Quantum computers not only process massive amounts of data and solve complex problems. They can help us solve the most complex problem we face. Our own humanity. If there is one thing I have learned about technology it is that we can also use it to reflect on our struggles and continue developing our own humanness. How? By asking simple questions about what a particular technology represents at the human level. This is what I call the Digital Paradox. The deeper we delve into digitalization the more we are confronted with our own humanity. And Quantum Computing, like Edge Computing and the Internet of Things, is no exception.
A Quantum Leap in Gender Identification
What do genderqueer and quantum computing have in common? Fundamentally, they both share a core truth. They both work from the premise of 1 and 0 instead of 1 or 0. Viewing both gender and the world as consisting of only 1s or 0s innately limits our ability to advance in our human development as well as with our understanding of the world and universe for that matter. People identifying as genderqueer are also referred to as “nonbinary”. Nonbinary gender is a spectrum of gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine—identities that are outside the gender binary classification of male or female. In other words, like a qubit, they too are 1 and 0.
The Benefits of a Nonbinary Worldview
A nonbinary mindset does away with anachronistic, rigid, and arbitrary value sets used to create a discriminatory system of the human classification system (e.g., race, gender, religion, people with disabilities) resulting in all forms of inequalities (political, economical, and societal). A purely binary system naturally creates the propensity for opposing value sets to square off. An “either/or” mentality sets up the classical “us vs. them”, “good vs. evil”, and “right versus wrong” showdown. Binary thinking has the propensity to act as an incendiary device that can put individuals, families, communities, and countries in the throes of injustice and conflict.
“If I look at my young colleagues just coming from university, just starting, they seem to pick up and understand the principles of quantum computing incredibly fast. I think that the reason for that is their mental flexibility… It is certainly of key importance that we completely stop labeling and discriminating people based on arbitrary attributes which have no real relevance in the real world.”
Imagine what young people think about older generations still struggling with gender binary inequity in the workplace and in society!
Measurement Determines Reality
How comprehensive is an X and Y graph in explaining anything today? The days of solving complex situations by assigning simply cause and effect reasons are over. Daniel Kahneman in his international bestseller, “Thinking Fast and Slow” refers to this as an availability heuristic. “I didn’t get the job because of my age.” But the complexity of such questions goes beyond a simple binary answer. Nevertheless, you repeatedly tell your story of age discrimination as if it were fact. Fundamental uncertainty exists when explaining outcomes based upon simplistic measurements. Yet we do it often, pitting one simple heuristic against another.
Conclusion: Probability Is All We Know
We make decisions based on knowledge never knowing its certainty. We misconstrue simple assertions as fact. I will wake up tomorrow morning is based on probability. It is not a fact. Probability is also a major tenet of quantum physics. It is known as the uncertainty principle. Life is one of probability. To best navigate it we need to infer more like a quantum computer. How? Embrace an open nonbinary mindset in the face of uncertainty. See all reasons as plausible. Include as many perspectives as possible. Tap into the collective wisdom of those around you and watch the possibilities unfold.
About the Author
Jean-Pierre is a Human Systems Accelerator specializing in conflict resolution, intergenerational dialogue, and team interdependence. He is also a Youth Coach, Author, and Speaker. As the creator of the EPIC Model, Jean-Pierre brings out the expertise in groups by revealing patterns and refining human systems in real-time!
Two years ago I was speaking with a Country Manager from an American multinational tech company when he asked me an HR-related question. He was contemplating whether to hire a young programmer who had no higher education degree. Ostensibly, he wanted my opinion. In reality, he just needed confirmation.
I knew he knew the answer, just as he knew my thoughts. But cultural norms are hard to break even for senior-level managers, so I entertained his inquiry. I asked about the young man’s skills, motivation, fit, attitude, and ability to learn. Not surprisingly, he responded to all in the affirmative. I then asked, “What does your gut tell you?”
MBAs are Leaving a Musky Scent on Innovation
What do Google, Apple, Ernst & Young, Hilton, IBM, Nordstrom, and Penguin Random House all have in common? These top 7 companies no longer require a college degree, rather place more emphasis on skills. And in a digital age skill acquisition is no longer bound to a university. Even Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk believes there is a big problem in corporate America. At the WSJ CEO Summit in December, Musk stated, “I think that there might be too many MBAs running companies.”
Musk labeled the “MBA-ization of America” as the bane of product innovation. He believes big corporate CEOs should spend less time on board meetings and financials. “A company has no value in itself. This thing they call profit, should just mean over time that the value of the output is worth more than the inputs.” Musk urged CEOs to “get out there on the goddamn front line and show them that you care and that you’re not just in some plush office somewhere.” What results would Musk’s formula produce if applied to university costs (inputs) in relation to the student’s employability (output)?
What are Parents, Teachers, and Students Thankful for? YouTube
Both my sons would tell you straight up that if it wasn’t for the best teacher and tutor–YouTube–their academic performance would not have been and continue to be as high as without this essential learning tool. Homeschooling and distance learning have brought YouTube and free education-based learning platforms such as the Khan Academy to the forefront of learning. I’d be curious to know what percentage of high school and college students would credit such online platforms as reasons for passing and dare I say even graduating!
Teachers and parents are not always available for students, but YouTube is there 24/7. Videos can be paused and rewatched as needed at any hour of the day or night. Even pre-COVID the use of virtual classrooms enabled a new model of learning called the Flipped Classroom. Competent professionals and teachers making inspirational videos are modern-day virtual educators. They are here to stay and more are on the way.
Reevaluating Higher Education and Standardized Tests
Well-known and highly competitive international companies are beginning to write off higher education as a requisite for gainful employment. How will this trend impact the continuous rise in the cost of US higher education which has surged more than 538% since 1985? COVID has not only claimed the lives of over 2.5 million people. The pandemic has shone a bright light on the numerous social, racial, political, and economic injustices plaguing humans globally. The rising cost of US higher education contributes to all four.
