Leadership isn’t just about knowledge, skills and the ability to inspire change and transformation. Increasingly it is also about worldviews or our visions of life. Worldviews are also a way of life, helping us understanding the beliefs values and principles that motivate us to certain kinds of action and behavior.
Our current worldviews are mostly framed through the lenses of politics and power, strategy and structure, human assets and development. But there is a fresh lens emerging, a narrative of aliveness that taps into the ancient wisdom of our mythic imagination. As this new narrative - which is rooted in nature, art and community - begins to inspire our thoughts and ideas, our world may be truly transformed.
This possibility was front of mind for me as a small group of us spent time in nature surrounded by the elemental beauty of the campus at the Banff centre in Western Canada.
“Take a walk on the land here and let it speak to you” our wilderness guide said. “As you walk, close your eyes and take a moment to just sink into this place. Love is one of the core aspects of the natural world - and love is the capacity to open up a space in which something else can exist autonomously in relationship to oneself.”
“We are not separate from this place at all,” he told us. “Instead we are an integral part with the pine trees, the grizzly bear, the raven and the rock.”
Then he invited us to continue walking barefoot in the cool moss among the tall pines high above the waters of Bow River surging over the rocks below. As we did this, he encouraged us to experience a personal relationship with place not in our familiar roles as accountants or engineers, but as visionaries, healers, teachers and guides.
I walked slowly, my eyes closed, my senses alert. The intimate experience of feeling my feet sink into soft ground is how we come to know the places around us in a new way. It is rare that we give ourselves the gift of time to allow nature to be not the backdrop but the foreground of our experience.
“We were always here but you did not see us,” the spirits said to Faust as he struggled to find the meaning of his life. This meaning was to be found not in books, as in the past, but in a shift in his worldview reborn through his experience of the natural world.
I have brought many business leaders into the natural environment where they can experience the power of wild places - places where they can see nature as a dynamic living system and reflect on the lenses through which they see their world.
During these sessions we ask: “what stories do we need to tell that will lead to greater awareness of the life of this place? And what stories can this place tell that may shape our own sense of who we are and how we lead?”
The invitation to share our stories brings the teller and listener into a resonant relationship with the grandeur of nature itself. Among the cliffs, waterfalls and forests - nature’s oldest and wisest teachers - we can feel both the vulnerability and reverence of standing at the threshold between known and unknown worlds.
Being in nature also introduces opportunities to balance action with stillness and contemplation. Nature’s wild places are the last refuge for a deep and profound silence that holds our attention without a purpose or an end goal in mind.
So the natural world acts as a portal for experiencing the sense of inclusivity and sacredness of life, seeing how it reconnects the heart, mind and soul of a community, inviting not only a conversation about our shared past but also contemplation about our future. And we are taught about our interdependence with a nature-based ecology, one that reconnects us to the spirit or ‘genius’ - the inner intelligence of a place - which in turn reconnects us to the innate genius and gifts and deeper humanity within ourselves.
What emerges through these experiences are encounters with a mythic worldview that is enabled through the arts, is ecologically focused and nature-based. It is also an indigenous way of seeing in which we view ourselves not as dominant, but an integral part of the circle of life.
Here the leader is the sage, the prophet, the story teller and place-maker, the one who sees the complex ecology of the whole and helps us reconnect with the regenerative power of the world through beauty, magic, poetry, music, festival and transformative celebration.
For many the legacy of the industrial age has been like a tsunami that has swept away the footings that kept us connected to the ancient wisdom and true nature of our mythic life. The voice of reason took precedence over the voice of reverence and the language of our ‘felt’ life together.
With the rise of the industrial economy we found ourselves in a world out of balance. Science quickly rose to dominance and the mythic life fell into disrepute. The resultant loss of languages, cultures, stories, landscapes, ancient gifts and wisdom have been but a few of the greatest tragedies of the loss of our mythic life together. The gift of this inner mystery of mythos cannot be retrieved when our worldview is only legitimized in the context of the rational, predictable and scientific.
As we re-imagine ourselves through the lens of a mythic worldview, we create space for our gifts and for evoking symbols of significance through rituals and ceremonies that help us see that all we achieve is being generated out of the intelligence - or genius - of the place itself.
As one participant pointed out towards the end of one of these sessions, the role of a leader is changing: from being managers enforcing compliance with policy and procedures, they have become strategists who educate, plan and execute. But now that too is changing. Increasingly, leaders are becoming ‘enchanters’ and stewards who evoke the aliveness in the other and help them see the familiar with fresh eyes.
By lifting the veil and revealing the wizard behind the curtain, we may restore to the world the mythic life and with this the grace of ekstasis - the stepping out from the norm and allowing life to live through us so that we may experience once again the ecstasy of our intimate connection to the enchantment of a more-than-human world.