You know it when you hear it. It touches you. You are so moved by what you’ve just heard you can’t wait to share it. You may have even heard it before. But this time, the way it’s said and who says it impacts you differently.
This was the case during my recent webinar with Joseph Jaworski and Susan Taylor. There were so many powerful and wonderful ideas shared.
Joseph is the founder of the American Leadership Forum and known throughout the world for his book Synchronicity and two other books, Presence and Source. He has also had an enormous impact on leadership and the state of being throughout the world.
Susan in the CEO of Generon International and has worked closely with Joseph on leadership development for the past 20 years.
During this webinar, Joseph and Susan addressed many of the key questions and challenges faced by leaders, entrepreneurs, and in fact all of us during these times of fast and turbulent change.
Please enjoy these key insights I mined from our conversation.
How can we truly keep an open mindset world view of abundance as opposed to a fear of scarcity?
Joseph: The way I would answer this is I think it’s a very hard thing to do. I don’t say it’s easy to keep an open mindset, and one relating to abundance when you’re faced with a lot of big challenges, some of which are threatening your firm or your well-being. I’ve been down that road so many times skating on the edge, although it wasn’t said in the opening remarks, I’ve been an entrepreneur almost all of my life and founded a number of organizations and operated them.
Anybody who has done that has had that experience of skating on the edge and having a life where if you’re not careful, you could step into that place of fear. What I had learned over these many years is the main way to keep an open mindset is just to keep reminding us of the way that the universe is truly constructed.
I have a picture. It’s a picture I draw many times on my flip chart of the way the universe is truly constructed. If you look at a flip chart and you draw a line in the middle of it, on the top side it is the manifest order. It’s what we see and what we experience everyday. Hidden below that is what … there’s about 11 different names for it, but what one of my mentors David Bohm called the implicate order, which is it is the hidden possibilities that are there.
What I’ve learned and what is absolutely the case is that those opportunities are hidden there waiting for us, if we only knew how to access them. That’s what I keep reminding myself of when I’m close to that edge, that this world, the way universe is literally constructed, is one of infinite possibility. It’s up to our choices and the way we choose to operate our businesses and live our life to step into that. It’s waiting for us.
How do we encourage people to think about and be curious about work more collaboratively for greater impact?
Joseph: The short answer is give people more freedom, because the more freedom, and respect and love that the people have, the more natural they will be, which means that they’re going to be more curious. That’s my key insight over the years about this. Sadly to say, most organizations, even smaller ones but certainly in large systems, are pervaded by anxiety and, I would say, fear.
How do we stay committed in the midst of so much change?
Joseph: What I have discovered over the years is that staying committed is so important because it’s like the Joseph Campbell picture of the Hero’s Journey which is an archetype for all of our lives, really. You have to go through that road of trial and stay committed. It’s almost as if the universe is saying, “I’m going to see how committed you are.” Keep your dream and your vision alive and in front of you, and maybe we can talk about it later but you tack into it. Beating the path as you walk it and then ultimately you’ll get there.
Where does infinite curiosity originate from and how do we maintain it?
Joseph: Well, infinite curiosity, the thing is I think we’re born with that. Over time, beginning from the times that we’re 3 or 4, sometimes it gets squeezed out of this by the way that our formal education is constructed. It’s very easy to lose that. One of my close friends and guides over the years has been Warren Bennis, who is the famous leadership guru I guess you would say. I think he’s written 21 or 23 books on it.
One day, I asked Warren. I said, “Warren, if you have to choose one attribute of the best CEOs that you’ve ever been around, what’s that one attribute?” He thought for a minute and he said, “Well, the best CEOs I’ve ever been around have arched eyebrows.” I began to chuckle and he said, “You know what I mean by that. They’re always the most curious people I have come across and they find a way to maintain that curiosity.”
I think it’s a matter of awareness and being resilient so it doesn’t get squeezed out of you during tough times, and remaining open and optimistic is a key element to being a great entrepreneur and a great leader. It’s the hallmark, actually, of great entrepreneurship is optimism and curiosity.
Susan: Well, I would just add. I completely agree with what you said, Joseph, and I think that learning is innate within us. It’s part of our evolution, if you will, to continually learn, and grow and develop. These things that get in the way that Joseph just spoke to, I think, are what limit us from that infinite possibility, that implicate order that Joseph was just describing and also hampers our ability to create new knowledge. I think to the extent that we can try to be curious and open or, in other terms, the idea that we can continually learn, and we don’t necessarily know it all. We know what we know, but to be open to learning all the time, I think, really feeds into this question with that curiosity.
