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Leadership for a New Paradigm in Human Development

ARTICLE | | BY Janani Ramanathan


Janani Ramanathan

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Everyone takes decisions and initiatives. Leaders take charge and initiate changes. Transformational leaders take responsibility for all and, guided by positive values, lead society into the future. These men and women of profound vision give expression to the subconscious aspirations of society that are striving to awaken, and act as a catalyst for their realization. Empathy, compassion, humility, emotional and social intelligence, and effective decision-making skills are characteristics of the transformational leader. Power, wealth and glory hold little value for them, they are above ego and have no thought of personal gain. They take consciousness responsibility for all, far greater than their authority warrants or requires. Espousing the collective cause, they forge ahead with great courage and conviction. Any setback or hurdle is faced with equanimity. Their original and creative thinking converts challenges into opportunities. They know that the unrealized is not unrealizable. They are able to inspire others to realize more of their potential, channelize the collective social energy and organize it into a power that accomplishes.

Transformational leadership defines accomplishment in the broadest sense. One country cannot prosper at the cost of the rest of the world, one group of people cannot be secure when there are others somewhere on the planet who are insecure. No problem is isolated from all else, and a comprehensive solution is possible only for those who have overcome dualistic thinking and can reconcile apparent opposites. Transformational leaders have such an integrated view of every issue and situation, and can usher in a new paradigm of human development that ensures peace, security and well-being for all. This article analyzes the various facets of transformational leadership.

1. The New Paradigm

Less than three hundred years ago, books were chained to the shelves in libraries because they were so precious, being few in number. There were some libraries where the readers were locked into cages themselves, to ensure that the valuable books remained safe! Learning was only for the privileged class. Today, books, readers and knowledge have been liberated in many ways. We have digitized content that can be replicated and distributed virtually, infinitely. In thirty years, we have moved from the terms Kilobyte and Megabyte, through Gigabyte and Terabyte, to newer terms whose magnitude is as difficult to appreciate as their necessity is, to visualize. This is just one of the hundreds of strands of human life that have undergone a transformation. Population has increased exponentially, globalization has rewritten economies, environment has been overrun by humans, religion is getting mixed up with extreme fundamentalism, and technology is shrinking the globe on one hand while social and economic disparity is creating polarities. All of these various strands of human activity entangle and evolve into compound issues. In short, we live in a time of unparalleled complexity.

As the complexity intensifies at an accelerating pace, it gives rise to new and exciting opportunities. However, it also poses multidimensional challenges that necessitate a radical change of course for all. Existing ideas, policies, institutions and systems are inadequate to address the challenges. We need an effective way to deal with them, and to tap the enormous potential we already possess for promoting human security and welfare. A new paradigm in human development is needed.

The World Academy of Art and Science (WAAS) conceived of the idea of formulating a new paradigm to address critical issues facing humanity. The Academy initiated this project in 2012, by asking the question, “Is there any conceivable paradigm that can successfully address all the pressing challenges confronting humanity today in a manner that offers the prospect of achieving peace, security, welfare and well-being for all human beings every­where?” It has identified several driving forces that have the potential to effect radical social transition of unparalleled magnitude and rapidity.

In order to manage these driving forces and radically transform the way the world is functioning, we require transformational leaders, leaders who can usher in a new paradigm. The challenges we face today are so great, the magnitude of the change needed so enormous that the status quo will not work. Old methods that worked in an earlier period may be ineffective, or worse, calamitous now. Instead of fixing the issue, they may simply cut off an odd head of the hydra. We require new ideas, new values, new systems, new organizations, and to head these organizations, transformational leadership.

Paradigm change is not a new idea. History has seen a great number of these. When the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus said that the Sun is at the center of the solar system, and not earth as believed in the 15th century, it was a paradigm change in thought, science, and its relationship with the Church. The refusal of Rosa Parks, an African American lady, to give up her seat and move to the back of the bus in keeping with the laws of segregation in Alabama, USA, set off in motion the events that culminated in the Civil Rights movement in the country and a change in the status quo of all African Americans. Socio-political movements such as the Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment, the end of colonialism and the Cold War, even the personal computer and internet revolutions are paradigm changes. At each of these great junctures in the past, there has been a critical mass of leadership, to effect a radical change of course. These leaders were in tune with the aspirations of those around and equipped with the various skills required to spearhead a mass movement. New paradigms are brought in by nothing short of transformational leadership.

We most certainly need a paradigm change, at all levels – at the global level, and in every nation state, region, organization, group and individual. We need it in thought, values, education, environment, politics, economics, industry, technology, media – in all spheres of life. Before our many challenges grow out of control and overwhelm us all, we need to act.

“It was not the steam engine that powered locomotives, it was man’s need to move out of his village or town, to newer places that was the source.”

