Leadership Coaching Tip

Leadership Coaching Tips / March 2012

Eco Leadership: The Practice of Deep Understanding in Action

Renee Snow

Renee Snow

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, Eco Leadership, refers to the marriage of ecology and economy within leadership science. As it is applied here, ecology means the interrelationship among beings in a community and economy is the management of resources within a community. For a leadership model to be sustainable and while building capacity it must address both ecology and economy.

Coinciding with the development of Eco Leadership and the five practices of deep understanding, critical self-reflection, maturity, integrity and eco unity I have had the pleasure of teaching at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology (ITP) as well at the University of Santa Cruz – extension (UCSC). These classes have offered case studies in the principals of Eco Leadership. At ITP I teach Quantitative Research and Leadership to doctoral students in Transpersonal Psychology. In general, these students are well-versed in the ecology and find it easy to acknowledge and connect with other beings. Tragically, many of these students are overwhelmed by student loan debt and have not planned a way to financial security never mind prosperity.  At UCSC I teach the final class in the Certified Financial Planning (CFP) series called Practicum. Practicum students have spent the past two years delving into financial principals and learning resource management. These students tend to be economically minded yet often lack the skills necessary to maintain strong interrelationships with others. It is with these UCSC students that the practice of deep understanding holds the most impact as many of them have never been witnessed or honored through this appreciation.

It is the first night of class and I arrive early to rearrange the long desks in a square. In my briefcase I have a Tibetan gong and a meditation script I have written especially for these students. I situate myself on one side of the square away from the front of the room, the teacher’s station, and wait for the students to enter. Most who arrive believe I am an unfamiliar student in the Program rather than their instructor. Five minutes after the start time I shut the door, return to my seat, and chime the gong. I ask the students to become present in themselves and with respect to others in the room. I ask them to notice their thoughts and to realize they have the power and skills necessary to pass the CFP exam, and then we fall into silence. The energy in the room feels uncomfortable and slightly awkward. Still, I allow myself to sit in silence for three minutes before ringing the gong.

After the meditation is complete I introduce myself as their instructor. I explain the reason for mindfulness meditation and to appeal to the empiricists in the room, cite a study that shows that after $70,000 of income per year mindfulness and physical exercise are larger contributors to happiness than additional income (Smith, 2011). Despite this down-to-earth explanation, I have the sense the students find me a bit odd and do not trust my ability to lead them successfully to the CFP exam. The practice of deep understanding asks, “Am I ready to learn?” In this situation I intuit that the students are ready to learn but doubt my ability to deliver. To assuage their fears I instruct them to open their case study books to a problem involving 1031 tax-free exchanges and ask them to solve the case. After five minutes of struggle I go up to the board and provide the solution. I notice the room take a collective sigh of relief. Having proven myself, the students, my co-leaders, are ready to learn.

I sit back down at the side of the square and ask each person to introduce themselves and answer the following questions: “Why do you want to become a Certified Financial Planner?” and “What does money mean to you?” In response to the first question, the answers range from the need to earn more money to being good at math to being attracted to the autonomy the career offers. The answers to the second question are, “money indicates success and worthiness” and “money is freedom”. These answers are confirmation that most students give precedence to the economy over the ecology. I counterbalance the weight when my turn to answer the question arrives. I truthfully answer, “I became a CFP to help people manage their resources and energy” and “Money is a store of energy and indicates our level of consciousness through our interaction with it.” With this exercise, the practice of deep understanding, of looking beyond superficial appearances has begun. This night sets the tone for the ten week class.

At the risk of sounding cliché, this class was diverse and multi-cultural. Out of 12 co-learners, I was the sole white woman. Somehow, at least on the surface, most students bought into the American myth that capitalism with its manufactured desires would fulfill their hearts’ longings. This is where I became the student and investigated how the preference for capitalism arose in a classroom of people from nations that chose socialism, or in one case, communism, over capitalism. It took nine weeks of learning, laughing, and problem solving, to form a tight enough bonds with each other where we could engage Buber’s I/Thou. The I/Thou moment occurred in the ninth week when somehow we stumbled on the topic of how our perceptions of money arose from our family and cultural conditioning. This was a night when everyone shared and gave reverence to one another and the hardships of experience that drove their families to the United States—the land of opportunity. This was the night when the class sparkled free from the shell of ego and spoke authentically of their true values; belonging, the freedom to exercise their potentials, and unconditional love. The class typically ended at 9:30 PM amid yawns, but that night no one wanted to leave and we stayed in the connection an extra 45 minutes.

I would like to provide a set of practices that are guaranteed to elicit deep understanding. However, this exceptional human experience would not have been possible without the willingness of my co-learners to trust and become vulnerable. I imagine my actions with another group of students and fail to match that night’s experience. Herein lies the clue to potentiators; they must be willing to adapt and accommodate according to the ecology. Other than certain set practices such as mindfulness meditation and participatory learning I had no fixed plan to reach these students. Instead, I became what I hoped they would become, heart-felt and open. The third class session fell on Halloween and alone, I made a fool of myself by dressing up as Big Bird. I followed my intuition which guided me to prove myself in the economy, to illustrate I had a firm handle of time value of money problems and technical aspects of the course, while committing to my own desire to reach the students in the ecology. As an exercise, the next time you are in a group, pay attention to overall strength and notice whether it lies in the ecology or in the economy. Using your own wisdom, determine ways to bring balance and harmony in service to potential.

Smith, A. (2011, Spring). A new kind of personal wealth: It turns out money can buy happiness, after all—when consumers create a market for mindful consumption. Ode Magazine.

Retrieved June 13, 2011 from http://www.odemagazine.com/doc/74/new-kind-of-personal-wealth/