Parent and Child…or Power and Love

I saw two very different broad type of responses to c19.  

The first is was that of widespread paralysis. Like rabbits caught in headlights. Sat waiting for the ‘top’ or the ‘centre’, or ‘HQ’ to figure things out and give us clear guidance and instructions.  If in doubt – do nothing and await further instructions. Or, keep doing what we have always done – but do it with greater commitment, greater risk, and greater efforts to mitigate the risk too.   It is a reflection of a particular culture where organisations and individuals have formed a dependency on an ‘authority’, that will eventually ‘know the way’ and ‘show the way’.  And a reliance on habits and routines that have been proven to work in the past and will surely, hopefully, prevail again. It was a culture of ‘closed innovation’ where some were paid to think and lead while others followed.

The second broad response was that of open innovation and creativity.  Self organising and mutually supporting groups and networks have springing up within days and all sort of innovations being tested.  Restaurants becoming take-aways. Makers clubs running online.  Choirs and bands performing from the sofas using collaboration platforms and music being released at an amazing rate.  GPs suddenly doing nearly all of their consultations online.  New hospitals are spring up within weeks. This world is moving quickly, collaboratively and positively.

What influences which of these two reactions we get in a crisis?  Well, certainly personality, history and culture play a huge part.  

Some people are more prone to ‘flight’ or ‘fight’ when they face a threat – they act.  They experiment. They test their assumptions by trying things out. While others are more prone to freeze.  Let others take the risks. As the way forward becomes clear, guidelines will appear and we can the move with safety. 

In our evolutionary history both can work. 

I also think organisational culture and structure play a part.  

Families with strong leaders look to the leader for assurance and guidance.  Organisations with strong hierarchies look to the senior management and the board for guidance and instructions, while families with more distributed leadership start talking to each other about what next.  Organisations with more empowered structures start to blossom with experiments as individuals and groups start to test the new waters in terms of what works, and share what they know.

But which is best?  How should we develop our systems to better respond in the future.  Well, I don’t think it is either/or.  

It is both/and.

The best responses have both a strong top down influence and this blossoming of innovation.  They work together – exchanging information. Listening, challenging, supporting, testing. A clear sense of direction and purpose re-stated from the top. A strong culture of connection and innovation learning and sharing how to work for this purpose in the new world.

Dependency is replaced by a healthier, more human relationship.  A genuine association around a shared purpose that knows how to work with both power and love.

Take a good look at your systems.  What reactions are you seeing to the crisis? 

What does it teach you about the need for things to be different in the future?

Leadership and its Development…part of the problem?

Cast your mind back to a time before this tiny virus had us in its grip.

How were we doing?

If there was an end of term report card what might it say?

Well, of course, we have worked hard. We have been industrious. Much has been achieved.

  • The world has been shrunk. Men on the moon. Women in to space
  • Massive improvements for many in medicine, health and wealth
  • A greater choice of consumer goods than ever and more sophisticated financial products and services to help us own them

But it is not all puppy dog tails and sweet, sweet roses.

  • Globally we have millions of people without enough food and shelter fleeing wars and discrimination – running from their fellow humans
  • Habitat being destroyed and species extinction running at alarming rates
  • Climate collapsing, with real fears that sea level rises will make the floods caused by increasingly warm winds carrying higher than level moisture levels look like April showers
  • Plastics, visible and invisible inside our bodies and in every place on earth
  • Widespread deplorable practices of animal husbandry required to provide us with affordable volumes of flesh, milk and eggs
  • An accumulation of capital, wealth, by a few massive corporates, celebrities and billionaires. While millions live and die in poverty with little or no chance of escape
  • Societies patterned by unfair discrimination
  • Air that is not safe to breathe. Water that is not safe to drink. And a civilisation that can be bought to its knees by such a simple thing
  • Our children suffering levels of anxiety and poor mental health that we have not been able to respond to with timely care and compassion
  • Hundreds of millionaires, billionaires, politicians and celebrities taking private jets to Davos to wring their hands over the state of the world

For some the message is loud and clear. Leadership is failing us. As leadership developers we have to accept, explore and develop our role in this.


There is another story…

I’m sure some will not buy this narrative. It certainly isn’t the ‘whole truth’. Some may say that our scientific and technological prowess, capitalism and our ingenuity has raised the standard of living world wide. The greater the challenge thrown at humankind the greater our creative response. We will prevail. Humankind really will overcome all of its troubles.

Personally, I am not buying it. History suggests we shouldn’t buy it.

Every civilisation so far has had a rise, and a fall, often through over-confidence and hubris. Humility and uncertainty have been crushed by power, arrogance and self-belief. Until the whole pack of cards comes down.

For those that say now is not a time for reflection but a time to roll up our sleeves and help, I say thank you. Godspeed.

But perhaps some of us can help best by exploring whether leadership and leadership development is failing us and the planet? And if it is, then as leadership developers, educators, citizens, what is our role in this?

And how might we learn and develop ourselves and our practice?

Do you hear this call? Are you curious?

A Fresh Dialogue?

Over the coming weeks and months we will hold a series of online meetings with an aim to develop a generative dialogue to explore this issues surrounding Leadership and Leadership Development with a view to learning together and looking for possibilities of a new way forward. To generate a community of people who carefully and gently construct and develop a ‘pool of shared meaning’ from which new possibilities might form.

Pool of shared meaning
The Pool of Shared Meaning

Are you interested? Curious? Would you like to join us?

John Varney of the Centre for Creativity in Management and I will be hosting some online meetings in the coming weeks, provisionally titled ‘Learning to do together what we can’t do alone’ and we would invite you to join us.

All sessions are free to join. Come to one or more. We would love for you to join us for the whole journey wherever that may take us – but dipping in and out is fine.

There is also an option to pay to cover costs and make donations that will support us to develop the work further.

Questions and comments welcome! Please do invite others who you think might heed the call to join us. Share this post. But also issue personal invitations.

We need to learn to do together…what we can’t do alone.

Towards a Complete Reset? Purpose and what we measure…

For a couple of decades I have been thinking about what we measure and why we measure it in various development programmes. The choices we make about what we measure shape how the system develops over time and if we make the wrong choices the original purpose of the system can get lost.

In economic development, measures are based on productivity, a measure usually derived from Gross National Product or Gross Domestic Product.  Anything likely to increase the productivity of the economy is deemed to be a ‘good’ thing and pursued wholeheartedly.

This has led to a long term and persistent bias towards the pursuit of productivity gains – rather than to investing in establishing a context, a society, from which productivity will emerge. We have become obsessed with the golden egg (which is actually pretty rotten in terms of climate and inequality) and not cared for the goose.

Consider this from Bobby Kennedy from over 50 years ago:

‘Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product … counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and the cost of a nuclear warhead, and armored cars for police who fight riots in our streets. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.’

Robert F. Kennedy Address, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, March 18, 1968

Seems pretty close to the mark even 50 years later.

  • Why did this voice of reason not prevail?
  • Could it prevail now?
  • Should it?