Reaching the future together (Leadership, Conflict, Sovereignty and Organizational Culture)

An on-going theme in the world is how countries tend to argue about land claims, especially when resources are involved. Businesses have similar disputes over intellectual property, defense of minerals rights, and other competitive matters. Individuals have disputes over ideas, who is right and who is wrong. Whenever one person or one institution violates the claim or values of another, disputes arise. 

Conflict, by it’s nature, signals a need for change. But underlying the existance of conflict is a deeper and more distressing issue. The fact that we accept conflict as a tool and allow conflicts to flourish signals a lack of maturity in human creativity and development. If not handled with extreme care, conflicts are destructive, either physically, spiritually, emotionally, financially, socially or environmentally. The larger the dispute, the more destructive.

What’s worse is that conflicts tend to be destructive long after the disputing parties find a way to stop the dispute. They continue to cause challenges as long as bad feelings linger, until learning occurs, mindsets change and reparations are completed. Some disputes unfortunately last centuries.

But there are better and more creative solutions that using conflict to find solutions. Let’s look at a few impacts of conflict and consider alternatives.

The Impact of Conflict on Organizations
Although organizations are emotionless in one sense, the individuals and leaders who make up those organizations are not. They can be directly injured by the events surrounding a conflict and they may sustain those injuries over a very long period. This impacts both internal team work and relations with external community interests. Perspectives may be severely impacted. Leaders who take a stand for their organization may find themselves repeating “the company line” and be grounded in a sense of righteousness even if the justifications for their perspectives have long since been proven false.

The organizational approach often reflects the attitudes and emotions of it’s leaders. Effective leaders communicate their perspective with influence and those who are influenced support and reflect the concepts of their leaders whether they are worthy of such reflection or not. Such is the nature of organizational culture.

The power to influence gives leaders both the capacity to do tremendous good when openess and learning are encouraged, or to inflict tremendous harm and stunted progress as when conflict arises. It is this fact that compels organizational leaders of all types to rethink the concepts surrounding conflict.

Conflict on the World Stage
Another interesting potential for conflict is how we think about national sovereignty.

An interesting case in point is the recent over-flights of Russian planes in Canadian territory. From the perspective of a Canadian, and what I have always personally held as true, according to the history that I’m aware of, the waters and islands north of Canada’s main land mass to the North Pole have always been considered part of Canada. I hold a specific bias. Now that there’s less ice, this perspective is being challenged by Russia and other countries. Until there are more compelling arguments presented, or a contrary decision by the UN (or another universally recognized voice of the international community), I will continue to believe this area to be Canadian and hold a “Canadian” perspective. That is the view that our sovereign leadership would want us to hold as well, so they make bold assertions on their “ability” and “willingness” to “defend” their territory and engage in conflict if necessary.

The reality, however, is more complex. Land and resource claims are rarely simple. Many wars have proven that they are seldom solved by unilateral declarations of one party over another. While Canada may very will have a valid claim, it is highly unlikely that engaging in conflict would actually benefit us as a solution. 

And while it is true that all nations must guard against putting the world in the hands of individuals who would usurp the human rights of others, in the end, it is the world at large that must decide on issues of sovereignty by international mechanisms of justice. If these mechanisms were to decide against Canada’s claim we would ultimately be forced to comply.

A friend of mine who is a foreign diplomat once told me that his country makes firm claims of sovereignty on disputed lands, not necessarily because they are unwilling to share the resources in a fair and equitable way, but that if they fail to make that strong claim, there would be questions at the very start of negotions regarding their right to share anything, even though from their own perspective, the land is historically theirs. While he saw defense of his country as an essential right, he acknowledged that, ultimately, what’s best for the world is also what’s best for his country and his hope was that an international tribunal would be held to facilitate an equitable outcome.

Another case in point is the Spratly Islands, Pratas Islands, Paracel Islands and Macclesfield Bank in the South China / East Vietnam sea which are all claimed by several countries. The Arabian / Persian Gulf and disputed Israeli/Palistinian territory are also hotly contended. As long as there are no strategic advantages, these situations tend to remain somewhat dormant. But as soon as countries become aware of valuable resources (e.g. oil under the northern ice cap) or where these claims represent strategic military positioning, they are hotly disputed and these disputes can be exceedingly distructive.

So we have to ask the question: Has the time for independent claims of sovereignty passed? Are we not at a stage where the world would be better served by creative negotiation around what is best for the world?

New Problems demand New Thinking
In the world of business, claims are eventually settled in courts, but even there, there are many companies that engage in conflict against local interests simply to satisfy their shareholders. Rather than seeking reconciliation and creative solutions, they deepen their rehtoric and strive to influence their own agenda even when it is widely accepted as harmful by those who are directly impacted by their actions.

As we face an ever worsen global situation, engaging in conflict as a means of solving problems is out-dated.

In a world that is struggling under the massive influence of climate change, accelerating population growth, destruction of oceans, potential threats to food, water and energy supplies and which possess almost limitless destructive capacity, the future of leadership demands that we re-think our methods, that we strive to find common solutions and that we avoid conflict at all costs by learning how to systematically build understanding and act based on global wisdom vs. individual or group interests.

If we want to reach a world which has all the attributes we want, clean, carbon neutral, abundant with food and clean water, equitable for all people, peaceful and which provides an opportunity for each individual to reach their ultimate development, we need to start thinking bigger.

Reflective Consultation and Discourse as an Alternative to Conflict
People are fundamentally good at heart but often find themselves trapped in their own mental patterns. We repeat endless retoric to ourselves and create neural pathways which help us decide right from wrong and good from bad. So when it come time to submit to a higher authority, we find it difficult because we like to believe that we know better. But our thoughts are always incomplete and most likely one-sided.

In a world of competing interests, the leader of vision is the one that encourages discourse and consultation to solve claims and document agreements and then abides by and supports the majority decision, not for the good of the country or their business or shareholders, but for the good of the world.

The irony is that, as the world begins to slowly accept fundamental human rights and is slowly forced to address the enormity of the global issues we are all facing, all countries will begin to converge on the same methods, approaches and realities anyway. In the end, our choices will be limited to those that will ensure our survival.

We see this convergence in the global economy, how all nations work together on policy, and how all nations are involved in some form, albeit not enough, in thinking about how to address issues like climate change.

While making threats of  “ability and willingness to defending sovereignty” or defense of business interests may be necessary when we feel threatened in the light of no clear decision mechanism, we also need to recognize that such threats are ulitmately idle until all claimants have been heard and decisions are made in the court of international opinion or, even better, by international tribunals created for the settlement of all important claims. The UN and world court are a start but education is required.

Learning the skills of frank and respectful consultation coupled with an attitude of detachement are essential in today’s businesses and political environments. Let’s hope that our leaders begin to appreciate the benefits of this approach and strive to educate themselves and their organizations accordingly.

All the best,

Garth Schmalenberg,
Phone: 1-416-919-6598

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