How Is Our Leadership Serving the Highest Vision of Our Planet?
by Mark Gilbert
The subject of this article is to review our vision for the future and to see if our actions are in alignment with that vision. This topic has been covered many times and in many ways, but we are going to look further “up the chain” of being, beyond our personal and organizational vision statements that might currently be guiding our actions, and consider what might a vision for the future of our country and our planet be?
Our role as an individual should include ensuring that our actions are in alignment with our personal vision. Beyond that, our role as a leader should include ensuring that those who are our followers are acting in a manner that is in alignment with the vision of our organization. Yet we also need to be leading within our sphere of influence (personal and professional) with an eye towards the highest vision for the future for all the Earth.
Hearing that statement, several questions most likely come to mind. The first question might be “why do I have a responsibility at this global level?” We will look at that. Another question might be “what exactly is that global vision?” In considering that question, we will look first at what the theory of Spiral Dynamics says might be the direction we are collectively headed. Then we will see how that future is in alignment with the visions of certain mystics and spiritual leaders. Finally, we will ask “how can that higher vision guide my day to day actions as a leader?”
Personal Vision Statement 101
All of us are leaders in some capacity. We may not have a formal leadership position in an organization, but each day we lead in some way. If we are parents, we model behaviors and provide guidance to our children. We model behaviors in our interactions with friends and coworkers. We make decisions regarding what we are going to do each day. We have a level of influence that begins with ourselves and expands outwards to include others who may be influenced by our actions. At some point in our lives we come to realize the power that we have through our thoughts, words and deeds.
As leaders, we must all be aware of one of the basic tenets of leadership—you must have a vision towards which you are leading those in your sphere of influence. Of course, the person most under your sphere of influence is yourself, so your role as a leader begins by how you lead yourself. Leadership guru Stephen Covey says that as you lead yourself and others up a ladder, you had better make sure your ladder is leaning against the right wall. In other words, we can all be very busy but are we busy working on the right things? Or as it says in Proverbs, “where there is no vision, the people perish.” Do you have a vision that guides you?
Most personal coaches advise people to create a personal mission and vision statement. I personally believe we could all benefit from having one. Here’s my current mission statement: “be a teacher and change agent for good.” Here’s my current vision statement: “create a world that works for everyone.” I say “current” as even these statements, as inspiring as they are to me, still could be a little more specific. Although its good to have enduring mission and vision statements, I think we should be open to their evolution as we receive new information. Even with its limitations, I can say that my vision guides my daily actions. As I take on tasks and assignments, I consider how their successful completion works towards that vision. Obviously not every task I perform (such as the mundane affairs of life) can be tied to it, but it is a good touchstone to ensure that I am consistently doing something to move in that direction.
Hence, your mission statement should be a few words that says “here is what I am about right here and right now in this life!” Although defining your mission is important, for the rest of this article we are going to focus more on vision. As you go about doing your day to day actions (your mission), there should be an eye that is focused upward saying “there is the future life and world that my actions are building!” As you plan your activities for the day, week, month or longer, there should be some actions built into that “to do” list that are moving in that direction. In my opinion, having a vision truly gives meaning to your life. It gives you a roadmap as to where you are going.
As you move outward in your sphere of influence, let’s consider how your vision comes into play at work—are you “on purpose” in your career? The question that frequently comes up here is “what if my mission/vision is totally unrelated to the job I do at work?” Likewise, it could be that your personal vision and the vision of your company are totally unrelated. What can you do?
There are several things you can consider. First, being aware of this fact may offer you insight as to why you might not enjoy your work. Second, even though your purpose in life may seem unrelated to your work, very rarely is there a job where you cannot bring your purpose into it to some degree. Look for areas of flexibility within your sphere of influence at work where you can bring in some actions related to your life purpose. Third, you can take your personal vision and see how it intersects in any way with the vision of your company. Hopefully you can find some way that your supporting the vision of your company moves you to be in support of your company’s vision. Fourth, you can seek to be more on purpose in things you do away from work and draw meaning from them. Finally, there is always the potential for a career change!
