What’s gravity got to do with leadership?

Have you ever come across this question before….. if every animal on planet Earth was endowed with a human brain, which animal would be the slowest to find water? Humans I hear you say? Close, but not correct – we’d be second last! The answer is fish – fish don’t know what water is because they don’t know what life is like without it (unless you’re a jumping fish).

And like water is to fish, gravity is to we humans – that immutable constant invisible force that is imposing itself on us in every moment. And we don’t really sense it because it’s all we know – unless we’re one of the lucky few who’ve spent time as an astronaut and experienced life without it.

So what’s gravity got to do with leadership? Maybe a couple of things:

Firstly, we all know Einstein’s quote that ‘no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it’. You have to step beyond or outside the existing paradigm to gain new perspectives and uncover insights that would just not be possible to see from inside the problem. What a challenge this is for leaders – to hold a ‘frame’ that is larger than the myriad of urgent issues facing you every day that allows you to see how things connect, perhaps why they are happening and more importantly, where you can make the most valuable intervention.

The advancing body of work that views organisations as systems to better understand the dynamics at play within teams, between departments and across organisations provides this wider ‘frame’ to support leaders to make efficient assessments of the dynamics at play that are often hidden from view. Imagine the value, for example, of investing a day to understand what’s really undermining your $10M project. Organisational system dynamic workshops are providing incredible insight and leverage in understanding the underlying issues impacting critical commercial initiatives and bringing them back into ‘flow’.

Now, back to gravity….so how do we respond to the force of gravity (assuming we have choices)? There are basically two options – either exert energy to work against it or submit to it. One is active although in truth this can be either re-active or responsive – depending on whether I am simply pushing back or alternatively, attempting to use the force to my advantage (for example, as in some of the martial arts such as aikido). The other is passive. Submitting leads eventually to death and decay – there is no life, no impulse to push against to grow and develop.
The dynamic interplay between these two responses to gravity is critical for a leader to understand. When a leader is in flow there is a continual recalibration and interplay between these creative and passive forces. There is pushing against the reactive forces that would hold us back to empower teams to bring to life new opportunities. And then, there is the releasing, the relaxing and submitting to the forces of nourishment and replenishment, just like the breath – inhaling and releasing.

So often we see leaders who feel they must keep driving themselves and everyone around them – and the thought of taking the foot off the pedal would be paramount to submitting to weakness and failure. Or, we see leaders who are driven by reactive forces around them, submitting to the strongest forces without clear direction or purpose.

However, if you reflect on the outstanding leaders you’ve had the good fortune to work with, you’ll realise they probably had the gift of working with this interplay of driving and replenishing forces….like they were the astronaut up above reading the hidden dynamics forces, knowing instinctively when to push and when to let go.

Perhaps this is where some of the advancements in wellbeing have their place, whether it be that morning run or daily mindfulness practice that helps nourish our souls and widen our perspective.