Intentionality, Collaboration, and Presence: Accelerating Systemic Transformation
I had a powerful experience this past week. It was the launch of the Global Leadership Lab, an organization I co-founded even though it was never my plan to do so. The experience has shown me the power of pure intention and deep collaboration in the quest to accelerate systemic transformation. For the past six months, I have been part of a magical (I can’t think of a better word to describe it) process where I have seen my own desire and ideas become part of meaningful change in the world as they blend with the ideas and intentions of others. Together, we have witnessed something beyond our individual imaginations begin to emerge.
From my observations of what moves people to initiate change, I can identify at least two sources of inspiration for entrepreneurs and leaders. On the one hand, there are individuals who are compelled to act out of visions that come from their minds and hearts. Their personal projects and initiatives literally project their personality, their genius, and their brilliance in the form of an invention, a new product or service, a book, an organization or opportunity that can be brought to life (or to the marketplace) because of the unique experience and expertise. These projects shape our collective identity. If connected to a sacred purpose, they can heal and serve as platforms for self-actualization or otherwise simply feed our egos. This is the world of entrepreneurship.
On the other hand, there are individuals whose visions blend with the longing of a fully altruisitic humanity capable of living peacefully on this Earth—visions connected to be in service of something larger, to address in some way an overwhelming global problem, to heal the planet, to be part of the larger socio-cultural transition towards a peaceful and sustainable world. These ideas are beyond an individual’s skill set. They require deep collaboration and something else beyond smarts. This is the world of social innovation.
And then there is the process to translate the vision into reality. There is a kind of accomplishment that comes from hard work, the accumulation of many smalls victories, of lessons learned, of ongoing sustained effort. Entrepreneurs and business leaders are familiar with the kind of stamina required to translate visions of possibility into reality. I, myself, have been on this path for many years, patiently nurturing many dreams, learning from mistakes and making course corrections as I move forward. But there are also moments when the vision seems to have a life of its own and rather than struggle upstream, things flow easily downstream.
My experience in the emergence of the Global Leadership Lab was the combination of a large dream that was ready to come into being. Together with my collaborators, I found myself in the role of a midwife, listening to the pulse of a possibility that was coming through us, not from us, and inviting it into existence. The talent and resources that were needed showed up and, last week, we were able to give birth to it in a first lab retreat at the Marin Headlands with a group of 35 individuals. Just like Juanita Brown and David Isaacs don’t consider themselves the “creators” of the now well-known conversation process World Café but rather their “discoverers,” similarly, I feel that our role was to reveal the Global Leadership Lab as a gathering place—a sacred container that many of us have been longing for coming together to work hard, play hard, and make the shift happen.
My experience with my partners in this adventure was simply delicious. It is not common to be able to come together with such ease and depth of commitment. I would say that the key ingredient for experiencing the joy of this high performance team has been our authenticity and willingness to show our vulnerabilities. The distinction between personal and professional was irrelevant because we invited our full selves to be present in our conversations. Our life experiences and our emotional states were always there. Learning together and defining a common goal was not done on a pre-defined scheduled because building trusting relationships cannot be done looking at the watch.
After a couple of months of our own exploration and some key conversations with potential collaborators and supporters, we received seed funding to test our ideas. It was around Thanksgiving and we all had multiple commitments and travels that prevented us from getting together for some time. We knew that we needed to start moving rapidly into action if we were going to host an event in January and, knowing that we wouldn’t be able to accomplish much during the Winter holidays, we were experiencing for the first time in our collaborative process some external pressure.
We scheduled two days of work on a Thursday and Friday. My partners were coming to my house for both days. As usual, we started with a check-in: we usually define a question to share how we are feeling at that moment so that we can arrive and hold for each other whatever is happening in our lives. But this day, because we haden’t seen each other for a relatively extended period of time, the check-in took the whole day. We had lunch and continued to share our stories over cookies and Mexican hot chocolate. At some point, maybe 30 minutes before they were planning to leave, a thought crossed my mind: Are we going to ever get to work?! But I didn’t say anything. I allowed the thought to come and go just as one is instructed in meditation practice. I soon was back in the present moment truly enjoying the company and intimacy of our process. We said goodbye and I was left with the curiosity if, at any point during the five hours that we spent together, they felt concerned or impatient. The truth is that nobody expressed any sign of worry or irritation—neither in words nor in gestures. The next day we were meeting again at my place also for five hours. When they arrived, we again opened our circle with a check-in and, very soon that morning, we had clarity of what we needed to do. Still in the same relaxed state of the previous day, we were able to accomplish so much work around the design of the event. In fact, our subjective experience was that we accomplished more than what would be usually possible for a day of work. As we closed our circle for the day, we were one mind: our productivity of this second day was a result of our willingness to come together at such a deep level the previous day. We were grateful for the experience and feeling so happy. The accomplishment of outcomes was non-linear and, as a result of the trust and deeper understanding of each other, we were able to have a super efficient and accelerated experience of team performance.
Acceleration has been in our minds for a long time. Out of the urgency and complexity of everything from poverty to climate change, the need to bring together the leaders committed to systemic transformation has been evident. If in some way we can support the creation of synergy for greater impact, that would be a meaningful contribution. However, acceleration can be interpreted as quickly moving forward, pushing ahead, forgetting about the details: do something, anything, just do it. But the kind of acceleration that we need is the quickening that happens only when we are fully present. And to be fully present, we first need to slow down and breath before we can go fast.
There is an African proverb that says, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Acceleration in the old ways means forget collaboration—it is too inefficient, too slow. Today we need to figure out a way to go fast and together. To find the path of least resistance, the path of joy, the path that allows us to honor our own rhythms, and that produces the best results. That’s the paradox we are embracing at the Global Leadership Lab. We are ready to continue the experiment.