Building the body of a collaborative leader
Millions of words have been written about leadership. Some absolutely stellar authors have broadened our thinking and gifted us with brilliant insights on the topic. The lion’s share of the literature on leadership focuses on the individual as leader. Leadership as a collective art form is not as widely written about. A growing segment of leadership studies is focusing on what is often termed “presence”, which explores how an individual can embody leadership in ways that cause people to automatically respond, usually at an unconscious level, to their message. Leaders with a high degree of presence generally exude a grounded sense of confidence that engenders trust – which is foundational for collaborative leadership. Collaborative leadership is concerned with both embodied presence and the kinds of collective processes that lead to higher functioning teams.
The role of language
In collaborative leadership, both individual presence and collective processes are closely tied to understanding the role of language, or more properly “languaging.” Languaging is a term coined by Chilean biologist Humberto Maturana referring to the active nature of observing, listening, speaking, gesturing, interpreting and creating knowledge that is inherent in our use of language.
Maturana posits that people live in language and that language is what gives rise to rationality. However, he also points out that “Every rational system is formed with premises based on emotions, not reason… All rational systems are formed with premises accepted from desires, likings, and preferences; from emotion… What guides our living are emotions, likings, preferences, fears. Where we orient ourselves in our living depends in what interest us, what we like, what we fear, what we reject. And based on that we make explanatory rational systems trying to give it form or (create) a logical argument to what we do.” (emphasis added.) [From a transcript of a radio interview given by Maturana in 2013.]
The role of emotions
This idea, that all rational systems are based on emotions goes against the grain of many core tenants in the world of traditional leadership. A world where numerous attempts are made to appeal to people’s reason in the mistaken belief that reason will trump emotion. Shifting our stance to recognize the primacy of emotions over rationality brings us to the domain of the body, or soma as the Greeks termed it. Soma and somatic refer not simply to the flesh and bones of our bodies, but to the exquisite, innate living intelligences inherent in our bodies. Millions of years of evolution have imbued us with multiple intelligences far too often overlooked in the world of business. Were he alive to witness it, René Descartes would be greatly chagrined to see how modern neuroscience is demonstrating that the mind and body are not separate, but function as an unbroken and integral whole.
Ask yourself, what is it that lets us know instantly when we walk into a room who we are drawn to speak with and whom we want to steer clear of? How is it that we intuitively recognize people we can trust and those who make us uneasy? These intuitions are not the product of “rational” processes; they are the work of multiple somatic intelligences. Nearly everyone I’ve ever spoken to about this topic has stories of ignoring their “gut” when making a decision where all the reasons lined up but something just didn’t quite “feel” right and they later came to regret their course of action.
Notice the vocabulary here. We think with our heads and we feel with our guts. Most of us live inside cultures where enormous value is placed on our cognitive abilities, and emotions are marginalized – thought of as distractions at best and hindrances to be avoided at worst. But if we pay close attention we will discover that we make decisions based on emotions first and then seamlessly move into creating reasons (rationalizations) for why we are choosing our path of action, tricking ourselves in the process into thinking that it is our reason that is guiding our choices.
Collaborative leadership is body-centric
It begins with recognizing that the ability to calm our bodies down and keep our emotions positive is at the core of being able to engage with people in ways that make them want to join in any kind of collaborative effort. Creating the conditions where people feel safe to express divergent perspectives, and feel appreciated for gifts and talents is a prerequisite for collaboration. The minute we engender either fear or defensive behaviors we effectively shut down the learning process. And learning lies at the heart of collaboration and leadership. Without learning we stand still in a rapidly changing world, a recipe for disaster.
Collaborative leadership, the main focus of our workshop taking place in Paris November 8 and 9, 2016. For more information or to register visit: https://www.weezevent.com/collaborative-leadership