Earlier this week I was asked on camera to share what I saw as the most important step on the regenerative leadership journey.
The essential step – put simply – is an embodied one. A shift in our awareness of how we experience life, and how we relate to our own selves (self-awareness) and to the living-systems we interact with (systemic-awareness).
This shift welcomes-in a depth in our perception. This depth is the metaphysical dimension of life which has been and always will be here right in our midst regardless of whether we become conscious of it or not. Yet the more conscious we are of it, the more regenerative we can become.
The good news is, this depth of awareness occurs when we awaken our natural vitality – which can occur through all sorts of contemplative activities, exercises and bodymind coherence practices. (For practices on bodymind coherence see Leading by Nature). These practices help us find right-relation with our own selves, with others and with the systems we participate in – self-other-system attunement. In-so-doing, our sense of self shifts from self-as-separate-from-and-in-competition-with to self-as-participating-within life.
Whilst it’s a personal shift, it informs and also is informed by a communal/organizational shift of organization-as-machine to organization-as-living-system
Its not as simple case of focusing on the self-shift then the organizational-shift, as we need both the communal and personal working in-tandem, synergising each other. If the organizational culture is too resolutely mechanistic, then it stifles the personal shift, and if the leadership ego is too inured in self-as-separate then it stifles the organizational shift. Hence, self-awareness and systemic-awareness work together across the leadership team and the entire organization.
If it all works in-tandem then why is the first essential step an embodied one? Because without this remembrance of this inter-relational depth of life, a comprehension of the systemic nature of leader-and-organization is only ever head-based rote-learning.
Mechanistic Materialism sees only utility and functionality. A regenerative living-systems perspective senses something intangible way beyond, behind, before the facts, forms and functions of physical nature. Rather than utility, we sense a vitality pervading life. This opens us to reverence and gratitude, giving life meaning beyond commodification.
This remembrance is a physiological-and-psychological undertaking.
Physiological – Neuroscience shows how dominant left-brained hemispheric activity along with high-beta brain-wave patterns result in a grasping transactional attention that objectifies, reduces, expects and rejects experiences. Alas, this has become our dominant attention-habit during day-to-day business. For sure this narrowed-grasping can be a useful tool for getting-the-job-done and ticking the to-do’s, but it obscures our receptivity of deeper reality. Through bodymind coherence practices we integrate head-heart-gut neurology, alpha-beta-gamma brain waves, hormonal cortisol/adrenal/serotonin/melatonin levels, dorsal/ventral attention systems, sympathetic/parasympathetic nervous systems, and left hemisphere/right hemisphere brain activity. This bodymind coherence shifts our way of being (ontology) from heightened separateness into a sense of flow, co-creation and dialogue with life. It also shifts our way of knowing (epistemology) from an overly rational-analytic head-based knowing into a more full-bodied intuitive/rational/emotional/somatic integral knowing – which I call ‘activating our super-nature’.
Psychological – We shift from passive-aggressive fight-flight parent-child tendencies into a more intuitive gestalt of being-with nature – or rather Leading by Nature. No longer forcing/supressing or being forced/suppressed. Instead sensing-in to the flow of things through an active receptivity.
‘Now here is my secret. It’s a very simple secret. It’s only with the heart that one sees rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.’ – Antoine Saint de Exupery
Invisible to the Eye
Today’s worldview of Mechanistic Materialism prides itself on ‘what gets measured gets done’ – we quantize everything we can measure, and anything intangible and immeasurable is overlooked; it becomes invisible. Yet the invisible realm of nature is a very real and potent presence in our lives, it’s the very ground that informs the essence of each living-system – including ourselves and our living-organizations.
Many of the living-systems principles I’ve seen these days applied to regenerative business major on the corporeal: the tangible forms, material/chemical flows and biological characteristics of living-systems, largely overlooking the metaphysical.
‘Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.’ – Albert Einstein
I appreciate that exploring the metaphysical dimension is a bit controversial as it upsets the status quo scientism that can’t compute anything beyond the reductive scientific method. Its even more controversial to try and bring this metaphysical depth of living-systems into business management and leadership development.
