Leadership is the creation of beauty

Foto credit: Craig Burrows

Female leadership has a truly generative nature, that is, an attitude to the original contribution with a high aesthetic component. It draws indeed on a creative dimension and feeds on belonging.

It is not defined by a merely directional dimension and at the most authentic core, female leadership identifies with the creation of beauty.

Most of the time, however, women tend to sacrifice these vital dimensions to the mainstream, strongly directive leadership focused on goals and objectives. That is indeed what we inherited from traditional leadership models. We are thought to drive fast, well weaponed, strongly directional, and boldly functional.

Yet this unidimensional aspect of leadership is not nourishing for women, it does not express nor fulfil the feminine quests for a more authentic contribution to the world. Soon or later in their leadership journey, female leaders encounter this dilemma and it becomes a turning point in their personal leadership.

A soul-making process

I believe leadership is the artful process of creating a soulful journey. It is the process of making our own soul through our endeavours in the world. Our creative nature needs to be fully embraced.  Along the way to realizing our mission, we truly want to build meaningful collaborations, sponsor people and awaken places. 

Beauty dwells in relationships for us and we implicitly and inevitably suffer from the hard unbalance between tasks and relationships that characterized most of our working places.

But we tend to forget the true nature of our work and leadership. We are often trapped in excessive functionalism, which is an enemy of the creation of beauty. We are easily seduced by the efficiency of the tasks, functions, and roles at the expense of soulfulness. Sadly, it looks like we are still suffering from an industrial approach to our mission on Earth.

Time, Space, and Self

In our times, three important forces, time, space, and self, are terribly shrunk and make soulful leadership arduous and awkward for women. Even more now in the digital era, time is excessively squeezed and space is constrained. A more natural rhythm that would be in tune with a feminine quality of presence is not there to support intuition, creativity, sense of belonging.

As a consequence, the self is anxious. To be successful and perform, we send essential parts of ourselves into exile. Typically we hide the parts of ourselves that we suspect are considered weak and doubtful. At the very moment of this separation, we lose our innate beauty. And simultaneously, we lose our unique gift of leadership as a potential creation of beauty.

From this very moment on, we stop being generative of a soulful journey for ourselves and we weaken our capacity of being great sponsors of the potential and growth of the others around us.

The greed for destination obliterates the journey”, says John O’Donohue, an Irish author who has actively worked during his life for bringing about soulfulness and beauty in leadership. The greed and the speed to achieve often make the destination a false high and unique priority that entirely dominates the leadership approach. When we are enslaved by this greed, we may become frozen and detached, truly absent from what is the meaning of the journey. The process of awakening talents and allowing the flourishing of workplaces along the way toward the vision becomes hardly a priority.

Subsequently, a sense of emptiness and dryness can emerge and affect the leadership journey of women. They start to feel the need to integrate a more nourishing and more meaningful approach to leadership. They seek new vital lymph to infuse their roles and they aspire to heal the painful sense of separation and disconnection.

Beauty awaits the gaze of our leadership

In the search for soulfulness of our female leadership, we are unconsciously driven by the possibility of creating beauty in the world we inhabit.

How can we do that in fact? 

Beauty dwells all the potential and the giftedness of people and places. Our gaze needs to develop the capacity to see them. And acknowledge the indispensable necessity of their true contribution.  Beauty dwells also in those spaces and those times that call for our attention and creativity. In the appearance of an obstacle, in the emergence of a conflict, in presence of a failure. In these very moments that call for our attention, we can create something magical: a new sense of belonging.

Acting consciously so as to activate the sense of belonging wherever we walk, defending the value of beauty, defending the value of creating an expressive work environment, and caring deeply about sponsoring the truthful contribution of people, need to become top priorities of our leadership, while we travel toward our vision. Awakening a sense of belonging means awakening a sense of belonging to oneself, to a sense of unique presence, activating creativity and imagination around us.

Our very first act of female leadership is however an act of self-leadership: finding and voicing our own belonging to beauty.

A reflection moment for yourself

  • Where do you see beauty in your leadership endeavour?
  • Where can you bring more beauty to your private and professional context?
  • What parts of time, space and yourself do you feel you have sent into exile? 
  • What little steps can you make to re-include them in your leadership journey?


The missing resource(s)

When we are on a journey to our desired state and dream, we may happen to fall into a state called “CRASH state”. In generative change, CRASH is an acronym that stands for C= Contracted, R= Reactive, A = Analysis Paralysis, S = Separation, H= Hostility, Hurt or Hatred The feelings of contraction, disconnection, reactivityContinue reading “The missing resource(s)”

On generativity

A picture from Story of Flowers A fascinating etymological history The term generativity was introduced for the first time by Erik Erikson to indicate the stage of care in his theory of human development, the aspiration and the need to leave a legacy for the future generations, in contrast to a state of stagnation. EriksonContinue reading “On generativity”


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The missing resource(s)

When we are on a journey to our desired state and dream, we may happen to fall into a state called “CRASH state”.

