Natural Leadership: Embracing the Logic of Life
Leadership is central to this reshaping of our organizations. It is leadership that enables us to traverse our own thresholds while helping others traverse theirs. The origin of the word ‘leadership’ is the old European word leith which means ‘to go forth and cross the threshold’, ‘to let go of old ways and embrace the new’. In other words, leadership is about shaping our future while letting go of yesterday’s logic.
The logic of yesterday haunts many of today’s organizations. Its hallmark is a control-and-predict hurry-up-and-get-on-with-it short-termism. It’s a mechanistic reductive logic infecting how we perceive our world and our sense of self within it. Inured by this logic, we see ourselves as separate “I’s”, self-absorbed units struggling for survival in a dog-eat-dog world.
This logic projects a worldview now ingrained in our educational systems, managerial mind-sets and methods of leading, so much so that many of us believe it to be ‘just the way life is’. Why question this logic when, after all, it’s the ‘logic of life’? Or is it?
The influential Enlightenment philosopher, Thomas Hobbes – and other great minds following in his footsteps such as biologist Thomas Henry Huxley and sociologist Herbert Spencer – portrayed a convincing story of how life is: an evolutionary process of selfish ascendency; a continuous struggle of domination, competition and control; a ‘war of each against all’ as Hobbes remarked. This logic helped ruling elites justify imperialism, domination, exploitation and subjugation. Soon, this logic pervaded our Western socio-economic mind-set with profound effects. Enter the neo-liberal capitalism and individualism busily being exported to all corners of our global community.
Yet, this logic is, at best, jaundice; de-emphasizing some of life’s richest qualities (collaboration, networking, reciprocity, empathy, community) while over-emphasizing others (competition, control, domination, selfishness, egotism). It has a carcinogenic effect, setting ourselves apart from each other, corrupting our relations, and destroying our home. Its pervasive effect on our management, leadership and organizational mind-set undermines our organizations’ potential for creating meaningful, wholesome, life-enhancing enterprises. Instead, we get caught up in a frenzied busyness that burns our future for today’s party. All-too-engrossed, we skip past warning signs and treat symptoms with the same mind-set that created them, skimming over the underlying causes. Our social fabric starts to unravel, the cultural soil of our communities is leached, our political minds become parasitic, and our civilizations crumble.
So what to do?
There is good news. A groundswell of findings is revealing a richer understanding of life. The varied disciples of facilitation ecology, transpersonal psychology, quantum physics, neuroscience, anthropology, organizational development and leadership, to name a few, are all exploring a deeper, truer ‘logic of life’.
And just how does this truer logic of life influence the organizational management and leadership of our 21st century companies? How does it help our workplaces become future-fit ?
I use the terminology of ‘firms of the past’ (ones inured in the mechanistic logic of yesterday) and ‘firms of the future’ (organizations beginning to embrace this richer ‘logic of life’) to illustrate and illuminate a profound shift in our ways of operating and organizing that is now upon us.
Firms of the past are top-down hierarchic, command-and-controlled, siloed, KPI-obsessed organizations. No doubt we have all experienced this kind of organization. Yet, it stifles our personal and organizational creativity, adaptiveness, resilience and well-being. In short, it undermines our ability to effectively operate within a business context that is only set to become more volatile, uncertain and challenging.
On the other hand, firms of the future are living, emergent, distributed and decentralized with locally-attuned teams of people empowered to deal with unceasing transformation without having to rely on hierarchies of bureaucracy and control. These organizations embrace a living-systems logic enabling them to be inherently flexible, adaptable and resilience, seeking out opportunity for value-creation within the ‘new norm’ context of unceasing transformation.
A fundamental aspect of our embracement of this ‘new logic’ is our ‘letting go’ of yesterday’s logic. And this letting-go ought not to be understated. It is easier said than done to surrender acculturated patterns of thinking, perceiving, experiencing and relating, especially amid the heat-of-the-moment.
First and foremost, we need to cultivate the self-awareness amid our everyday busyness to catch ourselves reacting with ‘old ways’ and then the courage to pause, open-up to, and embrace a deeper truer logic of life.
The logic of yesterday has manifested in our ways of leading, operating and organizing as a hierarchic, control-based, risk-averse, short-termist, divide-and-rule, Machiavellian style, which is a product of an overly mechanistic, reductive, left-brain hemispheric ego-orientation dominating our daily awareness. By opening our awareness up to a more integrated left and right-brain hemispheric orientation, a more integrated head-heart-gut intelligence, an aligned IQ/EQ/SQ, we allow our rational, emotional, somatic and intuitive ways of knowing to cohere within us, enriching our perspectives, our relations, and our ways of responding to today’s business context.
