Appointing leaders requires the sort of stability associated with organizations that can afford hierarchies and bureaucracies. Whether in politics or organizations, most of us are a long way from those who are making the decisions that we are expected to abide by and have no relationship with them other than being on the end of carefully crafted communication. That’s acceptable for most people, for a while, providing the organisation is delivering what has been promised, but what happens in more fluid times, such as we are in now, the “while” ends and that implicit contract is broken?
The natural world organises differently. From the cellular level upwards, it self-organises. Self-organisation relies on a very simple principle; at all levels from simple cells upwards, attention is paid to the immediate environment and the needs of those around it. In the complex and stunningly orchestration of a murmuration, there are no leaders and no plan, just exquisite attention paid by each starling to their immediate neighbours. Forests don’t have a plan, but similarly pay attention to their neighbours via a variety of means from chemical signals through the air to electrical signals though the mycelial network.
As supposedly highly connected humans, who, I wonder, are our neighbours with whom we need to co-ordinate?
We have our physical neighbours – those who we are within walking distance of, with whom we share our physical space. We have our work neighbours, often very different, who we see perhaps at the watercooler, or more probably on zoom, with whom we share a performance space, and then we have our virtual neighbours on social media, from the shouty crowd who keep trying to get our attention, to the thoughtful but distant individuals and groups with whom we often find we have more in common with than any of the others.
Then we have our environment, every bit as alive and connected as we are – often, perhaps, more so. How we treat our environment will determine how it treats us.
Who are we going to pay attention to as we form our own murmuration in the midst of the uncertainties we face? Who are we going to look to for leadership, or step forward to lead? Who do we care for? How are we going to evaluate the impact we are having after we have paid our dues and received our rewards, and how do we measure them – financially, emotionally, or perhaps contributing to something we are proud of?
With the complexity we are in, none of us, no matter how hard we try, can see the big picture, only the biggest picture we can create with those to whom we pay attention. The people we choose to pay attention to will shape our future, so it’s an important choice.
Our leaders are not those we are instructed to follow, they are who we choose to follow, and our followers not those we are told to lead, but who choose to follow us.
We all have to choose, and accept the consequences down the road. We should take the time to choose well.