Let’s chatGPT about gardening

After a two year research project, with an interdisciplinary team, the conclusions I came to on the state of the world, and our near future, are not that relaxing. They will be available in the book Breaking Together, out in May. One of the chapters is already available, preprint, as the matter of food security seems so urgent. [subscribe to this blog to get a link to the full book when it’s out]

That context means I am especially happy to have launched a demonstration organic farm, using an approach called syntropic agroforestry. It does not mean I will definitely escape the impacts of agricultural disruptions and the socio-political ramifications. But it means that at least I am doing something about it that will benefit both people and planet. 

As I’ve been writing so much for the forthcoming book, I’d rather garden than write about it, so I asked chatGPT to tell you all about the approach we are taking. The prompt was “Write a summary of many reasons (environmental and social) why syntropic agroforestry is a good idea. Explain why it is helpful to educate and support farmers in Indonesia to do syntropic agroforestry.” ChatGPT responded:

Continue reading “Let’s chatGPT about gardening”


… I think 2 years in the land of Beatrix Potter is rubbing off on me.


A boy, walking alone on a felltop stops to look at a sheep. It stares back.

Boy: You seem calm. Are you happy?

Sheep: What’s happy?

Boy: Oh… it means lots of things.

Sheep: So “happy” is a concept?

Boy: Er, sort of. It’s an idea about a bunch of feelings.

Sheep: So you want to know if I’m experiencing the idea of “happy”?

Boy: Not quite, I guess I was asking about the feelings. Are you in pain?

Sheep: No

Boy: Are you comfortable with your life?

Sheep: I’ve a bit of an itch.

Boy: No, I mean comfortable with what you do! Are you doing enough stuff?

Sheep: Is “enough” another idea?

Boy: Yes. But are you worried about death?

Sheep: I know it happens but I don’t know when. What’s there to worry about?

Boy: I think we worry about death a bit as we don’t know what the purpose of life is.

Sheep: Is “purpose” another of your ideas?

Boy: Yes

Sheep: Is worrying an idea too?

Boy: It’s more like a feeling.

Sheep: What’s the feeling?

Boy: A feeling of going round and round in circles with my ideas, and this then tensing the muscles in my chest.

Sheep: So you create a purpose-idea to experience a happy-idea that is difficult because you have created a worry-idea and end up tensing your muscles?

Boy: Sort of

Sheep: So why do you focus on that happy-idea if it tenses you up?

Boy: Maybe because it’s what grown-ups do. But are you saying you don’t think?

Sheep: Baa! Animals think too. Didn’t you notice? But I don’t create ideas. I appreciate stuff I like, and avoid experiences I don’t like. Just look at the sunset!

Boy: Yes, it’s nice. But isn’t that a bit selfish?

Sheep: There you go again with another idea! “Selfish!” My positive feeling from looking at the sunset is the Universe’s experience as well as mine. I’m enjoying the universe enjoying me enjoying the sunset. Wjy else would it have made it so beautiful to us?

Boy: So are all our ideas and concepts bad?

Sheep: No, your ability to create concepts and ideas has given you your technology and culture. I wouldn’t be here otherwise. Neither would so many of you! Your ideas of geometry and building mean I have a nice warm barn for the winter, if I’m still here.

Boy: OK, I get it. Some ideas are useful and some are not. It’s what they do to us, and what we do with them, that matters.

Sheep: Nice. Will you experience a happy-idea when you eat me?

Boy: I did before. But I’m not sure anymore.


There endeth a bit of Lakeland Zen

Seeking Transformation? Study for an interdisciplinary PhD at the Institute for Leadership and Sustainability

Our Campus resides near this Lake
Our Campus resides near this Lake

“Education is the science of relations”

Charlotte Mason,

the founder of our Lake District Campus in 1892

Next year the University of Cumbria launches the Institute for Leadership and Sustainability. As Director of the new Institute, I am currently welcoming inquiries about potential PhD research. We will accept six PhD students, whether full time in residence (typically 3 years), full time away (typically 4 years) or part time (residence or away (typically 5 years). There is one opportunity for receiving a bursary to cover fees. The Institute is based in the heart of the beautiful Lake District in the UK, in the village of Ambleside, with Campuses also in Lancaster and Carlisle.