Keeping this need in mind, the World Academy of Art and Science, along with the World University Consortium (WUC), The Mother’s Service Society (India), Person-Centered Approach Institute (Italy), Dag Hammarskjöld University College of International Relations and Diplomacy (Croatia) and Inter-University Centre (Croatia), offered a post-graduate certificate course on Essence of Effective Leadership* in April 2015 at Inter-University Centre, Dubrovnik, Croatia. The course faculty consisted of WAAS Fellows, leaders in their own right, from a wide range of fields of expertise. Ivo Šlaus, Honorary President of WAAS and Director of WUC, gave the introductory lecture, noting that leadership is embedded in the motto of WAAS, “Leadership in thought that leads to action.” The core ideas of the course were the need for transformational leadership and the characteristics of the leader. Transformational leadership is very necessary for the future of the world. People at all levels, in all fields of society, need to exhibit this capacity in order to contribute to the paradigm change.

2. The Process of Accomplishment

In order to accomplish in future, a look back is essential. Human beings have always accomplished. We have accomplished at the level of survival ever since we appeared. By coming together in groups, foraging for food, sheltering from the elements and defending themselves from the wild, early humans did a remarkable job of surviving. As civilizations appeared, society evolved, creating and perfecting organizations for furthering human aspirations. Accomplishment moved from mere survival to growth and development. Trade, commerce, education, arts and science developed. Today we talk about accomplishment at the level of evolution. But regardless of the level, there is a process of social accomplishment that is common at all levels. In order to plan for the future, and prepare leadership that can bring it about, we need to fully understand this process.

The process of accomplishment is the conscious pursuit of objectives by human beings. Its seed is human aspiration. Any act is preceded by one or more persons wanting it. When early humans sought shelter and warmth, dwellings and clothes were fashioned. When they wanted to settle down instead of always moving in search of food, agriculture and animal rearing began. When needs rose in quantity and complexity, markets, trade and transportation developed. Human ingenuity kept pace with human needs. Intellectual, industrial, technolog­ical and social revolutions have all been brought about essentially by human aspiration.

Aspiration is the source of great energy. Human energy is the basis of all accomplishment. It was not the steam engine that powered locomotives, it was man’s need to move out of his village or town, to newer places that was the source. As power and prestige moved away from owning land to being in trade and industry, the industrial revolution came about, the availability of coal, iron and steel was not the basis of the revolution. The shipping industry owed its development to man’s ambition and quest for adventure. The advances we see in technology and communication are the result of our need for more efficiency, conveniences and entertainment.

“The well-developed individual thinks for himself, is not restricted by any of society’s norms, and can envision a future that is different from and better than the present.”

Energy by itself does not accomplish. There is great energy in a raging river, but it is only when the water is dammed and channelled through sluice gates that it is turned into a force. Similarly, human aspiration releases energy, but this energy needs a right direction, to become a force. When the flowing water is passed through a turbine, it is converted into hydroelectric power. The force of human energy organized around an activity or pursuit is transformed into an effective power. This power, expressed through skills, results in action and accomplishment. Accomplishment at all levels, from the individual to the global, is defined by this process.

Leadership is a key element in this process, catalyzing and directing the accomplishment at every stage.

3. Role of the Leader in the Process

When Mahatma Gandhi landed in India after spending twenty one years in South Africa, he had a clear vision. He had already taken part in anti-apartheid protests in Africa, and effectively handled the might of the ruling class without violence. He was in tune with the subconscious aspiration of all Indians. He awoke in the collective consciousness of his people the faith that they could become free of their colonial ruler. He generated and released energy in himself and in others. He saw to it that this energy was not scattered for want of direction, or dissipated in violence. He led by example. He espoused simplicity, selflessly gave himself to the cause of the nation, and related to the masses to such an extent that tens of thousands of people left their jobs and comfortable homes to join him in the freedom struggle. India became free after over two hundred years of colonial rule, through a largely peaceful movement. This was brought about by the visionary leadership of Gandhi, and many others like him.

The transformational leader gives an impetus to the process of social accomplishment, at every stage. He awakens the aspiration in others, and generates the energy required to complete the task. Through his own vision, goals, plans and values, he gives the force a direction. He builds an organization, or uses an existing one, to channel the force, thereby transforming it into an effective power. He expresses the power effectively through skilled action. Great movements have vaporized because of the lack of strong, effective leadership. Conversely, near impossible acts have been carried out when one person or a team has shown the way. Alexander Likhotal, President of Green Cross International and Director, WUC, underlined the importance of leadership when he quoted Napoleon’s words, “An army of sheep, led by a lion, is better than an army of lions, led by a sheep.” As Likhotal put it, the leader uncorks the future.

4. Leadership and Individuality

Individual Accomplishment, Growth and the Character of Life was the topic of an earlier WAAS and WUC course in August 2014. This course, now available online, described individuality as the acme of human development. The well-developed individual thinks for himself, is not restricted by any of society’s norms, and can envision a future that is different from and better than the present. For anyone to become a leader, he has to be a formed individual. One who follows the herd and dares not to question the status quo is not qualified to lead. Uncorking the future can only be done by someone not limited by the present, he has to think beyond what everyone else sees, believes and considers possible.

