In times of crisis, new leaders emerge. And make no mistake, we are in such a time of crisis right now – a time of danger and opportunity, as the Chinese pictogram for ‘crisis’ would characterise it. We face a perfect storm of economic crises, humanitarian crises and ecological crises. The best leaders will be those who can help us survive and thrive through the storm – to navigate around the dangers and towards the opportunities.
But what kind of leaders are these, and do we see any good examples? To answer this question, we need to look beyond the narrow-minded, bigoted, egotistical leaders that have been stealing the headlines of late. Given the nexus of our global challenges, we need a special type of response, which I call integrated leadership. These comes from leaders who can integrate at four levels: personal, organisational, societal and planetary.
Planetary Integration: The Leader as Astronaut
As we enter what geologists are calling the Anthropocene – an epoch in which human activity has become the dominant influence on climate and the environment, we need leaders who can integrate an understanding of planetary dynamics. This consciousness began to emerge in the 1960s, with luminaries like Buckminster Fuller, Barbara Ward and Kenneth Boulding writing about ‘spaceship earth’.
Boulding describes this as recognition of the earth as a closed system “without unlimited reservoirs of anything, either for extraction or for pollution, and in which, therefore, man must find his place in a cyclical ecological system”. Following the Apollo missions and its stunning photographs of our blue-green orb from space, in the 1970s former NASA scientist, James Lovelock, proposed his Gaia Theory (named after the Greek goddess of the earth), which describes how our planet acts like a self-regulating organism.
Fifty years since ‘spaceship earth’ entered our consciousness, our knowledge of the planetary biosphere has become much more…