We humans are facing many daunting challenges that sometimes make it difficult to find hope in the world today. But as circumstances get tougher, the need for each of us to step up as leaders, who embody the best human qualities, is greater than ever.
You might be thinking, “I’m not cut out to be a leader” but the reality is that everyone who influences another person—whether at home, at work, or in relationships with loved ones— is a leader. And that’s what we’re discussing in today’s episode—how you can show up at your best, for those you love and those you lead.
Today I start by sharing and expanding on an excerpt from the powerful Who Do We Choose To Be by Margaret J. Wheatley. You’ll learn how anyone can choose to be a leader through acts of courage, compassion, and love.
In combination with Margaret Wheatley’s expertise, I’m sharing insights that will help you determine where you can step up as a leader and the mindset that will allow you to show up at your best, even in times of uncertainty and chaos.
- To change the world, you need to change yourself first.
- Leadership doesn’t have to be global. You can lead through many small and thoughtful acts each day.
- How focusing on what you excel at makes you a better leader.
- If you’re influencing other people, you’re a leader.
- The power of defining your vision of the type of leader you want to be.
- Why great leaders focus only on the things they can control.
- The importance of being grateful despite your difficult circumstances.
THIS EPISODE IS BROUGHT TO YOU BY:
Organifi makes the highest quality nutritional products, which are made from whole food ingredients (not synthetic vitamins) that I enjoy nearly every day, and have for many years. Visit Organifi.com/Hal, and use the code HAL at checkout to get 20% off of your entire order. I hope you find something there that you love! :^)
Rise by CURED Nutrition is a natural supplement made from CBD, Lions Mane and Ginseng (among others) that helps boost energy, performance and cognitive function. There’s no caffeine, no jitters and most importantly, no crash. Visit CuredNutrition.com/Hal and receive 20% off of your entire order. They have tons of other products as well, hopefully you’ll find something that works for you. :^)
- Margaret Wheatley
- Who Do We Choose To Be?: Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity by Margaret J. Wheatley
- Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World by Margaret J. Wheatley
- AYG 399: We Are All the Same
- The Miracle Morning Art of Affirmations: A Positive Coloring Book for Adults and Kids by Hal Elrod, Brianna Greenspan, Honoree Corder, Paul Joy
- Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business by Gino Wickman
- Soar!: Build Your Vision from the Ground Up by T. D. Jakes
- The Collapse of Complex Societies (New Studies in Archaeology) by Joseph A. Tainter
- Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio
- Principles for Dealing with the Changing World Order: Why Nations Succeed and Fail by Ray Dalio
- Warrior Poet Society on YouTube
- Are We Really 9 Meals Away From Anarchy?
- Love Is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends by Tim Sanders
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Hal Elrod: Welcome to the Achieve Your Goals podcast. This is your host, Hal Elrod. And today, we’re talking about the world needs you to lead. I’m actually going to read a bit from one of my favorite books on what I would call personal leadership, meaning not leadership as in a CEO or the leader of an organization. This is about personal leadership, how every single one of us is a leader.
In fact, you’ll hear me in the episode defining leader as anyone who influences another human being. And in that way, we’re all leaders. You are a leader. I am a leader. Who are we choosing to be right now when the world needs people to not sit on the sidelines, to not be consumers, but to step up and to lead in our families, to lead in our relationships, to lead in our communities? The world needs leadership right now.
And Margaret Wheatley, by asking the question, who do we choose to be? It really sets the context for the only thing we can control, who do we choose to be? We’ve talked about that for the last three years, ever since the pandemic started in 2020, it was like, hey, what should we focus on? Right now, there are so many things to focus on. What should we focus on? Should we focus on politics? Or should we focus on people that think differently than we do and argue with them online? What should we focus on?
Now, we should focus on the one thing we have control over, which is who we choose to be showing up at our best every day for those we love and those we lead. This is Episode 466. If you want to converse with me because it’s really a heavy episode, it’s a very sobering reality check about where we are right now in the world and that there are some things, some systems that are broken, that are declining, that society itself is on the decline based on studying every other society that’s collapsed throughout the last 3,000 years or 4,000 years, 5,000 years that it’s something that for all of us, we’ve got to face where we’re at and then decide who we’re going to be in the midst of the chaos and the uncertainty.
So, if you want to comment, ask a question about this, you can go to MiracleMorning.com/466. That’ll take you directly to the episode. Or the link will be obviously in the email that you get, sending this out to you. But yeah, if you want to ask anything or share your thoughts on this, I would love to connect with you, and a few days after the episode comes out, be sure to check in there and reply to the comments, read the comments and reply.
All right, before we dive into today’s episode, I want to thank our sponsors. And it’s funny, someone on my team mentioned recently, they go, “Hal, I know you love Organifi, but they’ve been your sponsor for like, I don’t know, three, four, or five years. Why don’t we mix it up a little bit? Why don’t we mix it up?” And so, recently you’ve probably heard the last few months, I finally took on another sponsor.
