- Published: Thursday, 22 August 2019 00:49
As more than two years passed since 2017, and two years count as much as two geological eras within the realm of Italian politics, this post will be blending the original 2017 post with some ideas and drafting that I shared recently also on Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram, Twitter (easy to find: just look for /robertolofaro, on linkedin for /in/robertolofaro).
(Note: the English version of this article has been written on 2019-08-21, the original article, in Italian, on 2017-01-23: as of today over 5,700 people read the original, therefore decided to add also an English version; the original version is available here: http://robertolofaro.com/dirittodivoto-com-section/diritto-di-voto/125-il-paese-dei-leader)
As you can see if you compare the old and the new titles, what I observed since 2012 (yes, 2012, not 2017) curiously put me at odds with my own political side (centre-left) in Italy, as way too many keep talking about a “new fascism”.
I see a different pattern, a pattern closer to that of 1940s Vichy.
Yes, eventually did shift into almost the whole paraphernalia of its 1920s-1930s European models, but initially was more or less as where we are now in Italy.
And the recent request to obtain “full powers” echoed this quote: “Philippe Pétain se comporta non comme s’il avail reçu son pouvoir des répresentants du people, mais comme s’il lui était personnel. “- actually, since the 1980s more than once we ended up with similar feelings, only each case gets stronger.
I think that the best introduction to this post could be a famous speech:
Yes, you have to have fear of fear itself- and fear justifies many things, including suspending reasoning.
In this preamble, I will share book references, giving the link to a local library for the ISBN etc information- if and when relevant I will eventually add a book review in English.
In Italy, but probably also in other countries, I think that this development can be seen as linked to few keywords: control, fear, speed.
first keyword: control- Giolitti and the role of the Ministry of Interior
Long ago, I read a book on the history of the Italian Ministry of Interior (Home Secretary for my British friends) Tosatti, Giovanna “Storia del Ministero dell'interno : dall'Unità alla regionalizzazione” https://bct.comperio.it/opac/detail/view/sbct:catalog:377925
Despite the title, it has more to do with the political history of Italy than you can imagine.
Due to many reasons, including the youth of Italian democracy, and that a unified state has been assembled slightly more than 150 years ago from a number of smaller states, the Ministry of Interior has a more prominent role than in other countries, and has a kind of “backbone”/”oversight” role to the action of the whole government across the whole territory.
As shown by the latest Minister, this ministry can be (but usually isn’t) turned into a government-within-the-government, and while many say that this is a recent development, there have been others in the past, e.g. look at how worked at the turn of the XX century under the Giolitti Governments, and how he worked under another Prime Minister as Minister of the Interior.
No, I am not comparing Giolitti and Salvini: different times, different roles, different profiles, and Giolitti had been already a Prime Minister before returning as Minister of Interior (if interested, I can provide a summary of a short book on him that I read a while ago, or you can view a page on Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giovanni_Giolitti).
second keyword: fear- security and its impact on policy
Let’s be frank: I do not share that much our current obsession about nicknaming “populism” and “souverainisme” anything that you do not like– it is more nuanced than it seems.
I do agree that “fear” (or projection of fear) is a key element in many political parties that assemble more according to “we are not what they are” than with a positive platform proposal.
And it is funny how flexible Italian politicians are on this point: they can invoke exoterical reasons for their role, define a “us vs. them” platform, but, whenever convenient, might mix that with hyper-rational arguments: a little bit for each audience.
PM Churchill could deliver his speech about “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat” only under the dire conditions UK was living through in 1940
And he was voted out of office once the war ended.
Few days after that Churchill speech, France started a two months path that turned a hero of WWI on a journey to become a pariah of WWII, helping to dispose of the last elements of the Third Republic https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Third_Republic.
At the same time, De Gaulle from London started his own path toward what was to become the Fifth Republic https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Fifth_Republic.
Interesting but biased (in favour of De Gaulle also when indefensible) is a book by Frederic Salat “De Gaulle-Pétain” (in French), https://bct.comperio.it/opac/detail/view/sbct:catalog:413737, as overlapping egos sometimes have interesting side-effects on pushing toward action or inaction beyond any rational choice.
I do not think that any of the three would have had the WWII role they had, weren’t for fear.
And piling up on real or pretended fears made more than one political career (both on the right and on the left, in Italy).
third keyword: speed- how to live few ages within few years
In Italy, we are constantly looking for the fastest way to turn into an ordinary country, preferably claiming to be able to do anything other countries did but… faster.
