Saturday, January 9, 2010

Simon says . . .

When I was a kid, we had this game called "follow the leader" which meant someone got to be picked as the leader, and we would all follow. The people that followed "right" got to stay in the game, and the people who didn't got eliminated from the game.

The game, "Simon Says" was another childhood game that taught us some simple life lessons. Simon, says do "this" and we all do "that." The "this" doers kept playing; the "that" doers get sent to the sidelines to watch the fun.

Simon was always the most popular person, possessing some mystery star quality. But other times, Simon was the best athlete and almost always the leader was able to make every one believe they knew what to do next.

Childhood games taught us to listen to our teachers, our parents, and anyone else who would be "in charge." Good leaders and good followers learned to be good students, rewarded with A's and B's on the report card. Those who got C's played the game differently, choosing what was important instead of assuming all of it was. Those who got D's just didn't play the game at all.

Now Simon has a new job description.

Somewhere between 1960 and 1985, the rules of the game have changed. Values have shifted. The consciousness has been raised. We no longer follow the leader just because he or she is the named leader. We do not care about things unless we see the relevance to our lives. We do not follow without questions.

Now the followers want to be inspired, engaged, and interested in the task before Simon has a hope. Instead of saying, "stand on one leg and jump in circle", Simon would have to provide some rationale for the request. There would be an implementation plan and a communication strategy. Performance metrics would be provided so that the action is measurable. Only half would accomplish the task; 1/3 would need training, and the other third are still "processing."

Today, the cul de sac is a bigger playing a field where the bottom line is all about money: making money (free enterprise), spending money (public sector), lending and accessing money (financial services), or asking for money (non - profits). Simon is the one who is responsible for the financial success and the reputation of the organization. Simon must be trustworthy, inspiring, honest and credible.

The balance of power has shifted. We are more apt to ask our leaders to demonstrate that they deserve to be listened to. Respect is not a given. It must be earned. As a society, we are no longer innocent children on the cul de sac. We have enough experience to know that sometimes they are wrong. We have seen leaders fall and lead others astray; we are wary of the Pied Piper who led the rats off a cliff with his engaging melody. We see it in the news all the time. It makes us question leaders. And rightfully so, because when Simon says something, it has to be for the right reasons.

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