As I begin a third year serving as President and CEO of the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS), I've been reflecting on what have been the most and least effective approaches to leadership. How can I best help our scientists, educators and all staff members work in their own particular "zone of genius?" What are the most effective ways to negotiate collaborations or conflicts with both strength and with heart? How best to navigate legal, financial, and contractual arrangements? All while keeping the organization focused on the core work of re-enchanting the world through the science and application of consciousness.
The other day, just as I was reflecting on these questions, I received an advance copy of my friend Michael Singer's new book The Surrender Experiment: My Journey into Life's Perfection. I immediately made it my morning meditation book, and perhaps not surprisingly, it's been exactly the right thing at the right time.
In 2007, IONS' publishing imprint Noetic Books had the distinct honor of co-publishing, along with New Harbinger Publications, a beautiful and quietly profound book by Michael Singer entitled The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself. Featured on Oprah Winfrey's Super Soul Sunday and beloved by many, the book soared to the top of the New York Times bestseller list in 2012, and remains one of the most popular transformational books of our time (part of all proceeds benefit IONS work... thanks Mickey!).
The Untethered Soul is a deeply spiritual and elegantly simple book about how to free yourself from limitations and discover inner peace. It's made even more interesting by being written by a man who has for decades lived in the woods at the meditation center he built, while simultaneously becoming founding CEO of a billion dollar public company.
Now, in The Surrender Experiment, Michael tells the remarkable story of that personal journey. It all started with a simple yet radical idea: to let go of personal fears and desires and allow life to take its course. Michael made a commitment early on in his spiritual practice that in general he would say "Yes" to what life asked him to do, and see what happened. What happened was nothing short of extraordinary.
The book chronicles Michael's path from being a fairly distracted college student in a ponytail and Birkenstocks who essentially dropped out to move to the woods to focus on his meditation and yoga practice, to becoming an enormously successful businessman and New York Times bestselling author (all while never moving away from the meditation center or his daily practice).
Throughout the book, younger versions of Michael are offered opportunities that on the surface may not have always made sense, but end up resulting in exactly the right thing, time and time again. As he hones his ability to let go and lean in to whatever life offers, extraordinary things happen. The perfect people for roles at his meditation center and business show up at just the right time. Land purchases expand both the business and the meditation center in exactly the ways needed, though impossible to predict. Michael's seemingly unrelated occupations build upon one another along a seemingly meandering pathway that eventually leads to being founding CEO of a billion-dollar medical software company, whose software was so revolutionary it was archived for historical purposes at the Smithsonian Institution.
Now until near the end of the book, a skeptical mind might say that it is a bit too convenient for someone so incredibly lucky to write a book about going with life's flow. Easy for you to say, Michael! Things just seem to go your way! That's until the major crisis hits. I won't share the spoilers, except to say that Michael plan of "allowing life to unfold as it will" continues to work, even in the midst of nearly a decade of tremendous challenges. It's an engrossing and inspiring story, and a transformative read.
I always thought successful leadership (and life!) was about pressing forward, making things happen, cajoling people to join in making change, overcoming obstacles, and navigating barriers. This book has helped me to redefine leadership as the ability to ride the waves of opportunity (and challenge) as they appear. My job is becoming more about being awake and aware, and staying mentally and physically balanced enough to skillfully stay with each wave as it carries us to new shores.
I'm just getting my sea legs and am still learning a lot, but one thing has become clear.
It is this: In moments where I am driven by personal desires and agendas, when I attempt to control people or projects, or when I think it is MY job to be impressive or successful - the result is tension and stress, inefficient processes, and less than optimal outcomes.
Instead, things seem to work better when I allow them to work through me, rather than from me. When I walk through the doors that are opening, rather than trying to batter down the doors I think should open, things tend to...flow. Uncanny synchronicities happen. The energy that once went to resisting life is freed up to collaborate with reality as it unfolds.
As a leader, when I function more like a gardener, providing seeds, soil, nutrients, sunshine, water and stakes in the ground -- and then allowing ideas to germinate, flower, and bear fruit naturally, something beautiful and often unexpected emerges. Thanks again to Michael Singer for dropping more breadcrumbs to follow toward a life beyond what we could possibly imagine.