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Nicholas Janni: End of 2023 reflections - two paradigms

The current paradigm

Things are not going very well. As we arrive at the turn of the year, two major wars are creating devastating suffering. Each carry a daily threat of dangerous escalation while also wasting of billions of dollars on weaponry. Cop28 came and went, with ever growing cognitive dissonance. The comforting fantasy of ‘moving towards net zero’ seems to protect the majority of people from facing the difficult fact that it is almost certainly already far too late to avoid varying degrees of climate catastrophe, and that we, the human race, have basically not done remotely enough to mitigate this. On a more local level in the UK, 200,000 people are currently homeless, of whom 140,000 are children. The words ‘moral iniquity’ seem far too small to describe the heart-breaking fact that this could be happening in the world’s fifth largest economy. Many of the core economic, social and political systems of society are creaking badly. We are acting out what Daniel Schmactenberger calls a number of ‘self-terminating scenarios.’ I find it useful to think of humanity as one individual who is suffering from various addictions. In the case of an individual, we know that frequently, the only way that change/transformation happens is when the person hits rock bottom, a painful and often unavoidable process. Within that metaphor, we are collectively in the grip of some huge addictions, the biggest of which is the scientific materialist version of reality. Life as inorganic matter, devoid of consciousness. This is a highly functional model, producing incredible technology, medical interventions and so on. But as mystical traditions and now all the new sciences tell us, it is simply the wrong version. It is actually not at all how life really works at its most foundational levels. It is clearly going to take some time before this huge, game-changing in every sense shift, fully includes yet replaces the former as our core map in the mainstream. When we also include the addiction to consumerism, we see that everything currently leads us not just to external collapses but also to painfully barren internal landscapes. We meet these once a safe enough relational space makes it possible to temporarily pause the speed of Doing, Doing, Doing, and the medications of work, status, substances. I have witnessed this again and again recently in leadership development programmes. People being brave enough to turn towards these landscapes, often described initially as ‘dead’, ‘aimless’ or ‘loveless’, and to see how this ‘turning towards’ with warm, unconditional acceptance, can generate tremendous relief and healing, as well as powerful connections between people. Closely related is what I have elsewhere called the desecration of the Feminine, both as profound principle and more literal enactment. In corporate life, I meet many women in senior roles who have sacrificed, and therefore numbed deep parts of their innate nature and wisdom, in order to fit into the hyper Masculine, hyper rational, hyper left-brain cultures that still dominate the majority of organisations. A furnace of anger is often stored inside, unfelt because our culture has no place for this anger, this essential life-force. When I suggested recently to one woman that she may be carrying ‘volcanic anger’ inside her, she dissolved into deep grief and uttered the unforgettable words “I would rather volcanic anger than deadness…” Another, during an intense inner exploration in a 1:1 setting, came to the realisation that “I have been compromising myself my whole life”. These are privileged moments of incredibly precious intimacy, in which we experience unreservedly the maxim: “the truth will set you free”, even if at first it is very uncomfortable. How little ‘truth’ can be spoken in so much organisational culture. Why I wrote in my book Leader as Healer how urgent it is: “to break from the chronically imbalanced ways of thinking and functioning that have become the norm in so many corporate cultures, where doing eclipses being, and hyper-rational, analytical thinking relegates feeling, sensing, intuiting and the transpersonal to the outer fringes of life. I believe that the failure to correct this imbalance is severely detrimental not only to individual and organizational performance, but to our capacity for creating healthy, thriving futures.”

But in these dark times, perhaps the biggest disconnect, the most painful existential alienation of all, arises from how far we have distanced ourselves from a Sense of the Sacred, the title of the last chapter of Iain McGilchrist’s masterpiece The Matter with Things. The great legacy religious traditions are so mired in corruption, abuse of power, misogyny and often worse, while elsewhere they are denigrated to the tragic level of justifying the destruction of anyone who dares to have a different faith path. We have largely lost our most simple yet most profound sense of bowing, bowing in the face of the great Mystery, the transcendent dimension of life, the imminent numinosity of the ‘Divine’, of That which has been named by every single culture since records began. In the bigger picture of the evolutionary journey of humanity, we are, as many of the great wisdom traditions foresaw, in a dark and dangerous descent, during which we have really never had so much Power, and so little Wisdom. During the BBC World Business Report interview I was privileged to be invited to in September, I spoke of how we are ‘between two paradigms’ https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=shared&v=Qlal1h5Yxcw