Also, we usually expect to do so without getting through the boring, annoying, and troublesome need to change our culture- as most often the laws, regulations, and even just practices we import require a cultural context and legal approach completely different from our own.
But adapting before adopting implies negotiating with other “tribes”, while claiming to import and directly re-use what worked elsewhere is apparently simpler.
Probably, this is one of the reasons why, since the early 1990s, we changed so often our electoral system and (attempted, managed) to tinker with our Constitution more than once.
This is something we Italians are quite used to- but we aren’t the first, or the last- only, we like to accelerate time.
I could share other books on transitions in France from Napoleon, to Napoleon III, to the Third Republic- but probably just knowing that it took a long time to bring up the Third Republic and its decline would be enough, along with a joke that we learned in French in school, to remember the side-effects of the Franco-Prussian war: ”Napoleon cédant Sedan céda ses dents”.
The title of this paragraph is about “speed”: and if you read more in details about the Vichy years, beside similarities with the overlapping organizational dysfunctionalities that I read about in the past also within Italy under Mussolini and Germany under Hitler, a point is different.
Where e.g. Italy and Germany started ideologically by choice, Pétain arrived by consequence (including of inaction).
So, “speed” in the transition through the various “souls” of Vichy, but based upon seeds planted since at least Napoleon I and Napoleon III (maybe with 18th Brumaire always lingering on; see Thierry Lentz “Le 18 brumaire : les coups d' Etat de Napoleon Bonaparte : novembre-decembre 1799” https://bct.comperio.it/opac/detail/view/sbct:catalog:616012).
Pretty much as we in Italy have been going through few rounds of reforms in a couple of decades.
Actually, elements of the discussions can be dated back to the discussions during the drafting the of current Constitution (e.g. see Ricci “Il compromesso costituente : 2 giugno 1946-18 aprile 1948 : le radici del consociativismo” https://bct.comperio.it/opac/detail/view/sbct:catalog:110000 – and even Robert Paxton “The anatomy of fascism” https://bct.comperio.it/opac/detail/view/sbct:catalog:586049).
I would like to share three books, in three languages just by chance, discussing three viewpoints on Vichy.
Frankly, I read them in a different order, but I would like here to suggest a “mix”.
First, after De Gaulle-Pétain above, reading the initial sections, the “Prologue”, from Robert Paxton “Vichy France – Old Guard and New Order 1940-1944”, https://bct.comperio.it/opac/detail/view/sbct:catalog:224193
Then, Michèle Cointet “Vichy et le fascisme”, https://bct.comperio.it/opac/detail/view/sbct:catalog:11400, up to the sections covering until end 1941, as this book is more on the organizational culture and “dialogical” structure of Vichy, with an outline about each “stakeholder” and associated relationships with the occupying forces from Germany and with other stakeholders within France.
Then, Paxton again, to the end.
Then, Cointet again, to the end.
Then, an Italian, more “technical” book on the structure of Vichy and its laws, Sandro Guerrieri “L’ora del maresciallo”, https://bct.comperio.it/opac/detail/view/sbct:catalog:286491
Of course, you can read them however you like, or… just wait for somebody to post online a summary.
last but not least: transition
Now, all the previous paragraphs within this long preamble are actually just to share information needed to pave the way for a small idea.
It is an idea that I tried to test over the last few months in three ways: by reading and cross-checking those books, by observing Italian news to try to spot patterns and trends, and by sharing along the process my feed-back on Facebook and with others.
For “technical” reasons, until yesterday for few weeks I shared posts also in Italian, so most of the “drafting” and bibliography supporting the “parallels with the transition in Vichy” concept was easy to access to anybody willing to do so in Italy.
To that end, most of those posts, on purpose, where accessible to anybody on Facebook, not just my connections.
The idea is quite simple: Vichy was a consequence and had multiple elements that gradually tried to assert their own role, did not start with a purely fascist programme as did Mussolini or Hitler (also if initially both sounded more “moderate” than what they had said before taking the helm of the government).
In Italy, we are currently in a similar condition.
Since I started working both abroad and in Italy, in the 1980s, also before moving abroad (twice), I saw repeatedly political parties reaching an impasse, “technical” governments with support basically across the political spectrum trying to overcome that impasse, and then returning to ordinary political life, before… reaching a new impasse.
Italy is a parliamentary republic, and therefore, beside the power of calling for new elections, it is up to the Parliament and not to the President of the Republic to give a confidence vote (or a no-confidence vote) to a government.
So, a “technical” government implies that politics was surrendering to the idea that somebody else should do what they were unwilling to do but was needed.
