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[Introduction continued...]

We all know by now, more or less anyway, that the very idea of an objective, material world that we can scrutinize was called into question in the early part of the 20th century when quantum mechanics showed how, at the sub-atomic level, there seems to be nothing material at all. Instead what is termed matter appears to be made up of interacting latticework of energy fields, which are impacted and changed by the very fact of observation and measurement by our consciousness.

The possibility that our consciousness has a part to play in shaping what we term material reality was a shock to the scientific worldview, but not to the mystics. As others have pointed out, there are parallels between the findings of quantum mechanics and the insights handed down through various teachings of the wisdom traditions. And this meeting up of the scientific and the mystical frameworks is a very fruitful one because it means that we can dispense with our ‘either/or’ mentality. In fact, we can expose it for the false premise that it is. Nothing is ever invented or discovered or undertaken out of a purely objective approach. Nor is it conceived of only by sitting and meditating. New ideas come from the interaction between observation/experience and the ability to meditate, or give space to a dimension that allows new insight to synthesize. Evolution - of anything - is not blind. It is the development of ideas based upon this to-ing and fro-ing between the realm of our experience and observation, and the realm of our inspiration and vision.

Understanding how the ‘technology’ of our consciousness is designed to mediate these two dimensions is what this book is about, for I believe that this understanding is what the revolution - and the leadership - of the coming age will be founded upon.

The ancient texts that have come down to us are blue prints or operating instructions for our psyche. They encode in marvelously condensed language insight into the core nature of who we are and how we work. I draw on symbols and understanding from a number of different wisdom traditions, including the Arthurian and grail myths, Tibetan Buddhism, and the Genesis text, to examine in depth the workings of the relationship between these two dimensions, named variously inner and outer, or the transcendent and the manifest. And this includes understanding what happens when this process ‘malfunctions’ and we ‘fall’ into awareness of the outer world alone, which is actually only the structure of our own beliefs.

My aim is to show that effectiveness, particularly effective leadership, is rooted deep within the functioning of our own psyches, and is as much to do with accessing the full spectrum of our own being and intelligence, as it is with mastering strategic and analytical skills.

The greater part of the book looks at how this process of mediating the two dimensions works in us as individuals, and what it means to live in alignment with the higher order flow of intelligence from the inner or transcendent realm. Then, in the last part, I explore some of what happens when as groupings we touch into this kind of space together, and what the implications are for collective leadership. There are not as many symbols in the ancient texts for aligned collective function, but clearly the legends of King Arthur give us the renowned image and idea of the Round Table. And in the following excerpt, I examine some of the meaning implicit in this symbol.

Below is excerpted from Chapter 20 of a new (and yet fully completed) book by Diana Durham, with the working title:
Who We Are Is What We Do - Decoding the Wisdom Teachings, East & West

The Round Table & Collective Leadership
© 2010 Diana Durham

Kennedy’s 1000 day administration has long been associated in popular references with the legend of King Arthur. The musical ‘Camelot’ had opened on Broadway only weeks after Kennedy’s election, and as well as becoming a big hit, had also been apparently a personal favorite of the Kennedy’s. Its music and spirit seems to have pervaded to some degree the atmosphere of their White House, and certainly to have colored the way Jackie Kennedy had seen things. For after Kennedy’s death, it was she who insisted that the writer Theodore White evoke a connection between Kennedy’s brief era and the promise of an idealized Camelot in his essay about the late president for ‘Life’ magazine.
Camelot was the fabled castle and court that housed the round table, where the Knights of the Round Table would gather. The round table has long been a symbol of brotherhood, of noble purpose, of coming together to do good on behalf of the wider community. Many groups and philanthropic organizations have taken the symbol, in some shape or form, to evoke their mission, including the Round Table organizations in Britain, which in America are called Rotary clubs. In Kennedy’s time, the ‘knights’ were those who asked not what the country could do for them, but what they could do for their country, they were the Peace Corps volunteers, the NASA scientists and technicians who implemented Project Mercury with the ultimate goal of putting a man on the moon, and the Civil Rights advocates who fought to end segregation in the South. The then Jackie Kennedy wanted her husband and his administration to be remembered in a more golden and heroic light, than as a piece of what she termed ‘bitter history’, where events were examined through a cold and analytical lens. In essence, her aims were the same as the last lyric from the musical:
“Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.”

Depending on one’s point of view, the association with Camelot is either a deft piece of propaganda or a poignant truth. Certainly one essay cannot explain the impact of Kennedy’s assassination on many people, not just in the USA, but worldwide, and the way the lost promise of his presidency haunted several generations of Americans.

