I am very excited to inform readers about the coolest conference, that I attended virtually, on topics like good leaders, collective well being, narratives of love, and steps to a loving and kinder world. The conference is the 5th Spirit of Humanity Summit: Towards a Loving World during first week in June 2021,which was hosted in Reykjavík, Iceland over three days, but, participants were from around the world. A dear friend forwarded the link to me and I was able to virtually see some of the wonderful presentations. The taped sessions of the summit are on line, in case, readers are interested in viewing them. The summit began by addressing and acknowledging the suffering in the world impacted by this pandemic, especially, in communities with high risk social determinants of health, like lack of economic opportunities, poverty, instability in housing and inequity in health care and educational systems. The focus of the summit was the importance of reconnecting with core human values of love and compassion to create effective political, economic and social policy, and practices by global citizens, including leaders, to reshape a world where our collective well being is key. The argument is that we need to envision pathways to a more loving, kinder world. I totally agree.
The prime minister of Iceland , Katrin Jakobsdottir, made a critical point which is that a society cannot prosper when citizens are reporting poor well-being or quality of life. She discussed that she developed a commission which interviewed people in Iceland about what does “well being” mean to them. According to Katrin Jakobsdottir, the commission researchers found following factors as important in the well being index. The list includes : 1) good health, especially mental health and access to high quality health care, 2)work-life balance and good relationships, 3)affordable secure housing, 4) good education, 5)target of zero carbon commissions by 2030 for ecological health, and 6)better communication systems, including digital communication. Katrina Jakobsdottir emphasized is that in order for effective social change, people have to engage in inner personal transformation. This is so true. When one brings forth loving and compassionate interactions with other people, most people react in kind ways. Katrina Jakobsdottir discussed that when a person, including a leader, is internally immersed in fear, chaos and anger, he or she cannot be part of effective social change. I agree with her 100 percent.
In terms of health and well being index in the United States, mental health needs are noted as critical in the United States, as in Iceland. According to a recent Centers for Disease Control survey, 40% of US adults reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues. The survey was conducted in June 24-30 2020 time period. Research from Society From Human Resource Management) SHRM released findings in 5/2020 that 41 % of employees in the U.S. reported burnout and 23% reported feeling depressed and hopeless. The report indicates over 1 out of 5 employees experience a tangible loss related to COVID in their jobs, such as, lack of opportunities, benefit of job etc. Interestingly, over 1 out 3 employees reported not having coping tools to deal with feelings of burnout and only 7% have reached out to mental health professionals. The study also found that people more heavily impacted by pandemic stress were: women, younger workers, people living with health care provider, essential worker, elderly family and people with immunosuppression health conditions.
However, this post is not about resolving the complex issue of mental health needs in the world. This post is a reflection of some of the ideas discussed about effective leadership, in alignment with core values of love and compassion, at the Spirit of Humanity Summit. The discussion is on redefining leadership as selfless, service oriented and motivated on collective well being of communities, which are steps to creation of a kinder and loving world.
Leaders who promote collective well-being.
When I think of leadership, I think of political leaders or CEOs of major organizations. However, this summit presented the radical notion that we are all leaders in some aspects of our lives: as parents, teachers, school administrators, university professors, government officials, health care or business professionals. The idea that a leader’s love and compassion, in developing well-being for the people and communities he or she serves, is a key factor in effective leadership. Effective leadership is not fueled by what can I get out of this, but, how can I empower and serve communities and create wellbeing. There is an element of selfless service with love and compassion to others, which characterizes great leaders. Good leaders are service oriented and thus allow “others in the team or community” to shine when they do good work. A spiritual component is that the leader is not serving his or her ego, but, the “larger than self” community .The ultimate example of leadership through agape love through service is Christ’s leadership of his disciplines where He washes the disciples’ feet before the Last Supper.
The website, www.teamgnatt.com, discusses a style of leadership called servant leader. This style of leader prioritizes people’s and team’s successes over establishing his or her power. The success and growth of the employees and governance are critical, whereas, ambition of the leader takes a back seat. The art of effective listening and empathy demonstrated by servant leaders is critical.
The article, The Real Summit Picture is When Everyone is Back Down , highlighted for me what good leadership looks like. The article talked about a group of people setting out to climb to the top of Mount Everest. The best leader of the group is not the person who climbs first to the mountain top and “wins”. The best leader is determined by when the whole group returns to base camp after reaching the summit of Mountain Everest, and then, the leader ensures that everyone in the group is safely back in base camp. This analogy spoke volumes to me about good leadership looking out for collective wellbeing. As parents or teachers leading a group on such a trip, that is what one does. One is not worried about making it to the top of the mountain first, but, ensuring that the whole team is successful in reaching the top and safely returning to base camp. This model of leadership makes sense to me. I believe that effective leaders are not concerned about who wins or loses, but, the collective well being of the community. Effective leaders ensure the protection and well-being of not just majority, but, also minority groups. Effective leaders need to be able to work with people having different perspectives.
