The Power of Vulnerability

In the modern life, and particularly in modern organizations, from top to bottom, we live in fear. Hence communication is seldom authentic. Authenticity requires vulnerability. Yet when communication becomes authentic and vulnerable, something happens. Trust goes up, minds and hearts open, we leave the conventional, transactional realm, and growth becomes possible. Only when I encounter deeply mature, purpose driven people do I see the power of vulnerability manifest at work. It is evidenced in their people who are empowered and growing.

A friend sent some quotes on vulnerability. I offer them here so the reader might be able to reflect on doing the impossible at work.

  • When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… To be alive is to be vulnerable (Madeleine L’Engle ).
  • And maybe that was love. Being so vulnerable and allowing someone else in so far they could hurt you, but they also give you everything (Christine Feehan).
  • To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength (Criss Jami).
  • Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change (Brené Brown).
  • Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light (Brene Brown).
  • Virginia Pearce tells of a woman named Emma Lou Thayne who is a wise and gifted writer. Pearce listened to Thayne speak in a class. Thayne shared an intimate story about her daughter’s battle with an eating disorder. She openly shared her struggles as a parent. When she was finished Pearce said, “I am in awe of your willingness to be so personal about your own difficulties.  I don’t know that I could do that.”

Pearce then writes, “I will never forget her answer.  She turned to me squarely, but with understanding.  Her gentle response went something like this: ‘Virginia, our stories are what make the difference, and if we can tell them honestly we can hope to help each other.  In the end, we have nothing to offer each other but our stories. When I open-heartedly offer my stories to you, both of us feel less alone.  We both feel braver, stronger, and more complete (Virginia H. Pearce; A Heart Like His; 2006:80).” (Robert E. Quinn).

 

Reflection

What does fear have to do with vulnerability?

Why is organizational communication so often logical and inauthentic?

What could I do to bring the power of vulnerability to my people?

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

 

 

 

 

From Fear to Love

My son-in-law works for the government. He took a course on creativity and loved what he learned. On the white board in his office he wrote four key principles:

  • Defer judgment.  When someone comes up with an idea, try not to
    decide immediately whether or not it is a “good” idea or a “bad” idea.
  • Go for quantity.  Encourage your team to come up with as many ideas
    as they can.
  • Build on each other’s ideas.  One idea leads to another and
    sometimes the best ones come as together we use one to bounce to new thoughts.
  • Seek out wild and strange ideas.

As people entered his office they all read and commented on the four statements. He writes:  “One person just gave me a big smile and a thumbs-up.  A person from another office surprised me by quoting back to me most of the concepts, and then he said, “See, I stopped and read what you wrote.” One of my bosses stopped by and asked if I would present on the topic on Thursday at our staff meeting.  I was excited, but I immediately thought of one individual in the office who I fear will scuttle the discussion (who I’ll refer to as Lance although that’s not his real name.)”

My son-in-law goes on to explain that shortly after the exchange, he read an inspirational statement about becoming a proactive, positive influence. It altered his thinking. Instead of fearing the reaction of Lance, he began to think about how to reach and inspire Lance. Then he makes a surprising statement, he says he actually felt love for his skeptical coworker.

Yesterday morning, per my boss’ request, I finalized my preparations for my ten-minute presentation on “Guidelines for Divergent Thinking” for my office team.  I realized the presentation would be much improved if the group actually engaged in a brainstorm session instead of just hearing me talk about it.  I realized I could ask them to give me suggestions for how I can prepare for press and public diplomacy issues in the post-election season.  As soon as I thought of the question, I felt my mind pull back with a little fear.  There was something about that question that made me feel a bit vulnerable.

“I also thought I should probably show my planned agenda to my boss and explain exactly how much time it would take.  I felt my mind recoil from that thought too; I guess I was worried that she would try to change or control my presentation.  But I sent it to her anyway, and she wrote back and said she was looking forward to it.”

