Georgian song & leadership: More related than we think.

For those familiar with the work of Barry Oshry, the North American systems theorist who has dedicated his life to uncovering the limiting patterns that exist within organisations & their leaders, the words Top, Middle & Bottom may have a particular extra meaning or significance. But have you considered their relationship to UNESCO Cultural Heritage Georgian Polyphonic singing?

The centrepiece of an Oshry Organisational Workshop is an exercise where participants enter a fast- moving, turbulent environment as either a top executive, middle manager, worker or customer. The experience closely mirrors day-to-day organisational life so that there’s no backing away from the impact that your behaviour has on others and the organisation’s performance.

For myself, as both a facilitator of Oshry’s leadership programme and a practitioner of traditional Georgian polyphonic songs, the words Top, Middle and Bottom have a double resonance – for they appear in exactly the same way in each of these apparently unrelated fields.

This unexpected synchronicity, plus the unique & profound insights I was gaining from both my deepening experience of The Organisation Workshop and from my ongoing practice & inquiry into Georgian singing, led me to question whether there may be more connections between these two paths than one might expect.

Bringing the practice of voice and leadership together

As an experiential learner myself, one of the things I appreciate about Barry’s work is that the key insights for each individual arise first through an experience (eg. an Organisation Exercise), rather than a presentation of theory.

So what if we could create a space for further insights to be experienced, but without the set-up of additional Organisation Exercises and the extra materials, equipment & time that requires? What if we could practice new leadership ways of being at an individual embodied level before taking them back into the greater complexities of our everyday working lives? These were the questions that inspired me to start exploring how to bring the practices of voice and leadership together.

The song tradition of Georgia in the Caucasus is thought to be the oldest known form of traditional polyphonic singing, dating back to pre-Christian times. Singers of a Georgian song each fill one of three roles – Top, Middle or Bottom – and the power and vibrancy of Georgian singing is celebrated around the world.

Master teacher of vocal & human resonance, Frank Kane spent over 30 years studying the voice practices in traditional Georgian song and has developed a profound understanding of the deeply centred & grounded way of being that each individual singer manifests, plus the uniquely vibrant relationships between Top, Middle & Bottom singers that may challenge more recent ideas around leadership roles within organised structures or groups.

I am delighted that Future Considerations brought voice and leadership together in our May one day workshop – Resilient Leadership in Turbulent Times.  After the Oshry centred workshop, we invited participants to stay for an experiential session using our voices.

We learned how to harness the power of Tops, Middles and Bottoms and create harmony at the systems level through the medium of three-part Georgian singing. It was a fun, stimulating and surprising evening with personal insights and systemic ‘ahas’.

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