Over the past two decades, globalization and the dramatic rise of information technology (such as social media) have led to significant shifts in society and have radically changed the contexts in which many organizations operate. Recent research indicates that collaboration, co-creation and partnerships inside and outside of organizations are the best means for achieving success in the present environment and the near and distant future. (For various perspectives on these changes, please see Brafman & Beckstrom, Gobillot, Jironet, Li, and Shirky.) Traditional organizations - whether business corporations, organized religions, or governmental bodies - have generally not been dedicated to nurturing such relationships. Instead, they have focused more on competition than collaboration and on the individual organization’s survival, wellbeing and profitability. Today’s leaders therefore face new challenges to develop their ability to build networks within their organizations, between their organizations and other similar organizations, and between themselves and the wider global community. Successful leaders must be proficient in creating a heightened sense of their organization’s potential for participating in a far-flung international landscape. At the same time, they have to take care to create space for individuals in their organizations to contribute to this vision of possibilities and to communicate the importance of this value throughout their organizations.
The new vision of the role of individuals within organizations where hierarchies and reporting lines are replaced by direct individual participation poses intriguing questions about leadership. How does one “lead” when the “followers” are no longer oriented primarily toward one identified goal, one workplace, or one boss? To begin thinking about the idea of leadership along these new lines and about how to enable designated leaders to embrace and work in this paradigm is the challenge of leadership development in today’s business environment.
To meet this challenge successfully, leaders must not only become conscious of their own personality traits and the impact these have on others, but, equally importantly, they must attain some level of competence at functioning in complex and diverse environments (Jironet, 2010). Leadership now means not just pointing people unilaterally in a defined direction and motivating them to go there. It means skillfully interacting with others on an equal footing and in partnership while remaining solidly based on a firm foothold within one’s own psyche.
The Need for a New Type of Leadership Consciousness
Throughout our work with senior executives at large and medium-sized companies in a variety of industries, we have become acutely aware of the need for this new concept of leadership. This is not just an arbitrary decision on our part. It is based on the demands made by a highly challenging environment which dictates a dramatic change in thinking about how leadership is carried out and what it means. Many executives in today’s environment experience traditional leadership questions as irrelevant. The head of a large financial institution, for example, asked: “What am I supposed to lead toward when everything is up in the air and people under me are confused and mostly just tending to their own personal business?” A member of the Board of Directors of a large insurance company said bluntly: “I don’t see how I can tell others what to do if I don’t know what to do myself, and I don’t hear anyone convincingly pointing me in any direction.” These statements capture the general mood of disorientation and confusion among many leaders of large organizations today. Directions that point to a successful future in an environment like this are very hard to come by. Leaders do not know where to direct their organizations. In addition, many executives speak about erratic and highly disruptive activities in their workplace that have the effect of making them feel either hyperactive or deprived of initiative. In the background, there are often financial problems that brought about sudden changes at the top of the organization or led to the elimination of projects in which executives had been deeply engaged. Suddenly things take a radical turn, and earlier commitments must be abandoned or put on hold. Numerous executives admitted finding it difficult to manage their own energies let alone those of others, and they found themselves lacking realistic perspectives on how to move forward.
Experiences like this have led to the conclusion that there is a leadership crisis in the world today. We perceive an urgent need for a new concept in leadership and for new ways to help potential leaders develop themselves to deal effectively with today’s challenges. The time has come for a different approach in leadership development that will enable leaders to face challenges in all shapes and forms with an internal sense of confidence. We call this a “new level of leadership consciousness,” indicating by this the need for an inner transformation process in present and potential leaders in order to function comfortably in the challenging environments of today’s complex world.
Here we set out in brief form the basic elements of a psycho-spiritual approach to leadership development as we have formulated it. This model meets the demands for transformation not only of the concept of leadership but more importantly of leaders themselves. As we see it, developing a new type of “leadership consciousness” including awareness and understanding of collaboration and partnership is the key issue.
The Background of the Psycho-Spiritual Approach of Partners in Transformation
With this need for a new type of leadership development model in mind and based upon our own professional trainings and decades of experience in working with individuals and groups, we have created a Psycho-Spiritual Approach to leadership development that is derived primarily but not exclusively from the traditions of Sufism and Analytical Psychology.
