The development of leadership skills – for all of us, not just those we think of as ‘leaders’ – is integral to bringing about the shift toward sustainability.
Being a leader has its challenges at the best of times, but with respect to sustainability – where leaders are calling people’s worldviews and accepted norms into question at a very deep level – leadership can be much more complex and challenging.
The Lotus – A Practice Guide for Authentic Leadership towards Sustainability, authored by Christopher Baan, Phil Long and Dana Pearlman, is the result of their 2011 Masters in Strategic Leadership Towards Sustainability (MSLS) thesis research at Blekinge Institute of Technology, Sweden.
The trio asked the question:
How can you lead authentically and effectively engage groups in collaborative processes towards sustainability?
The authors’ approach to developing authentic leadership is that it is ‘contagious’ – the more people can become more self-aware, intentional and ‘present’, the greater their capacity to lead others towards a similar state.
Leadership is not defined by the exercise of power but by the capacity to increase the sense of power among those led. The most essential work of the leader is to create more leaders.
Mary Parker Follett
Just as the Group Works Card Deck ‘codifies’ wisdom relating to shaping effective group processes, The Lotus presents nine personal leadership capacities that the authors’ research revealed are essential ‘design elements’ of authentic and effective leadership, particularly when seeking to bring about complex transformational change in organisations and communities.
The authors summarise the nine capacities as follows:
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Being Present means being fully aware and awake in the present moment – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. This includes connecting to others, the environment around you and current reality.
Suspension and Letting Go is the ability to actively experience and observe a thought, assumption, judgment, habitual pattern, emotion or sensation like fear, confusion, conflict or desire, and then refraining from immediately reacting or responding to the situation.
Intention Aligned with Higher Purpose is the alignment of one’s authentic nature with one’s internal resonance with mani fested actions in the world. This alignment trickles down to all facets of life including one’s personal, professional and spiritual dimensions.
Compassion is having unconditional acceptance and kindness toward all the dimensions of oneself and others, regardless of circumstance. Compassion involves the ability to reflect upon oneself and others without judgment, but with recognition and trust that others are doing the best they can in any given situation.
Whole System Awareness is the capacity to quickly switch between different perspectives, scales and worldviews to see the big picture, interconnections within the system, and being able to scale down to small details. Whole System Awareness is not just cognitive – you ‘sense’ the system. It is the understanding that everything is interconnected within a system.
Whole Self-Awareness is the continual, lifelong process of paying attention to knowing one’s self; it involves consciously and intentionally observing various dimensions of the self (including the physical, mental, shadow, emotional and spiritual realms). It is the capacity to observe how one is thinking, relating, feeling, sensing, and judging. Whole Self-Awareness includes perceptions beyond the rational mind, such as intuition.
Personal Power is the ability to use energy and drive to manifest wise actions in the world for the greater good, while being aware of one’s influences on a situation.
A Sense of Humour, or ‘light-heartedness’, is the universal experience of simultaneous amusement, laughter and joy culminating from an experience, thought or sensation.
Dealing with Dualities and Paradoxes is the capacity to sit with ambiguity in a facilitation session, manage polarities, and hold multiple perspectives. It includes the ability to ‘sit with ambiguity’ in the face of high uncertainty, risk and being comfortable in ‘not-knowing’.
Each of these capacities is explored in further detail in the guide, including a description of what each is, how it is relevant for the work being done, practices to cultivate each capacity, and questions for both self-reflection and during facilitation. Further resources and suggested readings are also provided. The Lotus can be purchased in hard copy, viewed online or downloaded free here (low res pdf 6MB, high res pdf 15 MB) – please consider making a donation to the authors if you find the work of use.
One aspect of authentic leadership I’m interested in is how we can help people give leaders permission to be authentic – consider the capacities above, what all too often passes for political debate, and the spectrum of leaders we have in our societies. If we equate leadership with being forceful, and being compassionate and kind with ‘weakness’; if we associate leadership with being extroverted, and fail to recognise the leadership qualities of those who may by nature be introverts; if we expect black-and-white answers from leaders who are dealing with ambiguity inherent in complex challenges; we will undervalue the very authentic leadership we dearly need at this time.
Consider your own capabilities in a leadership role – do you already practice some of these, consciously or unconsciously? Which capacities could you put more attention to?
Do you think there are other capacities that are integral to authentic leadership? What makes them essential?
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