Characteristics of Culturally Mature Leadership

(The following is a hand-out used in ICD workshops on leadership. It combines the ideas of Marcy Jackson, Sandra Wood, and Charles Johnston)

Leadership sufficient to today’s critical questions requires:

1) The courage to ask hard questions and a recognition of how often today’s critical questions take us into new territories of understanding.  You’ve got to have guts.

2) Greater comfort with uncertainty, both the uncertainty of being in new territory and the uncertainty inherent to functioning in a territory that lacks externally prescribed, once-and-for-all handholds.  You must be willing and able to get “messy,” to meet life as an evolving creative process.

3) New skills at creative collaboration and the sharing of leadership responsibilities.  You must be able to catalyze and enable as well as direct, to listen well, to let yourself be affected by others and to learn from them.  You must be versatile and flexible, able to take on (or support) a variety of roles as is appropriate—cheerleader, researcher, task master, listener, visionary, facilitator, bean counter, devil’s advocate.

4) A greater recognition of the systemic nature of critical questions.  You must be have an appreciation for the interconnectedness of emergent issues.  You must be able to bridge across polar assumptions in your thinking and avoid polar fallacies (siding with liberal or conservation, sacred or secular, facts or feelings).  You must learn how to make yourself “big” enough and create containers large enough to hold the full complexity of questions you wish to address and have skills at recognizing and articulating interrelationship and pattern in this complexity, both within and between systems.

5) The ability to articulate and put into practice more creative and complete measures for truth and success.  You must be able to effectively question partial or outmoded “bottom lines”—for example, acquisition of facts and skills as one’s measure for success in education, defeating death and disease as one’s measure in health care, GNP or the Dow Industrial Average as one’s measure of cultural progress.  You must be able to identify the fundamental questions of vision and value that underlie your profession’s basic assumptions and engage those around you in addressing them in new, more complete ways.

6) Greater personal and interpersonal awareness and sophistication.  With roles, hierarchies, and bureaucratic structures becoming more dynamic and fluid, you must learn to lead in a world where relationships are less predefined.  You must know yourself better—your strengths, your weaknesses, your hopes, your values.  And you must be better at understanding and relating with others, often people very different from yourself.

7) The ability to utilize the creative power of diversity.  You must be better able to appreciate diversity of all kinds—gender, ethnicity, age, personality type, cultural stages, and on—and recognize the creative interrelationships and complementarities potential in diversity.  You must be skilled at bringing diverse voices together as needed, and facilitating conversation that taps what each has to offer to the whole.

8) A new appreciation for the power and necessity of boundaries and limits.  You must be newly conscious of the importance of limits of all kinds—environmental limits, limits to what one person can be for another, limits to your own abilities.  Also, as the one-size-fits all boundaries of culturally defined roles and traditional institutional structures become more and more limiting, you must develop new, more personal and situationally responsive boundary making skills.

9) The ability to utilize multiple intelligences.  If you wish to successfully address systemic questions, you must be able to access all of yourself as a system.  You must draw on your whole self—your body, your imagination, your feelings, and your spirit, as well as your intellect—to effectively understand and effectively lead.

10) A willingness to move beyond simple cause and effect, problem/solution thinking.  You must be able to explore informed options rather than be wedded to single answer authority.  More than this, you must learn to think in ways which recognize how multiple, systemically-interrelated causal variables and dynamics of evolutionary change are inherent to the workings of living systems.

11) An awareness of new information technologies and their powers to both enhance and undermine needed new capacities.  You must be sufficiently up to date on emerging information technologies to utilize them when they can support creative and purposeful interaction and challenge their use when they get in the way of needed levels of communication.

12) A positive sense of the future and a solid understanding of what it asks of us.  You must be able to address the “crisis of purpose” that for many people defines our time.  You must be able to articulate the new challenges in your domain and how addressing them can contribute to a compelling future.  You must be able to “bump up” conversations so that they engage issues at the level of complexity, maturity, and purpose needed for such a future.