For a social group to be strong and unified, it must act the part.
But if you look at the ongoing pandemic and at how it has transformed our culture, you will find that people, generally, take very little care of themselves – or of each other. And this despite being fully aware of Covid-19, its effects, and the preventive measures that should be adopted in response.
True, many people simply accept death as part of life, while others are worn out from the stress of social distancing and have begun relaxing their vigilance.
Whatever the case, the underlying problem is both structural and global.
After a year of living in a pandemic, it has become obvious that humanity is incapable of seeing past its individual needs – even as the spread of the disease, paradoxically, depends on people being unable to avoid society.
When we analyze organizational or institutional behavior under this light, matters become even more complex. Western democracy is based on freedom, but it also applies certain restrictions on that freedom. The social contract is defined by such apparent contradictions.
When a leader promotes social restrictions while asserting his or her individual freedom at all costs, an institutional crisis is never far off.
For the past 12 months, democratic leaders across the world have spilled plenty of ink on extensive and elaborate rules and regulations, hoping to encourage individuals to do what is best for those around them. Yet these same leaders have often broken their own rules and regulations. This is a breach of the social contract, which is meant to guarantee equality under the law.
The effect of such incoherence is always the same: a loss of credibility. That is why we need to rethink our role as leaders in our organizations. Leadership is a privilege that implies great responsibility.
The recent presidential elections in the United States show what can happen when leaders do not abide by the social contract that placed them in a position of power. In Latin America, Ecuador’s elections point towards a political renewal that involves other key players in the region, such as Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Mexico.
In a democratic system, we might ask: What will a population do about its political choices? What will happen to regional leaders, both those who abide by the social contract and those who do not?
Elected officials may have to reassess the social contract in a context in which people find it difficult to consider their fellow men and women – and in which the prevailing mentality is: “Every person for him or herself.”
Within organizations, company leaders must review the balance between individual and collective needs, which must coexist even as they become difficult to tell apart. As in a literal version of Plato’s cave, everyone who used to be trapped inside, enthralled by the shadows on the wall, has now emerged onto the sunlight and found a world totally unlike the one they were accustomed to.
It is possible now to work from home, be productive, and embrace a new workplace dynamic that is different from our office-bound past – and far from bosses’ control.
This new normal may require a new social contract. We may even be rewriting that contract right now and are simply unaware of the fact.
Some would say we need to reshuffle our cards and try again; others, that we should go back to basics and start over. Either way, this is a time for weighty choices that cannot be taken lightly.
By Ezequiel Kieczkier, Founder Partner de OLIVIA