Leadership is our most important resource. Leadership is our most significant challenge.
Around the world, leadership capacity remains one of the most important factors influencing human progress. When leaders are effective, when they can work together patiently and peacefully to learn, collaborate and cooperate, even the greatest challenges yield, expanding and opening new pathways to human flourishing. Recent human history vividly illustrates the fruits of effective leadership through humanity’s significant advances in lifespan, healthspan and well-being throughout societies on every continent. Effective collaborative leadership within and among organizations continues to create breakthrough advances in a broad spectrum of knowledge and technologies visible in such fields as food systems, healthcare, energy, transportation, education, housing and economic development. Today we can see the fruits of effective leadership in almost every aspect of modern life. Effective leadership is critical to the realization of human potential.
Human flourishing is defined as an effort to achieve equitable and sustainable self-actualization and fulfillment within the context of a larger community of individuals, each with the right to pursue such efforts. It encompasses the uniqueness, dignity, diversity, freedom, happiness, and holistic well-being of the individual within the larger family, community, and population.
Nevertheless, while we understand the importance of leadership to human success, we also must recognize leadership as the most critical factor at work in human failure, especially where the rising tide of progress fails to lift all boats. Failing or incompetent leadership gives rise to humanity’s greatest challenges, including inequality, racism, systemic poverty and deprivation, violent conflict, discriminatory oppression, unsustainable growth, and environmental degradation. These challenges are often self-inflicted wounds that arise from leadership that lacks empathy, moral vision, ethics, systems wisdom, diligence, or sustainable collaborative power. Within communities in crisis, leaders who wield power often do not work for the common good, but instead operate selfishly—and often divisively—for personal, parochial or partisan interests. The rise of such dysfunctional leadership is often associated with the emergence of authoritarian cultures that value hegemony over progress and equality, and which abuse power to benefit those who enjoy undeserved privilege.
“Equitable” means with a specific commitment to racial equity and also broadly in pursuit of fairness, with compassion and empathy for others, taking into account their welfare from their perspective within the context of building a society that promotes liberty and justice for all.
Organizations focused on promoting broad based, equitable and sustainable human flourishing understand the importance of effective leadership development to our shared future. They understand that the work of leadership development entails:
- Increasing leaders’ ability to cooperate and collaborate effectively in addressing humanity’s most important problems and opportunities,
- Improving self-awareness, dialogue, communication and negotiation skills required for effective collaborations,
- Improving interpersonal skills related to teamwork and collaborative creativity,
- Improving systems thinking, design thinking, intelligent study of complex problems, organizational learning, and organizational effectiveness, and
- Developing shared vision and improving cross-disciplinary learning and inter-group cooperation.
Powerful leadership skills in these areas are required for work that is effective, efficient, sustainable and does not give rise to unintended consequences. Leadership development for the common good also flows from a wellspring of shared values. It entails:
- Deepening empathy, integrity, and benevolent motivation,
- Deepening commitment to racial equity and healing, and
- Deepening commitment to ethical actions that promote benevolence, fairness, human freedom and participatory democracy.
Effective collaborative leadership also requires the development of intentional communities of practice within which leaders reinforce their mutual learning so that they can address the complex challenges within systems that continuously change and evolve.
“Sustainable” means with attention and foresight regarding potential unintended consequences that may undermine the social and natural systems that support human life in balance with all life on earth as interconnected communities of living systems evolving into the future.
Today there are too few organizations that concentrate on developing leaders’ individual and collaborative capacities while bridging differences. There are too few organizations that are able to present powerful leadership development opportunities while convening leaders within shared spaces that deepen relationships and build trust, mutual understanding and respect across cultural, national and ideological differences. Lacking such leadership development resources, leaders are less effective, less resilient, and more prone to frustrations, setbacks and mistakes arising from conflict, misunderstandings and burnout.