Introduction to Rising Leader Series 2023
Great leaders can move mountains. This is the first important thing, because mountains must be moved. Never in history has it been more true: leadership matters. It is why, to you and next-generation leaders like you, I say this:
You are the most important person in the world right now.
The second important thing is that our world is in crisis. Planet sustainability… geopolitical stability… the health of our democracy… our respect for diversity… the connectedness of our communities… the strength of our houses of worship… big rips have emerged in the fabric of our most precious human systems. As any student of leadership knows: once complex systems become dysfunctional, they cannot be rebalanced without big, sustained, coordinated interventions. That takes leadership-- now on an unprecedented global scale, with time as our enemy.
We are on the cusp of a forty-year period in which the choices and actions of humanity’s leaders will determine our path, for good or ill. Will the next generation of rising leaders respond to God's call to meet the world's woundedness with love? Will they (you) make the sacrifices necessary to climb the path towards healing? Or will they (you) continue to act as so many of our current and past leaders have done-- from self-centered motivations? You, rising leader, will choose.
Which leads us to the third important thing. To do good, our leaders must be good. If we are to turn the tide, ethical leadership is critical. And that doesn't just happen. It takes a relationship with God, formed through the discipline of piety.
We humans haven’t changed much over the past three hundred years. At least in terms of virtue and vice. Ever since humanity’s emergence out of the mists of time, we have been endowed by our Creator with two gifts: original goodness and free will. In our goodness, we have exhibited a great capacity to love, to empathize, to sacrifice, to rescue, to heal. But also, in our manic struggle to survive and procreate, we have often seized that freedom of our will to stray from our original goodness. Gripped by fear or compulsion, we’ve shrunk our circles of care-- turning inward to self, tribe, nation-- at others’ expense. In fear, we’ve distrusted. We’ve demonized the “other”. We’ve hoarded. We’ve acted with indifference towards the least among us. We’ve lusted for power. We’ve exploited without thought of the impact. Yes, we humans are (and always have been) both saints and sinners.
But, to flip an old saying on its head, the more things stay the same the more they change. A certain change-- one that has emerged over the past three hundred years-- is of the greatest consequence to the future of our species. This change is the emergence and ever-rising power of science to transform.
Born out of the Enlightenment, the scientific method gifted our world with three centuries of ever-accelerating invention. We have doubled life expectancy. We have wired the globe. We have become acquainted with all the world’s cultures-- their values, norms, arts and rituals. We have built global supply chains. We have rationalized crop-growing, so as to feed the world. Humanity’s knowledge resides in our iPhones. We are digitally connected to people and experiences like never before. When a global pandemic hit, we created powerful, life-saving vaccines and distributed them around the world with unprecedented speed. Who can deny the power of science to do good? It is all around us. Yes, science has been a force for great good in the world.
But science has also brought us the atom bomb and bioweapons. In just two days we wiped out two cities: Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In just two hundred years we have brought our entire planet from pristine health to the brink of ecological disaster. We’ve built the machines that have accelerated destruction of forests, leveled mountains for coal, cast ever more carbon into the atmosphere, and raked our oceans free of fish. Digital connectedness has helped us amplify our hate. Sophisticated artificial intelligence algorithms now tempt us towards our worst impulses. Caught in a continuous digital stream of distractions, we’ve lost simple human connectivity; never-ending images of suffering, scandalizing, lusting and grandstanding have left us empty and emotionally anesthetized. And meanwhile, as humanity wallows in ethical apathy and confusion, artificial intelligence speeds the pace of learning itself, spinning science forward faster and faster.
This too is science.
Our volatile human cocktail of virtue and vice, saintliness and sinfulness hasn’t changed over the past three hundred years-- but through scientific advances, the tools available to us to act upon our virtue and vice have. And so, like never before in human history, our need for virtuous, ethical, selfless servant leaders to take the reins– to build up the guardrails– is now absolute. It’s no overstatement to say that without you and leaders like you rising to this challenge, all across the globe, humanity will continue its slide towards the abyss.
Can you see, good leader, why this all comes back to you, and why the moment is now? We need leaders who know what goodness is, who are good themselves, and who will place science in service of goodness. Without ethically grounded leadership, science becomes weaponized by vice. Leaders of goodness are called by God to rise– to run to the need and to stand in the gap.
