Great leadership strikes a delicate and essential balance between what's best for the group and what's best for each individual. It's as true for an organization as for a nation, and it's always been true, whether we are discussing it or not.
Yet increasingly we are ignoring it. That we are extraordinarily imbalanced in this, both in private enterprise and the public sector, is leading to under-motivated and fearful employees, lengthening recession and related indecision at the corporate and national levels.
In the private sector, the imbalance is best played out in pay. The divide between earnings of the few at the top versus others is at its widest gap since the Great Depression.
In the public sector, the deep national division over the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) is an equally clear message that we haven't debated and understood where to strike that balance.
So the common good versus individual good conversation is the elephant in the room -- too big not to be noticed, but conspicuously absent from discussion in organizations and our nation.
Why are we ignoring it? Two things: habit and ill-framed debate.
It's not habitual for corporations, for example, to conduct company-wide conversations about balancing individual and collective good. Have you ever heard of an employee survey on "what shall we do with our excess profits?" or "What do you think of the top executive pay scale versus the rest of the company?" or "What can we do to better balance the goals and needs of each employee, with what we're trying to accomplish as an organization?"
Yet to evolve to more sustainable structures, these are exactly the questions we need to be asking ourselves at the organizational level.
Similarly, to exercise our constitutional leadership intelligently -- one voice, one vote -- it's up to each of us to frame the debate more pointedly, and well beyond the socialism versus democracy rhetoric being fed to us by the media and campaigns.
How can I say that? Well polls show we are almost 50/50 on what we think about the Affordable Care Act, post-Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling of June 28. This says we don't understand it, and we don't understand the deeper question here: What do we WANT to create in terms of balance between the individual's good and the greater good when it comes to health care in this country?
This is old stuff that's been buried for too long. From the formative debates of America's founding fathers through the election of 2012, the dichotomy of our democracy is, and has always been, the good of the individual versus the greater good.
Just as I suggest private enterprises must thrive in this next century through a more deliberate facilitation of that balance, political leaders must speak to it more directly in order for our nation to frame the debate properly, in tune with what the framers of the constitution had in mind.
It's incumbent on leadership, and each of us, to have conversations about how this balance between individuals and collective good should be struck in our organizations, in areas like pay and the impact on our communities, just as we do as a nation, about health care, social security, foreign policy, and other important areas.
The more we have those conversations about balancing common good with individual benefit, the more powerful, forward-leaning, and sustainable our leadership will be.
David Peck is an Executive Coach, author of Beyond Effective: Practices in Self-aware Leadership (Trafford: 2008), and writes the Recovering Leader blog.