Sunday, March 30, 2008

Stephen Harper Missed Leveraging the Earth Hour Opportunity

The success of Earth Hour participation around the globe demonstrated that small actions combined with big ideas are a powerful force for change. Such awareness, particularly when the action is simple, sets the stage for deeper and longer term behaviour change.

The sense of community the campaign engendered added to the potency of the idea. Our minds are forever imprinted with the entire experience of having fun with family and friends while achieving something practical and beneficial. In our increasingly interconnected world in which change seems too slow in coming for the many, the quick feedback on reduced power loads heightened our sense of satisfaction.

None of the success of Earth Hour would have happened without leadership in the countries and communities that participated from the top to the front line. According to the post Earth Hour reports, approximately 30 million people took part in the event, comprised of 380 communities of which 150 were in Canada.

For reasons that defy logic, if the newspaper reports are accurate, Stephen Harper missed a chance to be a more visible leader on this file. The Toronto Star’s correspondents in Ottawa noticed that the ground floor lights at 24 Sussex Drive remained on during Earth Hour and so did the lights in Harper’s Parliament Hill office. On the other hand, John Baird, Harper’s Environment Minister dimmed his household lights. In this instance, they were not joined at the hip.

Who can argue against the merits of gearing down on power usage? Harper could have reached across party lines and connected better with all of us. At the least, Mr. Harper could have used the opportunity to plant seeds for future votes.

Leading effectively is a matter of both the heart and the head----being in tune with “the people” and the evidence. In this instance, the spirit of the people and the evidence were strong enough for a leader to go with the flow.

Muhammad Yunus, winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his micro-credit success with millions of the world’s poorest families links the reality of economic change to the “excitedly multi-dimensional” nature of people. Our “emotions, beliefs, priorities and behaviour patterns can best be compared to the millions of shades we can produce from the three primary colours”. In Yunus’ view, the business of pursuing specific social goals is part of our multi-dimensional psyche, providing a meaningful way for us to step outside of ourselves and be “change agents for the world”.

Robert Quinn in Building the Bridge As You Walk On It expands on this notion:

It is our hypocrisy and self-focus that drains us.
When we become purpose-centered, internally directed, other-focused, and externally open, we discover energy we didn’t know we had.

Earth Hour captured our energy to conserve energy. It also fired up our imaginations and sense of being able to make a difference. Let’s hope that Prime Minister Harper picks up on the energy and helps us do even more.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Clinton-Obama Leadership Race Needs a Rallying Point to Break the Gridlock

Simplistically-speaking democratic delegates are in a bind. Vote for Hillary if you want depth or deep experience. Or, if breadth is the requirement, a symbol of diversity and apparent open-mindedness, vote for Obama. Both are vital for effective leadership. Too bad one of the candidates doesn’t measure up significantly on both. An either-or choice is making life difficult for the Democrats. Without resolution, they are in danger of being divided and causing confusion for voters.

My informal surveys with emerging and experienced leaders reflect the difficulties. The results are extreme: the majority for one or the other with few in-between. Hillary came out on top among approximately fifty government leaders from a range of functions. About half as many staff in a research university, also representing a cross-section of jobs, sided overwhelmingly with Barack. The reasons may lie in what an organization values: getting things done in better ways or jumping into the new and different. Certainly the democratic candidate choice must be forcing a lot of soul-searching.

With so much at stake, the situation calls out for a rallying point that will help differentiate the choice more clearly. Recent articles cite the “popular vote” as a guide. Obama wins that one. But, what are the messages underlying the “popular vote”?

Richard Florida, in his new book, Who’s Your City: How The Creative Economy Is Making Where You Live The Most Important Decision Of Your Life, presents some intriguing connections between people and economic growth that may be playing on the minds of Americans. His data demonstrate correlations between “open to experience” personalities and regional innovation and growth. He explains that openness is an important factor for attracting and leveraging diversity which, in turn, drives prosperity.

Given the dire estimates on the economic costs of the war in Iraq, Americans may instinctively be moving towards a candidate that they believe can generate recovery and growth faster. Joseph Stiglitz, Columbia University’s 2001 winner of the Nobel Prize in economics has sent a chill down the spines of political decision makers in the United States: the war has conservatively cost $3 trillion. The bleeding will continue with the cost of war veterans’ disabilities. The meaning of security is changing from protection from terrorists to protection from financial hardship and a lower standard of living. The “popular vote” may be mirroring this shift.

In the end, it’s still a tough choice: “either-or” rather than “yes-and”. Let’s hope that whoever wins is able to reach out across the divide to bring both depth and breadth quickly to the leadership table.