Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership

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We've all had those perfect moments when events that could never be predicted, let alone controlled, remarkably seem to guide us along our path. Carl Jung called this phenomena "synchronicity" - "a collaboration between persons and events that seems to enlist the cooperation of fate." In this book, Joseph Jaworski argues that the right state of mind will make you the kind of person who can enlist the cooperation of fate and take advantage of synchronicity, creating the conditions for "predictable miracles." If you are tired of being the victim of circumstances, this book will teach you to be the kind of person who creates your own circumstances. Jaworski shares the story of his own escape from an inauthentic life and his journey into a world filled with possibility. He maps out the inner path of leadership for those who feel the call to achieve their full potential, using his own life story to teach readers a greater truth. He examines the fundamental shifts of mind that free us to seek out the power of synchronicity. After reading this book, you will discover your own power to help those realities unfold. You will learn to "listen" to realities that want to emerge in this world and acquire the courage to help them be born. "Synchronicity illustrates that leadership is about the release of human possibilities, about enabling others to break free of limits - created organizationally or self-imposed. Although this book describes the author's personal journey, it contains profound messages about organizational learning and effectiveness." - Scientific American

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1. Watergate

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It was October 1973, and I was thirty-nine years old. Watergate had broken out in September of the previous year. I was in the midst of living “the good life,” and, although I had been following the news accounts of the Watergate affair fairly closely, it was more background noise than anything else. My attention was focused on practicing law in Houston, Texas, building an international law firm, and managing my business affairs.

The Senate Watergate Committee was in full operation, and John Dean, the president’s counsel, had testified that President Nixon knew of the Watergate cover-up as early as September 1972. There was also testimony that John Ehrlichman, one of the president’s closest advisors, had approved cash payments to the Watergate burglars. The Committee had heard testimony to the effect that the president had installed a voice-activated taping system in the Oval Office, which had recorded all conversations taking place there without the visitor’s knowledge or consent.

Nixon’s two closest associates, Ehrlichman and H. R. Haldeman, had resigned. John Dean had been fired. Archibald Cox, the Watergate special prosecutor, had subpoenaed tape recordings from the White House that were relevant to the case, and subsequently was fired as special prosecutor on orders from President Nixon. Attorney General Elliot Richardson, who had selected Cox for the job, refused to comply with Nixon’s orders and resigned. His deputy, William Ruckelshaus, likewise refused to fire Cox, and was discharged. Solicitor General Robert Bork, next in the line of succession, was appointed acting attorney general and removed Cox from office.

 

2. Making a Mark

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By the time Watergate was unfolding, I had been practicing law for thirteen years, and by most standards I had achieved success. I had married my high school sweetheart, Fran, and we were raising a son. We had everything we could ask for: my highly rewarding professional life, a large comfortable home in a beautiful neighborhood, all the material things we wanted, a healthy and well-rounded eleven-year-old son, and lots of friends and close family in Houston.

It was a kind of picture-book life, while it lasted.

In the late 1960s, I was one of the leading partners in the law firm, on the Operating Committee, and among the top producers in fees and new client business. In addition to my professional life, I helped start a life insurance company with some of my old fraternity buddies. Years later the company was sold to a nationally recognized financial institution. In the meantime, a group of these same friends and I built one of the first refineries in Alaska. The project was barely completed when a publicly held company purchased it from us. We were on a real roll—it was a high stakes sort of life and financially very rewarding.

 

3. The Journey Begins

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In 1975, when I was forty-one, my world came crashing down around me. I had been hunting at the ranch over Thanksgiving weekend with the Colonel and some business associates. On Sunday evening, I drove back to Houston and was just walking into my study to put down my gear when Fran came in and said, “Sit down, I’ve got something really important to tell you.”

I sat down, and she said, “Joe, I want a divorce. There’s somebody else that I love.”

It was a complete surprise to me. She had been taking a class at the University of Houston, had met someone in the class, and had been seeing him.

