Leadership Means Crossing a Threshold

The Indo-European root of the word lead and leadership (leith) means to go forth, to cross the threshold or to die.

The challenges we face in the world right now – the big world or our own smaller worlds – are pressuring us to see differently, to sharpen and deepen our attention and to cultivate  our capacity to shift the inner place from which we operate – the place of presencing in Otto Scharmer’s U Theory.

So, why is it that so many of us – leaders in our organizations and our communities – protest the investment of a few days completely away to engage in stillness or reflective practices that enable and build the capacity to see and then cross the inner threshold that shifts the shape of individuals, organizations and communities? And, why are those of us who see the need and know the benefit reluctant to specifically request or recommend this to other leaders we know?

Have we fallen into the trap of limiting beliefs – believing it is not possible to invest this time, that people won’t make the investment or commit the time or that it truly is impossible for leaders to turn off the electronics and their accessibility even for a few days?

Is this a blind spot we need to illuminate?  Is this a reflection of the inner landscape that needs to shift in order to be available to the future that is wanting to happen?

Our awareness and our consciousness determines the qualities of our actions and results.  In Theory U,  Scharmer asks: How can we renew our culture so that every human being is considered a carrier of a sacred project: the journey of becoming one’s authentic self?

As long as we aren’t ready to face and confront the inner abyss, we will stay stuck in the patterns of thinking, behaviour and action that have generated our current results, results that many agree do not support the sustainability of the earth or our current lifestyle – on an individual and collective basis.

If we could truly see the value of shifting the shape of our inner world, knowing it would allow us to cross the threshold into a more integrated way of being with a more responsive capacity to work successfully with the institutional and systemic crises we are faced with, wouldn’t even a significant amount of time – not just days but weeks or months, on an annual basis – become a worthwhile investment?

What is the renewal of hope and inspiration needed to compel us into this pursuit of the sacred project – the journey of becoming one’s authentic self – to understand that as our inner self shifts  we build the capacity, individually and collectively, to tune into, more frequently and in greater numbers, the future that wants to live through us, more becomes possible and maybe our very future depends on it.

Sensing Into and Connecting With Future Possibilities

If studying and learning from the past only serves to create more of the same problems we are experiencing, as Otto Scharmer eloquently presents in his book Theory U, and the way to a different future is by sensing into and connecting with future possibilities – a view, by the way, supported in much of Peter Block’s work around Civic Engagement and the Restoration of Community, what is required to shift us – individually and collectively – into living into an emergent future rather than one that flows from the past?

This question excites me. Intuitively I completely get it – even as I work to get my head around it well enough to explain it to others and to live more fully into it in my life and work.

It requires tapping into new  or underused leadership skills and capacities like activating intelligences in addition to cognitive – the intelligences that come from an open mind, open heart and open will.

Shifting the shape of leadership – internally and externally is the most significant struggle I witness in the people, teams and organizations I speak to and work with.

In Theory U,  Scharmer speaks about the social field which he describes as the totality and type of connections through which the participants of a given system (organization, community, family, social network) relate, converse, think and act.  When there is a shift in the social field, people connect with a deeper source of creativity and knowing and move beyond the patterns of the past.  When this happens it is a memorable moment.   It results in outcomes that include a heightened level of individual energy and awareness, a sustained deepening of one’s authenticity and personal presence and a clarified sense of direction as well as significant professional and personal accomplishment.  It is felt individually and collectively.  And it has been far too rare an occurrence in the past, sometimes because it feels elusive rather than something you can create or co-create with intentionality and sometimes because it almost doesn’t seem real.

What does it take to more permanently shift the social field?  Awareness.  Intentionality.  The willingness to hold the space for this to happen and emergence to occur.  Presence.  Things that now and in the past we often say we don’t have time for because the business at hand is too pressing. We need results!  Current leadership practices and organizational and social culture do not support creating the conditions to sense into and connect with future possibilities and this is the point of resistance and struggle in many organizations right now.  Individuals see it, sense it, come close to it, yearn for it and then the risk feels too great to step partially or fully into needed new leadership practices.

Scharmer says the essence of leadership is to shift the inner place from which we operate both individually and collectively.  It may well be the single most important leverage point for shifting the social field in this century.  This is enormously exciting to me as I am more and more boldly emphasizing growing capacity through self-awareness, personal and, dare I say, spiritual journey – however that shows up for people.

How can we learn to better sense and connect with future possibilities that are seeking to emerge? Presencing is one means of sensing, tuning in and acting from one’s highest future potential – the future that depends on us to bring it into being.  There are many avenues to presencing, individually and collectively.  A few of them: meditation, physical exercise like running, mindfulness in any activity including walking, connecting to nature, yoga, Aikido and Shamanic practice.  Any practice that requires us to activate a different source of intelligence: the intelligence of the heart, which gives us much greater capacity to listen into the emerging field of the future.