I have a note here. I’m going to read you this. This is a note to myself. And I never read it to you. I literally wrote this months ago. It says, “Humbly tell my audience that I just turned down $14,000 a month in sponsorship money because I tried the products and I didn’t think they were exceptional. I don’t tell you that to impress you, but simply because I want you to know that I would never recommend anything to you that I don’t absolutely believe in myself.” Anyway, so I don’t think I’ll read it to you because I’m always afraid of people judging me and thinking I’m this or that, whatever. Most of us have that issue, I have that issue. And I want people to think, oh, why is he telling us about turning down $14,000 in sponsorship money? I just want you to know, I will not bring you anything that I don’t personally believe in, that I don’t personally use myself.
So, anyway, Organifi and CURED Nutrition are the products I take every day. There are actually a lot more products I take every day. And I’ve been thinking that was my team member said, he goes, why don’t you rotate? Why don’t you tell them, I drink Pique tea every day, for example, P-I-Q-U-E tea, T-E-A? I drink Pique tea every single day. It’s the first thing I put in my mouth after I drink some water, then I drink Pique tea. It’s organic. It’s a little packet. They’re not our sponsor yet, but that’d be a great idea for a sponsor, right? Somebody that I really believe in their products.
So, anyway, for now, let me thank Organifi, our long-time sponsor, O-R-G-A-N-I-F-I. Most of us could use more energy in our day, but caffeine can only do so much. At some point, we need to look at the root causes of our fatigue. It turns out that two main factors in low energy are chronic stress and lack of nutrition. Organifi creates delicious superfood blends that address both of these problems. They use adaptogenic herbs and mushrooms to help balance cortisol levels associated with stress and they make it easier to add more nutrients into your day. You simply mix a scoop into water and enjoy a natural boost of energy any time of day. If you want more energy, head over to Organifi.com/Hal, that’s O-R-G-A-N-I-F-I, Organifi.com/Hal, and then use the discount code H-A-L at checkout for 20% off your entire order as a listener of the Achieve Your Goals podcast.
Last but not least, our newer sponsor, CURED Nutrition, also makes organic, high-quality supplements. You know I take three of them every day. If you haven’t tried them yet, I encourage you to give them a try, at least one of them depending on your need. For me, I take Rise in the morning, which helps with focus and clarity. I take Aura after I drink my smoothie, which helps for gut health and immunity. And then I would have to say the one I notice the biggest benefit from, so if you’re deciding between these three, the one that I feel like I get the biggest benefit from is their Night Caps, N-I-G-H-T. I take those at night about 45 minutes before bed, and they have CBD and CBN oil. I sleep better than I’ve slept in a long, long, long time. Head over to CUREDNutrition.com/Hal and use that same discount code H-A-L for 20% off your order.
And I hope you find something at either Organifi and/or CURED that enhances your energy, your sleep. It makes you feel better, makes you healthier, all of the above. All right. Without further ado, let’s talk about it because the world needs you to lead, not someday, today.
Hal Elrod: Hey, goal achievers and members of the Miracle Morning Community, my friends, and family, welcome to today’s podcast episode. We are going to talk about you being a leader and why that is needed now more than ever. I mean, I think it’s always been needed actually. So, it’s needed now as much as ever, right? But the idea that we as a society, humanity, it needs people who are willing to step up and lead others in the face of challenges and chaos.
And to help you understand what I mean by lead others or what it means to be a leader, just think about the opposite, someone that is passively going through life, cowering from the chaos, not looking to serve others, but just looking to get by, if you will, versus those of us, which can be all of us, I believe, but those of us that are willing to step up and go, you know what? There’s a lot of chaos in the world. There’s a lot of uncertainty. There’s a lot of fear. People are struggling. I’m going to do everything in my power, even if I don’t feel like it, even if I’m also scared, which I can raise my hand, I don’t always feel like it, I’m often scared. But no matter what, a leader is someone that says, I’m going to step up and I’m going to do the best I can with what I have to affect as many people as I possibly can. That’s it.
And that number of people, it’s not about quantity, it’s about quality. It might just be your family. It might just be you’re a leader for your family. And that’s what we need because you think about it, the world is just a macro of the micro. What does that mean? That’s a meta thing to say. What do I mean by that? The micro, meaning our world, our communities, our society, it’s a macro of the individual, a macro of a family, a macro of a community. So, in order to change the world, it’s not about changing billions of lives. It’s about effecting change first within yourself and then within your family and then within your community. And then, hopefully, that ripples out and it makes a bigger impact than you might ever be able to see firsthand.
So, today, I’m going to read to you a little bit from a book called Who Do We Choose To Be?: Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity by Margaret J. Wheatley. And I’ve referenced this book before. I don’t know if I ever read out of it before. I might have, but I’m rereading it right now. And it just reminded me, number one, what a powerful book this is, and it’s such a unique perspective. In fact, I’m just going to read the back for you because I think that will give you a better understanding of what this is about. And I’m not going to read the whole book to you, obviously. In fact, I’m only going to read my highlights. So, you’re going to get a little CliffsNotes version of what I deem to be valuable. And I’m only going to read the first, what do I get? 30 pages. So, CliffsNotes highlights on the first 30 pages, but I want to read the back cover so you understand what we’re about to dive into.
