Leading from the Heart: the field of collective intelligence

Male anatomy of human organs in x-ray view

Image courtesy of HeartMath.org

What does it take to lead from our full potential in these challenging times? Humanity faces a whole series of highly dynamic and interconnected challenges: social, economic and ecological. Many of the systems we depend upon are in crisis.  And this is being played out on many scales simultaneously. Yes it is an enormous challenge. But it is also a tremendous opportunity and a call to continually develop new leadership capacities.

The capacity to show up with our whole self and our full humanity (including courage). And to see leadership as much more than a personal practice: it can also be a shared or collaborative practice. The capacity for collective intelligence and leadership.

Otto Scharmer writes that the real work of leadership lies in activating an inspired social field. And we need to cultivate this social field, drawing on the form and structure of relationships among individuals, groups, organisations and systems. Perhaps it is more than a social field as we connect with the physical realities we are part of too.

Several things are needed for this kind of collective intelligence to be activated. Not least is a commitment to working beyond ego, building the pre-conditions for trust and a shared purpose.  One dimension that is coming to the fore right now is the role of heart intelligence.

Activating our heart intelligence

The heart is not just a seat of emotion. Over twenty years of high quality peer reviewed scientific research by the Institute of HeartMath and others have helped to cast new light and provide new evidence on how hearts work.  The heart is a real centre of intelligence; it has its own neuronal networks. It is almost like we have a mini heart-brain. Our emotional state is woven into this in a very interesting ways.

This research suggests that at the personal level the heart plays a powerful role in facilitating cognitive function, our capacity to work rapidly with intuitive perception, activate foresight, creativity, communication and connection with each other and the situations we find ourselves in. We can strengthen the capacity of our hearts to become more coherent and work in this way.

What happens when groups of people are doing this together at the same time has been less extensively researched so far, but this is a fast expanding field. Earlier this year I coordinated the UK part of a 5 country study on what happens in groups with the research team at the Institute of HeartMath. It will be great to share highlights from the results soon.

We often speak of the heart colloquially when we say things like ‘in my heart of hearts I know that’ or ‘my heart’s telling me’ or ‘this goes straight to the heart of things’.  This research helps to validate and expand what we have been experiencing over generations in many human contexts and cultures. But it has not always been easy to acknowledge the role of heart based intelligence in contemporary leadership contexts. It is worth noting that working in this way does not need to mean avoiding tough decisions.

Where there is a high level of trust and connection in a group this kind of heart based intelligence may happen naturally. But there is a lot we can do to activate it. HeartMath have developed a series of tools and practices. The Theory U approach focuses on working with leadership practices that connect ‘head, heart and hands’ at the personal level. And we can do this powerfully in groups or teams.

Heart based intelligence is at the core of both personal and collective leadership. Many of us find that is easier to activate when we are working in the same physical space and meeting face to face. But many of the challenges we face and ways we are working internationally are demanding that we grow our capacity to work and lead virtually too. There is a lot to experiment and innovate with.

Food for Thought: Leading at the edge

Even though we are living in intensely complex and demanding times, we are also on the edge of some really exciting possibilities for evolving how we lead and what it means to be working with our full human potential to do so collectively.

As we pay attention to the inner place from which we lead, we can also create the conditions for collective intelligence and leadership to flourish.

How does this resonate with your experience?

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