Friday, July 19, 2013

What about Bob's kitchen cabinet?

Businesspeople often seek advice - sometimes from people in their industry, sometimes from people in their profession, and sometimes from people specifically outside of their industry/profession.

Which brings me to Bob. Bob is not this person's real name, and in this post I have changed a number of facts to protect Bob's identity (and "Bob," if you ever see this message, you'll realize that I had a lot of fun obscuring those facts). I can honestly tell you, however, that Bob is not a proposal manager and does not work in the biometric industry. Bob is active online, however, and I often encounter Bob on one popular social network.

Many of Bob's posts on this network are public and feature discussions of his train ride to work every day, his observations on living in a small town, and his love of the New York Giants. (As a Redskins fan, I manage to tolerate this.)

However, Bob sometimes posts private messages on this network. I don't know how many people receive these messages, but for some inexplicable reason I happen to be one of them. Bob uses these private messages to solicit business advice. For example, Bob may ask a question such as the following:

I'm preparing a draft of an article to submit to a publication in my industry. Three people will be listed as authors of this article. Are there any guidelines regarding which of the authors should be listed first?

Since Bob is probably about ten years old than I am, he understands that private messages are never private, so he doesn't give specific details about the situations (and no, the situation above is NOT one of Bob's situations). However, he does use the private nature of the messages to solicit advice from people that he trusts.

Obviously, you don't need to use a social network to obtain such advice (although a social network admittedly increases the number of people whom you can solicit for advice). Back in the 1970s, people would actually meet with informal advisors face to face.

Since I recently discussed Presidents Truman and Hoover, I might as well bring President Ford into the equation. Ford was a President who often sought the advice of a "kitchen cabinet," including people such as former Nixon adviser Bryce Harlow. In 1975, it was Harlow who bluntly told Ford that the infighting in his Administration had the appearance of "internal anarchy":

Bryce Harlow, a former Nixon adviser, lobbyist and outside adviser to the president, noted the appearance of “internal anarchy” among the Nixon holdovers at the White House and the cabinet, particularly among Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and CIA Director William Colby.

Harlow advised Ford to fire all of them. Ford didn't quite go that far, but by the time he was done, Colby had been replaced by George H.W. Bush, Schlesinger had been replaced by Don Rumsfeld, Kissinger had lost one of his two positions, and Nelson Rockefeller had publicly announced that he would not be a candidate for Vice President in 1976. While some insiders such as Rumsfeld (and Dick Cheney, who became Chief of Staff when Rumsfeld moved) certainly shaped the progress of the changes, it took the outsider Harlow to press Ford into taking action.

Something similar happened several years later, when President Carter, reluctant to give yet another speech on energy, called upon outside advisors:

For more than a week, a veil of secrecy enveloped the proceedings. Dozens of prominent Americans -- members of Congress, governors, labor leaders, academics and clergy -- were summoned to the mountaintop retreat [Camp David] to confer with the beleaguered president. Sitting on the floor taking notes, Carter listened to criticism, much of it scathing, of him and his White House.

Afterwards, Carter, like Ford, was moved to act. But Carter's actions were more dramatic than Ford's.

On July 17, he asked his entire cabinet for their resignations, ultimately accepting those of five who had clashed with the White House the most, including Energy Secretary James Schlesinger and Health, Education and Welfare chief Joseph Califano.

Oddly enough, James Schlesinger lost his job in both Ford's shakeup and Carter's shakeup. No wonder the two Presidents and political enemies became friends after 1980 - they probably regaled themselves with Schlesinger stories.

Returning to my friend Bob, he's never asked his online "kitchen cabinet" for advice about firing someone. But you never know what will happen in the future.
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