There is another major change in higher education happening for the 2021-2022 college academic year. Pre-COVID about 2/3 of US colleges required applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores. As a result of COVID restrictions on the administration of standardized testing, over a thousand US colleges and universities for the upcoming year are waiving the SAT requirements. Most appear to be doing so only for the upcoming school year. Others are choosing to go several years without. They seem to be using this as an opportunity for a longitudinal study. Maybe they want to see what impact omitting aptitude tests has on recruitment, student performance, and job placement? What would be their reasoning for doing so?
Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Human Systems Expert specializing in conflict resolution, intergenerational dialogue, and psychological safety. He is also a Youth Coach, Author, and Speaker. As the creator of the EPIC Model, Jean-Pierre brings out the expertise in groups by revealing patterns and refining human systems in real-time!
Just 73 seconds after Challenger’s liftoff, a leak in the right solid rocket booster led to the shuttle breaking up over the Atlantic Ocean perilously hurdling all seven astronauts in a 2 minute 45-second free-fall at speeds over 200 mph. One of those seven astronauts was Concord, New Hampshire teacher, Christa McAuliffe. McAuliffe had been selected from more than 11,000 applicants to be the first participant in the NASA Teacher in Space Project.
But there was something more tragic than the innocent loss of seven lives that brisk morning on January 28, 1986. The accident was preventable. It was known and on record, that cold temperatures increased the risk of O-ring failure in the solid rocket boosters. The initial recommendation from the engineers of the boosters was to scrub the launch. After watching the recent four-part Netflix docuseries on Challenger’s final flight I could not but think of how it eerily resembled the way the US President has been handling the Corona Pandemic.
Mounting Pressure: Thiokol/NASA Conference Call
On January 27th at 8:45 PM, the evening before Challenger’s last flight, there was an intense and controversial conference call between Morton Thiokol (contractor for the solid rocket boosters) and NASA officials. Thiokol engineers in Utah made a unanimous case not to launch Challenger due to abnormal below-freezing temperatures that night. During the call, Thiokol’s Vice President of engineering further advised not to launch unless temperatures were above 53 degrees Fahrenheit. Larry Mulloy, NASA’s Project Manager at the Marshall Space Flight Center, then countered, “Good God Thiokol, when do you want me to launch, next April!”
Prior to holding a final vote and further adding mounting pressure to launch in light of strong resignation, Thiokol’s VP of engineering was told to “take off his engineering hat and put on his manager hat.” Since Thiokol had no conclusive evidence of absolute sealing failure and feeling the pressure from NASA, the VP gave in. NASA was happy. The launch would proceed. Challenger’s fate was sealed.
The Rogers Commission: NASA Image vs. Integrity
President Ronald Reagan was to give his State of the Union Address also scheduled for later that day on the 28th of January. For the first time in US history, a Presidential State of the Union Address was postponed for one week. There was even a rumor that the Challenger launch scheduled for that morning was insisted upon so that Reagan could address it later in his speech.
Due to the national and international significance of the tragedy, Reagan created a Presidential Commission to investigate the Challenger disaster. He appointed William Rogers, a former Secretary of State under Nixon and Attorney General under Eisenhower, to lead the commission. It was reported that President Reagan told Rogers prior to the investigation, “Whatever you do, don’t embarrass NASA. They are national heroes. We are going to need them. They are going to have to launch again.” If the goal of the Rogers Commission was to protect NASA and not discover the reasons for the tragedy, how would that interfere with the Commission’s integrity?
Richard Cook & Phillip Buffey: Whistleblowers & Investigative Reporting
Just like the leak in Challenger’s solid rocket booster seal set off a series of cataclysmic events, so too did Buffey’s Sunday, February 9th New York Times article titled, “NASA HAD WARNING OF A DISASTER RISK POSED BY BOOSTER”. Mentioning Cook by name the insider stated both Thiokol and NASA knew extremely cold temperatures could result in ring seal failure. Moreover, both parties knew that a sealing failure would be catastrophic. The article would be the first example of several whistleblowers who would come forward. With the assistance of the New York Times and a few Commission members, NASA’s attempt to cover-up the truth of the Challenger disaster would unravel.
Sally Ride: Employer Loyalty vs. Coworker Loyalty
Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, was the only active NASA astronaut on the Rogers Commission. The other well-known long-retired astronaut was Neil Armstrong, the first human to walk on the moon. Ride had previously flown on two Space Shuttle Challenger missions. The seven astronauts who perished on Challenger were her coworkers. She would not let their deaths be in vain.
Due to Richard Cook’s New York Times‘ article, printed just the day before, the following Monday hearing was held behind closed doors and out of public view. Rogers wanted to give NASA a chance to speak privately. But before Lawrence Mulloy from NASA could even begin, Ride interrupted him. She had received calls from Washington reporters who had heard a rumor that one of the contractors may have recommended not even launching. Ride wanted to know so she asked Mulloy, “Is that really true?” Mulloy dodged the question. Ride had information and did not relent. Ride asked Mulloy if he had any documentation from the contractor saying they were worried about the cold temperatures. Mulloy responded, “I don’t recall any.” Ride knew that wasn’t true.
Allan McDonald & Sally Ride: The Truth Must Be Heard
Upon hearing Mulloy’s response to Ride’s follow-up question about documentation, a man sitting in the back of the hearing room thought to himself, “Well that is a flat-ass-out lie!” Allen McDonald, a Morton Thiokol representative, was present at the January 27th conference call in Florida. He heard Mulloy take umbrage to Thiokols’ engineers’ recommendation to postpone the launch. Like Ride, McDonald knew Mulloy was lying. So he proceeded to raise his hand and stand up. With a quivering voice McDonald said, “Mr. Chairman, we (Morton Thiokol) recommended not to launch!”
Shortly after the hearing Ride walked by another committee member, Air Force General Donald Kutyna, and without saying a word handed him a piece of paper. On the sheet were two columns. One showed temperatures. The other showed corresponding O-ring resiliency. The chart showed that as temperatures dropped, so did the O-rings’ ability to properly seal. With this evidence, Roger’s ability to protect NASA for much longer was also dropping. To protect her from the possibility of employer retaliation, it wouldn’t be until after Ride’s death in 2012 that Kutyna would publicly announce that she had handed him proof that NASA was doing everything in their power not to take responsibility for the deaths of their own employees, her colleagues.
