[This blog first appeared on the Huffington Post on 12th August 2016]
Welcome to the Spirituality and Transformative Leadership blog series!
There is no doubt that today’s global leadership is at a crisis point. Leaders of principle are in short supply, politics has become reactionary and isolationist and there is a crying need for leadership that can unite multiple interests into a coherent vision for the reality of today’s world. The model of ‘servant leadership’ that believed in service to a higher cause than oneself, embraced by such visionaries as Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Churchill, Mandela, seems extinct in today’s world. As recent events have seen, we need a new vision of leadership that can steer the course of our globalised world, whilst having the humility to recognise the challenges that ordinary people face in their day to day lives.
What started as a discussion within the community of the Young Global Leaders of the World Economic Forum has now resulted in a series of blogs from both Young Global Leaders themselves and others, that touch on a wide range of themes within the idea of spiritually-based leadership.
Writers were asked the following questions:
What does spirituality mean to you? What’s your special story?
How has it helped you solve a world challenge?
How has it helped you to drive action?
How has it empowered and sustained you as a leader?
How does it relate to your everyday work?
Each writer brought an individual and distinct understanding of what spirituality meant to them. For some, the traditional view of a God-head was key; for others, a more fluid, contemporary understanding of spiritual identities inherent in each one of us. All were united in the importance of this belief in something bigger than themselves and the humility necessary for great leadership.
Some of the key themes that emerged were:
1. The need for a shift from mind to spirit to address the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the implications of spirituality on technological development.
2. The importance of feminine leadership to bring about greater harmony and rebalance our world.
3. ‘Service’ leadership and its perspective on the impact on philanthropy and the arts
4. Values-based leadership - focusing in on qualities such as integrity for a more ethically-inspired leadership
5. The leadership lessons from our religious leaders.
6. The business case for spirituality and defining a vocabulary for this in the workplace
7. Our connection with the natural world as a source of spiritual growth and, thus, the importance of paying attention to climate change for a more holistic and sustainable growth model.
For Professor Jem Bendell, spirituality and leadership is something we all have access to, no matter whether we exhibit an external leadership role or exercise leadership in more personal ways. Carlota Mateos describes her ‘crucible moment’ that lead to a rebalancing of her yin and yang elements in her leadership, harmonizing and balancing opposites, encouraging ‘more soulware and less software’. Nicole Schwab calls for a refocusing on the values of feminine leadershipand how these qualities can be expressed in both men and women. Minoush Abdel-Meguid praises the leader of the Muslim faith, Mohammed, for being innately human in his leadership. For Dana Leong, there is an innate connection between music and the imperative to lead with love. Dr Sheetal Amte shares her experience of how spirituality has informed her and her family’s philanthropy. Maran Whiting Hanley questions whether the ‘well-worn path’ is really our own and urges us to discover the power of self-determination in our leadership journeys. Laura Storm recounts a project that brought together ‘pilgrim cities’ with initiatives on climate change and suggests that it’s time that we as leaders start living in sync with the planet, whilst Georgie Wingfield-Hayes talks about the way in which nature enables us to understand our role as part of the greater whole, bringing a much-needed humility to our leadership journey. Dave Hanley talks about how to bring one’s spiritual self into the workplace and Tan Chin Hwee shows how we need to apply spiritual principles to both business and finance for greater ‘returns’ to our lives and those whose lives our businesses affect. For Ajay Chaturvedi, the path to enlightenment came through a radical reassessment of the values that drove him and helped redefine what success should look like. Dr Yuhyun Park calls for a shift from mind to spirit if we are to be able to adequately adapt to the challenges of The Fourth Industrial Revolutionand So-Young Kang reminds us of the importance of integrity as a key aspect of spiritually-based living and leading.
Each blog highlights the role that spirituality has played in the leadership of the individual writer, drawing parallels with a leadership we might all aspire to both emulate and follow. We invite you to explore the series and to consider:
What role has spirituality played in your leadership?
And who are the spiritually-inspired leaders of today that you believe will leave a greater legacy for tomorrow?
This Spirituality and Transformative Leadership series was set up as a response to the need to bring ‘higher order’ principles into leadership today and to spark an ongoing discussion as to the role that spirituality, as distinct from religion, has in today’s world. It is a curated series that invites both Young Global Leaders and others with an interest in leadership to contribute to a discussion on the role that spirituality plays in leadership today. For more information, please see the following link for an overview of the origins of this project and for a link to all the blog posts in the series please click here.
