One of the benefits of being an independent consultant and effectively an independent leader of my own commercial activities is that occasionally I can finish earlier during the day than the accepted norm. As much as the 9-5 routine invariably extends beyond both parameters, once in a while I can switch off early. This benefit manifested this week with an opportunity to watch a late matinee showing of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. It brought into focus several important issues to me.
Firstly, that Alastair Sim is for me the one, the only and the best Scrooge. Secondly, I was reminded just how far we have come as a nation since the exploitative days of Victorian Britain and thirdly just how much the image of the two children of man squatting under the cloak of the ‘spirit of Christmas present’ affected me. I shall elaborate.
I accept that my first issue, that of the wonderful Mr Sim, is subjective and a matter of opinion, although I would argue my case fairly vigorously here. The second issue of how far we have come is something of a moot point though. Obviously we no longer have the said workhouses and treadmills to take the poor from the streets in the UK but they do very much exist elsewhere, in Asia, Africa, South America and even in certain less developed European countries. We all know this to be true so why do we accept it? Maybe this is what Dickens alluded to when he said to beware of ignorance more than want. Is it as simple as being that because we have the facility to ignore these conditions, and do to have to witness them daily, then it is easier for us to do nothing about them or worse, support their continuation by our consumer choices? Our wants not our needs. Out of sight out of mind?
I respectfully refer to a wonderful phrase used by Margaret Heffernen in the title of her book, ‘Wilful Blindness’. Maybe it is more wilful blindness than genuine ignorance? I accept that we cannot change the whole world to fit with our own, unique preferred view of it. We cannot hold ourselves personally responsible for every injustice and exploitation that exists but, as leaders of our own lives, families, groups, communities and workplaces, we can consider our responses and behaviour. In fact, everyone can do this but as leaders we can influence where others cannot. We can set standards, become role models, effect change and deliver authentic values. We can be the cause of something progressive and equitable rather than perpetuating the corrupt and inequitable systems within which we operate. We can not only choose to be our own future creator but we can hugely influence the future conditions of others by remaining true to key human values. We can set the bar. I am aware that each and every one of us would consider that we work hard and are essentially honest and fair. I am also aware of the qualities most appreciated in leaders (from our previous issue on the subject) as being such virtues as integrity, honesty and fairness. No problem there then? For my point here I refer back to old Ebeneezer and what it took him to change. He considered himself honest if unscrupulous. He considered himself fair because he treated everyone with the same contempt. He worked hard. He was undoubtedly authentic. What effected his change was his no longer being ignorant of the impact that he had, from the life he chose and the decisions that he made. Whilst there is not much intrinsically wrong with earning money, it really is a case of how you earn it and what you then do with it. There was no reference to nationality in the children under the cloak. There was no condition placed upon the scope of ignorance and no specific description provided of what ignorance meant. We draw our own conclusions as we draw our own view of the world. It is our own choices and our own values that create our world. In essence, our individual behaviour. Our behaviour as leaders has potentially far reaching effect and so maybe we should carry a greater weight of burden. Leaders are definitively more responsible and with great responsibility comes great burden so I do not make the point lightly. How do you behave? How do you lead? How ignorant are you choosing to be?
I am certain that several, if not all, of the following will have come to your attention recently.
Serco charging erroneously over years for clients that were already dead.
RSB, the bank that was so incompetent that we had to bail them out not too many years ago, have allegedly been asset stripping their small business clients in order to improve their books for re-sale back to us
The valuing of Royal Mail at a hugely discounted price (approx £3.3Bn rather than the more realistic £5.5Bn) so that selected financial institutions could maximise the share price increase
The energy companies informing us that energy prices will go up beyond inflation for the next 17 years despite producing massive profits year on year
Boris Johnson pandering to the Tory right guard with his ‘greed is good’ speech that also had the arrogance and ignorance to suggest that this can be done at the expense of the less intelligent – isn’t that how Eugenics operated?
I could go on. These are our leading institutions and politicians. We allow these people to influence and these conditions to thrive whilst we battle ignorantly on. Must we? Is it not us leaders that can break these patterns of exploitation and greed?
And so what about the other child under the cloak? ‘want’? My view is simple here too. We allow ourselves to forget the difference between ‘want’ and ‘need’. We allow ourselves to remember the price of things and not the value of them. We want our peppers fresh. We want our eggs cheap. We want our salmon farmed. We want our bonus huge. We want our car new. We deserve these things. Probably so, but do we need these things. Could we not adjust our diet to eat seasonally again. Is it too much to pay a proper price for true free-range chickens? Do we need a new car, coat, golf club etc or do we just want one?
I am not being pious here. I am not suggesting that I would be a better leader than anyone else but what I do know is that we all have a choice. We choose how we behave, we choose how we spend, we choose what we consume, we choose want over need and ignorance over informed decision. In our own way we are all leaders. Leaders of thought, maybe, but certainly we are leaders of behaviour. If we lead, others will follow. If we influence, others will benefit. If we always remember the children under the cloak then maybe we can raise the bar higher, maybe we can demand higher standards, more transparency, more accountability, less division, less inequity.
It took Mr Scrooge a particularly harrowing night with the spirits and I hope that you are spared this but remember the children under the cloak and of the 2, beware the boy, ignorance, the most.
Happy Christmas and bless us all, everyone.
Phil Birch is Business Editor at the3rdimagazine and author of the ground breaking Ethiconomics™ system. Phil’s first book is now available on Kindle.