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.

Think, Think, Think

No problem can be solved [Or nation renewed] from the same level of consciousness that created it.

Einstein

 

Robert Greenleaf asked in Servant Leadership:

Who is the enemy? Who is holding back more rapid movement to the better society that is reasonable and possible with available resources? Who is responsible for the mediocre performance of so many of our institutions? Who is standing in the way of a larger consensus on the definition of the better society and paths to reaching it?

The good people who look the other way–not the evil, stupid and apathetic people who have so much power and influence today–are the enemy. The good people—at all socioeconomic levels–who have been lazy, asleep or afraid for a long time need to wake-up, courage-up and get energized and engaged with the future of their country.

They can begin by making a considered decision on their choice for the next President of the United States.

Progress has been made: Millions of people awakened this presidential election cycle as pent-up anger finally surfaced. Many millions more need to rouse themselves. Some on the left call for political revolution; some on the right call for a return to a romanticized past. Many are clueless.

For the newly awakened, now and in the months ahead, furious worship and hooting and hollering fall short of what is required. The roused have additional responsibilities: They must see the reality of America today through clear eyes so they can understand her needs—not just their wants and needs. Many suffer, I believe, fuzzy thinking. All of us must use discernment as we go deeper than our first emotional reactions to evaluate the candidates and their visions for America.

In Ethics For The New Millennium, The Dalai Lama wrote of wise discernment: “…involves constantly checking our outlook and asking ourselves whether we are being broad-minded or narrow-minded. Have we taken into account the overall situation or are we considering only specifics? Is our view short-term or long-term? Are we being short-sighted or clear-eyed, we need to think, think, think.”

Be aware of self-righteousness: “Be careful when you fight the monsters, lest you become one [Friedrich Nietzsche].” Observe those who demonize, scapegoat and marginalize others to justify bad behavior contrary to American values. We die for our values. If we cast them aside for personal gain, we are lost.

Political rallies are not rock concerts to thrill or entertain us, or manipulate us and energize our more sordid sides. Going to a rally and supporting a candidate because he or she made you feel good or is the hot topic trending on Twitter today is not thinking straight. Rallies are but one element of a long, exhaustive and rigorous process. Keep the twists and turns of the daily campaign grind in perspective. Not every big deal is a big deal.

We need to listen, observe and learn the positions of the candidates and how they differ with one another—it doesn’t take long. Then we need to “think, think, think” about the character, experience and temperament of each aspirant along with the practicality of their visions and the specificity of how they would make their aspirations for America real. We should check out our assumptions about candidates: are they based on fact, fiction or opinion? How do our values line up with those of the contenders?

On November 8, 2016, the United States will get the president and the future of America that the majority of voters deserve. Will the voters choose to move forward or backward?

If America ever needed divine intervention it might be now.

Who’s the Enemy?

Deeply anxious and afraid Republican primary voters express their deep outrage with their political leaders: maybe hatred best describes their generalized feelings towards the “establishment.”

They wrongly seek leaders who will take them back to a black and white world—to quote NY Times Columnist Thomas Friedman, “To the certainties and prosperity of the Cold War or post-Cold War eras—by sacking the traditional elites who got us here and by building walls against change…” (NY Times October 21, 2015).

Rigid black and white world views shatter in times of chaos and uncertainty. Stressed people and groups tend to regress in their maturity and goodness—see the Benghazi Committee. Fear and anxiety will do that. The inflexible want “parents” to take care of them, heroes to rescue them from dangers real and imagined and magicians to do the impossible. Judgement suffers and the either/or folks fall prey to false prophets: those who prey on their hopes and fears to advance themselves. Why do they listen over and over again to those who lie and use them?

The angrier they get the more demanding and inflexible they become. Poor leadership is not divorced from themselves: Republican extremists co-created the state of the Republican Party. Their leaders reflect them: the people who put the leaders in place (see the Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives).

How do the majority of us who are not today’s Republican extremists avoid falling victim to regression?

Robert Greenleaf, author of Servant Leadership wrote:

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, or apathetic people. If the world is transformed there will still be evil, stupid, ignorant, and apathetic people. The enemy is indifference.

The Republican extremists are not indifferent. Fear driven and victims of a mechanistic world view, they are just wrong about so many things.

We cannot go back to an earlier time: life is complex, changes always and moves steadily into an unknown potential-filled future. Resistance to the need for change only causes more fear, pain and danger for all. We avoid regression when we step boldly into our unknown futures and adapt as we go.

Democrats are angry too: enraged with Republicans. Their anger should be redirected to getting people who support their causes out to vote.

Will the election of 2016 move America to a positive future? A renewed future for America and her citizens depends on the poor, the young, students, immigrants, minorities and the middle class: on those who want to heal our planet, educate our citizens, reform immigration, have a robust middle class, and evolve human rights for all people.

The tired migrants, the cynical students, the disillusioned minorities, the anxious middle-class and the desperate must awaken and vote for the future they want for themselves. So simple—go vote for your self-interest.

God will not save us. False prophets will fail to be great, heroic leaders cannot endure, parents cannot take care of us and the tricks of the magicians are illusions. We are responsible.

