Kathia Castro Laszlo
For the last 20 years, my work has been focused on developing individual and collective capacities for social change. Systems and complexity thinking have been the theoretical foundation for my work on evolutionary learning communities (Laszlo, 2000) and evolutionary leadership (Laszlo, 2012). In my practice, I began to notice that the ability of a group to actualize their vision was co-related to their level of self-awareness and their commitment to personal and professional development. A humanistic orientation towards developing human potential has been present in my work and authenticity and integrity have been two dimensions that I have considered essential. I have become keenly interested in the impact of these two dimensions of effective leadership (Anderson & Adams, 2016) that creates the conditions for ethical, collaborative, and innovative cultures with greater capacity to respond to complex challenges.
“Life stories of leaders have been used to study leadership in the past” (Sankaran, 2011, p. 2). In this chapter I will reflect on my life story using a gender and cultural lens as well as an evolutionary leadership perspective. In the last 5 years, gender and culture have become more present lenses in my work and inquiry. The fact that I am a Mexican woman gives me a unique perspective and has a lot to do with the ways in which I have been engaged in my work. I have learned to appreciate my natural orientation toward caring relationships, my undeniable intuitive sense, my creativity, and my comfort with ambiguity. In an increasingly VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world, these traits are becoming more valuable and necessary.
Reflecting on my work and life is an action inquiry itself: using my personal and professional experience to make meaning that supports my own leadership development and may inspire, guide or provoke similar inquiries in others. “Action researchers are, relative to conventional social scientists, more autobiopgraphical in their expression (we call it reflexive). Because we acknowledge that all claims to knowledge are shaped by interests (consider that knowledge claims are never neutral), what may seem like autobiographical self-indulgence is offered to help contextualize claims, create transparency and also to anchor ownership of expression that can otherwise masquerade as worryingly disembodied and neutral.” (Bradbury Huang, 2010, p. 95).
According to George (2003), authentic leaders are aware of their purpose, practice their values, follow their heart, establish meaningful relationships, and demonstrate self-discipline. Servant leaders are authentic leaders who have an orientation toward serving, developing, and empowering others motivated by love (Matteson & Irvin, in Sankaran, 2011). And spiritual leaders are servant leaders who respond to a higher calling to make a difference and live a meaningful life, fueled by altruistic love and a sense of belonging (Fry in Sankaran, 2011). Spiritual leadership is not always associated with religious perspectives but with a kind of leadership that calls for a fuller expression of our humanity through self-awareness, wisdom, courage, empathy, integrity, humility, and interconnectedness (Hicks in Sankaran, 2011). I resonate with this progression from authentic to servant to spiritual leader as it speaks to a ripening and deepening in one’s humanity. Sankaran also brings into his exploration relational leadership. Relational leadership acknowledges the interdependence and mutual influence of leaders and followers, and sees leadership as the emerging coordination and change resulting from social interaction (Uhl-Bien in Sankaran, 2011). These theories of leadership delineate leadership values, attitudes and behaviors aligned with the development of evolutionary leaders.
From an evolutionary leadership perspective, I see the relationship between leaders and followers as overlapping and interconnected. Regardless of position or authority, in today’s complex world we are all called to leadership. We are all human beings in the process of assuming our responsibility to make positive contributions including the full spectrum of possibilities from the simple daily choices we make in our personal lives to professional roles and leadership actions we intentionally undertake to influence change. Parker Palmer (2000) expressed eloquently this relational view of leadership:
‘Leadership’ is a concept we often resist. It seems immodest, even self-aggrandizing, to think of ourselves as leaders. But if it is true that we are made for community, then leadership is everyone’s vocation, and it can be an evasion to insist that it is not. When we live in the close-knit ecosystem called community, everyone follows and everyone leads.
The relational view of leadership creates a theoretical container that recognizes the complex human dynamics of that emerge from the interaction of the thinking, feeling, doing, and being of leaders and calls for the development of an expanded sense of self and influence by integrating the unfolding of the authentic self with the development of community wellbeing, higher purpose, and meaning. This perspective is resonant with my view of evolutionary leadership:
The idea that ‘everyone follows and everyone leads’ is powerful because it captures the understanding that we are co-producers of our social realities. It reflects the systemic nature of human relations: fluid, dynamic, reciprocal. Leadership is not static. Evolutionary leadership is an ever-changing flux of interconnections that seek to intentionally create the conditions for the emergence of a better future – ‘for the good of the whole.’ (Laszlo, 2012, p. 102).
