Leaders knowing what but not how! Probably the most disconcerting insight from the summing up session was the problems leaders experience with the implementation of their visions.
Do we still talk leadership if there is no idea of how to, even if we know what would be desirable?
My favourite example in this context is the concluding statement by the G20 after the finance crisis meeting in March 2009: “We know what caused the finance crisis, but we don’t know what to do about it”. One can make the same statement by replacing finance crisis with climate change, poverty, unsustainable development, infrastructure challenges, food security, non-renewable energy use, population growth in some areas and aging populations in others, wars, polluted waters, deforestation, desertification, youth unemployment, illegal trades and a host of other complex problems. Do we have impotent leaders or impotent paradigms?
Many leaders have a clear vision but fail to effect its implementation, not knowing how (because of the structural impediments explained previously). For example, the German vision of Energiewende (i.e. the transformation of the energy industry towards using renewable resources) is clear, but its implementation seems doubtful and problem riddled, judging by the lack of coordination and selfish lobbying that is taking place. To make a vision reality does not happen by the uncoordinated actions of individual stakeholders. These can even create more problems. For example, the poorly planned subsidisation of electricity from photo-voltaic generation has seriously damaged the whole photovoltaic industry, jeopardising the achievement of the overall vision.
The invisible hand of the market paradigm is not transformative at the collective level. It pushes for more of the same for its individual units, typically to the detriment of the common good. If there is transformation, it is that of one unit of the market, provided it serves the self-interest of the individual unit. If we look for transformation at the collective level, some units are bound to be disadvantaged (e.g. the non-renewable energy sector, if the overall vision of renewable energy is to be achieved). Society will have to consider other than the market mechanism to ameliorate their disadvantage and elicit their support.
To achieve a transformation at the collective level for the common good requires in-formation leadership (i.e. the coordination of efforts by the individual stakeholders). Leaders (personal and organisational) representing the different stakeholders need to drive the coordinated redesign of the whole system (e.g. the whole German energy industry or the global finance system, if we want to up the stakes). This challenge is beyond that of the one or even few leaders. We need cooperating networks of leaders and most importantly, we need coordinating frameworks and methods (e.g. the BiomatrixJam method for participatory stakeholder planning).