How do leaders become wise and compassionate stewards? And how does one go from vision to action?
These questions have guided Simon Hempel
in his work as a Partner (and former Managing Partner) of Leaders’ Quest
, a London-based global organization that trains leaders in business, government and civil society worldwide to become purposeful, conscious, and transformational leaders – those able to lead in increasingly changing, complex, and disrupted environments in order to contribute towards a more sustainable, inclusive world.
And these questions have also guided Simon Hempel forward in his own changing personal journey. The narrative leading to Hempel’s place on a global team of forward-thinking collaborators appears to have fallen into place fluidly, meaningfully, powerfully. And yet, as Hempel himself explains, life also had a way of speaking to his intuition, carrying him from one adventure to the next, and, eventually, compelling him to come to terms with the way in which he was authoring his own story and creating his place in the world.
Hempel became a serial entrepreneur at a very young age, resisting the traditional route to college. He created companies across UK, Europe, the US and Canada in the fields of financial services, leisure, consultancy and technology. After great success, in 2002 he lost everything he had and ended up joining an Amazonian expedition.
And while this was a dark, difficult place to be, it brought upon him a vital shift of another order. “I think what it did,” says Hempel, “is it forced me to look at life through a different set of lenses. I wasn’t necessarily thinking while I was building these things; I was building because it felt like the right thing to do, but I wasn’t aware of my footprint and what I was doing and why I was doing it. That sense of purpose had never come through.” Seeking to radically shift his context and find a more connected, heart-centered way of being in the world, Simon decided to leave London and found his way to Spain, where he lived simply yet vibrantly. Time eventually brought him to South America, where he partnered with an explorer for nine years, leading expeditions through the Amazon, the Himalayas, Mongolia, India, and Africa.
In 2006, he became the CEO of Right to Sight, an International NGO tackling needless blindness, and worked on developing sustainable eye care projects across Africa and India. Four years later, Hempel found himself at a Zen monastery in Tamil Nadu, India, where a gifted teacher helped him find his practice, which set the foundation for a daily commitment to go inward, one that he maintains to this day.
“There’s so much more than just us,” says Hempel; “and there’s so much noise in our heads, and so much noise all around us, that we just can’t feel it, and see it, and taste it.” Going inside became, for Hempel, a way to connect with a place of inner stillness and observation that also allows for a more porous, genuine, and compassionate relationship to the outside world and to others. “Look in your internal state,” says Hempel. “Where are you?”
It’s from this same space of inner attunement that Hempel believes the truly transformative, conscious, and purposeful leader can emerge—the leader who is able to align vision with action. And in a world that, as Hempel acknowledges, is getting more noisy, more complex, more demanding, and more uncertain as it faces global challenges such as climate change and shared resources, leadership will need to be both able and visionary.
Bringing these personal lessons to bear in his work, Simon was for many years Managing Partner of Leaders’ Quest, which pioneered a “unique approach to experiential learning for senior leaders.” “Leaders' Quest's practice is grounded in the belief that a company, community or ecosystem can only truly transform if those leading it are willing to work on themselves.” The organization’s approach
involves taking people outside their usual environments to meet with leaders, change-makers and local communities. “We engage with innovators, entrepreneurs, scientists, artists and grassroots leaders – from all generations. And we spend time with people who have diverse perspectives on what’s important, and whose views may challenge our own. We blend this external focus with time for reflection, introspection and deep dialogue.”
Simon recently stepped aside as Managing Partner of Leaders’ Quest to launch a new form of organization exploring consciousness, energy & technology to create tipping points for change in the world. He has explored growth and how to sustain profit through purpose, people and our planet. He works with individuals, companies and inside systems to help catalyze the transformation required to shape our future. His current inquiry is how do we build better relationships? He has a portfolio of activities, including coaching, facilitation and leading workshops and retreats. He remains a Partner of Leaders’ Quest, and is also a Partner of the Global Leaders Academy and is a Trustee of the Ministry of Entrepreneurship. He is a non-executive Director at Positive Group and is an Ambassador for Embercombe and Beautiful Corporations.
Today, Hempel’s voice is one of many teaching us that the key to a more connected, sustainable, and heart-centered world is the individual’s brave, willing embrace of an inner journey. But this journey, says Hempel—and he clearly speaks from experience—requires time. If the quest is always now, the seeds of a more harmonious future are already inside each and every one of us, from the moment we decide to become its conscious seekers.
Join us in conversation with this inspiring leader.