Oil And Water Don’t Mix

Reflecting on  “America’s Descent Into Madness” by Henry Giroux, we most certainly don’t but need to provide learning experiences in and through public education that will facilitate every person’s development.  What should we all seek to develop?  Our personhood, our humanness!  That is, we should all strive to become fully human in support of us—each other and all others—realizing progress toward becoming a more humane society.  How could we have a more humane society without its constituent members expressing the human qualities of kindness, care and concern for others?  Obviously we can’t, and clearly we haven’t!

Preparing people to become instruments for wealth accumulation was never right but it surely is effective for preparing people to be objects for exploitation.  James Boyce in Pursuing Profits – or Power?, asserts, “although corporations could benefit from the bigger pie produced by a better-educated labor force, there’s a tension between what’s good for business and what’s good for the business elite.” As currently framed the conduct of business is designed for wealth accumulation not to further human progress.  In other words, maintaining power over others is central to the practice of American capitalism, which has also captured society and colonized democracy.

The Incompatible No Alternative

Thus efforts toward educating people alone will in all likelihood fail.  Why?

As Giroux said quite succinctly, “rather than work for a more dignified life, most Americans now work simply to survive in a survival-of-the-fittest society in which getting ahead and accumulating capital, especially for the furling elite, is the only game in town.”  So it is the way we’ve tacitly learned to roll.  Seemingly most have accepted the there–is-no-alternative argument (TINA), remaining unaware that we will all lose as each seeks his/her own gain.

David Kristjanson-Gural, professor of economics, said it best “Capital will continue to corrode democracy, as certainly as oxygen corrodes iron, as long as a few hold sway over investment and jobs and are committed to using the wealth that we generate to undermine the will of the people.”  It is designed into the system!

The incongruence between our system of economics and a (humane) democratic society is far too significant—it is oil and water, both figuratively and literally.  Specifically, it is the central precept of our egoistic capitalistic system of economics—that people are primarily if not solely driven by material self-interest—that is the primary cause of the circumstances we are experiencing.  The vast majority have tacitly learned to believe they are at base the most intelligent animal whose aim is to have it all for one’s self—the one with the most toys wins!

People unconsciously assume that to be human is to structure life as the pursuit of one’s material self-interest, so they unceasingly strive to have more, thus forsaking them being and becoming more human. Unfortunately the getting of the toys in all likelihood will only be realized by a privileged fortunate few—as Adam Smith himself had essentially acknowledged in The Wealth of Nations that while the many won’t gain (in this system) it does keep them industrious to the benefit of the few.

There Are Alternatives

People must acknowledge that for a viable and sustainable (humane) society there are alternatives to oil but not for water!  So clearly we need people to awaken to their human potential in order for the critical mass necessary to affect a fundamental transmutation of society—piecemeal reform will not do.  Again Giroux astutely asserted, “It will not be enough only to expose the falseness of the stories we are told. We also need to create alternative narratives about what the promise of democracy might be for our children and ourselves.”  Educating people in an effort to develop their capability to think critically is paramount, but more is needed!

We must also understand that unless the system of economics is re-cast to serve all humankind then the system will continue descending us into madness.  We can’t continue with making it fit!  Because the conduct of business is deeply interwoven throughout the lives of so many a self-serving and narrow focus of attention creates a broad swath of destruction.  In a recent report on a decade of historic rising profits and stagnant wages, Lawrence Mishel and Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute state that “an economy that does not provide shared prosperity is, by definition, a poorly performing one.”   It is poor performing for the many because it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t serve!

Again we can’t continue with trying to make it fit, as if there is no alternative. Simply, we can’t continue to be so myopically focused on profit and shareholder value—which serves but a few—if we wish to be a sustainable society.  Exploitation and extraction as a means of wealth accumulation must end!

It should be clear that the intent of business must change to where concern for people’s development and wellbeing are paramount.  What should be placed ahead of the development and wellbeing of people?  The answer should be obvious, nothing!

