How Eros energy plays out in relationships between men and women in organizations
By Heidi Gutekunst, Hilary Bradbury and Dana Carman originally published in Integral Leadership Review
About the Eros/Power Workshop I will use just two adjectives: shocking and revealing! Shocking because of the very loving but professional way it led me to explore deep and hidden aspects about my sexuality and sensuality, both male and female sides, with which I rarely make contact. And revealing because that exploration allowed me to understand the way these issues are at work and that the Eros/Power process is critical to everyday relationships with others, especially women. – Juan Carlos Aldir Mexico, Participant.
The last issue of Integral Leadership Review reviewed an acclaimed new book “Eros/Power, Love in the Spirit of Inquiry.” Reviewer Joseph Friedman, co founder of JMJ Associates, a global consultancy, described it as “wonderfully brave, highly readable… Bradbury and Torbert draw attention to the need to be aware of one’s relationship to Eros and how that energy plays out in relationships between men and women in organizations.” Since that review Hilary Bradbury has joined with Dana Carman and Heidi Gutekunst to bring these relational ideas to support organizations on their journey towards Teal. As a trio they blend decades of consulting, CEO and scholarly experience. After a first exploration of Eros/Power with a small professional group in Hilary’s adopted town of Portland, Oregon, the trio offered a workshop to the Teal track in the European Integral Conference in Hungary, where they met participant Juan Carlos Aldir, quoted above.
So, what is then is Eros/Power? What does it have to do with organizational life?
Hilary, author and scholar explains: If we define eros as the soul surging toward the other, it’s a spark from which collaborative creativity can emerge. Eros/Power is a developmental effort that cultivates that creativity by developing our repertoire of power from “power over“ to “power with.” It takes effort, because we can’t just step over the fact that for millennia we’ve been taught to indulge or avoid, rather than inquire into, that delightful “turned on” feeling, that eros rising. This then combines with a simplistic understanding of power as unilateral and coercive to produce difficulty, when women and men work together. Today the patterns our biology has laid down in evolution, which are playing out in the radically new contexts of women and men working closely together, demand that we get more conscious about eros and power interweaving. Our organizations often take a policeman mentality, but eros seems to love to plunder boundaries. We see the resulting havoc with men and women often publicly humiliated by a mindless erotic spell. Care-full mutuality, eros-infused partnership, however, can become a developmental journey, an invitation to upgrade interpersonal dynamics with regard to interweaving eros in collaboration. The resulting Eros/Power is a mindful, relational energy, a dynamo of creativity. Thinking about this in organizations, I wonder if it’s related to what (financial genius) Warren Buffett meant when he said it is women who will fuel the next social-economic breakthrough. In working with Dana and Heidi we believe that Eros/Power can be fuel for next stage organizations where women and men partner creatively.
How is eros-infused friendship relevant to Teal?
Heidi, a former CEO in the advertising world: One of the main components of Next Stage Organizations by Frederic Laloux is wholeness, a healthy relating to ourselves, others and the system. With Next Stage organizations or ecosystems there is a real sense that meaning and purpose may be served. Fewer hierarchies, peopled with those who consciously work to take more responsibility for themselves, others and the system. This is an exciting evolutionary leap beyond conventional organizations and is precisely where Eros/Power can be at home.
I have experienced up close and personal how eros-infused relationships can bring in a tremendous amount of value and creativity to organizations. I also know how it can be the destructive force that makes a whole system paralyzed. In companies that are open and vulnerable to finding new ways of organizing, new approaches of shared leadership, freedom and value-sharing, there is a will to go to those difficult places in order to become more whole and successful. This is where we feel working consciously with Eros energy, in order to release it wisely, can be of great value. To be honest I say it’s the hidden fuel to releasing more creativity and innovation that we need!
How do you work mindfully with this relational energy? Aren’t you afraid of sexual harassment suits?
Dana, international Integral leadership coach and consultant: The most crucial ingredient in any workshop that touches deep and vulnerable parts of us is the balance between total safety and challenging ourselves to touch uncomfortable and unknown territories. This is not unlike the executive coaching I do, except we are mindful that we are in a larger group where safety and trust are truly key. We address these issues of safety at the outset by inviting participants to sit with two others, so there is a mix of genders, and get to know each other a little. Then participants work in the same trios all through the workshop. We also aim for a flow of presenting insights/theories, experiential exercises and deep sharing. We focus on how we use power (people are often surprised how many flavors there are from unilateral control to mutual collaborative empowerment). In essence we are talking about love and inquiry through developmental stages, or action logics. As Teal is a later, post conventional stage, so too are the forms of power, which at later stages become mutual empowerment and seek collaboration.
Hilary, author and scholar adds: A developmental theory about how we humans can transform during a lifetime has aided our inquiry into how Eros and Power can creatively intertwine. This developmental theory was articulated by my co-author Bill Torbert, and there is lots of overlap with the ideas of Spiral Dynamics and with how Ken Wilber explains levels of development. This theory holds that we humans can develop through eight “action-logics,” that is eight developmental stages or patterns of interpreting and acting in the world. We describe these in some detail in the book. But as a foretaste we may say that as we develop through the eight action-logics, we can move from wielding power coercively, without love; from loving blindly, without inquiry; and from inquiring in a detached manner, without power to later developmental stages of interpreting power, love, and inquiry as mutual and as directly entailing one another.
