Towards an understanding of leadership for the greater good

August 28, 2013 — Leave a comment

Samuel Wilson

Leadership for the Greater Good maximizes the interests of all, or most, members of the community. However, determining exactly what is ‘for the greater good’ is a key leadership challenge.

As I have discussed elsewhere, the concepts of ‘common good’ and ‘community’ are very abstract. To illustrate, ‘community’ might be understood as a specific group of people, excluding other people deemed less worthy of moral consideration, or it might include all sentient animals, as the moral philosopher Peter Singer suggests, or it might, as argued by the late environmental philosopher Val Plumwood, be so inclusive as to include ‘nature’ more generally – human, nonhuman and nonanimal nature alike.

Further, the concepts of ‘common good’ and ‘community’ are often silent on whether specific actions enhance the greater good. Given these difficulties with concepts that seem, at first glance, so central to understanding the meaning of the public interest, where might we look to glean insights into what Leadership for the Greater Good entails?

Sustainability as a guide to the good

The concept and principles of sustainability arguably provide a helpful guide to understanding the meaning of the greater good. From this perspective, Leadership for the Greater Good might be understood as those myriad approaches to leadership that serve the long-term interests of the world – not just our communities, but also the biophysical environments in which we are ultimately nested and dependent.

In addressing the apparent tensions that many believe inhere between the interests of humans and the nonhuman world, principles of sustainability guide approaches to leadership that seek to integrate interlocking concerns for conservation of biophysical life-support systems, prosperity and social inclusion, and democracy and participation.

Understood in this way, Leadership for the Greater Good seeks to cultivate a shift of mind away from conceptions of the social and natural world as discrete entities with divergent interests to a view that understands these worlds as intrinsically interlocking social-ecological systems.

From categorical to connective thinking 

Crucially, this involves a shift away from antagonistic categorical thinking towards more connective thinking; thinking that is more alive to social, temporal and spatial continuities.

Further, mindfulness of these connections and continuities draws attention to the quality of the relationships – between people, within communities, with nature­ – that undergird human flourishing.

It creates room for imagining, within the ecological constraints of a finite planet, what development and prosperity without growth, as Tim Jackson has put it, might look like.

How should we think about leadership for the greater good? 

Leadership for the Greater Good does not privilege specific approaches to leadership, such as ethical or authentic or adaptive or transformational leadership, but rather embraces a diversity of quality-enhancing approaches to leadership.

Moreover, Leadership for the Greater Good does not privilege specific ways of knowing. Instead, it is an approach that emphasises consilience. The project of establishing, nurturing and diffusing Leadership for the Greater Good is therefore one that draws on the totality of our collective wisdom.

Expanding the understanding and practice of Leadership for the Greater Good is increasingly urgent as issues of globalization, inequality, social alienation and environmental risk intensify.

We invite you to join us in our mission to better understand and promote the practice of Leadership for the Greater Good.

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