In today’s complex organisational world, and in these times of exponential change, we face a growing number of wicked problems and systemic challenges beyond the reach of existing institutions and structures. It is therefore crucial to equip ourselves as leaders with the tools to navigate the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world we live in and deepen our engagement with our real work.
As we stand at quite a powerful threshold in history, I share with most of you an unquenchable thirst to understand who we need to be and how we need to lead, and that very quest informs the work I’m developing with MACRO Leaders.
I am well aware that the world as we know it is disappearing at an accelerated rate and that, collectively, we don’t seem to have found ways to navigate the one that is emerging, so I became part of several communities of pioneers that are courageously exploring the edges of this new territory.
We could easily make the words of Antonio Machado our motto :
"Traveller, there is no path,
The path is made by walking,
By walking you make the path"
That’s how I got to host systems thinking U-labs in Sydney, assist the production team for Creative Innovation conferences, discover Snowden’s Cynefin framework for leading in complexity through the Leadership Lab, convene the Sydney Facilitators Network, lead sustainability organisations, serve the board of directors for the Welcome Dinner Project, meet monthly with Women in Leadership, support the work of the Hunger Project, teach mindfulness to homeless people at the Ozanam Learning Centre, promote the work of Adam Kahane in Sydney, hold space for the Anthropocene dialogue group, teach resilience at a Networking In Nature event, take part in Mentor Walks, support the work of Wake Up Project, and Humanity in Business, contribute to the Conscious Capital Summit, attend Mindful Leadership Forums and Google Search Inside Yourself Seminars, deepen my understanding of Meg Wheatley’s and Sacred Leadership through assisting the TalkPoint team, etc.
One of the common threads between all the extraordinary people I’ve met through these eclectic communities is their deep love and reverence for the legendary work of David Whyte and their profound appreciation for his unique fusion of poetry and philosophy with the practicalities of leadership and management.
So it was an absolute delight to see so many familiar faces attend the TalkingSticks conference he hosted with Gayle Karen Young Whyte at Sydney State Library on the theme of leading in times of magnified uncertainty. Not only I reconnected with my different tribes as if we were one but I also had the incommensurable pleasure to add some newfound gems to my growing family of misfits and boundary walkers.
The great task, according to David, is to find out what we care about and to risk ourselves on behalf of that. Therefore, to manage the transition ahead, we need, as leaders to take increasing responsibility, and with this increasing responsibility comes increasing visibility and exposure. This is what creates an urgent necessity for conversational leadership : Not only do we need to uncover our blindspots quickly because we are running out of time, but the complexity of the problems we face require many hands, eyes and ears, working collaboratively towards holistic solutions and this requires an unprecedented level of transparency in our communication.
If, to solve the problem, we refer to the strategic and analytical mind, and use mechanistic language, we’ll only access the edge of the pattern. In the field of organisational development, says David Whyte, we need to cultivate the ability to step back in order to get to the center of the pattern and affect the whole system in a huge way.
What does it take to step in the center of the pattern ? It is about settling into our own physical bodies that we have abstracted ourselves from to create a corporate identity. That very body that allows us to sense and represents who we are in the world. The issue is that we are used to associate the body with trauma, heartbreak, and vulnerability. If we think that it is a weakness that we need to hide, we tend to dissociate and numb ourselves in order not to feel our own pain.
However, vulnerability is our key to the world, a way to understand what is about to happen. a way a human being can make a heartfelt invitation to have a conversation.
At its core, vulnerability is derived from the Latin noun vulnus ("wound") and it’s only through that wound, that opening, that we can fully welcome the world in, according to David Whyte or as Leonard Cohen says : « There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in ».
To be authentic leaders, we need to bring a real physical sense of presence and voice the places where we don’t have competency. We need to invite people to work with us in ways we are not good at. Leading is holding a position with nowhere to hide. Instead of asking : « What is it I have to do ? », we need to ask « What is the courageous conversation I’m not having ? » and let the conversation do the work.