Moreover, because we are so deeply interdependent, individually and collectively we need everyone to actualize his/her potential as a human being—developing toward becoming more fully human—and correspondingly to be stewards of our natural environment.  Given that the future is where (our) life and those who come after us (yes the children) will be lived, we mustn’t waste a single moment.   That is, the future begins now in this moment hence it is imperative that what we enact in this moment be a life-enabling and life-furthering act.  Decisions and actions that diminish our viability are wrong decisions and actions, so we must cease making and taking them.

A Place To Begin

If only the leaders of business organizations took the long view and critically thought about businesses’ place in society and thus businesses’ responsibility they could change the why and how of business.  They would clearly see that there are alternatives.

We can realize a changed-for-the-better society by changing our practices—we can realize change by enacting it now, one decision at a time one business at a time.  If those in authority of a business enterprise are in deed leaders then they ought to exercise (their) authority over the resources they oversee for the betterment of all those they affect.  If they can’t or won’t do so then they must cease trying to selfishly influence the future of society.  They must either exhibit the courage to lead or get out of the way of human progress.  Let’s ask again, what should rightfully be placed above the development and wellbeing of people; what’s more important than a human life fulfilled?

No Progress To Be Found

In their article on labor relations Ellen Dannin and Ann C Hodges remind us that when companies compete on price the most prevalent approach is to cut wages and benefits—globalizing labor is the latest means to this end. Labor (aka employees, people) is viewed as a cost against the business of business that is profit. Correlatively to ensure that employees remain powerless individuals and not become a powerful collective voice they inhibit (and even obstruct) the formation of unions. Why? Continue reading

Leadership or Dictatorship

Today, America’s captains of business and industry command increasingly vast sums as compensation for their services. Accordingly, there is an enormous disparity—on the order of 325-to-1—between what the average paid-worker in an organization gets and what the CEO gets. We refer to these captains of industry as business leaders: But are they really?  Continue reading

Toward Higher-Level Performance

Just imagine if those you managed were more self-acting and self-directed, had greater levels of creativity and had (really) good interpersonal skills.  Wouldn’t this make for a higher performing team enhancing organizational performance, not to mention having a positive influence on your effectiveness?  Obviously, for many, the next questions are do such people exist and how do I get them to be my team? Continue reading

Mistakes Confusing Leadership

A recent HBR Blog post by John Kotter speaks to the confusion surrounding management and leadership.  He continues by outlining three key mistakes people make in confusing management and leadership: 1) using the terms interchangeably; 2) using leadership to refer to those at the top of the hierarchy; and 3) thinking leadership is about personality characteristics (i.e. charisma).  Let’s critically think about these mistakes to better understand their likely causes. Continue reading

When Being Cooperative is Destructive

Many elected public officials formulate legislation favoring those who provide large sums of money to them (in support of their election/re-election) irrespective of the legislation’s impact on the citizens—the collective ‘we’—they are elected to represent. What is the consequence of such action?  Essentially there is no consequence!  Why? Because those who could take action are reticent to do so since they too benefit from this quid pro quo system.   So they cooperate—if not collaborate—with special interest.  If lobbying weren’t effective, why else would the number of lobbyist have grown?

 

There are corporate executives who create and manage an organization that behaves in environmental and/or socially damaging (if not fraudulent) ways.  More often than not this way of managing provides the executives and their minions significant material gain and the citizens of the country significant devastation. What is the consequence of such practice?  None to very little! Why? Because those who could take action are reluctant to do so since they too benefit from the way things are.  So they cooperate keeping things as they are.  This is likely why regulating agencies and corporate boards overlook rather than provide oversight.

 

Selfish Cooperation

What’s operative in each?  Self-interest maximization; a what’s in it for me orientation. In a socio-economic system that concerns itself primarily if not solely with self-interest—not the collective ‘we’, the interdependence of living systems and society at-large—the resultant quid pro quo arrangements determine the future we all will likely experience.  It is no surprise that follow the money often leads investigators toward identifying the puppeteers.

