Ushering in the Age of Spacious Leadership

Ushering in the Age of Spacious Leadership

Whether it is the way we write, the way we think, the way we communicate, or the way we relate to one another—space is critical.

Space is the yin to the yang, the cause to the effect, the dark to the light. We often use space as a metaphor, one that is so ubiquitous that we take it for granted. The human body itself is 99.9% space. Yet, we seldom delve into our relationship with space. 

We are in a constant relationship with space and time, and that relationship can often be a battle. There is never enough space, or there is too much. We can oscillate between an agoraphobic and claustrophobic relationship to space. Not only our physical and physiological spaces, but also our psychological and psychic spaces. 

Over the last seven years, I have been blessed with the opportunity to develop a meditation, breath and yoga asana practice that has transformed my relationship to space.  
 
I completed my training as an Art of Living teacher of breath and meditation in India just as the pandemic struck. It was the most amazing synchronicity to have this gift, both for myself and for those I teach, to find spaces and places of internal peace in meditation during those tumultuous years. 

I learnt a lot about space, as we all did.  As people across the world were confined to their homes in the pandemic, the greatest of fears arose in so many people, and the trauma of this continues to ripple amongst the population. Our fear of confinement is huge.  It shows how much we have become ill-equipped to find an internal peace in difficult circumstances.  

Watching the struggle of so many sowed the seed for my upcoming book. What is it about our relationship to space that is making so many people uncomfortable and unhappy? 

Our spaces have become extremely cluttered. Not only with the endless cheap consumer goods and packaging that fill our homes and workspaces, but also in the digital spaces that define communication and work in the 21st Century. Our world is cluttered by the constant streams of information we consume, clogging our thinking with our growing addiction to our digital devices that are constantly overloading our senses. 

Our internal and external spaces are chocka. We are choking and suffocating from a lack of space in our minds and our environments. It is relentless. 

Our digital world that held, and can still hold, the promise of saving us time and labour, has become a burden in the complexity we have become engaged with. Endless subscriptions, registrations, compliance processes, passwords, authentications, marketing… whew, it is exhausting. Not to mention the stress for those who struggle to navigate this world, due to age, ability, or expertise.   

Working in leadership development, I observe closely the challenges of those with leadership responsibilities in the corporate world, the public and not-for-profit sectors, and in communities and families.  

I started to reflect on what was missing for people. What are leaders struggling with most? 

It occurred to me that the greatest challenge is the relationship to space and time.  

The most successful leaders are those that find balance and harmony in this relationship. 

So what does that mean? 

Well far greater minds than mine have studied the relationship between time and space: just think Einstein and the theory of relativity. And long before Einstein, indigenous knowledge systems navigated this relationship and understood it at depth. Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, the concept of wātea, the time-space continuum, is a fundamental element of the indigenous knowledge systems of tangata whenua, the people of the land here. Across the Pacific we have the vā, the relational world of time and space amongst people and all living things. 

It dawned on me (and I love the metaphor of dawn, of light emerging in the day) that the most important quality of great leadership is spaciousness. 

Creating space for others to succeed is at the heart of great leadership models variously described as servant leadership, emergent leadership, distributive leadership, shared leadership, collective leadership, eco-ological leadership… 

Leadership fails when it is all about a one man band. Success is always predicated on the engagement of others. 

In the 21st century, we still see examples of an antiquated and colonial way of leading, where command and control leadership is administered from the top of a hierarchy. It is a failing system. Our diverse populations and newer generations do not buy into this: it is a hero based model that has had its day. There is no space left for it to thrive. 

The emerging great leaders of today are frequently unseen and unheard, because they are busy creating space for others to succeed. They lead by serving others, rather than cluttering up space and sucking up oxygen telling people what to do, and telling people what they themselves are doing. 

Sure, great leaders must communicate and engage powerfully and share vision, purpose and inspiration. But not from a pedestal. 

The old Taoist maxim, that the leader leads well when the people believe they themselves have achieved success, has never been more true. It is creating space in leadership for others to succeed and to lead that is the most successful leadership. 

Fundamental to the exploration and navigation of external space is the journey of inner space, the unseen journey. Achieving spaciousness in the world around us starts with creating internal space within us. 

Decluttering our minds, our psyche, our thinking is fundamental. And in today’s world, it is something that most of us do not pay enough attention to. The art and science of doing nothing, of creating internal space. 