Follow Caroline Watson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/c_j_watson
Two days have passed since the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States. Two days in which there has been the inevitable backlash, in social media, in families, and on the streets, towards a president-elect who ran his campaign on fear-mongering, falsification of facts and misogynist, racist and hate-driven speech. Those who have rightly sought to understand the views of those who have brought this man into power, no matter how much at variance with their own views, have begun to see that there is another voice in America, far away from the ‘liberal elites’ who have held onto power for so long, that clamours to be heard.
Last week, I went to see ‘I, Daniel Blake’, the shocking story of a middle-age carpenter in the north of England who has to go onto welfare benefits following a heart attack. The film documents the extraordinary level of red tape that Blake has to go through to secure this support and, in the process, his befriending of a young single mother going through the same thing. The film depicts the huge injustices facing someone who has spent his life paying into the system yet getting nothing in return when he needs it most. The story has a tragic outcome that should be a call to arms for any thinking person, liberal elite or otherwise, to truly ensure our society delivers for all. Yet, the thing that struck me most about this film was the integrity and dignity of this man in the fact of a hostile system that failed to act with a shred of humanity in his time of greatest need. Yes, this was a man who had every reason to go out and get what was rightly his but there was so much evidence throughout the film of Blake’s desire to do what was right, despite the pressing financial needs he faced and to uplift others too and encourage them never to lower their standards in the pursuit of financial security.
The events of this week, and the growing realisation of the injustices felt by many around the world towards the liberal elites, has lead me to question whether principled behaviour is only ever the ‘luxury’ of those whose basic needs are already met. To my mind, the recognition of integrity, of honesty, of principle in both public and private life is never the preserve of the few. They are uniquely spiritual qualities that everyone possesses and everyone has the ability to detect in others. And, to me, they are the only standards by which we should judge and elect those in leadership positions.
In seeking to understand the results of the election, I have thought back to Daniel Blake’s story. It would seem that he represents so many of the disenfranchised, disengaged and angry men and women who voted for Trump. Their concerns and the harsh realities of their day to day lives make their choice and their trust in a leader who ‘says it like it is’ understandable. Yet, Ken Loach’s film, as politically heightened as it is, does nothing to suggest that the pursuit of economic justice should come at the cost of one’s moral standards and the behaviour one would wish to see exhibited in public life. I yearn for the day when principle ‘trumps’ politics in the standards we demand from our leaders and that no amount of promises to deliver our material needs would override the evidence staring us in the face of an individual lacking moral fibre.
An initiative I started earlier this year in collaboration with the Young Global Leaders of the World Economic Forum, the Spirituality and Transformative Leadership Initiative, seeks to create a generation of leaders lead by ‘higher order principles’. Our leadership role models include Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela. These leaders were quite clearly in the camp of the dispossessed, the poor and the marginalised. Yet they truly stood in solidarity with them and sought to empower these communities to liberate themselves from the chains of oppression through eternal principles that elevated humanity. What they achieved in the human sphere was unparalleled by any other leader but it was first and foremost fuelled by a higher view of man that wished to see the divine evidenced in our human world. They left legacies far greater than themselves and believed that principle always triumphed over politics.
It is clear that both sides of the American political spectrum evidenced a lack of integrity, honesty and principle, to a greater or lesser degree. And whilst it was thought preferable for many to choose the lesser of two evils in this election (whichever side you came down on), going forward it is imperative that our conversation AND action moves away from partisan politics towards creating the next generation of leaders who are led by a vision bigger than themselves, where higher-order thinking overrides human will and ego, and where grace and humility in servant leadership empowers practical solutions that truly unite our troubled world.
Then, and only then, will we ALL truly get to live in the world we deserve to live in.
From local to 'glocal' - how participatory theatre empowered enabling, global leadership for L'Oréal
These past 6 months have seen me working in partnership with L'Oréal and CEDEP in a series of 'Frozen Picture' workshops that have helped L'Oréal senior management to understand new ways of thinking about leadership as the company continues to grow and expand it's global operations.
Like many companies, L'Oréal is looking to understand more about the shifting landscape of maintaining a strong brand as the company moves into new markets, whilst also leading and empowering their regional teams to be innovative, entrepreneurial, 'enabling' leaders that are able to develop new products and services for consumers around the world.