This book is born of my desire to summon us to be leaders for this time of profound disruption to reclaim leadership as a noble profession that creates possibility and humaneness in the midst of increasing fear and turmoil. I know it is possible for leaders to use their power and influence, their insight and compassion to lead people back to an understanding of who we are as human beings, to create conditions for our basic human qualities of generosity, contribution, community, and love to be evoked no matter what. I know it is possible to experience grace and joy in the midst of tragedy and loss. I know it is possible to create islands of sanity in the midst of wildly disruptive seas. I know it is possible because I have worked with leaders over many years in places that knew chaos and breakdown long before this moment. And I’ve studied enough history to know that such leaders always arise when they are most needed. Now, it’s our turn.
So, I’m going to read to you from this book, and the reason this conversation is happening, this podcast episode, is because I’m inviting you to step up as a leader. And what I’m going to share with you today, what I’m going to read these highlights that I’ve extracted from the book, hopefully, will give you some clarity on what that means, what that looks like so that you have more of a framework and some context to actually step up as a leader. Because if I just said, “Hey, you need to step up as a leader,” it’s like, I don’t know what that means, right?
Well, let’s dive in so you have a little bit more clarity on that based on Margaret J. Wheatley. She’s also the bestselling author of Leadership and The New Science. Here we go. And by the way, I’m going to probably pause as I’m reading and interject my own thoughts or questions for you to consider, and if not during, we’ll see if it emerges organically, but at the end, then we’ll turn this into– turning it back on current times because this book, by the way, was written in 2017, and it sounds like it was written yesterday. Like when you hear it, it’s like these trends that are just seeming to get worse and worse and worse, Margaret Wheatley was identifying them five years ago, as many were, because she notes in her book that she was studying other people that have been noticing these trends for much longer.
In fact, one of the big aspects of this book is that she studied the people that have been studying the collapse of societies over the thousands of years that societies have emerged from the Roman Empire and– what are the other empires? But studying what do societies have in common, and you’ll see there are commonalities between the rise of a society and the fall of a society, and looking at where we are on that map, if you will, from start to finish, so to speak. All right, here we go.
So, What This World Needs. This world does not need more entrepreneurs. Ouch. This world does not need more technology breakthroughs. This world needs leaders. We need leaders who put service over self, who can be steadfast through crises and failure, who want to stay present and make a difference to the people, situations, and causes they care about, again, whether that’s your family, your spouse, your community.
We need leaders who are committed to serving people, who recognize what is being lost in the haste to dominate, ignore, and abuse the human spirit. We need leaders because leadership has been debased as those who take things to scale or are first to market or dominate the competition or develop killer apps. Or hold on to power by constantly tightening their stranglehold of fear until people are left lifeless and cowering.
We need leaders now because we have failed to implement what was known to work, what would have prevented or mitigated the rise of hatred, violence, poverty, and ecological destruction. We have not failed from a lack of ideas and technologies. We have failed from a lack of will. The solutions we needed were already here.
Now it is too late. We cannot solve these global issues globally. Now, it’s up to us not as global leaders but as the local leaders. We can lead people to create positive changes locally that make life easier and more sustainable, that create possibility in the midst of global decline. Let us use whatever power and influence we have, working with whatever resources are available, mobilizing the people who are with us to work for what they care about. As President Teddy Roosevelt enjoined us: Do what you can with what you have, where you are. That is the opening.
And by the way, this is a very sobering reality check from Margaret Wheatley. I’m going to kind of warn you ahead of time, Margaret has been a longtime activist who has kind of become now realizing that, oh, there are certain aspects of society, certain global issues that are past the point of no return, if you will.
I still do my part, to me, I want to always live as an example of how all of us doing the right thing, doing what’s right, not what’s easy, that’s a principle of mine. It’s something that my mom, who, by the way, I’m making a documentary about right now, super excited, as a gift to her, like her legacy piece, just like a little short documentary. But my mom lives life as if she can change the world, right? She produces one little bin of trash every week, one of those little tiny trash cans. That’s her commitment, is to never throw away more than one of those bins an entire week. I’m nowhere near that. We embarrassingly produce way more trash than that.
But my mom, she’s all about conservation. She just lives her life the way that she believes will make an impact in the world. She sits with people that are dying. She gives blood every week. She tries to do as much as one human being can do. She is being a leader in her space. And it wasn’t until recently, her last couple of years that I’ve really realized, wow, my mom’s a frickin superhero. So, anyway, that’s why I’m making a little documentary about her. More on that later.
All right. Next chapter, An Invitation to The Nobility of Leadership. It is possible, as we face the fearful complexity of life-destroying problems, to experience recurring moments of grace and joy. It is possible to find a path of contribution and meaning if we turn our attention away from issues beyond our control and focus on the people around us who are yearning for good leadership and engage them in work that is within reach. It is possible to use our influence and power to create islands of sanity in the midst of a raging destructive sea. So much is possible if we consciously and wisely choose how best to step forward as leaders for this time.
This is a book that offers a path for leaders to engage well and sanely with the destructive dynamics of this time that now manifest at every level, from individual to organizational to global. We enter the path by bravely facing reality, willing to see with clarity and discernment where we are and how we got here. We seek to understand the forces at work that created this present world, not the one we have spent long years laboring to create, but a world that increasingly harms most and benefits scant few, a world stubbornly spiraling towards self-destruction.