This is our opening up to a more integrated, authentic and natural awareness of how life is, unencumbered by the constrictions of yesterday’s logic. It is an opening up to more of our natural humanity, and it comes with a deepening perspective of how life really is. This is supported by increasing scientific acceptance of a deeper more inter-relational ‘logic of life’ informing our ways of leading, managing and organizing.
We begin to not just intellectually accept, but emotionally, somatically and intuitively know that life is inter-relational and participatory: physically, energetically, and psychically. And with this deeply felt understanding of the interconnectedness of life, we realize that what we do to one aspect of life whether inside ourselves, or through our relations with others and the wider world, causes ripples through the whole inter-relational matrix of life. This helps us develop what has been referred to as ‘collective intelligence’ and also ‘collaborative intelligence’ where we sense the participatory nature of our ever-changing context. With this comes a humbling responsibility, as we realize our actions can have far-reaching consequences.
At an organizational level, this manifests as the recognition that each organization is inter-dependent with a myriad of inter-related stakeholders including our wider economic, social and environmental ecology. Undermining or alienating one group of stakeholders or aspect of our ecosystem (and eco-range) in order to maximize short-term returns for ourselves or our shareholders may provide superficial quick-wins but it inevitably pollutes our inter-relationality and undermines our regenerative potential (personally and organizationally).
By opening up to this deeper logic of life, we gain immense inspiration, insight, creativity and wisdom to inform and enrich our emerging future. And we also help ourselves, our relations, and our organizations become more human, more vital, and more life-enhancing. Gone with the winds of change is the artificial certainty and mechanistic linearity of command-and-control bureaucracies, revealing a fresher, more natural, purposeful, altogether more human dynamic. The Age of Industrialization and Mechanism has given way to the Age of Networks and Relationships, and with that the organizational metaphor of the machine has given way to the metaphor of the living system.
What do these changes mean for “us” – the people who lead and populate our organisations? What are the new ways to lead, connect, collaborate and get things done?
Throughout the immense wealth of contemporary research on organizational leadership now available, a consistent theme shines through: leaders’ personal effectiveness and organizations’ resilience are directly proportional to the inner-awareness (or ‘level of consciousness’) of the leaders, managers and team players involved in strategic decisions and day-to-day operations. It may sound a bit trite or perhaps rather obvious to point this out, yet this fundamental issue is often overlooked, or paid mere lip-service, in many of today’s mainstream methods of management.
In our rush to find techno-fixes to our present day problems we so often end up reinforcing the level of consciousness that created our problems in the first place. We apply an ego-dominated mechanistic awareness to drive through change, in-so-doing we leave the fundamentals unchanged and so problems persist, spreading deeper and wider in their ramifications. Hence, our ability to understand, embody, practice and cultivate our awareness is core to our becoming future-fit. In other words, our ‘ways of doing’ (resilience, optimizing, adapting, systems-based, values-led and life-supporting) manifest successfully only if underpinned and infused by ‘ways of being’(stillness, self-organizing, small steps, social, synchronicity and soulful).
An inter-relational ‘logic of life’ (synchronicity rather than separateness, collaboration rather than competition, inter-generational value rather than short-term profiteering) is increasingly being embraced across social enterprise, organisational development, team dynamics, leadership methods and corporate cultures.
Remember, leadership starts with each of us cross our own thresholds by letting go of yesterday’s logic while creating our future. That’s what these transformational times are demanding of us now: Natural Leadership – leadership that deeply embraces the logic of life, and in the process allowing us to be more alive, authentic and human.
‘The most exciting breakthroughs of the twenty-first century will not occur because of technology, but because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human.’ John Naisbitt, futurist
As Natural Leaders, we are midwifing the birthing of our authentic selves while simultaneously midwifing the birthing of a timeless logic that harmonizes our enterprises with the wisdom of Life.
As Natural Leaders we hold close to our hearts three levels of commitment:
- The commitment to do our work well; to be dedicated and diligent, to have enthusiasm and empathy, to have integrity and holistic-intelligence (IQ/EQ/SQ – head/heart/gut – somatic/social/soulful), and to have courage and compassion throughout our relations and activities.
