Authentic Leadership for Radical Transformation
Radical transformation is heart work; transforming how we perceive, attend to and engage with our inner and outer worlds – the ever-changing context we find ourselves in whether it be personal, family, organisational, community, societal.
‘The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart’ Vaclav Havel
To breathe life through the eye of the heart is to transform through our own becoming. Being authentic within the moment is being and becoming through our hearts. It is where our soul attunes through its participatory relationship with life. Here is where our authentic Self (our true Self beyond the ego) opens up and co-creates with the world around us. This is the sea of synchronicity full of eddies, under-currents, storms and summer breezes. Accepting the present moment with our full presence – this is leading with heart, with courage (its root ‘coeur’ meaning heart), beyond fear, beyond control. It’s not for the faint-hearted, nor the ones desiring an easy path through life.
It is worth noting that the root word of ‘leadership’ is ‘leith’ which means to cross the threshold, to let go of the old in order to embrace the new – so fundamental to any transformation. Deeply ingrained within our current paradigm is a ‘rationalistic abstraction’ which seeks to polarise the creative tensions inherent within life. Rather than seeing continua to dance through, our rational mind accentuates and then polarises life into binary dualities: good-evil; black-white; rich-poor; human-nature; subject-object; self-other, conscious-unconscious, space-matter, and so on. The boundless and spontaneous wildness of reality is dissected, atomised and fenced-off; resulting in the fragmenting of our self-other-Nature reality in turn fracturing our inner self from our outer self, our conscious mind from our unconscious mind, ourselves from each other and from our other-than-human kinship; hence the separation, scarcity and status anxiety rife in our Western culture. This abstract polarisation may help us define things and box them up into neat and tidy arrangements of control, yet it ends up extracting us from the lived-in flow of reality. It is the root source of our collective inauthenticity; a fearful way of attending to life that is inherently unsustainable.
‘Fearing weakness I strive to control…If there is present awareness, fear is seen clearly as an abstraction…a future anxiety born from memory’s blueprint…investing in an illusory concept about right or wrong in order to avoid that which is absolutely beyond both…In separation, no matter what happens I feel separate. In presence, the self is no more and there is simply that which is.’ Tony Parsons
As leaders, we not only open ourselves up to our full becoming through ‘presencing’, but we also help others open up to too. Authentic leadership is giving others the space, time and courage, through en-couragement, to find their inner Self, their true voice and resonance (or tune). In this way, leading can be seen not as orchestrating or conducting but rather as facilitating the ability of others to tune themselves. Leading helps facilitate the co-creative journey of becoming our true selves while honouring the mystery beyond pre-defined outcomes. As Parker J Palmer insightfully points out through his important work, leaders serve as midwives to a birth of consciousness that can only come from within. Hence, the emergence of the new paradigm in our midst requires authentic leadership. Our collective and individual shift in consciousness requires space, time and courage, through en-couragement, to take root and grow, ever-transforming, ceaseless unfolding.
The art of presencing has been applied to organisational transformation and business leadership through the great work of Peter Senge and Otto Scharmer. Their work at MIT and SoL in partnership with businesses around the globe, highlights the need for leaders in organisations of all shapes and sizes to intimately connect with their evolving authentic Self. Presencing is relevant for all transformative situations we find ourselves in.
Authentic leadership, therefore, is courageous leadership rooted in the heart. It is less about the theory of an idealised leadership model and more about the practical ability to navigate a journey of authenticity, inspiration and love; energising and equipping oneself and others to make the right choices for the situation at hand. Each and every one of us plays our part by helping others to co-create through love.
‘Love is the only emotion that expands intelligence.’ Humberto
Love is what enables us to give to ourselves and others. Love is mutually beneficial and always creates conditions conducive for life – love feeds on and grows from love. It breeds positive virtuous cycles. Leadership and organisations of the future are more about love than profit – now here is a new business paradigm in the making, and one that does not need an ‘ism’.
