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"Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself.
It is precisely that simple and also that difficult.”

– Warren Bennis

Call of the Wild: Disrupting the Status Quo for a New Mindset

13 May 2020

Part 2 of An Open Invitation to a Conversation on Transformational Leadership

Read part 1: Missing Conversations: Why Trust Erodes and Meaning Disappears

Written by Stefan Beiten

Stefan Beiten is the initiator of The Argonauts.
He is a lawyer, international entrepreneur and investor, with more than 20 years of experience, Stefan is an expert in the development of successful teams and growth-promoting cultures, both with in-house and foreign companies.
Connect with him on Linkedin

Introduction

In part two, I reveal how my creative and business activities became overshadowed and undermined by a personal and financial crisis which triggered a profound disruption in my life and re-evaluation of its meaning. I confide the loss of my sense of authenticity and self-worth, the feeling that I had lost my soul and that my accomplishments were meaningless. And I relate my personal quandary to the crisis of meaning that society as a whole is now confronting in the wake of the pandemic and its aftermath. I ask:

  • What is the secret to the sense of personal fulfillment that we need to keep on going?
  • Are we locked into a Sisyphean curse of continually making the same stupid errors?
  • Are families and businesses falling apart due to the failure to communicate meaning?
  • What will it take to wake up humanity to the realization that its course leads to ruin?

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” 

Rumi
T

he great Persian poet and mystic Rumi suggested this 800 years ago. But without Meaning, this task becomes impossible. Instead everybody clings to the transactional tools of measurability and accountability, which provide the illusion of certainty for people feeling uncertain and ungrounded without Meaning. That is the best our current mechanistic model of the world can supply: Return on Investment, measured by KPIs, regression to a logic-based belief system of human decision-making that ignores Meaning as a guiding principle.

But without Meaning, there is no WHY. The WHAT is outsourced to transactional managers. Those managers find themselves incapable of reenergizing this dying belief system with innovation and transformation. They allow themselves to think and act only within the paradigm and parameters of the system that created the problem in the first place.

With a dissociated WHY, quantitative growth becomes the sole measure of success. And financial success alone becomes the new god, demanding human sacrifices of transactional behavior in ever-increasing quantities. We no longer ask the question: how much is truly enough? Like the preta in Buddhist thought, a ghost always hungry but never satisfied, like the dopamine coursing through our bloodstreams, always seeking the momentary rush, we are addicted to the pursuit of more – quantity instead of quality.

This is where I found myself when I turned 40. I was at the peak of my business success, a billionaire on paper (until the infamous Lehman autumn of 2008 when this paper value vanished), but unable to answer the simple question: WHY was I trying to achieve so much? I was highly trained in the execution of WHAT, but clueless about the reason for my being, detached from the authentic me. At a dinner with Tony Robbins, he asked me this simple question and I realized that truth: I was successful, but not fulfilled. And even more telling: I could not even tell the difference between the two.

As a result, I lost connection with my inner self, my “soul.” Consequently, every wrong decision I made in my life, every person I disappointed, starting with my family, every enemy I made, was due to this ever-widening gap between the real and the projected me. I had become inauthentic. I wasn’t the proactive author of my life, I was merely reacting to its shadow.

What life, and the spiral-dynamic development of human nature, have taught me since, is that it’s not just in me. It’s in most driven entrepreneurs and leaders. It is in most families. Most business dynasties. Most organizations. Even most nations. It is part of our system. The negative spiral of detachment from the sources of meaning and vitality continues until the last bit of the values and principles that once built the WHY – and the individual’s or family’s or company’s or country’s fortune – vanish forever. Yet every investment decision that led to this outcome was, at the time it was made, based on the logical conclusion of the supposed absolute truth of its underlying facts and numbers.

Everyone I knew, myself included, followed that paradigm on the WHAT level. Experts were involved every step of the way. Everyone followed their analytic opinions, each claiming to represent absolute and unassailable truths. Yet, no one realized in this long, slow process that, no matter WHAT expertise was assembled, on the WHY level it was the blind leading the lame. We were all frogs in the same pot of water being slowly heated to the boiling point, too complacent and comfortable to jump out.

The constant compromise and sacrifice of quality for quantity created first a detachment from others and then a severing of ourselves from whom we truly are and from being fully alive. We got stuck to the false belief that the only remedy was a quantitative, fast-paced WHAT lifestyle pursuing success and material attainment at any price. All this to escape the loneliness and forlornness we felt inside, detached and alienated from the conversation about the obscured WHY within us. “When our humanness becomes the casualty,” as Ambassador Holladay, Founder of PathNorth, says,“bad things happen.” Then we recognize too late, quoting Robbins, that “success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure.”

Success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure.”

Tony Robbins

The spell of Sisyphus

A dopamine-driven state of mind, over the years, desensitizes the neuroreceptors in our brains. It prevents them from receiving the higher echelon hormones within our biochemical reward system. That sets the stage for disaster: with the loss of the ability to feel empathy, gratitude, oneness. Degenerative states of the human psyche, depression and anxiety are the guaranteed next steps on the “road to nowhere”: the “hunger for more” becomes the only state of consciousness until the soul dies. This direct correlation between Dr. Abraham Maslow´s human needs hierarchy and human biochemistry was recently empirically proven by the ground-breaking work of Dr. Axel Bouchon in Capitalism of Happiness.

