Friday, September 29, 2017

Deep Leadership

A major part of the Transition Centre mission is to foster the type of leadership (perhaps stewardship would be a better word) required to plan, develop, promote and manage a sustainable, transitional, society.  It is clear that sustainability will require a new leadership style, attitudes and skills not fully represented in current social and business models.  Our approach, as follows, is an evolutionary progression of management style.

Why a different model? 

Economist describe the economy as three sectors:
·      The first involves production of raw materials include agricultural, forestry and mining products
·      The second involves the transformation of raw materials into goods, that is, industry
·      The third involves services to consumers and business
Essentially, all three employs roughly the same management model today.  I think a better way of understanding this is a glance at the evolution of how we’ve managed society:
·      Before the era we call civilization, tribal and village elders managed the affairs of their people, rarely more than a few hundred.
·      With the rise of civilization, life became far more complex.  The foundation of the economy was agriculture. There were kings, warriors and priest – a literate class of scribes who kept records –a very different form of social leadership.
·      The industrial revolution, driven by science, technology, and globalization, produced a quantum jump in social complexity.  This is an era of the expert.
·      The fourth era has been defined as post-industrial and is composed largely of services.  This sector began to appear as manufacturing went off shore starting some 30 -40 years ago.  It has also been called the information, or digital, era, dominated by the internet, mobile personal devices, social media.
The proposed fifth era is one defined by the impact of human society on a planetary scale with soaring population and economic development which includes not only pollution but climate change, resource scarcity, global economic instability and, largely as a consequence of these factors, growing political instability and global terrorism.  It represents an even more complex, and we could say chaotic, level of existence.  Leadership is widely perceived as failing and confidence in institutions is rapidly declining.

The US has become a predominantly services sector economy and our business schools are producing graduates who manage this information rich model that represents a marginal evolution from the industrial management style.  It does represent a new organizational style – largely, but still only partially, moving away from tightly structured hierarch and authoritarianism towards virtual team-building.  This model is defined by digital technology.  The market is global in scale.  This new economy is defined by increasing competition for non-renewable resources including, according to industry surveys, land, water, energy and other mineral resources.  During the last decade or so it has become clear that the current economy is not sustainable.  With a business-as-usual approach, it is only a matter of time before we start to run out of things needed to maintain a high-energy, material rich, society.

Integral Learning and Leadership

A sustainable economy requires a different type of worldview, another progressive step in management style, and a further evolved set of knowledge, skills and attitudes.  We might have labeled the new model of management “fifth sector leadership but have preferred “Deep Leadership” for reasons developed below.  In brief, however, the distinction between the management style of the past two centuries and the future turns around the idea of specialization.  The industrial and post-industrial eras mandate narrow specialization.  Deep leadership demands a broad and comprehensive understanding and competence.  It requires an integral approach to learning and action.  It requires the ability to see the big picture, the whole picture.  It is a systems/ecology approach.

Deep leadership has its roots in the tradition of the sustainability movement.  It draws inspiration from deep ecology.  It is, in fact, ecological management; and that includes both the natural world and society.  Mostly forgotten in this future-driven, twenty-first century, are the names of people who defined the environmental/sustainability movement:  R. Buckminster, for example, (died 1983) was an iconic image of this style and largely, through his writing and speaking, defined the model.  Bucky and Steward Brand worked together to create The Whole Earth Catalog concept with its vivid image of the Earth hovering in space (Bucky’s “Spaceship Earth.”)  Bucky was an iconic holistic, general systems, thinker. 

General systems thinking was developed at the peak of Bucky’s career and provided the foundation for ecosystems science (Link …).  Peter Senge, Harvard/MIT professor and author of The Fifth Discipline, developed general systems as a tool for organizational development.  He focused on sustainability in The Necessary Revolution. 

General systems itself was inspired by general semantics founder Alfred Korzybski (Link   ).  Ralph Borsodi (Link…), founder of the School of Living, also offered a comprehensive learning program in The Education of the Whole Man and subsequent writing.  Korzybski and Borsodi are two major, but largely forgotten, pillars of Deep Leadership.

The roots of comprehensive thinking go back at least to Emerson and Thoreau.  They understood the need for a holistic understanding of the world at the dawn of the industrial era.  These roots are expressed in the work of leaders in the environment/sustainability movement from John Muir and John Ruskin to Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, John Burroughs, Rachel Carson, Arne Naess, Aldo Leopold, Wendell Berry, Thomas Berry, Fritjof Capra, Hazel Henderson, E. F. Schumacher, Barbara Marx Hubbard, George Leonard, Paul Hawken, Theodore Roszak, Vandana Shiva, James Hanson, James Lovelock, Transition Towns founder Rob Hopkins, David Holmgren’s and Bill Mollison’s permaculture and others.  This tradition is long, deep and incredibly rich.

