Accessing Our Most Profound Leadership Power – Marilyn Schlitz

Hi! I’m really glad you’re joining me today because I have a fabulous guest. Marilyn Schlitz PhD is an award-winning writer and film maker. She is specialized over three decades in leadership particularly focusing in the arena of consciousness. Now you may say, “What has that got to do with me being a better leader?” Well, when we plumb the depths of our inner knowing, we have an innate source of wisdom that guides us to make the types of decisions that we have to make and the type of action we have to take in truly the tough times. This is where we go when we need to really find our inner wisdom.

The reason I wanted to share some time with Marilyn, those because we’re both anthropologists and we share the same curiosity and appetite for understanding how do we as humans develop and function in terms of our world views, in terms of our beliefs and our experiences, all of which shape the action that we take as leaders. In this show, we explore the approaches that we’ve both taken to equip leaders in their organizations to proactively take on fundamental change associated with the rapidly shifting landscape. Marilyn is currently a senior scientist at the California Pacific Medical Center, where she’s focusing on health and healing.

You can find out more about her at her website Now, we’re going to start by talking about the Noetic Sciences which maybe a term that’s foreign to us. Noetic is simply another word for our inner wisdom, that magical sense of knowing that we uncover when we go deep inside of ourselves, and allow this other form of intelligence to emerge. The Noetic Sciences referred to the coming together scientists from many disciplines to better understand the nature of potential of the human mind and how we dig into.

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Lesley:  Well welcome, Marilyn Schlitz, and here we are coast to coast having a dialogue about some of the more I find fascinating areas of leadership. I’m going to start with this question, how would you describe the Noetic Sciences in terms of what it means in relation to leadership and leadership practices?


Marilyn: Well “Noetic” is a word that comes from the Greek meaning “Direct knowing.” And so, it come to be understood as “Intuitive knowing” sort of that experience of what is true for us beyond our sensory experience, beyond our rational discernment. And so it’s kind of, you know, that gut feeling that people describe or a sense of personal knowing about something. And so, the application of that to leadership is that, you know, we have to get all the reliable information and data that’s important to make decisions. But it’s also the case that we have to calibrate our own internal guidance system, in order to make decisions that are sourced from our own authentic place in ourselves.


Lesley:  And from the institute’s point of view which you… are you remained the CEO of the institute?


Marilyn: No. I left the Institute Noetic Sciences about three years ago. Still keep a very friendly relationship but no I’m not there anymore.


Lesley:  What was the nature of the institute’s work in trying to understand this whole notion, which for many who are sitting here listening and not really sure other than self-help book , what it means to go inside and really find that inner wisdom? What did the institute do to try and bring this to the light?


Marilyn: Well the Institute of Noetic Sciences was founded by one of the Apollo 14 astronauts Edgar Mitchell. And Edgar’s job was kept in a little capsule that went from the Apollo capsule to the moon and back. And so, after his successful moonwalk, he described having the window seat on the way home. And from the advantage point, he had the opportunity to see and be embedded in the glory of the universe and to watch the earth, the moon and the sun rising and setting as the capsule rotated on reentry. And, he had basically two epiphanies in that experience, the first, looking out at planet earth and all its pristine beauty, all its wholeness. He recognized that there were no divisions, there were no national boundaries, state boundaries, race boundaries, gender boundaries, none of those things existed. And so, there was a kind of painful experience he had where he realized that the source of suffering that we take for granted as inhabitants of space ship earth, really didn’t come from anything in the planet but came from ourselves. And so, maybe the great frontier wasn’t outer space but inner space in trying to understand why we imposed this kind of suffering on ourselves, why we create this kind of boundaries that are man-made.

The second epiphany was recognizing that there was this kind of unitive consciousness. The molecules in his body connected him to the molecules in the big bang and that there was no separation, and any sense of separation really was artificial and constructed. And so, his desire was to come back to planet earth and understand this experience that he’d had, what he later called “The Sumathi experience” “Consciousness experience.” And so, that was the catalyst, he wanted to take the discernment and rigor that came from science and apply it to understanding “What are these human potentials that rust within us? And, how can we begin to understand the nature of consciousness so that we can make better decisions, better choices about how we live our lives?”

