Voting as a Simple Act in Complexity

I voted early the other day. I didn’t feel any significant sense of relief, though it did feel good to vote for Hillary. But the election is still two weeks away.

I actually don’t expect to feel a huge sense of relief even if the election turns out the way I think it will, which is that Hillary will win, and win big.

Assuming she wins, I would really love to believe that the story then ends rosily. We will have dodged a bullet by not electing the least qualified, most dangerous Presidential candidate in US history. And we will have elected the most qualified candidate in history, who also happens to be a woman, which is more than a good thing. Both of those facts would be true.

But, the story will not have ended.

In fact, the polarizing currents of separation, racism, economic disparity, misogyny, and xenophobia that this interminable election cycle has exacerbated will continue well past Nov. 8. Whoever is elected may have a very difficult time actually governing.

Our Republic is a flawed but noble adventure that has gotten many things right while sometimes doing grievous harm. We have seen our government paralyzed for years by polarized and entrenched interests that have a difficult time finding common ground, even though it is absolutely imperative that we find it. Now, a demagogue has played up legitimate feelings of disenfranchisement and fanned the flames of anger and blame, fracturing our nation even further. To withhold a commitment to honor the results of the election process at the very core of our democracy is to put the whole enterprise at risk.

This is complexity in action. The election has seemed an astoundingly long process, but from a different perspective, it’s a short chapter in a very long story that will continue into the distant future. The process of emergence, of disruptions to long held assumptions, of high stakes gamesmanship, of acting from narrow sets of interests without regard to the larger whole… these conditions ensure the show will get more dramatic before it settles down.

I am launching a series of blog posts around the rich topic of what it means to live, and lead, in complexity. How we can sense the environment we are leading in, recognize what is at stake for us, and sense how we are responding and what other possibilities might be available to us.

This series of posts is not inspired by the election, nor will it present a narrative about how our country can recover from the scorched earth wreckage of this election cycle. I don’t have answers to this, but it’s clear that Hillary, our next President, has her work cut out for her.

It’s also clear that the US political process is providing a dramatic and current example of complexity that is unfolding in unpredictable ways that exceed our capacity to make sense of them. Note that earlier this year the UK voted for Brexit (based largely on exaggerated promises by dubious promoters,) and Columbia turned down a peace agreement with the FARC rebels that took four years to negotiate. In Columbia, 19% of the population voted for the agreement, 19.2% voted against, and 62% didn’t vote because everyone thought it would pass easily. Both of these examples are catastrophically bad decisions made by democracies that weren’t paying attention.

This is something we can all learn from. Finding new ways to sense and understand complex systems, and to act in them skillfully, is a central task of our times.

Do you know what the first thing is? Vote! You know my heart; follow yours, but vote. The outcome of Nov. 8 will not end the story, but that doesn’t diminish the crucial importance of this particular event along the path. It’s the first thing to do, and as complex as the world is, voting is really simple.

Then, trust that the process of emergence will continue after Nov. 8. There will be plenty of surprises. As Hameed Ali says, “Reality does not take breaks.” So, pay attention. There will be much to learn and much to bear witness to as the future unfolds.

There will be much for each of us to do.


I have been feeling the turning for some time now.

It began a couple years ago, when a combination of circumstances made it clear that we could no longer sustain what we had so enthusiastically built, and it was time to create some change. Moving to town, selling our beloved retreat center, Walker retiring, building the team that delivers and manages the Presence-Based Coaching offer, and a couple of other moves opened a distinct new chapter.

Presence-Based Coaching has reached a maturity and impact I couldn’t have imagined fifteen years ago. I work with fascinating clients, our work is rich and influential, it’s all working. Yet, there’s more.

I’m inquiring into what’s next

I’m inquiring into what’s next

I’m inquiring into what’s next. Not as in “I’m retiring and what do I do with the rest of my life,” but more like “what is worth energizing now.” My path has always been an integrative one… seeking the next edge to my own development, and folding my learning into the living work that we collectively bring forward, and that is also my expression in the world.

So, when I feel this calling, I listen.

This time, it has something to do with a more direct connection of our Presence-Based work to the crucial issues of our times. There are lots of people who are doing important work for the benefit of us all that are not likely to know about, or attend PBC training. I want to be of service to this movement… the social entrepreneurs, those contributing to the creation of life-affirming alternatives to myopic consumption, people who are experimenting with how business can benefit us all. I’m seeking new and creative means to support leaders and the systems they are working with. And engaging small systems of highly committed people that want to take their mission and purpose all the way through. I’m called to link with others who wish to experiment with Presence-Based coaching and leadership as a foundation for collaboration in service to what matters.

