As a leadership consultant I cannot help but look at the leaders of our institutions and wonder, “is this really the best we can do?”

It appears to me that we have reached a level called systems failure.

It appears to me that we have reached a level called systems failure. That’s simply a way of saying what got us here won’t take us there. “There” being a future of sustainable abundance based on Nobel prize-winning John Nash’s proof that the greatest good for everyone will create the greatest good for each individual. That mindset is at odds with Hard Power systems because Hard Power is inherently fueled by self-interest and blame.

The alternative to this system is not socialism, which is based on sharing scarcity. Rather it is based on what some business people call conscious capitalism. In civics it’s called the common good. It is nothing less than moral intelligence. It the synergy of SMART Power where the sum of the parts is much greater than each part. That’s how you produce sustainable abundance.

Hard power assumes the best world is only created by relentless competition.

Let’s tackle a difficult problem. Suppose you begin with the wild proposition that the best society is one in which everyone had the best chance to live a productive life. This is not a hard power point of view. Hard power assumes the best world is only created by relentless competition. That way everyone gets what they deserve. So if your life is hard it’s your own damn fault. The problem is that simply is not true. Not really. Not at all.

Today there are over 2 million Americans locked up in jail.

Today there are over 2 million Americans locked up in jail. Most are African American. The vast majority of inmates have done bad things, often very bad things. I know, I used to be a counselor to inmates in a maximum security prison so I know what evil is. Yet I also know that for the vast majority of these prisoners their childhood was nothing like yours or mine. They were not told that they could become anything. In fact they were not told that they were good or capable.

Their early childhood programming was that they were stupid, ignorant losers with nothing to offer. Their modeling in most cases was that if you want something you need to take it, and violence is a legitimate source of power. For the most part young African American males in 21st-century America are programmed to be criminals. While it’s true that everyone has free will, our free will is constrained by the choices we can imagine. Thus some people’s will is much freer than others.

While it’s true that everyone has free will, our free will is constrained by the choices we can imagine.

Psychologists have learned that the biggest influence on our behavior is our personal story of our identity. If your identity was that you were destined for a meaningless grinding life or worse, jail, who do you think you might become? I am very lucky. I have a family story where my great-grandfather came to San Francisco when he was 16 with nothing. He was raised by loving parents who sent him to America to escape being drafted into the tragic army of Napoleon III.

When he reached California he was taken in by fellow Italian immigrants and given a job, hope and enthusiasm. He lived a remarkable life and became a successful cattle rancher and community builder in central California. That was a story I grew up with. It helped me believe that anything was possible. The inmates I counseled in prison had quite a different story. Their ancestors were slaves who were told that God had created them to be slaves.

They were told they were incapable of living independent lives. They were told they couldn’t learn. Most of them came from abusive homes where fathers were not a source of inspiration but only a threat of violence and a voice of ridicule. Many had mothers who were teenage junkies. So let me ask you. If this was your family story… if your mother was a junkie… who might you be?

If this was your family story… if your mother was a junkie… who might you be?

I have spent deep time with fellow human beings whose hope was stolen from them before they could even talk. I get exasperated when some self-righteous idiot politician points to a few who have somehow escaped an awful personal history to become a remarkable self-sufficient human being. These people amaze us because they are so exceptional.

But old white demagogues in $3000 suits don’t have a clue about what causes this infinitesimal few to transcend their conditions. And to point to them as an excuse for us to do nothing while millions of lives are flushed down the toilet of hopeless despair is simply immoral. At least it seems so to me. So let’s try a Smart Power mindset…one that includes moral empathy that seeks to remove avoidable suffering and create sustainable abundance.

Suppose for an instance we actually believed that young African American males could become well-educated, responsible husbands and fathers and yes, even leaders. Suppose they could also become scientists, inventors and innovators. Suppose we believed they could become anything that young white males could become? If we really believed that would we, as a society, continue to under invest in inner-city schools? Would we allow law enforcement to abandon major parts of our big cities to become gang run ghettos?

They need a balance of nurture and discipline, encouragement and feedback.

Smart Power leadership says no. We actually do know what works to give the most children the greatest chance of fulfilling their potential. Children without responsible parents need loving and capable early childhood teachers, a safe environment, nourishing food, healthy exercise, and opportunities to set goals and achieve them. They need a balance of nurture and discipline, encouragement and feedback.

As they get older they need opportunities to succeed and mentors who will support them. All of this has been proven to work… not with every single person… but with a vast majority. Now if we know this is true and continue to do nothing is that okay? If you’re objection is that this sounds like another massive government program, think more creatively.

A Smart Power approach to social problems begins with a new form of institutions called a Citizen Enterprise. (I have written about this in Save the World and still be Home for Dinner.) It uses the innovations and disciplines of business and universal morality of the Golden Rule to produce new standards of measurable value.

The greatest waste we make is wasting human life. This is not the best we can do. But things will only change when enough of us become unwilling to support old ways of thinking and leading, and the fears that fuel hard power. If you were in charge, what would you do? Speak up for that.