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.