Featured Article: Transcendent leadership: Pathway to global sustainability

John Jacob Zucker Gardiner

John Jacob Zucker Gardiner

Paper presented at the first Working Collaboratively for Sustainability
International Conference,
Seattle University, Seattle, Washington, April 12, 2009.


John Jacob Zucker Gardiner

Global sustainability – social, economic, and environmental—is best served by an emergent leadership metaphor that serves the triple bottom lines of profits, people, and planet of the 21st century global corporation: transcendent leadership. Introduced as a global imperative at the 2007 World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland (Useem, 2007, pp. 1-2), transcendent leadership had been the subject of earlier research by Seattle University professor John Jacob Zucker Gardiner (Leadership Review, spring 2006, pp. 62-76).

Robert K. Greenleaf’s metaphor of servant leader had inspired the transcendent leadership model (1977). Greenleaf noted that “to be a lone chief atop a pyramid is abnormal and corrupting. None of us is perfect by ourselves, and all need the correcting influence of close colleagues” (p. 63). Regarding board leadership, Greenleaf added: “the mere presence of trustees in the absence of the performance which their place and title implies, does not generate  trust – enough trust to give our society the stability it needs” (pp.10-11).

Transcendent leadership, grounded in servant leadership, offers a pathway to increased trust necessary for global sustainability. Transcendent leadership offers a more inclusive and consensual decision making process for the economic, social, and environmental sectors, moving beyond a singular focus on the bottom line of profits to a multiple focus on the triple bottom lines of profits, people, and planet.

“The metaphor of transcendent leadership moves us away from the tired language of our transactional/ transformational reality into a reality worthy of a united planet, a planet of one humanity, moving from interdependence to wholeness. The metaphor of transcendent leadership, deeply aligned with the central criteria of shared governance, offers us a language to help us transcend current governance crises of Enron, the United States, and our home planet. The complex problems of our world today will not be resolved by the consciousness that created them. Transcendent leadership offers us a metaphor to help us move more closely to a world where human talents and energies will be maximized for the betterment of all-personally, organizationally, globally. (Gardiner, 2006, p. 72)”

The prevailing model of governance that sets the chief executive officer apart from the rest of the organization gives way to a more collaborative decision making process by an emergent leadership circle.For the sake of equity and justice in economic, social, and environmental sectors, the time has come to challenge the prevailing model of autocratic leadership. Working collaboratively for sustainability requires the values and vision of transcendent leadership.

From leader to leadership


Jane Goodall’s hopefulness about our youth, about our roots & shoots, lies at the core of transcendent leadership and at the heart of the actions required by our future global citizens to move our planet onto a path of global sustainability.

James P. Grant, Executive Director, UNICEF

James P. Grant, as head of UNICEF, led a child survival revolution “that saved the lives of at least 25 million children. From 1980 until his death in 1995, Grant, as head of Unicef, conceived and led a worldwide campaign to make simple, low-cost health solutions available to children everywhere…as a result, the worldwide vaccination rate for children increased from 20 to 80 percent” (Bornstein, p. 242). James Grant shows us the power of one person, one transcendent leader, to change the world.

James Grant organized the first World Summit for Children in 1990. The summit held in New York City brought together over 70 heads of state to establish goals and objectives for children’s health worldwide. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, initiated by Grant, a Magna Carta for children, became international law in 1990. It was not signed by the United States, however, until 1995, when James Grant appealed to then President Bill Clinton to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. At his memorial service, held at the Church of St. John of the Divine in New York City, President Clinton instructed U.S. Ambassador Madeleine Albright to sign the treaty. Said Albright, “Nobody fought harder for this convention and its noble cause than Jim Grant. That was the last thing he spoke to me about before his death.” Such was the clear focus of this transcendent leader who saved more children’s lives in the world than any other human being.

Grant demonstrated the power of the United Nations to do good in the world. His work inspired the creation of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) to revitalize immunization programs for children worldwide.  More recently, long after his death, his work inspired Rotary International and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reduce the cases of polio in the world by 99% – promising a day when polio, like smallpox earlier, would be eradicated. He modeled the power of one transcendent leader bringing the world sustainable, simple solutions to complex human problems. Addressing the downward spiral of poverty, population, and environmental degradation, James Grant improved the lives of the world’s least advantaged – the children of the developing world. Working together with global leaders, Grant modeled the unlimited possibilities of creative, low-cost responses to complex human problems of global sustainability.

Ryuzaburo Kaku, Chairman of Canon, Inc.

