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Surrendering to Transformation, by Giles Hutchins

September 12, 2021

We live in epochal times.

Transformation abounds across myriad levels, from approaches to health and wellbeing right through to how we lead and work together.  Macro-systems are changing too – not just our digital and industrial ones but also our social and ecological ones. Nothing is spared.

This level of change upon change is simultaneously freeing and frightening.

As a Regenerative Leadership Practitioner, an important aspect of my work is coaching leaders through profound inner and outer shifts.

Over the last decade, I have guided well over a hundred senior leaders from diverse backgrounds through deep transformational processes.  These journeys of transformation not only help the individual grow, they also inform how the leader holds-space for the organisation to up-stretch into its next stage of future-fit potential, purpose and value-creation. The systemic effect creates conditions for other stakeholders touched by the organisation. Thus, the leader – in turn affecting the organisation in turn the stakeholder ecosystem – is an important positive leverage-point in these times of breakdown-breakthrough.

The coaching approach I have crafted over the years draws upon many different modalities. A primary focus is to allow the essence of the whole-person to emerge through a metamorphic process of transformation.

This article highlights a powerful method I draw upon as a conduit and catalyst for transformation: the process of letting-go.

The phrase ‘letting-go’ feels rather unassuming, perhaps even a little apathetic, nonsensical or counter-intuitive in the face of so many challenges and problems to solve in our organisations and social systems.

Yet the reality is, letting-go is a radical act of the upmost importance amid these pivotal times.

The meaning of the word ‘radical’ finds its origin in the word ‘root’.  To get to the root of the matter is what it means to be radical.  Often people think they are being radical yet busying themselves with down-stream effects while leaving underlying causes gapping.

 ‘The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can’t be any large-scale revolution until there’s a personal revolution, on an individual level. It’s got to happen inside first.’  Jim Morrison

The good news is, this most vital and radical act of letting-go is rather simple (though not necessarily easy).

Essentially, the act of letting-go requires relaxation.  It’s a surrendering, like a deep in-breath and then a long out-breath. It’s a release, an opening, an allowing.  When we feel triggered by something, we go into the inner feeling, notice it, and allow it. That’s it!  Nothing more.

The reality is, much of our lives we have been conditioned to hold-on, react to, or suppress any uncomfortable feelings that arise in us. Hence, ungrasping and opening vulnerably to an uncomfortable trigger is not at all easy – but it is simple, uncomplicated, natural.

In a moment, we will dive a little deeper into this process of letting-go. But first, let’s explore how this process relates to Regenerative Leadership.

The essence of ‘regenerative’ is about flowing the way nature flows; creating conditions conducive for life to flourish within our own selves and through our stakeholder relations within and beyond the organisation. This involves tuning into oneself and into the system we are operating in. It’s about allowing the blind-spots and constrictions undermining evolutionary self-and-system transformation to become more accessible and less repressed.  This is where the process of letting-go can help. The process of noticing the inner trigger or uncomfortable feeling and allowing it to arise and release, rather than hijack us or the system. This letting-go is what allows ourselves and our systems to flow with life and so become regenerative.

The essence of ‘leadership’ is about crossing thresholds, facilitating transformational development. The word ‘leadership’ finds it root in the old European word ‘leith’ which means to cross the threshold, to die and be reborn, to undergo metamorphic renewal time and again. One might say that true leadership by definition IS regenerative, as to truly help transform self-and-system requires an understanding of the essence and potential of the self and the system, in order to create conditions for life to flourish within the team, organisation and wider ecosystem.  Who knows, maybe we are edging closer to the day when ‘leadership’ will be synonymous to being ‘regenerative’ and therefore the phrase ‘Regenerative Leadership’ will become redundant.  I hope so, but reckon that’s atleast a few years away.

For now, let’s dive a little deeper into letting-go.

The leadership specialist Otto Scharmer speaks of ‘letting go’ as the primary movement into gaining deeper presence and awareness, so as to see beyond ingrained habitual patterns of though and action. He identifies three inner voices that prevent us from gaining presence. These voices create resistance within us: the voice of judgement, the voice of cynicism, the voice of fear

Sources: The Presencing Institute

We all have these voices of judgement, cynicism and fear inside our heads; sometimes they are dormant, sometimes they are active. These voices reduce down our capacity to flow as life flows. They are at the root of our own degenerative behaviour which then infects our wider stakeholder relations, business actions and decision-making.  When we enter into situations of change, tension, conflict or transformation, these voices become louder and so resistance builds within us.  We create conditions inside ourselves that reduce down our life-affirming capacity.  To let-go and presence, we need to cultivate the courage to notice these voices of judgement, cynicism and fear and not be overcome by them; to go through these resistances rather than let them run the show.

Life is fractal in its nature, and so are the nature of our inner constrictions, biases, fears and cultural conditions.  Hence, there are fractal dimensions to the process of letting-go.

To keep things simple, I use the framing of 3 dimensions: micro, meso, macro.

The micro-level process of letting-go is the life-learning revealed through everyday challenges.  Each tension and trigger, and the resistance created within us, becomes the crucible for our opening-up to more of life, through noticing and relaxing.  And before we judge our own process of letting-go, its OK to sometimes close-down, go into habit, get caught in the voices of judgement/cynicism/fear or react defensively or aggressively.  We ought not judge ourselves too harshly or we undermine this simple yet radical act of letting-go.  Each twinge of cynicism or pang of fear or defensive/aggressive reaction is in itself a useful learning for us; an insight from which to gain perspective on our own inner-selves, our boundaries, our habits, our wounds and shadows, and our deepening capacity for courage amid differing contexts.

The ‘micro’ letting-go process is like the front-line of transformation. It’s the daily noticing and surrendering of our own reactivity so as to deepen into life beyond the separateness of the ‘ego’ self into the deeper Self which opens into the interconnectedness of real life.

The meso-level process of letting-go involves the leader learning to hold-space for the transformation of the organisation-as-living-system, letting-go of control, fear and reactivity by learning to allow the system to become more emergent, agile and authentic. This involves learning to sense the dynamics of the system and reveal, and then heal, system blockages and blind-spots by nurturing regenerative ways of working that help the system become more purposeful, adult-adult, self-managing, diverse and inclusive. Deep listening, holding-space, generative dialogue, case clinics, liberating structures, structured constellations, systemic enablers, sharing circles, non-violent communication methods and coaching conversations, are all part of cultivating this meso-level letting-go process.

The macro-level process of letting-go happens not daily or weekly, but over many months and years for the leader. IT involves significant life-changing transformative spirals of change such as the mid-life crisis or up-stretch into a new worldview. Adult developmental psychology shows us that as we gain greater self-awareness (facilitated through the micro process of letting-go each and every day) we gain greater systemic-awareness (facilitated through the meso process of letting-go and sensing-in to system dynamics at play across the business ecosystem) and we also gain greater worldview awareness (facilitated by macro letting-go processes of fundamental reorientations in our sense of self). Metamorphic shifts happen in our lives around every 7-11 years or so. The rhythm of this metamorphic pattern is informed by many variables such as our life-story and personal courage to embrace this macro letting-go process. This involves entering into and enduring introspective times of death-rebirth that often feel deeply uncomfortable and seem at odds with what societal norms demand of us.

The godfather of psychotherapy, Carl Jung, referred to this macro-process of inner development as ‘individuation’; a process of revealing our deeper truer nature by coming to terms with our own inner shadows and learning to release them. It’s a life-times’ work, and yet there is a rhythm to this macro process, just like the spring and summer sure enough decline into autumn and then winter, so too do periods of outward growth (summer) give way to periods of inner reorientation (winter).

Source: Regenerative Leadership

An interplay of micro, meso, macro is happening all the time within us.  Becoming conscious of this interplay aids our success as a Regenerative Leader.

Now, let’s bring ourselves out of the framing of micro/meso/macro and back into the everyday experience of life.

Let’s take an honest look at ourselves for a moment.  If we look at our everyday patterns of thought, action and decision-making, we might see that significant aspects of our life-experience are being influenced by repressed feelings, inner wounds, conditioned programs, constrictions and habitual reactivity to uncomfortable feelings we experience when triggered by events. These reactions limit our experience, affect our motivation and sap our purposefulness.

We gain liberation from these habits and conditioned programs by 1) noticing when we feel a trigger within us at any given moment; 2) then going into the inner discomfort, staying with it; rather than judging, reacting or supressing the feeling, we surrender into it, allowing the feeling to open-up in us through relaxed non-judgemental surrender.

This is the simple process of letting-go:  1) noticing 2) allowing

The key is becoming aware of the feeling within us – the constriction, pang or trigger. Notice the trigger before getting hijacked by the fight-flight reaction of either wanting to suppress it or react to it. Stay with the feeling inside.  With practice we get the hang of it. It’s life changing and costs nothing.

We purposefully stay with the uncomfortableness within us.  We might try and sense where it is within us and go into the feeling, say within the gut or chest. Ofcourse there will be resistance within us, and a desire to react to the trigger rather than simply notice it. Let-go of the judgement about the feeling, or the reactivity. Resist going into head-thinking by staying with the feeling in the body. Stay with the allowing of the feeling. Sure, there will be apprehension, fear, guilt, blame, anger even. Let-go of this reactivity and stay with the feeling in the body.  Relax into it. Breathe into it. Sure enough, the pressure behind the feeling will release.

This is radical healing.  We are attending directly to the trigger and the source of the inner-suffering in the body, and through our attention giving it the space to release.   Each time we release, the next time we are triggered in the same way, the reactivity will be less. The noticing and allowing becomes easier each time.

This process of letting-go –  1) noticing 2) allowing – is our practice.  And each day is our classroom. Every time we experience a trigger we are offered an opportunity to practice 1) noticing 2) allowing.  Often we slip-up and get caught in reactivity. No sweat. Just keep practicing.

As we journey with this process of letting-go, instead of reactivity we find a greater sense of expansiveness, authenticity and freedom; our triggers become less intense, and our experience of life becomes more in flow.

We slowly but surely become more rooted in our own sovereignty rather than cut adrift in a sea of cultural and parental conditioning, past trauma, insecurities, wounds and fears.

As we journey along this pathway of letting-go our perception shifts, our consciousness deepens, and we begin to see with new eyes,

This process requires courage first-and-foremost.  And this is not to belittle the inner-wounds many of us have due to all sorts of reasons from ancestral trauma, early childhood abuse, school bullying, mental and physical illnesses, oppression, bigotry and exploitation in the workplace, and so forth.

The point here is not ‘just let-go and all will be fine and dandy’. Not at all.  The release of inner trauma is never neat-and-tidy nor is the overcoming of a life-times worth of cultural conditioning.  And yet the process of letting-go does work. I know through my own hard-won transformative experiences, through my many years of coaching leaders, and having been privy to psychotherapeutic studies and specialists who have time and again tested this simple letting-go method. By example, the famous psychotherapist and psychiatrist Dr David Hawkins, through decades of clinical work experienced hundreds of patients transform their lives through this simple letting-go process.

The simplicity of this process is empowering as it puts us in the driving seat of our own transformation. It is up to us, as leaders, to have the courage, persistence and patience to continually practice letting-go.  It costs nothing, yet offers freedom and sovereignty.

In a volatile world caught up in so much artifice, exploitation and ego-machination, gaining personal sovereignty is vital for our individual and collective evolution.  Allowing ourselves to release, heal and come from a place of deeper essence invites in a different quality of consciousness in to our relationships, decisions and solutions than which created our problems in the first place.

It is important to acknowledge just how often we are caught up in the pre-occupations of the mind, the subversive tendencies and critical judgements of our inner-voices, the imposter syndrome fears and anxieties. All of this noise we can gain mastery over, by 1) noticing 2) allowing.  Rather than struggling with life, we can learn to relax into life.  It does not mean we put our feet-up, alas no, it means we have the persistence, courage and patience within ourselves to attend to the micro/meso/macro process of letting-go every day. Becoming conscious is not easy, its challenging, yet it need not be complicated.

As I have mentioned already, the virtues of courage and patience are key, and as they are such important virtues for the future of leadership, I shall dedicate a separate article to explore them in detail. For now, let’s touch on the courage we need for the micro/meso/macro process of letting-go.

Vulnerability is part-and-parcel of courage. As we courageously open to life, we become vulnerable. We open ourselves to the slings and arrows of the world.   The root of the word ‘courage’ is ‘cour’ meaning ‘heart’ in Latin. The more courageous we become, the more our inner-nature and outer-nature align.

At the micro-level process of letting go, we find everyday opportunities for courageous steps into the unknown. Noticing the trigger and allowing the surrendering into the uncomfortable feeling, to step beneath and beyond our normal conditioned reactivity. We cross the threshold of our own fear and reactivity to become more of who we truly are.  From this step into the unknown comes trust.  Each time we allow the inner trigger to be noticed and allowed, we gain an embodied experience of surrendering and releasing. We sense a more spacious inner-presence as a result of our step beneath and beyond normal habit.  With each new step inward we gain trust in the process of letting go and trust in the process of life itself.  We realise that there is nothing to fear by surrendering into the uncomfortable shadow within.  As we enter our own inner triggers, we release our own stuckness and insecurities that limit and constrain our sense of self.

At the meso-level process of letting-go, each time we cultivate conditions for vulnerability rather than reactivity, we create trust in ourselves and others.  The demands of the leader are great, especially amid so much uncertainty and volatility these days. It’s easy to slip into parent-child directive styles of leadership while fire-fighting amid intense volatility. When we help create a working climate where it feels safe enough to take risks, fail fast, open-up, be vulnerable and welcome in the whole-self, then we are helping the system become more creative and adaptive. This helps the system flow with its own life-force, which helps the organisation learn to heal and renew itself amid all the stresses and strains of everyday working life. This is the difference between survival and thrival.  To be vulnerable and step into the unknown, to allow not-knowing, to show-up authentically and hold-space for others to share and explore without top-down dictat, this requires courage.

It is quite natural as a leader to experience fits and starts, wobbles and regressions, during this process of letting-go.  It is all too easy, when a problem happens, or the quarterly numbers are bad, to get caught in habits of control (parent-child), whereas the system needs to know that adult-adult behaviour is the new-norm or it will remain immature and its evolution stunted at a time when it ought be up-stretching through a period of tension into transformation rather than regression.   It’s during the tough times of business that the regenerative leader comes face-to-face with their own inner-voices, insecurities and fears. Tough times demand courageous leaders.

At the macro-level of the letting-go process is the courage to step into the messy unknowable metamorphic process of a life-stage death-rebirth process, often at a time in our lives when it feels like the last thing we ought be embarking upon. As leaders we may be asking ourselves to go through significant personal transformations while still running complex organisational systems.   This is not for the faint-hearted. Stepping off the well-trodden path of the ego with its insecurities and constrictions, and to venture into the unknown hinterland of the open-hearted soul with its innate faith in life, requires courage. This is what the hour of humanity’s reckoning is demanding of our leaders today.

As we begin to know our own selves, we also open to the ways of the world, and our sense of separation shifts into a sense of interconnection.  This worldview shift is foundational to Regenerative Leadership, and it’s what will help usher in the systemic solutions humanity now urgently needs.

With over 25yrs business advisory experience Giles Hutchins is a seasoned practitioner and senior adviser at the fore-front of the [r]evolution in organizational and leadership consciousness and developmental approaches that enhance personal, organizational and systemic agility and vitality. He is author and co-author of several leadership and organizational development papers, and the books The Nature of Business (2012), The Illusion of Separation (2014), Future Fit (2016) and Regenerative Leadership (2019). Chair of The Future Fit Leadership Academy and Founder of Leadership Immersions, co-founder of Biomimicry for Creative Innovation and Regenerators, he runs a 60 acre leadership centre at Springwood Farm, an area of outstanding natural beauty near London, UK.  Previously held corporate roles – Head of Business Transformation Practice for KPMG, Global Director for Atos (150,000 employees, over 40 countries). He provides coaching at individual and organizational levels for those seeking to transform their personal/work lives, and for Exec Boards, senior leadership teams and organizations seeking transformation. He is also a keynote speaker on the future of business.

THE BOOK REGENERATIVE LEADERSHIP BY SUSTAINABILITY AND LEADERSHIP EXPERTS GILES HUTCHINS AND LAURA STORM PROVIDES A HOLISTIC AND SYSTEMIC FRAMEWORK FOR BUILDING PROSPEROUS AND REGENERATIVE ORGANIZATIONS.

THE BOOK EXPLORES A NEW WAY OF LEADING AND REDESIGNING ORGANIZATIONS AND COMMUNITIES THAT IS URGENTLY NEEDED. A WAY THAT ADDRESS THE INTERCONNECTED STRESS IN OUR WORKFORCE, ECOSYSTEMS AND ECONOMY.

YOU WILL FIND THE BOOK PACKED WITH BUSINESS CASES, FASCINATING EXAMPLES FROM NATURE’S LIVING SYSTEMS, INSIGHTS FROM FRONT-LINE PIONEERS AND TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES FOR LEADERS TO SUCCEED AND THRIVE IN THE 21st CENTURY.

You can download Chapter One for free here.

The Future of Business is Regenerative Business, by Giles Hutchins

August 30, 2021

Organisations able to thrive amid today’s complexity will be tomorrow’s success stories. Those who hold-on to yesterday’s mind-set will be old news.

Time to Transform

Rapid digitization, new ways of working, disruptive innovations, system-shocks like COVID and climate change, rise of robotics, block-chain, AI, fragile supply-chains, volatile market-prices, an aging society, social-shifts, Gen Y/Z, the search for purpose and meaning through work, life-time learning, career mobility, corporate responsibility, diversity and inclusion, agile ways of working, are just some of the issues facing all businesses regardless of sector and size.

Amid all this, there is rising stress in the work-place. According to a recent global Gallup poll, we have never been so stressed out before as we are today.   

One global CEO that took part in Tomorrow’s Leadership report  uses the impactful metaphor of leadership these days being like flying an aeroplane into a storm, having to retrofit the plane in mid-flight, while keeping the ground-crew, the in-flight crew, and all the customers on-board happy. Change upon change upon change – volatility, complexity, uncertainty.

Unceasing transformation is the new-norm and it demands a new way of leading fundamentally different from what we are used to.

