Arguing with Leonard Bernstein

The 1970s. Israel Philharmonic. Mahler. Christa Ludwig, a German, argues with Bernstein about tempo. Bernstein describes this passage as “always impossible” and suggests that the audience won’t understand the words anyway, so what’s the big deal? Awkward. For both. Conductor and soloist.

Bernstein is clearly the boss. Ludwig, however, is the specialist. They’re not at eye-level (Augenhöhe) with each other, but they’re pretty darn close. And Berstein accepts this.

Here is another clip with Bernstein and an orchestra. The second trumpet player and the conductor interact. See the very thoughtful comments from musicians with experience.

The Madman and the Bomb

The scene from the White House south lawn on August 9, 1974, is vivid in the nation’s memory. That morning, President Richard Nixon famously boarded Marine One for the final time, put on a wide grin and fired off a final double-V to the assembled crowd.

But one of the most interesting aspects of that day is what didn’t happen on the south lawn: Even though Nixon had more than two hours left in his tenure, the most critical tool of the modern presidency had already been taken away from him. He never noticed it, but the nuclear “football” didn’t travel with him as he boarded the helicopter, and later, Air Force One for his flight back to California.

Moreover, Defense Secretary James Schlesinger recalled years later that in the final days of the Nixon presidency he had issued an unprecedented set of orders: If the president gave any nuclear launch order, military commanders should check with either him or Secretary of State Henry Kissinger before executing them.

Schlesinger feared that the president, who seemed depressed and was drinking heavily, might order Armageddon. Nixon himself had stoked official fears during a meeting with congressmen during which he reportedly said,

“I can go in my office and pick up a telephone, and in 25 minutes, millions of people will be dead.” Senator Alan Cranston had phoned Schlesinger, warning about “the need for keeping a berserk president from plunging us into a holocaust.”

Too Much Coffee

In the American movie Jungle-2-Jungle, a prominent business leader goes to the jungle, and while there he sends a message to his employee to sell all of his coffee shares. However, his battery dies before he manages to confirm that he wants to sell the coffee.

His employee, unwilling to act without confirmation, doesn’t sell the shares, and much of the movie revolves around the two men attempting to sell the coffee shares that are quickly diminishing in value. 

Truman fires MacArthur

The History channel online describes well „perhaps the most famous civilian-military confrontation in the history of the United States.“

In April 1951 President Harry Truman fired General Douglas MacArthur. On April 11 Truman addressed the nation. He defended his overall policy in Korea. “It is right for us to be in Korea.” Nevertheless, he explained, it “would be wrong—tragically wrong—for us to take the initiative in extending the war… Our aim is to avoid the spread of the conflict.” 

MacArthur returned to the United States to a hero’s welcome. Parades were held in his honor, and he was asked to speak before Congress. Public opinion was strongly against Truman’s actions, but the president stuck to his decision without regret or apology. 

Eventually, the American people began to understand that his policies and recommendations might have led to a massively expanded war in Asia.

Revisiting a Decision

Revisiting: A term used by Americans to describe the act of questioning a decision made by senior-level management after much time and effort had been invested. Such decisions are typically of strategic nature.

Americans consider „revisiting as decision“ as hindering, slowing down or blocking their implementation, and thus a threat to overall success. There is low tolerance in the American business for the tactical level revisiting decisions made at the strategic level.

Empowerment: To give official authority or legal power to; to enable; to promote the self-actualization or influence. First known use 1648.

The term empowerment has become popular in the American business context, signaling a desire, perhaps also need, for management to be less involved in the tactical execution of their decisions.

Execution Wins

Execution: To carry out fully; put completely into effect; to do what is provided or required; to make or produce (as a work of art) especially by carrying out a design; to perform properly or skillfully the fundamentals of a sport or of a particular play; to perform indicated tasks according to encoded instructions, as in a computer program or routine. Latin exsecutio, from exsequi to execute, from ex- + sequi to follow. Synonyms: accomplish, achieve, discharge, enact, fulfill, implement, pursue.