In generative change, CRASH is an acronym that stands for C= Contracted, R= Reactive, A = Analysis Paralysis, S = Separation, H= Hostility, Hurt or Hatred

The feelings of contraction, disconnection, reactivity and hostility, or hurt may come on our way at a certain moment, and we often reach out to the mind for an analytical perspective and a rational solution to what is challenging us. When we confront a challenge from the CRASH state, we may also perceive it as an unsolvable or impossible problem.

We tend to gracelessly get rid of the CRASH state: it is an impediment and we want to proceed fast and without obstacles disturbing and distracting us on our beautiful journey.

Surprisingly enough, however, the CRASH state is an ambassador of unexpected, unpredictable messages about our need to integrate a new resource into the journey. Like a three-legged stool would fall on one side if a leg is missing, we may fall into a CRASH state as we miss the support of a crucial resource needed at that moment of the journey.

It may be pivotal (though not easy) to welcome the CRASH ambassador and open a space to listen to the often astonishing news she is bringing to us. More often than not, the news is about a missing resource knocking at our door willing to be listened to, to be integrated, and above all, to contribute actively in our journey.

It may happen also that one missing resource is tightly linked to other missing or weakly-developed resources. The integration of a single new resource may actually invite and activate a number of closely linked resources, that is a cluster of resources.

In one of my experiences with a coachee, I could attend to how she strongly felt the call to integrate a deep sense of care and caring as a fundamental attitude to continue her journey in a generative way. Interestingly enough, soon after that special attention to care and caring was activated, and resourceful capacities emerged spontaneously and were activated in the process: for instance, her inner capacity for advocacy was enhanced and her ability to set healthy borders in her relationship with others became much sharper. These specific capacities were diverse, an unforeseen manifestations of deeper care and caring.

When we fall into a CRASH state, we may welcome the positive intention of this state AND ask ourselves: What is the message of this ambassador? What is the missing resource she is willing to bring into my journey right now?

It may happen that we are not able to answer this question immediately. That we do not see what is missing. It is out of our view, our perception, our tangible feeling. What do we do then?

The first step, welcoming the CRASH, is probably the most difficult one. Yet it is a crucial step. We can say to ourselves: I don’t know what this is about, but for sure it has its own reason to be and to manifest right now, it makes sense, it has a meaning.

This is an exercise of deep trust in our own healthy system.

The welcoming can last some time: the deeper the CRASH, the more compassionate, patient and embracing the welcoming, and the holding of it.

I deeply believe that the missing resource is secretly held in our initial intention, in our desired state. In other words, our desired state invites, calls the missing resource(s), in a way we may not be totally aware of, to realize our dream and our vision.

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Brazilian Visual Artist Tatiane Freitas, “My old new chair”

Then the generative journey toward our desired state becomes a journey of integration of new, nourishing, enriching, and supporting resources, with a consequent expansion of our identity and the authentic creation of something totally original and unpredictable, inside and outside us.

Abundance starts with seeing

Resources are the incredible potential for a system to function, grow, and flourish into its wholeness.

Identifying the resources, seeing the resources, and bringing them on board are at the core of the generative change. The desired state may be often the healthy expression of an ecological willingness to integrate a new resource. Resources are always available inside and outside us, in our own system and in connection to the bigger system we are in.

The matter is: do we see them? Do we recognise them? Do we connect to them? Do we bring them on board in a conscious and creative way?

Sometimes, finding back and uncovering a resource requires stopping breathing and diving into an underwater world. It is rescuing something that was left on the seabed.

Sometimes it requires us to go to the balcony and see the entire panorama, have the entire view from a distance and see all that is contained there and we do not see when we are “downstairs”, as a part of the panorama.

Other times it requires to see the all richest forest full of different trees, plants, and living forms instead of focusing and being obsessed with one single type of tree.

These are indeed the possible characteristics of re-sourcing: diving down, looking from a distance, and identifying a new form, in order to integrate the missing part that would make all system grow in an ecological and generative way. Living systems are able to self-sustain themselves in order to learn and thus thrive.

On the journey to our desired state, it is crucial then to continuously ask ourselves: what are the resources I can awaken and connect to, that can help and support me in the realisation of my dream and my desire?

