And so, to return to our opening question: What is--or what is to be--the new mythology?

It is--and will forever be, as long as our human race exists--the old, everlasting, perennial mythology, in its "subjective sense," poetically renewed in terms neither of a remembered past nor of a projected future, but of now: addressed, that is to say, not to the flattery of "peoples," but to the waking of individuals in the knowledge of themselves, not simply as egos fighting for place on the surface of this beautiful planet, but equally as centers of Mind at Large--each in his own way at one with all, and with no horizons.

–--Joseph Campbell, Myths To Live By

Leadership and Decency

We have a dream, an ide­al of lead­er­ship that it should be an intel­li­gi­ble sphere whose cen­ter is every­where and cir­cum­fer­ence is nowhere. Of course this idea is that we all see our­selves as lead­ers, that we all oper­ate with unspo­ken under­stand­ing and uni­ty derived from the best parts of who we are as peo­ple. Would it sur­prise you, then, to know that this def­i­n­i­tion is at least eight cen­turies old — with only one slight excep­tion? It comes from a twelfth-cen­tu­ry vol­ume, The Book of Twen­ty-Four Philoso­phers, but the book is not about lead­ing at all; it is about defin­ing God. 


I am not attempt­ing to make a point about reli­gion. This is sim­ply a coin­ci­dence, a trick of lan­guage per­haps that leads the mind — my mind any­way — in at least two direc­tions. One is toward a dark thread, one that rebels against how over-wrought our wor­ship of lead­er­ship con­cepts is, rebels against the dis­tor­tions we play out in real behav­ior, the com­pet­i­tive nar­cis­sism some call lead­ing, and the way some uncon­scious­ly turn them­selves into lit­tle Gods in the name of lead­er­ship. I feel the anger and sense of help­less­ness rise in me, mak­ing me want to tear down the walls of this wor­ship com­plete­ly, get rid of the word, start from scratch. What comes to mind are times in my career when I’ve watched pow­er­ful peo­ple who have made mis­takes act out their frus­tra­tion by blam­ing every­one around them, where every­one else is cowed and remains silent in order to escape fur­ther reper­cus­sions. And I think of some who, puffed up in their author­i­ty and stature, think they know the best route to suc­cess and so, patron­iz­ing­ly, “teach oth­ers.” In either case there’s always talk in the hall lat­er — because we are so very far away from the ide­al that it has become, if not plain­ly painful then sure­ly ludicrous.

But there is also anoth­er direc­tion this trick of lan­guage takes me, too, back to the dream, where we can look more care­ful­ly, and keep look­ing into an authen­tic mys­tery: the inspir­ing, ener­getic field that we also call lead­er­ship, espe­cial­ly when it emerges spon­ta­neous­ly among peo­ple. There real­ly is a kind of beau­ty to it, and I see that beau­ty most fre­quent­ly in those who have a bound­less appetite for learn­ing about them­selves and their impacts; in those who see them­selves very much involved in the prob­lems they are try­ing to solve; in human beings who bring their love for oth­ers and their respect and nur­tu­rance to the many invis­i­ble every­day exchanges that make up their jobs, con­ver­sa­tions rich in trust, inter­est in oth­ers, vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty and col­lab­o­ra­tion. It does­n’t mat­ter what rung of the lad­der — there is that good­ness of heart, that sense of respon­si­bil­i­ty, that desire to lis­ten and tell the truth, and to make an hon­est con­tri­bu­tion. And these peo­ple togeth­er do cre­ate the field. It’s very excit­ing to par­tic­i­pate in that, and it absolute­ly heals the nar­cis­sism that is so traditional.

When I think of these good peo­ple, the word that most comes to mind is “decen­cy.” They exem­pli­fy decen­cy, and I would say, yes, they are the real lead­ers. But I’m not sure we need to cre­ate any label for them so much as sim­ply help rec­og­nize their worth and the worth of the field they cre­ate around them. For in truth, they gen­uine­ly hold a cen­ter that is every­where and in each one of us and cre­ate a cir­cum­fer­ence of per­son­al influ­ence that can nev­er ful­ly be known. They are the inspir­ing “intel­li­gi­ble sphere” of our own human­i­ty, some­thing rec­og­nized from with­in, and with­out regard to any oth­er name we might give them. 

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  • I love you Dan! In the most inno­cent and best sense and expres­sion of it. (Yet if we need a defin­i­tive qual­i­fi­er, the Greeks used the term ‘phileo’ to describe ‘broth­er­ly love’) 

    I’m with you and has been part of my own strug­gle and at times, mes­sage, when it comes to the top­ic of leadership.

