The world is crying out for leadership in these turbulent and uncertain times. In politics, in business, in religion, those who would lead face complex global problems demanding cooperation across ideological, economic and cultural divides. Short-term thinking and old methods no longer suffice. New ways of seeing, and compelling visions of the future are needed.
For many there is a temptation to slide back into leadership styles suited to the challenges of previous decades. But old labels and ideologies cannot be simply re-applied in a time of increasing interdependence, and looking back nostalgically to the old ways of doing things makes it harder to recognise the new kinds of leadership that are emerging. Hence the climate of despair and the misguided sense that there is a dearth of practical visionaries ready to lead. In fact the internet’s multiple channels of interconnection mean that new qualities of leadership are emerging more rapidly and fluidly than ever before – for example, the Five Star Movement in Italy, and Podemos in Spain.
There are immense challenges facing modern leaders. In a world where every persons thoughts and opinions can be so freely and quickly shared, the institutional structures of traditional political parties, corporations and churches are under significant strain as they seek to adjust to the new possibilities. The quest for power is stimulated, and at a time when allegiances can shift with startling speed, even those who seek to lead from the highest motives have no guarantee of the loyalty of their supporters.
Moreover, can these supporters rely on the media to paint an honest picture of leaders? Recent events around the Brexit referendum and the Trump presidential campaign have led to concerns that the speed and ease of digital communication can be used to project a confusing blend of misinformation and outright falsehood. When combined with online behavioural profiling data, voters’ psychological blind spots may be targeted with frightening precision. Whether deployed by individuals, companies or governments, these techniques represent a disturbing assault on the clarity of collective consciousness which humanity needs to navigate into a future of right relations.
And when leaders succeed in acquiring power, there is the age-old question of how they then use that power. Do they hold to the vision which they have presented, in spite of difficulties? Or do they allow the forces of resistance inherent in all institutional structures to deflect and dilute their efforts? Also, do they accept the mandate they have been given humbly, as a leader who serves not just those who supported them, but the whole group – a humility that Pope Francis has recently endorsed; or do they seek to exercise power to benefit only themselves and their chosen associates?
If leaders are to be trusted they must be accountable. Transparent structures are needed to constrain strong visionary leaders if their actions stray from their stated vision. In politics, this role is taken by the legal system, and its custodians, the judiciary; and there will be analogous structures in healthy businesses and religious institutions. Furthermore, another kind of accountability for leaders is becoming more urgent, as our understanding of the planet’s systems deepens: accountability to the broad scientific consensus. The most obvious example of this is in the area of climate change.
In the articles which follow, leadership, and the issues surrounding it, are examined from many angles. We hope that they can shed some light on ways in which the goodwill of people everywhere, and the dynamic will-to-good of those who would lead, can combine creatively to lead to a brighter future for all.
Aquarius Brings Leadership Challenges
Understanding humanity’s transition from an individualistic era conditioned by Pisces to a more group conscious Aquarian age, can bring helpful insights into the challenges facing leaders and leadership. Inevitably the transition is rocky as individuals and societies en masse respond in an almost infinite variety of ways to the influences of these two conditioning energies: adapting to opportunities and ‘lines of least resistance’; reacting to opposing forces; drawing inspiration from ideals that are in process of passing out of the collective or from those moving into greater dominance; and falling into undeveloped expressions of either influence.