We know that leadership effectiveness (our ability to set a direction, engage people, execute and foster relations that sustain desirable results) requires core competencies – what Anderson & Adams (2016) call the “outer game” – as well as the cultivation of our consciousness – the “inner game” of increased awareness about the values, beliefs and assumptions that shape our behaviors. From an evolutionary leadership perspective (Laszlo, 2012), the inner game is a combination of the “mind-set” of an evolutionary and systemic view of the world and a “heart-set” of empathy, compassion, active listening and intuition. From this consciousness, a “skill-set” that enables creative collaboration and design for complexity is possible.
From Different to Human
We all share one thing in common: we are human. Such a simple and obvious fact, and yet, so easily forgotten. We get distracted by our differences: our skin colors, religions, languages, cultures, gender. But like the rainbow, all the colors come from the same light. My main colors are woman and Mexican. Those are the two that are fiercely obvious, although there are other hues that come from multiple experiences in diverse contexts that continue to be blended into the fabric of my life. They tint my perspective and make me unique, something I have learned to appreciate and celebrate.
Cultural and gender diversity brings strength by generating variety and resiliency in an integral view of human and social development. I believe that there is much need for dialogue and learning to truly embrace diversity and enable the innovative potential within organizations and institutions across the world.
Honoring diversity involves letting go of any stereotypes and preconceptions about being normal, successful, smart, beautiful, or any other culturally-imposed expectation. Diversity is a marker of healthy ecosystems. Our human diversity means that we are different and unique, and yet, paradoxically, we are one. We believed in the illusion of separation and now we have to bring together the fragments. Our disconnection shows up in so many ways: a sense of isolation and despair, overconsumption, exploitation of nature, oppression of women and children, institutionalized discrimination and violence. The fact that I am a female Latina, a “minority,” could have been a constitutional disadvantage. But in my case, it has been the opposite. I have been blessed. Instead of being given less opportunities because I was a girl, I was nurtured by a loving family who encourage me to grow and dream big. Because of my gender and my ethnicity, I had access to educational opportunities that opened doors for my continuous expansion and the expression of my unique perspective. Maybe I’m an exception to the rule that most Hispanic women don’t have equal opportunity, and sometimes don’t even have a voice in their own households. My life experience itself is a proof that some cultural rebalancing has begun. As Bertrand Russell said, it is time to remember our humanity and forget the rest.
My Mexican culture and Catholic upbringing implanted beliefs and assumptions in my consciousness about women’s role in society: women are meant to be wives and mothers above everything else. Loving and caring for others before and above oneself is expected. Love is self- sacrifice. My upbringing also implanted a profuse list of girly clichés, from the supremacy of pink to very specific lists of dos and don’ts, cans and can’ts for women.
My early adulthood was an interesting combination of both fulfilling the cultural expectations for a Mexican woman and breaking some of those patterns: I became a wife and mother, and at the same time I earned a Ph.D. and engaged in international work; as a married woman, I passed from being protected by my parents to be protected by my husband; and yet my marriage was a multicultural synthesis that didn’t match my cultural mold.
One of my active explorations is the relationship between leadership and spirituality. My view of spirituality is beyond institutionalized religion and it is respectful and inclusive of the many ways in which humans find meaning and purpose in life and a connection and reverence to something larger than themselves. I am interested in exploring the relationship between authentic leadership and higher purpose, as the commitment to service usually is related to a desire to connect to something larger than ourselves. Anderson and Adams (2016) introduce six practices for transforming one’s consciousness (discerning purpose, clarifying vision, recognizing doubts and fears, engage in authentic courageous dialogue, develop intuition, and think systemically) and they call these interconnected practices a “spiritual boot camp for leaders.” Undoubtedly, my interest in the mind-set and heart-set of leadership have been part of my spiritual inquiry.
My spirituality is a synthesis of life experiences and intentional explorations filtered through my bias and proclivities. The result is the integration of diverse practices from many cultural traditions that I find meaningful and helpful in keeping me grounded and open to listen with all my being. My personal spiritual evolution can be characterized in three phases: religious, agnostic, and post-religious or spiritual. As an adolescent, I was a fervent Catholic. I had the fleeting thought of becoming a nun – a life choice that never received full consideration because I fell in love. At twenty-two, I met the man who became my professional partner, husband, and the father of my daughter. Because of his international and multicultural background and our experiences beyond my native Mexico, I graduated to an agnostic stage in which God became a questionable concept. This was a very intellectual stage of my life, when I got my PhD, and forged the foundation of my work as a scholar-practitioner. However, my work has always been values driven, future oriented, and humanistic. It was the dissolution of my marriage when I turned forty that created the crack in my consciousness. I experienced the dark night of my soul, and had some mystical experiences that helped me see more of who I am (and who I am becoming) as well as the path forward. It was at that point of complete surrender when there was a shift in my perception from me being the one who makes things happen to me being an instrument of a larger, more powerful and mysterious divine will.
