Sunday, December 5, 2010

Leadership in Action? No - just Leadership Inaction

The recollections from my last post created another thought about a story I shared at the power of place session at the International Leadership Association global conference. It highlighted the difficulties the Australian aboriginal peoples encountered with the arrival of the English settlers. My early childhood in “the outback” was a time when aboriginals were treated as second class citizens (and unfortunately still are by some). As a na├»ve child I could not understand why my dark skinned friends with whom I played football and shared lunches at school were any different from me. I admired how much “place” is embedded into their culture and identity, and enjoyed conversations and their stories about the rainbow serpent creator and how the people and animals were part of the overall environment. Metaphor is deeply embedded into their beliefs and how they pass on these beliefs to the next generations through stories. It is only recently that our westernised learning systems are “discovering” the power of story and metaphor in formal learning and business engagement, and yet it has been used for centuries by “apparently lesser educated people very effectively.

Aboriginals understand they don’t “own” land - they and the land are essential elements of the environment. Once the land was taken from them, they lost their sense of identity and place and therefore a large part of their culture. The government’s ignorant answer was simply to give them another place. Typically this was out of sight and I would argue out of mind. For a long time this strategy (disgracefully) worked for the government, but had a hugely negative impact on the aboriginal peoples. For a while, “integration” was seen as the answer. That is, focus on how to bring aboriginal people into the “superior” European ways of life and totally remove their traditional “savage” ways of life. Of course, without identity and belonging to their sacred places, many critical parts of their identity and purpose were lost. This caused many issues such as school dropouts, high level of disobedient behaviours, alcoholism and premature deaths. The infant death rate of aboriginal people is much higher than that of the Australian norms and life expectancy is much lower. I am pleased to say that there are some programs that are supporting some return to traditional ways involving the elders mentoring the young people, but I fear this in insufficient to retain enough knowledge for this to be sustainable.

The key learning for me from these recollections is the arrogance of those in power and their tenuous sense of superiority. They claim to be “developed civilisations” with highly educated leadership “helping” the disadvantaged. These are the same types of people who have destroyed the environment, engaged in divisive world conflicts with aggression, fought over resources and engaged in personality destruction in order to get into power and control decisions making (on behalf of others?). They are also the same types of people who cannot find answers to sustainable management of resources after just 200 years of occupation and who’s short term thinking caused the global financial crisis.

I would like to highlight that the aboriginal peoples of Australia lived in a sustainable manner for 40,000 years (the oldest civilization – yes I stress CIVILization) in harmony with the environment and (mostly) in peace with their neighbouring tribes- until our “modern” society took this away – and for what? This harmonious culture had been part of the environment for thousands of years longer than any western culture has managed without destroying themselves or their environment. Aboriginal peoples understood how to navigate by the stars and manage the optimal resource gathering by seasons long before western “civilisations” were thinking about such things. They shared this knowledge through storytelling and metaphor through millennia, whereas western uncivilisations are trying to find ways to turn story into profit and influence rather than leverage it as a possible way to preserve and share knowledge. Aboriginals understood the importance of environmental balance and strategic use of resources and more importantly, acted on this knowledge through a nomadic lifestyle, so as not to over use what was available and enable it to recover before they returned again.

Our current global leaders (still dominated by western thinking) have not been able to find “acceptable” answers to any of these complex questions because they are looking in the wrong places. They are asking the wrong questions of the wrong people. Quality answers are available and will work if given the chance. However, our “leaders” are just too arrogant and “superior” to see beyond their self imposed boundaries. They do not possess the leadership we need for our best future options. The real leaders are too busy trying to make a pragmatic difference with no resources to engage in their silly games of politics. A good first step is to cut “defence” SPENDING globally by 20% and give it to people to INVEST in sustainable community initiatives to improve their living standards and reduce aid dependent subsistence. Show some true leadership by considering what is best for the peoples of the world and make decisions that help the problem instead of being part of it. I am looking to soar with Eagles and engage with Quercus, but disappointed to find too often those in charge are more self focused Lions.

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