Organizational Vision Statement 101
Let’s move up the chain from our personal vision statements to the vision statements of those organizations in which we play a leadership role. What is your organization’s mission?
Any management or leadership consultants worth their salt will inquire when they begin their service for an organization as to its mission, vision and values. Not only do they want to know what the organization says they are, that is, the words on the plaque on the wall, but they also want to know what the people working there think the mission and vision are and if they see their day to day actions connected to them.
Leadership 101 says you must have a clear and compelling mission which outlines your purpose for being and an inspiring vision which paints a picture of the possible future towards which all actions should be directed. Almost all groups have these statements, yet most all of these statements are seen as irrelevant by the group’s members as they go about their daily affairs. Flowery words sound nice but carry little weight when one is working in the “real world.”
Jim Collins in his research of successful and enduring companies detailed in the book Built to Last (Collins & Porras, 1997), found that the premier organizations generally evolved their less than inspiring visions into a more exciting goal—Collins called it BHAG (“big hairy audacious goal.”) The key was to create a future target that people could buy into both intellectually and emotionally. An example might be Amazon’s goal of “Every book, ever printed, in any language, all available in less than 60 seconds.” It’s both specific and can be viewed as inspiring.
Any group of people who belong to an organization that is working towards such a vision should be able to see where their actions relate to and are in alignment with it. No matter where one is in the organization, they should be able to have a “clear line of sight” from what they are doing each day up to the vision of where the larger group is headed. If you were working for Amazon, you would probably have no problem seeing how what you did related to their vision.
Your role as a leader is to ensure that those under your sphere of influence see this line of sight and hold it in mind, inspired to give their best so as to bring about that vision of the future. The more resources working towards that vision, the quicker and easier it is attained. This is a basic concept on which many leadership books are written, such details and guidance are beyond the scope of this article.
Yet what is important for us to consider here is that the concept of employing an inspiring vision is often relegated by us as applying only to our personal lives and our business lives. We might intellectually grasp how the concept applies universally, but as a practical matter we rarely consider what might be a higher vision for our country or the world and what we are doing to bring that vision to fruition.
Moving Outward to Broader Visions—Why Should You Care?
At a broader level, consider that you are also a leader within your group of friends and family, within your spiritual community or any civic organizations of which you are a member, when you are performing your duty as a citizen of the various geopolitical divisions of which you are a member, and ultimately how your individual actions influence the direction of the world at large. Again, you may not have a formal position in these groups, but your words and actions are a model that always exerts influence.
Yet, if you do hold a formal leadership role, then you might consider how your broader sphere of influence within your group is leading to your organization influencing the direction of the planet. Are your company’s words and actions supporting the positive direction of the country and the planet?
As stated previously, you might wonder why you should even care about this. At the individual level, you might wonder “who am I to have any influence on the direction of the planet?” After all, you’re just one person in this big world, right? At the organizational level, especially if you work for a for-profit company, you may believe that your only responsibility is to ensure that you are working towards continuously increasing profits, forever maximizing shareholder return and increasing market share towards one hundred percent. These goals may not always be stated in the company’s formal vision, but they are always there nonetheless. Thinking globally in these settings often means “global market share.”
The current reality is that most individuals and most organizations are focused on their own self interest even if such interest is not in alignment with the highest vision for the collective. I’m sure we can all think of plenty of examples where individuals and groups have put their needs selfishly ahead of the needs of the greater good. The fact is, this behavior has served us as humanity and society have evolved. It has been normal. Why?
On the one hand, we might consider it from the perspective of Abraham Maslow’s theory of a hierarchy of needs, where we have displayed selfish behavior in order to meet lower-level needs (physiological, safety and security, love and belonging, self-esteem.) Maslow considered these “deficiency needs.” We were driven by the deficiency to compete with others to meet our needs. Hence, focusing on our personal needs at the expense of the greater needs was normal. However, as in modern society we have generally met most of these needs, there is a current shift in our focus towards meeting the higher needs of self-actualization and self transcendence (which Maslow termed “being needs”). At these levels we discover that selfish actions actually are a barrier to meeting our needs.