The Institute has a specific research focus, about which it welcomes proposals.  This is in the field of “transition”. All our work on leadership and sustainability seeks to enable personal and collective transitions to living in harmony with each-other and the planet. Leadership that makes a positive difference to communities and environments is the only leadership worth practising or learning. To us, sustainability means that everyone thrives in harmony with the biosphere and future generations. That does not mean maintaining or spreading a particular way of life, but a transition from behaviours and systems that are destructive, towards those that restore the environment and support individual rights, wellbeing, and community. It implies a systemic shift; large numbers of persons and organisations acting in a significantly different way. A transition to sustainability involves promoting ecological integrity, collective wellbeing, real democracy, human rights, support for diversity, economic fairness, community resilience, a culture of peace, compassion and inquiry, and the appreciation of beauty.

Studies of positive transformations suggest this shift will require interacting cultural, economic, technological, behavioural, political and institutional developments at multiple levels. Leaders during social transformations appear to have transcended a concern for self, yet sufficiently sustained their wellbeing, and empowered others. Therefore our work seeks to connect the systemic and the personal, and mobilise insights from diverse schools of thought on how transformations occur. Consequently, our research focuses on actionable knowledge, action research, combining diverse disciplines, linking local with global, and learning from old and new teachings that arise from diverse cultural settings. With us, you will not gain a straight-jacketed PhD in management, or politics, or sociology, but produce insight that is highly relevant and interdisciplinary.

Within the framework of transition, we are particularly interested in three areas.

Transformative Leadership: how to encourage the attributes and competencies that enable someone to participate in social transformation; how organisational and societal transformations occur; how to encourage personal transformations and wellbeing through learning experiences.

Innovative Resourcing and Exchange: innovative ways for people and organisations to share, swap, rent, or exchange, with or without official money; sharing economy, collaborative consumption, complementary currency; implications for business development, international development, and policy; implications for donors and foundations, including more catalytic and transformative philanthropy.

Scaling-Up Transitions: approaches that hold potential for the scale of change required by current global challenges; public policies for scaling social innovations; transformative cross-sectoral alliances; disruptive innovations in existing markets and industries.

If your research interests relate to this, please read on about our approach, to consider whether to submit an initial inquiry.

At the Institute we will combine what is normally expected for PhDs, with our own particular emphasis on purpose-led inter-disciplinary actionable research. Many people are unaware of what researching for a PhD involves, and mistake it for the writing of a thesis/book, or the winning of a credential. The thesis and the credential are the results, but the PhD process is about becoming a reflective and skilled researcher and communicator of research. Therefore PhD research with the Institute will involve the supervisor helping the doctoral candidate with most of the following elements:

  • developing and applying professionally ones sense of social purpose and without a completely fixed view. Specifically, we are interested in inquiries in personal and collective transition to fair and sustainable societies (broadly defined)
  • learning how to research (how to turn ideas, beliefs or doubts into inquiries with suitable research; which means learning about ontologies, epistemologies, methodologies, methods)
  • learning how to assess existing intellectual disciplines for the way they can both inform and restrict inquiry on the chosen topic; some sociology plus at least one other social science discipline are expected (relevant subjects include management, design, international development etc)
  • unlearning some existing assumptions in ways that help one to become critically reflective yet action-oriented in all aspects of life and work
  • learning how to analyse primary “data” of forms relevant to one’s chosen inquiry and to develop findings that are relevant to broader contexts (data can include lived experience; but then one needs to learn how to analyse ones experience, not just re-tell or re-articulate it)
  • learning how to identify findings that both contribute to existing fields of knowledge, but also a particular field of practice (i.e. to seek both academic and non-academic relevance for ones work)
  • learning how to communicate findings in ways that reach people in academia and beyond, including presenting findings in ways that can inform education (such as online or in-person lectures)

Proposals need to reflect some of this journey, and a thesis will need to demonstrate these outcomes were pursued and somewhat achieved. Myself and my co-supervisors will help doctoral candidates along this journey: you don’t have to have everything mapped out already, but be open to this depth of inquiry. Information on what I do is on the University website.

