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A man walked into a bank. He fed his card into the ATM, punched in his pin, retrieved his card, took the fold of money and perched on a lipstick-red chair by the door to check it, laying the notes carefully on one leg of his pressed jeans. He then put the money in his wallet, walked across the square towards an exchange where they offered a better rate, and made an international transfer.

Half an hour or so later the man emerged from a metro station downtown and strode towards his office. His phone buzzed. ‘Yes?’ he was impatient, anticipating another sales call.

‘Hello sir, this is the branch manager. Were you by any chance in our bank this morning?’


‘And sir, did you take out some cash?’

‘Erm, yes …?’

‘And may I ask how much did you take out sir? And sir was the amount correct?’

‘Erm … ah. Actually, no. As it happens, it wasn’t quite what I expected; when I got to the exchange the amount turned out to be a little less than I’d planned to send, and I was surprised.’

‘Sir, we noticed when you sat down to count, you dropped one note on the floor under the chair, and we have it safe and would like to return it to you. Can you come back to the branch and collect it?’

‘Really?! Oh. Well, actually, as it happens, I can’t – I have meetings this morning and you close at 1 on a Thursday. Could I come on Sunday?’

‘Yes, sir, that would be fine. But please may I request, sir, that when you come, you wear the same clothing, sir, that you were wearing today? This is so we can confirm with the CCTV.’

True story. Happened last week. This city is so honest that you leave the keys in your car, your phone on the dash, your wallet and laptop on the front seat with the window open, without a second thought, in the full confidence that they will still be there when you emerge from your meeting. Or your three-day business trip.

And it’s a sobering reminder that in our modern world, everything that we do, from picking up a banknote and slipping it in a pocket, to thinking better of it and handing it in, is seen and known. Online and in person, in the bank or on the way to work, everywhere. For some, that loss of privacy might be uncomfortable, but in the ever-growing spider’s web of banking records, find-my-phone apps, traffic cameras and Alexa eavesdropping on our every conversation, it’s an inescapable feature of modern life.

Which should give us pause.

In his new book The Cave the Road the Table and the Fire, Karl Martin explains that who we are and what we do and how we behave has an impact – on our friends and family, our environment, importantly our colleagues and workplace, and ultimately on all that we will achieve in our leadership. Which is why, he argues, that ‘you are the project’, and we must choose to lead from a place where we are True, Brave, Kind and Curious, that we must tend to and lead from the deepest place: from our soul.

The project must become a pattern. Or it will never become permanent. It has to run right through you. Or it is not really true of you. The real you must bleed from you. It’s not just that you show up honestly as who you are, it’s that you always do. It’s the same for all of the soul agreements. Bravery must run in you, be the default for you, all through you, if Soul Leadership is going to flow from you. If kindness is not your natural response and curiosity not consistent for you, you are not tending to and leading from that deepest place.

Soul leadership must be integral. It must be fractal.

Our unconscious interactions – from that accidental dropping of a note on the floor of the bank to our accidental dropping of a colleague ‘in it’ in the CC line of an email string – like the beating of the butterfly’s wing, it has an impact on all that we do, and the sum of these interactions builds a particular momentum, a direction for our leadership; what we will achieve and eventually what our legacy will be. But is it the right direction, is it what we wanted to achieve, is it what we hoped to leave? How can we begin to be better, to do better, to think better, to be more aware of the impact we have on others? To be conscious of the unconscious?

Karl Martin believes it to be of critical importance that we take the time to ‘do the work’, to work on our self and our soul – on our issues, deal with our stuff, address old injuries, achievements and failures – and so to walk each day with clear purpose. His prescription is a daily rhythm, which begins with the discipline of taking time every morning, alone with yourself in ‘the Cave’. Your cave might not be damp, dark or mossy like the ancient Celtic monks – perhaps a leather armchair in your still-sleeping house, or an eighth-floor balcony overlooking the urban skyline of a Middle-Eastern city. But you need to take time there. Every morning.

Martin suggests three setting questions for this time: Who am I?, a question of identity and relationship. Why am I? What is my purpose, what am I for – a setting and alignment tool, and How am I? How will I be experienced today, what will it be like to be the other side of me? How do I want to be experienced? And from these, a fourth will emerge: What shall I do?

There is much that is valuable in this book, much to consider, to reflect on and learn from. Whether you are leading a team of architects or an ambulance service; a tech start-up or a  teacher training college, this book will set the tenor of your day, and help you to build a momentum – a cadence – that will improve your leadership style and impact.

The Cave, the Road, the Table and the Fire: Leading from a deeper place by Karl Martin is published on 17 November 2023 by Kilfinan Press, 256 pp, hardback, £25.

Stephanie Heald is a seasoned editor and publisher, is currently Director of Kilfinan Press and has served on a number of charitable boards including the NGO Tearfund. She enjoys cycling, walking and sea kayaking, and divides her time between Doha, Qatar and the Isle of Mull.