We started with leading workshops that use the technique of 'Frozen Pictures' as a way to encapsulate key ideas in this space. Participants were asked to sculpt a 'Frozen Picture' in teams, that looked at 'the situation in L'Oréal as it is now', before creating a second picture that considered 'the ideal situation as we would like it to be'. Having gone from examining the challenges they were facing right now towards a vision for the future, participants were then asked to create a third picture showing 'the image of transition, or transformation' - how do we get from where we are now to where we want to be?
This is a powerful technique that I often use in workshops, usually as a forerunner towards the deeper behavioural change work of Forum Theatre. L'Oréal have found the workshops of immeasurable benefit in helping to visualise and, most importantly, physicalise ideas that were being discussed 'in theory' in other training workshops they were holding across the company.
At one of their leadership retreats, we were also asked to design a performance, that offered a light-hearted look at how the company could respond to nimble start ups that are able to get to market more quickly and easily than the larger cosmetic companies that dominate the market. L'Oréal participants were asked to design their own response to the performance we developed, in short skits and plays that offered humorous solutions to these new competitors.
The overall experience has been transformative for L'Oréal. Some of the participants have had this to say about their experience:
"I was really amazed at how we could be working and having fun in such a collaborative mode. Very interactive in a very short time'
"'How we can be creative and collaborative just by taking action - by 'doing'"
'It was great how, in such a short time, we all realised how creative, competitive (!) we are and how we could channel this in the company'
'I was amazed at how easily it was to work with people that I hardly knew'
'I had so much fun'
"Every team brings a different perception....and it shows me that even if we have different perceptions we have the same alignment'
'When we let go by having fun....you can really create a connection that is much stronger'
'It is amazing how you can relax and have a lot of energy at the same time. The character building was especially interesting and how the story developed....the process can help us think about how we got to the end product'
'There was a very common aligned spirit. You know exactly where you are standing and what needs to be done.'
"It was striking to me to see the level of warmth, kindness, that enables complicity. You want to 'do' together'
If you are interested in having Caroline and the Hua Dan or Scheherazade team work with you on global leadership, creativity and innovation within your company, and doing business in emerging markets, please contact her here.
Earlier this year, I taught a course in Theatre for Social Change at Principia College, a liberal arts college on the banks of the Mississippi in Illinois.
It was the first time for me working in the US and was an exciting time, working with an enthusiastic bunch of 12 college students, in a project that also enabled us to try out our skills in a project with local youth at Alton High School.
I shared with the college students my experiences of working in China, the historical context of theatre for social change, exploring visionaries and practitioners such as Bertolt Brecht, Augusto Boal, Paulo Freire and eastern European playwrights such as Vaclav Havel whose writings inspired the beginnings of the Velvet Revolution and the fall of the Eastern Bloc.
We did a 'deep dive' into the writings and practise of Augusto Boal and his famed Theatre of the Oppressed, which has been foundational to my own practice. We looked at the Forum Theatre intervention and tested our learning on the college community in a Forum Theatre piece on the discrimination that international students experienced at the college.
Our work at Alton High School used techniques such as group character creation, hotseating and Forum Theatre too to explore issues that young people in the community face, issues such as drug abuse, homosexuality, single parent families, friendship issues and truancy. Having never worked in the so-called 'developed world', it was fascinating to see the constraints we faced as theatre practitioners working in the community, receiving little or no support from the larger school community, whilst simultaneously developing a loyal following from the students for being able to address the issues they face in a 'real' way.
Augusto Boal is a huge hero of mine and my experience in Illinois brought home to me echoes of Boal's own work when he was exiled from Brazilian dictatorship to Europe (to Paris indeed!) and discovered that, whilst people living in the so-called 'free world' did not experience political oppression, they were equally, if not more so, oppressed by the 'cops in the head', the mental limitations they imposed on themselves.
The 'This is our Story' project was a huge success and the young people excelled themselves in a Forum Theatre performance held at the local Jacoby Arts Centre with their parents and teachers. Some of the feedback we had on the project included the following:
“Through the work we have done with Alton High School, I have found that theatre is an effective avenue for not only addressing issues essential to the community, but also to empower the actors and the community at large. In this process, I have grown as an actor, realized important values that I want to promote in my community, and discovered an amazing way to inspire others [through] open dialogue about critical issues that effect [sic] their communities, and the world.”
