Sometimes I wonder, ‘What if there were no borders, no defined nations or even no defined leadership? Would that lead to a more peaceful world or not?’.
There would be no border control, no specific flags or currency and no election campaigns. No-one would talk about putting up walls or invading since there would be nothing to invade.
For most of us this is maybe just a thought when we are stuck in a line at customs or feel that the election campaign went way too far. Some of us will see danger signs but the anarchist will celebrate such a thought.
From my perspective, similar ideas are relevant to companies, churches and other organisations. What if we don’t have leadership? I heard a leader speak along these lines not too long ago, and everything in me said, ‘No way. Won’t work!’
A leader’s role is to protect the borders of what he is leading. That means to somehow give definition.
Norway and Sweden could simply have been one country. We have a similar language, we look similar, we have a similar culture. Anyone who argues that we don’t should travel around in Norway, see the differences in culture between north and south, hear the differences in spoken language. So what defines Norway? It is our border and, for the most part, our geographic border is with Sweden.
That border defines who we are. It sets the standard for many things like sports. If you live on our side of the border you will do well in skiing, cross country and biathlon. On the Swedish side you will not do so well in those, but you will do better in ice hockey and, yes I hate to admit it, but in football too…
The border also defines our identity. I am Norwegian and it would be an insult to call me a Swede. I am raised with a certain flag, currency, jokes and so on.. So the role of my leaders is to protect the borders of my nation, so there is a framework to work within.
This framework also exists in organisations like churches and companies. The leader’s role is to set the culture, the tone of what we are. For me the culture is extremely important, since it sets the direction of what will be. Is it a culture of “go for it” or a culture “it’s impossible”? Is it a culture that believes in people or a culture that does the opposite, meaning being full of mistrust and bad words?
Leaders set the culture, so what happens if you take away the leader?
There will be no one to protect the borders and therefore you will loose momentum. We all have a need to find our place within a given framework. Take away the framework and with it goes our security, our purpose and even some of our identity.
Leadership, aware of their role as protector of the border, also knows that it’s a leader’s responsibility to extend the borders. That means that we need to stay innovative, as only small leaders attack what belongs to someone else. It would lead to nothing good for Norway to invade Sweden, even if we want to grow. Most mature leaders know this, as there is no point in invading another organisation, business or so on. We are to extend our borders through innovation and creative processes. Leadership that gives room for this, championing this, will see results in the organisation. Big companies have disappeared into history because they did not dare question their own borders.
The Kodak company is a good example. It was once the world leading photographic film manufacturer and invented the first digital camera, but leaders were afraid it will ruin their market for film and did not move forward with it until much later. Failing to anticipate and recognise how new technology was changing the industry, Kodak cameras are now resigned to the history books because their leaders failed to attack their own borders.
Leaders who are afraid of changes and being radical will not lead development, but stagnation. At the same time there is a fine line between protecting the borders and attacking them. We need to have wisdom, know our history, and have courage to make choices at the right time.
The border line is a fine line between success and failure, between growth or declining, between action and standing still, but most of all the border line is a place where leadership is needed.
Until next time, let’s dance on the borders.