“After the regular business of our meeting, my boss turned the time over to me.  I passed out a small handout and explained the four principles, and then I asked everyone to turn the paper over and write down one idea.  There was silence and someone said, ‘Can you give us an example?’  I was about to come up with something when I noticed that Lance appeared ready to share.  I said, ‘Maybe someone from the group can give us an idea.  Lance, do you have something?’  He gave a great example of how we could proactively use numbers and statistics in a way that was more customized to the audiences we’re trying to reach.  This person–whose reaction to my presentation I had feared–turned out to be my ally and got the discussion going in a great direction.

“What followed was a meaningful brainstorming session.  I listened and took notes.  I was about to ask for another idea when I realized the ten minutes was up.  I was tempted to continue, but I closed and thanked everyone. I am grateful my boss asked me to give the presentation.  I am grateful for Lance’s and everyone’s participation.  I am thankful things went so well, and it motivates me to write something new on my office window next week.”

Reflection

  • Why did a list of positive statements attract so much attention?
  • Have you ever softened a position because there would be a known skeptic in the audience?
  • Is it possible to turn proactive and then feel love for a skeptic at work?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

 

 

 

 

If it is Real, it is Possible

Our good friend has spent his life as a psychiatrist in the Veterans Administration. The VA has a reputation for being less than a positive organization.   He recently read a positive passage about the common good. He then shared a brief account of how he and his associate had once developed a vision of the common good. He reports:

“We had an innovative, happy department that radically expanded services of very high quality and attracted the best MH professionals to our small city. After I left in 2009, and Mark retired, a different and much more fearful and self-centered leadership took over. It has become a very unhappy place which saddens me deeply.”

There are three points to be noted in this account. First, the VA is not only a federal bureaucracy, it has the reputation of being one of the worst of the federal bureaucracies. We once taught a group of senior leaders from the VA. It was one of the most difficult days ever. They were cynical, depleted and disempowered. Everyone in the VA knows that you cannot exert positive leadership and create a positive culture.

Second, in courses and workshops we regularly argue, “If it is real, it is possible.” This account is a story of positive culture emerging inside a larger, negative culture. It is an account of positive deviance. This account suggests that the impossible is possible. It challenges the conventional, disempowering theory of practice that permeates the VA and most other large hierarchies.

Third, organizations are systems of fear. Instances like this one are not sought out and widely celebrated. Cynical people, who have given up, have a need to verbally shred and dispose of such stories. Leaders can counteract the tendency. Leaders can teach, “If it is real it is possible” by locating these kinds of pockets of excellence, examining them, and using them to challenge the assumptions of convention.

Reflection

  • How could a unit in the VA provide expanded, high quality services and also attract professional to a small city?
  • Is there such a unit in your organization?
  • What pocket of excellence are you using to challenge assumptions of convention, so as to spread excellence?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?


 

Election Pain: A Springboard to a Better Life

The election of Donald Trump has brought much emotion into public discourse. The conflicts are intense and the intensity is likely to last for a long time. In the last few days I have had two conversations that were particularly instructive.   One was with a group of high school students and one with a friend who shared how her life has been transformed by the election.

I invited the high school students to think of an example of a time in the election week when they saw someone filled with negative feelings and then to tell me what happened. There was no response. I tried to make it easier by sharing a story of my own. When I finished a boy spoke up. He said it was hard to answer because there were so many moments. He said, “It was like the whole high school was crying, a lot of bad things could happen to people in our school.”

As the conversation continued it was clear that the teenagers were having the same kind of post-election pain that many adults are having. I shared a concept and a story that seemed to help.

I explained that sometimes we experience negative, external jolts. Negative jolts can range from an unkind look from a friend, to a loss by our favorite sports team, to acquiring a disease, to the death of a loved one, to a shocking societal event.

Often a negative, external jolt brings a sense of loss and feelings such as anxiety, fear, anger, hate, discouragement, hopelessness, depression and so on. These negative feelings can cause us to see the world, and act, in ways that are self-defeating. Sometimes we carry the feelings and act in self-defeating way for a brief period and sometimes for an entire life.

