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The Paradox of Being Right for Leadership

Your perspective of a situation is unique to you, and different perspectives of the same data do not have to lead to unresolvable conflict; it is always possible to find a compromise. However, an underlying issue remains — data and perspectives will also change with differing time horizons. This explores the leadership question: “Do you want to be perfectly right today or more right about the future?” 

Some individuals are captivated by the perpetual cycle of change, transformation, and adaptation that is fashion. What was considered fashionable yesterday may not hold the same status tomorrow - this is the very essence of fashion. It's a thrilling journey of infusing the existing with a dash of novelty to birth a fresh trend. Given its seasonal nature, we are constantly exposed to and immersed in this ever-evolving world of fashion.

Whilst risk and beauty are subjective, society's perception of them also evolves, albeit at a different pace than fashion. The concept of risk may shift every decade, whilst our notion of beauty might take twice as long to transform. This slow evolution invites us to reflect on our changing perceptions and the factors that influence them.

What is considered ethical, moral, or evil also changes with time.  There is a golf between what was considered moral or evil in the Dark Ages and today.  “Digital Harm”, or the harm from screen time, mobiles, iPads and online content was not a factor in a parent's mind in 1990; today, it is one of the most widely discussed and debated issues. The risk to individuals and families is clear, but the scale of harm is still largely undefined.

Therefore we can understand that some aspects of human nature and perceptions change at a glacial speed compared to fashion.  “What is right” and a “ definition of the common good” are examples that may change once in a lifetime, which means that intergenerational views about what is right can be vastly different. As our knowledge of fat, sugar, salt, drugs, alcohol, and smoking has advanced, so has our understanding of their risks.  Paradigm attachment (attachment theory)  in psychology and path dependency in economics are articulations of the strong forces that restrict current decision-making based on our past - they prevent us from seeing a better “right.”  We prefer “experience” to reinforce what we know based on past success rather than adapting to the new. This means we appreciate why getting to a new normal becomes impossibly slow and hard. 

Whilst not exclusive, we often experience differences in views from the varying attitudes towards climate, sustainability, poverty, and discrimination between the older and the younger members of society.

Women have, in the majority, led changes redefining “what is right” and “what is a better common good.”  Consider Rosa Parks, Florence Nightingale, Ada Lovelace, Junko Tabei, Jane Austin,  Marie Curie, Margaret Sanger, Frida Kahlo, Anne Frank, Betty Friedan, Benazir Bhutto, Shirley Chisholm, Miriam Makeba, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Gloria Steinem to name a few.   They have individually championed change.  They could see the “right” (normal) today was not as good as the “right” (normal) could be tomorrow. Over lifetimes some incredible individuals have crafted change for a better world.

Those who see a better future see yesterday's and today's rules, which are held by a majority, as easy and familiar. Leadership will challenge and reject the ideals of “repeat because that is how it is.” Knowing what is right for tomorrow is critically important as a north star for leadership, which means a reliance on yesterday's data could slow or prevent gettering to a new normal, where there is a better right. 

If I plot those leaders who create and craft a better tomorrow on the Peak Paradox framework, they will tend towards Peak Individual Purpose. The opposite reflection on the model from the individual is the majority who keep going on the existing path as the group. Peak Group Purpose.  These are those who find it easy to accept the existing norm and don’t want to stand out and challenge the power model of today. Some in the majority may want and believe in something better, but it is perceived as less conflictual and easier to follow - we see this as let’s preference experience.  

There is a third group: those who take, steal, mashup, mix, and copy the ideas of others for a better right and common good but adapt them to benefit principally themselves. Peak Organisational Purpose. These companies, charities, organisations, and policymakers are powerful forces that both serve their own purpose.  

Between these three major groups are those who live in Peak Paradox.  They are stuck in the inescapable “doom spirals” of despair where they cannot resolve everything for a better world. They love to make everything more complex as it officiates the small things we can do.  They wrestle with the widest issues to solve the the impossible conflicts and tensions because as tomorrow emerges, today becomes yesterday, and those who hang on to today become increasingly distanced from the new idea of what is right.  

Fashion, risk, beauty, harm and rights do not stand still; they are not destinations.  

A desire for a better “right” does not have to be complex. Getting to “a better common good” should not be a path full of hazards, blockages, and recrimination—but it is and demands a special person who can stand up and challenge the existing and craft the new. 

The paradox of being right is that even with the same data, what is right for you may be different from what is right for me. Critically, for leadership and the board, it is about more than resolving today's idea of what is right (that is management's job); it is about finding a place to be more right about a better future. 

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