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Michael Maccoby

Michael Maccoby

Michael Maccoby is an anthropologist and psychoanalyst globally recognized as an expert on leadership. He is the author of The Leaders We Need, And What Makes Us Follow.

Inspiration in the face of apocalypse

Q: This week's nuclear summit presents one of those difficult leadership challenge: focusing attention and resources on a low-probability problem that would be disastrous if it occurred. Global warming, 100-year floods, financial meltdowns are other examples. How can a leader fight the natural tendency among followers to put off dealing with what seem like such abstract and complicated threats?

Although there is no way to calculate a probability that they will happen, the threats to life from global warming and nuclear weapons are real. Responsible national leaders will take them seriously and take action to lower the threats. There has been and will be resistance to leadership initiatives. Some of these have to do with the cost of addressing global warming. President Obama's effort to gain support from the Russians to limit nuclear weapons has been attacked by political opponents on the grounds that our military strength will be weakened.

The public tends to turn off when faced with complicated, scary scenarios. Furthermore, many people don't trust experts or leaders and are relieved to believe the doubters and deniers.

Given this, it's a mistake for leaders just to ratchet up fear of disaster. It only increases the counter-force of denial. Instead, leaders should turn these challenges into opportunities to increase the strength and prosperity of the country.

Limiting carbon fuels that cause global warming by fast tracking the development of alternative energy with solar, wind, nuclear and even more innovative possibilities is one more way of gaining independence from Middle Eastern oil. Building global alliances to limit nuclear weapons strengthens collaboration to pressure Iran and North Korea, to keep other countries from joining an arms race and to keep these weapons from terrorists.

Leaders can easily mobilize followers who experience a disaster, like a hurricane or an attack by terrorists. To mobilize followers to address a disastrous but abstract probability, leaders should offer an inspiring vision, like new technology that provides jobs, gives us cheaper, cleaner energy, and by the way, decreases the threat of global warming.

By Michael Maccoby

 |  April 12, 2010; 4:06 PM ET
Category:  Political leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: One nuclear bomb can ruin a whole presidency | Next: Curing our evolutionary hangover


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The nuclear summit had only one purpose: to provide Obama with yet another theatrical opportunity to admire himself as the center of attention of a crowd. In this case the crowd did not even include UK's Brown, Israel's Netanyahu, and numerous other leaders, who refused to be used as parts of the decor. Since Obama has failed in almost everything he touched, a big conference remains his only consolation -- like the earlier conferences on global warming, the Olympics, health care reform, etc, etc.

Posted by: suegbic1 | April 13, 2010 9:24 AM
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I blame the Cold-War on giving rise to the age of Mother's Little Helpers, closeted neurotics hidden within those neat little modern pre-fabricated homes built en mass for Boomers. Those neurotics bore the Prozac generation, their offspring to be the Lost youth of Generation X. When will it end or does it end at all ?

We could look at the age of instant apocalypse as justifying an existence to live life over abundantly as if it is the last day on earth. This of course means running up credit debts, fooling around with the neighbor's wife and occasionally sleeping in our parked car on the neighbor's lawn with a puke and alcohol stained white shirt. The awakening in this case is the neighbor's neurotic dog in full alarm and protection mode.

And then there is a choice of counter balance to incorporate into each apocalyptic day that passes to live life as each day may be the last, asking ourselves at the end of the day, have contributed to the betterment of the world on this day or was I just a pain in the a@@ ?

I was told people are human but God will never let you down. It is what it is, it be what it be so therefore let go and let GOD (Good Orderly Direction). Those forced to make concession to a spiritual way of life are truly blessed but SOBER, Son-Of-a-Biotch-Everthing-Is-Real. Resolved, I cannot change reality less my end is the Belushi way out. I am so powerful, let the Sun rise tomorrow with or without me. I think I have been cleared for landing, a nice crash-n-burn on the Beach.

Posted by: truthhurts | April 12, 2010 8:45 PM
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