Commitment to breakfast means different things to the chicken and the pig. Well unless that is, you’re inclined to favour KFC for breakfast!
Nowhere has the shock to perspective that the global recession emitted been more keenly felt than in the banking / financial sector. The collapse in asset prices, a surge in distressed debt and a looming threat of deflation have all threatened systemic financial meltdowns. At the start of 2010, for the first time in 40 years there are a billion hungry people on our planet. That said, towards the end of 2009 there was widespread evidence of healthy recovery which, following the tumultuous events of the last three months of 2008, seemed unlikely. The world’s economies, big and small, are taking stock and whilst the recovery is not evenly distributed and counting one’s blessings is a selective exercise, we do need to understand some of the deeper social shifts that have happened as a result of the past 18 months.
It has been a troubled and confusing time to the ‘man on the street’ – a term that for many has gone from mere analogy to the frighteningly literal. What once was is no more and a ‘new normal’ is emerging. The rules of the game have changed and this impacts on all the players. There are three things that we need to note as we take stock of the situation. It is not about ‘finding our way back’ and rebuilding but more about understanding what has changed and the new opportunities provided by such changes.
Firstly, is to recognize the impact that the recession has had on both the psyche and the consumer behavior of the younger generation. The Great depression of the early 1930’s had a significant impact on the children of this time as they watched anxious parents deal with the loss of jobs, homes and self-esteem. The impact can be measured in different ways but it certainly produced a generation who didn’t trust banks to look after their hard-earned savings and it produced a ‘cash is king’ generation who only bought it provided they had the money to pay for it. Children of the current economic meltdown will have had their consumer confidence similarly dented. Already consumer treads in unlikely places (Japan) and in commodities (vehicles and motor-bikes) are in decline. Hindsight could reveal a significant shift in consumerism amongst the ‘hidden’ generation in the context of the recent financial turmoil. As in the past, an event of this magnitude will sow the seeds for significant social change and only time will reveal the full extent of this attitudinal and behavioral shift.
Secondly, is the realization of the adaptive ability to ‘live without’ that has been forced on many households. As assets have had to be sold, holidays forfeited, simpler and more cost-effective forms of entertainment explored and budget fat cut, unforeseen benefits have emerged. Freedom from clutter and renewed family time and ties have reinvigorated many a home. A sharpened clarity as to ‘what is important’ and ‘what really matters’ have birthed opportunity, innovation and led to personal and collective renewal. This has been true for life in the suburbs as well as for life at Head Office. But herein lies a sharp warning for corporate behavior: When deep survival measures have needed to be adopted on the domestic front, it is hard to stomach continued extravagance at senior corporate levels.
Which leads me to my final point: Leadership has to change accordingly. Leadership takes many forms and wears many difference faces. It is needed at home, in the office, within communities, societies, nation states and globally. It can be constrained by borders yet can also transcend borders; it can be observed, engaged and evaluated. Its practice and look will always be contentious and be both supported and vilified – often in equal measure. Leaders need to pay close attention to the context in which they lead and then lead with an understanding that authentic leadership is always conferred and not claimed. They have a responsibility and now more than ever, leaders need to be aware of that responsibility. They need to move in rhythm with the tune being played at this time and gauge with sensitivity and accuracy any subtle changes that occur.
No one said it would be easy. The piggy bank might be gone but breakfast still needs to be served. The tough times of the past 18 months that has threatened the very core of our global economy look like receding and maybe, just maybe, we’ll be able to get back to the breakfast table, better for the lessons learnt.
I guess you just don’t want to be the pig called on to be the breakfast!