It is clear with the success of Wisdom 2.0, the growing field of “flourishing”, and growth in leadership development spending by U.S. companies (over $13 billion in 2012), that there is growing interest in how to integrate concepts of mindfulness into the workplace in order to help individuals and organizations unlock their full leadership potential. I am struck by the absence of anything related to our connection to nature or the role of planet earth in these programs– wild is missing from the wisdom. Then I got thinking about all the sustainable business events and gatherings I attend – where the limits of natural systems might be discussed, but no time is spent in nature, connecting viscerally to why we are champions of change.
Wild Wisdom Leadership programs, developed by executive coach Linda Graf, are the antidotes to this problem. In December of last year I had the pleasure of experiencing one of her programs, a nature-based leadership experience that aims to strengthen leaders’ connection to the natural world. Linda describes Wild Wisdom as a “methodology that allows you to access more information and make better decisions.” But why is it wild? “It’s wild because it incorporates nature.” Read on to learn more about the details on how to learn from nature.
Learning from Nature
Sustainability professionals are familiar with Natural Capitalism and Biomimicry, which urge business leaders to model production and products after nature’s time-tested patterns, strategies and limits, e.g., a solar cell inspired by a leaf, and to eliminate the very concept of waste by creating closed-loop production systems, modeled on nature’s design. Wild Wisdom Leadership is about empowering leaders to look to nature to enhance one’s leadership effectiveness and to make decisions aligned with their core values and purpose.
There is nothing new about leadership trainings nor outdoor survival programs such as Outward Bound. Linda’s offering is unique because it offers a leadership lens, coaching, and solo time in nature that is not physically demanding. Traditional vision quests are offered by a range of companies (e.g., Animus Institute and School of Lost Borders), but you are out on the land on your own three to four days and they typically don’t offer the ‘leadership lens’ and integration support that Linda provides.
Is a Wisdom Walk for You?
Wild Wisdom is not for the faint-of-heart. It is for leaders ready to show up differently and who want to transform their leadership from the inside out. Linda typically works with leaders and middle managers interested in connecting deeper with themselves and their purpose. Many of her clients are grappling with business issues ranging from introducing new product lines to deciding whether it’s time to let members of the executive team go. Some are questioning whether it is time to leave their organizations and follow a new career path. Others are challenged with communication issues or work/life balance.
Linda stresses, “Green MBAers, sustainability professionals, as well as all politicians would benefit from spending time in nature so they can ‘hear’ what nature, the missing stakeholder, is saying.” According to Linda, her clients gain fresh perspectives to challenging problems, clarity about their purpose and access innovative solutions. They leave the program with renewed enthusiasm for their work. “My clients leave with a stronger connection to the natural world, clarity on the issues challenging them and practical steps for moving forward their ideas, plans and visions,” affirms Linda. Linda’s Website includes four video clips of past clients sharing their experience, including a manager from The Republic of Tea and a CEO of an insurance group.
Take a Walk on the Wild Side
Linda enthusiastically explains, “Nature has an intelligence and if we unplug and slow down, we can hear it.” She loves to work in the wild beauty of Glacier Park, Montana where she lives, but also offers her Quest programs in other inspiring locations such as the high desert of Arizona and the primal beauty of Molokai, Hawaii. The full three-day Executive Wisdom Quest is structured around setting intentions and clarifying key questions, stepping out of ordinary time for a full day from sunrise to sunset, followed by a period of reflection and integration. This is not an Outward Bound experience. Linda ensures her clients get plenty of rest in comfortable lodging not far from the Quest locations.
In the one-day Wisdom Walk I attended, the pre-work helped us hone-in and focus on a key question. We crossed a “threshold” into 90-mintues alone in nature. The remainder of the day was set aside for reflection of our nature experience and integration. Linda provided our small group guidance and helped us interpret our experiences and insights.
Linda’s work incorporates the Wisdom Compass,TM a model, developed by Burke Miller, founder of the Executive Wisdom Institute. The Wisdom Compass provides focus for exploring key questions. During my Wisdom Walk I was most drawn to the areas of Purpose and Integrity and spent my solo time exploring these two quadrants with such questions as:
- What fires me up?
- What unique role do I play?
- Where am I not completely truthful?
- What structures, forms or systems do I need to support my life/work vision?
I was drawn to brambles and prickly plants – which I collected into an impromptu art installation. I later shared from my journal, “I ate fear for lunch. And composted her.” A message to soften perhaps? Break out of fear-based thinking? “Nature speaks to us through metaphor,” reminds Linda. “We just have to slow down enough to listen.” My work with Linda continues, as she is taking me through the complete Quest process via ‘Skype’ – stay tuned for more on this.
Listen to Nature
Next time you are wrestling with a question or have a decision to make, Linda offers the following tips for creating your own Wisdom Walk. Her website offers a free download that outlines these steps in more detail.
- Write down your question or issue.
- Set aside an hour or so and go outside.
- Go alone and remove any distractions (i.e. leave your cell phone behind).
- Create a threshold and step into ‘special time’.
- Go for a walk, wander or let yourself be drawn to a place to sit.
- Come back…cross back over your ‘threshold’.
- Journal and integrate – notice what answers show up.
Opportunities to Learn More
Linda will be facilitating a Wisdom Walk on Saturday, April 12 in the Marin Headlands just north of the Golden Gate Bridge and in Santa Barbara the following week. More details can be found on her Website. The daylong Wisdom Walks are an affordable $125. Contact Linda to explore the pricing options of longer programs.
Deborah Fleischer, president of Green Impact, supports organizations with a commitment to sustainability create innovative communication strategies and engagement programs that inspire action and create impact. She works with NGOs, universities, local governments and companies, including the Haas School of Business Center for Responsible Business, EcoAmerica, University of California, San Francisco, Sonoma Open Space District and the County of Ventura.
Green Impact was ranked as one of the top three communications agencies by Corporate Responsibility Magazine. Two recent video projects won 2013 Telly awards in the employee communications and environmental categories. You can follow her occasional tweets at @GreenImpact, join her Facebook page or check out her blog Shades of Green.
Photos by Deborah Fleischer and Linda Graf. Man in photos – www.jordanhines.com