Using “expert” was the excuse to say “we are unable”: frankly, it is delusional to claim that a university professor in A is able to be an “expert” on moving an elephant as most Italian Government ministries, still working with rituals from the XIX century while spinning around XXI Powerpoint presentations.
No, in most cases calling “experts” is an excuse to avoid taking the political responsibility of doing something akin to a temporary political suicide.
A minister has anyway to rely on a large bureaucracy- it might help if (s)he knows the subject but, frankly, an expert in self-control isn’t necessarily able to manage 10,000 people.
Better to have somebody able to give political directions- in some cases, experts can actually make a mess by trying to be on the top of the feeding chain of experts, instead of delegating and ensuring that their guidance toward specific political objectives is followed.
Micro-management is the typical sin of an expert: and, if appointed to lead a 10,000 people structure, is a mortal sin.
The main change since the late 1990s was that… media did not change- they still “converge” according to powershifts, and while this was an issue already in the past, between the 1970s and late 1990s at most there were some broadcast media that could deliver independent coverage- but mainly catering for a minority.
The attempt at disintermediation of politics started long ago: some say with PM Craxi, I would dare to say that President Pertini had a prior and more significant role, by criticizing establishment while being President, and appealing directly to citizen more often than others.
With the advent of social media, anybody could informally connect with anybody else, and, also if until recently less than 1/3 of the Italian population was on social media, the social structure of Italy implies that you needed just one person within your family or friends circles to create a “circle of interest”.
Then, smartphones made access to social media available to everyone, not just few activists and nerds or geeks.
So, we have to get used to disintermediation- and politicians have to get used to the idea that being elected implies being exposed to trolls, insults, and all the paraphernalia.
Which is the same of the “Pasquinate”(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pasquino), only using social media.
If your instinct is to reply to all the trolls and comments on social media, or to unleash security forces against any critic (threats are of course another matter), then, frankly, go into academia, build a company, start a profession- but do not enter politics in the XXI century (or beyond, for those who will still be around in the next century).
The two political parties that were part of the recent Italian government are actually often lumped together as “populists”, albeit now media prefer to differentiate between “populists” (M5S) and “souveranistes” (Lega).
Personally, I would rather adopt a cultural/structural approach- albeit in this post I will enclose just a one-paragraph outline for both.
M5S, as shown in many issues, has a “technocratic” element- from the way it is managed, to its political fluidity, to the way it defines and selects its own management: “question de mèthode”, despite all the appearance to the contrary.
Lega, even within the centre-right, is frankly more “political”, closer to the way the Italian Communist Party (a now distant ancestor of the PD) and Democrazia Cristiana (after the early 1990s spread across the political spectrum) used to be- i.e. it has a structure and a local presence.
As discussed within the 2017 article, anyway both are linked to our times’ obsessions with “leaders”.
Which really isn’t about leadership, is about fear and control, first and foremost.
Fear, because things are moving and evolving too fast for our traditional way to let “novelties” slowly enter into reality, up to the point that routinely media in the past in Italy played a “calming effect”, watering down or delaying messages that needed time to be studied and adapted before could be adopted with minimal disruption of existing customs.
Reaction: we need to find a source of the reason to have fear- and if it doesn’t exist, somebody can conveniently make up one for us.
Control, because our society is complex, and we Italians are used to XXI century services and complexities, but out social culture is still too tribal to accept that complexity implies access to skills and resources where they are, not where you would like them to be (within your own tribe).
Reaction: since the 1980s we routinely look for “leaders”- probably Craxi was the first post-WWII political leader (born in 1934) that was associated with the concept of assertive leadership (and some cartoonist made references to Mussolini then too) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bettino_Craxi.
And the “speed and transition” elements?
Speed is often needed, as most of our leaders often sound as if they were in for the long run, and end up having their fifteen minutes of fame (but linger on much, much longer).
Transition? Well, let’s say that that takes longer than finding another leader- at most, we get half-baked transition plans, before resources are pulled out- linked to speed, again.
The Conte government included both the technocratic and the political souls, plus the unmediated politics element contributed by both sides, but from different perspectives.
Anyway, enabled study of some issues that could affect the further development of any changes to our legal and social framework.
Eventually, the two elements had not just divergent political interests (we had the same in past governments), but different approaches to politics, and the latter differences strengthened the “orthodoxy” to their roots of each government partner.
M5S went back to its technocratic past on various issues (i.e. it is not the choice, it is the method, and any person is a temporary placeholder)- leadership is always a temporary assignment.
