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The power to transcend yourself, to live a meaningful life. Interview with Jan Willem Kirpestein


Jan Willem served the Protestant Church of the Netherlands as a minister for nearly 20 years and afterwards founded his consultancy firm Spirit, Heart & Mind Corpus BV. He has also worked for many years as executive and leadership coach and trusted advisor. Though retired as pastor, he is still active inside and outside the church.


As a pastor and coach for several decades, what is the main lesson that you have learned?


One of the treasures in life that I’ve found, is that we, as human beings, can discover meaning in life. We carry within us as human beings a sort of a sense organ, an inner guide. This guide is our conscience. With this sense organ we perceive that something is asked of us, that we are questioned by life. It is life itself that asks and calls upon us, also as leaders.

The guide which guides us in responding to the question life puts to us, is conscience. We can only answer to life by answering, in our personal leadership, for our life and the life of others. Conscience has its ‘still small voice’ and ‘speaks’ to us. It is an undeniable phenomenological fact. This small voice makes us aware of the fact that we have the free choice to do something with the challenge that occurs. Listening to our conscience means that we will focus on what life requires from us. Even on what went wrong because of decisions we avoided or evaded. Can we learn something good from that, for the future?

Our freedom is that we always can decide to listen to this inner voice of choice and respond. Living a meaningful life, in my opinion has to do with taking this interaction with our inner guide seriously. In our personal life and as leaders.


What is your view on leadership?


I think that leadership has to do with the inner condition of the leader. Leadership is not only a skill. Leadership is an art. The art to transcend yourself. We become more human when we are focused on the other and we create the conditions for others to take their responsibilities. Responsibility is about the art of doing business and organizing business in a way that business will become a means and not an end. The end is to care and to cure. To care for earth-life and to cure mother earth of all the suffering caused by us and still sustained by dominant paradigms of thinking.


New leadership must deal with the fact that we as human beings are not only victims, prisoners of determined systems. We are also perpetrators by following determined systems. But to say that we cannot change it and that his situation is a blind fate is a lie. Are we prepared to respond again?

We are on the brink of a new leadership paradigm. Are we, as leaders, prepared to join forces and listen to the cry of life and earth and the voice of conscience?


Leadership is taking responsibility. Responsibility is something we face and something we try to escape. The choice is ours. Human freedom is not a freedom from, says Viktor Frankl, but a freedom to. And I think he is right.


How can we build true and meaningful leadership?


It can only happen if leaders are willing to embrace a new paradigm of leadership, which finds its driving force in the will to listen to the call of life. As human beings, we are all connected, and this can also be translated into our business: what is my business for? Is my business only for profit? Or is it also to serve life and others? The value of life transcends my life.


Meaningful leadership requires an attitude of introspection. Am I now in that odd mode of competition and survival of the fittest, of powerplay and fight? The transition in leadership is a collective challenge, to move forward and upward. From: “are we using each other for our own benefit” to “do we need each other for the benefit of everybody and for finding paths towards meaningful growth, that serves everyone”. Yes, we do need each other!


Finding meaning has to do with elevating the challenges life confronts you with, to a higher purpose. Good leadership in this way becomes a liberating act, that will be recognized by its breakthrough impact. To be more precise: a real liberating decision is an act that generates change with ethical consequences. By ethical consequences I mean the practical implications it has when applied to investing, to developing, to generating business out of a real concern for the higher purpose of all life and the future of our earth. You can only give a real responsible answer when you are free from within. We can make the free choice for giving other, enabling responses. The responses that enable meaning in our life and in the life of others. This is a question of leadership. It is a matter of courage and will. It is our freedom to make the choice in our leadership.


How can we implement this new leadership in companies that seem to do more harm than good?


Some companies obviously need to collapse and to go bankrupt if they are not willing to make serious work of changing. The power of the system in which we live will kill us mentally and physically if no alternative is developed. This development is a collective leadership challenge. Leaders who are prepared to join forces with their whole supply chain, can make the change happen together. But there is another concrete power that will make a difference. When people are convinced that a product or a service is harmful to their health or to the planet, then they have the possibility to stop buying it. That power, the democratic power of individuals, of consumers coming together, is very strong. There are a lot of beautiful initiatives already emerging, but the time is now for leaders to activate their supply chain to get onboard, to come together and take up the challenges of today. At Bressummer Foundation we are helping by facilitating leadership journeys for the upcoming generation to develop the collective, cross sectoral leadership skills, the will and the courage that are needed to make the change happen.


A last message for the leaders of the 21st century?


Listen to the voice of your inner conscience that is free. And make your decisions choice out of this freedom.

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