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Preparing for Leadership

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America is heading for a crisis in the coming years, a crisis precipitated by the growing recognition that we as a nation have become a significant cause of the planet's major problems. Crisis is a term that engenders fear in many, but crisis also holds the seeds of positive transformation. Those who see crisis only through the lens of danger tend to become afraid and move away from dealing with the truth of the situation. If we can also hold crisis as a gateway to new possibilities, then we become more hopeful and more curious to examine every facet of a crisis, thereby discovering gems of insight and pathways to transformation.

Let's look at just three critical challenges for humanity where America has become a primary source of the problem. First is global warming, one of the most insidious threats to humanity, with hundreds of millions of people and many of the major coastal cities of the world in jeopardy if any of the major ice shelves melt, as is now happening in an accelerated fashion. America is by far the leading source of the CO2 that is driving global warming. We are also the largest nation to refuse to sign the Kyoto Accords, designed to curb global output. Global warming is a scientific fact now, and we know what accelerates it. The real questions are how disastrous the damage will be and how quickly it will happen. If we're trying to come up with a viable strategy to prevent global warming, we need to address America as the single biggest source of the problem.

Second, in the realm of global peace, we in America have often seen ourselves as fighters for democracy and freedom. During moments of greatness, such as World War II, our warrior class has indeed held back the forces of oppression and sacrificed nobly for the good of the whole. Now, though, our increasingly botched war in Iraq tells a different story: America is not seen by Iraqis (nor most of the world) as a liberator but as an occupier that is heavily invested in Iraq's oil assets and less interested in her people's freedom. Similarly, our enormous financial and military support of Israel, even when it acts destructively, also undermines the sense that America is truly looking out for the good of the whole. In both situations, America is now amplifying the violence in the Middle East rather than expanding the peace.

Third, in the realm of democracy and a free press, America has also become a significant source of the problem. Our democracy is in peril, not only from the obvious causes of corporate corruption and special interest groups but also from the truths that still lay half-veiled, such as the apparent theft of our last Presidential election. Our government is increasingly swallowed by debt while politicians grant sweetheart deals to corporate backers. Our money and tax system have been distorted by the privately-held Federal Reserve Bank. Our electoral integrity fails international standards and our media have become consolidated and fearful of doing their job of countering public abuses with rigorous truthtelling. The contrast between Mexico's reaction to an apparently-stolen election and ours was dramatic, which reflects our docile press combined with a too-cautious Democratic party and a stunned-into-silence electorate.

The truth is that an unaccountable, moneyed, and powerful elite now pulls the strings of the United States government and press with remarkable ease and devastating effects. We are no longer a leading example of a healthy, functioning democracy with a fully free press but of a proto-fascist state merging political and corporate power, smoothed over with a thin veneer of democracy. Worse yet, we tend to support and advance governments that are favorable to our economic interests, even when they are oppressively anti-democratic. In this way, we are often a barrier to other countries becoming more democratic because we reinforce oppressive regimes that are profitable for us.

Those are only three dimensions of the crisis humanity is facing , and yet they are essential. Sustainability, peace, and democracy are foundational to a healthy global civilization. America needs to step back into positive, forward-moving leadership in all three realms or it will bear a heavy responsibility for the suffering that ensues. For example, how will we feel as the world's leading producer of CO2, if one of the large Antarctica ice sheets melts, destroying the homes and lives of hundreds of millions of people with increased global sea levels?

So the question then becomes, "What can we do on a personal level to help America step into healthy global leadership on these issues?" My answer is to become leaders ourselves, each of us becoming a catalyst for positive transformation - an example of the changes we want to see in our systems.

As the cracks in America's image become more evident and the repercussions of our failures become more damaging, we are going to need a whole new generation of leaders, ones who can embody new paradigms of living, foster innovative solutions, restore healthy democratic processes, and serve the planet rather than just self-interest.

