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  • Writer's pictureAlan Sieler

Forewords to Three Books on the Ontological Perspective

Better Relationships With Those You Lead, by Nicky Howe

Nicky Howe has written a beautiful little book that I consider contains much wisdom. Through her extensive leadership experience as a senior manager and CEO, as well as the development of others as leaders, Nicky succinctly shares invaluable insights about the application of the new field of Ontology for leadership and management.

Although well known in some circles, the new field of Ontology has been somewhat of a "sleeping diamond" in the never-ending quest to find powerful approaches to enhance the quality of leaders and managers.

Leadership is fundamentally conversational and relational. The only way leaders can get their work done through others and this inevitably involves constant communication with those whose support is pivotal to the leader fulfilling his or her role and the organization functioning well.

Communicating, whether it is in-person, phone, email or teleconference, means leaders are continually in conversations with others. Essentially, leaders are paid to have high quality conversations that get desired outcomes for a range of stakeholders.

High quality conversations build productive and constructive working relationships. A consistent observation is that highly regarded leaders, ones that people fondly remember years afterwards, have developed what can be called conversational artistry, able to engage in a wide range of conversations that at times can be tense and difficult to ones that are empathetic and supportive. The conversational and relational demeanour of leaders is vital for developing trust, which can be seen as the invisible currency of organizational life.

The beauty of Nicky’s book is its elegant simplicity and pragmatic approach in which she distills the essence of crucial ontological concepts and models for high quality leadership conversations. This is much more than a book of well-expressed ideas. It is also highly practical providing relevant examples, case studies and excellent exercises for readers wishing to engage in immediate application. I firmly believe that this small volume is a "gem" for those committed to improving the quality of their leadership and management.

** Nicky can be contacted at

Trust: Begins and Ends With Self, by Conor O’Malley

We all know just how crucial trust is in our everyday life. When we experience the absence of trust in family life, in the workplace, in social life and with our institutions and political and economic leaders, our quality of life is diminished. So much of what comprises the quality of our individual and collective existence is bound up in the quality of our relationships with others and the key institutions of our society. The absence of trust impoverishes our relationships and can significantly limit what we can accomplish together.

Trust is central to meeting the many challenges we face in all aspects of our lives and in the bigger and related challenges that our societies face. Meeting these challenges is a collective effort by finding who to have relevant conversations with and being open to learn from these conversations. It is through trust that we grow and flourish through respectful, engaging and constructive conversations in which there is a desire to learn and not doggedly hold on to cherished perspectives for the sake of always wanting to be "right".

In the absence of sufficient trust our individual emotional, mental and physical wellbeing can suffer. In addition, our collective economic, social, cultural and political wellbeing can suffer. Habits of interacting that engender mistrust become consolidated and can form historical practices that become the norm, with blindness to the continued destructive consequences that play out. Individually and collectively, we become much less than what is possible.

Understanding and learning about trust has traditionally focused on trusting each other. While acknowledging that this is crucial, Conor O’Malley shares another vital perspective, which is the notion of trusting our individual selves. He does this from the novel perspective of Ontology.

The field of Ontological Coaching and Ontological Leadership is centred around the notion of Way of Being, which is where our perceptions and attitudes live and is regarded as the underlying driver of our behaviour and communication. In a nutshell, our Way of Being can be regarded as our inner self, aspects of which are not always easy not to be aware of.

The most important relationship we have is with ourself, which occurs and through our Way of Being. This relationship is the basis of everything we do, as well as what we do not do. It is the basis for being a parent, a leader, a coach, a spouse, a brother, a sister and a friend.

Utilising his learning from the ontological approach to coaching and leadership, Conor shares how he learned to deepen trust in himself by making important changes in his Way of Being. Based on his extensive experience as a business executive, Conor shares how these changes

in his Way of Being were indispensable for him becoming more trustworthy and effective as a leader. And his book does much more than this.

By outlining key aspects of Ontology as they apply to leadership and coaching, Conor also provides the reader with the opportunity to explore and make appropriate changes in their own Way of Being, as the means to develop greater self-trust and enhancing their trustworthiness. He shares the practical model of trust he has developed and links this with related perspectives of self-awareness, inter-personal communication and leadership.

Leaders can only get their work done through others, and this inevitably involves continually communicating, conversing and relating with often a diverse range of others. Clear and constructive conversations and quality workplace relationships are at the heart of leadership effectiveness and organisational success. Conor’s approach to trust is an important contribution to this much neglected aspect of leadership and how we are in relation to each other in all aspects of our lives.

