The first of four levels of listening introduced in the U.Lab course is called "downloading," wherein we apply what we already know and bring a situation down into that schema. The second, "factual listening," is where we observe the world, perhaps noticing things beyond what we might normally notice through downloading. The third is listening empathically, from another point of view, and the fourth is a generative listening, wherein there is no longer a "you," but a field, an emerging future, within which all elements are in a dance together, and "you" are the field. This is where leading through listening happens.
As a way into understanding leading through listening, Otto Scharmer introduces and plays a clip of Zubin Mehta conducting two orchestras accompanying a superstar tenor Placido Domingo, before a large audience. My first thought watching the clip was that I lacked the intertextual background that might have granted me some access to the significance of what it means for this conductor to be conducting this orchestra and tenor. "Leopold" came to mind, the "famous" conductor Bugs Bunny played to give the egotistical soloist his just deserts. It appeared that Mehta was doing more that just keeping time just near the end, when he was "being with" Domingo, and punching the bursts of music out of the orchestra, or maybe it was the orchestra and Domingo pulling the punches out of Mehta.
That is the point: what makes Mehta a great conductor/leader is that he constitutes himself as the space, the "Being," within which the orchestra, and tenor, and audience, and himself (as an "instrument") all dance in a kind of harmony that isn't just "musical": it's being in the world.
Scharmer calls it "presencing": the moment where "you" give up your "you-ness" to be used by Being, which then allows being to return to the world as meaningfully present. This is the meaning of Heidegger's term "ex-sistence": standing out ahead of itself returning to meaningful presence.
I am participating in an EdX MOOC delivered by Otto Scharmer of MIT, who is the author of several books that form the backbone of the course (Transforming Business, Society, and Self), such as Theory U, and Leading From the Emerging Future.
While I am live tweeting my participation, I will use this blog for longer form reflections that intersect with the journaling prompts built into the course.
For week one we are working to get that there are three central "disconnects" that are producing collective results none of us want: ecological, social, and spiritual. Hidden roots that produce these undesirable results are essentially a mis-recognition of reality, for instance: we have finite resources but operate as if the world can sustain infinite growth. The "solution" Scharmer is arguing for is graspable: we need to shift from an ego- awareness to an eco- awareness, which begins by understanding the underlying structures that produce unwanted results:
"Where do you experience a world that is dying, whether at the societal level, the organizational level, or at the level of the self."
What is implied with "death" is for me the confrontation with the impossibility of existence, which we always already are facing at any moment, if we are living a mortal life. That sounds odd, perhaps, but I would suggest that most of us live as if we are not mortal, as if we are not going to die because death for us appears to exist as an objective event out in the future that "will" happen someday. But it isn't: death is present at every moment, and appears in many ways, including those moments in which the meaningfulness with which we are invested concerning society, organization, or the self.
For me, there are several expressions of this. Concerning society at large, a world in which a white privileged class continues to inherit this privilege is dying. That's a big one: all the old myths that have supported Western Civilization are broken and/or are breaking down.
Shifting to organizational context: as Scharmer noted in the introductory video, higher education is undergoing a significant disruption. The traditional mode of delivery (the "banking" method of education) has already been dead.
Personally, as a recently tenured professor, my way of being that has been structured by the processes involved with getting tenure is no longer giving me my "being-in-the-world."
The next question is "Where do I experience a world that is wanting to be born, in society, organizational, personal context?"
Worlds being born, to me, means new worlds being disclosed beyond the customary. In my personal context, new levels of leadership are showing up for me, primarily in the sense of participating in life at greater levels that I did not consider possible six months or a year ago, which is both wonderful and frightening. In the institutional context, I see a world being born that embraces technologies of transformation as a dominant form of rhetorical education within traditional educational structures. At the level of society, I envision multitudes of people with diverse concerns co-creating a space of possibility that includes and coordinates these concerns in ways that work for all those involved.
Third, "Where have I experienced moments of disruption and what did I notice about my inner response to these moments?"
For the most part, due to how I have been rhetorically educated, I seek out moments of disruptions, despite the fact that my inner response is almost always, at first, filled with panic, dismay, helplessness, and dread. Such moments are heralds for both the death of the world in question, and the birth of a new or emerging world.
Last, "How do the ecological, social-economic, spiritual divides show up in my personal experience of work and life?"
As a "node" within our current capitalist network, these divides are everywhere: I consume products that exist by virtue of a misrecognition of the unsustainability of their endless production. In other words, while I recognize that I participate in ecological, economic, and spiritual divides, I act as if I am powerless to do anything about it, or to be any other way than ameliorative.
I am an associate professor of Writing Arts at Rowan University. The views expressed here are my own.