On another hand, we might consider the model of Spiral Dynamics (Beck & Cowan, 1996), which describes our movement through various worldviews. Self-centered and selfish behavior serves us in meeting our needs on one side of the spiral (beige, red, orange, yellow memes). Such behavior is a natural swing away from a focus on the collective seen on the “other side of the spiral.” Hence, a shift back and forth from an emphasis on the collective to an emphasis on the individual is a natural part of our evolution as we move through the worldviews of the spiral.
Spiral Dynamics data indicates that much of modern society is at the orange meme. This meme is characterized by a “strive and achieve” mentality where we sense ourselves to be in competition with others, where the world is mechanistic and subject to our control, and where our ultimate goal is to control this material world for our own gain.
Therefore, if one really doesn’t see a reason to care about their role in moving the collective towards a positive collective future, then we might consider that they may still be focused on “deficiency needs” within Maslow’s model or have an orange/modern meme worldview per Spiral Dynamics. To be clear, I am not stating this as any judgment but rather to simply point out that such a viewpoint may appropriate for where one is in their life.
Yet I suspect most people reading this would consider themselves focused on Maslow’s “being needs” and/or at least at the green meme level if not higher in Spiral Dynamics. Individuals at second-tier in Spiral Dynamics or at what Ken Wilber would term an “integral level” of consciousness are most likely at a point where they see that our future positive growth can only occur by releasing our focus on selfish needs and turning our attention to meeting the needs of all.
If you’re not convinced of the need for us all to be on the same page as we move collectively towards the future, consider the following scenario. Imagine an organization of 100 people. Imagine the organization has a stated vision. Imagine those hundred people are inspired by that vision and are working towards it. Imagine that each of those hundred people have unique creative abilities and wisdom that they bring to the table. Imagine how the interplay of that variety of creative expressions all working towards a common vision can express tremendous power. Now imagine that company and those hundred people are expanded in size and scope so as to consist of the entire planet. Imagine what it would be like if there was an inspiring vision for a highest possible future for the planet that we could all agree on and we all brought our unique creative abilities to move towards it. Now ask yourself, would you rather have us all arguing and fighting to gain control of other people and the planet’s resources, or would you rather us all be working cooperatively for the highest good for all? I suspect most of us would pick the latter even if our behavior my not show it.
Yet, we can see trends in this positive direction. For example, many for profit companies have begun to see how their actions must be viewed within the needs of a broader society. Some corporations have been making changes to be more “ethically responsible.” The movement in this direction is a natural and positive evolution as we all begin to see how the old view of “stand alone corporations” unconnected to the greater whole is view whose usefulness we are outgrowing. And there are other trends appearing in the evolution of our values which we will see shortly.
What Is Our Vision for the Future of Humanity?
It would be naïve to consider that we have consensus on what our collective future should be. In fact we can make a good case that many of the current conflicts on the planet are because of differing opinions as to where we should be going and on how to get there. Yet there are a few sources that we can look to for a potential collective vision.
First let’s look at the United States (writing as an American) and the United Nations. Do either of these entities have a vision statement?
The United States does not have a formal vision statement. Wikipedia’s article on mission statements does point to the preamble to our Constitution as being a perfect example of one: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” That statement does outline the purpose behind the creation of and the ongoing actions of our government. But as far as a statement saying this is where we as an American people are headed towards collectively, neither this statement nor any other than I can find outlines such a path.
The United Nations does spell out what could be considered a mission and vision statement in the preamble to its charter. Here is the beginning which might be considered their “mission”:
We the peoples of the United Nations determined: to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and; to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and; to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom…
And then the following words which might be seen as their vision statement:
And for these ends: to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and; to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and; to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and; to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples, have resolved to combine our efforts to accomplish these aims.
(Taken from United Nations website)
We could consider that the essence of this “vision statement” is to work towards a peaceful world where all people have economic and social advancement. Elsewhere I have read the UN’s vision statement is simply the word “peace.” Either way, these words give us a noble statement and cause, although it might benefit from the UN creating one of Jerry Porras and Jim Collins’ BHAGs to make it more inspiring. To be fair, there are a number of goals that the UN has established in specific programmatic areas, yet none that I see that are very specific and inspiring.
