We think that we’re grown up just because we’ve hit adulthood, or because we’ve taken on a position of leadership.
But so many of us are still looking for parents who can save us from life’s difficulty, or who can tell us we’re doing ok.
As long as we’re looking for parents, we expect the leaders of our organisations to know what to do, to tell us what’s needed, and to rescue us. We hold back from speaking truth, because we’re scared they’ll judge us or reject us. When we don’t see change coming 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 ourselves. We give up our capacity for independent action so we can keep ourselves in a dependent, child-like role.
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, and why so many of us hold back from solving the problems we see around us.
And it makes the ongoing task of adult development so critical for each of us and our organisations. Because it’s the challenging work of growing up so that we can genuinely be adults in the world – without relying on a saviour – that allows us to take collective responsibility first for our institutions, and for our society as a whole.