I was running up on Mackinac and thinking of my wife/governor’s recent successes landing a bunch of cutting-edge green energy companies in Michigan. Some people get fired up talking about sports, shoes, or sex. She gets passionate talking about things like “net metering,” through which a homeowner who produces more energy than they use – through, for example, efficiencies, and wind turbine(s) or solar panels – actually can be paid by the utility for generating energy instead of being charged for using energy. As I was thinking about energy, two obnoxious Mackinac Island crows appeared on the road. I hollered at one, it flew off, cawing in response, and it hit me – it, the idea, not the crow…
We’ve depended upon oil, natural gas and coal. As we learned in school, they are essentially finite; the gifts of God – the results of fossils, pressure, heat, and a whole lot of time – likely hundreds of thousands of years. But then there’s the crow. Its main fuel supply? Horse manure. The horse’s waste, the crow’s food becomes. Enough energy to burn! To fly, if you can imagine that, with plenty of excess energy for it to caw its disdain for me.
So, here’s the connection to leadership. In the old view, THE leader was the massive coal burning power plant. Whether the leader was a school superintendent, governor, CEO, teacher or priest, he (not often she) distributed to us the knowledge and instruction and energy we needed to be good followers. We paid our respect and our dues:
- The Pope tapped the Church’s 2000 year history and distilled learning from his expert priests and his study of Greek, Roman, and ancient Aramaic.
- The President or Czar embodied our history and our laws. As Louis the 14th said “L’Etat c’est moi,” or “I am the state.”*
- The doctor studied to know things you couldn’t possibly know or understand.
- The teacher learned the content and the process to pour knowledge into you.
Each, a big power source distributed knowledge, direction, and instruction. Not any more!
In a Googly world: Sorry Father, but every parishioner can find a Greek translation. Sorry doc, but your patient can often self-diagnose and learn things you couldn’t know about her genealogy and even her DNA. And I’m loving this: my young business colleagues all understand the new tools of communication – Facebook, podcasts, internet radio, Twitter, and the ‘net and all its possibilities better than I do. My point: There is trapped energy all over the place, potentially released in brilliant flashes and breakthroughs. Our education budgets (like cheap oil) are down and may not bounce back for years, but our children and their parents and our retirees are full of energy, potential, learning every day.
On the largest scale, American dominance is no longer guaranteed. Former 3rd world countries are vaulting forward, as much by unleashing hungry minds as by offering cheap labor. But America has millions of pools of untapped energy: wondrous human biodiversity, free speech, broadband, and awesome foundations in learning. IF, if, if we tap these we will grow in amazing ways.
Your task and mine is to engage people. Get them to become energy producers, instead of passive, underutilized, and complaining users of the energy thrown off by old authorities – politics, church, and the educational monolith (whose structures and methods still resemble Cambridge of 1700 or the one-room school houses of the 1800’s). More than ever the job of the leader – whether she has the title of leadership or not – is to decentralize energy generation and get it flowing among us.
Untrap the power, before the crow has the last laugh.
* Many historians dispute this attribution to Louis XIV, but we get the point.