“Theatre will always be a light in a dark place, but after reading Boal’s work and seeing forum theatre in action, I think theatre for social change is a bonfire in a dark place. It’s dangerous and contentious and stirs in the minds of the people, but ultimately it’s [sic] light attracts and it’s [sic] heat stirs fire within.”
You can listen to a radio interview here and read an article on the project here.
In his celebrated commencement speech at Stanford University, Steve Jobs, the legendary founder of Apple, relates a story where he dropped out of school and decided instead to take a course in calligraphy. Jobs acknowledges that this taking calligraphy had no obvious application in his learning at the time but, 10 years later, when he was designing the Mac, the design principles came back to him. “It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle……in a way that science can’t capture". The experience was transformational for Jobs and foundational in his understanding of typesetting and was to form the basis for how fonts were eventually developed on the Mac and had a wider impact on the PC industry as a whole.
When I was studying drama at university in the early 2000s, it was reported by the Institute of Directors that a drama degree offered the most transferable skills of any degree. The degree I took involved assessment not only in traditional methods such as exams and essays, but also required me to develop a business plan for a theatre company, bring together a performance, produce a video, design and build sets, as well as run and manage a community programme with drug addicts. In short, my success depended on my ability to build management and leadership skills, collaborate with others and build accounting, finance, marketing and administrative skills. This all in addition to the conventional academic study of any higher education.
An insightful video by Pearson education talks about the role the kinds of transferable skills that drama brings. As the video mentions, ‘Studying drama helps develop key business skills such as negotiation, leadership and collaboration. It also boosts confidence, teamwork and creative thinking. Drama provides key transferable skills that would be useful in any industry’. Katie Evans, an economist who worked on the 2013 report of the Economic Impact of the Arts and Culture, goes further on the role that the arts has more generally on the economy: “Arts and culture contribute to the national economy in an enormous number of ways and have a significant impact. In 2011, they [the arts] contributed £5.9 billion pounds to UK GDP and on average, between 2008 – 2011, they provided 111,000 full-time equivalent jobs.”
I believe that my passion for and opportunity to study the arts, particularly drama, has had a direct impact on my career as an entrepreneur. Having attended drama school from a young age, it was constantly drilled into us the competitive nature of the theatre and film industry and the need to differentiate oneself from the thousands of others likely auditioning with you. We were encouraged to be persistent, to continue to develop ourselves as actors and performers and to be prepared to take on any job that would build ourselves as a diverse and multi-talented performer.
These were certainly not lessons the average school student would receive but I have found that those skills served me well as I built my enterprise. But there are other lessons I have learnt. When a performer takes to the stage, it is extremely important that he or she develops the freedom that comes from fearlessness, to be able to respond to whatever experience is thrown him. You can learn all the lines you have, rehearse umpteen times and have the best director in the world, but when it’s just you and the other actors up there in front of the audience, your skills of improvising and letting go of self are the only things that will carry you through.
As Steve Jobs notes, it was his ability to ‘connect the dots’ with the different things he had learnt over his life that stood him in good stead to become the entrepreneur that he did. And it was his artistic pursuits at a young age that contributed significantly to his success. Irrespective of whether one becomes an actor or a calligrapher, the skills learnt in the arts provide a sound basis for our lives, whether one becomes an entrepreneur or an employee. And they are critical to ensuring that we all become the fearless, creative and daring individuals that we are capable of being.
We don’t often hear of examples of inspirational leadership coming from China. Most media about the country today is focused on her economic growth and the wealth of entrepreneurs cashing in on the countries changing fortunes. Worse still, there is a growing conversation within the country and without, on the breakdown of social values in the relentless pursuit of personal wealth. Indeed, a few years ago, there was a case of a young migrant child who was run over by a car and failed to receive any help from passers by. The video went viral and provoked a debate around the state of society in China today.
At Hua Dan, we are doing our bit to inspire the next generation of young people in China with values that will see them through the societal challenge that the country will face in the years to come. UNESCO have themselves recognized the importance of education for sustainable living and talk about the values needed to be instilled in all children for the betterment of our world.
