The photo on the opposite page is fire. As well as possessing the qualities of warmth, magnetism and creativity, it represents “disruption”, which usually is regarded as bad behaviour, something destructive, or leading to chaos. And yet, the terms "disruptive innovation" and "disruptive leadership" are in the public discourse these days, indicating something quite positive. So what's going on here?
Let's look at the inner practice of disruption in Nothing Missing Leadership. When we become aware of habitual thought patterns, we have the choice to follow those thoughts wherever they may lead, or to disrupt their flow and come back to the creative groundlessness of the present moment. It is out of this vibrantly empty space that something wholly fresh can arise.
We should note here that disruption, as we use the term in this inner leadership practice, should not be confused with the path of disruptive innovation as articulated by Clayton Christensen and others (https://hbr.org/2015/12/what-is-disruptive-innovation)
As it is with thoughts, so it is with our habitual speech or activity; when we notice them, we can either continue on in the ways to which we have become habituated, or we can choose to disrupt those patterns and find fresh ways to speak or act that are more aligned with our best intentions.
In these ways, "disruption" is essential to our inner practice of leadership, which requires being present for what is really needed in order to fulfill our intentions and accomplish our goals. There are time-proven methods (e.g. mindfulness/awareness training) for gaining the skills to notice our distractive patterns and return to the present reality.
If that is how it is for individuals, what are the analogies for teams or organizations? In other words, when a leadership team has been distracted from its highest purpose, how does it recognize and acknowledge this and come back to the point of purpose? Individual leaders willing and able to interrupt their own habitual patterns are the ones best equipped to see when
the whole team is getting into the weeds. So, again, we see the interdependence of inner work and outer work.
Creative disruption, essential for launching an enterprise onto a new wave of growth, is facilitated by leaders who can think counter-culturally — leaders who understand the importance of innovations that change the "water on the beans" for an entire field of human endeavour. Genuine creativity, which often lives in a somewhat chaotic
environment, depends on not being caught by habitual fixation (e.g. on increasing efficiency and short-term profit).
"Disruptive leadership" is a term often used to denote the kind of leadership required in an enterprise at the point when creative disruption is most needed, which is most of the time in most organizations these days.
So, by this logic, training in mindfulness/awareness, or other effective inner practices, is the best preparation for leading an enterprise during times of rapidly changing conditions: socially, economically, environmentally or culturally. The simple reason is that a person
having the skills of a mindful leader has what it takes to lead an enterprise in exciting new waves of growth, which often follow from creative disruption.
Fortunately, being a mindful leader is simple. Humans are naturally whole, healthy, relaxed, wakeful, and kind. Unfortunately, because of long-standing patterns of considering our own comfort and security as more important than that of others, we do not show up in our natural way of being. To do so requires training, and that training is disruptive of anything that distracts us from being who we really are.
Ultimately, creative disruption is recognizing and appreciating our patterns and allowing them to expand and dissolve into the vastness and breeziness of their natural home, which is free from labels, judgments and rationalizations. Unfettered mind, liberated from contrivance, is freshness itself; it opens the floodgates to creativity and innovation. This is the importance of the inner practice of disruption.
First see them, then be them, then let them see me.
For their benefit,
for our benefit,
for the benefit of the whole,
find my own leadership in Nature's Mirror.
Here are a few examples that have been useful for leaders leaning into their learning edges. Surprising insights have been carried back into
the Board Room from the Windhorse forests and wetland gardens.
For more detail, see Conversations with Beavers and
Learning Leadership from a tree.
Mindful Beaver Skillful generosity
is the skillful problem solver,
creative homebuilder, and tireless worker.
Devoted to family, playful with trusted friends,
Beaver gathers the wealth by slowing the water,
holding it for the benefit of countless other species who live in wetlands.
Take the posture of Beaver.
Be the Beaver,
gathering and holding wealth for the benefit of others.
Stand like a tree. Dignity and Integrity
Take that dignified posture,
stable and flexible, joining sky and earth.