Still interested? Then please send me some information about yourself and your idea in the following format, by December 17th 2012.

Your Idea: Tell me in half a page what your area of research is, what your overall research question might be, why it is relevant to leadership or sustainability or transition, what existing research you have done on it, what stakeholders you have engaged about your research idea, and what existing theories/disciplines (if any) you think are relevant to it. If you have a provisional research question, then include it.

Your Motivation: Tell me in half a page why you want to explore this, in terms of your personal and professional development. Also explain how you will fund, or seek to fund, yourself, and what format you would go for (full time, full time away, part-time)

Please attach a one page CV and a sample of existing writing, ideally already published.

That is 2 pages in total (1 on research and 1 on CV), and a piece of writing.

Provide a skype ID or google talk ID so that we can interact more easily (my skype: jembendell).

I will contact you within one month of you submitting your information, potentially to discuss further your ideas and help you prepare a full proposal to the University.

Please note that information on our Institute is not yet available online – by joining the Institute you will help to shape our emerging programmes.

Dr Jem Bendell
Professor of Sustainability Leadership
Director, Institute for Leadership and Sustainability
University of Cumbria, UK

jem dot bendell at cumbria.ac.uk

Join some meaningful fun in Crete

View from ESA
View from the Academy

An important milestone arrives in October – my 40th. I’ll be in Crete, where friends in the field of sustainability have created a unique place for experiential learning about sustainable enterprise and living. Lovely people doing great things across Europe will come together for the ‘end of summit’ party, and my birthday, in true Cretan style with lots of tasty local food with far too much wine and raki accompanied by raucous Cretan music and dancing!

Would you like to join us in a stunning state of the art eco-building in an ancient Cretan olive grove with 2000m snow capped mountain backdrop? I would be chuffed if you did.

Outside the Academy
Outside the Academy

My birthday, Friday 12th October, will be the final day of the Inaugural Summit of the European Sustainability Academy (ESA). So, if you are interested in sustainability or social change, then you would enjoy arriving earlier in the week for some of the courses and events. And especially if you are inquisitive about wellness practices, such as Yoga or Qi Gong, which will occur at various times that week. Then on Saturday 13th October there is an organised tour of local eco-enterprises and a boat trip.

Nearby Almyrida
Nearby Almyrida

The party will be happening at Liberta Villas, 2km from ESA in the village of Palaloni. I’m promised its an exquisite location with a stunning 2600m mountain backdrop. ESA is on the edge of the village of Drapanos. Liberta has some accommodation, as do the two villages, and there is still more at the nearby beach town of Almyrida (email Sharon for info: Sharon.Jackson at eurosustainability.org).

Liberta Villas
Liberta Villas

I hear that in Greece right now there is an exciting air of change and thirst for new ideas and innovations. On the 10th I will co-lead a seminar with Matthew Slater of CommunityForge.net on creating and participating in alternative exchange systems and community currencies. We will be joined by Greeks who are pioneering these solutions to the current crisis. On the 11th I will support my Lifeworth colleague Ian Doyle in leading the now-famous ‘Giving Voice to Values’ training, which helps us to understand our values and express them in difficult situations. On the morning of the 12th there will be a ‘sustainability leadership’ round-table involving some Young Global Leaders of the World Economic Forum. Then Eva Voutsaki, from Crete, will guide us through a process of developing autobiographic narratives for clarifying our personal goals, and Ed Gillespie, from Futerra, will helps us explore the importance of authenticity in our communications. Greek pioneers of sustainable enterprise and lifestyles will also be attending during the second week of the summit (which starts Oct 8th).