 

We cooperate with the system—no matter how dysfunctional.  In a democracy voting is the primary means for individuals to participate and thus cooperate with the system of government thus ensuring its continuance. In organizations striving to meet the measureable goals cascaded down from the top of the hierarchy is the primary means for individuals to cooperate with the system.  A profit making and maximizing system, exclusively for those directing the game, is the order of the day—so fall in line, play the game.

 

We Can All Hope

So we cooperate while hoping that changing the players directing the game will change the game—hence our obsessive focus on leadership.  Or is it we keep the game going thinking that once we get to the top of the hierarchy we will some how change the game.  Unfortunately it hasn’t and it likely never will happen!

 

Hope involves seeing/envisioning a way for things to get better so many have hope for change.  Some hope to return to the imagined better times of the past and others imagine a new reality.  In either case, people hope that the future will be better than the present.   Both are holding steadfast to an imaginary reality and thus not seeking to understand the why of what is.  It is the present that is most correlated with the future, yet many seem to run from it.

 

Game Change Requires Mind Change

Nothing will change unless the system itself is fundamentally changed!  You don’t change the game by continuing rolling the dice on your turn; this just keeps the game going.  Cooperating with a system ensures its continuance.

 

We aren’t independent individuals whose sole purpose in life is to amass as much material wealth as we can—bumping into each other as we each strive to have it all for ‘me’.  It is not that self-interest is not within our nature it is that self-interest is not the essence of our nature.  However those directing things would have us believe that we are at base self-interest seeking because it best serves their self-interest—they benefit most when we all are concerned about what’s in it for me.  This keeps people from coming together as we—divide and conquer works most times, but only in the short-term.

 

I remember (many years ago) being in a meeting where the president of a division of a company I was working for said, “look to your left and look to your right because 1 in 3 people won’t be here next year. “  What’s the message?  It is not I want you all to work together, but rather I want each of you to worry about yourself.  This president wasn’t seeking to foster an inspired collective we but rather bunch of me’s that could be easily controlled by fear.

 

I left the company within several months of that meeting.  Eventually the division floundered, not because I had left but because the division was never able to actualize the potential among those it employed.

 

Unfortunately when individuals act out of their self-interest, when there is little to no concern beyond what’s in it for ‘me’—when a sense of caring stops at one’s own skin—then the destruction of either the organization or society (which includes all individuals) is inevitable.

 

So why is there hope?  Could it be that because the absence of hope ushers in despair and so everyone is simply deluding him/her self to avoid feelings of despair?  Rather than being hopeful, I suspect we’d all be better off if we got heretical.

 

Black Holes

Let me begin with a statement from a previous posting:

 

“When people are given the legitimate authority associated with a position in an organization’s (management) hierarchy, they are also necessarily entrusted with the development of those over whom they have been given formal authority.  Sadly some become intoxicated with exercising power over others that they deny and ignore the responsibility for the care and concern of others.  Upholding this latter responsibility is in large measure what separates the good leaders from the bad.” Continue reading

What We Know That Ain’t So

The paradigm that emerged in the 17th century set humankind as the conqueror and manipulator of all things for tangible ends. Moreover knowing something meant that it is expressible and explainable in the language of mathematics (i.e. numbers, measurements), as everything that was anything must be quantifiable and quantified if it is to be understood.  Accordingly everything in the universe became an object to be measured and modeled into exact laws of cause-and-effect.  Continue reading

A Reframing

When I say the word leader, quite understandably most associate it with the ‘one-in-charge’, the top person. Furthermore, since leader is synonymous with the one-in-charge, then leadership must be the actions of the one-in-change. That is when the term leadership is the focus—be it in academic journals or the popular press—its use is most often referring to people in positions of authority such as top executives or c-level managers in organizations or officials of rank in government.  We could just as well talk about top management since the terms connote the same thing.  Even so, everyone would prefer to be a leader than a manager—it just sounds better. Continue reading