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Your big leadership choice for 2017 is between being the guardian of what has already happened, or the prophet of what Big and Courageous may be next.

In many respects, the year’s global events seem to follow a ‘Forward to the Past’ strategy. Whether it’s making countries ‘great again’, exiting a club of nations, reinforcement of fundamentalisms and populisms, or the nationalistic rising for the ‘protection of identities’, all share surprisingly similar drives: forward to the past.

My Daily Thoughts, sent fresh at 08:00 GMT, are focused on the organization, on the beauty and possibilities of ‘organizing ourselves’. I am not a political commentator, yet, during 2016, I have found myself making lots of political comments. For it is impossible to talk about ‘the organization’ in abstract, in the absence of references to people’s engagement in world events. Doing so would be reinforcing the mistake, which I have referred to ad nauseam, and with despair, that pretends that the organization life, the business life, is somehow shielded from the macro human dynamics as seen on TV. That 9 to 5 or 24/7 organizational life, follows a peculiarly isolated set of laws as taught in business schools and deployed by Human Resources or Organisational Development professionals.

It is a tragic mistake, for example, to talk about Employee Engagement as a unique ‘business organization’ phenomenon, with zero reference to how people are engaged, or disengaged, in collective action at a scale. Anywhere. In the firm and outside the firm. Yet, that HR/OD/Management area still behaves as Martian-managed, carrying on and on, oblivious to external references on how people engage or not at a scale.

The healthiest New Year resolution that your organization could make , whether you lead the entire firm, a division, a group or  consulting services,  is the rejection of its own ‘Forward to the Past’ version of strategy.

Two Forward to the Past examples:

  • Continue to refine an old set of skills and competencies, whether individual or collective, which suited well in the past, with no deep questioning of its suitability to the future. Example, the simple extrapolation behind we need mre analytic skills, more team collaboration, more of the same but adjusted.
  • Carrying on with increasing the complexity of internal processes and systems without deep questioning about how to inject simplicity in the water supply of the entire thing. Self-inflicted dysfunctional complexity is your enemy, yet we keep inviting complexity to the table. We seem to like it, be proud of it, like a body builder showing off his biceps.

It would take some serious thinking and reflection, and perhaps some dose of humility, to seriously question whether what is articulated in that Strategic or Business Plan of yours, contains in fact the past, not the future.

May be it is even conveniently recycled, and with new make-up, and, who knows, wearing the Christmas new pyjamas to give a sense of aesthetic progress. If it smells the past in new pyjamas, it is the past.

Paraphrasing Mark Lilla writing in the sociopolitical context, (‘The reckless mind’, ‘The shipwrecked mind’) the big leadership choice for 2017 may be the one between being the guardians of what actually has already happened or the prophets of what may be.

It may be too early in the year for a murder case, but when you look again at your about-to-debut Business Plan, test whether you need a rear mirror or a telescope o read it.


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