A Story Everyone Should Tell – Part II

In the last blog entry, I wrote of the power of integrating the past, present and future. I then explained the hidden value of crisis. In crisis we often see great commitment, collaboration, and the exceeding of expectations. When this happens we see our own conventional organization transformed into a more positive organization. This often leaves us with a sense of awe.

We may, however, fail to see the power in our own story. So we take this nugget of gold and throw it into the garbage pile of fading memories. We do not learn from or teach from excellence. Here is an illustration of a CEO who did. It does not matter that he was a CEO: this account is a lesson of universal application. This is a story so precious we should all ponder it deeply and tell it often.

This CEO was once the epitome of economic thinking. He then went through a crisis and he personally discovered purpose, people and culture. He became a leader of higher purpose and began to create a positive organization. Measures of employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and share price all turned up and stayed up. When he became aware of the science at the Center for Positive Organizations, it gave him a language for what he was he was already doing and he used the language and tools to speed the process.

As this man has led, his people have grown. Previously there were sometimes doubts about his positive aspirations and strategies. The organizational crisis and success, however, changed doubt into shared belief.

The thinking of the CEO has continued to expand. He now has a vision of doing more. In a recent meeting, he intended to share the new vision with his direct reports. Instead of leaping into the vision, he began in an unconventional way.

He first became authentic and vulnerable. This is the opposite of manipulative and arrogant. He was, in essence, inviting people to co-create. He shared a belief from the core of his life. He described a prayer that he learned to recite as a boy. The prayer suggested that we are what we think, our thoughts become reality. He then indicated his belief that when thousands of people align around the some noble thought or aspiration, powerful new realities come into existence. His people were nodding.

He then recounted a history that most of them shared. The company was once at such a low level of human and financial performance that it was difficult to see any positive future. As he reviewed all the negative indicators, the people in the room could clearly remember the dark history and still feel the pain.

He then recounted the crisis and how the people in the company became focused, collaborative, and exceeded expectations, including his expectations. (The emergence of positive organizing is a phenomenon that defies economic logic.)

He referred to the crisis as the most educational year of his life. Interestingly, instead of throwing this precious year of excellence into the garbage pile of receding memories, he determined to learn from the excellence and help his direct reports do the same.

He asked them to collectively ponder the benefits of the crisis: “In the past year, our people performed above our expectations. What should we learn from our experience? How can we keep them there without a crisis but through our own leadership?”

He turned their focus to the future. Given the excellence of the previous year, he asked some questions: What do you want to make of this company? Why? What do you personally believe that would lead to your aspiration? How do we ground your given aspiration? What would make it vivid? How can we become aligned around our shared aspirations?

He then sent his people away for an hour and asked them ponder and to write. When they returned, he had each person share. People spoke from their hearts. Many told stories from their personal life. The trust in the room was at an all-time high. People were open to each other and to a better future.

There was a pleasant surprise. There was considerable commonality across their statements and the statements were relatively easy to aggregate. The CEO reviewed the notes from that meeting long ago and then said, “Everything we envisioned happened. Operational excellence, employee engagement, customer satisfaction, shareholder value, external reputation, and geographical footprint, all expanded and even exceeded our aspirations.”

Again, I looked around the room and the heads were nodding. The CEO was recalling their collective excellence. It was no ordinary story. It was a sacred account of their first excelling in crisis; of their making the unusual choice to learn from their own excellence; of their learning to aspire to excellence, not through crisis but through leadership; of their becoming positive leaders and experiencing success beyond their own expectations.

With these sacred memories in mind, he then introduced a new vision, one that was breathtaking and that would have terrified and brought resistance from most senior executives. After sharing the images, he asked for their thoughts. He returned to the questions: What do you want to make of this company? Why? What do you personally believe that would lead to any given aspiration? How do you ground your given aspiration? What would make it vivid? How can we become aligned around our shared aspirations?