Share a flavor of the practices you do. Does everyone keep their clothes on?
Heidi explains: We start by navigating the group through a “seven chakra check-in” to tune in with themselves and their trio colleagues. This helps participants to really arrive and come fully into the group. This chakra check-in is an introductory practice of relational action inquiry that Bradbury and Torbert’s book defines. It’s the foundational access route to Eros/Power. It is also the practice that we the leading trio use to tune in when working together. Consider how often we really do see and tune into each other in the organizational context? In our experience it is uncommon and is felt like a dangerous or at least awkward territory. But, why? What do we lose by being more afraid of relating than curious about what we can learn together?
Dana continues: This exercise brings a whole group to a safe space within the first 30 minutes. After enjoying some explanation of key concepts, such as action logics, which underpin our work, we want to get back to learning from experience. To more consciously know our own desires and ways of choosing, Heidi offers a selection of different kinds of chocolate. Chocolate becomes the metaphor for Eros! We ask people to tune into letting Eros flow in us as we pay attention to our relationship to desire; how we approach, choose and act while desiring. This work is informed by psychoanalytic theory about early relationships. So we then continue by individually exploring our early erotic scripts, as they play a significant role in our relationship to our approach to eros and power later in our life.
Hilary continues: I am a big fan of psychoanalysis and mindfulness and hope to see these intertwine productively in our work toward Teal. We’re care-fully exploring the ‘dangerous’ qualities in the space between us. The places we get shut down or shut the other down. And it turns out they are not so dangerous. As long as there is a safe container we believe we can explore quite fruitfully. One of my favorite exercises is inquiry into different perspectives on predatory Eros. Dana and Heidi act out some yoga theatre, as if in a yoga class. This is also fun for the participants to play with. The theatre scene we develop and then freeze for inquiry is where a stereotypical male acts as a “taker” of the beauty and radiant energy of the stereotypical female yogini. We get to feel and inquire into the dynamics of objectification. Why do I act as I do? Sometimes we feel special when objectified, our overall energy is enhanced. But it sometimes feels like our energy is being stolen. We feel smaller. This is a very delicate moment. How rarely can we talk about this honestly. Even to ourselves. In our theatre we don’t avoid. We become curious; can we understand what’s happening? Can we transform those moments from unilateral ways of approaching power and love to more mutual ones? Can we, together, find more mutual ways of relating, while also letting the Eros be present and flowing? I recall one man in his 30’s who said with some astonishment: “I just learned that I can feel eros without needing to look for sex or worrying what will my wife think. It can just be here as an appreciation between us. Wow!”
The Trio Reflect: The rich experience and even richer feedback we got from the workshop in Hungary has encouraged us. We feel that our work helps address the horrible statistic that as many as 70% of employees may be actively disengaged from their work. What a waste of life energy. We are willing to invite the life force back to our workplaces and we go deep in order to do so. At the same time we must tread carefully and with transparency.
Additional comments from participants in the workshop:
The EROS POWER workshop started a deep journey within. The feminine and masculine EROS power dynamics fascinate me, and the workshop brought to the surface that this area holds so many answers for me – professional and private. It created a deep longing in me for stepping into a world with more depth, more passion, more healing. – Hanne Lindblad, CEO, Denmark.
This workshop was one of the highlights of the conference for me. “Intriguing,” is the impression I am left with. So many new avenues were opened that I had never before considered, and there was not enough time for thoroughly satisfying answers. For example: “How do I approach chocolate (in life)?” is a more profound question than it initially appears. The teasers in small group exercises led only to a realization that this is an invite to a life-long inquiry about how Eros, our “soul’s surging for another” can be navigated more skillfully and harvested for greater juiciness and creativity at home, at work and in solving the pressing issues in the world. I can’t wait to go back for more. – Riina Raudne, Ph.D. Public Health Activist, Estonia.
The trio is developing a program for coaches and organizations that wish to understand and learn how they can cultivate Eros/Power in organizations. For further information, please visit: www.erospowerjourney.com
About the Authors
Heidi Gutekunst, co-founder of Amara Collaboration, spent most of her career in advertising in leading positions, among others as a CEO leading an agency through a significant transformation with results in financial performance, employee satisfaction, conquering new offerings, turning customers into accounts and winning both national and international awards for the first time in years. Now a regular speaker at Business Forums interested in her entrepreneurship and transforming ability.
Hilary Bradbury, Professor of Organizational Psychology, is a leader in action research, convening the global network, AR+. Editor of the bestselling Handbooks of Action Research, Hilary’s own work and writing integrates Zen and relational psychoanalysis, with druidic flair, to re-imagine the practice of fuller human inter-relating in the boardroom, bedroom and wherever relationship arises. Her most recent book, co-authored with Bill, is Eros/Power: Love in the Spirit of Inquiry (Integral Publishers, 2015).
Dana Carman, a seasoned executive coach and leadership consultant working globally in the frothy spaces between strategy and execution. Dana assists clients in navigating their biggest real world challenges while moving through personal and professional transformation in a unique and personalized way, integrating action and learning simultaneously.
Permission to republish granted to EE Magazine by the authors.
Featured Image/Graphic link added by Enlivening Edge Magazine.
The authors will offer a workshop in London, Nov 4-5, recommended by Enlivening Edge.
For more info, visit: http://amara.fi/event/erospower-london/.