Tuesday, September 25, 2012

#Claymore, NSW: a failure in leadership

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has a weekly program called “4Corners”. Last night the program was about poverty in Australia and it posed the question of why, in one of the richest nations on earth, Australia has some 2.2 million people existing at or below the poverty line and some 600,000 children live in a home where no-one has a job. (The program can be viewed at http://www.abc.net.au/iview/#/view/1009153)
To illustrate this situation 4Corners chose to visit Claymore – a town of about 3,200 people located about 50 km from the centre of Sydney. This town has the highest proportion of young children in Australia with around 1500 children living in a 1.5 km distance. The program pointed out that, a few years ago, the NSW Government realised that there was a serious problem with the way Claymore had been set up and they decided to tear down much of the town and rebuild it to encourage a wider population mix. The Federal Government agreed to help; joint funding was provided and work started. However, when the new NSW Government came into power they decided that this was an area in which they could save money so the program is now in limbo. The realistic cynic in me suggests that it was an easy target for the money savers because they knew there would be little if any outcry from such an impoverished community.

Some years ago an article in, I think, Harvard Business Review argued that a primary role of leadership was to set people up to succeed rather than letting success be a random end variable. This was a theme I had been propounding in my program “Leadership In Senior Management” (then being conducted at Macquarie Graduate School of Management) and which I continued in both Leaders: diamonds or cubic zirconia and, most recently, in Third Generation Leadership: knowledge, change and neuroscience (2012, Gower Publications, UK). Claymore (and all other such areas no matter where in the world they may be) is clearly a failure in leadership.

I watched this program last night with an ever increasing feeling of anger and frustration. How and why has this situation come about? The people in Claymore (and in every other similar area) are no different from the rest of us. They are born with exactly the same potential as every other baby. They have every right to exactly the same hopes, ambitions, and opportunities as every other child. Yet, looking at the faces of these children and listening to them it was obvious that they live in a socio-economic environment that sets them up for failure and which, ultimately, destroys many of them.

I had heard of Claymore before the 4Corners program. I had paid lip service to being concerned. But I had done nothing. By my inaction I had become part of the problem – I was no better than the politicians who cut the funding required to renew the area. My anger and frustration was directed at myself as much as to anyone else. I lay awake last night and thought about what I needed to do.
I have decided to become part of the solution and I invite you to join me.

Claymore (like all of its similar areas) was established or allowed to establish itself at a time when our dominant leadership paradigm was First Generation Leadership or Second Generation Leadership. In these models the leaders know what is best and seek to impose their solution - albeit often under a guise of community consultation and discussion. As so often happens, in these models, yesterday’s solutions have become today’s problem. The root cause of the problem was never really addressed and, like a boil which is treated only by applying some form of medical dressing, it later erupts in a more painful and virulent form. First Generation Leadership and Second Generation Leadership have proved to be tragic failures in Claymore and similar areas. We need a new approach.

In Third Generation Leadership: knowledge, change and neuroscience I discuss how individuals can grow and develop when this is facilitated by the right type of leadership – a leadership that believes the answer to a person’s issues is to be found within that person and where the leader listens in the belief that, with supportive facilitation, the person can actually find their own answer.

I don’t have the answer on how to change the socio-economic situation in Claymore and I don’t believe anyone who says they have “the” solution. Every situation is different and what has worked somewhere else has only a random chance of working here. I believe that the answer to Claymore’s (and every area similar to Claymore) problems is to be found in its own community. I believe that there are many people in Claymore who know how the situation can be changed and who want the situation to change. I believe, too, that they feel powerless to do anything because they know that they’re not being listened to and that they will not be listened to unless they say what those with power and authority want them to say. I believe these people are experiencing learned helplessness from the way in which they have been and are being treated by Governments and society at large. This presents an enormous challenge.

There are two key things to remember if you want to join me:

  • First, people don’t “have” to change. Ultimately the decision as to whether or not a person wants to develop a new world view and to grow is a choice that only each individual can make for him or herself.
  • Second, remember that willingness to change is very difficult when a person feels totally helpless and disrespected

From experience, I know that the path forward is to create an environment in which people feel:

  • emotionally safe
  • unconditionally respected
  • believed in as individuals
  • listened to

I’m unsure as to how to do this for an entire community. But I’m sure it can be done – and I know it must be done.

If you want to be part of the solution to the issues at Claymore (or any area like Claymore no matter where in the world it may be) I invite you to make contact with me and help me move this forward. I know it will take time and money and lots of effort. But I believe the potential end result is worth it. I’m prepared to put in my time, money, and effort. But I need help – tons of it. If you really believe in people and you have a “can do” approach, please join me.

If we don’t put a fence at the top of the cliff we may not have enough ambulances to care for those who fall.

More about Doug Long at http://www.dglong.com