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Leaders & The Thanksgiving Contradiction

This Thanksgiving there’s some bad news and good news when it comes to leadership.

Let’s start with the bad news…

The Bad News

When you look around the world today–you realize, from place to place, that leadership, in terms of really moving agendas, in terms of tenacity, persistence, and leader’s capacity to take teams all the way, has become, at least in the public arena, a rare phenomena.

Everything seems to be frozen and no one seems to know where they should take the next step. It is, to a degree, a failure of courage. Decision makers are endlessly debating what micro-steps  need to taken so that no one will be offended, constituents won’t be lost and moderates and fringe groups won’t be alienated.

Leaders throughout the world seem to be accountable to surveys, standings in the polls–they seem content to shift deck chairs on the titanic.

No matter how stuffed the closet is we still keep packing things in just  as long as we can get one more problem out of site. Consensus and the search for consensus has become an excuse for processing things to death.

That’s true in the Middle East, that’s true in Washington, and that’s true in almost any other place. And the dialogue is simple: one party says you’re moving too slow, one party says you’re moving too fast and nothing ever gets done.

There is a certain incapacity to climb up the crow’s nest and see that there is a damn iceberg coming. It reminds me of the scene in Dr. Strangelove when, on the brink of doom, world leaders are sidetracked debating the minutia of survival–instead of fixing the larger problems. It seems, in many ways, that this is a period in which we are nickel and dimming each other too death.

That’s the bad news.

But there’s always another side.

The Good News

The good news comes can be found in my wonderful students from the Indian Institute of Planning and Management (IIPM) that I teach at Cornell thanks to the ILR’ International Programs Office.

They are a delightful group of young people from India and, admittedly, we have very little in common. I’m certainly much older than they are and they are fresh-faced and on the eve of their first career. I grew up Brooklyn and they grew up in a part of the world I know very little about.

Before teaching I was told and had others warn me about how I must be a bit guarded with my New York style and humor. I was told my sort of folksy approach wouldn’t translate and wouldn’t be corporate enough–a warning I have heard for years. So when I first started teaching my young colleagues from India I took a distance, hid beneath my Ferragamo tie and blue Oxford shirt, and reached deep for that nonchalant, low-key, self-assured approach which is corporate enough to be boringly universal.

After a while After an hour I loosened my tie and a few jokes about my childhood in Coney Island came out. I told them how little I knew about their culture and they told me how little they knew about Brooklyn culture and together we got down to the wonderful experience of learning from each other.

What we both learned was that race, religion, culture, and all the divides of globalization, can be quickly overcome with quality of content, sincerity, and a style that allows you to be authentic.

Now, I even notice that they visit this blog from time to time.

It’s Not All So Bad…

So here’s the great contradiction for Thanksgiving. In a world where leaders are too scared, too cautious, to reach out beyond their chairs of power, in a world where we all sometimes have a sense that we’re just tinkering around, in a world where everyone tells us that globalization is tearing us apart, there are still wonderful opportunities to be authentic, sincere, and supportive of each other.

Photo Credit: Arimoore



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