In October 2013, a ship carrying migrants sank off the Italian island of Lampedusa. 300 people drowned. As The Guardian journalist Kenan Malik put it: ‘It was not the first time that migrants had drowned in the Mediterranean. In fact, at that time it was estimated that in the previous 25 years at least 20,000 people had died trying to reach the shores of Europe. The real figure was most likely much higher. But that sinking in October 2013 was the first time that such a tragedy had truly impressed itself upon the conscience of Europe’
Then we got expressions of outrage and anger by most European and world leaders. The Pope went there on July 8. It seemed the beginning of the end of these kind of tragedies … in a sea next door. But of course it wasn’t . Since then, it has happened many times, barely making the news anymore.
In the world stage there are always shock windows, Lampedusa ones, Aleppo ones or Tiananmen Square ones. It would be insulting to compare those peaks of human tragedy with our more parochial peaks in organizational life. But I am going to do it. It’s all about human behaviour and our ability to get sucked into an emotional peak, followed by an equal ability to forget it.
In our average organizations we are not confronted with Lampedusa, Aleppo or Tiananmen moments. But our own ‘event shocks’, maybe small, maybe not tragic, follow the same fate. Here they are, tomorrow gone.
I suggest that a good leader needs to grab that possibly ephemeral story to make use of it. To point in a direction, to attract attention to a problem, to show what must or mustn’t be done.
We all witness out of the blue, bad business news, front page unexpected and unwelcome news, or big deceptions. If we can grab them, and make something good of them, then we would have won. If we react emotionally, perhaps panicking, perhaps allowing full unsettling of our teams, and then hope it will pass, we may just be missing an opportunity for good things.
As readers of Daily Thoughts would know, I am very fond of Nassim Taleb’s intellect and writings, whilst still shocked every day by his ‘high moral ground’, unstoppable tweeting machinery, standing against almost everybody, mostly what he calls the IYI (intellectual, yet idiot) who are, pretty much everybody with a non Taleb opinion (somebody called him the other day The Teleban). One of his books is entitled ‘Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder’. The title says it all. I recommend its reading (or Fooled by Randomness, or The Black Swan, or his latest Skin in the Game; prepare yourself to be irritated)
‘Things That Gain From Disorder’ is a good leadership driver. Grab those ‘event shocks’ (that may not last that such) and make something bigger. Note I am not saying, adapt, counteract, clarify, refute, respond, but ‘gain form the disaster’. If we could simple think, ‘how can we make a little piece of greatness from this piece of smallness, incompetence, slap in the face, wickedness, or ‘shock in the system’, pick one or many, then we can lead with eyes on the building of a shared future narrative and future journey.
Since most of us are in front of those moments, perhaps monthly, perhaps weekly, perhaps daily, we will not be short of opportunities.
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