On generativity

A picture from Story of Flowers

A fascinating etymological history

The term generativity was introduced for the first time by Erik Erikson to indicate the stage of care in his theory of human development, the aspiration and the need to leave a legacy for the future generations, in contrast to a state of stagnation. Erikson relates generativity to “making our mark” on the world through creating or nurturing things that will outlast ourselves and will be beneficial for the next generation.

Generativity and generation have indeed the same etymological root, common also to words like genius, gene: they derive from the Greek-Latin root gen, which relates to birth, origin.

If we go even more back in the history of the linguistic root to Sanskrit, we find the root j-a-n. Fascinatedly, I discovered that j means “motion that allows advancing” and a-n means “animating breath of the waters”. (1)

In particular, our Indo-Europeans ancestors have joined the two consonants j = motion ahead and n= water with the vowel a=effect of action, completion, while constructing their language from spiritual beliefs and tangible experience. Impressively, from the same 3 sounds-symbols, they constructed also another root, j-n-a, which means “to know”. (1)

“To generate” and “to know” have the same ancient elementary nuclei of sounds and symbols, both being archetypically connected to divine waters, movement ahead, and action, learning, and completion.

Generativity and Creativity

In the root “gen” lays an essential notion of creativity, in a way that comprehends two basic steps of creativity connected by an act of motion. The first step is diving into the water, finding a place that is more profound and more open, that is, tapping into the world of the infinite possibilities (the divine waters). The second step is moving ahead, having a direction. The two steps being joined by the connecting-transitional element of bringing out, taking out from the invisible, inside world into the tangible, physical, outside world.

These are also the two crucial steps both in the process of Generative Change by Robert Dilts and Stephen Gilligan (2) and in the Theory U framework of deep change (3).

The presence of the divine, cosmic waters refers to what in Generative Change is called “the creative unconscious”; and in Theory U “the source”. The movement ahead is what in Generative Change is named as “desired state” and in Theory U as “intention”.

The three elements integrated into the root “gen” fundamentally constitute a unique relationship and create a conscious connection between the world of infinite possibilities (the water) and the idea of moving ahead through mindful, conscious action. It is the link between an inner, unshaped world to a shaped, and defined world; the link between the source of everything and a future emerging and taking a shape.

I find it fascinating that both these processes, developed as technologies for deep change and creativity, contained fully integrated the core of the first intuition and perception of our ancestors, at the (now) forgotten moment of constructing a language from their spiritual beliefs and very deep experience of the world.

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The essential U-process


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The essentials of generative-change

Linear representations of the U process and the generative-change process. Both are generative, ecological, and systemic (complex).

Generativity and Emergence

In Generative Change, we talk about a continuous conversation between the creative unconscious and the tangible world. Like for any authentic conversation, the essential condition is to be present, open, attentive, connected, welcoming what emerges. A conversation that has a direction, but not a destination (cit. Robert Dilts, in Generative Coaching). Similarly in Theory U, the generative listening at the source level is about embracing the unknown and attending the very new we cannot foresee nor imagine.

The process of generativity is essentially an open-end process.

It involves ceaseless creation and interaction while attending and holding the complex phenomenon of emergence, the unfolding from within.

Generativity and Ecology

Accordingly, generativity is inherently ecological. It primarily makes space and welcomes what needs to emerge for a system to continue to learn, grow, and prosper. It is about the process of new parts of the system becoming visible and being integrated for the system to thrive while being embedded in a bigger system.

It is about creating and interacting from a deep place, from “the pattern that connects” (4), that takes care and sustains primary connections and relations. And, then it is about giving birth to a unique shape, so to create “the difference that makes the difference” (4).

Finally, it is about offering our unique contribution to the world while sustaining relations and unleashing new forms, for expanding and enriching life and creating abundance.

(1) Franco Rendich, Dizionario etimologico comparato delle lingue classiche indoeuropee

(2) Stephen Gilligan and Robert Dilts, The Hero’s Journey

(3) Otto Scharmer, Theory U

(4) http://www.naturearteducation.org/AnEcologyOfMind.htm, a movie about the thought of Gregory Bateson

Why do we need a narrative mindset?

Tree for narrative photo by ©Carlètto Del Monaco

Recently, the power of narrative attracts more attention in learning and transforming individuals, teams, and communities.

Why is a narrative mindset so crucial in this time of complex challenges? How is it related to our capacity for creating meaning, overcoming paradoxes and living in uncertainty?

My experience

Like all humans, I am not satisfied with just existing in this world. I continuously ask myself the questions “Why am I here? What am I doing here? What am I gonna do?”

We, humans, are meaning-seeking creatures.

I am trained as a physicist and worked as a scientist for more than a decade in the field of nanotechnology. Although the field I was working on is considered very “advanced”, I experienced a full immersion in the old, mechanistic paradigm, vastly extended in and beyond the disciplines of science and technology, to the organizational structure and the stakeholders’ system in the sector.

