Transcendent leadership was introduced as a global imperative at the 2007 World Economic Forum in Davos. Over the last 10 years, two threads have appeared defining what a transcendent leader is.
The first thread — doing — relates to the topic of profits, people and planet, as outlined by John Jacob Zucker Gardiner, professor of educational leadership at Seattle University. The second thread — being — is the internal transcendence from our lower nature (self) to our higher nature (Self, Soul or essence).
Merriam-Webster defines transcend as:
1. to rise above or go beyond the limits.
2. to triumph over negative or restrictive aspects.
Transcendent leaders rise above or go beyond the limits of self, moving into Self. They triumph over the limitations of what might be considered acceptable or possible. The small “self” operates from a limiting exclusive focus on scarcity. Transcendent leadership operates from “Self,” precipitating an unbounded, inclusive focus on abundance.
Within all leaders is an inner wisdom. Quieting the self allows the voice of the leader’s Self to emerge. Transcendent leaders demonstrate multidimensional awareness. The more open the leader’s consciousness is to awareness at all levels, the more impact he or she will have on their outer environment. Being leads doing.
Leading from Self allows each stakeholder the freedom of full expression. In this environment, dialogue is open and inclusive. Open dialogue reduces the amount and severity of unintended consequences that are part and parcel of autocratic leadership.
Autocratic leaders often get caught up in limited data, information and knowledge cycles. When they reach the limits of knowledge, they search for better data to start the cycle over again. Consider how many corporations have IT resources focused on “Big Data.” The belief that “knowledge is power” often results in an addiction to control.
Transcendent leaders examine their own and other stakeholders’ inner and outer experiences that materialize from data, information and knowledge cycles. Leveraging these experiences, and any insights that emerge leads to a wisdom moment. These small wisdom moments become the new data leading to radically different information, knowledge and outcomes.
What qualities reflect leading from Self?
Unconditional acceptance is not acquiescing. Many interpersonal conflicts revolve around value differences and behavioral choices. One person, because of culture or how they were raised, might have a very different value hierarchy than another. These differences can create values conflicts when the individuals move into “right or wrong.” Cultural wars happen inside large organizations because of value differences.
Transcendent leaders choose to accept, but not necessarily agree with, the value differences of others without labeling the person as right or wrong. They still make a choice as to what values guide their organization.
Reverence for another shapes how the transcendent leader views all stakeholders. Reverence, following the Greek definition, is a state of awe for another Self. When you reach deeply into your Self, you are reaching into the very spirit of being human. This essence reflects our depth of consciousness and we gain wisdom about our interconnectedness.
Transcendent leaders have a responsibility to embody and teach reverence within their organization.
Wisdom guides us to stay present when we interact with our stakeholders. Most leaders have so much going on that they are distracted when they could be practicing deep listening while in dialogue with another. As psychologist Carl Rogers described it, you are listening from a place of unconditional positive regard. Deep listening strengthens your capacity to connect with your essence and the essence of others you work with.
Being present opens the leader to have a greater understanding of diverse experiences. Insights from all stakeholders can be applied for the greater good of all concerned. Presence builds wisdom of the group, which is substantially different from group think.
Presence requires discipline. Transcendent leaders develop the discipline to be present despite distractions, no matter how pressing
Courage, coming from the heart, guides us to suspend disbelief, and to let go of old identities and definitions of “us versus them.” Courage allows a leader to hold to the conviction of Self. It takes great courage to reflect on our experiences that the small self may have judged as good or bad. In many organizations, judgment causes experiences to be swept under the rug and any subsequent learning available to all stakeholders is overlooked.
Transcendent leaders facilitate the opening process within and between stakeholders. Choosing not to label — an act of courage — allows them to see growth opportunities that others cannot.
Operating from a consciousness of service, transcendent leaders bring the wisdom of showing appreciation for Self and all stakeholders. Gratitude is derived from the word “grace.” Living in a state of grace or gratitude extends past positive thinking and increases the optimism, compassion and energy within an organization.
Transcendent leaders use Self-compassion and compassion for another to unlock the doorway to wisdom.
A major challenge faced by all transcendent leaders is to operate from a consciousness of the “highest good of all concerned.” Summum bonum is a Latin expression meaning “the highest good.” Many authors, from Plato and Aristotle to modern authors such as Robert Greenleaf and John-Roger, have woven this principle into all of their teachings.
The challenge for transcendent leaders is defining who is a stakeholder when discussing “all concerned.” Does it just include owners and employees? Does it also include suppliers and, if so, how far down the supply chain does this extend? Does it include the communities where the suppliers operate? This is where the Self builds outer actions looking specifically at people who are responsible for profits and planet. Again, being leads doing.
Becoming a transcendent leader often requires revising traditionally held beliefs and practices. This is not only possible and practical; it is proven to be highly beneficial, and perhaps is even required to meet the imperative laid out at Davos in 2007.
By Gregory Stebbins
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