R. Kaku, who later became Chairman of Canon, Inc., was in 1945 an eighteen year old working on a large ship when the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Although he was a junior member of the crew, Kaku led his fellow crew members deep within the hold of the ship convincing them of the danger of radiation. When he emerged from the ship with the crew in three days, he was no longer the same person. Kaku emerged a transcendent leader focused passionately on helping to create a more sane world (Jaworski, p. 171).

As Chairman of Canon, Inc., Kaku was a citizen of the world. He outlined the role that corporations should play in an increasingly interdependent world. Kaku promoted a principle of “kyosei” – of living together in harmony and interdependence with the other peoples of Earth. The “spirit of Canon” was focused on customers, employees, and global society. Kaku promoted a vision of fourth stage companies committed to serving humankind as a whole through words and actions.

“At its fiftieth anniversary, Canon made the decision to become the fourth kind of company. ‘Its responsibility is to address the larger conflicts in the world…the growing imbalance between the rich and the poor…to set up manufacturing operations in developing countries, to transfer technology, and to help them to become self-sufficient.’ The other global imbalance, which Kaku said was just as critical, is the depletion of the world’s natural resources and the destruction of the environment.” (Jaworski, p.167)

“I am convinced,” Kaku said, “that if companies all over the world would join us  in this quest, the world would be a vastly better place” (p. 167). Kaku, a transcendent leader committed to global sustainability, is today continuing to challenge corporate leaders in retirement via public speaking and publications. His article on the path of kyosei in the July 1997 issue of Harvard Business Review issued the global call for collaborative work toward global sustainability.

Wendy Kopp, Founder & CEO, Teach for America

Wendy Kopp proposed the creation of Teach for America in her 1988 senior year thesis at Princeton University. She believed that many of her generation would choose making a difference over making more money; that they would choose teaching over more money-making ventures if a prominent teacher corps existed. The amazing history and development of that organization is described by Kopp in her book, One day, all children: The unlikely triumph of Teach for America and what I learned along the way.

Operating in over 30 regions of the United States today with 3,700 incoming teaching corps members and an operating budget of over $75 million, Teach for America is the elite teacher corps that Wendy Kopp had envisioned. Its foundation now supports similar initiatives worldwide by local entrepreneurs wishing to serve the poor in their counties around the world (

Jean Monnet,  President, ECSC High Authority, Founder, Action Committee of the United States of Europe, Architect of the reunification of Europe

In Howard Gardner’s Leading minds: An anatomy of leadership, the author saves the last historical reviews for the book’s two great transcendent leaders: Mahatma Gandhi and Jean Monnet, two people who clearly modeled leadership beyond national boundaries. While Gandhi focused on improving direct relationships with people around the world, Monnet focused on creating international governmental forms. Both men were transcendent in that “their methods were their message” (p. 278). Yet, their approaches were different.

“Monnet was the invisible man, the embodiment of impersonality, who spent time thinking carefully about how to achieve his ends. He built up a small group of trusted associates and made great demands on them as well as on himself; for the most part, Monnet and his team operated in privacy … Indeed, Monnet made a point of avoiding credit, feeling that such notoriety would ultimately undermine his own ability to get things done.” (p. 278)

Monnet was always singularly focused on his identity story of Europe becoming one society with close ties to the United States. By the time John F. Kennedy awarded Jean Monnet the Freedom Prize, the European Common Market and European Union had become realities. President Kennedy said:

“For centuries, emperors, kings, and dictators have sought to impose unity on Europe by force. For better or worse, they have failed. But under your inspiration, Europe has moved closer to unity in less than twenty years than it had in over a thousand. You and your associates have built with the mortar of reason and the brick of economic and political interest. You have transformed Europe by the power of a constructive idea.” (Gardner, 1995, p. 271)

While Gandhi’s transcendence was focused on the power of truth (satyahgraha) and the modeling of global village (ashram), Monnet modeled the power of a transcendent idea and the power of persistent effort. Least he be misunderstood in years to come, Monnet stated clearly in the closing pages of his memoirs that he hoped to be remembered not as the creator of a united Europe … but as one who helped with the first steps toward a united world – a transcendent and visionary leader to the end.

Pierre and Pam Omidyar, CEO and Founders, eBay and The Omidyar Foundation/ Omidyar Network

Pierre Morad Omidyar was born in Paris, France, to Iranian parents. At age six, Omidyar moved to the United States with his family. On a long holiday weekend, twenty-two years later, Pierre Omidyar wrote the computer code for what would become the auction site eBay. Like many immigrants before him, Omidyar brought his genius to his new homeland…a gift that brought new enterprise to America and challenged Omidyar to give back more to the world.

