Emersion Session

Crisis Leadership: A Deeper Knowing

When: Sunday, 16 October | 14:30 – 17:30
Where: Shalem Institute
Facilitators: Margaret Benefiel, Shalem Institute; Karen Wilhelm Buckley, Global Consciousness Institute; Deborah Rundlett, Global Consciousness Institute; Julia Storberg-Walker, George Washington University
Maximum Number of Registrants: 40

TICKET PRICES: $40 ILA Member | $54 Non-Member

Located just blocks from political power, for almost 50 years the Shalem Institute has bravely stood for a different quality of power generated not through votes, but through contemplation and wisdom. Purposively located in the center of D.C., Shalem courageously contributes to a world transformed by contemplative living and leadership. It is in this space where we will gather for this session.

Building on Shalem’s mission, we will explore a deeper form of knowing through three movements: 1) accepting the call to crisis leadership; 2) engaging our wisdom body; and 3) nurturing a deep reciprocity through practices. Participants will deepen their inner wisdom and learn practices for amplifying leadership impact.

Full Description

At the center of every crisis   
is an inner space        
so deep, so beckoning,           
so suddenly and daringly vast           
that it feels like a universe…

When the unthinkable happens,       
and does not relent,   
we fall through our hubris     
toward an inner flow,
an abiding and rebirthing darkness   
that feels like home.

-Barbara Holmes, Crisis Contemplation: Healing the Wounded Village

When the unthinkable happens… Not only a pandemic, but a global reckoning of power.

Yet, with every crisis comes invitation.   What kind of future do we want?  How will we find healing and wholeness for people and planet?  How might our present crises serve as a crucible for transformation?

To explore these questions, we invite you to visit us the Shalem Institute for a post-conference half day retreat.  The place is nestled just few blocks from the center of political power in the United States–where we have lately witnessed a challenge to this center and its power. But at Shalem, one finds a different center of power; a power of a different quality; a power generated by contemplation.  Founded in 1979,  the Shalem Institute purposively located itself blocks from the center of political power in order to offer a space for contemplative power to be developed and amplified as an antidote and alternative to ego-driven political power. Shalam is a quantum force so little as to hardly be noticed, yet providing an invitation to wholeness of body, mind, heart and soul to leaders across the generations.  For over forty years, leaders have come to the Shalem to move from ego-driven pursuits to servant leadership for the flourishing of people and place.  In a space where many forces are at work, Shalem offers a reconciling force grounded in wisdom that invites a deeper knowing that begins with letting go of past patterns and ways of being.

Margaret Benefiel, Shalem’s Executive Director (2021) and one of the facilitators of this session, names the reality in which we find ourselves: “The paradox of leadership in a crisis is that leaders can lead well only when they give up attachment to self-preservation and to the preservation of their institutions” (p. 13).  Only as leaders let go can they align with what is seeking to emerge through a deeper knowing.  This is a precondition for crisis leadership in this hinge time in history.

Scharmer (2018) quoting W. Brian Arthur reflects on the difference between cognition and a deeper level of knowing:

You know the real power comes from recognizing patterns that are forming and fitting with them… (There are two levels of cognition.) Most tend to be the standard cognitive kind that you can work with in your conscious mind.  But there is the deeper level.  Instead of understanding, I would call this deeper level knowing (p. 20-21). 

This requires Wisdom Body and a relational focus that respects and affords dignity to all beings.

Gelinas (2021) underscores the importance of enlisting Wisdom Body in this deeper knowing:

The challenges we face are becoming more interwoven, interconnected, and colossal while our communities, organizations, nation states, and worlds are becoming even more divided and polarized. We need to bring greater wisdom to our interactions wherever we are, tackling whatever we are tackling, with whomever we are working. We can enlist the Wisdom Body as an ally in every circumstance to help us find new ways of connecting and collaborating, increasing the likelihood of finding courses of action to meet the challenges of our time.

Wisdom Body allows for integrated knowing that helps to hold us in this very real moment of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA).

But then what?  Wisdom emerges and grows in the context of relationship, not only with people, but on an ecological and planetary level. Storberg-Walker (2022) explores how a relational ontology might catalyze transformative and emancipatory action toward restoring/repairing “the deep interconnection and interdependence between all life on the planet” (p. 262).   Here the dignity of all beings is a key principle.  If we are to address the present environmental crisis, we must understand that we are inseparable from nature, with a moral obligation to care for the inherent dignity of our planet.  Through reclaiming an indigenous way of knowing, Storberg-Walker invites us to access non-rational ways of knowing. 