‘In times of turmoil the danger lies not in the turmoil itself but in facing it with yesterday’s logic.’ – Peter Drucker

A Shift in Leadership Logic

This metamorphic moment is hallmarked by a shift in logic:  Linear to Systemic

We are shifting from the linear mentality of organisation-as-machine to be controlled through hierarchies of bureaucracy and carrot-and-stick push-pull levers.   Such a linear mind-set is based on an outdated Newtonian worldview of separateness and control-predict methods of management that no longer serve the complexities, interdependencies and volatilities of the day.

Enter a new mind-set that thrives on complexity and learns from living-systems dynamics to enable agile, anti-fragile, responsive and responsible business. Enter the Age of Regenerative Business, where we see the organisation-as-living-system that thrives amid uncertainty by adapting to change.

‘It’s not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but those most able to adapt to change.’ – Charles Darwin

This shift in mind-set requires a transformative journey for leaders and employees.  The good news is, this transformative journey has an evolutionary imperative that seeks harmony with life while tapping into the essence of our humanity.    The Logic of Life (rather than the logic of the machine) creates conditions that allow our employees to flourish, to bring their whole selves to work, to become self-responsible adults, while contributing to organisational missions and value propositions that enhance life.

Regenerative Business

Clearly there is a rising zeitgeist around the word ‘regenerative’.  So let’s clarify some definitions.

What is ‘regenerative’ – regenerative means to attune with the way life works; to cultivate conditions that are life-affirming.  This involves healing and renewal, and a shift from separateness to interconnectedness, which involves an understanding of how life works: ranging from complex human systems such as team dynamics and value propositions (regenerative business) through to non-human ecologies (regenerative agriculture).  In learning from nature’s 3.8bn years of R&D we find principles and processes that help us become regenerative.  Essentially, life thrives through relationships and banks on diversity. The more we enliven relationships and diversity within our organisations, the more entrepreneurial, agile and future-fit we become.

What is ‘regenerative business’ – a business that is committed to the transformative journey of becoming life-affirming in all its facets: culture, operations, strategy, value propositions, stakeholder relations. This covers both its ‘inner’ dimension (how employees experience working in the business culture) and the ‘outer’ dimension (how wider stakeholders from customers and suppliers through to society and the environment experience the impact of the business through its value propositions and wider activities).  This is, therefore, much more than Sustainability/CSR/ESG, or even ‘net-positive’, as it is holistic, encompassing every facet of how the organisation shows-up in the world.

What is ‘regenerative leadership’ – a way of leading that cultivates life-affirming conditions. It is a shift in consciousness from a reductive/mechanistic way of leading into a systemic/living-systems way of leading that encourages the transformative journey towards regenerative business.   This requires a shift in consciousness within the leadership team, and therefore may require some support through regenerative leadership coaching.

To be clear, this is not a complete departure from the traditional methods of focusing on the bottom-line. Tight financial management is vital for survival. There is good evidence showing how companies that mimic life consistently outperform their mechanistic counter-parts.  I have spent many years coaching leaders on the ‘business case for regenerative’ to help meet the scepticism it can initially invoke. Yet, this is not just about survival, it’s about thrival – to attract and retain high-quality talent, to unlock brilliance and innovation, so as to out-perform, adapt and evolve in increasingly volatile times. This is simply good business sense, especially amid a societal shift that seeks a deeper sense of meaning, purpose, engagement, entrepreneurialism and creativity in the workplace.

Exemplars

The good news is, there are already many organisations on the regenerative journey we can take inspiration from.

For instance, Vivobarefoot is a foot-wear company operating in a highly competitive global market. Through its commitment to the regenerative journey it has been enhancing the regenerative potential of both the inner and outer dimensions of its business.   The ‘outer’ shift is through developments in the sustainability of its products (e.g. using natural biodegradable ingredients and sourcing sustainably), and the shift from products to services (circular design-repair-reuse methods) and the cultivation of communities with education around health, wellbeing and nature-connection.   Vivo actively attends to the ‘inner’ shift by embedding regenerative leadership throughout its culture, shifting from parent-child hierarchy into adult-adult self-managing agility, and nurturing a culture of regenerative feedback, learning and evolution that is diverse and inclusive. The company not only has high levels of employee happiness and engagement, it also has strong customer satisfaction, solid profitable growth, and the ability to attract some of the best talent from across the industry.

Ditto for Houdini, a global provider of clothes for the outdoors, again operating in a highly competitive market. As well as nurturing a healthy adult-adult culture where people are encouraged to bring their whole selves to work, it also aims to be regenerative and circular across its entire product range within a few years, and is working on global collaborations to enable attractive and regenerative lifestyle solutions. It shares its pioneering sustainable designs openly, even with competitors, through Houdini Open Source a platform for sharing knowledge on sustainable methodologies, technologies and solutions worldwide. It also sees its responsibility to educate and empower customers to become more sustainable and responsible when being outdoors.

Ditto for North Star Housing Group, a UK Housing Association.  North Star has a culture that encourages employees to thrive while delivering best-in-class services to their clients so that they can thrive.   Respectful relating across the culture within and beyond the business, where all stakeholder relations are conducted in adult-adult ways, with a coaching-culture that enables a blend of hierarchy and self-management to work in flexible ways.  As a result of this, North Star consistently out performs in its market and wins awards for customer service and employee culture. Due to this focus on regenerative ways of working, and in the midst of a very difficult business climate, its organisation grows while others in the market contract.

Ditto for Triodos Bank, an international bank that aims to make money a force for good. Triodos’s mission as a business is to provide finance for enterprises that enhance quality of life through providing benefits to society and the environment. It has 4 core values that are shared across all of its international businesses: Transparency, Entrepreneurship, Sustainability, Excellence.  Through a mix of global and local activities these values are embedded into day-to-day behaviours. There is a global values workshop held three times a year where people from all countries are invited to attend three days in the woods for deep connection with the values, personal and organisational sense of purpose, and company mission.  This helps cultivate resonance between people’s personal purpose and the organisation’s purpose.  In terms of its value propositions, it has been ground-breaking in its openness and transparency across the banking sector. All its investments are openly disclosed to the public, and all have a clear impact on helping shift society towards regenerative futures.

In Regenerative Leadership we list many more business examples. The reality is, it does not matter whether you are a footwear or outdoor clothing company, a bank or a housing association, the regenerative journey is about future-fitness through transforming the ‘outer’ dimension in ways that enable every stakeholder to thrive, and transforming the ‘inner’ dimension so that every employee can thrive.  Why would we wish for anything less? This is simply good business sense, and it’s fast becoming the new reality in business. Welcome to the Age of Regenerative Business.

Giles Hutchins is a pioneering practitioner and senior adviser at the fore-front of the [r]evolution in organizational and leadership consciousness and developmental approaches that enhance personal, organizational and systemic agility and vitality. He is author and co-author of several leadership and organizational development papers, and the books The Nature of Business (2012), The Illusion of Separation (2014), Future Fit (2016) and Regenerative Leadership (2019). Chair of The Future Fit Leadership Academy and Founder of Leadership Immersions, co-founder of Biomimicry for Creative Innovation and Regenerators, he runs a 60 acre leadership centre at Springwood Farm, an area of outstanding natural beauty near London, UK.  Previously held corporate roles – Head of Practice for KPMG, and Global Head of Sustainability for Atos (150,000 employees, over 40 countries). He provides executive leadership coaching at individual and organisational levels for those seeking regenerative futures. He is also a keynote speaker on the future of business.

Crossing the Threshold with Nature-based Coaching and Leadership Immersions

July 30, 2021

This article was first published in the July 2021 edition of Coaching Perspectives

Times they are a’changin. Even the nature of change itself seems to be changing – ceaseless churning change of the catalytic variety concocts this pregnant moment of seismic breakdown and breakthrough.  I foresee the next couple of years as simultaneously challenging, transformative and full of potential.

Those of us engaged with transformational leadership work will know that periods of dysfunction and crisis often precede a step-change in evolutionary advancement. Therefore, these are fertile times for an evolutionary shift in leadership consciousness. Let this epochal hour of breakdown-breakthrough not go to waste, but rather spawn a necessary [r]evolution in consciousness. The future of life on Earth depends on it. The future-fitness of our clients’ organisations depends on it. So too does the mental health and wellbeing of our client’s families and personal lives. 

This article seeks to explain: firstly, why a ‘threshold-crossing’ is an essential part of the evolutionary advancement of our coaching clients; secondly, what the nature of this ‘threshold crossing’ is; and thirdly, how coaching-based immersions in nature provide a powerful way of holding-space for this threshold crossing.

  1. Crossing the Threshold: To die before you die

The phrase ‘to cross the threshold’ means to undergo a metamorphic process of ‘dying and being reborn’- to endure a shift in ‘inner’ self-orientation and ‘outer’ worldview. It’s a deep psychological renewal that transforms how we relate to our inner-selves and our outer-world, enabling us to become more in harmony with inner and outer nature. The ancient Greeks used the term ‘metanoia’ to describe such a shift, ‘meta’ like in metamorphosis is to ‘shape-shift’  or  ‘move beyond’ and ‘noia’ relates to ‘true understanding’: to transform the understanding of our sense of self and how we relate with the world.  

Over many year of coaching senior leaders, experience has shown me that for a leader – or for that matter any adult – to undergo a step-change in psychological evolution, one needs to hold-space for both the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ dimensions of this threshold-crossing: the worldview shift and the inner access to one’s deeper truer nature. All advanced adult developmental models, ancient wisdom traditions, and depth psychology approaches such as Carl Jung’s Individuation Journey and Parker J Palmer’s Journey Towards Wholeness, speak to this inner reorientation to ‘Know Thy Self’. And systemic change specialists, such as Donella Meadows and Peter Senge, know that shifting the worldview of the outer system is a primary leverage point for systemic transformation.

  • Shifting from What to What?

In my latest book Regenerative Leadership, co-authored with Laura Storm, we explore the worldview shift unfolding during this time of breakdown-breakthrough, and how it applies to leadership and organisational development. We explore the dominant yet dying Age of Separation and an emerging Age of Regeneration – where humanity remembers its deep connection with self-other-world.  You may have started to sense the word ‘regenerative’ entering the emerging zeitgeist. It’s a word that can be applied to all aspects of life, from regenerative agriculture through to regenerative leadership consciousness, and involves an opening up to life’s evolutionary dynamics of relationality, receptivity, responsiveness, rhythm and renewal.

Regenerative Leadership Consciousness, as defined in our book, correlates with developmental psychologist Clare Graves’ work on Tier 2 Consciousness (i.e. Yellow, Turquoise and Coral in Spiral Dynamics) where an embodied cognition of living-systems is activated in our psyche. It also relates to what organisation specialist Frederic Laloux and integral theorist Ken Wilber refer to as Teal-Evolutionary. It is an ecosystemic awareness that draws upon the Logic of Life, an embodied living-systems way of leading and living that seeks harmony with the way life works.   This is not new, it’s timeless. For instance, over 2,500 years ago Lao Tzu noted, ‘Those who flow as life flows know they need no other force’ and Confucius noted, ‘Those in harmony with nature hit the mark without effort and apprehend the truth without thinking.’ Yet this is also cutting-edge contemporary thinking confirmed by scientific findings that show how being in nature, and opening up to nature’s wisdom, helps us become more compassionate, creative and connected. The explosion of interest in everything from forest bathing to wild swimming speaks to this rising interest in reconnecting to the rapture of real life.

Today our dominant leadership awareness is largely mechanistic and reductive, tuning-out the rhythmic and relational dynamics of how life works.  The result being: linear chains of production that create ‘outer’ toxicity and silo’ed hierarchies of management that create ‘inner’ toxicity.  The vast majority of people today work in organisational cultures that sap people’s creativity, purposefulness, ingenuity, resilience and empathy. Whilst many organisations pride themselves on being efficient and effective the cold reality is that many of our human interactions, decision-making protocols and meeting conventions are woefully inefficient and ineffective. The root problem here is mechanistic leadership logic. Change the underlying consciousness, and the logic shifts. Shift the logic and the culture can transform in inner and outer ways.

To shift from a worldview of separateness and its mechanistic logic into a worldview of interconnectedness and its Logic of Life, requires a threshold crossing. This allows leaders to sense the organisation as a complex adaptive emergent system rather than seeing it as a top-down hierarchic machine. Our understanding of change, systemic interventions and transformation deepens in recognition of how life works. It also helps us perceive the ecosystemic nature of our own presence as a leader, and the presence of the organisation immersed in a sea of stakeholder relations including the wider social and ecological systems which are all interdependent and interwoven in measurable and immeasurable ways. The other side of all this complexity is a beautiful simplicity, found by crossing the threshold.

In terms of the ‘inner’ dimension, regeneration is a return to our true nature through a journey towards wholeness. This journey is as fresh as it is ancient, and it opens us up to living with more presence and purposefulness; exactly what these times invite of us.  Through my coaching working in nature, I blend the shamanic and spiritual with the scientific and sensorial so all of our natural intelligences (rational, emotional, intuitive, and somatic) are enlivened. Then we unlock human potential, touch our true nature, and connect more deeply with the world around us. As Ghandi noted, ‘as one changes their own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards them.’

  • Why Nature Immersions?

There is now a wealth of scientific evidence showing how being in nature significantly improves our empathy, our ability to reason, to deal with change, cope with stress and listen more effectively to others. These are all basic qualities for 21st century leadership. Yet there is much that science is still only scratching the surface of when it comes to the transformative effects of being in nature.

I have taken hundreds of leaders through nature immersions. Immersions can range from half a day in the woods through to multi-day sessions that include overnight solos or even structured vision quests (you can find out more about the practicalities and science of these leadership immersions here). 

Many of the senior executives I coach can have strong aversions to anything that might seem hippy-dippy or woo-woo at first glance.  Some fear it might involve tree-hugging or Kum Ba Yah moments.  Hence, I have learnt to interweave time in nature with science-based insights about how nature works so the intuitive, emotional, somatic and rational aspects of our knowing are engaged adequately, usually starting with the rational as that is the most dominant in many leaders today. For instance, I might explore the interconnected systemic nature of life through microscopes whilst out in the woods, and by describing how trees communicate through the soil and the air, or how bacteria display highly sophisticated communication and adaptation methods. Or I might draw upon how organisational cultures can learn from nature’s 3.8bn years’ worth of tried and tested R&D by explaining about biomimicry, bio-design thinking, chaordic cultures and regenerative leadership. Or I unpack how ecosystems work by visually explain the shift from mechanistic thinking to ecosystemic awareness in a way that satisfies the rational intellect while providing an embodied experience that the coachee can fondly recall many moons after. 

Within an hour or two any hesitation or resistance a client might have to an immersion in nature usually evaporates to reveal receptivity for inner and outer developmental work.  Then, around the camp-fire a deep dialogic space for generative listening is held, as ego-masks and psychological armour melt for true nature to be touched. The client does not easily forget these moments of deep presence and purposefulness, and can call upon them when back in the busy work environment. Thus, both horizontal and vertical development takes place in these immersions, as clients gain a wider capacity for everyday resilience (horizontal) and an invitation into up-stretching their inner and outer orientation (vertical).

What happens in just a handful of hours in nature is – in my experience – of an order of magnitude deeper than a coaching session held either in a comfortable armchair or over zoom.  And socially distancing in fresh forest-bathing air proven to strengthen the immune system is a COVID-mitigated way to do deep work. Now more than ever people crave time in nature, time that is held in a way that gives them permission to be vulnerable, open-up and let-go of masks, while sensing into blind spots, projections and developmental learnings.

Giles Hutchins runs on-line executive coaching, bespoke on-line coaching on Regenerative Leadership, in-person nature-based leadership immersions for leaders, and facilitates deep-space for coaches and their clients, provides training for coaches, and personal adult development amid 60 acres of ancient woodland in an area of outstanding natural beauty with easy connections to London and airports, visit Leadership Immersions. He is also Chair of The Future Fit Leadership Academy. His latest co-authored book is Regenerative Leadership, other books are Future Fit, The Illusion of Separation and The Nature of Business. He blogs at www.thenatureofbusiness.org His personal website is www.gileshutchins.com

The Meaning of Regenerative Leading – emancipation beyond exploitation

June 22, 2021

There is a rising zeitgeist around ‘regenerative’.   Yet what ‘regenerative’ truly means is as ancient as it is fresh. It’s a timeless journey of becoming more human, more alive, more in-harmony with life.

These days, I am regularly contacted by folk wishing to dive deeper into what ‘regenerative’ means for them and their work.  How times have changed over the last decade.  A decade ago, I got many-a-blank face when I used to explain how business could learn from living-systems. These days people seem to ‘get it’ more readily – and I have become a much better practitioner, communicator and coach along the way.

It seems much more than a decade ago when I co-founded BCI: Biomimicry for Creative Innovation (along with biomimicry specialist, Dr Denise Deluca, and Chief Exploration Office of TYF and Founding Partner of the Do Lectures, Andy Middleton). We had great fun together running workshops for diverse leaders at places like Kew Gardens, Amsterdam and Schumacher College on Business Inspired By Nature. It felt like we were at the fore-front of a necessary revolution.  Over the years that followed, I’ve had the real pleasure of engaging with or speaking alongside other ‘regenerative/systemic’ specialists from different parts of the world, such as Pamela Mang (co-founder of Regenesis and co-author of Regenerative Development and Design), Carol Sanford (founder of The Sanford Institute, and author of Regenerative Business), Michelle Holliday (founder of Thriveability), Janine Benyus and Dayna Baumeister (co-founders of the Biomimicry Institute), Peter Senge (author of Fifth Disciple, Presencing and other books), Darcy Winslow (Chair of the Academy for Systems Change), Daniel Wahl (author of Designing Regenerative Cultures), Peter Hawkins (Systemic and Ecosystemic Coaching), Frederic Laloux (author of Reinventing Organisations), Norman Wolfe (author of The Living Organisation), Chris Laszlo (Aim2Flourish co-founder, and co-author of Quantum Leadership), Jay Bragdon (author of Economies that Mimic Life), John Fullerton (founder of Regenerative Communities Network), my wonderful co-author Laura Storm, and many other thoughtful practitioners and experts related to this emerging ‘regenerative leadership’ field which is growing wider and deeper all the while.

