Conscious and Responsible Leadership and the Search for a Global Ethic

same Nasa url as the last one pleaseAs painfully apparent in the news from around the globe (to include news related to America’s uber-bizarre presidential campaign), severe global challenges (e.g., climate change, global terrorism, inequality, etc.) threaten our quality of life and the life of future generations.  Furthermore, traditional approaches to social, economic and political life are breaking down and are no longer adequately fulfilling the purposes for which they were established (e.g., U.S. education, healthcare, etc.).  However, our global challenges may also be viewed as evolutionary drivers pressing humanity to reimagine and recreate systems from agricultural to transportation from a more holistic understanding of our growing interdependence on a highly stressed planet with an increasing population (the U.N. projects a worldwide population of 9.7 billion by 2050).  Consequently, we stand at an evolutionary crossroads that demands conscious and responsible leadership at every level and sector of society.

Conscious leadership necessitates taking a deep dive into questions of identity, values, and mindset. Identity questions examine how a person defines oneself and views his/her relationships or with others and our planet. Value questions explore what a person honors and holds dear in life, which often underlies desire and motivation. Mindset addresses the worldview in which a person makes sense of the world (i.e., our lens of interpretation) and from which action arises, knowingly or unknowingly.  Therefore, conscious leadership refers to awareness and appreciation of one’s inner and outer world and the influence they have in his/her life choices, well-being, relationships, and life conditions.

Responsible leadership arises from an expanding and more inclusive identity and global mindset that includes a growing sensitivity and valuing of one’s interdependence with others and the entire earth community. Consequently, desire and motivation arise within the responsible leader to make ethical decisions.

Thus, conscious and responsible leadership directly responds to the evolutionary need of a global ethic. A genuine global ethic demands responsibility to people, place, and planet such that all forms of social systems to include economic systems are held to the standard of providing a reasonable quality of life for all citizens which includes a degree of employment security, material security, a stable family and community life, and environmental sustainability as emphasized by a growing number of diverse voices to include author and Boston College professor Juliett Schor.  Conscious and responsible leaders across the sectors are engaging in the work of transforming themselves and their organizations to minimally, reduce the harm caused by operations, and ideally, provide solutions to the numerous social and environmental challenges that threaten humanity’s quality of life for current and future generations.

Ego Inflation: The Dark Side of Charismatic Leadership

crowned personAmericans tend to have a fascination with charismatic leaders. They can awe and wow us with their apparent confidence and boldness. We may equate such boldness and swagger with some type of super- human power that we lack. Consequently, our inner child may experience a tug or pull to give our power to the charismatic leader. We may reason that with such confidence surely he or she knows more than I do.  Furthermore, we may reason, that if they know more than I do, perhaps they can protect me from the evils of the world.

Unfortunately, some charismatic leaders may welcome our immature fantasies. Such charismatic leaders believe that they are special, more capable, and more intelligent than others are. They may also believe that this specialness entitles them to say and do whatever they want to say and do, and others will fall in step regardless of the unlawfulness, immorality and insanity of their propositions. Minimally, this type of distortion represents ego inflation (narcissism, a clinical personality disorder, is a more severe expression of this phenomenon), the dark side of charismatic leadership.

Charismatic leaders under the spell of ego inflation have a highly distorted sense of self. They cannot see any of their flaws or shortcomings.  Furthermore, fear fuels the inflated ego as everyone and everything is a potential threat to its grandiosity. The inflated ego cares only about protecting itself and getting what it wants at all costs. It is blind to the carnage in leaves behind in its wake.

We might expect an inner warning signal to go off when we encounter the dark side of the charismatic leader. However, if we are not healthy, mature, and confident in our being, our inner child is vulnerable to the seduction of the charismatic leader. In his seminal book, Escape from Freedom, Erich Fromm (1900-1980) proposed that the thought of real freedom, freedom to choose, create, and live one’s life, frightened people more than inspired them.  It appears some of us may long for a perpetual childhood where others tell us what to do and when.  When we do, we refuse to accept responsibility for our lives or the state of our world.  Instead, we would much rather blame some “evil” other for our misery. Unfortunately, there are people who will gladly take our power and claim that he or she alone can save us or fix it all.

