Joe Jaworski remembers the moment he began his journey to a new understanding of leadership. It was 1973, and his father, Leon Jaworski, had been called from his ranch in Texas to Washington, D.C. to act as the Watergate Special Prosecutor.
“Early one morning we went out into the boondocks to chop cedar, and we stopped for a break,” Jaworski says. “My father squatted down under an oak tree and started to tell me what he’d heard on the Watergate tapes. Then he took out a packet of papers, and almost threw it down in the dirt, he was so angry. He said, ‘Here, read this.’ It was a transcript of the tape of Nixon and his co-conspirators trying to figure out how they would perjure themselves. They sounded like a gang of barroom thugs. And I remember thinking, How is it that our system allowed people in the highest parts of the government to breach the public trust so dramatically?”
Jaworski’s book, “Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership” (Berrett-Koehler Publishers) , which comes out this month, chronicles his search for an answer, describes his inquiry into the nature of leadership, and suggests a new meaning for company strategy and business transformation.
Jaworski’s story begins when he pulled away from a successful law career. A series of connections with remarkable people — from David Bohm, one of the principal architects of quantum theory, to John Gardner, founder of Common Cause — led him to create the American Leadership Forum, a community-based leadership program with chapters in half-a-dozen cities. From there Jaworski went to London to lead Royal Dutch/Shell’s scenario planning group — an elite unit responsible for farsighted global trend analysis. He now works with the Organizational Learning Center at MIT, and with the Centre for Generative Leadership in Hamilton, Massachusetts.
In business, what is the job of the leader?
Leadership is discovering the company’s destiny and having the courage to follow it.
Do you believe that companies have destinies?
Yes, I do. But it’s not the same thing as a company vision. A company’s destiny is a matter of purpose, an expression of why it exists. I think we’re beginning to understand that companies that endure have a noble purpose.
How is your definition of leadership different from the more traditional definition?
Most leadership programs begin with a description of the attributes of the leader — a leader has vision, a leader has courage, a leader inspires others. All of that’s fine; it’s very important. But what’s leadership really all about? To me, leadership is a journey toward wholeness. A leader’s journey starts by looking inward to understand, Why am I here? What is it that I’m here to do?
The traditional notion of leadership is that it’s about leading others. You’re saying it’s about discovering yourself.
Before you can lead others, before you can help others, you have to discover yourself. Today a leader can’t impose himself on others. He makes himself available to others. And nothing is more powerful than someone who knows who they are.
Once you can be that way, all those other wonderful traits flow from that. They become apparent. Authenticity — if you know what you’re all about and where you’re heading, you become more authentic. Credibility — if you know who you are, then people trust you.
The traditional view of leadership talks about leadership as a package, but it looks at the outside of the package. I’m talking about starting with what’s inside the package.
David Bohm, the world-famous physicist, had a powerful impact on your thinking. What did you learn from him?
David Bohm was a brilliant scientist, a colleague of Einstein. He was also the most spiritual being I’ve ever met. He taught me a fundamentally different way of looking at the world.
What he told me was that there was an order underneath the reality that most of us live in; he called it the “implicate order.” One of the deepest assumptions of humans is that we can’t really make choices, that reality is what it is. But Bohm believed that if we’re truly in touch with the implicate order, we can sense what will happen and participate in making it manifest. If we reach deeply into ourselves, we will be able to discover what’s going to happen and participate in bringing it forth.
How does that relate to business strategy?
The work I did at Royal Dutch/ Shell in scenario planning was some of the most advanced planning that business does. We created a very sensitive approach to listening and discovering the directions that events were moving in. But we were still reactive. We were waiting for events to unfold, and then seeking to respond as quickly as we could.
David Bohm’s insight taught me that there’s something even more profound than scenario planning. It’s strategy where you go inside the implicate order to sense what wants to happen and then participate in guiding and nudging it along.
How can businesses apply your view of leadership and strategy?
Everybody in business today understands the need to transform their companies. This is particularly true in big companies. But they also understand that the things we’ve tried don’t go far enough. Techniques like reengineering have been discredited. I believe that the way to transform a company begins with personal transformation. And the way to personal transformation begins with the kind of leadership I’m talking about.
I believe that the top leadership group in a company has to commit itself to a journey of self-discovery. And the leaders have to provide space for the other people in the company to do the same. If you want a creative explosion to take place, if you want the kind of performance that leads to truly exceptional results, you have to be willing to embark on a journey that leads to an alignment between an individual’s personal values and aspirations and the company’s values and aspirations.