Literature is full of references to speaking from the heart. Mystics, philosophers and religious leaders have all referenced for millennia the importance of linking our words to that which we deeply value; to that which is core to our being.
We call this being authentic. It's about being true to your dreams and your ideals when you invoke declarations that call the future into being. All of this is thought of as merely an act of communication. What if it were more? What if there was a biological link that the ancient sages drew upon that makes “speaking from the heart” more than an aphorism?
The heart and tongue muscles are the same in their physical makeup. Our ancestors noted this when consuming game. Both were held out as prized pieces of the kill. Embryologists long ago documented what occurs developmentally as the fetus matures over time. The heart is the first organ to form (it is beating by the 23rd day); immediately following is the development of the mouth and tongue (by the 28th day). Tellingly, the tongue develops directly from cells that come from the heart. Both are inordinately endowed with strength – the tongue is the strongest muscle in the body and the heart is capable of feats of stamina that are truly awe inspiring.
When we lose (or forget about) this connection our lives are impoverished. We sacrifice our heart's desires by not speaking our truth. Truly, in today's fast paced world with all of its distractions, temptation and demands we risk much when we allow our heart to lose its voice.
My heart and tongue were twins at once conceived,
Th'eldest was my heart, born dumb by Destiny,
The last my tongue, of all sweet thoughts bereaved:
Yet strung and tun'd to play heart's harmony.
Both knit in one and yet asunder placed:
What heart would speak the tongue doth still discover.
What tongue doth speak is of the heart embraced,
And both are one to make a new found lover
New found, and only found in gods and kings,
Whose words are deeds, but words nor deeds regarded.
Chaste thoughts do mount and fly with swiftest wings,
My love with pain, my pain with loss rewarded. Then this be sure, since it is true perfection, that neither men nor gods can force affection.
~ John Dowland (composer 1562-1626)
I Am My Conversation.
My conversation determines my actions in the world. Conversations are the catalyst; they are the filters; they are the raw ingredients of all I have in my life and of all that I do in and with my life. My conversations show up in my body, show up in my emotions, and show up in my spirit. My conversation gives me access to life and aliveness...it also age me and jaundices my view of the wonders of the world. My conversation connects or, more likely, it separates...it has the power to be inclusive and it is often exclusive.
How often have I really stepped back and listened to the conversation(s) that are my life? To the conversation that is me? How do I move through the world as a conversation? What is the story my conversation generates in others? What are the implications when I start looking at and for the core conversation that lives within? What is the 3:00 a.m. conversation I hold with myself that no one else listens in on? This is the conversation that everyone in my life runs into.
When I leave a physical conversation I was having did "I" leave? I don't think so. Part of me remained with the other person as a conversational memory – perhaps even as an emotion experienced by the other party. Who am "I" then? For most of us our sense of self is, in large part, informed by and limited to what our physical senses tell us about who we are – I am my body, my feelings and my thoughts. These artifacts of self go with "me" wherever "I" go and where "I" am is where they are. But what if I thought of myself as moving through the world in another way. What if "I" occupied time and space in a different way? What would be my approach to interacting with others if I thought of myself moving through the world as a conversation?
As a conversation I become the stories others have about me. I become the internal conversations they have about the meaning of my behaviors, my actions, my mood, my words and my spirit. I become the internal conversation they feel about me – and, as a consequence, how they in part define themselves. These conversations contain me and they are the raw building blocks used to co-create our futures together. How congruent with the ideals I hold as valuable are these "conversations that I am"?
In the beginning there was the "word" and from the word conversations began that created what we have and who we are today. It is not in any way an exaggeration to suggest that conversation is relationship.
Conversation Creates (and Reflects) Culture
I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a very good friend. He related a story of a chance meeting he had shortly after the Vietnam War with someone during a long airplane trip back from Asia. The individual that he sat next to was in the military and was involved with biological research. My friend eventually asked a question pertaining to how the effectiveness of biological weapons was determined. The answer surprised him. It wasn’t the mortality rate that his seatmate cited. It was the receptivity of the environment to the particular pathogen that would be introduced. The environment’s ability to support and grow the pathogen was the key to determining the pathogen’s effectiveness.
Results in an organization emerge in direct correlation to the aspects of the environment that most nurture them – conversations are the medium for this. Similar to my friend’s airplane conversation, think in terms of disease resulting from bacteria or virus growth in an organism. If the “environment” within the organism (the health of the relationships amongst the various organs, systems, and bodily functions) is not conducive to a noxious bacteria or virus taking root and growing the organism will remain free of the disease – which may be thought of as the “result” called good health (or profitability for a company or authenticity in relationships). Similarly, disease can be thought of as simply a result that is directly correlated to the receptivity of the organism’s “environment” to support the growth of a particularly noxious bacteria or virus (think of a disengaged workforce where fear is a chief motivational tool and authenticity in communication is stifled. You’ll almost always find poor product or service quality is the diseased result). In nature bacteria and viruses of all kinds are always present – and they don’t always take root and grow. The receptivity (or not) of the environment is the key.
Looked at this way, leadership is an outward facing activity. It is “outward facing” in the sense that an effective leader is continuously attending to the health and receptivity of their environment – the “space” that they and their organization occupy that makes certain results likely. This space is defined by the quality of the conversations that facilitate the interaction between the relationships that make up the organization’s culture.
As a leader, I need to attend to defining the space in which I move and the environments on which I most want to have influence. I do this not by managing tasks but by focusing on the type and quality of the conversations that inform the interconnected relationship required to produce the results I desire. Leadership is about defining and caretaking this space; management is about the execution of tasks within this space.
This gives rise to two unorthodox claims: To effectively look outward an effective leader cannot be preoccupied with task accomplishment. For that matter, it is also unwise for leadership (as an activity) to be unduly focused on the achievement of any particular result. Results are simply a metric that indicates what the environment is designed to produce. Therefore, if I as a leader am not getting the results I want the place to look is to the environment (culture) and the quality of the myriad interconnected relationship that typify it. Specifically, the question to consider is “are the conversations that are these relationships built on authenticity? Are they fertile seedbeds that allow for the growth of the results we want to create?”