A call for evolutionary leadership to embody a radically new development paradigm

(Article published in Presidency Key Brief – Summer 2012 issue)

We are witnessing, as some have identified it, “the end of a world” – as three great waves are now ending simultaneously: 1) A 30-year wave of ultra-capitalism and hyper-consumption that has been characterized by damaging economic excesses at the expense of social and environmental well-being of countless people, as well as the mindless pillage of the earth. 2) A 300-year wave of modernity that has brought multiple freedoms and human/social rights, but also an objectification of nature and humans, including new forms of inhumanity. 3) A 3000-year “mental age” – that has resulted in an imbalance between mental intelligence and body-heart intelligence. The conjunction of these three cycles has produced leadership forms that have inhibited the development of individuals, their communities, their harmonious relationships with nature and the meaning of their life.

However, many signs of the swelling of a new wave are already visible – not yet acknowledged by the mainstream media. And new forms of leadership are emerging that create conditions for people to “grow in humanity”. These developments combine the best of modernity and the best of indigenous societies into a new wisdom – in a balanced relationship to nature, the human community, and meaning. Leadership everywhere can exemplify the deep interdependence between personal and societal transformation – through the wider adoption of appropriate individual and collective developmental practices that will become an essential component of transformed education. Such leadership creates the conditions for a qualitative development for all beings – during the quantum jump in evolution that is underway.

Current global crises call for a shift in the prevailing development paradigm

What Edgar Morin calls poly-crises (such as global financial speculation, hyper-debt, economic disparity and instability, jobless recovery, ecological threats, the widening gap between rich and poor) can be viewed as interconnected facets of a deeper and systemic crisis of development.

The prevalent and largely unquestioned model of development has led to a hypertrophy of the economy, at least in most western countries and some of the fast-growing economies. Many people were led to believe that a quantitatively growing economy would bring progress into their lives, and it did so for a while. But now the economic sphere has invaded and damaged the geosphere (over-exploitation of non-renewable resources), the biosphere (deforestation, degradation of arable soil, air and water pollution, climate change), the political sphere (growth of influential lobbies and corruption), and the cultural sphere (loss of independence of mass media, education, the arts, and degradation of family life).

A radically new development paradigm is needed now – one that is not based on ever-increasing material growth, but on long-term sustainability – with broader measures of individual and collective well-being. This new paradigm offers a better balance between masculine (Yang) and feminine (Yin) values, and has the following foundations:

  1. A new view of human nature as empathetic, relational, cooperative, searching for meaning, and looking for both differentiation and integration, or both singularity and collaboration. While acknowledging the shadow side of human nature, this humanistic and spiritual perspective represents a major shift from a materialistic, individualistic, and reductionist view of humans that has prevailed for one century at least.
  2. A partnership paradigm: where one considers and treats others as equivalent (i.e. having equal value), generates trust through mutuality, favors flatter or circular structures governed by the wise, and weaves stories that honor partnership and shared leadership as the norm. This new paradigm has been gaining ground vs. the traditional domination paradigm, at least in Western countries, with the increasing number of “cultural creatives” and women in influential roles, as well as the rapid growth of civil society organizations and social enterprises.
  3. A quest for sustainability: while acknowledging the need to meet people’s basic material needs, the call for voluntary simplicity and measures of well being – such as Bhutan’s “Gross National Happiness” – is being heard around the world by a growing minority of people. Post-conventional consultants and economists have been proposing a richer blend of quantitative and qualitative measures of development at both organizational and societal levels. Moreover, at least five thousand complementary currencies are now used in communities around the world: With their emphasis on local exchange of value, they represent the seeds of a monetary ecology that would be much more resilient than the current system.
  4. A balanced use of markets and regulation: speculative companies’ downfalls and financial market crises in the last few years have led to increasing criticism of the free- market ideology. The need for both national and international regulation and greater rigor is more widely expressed. More generally, there is a growing recognition – including among economic leaders – that simplistic and individualistic mechanisms, based on greed and inspired by Adam Smith’s concept of “the invisible hand”, are not adapted to today’s global complexity.