Inside ESA
Inside ESA

The programme will be uploaded and updated soon at www.EuroSustainability.org. The nearest airport is Chania, and Heraklion is an hour and a half away: www.whichbudget.com and www.skyscanner.net are places to find out routes. At least one guest is coming by ferry and trains. See http://www.loco2.com/ or ask me for info on overland/sea transport (as you could travel with other sustainability adventurers).

ESA opening
ESA opening

There’s no cost for attendance on the 12th or for the party. No presents either, please. Just support something local if you want to (we’ll come up with ideas). If you want to come earlier in the week for some of the events, which makes total sense, or even the full 2 week sustainability summit (what a treat!), then please email Sharon Jackson about details and fees: Sharon.Jackson at eurosustainability.org As the academy building isnt huge, and transport is cheaper if booked earlier, you should go for it now!

I do hope you can come and help me celebrate in a meaningful way.

The address:

European Sustainability Academy
Jackson A.S, Drapanos, 73008 Vamos, Chania.
Inaugural Sustainability Summit
2nd October – 14th October 2012

The address of my party on the 12th:

Characteristics of Needed Leaders: Views as a Young Global Leader

Here’s a clip of an interview I did at the World Economic Forum when accepting being made a 2012 Young Global Leader. I was asked about characteristics or attributes of needed leaders today.

For my views on the dimensions of leadership, i.e. the skills, processes and relationships of good leadership, rather than the leaders, see my blog from last year: “Leadership beyond Leaders”

Information on why Im a YGL and what it means is in Lifeworth’s announcement on the subject.

Have You Stopped Pussyfooting Around the Planet?

Radical problems call for radical solutions. Incrementalism is no longer pragmatic, moral or even professional.

So I’m looking for associations with academic and other institutions where I may be a less-tempered radical. I want to work with people asking core questions including:

    – How does large-scale change occur?
    – How can we create economies and organisations that support our self-mastery and self-transcendence?
    – How can sustainable currencies be scaled?
    – How can we bring these questions into the minds and projects of those who care for the well-being of people and planet (or who are employed to administer resources allocated for such caring, whether by government, charity or business)?
    – How can we learn about these questions through reflective action, and in a way where we are not insidiously guided by self-interest or institutional demands?

If you know where I can do that, it would be great to hear from you.

If not, but you are exploring the same kind of questions, or applying solutions in the same spirit, Id be happy to hear from you IF you have a specific proposal to discuss.

Where is the Movement?

This week is the 10th anniversary of the mass protest against the G8 in Genoa, Italy. Hundreds of thousands of protesters called for a systemic change in the global economic system, forming something called an ‘anti-globalisation’ movement by the mass media, or what was known by many activists as the global justice movement. In Genoa, behind huge metal barriers, leaders met while anti-aircraft missile launchers scanned the skies. We thought it a bit of an over-reaction; but we didn’t have the benefit of memos about Bin Laden. The (now proven) agent provocateurs helped the black block protestors create conditions for police to then brutalise many peaceful protesters. One protester, Carlo Giuliani, was shot and killed by a policeman. The violence led many people, myself included, to question whether they wanted to be involved in such demonstrations in future. Perhaps that was the intention of the reactionary elements in the Italian government. Yet there was another limitation to the protests. The movement had become defined by the media as the protest, because the cameras showed up at demonstrations. Yet a movement is motivated by the values and awareness of people, and that exists all year round, not just during a protest. It was the values and vibrancy of the activists that was key, and expressed in many other ways all year round, such as choices of work, ways of working in the community.