Americans believe that an athletic team with less talent, a military unit smaller in size, an enterprise with limited resources can win the game, defeat the enemy, succeed in the market, if it executes its strategy in a focused and disciplined way.

And critical to execution is unity. One can see the signs of a unified team: the members of an athletic team wear their uniforms in the same way; a military unit moves in formation; a company has a certain ethos or spirit.


Discipline: Punishment; a field of study; training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character; control gained by enforcing bedience or order; orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior; a rule or system of rules governing conduct or activity. From Latin disciplina teaching, learning, from discipulus pupil. First known use 13th century.

Cohesion: The act or state of sticking together tightly; union between similar plant parts or organs; molecular attraction by which the particles of a body are united throughout the mass; Latin cohaesus, past participle of cohaerēre. First known use 1660.

Subordination: Subordination: Placed in or occupying a lower class, rank, or position, inferior; submissive to or controlled by authority. Middle English subordinat, from Medieval Latin subordinatus, from Latin sub- + ordinare to order. First known use 15th century.

Insubordination: Disobedient to authority. First known use 1828.

Insurrection: An act or instance of revolting against civil authority or an established government; Middle English insureccion, from Anglo-French, from Late Latin insurrection-, insurrectio, from insurgere. First knownuse 15th century.

Rebellion: Opposition to one in authority or dominance; open, armed, and usually unsuccessful defiance of or resistance to an established government; an instance of such defiance or resistance. First known use 14th century.

Mutiny: Forcible or passive resistance to lawful authority; concerted revolt against discipline or a superior officer. From Latin movēre to move. First known use 1540.

Chain of Command

Chain of command: A series of executive positions in order of authority. First known use 1898.

Americans favor clear lines of authority, also called chain of command. This is indicated in their organizational structures – more vertical than matrix – and in the titles given to those in the various management positions. American management, for example, does not look favorably upon team members who develop close relations with higher levels within the chain of command.

The chain of command in the U.S. Department of State is: Secretary, Deputy Secretary, Under Secretary, Assistant Secretary, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office Director, Deputy Office Director, Desk Officer. Government bureaucracies like titles.

The chain of command in an American corporation can include: executive board (CEO, COO, CFO, etc.), senior vice president, vice president, managing director, deputy managing director, director, senior manager, manager, supervisor, specialist, technician, associate. American corporations like titles, too.


In Animorphs, a children’s science fiction series by American author K. A. Applegate, five American teenagers suddenly become aware of a secret alien invasion of planet earth. As the only people with the capacity to stop the invasion, the teenagers decide to form a resistance and fight back. In very little time the characters form a clear chain of command with a specifically designated leader.

At one point during the series the leader leaves for a short period of time. Faced with a sudden mission, the Americans never consider the option of operating on a consensus basis – instead they immediately pick a new leader. Then, even though most of the group disagrees with the new leader’s decisions, everyone follows the decisions, because they were made by the leader.

Additionally, towards the end of the series, the leader is faced with the option of either killing his brother (who is under the control of the invading aliens) or giving the aliens access to extremely dangerous technology. The leader decides to kill his brother, but, fearing how this action will affect the leader’s future decision-making abilities, one of the other members of the resistance stops him. This insubordinate member is immediately reprimanded and demoted.

A Connecticut Yankee

In A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain, the main character, a head superintendent from Hartford, Connecticut in the 19th century, finds himself lost in 6th century England. At first the Yankee is sentenced to die, but he manages to use a solar eclipse to his advantage, and is eventually knighted. Having been raised in America, the Yankee believes that the best way to gain the respect of his new people is by taking a leadership position, and as a result the title that he chooses for his knighthood is “Sir Boss.”

Boss – a protuberant part or body, a raised ornamentation, an ornamental projecting block used in architecture; a soft pad used in ceramics and glassmaking; the hub of a propeller; to ornament with bosses, emboss; a person who exercises control or authority; specifically one who directs or supervises workers; a politician who controls votes in a party organization or dictates appointments or legislative measures; excellent, first-rate; to give usually arbitrary orders to; cow, calf. First known use in the 14th century. First known use for the “leader” definition in 1653.