By Alfonso Montuori, Professor and Chair of the Transformative Inquiry Department
A cursory look at leadership literature will show a field with a wide range of perspectives, from The Leadership Lessons of Jesus to Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun. Within academic literature there is an extensive body of research and a general agreement to disagree.
We in the Transformative Leadership program at CIIS think that, because the field of leadership is wide open, it provides us with a wonderful opportunity. In these uncertain and complex times, it’s no surprise that what constitutes leadership is up for grabs; the who, what, where, why and how of leadership are all being questioned and redefined, and it’s about time.
Many of the individuals who join the Transformative Leadership program haven’t always thought of themselves as leaders. They didn’t necessarily grow up dreaming of becoming presidents, CEOs, or anything like that. Some believe passionately that they must make a contribution to a particular issue—such as the environment, education, social justice, or the private sector. Others are transitioning into a new life, leaving established careers behind. Now they are moved to explore something new, something that reflects the passion, commitment, and participation in the complex challenges facing all of us.
Along with the ability to lead and create positive change in the world, the Transformative Leadership program offers students an opportunity for self-creation. Students don’t simply read about leadership research and different leadership theories. They draw on their experience, their context, as well as the research, so that they themselves can answer the who, what, where, why and how of leadership. The program gives them the opportunity and the resources to create the leader they want to be. It also asks them go out into the world for their action capstone, to make a difference in a way that reflects their passion, values and goals—and to test their leadership mettle.
Our students are moved by their passion, their hope for a better world, and their desire to make a contribution. The election of President Barack Obama on a mandate of hope is therefore tremendously symbolic. In his inaugural address, President Obama pointed out that 60 years earlier, his black father would not have been allowed to eat in some restaurants in Washington. Obama’s win surprised many, not least civil rights advocates who could not have hoped 40 or even 20 years earlier that an African-American man would become president of the United States in their lifetime.
Now that we have broken down some of the assumptions about who can lead the country, we have to ask ourselves, what can we hope for the U.S. and for the world? It’s obviously not enough to talk about exit strategies, whether from the war in Iraq, or from the economic and environmental crises. This is why in his inaugural speech the president also argued for a new era of responsibility. The U.S., and indeed humanity as a whole, he said, should leave “childish things” behind. The clear message is that the world is in a tremendous period of transition; that this transition is not going to be an easy one, and that we should leave childish selfishness, greed, and ambition to dominate others behind.
But implicit in the mandate for change and hope and the president’s call for responsibility is the need for creativity. Creativity is needed now because all the indications are that an old world is dying but a new one is yet to be born. Can we transition into a new and better world? If, following the president’s biblical imagery, we leave childish things behind can we create a more mature, generous, wise world?
Creativity can bring us visions of better worlds. Creative individuals, groups, and communities can turn these visions into realities. New ways of working together towards common goals can draw on the creativity that is recognized all over the world as central to the American spirit. Creativity will also give us a new understanding of the American dream, and of what human beings can be and achieve.
In the Transformative Leadership program we acknowledge the audacity of hope. And we invite the leaders of the future to accept their responsibility for the world to come, and embrace the passion and commitment of creativity.