When Sir Bob Geldof took the floor at the end of the Global Trust Conference no one quite knew what to expect, but he took the place by storm as he wrestled with his passion for understanding, progress and truth. “Trust”, he said, “has gone from the world. How do we reconstruct what has collapsed? What do we have to rebuild?”
“100 years have passed and we are back where we were: a new world struggling with an old structure no longer fit for purpose. Just as in 1914, our world is full of tensions – what will be our Sarajevo moment? What will trigger our release from the grip of an outdated way of conducting ourselves in the world?”
I’ve never thought of it that way although history does have a way of repeating itself. And, setting aside the world’s precarious political struggles, we haven’t found a new way of organising our working structures to accommodate the changing nature of the working world. It’s global, highly educated, digital … and an economic mess. We’re running faster and faster just to get by, just to stay in the game. The practices, attitudes, structures and regulations that seemed so stable and functional just don’t work very well any more.
“Out of the senseless slaughter of the First World War the new century began. The old unworkable order was swept away.” Profound, poignant and at times incoherent, Geldof argued for “a reclamation of trust from Hiroshima’s charred shadows”…”when trust fails”, he said, “love goes. Unless there is justice, we will not trust. With no trust, the system does not exist. Our economic model is unsustainable. We try to build on the logic of ‘more’ – but more what? We can’t have endless growth and by the end of this century there will be10billion people on the planet. The world does not trust us”.
I’ve been conscious of the fragmenting of trust in the UK for many years – the demise of anyone in authority. I think that I first noticed it with school-teachers and vicars … then the police, the media and finally business. The effects are far-reaching in undermining our sense of self-worth but I had unconsciously limited the damage to Western Capitalism. We don’t quite trust one another any more but I never considered that the WORLD didn’t trust us. Just when we need to find a more equal and respectful way of working together on the big issues that face us all.
Geldof paced the stage with endless agitation. He spoke of Africa. He spoke of Band Aid and Live Aid and the scourge of poverty, his white hair as wild as Einstein’s in a hurricane.
“The internet completely altered the economics of the planet and now the economy is being run by mathematical algorithm multiplied by human greed. We’re building again – but with the same creeps that did it to us before!” This swipe at the bankers drew audience applause but I interpreted it as meaning the same mind-set – and its one that we all share. “Google” cried Geldof, warming to his subject, “is a fantastic mathematical equation. They hold to the creed ‘do no harm’ BUT with each click they release the same amount of carbon as a car driving 65 metres. And there are three billion clicks a day … and that’s not even mentioning their tax avoidance. [more applause]
Perhaps its time to stop blaming the bankers – they are easy scapegoats and we are all part of the real problems underlying our slow and spluttering recovery.
“To trust one another we need to communicate. The last century was defined by competition. This century? Co-operation, collaboration, compromise? But if other countries don’t trust us, how can they co-operate, collaborate and compromise? Adam Smith was right. Way back in 1760 in his economic treatise Wealth of Nations he wrote that without a moral component, the market would collapse. It is doing just that. What has happened to generosity and the human spirit? ‘More’ and ‘Now’ – we are killing ourselves with these words! We are all complicit because we know it won’t work. What do we do? We’re all in on this. We’ve got to stop. We can’t keep doing it. We must invent the 21st-century from now. We have to trust each other.”
These were rousing words to end the conference and, I believe, a serious call to action. What, as cool leaders, can we start doing differently? Here are my immediate thoughts: re-interpret those weasel words “more” and “now” for a start; clarify our purpose as organisations and individuals; be more generous with our time, our energy, and our support of one another; discuss how we can do things differently; and trust ourselves and one another to deliver that difference.
When the applause died down Geldof answered questions from the floor. If trust is generated by straight-talking, integrity and vulnerability we were in its presence.
He was asked how we can establish trust.
“never let your ’customer’ down”
“value authenticity – be genuine, be real”
“keep a constant belief in ideas”
“be true to what it is you want to do”
“gather people around you because you can’t do it on your own”
He was asked what he hoped his legacy would be
“No legacy. when its over, its over”
He was asked of what he was most proud
“Not proud. Just relief I pulled it off. I gave my word – and I’ve kept it”
Sir Bob Geldof may have a tormented soul, but I would trust him without a heartbeat of hesitation.
Dr Jacquie Drake is Founder of cool-leadership.com and Editor of the cool-leadership newsletter.