Wednesday 13 April 2016

How can we deal with inequality?

A personal friend of mine recounted a small story written in his grandfathers diary that rings in my mind to this very day. It was back in 1923, his grandfather was staying in a small town in Germany with his young son and eating a small meal in a restaurant. In a largely empty room, the other persons present were a very wealthy Jewish family having a lavish party with champagne and lobster. Meanwhile he witnessed a wide gathering of adults and children peering through the windows with a mixture of hunger, awe and envy. Somehow he understood and with a tinge of embarrassment by his own presence, he said to his son ‘Trust me this is all going to end and fall apart.’ 

Unfortunately, history at times can have an uncanny resemblance in repeating itself. Today it might be a mix of different races or different ethnic groups, and through the internet, who knows? What we do know is resentment or envy can be a brutally negative emotive state and comes part and parcel to our human nature. There are many today including those that are university educated, who struggle in life and who cannot get the job they wish or seek, struggle to feed their families and pay the bills. At the same time so called ‘billionaires’ or the ultra-wealthy might appear so content and happy enjoying every material thing that is given to them and might go as far as living their own laws within their own bubble. This can easily resort to an anger, or an unhappiness, a sense of hopelessness and insecurity in our society where the danger is we may say or do something stupid.

There are things that we must bear in mind in our lives, whilst we can all hold prejudices in our sub-conscience to another person regarding his or her so called ‘superior status' in looks, money or possessions; we do not know what cross the other may be carrying. We do know that we can try to worry less with these issues and there are sensible ways in dealing with it as they over time have a way in resolving itself.

There is no doubt, that if a billionaire or super rich (or any other person for that matter) does not seem to care, remains indifferent and only concerned on how to make more, this can come across as pretty unattractive. It may turn out that the particular individual operates with no integrity away from his or her heart driven by greed, status or power and has only got there through exploitative or aggressive means. A type of Darwinian delusional 'survival of the fittest'. Imagine that on top of this, the individual might have a stark win lose mentality or ends up walking over people with little respect for self or others, our environment or our planet!

How do you deal with these types? I suspect that often these people very likely get caught out or fall off a cliff in the long run. Others, who are privy, might stand up or encourage them to behave differently. If you notice these days it is all security cameras, gates and walls that are used to protect them, unlike in the old days it was a small army of sorts. They too can clearly feel insecure, or vulnerable implying that they are not Gods and just human.

Nevertheless one element about the tabloids and the internet and their grasp on mainstream, despite all their misgivings or voyeurism, their brutal emotive nature can quickly change overnight and rather than calling these types successful; here they might just name and shame them.

Suffice to say we can also understand that people can endure great human difficulties. It has been reported in the media that John Caudwell a self made billionaire, is suffering from unhappiness, deep family problems and is intent on giving half his wealth away to charity.  We must also bear in mind that many have worked hard by building a successful corporation or companies responsible for a lot of employment and livelihoods. Many great philanthropists give away a lot for other causes that carry meaning. There are also ways to approach them, their foundations, in order to support particular causes or raising capital for a new enterprise that can captivate even their own imagination and which can permit for example to leave them a quiet legacy. On its own the charity and generosity of this couple stands out as particularly impressive.

My impression that the way our societies are being led right now more so in the UK, the future looks pretty grim toward an increasingly polarised society. A debt for example, might mean a trade product to one person but a real loan for real needs to the other? It is well known that one man’s food is another man’s poison. This attitude has the danger of bringing resentment, bitterness, envy, anger or whatever negative emotive state, that can sadly result to a type of vulnerability or self-destruction that history has proved to us on many occasions. We may resort to blaming a religion, or non-religion, a race or a particular group or individual.

Unless we of course and this is where I remain hopeful, as human beings, raise ourselves, take destiny in our own hands, become more resourceful, believe more in ourselves and release our insecurities. Courage, passion or boldness do not come from the mind, they come from the heart. Reason and vision come from the mind and our conscience is formed from our spirit.

With this in balance and in check which is tough stuff, we can try not to worry about others in this way. We can stand up to those who might bully you, rich or poor and at all levels. We can find that job or our vocation. We can work toward better social cohesion and a higher conscience; possess more charity to those in real need. We can combine this, by taking positive risks, with a more long term inspirational approach with our businesses, enterprises and aspirations large or small and still make a living. This will lead us toward a better and more sustainable future.

The questions will always remain how do we get there and what type of world do you want to leave behind for our children? We want them to look up to us with pride and not at us in the way that I have described. In the long run I am certain, if we get this right we will all be winners.

