Probably the greatest and most worthy object of global conscious change is valorising sustainability and achieving sustainable development in our socio-technical and social-ecological systems. The imperative to regenerate, sustain and create commons is one of our most profound leadership challenges, and central to leadership for the greater good.
This challenge is, of course, a global challenge. It is easy to sound glib in making such pronouncements and much too easy to underestimate the obstacles to understanding the nature of this challenge, which are manifest in our prevailing cultural assumptions and, by extension, in our individual and shared mindsets.
In this note I want to focus on a problem that has not received enough attention in our collective musings about leadership and sustainability. My aim here is to provide a preliminary sketch of the nature of this problem. Accordingly, this outline will be silent on the details that are properly part of a thoroughgoing understanding of this problem.
At the heart of this problem, as I currently understand it, is a tension between the assumptions that undergird sustainability – specifically ‘big sustainability’ – and those of our prevailing liquid modern condition, as characterized by Zygmunt Bauman.
The nub of the problem is this: whereas sustainability is a prospective collective ideal, liquid modernity eschews collective ideals. There is, therefore, a fundamental discord between these conceptions of how the world works, or should work, which has profound implications for conscious leading for global change, in general, and conscious leading for sustainability and the commons, in particular.
My basic claim is this: liquid modernity is inimical to the experience of self-continuity and social solidarity necessary to enact to mobilise collective action in the service of joint projects for the future – joint projects that regenerate, sustain and create the ecological, technological, economic and sociocultural commons that undergird human flourishing.
In making this claim I am not referring to the diversity of joint projects enacted in myriad organisations intended, exclusively or largely, for the benefit of organisations. Rather, what I have in mind are disinterested – that is, impartial – joint projects enacted by individual citizens for the greater good.
I will explore this proposition in a series of notes over the next couple of weeks and welcome any and all comments that might help tease out these ideas more fully.