Few people have the ability to recognize and consciously alter their negative feelings. They just have the feelings and react. The few who learn to recognize and transform their negative feelings have a great advantage in life. They learn to respond to their afflictions in productive ways. Their afflictions become a springboard to a better life. I then told them about a recent conversation.

A year ago my friend had a surprising and unwelcome jolt that turned the tide of her professional life. Like all such jolts it disrupted her personal narrative and challenged her identity. In the months that followed, we had a number of discussions in which she tried to make sense of her experience and clarify what she might do next. Her year was difficult and draining.

We recently had occasion to meet. As she approached, I was surprised to note that she was radiant. We chatted for a moment and she indicated that she had an important story. Given her effusive state, I was sure she did.

She reported that after the election of Donald Trump she was stunned. His triumph symbolized the opposite of everything she valued. It would have been natural to move towards depression or anger as so many have.

Both responses are natural but usually unproductive. In the first case we just surrender and suffer. In the second case, we become vulnerable to a negative transformation. Some angry folks, for example, advocate using the same kind of coercive influence on Trump that they perceive he is wielding on others. In their anger, they are tempted to become what they claim to hate.

While both of these natural choices beckoned, this woman did more difficult work. I call it purpose work. She talked to the most mature people in her life. She reflected on the meaning of her life, what the world most needed, and how she could most constructively contribute. As she went through this reflection process, she had a personal epiphany. It was so powerful that she called it a revelation from God.

As she said this, I did a double take and looked into her eyes. She did not flinch. Her words were filled with resolve. She exuded purpose, strength and energy.

She explained that she felt called to stand up for her ideals and intensify her efforts to make a positive difference in the world by showing respect, compassion and concern. She felt called to demonstrate that women can lead well and give hope to the younger women who watch. She said that she feels a new excitement. Her call is to be an inspiring servant leader.

She then shared more news. She has recently become the beneficiary of a number of new job opportunities. I asked about them and she again surprised me. In this situation people usually discuss issues of salary, culture, job challenge, or physical location.   She seemed indifferent to these conventional issues.

Instead of reviewing such subjects or expressing anxiety about her chances, she spoke of her purpose and why pursuing it would animate the one organization lucky enough to get her. This empowered outlook is not normal. It is incredibly strong and certainly is not where she was a few months ago.

Again I looked in her eyes. There was no haughtiness or hesitation in her. There was the pure conviction and moral power of a servant leader. Contrary to conventional assumptions servant leadership is never weak.

A servant leader is a person who has a higher purpose or life calling and selflessly pursues it. Because they fully serve their higher purpose, they become inspiring and they turn into transformational leaders. While this woman has no idea where she will be living or what organization she will be working in, she still knows they desperately need her, because every organization needs what she now has to offer.

While she spoke, she was in an unconventional, elevated state. I have been with many people who become purpose driven. They tend to be like her. They have vision, drive, integrity, empathy and humility. Whether they are introverts or extraverts, they pursue the highest good and they radiate moral power. Others feel it and respond.

What is instructive here is that in the days after the election many people were stunned and turned to the fetal position or the clenched fist. Both are natural and neither is optimally productive. This once frustrated and now clear woman offers an alternative path.

She illustrates to all of us that by doing purpose work, reflecting deeply and clarifying purpose, we can respond to what we find objectionable, not by becoming what we detest, but by becoming the positive opposite of what we detest.

I suggested to my high school friends that even a teenager can become a purpose driven, servant leader. I asked them to take a few minutes and formulate a strategy of how they could best lift themselves and help the people around them. There was zero hesitation, they all started writing. Their response gave me great hope. Maybe they can turn their afflictions into a springboard to a better life. Maybe they can turn the process into a skill they can use for the rest of their lives. Now might be a good time for all of us to acquire the skill.

