We live in epochal times.
Transformation abounds across myriad levels, from approaches to health and wellbeing right through to how we lead and work together. Macro-systems are changing too – not just our digital and industrial ones but also our social and ecological ones. Nothing is spared.
This level of change upon change is simultaneously freeing and frightening.
As a Regenerative Leadership Practitioner, an important aspect of my work is coaching leaders through profound inner and outer shifts.
Over the last decade, I have guided well over a hundred senior leaders from diverse backgrounds through deep transformational processes. These journeys of transformation not only help the individual grow, they also inform how the leader holds-space for the organisation to up-stretch into its next stage of future-fit potential, purpose and value-creation. The systemic effect creates conditions for other stakeholders touched by the organisation. Thus, the leader – in turn affecting the organisation in turn the stakeholder ecosystem – is an important positive leverage-point in these times of breakdown-breakthrough.
The coaching approach I have crafted over the years draws upon many different modalities. A primary focus is to allow the essence of the whole-person to emerge through a metamorphic process of transformation.
This article highlights a powerful method I draw upon as a conduit and catalyst for transformation: the process of letting-go.
The phrase ‘letting-go’ feels rather unassuming, perhaps even a little apathetic, nonsensical or counter-intuitive in the face of so many challenges and problems to solve in our organisations and social systems.
Yet the reality is, letting-go is a radical act of the upmost importance amid these pivotal times.
The meaning of the word ‘radical’ finds its origin in the word ‘root’. To get to the root of the matter is what it means to be radical. Often people think they are being radical yet busying themselves with down-stream effects while leaving underlying causes gapping.
‘The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can’t be any large-scale revolution until there’s a personal revolution, on an individual level. It’s got to happen inside first.’ Jim Morrison
The good news is, this most vital and radical act of letting-go is rather simple (though not necessarily easy).
Essentially, the act of letting-go requires relaxation. It’s a surrendering, like a deep in-breath and then a long out-breath. It’s a release, an opening, an allowing. When we feel triggered by something, we go into the inner feeling, notice it, and allow it. That’s it! Nothing more.
The reality is, much of our lives we have been conditioned to hold-on, react to, or suppress any uncomfortable feelings that arise in us. Hence, ungrasping and opening vulnerably to an uncomfortable trigger is not at all easy – but it is simple, uncomplicated, natural.
In a moment, we will dive a little deeper into this process of letting-go. But first, let’s explore how this process relates to Regenerative Leadership.
The essence of ‘regenerative’ is about flowing the way nature flows; creating conditions conducive for life to flourish within our own selves and through our stakeholder relations within and beyond the organisation. This involves tuning into oneself and into the system we are operating in. It’s about allowing the blind-spots and constrictions undermining evolutionary self-and-system transformation to become more accessible and less repressed. This is where the process of letting-go can help. The process of noticing the inner trigger or uncomfortable feeling and allowing it to arise and release, rather than hijack us or the system. This letting-go is what allows ourselves and our systems to flow with life and so become regenerative.
The essence of ‘leadership’ is about crossing thresholds, facilitating transformational development. The word ‘leadership’ finds it root in the old European word ‘leith’ which means to cross the threshold, to die and be reborn, to undergo metamorphic renewal time and again. One might say that true leadership by definition IS regenerative, as to truly help transform self-and-system requires an understanding of the essence and potential of the self and the system, in order to create conditions for life to flourish within the team, organisation and wider ecosystem. Who knows, maybe we are edging closer to the day when ‘leadership’ will be synonymous to being ‘regenerative’ and therefore the phrase ‘Regenerative Leadership’ will become redundant. I hope so, but reckon that’s atleast a few years away.
For now, let’s dive a little deeper into letting-go.
The leadership specialist Otto Scharmer speaks of ‘letting go’ as the primary movement into gaining deeper presence and awareness, so as to see beyond ingrained habitual patterns of though and action. He identifies three inner voices that prevent us from gaining presence. These voices create resistance within us: the voice of judgement, the voice of cynicism, the voice of fear.
Sources: The Presencing Institute
We all have these voices of judgement, cynicism and fear inside our heads; sometimes they are dormant, sometimes they are active. These voices reduce down our capacity to flow as life flows. They are at the root of our own degenerative behaviour which then infects our wider stakeholder relations, business actions and decision-making. When we enter into situations of change, tension, conflict or transformation, these voices become louder and so resistance builds within us. We create conditions inside ourselves that reduce down our life-affirming capacity. To let-go and presence, we need to cultivate the courage to notice these voices of judgement, cynicism and fear and not be overcome by them; to go through these resistances rather than let them run the show.