Had the leader of the Protestant Reformation Martin Luther gone about his work and life without questioning the prevailing thoughts, he would not have come up with even a single thesis. Had he been awed by the might of the Pope and the Catholic Church, he would have considered his 95 Theses pointless, and abandoned the idea before he reached the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg. Without calculating the odds against him, and with deep conviction in his ideas, Luther acted. He was strong, courageous, open minded, intelligent, responsible, farseeing, and creative – a formed individual. Leaders with well-developed individuality shape history and lead us into the future.

5. Leader as a Product of Social Forces

The leader is the mountain peak. His position rests on every rock and stone beneath, and is shaped by every current of wind and water that flows past. The social context determines the leader. Without taking away any of the talent and hard work of the tech entrepreneurs, it can be safely said that the incubatory atmosphere of Silicon Valley has played a key role in creat­ing and nurturing many ventures. Steve Jobs, founder of Apple Inc., lived among engineers working in the integrated circuit chip and telecom industry, near Palo Alto Research Center, seeing start-ups taking off in garages nearby. He was a revolutionary product of the hippy generation sharing the prevailing aspiration to boldly change the world. The man who went on to become CEO of Apple Inc. manifested in his company and its products that creativity and originality that defined his own life, which in turn were a result of the place and period he grew up in. Social undercurrents of the times influence all people, leaders included.

“One who finds exhilarating a situation that most others would find overwhelming is cut out to be a leader.”

Danke Gorbi, the Germans wrote on the Berlin Wall, thanking Mikhail Gorbachev on behalf of the whole world, for lifting the Iron Curtain, ending the Cold War, and defusing the nuclear warlike situation in 1989. The man who is hailed as the hero who liberated East Europe and brought world peace was, as a youth, an ardent admirer of Stalin. When Stalin was in power, he was worshipped by the masses. Gorbachev who was an idealistic youth, joined the Communist Party and shared the sentiment so prevalent at the time. After the death of Stalin in 1953, when Khrushchev came to power and denounced Stalin, it was a shock to all. The persecution and purges perpetuated by Stalin came to light. Following the disillusionment that resulted from that was the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. That, and the Prague Spring in 1968 headed by the Czech leader Alexander Dubcek, brought to light the true state of affairs. People aspired for freedom, they wanted greater rights, to choose for themselves, to express themselves. But the Soviet tanks were sent to crush all expression of freedom, and communism in its current form appeared to Gorbachev in a new light. He had admired Dubcek’s reforms of liberalization in Czechoslovakia. These social and political changes that Gorbachev lived through explain the ideology and value system that he eventually adopted. When, as the President of the USSR, he initiated his policies of restructuring and openness, he was asked by a reporter what was the difference between the Prague Spring and his initiatives. Gorbachev replied, 19 years.

Social movements create and shape the leader, and the leader then goes on to shape society and lead it into the future.

6. Converting Challenges into Opportunities

Božo Kovacevic, former Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Croatia to Russian Federation and co-founder of Croatian Social-Liberal Party, explored in detail the various challenges and paradoxes we face. Everyone is influenced by social forces. But challenges set the leaders apart from the rest. The very response that a leader gives to an unfavourable situation is inspirational. During World War II, when the rest of Europe was lost, America still remained neutral, and the British found themselves all alone against the Nazis, Churchill told his ministers, “Gentlemen, we are alone. For myself, I find it extremely exhilarating.” One who finds exhilarating a situation that most others would find overwhelming is cut out to be a leader. Crises have made men and women rise to the occasion, and not only overcome the problem but convert them into great opportunities.

Kovacevic’s position that the existing leadership is unsatisfactory is echoed in the book by the American businessman Lee Iacocca, Where Have All the Leaders Gone? Iacocca was CEO of the American automobile manufacturer, Chrysler, a leader of amazing capacities. In 1979, Chrysler was in dire financial straits and experts unanimously wrote it off. The company brought in Iacocca in desperation. Iacocca took over as CEO, and what he saw in the company left him seeing double! The plants were plagued with problems, the less serious of which were absenteeism and disputes among employees. There was no discipline of any type. The problems seriously affected the efficiency of the company’s operations and the quality of its cars. Chrysler had 100,000 unsold cars valued at $600 million that were poorly made and deteriorating, a dissatisfied and alienated customer base, enormous overheads, and declining sales that were generating millions in losses every day. Chrysler ran out of cash—it came down to its last $1 million at a time when daily expenses were $50 million.

“It is the response that is given to the problem that determines whether the conflict overpowers and defeats one, or elevates all.”

Iacocca set to work, first installing simple discipline. He fired 33 of the company’s 35 vice-presidents who were not adding value to the company but doing the opposite. He removed layers of dead habits, vested interests, outmoded strategies, and inertia. He allowed long-suppressed ideas, energies and talents to rise to the surface. As a result of Iacocca’s strategies, in five years, Chrysler moved from a loss of $3.3 billion to a profit of $3.3 billion – more money than it had earned in the previous fifty nine years in business. The company and its components were the same, but the leadership was able to inspire and bring about a paradigm change. Iacocca describes just what he did at Chrysler, when he says, “In times of great stress or adversity, it’s always best to keep busy, to plough your anger and your energy into something positive.”

