Is there a leader in the house?
Periodically we are obliged to abandon the familiar and endure the risky process of change.
We are disinclined to demand change if our current situation is tolerable even if there exists the possibility of something better as, in general, we are uncomfortable with risk and seek ways to minimise it.
Our resistance to change is a strong emotion which grows in proportion to the desirability of the status quo.
Change is movement and comes in the following flavours.
Firstly, change as escape. In this case we are motivated to avoid some threat to our wellbeing often without a preferred destination in mind.
Secondly, change towards. In this situation we move towards a preconceived location that offers superior prospects to the status quo.
In both cases there is the possibility of failure but the stimulant is that the risk of inaction exceeds the risk of change.
Instinctively we confront clear and present danger by fight or flight. If the impulsion to change is not so urgent we are programmed to reason our way to a choice of action. Only when our capacity for reasoning proves inadequate do we tend to seek the guidance of someone who appears to know a better way.
And so the scene is set in which a common interest unites some of us and we follow the guidance of an individual we call our leader. This is often someone with charisma who emerges from obscurity espousing a compelling message of hope communicated with such conviction that many of us are prepared to disengage our critical faculties of reason and to accept, as a matter of faith, the guidance of another’s mind.
There is much to be said about the brevity and fragility of this bond between a leader and followers. It has endured throughout history as an organising principle in times of transition. But this brief note is not the place.
I want to focus on the current economic situation and encourage you to see it as a time of transition when we are emerging tenuously from a period from which we want to escape. It is a journey into uncertainty with little information either about the challenges of the route ahead or anything more than hope that we will find a destination more vibrant than the austere place we leave behind.
This odyssey is exactly the situation in which we seek a guiding mind, a leader who can reassure us that we are on the right path to prosperity. But where is such an individual to be found?
As we descended into the economic winter from which we are hopefully emerging no leader emerged to mitigate our distress. So the emergence of a guiding mind is never guaranteed.
There are people who hold the title of leader. Barack Obama, as the head of the most powerful nation on earth, is called the leader of the free world but how many place him in the same ‘game changer’ category as Odyssius, Alexander, Simón Bolivar, Gandhi, Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt or Mandela. Each of whom guided followers through adversity.
The recent passing of Nelson Mandela reminds us of how rare these individuals are. Arising perhaps only once in a generation they are not available on demand but seem to emerge only when there is an issue commonly regarded as intolerable and sometimes not even then.
Globally and nationally we have endured but not yet transcended an economic crisis unprecedented in two generations. We are meandering and need a guiding mind to reveal the route to salvation. But, despite the investment in leadership education and the library of ‘how to become’ books, there is no prominent individual to follow. No economic Moses has appeared to lead us from our fiscal oppression to the Promised Land.
Must we live in hope but not expectation?
Anthony Holmes is the author of Managing Through Turbulent Times.