In one sense the Aquarian vision of the essential unity and wholeness of life, regularly celebrated in these pages, has been dramatically reshaping psyche and society. Open cooperative networks of relationship are growing across countries, regions and cultures and throughout every professional, scientific and academic discipline. Newer generations are especially attuned to these highly interactive environments. Aquarius is said to be related to the all-pervasive element of air, which affects everything about the way we see the world and our place within it. For those with a well-developed mind, these energies stimulate a growing facility for intuitive perception, allowing the relationship between part and whole to be known in its full richness, leading to a vibrant new sense of synthesis. Yet for the large majority of people in most nations, including people of goodwill, the independent mind is still in process of developing. Without the ability to think things through for oneself, a natural sensibility to wholeness and group identity is susceptible to sentimental superficiality, where slogans matter more than substance. While there are many creative, fresh, independent initiatives to give expression to the sense of synthesis on a personal and group level, there are also fixed dogmatic mantras of synthesis that make people feel very self-righteous but that often lack any creative, authentic expression of the new. Some of the most obvious signs of a growing global consciousness are the international popularity of skilfully marketed and manipulated products like Coca Cola or Levi’s, or entertainment megastars who cross cultural divides like Lady Gaga or Beyoncé. Nevertheless, savvy marketing skills, using popular symbols, are increasingly being used to magnetize policies and programs that genuinely advance the good of the whole – for example the UN’s growing use of Goodwill Ambassadors and the popular campaign to generate understanding of the Sustainable Development Goals, www.globalgoals.org.
Aquarius can also lead to stubborn and self-righteous attitudes and opinion – one of the issues in the rising tide of partisanship that is poisoning the political environment in many countries. But amongst those who are leading humanity into a new age, this rigidity can also produce a certain stability of vision, focus and persistence. The will-to-serve is ‘fixed’ and unquestioned – allowing lesser principles and opinions to be sacrificed in service of the greater good. Leaders responding to the influence of Aquarius tend to have a natural ability to bridge between spirit and matter and a desire to create forms, structures and institutions that reflect the livingness of the spirit. In its more immature expressions, this can lead to an over-emphasis on getting the form right and, in the process, losing sight of the vision – making details, and legalistic formulas and the ‘letter of the law’ more important than purpose and mission. Transition into a new era depends upon leaders of principle, transparently unshakeable in their allegiance to higher principles, and able to nourish the essential spirit of goodness (the core mission) at the centre of the policies, programs and initiatives they inspire and lead. There is evidence of this strongly practical dimension in the ‘best practices’ model now widely used in community and environmental development programs.
While the vision of Aquarian synthesis is sweeping through the psyche and conditioning the world view of large numbers of people (especially newer generations), significant minorities based on clearly defined communities of faith, ethnicity and language often find themselves unsettled by the sort of respect for other perspectives that is implicit in the multi-cultural vision. Groups and sections of society influenced by Pisces, which conditioned the last two millennia, tend to be inspired by memories of past glories, and the lower expression of the qualities of devotion and idealism stimulate fanaticism and fundamentalism. In such cases, leaders who are responding to the incoming group consciousness of Aquarius have the potential to understand the fear driving these sentiments, and can lead programs that help the community recognise its own strengths and weaknesses, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of other communities. As this environment of thought in the community begins to take hold, realistic dialogue, free of politically correct slogans, becomes possible and sound, unsentimental goodwill can flourish.
People of goodwill often want to ‘do’ something to help move beyond current conflicts and improve the quality of life for all. It is a sign of the emerging will. That ‘doing’ might be to engage in the political process, but it might equally be to seek out new meaning and depth in their lives and their relationships. In response to this urge to action, leaders throughout the world are initiating a diverse array of programs and activities to: foster genuine sharing within local communities as well as at a wider level; enable and encourage people to grow in their understanding and practice of responsible freedom, in the process becoming more fully human and more in touch with the worlds of soul and spirit; and engender a spirit of dialogue and cooperation between people of goodwill across all boundaries of class, religion, politics and ethnicity. There is further evidence of this Aquarian influence in the multitude of leadership training programs such as Servant Leadership; Collaborative Leadership; Integral Leadership; Leadership initiatives from the Presencing Institute; and transformational leadership training offered by groups like the Global Leadership Foundation. It is important to remember that leaders initiate and inspire and mobilize movements in all fields of life, not just politics.
Recent events suggest that the whole future of the post-World War II vision is at a cross-road. Where to from here? If forces of goodwill are to triumph that will be because, during this time, leaders energized by Aquarian possibilities emerge at local, national, regional and international levels in all fields. It is not difficult to imagine a whole new generation of leaders in whom goodwill is transparently present – leading programs to bring principles of sharing, goodwill and harmony through conflict to life in politics; education; health-care; law, justice and policing; agriculture; job-creation; and in spirituality and religion.