Many of us feel that we have no choice but to protect ourselves from the increasing harshness and horrors of this world by withdrawing, staying busy with minor tasks, suppressing emotions of despair, grief, and powerlessness. Some seek comfort by denial, creating a personal bubble to shut the world out. But the desperate effort that goes into withdrawal, suppression, and denial robs us of the very energy we need to be good leaders. The energy now spent on self-protection can be converted into positive energy if we’re willing to encounter reality and see it clearly. Facing reality is an empowering act– it can liberate our mind and heart to discern how best to use our power and influence to serve at this time.
What Time Is It on the Clock of The World? It is accurate to label this time as uncertain and chaotic, spinning wildly out of control. Every day we experience disruption, swerves in direction, short-term decisions that undo the future, propaganda, slander, lies, blame, denial, violence. People retreat in self-protection and lash out in fear, angry people strike back at their governments, leaders stridently promise security and outcomes that we know can’t be true, tensions between people reach hateful proportions, and confusion and exhaustion sink us to despair and cynicism. This is the age of retreat: from one another, from values that held us together, from ideas and practices that encouraged inclusion, from faith in leaders, from belief in basic human goodness.
There are some who define this chaotic time as filled with potential, basing their hopefulness on the workings of chaos described in new science. They want to “blow up” the current system or contribute to its quick demise and use the ensuing chaos as the opportunity to create healthy new systems. Their hope is based on innocent misunderstanding of the chaos cycle.
The chaos cycle is triggered by changes in the environment; these external changes force the system to abandon its old ways and respond to the new. Everything that held it together– its beliefs, meanings, and structures– no longer work now that the environment has changed. And so, the system falls apart. It descends into chaos and finally reaches a bifurcation point, where it has two choices: Either it can reorganize using new beliefs and structures that work well in the changed environment. Or it can insist on the old ways, fail to recognize itself, and die. Both rebirth and death are possible as an outcome of the passage through chaos.
So, there’s a slight basis for those who welcome in this time of disruption and chaos as the means to create healthier, more humane and life-affirming ways of living on this planet, for as long as the planet will have us. But we can’t get there from here without traversing through the falling apart stage. We cannot simply leap to new ways of being; first we must prepare for disintegration and collapse.
Systems that are failing now will continue to deteriorate. Uncertainty, confusion, and fear will continue to predominate. People will withdraw further into self-protection and strike out at those different from themselves. Corrupt leaders will intensify their false promises, and people will subjugate themselves to their control.
Pause. Do you see that happening? Corrupt leaders, which may be the leader that you were, I believe, has no corruption. The most corrupt people are very convincing, right? But corrupt leaders will intensify their false promises, and people will subjugate themselves to their control. In other words, we will want to believe so bad that what they’re saying they’re going to do for us, they really mean at this time. It’s really going to change, even though societies declined for decades. No, this is it. This leader, he or she is different. This is the time, right? I’ll leave it there.
This book is born of my desire to summon us to be leaders for this time as things fall apart, to reclaim leadership as a noble profession that creates possibility and humaneness in the midst of increasing fear and turmoil.
And by the way, when she says noble profession, I don’t believe she’s using that context of a career or in a business or professional context, right? So, this is a noble profession as any choice of action, a choice of role and responsibility. That’s the context that I believe she’s using the word profession. I like this next part. I starred this next part.
I know it is possible for leaders to use their power and influence, their insight and compassion, to lead people back to an understanding of who we are as human beings, to create conditions for basic human qualities of generosity, contribution, community, and love to be evoked no matter what. I know it is possible to experience grace and joy in the midst of tragedy and loss. I know it is possible to create islands of sanity in the midst of wildly disruptive seas. And I have studied enough history to know that such leaders always arise when they are most needed. Now it’s our turn.
I want to pause for a second. I just want to share with you, this is how I’ve been choosing to lead. And I don’t mean that in a hoity-toity, like, haha, look at me. Here’s what I mean. Actually, I read this book years ago, probably two years ago, I’d imagine, maybe in 2020, actually. And I honestly, probably subconsciously, because I haven’t gone back and reread this book until just recently, but you’ll notice, I want to read that part again. But lead people back to an understanding of who we are as human beings. You may have noticed I’ve done a podcast called We Are All the Same, talking about how despite our political or ideological differences, which everyone now or most people now like, they hang their hat on those differences, right?
You’re left and I’m right. I’m left and you’re right. You’re a terrible person, right? It’s like looking beneath that, reminding who we are as human beings. We’re all human beings that just want to be loved and we want to have safety and we want to make a difference. That’s who we are. The news station that you watch and how that influences your thinking about what’s right and wrong and good and bad in the world and which political party is right or which one’s wrong, that’s not who we are. That’s a manufactured– like that’s not real. People created political parties, and then certain people and they said certain things that made certain people attracted to one and others attracted to another. And many like me, kind of– what’s the word? Apolitical, right, where it’s like I see both sides as not quite being perfect or noble that I want to follow one or the other.
So, that’s an area that I’ve really been trying to remind us, like, hey, stop hating your neighbor just because they post something on Facebook that you disagree with. Love your neighbor. Who said that in the past? And then also, to create the conditions for our basic human qualities of generosity, contribution, community, and love, that’s been something that my friend Brianna, she’s great at that. She’s the co-author of The Miracle Morning Art of Affirmations coloring book, and she’s the director of education for the Miracle Morning, bringing the Miracle Morning to school.
