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Leaders as Shamans: Working to Heal a Troubled World

Sandra Waddock
June 10, 2019
Africa, Asia - Pacific, Europe, Latin & South America, North America
Ethics & Social Justice
17 pages
leadership, shamanic leaders, sustainability, memes, global sustainability
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In a world greatly in need of healing, today’s leaders acting as shamans could potentially bring the shaman’s ancient wisdom to the effort to create a more sustainable, just, and equitable world. Today’s shamanic leaders undertake the same roles as the traditional shaman: healing, connecting, and sensemaking in the service of a better world. From a leadership perspective, the shaman’s work is that of healing the world around us and our (human) relationship with that world, which is what many leaders are already attempting to do. In this context, healing can mean making our relationships, systems, and organizations whole or sound. In a similar vein, connecting means working across boundaries of different types, such as relationships, disciplines, functions, sectors, and institutions, among others, to create collaborative initiatives or new insights that can move ideas and institutions forward in a positive way. Finally, sensemaking means helping others understand and interpret their world in new and hopefully constructive ways. It means creating a new vision of the future through tasks like developing new memes or framing new stories or narratives that help people relate to their enterprises or the world in different ways. In today’s troubled world, where our dominant cultural mythologies, policies, and practices have resulted in frighteningly unsustainable conditions and divisiveness, I argue that more leaders explicitly need to (and can) take on these shamanic roles.

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