Monday, January 27, 2014

Who should be leading affluent communities?

I listened to the mayor of an affluent community talk about the prospects for his city. Although his voice was strong as he went through the obligatory thank yous and held up well for the review of 2013, it almost disappeared before he started talking about the future. I mean literally: a member of the audience jumped up with a glass of water to ease his poor dry throat.

It seems that the community services have been financed by rapid growth, growth that will have to slow soon. Half-hidden by the pictures of new business areas and better roads, there was a scary message about an uncertain future. The mayor had solid presence. He seemed to genuinely care about people and about prosperity. But he lost his voice before presenting a vision that would lead into a new year.

A friend describes him as a mayor with heart. She says he cares about the 10% of residents who are poor, and the 30% of those who are extremely poor. Watching him, I believe that he does care, and that he thinks it will be hard to keep the needs of the poor on the agenda as the purse strings tighten.

What I wonder is whether he respects the poor, whether he understands that the answers to doing more with less are more likely to come from the recently poor than the eternally affluent. An infographic was circulating today on twitter that claims that 86% of millionaires are self-made. I have no idea if it is accurate, but it does suggest that some people are good at figuring out how to make more out of a little. It does suggest that the answer to a future of doing more with less is not likely to come from the people who have been rich all of their lives.

Below a modest level, income is related to happiness. After people are able to pay for food and shelter, the impact of money on happiness dwindles. Somewhere in that band of people who have just enough, there are answers to being satisfied with less and answers to turning less into more. With respect and attention, we might be able to learn how to do that collectively.

It's unlikely that the affluent will look to new millionaires for leadership. Their leaders, however, have choices about where to turn for models of how to navigate a leaner future. And those choices are rooted in respect for what it means to learn to tie satisfaction to having enough, not more than enough.

NLP is not about celebrating poverty. It is about identifying models of success and observing them so closely that you can replicate their success. When we pay real attention to how people move from not-enough to just-enough, we learn about the difference that makes a difference. We learn the key skill to a future where growth no longer drives our investment in civic well-being.


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