For a leader to be effective, they must be able to create and facilitate integral functioning in the realm in which they exercise dominion, and amongst the people who comprise its core. As a figurehead whose example will shape how others think and behave, it is also vitally important that they model the behaviour that promotes this type of functioning, which requires a lot of inner work to be done. Instead of seeing themselves at the top of a pyramid, and removed from those whose work drives the daily activity of the whole operation, the effective leader enters the fray to serve hand in hand with those who are to benefit from his/her stewardship. Where the unintegrated leader thinks about how they can further their own agenda and benefit through the efforts of others, the focus of the integrated leader is what they have to give, and how their efforts can individually and collectively improve conditions for those others.
In a recent study that I completed, which looked into the role of a lived calling in driving leadership behaviour, a significant finding was that the great enemy of not only living a calling, but also to leadership, was the presence of ego. I use the term ‘ego’ here to describe a sense of self that is based in false pretences. When we live from our ego (which we all do to varying degrees), we disengage from the reality of being to embody and project arrogance, indifference, selfishness, defensiveness, the righteousness of our position and judgement which prompts us to attack others, among other things. When respondents to my study were asked to provide examples of people who were not living true to their calling (and more susceptible to the influence of ego in their life), politicians were frequently mentioned to indicate the particularly noxious influence that ego plays in that sphere.
Ego, it seems, makes many politicians out of would be statesmen and stateswomen. Very recently, I read about former US speaker of the house Newt Gingrich characterising Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in terms of ‘big Trump’ and ‘little Trump’. This ‘little Trump’ that Gingrich refers to is Donald Trump functioning from his ego, and it is who we see when Trump berates his detractors, threatens Hillary Clinton during a debate, and makes demeaning and sexist remarks towards women. Unfortunately, it is a part of Donald Trump that we see all too often. Whilst his ego has undeniably played a part in delivering him a high level of business and financial success, the prospect of it being fully unleashed as the next leader of the free world, should be enough to scare any American citizen to think twice before they cast their vote at next week’s election.
While other politicians may not take things as far as Donald Trump does, they go far enough to show that evolving beyond this ego identification is not prioritised to the extent that it should be. Never have I heard a politician speak publically in terms of acting from a spiritual consciousness, adopting introspective practices to grow or solve problems, serving from the heart, or unitive functioning, in a way that inspires me to want to follow them. Choosing instead to embody the status quo of political life, the essence and power of who these would be statesmen and stateswomen are is imperceptible, and whilst we may not be able to consciously identify the ego as the source of this incongruence, we sense it strongly, which explains the general suspicion that we have towards our politicians, and the lack of trust in what they have to say.
In fairness to politicians, the current climate in which they operate is not hospitable to the vulnerability and adherence to truth that this higher form of leadership requires. A politician who concedes that their opponent has a good plan of action on a particular issue would be criticised for a lack of vision, or would have the foundation of their character preyed upon if they opened up to reveal past mistakes or failures that have shaped who they are as people. Being overly sensitive to these risks of attack, and not wanting to provide their opponents with ammunition of any kind, they play the safe political game of defending their ideology and the policies that they inform, and prodding their opponent in their area of weakness. Promoting opposition and victory at the expense of others, this political system brings us no closer to unanimity and a way forward which puts the needs of the whole above all else.
The great tragedy is that there are no winners of the political game that we are playing, and that includes the politicians who find their way into office; with the great losers being the public, who are left to lament the dearth of statesmen and stateswomen who are the only ones worthy of being entrusted with their vote. What we have is not what we want, and where we are in our collective evolution requires a higher standard of leadership to meet the challenges that we face. Terrorism, for example, will not be eradicated through the process of applying the ideological opposition that spawns it in a different form.
As Albert Einstein once wisely stated, “you cannot solve a problem with the same level of thinking that created it”. If we can subjugate our ego to decipher the meaning of this quote, we will find success in identifying the ego as the source of our problems. Having taken this significant step, we can evoke the spirit that underpins integral leadership to find the solutions that are our collective hope for a more prosperous future.