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Searching for the Soul of Leadership

Peter Danby feels that the wisdom of the past is as relevant to developing leadership as the contemporary subjects taught in business ...

By Peter Danby . 01 September 2008

Peter Danby feels that the wisdom of the past is as relevant to developing leadership as the contemporary subjects taught in business schools. He values stillness and contemplation as an approach to mastering leadership skills. And that’s exciting.
Searching for the Soul of LeadershipMore than ever, business managers have to cope with higher demands on their talents and time. They continually search for new techniques or tools to help them, but they have little time to draw breath, let alone reflect or plan. No wonder it’s so hard to embed any new work habits, even those that might help them be more productive. Too often, new lessons and insights are lost or fade quickly as the press of events sweeps them forward. There is an approach to work and to life that can help managers at all levels enhance their ability to inspire and lead others to greater levels of performance. It draws on timeless wisdom and encourages us to develop some of our most neglected and yet valuable qualities: stillness, silence and contemplation. I call that approach the 4th Space.

No Olympic athlete, even in the shortest sprint, would begin a race without spending time focusing on the challenge before him, steeped in deep contemplation. Performance is enhanced through those moments of stillness and reflection. Yet in a far more complex environment, the business manager rushes into each new day without pause for thought.

The idea of using a place of stillness to enhance performance is a simple concept, but it is underpinned by a philosophy of leadership and of life that draws on ancient wisdom as well as modern thinking. It can enhance physical and emotional well-being, sharpen the quality of thinking and decision making, and enable managers to tap into dimensions of themselves that will take them on the path to great leadership.


Seeking the source of mystery


Leadership is like beauty; we may find it impossible to define, but we know it when we see it. Despite the drive to measure and quantify leadership, the right application of the relevant qualities, behaviours and skills remains a source of mystery. A common theme among modern leadership writers is selfexpression. But if leadership begins with the development of authenticity and the expression of self, what is the self and how can one be more than that self? How does one develop not only the right skills, but also the courage and wisdom to apply them in the right place at the right time?

There are many psychometric instruments that measure aspects of our personality, but none will claim to describe every aspect of this thing we call self. So, we need a definition of self that can help enhance leadership performance and not limit or exclude possibilities. Business schools provide more than enough information on the intellectual dimensions of management; they acknowledge and work with emotional intelligence and, more and more, encourage physical well-being. These dimensions cannot be neglected: but the magic and mystery of great leadership does not come from the intellect, it is found in words like inspiration, charisma, intuition and presence. These dimensions are not reserved for the few but are part of the self in each of us, waiting to be used and developed. In developing the 4th Space, I have looked to Eastern philosophy as well as psychology to help answer my questions. Psychologists, as scientists, have given credibility to the study of certain aspects of our nature that were previously the domain of mystics or the priesthood. Those aspects may still be regarded with suspicion and scepticism in the business world, however.

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