Romanticized and popularized as it was, the musical ‘Camelot’ was based on a myth, on an archetype. And archetype often holds truth that other analysis loses. Whatever the failures and blind spots that had led to the Cuban missile crisis, Kennedy’s leadership during it is - in my mind - the deeper reason why such a popular association took hold. Kennedy acted on behalf of the whole, he steered the outworking away from the brink of nuclear war, and toward a condition of greater stability. And the mythical King Arthur epitomizes the quality of great leadership for the same reasons. It was not because he carried out stunning heroic solo acts, but because he united the Kingdom, and set up the Round Table, which are both to do with unification, or acting on behalf of the whole.

The shape of the round table is revolutionary. It is not a simple hierarchy - a long narrow, rectangular table with King Arthur at the top. Arthur is king, but he has not placed himself at the center of things. Everyone sits as a peer round this table because each one has equal access to that center. At the same time, the knights all have different skillsets, expertise and roles. There is always the king - the overall leader, the CEO or the President - and then there are the various officials or executives who report to him. The Secretary of State, the army chiefs, the Attorney General, the CFO, the vice-president, the Chairman of the Board, etc Each one of these advisors brings a different perspective and this spectrum of viewpoints and experience can contribute to filling out understanding of whatever the issues are. The enlightened leader values and seeks to draw out this collective input, just as Kennedy did. The reason he seeks to operate this way is because a good leader always has the service of the larger whole at heart, and not a narrow or over-personalized agenda.

The round table, therefore, with both king and knights seated at its rim symbolizes well the qualities and approach of the aligned leader. He or she seeks the good of the whole - the kingdom is unified - and the input of many - each has equal access to the center.

However, this symbol is clearly not just about the experience of one individual, but about the possibilities of group action and experience. It moves us beyond the idea of individual alignment, and introduces the possibility of a collective or unit of people who are acting in alignment together for the benefit of the whole. As I have already explored, the popular understanding of this is of a company of individually heroic knights, slaying giants, overcoming wayward knights, etc, and then returning to the court to recount their deeds. But there is far more depth to the meaning of this symbol than that of coming together to do good deeds, for the Round Table takes us into the dynamics and possibilities of collective leadership - what this means, what it takes to bring it about, what its potential is.

Collective leadership has to do with a group functioning as a kind of self- organizing whole, in such a way that solutions and direction are harvested out of the group presence, through its interactions and interrelationships. It is not about one person leading and the rest following, it is the group itself figuring out how to function together so that the whole leads.

Clearly one aspect of collective leadership was demonstrated during the Cuban missile crisis, when the input of many people was sought and valued by Kennedy. The round table where each knight sits as a peer, with equal access to the center, symbolizes how the contribution of each one was valid, regardless of role or rank. So there was a pooling of what could be called the collective intelligence, and whether it was the fighter pilot’s eye-witness report of events on the ground in Cuba, or the advice of the American Ambassador to the UN, no one could tell ahead of time, which bit of that intelligence was more or less important in synthesizing an overview and in figuring out what to do. But there is more to collective leadership than the gathering of collective intelligence. And once again the symbol of the round table can help us think about this, for its shape is opening a deeper possibility which is the potential of each person being a peer or an equal not just in terms of the perspective and experience that he or she brings and adds to the mix, but in terms of access to the higher order vision. Building on the insights of physicist David Bohm, those who pioneered much of the dialogue work in large-scale organizations identified a phase of the dialogic process in which the group shifts from being a collection of 'parts' or separate individuals and starts thinking and functioning as a collective whole, calling down a deeper, shared intelligence and understanding. And it is this wellhead of fused intelligence that is also represented by the center of the table. What is interesting, of course, about dialogue and certain other group processes is that sitting in circles is an integral part of their practice!

A recent book identifies this deeper aspect of collective leadership as ‘collective wisdom’. Its four co-authors write:
“While some writers speak of collective intelligence, we use the term collective wisdom to reflect a quality of group understanding that is neither of the intellect alone nor of any individual alone. When this knowing emerges, it does so from deep within the individual participants, from within the collective awareness of the group ...”
-Alan Briskin, Sheryl Erickson, John Ott & Tom Callanan, (2009)
The Power of Collective Wisdom and the Trap of Collective Folly

I think this distinction is very useful in understanding the evolving complexities of what is happening in collective leadership. Collective intelligence is when we input into the center of the table - we are pooling our thoughts, our opinions, ideas, information, perspectives, etc, based upon our different viewpoints, roles, skills, backgrounds, experience, and so on. And then the center of the table represents this pooling of information, and the overview that is gained by it. Collective wisdom is when that center of the table has become the fused flow from the higher order of collective presence, which we can now draw down and access.

One process moves from the rim into the center, the other process moves from the center out to the rim. And probably there is a natural breathing in and breathing out that goes on constantly in groupings, that is related to these two aspects of intelligence and wisdom - and the interrelationship between them - that together form the basis of the possibility of collective leadership.

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