Life is fractal in its nature, and so are the nature of our inner constrictions, biases, fears and cultural conditions. Hence, there are fractal dimensions to the process of letting-go.
To keep things simple, I use the framing of 3 dimensions: micro, meso, macro.
The micro-level process of letting-go is the life-learning revealed through everyday challenges. Each tension and trigger, and the resistance created within us, becomes the crucible for our opening-up to more of life, through noticing and relaxing. And before we judge our own process of letting-go, its OK to sometimes close-down, go into habit, get caught in the voices of judgement/cynicism/fear or react defensively or aggressively. We ought not judge ourselves too harshly or we undermine this simple yet radical act of letting-go. Each twinge of cynicism or pang of fear or defensive/aggressive reaction is in itself a useful learning for us; an insight from which to gain perspective on our own inner-selves, our boundaries, our habits, our wounds and shadows, and our deepening capacity for courage amid differing contexts.
The ‘micro’ letting-go process is like the front-line of transformation. It’s the daily noticing and surrendering of our own reactivity so as to deepen into life beyond the separateness of the ‘ego’ self into the deeper Self which opens into the interconnectedness of real life.
The meso-level process of letting-go involves the leader learning to hold-space for the transformation of the organisation-as-living-system, letting-go of control, fear and reactivity by learning to allow the system to become more emergent, agile and authentic. This involves learning to sense the dynamics of the system and reveal, and then heal, system blockages and blind-spots by nurturing regenerative ways of working that help the system become more purposeful, adult-adult, self-managing, diverse and inclusive. Deep listening, holding-space, generative dialogue, case clinics, liberating structures, structured constellations, systemic enablers, sharing circles, non-violent communication methods and coaching conversations, are all part of cultivating this meso-level letting-go process.
The macro-level process of letting-go happens not daily or weekly, but over many months and years for the leader. IT involves significant life-changing transformative spirals of change such as the mid-life crisis or up-stretch into a new worldview. Adult developmental psychology shows us that as we gain greater self-awareness (facilitated through the micro process of letting-go each and every day) we gain greater systemic-awareness (facilitated through the meso process of letting-go and sensing-in to system dynamics at play across the business ecosystem) and we also gain greater worldview awareness (facilitated by macro letting-go processes of fundamental reorientations in our sense of self). Metamorphic shifts happen in our lives around every 7-11 years or so. The rhythm of this metamorphic pattern is informed by many variables such as our life-story and personal courage to embrace this macro letting-go process. This involves entering into and enduring introspective times of death-rebirth that often feel deeply uncomfortable and seem at odds with what societal norms demand of us.
The godfather of psychotherapy, Carl Jung, referred to this macro-process of inner development as ‘individuation’; a process of revealing our deeper truer nature by coming to terms with our own inner shadows and learning to release them. It’s a life-times’ work, and yet there is a rhythm to this macro process, just like the spring and summer sure enough decline into autumn and then winter, so too do periods of outward growth (summer) give way to periods of inner reorientation (winter).
Source: Regenerative Leadership
An interplay of micro, meso, macro is happening all the time within us. Becoming conscious of this interplay aids our success as a Regenerative Leader.
Now, let’s bring ourselves out of the framing of micro/meso/macro and back into the everyday experience of life.
Let’s take an honest look at ourselves for a moment. If we look at our everyday patterns of thought, action and decision-making, we might see that significant aspects of our life-experience are being influenced by repressed feelings, inner wounds, conditioned programs, constrictions and habitual reactivity to uncomfortable feelings we experience when triggered by events. These reactions limit our experience, affect our motivation and sap our purposefulness.
We gain liberation from these habits and conditioned programs by 1) noticing when we feel a trigger within us at any given moment; 2) then going into the inner discomfort, staying with it; rather than judging, reacting or supressing the feeling, we surrender into it, allowing the feeling to open-up in us through relaxed non-judgemental surrender.
This is the simple process of letting-go: 1) noticing 2) allowing
The key is becoming aware of the feeling within us – the constriction, pang or trigger. Notice the trigger before getting hijacked by the fight-flight reaction of either wanting to suppress it or react to it. Stay with the feeling inside. With practice we get the hang of it. It’s life changing and costs nothing.
