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Who creates the vision?

In Learning to Lead, leadership guru Warren Bennis claimed there are four competencies of leadership.

  1. Mastering the context.
  2. Knowing yourself.
  3. Creating a powerful vision.
  4. Communicating with meaning.

Although all four of these competencies have a different flavor for CoLeaders than traditional leaders, the one that I find most challenging is creating a powerful vision. This assumes a top-down approach to leadership and followership. I sense that one element of the crisis of leadership and followership is this self-centered approach.

The culture is changing.

Take President Obama for example. In 2008 masses of young people rallied to support his candidacy in part because of his message, “Change we can believe in.” His book, The Audacity of Hope, also inspired people. Obama’s vision was broad and bold. His followers wanted to hope that things would change. But did they?

I try not to criticize any singular human being, especially someone serving as The President of the United States. President Obama made promises that the political system did not allow him to keep. He has been transformed by the personal responsibility he has borne as President.

However, has Obama really changed much of anything in our culture? Yes, the economy has recovered (in some ways). The rich got richer. The bankers benefitted the most. Democracy is even more threatened than it was before 2008. Voting rights are more restrictive. Women’s’ reproductive freedoms have lost ground in many parts of our country. Racism is more visible.

What happened to the millions of young people who joined the Obama for President movement? Did some of them end up joining the occupy Wall Street movement? Will they vote for the next Democrat candidate?

Will they vote for Hillary Clinton?  Personally, I doubt it. They may not vote at all.

In the past eight years a growing minority of our culture has become increasingly cynical about leaders, politics, and institutions. How do we shift this cynicism into activism?

In the past, I have been the leader effectively casting a vision for others to follow. I learned valuable lessons. If I have positional power and cast a vision, even if people follow that vision, it is only effective as long as I succeed as the leader. As someone who disrupts and undermines hierarchies, I cannot count on maintaining positional authority. Those who have power over me replace me because I threaten the hierarchy. The next person in the position does not sustain my vision – they cast their own vision.

I am certain other leaders will continue to cast their own vision and expect others to follow. This style of leadership may continue to dominate our culture for the remainder of my lifetime.  I hope this is not the case.

I recommend that people with an interest in transforming organizations or systems read, The Three Laws of Performance. Although the book focuses primarily on transforming organizations and contexts, it is also an excellent book for people interested in collaborative leadership.

The Three Laws of Performance also has three leadership corollaries. One is particularly pertinent to a conversation about vision. “Leaders listen for the future of their organization.” This flips the conventional wisdom about leadership and vision upside down. Leaders don’t cast the vision. Leaders don’t create the future of their organization. Leaders listen.

What conventional wisdom teaches – leaders must create and then cast the vision – is outdated and ineffective.

What if the world really needs a good listening to? What if people inside any organization have a great deal to contribute to the future of the organization? What if collective leadership is the best way to deal with a complex, volatile, and uncertain world?

CoLeaders listen for the future. We believe that the future can be better than the present. Yet, CoLeaders are not so arrogant that they think their vision is the only answer to the needs of the world (or even our family, workplace, or community needs).

We are each just one piece in a giant puzzle that can create a more beautiful, just, compassionate, peaceful, and sustainable world. I am just one piece. I do not have the complete picture.

Our CoLeader Connection is a place where we can bring our small pieces of the global vision together. Together we will listen for a more beautiful and compassionate future.

Feel free to share your piece of the vision in the comments.




More Wasted Possibilities – The Disappearing Middle Class

Trickle down economics is an illusion. History demonstrates that wealth flows up, to the wealthiest, not down to the poorest.

In Capital in the 21st Century, Thomas Piketty argued for redistribution of wealth through wealth taxes and high marginal income tax rates. In the post WWI and WWII years, the United States and other developed countries adopted wealth taxes and high marginal tax rates which contributed to the emergence of a strong middle class. Along with the growth in the middle class came unprecedented improvements in economic growth, productivity, and innovation.

Many economists contend that the debt crisis and economic collapse (2008 – 2010) was primarily caused by growing income inequality paired with extreme greed and a brand of capitalism that rewards liars, cheaters, and frauds.

Since 2008 wealth and income inequality has increased.

Here are a few facts from the 2014 Global Wealth Databook published by Credit Suisse: https://publications.credit-suisse.com/tasks/render/file/?fileID=5521F296-D460-2B88-081889DB12817E02

  1. Forty-seven wealthy Americans own more than half the private wealth of the United States. Eighty-five people own half the entire global wealth.
  2. Ten percent of total global wealth was ‘taken’ by the global 1% in the past three years. One of every ten dollars of global wealth has been transferred to the 1% in just three years.
  3. Almost none of the wealth that has been flowing to the top has led to innovation and job creation. Business startup costs made up less than 1% of the investments of high net worth individuals in North America in 2011. A recent study found that less than 1% of all entrepreneurs came from very rich or very poor backgrounds. They come from the middle class. A shrinking middle class leads to lower levels of job creation.
  4. Every year since the recession, the increase in wealth to America’s richest 1% has exceeded the cost of all US social programs. The 1% took in somewhere between $2.3 trillion to $5.7 trillion. The $2.3 trillion is greater than the combined budgets for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the entire low-income safety net (food stamps, WIC, temporary assistance for needy families, low income housing, earned income tax credit, and supplemental security income).

When middle class working Americans slip into poverty; or see their families, friends, coworkers, and neighbors becoming part of the new poor, there is a tremendous loss of engagement and empowerment. This contributes to low levels of engagement on the job, and low levels of involvement with democratic processes (voting, working on campaigns, and grassroots lobbying for issues).

Despite the understandable disengagement people feel towards their jobs, between 1979 and 2013, productivity grew 64.9 percent, while hourly compensation grew only 8.2 percent. Productivity grew nearly eight times faster than hourly compensation. Just imagine what would have been possible for our economy, communities, and families if wages had increased at the same pace as productivity. (http://www.epi.org/publication/raising-americas-pay/)

When the middle class struggles to meet their basic living costs the economy suffers. This is particularly true when politics rewards the wealthy with tax breaks and bailouts, while expecting the middle class to bear more than their fair share of the cost of a civil society (education, public infrastructure, safety, health, and welfare).

The “American Dream” is a dream of economic and social mobility. We want to believe it is still possible to work hard and get ahead, to give our children a better life than we had. However, a number of studies of income mobility conclude that the United States has lower mobility than other wealthy countries. http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/reports/2011/05/19/economic-mobility-and-the-american-dream-where-do-we-stand-in-the-wake-of-the-great-recession1

We don’t like to acknowledge the loss of the American dream. Few would argue that aristocracy or plutocracy, or rising inequality without class mobility is something that we can be proud of as American’s.

Our current reality is that the United States is not a “land of opportunity.” The American Dream, that anything you dream and work hard to create can be possible, is fading. Economic inequality destroys hopes and dreams.

We are wasting the possibilities that would be available if we had a strong growing middle class. We are also wasting the dreams of millions of middle class and lower income Americans.