Prepared for Discussion by the Advisory Group
Creative Learning International
November 24, 1997
THE INSTITUTE FOR ETHICAL LEADERSHIP
In the 21st century we can expect life in Canada to be a continuing stream of difficult choices. While this is not new, for life has always been a story of choices, the difficulty will be in the kind and intensity of the choices to be made.
The history of Western civilization has been a march towards increasing personal freedom for the individual in a society of justice and equal rights. The tensions in such a system arise in the determination of balance among these competing claims. In Canada we pride ourselves on being able to manage such things in peaceful and reasonable ways without resorting to extremes of violence.
Progress towards personal freedom has also been associated in Canada with the desire for increasing economic wealth and a rising standard of living. As we aspire to such goals for ourselves, we would claim that we would not deny them to others. The difficulty in the 21st century will be the reconciliation of such claims in the context of global pressures entirely new in the experience of human civilization.
Ultimately, the most difficult of these conditions will be population growth due mainly to the pressures it brings to environmental conditions and to the psychological discomfort of people living in increasingly crowded spaces. At the same time, technological innovation will continue the trend of job displacement from blue, white and pink collar occupations, leaving large numbers of people insecure and afraid in the midst of unprecedented economic success by others not so displaced.
Added to this will be dislocation and upheaval as our technological lifestyles bring us up against environmental limits. This will be a particularly difficult problem for it is strongly value-based in a heritage going back thousands of years. For many millennia, Western thinking in particular has imposed human activity on nature, believing the natural world was an unlimited store of resources which could be extracted for human consumption and that the waste could be deposited without limit in the Earth's huge reservoirs of land, water and air. Only in the last 30 years of this long tradition has a minority voice been able to bring to some public awareness the seriousness of the problem for future generations who will be forced to live in an already seriously damaged ecosystem.
The management of all of the above issues and problems constitutes an enormous ethical challenge for society. Ethics by definition is a system or code of morals adopted by a particular person or group. When our ethical system has for millennia excluded consideration of the Earth's life-support system, we can appreciate how difficult it will be to suddenly include it, especially when other ethical considerations such as respect for life and equality of opportunity will be under great pressure for the other reasons mentioned above.
This is the background thinking which has led us to the decision to establish the Institute for Ethical Leadership. Direction in human affairs is always an outcome of the kind of leadership exercised. If we look to history for models of leadership, we see a broad array, ranging from the most extreme examples of brutal force to the most sensitive expressions of compassion and love. Each leader from the past played his or her role, large or small, based on a particular ethical system, the knowledge of the day and the prevailing circumstances.
On the threshold of the 21st century we have fundamental knowledge about the origin of the universe and the place of human beings in evolution that was entirely unknown to people even a few generations ago. Most of this knowledge is still unknown by most people today, including leaders in important positions of power and influence. At the same time we have a steady stream of factual knowledge and information about environmental, economic and social conditions. How our leaders put their own fragments of knowledge together with their own ethical systems will determine how society moves into the future.
The above conclusion leads us to consider what positive contribution can be made by the Institute for Ethical Leadership. Positive here means to maintain the long tradition of respect for life, and support for balance between rights and responsibilities. It also embraces the concept of sustainability, meaning to live in the present such that the rights and conditions of future generations are not unreasonably circumscribed.
Clearly a fundamental role for the Institute will be the promotion of education and learning. Here we face the clear reality that we live in a society where specialized knowledge is in the ascendancy. The evidence for this is everywhere apparent, from our highly specialized and compartmentalized institutions of higher education to the plethora of separate and specialized disciplines, professions, trades and other occupations that people pursue. What we recognize as progress in industrialized society has been achieved by concentrated effort on providing specialized education and training.
Yet if we reflect for a moment on the kinds of challenges and difficulties which we anticipate our lives will be full of in the future, we see that they are not specialized in nature, but fundamental and cross-boundary in every respect. What then is the kind of education we should encourage for leadership responsibility in such a world?