Next let’s look at Spiral Dynamics. Simply stated, the theory of Spiral Dynamics comes from the data gathered by social scientist Clare Graves in the late 20th century and further supported by ongoing data gathered by researchers such as Don Beck and others. Individual’s values were measured on a number of social instruments over a period of time and then charted. What arose from the data was that we tend to have a set of values through which we look at life called worldviews or “value memes” (often written “v-memes” which I have shortened here to memes.)
Spiral Dynamics paints an outline of worldviews through which humanity has evolved. As we met the challenges of world conditions at one level of existence, we moved into a higher worldview where we faced new life conditions. Through this evolutionary model we can see both humanity’s past, present and to some degree our immediate future. Although it does not offer us a “vision statement,” the data does offer us suggestions as to where we appear to be headed by looking at the values held by those at the spiral’s higher levels.
At these levels, moving into what Graves called “second tier,” individuals are able to see all of the worldviews and how they are interacting. Although at first they might use this knowledge for their own personal gain, at some point their motivation swings to working towards the health of the entire spiral (i.e., everyone.) They see themselves as part of a larger whole—a conscious, spiritual whole. The blending of science and spirituality is a natural process. They seek to express their personal freedom in a manner that causes no harm to others. They begin to develop competencies and expanded use of the powers of the brain or mind. They let go of the need to accumulate material obsessions and see that having less is really having more. They see everything as an integrated system of Oneness.
If we were to consider boiling down these values at the spiral’s higher levels in order to distill a description of our future, then we might see a vision statement that includes words like “a world where there is a melding of science and spirituality, where in meeting individual needs there is alignment with meeting collective needs, where there is an expansion of consciousness to sense the oneness of everything.”
One of the great connections I have always sensed in Spiral Dynamics is the alignment of many mystics’ descriptions of the ultimate purpose of life and the higher turns of the spiral at yellow, turquoise, and what we imagine coral worldviews to be.
Many mystics and spiritual teachers have gathered “inner data” via meditation and other spiritual practices on the nature of human and spiritual existence. The fascinating fact is that there has been much agreement on what they see as our “ultimate truth.” Most have pointed out that after we release this material world and embrace the spiritual world, we must come back to the material world and integrate it into our spiritual world. They tell us that we have some inner urge that calls to be expressed “in the world.” This urge has a unique creative expression that varies from person to person. This urge includes a component of service which takes us outside ourselves and connects us with others. And through our expression of our unique creative desires we grow in our sense of interconnectedness to everything.
Ultimately, these spiritual teachers tell us that this urge is simultaneously one force pushing our growth from within to be creative while pulling us externally towards our return to wholeness and oneness. For example, Ernest Holmes (Holmes, 1938) called it “the divine urge” and even described its unfoldment as being like a never-ending spiral. Similarly, Teilhard de Chardin (de Chardin, 1959) termed it “the Omega point” which exerted both a force pulling us towards it as well as an internal push to grow to it. He described evolution as “an ascent towards consciousness” culminating in some sort of “supreme consciousness.” It is a direction in which he said every one of us cooperating and participating.
In fact, cooperation between individuals and groups is a key component as we move down this evolutionary path. For example, evolutionary writer John Stewart (Stewart, 2000) detailed that the direction of evolution and the future of humanity included both higher levels of cooperation and the development of our ability to consciously use the evolutionary process. Interestingly, mystics agree. For example, Ernest Holmes put it this way: “The whole process of evolution is to produce a being who can consciously co-operate with the” (Holmes, 1943)
Yet this statement of Holmes describes another characteristic mystics say is our evolutionary future. They tell us that the ultimate goal of evolution is to return us “back home” to the source from which we came. Evolution is seen as the time and process of our awakening to our truth, the development of our consciousness, the unfolding of our awareness, our return to Oneness.
Although there are other sources from which I could’ve drawn that offer visions for our planetary future, I believe we have enough here already to draw some conclusions. Here are some potential components of a vision for our positive future:
- We live in peace.