Donald Kutyna & Richard Feynman: Friendship, Dinner, a Car, & an Idea
In addition to Ride’s overt comments in the hearing and covert action in the hallway, two key members on the Commission would come together with the hope of preventing another catastrophic shuttle accident. Air Force General Donald Kutyna was one of them. The other was renowned physicist Richard Feynman, winner of the 1965 Nobel Peace Prize in Physics. Both Kutyna and Feynman hit it off from the get-go. That friendship would have a significant impact on the investigation. Feynman, with Kutyna’s support, would deliver what would be remembered as the most memorable performance to be televised from the hearings.
With Ride’s chart in hand, Kutyna had a dilemma. How could he introduce to the Commission the document Ride had slipped to him earlier that day without getting her in trouble with her employer NASA? That same evening on the 10th of February Feynman went over to Kutyna’s house for dinner. Kutyna’s had a sports car in his garage. Kutyna suddenly had a revelation. Kutyna said to Feynman, “Professor, I have O-rings in this engine and they leak when it is cold.” Feynman didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to. He had a plan.
Feynman’s Oscar-worthy Performance: How A Simple Demonstration Influenced Public Opinion
In a futile last effort to honor Reagan’s request to protect NASA, Rogers purposely avoided the topic of temperature. So instead, Rogers began the live broadcasted session on February 11th by asking NASA to talk about the joints on Challenger’s booster rockets. Once again, NASA’s Project Manager, Larry Mulloy, was called to give the presentation. Feynman couldn’t hear it anymore. Sally Ride’s evidence showing NASA’s known correlation between low temperatures and sealing failure was about to go on full display.
Feynman couldn’t wait to end the charade and make his mic hot. When the moment was right, Feynman went live. He started with a clamped frozen O-ring taken from Kutyna’s garage. Feynman showed how the rubber ring’s resiliency is compromised as it gets colder. And as the rubber seal warms it takes time to go back to its original form. Feynman concluded the brief yet effective demonstration by saying, “I believe that has some significance for our problem.” NASA members and Rogers could only sit and fume. For the next 48 hours, the media would replay the Noble Laureate’s experiment. Public opinion had been swayed.
Roger’s Discovery: Human Safety Has A Price
There was a shift in Rogers after seeing Feynman’s experiment and hearing Mulloy’s response to Thiokol’s recommendation not to launch below 53 degrees Fahrenheit. Rogers could no longer protect NASA. Mulloy: “I found this conclusion (launching only above 53 degrees Fahrenheit) without bases and I challenged this logic.” To which Rogers responded, “They (Thiokol) construed what you said to mean that you wanted them to change their minds, so they were under a lot of pressure to give you (NASA) the answer you wanted.”
The families of Challenger’s ill-fated flight could not apprehend the lack of consideration of human life. Dr. William Lucas, Mulloy’s boss, and Director of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center believed NASA needed to launch shuttles on schedule. NASA and Lucas knew in 1985 and even well before that, there was a design flaw with the seals. When asked by Rogers, Lucas responded, “I have been aware of the problem with the seals. My assessment was, it was a reasonable risk to take.” Rogers then followed up by asking about flight safety to which Lucas coldly replied, “I did not think it was a problem sufficient to ground the fleet.” Rogers with some emotion retorted, “The waiver says actual loss: loss of mission, vehicle, and crew. I don’t know how you can say that didn’t involve flight safety.”
The culture at NASA at the time was that they could do anything. NASA portrayed the image of a well-run agency, on time, and on budget. NASA was saying the orbiters were like commercial airplanes, so safe that they could put teachers in it. They were the good guys who could do no wrong. In actuality, there was a high level of risk with every launch. Overconfidence overcame care. Ego over empathy. In the end, it was a fatally flawed decision process.
Three Truth-Seeking Takeaways: The Crucial Role of Whistleblowers, Investigative Reporting, & Experts
Like the Challenger astronauts, we too are floating in space on a ship. Similarly, Earth requires maintenance and care for its passengers. Earth, like Challenger, has a current “deadly gas leak” called Coronavirus. For about a year it has been combusting and killing human passengers all over the world. Just as Morton Thiokol and NASA knew about the high risk of a deadly launch risk, the President of the United States back in February 2020 also knew about the deadly contagiousness of the airborne virus. NASA put business, profit, and company gain/reputation before human life resulting in a national and global tragedy. Donald Trump also withheld the truth. Donald Trump, even after being infected and hospitalized, still downplayed the deadly risk for the sake of business, profit, and personal gain/reputation. The similarities are eerily similar.
There is a key difference though between the Challenger tragedy and the current Corona tragedy still underway. The truthful conclusion from the Rogers Commission, in light of its unwritten wish to protect NASA, was only possible because of a combination of whistleblowers, investigative journalism, and the role of experts. Donald Trump wages daily wars against exactly these three essential elements to uncovering the truth. With each passing day, globalization and our interconnectedness grow. Therefore, corporations and governments are being increasingly confronted with ethical decisions. Most ethical dilemmas pit growth and profit against human life and environmental sustainability. The Challenger tragedy and the Columbia tragedy that would also take place over Florida in 2003 are stark reminders of these dilemmas. History has countless stories. One is being written right now. With current global environmental and humanitarian concerns, there are three significant questions to ask and answer.
Three Salient Questions: Profit or Posterity?
At what cost are companies/governments willing to put our spaceship Earth at risk to disintegrate for the sake of business, profit, and individual reputation?
What price are companies/governments willing to pay to put its passengers (all humans) at risk of death for the sake of business, profit, and individual reputation?
At what cost are companies/governments willing to shame whistleblowers, denounce investigative reporting (not only media), and delegitimize the role of experts for the sake of business, profit, and individual reputation?
President Reagan: On Humility, Humanity, Taking Responsibility, & Instilling Hope
I end this article with content from a speech by President Ronald Reagan months after the Challenger disaster. The current president has not once even come close to publically addressing the pandemic in such a fashion. It is long overdue. Reagan’s speech is as salient and needed now as it was then. With a few words, it could easily be altered to honor the over 220,000 American deaths and counting (over, 1,100,000 worldwide) as if “the Gipper” were speaking to us today.