There is no simple answer to this question, but clearly the emphasis should be both generalist and ethical. One of the strong advantages of the Institute is that it will provide a forum for leaders of many specialized backgrounds to come together to struggle with new learning that will challenge them to see the world outside their own limited paradigms.
Central to the activities of the Institute will be the identification and clarification of a set of ethical values around which "right action" in a globally connected world can take place. In the same way that a court of law applies its principles to an ongoing parade of new cases and thus builds a set of precedents to guide future decisions, so the Institute's participants, using this value code would apply fresh thinking to the large and small problems of the day and develop new ideas and solutions. This thinking, collected in the Institute's newsletter and other publications, could be provided to those whose leadership and policy development they could benefit. Eventually, through the power and creativity of the thinking, the Institute could take its place among the community's important resources, thus allowing this thinking and the value system it embraces to breach the walls of political, institutional, and business organizations, and so penetrate the policies and laws which govern our society.
Another important educational contribution of the Institute will be to facilitate the development of anticipatory thinking in leaders. If we already know that current human activity on the planet is imperiling the lives of future generations, clearly one of the most important responsibilities of the leader is to shift the focus from short-term profit to long-term sustainability. The difficulty of doing this in our current organizational structures, particularly in business and government, poses one of the greatest challenges we face. The Institute for Ethical Leadership should do whatever it can to help with the problem using educational models that incorporate creative, intuitive and systemic thinking.
The kind of education the Institute would stand for is not the kind that can be achieved in the short course training session. It is long-term, cumulative and reflective. It requires exposure to new ideas, debate, analysis, reflection and synthesis. It takes time, a commodity which most leaders have difficulty in finding. The Institute must therefore be structured to offer easy accessibility and a variety of learning possibilities.
Associated with learning is research. While this need not be a high priority of the Institute, because of the existence of many other agencies whose research is available for use, the opportunity should nevertheless be taken to collect and analyze data that come out of the Institute's educational work. Reports contributed by members and survey data are obvious examples.
Beyond the focused work with leaders, the Institute will serve as a beacon to raise the consciousness of society about the importance of ethical leadership. From work on curriculum development with teachers in schools to advocacy in print and on public forums the Institute will be active and visible.
From the above consideration of role an explicit statement of objectives follows.
The Institute for Ethical Leadership will pursue the following objectives:
The vision of the Institute for Ethical Leadership will be refined over time as we gain experience in responding to the statement of need described above. As an initial vision we see the Institute at the centre of an ever widening circle of commitment to the study and practice of ethical leadership in British Columbia and beyond.
The realization of this vision will be seen in the following ways:
Structure As an initial structure for the Institute we are proposing that it operate as a division of Creative Learning International for the specific purpose outlined in the Statement of Objectives. The Institute will operate as a membership organization with some activities provided exclusively for members. Other activities will be broad based with the opportunity for members to participate at preferential rates.
The activities of the Institute will flow from the Statement of Objectives. Initially, we propose to set up a series of 10 monthly meetings for charter members to provide a forum for discussion, study and sharing. Beyond this the following activities are envisaged:
Revenue Base Initial funding to set up the Institute will be provided by Creative Learning International. Subsequent funding will be generated by activities, in particular membership fees. speaker fees, and tuition fees (members and non-members). In time, the opportunity to do contractual work on the development of ethical leadership with organizations and other groups will emerge.
The arrival of the third millennium represents a turning point in human affairs as societies are challenged to live more responsibly in an interconnected global civilization with a prime requirement to reform economic, social and cultural behaviour to create a sustainable world community. The hard choices on this agenda will all be ethically based and societies everywhere will be in need of strong ethical leadership. With a proposal to create an Institute for Ethical Leadership from a small beginning in Vancouver, we have the opportunity to participate in a meaningful way in this important development. We look forward to finding other leaders of like mind in our community and beyond so that together we can make a sustained effort to carry this initiative forward.