Every year, billions of dollars are spent globally on leadership training and development, with the U.S. alone reportedly spending between $10 to $50 billion, based on an assortment of experts and estimates. Regrettably, these enormous investments have produced less than sterling returns.
• Trust, the bedrock of leader-employee relations, is in tatters. According to the 2017 Edelman Global Trust Barometer, trust in leaders has been continuously declining for the past several years and is at an all-time low. What is even more discouraging is that optimism concerning the reversal of this trend is also low.
• Compounding the low-trust problem is low employee engagement, and active employee disengagement. Gallup’s research indicates that employee engagement has barely budged in the past decade, despite it being high on leaders’ agendas, because of its importance to boosting organizational productivity and growth. More than 50% of employees evaluate themselves as “not engaged,” and between 15-20% as “actively disengaged.”
• Lastly, it’s an atypical day when the media doesn’t carry stories of leadership betrayals and business scandals: Takata destroying data and physical evidence concerning faulty airbags, VW cheating on vehicle emissions data, Uber using a software code to evade law enforcement authorities, Wells Fargo breaching public trust by opening fraudulent checking and credit card accounts – and this is just a tiny sampling. The list is long and grows longer every day.
The preceding sample of negative outcomes points unequivocally to a crisis in leadership. And it’s not just one continent, one country or one industry. Leadership crises are endemic to all institutions of civic society, even religion. These issues, since they are outcomes of the extant leadership model and mindset, require asking a more fundamental question: Will fixing and reconfiguring existing leadership models and mindsets be sufficient, or does leadership need a new narrative, one more suited for today’s complex world?
When contexts and circumstances surrounding us change, extending the tyranny of dead ideas, even when wrapped in shiny new packaging, rarely works. Difficult times and thorny issues require fresh, bold approaches and new narratives custom-tailored to the demands of the times.
The Advent Of Soulful Leadership
Soulful leadership offers this transformational narrative. It is defined as: Purposeful leadership journeys guided by an inner awakening that faithfully and diligently consider the full range of sacrifices embedded in leadership decisions so the ongoing prosperity and wellbeing of all involved – the leader, the organization, people (employees, customers, communities), and the planet (health and resources) – can be increased.
This new narrative is more likely to inject leadership with greater purpose and move it away from its current storyline of crisis and toward greater trust, more employee engagement, and fewer incidents of scandalous leadership behavior.
Leadership is about action; leaders are hired to do something. Committing to action – any action – requires sacrificing something or somebody. Consequently, the only choice leaders have, if they are to move their leadership agendas forward, is deciding who they sacrifice, how much, and when. This “sacrifice” represents the fork in the road: Traditionally, these sacrifice decisions have been guided by a “market-centric” consciousness, wherein leaders and their associates – those with access to power and resources – have pursued their own interests of monetary prosperity by sacrificing the needs of others, those without access to power and resources. The result has been “exclusion and inequality,” leading the vast majority to believe that the system is not designed to work for them, spurring significant declines in trust in leaders and engagement with work.
Changing The Leadership Narrative
Soulful leadership takes the other fork. It shifts the leadership narrative from material prosperity for the privileged few to “greater wellbeing and prosperity for all stakeholders (including the planet).” It achieves this by moving away from an exclusive “market-centric” focus, and embracing a more “human-centric” consciousness: one that aspires for greater “inclusion and equality.” This new narrative encourages leaders and leadership to steer away from a narrow descriptive focus on what leadership is – the personality of leaders and the quality of their managerial thinking – toward a broader, more macro focus on what leaders and leadership should stand for: a public platform for increasing the “wellbeing and prosperity” of the greater many, in real terms, and not just symbolically.
In this new narrative, leaders and leadership are not merely private instruments of entitlement, governing to extract returns for the privileged few, but public platforms for generating greater wellbeing and prosperity, distributing it more equitably. Both are important – generation and distribution. And when that happens, there’s a greater probability of the main storyline of leaders and leadership transforming from crisis to celebration.