Meaningful conversation begins with listening (including looking and the other sense perceptions), sensing what is. The ground, or basis, of effective listening is genuine inquisitiveness. Genuine here means your receptacles (brain and heart) are open.
If the brain is already full of information ("I know."), nothing new can be poured into it. Similarly, if your heart vessel is upside down ("hard-hearted"), it won't hold anything. In either of those cases, any pretence of inquisitiveness is not genuine and therefore not a foundation for true listening.
The human mind is naturally awake and curious, kind and compassionate, open and receptive — that is the view of Nothing Missing Leadership. When brain and heart are open, then inquisitiveness flows naturally, and leads into the profound leadership practice of listening: for data, for logic, for emotional content, for patterns and textures. We keep listening until we hear, keep looking until we see, and so on. We ask questions with all our senses and "listen" into the depth of the responses — actively and empathically listening; listening from within the other's skin; listening to our own body and heart; listening with kindness and generosity; listening free from judgment or ideas about fixing anything; listening from the whole.
When we look and listen with real curiosity, a conversation has begun. The world we sense into always responds with useful information. To say "they are unresponsive" is to say we have stopped paying attention. When our inquisitiveness dissipates, we separate, stop listening, lose our awareness of the ongoing conversation, which continues on its own — without us.
When we moved into Windhorse Farm, we noticed that the hayfield, which had been mowed right to the edge of the lake, probably was not the way it had been before the Wentzells settled here in 1840. Something in the terrain and energetics of the landscape was speaking to us, but we weren't getting it, so we spent a lot of time "listening". What could we see? What could we hear? What could we feel as we lay in the grass?
What was it like when we were still? What about when we moved around? How was it responding to the play of the elements? What was this land at the edge of the lake communicating to us? What was it not saying? Gradually, in addition to its present, we began to see at least a shadow of its past, and we could glimpse its possible futures.
Although we were not certain, we guessed that there had been a beaver meadow here, long since drained to make way for hay. We became very curious about how we might actively engage in a conversation with the land to learn more. Perhaps we could assist in inviting the beavers back by digging a beaver starter-pond, which we did. After eight years of waiting, our invitation was accepted; a pair of two-year-olds moved in, hastily built a subsistence shelter and over-wintered.
The next year they raised the level of the pond, improved their living quarters in the lodge, and started a family. Many "new" plants and animals moved in and the landscape became busier and more diverse as the water spread onto previously dry ground (some of it flooding land important for our annual food crops). The second fall the beaver couple got really serious about laying in food for the winter.
One morning in November, I looked out the window from my retreat cabin and saw that half the trees in an eight-year-old apple orchard were gone — completely gone — trunks, twigs and branches. I went out to look and discovered that the trees, which had just started to bear fruit that year, had been cut by the beavers, dragged to the lake and taken to the pond next to their lodge. Good winter food for the beavers — and half an orchard lost to the farm. I resolved to wire up the remaining 12 trees the next morning so they couldn't get them. The next morning, I collected my gear and went to the orchard only to find they had taken all but one tree, which I wrapped with chicken wire. Today that one tree is the only tree in what used to be a productive young apple orchard. It bears beautiful apples each autumn, and the "vacated" space now hosts an apiary
That began a more intensive and extensive conversation with the Windhorse beavers. Many trees have been protected with wire, and many others, wiring forgotten, have been cut down. We have planted hundreds of their favourite willow trees near their pond, and brought apple prunings to their trails as offerings. Their ponds have multiplied and expanded, encroaching on the vegetable gardens (people and beavers harvest carrots there), so we built a berm to "draw the line" as a boundary we could live with.
Generations of this beaver family have lived in the garden wetlands, and each year the two-year-olds leave the lodge and venture forth into the Lahave River to look for mates and new homes. Adults have died of old age and young couples have replaced them in one of three lodges built by their ancestors. The conversation only gets richer, along with its conflict and mutual learning. Although beavers are by habit quite shy, this family lineage has become accustomed to humans and expresses brave curiosity and playfulness.
Beavers are tenacious, creative and strong. This year they diverted another brook so that it could flow into their biggest pond; they raised the dam and flooded more garden land. The young beavers built three dams (maybe just practicing their skills?) on the newly diverted stream. The overflow from one of the new ponds threatened to flood Blue Dragon, one of the retreat cabins. We said, "Enough!" and took the dam apart so the water could flow through. That night they patched it up; the next morning we took it apart; that night they patch it up. It became part of the morning chores to open that beaver dam. This conversation was persistent, and the conflict seemingly not resolvable (maybe we were just increasing their practice opportunity); however, something changed one night, and they stopped rebuilding. We are curious about that, but have no conceptual understanding. The back and forth continues, each day a joyful learning opportunity; we are listening with inquisitiveness, grounded in not knowing.
We are learning many things from beavers about the qualities of leadership. We don't really know what they think and we don't understand much of their verbal language. However we can observe what they do and we notice some of the consequences. They build intricate flood-proof dams, which gather the water — the richness of the forest — and hold it in their ponds. Each night, with expansive awareness and precise mindfulness, they push mud and weave sticks into every leaking part of the dam. One of the consequences is that habitat is created for hundreds of species of plants and animals, and an inconceivable number of individuals. The wetlands created by beavers are among the most diverse, abundant and productive areas in any landscape. Slowing the water by building dams also causes more water to soak into the land, increasing the groundwater-to-surface water flow ratio, which tends to cool the water in the LaHave River. Cooler water holds more oxygen and protects the indigenous biodiversity in the river. We are only beginning to appreciate all the ways beavers are enriching the natural ecology of this place.