Lazlo (2019), in his research on Quantum Leadership, cites:

The emerging narrative is one of connectedness and caring as defining qualities of who we are and of life itself, supplanting the traditional view of separateness and selfishness.  Humanity has the potential to move in this direction if a critical mass of people embodies the new narrative—much as the Renaissance’s humanism and intellectual curiosity displaced the clerical and feudal narrative of the Middle Ages (p. 144).

It is then that our doing is transformed out of our being.  Our leadership shifts from an achievement orientation to a purpose-driven focus on the interdependence of people and planet.  Power is no longer understood as domination, something to be grasped at, but quantum.  Out of the smallest unit of energy, transformation occurs.  Like yeast, it transforms the whole.  Lederach (2005) captures this in his discussion of critical yeast:

The principle of yeast is this: A few strategically connected people have greater potential for creating the social growth of an idea or process than large numbers of people who think alike… Social change requires careful attention to the way people in their environment mix in relational spaces that provide a warm, initially somewhat separate and therefore safe space to bring together what has not usually been brought together with enough sweetness to make the space conducive for the growth of those merged (p. 92).

He concludes with these words: “The smallest ingredient yeast, is the only one with the capacity to help the other ingredients grow” (p. 93).

This requires the development of new practices.  As Laszlo reminds us, “people learn practices in the context of relationships and through the sharing of experience” (p. 168).  Crisis leadership invites into new ways of being community and new forms of practice.  With intention, “practices can help translate the new ontology of connectedness and caring into a new way of living and leading… ‘Learning, therefore, is not solely a matter of what one knows but also of whom one becomes’” (Ibid).

In this emmersion, we will explore this deeper knowing through three movements:

  1. Accepting the call to crisis leadership;
  2. Engaging Wisdom body;
  3. Nurturing a Relational Ontology through Practice

This session will be experiential and interactive, inviting participants into guided reflection on their own experience, and into discernment groups to help them face crises with depth, creativity, and wisdom.  We will close with reflections on how to use these practices in daily leadership settings.

This emmersion takes place in one of the world’s centers of power.  As we meet this year in Washington, DC, historically the land of the Nacotchtank, Piscataway, and Pamunkey peoples, we partner with the Shalem Institute, intentionally founded in Washington, DC to bring contemplative awareness to a city continually tempted by ego-drivenness, to call its people back to groundedness and service.  Shalem navigated and is still navigating the three crises of 1) COVID-19, 2) Racial reckoning in the nation’s center of power, and 3) An insurrection just down the street, all through the lens of its mission to nurture contemplative living and leadership. 

Attendees will take part in the following schedule:

Hour 1:  Crisis Leadership: What is it?
Hour 2:  Honoring Wisdom Body
Hour 3:  Nurturing a Relational Ontology toward a New Consciousness


Margaret Benefiel

Margaret Benefiel, Executive Director of the Shalem Institute, also directs Shalem’s Soul of Leadership program.  Formerly Chair of the Academy of Management’s Management, Spirituality, and Religion Group, over 3,000 executives, managers, and other leaders have participated in her seminars and courses. Author of Crisis Leadership, Soul at Work, and The Soul of a Leader, and co-editor of The Soul of Higher Education and The Soul of Supervision. she has also written numerous journal articles.  

Karen Wilhelm Buckley, Communicore Consulting, member of the Conscious Leadership Guild and Founding Steward, Global Consciousness Institute is an Executive Coach and Consultant to leaders and organizations, in professional and organizational development. For over three decades her clients developed wise leadership – the skills, strategies, and presence to cultivate committed performance and effectively drive change. Karen’s leadership forums invite businesswomen to recognize the necessity of their wisdom, power, and leadership for a sustainable, healthy and loving world.

Deborah Rundlett

Deborah Rundlett Poets & Prophets. Deborah is committed to leader formation in the workplace.  She is a Founding Steward, Global Consciousness Institute.  Prior to founding Poets & Prophets, she  served in business, as part of the advertising launch team for the IBM-PC; the academy, teaching a doctoral track in leadership; and the church as pastor and judicatory leader. She retains her ordination in the Presbyterian Church (USA), with standing in the UCC.

Julia Storberg-Walker is Chair of the Human and Organizational Learning Department, Program Director of the Organizational Leadership and Learning Program, and an Associate Professor in the Department of Human and Organizational Learning in the Graduate School of Education and Human Development.

Julia Storberg-Walker is Chair of the Human and Organizational Learning Department, Program Director of the Organizational Leadership and Learning Program, and an Associate Professor in the Department of Human and Organizational Learning in the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at George Washington University.