    I’m inter­est­ing in the top­ic because it has to do with the very real posi­tion and titles that have a huge impact on fam­i­ly, busi­ness, orga­ni­za­tions, nations, and the world. And simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, I resist the con­cept, know­ing I real­ly can’t divorce myself from it altogether.

    And what I mean by that can best be summed up in one of my favorite quotes by Albert Camus:

    Don’t walk in front of me, I may not fol­low. Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend.’

    Even with­in myself though, the DESIRE for the above is there and yet the cur­rent state of our own place along the jour­ney, and the state of the col­lec­tive at this point in time can make that desire fleet­ing when it comes to it’s lived expres­sion in our day to day lives.

    I can more apt­ly say that I LONG for the kind of rela­tion­ships with my elders where it isn’t about ‘lord­ing it over any­one’, it’s a rela­tion­ship that imparts knowl­edge, wis­dom, and expe­ri­ence sim­ply as the way to equip the oth­er per­son for life. Whether that is on the job or to car­ry on as the next gen­er­a­tion long after we are gone. 

    It is to long for that inner know­ing that under­neath the labels we call ‘lead­er­ship’, we are all teach­ers and learn­ers of each oth­er, regard­less of age, posi­tion, title, gen­der, race, reli­gions or creed. 

    I am hap­py to have found at least a sense of that in my con­nec­tion with you. Some­one that walks along side me as my friend. How­ev­er dis­tant that may be. 

    Thank you for that…and thank you for yet anoth­er love­ly, wis­dom-filled post my friend. 


  • You inspire, encour­age, and coach me as you always do Dan!

    Today is the 10th birth­day of Man­ag­ing with Alo­ha, can you believe it? So I am cel­e­brat­ing by vis­it­ing friends who have made so many gen­er­ous deposits into my mana‘o and Alo­ha Spir­it — and you are cer­tain­ly one of them!

    I need­ed to read this today, as I ask myself about what might be next, and I am so thank­ful: Know­ing you, and learn­ing from you has made me better.

  • Dear Saman­tha~

    You don’t just bring a dish or two — you bring a feast! So the “phileo” is sure­ly returned. Indeed, you have been a good and con­stant friend, Saman­tha, to me as I expe­ri­ence the joy and bur­dens of this writ­ing! I very much share in the way Camus states it — the old­er I get it seems the more truth there is in his sim­ple phras­es. We don’t need to be lone wolves lost in the moun­tains, nei­ther ahead nor behind of some­one else.

    All the best

  • Dear Rosa~

    How love­ly that you have stopped by on such an impor­tant day. My own ten year anniver­sary — the start of my blog­ging — comes up the mid­dle of next month, so we can real­ly cel­e­brate these years of mutu­al learn­ing togeth­er. Indeed, we have coached each oth­er, haven’t we? What a plea­sure to cel­e­brate this great process of explo­ration, facil­i­tat­ed by social media, but always attached to the well-springs of expe­ri­ence, feel­ing, and the best think­ing we can come up with. What a great plea­sure to have met you, Rosa, and shared with you across the years.

    I pass along won­der­ful con­grat­u­la­tions to you as one of the best of my teachers.

    Many bless­ings

  • […] Def­i­n­i­tions of lead­er­ship are tra­di­tion­al­ly nar­cis­sis­tic — but there’s anoth­er way to look at things. […]

  • James Elliott wrote:

    Great short arti­cle. Two things come to mind — Jesus did men­tion that we are gods, hence the con­no­ta­tions in writ­ing, sec­ond­ly is that lead­er­ship is ener­gy that spans the four pil­lars of our Being — spir­i­tu­al, emo­tion­al, phys­i­cal and men­tal. How we use this ener­gy denotes our leadership.

  • Dear James~

    Thank you for stop­ping by. I’m guess­ing my ref­er­enc­ing “lit­tle Gods” was done in a very dif­fer­ent way than what Jesus was talk­ing about. And I’m total­ly with you that lead­er­ship is all about inte­gra­tion of spir­i­tu­al, emo­tion­al, phys­i­cal and men­tal being. Right on. 

    All the best~

  • Jan Watterson wrote:

    Enjoyed this one, espe­cial­ly the shar­ing of our simplification.

    Oh how I have learned over the past four years, to reach out, give back, love one­self, and pay if forward.

    I am grate­ful for all of the friend­ships and fam­i­ly rela­tion­ships that have come my way in the last decade. 

    Let­ting go, and enjoy­ing day by day, what­ev­er the day brings, each day is an inspi­ra­tion to me.

    I am glad I have found your page.

    Look for­ward to more inspir­ing writings.

    Best to you Dan.

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