Leadership for the Greater Good: Reflections on the 2020 Pandemic

We are living in an unprecedented time. While none of us have experienced the specific details of the challenges before us, we are not without resources to help see us through. ILA has invited well-known and respected thought leaders from around the world to share their leadership knowledge, wisdom, and viewpoint to inform and inspire us as we continue our collective work.

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The Fire Next Time

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(8 June 2020)

by Katherine Tyler Scott, Managing Partner, Ki ThoughtBridge, USA

We are witnessing the predictable repeat of history and the continuing consequences of a failure of leadership in dealing with it. The lack of courage and competence at the highest levels of government is manifested in reactive behavior that is not productive. We are being driven by ignorance and fear rather than a desire to face uncomfortable truths about who we are as individuals and as a Country.

We are in crisis, and the murder of George Floyd was the "last straw" for many. Why? For many reasons, but it was the power of his dying words, "I can't breathe" that provoked the protests and the violence. His plaintive expression resonates with millions across the globe, millions who daily can't breathe because of environmental degradation, lack of economic opportunity, racism, autocratic leadership, sexual exploitation, and so many other forms of oppression.

When any system chokes the life out of humanity, the entire system will suffer. As leaders we must use our voices and skills to help those with whom we live and work to engage in self-examination so that the shadow that resides within every human being does not continue to be the repository of hatred and vengeance and the guiding force in how we treat one another.

We must be willing to acknowledge beliefs that preferred to be hidden, beliefs that lead to projection and scapegoating of those who are different, beliefs that ultimately contribute to the illness of individuals and of nations. Anytime one's value and identity are based on the diminishment of another human being, what inevitably follows is the construction and maintenance of systems of power and practices that exist to sustain the inequality and that suffocate our humanity, spirit, creativity and progress.

We are fighting the fires caused by an eruption of the collective shadow, the content composed of what has been repeatedly suppressed and ignored for decades; some would say centuries. The flames will once again be quelled and when they are, we must not breathe a sigh of relief. It will just be the beginning of the real work.

There is a glimmer of light revealing what the future might become through the peaceful protests spreading across the globe. The outward symbols of human solidarity seen in the crowds of masked people of all ages, gender, and ethnicities risking illness for the sake of justice; seen in handprinted signs and impromptu chants. All these and more are indicative of an awakening of consciousness, in shedding the protection of choosing denial and embracing the comfort of willful ignorance.

We see rays of light in the voices of courage and hope, in the toppling of statues and statutes, in honest conversations, and in a refusal to allow the message to be hijacked for political purposes or personal benefit. Each one of us – student, professor, scholar, practitioner, CEO, employee, citizen, or elected official – are potential bearers of light.

Arriving at a different future won't be easy, but if we truly want to ensure that no human being suffers and dies from having the knee of oppression on their necks, we will do whatever we can, in whatever capacity we have to change ourselves first and then work to change systems that perpetuate inequality; to contribute to the fire next time that burns with a passion for humanity, a respect for the dignity of every human being; a fire that brings the eternal light of justice to all in the world.

Katherine Tyler Scott Before beginning her tenure at KI ThoughtBridge, Katherine Tyler Scott founded and served as President of Trustee Leadership Development, Inc., a resource center for governance leaders and not-for-profit organizations. Katherine is a past chair of the ILA board and convener of the ILA Applied Leadership Global Learning Community. She previously directed the Lilly Endowment Leadership Education Program, a statewide leadership education initiative for professionals in youth service, and she also developed leadership programs and resources for the Community Leadership Association.

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