Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Is Obama Helping Us Coppice?

As the flow of ink becomes exponential describing and analyzing the escalating battle between two able presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, we search to identify and feel comfortable with the forces in play. Many pundits refer to Obama’s appeal as a “movement”, the likes of which we have not seen since the beginning of the civil rights era or the challenges to the status quo by baby boomers in the 1960s. The women’s movement led by Betty Freidan, Gloria Steinem and others derives from that time too.

We are overdue for renewal of some kind. Both candidates speak to this. Perhaps Obama does it just a little better, as in the ecological practice of “coppicing”---cutting trees down to the base every few years to allow more light to reach the forest floor.

Obama, because of his appeal to the younger generation and others who feel as if they are on the outside looking in, might be fostering in their imaginations greater diversity of opportunity faster, as occurs with coppicing. Change under his watch, they might reason, could happen with far more speed and intensity than under Hillary’s. That idea, it seems, is catching fire. That’s a movement. There is pent up frustration. Consciously or unconsciously, Obama, more so than Hillary, might represent the way to greater sunlight in the minds of an increasing number of delegates.

Are we witnessing the way of nature? Certainly, the Obama fever is reminiscent of the early days of courting when our critical minds take flight for awhile. Those instances don’t occur very often as all the right circumstances need to be in play including an unconscious biological connection gifted to us by our ancestors.

We do recover about three years out or sooner, when the hormones masking our judgment cool down and allow for a more balanced view of the special person in our life. In many instances, we were right on in our choice. Sometimes, not and hopefully, we can move on. But, at least we gave ourselves the chance at choice.

Leadership isn’t just about the facts. It’s also about art and music. It’s something that resonates deeply in our souls. We are witnessing that drama in the United States presidential primaries. We map that drama onto our own leadership experiences in our respective countries and work places to compare notes. We ask ourselves over and over again---what kind of leaders really do make a difference?

The Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama story will continue to fascinate us for a long time, regardless of who makes it to the podium. Both have enormous potential to tame the wildness of the times. Both offer pathways through the wilderness. Both have enough bandwidth to help us build more resilient societies.

But do both recognize the importance of biodiversity, a precursor for resilience? Obama’s appeal is in that direction. To deliver is another matter.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Echoes of an Original Sound

The American Presidential primaries have ignited a firestorm of civil participation not seen in a long time. This is good. Something is getting to the hearts of people across all spectrums. Could this be an original sound of rediscovered meaning and purpose in a world that has veered too far from what it takes to lead an ordinary life?

Hands down, Barack Obama has led the way with his inspirational oratory. To quote John A. Shedd, “When there is an original sound in the world, it makes a hundred echoes.” But other Presidential hopefuls are doing their share. John McCain has a great story of survival under the worst of circumstances. Hillary Clinton is a gritty woman renowned for her work ethic and ability to survive multiple dueling matches up close and personal. Obama’s background symbolizes the struggles of ordinary folks. The timing couldn’t be better for his leadership. Without a revived and happier middle class and a helping hand for the disadvantaged to get on their feet, prosperity and progress have little chance.

Much has been said about Obama’s charisma and Hillary’s lack of it. That is not the heart of the matter. Authenticity is. Is this person “for real” deep in his heart and soul? Does he care? Does he understand my situation and want to help me reach my potential? Or, is he just full of hot air? Does he have the courage to face up to and work through the forces that stand in the way of a better life for the many not the few?

Authenticity relates to a complex lifelong process of self-discovery and self-knowing, It is the opposite of self-delusion and grandeur and “I know best”. Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones in Why Should Anyone Be Led by You? offer a quick checklist of an authentic leader:

1. Consistency between words and deeds
2. Coherence in role performance, displaying a “real self” that holds all the different performances together
3. Comfort with self

This cannot be faked. Even children sense when things are not quite right about a person. They don’t like self-absorbed opportunistic adults who cannot connect to their worlds. Authenticity is deep in our souls or not.

