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11 March, 2013

Weekend workshop forum held in Caux, Switzerland

The workshop the Arts of the Wise Leader
The workshop the Arts of the Wise Leader

by Ana de Montvert

Grace, dignity and humility are just three of the qualities with which the Australian historian of ideas and TEDx lecturer, Dr Mark Strom, provided a three-day exploration of wisdom and leadership to a group of 19 gathered in the idyllic setting of the Villa Maria in Caux, Switzerland.

The workshop on the Arts of the Wise Leader, held from 15 through 17 February 2013, was created and led by Mark drawing from his expertise in the history of Western thought, as well as his considerable experience in consulting and personally leading transformational change in companies and organizations.

Mark shared some rich, personal stories and transformative life experiences, such as how he became a member of a Maori council of elders in New Zealand. From these experiences and more, he offered the participants profound insights into history and philosophy, love and grace. One of the highlights for participants was looking afresh at their own life paths, deepening their understanding of the power of the stories that have shaped their ability to shine.

Mark put forth a distinctive perspective on wisdom: the ways of being and knowing by which we indwell and read the patterns of life discerningly, and the ways we bring this indwelling and insight to specific contexts with discernment, nuance, integrity and love. From this perspective, wisdom—and leadership—is about enabling others and the world to flourish. Practically, we learn to discern relationships, to become attentive to life, to engage with others, to deepen the humility and presence that sustain true dialogue, and much more.

Leading with wisdom calls us to acts of respect, dignity and kindness. It requires a genuine curiosity in others and a willingness to walk with them in finding the stories that carry their identity and their brilliance. Mark illustrated this point vividly through his account of his prolonged struggle to walk with his son Luke through his troubled adolescence.

Participants gained an understanding of the concept of ‘grounded questions’ by which we access the stories that reveal the insights necessary for deep change. Mark built this on a fascinating look into the caveat that Aristotle placed on logic: that it only illuminates ‘things that cannot be other than they are.’ In other words, things that do not change. But anything to do with people is about change. Far from implying anything negative about logic or analytics, Mark simply emphasized what happens when we act as though logic is sufficient for understanding people and other impacts upon the world. In short, we ask abstract questions that lead to contrived change built on our misplaced need for certainty. The grounded question, on the other hand, takes people to a deeper place in their lives.

Mark illustrated the problem and a better way forward with a case study focused on a CEO who was about to launch a ‘cultural change’ program. His strategy shifted when Mark asked a grounded question: of whom was the CEO proud? This led to stories full of insights and to the CEO's awakened awareness of needing to connect with and honor the people underpinning the true richness of the company. Coming up with grounded questions, though, is an art requiring us to learn to live with true attentiveness, and to be authentically present.

In challenging misplaced faith in logic and numbers, and expectations of certainty, the workshop highlighted the importance of recognizing context and of navigating often contradictory life patterns. As a celebration of the wisdom dwelling within human experience, the workshop highlighted what we have to gain by shifting away from the kinds of classical dualism that polarize head and heart, reason and emotion.

An unexpected treat was Dr Strom’s original and captivating rereading of the life and writings of the Apostle Paul as representing a major turning point in Western thought and as a little-recognized model for a more holistic and unifying view of life. Far from a narrow religious reading of Paul, Mark placed him within his social and intellectual context through contemporary literature and archaeology, even graffiti! When Paul wrote that people are equal regardless of gender, ethnicity and rank it was unprecedented in classical literature. It also represented a major turning point in the theory of knowledge by tying true knowing to love. Thus Paul wrote that achieving ‘the knowledge of all things’ (the goal of every classical philosopher) would be pointless without love.

Knowing is located in relating. So it is in moving towards the other that we come to know and even to be wise. Just like a mother and child know each other: the more they know the other, the more they know themselves. Relationship is our context for being and for knowing. It is from here that we can lead in ways that help others to name (ie truly and strongly identify) and live from their own brilliance. It is from here that we can bring to life the conversations in which we create new shared meaning.

One of the highlights was the opportunity for participants to revisit their own stories, examining the moments when they had felt authentically themselves. The learning was deepened by the extraordinary opportunity to share these stories while walking in pairs with fellow participants through the beautiful natural surroundings of Caux. In the simplicity of walking and listening, love moved beyond an ephemeral emotion to the disposition to bless: to move toward the other for their well-being. Here we grasped the root of leading wisely.

The organizers were grateful to the association Philosophy and Management (www.philosophie-management.com) in Brussels for having connected them with Mark Strom.

 

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