I can recall how back in 2011, when I used to write articles for the Guardian Sustainable Business network about the Firm of the Future – Inspired By Nature, that applying living-systems-thinking to organisational development was super-niche. Now, thank goodness, it is more widespread and finding take-up in leading business schools across the globe. 

Back then, I avidly studied biomimicry, systems thinking, complexity theory, regenerative design, biophilia, ecological psychology, adult developmental psychology, and worked on aligning these schools of thought with my direct experience in business transformation, leadership development and organizational change.  At that time I was Global Head of Sustainability for Atos, after recently handing over from 5 years as Head of Business Transformation/CRM for KPMG working across all sectors and sizes on strategy, transformation, sustainable business and change management. 

The excitement of this fusion of business/living-systems/sustainability led to me deciding to leave the jet-set corporate life (and endless global travel) and instead focus 100% of my time on Future Fit and Regenerative Leadership.   Over the years that followed I have been working with a great variety of leaders and leadership teams to facilitate this regenerative leadership journey for them and their organizations, across many different countries and sectors. Such journeys include many different aspects as a coherent flow – from helping cultures become more self-managing, agile and entrepreneurial to adult-adult, transparent, authentic and purposeful cultures, as well as aligning this ‘inner’ work with the ‘outer’ work of regenerative value propositions, partnerships and stakeholder ecosystems. My work has also taken me in to work that spans many organisations, communities, cities and bio-regions as part of the shift towards regenerative futures. Exciting times!

It is only natural, that as ‘regenerative’ becomes more popular, there can be some confusion or misunderstanding around what ‘regenerative’ actually means in practice, when applied to leadership and organizational development.  Hence the reason for the book Regenerative Leadership which spells out in detail the complete regenerative DNA model required for regenerative leadership and regenerative business.

In summary, there are 3 levels of learning from living-systems:  1) Living Systems Design; 2) Living Systems Culture; 3) Living Systems Being

In brief:

  1. Living Systems Design:  upon sensing in to how living systems work, we find certain life dynamics, patterns and principles.  We can apply these principles and patterns to how we design our products, services, processes, places and economic models.  This is the exciting, and revolutionary, space of biomimicry, industrial ecology, circular economics, regenerative design, cradle-to-cradle, biophilic design, bio-innovation, regenerative economics, and more.
  • Living Systems Culture: as well as applying living-systems insights and systemic-leadership to the design of our processes, products and places, we can explore a shift in our organizational cultures from organization-as-machine to organization-as-living-system.  This is the space of complex adaptive systems applied to organizational development, adult developmental psychology, systemic leadership and systemic/ecosystemic coaching, self-managing team dynamics, purpose-driven business, adult-adult coaching culture, shifting power-dynamics, and more.
  • Living Systems Being: this shift from reductive to systemic ways of leading and operating, involves a shift in our consciousness, a shift in our ‘being’.  The very practice of being-in-nature is scientifically proven to help us become more systemic, empathic, integrated and balanced. Through various practices we can learn to more deeply attune with life, by opening up into our deeper truer nature, while opening into more of how life really is. This is a life-long journey towards wholeness, and is the nutritious soil from which regenerative leadership grows.

Apply all three levels of living-systems and you have embarked on the Regenerative Leadership Journey.

Those already on this journey will know that this is first-and-foremost about a shift in consciousness, which can be neatly articulated as a shift from separateness to interconnectedness, and yet there is nothing neat-and-tidy about the journey. This article seeks to convey some of the inner-depths of this journey. 

First, some simple definitions:

What is ‘regenerative’ – regenerative is to attune with the way nature works; to cultivate conditions that are life-affirming.

What is ‘regenerative business’ – business that enriches all stakeholders including wider society and the environment.  A business that is committed to becoming life-affirming in all its facets, both inner-and-outer: culture, operations, strategy and ecosystem.

What is ‘regenerative leadership’ – a way of leading that cultivates life-affirming conditions. It is a shift in consciousness from a reductive/mechanistic way of leading into a systemic/living-systems way of leading. We engage in this shift by working with the Logic of Life (which I will define in a moment).

This might sound like fanciful utopia to some.  Surely business is about the bottom-line?   For sure, regenerative businesses need to survive in today’s world, and there is good evidence that shows clear financial benefits in becoming regenerative (see The Global Lamp Index for instance, showing companies that mimic life consistently outperform their mechanistic counter-parts).  I have spent many years coaching leaders on the ‘business case for regenerative’ to help meet the skepticism it invokes in many of us. Yet, this is not just about survival, it’s also about thrival – to attract and retain high-quality talent, to innovate, adapt and evolve in increasingly volatile times. This is simply good business sense, especially amid a societal shift that seeks a deeper sense of meaning, purpose, engagement and creativity in the workplace.

Here is a talk I gave back in 2015 on this threshold happening in business towards regenerative:

‘Regenerative’ is the very-human act of re-connecting with our own deeper nature, while understanding how life works, and applying the insights from life to enable our organisations to be life-affirming. 

It is simply the act of becoming true to ourselves and true to reality, nothing more, nothing less. 

It’s well within our grasp. It’s inherent in our evolutionary dynamic. It’s our birth-right.

If we fail to become regenerative, we fail in our humanity, and we fail life itself.

So, let’s dive in to the detail of what this means in terms of our own leadership development.

First, we need to meet ourselves where we are at, to know where we are coming from, in order to know how best to shift our consciousness.

The context we find ourselves in today is a predominantly mechanistic leadership paradigm. It’s a quality of consciousness that creates a sense of separateness in our own sense of self, in our relation with others, and in our view of reality. We view the organisation-as-a-machine, and we seek to manage and control change. This perspective is rooted in a worldview of separateness.

The reality is:

Life is interconnected, relational and ever-changing.   The more we understand the dynamics innate within life, the more we can learn to flow with life.

At the heart of this shift in consciousness from separateness/mechanistic to interconnectedness/regenerative is the embodied recognition of reality as it really is. There is a deep stillness/spaciousness, or ‘field’, pervading all life including our organisations and business ecosystems.

An embodied attentiveness to this underlying ‘field’ of interconnectedness was an inherent part of all shamanic and wisdom tradition practices for millennia.    For 95% of our human history, we lived with a deep sense of this interconnectedness.  In-so-doing we viewed life as a sacred experience.

However, over the last handful of centuries, more and more focus has been applied to the reductive and rational-analytic way of attending to reality, which tries to cut-up this fluid connective reality into neat-and-tidy bits-and-bytes so we can seek management and control.   This has led to a utilitarian view of life. Life is to be exploited for human betterment.  Life is not sacred, it is perfunctory. Enter degenerative behaviour.

We have overly-prioritised form-matter-doing (yang) and deprioritised formless-energy-being (yin).

Increasingly, over the last century culminating in today, we have impoverishment our sense of the interconnectedness of life. This has come with dis-harmony, rising stress, social and ecological degradation, and an out-of-kilter civilisation that is now breaking-down. 

This dis-harmony finds its root cause in the separateness we inflict on how we attend to reality; a way of attending that has created a sense of dis-connection from nature – our natural habitat. A deep, deep wound, so to speak, that manifests as a psychic trauma within our species. This collective trauma and imbalance is the underlying cause of increasing fear, anxiety, egotism, individualism, and consumerism.  When we don’t feel complete or whole on the inside, we start searching ever more ‘out there’ to fix a deep wound which is ‘in here’.  No matter how sophisticated and well-thought-through our sustainability metrics are, unless we address the wound of dis-connection we are but lost, rudderless in a storm of increasing head-winds and rising tides.

In the book Regenerative Leadership, we refer to this rising disconnection as the Journey of Separation which is showing signs of reaching its nadir and starting to arc back into a Journey of Reconnection.

The Journey of Reconnection allows 4 imbalances within us to reconnect and find flow.  These 4 areas are:

  1. Inner-outer:  during the Journey of Separation we have increasingly focused on the ‘outer’ and impoverished the inner.  We have deprioritised the imaginal, intuitive inner-being and prioritised the tangible outer-doing. This creates an imbalance inside ourselves and also in the way we perceive reality.  Reality has become a collection of separate objects and subjects, names and categories. The spacious ‘field’ that interconnects all life has been all-but forgotten or ridiculed as a flight-of-fancy.  As the great mythologist Joseph Campbell notes, ‘separation of matter and spirit, has really castrated nature. And the Western mind, the Western life, has been, as it were, emasculated by this separation”.  The Journey of Reconnection allows us to start to integrate this inner-outer dynamic of life once again.
  • Masculine-Feminine:    We each have masculine and feminine psychic-energies, characteristics, emotions and behaviours within us. Today’s society favours the masculine, competitive, assertive, controlling, doing aspects of our psyche and impoverishes the feminine, metamorphic, empathic, listening, receptive, intuitive aspects.  Learning to integrate these masculine-feminine aspects within our psyche is a vital part of the Journey of Reconnection.
  • Left-right brain hemisphere:   Neuroscientist Iain McGilchrist has extensively explored left-brain hemisphere dominance in our Western culture. The left-hemisphere of the brain, according to McGilchrist’s and other neuroscientists’ findings, focuses on the parts of the problem by decontextualizing, narrowing down, and abstracting the problem in a closed system. This of course, helps us analyse and find neat solutions and metrics to the problem at hand. However, only a solution in the context of an isolated closed system, not in a living, emergent, complex system – like a business environment with ecosystem challenges. By the same theory, the right-hemisphere of the brain focuses on the whole of the problem by broadening perspective, forming connections, and viewing the problem within an open system; we seek context, think creatively (out of the box) and develop greater understanding. It is both the knowledge of the parts (left-hemisphere) and wisdom of the whole (right-hemisphere) that we need to solve today’s problems.   Learning to integrate both left-hemisphere (analysing) and right-hemisphere (expansive) attention and also engage in practices that encourage simultaneous integration of both hemispheres at the same time (like playing a musical instrument, active-seeing, dancing, or being in-flow during a creative yet analytical endeavour)  is an important aspect of the Journey of Reconnection.
  • Human-nature connection:  The mini Ice-Age/Climate Change around the 16th century in Europe witnessed a rising sense of separateness and increasing desire to control nature, hand-in-hand with banishing any sense of the sacredness of nature.  This sense of separateness from nature begun much earlier with the advent of civilisation, and yet it was alongside the 16th Century Scientific Revolution, the Witch Hunts and the increasing rationalistic portrayal of nature as a resource to be plundered for human betterment that drove a hard stake of separateness into the Western mind. Over the centuries that followed, the Western mind has become increasingly separate from nature, and with it deep psychic atrophy has set in. As the leading biologist Edward O. Wilson explored, our need to relate to nature is an integral part of human development. He called this ‘biophilia’ (which comes from the Greek bios ‘life’ and philia ‘love’ – ‘the love for life’) which he saw as an innate tendency we have as humans. This ‘love of life’ or nature-connection is foundational to our physiological and psychological wellbeing and development.  A sense of separateness from nature creates physiological and psychological problems (increasing fear, competitiveness, anxiety, stress, greed, etc.). These are the very root problems of the systemic challenges ourselves as leaders and our human societies face today.

“The modern onslaught upon the natural world is driven in part by a degree of alienation from nature. Our modern environmental crisis — the widespread toxification of various food chains, the multifaceted degradation of the atmosphere, the far- ranging depletion of diverse natural resources, and, above all, the massive loss of biodiversity and the scale of global species extinctions — is viewed as symptomatic of a fundamental rupture of human emotional and spiritual relationship with the natural world.”— Stephen Kellert & Edward O Wilson

As we cultivate integration within ourselves across these 4 areas, we Journey towards Wholeness and Reconnection. In-so-doing we open up into our deeper truer nature and open up into a deeper truer reality. We become more human, more conscious, more purposeful, more in harmony with life.  This is a process of ‘becoming’, not a one-off hit or neat-and-tidy change-management plan or 10-step process; it’s a messy, full of eddies and undercurrents, trip-wires and shadowy cul-de-sacs. It’s a challenging learning journey which is well-worth enduring. It’s a labyrinth that liberates us into who we truly are.

‘Becoming is not a logical process. It is an emergent process, and a creative one. To create is to experience the pains of becoming. To be in the process of becoming is to experience creative pains. As we evolve, we change. As we change, we leave behind old shells. As we reconstruct within, we suffer a temporary dislocation of our identity. As we suffer the inner dislocation, we are in pain. All this is natural and inevitable…part of individual growth and of evolutionary growth.’ Henryk Skolimowski

In Regenerative Leadership, we unpack 7 principles inherent in life, which we call the Logic of Life.  These 7 principles are informed by science (from a range of scientific disciplines such as biomimicry, facilitation ecology, evolutionary biology, complexity theory, living systems theory, regenerative design, complex adaptive systems thinking, ecological psychology, quantum physics, and more).  In brief, these 7 principles of the Logic of Life are:

  1. Life is life-affirming. Life creates conditions conducive for life to evolve. It is innately regenerative and non-toxic.
  2. Life is ever-changing and responsive. Life learns and adapts through emergent, developmental and evolutionary dynamics. When we tune-in to life we can discern these dynamics and apply them to our living-organizations.
  3. Life is relational and collaborative. Life is full of relationships; systems nested within systems. From the cells in our body, to our neighbourhood, organization, society and economy, relationships abound. Sensing the relational nature of our organizations helps us notice stuckness, flow and nodal points for leveraging emergent change.
  4. Life is synergistic and diverse. Life thrives on diversity. Monocultures of sameness or group-think undermine creativity, innovation, adaptability and resilience. Likewise tensions of difference act as crucibles for learning and development – hence dinergy and synergy are vital to organizational healthy.
  5. Life is cyclic and seasonal. Life unfolds through ebbs and flows of cycles and seasons. We are all cyclical beings in need of the processes that all seasons bring: The emergence of spring, the intensity of summer, the letting go in autumn, and the deep restoration and reflection of winter.
  6. Flows of Energy/Matter.  Life depends on innate ecosystem flows and cycles that enable recycling, reuse and renewal.
  7. Life is pervaded by a Living Systems Field.  Both ancient-shamanic and modern-scientific evidence points to an all-pervasive field, a ground-of-all-being that informs all form.  Heightening our receptivity to the field helps us to flow with Life.

‘Those who flow as life flows know they need no other force’ – Lao Tzu

The Field

‘All of space is full of presence’ – John O’Donohue

This ‘field’ has always been here, it’s as fresh as it is ancient.  And while the quantum scientists of the West have brought it into the scientific-lens of Western reductionism with all its investment and commercialisation (we now have quantum computing that uses the ‘field’, and also mobile telecommunications like 4G and 5G that transmit and receive using the electromagnetic spectrum that pervades life) this ‘field’ has long been revered as a presence to engage with in order to help our conscious evolution, both personally and collectively.   It is a presence that gives access to deeper levels of wisdom and knowing.

‘The dance of our mind with the quantum vacuum links us with other minds around us… it opens our mind to society, to nature, and to the universe.  This openness has been known to mystics and sensitives, prophets and metaphysicians throughout the ages.’ – Dr Ervin Laszlo

By learning to attune with this real and potent presence we open up to more of our humanity, become more creative, more alive, more purposeful, more in flow, more human – one might say ‘activating our super-nature’. It does not have to be some esoteric undertaking for the elite or privileged, far from it, it is available for everyone –regardless of education or bank-balance – and is what allows us emancipation from the enslavement of today’s rising ego-need for control, dis-ease, consumerisation and exploitation.

Pioneering psychologist Carl Jung extensively researched different human intelligences we each have access to:  intuitive; rational; emotional and somatic

The intuitive way of knowing has also been referred to as SQ – intuition informs us as we bring this insight into our daily awareness, influencing our decisions.  Opening up to this intuitive intelligence requires us to reach beyond the grasping busy-mind, to quieten, and still ourselves, so we can better cultivate this receptivity.

The emotional way of knowing has also been referred to as EQ – the feelings within us which inform and enrich our daily awareness, influencing our decisions.  Opening up to this emotional intelligence requires us to not simply react to feelings but sense-inward, allowing our feelings to have space, so we can consciously respond to these feelings. It is a subtle yet important shift from reactivity to responsiveness, from blind emotional outburst to informed emotional intelligence.

In 1995, Daniel Goleman’s work on Emotional Intelligence highlighted the importance of emotions and emotional intelligence (EQ) for leadership development and organisational learning. Goleman found that how we cultivate awareness of our own and other’s feelings and unconscious bias, then consciously respond to these feelings and filters in appropriate ways, helps our leadership potential.   Studies show that EQ out-performs IQ as a predictor of job success and performance capability.

Then in 1997, the neuroscientist Candace Pert’s ground-breaking work Molecules of Emotion provided more insight into the integration of body-mind sensations, feelings and thoughts, in what Pert referred to as the ‘psychosomatic network’ – an integrated system of psyche and soma. The psyche comprises the nonmaterial aspects such as mind, emotion and soul, and the soma comprises the material aspects such as the cells, organs and tissues.

This brings us on to another of Carl Jung’s ways of know: somatic intelligence. Our somatic and sensorial way of knowing has also been referred to as PQ.  This is the sensations we have in our body, for instance, gut pangs, or tickle in the throat, hairs on the back of the neck, or chest perturbations. Our soma (as Pert scientifically explored) is full of psychosomatic sensations that inform our psyche. As we allow ourselves to quieten and sense into the somatic intelligence within us, we enrich our conscious awareness and invite intelligence into our daily awareness, and become better at sensing and responding to changes within and all around us.

And finally, Jung’s fourth way of knowing, is the rational intelligence – which has also been referred to as IQ.  This tends to be the dominant intelligence we call upon  in today’s busyness. Our head-logic, the analytic mechanisations it creates, is what dominates today’s meetings, conversations and decisions. It is but one intelligence within our human repertoire, yet when it dominates too much, it can suppress our other ways of knowing.

When we allow these 4 ways of knowing to cohere, we allow our nature to integrate in its rightful way within is. As we integrate we open ourselves up to the generative ‘field’ that permeates space, if we so choose to tap into it with our intention and attention.

Then, we cultivate our self-awareness and our systemic-awareness as leaders, and when our self-and-systemic awareness alchemises, we cultivate Regenerative Leadership Consciousness, as I have written about here.