Interestingly, Iacocca had earlier served as president at Ford, but he could not and did not do there what he did at Chrysler. Because the obstacles were so great and the pressure so intense, he was spurred to excel himself. This explains the appearance of great men and women, at the right place and time, during all epochal times in the past. Every freedom struggle has its leaders, every war its heroes. All revolutions – military, political, social, intellectual, artistic, religious, and now online – see the very people who are needed come to the forefront and take up positions. As if by coincidence, during times of peace and normalcy, these giants are nowhere in sight. The American independence movement saw the rise of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson among others. Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin came together to win World War II. Abraham Lincoln appeared to abolish slavery in the US, Nelson Mandela saw the end of Apartheid. The US has not seen a Washington or Lincoln in recent times, Britain has not had another leader of the stature of Churchill since it won the War. There is a correlation between challenging situations and the rise of leaders. Talent and potential are present in many people in all generations. But normalcy is not conducive for the expression of extraordinary capacities. Challenging times awaken the dormant capacities in the capable. They motivate and pressurize people, necessitate resourcefulness, and supply the strength needed. Outstanding leaders are those individuals who can apply the principle used in martial arts of using the momentum of the attack and turning it against the attacker, and convert a challenge into an opportunity.

Contradictions can become complements. Bohdan Hawrylyshyn, President, Foundation Vidrodgenia and Founder, Bohdan Hawrylyshyn Charitable Foundation, while describing the work done in his Charitable Foundation during his lecture, emphasized the importance of knowing and respecting other cultures. The differences in cultures are a source of creativity in relations. It is only the friction that creates the spark. A voltage differential is needed for current to flow. The difference between individuals, organizations, societies and cultures provides this voltage differential. When cultures come into contact with each other, the difference is creative. It can be creative of conflicts, or it can be creative of peace and progress. The leader uses this difference dynamically, for positive creativity. Every conflict has the potential to yield positive results. It is the response that is given to the problem that determines whether the conflict overpowers and defeats one, or elevates all. The leader gives the right response to the challenge, channels the energy that arises from the contradiction, and converts it into a complement.

7. Vision

Winston Nagan, Professor of Law, University of Florida and Director, WUC, commenced his lecture with the Socratic principle ‘Know Thyself’ that every effective leader should follow. He should have a clear idea of what he has set out to achieve, a vision. He identifies the subconscious aspirations and values seeking to emerge, identifies with and gives expression to them. Abraham Lincoln, Jean Monnet and Steve Jobs, men who lived at different periods and worked in vastly different fields all had this vision, and it was their vision that led to the successful fruition of their ideas. The ‘United’ in today’s ‘United States of America’ was Lincoln’s doing. He wanted to abolish slavery and unite the north and the south of the country that were divided over the issue. The Father of the European Union, Jean Monnet, is credited by John Kennedy to have moved Europe closer to unity in less than twenty years than it had done before in a thousand. When the hostilities of World War II had still not subsided, Monnet began to work for a united Europe. Steve Jobs of the consumer electronics company Apple Inc. developed products for which people discovered uses afterwards!

Colleagues humorously called Jobs’ persuasiveness a ‘reality distortion field’. His arguments seemed to defy logic, his demands were unreasonable. But every time he bent reality and managed what he set out to accomplish. At a time when the personal computer was hardly personal and was meant only for businesses, Jobs set about giving it a character. He clearly saw the power of its functionality, but sensed that people still looked upon it only as a very powerful and somewhat intimidating machine. He made it appear friendly, colourful, aesthetic and entertaining, and publicized it as a tool that could serve everyone. He created a portable digital player, the iPod, that could store hundreds of songs and be easy to use. When the public saw it, they decided that it was what they needed. Jobs had known it already! He repeated the same success several times, creating new industries, or raising the standards in existing ones. What looked to others a reality distortion field was the vision of the future to Jobs. When he needed Gorilla Glass for his smartphones, he approached glass manufacturer Corning Glass and told the CEO Wendell Weeks what he needed in six months. Corning Glass had developed that glass in the 1960s, but had quit making it since. Weeks informed Jobs that it was not possible to supply the required quantity within the time. Jobs, whose knowledge of chemistry and glass manufacturing was hardly a match for the CEO of the glass company, told Weeks, ‘Don’t be afraid. You can do it. Get your mind around it.’ To the surprise of Weeks himself, a Corning plant was converted almost overnight to make the glass, and the product delivered in less than six months! Jobs had dreamed boldly, a char­acter of outstanding leaders, as Philip Koenig, Co-Founder & Vice-President of Praneo, a collaborative enterprise serving individuals and organizations, said in his talk on social insight and future vision. The leader goes beyond the conventional wisdom of the times and dreams boldly. Then he does everything he can to bring his dreams to life, even any obstacle is taken as more positive energy for the dreams. He identifies with and gives expression to the unexpressed subconscious aspirations and values seeking to emerge. He knows that the unrealized is not unrealizable.