10 years on its a good time to look back, recall the mood and spirit of the activism, and see how the vibrancy of that time throws light on the choices many of us have made since. To conjure up a sense of the feelings involved back 10 years ago, here is a snippet from my last book:

“Rolling onto my back, I lay my head on a rucksack, staring into the night sky. The tarmac still pushes up through my sleeping bag, but somehow it feels more comfortable this way. I think of the few times I have slept out in the open, in fields after parties, or on beaches while travelling—times when I could revel in the sense of floating through the immensity of space, secured on the edge of a cosmic plan, or comic fluke, called planet Earth. But tonight I can’t drift away with thoughts of the infinite expanse of space. Police helicopters hover above, their cones of light traversing the car park like manic stilts. Dreaming is not permitted. It’s the G8 Summit in Genoa, 2001. I stretch my neck. My face feels sticky with the residue of vinegar I was told would help me during tear-gas attacks. Are we being searched for or spotlighted, I wonder? If they shine their lights on us for long enough, perhaps they’ll discover what they’re looking for? Perhaps we’re all here to discover what we’re looking for—something different, something possible? I can’t sleep and turn to Rik, a guy I met on the streets during the day. ‘D’you want to hear my poem?’ he asks. ‘Yeah, why not . . . ?’

Possessed by possessions
Lord and Master of all we owe
Belonging to belongings
It’s a disaster, I know
Chained to the mundane
Our reference frame is physical
Every day the same old same
Nothing metaphysical
And if God’s not dead
He must be mad
Or blind
Or deaf and dumb
Or bad
Still smarting over Christ, perhaps
The way the people have been had
But in our defence
I’d like to say
We nearly chose the proper path
But lost the plot along the way
You’ve got to laugh
It’s not our fault
It’s just the toys we made
Made such a lovely noise
And girls and boys
Are high and dry
Time to bid
All this

Rik Strong’s The Sermon, which he recited to me as we ‘bedded’ down in a carpark during the demonstrations at the G8 Summit in Genoa, captured some of the emotion that drove many of us to protest. There was certainly a lot of anger at the suffering being caused by economic systems, and the lack of accountability of political systems to the people. There was also an angst about something more deeply wrong about modern life. Western society didn’t relate to how we felt inside. Publicly people didn’t seem to care for each other, yet we knew that deep down they must do—surely? For us there had to be more to us than working, shopping and looking out for Number One. This was a holistic critique, and one that connected professional and lifestyle, the political and personal.

Yet 10 years on its difficult to say exactly what or where “the movement” is now. Many people who were active in protests back then have this nagging thought: We were everywhere, we went everywhere, but we got nowhere. What was it that led to the weakening of what seemed at the time to be a global awakening?

The level of violence certainly turned many away from protesting. But there were other factors that helped to corrupt some of the creative spirit. As the old Left woke up to the new wave of anti-capitalism sentiment and became involved with groups such as ‘Globalise Resistance’ they brought with them their hierarchical we-know-what-you-really-want-and-how-to-win politics. For some, this was a politics of envy not personal liberation. This led to splits and aggressive criticism from those who rejected instant political solutions freeze-dried in the 19th Century. And so egos clashed. When, during a demonstration in Brighton I mentioned to one activist ‘leader’ that his organisation was critiqued in a Schnews pamphlet, he just asked “was I name-checked?” Meanwhile career-conscious band-wagon jumpers leapt like crazy on to talk shows and into best-seller lists and newspaper columns, and misrepresented some of the core democratic anti-hierarchy values that permeated much of the organising and the aspirations of protesters.

But the biggest impact was 9/11. Soon after, the protest groups refocused on anti-war campaigning. The mass media closed ranks around the march to war. The critical analysis became more about the dreadfulness of one President, rather than a more informed critique of the whole system and its alternatives. The “war of terror” knocked the global justice movement aside, by making activists focus on symptoms, not causes.

For many people, the political philosophy that was shared by activists from very different walks of life, concerned about different issues, was a sense of everyday democracy, where all processes, whether political or economic, should be open to their participation and mutual control. John Isbister has noted that “an ideal democracy would give a voice to everyone who is affected by a decision. The real democracies with which we are familiar cannot reach this
standard.” For example, poor children are affected by welfare systems but have no vote. Women in poorer countries are affected by family planning funding decisions in the United States but have no vote in their elections. Instead, we can remember that democracy is an aspirational goal, for situations where individuals and communities participate effectively in shaping the social limits that define what is possible for them, without impairing the ability of others to do that for themselves. The goal is therefore an everyday democracy where all organisations enable participation. It is also inherently a global goal, because it is an organisational response to a universal principle of people being able to pursue their individual freedoms.

