“Why don’t you just make it short and say the following: There is too much unnecessary suffering in the world. Go out and fix it.” This was the advice given by television host Charlie Rose to Paul Farmer, head of Partners in Health and author of Mountains Beyond Mountains, as he was preparing his commencement address for the graduating class from the University of Delaware this year.
If only it were so simple. Nowhere on Earth are we more “in over our heads” today than in Latin America – and nowhere is The Leadership Circle mission to “….evolve the conscious practice of leadership to steward the planet and to awaken us all to our inherent unity” more urgent and important.
Consider these paradoxical trends:
- Colombia is one of the world’s largest exporters of fresh flowers, and also home to the longest running active civil war in the world.
- With more than 40% of Earth’s species, over a quarter of its forests, and many valuable fisheries, South America is the single most biologically rich area in the world. At the same time, Latin America includes 6 of the 10 most violent cities on the planet based on homicide rates.
- Fueled by growth in middle class (461 million), urbanization (567 million people living in urban areas), increased infrastructure spending ($1.5 trillion), and improved connectivity (1.3 billion connected devices), Latin America is likely to become one of the most important markets globally, with a gross domestic product of $15.14 trillion by 2025. And, over 25% of the Latin American population survives on $2 per day.
- There are approximately 40,000,000 people in Latin America and the Caribbean that belong to the almost 600 indigenous peoples of the continent, many of whom are in Mexico, Peru, Guatemala, Bolivia, and Ecuador. According to World Bank figures, 12.76% of the entire American population and approximately 40% of the rural population is indigenous. Many of these indigenous cultures are at high risk due to exploitation of rich sources of natural resources from their land.
Is the Glass Half-Full or Half-Empty?
It is all too easy to be consumed by the stark deficits of current reality and allow fear to fuel the engine. In that stance, we stay firmly stuck in our comfort zone unable to move forward. Creative tensions happen when bold vision of a desired future emerges and takes root. We know that forward movement happens when feet are firmly planted in that desired future, informed by awareness of current reality.
We can see and understand a Latino world that reacts in a “play not to lose” strategy. In some moments Latin America is viewed as a subordinate sibling to the United States and has a complying tendency to somehow be approved of or accepted by the North. In other moments, Latin America seeks to stand apart from its northern neighbors—a protective stance of “we don’t need them.” And perhaps the most stereotypical version of Latin America evokes images of controlling dictators exerting dominant control over a struggling populace. As is the case around the world and in all cultures, reactive responses abound in Latin America and represent the “center of gravity” of society’s collective consciousness.
What is ever-more visible in today’s Latin America is an opening and hunger for transformative change—for new forms of being and thinking and knowing, for creative ways of embracing “play to win” strategies.
Buying our Ticket to Bombay
When I find myself standing in the uncomfortable creative tension of my own dreams that require bold steps forward, I often think of the familiar quote from the Scottish mountain climber William H. Murray’s telling of his expedition to climb Mount Everest in the early 1950’s. In it, he describes the consequence of buying his ticket to Bombay without any degree of certainly of what would happen.
…but when I said that nothing had been done I erred in one important matter. We had definitely committed ourselves and were halfway out of our ruts. We had put down our passage money—booked a sailing to Bombay. This may sound too simple, but is great in consequence.
Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.
I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!
In January of this year, The Leadership Circle – América Latina was officially launched – we have bought our ticket to Bombay. Today, fifty certified practitioners from Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Panama, Costa Rica, and Mexico are supported by a core team of consultants and faculty at our headquarters based in Bogotá, Colombia. We have been engaged in conversation for several years of our dreams for how this methodology, model, and sets of theories can impact the developing world that is Latin America today.
Our vision is a bold one. We believe that the window-of-opportunity for this shift particularly in Latin America is NOW. In this decade, Latin America is experiencing an “age structural transition” in which the total active working population is larger than the dependent population of youth and the elderly. One way of looking at that trend is from the perspective that the largest group of emerging leaders is searching NOW for the best ways to expand their leadership consciousness and capacity. We notice that, the making our commitment to growing the use of The Leadership Circle throughout Latin America, all sorts of connections and possibilities appear from unexpected places…connections through multinational corporations, synergies from shared language in Spain, Spanish-speaking practitioners from Europe and North America with roots in Latin America. Suddenly, from “buying our ticket to Bombay” we see possibility and interconnection that was always there but not quite as visible.
We know that we are connected globally—that you are us and we are you. The challenges encountered in Latin America are not unlike challenges faced in other parts of the world, particularly in developing countries. As practitioners of The Leadership Circle we all sense that our global community is at a precipitous time of history and we know that an evolution in our way of making sense of the world—i.e. our consciousness—is at the root of tilting the future toward a sustainable path. When you think of our global community of The Leadership Circle practitioners, we want for you to know that Latin America is a part of that web.
About the Author
Art Shirk has been developing leaders and coaches from around the globe for the past 10 years. He is a partner and lead consultant for Coaching Hall International—an accredited coaching and leadership development school based in Bogota, Colombia, and is a senior faculty member of the Coaches Training Institute based in the United States. In his own consulting practice, Art works with organizational leadership teams to build alignment and capability.
In addition to providing consulting and coaching services to organizations, Art has been a faculty member of the University of Massachusetts Graduate School of Education, and the Capella University MBA program. Art received his doctorate in education from the Department of Organization and Leadership at Columbia University Teachers College and his MBA from Boston University. He holds the CPCC certification from the Coaches Training Institute and PCC certification from the International Coach Federation.