An American friend of ours expressed some months before the US election, that she hoped for Joe Biden to become the next US president. “He is not a visionary leader and he might not be very charismatic, but he is the driver, the chauffeur, that is going to take us home again”, was her thinking.

Now the American people has made their choice. From an inner voice, preferring decency, compassion and collaboration, they have chosen a “We can” instead of an “I can” leader. There is something profound in this choice.

Donald Trump came to power by mobilizing under the “Make America Great Again” promise, using a classical war strategy, identifying the enemies ,like  “the swamp”, the media, China and others. All of this  backed up by constant lies and the attempt to remove any idea of objective journalism. All news is fake. All politicians lie. There is no objective truth. So it does not matter if he tells blatant lies because everyone is lying. Facts and science do not matter.

All this made possible by the new media landscape driven by hunting for “clicks”. In this landscape lies and insults draws much more attention than truth. The viral power of social media outpace deeper analysis. Money rules.


There are many things to be said about the “I can” leadership from Donald Trump. He fits well into a mechanical worldview, where he promise to fix all problems by taking actions. Demonstrating his power by signing decision orders in media shows. Making “deals” like building walls, stopping immigrants, cancelling and renegotiating international agreements, cutting taxes, bringing home soldiers , dismantling the government and important governmental institutions etc. Pushing buttons, pulling levers as if this would change the world in the desired direction. It is a mechanical framework, seeing the world, our society, our organizations and people as machines.

This thinking is an old Newtonian worldview, building on the assumption that complete understanding of the universe was possible through analysis, by taking systems apart and believing that systems can be described  as linear cause and effect relationships. A mental model that has deeply influenced our way of thinking also when it comes to how we see organizations. Organizations as machines , with department by department, and with managers that are expected to steer and control by verticals. Expected to “drive change, to drive innovation” or “to change the corporate culture”, as if it was a spare part to be replaced.

Complicated mechanical systems can be predictable and we act on them. However, accepting the fact that society and organizations are complex social systems, we see something else. Complex social systems are hard to read and cannot be explained or predicted by looking at individual parts.  We have to act with them and they can be highly resistant. The more we push the more resistance we get, leading to unintended consequences that often ends up making the original situation worse.

Management concepts like implementing, imposing, teaching, telling comes from a mechanical mind set, while concepts like co-creation, learning and listening are more in focus when seeing leadership as a social transformation process. A process of creating meaningful and trustful relations.

We can see many examples of unintended consequences, from Donald Trump’s quick fix actions, “to make America great again”. From a European perspective, Trump´s attacks on Europe and on the US-Europe alliances, has made more for European  unity than years of political discussions within Europe. Trump´s attacks on China and Chinese tech companies, like Huawei, has mobilized China to fast forward their own technological development. In the end, Trump´s leadership style has moved him out of the White House. The ultimate unintended consequence, helped by a virus on which denials and threats doesn´t work.

Over time lies cannot win. Already the ancient Greeks did understand that a society, in order to keep together over time, has to build on leadership pursuing the following four dimensions of progress

Pursuit of truth ( science, education), pursuit of planning ( providing resources), pursuit of good ( ethics) and pursuit of aesthetics ( beauty, creation, fun).  Without a balance of these four dimensions, it is only a matter of time until such development crackles.

The reaction to Donald Trump´s “I can” arrogant attitude and autocratic mechanical leadership style, using dividing, attacking and lying as tools, has created separation and fear. Fear and hate in American politics has therefor now gone to abnormal levels. When republicans were asked if they would be unhappy if their child would marry a democrat, 5 % answered yes in 1960 and 50 % today. A telling example of a situation that ultimately goes against what people see as a desirable state of mind. That is why, I think, the inner voice of the majority of the American people has spoken and the Biden/Harris ticket has wone.


The pandemic crisis has become a “ close to death experience”. Many people has felt or do feel fear and a deep concern for their own lives or for people close to them. It is well known, that after such a “ close to death experience”, people do see their life in a different way. Things that earlier was in the background, taken for granted, is coming into the forefront. I am alive, how do I really want to live my life. You start seeing the world with the lens of the living.


With such a lens of the living, the ecosystem, nature, biology, the need for collaboration becomes suddenly concepts we are forced to become aware of. Or as Gregory Bateson asked himself – “What pattern connects the crab to the lobster and the orchid to the primrose and all four of them to me? And me to you?” A way of thinking, a systems way thinking, that suddenly no longer is so academic.