8. The Power of Values

Stories of all great men and women, successful organizations and societies have an element in common – positive values. A value is a high principle or an ideal of conduct. It is an internalized discipline. It provides an internal reference point to an individual or a group, for what is right, good and important. External challenges reveal latent capacities in us and motivate us to rise higher. Whereas a challenge is a compulsion of outer circumstances, values are voluntarily adopted.

Paradigm change does not simply imply getting somewhere else, but moving in the right direction and the right values are critical to this process. As Albert Einstein said, we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. Transformational leadership for a new paradigm involves an evolutionary change in values.

One with a very high level of responsibility and self-restraint, two essential values of a transformational leader, was George Washington. Washington was indifferent to person­al safety, and took responsibility for his country, its every state, and even every soldier who fought for its freedom. This needed patriotism, self-sacrifice, and an incredible store of strength. But what made him the first president of the independent country was his ability to restrain himself, even under pressing circumstances.

Abraham Lincoln said later, ‘If you want to test a man’s character, give him power’. Washington had the power. He led the continental army against the British in America, and had all the military power there was to be had. But when he wanted money for his army, he waited for the US Congress to sanction it. When his soldiers were hungry, cold and ill, he did not demand or take what he most urgently needed. He never once overruled the Congress or acted arbitrarily. He sought to establish a democracy in the US, where the military would serve under the elected government, and not override it. This great self-restraint that he expressed under trying conditions, even when his army was starving in winter, convinced everyone that he was a man they could trust with supreme power. After the country became free of foreign rule, the Americans did not want any more authoritarianism, even if it was only domestic. They were even reluctant to forge a central government, having got rid of a foreign monarch, they did not want another home grown one. Only one who would not misuse power would be acceptable. They had seen that the one man who could be absolutely trusted with power, regardless of the circumstances, was George Washington. So they unan­imously elected him the President of USA twice, and would have done so again had he not refused the post the third time.

“The transformational leader does not hold all the reins, but empowers others.”

Physical skills direct physical energy in an organized way to generate precise movements that result in high performance and successful acts. Similarly, values harness, direct and channel psychological energy to generate remarkable results in personal and social life. Successful individuals and organizations are marked by their values. Values motivate one to excel oneself, otherwise we would be satisfied with things as they are. When we set a high standard for ourselves, we achieve it, or at least excel ourselves in the attempt. The quality of the values and the intensity of our commitment to them determine the level of accomplishment. Transformational leaders bring about a change in values, in themselves, in others, in organizations and societies.

9. The Role of Organization

When humans and human activity are added together, the result does not follow a linear progression but grows exponentially in complexity. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, as Aristotle said. Organization is central to human accomplishment. Not all the raging river water can produce one watt of electricity if it is not dammed, channelled through sluice gates and through the turbine. A leader, regardless of his individual capacity, depends on an organization to fulfil his vision.

As society evolves, organizations evolve too. We see a gradual change, sometimes smooth and rapid, sometimes through struggle, from autocratic to democratic, participative forms. Pierre Antoine Barraillé, Consultant and President of Praneo, in his talk about organizations called for a rise in the level of consciousness, in order to improve organizations and achieve a paradigm shift.

Ego-centric organizations consist of leaders and followers who think only of themselves, and the focus is inevitably on survival and the short term. Competition exists at all levels. A step higher is the social-centric setup where one moves from the self to thinking about those around. Collaboration replaces competition. A still higher level is global-centric, where one thinks of the long term and of the whole world. Collaboration is enhanced by compassion, and the rise in level enhances the quality of life and effectivity of all.

The person at the top of the pyramid no longer takes all the decisions, everyone takes decisions and is responsible. This participation releases great energy. As the organization model becomes decentralized and changes from the collective serving the leader to the leader serving the collective, organizations become more dynamic, innovative and creative. Leadership is distributed lower down the organization till everyone becomes a self-guided leader in some measure. In such evolutionary organizations, instances of which we already see in companies like Google Inc., the leader’s role is more to initiate and create space for others. There is a shift in the position of power.

10. The Power Equation

Of the three temptations which the devil offered Christ in the desert, wealth, power and glory, the true leader is free. Power is perhaps the most alluring of the three. Traditionally, power rested at the top of the pyramid. Teachers imparted knowledge in a one-way approach. Rulers unilaterally decided the fate of countries. The Church dictated the rules of religion. Top-down organizations concentrated most of the power in the hands of a few. A paradigm change has to change the way power is distributed and wielded. The transformational leader does not hold all the reins, but empowers others.

A study of all great leaders shows that they never sought the top post. They followed their ideals, power gravitated towards them. Gandhi sought independence for India, he did not care for a political post. Abraham Lincoln’s ambition was not the presidency of the USA. Jean Monnet initiated the process that resulted in the European Union, but he never held a high official position. Gorbachev said that if anybody within the Communist Party had objected, he would not have taken the top post. His primary goal was to revive the Soviet economy and reform its political and social structure. He was the first man in Russian history to have left the Kremlin without clinging to power. Every reform he initiated came at the cost of his own power, but he went on determinedly, till he finally declared his own office extinct, and in the process, liberated many peoples.

