EXPERIMENTAL LEADERSHIP

Re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul…. Walt Whitman

 

In his book Servant Leadership, Robert Greenleaf wrote of England’s George Fox, seventeenth-century founder of the Religious Society of Friends (commonly known as Quakers). Early in his ministry Fox, an earnest seeker of truth, wrote in his journal:

I had forsaken all priests. . . and those called the most experienced people; for I saw that there was none among them all that could speak to my condition.

And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me. . . I heard a voice which said, “There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition.”. . . And this I knew experimentally.

Greenleaf credited Fox’s forty years of extraordinary leadership to the gift of knowing experimentally which led to ethical practice in all areas of his life. Fox’s contributions included a new commercial ethic, equal status of women, education for all, and opposition to slavery 100 years before the American Civil War.

We live in a world of great potential destruction from climate change and other environmental threats. Those of us who think clearly fear the impacts of climate change on our children, grandchildren, and future generations. Forget about climate change for a moment: the way we live on our planet cannot be sustained climate change or not. Every day, we consume more of the planet’s biomass: This consumption of our planet cannot go on much longer. The longer we ignore the environment, the more people will suffer and die, the more destruction there will be, and the more nature will go to extremes to get our attention. Many suffer climate grief and climate anxiety, and the numbers continue to grow.

I Googled “climate grief” and found 47,900,000 results. And 134,000,000 for “climate anxiety.” Many Americans are afraid, anxious, and depressed.

Along with Climate Change and other environmental perils, we also live in a world at the start of a transformative creative process in technology that will do much good but also threatens our humanity as machines make more of our decisions for us and remake us to be less human and more soulless.

Venture capitalist Kai-Fu Lee said on 60 Minutes that AI will eliminate about 40% of jobs. We fear uncertainty: loss of our jobs, status, control, and income. We question whether we have the skills for what change will require of us—most of us don’t. The most deluded who are in the deepest denial want to go back to a romanticized time in the past when old white men ruled. That won’t happen: The U.S. will become “minority white” in 2045 predicts the U.S. Census Bureau. Perhaps our greatest fear is of life itself.

In addition to these dire dangers and extreme changes in our lives, there is more: A bad man leads our country. The Republican Party, without courage, bows to him in silent acquiescence. Fox News is a delusional propaganda machine that insults our souls. Trump’s devoted followers suffer the false beliefs put out by Fox News, Trump, and his crowd.

We fear the loss of our Democracy and way of life. Nitsuh Abebe wrote in the NY Times Magazine more than two years ago: “We’ve reached a weird, quiet agreement that the most potent force in our politics is, for the moment, a stew of unease, fear, rage, grief, helplessness, and humiliation.”

We fear the impact of so much unavoidable change on our families, health, and even our lives. Life expectancy has decreased for the last three years; the longest sustained decline in a century. Drug overdoses and suicides continue to grow.

“I think this is a very dismal picture of health in the United States,” said Joshua M. Sharfstein, vice dean for public health practice and community engagement at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Life expectancy is improving in many places in the world. It shouldn’t be declining in the United States.”

American needs to go forward to the future, not backward to a reality that never existed. We need our best people to renew our Democracy. Trump and Republicans in Congress are not our best people. The challenges are too great for small and mediocre people with questionable motives and wrong plans and policies to be in power. America must return to truth, science, education, respect for all, and a new kind of leadership fit for the times.

I believe the aspect of leadership needed most today is the courageous person who lives by ethical values and thinks independently; one who leads experimentally with or without religion. Experimental leaders do not identify with rigid schools of thought or specific groups whose boundaries they will have to defend and whose rules they must follow. They do not blindly follow the scientific method and are not new-age thinkers. They will not conform to religious doctrine, the academic worldview, or the organizational development paradigm.

Experimental leaders are artists. They reject black/white & either/or thinking. They embrace “both/and” thinking as a path to creativity.  Visionaries, they experiment and create new ways to protect and live on our planet. They respect all people and all of nature. They find meaning, direction, and inspiration from their powerful vision, deep ethical foundation, and a profound sense of purpose. They know experimentally what to do and have the courage to follow that course–regardless of what bullies do, say, or think.

We need leaders at all levels who trust themselves and are not afraid to make a decision and don’t worry about lost jobs or elections. Leaders who tell the truth and stand up to racism, bigotry, injustice, mediocrity, and corruption. Leaders who confront lies and stand for truth and integrity, who judge bad behavior, and hold others accountable to live by the shared values that are indispensable in a community.

Greenleaf asked, “Who is the enemy? Who holds back faster movement to a better world? Who is responsible for the mediocre performance of so many of our institutions?”

It’s not the evil, stupid, ignorant, and autocratic people.