Confidence and self-esteem are essential elements of leadership. They allow us to embrace our strengths and take stands for what we care most about in our lives.  This confidence and self-esteem are necessary for effective leaders as well as healthy adult maturation. However, BEWARE of the charismatic leader with a highly inflated ego, who has lost touch with reality and is willing to do everything and anything to protect its fragile identity.  We know from our life experiences and history that this type of leader is dangerously destructive to his or herself, the people with who they live and work, and potentially to America and our world.

Leadership, Gun Violence in America, and the Necessity of a Global Mindshift

Illustration of world map in human head, vectorThese last few weeks have me dazed and confused. No doubt, we live in uncertain and complex times. It seems that life, as we know it is in a major state of flux and flurry. We face unprecedented challenges to our quality of life and the lives of future generations such as global climate change, gun violence, growing inequality, global terrorism, and mass extinction of species, just to name a few.

Given the scale of our collective challenges, leaders are called to “show up” with their gifts, talents, and resources and ask, “How can I contribute to real solutions that address the global challenges most concerning and meaningful to me?  Real leadership and real solutions call us into our higher natures. It does not separate, rouse hate against some “evil other,” nor play to our animalistic fears. Consequently, real leadership and real solutions necessitate a global mindshift, because underlying all our mayhem is a separation consciousness that operates from an either/or mindset.

As Einstein and many others have stated, we cannot and will not solve our most pressing challenges with the same thinking that created them. Consequently, solving our most urgent global challenges requires a global mindshift to more holistic thinking and acting. However, holistic or integral thinking does not mean that everything is equal. It requires movement from either/or thinking to both/and thinking as well as discernment of breadth and depth.

Ideally, as highlighted by American philosopher Ken Wilber and numerous other thought leaders (e.g., Warren Bennis) a holistic or integral mindset needs to include the individual “I” or subjective, the collective “we” or cultural, and the collective “it” or systems (social and natural) dimensions. Leaders have a unique opportunity and responsibility to help midwife this essential global mindshift at every level of society. While there are numerous areas demanding more holistic thinking, for this essay, I would like to focus on one critical issue on many hearts and minds, gun violence.

Gun violence tragedies are ravaging our lives in increasing numbers. Approximately 30,000 Americans die from gun violence annually (www.americansforresponsiblesolutions.org).  In 2016, according to the American Medical Association, Americans have seen over 6,000 deaths from gun violence. A holistic or integral mindset would require questions and solutions from the four basic areas highlighted above. For example, possible questions include:

  •  The individual “I”: How do individuals cultivate ethical sensibilities? What role do identity and human consciousness play in gun violence? What role might contemplative practices play in helping people thrive in a changing and uncertain world? How can individuals increase capacity for peaceful conflict resolution? What type of capacities do people need to live peacefully in uncertain times? What is true security? What role does fear play in gun ownership? How does a person decide if he/she needs a gun? If one decides that he/she needs a gun, how does one decide what type of gun?
  • The collective “we” or cultural space: What role does the prevalence of violence in our movies, music, video games, television shows, books, etc. have on our gun violence crisis? How do we continue to heal our cultural wounds of racism?
  • The collective “it” or systems space: What would responsible gun reform public policy look like? How do we hold our elective officials responsible for upholding all of the Constitution—protecting our right to bear arms, providing for the common defense and promoting our general welfare? How do we continue to right the systemic wrongs of racial discrimination, inequality, and poverty? How do we ensure that our elected officials put our (the public) interest over corporate interests? How do we address growing inequality in America?

Gun violence in America is a complex and difficult issue, and I do not claim any expertise here. However, like many Americans, I am deeply troubled by our current gun violence crisis, and I offer these questions as a starting point. Furthermore, I yearn for real leadership and real solutions on this issue, which I propose will only come about through a global mindshift to more holistic thinking and acting.

Consequently, 21st century leadership requires a global mindshift from either/or thinking to BOTH/AND thinking. Sounds good, but how do leaders go about making this type of perspectival shift?  This is THE question of personal transformation for which there are no easy and definitive answers. However, we start where we are and begin the transformative journey toward psychological maturation or self-actualization and awakening (please see the essay, Waking, Up, Growing, Up, and Showing Up). There are numerous transformative practices, East and West, to help facilitate this global mindshift. However, presently meditation is the most evidence-based transformative practice available. Furthermore, the power of meditation is enhanced with a wellness lifestyle that honors body, mind, spirit in self, society, and nature. Yes, this is a tenuous and lifelong journey, but it promises to be the greatest adventure one will ever take!