Leadership for a New Paradigm in Human Development


Everyone takes decisions and initiatives. Leaders take charge and initiate changes. Transformational leaders take responsibility for all and, guided by positive values, lead society into the future. These men and women of profound vision give expression to the subconscious aspirations of society that are striving to awaken, and act as a catalyst for their realization. Empathy, compassion, humility, emotional and social intelligence, and effective decision-making skills are characteristics of the transformational leader. Power, wealth and glory hold little value for them, they are above ego and have no thought of personal gain. They take consciousness responsibility for all, far greater than their authority warrants or requires. Espousing the collective cause, they forge ahead with great courage and conviction. Any setback or hurdle is faced with equanimity. Their original and creative thinking converts challenges into opportunities. They know that the unrealized is not unrealizable. They are able to inspire others to realize more of their potential, channelize the collective social energy and organize it into a power that accomplishes.

Transformational leadership defines accomplishment in the broadest sense. One country cannot prosper at the cost of the rest of the world, one group of people cannot be secure when there are others somewhere on the planet who are insecure. No problem is isolated from all else, and a comprehensive solution is possible only for those who have overcome dualistic thinking and can reconcile apparent opposites. Transformational leaders have such an integrated view of every issue and situation, and can usher in a new paradigm of human development that ensures peace, security and well-being for all. This article analyzes the various facets of transformational leadership.

1. The New Paradigm

Less than three hundred years ago, books were chained to the shelves in libraries because they were so precious, being few in number. There were some libraries where the readers were locked into cages themselves, to ensure that the valuable books remained safe! Learning was only for the privileged class. Today, books, readers and knowledge have been liberated in many ways. We have digitized content that can be replicated and distributed virtually, infinitely. In thirty years, we have moved from the terms Kilobyte and Megabyte, through Gigabyte and Terabyte, to newer terms whose magnitude is as difficult to appreciate as their necessity is, to visualize. This is just one of the hundreds of strands of human life that have undergone a transformation. Population has increased exponentially, globalization has rewritten economies, environment has been overrun by humans, religion is getting mixed up with extreme fundamentalism, and technology is shrinking the globe on one hand while social and economic disparity is creating polarities. All of these various strands of human activity entangle and evolve into compound issues. In short, we live in a time of unparalleled complexity.

As the complexity intensifies at an accelerating pace, it gives rise to new and exciting opportunities. However, it also poses multidimensional challenges that necessitate a radical change of course for all. Existing ideas, policies, institutions and systems are inadequate to address the challenges. We need an effective way to deal with them, and to tap the enormous potential we already possess for promoting human security and welfare. A new paradigm in human development is needed.

The World Academy of Art and Science (WAAS) conceived of the idea of formulating a new paradigm to address critical issues facing humanity. The Academy initiated this project in 2012, by asking the question, “Is there any conceivable paradigm that can successfully address all the pressing challenges confronting humanity today in a manner that offers the prospect of achieving peace, security, welfare and well-being for all human beings every­where?” It has identified several driving forces that have the potential to effect radical social transition of unparalleled magnitude and rapidity.

In order to manage these driving forces and radically transform the way the world is functioning, we require transformational leaders, leaders who can usher in a new paradigm. The challenges we face today are so great, the magnitude of the change needed so enormous that the status quo will not work. Old methods that worked in an earlier period may be ineffective, or worse, calamitous now. Instead of fixing the issue, they may simply cut off an odd head of the hydra. We require new ideas, new values, new systems, new organizations, and to head these organizations, transformational leadership.

Paradigm change is not a new idea. History has seen a great number of these. When the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus said that the Sun is at the center of the solar system, and not earth as believed in the 15th century, it was a paradigm change in thought, science, and its relationship with the Church. The refusal of Rosa Parks, an African American lady, to give up her seat and move to the back of the bus in keeping with the laws of segregation in Alabama, USA, set off in motion the events that culminated in the Civil Rights movement in the country and a change in the status quo of all African Americans. Socio-political movements such as the Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment, the end of colonialism and the Cold War, even the personal computer and internet revolutions are paradigm changes. At each of these great junctures in the past, there has been a critical mass of leadership, to effect a radical change of course. These leaders were in tune with the aspirations of those around and equipped with the various skills required to spearhead a mass movement. New paradigms are brought in by nothing short of transformational leadership.

We most certainly need a paradigm change, at all levels – at the global level, and in every nation state, region, organization, group and individual. We need it in thought, values, education, environment, politics, economics, industry, technology, media – in all spheres of life. Before our many challenges grow out of control and overwhelm us all, we need to act.

Keeping this need in mind, the World Academy of Art and Science, along with the World University Consortium (WUC), The Mother’s Service Society (India), Person-Centered Approach Institute (Italy), Dag Hammarskjöld University College of International Relations and Diplomacy (Croatia) and Inter-University Centre (Croatia), offered a post-graduate certificate course on Essence of Effective Leadership* in April 2015 at Inter-University Centre, Dubrovnik, Croatia. The course faculty consisted of WAAS Fellows, leaders in their own right, from a wide range of fields of expertise. Ivo Šlaus, Honorary President of WAAS and Director of WUC, gave the introductory lecture, noting that leadership is embedded in the motto of WAAS, “Leadership in thought that leads to action.” The core ideas of the course were the need for transformational leadership and the characteristics of the leader. Transformational leadership is very necessary for the future of the world. People at all levels, in all fields of society, need to exhibit this capacity in order to contribute to the paradigm change.

