What happens in a leadership vacuum?

What happens in a leadership vacuum?

We are all finding out what happens in a leadership vacuum right now. Most everywhere there is a lack of leadership in politics, a lack of leadership in society, and, where I come from at least, a lack of leadership in the public service.

What happens in this vacuum?

Fear, trepidation and ultimately chaos.

Here are some examples of why we are in the grip of this awful trio

Would you like a burger? 

Back in the day, this was a simple enough question. Answer yes and a grilled beef pattie inside a sweet bun with some lettuce, tomato and pickle would arrive in greaseproof paper. 

Only now everyone’s opinion on burgers must be heard.

I expect a veggie burger others will say I’m sorry I don’t like beef burgers but I do like a chicken burger. Others will want chilli sauce with that, another will say please hold the pickles. After much debate and discussion, it will be clear that there’s no standard burger that would satisfy everybody. 

OK, some more inclusivity but the question then becomes who chooses what the priority for the burger should be? In the absence of any leadership, there is no one to make a call and all opinions cut have equal priority. This creates a product challenge for the burger outlet.

When everyone has an opinion it’s hard to prioritise. A democratic consensus is an ideal solution but not one that can be used for most operational matters even at the government level. For example, should we buy submarines from the French or the Americans?  

All views are canvassed and it doesn’t matter whether you are a senior person in the organisation or someone who’s only just joined as an intern, everyone gets to give their opinion. 

Great inclusivity right? After all, true leaders are also great listeners. 

Well perhaps, but canvassing opinion is a tool to gauge the most common beliefs and values. It helps leaders make considered decisions but does not make the decisions for them.

Excessive asking makes everyone keen to give their opinion on all matters. Many get cranky if they’re not given the opportunity to say what they think. The plumber gets an opinion on health measures in a pandemic and the cardiologist on the price of cheese. 

Remember that opinion need not be based on evidence or facts, it is a view or judgement formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.

But once everyone gives voice to their opinion, priorities hide under a bush.

Would you like extra value with that? 

It is a delight of the human condition that we each have a different set of values. It gives us diversity and plenty to talk about over the burger.

Values within each value set are held more strongly or weakly depending on culture, experience and nurture. As more people are added to the conversation, values become nuanced and the value propositions multiply.

A critical function of leadership is to help balance these values and to land on the optimal value set that most can agree on or be persuaded to follow.

In a leadership vacuum, the values space is filled by indecision. 

Organisations are held hostage by the committee and the plethora of values and have no idea which burger to make or what trimmings to add.

Novelty burgers

In the leadership vacuum where everyone has an opinion and all values are in the mix egos flourish. 

If my value or opinion is unusual or a bit out there, no worries. I can follow it anyway and make it happen through force of personality with a side of arrogance. There is no reason to knuckle down and collaborate, I can just go and do my thing on my own and build a burger with a tofu pattie and a slice of pawpaw instead of beetroot. 

This lone ranger approach is great for creatives and artists of all kinds. It works for entrepreneurs and futurists too but is not so helpful if the task is to make billions of burgers at a realistic price or to choose the most cost-effective marine deterrent that is in the best interest of the country.

The novelty burger has a niche market but sales always stall.

Deconstructed burger

A profusion of Lone Rangers, or whatever the collective noun might be, generates so many burger options that the whole meaning of the burger is deconstructed out of existence.

Nobody knows what the national dish is anymore and togetherness suffers. 

It is not long before any collective purpose is lost and society drifts. This is ideal for those who never believed in the burger in the first place and knew everyone should eat tofu because they did.

Leaders provide direction. It is a core purpose of the breed and they can win hearts and minds because we crave the good vibes that come from collaboration on a shared direction — the contradiction that makes us Lone Rangers in the first place. 

In the absence of leaders who can articulate a shared direction, we invent them for ourselves.

Tandoori chicken instead

Perhaps the most important consequence of a leadership vacuum is that we lose respect for leadership. Burgers are forgotten as we find alternatives in the tandoori oven.

