Leadership for the 21st Century

The Challenges and Opportunities

The challenges facing leaders at the end of World War 2 were very different from those facing Britain today. Britain still had a vast empire and was a world power, though deeply in debt as a result of war. It was bankrupt. The industrial economy was exhausted. There was a huge need for housing, and the nation had to be better fed. Women, who had played a very large part in the war effort, had yet to exert their influence on politics. The state had an all-powerful role in addressing these challenges. There was a national consensus about the need for a social security system. Clement Attlee led the introduction of a social settlement that became a model for the Western world.

Now we need a different kind of settlement to which we consent and leadership that is not only transformative but enabling.

Today’s challenges are very different: climate chaos and destruction of the ecosystem, growing economic injustice, mass migration resulting from climate change, poverty, and civil war, and the need to resolve conflict without violence. We have learned from the disastrous consequences of military intervention in Iraq. Cyber interventions are a new threat. And we are at the beginning of the fourth industrial revolution.  Also we live in a far more diverse society.

Humanity uses the equivalent of 1.6 Earths in one year to provide the resources we use and absorb our waste. We use more ecological resources and services than nature can regenerate, through overfishing, overharvesting forests, and emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than forests can sequester (Global Footprint Network ).

Austerity continues to do immense harm. It is widely recognised that free market capitalism and neoliberal policies, the dominant ideology of the past thirty years, have failed to deliver prosperity and wellbeing for all. Instead it is system that extracts wealth from those who create it and delivers it to the 1 percent and from poor to rich nations. Debt created by the banks, profiting from supplying 97 percent of our money, plays a major part in this transfer of wealth (Positive Money)

 The scientific and technological revolution, comprising artificial intelligence, the internet of things, robotics and 4-D printing, could bring enormous benefits. Equally it could result in massive unemployment and transfer even more wealth and power to a new elite. It is the role of the state to ensure outcomes that benefit humanity as a whole.

Arguably the greatest threat to our survival is our capacity to commit mass suicide by destroying our habitat on Spaceship Earth (Anthropocene ) or through nuclear war.

There is a constant stream of deeply shocking and depressing news. Yet, in reality there is far more that is positive; the prevailing energy in the world is love. It is said that we live in the most peaceful era in history.

However many people are angry and disaffected. They feel they have little control over their lives, are unrepresented and left behind (NEF). The NHS is being dismantled without their consent (Independent) and Campaign for the NHS Reinstatement Bill . They are fed up with ideological politics, parties at war with themselves and the abusive behaviour of politicians towards each other. The tradition of combative debate rather than constructive, respectful, dialogue is furthered by the ancient arrangement of opposing seats in the House of Commons.

The Age of Anger ( Guardian ). Clearly human beings are not wholly rational, nor are they wholly good. This is particularly evident in Syria and when a torrent of protest has been unleashed all over the West. As Satish Kumar says in his guided meditation, “All opposites complement and make the whole” (Youtube). We need a new philosophy( Resurgence) . We must go beyond self-interest and embrace the idea of mutual interest.

There is no shortage of solutions. It is the lack of far-sighted strategic leadership that gets in the way. The people of Britain succeed despite poor government. Britain is a good place to do business, partly because of the rule of law. There is boundless creativity, resourcefulness and entrepreneurship. Communities are solving their own problems, and more will do so given enlightened support. Power and resources need to be devolved to regions, cities, towns and communities under the principle of subsidiarity

Given all these challenges and opportunities, the need for radical reform of our out-dated democracy is overdue. A government voted for by only 24 percent of the electorate has no mandate and cannot represent the UK as a whole. Proportional representation is the first essential. To bring this about a Progressive Alliance is needed. Progressives all over Europe need to communicate, discuss and exchange ideas in the coming years.

New Politics in the Age of Consent

In The Age of Consent Helena Kennedy QC explores the key idea of consent in our politics, law, media and digital lives.

Have we, a diverse United Kingdom of nations and very different regions and cities, young people and old, really given our consent to Brexit? And what about those who did not vote – the not heard? Did we have the necessary information to give our consent? Did the state discharge its responsibility? Especially, when consent needs to be informed and much of the essential information will emerge over the next two years. People cannot yet have a full understanding of what is in front of them. When the full consequences of Brexit becomes clear, a courageous leader might decide to consult the public again through a second referendum and be prepared to help the nation do a U-turn. Brexit is such a diversion of energy when there are far more urgent priorities to address.

