through the eye of the needle

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010 | Uncategorized

today i had to write a paragraph on leadership for the MIT Leadership Center site. find that paragraph below. what do you think? what is your take on the essence of leadership today?

The key leadership challenge of our time is to shift the inner place from which we operate. As individuals, as teams, as institutions, and as societies we all face the same issue: that doing ‘more of the same’ won’t fix flawed and failed systems. We have to leave behind our old tools and behaviors, and immerse ourselves in the places of most potential. We have to listen with our minds and hearts wide open, and then connect with our deep sources of knowing and self. It’s only when we pass through this eye of the needle–letting go of the old and letting come the emerging self–that we can begin to step into our real power: the power to collectively sense and create the world anew. Theory U describes a social grammar and practical methods for such a transformative leadership journey.

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16 Comments to through the eye of the needle

Malia Robinson
January 20, 2010

Just as I opened this link my partner was talking about the utter lack of leadership in the U.S. government today. I am afraid that I am so skeptical, though, that I cannot see any desire on the part of our so-called leaders to leave behind old tools and behaviors and listen to their inner selves. The system has fundamentally cut them off from any connection to their inner selves. We in turn, out of the exhaustion of passion when it arises at the hint of change, or the numbness that sets in with political fatigue, find ourselves increasingly following in suit. I really appreciate your ideas, Otto, but I see little possibility for pursuing these ideas in any realistic fashion. Please let me know if my cynicism is undue!

Ian Wallace
January 21, 2010

Hi Otto
I am intrigued by your use of the ‘eye of the needle’ metaphor. This suggests that there is a very specific and definite path that needs to be followed in order to shift from one space to another. In my experience, this transformative shift is mainly driven by context, rather than by a defined and prescriptive procedure.
To explore your metaphor further, what happens after you have successfully threaded the needle? How do you use it to repair and integrate the fabric of society? Can you use it to weave all the narrative threads of your followers into a much greater inspirational story?

In the work I do, the essence of leadership is the ability to give love and to receive love. Many of those who consider themselves to be leaders are challenged by connecting with their followers at a deeper spiritual and creative level. They can also find it difficult to receive the love and respect of the people who look to them for leadership. The real essence of a leader is someone who can courageously go into unknown and unfamiliar areas and can create a space for emergent creativity rather than merely encouraging followers along the leader’s chosen route. A leader attracts other people into this space by sharing a unique vision and then connects those people at a deeper and more loving level.

Thanks for a cool post and a great question!

Richard Harris
January 21, 2010

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on a provocative subject. I agree that the key leadership issue is to shift the “inner place from which we operate.” With respect to leaving behind old tools, I would suggest that we need to leave behind reliance on a narrow set of tools. As I understand Theory U, some old tools like analysis and judgment are still important…it just depends on which side of the U they are being used. Also, I would emphasize that listening with our hearts and minds wide open includes listening to our enemies (and for Democrats, Republicans, and vice-versa). Finally, I don’t agree with the concept of slowing down. To take a sports analogy, the game appears to slow down for the top professionals when they are in the zone. They don’t play any slower but their intense immersion into the game makes things appear to be happening in slow motion. Slowing down when you’re not in the zone (to mix metaphors) gets you rear-ended. Kind regards, Richard Harris

uberVU - social comments
January 22, 2010

Social comments and analytics for this post…

This post was mentioned on Twitter by ottoscharmer1: through the eye of the needle:

January 22, 2010

Thanks Otto, I find deep resonance with your work and the crisp summary found here. Just yesterday I was reminded that inertia is a law of the universe and that staring AND stopping both demand heat. Reading Malia’s point I am reminded that there is an unbelievable momentum in the way things are done, and that government is caught in it. I’m seeking other venues for transformation. Regarding Ian’s point, I didn’t read “eye of the needle” as one given way but as a difficult path to the other side, one that demands focus and precision. I totally feel Richard’s point about the way things “slow down” when you are “in the zone,” but I do think this needed shift requires an actual slow down, not just a perceptual one.

My last thought regards the leap from understanding the need for a shift and its nature to actualizing it. I think the gap between insight and integration is often understated leading many of us to engage the work without a true understanding of the burning that is required if we are to shift directions.