As he did years ago, he asked them to leave and write their answers. When they returned, each one shared. As I listened, I watched trust increase; I watched authenticity go up; I watched collective learning go up; and I watched a group of executives aspire to turn a positive organization far more positive.

Why should everyone ponder and learn to tell this story?

First, the story illustrates something difficult to comprehend. He created an interpenetration of the past, present, and future, and they became one self-reinforcing system. By having people examine the best of their past, he created the belief necessary to envision a future of excellence, and he create a shared desire in the present. The best of the past and the best of the future were together lifting people in the present.

Second, this story is at the very heart of positive leadership. It appears to be a story about a CEO. It is a story that extends to every person who wishes to exert positive influence in a group, a team, a unit, an organization, or the world.

Third, this story is not a part of your past. If you refuse to throw this story into the garbage pile of your receding memory, but instead ponder, and internalize, and continually retell this story, you will begin to understand and to do things that people governed by conventional assumptions cannot understand or do. You will bring about the interpenetration of the past, present, and future. From the interpenetration you create, people will find the capacity to co-create a more positive organization.

Reflection

Can I retell this story right now?

As I retell it, what do I learn that I did not learn when I read it?

In telling this story, what direction comes from my conscience?

How could we use this two-part passage to create a more positive organization?

A Story Everyone Should Tell – Part I

In conventional thought, we create categories and keep them separate. Three examples are past, present, and future. One characteristic of the generative mind is the ability to bring about the interpenetration of disparate categories. Interpenetration is the essence of creativity and it leads to the emergence of new patterns. Positive leaders integrate the past, present, and future; they become one self-reinforcing system. This sounds theoretical. It is not. In Part Two of this passage, I will share a precious story that every leader should know and retell. In Part One today, I will share an underlying concept.

Like individuals, organizations sometime enter crisis. Often there is a remarkable phenomenon that emerges. The people become focused on one higher purpose and a high level of commitment and collaboration emerges. The whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts. Everyone then performs beyond expectations and accomplish impressive things. This image of authentic commitment, high collaboration, and performance beyond expectations is a good description of a positive organization.

A senior government executive once told me, “The happiest day of my professional life was September 12, 2001.” I was shocked by his statement. He then said, “That day, I did not have a single bureaucrat working for me. I only had Americans who were willing to do anything asked of them. They were all working for one higher cause.”

Like the government, utility companies are often bureaucratic. Yet in many of them, employees speak of some version of the phrase “storm culture.” When a great storm hits, the employees in a utility company often become focused, contributive, and highly collaborative. It happens often enough that they expect it to happen (hence the term “storm culture”).

I was recently in a conversation with an executive from such a company. A huge storm had hit a month before. As my associate described what happened, he spoke with a sense of awe. When he finished, I asked, “So what?” He looked baffled and retold the story, emphasizing different points. I asked, “So what?” He repeated it once more. I asked, “So what?” He knew I was not trying to antagonize him but did not know what else to say. I asked others to help. No one had an answer.

I reminded them of a principle, “If it is real, it is possible.” In social life, excellence emerges. When we recognize excellence in social life, we often have a sense of awe. Yet we tend not to learn from excellence. We do not “squeeze” excellence for understanding. We do not use the reality of excellence to challenge the limiting beliefs that hold the organization in conventional patterns.

If in a crisis my organization turns into a positive organization, then the concept of positive organization is real. Excellence, in many forms, occurs in life. If excellence is real, excellence is possible. If we are the ones who created the excellence, we must have, contrary to our conventional assumptions, the ability to co-create excellence.

The answer to the “so what” question is that the story of the crisis and the emergence of their storm culture was a precious asset. The story is an account of something real. The story is data or evidence of positive deviance. The reality challenges our conventional assumptions. If we put the data in front of ourselves, if we examine our best collective selves, then we challenge our conventional, fixed mindset. At a very minimum, we have to admit that we are full of potential. Such an admission is the beginning of belief, and belief is the beginning of hope and new action.

