The Great Cathedral at Chartres and the Longhorn’s Locker Room
I’m certain most of you have walked into a management meeting and felt the anxiety “in the air” – or in another setting, the excitement. Back when I was an undergraduate at the University of Texas in Austin in the late 1950s, I had the opportunity to experience this kind of atmosphere in the Texas Longhorn football locker room. Three of my best friends were starters on the team coached by the legendary Darrell K. Royal. In his second season at Texas in 1958, these three friends were central to the 15-14 upset of Number 2 ranked Oklahoma. I was privileged to be invited by my friends into the Longhorn locker room after that game. Even after they graduated, I was able to accompany my friends to the Longhorn locker room several times in 1963 when they won their first National Championship under Royal. In every instance, I was always struck by the atmosphere in the locker room – it was electric and unmistakable.
I noticed this was the very same experience I had during the time I was part of a small rescue team in Waco, Texas in the immediate aftermath of the largest tornado in the history of the state. In my book, Source, I noted that during the time this team worked together “I experienced a palpable energy field surrounding us. My sense of awareness was acute. I possessed uncanny clarity, a sort of panoramic knowing. Time slowed down. We were able to perform very difficult tasks with apparent ease…we operated…as one organism, with exceedingly high coherence.”
Later I would experience that same effect as a trial lawyer when I was trying an important case, especially when we were representing a client who had been severely disadvantaged wrongfully. This phenomenon is something well known as “being in the zone.” Bill Russell, the celebrated center for the championship Boston Celtics, described that feeling of oneness in his highly regarded book, Second Wind. Reading his passage, no one could doubt that in such instances, the members of the team are fundamentally inseparable.
Interestingly, this effect was the very same experience I had in the late 1970s when I visited the great cathedral at Chartres, the small medieval town lying just southwest of Paris. The cathedral was built in the mid-13th Century when high Gothic architecture was at its purest. Thousands upon thousands of people have entered that cathedral with earnest, deep intention to pray over all these hundreds of years. The energy field there was unmistakable to me; you could not miss it – that feeling of oneness and that feeling of interconnection.
It was not until 1980 in London in a meeting with the famous quantum physicist, David Bohm, that I learned that this feeling of “electricity” and “connection” signified the existence of a living field. He said to me, “we’re all connected through and operate within living fields of thought and perception” – what he called “the general fielding of all mankind.” He continued, “You set these fields by your intention and way of being.” He emphasized to me that when a team operates this way “as a single intelligence”, it can achieve extraordinary results.
Over the years, I have concluded that these subtle fields of thought and emotion influence behavior throughout large organizations and that these fields are susceptible to change – indeed, they are continuously unfolding. I believe that awareness of such emerging fields lies at the heart of all true leadership. Reality is not fixed but is continuously in flux. True leadership is the art of working with organizational fields to enable people to discover and bring forth new realities. Leaders at all levels can cultivate this capacity by their clarity of purpose, their commitment to their highest aspirations and ultimately by their openness and vulnerability; and by doing so can transform an organization’s capacity to create its future.