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Future in the Balance: Transformative leadership for a world that works

By Scilla Elworthy, PhD

Our world faces multiple crises, and attempts to address them are not working. The rich/poor gap gets wider. The richest 300 people in the world now have more wealth than the poorest 3,000,000,000 – nearly half of humanity. Forests disappear on a daily basis, oceans are literally being vacuumed of fish, disastrous crises lurch through unstable financial markets, religious fanaticism terrorizes large parts of the Middle East, a global economic system rewards the most greedy among us.

Einstein said that no problem can be solved from the consciousness that created it. So what is the current shift in consciousness that is required to enable us to resolve global problems - to “envision and embody a new world?”

What is this new consciousness?  How do you recognise it?

Edgar Mitchell was a pragmatic young U.S. Navy Captain who flew as lunar module pilot on Apollo 14, making him the sixth person to walk on the moon. On the return trip, as he watched the earth float freely in the vastness of space, he realized that the story of ourselves as told by science—our cosmology, our religion—was “incomplete and likely flawed.”

“I recognized that the Newtonian idea of separate, independent, discreet things in the universe wasn't a fully accurate description. What was needed was a new story of who we are and what we are capable of becoming.”

So, what exactly is this new story that Mitchell is talking about? What are human beings capable of becoming?

As far as I can see this is not a shift in consciousness, this is not something incremental. This is a great leap into a fundamentally different way of perceiving ourselves and the world we inhabit. It will alter everything.

My experience tells me that there are many aspects to this leap in consciousness, perhaps four essential elements:

i) perspective: For the first time, we have a bird’s eye view of the human race.

ii) interconnectedness: Unless we have gone numb and want only to turn a blind eye to what’s happening to the earth, we now realise that we are affecting our own evolution by everything we do. We learned, for example, that the gases produced by refrigerators destroy the ozone layer; the thinning of the ozone layer in turn permits harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun to reach our bodies. This kind of awareness may be jarring and demanding, but it’s real. And it’s exciting. It is the most unusual opportunity to move toward what some people call unity consciousness – a direct intuitive awareness of the oneness of reality.

iii) blazing intelligence: the magnificence of nature.

iv) balance between the masculine and the feminine: For three thousand years at least, power and decision-making worldwide has been in the hands of men. While this has brought us obvious advances in science and great discoveries in many fields, it also has led to an imbalance, a distorted way of doing things that excludes or marginalises essential aspects of human intelligence.

When I was researching a book on power and sex in 1995, I found that nearly all recorded thinking on power and the use of power has been andro-centric - that is, done by men and based on male values. The male norm and the human norm, even today, tend to be thought of as identical.

This has led to a dangerous imbalance between the masculine and feminine in most of us today, regardless of gender, and prevalent almost everywhere in the world. For example, we see women in the City of London and in Wall Street dressing exactly like men (except for the high heels) and competing to out-perform men in determination, focus, logic, ruthlessness, achievement and drive.

What has become devalued in this way of living are essential elements of being human:

  • the skill of listening,

  • the ability to nurture, to include,

  • the choice to exercise ‘power with’ rather than ‘power over’,

  • the attention to intuition and the creative imagination that makes for great art and invention,

  • the ability to stand in the shoes of another person,

  • the practice of dialogue with our inner world,

  • the compassion and stamina to look after those who are weak or in need,

  • and above all, reverence for the sacredness of creation and of our bodies.

How does this new consciousness work in terms of leadership?

Authentic leadership – the kind so deeply needed on the planet now – begins in the radical mastery of one’s inner being. Brilliance, charisma, eloquence, vision – these are wonderful gifts that a leader can possess – but these gifts gain ultimate effect and coherence only when fuelled and sustained by inner power.

In half a century of work in the world, the most important lesson I learned from observing leaders like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu at close quarters is that inner work is a prerequisite for outer effectiveness – that the quality of our awareness directly affects the quality of results produced.  This inner power is the diamond formed by years of honing self-awareness, practising selflessness and observing and controlling the ego. It results from developing the essential skill of empathy, even for those who oppose you – and the humble commitment to keep learning the skills of deep listening and mediation.

What I’m expressing here has been known in all the great spiritual traditions, but needs to be reclaimed for a secular world in crisis, and in language that all can understand. Without leaders of this kind in every sphere and institution of our world, our chances of survival are grim. With such leaders, a world can be built that our grandchildren will be proud of.


Scilla Elworthy, PhD founded the Oxford Research Group in 1982 to develop effective dialogue between nuclear weapons policy-makers worldwide and their critics, work which included a series of dialogues between Chinese, Russian and western nuclear scientists and military, for which she has been three times nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She founded Peace Direct in 2002 to fund, promote and learn from local peace-builders in conflict areas; Peace Direct was voted ‘Best New Charity’ in 2005. Scilla was awarded the Niwano Peace Prize in 2003, and was adviser to Peter Gabriel, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Sir Richard Branson in setting up ‘The Elders’. She recently co-founded Rising Women Rising World, advises the leadership of selected international corporations and teaches young social entrepreneurs; her latest book is Pioneering the Possible: Awakened leadership for a world that works (North Atlantic Books, 2014).

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This article appears in:
2015 Catalyst, Issue 2: Rising Women, Rising World

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