Here’s a test – can you be truly thankful for all that has happened in your life and work experience up till this point, and, allow yourself to unswervingly trust in all that is to come? It’s a tough test, as it requires you to cultivate an inner capacity that I call Acknowledge the Whole. This capacity asks that you are able to see all that arises - even difficulty or disturbance or deficit - as in some way having an intention and purpose.
It’s radical, this systemic allowing, as our normal response is to want to regret, deny or judge difficult experiences; it is very hard for the ego to answer the question, ‘In some way how is this difficult experience a helpful teacher?’ Likewise, we are wont to strive and project our needs into future experience, imagining that life should be like that, or that others ought to now behave in that way. What if, in its place, we replaced our ego’s judgments and needs with a - still discerning - acceptance that there are systemic forces in our life that are simply beyond our control?
Our task is to make sense of them. And this is exactly what my research showed the most successful leaders of large complex change were able to do. They were able to reframe the inevitable wobbles and at times extremely disturbing incidents of a system in transition as necessary (and even welcome) parts of transformation. The most senior leaders of large complex systems in particular require this capacity to Acknowledge the Whole.
I aim to model this radical allowing in my own work, holding any field of interaction in the team or organization I am working with at a higher level. I don’t tend, therefore, to get phased by disturbance, tension and conflict and can place opposing forces within a wider context that requires us to operate from a wider point of perception. All thought and action – however seemingly strange or opposing to our worldview – makes perfect sense when you can understand the broader system within which it is situated.
That is not to say that I condone all leadership behavior that shows up in the boardrooms, governments, religious institutions and local communities of this world. But I do know that, in order to change a system, and particularly its culture, you first have to understand - and agree to - the deep source, or place, from which it operates.
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