- We all have access to economic and social advancement.
- We experience a melding of science and spirituality.
- We have the freedom to individually express our unique creative abilities.
- We live recognizing the interconnectedness of everything.
- We purposefully use the power of our consciousness.
- We meet our individual needs while meeting the needs of the greater whole.
- We recognize we are evolving and consciously cooperate with the process.
- We recognize we are on a spiritual path to be reunited with our source.
Our Role in This Future
You may not agree with all of the components of what I see as our potential positive future, but one point in this article is to further the dialogue of what our collective vision of our positive future might be. Beyond that I would hope that you begin to ask how we might participate in moving humanity towards such a vision for the future? As I asked at the beginning, “how can that higher vision guide my day to day actions as a leader?”
I don’t claim to have any definitive answers. I would love to hear how others are bringing this evolutionary vision into their day to day activities. Yet there are some general suggestions that can be offered:
First, we can ultimately only be responsible for our own thoughts, words and actions. Hence, any positive change must come by the individual choices of each of us.
Second, we can recognize that through our own thoughts, words and actions, we model behavior for others. No matter what our roles in life, we have a responsibility to lead right where we are.
Third, we become aware of our personal vision and how our actions each day can be more in alignment with that vision.
Fourth, as we are a leader in or a member of an organization (and most of us are in some capacity,) we become aware of that entity’s vision for the future and how we are contributing towards it.
Fifth, we become aware of this highest vision for humanity’s future. From this point of awareness, we can compare how our personal vision as well as any organizational vision is or is not in alignment with that future.
Sixth, with this awareness we can now consciously choose what changes we are going to make in our personal vision, our organizational vision, or any activities associated with them so as to become more a cooperative force in the evolutionary process.
Finally, we become a change agent, consciously expanding our sphere of influence so as to assist and cooperate with others on this road to oneness.
So now the question becomes, how are you serving the highest vision of our planet?
- Beck D. & Cowan C. (1996) Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change. Blackwell Publishing.
- Collins, J.& Porras, J. (1997) Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. New York: Harper Collins.
- de Chardin, T. (1959) The Phenomenon of Man. New York: Harper Books.
- Holmes, E. (1938) The Science of Mind. New York: Tarcher/Putnam Books.
- Holmes, E. (1943) Lessons in Spiritual Mind Healing. Kessinger Publishing.
- Stewart, J. (2000) Evolution’s Arrow: The Direction of Evolution and the Future of Humanity. Canberra: The Chapman Press.
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About the Author
Mark Gilbert is a writer and teacher who lives in Lakewood, Colorado, with his wife, Mary, and his chocolate lab, Harmony. He holds a BS in Psychology from the University of Alabama in Birmingham and a Masters in Consciousness Studies from the Holmes Institute in Colorado.
For over 33 years, Mark worked in progressively more responsible positions with the Federal government. For the last 20 years of his Federal career, he worked for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, serving in various leadership positions. He was instrumental in leading a number of initiatives that improved Medicare customer service including overseeing their toll-free customer service line and working to implement the Medicare Part D program. When Mark retired from Federal service in 2009, he was the Regional Administrator for CMS’s Denver Regional Office, overseeing the Medicare outreach and education activities of 10 mid-western and western states. He is a Senior Fellow with the Council on Excellence in Government and was a member of the Federal Senior Executive Service.
Mark holds a “Level 2” certification in Spiral Dynamics, having received training from Don Beck, director of Spiral Dynamics Integral. Mark’s published works include a number of articles in Science of Mind magazine, including an overview of Spiral Dynamics published in their April 2008 issue. Mark teaches a number of classes including a “Spiritual Introduction to Spiral Dynamics” which has been presented at a number of New Thought centers in Colorado.
Mark currently publishes the blog website www.consciousbridge.com which focuses on “bridging” us to a positive future by use of our conscious thoughts. Mark also serves as the Assistant Minister for New Dawn Center for Spiritual Living in Aurora, Colorado, a member of the United Centers for Spiritual Living, an international organization which teaches the Science of Mind and Spirit.