To some extent, it is arguable that consciously or unconsciously we all live by the wisdom and values of a broad variety of ancient teachings and traditions. For instance, most of us would agree that it is beneficial to avoid engaging in violence and causing harm, although most of us do not necessarily connect this with its roots in the Sanskrit notion of Ahimsa as practiced in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Likewise, many regard practicing mindfulness as a positive means of coming into deeper contact with the present moment whether they relate it to a specific tradition of meditational practice or not. This practice has benefits regardless of whether the practitioner embraces any specific spiritual tradition or not.
In building this leadership model, we have also been influenced by the dialogues between quantum physicist David Bohm and the spiritual teacher Krishnamurti, who taught that every human being potentially has access to ultimate reality and to accepting life in all its diversity—the ‘choiceless awareness’ of the truth that is beyond all concepts and forms. In the early 1990’s, Bohm and Krishnamurti formulated ideas on how to overcome the isolation, individualization and fragmentation characteristic of modern societies and how to bring about a greater degree wholeness, both individually and collectively. In On Dialogue, Bohm describes several methods that help to create opportunities for positive change in society. He advocates that when engaging in free dialogue, two or more people with equal status observe the following principles: to listen to each other with detachment, to suspend opinion and judgment, to allow the free flow of thought and feeling in a sort of dance between the parties engaged, and to accept and appreciate differing beliefs or understanding. When followed, these principles yield a new sense of meeting and understanding and allow for surprising agreement and unity to emerge from widely disparate positions. We find this to be in line with the teachings of Sufi mysticism and Jungian psychoanalysis.
Drawing on these and other well-known teachings, our model for leadership development is rooted in a specific practice of psycho-spiritual guidance that proceeds in three phases: deep listening, close attunement and transformational shifts. The model teaches leaders how to use themselves as instruments for transformation. In doing so, these leaders transform the very notion of leadership. We believe that this responds to demands in the current global environment and allows leaders thereafter to create and develop equal relationships between themselves and those around them, to grasp and formulate surprising new outcomes and ideas as they emerges in their interactions, and to manage the energies in groups of people as these emerge in free, open and creative settings. Our method, if successful, results in transformation that does not merely change the application of ideas and methods that are already available but opens the way to new ideas, new paths and images and teaches how to seize upon these and take them forward. This in turn will also provide leaders with the ability to empower large groups of people to implement these methods within their organizations in a kind of contagion of creativity.
The Three Basic Elements of the Psycho-Spiritual Approach: A Description
As stated above, there are three basic elements in this approach: deep listening, close attunement and transformational shifts. All three are tightly interwoven and circle around a basic idea: there are untapped resources within the soul that leaders can and should learn how to approach and utilize for the benefit of their organizations and humanity as a whole. It is with this perspective in mind that we have developed our program of leadership development.
The first step is to develop the capacity for deep listening. We regard this as the entrance to the road that leads to individual and collective transformation. When all your knowledge and previous resources for coping, planning a future and leading others in a common enterprise prove themselves insufficient for the day you are living in and the issues you are facing, you face the urgent need to look for alternative ways of thinking, acting and living. Certain moments in life call for a dramatic change and not just adjustments and slight modification; they demand a fundamental transformation in attitude; they require a leap to another level of awareness and behavior. How can you make this happen? You realize that there must be a radical shucking off of old habits of thought and behavior in order to make space for something new. Experiences from the past are of course deeply internalized and cannot be simply put aside by an act of will, but an attempt must be made to put habitual patterns aside in order for new ones to emerge. This is the starting place: Letting go of past certainties and entering into a space of not knowing.
