|Written by Dr Robert Burke|
Changing paradigm of leadership
The current world economic scenario is to a large extent a handiwork of some selfish leaders. The time now is to create a new value system where leaders serve those whom they lead, rather than serving their own interests.
If we are to recover from the misery created in today’s world by the greedy few, we need to shift our focus away from the current leadership model based purely on consumption. These handfuls of people with their hunger for control and authority have driven today’s world towards the present recession.
What we need now is something more spiritual and inclusive of all humankind, infact all living ecosystems. And, this calls for a new type of leadership, the Spiritual Leadership.
This Spiritual Leadership, however, is not new; it’s been around for thousands of years. But, like all good leadership, to practice it, is dangerous because it requires saying things and acting in ways that many people may not like.
When this happens people will actively fight against them and even murder (Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King, etc.) and/or incarcerate (Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, Prabhat Rainjan Sarkar, etc.) those who speak out against “their” worldview. Ron Heifetz (1997) calls this ‘the paradox of trust’. People will often trust you when you fulfill their expectations for service, so what happens when you raise questions or deliver information that conflicts with those expectations? When you tell them what they may need to hear, but not what they want to hear? “Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons,” said George W. Bush on September 12, 2002. Clearly he and many others did not want to hear that. So, Hans Blix and his team had to say, “There were about 700 inspections, and in no case did we find weapons of mass destruction,” said Hans Blix, the Swedish diplomat who was called out of retirement to serve as the United Nations’ chief weapons inspector from 2000 to 2003.
Could this be a reason why CEOs have such a short tenure?
I have had personal experience of this. I was the CEO/MD of a publicly listed company and I found that I alienated myself with the Board by telling them things they needed to hear rather than telling them things they wanted to hear. The major conflict centered on how I treated my staff. I preferred a transformational leadership style (one that focused on behaviours, which I believed would deliver both performance and meaning) and they preferred a transactional style (one that focused on “if you do this for me, I will do that for you” i.e. it was focused purely on performance). This led to an untenable situation where we agreed to separate.
Mine is an example of the results of just one difference of opinion. There are other, more dramatic examples, such as the prophets, the ‘different’ (Jews, Aboriginal, homosexuals, Gypsies, etc), and these are too numerous to recount and the examples are everywhere.
The leadership challenge is how to demonstrate performance management (rational analyses) and at the same time put this into the context of purpose and meaning attribution (rational analyses but also including non-rational ‘connectivity’).
Good performance is a necessary leadership outcome and, in the rational domain – the financial domain, easily measurable. A perceived difficulty, however, is that centered on the notion of the measurement of purpose and meaning. How do you measure the non-rational, the post modern, leadership and spirituality?
Does it even make sense to reduce spirituality to a measurable entity?
I don’t believe it does as by doing so it implies an ‘end’ or a ‘goal’ something that is achievable and by implication can be a greater achievement, as measured, for some than for others –e.g. I am more spiritual than you because my Spirituality 360 degree feedback tells me so, kind of argument. Indeed, I would argue what is our fascination with measurement? I can understand measurement against certain norms such as medical surgery and health practices. I can also see that measurement of academic achievement can be useful and of course it is useful for investors to be able to measure the worth of their investment. But, measurement also brings with it less desirable outcomes.
There were clear indicators that the existing, primarily western, worldview is seriously flawed. David Korton (2009) wrote, “Pull away the curtain to look behind the headlines, and we find a potentially terminal economic crisis with three defining elements:
1. Excess human consumption, which is accelerating the collapse of Earth’s ecosystem.
2. Unconscionable inequality and the related social alienation, which is propelling the social collapse visible in the form of terrorism, genocide, crime, and growing prison populations.
3. An economic system ruled by financial markets, global corporations, and economic theories devoted to increasing consumption while rolling back real wages and benefits for working people to make money for the richest among us.
A spiritual leadership approach asks fundamentally different questions about what it means to be human, what we really mean by growth, and what values and power distributions are needed to enhance both organisations and society as a whole.
For example as Muhammad Yunis (the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner along with the Grameen Bank, which he founded) said in Fortune Magazine, February 19, 2007:
• What if we believed in a world where companies didn’t measure their performance only in terms of profitability?
• What if pharmaceutical companies reported on their bottom lines, along with those familiar figures, the number of lives saved by their drugs every quarter, and food companies reported the number of children rescued from malnutrition?
• What if companies issued separate stock based on social returns, and people could buy the shares of those that saved more lives than others, or sell the shares of energy companies that polluted more than their competitors?
• What if, by raising “social capital” and investing it in sustainable businesses without a profit motive, companies could reach into new markets, expanding their core businesses and at the same time improving lives.
What could be the implications for organisational leadership of spirituality?
“We can live our lives and manage our enterprises obsessed with getting ever more, with keeping score, with constantly calculating and scheming. Or we can open ourselves to another way, by engaging ourselves to engage others so as to restore our sense of balance…….
A syndrome of selfishness, built on a series of half-truths, has taken hold of our corporations and our societies, as well as our minds. This calculus of glorified self-interest and fabrications upon which it is based must be challenged.”
(Mintzberg, Simons, Basu ,2002)
For me perhaps it is only through organisational leadership that a better world is possible.
The problem seems to me to be centered on our western worldview that growth is essential, that to consume more and more is beneficial to the workplace and as a result of this to the society as a whole. This worldview is fraught with danger as it infers that we have the right to never end consumption and that success is rightly based on this.
Could spirituality produce a better organisational leadership paradigm?
As a play on words I have used the following as a narrative metaphor with groups on discussions about leadership. It is meant as a dialogue comparing the competing images of the future concerning business and the future using the futures triangle (Inayatullah, 2005: 23).
Growth = the current CEO mantra. But could it be:
CEO = Courageously Engaging Others
LEADERSHIP = Lets Employees Adapt Developments that are Ethically Responsible Sustaining Hope Inspiration and Purpose
GROWTH = Greed Reduction therefore Opportunities are Widened which is Triumphing Humanity
Through the emotional and spiritual intelligence of leaders, I believe, can emerge a new leadership paradigm. The new leadership paradigm asks the leader to be the one who can show what it means to be human, what it means to be authentic and how by modelling behaviour that sees other humans, other life forms, gain worldviews, and other ways of knowing, other epistemologies, as not only the most important aspect of any organisation but as the way of gaining deeper insights into their spiritual selves and into the spiritual lives of others through microvita.
Joel, A, Barker, (1992) Paradigms: The business of discovering the future. Harper Business
Robert Burke, (2006). Leadership and spirituality. Foresight, 8(6),14-25.
David Korten, (2009) ‘After the Meltdown: Economic Redesign for the 21st Century’, http://www.tikkun.org/archive/backissues/tik0811/politics/economic
Ronald A. Heifetz, and Marty Linsky, (1997) Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading, Harvard Business School Press.
Sohail Inayatullah, (2003-4). “Spirituality as the Fourth Bottom Line”. New Renaissance, Vol.12, N0. 2. Renaissance Universal.
Sohail Inayatullah, (2005) Questioning the Future: Methods and Tools for Organizational and Societal Transformation. Tamkang University, Taiwan
Henry Mintzberg, Robert Simons and Kunal Basu, (2002) ‘Beyond Selfishness’ MIT Sloan Management Review, Fall 2002 pp.67-74’
Muhammad Yunis, (2007) Fortune Magazine, February 19, 2007:
Dr Robert Burke
Melbourne Business School
Mt Eliza Centre for Executive Education
University of Melbourne
Mt Eliza Victoria 3930. Australia