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Leading Across The Threshold

September 15, 2017

Increasingly, today’s world requires our businesses to become ever more emergent, innovative and adaptive. In turn, our leadership becomes more about empowering, empathising and encouraging interconnections, synergies, openness, innovation, sense of purpose and an active network of feedback and learning.

This shift in leadership comes with a shift in our worldview: the way we perceive our sense of place and purpose in this world individually as a leader and organisationally as a living system immersed within the living systems of society and wider ecology of life.  It is no mean feat to embrace such a shift in the midst of turbulent and challenging times, while seeking to keep the wheels on the road.

The good news is that this shift is nothing more, nor nothing less, than learning to open up to our deeper humanity while opening up to how life really is, beyond the constraints, constrictions, habituations and acculturations we have picked up along the way.  The challenge for us in becoming ‘future-fit leaders’ is in embracing this shift within ourselves, while courageously nurturing space for the shift to occur within our teams and stakeholder communities.

We all know business-as-usual leadership and organisational development is inadequate for dealing with the challenges of the day.

“We have a crisis of leadership, in every institution. Not just in government….and for too long we have been training leaders who only know how to keep the routine going. What we don’t have [are] people who can formulate a new direction….. a new way of doing things …. and  a new way of looking at things.”  William Deresiewicz, Solitude and Leadership, Yale University

Take these well-versed statistics for instance:

  • Only 13% of employees are actively engaged in their work (and twice that number would actively sabotage their organization)
  • Mental illness amongst the workforce is rising exponentially with a cost of £26bn in the UK alone
  • Only 15% of leaders exhibit a consistent capacity to innovate and successfully transform their businesses
  • 72% of leaders know their organisations are overly reliant on fading revenues yet feel unable to do much about it
  • Cognitive overload and dissonance is now widespread and blends with increasing anxiety, stress and fatigue at all levels of management
  • To boot, we are using 150% of our planets carrying capacity to sustain this dysfunctional modus operandi

 (For more on these stats on leadership, see the report by Elaine Patterson and Giles Hutchins.)

In a recent leadership study I contributed to with Prof. Peter Hawkins of Henley Business School, a major disruptor of this current modus operandi is the pace and nature of change now upon us. Several leaders interviewed in this global study distinguished between different paradigms of change:

  1. “Change as an event” – an acquisition, a restructuring, a strategic or cultural change programme.
  2. “Change as a Constant” – If change is a constant outside, it needs to be a constant inside the organisation. Leaders need to constantly renew/re-enliven themselves and their organisations.
  3. “Change is accelerating” – Change is not only a constant, it is getting faster and faster, and becoming more inter-relational and multidimensional.

One CEO interviewed provided an impactful metaphor:  flying a plane, while rebuilding it mid-air, engaging all the passengers on-board, as well as the ground crew and air-traffic control. A number of participants also pointed to the real challenge lying not in any specific challenge, but in the way these myriad challenges systemically impact on each other.

“Leadership will increasingly become the skill of enabling a collaborative co-creative process amongst peers.”  Mark Drewell, Senior Partner Foresight group.

The study identified a number of tipping points that contribute to this ‘new norm’ of future-fit leading:

  1. From Leading my people to orchestrating Business Eco-systems
  2. From Heroic to collective and collaborative
  3. Leadership needing to be driven by Purpose and Value Creation for all Stakeholders
  4. From Serial and fragmented innovation to working simultaneously in three time frames
  5. Embracing multiple Individual Diversity and also Systemic Diversity
  6. Leader as Developer
  7. Motivation, Millennials, and mobility.
  8. “No place to hide” – implications of living in a transparent world.

A key over-arching factor in all these tipping points is the leader’s ability to simultaneously embrace ‘self and systemic’ leadership development.

“The most exciting breakthroughs of the 21st Century will not occur because of technology, but because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human.” John Naisbitt, futurist

The ‘self’ aspect is what is sometimes referred to as ‘vertical’ development (i.e. not technical competency and skills development but personal, emotional and spiritual development enabling the ability to deal with fast-moving complexity, while creating the conditions for teams/organisations to flourish).

The ‘systemic’ aspect is what is sometimes referred to as ‘system’ or ‘eco-system’, the development of ‘eco-system relationality’ for the leader, the organisation and the organisation’s stakeholder ecosystem (including society and the environment).

This ‘self and systemic’ leadership development is what I have been actively exploring through my own action research with leading practitioners and small groups of diverse leaders.

What is emerging through my findings is that this shift in leadership is essentially a shift in consciousness, a shift in perceptual horizon, within ourselves as leaders AND within the consciousness of the organisation-as-living-system.

This shift can be summaries as a shift from separateness to connectedness.

Future-fit leading is first-and-foremost about enabling this shift in consciousness within ourselves to be embodied in times of challenge, so that we maintain our own flow, creativity and connectedness. And yet it is also about our ability to hold space for a threshold of people within the organisation to embody this shift in consciousness while going about daily challenges, discussions and disruptions.

