Leadership and Presence by Marty Schoen
(This article is dedicated to Warren Hoffman, a man whose deep presence continues to inspire and nurture me.)
I had the privilege of meeting, and being mentored by, Bob Terry during the last few years of his life. I spent a brief time in the Organizational Development and consulting field, but for most of my career I’ve been a counselor and psychotherapist.
There are many things one could point to as far as how psychotherapists or counselors are leaders and need to study leadership and embody good leadership qualities. For example, one needs to be able to discern the level of development and/or worldview of the patient and then adjust the focus and language to meet the person where they are etc. One also needs to balance nurturing and challenging, as a good parent or manager would do.
However, I'd like to broach a topic I don't see getting as much attention—a more mysterious subject and one less amenable to empirical research; namely, the transmission of healing that takes place in the presence of a person at deeper/higher level of development and/or a person possessing an authentic spiritual/mystical realization. In addition to or in spite of the content about which the healer, mentor, or guru might be speaking, he or she can transmit something to the student(s) in their presence separate from their verbal communication.
Just imagine an elder from your own youth who said more just with their presence than with their words, if you were so lucky to experience such a person.
With this knowledge and trust in transmission, many more healthcare providers (and leaders) would relax more, I believe, and would be more focused on the person in front of them and less busy with their mouths or technologies. More mindful.
To briefly illustrate, I believe that, regardless of how many books have been or will be written about him, the greatest psychotherapist of all time, Milton Erickson, transmitted as much or more healing with his presence as did his amazing techniques and brilliant, individualized treatments. I gather this by reading many tributes to him and essays about his work by his students, patients, and colleagues as well as by watching several videos of him at work. This process has also been instrumental in my own development due to the great privilege and luck to have been mentored by several brilliant men in my career and personal life.
One of those men, of course, was Bob. That he developed brilliant theories and wrote eloquently on leadership and authenticity goes without saying; but it was his presence that had the most impact on me. I felt his authenticity and his compassion. I learned as much about leadership by how he treated this follower as I did from his wonderful books.
I would like to end with a short piece by the great Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart, that, for me, speaks to Bob’s realization of deep love and trust communicated by his mere presence (I made one small edit some of you may detect):
If I were alone in a desert
and feeling afraid.
I would want a child to be with me.
For then my fear would disappear
and I would be made strong.
This is what life in itself can do
because it is so noble, so full of pleasure
and so powerful.
But if I could not have a child with me
I would like to have at least a living animal
at my side to comfort me.
let those who bring about wonderful things
in their big, dark books
take an animal—perhaps a dog [or a moose]—
to help them.
The life within the animal
will give them strength in turn.
gives strength in all things
and at all times.
~Meister Eckhart, Christian mystic (1260-c.1329)
Excerpted from “Mediations with Meister Eckhart” By Mathew Fox (1983, Bear & Company)
Martin (Marty) J. Schoen, Psy.D.
Associated Clinic of Psychology
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