So why am I putting my 25yrs of business management, and 13yrs of nature-inspired regenerative leadership work out on to a rocky ledge, exposed to criticism and condescension? Because, how can we venture up the regenerative mountainside without this rocky ledge being traversed? Just because its uncomfortable or challenging to come to terms with the metaphysical depth of life, does not mean we should shun it from our leadership lexicon.
Please don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying we ought to deprioritize reductive scientific examinations of living-systems. Certainly not. Great strides over recent decades have been made to advanced our empirical examination of living-systems factualising all sorts of fascinating insights that are super-useful. My point is simply that regenerative leadership consciousness draws from an awakened way-of-being and what’s essential to this is invisible to the eye.
Opening into the Invisible Depths of Nature’s Wisdom
Life is full of profound insights that challenge us in deep and partly unconscious ways. One such insight is that as we deepen our awareness of our own selves (self-awareness) we deepen our awareness of the relational interconnectedness of life (systemic-awareness).
Put another way, an awakened awareness of our individual essence happens hand-in-hand with an awakened awareness of the innate interdependent reciprocity of life. This reciprocity is not just about physical flows and forms, it’s also metaphysical – energetic and intangible.
Think – Indra’s Net: living-systems participating within living-systems which participate within wider living-systems, reciprocating across both tangible-physical and intangible-metaphysical dimensions. Each unique individual essence finds its tune within the wider living-system essence which finds its tune within an even wider one (think – business ecosystem, society, Earth/Gaia).
Feel – The Dance of Life: tunes playing within tunes playing within tunes that inform diverse dancing-forms moving in unique ways while finding right-relation with the tunes-within-tunes, improvised-yet-choreographed unique-yet-unified, emergent-yet-evolutionary. And underpinning all this movement is a pervading stillness. The way into the dance is through this stillness. How magical!
‘Understanding the illusion only comes after the understanding of reality, not before. Until we have the experience of reality, in all its stillness, we are still lost.’ – Peter Kingsley
Our individual essence informs and is informed by our day-to-day moment-by-moment life experience. How we attend to life has moral implications for ourselves and the very fabric of life we all participate within. We co-create with life each and every moment. How emancipating and humbling!
This interdependent reciprocity is first-and-foremost an embodied felt-sense – sensory and super-sensory – that opens us into the depth of nature. Its not something to think about in the head, it’s something to feel through the heart.
Scientifically, quantum and complexity scientists have found the very fabric of reality to be metaphysical – quantum field, non-locality, entanglement, emergence, and so forth. As the brilliant physicist David Bohm recognised, ‘The true ground-of-all-being is the infinite, intangible, spirit that infuses all living beings.’ Physics underpinned by metaphysics. Ignore the metaphysics and physics is (and our perception of the physical) becomes ungrounded; we ignore the ‘being’ that informs the ‘doing’. Enter today’s malaise. This is the root problem. Not climate change, not the money system, not capitalism, not corporate-machines, not individualism – these are downstream effects of an ungrounded perception of life.
Life is an inner-outer dance to attune with through stillness yet packed-full of movement.
‘What is within us is within everything. Once we understand this truth, we step outside of the parameters of our individual self and come to realise the power that is within us. This shift in awareness is a very simple step that has profound consequences’ – Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee
In The Illusion of Separation (2014) I explore inner-outer living-systems reciprocity for individual (leader) essence and living-system (organization) essence. The phrase I use for this inner-outer dynamic is receptive-responsive-reciprocity.
This is an open-stance, undefended. Imagine dancing like no-one’s watching – unencumbered, alive, spontaneous, no judgement. The reality is people do watch, judge, critique, and we feel a need to manage other’s impressions of ourselves. We learnt the hard way in the school playground how to be cool by undermining our own authenticity. Unlearning/relearning a receptive undefended stance requires a journey of Knowing Thy Self, watching out for the usual protection-rackets and ego-posturing we’ve been habituated and acculturated by. This is where leadership development starts and ends.
A psychologically safe yet powerful way I have found to welcome-in this open-stance receptivity is through nature immersions. When we are in nature we can ease-out of the defensive posture, and start to open into life, and awaken the heart-mind – far more easily than being in a corporate away-day workshop/hotel venue no matter how luxurious. Simple bodymind coherence practices in nature give an embodied experience we can then take back into the corporate environment.
