What Comes

Personally, I will take what comes…

The inscrutable Inspector Louis Renault (played so magnificently by Claude Rains) utters this memorable line to Major Strasser as the Major taunts the Inspector with the impending domination of the Axis powers in WWII.

Casablanca, simply the best movie ever made, has so many moments of mirth, wit, patois, humor, pain, sadness, valor and indeed triumph, one could write a series about that. But for some reason the Inspector’s line rings this morning.

Of late we’ve made a tremendous noise about being in the moment and giving our full presence to what’s at hand. I actually believe in this, and, if you’ve read earlier works by me you’ll agree when you are in the presence of someone fully there, fully invested in that moment, that is a powerful feeling.

Yet along the way, at least in business, we’ve lost sight of the moment’s simple and substantial mechanism: acceptance.

Now Louis is no role-model. He abuses his position for personal gratification and is the embodiment of cynicism in a regime that collaborates with foreign powers to harm its own citizens. But, if you’ve watched Casablanca you know there is actually another side to Louis and, if you haven’t watched the film, well I shall divulge no more.

The point is Louis, in a definite power disadvantage moment with the major (who controls the city), simply deflects the pointed questioning with a line that could almost be considered a throw-away until one thinks about it: “Personally Major, I will take what comes.”

A simple de facto remark that connotes Louis’ intention (and ability) to manage through whatever set of circumstances prevail. No, he’s not a role model, but he’s learned a thing or two about working in a dynamic environment.

Unlike some of our coworkers/leaders Louis knows – and more importantly operates – on the premise that things will change and not always in ways he would prefer. There is a certain sensibility in dealing with reality as opposed to wailing about what once was or might have been.

In looking at truly effective leadership behavior – the ability to make things happen despite the totality of the circumstances – Louis’ outlook is very much in the vein of Gene Kranz: let’s work the problem.

The challenge with so much leadership mantra today is that it depends on manipulating and changing the environment and elements to reflect our interests and desires. Wrong people? Fire them all. Bad business? Sell it. Over-regulated? Change countries. But these responses are simply reactive pablum. No one of any seriousness considers these so-called solutions to be any more meaningful than political soundbites with half-lives about as long.

In business we struggle to build and retain the right team, to be engaged in the markets we think have promise, to locate in geos that suit our customers and yet: even with all our planning things can change. Effectiveness is measured in large part by rationally and creatively dealing with what our reality is, not by bemoaning what we cannot realize.

To paraphrase the formidable Gene Kranz (who is a role-model) let’s not waste time talking about what we planned to do, let’s concentrate on what we can do.

Let’s take what comes.

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