Lega returned increasingly to its “leader of the people” (including smaller and family-owner companies, not necessarily small ones) approach.
Those within the Lega that had recently started differentiating from “il capitano” (the chief, more than the captain) Salvini since the crisis started in early August, had to pick from his speech on August 20 2019 within the Parliament bits and pieces, as anyway had to say something to confirm allegiance to the chief.
On my social media stream, I “follow” Italian politicians from across the political spectrum- but I rather follow those that, also if light years from my inclinations, are a direct source, than those unable to deliver anything more than parroting.
Therefore, it is interesting to see the “nuances” that the current government crisis is pushing, through the messages that politicians deliver (as most of them are “preaching to the choir”).
It is too early to see if we are moving back toward a technocratic pause, or we are instead forcing through the end of our informal Third Republic, with its “everybody on board” governments (as we had in Italy also in the past, but when the Communist Party was excluded from power, before 1989).
Still, it seems that both professional politician and professional media are adopting the old approach, as if they were still in control of nation-wide communication, while instead now it isn’t just the young that can have a disintermediated access across the country, but anybody across all the political, social, age spectrum (yes, I am repeating it- but it is worth repeating).
The risk is undermining the credibility of political parties so much, old and new, that a “souveraniste” approach as in “Révolution nationale” in Vichy 1940 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R%C3%A9volution_nationale) could become appealing to many more.
Some elements of Salvini speech yesterday in Parliament frankly are a return to Marcel Lefebvre-style traditionalists (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcel_Lefebvre).
In our times, thanks to technology, probably such a development would have a greater possibility of success than the one in Vichy- avoiding a transition into a technocratic first, and an outright fascist state later.
Blending a XXI century Italian “Révolution nationale” with current technology could actually make unnecessary a transition- all the three elements could from day one be “blended”: and we already saw during past speeches how dissent was considered.
It was a sad moment in our recent history when, even without a need of an order, local security forces and other State employees removed banners of dissent.
So, it was puzzling irony yesterday to hear the President of the Senate asking to remove a protest banner against Salvini from one of the Members of the Senate, and hear Salvini say that there was no need to remove it.
And most of the elements of a “Révolution nationale” were already in place within Salvini speech.
This preamble is already over 3,000 words long- so, I will postpone to a future article a further discussion.
And now, the new English version of the 2017 post.
”Il Paese dei Leader” in 2019
If you live in Italy, sooner than later you will discover that Italy, to paraphrase the Movie “Matrix”, has “laws, more laws”.
Now, the real issue, as I was told by a classmate in Sweden, is to understand which law is enforced, or could be enforced, and those that are applied on a “case by case” basis (in Italian we say "con gli amici la legge si interpreta, con gli altri si applica").
As I said back then to that classmate, who said that one of his German friends who rented a car in Italy and tried to do as the Italians did and got a traffic ticket… in Italy, we have also rules on how and when to violate rules: and what qualifies you as “foreign” isn’t just the license plate- is also how you comply with “informal rules”, or, as I said back then “in Italy we have also rules on how and when to violate rules”.
How do we differentiate?
Easy- somewhere else, “streamlining” is used, here we create new power centres and let them balance each other.
Efficiency, efficacy? Well, it is something that you will discover long-term.
And, long-term (which in Italy means short-term), we all end up six feet under.
But in Italian politics there is always a second life- a “sinecure” that at worst implies office, staff paid by State or local coffers (directly or indirectly), plus an expenses account- to keep being in politics without being directly involved.
Just in case- as generals, in Italy politicians sometimes are called up for duty (or volunteer) and return from retirement.
As we are stubborn, it isn’t from today or from 1922 (and I wrote this in 2017, not 2019) that we keep trying and behave as if the best way were to find leaders more or less enlightened, more or less “universalis genius” (in English “polymath” is just an approximation).
Over the last few decades at last in Italy few women had access to leadership roles in politics, and proved to be not so different from their male colleagues- including in misbehaving while in office, converting bodyguards into valets, whereas a male politician decades ago requisitioned trendy clubs so that he could bring his friends.
The “scandalo della Banca Romana" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banca_Romana_scandal) at the end of the XIX century already showed how back then the wives of politicians as well as their husbands had no issue to use as their own personal wallet somebody else’s wallet.
In my view, “corruption” includes also misusing workforce (yes, Gregorio Magno- corruption of the hand, the word, the action :D)
Anyway, ubi maior minor cessat- minutiae such as accounting or propriety could not be left to interfere with higher callings... (yes, I am joking).
