Enactive Leadership

So we come to the last session in this particular Personal Leadership programme design.

I began the programme by focusing on the Self and Awareness as essential foundation stones. Only in Module Two did we intentionally turn our gaze outward to include Others.

We have arrived at the end and the beginning as we reach the real challenge that, I believe, faces leaders – Enactive Leadership. The term enactivism is to be found in Maturana and Varela’s Santiago Theory of Cognition. The core emphasis is the change from the cognitive ‘I think therefore I am’ to the enactive ‘I act therefore I am’.

All my programmes are actually intended to address the challenge for leaders to contribute to improving the quality of life of both individuals and society. This means that the main goal of my teaching is to optimise the possibility of participants leaving with increased skills and awareness that will enable them to act (rather than talk or think) more intelligently.

This change towards internally grounded action resonates with James Hollis’s work on Living an Examined Life, where he urges us to make sure that our outer actions are aligned with our soul’s wisdom as we move into the second half of life.

The design of the whole programme aims to address Alan Kaplan and Sue Davidoff’s concept of delicate activism, in which the activist needs to ensure that the external changes they are working for are also being made internally.

A crucial new dimension to the challenge involves including the living world that lives outside the realm of human beings. Charles Eisenstein introduces the term ‘Interbeing’ as a cornerstone concept that is necessary to change our story of separateness and address what he calls ‘the wrongness in the world’.

Interbeing is a very natural term. It means more than interconnection or interdependency. Interbeing is more of an understanding that we are relationship: that my very existence depends or draws from or includes your existence. So my well-being is intimately connected to your well-being and to the well-being of the river, the ocean, the forest, the people across the world and so forth, because I'm not really separate from you.

So the challenge is for each participant to consider the way(s) in which they intend to take their learning out into the world in the form of action and make a difference – both in their immediate world and the larger world.

What is their Purpose and their Signature Presence?

As inspiration for the immediacy of their Enactive Leadership challenge, I offer them these summarised words from a speech by Archbishop Thabo Makgoba.

I have posited a leadership that:

  • is willing to open itself to learning
  • is able to embrace vulnerability
  • is selfless in serving the common good
  • does not fear proximity to woundedness and the causes of woundedness.

This is a leadership that:

  • imagines differently
  • thinks more compassionately
  • speaks up and acts more justly
  • leads more honestly.

It is a leadership that is pro-poor, pro-justice and pro- a better life for all.

And finally, Margaret Wheatley’s list of what she considers to be the necessary skills for leaders who consider themselves Warriors for the Human Spirit provides a useful image of what one might strive for.

According to her, as leaders, we train in the skillful means to do the following:

  • Refrain from using fear and aggression to accomplish our ends.
  • Maintain a stable mind, even in situations of contention and conflict.
  • Use direct perception to see more clearly so we may act more wisely.
  • Stay aware of our biases, judgments and triggers in order to diminish their influence on us.
  • Focus our efforts on the work that needs doing, not the work we want to do.
  • Endeavour to create Islands of Sanity wherever possible.
  • Maintain a keen sense of humour.
  • Rely on moments of grace and joy.

The end of the programme marks the beginning of the new challenge and the need for a new focus of awareness.

Which of my (outer) Actions are effective and aligned with my (inner) Soul and with my Work?