We emphasize that genuinely new and unprecedented insights and ideas can only materialize out of the dark background of consciousness, which we call the unconscious. In the unconscious, there are latent resources that can lead to a new kind of adaptation if allowed to step forward into the light of day. There is a potential for awareness and insight that exists below the surface of ordinary consciousness and outside the range of previous beliefs and habits. The psychologist Timothy D. Wilson writes about this as “discovering the adaptive unconscious.” New ideas from this region of the mind tend to emerge suddenly, like flashes of insight. Sometimes they occur following days of hard work or long nights spent pondering a specific problem. Scientists from many disciplines have reported such sudden insights after long and deep contemplation of a problem, then falling asleep and suddenly awaking with the solution in mind. While sleeping, their minds kept working under the surface of rational consciousness and produced a new configuration of elements often in a picture or story form. August Kekulé, for instance, claimed that the notion of the structure of the benzene ring struck him during a daydream in which he saw an ouroboros, a snake swallowing its own tail.
Deep listening is a technique for allowing insights of this nature to emerge into consciousness. This involves a subtle process of listening for a voice that speaks from the unconscious, from behind veils of memory and learning, from recesses below the habits of thinking and behavior that govern daily life. We note that waking consciousness is generally tuned to the surrounding world and under the control of analytical tools that respond to issues and problems in a familiar way. Compared to the specific know-how of conscious thinking and its patterns, the voice of the unconscious is in waking life nothing more than a faint whisper. Deep listening seeks to tune into this frequency and to turn up the volume of the inner voice, to help the conscious listener to accept intuitively the guidance that may come and to follow it in imagination, and to yield to such impulses of the imagination. The success of this method depends on the listener’s capability to enter the realm of the unconscious and to develop an awareness of how to navigate there. This is what we try to teach through the method of deep listening.
We begin with an exercise in breathing. Together with concentration and awareness, following the breath provides a key to open the door. To turn your consciousness to the inner voice, we teach, please do the following:
- Sit down in a spot where you feel comfortable and relaxed. Close your eyes. Turn your attention to your breathing. Feel your breath moving in and out. Know that energy follows awareness. Turn your attention to your feet and feel how the floor comes up and meets your feet. Notice your connection with the Earth. Breathe through your right foot into the center of the Earth. Breathe through your left foot into the center of the Earth. Make a connection there and breathe up and down from your lower back straight into the center of the Earth. Breathe in and draw energy from earth into you body. Hold your breath and feel how you are filled with that energy. Then exhale with a sigh. Focus your attention on the energy vibrating in your body. Repeat three times. Continue to feel this energy whilst turning your attention to the sky. Find a star in the sky and connect to that star. Breathe from the star in through the top of you head throughout all your body. Focus on the vibrations of energy. Turn your attention to your heart. Feel its energy reaching out and filling up the space around you. You are now in your own energy field.
- Gently touch the space around you with your attention. This is how you are in essence. Become aware of how that is. Concentrate on how that is. You now let go of all images of yourself, leave your perception of the world and your personal theory of life for a while.
- Close your ears with your thumbs, finger pointing upwards. Listen to the sounds inside your ears. Drop your hands in your lap and continue to listen to that sound. Become aware of how the sound fills the space around your head and shoulders. You are inside that globe. Keep listening. You feel a deep sense of peace. Let yourself become blank and open to receive what comes to you without it affecting you. Simply let it come to you. Just be aware and all you need will be revealed through you.
By following these simple instructions, deep listening develops and the voice of the adaptive unconscious begins to become available in consciousness. Deep listening tunes into the potential for new insights. Of course, there are no final answers or solutions given all at once. Rather, this is a practice that must be continued over long periods of time as the voice continues to reveal itself to consciousness. By consistent practice, people become more and more proficient in the practice of deep listening. We have clients who report that they have internalized the effects of this practice to such an extent that merely thinking of sitting in deep listening activates the form of consciousness that it brings.
Our finding is that leaders who work with deep listening allow for the novel and unpredictable insight to emerge in themselves, and therefore they are also able to stimulate this same process in their peers and co-workers. They become a womb for creativity in their organizations.
One senior executive reported that although he had always relied on what he called his “sixth sense,” he had never proactively searched for information through intuition, instead taking a reactive approach to whatever came through this doorway. After learning the method of deep listening for discerning the voice of intuition, he now consults this voice deliberately and regularly and relies on the information he receives from it. As a result, he is better able to assess complex environments and situations. He reported that he could more profoundly trust his intuition as a basis for decision-making.