After we talked, she said, “I want you to leave the house tonight.” I don’t remember much about that conversation; I guess I was in a state of total shock. But through the numbness, I felt a mixture of anger, confusion, betrayal, and fear. These came over me in great waves, but the overriding feeling was a complete and utter sense of disbelief and despair. My marriage of twenty years was over—bang, period, paragraph.

 

4. Freedom

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The days and months leading to the divorce were filled with trauma and emotions. These were extremely tough times for both Fran and me. We sought marriage counseling to help sort out our feelings and to determine whether there was any chance of saving the marriage. We ultimately concluded there was none and moved forward with the divorce proceedings.

To our credit, we handled the necessary mechanics of the divorce in a relatively calm and mature way. One evening just before Christmas and only a month after I had moved out, we sat down in front of the fireplace and scratched out on three sheets of paper an outline reflecting how we would handle the property settlement, support, and custody issues. It was a reflective and loving moment in the midst of turbulent times for us both. We never deviated from that agreement.

In all this turmoil, I decided to sell the horse operation. I no longer wanted to devote every available weekend to Circle J—my heart just wasn’t in it. The Colonel understood, so we agreed to hold a complete dispersal sale by auction on the afternoon of Sunday, February 15. The sale was held at the Civic Center Arena in the little town of San Marcos, Texas, which lay just south of Austin and only thirteen miles from the ranch.

 

5. Grand Prix Test Run

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While spending a few days in Paris just wandering through parks, museums, cathedrals, and other quiet places, I continued thinking about the lessons I had learned from Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Occasionally, I would thumb through the book and read selected passages. I felt a strange sense of awe and joy in considering the questions, “What is my higher purpose in life? Why am I really here?” I had never considered these for myself. But, looking back, I realize I was unable to ponder very deeply such crucial life issues. In Paris I was only taking my first “baby steps” in this direction.

I also began to consider the question of how we might ever be able to fulfill an ultimate dream of ours. What would that process look like? How is it that we actually create new circumstances or a future that we envision? In taking another baby step, I began thinking—what if I set up a short-term challenge for myself that seemed impossible, but that I would go for and see if I could accomplish it? That would be a great experiment and a wonderful way to start off my European adventure! Ever since I was a teenager I had been fascinated by Ferraris, and in later years I enjoyed Grand Prix racing. By the mid-1970s, Ferrari had been involved in racing for around twenty-five years and had been enormously successful. Niki Lauda was driving that year for Ferrari. Above anything else, I wanted to go to the Grand Prix at Monza, Italy, and be there in the pits with Lauda and the Ferrari racing team. That would be my challenge.

 

6. The Art of Loving

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I spent a lot of time on this journey in Europe by myself, just reading, thinking, and writing in my journal. One of the books I read and reread, trying to figure out why I had been so oblivious to what was going on in my marriage, was Eric Fromm’s The Art of Loving. Fromm’s thesis is that love is the only satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence. Loving is an art, and we must master not only the theory of love but also the practice of love.

I learned that our deepest need is to overcome our aloneness and our separateness. We seek to escape from separateness in various ways. We seek conformity, mistaking it for union. This is a soul-crushing way to exist. Or we seek union through orgiastic states—drugs, alcoholism, overwork—or through creative activities. But the ultimate escape from separateness is through interpersonal union.

Fromm writes that mature love is union under the condition of preserving one’s integrity and individuality. The paradox: two beings become one and yet remain two. Giving is the highest expression of potency. Fromm sets forth the elements of love: care, which is active concern for the life and growth of the one we love; responsibility, which is caring for one’s physical needs as well as one’s higher needs; and respect, which is allowing others to grow as they need to on their own terms.

 

7. Oneness

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How are we educated by children, by animals! . . .
We live in the currents of universal reciprocity.

