Blind Spot in Leadership – the aesthetics of leading

Aesthetic – from the Greek aisthetikos which means perceptible to the senses

“The quality of results in any kind of system is a reflection of the quality of awareness that people in that system operate from…”

Otto Scharmer

In other words, the quality of the way we pay attention to what is around us determines the quality of what happens when we act. It makes so much sense, doesn’t it?

And yet over time we grow increasingly inept at using all our senses and the quality of how we perceive also suffers. Add to this extreme busyness and we are left with a tattered sensory net through which to perceive what is around us – it’s not surprising that so much escapes us. This is a particular handicap for those in leadership positions, those who are, in effect, creating and guiding change in the organisation.

Over the last five years I have been researching what it takes to be an effective leader and practitioner, and have observed through my work with organisations and communities that while there are so many qualities that are important to being a leader, there is one attribute that enables and enhances the rest.

I am talking about presence or awareness – being present enough to feel what is happening, to hear what is really being said, to see what actions really mean, to smell and taste the elephant in the room, even when that is you!

This practice requires that a different kind of perception be in place, a different kind of listening, seeing and feeling. A perception that is not simply projecting what is already known onto the situation, a listening that becomes generative and dialogic, that allows for a suspension of preconceived and existing ‘truths’ and allows, as Scharmer puts it, a connection to the emerging future, what is trying to crack through to the surface, what is blocking the blind spot.

Act Out was recently asked to run a workshop to address some significant issues that a government organisation was having with changes in the structure and the systems. We were briefed in some detail about certain employees who were ‘troublemakers’ and who may not participate because at meetings they regularly lacked interest, spent time on their phones and did not contribute.

We began the session with the range of aesthetic activities and exercises that facilitate a reconnecting with the body and therefore the senses and after some time began to explore more deeply the issues. Everyone participated fully, that is until it came to a manager who point blank refused to engage in the activity because ‘there were no issues in her team’ the issues were with the other teams.

Another manager, who I felt genuinely wanted to create a better environment at work engaged somewhat in the activity but was so fixated in her understanding that ‘the staff’ were being disrespectful, ‘the staff’ were not willing to participate, that her ability to listen, feel and see was hindered.

All the staff had opened up and were exploring, fully engaged, expressing through their bodies and their words what was going on for them, there were no difficult employees; there was no lack of participation.

It was the leaders in the space, so locked into their perception that the trouble came from the employees who were blinded to what was really going on for everyone else; they were not listening, they were not looking. They are all extremely knowledgeable about their area of work and about the systems in the organisation, they are all very experienced, and yet they were unaesthetised to the reality of how they were contributing to the issues present in the organisation.

Is this happening in your organisation? How unaesthetised are those who are leading your organisation?