‘The greatest breakthroughs of the 21st Century won’t occur because of technology. They will occur because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human.’ – John Naisbett

Deepening our self and systemic awareness, and learning to attune with the ‘field’, is perhaps the greatest frontier for our contemporary humanity to explore. Hence the rapid rise in interest in ‘consciousness’ – much of it, alas, is a mechanistic exploration based on what we can extract, gain and manipulate for yet more power, control and exploitation.  Yet, a whole-hearted and integrated masculine-feminine exploration into our deeper truer nature while accessing the ‘field’ is a way into dealing with the root problems of today’s systemic challenges.  It’s the only way to ensure we bring a different quality of consciousness to our solutions than which created our problems in the first place, by over-coming the Journey of Separation as we move into the next-stage of our human-symphony, the Journey of Reconnection.

Here is a TEDx talk I gave a few years back about this necessary shift in consciousness

The Chair of the World Economic Forum Council on New Models of Leadership, Dr Nick Udall, notes, ‘It’s not intellect that makes a great leader – although it helps. Rather it’s the quality of their consciousness – their personal and systemic awareness… This level of self-awareness, or presence, refers to an ability to be still… What is needed now is for us to develop social and organizational containers that are robust enough to hold us through periods of creative tension, as opposed to reacting to every presenting issue, and collapsing tension at every turn.’

This new kind of leadership, is actually a timeless human quality. It’s a quality of consciousness that enables us to become more of who we truly are while allowing our organisations and social systems to become more life-affirming, more in-tune with life, more regenerative.

Stepping into this Regenerative Leadership Consciousness is a metamorphic undertaking, hence why I take leaders on multi-month bespoke coaching-based learning journeys, as its not straight-forward and is tailored to each leader’s own life-experiences, intelligences and capacities. It takes time to notice old habits and start to cultivate new habits.  It’s beyond any 10-step guide, so I hesitate to even try and break-it-down in words here, yet I offer 5 areas-of-practice that can help with this life-long learning, where the destination is not pre-defined but actually the journey itself:

  1. Create space in our own daily rhythms to allow a deepening of our own self-awareness. Cultivate the capacity to tune-in to the field, and activate our super-nature. This is the journey of opening-the-eye-of-the-heart, trusting in the wisdom of life, and learning to flow with life. It is a daily practice of noticing our own ego-personas, while regularly practicing an opening-heart/mind/will process of connecting deeper in to our own truer nature, and the deeper truer nature of life. 
  2. Create space within our organisational rhythms, through meeting conventions and decision-making protocols. For instance, through liberating structures, deep listening, generative dialogue and regenerative feedback. This cultivates the regenerative-soil within the organisation/social-system.
  3. Create space for systemic catalysts or ecosystemic facilitators within the organisation to embark on their own journey of self-awareness/systemic-awareness. These systemic catalysts are people from different parts of the organisation, with differing levels of seniority, who display informal-leadership qualities and good levels of self-systemic awareness, listening skills and empathy, adult-adult behaviours and post-conventional (individualist/strategist/alchemist) action-logics. Give these systemic catalysts permission to regularly sense-in to the organisational living-system and to notice nodal points, tensions, stuckness and flow, and where systemic-nudges may be required during the journey towards regenerative business.
  4. Create space for diverse stakeholders to come together and engage in heart-based dialogue on a regular basis.  Regularly convene different people from different silos and functional units, and from different external stakeholder groups, and hold dialogue-based sessions for allowing the system to see itself across boundaries of separateness.
  5. Create space to hold-tensions. Through the above 4 areas-of-practice as leaders, systemic catalysts and internal-external stakeholders, we start to take self/system responsibility for sensing tensions, and allowing these tensions to bring forth their own creative potential, holding-the-tensions, rather than collapsing tensions through reactivity.  Then, the living-system (whether a team, organisation or community of organisations) can start to learn to flow as life flows, and become life-affirming = regenerative.

When the adult developmental psychologist Clare Graves spoke of the shift from Tier 1 (orange-green) into Tier 2 (teal-turquoise), he noted that this shift is ‘not merely a transition to a new level of existence but the start of a new movement in the symphony of human identity.’  This death-rebirth in human identity brings all sorts of challenges, shadow-projections, dis-eases, personal and collective trauma to the surface. This is what we are going through in today’s world, from rising stress and depression, to new ways of working. This time of breakdown-breakthrough, can (with the right intention, courage and discipline) be a time of moving into a deeper version of ourselves, and with it a new human identity, a rebirth.  This enables the evolution of humanity, which also affects the evolution of life on Earth (as human behaviour has an intimate effect on the matrix of life and the health of the Earth-biome).

The ‘winter’ or ‘yin’ is where the Wisdom enters the cycle: the out-breath pause before in-breath, the night-time, the space between things, the liminal moments at sun-rise and sun-set, the pregnant pause amid conversation, the holding of the tension before the decision to act, the space between back-to-back meetings to slow-down and reflect, the coffee-break or walk outside, the weekend to switch-off, the daily routine of connecting deep within, the mid-life crisis or life-reboot – all of these slowing-down moments allow a deeper connection into the wisdom of life, if we so choose. From this depth, evolution unfolds.

We learn to become like an echo chamber for the Field simply by creating an empty, hollow space within ourselves.  This is an act of humility, surrender, crucifixion – an act of Love.  This is a challenge in a world full of fear, busyness and mask-wearing inauthenticity.

Within the heart-organ of our being is a natural capacity (‘super-nature’) to perceive the Wisdom inherent in Life – this is the Wisdom that lies before/beyond the everyday wisdom revealed by attuning tensions of difference, whereupon we sense the natural rhythm of things, and sense right-relation when dancing to the Music of Life.  It is a sacred space, a Temenos, guarded by Love.  A safe space we create for people to come together and deeply listen.  Without an open-heart this safe-space loses its integrity.

It ‘simply arises from an attitude to all the circumstances of life, even the most trivial and ordinary – an attitude of relaxed openness, detachment and receptivity – a rootedness’ as Cyprian Smith knew. 

For some 30 years the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi studied ‘flow’ as the human experience of ‘relaxed openness’. He uncovered two simple tools to help us cultivate flow even amid stressful or busy situations during our working day: Intention + Attention.  Creating an Intention, each day, or before a meeting about the quality of presence we wish to bring. And noticing our Attention, our quality of presence, how are we listening to ourselves, to our body, to our different intelligences, are we ‘activating our super-nature’ or caught up in our mind-chatter ruminations and judgements.

And now here is my secret, a very simple secret, it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye, said the Fox to the Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)

As a person sees so she is.

The Regenerative Leader has mastered life, not through conquering but through surrendering, not through fear but through love, not through exploitation but through emancipation.

Degenerative behaviour arises from disconnected opaqueness that clouds and clutters the unfolding process of life.

Regenerative behaviour arises from connected coherence that creates space for tensions to transmute into crucibles for creativity and learning.

This is the Way of Nature, and its as fresh as it is ancient.

Here you can watch a short 4min video about Regenerative, with myself and CEO of Volans Louise Kjellerup Roper  

And here is a longer conversation about Regenerative, with myself and Designing Regenerative Cultures author Daniel C Wahl

Giles Hutchins is a pioneering practitioner and senior adviser at the fore-front of the [r]evolution in organizational and leadership consciousness and developmental approaches that enhance personal, organizational and systemic agility and vitality. He is author and co-author of several leadership and organizational development papers, and the books The Nature of Business (2012), The Illusion of Separation (2014), Future Fit (2016) and Regenerative Leadership (2019). Chair of The Future Fit Leadership Academy and Founder of Leadership Immersions, co-founder of Biomimicry for Creative Innovation and Regenerators, he runs a 60 acre leadership centre at Springwood Farm, an area of outstanding natural beauty near London, UK.  Previously held corporate roles – Head of Practice for KPMG, and Global Head of Sustainability for Atos (150,000 employees, over 40 countries). He provides coaching at individual and organisational levels for those seeking to transform their personal and/or work lives. He is also a keynote speaker on the future of business and regenerative leadership.

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A New Norm in Business Demands a New Norm in Leadership: Let’s Unlock Two Powerful Tools for this New Norm

May 5, 2021

We are in the midst of a metamorphosis. Profound shifts are affecting the way we work, how and why we do things, and the purpose and meaning we bring to our organisations and wider social systems.

There are myriad factors contributing to this metamorphic moment.  To start with, there is immense stress in all systems.  According to a recent global Gallup poll, we have never been so stressed out before as we are now. Ditto for our workplaces and wider social systems, and rising stress across industrial, political and financial systems.  Likewise, there is immense stress across the ecological systems upon which all of life depends.

This wide-spread stress ripens the conditions for breakdown-breakthrough.

When we look at the organisational level there are other factors ripening the conditions for breakdown-breakthrough. For instance, rapid digitization, new ways of working, lower transaction costs, disruptive innovations, system-shocks like COVID and climate change, and social-shifts: Gen Y/Z, the search for purpose and meaning through work, life-time learning, career mobility, corporate responsibility, diversity and inclusion, agile ways of working, and more.

These increasingly complex and volatile times demand organisational development and leadership development that enables future-fitness, agility and resilience in ways as yet unseen.

The number one most important thing facing our leaders today is the capacity to embrace this complexity and transform the organisation amid turbulence.

One global CEO that took part in a leadership study I contributed to with Henley Business School used the impactful metaphor of leadership these days being like having to retrofit an aeroplane in mid-flight while keeping the ground-crew, in-flight crew and all the customers on-board happy, all while outside turbulence is rising.

Change upon change upon change – volatility, complexity, uncertainty.

This new-norm requires a shift in way of thinking. It requires a shift in consciousness no less.

This shift in leadership consciousness is from a narrowing-down reductive perspective that compartmentalises the organisation like a machine, with silos, units of command-and-control hierarchies, with predictable and measurable cause-and-effect linear relationships to be managed and controlled through carrot-stick levers.

This mechanistic-mindset is born out of a militarised mind that has created a worldview of separateness, hyper-competition, scarcity, fear and control. Its roots span way back in human history, yet it has become overly-dominant in business during recent decades.  Aspects of this reductive machine-mindset have served us well during the Industrial Revolution, and yet as a dominant paradigm it is wholly unfit-for-purpose for the new-norm of 21st century business.

We are now witnessing a new leadership consciousness emerging.  In the book Regenerative Leadership, we explore this new way of leading in detail, and refer to it as Regenerative Leadership Consciousness.

This new way of leading is able to sense into not just the parts but the relationships between the parts and also sense the whole organisation as a complex living-system.  This capacity to sense the organisation-as-a-living-system draws upon two core capacities we have as leaders: self-awareness and systemic-awareness.  We can (and must) learn to cultivate, practice and deepen these natural capacities of self-awareness and systemic-awareness in order to become a future-fit leader.

Self-Awareness:

Self-awareness has two dimensions to it – horizontal and vertical.

The horizontal dimension of self-awareness is the quality of attention we bring to each moment, in the here-and-now, which has two aspects to it – presence and purposefulness.

The purposefulness we bring to each moment depends upon the power of our intention.  How engaged are we in what we are attending to?  Can we – through our intention – allow ourselves to attend whole-heartedly to this moment?  This power of purpose is not an ‘outer’ grasping for a desired outcome or some future ‘north star’. Instead it is an inner-outer alignment found through our own inner-coherence and deep inner-connection with our own true nature.  This purposefulness is simultaneously a daily practice, a path we learn to walk, and an inner sense of discernment and rightness that provides direction.

IMAGE – Power of Purpose

This inner power of purpose empowers us to sense inwardly and outwardly in an ungrasping, fully available, yet intentional way – beyond predefined outcomes, yet fully-engaged in the unfolding process of what is emerging in the moment, whether during an in-person conversation or on-line meeting. 

This purposefulness contributes to creating flow inside ourselves and also through our relations with others.  It is much more than a well-crafted mission-statement or values-charter stuck on the wall, it is something that is lived in the day-to-day through practice, discernment and inner-coherence.

This relates to the second aspect of this horizontal dimension of self-awareness: Presence.   If purposefulness calls upon the power of intention, then presence is the power of attention

Intention + Attention = Flow

Purposefulness + Presence = Flow (aka, heightened Self-Awareness)

The presence we bring to each moment depends upon our capacity to sense, to be fully available, alive, undivided, fully-here, listening attentively, intimately engaged with everything that is said or unsaid, the whole gestalt of what is here in-this-moment.  This requires us to be awareness of our own triggers, blind-spots, emotions, and inner-constrictions that can distract us from being fully present.

MIT leadership specialist Otto Scharmer, in his Theory U, notes that all the time we are flickering between absencing and presencing.  Just spend a few moments in silence noticing your own awareness, and you will come accustomed to how you sometimes are distracted and sometimes present.

When we are absencing, we are tuning-out of the moment, getting caught up in our own inner-dialogue, only seeing what we want to see, and projecting ‘our stuff’ on to the other, rather than really tuning-in and being present to what is emerging.

Hence to cultivate presence, we have to notice our own stuff and connect more deeply within and also all-around-us with the present moment, unencumbered, undefended, authentic, humble, curious and courageous.

We often do this quite naturally when engaging in a new activity, playing a sport or musical instrument, or going on holiday to a new place.  The challenge is being able to call upon this quality of presence amidst the hum-drum of back-to-back meetings or during a difficult conversation with a colleague while meeting a deadline.

Scharmer speaks to 3 voices we have inside us that can get in the way of our ability to presence: the Voice of Judgement, the Voice of Cynicism, the Voice of Fear.

We all have these three voices inside us.  They are here to protect us. They keep us safe in the status-quo by judging, being cynical or fearful of anything that does not fit-in with our pre-defined filters of normalness. Yet these voices get in the way of our own learning and growth, and reduce down our capacity to deal with change, uncertainty and complexity.

In order to tap into Regenerative Leadership Consciousness we need to be able to notice these three Voices within is (Judgement, Cynicism, Fear) and allow these voices to ease their power over us, so that we can be more attentive to the moment, and see beyond the judgement, cynicism and fear within us.  This is the self-mastery that comes with cultivating this first dimension – the Horizontal dimension – of self-awareness.

So, the Horizontal dimension of our self-awareness consists of presence and purposefulness, which we can learn to deepen with each day of life. Life is the meditation. Life is the learning-classroom.

We are learning how we embrace life in-the-moment by becoming less reactive and defensive, and more attuned, alive and in flow with whatever arises.  We are learning to tune-in to life by letting-go of our inner-voices and filters, and notice our inner dis-eases and distractions, so as to overcome them.

Then there is the Vertical dimension – the worldview we bring to bear on the present moment.  This worldview is the sphere of consciousness we see the world through, which can shift from being a narrow limited view into a more expansive and relational view, as we move up the Vertical dimension.  This is about learning to open-up to more of life, undefended, open-hearted, coherent and whole.

Self Awareness (Horizontal Dimension) = Presence + Purposefulness

Self-Awareness (Vertical Dimension) = Worldview Shift in Consciousness

Inside each of us as human beings, we have an immense capacity to sense reality. Yet much of the time we are tuning-out a large part of reality in order to cope with the complex, fluid and emergent nature of real life.  Habits, old-wounds, unconscious biases, judgements, inner-constrictions, and such like, filter the way we see the world.  Our ‘inner-stuff’ influences how we see the outer world.  As the novelist Anais Nin insightfully noted, ‘we don’t see the world as it is, we see the world as we are’.

We are managing, controlling, filtering and limiting our experience of life all the time.  Yet, we can open up our control-filters as we expand our worldview.  This is a ‘vertical’ shift in consciousness, that allows for an expanded perspective, that deepens our inner-outer connectivity with life.

This ‘vertical development’ is the land of Adult Developmental Psychology where different levels of consciousness have been scientifically researched and categorised by various psychologists over the years.

One such adult developmental psychologist, whose original research underpins models used in business today, is Clare Graves.  His levels of consciousness have been applied to Spiral Dynamics and also used by Ken Wilber and more recently by Frederick Laloux in his work on Reinventing Organisations.

Graves’ research reveals a step-change shift from Tier 1 Consciousness to Tier 2 Consciousness at both the personal (leader) and collective (organisation) levels.   Such a step-change in worldview, is also identified by other adult developmental psychologists, for instance, Jean Gebster’s structures of human consciousness, Abraham Maslow’s theory of psychological health culminating in self-actualization, Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory, Jane Loevinger’s and Susanne Cook-Greuter’s work on self-identity, Bill Torbert’s and Barret Brown’s post-conventional action-logics leadership research, and Bob Kegan’s work on constructive-developmental levels of consciousness.   For the purposes of this article, we shall draw upon Clare Graves’ work and also how it relates to Frederick Laloux’s work on Teal-Evolutionary next-stage organisations and leaders.

This shift from Tier 1 to Tier 2 is the shift now required by leaders of today in order to deal with complexity and ambiguity while also inviting in a greater sense of purpose, authenticity and agility into the work place.

Here is Frederick Laloux’s application of Ken Wilber’s and Spiral Dynamics’ work on vertical development for organisations.

Let’s hone in on the Tier 1 levels of Orange and Green, and the Tier 2 level of Teal and explain these in greater depth. (What follows here draws upon Hutchins & Storm’s Regenerative Leadership)

Orange Level of consciousness

The Orange Level represents the enterprising corporate consciousness prevalent across today’s business thinking. At this level of consciousness, the main orientation is toward producing a good life and playing to win. Orange-thinking draws upon a mechanistic logic and prioritizes reductive analysis and sees mechanical cause-effect levers and power-and-control based hierarchies as the answer to organizational management. It’s great at creating technology-led innovation to meet our needs, achieving material success, engineering and innovating progress.

The organizational metaphor of Orange is organization-as-machine.  The core values of this level are: success, autonomy, self-interest, learning through experience, meritocracy, professional development, and the power of science and technology-led innovation. Orange leadership consciousness is concerned with hitting the numbers, capitalizing new markets, beating the competition, and management by objectives and financial incentives. Orange leadership does not concern itself with sustainability or ethics unless it is mandatory or directly impacts the bottom-line.

