Holistic Leadership

Holistic Leadership

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.
Nelson Mandela

Life is Good for Us


Just for the moment forget about spirituality, religion, atheism, secularism, humanism

There is so much accumulated evidence about what is good for us. It is simple.

LIFE is good for us.

Connect every day, connect every moment, with the sheer wonder and energy of nature, cosmos — life. Bask. Soak. Luxuriate in it.

Practice compassionate and intelligent self-care.

Pulse into your life a rhythm of recreation and rest. Hour by hour. Day by day. Year by year.

Love and care for others. Family, neighbours, colleagues and community; all life.

Be brave and persistent and stretch beyond the boundaries of your comfort. Courage and generosity of spirit are transformational.

Always know that we are developmental beings. We guide ourselves into being awake, loving and connected.

This is life.

It is simple. We do it all already.


Holistic Leadership Hints

Here are a few reminders and hints about holistic leadership that you might find helpful.  They can support you in all kinds of projects: family, business, community, non-profits. They are what many good people do instinctively.

Next time you want to influence or lead a project you might experiment with them. They add important dimensions.

Remember that 95% of your work is done in advance and is to do with your attitude and inner experience.

Your advance work is always done in a calm and reflective space, as if you were relaxed in a sun-lounger. Your body is at ease.

Slowly, warmly and welcomingly bring into your mind and heart all the people, known and unknown, now and into the future, who will be part of your project.
Greet their souls. Greet the souls of everyone: colleagues, customers, partners, neighbours, investors, opponents, clients, families, relatives — everyone!
Connect with them warmly.
Do this often.

Slowly, warmly and welcomingly bring into your mind and heart all the people, beings and stakeholders who will benefit from the fulfilment of your project. Greet their souls and feel their support.

Clarify, articulate and feel passionate about your highest values.
Check that your project is congruent with your values.
Spend time contemplating and appreciating the congruence.

Slowly, warmly and welcomingly tune into the invisible spiritual energies, beings, archetypes, spirits, angels that might be associated with your project. Call them in. Feel their support.

Slowly, warmly and welcomingly contemplate, feel and celebrate the perfect fulfilment of your project. Feel grateful. Give thanks.

Do all of these often several times a day so that they become part of your ongoing daily consciousness.

And then? And then of course you have to ground your project in actual actions! That requires another set of skills that include communications, adaptability, perseverance and so on.

I hope those hints are helpful.

The Problem with Discussing Compassion in Healthcare

June 2014

Last Thursday I had the pleasure of presenting at the Heart of Healthcare Conference at Dillington House.

It was a 1-day conference for healthcare professionals hosted by doctors Andrew Tressider and Patricia Saintey of Heartfelt Consulting.

My session was entitled ‘Incorporating the Spiritual Element’.

At the conference it was lovely finally to meet Dr Rosy Daniel who was medical director at the Bristol Cancer Help Centre and now of the Health Creation educational consultancy. Our paths have almost crossed over decades.

I enjoyed my morning there and it was great to be in the company of so many good hearted carers.

I was concerned though about the intellectualisation of compassion. The discussion around compassion and mindfulness always seemed to lift people out of their hearts and bodies and up into their intelligent heads.

I wonder if this is happening all around the country. Intelligent and good hearted people, who are instinctively compassionate and caring, lose their warmth once they start to discuss how to teach compassion and integrate it into good practice.  IE They can practise compassion but they don’t have the faintest notion how to teach it.

I think the problem here is that in the first place they have not been taught to recognise the embodied and kinaesthetic sensations of compassion. A physical state that is at ease and earthed. They do it of course but without self-awareness of the feelings.

My own solution to this challenge is to teach a very accessible version of the Inner Smile, compassion to the self. The basic form of this exercise is in the handout I gave out at the conference:

— Sink into yourself as if having a contented rest

— Guide yourself into an attitude of kindness like the one you might give a small hurt child or injured bird

— Give that same kindness to yourself, to your own body

— Then share that kindness with the world

The Global Brain – A Web of Hope

February 2014

Have you ever heard of the Global Brain? It is a hopeful and inspiring idea. At its heart is the intriguing suggestion that humanity is birthing a global consciousness –  and that the internet with all its digital connections is making it happen.

