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Where Is a Genie When You Need One?

By Jim Selman | Bio

There is a widely understood belief in Argentina’s culture that “the way we are is a big part of the problem … and one of our characteristics is that we’re always waiting for a leader to come along and save us.” The first time I heard this I was giving a talk to a large event in Buenos Aires. A man stood up and challenged my ‘American optimism’, suggesting that I just didn’t understand the way things really were in ‘their’ country. My response was to acknowledge that this may be true and to suggest that, since they were all waiting for the leader to appear, perhaps he could take the job until the leader came along. That got a chuckle or two and drove home my point. We live as if the causes and the solutions to our problems are somehow outside of ourselves and that they are beyond our ability to resolve. This view of the world inevitably leads to resignation—giving up—and has us drift into a kind of spectator relationship to life and the future.

I make the same point in a different way in my Leadership in Action workshops. I usually begin by asking participants what they would to say to a ‘Genie’ if that magical being promised to grant them one wish to change something in their organization. I am always a little surprised to hear people’s innocuous and tiny wishes (such as better communication, more cooperation between departments, more straight talk, more trust and so on). Not that these aren’t

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