Authentic Leadership in Turbulent Times
Sharif M. Abdullah
|When our days become dreary with low- hovering clouds
and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, we will know
that we are living in the creative turmoil of a genuine civilization
struggling to be born.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Part One: Mega-Crisis and Global Chaos
1. What is a Crisis?
2. What is a Mega-Crisis?
3. Global Chaos
Part Two: Slow Motion Armageddon
Part Three: Authentic Power as a Spiritual Practice.
1. Cats and Rats
2. What is Authentic Power?
3. Power and Responsibility
Part Four: The Power of the Spirit
1. The Power of People
2. Love, Compassion, and Leadership
3. Pathways to Authentic Leadership
4. Living Within The Truth
Part Five: The Rising Tide -- A Sustainable Future in 20 Years
- or 20 Months.
1. 4,000 days... and counting
2. A New World Order
3. Toward Homo Sapiens Holonus
4. Practicing the Power of One -- Right Now
Afterword to the 1995 Edition
Reading this book is a subversive act. Not subversive in the sense that I'll teach you how to become a terrorist, or give you the plans for home-made pipe bombs. It is subversive like the Civil Rights campaigns of Martin Luther King, the fight for independence of Mahatma Gandhi, The Greenbelt Movement of Kenya’s Wangari Maathai, the Velvet Revolution of Czechoslovakia's Vaclav Havel.
We spend our time in frustration, protest and anger, because we have not encompassed the power of one committed person. We have created a system out of control, too large and complex for any of us to comprehend. Every day, by our every action, we support, prop up, bolster that system. Even those who take to the streets in protest against the injustices of that system give it unwitting support through their acknowledgment of its power.
An individual, acting alone, acting from the depths of their commitment, can change the world. That is something "the system" does not want you to think about. It is a subversive thought.
It took a long time for me to conduct the lectures which comprise
the body of this book. I felt unqualified to talk about leadership
and power. I wanted someone else to come forward and write this.
I didn't feel that I had worked out my personal "stuff." I have fears;
I have doubts; I have weaknesses. I felt I had to get my challenges
worked out before I was qualified to speak.
Almost everyone reading this is in the same boat. You are unsure, uncertain, trying to make sense of turbulent times. You may feel unprepared, but ready or not, here comes the Third Millennium.
The time has come for a new understanding of power and leadership. The old ways simply don't work anymore. The old explanations don't explain anything. As someone recently said, the world events we face are too important to leave to the politicians.
Our current system is no longer adequate for our needs. Our society has gotten far too complex for any one person to understand. We act, having no idea why we act.
We fumble around, looking for direction, as we head closer to the chasm. In a time of chaos, we see all of the dangers and none of the opportunities.
We drift, bickering, fighting, arguing about who is to blame for the present morass. All of us must share the blame. We spend much time focusing on the immensity of the problem, trying to assign blame; we are reluctant to focus on a solution.
We fail, because deep down inside, we don't feel the problem even has a solution. We propose alternatives as a gesture, out of guilt, with the deep belief that nothing will change for our efforts.
We continue to place implicit faith and trust in institutions which constantly fail us. We do this, because the alternative is to admit our own failures.
This simply must stop.
The times call for a revolution. A revolution in consciousness.
That is the purpose of this book.
Part One: Mega-Crisis and Global Chaos
What is a Crisis?
What is a crisis? Do I have a crisis when I can't find a parking space? When the phone rings at 5:00 in the morning and I don't want to get up?
Asian languages are constructed in a way that gives an enhanced meaning to everyday words. In Chinese, the pictogram for the word crisis is "dangerous opportunity." The two words are joined, "danger" and "opportunity."
In sometimes mysterious ways, a crisis creates the tension point from which we act. The purpose of a crisis is to point us in a direction, to show us the danger and to point us to an opportunity. There are actions we would not take unless faced with a problem. We look at a dwindling bank account and suddenly we are doing something about it. What we call "mid-life crisis" is a call to expand to a sense of self larger than our habitual actions.
