America Be Brave… Adapt: The unprecedented “Leadership Invitation” for the next President
The President-Elect faces a once-in-an-epoch necessity to transform a broken national ‘growth model’—but he must be able to transform himself to achieve it. By understanding the concept of a “Leadership Invitation”, we can all see how we must change ourselves to transform our organizations when they are under intense evolutionary pressures to adapt… or die
According to our methodology and philosophy of change, Bio-Transformation Theory & Practice®, every leader has a “Leadership Invitation” to respond to in any given moment. A Leadership Invitation sits within the lacuna — the gap — between who we are right now and who we need to become to solve the pressing transformational challenges of our organization as it deals with the relentless problems to solve thrown up by the evermore digital, disrupted, and damaged world.
Every imperative for an organization to transform therefore includes within it a Leadership Invitation. The invitation is simple: are you willing to look the issues you face in the eye, see them as “Transformational Challenges” rather than downgrade them to be technical problems, and challenge the assumptions that are locking you in place?
It doesn’t matter how smart you and your executives are, how many Ivy League MBAs are in the team, how many genii are put on a strategy project, how many Oxbridge-led management consultancies are paid to help, or even how clever the strategies you develop are: if you don’t have the level of consciousness needed to respond creatively to each Leadership Invitation—challenging outdated assumptions and discovering future-forward insights in their place—then your enterprise will not stay relevant. We need something other than smarts to make it in the VUCA world.
Transformational Challenges arise in every organization and society because of natural and eternal evolutionary pressures to adapt. Every country—that must function within our hyper-changing world of digital technologies, generational disruption, and damaged global risks—are under constant evolutionary pressures to transform in order to stay fit for purpose.
They must fit the technological, demographic, and psychological trends that are driving change—or they fail. It would be not to dramatic to say that when a society fails to adapt, it shows up as the kind of systemic failures that the USA (and many other nation-states conceived in high modernity) is experiencing right now. They are signs and symptoms that the model itself is outdated… and possibly will be obsolete if not transformed. More on that in a moment.
Every Leadership Invitation is unique because each arises in the nexus between the psychological stage of leadership development of the leader and the growth stage of their organization or society. Therefore even between CEOs and C-Suite leaders of the same business—or between Presidents of the same nation—the Leadership Invitation changes. Each Invitation is just that: a request that must be responded to. It requires the leader to recognize the Invitation and accept it as an opportunity for leadership growth and development — just as every protagonist must choose to go on the Hero’s Journey in every Hollywood movie.
Biden has inherited an organization — the United States of America — that has a number of intense Transformational Challenges that the previous incumbent failed to respond to—and in many areas made more acute. As is clear, the USA’s transformational challenges include how to shift the nation out of identity-driven culture wars to put the United back into the United States of America. This is because:
A large and loud minority, roughly 30% of the electorate, voted for the continuation of Trump’s politics of (out)rage. Trumpismo is very much alive—and its rooted in very real pain and suffering felt by many people as advanced modernity advances. As well as picking up many—many—Latino voters, anxious about socialism, 20% of Black men voted for more of the same. Biden has to find a way to meet these many millions of upright folk where they are at… and then take them higher otherwise he (or his successor) are unlikely be voted in again next time. As The Atlantic put it: “the real message of this election is not that Trump lost and Democrats triumphed. It’s that a weak and untalented politician lost… the perfect setup for a talented right-wing populist to sweep into office in 2024. And make no mistake: They’re all thinking about it.”
Transformational Leaders always need to find ways to reach the reluctant and resistant—and use powerful transformational tools like storytelling, vision, emotional safety, scientific evidence (regrounding the value of science without returning to globalist elitism), and ethical persuasion techniques to bring people along with them. This is made more challenging when those people have been sold the promise of a return to the halcyon days of the past when things were good, the country was Great, and you had dignity and your job had meaning: a mostly illusory myth which, even it where true, can never be returned to. We cannot walk across the same river twice.
Another loud minority, within Biden’s own party, are demanding polarizing policies such as “Defund the Police” and a “Green New Deal” that many moderates blame for losing seats in the House; and failing to flip the Senate. Members of “The Squad”, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are already publicly agitating for major representation in the cabinet. Some from Black Lives Matter are publicly claiming kudos for Biden’s win. But in harsh reality—given GOP wins in the House, Senate, and state governance—Biden’s victory was uber-fragile and relied on a broad coalition that was likely more anti-Trump than it was pro-progressive policies.
