Third Rock Seeks Leader
So it seems that everyone agrees that we are never going back to the old normal and that we need to envision and create a new normal. Without a doubt, this will be a huge effort.
We will need good leadership to get us there. And our individual leaders will themselves need a great leader — to emulate, to counsel, to collaborate, essentially to demonstrate how to lead.
In the mean time, the orderly world we’ve built for ourselves is no longer working. Sadly, chaos is beginning to fray its edges.
Look at how leaders have been making decisions over the past few weeks. In classic top-to-bottom fashion, the attitudes and actions at the top are mimicked down the line.
- National leaders are making decisions that ignore the guidance of the very institutions that were created to help in times like this.
- Meanwhile, regional leaders are choosing to go it alone, oftentimes without the advice or support of their national leaders.
- And in turn, local officials, acting on their own authority, in an effort to try to do what’s best for their corner of the world, override all of the above.
And now we are beginning to see it extend even further. Individuals, sensing the disfunction from above, are experimenting with civil disobedience, flaunting the new rules in open defiance. Confrontations are becoming increasingly tense.
We cannot know what lies ahead for us. But among the possibilities is a chance that modern medicine will not find a solution. Herd immunity may take a long time to appear. Individual immunity may not even exist. Therapeutics and diagnostics may end up being too little, too late. Like the common cold, recurring outbreaks may be what’s in store for us.
The fallout may include large scale food shortages, triggered by interruptions at ports. Maybe even worse — starvation in countries lacking the wherewithal to produce enough food for themselves. What if poor countries, ones without adequate health care systems, call for help but no one replies. What if aid workers can’t get the protective equipment and medical supplies they need, making the effort pointless.
These types of challenges may lie ahead, and they will test the abilities of our best leaders. They will need to look to someone to give them the courage they need to do the right thing.
There is no doubt that good leadership can smooth over conflicts. No doubt that we need leaders to guide us through troubled times. But why can’t that leadership come from the bottom up?
Why seek a world leader? Because it’s all about interconnectedness.
It is a fact that during our lifetimes we have created a globally connected world of commerce, finance, communication, transportation, politics, and social engagement.
Consider the consequences of go-it-alone leadership in this global age.
- Decision makers who are only looking out for their constituents will compete with one another for items in short supply, leaving the losers with nothing, even while hoarded caches lay idle.
- Decision makers promulgating health care laws relating to contact tracing, vaccinations, and immunity passports, may never see the fruits of their efforts unless there is wide scale coordination across geographic frontiers.
- And decision makers choosing to restrict the movement of people across their sovereign boundaries will inevitably fail to keep themselves safe; instead they will only reinforce the isolationist attitude that we are not in this together.
If you agree that a new normal is necessary, and that good leadership is our best chance to get us there, and that we are all interconnected, then a search for a world leader is not such a far fetched idea.
Let’s be clear about what is being considered under the designation world leader. This is a characteristic, not a title, so there will be no ribbons or sashes or crowns bestowed upon this person. He or she is neither self-appointed nor elected. They will be chosen from within their ranks. And whatever position of authority they currently have will be their only title.
Let us imagine for a moment what qualities this person would possess.
For a start, this person should be able to grasp the fundamentals of a wide variety of things. They must have an inquiring mind. They must be a seeker.
Of course the sum of all human knowledge is too vast for any one person to comprehend. Specialization is necessary, and experts in their fields should be deferred to. But while such expertise is highly valuable, it should not be the singular basis for making broader decisions. For that, we need people with analytic skill. So our prospective leader should possess the ability to see past the jargon. They should be able to synthesize new concepts out of the myriad details available to them.
Next, this person should be well connected. They should have direct access to prime ministers, religious leaders, philanthropists, CEOs, and scientists. The great minds of our time should be exchanging information and ideas freely. Our leader should be at the hub of this exchange.
And most importantly, this new world leader should be a good communicator. They should be a master of elocution. They should be someone that we want to listen to and trust. They must be able to simplify things without glossing over important details, and there must be no ambiguity in that simplification. They must be able to deliver their message with such clarity that all doubt is dispelled, and the proper course of action is self-evident.
Let us further imagine not just qualities, but values that this world leader might hold dear. Perhaps these would be in the mix: selflessness, broad-mindedness, compassion, fairness, and authenticity.
- Selflessness. A world leader acts for the benefit of others.
- Broad-mindedness. A world leader views people from all countries of the world without prejudice.
- Compassion. A world leader is empathetic to the needs of the poor, the sick, the hungry, and the displaced.
- Fairness. A world leader seeks to reduce the suffering that stems from the imbalance of resources.
- Authenticity. A world leader aligns his words and actions uniformly, saying and doing what’s right with consistency.
In my lifetime, Dag Hammarskjöld, who held the position of UN Secretary-General from 1953–1961, was one such leader. He strove to say yes to every demand and to every fate life had in store for him. We need someone like him right now.
It’s been a long time since anyone has risen to such a challenge. But hopefully our current situation will call forth such a person. Indeed, some individuals have already demonstrated potential.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has both honesty and empathy in her communications, qualities that have been recognized far beyond New Zealand’s remote island borders.
Philanthropist Bill Gates has the organizational ability to mobilize a large number of on-the-ground health care workers, anywhere in the world.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has the boldness of action to lead a large portion of the world’s population, as his recent lockdown gambit affecting 1.3 billion people proves.
Christian Drosten, the virologist called by some the “Coronavirus Explainer-in-Chief” has both the credentials to be respected and the speaking skills to cut through the jargon.
And German Chancellor Angela Merkel has both the scientific background to make sense of it all, and one of the best sets of connections to global leaders anywhere — all of them ready to be coaxed and cajoled into action.
But in the end it may be a collaborative leadership that will eventually be most effective. Perhaps an “L5” with one leader coming from the ranks of diverse groups such as these: G20 (central banks), World Economic Forum (business leaders), Chinese Academy of Sciences (research), UN Security Council (policy), and leaders of the philanthropic world. If such an L5 would collaborate, miracles could happen.
Now, more than any other time in our lives, we need a world leader — someone who can tap the strength within each of us, and inspire us to do more than we think possible.
A leader who can give us the courage to face the tough choices that lie ahead, because our future will look nothing like our past.
A leader who can rally policy makers, problem solvers, and organizers in fresh ways, because we must confront our difficulties with expertise across multiple domains.
A leader who can reassure the rest of us that we will get through this, because we need honesty, but we also need hope.
So if you have a nominee in mind, please do us all a favor, and encourage that person to accept the mantle. The world is waiting.
Originally published at https://medium.com on June 2, 2020.