Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell when something is ending, or beginning. A liminal space where something is emerging but the old has not yet disappeared, and both seem present at the same time. It’s confusing and unsettling and which version we choose to accept is a choice we make depending on our mindset.
This week has felt a little like that, as I’ve watched a major utility, British Gas, decide that sacrificing employees in order to maintain short term profitability is a sustainable strategy, and a former Prime Minister get depressed because he’s been caught out peddling influence for profit, and worse, doing it for a business that then collapsed. Why get depressed? – it’s not an accident, and he’s not a victim, it’s a simple if distasteful game of consequences. What interests me is the conditions that create the behaviours.
As always, the natural world offers us rather more than a clue. Locusts and Grasshoppers are the same creature. What turns the Grasshopper into a Locust is its environment, mostly as I understand is to do with drought. What, I wondered is the drought that turns our Jiminy Cricket’s into Gordon Gecko’s?
It can’t be money. Those individuals and companies exhibiting these swarming, destructive behaviours are hardly short of money already. Maybe it’s the company they keep, where those with more than enough feel inferior to those with way more than enough.
Or perhaps, it’s a really old fashioned idea. Character. In the dictionary, there are two main definitions. The first is “the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing“; the second “(of an actor or actress) acting or specializing in such roles.”
It raises a question – do those individuals we are talking about have character, or are they merely characters? The answer is important – the first is difficult to change. For good or bad, they are what they are and as long as we recognise them as such, we can choose whether or not to follow them. The second is more insidious – people playing a role for a while, getting plaudits for their acting, whilst off stage they are something very different.
Perhaps the etymology may help. “Old French caratere “feature, character” (13c., Modern French caractère), from Latin character, from Greek kharaktēr “engraved mark,” also “symbol or imprint on the soul“. Now, I think, we’re getting somewhere.
According to MarketWatch, “The Global Corporate Leadership Training Market size to grow USD 26.7 bn by 2024. It is projected to exhibit a CAGR of 13% during the forecast period. The “YOY (year-over-year) growth rate for 2021 is estimated at 12.8%” by the end of 2024“.
According to Forbes Magazine, there are twenty six words that “scream leadership“. Purpose, values, character and soul are not amongst them. I can’t help feeling there’s better used $26.7 billion could be put to.
Perhaps leadership itself is one of those things in transition, in that liminal space that is both ending and beginning.
Leadership is about character. That “symbol or imprint on the soul”. Everything else is creating characters. Bad actors in a B movie politics and business. We owe it to ourselves, and our children, to choose who we follow, or sanction with our votes, or work for, rather better. Our own character is at stake.
Character will out. Characters are a choice. Who we choose to accept is down to us.
This week’s Books.
Here’s what’s arrived this week.
Friends. Robin Dunbar. He of “The Dunbar Number“. I really value his work, I’m reading it because I believe that we will need to choose our friends carefully over the next few years, and remember that despite any narrative to the contrary, anybody who gives you money for work, or to whom you give mony for work is not your friend.
The Corrosion of Character. Richard Sennett. Another of my favourite authors. A well written philosophical take on what the gig economy mentality does to the character of those who run business.
Critical Path. Buckminster Fuller. Classic, and a frequent reread for me. A good way to save the customers of the leadership industry $26.7bn.
Overselling ESG. HBR. A great example of characters versus character. Environmental goals as narrative warfare rather then purpose. This chart says it all.
An Artisan, Character not “Brand”. Leadership by Example. Shimada Takayuki. Business with a soul. Short, beautiful video. (thankyou Hiut denim)
The misinformation virus. The more we know, the more susceptible we become. From Aeon Magazine. A case for our “character filter”
The Monk’s Secret Weapon. I love Leandro Herrero’s blog – it is one of three that I allow into my email automatically. This one is exceptional in my view.
Whether we think we are an end of something, or a beginning of something, we’re right.
I choose beginning.