Wide adoption of this emerging paradigm depends on the level of awareness and collaboration of leaders across various sectors of society: private, public, civil, education, and media. Through their own exemplary behavior as well as cultural and structural innovations, leaders can create conditions for many others to expand their own consciousness and find ways to experience a more encompassing sense of abundance in their life. Within the context of a radical rethinking of education, breakthrough forms of leadership development – focused on both inner and outer changes – are critical for the diffusion of the new paradigm over the next few years, as time is our scarcest resource now. These new forms integrate the interior and exterior dimensions of change, at the individual and collective levels.

Right now, new leadership distinctions are crucial

The term leadership is “imported” in other languages, such as French and Spanish, because it does not have a true equivalent in them. The verb “lead” comes from the Indo-European root “leith”, which means to go forth, to cross a threshold, or even to die. What threshold needs to be crossed, so that something new can emerge? What do leaders need to let go of, to die to, in order to cross that threshold? What if exercising leadership meant: facing the unknown with openness and trust, sensing what is emerging by being present to what is, participating creatively in a wider field of knowing and doing, giving voice to an evolutionary impulse, inviting self and others to new places – never seen or experienced before – and enabling access to the leadership capacity of everyone involved?

Crossing a threshold is the first step in the hero’s journey, according to Joseph Campbell. Individual heroes may still be needed today – particularly in the middle of a crisis – but, in the best case, one of their key roles is to invite many others to become “heroes” as well – on the path to exercising shared or collective leadership. Dying to one’s sense of “separateness” – from the Source, from Self, or from other human beings – is to allow compassionate expansion in the heart. It also means perceiving oneself as a singular instrument of evolution and capable of playing in harmony with others for the greater collective good. To connect and give energy to the Self of another is to enact the true spirit of partnership or co-leadership, as musicians do in a jazz band or chamber orchestra without a conductor.

New qualities and practices characterize integral evolutionary leadership

In response to the poly-crises and to the need for radical rethinking of our prevailing development model, new concepts and forms of leadership are emerging in a number of organizations and communities around the world. They include shared, distributed, or collective leadership – emphasizing interpersonal influence, dialogue, and mutuality – by considering leadership as a relational process rather than a position. Such leadership engages simultaneously in top-down, bottom-up, diagonal, and circular change processes, and cuts across boundaries – to generate open innovation that involves suppliers and customers as partners, or to address complex challenges of sustainable development by forming partnerships across companies, government and civil society.

Shared or collective leadership challenges the traditional distinction between leaders and followers who agree on one or two objectives to achieve. In these emerging forms, co-leadership produces direction, alignment, and commitment as means to attain longer-term goals. Each one of the co-leaders needs to examine their beliefs about both individual and collective leadership and engages in practices – such as mutual adjustment, shared sense-making, collective learning and intelligence – that will generate a new leadership culture.

Surveys of more than 600 communities – undertaken jointly by the Global Transforming Ensemble and the Institute for Strategic Clarity – show that about 15% of them report a high level of well-being and a feeling of abundance or harmonic vibrancy. In these cases, their members experience simultaneously a high quality of relationship to self (freedom for self-expression), to others in the group (mutuality), to the larger human community (contribution, service, care), to nature (respect and balance) and to spirit (meaning and evolution). When the dynamics of harmonic vibrancy are at work, there is a positive connection between the ability to self-sustain and to self-determine, cultural identity, effectiveness of social structures and processes, strength of the social fabric, and available economic opportunities.

The level of harmonic vibrancy in the collective is influenced by the quality of leadership that can be characterized by several interior conditions: being acutely aware of one’s own beliefs, attitude and behavior; having a sense of profound interdependence; opening to inspiration and guidance from the larger field; trusting life’s process and evolution; having a beginner’s mind, being humble and willing to learn, with a sense of humor and playfulness; paying attention to the quality of relationship with self, others, and the larger whole; valuing diverse and complementary views, gifts, and skills; and willing to partner and to be of service.

Within a radical reframing of education, leadership development is a key leverage point

On a global level, a transformation of education in all its aspects – parental education, primary, secondary and tertiary education, management and leadership development, media programming and life-long learning – would offer the largest multiplying effects on both individual interiority and behavior as well as culture, systems, and structures. Domains such as esthetics, ethics, values, systemic awareness, the arts, health, eating habits, energy uses, habitat, work, business practices, political choices, and social networks are all affected by the quality of education.

However, this transformation requires a radical rethinking of its premises – as well as the collaboration of many individual leaders and institutions – while building on the many experiments and alternatives that are already in existence and growing.

