The Achilles Heel of Strong Leadership

Strong leadership is generally seen as a good thing, presented with the unspoken assumption that the alternative is weak. But this assumption contains a devastating flaw.  The Achilles heel of ‘strong leadership’, is that it’s very easy to cross the fine line from intelligence to belligerence.

The top brass of the First World War were undoubtedly ‘strong’ – sending millions Over The Top to pointlessly certain death. They may seem like dinosaurs from another era, derided for their myopia, but their attitude was the same as ‘The Lady’s not for turning’ mantra that inspires so many Thatcher fans in business and in politics today.

Unflinchingly ‘strong’ leadership though, requires the courage to acknowledge when things are going wrong. Unless our strong leaders have a ‘U turn policy’, their fear of being seen to be weak can overpower their intelligence.

My U turn policy would look like this: ‘If new evidence comes to light, which suggests my earlier decisions were poor – I will accept that I did my best given what I knew at the time, and change my course’.

A policy like this clearly stated and repeated when necessary, would be a strong defence against accusations of weakness. Better yet, it could also undermine aggressive challenges to leadership by detractors because it invites progressive learning over defensive evasion.  Here’s real strength, courage and power.

Let’s imagine there were a contentious, tricky leadership issue afoot – something like, Brexit, say.   With a U turn policy in place, it would be acceptable to challenge ‘the decision’ of our referendum on leaving or remaining in the EU with the charge of insufficient intelligence.

Nobody in their right mind would consider a risky course of surgical treatment if they discovered the doctor who persuaded them had failed to weigh up the medical evidence. Certainly not if the majority of doctors they subsequently met were able to point out damaging side-effects and less risky, less invasive alternatives.  And yet, this is exactly what our political establishment (on both sides of The House) seems to be doing with Brexit.

There’s a great deal of fear and political cowardice in hiding behind a belligerent statement that ‘Britain is leaving the EU because the people have spoken’. As evidence flows in thick and fast suggesting the snap decision to Leave may have been ill-considered, we need some truly strong leaders with the courage to hold up their U turn policy and say “We might have got this wrong”.  It is their responsibility as the nation’s elected representatives and leaders, to give us safe passage through life.  As it is, we seem to be steaming full steam ahead in hazardous waters with poor visibility.  Sure, we all want to be heard, but we wouldn’t expect the crew of a ship to ask the passengers what to do when danger looms…

Medics who ignore valid evidence are rightly pilloried for putting lives at risk.  Scientists who do the same, are pilloried for failing in their duty to advance understanding.  In the same way, politicians who refuse to acknowledge valid evidence should also be pilloried for failing in their duty to advance society.

Let’s hope politicians on both sides of the Channel adopt a U turn policy with the power to break the deathly embrace of increasing belligerence. That’s the kind of strong leadership I’d like to see.

Finding our (shared) identity


I’m part of an utterly inspiring community called the E-Campaigning Forum (ECF).  It’s described as ‘a loose vibrant network of practitioners using digital media for campaigning (advocacy)’ and, naturally, there’s been a string of debate about the EU referendum.

What I love about this whole thing is the way it stirs people into conversation – and I’ve now heard several people I hugely respect tend to the ‘leave’ camp on the grounds that the system is so dysfunctional it needs a disruptive crisis in order to change. This challenge to my intuitive and reasoned ‘Remain’ position together with the ECF driven debate made me think again.

I picked out posts by Ed Dowding  of Represent saying the fundamental issue is lack of purpose and sense of autonomy, and Dr Andy Williamson‘s 10 points to consider about Brexit and the EU Referendum which is fascinating.   Andy’s ten points convinced me that to remain is sensible, as to leave is clearly ‘somewhere between bat-shit crazy and economic suicide‘, which I rather liked.  But Ed’s was the point which really got me on my feet shouting ‘YES’!!

After many years of self reflection, I’ve concluded (at least for now!) that the biggest contribution I can personally make, is to facilitate better networking of networks.  I’ve set up several collaborative platforms, all orbiting the critical issue of human purpose, which for me is expressed through Happy City. Our sense of belonging, our need for health and a healthy environment, and our search for meaning and purpose are the universal fundamentals of human existence – so they’re the bits of happiness we can all recognise as our own. Many claim ownership, but none can possess the rights.

So I believe the shift required to alter the patterns of our entire economic system are actually pretty simple (aim for ‘what matters’)- it’s just the changes that result are phenomenal in their breadth, depth and complexity (as you’d expect if you change the fundamental system principle), which makes people doubt it’s possible.  It’s mainly because people aren’t generally familiar with systems and how they work, that they doubt big systems can change. It’s the same reason people tend to see themselves as outside rather than ‘in’ the problem.

I’ve asked the ECF network if they identify with the story of the economic system as we tell it here or not.  I wrote:

If you do identify with it, how do you think we can express it in a way that would help people see themselves as IN the story (something they’re already working with) rather than outsiders offering me/us help because they like it or think we’ve got the rights?  

Personally, I think a system with the primary purpose of promoting human flourishing (rather than money/consumption) would make the In/Out EU referendum kind of debate hard to even conceive.

My hope/expectation of Happy City’s contribution is that it helps people articulate the shared purpose/path/pattern in ways that people can see it. If we use happiness to tell our stories in this way, I think people will begin to recognise the widespread reality of ready-made practical solutions and ways of being as an alternative economic system which functions today.  If they understand this is the case, it will no longer be a terrifying prospect to let go of the economic ideas which currently dominate ‘big system’ thinking. The belief will make it true.

What do YOU think?   Please comment here so your own wisdom is shared….