And, I’ve been hesitant about this. I was asked in a coaching conversation recently if I “was just window shopping, or buying something?” Great question! Here are just a few of the narratives through which my underlying fears express themselves:

  • “I’m comfortable doing what I’m doing, I’ve worked really hard to build this, it’s working…. there’s no need to change.” (Well, true. And I’m sensing a calling, and I’m paying attention to it. There’s more.)
  • “I don’t trust myself to set boundaries. I am afraid of getting out of whack like when I was younger. I’m not willing to live on airplanes and in hotels.” (Actually, I do trust myself to set boundaries. I’ve gotten really good at declining opportunities that don’t fit. Nice try!)
  • “I don’t really know what this looks like, and am hesitant to put it out until I know.” (So, who’s to say that heartfelt prayers need to be accompanied by detailed specifications? I can enter whole-heartedly, and trust what comes back.)

Underneath them all is some level of fear, and most of these little stories don’t stand up to scrutiny!

I love the experience of whole-heartedness

I love the experience of whole-heartedness

True, I don’t know what’s emergent (although I have a lot of ideas!) I know there’s more, something about the shape of it. I love the experience of whole-heartedness. Here’s some of what I’m doing to invite this future:

  • Another book is expressing itself through me. This third book will be a significant re-positioning of our work into a leadership context, and will speak to new audiences in new ways. The book will serve as an attractor for conversations and collaborations.
  • My own development has always been the animating force for my professional expressions. (OK, this is not conventional business strategy, but following the frothy edge has provided reliable guidance for the past 40 years. I see no reason not to trust it now.) Doing my practices, being in the woods, inquiring into the nature of my experience, engaging my life partners, coaches, and guides is tremendously clarifying.
  • Investing in two significant professional development experiences this year will put me in new contexts with people doing work that I deeply respect and can learn from. I will be shaped by these in ways that I can’t fully anticipate.
  • I am actively engaged in a number of conversations with younger, mission driven people about how we might partner for mutual benefit. This will increasingly become a kind of fast-cycle prototyping of new kinds of engagements, which will in turn actively create What’s Next. The right conversations continue to appear in response to my transparency.

The core Presence-Based Coaching training continues to be the place where foundations and principles emerge. Retreats are at the core and the depth and commitment of those who come catalyzes my learning as well as theirs. I am fully committed here; the retreats are where the work is evolving.

Being whole-hearted doesn’t mean needing to know the shape of things to come. It simply means being congruent and aligned with the discovery process. It means being joyful, all in, and not knowing, all at the same time.

  • What emergent future are you holding at bay?
  • With what stories are you hedging your bets?
  • What would whole-heartedness look like for you?

The Turning of the Wheel

There is ample evidence for the turning of the wheel

There is ample evidence for the turning of the wheel

There is ample evidence for the turning of the wheel.

I have two grandchildren. My father is 85, and counting. I’m in my 60’s. Walker and I have faced significant health challenges. We sold our retreat center last year. All these are indicators of bold new territory!

In this emerging chapter of our lives, there is plenty of evidence of decline, of wearing out. And, there’s increased lightness, freedom, less and less of a sense of having anything to prove, and little concern about building business. There is much more of a sense that everything counts.

What we do matters, there’s choice, and time is short.

In this turning, I sense two strong pulls in myself. One, the desire to engage the Presence-Based Coaching work more directly with the world’s pressing issues.

We have created a very strong body of work about developing humans, about holding authentic conversations, about catalyzing leadership through substantial challenges. Yet, for me, there’s a persistent question about how to best get this work out in the world to those who most need it. This invites questions of scaling, of what the bigger game is, of how to democratize the leading edge of human development. There is lots to do.

What we do matters, there’s choice, and time is short.

What we do matters, there’s choice, and time is short.

The second strong pull is towards simplicity. While my web of commitments is getting simpler, and I say “No, Thanks!” with increasing ease to opportunities that don’t feel like a fit, there’s an aching in me for greater freedom, less to carry through the world, less time spent on things that others can do better or things that don’t count for much and don’t provide joy.

These two tendencies seem to pull in opposite directions. Yet, there is truth in both.

I don’t know what this next chapter will look like, though I know that, in five years, my work life will be significantly different. I invite that, and trust that I will both choose, and be shaped by, the future as it emerges.

I also know that collaboration with creative others is nourishing and essential. I am participating in Otto Scharmer’s MOOC. The processes for profound social change that he is describing dovetail exquisitely with, and leverage, our Presence-Based leadership work. There is much more to explore here, and you can expect to hear more about the nexus of these two bodies of work.

Otto offered a lovely YouTube clip from the film Bagger Vance, in which Will Smith invites Matt Damon to sense the field, sense the one perfect shot that is calling him to it. While the specific shape of my one perfect future has yet to be revealed, it will be characterized by being both bigger, and simpler. It will be done with others. And, it will include, and transcend, the Presence-Based Coaching foundation that we have been building together for 15 years now.

This is what I’m up to at this turning of the wheel. I am sensing the future, and investing in conversations and learning that focus and accelerate this sensing. I will be experimenting and prototyping with this in the coming months and years. You are invited to the conversation.

collaboration with creative others is nourishing and essential

collaboration with creative others is nourishing and essential

For now, please weigh in with your thoughts:

  • How, in transitions, have you sensed future possibilities emerging?
  • How did you engage others in exploring or prototyping the territory?
  • What transition are you in now, and how are you resourcing yourself?