Back to the power centres concept.
It is akin to Google attempt to create a social network based upon the “circles” concept- each power centre has a “mass”, and “bends” around surrounding it, attracting within its “orbit” both “free-standing” objects and lesser power centres.
While up in the sky billions of years might be needed to alter the balance of power, here down on planet Earth, notably here in Italy, it is just a matter of a “coalition of the willing” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coalition_of_the_willing: a convergence of interests to achieve shared goals.
As for “entente cordiale”… better to leave it in history books https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Entente_Cordiale- Peter and Paul agree to steal from John, to paraphrase an English saying :D
Yes, it is true that in Italian politics we are used to state that any goal is a paradigm shift that will last for generations, only to barely survive an electoral cycle (that in Italy is anything between 1 and 5 years).
In Italy, we can proudly claim a record in the number of governments: have a look at how many governments since July 1943 have been “silurati” (“torpedoed” in Italy isn’t used just to refer to WWII exploits), but… from either members or supporters of a government coalition.
Incidentally: yesterday when PM Conte announced that he was going to resign the journalist said that so ended the 67th government of the Italian Republic (should be 2 during the transition in 1945, and 65 after).
In Italian, I rather translate “coalition of the willing” with “coalizione di chi ne ha voglia” (i.e. onboarding those who care- it is not just a matter of will- an Italian political coalition has nothing to do with a Leni Riefenstahl movie, no matter how far-right its members: it is a matter of temporary convenience).
Therefore, let’s take for granted that in Italy the balance of power is always apparently unstable (in Italian usually we say “equilibrium”, but I would like to avoid an unintended political reference to the dystopian sci-fi movie of few years ago).
Actually, I read in London in 1983 a book from Kissinger (the Italian version) where he wrote that, despite what most assumed, Italy and Japan were the steadiest allies: always the same people within any government- but he was referring to times when governments were almost exclusively composed by Christian Democrats (a political party that after the “Clean Hands” / “Mani Pulite” investigation of the early 1990s melted down, and whose politicians spread across all the other political parties).
Some, even recently [remember, I wrote this in 2017, before the M5S+Lega government started], complained about the “voltagabbana” (“turncoats”) who, while we had theoretically a tripartite system (PD, Centre-right, M5S), bagged their carpets and went to the winner: but, frankly, it is a long-standing Italian tradition: how could have we survived to a continuous stream of invasions since the 5th century?
Mmmh… I could that, when I had to cross path more than once a week with those who were hovering around the offices of the traditional political parties (“arco costituzionale”, from PLI on the right, to PCI on the left), it was clear that change was a constant (meaning: nothing could be more subject to change than statements cast in political stone).
Well, we could now say that the “arco costituzionale” has been fragmented into a game similar to what in Italy we call “Shangai” (Italian version of Mikado- slightly different, but same principle; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mikado_(game) – see https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shangai_(gioco)).
Back in those times when we still had fewer and relatively steadier political parties, there was a “glue” keeping together the “arco costituzionale”: they shared the rules of the game.
Also back then we had leaders or self-declared leaders with no followers, but being so close to WWII “toned down” excesses.
When there was a terrorist attack on Togliatti, leader of the Italian Communist Party, he did not call for a revolution, but that wouldn’t be a sure thing, were it to happen today (and I am never been a communist).
Today, our “leaders” use gasoline to extinguish fires, call for “forconi a Palazzo Chigi” (the “forconi”, “pitchfork” was a grassroot movement that had some high visibility few years back, e.g. see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2013_Italian_social_protests), invoke “Piazzale Loreto” (1945, when Mussolini corpse was hang upside down https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Benito_Mussolini), and other examples of “political amenities”.
Personally, I did not change my mind, based upon what I learned in my political activities in the early 1980s.
Our purpose was clear, sharing our ideas and support the career of those who shared the same ideas, and this get you accustomed to the concept that, in a complex system, often “leadership” means creating the conditions for a sustainable success, instead of trying always to lead the charge.
And gets you used to think that sustainable change implies mainly seizing the “windows of opportunity” when they appear, and thinking anyway long-term: seizing a micro-opportunity today while destroying long-term credibility is at best a clear example of short-sightedness.
Often, what a customer in Brussels called “shadow project management” is useful to leverage on the capabilities to project skills, resources, power of whoever accepts (even temporarily) to be the messenger- if you can achieve your goal using somebody else’s resources, why shouldn’t you?