She always reminds me, rather than focusing on what’s wrong in the world. There are enough people focusing on that, hyper-focusing on that, making us aware of it, making us afraid of it. She said, “Hal,” she always reminds me, “point people back to the aspirational qualities of being human beings such as generosity, contribution, community, and love.” It doesn’t mean that we ignore the problems and don’t try to solve them, but it means that we don’t put most of our energy into what’s wrong. We put most of our energy into what’s right and how we can improve upon that.
There have been studies, I’m reading a book right now called Traction. I’m re-reading it. And I’m also reading a book called Soar. Both of these books were about how to lead an organization. And there’s a lot of statistics, and I don’t have it in front of me, but a lot of research has been done that when you focus on organization rather than always solving, trying to look at the problems and solve them, not that you ignore them, but it’s about how much energy are you putting into the problems versus how much energy are you putting into, hey, what do we do really well? What does our organization do really well?
And again, this can be on the micro. As a human being, what are my strengths? And looking at the strengths, looking at the qualities and the aspirations, and putting more of your energy into that, if you look at what do I do really well and what if I focus on being the best in the world at that. So, give you an example, right? I’ve had to do this as a leader where I’m like, what am I good at? I’m good at communicating, I’m good at speaking or inspiring people or helping them see something different. I’m good at writing. Those are my strengths. I’m not good at analyzing data. I’m not good at details. I’m not, right?
And so, this is such a great micro example. Rather than– imagine if all of my energy into it was trying to be more detail-oriented, even though it’s not natural, and if you’ve ever taken an assessment, it shows you that you’re naturally not wired to do these things, but you are wired to do these things. And can you get better at your weaknesses? Absolutely. But will you ever be as good at your weaknesses as the people that naturally thrive in those areas? No, the answer is no.
So, for me, I focus on trying to delegate or hire people or empower people in some way to do the things that they’re naturally good at, that they love doing at. Someone on my team, he loves analyzing data, like he went into our email system with 400 different tags and analyzed them. And I mean, this percentage of people are opening the email on this list. And out of these 400, I mean, it was like it hurt my head, just him explaining it.
So, anyway, back to this book. I don’t want to go too far off track, but the point being focusing on our strengths and capitalizing on those, emphasizing those, developing those, heightening those, becoming the best in the world at those things. All right. She ended that chapter saying, “I have studied enough history to know that such leaders always arise when they are most needed. Now it’s our turn.”
Here we go. Who Do We Choose to Be? This needs to be stated clearly at the outset: we can no longer solve the global problems of this time at large-scale levels: poverty, economics, climate change, violence, dehumanization. Even though the solutions have been available for a very long time, they require conditions to implement them that are not available: political courage, collaboration across national boundaries, compassion that supersedes self-interest and greed. These are not only the failings of our specific time in history; they occur in all civilizations at the end of their lifecycle.
This is a bitter pill for activists and all people with discerning open hearts. The powerful always defend the status quo because it is the source of their power and privilege. Any change that benefits others would destroy their position. And their position is all they care about defending.
As a lifelong activist focused on changing leadership in large systems, I realized years ago that large-scale change was not possible. Leaders were grasping for control, overreacting to crises rather than thinking systemically, treating people as units rather than as humans. Yet I also met and worked with extraordinary leaders who were creating islands of sanity where good work still got done and where people enjoyed healthy relationships in the midst of chaotic conditions, fierce opposition, heartbreaking defeats, lack of support, isolation, loneliness, and slander. I have been with them in circumstances that caused most leaders to give up and walk away yet still they kept going.
Several years ago, in the face of irreversible global problems and the devolution of leadership, I began to challenge every leader I met with these questions: Who do you choose to be for this time?
I want you to consider. That’s the title of this book, Who Do We Choose to Be? As you’re listening, I want you to consider who will you choose to be. Who are you choosing to be during this time? Back to the book.
Are you willing to use whatever power and influence you have to create islands of sanity that evoke and rely on our best human qualities to create, produce, and persevere? Now I’m asking you.
Two Lenses. In this book, I use two lenses: the new science of living systems, and the pattern of collapse in complex civilizations. Each of them is a powerful lens on its own; I have found that together they offer tremendous explanatory power for where we are, how we got here, and the choices we must make as leaders.
Number one, Science of Living Systems. The science of living systems is a powerful explanator of human behavior and the world we inhabit. Why are we witnessing exponential increases in narcissism, polarization, conflict, aggression, dictatorships, climate change, species loss? Each of these terrible realities can be understood using the lens of living systems.
New science revealed through decades of experimentation and evidence, that living systems organize using dynamics that include self-organizing based on identity, relationships woven together in complex networks, the role of shared meaning to create coherent yet nonpoliced actions among individuals. Such promises motivated many to work to create healthy communities, organizations, and societies. Now, in spite of years of dedicated efforts, we are greatly fatigued and in deep inquiry as how we might best contribute. And no wonder. Our work, as good and wise as it was, has not born fruit at large levels of scale, even though we have shining examples of what’s possible at local levels.
Life’s dynamics do not change. They are reliable ways of understanding how life organizes, functions, and responds. This is my intention, to bring a level of understanding to what has happened in the past decades, not so that we can fix the large systems that now dominate and destroy, but so that we can do our work wherever we are, whatever it is, refusing to comply or participate with dominant culture and instead, as leaders, continue to work in partnership with life, restoring sanity wherever we can.
