Who Can We Trust to Lead? is what we all want to hear in a speech, but won’t.
Collectively we have a distorted view of what it means to be a “leader” and this has had an enormous impact on our well-being. Leaders don’t commit to ideology or policy or profits. Leaders commit to people. This understanding, this social context, is everything. It gives meaning to our choices and actions. When we shift this context, this viewpoint, we can see different options, make different choices, and take different actions.
Leading is a commitment to bring people together in a shared purpose: to establish common ground and serve the greater good. This commitment is applied in different aspects of life, such as business or government. Many people are in positions of authority never having made this commitment or given thought about what it means to be a true leader; we assume that by being in a position of authority we are a leader. So, business executives or politicians are not necessarily leaders and it would be an understatement to say that there are plenty of executives and politicians along with educators and religious people who are not leaders.
The essential common ground for leading is our shared humanity. So, what serves our shared humanity, our greater good? Universally, as human beings we care most about our dignity and well-being and:
- Being understood not judged, accepted for who we are and what we believe.
- Being respected not controlled, granted the freedom to choose.
- Being responded to as a human being, not from any ideology such as liberalism, conservatism, capitalism, socialism, fundamentalism, and so forth. We want to be granted equality, and life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
In truth, we can only choose trustworthy leaders when we are willing to take a stand and lead our own lives from the common ground of our shared humanity. This means:
- We care about our own and everyone else’s dignity and well-being.
- We seek to understand and accept everyone.
- We respect and grant freedom of choice to everyone.
- We respond, human being to human being, in a way that enhances life for all.
We have not only allowed, but also admired, others who have material success and/or fame even though they may have exploited – taken advantage of – us and/or the system. We allowed ourselves to become objects for their benefit. We are not objects to be used for someone else’s benefit or to sustain an ideology that separates us from one another. When we choose, our dignity, self-acceptance, self-respect, and self-worth are there for the taking.
As an example, in business, true leaders do not stand solely for profit. The original reason for corporations was to serve a public purpose and so, benefit society without the direct participation of government. If capitalism embraced an unwavering commitment to transparency and holding itself accountable for serving, not exploiting people, the environment, or the system in the name of profits, then we wouldn’t need the levels of regulation, organized labor or social support that currently exist. The “free market” isn’t “free” when it takes advantage of another. And we all are paying a huge price. By focusing on profits and not serving the greater good, corporations have caused and continue to generate the very things that they fight. Time and again, we have proven to ourselves that businesses that focus on purpose, people and the greater good generate significantly greater profits. These are companies we all admire. How much evidence do we need?
Acquiring wealth or profits are not “wrong” or “bad” as long as no one is exploited and well-being and financial security are generated for all. There is something “wrong” when six business owners are each worth $1B and make $450M per year yet the majority of their workers are without health insurance and cost taxpayers $1.5B per year because employees are paid too little to afford basic needs.
As another example, in government, true leaders do not stand for policy or ideology, which are nothing more than ideas and opinions. Our current political discourse is nothing more than showmanship, taking things out of context and spun, to prove we are “right” even when we blatantly misrepresent the facts. So, members of Congress who signed a “no new tax” pledge, by and large have failed us as leaders. The same goes for those who obstruct forward movement of anyone and anything that does not agree with their policy positions, instead of joining with and inviting others into a conversation about what is best for all of us with harm to none.
Obstruction is not leading. Some may call it arrogance, others may call it ignorance. We do know members of Congress are not leading, so it is no wonder 80% of us disapprove of how they are doing their job. We think we are represented. Look again. The only groups that are really represented are businesses, corporations and organizations who pay the lobbyists. This is what the original Tea Party was about: No taxation without representation. Who proposed and voted for the financial bailouts which maintain the status quo at our expense? Perhaps businesses and corporations should pay all the taxes.
If we, and the powers that be, cared about everyone we wouldn’t see taxes as a burden to be avoided. Rather, looking at the big picture, we would choose what makes sense for the government to take on and see that taxes are one way that we contribute to our collective well-being and fulfillment, and we ensure that they are fair, based on an ability to pay for both individuals and businesses. Paying taxes can feel as “good” as contributing to a cause we believe in, when we believe in the importance of our own dignity and well-being and the dignity and well-being of those around us. In fact, recent polls show that we are willing to pay higher taxes for our dignity and well-being.
All countries need to practice financial responsibility. There is enough wealth in this country to do so without causing or increasing hardships for some. Cutting taxes while initiating and maintaining expensive wars is irresponsible. Continuing tax cuts for the wealthy while undermining the well-being of others is corrupt.
