Yesterday's massive strike in Greece and the thousands of people who demonstrated in the center of Athens and many other Greek cities proved once again that Greece is under an unprecedented "social war" that no one knows when it will end. Greek society is dominated by anger against the unfair and tough austerity measures implemented by the government, which seems to have lost its credibility and support by the people.
Although the Prime Minister George Papandreou expressed his sympathy to the demonstrators, it is likely that he is not aware of what the potential risk for his personal leadership is. The phenomenon of these extreme social reactions can be interpreted by people's usual resistance to any kind of change which puts in danger and curtails their collective and personal interests. And that is what is now happening in Greece.
The public rage seen yesterday in one of the biggest protests that has occurred over the last years was not random and, certainly , not the last one. In one of his lectures in the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, my Professor Mr. Marty Linsky highlighted to me the fact that people are mostly unprepared for the world in which they now live. Thus, the role, of a real leader is not to be focused on what we call technical problems but on adaptive challenges. Greek people will become more and more furious unless the government and, particularly, the leader of that country, Mr. Papandreou, decides to face these difficult adaptive challenges for which Greek society is unprepared.
While my Professor Mr. Linsky was explaining me what the difference is between technical and adaptive challenges, I realized why Greece doesn't need right now a routine management like that of Mr. Papandreou and his government, but on the contrary an actual leadership that is reliable and steady. In other words, Greek people were not prepared for what they would have to endure to adapt to the new changing world around them. And they are not still prepared to do that despite Greek society's knowing that there is no other way for the country and the economy to survive. Mr. Papandreou and, I dare to say, the whole political system are responsible for their people's unpreparedness to face bravely adaptive challenges such as learning new ways of accommodating their life within a new globally interactive environment.
In particular , accountable for that emerging social disruption in Greece is the Prime Minister Mr. Papandreou who has failed to give people the answers they are asking. Facing difficult adaptive challenges people need a leader who will provide them with explanations not of how they will sustain the losses, but of how that leader will protect them from the pains of change. And that's the key point. Greek society feels unprepared by a change which looks to people's eyes like an "amputation" of their own lives rather than a necessary adaptation.
A book worth reading, titled Leadership on the Line: staying alive through the Dangers of Leading, narrated the story of Ecuador's president who made bold efforts to rescue its country's economy from a catastrophic and rapid meltdown. Despite his tireless work to halt the falling economy, Jamil Mahmud paid more attention in solving the technical fiscal problems of Ecuador's economy than in helping his people face that challenging situation by providing them with hope and explanations. The Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou looks like he is in the same road to failure. Disengaging with people who voted for him, Mr. Papandreou seems to believe that just by cutting the budget deficit and reducing the public debt he will successfully complete his task of rescuing his country from a bankruptcy. But that's a manager's task, not a leader's. In other words, "he is not leading the nation. He is just managing the government".
Unfortunately, images of thousands of enraged protesters will become a more and more usual phenomenon in Greece. And that's not because only of further job losses , rising prices, increased uncertainty and curtailed wages and benefits. The social clashes that have erupted, have their roots in the lack of real leaders in Greek authority who will provide people with the right answers and will know how to discern where the limits of change that people are able to absorb are.