The 1960s student leader Gregory Calvert has reflected that in their student movement they came to understand that their commitment to democratic principles came from the heart, and had a spiritual dimension. Activism inspired by this consciousness seeks to challenge large incumbent unaccountable institutions, whether in the public, private or civic spheres of life. What excited many people in the process of campaigning, was that they were connecting to a sense of purpose greater than themselves, a story of a common humanity. It filled a need, because there was, as there remains today, some angst about the purpose of our lives, the story of our existence. For some people our story of existence is one of a secular, scientific, mechanical world without meaning. For some it is the story of a God creating us to struggle to return to ‘Him’. For many people that story seems more like a fairytale – a nice idea, something they don’t really believe but find it helpful to entertain the idea, perhaps once a week or so. To others this story seems like a nightmare with a “blind, deaf, dumb, mad or bad” God. Thus Thomas Berry, writing in 1990, felt that we had lost faith in the story of our relationship with a God and, therefore, who we are; “We are in trouble just now because we do not have a good story. We are in between stories. The old story, the account of how the world came to be and how we fit into it… sustained us for a long period of time. It shaped our emotional attitudes, provided us with life purposes and energized our actions. It consecrated our suffering and integrated our knowledge. We awoke in the morning and knew where we were. We could answer the questions of our children.”

This faltering between stories has sometimes been talked about as the ‘death of God’. Hence the angst and spiritual void captured in Rik Strong’s The Sermon. Set against this angst there was a real energy and hope, perhaps similar to the hope felt by people in the recent protests in the Arab world. On the streets of Genoa the T-shirts read “Another world is possible” – a world that would enable us all to be all we could be. In our hearts we felt that world already existed, but we didn’t really have a way of speaking in chorus so that the rest of society could hear us and join in the singing.

So what is this new story? I picked up some ideas from discussions of activists 10 years ago….

First, is creativity. In the west pop-culture gurus like Pat Kane were talking of a play ethic to replace the work ethic. By this he meant that the most natural, and perhaps highest, state of being is to play – to be creative, to be expressive, to test, try, experiment, to have fun in becoming all we can be. As Jean Paul-Sartre said, “As man apprehends himself as free and wishes to use his freedom, then his activity is to play.” The parallels with eco-centric thought on the irrepressible diversity of the natural world are clear. Pat suggested that this play ethic comes from the new generation of young professionals, who: “have shaped their identities through their… cultures of play – a whole range of self-chosen activities that have anchored them in a different orientation towards a meaningful life. These are the backpackers of Alex Garland’s The Beach, using cheap flights and travel literature to make the world their playground. The ultimate playfulness is to help each other to play together.”

Second, is a global consciousness, a sense of a common community of mankind. For many people nationalism is no longer a belief system and just a bit of fun, to be enjoyed in an ironic sense. Nationalism is being replaced for many by a planetary patriotism – we might call this Planetism. This means a deep concern for the health and well-being of the planet and all its peoples. Another aspect to this Planetism is a spiritual reawakening, as people see a common essence to all the world’s spiritual teachings, no matter how twisted they may be through religious institutions. This reawakening has been helped in secular society by the club culture, as ‘ravers’ grew up but couldn’t (or wouldn’t) “forget those blissed-out moments of transcendence, when drugs and beats blurred the boundaries of their selves”, according to Pat Kane. These states of consciousness were something that ecocentrist Thomas Berry pondered. If the universe is not alive in a psychic spiritual sense as well a material one, then “human consciousness emerges out of nowhere… an addendum [with] no real place in the story of the universe” he wrote. Thus the potential for a common storyemerges amongst the diverse traditions of eco-centric, religious and secular thought – an autonomous yet interconnected spirituality that supports self-expression. The new story of humanity is about our growing understanding of our relationship to our planet, including all its people and their spiritual selves. Therefore it is the story of our relationship to ourself – who we really are. The new story is that there will be infinite stories to unfold. Thus, in protests around the world people were saying one No and many Yes’s. “We’re not going to play your games anymore – thrill to your icons, your hip soundtracks, your latest double-stitch or lycra mix. We’re going to play our own games” wrote Pat Kane. And so play we did, from our use of the web to co-ordinate global protests, to the subversion of advertising, from the rave atmosphere of street parties, to the humour of slogans, from the creation of alternative currencies, to the launching of our own social businesses.

