“His heart is pounding as he tries to fight off the tension warring in his soul. A good few days have been dragging past now since he delivered his last address to the people. Sleeping and eating hasn’t been the same since. His appetite has been replaced by vexing. He feels bursts of passion as he relives the moments of that address. He knows their hearts and anticipation of the outcome is what kills hope. Hopelessness suddenly has a sound as footsteps come up the stairway. Three thudding knocks and he breathes before greeting the council.

“We have decided Samuel. There is little need to try and explain again. We want a king. We want to be like the nations around us. We want someone to go and fight our battles for us.”

In 1049 BC, a trusted leader of an expanding yet undefined Middle Eastern kingdom was faced with a scenario freakishly revelatory and insightful to where we find ourselves today. The citizens or subjects, amongst other things let surface an issue invisible if viewed from a modern democratic lens. Without venturing down a spiraling political debate, the issue highlighted here isn’t one of simple governance or management only. It speaks rather to our expectation of management.

Ancient greek philosophy didn’t have it’s origin in a tree that falls in a forest without anyone present. It has its roots in authority. The Authoritative question has been igniting debates for centuries on end. Academic philosophy as we know it today is riddled with this trail throughout. But there is case to be made that in trying to answer the Authoritative Question we have neglected to give equal thought and consideration to the Responsibility issue. Amongst other things, the prickly road this Middle Eastern kingdom journeyed down was that of responsibility. They wanted to distance themselves from ‘fighting their own battles’. Paraphrased in a modern context it might as well read: they wanted someone to make their decisions for them.

Conversely stated, in how many areas are we looking to management or politics to provide answers to questions that were never theirs’ to answer? In the South African context and with much hope pinned on the outcome of local elections we put our hearts at rest that if only [insert preferred party of choice] wins, ‘things will be much better.’ It has become second nature to blame governance for a host of ills. Let’s not discount government’s role but are we robbing ourselves of the perfect chance to revaluate our role in these areas that we feel most passionate about?

The blame game

Management has become the perfect scapegoat for us losing our identity both individually and corporately.

There is little doubt that even in the corporate world we live in a hopelessly flawed blame society. How much of our complaints get flagrantly dragged down this route? When last have we discussed a management or political concern, however valid it seemed, and examined honest opportunity and engagement in the matter at hand? When was the last time we noticed a serious management flaw at the office and raised solutions to colleagues? Let’s disregard politicians’ stubbornness and management’s deaf ears for the moment. When last have we tried to make an honest assessment of our role within the organization or political spectrum according to what we have and can bring and not according to what it isn’t and what we can’t bring?

Has it become totally uncool to offer solutions (or at best, even google solutions)? Has society seriously defaulted to moaning and know-it-alls? When was the last time you received a talking to and your heart didn’t shirk into defense and rebellion when you walked out of the office?

Dividing the two camps

Sure enough we all arrive at the office with varying perspectives because of our backgrounds but the issue at hand can be dealt with in a mutually exclusive way from worldviews and past pains. We sit in open plan offices but are thoroughly walled in by our impenetrable vindictive mechanisms. We go through prodigious effort to discourage the very questions that can open positive dialogue around our greatest concerns. We want to appoint a king to fight our corporate battles. We want our decisions made for us. We want to distance ourselves from getting involved in what is supposed to be our own role.

Habitually, we reserve problem recognition and solution finding for the boardroom and flipcharts. This generally leaves us only enough time to react. With diplomatic resolve and intrepid pro-action new habits can form to recognize and implement strategic solutions rapidly. The new world of work leaves little room for continual reaction and boardroom problem solving. Our problem solving needs to start in the corridor, in the parking lot, in the canteen and facilitated by a visionary outlook. Our addiction to fitting in and keeping the social status quo needs cold turkey.

Response and Responsibility

I heard it once said that “You are not responsible for the programming you picked up in childhood.  However, as an adult, you are one hundred percent responsible for fixing it” and, “The ultimate folly is to think that something crucial to your welfare is being taken care of for you.”

We need to learn how to receive a king and know what he is there for. We need to be taught and trained in what it means to take up responsibility and define our role within these spheres of life. Now is a better time than ever to shift our expectation of management and governance. Waiting for them to define our roles might make us wait a very long time indeed. It was never theirs’ to define.


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