Finding Inspiration in Connection for Leadership and Change

Finding Inspiration in Connection for Leadership and Change

Jul 28, 2023

A KOAN Conversation with Beverly Winterscheid and Jennifer Simpson

How does opening ourselves to connections with natural and human networks help us unlock breakthroughs and creativity? That question was at the heart of a recent KOAN Conversation between Integrated Work CEO and the KOAN method author Jennifer Simpson and Center for Nature and Leadership founder Beverly Winterscheid.

Both Beverly and Jennifer have spent years developing innovative ways to interweave their passions and their professional lives. Long inspired by the outdoor world, Beverly launched the Center for Nature and Leadership (CNL) to combine her professional business experience with her discoveries of intelligence that Nature holds for humans. In her leadership role there, she serves as a mentor and motivator for current and emerging women leaders who are making a positive difference in their organizations and communities.

Jennifer recently released the book the KOAN method: Breakthrough Leadership for a Divided World, an outgrowth of the work she’s done with organizations around belonging, community, connection and diversity for more than 25 years. “I’ve come to see the ways in which we can harness and benefit from the power of difference in our environments to truly create innovation and breakthrough, and where a resistance to difference or an avoidance of conflict can really get in the way,” Jennifer said. “KOAN is about sitting in uncertainty, allowing breakthroughs to find us … how to imagine new models for organizing that are Kind, Open, Adaptive, and Connected in networks of relationship.”

The Power of Connection

While many leadership programs or trainings focus on individual growth, a connected approach is needed to drive systemic change, Jennifer said. “This work is about bringing ancient wisdom traditions together with cutting-edge research to think in new ways about how we can cause the breakthroughs that our world really most needs now.”

By developing nature-based leadership principles and practices in her role as an MBA professor and the programs she guides at CNL, Beverly described her intellectual path and the tasks and projects that brought her joy after pursuing a Ph.D. “What called to me was nature,” she said. By combining her professional experience in business strategy and leadership development with what she calls “a trust in the wild,” Beverly was able to access new ways of working and being in the world.

Her journeys outdoors to experience nature serve as a method of learning and listening. “To submit myself to the bigger universe that’s right out there automatically puts me in a state of humility, and awe which creates openness to creativity and new discoveries” Beverly said. “That successive practice over time really was something I needed as a human because I was so intellectually driven. In fact, three of the four elements of the KOAN approach are perfectly embodied in the natural world. I’m referring here to Open, Adaptive Networks, and by careful observation and heartfelt immersion through personal solos or guided experiences, Nature can be a powerful role model for the ways in which humans can utilize the KOAN method in their personal and professional lives.”

Sitting in the Unknown

Shifting away from constant effort helps us adopt a more open and adaptive mindset, Jennifer said. “When we look from a different vantage point … we actually see how they can fit together. And that seeing how they come together is where that creativity and breakthrough can arise,” she said. “Part of the spirit of the KOAN method really is that notion of sitting in the unknown a little longer than we might be comfortable … long enough for the breakthroughs to find us.”

The KOAN method also acknowledges that individuals working for systemic change are rooted in broader connections and shared humanity, Jennifer said. “Anytime we want to make change, we really are doing that in community, in networks of relationship.”

Acknowledging our individual experiences as well as our shared humanity can open new pathways to address dilemmas or divisions, Beverly said. “We have to have the foundation upon which we rest, but we have to have the curiosity and the humility  – to be inquisitive,” she said. “We can honor the humanity in each other and be curious and move from there.

Beverly said the poetry and mantras that Jennifer wove throughout the KOAN method provide new avenues to learning and knowing. “This is really a different book. It is a very courageous book,” Beverly said. “By using the raw material of your life and your powerful intellect and training to put together this KOAN approach, [you help people] learn in a different way.”

Watch the full KOAN conversation: (Re)discovering Ourselves On The Land and The Power of Place