Make a U-turn in Leadership

According to Otto Scharmer the essence of leadership today is the ability to facilitate a shift from the current model of operating from past experience to operating from ‘a future space of possibility’. His social technology for leadership, Theory U, premises that in order for there to be transformation we need to access, understand and be comfortable with the quality of leadership that is unseen.

In other words, not the processes or the actions but their origin; the inner place from where these originate. This is precisely the aim of the creative techniques employed at Act Out to work with groups. They aim at stirring up what is underneath the actions – what inspires them; what are the fears and the desires that drive all our actions; or prevent desired actions?

Scharmer invites participants of his workshops to enter into a dialogue with each other about the issues they want to tackle. But to go beyond the usual polite, disconnected or inauthentic listening; past the tough-talking, debating, competitive, divisive listening; even past the more empathic inquiring listening to a generative listening. This is a listening that enables individuals to ‘operate from the highest future possibility that is emerging’. It is not an easy proposition.

Looking at our inner motivations is hard enough, but to do this collectively is even tougher. His Theory U delineates seven leadership competencies essential for transformative leadership:

1. Holding the Space: A leader invites others into a space the she or he holds and the key to ‘holding’ is listening; a deep, attentive listening. ‘Listening to what life calls you to do’, not only listening to oneself and to others, but also to what becomes apparent through listening to the collective.

2. Observing: This requires ignoring the voice of judgment which blocks access to our minds and therefore our creativity.

3. Sensing: This requires leaders to connect with the heart often by ignoring the voice of cynicism. This voice prevents us from being present to our vulnerability and authenticity and from acting from an innate knowledge rather than a cognitive knowledge.

4. Presencing: this is a capacity to connect to our deepest source or will and not listening to the voice of fear which blocks our access to being willing to step into the unknown and let go of the past ways of acting.

5. Crystallizing: This is when a leader accesses the power of intention of a small group of committed key people. This group, through its intention and actions creates an energy field that attracts the necessary elements for the project to take place. This creates momentum until it is past the tipping point.

6. Prototyping: This is leadership capacity which calls for integration of the head, heart and body; calls for action. It is a difficult step during which leaders will become accosted by the usual ways of being: reactivity, endless analysis and what he technically refers to as ‘blah blah blah’.

7. Performing: This is the last step in the layers and it involves acting and listening constantly from a space that moves in and out of the self; it is through you that the action happens but its origin is beyond the self.

This may all sound like it’s easier said than done – it is! Much easier; but in his inspiring book, Scharmer and his colleagues, describe moments that have transcended great obstacles.

From the transformation of Oxfam GB’s African HIV/AIDS program, to huge systemic changes in doctor-patient relationships by the German Health Care Ministry to the extraordinary work done by the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This is the kind of leadership transformation we aim to create at Act Out.

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Albert Einstein