I was inspired to read a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor on Liu Xiaobo, China’s famed dissident and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Liu has been a prominent human rights activist in China, was actively engaged in the formation of Charter 08 and has been detained in prison since 2009. In the article, Liu is quoted as saying that he has no ‘personal enemies’, and maintains he has no hatred of the police officers and prison officials who detain him. He goes on to say that ‘Hatred can rot away at a person’s intelligence and conscience. Enemy mentality will poison the spirit of a nation, incite cruel mortal struggles, destroy a society’s tolerance and humanity, and hinder a nation’s progress towards freedom and democracy.’ (Christian Science Monitor, 11th December 2014)
As the article points out, Liu is part of a long line of dissidents in history who have drawn strength during their trials through refusing to allow hatred into their thinking.
Given the political environment in China at present, it is not surprising that he has come up against resistance from the government. But if one was to step aside from his politics for a moment, and purely to examine his own behaviour and conduct, it is encouraging to see someone who is transcending a material view of society in favour of a more visionary expectation of himself and his fellow man. Liu is challenging the prevailing view that we are victims of the circumstances around us and, indeed, that humanity is capable of going beyond the restrictions that society would place on us. Irrespective of the society we find ourselves living in, we have a choice as to how we are going to go ‘above and beyond’ the dominant way of thinking.
This is, to me, what makes Liu so visionary, and China would do well to be proud of a son who can inspire the world with new ways of thinking about leadership, both leadership of self as well as of others.
The dictionary defines an ‘entrepreneur’ as: ‘a person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so’ (Oxford American Dictionaries).
It’s interesting to note the connection with risk.
As an entrepreneur myself, I’ve never really considered myself a ‘risk-taker’. Rather, I would say that my strong belief and passion for my cause means that I simply cannot conceive of NOT moving forward with entrepreneurial activity. It is the drive to create the change, in despite of, not because of, the risks involved that inspires entrepreneurship. I would even go so far as to say I hate taking risks! I certainly don’t like failure any more than the next person. But I guess it also comes down to what you consider the risk to be.
For me, the risk of not stretching myself, not making a contribution, not trying to do something, was a far greater risk than the loss of money or a life of security which, it seemed, is the ‘risk’ one must take when becoming an entrepreneur. It’s not such a practical decision to become an entrepreneur and, indeed, if you even have to weigh up the pros and cons of starting your own business, I suspect you are not really a natural entrepreneur……
At the age of 8 or 9, I started my first entrepreneurial initiative Watson’s Newspaper. Initially handwritten on ‘No Frills’ notebook paper, the paper included jokes, stories and letters and was designed to be read by other children in the high-rise apartment blocks where I lived as a child in Hong Kong. I would weekly take the number 10 minibus into my father’s office in Central on my own, and photocopy my carefully handwritten notes, to be stapled together and distributed amongst my friends. After several editions, it was suggested that I began to type it up and my father’s secretary kindly offered to do this for me.
The real fun began when the father of one of my mother’s friends, offered to submit some poems and illustrations about a fictional bear that he had created for his granddaughter. They were beautiful and original and become a huge hit amongst my readership. Further opportunities unfolded as someone in the community paid to advertise their furniture sale within our pages and the newspaper attracted it’s first investment of HK$500 from my grandfather! I remember taking the decision that this money needed to be spent on photocopying as I was unable to use the photocopier at my father’s office that week for some reason. I didn’t want to delay publication for my eagerly waiting public so, instead of investing the money into a longer-term project, I made the decision to be customer-focused and keep the promise of publishing on time. Although others questioned my decision at the time, it laid the foundation for a value I have always held dear, of keeping your promises and exercising integrity in business.
The investment took off, though, and, although I had to leave Hong Kong a short while after, I handed over the paper to a friend (business negotiations and signed contracts included!) and a year or so later the paper was featured as a front-page exclusive on the South China Morning Post’s children’s supplement. I believe our readership reached several hundred by this stage, and had sales in many other parts of the territory than it’s original starting point in Scenic Villas.
I guess Watson’s Newspaper not only opened my eyes to entrepreneurship, but encouraged that entrepreneurship to have a social focus. And those key lessons from setting up Watson’s Newspaper stayed with me.
It is interesting to note that few entrepreneurs, if any, started their businesses with the aim of making money. It seems to me that they were motivated more by the idea of providing a product or service that was, as yet, unmet in the market and were driven by the excitement and passion of creating the product or service, or making a positive difference in this world, rather than the idea of being able to sell the business and retire to a tropical island with exclusive access by private jet. Money was a bi-product of success, not the motivation for it. Even the likes of Steve Jobs, Richard Branson and Anita Roddick for example, all for-profit entrepreneurs, didn’t stop from creating, evolving and launching new ideas in the marketplace when they were already financially secure. It seems there is something else that drives the entrepreneur.