Roots deep in the ground,
crown swaying in the breeze,
the whole bole flexing continuously.
Unmoving --- and always moving.
Reliably steady, resilient like breath, never devious,
fully integrated into the web of forest life.
Tree is the teacher of dignity and integrity.
Letting go of wealth is Being available
the ultimate in generosity.
Never uptight, the Rotting Log embodies relaxation.
Beyond the virtuous activity of offering to others,
it is completely available –
open treasure to whomever happens by,
food and housing for limitless hungry and homeless beings.
Its identity as a generous one slowly decomposes –
dissolving back into the earth.
Way beyond praise, credit or recognition.
Who cares who you were.
Now merely sharing wealth beyond volition.
Sit like a frog, Wakefulness
still and ready,
patience perfectly joined with urgency.
A lifestyle of paradox:
must eat or die;
must remain perfectly still
waiting for a meal to arrive on its own schedule.
Awake, patiently awaiting the moment,
instantly decisive when the moment arrives.
Wait in stillness.
Frog is the teacher of wakefulness.
Raven, flying and sensing, Caution
calls caution, warning of possible danger.
Sometimes it’s a false alarm, or only a prank,
but risk heightens for one who ignores the raven.
When the glistening bird focuses down,
pay heed to what may be in the weeds.
Be the raven.
Look for the warning signs.
See what is best for the others.
Warn them skillfully with alarm calls they can understand.
Beehive Team Building
is the teacher of community.
Each bee knows its role and performs it perfectly
with no jealousy or resentment,
no internal competition.
Thus the colony thrives,
knowing what to do in each season.
making honey, propolis and royal jelly,
feeding the young,
replacing the queen.
Always on time,
the ultimate in creative collaboration.
Beyond mutual respect,
a genuine sense of community
is built-in for survival.
Eagle, Vision and Humbleness
circling high, sees far and deep.
Both vast and profound,
how today’s actions affect tomorrow’s results.
In addition to being a visionary,
Eagle is an active participant in collecting garbage –
ingesting and digesting all manner of rotting corpses,
not too proud to "clean the toilet",
Eagle exemplifies vision with humbleness.
Deep diving loon Loyalty
goes beneath the surface to find the riches
hidden from the casual eye.
Willing to lay only one egg,
it shows singularity of intention.
Willing to take but one mate,
it signals its lifetime loyalty.
Singing its lonely song,
it proclaims the inseparability of sadness and joy.
Unlike other animals, Legacy
Snapping Turtle has been here,
in this form, for more than 250 million years,
since 50 million years before the first dinosaurs.
Snapping Turtle is the ultimate teacher of legacy.
What worked well then still works well now.
Find the lake,
swim in the water,
lie in the mud,
clean up carrion,
climb onto the land,
dig a hole to lay eggs in,
cover it up,
scramble back to the lake.
Keep doing it.
Pass it on.
As an ecologist, I am learning ‘about nature’ from stories, books, films, direct observation and experimentation. However, I have come to see that the more profound learning is ‘from nature’ about myself as a thoroughly ordinary, brilliant dot within a universally sacred world. Nature is a mirror of my own mind, which turns out not to be my own at all. My failures and successes are not a big deal to this naturally sacred ecosystem. Although I often am caught by my preference for success over failure, I am learning from nature that individual failures only enrich the whole system, which is worthy of my trust. Trust opens the gates to the perception of beauty and everyday magic. I could wake up into relaxation with who I am and things as they are. Thank goodness.
by Jim Drescher
Leadership can be understood as the ability to deeply apprehend the economic and social ecology of an organization both internally and in relation to the rest of the world. When one can see this clearly and without bias, one is truly qualified to lead. In other words, a genuine leader senses his or her world and organization clearly - before understanding it conceptually. That leader has had the courage to face, feel and embrace fear, which frees her or him to feel and engage the potential of others and the organization.
