Good, evil and the role of leaders

In preparation for a proposed talk at TED X Melbourne, I have been doing a bit of reading and research on creative emergence, complex systems, interconnectedness, strategic decisions, community, sustainability and change ! Yip, just the sort of stuff that will keep you indoors on a beautiful sunny Spring morning in Sydney, when the rest of your family is frolicking on the beach. 

I also found this poem, which I think I may use to illustrate a point about the role of leaders in times of rapidly accelerating change and ambiguity….that sometimes, evil and good present in indistinguishable form- aided by an abundance of information channels, which means anyone can peddle any story, and people don’t know who or what to believe. 

Take any big and complex issue….or dilemmas if you like, because whichever course of action taken to address these issues, there’s a trade-off choice- one bad thing instead of a badder thing, or one bitter pill to swallow for the greater good…Global Climate Change, Carbon Tax, Mining Tax, Coal Seam Gas drilling, Illegal immigration…..a long list of complex interconnected systems and not a lot of consensus between good and evil.

Populist leaders exploit these scenarios for short-term gains by polarising communities and playing fear-mongering cards instead of encouraging enquiry, questioning and debate. A confused electorate can be easily swayed by a simplistic reduction of a complex issue that appears to provide certainty, clarity and convenience that fit with what people want to hear, no matter how ill-informed or cancerous to the greater good.

In Australia we have a famous example of an outspoken politician stating publicly that “Climate Change is crap!”, only to be haunted by that statement when the leadership tables were upturned and,in the full glare of the media, he found himself as Leader of the Opposition with a lot of explaining to do for THAT remark. Reducing the complex by oversimplication is a strategy that works well in mobilizing the ignorant (confused, overloaded) masses for a short-term gain, but its a poisoned chalice. 

Far harder is it to take time out for questioning, fact-gathering and reflection to understand the complex relationships between things and set a vision for a pathway through a complex issue. It doesn’t work well as a slogan or as a 140 character tweet! 

In an age of interconnectedness and abundant information, citizens will have to do much more personal homework to inform themselves and to hold decisionmakers accountable for short-term decisions with long term consequences that will prove poisonous to our future, our environment and our economy. 

Leaders who face up to tough messages, who understand the interconnectedness of complex systems….they have to be the sensemakers. They have to connect the dots for people and paint the pictures of change through their words – through stories that change hearts and minds- one by one. Truth is the new scarcity. And integrity right alongside! 

As volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity increase, people are looking for leadership that can:

  • See through the messes and contradictions
  • See a future that others cannot yet see
  • Find a viable direction by which to proceed
  • See hope on the other side of trouble
  • Inspire with their message, attract followers and build momentum for change

It’s not easy, but it matters.

And for the record, I am opposed to Coal Seam Gas Mining because in spite of its apparent good in terms of job creation and clean energy in the form of gas, its the permanent damage to water tables ( see report -groundwater-impacts-of-csg.pdf) in a land dogged by drought that I cannot get beyond.  We have many alternative sources for energy- there is none for water. Not blind opposition to progress, but opposition to BLIND progress.

And I am prepared to speak out. My question to all decision-makers and voters is: How will the future judge you if you don’t?  


By Cliff Crego

Along a trail

through a high
cottonwood meadow,

horsemint and death camas

grow side by side,

the one healing herb,

the other poison root.


Such is the strangeness

of the way things are.

Sure sign of “evil”

as a dark

force of nature,

to do us in?


Quite doubtful . . .

More the ever-present possibility,

as we cross paths with the good,

and the bad,

of not knowing the difference 
between them.


/> Death Camas



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