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Authentic Leadership

by Andrew Cohen

It is indeed a remarkable fact that now, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, executives and business leaders are beginning to look to the perennial spiritual truth of Oneness, not only for personal salvation in these most challenging of times but as the source for a new, deeper, and higher perspective from which to engage in the global marketplace. The first time I heard about this phenomenon was about four years ago when a friend told me: "Business people are scared because the rate of change is accelerating so quickly that they know the old ways of thinking are outmoded. They're turning to spiritual concepts and techniques as an adaptive or coping mechanism in order to survive in this brave new world."

On a recent teaching trip to Australia, I was invited to give a presentation about "authentic leadership," sponsored by the Australian Institute for Management and the Integral Leadership Centre. Present were business consultants, managers, executives, healthcare practitioners, and even a government minister. In the morning, I gave a talk about the evolution of consciousness in order to create a context—the biggest context possible—in which to talk about the importance of leadership. In the afternoon, I spoke about authentic leadership, which is quite a big buzzword in the alternative business community. In fact, knowing I was a spiritual teacher and not a professional business consultant, my host reminded me before the second talk, "Andrew, be sure to get something in about authentic leadership." Of course, in an enlightenment context, there is no difference between what it means to be an authentic leader and what it means to be a liberated human being. I made clear that if we aspire to be an authentic leader, we must always be willing to:

   Stand alone
   Live fearlessly
   Act heroically
   Want to be free and true more than anything else
   Take unconditional responsibility for oneself
   Face everything and avoid nothing
   At all times see things impersonally
   Live for a higher purpose *

As I slowly but passionately worked my way down the list, I could feel the atmosphere in the room change from the openhearted receptivity that had met my morning presentation to one of drowsiness, dullness, discomfort, and even fear. Then, out of the blue, my host suddenly stood up and said, "Let's take a short break!" Giving that talk was a confusing experience because the longer I spoke about authentic leadership, the more powerfully I felt the message was actually coming through. And the more powerfully I felt the message coming through, the greater was the feeling of inertia, resistance, and disinterest in the room. When we gathered again after the brief break, the fear and inertia were gone, but what was also gone was the palpable sense of evolutionary tension that had been present when we all, if only for the briefest moment, had glimpsed what it meant to be an authentic leader.

The thought of being a leader may seem like an appealing idea to the ego, but the reality of what being an authentic leader implies scares the ego to death. It means ego death. Why? Because it means that we actually care so much about a higher purpose, a higher principle, a higher goal that we're willing to make the most important sacrifices for the sake of what we are aspiring to accomplish. It means we care so passionately about others also reaching that goal that we unhesitatingly sacrifice our own peace of mind, comfort, and security in order for them to succeed. It really means that we have no choice left anymore because we have realized without any doubt that from now on, it's up to us. We have realized that One Without a Second. We have realized that there is no other and there never could have been. What is so interesting about authentic leadership is this very insight: that once we have arrived, there is no longer any point of return. We have become one with destiny itself.

* Based on Andrew Cohen's Five Fundamental Tenets of Evolutionary Enlightenment. For a comprehensive description of these tenets, please visit


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This article is from
Our Business Issue