There is a worldview shift taking place from seeing us as separate individuals to seeing ourselves as connected to nature, each other, and the world.
Holding the belief that we are all isolated islands, carries costs. If one believes that each of us stands alone, then leading and acting from predominant self-interest is a logical choice. Serving yourself first and holding on to your power and resources regardless of its impact on others flows directly from a separate worldview. The phrase “he is a self-made man” is an example of the belief that we all stand alone.
The problem with self-interest is that, when unbridled, it oppresses others and the environment.
Survival of the Most Adaptive
The belief that people are driven by self-interest is anchored in the myth of survival of the fittest. If our individual survival depends on our ability to defend ourselves and be stronger than the next person, then self-interest becomes tightly linked to survival. This belief scales up into our organizational behaviors and justifies actions that can hurt communities and the environment.
The fiscal crisis in 2008 would be one example where individual and organizational self-interest was used to justify actions that nearly took down the global economy and created great pain for many people.
A culture of separation and self-interest has misquoted Darwin’s research as “survival of the fittest”. Rather, he said survival of the best fit within the larger environment. The ability for a species to adapt is what allows a species to survive. One of the ways to fit best into a place and thrive for the long haul is to be sensitive to the context and form mutually beneficial relationships. Researchers have found that mutuality and cooperation are widely present in nature.
Weather systems are complex, dynamic, and interdependent, which is why changes in the temperature of the Pacific Ocean can change the winter weather pattern in the upper Midwest in the United States. Nature and weather are examples of systems based on connection.
Leadership in a World of Connection
When a worldview shifts to connection, everything changes. We see ourselves in relationships with others, our environment, and our future. This worldview shift helps us see the hidden connections in our world and networks; interdependence becomes obvious. Connections shift hierarchies to networks, change the power over to the power of relationships, and recognize feedback loops that give us information to adapt and thrive. Connections shift self-interest to enlightened self-interest. Enlightened self-interest is defined as people who act to further the interests of others to ultimately serve their own self-interest.
As ecological systems become more complex, species in nature begin to specialize. This specialization eventually leads species to become open to cooperative relationships. As a system becomes more complex, diverse, open, and connected, species begin to depend on other species to provide key nutrients because those other species can do it more effectively than they can for themselves.
Connections and interdependencies become a powerful hedge against extinction. Nature rewards cooperation and banks on diversity to generate mutualistic relationships that benefit both species involved in the relationship. In nature, relationships are the currency that helps species survive.
If we were to see the world from nature’s point of view, we would see vast interdependent networks. Instead of standing isolated and alone, we would see how our individual and organizational actions help others and in turn how others help us.
This interdependent relationship point of view would help us see how people, organizations, and the environment connect and help all of us to thrive. However, to see it, we must shift our worldview from separation to connection.
If we shifted our worldview to one that recognized connection and interdependence, (a natural result of increasing complexity), what we see and how we think would change. For example, can anyone succeed over time if another fails in an interdependent system? This question stimulates reflection about the nature of interdependence and connection. It also suggests that the way we can serve ourselves best is to ensure that the larger system thrives and remains healthy.
The shift from closed to open systems helps us see how systems are linked, influence each other, and create complexity. The open system worldview causes us to see our global economy, connections between ourselves and others and our organizations and the environment. In a connected worldview, we begin to see how actions continue to ripple throughout linked systems. Profit alone would not be a sustainable measure of success in a connected worldview. A leader who reflects a connected worldview would actively inquire how the actions of their organization would impact others now and over time.
Questions Worth Asking
- If you were to observe your actions, are they more aligned with a separate or connected worldview?
- If you were to observe the actions of your organization, does the organization have a culture of self-interest or one that values the power of relationships and connection?
- What would it be like if your organization’s culture reflected the importance of relationships and where people actively helped each other succeed?
- Which organization would you like to work in – one that led from self-interest, or one that led from interdependence?
Dr. Kathleen E. Allen writes a blog on leadership and organizations that describes a new paradigm of leadership that is based in lessons from nature and living systems. She is the author of Leading from the Roots: Nature Inspired Leadership Lessons for Today’s World (available for purchase September 4, 2018) and President of Allen and Associates, a consulting firm that specializes in leadership, innovation, and organizational change. You can sign up for her blog on her website: www.kathleenallen.net