So what happened to this story of global creativity? What happened to the anger at a controlling exploiting system? What happened to the confidence that rejected the legitimacy of incumbent institutions and leaders and the old politics of left and right?

The rent. The mortgage. The debt. The pension plan. The fear of being left behind. The insecurities that make us want to be accepted and respected in the mainstream. The temptation from the story that integrating our hopes into the mainstream is the best way to live our values, to honour our memories of higher states of consciousness by our cold-light-of-day choices.

And so, if there’s anything to learn from the last 10 years, its the need to change the system that creates this apparent necessity for compromise. Jessie J may write cool music, but it IS all about the money, money, money, because if we don’t change the monetary systems, we will be subject to the incentives and disincentives that draw us into stultifying compromise. We cant rely on mass levels of mindfulness to escape the day to day corroding pressures that arise from debt-based monetary systems. Redesigning the way money is created, to remove the debt burden from our governments, economies, communities and own families, will be key to unleashing a creative globe of local and international democratic communities.

Leadership beyond leaders

I recently had lunch with someone who worked with a global network of young leaders and also a group of elder statesmen and women. With such an intergenerational exposure to leaders and leadership I had to ask what she thought leadership is. After some discussion I was surprised at how many people working in fields that convene or praise “leaders” don’t think through what leadership means, let alone responsible leadership. Instead, more obvious and visceral things seem to identify leaders: fame, role, impact, novelty and personal connections being key. Maybe I seemed a bit disappointed, so my lunch companion asked me what I thought a leader is. Id read books about leadership but none of the theories were fresh in my mind, so with the benefit of a poor memory, I made something up that describes the characteristics of people I admire and thus the qualities I seek to express myself (in my better moments). After lunch I decided to type up the ideas here…

There is a whole bunch of other things that are important and help comprise a great character (born leaders?), or a skilled professional (trained leaders?), but here are the 5 key attributes I identified. Leadership involves:

* Inspiring people to believe in their greater selves,
* Showing them a pathway for enacting that,
* Encouraging them to participate in a community in the process,
* Practically helping them along the way, and then,
* Reminding them of their commitment.

Leadership is expressed, not held. With these attributes in mind, no one is a leader per se, but anyone can exhibit leadership. That is because leadership exists in relation to others and contexts.

I’ll expand a bit… Inspiring people to believe in their greater selves is key because its the most incredible thing you can do for someone, to unleash their hopes and dreams and sense of dignity and ability. Usually the result of encouraging someone to think of their greater or higher self is for them to connect to a purpose beyond their immediate worries or insecurities, and be an agent for something useful in the world. It is deep and lasting impact, and important at an existential level.

Showing them a pathway for enacting that is important, as unless people can relate their aspirations to their immediate predicament, this can lead to frustration and disillusionment. By providing a practical example of how to take a first step, this makes an abstract idea seem tangible.

Encouraging them to participate in a community is important, as it is through engaging others that we can achieve results, learning what we bring, and how we are valued, when acting from our higher aims and sense of purpose.

Practically helping them along the way is important, as true leadership needs to involve some substantive contribution rather than simply exhortation and advice. Introducing people to people, providing them with new responsibilities or opportunities for experiences and training, and defending them when they stumble while advising them on what to do as a result, are all important if the initial inspiration is to stabilise into a new way of being.