“In America, we learn from our setbacks as well as our successes. And although the lessons of failure are hard, they are often the most important on the road to progress. We’ve learned in the past few months that we are frail and fallible. But we have also learned that we have the courage to face our faults and the strength to correct our errors. This has been a difficult passage for America, but we will go on just as the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger would have wanted us to. We’ll simply do what has to be done to make our space program safe and reliable and a renewed source of pride for our nation. We’ve suffered a tragedy and a setback but we’ll forge ahead wiser this time, and undaunted, as undaunted as the spirit of the Challenger and her seven heroes.“
About the Author
Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Human Systems Expert, Conflict Resolution Specialist, Change Facilitator, Youth Coach, Author, and Speaker. He accompanies individuals, teams, and organizations wanting to fully integrate their human potential. As the creator of the EPIC Model, Jean-Pierre brings out the expertise in groups by encouraging authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom.
By now VUCA is as familiar of an acronym as ADHD, AWOL, and of course COVID. Acronyms are useful in labeling and giving importance to complex themes. Labeling a problem soothes the mind by identifying something hard to understand. The hope is then to find a solution. What if the solution were in the acronym? What if the problem-focused and system-orientedVUCA acronym became solution-focused and people-oriented? The angst derived by the former would diminish and the optimism derived by the latter would flourish. People solve problems and influence systems. So wouldn’t it be wise to promote solution-orientated attitudes and behaviors?
VUCA people transform VUCA situations
What do adolescents, first-time parents, adults in a mid-life crisis, or anyone facing a life-altering event tell you? Life is VUCA. Digitalization and globalization may be intensifying VUCA, but it isn’t anything new. What if instead of associating VUCA as a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world to dread, it was linked to Virtuousness, Understanding, Compassion, and Adaptability? Instead of being at the whim of a VUCA world, these essential human skills foster life-long learning. What effect would this reframing of VUCA and consequent skill acquisition have on our human development?
Virtuousness contains volatility
The online Cambridge Dictionary defines virtuous as “having good moral qualities and behaviors.” Fears have a tendency to rise in volatile situations. Drastic fluctuations, therefore, influence people to act impulsively with short-term results and immediate gains. A selfish mentality can develop. “Take what you can now before it is too late!” This perturbed mindset can lead to rash and immoral reactions. The accumulation of unethical decision making on a large scale in times of volatility ironically increases and compounds the volatility one wishes to diminish. A strong moral compass helps contain volatility. Virtuous people are stabilizers in times of instability.
Understanding reduces uncertainty
The online Cambridge Dictionary defines understanding as “knowledge about a subject, situation, etc. or about how something works.” How should one deal with uncertainty? Be mindful of what is in your control/what is known. Seek guidance to understand that which is uncertain or not completely known. Educate yourself. Ask questions. Conduct your own research. Simply put, be curious and learn. There is nothing more conducive to festering uncertainty than a fixed mindset, or solely relying on hearsay or one source of information. Fear of the unknown is best dealt with by keeping an open mind and understanding other realities.
Compassion humanizes complexity
The online Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines compassion as the “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” With nearly 8 billion people navigating complexity each day no one is exempt and no one goes unscathed. Unchecked complexity can lead to victimization and potential harm. Therefore, we need to show our compassion. Compassion humanizes the negative consequences of unresolved complexity by fostering inclusivity, a helping attitude, and raising social awareness at all levels. The pervasive, inclusive, and multi-leveled effort of the current Black Lives Matter movement is a case in point. Compassion ensures that we acknowledge how complexity impacts us all. And as importantly, it illustrates the vital role we all play in dealing with it.
Adaptability neutralizes ambiguity
The online Oxford Dictionary defines adaptability as the “quality of being able to change or be changed in order to deal successfully with new situations.” As creatures of habit, we adopt routines to creatively deal with ambiguity. Being too reliant on a fixed routine or way of living, however, can have limitations when an unforeseen significant event occurs. COVID-19 has been disrupting the routines and habits of millions of people. The further our fixed mindsets stray away from an ever-changing world reality the more we are confronted with this widening gap. This is illustrated in the digital paradox. Unfortunately, it takes a global pandemic like COVID-19 to remind us that we are not masters of the universe. Rather, we are a part of it. And as such, we, like all other living organisms, must either adapt to changing circumstances or face unnecessary hardship.
VUCA people need to be nurtured and engaged
It is high time we better deal with volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Fortunately, with a change of perspective and focus, the answer may be hidden in the same acronym. With virtuousness, understanding, compassion, and adaptability one is better able to cope with VUCA situations. All humans have the capacity to develop and practice these life-long skills. Doing so feeds a growth mindset and cultivates a collective consciousness focused on posterity. Younger generations see the value and need of being VUCA. We are seeing more VUCA people organizing in greater numbers across continents and for causes affecting all humans everywhere. Progressive companies also reap the benefit of developing human edge cultures. In sum, VUCA people are essential for a VUCA world.
About the author
Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Human Systems Expert, Conflict Resolution Specialist, Change Facilitator, Youth Coach, Author, and Speaker. He accompanies individuals, teams, and organizations wanting to fully integrate their human potential. As the creator of the EPIC Model, Jean-Pierre brings out the expertise in groups by encouraging authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom.
The Online Oxford Dictionary defines leadership as the action of leading a group of people or an organization. Additionally, it defines effective as successful in producing a desired or intended result.” Simply put: Effective leadership is the capacity to successfully guide the intended or desired action(s) of a person or group. According to this amoral definition, any person or group of people versed in rhetoric and/or subversive tactics can display effective leadership. But we know this not to be true. Ethical intention and the means by which outcomes are achieved are paramount.
Essential components of effective leadership
Organizations seeking effective leadership must look beyond outcome achievement. As the current global reality demonstrates, the ends no longer justify the means. Personal integrity, social competencies, economic equity, conflict transformation, transparency, environmental stewardship, posterity, ethical conduct, and inclusivity (age, gender, race) need to be at the core of effective leadership requirements and competencies. First, companies must clarify the intention of effective leadership. Second, this raison d’être should elicit an authentic response in every individual inspired to heed the call. Lastly, leadership needs to have the capacity to skillfully and creatively orchestrate the collection, the aggregate of these diverse individual entities in order to bring the intention to fruition. How should leadership ethically and equitably influence your organization? What sustainable methods should leadership use to reach objectives? How inclusive should processes be? How should leadership ensure that all stakeholders benefit from the outcome?