Mandela was a great leader who ended Apartheid in South Africa, what made him greater was the complete absence of any vindictiveness when he came to power. There was no resentment for the twenty seven years he was made to spend in prison, or anger at the unfairness of the old system. He ensured that the transition from apartheid to unity was without retribution and civil war. He ensured reconciliation and integration in society. His sentiments, “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger,” can belong only to a truly great leader.

11. Character of the Transformational Leader

The sparkling gemstone gets its sparkle from its many facets. The Leadership Course lectures and the panel discussion that followed each lecture identified different characteristics that form the many facets of transformational leadership. In order to facilitate the emergence of effective transformational leaders at all levels of society, we need to understand the character of the transformational leader, and the process that creates and nurtures leadership.

In his presentation, Alberto Zucconi, President, Person-Centered Approach Institute, Italy and Secretary General, WUC, called empathy one of the basic elements of the mind of the great leader. Leaders are people-centered, they are in touch with others. They recognize others’ intrinsic worth, and respect and appreciate them. They are generous, taking pleasure in empowering and serving others. They get real satisfaction not from being in control, but in seeing the success of others. They feel love and compassion for all. Just as teachers know that they learn more by teaching, true leaders know that they grow by giving. They create other leaders. They listen to others. When Franklin Roosevelt was President of USA, the White House received between 5000 and 8000 letters a day. Members of the public felt connected to him and his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt. It was said of Roosevelt that in order to defuse a situation, whereas the previous president Herbert Hoover sent the army, Roosevelt sent his wife. The first couple were so in touch with the people. He began his radio program Fireside Chats with the greeting, ‘My friends’. One factory worker rushed home after work, explaining that he did not want to miss Roosevelt on radio. He said, When the president takes the time to talk to me, the least I can do is listen!

Apart from factual knowledge, effective leaders need emotional and social intelligence. They need to be able to recognize emotions, both in themselves and in others. They communicate well with others, and enjoy good relationships. They are able to get others to cooperate with them. They do not see in black and white. They are aware that there are times when the lesser evil has to be accepted in order to overcome the greater evil, a smaller good must be sacrificed for the greater good. They anticipate, prepare for and handle change. Leaders need to take risks.

Using the analogy of a captain of a ship, Donato Kiniger-Passigli, Head, Fragile States and Disaster Response Group, International Labour Office, analysed the many aspects of effective decision-making which is a key element of transformational leadership. In order to take right decisions, the leader needs to think i) strategically, and have a clear vision of what is and what needs to be done, ii) tactically, and know how the thing should be done, and iii) operationally, and execute the task. An aerial view, or a higher perspective, must be combined with a hands-on view or problem solving attitude, for effective decision-making.

Great leaders are people of immense courage. Physical courage that is required to face the enemy army is clear. It is courage of another type to break away from the norm and try out a new idea in science, art, writing or public policy. Winston Churchill said that courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen. When the powerful Church says the earth is at the center of the universe, it takes courage to think of another possibility, and profess it. When the Second World War has just concluded, it takes courage to propose a collaboration with Germany, treating it as an equal. Finland has initiat­ed a radical change in its education. Schools will do away with different academic subjects, and teach broad trans-disciplinary topics that touch upon all subjects. Instead of geography, history, political science and economics, students will learn the topic of the European Union, and all the subjects will be covered within the context of the EU, in an integrated way. It is courage again when a country with the top international test scores breaks away from a centuries-old model and embarks on a new course.

Visionary leaders are people of great conviction. During the Space Race with the USSR, John Kennedy announced that the Americans would put a man on the moon within a decade. When he made the commitment, the technology to land on the moon was not developed, nor yet the technology to return safely to earth. The costs involved were enormous. Still, his passion fired the project and NASA was able to send Neil Armstrong to moon and back within the decade. Great leadership needs passion. When the German Luftwaffe pounded Britain during World War II, the Nazis expected the island nation to surrender in six weeks. But after three months, they gave up in spite of the fact that they heavily outnumbered Britain in aircraft and experienced pilots. They had not reckoned with the amazing psychological determination of Britain and its leader Churchill who declared, “We shall never surrender.” This deep conviction appealed to the depths of the English people. He said he had nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat, and every one of his countrymen was willing to follow him and offer the same. In the face of such passionate resistance, the opponent has no choice but to give up.

Passion is necessary, but by itself is not adequate. History recounts a large number of people who had a clear idea of what they wanted, and wanted it with great passion, but the world would have been better off without such qualities in them. Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin were a few who were clear about what they wanted... So, no matter how far and how clearly one sees, if one is looking in the wrong direction, one leads society to the past, not the future. The right direction is required. Ethics and values provide this direction. They are messengers from our subliminal greatnesss that direct our steps towards wholesome progress.

