When I worked as a consultant in the business world, not-knowing was no option, I had to justify my towering fee with concepts filled with insecurity. This is what the world will look like. This is how you will succeed. But there came a time when I couldn’t do it anymore. During a presentation with a group of high level entrepreneurs, I fainted. I literally couldn’t stand it any longer, because the foundation of my advice was missing. Years later I tried again, advising at Unilever and Sara Lee, no longer with a vision, but with not-knowing as my starting point, my foundation for the conversation. Quickly I was sent home.
Text: André Platteel
Leadership is not about long or short-term, but about daring to not-know, about exploration, finding the essence of what makes a company unique and what society needs right now.
Now it is different. Entrepreneurs have become more of our time. The only thing we know is that we cannot predict tomorrow, and this has become painfully evident. The entire foundation that holds up our Western World is shaking and tearing apart. Leadership no longer has to do with smart five-year-plans or scenarios based on vain imaginings. We can see these now as distractions, short term goals with only individual profit at their core.
Leadership is not about long or short-term, but about daring to not-know, about exploration, finding the essence of what makes a company unique and what society needs right now. This essence can differ at every moment. So it needs empathy. And space. It requires us to empty ourselves of concepts and frameworks, allowing the now to flow freely through us. You are connected to what is, and to what is at stake at this very moment. When we reach beyond the extent of our knowledge and wisdom becomes central, ideas arise from within. We sense more intuitively, being connected to everything, and we act from there. This leads to a true and more authentic leadership.
Many existing frameworks and concepts obstruct our view of what is at stake now. They place a filter over reality, creating a mirage and causing people to lose the sense of what they are, who they are and the contribution they make.
Large companies, notably banks and other financial institutions, offer more and more complicated products, so neither the company nor the consumer know what is involved. Employees in big companies don’t really know what they are contributing, and this is a recipe for burn-out. When we lose touch with the reason why we do things, why something has value, there is no energy return, no reciprocity, and we get exhausted.
Not-knowing makes us humble, but in a good way. Humility contains the word humus, meaning earth. Away from castles in the air, we do the extraordinary simply by being here, by being present entirely, with our feet in the clay, fully here and fully now. When you can once again feel how you are carried and supported by the earth, you spontaneously create, timelessly and effortlessly.
But this is not simple. Through continuous fear we have been ripped out of the present moment. We live in the past (conservative) or the future (opportunistic) and we forget to be realists, using what is here, right now. And there is another obstacle to this process of surrendering to not-knowing. It detaches us from almost everything we hold dear, all the ideas from which we have derived our identity. You can see that it is all rooted in fear, but do you dare to let it go? When you let go of everything that holds self and security, it feels like dying.
And yet it is necessary. Now more than ever before.
What we need now are courageous leaders who dare to operate through not-knowing.
Many of our current leaders are full if fear and so create a fearing culture. With their ideas they do not combat violence, fighting, intolerance and exploitation, they bring it forth. They are the motor behind it, and the fuel is fear.
So what we need now are courageous leaders who dare to operate through not-knowing. These leaders will bring forth a more spacious culture in which love, creation and entrepreneurship will grow and be nourished.
I throw down the challenge to current leaders who believe in this idea, even if they still feel fear. I challenge them to die, and through dying allow what is now to flourish.