It is much nicer to assume that what we are building is following great work done by predecessors. Thus we enjoy seeing ourselves on “the shoulder of giants” and look into the past to find heroes who show the way.
There is an endless list of literature describing the lessons we can take from those men and women. It’s literature that can highlight and restrict itself to the hero-like features of that person. It eases leaving everything else we associate with that person aside.
A few days ago, on May 5th, was the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s death.
Emmanuel Macron, the French President, decided to commemorate that event by giving a speech and laying a wreath at the foot of Napoleon’s grandiose tomb at Les Invalides.
In doing so he triggered a large debate in France, as Napoleon belongs to the figures who are divisive of the French public opinion. There are some who focus on his military genius, others point out how much of an impact he had on French and European administrative structures, or want his other merits to be seen. But for some, Napoleon is responsible for reestablishing slavery in French colonies, as well as for years of carnage and destruction through the wars he fought.
What this division highlights is how much of a struggle it has become in today’s society to deal with our many identities. In choosing their focus, the different groups stick to the ambition they have today. May it be, having someone to venerate, or someone to reject. May it be to celebrate achievements they continue to appreciate today.
It is how people are treated. The person who is judged for an error he made, or the individual who is rejected on moral grounds, can be the person who yesterday still was the much-celebrated leader. One identity suddenly trumps the other.
It is an atmosphere that impacts every organization and team.
The ease of judgment and rejection as much as the engagement in heroism makes it hard for teams to focus on the work they have to do. The spectacle of the consequences errors can have as well as the sense of needed perfection in one’s approach grab much of the energy available.
It makes it important for them to realize the impact of the wider culture their organization acts in and how the team decides to define itself in such a context. It also makes it important for them to realize that independently from how we may see other individuals, the impact of what they do remains with us.
It is up to us to decide how we integrate both, and how different society and individuals are to what we want them to be. Change can only happen with what is, not through what should be.