Everybody knows the recipe for Frog Soup: one frog, boiling water, season to taste. But, if you drop a live frog into boiling water, it jumps right out. You have to put the live frog in lukewarm water; it will just sit there, comfortably. Then you slowly raise it to a boil. By the time the water starts to boil, the frog will be so damaged it won't be able jump out.
I use this rather gruesome example to illustrate a point.
We are all frogs. We are now the prime ingredient in global Frog
Soup. Things are getting worse and worse. The quality of our
lives is slowly deteriorating. And, if we don't "jump" soon, we will
reach the point of no return. This, our lives and challenges of the
1990s, is our "dangerous opportunity."
The Nature of Chaos
If a crisis represents a specific event, a certain dangerous opportunity, chaos is the non-specific accumulation of crises. In a crisis, once you fix it, once you weather the storm, it is over and you can go back to living your life; changed in some perhaps profound way, but you again reach "normal."
Chaos is not like that. "Normal" has gone away forever. Things will never be the same again. Take for example the peasants in France and America in the 1770s: "normal" is working hard, paying taxes to the crown, living a simple life. Along come the democratic revolutions which bring sweeping changes, competing loyalties, expanded responsibilities, new allegiances, a frightening array of options and opportunities. The end of "normal."
Chaos is the non-specific accumulation of crises.
In the past, we have attempted to change political and economic systems without first changing the underlying consciousness.
The dominant consciousness paradigm of our society is "I Am Separate." Even people who are committed to ecology and peace movements continue to hold to the "I Am Separate" consciousness pattern. Seeing oneself separate from other individuals and separate from the environment creates the culture of racism, sexism and other modes of oppression and class consciousness.
The emerging consciousness is "We Are One." I see myself as interrelated and interdependent with all others and with the environment. I see each of us as a reflection of the other. The emerging paradigm creates the concept of community. The emerging paradigm supports the institutions of democracy and social justice.
When a society attempts to change its institutions without first changing
the underlying consciousness, we wind up with affirmative action regulations,
formalistic quotas and set- asides, environmental bean-counting, all to
be swept aside and forgotten at the first opportunity. Changing consciousness
will cause the real, meaningful and lasting institutional changes to occur.
Slow Motion Armageddon:
The Inadequacy of Current Notions of Power and Leadership
The Old Power Responses
Our current leadership is plagued by linear, hierarchical, left-brain thinking. Linear thinking can only see and respond to immediate, short-term, "cause and effect" problems. The mega-crises which make up global chaos happen so slowly they are difficult to see.
When faced with a crisis, our current leadership exhibits habitual responses which get in the way of effective action. These habitual responses include:
What problem? There is no problem.
Every year the members of Congress point their fingers at each other in blame. And every year they are right.
The furthest reaches of the blaming behavior is creating an enemy. For decades, people in the United States defined themselves by what they were against: communism. We could label everything we were afraid of, everything we did not understand, everything that kept us from having our way with the world as "communist."
Is there an environmental problem? I will control the behavior. I will control the spawning of fish in the Columbia River. I will manipulate the genes of trees, so that they will grow when, where and how I dictate. And, in the face of nature's contrary intentions, I will exercise still more control.
The Inadequacy of Old Notions of Power
The old notions of power are ineffectual; old power never addresses the mega-crises; old power evades crises. The outmoded concepts of power are totally inadequate to respond to the world we face today.
Authentic Power as a Spiritual Practice.
Creating a solution also creates the responsibility for implementing the solution.
I sit in meetings of people who very correctly see and analyze the mega-crises. They analyze and re-analyze. They issue reports and studies. These are the same people who come up to me and (quite proudly) recite the latest military atrocity or ecological catastrophe or social travesty.
These committed individuals stare blankly when I ask them to articulate their solution. At best, their stated solution is making someone else act.
We focus on the rats while avoiding the cats because creating a solution also creates the responsibility for implementing the solution. We want someone else to do that. The Democrats want the Republicans to come up with the solution, so they can shoot it down. The blacks want the whites to come up with the solution, so they can criticize it.
