Connecting diversity, understanding the other, leveraging collective genius: what "extraordinary leadership" could be
It’s true - there’s not been much coverage of “leadership” questions in the Daily Alternative over this last 18 months or so. The self-description of our core team as “initiators” is quite deliberate. Whatever our interventions, they are aimed at encouraging the conditions for autonomy and self-organisation at the local level.
As Hardt and Negri have recently written, strategy and planning should be coming from the bottom up. They should be providing tactics and limited functionality for “leaders” to execute what empowered, fluent communities want them to do (our thoughts on this here).
However we were struck by both the self-justification, and the eventual winners, of the Eliasson Global Leadership Prize - expressing the contemporary spirit outlined above.
What are the components of extraordinary leadership in the 21st century? One theme of the jury’s discussion was the ability to “connect diverse points of view,” in the words of juror Vishakha Desai, an educator and social entrepreneur. The leaders themselves must have the self-awareness and empathy to understand “the other.” Then they must foster that same connection among those they influence. Among the new elements of leadership that are becoming important, says juror Carole Wamuya Wainaina, C.O.O. of the Africa 50 Infrastructure Fund, “is the ability to create environments in which many different stakeholders can come together and express their best thinking so that we can leverage the collective genius.”
So using these principles, who did they choose? It’s an impressive list:
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy speaks eloquently of the importance of finding the right subjects for her award-winning documentaries on subjects ranging from honor killings to children of war. “My storytelling is rooted in creating empathy, in creating compassion, in connecting people. I bring people's deeply personal stories out so that the viewers watch and connect and can feel that I could be this mother, this could be my child, this could be my country, this could be my people because, for too long, it has always been us and them.”
Rafael Yuste, meanwhile, spearheaded the team that took on the challenge of creating a Brain Activity Map, precursor to the U.S. BRAIN Initiative launched in 2013. After bringing together U.S. stakeholders—from academia, foundations, government, and business—he helped coordinate the launch of an International BRAIN Initiative, and is now involved in establishing ethical guidelines for neurotechnology and artificial intelligence (“NeuroRights”). For Yuste, the ability to forge connections is essential to his field. In the 21st century, he has said, scientific leadership must be networked: “It’s the type of technology that cannot be developed by individual labs. It needs a coordinated effort across many laboratories.
Finally, in response to the violence that broke out in the Central Africa Republic in 2013, the Rev. Nicolas Guérékoyame-Gbangou, Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga, and Imam Omar Kabine Layama leveraged the authority of their leadership across three different faiths to create dialogue about what their country’s future should be. They began by cementing the bonds among themselves: “If you want to work with someone, it's important to know him,” says the cardinal. They have travelled to villages to encourage ties between Christians and Muslims, helped build interfaith organizations, and trained local religious leaders to promote reconciliation between communities, emphasizing grassroots participation at every step of the process.