The movie was, without a doubt, deeply strange across the board but the narrative that my mind kept lingering upon was the one around the Korean clone Sonmi-451 who was built to be a disposable server in a diner, and who ultimately (and briefly) steps forward to be a catalyst for a new world and is captured and executed.
Free will and the extent to which we have any is a recurrent theme in the movie. I know of people that would say that we are driven so much by our DNA and biochemicals and environmental factors out of our control that we are actually animals, whether or not we'd like to admit it. The story of Sonmi-451, the perfectly cloned entity bounded by DNA and environment, helped me synthesize this - that it's not about how much free will we have, it's that we have any. In even the tiniest microfraction of the opportunity represented by free will, we have infinite choice and it's that choice that makes us human.
The willingness to exercise that fundamentally human capability is a defining characteristic of leadership. I've been thinking a lot about leadership lately, examples of both triumphs and failures, how powerfully it affects the people around for better and for worse, and the relationships among leadership, choice and truth.
Leadership is a word that is thrown around so much that it seems like everyone gets their own definition - executives are often asked as a softball question in interviews, "How do you define leadership?" To me, that's like saying, "How do you define truth?" As Sonmi-451 says, "Truth is singular. Its versions are mistruths."
Leadership to me is specific - it is the ability to build confidence (and reduce perceived risk) in others so that they can make their own choices in the context of risk and uncertainty. Leadership is about the choices that an individual makes to enable and empower the choices of others. At the core of it is truth-based trust-building, based on both competence and values.
Here is what failures of leadership look like: Lack of a shared vision that would enable decentralized decision-making made in lockstep. Unwillingness to commit to well-defined priorities resulting in suboptimal resource allocation decisions. A disjoint between the words of leaders and their actions-choices. An evident gap between what a leader knows and the reality of the situation on the ground. A leader that needs to be managed. Neglect. Low levels of responsiveness, sometimes pervasive across the organization. Perceptions of unfairness. Politics. Implicit acceptance of behaviors that contradict expressed values. Situations where it's not comfortable to speak up. Frequent decisions made on power, out of protocol. Problems are pushed down in the hierarchy, rather than raised up. Leaders who offload risk to their teams rather than taking it on or serving as an umbrella. People going to bed at night feeling bad about their jobs.
But leadership isn't only something that people with titles do. If leadership is about choices that enable the choices of others, and we have even the smallest iota of free will, then we can all show leadership. We can make it so people don't go to bed feeling quite so bad about their lives. In these small spaces, we are God.
You need more leadership when times are uncertain, when you're doing uncertain work and the ground is shifting beneath. And look around - anyone that doesn't think we are in uncertain times has had their head stuck in the ground. The folding in of the technology advances of the past two decades into the investments of large enterprises will be enormously disruptive. Rising income inequality are rewriting the social contracts, and the education debt we've built up over decades of mismanagement of public primary and secondary school systems is coming up for payment. The very nature of money - the currency of the untold trades that have created virtually all wealth in the world - is being redefined. We need leadership more than ever.