The “Establishment” Is Under Siege

The world in 2016 is very different from the world of twenty or fifty years ago. It is a breeding ground for dichotomies, including the latest trend of which leaders should be aware.

There is a collective insurgence against establishment – systems, structures and ways of doing things. Because the world is in such a mess, society starts asking hard questions about why, and with the advent of social media these questions are more visible and persistent. The purpose of this questioning is sometimes in search of answers, while occasionally it is to find something or someone to blame.

Let’s be frank – there is a strong argument that politics across the world has and is failing. Are our political models working for us – and I include democracy? Is the established way of doing things succeeding? Clearly not!

Globally, we are in economic quicksand. Most, if not all, countries are slowly sinking. Are the economic models working? Is the established way of doing things succeeding? Clearly not!

Formal religion is also under scrutiny. The established way has been that of belonging to a church and attending Sunday meetings as a family. There is a strong move away from this.

We could go down the list and the pattern is the same – education, the family institution and more. Citizens all over the world are intensifying their scrutiny of “the establishment”.

Leaders must take note – because the following happens. Individuals that openly and boldly challenge the establishment grow in popularity at an alarming pace – again, the world is connected. These individuals and their followers are mostly going to be on the front foot, because they can criticise and make wild promises, often against the back drop of no track record, while in most instances the establishment has a failed track record to defend, placing it on the back foot – a vulnerable, defensive position.

Donald Trump has been challenging the establishment while campaigning for the Republican nomination in the USA presidential race. He tweeted recently: “I have brought millions of people into the Republican Party, while the Dems are going down. Establishment wants to kill this movement.” Rupert Murdoch tweeted: “As predicted, Trump reaching out to make peace with Republican “establishment”…”

Trump also tweeted: “Failed candidate Mitt Romney, who ran one of the worst races in presidential history, is working with the establishment to bury a big “R” win!” Soon after this tweet Mitt Romney gave a speech in Utah that was exceptionally daring and in which he attacked Trump from all angles. But here’s the challenge – right or wrong – Romney gambled because he was attacking the very person that is taking on the “failing” establishment. Many will set aside his arguments and in an emotional state defend their courageous “attacker of the establishment”.

In South Africa we see this with Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). He and his organisation have been aggressively challenging the establishment – the ruling party, the government – against the backdrop of having never governed a country themselves. They even continually challenge the establishment of parliament with all its rituals and procedures. We have been subject to a year of theatrics in this space.

The EFF is having a field day as they have much to criticise, with dismal performance from government on many fronts, indicative of governments world over because of the unprecedented times in which we live. But global context does not faze the resistance; they zoom in on the negative and become obsessed with bringing down the establishment.

Some establishments are failing because they are outdated in this modern and extremely dynamic world; others have or are failing because collectively society hasn’t been true to the principles that govern their success,

in which case it is unfair to blame the establishment. If it is the former, a leader must challenge courageously. If the latter it is the leaders job to guide followers back to foundational principles that regulate the success of the needed establishment.

Leaders must differentiate which is which. While it may be difficult, they cannot be lazy or gutless and blindly give in to those that attack an establishment, just as they shouldn’t blindly hold on to that which is outdated.

Leaders, whenever you find yourself on the opposite side of the table facing someone that is anti-establishment, be careful, because the collective societal sentiment is probably on their side. You yourself may either be on the wrong side of the table or you are about to face an uphill battle.

Even in organisations this trend is prevalent. The establishment has been “us” and “them” – top management and workers. But the so called worker is more informed and not at all happy with where things are going. They are asking questions, fearlessly confronting leaders who they don’t respect simply because of title, as was the case in the past. Motives of leaders, often raw capitalists, are being questioned – how can they claim to be transformational or servant leaders, yet workers continue to grovel in poverty while they swim in wealth that far exceeds what is considered reasonable?

As we know, it is hardly ever clear cut. Most establishments are not fully irrelevant or wrong but consist of elements that need to change, in some instances dramatically so. A leader must be open to this – to challenging and asking questions about anything and everything. Adam Rabinowitz founder of Imagin8 confirmed this on one of our shows – (Listen here) in his small business everything is up for renewal. If this is not your attitude you are in deep trouble.

At the same time, you are responsible for effective movement. You cannot therefore get stuck in a perpetual cycle of questioning, challenging and even changing everything. But is this what the world requires, or thinks it requires?

No one ever said being a leader in 2016 would be easy. It is, as I said, a dichotomous world!

Watch this space for answers on how to address this challenge.


For more on what we do to empower individual leaders, teams and organisations – read here

Adriaan Groenewald is a leadership expert and commentator. Do you recognize some areas in yourself or your team that need improvement? Email Adriaan on for more on creating “Leadership Fit” leaders that generate successful movement (performance) inside your organisation. Follow him on Twitter: @AdriaanG_LP or @LeadershipPform.




Adriaan, as an accomplished author and leadership advisor, has been interviewing and working with top leaders for more than 15 years. He is the Co-Founder and CEO of Leadership Platform. (Twitter: @AdriaanG_LP)

Call: +27 (0)12 653 3022

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