At the pool in a B&B nipping a local cabernet franc, I listened to a French citizen describe his view of life, France and ultimately Europe. Considering himself an exception as a hard-working entrepreneur, he enumerated all the wrongs of France and then of Europe. None of them worth repeating as you probably heard them all before though I was painfully reminded of one when I tried to buy bread on a Sunday. All the bakeries in the villages I could cycle to were closed. Only to be reminded on Monday that the working week in central France really starts on Tuesday. Anyway, when we debated Europe and its future or demise, his views were straightforward. The EU is failing on all accounts because of its lack of vision, leadership, strategy and execution. In his words, it’s the worst run start-up acting as a mature company: the emphasis is on making the numbers, not taking risks, staying focused on the task at hand with incremental improvement and increased centralization. The EU merely tries to address the financial component while vision, strategy and execution lack. Meanwhile thousands of refugees have drowned in the Mediterranean, Greece is bankrupt, youth unemployment is skyrocketing and Hungary is building a wall. How can anybody in his or her right mind feel good about this?
His disappointment ran deep. He even seemed to be in physical pain when he talked about Europe. He hoped for new courageous leaders, formulating a European vision, addressing youth unemployment through vast projects, getting Greece back on its feet and making Hungary understand it needs to change.
Multiple thoughts ran through my head as he was talking. There’s one I’ll share with you. I could not help but compare corporate organizational cultures with the current political scene: the overall lack of courage, hiding behind a set of numbers, runs through both as a common thread. What bothers me is that in business probably like in politics, the wrong behaviours get rewarded.
In business, the wrong behaviours are those that ensure financial or any other form of success in the short term while giving up on growth and opportunity in the long term. This norm signals to the employees what matters to the company. As a result, the company culture will be risk-averse, stale and driven by fear, crippling the ability to grow and innovate. Non-uniform behaviours like producing a stream of new ideas, questioning current approaches, coming up with original answers and implementing those insights, will be discouraged and unrewarded.
The courage to innovate, to question the status quo, to go after new markets and potentially fail, requires tolerance for conflicting views and a non-hierarchical collaborative working process. What this means for HR is radical. Grooming and rewarding disruption always is.
Courage comes in many forms but it expresses itself always in risk-taking and willingness to experiment. In the words of Thucydides, the bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.
Just like Richard the Lionheart (pictured above) I wish you all the courage to go out and meet what is before you. The secret of happiness is freedom and the secret of freedom is courage. Thucydides again.