The actual phrase Global Brain was first coined by  Peter Russell in 1982 and his ideas built on those of the French mystic Teilhard de Chardin who wrote:

A world network of economic and psychic affiliations is being woven at ever increasing speed – a harmonized collectivity of consciousness, the equivalent of a sort of super-consciousness. The idea is that of the earth becoming enclosed in a single thinking envelope, so as to form, functionally, no more than a single vast grain of thought on the cosmic scale…

We can see this vision as part of a long historical process. Several thousand years ago individuals and tribes were confined to small geographical areas, hardly aware of the existence of other peoples. Fast forward to today: a planetary village with mass media events shared by the global population. How many people watch the soccer World Cup? From palaces to shanty-town sheds.

Humanity has developed a global network of communications. From another perspective this can be interpreted as humanity developing into a single organism.

One nicely weird suggestion is that when the world’s population reaches 10 billion people it will then equal the 10 billion synapses in the human brain. This numerical correspondence will be the trigger for a quantum leap in consciousness and evolution.

Another intriguing supernatural idea is that the Internet is a mirror of the telepathic, etheric and psychic web that envelopes humanity and Earth. Sometimes, at least to me, it seems as if Google is behaving telepathically! It knows where I want to go and what I want to find out. Spooky.

Whatever you believe about all this, you cannot deny that the transformation in communications is spectacular.


We also need some good news.

Perhaps I should be more honest. I need some good news.

I am dismayed by the rise in social inequality and the unjust distribution of wealth. Celebrity culture, greed and environmental pollution also disturb me. Equally I am not happy about the way in which Google and Facebook, let alone the security services, are able to monitor and influence our digital behaviour.

But I am a glass half-full person.

And I trust Gaia, the spirit of our planet. You might find my attitude naive.

So while some people may moan about the stupidity, worthlessness and greed of humanity as a whole, I prefer to see humanity as an expression of Gaia. From this perspective, Gaia may know exactly what she is doing in producing such a huge human population on her surface.

The quadrupling of the planet’s population, and the explosions of the industrial and then technological revolutions – these were bound to create a crisis. All of this happened in only 200 years on a planet that is four and half billion years old.

This is information that deserves repeating. 200 years of sudden growth within a history of 4,500,000,000,000 years.

It was bound to be problematic. But look at humanity’s awareness.  Yes there is greed and stupidity. There is also a high awareness of all the critical issues. In general, amongst policy-makers and educationists, there is no denial.

The last century has also seen miracles that can give us hope. The profound lowering of infant mortality. The ability to feed everyone. Universal literacy. The extension of life expectancy.


And then we have the digital world. The worldwide web. The global brain.

In rural India children and farmers sit under trees and use solar-powered computers connected to a world of education, information and support. Harvard professors talk to villagers, bypassing the industrial revolution and going straight into digital relationship.

If one of us moves to a great city like London, with all the possibilities for loneliness and alienation, through online social networks we can connect with our tribe and common interests and then meet in real life.

Twenty years ago in Glastonbury (population 9000) I helped set up a local internet messaging board. Today it has over 3200 members and there is a daily circulation of notices offering and asking for help. Community is supported. Strangers are connected.

Across the planet for minimal cost families communicate freely with loved ones.

All the world’s sacred texts are also freely available online.

All of this is a liberating information revolution that benefits everyone. In France access to the web is considered to be a basic human right and across the world societies are intent on bringing Web access to everyone.


Yes the web is filled with rubbish. Yes people’s privacy can be abused. But in my opinion it is good to look at and celebrate the miracle of global communications.

Right now if I were to recommend just one short book on how to understand and use the Internet it would be Social Media Explained  by Mark Schaefer. It is short, clear and highly readable. It is written for working people who know they have to come to grips with social media.  At its core is the often-asserted idea that the greatest benefit of the Internet is that it helps bring us back into personal relationships.

Schaefer points out that only two hundred years ago the major place for meeting, gossip, news and trade was the market place. It had the relationships and familiarity of a village. The processes of global industrialization however created a new social order in which the local market was lost. Everything became mediated through shops, marketing and advertising. We lost contact with each other.

But in our new digital world we once again trade and connect directly with each other. On Facebook and Twitter we can wave at people as if they were across the room. We can find other folk who share our interests and attitudes. On eBay we buy and sell, human to human.

The key to success in this world, says Mark Schaefer, is to be helpful and entertaining. In the old marketplaces and villages it was easy to discern if someone was a greedy or suspicious trader or neighbour because we watched and listened to them. The same rules apply in the twittersphere and social networks. The communications are personal and we take notice.

