Leadership, a vast and multi-faceted arena, has been an enduring platform for the evolution of various styles and philosophies, each echoing sociocultural shifts, technological advancements, and deepening understandings of human psychology. Personally, I champion a leadership approach steeped in consciousness, courage, sustainability, and service – stepping stones towards a transformative leadership future.
In my relentless quest for robust, empathetic, and groundbreaking leadership frameworks, I’ve been exploring an intriguing concept that I’d like to call— “Psychedelic Leadership.” Dare I call it an “emerging” leadership style – it is rooted at the unexpected intersection of leadership studies and the blossoming science of psychedelics. Seemingly unconventional, this exploratory concept anchors itself in the potential implications of consciousness-expanding experiences on the development and expression of leadership skills and styles.
This article is my first step on a fascinating trail, an endeavor to unearth this concept, explore its multi-dimensional layers, and navigate the rich intersections of these two diverse worlds. This is merely the beginning – part one of a journey of exploration, with subsequent articles to follow the evolution of my research and the unfolding understanding of this dynamic new leadership paradigm.
I warmly invite your thoughts, feedback, and challenges as we navigate this exploration together.
The Intersection of Psychedelics and Leadership:
Psychedelics, potent agents of perceptual, cognitive, and emotional shift, have recently captured the interest of the medical and scientific community for their therapeutic potential, particularly within the realms of mental health. Some are calling it the “Psychedelic Renaissance”. For those of you interested in psychedelics 101, Michael Pollan’s 2018 book – How to Change Your Mind – is a great place to start.
It is my personal conviction that these consciousness-altering substances hold promise not just for the treatment of disease, but also for unexpected applications in the field of leadership.
What is Psychedelic Leadership?
Psychedelic Leadership represents a leadership philosophy sparked by the profound insights and experiences catalyzed by the responsible, intentional use of psychedelics. It champions values such as open-mindedness, emotional intelligence, compassion, inclusivity, and a profound connection with oneself and the surrounding environment. This leadership style propels leaders to voyage into their internal landscapes, cultivating heightened self-awareness and emotional empathy.
For instance, a recent research study, “Effect of Psilocybin on Empathy and Moral Decision-Making,” reports pioneering evidence suggesting that psilocybin, a naturally occurring psychedelic compound, can potentially enhance emotional empathy. Emotional empathy encompasses the ability to share emotions or to resonate with what another individual is experiencing. In contrast, cognitive empathy refers to the capacity for mental perspective-taking – recognizing and understanding another’s feelings without necessarily experiencing them. While cognitive empathy can be developed by actively practicing perspective-taking and improving one’s ability to understand others’ thoughts and feelings, emotional empathy can be more challenging to cultivate. Emotional empathy often draws upon a person’s own emotional experiences and ability to connect with their own emotions. It may require a greater degree of self-awareness and emotional intelligence. Imagine a person who you have a conflict with. You might “understand” they are having a difficult time, but you might still feel deeply hurt and angry – you cannot feel what they are feeling, even though you grasp it intellectually.
This milestone research deepens our understanding of how such psychedelic substances can shape social cognition and presents exciting implications for leadership capabilities and styles, prompting us to reconsider and broaden our perspective of leadership potential.
In addition to the above mentioned study, other studies suggest that psychedelic substances such as MDMA, LSD, and psilocybin can enhance emotional empathy (as well as other important leadership competencies I will explore in later posts). See the additional resources below for just a sample of the academic findings.
The Critical Role of Empathy in Leadership:
The emphasis on empathy within Psychedelic Leadership is by no means a random occurrence. Empathy serves as a bedrock of effective leadership. Empathetic leaders foster trust, facilitate courageous conversations, and skillfully navigate conflicts. By forming profound connections with team members and truly understanding their perspectives, these leaders inspire their teams to transcend their potential. By diving into the depths of their teams’ needs and concerns, empathetic leaders can nurture a dynamic work environment that fosters creativity, productivity, and creates an atmosphere of professional growth and fulfillment.
Undeniably, the concept of Psychedelic Leadership is an unconventional, eyebrow-raising proposition, particularly in more traditional circles. However, as burgeoning evidence supports the beneficial impacts of psychedelics on mental health, creativity, and problem-solving, I stand by the belief that it’s a concept worth exploring. As we traverse an increasingly complex and volatile business landscape, leaders who are open to innovative approaches like this may be better equipped to navigate the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
Note: Advocacy for Psychedelic Leadership does not constitute an endorsement of illegal drug use. Rather, it acknowledges the profound insights these experiences can yield when responsibly and legally engaged under the supervision of trained professionals.
Disclaimer: The use of psychedelics is illegal in many regions of the world and carries serious psychological and physical risks. This article neither endorses nor encourages illegal activities or the use of substances without proper medical supervision and a comprehensive understanding of potential risks involved. Always consult with a healthcare professional. The legal landscape is evolving rapidly in this field. Always consult the laws of your jurisdiction.
Preller, K. H., Pokorny, T., Krahenmann, R., Dziobek, I., Stampfli, P., & Vollenweider, F. X. (2015). The Effect of 5-HT2A/1a Agonist Treatment On Social Cognition, Empathy, and Social Decision-making. European Psychiatry, 30(Supplement 1), Meeting Abstract 0022. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0924-9338(15)30017-1
Natasha L. Mason, Elisabeth Mischler, Malin V. Uthaug & Kim P. C. Kuypers (2019) Sub-Acute Effects of Psilocybin on Empathy, Creative Thinking, and Subjective Well-Being, Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 51:2, 123-134, DOI: 10.1080/02791072.2019.1580804
Dolder, P. C., Schmid, Y., Muller, F., Borgwardt, S., & Liechti, M. E. (2016). LSD Acutely Impairs Fear Recognition and Enhances Emotional Empathy and Sociality. Neuropsychopharmacology, 41(11), 2638-2646. https://doi.org/10.1038/npp.2016.82
Uthaug, M. V., van Oorsouw, K., Kuypers, K. P. C., van Boxtel, M., Broers, N. J., Mason, N. L., Toennes, S. W., Riba, J., & Ramaekers, J. G. (2018). Sub-acute and long-term effects of ayahuasca on affect and cognitive thinking style and their association with ego dissolution. Psychopharmacology, 235(10), 2979-2989. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-018-4988-3
Kuypers, K. P. C. (2018). Out of the box: A psychedelic model to study the creative mind. Medical Hypotheses, 115, 13-16. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mehy.2018.03.010
Stay tuned for more articles in this newsletter exploring the nexus of leadership and psychedelics as I embark on my training in psychedelic therapy and research at the California Institute of Integral Studies. Let’s navigate this exciting new frontier together. I look forward to your comments and suggestions as we explore this landscape.