Later, Pierre Omidyar, eBay founder, and his wife, Pam, founded The Omidyar Foundation to support nonprofit enterprises based on the firm conviction that every person has the power to make a difference. They next founded the Omidyar Network to expand their efforts to make a difference beyond nonprofit organizations to for-profit organizations and public policy groups. All efforts focused on harnessing the power of markets to create opportunities for people to improve their lives and thus make lasting contributions to their communities. eBay had been built by Pierre Omidyar around three company core values:

  • People are basically good.
  • Everyone has something to contribute.
  • An open environment brings out the best in people.

The successes of eBay and of the Omidyar Foundation and Network underscored the power and truth of these core values in the real world (

James D. Sinegal,  Founder & CEO, COSTCO Wholesale

James Sinegal represents a new model of transformational leadership for corporate America – one that truly emphasizes people and profits, one that expands people beyond shareholders to include employees and customers. COSTCO Wholesale has singlehandedly challenged the corporate model of focusing on shareholder and short term profit at the expense of long term growth and community.

Jim Sinegal’s low CEO salary, relative to other comparable corporation CEOs, modeled fair compensation unlike most his fellow corporate heads whose sky-high salaries and golden parachutes made a mockery of fair play and featured trustees who served no one but themselves and their CEO.

“Perhaps most unusual, Sinegal has resisted Wall Street pressure to become a less generous employer; store workers earn an average of $17 an hour and pay just 9% of the cost of health insurance, a rich package in the penny-pinching retail industry. ‘our attitude is that if you hire good people and pay them a fair wage, then good things will happen for the company,’ says Sinegal, who remains hale at 70. Costco’s success proves that low prices for consumers don’t have to come at the expense of wages and benefits for others.” (,9171,1186981,00.html)

Concluded Jim Sinegal about his transformational leadership style, “Our code of ethics says we have to obey the law. We have to take care of our customers, take care of our people. And if we do those things, we think that we’ll reward our shareholders.” (

Between work for COSTCO and the efforts of the COSTCO Foundation to help children’s hospitals across the country, Jim Sinegal models an alternative paradigm of corporate leadership, one more aligned with an emergent transcendent leadership – and one helping to light the path toward global sustainability. Promoting a culture of trust by being trust-worthy himself, Jim Sinegal models Greenleaf’s servant leader to a generation of American corporate leaders.

Jerry and Anita Zucker, Governors and CEOs, Hudson’s Bay Company and the InterTech Group/The Zucker Family Foundation

Jerry Zucker was born in Tel Aviv, Israel in 1949 and immigrated to the United States with his parents and brother three years later. Like Omidyar, Zucker became a self-made billionaire through his genius and enterprise. Over 350 inventions and patents bear his name including his first invention developed in high school which was used in America’s first lunar landing module.

Like Omidyar, Jerry Zucker contributed much to his new homeland. He was an American original with the genius of Thomas Alva Edison and the business acumen of Warren Buffett. In a short lifetime, my brother, Jerry, modeled transcendent leadership as founder and CEO of the InterTech Group, a global conglomerate, and as the first American Governor and CEO of Hudson’s Bay Company, the oldest commercial corporation in North America. Created as a fur-trading venture under a royal charter in 1670, Hudson’s Bay Company was renewed as Canada’s largest retailer by Jerry Zucker. He brought pride back to Canada’s national treasure as well as profitability. At the same time, he grew The InterTech Group into one of America’s largest privately held companies.

Jerry was a humble and brilliant man…and, as a result, many of his good works were done under the radar of public visibility. Beyond the many beneficiaries of his family foundation,  Jerry quietly helped to finance international missions that provided medical supplies to people around the world and that moved many peoples out of harm’s way. He also served in leadership positions for many organizations ranging from the Boy Scouts to the South Carolina Aquarium. During his last months of life, dying from brain cancer, Jerry was obsessed with the work not yet done. His primary thought was that evil came from good people doing nothing. And that there was much to be done globally to combat the darkness. At his eulogy, as Jerry’s three year older brother, I charged those assembled: “Jerry never quit the good fight, and now that good fight is ours.”

Upon his death, Anita, Jerry’s wife of many years, became the first woman Governor and CEO in Hudson’s Bay 338-year history. Anita also took over as Chair and CEO of the InterTech Group while oldest son, Jonathan, was named president. Using a transcendent theme of Tikkun Olam (the repair of the world), the renewed corporation of the InterTech Group promised to live up to the legacy of its founder, Jerry Zucker. Anita took over where Jerry left off. Under the leadership of Anita Zucker, the company has already undergone a transformation that will help its people fight the good fight globally.