So when I badgered the poor man, I was trying to get the people in the room to see that he was not only telling a story worthy of admiration, the story was a precious gem that a leader could use to help people transcend their conventional assumptions and become free to create a more positive organization. Every instance of excellence–particularly our own instances of excellence–should be recognized, celebrated, “squeezed” for learning, and used for inspiration. Every instance of our own excellence should become a case study for rigorous self-examination and the foundation of a more positive organization.

When we do this with skill, we bring the best of the past into the present so as to create the best possible future. It is a central skill of purpose-driven leaders. Few managers ever experience it. In Part Two of this entry, I will tell the story of the CEO. In preparing to read it, I invite you to deeply ponder this entry and thus prepare yourself to value the story.

 

Reflection

  • What conventional assumptions limit our potential?
  • In our team, unit, or organization, what was our highest moment of past excellence?
  • If we examine the moment deeply, what does it teach us?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

How to Create Positive Organizations

In the last blog entry, I wrote of a friend in a high position contemplating a move to a more positive organization. She was feeling “drawn” away. Shortly after our conversation, a former student contacted me. She is in a low-level position and she is feeling the need to leave her conventional organization. She is feeling “pushed” away.

We explored many alternatives. Then the conversation went in a surprising direction. I asked how she, in her relatively low position, might turn her present, conventional organization into a positive organization. To her great credit, she did not run from the question. She shared a vision of calling together a “coalition of the willing.” I usually speak of this as “gathering the positive energizers.”

She shared some ideas of what she could say to such a group and what she could invite them to do. As she did, she considered the danger of being seen as a rebel leading a mutiny.

I kept asking questions. We explored things the coalition of the willing might do that were innocent, cumulative, and unassailable. The list grew. As we ended our time together, she was in a different frame of mind. She was seeing her conventional organization as place wherein she could experiment and learn how to build a positive organization from the bottom up. She was feeling excitement about the possibility of become a positive leader.

Reflection

  • How often do you consider changing the organization from the bottom up?
  • If you were gathering a coalition of the willing, who would be in the room?
  • What would your coalition do that was innocent, cumulative, and unassailable?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

How to Co-Create a Positive Leader

The last two blogs were about phone calls from close associates trying to make a big decision. I have had several of these. Yesterday I began to notice a pattern.

My frustrated associates often call with a sense of conflict and confusion. As they share their agony, they unconsciously share their values. I listen to hear what it is that they really want. As I formulate a hypothesis about what they really want, I never tell them what I think they really want. Instead I ask questions designed to help them become aware of what their purpose is. This is iterative. As I ask questions and they respond and my questions get better.

Eventually they make an ambiguous statement of what they want. Then they engage in an iterative process. They keep repeating themselves and I often ask another clarifying questions. Suddenly there is a shift. They hear themselves. The clarification of purpose is a clarification of self. In hearing themselves, they suddenly know themselves. The self they suddenly know is the self their conscience is trying to bring into existence. It is a new and a fresh self. When they embrace this emerging self, they feel more empowered. They find the courage to move forward in the birth of the new self. The new self is always a more positive leader.

As all this was coming to me, I found a note in my mailbox. It was a message of gratitude from an old colleague. She thanked me for “always encouraging us to follow our own lead.” The sentence had enormous impact. I could see a principle for creating positive leaders.

 

Reflection

What does the emergence of a “new self” have to do with being a positive leader?

When has someone assisted you in giving birth to a new self?

How can the process be scaled?

How can we use this passage to create a more powerful organization?

How Culture Conspires to Prevent the Emergence of Leadership

When I share an idea with my adult children, they are tougher on me than any journal editor ever has been. They set their jaw and get ready to challenge.

At a dinner, I shared the notion that most managers do not become leaders because they do not know how to reflect on their experiences. My son, who is a sales manager in a big company, immediately took issue. He pointed out that he thinks all the time about his experiences and the claim is unrealistic.

