Crossing the threshold – leading into the future

Apparently we change for two fundamental reasons:

  1. We have enough information about the situation we want to change
  2. We are experiencing so much pain that we have to change
This ‘perfect storm’ of economic, social and environmental factors in our midst is actually a ‘perfect dawn’ for us as it invokes both core drivers for change – we have more than enough information to know we ought change and we are experiencing more than enough pain for us to have to change. The bad news of breakdown leads to the good news of breakthrough.At times of great winds, some build bunkers, while others build windmills. Ancient Chinese proverbMany experts now point to an imminent paradigm shift: a transformation in the way we conduct our business, engage with each other and relate to life itself.  For instance, Professor Michael Porter stated when addressing a business leaders forum in October 2011 ‘the old models of corporate capitalism are dead…we are witnessing a paradigm shift’.  In 2012 John Elkington, in The Phoenix Economy report, notes that ‘the time is ripe for a true paradigm shift to a more sustainable economy.’  So here we are in 2013; there is no time like the present. The paradigm shift is not going to happen five or ten years from now, it is happening as we speak.

The challenge with any paradigm shift is that it requires both a letting go of old, tried-and-tested ways ingrained in our collective psyche and an embracement of novel, as yet unproven ways.  There is a threshold across which individuals, organisations and communities need to cross. It is a chasm that can sometimes look like an abyss especially when we are all-to-engrossed in frantically patching up the current way of doing things just to keep the wheels from falling off. There is inherent inertia in crossing the threshold. Our feelings of security in the known and sense of safety in numbers by staying in the herd keeps us fearfully clinging to old ways.

As Morpheus in The Matrix said:

‘You have to understand, most people are not ready to be unplugged and many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.’
As the saying goes, ‘old habits die hard’. Paradoxically it is through the release of old ways that innovation and new growth comes. The old has to die-off for the new to emerge, just as in nature old trees fall to the ground where-upon fungi and bacteria break it down to release nutrients into the soil for new growth.  This ‘back-loop’ of death bringing re-birth is just as vital to the vitality and health of natural systems as the more socially acceptable ‘front-loop’ of innovation, growth and conservation is; ditto for economic and social systems. Transformational times of impending destruction and creative re-construction inevitably invoke fear. It takes great courage to break rank from business-as-usual amidst a perfect storm. It takes real leadership to transform a business in such volatile times. Incidentally, the root of the word leadership is ‘leith’ which means to go forth and cross the threshold, to die and be re-born.Dr Otto Sharma, Senior Lecturer at MIT, in his ‘Theory U’ explores how leadership itself needs to transform in order to be able to lead us across this threshold.  Leadership, he finds, is about facilitating the process of letting go of old ways and allowing the new to take root. Leaders first transform themselves and then guide and coach others, creating a safe passage for the followers to cross the threshold. Vital to this leadership is a healthy foundation to ground the transformation in, what Sharma refers to as the soil of the being (the psyche of the self) and the soil of the organisation (the culture of the organisation). It is this soil that allows the old ways to die and yield nutrients for new growth at a personal and organisational level; much like healthy soil breaks down decaying matter in winter to provide vital nutrients for new growth in spring. The soil of us is our inner being, this is where we can start to envision the future on the other side of the abyss and so contemplate crossing the threshold.This ability to embody the future is what Peter Senge, Otto Sharma and colleagues have referred to as ‘presencing’ and is well articulated in their bookPresence. It is the ability to transform our capacity to see and our capacity to create which Senge and others explain as:
‘a new capacity for  stillness that no longer fragments who we really are from what’s emerging; and a new capacity for creating alternative realities that no longer fragments the wisdom of the head, heart, and hand.’
This leadership can be found in each of us; we are the leaders of the future. Yes, we may need to sometimes rely on charismatic, courageous people to lead diverse groups of us, yet it is you and me that need to nourish our own inner soil, to allow for the dying of old ways and the re-birth of new realities.  This is ‘the nuts and bolts’ or rather ‘the roots and shoots’ of the paradigm shift, not some global flash of light, meteor strike or the second coming, but each of us finding our passion that aligns our inner selves with our outer activities, by envisioning new realities and then taking small steps of change.  The good news is we are not alone in having to envision, we can co-create with those in our communities and organisations, as more and more people now get that business-as-usual is broken beyond repair.Through dialogue and sharing, we help ourselves and others to presence our future. Each interaction facilitates reflection and brings opportunity for further innovation and adaptation. Each day offers us chances to place fresh new steps of change.As Mother Teresa once profoundly said, ‘we cannot do great things, only small things with great love’.A healthy and easy first step to take is a stroll in nature, to allow the mind to settle and the heart to be heard. Nature has a magical way of helping us see things clearer. What an important time to be alive; it’s time to cross the threshold and lead ourselves through this paradigm shift in business and beyond.

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The book ‘The Nature of Business’ is on Amazon.

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