I know this experience of listening into the emerging field of the future.  It is what happens when I follow the energy flow of intuition around work, life and the things that matter most in my life and journey.  It is what happens when I am willing to let go and let come, when I can let go of attachment (or at a minimum identify it when it shows up) and surrender completely into what is wanting to happen (instead of trying to direct it or manage it).

Taking a note from Scharmer’s work on Theory U, I am immersing myself in this study and will start by observe, observe, observe, then retreat and reflect, then act in an instant.  I am deeply curious about the future I am sensing into and connecting with and what magic will emerge for me and others as I do so.

 

The Power of Story

Story.  Story telling.  It defines us.  It defines our culture – home, work, community, other.  Through the stories we tell we point to where our focus is and we get more of what we focus on.  Much of our story telling is unconscious – we tell our stories without thinking about them or their impact – on us, on others.

What if we told every story from a place of consciousness and intentionality, understanding the power of story and how it shapes our experience, our relationships and our world?  What stories would you choose to tell with intentionality?  What stories would you stop telling?  How would some of your stories shift and change as a result?

We make sense of ourselves, our journey, our relationships, events that happen to us, the places we work, through story.  We cannot move on from our experience until we have integrated it through story and, most often we need to be witnessed – which is why we verbalize our story to others.

Story is the basis of sustaining relationship.  We cannot know another person until we know their story and often, once we do know their story, everything shifts – from interacting with “those” people to interacting with living, breathing human beings where soul, the sacred and magic can enter.

Every story counts.  Every story serves to put positive or negative energy into your interpersonal field.

Your stories define you.  Sometimes we are attached to certain stories we tell – especially the ones we tell over and over again.  Are you attached to a story in your life?  Does it serve you in being the best you can be?  In living an inspired life?  If not, how can you shift the story you carry to shape a more powerful experience and build capacity – for you and for those around you?

It’s Not the Fire That Harms, It is the Fear of It

How many of us cringe at the notion of going into the fire?  After all, fire is hot, it burns and it destroys whatever might be in its belly.  Yet, fire also nourishes us by forging strength, cooking food and keeping us warm – of course that is usually by staying around the edge of the fire.

In the work I do, we talk about going into the fire.  By this we mean, standing with courage where the heat is – the tension, anxiety, frustration, turmoil – places that often generate a cry to please come and fix this for us, tell us how to do it, show us the right way. This is the moment of intentional resistance for whoever is leading this work – resisting responding to those cries for help and inviting these people to stand in the heat of the fire and the flames.

If the answers really do exist inside of the group, team or organization – and believing they do is the essence of  my work – the ability to stand in that fire and hold the space so other people can too, generates self learning, self healing and collective solutions to problems or challenges the group is facing.  They don’t need to be told.  They can discover it for themselves.  But allowing this to take place takes discipline and courage on the part of the leader.

The fire puts us directly on the edge of what’s possible, what’s waiting and wanting to emerge.  It forges the courage and passion that makes the impossible possible, shows solutions where none seemed imminent.  It is through going into the fire that the shape of an individual, team or organization shifts to its own next level of development and growth.

A few days ago, through  a little “journey” I did with a friend, this message came home to me loud and clear – it is not the fire that harms, it is the fear of the fire.  If we fear the fire, we are tossed into it with a sense of terror and learning is blocked.  If we take a deep breath and walk into it, despite our fear of the unknown, it has the power to transmute fear into courage, stuckness into movement and playing small into standing in our strength and the power of our essence.

We can do this individually and collectively.  The more we do it on an individual level, the greater our capacity to bring it everywhere we go – work, home, elsewhere.  The more we do it, the more magic infiltrates everything we do.

Just understanding this has grown my own capacity to walk into the fire – remembering that the Phoenix is fed by and rises out of the flames.

Work and the Sacred – Distinct and Separate or Whole and Integrated?

The birth of Shape Shift Strategies Inc. has been truly inspired.  In the midst of this transition in my life and work, it became clear to me that I would be letting go of Chrysalis and of Co-Creating Futures and leaving them with my business partner and that this was absolutely the right thing to do.

As I let this go, the name Shape Shift came, unbidden, with ease, on a flight to Colorado on my way to an Art of Hosting training and a vision quest.  Both the company name and the look for the company have been universally well received as I speak them or hand out business cards.  It resonates with people and it reverberates as people carry it away and contemplate it.

Shape Shift has a practical quality – how do we want to intentionally shift the shape of our own world rather than be a passive recipient.  The shape of individuals, teams and organizations literally shifts as people bring intentionality and purpose to everything they do.  Some would argue intentionality and purpose border on the spiritual.

I know Shape Shift also has a spiritual quality.  It has its own essence beyond anything that I personally bring to it.  Every now and then I feel that I glimpse a bit of its possible future and I am surprised by the potentiality that exists.

It also has a spiritual quality because it is born out of my own spiritual journey – a journey that has dominated my life path in the last couple of years.  Some would say I am a Shape Shifter.  Some days I might even say that.