How do groups not fall into the trap they were trying to break out of once they achieve a certain level of success?
Joseph: Well, first, I would say, I’m an authority on this because I’ve been in so many traps over my life. In the book Synchronicity that you mentioned in the introduction, I mentioned three or so of those traps that were the most prevalent traps for me, but I can’t tell you how many I’ve been in. I’ve learned over the years if that the way to break out of these traps, even as you’re in the process of gaining some success, is to be continually aware, to build into your daily life some awareness training, which we could talk about in a moment, but building some training that helps you to continually be aware so you can notice some of your patterns and your habits that may be arranging for you to fall back into that trap again.
From an organizational standpoint or, well, from a personal standpoint, what I’m saying is continual awareness training and work on your practices, which we can talk about. From an organizational standpoint, it’s the mantra of continuous renewal. Not resting on your laurels but being open to finding ways to renew your organization on a continuous basis. That’s the way to avoid these traps.
What practices for high performance can we follow that really work?
Joseph: I can just mention them here and then either at the workshop later or later in the seminar we could talk a lot more about it because there are key elements. The point is that there are practices for high performance thinking that we have discovered over the years that really work. These are critical to maintaining full awareness about what’s going on. One, it’s just simply having in your quiver the first element of what is shown on our view process, which is process of discovery. That is awareness and observation. We write it three times: observe, observe, observe. Just being cautious that you have your eyes wide open and you’re observing all the time, that’s a practice, really.
Hall of fame photographers have this capacity to be super aware of their surroundings and what’s going on so they can capture those moments. Then there are other practices which we can talk about but they include these ancient practices such as meditation and the energy practices like qigong and tai chi. Those are ways to continually keep your system open so that you have the capacity to slow down and really see what’s in front of you.
What is the Four-Circle Model for Organizational Renewal?
Joseph: That’s a term of art that we use in Generon that actually came from another one of my mentors by the name of John W. Gardner who was in President Johnson’s cabinet, and he’s head of the White House Fellows Program. He wrote some books on self-renewal that’s related to individuals, but then wrote books about organizational renewal. This is literally what Generon’s work in the world is, is the work of organizational renewal. There are four elements to it. We call it the Four-circle model.
Quickly, what the four elements are is one of developing a comprehensive world view. Everybody in the organization highly benefits if you hold a view of the world and the view of the universe as it’s actually constructed — not as the traditional materialistic world view, what half of us believe. That’s the first thing.
The second part of renewal is creating an operating philosophy that includes purpose and values and ways of being with your people that if followed carefully and diligently would result in continuous renewal. The third big element of it is governance practices to continually focus on governance practices that draw people together as communities of practice and that allow diagonal slices of the organization to come together, and to operate in dialogue as opposed to other ways of conversation, which include debate which is prevalent in many, many organizations where people are knocking heads together.
This is where people can operate as a single intelligence instead of beating up on one another in competition. Sad to say we find that in organizations all over the place where you’ve got presidents of units or divisions that are somewhat siloed and they’re in competition with one another. This is all about the governance thing that we could talk the whole day about.
The fourth element of this renewal that Generon talks about are these awareness practices and the practices for gaining deep insight and practices for high performance thinking some of which I’ve mentioned. Those are the 4 big elements that I was referring to that in our terms we talk about organization renewal.
What are your perspectives on leadership and where should renewing organizations focus?
Joseph: Over the years there have been over a thousand books, really good books that have been written on leadership. If you take and categorize them we have seen that the most elemental of those good books focus on the first perspectives of leadership.
The first perspective is what leaders do. In the 1970s and 80s the seminal books, really good ones, focused on the what and they identified best practices or what leaders do and that was from the 60s and 70s and in the early 80s. In the 80s and 90s the best books focused on how they did this. The what was pretty clear but the how was not.
Exhibit A of those really great books on how was Peter Senge’s book called The Fifth Discipline. It’s about the five disciplines that enable leaders to really succeed and excel. He sold over 2 million or so copies of that book which is unreal for a business book. That was in the late 80s, early 90s.
What we have discovered and what I wrote Synchronicity and Source about was the last perspective, which we found nobody had written about which was from where is the source of this kind of leadership, source of Stage IV leadership we call it. It’s the kind of leadership that has the capacity in the face of all these rising and accelerating complexities, in the face of all of that how can we create new realities continually so that we stay ahead of the game.
That kind of leadership is the best kind of leadership we know of today. We call it Stage IV, and it’s the people that can pass into that and hit the order of infinite possibilities, which we call Stage IV leaders.
(This interview was originally published at the Lead Change Group — June 2014)
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