Je Suis Charlie: You (and we) HAVE To Rethink Leadership

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The infrequent visitor to this blog might be puzzled by the an apparent lack of coherence found herein. In the ‘Digest’ section I share many of the timely articles/stories that have captured my attention – all more or less speaking to the scale and scope of profound disruption, the forces that are ever faster shaping our existence.  Elsewhere in ‘Posts’ one will find the sometime chronicling of my journey over the past few years, and my thoughts on the changing nature of leadership.  Still elsewhere, the diligent reader will see that I’m applying myself to the challenge and reward of establishing a CEO Forum to better explore ways of building 15 or so exceptional businesses though peer mentoring and collaboration.

Sadly, the coherence is to be found in the shadow of the tragedy we’ve all just witnessed this past week in Paris, where the forces of ignorance struck out at a society wrestling with just the initial consequences of profound politico-socio-economic disruption driven in turn by exponential technological growth.  I have previously observed that orthodoxy generally can be regarded as a reaction to change – be it in our religions (Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism etc.), our cultures, our legislatures, our institutions, our organizations – and our businesses.  As the complexity of the world becomes more indecipherable to some, many within our societies are clearly falling back on simpler answer sets for comfort and guidance – a disenfranchised (or perhaps more accurately unenfranchised) population that is growing at an alarming pace.  That this is happening speaks to a leadership deficit that is equally alarming – in our religious leaders of course, but so to in the leadership of our politicians, our community leaders and our business leadership.  When young men (and now women) take up arms against their homeland, there are a great many ‘leaders’  who have failed them, and more to the point, their victims.

If you’ve read this far, you must – MUST – take a few minutes to watch Jeremy Howard’s recent TEDx talk in Brussels – The Wonderful and Terrifying Implications Of Computers That Can Learn.  If you do so you will see that the stuff of science fiction is shaping our world much, much faster than most of us realize – with the attendant consequences (good and bad) on the entities that we lead.  It is not hard to imagine that those seeking a simple and simplistic  understanding of life and their role within it will join the ranks of the ignorant to our collective peril.  In short, if we want a world where each human has the opportunity to be a constructive and participative citizen and is motivated (and incented) to be the best ‘them’ they can be, we need a leadership cohort that is much, much better at making sense of their environments, with the consequent capacity to apply enlightened leadership to the reality of profound disruption.

And who provide the greatest numbers to the global leadership cohort?  Those who run businesses.  Those who are responsible for inventing things, making things, making things better, organizing things, creating employment.  Like it or not, our businesses have been given a societal license to create and distribute wealth and power a prosperous, healthy world.  Our businesses, like it or not, are the engines of societal growth.  On the whole – and as a cohort – we’ve done a pretty inadequate job, taking refuge in the laissez faire POV that ‘it’s not my job’ to think of the bigger picture.  “My job is to  run my business”.  The reality is, if we as a society are to realize the benefits – for all citizens – of profound disruption, then its our business leaders who need to step up and assume the responsibility of true leadership, or else inevitably others will (that societal license I referred to is ‘use it or lose it’).  And where product life-cycles are increasingly measured in months, successful businesses are adapting to a world of constant flux – something government and public sector leadership are structurally prevented from doing.

Simply put, to defeat ignorance we need to create happy, healthy societies that engage their populations – failure to do so will have terminal consequences.

What does it mean to be such a leader?  I have no idea.  But I do know that it’s less about where you look for answers as much as it is with whom you frame the questions, and share in the exploration and discovery of objective solutions.  I know that leadership isn’t found in the self-serving ‘how to be a winning CEO’ lists/articles we are all subjected to, but rather that leadership is nurtured from within.  And I do know that the place to start is at the ground floor – within the businesses that drive our societies.  Every business has the capacity to be an incubator for equitable wealth generation and distribution.  Every leader has the capacity to be an exemplar of enlightened leadership – accepting that when they seek the mantle of leadership they are joining a global community of world makers – who are party both to the defeat of ignorance and the victory of enlightenment.

We are all Charlie.

 

 
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