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Entries in leadership development (5)


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.


Conscious Business Practices: Acting With Intention

The Conscious Business takes a broader perspective and with deeper perception, allowing it to act more intentionally.  In this post, we look at the remaining conscious business practices – those that reflect how the organization acts.  Shifting its focus from external behaviors to inner resources, the Conscious Business operates from its core where actions arise deliberately, authentically and often with greater purpose.

Relating Consciously

The Conscious Business relates authentically – with employees, customers, suppliers and even competitors.  In fact, it operates in co-operation, not competition, recognizing it has a unique role to play in both the economy at large and the greater, evolving world.  From this perspective, the organization realizes there are sufficient resources and customers to support its business.  

Communicating consciously is about integrity – saying what we mean and meaning what we say.  It is also an exchange where often it is more important to listen and seek to understand another’s point of view than attempt to communicate one’s own message.  The next time you are communicating with someone, challenge yourself to hear them fully – listening intently to what they are saying without any effort to begin crafting your own response.  Let what you say simply come up and out once the other person is finished speaking.  Don’t be afraid to take a moment and pause after they speak, breathe and then deliberately choose your response from awareness.  In that moment you might ask yourself, “what is most important here … and what is needed at this time?” or “what is the most helpful message I can share?”.

Sense and Respond

This may be the biggest departure from expected business behavior, yet in many cases, closer to how we naturally act in our own personal lives.  The Conscious Business moves from an exclusive model of predict and control (thinking) to one that includes sense and respond through feeling.  It utilizes analysis to understand the past, not attempt to predict the future, and actually engages intuition as a tool to inform the present.  It’s a shift in perspective that looks to the future to inform the present instead of the past to simply predict it.  

Consciousness, like nature, has an organizing power that moves naturally towards growth so that every situation has the capacity to actually indicate the appropriate path.  When operating from awareness and the core of inner resources, you ask yourself “how does it feel?” rather than “what does the data tell us to do?”.  In so doing, you momentarily suspend the thinking mind and adopt an attitude of not knowing that allows you to sense in your body before responding.  This becomes an ongoing practice of sensing, responding and then sensing again.  By creating room for purposeful mistakes rather than tightly controlled actions with expected results, sense and responds allows the opportunity for deviation that provides the possibility for break-through innovations.

Consciously (Co)Creating

Conscious (Co)Creating is a 5 step process, in partnership and dialogue with the intelligence of the unfolding creative process utilizing both heart and head – each in due time.  You begin by creating space, setting intentions, exploring the possibilities and then making a plan before taking action as you listen for feedback (click here for more details on the process).  

The Conscious Business is much more than a series of conscious tools and methods.  By actually shifting the place from where it operates, conscious practices naturally rise from the core of energy intelligence present in every organization.  Mindful and present in the moment, the organization broadens its perspective – both within and beyond itself – deepens it perception to access rich insights, all the while acting with intention.


Conscious Business Practices: A Deeper Perception

As previously shared, there are at least seven conscious business practices that emerge as the organization shifts its focus from external behaviors to inner resources.  At a high level the organization broadens it perspective, deepens its perception as its actions become more intentional.   We looked last week at those practices that broaden the organizational perspective – first going deep within and then further beyond itself.  Next, the organization’s field of vision deepens and changes the way it approaches normal, daily situations.

Cultivate Curiosity

The Conscious Business actually embraces uncertainty – seeking answers and solutions, rather than attempting to defend a point of view or quickly drive to certainty.  By adopting an attitude of not knowing, the organization opens itself to broader possibilities and can more comfortably engage change.  The business may even find it has far more power by embracing uncertainty than trying to exert control.

To operate in this manner, the business must cultivate curiosity and move beyond the conditioned mind of experience to see with a fresh eye.  It does this by re-conditioning its leadership to face any new situation by first asserting they don’t yet know what is actually going on, opening the possibility of what’s really happening to reveal itself.  They then engage an inquiry asking, “what appears to be happening here?” as a way to first assess the facts of the situation.  While many leaders and managers stop there, the enlightened leader goes further to then ask “what’s really happening?” and “why is it happening?” and even further, “what is it trying to tell me?”.  In this manner, the inquiry can open a communication with the whole system of the organization and hear what it is trying to say.

Engage Rather Than Resist

While the normal tendency of most organizations is to avoid or dissipate any tension or resistance, the Conscious Business recognizes conflict as an opportunity for growth.  From a conscious perspective, there is a transformative potential of actually engaging opposite energies.  By honoring resistance however it surfaces, the business can process any source of tension into meaningful change.  From a whole system perspective, tension, resistance or conflict is viewed as a valuable feedback loop – providing information useful in moving the business forward.  Through acknowledging and actively engaging resistance, the organization gains a powerful tool for integrating this valuable input back into the business. 