I next shared a typology I received from an observant executive. There are three types of executives in most companies. There are very few leaders; we know them because when we meet them, we want to be like them. There are many managers who understand leadership but do not practice it. There are a few technicians who will never understand leadership.

Before I could elaborate, my son became animated. With emotion, he spoke of the fact that his company was permeated by managers looking out for their own best interests. He gave example after example. He spoke of his efforts to go against the grain and lead his people.

He has been so successful that his unit leads the company in sales. Yet this success has come at a price. He has built a positive organization. He has created such trust and purpose that his people know they can raise real issues with him and they genuinely want his help. So his phone never stops ringing. He is inundated with phone calls and emails. He said, “I have virtually no time to think about how to improve. All my time is invested in helping solve problems.”

The last sentence is of great importance. It first illustrates a paradox. The more you lead, the more the system unconsciously conspires to turn you back into a manager. Unless you can maintain focus and increase consciousness in the face of great social expectations, you get sucked into maintaining the current equilibrium. You are pulled towards the role of a problem-solving manager. It becomes improbable that you will evolve to a higher level of consciousness and leadership in which you continually seek to clarify the highest, evolving purpose and link behavior to it.

The sentence also illustrates something else. When I suggested that most managers do not become leaders because they do not know how to reflect on their experiences, my son took issue, pointing out that he always thinks about his experiences. Yet when he reviews his daily life, he concludes that he has little if any time to reflect on improving as a leader.

The truth is that he does continually think about his experiences, but his context does not allow him to deeply reflect on his experiences and derive the clarification of values and purpose that is necessary to move to the next level of effective influence. The context requires continuous action and allows for little reflection. The culture thus pulls him back to the existing equilibrium. Just as culture eats strategy for breakfast, so culture also eats personal leadership development for breakfast.

To develop as a leader, one must overcome the social context and the pull of the culture. One must separate and contemplate. Doing so leads to increased consciousness. The highest possible purpose becomes clear. Committing to that purpose leads to failures and successes. From these new experiences, learning expands and capacity emerges. We find that we know a new truth and it makes us free from the culture. It allows us to act upon the culture with effectiveness. We operate at a new level of leadership.

Reflection

  • How much time do you get to deeply reflect on your own behavior?
  • How is it possible for a few to become leaders who others want to emulate?
  • What code did they break and how did they break it?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

The Failure Advantage

When I present the notion of positive leadership, I often build on the concept of the “twice-born leader.” Managers grow up with a conventional perspective. Some have a crisis that causes them to clarify their values and purpose. They become “twice born.” They have a new perspective that gives rise to a more complex and dynamic self.

One element of the change has to do with their locus of control. They are now less driven by the external culture and more driven by their own values, purpose, feelings, and thinking. They question the culture and the conventional assumptions that hold the organization in place. They see in new ways and behave accordinly. They begin to lead by changing the culture.

The thing that is hard to understand is that positive leadership includes leadership failure. When I teach positive leadership, members of an audience often assume that the change is complete and the positive leader must be perfect. To challenge, they look for the flaws in any given example. They point out some kind of limitation in the person so as to negate the theory.

This was occurring recently in a company with a purpose-driven leader. A member of the audience then made a potent observation. He described a recent period when the leader was frustrated and angry. He said that the leader went back to his old ways and in every room he entered, everyone shut down. This went on for several weeks. Then the leader recognized what he was doing. He apologized and made a dramatic shift.

The point is precious. When someone becomes a twice-born, purpose-driven leader, they do not become a perfected object, a noun. They become a verb, a dynamic human being in a dynamic organization. Often they have setbacks and in these down times can revert to their old ways. Yet they have something I call the failure advantage of positive leaders.

Once you internalize the positive lens and begin to live as a proactive influence, you still fail, but as you fail and turn negative, you become more quickly aware that you are a source of negativity. What you believe calls you to awareness and to change. Instead of continuing to blame others, you take charge of yourself, you self-correct, and move into a more positive stance.