It is often mistaken for “being a kingmaker”, but the latter works only if the reasons for cooperation keep being reinforced, as otherwise, sooner or later, the new “king” obviously will seek other sources of inspiration that have a lesser degree of “institutional memory”.
Obviously, somebody would rather always stay in the shadow- and jumps from king to king as a “consigliori”: easier to take credit of somebody else’s victories where you can claim “I was there”, than share responsibilities for mistakes.
Anyway, after those political activities, applied the same approach also in sales (while still at high school), during compulsory services in the Army (if your task include “profiling” and “assigning” a batch of new recruits each month, you have a de facto “power of influence inclinations” on assigning roles- notably when you have no ranks that can be used as negative leverage or barter, e.g. through promises or denial of promotions).
Then, the same approach (plus the experience acquired in politics, sales, Army) was useful in business activities when, while I was in my early 20s, I was “running” to cope with managers with the double or more of my age, as I had to develop controlling, reporting, and similar models (DSS, decision support systems, as were called back then).
You learn a lot, but you have to invest a lot: each travel to reach a new customer often implied buying books to be able to understand what they were going to talk about.
Being an expert in something does not help if you do not understand how you can use your skills to fulfil the needs of your customer: you must study their “forma mentis”, and refrain from projecting yours unto them.
Moving from “expert” to “catalyst” roles, your profile changes- your credibility increasingly depends not from what you do, but from what you are able to have others do (often more than they assumed they could do).
As an example, as a “cadre” and almost financial controller in 1992 (I did not sign the contract at the last minute due to a big change in the rules of engagement), I was offered a role to “lead” cultural and organizational change in another company that was quite complex and was both getting through a major technological innovation phase and growing too fast.
The offer? The CEO asked me if I was ready to take upon the challenge to change how his company (and his people) were thinking (and working).
I must confess that one of the funniest elements was an element within the engagement rules: whenever there was resistance to change, I should have answered that if they had complaint, should talk directly with the CEO.
Well, I considered that as “deterrent”.
If you work in change, you know that often having a clear mandate is more important than your title or formal authority: it has to be public and communicated (in agreement with the CEO, I worked also on the organization of internal communication meetings/events, and almost “roadshow” through pilot projects, to show the value of the investment that the company was doing on cultural and organizational change).
The assignment worked well enough that, after a while, he told me that I had converted his company in a sect of “lofariti”, considering what his managers said during meetings.
Half-jokingly: as I kept then, after a short break few years later (when anyway I met the company on multidimensional datawarehousing and branch-level risk management solutions as a negotiator o.b.o. foreign companies), to work both on organizational change and other innovation areas, for almost another decade.
The secret? As during my political activities in high school, the purpose was clear, and often the activities where I had to “lead” were less visible (e.g. creating methods and support structures) than those were I had to be a “follower”/consultant to the leader assigned to each activity.
Being and becoming a “follower” is an interesting element that is covered in recent academic research: a leader can also be a follower- context, situation, and, of course, balance of powers dictate roles.
If A has visibility and credibility, you can achieve more if you help A to produce positive results, leveraging on his credibility; moreover, you create a "Halo effect" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halo_effect that could embrace those who follow A, creating a “leverage” that increases both motivation and value.
Meaning: if an internal manager has the motivation to change and leads his people into change, this has a greater impact than what you can obtain if a consultant leads a new activity and shows how positive results can be achieved.
If the organizational aim is to increase the credibility of A, it is in my view quite ordinary that whoever might be a leader in other context, on selected initiatives becomes a follower of A, restricting “coaching” activities that might be needed to ad hoc sessions and confidential meetings.
As an example, “briefing” before activities, and “debriefing” after activities is an application of this concept, that I used often both as a consultant, as a negotiator, and as an account manager, whenever I had to “build up” (or “transition”) people into management or sales or advisory roles (usually I write “consulting” for the latter- but nowadays “consultant” is applied to any temporary resources that is provided by the third party).
The key concept here is: a “shadow project manager” should not be spending his time projecting his shadow upon those that he is supporting (I am purposefully writing “he”- as the urge to appear is stronger in male consultants, in my experience).
Unfortunately, way too many political consultants (and management consultants, within the private sector) forget their role.
Just have a look at some unsound political advice given during the previous political elections  from “mega consultants” who are so absorbed by their role of “agent of change” and “creative” to think that they were pushing through choices that were inconsistent with the candidates that they were working with.
And I avoid naming names- but also after the 2019 Regional Elections some political consultants were simply violating all the rules of management and political consulting: having a pulpit doesn’t mean that you have to use it to say that losing was your candidate’s fault, and anyway wasn’t a good candidate to start with- appalling unprofessional behaviour.