Taken together, the practices of deepened perception provide the Conscious Business with rich new sources of insight that have the ability to actually transform and evolve the organization.


A Conscious Business Is More Than Conscious Practices

Many years ago the company I was working for at the time began to engage various culture shaping initiatives.  As a “consciousness nerd” my curiosity was piqued as I looked forward to being exposed to new theories and perhaps a deeper understanding of my own nature.  Unfortunately, it was a disappointment.  While I witnessed several attempts by different firms, all were focused on changing surface behaviors without shifting underlying beliefs – lots of tools but no foundation of principles.  As a result, not much was integrated into individual behaviors and very little ever changed.  As I thought more about the experience, I came to realize what was missing – a unifying model that naturally supports conscious business practices.

You see, a Conscious Business is more than conscious practices.  Unlike a series of tools accumulated individually, which can be overwhelming and difficult to effectively integrate, the Conscious Business shifts its focus from outer behaviors to inner resources.  It does this by recognizing the organization itself is conscious, with an awareness of itself beyond the individuals who form it.  As a conscious entity, the organization has the potential for a resonant and coherent experience of those within it – enabling them to act collectively and often of one mind while still individually distinct yet part of this greater whole.  It’s a model in motion, powered from the inside out, with the capability to affect real change.

From this deepened awareness, the Conscious Business shifts its focus and operates from a genuine understanding and appreciation for why it’s in business, what it then offers and finally how it does that.  While the “what” and “how” may shift and change over time, the core “why” rarely does when its an authentic expression of who the organization really is.  Connecting with this authentic core in each present moment, the Conscious Business accesses energy and wisdom as valuable resources to build and sustain itself.  This circulating nucleus of energy intelligence fuels the wisdom that in turn informs the continued flow of energy. 

This nucleus is a grounded place of deep wisdom and naturally gives rise to the conscious business practices that generate sustainable results (see diagram of this Conscious Business Operating Model).  By shifting its focus to the core and working from the inside out, these practices become a natural extension of who the organization and its leaders are, rather than a collection of tools and methods accumulated over time.


Three Unconscious Practices In Business Today

Few people would disagree when I say that our current business model is no longer working – and may, in fact, be broken.  The debate begins, though, with trying to diagnose and then fix it.  I propose there are three unconscious practices in business today that, if reversed, would result in a more productive, sustainable and efficient way of doing business.  Consciousness, on the other hand, with its timeless and formless nonattachment is counter to the very principles of capitalism as we currently know it.  And it is in that difference that we may find the solution.

Short-term and myopic vision – While publicly traded companies are the extreme with their focus on quarterly reports and their stock valuation, almost all businesses seem more concerned with short-term results than long-term implications.  Companies are making really big decisions that have significant and detrimental long-term effects on our environment, the economy, workers and even the quality of our lives.  A timeless perspective, on the other hand, would honor the present and the future at the same time, finding the appropriate strategies and taking the proper actions that benefit each without harming either.

One-way communication – There was a time when business was about a good product or service that people needed, offered at a fair price so that you made money when people bought it.  While some businesses still operate this way, there are far more operating in reverse – they see commerce as an opportunity to simply extract money from their customers.  It’s a one-way communication talking to customers rather than with them.  And in so doing, forgets we are actually all in this together.  An approach of formlessness moves beyond the confines and constraints of one’s own experience to include that of others as well as that of our entire environment.  In stepping out of our own “form” we are able to take a broader, more inclusive perspective.

Simply working to live – In the last 50 years women moved fully into the workplace as the world population doubled.  That’s a lot more people working – yet we aren’t working any less or even easier.  In fact, we are actually working much harder and longer in jobs many of us don’t even enjoy, often managing email and other tasks once home in the evening and before out of bed the next morning.  Can you imagine how this will look in another 50 years?  It’s as if we are just working to live – an open loop draining our energy.  It’s just not sustainable.  

What if we were instead living to work – making meaningful contributions without attachment to or even expectation of outcomes?  It’s a radical perspective fully occupying the present moment, sharing our talents and trusting we will have what we need when we need it.  From this non-attachment our focus is entirely and utterly in the present moment and only with what’s occurring.  It is here that we have access to an intelligence that is directly relevant to that moment enabling everything to get much easier.

Timeless, formless and without attachment – It’s a paradigm shift in perception and an entirely new way of doing business – consciously – through deepened awareness.  In future posts, I will describe what that looks like and explore how we might possibly get there.