It strikes me that the challenge your generation faces is even greater than that faced by the Greatest Generation. Yes, my parents’ generation dug out of the Great Depression, confronted epic evil and rose to the call to sacrifice everything (75 million lives; the wealth of nations; years of dashed hopes; years of blood, sweat and tears) so that the bell of freedom could still ring. The mind can barely comprehend what they did for us.
But now, all we hold dear is on the line. The work that must be done to heal our planet, nation, communities, churches and hearts is epic. If humanity is to turn the tide, it will take decades of selfless, dedicated leadership, all across the globe, from senior leaders at the top of change-driving organizational pyramids, to operational and functional leaders, and all the way down to those who lead from the front line.
There’s only one answer: you.
My generation certainly isn’t the answer. It is we who handed you the world in this condition. It is we who are responsible for much of the shallowness and selfishness of our age. On behalf of my generation, I offer amends. I’m sorry.
No, humanity’s hope rests on your shoulders. You are the one called to a sacrifice different in kind from that of the Greatest Generation, but perhaps even more significant. For you, it must be in a radical reprioritization of what matters, a discovery of connectedness to and care for generations present and future, and a passionate lifelong dedication to the rescue work that must be done. Yes, you are our future. You have what it takes to rise to the moment. But this kind of sacrificial leadership won’t just happen. It requires a journey of the soul.
We can’t do it alone. On our own, we are too selfish– too prideful– too preoccupied. On our own, we cannot untangle the soul knots that hold back our return to our true selves. It takes a journey of the heart, with God as our companion and guide.
God teaches us to value ourselves, and all else that He loves-- both those we agree with and those we don’t; fellow country-mates and those in other countries; those richer and poorer; those of races different from our own; those in crisis both near and far. With new eyes, our care for future generations grows as well. A soul journey with God leads inexorably through and beyond ourselves. It draws us into His hurting world to serve.
Everything is connected, everything is alive, everything emanates love. From the atomic particle, to the leaping deer in the forest, to all humanity, to our planets and stars and everything in between, we are connected, with love. Once we see this truth, we realize that dishonor to anyone or anything is dishonor to ourselves. We begin to expand our circle of care. We become committed to goodness.
Why The Rising Leader Series
The world needs leaders of goodness– leaders grounded in God and ready to serve. This takes discipline and commitment. I’ve written the fifty-two letters that make up this Rising Leader Series to encourage and challenge rising leaders like you. It is my prayer that you will embark on a soul journey with God, and then will take up God’s call to love and heal the world.
It requires a new worldview. I believe that to see our connectedness, and to bind science to goodness and forsake its use for evil, the world’s rising leaders must step into— even dedicate their lives to— seven disciplines of goodness:
Piety, so that in our relationship with God, we may return our souls to balance
Decency, so that in each of our encounters, by bestowing upon our neighbors the dignity we expect others to bestow upon ourselves, we keep human connectedness in balance
Civility, so that in our diverse communities, debate will lead towards balance
Charity, so that from neighbor to failed nation state we might help the hurting regain their balance
Democracy, so as to retain national social and political balance
Diplomacy, so as to help nation states stay in geopolitical balance
Sustainability, so as to bring the planet back into balance
Think of these disciplines as a ladder. To climb, you need solid footing on the first step– piety:
In this series of letters, good leader, I will offer you the Christian path to ethical leadership. But we must appreciate that the Chistian path is not the only path to goodness. We live in a pluralistic world. Good people, good leaders are all around us. In our healing work, we are called to journey together with all people of goodwill. This "we're-all-in-it-together" way of thinking is Christian (in the “what would Jesus do” sense).
The weekly Rising Leader Series letters are organized by quarter:
First Quarter: Who is God? What does He have to do with leadership?
Second Quarter: Who am I? What soul work must I do to become a selfless servant leader?
Third Quarter: Where’s the need? Planet, democracy, community, race relations, houses of worship-- what’s the work to be done?
Fourth Quarter: What’s my call? Where do I begin?
My letters to you constitute a supportive challenge. I offer it to you and all like you who will become our next generation of leaders:
Leader of goodness,
Go in faith
To love and heal the world
Ready to begin? Return to God. It's a good first step on your quest to save the world.