Originally published at The Embodied Life
By Richard Strozzi-Heckler Sensei
Cultivating leaders is important. Cultivating leadership virtues in everyone is important. Leadership is also a fourteen billion dollar industry in America. Leadership is romanticized, lionized, fêted, trendy, faddish, fetishized, commoditized, a social marker. It’s now possible to obtain a Ph.D. in leadership, it’s studied in academia and think tanks, and it appears endlessly on You Tube; according to the consulting firm McKinsey two thirds of executives say that developing leaders is their number one priority. As far back as Lao Tzu, the writers of the Bhagavad Gita, Confucius, and Plato have generally agreed that leaders should be authentic, courageous, compassionate, trustworthy, accountable, selfless, honest and so on; the same virtues we hear in leadership studies today. The image that the media parades in front of us as the holder of these virtues is a white guy, with a square jaw, a power tie, and a massive desk with a Mont Blanc pen on it. Yet, a 1990 study from the University of San Diego showed that various writers on the subject define leadership in more than two hundred ways. Indeed that number has surely grown in the last twenty-six years to emphasize that the term leadership has come to mean anything we want it to-that is, a multiplicity of things to a wide assortment of people; even though most of our problems are too complex to be handled by any definition of leadership, or a single leader. The current carnival of our presidential nominees reflects, if nothing else, the deep confusion we have about leadership.
Still leadership is important and the cultivation of leaders is important. What we teach at SI is that values and virtues be embodied in leaders, distinct from what they say about themselves. That is: they are the virtue and not only what they pronounce they are. Being the virtue or trait is of primary importance.
In addition, what I want is leaders to face into their shadow; the unconscious wishes, hopes, and desires buried deep in the recesses of their psyche. I want them to look at what is lurking in the dim alcoves behind the stage lights? What are the background narratives, emotions, and moods that are secreted behind ideologies and cheerleading spectacles? I want leaders to face into their dusty, sightless back rooms. I want to hear what they’re afraid of, where they need help, what are the triggers that turn them into conditioned patterns of reactivity, what are they running from, what do their partners say about them, what are they learning? What are the background impulses of the righteous finger pointers and condescending fist pumpers? The leaders we see on the media are upholstered versions of what true authenticity can be. If there is no sincere effort to struggle with our inherited perceptions, prejudices, and biases that we assimilate through an indiscriminate cultural process with no single author, we are more apt to lean towards violence, prejudice, hate, and domination. No thank you.
I want leaders who have the courage to open the windows and doors of the hidden, unattended rooms, scrub them clean with a wire brush until they see what’s there, and claim it with love. The more we are aware the more we are in choice.
Take It Easy But Take It.