A glance at politics in the mature economies shows most leaders on the nose to the point of ridicule and disbelief. And it’s not just Boris obviously. Recall that respect is ‘a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements’. In other words, it is earned. 

Vacuous leadership not only fails to garner respect from lack of ability, it also erodes the repository of respect built up over generations by previous incumbents. The likes of Lincoln, Churchill, Ghandi, and Mandela didn’t build a mountain of leadership respect for jokers like Trump to trash it in one term of office. 

They did the right thing for their people in their time. 

A flogged analogy 

Burgers will always be on the menu somewhere — they are delicious, easy to eat, cheap to make and go great with sides.

We will get leaders back soon enough.

The risk is that in a rush to calm our fears and avoid chaos we allow leadership that makes us all eat the same burger, every day for the rest of our lives.  


Hero image from photo by Ilya Mashkov on Unsplash

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

In December 2013, when Nelson Mandela passed away, I shed a tear for the loss of a great one, a father of a nation.

I was living in Botswana when Mandela was released from jail, became leader of the ANC and then president of South Africa. It was a privilege to be so close to history. 

I moved to Australia in 1996, when Mandela made Archbishop Desmond Tutu chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that would grant amnesty to those who committed crimes during apartheid.

Here is the technical description of what that meant

The commission was empowered to grant amnesty to those who committed abuses during the apartheid era, as long as the crimes were politically motivated, proportionate, and there was full disclosure by the person seeking amnesty. To avoid victor’s justice, no side was exempt from appearing before the commission. The commission heard reports of human rights violations and considered amnesty applications from all sides, from the apartheid state to the liberation forces, including the African National Congress.

Pause for a moment to take this in. 

In its moment of liberation, a country that had been under minority rule based on race for decades with order maintained through repression, violence and fear was choosing reconciliation over retribution.

The idea was a stroke of genius. Reconciliation through amnesty was not revenge or a reconning or punishment. Indeed some still argue that it prevented justice for the thousands of victims of oppression. Alternatively, the Commission was the essential safety valve in an otherwise volatile transition of power and influence.

Cynics would have plenty to say about how retribution would have crushed an already ailing economy, and the ANC took the only sensible political path available. Talking up the economy is always the easy way to avoid emotional responsibility.

Except amnesty was all about the humanity needed to rise above revenge. 

One man came to embody the courage and integrity it took to deliver amnesty as a path to reconciliation, the chairman of the Commission, clergyman and activist Desmond Tutu, who passed away on boxing day 2021; the last seminal figure of the apartheid struggle and arguably its conscience.

Great leaders come in many guises. They appear in all walks of life and share one thing in common… 

They do what they say.

Desmond Tutu showed everyone what he believed in. He cheered for us, cried for us, called out the wrongs for us, championed compassion for us, and even reminded us that there is elegance in the simplicity of a pine coffin.

I know only snippets of this preacher’s life, but they are enough to realise he was one that we should remember to remind us what matters.

I salute Archbishop Desmond Tutu for his courage and goodness; may he rest in peace.

The man in the middle

The man in the middle

Photo by L.W. on Unsplash

A picture is worth a thousand words. 

As this one is worth a million of them, I will risk copyright infringement because it’s too good not to share with you.

A brilliant photograph by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images appears in an online article in The Guardian.

On the left of the unmasked man in somnolent posture is António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres, a career politician, former Prime Minister of Portugal and the Secretary-General of the United Nations — a 71-year-old white man in relaxed but attentive mode.

On the right of the reclining dude is Sir David Attenborough, the internationally renowned broadcaster, naturalist and author who is 95 years young. 

Sir David has been busy his entire life and has remained prolific and added activism to his resume in his retirement years. Finally able to speak his mind as one of the very few people on the planet old and travelled enough to see the change in the planet’s biodiversity with his own still sharp eyes. He is also wise enough to interpret what he has seen for what it represents — a massive impact from human beings on the rest of the planet. 

The gentleman in the middle is understandably a little tired. 

