Four intense and magical weeks of instructing, delivering, re-designing and improvising the Leadership Summer Academy for Duke University ended last week in Shanghai with teary eyes of joy and anticipated sadness of saying soon goodbye to new friends. Conscious Leadership left a visible, positive impact on not only the high school teenagers, but all involved, including staff members and home teachers who worked tirelessly in the background to help us feel welcomed and comfortable. I have no doubt that the program also left a lasting impact on the young leaders of China and doesn’t remain as another concept on a bookshelf.

Experiential learning as the methodology we used for the Duke University’s Leadership program, which is very different to the usual, content loaded training programs on the market, proofed to be successful. By providing bits and pieces of important context and then letting the young participants experience it through many exercises that involved various learning channels like body movements, creativity and the logical mind, the teenagers were able to relate, to learn from each other through sharing and to make their own meaning of it. We empowered  them in connecting to their true self and handed them the key to the door of consciousness. This is all that needs to happen for self-awareness and collective consciousness to grow. The final projects of the program that were designed, executed and delivered by the teenagers based on the Dimensional Leadership Model, the Social Change Model and Human Centered Design, were all serving a community, were sustainable and were highly creative in approaching the issues and developing solutions or at least the paths to sustainable solutions.

I am grateful for having worked with teenagers, whose egos are not yet strong enough to resist change, but who were curious and open to new learning. While I also love to work with experienced adults, and as coaches we always invite our clients to use a beginner’s mind, it is now clear to me that innocence has a beautiful advantage over experience.

As adults we develop fears that are informed by certain  experiences we gathered over time. Unfortunately, without much self-awareness these fears start to limit our experience of life. We tend to navigate away from fear and prefer to sail in comfortable, calm waters. What we don’t notice is the phenomena that as long as we do not learn how to be with our fears, we rid ourselves of the full(filling) experiences of life. Young adults on the other hand still maintain a blank canvas and are usually ready and curious to spill colors on it. Here is our chance for change that might sustain our planet earth.

Most of us would agree that the conventional educational systems in first world countries are outdated and don’t serve the new world. It is not as if uneducated people would come out of this system. However, the education was primarily designed so that everyone who finished High School would be able to get a job and the corporate world would be served with an educated workforce. In the meantime it all developed towards a rat race. The standard education isn’t enough nowadays. Parents fear that their children will not get a job and will not be successful if they do not attend all kind of activities and clubs during their school curriculum. Playful childhood is mostly sacrificed for the sake of developing a personality aimed at maximizing materialistic success. The human side of it gets pushed aside by fear that we might fall behind in status. Questions like what is your social responsibility, your contribution to society, community and life are not asked or taught. Living in community where humanity trumps over materialism isn’t explained, isn’t trained, and parents nor teachers are no longer able to live by example. It is not purely their fault. Partly they are restricted by the existing systems, partly they are limiting themselves by buying into it while being overwhelmed by fear for the future of their children. This fear still leads them to abiding by the existing educational path despite their awareness of the contradiction between their inner knowing and what their mind tells them.

We need to stop this cycle by first reflecting on what is truly making us fulfilled and happy. I am confident that most of us will find out that living in community with family, friends and colleagues is a fundamental contributor to our fulfillment and happiness. Our grandparents told us already that money doesn’t make us happy. Yet, our parents as well as some of us still hold on to the illusion that the safety net of financial wealth would also deliver happiness. The parents of the Chinese teenagers who participated in our program are also buying into the rat race in China. There is a tremendous pressure put on the children. They tirelessly study for becoming the best in school, class and college.

We observed very tired teenagers who expected us to tell them what to study. They were taken by surprise when we didn’t give them homework, but instead insisted on reflecting, journaling and sharing their experience, feelings and opinion. At the end of the program they benefitted from a different methodology of education, which caused them be more focused, more balanced and very joyful. They learned how to use powerful questions and express genuine curiosity through it for the sake of growing relationships. We taught them the process and impact of assumptions and the ladder of inference. They got a glimpse of emotional intelligence and how the mastery of it can change their experience and their leadership. The teenagers were very engaged when we introduced them to the experience of Land’s Work and leveraging the Sweet Spot. They experienced every morning the benefits of meditation and learned to explore and find their own way into it. We tried different background music, we used guided meditation, we used different postures. We even meditated to the song “Sugar” by Maroon5, which I anticipated for myself as quite disrupting, but would experience it as a pleasant surprise.

Please note that I do not want to judge their educational system. My own children enjoy the Japanese education system, which is quite comparable to the Chinese. It has as many advantages and disadvantages as any western system. Good human beings come out of both.

Dukes Leadership Summer academy is designed to bridge East with West and offer and learn different perspectives. We planted the seed of Conscious Leadership in Shanghai and I shall look forward to expanding it to Beijing as well as other regions in Asia. The challenge is now on us in providing adults, who usually developed throughout their lives a partly or fully colored canvas, access to their own self-awareness and inner wisdom, which is different to the usual ego-driven, pretentious life that most of us are taught to live (in order to swim with the main stream of the existing system), and assist all of us in leading a conscious life. When you read this and feel counter-arguments coming up, even defensiveness and dismissive contempt, be aware that your old self is already ringing the alarm bells, because it fears the upcoming change, which would benefit your life affirming, true self and would reduce the old ego to a necessary minimum. It is a great sign as your consciousness just woke up from unconsciousness. More good things to come!        

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