Feminine Principle and Theory U: Character Based Leadership

Aug 24, 2016 | Leadership Insights (Articles) | 0 comments

Authors: Arawana Hayashi

Theory U describes how change happens in our organizations and societies – and to be a change leader requires the right balance of self-discipline and freedom.

Theory U is a response to the times and is an approach to address complex issues – including climate change, poverty, health, financial instability, and education.

And what is Theory U?

Theory U’s originator, Otto Scharmer, says it is three things. First, it is a framework describing a change process. Second, it is a method for effecting change personally and organizationally, in communities and globally. And third, it is a description of phenomena in the world – what is naturally happening. It addresses issues that cannot be solved by relying on an upgraded version of the past. These issues require innovative, fresh, and deeper ways of knowing and acting. As a change process, Theory U can be seen in three main parts – sensing, presencing and realizing. The sensing phase can be divided into first seeing clearly what is present and then sensing into what is observed.

Use your senses in “real-time”

Literally, we are invited to use our sense perceptions rather than relying on past or second-hand information. We are asked to suspend our judgments, opinions, assumptions and mental models, and to use our eyes and ears and the feeling of our bodies to sense into whatever the context is. We are asked to convene groups and to get out and talk to people – to pay attention in an unbiased way, to empathize with those we interview, to watch and to listen with full attention as we take learning journeys. We are asked to notice how our bodies feel and include this information as a vital part of our sensing process.

Theory U is a response to the times and is an approach to address complex issues


One of the main tools for sensing is listening. Listening and dialogue practice is an application of feminine principle. Listening makes a space. It is holding an open, unbiased and caring space for another person to speak into. Feminine principle is a sense of warmth and open heartedness – unconditional friendliness that comes into the pauses in conversations and into our moments of silence. It is unconditional because it is not based on anything in particular. It is not caused by circumstances – because they were nice to me or because I want something from them. I will be friendly to them for no particular reason, just because we are human and appreciate our lives. We can provide a friendly listening space for other people. As we sit in a circle in dialogue groups we are invited to listen into the centre of the space. The voice of collective wisdom emerges from the space of the whole. As change leaders we are invited to cultivate the capacity to engage in conversations from this place

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There is a habitual tendency for many of us to focus our attention on content – on the words, on the figures, and on the actions. Feminine principle invites us instead to notice the space or the background. It expands our attention to the atmosphere or the environment.

Arawana HayashiTeacher & Dancer
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