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John Wenger

Quantum Shift Ltd.


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Leadership is an inside job pt1


True, successful leadership is as much about empowerment of others as well as the self, says John Wenger.

So the world didn’t end on December 21, surprise, surprise. Here we are in 2013, all systems still intact. I have heard some speak of the Mayan December 21 end-of-all-things-prediction not so much an end of the world, but more of an end of one cycle and the beginning of another. An end of things-as-they-were. Let it be so. Endings can be good and healthy.

I don’t do New Years’ resolutions per se, but I resolved in myself to focus this year on health, from its broadest perspective. I will endeavour to place attention on the health of those around me, the health of the organisations with which I work and the health of those within them. I will place, firstly, attention on my own health, because leadership is an inside job. We must be healthy ourselves. I view health as an holistic phenomenon: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social and relational. This is not merely the absence of dis-ease, but a progressive and thoughtful movement towards greater freedom and happiness. This will come about, I believe, through greater consciousness: a journey, therefore, not a destination. Becoming more aware, in moments, of what is going on for me and others and when it feels unhealthy or unnatural, to seek to do something different. Striving to live this moment freshly and not relying on old default responses.

Often, I suspect, this will involve taking a cynical approach, though not from the modern understanding of cynicism (disbelief in the sincerity or goodness of human motives and actions), but coming from the ancient Greek philosophy of striving to live a life that is in tune with what it means to be naturally human. It seems the time is right to adopt a cynical approach to life; it emerged in ancient Greece as a way of offering the possibility of happiness and freedom from suffering in an age of uncertainty. Uncertainty. Sound familiar?

While I’m in the process of simplifying my life a little, I’m not about to dispose of all my worldly goods as the original Cynics did, sleep in bathtubs and wander the streets with my dogs on a piece of string, but I take inspiration from the attitude of happiness as being linked to living a life in tune with Nature. The healthy life. Challenging false judgements of what is valuable and worthwhile, questioning customs and conventions of how things are done. I cannot do this without extending consciousness. This is why I do the work I do.  Same old, same old (or a pretty repackaging of the 'same-old') won’t create the deep, systemic transformation my clients require.

Like the Cynics, I believe the world belongs equally to everyone, that opportunity for happiness and freedom is for everyone; not just for those in 'power', those they deem as worthy or those who believe that money = power. Genuine democracy, having a voice, having agency in one’s life, actively participating in making decisions which affect us. In life, in work, all over the place. This is a challenge to current convention. In my experience, the best customer service comes from people who are being authentic and human and have the freedom to do so. In my experience, the best leadership comes from those who take an interest in their own learning and encourage others to do the same. In my experience, the best and most humane workplaces happen when everyone is accepting of everyone else in their same-ness and their difference, living and letting live. It is also my experience that none of these things happen by chance or good luck. They come about with consciousness.

"In my experience, the best leadership comes from those who take an interest in their own learning and encourage others to do the same."

Some of what I believe goes against nature and humanity is the (largely unconscious) acceptance of and acquiescence to systems which are unhealthy. It comes through in an attitude that humans are resources, that corporations are somehow 'people', that the reason for getting up in the morning is to make more profit (even at the expense of a rainforest, a community, an ecosystem or some other inconvenient obstacle). I know some may find this irksome, but there is nothing I’ve found in any of the teachings of any of the great historical sages, seers, or prophets that advocates or emphasises owning things for oneself at the expense of others. As far as I have understood, I’m not aware of anything written by, attributed to or uttered by the Buddha, the Christ, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Mandela, Rumi or Lao Tse that delineates capital accumulation as the road to enlightenment and a better life.

I know what you’re thinking: I’m some sort of dangerous liberal, commie, socialist, atheist, pinko abortion-loving anarchist out to destroy freedom and democracy. Or I’m one of those well-intentioned, but muddle-headed, hybrid-car-driving, tree-hugging vegans who still say, 'Peace and love, man." Nothing of the sort. I do, however, go along with Hilary Wainwright and Richard Goulding who write in 'Co-ops help bring economics back to the people,' that “we live in a time when the economics of profit are facing a profound crisis of legitimacy, while retaining a deathly grip on the apparatus of the state.” Something has to give. Zizek has spoken about getting close to a zero-point; what he terms 'soft apocalypse'. Our  ecological, social and economic systems are near breaking point and if we wish to retain all the benefits of a humane society, something different is called for. A new game.

This new game must be, if it’s for the good of everyone, co-created by everyone. It’s no good getting a room full of good-hearted people together, asking them individually to put forward their plan for a better world and then vote for the most popular. This is the point. This is how we got here. We have to do this together. We have to make these decisions together. Furthermore, we have to do this togetherness thing by bringing the best of ourselves to the party. Patriarchal businesses who still operate out of the 'Manager-Knows-Best' mindset perpetuate the disengagement and dissatisfaction in those who work there, no matter how benevolent they may attempt to be and no matter what they try to put in place to mitigate for them. Get out of the way and let people bring their whole selves to work. Give people a bit of credit. And, if we are to create a real sense of 'WE', it behoves us all to invest ourselves in growing greater consciousness and our ability to be with each other. My 'why', therefore, is to push for greater self-awareness and consciousness in the world. This will come about with self-discipline, continued learning and a genuine commitment to diversity and engaging others.

John Wenger is a director at Quantum Shift. This article first appeared on John's blog, which you can access here

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John Wenger


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