—Martin Buber

After the trial concluded, I went backpacking up in the Grand Teton Mountains. I had planned the trip for early September, but the trial had interfered, and instead of canceling, I decided to go in late October. I had been told that the snow would be heavy and it could be a difficult trip, but that was the only time I had. So I found a guide, Paul Lawrence, who had done photography work for magazines and knew about the Tetons during the winter.

Paul and I were at eleven thousand feet near Hurricane Pass between Cascade Canyon and Alaska Basin in the Tetons. It was almost noon on Friday, October 21. I was taking in the spectacular scenery—the Grand Teton itself, the snow-covered passes, crystal clear streams and brooks, running falls, icicle falls, snowshoe rabbits, and bright blue skies. At this time of year, no one else was backpacking in the mountains. We were totally alone.

 

8. The Dream

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The Way to do is to be.

—Lao-Tzu

Over the next several months, I kept reflecting on my experiences in Europe and with the ermine up in the mountains. I couldn’t talk with anyone about these experiences; I had a hard time even comprehending them myself. I continued to have similar experiences involving the loss of boundaries where my sense of identity expanded to include God and the entire universe. I had been taught to pray since early childhood, but this loss of boundary between God and me was too much to comprehend. I went to a close friend, who was one of Houston’s best known psychiatrists, to see if he could assure me that I wasn’t going off the deep end. I told him the whole story—all of what had been occurring over the past year or so. He chuckled and gave me the assurance I needed. He also gave me some books that described this type of experience, and I discovered how it is central to every major religion, including Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism. This helped me feel more comfortable with the phenomenon, but I still couldn’t fully comprehend the mystery of it. I knew there was a new awareness growing within me, and I felt deep down there was much more to come.

 

9. Cairo

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In early 1978, I moved to London to open our new law offices. The years over there unified my thinking in a way that would never have happened had I stayed in the States. I realized that the implications for the American Leadership Forum were global, that the free world looks to the United States as the model of democracy, and that if democracy is not working here, it’s not going to work anywhere.

By 1979, commentators were writing about leadership in the United States. Business Week, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, and the leading newspapers were all carrying stories, and Time devoted a special issue (August 6, 1979) entirely to leadership, including a wonderful editorial by Lance Morrow entitled “A Cry for New Leadership: America Looks for Leaders Who Can Construct a New Consensus.”

All of the writers addressed the same issues. They said there was a general retreat from community and national service all across the country, and that there was a self-absorption prevalent among the people of our generation, as well as a kind of civic cynicism. They talked about the fact that demographic shifts had taken place in the country over the previous twenty years which had made it clear that the old style of community leadership and regional leadership would never be effective again. New attitudes and new kinds of leadership were necessary. We needed more open, flexible, and participatory kinds of leadership. The commentators were saying what John W. Gardner had said twenty years earlier: Communication among the diverse leadership elements—city hall, business, minorities—was the first condition for renewal in our communities and in our nation.

 

10. Collapsing Boundaries

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My visit to Cairo was ended abruptly by a telephone call that I received at about five o’clock one morning. When I picked up the telephone, I heard my sister Joanie, who told me that she was over at my other sister’s house and that she was calling to give me some terrible news: my nephew David had been killed in an automobile accident just a few hours earlier. She said that the whole family was gathered at Claire and Bob’s house, and they were sitting around the telephone as they called me. I couldn’t believe my ears, and I had a flashback to the time, just seven years earlier, when Joanie had called me with the same news about the death of her own son Mike. I was devastated, and I asked Joanie if I could talk to Claire.

When I got Claire on the phone, I could hardly talk. I just broke down, crying uncontrollably, and all I could utter between sobs was “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.” Claire was trying to help me, as crazy as it sounds, but that’s the way it sometimes works at times like this. She was trying to comfort me, but I was helpless.

 

11. The Mystery of Commitment

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After David’s funeral, I flew to New York to talk to Bernadette. I felt she was the kind of friend I needed at this time—someone who could understand at a deep level the inner struggle I had been having over the past few years.