Number two, The Pattern of Collapse of Complex Civilizations. The only thing evident from the study of history is that we humans fail to learn from history. Yet those who do study the history of civilizations have illuminated the pattern of the rise and fall of complex human societies. The pattern of collapse is remarkably consistent, describing how humans always behave, even down to specific behaviors. I have delved into the excellent body of literature on the collapse of civilizations for several years now; for this book, I’m primarily working with two: The Collapse of Complex Societies by Joseph Tainter and The Fate of Empires and the Search for Survival by Sir John Glubb.
Both Glubb and Tainter have derived the pattern of collapse from studying complex human civilizations since Sumer, 3000 BCE. The life expectation of a great nation, it appears, commences with a violent, and usually unforeseen, outburst of energy, and ends in lowering of moral standards, cynicism, pessimism, and frivolity. As you will learn here, he describes specific behaviors and attitudes of each age that read like new stories of our current time, but that are characteristics of all civilizations in their final days.
No matter the geography, ethnicity, or spiritual traditions, humans have always developed high culture, hierarchy, civic institutions, religion and arts, and then, when in decline, our negative behaviors are also identical. They could explain how our unique digital culture has intensified our civilization’s movement through the last stages of collapse.
Form Follows Function. I’ve learned from working with leaders who did not lose their way but persevered in doing the best that was possible in difficult, even dire circumstances. I set out to answer these questions, each of which embodies one of the subtitles: Number one, Facing Reality: Where are we and how did we get here? Number two, Claiming Leadership: What is the role of leaders now?
And again, if you are listening, I hope you connect to the word, leaders. You are a leader. If you influence other human beings, you are a leader. If you influence other human beings, whether it’s your kids or your spouse or your friends or your colleagues, you are a leader, a leader in my definition. I mean, who am I to define it? But to me, it’s anyone that influences someone else because you’re leading them through your influence.
So, number two, Claiming Leadership: What is the role of leaders now? And number three, Restoring Sanity: How do we create islands of sanity that sustain our best human qualities? In every section of this book, these questions are explored in detail in short essays, grouped under these three headings.
The most powerful organizing dynamic in life is identity. The first act of life is to define a self, whether a microorganism or a human being. In humans, how we define ourselves determines our perceptions, beliefs, behaviors, and values. Today, it is this primary dynamic of identity that drives social media and has led to its overbearing, distorting presence in our lives. Social media enables a culture of manufactured identities, where people create any self that ensures their popularity. Ideas of objective truth and integrity disappear. Ethics and taking a stand don’t matter; popularity does.
This understanding of how identity has created our present-day culture can be easily plotted against Glubb’s Six Ages of Collapse. At first, in the Pioneer age, identities formed from a sense of honor and commitment to a cause. Sacrifice and service are the guiding values. Midway, all civilizations evolve into the Age of Commerce, where money and wealth become the organizing identities. Service gives way to getting rich. In the final stage, the Age of Decadence, celebrities– athletes, musicians, and actors– are revered and people lose themselves in wanton pleasures. (In November of 2016, President Obama awarded Presidential Medals of Freedom primarily to athletes, musicians, and actors.)
Dwelling Mind. I have intentionally designed this book for you to read slowly and contemplatively. I’m sensitive to the emotional impact of reading this material, absorbing where we are as a civilization. I expect you will both be inspired and overwhelmed, depressed and committed. It’s tough to take this in and strong emotions will arise.
I also don’t want us to get caught up in the ambush of hope. I’ve read too many authors who lay out the reality of our situation in stark detail, but then in the last pages feel the need to say something hopeful even though it contradicts their own argument. I have no interest in grasping after or reviving possibilities that have already passed. I have an intense desire for us to step forward as leaders for this time, hearts and minds fully open and wise, in service to whomever needs us.
Please don’t go through this material quickly. You do a disservice to yourself and to your potential offerings as a leader if you do. I can’t imagine a more important task than to consciously choose who we want to be as leaders for this time. We must understand the time we’re in, focus our energy on what’s possible, and willingly step forward to serve the human spirit.
This book is designed to invite you into dwelling mind. Most of us have the tendency to read something quickly and then rush into action, to quickly figure out a response. It is also a very human approach for dealing with uncertainty and strong emotions– we rush to fix rather than allow the profound discomfort that arises from difficult information. Yet if we dwell with the increasing uncertainty of this time and not rush to that comfortable place of action, dwelling mind supports the emergence of clarity for our chosen role as leaders. This is my frequent personal experience. As I tune into what’s going on and allow my grief and outrage to be present, they quietly transform into ever-deepening motivation to offer my best service wherever opportunities present themselves.
I urge you to let go of the comfort of a quick response and instead, in the spaciousness of your mind, welcome in everything: thoughts, feelings, sensations. Allow them to just be there, meeting up with one another, combining and recombining. Nothing is immediately clear, but given time and the workings of nonlinearity, your ideas and feelings may self-organize into insights. Many scientific breakthroughs were the result of this process of relaxing the mind, allowing things to dwell without any need for resolution, and then came the a-ha moment.
