The Awakened Leader

Master Charles Cannon

The world needs a new kind of leadership. This is obvious on every level, from the most personal – being accountable for one’s own life experience – to global affairs. Who is capable of steering in safe, healthy, progressive directions?

In my recent book on Awakening from the American Dream we spoke about awakened leaders and one of their primary character traits: they learn. This stands in stark contrast to leaders who enforce their views, based on past success or failure, on present situations. They learn too, but in a fundamentally different way. Their learn how to adopt old strategies to fix problems (created by their same thinking), rather than learning new strategies and applying them to create truly novel results.

Here is a quote from what we wrote:

“Whether an action was well-intended or not is less important than the results it achieved. Awakened leaders aren’t afraid to acknowledge when a strategy failed to achieve its intention. “Likewise, the awakened leader doesn’t leap-frog over the results he or she achieves in the most personal aspects of their lives. Their spiritual activism embraces everything, from the very small to the very large, and every moment – regardless of seeming size and significance – becomes the one and best opportunity to contribute. “This is what separates egoic leaders from trans-egoic leaders. ‘What can I do to make things better?’ becomes ‘Who do I choose to be in relationship to this circumstance?”

Clearly, then, the primary learning awakened leaders embrace relates to themselves. “Who do I choose to be in relationship to this circumstance?” becomes their standing mantra. This turns the concept of leadership on its head. Old paradigm leadership was all about being in charge, knowing what to do, and giving other people their marching orders. New paradigm leadership is about being personally accountable and discovering what to do, in relationship with other people.

In his essay, “Essentials of Servant Leadership,” Robert K. Greenleaf credits the roots of his philosophy to reading the fictional tale, Journey to the East, by Hermann Hesse. “In this story, we see a band of men on a mythical journey… The central figure of the story is Leo, who accompanies the party as the servant who does their menial chores, but who also sustains them with his spirit and his song. He is a person of extraordinary presence. All goes well until Leo disappears. Then the group falls into disarray and the journey is abandoned. They cannot make it without the servant Leo. The narrator, one of the party, after some years of wandering, finds Leo and is taken into the Order that had sponsored the journey. There he discovers that Leo, whom he had known first as servant, was in fact the titular head of the Order, its guiding spirit, a great and noble leader."

Greenleaf is credited with starting the modern Servant Leadership movement. The fundamental principle is that the leader, any leader, is responsible to those he leads. He is not there to control them; he is there to serve them. One can immediately recognize this quality and strategy in prominent leaders like Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, etc.

Awakened Leader

The awakened leader is a servant leader. Thinking of oneself and referencing the question we posed a moment ago – “Who are you choosing to be?” – take a moment to consider your life and the various roles you find yourself playing. Are you an awakened leader in any or all of these circumstances? Are you able to shift identities as necessary, from cook to gardener, to educator, to mother, throughout the day? Or, are you stuck in some conceptual leader role and strutting around being in charge?

The awakened leader learns from every moment of experience. What do we learn? How to better serve. Who and what do we serve? Those we are responsible to and the world we are blessed to inhabit. Now, imagine this attitude constellating in those who occupy the major power positions in this world. It’s almost impossible to conceive of this, in a society where might is still right and where so much of our value system hinges on the “Great Man” theory of leadership. You know that theory; we see it trotted out in just about every movie that makes money at the box office. It’s Spider Man or Don Draper (or any other one of the many super heroes we are programmed to admire) to the rescue, every time.

Meanwhile, here we are in our comparably small, mostly anonymous lives. But the modesty of our station does not prohibit us from being awakened leaders. In fact, those who genuinely are awakened leaders inevitably down play their personal accomplishments. They do their part, in concert with all others doing theirs.

Each of us may join this new leadership community if we wish. The price of admission is personal accountability and a commitment to answer that question through the way we live: “Who am I choosing to be in this moment, in this situation, to best serve those I am responsible to?”

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