Leading with empowering and inspiring the governance for collaboration
What does effective leadership look like? I found this fascinating article about effective leadership in wolf packs. Wolf pack leadership includes the alpha male and female. Wolf packs are effective in survival because leaders make decisions in the best interest of the group and the leader empowers different wolves based on their unique strengths. I also found it fascinating that the leader of wolf pack is not the strongest or loudest, but, has capacity of inspiring other wolves for group collaboration and cooperation. Group collaboration includes different wolves sharing responsibilities about taking care of the young and sick or elderly wolves. Some wolves have “healer” roles in taking care of the sick. The elderly wolves are respected for their knowledge about survival. The mentality fostered in wolf packs is that group functioning is more powerful for survival than individual wolf. The hunt of prey includes wolves acting in harmony and following strategy.
The goal of the pack is to take care of each other. An interesting note is that “bad behavior” of an individual wolf, who threatens the cohesion of the group, is corrected by others. Another aspect of wolf packs is resiliency. This means that the group leader assesses the group performance, and likelihood for successfully catching the prey and may decide to terminate the mission if the conditions are not favorable to the group. The leader shows assessment skills and re-strategizing based on novel situations. The leader’s role is challenged if he or she presents with negative attitude. It is not about leader’s ability to dominate others.
As a side note and stepping away from wolves, I have seen human leaders, as parents, coaches and teachers, who inspire others in the teams to put forth their best effort. Inspirational leaders see the best in people, identify people’s strengths and set up tasks where people succeed. Inspirational leaders seem to have a growth mindset where, failures are opportunities to learn from, develop better strategies and increase chances of success. Inspirational leaders separate shame and guilt feelings from failures, and , reframe failures as part of the human condition and possible growth opportunities. Another aspect of inspirational coaches, teachers and parents are that they embody the belief that one day the student or child will develop greater expertise and outshine them and they welcome this. Impactful teachers and coaches are not threatened by talented students. Great teachers and coaches see our potential when we may not be in a space to envision our strength. They lift us up. I am so grateful for the wonderful teachers and supervisors who have shaped me.
I believe that good leaders have the humility to step back and give credit to the team because he or she realizes that success is a team effort. My experience in social service organizations is that social issues and problems are complex and one person cannot solve all the problems. It takes partnerships, interagency collaboration and good working relationships to succeed in developing innovative and effective delivery of social services. An effective leader builds collaborative work environment for accomplishing goals, instead of division and distrust in the team. I also believe that effective leaders are not threatened by talented members of the team. Just as wolf pack leaders, effective leaders empowers the team member to work on tasks which tap into his or her strengths. A leaders who is easily threatened tends to shut down development of talented key members. Effective leaders are also quick to correct a toxic member of a team, who jeopardize harmony and collaboration of the team. This is very important in creating a supportive community.
We are all leaders in some aspects of our lives. We need to be good, effective and inspirational leaders to create collective well being in the communities we serve. The Spirit of Humanity Summit redefines effective leadership, as characterized by loving and compassionate values, where leaders are service focused in creating political, economic and social policy and practices for the collective well being in their communities. I am all for a kinder, compassionate and loving world.
I will end with Howard Washington Thurman. He was a grandson of former slaves. He became a brilliant scholar, professor, theologian, possibly the greatest preacher of the twentieth century (according to Life Magazine), and a prolific writer. Thurman was a mentor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and met Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore of India in one of his travels. He is known as unsung hero of the civil rights movement. Thurman is said to have inspired Dr. Martin Luther King to merge the nonviolent movement of Gandhi to the civil rights movement. Thurman was the first pastor to cofound a multifaith and multiracial church in the United States. Incidentally, Katarina Jakobsdottir, Prime Minister of Iceland, ended her speech at the Spirit of Humanity Summit with a quote from Thurman’s philosophy of great leadership.
I am so impressed with Thurman’s educational philosophy that a student must understand self as a “human being” and accept oneself which is key to character development. Thurman discussed the relationship of character and leadership and that a visionary leaders must seek the truth. Thurman talked about the “inward journey”, the relationship between “personal transformation” and and yearning for social justice. He argued that integrity, honesty and taking responsibility for his or her own actions are key to successful leadership. I will end with Thurman’s quote.
Kipton E. Jensen (2020) (2020) writes that what “Thurman wrote in 1960 is doubly true today”. Thurman wrote :
We are living in a time of revolutions, technological and social. Our reaction to these revolutions may be one of fear, panic, and despair. We may in our reaction be stripped of all hope and all confidence not only about the meaning of our own lives but about the significance of the future of mankind. Or we may in our reaction be inspired to deeper commitment to higher purposes and more meaningful resolves to the end that in us the dreams of mankind that are cherished will be worked at with fresh vigor and new hope. How we react is our responsibility – and from this there is no escape.