If we are to step forward with true confidence as leaders in this time, if this is the role you choose for yourself, then please give your mind and heart time to dwell in the difficulties that lie ahead, and the frequent opportunities we will have to serve the human spirit.
All right. We’re going to wrap up. This is the last few pages I’m going to read. Last thing I’m going to read to you. Here we go.
The Rise and Fall of Civilizations. Globally, there have been dozens of complex civilizations during the last 5,000 years of recorded human history. Every one of them illustrates the same pattern of ascendancy and collapse. Still, it was astonishing to read of a ninth-century Arab moralist’s lament about the celebrity pop singers who flooded the capital city in great numbers singing erotic songs, using obscene language, whose influence on young people degraded their morality and normalized vulgar.
Do you see that today? I do.
We create glorious buildings, cities, transportation and trade routes, music, aqueducts, dance, poetry, theater, sewage system, canals, pottery, fabrics, farms, statues, monuments. And yet, these magnificent cultural manifestations are guaranteed to disappear, destroyed at the end by disease, famine, or invaders that attack a society already weakened by moral decay and internal warring.
But in our bright, shiny, techno-optimistic twenty-first-century global culture, we believe we have stepped off the arrow of time. Our technological and scientific genius gives us the capacity to bypass the fate that has overtaken all other complex civilizations. In our arrogance, we believe that we can use our superior intelligence as never before, changing history, bounding forward in great leaps, no longer subject to the arrow of time.
Our constantly expanding technologies and innovations may appear to be adaptive responses to the environment. But this is not true. Quite the opposite: for the first time in history, humans are changing the global environment rather than adapting to it.
We are ignoring scientific laws, acting as Masters of the Universe, asserting we can invent anything we want to suit ourselves, including artificial life. This is not the behavior of a living system interacting skillfully with its environment. This is hubris of ahistorical proportions and we are failing miserably, as you may have noted.
If you’re paying attention to the news from everywhere, it’s hard to avoid the specter of collapse. But then what happens? Do we, as most do, fall into private collapse, consumed by fear and despair? Do we become one who does nothing but complain for what’s been lost? Do we succumb to the grief for the suffering of so many? Do we give up and spend whatever time is left in hedonistic pursuits? Do we cocoon in self-protective bubbles with a nine-foot TV screen and SurroundSound?
Or do we acknowledge where we are and step forward to serve? Blind reactivity and fear are not the answer. Self-protection is not the answer. Denial is not the answer. Sane leadership is.
What is sane leadership? It is the unshakable faith in people’s capacity to be generous, creative and kind.
It is the commitment to create the conditions for these capacities to blossom. This leadership is no longer available at the global level. There, the pattern of collapse is manifesting with astonishing speed and accuracy. But within our sphere of influence, there is so much we can do. We can train ourselves to see clearly, to fully acknowledge this time in all its painful details; and then, wherever we are, whoever we’re with, we can choose actions based on insight, compassion, and wisdom.
If we choose this role for ourselves, we are joining those few who, throughout history, always step forward to serve in a time of collapse.
I don’t know about you, but that’s heavy. It’s heavy. And for me, you may know that one of the core lessons that I live by and that I’ve taught over the last 20 years, ever since my car accident 23 years ago, acceptance, acceptance, accepting reality exactly as it is. Like she said, not complaining about what used to be or why, or being afraid of how it is. No, accepting reality exactly as it is and being at peace with reality exactly as it is because you have that ability. It’s when we resist reality that we create emotional pain for ourselves.
In other words, an emotional pain can be fear, it can be hatred. You name any detrimental emotion or emotional state, that’s a painful emotion, right? It’s a detrimental emotional state. So, resisting reality is what causes all of our emotional pain. We always think it’s the thing that’s causing it. I’m upset because, as Margaret Wheatley is saying, society is collapsing potentially, right?
And by the way, this isn’t happening today, like this isn’t– but it’s a process. And as Margaret talked about and quoted those authors that have studied the collapse of every single society, it all follows a pattern and we’re following that same pattern. It also follows a timeline. Ray Dalio wrote a great book. Ray Dalio, a hedge fund manager, he’s known for the book Principles. That was his popular New York Times bestselling book.
Most recently, he wrote a book called Principles for Dealing with the Changing World Order: Why Nations Succeed and Fail. Ray Dalio is a brilliant hedge fund manager. His whole career is based on studying trends. And he applied those skills to study the rise and fall of societies. This came out, November 30, 2021. It’s a relatively new book.
Anyway, here’s the point. The title of Margaret’s book is Who Do We Choose to Be?, by the way, if you want to pick up a copy, of course, but it’s that question, who do we choose to be? Who are you going to choose to be in the midst of what’s going on in the world, whatever you believe that is, whatever you see that is? I don’t think there’s a person that thinks everything’s rosy to the degree that you’re aware of systemic collapse. I’ll give you an example. We’ve done episodes on food and the food supply issues and running out of food. There have been some predictions that have been wrong, but many have been right.
There was an article, I might read this to you all next week, but there’s an article by someone I follow, Warrior Poet Society. He’s got a YouTube channel, former military veteran, big following, brilliant guy. But he wrote an article called Are We Really 9 Meals Away from Anarchy? And this was in September. And he talked about the trends that were lining up for us to run out of eggs. And I don’t know if it’s this way in every part of the country, but here in Texas, we have an egg shortage. And I believe it’s nationally or I haven’t looked deeply into it, but all of our friends, we have chickens and we have our own eggs and our friends are like, dude, we need eggs. The stores are empty. We cannot get eggs.
