I believe that twentieth century scientific discoveries (from quantum physics, chaos/complexity, ecology, etc.) will spread through the social and philosophical systems of Western industrial society. New knowledge will expand our consciousness in explosive ways forming a new ecological worldview that will transform how we relate to nature, one another, and ourselves. A science based organic worldview (indigenous cultures have long had organic worldviews as have artists and mystics through the ages) will lead to personal transformations within leaders from which they will lead sustainable organizational transformations that will coevolve with a sustainable global economy and a sustainable environment.
Personal transformation is difficult. Perhaps it is as difficult as anything a human being will do in life–as a person, leader, or follower. “It is very hard work to make this personal change,” said Richard Knowles, consultant and former leader of transformation at DuPont and in the vanguard of leaders who’ve made this inner shift. “For me it was a painful journey.” This personal development requires the courage of a pioneer, the honesty of a child, the imagination of an artist, and the confidence of the naive.
The first step in our conscious evolution (seeing our potential and moving intentionally toward it) is to see reality as it is and to accept that the old ways of control, domination, and alienation are bringing forth unacceptable unintended consequences for nature, communities, and people. A moment of metanoia–a change of the inner person–is required. We pay attention and accept the call to begin a courageous journey within–resisting the system’s efforts to impose its controls on our spirits.
Richard Knowles was tough enough to climb through the ranks at DuPont to become a plant manager in Belle, West Virginia. He has a PH.D. in engineering and was a mechanistic thinker by education, occupation, and upbringing. His entry point to transformation:
I was troubled by the way we led because it seemed to be so harsh and difficult for people. I didn’t understand why that had to be. I was just in it, and I was trying to live in that system, but I had no understanding. Once I began to wake up to that, I had to break it because I couldn’t reconcile the huge disconnect. I felt like it was going to destroy me either physically or emotionally. The dominant culture is often brutal, and it doesn’t have to be that way.
Once he became aware of the cruel impact mechanical ways of management have on people, this tired warrior could not return to the archaic and failing methods. To refuse the call of his insights would perpetuate the unacceptable, and he would join the legions of the walking dead. For Dick refusal was not an option; this courageous man would not live a divided life. He chose to be authentic and began the process of conscious evolution.
The new adventurer wanders and explores in search of new insights and wisdom. By braving the unknown, the leader is energized and experiences being alive in profound ways. Richard Knowles:
I thought I was going insane, because I didn’t have anybody to talk to. The stuff we were doing at Belle was working; the work on myself was very difficult and hard, but seemed to be paying off. I had read Gleick’s book on chaos ( 1987) and said, “damn, there is something here.” Until then, my work was intuitive. It was scary as all get out; it was working, but I had no frameworks for it. I didn’t have the vocabulary.
I went to the Second Annual Chaos Network Conference in Santa Cruz, California in June 1992. I was so desperate at that point I felt, “well, I am going to go.” I told my boss I was going to an O.D. conference since chaos sounded far out. He apparently never read my expense account either. At least he never said anything because the conference was held at a place called The Dream Inn, and I just thought that was staggering. Here you are going to a chaos conference at the Dream Inn, they’ll think I’m crazy.
It was about a three day meeting and my whole world changed. Everybody there understood what I was doing. They gave me a vocabulary and a framework. I met Meg Wheatley, read her new book Leadership and the New Science, and felt like I was coming home.
The leader’s new growth is difficult and painful. The naive, curious, innocent, and courageous adventurer moves from a world of absolutes into a world of paradox. The limits of traditional thought are reached, and the seeker grows comfortable with ambiguity until new understanding emerges.
The proud achiever realizes that rigid boundaries between people must be torn down. The leader comes to realize that life in organizations is often narrow and superficial, and the importance and contribution of executives is often inflated greatly. To build trust, empathy, and understanding the humbled traveler accepts, reflects upon, and grows from feedback given thoughtfully by diverse people. Great insights come from those the emerging person might not have paid any attention to when living the elitist executive role. The trail blazer meets fellow travelers on the journey, and they provide support and encouragement. Mentors and teachers appear mysteriously at the moments they are needed and guide the learner along the way.
The lonely traveler understands how unaware leaders often are of the organization’s reality and how little truth exists in organizations. As consciousness grows, the leader realizes how little those with power know about people, leadership, and thought itself. The leader begins to see the potential that waits to spring forth from people. A growing person becomes comfortable with feeling scared and inadequate much of the time. Despite the persistence of these hated emotions, confidence grows and courage and authenticity increase. Strong resistance to change and unexpected enemies build the leader’s capacity to stand alone.
Despite the shock of seeing reality in a whole new dimension, great excitement emerges for the potential the visionary can see in the evolving picture of the future. Commitment grows and the leader’s sense of purpose is strengthened. The leader dies many deaths and emerges as a changed person. Knowing the path is uncertain and even dangerous, the leader points out the direction and will never be distracted from living the new vision of truth.
The leader finds new meaning and shares new knowledge with others. Life in the organization becomes participative to gain the wisdom in the system and to utilize the diversity needed for sustainability. The leader does not go to diversity classes. Instead, time is spent with people different from oneself, and the leader learns from the experiences.
The leader understands the importance of authentic feedback for change. A climate of openness exists, decisions are made on merit, and it’s okay to be real. Turbulence is encouraged, and leaders in all areas of the organization tinker and experiment. This emergent growth heals and frees people and as restoration occurs people begin to come alive and their restricted potential comes forth. This is how transformation happens, how movements begin, how recovery occurs, how paradigms change, and how people self-transcend. This journey within can be taken by anyone but only those of courage and character will heed the call to be more than they are. Those who want to lead sustainable organizations must.