The largest question I have been sitting with the last few months is how to bring my spiritual path and my work path together…. and still have credibility, and still make a livelihood … as if they are two separate and distinct things and that acknowledging the sacred will somehow be an impediment in some of the client work I do.  Then a good friend thoughtfully said to me, “I think you are making a distinction where none exists.”

Hmmmm.  Powerful.  Nice pause.  Deep breath.  You are making a distinction where none exists!

I have brought this thought, this awareness into quite a few conversations over the last two months.  I am beginning to speak these things out loud, publicly.  I am in a community of practice with people who are also exploring this question and beginning to speak it out loud – or just to practice it by showing up in the sacredness of who they are and the magic they bring to people, places and things.

What if the essence of who we are, the work we do in the world and the sacred are not all separate things but that we have been making distinctions where none exist?  Imagine if we intentionally bring a sense of seamlessness and integration around work and the sacred EVERYWHERE, all the time, and people understood it to be normal rather than an edgy conversation!  Imagine the sense of harmony and ease we would bring into all the places we touch.  Every time we do this, we bring a bit more healing to ourselves and others.

What does the world need right now?  Healing.  Where do we start – or where am I starting?  With what I used to think of as an edgy topic in some settings – by intentionally bringing the sacred – and magic – into everything I do and every place I go.  Will you join me?

The Groan Zone of Transition

I’m in it! The gentle flow of it and the zany spin of it.  I am deep in the groan zone of transition – marriage separation, emerging new business and the birth of the second half of my life.

If I had posted this a couple of days ago when I first became aware that what I was experiencing was groan zone related, this entry would would have communicated an intense amount of stress and pressure related to all the normal groan zone challenges – resources, relationships, fear, questions around whether the vision for the new directions are even achievable.

But this is the beauty of the groan zone.  Wait a day, or sometimes a few hours or even just a few minutes, and the gentle flow of the path, or the zany edginess of it, will take you different place – thankfully.  So I write this post from a place of greater calm, groundedness, faith and trust in the path that I have embarked upon in this second half of my life – a journey that requires a greater amount of trust and faith than I have ever experienced.

On this path is the new company:  Shape Shift Strategies Inc.  What will it do?  Good question.  I’m asking it too, while knowing at the outset it will be the vehicle to continue my craft as a process artist – hosting, consulting, coaching – providing services to existing and new clients, working collaboratively with colleagues from the Art of Hosting network.  As I continue to step more and more boldly into bringing my healing gifts to the shifting shape of the world and the regeneration of its people…. well, who knows how Shape Shift will support this.

In this transition, my life is full of unresolved details – a new website (ready in a couple of weeks has been my mantra for awhile), attracting the resources for a move so full separation is possible, writing a book and book proposal for Healing Across the Ages: Releasing the Hold of Family Secrets, staying on top of client work, spending extra time with my dad, since my mom is in long term care for dementia,  following a minor surgery that put him in the passenger seat literally and finding time to do the things that nourish my soul: being inside of nourishing relationships, meditating, exercising and spending time with my kids.

In the bad moments….  the tension is palpable.  It is important not to ignore those moments and not to get lost in them either.  Fortunately trust and faith carries me far and the work of this second half of my life is so compelling I don’t have time or inclination to be lost for long.  I am able to focus on the flow rather than where the current is stuck.  Knowing all this strengthens my journey, builds my capacity and deepens my ability to stand boldly in my purpose.

Welcome to my Shape Shift Blog

The shape of the world is shifting. It is constantly shifting but never more so than now.  We can be passive recipients of the impact of these shifts in the world or we can become active participants in shaping the future of the things that are near and dear to our hearts.

I take this to heart in my life.  The shape of my world is shifting and transitioning once again.  My husband and I, also business partners, have decided that our journey together is complete.  We have consciously and intentionally decided it is time to separate personally and business wise.  This is easy for me to say now, but much of the journey leading up to this point, like many transitions, was not so easy.  It became easier when I could finally reach a place of fully appreciating the gifts of the relationship – of which there were many.  They get lost sometimes in the pain of transition or even just the pain of being in relationship together when does not work the way you hoped or dreamed.

Then there is that great line from the Rolling Stones song – “You can’t always get what you want, and if you try sometime, you find you get what you need.”  I definitely got what I needed.

My journey over the last decade or so has led to a birthing process.  I am birthing the second half of my life.  In these early days of the second half of my life, I am claiming the following purpose: from this place of deep rootedness to my spiritual lineages, I boldly bring my healing gifts to the shifting shape of the work and the regeneration of  its people.

The second thing I am giving birth to is this new company: Shape Shift Strategies Inc.  It is the entity through which I will bring my gifts to the world.  It feels like it is an entity unto itself that will shift into its own shape over time.  It wanted to be born and I am excited to give it life.

This blog will be used to comment on the shifting shape of the world – my world, the world, worlds I work in, am connected to or interested in – worlds that are near and dear to my heart.  Things, people, issues that I want to bring notice or intentionality to – places where I intend to be an active participant in the shifting shape of the world.