You lose elections and win elections, pretty much as not every cultural and organizational change initiative delivers all the expected results: but if you really believed that either the candidate or the organization were a lost cause, then where was your integrity when you accepted the assignment?
Personally, I refused missions when I assumed that were not feasible- and some missions that I accepted failed for various reasons, but bar outright sabotage…
Sometimes, there is a further confusion between “leadership” and “authority”: they can bestow on you the latter, the former has to be acknowledged.
Moreover, “leadership” isn’t necessarily the daughter of successes.
In our “Paese dei Leader”, often our culture has an impact on how those who self-appoint themselves as “leaders”, and find themselves, due to lack of alternatives, actually bumped up into a leadership role.
A typical sign is that new leaders, promoted for what they were doing, once in a leadership role try to be all-knowing, to show that they have no doubts and just certainties, ending up… sitting down and finding ways (and advisors) to justify ex-ante their choices or inaction.
Often, instead of asking a third-party or your staff to produce yet another study, it would be simpler to do what often I ended up doing in meetings as nobody else was doing it, in Italy: just say “I would like to see if I understood correctly” or write rephrasing to see if you got it correctly.
Yes, sometimes it was just a rhetorical tool to call the bluff of some counterparts who were bragging too much while showing no supporting information or had presented inconsistent explanations.
And in negotiations it was useful not just to say “I understood”, but “if I understood correctly, “ and then rephrase.
I lost count of how many projects and activities I was called to audit or verify I found that misunderstandings went unchecked until it was too late, simply because each party “projected” on what was said his or her background and past experiences, instead of… listening.
No, I do not play poker- but when somebody explained me the game, I played few rounds, again to just enter into the “forma mentis”.
Often, it was the plain truth: if I am an expert on something, if I do not know, I have to check, I do not improvise.
Whenever I wasn’t the expert but theoretically who should have led the others, I expected that those around me (the “experts”) prepared me to avoid surprises on activities we were working on together.
Whenever there is a new question, it is just normal to say either “I do not know” or to share only what you already know- I cannot really trust those who can always provide closed answers on any subject.
I had in the past teams whose members were used, Italian style, to “hide issues under the carpet.
Mostly because for various reasons (e.g. called through word-of-mouth and often to “fix”) I worked on projects, programmes, initiatives, negotiations… “part-time”, working on multiple activities and customers at the same time, delegating to team members, project or program managers.
In consulting, I got used to look for behavioural indicators that showed e.g. unreported overtime, as this was a sign that either the budget or the skills were out of sync, and created a temporary reprieve (lower cost) while generating unnecessary risk.
Meaning: if the budget wasn’t enough, everything became “critical”; if the skills weren’t those needed, by Murphy Law the worst mistake usually would happen at the end, when everybody was exhausted and looking forward to close down the activities.
My Weltanschauung is simple: those who “lead” must urge those who “do” to highlight potential issues whenever needed to avoid that they become visible only when turn into a full-fledged crisis.
Years ago (and it was neither the first minister nor the last that had a similar “treatment”), while defining a change within the retirement system, it was eventually shown that few hundred thousand people under the change would basically leave work without having access to retirement benefits- they were called “esodati” (as in “exodus”).
Well, if I had been that minister, I would have pulled from their roles few managers, as with a customer was one of the first things that I asked after accepting to take over some accounts as (part-time) account manager, and having done my usual audit/due diligence on existing contracts, teams, projects, services, etc.
Or: I do not believe in leaders leading alone (over the last few days, in August 2019, I posted a “the last Jedi” movie poster as a tongue-in-cheek for some Italian politicians who sounded like “Highlander”, i.e. uttered things such as “I am the only one left” or “there will be only one” or “give me all the powers”).
Since the early 1980s, I never found a case where “the lonely leader at the helm” worked- no matter how small or large the organization- it was just a pretense.
Between 1990 and 2007, I was often called in to recover cases when somebody had had the wonderful idea to assert “leadership” mistaking forest and trees, and keeping leading on into the wrong direction just to avoid saying that (s)he had made a mistake (yes, this happened both with men and women).
The Italian public debt is a typical example of this kind of “leadership” (we have highways whose ribbon-cutting ceremony happened… few times).
