Notes from the Field

Just a few observations-

The Long View in Leadership – From time to time I am engaged in conversations with individuals, who possess what I call ‘a long view’ of issues and events.   On one hand, they can place complex issues in short term contexts, but the value is how they can see these evolve from long term perspectives.  That’s important because you can’t know where are are unless you know where you’ve been and how you got there.  Those who study the historical evolution of processes (no matter what their form) are at an advantage here, but those who lived through it also share these traits (although one must also push through first person biases).  I think that we are losing a generation of policy-makers who have a long view and producing persons who play to immediate contexts instead.

Now, yes there are those who will challenge this and I’ll readily admit that politicians as a rule have had to ‘live in the short run’ because their survival depends on it.  They always have to insure that their electorate is happy, or their leadership depends on support for their positions from other entities.  However, (and I have seen this in academia too, there are blinders everywhere) without the long view you cannot hope to see subtle deviations or catastrophic events on the horizon. Nor can you see interconnections.

This is related to;

Being a Boss & Having a Boss:  Those who have always served in the public or private sector under someone’s direction are at a certain disadvantage when they are suddenly elevated to positions of leadership.  Their mindset is one of taking orders rather than giving them.  This does not mean that leaders should be resolute in their convictions and shun compromise, far from it.  It means that a leader is one who understands his/her role in that institution and has a duty to act in accordance with its mandate.  ‘No’ is not a dirty word.

And finally;

Transparency, Democracy, and Knowledge – An open information society is fundamentally important for democracy.  A populace must be aware of what its government leaders are doing to know that they are faithfully following the law and representing constituent interests.  This is a two way street though – citizens have to educate themselves and demand facts over senseless pandering sensationalism (I’m looking at you US media).

However, there are appropriate degrees of transparency depending on each situation.

While at a talk  in Brussels, an official advocated for total transparency in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership or TTIP negotiations – “Why can’t these discussions be public?”

This was right after they admitted that MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) could not be expected to know everything about the issues that landed on their desk.  They depend on experts to tell them what the texts meant so they could act on them and represent their constituents.  I’m sympathetic to this as it is a common problem with executive  leadership.  Where a Parliamentarian, Congressperson, President, or Prime Minister and so on, is elected or appointed to make decisions on a host of issues, there is no way that they can be experts in all of them.  Public officials do not have time to carefully scrutinize every detail – that is the job of their immediate advisers, other government bureaucracies, and NGOs, and sometimes – lobbyists (And in the opinion of some, lobbyists are a bit too involved, but due to time and money these voices are pretty loud and they do get access to decision-makers). It is for that reason that I have always maintained that it is the advisers who hold the most influence – the decision will reflect the information that the leader receives, or to whom he chooses to listen.

Transparency not only requires MEPs to understand the texts, it requires the populace to be very responsible in educating itself on issues too.  So, how, may I ask, do those advocates to total transparency expect the populace to do what they themselves find impossible?

The fact is that negotiations such as these are incredible complex and technical.  The circles that understand them are small and specialized.  If this process was done in the open people would be pointing to a host of false starts and statements that really have no chance of making it into a final agreement.  That’s why they call them drafts.  There’s a lot of posturing, poking, feeling the other side out, demands that go nowhere, and if it finally manages to make it through to the end-  it will look nothing like what is being discussed today. (The US has wanted some sort of trade agreement with the EU since Nixon so it’s telling that they are even sitting down now.)  In the US Congress, there are about 10,000 bills introduced into each session and less than 400 on average make it through.  If I had a dime for every alarmist saying “Look what they are doing!” on a bill that was introduced but never made it through the first committee, I’d be a millionaire.  (Spoiler: I’m not.)

Please understand that I’m not advocating secrecy here.   I’m saying that understanding the processes of decision-making at these levels is just as important as having the expertise to comment on those issues.  So I wonder, great you get all that transparency – would most people understand what they were reading or read it at all?  Debate, I love it – bring it on!  But only if it’s going to add value.  I doubt total openness would achieve that end.

The subject matter of this blog is taking directions that I did not anticipate, but I’m not complaining.  If anything it’s been a reminder to come to careful reflection, and not cling to expectations.  Going to London next week where I’ll be in the company of the finance community and it promises to be a total paradigm shift.

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