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Entries in holding space (2)

Wednesday
Jul162014

Leadership Capacity for Holding Space In Practice

I wrote in the last blog about holding space as an essential leadership capacity. Let me now share an example with you. I was recently working with a consulting client to review his business’ financials, recommend areas to focus on improving and discuss strategies for raising capital.

This client is a local business with deep connections to his community and great passion for his business. Unfortunately, he has made some poor choices in taking capital at a very high interest rate. He has good revenue but a cost structure that is still below break-even. The session involved sharing this bad news and exploring what he could do to turn the business around, all in a loving but frank discussion.

I knew the client was apprehensive and nervous about hearing our assessment, so I opened with a brief breathing exercise to ensure we were each fully embodied and present for the discussion. To do this, I asked everyone present to close their eyes and take a few deep, slow breaths. As we breathed, I asked that we allow any thoughts of fear, doubt or judgment and anything else on our minds to drift away as we loosen our attachment to every thought we brought into the room so that we could give more full attention to our session together. Notice, I did not suggest that we forget all those other things on our minds. That would not be realistic. But, it is possible that we allow our attention to move away from those thoughts so that they remain in the background during our meeting. This is suspension.

I then asked the client about his business – why he started the business, what is his vision and what he wants from it. This connected him with his passion for the business and lifted his energy. It also allowed each of us in the meeting to also connect with his passion, as we were able to feel the love for his business, employees and the community. This elevated energy provided the foundation to now engage the more difficult discussion. This is resourcing.

During his response to my resourcing questions, the client had tears in his eyes as the emotion of struggling for over five years to build his business came to the surface. We simply created space to allow for this expression to simply be just as it was.

With these elements in place, we aligned with the intention for the session to look honestly and fully at the financials of the business to better understand what can be done to stabilize and begin to grow the business. After everyone expressed their alignment with this intention, I reviewed the financial analysis and shared our observations along with recommendations of what he could do to improve the business performance.

Once we completed this review, the energy in the room was a bit heavy from the honest and even painful look at the business. As a result, I wanted to bring everyone back to a more grounded, generative space before beginning to discuss the possible strategies he might implement to address our findings. To do this I utilized the Active Pause – a process for taking a mindful pause that makes it easier to integrate the experience we are having. This allowed us all to once again be fully open for a strategic discussion.

During this review, the client shared that he has difficulty trusting people until he has had the time to create the intimacy of a relationship. Yet he had been comfortable with me from that first breathing exercise even though I had not met him prior to this session. I am confident this was in large part due to the space I held for the experience and the conscious steps I took to focalize the Dynamic Link.

Monday
Jul072014

Holding Space as An Essential Leadership Capacity

Otto Scharmer, senior lecturer at MIT and founding chair of the Presencing Institute, has said that “holding space is the single most important leadership capacity going forward. Hearing this, I realized it was in fact the essential leadership trait of the 21st century. Let's explore what it means to hold space and why it is so important for leaders today.

The world is now moving too fast to maintain detailed plans and has gotten far too complex with the consequences of our individual actions too great to continue acting in the isolation of our own organizations. Instead, leaders need the ability to see and act from the whole and the capacity to integrate all that is evolving around them while responding quickly to shift strategy and execution. It is a leadership capacity to sit comfortably in ambiguity and welcome the unknown while grounded in a bigger vision; mindful of how each evolving moment fits into that vision. In this way the leader sets a destination, chooses a route and then course corrects in each moment. Holding space allows leaders to engage the unfolding future to guide the organization rather than impose the past or even a limited vision for the future on the present. This is done in collaboration and without excess planning.

Space in this context is physical, mental, emotional and even energetic. It is expansive; linked to the moment of the experience itself, giving space for a much more interesting creation based on what is happening in the moment. The leader does this by thinking, engaging and acting differently.

  • Thinking holistically while cultivating curiosity 
  • Engaging (rather than resisting) whatever comes up in the moment; relating authentically and consciously 
  • And then acting from this deeper awareness by sensing what is present in each moment and responding from an inner knowing beyond what the data, analysis or plan might otherwise suggest

In this way, the leader creates a container for an intentional experience, aligning an organizational intention and creating conditions for the future to emerge by setting aside specific expectations and curiously observing while listening deeply for what reveals itself. It is a journey from the attempted certainty of predict-and-control into the unknown of sense-and-respond. While this may appear passive to the observer, it is actually a very active and deliberate leadership practice.

John Renesch, in The Great Growing Up, describes it as having “dominion of our reality without trying to dominate it, without clever maneuvering or seduction … elegant mastery without resorting to manipulative control or imposition.”

Focalizing Dynamic Links is one of many methods a leader can utilize to hold space. It is a way of connecting with and relating to people in order to access both inner and outer resources. Two particular elements of Focalizing are especially relevant to holding space – suspension and sensing. Suspension – setting aside the judging, critical voices of doubt, fear and cynicism – opens and allows us to fully sense the wisdom of our inner experience, often through felt sensations in the body and our visual imagination. We do this through a relaxed and meditative state where we are grounded, centered, clear and focused.

Such a meditative state has three characteristics essential to the practice of holding space:

  • Timelessness – fully present in the moment and allowing something greater than ourselves to move through us, creating the future 
  • Formlessness – beyond the confines and constraints of our physical body to experience “ourselves” in everything around us 
  • Non-attachment – completely content in the perfection of the current moment with total acceptance and even appreciation that the next moment may be entirely different and we will be absolutely present in the perfection and completeness of that moment, whatever it may be

Specifically, the leader holding space by focalizing a Dynamic Link demonstrates and utilizes these traits:

  • Allows his or her own self to be open to and participate in the creative energy of the group, creating the context and holding space for the group intentions to emerge 
  • Holds no point of view nor expectation of a specific outcome other than that of the aligned intentions 
  • Connects with the group organically to express the innate intelligence and wisdom of the collective 
  • Helps participants to shift perceptions, offers additional perspectives and opens group to new possibilities 
  • Respectfully engages opposite energies expressed within the group for their resolution and integration and the emergence of a greater idea or vision 
  • Brings resource energy in the form of caring and a real sense of community

This last trait suggests that space is really just love – love for one’s self, the organization, each individual and what the group seeks to create or do. In fact, when one is in the present state necessary to hold space it is impossible to feel any other emotion than love – even though that love may present and express itself in any number of ways.

Holding space as a leadership capacity has several tangible benefits that address the complex and interconnected world in which our organizations now operate:

  • Having resilience and feeling more presence in the moment 
  • Ability to connect dots by removing blind spots and gaining insight to previously unseen possibilities, shifting one’s point of view 
  • Feeling inclusivity, unification and compassion with an ability to view situations from the perspective of the whole

Leaders who choose to engage a practice of holding space step bravely into the world of the unknown where the comforts (and constraints) of current management practice are replaced with a full-bodied experience of leading from their hearts.