Today, after decades from my formative years in Mexico, and with full awareness of the conditioning of my Mexican upbringing, I have come to accept that I am deeply relational, wired for assuming a nurturing and caring role. If gender is a continuum, I’m thoroughly rooted on the feminine side of it. But I have embraced the personal work that is required to bring more balance to my internal masculine and feminine energy. The book Goddesses in Everywoman (Bolen, 1985) was instrumental in this process. Bolen created what she calls a binocular vision of the psychology of women by integrating feminist perspectives and Jungian archetypal psychology thus revealing the many ways of being a woman. Her archetypal language resonated with my own systems thinking perspective. Womanhood is a spectrum; humanity is a spectrum.
The desire and struggle to attain equality is becoming more present in many women across nations and cultures. There are varying degrees of progress and we have much to learn and be grateful for from the pioneer feminists who raised awareness and fought for their human rights. As part of this movement, some women had to learn to embody a more masculine leadership style to be accepted and included in a masculine dominated world. I celebrate their courage and strength. And now, it is time to welcome and integrate an authentic feminine leadership that will bring much needed balance and create new possibilities. The pendulum has swung from oppression to rebellion and it is now time to bring it into a dynamic balance in which both men and women, masculine and feminine attributes, can be valued and appreciated. This is consonant with Riane Eisler’s work on partnership (1988, 2007). My insight that feminine leadership is needed today emerged in an unexpected, organic way. Leadership was never a field that I intentionally sought. Rather, my professional experiences provided me with opportunities to reflect and notice that something was missing in the organizations and communities where I was working; something that was like second-nature to me: a leadership style that was vulnerable, collaborative, nurturing, and creative.
For me, leadership is the practice of being more human, more conscious, and more responsible of my choices and their impact. We are becoming increasingly aware of our interconnectedness and interdependency. We live in a complex network of relationships in which we are all leaders and followers, affecting each other, affecting the planet, affecting future generations – even if we are not thinking about those impacts. My notion of leadership is not limited to formal authority or structural power. I believe that everyone has power to shape their life. I believe that if we are alive, we are called to leadership, because we must learn to lead a conscious life, because everybody’s contribution is necessary to deal with the socio-ecological mess we created, because the world is yearning for love and wisdom.
Wisdom work is what Joanna Macy calls “the work that reconnects” (Macy & Brown, 1998). It is the work that is intimately connected to our soul’s purpose. It is the work that supports our personal evolution and brings forth the unique and interrelated contributions that the world needs at this time of great global transition.
I see myself as a voice for the reintegration of the feminine into our global culture. To bring back our attention to the primacy of relationships and care. To show that creativity, and playfulness and the cultivation of beauty are essential aspects in our attempts to transform and regenerate organizations and cultures. To reconnect to nature and her cycles, to love and rejoice in our bodies, to take time to listen and reflect. To be an example of a woman that is comfortable with being different, or simply, remarkably human.
Thinking, Doing, Feeling, Being
Evolutionary leadership is evolving as a leader and evolving leadership. The first is an expansion of personal leadership capacity, moving through stages of consciousness development to become a more caring, compassionate, integral human being through inquiring within oneself. The second is an expansion of the scope of leadership, increasing the sphere of influence, from more narrow individual or organizational goals to more inclusive and global views of responsibility and impact that takes place through inquiring systemically into the increasing complexity and interconnectedness of social, economic, political, and ecological realities.
Another way of talking of the mind-set, skill-set, and heart-set of evolutionary leadership is to look at the integration of thinking, doing, feeling and being that it calls forth. The thinking is systemic, holistic, inclusive and expansive. It is the kind of thinking that embraces paradoxes and is comfortable with ambiguity. It is analytic and creative; it is methodical and nonlinear. The doing reflects integrity of word and deed. It is the practice of the values, ideas, aspirations. It includes dialogue, collaboration, and design that reflects eco-systemic understanding. Feeling is related to emotional intelligence, the capacity to empathize, connect with others, and care. It is honoring intuition, listening beyond words, seeking beauty and justice, acting from love. Being emanates from our consciousness, it is our embodied awareness, the integrity expressed through our presence and resulting from the alignment of our thoughts, emotions and actions.
