Where will the leadership come from?
As I read my social media streams, there are some who argue that this is a turning point and that this will change everything – going back to normal is not an option because of how the world was working. It’s an interesting question – will this pandemic change global trends, change how we deal with inequality, climate change or the rise of right-wing nationalism? It’s also fair to mention that I have also seen counter arguments, which suggest that this will speed up existing trends, rather than forming any kind of turning point.
At present, I am not one of the optimists believing this will be a turning point for humanity. It could be, but that would take acts of leadership and as I look at the world I don’t know from where that will come. The rise of more authoritarian, right wing leaders and political movements across the world does not form the basis of greater international cooperation required for dealing with these large systemic challenges.
I guess what I’m saying is summed up well by management guru Peter Drucker, when he stated:
“Only three things happen naturally in organizations: friction, confusion and underperformance. Everything else requires leadership.”
Now he was talking about organisations, but it seems to me that changing the current global trends, and getting an economy to work as we come out of a pandemic, whilst also managing climate change, is something that requires global coordination and alignment. Effective global coordination and alignment itself requires a lack of friction, confusion and underperformance – and this will require leadership.
So where can we look for such leadership? To our politicians?
Unfortunately, I don’t see any kind of leadership for cooperation and collaboration coming from the major world powers. Trump’s agenda is nationalistic, Britain will wrap itself up for a decade in exiting the EU (which is a move away from cooperation and collaboration, albeit with the stated intention of doing this on new terms), Russia’s influence on elections in the West is not benign, and China maintains high levels of secrecy and control – none of these country’s leaders are likely to exert collaborative leadership.
The EU may be able to play some role, but it has so many internal challenges to deal with including the North-South European divide, the stability of the single currency and it will need to find a way of dealing with Brexit successfully. It may get there, but it’s likely to be absorbed with other issues for many years.
So, where does that leave us? A world bereft of leadership?
Well, I hope not, but I do think we need to look elsewhere for such leadership. Greta Thunberg has shown incredible leadership around climate change over the past years and has mobilised a different consciousness and awareness of these issues, attracting considerable criticism in the process. Whatever you think of her, she has shown remarkable leadership.
Will another leader emerge in this way, and will they be able to influence the wider systems and processes that govern our world?
I would like to suggest that there is an opportunity here for the business arena and business leaders to step into leadership. Some politicians will want to have people returning to work before it’s safe – how will business respond? Cooperation and collaboration will be required to develop, distribute and vaccinate billions of people before the Covid-19 pandemic ends – how will business play a role here? Economic recovery will require coordinated efforts, perhaps even wholesale global economic reforms if we have a resurgence of the virus in 6 months, and what role can business play in this.
Business is a powerful force in the world. It has difficulty coming together to show collaborative leadership at times due to the nature of economic competition. At this time of increased political competition between our countries, and their political leaders, perhaps now is the moment for business leaders to step up together, putting some of that competition aside, and bring some leadership into the vacuum. This could enable an end to the friction, confusion and underperformance which could well see us accelerate destructive global trends.
Business leaders – this could very well be your moment to lead. Are you ready?
I offer no simple solutions or a roadmap for this leadership. By its nature it will be constructed through the collaborative work of many, taking into accounts a wide range of needs, and therefore the path and outcomes cannot be predicted. However, perhaps at a time when politicians are caught by a need to compete, business leaders could step forward together and lead on the global stage