It is at once a re-membering of the life-force within and all about us, the re-vitalising of our somatic intelligence within our bodymind as a reverberator within this local and non-local field of interconnectedness.

By enhancing our intuitive and sensorial bodymind from an overly rationalistic ‘head-knowing’ and intellectualised ‘grasping’ into a more holistic ‘knowingness’ and ‘beingness’ we become more integrated, more creative, more vibrant, and more able to hold space for others to become more vibrant.

This deeper ‘knowingness’ is an attunement of what Carl Jung referred to as our four natural ways of knowing – our intuitive, rational, emotional and somatic ways of knowing.

This deeper ‘beingness’ shines through us when we presence life; we presence the Now uncluttered by constrictions and acculturations of past or future and yet open to the learning experiences of past and the strategic intention calling forth our emerging future.  This is the letting-go to let-come which Otto Scharmer and others refer to, or the Power of Now as Eckhart Tolle calls it, whereupon we open up into the void of not-knowing, allowing the veil between our conscious and unconscious to permeate and for the implicate Mind of Nature to permeate our daily awareness more readily. Here, we co-create the as-yet-unimagined; we spark insight and creativity, and manifest emerging possibilities into potentialities to be prototyped.

By crossing this being-and-knowing threshold, we open up to the flow inherent within the Dance of Life within and all about us.  Our holistic beingness and knowingness is what allows us to open up as vessels for the deeper wisdom of the Tao, the mystery, the ‘élan vital’ of Nature to flow through us, our relations, our teams, organisations and eco-system of stakeholders.  We allow ourselves and our systems to become more enlivened, and more able to tune-in to the emergence of this unceasing Dance; to sense the patterns, the synchronicities, the subtly lit pathways, the creative rhythms of consonance and dissonance.  Then, this ‘new norm’ of multidimensional change no longer becomes something to fear or resist, but something to be whole-heartedly embraced as we learn to become regenerative future-fit living organisations tending towards harmony with Life.

“The goal of life is to make your heart-beat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.”  Joseph Campbell, mythologist

Future Fit organisations are ones that seek harmony with Nature, by learning to attune their psyche, soul and heart-beat with the rhythms of their niche and eco-system; this originates with a shift in perception from separateness to connectedness.

What does this mean us, as forward-leaning leaders?

We are being increasingly required to hold space for diverse mind-sets, teams and stakeholder ecosystems to open-up, sense into, and co-create with the creative rhythms of Life.   This is humbling and courageous work.

As leaders we need to become artful at how we sense flow in our own experience of life, and also create space for the void of not-knowing, of regenerative renewal, of deep creative insight which fertilises our flow.  We need to be courageous enough to open up to moments of grace amid the everyday busyness.

The space between the notes is what gives the music its rhythm and depth.

When we reduce down our spaces, we commodify the music, we de-soul our work and cut ourselves off from the very well-spring we so urgently need to be tapping into amid these tumultuous times.

Holding space enables a deeper, wiser consciousness to shine through from the depths within us, within our teams, within Nature all-about-us; it enhances, enriches and rejuvenates our being-and-knowing which can percolate into our relations, team dynamics, meeting conventions and decision-making protocols.

It is in these containers-of-space that we allow our personal wills’ to attune with the deeper Will, Grace and Wisdom of Nature-Life-Universe.  Prof. Peter Hawkins calls this important work ‘creating the space for grace’: space for small groups to enter into deep inquiry, where new insights emerge through the space between people, amid the generative field – not simply the social field but the implicate field of Nature. Graceful generative dialogue invites us into a deeper receptivity where we open ourselves up with Open Heart, Open Mind, Open Will (to use Otto Scharmer’s Theory U phrasing) in order to become more in-tune with the emerging future forming here in this pregnant moment.  Hence, the leader’s artfulness in holding these spaces provides the vital midwifery for the living organisation to adequately renew, enliven and evolve amid multi-dimensional change.

“One of the primary correlates of success is the quality of the ‘container’ that [the] leader generates first in themselves, and then in turn opens and holds for others.”  Dr Nick Udall, leadership specialist

In this way, as leaders we allow the organisation-as-living-system to find its natural resonance, while attuning with the Dance of Life.  We shift the consciousness of the organisation from that of a machine sweating its assets into a living emergent system continuously inter-relating with a wider ecosystem of economic, social and environmental relations.  In-so-doing we allow the organisation’s evolutionary purpose, its unique niche or flow-form, to tune-in and sing uniquely and beautifully in the world.  Then the consciousness of the organisation itself feeds-back and enhances, revitalises, calls-forth, the consciousness of its participants: we resonate coherently within the collective, and the collective resonance of the organisation helps enhance our individual potential for greatness.  Our individual tunes are not undermined in any way; it is their brilliance and uniqueness that makes-up the resonant field of the living organisation.  Our presence-and-flow enhances the organisation’s flow, which in turn, enhances our ability to flow and co-create richer meaning in the world through the power of the collective.  A reinforcing feedback loop is set entrain whereupon the organisation comes alive as a purposeful contribution to the evolution of Life, rather than unwittingly undermining the wellbeing of the majority of its employees and the wider fabric of our world.

