Holistic Leadership

Holistic Leadership – Connecting Through the Interstices

Holistic LeadershipSome say holistic is something that comes from New Age, some kind of spiritual fluff that does not belong together with leadership. This is not correct. Others say that holistic is a modern trend that organizations who want to be in the forefront better adjust to. This is not correct either. Holistic is now a scientific way of studying complex systems that is very different from the analytic or reductionistic tradition that earlier was more of the norm.

What does holistic mean?

The word holistic comes from the Greek word holos meaning all, whole, entire. Holism is the idea that a unity of parts will become more than the sum of its parts. When the parts are close together in a system such as an organization, the whole impacts the parts so their functions could be altered. The whole and the parts reciprocally influence and determine each other so they merge their individual characters. The whole is in the parts and the parts are in the whole. For example, look at what happens when two people fall in love with each other. They immediately start to adjust to each other´s behaviors. In other places we could call this family culture or team spirit.

When using a holistic approach, a complex system such as an organization should be viewed as a coherent whole where the parts are best understood in relation to one another and to the whole.

Holistic Leadership

Using the holistic leadership approach contains viewing leadership as an integral component of the organizational system, a component that is best understood in relation to the other parts in the organization and to the whole of the organization. In this way leadership becomes a function that impacts the whole organization and is impacted by the whole organization.

When Genuine Contact Professionals talk about Holistic Leadership, we often mention that we look at leadership as an action that could be executed by anyone in the organization. This action when carried out by many people, will have a tremendous impact on how well the organization will handle change. Will it dive or thrive? The organization itself will also have a big impact on the leadership action. Is this action supported or blocked by the organization´s structure and culture? Will the organization be able to benefit by viewing leadership as an integral component that carries it forward or will it still look at leadership as something that is taken on by a few people who tries to assemble the jigsaw?

Holistic leadership is a component that will function in relation to all other components and to the whole organization. Creating a culture of leadership that allows for holistic leadership to be practiced throughout the organization means starting from the whole and then tending to the interstices in the organization. The interstices are that which connects the components, sometimes called the glue, the culture or the spirit of the organization. Let´s call it the organizational culture. Since the culture is what connects many of the other components, the impact of that culture on the other parts is important. Do we want it to align or support the parts for a common purpose? Do we want it to enhance or divert leadership in everyone?

These are questions that will need some conscious thinking. Senior leaders will need to decide what implementing a holistic leadership approach will mean for themselves and for the organization. Maybe it is already present so how could it be supported and grow and what will that mean. One of the most important questions of all might be – how will I as a senior leader be leading in a way so that others could lead and what impact will that have on me?

Read more!

Are you interested in learning more about the background and impact of holistic leadership and what it might require of you as an appointed leader? A starting point could be to read one of the books about the Genuine Contact Program and Holistic Leadership written by Birgitt Williams, the founder of the Genuine Contact Program and Eiwor Backelund Jacobsson, one of the first trainers who have followed Birgitt through the years. You can find them here: Culture of Leadership and Nourishing a Culture of Leadership


Leaders and leadership are a key to success

When an organization is going through a transformation process, it is to a large extent the leaders and the leadership that will determine if this change will be successful or not.  Leaders because they have great power to impact the organization by the way they are leading. Leadership, the approach, since it creates a culture that is an invisible glue that holds the organization together. Organizations that want their transformation process to become successful will need a culture of leadership that invites everyone to take leadership, not only those in leadership positions. This culture will be not only be needed in the transformation process but always, since change is not ending just because the process in the organization is over. The time is gone when it was possible to sustainably solve problems through reorganization. Today conditions are constantly changing. An organization needs to utilize their whole competence to navigate and find the golden nuggets in the always new sceneries.