Perhaps, in the word’s of Steve Jobs, it is the desire to ‘stay hungry, stay foolish’ that keeps us alive and pushing forward to create, innovate and inspire.
The French have a slightly different way of using the word ‘global’ in comparison to how it is used in the English language. It refers not only to matters of the world, but also to a sense of completeness, of the whole, of the sum total of an idea. It seems to embrace the totality of what it means to be ‘of the world’.
This word was brought up in a conversation with a friend recently, when talking about what it means to be a ‘global citizen’. It seems this term is over-used today so it was interesting to explore something deeper in our conversation, to describe the opportunities afforded to those who consider themselves to be ‘global’ and what that means for our world too.
This is particularly important in the aftermath of the UK General Election, with the threat of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU now a realistic possibility.
I am a British citizen who has lived abroad for the last 15 years of my life, 7 of those years in China, now living in France. This election was the last time that I will be allowed to vote in the UK if I continue to live abroad. Although it could be argued that I should not necessarily have a right to vote on the government of a country that I don’t live in any longer, my desire to vote was based on the opportunity I had to make a stand for how I think Britain’s leadership in the world is still significant and I wanted to make at least a small contribution to how that leadership takes shape.
What has been difficult for me in this election is to find a way to vote that truly reflects the global world we live in. Perhaps it is inevitable that voter priorities are inherently local but, from the vantage point of a UK citizen living abroad, especially one who has lived in China, my understanding of the need for Britain to ‘think globally’ is frustrated by the evident lack of coherent policies for engagement with China, for example, or even a lack of hubris in it’s relationship with the EU in light of the more global challenges we face.
Perhaps more critically, as someone who hopes to make a positive difference in the world is that, my absence from the UK for so long means that I would never be a credible candidate to stand for election, should I wish to make a change to the political landscape myself. I have never been especially interested in running as a political candidate and, like many young people today, feel disillusioned with politics as a means to change the world. But the way in which our political system works means that political office is restricted only to those with local affiliations, and not those who might have that more ‘global’ view. To me, this is a big problem as the lines of global power are being re-drawn and we face unprecedented challenges to our security, well-being and economic stability.
I am part of a group known as the Young Global Leaders, an initiative of the World Economic Forum that identifies promising young leaders under the age of 40 to be part of the Forum networks for a 5 year period. They seek to provide a platform for the leaders to go from ‘success’ to ‘significance’ within their time in the community through a combination of attendance at forums, participation in educational and leadership development opportunities and through building and taking part in initiatives. A key criteria of membership is that these young leaders have a global perspective and, invariably, that they have lived and worked in several countries, speak many languages and travel regularly.
One of the initiatives that the YGL community works on is a taskforce to encourage more young people to consider going into public office. The Forum identified that not many young people of today were interested in working at government level and, as such, there was a deficit of leadership talent in this sphere. It would seem that bright young things today are far more likely to go into the corporate sector, start their own non-profit or become entrepreneurs, than work for the government.
Our current structures mean that global leadership is defined by those who have been elected at the local level, almost always along party lines. The Presidents of the G8, for example, are in their position by virtue of a majority of their compatriots electing them to that position. The credentials of these candidates, therefore, to really bring a truly ‘global’ perspective to their leadership is questionable and it can be argued that they don’t necessarily have the legitimacy to wield such power on the global stage where their decisions affect the lives of those who have had no say whatsoever in their appointment. Can this continue to be a truly democratic model of leadership and governance in a globalized world? Furthermore, such a model leaves out the possibility of those who have no exclusive local affiliation but have the experiences and perspective of a more global citizenship, which could bring a more nuanced approach to geopolitics and the challenges of leading the whole world forward – together - into the future.
What I see emerging amongst my YGL colleagues and others like them is a new breed of global thinkers. Individuals who have demonstrated a commitment to serving humanity across countries and cultures, and have developed a truly ‘global’ way of looking at things. It is the ability to think in a more comprehensive way, to return to the French definition of the word, feeling comfortable in the world, whilst also being specific to the local context. To be ‘in’ the world, but not necessarily ‘of’ it. Fundamentally, it is the capacity to not restrict themselves to a purely national identity which can narrow vested interests and agendas, but can reach beyond the layers of a purely outward identity to a deeper, more profound appreciation of our common humanity. This, in turn, brings a more nuanced approach to local issues too. To me, this is what it means to be truly ‘global’.