This is not a time for indifference.

Losing Our Way

If our nation is to be changed for the better, ordinary citizens will have to intervene aggressively in their own fate. The tremendous power in the hands of the moneyed interests will not be relinquished voluntarily. Bob Herbert in Losing Our Way

 

I just read Herbert’s painful book about the reality of life in America and her decline. This readable book examines crumbling infrastructure, the willful destruction of the middle class, the corporatization of public education, failed wars in which America met evil with evil and shamed our nation, and the disastrous national and political leadership of incompetence and malfeasance by those trusted to lead our nation. The system has become rigged against everyone but the wealthy.

The stories of real people told in raw detail hurt emotionally and demand that we examine our souls; the factual presentation asks us to think and turn our backs on ignorance.

The two sentences I quoted above tell us what citizens must do if we want to renew our nation and our democracy and restore our values and the American Dream for future generations. If we cannot find the energy to intervene in our own destinies, then we will continue the slow and painful decline and will lose our democracy to those who care only about power and money.

The power of the masses lies in demonstration and voting. As people create a movement for equality leaders will emerge. For leaders, we need heart-felt populists like Elizabeth Warren. People who care about everyday people and the involvement and engagement of all in our collective lives.

These leaders can imagine and can articulate a positive and value-driven vision for the future (not just oppose what is wrong) and have the courage to fight for their vision because those who profit from the status-quo will fight without mercy and they will fight dirty to keep what they have even against national interest.

The economic game is rigged against everyday people. Leaders who want to compromise with extremists (always a lose/win negotiation) and avoid conflict, no matter how decent and well-intentioned they are, are not the right people to lead an economic war. Our leaders need to be spiritual warriors who lead from their hearts and values and can also hold people accountable and balance a budget.

Transformative leaders strive to shape the future and mold our collective destiny in a symbiotic relationship with followers. They do not fight to return to a romanticized past that never really existed.

Robert Greenleaf author of Servant Leadership wrote that the problems in the world are not the evil, immature, neurotic, and the irresponsible. They have always been with us and always will be. The problem, Greenleaf wrote, is not them but the good people—people like you and me—who have fallen asleep.

Anthropologist Margaret Mead wrote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Historian Howard Zinn: “If there is going to be change, real change, it will have to work its way from the bottom up, from the people themselves. That’s how change happens.”

We are responsible. God will not save us.

Moral Courage

A man wrote me:

The seduction of the hiring process convinced me I had arrived in an organization that would embrace my methods. A place I thought my heart and talents could finally grow and flourish. I offered too much of myself unprotected and was “wacked” into reality.

I watched as the president of the company berated, humiliated, and then fired a good and stable sales representative. He did this in front of all the employees of the company. I sat and squirmed in my seat, metaphorically visualizing the owner shooting a hostage in the head to instill fear and ultimate control over the rest of us. The president noticed my discomfort. He asked, in a threatening manner, if I wanted to stay with the company. I felt compelled to quit on the spot, which I did. I managed to speak my mind a little as I left. I am now home, unemployed and recovering. (I wrote this man’s story in an essay entitled, Bearing Witness).

This story exemplifies moral courage: doing what you believe is right in the face of loss, criticism, rejection, or retaliation.

Over 18 years in many leadership and change agent roles at the Star Tribune newspaper and 13 years as a consultant to leaders of dysfunctional organizations, people tested my commitment to my values many times. The decision to stand up for my values was sometimes painful, and I wrestled with self-doubt at times. But I had vowed to live a value driven life, and I believed in value driven leadership. The values my parents had taught me were deepened and solidified as a young Secret Service agent where I experienced the might of ethics, excellence, and purpose and as a lost soul in a tough alcohol treatment center where I came to believe that my life depended on a value driven life.

I abhor rankism, dishonesty, disrespect, unfairness, mediocrity, and irresponsibility. I value respect, justice, fairness, integrity, excellence, and responsibility. I never thought of myself as having moral courage: I tried to be a good person and leader and fought through my anxiety and fears to do what I believed was right the best way I knew how.

Acting from our values often comes at a cost. I know well the fear of losing a job, and the loss of status and relationships along with humiliation and marginalization. It takes courage to stand alone in danger, to defy the unwritten rules, to illuminate the dark side, and to go against the cultural grain.

Why take the risks of moral courage at all? I do it to support values and to live an honest and authentic life and to do what I can to make the world  healthier and more ethical. And to stand up for those with less power and to go against the villains of our world. I do it so I can like myself. Aristotle said we become brave by doing brave acts. Think of moral courage as a muscle that grows stronger with use.

Robert Greenleaf, author of Servant Leadership, wrote that the problem in the world is not the evil, lazy, crazy, immature, disrespectful, and irresponsible people. They have been with us forever. The problem is the good people who have gone to sleep. We live surrounded by the need for moral courage to stand up to abuse, injustice, dishonesty, willful ignorance, the ism’s of the world, and the lack of compassion.

Moral courage may be the most needed courage in the 21st century and the mark of personal maturity and true leadership.