Systems being involves embodying a new consciousness, an expanded sense of self…it involves empathy and love for the greater human family and for all our relationships – plants and animals, earth and sky, ancestors and descendants…. This is the wisdom of many indigenous cultures around the world, this is part of the heritage that we have forgotten and we are in the process of recovering (Laszlo, 2012, p. 101).
As our understanding of leadership evolves and expands, the emotional and spiritual dimensions, the systems feeling and being, will receive more attention. In Western societies, where masculine ways are dominant, the value of thinking and doing as part of leadership competencies is unquestionable. Qualifying that thinking and doing from a systems perspective is becoming less controversial and, gladly, widely accepted. Embracing the feeling and being aspects of our humanity feels more challenging. They are feminine qualities, valued in our personal and familial environments, but almost threatening in professional arenas. In our Western and capitalist view of the world “we have a long and crippling legacy of believing in the power of the external world much more deeply than we believe in the power of the internal world” (Palmer, 1994, p. 22). However,
“Consciousness precedes being, and not the other way around…. For this reason, the salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness, and in human responsibility. Without a human revolution in the sphere of human consciousness, nothing will change for the better in the sphere of our being as humans, and the catastrophe toward this world is headed – be it ecological, social, demographic or a general breakdown of civilization – will be unavoidable” (Havel in Palmer, 1994, p. 21).
Havel’s words are a remarkable affirmation of the crucial link between leadership and spirituality. Palmer (1994) reminds us that the wisdom of the world’s spiritual traditions resides in their understanding of our capacity to co-create reality through a complex interaction of the material world “out there” and the spirit within us. In fact, spiritual traditions are about penetrating the illusions of external “reality” and to name its underlying truth so that we may better understand how we relate to it (p. 23).
Feeling and being, and the inclusion of consciousness and spirituality into a more holistic and evolving understanding of leadership, create fertile ground for scholarly and practical inquiry into wholeness and wisdom work.
I am a scholar practitioner. I am fascinated by theories and frameworks and have always had an intellectual desire to understand and connect complex ideas that support my meaning making. However, the ultimate purpose of my intellectual curiosity is practical: I am seeking to make sense of my life and of the complexity in the human systems in which I work, learn, play, and live in order to facilitate healing and transformation. Some of the theoretical frameworks that inform my work include systems thinking, in particular soft, critical and emancipatory systems perspectives (e.g., Checkland, 1993; Jackson, 1991; Ulrich, 1983; Flood, 1995); complexity and evolutionary theory (e.g., Laszlo, 2004; Maturana, 2002; Heron & Reason, 1997), transformation, learning and adult development (e.g., Mezirow, 2000; Metzner, 1998; Grof, 1988; Kegan, 1980; Freire, 1996, Campbell, 2008), participatory decision making and collective wisdom approaches (e.g., Macy & Brown, 1998; Owen, 2008, Brown, 2005), developmental perspectives of leadership (e.g., Torbert, 2004; Rooke & Torbert, 2005; Merry, 2009; Collins, 2001; Anderson & Adams, 2016), consciousness studies (e.g., Laszlo, 2016; Dalai Lama, 2006; Goswami, 1995), creativity and innovation (e.g., Cameron, 2002; Csikszentmihalyi, 2013; Kelly, 2001) and sustainability and social entrepreneurship (United Nations, 2017; McDonough & Braungart, 2013; Sanford, 2011, 2014; Mulgan, 2007). Some of the methodological approaches that inform my practice include action research (Burns, 2007; Laszlo & Schulz, 2017), social systems design (Banathy, 1996), design thinking (Brown, 2009), and theory U (Scharmer, 2009).
My formal education spanned the fields of business, education (learning, facilitation, cognitive development) and educational redesign, and systems science and social change. My professional practice has allowed me to work in the fields of sustainable business, organizational transformation, leadership development, and social innovation. I work in academia, teaching graduate school, and in organizational settings as facilitator, consultant and executive coach. I am a certified coach in the Leadership Circle Profile (www.leadershipcircle.com) and my consulting practice, Magenta Wisdom (www.magentawisdom.net), is focused on designing and facilitating transformative interventions for organizational renewal and social impact.
My academic work has been rooted in systems sciences. In the early 50s, systems science emerged as a reaction and response to reductionism, to a way of doing science that kept pursuing objectivity and pure knowledge, focusing on parts, out of context, and without considering the ethical implications. Systems thinking is an attempt to unify science, to create a common language that can cross disciplinary boundaries, and a form of inquiry that embraces complexity, uncertainty, ambiguity, and change. Systems science is about wholeness and integration.