Reminding them of their commitment is key. I almost said “holding people accountable” but that sounds too much like a positional role. Instead, what’s important is that if someone is impacted positively by your actions and advice, and you see them act differently as a result, then you have a bond. They will remember. In my own experience I have often belittled the impact I’ve had on others, not wanting to take things too seriously or create an impression of hierarchy. This means I’ve not accepted this aspect of leadership and perhaps this means that Ive missed the opportunity to play that useful role for people… to help them reflect on whether they are living their commitments or not today. Perhaps it takes a maturity that I’ve not had, to take on all this final aspect of leadership, which assumes an “elder” role… To do it in a way that is also humble, and still playful, could be my personal holy grail.

After lunch I looked back at some of the literature on leadership and it appears much discussion on leadership does not emphasise these attributes. Could it be our somewhat individualist, egotistical and patriarchal culture means we focus on powerful or charismatic individuals? Or that our organisation-centric and hierarchical forms of work mean we focus on those people who best get people to serve organisations, rather than their own higher callings?

Perhaps. And these limitations also then play out in discussions of what “responsible” leadership might be. Many speak of responsible leadership in terms of an individual being a fearless do-gooder confident in their own moral frameworks or, more introspectively, seeking fulfilment beyond accomplishment or, more simply, looking after their immediate subordinates.

I’ll venture that ‘responsible leadership’ is the expression of the five relational qualities I identified above in ways where the intention and effect is to help people who will be influenced as a result. i.e. if leadership concerns ones immediate relations with others, responsible leadership concerns one’s wider relations with communities influenced by those being “led”.

Sometimes a focus on responsible leadership can distract us from systemic issues. As if individual leaders acting in the public interest could change the world despite ingrained racism and sexism, structured inequality, corporate-owned mass media, consumerism, compound interest and financial speculation (to list some of my pet peeves). So its important when thinking about responsible leadership to think in movements and systems. Therefore our key interest, research, education, advice and advocacy should be about how we can cultivate such leadership in everyone, and what aspects of our culture, politics, economics and organisations undermine these qualities of leadership that anyone could naturally express!

In outlining these attributes of leadership I’ve probably been inadvertently rehearsing a leadership theory found in a 1950s management text or 4th century BC spiritual text. If so, please advise, as I could then cite the ideas of a known “leader” who defined leadership this way. As Im involved in the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative (GRLI.org) I could then also feed this stuff into their work in a way that could be valued academically (as you dont get points for a bad memory freeing up mental space for a new schema!).

Or if these are new ideas and we need a new management fad name for them, tweet me a suggestion (@jembendell http://twitter.com/jembendell). Perhaps Relational Leadership? Connective Leadership?

Jem Bendell

Vogue and Marie Claire report on sustainable luxury

Jem interviewed in Marie Claire

Jem interviewed in Vogue

Can jewellery give miners decent work and livehoods, promoting sustainable development? Can India reclaim denim, as an organic, handwoven, naturally dyed traditional cloth? These issues are discussed in this month’s Vogue and Marie Claire. I talked to both, while sporting the organic denim Sherwani I created with Prema of Rangoli Fashion House and Rubina of Colours of Nature, when in southern India earlier this year (and photographed by famed photographer (and great chap), Paulo Pellegrin).

One focus of my work since 2006, has been helping promote more awareness of sustainable business issues amongst elites and middle classes across the global South, particularly in Asia and Latin America. So Im pleased that this month I get to promote sustainable fashion and jewellery in both the spanish Vogue and Marie Claire in India. In one of the articles I discuss the history of denim, and how it can be reclaimed as Indian. The side benefit of this work is that, as just an academic and consultant, I get to chuckle about appearing in top fashion magazines! So, don’t just stand there, let’s get to it (strike a pose, there’s nothing to it…)

Thanks to Noela Fernandez and Aekta Kapoor for the interviews.

Some snaps of us in action at Rangoli in Auroville….

Jem and Prema plan the lining

Getting measured at Rangoli
Getting measured at Rangoli

Jem discovers how Rubina and Jesus make blue
Jem discovers how Rubina and Jesus make blue