Elton John’s song said “Sorry is the hardest word”- and I liked the irony of a famous English singer who, within the celebration CD, picked up that song, as he was the one who refused the “demo tape” of Elton John :D
It was interesting a statement that was within a January 2017 interview of Grillo (the founder of M5S) to a French newspaper: as it was customary in Italy with politicians, Grillo denied having said so, as the interview stated that he praised the “strongman” at the helm, such as Putin and Trumphttp://www.lastampa.it/2017/01/23/italia/politica/grillo-e-gli-idoli-putintrump-servono-uomini-forti-come-loro-sVa8zhGucbPqXcZCX6DDzO/pagina.html
As I wrote in 2017, if the “new” in the XXI century adopts the same habits of the “old” of the late XX century, it is not a good start.
Luckily, the latest few weeks in August 2019 have shown that both Grillo and Renzi are closer to Elton John’s song than many- as I wrote above, “leadership” is not necessarily shown only in success- also while losing you can lead.
So, what I wrote in 2017, within the Italian version of this post, recent actions override words: talking mean and acting meaningful is better than the other way around.
Still, M5S hasn’t yet overcome the main issue that they had in 2017, i.e. back then I wrote (no, I have no crystal ball- I just listen and think) that M5S had the risk of having more chairs than politicians (meaning leaders, not just bureaucrats) able to cover those roles.
In Italian, we call “organic” intellectuals and managers, meaning intellectuals and managers that aren’t part of the structure, but either by attraction or by personal inclination are considered “circling around” as satellites- never landing, but always nearby.
The first major user of the concept was the Italian Communist Party.
And, actually, in 2018, at the General Elections M5S in some districts had more seats than candidates.
Within the Italian version in 2017 I added a tongue-in-cheek joke about the easier job for M5S to dump elected politicians than other political parties- but it requires a small digression for non-Italians.
Let’s say that the Italian Constitution, to avoid past cases of “controlled votes”, states that elected representatives are not subject to party disciplines on what to vote, etc.
Not just Mussolini, also Giolitti appointed people into Senate control it, see the book on the history of the Ministero dell’Interno that I quoted within the preamble.
Now, at the beginning of M5S journey into the Italian Parliament, they invented a contract that stipulated that, whenever an elected representative for M5S voted not the expected way, eventually could be charged a fine (the basic idea was to cover for the campaign costs).
Eventually, it was accepted by a tribunal that would be acceptable to charge such a fine for councillors in Rome, but other M5S mayors in other towns said that they would not apply it.
Instead, some leader of M5S said that they would apply it also to the elected members of the Parliament- something that directly contradicts the Italian Constitution intent, as per Article 67: "Ogni membro del Parlamento rappresenta la Nazione ed esercita le sue funzioni senza vincolo di mandato"
Showing “leadership” by issuing pre-emptive fines held as a Damocle’s sword is akin to claim to be a visionary manager and asking employees to sign a blank page of resignation when hired (which used to be a common practice in Italy in the past for women hires, and over the last few years made a return).
The risk is that a leader apparently strong could be revealed to be actually as “Man of Marble” (or Stakanov): a figment of imagination (http://www.activitaly.it/immaginicinema/wajda/wajda.htm).
Within the "paese dei leader", this results in a continuous stream of diktats that would not be sustainable long-term (each new diktat either increases the “penalty” to a level considered punitive enough, or simply loses efficacy, reaching up eventually a tipping point/political implosion).
In 2017, I said that would be interesting to see how the three main political forces would evolve, between “daily leaders” (M5S), “palace coups” (PD), and “looking for a dauphin” (centre-right).
In 2019, I can say that the first tried to solve the issue, but seems to have limited-lifetime leaders (can be recalled from above at anytime), the PD keeps with the autodafe approach, while the centre-right…generated an independent Lega while is shrinking down but… still looking for a dauphin.
Or: expanding the void.
Interestingly, in 2017 I quoted at this point an article about the history of the attempts to save Alitalia, the former State airline company.
Well, nothing changes: back then, and few times, we had “capitani coraggiosi” wasted piles of taxpayers’ money to solve nothing, and nowadays we are still in stand-by for yet another team of “white knights”.
I will spare you the reference to the Italian Commercial code.
But I will keep the closing I shared in 2017.
Probably, instead of white knights we need leaders able to generate and expand resilience: in Italian, often it is translated with just “being able to adapt to change”- but it is something more.
Because, in my experience, often the leaders who had had the greatest impact were those who left behind a structure that continued to operate in a coherent way after they left.
I would like to add: otherwise, the leader might enter within the pages of history books, but nobody would remember what they led- and, frankly, talking about countries as well as corporations, I would rather see the other way around.