Dr Scilla Elworthy with Desmond Tutu.

Dr Scilla Elworthy with Desmond Tutu. Photograph: Rosie Houldsworth

Working with leaders like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, Scilla Elworthy has learned that inner work is the most important prerequisite for effective leadership

Brilliance, charisma and eloquence are essential gifts for a leader, but they are no longer sufficient. In a world of spin, unsubstantiated claims and the pressure of lobbyists, today’s leaders have to be credible. We have to have a reason to believe them.

This not only needs a radical rethinking of values; it requires work. That work is internal, because the leaders needed today have to be authentic and you can only discover your authenticity by enquiring within.

In half a century of working with leaders in key conflict areas, such as Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, the most important lesson I learned was that inner work is a prerequisite for effectiveness. Results achieved by a leader are in direct ratio to their perceived authenticity.

I also see this in those supported by Peace Direct, who risk their lives daily so that others don’t get killed. They have addressed and overcome their fear. Henri Bura Ladyi regularly faces militants in the Congolese bush to trade goats for child soldiers, and takes the children home to their families. He and his colleagues have convinced 4,532 militia fighters to lay down their weapons and leave the bush.

People recognise this kind of courage instantly. It means you care less about your own safety or reputation than about what you are trying to achieve for others.

Daily priorities are changing from ‘me’ to ‘we’

This is the dramatic underlying shift in leadership that is beginning to take place – the change in daily priorities from ‘me’ to ‘we’. Such leaders care less about how much they have and more about how much they can offer. They want to improve things for others, rather than impress.

This approach requires a radical revision of how we see the world and young social entrepreneurs are at the cutting edge of it. During the summer of 2013 I helped train young entrepreneurs from Colombia, Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, Kenya, Mauritius, India, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Germany, the Netherlands, Russia, Uganda, Ukraine and the UK to become builders of the kind of world they want.

There were 100 applicants for every place on the course, run by the Do School based in Hamburg, Germany. The alumni of previous courses are back home, using the skills they learned. Do School fellows work on their start-ups in more than 50 countries, spending over 30,000 hours working on innovative ventures to solve local problems in their communities, touching the lives of over 100,000 people. In response to demand, hundreds of such courses are now being run around the world.

Besides all the technical skills they needed to research their projects, build a website, raise start-up funds and so on, I taught them the inner skills that are vital in really transforming the world: skills to build trust in their teams, resolve conflict quickly and effectively, and speak truth to power.

Self-awareness at the individual level is what can enable each person to wake up and do what’s needed to ensure our future on this planet – to change the world from the bottom up. I’m certain a different future for all humanity is possible, if only leaders wake up.

Waking up means more than just quiet meditation

Interestingly, this is happening now in the corporate world. Reflection, mindfulness and inner work are all seen as essential tools by many leading companies, and extensively featured in the Financial Times and on the cover of Time Magazine.

But waking up means more than just quiet meditation. It means the kind of self-awareness and self-knowledge that can only be gained by honest self-questioning.

Working with the global executives of a major international company recently, I asked them to sit in pairs for 40 minutes. They had to keep eye contact and listen intently while their partner answered questions like: “what’s disturbing you in your life?”, “what are you yearning for?” and “what’s your highest potential?”

Each partner took a turn answering – going well below the cognitive to the gut level – and then listening, which meant giving absolute attention. At first they hated it. Bodies squirmed with the embarrassment of eye contact and personal honesty. But at the end they had a new take on this kind of work, claiming “fifteen minutes of this kind of communication is worth four hours of discussion”.

This kind of approach to communication takes a couple of days to learn and then it’s a tool for life. If businesses combine it with a radical revision of values and the courage to see beyond personal gain, it will help equip them to join the shift in leadership starting to take place globally.

If the mantra of the 20th century was “what can I get?”, the mantra of this century may well turn out to be “what can I give?”

Original Article by Scilla Elworthy from the Guardian (UK)