Is Americanism a world view? Historically speaking there are four common world views that have been passed along through university study. There are many variations of the world views so while you may call it, or have studied, something different philosophers have summed it up in terms of communication. The first is the Oral era, often called the Ancient or Theocentric worldview, spanning from before history until 1500 A.D. The Print era, most commonly referred to as the Newtonian or modern worldview, lasted from 1500 until 1950. Following the Print era is the Broadcast era, also known as the Einsteinian or post-modern worldview, which dominated until about 2010 at which point we entered the Digital era, also called the Bohmian or convergent worldview. Many of you have heard of this and can relate to it. You may or may not have studied leadership styles throughout history and how successful leaders emerged through each era. The most recent era, the Broadcast era, was studied by Jim Collins in Good to Great and he determined that what he called a level five leader made the difference. Will the level five leader be the successful leader who emerges in the Digital era? Who knows, but no doubt there will be more studies to determine the answer to that. The type of worldview I want to talk about is not discussed very much in leadership books. Its called Americanism and it is not based upon communication medium, it is based upon socio-economic status. What exactly is it, and how do you lead people who have this world view?
Let me preface this by saying a couple of things. First of all I love our country and highly respect the sacrifice that went into getting us where we are right now. I am part of that sacrifice though six years of military service. Even if you did not serve in the military you have played a role in the advancement of our great nation by providing a service in some fashion to our fellow countrymen. I also want to say that I have a house in the suburbs and two cars and a garage and three kids. The list goes on so needless to say I have stuff, things, possessions, and am not against having nice things. Where I think Americanism has lead us astray is when we think that possessions bring us happiness and make us something as individuals .
We can believe that possessions are the essence of life and the source of happiness. Worse yet, we can believe that happiness is the goal and we leverage ourselves financially to achieve that. The essence of Americanism is happiness. I visited a thrift shop recently and saw all these things in there that were once new. At one point someone was in a store, tried a nice shirt on, looked in the mirror, and saw happiness. Then what happened? Time went by and the happiness once felt by that shirt was gone and the shirt ended up in a drawer for several months until room needed to be made in that drawer for new happiness and the old went to the thrift shop. Maintaining happiness is hard work and it is very expensive. If one cannot afford it, they leverage credit cards and consumer debt builds. I urge you to research consumer debt in this nation, it is at epic levels.
I am actually happy to see a new trend emerging through gen X and millennials. This new trend may help re-define Americanism and help reduce some of the debt we are in. This new view is about experiences and not about stuff. People want experiences. Hiking, climbing, bike riding, sharing life through experiences and not through possessions. My wife and I watch this TV show about tiny houses. We love it and are considering it ourselves. What a great way to reduce debt and allow yourself more financial resources for experiences. I like the idea a lot but to me it has one flaw, it says that happiness is the goal and that it can be achieved through experiences and not through possessions.
When a circumstance, possessions, or experience stops making people happy, they get replaced with something that does. The national divorce rate is over 60% and average tenure for an employee at a company is 3.5 years.
What does any of this have to do with leadership and culture? EVERYTHING! We lead individuals in America who live with this day to day and live under the burden of debt and the desire to be happy. We as leaders fall into this as well. With the understanding that leaders lead best through personal example, how do we lead those in our workplace who are just trying to achieve happiness? You may not be ready to hear the answer because you may be bothered by the question. Is wanting happiness bad? No, not in and of itself, but if it’s the goal and we look at our modern day American culture trying to achieve that goal, then we have more debt, more job hopping, and more divorce to look forward to. The antithesis of Americanism is folded into two views, gratitude and forgiveness.
As a leader you can have a huge impact on your team by both being grateful and showing gratitude and by practicing forgiveness. Here are just a couple of quick examples you can implement in your workplace. Get a team together and have them establish a charity of the month club. This will shift focus to those in your community who are in need. Helping others in need brings a great sense of gratitude for what you have and provides fulfillment in life because you are helping others in need. Promote their ideas and encourage all team members to participate. There are many other things you can do to show gratitude that will also bring gratitude, just getting others involved will kick the creative process in gear and ideas will flow.
The other thing you can do as a leader is public confession. Not like a priest confession, but a confession to the whole group when you do something wrong or fall short at work. This may be hard for some, but it can really be a game changer for you personally and for those on your team. When you speak about what you did, publicly ask for forgiveness. This will be super awkward at first, but it will provide so much benefit. Forgiveness is so freeing, both to the person being forgiven and the person doing the forgiving. If they see you do this, they will assume this is the way to behave both personally and professionally and start to incorporate this in their life.
This post was challenging to write as I struggle with the desire for happiness at the expense of future finances. I continue to put people in my life who live the principles of gratitude and forgiveness so I can be molded in that fashion. With a shifted focus, I find that I need new shirts less often, I am ok with not having the best home in the hood, and I learn to forgive others when they wrong me and ask for forgiveness when I screw up. These characteristics may just be the driving characteristics for a level five leader in the Digital age, we will soon find out!