Changing focus from problems to solutions, from rats to cats, takes willpower. And nothing else.
What is Authentic Power?
The Power of the Spirit
The Power of People
The most potent force on the planet today is the power of mobilized people. It is also the one most unused.
Look at the number of times mobilized, motivated, committed people have utterly defeated the overwhelming military might arrayed against them. From the "People Power" revolution in the Philippines which toppled the Marcos regime to the overthrow of the Shah of Iran to the crumbling of the Berlin Wall, people around the world have used courage and determination to reshape their lives.
The other side of the “people power” coin is powerless militancy.
We each are less than a footnote in history. We each possess the power to persuade, the power to call others to compassion.
The opposite of my former client's behavior is that of John Woolman,
a Quaker who lived during the 1700s in colonial America. In reading
about that period, I was shocked to find that Quakers in the early days
of this country owned slaves. Mr. Woolman thought that the ownership
of another human being was a violation of religious and human decency.
He went to all of the slave-holding Quakers, over the course of several
decades, quietly talking, convincing, persuading.
Someone said, "culture is what you don't pay any attention to."
Culture is the given, it's what you don't see. We are developing
a culture, a consciousness of global responsibility. We are moving
away from a culture of wastefulness and self-absorption, to a culture where
we are mindful of our duty to each other and to the planet.
An authentic leader does not deny crisis; in fact, her actions may actually precipitate crisis.
The authentic leader keeps us from being overwhelmed by crisis.
The authentic leader helps us to ride the waves of chaos which threaten
to engulf us. The authentic leader does not tell us that life is
easy; she tells us that life is difficult, that if we are not careful,
if we are not willing to make sacrifices, that our choices, our inaction,
may indeed engulf us.
Love, Compassion, and Leadership
and Compassion is the Authentic Leader's Primary Motivation.
The authentic leader operates from a basis of love and compassion. This is the essence of true leadership. If a leader is motivated by love, his actions will be correct, no matter what he does. If a leader is motivated by something, anything, other than love, his actions will be incorrect and inappropriate, no matter how well thought out, logical, or based on fact.
In order to fulfill our roles as spiritual leaders, we must operate from a well of inner love. We must love ourselves enough to take a good, long, realistic look at who and what we are, to operate from a basis of our strengths and to eliminate or transform our weaknesses. We must love others enough to see that, in the final analysis, there are no "others", just people who want the same things we want, but don't know how to get them.
We must love others enough to see that, in the final analysis, there are no “others”, just people who want the same things we want...
"Love conjures up cute fuzzy bunny images. That is love - but so is the hurricane force which can cut us to the bone. For example, there was a story out of Boston of a woman who watched in horror as her five year old child stumbled and fell out of an open window in their four story apartment building. Acting at the speed of love, the mother raced to the window, reached out and grabbed the child in mid-air, and with one hand, hauled her back into the apartment. It was later discovered that the mother's grip was so strong she broke the bones in her daughter's arm. The force of that grip was love.
THAT is the kind of love that will transform the ghetto into a Third Millennium, livable community.
We can get caught up thinking that love is all hugging and kissing
and positive relating. Sometimes that is love, but many other times
it's just passivity, avoidance and denial. Because I love you, I will do
certain things, take actions which may even produce short-term pain.
Because the mother loves her daughter, she combs her hair, which for little
black girls can be a sometimes painful experience. Doctors will break
the legs of seriously bow-legged children, so that the bones can grow straight.
One of my friends locked her drug-addicted brother in a closet for four
days, forcing him to go "cold turkey." All of these are acts of love.
The willingness to extend for the growth of another can be, must be, the basis for domestic and foreign policy for our nation.
The willingness to extend oneself for the growth of another can be, and it is the premise of this book that it must be, the basis for domestic and foreign policy for our nation. We see an example of this in the well-intentioned, although misguided attempts to end poverty in the sixties, or in the Cuban Missile Crisis, in which President Kennedy perceived a direct threat to this country and took swift, decisive action to correct it, essentially "grounding" the teenage Krushchev.
