Archives For Samuel Wilson

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Samuel Wilson

In the context of concerns about the end of a safe operating space for humanity, there is a growing, although by no means universal, global view that we must radically alter our behaviour so as to preserve the life support systems that undergird human well-being.

Although our appreciation of the value of the ecological systems has increased in recent decades, there is little agreement about how to account for the value of these systems and even less about whether we should try to account for their value. More generally, there is little agreement about how to systematically account for the value of nonfinancial systems that make life worth living.

But account for the value of these linked social-ecological systems we must because the information we glean from our measures of these systems is indispensable to social decision-making in and about these systems. Given that we now know that the decisions we make have consequences for existing and future generations, it behoves us to ensure that our information systems measure what matters for people alive in the here and now and for generations to come. Continue Reading…

Samuel Wilson

New research by the Swinburne Leadership Institute provides compelling empirical evidence of the perceived leadership malaise in Australia. However, in addition to familiar, dismal statistics about our deep distrust of political leaders, this population survey, conducted in late 2014, provides important clues about the roots of this malaise.

Stated baldly, the Australian public does not believe that Australian leaders care about the greater good. Importantly, this finding is not confined to political leaders, although, predictably, political leaders fared the worst.

To illustrate, 68 per cent of respondents thought political leaders were more concerned about self-interest and interests of their close supporters than the wider public interest. The figure for business and religious leaders was 75 per cent and 59 per cent, respectively.

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Samuel Wilson

As argued by the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, five seminal and closely connected changes have occurred in the ‘developed’ parts of the planet that create a new and unprecedented setting for individual life pursuits.

These changes, which jointly constitute what Bauman calls ‘liquid modernity’, have created a series of challenges never before encountered.

It is crucial to understand these challenges because they have profound implications for our ability to enact leadership for the greater good, in general, and to achieve sustainable development, in particular.

Although many individuals and collectives (e.g., organisations, communities) value sustainability and sustainable development, the sustainability movement, as observed by Bob Willard, has fallen far short of what is necessary to avoid dangerous tipping points in climate instability, biodiversity loss, and other threats to ecological and social systems.

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Samuel Wilson

Probably the greatest and most worthy object of global conscious change is valorising sustainability and achieving sustainable development in our socio-technical and social-ecological systems. The imperative to regenerate, sustain and create commons is one of our most profound leadership challenges, and central to leadership for the greater good.

This challenge is, of course, a global challenge. It is easy to sound glib in making such pronouncements and much too easy to underestimate the obstacles to understanding the nature of this challenge, which are manifest in our prevailing cultural assumptions and, by extension, in our individual and shared mindsets.

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Samuel Wilson

Throughout the last year or so, we have explored the meaning of leadership for the greater good.

Whether we have explored sustainability as a guide to the good, the leadership needed to address tough or wicked problems, or the challenges posed to such leadership by liquid modernity, it is clear that leadership for the greater good is very complex. Indeed, leadership for the greater good is less a unity concept than it is a complex of concepts, mindsets and practices.

As observed by the late Stephen Jay Gould, it is best to sneak up on generalities, rather than tackle them head-on. Such is the power of treating generalities by particulars. This piece of wisdom is certainly applicable to the challenge of understanding the nature of leadership for the greater good.

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Samuel Wilson

As I noted in an earlier post, it is often best to sneak up on generalities via particularities, rather than tackle them head-on.

Applied to leadership for the greater good, this means that it is prudent to consider the variety of ways in which the good is manifest rather than attempt to measure the good as an abstract unity.

For example, every society has public goods (e.g., roads, public broadcasting) and common goods (e.g., water, fossil fuels) that can be used by all of its citizens, as well as merit goods that are available to citizens on the basis of need (e.g., pensions, charitable support).

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Samuel Wilson

Despite the presence of early warning signs, organisations, communities, and nations tend not to act on complex problems until it is too late (Bazerman & Watkins, 2004). Too often, it is only when complex problems escalate to become crises that the seriousness of problems becomes sufficiently widely recognised for action to be mobilised.

Although this failure to act on complex problems is often ascribed to failures of government and private sector leadership, such explanations are partial, at best.

A more complete explanation would accord more responsibility to us, as individual citizens and as members of organisations, communities, and nations. ‘We’ must assume a larger share of the responsibility for our collective failure to act to address complex problems.

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Samuel Wilson

It has become a commonplace to describe the world in which we live as volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. In this context, considerable energy is devoted to adaptation and change. 

However, beyond shared concerns with the survival and growth of the collectives of which we are members, there seems to be little that enjoins the myriad change efforts that consume such quantities of individual and collective energy. That is, despite the effort devoted to creating common purpose within organisations, there is little effort, or even appetite, for creating common purpose – or, indeed, commons – at the broader social level.

This would present little cause for concern were it not for the fact that the expenditure of energy in the service of private visions is not having altogether wholesome consequences for the biophysical systems in which we are nested and on which we are dependent. 

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Samuel Wilson

Leadership for the Greater Good maximizes the interests of all, or most, members of the community. However, determining exactly what is ‘for the greater good’ is a key leadership challenge.

As I have discussed elsewhere, the concepts of ‘common good’ and ‘community’ are very abstract. To illustrate, ‘community’ might be understood as a specific group of people, excluding other people deemed less worthy of moral consideration, or it might include all sentient animals, as the moral philosopher Peter Singer suggests, or it might, as argued by the late environmental philosopher Val Plumwood, be so inclusive as to include ‘nature’ more generally – human, nonhuman and nonanimal nature alike.

Further, the concepts of ‘common good’ and ‘community’ are often silent on whether specific actions enhance the greater good. Given these difficulties with concepts that seem, at first glance, so central to understanding the meaning of the public interest, where might we look to glean insights into what Leadership for the Greater Good entails?

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Samuel Wilson

Recent years have witnessed the emergence of a number of complex social, economic, political, and environmental problems, such as widening income inequality, the erosion of buffers against the coming downturn in the resources sector, the entrenchment of a new political culture that elevates private over public interests, and continuing deforestation and soil salinization. Our list of complex problems is now very long indeed.

If public trust in the ability of leaders to address our complex problems and to navigate us through crises is low, public trust in their moral compass is lower still.

Ethical failures figure prominently in explanations of crises. To illustrate, after the collapse of Enron and other corporate scandals, the media immediately began searching for the underlying cause of ethical failures – especially the ethical failures of leaders – that were held to have caused these crises (Bazerman & Banaji, 2004).

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