He had to jet down from Glasgow to London to attend a dinner at The Garrick Club in the West End. This gentleman’s club, a simple euphemism for men only, was founded in 1831 and currently has a seven-year waiting list of new candidates. Gentlemen prospects must be proposed by an existing member and elected in a secret ballot, the original assurance of the committee being “that it would be better that ten unobjectionable men should be excluded than one terrible bore should be admitted”.

Our napping chap had to fly down to the club for a reunion of Daily Telegraph journalists. Naturally, there would be revelry and a complete absence of boredom in an exhilarating dinner date.  Such a foray would knock any big-hearted galoop about a bit.

However, duty is a demanding mistress. 

This opportunity for a kip is at the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It came just after one’s cabinet colleague delivered a budget promoting air travel by reducing taxes on domestic passenger flights. Jetting about shows leadership by example.

The colleague, Mr Sunak, may or may not be in line for club membership given he has something about him that may have come from his Punjabi Hindu parents. On the plus side has an obscenely wealthy spouse. This conundrum will mean assurances of the committee come after more than one round of Graham’s 1972 single harvest port. 

Duty and revelry are ready reasons to excuse dozing off.

The absent mask, not so much.

How many words would capture the thoughts running through the REM sleep of the man in the middle? 

The picture suggests something like this:

I am a pig in shit, and I don’t give a fuck about anything else that is going on. I’m just enjoying the adulation and how everyone laughed at my jokes.

Trump lost but have the democrats won?

Trump lost but have the democrats won?

Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash

Trump lost.

He will contest and whine, but for now, the American people are more concerned about their democracy than his tantrums. 

This is an encouraging sign. 

The country pulled itself back from the brink and gained some time to reflect. It’s what happens next that matters.

People may remember a frustrated President Obama, particularly in his second term of office. A recalcitrant and regressive Republican majority in the senate scuppered most of his key initiatives. 

President Biden is familiar with that scenario, viewing from the Veeps chair throughout that painful process. Republican’s majority in the senate has gone, but they have not gone away, nor has their mischief. 

A debate must happen within the democratic party. 

They united to get rid of Trump, fair enough. But a firm, adult conversation must happen between the old school and the new youngsters who have a very different take. 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, serving as the U.S. Representative for New York’s 14th congressional district since 2019, for example, is asking the party to look very closely at how it got itself in the mess that resulted in Trump in the first place.

It is time for an alternative. 

The old school must realise that moving to the centre is no longer the answer. At least not the established centre that pampers to donors and the corporate world. 

If that happens again, it matters very little really which colour is in power because each offers the private sector the same easy ride. 

A centrist policy that bails everybody out using debt which simply funnels itself into a tiny number of people with stock options is not the future; it can’t be. 

Now is the time for dramatic rethinking and risk-taking. 

The Biden presidency won’t be able to do that. There have been enough old white men in the oval office for us to know how that goes. Admittedly this one has a woman of colour as vice president. But still, too much of the old school lingers. 

Back in the election, the progressive left had an old candidate too, considered way too risky at the time. The gamble to dump Saunders and go with the convention only just paid off. And it was a high-risk game to play in the first place. 

What must happen now is that the youngsters must come through. Their energy, positivity, and passion must fuel a progressive cause focusing on the well-being of people and the planet. They will usher in a different economic model because the last one is not working. 

The problem that faces them is scary. The planet cannot support three cars per household, and by 2030 just sourcing food for 11 billion people will be hard enough. 

Recall the late, great Hans Rosling’s explanation of the demographic transition

He said that the 2 billion poorest aspire to a pair of shoes, another 3 billion to a bicycle, 2 billion more to a car and a billion or so in the rich countries who, pre-COVID, aspired to fly to a remote destination on holidays. 

Progression means an economic approach that meets those aspirations, noting that a bicycle is not enough and, perhaps, three cars is not possible. 

If you want to ‘reimagine the shape of progress’ as Kate Raworth puts it check out her TEDx talk on Doughnut economics.

Thankfully Trump lost and the Democrats under Biden will calm the waters somewhat. 

Relative peace will buy time for the new generation of ideas to thrive. Only then will they have won.


Thanks for reading this blog post. There are plenty more to read and share.

