Frederic Laloux: Part 1 of an interview by Bob Morris

LalouxAfter I read Frederic Laloux‘s brilliant book, Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness, I was curious to know more about him and learned of his passionate commitment to helping leaders in almost any organization — whatever its size and nature may be — to explore fundamentally new ways of organizing resources (especially people) to achieve and then sustain excellence. One of the keys to that is creating a workplace culture within which personal growth and professional development are most likely to thrive.

Reinventing Organizations draws on two strands:

o Frederick’s deep understanding of the inner workings of organizations, which he developed among other during the years he worked as an organization and strategy consultant with McKinsey & Company

o His longstanding fascination with the topic of human development and his own joyful journey of personal and spiritual growth.

He has worked intimately with people at all levels of organizations. He has witnessed how the organizations that make up the fabric of our modern lives (large corporations and small businesses, hospitals and schools, nonprofits and government agencies) are for the most part places of quiet and pervasive suffering, places inhospitable to the deeper yearnings of our souls. The intuition that more is possible—that we must be capable of creating truly soulful organizations that invite all of our human potential into the workplace—has led him to engage into groundbreaking research: how a currently emerging, new form of consciousness is bringing forth a radically more soulful, purposeful, and productive organizational model.

Reinventing Organizations was published by Kendall Parker (February 2014). It is based on extensive research and has been variously described as “groundbreaking,” “brilliant,” “spectacular,” “impressive,” and “world-changing” by some of the most respected scholars in the field of human development.

Frederic lives in Brussels, Belgium, where he is blessed to share his life with his wife, Hélène, and their two children.

Here is an excerpt from Part 1 of my interview of him. To read all of Part 1, please click here.

* * *

Morris: Before discussing Reinventing Organizations, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

Laloux: I would say: life! (Laughs) Seriously. It took me 30 years before I realized there was something like personal growth. But since then, I was lucky that life, or perhaps I should call it my soul, has found ways to make itself heard when it was time to learn something, to change something, to move on.

Now I’m also blessed to know quite a few impressive practitioners in a number of techniques of personal growth. And so whenever I bump onto another piece of shadow of mine, I pick up my phone to make an appointment and with their help I try to bring it into the light. Over the years, I feel a great deal of weight has been lifted from my shoulders, that I’ve left behind quite a few limiting beliefs and fears. When I look forward, I can’t fail to be excited. Life feels so good now already. What will it be in 10 years from now? Or in 20?

Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

Laloux: In many ways, during the years when I worked in the McKinsey firm. Starting in my mid-twenties, I was exposed to a great number of organizations, a great number of leaders, of executive committees. In many ways, I could not have written Reinventing Organizations without this broad exposure. I’ve had insights into the dynamics of business and of people that I would not have had if I had worked in a traditional corporation and climbed the ladder there.

In 2007, I spent time with Newfield network, a wonderful coaching training with the masterful Julio Ollala. The learning there couldn’t be more different from the learning I had at McKinsey, and it opened many new horizons for me. I learned to love and to care. I learned that emotions, intuition, and the body are places of great intelligence and insights, that they are domains of learning, too. I realized that wisdom isn’t just something that may happen to us when we get old, but something that we can try and cultivate.

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

Laloux: Professionally, I had two turning points, I guess. For the longest time, when I was working with McKinsey, I felt deeply conflicted. On the one hand, the work was playing to many of my strengths and talents, and I enjoyed it. On the other, there was always this lingering sense of “What am I doing here? What is the purpose of it all?” I never really fully fit in. I always knew I didn’t want to become a partner, but I just didn’t know what else to do with my life. And then one day, I had this extraordinarily powerful coaching session with a woman that brought great clarity on a number of issues. A month later I resigned! She helped me understand some of the patterns of my parents’ lives, and why I had stayed with McKinsey when my heart told me it was time to move on.

When I left, I built up my own practice as a coach and facilitator, opening up deep conversations with leaders of large organizations. For a few years, I felt like I had hit the ultimate jackpot. My work felt very meaningful. I worked much less than I used to, leaving me lots of time for my personal development, and to live a good and simple life.

And then, quite unexpectedly, in the spring of 2011, I was hit with a deep sense of sadness. It took me two or three weeks to make sense of it. The sadness was a form of grief: the work that had brought me so much joy for the last few years was work I no longer could do. It was as if my soul were saying, “Enough! You are meant to move on again!” I thought that I had found my vocation, found what I would do for the next 20 years of my life! (laughs).

I had done a fair bit of a personal and spiritual journey over the last few years, and the point I had gotten to was really quite far away from where the CEOs and business leaders who I was working with were at. Something in me was tired of the constant game of translation, of always being mindful of how far I could go, how much I could show of what my convictions before it would be too much for them. There was also something physical to it. There was something about just going into these large organizations that I felt was draining, almost depressing. You know, the grand but soulless marble and glass lobbies of these big corporations. And all these managers running around hurriedly, talking about one more change project and cross-functional initiative and mid-term planning and budget exercise. I felt like stopping them in their tracks and asking them “Do you still believe in any of this?” Apparently I didn’t! (Laughs).

Out of that came the question: “If that’s no longer the work I can do, then what’s next?” When I asked myself that question, I had a powerful insight. For some reason, I realized the right questions for me to ask were not: “What will my next work be? What will I put on my business card? What will my identity be?” Instead, I figured the right question was “What would be the most meaningful thing I could do with my life right now?” Not even “with my life in general”? No, right now. And the answer was immediate. I wanted to focus on two projects that felt totally meaningful to me. And one was the research that lead to the book Reinventing Organizations.

I was fascinated by the question: what would really healthy, really evolved organizations look like? I knew that there is an increasing number of people who go through an inner transformation and end up leaving their organizations, just as I left McKinsey. Business leaders who leave their corporation because they are tired of the politics. Doctors and nurses leaving their hospitals, because hospitals are for the most part soulless medical factories. Teachers leaving their schools. Not all of them become coaches and consultants from the sidelines in the way I had. Some of them must have felt called to start a new business, school or hospital. I wondered if they had found ways to build very different organizations that would be aligned with the inner journey they had made.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

Laloux: Not at all! Oh man, my studies of business were almost a complete waste of time. I believe we need to fundamentally reinvent formal education. Stop considering that good education only fills our minds with data and information, and consider that our body, our emotions, intuitions and spirit are also domains of truly meaningful learning!

* * *

To read all of Part 1, please click here.

Frederic cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

Reinventing Organization‘s website link

Amazon link

Integral Life conversation with Ken Wilber link

LinkedIn link

YouTube link

Tony Schwartz review in New York Times link

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