Authentic Presence: The Invisible Side of Leadership

We often forget our hunches, insights, or flashes of understanding in the daily scramble.  Trying to remember later? Forget it. That inspiring idea for a new initiative or thoughtful phrasing for critical feedback is gone.

Without valuable techniques for effectively engaging the less visible, and often invisible realms, we get lost in the mundane and our work lacks dimension, an authentic presence.  The gifts from the invisible realms look like gut hunches, inspirations, and perceptions. As many leaders discover, these gifts are an underutilized natural capacity of leadership with tremendous potential for saving time and effort as well as improving the quality of existence.   

I’ve distilled three features of the invisible side from decades of personal research that impact the ultimate usefulness of intuition:  one is the quality of presence we bring to our intuition-- are we mindful, awake and aware human beings?  The second is the forming of intention -- is the question being asked able to get us to the information we need?  The third is the context for action -- are we acting on our intuition within a context of healthy community with values and mission that personally matter?  

In 1989, Herman, a division manager in a multi-national firm asked me to develop an Advanced Program on Intuition.   Strengthening the participants’ Authentic Presence so that they acted on their intuition mindful of other people , real organizational constraints, and unforeseeable consequences proved essential.   We are all naturally intuitive. Some of us are more familiar with how to access and discern what and how to act.

Once this group of managers familiarized them selves with the approaches and pathways, they found it easy to move into the acceleration mode:  rapidly accessing information, symbols, imagery, sensations. 

Integrating the faster moving intuition with the cooler intellect and the vitality of emotions was sometimes a more difficult venture.  Working intuitively with each other was one way they stayed in contact with the organizational constraints and full range of possibilities. 

A simple technique referred to generally as Grounding  (or as they called it -- getting “into their bodies”) was identified as one of the most important learnings of the nine month program because by grounding they learned to be present in the here and now with what-is-so while accessing intuitive knowing to see beyond current constraints or mindsets.

Grounding kept them in relationship with the organization, their division and team. Intuitive insights were then able to be applied to solve real life problems and lessen long standing frustrations.

As with most of life, the clarity of our intention equals the clarity of the answer and especially in the intuitive realms.  Asking for insight with a particular solution in mind limits the response field.  Instead, this program explored how looking ahead to the final state can broaden the structure of our thoughts and help in mindfully Forming Intentions that result in responsive answers. 

When we ground, form intentions and engage a personally relevant Context for Action we begin to lead with authentic presence. This kind of leadership takes courage, an open heart, and the willingness to constantly learn and revise.  Over time, we might begin to feel like Wise Leaders.

Sometimes the roadblocks seem insurmountable when trying to integrate information from the intuitive realms with the denser intertwined systems of the physical world including our busy schedules and the lack of a culture that supports intuitive insight. Plus, the habitual patter of internal fears can seriously derail taking action even though the information we received intuitively and considered prudently feels right.

The task of acting on our intuitive insight gets more complex, the level of difficulty goes up when implementation involves or affects other people.  Without the benefit of a shared intuitive understanding, others seem slower to “get it” and recalcitrant in implementing what is “obviously” the right solution.  As the Advanced Intuition Program team discovered, the gut feeling of aha is hard to transmit.  Their intuitive insight was challenged and sometimes difficult to back up with rational logic within the available timeframe.

As we closed the program, we noted some critical questions that deserve future reflection:

  • What context can we create to encourage grounded intuition in a fast moving culture?

  • How can we support the kind of consciously designed and engaged self-preparation that makes a difference in the depth of understanding?

  • Can accessing intuition be both an individual and a shared activity?

  • What do we do when two people’s intuitions conflict?

The invisible realms hold power and possibility for wise leadership in these times. How we use them may well be a key to the nature of our work and home lives for generations to come.

NOTE - I first published my early work on the Invisible Side of Leadership with Joan Steffy in 1987 in Transforming Leadership, edited by John Adams. The Washington Post called this book a classic in the field, to be referred to again and again. Transforming Leadership is an extension of an earlier collection titled Transforming Work, 1984, acknowledging and exploring the crucial role of leadership in transformational change. I first published my 7-Stage Change Model in this early guide for organizational leaders who wished to implement the concepts of "vision," "alignment," "work spirit," and "purpose" in their organizations.