More than ever before, we need to foster collective leadership and a spirit of authenticity and true collaboration to manage the massive transition ahead.
Furthermore, as leaders, we need to be deeply aware of tour own flaws and foibles, and not hesitate to ask the people who depend on us to point at our blindspots. The usual conversations will prevent us from knowing what it is we are not good at unless we dare to ask others : « What are my biggest weaknesses ? »
There is no conversation without vulnerability in the workplace, says David Whyte. At its core, it is about admitting that not only we don’t have all the answers but that we are not meant to have all the answers. If we stop trying to be a paragon of perfection, we’ll find ourselves in a proper and realistic relationship to reality, because then we have to ask for help, then we have to create a conversation, then we have to get the right people in the room with the right talents. And some of our team members might outshine us, so it’s a test of our character and humility to be able to follow a conversation through to harvest.
If you don’t know how to have a courageous conversation, the first step you can take as a leader, says David Whyte, is to stop having the conversation you are currently having, giving up the conversation that is taking your energy and the energy of your team, holding you in the prison of the past.
As a leader, he declares, you need to bring forth a real possibility for imagination, and hold a space that is big enough to encompass others in a vision of thriving. You need to be willing to be visible even in your wounds, to include even the ones you don’t want to, to have the conversations you are scared to have, to be a face that people are willing to turn towards, to be someone that people can speak truth to.
As leaders we have to be boundary walkers, and create something we’ll never be completely part of. As Gayle Karen Young Whyte says, we have to be able to be passionate about something and have enough distance to transform it. To see the beauty, and be able to tweak it. We need to cultivate a good relationship to the unknown, to start a meaningful relationship to what cannot be as yet spoken, realise we’re walking into new territory. We can no longer pretend that the change is not happening.
To cleave, adds David Whyte, means both to bring together and to split apart. As leaders, we don’t get to choose between the two, otherwise we might lose compassion for other people’s troubles and we won’t be able to make a genuine invitation to them, an invitation where we see their places of exile and invite them to belong.
We have to become that conversation and that invitation. That invitation not only makes us human but also fully attentive to other human beings.
“... to be human
is to become visible
what is hidden
as a gift to others...”
- David Whyte If you are in a position of responsibility, I invite you to reflect on David’s beautiful questions and if you are willing, to share your answers in the comments section : What is the conversation you need to stop having right now ? What’s the real conversation you can start and keep alive? What is your relationship to the unknown ?
And if you care about leadership and having conversations that matter, I invite you to join me either for a one-on-one mindful coffee or at any of the really exciting events I'm taking part of next:
Creative Innovation 2019 is the premiere conference for anyone who cares about creativity, innovation, leadership, change, transformation and the future. The event brings together up to 1000 leaders from business, government, academia, community, not-for-profits and media, who will hear from a world-class line-up of over 40 visionary innovators, futurists and leaders.
As a partner for this event, I am proud to offer you an exclusive discount of 10% off Platinum, Gold and Silver conference packages. To activate your discount, enter the password ‘collective’ when purchasing tickets on the website.
I am still processing the lessons I learnt from attending a 5rhythms dance event with Adam Barley from the UK this week-end in Sydney. This rich experience was such a great metaphor for life, business, society and the bigger world we belong to. For me, this was also about understanding the shift in consciousness that is taking place in us and around us, and that Adam described as "profound, far reaching, beyond any one of us, and involving all of us".
Adam says that in these times of chaos, it is more important than ever to find stillness in movement, and to become our own authority. That's a message that highly resonates with me as I'm taking responsibility for my own life and encouraging my coaching clients and workshop participants to bring forth their own leadership, develop agency, and build capacity for systemic change.
"The fastest way to still the mind is to move the body" - Gabrielle Roth
Chaos, according to Adam, is a symbol for the time of adolescence: we can't listen to patriarchy anymore, we have to find our own reference points, and to do that we need to listen to ourselves. He got us to dance some parts of the session in silence, so that we are not slaves to the music, but that we can also connect more deeply to ourselves and our own inner voice, the inner music that guides our path.
