Leader know thyself

September 14, 2012 | By | Add a Comment

Before students or managers can embark on becoming capable leaders they must take a close look at themselves and carefully consider what they find (warts and all). Leaders need to identify their inner core, or higher self, which can help guide them through turbulent periods. An integration of body, mind, heart and soul is an important pathway to strengthening such an inner connection.

While most students find it easy to connect to their inner place of stillness and meaning, only those who train in self reflection can develop a solid connection to their core that can reliably resist fear, pressure and uncertainty. Guiding students through their personal development therefore requires a facilitator who has the personal experience of such a connection – as well as possessing the skills to hold the space for students to discover and explore their inner selves in their own time and manner.

Does responsible leadership require “great men and women” in order to succeed? From the moral realm, we could make a case that integrity is a cardinal foundation of great leadership. In the broader realms of responsible leadership, I suggest we replace competencies with four critical cornerstones which map back to the moral virtues of Aristotle and Plato:

  • Critical reflection: the capacity to reflect the “whole” when taking action and to reflect on the self and situation when doing so.
  • Practical wisdom: the ability to draw on timeless knowledge and insights and to exercise good judgment when making decisions.
  • Moral courage: the strength of character to defy convention and the drive to translate responsible decisions into action.
  • Global inclusion: the capacity to engage and lead others for the common good.

Graves reminds us of the danger of looking for ideal or perfect states of human existence. His work highlights the emergence within humans of new bio-psycho-social systems that are created by the interplay of external conditions with neurology. His eight-stage hierarchy of human development proposes a framework that guarantees neither timeliness nor direction.

According to Graves, human beings and societies as a whole can both progress and regress, depending on circumstances and internal states. His framework includes the two basic notions of human beings either trying to make the environment adapt to the self, or the human adapting to external conditions. He calls these “express self” and “deny self” systems, whose rhythmic motions add a cyclic aspect to his theory.

A human being and society as a whole is an open, dynamic and emerging system that is in constant interplay between an inner state of consciousness and an external environment. Recognizing the dynamic perspective of a leader or leading group rather than seeking to push or pull the person or collective towards a desirable end state represents a significant stepping stone to a new paradigm of leadership and human development.

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