Turning now to the second element in our approach to leadership training, which we call close attunement, we link it to deep listening by saying that the first step establishes the connection with the voice of the unconscious, one’s own inner knowing, while the second involves sharing this with another person or several persons. The second step is essential for strengthening the insights and solutions that arise from the first. This takes place by sharing them with other people. Close attunement is the term we use to refer to this act of sharing. It is a kind of intimate dialogue that is based on mutuality and deep trust. The adjective “close” indicates intimacy and means a kind of leaning into one another and mutually yielding to the deeper levels of the mind from which the voice of the unconscious speaks. It is as though all the partners in this sharing are listening to the same inner voice. “Attunement” denotes synchronization of two or more psychic energy fields (see Jung, 1931/1966, para. 163). Attunement is also a term used in Sufi teachings to signify a form of concentration (see Hazrat Inayat Khan, 1960, The Mysticism of Sound).
Close attunement is entirely experiential and therefore hard to communicate in words. It takes place with the entry of two (or more) people into the same unconscious space simultaneously, as if jumping into a pool of water together. When we do this in our training groups, we experience a deliberate mental or imaginative fall or leap into a space whose interior is entirely unknown to us until traveled and imaginatively experienced. This entry into close attunement is therefore a shared moment in which the water entered is the same for all involved and those leaping into it are on the same journey. At the same time, of course, this moment is individually experienced by each participant. It is difficult to convey the sensation of this experience, which is why we resort to metaphorical language here.
Close attunement can be carried out in different settings. The methodology applied varies according to group’s size and purpose. It can, for instance, be geared to addressing a particular dilemma or toward the purpose of inspiration and or the building up of relationship among co-workers. To give an idea of how this looks, we offer the following description of how we might conduct this phase of leadership training with a group.
Supposing we have a group of 8 people each of whom wants to solidify the intent of a decision already taken or wants to work toward the solution of a specific issue or dilemma, we might do the following:
- As co-leaders of the group process, we go to the room where the group will assemble about ten minutes before the agreed meeting time, and we prepare the space in the room by making sure the chairs are in a circle and no trash or unnecessary items are lying around in the room. We create a space for what will follow by sitting in our chairs and entering into the attitude of deep listening. We visualize each of the group members as sitting in front of us. With the breath we fill the globe around their heads and shoulders with the golden light, one by one. We concentrate on the vibrations from the heart and bid each person welcome. This takes about 30 seconds for each group member. We then drop our hands into our laps and listen to the sound. It is filling the whole room. We become blank and prepare to be guided. Then we open the door and welcome our guests one by one.
- Now we set the framework for the session. We agree on what time to stop, we describe what will be addressed as distinctly as possible, and we invite any questions. We might repeat what close attunement is, and we close this part by asking each individual to say “yes” if they wish to participate in entering into this space.
- This completed, we ask that everyone take a moment to leave all images of themselves and perceptions of others outside the space. These can all be picked up again after the meeting. We guide the group into deep listening. When we sense that all are resting in their globe of energy, we start the attunement.
- We ask that everyone reset themselves in deep listening and expand their personal globe to encompass all in the group and hold each member in that space in their minds throughout the session. Then we gently start to make the sound [m]. The members of the group join in at their own pitch and intensity. This we finish after three minutes. The group is now in close attunement. At first we ourselves focus on experiencing moments of one breath, one heart and one will, and when we have received three or more waves of this we invite the group to do so too by saying: “We invite you to feel the breath that breathes in you.”
- Now we ask the participants to direct their attention toward the decision or issue at hand. We instruct them to take this course slowly so as to avoid becoming taken over by it. Should this happen, we advice them to go back and start deep listening again. For now the task is simply to observe the issue and let it be. We want to make sure to look at all angles while staying clear and detached. We instruct them to ready themselves to receive an image of the issue or decision and to accept anything that is presented and keep it in awareness - for example, a shoe, a tree or a boat - whatever comes, to receive it. Then we instruct the group to concentrate individually on this image and to immerse themselves in the surrounding oscillating white light. We remind the participants that energy moves with attention, so we ask them to retain concentration solely on that image and to hold this up to ten minutes. After that, we call energy into back into ourselves and re-enter deep listening.
