Authored by Marty Linsky on Monday, February 23, 2009 at 12:55 PM | 7 Comments
Tags: There are no tags for this entry.
That's the choice.
Are you individually and we as a country going to treat the current reality as a one-time thing that we need to overcome, or as a signal that the sands are permanently shifting and that all our assumptions need to be dredged up and examined and potentially re-calibrated? Are you going to Hunker Down or Reset?
The Dow Jones is sliding toward 7000 as I write this. Talk of nationalization of the banks is growing, as we taxpayers keep pouring money into them without any noticeable effect on the credit system. The folks in charge in Washington do not know what to do because they have never been here before.
But neither have we.
Take a look at this video and see if it makes you think twice about whether we are experiencing a sea change or just a big bump in the road:
As usual, David Brooks nailed the problem well. In case you missed it, here's a link to his February 13 column called "The Worst Case Scenario". The underlying issue right now is not the lack of credit in the present, it's the uncertainty about the future.
And yet to many people I know and clients I work with, the response is to hunker down, hibernate like a bear, and hope that when you wake up, it will all be better. I'm tempted to hunker down myself because reset is hard and scary.
Most of us humans do not deal well with uncertainty. We look to our senior authorities, whether the President, the Governor, the CEO, the Executive Director, or Mom and Dad to create stability and security and clarity for ourselves. That's what we want from authority: direction, protection and order. We're hard wired from the day we're born to depend on authority to provide those services. And as long as they do, we will reward them with whatever is the coin of the realm: loyalty, votes, money, more responsibility. But in these times, authorities fail us because no one can provide those services. Hunkering down is the closest they can get.
Here's what hunkering down looks like: (1) Stephanie Strom's piece in the Times on Friday of last week showering sympathy on the well-intentioned charities going belly up, rather than seeing this moment as an opportunity to rethink their priorities, eliminate duplication, introduce good management practices, and get rid of programs and people who are not performing well. (2) GM and Chrysler begging for - and getting - more money to pour down their sinkholes, rather than using some of that money to support less encumbered investors and entrepreneurs who can design and build cars that we would actually buy.
It is harder to know what Reset looks like because it is so new and culturally outside our repertoire and comfort zone....and maybe competence.
For example, my friends in the foundation world are struggling with this dilemma every day. Their grantees are panicking, begging for emergency funds from them to fill the gap as their usual sources are drying up and there are more people to be served. The more courageous in the foundation community are using this crisis as an opportunity to encourage those grantees to make hard choices and to help them through the psychological trauma that Brooks wrote about as they contemplate mergers, closing of programs and whole agencies, starting innovative programs that might meet future needs and priorities, more disciplined practices, greater accountability and more transparency. Those are all Reset ideas.
Here's what Reset might look like more generally, for you and for the Government: (1) Funding risk-takers, creators, and inventors, small and large, in manufacturing, financial services, nonprofits, and even academia, as Tom Friedman suggested in yesterday's Times. (2) targeting your spending and investing now for the long term, like buying a Prius or supporting new faces and burgeoning success stories in education, people and ideas to help rescue the current school-age generation, so many of whom are not getting a decent foundation for their adult lives. (3) Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts opting for a 19-cent gas tax increase rather than tolls to help bail out a transportation system deeply in debt, knowing that the gas tax will incentivize drivers to buy fuel efficient cars and spew less evil stuff into the atmosphere. Similarly, (4) Reset would be the Obama Administration and some of those towers of marshmallow in Congress making the obvious changes in Social Security to keep the system solvent for the next generation. (5) Israel and the US talking with Hamas.
Reset is an idea still to be fleshed out. (My colleagues at Cambridge Leadership Associates are trying to do that even as I write.)But it has resonance with the choices we all face today. Reset can challenge us individually to think differently about the options we have.
For example, how would it feel to put your money or your body where your mouth is, and step up and target your volunteering and financial support by putting a stake in the ground where YOU think your time and money will build a society that can adapt to the new realities that lie ahead? How would it feel to really distinguish between what you want and what you need? How would it feel to work to restore those relationships which were once important to you and are now broken? How would it feel to embody our interdependence by engaging with The Other, in your personal as well as your professional life?
ps. Steve Pearlstein, an old editor and longtime friend of mine, now a Big Shot as
a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the Washington Post, has joined with Ben Bradlee and Andrea Ussem to start a blog called On Leadership at the Post. I've been posting on it, along with some real experts on leadership and some heavy duty authority figures. Check it out.