Reflection

  • Why are the natural responses, fight or flight, so often prove unproductive?
  • What is purpose work and why is it so rarely done?
  • Think of your most pressing affliction, how could you use it as a springboard to a better life, and turn the process into a skill?
  • How could we use this positive passage to create a more positive organization?

 

Repairing Relationships at Work

I was listening to a talk on marriage. It provided great insights about relationships in the workplace.

The speaker described the positive feelings that two people tend to have when they first marry. Then he described emergent patterns of resentment, disengagement and isolation. He described people living together in cold civility while emotionally alienated. He then spoke of divorce. He indicated that most of the failed marriages could have been saved if the people knew how to relate to each other more effectively.

Relationships in organizations are like those marriages. People, who have offended each other, live together in the same building in cold civility. Because of this, there are no synergies, there is no spontaneous teamwork, there is just a building containing emotionally isolated people operating in begrudging relationships. It is not only the organization that is dying — the people are dying.

This last sentence is a key. If I let myself live in relationships of cold civility, I am letting the organization flounder and also choosing to psychologically die. It is a steep price. The alternative is to do the work of relational repair. We fear such work in marriage and in the office, so we pay the price.

 

Reflection

  • Do you have any work relationships of cold civility?
  • Are they killing the possibility of spontaneous teamwork and are you psychologically dying?
  • How does one begin to repair a relationship in marriage and at work?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

The Election, Personal Trauma, and the Collective Future: Becoming a Constructive Contributor

Yesterday there was much media coverage of reactions to the election of Donald Trump. For many the election result was genuinely traumatic and extreme emotions are being expressed. The election outcome represented a jolt to the collective identity.   Much like 9-11, the election result made us all aware of realities that existed, but that were not previously seen. People were in shock after the attack, and we needed to redefine the nature of the world and determine how to live in it — just as we do now.

Yesterday, my mind went back to the election of Ronald Reagan. For decades the country had been spending heavily on social welfare programs and we were teetering on the brink of financial disaster. The election of Reagan represented more than a shift from one party to another:  it represented a shift in the fundamental philosophy of the country.   Many people reacted as people are reacting now. Given the assumptions we make today, if we went back in a time machine and watched the reactions we might find them curious but instructive.

A few days after the election, I was facilitating a retreat for approximately 60 leaders of the New York Stake Department of Mental Health. It was the largest such department in the country. At one point a man was making a presentation on the next budget. It was clear that the external flow of funds was about to dry up and the new budget called for dramatic cuts in every area of activity.

The presenter had barely started when a woman stood up and began to scream. She expressed that she had spent her entire professional life building up programs to serve certain disadvantaged people and that this man was deserting the responsibility to care for those people. Another person stood up and began screaming back about financial reality. Then others jumped to their feet and began screaming. Soon every person was screaming. No one could hear anyone else but it did not seem to matter. It was a collective, professional phenomenon, unlike anything I had ever seen. It went on until I finally banged some objects together and caught their attention. I said, “We might want to take a 15 minute break.”

The room went quiet and people filed out. I had a knot in my stomach. With such extreme conflict, I had no idea what to do next. An amazing thing happened. People came back in and sat down. The man was asked to continue. People sat quietly and slowly began to participate as they might have in any such budget discussion. They were actually listening to each other and making decisions together.

The experience was extraordinary. I pondered it for years. The brief transformation was a microcosm of what was then happening throughout the country. The Reagan election was not only the selection of a personality it was also a significant, symbolic event. It was a signal calling our attention to a part of reality that was being ignored. In the face of this macro change, the people needed to create meaning, to establish a narrative or collective identity so they could work together.

In the coming months we will continue to see the expression of intense emotion. From time to time some bad things may happen. Yet underneath it all, a learning process will be unfolding and a new collective identity will be emerging.

