Three centuries in a month and moving forward: #Italy, #EU, and #COVID19 - 2. Leadership in critical times

2. Leadership in critical times

(Reference: Il paese dei leader)

This was actually prior to the previous article, and in 2019 published a follow-up in English (as this was instead in Italian- more about it later).

We do not lack laws in Italy- not just in a crisis (as now), but also in more "ordinary" times laws usually are issues in "installments", remininding a XIX century novel publication.

A country of tinkerers? No, it is a side-effect of our "tribal structure": any law or decree is discussed not in terms of "common good", but in terms of "tribal impact".

Declared or undeclared: as nobody wants to show to be focused on tribal minutiae, so, the higher the crisis, the more frequent is routine wrapping in "common national interest and pride" whenever presenting a proposed course of action.

Hence, the first round is often the minimum those potentially affecting its release (not its implementation- that is another issue) can politically sustain within their own constituency .

With "political", I consider also e.g. trades unions, or "albi" (guilds, as in Italy for many professions there are still guilds), or industrialists associations vs their members.

Then, a continuous negotiation (and some posturing) ensues, resulting in adjustments, either embedded within the implementation side, or... forcing the issue of a revised law or decree, partially striking out or altering previous ones.

You just need to visit the Italian Parliament website, and pick up some older laws (where it was more common), or recent ones on e.g. Industry 4.0 to see how the system applies, and the results.

I purposefully did not discuss the recent decrees and Government communication since January 2020: if that outlined above is the underlying culture, then obviously in a crisis this has some side-effects.

You cannot expect something like, say, a decree stating that, being a pandemic, these are the steps, and will be implemented according to scientific advice, but for the time being, as the emergency declared for X months, for those months the approach is precautionary first, and more moderate later, if situation allows (as instead, according to Al Jazeera, was done by Greece).

For those who criticized the Government for not doing enough until recently, I would like to remind that, until end February (and in some cases even in March), the same people complaining now were stating that restrictions affected business and individual freedoms out of proportion with the actual issue.

Anyway, this article isn't about COVID-19, is about preparing for its aftermath: if curious of my comments on specific issues, look at Facebook and Linkedin since late January, where purposedfully made most post "public".

Back to the article: as discussed in 2017 (and actually also in posts since 2007), as we are churning laws, regulations, decrees with a prodigious productivity, discerning which one to streamline or not would affect the balance of interests that was mirrored within the evolution of each law, regulation, decree.

Hence, we use another approach: we create new power centres and let them balance.

This has a side-effect: most decisions take forever and, when taken, are not final, until all converge.

Our escapism from reality and choices is mirrored into another habit: we look for a new "leader"- and usually they rise as fast as they fall.

Hence, another typical element is that, as soon as a leader is not needed anymore, or does not represent the current balance of interests...

...suddenly there is a spontaneous yet converging intervention- ranging from media complaining about what they praised until not too long before, to investigations on what was an open secret ("segreto di Pulcinella") yet not formally investigated (or investigated but not pursued).

Still, we routinely avoid the complexity in our tribal system by invoking, or promoting on the field, a new leader that will, quite conveniently, turn also into a scapegoat for any excesses tolerated when useful, and decried when "passé".

I am not referring just to current or recent (i.e. since "Mani Pulite", early 1990s) history, you can return to details of something I quote often, the "Scandalo della Banca Romana", in the late XIX century.

Since WWII (but also during the monarchy since Italian unification), most often governments were "torpedoed" by members of the coalition sustaining the government- including the predecessor of the current government.

I will let you go to the Italian article for more details on current and past political culture history.

The point that I am making here is simple: we use leaders to escape the dual complexity of making choices, and making choices that, as a tribe, might return on us and affect relationships.

Hence, more than once in the "Second Italian Republic" (since the 1990s), we had a "technical" government, i.e. calling in somebody from a bureaucracy, and appointing him (as so far only men have been called) as Presidente del Consiglio on a government nominally composed by "experts" in the activities within the portfolio of each ministry.

With a couple of side-effects:
a) often, the mandate was actually a political mandate to deliver something that no political party could "sell" to its supporting "tribes"
b) being a good analyst or researcher or historical memory (what most of those experts were), often used to manage a small team of peers or assistants, and deal accordingly with others sharing the same educational background, does not prepare you to manage e.g. a ministry with thousands of employees with a various educational and social backgrounds, or to negotiate and deal with all the government's and local authorities scattered around the country to ensure implementation.

Personally, I learned that also implementing change is highly contextualized, i.e. what works in some companies or domains or locations does not necessarily work (or might actually build further resistance to change) in others.

Hence, I am quite skeptical of all those "change management methodologies" that, frankly, are projection of specific organizational cultures.

The same applies to systems such as ERP or CRM: it was a common refrain from customers who used e.g. SAP in the late 1990s (and smaller companies that tried more recently), as they understood that anything that (software or human) tries to be "systemic" across a varied customer base is actually carrying its own "baseline culture" inside.

You ignore it at your own peril.