A new paradigm emerging In many places in the world, in many different areas of life, a fast growing number of people appear to be waking up to an entirely different version of how we should be living, of what is the true inheritance and purpose of being human. We rarely hear about this in the mainstream media, but it is undoubtedly happening. CSR and the idea of the ‘triple bottom line’ have been around for a while in the corporate world. Although much of it has been exposed as ‘greenwashing’, there is a powerful if still small groundswell now of new thinking, new feeling, new behaving, based on the simple, stark truth that commercial interest can no longer be the first priority if we are to avoid ‘self-terminating scenarios’. In November I sat one evening with Eugene Woods in New York. Gene is a former client and now dear friend, writer of the foreword to my book. He is the Chief Executive Officer of Advocate Health, one of the largest non-profit healthcare systems in the US with 155,000 employees serving 6 million patients. On this occasion, he wanted to show a small group of us a remarkable film. As it was two hours long, he said he would fast forward though parts of it. But once it started, all of us were glued to every second. The film ‘Advocate Health Has Talent’ is based on the globally popular TV show. In this case, 120 entrants had been whittled down to 13 finalists. The show is brilliantly hosted and the three judges are well-known celebrity figures. Many of the actual performances are jaw-droppingly good, yet I was more profoundly touched and inspired by the interviews conducted with each finalist before we saw their performance. Oncologists, nurses, physiotherapists, lab technicians, music therapists, finance officers, delivery drivers…each and every one spoke about their work with qualities of love, devotion, joy and service far beyond anything I have ever seen. When the film finished, I said: “Gene, this is the new paradigm…this is the basis of how every organisational culture could/should be - why shouldn’t every bank or every law firm for instance be rooted in this paradigm?” Have a look for yourselves. https://youtu.be/iIhVa5SGruo.

In recent months, some of my colleagues at Matrix Development have been collecting many examples of this new paradigm. It may be a small percentage of the total, but it is unquestionably growing in size and strength. It has to if humanity has any kind of viable future. Our whole concept of Purpose has to massively expand. Its pillars are almost the exact opposite of current mindsets. While so much of the current paradigm is founded on Taking, on inner scarcity, on head dominating heart, on disconnection from self and others, transactional relationships, greed and self-interest, and on lack of meaning and purpose, the new paradigm is founded on Giving, on heart, on connection to self and others, an experience of inner abundance, and contribution as the source of lasting joy, satisfaction, and a meaningful life worth living. Within this there is a foundational and completely natural connection to a purpose far beyond self-interest. In fact, Gene told me that many of their meetings begin with one person recounting an experience of their vision and values in action. And because an open heart is so central to their experience, there is a natural and simple sense of the interconnectedness of all life – the interconnectedness repeatedly demonstrated by all the new science, and spoken of by mystics throughout the ages. In his recently published book - Health, Hope and Healing for All, (the Advocate vision statement) - the levels of contribution escalate remarkably to the regeneration of whole parts of cities within their reach.

This is the work of Leader as Healer. This is the work of Heart, of living a life of connectedness. Many of the leaders I work with initiate the simple practice of starting meetings with one or two minutes silence. Why? Because the subsequent meeting has a much higher level of Presence and dialogue. Others start meetings with a short ‘check-in’ – how is each person really feeling. Really, not “I’m fine”. Why? Because they have understood that no emotions are ‘negative’ or ‘positive’, that no emotions need fixing or changing, and that when people are allowed to be authentic, and are simply met and received in their authenticity, great connection and energy ensue, emotions naturally move and change, because that is how life works when we stop trying to over control it, and meetings have an entirely different value.

We are living in extraordinary times. Humanity has been through many challenging periods, but we have never had so much destructive possibilities available to us, as well as so much new ancient Wisdom at our fingertips. In the final words of my book: “Yesterday’s leaders were masters of incremental change and gradual shift, and were selected and rewarded for their powers of profit-maximization. Today’s leaders must possess potent powers for logic, reason, discernment and strategic forecasting, yet must also be empathic and therefore embodied; grounded and therefore intuitive; present and therefore awake. They must be skilled in mindfulness and deep listening; present and receptive to higher levels of insight and innovation; able to inspire authentic engagement and collaboration; and possess a clear and wholehearted sense of service, mission, and purpose. They are called upon to restore coherence where there is fragmentation and unity where there is division. They must be both intentional and surrendered, able to embrace the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of our time, so as to become agents through which radical disruption transmutes into radical opportunity, and planetary crisis into global transformation. If we are to meet the systemic challenges and ecological crises of our time, if we are to enable our organizations to both thrive and contribute to society, our emotional, ethical and spiritual selves must also rise and grow. New and higher leadership capacities are possible and available, and are more urgently needed than ever."

So, as this year ends, with the high possibility of even more instability and turmoil in 2024, my prayer is that all of who feel called, stand even more strongly, with deep heart and uncompromising clarity, for what is birthing at this terribly challenging time. That we stand both lovingly and fiercely against the devastating toxicity and disconnection we have collectively fallen into. That we support each other in our endeavours, for none of us can possibly stand alone any more, as we call in and bow to the return of the Feminine, the Mother and the next turn of human evolution in which right and left brain, head, heart, mind, body and spirit move into higher cohesion and unity, bathed in the sweetest whisper of the eternal Sacred.

December 2023



5 min