Can you imagine a world in which everyone acts out of love and compassion, instead fear and pain?
Authentic Leader Serves the Universal Interest
Universal interest is the opposite of self-interest. The authentic leader recognizes that his interests are connected to the interests of everyone else on the planet.
The authentic leader does not avoid a threat to his own life, in putting forth his principles. We see that occurring over and over again. Look at the times Dr. King, Rosa Parks, or Mahatma Gandhi put themselves directly in harms way. They knew they could be physically injured or even killed by those who opposed them. That did not deter them.
At that point, personal self-interest dictates that you leave the situation, you avoid the pain. But, the universal interest says that it is important that this act be done; it is important to stand against this injustice.
If it means that I am hurt, so be it. If it means that I am killed, so be it. At that point, the authentic leader has freed himself from those things which society uses to control behavior. That freedom is the basis of empowerment, which turns the leader into a force in the world.
Authentic Leader Practices the Golden Rule
The leader practices treating others the way she wants to be treated. The leader practices "we are One". My interests and your interests are so intertwined that I cannot help you without helping myself.
The continuing Congressional budget muddle is an example of practicing the law of expediency. The question perennially faced by the legislators is: how can you effect fundamental change without offending anyone? The answer? You can't.
Instead of practicing the law of expediency, the authentic leader creates "win-win" situations. Instead of doing what is expedient, the authentic leader does what is right.
When I practiced law, my benchmark for a fair negotiation was whether the parties would be willing to walk around to the other side of the table and accept the settlement. If so, it was fair. If not, we continued work.
Instead of doing what is expedient, the authentic leader does what is right.
Our present society is based on "win-lose." People cannot
even define how they win without defining how the other party loses.
The Authentic Leader is Forgiving
The authentic leader practices something the Tibetan Buddhist tradition of Shambala calls dra-la; above the enemy. Beyond the enemy. So far beyond the enemy that the authentic leader does not have an enemy. Like getting "beaten up" by a two year old, the authentic leader does not have an enemy because she cannot be hurt.
The authentic leader operates from the basis of "We Are One." If we are one, I can't have an enemy. If we all share the same problem, how can you be against me? As the organization Beyond War states, every conflict is a civil war, a war between brothers and sisters.
If we are one, we can’t have an enemy.
Look at the number of times Mahatma Gandhi stated that he wanted
the British to leave as friends. He definitely wanted them to leave;
make no mistake about that. But, he wanted them to be able to come
back, to have fond memories of the friends they left behind.
unforgiveness means being locked in mortal combat with phantoms.
We accept skinheads, industrial polluters, driftnet fishers and social bigots as "the enemy." While I do not condone their behavior, I will not separate from them, I will not make an enemy of them. I will always treat them like the children of God that they are. And, like Gandhi and King, I will transform that person who thinks they are my enemy into my friend. There is an old saying that it's the biggest former sinners who sing loudest in the choir. Remember that it was the anti-Jesus, Roman apologist Saul who became Paul, the evangelist. Think about the powerful allies that the polluters, the racists, the ecological rapists will make when they are transformed into friends!
Is this so far-fetched? Look at the former segregationists
who are now staunch defenders of minority rights. Look at the former
male chauvinists who act as mentors for female executives. Once people
see the light, they willingly make amends for past misdeeds.
Anger: Moving from Protest to Power
Look at the number of folks who are involved in the "anti" movement. Anti-polluters, anti-racism, anti-drug dealers, anti-this, anti-that.
The question is: what are you for? What do you stand for? What are you going to do about this? Stop focusing on the rats: what does your cat look like?
