The Leadership We Need Now

Lots of folks are talking about needing national leadership that puts to rest the confusion we feel about what we should be doing during this pandemic. But all leadership is not created equal. Leadership is not about laws, rules and strongmen tactics. It is about building consensus, creating buy-in and a shared vision for the future.  In 2013 Linda Stout wrote about leading with hope and optimism and with a collective vision.  We wanted to share this concept on leadership again.

How do we embrace the challenges that we face today as well as tomorrow’s promises? To do this we must lead with hope and optimism, and with a collective vision.

We are all leaders although some may be playing many different roles. Some lead in the front, some within, and some lead while following. But unless we are leading in the way that is grounded in our values and leads by the example of what we are trying to build, we aren’t able to create the change we want.

We come from a reactive culture that is fixated on problem solving. We examine problems and work to fix them. But what would it look like to live proactively? To live into what we are creating, what we want, being Mahatma Gandhi’s “the change that you wish to see?”

Before you pass this idea off as unrealistic or just too woo-woo, let me share a recent experience I had. I was accepted and sponsored to attend the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University in a year- long program called “Deep Dive Leadership.”

Out of 60-plus people, I am the only social change activist in the group. Others head up or hold high positions within large, multi-national corporations, banks and hospitals. Many of the companies were names I recognized.

In our first week, we learned about visioning, mindfulness and how to lead from a positive, relationship-based place. The idea of beginning with a collective vision – focusing on what we want to create rather than what we are against – is the most important step in creating real, successful and sustainable change. Strong voices and accountability can make change – even with large multi-national corporations. Sitting in circle and building relationships are a critical part of developing trust, hearing each other and creating change. Taking action on the vision we create leads to victories. Giving young people the knowledge and empowering them to speak for themselves create our leaders of the present, as well as for the future.

To lead with hope has now been “proven,” through years of scientific research and studies, to be the most successful and the most profitable. Business leaders have figured out it is the most effective way to lead – to work in balance. So although, these practices have been used for thousands of years by indigenous peoples and others working for transformative change, research has helped businesses and other leaders understand its importance.

Visioning has everything to do with creating a cultural shift. Starting with vision provides us a positive grounding from which to work. It supports us to look for solutions and ways to get there. It also inspires us and others to keep motivated toward that vision, even during times where we feel hopeless and ready to give up. It builds trust, collective power, hope and joy. It sets us on a path toward winning the issues on which we are working.

Leading with hope, optimism and vision helps us create a different culture in the way we do our work that is sustainable, supportive and achievable. What I learned in that first week of training is that real change begins with me – with you. Until we can embrace our own visions, our own ability to work from a visionary and relationship-based place, we can’t teach others. And to be successful we have to change the way we lead.