** Conor can be contacted at

Redesigning Conversations: A Guide to Communicating Effectively in the Family, Workplace, and Society, by Bill Ash

Being human

To be human is to live in meaning or, as one philosopher wrote, "Humans are condemned to meaning". We exist as, often complex, meaning-making organisms. So much of the meaning of our life is bound up with our relationships – in our family, workplace, social life and community. We also have relationships with our wider society and the world at large, as well as the biosphere, on which we are dependent for our continued biological existence.

Human existence is inevitably interdependent and it can be said that the fundamental challenge of humanity is co-existence. This is co-existence with our fellow human beings, as well as co-existence the flora and fauna and the earth and the sky.

In our time in history, co-existence refers to more than being able to survive. The challenge of co-existence can be expressed in the question, "How can we live together with each other and our environment in a way that not only ensures survival but also enhances thriving and human flourishing?" The Greeks have a wonderful word for human flourishing – eudaimonia – which literally translated this word means living in good spirit.

Bill Ash has written a beautifully thoughtful and practical book about human co-existence and our potential for living better lives in good spirit – individually and collectively. We humans have a powerful means by which we can survive and thrive in our co-existence, one which seems a distinctive aspect of our existence – language and conversations. While many other species, varying in sizes from ants to whales, communicate and cooperate with each other in amazing that contain much wisdom, they do not seem to have the complexity of language and conversations of humans. This certainly does not mean that we are superior to other species – far from it. A casual read of a book on ecology will reveal the intelligence of non-human living systems to co-exist in widely varying environments around the world.

Our human challenge

Our distinctively human challenge of co-existence is to use our facility for language and conversations more wisely to create better lives together, as well as function more in harmony with the live-giving power of the biosphere. Throughout human history we have continually seen that that humans can use language and conversations to be devastatingly destructive of each other and the environment, as well as phenomenally creative and constructive in the design and functioning of human systems and institutions.

Our unique human challenge, can be framed as a question: "How can we engage with language and conversations in a manner that results in the flourishing of humans and other living systems?" This means engaging in conversations that reverse the destructive tendencies we can all so easily fall into in the ways that we think and converse with one another. I think that Bill Ash’s book is a wonderful contribution towards this challenge.

Conventional wisdom tells us that inter-personal communication is vital in the development of relationships in our homes, workplaces, communities and international relations. This wisdom informs us that we can learn new communication skills and techniques to improve the quality of our relationships. While these can be valuable, all too often there is a learning gap between awareness of new skills and their application, that is not bridged. Bill is well aware of this gap and takes up the responsibility engage the reader to engage in a different approach to learning how to bridge this gap. He does this by inviting you to engage in ontological learning.

An ontological approach to co-existence

Ontology is the study of being, or the nature of human existence. Bill skilfully utilises two key aspects of an ontological approach in addressing the challenge of enhancing the quality of co-existence. These aspects are that:

  • humans are conversational beings that get things done and create the future together through conversations; and

  • our behaviour and the manner in which we participate in conversations is continually shaped by our way of being.

The ontological approach indicates that the medium of human existence, and that the basic unit of human interaction, is conversations. Bill shares the origin of this word and presents a compelling case for why we are likely to be better served in seeking to enhance our relationships and build a better world together by focus on regarding human communication as fundamentally conversations.

We relate with each other through conversations, building and maintaining relationships through these interactions. A moment’s reflection on your own experience will likely indicate that the quality of your conversations is the most significant influence on the quality of your relationships. This especially includes all manner of online interactions.

Bill shows how the only place we can relate and converse from is our way of being. This is where our perceptions and attitudes live and is the underlying driver of our behaviour and communication. Learning about our way of being, which is ontological learning, is the basis for appreciating the four ever-present existential components of any conversation:

  • listening;

  • speaking (including writing and the use of graphics);

  • moods; and

  • physiology.

Each of these components, as integral aspects of our way of being, is an area for learning and change. Bill clearly shows, through examples from his own life and providing practical exercises, how we can gradually learn to be different in all existential components of a conversation and bridge the learning gap between awareness and application.

If you are committed to improving the quality of your communication and relationships, I highly commend you read this book carefully. It is said that if we only get one idea from a book that changes our thinking and behaviour it has been worthwhile reading. I consider Bill’s book contains the distinct possibility of you gaining many more than a single idea that will be continually beneficial for you and those you interact with.

** Bill can be contacted at

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