Leadership and inequality

[A version of this piece first appeared in my short Saturday morning “Three Things” email. To sign up for regular writing from me on life, thinking, acting and being, go here.]

Inequality is on everyone’s minds right now.

There is much totally justified anger and protest, and directed to the right places, that will help make change happen.

There is also some unjustified victimhood and violence, and a lot of that will only create a negative spiral in which nothing gets better.

Equality is not about equal benefits.

Equality is about equal opportunities.

You and I could get exactly the same opportunity. If you make more of it than me, I can’t claim inequality.

Reducing inequality of opportunity is a key challenge for the leaders of the next 20 years.

Most of the focus on inequality, though, is on inequality of resources. We often hear the stat about the top 1%, which usually looks something like this:

That 1% vs the 90% gap has been widening since 2000, and picked up the pace after 2010, which mirrors the adoption of Internet technology.

Redistribution of wealth is a challenge that every Government has had for thousands of years.

But a bigger challenge, I think, is to address inequality not of resources but of opportunity.

People who live in the wrong part of town get poorer school results, attend university at a lower rate, have higher levels of crime, illness and premature death. Equality of opportunity can change those outcomes.

Leadership and inequality: The challenge for public leaders

To reduce inequality, leaders need to take note of the access to opportunity, and peel back all of the layers until root causes are identified, and address each one in turn.

This will be a test of great leadership, and the leaders who emerge as great leaders will do so through the twin terror of global economic turmoil and joblessness and strife on the one hand, and the instant mass communication of the Internet and how the mob mentality can lower hard-won reputations forever in a matter of hours.

Those leaders are very likely to be criticised and ridiculed and loathed by very many who do not appreciate the complexity of leadership and responsibility.

That’s part of the job now.

Different types of leadership is emerging. On the one hand, the leaders who are playing the mass communication game: Donald Trump, and the Dominic Cummings influence in the UK, for two examples. On the other, the macro-thinking, care-minded tough-plus-tender approach of the likes of Jacinta Ardern in New Zealand.

The trouble is, the most important changes happen over the long-term whereas politicians in democratic nations are rewarded, or punished on, short-term change or circumstance.

That’s at a government and nation state level.

Leadership and inequality: The challenge for individuals

At an individual level, which is even more important to me — as the focus of many of these blogs and my podcast is on what it is that adds up to a life well lived, and as all major change comes at the individual level first — there are other challenges and opportunities.

When we as individuals notice, and grasp, the opportunities we do have to lead, speak up, take responsibility and ownership, we might be able to do more to address inequality than they appreciate.

Personal leadership means casting our gaze inwards first. Rule 6 of Professor Jordan B. Peterson’s book, 12 Rules for Life, is:

Set your house in perfect order before you criticise the world

Personal leadership at an individual level is not easy, but it must be much more straightforward than public leadership, especially that which is driven less by ego and being centre stage, and more by contribution and impact and positive change.

The great leaders will make things better for the most people. It will be interesting to see who emerges.

[A version of this piece first appeared in my short Saturday morning”Three Things” email. To sign up for regular writing from me on life, thinking, acting and being, go here.]