A new view of human nature, as well as a newly conceived education in its various forms, will be both nurturing and challenging – and will develop empathy and emotional maturity, appreciative inquiry, participative observation, collaborative learning, environmental, and social literacy – through shared pedagogical experience and facilitative teaching. It will enable every person to become more aware of his/her own true gifts, with the willingness to offer them in service to the community. From a developmental perspective, this education will cultivate the ability to be present to what is, to adopt a systemic perspective, to search for inclusive responses in the midst of ambiguity and paradoxes, and to feel responsible for authoring one’s life, while caring for the whole.

Within that broader context, new forms of leadership development enable leaders to adopt practices at three levels that reinforce each other, support personal and organizational transformation, and give access to internal guidance and collective wisdom:

  1. Personal practices include various forms of individual action inquiry that develop one’s exemplarity as a leader, such as journaling, challenging one’s beliefs and assumptions, deepening one’s intuition and inner knowing through body-heart-mind, and seeking coaching or support from a peer group or network.
  2. Interpersonal practices encompass multiple forms of collaborative inquiry such as empathetic listening, compassionate confrontation, reflective and generative dialogue, approaching conflicts as opportunities to learn, working creatively with dilemmas and paradoxes, and undertaking intercultural journeys in a small group.
  3. Systemic practices include building a shared vision with diverse partners and stake- holders, bringing a microcosm of a whole system in the same room, setting up the conditions and processes for open innovation across organizational or sectoral boundaries – with a combination of singularity and collaboration.

The development of evolutionary leadership can be accelerated and scaled up

Several avenues already exist or are emerging to widen and disseminate evolutionary leadership on a large scale in the next few years. They range from detecting/connecting evolutionary leaders and leadership development programs to offering breakthrough tertiary education for future leaders and augmenting the public reach of “better world” organizations and movements.

  1. Identify, connect, support, and globally showcase the many leaders who are already practicing new forms of leadership in social enterprises, alternative companies, NGO’s, and other communities. A number of for-benefit organizations and networks – such as the Club of Budapest, the Presencing Institute, the Berkana Institute, The World Café Foundation, The Art of Hosting, the Buckminster Fuller Institute, Ashoka, and the Global Transforming Ensemble – are already supporting work in that direction. Some of them are investigating ways to leverage similar initiatives on a global scale.
  2. Expand the number, reach, and interconnections of educational programs that are already developing evolutionary or global leadership in a number of countries. The Global Leadership Network initiated a first survey of 30 such programs in 2008, and the report on Global Leadership Development Programs highlights common characteristics, unmet needs, and some of the next steps that could be taken. Among those are the incorporation of more evolutionary components in management school programs, the development of qualified teachers/facilitators, and the accessibility of programs to a greater number of underprivileged local leaders.
  3. Embed radically new content and pedagogy – based on the emerging paradigm of development – in world universities who are preparing young leaders for the various fields of tomorrow. For example, the Giordano Bruno Globalshift University will start enrollment in the Spring of 2012 and plans to reach millions of young people from low-income families who, until now, could not dream of having access to accredited, world-class higher education. The new system will combine an internet-based form of education with the traditional campus-based classical form by licensing programs to thousands of secondary schools around the world. The educational methodology of the University is trans-cultural, interdisciplinary, and integrates both left- and right-brain learning in a collaborative, non-hierarchical mode – based on numerous interactions among students across boarders. The core courses will enable students to gain a deeper understanding of themselves and of the roots of the current world crises, to become part of learning networks, and to tap their creative potential by engaging in transformative practices and actions for the benefit of their communities.
  4. Enhance communication, sharing of practices, coordination, and collaboration among respected organizations and networks across the fields of conscious evolution, peace, justice, social innovation, sustainability, and wise use of technology. The number and reach of such organizations have greatly increased in the last few years, but their influence on the dissemination and embodiment of a new development paradigm has often been limited – culturally and geographically – by their lack of funding and management capability, as well as by the fragmentation of the field. To help reach a critical mass in terms of world audience and effectiveness, a co-creative process is about to be launched and fostered among the organizations that share similar values and are most open to cooperation. Based on a groundbreaking communication and collaboration platform, this initiative will both allow a more effective use of the resources that are available and attract new funding within the 2012 timeframe – a year that may prove to be critical for birthing a civilization based on this emerging paradigm.

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