Central to the transition from Pisces to Aquarius is the shift from an age of separated individualities to an age of group: group consciousness, group interplay and group idealism. This has huge implications for leaders and leadership styles. One of the most common characteristics of contemporary literature about leadership is the focus on fostering team work and healthy group dynamics. Aquarian leaders develop a sensitivity to the spirit of the group they lead, ensuring it reflects the aspiration and purpose of the group and stimulating a shared sense of meaning. More than ever before the groups that people of goodwill belong to (work groups, study groups, service groups, popular movements) are led by those who have been trained in group skills: with capacities to strengthen networks and build group identity and group purpose. A part of this is the recognition that groups themselves are playing a leadership role in the transition into a new era.
The greater group in humanity of which all serving groups are a part, the Group of World Servers, includes the leaders of all who seek to foster human development and uplift, true sharing, and right relations with the earth and all the creatures, plants and elements of the earth. These are the leaders who are preoccupied with the interests and the well-being of the groups with which they are associated and the groups they seek to serve. They are the ones who are pioneering new qualities of group love and group purpose.
Vision, Trust and Accountability
Any leaders ‘worth their salt’ will inevitably seek to change the established laws, rules or norms of the group within which they operate, since true leaders have a vision of a better way of doing things. One only has to picture Nelson Mandela stepping out of prison in 1990. By 1997, apartheid had ended, and South Africa had an entirely new Constitution. Such seismic changes are most obvious in the political realm, where leaders are expected to introduce new legislation; but it is also true in business, where visionary executives change ‘corporate culture’. In religion too, even though the focus is on more timeless truths, there will always be different ways of interpreting these truths and leaders must wrestle with the question of which interpretations are most appropriate for the evolving consciousness of their congregation. The efforts of Pope Francis to reform the Roman Catholic Church can be viewed in this light.
Another way of thinking about vision is to see a leader as the living embodiment of a specific quality or energy in consciousness that a wider group is seeking to express. This helps to explain why people will be magnetically drawn to the leader: they would not do so if there was nothing in their psyche that resonated with that quality. The vision that the leader presents, the quality which he or she expresses, must somehow already be ‘in the air’. This might simply be a re-formulation of an already existing ideology; but the more interesting and more vital condition arises when a new, universal ideal is contacted, for the collective consciousness of humanity is constantly evolving. This also hints at the growing role which group leadership can be expected to play in humanity’s future. A group has a deeper intuitive sensitivity to new ideals, and is able to express them with more complexity and nuance than an individual. In science and some business organisations this leadership by a group is already well established, and as time goes on, perhaps we may see political parties evolving into truer reflections of this possibility. One of the seeds for this may lie in the Westminster parliamentary system’s idea of cabinet collective responsibility.
Leaders who enable new seed ideals to take root and quickly spread must be able to draw on the dynamism of the will. There will inevitably be resistance to the vision at first, from the already existing structures within society, and a strong will is needed to adapt and implement the vision in response to obstacles. Effective leaders understand the process of ‘creative destruction’, freeing energies from old forms so they can flow into new patterns that serve the future and all life. The ability to manage this process of destruction in ways which minimise disruption within society is a major test of leaders’ compassionate identification with all within their group, and it seems to be a central issue of the times we live in.
As well as vision, trust is central to leadership. Potential supporters of a leader must ask themselves, do they trust the leader to actually implement the vision once in power? Trust is also the key to the laws which leaders are entrusted to safeguard, and to change. Laws, regulations and norms are themselves expressions of mutual trust, for they are common agreements which replace the need for direct person-to-person trust in large groups. According to Esteban Ortiz-Ospina and Max Roser of Our World In Data1, “Trust is a fundamental element of social capital – a key contributor to sustaining well-being outcomes, including economic development.” They further note that in most European countries, trust in the police and the legal system is higher than trust in the political system. This is important, since it is usually the legal system, and more specifically, an independent judiciary, which ensures that leaders’ power to make and change laws is exercised responsibly. In the 35 countries of the OECD, the latest figures show average trust in governments stands at under 40%. Thus, it seems we are in a time of crisis for political leadership, just at the moment when it is most needed.
