Leadership & the Inner Journey

Responding to the question, “Why must leaders take an inner journey?”   The great educational thinker, Parker Palmer replied:

“Because the inner world is a source of reality and power, at least as much as the outer world.  Our culture attributes reality and power almost exclusively to externals – territory, property, wealth, and political access.  We’ve created institutions that aim to shape the  external world in ways we find desirable.  But we’re learning that we’re not very good at this.  The external world is in a serious state of depletion as a result of our manipulations.

The other thing we’re learning, is that there is another world, an inner world, in which there is also reality and power.  This is not something I learned in a hot tub in California.  I learned it from oppressed people who have no power except inner power – and yet have created great social change.  In our time, we have seen the impact of people like Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, and Vaclav Havel, who found the courage to lead from their own deepest truths.

And what I learned from a liberal arts education where I encountered a guy named Socrates who said, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’  Education at its best calls us to take an inner journey, not only so we can live better lives, but also have greater life-giving impact on the world around us.  Today’s leaders have the potential to make decisions that affect the course of history, but seldom are they invited to examine what animates them inwardly.  History is full of tragedies when leaders act from a place of inner darkness.  When I speak with leaders, I sometimes expand on Socrates:  If you must live an unexamined life, please don’t inflict it on others.”

(From Leadership and the Inner Journey: An interview with Parker Palmer by L. J. Rittenhouse)