In this work we talk a lot about the idea of leadership with purpose or heart. Centre Edge work very much pays attention to what is at the Centre, what is the essence or the central organisation principle, the purpose of a system. The first of the nine core principles of Centre Edge relate to this aspect – the Centre.
For leadership this often relates to two things: The first is about really knowing, trusting and coming into ever deeper contact with and confidence in what is in your heart.
You needn’t use that language necessarily. But actually people do naturally talk about ‘the heart of the matter’ or ‘putting your heart into it’ or alternatively being ‘half hearted.’ So that idea, that the heart – literally or metaphorically – represents some core, central, energising principle, is very much already in our day-to-day language.
For leaders this means recognising that unless and until you are taking acting in ways that connect to your own core or heart, you aren’t actually being a leader, you are being a manager. You are managing, you are not really taking action from that deepest place.
So we do lots of work around what is that place in me as a leader; how to locate that, and gradually come to trust it ever more reliably as the basis for action.
Once people begin to identify that, because it is not necessarily a simple answer, we move toward the whole question of leading change or leading action in the world. A leader is constantly coming into contact with other people, groups or organisations, stakeholders, who of course each have their own unique heart wishes and intentions. This brings to mind another English expression – of having a ‘heart to heart’. How might our leadership, communication and action become an exchange between that which is most central and core in us, and that which is most central or core in others?
Centre Edge helps us understand how meaningful leadership comes from the heart. It then supports us to relate more skilfully to that aspect in others, and at different system levels. It’s worth remembering that the word ‘courage’ comes from the word Coeur meaning ‘heart’. There is a challenge for leaders to develop the courage to connect with and act from their hearts, and in relation to other people’s hearts. This is no mean feat. Not much in our contemporary work culture encourages us to do that. And it does take real courage and commitment. Centre Edge provides a language, understanding and set of practices to support leaders to develop the courage to act from heart.
What prevents individuals, leaders or organisation incorporating these kinds of practices?
I don’t think leaders are any different from normal people in this regard. We have to be honest with our own experience. Anyone who is trying to pursue their own spiritual, personal or professional development, usually has to acknowledge a profound ambivalence. We kind of want to explore these things, and we kind of don’t. We want to acquire new lenses that might be clearer and more open and more full of possibility, and we also quite like shutting down and remaining in what Chogyam Trungpa called our ‘cocoon’ – our fixed, narrow sense of habit and identity.
In Centre Edge we explore this dynamic – which is a very human dynamic. There’s always a tension between wanting to open up the mind and the heart – which involves letting go of our cherished notions and identities, and closing down again. That opening and closing movement relates to the play of Boundaries in particular. It also relates to meditating on the breath.
So what prevents leaders from embracing this fully is the same thing that prevents all people really. We find excuses – we say we are busy, it’s not effective, we’re not sure if it works, we say all sorts of things, but I think we are just scared really. An interesting question perhaps is ‘what are we really scared of?’
Questioning the Centre of economic and social issues:
Centre Edge offers a neutral set of principles; it describes a neutral dynamic. But inevitably it does raise the question of how we as individuals, and as organisations and as a society, start to change the gravitational centre of our lives. And that is another source of ambivalence.
For example, concerning our economy, we could ask, ‘what is the central organisation principle of our economy system, our economic sphere?’ If we are honest and look closely we can see that it is (currently) the idea of growth, material growth. Our economic system is centred around a very small set of numbers and goals, and vast activity, emotion and shared narrative radiate out from that. And then we can ask, ‘what results when you put those particular numbers and purposes at the Centre?’ You can quickly see that what radiates out from that central principle creates ecological destruction; it creates frenetic patterns of stress and purposeless hyperactivity, as well of course as some of the more positive outcomes too.
When we start to question what is at the Centre of a society, or an economic model or a business, and follow where that leads we start to understand better some of the symptoms and dynamics of an unhealthy person, team, family, economy – through really considering what is at the Centre.
I’d suggest that that is a vital thing for leaders to be doing today, because so many of the outer manifestations, the results of our current purposes and central principles, suggest that things are very out of balance indeed. But as we also know, to deeply question purpose and to entertain the possibility that what you have placed at the Centre of your modus operandi, or your identity, may no longer be appropriate and may need to be changed, perhaps radically changed, is existentially quite threatening.
This work potentially is very powerful for that sort of process, but that is also why some people would rather avoid it as well. And it is not just this work, it is any deep questioning or attempt to notice how what is truly at our Centre naturally radiates out and manifests in our whole world.
Spiritual materialism and the possibility of co-option:
We can consider the idea of what Chogyam Trungpa called ‘spiritual materialism’. In the end, at least as far as I have understood it, connecting Centre Edge principles to one’s personal journey through life, the journey of becoming a real, whole, grown up human being, relates to, as Albert Einstein described it, increasingly opening up the Boundaries of what I take to be ‘me and my world’ and becoming more and more inclusive and expansive in that regard.
Now that sounds great. And maybe once we are in fuller relationship to reality and to the world, we can better connect to love and compassion and respond very skilfully to situations. But the process seems to require, in every spiritual tradition, also a very profound letting go of all the ideas and notions, the psychic habitual crutches that we have hitherto used to manufacture the current story of ‘me’. And there seems to be a very strong tendency in any system – whether that’s at the level of person, or an organisation, or an economy, – to take something that is really about opening up and use it to actually build up boundaries further.
One example is the sustainability movement. Sustainability in theory should be about radically transformation organisations toward an entirely different mode of being and operating. Yet somehow you see lots of organisations take the notion of sustainability and incorporate it so they can basically carry on being the same, continuing with the same essential identity and purposes, the same Centre. They co-opt a transformational idea to continue essentially just as they are. What my colleagues Gill Coleman and Judi Marshall referred to as, ‘sameness masked as difference’.
You see the same thing in leadership development. Maybe the implications of work such as Centre Edge might be quite a provocative invitationto let go of the tenets of a whole way of operating, and it is much easier, and quite human to not want to do that at all, and instead to take things and try to bolster them up. So we look at all of that in this work.