All of us think, or so we think. Many of our opinions are borrowed from others, social norms set the limits and we stay safely within those boundaries, even at the level of thought. But transformational leaders really think – freshly, critically and creatively. They see the patterns that repeat in societies, the trends that evolve, they see problems beforehand. And then, they also transcend thinking and act on inspiration that is based neither on past experience nor on information. Franklin Roosevelt said that the economics he learnt at Harvard was not what he relied on when he went on national radio and told the people that there was nothing to fear but fear itself, and resolved the national banking crisis.

True leaders lead by example. There is a story about an Indian woman who sought Gandhi’s help to make her son stop eating too much sugar. The small boy loved sugar, and no matter how much his mother scolded him, he would not stop. She hoped that he would heed Gandhi’s words if not her own, and brought him to meet the leader. Gandhi asked her to return with the boy in two weeks. The lady obediently left, and returned in the said time. Gandhi then told her son that too much sugar is not good for health, and so he should stop eating it. The boy agreed, but the puzzled mother asked Gandhi why he had asked for two weeks’ time before advising the boy. Gandhi told her that two weeks back, he was eating sugar himself! The leader expects or asks nothing of the followers that he is not willing to do himself.

Harry Truman said that it is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit. Of all the people involved, Gorbachev was one of the few who never took credit for the end of the Cold War! The real leader is humble. He uses the word “we” more than he uses “I”. Jean Monnet was motivated by altruism when he worked to create a united Europe. He sought nothing for himself, and was quick to give others credit for anything that worked out well. At the end of World War I, out of gratitude for his work, the British wanted to knight him. When he received the insignia, he sent it back, saying he did not merit the honour. The British, not understanding his humility, believed Monnet thought he deserved a higher award, so they promoted him to Knight Commander of the British Empire! Egolessness is a sure sign of a truly great leader.

András László, Founding President and CEO,, began his presentation in a novel fashion, with a meditative silence, which in itself is an integral part of a great leader. There is great power in silence, self-restraint and small significant acts. Franklin Roosevelt remained preternaturally calm in the face of crises. He seemed in touch with the infinite. He never betrayed any nervousness when one upsetting news followed another before and during the Second World War. He confronted with equanimity the internal politics among his colleagues, the latest demand from Churchill for emergency aid, and the opposition at home to American involvement in the War.

One of the problems George Washington faced as a general fighting the American War of Independence was that the different states, in spite of being on the same side, did not always cooperate. Even as late as 1818, the colonial leader of Virginia John Randolph declared, ‘When I speak of my country, I mean the Commonwealth of Virginia.’ Sometimes the problem of the leader is not the hostility from outside but the fragmentation within. We have successfully cut up the earth and divided it amongst ourselves, on the basis of geography, ethnicity, language, religion, income level and so on. But we see more and more trans-border issues. When the sea level rises, it rises in South America just the same as in Asia. Religious fundamentalism and ethnic strife seem to be spreading regardless of national GDPs. Deforestation in Amazon rainforests leads to mountain snow melting in Nepal and flooding in India and Pakistan. On the positive side, any new development in any lab in the world reaches the markets all over the world. Ideas rapidly spread worldwide due to advanced telecommunications. An atrocity in any corner of the world is condemned, and sometimes even telecast live, worldwide. When a British newspaper reports that fishermen and sailors in the fishing boats in Thailand are treated badly, departmental stores in America and Europe threaten to stop procuring sea food from the country unless the conditions are improved. When a Pakistani girl insists that she will continue her education in spite of the threat of terrorists, the world comes to her support, and awards her the Nobel Prize. However, we continue to insist on our separateness.

An integrated view of the world and of all life that is absent from the majority can be seen in the leaders who have shaped and influenced the future of the world. Franklin Roosevelt saw that USA was not safe if Europe was not. Gorbachev understood the link between achieving international détente and domestic reform. Jean Monnet saw the possibility of cooperation and mutual benefit in the midst of hostility and conflicting purposes. He tied together the French and the larger European interest in ensuring peace and future security with the German interest in achieving political and economic rehabilitation. His proposals were a shock to many, but Monnet saw that to offer Germany equality with other European nations was essential for the common welfare.

Transformational leaders overcome dualistic thinking. They reconcile apparent opposites. Lee Iacocca tells the story of an engineer who worked with him at Chrysler. The engineer was a genius, but an argumentative and outspoken genius. For him the creative process was like hand-to-hand combat. He was not deferential or polite when he gave his opinion on another’s idea. But he kept Iacocca on his toes, and the consequence was always an improved car design. Iacocca saw that, for the benefit of Chrysler’s car, he could not afford to let his ego get in the way with the engineer. In business, politics or any other field, if the leader receives, or allows expression for only one point of view, his own point of view, then he needs to worry about the future. Lincoln never judged men by his like or dislike for them. If someone had quarrelled with him, but happened to be the fittest man for a position in the Cabinet, Lincoln would put him in the Cabinet just as soon as he would a friend. Churchill included in his War Cabinet, members of the opposition. He said, ‘Let prewar feuds die. Let personal quarrels be forgotten’ so that energy wasted previously in infighting could be channelled into winning the common war.

The true leader takes consciousness responsibility, that is, responsibility for something greater than himself, greater than the authority he has. Like Gorbachev took responsibility for humanity by ending the Cold War, regardless of what it cost him personally.

