Rethinking Occupy Wall Street

Rethinking Occupy Wall Street

“There are times I wonder, ‘Will I be the next Mubarak?’”

This question was posed to me not by a despotic ruler in the Middle East but by the highly-respected CEO of a multinational company who was worried about the prospect of his employees or consumers organizing against him, thereby rendering him powerless.

It echoes in my mind every time I try to make sense of the questions so far directed at the Occupy Wall Street protesters: What is their purpose? What do they stand for? How long can they keep this up?

At best, these inquiries miss their mark. At worst, they display a dangerous lack of imagination that all but ensures that this protest movement will continue longer than necessary.

The problem is that the questions ask too much of the protesters – and too little of the rest of us.  Like most protest movements, OWS demonstrators are demanding freedom from the current system. Many employees joining the movement want freedom from command and control bosses and task-based jobs and freedom to contribute their character and creativity and collaborative spirit at work in pursuit of a values-based mission worthy of their dedication.

The ultimate impact of the this movement, like all others, hinges upon how all of us involved – and we are all involved – work together to create the freedom to enable all of our employees and citizens to pursue a meaningful career and life.

What’s more, the protesters deserve credit for inspiring us to have the long overdue, truthful, no-holds-barred discussion that business and political leaders have failed to engage in for far too long. As leaders, we should be asking ourselves soul-searching questions about the underlying nature of our economic system and our business environment.

The CEO who used the Arab Spring as an opportunity to rethink his own leadership and the nature – and genuine quality – of his multinational company’s stakeholder relationships would understand the need to have this discussion. He would use the Occupy Wall Street protests as an opportunity to ask some fundamental questions all business leaders should be asking, such as:

1. Are we ready for the truthful conversation we’ve been avoiding?

We better be ready because the discussion about the fundamental structure and nature of business and the global economy is happening right now. The protesters’ conversation may touch upon issues of fairness and justice, but it is fundamentally about freedom. The protesters do not want a free ride; rather, they want the freedom to pursue a meaningful life and build a sustainable career. As the college graduates, soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, hard-working single parents and other protesters have made clear in their chants, Tweets, blog posts and sound bites, our current economic system does not provide that freedom.

2. Can we differentiate between interdependence and co-dependence?

As if we needed any more convincing following the global economic crisis, the world is hyper-connected and interdependent. A housing bust in Florida helps create a fiscal meltdown in Iceland. The threat of default in Greece decimates retirement-account balances in the U.S. Just because we’re interdependent does not necessarily mean that our interdependencies are healthy.

Continued reading on

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