Lesley Beatson

When I was a child, I often wondered why I did not hear much about successful efforts to end the horrible suffering impoverished and marginalized people had to endure. Why were adults not doing more to end racism and oppression? As an adult, with an awareness of the abundance of wealth, knowledge and technology that exists, I continue to wonder why these problems have not been successfully resolved.

The purpose of this study was to investigate the lived experience of leaders who exemplify an outstanding commitment to the common good. Using hermeneutic phenomenology as my methodology (van Manen, 1997), and a sense of interrelatedness as a lens, I sought to examine the experiences of 21 highly committed leaders. As a result of comprehensive interviews, I found out how they describe “interrelatedness” and how it has manifested itself in their lives, their work, and particularly in the ways they lead.

My interviews with participants focused on their stories and reflections about “interrelatedness” as experienced in the exercise of leadership. Analysis of the data exposed a pattern of leadership that is rooted in an embodied sense of interrelatedness where leaders use what I term relational thinking, that is, thinking with a perspective that includes consideration for all stakeholders, including all of humanity. This relational form of leadership engages deep listening and inclusive facilitation to “birth” ideas for strategy and action.

Vitally, leadership grounded in a sense of interrelatedness promises to reduce the objectification of humans and the devastation of the environment. I am particularly struck with the poignancy of the relationship between a lack of a sense of interrelatedness and the ability to objectify human beings making it possible to inflict suffering upon them. As Mark Yoelle says, “At a level of the functionality of the working of the whole, I think that denial of our interconnectedness allows us to do things to ourselves and each other that otherwise we wouldn’t do” (May 17, 2006). In my interview with Ben Cabildo, the founder and leader of AHANA, Cabildo described his experience as a soldier in the Viet Nam war. Even as an Asian immigrant to the United States, Cabildo describes being brain washed to believe that Asians had less value than Americans. Cabildo’s experience illuminates how an enemy is objectified in order to justify killing them.

My search of the literature on interrelatedness and leadership revealed a growing body of knowledge about the interrelated nature of our world and an increasing urgency to recognize it (Berry, 1996; Berry, 1999; Bohm, 1980; Capra, 1982; Capra, 1996; Suzuki, 1997; Watson, 1975). Capra (1996) observes that a post-Cartesian understanding of life that has the philosophical framework of deep ecology is now emerging. Bookchin (1987) discusses beneficial aspects of non-hierarchical, cooperative leadership based on a clear awareness of interrelatedness. Csikszenmihalyi (1997) describes a need to participate intimately in the complexity of the cosmos. Zohar (2005) believes that leaders need to have the qualities of servant leaders and serve all stakeholders including the future and all of humanity. Wheatley (2002), stresses the importance of truly working on connecting with other human beings.

The interviews I conducted with 21 leaders, who exhibit a commitment to the common good, provided me with the opportunity to carefully examine their descriptions and experiences of interrelatedness. Six salient themes emerged in the analyses of the interviews:

1. There is a paucity of language to describe a sense of interrelatedness.

2. A sense of interrelatedness is essential to reduce the objectification of humans.

3. A sense of interrelatedness becomes well developed when one is open to experiences with otherness.

4. A certain level of consciousness is required to be able to conceptually perceive the interrelated nature of life.

5. An individual is challenged to maintain a developing sense of interrelatedness.

6. Leaders with an embodied sense of interrelatedness practice relational leadership. The process of relational leadership was revealed in the development of a series of mutually dependent and independently vital sub-themes: a curious disposition and certain habits of mind; a presence that is non-judgemental and open to learning; a capacity to listen with empathy, and a decision making process that involves a letting come of new ideas

I present these salient themes in the form of compelling stories from the lives of the participants.