The captivating picture is of Licia Ronzulli and her seven-week-old daughter, Victoria. Periodically Licia would bend forward and gently kiss her sleeping daughter. It was an image that captured the media’s attention and was published worldwide.
It was taken in a voting session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg where Licia is a MEP from Italy. The voting session was on proposals that were before the parliament to improve women’s employment rights. It was not one of those, ‘bring your child to work’ days and although Licia admitted to being partially motivated by the attention it would draw to her cause, it is a practice she has since maintained. Victoria is now two years old.
The captivating image sparked a lot of debate about the role of women at work, parenting, gender equality and other such topics. Licia was both praised as she was criticised. There was very little ‘middle ground’ surrounding the issues framed by the photo.
What I would like to briefly focus on is not so much the ‘right – wrong’ of Licia’s decision but rather on how this single image powerfully captures societal shift. It (societal shift) is something that we in TomorrowToday speak about a great deal about in both our T.I.D.E.S. framework (disruptive change drivers) as well as in our Mind the Gap presentation (Generational Theory).
Dealing productively with shifting values is not easy. It is not easy for individuals nor is it easy for society at large. It also poses one of the biggest leadership challenges as leaders find themselves consistently required to lead their people through change within their organizations. When values shift it always leaves hordes of people behind and they are easily recognizable by listening to the language they use. It is punctuated by the past tense and it seems that they are walking forwards yet with their heads turned backwards. Their view is locked more into the rear-view mirror than it is looking down the road.
Our message in TomorrowToday is that if you want to survive the future – better yet, if you want to thrive in the future, adaptability is essential. A CEO once asked me what, in my opinion, was the most important leadership trait necessary to successfully navigate the future. Without hesitation my answer was, ‘adaptability’. When comfortable values begin to shift from under our feet, smart leaders pay careful attention to what is going on. When this happens I would suggest three things that you should be doing as a leader:
1. Look to see and understand what is causing that shift. The forces causing the shift are not always readily identifiable and they may be embedded deep underground – or away from the obvious. Too many leaders with whom I engage or not paying enough attention to shifting forces that are causing familiar and comfortable values to disintegrate.
2. Act to regain balance. You will need to shift your stance, change your position. If you don’t, you will fall. When things are moving – as they always are, smart leaders pay attention to maintaining their balance.
3. Hold onto others. The best way to keep your balance is to support others and to be supported by them. Different people experience shifts differently. For some the shift that you are experiencing represents their stability. Be aware of this and don’t assume ‘your normal’ is ‘everyone’s ‘normal.’ Challenge assumptions and look for the opportunity of new support rather than bemoan the loss of old supports.
Standing steady on shifting ground is the thing that smart leaders perfect. Societal values are shifting ground: life-work balance, what we want out of life / work / relationships, how we communicate and access information, views on equality, gender, sexuality, what we will fight for – and what we live for, how we see diversity, teamwork, loyalty, relaxation and commitment. All of these things represent shifts that are happening beneath us and whilst we may have strong opinions as to the right & wrong of such things – I suspect that such discussions are seldom helpful in regaining our balance.