Transformational Leaders always need to temper the enthusiasm of maverick innovators and disruptors—and help channel their pioneeringly progressive energies in mature and constructive ways that avoid the endless cycle of revolution>reaction (Clinton > Bush > Obama > Trump > Biden.) This is where skills in empathic customer insight practices, collaborative innovation processes, collective sense-making and decision-making technologies, regenerative design, systems thinking, and systemic leadership make all the difference. They allow us to land true transformations that forge the future—without alienating half our customers/citizens in the process.
It appears (‘appears’ because nobody can tell a leader what their unique opportunity for mindset change and developmental growth is, one can but speculate) to be: he has to consciously step into a highly-evolved stage of leadership development — at an age where neuroscience shows that brain plasticity, and so leadership adaptability, can drop — that enables him to keep the flame of progress firing—seeking systemic solutions to systemic racism and climate warming—whilst finding ways to repair the body politic after many years of ruptures. Some of these rents in the fabric of the nation were inspired by Trump—but many more inspired his rise. Biden must do this whilst addressing the acute issues of job losses, pandemic realities, a foreign policy in tatters, post-truth media, emerging distrust in the justice system, and more.
But there is an even larger series of Transformational Challenges that are inflaming the rage and outrage behind Trumpismo: a societal ‘growth model’, akin to a business model, that is no longer fit for purpose. A growth model is the way in which economists and politicians make sense of how a nation drives GDP growth (under normal circumstances.) Whereas, for example, the UK drives growth through finance, house price accumulation, and shopping (yes, a nation of shopkeepers and shop visitors); and Germany drives growth through foreign exports of (highly-engineered) products; the US’s growth model is premised on high tech, export, and trade—but primarily a massive domestic consumption market that relies on consistent wage increases to fuel it.
Yet since the 1970s, wages have been “been buying less and less over time, credit cards, student loans… and medical debts have become a standard part of U.S. household budgeting”. Half a million Americans in a normal year go bankrupt from medical bills alone. Without a strong social safety net—and with a corroding social contract, unlike that say seen in Sweden—the US is extremely vulnerable to economic shocks such as the Covid-19 pandemic, the subsequent recession, and, both now and in the future, climate weirding/biodiversity loss.
“This lack of shock absorbers is integral to the U.S. growth model, and under normal circumstances, it is a feature, not a bug… The assumption is that with no shock absorbers in place, prices and wages will adjust quickly, capital will be redeployed, and growth will return without the need for state intervention. But these are not normal circumstances.” Foreign Affairs
With 120,000+ Covid cases on average per day, hospitals filling, and climate change already taking a social and economic toll, the rise of Trumpismo in the USA has been driven by a perfect storm of four societal crises which threaten not just the country—but the continued existence of our species. These systemic crises include, but go far beyond, the racism and climate issues that Biden has committed to dealing with. I believe that they form 4 Horseman of a potential Anthropocene Apocalypse.
Trump promised to reign in the negative impacts of ‘finance globalization’ on the Rust Belts that run across the States. Such unregulated casino capitalism has led to the off-shoring of jobs—and with it dignity, meaning, and wages—to cheap labor markets coupled with the free flow of capital to wherever it can find optimal mechanized profit—which has had such a deleterious impact on American society (and has been felt so keenly by white, older, non-college-educated men.) But he tried to do it in ways that cut the US off from global networks of allies and ideas.
Biden will need to move way past conventional progressive politics—and his habitual Third Way approach seen from Clinton to Obama—to deal with the 4 Horseman of a potential Anthropocene Apocalypse if he is to really reduce the divisions and distrust that puts the USA as a concept, and a functioning democracy, in jeopardy. Biden’s real Leadership Invitation is to break out of finance-driven globalization so characteristic of Clinton-Obama politics without resort to unpalatable ‘socialism’, or poorly fitting but popular protectionism.
We all urgently need political leaders who can help us find a new creative tension between global networks that afford free flowing of ideas, the building of trust and fellowship, and collaborative action on global problems like climate change and migration… with hyper-local actions that build regenerative villages, towns, and cities that are deeply rooted in specific places and spaces that provide local incomes and economic strength—but, more importantly, meaning, dignity, and community.