I had not seen Bernadette since that Sunday morning in Cannes back in 1976, but when I had returned to Houston then, I had found a small package waiting for me. It bore a return address of the small hotel in Paris where Bernadette had stayed those few days during her meeting there. In it was a paperback book carefully covered in beautiful wrapping paper so as to make a new jacket. The book was Demian, by Herman Hesse. There was an inscription on the inside cover from Bernadette, and only one page had been marked by turning the edge of the page down. The passage read:

Each man had only one genuine vocation—to find the way to himself. … His task was to discover his own destiny—not an arbitrary one—and live it out wholly and resolutely within himself. Everything else was only a would-be existence, an attempt at evasion, a flight back to the ideals of the masses, conformity and fear of one’s own inwardness.

 

12. The Guide

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It was Sunday, July 27, 1980. I had resigned from the law firm the week before and was spending day and night writing, thinking, and struggling with the philosophical underpinnings of the new enterprise I had decided to found, especially the new leadership curriculum that would be its foundation.

That day, I got up before dawn and went for a long, slow, easy run in Hyde Park. When I returned, I picked up the Sunday Times and went into my flat. After showering, I was thumbing through the newspaper, and when I got to page fourteen, I saw a headline in the education section: “How the Universe Hangs Together.” There was a picture of Dr. David Bohm, Professor of Theoretical Physics at London’s Birkbeck College, with a caption underneath: “Bohm and his algebra of algebras: ‘religion is wholeness.’” I knew at that moment that this was speaking to me.

I threw the rest of the paper on the floor and read every word of the article about Dr. Bohm. It began by saying that he was soon to publish a revolutionary scientific theory that might at last bring unity to the world of modern physics. “For the first time since the comfortable certitudes of classical physics were shattered—in contradictory ways—by Einstein’s theory of relativity and by quantum theory, there is hope that physicists’ disparate views of reality may be understood in a unified way.”

 

13. Synchronicity: The Cubic Centimeter of Chance

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All of us, whether or not we are warriors, have a cubic centimeter of
chance that pops out in front of our eyes from time to time.
The difference between an average man and a warrior is that the warrior
is aware of this, and one of his tasks is to be alert, deliberately waiting,
so that when his cubic centimeter pops out he has the necessary speed,
the prowess, to pick it up.

—Carlos Castaneda

A couple of months after meeting Bohm, I took a trip to the States with my son to visit colleges and universities that he was interested in attending. We were in O’Hare Airport, running down one of the crowded aisleways in an effort to catch a plane that was about to leave. Joey and I were running two abreast, dodging our way through the crowd. Up ahead, I noticed a very beautiful young woman walking quickly toward us. As I came within a few feet of her, I looked into her eyes, which were absolutely gorgeous. I stopped dead in my tracks, and as she passed me, I turned around and said to myself, “I’ve got to go get her. I know her from somewhere.” I was absolutely dumbstruck. It was very mysterious, almost as if (to paraphrase something Joseph Campbell once said) the future life I was going to have with her had already been told to me. It was something talking to me from what was to be. It had to do with the mystery and transcendence of time.

 

14. The Moment of Swing

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One day in London, after my meeting with David Bohm, I was walking down the street pondering the most pressing issue facing me: How would I find the necessary expert help to construct the curriculum for the Leadership Forum? I knew next to nothing about building such a curriculum—it was a field completely alien to me. Bohm and I had talked about the need to develop a truly extraordinary kind of educational experience for the Forum fellows. The program needed to be designed to take the fellows on a year-long journey toward wholeness—thinking whole and being whole. We were talking about fundamental shifts of mind and being. It was, to say the least, a tall order.