He also encouraged us to be aware of the outer space and our inner space, and to notice how breath can always makes us more conscious of what we take in and let go. Over and over and over again, finding that eternal bridge between the inner and the outer, letting it teach us the lessons we need to learn, if we allow it to show us what is true.
Whenever he spotted some of us dancing in the same spot, he would nudge us gently to explore the whole space and not stay stuck where we are. As our busy dance floor is a metaphor for the world we live in that is getting more and more crowded, he considers that the way to live in community requires us to be agile and to keep moving, to keep exploring new territory, new ways of being, doing, and seeing, and to make space for each other. And in that movement, to stay connected to our stillness.
In 5Rhythms dance, there are no steps to follow, the invitation is to simply let your own authentic movement lead you, allowing whatever is moving through you to flow, shift and transform. Deep insights and awakening can emerge from this.
"We are being called, cajoled and catapulted into new ways of being that require us to let go of our fixed ideas and patterns, to expand beyond what we thought possible and allow more energy through us than we ever dreamt of." -Adam Barley
When a participant asked Adam to turn the volume of the music up, he asked instead that that person turn their own volume up, internally, as the outside world may not bend to our will and desires, and we metaphorically need to create the change we want to see in the world from the inside. He said that if we can't tune in to adjust that inner volume, to accept to be shattered and to surrender, to allow ourselves to collapse and be brought to our knees, to feel our feelings and be humbled, and from that place to rise again, having found the way to get through.
"The grapes of my body can only become wine
After the winemaker tramples me.
I surrender my spirit like grapes to his trampling
So my inmost heart can blaze and dance with joy." - Rumi
Throughout the session, Adam invited us to be in ONE BIG DREAM all together, by letting go of our little selves, diving in the mystery, making contact with ourselves, finding unity, slipping together in a landscape beyond time, and truly acknowledging and celebrating each other. He urged us to see each other, beyond what there is to see, to look even longer than it is appropriate and establish profound connection, and to dance from that place.
He invited deliberate movement, shaking and screaming to "open up to our potential both individually and collectively; to allow growth to happen, find healing where it's needed, and move on".
This whole experience felt like deep medicine to me, I've felt like I met myself and my true nature at the Drill Hall and I left the session feeling cleaner and clearer, fully empowered, and deeply grateful to Gabrielle Roth for giving us access to this meditation in movement, to Michelle Mahrer for bringing this precious work to Sydney and cultivating a community around it, to Adam Barley for travelling to the other side of the world and sharing his profound teachings with us and to everyone on the dance floor I call life for sharing this extraordinary journey with me.
Adam is still in Australia for a while, if you're lucky, you can still attend his next workshop in Mullumbiby 22-24 September on the Power of Intention. You can register here.
I'd love to hear more from you if you want to carry on the conversation, it's one of my favourite topics, so please leave comments on my blogpost, sign up to my mailing list and be in touch!
I'm feeling privileged to have attended a private dialogue with Margaret Wheatley yesterday while she was on a brief visit to Sydney from Utah.
Deep gratitude to Robyn Katz from Talkpoint for hosting us!
For more than 40 years, Meg Wheatley has worked globally in many different roles, as a speaker, teacher, consultant, advisor, and formal leader.
She believes that leaders must learn how to evoke people's inherent generosity, creativity, and need for community. As this world tears us apart, she considers that sane leadership on behalf of the human spirit is the only way forward.
She is the author of nine books, from the classic Leadership and the New Science in 1992 to her newest book (June 2017) Who Do We Choose To Be? Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity.
Meg opened the evening by asking "What time is it on the clock of the world?" and then added: "If we don't have an answer to that, we'll just keep doing what we're doing until we realise that all systems are failing. They no longer deliver the services they were created for. They are just busy maintaining themselves. If we don't wake up and ask: "what's going on?" we'll miss our chance to act in time.