Caught on the wrong side of history

Caught on the wrong side of history

Photo by Shaah Shahidh on Unsplash

According to Ian Verrender, ABC business editor, a senior Australian government minister who was on the wrong side of a few drinks made this off the cuff comment…

 “The difference between Labor’s policy and ours is that Julia Gillard introduced a scheme where big polluters paid Australian taxpayers. Tony changed it so that Australian taxpayers pay big polluters,” 

Unnamed Austrailian Government Minister

This bizarre statement referred to the carbon price, the so-called ‘great big tax’ introduced by the Labour government in 2012. This blog has mentioned the debacle that is Australian climate policy and the frustration and sadness that it has been thus for over a decade.

Imagine the arrogance in this inebriated quip. 

Australians elect such individuals, and as an excellent article by Leigh Sales, another ABC stalwart, tells us, this level of vulgarity is typical. It is not a personality thing but ingrained into the political system. It is leadership that lacks.

I always liked the idea that the cream rises to the top. 

It ranks alongside ‘the truth persists’ as quotes that are hopeful and true. The problem is it’s taking a while, way too long. 

“Cream always rises to the top…so do good leaders”.

John Paul Warren

The delay in the arrival of some genuine leaders will have consequences.

One of the more ironic is the one Ian Verrender describes, the consequences for Australia of the rest of the world putting a price on carbon in the form of carbon border taxes. Countries that have lowered emissions and want to keep it that way are reluctant to import emission-intensive commodities. At least that is the rhetoric.

The reality for Australia is that there will be carbon levies. The world was trending towards enforcing climate policy through trade action. For example, the EU Carbon Border Adjustment Legislation is still rough but will include aluminium, iron, steel, cement, natural gas, oil and coal. 

Here are the 10 Biggest Exporting Industries in Australia

  1. Iron Ore Mining $123.1B
  2. Oil and Gas Extraction $39.8B
  3. Coal Mining $37.6
  4. Liquefied Natural Gas Production $34.8B
  5. Gold and Other Non-Ferrous Metal Processing $29.4B
  6. Meat Processing $15.9B
  7. Grain Growing $8.2B
  8. Alumina Production $7.4B
  9. Pharmaceutical Product Manufacturing $6.9B
  10. Copper, Silver, Lead and Zinc Smelting and Refining $6.8B

That is at least $309 billion in exports that could get slugged for their emission intensity. If the levy is just 5%, that is $15 billion in lost revenue… per year.

But it’s ok; the taxpayer is waiting patiently to pay the big polluters.


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Power and the populist

Power and the populist

Photo by Alejandro Cartagena 🇲🇽🏳‍🌈 on Unsplash

Talking about the ‘man child’.

Sometimes conversations just meander along into some interesting territory. Here is one between myself and my buddy Chris in July 2020 prior to the US election and 6 months into the pandemic.


Good morning, Chris.

How are you doing?

We have to stop meeting like this people begin to talk. 

They do already. So until we grow up and become a republic we have to put up with foreigners interfering in our democracy… Seems to be the news this morning.

I get all of this reporting about the Royals and everything, but they are just the law under themselves. Mind you they always have been news, for centuries literally.

They are just celebrities now, aren’t they?

They are now but they never used to be. Not so long ago it was the power struggle, the wrestling around of power. That’s really what gets people off once money is no longer an issue then it’s all about the power.

I mean you can see that with our own Malcolm Turnbull, you know, there was nothing he would gain from being Prime Minister except some feathers in his cap and maybe a place in history. He’s already worth 150 million bucks or something so he doesn’t really need the money. It’s about the glory and the power?

Yeah, and you wonder what people get out of that it obviously drives so many people. I mean, I think power drives people in business more than profit. In my experience, the people in charge of businesses are there more because they like to be in charge than they are to make profit for shareholders.

Hmm… I get the ‘in charge’ thing. 

It’s seductive. No question.