Much has been written about the importance of love in leadership. Sadly, love is not a word we hear much of in business circles these days. It has become a much misunderstood and misappropriated word in our Western consumerist culture of fast paced pleasure.
‘Love inspires leadership…It is the finding of love that will bring forth the leaders we need. It is with each one of us and we only need to let go of our fear and she will be known to us.’
In the words of Gerald May:
‘Love cannot be a means to any end…Love is an end in itself a beginning in itself. Love exists only for love…The real commandment of love is an invitation born in our own yearning, not an externally imposed ‘should’….the invitation of love is to be consciously, energetically alive, and involved in love. This is the real meaning of invitation: living into, being alive within.’
Take a walk on the wild side…through the wisdom of the heart
An important aspect of becoming an authentic leader is learning to love ourselves whole-heartedly, which means embracing our shadow and our wildness – that which our cultural conditioning has taught us to suppress. We need to let all of ourselves come out and play. “Everyone carries a shadow,” Carl Jung wrote, “and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.” Our over-active ego attempts to control our inner and outer worlds, often suppressing much of our psyche into our unconscious ‘shadow’. Whilst the ego is an important and valuable assistant for the trials and tribulations of any transformation, it is the heart where the real transformative potential lies.
Much research has been undertaken into the heart as a physical organ of perception and knowing. Stephen Harrod Buhner, in his book ‘The Secret Teaching of Plants’ explores the wisdom gained through the heart. He points out that ‘between 60 and 65% of the cells in the heart are neural cells’ which are wired into the nervous system and brain. The heart is the body’s most powerful electromagnetic sensor and transmitter, continually decoding the vast array of electromagnetic signals radiating from our lived-in environment. It would seem the intuitive mind is very much in the heart. It is through the heart (and then subsequently our brain and nervous system) in conjunction with our sensory perception that we find ourselves living in continual and participatory dialogue with the world around us.
Out of Control – Beyond Boundaries
‘If consciousness can abandon its mad, quixotic quest to control reality, a radical lessening of anxiety follows…our domestication becomes rebalanced with our wildness. This is an enormous and life-changing relief.’ Nick Totton
Through the embodiment of our inner and outer worlds (intellectual, emotional and spiritual), we begin to realise that life does not need to be controlled. When it boils down to it, it’s all about relationships – how we relate with our selves (ego-Self) with each other (self-other) and with our wider kinship (human-nature). In business and nature, everything works through flows of relationships. Trust is the soil from which healthy vibrant relationships take root. Control is the opposite of trust and relationships struggle to survive without trust. Trust requires mutual respect and understanding, a reaching out beyond oneself that allows for a flow of sharing through relations; a reciprocation. Trust is what allows a relationship to unfold unbounded by the narrow constrains of what we think things ought to be for some pre-defined outcome.
To be spontaneous while co-creating with others is to have innate trust in the relationships while letting go of control. In this way, trust allows an opening up to the present moment – a ‘presencing’ where upon we en-courage an aliveness to flow through all we are co-creating. Authenticity and spontaneity are dancing partners in transformation.
The wonderful dynamism of our participatory co-creative engagement – our cosmic dance – with life is magic in itself, and its flow is laced with its own balancing and self-righting abilities if only we learn to let go and let love, only then we will gain confidence and trust in how things really are, beyond the tidy yet artificial confines of control. From here, within this moment of authentic presence, we live beyond contradiction, beyond separation, beyond scarcity, we transform, we metamorphose. Just as it seems inconceivable for the caterpillar to contemplate dancing upon the wind, so it seems inconceivable in today’s short-term output focused, quantity obsessed organisations to lead without control. The transformation to a new paradigm, first-and-foremost, asks us to let go of our pre-conceived notions, our cultural conditions, our rigid mental maps and tidy definitions in order to cross the threshold.
An easy way to experience life beyond contradiction is by dancing with another. When both dancing partners relax into the dance, when the ‘leader’ has let go of control and is attuned with the ‘follower’, then true co-creative tango flows, with an ease and magic far beyond the realms of control or rationality. ‘I’ll see you all at the Dance said she’.
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