Leading by Nature

A review of Giles Hutchins' latest book

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A must read for business leaders and coaches who are tired of business as usual and want to shift the way they work to be in greater alignment with nature.

What I loved when reading the book was the depth and richness of the case studies and how much detail was presented not just on a theoretical level but a practical level, especially when Giles dives deeper into his recent work with Vivo Barefoot.

 

In this book Giles not only writes beautifully about how to bridge the gab between nature and business, but also explains in depth the methodologies and processes that he uses to guide teams and leaders through real transformation. 

The book Leading by Nature is not only for sustainability leaders, it is for all leaders.

Leading by Nature offers practical tools and examples for how to build organisations that are more resilient, adaptable and decentralised. It is a book that can help all leaders become more human and to unlock brilliance from their workforce. We are living through an EPIC moment. We are all experiencing massive wholesale change (e.g halving emissions by 2030, the new age of remote and hybrid working, fragile supply chains, covid, climate, conflict and as a result businesses face massive challenges). We can't deal with these challenges with the level of consciousness and mechanistic mindset that created them. 

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The Interview

I had the pleasure of visiting Giles at Springwood Farm to record this interview.

Anton. Giles.

My first question is WHY? create this place? choose this place? what is the meaning it has for you in your life?

This place chose me. I wasn't ever planning on buying ancient woodland in Sussex. I set an intention and 4-5 hours later an email came in about Springwood that was going to be sold to a developer. That led to Giles owning the place and running his international leadership centre here at Springwood.

What makes this place ancient?

Time. There are trees going back thousands of years. It would have been a woodland even before the Romans to the times of the Druids. There is a strong ancestral connection here. There is a depth of healing potential here. I've noticed it and many corporate leaders have sensed this too.

Why write Leading by Nature? What does it offer that is unique compared to your other books?

I never planned to write this book. It just emerged. It felt right and formed quite quickly. It started forming before Christmas and it unfolded. It was a rewarding process as it enables me to combine my thinking and to vocalise my practices. This book has more of my own personal work in it. The way I coach leaders through transformation. Rather than making the case for the work, this goes into the work. It's a handbook and practical guide. The process of becoming a regenerative leader. 

What I loved when reading the book was the depth and richness of the case studies and how much detail was presented not just on a theoretical level but a practical level. What is that shift that not just an individual makes but that a whole team and organisation can make to learn from nature and become more resident and successful. There was a central case study with VivoBarefoot. I'd love to hear in your own words the journey you have gone with this organisation and the role of Springwood Farm in enabling that shift for them.

The Vivo journey began here at Springwood on the Autumn Equinox in 2020 where the leadership team arrived for the first time. They had already read Regenerative Leadership and we have already started exploring some concepts with them. Being here in person as an embodied experience led to a switch being turned on. In only a few hours something had changed. They said that the whole organisation should be experiencing Springwood. That lead to creating a series of nature experiences as part of a learning journey. This was the first step in a deep shift to transforming the organisation; their value proposition, their business model, their decision making processes and their culture so they can become more future fit. 

How to reach a more mainstream business audience?

I've learned to work with many different groups of leaders with busy schedules. I've developed a process that is much deeper than team bonding or an escape into the woods. It has to be practical and related to their core business challenges, whilst also creating an embodied shift. The process is accelerated and focussed on small groups of up to 20 people. Often it starts with 3 hour 1-1 coaching immersion with a CEO or a half day immersion with the senior leadership team. We go quickly into depth. I've honed the process of guiding individuals and groups to a state of openness from which they can truly share the real challenges underneath the superficial challenges. Within an hour the group is in that place. Everyone is left with an experience that they will always remember, even within a short time period. I've worked with many business schools and leaders, not just organisations in the fields of sustainability. 

I'd like to zoom out to the context of the last few years with Brexit, then the pandemic and now the war in Ukraine. Lots of volatility in markets and the acceleration in remote and hybrid working. Massive shift in the expectations of top talent. How do you see these shifts within the context of building resilient organisations for the future and what is the place that Springwood farm has in enabling this shift?

We are in a phase of Death and Rebirth. This process requires a hospicing of the old and a mid-wifing of the new. This requires a healing process and the woodland enables this within us. This is how we regenerate and heal and evolve. Springwood is a regeneration project and it is showing us the natural capacity of nature to regenerate itself and us in the process. This place is a womb, where we can begin to let go of the old and open up to the new. Within this process is an empathic connection to the old.

It is so important to take teams into nature regularly, not just a one time fix. A message I would like to send out is for business leaders to make an investment into a regular practice of going out into nature and shift from high fixed costs that come from having an expensive city office and transfer that into a flexible investment into regular nature immersions at Springwood Farm, innovation days in dynamic urban spaces like House of Transformation, and also to give resource to their people to choose where and how they work day by day. How would you make this case to business leaders?