If we understand this, we can begin to function more effectively by shifting our focus from the fear of loss to the facilitation of the construction of a new future. We can do it by asking a self-empowering question; “Looking across the dynamic whole, with compassion, what contribution can I make to help people around me to hear each other, learn, and work together?”

It is a question that requires serious work. In answering it we shift from the helpless victim role, to the role of the constructive contributor. The internal shift does not eliminate the external conflict in the world, but it does give us the power we need to function constructively in the midst of that conflict. Answering the question will replace fear with hope. We will begin to grow and so will the people around us. If large numbers of people answer the question, the entire process of creating a new collective future will be accelerated.

 

Reflection

What does it mean to look across the dynamic whole with compassion?

What needs to I see in the people with different views than mine?

What are my strengths and how could I use them to make a constructive contribution?

How could I use this positive passage to help others?

 

Change Without Crisis

Our good friend Horst Abraham is a hall of fame teacher and a world class facilitator. Recently he was in front of a group and we heard him say something very important. “As a leader, some of the things I need to make happen are not teachable, they are only learnable.”

What does this mean?

Another good friend wanted to meet for lunch. He was a school principal about to start the year. When he first took over there were many challenges but he began to move things and eventually, by annual test scores, the school was shown to be one of the better schools in the area.

Then the state introduced a new set of requirements.  The teachers were resistant because they already knew how to excel. That year the school tested below average. When the scores were shared, the teachers were devastated. The next year they were more willing to make adjustments and the school returned to its previous level of performance.

When we asked our friend what he now wanted to accomplish, he said he wanted to take the school from good to great. He wanted to make changes but it required that the teachers become willing to learn without the aid of a crisis.

It seems ironic that teachers might be unwilling to learn. Yet this claim goes beyond teachers and principals. It is the challenge faced by all leaders who wish to improve their organizations. It is a universal problem. In order to transform an organization, people have to learn how to do what they do not know how to do. This is threatening. People generally fear the work of learning to operate in a new way.

Our friend, the principal, asked, if there is no crisis, how I can I get my people to learn, change and excel? Instead of answering we asked him to tell us what he thought the answer might be. He pondered the question and then shared a personal experience.

After some years of teaching he moved from a rural area to an urban area and was hired to teach in a school owned by a religious group. He found himself in very strange territory. The challenge was overwhelming and he began to fail. Every second night he found himself weeping in the arms of his wife. Yet, at the end of eight years, he was a super star.

We analyzed his learning journey. What were the elements of his personal transformation? He had thoughtful responses.

We asked him about his learning journey because of the notion articulated above by Horst. What he wanted from us was not really teachable it was only learnable. In order to meaningfully respond to his question about changing the school, he needed to be directly in touch with his own most potent, personal transformation.

In his own personal transformation, he had already learned how to transform his school. He just did not fully realize it. We could teach him transformation, because he had already learned transformation.

With his remembered foundation in place, we told him that to move the school from good to great, required a collective journey, just like his personal journey. It meant facing uncertainty and failure while moving forward, learning from experience in real time.

As the conversation continued, we considered the four keys of transformation and used them to ask him more questions. The keys are:

  • Idealized Influence: The leader is not someone who is working to satisfy their own ego. The leader wields moral power and is worthy of emulation.   Because the leader knows his or her highest purpose, the leader is committed to the highest good and sacrifices for it. Doing this stimulates the emergence of more virtues. The leader is seen as an inherently good person, worthy of admiration and trust.
  • Inspirational motivation: The leader is purpose driven and thus oriented to the future. The leader has a meaningful vision of where the system needs to go. The leader shows constancy of purpose and at every turn works to link the people to the purpose. It becomes increasingly attractive and desirable. People begin to find meaning in it. They begin to believe and to experiment.
  • Individual consideration: The relationship with the people is not transactional. They are not replaceable widgets but people worthy of honor. The leader knows the people, considers their individual needs, and shows them unconditional positive regard. The people know that the leader cares.
  • Intellectual stimulation: One of the central challenges in the transformational process is learning, more specifically, deep or transformative learning. The people must come to a new mental map of who they are and how they operate. This includes a shift from them colluding in their own disempowerment to them becoming self-empowering people. So the leader uses a variety of techniques to constantly challenge existing assumptions and nurture the emergence of a new mental map.