At a recent conference I attended in China, one of my fellow panelists suggested that entrepreneurship was the new breed of global governance. To paraphrase, she suggested that success as a young global leader today would be characterized by how many companies or non-profits you had started, rather than which multinational you had worked for.
That concept of ‘entrepreneurship’ is now being applied to an initiative within the YGL community, through a dialogue on what ‘political entrepreneurship’ means. I am interested to see how my colleagues define this but I’m also keen to explore how we need to reshape our governance structures in light of what it means to be a truly global citizen. The aftermath of the election highlighted debates on the need to change the UK voting system to better represent the opinions of the populace. But there is a need to also reshape those global governance powers too. If the UN and other global governance structures have a need to be reshaped, what new models might exist? Can we foresee the emergence of an elected body of leaders, for example, unhampered by local or political affiliations, but with the experience and perspective of a more deeply-rooted ‘global’ understanding to lead our world? Or perhaps a conglomerate of entrepreneurs, artists, business leaders, elected officials and spiritual thinkers, selected according to their contribution to humanity rather than their national identity? Could it be a network of small and medium sized enterprises, as a counter-balance to the power multinationals wield today? Or even, perhaps, the idea that the future of our world lies in our youth and, as such, only those under the age of 40 have any right to shape the decisions for our future? The recent announcement from Sandi Toksvig that she is about to launch a Women’s Equality Party was further reinforcement that the lines that represent our political affiliations are continually being redrawn.
There are many and varied possibilities as to the future of our world and I invite below your ideas and ‘blue-sky’ thinking on what is possible. As terrorism continues to wage war on our world, regional conflicts escalate and some of humanities biggest challenges of natural disasters, disease, poverty and social inequity continue to grow, we need truly new ways of thinking about what it means to be a true ‘global leader’ and to find the right structures to once and for all banish these issues of human suffering to their rightful place as an historical event not an eternal truth.
This way, we open the door to new views of what it means to be ‘global’, ensuring we aim for that larger sense of completeness in our shared humanity that the French word so beautifully describes.
I am a huge fan of Sandi Toksvig. She is one of the funniest comediennes I know and I am an enthusiastic listener to BBC Radio 4’s The News Quiz, the weekly news programme she presents.
Last week, Sandi announced that she was stepping down from her presenter role in order to found a new political party, The Women’s Equality Party. In listening to a political debate a few days ago, involving female representatives from the major parties in the UK, I had questioned to myself why we didn’t have a women’s party. So, I was thrilled to hear that many others were having the same idea and were bringing the idea to action!
In a recent interview on Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4, Sandi made the point that, if women make up over half the world’s population, it is right and appropriate that they should have representation that reflects their interests. When asked why the party should not be called simply ‘The Equality Party’, without the ‘women’ part, Sandi replied that the lack of women’s equality per se is still such a big issue and that, critically, women’s equality would have a beneficial impact on many such other equality issues as disability, racial discrimination etc.
I am hugely in support of what Sandi is doing, not least because it opens up political participation into broader ideas of how we should be represented at governance level. In Britain, party politics have traditionally been represented according to attitudes to work, capital allocation, economics. We have unquestioningly accepted that these should be the vectors through which we make decisions. What I find with many of the thinking women I encounter is that their increased participation in leadership positions is encouraging a re-evaluation of the principles that guide our choices. I believe it is no accident that there is now a wider awareness of discrimination issues, climate change, wealth gaps, corporate social responsibility etc than there used to be before women become more prominent in public life. So I think Ms Toksvig is onto something when she argues that women’s equality will naturally include more equality for all.
We often fantastise about whether the world would be different if it was run by women. During the financial crisis, for example, there was an oft-quoted questioning of whether Lehman Brothers would have collapsed if it had been Lehman Sisters. I’m not so sure that is the solution and I’m a firm believer that we need balance, rather than extremes, that a truly visionary world is one where men and women work together to bring out the very best in the expression of masculine and feminine qualities and capabilities. Like many women (and men), I am disillusioned with the present political leadership, not just in the UK, but globally. But I hope very much that Ms Toksvig’s party will bring a more nuanced understanding of what our world truly needs and that she helps re-write the paradigms of our male-dominated world.