If we fall back into the role of victim in this narrative, we find ourselves following Einstein’s definition of insanity – doing the same thing twice and expecting a different outcome. So instead of taking responsibility for our self-delusion, we blame our outsourced authorities – managers, politicians, priests, gurus or others – for not leading us to the promised land.

Sisyphus by Marcell Jankovics

Sisyphus

Sisyphus is a figure from Greek mythology who excelled at trickery, famously trying to cheat death itself so that humans would never die. That did not sit at all well with Zeus, who punished him with the task of forever rolling a boulder up a hill in Hell. He has come to symbolize the folly of those who trifle with the natural order of things in a vain attempt to avoid the inevitable. A Sisyphean task is one which can never be completed. We attempt to do things which cannot be done instead of accepting our existence as humans. We try to do more than is humanly possible and thus lose track of the Meaning of being.

This is a classic Hobson’s choice. Both paths lead to ruin. The only way out is to reject both dead ends. Instead of silently or unconsciously accepting and reacting from someone else’s narrative for our lives, we need to re-enter into the conversation about what life means and by so doing write our own ticket. We thus become responsible and proactive authors of our lives, following Gandhi’s advice “to be yourself the change that you want to see in the world” to make “life happen for us and not to us.” This inescapably means disrupting the status quo – going from a human doing to a human being, breaking the spell of Sisyphus.

Why focusing on the WHAT is not enough

Viktor Frankl said there are two kinds of people in the human race: decent and indecent ones. We can test ourselves daily into which bucket we belong. What do we project within ourselves when we judge others from within the righteousness of our comfort zones, when we choose self-pity over empathy? How much are we conditioned by fear and bias? How much does it reveal about ourselves, not to speak of our ability to be leaders in life, when we fall for any concept that makes one superior over another: gender, skin color, sexual orientation, religion, politics or any other concept of identity-searching exceptionalism, starting with how much wealth one has amassed? And how much does it have to do with filling the void of our own missing WHY with concepts and conditionings of someone or something else? By accepting the building blocks of the system we have inherited, by failing to challenge its authority, are we confining ourselves in a prison of our own making? Are we “just following orders?” When, then, are we decent, when indecent?

Let’s take a bird‘s-eye view of the world. Fortune 500 companies have seen their average lifespans dwindle from 75 years a half-century ago to only 15 years today. Open societies and institutions are under attack by a fear and demagoguery narrative weaponized to fill the void of our missing meaning with fake news and self-serving fictions masked as information.  People from all walks of life fall prey to the seductive power of sociopathic narcissism. They mistake the shiny entertainer and distracting noises with true leadership and wisdom.

Simply put: concentrating on WHAT alone, on transactional quantitative parameters over transformational qualitative ones, on what is measurable over what is meaningful, on what functions over what is fully alive, choosing IQ over EQ – all this is a zero-sum game. It’s rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic. We don’t ask WHY.

It’s rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic. We don’t ask WHY.

Despite all the ideological and utopian “solutions” that mankind has come up with so far, capitalism and democracy have proven to be the most efficient distribution systems of ideas and wealth ever invented. Both are not irreparably broken, but they are each cracked.

Those cracks have a simple reason. Their conceptual base of thinking has, until today, remained in the 18th-century belief system of transactionalism and scarcity instead of transformation and the abundance of life. It is, as the Argonauts’ Chief Philosopher, Dr. Christoph Quarch has elaborated in several books, the belief paradigm of the mechanistic mindset that has led to a losing game for people, societies and the planet as a whole, a machine that has now, suddenly and shockingly, come to a grinding, screeching halt.

The Way Forward

What the current crisis has made blatantly obvious to everyone is that within the ever-faster pace of changing paradigms, the mechanical, transactional belief system is a thing of the past, a relic that should be consigned to a museum if not an attic or ashbin of history. Yes: it is a disease to be cured.

Without a strong WHY in ourselves and our societies, we should not be surprised about the low tolerance for uncertainty and diversity. Demagogues have an easy time with followers who have quit the conversation and thus never developed a robust WHY – the slogans of a leader’s cheap hero story fill their inner void, at least momentarily. They don’t develop their own Meaning but instead settle for those of the idol.

Bad leaders produce bad times. But bad times can produce good leaders. Good leaders then produce good times. But good leaders do not emerge in the absence of good ideas whose time has come. We are in dire need of a new mindset that produces those good leaders, sustainably and scalably, or we will have little chance to see better times return. We need to rediscover, or reinvent, our personal and our common WHY – for the survival of our species and planet.

So we have a direction.  But so far it is a vector away from what has failed, not toward something that has proven it can succeed. Conventional wisdom, traditional structures, established ideologies – none of them have delivered the goods, or the Good. Not for most people. Not for humanity. And not for Earth. We are out of breath. We are out of time. 

Have we overlooked something in our rush to transact ourselves to “progress”? Is it an elephant in the room? Or an iceberg just beneath the surface? This is the “missing conversation” that many of us have accepted, without question, for too long. It’s time for a new conversation.

In Part 3, I relate how I reconstructed the broken fragments of my life with the help of friends and a circle of conversation which opened a new perspective on sharing secrets and discussing deep feelings from a place of openness and trust.

You are invited to the Argonauts conversation. If you have something to say, we would like to hear it, either in short-form or long-form, in writing or in your voice or video. Write to us at feedback@The-Argonauts.com and tell us what’s in your heart and on your mind.

Interested in joining a different conversation? Learn more about The Argonauts and Membership by   contacting us here. 

Stay courageous.

 

Stefan Beiten

Initiator of the Argonauts

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