Holistic leadership can make the world a better place. It can happen in all areas of your life — family, friends, workplace and the wider community of your neighbourhood, nation and planet.
‘Holistic’ means that everything in life is in some way connected and interdependent; and that your actions and behaviour ripple out to touch everyone and everything. So as a holistic leader you are aware of everyone and everything involved in your project. Also your leadership is fuelled by your highest values, so that your actions always benefit the whole community of life.
Whether it is family, work or globe you obviously want to improve the situation. But sometimes simply wanting things to be better is more like a complaint than a vision. I want my family to be more harmonious. I want work to be more enjoyable and productive. I want the world to be safer. I want animals and nature to be protected. These are understandable desires, but they are not leadership visions. Desires on their own achieve nothing.
Leadership needs a clear vision of the outcome and strategies for achieving it. And appropriate action.
The beauty of Nelson Mandela’s leadership — the first black President of South Africa — lay in his inspirational vision filled with goodwill and hope. He is a wonderful model for us.
Having been a militant revolutionary, he became an icon of peace and harmony. During his twenty-seven years imprisonment on Robben Island he went through a process of personal and political transformation and saw what was truly necessary. People needed healing, hope and inspiration.
He went beyond an African liberation movement to a radical vision of the rainbow nation — a nation in which all races lived together in harmony. What a stunning transformation.
Nurture your dreams and develop a clear vision of the outcome you truly want for your family, work or community.
Of course when he was finally released from prison and became President of South Africa, he met political realities. The rainbow nation vision was not enough, but now needed negotiation, tactics and strategy. It needed carefully nurtured communications and relationships with everyone, especially those who had once been enemies.
This long process of manifesting the rainbow has had successes and failures. This is normal. It is in the face of failure that we see the true leaders, because they stay resolutely true to their vision despite challenges.
You may want to heal relationships in your family, run a profitable business or be an effective activist. But you won’t get anywhere if you lose motivation and crumple at your first setback or when you first meet opposition. I know so many people, for example, who say they want to heal their relationships, but become outraged drama-queens at the first offence.
Good leaders know that they have to wrestle with life and with people, and they do it with goodwill, love and respect. Holistic leaders also have an understanding of the unseen dynamics in relationships and communications, especially why and how people resist change. Sticks and carrots, clarity and compassion are carefully used.
Persevere with hope and goodwill when you experience failure.
What is your attitude to the people who may oppose your vision and leadership? You must welcome your opponents. That was the brilliant grace of Nelson Mandela. His vision included those who had been his worst enemies. If they had been excluded they would have carried on being dangerous antagonists. He welcomed them with careful tactics and communications. He once wore the green and yellow jersey of the all-white South African rugger team. A shrewd and careful move.
Holistic leadership is emotionally literate and mindful. You know how to recognise and guide your own feelings and thoughts; and you are considerate and empathic to others. This is more important in fulfilling a project than technical or scholarly knowledge.
This psychological wisdom also applies to how you do your planning. There is a wealth of solid research showing that people think best when at ease. Aroused, anxious or urgent we flood our brains with unhelpful electro-chemistry and it skews our thinking. So good leadership means that we take time to think carefully about our projects — what needs adapting, who needs time, crucial next steps. Out of prison and throughout his presidency Mandela liked to sit in his garden with a glass of wine pondering strategy. You do not need twenty-seven years forced contemplation, but you do need time out and space to plan, even if it is in a long soak in the bath or walk in landscape or a park.
It is during these periods of relaxed planning that you can literally feel the fulfilment of your vision. It is not just an idea in your head but a felt experience of success. This is what is meant by Be the change you want to see. Why should anyone else shift if you don’t do it first and lead the way?
Your actual style of leadership will need to be authentic to the kind of character you are. Humorous or dry, introvert or extrovert, sporty or armchair, servant-leader or front-of-the-pack, facilitator or emperor — your leadership, actions and communications will be filled with patience and persistence, care and consideration, and a deep connection with the whole community of life.
And whether you are successful or not, your efforts and your integrity are always valuable. So always remain hopeful and remember the inspiring words of Margaret Mead, ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’
The purpose of freedom is to create it for others.