Reflection and Tranformation

In recent months, I have often addressed the notion that leadership is becoming who we really are. Research suggests that the key to development is disciplined reflection. Many listeners have difficulty understanding how reflection leads to transformation.

In the book, Building the Bridge as You Walk on It, I share the story of Robert Yamamoto. Robert was the executive director of the Los Angeles Junior Chamber of Commerce. For his first four years in the job, Robert felt good about his accomplishments. Then, a new board president told him that he lacked the leadership capacity necessary to move the organization forward. The shock rocked Robert:

During the next few months, I went through a period of deep introspection. I began to distrust my environment and staff, and I questioned my own management skills and leadership ability. I felt that the board had lost confidence in my ability, so I resigned my position. I became afraid for myself and my family, and I began to fantasize about ways to somehow keep my job (do it better, faster). I also started to search for a new job.

            In the meantime, I went to what I thought was my last board meeting. The subject of my resignation came up to the surprise of most board members, and interestingly enough, some of the executive committee members. A board member then confronted the president, shared letters of support from stakeholders and my staff, and my role in the organization was reconsidered.

What a happy turn of events! At this point, it would have been natural for Robert to feel vindicated and lay the blame for an unpleasant experience on others. Instead, his deep reflection continued. It would lead to new commitment and the commitment would bring new vision.

After that board meeting, I did a lot of soul searching. I paid more attention to what I was doing. I began to notice my tendency to gravitate towards routine tasks. I began to see it as a trap. I knew I needed to change. I stopped thinking like a manager and began to think more strategically. I began to commit to achieve larger outcomes. I decided to really lead my organization. It is as if a new person emerged. The decision was not about me. I needed to do it for the good of the organization.

            Shortly afterwards, I told the board president, “This is what I must do, this is what the organization must do. If the board doesn’t like it, I will leave with no regrets.” In the language of Deep Change, I was suddenly “walking naked through the land of uncertainty.”

            To my surprise, she was completely supportive. It was as if a large weight was lifted. I began to see things from multiple perspectives and not just from my own “lens.” Learning (not in the traditional sense but in a holistic sense) became exponential. I saw things with greater clarity and understanding. While before I would need to have a clear understanding of the goal and the steps to get there, I trusted my ability to arrive at the destination and learn from the unscripted journey.

This is a classic account of the transformation from manager to leader. A trauma forces deep reflection and discovery. A new perspective emerges. The leader becomes empowered and empowering and the organization changes.

In my new condition, I was able to see what had been happening previously. Many people surrounding me were on self-interested journeys. The organization had no unifying goal. The operating strategy was to simply respond to the personal agendas of strong personalities. Roles had been defined through practice and tradition. People often blamed others because they themselves felt insecure and lacked leadership. When I changed, all these things also began to change.

Currently I see myself as a change agent. I have a critical mass of individuals from both the staff and board that are willing to look at our challenges in a new way and work on solutions together. What previously seemed unimaginable now seems to happen with ease. I know it all happened because I confronted my own insecurity, selfishness, and lack of courage.

There are two paths to disciplined reflection. The first is crisis. The second is choice. We can all choose to reflect. Through constant examination of our own identity and destiny, we can accelerate our own evolution and the evolution of the organization. We become transformational as we discover and become who we really are.



  • When does Robert shift from fear to confidence?
  • What role did reflection play in his transformation?
  • How could we choose to do what Robert was forced to do?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?



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