We purposefully stay with the uncomfortableness within us. We might try and sense where it is within us and go into the feeling, say within the gut or chest. Ofcourse there will be resistance within us, and a desire to react to the trigger rather than simply notice it. Let-go of the judgement about the feeling, or the reactivity. Resist going into head-thinking by staying with the feeling in the body. Stay with the allowing of the feeling. Sure, there will be apprehension, fear, guilt, blame, anger even. Let-go of this reactivity and stay with the feeling in the body. Relax into it. Breathe into it. Sure enough, the pressure behind the feeling will release.
This is radical healing. We are attending directly to the trigger and the source of the inner-suffering in the body, and through our attention giving it the space to release. Each time we release, the next time we are triggered in the same way, the reactivity will be less. The noticing and allowing becomes easier each time.
This process of letting-go – 1) noticing 2) allowing – is our practice. And each day is our classroom. Every time we experience a trigger we are offered an opportunity to practice 1) noticing 2) allowing. Often we slip-up and get caught in reactivity. No sweat. Just keep practicing.
As we journey with this process of letting-go, instead of reactivity we find a greater sense of expansiveness, authenticity and freedom; our triggers become less intense, and our experience of life becomes more in flow.
We slowly but surely become more rooted in our own sovereignty rather than cut adrift in a sea of cultural and parental conditioning, past trauma, insecurities, wounds and fears.
As we journey along this pathway of letting-go our perception shifts, our consciousness deepens, and we begin to see with new eyes,
This process requires courage first-and-foremost. And this is not to belittle the inner-wounds many of us have due to all sorts of reasons from ancestral trauma, early childhood abuse, school bullying, mental and physical illnesses, oppression, bigotry and exploitation in the workplace, and so forth.
The point here is not ‘just let-go and all will be fine and dandy’. Not at all. The release of inner trauma is never neat-and-tidy nor is the overcoming of a life-times worth of cultural conditioning. And yet the process of letting-go does work. I know through my own hard-won transformative experiences, through my many years of coaching leaders, and having been privy to psychotherapeutic studies and specialists who have time and again tested this simple letting-go method. By example, the famous psychotherapist and psychiatrist Dr David Hawkins, through decades of clinical work experienced hundreds of patients transform their lives through this simple letting-go process.
The simplicity of this process is empowering as it puts us in the driving seat of our own transformation. It is up to us, as leaders, to have the courage, persistence and patience to continually practice letting-go. It costs nothing, yet offers freedom and sovereignty.
In a volatile world caught up in so much artifice, exploitation and ego-machination, gaining personal sovereignty is vital for our individual and collective evolution. Allowing ourselves to release, heal and come from a place of deeper essence invites in a different quality of consciousness in to our relationships, decisions and solutions than which created our problems in the first place.
It is important to acknowledge just how often we are caught up in the pre-occupations of the mind, the subversive tendencies and critical judgements of our inner-voices, the imposter syndrome fears and anxieties. All of this noise we can gain mastery over, by 1) noticing 2) allowing. Rather than struggling with life, we can learn to relax into life. It does not mean we put our feet-up, alas no, it means we have the persistence, courage and patience within ourselves to attend to the micro/meso/macro process of letting-go every day. Becoming conscious is not easy, its challenging, yet it need not be complicated.
As I have mentioned already, the virtues of courage and patience are key, and as they are such important virtues for the future of leadership, I shall dedicate a separate article to explore them in detail. For now, let’s touch on the courage we need for the micro/meso/macro process of letting-go.
Vulnerability is part-and-parcel of courage. As we courageously open to life, we become vulnerable. We open ourselves to the slings and arrows of the world. The root of the word ‘courage’ is ‘cour’ meaning ‘heart’ in Latin. The more courageous we become, the more our inner-nature and outer-nature align.
At the micro-level process of letting go, we find everyday opportunities for courageous steps into the unknown. Noticing the trigger and allowing the surrendering into the uncomfortable feeling, to step beneath and beyond our normal conditioned reactivity. We cross the threshold of our own fear and reactivity to become more of who we truly are. From this step into the unknown comes trust. Each time we allow the inner trigger to be noticed and allowed, we gain an embodied experience of surrendering and releasing. We sense a more spacious inner-presence as a result of our step beneath and beyond normal habit. With each new step inward we gain trust in the process of letting go and trust in the process of life itself. We realise that there is nothing to fear by surrendering into the uncomfortable shadow within. As we enter our own inner triggers, we release our own stuckness and insecurities that limit and constrain our sense of self.
