It’s likely that five hundred years from today, more advanced beings will look back on our leadership consulting practices with disbelief.
Eavesdropping into that future, we listen to a spirited conversation between Anya and Klaus, two of the world’s few remaining leadership consultants. The setting is a Finnish sauna, in the year 2515:
Klaus: “I’m glad our culture’s sauna has survived for many centuries – It’s no exaggeration that most of my worthwhile thinking has been done in the sauna!”
Anya: “So true, my good friend. The sauna has even outlasted our cherished but obsolete profession! Sad, in a way, that leadership consultants are no longer needed, but perhaps a sign that human leaders have come a long way from our primitive past!”
Klaus: “I wince whenever I recall the ancient view that consultants were supposed to provide answers instead of questions.
Anya: “Yes, hard to believe, but back then, solving and fixing problems was simply the way consultants functioned…”
Klaus: “Agreed! How primitive that even the most prominent consultants believed leaders couldn’t think for themselves. A fantasy of superiority seemed to pervade the entire consulting world! No wonder our profession has all but died!”
Anya: “What would have possessed consultants to think they were so central in the universe?”
Klaus: “I think our forebearers were more interested in expertise than in maturity. Don’t forget, that was the ‘Age of Extremism!’ It’s as if a spell was cast on the whole society! Strong opinions trumped balance and perspective! Rigid mindsets became synonymous with leadership!”
Anya: “You’re painfully on target about those bleak days, Klaus. Stress settled like a thick fog over families and institutions. Seemingly intelligent people saw everything in black and white. It was as if easy answers prevented leaders from having to think. And consultants were all too willing to provide those easy answers! What fake medicine!”
Klaus: “That’s an exquisite insight, Anya. But that’s not the worst of it: Five centuries ago, the most anxious individuals turned out to be the consultants themselves! The harder they worked at giving answers, the more dependent leaders became on the consultants, and the more consultants competed to outdo each other!”
Anya: “What drama got stirred up by that nervous give-and-take between leaders and consultants! It’s as if both professions preferred excitement over principles, and passion over poise.”
Klaus: “Exactly! Instead of managing the anxiety in their families and organizations, the leaders absorbed it, and got sick! Instead of challenging leaders to grow up, consultants focused on dispensing solutions! And it was so subtle!”
Anya: “Subtle in what ways?”
Klaus: “Back then, consultants tricked themselves into believing what they wanted to believe, instead of what was actually going on. The delusional consultants of yesteryear mistook subject matter knowledge for leadership, and believed telling others what to do was being helpful.”
Anya: “Klaus, that sounds scary. Do you mean both leaders and consultants were so caught up in their need to please that they didn’t know how to think clearly?”
Klaus: “Oh, Anya, this went far beyond fuzzy thinking. Consultants a few centuries ago didn’t even know themselves. So of course they couldn’t be helpful to leaders. It was truly a case of the blind leading the blind. And they thought themselves civilized!”
Anya: “But didn’t therapists come along to save the day?”
Klaus: “Anya, you must be hallucinating! The record clearly shows that therapy was just a passing fad. It seems that therapists also became ensnared in the expertise trap. Instead of helping people think more deliberately and curiously, therapists got too caught up in diagnosing pathology. Eventually, their quackery was uncovered, and they evaporated into extinction.”
Anya: “I feel bad for those long-ago consultants and their clients, Klaus. They just didn’t realize that the more anxious people are, the more they drift towards easy answers and unfounded beliefs. It’s too bad that consultants long ago spent more time on self-promotion than on thinking about their deeper purpose.”
Klaus: “Hindsight is such terrifying relief, Anya! If we lived in that age, we, too, would have probably spent our energy focusing on issues of false importance like acquiring more data, displaying status, avoiding discomfort, and looking invincible, instead of the more important issues of connection, cooperation, clarity and courage.”
Anya: “Well said! If there’s any consolation, it’s that in the last century, we have mercifully hastened the demise of our profession by challenging leaders instead of kissing up to them. And the more we challenged, the stronger they became.”
Klaus: “So true, my lame-duck colleague! As our stature decreased, their confidence skyrocketed! Eventually, they didn’t need us anymore!”
Anya: “How ironic! Here we are, basking and reflecting in our warm sauna, feeling very smug about having made ourselves dispensable!”
Klaus: “Yes, ironic that we are unemployed, while the leaders of the world are thriving! Perhaps we can use the lessons we have learned to help other groups that appear stuck in a dependency mindset such as parents, and recent college graduates!”
Anya: “After a well-deserved rest, that would be a welcome challenge, Klaus!”
One Response to “April 2015: Our Primitive Legacy: A Sauna Dialogue in 2515”
April 02, 2015 at 10:12 pm, Andrea Schara said:
Thanks for this John: Socrates would also like it. I get the idea that even questions are not king. But that a know it all is a pretend.
The emotional system is impersonal and knowable…
But you have to have the courage to see this and deal with it and only that kind fo knowledge sets people free.
Socrates learned from his student, Zeno, who introduced the dialectic. Socrates altered the strict questioning to the conversations leading to seeing universal principles and truth. Once Socrates mediated for 24 hours. He was the guy and they killed him. But plato keep on going.