Leadership is redefined after every crisis. New ideas and reflections on what happened (was Covid-19 a white swan, was it a black swan?) and what the role of the C-Suite and of public leadership was or should have been, are numerous. Really hundreds and hundreds of articles find their way each day on the world wide web.
In my personal view – following the lessons of the forest – has every organism to make the maximal use of the factors light (energy), water and nutrients. These help it to just be, to exist, to flourish, to live and get offspring. the factors also influence the chances of every person, animal, flower, the daisy (Bellis perennis L.), because every species has unique capabilities. What seems to be clear is that these basic factors – literally and in more so in figurative ways – have changed dramatically during the crisis. It causes a shift. The wisdom of Darwin comes in.
Even daisies have to constantly compete for the available factors of life to find their way up. Like we all have to do. And yes, some stand out of the crowd, like on this picture. Leadership can be seen as a result of the biotic and abiotic parts of the ecosystem and not – as many of us try to reason and argument, about personal skills. It is driven by basic mechanism of survival (‘of the fittest’). In the forest, leadership is not the driving concept as such – as we know it in public governance schools, but more a result of this need within the ecological web. The state of leadership can be considered as an indicator of the state of the underlying system, and is not per se as a personal set of skills.
It is interesting to read about the many reflections on leadership today, just after a crisis – they highly differ by the way from thoughts before the crisis, as ever. For daisies, we ecologists know how it works, where and why they grow and what this is saying about their environmental circumstances. Well, that is interesting. For humans it seems to be less clear. Still the dominating city sciences, like Public administration, public management or public governance, provide us not with answers on the aspect of the indicatorship (no, not dictatorship) of leadership within the system. The eruption of (scientific) studies and reflections seems to indicate we lack proper criteria to measure leadership as a quality of the system.
Covid-19 will give us ‘leadership in reflection’, that is sure. But let us not forget – a plea as ecologist and a city manager (still vibrant) – that leadership is a consequence of something else in the system. Let us therefore dig deeper, prevent the superficial and quick analysis, the running to solutions behaviour and the blaming and really come with new thoughts than just a new set of personal habits (8 or so?). Maybe the daisy, this beautiful and clear flower of the forest, can guide us on this.
During and directly after a crisis, one may come with new insights. Change can come from the interior need for a new organisation and maybe a more practical approach. Or it can come from an exterior perspective to have a better view on the outside world. In the old town of Lucca, Italy, we walked along this piece of art.
Anno 2020, after and during the Covid-19, the need for change is obvious, in public, civic and business organisations. This is driven by internal incentives, related to:
Business continuity (for all products and services to citizen and clients).
Human resource management (towards a more vital, agile and flexible organisation, new roles or functions are needed).
Finance (finding new resilience and balance, tax and budget rescheduling, control priorities).
Information management (secure the new cyber world with home and on distance protocols).
Procurement (recheck suppliers and contracts in effectivity and continuity).
Cooperation (the need for co-creation and for new value driven alliances).
Strategy and policy (from ‘be better prepared’, ex post and risk approach towards a more ex ante, resilience, value and scenario driven way of thinking and acting).
Leadership and the C-suite (from delegation and top-down styles to true ownership of value and risk approaches, stewardship and serving styles focused on delivery).
Interface politics, elected council, governing council and management (from segmentation and fragmentation towards a more holistic approach of matters concerning citizens, groups and social issues).
Lucca has this beautiful house where new insights, reorientation and rebuilding actually meet perfectly. It is metaphor for resilience management. The house of public governance is expected to follow the owners of this house.
Today was a rainy day, finally. I look out my window and see the city lights in the far distance, through the palette of raindrops, while reading some articles about the latest financial developments due to Covid-19. Well an interesting view on the threshold of the near future, of tomorrow.