2. The Process of Accomplishment

In order to accomplish in future, a look back is essential. Human beings have always accomplished. We have accomplished at the level of survival ever since we appeared. By coming together in groups, foraging for food, sheltering from the elements and defending themselves from the wild, early humans did a remarkable job of surviving. As civilizations appeared, society evolved, creating and perfecting organizations for furthering human aspirations. Accomplishment moved from mere survival to growth and development. Trade, commerce, education, arts and science developed. Today we talk about accomplishment at the level of evolution. But regardless of the level, there is a process of social accomplishment that is common at all levels. In order to plan for the future, and prepare leadership that can bring it about, we need to fully understand this process.

The process of accomplishment is the conscious pursuit of objectives by human beings. Its seed is human aspiration. Any act is preceded by one or more persons wanting it. When early humans sought shelter and warmth, dwellings and clothes were fashioned. When they wanted to settle down instead of always moving in search of food, agriculture and animal rearing began. When needs rose in quantity and complexity, markets, trade and transportation developed. Human ingenuity kept pace with human needs. Intellectual, industrial, technolog­ical and social revolutions have all been brought about essentially by human aspiration.

Aspiration is the source of great energy. Human energy is the basis of all accomplishment. It was not the steam engine that powered locomotives, it was man’s need to move out of his village or town, to newer places that was the source. As power and prestige moved away from owning land to being in trade and industry, the industrial revolution came about, the availability of coal, iron and steel was not the basis of the revolution. The shipping industry owed its development to man’s ambition and quest for adventure. The advances we see in technology and communication are the result of our need for more efficiency, conveniences and entertainment.

Energy by itself does not accomplish. There is great energy in a raging river, but it is only when the water is dammed and channelled through sluice gates that it is turned into a force. Similarly, human aspiration releases energy, but this energy needs a right direction, to become a force. When the flowing water is passed through a turbine, it is converted into hydroelectric power. The force of human energy organized around an activity or pursuit is transformed into an effective power. This power, expressed through skills, results in action and accomplishment. Accomplishment at all levels, from the individual to the global, is defined by this process.

Leadership is a key element in this process, catalyzing and directing the accomplishment at every stage.

3. Role of the Leader in the Process

When Mahatma Gandhi landed in India after spending twenty one years in South Africa, he had a clear vision. He had already taken part in anti-apartheid protests in Africa, and effectively handled the might of the ruling class without violence. He was in tune with the subconscious aspiration of all Indians. He awoke in the collective consciousness of his people the faith that they could become free of their colonial ruler. He generated and released energy in himself and in others. He saw to it that this energy was not scattered for want of direction, or dissipated in violence. He led by example. He espoused simplicity, selflessly gave himself to the cause of the nation, and related to the masses to such an extent that tens of thousands of people left their jobs and comfortable homes to join him in the freedom struggle. India became free after over two hundred years of colonial rule, through a largely peaceful movement. This was brought about by the visionary leadership of Gandhi, and many others like him.

The transformational leader gives an impetus to the process of social accomplishment, at every stage. He awakens the aspiration in others, and generates the energy required to complete the task. Through his own vision, goals, plans and values, he gives the force a direction. He builds an organization, or uses an existing one, to channel the force, thereby transforming it into an effective power. He expresses the power effectively through skilled action. Great movements have vaporized because of the lack of strong, effective leadership. Conversely, near impossible acts have been carried out when one person or a team has shown the way. Alexander Likhotal, President of Green Cross International and Director, WUC, underlined the importance of leadership when he quoted Napoleon’s words, “An army of sheep, led by a lion, is better than an army of lions, led by a sheep.” As Likhotal put it, the leader uncorks the future.

4. Leadership and Individuality

Individual Accomplishment, Growth and the Character of Life was the topic of an earlier WAAS and WUC course in August 2014. This course, now available online, described individuality as the acme of human development. The well-developed individual thinks for himself, is not restricted by any of society’s norms, and can envision a future that is different from and better than the present. For anyone to become a leader, he has to be a formed individual. One who follows the herd and dares not to question the status quo is not qualified to lead. Uncorking the future can only be done by someone not limited by the present, he has to think beyond what everyone else sees, believes and considers possible.

Had the leader of the Protestant Reformation Martin Luther gone about his work and life without questioning the prevailing thoughts, he would not have come up with even a single thesis. Had he been awed by the might of the Pope and the Catholic Church, he would have considered his 95 Theses pointless, and abandoned the idea before he reached the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg. Without calculating the odds against him, and with deep conviction in his ideas, Luther acted. He was strong, courageous, open minded, intelligent, responsible, farseeing, and creative – a formed individual. Leaders with well-developed individuality shape history and lead us into the future.

Janani Harish: Associate Fellow, World Academy of Art & Science; Research Associate, The Mother’s Service Society, India
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