The following is a guest post by our friends at Saybrook University’s Organizational Systems Program (a 3p sponsor) – designed for students who want to understand the nature of organizations, collaborative practices, and transformative change.
Leadership in our modern cultures is not only highly valued but essential for our evolution. As I approach 30 years of professional work, I realize that almost 100 percent of the value I bring to organizations and what I am compensated for involves leadership.
My work in leadership comprises creating an even playing field for teams and individuals. It is about recruiting and people development. It involves arbitrating and creating spaces for peaceful dialogue. It is about finding the spark within each soul to promote a sense of value. It deals with the life of each individual and the life of the community. As I do my work, I am not focused on the bottom line or even the triple bottom line. I am passionate about human evolution, the preservation of life, the emancipation of the soul and achieving this within the context of the workplace.
I must share that back in the 1980s, I pursued a wide range of spiritual activities with deep curiosity. I did not want just to enlist into a religion and believe in something. I wanted to discover how consciousness works, and how it manifests and develops. Something in me told that as we learn from our experiences, we become wiser, more complete, more understanding, more loving, more interdependent, more peaceful, and ultimately more joyful.
Based on the life experiences of the people I was studying and practicing various forms of spirituality back in the 80s, I saw no purpose to the workplace. I could not see it as developmental from a spiritual perspective. This prompted me to seriously consider throwing in the towel, including my years of college and a budding career as a software engineer. What saved me from taking such a Draconian step against the workplace was the advice of one of my spiritual teachers, Toni—the only person in my social network that was actively encouraging me to stay right where I was.
Toni believed that our greatest chance to evolve is through our business organizations. She not only recognized their social power, but their leadership. She would tell me that the discipline and the processes for evolution exist in the workplace. What is missing, Toni would surmise, is awareness and caring. “Our role as spiritual beings is to promote awareness and bring our love to every place, including the workplace,” this dear friend and mentor would say to me. Consequently, I stayed in the world of for-profit businesses. Now, as I reach my third decade in high-tech, I am more excited than ever. I fully believe that we can and will evolve with the active participation of businesses and their leadership.
So what makes me state such a claim? For one, I can write this post and send a link to it to any of my colleagues and not feel that I will be perceived as crazy. Several of them participate in my green team at work where we focus to lower our company’s environmental impact through a set of strategies to use greener materials, eliminate waste, improve the energy efficiency of our products and organize employee-wide environmental programs. We do this because we care.
Earlier this week I was in Shenzhen, China, where I met with our supply chain partners to strategize on how we can work together to lower our environmental impact. I reviewed their environmental programs dealing with eliminating waste and conversing energy. One of our partners uses solar power to heat up the water for the dormitories for their 3,000 employees. This factory and its management shows a genuine and touching sense of caring. Employees are treated as family and all of their needs are provided for, including their socks. Medical care is available on site and each employee is highly encouraged to get yearly checkups. Employee development at this factory in Shenzhen is not just a buzz phrase. Their head of program management was one of their administrators several years ago. She was given the opportunity to develop. Today, she is a very accomplished individual and quite impactful to their business.
On a broader scale, I was emotionally moved as my car made its way through the streets of Shenzhen. I could see the blue sky illuminated by the radiant sun. Five years ago, the concept of a sunny day in this city was a hot day with grey skies where you had to imagine where the sun was. I suppose that more than a generation grew up without seeing a star or knowing what blue skies look like. The summer university games hosted in Shenzhen this year inspired the leadership of this city to clean up their pollution. A city-wide campaign was launched resulting in the marvel of clean air. Electric buses and taxis are making their way into public transportation in Shenzhen and city lights are powered by wind and solar energy captured by collectors built into every street light. This is great leadership.
I know that there is much to fix about our businesses and much that they have to clean up from their activities. However, my encounter with higher awareness and care in the workplace is no longer an anomaly. Yes, there are still companies that feel that their only reason to exist is to make money at all cost. I believe with great certainty that these narrow-minded businesses will not last long. Companies without a purpose that translates into social evolution will not be able ignore the awareness that now exists. We will not endorse their existence much longer.
The cover of the October 24, 2011, issue of Newsweek reads “100 Greenest Companies” Starting on page 28 of this issue, we can see the names of the top companies in environmental progress along with their accomplishments. In the Number 1 spot, we find Munich Re, a financial company in Germany that believes “climate change is one of the greatest risks facing mankind.” At Number 6, the BT Group—a British telecommunications company—has begun to develop its own wind farms. Its “wind for change” project hopes to produce 250 megawatts of renewable electricity by 2016—or 25 percent of its current needs.
Going back to the subject and value of leadership, we can see that it is about human evolution. It starts with each of us and what we bring to the workplace. It then evolves into enterprises such as Walmart in Mexico, which introduced reusable shopping bags and achieved a reduction of 58 percent of their plastic bags well ahead of the company’s 2013 goal.
Like my friend Toni advised me many years ago, let’s not abandon our businesses and see them as the enemy of human evolution. Let’s leverage what they have in terms of discipline, processes, and resources to drive change in our world. This is the kind of leadership we need.
Jorge Taborga is a Ph.D. student in organizational systems at Saybrook University and is a regular contributor to Rethinking Complexity, a blog produced by students and faculty members of Saybrook’s organizational systems program. Read more of Jorge’s work at: www.rethinkingcomplexity.com.