At the meso-level process of letting-go, each time we cultivate conditions for vulnerability rather than reactivity, we create trust in ourselves and others. The demands of the leader are great, especially amid so much uncertainty and volatility these days. It’s easy to slip into parent-child directive styles of leadership while fire-fighting amid intense volatility. When we help create a working climate where it feels safe enough to take risks, fail fast, open-up, be vulnerable and welcome in the whole-self, then we are helping the system become more creative and adaptive. This helps the system flow with its own life-force, which helps the organisation learn to heal and renew itself amid all the stresses and strains of everyday working life. This is the difference between survival and thrival. To be vulnerable and step into the unknown, to allow not-knowing, to show-up authentically and hold-space for others to share and explore without top-down dictat, this requires courage.
It is quite natural as a leader to experience fits and starts, wobbles and regressions, during this process of letting-go. It is all too easy, when a problem happens, or the quarterly numbers are bad, to get caught in habits of control (parent-child), whereas the system needs to know that adult-adult behaviour is the new-norm or it will remain immature and its evolution stunted at a time when it ought be up-stretching through a period of tension into transformation rather than regression. It’s during the tough times of business that the regenerative leader comes face-to-face with their own inner-voices, insecurities and fears. Tough times demand courageous leaders.
At the macro-level of the letting-go process is the courage to step into the messy unknowable metamorphic process of a life-stage death-rebirth process, often at a time in our lives when it feels like the last thing we ought be embarking upon. As leaders we may be asking ourselves to go through significant personal transformations while still running complex organisational systems. This is not for the faint-hearted. Stepping off the well-trodden path of the ego with its insecurities and constrictions, and to venture into the unknown hinterland of the open-hearted soul with its innate faith in life, requires courage. This is what the hour of humanity’s reckoning is demanding of our leaders today.
As we begin to know our own selves, we also open to the ways of the world, and our sense of separation shifts into a sense of interconnection. This worldview shift is foundational to Regenerative Leadership, and it’s what will help usher in the systemic solutions humanity now urgently needs.
With over 25yrs business advisory experience Giles Hutchins is a seasoned practitioner and senior adviser at the fore-front of the [r]evolution in organizational and leadership consciousness and developmental approaches that enhance personal, organizational and systemic agility and vitality. He is author and co-author of several leadership and organizational development papers, and the books The Nature of Business (2012), The Illusion of Separation (2014), Future Fit (2016) and Regenerative Leadership (2019). Chair of The Future Fit Leadership Academy and Founder of Leadership Immersions, co-founder of Biomimicry for Creative Innovation and Regenerators, he runs a 60 acre leadership centre at Springwood Farm, an area of outstanding natural beauty near London, UK. Previously held corporate roles – Head of Business Transformation Practice for KPMG, Global Director for Atos (150,000 employees, over 40 countries). He provides coaching at individual and organizational levels for those seeking to transform their personal/work lives, and for Exec Boards, senior leadership teams and organizations seeking transformation. He is also a keynote speaker on the future of business.
THE BOOK ‘REGENERATIVE LEADERSHIP’ BY SUSTAINABILITY AND LEADERSHIP EXPERTS GILES HUTCHINS AND LAURA STORM PROVIDES A HOLISTIC AND SYSTEMIC FRAMEWORK FOR BUILDING PROSPEROUS AND REGENERATIVE ORGANIZATIONS.
THE BOOK EXPLORES A NEW WAY OF LEADING AND REDESIGNING ORGANIZATIONS AND COMMUNITIES THAT IS URGENTLY NEEDED. A WAY THAT ADDRESS THE INTERCONNECTED STRESS IN OUR WORKFORCE, ECOSYSTEMS AND ECONOMY.
YOU WILL FIND THE BOOK PACKED WITH BUSINESS CASES, FASCINATING EXAMPLES FROM NATURE’S LIVING SYSTEMS, INSIGHTS FROM FRONT-LINE PIONEERS AND TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES FOR LEADERS TO SUCCEED AND THRIVE IN THE 21st CENTURY.
You can download Chapter One for free here.