The more receptive we become, the more sensitive we are to systemic fluctuations, flows, undercurrents and constellations (systemic-awareness). Hence why team dialogue, deep listening and inquiry round the campfire is so much more impactful and authentic than a corporate hotel.
In Leading by Nature (2022) I offer chapters of practices to help cultivate this capacity into our way of leading in business. And in Regenerative Leadership, my co-author Laura Storm and I highlight the importance of Living Systems Being underpinning and infusing Living Systems Culture and Living Systems Design. If we overlook this depth of being, then the regenerative culture and design work we do will inevitably drift toward Mechanistic Materialism.
Open receptivity allows for a responsiveness with life. This is the shift in leadership dynamic from control-manage to sense-respond, which starts with an embodied felt-sense. To use psychological Transactional Analysis its discerning the difference within when in parent-child and when we’re in adult-adult allowing generative space for dialogue beyond judgement.
Cultivating a sense-respond leadership dynamic welcomes-in reciprocity across the living-organization so the essence of the individual and the essence of the living-system synergise in-tune.
‘Tao in the world is like a river flowing home to sea.’ Lao Tzu
With receptivity (yin-feminine) and responsiveness (yang-masculine) we allow for an alchemy to flow through self-other-system. In a reciprocating ‘exchange’ (one might say ‘communion’ rather than ‘exchange’ as it is not a transaction but a commingling) the individual essence is drawn outward into the receptive-responsiveness and connects with the essence of the other we relate with, and also the living-organization’s essence. Through such a receptive-responsive-reciprocation one’s essence is in serve of the evolutionary potential of the living-organization whilst also enabling developmental growth of self and other. This self-other-system dynamic becomes life-affirming. This is the magic of it all, our developmental future-fitness informs the living-organization’s future-fitness and vice versa.
Sure, we’ll trip ourselves up, get stuck in old-baggage, ensnared in tension, have a bad day, but even these challenges can provide manure for new development if we dare open-up. Nothing is wasted, everything is developmental, as revealing and painful as it may feel when our polished ego-image of ourselves gets triggered. It can take months if not years to cultivate this new dynamic across the living-organization, but its well worth the wait and work.
Learning to Fall in Love with Life
Essentially, this receptive-responsive-reciprocity is re-membering a deep love of life, a vulnerable expansive opening into reality that emancipates our sense of self, yet requires a trust in life.
Here’s a TED-style talk I gave over 8 years ago at a leadership conference on how this sense-respond leadership dynamic relates to both the metaphysical dimension of nature and the ancient Greeks’ expressions of love – agape (receptivity), eros (responsiveness) and philia (reciprocation).
To take this first step of opening into the depth of life through receptive awareness, all we need to do is relax!
To be precise, not some sedated slumber slumped-out in front of Netflix, but an intentional attentiveness – active relaxation – that continuously coheres the bodymind. I have honed safe yet powerful practices that are deeply nourishing for any leader and practitioner to engage in, which I take people through when on a nature-based regenerative leadership immersion at Springwood Farm, 60 acres of ancient woodland and Victorian parkland, dedicated to regenerative leadership coaching and training. Much of my year here is taken-up with helping intact leadership teams and 1-2-1 sessions coaching leaders and practitioners (as well as on-line coaching I provide for people throughout the world who can’t travel here easily). You can listen here to a range of podcast interviews with some of the leaders and organizations engaging in this work.
‘Giles Hutchins is at the forefront of synthesizing new logics for business with the natural rhythms of life and the human mind that will revolutionize business.’ – Lynne Sedgemore CBE
Each year I do a one-day open-programme for leaders and practitioners from different organizations to experience this work, usually in May. This year’s one is now full, and so I have decided to host a special deep-dive overnighter experience on 13th/14th July, there are a couple of places still available for this. We shall be engaging with the practices for embodying regenerative leadership consciousness, opening deeply into real-life, and applying these insights to leadership/organizational development. Contact me through my website if interested and you can find more info about the July immersion here. Some feedback from past participants:
‘Thank you for having me in this wonderful place, both in terms of the setting in nature and in myself. You have created an environment that feels welcoming, safe and one where we have had the stillness to calm the superficial mind and access the deeper parts of ourselves, our true nature. It is an inspiration, an invitation to take this ‘into the world’, a gift to any one ready to discover who they truly are.’