Deep leadership is not only about a profound understand of life and human society but a capacity to translate it into vision, mission and programs to stem the tide of environmental degradation, to adapt to the inevitable consequences of economic “progress,” and to facilitate a transformative society.  They help guide us through this challenging era into a more secure and stable future.  Deep Leadership, I should note, is not about reform but rather innovation.  Time is lost in trying to fix a broken system.  It involves a long-term, strategic vision and the promotion of a transitional model to get us to not only live within the carrying capacity of the planet but to realize the dignity and destiny of the human condition.

Deep Leadership embraces absolute clarity about:
·      Conditions and consequences
·      Alternative courses of action
·      Capacity to motivate others under prolonged stress/crisis conditions
·      Ability to creatively and adaptively organize


I find a cluster of three concepts that seem to define the conditions of the world today which Deep Leadership must of necessity address:  Change, knowledge and purposeful agency:

Change is a manifestation of energy driven by human activity, which has the capacity to use and shape physical matter and energy and social organization.  It has two aspects, passive and active.

Passive:  Vast, unimaginable, complex.  Explosive.  Disequilibrium.  The rate of change we are experiencing is defined by the J, or hockey stick, curve.

Active:  Change creates the energy for transformation.  It embraces the emergence paradigm—the active force:  In chaotic systems we find the emergence of ordered sub-systems.  We need to learn how to harness these energy systems.

Knowledge:  We have a vast accumulation of human experience and its role in human advancement.  This resource will need to be organized and accessible.  The Cove Institute[1] developed two concepts for knowledge and learning management:

Psynergetics[2]:  Universal Learning System.  This level of technology has recently been realized in tablet computers.

Polymath[3]:  Universal Digital Library.  Comprehensive.  Accessible.  Peer Validated.  Open Source.  This concept has been under development for decades but is still very much a work in progress (Link …).

Purposeful:  Entails a strategic vision for finding and realizing new possibilities for the human race.  Change is focused through agents who have the training and instinctive capacity to understand it and to shape the conceptual and organizational frameworks for adaptation.

Deep Leadership Curriculum

What does a twenty-first century agent of change have to know?  At the top of the list is a general/eco-systems framework of understand nature and human society.  Human communities are ecosystems.  Deep leaders will have to be not only holistic systems thinkers but multi-disciplinary: ecologist, sustainability systems architects, and trained in the planning, management, communication; with interpersonal skills that will allow them to guide the formation of restorative communities and economies; and shape interdependent and collaborative models of social organizations.  It requires critical intelligence.  It requires an ability to perceive the entire local ecology as a dynamic pattern of forces, to anticipate consequences and to devise effective, innovated, alternatives.

A generalist education may be defined as liberal but it is also wide-ranging, comprehensive and systematic.  It involves not a “higher” consciousness but a “broader” consciousness.  It includes a record of the human experience – an integral history, the natural and life sciences, including mathematics and the scientific method, and social sciences, world literature, the great religious traditions, philosophy, a practical economics, politics.  It includes arts and crafts:  the Deep Leader must be a maker handy with tools, able to render concepts artistically (and graphically).  It requires skillfulness in expression, in written and verbal communications, in storytelling.  It requires competence in economics and business entrepreneurship.  We live in a digital age and competence with this medium is an asset. Since we live in a world in which conflict is an unfortunate reality, military service would be an asset.

On a personal level, the home and family being fundamental to strong communities, a Deep Leader will arguably need to be a model spouse, parent and householder.  A working knowledge of healthful living is essential.

More than knowledge is required.  It demands skills and appropriate attitudes.  The attitude must be realistic rather than romantically idealistic:  Life is what it is and must be lived according to its own rules.  It requires a passion for a perpetually sustainable future, cultural adaptability and related things.  Deep Leadership involves a commitment to the future of the human species.  Compassion and empathy are mandated. 

Deep leadership embraces the spiritual as well as physical nature of life and living.  An enlightened martial art, such as Aikido, is indispensable as it develops not only physical confidence but a more integrated personality and robust health. 

What does the Deep Leader Do? 

A Deep Leader will of necessity be a skillful organizer, planner and manager.  Community development is at the core of Deep Leadership.  Education is the foundation of action and community.

One important function of Deep Leadership is eco- and social entrepreneurship.  Sustainable, or regenerative, economic redevelopment is mandatory.  We must pay our own way and that means producing goods and services that are intrinsically valuable; in which people will readily invest in, adopt and apply.  Prosperity, defined in sustainable terms, is integrally linked with quality of life.  Social entrepreneurship starts with the identification of the most pressing social-economic problems, problems others have missed or where they have failed to resolve them.  Money is lacking.  These may be “Mission Impossible” scenarios[4].  Deep Leaders must be able to develop radically innovative solutions; revolutionary and life changing adaptation of the system.

Deep leaders may be in the nonprofit or business sector.  The Benefit Corporation provides a viable alternative to profit-driven commercialism.

