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Norm R. Augustine
Technology/Civic Leader

Norm R. Augustine

A former president of the Boy Scouts of America and chair of the American Red Cross, Norm Augustine is the retired Chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corporation.

Tie Up Your Camel

One of the most fundamental rules of leadership is that if there is the slightest alternative, never involve yourself or your team with people you can't trust. It is a formula for disaster--or worse.

In my business career I had the occasion to agree to a number of multi-billion dollar transactions on a handshake--because I knew the kind of people with whom we were dealing: Dan Tellep of Lockheed, Jack Welch of G.E., Bill Anders and Jim Mellor of General Dynamics, Bernie Schwartz of Loral, and many more. Our basic agreements were, of course, later documented in legalese, but no one wavered from the original fundamental understandings as the details were resolved.

But, unfortunately, there are occasions in life when one cannot be so idealistic or fortunate. Hopefully these are few and far between. (If not, it may be time to look inward.) In such circumstances the best advice, as they say in the west where I was raised, "Trust everyone, but cut the cards." Or, as they say in the Arab world, "Trust in Allah, but tie your camel."

For an engineer--such as I am--or a person of principle--which I hope I to be--to accept the notion of collaborating with those with whom we disagree, even for the greater good, is onerous to say the least. Engineers and theorists like absolute answers. Unfortunately, that is not the world in which we live. Politics, in particular, is based upon the art of compromise. Much the same can be said of life as a whole (even, to my dismay, engineering!) ... little progress can be made if everyone is unwilling to compromise--that is, sacrifice, for the greater good.

But there is an exception, a very critical exception. If the issue at hand requires violating one's most fundamental principles--as, say, in an ethical issue--then there can be no compromise. One must hold true to one's basic beliefs. The real dilemma appears when two fundamental beliefs come into conflict with each other--bit that is a topic for another day.

As Woody Allen once said, "More than any other time in history, [we] face a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly."

Bottom line:
• Avoid dealing with people who can't be trusted.
• When that is simply not possible, be wary--and hedge your bets.
• Compromise is the grease of life.
• But fundamental principles are not subject to compromise.

By Norm R. Augustine

 |  February 24, 2009; 11:58 AM ET
Category:  Followership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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