Over the years, the parties have not listened to the diverse concerns and needs of people in different parts of the UK. Westminster was and is seen as out of touch. Similar patterns emerged all over Europe and in USA. The EU is inflexible and will have to change itself. Mainstream politics and economics have not adapted to the consequences of globalisation and the extractive process mentioned above. Whilst globalisation has taken millions out of poverty it has destroyed many jobs in Western nations and created generations of joblessness in some communities. Parties need to be democratised. The new political party must aim to represent the full diversity of people in UK if we are to be a nation at ease with itself.

The Electoral Reform Society’s report Open Up: the future of the political party  argues that political parties need to be far more democratic.

 New Political Leadership

Above all Britain needs to be offered a unifying strategic vision that will address the nation’s problems many of which have persisted for years. Brexiters and Remainers both fail to grasp the challenges facing Britain 

Leadership in an age of complexity needs to be transformative and enabling. In the article Leadership in an age of complexity Meg Wheatley says leaders need to move from being heroes to hosts, from patriarchs to enablers.  Leaders need to be listeners; they need to listen to people in their organisations. Time and time again I hear people who work in organisations say “If only they would listen to us”. Political parties, through their MPs, need to listen to the wide variety of people in their constituencies, not just those who vote for them. Government also needs to listen and involve all stakeholders, those working on the ground, like teachers and health practitioners, and relevant think tanks.

Transformative, enabling leaders require presence, not charisma. Charisma can be dangerous as we know from examples of narcissistic or psychopathic leaders. They need to be experts in enabling people. Leaders need to involve people in creating their future. People support what they co-create . They need to get the whole system into the room in developing policies. It is folly to do otherwise. The state of Labour illustrates the need for the leadership to help the party focus on common ground.

Political leaders need to enable people to build shared vision and policy. To do so they must embrace difference and diversity, and value both crusading forces and restraining forces. Political leaders with integrity have a duty to put the long-term interests of the nation before the short term interests of the party. They need to make their organisations learning organisations. They have a responsibility to educate the nation and themselves and admit when they were wrong without being jeered at. There is no shame in changing one’s mind as someone seeking to learn must do. They need to be  Servant Leaders   also in UK

So what are the implications for the Labour Party? No party has a monopoly of wisdom. An effective opposition is vital in a democracy. The Labour party is tearing itself apart. In his article Why Corbyn’s leadership is being judged neither prematurely nor by the wrong standards Erick Shaw says its leader’s poll ratings are worse than for any comparable leader in British polling history.

“This mode of leadership requires a shrewed eye for opportunity, a good hand at bargaining, persuading, reciprocating. It demands an orientation to leadership governed by the ethic of responsibility, incorporating an open and conciliatory style of engagement, a capacity to modulate personal and political ambitions by patient calculation and realistic appraisal of situations and an overriding emphasis upon the importance of reaching consensus and coalition-building. It involves accommodating public opinion with membership preferences, regulating disagreements, astute political maneuvering and a capacity, above all, to hold the party together. Corbyn has merits – decency, honesty, integrity – but it is not at all evident that concept of leadership is what the party requires.”

Labour needs a leader with high credibility both within the party and amongst the public. Without that there is no chance of uniting the party. However, to be optimistic, the chances are that out of the current chaos, given the demands of supporters and others, leadership such as Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee provided after Dunkirk will emerge.

So, what can you do? Here are some suggestions:

  • Collaboration works. Above all get involved in the Progressive Alliance movements in UK and elsewhere
  • Lobby all parties demanding their commitment to comprehensive constitutional reform in the next Parliament.
  • Support Compass – together for a good society, the Electoral Reform Society, Unlock Democracy, The Citizens Assembly Project, Assemblies for Democracy, Make Votes Matter, Counting Women In, 5050 Parliament, Women’s Equality and Voice4 Change and Polly Higgins’s campaign for the UN Ecocide law – the fifth crime against peace, National Health Action Party, Save our NHS, Campaign for the NHS Reinstatement Bill.
  • Subscribe to the blog posts of the London School of Economics British Politics and Policy , New Economics Foundation, Compass- together for a good society, Positive Money, Global Justice Now and Jubilee Debt Campaign and James Robertson’s  Newsletter Visit Robert Greenleaf Servant Leadership UK
  • Use 38 Degrees, Change.org and Avaaz to petition and lobby.

Ways of Creating Common Ground

Citizens Assemblies are needed for both creating a new British constitution and a new Social and Economic Settlement- see Citizens Assemblies and We Can do Politics Differently in the UK .

Useful processes

Among these are:

 Bruce Nixon is an author, writer, speaker and activist. He gives participative talks in communities, universities, colleges, schools and at conferences. His most recent book The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness which offers a new strategic vision for Britain. His Blog and other books may be found at http://www.brucenixon.com/


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