Drive-by Democracy Isn’t Working

With Brexit, the rejection-by-referendum of the Columbian peace accord with FARC, the Trump win and the troubling popularity of ethno-nationalism in Europe, it is clear that liberal democracy as we have experienced it in the post-war era is facing unprecedented challenge.

In a time of 140 character policy pronouncements and of real-time reaction by anyone with a mobile device and a few seconds on their hands, the grand debates to inform the best of our societies have been marked by appeals to extremist entrenchment instead of centrist collaboration. And where the citizenry does get engaged, the troubling propensity is to do that anonymously, reactively, reflexively on-line – assuming that a ‘like’ on Facebook or a Twitter re-tweet is the fullest expression of their democratic franchise. Having stood on the digital ‘speakers box’, but without the responsibility to show their face to their peers, the engaged citizen then offers themselves self-congratulations for a job well done. This trend of substituting a ‘like’ for a thoughtful vote is what I think of as ‘drive-by democracy’.

We have allowed for the fiction that solutions are obvious, simple and plentiful – and that the challenge of democracy is to speak one’s mind, rather than to shape it. If we are, as many have observed, witnessing the failure of existing post-war elite structures, then the failure in part has been to feed and give voice to that dangerous fiction – that sense of articulated aggrievement. Instead, leaders need to demonstrate by their example that there is no absolute, single answer to anything, and that the solutions to our opportunities are as nuanced as the challenges that precede them.

We can’t look to the leadership structures that were defined by the command and control systems of European empires and two world wars, or to the 62 individuals whose net worth equals the bottom 50% of humanity. Instead, we must mobilize the ‘militant middle’ – those who do not want others to speak for them, and who, because of their accomplishment understand that their collective voice could provide the example of leadership that is today being sought by so many.

Many years ago my first year political science professor observed “for the most part and in the long run, people get the governments that they deserve”. Is that true for leadership as a whole – that we get the leaders we deserve? If thats true, what are you going to do about it?


Better you. Better me. Better world. The leadership imperative of our time.

For us dyed-in-the wool optimists it’s hard not to acknowledge the breath-taking improvements in all facets of our life. Take any great city of the West and the benefits of exponential advances in technology, open borders, open minds and the diversity that feeds all is evident to most who live and work there. But journey just a short distance into the countryside and too often the benefits are far less evident, appreciated, understood – or desired.

Following on the heels of bewildering setbacks for reason in the UK and Columbia, today we stand too close to a populist victory in Washington – alarming testament to an abject absence of leadership. Though it is inaccurate, unfair and unhelpful to characterize that vacancy as born of incompetence or bad-faith, it is nonetheless a systemic deficit we are witnessing – as seen from our classrooms, our boardrooms – and our legislatures.

Where to look for the example of leadership that will reframe its practice? To the same people, structures and institutions that have proven themselves so unable to anticipate and adapt to the techno-socio-politico and economic winds of change? To the 62 people who in 2015 possessed the same wealth as half the world (down from 388 in 2010 according to the most recent Oxfam Davos report)? Or to the aggregate of the 7,461,380,063 humans alive at this moment in writing? Is there any read of contemporary events that suggests that now is the inflexion point at which humanity will speak and act with one reasoned voice?

Instead, I suggest that we look to you. And to me. And to the very, very many like us who believe that what we do for ourselves, for our families, for our communities, our nations and yes – our earth – occurs on a single plane, not in silos. That to attend to one need is not a zero sum exercise, but that indeed, to attend to all in balance is the new leadership imperative.

Hence The Leaders Expedition, a new global non-profit organization. We believe that the narrative and practice of leadership must be reframed everywhere. That to do so in one society or in one sector means nothing given the unparalleled intimacy of the Internet of Everyone. Fearing the future, communities of shared grievance (real and perceived) are being formed, empowered and mobilized to spread a contagion of ignorance and intolerance. Embracing the future, we believe that only a diverse community of the accomplished – the builders, makers, operators, artists and activists – can through their example drive the process of reframing leadership.

What distinguishes our effort from so many others is our conviction that the challenge demands a long view, and the strength and capacity to sustain a historic expedition. So as with any community, the well-being of the member – personally and professionally – is a foundational pre-condition for the eventual goal that unites us – realizing the full potential of all our futures. Your need for a Return on Impact must first be addressed if we together are to transform ourselves, our communities and the sectors that shape our world.

Please visit to learn more about our new movement. If being a founding member resonates with you, please reach out to me discuss your nomination to our diverse and quite remarkable community.

If not us, then whom? If not now, then when?


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