Green Level of consciousness

Green is a level up from Orange, an evolution of consciousness.The Green Level represents those who have become aware of how the Orange Level’s singular striving for material progress has created imbalances, selfish greed, social inequality, and environmental degradation. Green-thinking seeks to liberate humanity from greed and selfishness by promoting a sense of community and restoring a sense of human equality.

The Greenlevel of leadership consciousness focuses on an empowering human-centric culture to achieve extraordinary employee motivation for delivering stakeholder value. Green leadership likes consensus and recognizes the importance of emotional intelligence (EQ) and empathy in leadership. At this level of consciousness, sustainability, corporate responsibility, ethics, values-charters, sense of community and purpose, all rise up the leadership agenda. Yet, these aspects often tend to be managed and controlled by a mechanistic, silo’ed, consensus-driven approach and can get caught in the mire of rules and bureaucracy.  Meetings upon meetings can stifle the vitality of the organization.   

Green is a healthy step up from Orange. It helps prepare us for the next stage: Tier 2 Consciousness.

Stepping up a level of consciousness from Green is a big shift – the shift from Tier 1 into Tier 2. Graves went as far as calling it “a momentous leap for humankind”. It is not something that can be rushed or forced, yet we can help create the conditions conducive for the shift to happen.

Unlike Orange and Green, Tier 2 consciousness is rooted in a systemic awareness of the interdependence of all the systems the organisation interrelates with. The organisation is perceived as a living, learning, adaptive system. Tier 2-thinking asks each individual to take self-responsibility for being part of this adaptive system, realising that we are immersed within a pattern that connects (to use a phrase Gregory Bateson coined when describing this systemic-awareness). Our inner-outer relations in everyday life are part-and-parcel of this pattern that connects – how we show-up and interact with one part of the system sends ripples throughout the entire system.

This brings us to the second Leadership Dynamic we need for Regenerative Leadership Consciousness:  Systemic-Awareness.

Systemic Awareness:

As we open-up our self-awareness both horizontally (presence & purposefulness) and vertically (worldview expansion from machine into living-systems) we open ourselves up to more of how life really is.  This is an emancipatory process, and yet can be painful and challenging, just like any birthing process, with fits and starts, and courageous contractions to overcome inner constrictions.  This is the metamorphic process of the caterpillar becoming the butterfly: a death-rebirth no less.

As we start to open-up to life more, we learn to sense into the relational and systemic nature of how life is, and how our organisations are. Beyond the superficial confines of our org-charts, silos, power-plays and politics, we can start to sense hidden ordering forces in ourselves, in our team dynamics and across the organisational system.  This systemic capacity to sense and respond to hidden dynamics, flows, stuckness, nodal points and emergent dynamics within the organisation-as-living-system is crucial for allowing the organisation to adapt and evolve in these turbulent times. 

Systems Thinking has been on the rise in leadership consciousness for some years now, yet systemic-awareness is more than systems-thinking.

Systems Thinking refers to the shift from mechanistic thinking to a way of thinking that perceives the inter-relation of the parts within the whole system and understands that all systems are nested within other systems. This shift also represents the shift from overly dominant left-brain processing to a more integrated left-right brain awareness, where we see the parts along with the relationships between the parts that contribute to the organization-as-living-system.

Systems Thinking is a shift in thinking that takes place at the head level. It relates to what MIT leadership specialist Otto Scharmer refers to as open mind. We open up our mind to see things differently, to see the inter-relations, the patterns and dynamics at the systems level.

Systemic Awareness refers to a shift in our relationship with the system. In Systems Thinking we are looking at the system from outside the system looking in. For instance, an organization may map out all the inter-relations and draw-up a systems map. With Systemic Awareness we are now in-the-system, and opening our awareness to the seen and unseen tacit flows of knowledge, feedback and relational energy that are constantly fluctuating throughout the system. You might even call this the ‘baggage’ that people in the organization bring into meetings, conversations and relationships.

Systemic Awareness embodies the way we listen or attend to others, the judgements or cultural bias we filter through, and how these factors contribute to the way we participate in the system. The history of the organization, any trauma it may be carrying, and also the cultural and historic systems it’s inter-relating with all form part of the rich systemic picture we become more aware of. We transcend the level of observation to the level of immersion – a shift at the heart and body level. It relates to Otto Scharmer’s Open Heart and Open Will level of his Theory U, as it is an embodied participatory engagement with the system, and involves us opening-up and crossing a threshold within ourselves so as to be more vulnerable, available and open to sensing hidden dynamics in the system.

Clearly this level of systemic-awareness also calls upon our self-awareness, and both alchemise to create Regenerative Leadership Consciousness.  As leaders, we recognise that the organisational living-system is deeply immersed in myriad of ecosystem relationships within the organisation and beyond, both locally and globally. Employees, customers, suppliers, investors, partners, communities, society, and the ecological systems – nothing is separate, everything is interconnected. The organisation is constantly in dialogue with all of its stakeholders, just as a living organism within its ecosystem is constantly sensing, adapting and evolving.

Sustainability is integral to how the business realizes its mission, as there is an inherent understanding that all of life on Earth is interconnected and interdependent. Rather than silo’ed P&L responsibility and line-management, we find a desire for a more fluid and emergent way of working. It’s about a coaching culture of learning, feedback and adaptation. Leadership is distributed. Meetings and decision-making protocols encourage a rich quality of interaction where people share in authentic and respectful ways while giving open and honest feedback, learning and growing as individuals and a collective.  The organisational structure is much flatter; there is less parent-child behaviour within the culture and more self-management – everyone is a leader, everyday a learning journey. Mission-driven purposefulness, self-responsibility and integrative wholeness are the essence here. 

The core values of this Regenerative Leadership Consciousness are: inner rightness, self-learning, a life-affirming sense of purpose, self-and-systemic awareness, self-responsibility for cultivating the conditions for our true nature to unfold, and a sense of connectedness with all life.

Every inter-relation becomes an opportunity to seek deeper authenticity and wholeness through sensing and responding with compassion, courage and vulnerability. 

The psychologist Ken Wilber famously said that each higher level of consciousness transcends and includes the levels before it. This is an important point.  As we reach into Regenerative Leadership Consciousness, we are still able to draw upon and utilize the thinking of Orange and Green, as we have learned useful approaches and methods in these earlier stages. It’s not about leaving it all behind but rather evolving to the next stage. The challenge and opportunity for Regenerative Leaders is to integrate Orange, Green and Tier 2-thinking amid every day pressures, while being aware of our own ingrained patterns of reactivity.

There are aspects of Orange-thinking that we need to know how to include, and also how to transcend. Orange-thinking hits the numbers, manages deadlines and budgets, drives efficiency in production, and keeps tight compliance procedures. All of which is necessary to the running of a business; however, the challenge arises when Orange-thinking dominates to such an extent that it undermines the organization’s capacity to thrive as a whole. Likewise, Green-thinking is fundamental to developing a culture of respect and trust. It is Green-thinking that helps us sense-in to the values and perspectives of our stakeholders and to form values-based partnerships that can generate significant business value.  Yet, we also need to be able to transcend rules-based bureaucracy inherent in Green-thinking when self-management, creativity and agility are needed.

This image below shows the three levels of consciousness at the organizational level.

Orange is the base level – we need to draw upon this thinking. It provides efficient processes for organizational culture (human resource management) and operations (lean process improvement). Yet on its own, it provides for a mechanistic organization that lacks any deeper purpose beyond hitting the numbers. Sustainability tends to be limited to cost-reduction, compliance or brand and marketing initiatives.

Green is a step-up from this, and the culture is not limited to managing and controlling human resources, but more about empowering people while encouraging wellbeing in the workplace. The operational and sustainability mindset is more aware of the entire stakeholder ecosystem.  

When we move into Tier 2 the organizational culture, operations and sustainability approaches are more self-organizing, agile and fluid dependent upon the local needs and changing context. Leadership is distributed across all levels, and everyone is responsible for enlivening the culture, the operations and the sustainability of the organization.

While Tier 2 Regenerative Leadership Consciousness is crucial to the coming sea-change, leaders cannot expect every person in the organization to be operating at Tier 2 consciousness. Hence, we need to be able to notice when people, teams, and the overall organization is drawing from more of an Orange, Green, or Tier 2 mindset. Where is the organization’s center of gravity, and how is this affecting the whole? In certain instances, it may be sensible for the team to be more in Orange mode, other times in Green mode, as long as the organization-as-living-system is supported by an overarching Regenerative Leadership Consciousness. Then, the leadership and the organization can transcend and include all three levels.

Regenerative Leadership Consciousness and Complex Systems

To start to see in systems, and sense into complexity, is to be able to see more of life as it really is. To see reality beyond the constraints of our education and dominant cultural perspectives and narratives, is not at all easy. It requires an up-stretch in our adult developmental psychology, along with a threshold-crossing, a process of death-rebirth.

The dying of an old way – of how we see ourselves and the systems we participate in – is not always comfortable as it challenges us in deep and partly unconscious ways.  We resist, as old habits and perspectives have become ingrained.  Yet, the process of opening into a more systemic way of thinking-being-doing is an evolution in our human awareness, which re-enlivens a latent capacity within us. For over 95% of our human history, from hunter-gathers, through early civilisation all the way up to the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, a systemic way of attending was more prevalent than it is today.  It is only over the last 400 years – and especially in the last 50 years – that we have allowed a mechanistic-reductive awareness to be so dominant, and a systemic way to be so suppressed.  This is the challenge of bringing in a systemic awareness, in that it goes against the grain of today’s positivistic addiction for hard-data, tangible-proof, reductive statistical modelling, clear-cut outcomes, pre-defined learning objectives,  neat-and-tidy cause-and-effect linearity, carrot-and-stick metrics, and silo’ed mechanistic thinking. 

Yet, systemic does not mean we turn our back on reductive methods. There is a lot of truth in the managerial maxim ‘what gets measured gets done’ and there is a lot of usefulness in defining things neatly and having focused outcomes. The reductive (mechanistic) and the systemic (living-systems) are healthy bed-fellows.  Just as we all have left and right brain hemispheres for good reason. 

As we enter this new-norm of business, it is ever-more useful for our designers, innovators, change-agents and leaders to be able to draw upon both a mechanistic and a systemic perspective freely, and to discern when to call upon one more than the other or integrate them in their interventions.

Shifting Beyond Separation into Reconnection/Regeneration

In Regenerative Leadership, we highlight 4 areas of rising dominance that contributed to today’s mechanistic worldview.  We can seek integration of these 4 areas as we shift into a more integrated systemic-and-mechanistic worldview, which is grounded in an understanding of the interconnectedness-and-differentiation of real-life in our organisations and social systems.

The 4 main areas currently influencing today’s mechanistic logic are:

  1. Left-Right Hemisphere: the rising domination of left-brain hemispheric attention over right-brain hemispheric attention, which leads to a focusing in on the parts and a de-emphasising of the whole/holistic-perspective
  2. Masculine-Feminine: the rising domination of masculine qualities of ‘doing-assertiveness-competing’ over feminine qualities of ‘being-receptivity-collaborating’ – some people may prefer the language of yin-yang, where yang conveys masculine awareness and yin the feminine, as this is not about gender stereotypes, rather it’s about qualities of awareness that play out in both males and females
  3. Outer-Inner: the prioritisation of outer attention – focusing on what is seen, tangible and measurable – over inner psychological-emotional-intuitive attention – what is unseen, implicit and immeasurable yet a real and potent influence in life
  4. Human-Nature: a widening chasm between an anthropocentric ego-human-orientated view of reality and a deeper embodied sense of connection with all of life

These 4 imbalances inform the dominant mechanistic worldview. 

In order to become more systemic in our awareness (feel-think-be-do) it helps to be conscious of these underlying imbalances. To rebalance the inner-outer, masculine-feminine, human-nature, left-right hemisphere is a journey towards wholeness, a metamorphic undertaking.

There are tools and approaches to help us shift into a more integrated way of attending to life, and yet this is more than tool-application, it’s a shift in our whole-bodied way of attending to life, a shift in our way of living, that plays out each and every day.  

Regenerative Leadership Consciousness comes with an opening up to the magnificence of existence – nothing more, nothing less.

Life is ecology. Life is an unfolding interweave of relationships. Nothing is neat-and-tidy, only our own mechanistic framings that seek to cut-up and separate life into compartments. Separateness is not real life, which is fluid, emergent and relational.  Understanding these inherent dynamics, rhythms and ways of life helps us become better leaders and better human-beings.

Life is systemic. Life is participation. Life uses tensions as crucibles for emergence.

Life is also full of breakdown-breakthrough death-rebirth cycles where a phase-change to a different way of operating, a shift in worldview and/or a new business model creates an evolutionary up-stretch into a new symphony of learning dynamics within the leadership and organisation.

The good news is, we can take inspiration from life itself in terms of helping us become more regenerative.  As Clare Graves knew, ‘Understand how nature functions and you know how to behave [in Tier 2]’.

In the book Regenerative Leadership, we explore the Logic of Life – synthesising insights from nature for leadership and organisational development. The 7 principles of the Logic of Life are:

  1. Life Affirming – life creates conditions conducive for life, and is innately regenerative when allowed to be. Yet toxicity and degenerative behaviour can easily occur in human systems, when we lose coherence and get out-of-flow, hence learning to sense stuckness and allow space for flow to emerge is vital for future-fitness.
  2. Ever-changing and responsive – systems have inherent learning in them, and we can become aware of the learning patterns, and start to notice their developmental and evolutionary nature
  3. Relational and collaborative – while there is competition and separation in life, the overriding driver is collaboration and relationality
  4. Synergistic and diverse – life banks on diversity, and this diversity creates tensions of difference that create dinergy/synergy that yields emergence, new ways, the flow of life
  5. Cyclic and seasonal-rhythmical – life flows through emergence and yet there are rhythms and cycles that inform each other, to create punctuated evolution (moments of system transformation/metamorphosis)
  6. Flows of energy and matter – systems are made up of flows of energy and matter exchanging throughout the system, recycling, reusing, renewing
  7. Living systems field – quantum science shows us what we knew before the mechanistic perspective of the Enlightenment suppressed it, that life is interconnected. There is an intangible field that connects everything and explains non-local phenomena and entanglement. This field has many names, for instance, ‘the quantum vacuum’, ‘universe’, ‘source’, ‘ground of all being’, ‘collective unconscious’. As we tap into the field we open up to more of life.

Going through the 7 principles, contemplating them while sitting in nature, and then reflecting on how they might apply to our own leadership style and organisational development, can help us open into Regenerative Leadership Consciousness.

In Regenerative Leadership we apply the Logic of Life, and systemic-awareness to identify six strands of DNA in living systems culture for organisations to become future-fit in these volatile times. The 6 cultural DNA strands of the living-organisation are:

  1. Survival and thrival – attending to the legitimate needs of organisations to fulfil their needs for growth whilst acting in regenerative ways, and operating according to the principles of living systems seasons and cycles.
  2. Mission and movement – ensuring that the organization is contributing to something bigger than itself, as part of a much larger ecosystem in which it plays its role.
  3. Developmental and respectful – creating space for all to learn and grow in respectful ways, honouring the needs of self-renewal and regeneration.
  4. Diversity and inclusion – valuing diverse backgrounds and perspectives as part of an inclusive and values-rich culture that gives rise to new possibilities.
  5. Self-organising and locally attuning – to unlock resiliency and agility through self-organising principles, as opposed to constantly reverting to top-down leadership.
  6. Ecosystemic facilitation and transformation – providing attentive care and understanding of the entire system in which the organization operates.

Executive Summary:

Self Awareness: leadership thrives through individuals’ gaining perspective on their thoughts, habits, behaviors and blind-spots; we are able to reach beyond self-imposed limitations and open up more readily to life through self-mastery.  Becoming conscious of our own presence (attention) and purposefulness (intention), and opening-up our worldview to embrace the Logic of Life enables our future-fitness.

Systemic Awareness: leadership thrives through an understanding of networks, flows and relationships within systems; this capacity enables us to enliven the organizational system toward life-affirming futures.

Regenerative Leadership Consciousness: leadership thrives through cultivating both Self Awareness and Systemic Awareness; we are able to serve life attuned to nature’s wisdom.

‘Learn how to see. Realize everything connects with everything else.’  Leonardo Da Vinci

‘[S]he who is in harmony with nature hits the mark without effort and apprehends the truth without thinking.’ Confucius

‘Those who flow as life flows know they need no other force.’  Lao Tzu

Giles Hutchins is a pioneering practitioner and senior adviser at the fore-front of the [r]evolution in organizational and leadership consciousness and developmental approaches that enhance personal, organizational and systemic agility and vitality. He is author and co-author of several leadership and organizational development papers, and the books The Nature of Business (2012), The Illusion of Separation (2014), Future Fit (2016) and Regenerative Leadership (2019). Chair of The Future Fit Leadership Academy and Founder of Leadership Immersions, co-founder of Biomimicry for Creative Innovation and Regenerators, he runs a 60 acre leadership centre at Springwood Farm, an area of outstanding natural beauty near London, UK.  Previously held corporate roles – Head of Practice for KPMG, and Global Head of Sustainability for Atos (150,000 employees, over 40 countries). He provides coaching at individual and organisational levels for those seeking to transform their personal and/or work lives. He is also a keynote speaker on the future of business.

join the LinkedIn group if you have not already:

https://www.linkedin.com/groups/13767578/

and Facebook group:

https://www.facebook.com/businessinspiredbynature/

You can download the first chapter of Regenerative Leadership for free here: www.regenerativeleadership.co

Regenerative Leadership One-day Immersion, 27th May

April 16, 2021

Spring is in the air. What a time of immense potential – so much is shifting, so much is breaking down and breaking through.

At Springwood we had snow on the ground the other day, but now the bluebells are preparing for their big entrance into 2021, the daffodils are already fading, and the ducks are raising a brood on a nest by the lake.

Springwood is a special place. With 60acres of secluded and wild ancient woodland which is completely private, dedicated for deep transformative work.  See some photos here.  It is in West Sussex, with easy access to the M23 and Three Bridges main-line station with direct trains to London. 