In the absence of stability, authentic leadership anywhere and everywhere becomes even more vital. It must be earned over and over again. Whoever does that well each step of the way has a better chance of securing one of the most coveted jobs in the world than the others.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Michael Buble's Funfest: A Sign of the Leisure Economy to Come

I had the pleasure of observing a Michael Buble tour up close and personal recently. I discovered a welcoming, well-run organization with a pervasive spirit of fun mixed with---as the younger generation says--- “awesome” virtuosity. With talk of the rise of a leisure economy again, this could be a signal of things to come for managers and leaders working with the “twenty and thirty-something” generation.

My daughter Jennie and two of her singer colleagues were engaged by the organization with which Buble is partnering for the logistics side of his cross-country tour to perform back up to “That’s Life” in the Toronto and environs area. As the tour passed through Toronto, London, Kitchener and Hamilton, I willingly became the chauffeur to provide safe passage for the girls to London and Kitchener. An unexpected perk was being able to observe the clockwork activities behind the scenes and upfront. The litmus test was its impact on how we experienced being there from the beginning to the end.

Despite being run off his feet and dealing with all manner of challenges, the head logistics guy took the time to guide us to and within the venue at each step of the way. Driving directions to the place especially once at the city limits from the highway. Where to park (security was ready for us). What door to enter (and he was right there to greet and escort us). Where to hang out to get ready (dressing room). The location of the food. The check points before the performance. Who would be taking care of the women to guide them to the stage. How they would watch over their belongings while performing. The security outside the dressing room door. Periodically, he would waft by to see how we were doing. With his eye on serving Michael Buble’s overall performance for the evening, the logistics guy did all the right things: he made sure the singers were emotionally and physically-supported each step of the way.

The icing on the cake was Michael Buble and his entourage. No doubt, Buble is the fun spirit behind the whole of the enterprise. Without him, the atmosphere would have been different. Perhaps the logistics team would not have been quite as pleasant and competent.

Besides having a great singing voice, Buble is a barrel of laughs and infects all the performers accordingly. He missed his calling as a comedian. He sprinkles his performance with outlandish comments and antics. He takes his energy from the audience and engages them well in the whole experience, sometimes worrying his security detail, no doubt. His very capable live band partnered smoothly with him to entertain us and lend some lightness to the serious array of songs from Buble’s album “Call Me Irresponsible”. The opening act, a gospel a cappela group called “The Naturally Seven” was astounding in its ability to mimic various instruments and lift the rafters with their inspirational songs.

My prime takeaway from this was the importance of the emotional climate in an organization. With no effort whatsoever, I immersed myself in it and felt better for the experience. My volunteer work was unexpectedly acknowledged with free tickets to watch from the front rather than the back. I did not see big egos ensuring that a hierarchy was firmly in place. Respect for each other pervaded the whole. The prime intent was to serve the customers. With that aim in mind, no stone was left unturned.

The second takeaway was the glimpse at an emerging phenomenon once again: the “leisure economy”. Retiring “workaholic” baby boomers are discovering its allure. But by accounts from many researchers probing the brains of the up and coming generations who will be our next crop of leaders, the “twenty and thirty somethings” will want copious opportunities for leisure throughout their careers. That means on the job “fun”, definitely a culture of respect and caring and non-traditional arrangements for holidays.

Linda Nazareth, in her book, The Leisure Economy: How Changing Demographics, Economics, and Generational Attitudes Will Reshape Our Lives and Our Industries, poses some provocative questions:

“What if more people chose to work less and give themselves more time?”

“What if they start making decisions not on the basis of speed---choosing things that can be consumed or done fast, or that let them do things faster---but on other values?”

Leaders and managers are already noticing this shift. And, it’s worrisome from the point-of-view of succession planning. The Boomers are now coming to grips with the reality: the subsequent generations don’t want to be like them (having unbalanced lives). At the same time, they do want to make a difference.

This trend is good for our health, well-being and longevity. Let’s embrace it and use our creative brains to make it work. It’s good for business too.