This weekend we had an extraordinarily vivid experience of autocracy. We went to Hampton Court Palace where four actors recreated an episode in the court of Henry VIII. The roles cast were Henry VIII, Henry’s Chancellor – Thomas Cromwell, Anne Boleyn’s Grandmother – The Dowager Duchess of Norfolk and the target of Henry’s affection and future wife – Jane Seymour.
The episode they recreated was where Henry sought both to express his affection for Jane and extricate himself from his marriage to Anne Boleyn. The performance took place over four scenes, cleverly using parts of the palace, with the players in amongst the audience and relating to them as courtiers. Each scene lasted 15-20 minutes and would close with an appointment at another part of the palace an hour later.
The final scene took place in Henry’s privy council chamber (the actual one), with the audience playing members of the privy council. Henry as absolute monarch, took the time of the ruling council of the country and manipulated both them and the truth to justify and rationalise his desires. As a participant, it was extraordinary how intimidating the experience was. Even with my long experience of working with senior leaders I was intimidated. Even knowing full well that this was an actor and that the chances of being beheaded were slim, I was intimidated.
Henry used all of the classic techniques alternating belittling with praise, aggression with affection and cruelty with kindness. The rationalisation was sophisticated, but it was clearly manipulation and yet the reality was that it felt impossible to speak up or to challenge. I didn’t and neither did anyone else. This is precisely how autocrats get away with what they get away with. The participants quickly reverted to child in the parent/child dynamic and sought only to be on the right side of the absolute ruler.
By contrast, I also went to the inaugural meeting of Holos. I have mentioned Holos before, it is an initiative of my friend Mark Thompson. Mark is a brilliant teacher and social visionary who was taught leadership himself in one of the few institutions where our society routinely teaches leadership to young people – the army – at Sandhurst.
The vision of Holos is to teach the level of leadership required for us to have a future. There can be little doubt that the core message of our present political, economic, environmental, spiritual and social troubles is that we do not have appropriate leadership, sufficiently widespread in most of our significant institutions. Holos aims to explore, articulate and teach that level of leadership to present and future leaders, in business, government, religion and elsewhere.
An example of what that level of leadership might mean was given to us by Tim “Mac” McCartney the founder of Embercombe. Mac told us of his journey of exploration to understand the leadership of sustainable societies and he told us the story of “The Children’s Fire”. The Children’s fire was a concept used by the leadership council of some native American tribes. The council, equally made up of men and women, were not allowed to take any decision without considering the Children’s Fire, represented by an actual fire in the centre of the council. Considering the Children’s Fire meant considering the consequences of the decision on the children, and their children, and their children and so on out to seven generations, roughly 175 years.
Can you imagine how different business, political and religious decisions would be if they were all framed in a 175 year timeframe?
Can you imagine how different business, political and religious decisions would be if the masculine and the feminine were equally represented in the process?
Can you imagine how different the structure of our business, political and religious organisations and systems would be if they were to operate with gender balance and 175 year timeframes?
There is no doubt Henry was considering the next generation in his machinations, he was desperate to sire an heir to continue the Tudor hegemony, but he was not considering all of the children – only one and not seven generations – only one and the council he sought was not balanced, in reality it was only one – himself. Everyone else was only there to be intimidated into legitimising his decisions.
Holos is certainly not the only organisation in this space, many people are realising that this is one of the essential steps for us to have a future. Change will only happen when this level of thinking reaches the mainstream and that is part of the Holos mission.
Ours is perhaps the first generation in a while whose children run a real risk of things being significantly worse for them that it was for their parents. It will take leadership that considers the whole society, the whole system and the whole future to change that. If you would like to be part of bringing that level of leadership to the mainstream please become involved with Holos. There is not much there at the moment – please help create it.
What do you think? Please comment and discuss here – click on the blog title and scroll to the bottom to find the comment box.
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