Some of the pressing issues we face today include:
·      Climate Change:  Adaptation to consequences of rapidly changing climate and extreme weather
·      Economic impact of resource depletion (Water, land, mineral resources)
·      Inevitable increasing cost of energy
·      Mediation of social justice issues arising from climate-driven economic instability
·      Employment:  Job security and equitable quality of life for all people.
·      Skill development (education, training, apprenticeship and mentoring)
·      Community (Governance, social order, collaboration and mutual support)
·      Chronic weakness of World and US economy. 
·      Too few transformational organizations and leaders

What is Leadership

The quality of leadership is found in all social species.  In insects, it is a role served by the queen.  In primates, by the alpha individual.  In humans, there is more to it:  Only we are conscious of the role of leadership.  Only we have language, curiosity, foresight.

Renowned biologist E. O. Wilson has put the human species in a very exceptional category of social species he calls “eusocial.”  There are only nineteen such species, out of millions alive today, and we are the only higher form of life in that category.  That we are conscious, language using, beings gives a distinctive quality to our capacity for cooperation and collaboration.

Before the modern age leadership resided in the strongest and tended to be an inherited privilege of an established aristocracy.  Kings often lead their troops into battle.  There were also religious leaders, including the great prophet founders of modern religions.  Christianity, Hindu, Buddhism, the Hebrews, Islam and other faith systems gave the world many of its great, enlightened, leaders.  There have also been social (secular) philosophers like Socrates, Plato, Confucius and Lao Tzu.

The modern, industrial, era redefined leadership in an important way.  Lincoln, Victoria and Bismarck, for example, inherited the terrible power of industrial commerce and war.  England, Germany and France schooled its aristocracy to command this new age.  In the United States, which rejected inherited aristocracy, something of a new order emerged, one founded on Darwinist principles.  Power became identified not only with factories and cities but armies and navies.

The current American industrial order was largely shaped by World War II.  Out of this conflict, and the Roosevelt administration that had already centralized the government during the Great Depression, came a “command and control” mentality that mobilized the world’s greatest economy.  Two decades after the war, the command and control mentality, called Theory X by management guru Douglas McGregor, was challenged by Theory Y, a much more liberal, democratic, structure of management.  Globalization also mandated lean, “flat,” organizations with less overhead and more focus on teamwork, on productivity, and upon innovation in an increasingly competitive world.  It is not coincidental that digital technology emerged at this time.  This is also the time American manufacturing begin to move offshore and the service economy became dominate.  The assembly line mentality became passé. 

In the US, a “post-industrial” ideology emerged.  The factories moved to the innately authoritarian and hierarchical societies of Asia, particularly China.  In the US, the economy became focused on the digital industry (Microsoft and Apple, for example).  It also coalesced around the finance industry – from which 40% of the country’s corporate profits are derived.  The culture of these new “industries” was predominately team oriented.  These teams could be dispersed around the world.  This is the world inherited by the Millennials. 

The oil crisis of the 1970s was a wakeup call.  It became increasingly apparent that the US was highly depended on the global economy.  It was a natural disaster, hurricane Katrina, in 2005, that nudged us to an awareness of the reality of resource sacristy.  While the storm damaged only a small fraction of the world’s petroleum capacity, the cost of a barrel of oil soared.  Political instability in oil-rich regimes became a major influence on the world economy.  In short, we became increasingly aware of resource scarcity.  An elite sector of the Fortune 500 became awoke to this reality, in essence a supply chain issue.  On their list of critical resources are not only energy reserves but land, water and other resources such as the critical rare earth elements upon which both the digital and renewable energy industries depend.

Since the mid-1980s we have become increasingly sensitive to the problem of a sustainable economy and global society.  The Great Recession of 2008 was a shock.  World population continues to increase dramatically.  Developing countries demand more natural resources and drive rising per capita consumption.  The humanitarian ideal of sustainable development proposes to lift all people out of poverty, disease and ignorance.  But it is also a powerful feedback loop that steadily accelerates the stress of the planetary biosphere.


Albert Einstein famously said that we can’t solve problems with the same thinking that created them.  Our time is one of unparalleled complexity and the first requirement of a Deep Leader is a mind trained to embrace this complexity, to see it as a whole, as a dynamic, ecological process; to be able to visualize consequence, to imagine solutions and to plan and act in such a manner as to resolve these problems while there is still time.

Copyright © 2017, Bill Sharp, Transition Centre

[1] Modeled in collaboration with now four lamentably deceased mentors.
[2] A learning appliance (tablet) programmed for access to Polymath database and to facilitate digital augmentation of learning.
[3] Sharp, “Plus Ultra” (2004).  This model has at its genesis Vaneaver Bush,, “As We May Think” (1945), General Systems Theory, the evolution of digital libraries, J. C. R. Licklider’s Libraries of the Future, the evolution of information technology, Jesse Shera’s and Norman Meise’s work leading to the automated card catalog, Oliver Reiser’s The Integration of Human Knowledge, R. Buckminister Fuller’s Synergetics, Alfred Korzybski’s general semantics and a variety of works on cognitive learning styles and multiple intelligence modalities.
[4] These may be addressed through the Vision 10 – 10 framework.

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