Reflection

  • What implications for us are carried in the concept of the twice-born leader?
  • Why is it natural to try to neutralize the concept?
  • When failing, what is the advantage of the twice-born leader?
  • How can we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

A Key to Positive Leadership

A former student came to me and expressed gratitude. He told of a presentation I once made. It was about positive leadership. Toward the end he raised his hand and asked what he could do to become a positive leader. I responded with a question: “Are you better person today than you were yesterday?”

He said that the question has never left him. He ponders it continually. He wanted me to know that he was thankful for the gift I gave him.

I do not remember that exchange or uttering those words but as he recounted the story I was elevated. My response to him really does answer the question how to become a positive leader.

In the research on positive leadership is a measurable variable called “idealized influence.” People of idealized influence are deeply trusted and attractive because they are seen as inherently good, virtuous, selfless. They pursue the common good rather than their personal good.

Yet, being good, virtuous, and selfless is not a steady state. There is not a line we cross and then become permanently perfected. The only way to be in the state of idealized influence is to continually progress, to be better today than we were yesterday.

If we are better, more virtuous, and less selfish than we were yesterday, we are more likely to engage in acts of positive leadership. Those acts may succeed or fail. Yet if we remain in our elevated state, we will learn how to adapt our actions and move toward success. A person who is not in the state of idealized influence does not engage in the same kinds of acts and does not have the same learning opportunities. A key to becoming a positive leader is to be better today than we were yesterday.

I am delighted to know that my former student always has that question in mind. It was a gift. I am glad he returned it to me so I could share it here.

Reflection

  • Who is the most positive leader you have ever met?
  • In pondering that leader, what do you learn about idealized influence?
  • Why is idealized influence a dynamic rather than a fixed state?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

Tapping into a Steady Stream of Your Own Endorphins

A few years ago, I introduced a concept called the fundamental state of leadership. It suggests that leadership is not holding a position. Rather, it is a state of influence. Most of the time, most of us are comfort-centered, externally directed, self-focused, and externally closed. In this conventional state, we have conventional influence.

Yet, in any situation we can learn to choose to become results-centered, internally directed, other-focused, and externally open. When we make this change, our influence climbs.

I wrote a paper about this in the Harvard Business Review. It had much impact and was selected as one of their “must reads” in self-management. Because it was so selected, many people have now read the paper. Sometimes they comment on it. Recently I received such a comment from a friend named Dan Duckworth. He writes after experiencing what most people would see as a major failure. He offers a surprising view:

I recently closed up shop on a new company we had formed at the University of Michigan to pursue a $500-million opportunity to create a national center for vaccine development and manufacturing. As my team members left one by one, they each repeatedly spoke of “something special” we had built together, of their gratitude to have been part of it, sorrow to lose hold of it, and loss of words to describe it.

Explaining my own journey through these three years can be difficult too. The change I experienced is to some extent evident in the revolution of my role at the University: I went from staffing committee meetings to negotiating and leading one of the most complex ventures U-M has ever contemplated, from knowing nothing of the biodefense industry to leading a company of industry leaders. But anecdotes illustrate only the evidence. I couldn’t begin to explain the phenomenon itself until somebody else described it for me in an article titled “Moments of Greatness: Entering the Fundamental State of Leadership.”

I entered the fundamental state of leadership quite unwittingly. After just six months at U-M, frustrated by incrementalism and my own underemployment, I packed my bags and was halfway out the door when a few buzzwords yanked me back in. The Administration was humming about bioterrorism and vaccines and public-private partnerships. Curious at first, then intrigued, I was soon entranced. Not knowing it at the time, I slipped into the fundamental state and wouldn’t emerge for over three years.