My career path has not been conventional. Even before the prevalence of flexible and distributed ways of working enabled by technology, I have always had a portfolio of activities that didn’t match conventional jobs. I was not designed to sit in an office from nine to five. Only once have I had that kind of a job (one of my first jobs, indeed) and it lasted three months. I need much more stimulation: Continuous learning, new people, new places, projects that challenge me, and above all, meaning and a sense that I’m contributing to something ethically good. I am a meaning-seeking person, someone with more questions than answers, someone with a capacity to generate abundant ideas, and with a big desire to test some of them in practice.
I have been helping people to be more authentic, to find their purpose, to develop their capacities to say yes to work that is aligned with their being, and to design learning experiences and structures that support social transformation. One day, in a professional networking event I surprised myself by describing my work as social healing. Hearing these words out loud launched me into an exploration of what it means to be a healer at the emotional, interpersonal, and cultural levels.
I went through five years when my life was falling apart and my identity, my relationships, and my work were being reconfigured. I was experiencing the “mush” of a disintegrating caterpillar preparing to become a butterfly and I was fully immersed in reimagining my identity in the world. When the word “healer” came up, it produced confusion and anxiety. After 15 years of working to become an educator, consultant, coach… did becoming a healer mean starting over? I was overwhelmed and fearful. But there was a message embedded in my experiences that helped me realize that there is more to healing than a narrow definition related to physical illness. The connecting thread that run through my life story and through the projects that were coming into my life helped me recognize the importance of personal work (i.e., psycho-spiritual and emotional healing). It was emotional and social healing what had already showed up in my life. I found very meaningful that healing and health share the same etymological root with wholeness and holiness. Healing, as the process of making something whole again, of recognizing its intrinsic value and sacredness, was something that I could wholeheartedly embrace.
Through my studies of systems thinking, I learned that knowledge —our capacity to answer “what” and “how” questions—is not enough to understand and deal with complexity. We must also ask “why.” Why questions are connected to understanding and wisdom, and wisdom is a form of understanding that includes love, care and empathy. Why questions require the integration of values and ethical perspectives. Systems thinking is a way of understanding interconnectedness and wholeness, and what began as an intellectual and professional exploration has become the fertile ground for integrating the fullness of my experience and being. In the quest for a more holistic understanding, embracing not only rationality but also emotions, intuition and creativity is essential. I see my work contributing to wholeness through bringing back dimensions of our humanity that have been forgotten, undervalued, ignored, neglected, or excluded. This wholeness involves a reconciliation between intuition and rationality, art and science, and feminine and masculine ways of knowing and doing. It involves the integration of head, heart and hands in all our endeavors. It is remembering that we belong to the earth and to each other. It is remembering that everything is sacred. Re-membering as re-connecting.
The meaning of having a PhD was redefined through this commitment to healing and wholeness. My appreciation of philosophy, the love of wisdom, is more than an intellectual pursuit. I have come to embrace that my work is about love and wisdom. I seek to elevate intuition and emotional intelligence to the same level of relevance as logic and rationality. Part of the mystery of the way my life is unfolding is the amazing juxtaposition of cultural and educational experiences as well as scientific and spiritual perspectives that literally have given me the opportunity to reconcile opposites as I inquiry into wholeness. Wisdom, a kind of understanding that includes love, requires the integration of our left and right brain, the bridging of mind and heart. My action research and design work includes and goes beyond science, since I want to integrate the whole of the human experience with its many ways of knowing. This is my definition of transdisciplinarity.
In recent years, my work as a practitioner has taken the shape of experiential workshops, innovation labs, women’s gatherings, life and executive coaching, and design of social enterprises. My creative practices—journaling, collages, drawing mandalas, rituals—are moving from private explorations to tools I share with others through my teaching, facilitation, consulting and coaching. I see my work as evolutionary experiments to learn what it takes to forge the deep collaborations that will truly heal our culture and enable a partnership society (Eisler, 1988). I enjoy blurring boundaries and seek to include the full spectrum of whatever continuums I can perceive: internal-external, rational-creative, personal-professional, abstract-embodied, serious-playful, visionary-practical. We tend to function on one side of these polarities. Institutions like business or education are resistant to including the other side of these apparent opposites. It is important to become aware of the ways in which we become accomplices of the dysfunctional incompleteness of the ways we work, learn and live. It is time to intentionally shift toward greater inclusivity and bring the full spectrum of what is, the full range of knowing and expressing that we humans are capable of, to learn to work with the tensions that these contrasts bring, and by doing so, create the conditions for emergence of new social systems.
