A colleague recently shared a post by author Rachel Howard on the New York Times Opinionator blog (May 25, 2013). The post, called “Gesture Writing,” was all about finding the essence of the topic or story, and then letting the essence show you the details.

While she had been taught this as a writer, she came to fully understand the concept through being a model for drawing and painting classes. From the blog post: “’Find the gesture!’ the instructor would shout, as the would-be artists sketched. ‘What is the essence of that pose? How does that pose feel to the model? The whole pose – quick, quick! No, not the arm or the leg. The line of the energy. What is that pose about? Step back and see it – really see it – whole.’”

This is the essence of transformational leadership. The drawing instructors called it “finding the gesture” in the pose. We call it “finding the essence” of what is happening or wanting to happen.

She goes on to write that the “gesture” idea was fundamental: “The paintings that looked most alive were built on top of a good gesture sketch, a first-step, quick-and-dirty drawing in which many crucial decisions about placement, perspective and emphasis were made intuitively.”

Quick intuitive perception. Trusting what you sense on an energetic level and carrying on from there. Letting the essence show you what wanted to happen, how things wanted to unfold, what next steps to take. Too easily we can get caught up in information organizing, analyzing, evaluating, trying to figure things out, and miss the essence of what is going on or the true potential that is trying to show itself.

Basic instructions for painting, drawing, writing – basic instructions for transformational work: Before anything else, find the essence. Don’t worry at first about the details or the “how.” Just find the essence. Step back and see your subject in its wholeness.

Rachel Howard discovered that “if you ‘found the gesture,’ you found life.” She discovered that by noticing where the energy was flowing, letting go of where it was not, and following the flow, the drawing became alive. As transformational leaders and coaches, we begin by sensing the organic whole, letting the whole show us the relationships and connections within, noticing the energy flows, and following the potential waiting to unfold as it shows us next steps.

Once we have the essence, the necessary details and appropriate next steps start to become clear. The essence shows us the action. The key is to take the time to intuit the whole and discover the essence energy first, trusting that it will show us the way.

Rachel Howard’s post about gesture and essence describes the core process of the “Potential-Based Approach,” one of the fundamental principles of Transformational Presence work. The Potential-Based Approach is made up of five steps:

  1. Expand your awareness – in other words, expand beyond intellect and what you “know” already into the intuitive mind – open up for discovery of something beyond what you already know
  2. Embody the potential – sense the essence of what wants to happen and embody that energy – align yourself with the potential waiting to unfold
  3. Intuit the breakthrough necessary for that potential to unfold
  4. Commit to the breakthrough – commit to who you must become (qualities and characteristics) and the actions you must take in order for the breakthrough to happen
  5. Follow the energy – let the potential show you the way forward, trusting that you will be shown each next step as it is time to take that step

So consider a project or vision you are working on, or a challenge that appears to be blocking your forward momentum. Step back. See the whole. What’s the essence? What wants to happen?

Whatever that is, embody it. Become one with the potential waiting to unfold.

Then intuit what breakthrough you need to make in order for this potential to be realized.

Commit to making that breakthrough.

Then let the potential show you each next step as it comes.

Sounds simple, and one level, it is. The challenge is getting past our conditioning to go straight to the details, figure things out, and try to formulate an action plan before we’ve even considered the bigger picture or context within which all of this is happening. It’s just a matter of learning a new approach.

Thanks, Rachel Howard, for your beautiful post and for making it all so clear.


P.S. If you would like to explore leading from essence and particularly the Potential-Based Approach more fully, see Chapter 17 of my latest book, Create A World That Works. If you don’t have it already, the book is available through our website store as well as in bookstores everywhere, on amazon.com, and as a digital book for Kindle, iBooks, and other e-readers.


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