The best example we have of integral organizational “management” is the natural world, which, at its heart, is self-organized. A forest (or any natural system) is both the source and recipient of wealth: it spontaneously joins the limitless possibilities of interdependence with the earthy practicality of soil, water and weather as it passes through the seasons. The forest allows us to see a dynamic system that is resilient in responding to daily, seasonal, and other cycles as well as the unexpected behaviour of the natural elements. It accommodates an extraordinary abundance and diversity of life, and exhibits both beauty and stability over time. It only exists in the present moment, and exhibits constant creativity and novelty. It is truly alive.
Interruptive leadership is about how to recognize, illuminate and encourage this kind of natural balance in an organization. True balance cannot be imposed, but like the forest, must be a dynamic process that relies on the natural wisdom of the diverse elements that make it up. This wisdom-potential is exposed and nurtured by a genuine leader, first by allowing the space for sanity to reveal itself, and then by leading as an integral part of the whole. The genuine leader does not force a new system on the organization, because s/he understands it as a living organism, a human ecology."
When individuals, communities, organizations, and even families are not fostering their inherent potential, they need to transform themselves to reclaim their natural brilliance. This process cannot take place without interrupting comfortable patterns, which is often painful and naturally evokes fear. Those who lead such fundamental transformations must face and embrace this fear if they are to empower and benefit those they lead—whether they are a family or a nation.
Interruptive Leadership provides a deep understanding of this transformation, and offers processes, practices, and the support needed to initiate the deep cultural shifts that lead individuals and groups to fulfill their inherent potential.
This process of transformation must begin with the willingness to intentionally interrupt, or allow the interruption of, one’s personal patterns as a leader. Without interrupting the habitual patterns that subtly rule our lives, we cannot shift our personal culture, our way of engaging our world. If our personal culture cannot shift, we are quite literally “stuck” in our ways of seeing and acting in our milieu. Habitual patterns work the same way in an organization.
Genuine leaders who are committed to a beyond-habitual-patterns discipline —including study, personal development practices, and group processes such as deep listening and generative conversation— can help move organizations through the difficult culture shifts that are required to reawaken the organization to its highest purpose.
For most people, and for most organizations, deeply ingrained patterns make it difficult to live and work in an open, attentive, and truly responsive way. Moreover, these patterns make it difficult for people at every strata of an organization to experience authentic presence—in-the-moment confidence in how they are, what they do and how they communicate.
At a personal level, leadership manifests in simple but essential ways, like noticing when one is distracted by wandering thoughts and deciding to return the present moment. Having the courage to return from distraction to “now” may seem microcosmic; nonetheless, it is fundamentally interruptive to our habitual ways of being in the world. The courage to engage interruption is the basis of leading one’s life in wakefulness, but it means leaving the familiar comfort of our habitual world. There are points in our lives, and in the life of organizations, where larger patterns need to be let go, and major interruption of the familiar is required. Indeed, the most skillful interruptive leaders in organizations must also be strong practitioners of interruption in their own lives.
The possibility of Interruptive Leadership
Interruption never feels “safe” in the conventional sense—it is, after all, letting go of what we have grown to depend on. Nonetheless, in a deeper way we can trust that the process of change, even abrupt and disruptive change, sometimes is necessary in order to expand the beneficial work of the organization.
When we are not controlled by fear of the unknown, we discover that change wakes us up to seeing each other freshly and deeply, and to rediscovering the organization of which we are part. We discover that we, and those around us, are fundamentally decent, originally gentle, and naturally wise. Even though these inherent qualities may be well hidden by fear, confusion and habit, the universal human motivation is to nurture and support those around us. People want to be genuine, and lead lives of decency. If this "goodness" were not the fundamental nature of people and society, it would be impossible to aspire to evolve a genuine organization or society. Because it is inherently present, it is possible to touch it in oneself and others, and to base the process of change on its qualities: wisdom, kindness and strength. These qualities are present in people, like water in a well; it is the genuine leader's job to touch them and bring them into the process of change.
