“Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here.”

—Jack Swigert


It was April 13, 1970, and the crew of Apollo 13 was in trouble.

“This is Houston. Say again, please.”

An explosion in one of the oxygen tanks had crippled the spacecraft in mid-flight.

“Houston, we’ve had a problem. We’ve had a Main B bus undervolt.”

What was supposed to be the third mission to land on the moon was suddenly a secondary priority to survival and the ability to return to Earth.

“Roger. Main B undervolt.”

The crew of Mission Commander James Lovell, Command Module Pilot Jack Swigert, and Lunar Module Pilot Fred Haise immediately needed to change focus, and the first step in that process was to recognize and correctly identify the situation they were now facing.

“Okay. Right now, Houston, the voltage is . . . is looking good. And we had a pretty large bang associated with the caution and warning there. And as I recall, Main B was the one that had an amp spike on it once before.”

An existential threat had emerged and it needed to be clearly recognized and communicated to all involved. Acknowledging their new reality was paramount to their survival.

* * *

The quest for shared leadership, dispersed power, and respect for all voices is, like Apollo 13, a mission under grave risk. Recognition of that risk and its root causes is essential to determining the future of humanity’s shared journey through space and time.

Will we diagnose our condition and correct course? Or, will we hurdle off into the darkness on a wounded ship which has lost (or abdicated) respect for the magic of the human spirit and decentralized decision making that empowers all?

The answers to these questions are not yet knowable, but a diagnosis of the problem begins with recognizing the allure of leadership overreach. Across human time, those with the most political, economic, religious, gender, and racial power have often overreached and exerted too much influence and control over the lives of others.  This overreaching manifests as centralized leadership in governments, corporate headquarters, church hierarchies, and schools. Here, rules are imposed. Stories are woven. Power and influence are collected. And it’s all done in the name of helping and protecting you.

“A lie told often enough becomes the truth.”

—Vladimir Lenin

* * *

In nature, power is dispersed. These five words came to me one evening at sunset in the Arizona desert near the Navajo reservation.

As darkness returned to claim the red rock peaks, I posed a series of leadership questions to the Universe.

Where is the capital of this desert?

Where is its corporate governing center?

Which one of these cacti is in charge of all the others?

In each case, the answer was clear.

The leadership power of nature lives in all its creatures, great and small. Humans, who are part of nature, ultimately aspire to organize in this same way. The Aquarian Age that is upon is about re-dispersing power as nature intended.

But the long-standing template of traditional leadership and followership does not yield easily. Those in the center want to keep the power, the money, and the decision-making control, and the followers are often all too willing to oblige. Under duress we return to what we know.

So what’s needed to reestablish the primacy of the individual human spirit over the empire itself?

Step one is recognition of the problem. As the Apollo 13 crew understood, acknowledgment of what’s wrong is a prerequisite for change.

We need our institutions and we need leaders within them, but we must come to see the role of the center differently. We want to do the least amount necessary in the center—not the most. Actualizing this inversion of roles is the challenge of our age. Primacy of the human spirit is the objective. The empire comes second as it only exists to serve and honor its individual members.

The most valued leaders of the twenty-first century will strengthen others, not themselves and they will shrink the bureaucratic center, not expand it.


Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.


This is the forty-eighth post in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!