Lesley: So the one thing that I always instruct by what space travel did was in fact changed our world view of what planet earth was. That first time in which we saw it as a population, as a whole, really fundamentally shifted those of us on earth to see ourselves as a whole which we had never really seen before. And so, one of the first areas that you’ve focused on in your leadership from a noetic point of view is world view literacy, so can you describe for me what world view literacy is?


Marilyn: Well, we know that we can learn to read, and write, and study philosophy and engage in different languages. And those are kinds of literacies, those are things that can be taught and learned. But the idea that all of our experience is filtered through this lens of perception, what we call “World views” is something that people just take for granted. It’s very subtle, it’s very implicit. We don’t have to consciously think about the fact that we’re filtering everything through this lens of perception. We just do it automatically. And yet, what would happen if people became more aware of what they’re not aware of became more aware of those things that shape what gives them meaning and purpose in life? And so, we developed a curriculum to help people understand first of all “What is it mean to have a world view? What is it mean that every aspect of my lived experiences filtered through something that’s been shaped by my upbringing, by my religion, by my family, by my education? And then, that I have a world view is something that I can begin to work with, and study and explore. And then, what does it mean that other people have world views that are different from my own? So what are the qualities, the capacities that I need to develop in order to be able to have authentic, meaningful, polite, appropriate conversations with people whose views maybe fundamentally different from my own?” So, social emotional intelligence, the kinds of non-violent communications skills are all really important to that. And then the third piece of the curriculum that we built was about “What do I do with this knowledge? How do I take it into my life, into the world, and how do I affect positive change?”


Lesley:  So, as a practitioner in the area of helping people expose their world view and I’ve practiced as a strategist for many, many years, we would have people in the organization from the executive through the frontline, all in different groups used a visual intelligence. And their challenge was to draw a picture of their organization as if it were a town. So, “Where is City hall? Where did the people live? What forms of transportation do they have? Where are the schools? Where is the hospital?” You know, all of which are metaphorical for the functions of the organization, and in one particular case we had 27 different groups. And 26 out of the 27, all of the buildings were on fire in their visual view. The executive had a completely different picture of what the town look like and where City Hall was and how well it was functioning. But 26 others which was the other part of the organization and none of the talked about it, this were all done in blind experiments, all have them on fire. And it was fascinating because we had all this data that this was a large organization yet all this data coming in from their markets, coming in from their customers, all analytics on it. But I’ll tell you when we went to the board, the information that stimulated the most “Oh my God” moment was when they saw 26 visuals of their organization on fire. And so, you know, this is some of the ways in which we discovered how people can express their world view using a metaphor that also allows them to say… you know, we’d say, “Does your town have any neighbors?” And it became clear that many of our giant organizations never ever saw themselves as part of a global community. Even though they were taught in their decision making to be world view focused, their own filter system only allowed them the spectrum of the area in which they had influence.


Marilyn: I guess I wondered, “Where did they put the fire department?”


Lesley:  There wasn’t one.


Marilyn: Yeah that’s interesting.


Lesley:  So, you know, in another one we had, you know, everything was really dysfunctional, there were no roads connected. Everybody was leaving. There was people, very few in the high class, most of them in the poverty area and the CEO was in an old locomotive going on a track leading nowhere. So, getting people to actually discover their view and to see how they’re filtering their cultural experience in a certain way, I’ve always found very powerful.


Marilyn: Yeah. These unconscious aspects of our experience are really foundational. And yet it takes effort to shift the perspective and to really come to understand even in the context of a work environment where it may be the disciplines. You know, the programmer has a very different world view and expectation about their performance than as you said the CEO or somebody in sales and often times they talk over each other. And so, how is it that you can take this kind of world literacy, and how people to have more meaningful purposeful conversation so that they can put up fires together?


Lesley: And so, having discovered any gender differences in world view description, or accessing world view or shifting world view?


Marilyn: Well, our culture provides different frameworks for different genders. So, we know that, you know, boys are brought up. They’re encouraged to be tough and not to voice their own insecurities. Often times, I mean, they’ve collected data that show if a baby in a crib is crying. They’ll live a boy longer than they’ll leave the girl. So that, from a very, very early age we’re taught that there are differences. And so we think about the soft, qualitative, intuitive aspects of the feminine, and the more rigorous analytical qualities that come from the masculine. But in my experience, it’s more about the metaphor or the role, rather than something inherent in our biology. So I think that women can—in the right educational environment or wrong educational environment whichever you want to hold it— develop those same qualities and capacities that man may have. I think the goal really in leadership is, how do we find the strings in both of these ways of knowing this different kind of approaches to reality such that we can develop a team that are empowered to bring the fullness into play? And honor that it’s not the woman having the sensitivity and the man being tough and analytical, but these are qualities that all of us can develop and nurture so that we can all be more whole people.