They reply: "If I don't focus on stopping the negative (Apartheid, environmental pollution, etc.), it will get stronger." In fact, the exact opposite is true. What we focus on gets stronger. Focusing on the problem makes the problem stronger. In Vietnam, America focused on stopping the communists. The communists became stronger. Domestically, we have had the War on Poverty and the War on Drugs. Both poverty and drugs are more prevalent. In South Africa, although the form of violence is shifting from officially sanctioned brutality to unofficial acts of violence, the death rate is increasing because of racial and ethnic hate.
What we focus on gets stronger. Focusing on the problem makes the problem stronger.
The authentic leader knows that protest is ultimately a recognition that power lies outside of the protester. It is a negation of the concept of interconnectedness, that I am connected with the problem and the solution. Since it is a negation and rejection of power, it places power in the very hands of those who are being protested. Protest is a recognition of powerlessness.
Each and every person on this planet is a source of power. "There's nothing I can do about it!" is both a lie and a denial of our power and responsibility.
it is not death or pain or loss that robs us of power: it is the fear of death, the fear of pain, the fear of loss that turns the manipulated into victims and the manipulators into terrorists.
Leader Has Released Fear
Fearlessness does not mean that you do not experience fear; it just means that you don't let it stop you from doing what you have to do. A fearless person recognizes and moves through her fear. She sees it, acknowledges it, then continues to walk past it. She then turns around and acknowledges that the fear was illusory.
A person who does not experience any fear is reckless, dangerous and probably in denial (or, a saint, of which there are few.) The authentic leader still experiences the twinge of fear when walking the path of authentic power; she is just not stopped by it.
The authentic leader is fearless because she is dealing with her "stuff". She has clarified her values, her principles. She believes in what she struggles for. She places her principles as a priority in her life. She lives her principles.
Fearlessness does not mean that you do not experience fear; it just means that you don’t let it stop you from doing what you have to do.
There aren't any "hooks" for anyone to jerk the authentic leader around. The authentic leader is running on an internal gyroscope; she cannot be provoked or threatened or co-opted. The authentic leader is internally rich; there is no fear of loss.
Fear strikes at what you most value.
Fear strikes at what you most value. Do you fear losing your life? You can be controlled by a threat to your life. Do you fear loss of material possessions? You can be controlled by a threat to those possessions. How about your fear of losing your social status, being seen as wrong, or bad, or foolish? You have another "hook" by which you can be controlled.
The hook remover is your ability to say "so what?" As Gandhi said, you wish to take my life? Then take it. (Hook removed.) As Dr. King said, you wish to ruin my family and social standing? So what? (Hook removed.)
When you cannot be controlled by others, you are experiencing the ultimate power. When people come together on the basis of being totally powerful, totally fearless, they become unstoppable. That collective energy Gandhi called the "soul force," or satyagraha. When people come together in the context of a positive, fearless mass experience, suddenly the world changes.
When you say, as Gandhi said, "If you kill me, you have my dead
body, not my obedience, you are free. And, until you can honestly
say this, you are not. As long as you think you can lose something,
you can be controlled. The Native Americans have a saying, "What
a wonderful day to die!" A statement like that puts everything else
When you cannot be controlled by others, you are experiencing ultimate power.
The authentic leader is willing to personally suffer and experience setbacks for principles. King, Gandhi, and Havel were punished for their beliefs and outspokenness. Gandhi and King were beaten, threatened, jailed and ultimately assassinated. Havel was forbidden to write, forced to perform degrading work in a brewery and imprisoned.
All three, and countless others, found the strength to maintain their principles while experiencing setbacks and pains.
The authentic leader is willing to address the tough issues. We know what has to be done in this country. We have to stop our over-consumption. We have to make our lives more fulfilling. We have to create a sustainable economy. We have to clean up the mess we have created, in our hearts, in our families, in our neighborhoods.
We know what to do. We know how to do it. The only
thing we lack is the will to walk past the fear of the unknown.
the Rising Tide -- A Sustainable Future in 20 Years - or 20 Months
The year 2000 is almost tomorrow. Not some vague future, but now. The Third Millennium will happen days from now.
The decline actually sows the seeds for a new civilizational order.