When we start seeing the world as open living and self-organizing systems, emergence with bifurcations instead of planned futures, do become our focus of interest. That is what Gregory Bateson, Ilya Prigogine, Humberto Maturana, Francisco Varela , Fritjof Capra, Alain de Vulpian and others so well has helped us understand.


The fact that this virus is biological , makes us see our biological dependence and makes us aware of how far we are from the selfish idea that we humans would be in control of nature or in control of other people. The great myth of our Modernity, that has to be dealt with.


We have to learn how to live with complexity and we have to settle with our mechanical, Newtonian worldview and the myth of being in control. We are living a time with deep and rapid change. Something old is cracking and exhausting itself, while something new is painfully trying to be born, to quote Vaclav Havel. The recent decades of globalization has created great progress but also many looser. Many people feel being left behind. People that are fearful, want to be taken care of. Something that creates an expectation of ”the strong leader”. Many are looking  upwards today, with the hope that someone should take control.


Biden/Harris represents a very different way of thinking and leading. Instead of creating separation and fear they are trying to address individual and collective aspirations. They want to recreate a sense of community , uniting instead of dividing. With a “We can” mentality they hope to be able to invite competent and passionate people to build  a strong team around  a shared vision of a more desirable, collaborative and caring future . As a shepherd, a healer or as the chauffeur that can take us home again. Or a gardener addressing the balancing processes, making sure there is enough water and nutrients. Wishful thinking or not, but that is what we can and should hope for.


However, it will definitely not be easy. The polarization is very deep and there are many groups that have legitimate reasons to feel disappointed, marginalized and abandoned We are living in scary times with so many parallel crisis around us. I often come back to our common friend  Dee Hock and his prophetic observation back in 1997 in his book ”The Birth of the Chaordic Age”.

“We are at that very point in time when a four-hundred-year-old age is rattling in its deathbed and another is struggling to be born. A shifting of culture, science, society and institutions enormously greater and swifter than the world ever experience. Ahead lies the possibility of regeneration of individuality, liberty, community and ethics such as the world has never known, and a harmony with nature, with one another and with the divine intelligence such as the world has always dreamed.”


“Unfortunately, ahead lies equal possibility of massive institutional collapse, enormous social carnage, and regression to that ultimate manifestation of Newtonian, mechanistic concepts of organization – dictatorship “


Fulfillment or collapse, a question that also our SOL friends Alain de Vulpian and Irene Dupoux-Couturier is pondering, in their book on the humanist metamorphosis. Where we will be heading, no one knows, but we all can make our own choices. There has always been and there will always be a battle between good and evil, or as it is stated in this wonderful parable:

One evening an old Cherokee chief told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said,

“My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all.

“One is Evil. It is anger, envy, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, resentment, bitterness, blame and meanness.

“The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, generosity, truth, and compassion.”

The grandson thought for a minute, and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”


So let us live with that question and that answer, at this time when so much is at stake. Evolution and emergence as concepts of how our future is forming towards fulfillment or collapse, as a collective process of something that now wants to be born, a movement from below to be midwifed into being.

Which process will we feed ?

Things we normally have taken for granted and not given appropriate recognition, is now being seen and valued. A pandemic, like this drama, is helping us as a society and as individuals, to see who we really are. Helping us see our interdependence, how dependent we are of each other and how dependent we are of our mother company – our ecosystem. Hopefully can this new awareness be with us going forward.

Hopefully it also can help us understand that we are not in control of our development and evolution, the way we do want to believe. Understanding that our mechanical world view is a myth. The emperor is revealed without cloths.

Hopefully we can hear more from the good stories about how we live well together, about our capacity for community and about our ability to mobilize for one another.

If we can see these last turbulent years  as a phase of an ongoing metamorphosis, it helps us see a bigger picture. L´avenir ,that Arie de Gues often wanted to reflect on. A perspective on the future, that does place the metamorphosis into the center of what we now are experiencing.

Many things can and should be learned from these four years of Trump leadership and from this ongoing pandemic. How could all this happen to us ? What does this tell us of our world today and our view on good leadership ?

It gives definitely a lot of food for reflections and learning.