With a long leash from my boss, I dived into discovery and quickly became an internal expert on the opportunity, and not long afterward, my EVP quietly charged me to lead the initiative. With no authority or credibility, I latched onto two mentors, and we began the breathtaking adventure of defining our strategy even as we executed it. Along the way, we convinced the University to invest millions of dollars to develop our ideas and to form a new vaccine company with its own policies, people, and systems—realities inconceivable in the beginning.

After the story of its start, the biodefense project is the story of its thousand deaths and nine hundred and ninety-nine rebirths. A mentor quits at a crucial moment. A primary corporate partner cancels the bid just days before the submission deadline. The new company we formed is hijacked and reabsorbed back into the University. The government rejects our proposed leadership team twice and then suddenly eliminates us from the competition for the first time. All the while, the U-M and Department of Defense bureaucracies unremittingly torture us with process and procedure that bleed us to a faint numerous times. But, strangely, none of these catastrophes break the spell I am under. Where others see the end of the track, I see only hurdles. I just keep problem-solving, just keep breathing life into the project, and the company against all odds and against supposedly better judgment until we nearly win the largest contract in U-M history—nearly. And the spell that binds me suddenly snaps.

As I departed the office-turned-ghost-town that final day, a surprising feeling of success filled me in spite of the evidence of failure that surrounded me. It’s hard to feel failure after nine hundred and ninety-nine victories. It’s hard to feel failure when you build one of the industry’s most prolific management teams, when you achieve near-perfect technical scores, when naysayers are cheerleading on your bandwagon, when you know something magical happened to you and to your teammates. To be sure, losing the bid after three years of toil was terribly disheartening. But the enduring emotion resembles success much more than it does failure.

That paradox came into perspective when I stumbled across an article describing the fundamental state of leadership. It was written by a friend, Robert E. Quinn.   As I read it, I could hear Bob narrating my experience. Entering the fundamental state, I realized, was like tapping into a steady stream of my own endorphins, which fueled a relentless three-year campaign. Instead of retreating from difficulty and ambiguity, I craved them. Not only did the work energize me, it magnified me. My mind was sharper, my decisions crisper, and my personality more authentic. I led and people followed, many with a fidelity and industry I could never have asked for.

Experiencing the fundamental state of leadership is a reward of its own. Naturally, I am anxious to return to it—be that in whatever industry, company, and capacity it turns out to be in.

Reflection

  • Have I had a failure that I now see as a victory? What do I learn from it?
  • What is the fundamental state of leadership?
  • Why is it like tapping into a steady flow of your own endorphins?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

 

Discovering Potential

Often negative life events cause us to discover potential we did not know we had. I have a friend who became a single mother. She decided to go into real estate. Because she is organized and personable, she did well and soon she had her own small organization. In accomplishing this impressive outcome, she was discovering potential she did not know she had.

One day my wife gave her an audio copy of The Positive Organization. Two weeks later my phone rang. She asked if I had a few minutes. As she spoke, she became increasingly excited. She told me she listened to the entire book and she learned one new thing after another. I asked her what was most important. She said that she had never thought about the notion of having a positive culture and that when you have one the people give more of themselves and the organization will start to run itself.

She then told story after story of recently choosing to not do things herself. Each time a new effort was required, she asked herself how to make it a truly meaningful challenge for one of her people and how she could simultaneously provide support. In every case they had not only responded, they exceeded her expectations.

One example was the onboarding of a new person. She asked the person who was coming on if she would like to help improve and codify the onboarding process so it would help every new employee that came on in the future. The woman loved the idea of having such a lasting impact and threw herself into the effort.

As my friend told this and other stories, she conveyed a sense of awe. It was as if she was watching a rerun of surprising moments in her own life and she was discovering new lessons as she watched. What she was discovering was that potential she had realized in herself over the last few years could also be realized in the other people at work.

She told me she was now envisioning an entirely new kind of organization, one in which she did not have to monitor and control every detail. Instead she could share leadership and the people would more fully lead themselves. This is a discovery that few managers make. So they never aspire to what she was learning to imagine and pursue.