I found myself included as “a small piece in a machine” and, simultaneously, I was excluded from the same machine as its direction and purpose were dropped from above. In fact, as a scientist, I felt that I was subtly and implicitly requested to become an executor, with (now I know) very misleading messages about “participating” in a profound innovation. 

Technology has its own roadmap without necessarily connecting to human motive and purpose. So for a while, I was torn between the good feeling of contributing to scientific and technological advances and much deeper sensing that something fundamental was missing in the discourse.

Until the time came for me to leave in search of the lost piece.

Two modes of thought

Among many thinkers that illuminate my path during this searching journey, I got fascinated by the work of cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner on narrative thought. (1)
Bruner distinguishes between logico-scientific thought and narrative thought. These two ways of thinking do not exclude each other, they are complementary, and we do need both.

During the last centuries of human history however, the narrative thought has been progressively undermined, if not silenced, to give abnormous, unbalanced space to the logico-scientific mode of thinking.
The table below reports some characteristics of the two thinking modes.

Limits of the Logico-scientific thought Benefits of the Narrative thought
Imperfect generalizations Contextuality and reflexivity
Tacit justification Expression of purpose and motive
Rigid consistency Temporal sensitivity
Non-contradiction Unpredictability and paradox

Imperfect Generalizations vs Contextuality and reflexivity

The logico-scientific mode operates by generalization, and by applying “universally true” conditions. Any phenomenon (eg, event, entity or “problem”) is abstracted from context and the knowledge is organized in definitions and categories. The narrative thought, conversely, is sensitive to the situational particularity and therefore provides the necessary condition for meaning creation. As Gregory Bateson said, without context, there is no meaning. (2)

Tacit justification vs Expression of purposes and motives

The narrative mode of thinking constantly reminds us that behind a story there is a storyteller, behind a narrative, a narrator.
It connects significantly to our own specific experience and engages our imaginative and creative capacity toward making meaning of it. It seeks universal understanding grounded in our personal motives and purposes. It is therefore meaningful and heartful.
This primarily means that an outcome is not a logical necessity, it does not possess a top-down truth. The fact that an event is considered an instance of general law is called ‘tacit justification’.
Within the narrative mindset, we talk about “choice”, “perspective”, in the logico-scientific mindset we talk about “necessity”.

Rigid time consistency vs Temporal sensitivity

Logico-scientific thought is also timeless. What is true now, it will be true tomorrow. The same event today or tomorrow has the same significance. That is very different in a narration where every event localized in time has his own peculiar significance. Further, the narrative mode seeks to connect apparently non-related events into a meaningful whole. A crucial feature of this thinking mode is forging the links between exceptional and ordinary events. The laser power of the moment, the transformation that happens in an imperceptible instant.

Non-contradiction vs Unpredictability

The logico-scientific mindset derives his own reason from pre-established logic rules. Every anomaly, uncertainty, contradiction is a problem, while narrative readily incorporates them into unfolding stories. It is often from the unpredictable, the paradox, the conventionally called “irrational”, that the narrative creates new meaning.

Narrative, meaning, and complexity

Remarkably, the principles and values of the New Science (modern physics and biology), such as uncertainty, chaos, paradox, self-organization, relational field, resonate with the narrative view. Narrating provides thus a mental landscape and a tool to overcome a paradigm rooted in seventeenth-century science and still very alive today.
At this very moment in human history, we are dramatically experiencing the limitations and the consequences of an overall dominating logico-scientific paradigm. The narrative mind
 opens the landscape of a new level of consciousness, linked to the emerging perception of the complexity of the world.

From observer-scientist to participant-narrator: a transformational journey

Personally, I dived into the limits of the logico-scientific thought that contributed to my disconnection from a deeper personal motive and from the participation to an authentic collective purpose.
I experience narrative as an invitation to reconnect deeply to ourselves, to our rich context and to our unique, significant experiences. It allows the unique voice inside us to emerge, our authentic story to naturally unfold, our profound participation in Life to take place
from below and from within. (3) It is a mindset for grasping complexity, as it does not offer a unique answer, but opens the space to construct multiple worlds. Narrative accesses complexity and our capacity of making meaning of it.

In my journey in search of the lost piece, I experienced a profound shift from being an observer-scientist to become a participant-narrator. This has primarily restored in me a deep connection to a sense of the whole in Life. Acquiring a narrative mindset is inherently transformational.

  1. J. Bruner, Actual Minds, Possible Worlds
  2. G. Bateson, Mind and Nature
  3. C. Swart, Re-Authoring the World