- Whilst still in deep listening, we connect individuals back to the group. We do this with by breathing together in unison. Then we softly guide the group to focus on what they perceive in the here and now. As we bring them back to normal consciousness, we invite them to record on paper what they have experienced and perceived. We allow five minutes for this.
- Now we ask that each member of the group to read their notes out loud, one after the other and with no comments in between readings.
- Finally, we reflect together on these findings and then we close the meeting at the time stated and agreed upon at the outset of this meditation.
In most groups we have worked with, the individual participants report that a surprising potential answer to their question comes to them during deep listening and close attunement. It appears first in the form of a visual image, a bodily sensation, or a mind/body combination. In the exchange and reflection stage, it becomes verbally articulated and the beginnings of solutions to the dilemma are formulated as possibilities, prospects or sometimes as promises. This can be a lot of fun with laughter and moments of hilarity or synchronicity.
The intuitive answers proposed at this time, however, represent only a potential and not the complete solution. For this potential to reach concrete realization, a further step is needed. This occurs when there is an individual or a collective feeling of “Aha! This is it,” which is typically mirrored by all in the group at the same time. If it involves a group or team decision, it comes out as: “Yes, we will! We will go for it.” ‘It’ may be somewhat surprising but will generally be quite simple. Now a fully conscious decision can made and a specific path formulated and considered in detail.
Clients speak about how close attunement brings increased body-mind harmonization, more conscious living, greater command of energy, and a renewed spirit. One participant stated that she was finally able to take the steps that she had long been convinced would professionalize her entire organization as well as benefiting her personally. The urge to take this personal transformation forward and seek renewal in the professional setting is a recurrent theme. The process is strengthened because it is shared and witnessed by the group. Numerous clients have found new levels of affinity with peers and stretched themselves to transcend rigid and enforced dichotomies rooted in traditional power positions.
If it is a matter of a group decision, what we are interested in is that the process of close attunement has ensured that all participants act as equal partners in finding and forming the resolution of the issue being dealt with or in solidifying a previous decision. This will assure that all are engaged in the new creation and have a shared understanding, albeit individually experienced and arrived at. In the setting of close attunement, all experiences and contributions have equal value. Power is shared by the network and arises in the community from being open to what is perceived and brought into consciousness.
We come now to the third element in our method: transformational shifts. Transformational shifts occur when a new awareness is fully experienced, recognized as true and meaningful, and shared among all present during its appearance. This experience constitutes a fundamental transformation of consciousness and changes the basic attitude and outlook on life of the individual and the group. There is a strong temptation to withdraw from entering into this decisive step. The reason can be a lack of self-confidence, or perhaps the solution that emerged goes against the grain of public opinion. Hesitation may also be a function of insufficient know-how and experience to follow through. This stage is the proof of the pudding. A transformational leader knows this.
Leaders who have experienced this model of training speak of a growing sense of “relatedness” and a feeling of “renewal” as well as a heightened sense of presence at work and of increased clarity as to what is going on in complex organizational situations. This tends to create enhanced levels of detached involvement, tranquility, as well as a fuller sense of inner security and trust in the processes unfolding. The narrative and the ability to regulate and manage energy in self and large groups of people make up the framework of their leadership.
For transformational outcomes to reach implementation and to spread beyond the group in which they were conceived, two fundamental principles must be addressed. It is the leader’s role to ensure this happens and to guide the processes involved. Before anything new can be created it must be conceived in the mind: the blueprints exist before the building. The previous exercises have set out the plan; now, this plan must be realized. In order to achieve this, a person needs a story that frames the intention. This is a new narrative. One will also need all dispersed energy – everything people do in the workplace – to fit into and contribute to the new narrative. This means that one must understand how to manage energy in groups (small or large) and make it flow like a dance.
To achieve this third step, we take the blueprints and build narratives for them. The blueprint comes into existence in the first steps, deep listening and close attunement. Now it remains to create the new narrative that will translate the blueprint into reality. Here is how we help our groups to do that.
