Leadership and Beauty

Twin Falls

A recent New York Times arti­cle, “How Beau­ty is Mak­ing Sci­en­tists Rethink Evo­lu­tion,” caught my eye and ear. Fer­ris Jabr’s lucid prose verges at the end of the arti­cle to poet­ry and is framed through­out with exquis­ite images of bird feath­ers by Ken­ji Aoki. The con­tent of the arti­cle is about evo­lu­tion­ary biol­o­gy and sci­en­tif­ic the­o­ries of beau­ty’s role in the chang­ing plumage of birds. 

I think there is secret­ly some­thing in us humans that wants to con­tain beau­ty, to put it in a cage like a bird and be able to explain it with a final log­ic. (See the Wikipedia def­i­n­i­tion of neu­roaes­thet­ics, for exam­ple, with its ana­lyt­i­cal dis­po­si­tion and ref­er­ences to brain research.) But there is also some­thing about beau­ty, as Jabr makes clear in his treat­ment of the sub­ject and the whole beau­ti­ful pre­sen­ta­tion of the arti­cle itself, that inevitably escapes any for­mu­la at all.

From a per­son­al stand­point, I’m inter­est­ed because beau­ty, along with oth­er absolute val­ues such as time­less­ness, silence and com­mu­ni­ty, are the active guides to my work with peo­ple who want or need to lead. I’m clear that I hold these absolutes as my bias­es in work that could be guid­ed in many dif­fer­ent ways. There are coach­es and con­sul­tants like me who are guid­ed most strong­ly by social val­ues such as jus­tice and empa­thy, and oth­ers who are guid­ed just as firm­ly by cap­i­tal­ist val­ues like pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and per­for­mance. When I think of my own pres­ence sup­port­ing the growth and devel­op­ment of peo­ple in lead­er­ship roles, how­ev­er, what’s clear is that I hold my work pri­mar­i­ly as a type of art. This is not to say oth­er sit­u­a­tion­al val­ues aren’t there, includ­ing some just men­tioned, or that I only see peo­ple as objects. Nor does it mean that I see lead­ing as an art where some­body else’s meth­ods need to be “beau­ti­fied” in some way. It’s not that kind of (large­ly fake) artistry at all. Rather, it’s that this work involves moments when remark­able, intan­gi­ble, beau­ti­ful things hap­pen — in a con­ver­sa­tion or a meet­ing; for exam­ple when some­one’s sto­ry unex­pect­ed­ly opens up, where there is a true explo­ration and an illu­mi­nat­ing dia­logue, where there is insight and con­nec­tion, where new life appears and the heart is awakened.

If you call a qual­i­ty such as beau­ty for­ward, not lit­er­al­ly but through the tone of an exchange, vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty and trust show up more eas­i­ly. Even if there is anger at the start, the anger can be giv­en its own space and pur­pose. It does­n’t need to be quashed; it responds to being cared for. It can become an under­stood anger rather than sim­ply an ugly one. A per­son who is strug­gling with con­fi­dence may come to find that it is a beau­ti­ful strug­gle for what it means to live a good life or to do good work. 

Beau­ty does­n’t mean there is no pain or sor­row or stretch­ing in some way. It may be a process of molt­ing, shed­ding old feath­ers, hair, or skin, or an old shell to make way for new growth. It may mean becom­ing part of a dif­fer­ent flow, being swept over a water­fall in one’s work or one’s life and nev­er going back. And, it can also mean see­ing with accep­tance that noth­ing needs to change at all.

Peo­ple come for­ward in my prac­tice to deal with their blind spots and fears. They want to grow past them­selves. They and their inte­ri­or work have an intrin­sic beau­ty that they fre­quent­ly do not see, at least at the begin­ning, and so as part of my role I hope to hold a mir­ror to them all. Beau­ty is con­text, at times a flood­gate, at times a gen­tle trick­le in the for­est, at times an open­ing in sol­id rock. I don’t believe there can ever be a for­mu­la for this work, any more than there can be a final def­i­n­i­tion of what beau­ty is, what it means, or how it might unfold moment to moment for any liv­ing being.


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