topics of conversation. Here's where we're doing well and here's where we have to do better. The trick is no longer figuring out what to tell people. They challenge more frequently is coming up with new solutions to old problems.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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