I guess power is what’s really there but what’s the power for in your particular case? I can see the difference between, I don’t know, Gandhi and Donald Trump, they both want to influence people. But very different circumstances that got them to be leaders with very different styles. Gandhi was obviously not in it for the glory or maybe was I don’t know. We certainly didn’t gain anything material out of it. 

No, but that’s what I think I’m getting at. I think it’s these people like to be respected and you get that in a position of power. Almost by definition you’re respected because empowering at the end of a gun is respect of some sort or another even if I respect you because you could take my life. I don’t respect you for your moral high ground. I respect you because I’m s*** scared of that AK-47 you’re holding.

Yeah.

So power is the thing, isn’t it? 

And we talked about that before, the difference between the sort of positional power and personal power and maybe that’s you know, Trump has no personal power but he’s craved it and so he’s got himself positional power.

I think that’s a good summation of him. It’s why the media like calling him a man child because he is.

Hmm.

This is a bit of a diss to children because children can be quite pure and Trump is clearly not pure but he is an emotional child. No question that he hasn’t grown up at all. What he does is all for that sense of power in himself. Not from what the presidency provides. I remember when I stood in front of the White House on a visit to Washington and thinking ‘this is an interesting place, you know, it’s kind of locked away’. You can’t get at it, you know. Inside of that place, it would be easy to maintain a small army of sycophants just you just prop you up. And if you have no sense of what you’re doing for the other 350 million people in the country it doesn’t matter. 

Yes and every utterance that army of people coming out to say what he really meant was ‘blah’ to clean up his mess.

Yep. I was thinking about the 20,000 lies. That’s one every 90 minutes of his tenure. It’s kind of phenomenal, isn’t it?

Is it in the Guinness Book of Records?

An untruth every 90 minutes of his tenure ought to be.

But Kaylee will never lie to the press 

Except she does it every day.

She mops up his s*** that is just spread everywhere. But yeah, I mean he’s crashing and it’s really interesting to hear Biden talk about making steel for wind generators and jobs in renewable technologies, battery cars, which out of America just seems like just crazy talk, you know.

But in a way, it’s an obvious platform, isn’t it? Because their problem is that they lost last time because Hillary was considered to be just more of the same, right?

Yeah, she was.

Right? So he’s got to be different this time around. Otherwise, they’ll lose again only he’s not because he’s an old white man?

Agreed, he’s just from the same, Central Casting that produced Hillary.

Exactly. And ironically she was probably a better candidate from that mould.

Yeah, she probably was. Certainly, she was more in touch with her sensibilities because Trump is losing his but yeah, it’s interesting that Hillary was more of the same, but the public chose a scenario worse than that.

Yes, it is extraordinary, isn’t it? Populism might have a short life though. COVID-19 is really sorting them out. I mean all of the populist leaders will be found wanting if they try to be in charge of this virus which will just tell them to stuff off.

Yeah, you can just see it because populism requires you to be popular and so you have to say popular stuff like ‘the stock market is rising’ and ‘interest rates are great’, ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’. And, of course, you have to say that freedom is important and all the other things that are popular. The last thing is to tell people to stay home and you have to shut your business. 

Ouch, very unpopular.

It obviously isn’t gonna work for the populist style.

Except you only need to be a bit popular. Remember Margaret Thatcher won less than 40% of the vote or whatever it was. A tiny majority that gets you over the line. Just learn the system you’re in.

Hmm and maybe Biden has to talk green new deal and the like because he needs the support of his side of politics who are going there.

Well, he has to lock in his core base too. Democrats have to get out of the house, brave the virus, and go vote. That’s always their problem. Turnout in numbers and they win.

Yeah. Republicans have said it. If everyone votes we don’t win.

That’s right, which is probably why they don’t have compulsory voting.

Yeah, and why they play all sorts of jiggery-pokery with booths and where they are and how many there are and when they’re open and whatever…

Yep. Yep, illegal, illegal.

Well, you need and all that stuff when it’s all about manipulating the vote.

To bring back the man child!


