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Defining the “Real Work” of Leaders

Every day we are confronted with news stories, which catalogue our collective failures to respond to what is happening to ourselves, to our communities, to our planet.

In last weeks Richard Dimbleby Lecture Christine Lagarde Director of the IMF outlined the causes of our current global economic crisis and inequalities. “The Francis Inquiry – One Year On”, released last week, reminded us of how easy it can be to lose sight of our basic care and compassion towards others as we go about our daily work. The recent fracking protests highlight the tension between sourcing cheaper fuel and safeguarding our planet.

Wherever we look it seems that we are going round in ever diminishing circles blinded by our own rhetoric and habitual ways of thinking, working, seeing and relating. But as Einstein is quoted as saying, “problems cannot be solved from the same level of thinking which created them; they cannot be changed without changing our thinking ”.

In his recent blog in the Huffington Post Otto Scharmer challenges our “collective sleepwalking”. This, he defines as our persistence in doing more of the same whilst we “sleepwalk” into our “civilisational crisis”. This crisis is where our modes of operating are actually producing results, which nobody wants. Take for example the outcome measures in the NHS or Police which many people feel are getting in the way of what really matters to patients or to local communities.

This “civilizational crisis” is defined as the pain and costs of the three disconnections of our time; the disconnections in our relationships with ourselves, with others and with nature. These are becoming a set of spiritual, social and ecological fault lines, which are defining our generation. As the wheel turns faster, we are failing to create the new thinking space for the many and varied courageous conversations, which are needed for us to discover new ways of thinking, relating and acting. Our duty of care to ourselves, to others and to the planet can be courageously and compassionately enacted. This is the leadership gap, which we need to fill.

Scharmer’s blog and new book (with Katrin Kaufer) calls for a “new beam of observation” to wake us up and shine a light on how we can lead ourselves out of our problems. For me this is a questioning of our preparedness to go on a journey of opening our minds and our hearts, which will enable us to truly tune in, stay attuned and act in the service of what is wanting to emerge. To recognize that the seeds of the future are already here in the present if we can only find the courage to pause and connect to all that is happening around us.

Fundamentally, this requires an awakening or re-awakening of a new consciousness if we are to move beyond more of the same. This is an invitation to us all to work on our own purpose and intention, which is the inner place deep inside ourselves from which we operate in the world. Because it is this place, which determines what and how we pay attention to what is happening around us; how we relate to the world; defines who we are being in the world; and shapes what we are able to help bring into being with others in the world. As Bill O’Brien, CEO of Hanover Insurance, is quoted as saying “The success of the intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervener”; and is according to Judy Brown, “the only place where we actually have any real leverage”! This is the work.

Doing this for ourselves and helping others in their own journey’s is now the real work of leaders. Future blogs will explore how this can be taken forward.


Brown, J. (2006) Reflective Practices of the Transformational Leader. Available from: http:

Einstein, A. (1946) cited in Calaprince, A. (2005) The New Quotable Einstein. New Jersey, Princeton University Press Lagarde, C. (2014) “A New Multilateralism for the 21st Century. Available from:

NHS England (2014) The Francis Inquiry – One Year On. Available from

Sharmer, O. (2014) Collective Mindfulness: The Leaders New Work. Available from:

Schamer,O. and Kaufer, K. (2013) Leading from the Emerging Future: From Ego-System to Eco- System Economies Applying Theory U to Transforming Business, Society and Self. San Francisco, Berret-Koelher Publishers, Inc.

Elaine Patterson

Elaine is an accredited Coaching Supervisor with the Coaching Supervision Academy whose passion is bringing our shared humanity into the heart of leadership and coaching practices.
Elaine can be contacted on email at: or via LinkedIn