Saturday, March 17, 2007

Resisting the Flow of Success

Jane Austen’s sentiments about life and its challenges are in the air again. Two hundred years later, her “brand” is still going strong with two movies to be released this year. Her astute observations about life between and among the classes and the masses resonate.

Stories encompassing moral dilemmas, the great divides of class and money, and spunky women asserting their rightful places in society have enduring messages. One is the capacity not to get swept away by success and corrupt our character as a result.

This myopia of the mind is most obvious when someone becomes famous suddenly or was handed fame and fortune at birth. Some deal with it well. Others succumb to the hypnotism of adulation and the feeling of power that goes with it. We witness the “problem” with the steady stream of Hollywood lives gone awry. The spotlight is seductive and mesmerizing.

This is every leader’s call to character. Canada’s very own Conrad Black who is facing serious charges in the United States for fraud reminds us of the monumental challenge of sustaining leadership success. Put another way, how does a leader avoid crashing and burning?

Having a good dream, a vision, and getting people to rally around it is insufficient. Working hard is not enough. The mania of success, as we’ve witnessed too often in the last few years with various corporate scandals, cannot withstand an avoidance of looking inward to what matters.

We have serious moral obligations to each other and most importantly to ourselves. With the swirling events around us in our workplaces, it’s easy to forget who we are and who others are.

I remember watching and reading about Martha Stewart during her tough times with the legal system in the US. Her “crime” seemed small in relation to the punishment meted out. On closer examination, the stories about her leadership revealed a woman who put business goals above all else, with scant attention to the emotional and other needs of the people around her. Greek hubris visited her. When in need, there were few who came to her support.

It appears that Conrad Black may be suffering the same fate. His partner and long time business associate, David Radler, has abandoned him for higher ground. Historians will no doubt enlighten us in the years to come about the reasons for the unraveling of the relationship. Character, in my opinion, will be central to the analysis.

Another leadership story, with Jane Austen’s underlying character themes, is brewing on the Canadian Federal political scene. Prime Minister Stephen Harper appears to be “in charge” managing deftly to win the hearts and minds of some voters. His firmness and control of the decision making in his caucus are appealing. His ability as a “chess player” outfoxing the opposition and making their issues, his party’s issues is to be admired. On the other hand, Stephane Dion, the Liberal leader of the opposition, has a softer, less defined persona. Lack of charisma coupled with integrity are his personality markers. He is working on his “firmness” and presentation style. But, who in the long run who has what it takes to last no matter what battle is being waged and fought?

The Globe and Mail’s Lawrence Martin warns of a danger for Stephen Harper. He contends that “while his shrewd and purposeful style of government has earned him respect, he has not built up a lot of loyalty. His remote, his all-controlling nature, his keeping everyone on a tight leash, has won few friends.” Lurking for Harper or anyone in his position is the anesthetic of success and power in the absence of a reality check on his social and emotional universe. Will he come to terms with and “resist the flow of success”?

I wonder what advice Jane Austen would offer? The word for experience comes from the Latin words ex pericolo, which mean “from danger”. She might suggest this: “pay attention” because there’s more to success as a leader than being smart. In today’s complex environment power is earned not enforced. Compliance does not equal commitment. The respect by the group for its leader happens because he builds a culture allowing the group to fulfill its potential. The paradox of having control is letting go. It seems high risk but the alternative is really so.

1 comment:

Foufolle said...

Voila ... the key is to win the hearts and minds of spunky women.