Many of my professional explorations have been related to the design of new learning systems, either as formal educational institutions or as alternative learning offerings that, for instance, reintegrate rites of passage into learning processes. Our modern culture and educational systems are mostly designed to help individuals take on a predefined role and fit into the structures and norms of society as they exist today. But today’s society is a sick society (i.e., not whole, incomplete) which allows for selfish and unethical behaviors, lacking of compassion to care for humanity and life on this exquisite planet. We need experiences that help us wake up to our innate power to create just, sustainable and thriving systems, and I believe that this innate power is ignited by the clarity of our soul’s purpose and our sense of interconnectedness. Many indigenous cultures have initiatory rituals designed specifically to help their people explore their unique potential and the ways they are meant to contribute to their community. These ways usually entail journeying beyond the status quo of their existence to break away from established patterns and come to a new understanding of self, the world, and our place in it.
Evolutionary leadership and social impact
I am interested in exploring the correlation between authentic leadership, adult development, and the readiness to move from egoistic to ecosystemic view of the world (Scharmer & Kaufner, 2013). We are coming out of a stage in human evolution characterized by a deep disconnection in all aspects of our human existence. C. Otto Scharmer’s question “Isn’t there a way to break the patterns of the past and tune into our highest future possibility—and begin to operate from that place to begin to operate from that place?” recognizes the importance of both healing the past and connecting to the potential present within each of us.
Riane Eisler (1988) has identified the larger and more systemic pattern of social organization within which disconnection and oppression are institutionalized. She calls it the dominator model of social organization which is characterized by a hierarchy of power, authoritarian top-down control in both private and public spheres of life, and the subordination of women with the consequent devaluation of feminine qualities such as caring, emotional expression, receptivity, nonviolence, intuition and creativity, to mention some. Dominator societies are capitalist and socialist, Eastern and Western, religious and secular, industrialized and developing, modern and ancient. In other words, the dominator model of social organization, with its repressive, unjust and violent traits, is pervasive across the world regardless of time and culture. This fact could mislead us to believe that domination is part of human nature. However, Eisler’s research goes deeper and transcends these old categories to re-examine social systems from a systemic and relational perspective. She considers a larger, more complete picture: the whole of humanity with both its male and female halves, the whole of our lives (not only politics and economics but also intimate, family and community relations), and the whole of history (including the thousands of years we call pre-history). From this macro-historic and socio-cultural analysis, Eisler uncovers that humanity has also been able to create partnership societies, which are peaceful, egalitarian and caring forms of social organization.
The transformation of dominator societies into partnership societies involves a rebalancing of power. The healing of the world calls for the reintegration of feminine spirit into the fabric of life. The foundation of feminine spirit “is that it sustains everything, it weaves things together, it maintains harmony, it comes with intuition. Feminine spirit allows a way to be oneself without having to assert oneself. It affirms life, recognizes and sees the value in individuals” (Sobonfu Somé in Hart, 2003, p. 236). And although this vision is beautiful and compelling, the task at hand is daunting.
In previous evolutionary stages, humans held the belief that we are all One. Our scientific and industrial capacities gave us the power to dominate nature and to fully inhabit the illusion of our superiority and separation from the rest of the natural world. It is in the last decades that new scientific knowledge is helping us understand (again – since our ancestors clearly understood) that the universe is intricately interconnected. Slowly, this scientific knowledge, which beautifully converges with the perennial teachings of many spiritual traditions, is starting to permeate our consciousness in ways that may start to impact not only our thinking, but also our feeling, doing, and being. We are just starting to awaken to the power of our consciousness.
As I was reflecting on the ways I have come to make choices for what I would consider my wisdom work, I identified three spheres of intervention that I focus on. The first is connected to personal development and psycho-spiritual and emotional healing at the individual level. This sphere is about lifelong learning and developing the possible human in each one of us. It requires inquiry and exploration about the ways we have responded to our life experiences and taking ownership of our choices. It involves embracing our light and shadow, developing our authentic self, and clarifying our purpose. From the work in this sphere, our leadership capacities and roles emerge. We become ready, willing and eager to engage with others, to collaborate, to co-design, to assume responsibility in the healing of the world. This second sphere is all about deep and authentic collaboration and the ability to create synergy. It is about learning to bring our genius forward but in humble ways. It is about being willing to share our dreams and fears, and to let go of our personal agendas in the service of a larger emergent possibility. The second sphere is about recognizing that we need each other, that only together we can address the complexity of the socio-ecological problems we face, and that it will take all of us to create a new world. The third sphere is what I call sacred entrepreneurship. It is the consolidation of the second sphere, the commitment of a group of people to do something with integrity, and in complete alignment with their sacred purpose. It is the ability to create organizational structures and cultures that embody the spirit of collaboration and inquiry of the other spheres, the complete commitment to work that is in service of the evolution of humanity as we continue to learn and evolve as individuals. Sacred entrepreneurship is the ability to translate the vision of a new kind of organization—something beyond the for-profit/non-profit dichotomy—where work is joyful, where the motivation to work is not sourced in fear, and where individuals do not betray their soul or push aside their values as they struggle to survive but rather connect through their authentic self to contribute to the success of the enterprise.