If the world is transformed there will still be evil, stupid, ignorant, and autocratic people. The enemy is indifference. The enemy is those with power and responsibility who lack the courage and conviction to hold others accountable for their behavior. The enemy is the indifference of each of us when we fear to live true to our values and our deepest purpose. No victims of poor leadership; we are its co-creators. More than technical knowledge, we need strong ethical leaders who will raise moral standards in a time when much of leadership is, Greenleaf wrote, “in the hands of the gross, the self-seeking, and the corrupt.”

We need to remove from power, at all levels, the Republicans who lead this decline of America. Their failures model the extremes of either/or thinking. Democrats need to adopt a dynamic vision for the nation that doesn’t mindlessly jump from the extremes of today to their own well-intended either/or extremes. They need to find a both/and middle-ground that will attract the voters needed to win the election. Reassure people, don’t frighten them to re-elect the devil they know.

As I looked at the world in the mid-90s, I decided that the way we live on our planet and the way we lead were wrong. Who to believe? Who to follow? I worked with wise people for two years to create and articulate my vision, values, and purpose. I decided that I would find my own way in life. That led me to leave the corporate world, complete a Ph.D. in leadership and organizational change, start to write and consult, and contemplate life on a mountain for a year, and then begin a new life with Melanie, my wife.

It’s been a challenging adventure. I am so happy I went on my inner journey, which continues today.

4 thoughts on “EXPERIMENTAL LEADERSHIP

  1. A timely astute and very well written piece, Tom, based on solid history and detailing a productive journey indeed.

    History and politics aside, (that is tough to do these days) my particular journey has led me to believe that the U.S. economic system (capitalism) is at war with our Constitution, largely driven by the enormous success of both.

    One or the other is going to have to give and I do not believe it will be our Constitution, since the polarized culture in our 50 States would hardly permit legislation or a Constitutional Convention to modify what the founders and a smaller group of cooperative legislators put in place with the Bill of Rights and selective amendments years ago.

    Therefore, my conclusion is that our economic system will have to give, morph in many areas and adapt to current events to survive. The morphology is already underway with major corporations moving internationally on a supply and demand basis, developing countries also on the move, and mobility among all peoples on the rise. I see this daily with the counseling work I do with many clients in foreign domains and in observing our young people becoming very fluid and wide- ranging internationally in their thinking, driven by what I have noted.

    Let us all hope that the Governments of the world will defy the historical weakness of mankind to kill one another and that they do not resort to warfare to retain the perceived status quo.
    History has shown that approach cannot and it will not succeed.

    As Plato stated: ” The first and best victory is to conquer self. To be conquered by self is of all things the most shameful and objectionable,”

    https://rosecoveredglasses.wordpress.com/2019/05/15/military-victory-is-dead/

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your kind comments and your thoughts on the economy. I agree that our economies will change dramatically over the next decades: voluntarily or forced by climate change and other environmental issues and too, I think, because of the vast income disparity through the world. It is time for the younger generation to step up and provide the leadership we so desperately need. I hope you are doing well! Tom

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  2. Very well said, Tom. I have been thoroughly impressed with your inner journey and very appreciative of the way you have shared it’s ongoing outcomes with us.

    You are so right about indifference. It is our enemy, internally and externally. I suspect that a key contributor to what appears as indifference is our perception of powerlessness. The problems that plague us are so numerous and profound that we sort of shut down.

    Other than an occasional social media rant just to let off steam, we do nothing constructive to build a better world. It’s not a lack of caring as much as a sense that we can’t make a difference. Where there is no hope, there is no change.

    Yet, our history is filled with lifetimes of deep despair that were greatly improved upon by people who refused to give up hope. It was a lack of indifference that brought dignity and decent pay to many workers, and gave women the right to vote and a push toward equal pay, and abolished slavery and Jim Crow laws, and brought our LGBTQ friends out of their closets and into the mainstream.

    The moral of the story is that each of us can make a difference in small ways that come together to do big things. The fact that you are sharing your salient observations and thoughts with us is a great example of how we can reach beyond the powerlessness of indifference. So, thank you!

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    • Thanks so much, Bruce. I do agree with your comment about powerlessness and indifference. As a younger man, I hoped to change the world. Now a more mature and experienced man, I do what I can. I’ve recently quit using straws after seeing so many awful beach scenes. We quit using plastic bags. We recently bought a new stove that is more environmentally friendly. I want to get in the habit of picking up trash on the sidewalks, trails, and in the yards as I walk by. I feel good doing these things. Any maybe someone sees us and they then begin doing the same. I’ve used a quote from Voltaire, “Despair precedes a new vision.” I hope so. We all have to “suck it up” and not give in to hopelessness. Thanks for your excellent comments here and your phenomenal blog. So, thank you!

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