Effective leadership ensures economic equity
According to the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report, the world’s richest 1 percent, own 44 percent of the world’s wealth. Adults with less than $10,000 in wealth make up 56.6 percent of the world’s population, but hold less than 2 percent of global wealth. Effective leadership needs to become financially transparent, sustainable, and equitable for posterity’s sake. Universal economic opportunity needs to be at the forefront of all policies. Leadership needs to ensure that all humans have fair and equal access to both natural and artificial resources necessary to sustain a proper standard for living (access mental and physical healthcare included) and provide for a family when desired without jeopardizing career development.
Effective leadership is inclusive
The most translated document in the world is the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To date, it has been translated in 370 languages. Why? In addition to preserving the environment, without which humans could not exist, there is nothing more fundamental than ensuring the basic rights of all human beings. For example, which traits allowed women-led nations to cope well with COVID-19? Likewise, how can improving racial/ethnic balance in leadership better ensure basic human rights? Leadership is appropriately and ethically represented across gender and race when the ratio of those in leading roles are proportionate to those being led.
Bright Spots in closing gender and racial gaps
In 2018, Glassdoor partnered with JUST Capital to look at major corporations committed to equal pay. Remarkably, only 16 out of 920 publicly traded companies, the likes of Microsoft, VMWare, and Salesforce–just to name a few–were ensuring pay equity across gender and racial and ethnic lines. As companies close gender and racial/ethnic gaps and governments ensure human rights for all citizens, effective leadership promotes values that are transparent, ethical, equitable, sustainable, and inclusive.
Leadership roles in traditional organizations are often held by those who are one, two, or even three generations older than those being led. This alone is not a problem. Actually, there is a wealth of potential here. It can become an issue, however, when senior leadership is unable to incorporate the values and intentions of the younger generations of those they lead. Intergenerational learning is paramount in mutually acknowledging and integrating old and new forms of leadership. Companies who can do so will become more resilient and have an easier time ensuring an organization’s vitality. How can organizations with older forms of leadership give space for newer forms of leadership?
Acknowledging a changing of guards
Each generation has a new ideal of what effective leadership entails. Young people feel unheard and are quick to dismiss older mentalities as antiquated. Older people hold on to long-held beliefs are quick to dismiss newer realities as not being time-tested. A lack of mutual acknowledgment and respect prevents a seamless integration or transition of leadership styles. When all generations can honor the wisdom each brings, then there is an opportunity for dialogue, transformation, and growth. Newer companies and start-ups have an easier time implementing newer forms of leadership and organizational management since most employees belong to one or at most two generations. How can newer forms of leadership be given space in older and larger organizations where three or four generations are working together? As with all changing of the guards, the process must be honorable, on-going, and inclusive.
About the author
Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Human Systems & Group Dynamics Expert, Conflict Facilitator, Youth Coach, Author, and Speaker. He accompanies individuals and teams wanting to fully integrate their human resource potential at all organizational levels. As the creator of the EPIC Model, Jean-Pierre brings out the expertise in groups by encouraging authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom.
Resilience: Raspberry plant growing out of isolation and darkness
Resilience in nature
Recently, I stepped into the backyard and noticed a raspberry seedling had grown through the drainage hole of an overturned pot. Occasionally, some plants manage to sprout outside the bed–seen in the background. This one had bad luck. It escaped alright, but into an enclosed container. No worries. This plant did more than escape. It did what most plants do when faced with inhospitable conditions.
Resilience according to Merriam Webster has two definitions. The latter one being, “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” For the sake of this post, this definition will be used as it best fits how humans describe overcoming hardship.
We only need the basics
Similar to the unlucky rogue raspberry shoot, we too had no idea how quickly we would find ourselves trapped in our homes and apartments, alone and isolated. However, like the seedling, COVID-19 showed us that life continues to exist even when reduced to the basics. Nature constantly reminds us of what is needed to live. In spite of darkness and isolation, the plant had enough nourishment to continue on with its purpose. This is precisely what the world should be positively taking away from the pandemic. Namely, like plants, we truly do not need as much as we think to live a fulfilling life. Besides having sufficient food, light, and water, the plant showed three key elements of resilience in overcoming hardship and challenges.
Resilience is accepting the situation for what it is
Aside from humans, no plant or animal takes umbrage to misfortune. When did complaining ever change an undesirable situation? In the book, “Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why”, Lawrence Gonzalez writes about the differences between someone dying or surviving in life or death situations. Along with Viktor Frankl’s, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, both authors discuss the importance of purpose. Both also learned of another survivor trait. Well before Gonzalez and Frankl, the Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, born almost 2,000 years prior even observed:
“For good or for ill, life and nature are governed by laws that we can’t change. The quicker we accept this, the more tranquil we can be.”
Once the survivors accepted they could succumb in the next hours, an overwhelming feeling of relief came over them. Accepting their mortality released them from their own torment of death. Now, with a clear conscience, they were able to refocus their energy on making sure this outcome did not become their fate. And in most cases, they literally did it one step at a time.
Resilience requires going deep within to find purpose
Darkness can surround us in difficult times. Support systems may not be easily accessible. Like with the coronavirus, reaching outward in times of need can be hampered by government measures and/or personal limitations. When such conditions exist to whom and where do you turn? You go within. Raspberry roots grow deep underground, seeking water and nutrients to sustain life. The basis of resilience lies also deep within humans too. What is deep within us? Purpose. The will to live. Resilience requires a “why.” What makes you want to dig down deep within yourself in times of hardship? Why should you persist when faced with insurmountable obstacles and overwhelming feelings of adversity? Purpose makes you want to endure. And that you find within you.
