Leadership & Constellations

Leadership & Constellations

Generative leadership seems so vital these days, yet there is also a collective mistrust of leaders. So what is it that we are looking for? What would make a difference?

Leaders need authority, and it is worth asking from whence our authority derives? Constellations theory is clear on what weakens or strengthens leaders. Our authority to lead others succeeds when it is in service of life, and looks forwards, acting to bring in a new and shared future. Authority will be accepted when people feel served, and will be rejected when the person exercises power without serving others.

While the development of leadership skills is beyond the ability to constellate, I believe that this work has two key contributions to the kind of Leadership Development that is in service of Life: the development of leadership presence; and the restoration of the flow of leadership throughout the organisation.

Developing leadership presence goes beyond systemic thinking. Presence is inherently relational, and different from charisma or forcefulness which call attention to the person and not the task. Leaders who have this subtle bit vital quality of presence command attention, yet are felt to be with us and for us, and use their authority to support a sense of shared, common good. There are several ways in which Constellations work helps leaders to develop presence.

  • For example, this approach includes a conscious consideration of the influences upon individual leaders of their own family systems. This is by no means a covert form of psychotherapy: it is more a means by which leaders learn to see the deepest patterns that shape their responsiveness and impact upon their decision-making. After all, the most powerful pattern-shaping system in human experience is our family system. A friend of mine noted, recently, in acknowledging the importance of personal development for leaders, that ‘best selves beget best systems, and best businesses beget best services, goods, people and world’. Looking at the source of one’s own patterns is very grounding and supports humility.
  • Part of developing presence as way of comporting oneself, is to learn to think holistically – to recognise personal, organisational and social patterns and to suspend one’s personal biases. The development of such ‘chaos tolerance’ involves allowing one’s decisions to be informed by unfolding events – to sit in a space of ‘not knowing’ and to sense ripeness before decision-making and action. In doing this, we find that we become more impartial and modest as leaders. These are good qualities for people who have power.

Through Constellations we can also educate people to look at leadership not as something that belongs to any one person, but that is about the restoration of a flow of leadership throughout a system. Anyone who is running an organisation is responsible for taking a view of the whole – for shaping the healthy relationship between parts, so that responsibilities, decisions, creativity, money and more, flows with minimal impediment. The flow of leadership authority has to go in every direction, so that everyone feels loyal. A singular contribution of Constellations work to addressing these issues is through knowledge of the ‘systemic orders’ that impact organisational life – the natural forces that shape the success and failure of relational dynamics within and between teams.

A Constellation helps, in some situations, by enlarging the frame of reference relating to an issue, so that we notice where the presenting patterns stem from. These patterns might be rooted in the founding of the organisation or in its history, or even in related systems – for example, the wider social system that the organisation is a part of. Jan Jacob Stam (2009) once described some work he did in Mexico:

…a woman asked me to help her with an issue that involved corruption in her organisation. I asked her, ‘Is it meant to stop?’ There was a big silence- then we could begin to see that the fraud was in service of something else – but of what? Suddenly we can begin to see that this becomes a societal issue and not just an organisational issue. My inner view is always expanding – can I love the boss? Can I love the organisation as a whole? This expands my view to the larger frame of society. (p20)

Similarly, I once constellated a head teacher’s concern about bullying in her school. Bullying is always a systemic issue – so to understand the patterning of the issue, we had to work polysystemically – to include multiple systems: the school, of course, the pupils, their parents, the local community, the police, the history of the region… ‘Leadership’ in this instance involved seeing the school as a nexus of a wider community system, and affirming that it was in service of life through looking beyond its own borders and acknowledging wider and deeper issues that it was both influenced by, and could influence.

Both being in service of life and not being in service of life are OK, although one orientation increases the school’s authority to act and affords greater sensitivity and inclusiveness in dealing with the bullying issues that arise there.

How do you develop leadership that is in service of Life?

Sources: Stam, J.J. (2006) Fields of Connection. The Practice of Organisational Constellations. Uitgeverij Het Noorderlicht. Groningen. I am also indebted to my friend Andy Stuck, for her helpful insights.

Posted in Leadership Constellations Coaching on Sunday, Jun 11th, 2017

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