Similarly, political platforms and religious dogmas are belief systems of our own creation that lay out the rules of the game if we want to “belong.” In large part, they seem to be exclusionary, self-serving, judgmental, and seek to impose social controls. They don’t bring people together on a common ground; they separate. This is not leading. When we dictate how others should live their lives in any way, it is arrogance. At 116, the world’s oldest woman, Besse Cooper, credits her long life with “minding her own business.” Lesson learned.
All the while, we espouse religious values. There is no scripture in this world that condones exploitation which is nothing more than stealing from and enslaving others. Our hypocrisy is rampant, saying one thing and doing another. And, leading is a sacred trust.
Ideologies are stories we tell ourselves about how life should be, generally based on self-serving self-interest and maintaining control. Then, we distort facts to make them fit our story lines. We all do it. We actually believe our own stories are true and real. There is a word for this from the Lewis Carroll children’s poem: Jabberwocky. The “jabberwock” is an imaginary, nonsense monster, a story. We have a shared story, we created it. Our story has been a sham, like the Wizard of Oz, to maintain wealth and power in the hands of a few. It’s time to pull back the curtain and expose our own power. It’s time to come home to ourselves and write a new story.
There is nothing inherently “bad” about political, business or religious ideologies. They are incomplete perspectives that limit possible solutions. Take a look around. It’s pretty evident that any polarized viewpoint taken to an extreme is destructive to society. Compromise is ineffective in the long-term; it sets up endless cycles of competition, for winning and losing, divisiveness and domination. What is needed is balance and integration in our solutions so that they encompass all perspectives, including opposing viewpoints. Establishing common ground and serving the greater good is the purpose of leading and the foundation that brings us together in collaboration and cooperation.
Over this Labor Day weekend, we were at a clam bake. After we ate, 2-and-a-half-year old Katelyn, belted out her favorite songs – some pretty good renditions of the Star Spangled Banner and It’s a Grand Old Flag and ended her performance by reciting Jabberwocky. This is The Dream of our children. The Dream we all share is not about material wealth, power or fame as some would have us believe. The Dream is to for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, to be fully human. We can rebuild The Dream that offers everyone the opportunity to experience and fulfill their greatest potential – ultimate self-awareness – giving deeper meaning to what “USA” stands for. We can go on as we have, or we can choose to redefine what is important in our relationships with one another and with life. Katelyn’s message to all of us: If we stay caught up in and submissive to the jabberwocky, we are neither free nor brave. Our commitment to lead our lives ensures freedom for all.
We are in this together. The only sustainable way forward is full collaboration and cooperation based in our shared humanity. Our collective well-being has no room for self-serving self-interest, with winners and losers and exploitation of anything. This means we consider the whole, and take action for the greater good, for both individuals and the collective, in every facet of life: business, government, education and religion.
In 1988, Piper Alpha was an oil platform that exploded and burned in the North Sea, killing 167 and injuring 61. One of the survivors, Andy Mochan, jumped nearly 200 feet into a frigid sea covered with burning oil. He said it was either “jump or fry”, certain death over probable death. Andy chose life. A colleague, Daryl Conner, witnessing this on a newscast at the time, coined the term, “burning platform” to describe “the intensity of leadership commitment and resolve” that is required for change. This means having the tenacity of a pit-bull to lead our lives. We have the capacity to figure our way out of this “mess” we have created if we burn all of our platforms, our jabberwocky, take a leap of faith, and come together in collaboration and cooperation instead of in mindless competition like Roman gladiators fighting to the death.
Interestingly, the first .com company was registered in 1985 and the late 1980’s saw the start of our political divisiveness. The irony is that the Internet and other technology, while increasing our ability to connect exponentially, has also provided an outlet for us to broadcast our ideologies, driving us further apart. So we have lost sight of what really matters: Our interpersonal, human relationships and our collective well-being.
Our nature is to want to come together and contribute. Leaders help to channel this desire and energy for our collective well-being. Leaders act from our inherent connection, our interdependence, knowing that in harming one, all are harmed. Leaders earn the right to be trusted, the right to lead, when they care about the well-being of every single person.
Leaders lead through their clear commitment to our value as human beings, consistency of thought, feelings, words and actions with this commitment – this is true integrity – and inviting others’ commitment through free choice, not coercion or force. Yes, there will continue to be executives, politicians, educators and religious people who aren’t leaders. And, some individuals and organizations will misrepresent facts – lie – to attain or maintain their power over us, counting on our indifference or ignorance. They are out of integrity with and don’t stand for what matters most: We are human beings. We can simply stop listening to and following them, stop playing their game by their rules, and giving them power over our lives. We can also stop being angry at people in leadership positions for not “fixing” things for us. This is playing victim. Leadership – leading others – cannot be faked. One is either in integrity or one is not.
