A Guide for Authentic Leadership Toward Sustainability

Dana Pearlman—co-founder of the Global Leadership Lab—is dedicated to designing and facilitating conversations and participatory processes to unearth deeper wisdom at the individual and collective levels. The guidebook she co-authored along with Christopher Baan and Phil Long is called The Lotus: A Practice Guide For Authentic Leadership Toward Sustainability. In this excerpt from the Guide, find practical tips and tools to foster authentic leadership within yourself and others.

Cultivating Your Authentic Self

In order to address the complex sustainability challenge facing society today, leaders must cultivate their own authenticity and presence. We understand authenticity as being true, open and honest with who you are. The more adaptable and developed a leader becomes, the greater they are able to steer through complex, participatory planning processes. Through their personal development, facilitators and leaders are more able to utilize hindsight, hold multiple worldviews and perspectives, and sit with current reality while simultaneously aiming toward a desired future. The adaptability achieved by facilitators and leaders honing these capacities lends itself to enhancing collaborative group processes and outcomes in Strategic Sustainable Development.

This is a continuous path toward using more and more of your authentic self in facilitation processes. This path helps facilitators and leaders improve the quality of relationships in a team while engaging people cognitively, mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Facilitators and leaders bringing their authentic selves into the facilitation process are more likely to guide a team towards successful, lasting and sustainable results that have ownership among the stakeholders. Authentic leaders and facilitators that hold the ‘container’ for collaborative processes more personally, are better able to engage people in multi-dimensional ways, resulting in more embodied and empowered outcomes. The developed sense of awareness inherent in personal leadership capacities can be critically valuable in enabling facilitators and leaders to know when and what to do during a group process by ‘sensing’ what is happening with the group in the present moment. In this practice guide we present 9 personal capacities that leaders find essential in their work to facilitate complex and transformational change towards sustainability. These personal capacities by their very nature cannot be learnt only on a cognitive level; they must be embodied.

Our research has shown that one important path to the embodiment of these capacities is through personal and collective practice. The implication of this is clear; as one expert put it, “no real transformation can take place without personal and collective practice”. The simplest dictionary definition of practice is “to do repeatedly to acquire or polish a skill” (Szpakowski 2010). We distinguish here between personal (individual) and collective practices. An example of a collective practice is dialogue or Aikido, something you do in a group of people where interaction is key. In addition to the personal capacities identified in our research we found conditions for success for developing your capacities through practice:

Conditions of success for developing your personal leadership capacities

• A combination of personal and collective practice is a pathway to the development of your leadership capacities;
• A combination of contemplative, physical and spiritual practice helps you align body, mind, spirit and shadow, in order to maximize personal development;
• The integration of practices both in your personal and professional life helps you take the learning from the practice back into the facilitation process.

Conditions of success for choosing a practice

• The practice must have a mirroring quality, to help the participants observe themselves and enhance self-awareness;
• The practice has to provide ‘a container you can’t manipulate’ with structures that are adhered to;
• The quality of your attention in the practice is more important than the type of practice performed;
• The practice must be something you are willing to do repetitively and consistently.

The continuous mastery of personal capacities not only improves your leadership performance; it also helps you get in touch with your own authenticity. When you are more in touch with your authentic self, your actions are easier to embed in your life and thus lead to stronger follow-through in a facilitated engagement process. The literature on leadership development highlights the importance of self-mastery in leaders and through “increased self-awareness, self-regulation and positive modelling, authentic leaders foster the development of authenticity in followers” (Avolio et al. 2005). Authenticity is about “owning one’s personal experiences, be they thoughts, emotions, needs, wants, preferences, or beliefs, processes captured by the injunction to ‘know oneself’ and further implies that one acts in accord with the true self, expressing oneself in ways that are consistent with inner thoughts and feelings” (Harter 2002, 382; in Avolio et al. 2005). Leaders modelling awareness and authenticity invite participants to do likewise, and if one is engaged on an authentic level, engagement processes are likely to result in more desirable outcomes.

