Leader as Healer – A book review and a challenge for executive coaching by Viv Chitty

‘Our operating model of indefatigable consumption and endless economic growth is leading us to the cliff’s edge. In the face of ever-increasing complexity, unpredictability and change, the need for individuals, organizations and societies to access higher evolutionary potentials is more important, and more urgent than ever’ (Janni, 2022). In this book Nicholas Janni explores his challenge to the current operating model, detailing why he thinks that such an execution-oriented way of leading, with leaders being masters of ‘incremental change and gradual shift’, selected and rewarded for powers of profit-maximisation, is outdated and indeed responsible for the global dangers we face.

Leaders as healers – the path of restoration

Janni presents a ‘path of restoration, through which we reintegrate previously exiled aspects of our nature: physical, emotional and transpersonal’. To meet the systemic, existential and global challenges he argues that leaders need to be ‘evolutionary’, ‘heralds of a new future’, able to be comfortable with, and embrace, uncertainty and adapt to complexity by moving away from formulaic strategies.

He argues that there is a need for leaders to seek opportunities for genuine inner development (and encourage this in those that they lead) in order to become able to express authentic empathy and lead with wisdom and emotional skill ‘so as to become agents through which radical disruption transmutes into radical opportunity, and planetary crisis into global transformation’. One aim being to create cultures of true engagement which allow people to ‘give the best of themselves, and experience the deep satisfaction that comes with seeking to contribute more than they take.’

He advocates that leaders, as well as possessing their current ‘potent powers for logic, reason, discernment and strategic forecasting’, need to be able to follow certain principles (and he provides guidance for how individuals can start the process). In brief, he argues that leaders as healers need to be able to do the following.

Understand and regulate their own emotions and unblock ‘emotional energies’ so that they become able to acknowledge, name and meet emotion ‘without condition’ in themselves and others. This includes experiencing and allowing the natural underlying condition of vulnerability – whilst remaining robust and not being overwhelmed. By doing so this he argues that organisational cultures can be cocreated in which energy and connection flow freely and ‘higher levels of potential, insight and innovation can be awakened and tapped’.

Become more present (in their thinking, feeling and sensing), empathic and truly listen. This will allow repair and integration of the disconnection between ‘being’ and ‘doing’ for the individual leader and those they lead – the state of ‘being’ providing ‘the balanced foundation from which we may respond rather than simply react’.

Understand collective trauma and intergenerational wounds.

Understand the power of embodiment by being connected to their body and their senses, which allows energy to flow more freely and for connection with our emotions. Janni argues that this is particularly important at a time of ‘hype-rationalisation’ and social distance due to technology, the body being the ‘conduit through which you can access multiple layers of perception, information and inner knowing’. This can feed into an ability to ‘read the room’ not by rational thought but being aware of what one is sensing. The importance of breathwork, grounding practises, meditation, exercise and being in nature is highlighted to address the path towards embodiment.

Have a clear and wholehearted sense of service, mission – truly and deeply thinking about our purpose (aspiration, meaning, reason) by connecting to heart, body and emotions. He argues that this is essential questioning for those leading forward-thinking organisations. What is the work that is mine to do? What is it that is being asked of me? And to carry out such related enquiry with their team.

Restore coherence where there is fragmentation and unity where there is division. He suggests that leaders embed the core teaching of the world’s ‘wisdom traditions’ (such as the Mayans, Kabbalists, yogic masters) which ‘converge around a central theme of awakening … to a new quality of awareness that shakes us out of the culture of absence, as if we are waking from a dream’ and learn related practises such as meditation. In doing so he argues that this will encourage deeper purpose in ‘our self-obsessed culture’ which will be important in the removal of the separation that people feel at the moment and lead to an engaged and collaborative way of being – an ‘inherent unity’ – ‘the primary revolution that we need is more a spiritual revolution than a political or economic one, as badly needed as the latter are.’

And combine such ‘timeless wisdom’ with the advances in modern science and psychology in order to be aware of ‘higher levels of insight and innovation’.

The argument for the coaching of leaders

I found this book insightful and thought-provoking. It is my personal opinion that if society needs leaders to be more present, to listen, to be mindful and to work in the way Janni suggests, people in leadership positions need to experience this way of being ‘heard’ themselves – by others – in order to support, and sustain, their own change and their ability to model this with those around them. Executive coaches can do this – and need to support, nurture and challenge their clients in order to enable them to be in the best place to bring about the profound change that the world needs.