“The mix of gentle, reflective and meditative practices, joyful play, hard academia and questioning debate and conversation allowed me to engage with each element in a different way, and preventing me from becoming weary mentally or emotionally from too much of one thing.” A past participant in a week long leadership course in the Lake District, UK, with Jem Bendell and Katie Carr.
Most leadership courses that I know about are taught with assumptions that the world is getting better, that we know what better means, and that students of leadership want to play a larger role in that success. Whether leadership is being developed in management schools, public policy schools or by professional development consultants, those assumptions seem pervasive. As a Professor of Leadership, over the past decade I have attended many such courses, from the hills of Bali to halls of Harvard Uni. Even those leadership courses that are themed on the problems of environmental sustainability and social justice incorporate those three assumptions. If you think they are reasonable, perhaps even aspirational, then you would not be alone. Because they are assumptions that relate to some of the core ideas of modern societies. However, I take a different view. I believe that seeking personal success within a society that one assumes to be progressing is now an unhelpful starting point for learning leadership that meets the predicaments of our time. Courses that respond to that idea can even encourage people to regard themselves, others, and the world, in counterproductive ways. Instead, helpful forms of leadership in disruptive times can start from the perspective that the world is not going to get ‘better,’ that we can drop inherited ideas of what ‘better’ means, and that students of leadership can seek to engage positively in society without attachment to pre-determined outcomes. Rather, we can engage in leadership learning as a way of exploring what to become, and what to do, as societies become more unstable and the old ways of life break down.
Since 2014, I have taught a leadership course over a week that grows from this alternative starting point. Many participants have found the shifts in perception of both themselves and our times to be life changing. They have come from many walks of life – UN, governments, political parties, local governments, corporations, banks, NGOs, the police, academics and activist groups – and from many parts of the world. Since 2018, after I personally concluded that the collapse of industrial consumer societies is inevitable, the context of increasing disruption and the framework of ‘deep adaptation’ have become more important to the course. If this concept is new to you, I recommend listening to the introduction to my book on Deep Adaptation. Over the years, many of the alumni have stayed in touch and provide ongoing mentoring to each other. Because making a positive contribution to societies in crisis requires constant re-evaluation and looking after one’s own emotional wellbeing, that ongoing support is important.
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