The UK general election is in its final days. Even if you don’t live in the UK, what is happening here has relevance for the way we lead all sort of organizations. Leading, but how?
Like all political elections, it’s a showcase of arguments. Watching those arguments come and go on screens, small or big, on paper or digital, on the audio of radio programmes, has confronted me, and provided me, with a portfolio of logic. Here we have in front of us living in this country, a pick and mix offer, a supermarket of arguments, a ping-pong of ideas, a rich presentation of hope and future dressed in multiple outfits.
Not really. Unless the supermarket is of the old Soviet Union type with huge shelves stocked with one, same product. And what might that product be? Let’s see the possibilities: hope, future, work, dignity, values, trust, family, solidarity, education, the world of our children.
Wrong. The supermarket shelves are full of one, same product: numbers. It’s an Accounting World. So many new nurses (promised or that have been appointed), so many billions in the deficit, so many immigrants, so much of this, so much of that. The election is an accounting dream. The public debate in front of TV cameras has been not one between leaders but between bookkeepers. The winners have been declared ahead of polling day. The winners are the numbers.
Beside the numbers, only a tiny little room left, filled with fear (of the others coming in) and, from the party in power, ‘ad homineum’ arguments, the type of personal attack that one launches in desperation when running out of good arguments.
The battle of values has become the battle of numbers. The future has been reduced to an accounting formula. Moral issues are numbers. Immigration is numbers. The public deficit is numbers. The National Health Service arguments are grossly reduced to numbers. Taxes up or down are numbers. Employment is numbers, not dignity.
The accounting narrative has taken over. The values and hopes are in the background, timidly trying to get a bit of airtime. But, small detail, people are not numbers. Behind the leaders appearance on camera there are always a bunch of supporters with placards. The missing and invisible placards say: I am not a number.
You can’t lead by numbers. But I am afraid we will continue with those numbers for a bit more of time. It’s well acknowledged that no major party will have a majority. So, numbers again, in a hung parliament, to reach the coalition threshold of governance. The arithmetic of power lays in front of us, and democracy will look like…numbers, what else?
My hope is that, when all is done, values, hope, beliefs and morals will come back from exile. That visions of man, versions of social justice and the fundamentals of a fairer society, come back to the microphone.
For the moment, all of them are in sabbatical.
Leadership by numbers is sad. We need to rescue the human narratives. Everywhere, in the macro-social word, the organization, the business and the boardrooms.
We are not a number. Je ne suis pas un numero.