This organisational aliveness is the only viable future for our humanity. Why would we aim for anything less?

Through my own humble explorations, I find this artful undertaking a process of unfolding with and through Love: love-of-self, love-of-others, love-of-life.  This Love is midwifed through stillness, heart-centring contemplation, deep listening, generative dialogue, soulful sharing circles, and artful embodiment practices such as Systemic Constellations, Social Presencing Theatre and Applied Improv.

I believe it is this Love that is at the heart of humanity’s ability to find harmony with Nature – our evolutionary imperative.

Let’s take a moment to unpack what we actually mean here by this word ‘Love’ as it is as loaded as it is mis-understood.  Here we mean both transcend and immanent Love.

The immanent aspect is a phenomenological experience, an embodied being-in-the-world which flows from a transformed awareness; an attentiveness that senses the unencumbered flow of inter-relatedness innate within Nature.  This might be referred to as an ‘ecological’ or ‘holistic’ awareness, which is quite different in its phenomenology from the fragmenting and objectifying lens we tend to perceive life through.  How we see and sense determine how we relate. It is through this loving-attentiveness that we sense the immanent interconnectedness, the Ecology of Mind, the pattern that connects.

The transcendent aspect of this Love is a psycho-spiritual integrative experience; a psychosynthesis of our ego-self, Transpersonal Self and Universal Self, whereupon we sense into the Divine Love, Will and Grace of Nature. This relates to the upper echelons of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, beyond self-actualisation into self-realisation, where our awareness permeates with super-consciousness, the Mind of Nature, and Cosmic Consciousness.  This might be referred to as ‘nondual’ awareness, which is quite different in its psychology from the ego-lens we tend to perceive life through.

In practice, the immanence and the transcendence of this Love are entwined; poetically expressed by Dante in the closing verses of the Divine Comedy:

But, rolling like a wheel that never jars,

My will and wish were now by love impelled,

The love that moves the sun and all other stars.

This essential act of Love is centred in the cavity of the heart; a receptivity that allows for our authentic and purposeful responsiveness.  Here we find our natural ability to flow in harmony with Nature, what the Daoists would refer to as ‘wu-wei’.

“He who is harmony with Nature, hits the mark without effort and apprehends the truth without thinking.” Confucius, Chinese sage

This Love is a direct experience of life – nothing more, nothing less – a ‘gnosis’ of the implicate resonance permeating all inter-relations, from the sub-atomic to the personal to the universal.

As above, so below. How we show up during our daily encounters affects the consciousness of the living organisation, and the wider evolutionary potential of humanity.

‘Living-systems being’ is a lived experience. This is different to ‘systems thinking’ which is often reduced to little more than head-thinking: logic without love.  Love is the vital catalyst for this metamorphosis at deep and partly unconscious levels within us and within the psyche of our organisations. It is this Love that provides the foundational soil from which Otto Scharmer’s all-important trinity of Open Heart, Open Mind, Open Will emanates.

Leadership specialists Edward L. Rowland and Sarah Rozenthuler in their work on Leading Systemic Dialogue ask the questions:

“What will enable people to move outside their comfort zone and open their hearts and minds to a wider field of engagement and endeavour? How can leaders create a healthy flow of leadership throughout the system that they lead?”

Rowland and Rozenthuler identify a number of capacities required for this 21st Century leadership challenge:

  • Holding generative conversations – diverse constellations of stakeholders having courageous conversations through generative dialogue
  • Sensing the larger system – using a systemic lens to illuminate hidden dynamics within the organisational eco-system
  • Attuning potential – cultivating system coherence and crystallizing patterns of emerging action
  • Co-creating a new reality – listening to what wants to emerge amid the eco-system of systemic stakeholders


This art-form of leading is Love-infused, where we vulnerably sense into and serve the wholeness of Life.

Love allows us to sense the spiralling yin-yang dynamics of the implicate and explicate orders of Life; to sense the formlessness that in-forms all form; to sense the ebbs and flows, the under-currents and blockages, the vortices and catalysts in the organisational field of future possibilities.

With Love we see beyond the threat-tinted polarised lens that stifles our creative genius as Homo sapiens ‘wise beings’, and we become purposeful, authentic, congruent human beings.  As Albert Einstein knew:

“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.”

It is the task of the future-fit leader to emancipate our systems from our own imprisonment – as Rumi knew, we live in cages with the doors wide open. We just need the courage and devotion to breakthrough the status quo that stifles our true nature.

This task of freeing ourselves while widening our perceptual horizon is, I feel, the root challenge of our time, from which all other challenges are downstream effects, which can only be adequately addressed after addressing the root cause.  Fortunately exciting discoveries in myriad areas such as cosmology, quantum physics, neurobiology, facilitation ecology, complexity theory, leadership and organisational development are all beckoning us beyond this delusion into real life.

Speaker, strategist, adviser Giles Hutchins is Chairman of The Future Fit leadership Academy. His latest book is Future Fit (2016) 

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