Resilience requires looking above to set a goal
Normally, the flower pot is a container that sustains and supports plant development. When inverted, however, it does the opposite. The little amount of sunshine entering through the tiny drainage hole not only provided enough nourishment, but it also provided a goal to reach. For plants the why is clear; it is the “how” that sometimes poses the challenge. In this case, the seedling overcame the hurdle. The hole whose sole purpose is normally to drain excess water now became the goal to reach. Talk about a paradigm shift! We go deep within to find our “why.” Purpose alone, however, is not enough. Purpose requires a goal to show the achievement of the mission. Otherwise, it only remains an unfulfilled dream.
Resilience is short-term survival in order to live again
Until the plant breached the confinement of the overturned pot it was surviving. Once it cleared the hole and grew new leaves outside it went back to living. Humans too can be resilient and survive in the short-term. However, the long-term goal is to live. Remaining in survival mode for too long can be hazardous. Gonzalez wrote a follow-up book, Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience. Survivors survive with the hope of living again. Unfortunately for some, the trauma that may result from the ordeal of surviving makes it difficult for some to continue on living. They remain in survival mode with deleterious results.
A vaccine is needed but insufficient
Too many humans were surviving and showing resiliency prior to the outbreak. I would like to have history portray the COVID-19 pandemic as having saved more lives than it had taken by having us–like the raspberry plant–see the light. In our case, this means seeing the bigger picture for humanity. We cannot change COVID-19. We can, however, rethink our attitude, alter our behaviors, revise our policies, and update our structures. Like the raspberry plant, we will break through the hole and come out. Humankind must benefit from the multitude of awe-inspiring acts of human resiliency now on display worldwide. Let us not allow this global resiliency to be in vain. Worse than the current impact of the pandemic would be to squander this opportunity to achieve an equitable standard of living for all. This is fully in our control. Now is our chance to strive for that ray of light!
About the author
Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Human Systems Facilitator, Coach, Youth Expert, and Speaker. He accompanies organizations in fully integrating their human resource potential. He does so by facilitating group processes that foster authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom. Jean-Pierre is the creator of the EPIC Model of development and authored What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.
Those who lead for the sake of serving others embrace continuous learning and reflection as fundamentals in improving themselves and their leadership abilities. As Socrates stated, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I prefer the statement, “The examined life is worth living.”
Classic literature on leadership
My wife recently came across a 2015 Business Insider article titled 8 classic novels that will make you a better leader. She then asked me, “Didn’t you use Siddhartha as a model for leadership for a course you took?” I responded, “Yes, but that was long ago.” The Business Insider article by Rachel Sugar highlights literature identified by Scotty McLennan, a lecturer at the Graduate School of Stanford Business, as fictional sources for learning about leadership. According to McLennan, classical literature allows one to see the moral development of protagonists, thus gaining an understanding and appreciation of transformation processes leaders undergo.
Siddhartha on leadership
In 2003, I was in my second year of managing a 25-bed group home for delinquent youth in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Seeking to gain knowledge on leadership I enrolled in a Master’s of Public Administration program at Clark University and eagerly signed up for a class on Organizational Behavior and Leadership. I was ready for enlightenment! We had to present a historical person who in our opinion embodied leadership. The go-to figures like Martin Luther King, Georg Washington, Gandhi, and Mother Teresa were at the top of most people’s list. Having recently read Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, I immediately knew who I would pick.
The search for Siddhartha
After seeing Siddhartha second on McLennan’s list, I fervently scurraged through old computer files. To my surprise, I discovered the leadership PowerPoint presentation on Siddhartha Gautama from 2003. After having had reviewed the file I had realized that I had broken every rule there is on PowerPoint presentations! Nonetheless, I was happy to have found it. I present in this article my key takeaways on leadership from Hesse’s classic, Siddhartha. I encourage anyone in a leadership role or aspiring to someday be in one to read this story more than once.
Part I: The Brahmin’s Son
Leaders must at times choose a path not desired by supporters but still should have their support through the trust they have gained.
With the Samanas
Regardless of their avoidant practices, leaders cannot dodge the self in reality and must appropriately learn to cope with themselves.
Leaders radiate distinctive energy and have a presence that can be felt by others.
A leader’s wisdom cannot be learned by others, nor is one’s acquired wisdom better or worse than another’s; it is only different due to one’s individual experiences.
Leaders at some point act independently of what they have learned and of what others think; this can be a lonely but necessary process.
Part II: Kamala
Leaders must not only rely on logic; they must learn to use their senses as well.
Leaders do not make decisions hastily; they listen to their inner voice.
Leaders are drawn to their goal; they do not allow anything to enter their mind which opposes their goal.
Amongst the People
Leaders accept all people and treat them all the same.
Leaders can still be successful if they know a little about business as long as they are calm, can listen, and make good impressions on people.
Leaders becoming too engrossed and consumed by their material rewards can lose their effectiveness and original purpose.
By the River
Leaders need both knowledge and experience.
Leaders are not defined by titles, clothing, or possessions since these are all transitory; they are defined by their character and beliefs.
Leaders are human and therefore fallible; they learn from their mistakes.
Leaders do not see nature as a hindrance or something to be conquered; they gain knowledge by learning from nature.
Leaders listen with an open soul, without desire, judgment, or opinions.
Leaders do not quantify their success in relation to time nor are they bound by it; they exist for the moment.
Difficult conversations are those where a real or imagined fear of addressing a serious matter is equal to or supersedes the issue itself. In the workplace, this could be mediating a conflict between colleagues, confronting allegations of misconduct, placing an employee on leave as a result of an investigation, and involuntary termination. Difficult conversations tremendously impact one or more of a person’s basic needs and can result in shame, embarrassment, feelings of incompetence, or anger. Although these immediate outcomes are all possible, they can be alleviated.
Address difficult conversations as soon as possible
Issues at work grow in scope and scale the longer they go unaddressed. They can even take on a life of their own. Coworkers and even customers and clients can feel rising tensions. This was of particular concern in the group home for youth I oversaw where clients were around 24/7. Residents overheard quarrels and took sides, making matters worse. This created a toxic work environment and derailed the program’s purpose. Immediately addressing issues minimizes this risk. It also builds employee trust. A quick and prudent intervention shows that management is both confident and competent in maintaining a harmonious, safe, and ethical workplace. It supports and validates those who live and breath your mission.