The predictions, to be frank, are worrisome for the coming years and more difficult after 2 years from know. I know government can – in times of and in the modus of a crisis – print the money very easily or borrow it relatively cheap. It can spend budgets to all individuals, communities, civic organisations and companies which are in (desperate) need of support. We know all these spendings will have to be refunded and paid back by citizens, companies and lower governments. It is unavoidable to find the balance again. The awareness under public leaders, city managers, CFO’s and concern controllers is growing – “Houston, we have a problem” – , because municipality cash registers are deflating rapidly.
Where a romantic late evening view with a good glass of wine can cross the thoughts on a new financial strategy for local government, the city and the village. Same picture, two perspectives: home sweet home and the need for a sparkling and financial solid public governance. For now, cheers! Next Monday of course back to the design table with my colleagues.
Following the Sustainable Development Goals, Climate Change is despite Covid-19 not forgotten. More so, the last is seen by scientists, managers and experts as an omen what we can expect when we keep disrupting the Earth ecosystem. Goal 13 is Climate Action: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. This goal has 5 targets:
Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries.
Integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies and planning.
Improve education, awareness-raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning.
Implement the commitment undertaken by developed-country parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to a goal of mobilizing jointly $100 billion annually by 2020 from all sources to address the needs of developing countries in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation and fully operationalize the Green Climate Fund through its capitalization as soon as possible.
Promote mechanisms for raising capacity for effective climate change-related planning and management in least developed countries and small island developing States, including focusing on women, youth and local and marginalized communities.
My personal expression of climate change is displayed above. I imagined the canvas of our world as a chess board with 8*8 fields and estimated the most hurt ecosystems due to change: coral reef (Pantone Living Coral ) and tropical rainforest (Pantone Forest Biome). Government (Pantone Imperial Blue) is a tiny spot on the canvas and is not doing too much with many public leaders which are still in denial of what is happening (why? Interest and stakes!). Government, steered by people we as citizens elect to be our representatives (how difficult can it be!), need to take the lead. But, to be frank, its influence anno 2020 can not be marked as substantial. Storm (Pantone Storm Gray) is coming.
It is a personal art impression – or maybe better an expression of an impression – to remind me that we will loose precious life if we continue this way. The myriad of life is so abundant in coral reeds and tropical rainforests, we can hardly imagine. If you have seen it, and understood, you fall in love immediately. And if this happens you want to protect and want to stay it forever. I am in love, still (it is actually since 1978, the year I met Professor Roelof Oldeman and with him discovered the forest, almost 32 years now).
I am a realist, not a pessimist. I hear you thinking. I did my homework (daily) as Wageningen University ecologist. Believe me, storm is coming, if we keep sitting on our hands. Maybe this small expression is a small contribution to one of the targets of this sustainable development goal. The colours of climate change are printed in my mind.
The ferris wheel of governance is indicating that we migrate at a swift pace from the crisis management modus to ‘normal’ management and governance. Democracy re-installs itself after months of Covid-19 crisis management. Old patterns return. The flow and the collective belief vanishes rapidly and the communal obedience of the people is replaced by daily traffic between opposition leaders, governors and citizens.
With one single blow Racism has replaced Corona. I thought. But not quite so though. In the debate today between the mayor of Amsterdam and the elected council – about the fact that she did not enforce the 1.5 meter in an anti-racism demonstration – shows that the wheel is turning. Who is right? I cannot say, but the fact that both worlds meet and spend hours and hours to battle each other with arguments, is enough proof. We’re back again where we were before, for sure. The turning of the ferris wheel shows us again the old dilemma’s we are facing and segmentation in politics. At the same time it is about the balancing act of democracy.
On this quiet evening at home, I remember – as a contrast with the harsh debate this afternoon in Amsterdam (live on television) – the words (It’s cloud’s illusions I recall…) of Joni Mitchell (from her incredible song Both sides now, recorded in the fall of 1968). I remember the peaceful time we had last months, not always easy but with elements of quietness and easy news. Joni:
Moons and Junes and ferries wheels The dizzy dancing way that you feel As every fairy tale comes real I’ve looked at love that way
When it comes to navigation in times of high dynamics and change, it was pilot John Boyd who developed a revolutionary and simple concept, the OODA loop: observe, orient, decide and act. The first steps are crucial, he said, when you fly with a speed of 900 km/h, upside down and 100 meter above a mountainous landscape. Is this not the situation where we as society are in today? After Boyd many scientists, experts and advisers developed a myriad of concepts, frameworks and approaches to tackle change and to find navigation in a volatile world.
