A Boomer’s Guide for Millennials. The ABC’s of Leadership: “U” is for Unifier

“…ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive efforts of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of mortality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority” – Stanley Milgram “Perils of Obedience

Unifier is the most important characteristic, as a unifier must embody all of the other characteristics identified in this series of articles. These characteristics help give people “the resources needed to resist authority”.

“It should be possible to rewire the Exodus template, to see America as a single purpose trekking through a landscape of broken institutions. What’s needed is an act of imagination, someone who can tell us what our goal is, and offer an ideal vision of what the country and world should be.”

These powerful words by David Brooks on ‘The Unifying American Story’ offers a historic solution to the great divide we are experiencing in every aspect of our lives – where we live, where we learn, where we work, where we worship, and where we play; in all sectors, and across all geography.

The great divide in our institutions is largely due to a society where our institutions continue to be ‘old boy’s clubs’, where the wealthy elite wield a disproportionate amount of power and control; relationships and interdependencies are not fostered; corruption greed, harassment, abuse and coverups has become the norm ; and “truth isn’t truth” and “alternate facts” prevail.
I believe that we can all be that “someone” in unifying and fixing those “broken institutions”, which provides the foundation for that “ideal vision” of that “single purpose” of a united America and a united world.

Mahatma Gandhi put it so well when he declared, “It is possible for a single individual to defy the whole might of an unjust empire to save his honour, his religion, his soul, and lay the foundation for that empire’s fall or its regeneration”.

On the premise that to fix the whole we must fix the parts, many can be those single individuals.
People can be categorized in four distinct groups – those who divide, those who unify, those who enable, and those who are bystanders.

Those who divide use the “landscape of broken institutions” as a clarion call to those many who have suffered mightily at the hands of “broken institutions.” The divide’s motivation is to gain power and control; and rather than address the suffering, they exploit those who suffer. Dividers usually have ill intent, without honour.

Those who unite understand how those who have suffered mightily feel, and more importantly, with greater specificity, understand why these people feel the way they do. The unifier’s motivation is to address the suffering to fix the “broken institutions”. Unifiers are usually honourable with good intent.

When enablers assist the divider, they become dividers. The intent of many is honourable because they view the divider as a saviour from the oppression of the “broken institutions”. Also, many enable to garner favour with the dictator in order to advance their personal position, status and wealth.

When enablers assist the unifier, they become unifiers, usually honourable with good intent. What usually motivates them is the ethic of reciprocity – “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Those who are bystanders are usually apathetic and/or pacifists, unable or unwilling to take a position one way or the other. It is only when they are impacted positively or negatively that they will make a choice. The choice they make is usually motivated by self-preservation or self-interest. It must be recognized that many bystanders do not become the witnesses, resistors and defenders; because they are afraid, it would be wrong to label them cowards, because the retaliation they could face is real and usually harsh.

People must be called on to become unifiers rather than feed the dividers.

Martin Niemoller puts these choices in stark terms: “First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the trade unionist, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.”

In becoming a unifier, we should be guided by Giuseppe Mazzini (1805 -1872) a writer and politician, who is now referred to as the soul of Italy. Throughout his life, Mazzini founded and supported revolutionary groups who sought to free Italy of foreign powers and groups, and to unite the different states. He also helped frame the ideas and was an early leader for a united Europe. These words reflect his soul – “The republic, as I at least understand it, means association, of which liberty is only an element, a necessary antecedent. It means association, a new philosophy of life, a divine ideal that shall move the world, the only means of regeneration vouchsafed to the human race.”

This formed the basis of a republican spirit following Cicero’s belief that “The health of the people should be the supreme law.” Mazzini also captured the essence of association, in that the republican spirit is “tied to the common good” where there is cooperation and interdependence, which is that “divine ideal”.

This republican spirit has been lost. We no longer have the health of the people as the supreme law, and interests tied to the common good.

The common element of broken institutions is the disregard for Cicero’s “The health of the people should be the supreme law.” These institutions have become cultures of greed, abuse, coercion, exportation, harassment, intimidation, threats and coverups. Because of this, the health of people, particularly mental and emotional health, has deteriorated to epidemic proportions.

Unless we reverse the downward spiral that we are in, America and other nations will meet the same fate described in the ‘Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire’. To do this, each of us has a responsibility to become that “someone” who can tell us what our goal is and offer an ideal vision of what the country and world should be.

We must start by assessing the institutions we can influence and understand the fundamental conditions in place “to lay the foundation for that empire’s fall or it’s regeneration.”

I draw on my fairly extensive experience in integrating cultures, and fixing broken ones, to advance the conditions that should be understood.

  • Trust – if trust does not exist, nothing else matters.
  • Diversity and Inclusion – institutions must reflect the composition of the communities in which they serve. All stakeholders must be able to contribute to their full potential and ability, unrestricted of any bias against them.
  • A Sense of Purpose – all stakeholders need to understand the why of what they are called on to do.
  • A Sense of Efficacy – as important to understand why we do what we do, to challenge the way we do it gives people a level of meaningfulness and contribution beyond just following direction or dictate.
  • Freedom of Expression – everyone’s voice must be heard.

What I have found is if these conditions are not in place, the institution is broken. It also identifies what needs focus.

What I have also found is the immense value of advancing emotional intelligence as a core skill to influence change. Understanding how you and those you are responsible feel, and even more importantly understanding why you and they feel the way you do, not only will help you manage your and their emotions to better cope; it will identify the stress factors in your environment. Collectively addressing these stress factors in a collaborative way will not only fix the broken institution, it addresses Cicero’s principle “The health of the people should be the supreme law”

(Andrew Faas is the author of ‘From Bully to Bull’s Eye – Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire’, a Public Voices Fellow at Yale University, and a contributing author for The Hill)

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