Part 1 of a conversation with John Knights on Transpersonal leadership
Editor’s Note: This series is based upon a November 2018 video conversation between GRLI Executive Director John North and John Knights. A key inquiry that emerged from this conversation is one that has been a rich source for exploration before: “How we might shift our focus from maximizing any one initiative’s capacity for impact towards optimizing its role within a larger system of change so that we create bigger collective impact?” To achieve this, what kinds of leaders, equipped with what kinds of capacities, understandings, and skills are needed? How might we support the development and resilience of these leaders, in order to achieve the changes our world requires?
We invite the GRLI community to explore the roadmap and resources offered in Leading Beyond the Ego, and how this might support GRLI’s Call for Global Responsibility in how we live, learn, and leads as whole persons.
This is part 1 of a three-part series. Click here to watch the 3:00 minute video.
John Knights: Similar to the GRLI’s approach to personal, organizational and systemic approach to living, learning, and leading, we’re attempting to complete the circle and bring the systemic back into the personal.
One of the things that is relatively easy to do, and that has been done very successfully by business schools and others, is to replicate learning when it’s at a rational level.
The question is, how do you replicate learning at the emotional and the spiritual level? Most of the people who go into the fields of ethical and spiritual leadership find that it is very much more experiential and dependent on the context in the room. It’s also very much dependent on the skills, wisdom and beliefs of the individual facilitator.
With most training that is connected to the emotional and spiritual, you can get a great environment, you can get a great solution, but it’s not really replicable beyond that single facilitator. It’s not something that’s transferable through 9 billion people on the globe, just with the few hundred the facilitator can touch personally.
So our approach and I guess to some extent, my engineering or scientific background comes into it a little bit, was thinking about, “How can we systematize an approach to leadership development that enables it to be reproducible, but at the same time, allows it to be contextual, and personal?”
The basic point of what we’re trying to do, is to get people to think about being proactive in rewiring their own brain, rather than have their brain rewired for them. And so you have to give people a certain amount of knowledge, and you have to enable them to learn certain skills, but then you have to provide the environment where they can develop their own insights and solutions.
The more we think about that, the more that is the future of learning. After all, it’s the way things actually happen in the workplace and in life in general. I do believe that what we are offering for leaders is not very different from what we should be doing mainstream from the age of two or three with all our children around the world.
John North: It’s almost too late by the time they’ve self-selected into doing an MBA, isn’t it?
John Knights: At this point in time, we don’t have an option because it is not happening earlier. It needs to be such that each individual has the ability to function in their own complex world, and then the dots need to be joined up systemically. But we have to keep bringing it back to the individual. As a first step, where do we start? It is a chicken and egg situation but I do think we need to start with developing the individual leaders we need for these changing times.
If we don’t have a few of the right kind of leaders to start this process off, then we’ll never get to our goal. If we have leaders who are trying to take a systemic approach but are primarily ego driven and thinking about the benefit for themselves, we’re not going to be successful in providing a systemic solution to developing the right kind of leaders for the future.
John Knights is Chair of LeaderShape Global and lead author of “Leading Beyond The Ego: How to Become a Transpersonal Leader”, published by Routledge in March 2018. After a career as a senior international corporate executive and serial entrepreneur, John’s life changed when he learned to coach and then facilitate groups of chief executives to support them continue their development. This, plus the experience and research of working with many other leaders over the last 20 years, as well as a reflection on his own career, provide the basis for John and his colleagues to develop the Transpersonal Leadership journey.