It’s not always easy to talk about spirituality in the realms of business and politics. At best it can be seen as a harmless tool to make a harsh life that little bit more comfortable, at worse, it’s associations with religion and radical politics casts a shadow with more sinister connotations.
But it is heartening to see a growing willingness to talk about the role that spirituality plays in leadership and social change, and it’s role in transformation.
I’ve written before about the leaders that have been role models for me. Leaders such as Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Aung San Suu Kyi and Mandela were those whose leadership did not only bring change to their countries and the causes they cared about but also left a lasting legacy on the world. They demonstrated an understanding of the higher principles of equality, justice, compassion for all, universal principles for all time that went beyond the specifics of their individual work in establishing civil rights in America, freeing India of oppressive colonialism and ending apartheid in South Africa. As Martin Luther King himself wrote: "A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God.” (King, Martin Luther (16 April 1963) “Letter from Birmingham Jail”). For him, and other leaders like him, it was imperative to bring to our human experience God’s vision for humanity
I was inspired recently to come across the work of Dr Scilla Elworthy, a three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee and the founder of the Oxford Research Group that was dedicated to forging dialogue between nuclear weapons policy-makers worldwide and their critics. In a recent article in The Guardian she wrote about the need for leaders to recognize that their most important job was to work on their inner self. In her article, Scilla talks about the importance of creating space for reflection, mindfulness and inner work. She emphasizes the importance of being authentic and eliminating all fear to enable you to work with and for others. Beyond learning technical skills, these inner skills that a leader needs “are vital in really transforming the world: skills to build trust in their teams, resolve conflict quickly and effectively, and speak truth to power.”
She goes on to say: “Self-awareness at the individual level is what can enable each person to wake up and do what’s needed to ensure our future on this planet – to change the world from the bottom up. I’m certain a different future for all humanity is possible, if only leaders wake up.”
For her, meditation and other reflective practices are not sufficient. We need to honestly examine ourselves and have the courage to go beyond our individual needs and think less of the ‘I’ and more of the ‘we’.
Further research on this remarkable lady uncovered a philosophy of a need to bridge the inner and the outer world and the connection between deep spiritual inspiration and wise radical action. In a delightfully inspiring video interview with Andrew Harvey, she also talks about the need to work on your own emotions if you are going to work in the development sector. As she so eloquently says, you simply can’t lecture someone else on how to do things better if you haven’t worked through your own stuff! She remarks how important it is to train yourself to develop your own inner power and the need for honest self-questioning.
This reminds me of a time in my life when I felt I wasn’t really achieving very much. I’d had just come out of a period of my life, starting and leading an NGO in China, that had involved intense personal sacrifice for work that I was inspired to do but that was emotionally draining and I was exhausted. I needed to take time to recover, ‘restore my soul’ and reflect on all that I had been through and wanted to do next. The months turned into years and I went on a deep journey that required all my energy just to keep afloat. It was harrowing and painful, beautiful and inspiring, all at the same time. But, I have also come to see that it was completely necessary for the next stage in my journey.
The spiritual lessons I had to learn included serious work on eliminating self-doubt and, much more profoundly, understanding that love was all that really exists.
I learned that I needed to find a true sense of my own value to ensure that I looked after myself enough to continue to be able to give to others from a position of strength. This period of growth enabled me to meet my husband and begin a new chapter in my leadership journey.
I can see now that this process of inner reflection enabled me to touch the depths of my core purpose in life. That it was a process of self-examination that purified and freed me of pride, ego, self-justification and fear. It allowed me to restore and cultivate the pure inspiration and commitment to love that had first characterized my journey. It gave me the time to become more truly myself and to develop the reserves I needed for the next great adventure. More critically, it gave me the space and time to be a better person and, by extension, I hope, a better leader.
This, for me, is what it means to ‘do the work’.
I am a trained actress and founder and director of Hua Dan, one of China’s first and leading social enterprises. Hua Dan uses the power of participation in drama-based workshops to reveal and develop individual and community potential. Hua Dan has a particular focus on working with China’s rural-to-urban migrant workers, particularly women, who work in the manufacturing and service industries, at the heart of China’s economic boom.