Western society values “winning” above all and getting more than we give, doing something because we will get something. So, while it may be difficult to admit to ourselves, we helped to create this. When we fully accept without judgment, blame or shame that we contributed to our current state by our own complicity, self-serving self-interest, or apathy, we can move forward and choose to lead our own lives and stand for one another as human beings. Everyone needs to admit culpability: politicians, corporate executives, business owners, educators, religious people, the media and us. There are no “saviors” except all of us. We are the creators of the world we experience. We are the ones we have been waiting for. No one will care about us until we care about ourselves, our freedom and sovereignty to lead our lives.
Leading our lives means taking positive, life-affirming action. Leading our lives means paying attention and being informed. Leading our lives means breaking free from our conditioning that it’s OK to take advantage, to “beat the system”, to “get away with” something, essentially, to get without giving. Leading our lives means making conscious choices for the world we want to experience for ourselves and everyone else, not blindly following ideological conditioning. Leading our lives means reclaiming our power by not voting for politicians or buying from companies that see nothing wrong with taking advantage and using others for seemingly unending personal gain. Exploitation is a house of cards that has taken too much and it’s about to collapse.
Establishing common ground and serving the greater good through care, understanding, respect and responsiveness is love. Who can we trust to lead? Ourselves, as we take steps to lead our lives from love, which acknowledges our interdependence with others for creating our lives. This is leading as love. When we live this way we can harm no one. Love is the level of commitment and resolve required of a burning platform. The only other choice is fear. If it harms or makes anyone suffer, it is based in fear, and we are caught in the jabberwocky. Choose again, for love. Once we understand what it means to be a leader, our choices and actions become crystal clear and we trust ourselves to make the “right” choices. We are at this crucial cross-road and the choice is ours which way to go. Which way will we choose for ourselves, the next seven generations and beyond?
Some will be disappointed that we didn’t “name names” of who can or can’t be trusted to lead. We don’t need anyone else’s opinion. We sense when someone is out of integrity with our humanity and we don’t like them. Look inside and we know who can be trusted: who truly cares about, understands, respects and responds equally to every person as a human being. We also know who acts in self-serving self-interest. If we can’t find what we are looking for, look in the mirror. Who am I as a human being? This is what we will see in others. And, no one can lead others until they lead their own lives free of the jabberwocky.
Don’t wait for the “other guys” to take this up. Without reclaiming our freedom to lead our lives, we are as oppressed and controlled as those living in and fighting dictatorships, although more subtly. We can make the choice right here, right now. Step back and watch the dominoes fall.
Who am I to say all this? Personal experience. I’ve made it my life’s work to learn about leading. I’ve observed so-called leaders. I’ve worked with so-called leaders. I strived to help businesses earn money the “right” way. At times, I felt powerless, dismissed and disregarded, my contributions not welcome. I am not alone. I am sure that others feel the same way. We shut down, hide what we have to offer, and tell ourselves it doesn’t matter. It matters greatly. It is the difference between truly living, leading our lives, and being the walking dead.
I was briefly part of the 1%, earning $200K year. I have been part of the 99%, losing my job at least 6 times. I have depleted my own financial resources and accepted some from family members, all for something that, until now, I didn’t know what “it” was. Serving the greater good kept me going. I’ve experienced just about everything that is good, bad and ugly that life has to offer. I have learned to pay attention to what’s behind the curtain and make informed choices. I’m on the same burning platform that we all are on and have chosen to take an empty-handed leap off the edge into freedom from my own fears and into the unknown. I have learned what it means to be a leader. I’ve learned to lead my life . You are just like me.
We won’t create well-being by debating ideologies. This is the jabberwocky. We create well-being by reaching for and living a higher truth: Power to the people, we the people, as we lead our lives. Common ground. Greater good. Care. Understanding. Respect. Responsiveness. Leading as love. Love makes a leader a leader. This is the only pledge that matters.
However we choose, we either stay locked into the past or create the future. It’s time to raise our own awareness, refocus the conversation, and initiate action in what really matters in our current social context: Leadership. Shifting the social context is an ultimate “change intervention”; it generates ever expanding change.
Who Can We Trust to Lead? is like a rose petal in the desert wind. Not sure where it will go. Not sure where it will land. Not sure who it will reach. I trust it will serve its purpose. Thank you for your time, attention and consideration for what this means in your own life and the lives of those you love.