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How to Reconcile Leadership and Spirituality?

More than 15 years ago, a new trend emerged in the field of leadership, a “new” trend that is nevertheless based on principles that have been known for thousands of years, i.e. successful leadership is based on intuition, considered as a way for  accessing to knowledge. And here I am referring to the works  of by Benedict Spinoza and by Henri Bergson, for whom intuition refers to concrete knowledge of the world as an interconnected whole, as contrasted with the piecemeal, “abstract” knowledge obtained by science and observation.

But this is not what I was taught in management school.

I learnt that to create and lead an enterprise, you need to have a project idea, then you conduct a market research and finally you build up a business plan. This approach presents three problems.

  • First, the market research will give you information on what has already been done, in other words on the past while a leader should look at the future.
  • Second, very few researches have been made on the emergence of the idea, this spark on which your enterprise will be based. How does it occur? From where is it coming from? How to have this bright idea which will changed the world?
  • Third, interconnexion is barely mentioned. However, we are living in an interconnected world. I am not referring only to the relationships we may have with other people but also to the fact that we are living in and participating to the same field of information. And the key for accessing to this source of knowledge is intuition.
But how can intuition and the rationality required for creating and leading a company be reconciled?  

Can we trust something so vague? It is what the recent researches in management and psychology backs up.  Needless to say that it is astonishing that it took so long for intuition to be recognized as a management tool, whereas until recently rationality required us to be wary of it.

One of the most interesting approach in this regard is the theory U written by Otto Scharmer [1].

What are the broad outlines of the theory?

For O Scharmer, two decision-making patterns coexist:

  • One based on observation and modelling of past experiences, as I already mentioned.
  • One based on listening to the future as it emerges. To put it more simply, I listen, I withdraw to connect to the future and I act. And listening anticipates action, which represents a real managerial revolution!

This can be applied to any situations or any decision-making process when we have to respond to a change.

And, for Otto Scharmer, there would be four levels of response:
  • The first is to respond to a new situation with rapid and immediate action.
  • The second is to reformulate the rules, to re-analyze the processes and structures.
  • The third level becomes more sophisticated and more immaterial: values and beliefs are questioned or re-evaluated in the light of the evolution of the organization and its environment.
  • But there is a fourth level, which consists of finding the source of primordial energy and “re-connecting” to what made the organization successful at one time.

Because the development of any living organisation follows a Gaussian curve, i.e. born, grows and dies, your enterprise will disappear unless you find in time the idea that will allow it to bounce back. This idea is not in the leader’s head, as smart as he may be, but… in the “air”, in this field of information I referred to. Responding to change at this level means rediscovering those sources of energy, motivation and inspiration that have made the organization successful.

How? By connecting to ourselves, by listening to our inner voice which we call either intuition or inspiration and what Otto Scharmer named the “black hole of leadership”, because as in the galaxy, we don’t really know how it happens. We cannot observe it and yet it represents a considerable source of energy. It is the very source of creative information. And it is inscribed within and outside us.

Erwin Laszlo and the Akashic Field

The theory U draws on the quantum approaches to science as described by Erwin Laszlo[2], this philosopher of science whose observations on the latest scientific discoveries re-enchant a universe disenchanted by science. I quote: “at the roots of reality are not only matter and energy, but also a more subtle and equally fundamental factor that could be described as an active and powerful information, or in-information.”

The U symbolizes the three major steps of any decision-process or creative process: the descending branch of the U asks us to observe again and again and collect information without any a priori; the base of the U advises us to connect through our intuition to the sources of in-formation and then to act quickly (the ascending branch of the U). Otto Scharmer gives the details of this process, which it would take too long to go into here. But he provides many testimonies on the success of this approach in various public and private organizations.

The approach is based on generative listening and on the uninhibited expression of feelings. This book reflects a profound societal evolution that moves from a leadership based on “patriarchal” values to more “feminine” values, from animus to anima and on priority from action to intuition. The contribution of this theory is to allow us access to other fields of consciousness in a sector, that of leadership, where, until now, intuitions had to be justified by market studies. It challenges hierarchical systems and promotes collaborative systems; But this of course presupposes beliefs in the power of intuition and interconnection.

[1] Scharmer C, Theory U : Leading from the Emerging Future As It Emerge, Berret-Koelher eds, traduit en français par Generation Presence, 2007.

[2] Laszlo E. Science and the Akashic Field, Ed Ariane, 2008.

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