‘A profound experience, beautifully held. An excellent mix of theory, reflective exercises and peer-to-peer learning, providing me the strength, resilience, direction and clarity I need of my leadership work.’
‘Intellectually stimulating AND existentially exhilarating!’
‘What I didn’t expect when I signed-up to attend a nature immersion retreat with Giles was the opening up of a whole new world. The experience opened my eyes to the energy and beauty of this amazing place, and life itself. I highly recommend this programme.’
‘Excellent immersive experience that not only taught me how to change, adapt and alter (where necessary) my leadership style but also gave me the freedom and space to explore myself and my organization.’
‘The mix of learning, dialogue and experiential work was perfect.’
To summarise, embodied experience for the regenerative leader opens us to the metaphysical depth of living-systems, whereupon our individual essence can find the systemic rhythms of the living-organization. Such embodied experience is both personal (contemplative and reflective) and communal (cultural rituals like regenerative feedback, dialogue and deep listening). This deepens the relational experience of the organization-as-living-system beyond the noisy-ego transactional nature of organization-as-machine. The quest here is not a ‘bio hack’ to enhance efficiency to drive high-performing teams, but to deepen our relational awareness and sensitivity to self-other-system dynamics, a biproduct of which is agile, purposeful, high-performing teams in-tune with the mission of the living-organization, its customers and wider ecosystem.
For two quite different yet equally illuminating experiences of over-nighters at Springwood read:
Journeying into Ourselves, The Power of Nature Immersions by Christine Nicholson
The Insights Time in Nature Bring, Moving Beyond the Business Mind by Yonnatan Ghemit
To finish on a quote from the poet and former Prime Minister Vaclav Havel (found in the ground-breaking book Designing Regenerative Cultures by Daniel Christian Wahl) which aptly sums up what this article is about:
‘A genuine, profound and lasting change for the better can no longer result from the victory of any particular traditional political conception, which can ultimately be only external, that is, a structural or systemic conception. More than ever before, such a change will have to derive from human existence, from the fundamental reconstitution of the position of people in the world, their relationships to each other, and to the universe…This is not something that can be designed and introduced like a new car. If it is to be more than just a new variation on the old degeneration, it must above all be an expression of life in the process of transforming itself. A better system will not automatically ensure a better life. In fact the opposite is true: only by creating a better life can a better system be developed.’
You can listen here to Daniel Christian Wahl and I discussing this quote and other related matters on the RSA’s Regeneration Rising podcast here.
Giles Hutchins is a pioneering 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), Regenerative Leadership (2019) and Leading by Nature (2022). 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 Transformation Practice for KPMG, Global Director and Head of Sustainability for Atos (150,000 employees, over 40 countries). He provides coaching at individual and organizational levels for those seeking to transform their personal and/or work lives. Giles is a keynote speaker on the future of business and regenerative leadership. He is also a Reiki Master, a certified advanced coach, holds a Diploma in Senior Leadership Development, a Masters of Science in Business Systems, is trained in advanced Integral Solonics leadership development, Spiral Dynamics, a range of consciousness-raising modalities and is a certified Harthill Leadership Development Practitioner.
“Leading by Nature is THE handbook for regenerative leadership. A must-read for every business leader who genuinely cares about the future of humanity.’ Jayn Sterland, CEO of Weleda UK
“Giles Hutchins has for over a decade led the way with his championship of learning through nature. His new book Leading by Nature is a really important evolution of these ideas emerging into a philosophy of systems thinking/being – it’s bang on the money, a really important book” – Sir Tim Smit, KBE, Founder of The Eden Project
Please feel free to join the LinkedIn Leadership Immersions Group here
To take part in the 13/14th July immersion contact Giles here
For the latest episodes on the Leading by Nature podcast see here