- The commitment to embrace our ground-of-being; to practice daily connection with this ground-of-being within and all around us; renewing and enriching our attention and intention. This ground-of-being fertilizes and nourishes us, keeping us enthused with wisdom and grace amid the cacophony of our everyday complexity and chaos. Key to this is having the courage to be present, authentic, and open-hearted, fully listening and fully seeing even in tense times of conflict and challenge. This continual embracement of our ground-of-being allows for a fearless flowering of life, within and through us; a dynamic that simultaneously connects backwards with its source and expands forwards with new creativity.
- The commitment to serve Life. Each day we commit to renewing and enlivening our sense of purpose to serve Life through our natural strengths, passions, creative callings, intuitive insights, and hard-won expertise; through the courage to be present during the ‘emergent unfoldingness’ of each moment; our phenomenological, artful, improvisational ‘being-in-the-world’. In serving Life, we transcend our ego-urges (while letting-go of yesterday’s logic) entrusting our faith in being supported and nourished by the co-participatory emerging future (letting-come the synchronistic inter-being of life’s regenerative logic). Our responsibility as leaders is in helping co-create, nurture and catalyse mental-maps, organizational logic, strategic visions and enterprising initiatives, interventions and conversations, that seed and nurture the regenerative ‘logic of life’ for ourselves, our children and our more-than-human-world.
Natural Leadership is nothing more, nor nothing less, that the continual remembering of our essential nature – our humanity – and our sense of service, gratitude, humility and awe for consciously living in this co-creative adventure. As leaders we create domains for those around us to embrace a deeper understand of life; in-so-doing our teams become conscious of our participatory role in shaping our emerging future.
This is all easier-said-than-done amid a business culture inured in yesterday’s logic. Our ego-soul dynamic can easily get out-of-kilter in today’s egoic culture. And, when we are out-of-kilter, no matter how dedicated we are to doing a good job, the natural flow of wisdom and grace escapes us, and the synchronistic inter-being of our Natural Leadership evaporates leaving nothing but separateness and struggle for our ego-minds to feast upon. And our leadership potential wanes. With that in mind, here are three tips to aid our Natural Leadership:
- Conscious breathing: no matter whether we are standing in a queue or sitting in a meeting, we are always breathing. Bringing attention to our breathing in and out, and the space between the in and out breaths, is an easy yet profound way to cultivate our presence, and help re-establish a more embodied connection with Life: meditation in motion.
- Conscious conversing: each conversation, relationship and interaction (verbal or non-verbal) provides the opportunity for enhancing our presence through our attention and intention. Simple techniques such as deep listening and speaking from the heart-and-gut can help us become more connected, present and authentic in our conversing throughout the day.
- Somatic awareness: The importance of being consciously aware of our ‘bodymind’ felt-senses and subtle perturbations as sources of intelligence for our responsiveness amid hyper-change is fast becoming recognized by leadership specialists the world over. Through simple exercises we can cultivate our awareness of when we are predominately in our thinking-head, or when we are drawing upon the insights of our heart and gut as well as our head. We can learn to re-balance our left and right-brain hemispheres, and our sympathetic and parasympathetic networks within our bodymind, along with our emotional, somatic, intuitive and rational ways of attending. This all helps us be more alive, vital, resilient, responsive and effective in times of challenge.
What prevents us from fully realizing our potential as leaders, change agents and team members, is the same thing preventing us from fully living and fully loving in this world: a flawed logic of how the world works infecting our perspective, yet which we all have the natural capacity of reaching beyond. We are our own jail-makers and our own jail-breakers. As we open up to the deeper logic of life we begin to walk our destinal path, placing small steps with courage, authenticity and presence.
In his latest book, Future Fit, speaker, writer and adviser Giles Hutchins explores – indeed activates – the qualities required for future-fit business. Future Fit is a workbook full with practical tips and case studies, suitable for anyone who is involved in for-purpose enterprise, whether an entrepreneur or seasoned business executive.
‘Essential and timely’ Dr. Scilla Elworthy, Author and Founder of the Oxford Research Group
‘A must-read’ Bob Willard, Author and Speaker, Sustainability Advantage
‘Inspiring, uplifting, superb’ Euan Smith, former COO, Sky Deutschland
‘Unique and insightful’ Oliver Greenfield, Convenor, Green Economy Coalition
‘Brilliant’ Richard Barrett, Chairman and Founder of The Barrett Values Centre
‘A masterpiece’ Mark Drewell, Founder of The Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative
Watch a short 3 min video about Future Fit
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