Lesley:  And as an anthropologist, what have you seen are some of the better ways in which conflicting world views can actually find peace with one another?


Marilyn: Well there’s this idea of cross-cultural juxtaposition. The fact that when you have cultures that have very different approaches to the world whether it’s the clothes they were, or the food they eat, or the way they practice their spirituality or religion, or the way they raise their children, all can be really fundamentally different. And one of the really exciting things is when those differences meet with mutual respect and appreciation with curiosity, there can be breakthroughs that happen at that moment. So, you know, we really are alive at this remarkable moment where there is this overwhelming confluence of differences coming together at this kind of rate that has never happened before in human history. And there are three responses to that: one is “conflict.” One is the intolerance to anything that’s different than my view, and we see that’s not working very well.

The second is “cooption” where one truth system attempts to dominate over another. And you see this particularly in indigenous cultures where they want a taste of modernity. They want to have the air planes, and the pats, and pans and the microwave ovens. They want them. And so there’s a way in which that modernity has influenced a lot of traditional practice, and some of that’s good and some of it’s not.

The third piece I’ll say is “creativity” and there’s this generativity that comes when differences meet with a mutual respect and curiosity. And so that’s the thing in the world literacy program that we really encouraged is, “How can you grow? How can you expand your model of possibility by recognizing that we see things when difference comes together?” And that way, it can open us to new possibilities.

Lesley:  So, let’s take a female leader who is definitely in the midst of facing and opposing world view. What would be a practice or approach that she could use to bring some of this to be exposed and then to start to find resolution?


Marilyn: Well, you know, there are a number of practices and processes that people can engage in. Respectful listening is probably really good place to start out of self-awareness, out of a sense of centeredness and groundedness to really listen to what the other person is saying. You know, I’ll say as a parent when my son has a particularly dogmatic assertion about something, it doesn’t help to confront him. What helps is to just pause and listen and allow his world view, his belief system to come out, and so we listen to it. Non-violent communication I think is really essential.


Lesley:  And that does that mean?


Marilyn: Well, Marshall Rosenberg developed this idea that “We can through respectful listening, respectful speaking state our point of view. Be willing to risk exposing ourselves in order to get our position across in a way that is characterized by loving kindness, not by aggression and combatedness.” And so I think, you know, first of all, sourcing what is authentic for us… So the more you understand yourself, the better able you are to reach out someone else. Listening and trying to really understand what that person’s position is. Coming from a non-violent communication where you’re sharing ideas and finding a place that hasn’t escalated. You know, we know from neuroscience that we have this “Amygdala Hijacking” that old flight aspect of our brains that can get triggered in an instant. So the more we’re aware of that, the more triggering can happen. And the more when we see it’s starting to escalate; we can begin to calm the situation. I think that respect is a huge thing for dealing with differences; all of these things become simple tools that, you know, timeouts can become important. Even for ourselves, if you feel like you’re not communicating with the qualities that you hope to embrace, you know, just pausing for few minutes, breathing. Breathing is the simplest and the most powerful practice I think…


Lesley: It absolutely is. And I’ve learned that, you know, when those moments happen that just to sit in silence and to just appreciate what’s taking place in the room not with judgment, not with voice but just to honor what is occurring. And wearing your body you’re feeling it and how do you bring yourself into the center of the room. So as we open conversation maybe in two minutes, maybe in three minutes, you can tell by the groups at body language what’s the appropriate amount of time, you ask that where would you like to start from. And I’m always intrigued by how as you put it that timeout breathing, silence and being honoring that I’m coming from a place that nobody’s saying is right or wrong, but trying to find what the center of the room is calling to us. And then find to find the words of what the center in the room is asking us to think about.


Marilyn: Another thing that you remind me of is expressions of appreciation and gratitude. When you confine something good about someone and they can hear you, and you can hear yourself saying it, it shifts the conversation and the tone. So you’re less aggressive when you’ve just been encouraged or rewarded in some way, than if you start up with, you know, “That was wrong.”