As we asked questions about these kinds of things, he was totally responsive. Given his personal journey, he understood the basic principles. His challenge was thinking about specific actions to take. So here we began to dream with him. We said, “Imagine doing this and imagine doing that.” He drank in our lengthy list of outrageous scenarios. He could see how to adapt and adopt them.

As this happened, he visibly changed. He became energized. He told us he would report back. He sincerely thanked us for the discussion. This professional educator was ready to go back to his professional educators and engage in the mutual process of deep learning. It is what transformational leaders learn to do.

 

Reflection

  • What does it mean that some things are not teachable, only learnable?
  • Why do people resist the work of deep learning?
  • Why do the four keys of transformation make deep learning possible?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

Taking Our Power Back

I had an interaction that reveals the basic nature of conventional, organizational life. It also demonstrates why we all tend to give our power away.

I met with a group of leaders from a large medical system and taught them the fundamental state of leadership. The concept suggests that leadership is a state. Normally we are comfort centered, externally directed, other focused and internally closed but we can choose to be results centered, internally directed, other focused, and externally open.

When we are results centered we become intentional, courageous and strong. When we are internally direct we have integrity and we are authentic. When we are other focused, we are empathetic and recognize the deepest needs and interests of our people. When we are externally open, we are humble and make co-creation possible.   By asking four simple questions we can become simultaneously strong, authentic, caring and humble.

At the end the presentation, the coordinator indicated that we had time for a few questions. I said, “Please write down your most authentic questions. An authentic question is one that you truly want answered and it shows your vulnerability by asking it.”

I gave them some time and they wrote. What emerged were three truly important questions. As we moved ahead one woman, who appeared to be very strong, said, “I sense that my people think I do not really care about them. What can I do?”

I asked her who had left the most positive legacy in her life. She indicated it was her mother. I asked for more and she described her amazing, 88 year old mother, who is still working. I asked if her mother loved her. She said yes. I asked how she knew. As she gave indicators this strong woman began to cry. I asked, “Can you treat your people the way your mother treats you?” She seemed to make a connection and she nodded.

Another woman raised her hand and said, “If I behaved like this, my people would see it as weakness. How do I deal with that?”

We did an analysis of why her people believed it was a weakness, how she knew they believed it, and how she was being directed by their expectations. She was organizing her life according to what she believed they believed. I suggested her response was conventional and, like most managers, she was giving her power away. We reviewed what it meant to be internally directed and also creative. We reviewed the fact that the research shows that transformational leaders have high performance expectations while they are also high in their support of their people. I invited her to think about how she could expect more of her people, and do it in a more supportive way.

Finally a woman spoke of her boss, suggesting he was the opposite of a positive leader and asked how she could better deal with him. We reviewed the notions of disempowerment and empowerment, and considered what it means to turn our influence up the hierarchy. We explored what it might look like if we entered the fundamental state of leadership in dealing with a boss. I gave some hypothetical examples and that seemed to open new possibilities.

Writing this entry causes me to return to the experience and reflect more deeply on the three questions. As I do, I marvel at how authentic the questions really were and I feel a sense of gratitude for the people in the room.

As I write I also marvel at the truth the questions reveal about conventional, organizational life. People with the highest educational training and capacity, choose to live as the organizational culture dictates. We become so task focused and driven, that we lose our humanity and we are seen as uncaring. We live in fear of being seen as weak and, and, in pretending to be strong, we communicate our fear. We live in frustration, suffering at the hand of abusive authority figures thus allowing them to continue.

