“That since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed”- UNESCO constitution.
2017 was a year of profound personal transformation. It was also the toughest year of my life. In 2018, I created a pause in my writing in order to recover, to focus on my practice and to reflect on what my leadership could offer the world.
Over the past year, my work connected me with powerful communities; attending the inaugural On Being Gathering at the Redwood Forests in California, facilitating a three day strategy workshop on SDGs implementation in Kathmandu; witnessing, with my partner, the houses that enslaved generations of Africans in Dakar; contributing to a transformational global governance meeting in Berlin; and finally, running 26 miles in Athens to the historic Panathenaic Stadium (more on that next week!).
I feel immensely grateful that I get to do the work I do, that my biggest question and contribution everyday is ‘How can I make this world a better place?’ I am thankful that I survived the hardest days of my life and I get another chance to risk, to love, to create, to question, to answer, to fail, to write, to thrive, to be.
The past two years have given me enough lessons to appreciate how valuable personal transformation is to the work of social transformation. Here are two lessons I have learnt about leading from within.
- Lead with story and strategy
We choose to honour transformational leaders who lead with character and courage against the status quo. We remember these leaders because they were wise decision-makers and more importantly, in a moment of crisis, they chose to be good people first.
The leaders of global co-operation in the first 21st century will need to tap into their story in order to lead with a strategy that makes a difference. They will need lessons learned from daring and failing greatly in their personal lives and apply this to the work of changing the world. In other words, the leaders of the future, will lead with their story and their strategy.
2. Connecting war and peace – knowing what power means to you
Part of leading with your story is knowing what power means to you.
Over the past two years, I saw activists critique the status quo of power and simultaneously replicate the same oppressive power dynamics in their work of social change. Amidst the generation of emerging leaders in global co-operation, I see a strong conviction and audacity to make change within existing institutions. I have also observed the same destructive impatience for long-term change that the late Kofi Annan was critical of in our current global leadership.
It’s important for leaders to take time to understand what power means for them in their personal and professional lives, to be comfortable with the dark and light aspects of their relationship with power, to understand how power has shaped their own capabilities (‘power to’ and ‘power within’) and consequently, their leadership over and with others (‘power over’ and ‘power with’).
The opening words of the UNESCO constitution is a wise reminder of where social transformation starts – within. ‘Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed’. I hope in our fight to change the world, we are also fighting for a new philosophy of leading ourselves and each other.