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This blog is provided by Erica Fowler. It is a companion to Henry Mintzberg’s interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, Rebalancing Society: Radical Renewal, Beyond, Left, Center, Right which aired on 1/21/20.
The International Leadership Association (ILA) held its global conference in Ottawa, Canada, in 2019 with the theme ‘Leadership, Courage Required’. Maureen Metcalf, an ILA fellow, hosted a series of live-recorded interviews with global leadership experts to explore their research, best practices, and expert view of the complex issues facing us today. In this interview, Henry Mintzberg discusses his recently published book ‘Rebalancing Society: Radical Renewal Beyond Left, Right, Center’ and the key to uniting and mobilizing our fragmented leaders.
There is no denying that today’s political and social climate is polarized. It is often described as a pendulum that swings back and forth, gravitating to each extreme, a large swath of people or issues frozen in the middle. Presently, the pendulum seems as if it is at greater risk of breaking in half than swinging to one side or the other. In discussing this polarization, Mintzberg illustrates the unrest with figures from the most recent ranking of democracies by The Economist. Less than 6% of the world population lives in a full democracy. The United States ranked #25 as a flawed democracy, and the global score was the worst since the rankings began in 2006. Despite the downward trend in recent years, all is not lost.
In his book, Mintzberg discusses the need to ‘rebalance society’ on its three pillars. Two we well know, the public (government) and private (privately held businesses and corporations), but the third isn’t as obvious to some. He calls this missing piece the ‘plural sector,’ and it’s comprised of the community, member-owned co-operatives, foundations, and most importantly, you and me. The plural sector mobilizes grassroots efforts and large-scale social change.
Similarly, in the well-known book Good to Great, Jim Collins discusses the concept of the flywheel. Under the right conditions, an exemplary leader, a shared passion, and a common goal, companies that steadily exert the pressure of their collective efforts can manifest change that builds quietly over time and finally reaches a tipping point, gaining momentum and breaking through barriers. In Jim’s book, years of perseverance under these circumstances often led to stock market returns that were many times higher than that of the average market or competitive companies.
Like good-to-great companies, grassroots efforts require the plural sector to unite behind a common cause and, as Mintzberg says, ‘put teeth into’ that cause. It demands action with not only their unification, their protests, and their words – but with their own sustained and focused action. The plural sector is the force or the pressure needed to turn the flywheel and elicit action from the public and private sectors.
In his forthcoming research, Mintzberg is exploring how to mobilize the plural sector to rebalance society and offers some hints in this interview.
- Responsibility: Mintzberg insists that we must recognize that change starts with us. Technological advances, like the smartphone, have made it easier than ever for us to escape into our palms and ignore not only the needs of the surrounding community but ourselves. Pay the extra dollar. We are complicit in perpetuating polarization when we rejoice in the affordable consumption of goods that are manufactured by those that do not make a living wage.
- Relevance: Integrating into the plural sector allows issues facing the community to become relevant before they become personal. Mintzberg discusses relevance in the context of climate change. Melting ice caps and the plight of the polar bears is not proximal enough to most people’s daily lives to impact them in a meaningful way. But when the river next to their home rises enough to flood the basement, the changing climate is not as easily dismissed.
- Focus: Globalization and social media have ushered in freedom of choice and expression in ways unprecedented in human history. Our efforts are fragmented, and the pressure needed to enact change does not have the limitations needed for it to build up and breakthrough. Taking responsibility for issues that are relevant to your community allows critical mass to form behind an issue to build sufficient pressure.
- Perseverance: Change on a large scale or on the deep-rooted issues that drive polarization may require years or even decades of pressure. Instant gratification is a reality in so many facets of our life that we expect it in every interaction or endeavor. We become impassioned by new causes frequently and lose the focus and momentum that could, if sustained, breakthrough as real, meaningful change.
- Accountability: Hold accountable those who push to imbalance society for personal gain. Mintzberg recognized that Occupy Wallstreet was fine as a protest, but no meaningful change came from it because the behaviors behind closed doors remained unchanged. It’s a start, but it’s not enough to peacefully protest with our feet and our voices. We must also protest with our votes and our actions.
To unite the plural sector and manifest change through the public and private sectors we must immerse ourselves in our communities, recognize that we are required to become the change we want to see in the world, and peacefully fight for what we believe in with our votes, our voices, and our actions.
Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, Google Play, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify and iHeartRADIO. Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.
About the Author
Erica N. Fowler, Ph.D., is a strategy and analytics professional with a profound interest in developing data-driven solutions to improve health and business outcomes. She studied Public Health specializing in social epidemiology at The Ohio State University and holds ten years’ experience melding industry experience with academic discipline. Her experience includes analytics product development, measurement strategy, database operations, business intelligence analytics, and statistical modeling.
Dr. Fowler’s passion is professional development consulting as a certified Birkman Method consultant. She uses the Birkman Method, enhanced by her analytic skillset, to develop individual and group programs that foster emotional intelligence to improve communication skills and productive teamwork.
Her day job is Product Manager for the Applied Data Science and Omnichannel Experience teams at Syneos Health, the first end-to-end integrated pharmaceutical solutions organization. She serves as a contributing faculty member to the Health Education & Promotion program at Walden University, where she oversees the dissertation process for doctoral students. In her spare time, Dr. Fowler enjoys traveling the world, yoga, reading, and spending time with her family.
Photo by Pixource