Core values: strengths and limitations

A belief in the innate goodness of people and their unlimited potential for doing good empowered the visions of many of these transcendent leaders. They clearly believed in the power of people working together for noble causes. They also exuded hope in themselves and in others and in their enterprise, enough hope and confidence necessary to accomplish great good.

Most of these transcendent leaders modeled great humility putting their corporate goals ahead of their own egos. Most avoided the  spotlight, rather they encouraged others to take the credit and  thus motivated others to higher levels of giving to worthy causes.

Most of these transcendent leaders modeled persistence in the cause of their great ideals, persistence to go the distance to seeing their visions become reality. Most also had the courage to act on their truths with passion and conviction.

Humility, persistence, and courage can lead to great success in the work of the social sector. A belief in the goodness of people encourages trust.

Nevertheless, not all people are trustworthy and evil does exist in the world. Limitations of these core values and beliefs include a willingness to overlook the untrustworthy and the evil in order to focus on good works. This limitation can lead to naïve decision making and overly optimistic projections of social change. It can lead to overemphasizing the good in human nature and thus not assessing current reality with balance. It can also lead to trusting people  who are not trustworthy and thus putting the entire enterprise at risk.

After all, evil does exist in the world or humanity would not be in its current state of global crisis economically, socially, environmentally and untrustworthy leaders would not abound. Therein lies our responsibility as global citizens to remove those leaders who do not serve the common good. In the words of Robert K. Greenleaf,

“A new moral principle is emerging which holds that the only authority deserving one’s allegiance is that which is freely and knowingly granted by the led to the leader in response to and in proportion to, the clearly evident servant nature of the leader.” (1974, pp. 3-4)

A leader and/or leadership circle must be deemed trustworthy or else he/she/they must be removed from office. Leadership, in order to become transcendent, will have to be transactional in changing an evil order into one serving the common good. As these powerful life stories convince us, the limitations might well be worth the risk. For if we assume the best of people, they might rise to our expectations of them. If we treat people as if they were trustworthy, they might rise to our higher expectations of them.

Transcendent leadership and global sustainability: Purpose, relationship, and renewal

Both transcendent leadership and global sustainability embrace three essential organizational emphases: 1) purpose, 2) relationship, and 3) renewal.

Purpose aligns the organizational mission in core values where talk and walk are one. Purpose integrates personal talents and passions with larger organizational goals and objectives. A compelling purpose draws people toward a desired future, whether personal or corporate.  Both transcendent leadership and global sustainability embody passionate purpose and focused involvement in pursuit of collaborative enterprise.

Relationship is about service to others.  Service above self is key to accessing both transcendence and sustainability. The power of caring and the energy of compassion are manifested through the vehicle of service to others. Both global sustainability and transcendent leadership are empowered by deep senses of connection and community. Service above self finds a nutrient seedbed in the work of transcendence and of global sustainability.

Renewal is about sustainability and transcendence. It is about connecting to the wholeness that surrounds us through reflection, nature, meditation, prayer, intuition, and community building – renewal activities that lead to increased personal satisfaction and organizational synergy. Renewal is key to the success of work in transcendent leadership and in global sustainability.

Yes, transcendent leadership and global sustainability are deeply related and both will serve as tools for the transformation ahead which will offer a pathway to global consciousness and to a world that works in our best interests as global citizens.

In the words of Arnold Toynbee, “The twentieth century will be chiefly remembered in future centuries not as an age of political conflicts or technical inventions, but as an age in which human society dared to think of the welfare of the whole human race as a practical objective” (Bornstein, 2004, p.242).  Perhaps, Toynbee’s forecast was premature but it will surely be achieved, if we are to survive as a species, in the twenty-first century.

“Leadership to cross over must come from us all, and, in every sector, people are stepping forward to make a difference” (Link, Corral, & Gerzon, 2006, p. 299). Each of us must be born anew to fully embrace transcendent leadership and global sustainability. Each of us must reunite with Earth to act on “the welfare of the whole human race as a practical objective.” It can and it will be done.


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About the Author

John Jacob Zucker Gardiner is a professor of leadership at Seattle University. John served on the Board of the International Leadership Association (ILA) and on the Board of its founding association, the Center for the Advanced Study of Leadership at the University of Maryland- College Park. John chaired ILA’s 2002 Global Conference. Gardiner currently serves on the Advisory Board of Leadership Review. John’s research focuses on leadership, governance, renewal, and emerging organizational forms.


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