The Romans already had a god for transitions, gates, passages and doorways. They called him Janus, derived form iānus, meaning in Latin ‘arched passage, doorway’. Can we say that we find ourselves in a doorway, a gate? And can we say we need to find our path, i.e. through developing a circular economy, caring for digital transformation, implementing energy transition, innovating water management, tackling a first grade health crisis, dealing with inequality, racism and poverty? Yes, we can. We are in a doorway, maybe on a threshold towards a new world. Janus is our ‘man’, our god. We need to give him more thought in our souls, not worship him, and ask him advice in the steps to come.
I think I timed the moment (exactly 10 years after my father died) and find the right angle of sunlight, beaming (was it actually him?) through this work of art at our home. Janus looking forward, Janus looking backward and in reflection its metaperspective. The art of navigation is alike. Observe by looking forward and backward, and orient where you are by reflecting on this, decide and act.
Janus and the art of navigation. Janus is presiding over all beginnings and transitions. Should we ask him for his wisdom again? And if we do, let’s not forget John.
Some things are remarkable and for most leaders and managers hidden or simply unnoticed. One of them is confirmation bias. Within science and literature it is described, researched and elaborated over and over again, throughout history in fact, beginning with the Greek historian Thucydides (c. 460 BC – c. 395 BC). He wrote: “… for it is a habit of mankind to entrust to careless hope what they long for, and to use sovereign reason to thrust aside what they do not fancy.”
This steering mechanism in our brains can be defined according Cambridge Dictionary as the way a particular person understands events, facts, and other people, which is based on their own particular set of beliefs and experiences and may not be reasonable or accurate.
Wikipedia cites the definition of Haselton et al. (2005): a systematic pattern of deviation from norm or rationality in judgment. It ads to this the interpretation: Individuals create their own “subjective reality” from their perception of the input. An individual’s construction of reality, not the objective input, may dictate their behavior in the world. Thus, cognitive biases may sometimes lead to perceptual distortion, inaccurate judgment, illogical interpretation, or what is broadly called irrationality.
Generally spoken we, humans, have some ’embedded heuristics’ which Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky described as ‘highly economical and usually effective, but lead to systematic and predictable errors’. It is an aspect to be aware of when chairing or participating in a meeting. It is mentioned as a key driver in risk management theories. It can creep into the discussion and decision making process, staying unnoticed and dressed as humor, good-spirit, support, collegiality and optimism.
Confirmation bias is also about the internal “yes man“, echoing back a person’s beliefs like Charles Dickens‘ character Uriah Heep in his book David Copperfield. Uriah, the clerk is “cloying humility, obsequiousness, and insincerity, making frequent references to his own “‘umbleness”” (Wikipedia).
In a short but excellent video Jason Zweig (2009) explains how this mechanism is related to the handling of our own stocks and investments, this in addition to his article. Confirmation bias is all over the place in the stock-market. It is studied extensively. Zweig gives advise how to ignore the yes-man in our heads.
Social psychologist Richard Stanley Crutchfield discovered that 1/3 of the people ignored what they saw and went with the consensus. People within a research experiment (and this has been done over and over again) agreed all to a certain question when they were not exposed to the answers of others. But when they heard that everyone of there group disagreed (before they gave there judgment), 31 to 37 per cent said they did not agree!
Solomon Asch (Gardner, 2009) also concluded later in new experiments, that “overall, people conformed to an obviously false group consensus one-third of the time”. In line what Crutchfield discovered earlier. Gardner concludes :“We are social animals and what others think matters deeply to us… we want to agree with the group” and “it certainly is disturbing to see people set aside what they clearly know to be true and say what they know to be false.”