I have such a deep yearning for integration, for bringing all the lessons of my experiences together and meld them into “my life’s work.” It has been a humbling journey. I have come to embrace my successes and failures as equally important. Many of my experiences, even if they didn’t take me to the envisioned destination, were extremely important iterations: learning experiences that served as the practice ground that that has enabled me to go a little bit deeper and further in subsequent opportunities. Every new project offers a new invitation to show up authentically, lovingly, caring, with willingness to give and serve, with passion for justice and truth, with openness to listen and receive, with readiness to play and create.
A colleague called me “edgewalker” and I loved the gift that this name brought into my awareness. I am committed to walk across the boundaries of academia and business, of north and south, of interiority and exteriority, of spiritual and mundane realities. Evolutionary leadership is an exciting field of reflective practice where I can continue to develop my personal identity and professional vocation as I find new ways of serving and responding to the calling that continues to bring forth the fullness of my Latin feminine being.
I close with an excerpt from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1968, p. 192) that beautifully captures the fertile power of the feminine to nurture wholeness and that inspires me to continue this lifelong learning journey:
Everything in the universe is made by union and generation—by the coming together of elements that seek out one another, melt together two by two, and are born again in a third….
In me is seen that side of beings by which they are joined as one, in me the fragrance that makes them hasten together and leads them, freely and passionately, along their road to unity.
Through me, all things have their movement and are made to work as one.
I am the essential Feminine.
Anderson, R. J. & Adams, W. A. (2016). Mastering leadership: An integrated framework for breakthrough performance and extraordinary business results. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.
Banathy, B.H. (1996). Designing Social Systems in a Changing World. Plenum, New York.
Bolen, J.S. (1985). Goddesses in Everywoman: Powerful archetypes in women’s lives. San Francisco: Harper Collins.
Bradbury Huang, H. 2010. What is good action research? Why the resurgent interest? Action Research, 8(1): 93-109
Brown, J. (2005). The world café: Shaping our futures through conversations that matter.
San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Brown, T. (2009). Change by Design. San Francisco: HarperCollins.
Burns, D. (2007). Systemic Action Research: A strategy for whole system change. Bristol, UK: The Policy Press.
Campbell, J. (2008). The hero with a thousand faces. Novato, CA: New World Library. (Original work published in 1949)
Cameron, J. (2002). The Artist’s Way: A spiritual path to higher creativity. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam.
Checkland, P. (1993). Systems thinking, systems practice. New York: Wiley.
Collins, J. (2001) Level 5 leadership. The triumph of humility over fierce resolve. Harvard Business Review. January.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2013). Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. New York: Harper Perennial.
Dalai Lama (2006). The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality. New York: Morgan Road Books.
Eisler, R. (1988). The Chalice and the Blade: Our history, our future. San Francisco: HarperOne.
Eisler, R. (2008). The Real Wealth of Nations. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.
Flood, R. (1995). Liberating Systems Theory. Plenum, New York.
Freire, P. (1996). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Penguin.
George, W. (2003). Authentic leadership: Rediscovering the secrets to creating lasting value. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Goswami, A. (1995). The Self-Aware Universe: How Consciousness Creates the Material World. New York: Putman.
Groff, S. (1988). The Adventure of Self-Discovery: Dimensions of Consciousness and New Perspectives in Psychotherapy and Inner Exploration. NY: SUNY.
Hart, H. (2003). The Unknown She: Eight faces of an emerging consciousness. Inverness, CA: The Golden Sufi Center.
Heron, J. and Reason, P. (1997). A participatory inquiry paradigm. Qualitative Inquiry. 3(3): 274-294.
Jackson, M. (1991). Systems Methodologies for the Management Sciences. Plenum, New York.
Kegan, R. (1980). Making meaning: The constructive-developmental approach to persons and practice. The Personnel and Guidance Journal, 58, 373−380.
