Much has been written about the fast-changing, transformative times we now live and work in and how this calls for new styles of leadership. Fritjof Capra, for instance, speaks of ‘emergent leadership’ which facilitates and fosters a culture of emergence in organisations and communities where continual change is embraced as the ‘new norm’. Palmer J Parker speaks of leaders being ‘midwives’ in facilitating the birthing of a new way of being and doing – a new consciousness no less – where diverse teams learn to deal with volatility with courage beyond the limitations of yesterday’s mind-set. Scilla Elworthy speaks of ‘awakened leadership’ as a way of envisioning and then pioneering future worlds beyond fear through developing what she calls ‘inner-intelligence for outer effectiveness’.
Emergent leadership, courageous leadership, awakened leadership and authentic leadership all share a common ground, which Zen Buddhist Master Nan Huai Chin sums up as seven places: awareness, stopping, calmness, stillness, peace, true thinking, attainment. It is through this inner-outer awareness that leaders can fully presence the evolving context they operate in and so nurture a collective learning environment. Accepting the present moment with an open heart, unlimited by pre-conceived notions and judgements – this is leading with courage (its Latin root ‘cor’ meaning heart) beyond fear, beyond control – and it’s not for the faint-hearted. It asks us to recognise the vitality of co-innovating new ways of operating beyond the confines of pre-defined outcomes: improvisation, conviviality, collaboration, creativity.
When it boils down to it, it’s all about relationships – how we physically and psychically relate with the world. In business and nature, everything works through flows of relationships. Trust is the soil from which healthy vibrant relationships take root. Relationships struggle to survive without trust. Trust requires mutual respect and understanding, an empathic reaching out beyond oneself that allows for reciprocation.
To be spontaneous while co-creating with others is to have innate trust in the relationships while letting go of control. In this way, trust allows an opening up to the present moment – a ‘presencing’ where upon we en-courage an aliveness to flow through all we are co-creating. Authenticity and spontaneity are dancing partners in transformation, nourished by trust and fuelled by courage.
We can encourage and accompany others through sharing our experiences. Likewise others can encourage and accompany us as new possibilities are encountered. In accompanying others in their learning quest into deeper awareness and understanding, we question and converse. After all, we Homo sapiens are primarily social creatures. This sharing of feelings and findings is immensely important and enriching for everyone involved. This is an inspirational and improvisational kind of facilitating. It encourages a meeting of minds through an appreciation both of what we have in common and of how our differences serve to complement our co-learning.
This inspirational facilitation provides safety and freedom – amidst the volatility and uncertainty – to question and share concerns, anxiety, motivations and experiential learning. A willingness to invite questioning of all kinds of assumptions and beliefs allows an opening up for new ways of thinking, listening and sharing.‘Leaders’ in this mould are not leading ‘followers’; they are cultivating a co-creative environment where transformation happens. They may have special experience gained through personal pioneering experiences, and yet, with humility and courage, share this with others. In leading they are nurturing an open, receptive, loving environment for individuals and the community to tap into as they move forward in engaging fresh possibilities. In this way, preconditions, past-experiences, expectations and judgments can be aired and shared, allowed to either dissipate or transmute into learning. Likewise, leaders of this mettle are open to temporarily relinquishing, rotating, or taking a step back from, leadership when circumstances dictate.
Fear-based leading Courage-based leading
Leader-follower relation Co-creative relation
Motivated by power Motivated by love
Blame culture Compassionate culture
Command and control Improvisational
By its very nature, this kind of co-creative leading is neither hierarchical nor subservient nor adversarial. There is no ‘enemy’ to fight, mountain to conquer or power to manipulate; yet there is fear, trepidation, passion, courage, suffering, empathy, sharing, charisma and encouragement. It is less about orchestrating or conducting and more about facilitating the ability of others to attune themselves; energising and equipping oneself and others to make the right choices for the situation at hand. The result is more effective, resilient teams who are able to face increasing uncertainty with renewed inspiration, creativity and love.
The root word of ‘leadership’ is ‘leith’ which means to cross the threshold, to let go of old ways, mind-sets and logic in order to embrace the new. Leadership is, first and foremost, an attitude to life. These transformational times are demanding each and every one of us to become leaders in myriad ways: mothers and midwives, counsellors and CEOs, activists and administrators – the times we live ask us to ‘know thy self’ so as to reach beyond self-interest for the benefit of something greater. This is what authentic Homo sapiens do; it’s simply – yet not necessarily easily – a case of being true to our nature. As Zen teacher Susan Murphy Roshi puts it, systemic transformation ‘does not come about from a top-down approach. No living system has a boss. The boss is all of us, inextricably together, using the distributive wisdom of countless local actions occurring simultaneously…To be able to realize our real freedom within a sober, creative, playful awareness of reality is vital to get beyond the thinking that created the problem.’ This is the fresh, yet ancient, logic now required for the tumultuous challenges staring us down – it draws on the deep wisdom of nature. Ultimately, this is about evolution or extinction, anything else is mere distraction.
Giles Hutchins is author of The Nature of Business and also the upcoming book The Illusion of Separation, visit www.thenatureofbusiness.org