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When facts do not matter

When facts do not matter

A while ago the Deputy Premier of New South Wales, Australia, John Barilaro played brinkmanship with the government. He threatened to move his National Party members to the crossbench. These are the MPs who give the government a majority in the lower house, a coalition that gives Mr Barilaro the Deputy Premiership and his party a number of ministries in return for bringing 13 votes to the table to give the government a slim lower house majority of two seats.

This ‘majority making’ brings with it extraordinary bargaining power.

The National Party decided or perhaps Mr Barallaro decided, to leverage that power and threaten to remove his MPs from voting in favour of government policy. So, they’re in government and proposing to abstain from voting.

Needless to say the Liberal party leader and Premier who has 35 sitting members leveraged her power and told them to sit down and shut up.

The outcome was that Mr Barilaro backed down at the eleventh hour blowing any political credibility he had. He then chose to take a month of stress leave. His actions suggest that was a sensible choice.

What extraordinary issue brought this power play on?

Turns out that koalas were the issue. And principally the unproven ‘fact’ that koalas would go extinct in the next 50 years.

The legislation amended on the back of this non-fact, a State Environment Planning Policy known as the koala SEPP, was amended to extend the habitat that is protected for this species by listing more tree species that cannot be cleared.

Landholders must demonstrate through expert analysis that trees are not habitat for koalas and there are no koalas present in the last 18 years.

Here we have a peculiar situation.

The original facts of the matter do not exist. At the present moment in time, we do not know how many koalas there are in Australia. We do not know how many there are in New South Wales and we do not know the trend in those koala numbers.

We do know that populations fluctuate dramatically in a species that is widely distributed, is prone to certain environmental and human drivers of change, has a slow reproduction rate and is likely to be vulnerable in certain places.

We also know that koalas are often present in disturbed landscapes because the younger eucalypt trees are preferred food and we also know that when we look hard enough with the right techniques (sniffer dogs work really well), we find koalas in places that we previously thought they didn’t exist.

Not knowing how many koalas there are. Not knowing how many are being lost at any one time. Not knowing if populations are stable or simply naturally dynamic are unknowns that form the basis for the legislation.

In other words, there is no evidence that says koalas will go extinct in 50 years.

This makes the legislation itself is at best precautionary and at worst unnecessary. It is flawed in either direction. That a government would be put in jeopardy and members would flex their political muscle over such an issue tells us a lot about the current political process.

It tells us that the facts of the matter don’t really matter at all.

What matters is the political process and the benefits, or not, to individual politicians and their careers from having a stoush.

It’s time to put an end to this nonsense.

Let us all begin with the facts. Whatever the evidence is to hand and let that be at the core of any debate.

Sure, you can have your toy throws and throw them out of the cot, have ego-driven rants as part of the political process. We all need some drama and colour in our lives. What we don’t want is for these rants and raves to be based on half-truths, untruths and downright lies. That is not the democratic process.

We need to have politicians who can form governments that are presenting us facts and policy options to deal with those facts. Then we can decide the policies to support that the majority believe will be in the best interest of everyone and the well-being of our grandchildren.

Politicians must have a steady enough hand and a steady enough head that they’re prepared to look at evidence, evaluate and bring it to the table in good faith, then debate the policy options.

To be debating policy on lies and mistruth degrades the democratic process. It undermines public faith in the institution of democracy and it makes all those political players look like complete idiots.


Pleae leave a comment or browse around for more ideas for healthy thinking.

Getting elected to office takes sleights

Getting elected to office takes sleights

Photo by Maxim Potkin on Unsplash

Suppose that an aspiring politician wants to be elected to the US Congress. Let’s call her Florence.

She will need a certain number of votes in order to be to get across the line. In the US system it will usually end up as a two-horse race, so around 45% of the vote should be plenty. 

Florence decides that the easiest way to get those votes is to promise every single person who votes for her $10,000 into their bank accounts.

This is of course illegal as, even in the US, votes can not be bought in such a blatant way. But let’s suppose that this law is temporarily repealed and it’s possible to buy your way into office. 

Clearly, Florence has an attractive platform. 

Vote for me and I will give you ten thousand dollars. There’s a pretty good chance she will get the 45% and sail over the line. 