Ralf Lippold
January 22, 2010

Otto, thanks for asking that provokative question;-)

Individually going through the needle is not as difficult as going through it collectively. Leaders of the future (as well as the good ones of the past) like the “Little Prince” by Saint-Exupery will facilitating that the team collectively shares the vision of the most admired future. This will make unbelievable resources in our hearts, minds available that through our hands will become reality.

It sounds like a challenge and certainly is – challenges in life are there to grow ourselves:-)

Sunil Ganesh
January 23, 2010

Hi Otto:

The shift would not be easy unless one learns to examine issues and challenges with neither passion or angst – almost like the morning dew on a lotus leaf – the dew is always in contact with the leaf yet does not moisten it. The shift would have to become inwards than outwards. This is critical since I believe that the originals of all issues is essentially the self – thoughts in particular. The power of thoughts is in itself a significant dilemma to handle, since the external variables seem more attractive, tangible and worthy to strive for. I believe that the collective is stronger and potent since we are essentially one – deep inside. The knowledge and insights exists, it just needs to be freed of the shackles of ignorance.

January 24, 2010

Hi Otto.
Yes, yes yes! For knowing where to go I have to know who I am. Today the whole world is going to nowhere without knowing source and goal. Leadership is to help the people to know themselves – their innermost Being. From there they will go automatically in the right direction. “Right” will mean then: in accordance with THEIR innermost nature – and since they are nature as everything else, it will be in accordance with THE nature.

BTW: In the first sentence a “to” is missing ;) We will never be able to shift the inner place. Mohammed has to come to the mountain, not the other way round ;) I know, that you meant it just in this way.

otto scharmer
January 30, 2010

hi guys–great conversation! jochen, to your point: you suggest that a “to” is missing in the first sentence? really? i am not sure i fully understand. you say “we will never be able to shift the inner place..” — but isnt it happening very often around us, among us, within us?

i am not sure i understood your point correctly. i also fully share your point malia. thats how it is. YET, as you indicate with your remark about cynicism, maybe thats not the only and also not the most helpful (transformative) way of framing it, right?

tbc — o.

Aileen Gibb
January 30, 2010

I’d like to go back to source and question our use of the word “leadership” itself. Unfortunately, I think we too easily consider this to be simply those people already in charge of our corporations and our government. What do we really mean when we use the word “leadership”. We can make trite comments like “leadership is in everyone” – again what does that mean? What does “a transformative leadership journey” really mean and what does it look like when it’s happening? Is our desire to “transform” from our current paradigms and contexts of leadership – or what is the new emergent form that will replace our vague and ungrounded concept of “leadership”?

Christine Bonney
February 20, 2010

Thanks Otto for the thought provoking paragraph …I had a deep response to the honesty of Malia’s posting. I think as we move toward “letting go and letting come” many people, systems, and organizations are getting caught between “ages” attempting to practise what is, I think, essentially post modern consciousness in a world whose systems are embedded in modern thought. A friend of mine refers to this challenge as living in “a change of ages rather than an age of change”. Scepticism and cynicism represent a chosen response to a perceived failed ideal. Understanding this can help us to choose optimism, faith, and patience even when it seems that despite our best efforts nothing ever changes

Benita Treanor
March 9, 2010

Otto I think your paragraph on Leadership is spot on and beautifully written. For many years I have been engaged in personal, social and political change. I have encouraged groups too own their own ‘local’ Theory on matters presenting them. I think people tend to be afraid of the wisdom of own thinking and power. The ability to at time stand alone by their own authenic self. I see this changing daily in the work I am engaged with and am privlidged to witness the joy when people connect to themselves in a different way, and begin the practice of influencing those around them.

Ralf Lippold
July 22, 2010

Otto – rain is pouring down and my memory goes back to 2002 when the flooding came over Dresden at night and more or less out of the blue.

My brain is getting a reset right now.

This brings me back to your initial question about “the eye of the needle”. The challenge will be to recognize that inner place from where we operate as leaders, to make the necessary shift happen.

The additional question will be: what are the conditions that make that view of inner place possible for leaders?

Best, Ralf

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