Leaders have the power to support or counteract the transformation process in the organization through their way of leading. When they step into their leadership position and create a culture of leadership, they will set the standard for how well the organization will achieve its mission. I don´t say it is easy to exercise this power. There could be restrictions decided at other levels in the organization or in an environment on which the organization is dependent, that could make it difficult to create a larger area for action for the people in the organization. This is does not have to crucial. A culture of leadership will work as long as the boundaries are clear and so that everyone knows what restrictions they need to address. People will then use the space that is available within the restrictions that comes from for example legislation, business directives or budget.

My experience from many years of change work is that the leaders and their view of leadership often is crucial for how long-lasting a change will be. Most leaders encourage their people to learn new methods and approaches as a support to the organizational transformation. Many of them unfortunately choose to learn and develop themselves elsewhere, separately from the organization they are leading. This could make it impossible for them to see the wholeness and understand the foundation for new approaches used by their people. It has even happened that when the staff has started using new methods, leaders have closed the whole process and called their approach obscure. I don´t think that they consciously want to create the frustration and resistance that will be the outcome of their actions. Rather it is their old accustomed leadership behavior, their “default mode” that strikes when they are concerned.

Preconceptions that counteract change

There are a few preconceptions in the current leadership paradigm, that counteracts successful organizational transformations. One such fashion word is governance or steering, where the assumption leads the thoughts towards a driver, who by only slightly turning the steering wheel can have the whole organization drive in another direction. The concept of steering brings many control functions along, many different features, that a leader is expected to handle in a coordinated way, and by using them lead the organization toward its goal. When looked at from this perspective, a leader who does not have control could be regarded as unsuccessful. Then it is not that strange that leaders who have not participated in the development of their people and feel a lack of control, could become afraid of failure.

Making transformation successful

A leader who want the transformation process in their organization to be successful among other things has to think about these two things:

Change starts from within and if leaders want the transformation to become sustainable they can´t stay on the outside. They instead need to be a part of the change they want to see and they will make things easier for themselves when they participate in the development process together with their people.

Changing leadership approach is a process that in addition to knowledge, experience and practice need a supportive structure. When the demands are too high you will need an anchoring point to be able to not return to default mode. Regular short meetings where you can discuss approach and work methods could be an anchoring point. Those meetings allow both for course adjustments and the celebration of achievements.

Genuine Contact Mentoringcircles

Mentoring circles are an integrated and important part of the Genuine Contact program. We regularly create anchoring points, both online and locally for those who have chosen to work with this new extraordinary leadership paradigm. From my experience I know that when you choose an approach that is different from the current leadership philosophy with steering and control, it is easy that your own old ideas will show up and create a mess in stressed situations. Then you need a place where you can find yourself again and return to your chosen path.

There are many ways to look at the world

There are many ways to look at the world. What kind of glasses are  you using?

Many organizations are still using the same glasses that they got when they were founded. At that time their world might have looked like a mashine or an assembly line where you easily could exchange parts, meaning people, that did not work. If they still are using their old glasses their worldview will be the same despite that the world has changed. Maybe it is time to find a new pair?

A worldview, the glasses you use to look at the world, has a big impact on how decisions are made and how work is performed to reach organizational goals. If you think that the organization does not perform as well as it should, the first step might be to think about changing its glasses. A highly controlled organization without balance, could still achieve good results, but often at the cost of the health of its people. An organization that is attending to its healthy workclimate could often get better results since everyone could work with their full potential. This is all impacted by how the organization perceives the world.

It is quite simple to change the glasses and by that change the organizational climate. What is needed is time to reflect and decide and some simple tools. This is how we do it:

  1. Decide what we want and then begin to cleanse what needs to be removed and strengthen what works and should remain.
  2. Do a diagnosis as a baseline to measure success.
  3. Take one step at a time and continue to cleanse and create space, strenghten and balance.
  4. Do the diagnosis again after a year to evaluate and decide on next steps.

There are two ways to learn how to insert these simple routines in the organization. You could take our online workshops and then do the job in your organization. When you register for both at the same time, the first workshop is free of charge. You could also invite us to your organization. You will then do the first two steps while learning routines and tools for the continuing work.

Read more and register here: 

Path to Organizational Health and Balance

Health and Balance in Organizations