From the evolutionary perspective there the human tendency to conform is not so strange. We are gregarious after all. It is the survival perspective to best to follow the herd. Gardner: “We also remain social animals who care about what other people think. And if we aren’t sure whether we should worry about a certain risk, it matters where other people are worried about seem to make a huge difference.”
The other way around though is that also government is sensitive for anchoring. Governments anchor on popular opinions. It influences the way they respond. And this mechanism could be at the basis of the rising populistic wave on which political parties surf their campaigns and public leaders base their decisions upon. Reading the news and following the political debates it becomes clear that scientists have found and described realistic and fundamental mechanisms of us. We know how predictable we are, but often do not want to know about this.
Cas Sunstein (Gardner, 2009) elaborated the consequence of this mechanism on individual level, when information is coming in. He concluded that belief causes confirmation bias, and therefor in-coming information is screened thoroughly. If it supports the own conviction the incoming information is readily accepted. If not, it is ignored, scrutinized carefully or flatly rejected. Isn’t this recognisable in the debates we share, attend and see in the media by some leaders (in fact the wrong word). And isn’t this a mechanism we recognise in ourselves. Let us be honest.
Being aware of this bias, as Kahneman and Tversky stated, could contribute to improved public governance: “understanding of these heuristics and of the biases to which they lead could improve judgements and decisions in situations of uncertainty’. For me is knowing that 1/3 of the people in a meeting could have an interesting view – which is not shared due to conformation bias (or possible group consensus, which actually can develop in every meeting – a true eye opener. And a personal conviction to the find a way to get the best out of each meeting by creating a open mind setting and safety within the group. It can and may not be that precious knowledge, enriching experiences or clear views are getting lost in the melee of the groups dynamic.”
So, creating space for each individual in the battle of the group process is crucial. It is a challenging task. More than that, a renaissance for the individual.
Bibliography & Artography
Cambridge Online Dictionary.
Dickens, C. (1850) The Personal History, Adventures,Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Youngerof Blunderstone Rookery. London: Bradbury & Evans.
Gardner, Dan (2009) Risk: The Science and Politic of Fear. London: Virgin Books, 422 pp.
This book puts leadership in the context, recognized within public governance challenges. The DEO – Design Executive Officer – as described by Giudice and Ireland has many connections with that of mayors, aldermen and city managers who constantly act on the edge of design and dynamics. Design can be considered as a core competence. This book is in this context a complete breath of fresh air and brings recognisable new perspectives on leadership. Public leaders could be inspired by this book.
“This book identifies and explores the qualities of a new breed of leaders. The book lays out–graphically and through example–how DEO’s run their companies and why this approach makes sense today. We help readers identify skills in themselves and their colleagues, and we guide them in using these skills to build, revive, or reinvent the next generation of great companies and organizations.Leaders who understand the transformative power of design and embrace its traits and tenets can command in times of change. We call these leaders DEO’s and they are our new heroes.”
Giudice and Ireland bring forward six characteristics of a DEO, which are brought forward many times in books of leadership but in this book placed in a new surprising context. DEO’s are:
Change agents: not troubled by change.
Socially Intelligent: high social intelligence.
System thinkers: systems thinkers who understand the interconnectedness of their world.
Intuitive: highly intuitive, either by nature or through experience.
Risk takers: embrace risk as an inherent part of life and a key ingredient of creativity.
GSD: “gets shit done.” (i.e. they make things happen).
“Businesses and governments have discovered the power of a creative mind to effect change and produce value. Experts note that CEO’s who possess a design sensibility—or trust others who do—are best suited to thrive in a changing world. Yet not until Rise of the DEO has anyone captured the true potential of a design-oriented thinker at the highest level of an organization. Maria Giudice and Christopher Ireland have written a seminal work that will transform the role of the designer and the pace of innovation. This book is a must read.”