My sense is that the ultimate Leadership Invitation for President-Elect Biden is to step away from the tendency of institutionalized politicians to change everything whilst keeping things exactly the same — which is what so many Americans reacted viscerally to in 2016 with Hillary Clinton — and lead sustained, positive, and real transformation. He needs to go beyond a return to the status quo — something previous Democrat’s Presidents have failed to do, and which many think Trump’s GOP has done by ‘draining the swamp’ — and master how to genuinely transform the model.
Rather than promising change in the quintessentially populist manner of triggering others’ pain for the politicians’ own benefit — gaining power, prestige, and profit through fomenting racial conflict, Culture War, and (QAnon/deep state) conspiracy — Biden must lead the country to actually adapt to very real evolutionary pressures with courage, compassion, and humble strength. He must speak to the loss of dignity, meaning, and freedom that so many Trump voters feel so deeply in their cores — and resolve it by bringing the USA towards a Greater Tomorrow… rather than the dream of a Great Yesterday.
By understanding your own Leadership Invitation, for right now, you can invest the appropriate levels of conscious energy and time into your own development… not so you can achieve some bullshit “best self” for Instagram pics but so that you have the best chance of transforming your organization to play your full part in regenerating our crisis-hit world. As go on to say in Now Lead the Change: Repurpose Your Career, Future-Proof Your Organization, and Regenerate Our Crisis-Hit World by Mastering Transformational Leadership:
You will be given many such invitations in the digital, disrupted, and damaged future in which you must lead. To accept the invitation, you need to metabolize the transformational challenges with which you are faced and turn them into value through the transformation of your consciousness. Each invitation brings you to a “metabolization moment”: a decision point where the path of your organization/society and career bifurcates into two.
To not choose transformation is a choice. To hope you can survive with tweaks to the existing model(s) is as much of a decision as investing time, energy, and resources in transformation is.
In a Metabolization Moment caused by external pressures to adapt, you have two, and only two, options: The first is to recognize the reality that you must adapt; and then step up as a transformational leader to make adaptation happen. The other choice is to procrastinate, defend the current model, commission a report, and/or to delay, dismiss, or downgrade the nature and urgency of the imperative to transform.
If our societal leaders choose the path of transformation—which they must do for their own career and the future of our nations—they must reach the majority of citizens, not just the excited and edgy vanguard. They must involve us all in the co-creation of a compelling yet achievable vision that moves the country forward not back — to a Greater Tomorrow not a Great Yesterday.
They must paint a pathway of how to get there that allows each citizen/worker to understand their role in realizing the Greater Tomorrow. Crucially, they must help each of us let go of the comfort and conveniences most of us have gotten used to, even addicted to, in the existing growth model… so that we have a sustainable and regenerative future as nations and as a species.
We as leaders must understand that management theory—and congressional politics—evolved to maintain the status quo; with continuous incremental improvements to the existing model (i.e. reform). In fast- and furiously-changing environments with major evolutionary pressures to the model which are existential threats in nature, the point is that leaders need to transform it. This means mastering the skills and qualities of transformational leadership.
They need to enact lasting, positive change in the gubernatorial, economic, and societal models that cannot be predicated on, and predicted by, extrapolating the past. This is genuine transformation. And only this will be enough to resolve the transformational challenges that the USA (and every other nation and established organization) faces in a world of evermore digital technologies, disrupted societies, and damaged systems.
Such an imperative to transform requires leaders to challenge the assumptions that underpin existing growth and operating models with future-positive insights grounded in the tangible needs and wants of emerging demographics— and show people how new thinking and emerging technologies can give them want then want.
This means leaders need to move their organizations and nations along the J-shaped Transformation Curve that we believe, in Bio-Transformation Theory & Practice®, carves out the pathway and journey of all lasting adaptive change in selves and systems. Truly transformation leaders do this whilst avoiding the three common “anti-transformation tropes” (that Donald Trump has harnessed so effectively): the Escape Fantasy; the Strong Man; and Make X Great Again.
All transformational leaders must avoid such seductive siren songs of defensive and hubristic tactics that delay the inevitable adaptation… and, judging by history, lead to civilizational collapse and corporate death.
Over to you: Your Leadership Invitation—An Invitation to Engage
Q. Where might assumptions about what business you are in, and what business model is ‘right’, be holding you and your organization back?
Q. Where is your leadership consciousness becoming mismatched and outdated?
Q. What might the invitation be for you to switch on and step up your leadership consciousness to deliver organizational competence?