What is it that obscures this fundamental altruistic motivation? Fear. Fear of change, fear of losing one's territory and identity, and fear of others leads us to attempt to build personal precincts of comfort and security. This fear-based motivation blinds us to the genuine interdependence and teamwork that allow an organization to manifest fully and genuinely. It should come as no surprise that an organization based on fear, distrust, ambition and the search for safety generates outcomes that make no one truly happy. We don’t get what we want; others don’t get what they want; the social and economic ecology we depend on becomes polluted by insensitivity and greed. There are very few, if any, long-term benefits that flow from materialism and territoriality, either for the haves or for the have-nots. Indeed, despite their wealth and power, those who achieve success through fear-based ambition suffer from not having opened to the depth of the world or their own human potential. It is possible to do better.
Thus, an important first step in being truly human is to interrupt the patterns, both individual and organizational, that focus our attention on “my agenda.” Having done so we begin to see the ecology of our organization without bias.
The Path and Practice of Interruptive Leadership
The first step in the creative interruption of outmoded patterns is to transform our understanding of interruption. Rather than regarding it as a threat, we can see it as a healing medicine that enables the organization to recognize patterns of fixation that obscure its authentic purpose and inherent potential.
Genuine leaders—who can be found anywhere in an organization—will be the first to notice these frozen habitual patterns. These habits usually have a long history and, in concert, create cultures that obscure the real purpose and potential of the organization. These patterns gradually become normal and accepted in the daily work of the organization, but they create disharmony—friction, frustration, and dysfunction. In aggregate, they blind an organization, making it insensitive to the constant natural change that is taking place both within and without. This dullness fosters self-interest that begins to undermine organizational intelligence.
When these veils are recognized and acknowledged, either through the bravery of leaders within, or because of disruptive events from outside, we have an essential opportunity. The organization can revisit its reason for being—its place and function in its world. No longer able or willing to rely on the habits of the past, it must rediscover itself. This may require a fresh articulation of purpose. An organizations' purpose is based on how it is interdependent with its social and economic worlds, in other words, how its resources can effectively respond to real needs in the world. As the organization changes within, and the world changes without, it is constantly necessary to reinvent itself. This is the genuine leader's task, at any level of the culture. Thus disruption is our friend, in that it wakes us up from our comfortable dream just in time to rediscover our purpose.
This process of seeing freshly is the "secret ingredient" at the source of creative interruption. Making a shift toward a more beneficial culture requires genuine collaboration and creativity throughout the organization, rather than being a process that is imposed by a few leaders; nonetheless, a great leader inspires and empowers this courage to change in others. In order to rediscover purpose, the organization must join this fresh vision with a practical change process that will benefit all involved and fully manifest in daily activities. Without vision, there is no path forward; without practicality, there is no way to manifest the vision. Leaders, both with titles and without, collectively have the wisdom, gentleness, and power to join the vision of what is possible with the gritty practical challenges we meet every day.
How does this happen in an inclusive and collaborative way? Genuine change is not quick or easy; it requires a real commitment to building a sustainable culture from the ground up rather than imposing an idea of culture from “headquarters”. All voices must be freely spoken and deeply heard; the sanity in each voice must be recognized and illuminated; insights from seemingly unconnected places must be fit together in creative ways; and what is no longer needed must be let go. When change begins, it is universally suspect; when it has been achieved, it seems natural and obvious.
The process of working through these steps in a strong and nurturing container can be time consuming. This process is not about efficiency. It is not linear. It is about honesty and clarity, fearless generosity, compassionate communication and creative accomplishment. All this arises out of the spaciousness that allows anything to happen, the space that interruption opens. It is a great task, an adventure for the brave, and a journey worth taking.
Interestingly, interruptive change is inexorable; it permeates and infiltrates any relationship or organization. This is a choiceless journey because interruption cannot be avoided. The brave leader, with inseparable sadness and joy, is able to ride change, rather than being ridden by it, and also to inspire the organization to ride change. All of us have the potential to ride the challenges of our lives with open hearts rather than trying to insulate ourselves from the world of interruption. Indeed, interruption, even when it is severely disruptive, is a precious gift that challenges each of us to be genuine and care for our world.