Another book that I recommend is The New Digital Age  by Eric Schmidt the founder of Google and Jared Cohen. They also take a creative and positive view. ‘Connectivity encourages and enables altruistic behaviour,’ they write. ‘The best thing anyone can do to improve the quality of life around the world is to drive connectivity and technological opportunity.’

This is all very important for us – and for the future.

We are living through a global revolution and it is of course necessary to be cautious.

But it is also necessary to build hope.

At my most hopeful the Global Brain is developing into a Global Heart.

So let us use this new global medium compassionately and mindfully for the benefit of all.


If you would like to read a more in-depth academic article on the Global Brain concept  see this PDF:  Francis Heylighen “Global Brain as a New Utopia” –  pespmc1.vub.ac.be/Papers/GB-Utopia.pdf

Breakthrough in Mainstream Thinking About Spirituality

December 2015
Many of you may have seen in today’s newspapers responses to the publication of the report from the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life:  Living With Difference: community, diversity and the common good

Initiated by the Woolf Institute in Cambridge, the Commission involved senior figures from a variety of traditions. Like so much of the interfaith work of recent decades, the commission’s report could have been just an open-hearted model of good listening.

The report is open-hearted but more than that the authors demonstrate courageous vision and leadership. They face reality. They recognise the changing zeitgeist and the wide new diversity of contemporary society. They openly challenge and demand that the establishment catch up with social reality.

As many of you know, I have a vested interest in all this. A few years ago I put a lot of energy into a project to get ‘holistic’ written into the religion box on the last Census. We failed at getting high numbers. But this report shows how right we were in our direction.

If you do not read the whole report, it will I hope be helpful for you if I copy and paste the major recommendations of the report, which you can read below.

The whole report is to be found click here


From the Executive Summary of
The Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life

community, diversity and the common good

A national conversation should be launched across the UK by leaders of faith communities and ethical traditions to create a shared understanding of the fundamental values underlying public life. It would take place at all levels and in all regions.The outcome might be a statement of the principles and values which foster the common good, and which should underpin and guide public life.


Much greater religion and belief literacy is needed in every section of society, and at all levels. The potential for misunderstanding, stereotyping and oversimplification based on ignorance is huge.The commission therefore calls on educational and professional bodies to draw up religion and belief literacy programmes and projects, including an annual awards scheme to recognise and celebrate best practice in the media.


The pluralist character of modern society should be reflected in national and civic events so that they are more reflective of the UK’s increasing diversity, and in national forums such as the House of Lords, so that they include a wider range of worldviews and religious traditions, and of Christian denominations other than the Church of England.


All pupils in state-funded schools should have a statutory entitlement to a curriculum about religion, philosophy and ethics that is relevant to today’s society, and the broad framework of such a curriculum should be nationally agreed.The legal requirement for schools to hold acts of collective worship should be repealed, and replaced by a requirement to hold inclusive times for reflection.


Bodies responsible for admissions and employment policies in schools with a religious character (faith schools) should take measures to reduce selection of pupils and staff on grounds of religion.


The BBC Charter renewal should mandate the Corporation to reflect the range of religion and belief of modern society, for example by extending contributions to Radio 4’s daily religious  flagship Thought for the Day to include speakers from non-religious perspectives such as humanists.


A panel of experts on religion and belief should be established to advise the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) when there are complaints about the media coverage in this  field.


Relevant public bodies and voluntary organisations should promote opportunities for inter-religious and inter-worldview encounter and dialogue. Such dialogue should involve Dharmic as well as Abrahamic traditions, young people as well as older, women as well as men, and local groups as well as national and regional ones. Clergy and other opinion leaders should have a sound understanding of the traditions of religion and belief in modern society.


Where a religious organisation is best placed to deliver a social good, it should not be disadvantaged when applying for funding to do so, so long as its services are not aimed at seeking converts.


The Ministry of Justice should issue guidance on compliance with UK standards of gender equality and judicial independence by religious and cultural tribunals such as ecclesiastical courts, Beit Din and Sharia councils.


The Ministry of Justice should instruct the Law Commission to review the anomalies in how the legal definitions of race, ethnicity and religion interact in practice and make recommendations to ensure all religious traditions are treated equally.


In framing counter-terrorism legislation, the Government should seek to promote, not limit, freedom of enquiry, speech and expression, and should engage with a wide range of affected groups, including those with which it disagrees, and also with academic research. It should lead public opinion by challenging negative stereotyping and by speaking out in support of groups that may otherwise feel vulnerable and excluded.