Document, document, document
Difficult conversations are usually preceded by one or more notable events worthy of documentation. Hindsight is 20/20. The trick is to have 20/20 foresight. The way to facilitate difficult conversations is to sense potential personnel issues before they reach critical mass. Address and document precursors. Take the warning signs seriously. It is imperative to document supervisions and warnings. Documentation provides evidence to support an impending difficult conversation. All parties should sign all documented conversations. Signatures acknowledge that a conversation took place.
Have a policy on staff conduct
Explicit rules and expectations on employee conduct and how personnel issues are addressed send a clear message that attitude and behavior matter to the organization and are enforced. My management and leadership experience was with unionized staff. Most managers shudder at the mention of a union. HR and the union helped me resolve personnel matters in accordance with a set of rules. Yes, I sometimes could not terminate unfit employees sooner than desired. At the same time, all employees felt safe knowing that there were clear procedures.
There is nothing more important than when employees feel that they have been fairly treated. It reached the point where even my union steward felt I was sometimes too lenient. This was to my advantage. I have had the unfortunate task of involuntarily terminating staff and not one resulted in a grievance. On the contrary, most resulted in a parting handshake with no hard feelings. Some even thanked me for the opportunity as they walked out the door. Staff knew that if they were being let go–except in cases of gross misconduct where termination was immediate–that any of the following had previously occurred: supervision, previous warnings, EAP referral, corrective action, and collaboration between the union steward and management. In other words, there were no surprises and therefore little for management to fear.
Bring in a 3rd party
Include a 3rd party or observer when conducting difficult conversations. In my case, it was the union steward and my assistant director. As a manager I was not in the union, however, the union steward protected me as much as the employee. He became a trusted advisor in handling personnel issues. A 3rd party is recommended for several reasons. First, there is a witness in case of future litigation. Second is professionalism. The meeting can be debriefed and reviewed. The third is safety. If one is having difficulty advancing the conversation the other can take the lead role. In the event of a complete communication breakdown, the 3rd party can mediate or stop the meeting. In general, we are more likely to be on good behavior when we know there are witnesses.
It isn’t personal, it’s about the company
Leaders or managers who stand behind a clear purpose or mission have an easier time addressing difficult conversations because it is not personal. It’s about the company’s purpose. Having an overarching focus on something greater than the individual parties involved puts the matter at hand into perspective. It depersonalizes the situation. In my case, the program I led was responsible for the care and welfare of 20 at-risk youth. The program was situated in the middle of a residential area with friendly but wary neighbors. Trust was everything. All staff knew that any safety or security breach or conduct violation warranted a potentially difficult discussion. Employees were dedicated and passionate about helping young people. The program was well respected by the funding source, the company, and competing NGOs. Employees enjoyed working there as was evidenced by a staff retention rate 3 times higher than the national average.
More tips on handling difficult conversations
For additional practical tips on handling difficult conversations check out articles from Psychology Today and Forbes.
A group of teens is huddled behind their smartphones instead of engaging with one another. An emotional email-rant is sent to a colleague instead of a face-to-face discussion. The more technology ostensibly appears to disconnect us from one other the more it beckons us to confront our own humanity. This is the digital paradox. I briefly identify digital buzzwords and attribute to each the respective human developmental challenge we face.
Respective Human Equivalent
Augmented Reality (AR)
Mixed Reality (MR)
Diversity of Perceptions
Trust / Transparency
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Emotional Intelligence (Sensing)
Internet of Things (IoT)
The Interconnectedness of All Living Things (IoLT)
Bots and Algorithms
Ethical Intention / Posterity
Human Augmented Reality Makes Us Unique
Augmented Reality is a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view. We augment reality daily using our own biological computer–the brain–to enhance sensory-based experiences based upon our programmed perceptions. Are we at risk of losing our sense of self-perception in a predetermined digitally enhanced augmented reality? What impact does sharing the same augmented sensory experience have on our human development? This leads us to the next emerging technology and its human-related counterpart.
Managing Mixed Reality Requires Leadership
Digital mixed reality refers to any real-time combination between reality, virtual reality, and augmented reality. In human terms, mixed reality is the intricate interplay of “augmented realities” of over 7.5 billion people. Globalization is the unstoppable convergence of human beings. Nevertheless, the rise of nationalism, xenophobia, and religious intolerance shows a struggle to accept this natural process. Why? Managing diversity requires leaders who can hold the space for multiple mixed realities. Managing conformity only requires top-down authority. Leading diversity is achieved on a more horizontal plane by fostering knowledge sharing to promote common human interests. Dictating uniformity is achieved on a more vertical axis by restricting information sharing to satisfy self-interest based on hierarchy. What does this struggle to integrate mixed realities say about the quality and intention of current global leadership? This leads us to the next emerging technology.
Blockchain is About Trust and Transparency
According to a World Economic Forum report, corruption costs the global economy $3.6 Trillion each year. Blockchain in its basic form is an electronic ledger (chain) of individual data transactions (blocks). In comparison to current financial transaction methods, Blockchain is more secure and unalterable, fostering trust and transparency in a VUCA world. Data is the new oil in the digital era. The importance of trust and transparency will increase as the importance and scope of information expand. The era of “Fake News” is hardly a surprise as financial scandals surface. To remain in power, those who profit from deceit slander and discredit the sources revealing the deception. Blockchain mitigates this issue by allowing one to transparently “follow the money” and brings us to the next tech buzzwords.
Big Data & Artifical Intelligence = Collective Consciousness & Emotional Intelligence
In an emerging digital age tech gurus like Jack Ma are advising us to focus more on what humans do best. Computers are best at collecting raw data (Big Data) and using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to analyze this surplus of data as desired. This relationship between Big Data and AI humanly translates to our collective consciousness and emotional intelligence respectively. Trust and transparency awaken our collective consciousness and stimulate our emotional intelligence. Like computers, humans gather exorbitant amounts of data through augmented and mixed human realities. Being in tune with our emotional state and those of others leads us to be more aware and compassionate. This is being human. Collective consciousness and emotional intelligence make us whole and connected with nature. This is what computers cannot do and leads us to the next tech wonder.