Lesley:  Exactly, yeah. And you know, what I would say is if I hear one side, I never want to hear it again. I see where you’re where you’re coming from or I understand what you’re saying, which are all we’ve learned as language skills to sort of say, “Yes I get you” but we actually don’t. It’s just a technique that I got taught at some communication 101 course unless I really can honestly say, “I totally get where you’re coming from because I happened of had a similar experience of that. And so, I can appreciate why that is such a heated thought for you.” It’s being absolutely in the moment of where that person is as supposed to these language techniques that I think many of us have been taught without the authenticity to which you preferred.


Marilyn: Well they also know the piece that you’re pulling out there is the presence. You know, being present in the moment rather than consumed with thinking about the 15 other things you need to get to, you know, people feel that. So even if there’s a disagreement to stay fully present and try to come from a place of empathy and compassion I think is really helpful.


Lesley:  Now, one of the other areas that you’ve focused on in your leadership development is transformative experiences or transformational experiences, can you describe what those mean?


Marilyn: Well, transformation can take many forms. I mean, our entire life is filled with change. And so, learning to navigate that change with a sense of openness I think is really important. We find that if people have been subjected to some kind of painful experience whether it’s the death of a loved one, or the loss of a job or something that destabilizes them. It provides an opportunity in an opening, so say the company is challenged and people are worried about losing their jobs. That destabilization can be very stressful in a negative way, but it can also be stressful in a way that empowers people to step up to their greatness. And so, inviting us to shift our world view from one that sees pain, and stress and anxiety as limitations to seeing them as invitations to grow and to find the resilience within them, those things are powerful. You can sort of stimulate these transformational experiences. I love to do things in my lectures or when I teach classes in cognitive psychology for example or social psychology. There are a number a number of little experiments you can do that show people how they’re not seeing everything. So there is this field of intentional blindness. We know that we get crimes to see certain things in reality, and if we’re not expanded then that’s where we go to. We go to those things we expect to see. But if you can do these little exercises where all of a sudden people start to see that there was something in the middle of the picture… Then all of a sudden it opens them a little bit. There’s a humility that comes into the conversation. And I think when that starts to happen, people can open to their own transformative process. And, you know, in our book “Living deeply the Art and Science of Transformation” we did a lot of research. We interviewed masters, we conducted focus groups, we collected survey data, we went out and did longitudinal studies. We really looked at the process and created the kind of naturalistic model of the transformational experience. And it really does start with some personal, direct, noetic kind of encounter that is very direct to me and then it’s also direct to you. And that’s that place of empathy and compassion we’ve all had painful experiences. Once we can open to that, it creates a spaciousness that can open the process.


Lesley:  I was mentioning the gorilla because of that film where you’ve supposed to watch the basketball, and everybody’s watching the basketball and doesn’t see the gorilla walking right through the court. I mean, those are things that again our mind tricks us and in terms where we’re paying attention to. And it reminds me of when we took a group who were all very well meaning, who felt that they were going to go out and save the world in this inner city. And they wanted to go to the nutritional kitchen where kids were being fed before school because that was the biggest issue not having anything in their tummy before school. And they were going to go in and save this group by really showing them how to be organized and really helping them to manage this large group of kids. And they walked in and the shock that they experience in terms of the efficiency, the love, the smiles. There was an absolutely nothing that they could see in that experience where their education, their background could’ve added value. And instead what they realized is that their preconception of poverty, being translated into ineffective was blown out of the water and they never even knew that they had bias. They never ever conceived that they were walking around with that world view. And, you know, that one morning was such a transformational experience that they were able to then totally shift their orientation of the type of leadership development they really wanted to pursue.


Marilyn: That’s a beautiful story. I think, you know, the big challenge is how can we be aware of what we’re not aware of knowing that we’ll never be aware of everything and we’ll just be overwhelming. So, just the skillset of knowing that we can’t be aware of everything that’s going on brings a humility that I think can open us to really effective and powerful change.

Lesley: Well, we’re running quickly out of time and I wanted to get to the notion of embracing surrender. Because I think that it is becoming a more popular conversation about surrendering, letting go of things or perspectives that are holding us into limitation. In the program, what do you do to help people embrace the surrender?


