Catherine Parish: Fix the family, fix the globe

28 Jul 2008

By The Record

It is always interesting to have a look at current management and leadership thinking, and I was flicking recently through the book Why Should Anyone Be led By You? by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones. 

Catherine Parish says that a stable family will benefit our children. Photo: CNS

There, in the first few pages, is encapsulated the whole problem with western society at the moment. 
Among other things, they speak of work as being degraded as a means to other material ends rather than as a means to a development of an ‘authentic self’.
But take their thesis and substitute the word ‘family’ for ‘work’ you have the whole crux of the bankruptcy of western culture. 
The family, as the first “milieu both for the building and discovery of an authentic self and … its disclosure” (page 4), has been completely downgraded as a vital and fundamental social structure, and hence we find the other lacks bemoaned in this book, a lack of constancy, meaning, authenticity and inspiration in the world, specifically among leaders.
The stability that characterises a society with firm and well delineated family structures and a clear and consistent moral universe enshrined in law is lacking in our society, and this instability has caused our working world to be peopled with individuals all striving to satisfy their own ends without regard often for the wider world they inhabit. 
Where the notion of traditional family, mother, father and children, surrounded by a supporting network of more distant relatives is denigrated or at best regarded as unimportant, there you will inevitably find a dearth of people who understand reciprocity, loyalty, self-giving and ‘the higher good’. 
Where there is no understanding of the inevitably hierarchical nature of authority, first learned in the family, there can be no understanding of real leadership. 
Where there is no experience of the benefits that can accrue from wise and judicious exercise of hierarchical leadership, there can be no appreciation of being a part of that hierarchy, and eventually of possibly taking one’s place at or near the top. 
Where there is no experience of the security, effectiveness and happiness in a group that can be the result of a complete, lifelong and public commitment of the leaders to each other’s good and to the good of the other members of that group in good times and in bad, there can be no reflection of that positive, faithful long-term commitment in life outside the family.  The unhappy truth is that we have diluted our social ties at the fundamental level to such a degree that discarding ‘partners’ and any children that happen to have resulted from that particular ‘partnership’ is now accepted as an inevitable part of life. 
It is hard to then criticise the victims of this disposable lifestyle for lacking an understanding of authentic, long-term commitment that is necessary for sustained and inspiring leadership in any enterprise. 
An atmosphere of uncertainty and instability, where one becomes part of the division of assets, or even worse, a liability to be passed on to someone else if possible, is more conducive to developing a strong instinct of self-preservation along the competitive lines of survival of the fittest, rather than a more self-giving mode of living grounded in the confidence that one already belongs to and is valued and loved by a family, and fostered by the affirmative experience of learning to live in that disparate yet cohesive family group.