Often, more than a fault of the software or methodology, it was a fault of advisors, who, for the sake of "selling" a quick fix overcoming complexity (i.e. the same approach we Italians have with leaders), glossed over the cultural background that was "embedded" within.

I like (and used) instead more "relational" methodologies, such as MSP from OGC, and co-opted from cultural anthropology other approaches.

Which implies: sometimes, I had to turn down change projects where either the mandate wasn't there, or the mandate was there, but was not supported (and the customer did not see this as a crucial element) from sound knowledge of the reality of the organization's real culture, and such an assessment was deemed not relevant.

This article is really focused on "moving forward past COVID-19" or, as I posted on Facebookon March 12, 2020 to learn to live with COVID-19 (at least for a while).

One element that is minor within any cultural and organizational change initiative, and studied from the military, but now will be extended to a systemic level, is PTSD and its impact on decision-making processes.

I liked a recent speech from the Czar appointed by the Italian Government on the current Crisi, Arcuri (head of the Italian Investment Agency), who gave the good news (slowing down of the disease), but nudging toward a "Keep Calm and Stay Indoor".

He didn't use any complex argument, said just to remember the number of deaths in Italy so far (16523), and then repeated the number four times.

Furthermore, in Italy we confuse between "leadership" and "authority": in a democracy, personally I think that you need more of the former to justify any bit of the latter, not the other way around.

as I wrote repeatedly, in Italy we have often self-appointed leaders who then get a round at the top due for lack of alternatives.

Whenever something unpopular is needed, and therefore somebody who is considered as having no "political staying power" is preferable, if successful, to somebody who could then build a legacy; also because most of the latter would not take the risk.

Trouble is when these newly found leaders fail to acknowledge their status, and assume that whatever they do is correct- it happened routinely in Italian history (well, let's go back to Julius Caesar, if you want), and the results were always the same (e.g. by crossing the Rubicon, JC turned into a de-facto enemy of the status quo).

Curious how, with the same ritual, a defensive over-reaction generally brings in more of what was replaced.

So, every couple of decades or so, we had a similar cycle for more than a century.

In a country of thousands tribes, political parties do not really represent the distribution of power, unless you count also "informal" political parties, i.e. organized groups of interests outside the Parliament, but influencing its choices (and careers of its members).

A leadership in bridging, not in ruling, is needed in Italy to turn our still infantile democracy (at 70!) into an adult.

To then build up something longer-term than mere temporary interests of the various tribes.

And, incidentally, for those stating that this "tribal" element is an original sin of the Italian Republic...

... well, go back, far back in the history of the Italian peninsula, at least at the origins of Rome.

Listening is probably more important than talking- albeit you have to choose appropriately those that you listen to.

Many years ago, shared online a post on Jago and Othello: re-read Shakespeare, it might give you a hint of how the ritual cycle of Italian leaders is, often, in their lost of touch with reality, by surrounding themselves with those who agree with them.

Personally, I think that most of the "new" political movements I saw since I started observing actively Italian politics in the late 1970s share the same characteristics discussed above.

A first sign of a real change, in my view, would be to drop some of the "opinion crimes" on our statutes, used routinely to silence journalists or avoid criticism.

Until those and other changes will happen, I think that the Article 67 of the Italian Constitution (that stipulates that any Member of the Parliament represents the Nation, and not a single political party) along with a purely proportional system would be the only defense against a continuous cycle of "quest for a lone leader".

There is a book I read a while ago, whose title is "L'approdo mancato": I discussed it in Italian, along other books and a recent report on Turin and Italy #economia della #transizione #Torino #Italia #innovazione.

That book, along with others discussed in the above mentioned article, shows quantitatively how much italy since WWII, after an initial "jump" (more due to the need to overcome the deep destruction of its infrastructure and social life after the Civil War at the end of WWII), started diverging.

Personally, when I started working in the 1980s, already saw something unusual, but understood it better when, for my employers, went around Italy, in my early 20s, and worked with senior management across a wide array of companies and industries to develop quantitative decision support models, and compared it with what I had seen in political activities across Europe while in high school, and then discussed with foreign colleagues in the late 1980s.

Yes, probably it is appropriate that I have been considered a foreigner in my own country, as most of my business experience and activities, also when interacting with and working for Italian companies, included and involved foreign companies and multinationals...

So, this current crisis is actually an opportunity similar to what happened after WWII.

Everybody talks about building up resilience, but nobody wants to accept what this implies... and how the "tribal" element could be useful but has to adapt.

Anyway, I will discuss this point at the end- as in any crisis the routine request is to "streamline laws".

But you can also read the article in English on parallels between Marechal Pétain Vichy France, and the Italian concept of leadership, when an Italian politician asked for "full powers"- it contained also an English version (updated for summer 2019) on that 2017 article in Italian (Il paese dei leader / The leaders' country takes a page from Vichy).

As I quoted from a book: "Philippe Pétain s comporta non comme s'il avait reçu son pouvoir des répresentantts du people, mais comme s'il lui était personnel": something that actually goes back to absolute monarchy, i.e. power as bestowed by divine intervention, with voters (however large the voters community) being just a means to an end, not a decision-making entity.