Whatever you’re doing this Friday, wherever you’re going or whatever box you’re checking, I invite you to take a moment, just now, and stop doing it at all.
In the space created therein, sometimes the right thing appears. This week, that happened to me:
1. Transcendent leadership. While meditating this week, the term came to me and it was clear that that’s what all this has been leading up to. My writing, the meditation classes. Since leaving VNN, “what’s next” has been a flavor of angst I’ve come to know well. Even to appreciate. But I think I know now, what’s next. Transcendent leadership.
The practice of going beyond yourself, identifying not with your individual concerns and likes/dislikes, but instead with a broader purpose or meaning behind the narrative of your life. Once an individual has transcended themselves, leadership becomes the path of helping those in your care to do the same. To find in their work the deepest meaning and purpose in their lives. Such is the promise of good work, done well, for the right reasons, and with the right leadership. The type of leadership I tried to do at VNN, and at my best, at times, perhaps even achieved. But more often a type of leadership to which I aspire.
At first I thought I made it up, but as the world is vast and the process of transcending oneself is perhaps the core of the human condition, some brilliant people precede me in the world of transcendent leadership. Fred Kofman is my favorite to date (I read his Conscious Business at the start of my dive, and devoured much of The Meaning Revolution this week. I suggest either as a starting point if the topic interests), but there are more.
I don’t yet know what form this takes. In fact I imagine it takes multiple forms, but this is the work for me to do. Fellow travelers, please reach out. I’d love to learn from you.
2. As is often the case, the right supporting evidence showed up at the right time as well. Seth Godin, he of the uncannily-germane, daily posts, spoke this week about Systems Design, and specifically how top-down leadership is being eaten by peer-to-peer learning and leadership. This seems a symptom of the need for this type of Transcendent, inside-out rather than top-down, Leadership.
3. A friend then sent me this article, about why compassion is better than empathy for leaders (you see the way that the Universe talks to you if you’re listening, or the way confirmation bias works, depending if you relate to nothing or everything as a miracle). A characteristic of Transcendent Leadership being identification not with individual concerns, but with a greater purpose/meaning/cause. With It, rather than me. In this way, transcendence begets compassion.
Rasmus Hougaard of Potential Project (author) uses an atypical definition of compassion and empathy to create the distinction between the two, but subject to those definitions I think the distinction holds weight. Empathy is reactive, emotional, and ultimately passive (I feel your pain), and compassion is proactive, intentional and active (I help to alleviate your pain). Compassion may start in many cases with empathy, but without that important evolution, empathy can be empty.
4. Then, Laura sent me this article, about the collective A New World In Our Hearts which has been installing community refrigerators across NYC to combat persistent hunger, food waste, and build community around food. Aside from an awesome example of the good that is coming out of this world that we’re evolving into, the lotus being born from the mud, this article also illustrates a further characteristic of Transcendent Leadership: the best leaders have no followers.
Among my favorite Spiritual texts, the Tao Te Ching, written by a Banksy-esque collective named Lao Tzu 2,500 years ago, has this to say on the topic:
“When the Master governs, the people
are hardly aware that he exists.
Next best is a leader who is loved.
Next, one who is feared.
The worst is one who is despised.
If you don’t trust people,
you make them untrustworthy.
The Master doesn’t talk, he acts.
When his work is done,
the people say, “Amazing:
we did it, all by ourselves!”
And, of course, this quote found me this week as well.
5. I suffer from a self-consciousness that all this may be too spiritual for many of my readers. Perhaps remnants of the intellectually-superior-atheism of my younger days. If you’re staying with me, if you’ve felt the call to transcend your feeling of separateness, then all’s the better. But if this is too woo woo and seems I’ve gone off the deep end, I refer you to perhaps the most famous living atheist, Sam Harris’s defense of spirituality. Building off that, I posit that what we’re all searching for, once we’ve exhausted the fleeting highs that experience-chasing and accomplishment can provide, is a sense of our own spirituality. A sense that we’re a part of something bigger. Something that will never die.
Work can be a vehicle for this. It can be THE vehicle for this, as in my estimation spirituality is most useful as a verb. Work can be a spiritual pilgrimage, a selfless act of sharing your soul with the world. It has been that way for me at times, and it has not been at other times. What’s at stake in the delta, I’ve learned through so much pain and reflection, is my very life.
The best leaders use their work as a spiritual quest to transcend themselves, and so doing then consciously use their work to help their teams do the same. At the end of the day we’re all looking for meaning, and it’s up to us, as leaders, to help those around us find it.
I can think of nothing more in need of doing today.