Interruptive Leadership offers a sensitive and powerful method for shifting the culture without destroying the organization. It is informed by the view of ‘nothing missing – nothing wasted’ and the practices of seeing organizational development and leadership dynamics clearly mirrored in natural systems.
All this can be understood and practiced as a part of a ten-fold path. Without a full path of practice, the possibility of significantly changing a culture will be much reduced. In other words, this is a leadership practice (every leader is in training), not a silver bullet.
The ten step sequence (with a few abbreviated notes and questions):
1. Slowing the water. Since speed is often a contributing cause of individual and organizational dysfunction, slowing down opens space for anything to happen. Just as slowing the water in the forest allows more life-giving moisture to sink in to feed the living system, slowing the rush of our thoughts allows us to be present to wisdom revealing itself naturally.
Contemplations: When do I slow down? What does that feel like? Do I bring intentionality to this or does it just happen by accident? Is slowing down correlated in any way with relaxing? With waking up? With being kind, generous and curious?
2. Settling into friendship. Circle practice is a good place to begin - deep listening, mindful speech, and the surfacing of collective intelligence. Things naturally settle when all the voices are heard (including the many voices within oneself). Conversation comes alive when infused with gentle and fearless inquisitiveness.
3. Identifying the shift that wants to happen. This includes more circle practice, individual contemplations and small group conversations.
“How we would like things to be?” “How would we like to relate to each other, our customers, our suppliers and others in the community?” These questions will begin to define the principles of the desired culture. This is sometimes referred to as the “heaven principle”. Its articulation requires gentle and insightful collaboration resulting in a clear definition of the “culture” that wants to emerge.
Then (this is not linear; it is iterative, moving back and forth in conversation) it is necessary to ask the question, “What is the culture here now – really?” This is the nitty-gritty practicality or “earth principle”, what we have to work with, the issues that have to be dealt with in order to move forward.
In order to make the shift toward a culture that benefits the whole, the organization must join vision with practicality for the benefit of everyone involved. Without heaven, the possibilities are limited; without earth, there is no grounding in today’s reality. It is the people (all of them) within the organization that have the wisdom and power to join vision with practicality.
4. Slowing the water. Patience is not jumping to conclusions, but remaining true to the view of fundamental healthiness and worthiness. Be curious, receptive as open water.
5. Exposing the wealth involves seeing and illuminating the naturally occurring richness and sanity in the people and the situation. Practices here are designed to hone our ability to sort genuineness from confused display (our own and others’). This is analogous to uncovering the wealth in the forest by designing/building trails and releasing drala trees and rocks, so that everyone can experience the forest magic. Can we find the brilliance lurking in every expression, even when it is well hidden under confusion?
Contemplations: Can I see through my own and others confusion and recognize truth and sanity? What happens when I see it and illuminate it so that everyone can see it? What happens when only the “leaders” closely hold the insights? Do I have a tendency to highlight and praise things that are not insightful, helpful and sane? If so, what motivates me to do this?
6. Slowing the water. Resting in the richness of enough. Not getting carried away in collecting what is not sane, or not necessary. Slowing down is a prerequisite for letting things be the way they are, letting them express their own richness.
7. Arranging, and being arranged by, the puzzle. Building the capacity to see what, and who, fits where, and how to make it so. In the forest, long and close observation reveals the particular structural and functional niches that need to be protected or restored. Every plant, animal and rock has its place, interdependent with every other thing, each movement affecting everything else directly or indirectly.
8. Slowing the water is relaxing and letting the pieces find themselves in the right place, not being enamored with one’s personal artfulness, but merely holding space for people to find their own best place in the mandala of their organization/family/community.
9. Letting go of what is no longer needed. We could allow the remaining whole to thrive by removing what needs to be removed, rejoicing in what is at every point in time and space. In the forest there is the creativity of pruning-for-health and there is abandonment of trying to improve anything.
10. Slowing the water is resting in the space of nothing more to do, recognizing the truth that, from the beginning, there was nothing missing.