In asking their three authentic questions these highly accomplished women reveal the conventional state of organizational life. For each of us, the tendency is to conform, to sacrifice our integrity, to lose touch with the feelings of others, and to fearfully and arrogantly close ourselves off from honest feedback and the opportunity to co-create. When we learn how to choose, to become purpose centered, internally directed, other focused, and externally open, we learn to become positive deviants. Instead of responding to the culture we begin to shape culture so that everyone begins to win, including us. When we do, we experience what it means to be a leader.

Reflection

Do my people feel that I care about them?

When do I fear being seen as weak?

Am I ever abused by those in authority?

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

Igniting Collective Intelligence

In a classroom with executives we reached a level of honest dialog. We were speaking of leadership and someone mentioned meetings. There was a response. “In meetings I cannot get my people to talk. New interns come, and they will talk, but not my regular people.”

Another person responded, “In your meetings, are you as honest and as vulnerable with your people as you are with us right now?

The first person sat quietly. He began to shake his head.

The conversation turned to the expert role. We engaged in a discussion of authority and how the culture puts us into the role of expert. We explored many examples of these social expectations. There are so many and they are so strong, it becomes almost impossible to step out of the mentality and the role of information giver. No matter how ineffective we become, we continue in the expert role.

We also noted that the ego is naturally drawn to the expert role. We like to look smart. It is incredibly gratifying.

Another person raised his hand and said. “I have great meetings because I have learned how to be the dumbest person in the room. I go in to genuinely learn from them. They know it and they respond.”

Another hand went up. “I always was the smartest guy in the room. Then I was given an assignment to lead a group of extraordinary people. Every one of them was smarter than me. It was a crisis. The only role I knew was expert. I equated expert with leader.”

“It was no longer possible for me to be the expert. I have remained in that job for 13 years and I have evolved from expert to leader. I now recognize and accept my dependence on them and I see my job is to facilitate collective learning. I clarify what we have to accomplish and I listen and I create a culture of learning. We function as a collaborative whole. It was not easy for me to get here, it has been a long journey.”

A woman responded, “In our book it talks about growing from novice, to expert, to master. I understand because in my content area that is exactly what happens. I made that journey and some of my people have made that journey. But for me a lightbulb just went off. The three stages also apply to leadership. I am currently a master of content, but now I have to become a master of leadership. I need to go on the same journey he just described.”

Boring meetings are legion. If even a single person is unengaged, it means the collective intelligence is in decline and, we are not leading. Dispensing expertise is sometimes necessary but until we learn to become the “dumbest person in the room,” we have not mastered leadership.

Reflection

Why do organizations orbit around the power of expertise?

How can leadership be equated with being the dumbest person in the room?

What is the mastery of leadership?

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

Fearless Leadership

I was doing a session for high potential leaders in one of the world’s largest banks. One of their senior most executives was speaking ahead of me. As he was closing, he said, “There is such a thing as fearless leadership. Most people do not have it. Most of you do not have it. You usually find it in a single, short moment. When you obtain it, it will change you forever. That is why we have you in this program. We want you to become fearless leaders.”

I went on and taught the fundamental state of leadership. As I was finishing, I wove in the notion of fearless leadership. I taught them that when they enter the fundamental state of leadership they become fearless leaders. I asked them to explain the connection. Some of them saw the connection, and important insights were shared.

As I finished the senior most person started a conversation with me. I asked him to explain what he meant by acquiring fearless leadership in a moment. He told me a story.

In the middle of his career, a head hunter told him that he could get him a job anywhere because he was so respected in the industry. He went home but could not stop thinking about the statement. He asked himself, “If that is true that I could have a job anywhere, why do I ever respond to political expectations, why do I not respond in completely authentic ways with my superiors and always tell them what I really think is best for the company?” From that moment he began to do so. Instead of getting fired, he found that he became more valued than before. He became a fearless leader and it has propelled his career.

 

Reflection

  • What is the difference between a leader and a fearless leader?
  • Why do few people practice fearless leadership?
  • What does it mean to obtain fearless leadership in a moment?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?