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Why your career needs a walk in the woods

<p>Too many sustainability professionals are cut off from nature, but a little treehugging will make you a smarter leader.</p>

Wisdom 2.0, a sold-out event kicking off this week, promotes "living with awareness, wisdom and compassion." It is clear with the success of Wisdom 2.0 and the growing field of the concept of "flourishing," that leaders are interested in how to integrate concepts of mindfulness into the workplace in order to help individuals and organizations unlock their full potential.

As I reviewed the Wisdom 2.0 agenda, however, I was struck by the absence of anything related to our connection to nature or the role of planet earth in mindfulness. In other words, that which is "wild" is missing from the wisdom. Then I got thinking about all the sustainable business events and gatherings I attend. The limits of natural systems might be discussed there, but no time is spent in nature, connecting viscerally to why we are champions of change.

This is a call to action, to the organizers of Wisdom 2.0, to producers of sustainability events, to CSR professionals, as well as to business leaders who want to be more authentic and inspiring: Invite nature into your gatherings. Open the dialogue to include the wild.

A nature-based retreat might just be the antidote. You may have heard of such programs, such as those from the Regenerative Leadership Institute or the Center for Nature & Leadership.

I recently had the pleasure of experiencing a Wild Wisdom Leadership program, developed by executive coach Linda Graf. This nature-based leadership experience aims to strengthen leaders' connection to the natural world. Graf describes Wild Wisdom as a "methodology that allows you to access more information and make better decisions." Why is it wild? "Because it incorporates nature."

Learning from nature

Sustainability professionals are familiar with natural capitalism and biomimicry, concepts that urge business leaders to model production and products after nature's time-tested patterns, strategies and limits. Examples include a solar cell inspired by a leaf, or eliminating the very concept of waste by creating closed-loop production systems, modeled on nature's design. Wild Wisdom Leadership is about empowering leaders to look to nature to enhance one's leadership effectiveness and to make decisions aligned with their core values and purpose.

Is a Wisdom Walk for you?

Wild Wisdom is not for the faint of heart. It is for leaders ready to show up differently and who want to transform their leadership from the inside out. Graf typically works with leaders and middle-managers interested in connecting deeper with themselves and their purpose. Many of her clients are grappling with business issues, ranging from introducing new product lines to deciding whether it's time to let members of the executive team go. Some are questioning whether it is time to leave their organizations and follow a new career path. Others are challenged with communication issues or work/life balance.

"Green MBAers, sustainability professionals, as well as all politicians would benefit from spending time in nature so they can 'hear' what nature, the missing stakeholder, is saying," Graf said. Her clients gain fresh perspectives to challenging problems, clarity about their purpose and access to innovative solutions, she said. "My clients leave with a stronger connection to the natural world, clarity on the issues challenging them and practical steps for moving forward their ideas, plans and visions."

Take a walk on the wild side

"Nature has an intelligence, and if we unplug and slow down, we can hear it," Graf said. She loves to work in the wild beauty of Glacier Park, Mont., where she lives, but also offers her Quest programs in other inspiring locations, such as the high desert of Arizona and the primal beauty of Molokai, Hawaii.

The full three-day Executive Wisdom Quest is structured around setting intentions and clarifying key questions, stepping out of ordinary time for a full day from sunrise to sunset, followed by a period of reflection and integration. This is not an Outward Bound experience. Graf aims to ensure that her clients get plenty of rest in comfortable lodging not far from the Quest locations.

The one-day Wisdom Walk I attended helped us hone in and focus on a key question. We crossed a "threshold" into 90 minutes alone in nature. The remainder of the day was set aside for reflection of our nature experience and integration. Graf provided our small group guidance and helped us interpret our experiences and insights.

Graf's work incorporates the Wisdom Compass (at left), a model developed by Burke Miller, founder of the Executive Wisdom Institute to provide focus for key questions. During my Wisdom Walk I was most drawn to the areas of Purpose and Integrity, and spent my solo time exploring these two quadrants with such questions as:

What fires me up? What unique role do I play? Where am I not completely truthful? What structures, forms or systems do I need to support my life/work vision?

I was drawn to brambles and prickly plants, which I collected into an impromptu art installation. I later shared from my journal, "I ate fear for lunch. And composted her." A message to soften, perhaps? To break out of fear-based thinking?

"Nature speaks to us through metaphor," Graf said. "We just have to slow down enough to listen."

Listen to nature

The next time you are wrestling with a question or have a decision to make, Graf offers the following tips for creating your own Wisdom Walk. Her website offers a free download that outlines these steps in more detail.

1. Write down your question or issue.

2. Set aside an hour or so and go outside.

3. Go alone and remove any distractions (Leave your cell phone behind.).

4. Create a threshold and step into "special time."

5. Go for a walk, wander or let yourself be drawn to a place to sit.

6. Come back…cross back over your "threshold."

7. Journal and integrate — notice what answers show up.

If you're interested in reading more, check out the books Your Brain on Nature and The Nature Principal.

Full disclosure: I paid to attend this retreat, and am receiving free follow-up consultations via Skype.

Top image of a treehugger by silvia via Shutterstock

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