Once in power, leaders must decide how they are going to bring their vision to birth. Will they do so in ways which take account of the collective will of the people (including those who did not vote for or otherwise support them)? Or will they act according to their own sense of what is right? In the latter case, there is the ever-present danger of lapsing into the authoritarian attitude of “l’état, c’est moi”, to begin to believe that in some sense one cannot be wrong. It is for this reason that the power of an independent judiciary to hold leaders accountable to the law is so crucial in modern nation states. This acts as a safeguard against dictatorship, and helps to ensure that changes in the law proceed at a pace which the populace can accept.
It is not just the will of the people, and the moderating influence of the judiciary, which the political leader must take account of. Various ‘special interest’ groups within society, from industry associations to civil society groups, will seek to promote their particular priorities. To fully respond to this, leaders must possess the ability to synthesise different points of view into a coherent whole. And in a globalising era, every leader must look beyond the borders of their nation or group to the economic, social and cultural forces at play in the world. In The Simpol Solution,2 John Bunzl and Nick Duffell argue that in an era of multinational corporations, which exert tremendous power within the international economy, most national leaders are forced to do the will of these corporations, for fear that their nation will become uncompetitive. In addition to such economic pressures, there is also the body of international law which is encoded in treaties; the obligations attendant upon the nation’s membership in supranational groupings, such as the EU or the African Union; and various other international norms, including the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Mention of the SDGs brings up one further dimension of accountability: accountability to the broad scientific consensus. The SDGs are premised on the basis that climate change, and other global environmental impacts, need to be tackled by all nations collectively; and that the broad scientific consensus supporting these impacts should be given very serious consideration in national decisions. This does not mean that science is infallible. The very nature of the scientific enterprise is about testing the latest models and theories to see where they may fail, and out of this testing new, improved models will sometimes emerge. Citizens need a basic scientific understanding in order to assess choices presented to them by leaders, yet as astrophysicist and science educator Neil deGrasse Tyson has recently warned, “people have lost the ability to judge what is true and what is not, what is reliable, what is not reliable.”
This places an even heavier responsibility on leaders, because they are often responsible for making decisions with wide, even global implications, based upon the scientific consensus. Thus, their duty to become scientifically literate is correspondingly greater. Even if they do not have the time to acquire that understanding first hand, they should compensate by appointing acknowledged experts as advisers. It is therefore very worrying when leaders seem to disregard that consensus, and their reasons for doing so deserve intense scrutiny. To be clear, this is not about the weighty moral decisions that a leader might need to make, based upon scientific evidence, such as whether to allow certain types of genetic engineering, or nuclear power. This is rather about the questioning, or even ignoring, of scientific evidence, as a valid basis for such decisions. When this happens, the way is open to a situation where those who shout the loudest are the eventual winner of every debate, with no room left for reasoned discussion.
The extraordinary variety and complexity of these pressures on leaders give some sense of just how challenging leadership is in the modern era. The need for courage; a visionary sensitivity to emerging ideals, and the ability to express those ideals in clear terms; the capacity to synthesise opposing viewpoints on complex problems; the dynamic power to inspire supporters to make sacrifices on behalf of the good of the whole; all these and more are the requirements for the leaders of today. Let us hope that the need of the hour will evoke the individuals and groups who can step forward and lead.
1. Esteban Ortiz-Ospina and Max Roser (2016) – ‘Trust’. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: https://ourworldindata.org/trust [Online Resource]
2. Reviewed in this issue.
Leadership and the Media
As soon as dictators get into power, one of the first things they do is take control of the media, commandeering the radio and television stations and shutting down independent newspapers. It is obvious why this is so – control the source of news and you control the people. In the past, people were completely dependent on national newspapers and broadcasting corporations for their understanding of the world. Consequently, the power that the media exerted over the thoughts and activities of whole populations was ardently sought. Newspaper barons and press moguls would pay fortunes to influence the lives, the voting and the spending habits of ordinary people. And they still do.
