Recently Alfred Tolle and his organization Wisdom Together organized a conference on “Conscious Leadership” in Oslo, and we met for a conversation on global transformation, consciousness and ethical leadership. Here is the result of our conversation.
What is conscious leadership?
–Conscious leadership is just a word, or rather two words put together that we normally not see together in a sentence. I am not interested in creating a new kind of concept that people have to convert too in order to be “conscious leaders”. Rather it is a way of being in the world, both as a leader and as a human being, says Alfred Tolle, the founder of the organization Wisdom Together.
After having had several leadership roles in large companies like Lycos and Google, in 2015 he decided to leave his job at Google to start Wisdom Together. The vision for the organization is to “contribute to a world of wisdom in which individuals, businesses and societies promote and sustain the wellbeing of all.”
Increasing our perception of reality
And if you really want to create this kind of world you have to do something different than we have been doing for the past decades. The world is facing a lot of challenges, both at economic, environmental and personal levels. At the resent conference in Oslo, Dr. Otto Scharmer from MIT pointed at exactly these challenges.
–Today we are using the resources of one and a half planet earth, only a few people own more capital than the rest 3,5 billion of the world, and 800 000 people commit suicide each year – that is more than are killed in war, violence and natural disasters combined, Scharmer said to illustrate his point.
–So the facts are clear. There are huge tasks at hand on all levels, from systemic to personal. At the core of consciousness, and conscious leadership, is the act of increasing our perception of reality. This is, in my opinion, exactly what is needed today, says Alfred Tolle.
And this is where, off course, this get really interesting. Note that Tolle is not talking about shifting our perception, but about increasing it. Drawing on the later years of scientific research, among others in neuroscience, he points to the human capability of, among other things, increasing our awareness by training.
Support from scientific research
–One of the scientists I have been following closely is professor Tania Singer at the Max Planck Institute in Germany. She has been doing a lot of research on social neuroscience, among other thing on Loving-kindness meditation. In one of her studies, comprised of people from 18 to 55 years from different walks of life, she documented an increase in brain cells after just three months of this kind of meditation.
What research like this gives us is, actually, a new and increased perspective in and of itself. Researchers like Singer and Richard Davidson, among others, are showing us that our brain is developing and changing through life. And not just in a downwards spiral. The number of brain cells can actually increase and we are able to form new pathways inside our brain, a process named neuroplasticity. This points to some possibilities for human development not known to us just decades ago.
–The purpose of this kind of meditation is off course to increase our capacity for compassion. This is a very important capacity for increasing our perception of reality, to be able to have compassion. Now, what is important to note is that there is a difference between empathy and compassion. Actually, research shows that empathy and compassion forms different pathways in our brain. So, you can be able to have empathy for someone, but not move into real compassion – which is not about suffering with someone, but actually taking action for relieving the suffering. And this is what we need to promote and sustain wellbeing for all, Tolle says.
Not creating “soft” leaders
Talking to business leaders on these topics you might be met by the assumption that this kind of leadership is kind of soft?
–Yes, but it is not. Being compassionate does not mean that you can´t make hard decisions. On the contrary, if reality presents you with situations where you have to make hard decisions you have to do exactly that. In my opinion, if you are a conscious leader you are able to reflect on your attitude towards the situation. You have the ability to see the broader picture, and this together forms the basis of your decision.
–What this really is all about is how to live enriched lives, where we use more of our capabilities – of our potential if you like. Conscious leadership is not about being efficient, but about being effective. Given the current situation that I am in, am I doing the right thing? It is also about increasing our ability to cope with complexity.
And there are several movements going in the same direction. Otto Scharmers “Theory U” and U.Lab at MIT is one, Alfred Tolle is mentioning companies like Apple and Google and Frederic Laloux´s book “Reinventing Organizations” as other important contributions to a more conscious form of business and leadership thinking.
–One good example, I believe, is how the company of Eileen Fisher has worked with social consciousness and environmental issues. And there are many more good examples.
Reconnecting to ourselves
Tolle believes firmly that part of the conscious journey is also about reconnecting people to the environment and the Earth.
–This is also an important part of increasing our perspective. I believe that some of the work that can be done, through Wisdom Together and others, is to help people come back to themselves. And I also believe, and this is very important, that this is something that has to be done while we are here in our reality – in our society, where the current challenges are. Different kinds of retreats and travels to deepen our consciousness is very good, but not everyone can become a monk. We have to find ways of working with, and being, conscious in the reality we live in every day.
Alfred Tolle talks about living with wisdom, and on the organizations website he defines wisdom like this:
“Wisdom is a deep, inner knowledge, connected with the source of life. Wisdom is the language of your heart – honest, free, the highest truth. In this space, there is no right or wrong – just a deep understanding of our existence. Wisdom is love combined with intelligence, compassion and freedom. Wisdom is life!”
–We deeply believe that consciousness and ethical leadership are fundamental for global transformation. Conscious leaders have high levels of awareness, and act with compassion to share their knowledge, network and experience with others. They lead from an inner source of wisdom and authentic power, and can be found in any position in our societies, Alfred Tolle ends.
An in this lies the beauty of it. In our day and age, you don´t have to have a formal leadership position to be, or become, a leader. Everyone can play a role and become a leader the world needs, not merely by words but by actions and compassion. The challenges are there, and people like Alfred Tolle and his Wisdom Together organization are present to help and guide.
Some related links:
Wisdom Together is also present in Oslo. Here you can connect with them on Facebook.
Presensing Insitute (U.Lab/Otto Scharmer).
Fotos: Leif-Arne Kristiansen