Marilyn: Well, surrender is really a complicated word. I have found that in audiences that word can trigger people, so I’ve stopped using it. I think acceptance is a good word, I think being open is a good way of holding it. But when we were studying transformative practices we found five qualities that different traditions had in common. One is “Intention.” I set the intention to transform, to grow, to change. The second is “Attention.” Transformative practices allow us to begin to see where we limit our perceptions, and, “Is the glass half-empty or is the glass half-full?” And that’s a choice I can make. I can perceive it a different way. The third piece is “Repetition” building new habits. So if I have habits that are dysfunctional that lead me to be critical or lead me to find the fault in everything, then that’s not going to get me very far as a leader. But if I can build habits just like going to the gym and working a muscle group, I can build my social emotional intelligence habits that become powerful. Fourth thing is “Guidance.” You know, listening to a program like this can provide guidance, reading a book, finding a teacher. But it’s also this internal guidance system really calibrating that intuitive place that is authentic to me and knowing where my blinders are, or knowing that I have blinders even if I can’t see them. So those are the four and I like to think all of them wrapped in the arms of acceptance or surrender that is yielding to the world as it is. And not everything can be changed, what we can change is our reactiveness to things but the outside world may not ultimately be different. And we can work toward making positive changes but we can also yield, and one of the ways in terms of a life story is yielding to our own mortality. And so, working on the kind of fear and anxiety people have around, death for example, whether it’s the death of a relationship, the death of a job or our physical death. To the extent we can make peace with that and recognize that it’s inevitable, then we stop resisting and we begin to live more fully. And so, those are the qualities…



Lesley:  And that’s beautiful. And so I can’t get out of this interview without just mentioning this film that you did with the Deepak Chopra. And that is going to be available and I’ll be putting the link on site as this program airs which is “Death Makes Life Possible.” What would you say and it’s such an awkward question, but what’s one salient learning from that project that you really think about, and say, “That really resonates for me”?


Marilyn: Well, I think, it was act to some of the earlier conversations we were having and there is this denial of death, and there is a way in which we put down or repress our fear and anxiety. And what the research shows us is that in doing that, it can lead to aggression. In particular, if I have repressed my death awareness and I come across somebody who’s very different than I am with a different world view, it’s very common for people to become aggressive toward the out group and to become very insulated in their in group because they feel safer there. Whereas if you can raise the quality of death awareness in a way that allows people to feel safe, allows them to feel comforted in exploring this topics it shifts the perspective. People become better citizens, they become healthier, they become happier. And so, just understanding and coming to terms with our own mortality, in a way that isn’t fearful but in fact inspirational can shift the whole conversation and help us to find solutions when things are difficult and challenging.


Lesley:  Well, you know, the noetic leadership is about finding the hero within in the words that you’ve used, and the topic that we can find a better self in the acknowledgment of our representation of death. These are all powerful, powerful perspectives that open us. And I want to thank you for such an intriguing conversation—it could’ve gone forever—and letting us into the massive amount of learning that you have done and the world’s I think opening that you created for these conversations. Thank you so much, Marilyn!


Marilyn: Delightful to be here and thank you for your program. I do think this kind of show is really powerful for people and it’s an important healing.


Lesley:  Thank you.

You know, I don’t know about you but I had never made the connection between the exceptions of our mortality and our ability to be better citizens. Nor that of our not acceptance of our time which can trigger a aggression, but it definitely make sense to me. I discovered when we made the documentary film entitled “Fighting for a good death” the people experiencing end of life became open to what their life truly healthy them once they were able to get their mind wrapped about the reality of death. When we remove fear, we quiet the ego. And with the ego out of the way, we’ll leave our mind open to deeper forms of awareness and certainly peacefulness.

So what is this mean for us as leaders? Well for me it means that people want to embrace the full reality of what they’re facing and who they are in those moments. They want to remove the sugarcoating and the blinders so that they can become fearless in their action as supposed to fearful.

Remember that our fearlessness comes from feeling and being part of a larger hole accessible through our conscious mind. You can find out more about “Dying makes life possible” at the website of the same name. You can find out again about Marilyn Schlitz at her website, where you can see the films’ trailer as well as more of her published work including the art and science of transformation in everyday life, another, consciousness and healing as well as descriptions of world view explorations that she provided us in this interview. Her current project is graceful aging. And, by all means find her on the speaking circuit. She is one heck of amazing speaker. Well, you know where to find me at, also at and on facebook “women who lead radio show.” Remember, this is your show, I am your host Lesley Southwick-Trask. See you next time.

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