Let me start at the beginning. Some time ago I arrived home to be greeted by Tamryn’s: ‘Dad, can I please have a horse?’ I remember being asked a similar question by her older brother once, though if my memory serves me correctly it was a kangaroo that he wanted. In his case a ‘Sure boy, when you turn thirty-five’, appeased the gods and seemed a real win-win solution. However I didn’t think I would escape so easily this time round – not when I looked into my daughter’s imploring brown eyes.
Anyway after some tough, no holds barred negotiations we compromise by settling on two hamsters. I find out later that the ‘horse ploy’ is a well practised tactic in the parent manipulation psychology of: If you want a hamster, start out by asking for a horse. So along with the dogs, cats, birds and fish, Noah’s ark added two hamsters and I look into the legalities of changing my name to Dr Doolittle.
The hamsters arrive home following very little deliberation as to which ones to choose when we are confronted by the overcrowded cage at the pet store. This only confirms my earlier suspicions of the entire thing being a set-up and the ‘win-win’ takes on a ‘win-hopelessly outclassed’ type of character.
Appropriately named ‘Dopey’ and ‘Speed’, these mouse-like creatures soon have us on a treadmill. Dopey gets tangled up on the wheel which results in an ER situation. No sooner has that situation been resolved than he goes AWOL (Absent without official leave). The mother of all hamster hunts takes place with the Director (this time me) encouraging the troops to ‘think like a hamster’ in order to find our furry friend – a strategic tactic I learnt while watching a late night action movie. (I’ve always told Vicky that these movies have merit.) No sooner had this battle command gone out than Mom finds Dopey . . . enough said! Glancing over my shoulder as I write this Vicky, seeing the ‘Mom finds Dopey’ bit, adds a rather caustic, ‘Writing about us again are you, love?’ (This must be one of the reasons that the good B-grade action movies are scheduled late at night away from those who simply don’t understand their intricate plots and appreciate the true depth of their character portrayals.) As she leaves the room, I make a mental note to shift my writing habits to a late night slot.
The wild celebrations centering on our Pet Detective after the recapture of Dopey are curtailed by Dopey’s untimely demise a couple of days later. It turns out that Sipho dropped him, thereby ending not only Dopey’s short but happy existence but Sipho’s future in any courier business. This whole episode put understandable strain on sister-brother relationships, resulting in our own Truth and Reconciliation Commission. However, peace was soon restored and the burial service, a solemn affair, was attended only by immediate family.
We have seen many pets come and go, with cats somehow having the shortest life expectancy. (Vicky was once known as the ‘Butcher of Caversham’ for her effortless talent for riding over these hapless animals. The fact that cats are amongst the most agile of creatures on our planet only serves to increase one’s appreciation of Vicky’s driving skills!)
The point is, life is seasonal. Leaders would do well to remember this truth and lead and live according to this law of life. (That and keeping clear of Vicky’s tailgate!)
To be conscious of the seasons is to be an observer of life. For some this is natural, part of who they are; for other it requires a conscious effort and discipline. I recall a friend who had grown up on a farm in South Africa telling me of a conversation she had once had with one of the farm labourers, an old Zulu man. She had paused to admire the stunning African sunset but her action and comments drew a blank with the old man. For him, appreciating the daily miracle of the African sunset was inbuilt; it did not need special reflection and attention. It was simply part and parcel of his world view.
Seasonal changes bring all kinds of adjustments. Not to make the necessary adjustments, especially in more extreme climates would be foolhardy. Yet so often leaders fail to apply this logic to their own ‘seasonal changes’ and transitions.
I once sat with the CEO of one of the most successful franchises in South African history, hearing of the adventure that the company had embarked on ten years earlier that had seen them accomplish spectacular growth and success. However, he reflected, their success had all the signs of having now reached a plateau and even, in his opinion, was showing the first stages of decline. Something was urgently needed to relaunch, to kick-start a new growth curve. He recounted repeated attempts to initiate innovative steps that would achieve the desired results, but each had gone only so far before retreat to the safety of the known and of the comfortable had occurred. He spoke of a leadership team (one with a ten-year history) that led from memory rather than towards innovation. The eventual outcome had been to dismiss the entire team in order to launch something new.
This is indicative of the harsh reality that many leaders, well schooled in a modern, mechanistic, industrial-age world, are facing. We are right now in the transition period from modern to postmodern, from the information economy to the relational or connection economy. Leading from memory will not, cannot, work.
My friend Meg Wheatley put it well when she wrote: ‘I like to think of (what I do) as reminiscent of the early chart books used by explorers sailing in search of new lands. Those early maps and accompanying commentary were descriptive but not predictive, enticing but not fully revelatory. They pointed in certain directions, illuminated landmarks, warned of dangers, yet their elusive references and blank spaces served to encourage explorations and discoveries by other people. They contained colourful embellishments of areas and events that had struck the wanderer’s fancy and ignored other important places. They contained life-saving knowledge, passed hand to hand among those who were willing to dare similar voyages of their own.’ (Leadership and the New Science, Preface, p xiii).
Clearly it is time for some leaders to recognise and adapt to prevailing seasonal changes; To stop navigating from memory for in a world of uncertainty and change, memory proves to be an unreliable guide.