I have come across this piece in the UK Guardian of 2 June which sets out a picture of a phenomenon which has been growing in response to a sense of failed leadership on the part of our social institutions.
The notion put forward in this piece is that there is a new class emerging around the world, the precariat, which is defined by the shared sense of precariousness and vulnerability of its fast-growing membership. It points to the recent protests seen in Greece, Spain and other countries around the globe as evidence that there is a new and potentially dangerous mood of insecurity that requires some new kind of leadership.
If you have read the article or if you are a regular Guardian reader, you will know that this publication sits slightly on the left of the political spectrum in its reporting and editorial content. However, I am not here to push any particular party political agenda and if we can put aside political allegiances or party preferences, the proposition that there is a growing mood of disquiet is an interesting one to consider in the context of workplaces and leadership.
To quote the article, “The global precariat …. is a class in the making, approaching a consciousness of common vulnerability. It consists not just of everybody in insecure jobs – though many are temps, part-timers, in call centres or in outsourced arrangements. The precariat consists of those who feel their lives and identities are made up of disjointed bits, in which they cannot construct a desirable narrative or build a career, combining forms of work and labour, play and leisure in a sustainable way.”
It goes to on suggest that this holistic sense of insecurity is a threat to our societies and, I would contend, our workplaces, since our workplaces are only microcosms of the wider societies in which they exist. As the writer states, “Chronically insecure people easily lose their altruism, tolerance and respect for non-conformity” and I would state here that I agree with that. Our workplaces function at their best when these traits exist in spades, so the decline of human decency and the growth of interpersonal violence should be of concern to leaders everywhere.
In my experience, when uncertainty, doubt and instability abound in humans, anxiety becomes life’s background music. This anxiety tinges our decision-making, our relationships and our thought processes. People close ranks and look to something which will create more security and reduce fear. Our emphasis shifts from life-giving creativity to survival-orientated safety.
The writer concludes by saying that what is needed is a reinvention of the progressive trinity of equality, liberty and fraternity. If we are indeed crying out for this reinvention, it then behoves a new kind of leadership to emerge, not just in our businesses and workplaces, but all over the place. Furthermore, if this vulnerability and indignance is a growing trend, how can leaders ready themselves to respond?
The new kind of leadership that the leadchange group, the Harvard Business Review and the Centre for Creative Leadership advocate is, in essence, a movement of leaders who think and act systemically. This kind of leadership constantly reflects on what is happening with fresh new lenses. These new systems-thinking leaders know that the old ways of thinking and acting are no longer sufficient. This post from the Harvard Business Review, “People are not Cogs,” illustrates this point brilliantly. New-era leaders see that everything is connected to everything else and act to make systems interventions, rather than ‘old school’ cause and effect interventions which take no account of an ecological system, but instead look at the world as a machine to be tinkered with and people as human ‘resources’ to be deployed.
Are you a new-era leader?