The time has come for me to host a one-day immersion for a small intimate cohort of participants interested in:

  • Exploring the core principles and practices underpinning Regenerative Leadership
  • Gaining a visceral embodied sense of the wisdom needed for Regenerative Leadership
  • Engaging in peer-reflection, collective support and in-confidence sharing within a safe-deep-space
  • Unlocking Otto Scharmer’s Theory U and Frederic Laloux’s Teal-Evolutionary
  • Tapping into advanced adult developmental psychology applied to next-stage leadership
  • Embracing Nature’s Wisdom in ways that are quite beyond words, yet palpable, potent and practical
  • Tooling up either as a Leader, LD/OD specialist, Head of People/Culture or Coach
The artist for this wonderful rich-picture is Jodie Harburt, see www.jodieharburt.com

This one-day workshop is specifically for a small cohort and places are therefore limited.  All refreshments and vegetarian organic food is included.  Cost £280 for 9.15am-4.45pm Thursday 27th May at Springwood Farm, RH17 6HQ

‘The nature immersion workshop with Giles exceeded all expectations. This is real space to develop strategies fit for the 21st Century.’ – Stephen Passmore, CEO

‘Powerful and provocative…the most useful leadership event I have evert attended.’ – Ian Ayling, Strategy Director

‘Giles is like a lantern: he meets you where you’re at and illuminates the path ahead alongside you. He brings an excellent blend of business acumen, emotional intelligence and spiritual attunement. He works with your whole person, partnering with you to help your natural abilities emerge and develop.’  – Lisa Dittmar, Strategy Consultant

‘Giles Hutchins is at the forefront of synthesizing new logics for business with the natural rhythms of life and the human mind that will revolutionize business.’ – Lynne Sedgemore CBE, CEO and Chair

The time has come.

Are you ready to cross the threshold?

If you are interested in applying to attend this immersion day at Springwood (postcode RH17 6HQ) then, please email giles@ffla.co as soon as possible, as places are limited. For general information on Leadership Immersions, see here.  More information about this specific one-day immersion will be provided upon application.

join the LinkedIn group if you have not already:

https://www.linkedin.com/groups/13767578/

and Facebook group:

https://www.facebook.com/businessinspiredbynature/

For a TEDx A Revolution in Human Consciousness By Giles Hutchins see

Giles Hutchins is a pioneering practitioner and senior adviser at the fore-front of the [r]evolution in organizational and leadership consciousness and developmental approaches that enhance personal, organizational and systemic agility and vitality. He is author and co-author of several leadership and organizational development papers, and the books The Nature of Business (2012), The Illusion of Separation (2014), Future Fit (2016) and Regenerative Leadership (2019). Chair of The Future Fit Leadership Academy and Founder of Leadership Immersions, co-founder of Biomimicry for Creative Innovation and Regenerators, he runs a 60 acre leadership centre at Springwood Farm, an area of outstanding natural beauty near London, UK.  Previously held corporate roles – Head of Practice for KPMG, and Global Head of Sustainability for Atos (150,000 employees, over 40 countries). He provides coaching at individual and organisational levels for those seeking to transform their personal and/or work lives. He is also a keynote speaker on the future of business.

The Alchemic Journey Towards Wholeness – the Heart of Regenerative Leadership

April 13, 2021

The ancient Greeks had the slogan ‘Know Thy Self’ above the doorways of some of their most sacred temples. Why?

In my previous article on The Essence of Regenerative Leadership, I explore how cultivating a more intimate relationship with one’s own sense of self is vital for the shift in human consciousness we now need for enabling regenerative futures.

In this article, we delve into aspects of the inner journey towards wholeness, and explore its importance for these epochal times.

First, let’s explore how this journey towards wholeness relates to leadership. In doing so I shall draw upon the work of leadership specialists like Parker J Palmer and Otto Scharmer as well as insights from further afield.  Second, we shall explore the hidden depths of this inner journey, drawing upon the psychological work of Carl Jung and also Alchemy, an ancient science of the soul.

So, first, ‘Leadership’ – a word that conjures up grandeur and ego, and yet is really about humility and soul. 

Just as it can be argued that every human being is made for communal life, so leadership can be anyone’s vocation in varying degrees, as in community everyone leads and follows in myriad ways.

The origin of the word ‘leadership’ finds its root in the old European word ‘leith’ which means to cross the threshold, to die and be reborn, to let go of old ways of being-and-doing in order to embrace the new.

This speaks to the inner journey involved in true leadership – to go inward and gain perspective on our own individual (and collective) constrictions, habits, foibles, limitations, strengths, weaknesses, gifts and fears.

Just as the yin-yang symbol conveys the light and dark aspects of life, so must our journey towards wholeness embrace light and dark or else it is not whole.

There are some useful tips and tools amid contemporary thinking on positive psychology and the power of positive thinking. Such tips and tools can help equip the leader to deal with the challenges of the day, and even get-things-done more effectively and efficiently. And yet the journey inward is an intense journey of inner shadow and light, beyond the realms of positive thinking. Positive thinking, if overly focused upon, may encourage a habit of polarising thoughts and situations as good and bad. Yet as we journey inward, we can sense into all aspects of the yin-yang wisdom of life.

As regenerative leaders, we are creating conditions for life to flourish within-side ourselves, so we are authentic in our walking-the-talk (with the failures, mistakes and falls this humbly invites). We are also helping enable the conditions for life to flourish in others, as we hold-space for others to feel safe enough to embark on their own journey towards wholeness. And we are enabling these life conditions across teams, organisations and social systems, so these collective systems nudge towards allowing more authenticity, diversity and inclusiveness – spiritually, materially, socially, ecologically.

As leaders, we also need to be acutely aware of our own presence and the effect it has on others. It is natural for humans to project light and shadow. Noticing our own projections is a powerful way of gaining perspective on our own presence and blind-spots.

Leaders can tend towards extroversion, by bolstering a light-filled projection outward, and then suppressing an ever-expanding shadow within, that then seeps out in other ways. We might, for instance, offer wise-counsel or give advice regularly throughout the day, or hold-space for others to work through their problems. Then, after a while, perhaps on a day when we are tired and triggered, we begin to resent why people can’t just think for themselves and stop whinging. As a result we might become more direct in our feedback – which depending on how it’s delivered may be just what the situation calls for, or it may be out of sych with the situation.  We may learn to notice the trigger within us, and inwardly explore what this trigger is revealing: our own inner light and shadow tensions, our own inner soul and ego evolutions. We might begin to notice ebbs and flows, tensions and energies within our own sense of self.  This is the journey inward, the journey beyond compartmentalisation of outward-extroversion, positive-thinking,  inner frustration, anxiety or insecurity. The journey towards wholeness is one of integrating our own fragmentation, of becoming more attentive to everything that is going on within us, regardless of whether we judge it good or bad, light or dark. 

As a leader, understanding the shadow within us, and how we project on to others, is of great importance. This shadow affects not just our perception of others and then our judgements and opinions of them, which may cloud our listening, feedback and acceptance. It also directly affects others efficiency and effectiveness due to our power as a leader to influence others, either constructively – opening them up to explore, question, learn, grow into their own selfhood while unlocking their innate brilliance – or destructively – closing them down, limiting them, creating defensiveness and fear in them that deflates their creativity and locks-up their brilliance.   This is where our own journey towards wholeness gets magnified through our leadership, as it is all too easy in positions of influence to transfer our own stuff, rather than transform it. Transferring spreads pollution, transformation brings regeneration.

Our inner soul-gifts and virtues (for instance: patience and equanimity) are conveyed through our relations with others. I may know that I have a general tendency, for instance, to be impatient. This does not mean I simply practice to bite my tongue and force an artificial pent-up type of patience into my relations with self and other. Yes, certain coping-mechanisms may be useful in certain situations, and yet these coping mechanisms merely maintain the status quo, rather than invoke transformation. Instead, my ability to notice when the impatience starts off within-side of me, and sense it, give it my conscious awareness, rather than suppress it. Then I can allow its power over me to ease through my awareness, and therefore reduce down my urge to overly project outward on to the other. This is more than positive thinking. This is inner shadow-work, depth psychology and self-transformation.

As Annie Dillard knew,

‘In the depths are the violence and terror of which psychology has warned us. But if you ride these monsters down, if you drop with them farther over the world’s rim, you find what our sciences cannot locate or name, the substrate, the ocean or matrix or ether which buoys the rest, which gives goodness its power for good, and evil its power for evil, the unified field: our complex and inexplicable caring for each other, and for our life together here.’

The gift of this realisation of reality is within us. We are each born with this gift. Often it can be buried deep under trauma, hurt, fear, stress and busyness. 

It is a learning journey to become more intimate with ourselves, it takes time, practice, careful attention and discipline.  For instance, a daily practice of noticing our thoughts as we wake-up, and practicing some mindfulness or bodymind energy-work to provide access to the substrate Anne Dillard refers to, followed by moments of reflection and journaling throughout the day to notice triggers, tensions and learning, and then the space before sleep to notice our thoughts, reflect on the day, and once again practice some mindfulness or bodymind energy-work to go deeper within, over the world’s rim. This requires practice and discipline to find out what works best so each day informs the journey towards wholeness.

‘Good leadership comes from people who have penetrated their own inner darkness and arrived at the place where we are at one with one another, people who lead the rest of us to a place of ‘hidden wholeness’ because they have been there and know the way.’ – Parker J Palmer

In exploring this ‘hidden wholeness’ within us as leaders, Parker J Palmer speaks to 5 shadow-casting monsters we encounter on this inner journey.

  1. Insecurity – the first shadow-casting monster is insecurity about identity and worth. Leaders who have an extroversive tendency may find this insecurity hard to see, yet it is there. Sometimes extroversion has been constructed as a result of self-doubt and the insecure feeling sensitive types feel when ‘performing’ in any social setting. This creates shadow and inauthenticity if left unchecked. Soon we become overly-hooked on, or even dependent upon, this external persona or role we have projected, as it gives us a sense of self-worth. Yet it is projection, not wholeness. So let us look inward, and become intimate with our own inner insecurities and nagging self-doubt, and see beneath veneers and masks we have constructed with skill and effort.  The reality is, if we are projecting our own insecurity through our role as ‘leader’ we might create settings that deprive people of their identities as a way of defending our own insecurity. We might close-down another or overly-defend a point, or not open-heartedly listen to the other, or too eagerly assert our view, because of our own inner instability and grasping.  It remains up to us to find our centre, to ground and feel rooted in our own inner-soil, the ground-of-our-being. Often the dynamics we find in organisations today are riddled with ripples and repercussions from insecurity.  To help overcome this shadow within, we first need to become conscious of it, and notice how it shows itself in us – this requires self-authenticity, humility and courage. Second, as we become more intimate with ourselves as we journey towards wholeness, we start to appreciate that identity does not depend on the role we play or the power it gives us over others. This speaks directly to power dynamics, and the inner realisation that the ego needs power and control yet the soul (our deeper truer nature) does not, as it is able to sense the abundance, reciprocity, cyclic seasonality and synchronicity of how life really works.  Hence, the threshold crossing of letting go of old constructs, old ways of engaging, and opening into a deeper self-agency where ego serves soul.
  • Competition – the second shadow-casting monster is the conditioned belief we have had stuffed in us through mainstream education that nature is inherently selfish and competitive, and you have to dominate or be dominated in life to get anywhere. This belief that life is a competitive battleground is rooted in a worldview of separateness, that we are nothing but separate ego-selves struggling for survival in a dog-eat-dog world.  We either win or lose. With this perspective life becomes a vast combat zone. War-mentality is everywhere – it has infiltrated the climate change movement with ‘the war on carbon’, its prevalent through the COVID pandemic with the ‘war on the virus’, its rampant in politics, in business, in our approach to health, and our approach to education.  Competition has become so pervasive because we have made it so. In nature competition is actually far outweighed by collaboration in its influence on evolution.  As we journey inward, one of the gifts we receive is the deepening realisation that life is flowing with inter-relationality at all levels seeking harmony more than competition.  This inner knowing helps us ease off from a narrow-minded war-mentality that sees only winners and losers. We can relax a little and grow into sensing and responding within this participatory experience of life where everything informs everything else.
  • Functional atheism – the third shadow-casting monster comes out of the hard-won experience that to get things done I need to put my head-down and take responsibility otherwise nothing gets done. If it’s going to get done well, then I will have to do it through stress and toil.  Again this belief has been encoded in us from early on in our lives.  Yet, once again, as we journey inward, another gift is revealed to us – sometimes we need to get out of the way and allow things to happen with more flow and less stress. We learn we do not need to carry the heavy load and can share more, trust more, empower others, and see different richer outcomes unfold far beyond our original perceptions.  In the leadership research of action logics this relates to the shift from conventional expert-achiever level of leadership into post-conventional individualist-strategist leadership where we learn to open up and trust not just those around us but also the complex systemic dynamics and hidden ordering forces at play within teams and organisations.  We begin to be able to flow as nature flows, realising there is a hidden wholeness seeking to reveal itself if only we trust in life, let go a little and ease into it.
  • Fear – the fourth shadow-casting monster is a biggy, fear.  Fear is rife in society today. It has a corrosive effect on us. Underpinning many of our fears is the larger fear of chaos, that if things are left to their own devices, we will be subsumed into chaos. This fear drives us to form certainties and controls over our lives so that we save ourselves from chaos and make something of ourselves. We feel a need to orchestrate, control and order the messiness of things through analysis and prediction.  We need systematic methods, procedures, models, methodologies, rules, laws, otherwise it will be chaos. All of this creates an ethos of imprisonment rather than empowerment, and so we undermine our brilliance and serve up a shallow version of life, all because we fear what lies deep within us. Once again, the gift of insight we receive during the inner journey is that chaos is not to be feared. Chaos is here all the time in life, it is what underpins all creativity. It’s like trying to surf while fearing the ocean. It is the ocean that creates the waves that allow us to flow. Life itself emerges out of the dark-chaos-void. There is no need to fear the void, in fact, as we open into it we become more creative, more in-tune, more alive.  This is part of the threshold crossing of letting go, connecting into source, so as to invite in the new.  This opening into the nothingness-beyond-everything is essential to regenerative leadership, and is what allows us to ease off the incessant fear, and create the conditions conducive for life. To actually live into this, rather than espouse it, is to be regenerative, which means letting-go of fear and control and trusting in life.  These threshold crossings of letting-go happen all the while, as we can’t wash ourselves of fear and control we can only notice the fear within us and then let-go into the tension the fear creates, and see what happens.  Our fear of failure or chaos does not actually materialise, instead we evolve as we go over the rim into the depths.
  • Death – the fifth and final shadow-casting monster is the denial of death. Our society has shunned death, and many of us deeply fear it. And yet it is a vital part of life. Imagine life without death – there’d be gridlock. All things must die in due course.  In some societies, death is celebrated much like birth is celebrated. Opening in to the cyclical seasonality of life is to open into an aspect of nature’s wisdom, that the death of autumn-winter brings the fertile conditions for new birth and growth in spring-summer.  Much of today’s busy corporate cultures seek to celebrate endless spring-summer inventions, launches, growth-markets, new gadgets, yet negate the decline and renewal of autumn-winter. Hence the cultures and strategies become unsustainable, fragile and unfit for the future.  The fear of death also manifests as the fear of failure, or doing something wrong.  Yet, it is through failure that we learn and evolve. Death brings rebirth. Out of the failure comes new insight.  This is the wisdom of life. Once again, the inner journey gifts us with this insight, and by experiencing our own inner ego-death and seeing how letting-go brings deeper insights and soul-knowing, we start to recognise the wisdom inherent in the cyclic seasonal flows of death-birth within life. These seasonal flows can form a healthy rhythm within our regenerative business, starting with us as leaders.

So now we’ve explored some of the leadership aspects of engaging on this inner journey, we shall enter into the second part of this article, which probes the depths of this inner journey itself. 

A caveat here, much of this inner journey is beyond words, and is more the province of poet, psychologist and mystic.   What follows here is inspired by the ‘godfather of psychotherapy’ Carl Jung, and also ancient wisdom traditions, in particular the European/Middle-Eastern tradition of Alchemy, as a way of deciphering this inner journey.

Let’s dive into the inner depths of our soul transformation.

As we enter into a more intimate relationship with our own selves, we start to become conscious of 3 lenses or filters through which we engage with reality.  The first and most readily available lens is that of ego-consciousness or the rationalising mind, and the voice within our own head that is pretty much incessantly talking all the time.  Gaining perspective on this voice in the head is an important part of this inner journey. Meditation, body-work like yoga or Tai Chi, contemplative or reflective practices like journaling or free-writing, are all useful tools to help us start to gain perspective on this voice-in-the-head, and gain some distance from it, or help ease its hold over us.

Then beneath this first lens of ego-consciousness is a second lens deeper within us. As we learn to notice the voice in our head and gain distance from it, rather like being on the balcony looking down onto the dance-floor of our own mental gyrations, we may also start to gain perspective on more of ourselves beyond the dance floor. Other parts of ourselves beyond the voice-in-the-head are there in us and often lie beneath and inform the thoughts and emotions on the dance floor.  We may begin to sense into shadow projections, trauma, inner wounds, our inner child seeking to play and unlock its creativity, and also a spaciousness underpinning all this, which we might call the Self, true nature, soul, it does not matter what we call it, whatever label feels most right for us. Here we shall call it soul.

As we gain intimacy with our shadow aspects and inner recesses of our soul, we may also – through advanced meditation practice – start to sense a deeper underlying field of non-judgemental numinous depth, which is quite beyond words. This might be referred to as the realm of Spirit, Source, the Tao, that which cannot be named, the ineffable, the universe, field or void. Again, it does not matter what we wish to call it, whatever best resonates.  This is the third lens, which is a deep and potent presence pervading all life in inner and outer ways, and if we so choose we can, with our attention and intention, learn to access it through our soul (the second lens). As we ripen our soul’s capacity to receive this spirit-wisdom, we may then start to comprehend and apply it to our path of life through our daily ego-awareness (the first lens).  This is the gift we have as human beings, procreating with the creative life-force of the universe, becoming masterful within our own life-path while contributing to the magnificence of existence.  Yet to do so requires a level of harmony and coherence within-side ourselves so that the three lenses resonate as best they can amid our everyday stresses and strains.

