When do we notice something? When it is absent. We notice the absence of our loved ones when they are away on business, but when they are around, we may take them for granted. When our computer works properly, we don’t even notice it, it is only when it has a virus that we realize how much of our lives depends on that little box.
In her book “Rethinking Leadership”, Donna Ladkin suggests that leadership might be like our computers. We only notice the importance of it when something goes horribly wrong. Perhaps this is why we have such a need for leadership over the past ten years, with disasters ranging from 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the mortgage melt-down, the debt ceiling debate and now riots in London. All of these incidents are the result of a failure in leadership.
Yet the failure is not necessarily in our leaders. Leadership is the relationship between followers and leaders. Leaders can only take their followers where they wish to go. And our followers appear to be living in a fantasy world. Countries facing severe debt problems, such as Greece, Italy, the UK, Spain and the US are all struggling to deal with their problems, largely because their citizens (followers) are unwilling to face the consequences of their past behaviour. No one wants to pay more taxes for reduced services. But Western governments have unsustainable burdens.
Followers are not passive in the leadership dance, they constrain leaders far more than leaders constrain their followers.
Recently Standard & Poors reduced the credit rating of the US government, based on their belief that the political leadership of the US would be unable to achieve agreement on budget cuts. They attributed this to a failure of leaders. I would suggest that the political leaders were just responding to the demands of their citizens. If our followers will not follow, we cannot lead.
It’s about time we all faced the music. We have both personally and culturally been living beyond our means. But the politicians only give us what we want, because that is how they get re-elected. At some point followers need to take responsibility for this mess, and get on with doing the unpleasant stuff that needs to be done.