Wednesday, November 04, 2009

the undefended leader (c)

There is something of the concentric circles in this trilogy...

We shift from the personal character of the leader (vol 1) to the pragmatics of leadership, specially in its use of power (vol 2) and now the politics of leadership as we discover its influence in the broad sweep of large populations of people over space and through time: Simon Walker, Leading with Everything to Give: lessons from the success and failure of western capitalism (Piquant, 2009).

The book is part-sociology and part-spirituality as Walker calls for a 'cultural rebirth'. While the relevance of the early books is unquestioned - here an urgency mixes with that relevance. I found myself being distracted by thoughts of Ecclesiastes, Amos, the parables and the like all the way through. And the same strengths I enjoyed in the earlier volumes are still there: brief, simple, applied, illustrated, and inclusive.

The first half of the book is about "Deconstruction" as Walker gathers lessons from the failures of Western capitalism into the same template as he uses in vol 2. First up, it is The Crumbling of Our Foundations (ch2). "Let's be clear: the economic crisis that exploded in the early autumn of 2008 was not caused primarily by bad banking practices..." (8). One of our main difficulties is that we have no way of saying "No" to the advance of technology. It must be constrained "by a moral discourse that lies outside the realm and control of the scientist and the technocrat"(17). "We won't stop until we can't go on - and then it will be too late" (18).

Then it is The Insatiable Hunger of the Well-fed (ch 3) and an examination of the social cost of consumerism. We are less resilient, more fragile. Politically "people regard themselves as consumers rather than citizens and politicians offer the electorate a choice of products rather than privileges on the basis of shared responsibilities" (29).

Then it is Bowing the Knee: the Ascent of Money (ch 4) and the growing inability to define ourselves in any other way than personal financial wealth. "GDP" is how we measure a nation's health - leaving the majority world legitmately wanting to catch-up - but even if this could be attained, it cannot be sustained. "Unless the West changes course it will be responsible for leading the rest of the world into very perilous waters" (38). We must discover a triple bottom line as a measurement of health: social, environemntal and financial.

Then it is on to Buying the World Cheap (ch 5) as Walker discusses issues of migration, urbanisation and 'exploiting the desperate'. The policies of America and Britian in the face of the 'global threat of Islamist terror' have been "catastrophically flawed" (49). They are designed to "contain the contents of the cauldron while the West continues with the strategies of political and economic domination that lit the fire in the first place ... unless we turn the heat down, sooner or later it will boil over. Its basic physics and basic social ecology" (49). Maybe this is why I was so enamoured with President Obama's speech in Cairo. I think he understands this...

Next up is Celluloid Slavery: the Economics of the Celebrity Class (ch 6) and this habit we have of admiring "people who have little, or even no, discernible talent or achievement"(52). This chapter is such a worry! Walker cites a study which discovers that "one in ten teenagers surveyed would be willing to give up their education to appear on TV"(57).

ch 7 is about The Rending of Our Social Fabric. Here Walker discusses the asset which we have forgotten to gather and build: 'social capital' - "the trust that exists between people ... the richness of the spaces between people ... the closeness, integrity, and reliability of relationships in any community" (61). This social capital has been spent and squandered leaving us with a crisis far greater than the one caused by any financial crisis.

Then it is to ch 8 and The Swelling of the Underclass. Every society in history has had an underclass. "For a society to be healthy, its most powerful members need to show compassion to its most powerless, something that seems to happen less often today than in the past" (70). "The West has bought the world cheap. Ultimately, the problem of the global underclass is not a matter of too little aid or trade, or too much debt: it is a matter of too much consumption ... We have bought the world cheap and the price we have paid is not enough to sustain the dignity and hope of people who have sold almost everything they had" (74).

In ch 9 the full weight of this 'deconstruction' is explained. Walker claims that we are experiencing the end of an era that commenced in the Renaissance five centuries ago. That is a big claim! We are in a grieving process: Death, Grief and Changing Cycles. "I am not convinced that we or our leaders have the courage to embrace our loss as deeply as we must"(82). The West needs to recover some roots - moral roots, spiritual roots. "Productivity without rest, aspiration without restraint, rights without responsbilities, freedom without limits, ownership without stewardship" (83) is not the answer!. On pp84-85 there is a plea for the spiritual. Surgical stuff - and very moving.

Then the book turns to "Reconstruction " as Walker gathers lessons for the future of society. Solutions are never as easy to articulate as the analysis of what is wrong. This is true here - and yet I sense that Walker is writing intentionally with more restraint and open-endedness so as to draw the reader into the issues. Furthermore there is no shortage of practical ideas in what follows... [NB - you may wish to visit www.theleadershipcommunity.org to continue this discussion].

"This book is a health waring to all those who imagine that all is well in the West and want to emulate it"(90). And off he goes to embrace a whole bunch of C-words: Culture; Consumption and Citizenship ("there is no doubt that ultimately the challenge which faces humankind is to reduce our total consumption"(99)); Capital; Control and Capacity; Celebrity ("we must encourage the emergence of a new kind of hero" (117)); Compassion; Cohesion; Conviction ("it is the spiritual that historically has proved to have the greatest capacity to inspire our noblest acts" (128))...

"Genuine spirituality is a spirituality of undefendedness, of generosity, which enjoys the resources we have but also freely gives them away" (132).

"For its own sake and that of society, the church needs to find a new language in which to express its vibrant spirituality ... My own experience is that many people in our society are crying out for an experience of transcendence. They have never known what it is to walk on holy ground, to enter a sacred space in which prayer has been offered for centuries and take off their shoes in the heavy silence of reverent awe. They have never been awakened to their own soul; they do not know what it is for that soul to touch the Other, to encounter what is beyond, what is older, deeper and more mysterious. They do not know the discipline of waiting, in stillness and denial of self, and paying attention to the Other. We are truly a generation of 'hollow men', superficial, thin, transparent, rootless, substanceless, weightless, in danger of being swept away by the slightest puff of wind. The church will be doing us all a fatal disservice if it offers us no more than another serving of spiritual retail therapy" (133).

If that is not an invitation to preach Ecclesiastes, I am not sure what is!

Chapter 19 finishes with Where Do We Go From Here?... "the day for wilful negligence is surely over" (136). Walker urges us to cultivate both idealism and pragmatism as we confront the present and the future with respect to what we consume, where we work, where we live, how we invest, and where we worship. Then it is about embracing the "undefended life" marked by a receiving, a welcoming, and a stewarding - with all being done with a generosity.


These three posts on this 'undefended leader' trilogy are the longest posts I have ever posted. Is there a parting shot to make for those who have got this far? With all that I am and with whatever wisdom and experience I have gained over the years, I plead with you to look at those whom you coach/mentor and seriously consider purchasing this trilogy and working your way through it together through 2010.

Go on - do it!

nice chatting


Paul

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