We’re all standing, looking at the red hand. There are no cars. The road is just two lanes. Yet we stand and wait. Waiting for the ‘walk’ sign. To be told it is safe to cross.
We think that we’re grown up just because we’ve hit adulthood, have flown the nest, or because we’ve taken on a position of leadership in our organisation.
But so many of us are still looking for parents who can save us from life’s difficulty, confirm the right course of action, or who can tell us we’re doing ok.
As long as we’re looking for parents, we expect the leaders of our organisations, or others in society to know what to do, to know all the answers, to tell us what’s needed, and to rescue us. We hold back from speaking truth or acting confidently because we’re scared they’ll judge us or reject us. Meanwhile, they’re scared they will get found out; found wanting. So they are happy to parent us. To be seen as wise and all knowing.
And in this parental game, we blame them for sticking to their rigid parental ways. And, when things don’t turn out the way we want them, we blame them for failing us, instead of stepping up and taking action and responsibility ourselves. We give up our capacity for independent thought so we can keep ourselves in a dependent, child-like role.
And they, for their part, give up truly leading. Instead they parent, patronise and push change, to show they know best.
All of this is happening even at the most senior levels of multi-national organisations, because – it turns out – being senior, and being grown up, are not the same thing.
It explains much about why change can be so difficult in organisations. Why we fail to own our own change and why we have created an industry called ‘change management’ – like all that’s needed are more parents.
All of this makes the ongoing task of adult development so critical for each of us and for our organisations. Truly growing into ourselves, being ourselves and growing up is challenging work. But it means we can become self confident and genuinely be adults in the world – without relying on a saviour.
And once we can act like responsible grown ups, that allows us to take collective responsibility first for our institutions, and then for our society as a whole.
Then we can walk.