Noticing and gaining perspective on the ego-machinations of the voice in the head (the first lens) is a useful first step. The second step, on this journey towards wholeness, is sensing into our soul-scape, noticing its mysterious ways and understanding how the tensions within the soul unfold into our destinal path of becoming more of who we truly are.  This is where Alchemy as a science of the soul can aid us (just as other ancient wisdom traditions can too).

What follows here will not be for everyone, as it has mystical connotations, and yet is grounded in empirically-based studies of the human psyche. 

The soul can be described as having 2 aspects. 

As we are now entering the realm of the soul, these 2 aspects can be given archetypal imagery.

These 2 aspects of the soul are symbolised as the serpent and the bird. Or to be more specific, the snake and the white dove, or the dragon and the eagle.

One of the powerful insights Alchemy affords us is that it understands how each aspect of the soul has both masculine-feminine qualities. (One might prefer to say yang-yin qualities, as these masculine-feminine qualities do not relate to gender or sexual orientation.)

The serpent is outwardly masculine (yang) yet inwardly feminine (yin); whereas the bird is outwardly feminine and inwardly masculine, as we shall explore.  The tension of these opposites are both within the serpent and also within the bird, and also between how the serpent and bird interact. This interplay of tensions provides for the rich concocting forces we need for soul-transformation to alchemise. 

The serpent is that aspect of the soul which attunes with a power or force or divinity concealed within physical nature and in the instinctual forces of the psyche within us. It is engaged with when we engage in practices that encourage an embodied, experiential, phenomenological, sensory engagement.  For instance, when we are swimming in the sea, or when we dance in a nightclub, or engage in sexual intercourse, we are engaging these instinctual physical forces in a vivid way that we can feel. These instinctual forces are also influencing us in less all-consuming yet still potent and powerful ways throughout everyday life.  They are activated through all sorts of interactions, whether it be an email-thread, a social media post, a lively meeting, or a zoom call, for instance.

If we take movement and dance to exemplify this inner instinctual dynamic, we can see how we can be conscious of or unconscious of these forces at play within us.

We may not be consciously attuning with these instinctual forces when we are dancing in a night-club after a few drinks, for instance, and yet we can become conscious of these forces either when engaging in dance-therapy, through movement applied to leadership such as https://www.moveleadership.com/  or a structured practice such as social presencing https://www.presencing.org/aboutus/spt/about , or through a movement-based bodywork practice like Tai Chi or Yoga, for instance. Then we consciously feel the flow of energy within the body, rather than be subsumed by it.   

In this way, we can allow for our inner-sensing to notice, purify and release blockages of energy-trauma (what Yogic philosophy calls Samskara) from within us.  This inner release and purification process is an important part of the journey towards wholeness. The releasing of blocked energy within us (and also within our collective systems, such as our organisations, as they too hold trauma) allows for greater flow, and better alignment with the energy of life. This is a process of learning to go inward, notice tensions and deepen into the centre of our selves. When attending to an organisational system, it requires the systemic-awareness to sense hidden ordering forces at play within an organisational culture.

This requires patience, non-judgement and the courage to attend to inner pain and stuckness so as to become more open to life – more vulnerable yet more whole.

It is easy (and enjoyable) to enfold conscious movement and breathing practices into our everyday rhythm. For instance, we may wish to undertake some body movements between zoom calls, to enliven our inner energy and help rebalance any inner tensions, or go for a walk or jog inbetween meetings.  There is nothing wrong with doing such, in fact there is a lot right with taking this time-out between meetings as scientific studies show that it greatly enhances our performance.  Yet the thrust of this article is not simply about increasing our output, it’s about enriching the quality of flow we bring into each and every meeting. It’s our quality of consciousness that allows for deeper authenticity and trust to spawn generative discussions with others, and enable richer more regenerative cultures to flourish from the inside-out.  This is good for us, it’s good for our relationships, it’s good for team performance, it’s good for business, it’s good for the brand. It’s a no-brainer.

Let’s go back to the serpent and the inner-tensions it symbolises, as there is much in this for today’s stresses and strains.

Within this serpent instinctual aspect, is a pull of opposing forces that creates tension. This tension can either pull us into blind reactivity at the instinctual level, or create the crucible for us to move through the tension. To use the neurobiologist Candice Pert’s expression, the ‘bodymind’ (our entire body is pervaded by mind at brain, heart, gut and somatic levels) becomes our vessel, our cauldron for the tension to create a mixing that causes alchemy to occur within us. This alchemy is in the form of self-transformation, as we open up our bodymind to the flow of energy, and open up our perceptual horizon to a deeper realisation of reality. We sense more of ourselves, and we sense more of life as it really is.  We become more alive.  Rather than the instinctual forces subsuming us, they enliven and emancipate us.  Hence this psychic-tension within us can reveal a deeper sense of purpose, and with it a soul-transformation unfolds.

The serpent is wisdom immanent within nature, it is of this world, not transcendent beyond the world.  The transcendent or universal aspect of the soul is symbolised by the bird.

Earthly-immanence and heavenly-transcendence is referred to as ‘di-polar’ –a horizontal (earthly)  pole and vertical (heavenly) pole creating a cross-of-life.  Often when we are walking through a graveyard, we may see a cross set in a circle, above gravestone. This is symbolic of the circle of the soul and its di-polar aspect. It is also representing how our soul lives on after our body dies.

The horizontal dimension of the cross-of-life, is the realm of nature and its hidden ordering forces innate within this life-force field where the serpent tensions lure us into being overcome by instinct and create blind reactivity in us, or trigger awakening in us to go through the tension and evolve into a deeper revealing of reality.   

The vertical dimension of the cross-of-life, is the realm of spirit and its hidden ordering forces innate within this universal-force field that the soul integrates with to gain insight upward into light.

Let’s further explore the serpent aspect as its powerful lure is something we shall encounter on our inner journey, and is sometimes overlooked in some spiritual disciplines that seek to negate or control the urges and instincts of life by focusing more solely on the upward journey to light (the bird).

The serpent is the way into the spirit innate within nature; it’s the way into the third lens (spirit) from the second lens (soul).  As Jesus noted, ‘Raise a stone and thou shalt find me, cleave the wood and I am there.’

Nature provides spiritual illumination, what the alchemists called lumen naturae a ‘light of nature’ that is indwelling in us and in nature, which is embodied through our instincts and somatic bodily intelligence, which can then inform our emotional and intuitive faculties.

Learning to quieten the voice in our head, and then learning to come out of our heads and into our bodies more – through practices like yoga, Tai Chi, heart-breathing or body scanning – helps activate this latent soul-potential we have within us. The serpent is aroused.  There are certain yogic postures and movements that have been devised to specifically arouse the serpent within.

In the book Regenerative Leadership, we speak of Activating our Super-Nature, which explains this process of integrating different ways of knowing within-side our own bodymind, the somatic, emotional, intuitive and rational aspects of our psyche, within the alchemic vessel of our own selves. This allows us to open up into the light of nature within and all around us.  This is the immanence found in life itself. 

This serpent relates to the libidinal forces of psychotherapy and the kundalini forces of mystical tantric transformation practices, where energy is aroused in the base of the spine and awakens the major chakra centres up the spine reaching the crown at the top of the head. The serpent contains both masculine-feminine qualities. It has a masculine outer-form (cold-blooded reptile) and feminine inner-form (embodied, sensuous, moist and flowing).  In alchemy this relates to the elements of earth-water.  We learn to ride the serpent-dragon by noticing the tensions within us and rather than blindly allowing our instinctual urges to get the better of us, we allow our consciousness to shine through the darkness of our inner depths. The grit of the tension transmutes to reveal a pearl of wisdom whereupon we see more of ourselves; we become more whole. This is one aspect of the soul – the earthly aspect, which contains an every-playing tension or dance of masculine-feminine within us. 

The other aspect of the soul – the heavenly aspect – relates to the vertical pole of the cross-of-life, or the transcendent aspect of reality, symbolised by the bird, which is feminine in outer form (the warm-blooded bird) but masculine in its inner form (clarity of reason, direct illumination). In alchemy this relates to the elements of air-fire.  This is the universal field of energy beyond this space-time world yet entering into this world all the time.

Through meditative and contemplative practices we can allow our bodymind vessel to cohere and attune with this universal energy and allow an awakening of our soul-faculties of insight, intuition, synchronicity and flow.  We gain super-sensory faculties that are a natural part of being human.

The soul can ripen in its powers, so as to consciously receive spirit-wisdom from both earth (via the serpent aspect) and universe (via the bird aspect).  This ripening happens through a play of inner tensions created through opposing forces within the psyche.  Alchemy offers intricate processes, inspired by nature, such as separation-purification-reconstitution and divergence-convergence-emergence (which we apply to organisational development in the book Regenerative Leadership).

There is also a seasonal cyclic nature to our soul-transformation. Just as the growth of summer gives way to decline and death in winter, and winter provides reflection and renewal for spring into summer again, there are cyclic cycles of death-rebirth going on within our own psyche all the time. Noticing these seasonal phases is an important aspect of the inner journey whereupon we are experiencing biorhythmic waves of dying and birthing in order to become more of who we truly are.

The crucible of soul transformation is life itself, and the tensions that it unfolds all about and within us are life’s learning ground. The ego-consciousness of the first lens tries to avoid or collapse tensions to keep us safe, yet in-so-doing, undermines our soul-evolution. Hence, we need to cultivate a healthy relationship between the three lenses within us – first (ego) second (soul) and third (spirit).

This inner journey is not about seeking serenity or bliss-states that are attained during quiet solitude and meditation, or vivid highs, extreme sports and epiphanies. It is about living into the inner turbulence of continual tensions triggered by ordinary daily reactivity, desire, passion and fear, into extraordinary super-nature insights that reach into hidden recesses within our psyche.  This is exploring the hidden wholeness within and all around us.  It may help to study nature, yet not merely in a reductive-scientific biologically-classified kind of way, but also in an open-hearted, intuitive, phenomenological kind of way. It’s what Goethe referred to as active-seeing where we sense into the essence of things beyond the labelling and human-imposed judgements, moral ethics and ego-projections. Let go of the voice in the head, open the heart, and see with the whole bodymind, and allow the serpent and bird to entwine through our full-bodied experience. This is what Otto Scharmer refers to as Open Mind, Open Heart, Open Will, and its well within our human capacity. The more we practice  this, the more we can welcome it into our meeting conventions and daily business rhythms.  This is what the future of business is truly about.

‘The greatest breakthroughs of the 21st Century will not occur because of technology, they will occur because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human.’ – John Naisbett

This is an opening up into life, by opening in to our inner nature and outer nature in a more embodied integrated way. This allows tensions within us to unfold in an unhurried pregnant way where emergence is appreciated (as uncomfortable as this undefined uncontrollable birthing-process is for the ego with its need for clear-cut answers, directions-of-travel and controlled outcomes). We enter an inner space of not-knowing, of surrendering, and as tensions churn up inside us, it can become quite unsettling, even maddening at times, and the temptation to react with the ego or get subsumed by the instinct is always there.

There is danger as we dive inwardly on this journey. The earthly serpent injects venom that may either paralyse or awaken.  Every trigger is a crucible for paralysis or awakening.  It all depends on how we alchemise, cook and purify. Life, all the time is offering the ingredients to awaken.  Sometimes the more we dive inward the more we feel the vortex of the ego holding-on for dear life. The voice in the head gets louder and more frenetic as we drop over the world’s rim. The urges of the instinct can blind us, lull us into the lure of our own inner fantasies, power-plays, fears and feelings.   We need to be of the ‘flesh’ yet not consumed by ‘flesh’.  This is walking the razor’s-edge.

It is a developmental process where we move towards reconciling the bird’s super-sensory insight with the serpents somatic-energy, as our consciousness expands and the deeper meaning of life emerges with us, reaching beyond flesh-fantasy and ego-projection/narcissism/victim-mentality, cutting through old patterns as dawn-breaks, we see with new eyes.

Image Source: https://www.holdenqigong.com/how-to-blend-fire-and-water-inner-alchemy-2/

This is a threshold crossing, and is a letting go and reaching beyond much of what today’s consumeristic digitally-distracted society subsumes us with.

Learning to discern when we are alchemising an inner struggle into transformation, or when we are being subsumed into deeper darkness of terrestrial sleep is the art of the hero’s journey or pilgrim’s path.

The serpent of the dark moist recesses of earth-water is destined to rise from the reptilian state into the dreams of its celestial origins, an ascent to the supernal regions of the psyche where it alchemises with universal energy.

This can be symbolised by the tree with its roots and branches. The everyday embodiment of our values and cultural-beliefs is the root-system drawing nutrients from the earthly realm of the soul.  The learning nutrients are the systemic ordering forces and constellations of power-plays, gossip, behaviours and such like that can be made more conscious, more authentic, more alive and embodied.  Then there are the branches and leaves where the nutrients from the culture of the roots engage in alchemy through photosynthesis – value-exchanges, synergies and evolutionary purpose of the organisation are enlivened. Then the nutrients are taken back down into the cultural roots of the tree. It is a continuous exchange of roots and branches, of inner culture, outer strategy – emergent and evolutionary in nature.  The self-management of Teal-Evolutionary business is served by both the roots of inner wholeness and the branches of outer strategy and purpose.  As Frederic Laloux knew, it is both Evolutionary Purpose and the Journey towards Wholeness that allows the self-management practices of today’s future-fit agile organisations to come alive and truly thrive.

We might see how each day is a way into the inner journey towards wholeness.  Each season, rhythm, tension, day and conversation can – and perhaps ought be – undertaken in a sacred manner. These tensions sure make for turbulence but do not need to be seen as struggle, but rather a continuous dance of opposing tensions – the tantric dance of loving life in all its fullness.

As spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle notes, ‘Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness.  How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at the moment.’  This gives us tremendous hope; hope that comes with Trust in Life.  As we learn to let-go and trust in life, we see more clearly, we discern more readily, the crucibles and thresholds of our own learning journey towards wholeness.  This is for free, no MBA or PhD required.  We are all students of life.

This individual journey towards wholeness – what Jung called individuation – is actually relational and communal in its nature. The alchemic vessel is our own bodymind, our own inner excitations, insights and evolution. Yet, this inner self is a soul-seed planted in a rich milieu of relations, an ecology of life. As we become more intimate with the immanence within us, and more transparent with the transcendent all around us, we find ourselves realising our destinal path, and living more responsively to the communal life of the social systems we participate in.  As our self-awareness deepens, so too does our systemic-awareness, and our ability to regeneratively serve our community. Our own inner evolution contributes to communal evolution. We sense into and live the Golden Rule of loving thy neighbour as thyself, through knowing thyself intimately.

We find true vocation upon understanding our own intricacies and then offering our inner gifts to serve life.  This is the art of becoming a Regenerative Leader, the leader who learns to attune with the wisdom of nature while serving the evolution of consciousness itself.  This is what it means to be truly human, to live up to our name as Homo sapiens (wise beings) in service of life on Earth.

As the playwright, social activist and former Prime Minister Vaclav Havel knew, Consciousness precedes Being. There is consciousness flowing through everything, through every act, and we can aid this consciousness through our own authenticity, in terms of how we show-up.

‘The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human modesty, and in human responsibility. Without a global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness, nothing will change for the better, and the catastrophe towards which this world is headed, whether it be ecological, social, demographic or a general breakdown of civilization, will be unavoidable.’ – Vaclav Havel

All too often we apply yesterday’s fragmented digitised ego-consciousness to our future scenarios of sustainable living and leading. This is not what regenerative leadership is about.  Regenerative Leadership invites in a revolution, a root-and-branch transformation in our own selves as leaders, in our teams, organisations and wider social systems.  This is an inner transformation that informs the outer change we need for all life on Earth to thrive.

These are pivotal times, an old way is dying and a new way is being born.

The old mythos (worldview-story) of separation, scarcity, competition, control and fear is still gasping for air, holding on for dear life.  We must first notice this in our own selves, in our own triggers, tensions and projections, and allow these insights to inform our own transformation. 

The old Logos (worldview-logic) of mechanistic-thinking, linear cause-and-effect, reductive logic is no longer serving us. It is no longer able to deal with the complex systemic challenges of the day.  The Logic of Life that we find innate within nature, within the universe, is the new way. A living-systems way of leading – this is the logic of Regenerative Leadership. The time has come.

join the LinkedIn group if you have not already:

https://www.linkedin.com/groups/13767578/

and Facebook group:

https://www.facebook.com/businessinspiredbynature/

Giles Hutchins is a pioneering practitioner and senior adviser at the fore-front of the [r]evolution in organizational and leadership consciousness and developmental approaches that enhance personal, organizational and systemic agility and vitality. He is author and co-author of several leadership and organizational development papers, and the books The Nature of Business (2012), The Illusion of Separation (2014), Future Fit (2016) and Regenerative Leadership (2019). Chair of The Future Fit Leadership Academy and Founder of Leadership Immersions, co-founder of Biomimicry for Creative Innovation and Regenerators, he runs a 60 acre leadership centre at Springwood Farm, an area of outstanding natural beauty near London, UK.  Previously held corporate roles – Head of Practice for KPMG, and Global Head of Sustainability for Atos (150,000 employees, over 40 countries). He provides coaching at individual and organisational levels for those seeking to transform their personal and/or work lives. He is also a keynote speaker on the future of business.

Regenerative Leadership – why now?

April 7, 2021

‘It’s hard to imagine a more relevant and timely book at this point in our existence and one that has become even more so in the face of the global pandemic. While many of us recognise the faults and the unintentional, but horribly destructive and deeply demoralising consequences of the ways our societies now operate, few can imagine what it is we can realistically do instead.

With increasing division and polarisation, rising inequality, burgeoning levels of poor mental health and catastrophic damage to the natural environment we are dependent upon for our survival, our experiential quality of life is heading in the wrong direction.  When we spend the majority of our time doing something we wouldn’t choose to do if we could afford not to, so that we can spend the minority of our time doing what we want to do and even then, often wishing for something else instead, we want to know: how do we get off the hamster wheel?

In Regenerative Leadership, Giles Hutchins and Laura Storm guide us to the answers. They remind us that we are living organisms, rather than standardised machines as the corporate world has come to think of us. They show us how we are an intrinsic part of the natural ecosystem and the possibilities available to us when we reconnect with all its rhythms, cycles and incredibly vibrant diversity.

