Debates at the crossroads

So, Canada and the U.S. both hosted debates last evening; Canada for it’s national party leaders, in advance of the upcoming Federal Election in October, and the U.S. Democratic National Committee (DNC) for candidates seeking the Democratic nomination in the March 2020 Primary.

These debates are significant for one simple yet existential reason: choosing the ‘wrong’ leader at this crossroads of history will have repercussions the likes of which humans have never before experienced.  The reason: climate emergency.

For those who have not yet checked out the findings of the scientific community, do so, before you vote. This is not a hoax, scam, or money-making scheme for businesses in the Green sustainability industry.  It is very real, and human caused. If you have not read the summary of the October 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, do so, before you vote. In the short year since it’s publication, scientists have alarmingly stated that the recommendations in the report are already understated. Earth is warming even more quickly than that radical report cautioned.

Canada, as a historically fossil fuel-driven economy, faces a fundamental ‘paradigm shift’ away from resources to a knowledge-based sustainable one. Fossil fuel workers, who contributed to our national prosperity for decades, need to be retrained and protected during the transition. Massive capital and human resources need to be devoted to this change initiative. We face also a rare opportunity to step up on the world stage by demonstrating that we have the courage and leadership to show that major transformation is possible, even from a fossil fuel economy, to a cleaner one.

America, leader in fracking and oil production and consumption, remains the unilateral global power to whom the world (at least pre-November 6, 2016) looked for guidance and responsible, measured action in emergencies. Yet collusion between Congress, Wall Street, the fossil fuel industry and mainstream media has kept the climate issue well off the public radar until the last two devastating hurricanes forced them to address it. Their puerile president insists it’s a Chinese hoax.

In both countries the level of public ignorance and feckless leadership is startling and unnerving.

Canada’s glamour-boy Prime Minister, being influenced by the fossil fuel industry, used taxpayer funds to actually buy a pipeline contract from a U.S. company, when he saw that public sentiment was shifting in the other direction. Then, true to courageous leadership form, he failed to even show up for the first debate last night, being represented instead by an empty podium. As for the public, a quick post-debate poll showed that 76% of Canadians thought the Conservative leader (who is also beholden to the fossil fuel industry) won the debate, and they also ranked the climate issue far behind those of immigration and taxes. They don’t get it.

Down in America, the DNC earlier refused member demands to host a separate debate solely on the climate emergency, leaving CNN to step up and do so. And while that debate did have substantive discussion about very important issues (health care for all, gun violence, immigration, racism, corruption) the participants failed to drive home the point that should we fail to curtail this climate emergency, all the efforts on those other issues simply become an exercise of re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Every once in awhile, society encounters events that slap it awake from its sleepy day-to-day concerns. Whether the Biblical story of the Flood is historical or allegory, imagine the stress and courage experienced by people facing that catastrophe. Less dramatic, and definitely real, were the World Wars, Great Depression, the 2008 Great Recession. Each of those required the emergence of strong leaders to guide the public to safer ground. Yet none of those involved existential consequences for failure. Only the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis comes close, and fortunately for us, both Kennedy and Khrushchev had the moral courage and leadership strength to make the right decisions and ease back from the brink.

Here’s the critical fact: scientists say that at most we have an 11 year window in which to hold the global temperature increase to 1.5 degree Celsius above pre-Industrial Age levels. Should we fail, we won’t experience severe disruption immediately, but the momentum will be irreversible, and the consequences catastrophic.

Yet our current global ‘leaders’ seem more preoccupied with maintaining the status quo, with incremental change, with the financial minutiae topics of Davos, with personal enrichment. If we fail to elect the right leaders this time around, the window for remedial action will close, and we will deserve to be cursed by our children, if they survive.

We are at the crossroads of human existence, created by us, and manageable by us. But we need to elect the right leaders, and the will and courage to support them. NOW.

Michael Darmody is a leadership consultant and executive coach. More detail on the challenges we currently face can be found in his new book The Boiling Frog: How Complacency and Ignorance Created Our Leadership Crisis and What We Can Do About It.

Values: Leaders Need to Know, Live, and Communicate Them

Daughter: “Mom, have you seen my green top anywhere?”
Mother: “Honey, you know that isn’t exactly my style.” Smiles thinly.
As the daughter runs off, mother dashes upstairs to rifle through her laundry basket, retrieve the stained top (to flashbacks of her out on the town with friends while wearing it) and quickly launders it with Tide’s newest product.
Pan to the daughter now wearing the top “hey mom, I found it; must’ve been hiding somewhere in my closet!” Mother smiles knowingly.
Some may think I am moralizing in criticizing this commercial, but I suggest there’s more going on here than meets the eye, especially the eye of Proctor & Gamble. This is surprising given the excellent job P&G has done for over 100 years to protect and manage it’s brand.
I imagine the ad agency was just trying to be cute: aging mother borrows daughter’s cool blouse to go out and have fun again as a youngster with her friends. This is completely innocuous. All of us middle-agers relate to the urge to do that. I’m wearing my son’s old Notre Dame fleece as I write this.
What P&G overlooked is the message that mother’s subtle lie sends to viewers.
First of all, don’t they realize that for a mother to be afraid or reluctant to tell her daughter the truth reflects an unhealthy family relationship? Quite the contrary, they try to portray this as cute and acceptable. Parents who lie to their children (directly or indirectly) quickly lose their children’s respect. Children played for fools quickly demonstrate to parents they’re anything but fools. This ad portrays as ‘normal’ exactly the dynamic that every family should work hard to avoid: deception and silence.
Second, from a marketing perspective, it is risky and dangerous. P&G has been a leader in (among other things) learning how to tap into and leverage the power of the internet and social media to build relationships that strengthen long-term buying. What I’m sure they quickly learned is that this new savvy audience cannot be easily zoomed; that they, more than ever before, demand transparency, authenticity and integrity, not just in products and services, but also in the companies that sell them. If P&G sanctions an ad celebrating family deception, why should the audience believe P&G doesn’t march to that same drummer? What ‘little white lies’ about P&G are they concealing?
Am I overreacting? Perhaps a tad. After all, it IS only a soap commercial. But the point is that for the pubic to understand and decide on a company’s values, (that is, should I buy from these guys?), that company must first clearly know what their values are, must walk that same talk, and must then ensure that every message sent out from their domain reinforces those values. Consider Hyundai’s ‘green’ car ads as perfectly aligned value statements.
Values, actions and messaging must be tightly aligned, especially among today’s buying public, where online conversations make or break product success. Judgments are swift, harsh, and viral.
Over the centuries (imagine that!) P&G has done a stellar job of crafting their solid image, so I think this ad is simply an oversight. That said, it is enough to make me decide not to buy that product, as the ad irritates me every time I see it. And lucky for them, my blog has yet to build a huge audience.
Values matter: know them, live them, and consistently communicate them.

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