This is where a meditation practice kicks in.  

Meditation can look very different to different people, and the practice should never be a ‘one size fits all’ thing.  For one person, vacuuming the floor may be a meditation. Driving a car may be a meditation for another. A walk on the beach or in a forest may be it for someone else. Others may wish to practice the meditations of spiritual knowledge systems.  

What is your meditation practice? Is it conscious or unconscious? 

With these final questions, perhaps it is timely to create some space for you as the reader. Here is where I stop writing, and let you go away and reflect.  There is more to come, watch this space… 


This year I am celebrating seven years since I published my book The Weave: The Surprising Unity in Difference. I don’t know what it is about a seven year period – it is a cycle that many people have beliefs about, ranging from astrological cycle of Uranus through to the seven year itch in relationships. My relationship to space and time has fundamentally changed in the past seven years, and I am excited to share with you some of the story behind my upcoming book.  

I Quit

I Quit

I’ve called time.
At the tender or ripe age of 60, this is it. Enough.
I quit.
There is huge freedom in being a quitter.
I’ve given up.
I’ve let go.
I’ve surrendered.
So What?

To quit in today’s world usually has a negative connotation. That’s interesting. A quitter who gives up is often seen as a failure.

But the very word quit comes from two great concepts; freedom and silence.

It’s latin.
quit1
/kwɪt/
Origin
Middle English (in the sense ‘set free’): from Old French quiter (verb), quite (adjective), from Latin quietus, past participle of quiescere ‘be still’, from quies ‘quiet’.

It is time to unravel all that I have thought was important over the past few decades, because most of it wasn’t.
And I think as a species, we humans have been overthinking our importance and shaping the world to our own detriment. That is why I am quitting, giving up, letting go and surrendering.

Phew, it does feel a great relief.

I have been so attached to getting it all right for so long. Trying to solve every freakin’ problem with my intellect. How arrogant is that? But most of us do it. We think if we nut everything out, we can solve any problem. Well, who decided whatever it was, was a problem in the first place!

So to coin a hugely overused cliché, what is the roadmap?
Well for a start there are two very colonizing, limiting words.

Road.
We would well do without them. They have so limited our horizons, the ways we navigate. Yeah I get they were designed to make it easier to get around, and in a certain time that was probably a good idea, as to navigate rugged terrain limited our movement and access to opportunities. But at what cost? Now the road rules and negates so many other ways of navigating our world, that are usually far more harmonious with other species and the natural world. Bugger the road.

And Maps.
Maps started out to make life easier, didn’t they? But maps have way out lived their usefulness after centuries of use to dominate, separate, colonise, divide, own, rule. You get my point. And anyway, there’s GPS.

So goodbye road, goodbye map.
I don’t want a roadmap for the future.
What I do want is to quit, to find freedom, quiet and silence.

The world is already going through so much crazy change, any map or any road you might have is going to be obsolete the moment you look at it.

The massive challenges we face, environmentally and socially have been on the cards for many many years.

The thing was, when people started to talk about the future and the opportunities and risks of globalization, the use of resources and the wicked problem or enormous potential of developing the developed, developing and under developed world, it all became an ideological or intellectual debate.

Debate. Now there is another outdated concept. Oh dear, and that has been the supposed basis of democracy in the world, debate. I am really not sure whether ‘debate’ is a useful process at all. It’s an adversarial clashing of egos more than anything else, and has the world always ended up a better place in the hands of those who won a debate?

So we were all getting it wrong trying to fix everything with our heads, our logic. So arrogant.

We had taught ourselves to distrust, disown and discredit our intuition. It was witchcraft, it was ropey, soft, vague, dangerous, woolly, feminine, dangerous, unproven, hugely risky.
Well was it, is it?

My intuition told me a long long time ago that we needed to live more harmoniously with each other and with nature. I didn’t have the data, and to be honest, quantitative data has never really been my thing. But I could sense we were pushing it. Stuff was going to wear out. Surely life on this planet has always been about cause and effect. You use things and people up too much, and things will bounce back. There will be an effect, there will be an impact, and the force may well be far greater than you thought.

So here we are. Pandemics. Storms. Busted infrastructure. Stuff running out. People not happy.

My aim is to do far far less.