Here are some provocative questions arising out of this ongoing conversation with beavers:
"What am I learning from nature about listening to the whole from the whole?"
"In my own leadership practice and activity, how am I gathering and holding wealth for the benefit of others?"
"How is my activity offering what is useful for increasing the health and vitality of my organization?"
"What else can I learn about my own leadership from non-human teachers in nature?"
Foundation - The foundation of this work, which is called Nothing Missing Leadership, asserts a point of view about what leadership is and what it is not. There are five key statements that articulate this:
Impact on Leadership: Nothing Missing Leadership expands individual, team and organizational capacity across the following dimensions
Impact on Culture: Leaders who lead in alignment with Nothing Missing Leadership transform the culture in the following ways:
When we have a strong intention, the probability of that intention coming to fruition is greatly increased. If things don't turn out the way we intended, a likely cause is a lack of strength in forming the intention. Of course, sometimes shit happens, but ...
Whether or not we have articulated it, each of us carries a world view --- what we think is real, how things work. From that expressed, or merely implied, view of reality, we develop a motivation for our life ("What is important about my life?"). From that overall motivation come our more immediate intentions, day-by-day, moment-to-moment. In the best case, our thoughts, words and actions are informed by our intentions, and are in accord with our view and motivation.
For some folks I know, it has been useful to develop a practice of "checking-in" with oneself each morning to ask, "What is my intention for this day?" or "How do I intend to be today?"
I might be break that down into thought, speech and action:
"Who do I intend to think about, or what do I intend to figure out?"
"How do I intend to speak to myself or to others?"
"What "work" do I intend to accomplish today?"
I might reflect further, inquiring into what I think the results might be, for myself and for others, if I am able to accomplish my intentions, or if I am not. I might contemplate whether my intentions for today are in accord with my overall motivation for my life.
During the day I might reflect on my intentions, and make any adjustments I think appropriate.
In the evening, just before going to sleep, I "check-out" with myself, asking the question, "How did it go today? Did I fulfill my intentions?" If so, I can take pride in that --- let it encourage me.
If not, then I can reflect on the reasons for that. I don't beat myself up; I'm just learning from my experience and taking that learning into the check-in the next morning.
This is a practice that doesn't take much time, but it takes a lot of discipline --- simple but not easy. To begin this practice, and form it into a positive habit through repetition, requires me to disrupt some habitual patterns --- what I am used to thinking and doing just after I wake up and just before I go to sleep. It is likely to have dramatic effects on my life, so it makes me a bit edgy. On the other hand, the cost of trying it is minimal, so there is very little downside risk --- other than the total disruption of my life as I now know it.
Other than productivity and innovation gains, what is the purpose of this practice? The purpose is two-fold. First, it is to increase the effectiveness and productivity of my work and my contribution to my enterprise. Second, and perhaps more important in the long run, it is to bring my attention to synchronizing my life. Am I really doing what I believe is most important? Am I living a life in accord with my highest values? Are my actions in accord with my intentions, my intentions in accord with my motivation, my motivation in accord with my world-view? Am I leading a life that I enjoy and that I am proud to live?
Here are some specific suggestions for how to get started (warning: this practice could take 15 minutes out of each day, leaving only 23 hours and 45 minutes for other things):
1. Get a nice journal, one that feels good in your hand and looks good beside your bed. You might name it "Intentions Journal" or something like that. It will be for your exclusive use for writing your daily intentions, reflections, and what really happened.
2. At a particular time near the beginning of your day (e.g. before you get out of bed, or after you brush your teeth or take a shower), and definitely before you engage in conversation or email, check-in with yourself, first just resting in stillness in a quiet place, then contemplating some of these, or other, relevant questions. Write down in your journal whatever you feel is useful, at least enough to remember your intentions for the day at your evening check-out and in future reviews of your practice:
“How do I feel this morning?”
“How do I intend to be today?”
“How do I intend to care for myself?”
“How do I intend to relate to my spouse, my family, my colleagues, my employees?”
“How do I intend to listen and speak today?”
“Who and what do I intend to think about?”
“What do I intend to accomplish?”
“Are these intentions in accord with what I think is important in my life?”
You might imagine, “If things go as I intend, what results would I expect to see?”
3. At times during the day, when you experience a “gap”, you might let go and relax, and within that moment of resting, reflect on your intentions for the day, refreshing them. This might happen once or several times, or not at all. Whatever happens is interesting in itself, neither better nor worse.
4. Just before turning in for the night, either just before or after you slip into bed, “check-out” with yourself, reviewing your notes from the morning check-in. Reflect on your day.
“How did it go”?
“Did I maintain mindfulness of my intentions through the day?”
“Which of my intentions did I adhere to and what results did I experience?”
“Which things didn’t go so well, and what resulted from that?”
“What surprises popped up for me today?”
“What did I learn today might influence this intention-setting practice tomorrow?”
5. Now just let go and relax, reminding yourself that there is no right or wrong way to do this practice. It’s just about awareness. Changes will appear gradually, scarcely noticeable day-to-day. There is no “finish line”; this is a practice. There will be results.
Example schedule (make up one that works for you):
Morning (10 – 15 minutes)
- Wake up
- Personal hygiene, whatever that is for you.
- In a quiet place, sit in silence and rest for 3 - 5 minutes, doing and thinking as little as possible.
- Contemplate your intentions for the day, using some of the questions above or others that have meaning for you.
- Write down in your Intentions Journal as much as you like, at least enough to remember the important points. The contemplation and recording might take 4-5 minutes.
- Now just sit and rest again for 3 - 5 minutes.
Whenever you remember, reflect on your intentions, refresh them, and check in on how it’s going
Bedtime (5 or 10 minutes)