Kelly, T. 2001. The Art of Innovation. New York: Random House.
Laszlo, E. (2004). Science and the Akashic Field: An integral theory of everything. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions.
Laszlo, E. (2016). What is reality? The New Map of Cosmos, Consciousness, and Existence. New York: SelectBooks.
Laszlo, K.C. (2000). Learning, Design, and Action: Creating the conditions for Evolutionary Learning Community. Systems Research and Behavioral Science. Vol. 18, No. 5, pp. 379 – 391.
Laszlo, K.C. (2012). From systems thinking to systems being: The embodiment of evolutionary leadership. Organizational Transformation and Social Change. Vol. 9, No. 2., pp. 95-108.
Laszlo, K.C. and Schulz, A. (2017). Design for Social Innovation: Integrating the theory and practice of action research and participatory design for social impact. Organisational Transformation and Social Change. In press.
Macy, J. and Brown, M. Y. (1998). Coming Back to Life: Practices to reconnect our lives, our world. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.
Maturana, H. (2002). Autopoiesis, structural coupling and cognition: A history of these and other notions in the biology of cognition. Cybernetics & Human Knowing, 9: 3–4, pp. 5–34
McDonough, W. and Braungart, N. (2013). The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability–Designing for Abundance. New York: North Point Press.
Merry, P. (2009), Evolutionary Leadership: Integral Leadership for an Increasingly Complex World, Pacific Grove: Integral Publishers.
Metzner, R. (1998). The unfolding self: varieties of transformative experiences. Novato, CA: Origin Press.
Mezirow, J. (2012). Learning to think like an adult. In E. Taylor & P. Cranton (Eds.), The handbook of transformative learning (pp. 73-95). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Mulgan, G., Tucker, S., Ali, R., & Sanders, B. (2007). Social innovation: What it is, why it matters and how it can be accelerated. [online] Available at: http://eureka.sbs.ox.ac.uk/761/
Owen, H. (2008). Open space technology: a user’s guide. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Palmer, P.J. (1994). Leading from within: Out of the shadow, into the light. In Conger, J.A. (Ed). Spirit at Work. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, pp. 19-40.
Palmer, P. J. (2000). Let your Life Speak: Listening for the voice of vocation. San Francisco: Jossey-Brass.
Rooke, D. & Torbert, W. R. (2005) Seven transformations of leadership. Harvard Business Review, April, 1–12.
Sanford, C. (2011). The responsible business: Reimagining sustainability and success. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Sanford, C. (20114). The Responsible Entrepreneur: Four Game-Changing Archetypes for Founders, Leaders, and Impact Investors. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Sankaran, S. (2011). Leadership Theories and Stories: An Open-Space Exploration. Proceedings of the 55th Annual Meeting of the ISSS, Hull, UK. [available online: http://journals.isss.org/index.php/proceedings55th/article/viewFile/1653/594]
Scharmer, C. O. (2009). Theory U: Leading from the future as it emerges. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Kohler.
Scharmer, C. O. and Kaufner, K. (2013). Leading from the Emerging Future: From Ego-System to Eco-System Economies. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Teilhard de Chardin, P. (1968). Writings in Time of War. New York: Harper & Row Publishers.
Torbert, W.R., & Associates. (2004). Action inquiry: The secret of timely and transforming leadership. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Kohler.
Ulrich, W. (1983). Critical Heuristics of Social Planning: A New Approach to Practical Philosophy. Haupt, Berne.
United Nations. (2017). Sustainable Development Goals: 17 goals to transform our world. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/
About The Author
Kathia Castro Laszlo, Ph.D. is Principal of Magenta Wisdom, offering executive coaching, leadership development consulting and facilitation services to develop collaborative and innovation capacities for organizational effectiveness and systemic transformation. Her international experience includes working in business, academic, and nonprofit contexts in North America, Latin America and Europe. Kathia has been a faculty member at Saybrook University, Meridian University, Presidio Graduate School, and EGADE Business School where she has taught leadership, organizational development, strategy and sustainability. She is the co-founder of The Center for Money and Meaning, The Journey Network, Global Leadership Lab and Syntony Quest, and has been advisor to multiple educational enterprises including Mycelium School, Novamaya University, and Universidad del Medio Ambiente. Kathia’s work integrates systems thinking, feminine and indigenous ways of knowing, mindfulness and creativity. She is an explorer of regenerative business models and applies her expertise in adult learning, collective wisdom, design thinking and dialogue to design and facilitate experiential processes that transform individuals and groups from the inside out.