It was an impressive phone call. When she hung up, I noticed that I was emotionally affected. Her joy and gratitude were contagious. My mind began to race with new ideas. I could see potential everywhere.

 

Reflection

  • In starting out, why and how did the realtor discover potential she did not think she had?
  • Why is it natural for people in authority to monitor and control employees?
  • Once she began to apply the book, she discovered potential in others. Why?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

Living With a Fresh Self

We were working with a professional group. During one of the breaks, a man approached me. Before he said a word, I already liked him. He began by asking, “Do you meditate?”

The dictionary says that to meditate is “to empty the mind of thoughts, or concentrate the mind on one thing, in order to aid mental or spiritual development, contemplation, or relaxation.”

I indicated that I do meditate. He responded, “I am 100% into science. Yet my mother went off on a ten-day silent meditation program and the impact on her was so positive I decided to try it. I believe doing the ten days really mattered, it carried me through a very demanding phase of my professional training. Later I did ten more days.”

We explored his story and had a delightful conversation about topic of meditation. He then said something I did not expect: “I decided to not go again because meditation can become a problem.”

He explained, “When you intensely meditate, you experience increased awareness and you gain insights about what you should do. I began to realize that if I was not going to act on the things that were coming to me, it was not such a good thing.”

I have been pondering his words. I have been particularly focused on his statement, “If I was not going to act on the things that were coming to me, it was not such a good thing.”

I asked myself, “What does my experience lead me to believe about meditation?” Here is what I came up with.

I believe the universe is a school and I am here to progress. To progress is to advance and develop. When I am progressing, I have a sense of growth and well-being. When I am not progressing, I have a sense of stagnation and misery.

I believe mediation is one key to my progression. It opens my mind and my awareness increases. As my associate claimed, impressions come inviting or directing me to do something that is inherently good. Sometimes the new action is an easy adjustment but sometimes the impressions call me to do some hard thing, to engage in some form of labor that I would prefer to avoid.

I believe responding to the impressions requires faith in the message. If I exercise the courage to move forward, a new experience emerges. By pondering the new experience, I acquire wisdom. Wisdom is knowledge derived from experience. Wisdom gives rise to perspective and increases my capacity to behave effectively. In this kind of learning by faith, I become free from the previous beliefs that were limiting my progress. In this kind of deep learning, stagnation tends to turn into growth.

While the dictionary says that the word self is a noun, I believe self is a verb. My self is a living system that is constantly decaying or growing. My best or most authentic self is the self that emerges as I am moving toward a higher purpose in a state of deep learning. In deep learning, I am discarding limiting beliefs and acquiring wisdom that empowers and courage to reveal my best or most authentic self.

I believe that when the impressions call me to do things that exceed my faith or courage, I practice denial. I rationalize or lie to myself. I orient away from my conscience. To orient away from my conscience is to cut off the mechanism that calls me to live virtuously (courage, integrity, love, humility, patience, and so on). I begin to live in fear, hypocrisy, insensitivity, hubris, anxiousness, and so on. Instead of having a fresh self that is learning and emerging in real time, I have a stale self that is growing brittle.

As I examine these beliefs, I return to the statement form my associate: “If I was not going to act on the things that were coming to me, it was not such a good thing.”

It seems to me that not acting on what the impressions call me to do is not a good thing. Rationalization puts me into decay. Yet avoiding meditation does not seem to be the answer. That also puts me into decay.

This tension leads me to conclude that the universe really is a school designed to promote my learning and growth. If I avoid meditation or if I fail to respond to the impressions that come, I begin to stagnate and misery increases. When I can no longer stand the misery, I have one choice: to clarify my values and purpose. This allows me to reorient to the impressions that are calling me to be my best and more virtuous self.

 

Reflection

  • Do I currently have a stale self or a fresh self? How do I know?
  • Who in the organization tends to live with a fresh self?
  • How does being stale or fresh influence others?
  • How can we use this passage to create a more positive organization?