INsight/ Growing Your Worldview

Ubud, 3 May 2017 — Who are your favorite leaders with a wide worldview, and why does it matter to value diversity? 

In many countries around the world, voters are taking a fresh look at who can best lead their country into the future. And for many, talking about the future seems more important than reflecting on the policies that brought them where they are now. 

Recent elections in the Netherlands and France have shown significant shifts in the political landscape, with an increasingly diverse field of political parties and movements wooing the voters. Anglo-saxon media, an influential force in international news, tends to be skeptical how such diversity can produce good government. Continental Europeans, on the other hand, don’t seem to mind a wider diversity of choice and accept, in many countries, the challenge of coalition building after elections.

Across the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, there is less political diversity. In the UK and the US, there is little else for voters to choose from besides Tory or Labour in the UK, and Republican or Democrat in the US. The political discourse is sharply divided, as we keep seeing, with little apparent space for building on diversity and creating consensus. One can even get the impression that the term consensus is seen as a synonym for weakness there.

Meanwhile, in Asia, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which marked its 50th anniversary at a summit in Manila last week, brings together a highly diverse group of nations. As the leaders set a course to advance their association in the years to come, the European experience of gradually building a regional economic community over time inspired some of the exchanges at the summit. 

Unity in Diversity

In Indonesia, ASEAN’s largest member country, the national philosophy adopted in 1945 underlines a belief in Unity in Diversity (Bhinneka Tunggal Ika). It is said that this philosophy originated from a realization during the country’s rich cultural history that the truth of Buddhism and of Hinduism were one. This allowed an understanding of fundamental “oneness” to emerge, holding the view that there is no duality in Truth. 

Few foreigners outside the country realize that more than 700 living languages are spoken in Indonesia, illustrating how rich its society is in diversity. It is therefore not surprising, perhaps, that Indonesian cultural values place a premium on consensus building, where it is held that everyone’s voice, opinion and experience matters and should be heard. Its culture of respect for diversity has, in turn, influenced ASEAN in a significant way.

Compare that to Europe, and we see some parallel trends. The motto of the European Union is United in Diversity (In Varietate Concordia). This motto was adopted 55 years after Indonesia adopted its national philosophy, in the year 2000. It superseded an earlier goal of building a shared European identity. Over time, the countries of the EU have embraced a philosophy of multiculturalism, recognizing the rich diversity in the cultures of its member countries as well as cultures from outside Europe.

Does everyone in ASEAN countries and Europe value diversity? We see how recent populist agendas are vying for power in several European countries, and how the election campaign for Jakarta’s next governor last month was seen as unprecedented for the manner in which choices were presented by politicians to the voters. Not everyone’s worldview seems wide enough to appreciate the value of seeing unity in diversity. Many voices are speaking up to claim the opposite.

Millennial Views

Analysis of demographics in recent elections has brought to light a powerful insight about the voting preferences—one could say the worldviews—of youth, the Millennial generation. It was reported how a majority of youth in several countries voted for progressive agendas that favored multiculturalism and international collaboration over populism and protectionist policies. 

If it were up to young voters, Hillary Clinton would have been elected President in the US, and Brexit would not have happened. Recently, the largest political gains in the Dutch and French elections were made by the most youthful candidates, Jesse Klaver and Emmanuel Macron, who both ran on positive and progressive agendas that reflected their wider worldview of building on diversity rather than building walls. Beating many other hopefuls, Macron made it to the final round of the French presidential election.

In my work with emerging and young leaders in Asia, I see the growing influence of their wider worldviews first hand. A new generation is rising up with different views, and with actions that are starting to tell their own story. Many of these emerging leaders are passionate about making the world a better place, see the glass half-full rather than half-empty, and regard the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement as defining visions and milestones on their journey for people, planet and profit, in that order.

Most importantly, many young leaders are discovering how everyone in our diverse, connected and interdependent world can be part of the problem and the solution at the same time, and that collaboration across boundaries is an imperative for the very survival and the prosperity of our civilization on Earth. This realization still seems to elude a good number of older politicians who keep advocating that their way is the only right way.

What does this have to do with who your favorite leaders are with a wide worldview, and why it matters to value diversity? At lot, actually.

Work In All Colors

In my leadership development work, I use a method called Work In All Colors. The seven colors used in this approach represent the languages that allow us to connect with the heart of people in our audience, and reflect different levels of appreciation for diversity as we grow and our leadership develops.

The first five colors—Purple, Red, Blue, Orange and Green—represent a set of worldviews that are highly competitive towards each other. People embracing these worldviews find it difficult to appreciate diversity, and will normally insist that their way is better than others.

The worldviews represented by the last two of the seven colors, Yellow and Turquoise, are intrinsically different from the first five. People who see the world from the perspective of these two colors tend to recognize that the world is an interconnected and interdependent community where all the other worldviews have a role to play, without any role being seen as better or worse.

Yellow and Turquoise thinkers are much more likely to respect a diversity of views and don’t insist that their worldview is the best. Instead of competing, they work to bring others together in collaboration to develop smart solutions that benefit many people and bridge social divides.

We can find role models of global leaders with a wider worldview when we look around. Among my favorites are Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, Xi Jinping, Joko Widodo and Mark Rutte.

The best news in my view, however, is that a high percentage of young Millennial GenY leaders already embrace wide worldviews, represented by Yellow and Turquoise, even as their skills and experience are still growing while they develop their careers. 

For example, I’m thinking of my daughter Eline with her passion for sustainability, of Neil Soria and Lutfiya Al-quarani, the co-founders of the ASEAN Youth Leaders Association (AYLA), of Lei Motilla and her leadership team at AYLA Philippines, of Michaela Navato and her team who pioneered a Young Bridging Leaders program, of Melati and Isabel Wijsen who inspired an international movement with their Bye Bye Plastic Bags in Bali campaign, and of the Youth for Asia movement mobilized by Chris Morris and his team at the Asian Development Bank, and of countless others who are now heralding a new movement that inspires hope for collaboration to supplant conflict.

When you look around for your favorite leaders with a wider worldview, look out for inspiring examples of young emerging leaders where you are. They may be our best hope to build Unity in Diversity in our challenged world.

In their book Learning Leadership, Harvard Business Review authors Kouzes and Posner point to an alarming deficit in our world today when it comes to leadership. They also explain how everyone can develop leadership abilities, and that this can be done from a young age. What matters is deliberate practice, they say. 

The fastest way to develop more leadership in our world, as I see it, will be to help executives and emerging leaders to engage more Millennials in leading change, making best use of their Yellow and Turquoise worldviews to build on diversity for best results. 

When you look around for your favorite leaders with a wider worldview, look out for inspiring examples of young emerging leaders where you are.