Leading from the Heart

November 1, 2011

Leading from the heart, what might that look like? My last posting addressed leading from the mind. It highlighted that wonderful capacity within us to detach, step back, getting to the “balcony” and observe both patterns and options in a given complex situation.

Leading from the heart offers a different perspective. In this reflection, I am attempting to translate some teaching from Cynthia Bourgeault and apply it to leadership. Bourgeault, an Episcopal priest steeped in the contemplative tradition, defines the heart as the organ of alignment. This is in contrast to our accustomed thinking of the heart as the seat of emotions. Rather, see the heart as that cultivated capacity within us to discern and join the Spirit at work in a complex situation.

In a lecture about the Trinity, Bourgeault refers to the “Law of the Three.” This differs from the more familiar Hegelian schema: thesis, anti-thesis and synthesis. With thesis and antithesis as conflicting forces, we look for some synthesis, a compromise usually not satisfying to either side.

The Law of the Three is different. It posits that in many, if not most, situations, there are affirming forces and opposing or denying forces. But, according to this Law, there is also present a third force, the reconciling or creative force. By aligning with the third creative force the result can be, not just compromise, but a new thing, a new creation that is more satisfying to all parties.

Bourgeault offers two metaphors. There is the wind and the water, both opposing forces. There is creative movement only when the helmsman with tiller in hand works respectfully with the opposing forces in ways that move the sailboat forward in the desired direction.

Or, there is the sperm and the egg. By themselves, nothing happens. Only with love-making are they joined in a way that creates the new, the formation of a person.

In this Law of the Three paradigm the leader from the aligning “heart” intentionally places herself in the midst of opposing forces. Within the chaos she looks for creative possibilities that are attempting to form. She values the differences, honors the resistances and works to avoid “either-or” stances. You are willing to “hold” both sides with care. All the while, as leader, she looks for commonalities. In Genesis 1:1 fashion, she assumes that a creative Spirit is brooding within the chaos, working to bring forth fresh creations. In other words, something new is trying to be born. So, much like a midwife, the leader searches for ways to align with this birthing Spirit. And, I assume, this midwifery capacity can be cultivated over time.

With the Law of the Three in mind, I have been working on a point-of-view article for the local newspaper. With the coming spring ballot on amending the N.C. state constitution to further outlaw same-sex marriage, soon the media will be full of strident voices “for” and “against.” Along with acknowledging both opposing forces, I am wondering, might there be a creative third force at work? Where is the creative force, besides “yes” and “no” that I can align with?

I am thinking that within this divisive conversation, one truth may be overlooked: both sides value marriage. Both movements care about the sanctity of marriage. Both opposing voices are speaking for marriage in a time when the institution of marriage is itself being questioned by our society. For many, gays and straights alike, marriage looks unduly confining, an option they choose to avoid.

I go on to argue that faithful promises of covenant love in one relationship strengthens this capacity in us all. I suggest that the increasing number of same-sex couples, documented by the U.S. Census, just may enhance, not diminish, the institution of marriage. They help us hold high the “bar” of covenant love.

My point is not for you to focus on gay marriage, a topic more complicated than my few comments. Simply, I am illustrating my effort to practice the Law of the Three, this process of leading from the heart. I found it intriguing and worth playing with. Hope you do as well.