The Greatest Challenge for Contemporary Leadership is Existential
When I was asked to share my perspective on the intersection of Sustainability and Leadership, I was honored. Then I immediately realized the request had an element of obsolescence. We have gone beyond the critical phase of sustainability, now requiring regeneration.
In his book, “Designing Regenerative Cultures”, Dr Daniel Christian Wahl drew this chart to show us the pathway from the neutral point of not doing more harm — which is Sustainability– to the highest order of Regenerative-appropriate participation and design as nature:
Flooding thoughts of the breadth and magnitude of the concept of leadership exploded in my mind. What hasn’t already been regurgitated multiple times about leadership that is relevant for the contemporary leader? My library of leadership and personal development volumes is full of metaphors, acronyms, catchy diagrams, and poetic euphemisms to guide us beyond our naivety and primitive states of consciousness. For eons, our wise ancestry has shared insight into leadership, yet here we are on the precipice of a mass extinction event.
With all that we know about leadership, why do we continue to see rivalry and discord throughout our world. A basic analysis would conclude that we have the capacity to solve most, if not all, of our challenges but we perpetuate the mistakes of our history. In fact, the precedence of collapse of civilization reveals we have not found our way.
In so many ways we have evolved intellectually with all of our tools to overcome the challenges the natural world has presented for the essentials of life. But during this process we have had an undercurrent of fear for survival as our primary motivator. Our operating system prioritizes fear-based analyses over anything else. The neurosciences have confirmed this dynamic exists today. Fear narrows and shortens our perceptual orientation of the world. It also creates an illusion of separation.
So where is a pragmatic point of intervention for leaders to engage? And what is required of leaders so that their benevolent intentions don’t become misguided? From my perspective, and that of numerous thought leaders, past and present, the answer is somehow evolving humanities’ consciousness. Not just consciousness from the standpoint of attaining self actualization, but extending into self transcendence and ultimately collective consciousness. Or more simply put, we must evolve.
“Leadership’s inner sense of self and commitment to move from systems of less harm to motivations to advance the sources of positive good — arising from a sense of genuine consciousness of connection, inner inspiration, and positive beliefs in the power of conscious intention.”David Cooperrider
Leaders in planetary resilience and sustainability have realized that it is imperative that contemporary leadership involves what can best be described as a spiritual journey of self discovery to answer the question of “Who am I?” Once that aspect of the journey is accomplished, the next question emerges: “How can I serve?” This journey consistently includes what astronauts have called the Overview Effect, and what the wisdom traditions have referred to as Oneness or Universal Connection: a realization that we are all connected in a Divine or Quantum Matrix. At this stage of consciousness the person transcends a fear-based state to one founded on courage. This pattern was identified by Joseph Campbell in the Heroes Journey.
These stages of consciousness have been eloquently mapped out by the late Dr. David Hawkins in his book Power vs. Force. He refers to states as levels and frequencies of energy. At the critical level of courage, Hawkins discovered a consistent affinity for life in all its forms. “It is also the first level of empowerment. The zone of exploration, accomplishment, fortitude, and determination. At the lower levels, the world is seen as hopeless, sad, frightening, or frustrating; but at the level of Courage, life is seen to be exciting, challenging, and stimulating.”  Courage is founded on Empathy. One of my favorite references to empathy was produced by Jeremy Rifkin in his RSA Animate video titled, “The Empathic Civilization.”
The opposing force to empathy is fear. Deming was on target with the psychological focus on “Driving Out Fear,” as a world renowned pioneer of quality and transformational management. Mistakenly, many people interpreted Dr. Deming as focusing on fear at the front ranks, within the hourly workers and people at the bottom of the organizational pyramid. In fact, he was actually pointing to the fear that pervades organizations (and organizational systems like commerce, communications, transportation, etc.) at all levels – fear of making mistakes; fear of being seen as incompetent; fear of not knowing what is really going on; fear of losing power; fear of showing emotion; fear of not being promoted, or worse of losing your job altogether.
At this stage, what I refer to as authentic or genuine leadership emerges. You can also consider this threshold the tipping point between entropic influence and syntropic creativity.
Focus on achieving a goal of benevolence affecting the whole system of life. Perhaps we could refer to this definition of authentic leadership as Holotropic Leadership – From (hólos, “whole”) + “tropic” (tropḗ, “movement towards something”) or Vital Leadership – (vit – “life”).
The famous quantum physicist David Bohm said, “we’re all connected through and operate within living fields of thought and perception”—what he called “the general fielding of all mankind.” How can we start to define and understand these fields, particularly in ways that illuminate workable leadership strategies and options?