To this day, I don’t know what caused me to stop and pick up the magazine out of the news rack, but I did. I picked up a U.S. News & World Report and there staring me in the face was a caption on the cover “RX for Leadership in America.” I opened the magazine and found the article by Tom Cronin. On the two pages in front of me the author had laid out a number of the principles that I had been thinking about. It was clear that Cronin was aligned with the concept of the Leadership Forum. I bought the magazine, tore the pages out, and flew to the States to find Cronin at Colorado College near Colorado Springs. Within a couple of days, I was at his home telling him about my dream. He listened intently for an hour and a half. At the end he said, “You can count on me. Sign me up. I’ll be your first trustee. Now the first person you’ve got to go see is John W. Gardner. He’s probably the most experienced person in the country in this particular field.”

 

15. The Wilderness Experience: A Gateway to Dialogue

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To venture causes anxiety, but not to venture is to lose one’s self. … And
to venture in the highest is precisely to be conscious of one’s self.

—Søren Kierkegaard

By early 1982 we had raised sufficient capital for the start-up phase; we had our trustees, advisors, and staff all in place; and we had designed the organizational structure for the delivery of the program. The plan was to bring together twenty to twenty-five leaders from each of several communities nationwide, including corporate executives, public officials, and leaders in education, labor, religion, art, the media, and the professions. These individuals would constitute a class, which would be administered and supported by a local chapter. Annual classes out of each community would convene beginning in June of each year.

Our biggest challenge at this point was to design the specific program segments within the very tight constraints that were given: it must be a world-class program; it must meet the objectives set forth in the trustees’ guiding principles; it must be deliverable simultaneously in multiple communities; and it must meet tight budgetary guidelines. After running a pilot program in Houston that tested many of the specific program segments under design, I began pursuing one of my earliest and strongest hunches. From the beginning, I had known that our curriculum must include a segment to foster an intense engagement that would not only get the fellows past the blocks Bohm talked about, but that would also alter the way they experienced one another.

 

16. Dialogue: The Power of Collective Thinking

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From time to time, (the) tribe (gathered) in a circle.
They just talked and talked and talked, apparently to no purpose.
They made no decisions. There was no leader. And everybody could
participate. There may have been wise men or wise women who were
listened to a bit more—the older ones—but everybody could talk.
The meeting went on, until it finally seemed to stop for no reason at all and
the group dispersed. Yet after that, everybody seemed to know what to do,
because they understood each other so well. Then they could get together
in smaller groups and do something or decide things.

—David Bohm, On Dialogue

Bohm had shared with me in London an explicit mental model of the way he believed the world works and the way he believed human beings learn and think. To Bohm it was clear that humans have an innate capacity for collective intelligence. They can learn and think together, and this collaborative thought can lead to coordinated action. We are all connected and operate within living fields of thought and perception. The world is not fixed but is in constant flux; accordingly, the future is not fixed, and so can be shaped. Humans possess significant tacit knowledge—we know more than we can say. The question to be resolved is how to remove the blocks and tap into that knowledge in order to create the kind of future we all want.

 

17. Lessons: Encountering the Traps

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Where you stumble, there your treasure lies.

—Joseph Campbell

One day in 1987 I was with a class of Forum fellows in Portland, Oregon, telling them about the journey I had taken in the creation of the Forum—the good times, and the trials and tribulations as well. Afterwards the executive director of the Oregon chapter, Mary Ann Buchannan, came up and said, “Joe, what you just told us seemed like it was straight out of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces.” I told her I didn’t know who Joseph Campbell was and had never read any of his books. She was very surprised because his most recent book, The Power of Myth, had been widely read. She explained that Campbell, who had recently died, was an authority on mythology and a preeminent scholar. She sent me his books, and I was absolutely struck by what I read. In The Hero with a Thousand Faces Campbell presents a composite picture of the heroic quest, which is an archetype of the change process humans and organizations alike can go through. Not only did this picture look startlingly like the journey I had taken through the past fifteen years, but it tracked precisely the fundamental ideas expressed by Robert Greenleaf in Servant Leadership: The ultimate aim of the servant leader’s quest is to find the resources of character to meet his or her destiny—to find the wisdom and power to serve others.

 

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