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A leader is any person with a pulse. Beyond that, one’s effectiveness as a leader is largely determined by the interplay between two things: Life, and your ability to learn from it. So, the essential question for us to answer is: what does effective learning look like? Effective leadership is a bi-product. Obviously, I am not merely talking about the memorization of facts and data and case studies here. This kind of learning is a deeper, more complex and personal pursuit – a life-long practice. In large part, it involves an understanding of the principles of holism, for human nature is comprised of a dynamic range of intelligences including the emotional, social, physical and spiritual. We are, as many contemporary theorists will argue, so much more than just an IQ.
When we step up to life from a holistic perspective and choose to learn on many levels, the journey becomes a fascinating adventure. Our lives unfold around us in a constant flow of possibilities, some subtle and others, deeply profound. I believe it is our responsibility to fulfill our unique human potential and that a holistic, experiential approach to learning is an integral part of a sustainably-lived life.
We are living in a time characterized by fundamentalism, intense competition and the persistent popularity of myths and perceptions of finality. We are bombarded with messages like, “we’re running out of time” (due to aging, the resurrection of ancient calendars, prophecies, computer programming errors, etc), and “we’re running out of resources” (oxygen, food, space, power, trees, money). We even say things like “we’re running out of ideas”. If this is true, it suggests we are, indeed, running out of Life as we know it. It seems to me, however, that much of this discourse is part of a Global Culture of un- Sustainability. Sadly, modern responses to our modern crisis lead well-intentioned citizens to act “green” more out of anxiety than love.
But what if we really think about leadership and sustainability holistically? What if we take the courage to explore our own truth and simply lead ourselves wherever the road less traveled may take us? Most of our focus on sustainability is about the environment. But what about spiritual, mental or emotional sustainability? Is a fundamentalist driving a hybrid living sustainably? What about an organic gardener with an addiction, or an avid recycler who eats meat and smokes? Or, how about the burgeoning lefty nouveau-riche with their expansive villas, private pools and regular long-haul flights? If they buy a green education for their children are they absolved of further need for change and personal growth? Who, if anyone, is actively involved in effective leadership towards sustainability?
The more we can think about what we have to learn in terms of our own personal mental, emotional, social, physical and spiritual growth, the more effective and powerful our contribution will be to a genuine, globally-realized culture of sustainability. The real irony is that, in realizing this, we arrive back at the beginning, asking the same questions that the thinkers and sages of previous generations dared to ask. When you look at our contemporary challenges holistically, sustainability is just a modern word for Enlightenment.
Ben Tamblin is the founder & Executive Director of the Odyssey Institute. odysseyinstitute.com