Will you follow a leader who says “Me First”?

Friday April 3rd, 2020 2 comments

Yuval Noah Harari is an Israeli Historian and Professor and probably the most listened to futurist and thinker of the XXIst century. Here is an article (free viewing) he just wrote for the Financial Times (20th March 2020) in which he elegantly summarized in this interview extract on British Channel 4:

Harari makes three fundamental points in the context of the Future of the World. They should matter to us as citizens! But those points also have a translation in our context of Business leaders:

  • Lethargy vs Acceleration: Covid-19, like all major crisis, kicked us out of our lethargy. It acted as an accelerator, forcing us to test “live” and at unprecedented scale, things no government could have ever imposed before: Strict confinement, cutting corners for developing new drugs and vaccine, teleworking or, as Harari points, universities experimenting with complete distance learning schemes. As Business leaders, let us make sure we observe the trends, the “new possibles” as well as the orthodoxies that are being challenged by this never seen before “Acceleration”!
  • Totalitarian surveillance (Control) vs Citizen’s empowerment (Trust): Harari is concerned about governments maintaining the temporary control measures installed to prevent the spreading of the pandemia. He warns us that a sort of Huxley’s “Brave New World” is happening and we should not let in creep in without a clearly agreed upon purpose, nor leave it at the hands of others (not just states or politicians, but all data gathering companies acting without our control such as Facebook, Google or Zoom). Drawing a parallel for Business leaders, I would say that Harari implicitly refers back to the old “Situational Leadership” model. The crisis and emergency aspects of the situation as well as whether people display or not the civic sense and maturity to respect the emergency measures, should determine the levels of coercion and control put in place by governments. But he goes further: Surveillance, control, enforcement (like the Tell style of the model) have a huge setback: they do not develop people nor trust! It is a fundamental duty of leaders to develop the maturity level of their people in order to empower them and create intelligent organizations. In this case, Trust is better than control, as we see about confinement the huge chasm between individualist/egocentric cultures (Control Culture), requiring lots of policing and civic/communitarian ones were people would self-regulate (Discipline Culture). Guess which one is more efficient?
  • Nationalist isolation vs Global solidarity: Aiming at I don’t know who, Professor Hariri asks: “Will you follow a leader who says “Me First!”? He sees the World being at a tipping point between those who use such strategies as divisiveness, demonization and polarization to get and maintain themselves in power, versus, as we see described in my previous blog, those inviting, engaging, and respecting. The discovery of new vaccines and treatments will be delayed should we place barriers, nationalism and self-interest in the game. Collective intelligence will remain at an extremely low IQ level, should we display arrogance, mischievousness and deception. Dr Martin Luther King said it better than anyone else: “we must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools!” In Business terms, it is about Bonding vs Bridging, passive Exclusion vs active Inclusion, Generosity and Unconditional Collaboration.

Never before has the fate of Humanity so much relied on our decisions as leaders and citizens. The Coronavirus is only the first of several tsunamis that will hit us:

  • Sanitary: How will we recognize those who risked theirs and their families’ lives to heal us? How will the covid-19 crisis leave our health systems after the storm? How will citizens react when discovering that in their countries, not everyone is equal in front of pain and death? How will we and how will those who had to decide, recover from the Eugenic policies pudically admitted in their country where choices had to be made between those who would survive and those who would be “let go”?
  • Alimentary: From all over, the farmers are now screaming for support. What they planted may not be harvested, due to the closing of borders and other confinements. How will we react in case of a worldwide food shortage?
  • Economic: The jury is still out on whether we will head for a historical crisis or if our leaders will demonstrate intelligence, humility and generosity in designing a worldwide plan to counter the terrible impact of the measures aiming at protecting us from the virus. Will they choose to help the poorest countries? Will they put their egos and dissent after a higher and humanistic purpose?
  • Environmental: This is the tsunami next to which Covid-19 looks like a “wavelet”. Will we wait again until a spectacular disaster happens? Will we continue to ignore the many signs that suggest we are on the way to extinction just because they come slowly or will we take the drastic measure we need to save ourselves and the planet which shelters us?

What are we learning from this crisis and what will we say “never ever again” to?

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