This might be our invitation to deeply listen to the wisdom of the indigenous people of the land, here is an extract attributed to an unnamed Hopi elder:
"You have been telling the people that this is the Eleventh Hour, now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour.
And there are things to be considered . . .
-Where are you living?
-What are you doing?
- What are your relationships?
It is time to speak your Truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for the leader."
Margaret Wheatley then shared this poem from the Hopi:
"There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are torn apart and will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above water. And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate. At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, Least of all ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt. The time for the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word struggle from you attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration. We are the ones we've been waiting for."
She said: "We have two choices in any of our activities for how we choose to live: we are either destroying life, or creating life".
Meg Wheatley encourages life-affirming leadership. Instead of asking "What is the kind of leadership that will take us out of this mess?", she suggests to change the question to: "What is the kind of leader that I choose to be?". We might not be able to turn things around, but we can be human beings who are willing to serve, and choose to be compassionate and available to those who require our presence.
Margaret Wheatley considers that we are in an invisible war, one of devastating policies and continued destruction and invites us to ask ourselves: "What am I preparing for? What are the characteristics of being strong and useful? How do I define usefulness? How can I be peaceful and compassionate for people who feel afraid and anxious?". She invites us to do our inner work to not get caught up in fear. We have to be prepared so we are not torn apart, we need to constantly bring ourselves to sanity and humaneness. Become far less reactive and more stable. In the face of hardship, instead of hardening, can we soften, relax and yield?
As Robyn said, "we have to adopt a "touch and let go" approach" and not make things personal. We can detach by naming the emotions we recognise, by saying for example: "There is suffering", instead of "I am suffering", or "There is pain", instead of "I'm in pain".
"Our action needs to be detached from outcomes" says Margaret Wheatley and adds that hope is not the thought that something will go well but the conviction that something is worth doing, no matter how it turns out. She said that if she was to have a gravestone, that's what she would like to see engraved on it: "We were together. I forget the rest".
Margaret Wheatley emphasised our need to build community rather than just gather with a group of like-minded people. Community requires trust and commitment. We have to pay exquisite attention to relationships and be available for each other in times of need.
Robyn closed the evening by reading this poem by William J. Crocker:
"If this is not a place where tears are understood,
Where do I go to cry?
If this is not a place where my spirits can take wing,
Where do I go to fly?
If this is not a place where my questions can be asked,
Where do I go to seek?
If this is not a place where my feelings can be heard,
Where do I go to speak?
If this is not a place where you’ll accept me as I am,
Where can I go to be?
If this is not a place where I can try to learn and grow,
Where can I be just me?
I endeavour to offer such a place to each one of you to be yourselves, so if you want to have a chat at anytime about anything that is arising in you, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Having heard Jon Kabat-Zinn say “You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”, and having learnt a lot about resilience from teaching mindfulness to homeless people at the Matthew Talbot Centre in Sydney, I came up with my own acronym (S.U.R.F) to summarise ideas and models that have been helpful to me when crisis hits:
· I Have: strong relationships, structure, rules at home, role models; these are external supports that are provided;
· I Am: a person who has hope and faith, cares about others, is proud of myself; these are inner strengths that can be developed;
· I Can: communicate, solve problems, gauge the temperament of others, seek good relationships—all interpersonal and problem-solving skills that are acquired.
4. F is for Face reality, accept what's in front of you moment by moment. Embrace the mess. Welcome emotions like guests:
"This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight."
Tim Ferris has a great exercise to face your fears that he calls Fear-setting. It's about taking action by defining and writing down what you might afraid of, consider how you could prevent the situation from happening and what damage repair you could do in case what you fear might happen.
What has worked for you and made you more resilient? Please comment below, and if you are interested to find out more or meet people on a journey to become more resilient, my next workshop in Sydney is on the 07th of October, and there are still a couple of spots left. You can book your tickets here.