The world is changing so rapidly, people are finding it difficult adapting to the new world. Anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson said that virtually all of us are immigrants, born into a culture which no longer exists, finding ourselves strangers in a strange land. Especially for people who are trying to hold on to the old ways, the turbulent times can create dislocation and pain.
A New World Order
The new world order will not be found in the New York Times or on CBS News. By the time the "mainstream" media realizes the change, the change will be complete. And they will be over the edge.
Signs of the new world order can be found in the transformative changes occurring within the former Soviet bloc countries, and within the Soviet Union itself. Examples can be found in the "Velvet Revolution" sweeping Czechoslovakia, which is ending its arms industry, putting 250,000 people out of work, because supplying arms to the Third World is an immoral act.
In this country, one of the signs of the coming new world order is the breakdown of large institutions, including financial, business and government. Once mighty brokerage houses are failing; accounting firms are facing bankruptcy; banks are on the auction block; even the pillars of commerce like Sears have fallen on hard times.
Many people treat these signs with alarm. However, Barbara Marx Hubbard talks about being able to recognize what is breaking through from what is breaking down. In his book, "Voluntary Simplicity", Duane Elgin has a graph that shows the stages of civilizational decline. As one civilization falls, there is a rising curve for the new order. The decline actually sows the seeds for a new civilizational order. Our question is: which slope will we devote our attention to--the one declining or the one advancing?
The old society will turn into the humus for a new civilization.
Recently, a friend was commenting that he felt depression and despair from reading a certain article in the newspaper. I told him that I read the same paper and laughed. I am seeing that indeed the old society is continuing its collapse, making space for the new to emerge. I can feel hopeful about what is breaking through, by looking at what is breaking down.
The leaders of the new society must prepare for an abrupt shift in economic social and political patterns.
In Earth's pre-history, when a dinosaur died, it keeled over, tail thrashing. Even in its death throes, it still packed the power to kill. The same is true for the old society; although it is dying, it still has the power to wage war, consume resources, tax us to death, etc.
For those who want to lock into the old society, who want to revive the dinosaur, it appears that the world is coming to an end. Jump out the windows, slit your wrists, drink the poison Kool-Aid: there is nothing left to live for.
As for me, I say let the old society die. It will turn into the humus for a new civilization. We are the leaders of the new civilization. None of us can predict the future with any accuracy; we don't know what it will look like, but we can be confident it will be more compassionate, more humane, more integrated, more fulfilling than the one we have. We will take the best of the old and merge it with the best experiments in living we are building now.
We, the leaders of the new society, must prepare for an abrupt shift in economic, social and political patterns. The changes could take as long as twenty years to fully manifest. On the other hand, the old society could unravel very swiftly, almost overnight.
There are several quick change scenarios which could bring the old society to a grinding halt. Most of the scenarios involve shortages of oil, money, or both. One way or another, it could all be over in three weeks.
The principal thing that Saddam Hussein did in invading Kuwait was fast forward our crisis. He pointed out our addictions to us. He took the downward curve and shortened it, accelerating the decline. He made our dependencies visible. For that, we should thank him. He has given us our wake-up call. He has given us time to prepare.
I am sure that we will be living in a sustainable, ecologically and socially sane future within twenty years. Standing at what was left of the Berlin Wall, I was amazed at how rapid institutions can change. It can happen that fast here in North America.
A friend said to me that the decline in our society could go on another hundred years. I reminded him that this was the same prediction that Eric Honecker, the former leader of the former East Germany, made, a week before the wall came down. I asked my friend, "Are you prepared to become the governor of what is left of Oregon within five years? If you are not prepared, you better start thinking about it."
We stand on the brink of the next evolutionary step for humankind.
One of the world trends is the breakdown of the nation-states. Who is going to be the governor of Cascadia? That person will have just a little more lead time than the president of Lithuania, or the president of the Czech Republic or Slovakia.
About the Author
SHARIF M. ABDULLAH is a successful
author, speaker, educator, workshop facilitator and catalyst.