Now, of course, Florence does not have this kind of money and fails to deliver on the promised payments. There is uproar and dozens of lawsuits. She won’t get elected for a second term but that might not matter if just getting in was the aim.

This kind of extreme electoral brinkmanship, outrageous statements in order to get elected, is the bane of democracies. There are examples similar to the Florence gambit everywhere.

Brinkmanship

Lauren Boebert U.S. Representative for Colorado’s 3rd congressional district since 2021 owns Shooters Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, where staff members are encouraged to openly carry firearms. Boebert played the media. She gained national headlines for saying she’ll carry a gun during her term of office. 

“I am legally permitted to carry my firearm in Washington, DC, and within the Capitol complex,”

Lauren Boebert on Twitter.

Here is a picture. Look into the eyes and see the shiftiness that tells the truth. 

It is one thing to run a business that caters to customers with a certain view of the world, smart even, but to use that image to get notoriety as a congresswoman representing the people, not just those who voted for you, is unconscionable.

I don’t live in the United States and have only visited on a couple of occasions. 

I had an uncomfortable feeling when I was there. Living in such a situation where guns are a part of everyday life is hard to fathom for us fortunate folk who live in firearm free societies. 

I get it’s complicated, but waiving a right to hold arms is nothing to do with a constitution. It’s to do with one person’s rights over another and to feel better because I’m carrying a weapon that could take you out. 

The argument will always be about protection from other people who are fearful of their existence. It’s a very fascinating state of affairs. 

There are plenty of equally contentious issues — race, immigration, wages, taxes, military spending, environment… the list is long — that are ripe for brinkmanship like this. 

In a world full of stress and instant, unfiltered communication, we are all vulnerable to outrage. Politicians know this and can use it to satisfy their need for notoriety. The media know it too and give them a leg up to satisfy their own needs for attention.

Sleight of hand and word is pervasive.

Deceitful craftiness

This comment is not about gun control, the second amendment, border walls, abortion or any of the controversial issues that divide public opinion. 

It is doing whatever it takes to get the numbers, however deceitful or crafty. Manipulating the electoral system and the minds of the voters to tap their limbic responses rather than engage with our cognitive selves.

It is possible to get a handle on all of this. We can hold our politicians to account and make it much harder for them to run the populist gambit.

Here are a few simple options.

The easiest way is to force them to explain their policy agenda. Tell us in clear language how their platform is in the people’s best interest. 

Next, we can look for politicians with a shred of empathy still left in them. Give us more than division and their own ego trip.

Or we can forgive some of the narcissism if they can bring genuine ideas to the table and discuss them like kindergarten kids would do, with brutal honesty. 

This is going to be difficult. It will take diligence and effort on our part.

Make politics just about emotion and we will crash and burn. A different outcome is possible if we make politics about thought.


Go ahead and share this extraordinary missive, you know you want to.

Leadership of the masses

Leadership of the masses

Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash

Think back to October 2020, a few weeks before the US presidential election. According to the polls, the Democrats nominee has the upper hand. In a normal election cycle he would be a shoe in. Instead the media is in a frenzy in case the polls are wrong given that they fooled everyone the last time. 

There’s discussion of what would happen if the result is close and contested or the sitting president chose not to leave even if the voters said otherwise. The US is on tenterhooks and the whole world wants to know what is going to happen. 

The normally politically lazy Americans would turn out in numbers that would again favour the Democrats, however, it also means the rusted on Trump supporters will be out in force as well. 

Then a few of them took over the citadel.

I’ve been spending a lot of time trying to figure out what makes a ‘rusted on’ Trump supporter. What thinking makes a person vote for a candidate with no ethics, no morals, no substance, no empathy or sense of fairness and has broken every rule there is and got away with it? 

It’s what we used to call back in the day ‘dodgy brothers’, the kind of person you would keep well away from your daughters. 

And yet there he is, the sitting President, running a campaign of disruption and division in order to get voted back in again. Relying on that rusted on core to put him back in office. Arguably, despite the impeachment ruling, inciting them to violence and to deny the result of the democratic process.