Friday 8 April 2016

What is Leadership?

I often meet with senior people in Finance on career issues. I might ask them questions about why we are confronted by so many problems and what sort of solutions they envisage. Some might respond by saying. ‘I love finance and worked all my life in it.’ Others have said, ‘Finance is corrupt’ or ‘we are paid too much.’ Then how can Finance be incentivised to help the real economy particularly here in Europe and not amongst each other or in far reaching places which most of us have no affinity with?  One overworked jaded and tired looking head of a private equity gave an air of dejection. ‘There is no vision, no leadership.'

In a world where democracy appears to have gone wild, where capitalism could fast be losing its sense of purpose and in a world where we might often seek something new or something majestic; the issue of leadership is often talked or written about and yet to put yourself into a position under such circumstances and to fill in the gap for the few must be daunting at best for fear of either sending us into the wrong direction or possibly bringing out the worst in us.

Once upon a time I played the violin in an orchestra. An orchestra was structured into four groups with sub groups. We had the strings that included the 1st and 2 violins, violas and the cellos. They were in the front. Further back we had the wind instruments that included clarinets, bassoons, flutes and oboes. We had the brass including trumpets and trombones. The nosier instruments such as percussion were put at the back. In front of us was the audience; a general public that might listen then applaud and ‘if ever’ give a standing ovation.

The person I admired the most was the conductor. He was in the middle and on an elevated platform so we could all see him. I almost envied him.  How was he able to read let alone understand that score sheet with so many different notes and sections? How was he able to see ahead and turn the pages before we had even finished the previous movement? How was he able to have everyone from different sections, playing different instruments in tune from the same song sheet at different times? How was he able to bring such entertainment and pleasure to the audience?  I just thought this guy must be so gifted and so talented whilst all I was doing was making my simple contribution by playing what was set in front of me.

And yet all he was doing was leading and he understood what and who he was leading and for what purpose. He had the gift, experience or training of course in how to read a score sheet by connecting the dots with the eyes. During rehearsal he knew who was not pulling his or her weight. If he heard those that were out of sinc or out of tune, he might single them out, embarrass or shame them with a slight twinkle in the eye. He would tell them what they were doing wrong and how to improve. He may change their positions if they were not partnering well or demote or even remove them if things got grave. We were given credit where it was due and promoted up the ranks according to merit, talent and hard work and sometimes upon the recommendation of group leaders. Once we were all on the same song sheet, we were playing and by god did we play.  More than we could ever imagine from a script that was already discovered by others. And the audience loved it! We were proud!

Today and after many years it seems the type of music that is coming out of some of our powerful segments in finance, business and or politics is dying whereby affecting the wider economy and peoples careers and honest aspirations. The script that is being played has either become twisted, sad, non-inspirational and depressing, full of holes and no one is playing from the same song sheet. The write ups from certain sections of our media are condemning, manipulative often abusive to whomever they chose. The audience are walking out. They are no longer interested nor willing to pay the price. Many are left out or in debt and can not afford to even pay. Some are even prepared to throw rotten apples and tomatoes or resort to discriminatory issues. Meanwhile the conductor is exasperated.  He no longer knows his score sheet. He has run out of ideas as he remains in denial or walks out in shame, and misery. There is nothing to play for except to each other. No light, no confidence. Only darkness as the curtains are drawn. It’s all over…..

Whose fault is this? Is it the conductors, the players or the music score? Or is it what the man said, there is no leadership or no vision.

However you may look at this, as a head of a government, a bank, an industry or an SME, a leader will realise that having this awareness I suspect must be paramount. That someone, however small or large the organisation is leading, is able to connect the dots with the eyes and see ahead. It is that personable approach whilst having a grasp of the big picture. We can only imagine that the script, the project or the product is already written or invented often by those or others who had the remarkable foresight or vision and is right there ready to be grasped or tapped into! The talent is right in front of you willing and waiting. Our audience, the general public or our paying customers are eagerly expecting. Yes some of them have the better seats and pay higher fees and whilst most have seats for the less well off. This is the way the cookie crumbles as we all, in time, get a taste of it. 

Yes, with our differing talents, respected professions and career choices we want the freedom to play from the same song sheet and as our productivity grows so does our economy. The audience are captivated and want more. We could be playing or working in the grandest of operas houses or companies exemplifying our work that could roar on softly, or touching those by peacefully captivating their imagination. In all its rhythm and glory, we can all each fall into place thus raising our confidence and making the greatest positive impact on the other, our society, our environment and on our world.....

Just imagine