In a world that has come to value money above life and where inanimate organisations are prioritised above the humans who created them and for whom they were created, this book is a highly practical, evidence-based and beautifully narrated explanation of the leadership we so desperately need right now.  As we work harder and longer than we ever have, in some of the most challenging circumstances we have ever faced, it’s time for us to see how our largely unconscious expectation to operate as if in an eternal Summer (infinite and continuous year on year growth), is neither possible or desirable.

Thank you to Giles and Laura for guiding us back to (our true) nature.’

‘Hutchins’ and Storm’s Regenerative Leadership shines a bright light on one of the most critical, and least understood capacities required of anyone and any institution seeking to work regeneratively—understanding and living into the three-fold dynamics of what the book calls the DNA of regenerative leadership. By growing the consciousness required to simultaneously work on developing ourselves, the wholes we are a part of, and the unique contributions we and they are called to make to the larger life world we depend on, we just might be able to achieve the regenerative capacity the Earth is asking for.’  

–  Pamela Mang, co-founder of Regenesis and co-author of Regenerative Development and Design.     

‘The clarity, inspiration, synergy and wisdom of Regenerative Leadership is breath-taking. It offers a rich delicious mixture of theory, case studies, invaluable tools and leading edge practices and insights. For leaders genuinely seeking to be effective, sustainable and successful while contributing to making the world, and their organizations far better places this is the must read book of the year. I couldn’t put it down.’ 

–  Dr Lynne Sedgmore CBE, former Chief Executive  of 157 Group, Centre for Excellence in Leadership

‘Hutchins and Storm demonstrate that they are clearly at the forefront of a new leadership paradigm that maps an emerging model for sustainable organization in any institution that wishes to thrive. Regenerative Leadership is built upon developing awareness of self and system that embraces the wisdom of Nature alongside creative human consciousness. It is an ideal model that recognizes the potential of living systems to revive organizations and leadership to be effective drivers for the next step in our human story. Hutchins and Storm know what they are talking about – and we should start listening.’ 

– Kingsley L. Dennis, The Sacred Revival – Magic, Mind & Meaning in a Technological Age

Thank you for the support of these specialists in their field and many many more people who have written reviews of the book, and those of you who are kindly sharing the book, mini-reviews, photos and comments on LinkedIn, Instagram, and other social media – you know who you are, and we deeply thank you for this sharing-the-vibe.  Laura and I are blown away by the interest in the book, and from hearing how it has inspired leaders from all walks of life to start being the change they wish to see in their lives and in their organisations.

Just last week Laura has been interviewed for CNN on Regenerative Leadership, so perhaps the scales are tipping in the right direction, and finally what the world needs is actually starting to become mainstream, or atleast more widely accepted.  There is always hope amid these tumultuous times!

In case of interest, here is a podcast interview Laura and I recently gave for The Edison Electric Institute:

https://electricperspectives.podbean.com/e/002-global-circuit-thriving-under-crisis-with-regenerative-leadership/

Feel free to join the Leadership Immersions LinkedIn group here: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/13767578/

And watch this short book video here:

And you can find more about the book here at www.regenerativeleadership.co

Thank you for your support and sharing : ) Happy spring-time 2021. Times they are a changin’ Each of us creates trim-tabs to shift this transformation in the right direction. With Love, Giles & Laura

The Essence of Regenerative Leadership

March 31, 2021

This time of year has long been celebrated as a time of renewal; a death-rebirth process that happens at certain times in our lives to enable our individual and collective consciousness to evolve.

This time of year can be celebrated as a threshold crossing for us to deepen our life-journey of self-discovery, in-so-doing learning how best to serve others and the wider whole; to become more regenerative as we renew ourselves.  As the famous poet Rumi noted, it is only by being faithful to our deeper truer nature that we can find right-relation with the world, and then attend to solving the ills of the world, which are deep, and need our depth.

‘If you are here unfaithfully with us, you’re causing terrible damage.’ Rumi

Amid the global-crises and local-stresses we each face, there is hope. 

Rays of a new dawn are lighting up a new way for how we behave individually and collectively.  Underpinning any evolution in thinking and doing, is a worldview shift, a shift in our orientation with self-other-world.

The Regenerative Journey is a journey towards futures that enhance the fabric of life on Earth while also enabling our organisations to come alive and our people to thrive. It’s a journey of learning. This journey starts with a more intimate relationship with our own sense of Self.

Who Am I?

One might ask that question to oneself repeatedly, over and over, during the days and nights ahead, especially over this time of spring unfolding and winter retreating. See what responses come from inside ourselves as we ask this simply question of ourselves. It is not a frivolous inquiry, but an important one that we often overlook in our schooling or further education, so caught up we have become in the outer-pursuit of happiness, of ungrounded-doing, of exploring new landscapes, new things, yet divorced from who we truly are. Enter today’s malaise.

‘The greatest voyage of our lifetimes is not in the seeking of new landscapes but in the seeing with new eyes.’ Marcel Proust

Who Am I?

Am I this incessant voice inside the head, providing a running commentary on pretty much everything that happens in my life?   Perhaps there is more to me? There is ofcourse, as I can witness this voice, and even quieten or gain perspective on the voice-in-the-head, even transform it and redirect it, if I so choose.

Am I these emotions that rise up when something happens and I feel triggered, whether standing in-line in the shop, or taking part on a zoom call, or receiving an email, or playing with the kids?  Perhaps there is more to me? There is, as I can witness these emotions rising and falling away, and even sense into underlying traumas and wounds, and go into these and find release, even transmute my emotions, if I so choose.

Am I this body, with its strengths and weaknesses, aliments and aches, and all the somatic sensations and instincts it offers?  Perhaps there is more to me, as I can witness this body and sense into its underlying intelligence and aliveness, even enliven and cultivate the flow of energy in my body, if I so choose.

Am I a rich concoction of the past experiences I have experienced and the anticipations and dreams of the future? Perhaps there is more to me, as I have always been there in the mirror, regardless of experience or dream, and I can transform my dreams and even re-enliven my memories, if I so choose.

And I know that I am not the car I drive or the house I live in or the collection of material goods or intellectual property I supposedly ‘own’. I can transcend all the worldly toys, tools and temptations, if I so choose.

There is something underneath the outer forms of everyday experience, and also something underneath the inner expressions of mind and body: a deeper sense of Self, something that can witness and draw insight from the inner-outer worlds we experience.

There is a field of consciousness that my Self is a part of and draws from as it journeys through life in this bodymind vessel of ‘I’.  Consciousness is not limited to my brain or my body, science now shows us that consciousness pervades not just the entire bodymind but beyond me, in life itself. We can learn to attune our bodymind to better flow with life’s consciousness, to become more conscious, more whole, less fragmented, less separate, more interconnected.  This is a death-rebirth process: a dying of the small ‘ego-self’ that has a scarcity mindset of separation and competition that pervades the self-other-world dynamic we show-up with; and a birthing/revealing of a deeper Self aka Soul. Through this threshold crossing, we can allow the rightful centre of ourselves to lead, and the ego to become a useful tool that serves the Soul.  This is a metamorphosis within us, a death-rebirth process from scarcity into abundance, from imprisonment into emancipation, from control-and-separation into emergence-and-interconnection.  As spring time emerges from winter, as buds unfold all around us, we can invite in an unfolding within us. If we dare to cross the threshold.

The adult developmental psychologist Clare Graves extensively studied adult psychology, and presciently spoke of the times we are in as ‘not merely a transition to a new level of existence, but the start of a new movement in the symphony of human identity.’  What beautiful words conveying the music of life, as we move into new way of being-and-doing.  Its not just the outer-doing from industrialised pollution to circular economics and regenerative design, its also our inner consciousness, our inner-being. This is at the heart of being regenerative – aligning the inner-outer, yin-yang of life.

‘A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty’ – Albert Einstein

This can feel rather overwhelming, or perhaps a nice-to-have luxury amidst the busyness, stresses and strains and crises of today’s volatile hurry-up-and-get-on-with-it world.  Alas, it is essential. Much more essential than Big Data or AI for that matter, as they are tools, which without adequate consciousness applying them will run amok.

The essence, our inner essence, speaks to what it means to be human: This ability to emancipate ourselves from our own delusion of consciousness which Einstein so eloquently points to.

Without this essence we are cut adrift, ungrounded, and all-but lost, tossed this way and that in a volatile world of ephemeral needs and desires.

Myself, Giles Hutchins, and my co-author, Laura Storm, write about this leadership transformation in our book Regenerative Leadership, and explore the tools and steps required for this Journey towards Wholeness to happen in our organisations while surviving amidst today’s tumultuous business climes.

Here is a podcast where Vice President of Edison Electric Institute interviews Giles Hutchins & Laura Storm in discussing the challenges we now face in creating regenerative futures amid this post-COVID world:  https://electricperspectives.podbean.com/e/002-global-circuit-thriving-under-crisis-with-regenerative-leadership/

As well as the seismic shifts in transforming our own selves, and our social systems, there are also lots of small steps we can each take every single day. Architect, inventor and philosopher Buckminster Fuller, referred to these small changes that create regenerative ripples throughout the system as ‘Trim Tabs’: where the minute informs the momentous.

Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Elizabeth — the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there’s a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trim tab. It’s a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. Takes almost no effort at all. So I said that the little individual can be a trim tab. Society thinks it’s going right by you, that it’s left you altogether. But if you’re doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go. So I said, “Call me Trim Tab.”

The truth is that you get the low pressure to do things, rather than getting on the other side and trying to push the bow of the ship around. And you build that low pressure by getting rid of a little nonsense, getting rid of things that don’t work and aren’t true until you start to get that trim-tab motion. It works every time. That’s the grand strategy you’re going for. So I’m positive that what you do with yourself, just the little things you do yourself, these are the things that count. To be a real trim tab, you’ve got to start with yourself, and soon you’ll feel that low pressure, and suddenly things begin to work in a beautiful way. Of course, they happen only when you’re dealing with really great integrity.’  – Buckminster Fuller

As Bucky knew, every act with intention and integrity shifts the system. The minute contributes to the momentous. And as adult developmental psychologist Clare Graves knew, we are experiencing a momentous leap in human-kind right now, not just a transition but a new symphony of human identity is emerging-evolving right now. And our minute acts with great integrity tip the scales as our social and organisational systems metamorphose from old to new. Exciting yet challenging times to be alive, to become more human by becoming more in-tune with Life = Regenerative Leadership.

In a recent podcast interview the US filmmaker, Susanne Taylor, asks me to explore the inquiry – what would you do if you ran the world?  I suggest that what is of the utmost importance is not simply the policies and governance, but the will, the deep desire, the knowing – which can be reignited in us (as it is always within us) through awareness and education.  If we are brutally honest with ourselves, we might see that much of what we think of as education today is brainwashing, conditioning, conforming, controlling and limiting our sense of self, twisting us down pathways where we feel impelled to wear masks, and so corrupting our self-other-world dynamic. We need education in its truest sense, as the Greeks meant it when they came up with the word, which for them meant to draw-out the essence of who we truly are into the world – an education that is enlivening, emancipating and empowering for the Soul.   Listen here for more on ‘if I ran the world’: https://suespeakspodcast.com/14-Giles-Hutchins/

And so there are now three questions to ponder on this Easter, if we so choose:

  1. Who Am I?
  2. If I ran the world what would I do?
  3. What are the small minute acts, the trim tabs, I can start doing today and tomorrow?

I am often asked by leaders – ‘What is the essence of Regenerative Leadership?’ – the essence is within us. It’s the essence that is within everything. Being regenerative is being natural. It is a process of opening to our inner nature and outer nature. It’s an educational journey of learning to flow as nature flows. Nothing more, nothing less.

What is within us is within everything. Once we understand this truth, we step outside of the parameters of our individual self and come to realise the power that is within us. This shift in awareness is a very simple step that has profound consequences’ – Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, mystic

Are you ready to step into the new symphony of human consciousness?  The Journey towards Wholeness starts right here, right now.

‘Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.’ Bob Marley.

Giles Hutchins is a pioneering practitioner and senior adviser at the fore-front of the [r]evolution in organizational and leadership consciousness and developmental approaches that enhance personal, organizational and systemic agility and vitality. He is author and co-author of several leadership and organizational development papers, and the books The Nature of Business (2012), The Illusion of Separation (2014), Future Fit (2016) and Regenerative Leadership (2019). Chair of The Future Fit Leadership Academy and Founder of Leadership Immersions, co-founder of Biomimicry for Creative Innovation and Regenerators, he runs a 60 acre leadership centre at Springwood Farm, an area of outstanding natural beauty near London, UK.  Previously held corporate roles – Head of Practice for KPMG, and Global Head of Sustainability for Atos (150,000 employees, over 40 countries). He provides coaching at individual and organisational levels for those seeking to transform their personal and/or work lives. He is also a keynote speaker on the future of business.

The Emerging Economic Renaissance

March 13, 2021

A new political-economic paradigm is emerging in northern Europe and parts of the Asia-Pacific region that could signal a major turning point in human history. Like the time when humanity awakened to the fact that the world was round, rather than flat, this new paradigm radically challenges our perceptions of reality and the systems we’ve created to guide our lives.

This is a guest blog by author of the new book Economies That Mimic Life by Joseph H Bragdon.

The impetus for this emerging shift is the increasingly catastrophic failure of humanity’s conventional GDP-focused political-economic system. What started in the industrial age as regional and global competitions for hegemony and resources eventually developed into two world wars, expensive military arms races, ecological overstep, climate change, species extinctions and a surge of borrowing as those in power sought to solidify their hold on authority. Over the past year the fragile structure of this debt-driven competition has been exposed by the coronavirus pandemic, causing widespread disruption in global markets.

So what is it about the emerging new paradigm that could reverse this self-destructive trend and alter the course of history? The answer is deceptively simple.

Instead of perceiving economies as bottom-line, capital-driven devices for growing GDP and profit (increasingly at the expense of people and Nature), the new paradigm sees economies as they really are: as sub-systems of life, whose primary assets are people and Nature and whose goals are to preserve the continuous wellbeing of all life on earth. By such means, it resolves into a reinforcing loop, where means and ends serve one another rather than conflict. Simple. Logical. And remarkably effective

Economies That Mimic Life

The wonderful thing about this living system approach is how it generates economic success as it reduces humanity’s ecological footprint. In doing so, it overcomes the increasing frictions between means and ends that have plagued the mainstream “neoclassical” model and driven it to the edge of ruin. This is not to say that transitioning to the life-mimicking model will be easy. But in the final analysis it comes down to whether the citizens and leaders of a country want to go down with a sinking ship or whether they want to find a more secure way forward.

Because the two models are so fundamentally opposite (incommensurable), attempts to find a compromise solution will almost certainly fail. That’s because their foundational assumptions conflict as can be seen in the following table. Consequently, the most promising (and profitable) way forward is to abandon the neoclassical model and adopt the life mimicking one.

That said, it’s important to understand that the life-mimicking model is not a set destination, but an adaptable pathway forward – one that can (and must) be amended by continuous observation and learning as political-economic conditions change.

Comparison of Working Assumptions and Practices

Living System ModelNeoclassical Model
Economies are:Sub-systems of biosphere, societyThe dominant system
Governance:Egalitarian, networked, decentralizedHierarchical, centralized
Mission:Maintain healthy living systemsMaintain authority, control
Values:Primacy of living assets (people, Nature)Primacy of non-living capital
Vision:Optimize living assets (circular economy)Optimize GDP, profit
Leverage:Living asset stewardship (inspiration)Financial gearing (debt)
Mind-set:Holistic, qualitative (non-linear)Reductionist, quantitative (linear)
Metrics:Focus on learning, adaptation (means)Focus on results (ends)
Learning:Multiple loop (open-ended)Single loop (follow the rules)
Risk:Being only generally right
(Lack of precision)
Being precisely wrong (Climate change)

 As one can easily see, the foregoing assumptions and practices reflect radically different worldviews/paradigms. Historically, each evolved to remediate the failures of a prior system. Therefore, just as the living systems model emerged to redress the failures of the neoclassical (industrial era) model, the neoclassical model emerged in Europe from the 17th Century Enlightenment as Europe sought to break free from the constrictive norms of the feudal system.

The power of the living system paradigm is in seeing the living world as it really is rather than a notional construct for continuous GDP growth and capital accumulation. When we approach economies as sub-systems of life rather than super-systems that transcend life, we attain what Donella (Dana) Meadows called a dynamic leverage point where “a small change in one thing can produce big changes in everything.”[1]

Such was the case in the evolution of the life-mimicking Nordic Model. Although its holistic approach has ancient roots in teachings of the Buddha and Confucius and in the practices of traditional cultures, the Nordic countries of Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Iceland are the first to apply it to modern industrial cultures.

The Nordic Model

Nordic countries today are regularly placed at the top of global surveys on prosperity, quality of life, health, democracy, freedom, innovation, productivity and sustainability. As bastions of open, free markets, they have also become global innovation hothouses in renewable energy, bio-tech and circular economy practices.


In the course of becoming more prosperous, Nordic countries have developed a system of robust universal safety nets. Although supported by high individual tax rates, these strengthen their economies by providing an abundance of healthy, educated, secure and motivated citizens. As a result, Nordic countries today have some of the industrial world’s highest labor participation rates and per capita GDPs – advantages that support the funding of their safety nets. Compared to the lose-lose outcomes of the neoclassical model, this interaction creates a dynamic win-win reinforcing loop.

Which brings us back to the earlier mentioned vulnerabilities of the neoclassical model. As the US and other large industrial economies try to protect their regional and global hegemonies, they exploit the very sources of their strength (people and Nature) and borrow far more than their weakening economies can afford. Consequently, while Nordic economies go from strength to strength by partnering with Nature and nourishing their people, the US and others operating on the neoclassical model fall further and further behind.

Economics That Mimic Life by Joseph Bragdon

This breakdown/breakthrough saga is powerfully transformative, as described in my book “Economies That Mimic Life” (https://www.routledge.com/Economies-that-Mimic-Life-From-Biomimicry-to-Sustainable-Prosperity/Bragdon/p/book/9780367625993). Dedicated to my late friend, Dana Meadows, it offers compelling evidence of her belief in Leverage Points as a way to meaningfully transform systems.