We can start by allowing ourselves to see what is often most obvious and most problematic: the human suffering that pervades society. This gradually opens up into a penetrating process of individual and collective inquiry.
In reference to sustainability/regeneration and leadership, you can discern the difference in people in positions of authority by their orientation toward regeneration or consumption relative to the whole system in which we reside.
Positions of authority are not necessarily occupied by authentic or genuine leaders, as I have defined the term. In fact, I can’t help but feel that an abundance of these roles have been hijacked by various versions of narcissists and artists of manipulation. Authentic leaders, from my perspective, don’t pursue positions of control narcissistically.
Narcissistic motivations have outpaced and infiltrated positions of authority and influence for eons. When suffering reaches a certain tipping point, however, leaders emerge and take action in some form of revolution. Hence the pattern of the Heroes Journey. Not unlike villain and hero stories, empire building, revolution and collapse permeate our history.
This cycle has repeated itself over and over, usually with horrific outcomes but colorful stories.
Once again, we are entering a point in the cycle where massive suffering is taking place, but this time on a planetary scale, rather than a territorial or national one.
The What to Do?
“The scale of the individual—the level at which the notion of consciousness is appropriate—is a world away from the scale of the planet. At this moment, the Earth System in its own right confronts us with states of operation and response that threaten long-term habitability for many species. To bring the world back together, phenomena at massively different scales need mediation—insofar as that may be possible—through the worldwide infrastructures of communication. What are the forms of communication necessary to produce, and induce or conduce to a planetary society—that is, to a system of global social inclusions that could successfully deal with our planetary issues for the majority of the biota?” Bruce Clarke, Gaian Systems for a Planetary Society, Chair of Astrobiology, Library of Congress
This is the challenge of Leadership from a Sustainability (Regeneration) perspective — altering the common perceptual orientation about life itself toward harmonic alignment with the patterns of nature. This challenge must start with uncovering your individual life — purpose to cultivate your connection to the world around you.
Therefore, there is a need to positively disrupt the conventional wisdom about how to run our organizations, responsibly cultivate a healthy culture, build the capacities and humanity of our people, and shift societal institutions as emblems of the legacy we wish to bequeath to future generations.
Sustainability = in perpetuity, forever
However, in thinking about this aspiration, we should not default to notions such as “global mind” or “planetary consciousness,” since the phenomena these phrases combine do not operate at the same scale, and cannot be bridged at the same level. Instead, a grasp of planetary cognition can scale up our thinking about global communications that could produce a planetary society, a world society in fact, distributed in being and locality but sharing a common Earth.
This is the epistemological problem we face: how to construct or entrain a world in common for vast and various minds that operate individually and in collective that may otherwise never connect.
A critical focus for leaders is to shift civilization toward full integration and evolution with living systems.
The How –
As the director of MIT’s Media Lab has written, “extended intelligence is the future.” Our own consciousness must evolve and the network must serve as a medium for collective consciousness.
Numerous futurists are agreeing on a perspective toward a world society aligned with McLuhan’s media foresight of total human connection, toward a collective consciousness: “we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace,” he wrote in 1964, “abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned. Rapidly, we approach the final phase of the extensions of humankind — the technological simulation of consciousness, when the creative process of knowing will be collectively and corporately extended to the whole of human society.”
To avert climate catastrophe, David Grinspoon envisions the imminent need for multi-century cultural agendas he calls “planetary changes of the fourth kind.” These would be deliberate rather than inadvertent alterations to the Earth system — not necessarily massive geoengineering schemes but certainly massive ecological do-overs of the technosphere. The way toward such long-term investments “begins with our mass awareness of our role as world changers.”
Consequently, recognizing that our living planet is indeed in crisis, we must perfect social mediations to produce and maintain networked individual sentience concerning planetary connectedness.
This brings us to evolution or revolution. The keepers of existing systems will do everything in their power to remain viable and hold their positions of influence. So, from the fringes of society, new systems will be introduced making existing systems obsolete. That is where the revolution will reside.
Our economies need to be fundamentally, structurally, transformed. We need to transition to a new, clean, renewable energy system on which to base our economies. We need to transform the way money is created, so that it’s not linked to the systematic generation of debt. We need to transform our banking system on the same grounds. A great unfolding civilizational transition, in which an old reductionist paradigm of materialist self-maximation is dying. Citizens and policymakers, activists and business leaders, need to wake up to what is actually happening to have the conversations that can kick-start meaningful approaches to systemic transformation.
