I make the point in my new book, Love Leadership: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World that "fear is the ultimate prosperity killer." I also say that fear is one lazy bastard. Fear simply hates change, and work too.
I have found that change requires a sense of personal security, and for lack of a better description, a sense of purpose and mission that is greater than what is right in front of your nose. But fear -- fear depends so much on what I call "clutching and keeping," that fear is sometimes even willing to kill for it. Witness, the era of Adolf Hitler in the Germany of 1940.
100 years ago, Vienna, Austria was a world class city on par with a London, or a New York. What got Vienna there was change and a bustling, vibrant diversity. Most of the brilliant Austrian artists that we know so well now, were not of Austrian birth. The magic came when Vienna decided to open wide the gates of its city of hope, opportunity, possibility. But then came the fear, and with it, soon thereafter, the subsequent failure of the once brilliant Vienna experiment. Where Vienna failed, America ultimately benefited.
Let's look at America from approximately World War II to today. America is the only nation in the world with every race of people within its borders. Why? Precisely because is not so much a nation, as an idea. And when we are at our best, we epitomize the ideal idea. William Green, the CEO of Accenture, once described this "thing" we have as our "special sauce." I agree, and it is the glue that holds us all together. You can come here, from any and all parts of the world, work hard, pay your taxes, succeed, fail, succeed again, and pursue liberty, opportunity, freedom and justice at the very highest level of society. This is the ideal idea, but this idea of the "ideal idea" is itself a commitment to the concept of embracing change while holding on to our core values.
Given that we represent, literally, the world's interests, it should come as no surprise that we also benefit from it too. It is no wonder that we are the largest economy in the world and a third of the world economy. Who better to do business with the world than the one country that has a direct relationship with most people on the planet. We don't do business with companies or governments or organizations, we do business with people. People make the difference. America's diversity is not only "nice," it is also extremely smart. Our ability to "change" following the Jim Crow era of 20th century America probably saved us from joining the economic also-ran countries of the developed world. Diversity is a business strength, and the rejection of diversity is just plain stupid. Our embrace, and sometimes just our mere tolerance of diversity is change in action, and love leadership too.
Witness my friends in the Middle East. While places such as Jordan are extraordinarily progressive, and Jordan and other countries are making incredible strides forward, a good part of the Middle East remains locked in a rear-view mirror approach to the world, with so-called leaders there focused only on "clutching and keeping" what they have. But what happens when half your society are women, but you don't allow them to contribute to this same society? You lose that development, and their extremely unique and important contribution to the cultural and societal vibrancy of the country.
What happens when another 25% of society doesn't happen to fit your view of political, ethnic or religious appropriateness? Well, they are locked out of the prosperity game too, and now you have a country wracked by fear, looking out of the rear-view mirror as it seeks to move forward, and worse of all, operating at a mere 25% of its potential and capacity.
Shooting yourself in the foot of change and prosperity
For all of America's so-called advantages, lately we have been really blowing it.
America gained a measure of moral authority both at home and around the world (which then directly aided and eased the way for its economic expansion both here and around the world) following World War II, but it was less about how we waged war, and more about how we waged peace thereafter. The Marshall Plan literally rebuilt the countries that bombed us, namely Germany and Japan. Rationale; it was not the mostly loving people of either country that attacked us, but rather the fear-obsessed leaders that controlled their agenda at the time.
The result is that we rebuilt Germany and Japan, and toda who are two of our principal trading partners and allies in the world -- that's right, Germany and Japan. And here is the bonus of Love Leadership .... today Germany and Japan, outside of the United States, are also two of the largest economies in the world. I forgot to tell you the 3rd Law of Love Leadership: Love makes money too (for everyone).
As I write extensively in Love Leadership, this is not so much an economic crisis (that is the symptom of the problem, how it shows itself, not the problem itself), but a crisis of virtues and values. One of America losing our storyline.
Detroit was handed its economic head not because they made inferior cars in the present moment, but because fear made them hold on to "what I have" for almost 40 years. The result was little to no reinvention, no re-imagination of the business and the industry itself, and no substantive dreaming about the future. In short, no commitment to real change. The commitment was to status now, and holding the line. And my good friends in the trade union aided and abetted the crime of no change, and of covering their rear-ends too. Until recently, the most expensive part on a GM car was health insurance, at a cost of $1400.00 per automobile. How do you compete with the world like that? Answer -- you don't, and ultimately they didn't. What Detroited needed was a new business model for our times, and what they offered us was a version of more of the same. Fear fails. I am hopeful that Detroit will once again find its change storyline too, for all of our sake.
We have got to figure out what we have to give, in a world seemingly obsessed with another question -- what do I get?
We need a commitment to a new course - one of empowerment, of a return to the power and magic of ideas, of hard work, focusing on what we have to give, building real and sustainable relationships with customers, employees, shareholders, investors and community, and to service and love leadership.
We need real change, now.