I quit work. I quit recreation. I quit consuming.
Undoubtedly I will do a little of all these things.
But I will DO far far less, and aim to BE far far more.
Much more meditation every day.
Teaching myself to think less and less and less.
Teaching myself to reflect more and more and more.
Teaching myself to love more and more and more.
Teaching myself to practice Festina Lente, to hasten slowly.
To be in balance with action and stillness.
Hmmmmm.
Ahhhhhhhh.
That feels good.
I quit.

Building Story Mojo – Leadership in a Pandemic Age

Building Story Mojo – Leadership in a Pandemic Age

 

Never before in recent history have the communication skills of leaders been more important.

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit the world in early 2020, people from every walk of life and in every corner of the globe have struggled to understand what on earth was going on. We had no framework, no reference point, no practiced skills, knowledge or experience to navigate a pandemic that would rend the very fabric of our communities.

The shock and the fear was deep and wide. The shock waves and trauma are still around and going nowhere soon.

Households and workplaces scrambled hungrily for information from any source; what was really going on? Whose information could we trust? Social media, news media, our friends, our families, political or workplace leaders, our spiritual leaders, our fathers, our mothers, our sons or daughters? How could we tell what was true? Even now, what sources do we trust?
Can we trust science? Who has a hidden agenda?

Sharply contrasting communication styles have emerged. There was blame, attack, metaphors about battles, fights and war. There were also appeals to calm, unity and working together, metaphors such as ‘bubbles’. New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, whether you agree with her politics or not, was lauded by leaders from the right and the left for her excellent communication skills, and these centred around her powerful use of metaphor to tell a story.

Research shows on average we all use up to six metaphors every minute every day. Our lives and our communication is (to use yet another metaphor) riddled with metaphor.

They can have immense power and influence. Neuroscientists have found that substituting power verbs and metaphors can dramatically influence us in our experiences and decision making and how we see the truth. For example if we substitute the world ‘collision’ for ‘smash’ when witnessing a car ‘incident’ people’s estimates of how fast a vehicle is travelling can change dramatically. If the word ‘smash’ is used people estimate a higher speed, if the word collision is used they estimate a lower speed, unconsciously. As we are awash (another metaphor again for drama and emphasis!) with endless notifications across social news media, TV, radio,  audio, video, politicians, community leaders, neighbours and friends, navigating what is true and what is not is immensely challenging.

Sometimes even what might appear to be quite harmless metaphors can create fear and disempower. Talk of ‘waves’ of the pandemic can give a sense that it will be a never-ending force with no end. Contrast this with the use of a metaphor like ‘fire-fighting’ which can enable people to fell they have a sense of control over something that can be overcome.

There are pluses and minuses with the use of all metaphors. The most important thing is to be aware of their power and how you use them, and to change and adapt them for different circumstances.

Building story mojo with the use of metaphor is now a key tool in a 21st century leader’s tool kit.

There is an onus like never before on leaders to reflect deeply and clearly on the language they use, the stories they tell. What metaphors and stories are you using? Will they create fear, or calm? Will they call people to action, or disempower them?

In my upcoming workshop Story Mojo: Story Telling for Authentic Leadership we will explore metaphor and storytelling in depth. Join us to take your leadership communication to another level. http://www.andrewmelville.com/workshops/

Teaching Kids via The Simpsons, Not the News

More than  ten years ago I was lecturing journalism students at AUT University in Auckland about the fast changing narratives in television.

I told them I would rather my children watch The Simpsons in prime time that the 6 o’clock news. They would learn more about society, and more about multiple layers of contexts in our world. The sophistocation of a Simpsons script far ouweighted that of the news.  I was commenting too about how so called fiction and so called fact blur in terms of our reality.

I was new to academia and wrote my lecture off the cuff, without much knowledge of theoretic concepts,  having come from an industry rather than academic background. A colleague told me my lecture had been all about postmodernism. News to me. The episode I had discussed had ripped off Rupert Murdoch and his controlling power over global media.

I bumped into a student who had attended this lecture recently at party. Now a senior public relations practitioner, they recounted the story I had told about my kids and The Simpsons. It had stuck with her for a decade.

A key part of the resonance in this case was the juxtaposition of fact and fiction, of a cartoon and a ‘reality’ programme, and the suggestion that ran counter intuitively that the fiction was more factual than the news.