Obviously COVID has been a massive accelerator of the new work movement towards hybrid and remote working. We don't always need to be in the office, but that in person time matters. Because things get misunderstood. Tensions arise. Having easy to access innovation spaces in the city in combination with deep nature spaces where teams can work through tensions is critical, especially when shifting a culture to more self-managing and agile ways of working. Those deep conversations around a fire create a bank of trust that intense remote working can draw from. Then you need to refresh it again. And of course this shouldn't just be for the senior leaders, but the whole organisation. Now at Vivo, teams across the organisation can self-organise and book in their own sessions. One Vivo team leader said that 'We covered more here in the woods that we did in months worth of zoom meetings'. It's about quality of connection. Some of that can happen in nature and some of that can happen in London at an  innovation space or hub. But it shouldn't be one of immersions. It needs to become a practice.

I'm glad you mentioned the fire. One of the things that are needed in organisational change are two types of technology for transformation. We have the digital technology that we know that lives in the internet. Then there is the ancient technology of how we gather and connect and how we become rooted and tap into our deeper senses and knowing and being. What are those deeper technologies that you practice here at Springwood?

I have a process and way in which we walk into the woods. A certain rhythm. I've designed the paths in a certain way. A labyrinth and spiral of paths. A process of becoming and engaging in practices along the way that engage and stimulate both mind and body. You could call it forest bathing, mindfulness and presencing. I also use Theory-U and embodiment practices and talk about  flow and the interconnectedness of life and nature as we walk through the woods.  By the time people arrive into the main area where the work happens, where the dialogue around the fire, deep listening and the Way of the Council occurs, people are already in a different psychological place than when they arrived, both individually and as a team. It is important that everyone feels safe with each other. Subconscious safety. Then we can do some exercises around team constellations, panachry and living systems that are interspersed with deep listening and true dialogue, with talking stick and fire, working through tensions with sharing. Often people cry and let go of stress and tensions they are carrying. At Springwood this sharing of emotion feels comfortable. So by lunchtime, already we have a group as human beings behaving as human beings. Another thing I am strict about is leaving mobile phones at the arrival hall. Everyone needs to be fully present. 

Amazing. Is there a certain meaning that comes from making a fire. What does it bring?

The whole space here at Springwood is a sacred space. I don't speak to that. It's all about making people comfortable. I usually set intentions before people come. When I light a fire I think of it as a sacred act. It's a way for representing transformation. The flame is made up of electrons jumping up levels. It's a process of alchemy. 

There is a wonderful simplicity that goes beyond complexity here at Springwood and the act of dialogue is so crucial to how organisations change and transform and heal, as well as the people themselves. Creating an environment and context in which teams can show up as themselves and really practice dialogue is hard. You are in a boardroom, full of caffeine, in a glass box, confrontational in an environment designed to dehumanise and create sense of power, sometimes without great ventilation. How can we expect anything more than an intellectual fight. In contrast, the ancient woodland changes this context completely. It allows for emergence and collective process. Allowing from what is not planned. Isn't that the source of genuine collaboration. How do we explain the importance of the environment and facilitation. I invite you to speak to this and the impact you have seen amongst leaders who often spend time in a traditional office.

Often leaders are amazed at how they feel at the end of the nature immersion. They feel like a different person compared to a few hours ago. It draws home to people how much we are in a state of fight or flight. A war mentality or just switching off or bored. They are caught up in a mechanistic culture with rather ineffective meetings where everyone is multitasking and checking emails. Getting out and changing that is disarming. When you are in the woods and going through the process that I have designed to get into the centre of woods the anxiety melts away. People begin to feel at ease and unjudged. It's powerful and simple. Then quite quickly you can get to a space of real collaboration, real engagement and emergence. What is life if it is not emergence? Being able to create something new out of a tension, rather than let it bring you down as a team. 

The book Leading by Nature is not for sustainability leaders, it is for all leaders. To be successful in this new age we need to be more adaptable, agile and decentralised. That's the best way to scale. It's a book about leadership not just sustainability. Tapping into new forms of organisation. Getting more done with less. Focussing on the human interpersonal dynamics. A book that can reach into the mainstream. 

I wrote Leading by Nature to help all leaders become more human and to unlock brilliance from their workforce and be future fit. Some leaders are struggling with that. Some leaders have an insight of what is possible. This is a massive opportunity for change in human civilisation and consciousness that we are living through. This is an EPIC moment. Massive wholesale change. Halve emissions by 2030. New world of work. Fragile supply chains. Covid, climate, conflict. Massive business challenges. We can't deal with these challenges with the level of consciousness and mechanistic mindset that created them. Therefore, we look into the mindset that we need in a practical, open and easy to digest way; tools and techniques that enable leaders to transform their organisations within the times that we live in.

Whatever expectations I had were far exceeded. The magic of the place is that you made the forest the classroom. So many places for deep moments to take place. What advice would you give to other locations?

This isn't glamping. Very simple here. Less is more. Allow things to emerge with each step. Allow nature to inform you in how to design things. 

Finally what is your favourite moment and memory here at Springwood?

 Seeing children running up the drive covered in mud. Wife swimming in the lake. And Vivo coming on that Autumn Equinox. We are coming to the end of the first chapter of Springwood. 

What does the second chapter look like?

Getting different groups. Millennials. Tech teams. Systemic change. Cities. More systems change, working with creatives, PR agencies and educators. But no idea. it will emerge.