What is it that allows that to happen? When does humanity wake up and say ‘no, this is not the kind of guy we want to lead us into our future’? 

Well the Americans did, just. But the divisions are still there, painful and as rusty as ever. 

It could be the power of the fear and loathing that exists in people prepared to back a person who will go against everything rather than build confidence, partnerships and forward thinking. There was a quote just before the election to the effect that  there is this man high on steroids and should any foreign jurisdictions be listening, to keep well away lest they spark something that they didn’t want involving red buttons. 

More scary than funny.

Leadership qualities

Leadership gets more than its fair share of posts on this blog. 

I think I’ve always assumed that we look towards leadership that is progressive and inspires confidence. Leaders pull people together so we can become more than the sum of the parts. 

Such individuals need talent, a lot of energy, commitment, and balls. It takes courage to bridge tribal divisions and innate prejudice from all sides. 

It’s much easier to be a leader who divides and conquers. This has become common practice (Trump, Johnson, Putin, Bolsonaro, Modi et al) but a relatively easy practice. The only real skill needed is to identify the points of difference between people and then just accentuate them. And you have to admit Trump knew exactly the points of difference and played them like a fiddle. 

So my vision of leadership, the egalitarian bringing people together for common cause and making the sum much more than the parts, is not everyone else’s vision of leadership. 

It seems that there are a lot of people who want ‘us against the rest’ leaders, the guy that supports me against them, whoever ‘them’ might be. 

Historically humanity has often fallen for these leaders. Us against them is the main paradigm in wars of conquest. So perhaps what’s ‘rusted on’ is our limbic requirement to fight. And you can’t fight unless there’s something recognizable to fight against. 

I can’t fight time. I can’t fight the planet even though we try. I can’t fight the weather. These are too big and brash to take on, but I can fight my brother. I can fight the neighbor. And I can certainly fight those funny dudes with their crazy religion across the water. 

And maybe I am naive to think that leadership on commonality and of gathering together is our default. It is not. Our default position is exactly what we’re witnessing around the world, the leadership of us and them. The only way that the leadership stays in office is if you have slightly more of us than of them. 

Where do we go from here?

All this begs the question of where humanity goes from here? What type of leadership is possible if everyone is battling a limbic system that wants to fight, flee or freeze?  

At one time I thought the best option was to raise awareness and move people beyond their limbic thinking. Encourage the majority to become more aware, more understanding of the consequences of their choices, and so take more responsibility, especially when they place their ballot. 

I even wrote a book about it, Missing Something, on the premise that a raised awareness would help understand all the various problems that humanity faces including political leadership. 

Self actuation is a huge challenge in itself, especially when it is so comfortable to live off basic instincts. Political leaders understand this and trigger the instinct all the time. Trump is the quintessential embodiment of the approach. He locks onto base fears and fuels them all the time. 

Other political leaders recognise the base instinct and then bend it to their own ends often through authoritarian even military methods. Humans are easily manipulated by our slavery to base instinct with the stick and the carrot. 

Just saying ‘raise awareness’ is naive. Even if it would work, making it happen is daunting and likely not possible.. 

Whilst awareness helps bring people to a heightened sense of self, we need something more. 

The leadership humanity needs to give us a reasonable chance of survival can’t rely on scented candles and incantations. We have to play a ‘Trump light’ game that latches onto limbic responses for the political leverage needed to make progressive changes. 

This sounds horribly like moving to the right rather than the centre left. I am hardening towards the draconian on some of these things. Responses to COVID-19 show that it is possible to impose strict rules on society and get away with it in the public interest. It’s a small step to a benevolent dictatorship that could tackle the equally huge issues of inequity, food security, and a stressed environment. 

The risk in forcing people into decisions that you believe they’re not capable of making due to their basic instincts getting in the way is a slip of the tongue away from control for nefarious purposes. Blink and we are in the dangerous territory of the end justifying the means. 

Horrid as it sounds, such control must be part of the conversation because the limbic system in human brains has got us this far. It will be part of what comes next.


Please have conversations about leadership and benevolent control. Whatever comes next it must be better than populism.