In a recent conversation with my Sister, who is an artist, she explained how the white space of a watercolor is what holds it together. In other words, the artist must be very thoughtful about where they won't put the watercolors. She then said something surprising, "those white areas are just like black matter, it’s what holds everything together".

Having recently seen the beautifully produced show by Neil deGrasse Tyson at the Museum of Natural History, I knew that black matter is the web like matter that keeps the universe from flying apart.

Always on the lookout for powerful metaphors, I knew in the moment I had stumbled upon one I had been searching for some time to find.

I had been searching because of my long-standing work helping leaders tap into their personal values. Like the hidden force of black matter, our values are the webbing that holds our sense of self and meaning together. Whether you call it authentic leadership or stewardship or positive leadership, knowledge at a very particular level, of one's values as a leader are the foundation of the key activities of a leader - inspiring, guiding, teaching, connecting and so on.

So, back to black matter as the metaphor here. Every decision, belief, prejudice, what we believe to be real are all informed by the values we hold. Having worked with two different values measurement tools for over 20 years, I have come to appreciate how most people are not aware of these values being enacted, nor can they name more than a few values. In fact, from my experience and what values theory indicates, we can be guided by as many as 35 to 40 values. These values are constantly on the move, coming forward and receding, maturing and becoming more complex as we age. A description of black matter on Wikipedia makes this point - As "dark matter is undetectable by its emitted radiation, but its presence can be inferred from gravitational effects on visible matter.

My intuition about this metaphor was rewarded by this scientific description of the characteristics of black matter. While listening and learning from leaders in a variety of organizations as they talk about their values, I have found that much like black matter, there is the invisible force of the values that creates a gravitational effect upon those around the leader. There is a discernible field of energy around the values aware leader.

What causes this gravitational pull? It’s been my experience that the greater the awareness of the personal values the greater ease the leader feels when providing an account of their motives, often called transparency. Giving this account, the story of self, allows people to understand why this leader believes the actions they are asking others to take matter to her or him. Research has shown that when we see our values mirrored in our leaders, followers will give their trust and see them as part of the story of us. This is the source of the pull followers feel toward that leader.

What values are at the center of your gravitational pull?

Where did they come from?

What stories can you tell that are authentic and explain why you believe what you believe?

Values are the dark matter of any organization!

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My Story is My Path

Resources for all those called to leadership who understand the power of words and stories to shape their futures from one of the nation’s preeminent narrative coaches, Christine Cavanaugh-Simmons of CCS Consulting Inc.

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