The Internet of Things (IoT) Represents the Interconnectedness of Living Things (IoLT)
The Internet of things (IoT) is a system of interconnected computing sensors able to transfer data over an integrated network. As our collective consciousness grows and emotional intelligence develops, we will better understand the interconnectedness of all living things (IoLT). IoT reflects the intricate food web and symbiotic relationships naturally keeping life on Earth in a delicate balance. Somehow this chain of digital events sounds a bit like the famous British nursery rhyme, This is the House that Jack Built! This children’s story is not about Jack’s house per se. Rather it is about the stories of people and animals in his house. The same is true of digitalization. Technology ultimately comes full circle back to our human development and its impact on the 8.7 million species inhabiting Earth. And so our digital intention needs to be clear. Let’s look at the next two tech buzzwords for some insights.
The Use of Bots and Algorithms Show Intention
Humans create technology. We determine its use and intention. Bots are programs created to automate repetitive tasks. There are Good Bots and Bad Bots. Good bots can improve your website’s SEO and bad bots can steal content from your website. An algorithm is a set of steps to accomplish a task. Algorithms, like bots, are not free of corruptive influence and human prejudices. Algorithm bias already exists. Like all technology, bots and algorithms are a means to an end. The collective use of bots and algorithms shows our overall human intention and future direction. Digitalization is a reflection of our human development. Is it to serve the interests of the few or benefit the common good of all? What is needed to ensure that posterity supersedes the lucrative lure of special interest to exploit advancements in technology?
The Digital Paradox Can Be Our Saving Grace
The digital paradox is technology enlightening humanity. It is putting the proverbial cart before the horse. This is not only the best outcome; it is achievable. The digital paradox casts a bright light onto what is needed for us to further develop as the top species responsible for this planet and all other species inhabiting it. Advancements in deep learning bring algorithms and computers closer to mimicking human thought and behavior. At this stage of our human development is the objective of making machines in the image of humans advisable? We routinely and sadly witness the enduring physical and emotional harm a group of people or even a single human being with malicious intent can have on a community. Imagine what devastation a global network of ill-intentioned algorithms could do? What is needed to minimize this risk?
The Digital Paradox Demands Ethical Dialog
We must proceed with mindful ethical oversight. Ethical dialog about technology and its use and intention requires as much attention and resources as that which go into R&D itself. However, careful and serious attention is needed when assembling ethics committees. A recent Guardian article highlighted the risks of having biased and nondiverse members on ethics committees in charge of ensuring that algorithms are not biased and prejudiced. Lo and behold another paradox! Humans stand at the center of all technology. No matter which reality lens you use, the digital paradox becomes clearly evident the more digital processes mirror the likeness of their human creators. Even in a technologically advanced world, all roads still lead to Rome.
Leader Gestures – The basics of decency and respect
Within a period of three days, on two of the world’s biggest stages, millions of viewers observed two slights of basic human decency and respect by two of the most influential people towards other prominent world figures. The first faux pas coincidently occurred on Friday, July 13, 2018, at Windsor Palace between Queen Elizabeth II and President Donald Trump. The second occurred on Sunday, July 15, 2018, at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow between Presidents Vladimir Putin, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, and Emmanuel Macron. Fortunately for all of us, President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović of Croatia was modeling desperately needed pro-social leader gestures.
The Queen is somewhere around here
The procedure seems straightforward. Walk side-by-side through a column of honor guards. How difficult can it be? Even with what appeared to be instruction from the Queen, Trump either did not listen and/or did not care about the procedure. Leaving the Queen momentarily in his shadow, he gave the impression that the ceremony was only to honor his presence. During the short promenade, Trump not once looked at the Queen.
Put aside for a moment their titles and all the pomp and circumstance. An older man (72) is walking with an even older woman (92). As fit as Queen Elisabeth II is she is elderly and walking on an uneven surface. Wouldn’t it be proper and kind for the man to walk by her side? That is at a minimum. The extra step would be to offer his arm. The picture below offers a striking contrast to what easily could have been. The facial expressions in each picture say it all.
Raining? Really, I’m hardly wet.
As French and Croatian players in the World Cup finals were awarded their medals and congratulated by FIFA president Gianni Infantoni, Vladimir Putin, Emmanuel Macron, and Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, it began to rain then pour. As weather conditions worsened, the first to receive an umbrella was Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović. No, not exactly. The first to receive protection from the elements was the host, Vladimir Putin. As Putin was sheltered by a large umbrella he did not even have to hold, Grabar-Kitarović, Macron, and Infantoni stood in elements jubilantly embracing players and coaches.
Let us again put aside the titles and the significance of the ceremony. You are hosting three people at your house in your backyard. Suddenly the clouds roll in and it begins to rain then downpour. What do you do? You find an umbrella for yourself. No. This is not an airplane emergency where you are instructed to put your mask on first, then attend to others. You attend to the needs of your guests first.
Trump does not fair better with umbrella courtesy. He also ensured his well-being first under an oversized golf umbrella while Barron and Melanie handled the elements sans parapluie. Maybe the Queen could arrange a lesson in umbrella etiquette for them both.
Leader gestures and their impact on followers
Small gestures say a lot about a leader’s character. A leader is the model of the behavior she wants her followers to emulate. Some followers do in fact imitate what their leader says and does. What messages are Presidents Trump and Putin sending their constituents on how to treat the elderly, family members, countries hosting you, or foreigners visiting your country?
Remember playing Follow-the-leader as a child? A very empowering feeling for a young person knowing every one must pay attention to her every step and action. These simple leader gestures, however, are not a game and need to be taken seriously. Followers can become emboldened by a leader’s irresponsible and anti-social gestures or language. Depending on the leader’s influence and intention, he can incite followers to either bring communities together or have them tear apart the social fabric that keeps us treating one another humanely. I explore the dangers of phony leadership in a previous blog.
A responsible leader gesture
On July 1st, when the Round of 16 of the World Cup was underway, President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović flew economy class to Russia with other Croatian fans to support their national team. What impact did her small gesture have on her constituents and the team? See for yourself. The Croatian national team deserves full credit for reaching the World Cup Finals. One begs to ask, however, if such pro-social behaviors becoming of a president also contributed to their team’s national and international success?