So, these trends have been studied. Like there are people that that’s what they do, they study trends. I’m not one of those people, although I study the people that study the trends, right. So, I can get the CliffsNotes version. But we’re in a very unprecedented place ever since COVID hit, I think we could say that. And again, Margaret’s book was written three years before, but ultimately, as I mentioned, who do you choose to be in this time, however you define this time?
If times get difficult, more difficult than they are now, who will you choose to be? And the choice is to be made now, not when you’re in the midst of it, ideally. Ideally, when you’re in the midst of the chaos, and I know some of us, more than others, some people are suffering right now already. And you can still choose, in fact, that choice is always being made unconsciously or consciously. Who are you going to choose to be?
When you’ve had a personal tragedy, like when I was diagnosed with cancer, who am I going to choose to be? And I decided I will be the happiest, most grateful person I’ve ever been while I endured the most difficult time in my life. And I want you to consider that the two are not mutually exclusive. You can be the happiest, most grateful person you’ve ever chosen to be, but that might not be who you choose to be. You might choose to be the strongest version of yourself. You might choose to emerge as a leader. Who are you going to choose to be?
Most people will not step up and lead. That’s the reality. That’s why leaders are called leaders, because they rise above the average person that isn’t willing to step up and serve others. They’re just in that self-protective mode. What’s interesting, though, is when you step up as a leader and you serve others, it actually nurtures your own mental and emotional and even physical well-being. So, when you serve others, it serves you. It helps you. Not to mention, if you’re focused on serving others, you’re developing a community of people who view you as someone who is adding value to their life. And the more value that we add to the lives of other people, the more valuable we become in the other person’s eyes.
It was 2004, I read the book Love Is the Killer App by Tim Sanders. And he introduced me to the idea, like it wasn’t a new idea, but it was the first time at age, when I was 25, I think, about selflessly adding value to other people’s lives, like focusing on adding as much value as you possibly could.
And his book was kind of in a business context. He was like, that’s how you can become valuable in the business world or in any world, any sector of society is being the person that’s known by others for adding as much value as you possibly can because then, when you’re suffering, when you’re struggling, when you need something, you’re going to have a plethora of people that will come to your aid because you were there for them when they needed it.
Look, I’m going to encourage you to put this in writing. Start, pull out your affirmations if you need to pause this right now, and go grab your affirmations or open them up on your computer and write down the question, who do I choose to be? And then I encourage you to define the best version of yourself.
And if you want to incorporate leader into that affirmation, who do you choose to be? I choose to be a leader, and then define what that looks like for you. How will you lead yourself? How will you lead your family? How will you lead your friends and your neighbors? How will you lead in your community?
And again, for you, it might be like, look, I’m just going to focus on my family. I ain’t got the capacity to go beyond my family right now, great. Every family needs leaders in the family. And just because you’re a parent, you’re a leader because you influence, like I said, the definition, you might incorporate that in your affirmation. A leader is anyone who influences another person. I encourage you to write that down in your affirmation, I am a leader, or start with a leader is anyone who influences another person. Therefore, I am a leader. I don’t know, other than a hermit, living off the grid by himself in a cabin or by herself in a cabin, every single one of us is a leader by definition, by that definition. We lead other people. We influence other people. So, who are you going to choose to be? What type of leader will you be for those you love and those you lead? And once again, it’s usually the same people, right? I love everyone that I lead. I’d hope that you love people that you lead. I think that’s part of being a good leader.
Oh, all right, goal achievers, I’m here for you. If you want to leave a comment and we can talk back and forth. Again, I know today, the content that I read from Margaret’s book was likely pretty heavy. I believe that this will be Episode 465 or 466. Just go to MiracleMorning.com/podcasts, plural, and that’s where you can see all of the episodes, and then you can click on this episode and leave me a comment, leave me a question, and I will come back and I will answer them as soon as I possibly can.
All right, goal achievers, I love you. I appreciate you. I’m grateful to be doing life with you. And last thing I want to say is, when I read Margaret’s book, it was so empowering because I was like, oh, yeah, I have to accept the reality as it is. It was like a reminder, like, I can’t change the world, right? She realizes she’s an activist. Man, I’ve been working on these different issues for decades and it’s only gotten worse, right? That’s a sobering reality check, especially when you’ve dedicated your life’s work to whatever, whether it’s cleaning plastic up in the ocean or climate change or, I don’t know, what other issues. When you dedicate your life’s work to that as an activist, then you look up at 20 years of doing it, you’re like, it’s only gotten worse. That’s got to be disheartening.
That’s where Margaret pivoted and went, okay, maybe the things I thought I could change, maybe they’re not changeable. The one thing I can change is the only thing that we can have real control over is who are we going to be. Who are we going to be? How are we going to show up? And I encourage you to show up with love, with compassion, with grace, with joy. Be the example of the best human qualities and do it for yourself, of course, but do it for the people that you love and the people that you lead because you deserve nothing less, and neither do they. I love you so much. I will talk to you next week.