‘The quality of results achieved by any system is a function of the quality of awareness that people in these systems operate from’

Otto Sharmer

This is the quick, short version of my philosophy. If you want to read more in detail, click the buttons in the sections below.

Where my philosophy comes from

Freelancing as a coach and consultant in organizations I worked a lot with teams and leaders. I would be contracted for jobs in larger companies, like banks, insurance or aviation. Often I was a part of a larger change management roll-out and was asked to coach teams and leaders to get somewhere else than where they currently were. This external model that had to be reached was either a part of higher management’s change philosophy, came from the frameworks the coaching company used in their trainings or was a combination of both. In any case, the focus was performance and efficiency improvement.

I learned this is how lots of change management in organizations is done and noticed how there was little space in the environments I worked in to bring something different. Many of the teams and individuals I worked with where high achievers and liked to push themselves, so they also wanted external goals to strive for. Nonetheless, I often couldn’t help but see exhaustion and stress.

Being trained as a Gestalt practitioner I started to resist these change methods more and more. In Gestalt we start with what is present to understand where one is in relationship to a changing environment. Given how fast that environment changes, an external change model is bound to become useless quickly. Applying this to organizational work, I realized how individual leaders, teams and organizations need to continuously find stability in themselves as a place from which they are able to make flexible and dynamic decisions (Beisser, 1970).

After a couple of years the mismatch between my own growing philosophy and the requests of the clients became too big and I was the one who had to step away due to exhaustion. During that long break, it took me a while to understand I had been complicit in and had suffered from a capitalist, neoliberal system, where more, faster, better is the norm and human needs are often secondary to that performance fetish. The idea of starting from those human needs when change is needed seemed to be too radical for most of the places I had worked for.

If I wanted to be of meaning for leaders and organizations I knew I’d need to offer my services in a way that for some clients would be deemed too radical… although for some it might be just what they were looking for.

That’s when I coined the term ‘Slow Leadership’. Only recently I realized I had to add a tagline saying: ‘executive coaching for postcapitalist times’.

In these words I’m bringing together the ideas that I have gathered throughout my 15 years as a psychotherapist and coach to offer a leadership and organizational development philosophy that is rooted in a development of the interior condition of the leader (Sharmer, 2018) as opposed to exterior goals or strategies. As I learned from my UK Gestalt teachers at Relational Change, as a coach and consultant I am not a change agent, I am an ‘awareness agent’.

I support the individuals and teams to increase their awareness of what is needed for the organization as a whole at that given moment. In my view leadership is about slowing down decision making processes, to make space to be aware of what’s needed for all the different stakeholders present and to include that in the final outcome.

Read a short overview of how I apply that philosophy with leaders and organizations below and click on the buttons if you want to read more in depth.

The Three Levels of Leadership

When studying Processwork I learned that we can approach reality in any given moment at three levels. Translating that to leadership and organizational development, I realized the following three levels are always present in every leadership intervention:

  1. Project:
    This is where you find the facts and figures of the project at hand, the outer themes and issues that everybody can easily agree on. On this level you use intellectual power, rational analysis and data-driven decision making.

  2. People:
    The background emotions and differences of the people in your organization, including yourself. At the level of people you embrace and facilitate disagreement, conflict and polarizations, because you know this is needed for sustainable decision making.

  3. Purpose:
    This is the level that lies underneath the previous two. It is the origin story of your organization, always present, always needed and connected to a universal human need your organization serves.

Slow leadership is about having the capacity to move between these three different levels that are always present during any intervention you make as a leader in your organization

How to build your capacity to move through the different levels of leadership?

Great, you’re fascinated by this idea of different levels of leadership, you’d love to increase your own capacity as a leader and grasp more of what is going on in your organization.

But, how to get there?

I use a model called the ‘SOS model’ to support leaders to develop towards more capacity in their access to the 3 levels I explain above.

SOS stands for Self, Other and Situation, a model I borrow from Gestalt theory, more specifically from the inspirational teachers at Relational Change. You can read an article on their development of the SOS model here.

Applying the SOS model in leadership development learns you to build your awareness muscle to include yourself, the others you relate to and the situation this all happens in when decisions are made. Including these 3 areas of focus consistently brings you in the intersection where ‘slow leadership’ can happen, meaning you get a larger view of the needs in the moment and can see more clearly how you can intervene on the 3 levels of project, people or purpose.

The SOS model of leadership awareness

This is the tool that will help you move more freely between the levels of leadership that are always present in any situation. It’s an awareness tool, which means it requires practice and persistence to grow that muscle.

  1. Self
    You are aware of your responses and needs in the moment. You have learned that what you experience is valuable information for the situation at hand and feel comfortable expressing what needs to be heard by others for the benefit of the decisions that have to be made.

  2. Other
    Leading doesn’t mean having power over people, but having power with people. Understanding the other is vital for your leadership and happens through dialogue and empathy. Emotional intelligence is key here.

  3. Situation
    Every decision happens in a context that in turn is part of a larger situation. You are able to take a step back and be aware of how the situation at different levels impacts what needs to be done.

Want to apply this yourself? Subscribe to my email list to receive a written SOS exercise to apply to a challenging leadership situation.

For the purpose of leadership development, each area of focus of the SOS model has three specific skill sets that belong to it.

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Thomas Ameel

+32 (0)486 17 24 92


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