All of us must be leaders. But before we can lead others, we must first lead ourselves.
Dr. C. Otto Scharmer of MIT’s Presencing Institute points out that the etymology of leadership is “the crossing a threshold, a liminal dimension.” Another possible etymological variant of “to lead” is “to die”. Consider also the expression “to die for [dark chocolate/a stiff drink].” Perhaps death can, in fact, be a joyful surrender first to ourselves and then to those we lead!
“Presencing” is the process of the communal drawing out and drawing forth those as-yet-unnamed, unidentified “seeds” of the future hidden within both oneself and one’s team members. Good leaders identify and nurture these seeds through three-dimensional listening:
•Factual listening: attending to what is different in the world; looking for disconfirming data, taking in what at first seem to be irrelevant or contradictory information;
• Empathic listening: seeking perspective; taking in from the other so that one suspends one’s own agenda, and
• Generative listening: connecting to the seeds of the emerging future within both oneself and one’s team; seeing something ready and helping it come into reality.
Of these three facets of listening, empathetic listening is the most difficult to practice. It is difficult because it requires wisdom. Wisdom invokes the humility to go beyond “knowing what you don’t know” to “not knowing what you don’t know.” It’s a willingness to ask questions of one’s team not from the perspective of control—of appearing to listen but in fact leading them to your predetermined future—but from the perspective of truly ego-less not knowing. It’s a posture of co-creative uncovering of those seeds of the future as they are today. This is the essence of what it means to do presencing.
Strong leaders can then exercise generative listening to allow a collective future gain momentum from the team including the leader. Thus, a fresh future–even one that holds contradictory “facts” in tension—can emerge.
What are your thoughts on presencing?
Try this simple (but not easy) exercise: Pick a situation that currently befuddles you. If it involves another person, explore this situation with them utilizing the three kinds of listening:
- Factual listening: what else might you have overlooked? Be sure to go to your own place of discomfort when examining this.
- Empathetic listening: Metaphorically swap places with the other person and argue their position vehemently. What did you discover in the process of advocating for the antithetical position?
- Generative listening: As you listen to the other, what new things emerge for you? How might you hold those contradictory elements in tension in the emerging future?