Authentic leadership development offers facilitators and leaders a foundation from which to engage groups beyond the cognitive level. It includes the emotional, physical and spiritual dimensions to increase congruence between outcomes created collaboratively with participants’ authentic selves, resulting in stronger and more successful outcomes. Facilitators and leaders bringing their authentic selves into an engagement process benefit outcomes. However, it is not enough in order to successfully address the sustainability challenge. One must have the ability to plan in a strategic manner within the confines of the Earth’s carrying capacity. The sustainability principles introduced previously define such boundary conditions. Combining an authentic and holistic leadership approach along with knowledge and skills in Strategic Sustainable Development, we contend, will benefit collaborative engagement processes and outcomes that help move organizations and society toward sustainability.

Whole Self-Awareness

What is it? Whole Self-Awareness is the continual, lifelong process of paying attention to knowing one’s self; it involves consciously and intentionally observing various dimensions of the self (including the physical, mental, shadow, emotional and spiritual realms). It is the capacity to observe how one is thinking, relating, feeling, sensing, and judging. Whole Self-Awareness includes perceptions beyond the rational mind, such as intuition.

Principles: Pay attention to all the dimensions of yourself (physical, emotional, spiritual, shadow and mental dimensions). Your body is not a transporter for your head, you are a whole system.

Self-reflection questions

• How would others describe you? What do you tell yourself about yourself?
• Think of someone you admire, what do you admire about them? What does this tell you about your values? What can you learn about yourself from this admiration?
• Think of someone that irritates you, why do they irritate you? What does this tell you about your values? What can you learn about yourself from this irritation?
• When something is physically challenging to you, how do you respond?
• Are you aware of how you are feeling throughout the day?
• What emotions are acceptable, what emotions are not acceptable?
• How do you feel physically, emotional, spiritually, energetically and mentally right now?

Reflection questions during facilitation

• What reactions are you having with this group that need to be explored or shared now or later?
• What do you perceive to be occurring within this group beyond your cognition?
• How can you invite the group to be engaged beyond cognition? How are you inviting the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of this group to participate?
• Is your whole self (body, mind, spirit, emotion, and shadow) in alignment? Is your head agreeing to do something and another dimension of yourself not in agreement?

Practices for developing your Whole Self-Awareness

Concentration meditation practice. These practices focus your thoughts on a particular object (such as the chakra system or visualizing white light moving through the body) to shut out the outside world and prevent the mind from wandering. For example, focus upon the inhale and the exhale breath. On the inhale breath your posture elevates and on the exhale breath your posture settles. Repeat for a few minutes and extend this time with practice. This helps calm the parasympathetic nervous system to help you relax. Once calm from the concentration breathing, an awareness meditation practice like Mindfulness (See Being Present Practices) helps you see the nature of your mind. With compassion move toward embracing all of yourself and seeing the patterns of thinking including judging, planning, yearning and fearing that show up. This enables you to begin to discern between unconscious material surfacing in your thoughts from the past and accurately receiving information in the present moment.

‘Core Qualities’ practice (by Frank Heckman). Tell a story to a peer or mentor about a time when you were doing something challenging in which you persevered by stepping up and being courageous. Have the other person listen to your story and take note of the qualities you displayed in that situation to feedback to you. These qualities are your core qualities of personal strength you embody in your life. Repeat with another story. This practice also helps you become aware of your Personal Power.

Giving and receiving feedback. Intentionally ask others (peers, co-workers, mentors, family members) for feedback on your behavior to see areas for your growth in order to increase the quality of your work, relationships and self-understanding. Being open to feedback and listening is key. Start this process with someone you trust most. Notice if and when you feel defensive, refrain from responding, and explore how receiving feedback impacts you. Use specific examples and reflect back to the person what you think you heard them say for accuracy and clarity. Use an actual experience. Ask the person giving feedback to focus upon:

• What behaviors they observed you doing?
• What was the outcome of the situation and how did it impact them?
• What feelings did they feel?
• Now ask yourself, what future opportunities for new actions are available to you now given the feedback? And remember to have compassion with yourself.

A physical practice such as yoga, Thai Chi, martial arts to integrate a holistic approach and address more dimensions of yourself.