This requires a transdisciplinary and systemic approach to cultivate new forms and practices of planetary cognition by developing and curating narratives, media, and attractors that catalyze recognition of systemic-environmental interconnection within a living or regenerative planet.
It starts from within. We need to evolve beyond the states of mind that have created these challenges and upgrade our perceptual orientation toward the world and each other. Extensive research has been conducted on the means to accomplish this evolutionary upgrade. Wisdom traditions utilized ceremony, rhythmic sounds and plant medicines to expand individuals’ minds.
Near Death Experiences (NDEs) share a common denominator in that they consistently involve non-ordinary states of consciousness beyond the material realm. And today, quantum physics and biofield sciences are identifying that consciousness operates as an energy field. Therefore, I concur with thought leaders, both
contemporary and from the wisdom traditions, that humankind’s consciousness is the fulcrum point for evolution and survivability. There are volumes of vetted references of advanced human capacities encouraging us to access them. One of my favorites is, “The Future of the Body” written by the Co- founder of Esalen Institute, Michael Murphy. It contains numerous references to a variety of evidence backed human transformative capacities.
Where Leadership engages the Present and Future
Nature has apparently designed us to evolve into a more unified, awake state of consciousness – highly empathetic. Many religious teachings for millennia have pointed to the realization of this unity as the highest attainment of a human life. Mutual devotion to this level of realization on the part of countless individuals has led, over thousands of years, to our current process of awakening together. There is a growing interest today in the potential of cultivating a common sense—both inter-subjectively and socially. Our capacity to share a commonly sensed consciousness may be the next step in human and cultural evolution, an integral element in the maturation of the universe, and even essential to our survival as a species. (excerpt from Kosmos, Free At Last – Being What We Are)
In conclusion, this is really a call to action. The intersection of Sustainability and Leadership is Empathy. Not only empathy within, but the proliferation of empathy throughout.
Leadership is about openly and lovingly contributing to shaping the future, not about claiming one has the answers.
Perhaps it is that leadership, most fundamentally, is the work of becoming ever more human and humane in the pursuit of a shared, improved, and thriving future.
I leave you with this, my personal mantra is, “welcome possibility.” The associated image represents how that looks to me. It is receptive and open. It is also vulnerable and courageous.
One of my favorite contemporary
philosophers is Jason Silva. Here is a video
titled, “Beyond Anxiety and Depression…A
Call to Awakening!” that incorporates many
of the things I have humbly proposed in this
article. He has offered permission to utilize his materials with the intention that we will all benefit from this kind of narrative.
We are beginning to learn the hard lesson that on an overpopulated planet, faced with multiple converging crises, even those who seem to win in the short term will lose in the mid to long term if we do not regenerate vital ecosystem functions and create conditions where all of life can thrive.
“It came to me quiet lately as a new and extra ordinary idea both tempting and repellent, since it shocked my scientific sensibilities .Then i realized with some Embarrassment that many others had been before ,not only mystics but also a few most thoughtful physicist . It is the view that just the contrary of consciousness appearing as a late outgrowth of evolution of life on this and other other planets that the universe breeds life and consciousness, because consciousness is its source because the stuff of this universe is ultimately mind stuff.
What we recognize as the material universe ,the universe of space time and elementary particles and energies is actually an AVATAR the materialization of the primal consciousness. In that case there is no waiting for consciousness to arise, it is there always at the beginning and at the end. What we wait for in the evolution of life is only the culminating avatar, the emergence of self conscious bodies that can articulate consciousness, that can give it a voice, culture, literature and art and science.Nobelist – George Wald
“Quantum physics unequivocally points out that the study of the universe and the study of consciousness are inseparably linked, which is to say that ultimate progress in the one will be impossible without progress in the other. Einstein declared that what it reveals is so immensely important that “it should be everyone’s concern.”Paul Levy
 Hawkins, David R., Power vs. Force, 2013
 Bruce Clark, Gaian Systems for a Planetary Society, Chair of Astrobiology, Library of Congress.
About the Author
Paul Quaiser is the Founder of the Human Sustainability Institute (HSI), champions an innovative strategy to address the crucial aspect of any sustainability project: the Human Potential Factor in the Global Sustainability Equation. His project-specific assessment methodology integrates multiple disciplines known to boost human engagement. Blending project management expertise, innovative technology, quantum physics-based environmental controls, and work-motivating drivers for productivity, he offers this approach as a world business leader. His enthusiasm for responsible management of human potential examples for us: a “new frontier of sustainability”. By harnessing evidence-based schemata, addressing specific variables, HSI approaches the “best of the best” in strategizing truly “sustainable” sustainability projects.