But this established order is being radically changed by one of the most dramatic phenomena of our time – the enormous impact of digital technology. In our increasingly digital age, the way we think about the media is simply not keeping pace with changing realities. For example, ‘reading the paper’ often now means scrolling through various presentations of news and comment on our computer or smartphone screens.
While it is tempting to see this new digital world as a democratisation of news and opinion, as an empowerment of ordinary people and an opportunity to know the truth, there is also a growing recognition of serious downsides and emerging limitations which need to be addressed. Take, for example, what has been called the ‘filter bubble’. People tend to select web sites and news and opinion sources which broadly support their own opinions and world view. Effectively they listen to those who they already agree with. While people have always tended to do this, what is new is that, because we live in a time where everyone uses a few search engines to find information, the algorithms which invisibly power these search engines will automatically tend to select other sites that are similar to ones that people have already searched for, and omit ones which differ. This makes the filtering of information even more extreme, meaning that we have even less idea of what other people, who select sources of information that differ in some way, are thinking and saying.
Because of this ‘filter bubble’ the multiplicity of news sources is leading to an even greater separation of people into opinion blocs whose understanding of different or opposing points of view can more easily crystallise into prejudice, lack of empathy, and even non-comprehension. As Brendan Cox, the widower of murdered British MP Jo Cox, recently wrote in the Guardian newspaper: “We’ve got a proud tradition in [Britain] of airing our opinions and having our disagreements while at the same time respecting those whose views we do not share. What worries me is that respect for our opponents has become a disposable quality, too easily jettisoned when passions rise.”
Another downside is the phenomenon of ‘fake news’. It was Aeschylus, the ancient Greek tragedian, who memorably noted that truth is the first casualty in war. False information to demonise the enemy and bolster the morale of one’s own side is propagated without any apparent qualms. Indeed, the word propaganda, which should be value-free and neutral, has come to mean the dissemination of falsehood. Governments through the ages have consciously used it as an instrument of policy.
Now, in addition to government manipulation and distortion, truth is falling victim to groups and individuals who promote their cause irrespective of the facts. Thus, truth is often submerged in the credulous acceptance of unverified – and often unverifiable – information, and the consequent fears or false hopes that this arouses. When people feel increasingly undermined by uncertainty and insecurity, they may more easily be duped into accepting almost anything as “truth”.
These two examples of the downsides of digital media demonstrate the need for a new type of leadership , enabling humanity to navigate its way through to a fresh understanding of the value of truth and of empathy. It is important that all communities, all ‘filter bubbles’, be exposed to clear statements of universal principles, applied in practical ways to the real problems of the time. We need to hear authentic voices constantly reminding us that a vigorous global cooperative goodwill can replace the fragmentation of humanity into dangerously competing power blocs and nations.
Fortunately, there are groups and individuals who are responding to this problem with clarity and imagination. For example, in April this year, Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, announced that he is launching a new online publication, Wikitribune, whose aim is to counter fake news. Professional journalists will be paired with an army of volunteer community contributors. It is to be “news by the people and for the people”. Said Jimmy Wales, “This will be the first time that professional journalists and citizen journalists will work side-by-side as equals writing stories as they happen, editing them live as they develop, and at all times backed by a community checking and rechecking all facts.”
An initiative like this reminds us of the basic value of truth. Many spiritual and philosophical traditions have emphasised the foundational nature of love, sacrifice and truth as basic spiritual principles that should govern the thoughts, aspirations and actions of humanity. They do so for good reason. As has been said many times, where there is no vision, the people perish. Perhaps we can assert with equal strength that without truth, the people will also perish. Indeed, from a philosophical point of view, perhaps vision and truth are two different words that point to the same reality.
When there are strong waves of emotion and opinion sweeping through the media and becoming the focus of public discourse, how are we to discern what is true? It is a question that has been pondered in different ways down the centuries. The answer that always emerges is that the perception of truth requires the skilful development and use of a real sense of discrimination. As the scientist Carl Sagan once presciently expressed it: “Finding the occasional straw of truth awash in a great ocean of confusion and bamboozle requires intelligence, vigilance, dedication and courage. But if we don’t practice these tough habits of thought, we cannot hope to solve the truly serious problems that face us – and we risk becoming a nation of suckers, up for grabs by the next charlatan who comes along.”
