I sat there staring at it for a long time. It had been hanging there for a while and I had walked by it numerous times, some with little notice and some with extended study. A gift from a good friend from Australia, a mandala. This particular style of painting is meant to represent a picture of feeling, emotion, self-reconstruction, the universe that though not abstract in design provides a circular presentation of geometric shapes that for some reason, today, just did not look right. There was something about it that I had felt before that was now much more insistent. What was it? The “raison d'être”, the purpose, just did not feel right. It was somehow incomplete, there was more it was trying to offer but I just could not see it. As I reached into this mysterious cognizant problem, my wife passed behind me and with little more than a notice of my state of dismay, moved out of the room almost out of range and with back to me provided an offhand almost cavalier comment, “You know that’s upside down, don’t you?”
My mandala experience is an example of metamorphic improvement. There was nothing wrong with the picture, it has a special place on the wall providing aesthetic pleasure and thoughtful potential to its viewers. However, with a very natural and intuitive repositioning, it offered more without much change at all. In this time of shared experience called the pandemic, the world has collapsed and expanded at the same time. We have found new ways of doing almost everything and leaders have been challenged to lead through a repositioning of thought. Some have done well and others have not.
The Key - Mark Tansey
It is my observation that leadership, whether government, business, cultural, or societal, that has failed this mysterious cognizant problem share four basic characteristics. First, they have ignored expert knowledge by discounting or discrediting lessons learned and existing usable tools. Second, they have ignored systemic weaknesses. There is an interesting axiom that says, “power can become myopic”. Whether driven by politics, ideology, nationalism, populism, religion, or just plain self-interest they did not see or acknowledge unpreparedness. Third, the opposite is also evident. Some did not recognize the strengths that existing systems had to offer or simply ignored them in favour of solutions that prioritized other returns. Finally, the evidence of identity politics has polarized rather than united. Leadership that thinks about themselves as only one thing alienates other opinions, other stories, other points of view as being valueless. It relegates all others to a place of inequality and abandons the value of community. Truth is the big loser.
On the other hand, through this shared crisis, some leadership has shown to be emblematic of true transformational leaders. They also share characteristics. These leaders always remember who they are. They spend time in introspection to know themselves and are honest with themselves. Recognizing their voice they also recognize the value of other narratives. Understanding the value of inclusivity, by listening to narratives other than their own, even the uncomfortable ones, and focus on what is the same and not what is different, helps them grow. They help those around them to know themselves and guide and guard them on their life journey. In the community, these leaders enhance people’s life experience by building “raison d'être” that feels right. Most importantly they think about the power of their positions and find ways to build bridges to those that are powerless and not walls.
It should be the goal to get the picture right side up and make civil society better.