Thursday, September 1, 2011

Never let them see you sweat

Years ago the agency I work for relied on a federal grant for the majority of funding of one of our programs. We'd been getting that funding renewed every three years for over a decade when a couple of federal staff who are housed in Chicago came to town for a site visit.

They didn't talk with any of our local partners or any of our clients. And they missed the main meeting they'd scheduled with me because they were delayed in their visit to the Mall of America. In the exit interview at the end of the visit, they blasted our program up one side and down the other. None of their criticisms had anything whatsoever to do with what we actually did in the program.

I worked over the next year to try to straighten this out with them...always mindful that they were a major funder and that we couldn't risk too much controversy.

Finally the next time we competed for the funding, I received a call from one of the women involved in all of this to tell me that we hadn't been funded that round and that she was making a pre-emptive call to let me know so that "if we needed to shut down the program, we'd have plenty of notice."

I got off the phone and said a couple of choice words out loud on her behalf. But my resolve at that moment was steely. I vowed that I would DIE before I'd let that program shut down over this. And that she would NEVER see me sweat a drop over her silliness.

I can tell you that today that program is alive and thriving. Even in the midst of difficult financial times for some of our other ventures, it is a rock of stability.

Why do I tell that story? Because there's a big part of me that can identify with President Obama and all the silliness that folks are throwing his way these days. And I TOTALLY understand what he's doing here.

On Wednesday, Obama took a now-familiar path in adopting a program--this time a jobs and infrastructure effort--that can happen entirely within his domain. Obama directed several federal agencies to identify "high-impact, job-creating infrastructure projects" that can be expedited now, without congressional approval.

One week before he will make a major address to Congress on jobs, Obama is making sure they know he plans to move forward without them. The president has also directed the Education Department to come up with a "Plan B" updating the 2001 No Child Left Behind law in the absence of congressional action. The message to Congress is clear: Do your work or we'll do it for you.

The "never let them see you sweat" approach means that, while other people have certain institutional power with which you have to grapple, you never loose site of the repositories of your own power. In other words, you NEVER let yourself fall prey to being a victim. You simply dismiss their childishness and/or incompetence and do what is within your power to get done. And you place all your chips on the bet that success is the sweetest revenge.

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