Each of us can become one of these leaders. Indeed, it might require ALL of us to become one. Here's my advice for how to prepare to help America choose an evolutionary path in the coming crises:

  • Personal growth - become adept at working with the many tools for personal healing, conscious empowerment, and spiritual growth. Coaches, bodyworkers, therapists, meditation teachers, acupuncturists, priests, martial arts senseis, seminar leaders, and intuitive readers can all be valuable allies on your path at different times. Get over judgments and figure out which people, practices, and resources can be most helpful to you on your path of growth. Learning to utilize these resources is part of becoming a clear and effective leader, and it will also allow you to ably guide others as well. The clearer you are, the better you will lead. Shadow work is particularly important since leaders operate in an amplified field of energy. At higher levels, the pressures, attention, and responsibilities increase along with the power. Most people who ascend to leadership have not spent enough time working with their shadow issues around power, sex, and money and thus begin to distort around those issues as the voltage amps up.
  • Continual Education - Leaders need to understand the full breadth and depth of current problems. Today, this means keeping a finger on the pulse of new developments in everything from technology to politics. Read synposes and books from the far left to the far right, as well as those that look at shadow politics, without dwelling too long. Get some of your information from the mainstream media while spending equal time investigating independent or overseas media sources, especially on the Net. Sign up for niche email newsletters that can provide you with a rapid way to track developments in various fields. Watch milestone movies such as "An Inconvenient Truth" and strongly encourage others to do so as well to ensure the largest possible audience. If you do all this, you'll have a pretty good sense for the whole truth of our current situation.
  • Practice - Look at every situation in which you find yourself as an opportunity to practice leadership. This could be anything from volunteering to run a church discussion group to managing a team at work to making wise household decisions. The kinks, challenges, and problems of our leadership will manifest in whatever realm we choose to exercise it. That's why it's good to have lots of practice in more forgiving environments before taking on more substantial worldly roles. If you don't work out the kinks in the small environments, you'll do so on a bigger, more public stage with larger consequences. While you grow in your leadership, practice empowering others in their leadership since great leaders are masterful at developing other leaders.
  • Spend time in both mainstream and alternative cultures - Mainstream culture tends to have more grounded systems of preparation and more effective skills trainings to develop expertise in leading organizations, companies, and systems. Alternative culture tends to have a lot of important visionary ideas and innovative solutions, many of which can't get traction until people embrace mainstream disciplines. Spending significant time in both cultures is helpful preparation for leadership.
  • Mentors - a key component of developing leadership is finding people you respect that exemplify greater excellence in your chosen domain and then establishing a mentor/mentee relationship. That may entail an apprenticeship, regular coaching, or simple friendship. Effective leaders template off other effective leaders and seek out people who can help them develop to the next level.
  • Walk Your Talk - If you are committed to sustainability and the environment, minimize your ecological footprint and offset your carbon every year to become carbon neutral. If you believe in compassion for all beings, become a vegetarian. If you believe in the importance of integrity, be disciplined about always telling the truth. Even the simple, quiet acts that no one will ever see have an effect on your leadership capacity. Those who do not walk their talk create barriers to effective leadership because their words are not as authentic, real, or powerful. Integrity is a true leader's greatest source of power.

    Our ability to grow slowly into our clearest, highest, and most effective leadership-a process that takes time-will determine how helpful we can be in the years ahead. Even if our acts now seem small, they are helping to accelerate humanity's journey to a better way of being together on this beautiful planet.

    As this occurs, some of the fearsome problems we face will create some of the most extraordinary advances. I believe that America can become the world's leader in transitioning to a sustainable, renewable, and healthy economy that takes us away from oil dependency and the perils of global warming. Our military can become an effective force for peace, harmony, and sincere assistance. And we can fulfill American's founding vision of being a beacon for democracy and freedom of expression, helping other countries to do the same. Each of these transformations will become quite natural when we reach a critical mass of people who are prepared to lead the way.

    Sacred America Series #25
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    Stephen Dinan is the author of Radical Spirit and the founder of the Radical Spirit community, as well as the Director of Membership and Marketing for the Institute of Noetic Sciences. He graduated from Stanford University with a degree in human (more...)

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