Garry Jacobs, Chief Executive Officer, WAAS and WUC, in his concluding remarks stated that a complete act meets three psychological conditions – clarity of knowledge and full mental decision; enthusiastic emotional endorsement; and skilled execution through positive attitudes. If a single element is missing – one decision, one positive attitude or one skill – the act remains incomplete. For it to achieve a result, it must meet all the minimum requirements. The complete act has the potential for instantaneous miraculousness. It harnesses the forces of life to achieve results far greater than expected. With the right decision, attitude and action, a little Dutch boy can plug a dyke with a hand and save a whole country from flooding as in the legend of Hans Brinker. A single man can remove one brick and bring down the wall between the East and West as Gorbachev did. The transformational leader is one capable of performing a complete act in every one of his endeavours.

12. Educating Transformational Leaders

Sasa Kozuharov, Deputy Chancellor of the University of Tourism and Management, Skopje, Macedonia, and Pierre Antoine Barraillé explored the field of education. It used to be joked that our education has not changed much since the middle ages. If a physician from the 12th century were to enter a hospital today, he would faint. Whereas a teacher from that period would feel at home in today’s classroom. But this joke is becoming more and more obsolete every year. 2012 was called the year of the MOOC, Massive Open Online Course. Today, though some call MOOC the missed opportunity for online collaboration, education is evolving along with the advancement in technology. Still, our education is nowhere near the desired goals. 10% of primary school-age children are not enrolled in school. Here, we are talking about 61 million of the world’s future citizens. Between 2012 and 2015, 4 million teachers would have been needed to achieve universal primary education. The numbers look bleaker in higher education. 38% of all secondary school-age children are out of school, and 70% of tertiary school-age youth are not in college. These statistics cover only the gaps in quantity. Quality of education is a different issue altogether.

Standardized mass education will not produce transformational leaders needed for the future. Education that inculcates original thought, creativity, positive values and a view of the whole is needed. We need to educate entrepreneurship rather than employable skills, creative thinking rather than memorization, capacities for innovation rather than skills for production. We have enough gadgets to store data and process it. What we need are people who can see, empathise, think, discover and create. Apart from the academic subjects which are undoubtedly of importance, the system should impart wisdom, responsibility, ethics, passion tempered by reason, tolerance and compassion.

“To give expression to the subconscious aspirations of society that are striving to awaken and act as a catalyst for their realization is the essence of transformational leadership.”

Our educational institutions have served us remarkably well, they have created great men and women who have shaped history. But they need to evolve to meet our current and future needs. Those who graduate from our schools and colleges should have a clear understanding of the integration – of all living things in the ecosystem, of all academic disciplines, of all countries and economies, of all of life. This will ensure that we do not create leaders who manufacture 70,000 nuclear weapons that are guaranteed to destroy earth and perhaps the moon in addition. Instead of going to war, future generations will be able to turn contradictions into complements. Economic disparity may reduce and well-being may become more universal. Modernization will not erase culture, globalization will not cost the earth its future. In order to get there, we need a paradigm change in education.

13. Global Leadership

Just as individuals can, organizations too can play the role of a leader. International organizations that transcend the nation state have the potential to take up global leadership, as Igor Kolman, Vice-chair, Croatian Committee on European Affairs, said in his lecture. These organizations have an integrated view of world issues and are better positioned to develop complete solutions. They have a huge knowledge base and the mechanisms developed for processing them are incredible. The opportunities are endless, all that is wanting is transformational leadership that will make these organizations take the lead.

The European Union has the potential to become a model and prototype for global governance. It can transform from a confederation and administration of nation states into a united community of peoples with a shared aspiration, vision and values – a wholesome whole. NATO can transform itself into a true instrument for global cooperative security rather than a security apparatus of a block of nations. The United Nations Organization has successfully prevented a third World War, but it can become more representative and democratic, and work to eliminate war of all proportions. A global New Deal is needed, as Tibor Tóth, Chief Executive Officer, Glocal E-Cubator, Austria said in his lecture.

Ask Google “how to solve the world’s problems”, and the search engine very optimistically gives 8,22,00,000 answers in half a minute. It is very heartening, but really, how many leaders, how many leading organizations seriously ask themselves the question, or have the answer? The World Academy of Art and Science, in formulating a New Paradigm for Human Development, is taking up an extremely ambitious project to address all critical issues facing humanity. It is asking the question on behalf of the world, “Is there a solution to all our problems?” Through several conferences, research papers, and the World University Consortium courses, the Academy is attempting to lead the world to its future.

14. Essence of Transformational Leadership

Transformational leaders help raise the consciousness of individuals and society to enable them to realize more of their potential. They are defined by the values they embody and aspire to realize. To give expression to the subconscious aspirations of society that are striving to awaken and act as a catalyst for their realization is the essence of transformational leadership.

About the Author(s)

Janani Ramanathan

Trustee, World Academy of Art & Science; Senior Research Analyst, The Mother‘s Service Society; Board of Directors, World University Consortium