To begin a new narrative, it is important to ensure that it encompasses the essential outcomes of the previous exercises and is relevant for what an individual or an organization is offering society or the other members in the organization. The narrative must then pick up the essential threads of the themes that emerged in the earlier steps and develop them into a story line that is connected to the social and organization realities in which the narrative will be embedded. Once the narrative is consistent, it needs to be shared by communicating it to others. It is best to draw together a group of people in the organization who are interested in contributing. Together, the story is told and retold until all feel sure that, although they have their own stories, this is one that represents the solution that resolves whatever dilemma is at hand. By holding on to the narrative, a new attitude can be created that is both more confident and more complex because of the amount of disparate material contained within its structure.
The new narrative converts the ideas and energies released in deep listening and close attunement into a possible plan for action, but on a metaphorical level.
Leadership today is no longer just about directing people and energy toward the worthy goals of eradicating problems be they financial or nuclear meltdowns, corporate reorganizations, global warming or cultural crises of the many sorts the world is facing. Leadership today must begin with a new type of consciousness on the part of leaders that enables them to create partnerships and lead transformation. They can attain this by entering into deeper individual discernment on a psycho-spiritual level through the methods of deep listening and close attunement as outlined in this paper. This can lead them to gain insight and develop a vision by using the resources of their adaptive unconscious. They can then move toward assisting other people to share their vision and work together for solutions by creating a narrative that furthers their transformational moment.
We have developed what we believe is a forward-thinking, very direct and highly practical model for training leaders that draws on ancient spiritual practices and modern psychological theory. We believe that it shows a strong potential for assisting today’s leaders to develop entirely new solutions emanating from the depths of their unconscious potential for novel and innovative answers and directions.
The attitude of this leadership is a form of partnership for transformation that responds to the widely recognized need for building stronger relationships and increasing a sense of belonging and meaning. This psycho-spiritual approach provides a clear and effective means for developing leaders who are capable of deep listening, close attunement and transformational shifts. Such leaders can address today’s challenges with confidence and flexibility while tapping directly into the creativity, knowledge and awareness in themselves and others.
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See e.g., C.K. Prahalad, who concluded one of his last works, a column in the April 2010 Harvard Business Review with this thought: "Executives are constrained not by resources but by their imagination." R. Kaplan, together with D. Norton, introduced the Balanced Scorecard, a strategic management tool used worldwide. In Stop Overdoing Your Strengths, Kaplan warns that strengths taken too far become weaknesses and shows that to strike a balance between key leadership dualities, actions and motivations must be clearly identified.
It should be noted that the theories established by Krishnamurti and Bohm have also influenced Appreciative Inquiry, and especially MIT’s Center for Organizational Learning’s work on dialogue. They have also formed the basis of the work of Otto Scharmer and the Presencing Institute in their method of “presencing” and on working toward social renewal through “Theory U,” a theoretical perspective indicating that the way we attend to a situation impacts that situation.
Karin Jironet, Ph.D., Jungian psychoanalyst, is an international and interdisciplinary scholar. She studied Arts, Medical Science and Theology at Lund University and holds a Doctoral degree in Psychology of Religion at the University of Amsterdam. She works closely with individuals at board level within leading Dutch financial institutions, including ABN AMRO Bank, ING Group and the Dutch Central Bank. As head of the International Desk at de Baak VNO-NCW, a major Dutch leadership institute, Dr. Jironet serves as catalyst for projects bringing together representatives from European member states to improve approaches to corporate governance. She is the author of several books and articles related to leadership development. In 2011, her book Female Leadership was published byRoutledge.
Murray Stein, Ph.D., Jungian psychoanalyst, is the President of The International School of Analytical Psychology in Zurich (ISAPZurich) and a past President of the International Association for Analytical Psychology (2001-2004). He is the author of In MidLife, Jung’s Map of the Soul, The Principle of Individuation and other books and the editor of many works including Psyche at Work. He has consulted internationally with business leaders and has lectured and offered workshops on psychology in the workplace. He holds a doctorate from the University of Chicago in Religion and Psychological Studies.
Working together in the corporate sector, Karin Jironet and Murray Stein have developed a methodology for transformational leadership development, under the name Partners in Transformation. At psycho-spiritual retreats around the globe, they provide guidance to high-level executives.