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Fields Wicker-Miurin: Leading the good ancestors

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Mike Levy talks to the co-founder of Leaders’ Quest, Fields Wicker-Miurin.

These are hard times. It is a brave thinker who today would ask us to consider our inner selves as fundamental to modern leadership and change. But then Fields Wicker-Miurin has been working for nearly a decade on modelling the most inspiring leaders from around the world and not necessarily from the wealthier regions of our planet.

Wicker-Miurin is co-founder and partner of Leaders’ Quest, an organisation dedicated to bridging different world perspectives across cultures and peoples. That has led to a myriad of cross-cultural insights into how we define leadership. It also has brought to Wicker-Miurin and her colleagues a more spiritual sense of the role of business – to lay down foundations for the next generation – to encourage us to become, what she is fond of describing as ‘good ancestors’.

Leadership from further afield

Her work involves leading a programme of meetings, field visits and workshops in very different parts of the world – often challenging neighbourhoods and contrasting cities or regions. This is learning through engagement with a great diversity of leaders – not just business but also those involved in local politics or community programmes. These ‘quests’ often throw up the most inspirational leaders in the most unlikely of places – not those in the rich north and west but perhaps in the backwaters of China, India or Brazil. Wicker-Miurin believes that leadership enlightenment can be found where you least expect it – but you are encouraged to go with an open mind and a spirit of enquiry.

"There is a large part of the world for whom change of this kind is so against the way we were taught as analytical, evidence-based, bullet point thinking."

Wicker-Miurin is excited by integrating the work she and her colleagues have been doing over the last decade: “We have added more to academic research done by great thought leaders around the globe. A small minority of academics are looking at how people identify themselves as leaders from the inside out, using deeper self -awareness to make positive change in the world.  This is our focus, from a practical, experiential perspective.” She finds it particularly interesting (and possibly troubling) that the Leaders’ Quest approach is not mainstream ‘western business school’. “Our approach – looking deep within at the individual and the impact of how he/she is as a person in the world – is not discussed or taught much in the big business schools. But things are slowly beginning to change and that is good news."

Leadership: It is not about me

For Wicker-Miurin and her colleagues, a leader can only lead other people if they have totally absorbed and lived for something else beside themselves. “It does embody Ghandi’s phrase: it is not about me. People don’t follow leaders if they think they are only thinking of themselves. It does not matter what field you are in, if you are in the presence of someone who is authentic and totally integrated into what she or he believes. It is not about her own self-aggrandisement or quarterly profits.

"When you are in the presence of someone like that, you can tell the difference: the energy that radiates is apparent, it is a more generous quality. This more often is not a northern / western way of seeing the world; a Descartian linear approach to problem solving; logical and rational. This approach has created a lot of technological and scientific progress in the world, but left alone is also a great danger for the future of the world - we have paid a price for it," she says.

"What has really been powerful in our work around the world and all the different cultures, is to see there is not just one model. If we really are open to changing ourselves then we can learn a huge amount and find ourselves. Going around the world and spending time with incredible people we also learn a huge amount about who we are, the gifts we have as individuals, each unique. The most special gifts that have almost a magical impact on people around them is the gift that most of have when we are one or two years old – those capabilities and sensitivities then get beaten out of you especially at school and in the corporate environment.”

"I am an enabler. My goal is to inspire people to be good ancestors. The more I work with people and lead them, the more possible it is to make a change."

Is it so easy to change oneself? “I am only realising now how hard it is. But those who take on that message: 'It is not about me' – for some that is truly liberating, for others terrifying. I took a group recently who asked me to give them the five things they need to change/do differently on Monday. But that’s not the way it is – each person needs to figure out for him/herself what to change, from the inside out.

"There is a large part of the world for whom change of this kind is so against the way we were taught as analytical, evidence-based, bullet point thinking. We need to think more about what are we filtering in and out, what are our lifetime experiences we are bringing to bear as we interpret what we are receiving, how might our conclusions differ if we are aware that we are not the centre of the universe. This kind of self-awareness might be seen by many as a weakness. It is pretty uncomfortable sometimes..you might not like what you find when you look within.”

The 'AND' in life

So how does Fields see herself in this process of change? “I am an enabler. My goal is to inspire people to be good ancestors. The more I work with people and lead them, the more possible it is to make a change. The suit of armour you have to build up in your life is a tough shield. But my work is aimed at giving people the opportunity to change and see how wonderful we can be as a race when we really do care. It is not about awakening; it is more about strengthening. I try to show people the ‘AND’ in life: I am not brain or heart but one AND the other...that is the essence of an integrated being. When you meet someone who is integrated – that is a very special person and potentially a great leader.”

Wicker-Miurin believes that the coaching industry needs to be a leader, but she is not sure how many people in it are leading in this direction. “It is a challenge – many coaches may deliver what the CEO/executive client wants…so would be followers. The best coaches, I think, are those who invest in their own self-awareness and journeys in order to serve their clients, and then who are also strong/courageous/able enough to lead their clients (and the leadership of the organisation) to places that were not even envisioned to begin with.”

If all this sounds like a soft option, Fields Wicker-Miurin would beg to differ: “Looking inside honestly is hard. Really hard.”

For more information on Leaders' Quest, visit the website: www.leadersquest.org and you can view her recent TED Talk here.

Mike Levy is a freelance journalist and copywriter with 20 years' experience. He is also a writing and presentations coach. He especially loves playwriting and creating resources for schools. Mike is director of Write Start. For more information go to: www.writestart.co.uk.

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