The Uncertain Future: Working Together During These Difficult Times

by Cynthia Cherrey

Cynthia Cherrey Photo

Cynthia Cherrey is President and CEO of the International Leadership Association. Previously, Cynthia served as Lecturer in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and Vice President of Campus Life. She publishes in the areas of leadership, organizational development, and higher education including co-authoring Systemic Leadership: Enriching the Meaning of our Work. Her most recent publication is Women and Leadership around the World (co-editor). She is a Fellow at the World Business Academy and a recipient of a J.W. Fulbright Scholarship. Cynthia’s interests and research explore new ways to live, work, and lead in a knowledge driven, interdependent, global society. She consults and speaks to for-profit and non-profit organizations around the world on leadership and organizational change. She can be reached at ccherrey@ila-net.org.

For many of us, it is increasingly unnerving to read about, and challenging to keep up with, the daily changes taking place in our world, our countries, and our communities.

Global events are frequently disconcerting and carry varying degrees of impact. From Brexit to the election of a new U.S. President who promises change and “America First,” from the upcoming elections in France and Germany to the political leadership infighting in Venezuela. Countries such as Poland, Netherlands, Austria, and Australia are experiencing growing nationalism and populism. These constant swirling and shifting tides make for an uncertain future.

In the European Union alone, although Angela Merkel is likely to win re-election, it may come at a cost, leaving Europe with a leadership void when strong collaborative leadership is needed more than ever in the EU. The Turkish President’s tightening control over the government, media, and business sectors in Turkey will likely exacerbate the country’s economic problems and relations with the EU. And, of course, the ongoing global refugee, migration, and immigration challenges are intensified by the latest decisions and uncertainty in American policy regarding these issues.

We all have opinions. Opinions about populism and nationalism. Opinions about politics and political changes. Opinions about religion and beliefs. My intent here is not to opine on those subjects. Rather it is to strongly urge all members of our leadership community around the world to engage in civil discourse about leadership, the challenges we face, and the complexity of our systems.

I wonder, often out loud, “How can leadership contribute during these difficult times? How do we frame our collective work together in the field of leadership?” Perhaps the key word there is together.

I think about presentations at ILA conferences that look at leadership through the African lens of Ubuntu, the concept of “how we are who we are through one another, how our humanity is bound up in one another” (Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, & Douglas Abrams, 2016, p. 127). Or, I think about how Buddhism recognizes that our interdependence is on every level — personal, social, even subatomic. The Dalai Lama writes, “If we stress the secondary level of differences — my nation, my religion, my color — then we notice the differences…. Shiite and Sunni, or Christian and Muslim…. These differences between religions are personal matters. When we relate to others from the place of compassion it goes to the first level, the human level, not the secondary level of difference” (Dalai Lama et al., 2016, p. 127).

As president and CEO of the ILA, I encourage us to work at that higher level — the level of humanity and compassion. I am reminded of Mary Robinson, the first female President of Ireland and a keynote speaker at ILA’s 2002 annual global conference. She kept a symbolic light in the window of Áras an Uachtaráin (the official residence of the President of Ireland) as a reminder of the Irish Diaspora and that, “no one should be without shelter and that if somebody knocked on the door they would be welcome” (Langan, 2013). I encourage us to work at that level of caring and to work to improve communication among those who have differing views.

Furthermore, I encourage us to fill our discussions and arguments with factual, rigorous, evidence-based research and practice. Discourse that takes place solely in the realm of "I feel" and "I think" leaves any discussion and subsequent action built on a shaky foundation, falling short of creating a truly educated and informed discourse and practice. This is not a call for cultural relativism. As Mary Robinson also reminded us in her former role as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Human rights are inscribed in the hearts of people; they were there long before lawmakers drafted their first proclamation.” But, rigorous research and theory building, replicable data, reliable news sources, and first-hand information should shape our arguments and positions.

As a global organization, ILA celebrates the rich multiplicity of our members hailing from more than 70 countries and representing many different sectors, disciplines, and cultural identities. We value the expertise and knowledge that our members from the public and private sectors — scholars and researchers, executives and leaders, educators and students, consultants and coaches — bring to the table in the pursuit of new knowledge and more effective leadership practices. The ILA is a preeminent place to tackle complex issues with complex thinking. But you must be an active participant — at ILA conferences, on ILA Intersections, in ILA member communities — to take advantage of what the association offers. I encourage you to join the conversations online and in person at our forthcoming conferences.

Inclusion. Impact. Integrity. Interconnection. Interdisciplinary. International Perspectives. These are the values of the International Leadership Association and they permeate everything we do. The world needs better leadership and ILA’s mission of promoting a deeper understanding of leadership knowledge and practice for the greater good aims to make a difference. We are committed to our values and our mission to increase the knowledge and practice of effective and ethical leadership for the greater good of individuals and communities worldwide.

There's no better time to start than now. Be concerned. Be involved. Be an active and engaged citizen of this world of ours.

No one knows what the future might bring. If changing circumstances make it difficult for a member to participate in an association event, please contact us at ila@ila-net.org.


Lama, Dalai; Tutu, Desmond & Abrams, Douglas. (2016). The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World. New York: Avery Publishing/Penguin Group.

Langan, Sheila. (April/May 2013). What Are You Like? Mary Robinson. Irish America. http://irishamerica.com/2013/03/what-are-you-like-mary-robinson/