Shadow work. Facilitators work with all kinds of people and situations and are bound to be irritated or triggered sometimes. If you focus your energy on the ‘outer’ trigger, you are missing the gem in the lesson from self-reflection; by being angry at the person triggering you, you are really just shooting the messenger. When in process, try to notice when an irritant or trigger or dislike arises and write it down, suspend it temporarily and return to it for exploration when appropriate. Describe the event, how you felt, what reaction you normally would have had if you had not suspended your reaction, and how that situation may represent a repressed part of yourself from long ago. Seeing irritations as shadows that need to be explored helps you gain acceptance, compassion and awareness of yourself and others, it teaches you to suspend when an irritation occurs.

Whole Self-Awareness: Resources for further exploring, practice, and reading

• The Johari Window: mapping personality awareness: http://kevan.org/johari.
• Goleman, Daniel. 1996. Emotional Intelligence.
• Goleman, Daniel; Richard E Boyatzis; Anne McKee. 2004. Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence.
• Self assessment tools such as Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Enneagram Test, Temperament Assessments, Emotional Intelligence Tests, Action-Logic Assessment, or Spiral Dynamics Value Meme.

Personal Power

What is it? Personal Power is the ability to use energy and drive to manifest wise actions in the world for the greater good, while being aware of one’s influences on a situation.

Principles: Step up, be courageous, acknowledge your influence in this system, and know when to give space for others to step up.

Self-reflection questions

• Imagine a time when you felt powerful/powerless/afraid and ask yourself how did you respond/feel/ act in that situation?
• Have you ever agreed to do something you did not want to do? Did you ever compromise your own ideas/plans when someone else had a different plan, or vice versa?
• Are you willing to take risks and do things others may not approve of? Who do you try to get approval from?

Reflection questions during facilitation

• How much power do you have in this situation or with this group? Are you okay with having this amount of power? If not, what do you need to do?
• What powerful mentors, images or experiences can you call upon to support you in this facilitation process?
• How is power manifesting within this group? Who has power? Who does not have power? What power shifts are possible within this group for the greater good for all?
• What steps do you need to take to empower this group, so they can continue their work after you are done, without depending on you as an external intervener?

Practices for developing your Personal Power

Aikido or other martial arts. Using simulations eliciting fear or feelings of power or powerlessness helps you gain self-awareness of your relationship to power and how you respond to these types of experiences. For instance, by practicing Aikido you are confronted with moments of being ‘attacked’ and dealing with personal reactions to aggression. The practice helps participants see their responses, helps them suspend them and be mindful about how to proceed. When facilitating collaboration, facilitators oftentimes must confront fear and power within groups.

Use mentors or archetypes. To embody the power and support needed during facilitation work. One example includes calling upon the wisdom of the Dalai Lama to come through your mind, the love of Mother Theresa to come through your heart and the courage of Martin Luther King, Jr. to come through your gut. Imagine their energy, determination and personal power being channelled through you to support your work. See for more information: ConsciousEmbodiment.com (Wendy Palmer).

“If you want to work with power in the world you have to work with your own power, however you perceive power to be, either in hierarchies or in the hearts of people, probably both… Meditation has given me the realisation that I have a fundamental mistrust of power. I have consistently seen power abused in my life, by people in schools as I grew up. I have rarely seen power held with integrity, so the story I live in and how I relate to the world, that’s where I am trying to put power back in the hands of people most affected by it.” (Anon. 2011)

Personal Power: Resources for further exploring, practice, and reading

• Kahane, A. 2010. Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
• Nhat Hanh, T. 2008. The Art of Power. HarperSanFrancisco
• Palmer, W. 2001. The Practice of Freedom: Aikido Principles as a Spiritual Guide. Rodmell Press.
• Palmer, W. 2008. The Intuitive Body: Discovering the Wisdom of Conscious Embodiment and Aikido. Blue Snake Books.

This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from The Lotus: A Practice Guide for Authentic Leadership Toward Sustainability by Christopher Baan, Phil Long and Dana Pearlman.

Keep Your Finger on the Pulse

Our bi-weekly newsletter provides insights into the people, projects, and organizations creating lasting change in the world.