Are there rules of thumb to help distinguish truth from falsehood? The following ideas can be tested in the crucible of the ups and downs of daily life. First, when approaching any problem, begin with the recognition that the clear majority of people all over the world are animated by goodwill. Second, recall that the human capacity for sacrificial living is widespread and well attested. Third; consider the idea that the natural response to any crisis or difficulty is for people to go the extra mile to find a solution and generate healing. A fourth idea is that anything which asserts the opposite – that human beings are irredeemably bad, that ill-will is the default position of humanity, that the desire to help and heal are the unusual characteristics of the very few – is false.
These rules of thumb are meant to be suggestive, not authoritative. It is up to each one of us to discern truth for ourselves, having faith that, in Robert Browning’s words “There is an inmost centre in us all, where truth abides in fullness.”
But it is not enough to discriminate between truth and falsehood. The challenge is to act in support of truth. And this is also where leadership in the media is not only important, but beautifully evident. The many NGOs and civil society groups that have arisen over the past 200 years or so, and in particular since the ending of the second world war, have taken to the internet with purpose and skill, motivating and activating people of goodwill with emails, tweets, video clips and a wealth of petitions. Quite how effective these on-line petitions are is debatable. It is said that a personally written letter carries far more weight than thousands of identically worded emails. Nevertheless, it is a force for good and highlights the concerns that millions of people feel over the many issues facing humanity today.
Another area where media, particularly digital media, is providing a strong lead is in the widespread dissemination of knowledge and wisdom. Lectures and articles on every imaginable subject are available to view and ponder. Academic papers and discussion forums can be perused. All the world’s sacred texts can be read at the click of a mouse. The world’s great music, poetry, literature and art are all now available to an increasing proportion of humanity. According to ‘Internet World Stats’ about half the human population now can connect to the internet. This represents a growth rate of 933.8% since 2000. In a few years’ time, almost everyone will have access to the sum total of human experience, imagination, creativity, knowledge and truth. This is an astonishing reality, particularly when we think how knowledge used to be controlled and censored by religious and political institutions. The availability of all this creative thought makes it more possible than ever to be led by the truth itself.
John Bunzl & Nick Duffell. The Simpol Solution. Peter Owen, London, 2017.
In The Simpol Solution John Bunzl and co-author Nick Duffell describe, with piercing clarity, the major obstacle to solving global problems, namely, the force of Destructive Global Competition (DGC). They show how it prevents governments from making needed changes to national policy on a whole raft of issues, because governments fear this will place them at significant competitive disadvantage relative to other nations. Bunzl and Duffell argue convincingly that recognising this situation, and realistically grasping a plan to counteract it, is hobbled by major psychological blind spots which affect governments and citizens alike. The suggestion is that moving past these blind spots requires us to go through the five stages of the grieving process put forward by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, and that it is only then that the need to move away from a nation-centred governance context towards a new context of world-centric governance can be fully accepted.
To further complicate matters, Bunzl and Duffell show how the powerful unconscious forces which structure our need for identity can block this acceptance process. Using insights from a number of psychologists, and drawing on Ken Wilber’s All Quadrant All Levels (AQAL) Model, they outline levels of consciousness that all individuals and societies pass through. A world-centric perspective is only accessible at the second tier of the development process. Right now, many societies are passing through the difficult transition from the first to the second tier.
Bunzl and Duffell then outline a strategy for enabling world-centric political action during the transition. The strategy identifies ten criteria for effective action, and the authors demonstrate how the Simpol solution, a citizen-led global-policy platform, can contribute. Tools are outlined to enable citizens to place political pressure on their representatives, encouraging them to support global policies which will be adopted simultaneously by all nations. Bunzl and Duffell conclude that the shift from a competitive to a cooperative approach to global issues is needed for the next phase of our evolutionary journey as a species.