where leadership lives

connection: image of hands connected


where leadership lives:
embodiment and the myth of mind

INcite with angel Kyodo williams

We exist in a time in which we are acutely aware of the need for leadership and yet despite the litany of blogs, the avalanche of articles, and the legions of trainings on leadership, our yearning for consistent, reliable and plentiful leaders within progressive political and social movements is not quite fulfilled. Our mistrust and fear of being failed by leaders has reached pandemic proportions. So much so that the most infectious movement since the civil rights era is a self-proclaimed  “leaderless” one. And it is now paying the price of the lack of core strength, cohesion and coalescence that clear leadership, whether by one or by many, provides.

What’s the deal? Where are our leaders, or more precisely—where does leadership live?

First and foremost, we need to reclaim the idea of what a leader is from the debilitating notion that anyone with a position of power over others is a leader. There are bosses, managers, directors and politicians. All worthy positions. But though we can place people in leadership roles, that won’t make them leaders. To be a leader is to inhabit leadership.

Transformative Leadership
I spend a lot of time considering, debating and putting into practice what it means to be transformative: to inhabit a way of being that, in and of itself, ignites and fires the alchemical process of transformation in people, situations and society.

We long to be in the presence of people that tap into the deep evolutionary urge to be greater than the sum of our neurotic, fearful, self-obsessed parts. We all want and need to be great leaders of our own selves so that we can be great followers when the time comes. For great social leaders are not separate from the society they lead: the greatness that inhabits individuals expresses itself as a result of the collective calling them forth. Leaders may be born or made, but leadership is mutually co-arising.

However, I’ve come to believe that long before we can become transformative leaders, we have to become embodied ones.

Embodied Leadership
The from-the-neck up culture we swim in and most training we receive would have us believe that our leader-ness is transmitted solely from our brains. That how we are as leaders is fabricated in our minds and simply ordered up and delivered to our incidental bodies to act upon. That somehow knowing what leadership requires is to be able to lead.

But leading is not only the influencing of others, it is guiding in a way that others can emulate or follow. The former is the work of manipulators and puppet masters whose own chips don’t have to be on the table. The latter requires they show us the way.
The trick is that in order to lead us towards a destinative purpose, leaders have to have the way in their own bodies. They are the individuals that live and breathe the way not yet known in order to reveal it to the collective. They have to be the way so we can confidently follow. They are the imaginal cells of our butterfly bodies. We will do what a boss says. But a leader, we will follow.

Hence no one that goes it alone as a leader. It is followers that make a leader. On the other hand, leaders must be able to step forward and advocate on behalf of what’s right even when no one is yet behind them. We often mistake agreement by the masses or even close advisors for affirmation of what is right and true. But all visionary leaders exist in a vacuum for some period of time. It is their unwavering commitment, coupled with a unflagging willingness to paint the picture that inspires us past our fear and resistance to change that makes them who they are…and makes us want to get to wherever it is they’re taking us.

But coupled with vision, every progressive social leap forward was actually a path paved with stones of possibility. Each step steered us away from the familiar and tolerable, toward the apparently impossible and as-yet-unknown. Those stones were carved by the hands of leaders that shaped each one and beheld those of us that stepped on them, with love.

Every truly failed social effort is a lack of embodying the values we aspire to when shit hits the fan. When met with the very real experiences of pressure, speed, resistance and unexpected change, the mind retreats into smallness. It is the body that can be practiced to expand. Leadership lives in the body.

Today’s progressive leaders must systematically and lovingly prepare us to tolerate the inherent discomfort of change now in order to wedge open the way to transformation in the future. To do that, they must be the leading point of that wedge, willing to meet resistance where it is and still hold space for us all to come along.

  • they must do this under pressure;
  • they must do this while in motion;
  • they must do this with and on behalf of others; and,
  • they must do this by winning heart and minds–from within their bodies

Inclusive. Decisive. Collaborative.

Beyond visionary leadership is embodied leadership. Leadership that not only allows us glimpses of what could be, but grounds us in what is to transport us into a felt sense of what must be.

And from there, only from there, may we find our way into becoming leaders that are truly, breathtakingly, transformative.


your in truth, aKw

dedicated to the leaders of the past, present and future, that lead with their bodies…and with love. and on this 44th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. may we celebrate his love of justice on behalf of us all.

Click here for information on bringing Embodied Transformative Leadership to your organization, foundation or community.

copyright ©MMXII. angel Kyodo williams
changeangel: all things change. (sm)
angel Kyodo williams is a maverick teacher, author, social visionary
and founder of Center for Transformative Change.
she posts, tweets & blogs on all things change.
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About angel Kyodo williams

angel Kyodo williams, the “change angel,” is Founder Emeritus of a Center for Transformative Change. She now serves as a Senior Fellow and Director of Vision. A social visionary and leading voice for transformative social change, she is the author of the critically-acclaimed Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living With Fearlessness and Grace.
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