Leadership as a Sacred Trust

Cropped image of Jim Robinson at a GW Podium speaking

By Jim Robinson, Executive Director, GW CEPL

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the George Washington University.

Lately, I have been doing a lot of thinking about the existential threats to our lives on this planet as a species. If you watched the presidential debate on Sept. 29th, you may have been dismayed, as I was, by the limited and backward thinking displayed by both of the debaters.

To adapt to a rapidly-changing reality, our thinking must reach a deeper and more fundamental level. It is a critical leadership skill to engage in real and substantive dialogue that is able to creatively integrate multiple points of view. We do not need to merely "come together" or engage in some kind of superficial healing that brings a shallow peace, with no justice. Without justice, there will be no sustained order.

Viewed in the light of this existential perspective, I ask myself, "What if our mission as leaders at this time in human history goes beyond serving our organizations and their particular missions?"  What if we are being called to develop people with a higher level of consciousness and the requisite capabilities to be "conscious co-creators" of our own evolution as a species?  What if we are called to be co-evolutionary partners who are consciously making choices and taking actions to evolve our species and regenerate our planet?

Leadership in this time requires an acute awareness of our deep interconnections and profound interdependencies as well as an abiding sense of stewardship for our planetary resources and mutual support systems.  Our survival requires our own inner transformations as well as scientific and sociocultural advances.  We must take our skills of collaboration, peace-making, conflict resolution, ecological thinking and planning, racial and cross-cultural inclusion, dialogic communication, partnership, innovation, risk-taking, and more to whole new higher levels of practice.

We must grow fundamentally as people who transition from fear-based thinking and reacting to a consciousness of possibility and emergence that enables us to create beyond apparent limitations and irresolvable conflicts.  We must grow from designating people as the "Other", which sets the stage for us to denigrate, exploit, and abuse them, to a realization that there is no "other" and that what we do to those others we have already surely done to ourselves.  We must move from thinking and reacting that is trapped in a paradigm of lack, limitation, and insufficiency to a kind of possibility thinking that is freed by a consciousness of "infinite abundance" and "plentitude".  This expanded consciousness will support our ability to discover solutions to our seemingly intractable problems.

So, what if our role as leaders is to grow ourselves and develop our people to have the kinds of consciousness, capabilities, and courage to participate in co-creating our future on this planet?  What if this is the sacred trust that we have been given?  What if the people we have been given to lead are actually part of a larger sacred trust in which we are participating?  

And, what if our organizations exist to provide the fertile developmental soil for evolving as a species of human beings desperately needed at this time in earth's existence as a planet that continues to support human life?  If so, would we lead differently?  Would we create organizational structures, processes, cultures, and other conditions that encourage and enable self-agency, personal and technical mastery, teamwork, racial and cultural inclusion, social synergy, ecological thinking and decision-making, and personal commitment and accountability?  Would we be more authentic and lead with more integrity?  Would we model trustworthiness and transparency and allow others to do the same?  Would we speak our truths to power and encourage others to do the same with us?  Would we actively create growth opportunities with and for those we lead?

I am not saying that serving the missions of our organizations is unimportant and that we should drop everything and just send our people to training classes full time.  I am asking us to accept the challenge of making the development of our people as important a mission as achieving the goals of our organizations.  I do realize that this can be a significant challenge.......especially when much of our work seems so distorted by the fallout of world pandemics and the resulting resource reallocations and budgetary constraints.

It is all the more challenging because so many of our traditional organizational structures, processes, and hierarchies drive counter-evolutionary thinking and reacting.  We have to reexamine some of our tried and "untrue" leadership practices which both limit the growth of our people and stunt our development as leaders.  How can our leadership practices better serve the purposes of our organizations, while, at the same time, serving the development and evolution of our people?

I can imagine that some of you may be thinking, "Jim, I have people who are challenged to show up regularly and who, when they do show up, are unlikely to do much productive work......they don't seem to be much into evolving themselves anywhere, anyhow, or for anybody".  I get it.  I really do.  However, I bet there are others who are more than ready to amaze you and themselves with their creativity, commitment, accountability, wisdom, and evolutionary potential.  Don't stunt their growth by creating a culture attuned to the poorest performers—by managing to the lowest common denominator, so to speak.  Start with them and yourself.  How can you liberate their potential and yours as an evolutionary leader?

I ask each of us to think about what is at stake during this time on our planet.  I believe that we are all here to step up to the challenges past generations have created and which the legacies of their misguided thinking persist in creating.  We have to step into our "Sacred Trust" if we are to do our part to evolve our species through and past the existential crises we are now experiencing.  We, as leaders, are capable of more than we believe.  We can transcend our self- and culturally-imposed limitations,  and so can our people.  We are the right people to have been chosen for a time such as this!