Sacred Mind

There is a man with whom I recently worked. He is a psychiatrist who has a disciplined mind and a firm commitment to science. He also has a PhD in theology. He is a member of a lay organization in the Catholic Church. He lives a highly disciplined personal life and radiates humility and love. He works as a professor of leadership at a university. He is also a spiritual guide to the people he associates with in his lay ministry.

He says his highest purpose is to help people “sanctify their work.” Sanctify means to make sacred. He believes that all work can be made sacred. When we tie the work we do, no matter how mundane, to a higher purpose, the work becomes more meaningful because we suddenly do it with our whole being.

In connecting our tasks to a higher purpose, we begin to see ourselves as contributing to something larger. We see the self as a dynamic, growing system, making an essential contribution to a larger system. By finding a way to give ourselves away, we find and the reveal our best self.

When we pursue a higher purpose and reveal our best self, we find a self that is worth loving. When we love our growing self, we begin to feel love for others. Because we experience the unfolding of our own potential, we see the potential in others and we wish to assist in causing it to unfold.

In all realms of life, my friend seeks to help people make their work sacred. While he is a man of faith, he is also a man of science. In the professional realm, he does his work without using the language of religion. He uses science to help people see. In other realms, he uses a different language.

As I watched him, he did not seem to teach like other professors. He was instructing, as others do, but he was also quietly inspiring. Through a mastery of science and a mastery of love, he was inviting a group of mature professionals to make their work sacred.

As I watched, I made a connection. Just as many professors would say that what he does is not possible in a professional classroom, many managers would say that what transformational leaders do is not possible in a professional organization. It is not only possible, it is what transformational leaders do. Through leadership of the self–through consideration, inspiration, and challenge–they help people find their highest purpose and they help them make their work sacred. They then grow in all areas of their lives.


How many of your people see their work as sacred?

What portions of your work do you see as sacred?

How could you transform yourself and others?

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




Getting Smart vs. Getting Wise

Two hundred people were waiting for me to start a session.  Instead of lecturing them, I asked them to answer four meaningful questions.  The questions were engaging and the table conversations were intense. I invited them to share. Their answers were inspiring.  I then had them all do an unusual exercise.  They fully engaged and it led to more great inputs.  I had presented almost nothing and the learning in the room was already significant.

When I finally started covering my slides, the people remained interactive.  I continued to ask challenging questions and they continued to give excellent answers.  The process lifted them and it lifted me.  I began covering old topics in new ways.

At one point, I noted a theme in their comments about greatness. At the heart of excellence is the power of attraction.  I asked them to think about when they had been morally attractive.  I shared a favorite line from a thoughtful CEO about becoming more attractive: “Every leader gets the culture they deserve. If you want a better culture, what are you going to do to deserve it?”

I then had an impression to apply the notion to marriage and the family.  “If you have a marital relationship you are dissatisfied with, you might ask, ‘What am I going to do to deserve a better relationship?’ If you have a relationship with your teenager that is disintegrating, you might ask the teen, ‘What do I need to do to deserve a better relationship with you?’”

At that moment, I could feel something happen.  The focus and the oneness in the room intensified and learning deepened.

Afterwards an African American woman who had chaired the event came up to talk.  She said, “I have been thinking about what you said about teenagers.  I have been teaching my teenager to confront barriers and learn his way into progress.”

I responded, “You are operating at a high professional level and you are an African American woman.  To get to this level you had to do more than others do.  You had to face barriers others do not face.  You know that the key to success is the ability to maintain a higher purpose, encounter barriers, stay positive, and engage in deep learning.  The white parents are telling their kids to do their math and get smart.  You are teaching your kid how to engage in deep learning and get wise.”

She was frozen.  She looked off into the distance.  She was making connections and seeing things she had not seen before.  She asked, “Have you written this up in one of your books?”  We went into a very meaningful conversation.  She left with new feelings and new vision.

As I reflect on that experience, it seems to me that this conversation and others like it emerged because of the collective conversation. In the classroom, we created a network of collective intelligence, a positive organization. This gave them the courage to approach me personally. It gave me the courage to challenge them. We were able to co-create new life strategies.



What is the difference between getting smart and getting wise?

Why and how did a network of deep learning emerge?

What does it mean to co-create new life strategies?

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


When I was eleven, I to stay home from school for a week because of a poison ivy rash. I started to get bored. The idea came to plant a garden. Although I knew nothing about gardens, I prepared the ground, bought some carrot seeds, and planted them. Time went by and the carrots began to sprout. I kept returning to look at the sprouts. I did so with a sense of awe. I had taken action and seeds turned into carrots. I had done work and a new life form materialized. It was amazing to me.

Recently I was working in the morning with senior executives. One of the participants shared a tough issue. He offered it as a challenge to a point I was making. He believed it was unsolvable. Instead of telling him that he could apply a certain strategy, I told him two contrasting stories and allowed him to ponder and apply.

Later at lunch he made it a point to cross the room, stop at my table, and tell me he was appreciative for what I shared and even more appreciative for how I shared. His expression of gratitude made me feel the way I felt when I looked at my carrots.

In the foyer, I encountered a colleague. He spoke of the workshop for doctoral students that was going on in the basement. It was a voluntary, one-week experience. Students had come in from all over. He said the material was exciting and the conversations were intense. He expressed how much he appreciated the phenomenon.

I told him I could tell of his appreciation because, as he talked, he was glowing. This caused him to pause. He is a critical thinker who is not into “glowing.” To my surprise, he did not object. He said, “Organizing this was a ton of work. I am getting no pay and no credit, but you are right: I just love this.”

As he walked away, I thought of the session I had just taught, and I thought of my carrots. Every person has influence.   This means we all have the opportunity to teach or lead. If we take advantage of our opportunities, we improve and turn positive. We learn to prepare the relational soil and plant seeds. When we see the seeds sprout, we have a sense of awe. We experience the realization of our contributive desire.   We rejoice in our labor because it is contribution. I am grateful for opportunities to teach and to lead. I am grateful for opportunities to glow.


  • Is my work a source of income and a source of joy?
  • Are the people around me growing?
  • How often do my influence episodes leave me with a sense of awe?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?


Free Book

Just a short announcement that the book I wrote with Kim Cameron and Jane Dutton is being featured by our Publisher, Berrett-Koehler, this month. They are giving away free copies.  If you are interested, you can enter here:

Enter now to win Positive Organizational Scholarship in my publisher’s giveaway.

Best Self in Barcelona

In Barcelona we were teaching a group of 150 professionals and the topic was positive leadership. I asked them to do an exercise and share their insights. The conversation across the large group became increasingly insightful. A man raised his hand and said that 20 years ago a teacher taught him a profound lesson.

The teacher said that if you want to lead you can pay someone to work and the pay will create external motivation. You can pay a person and also expose the person to a sense of purpose and it will create intrinsic motivation. You can pay a person, give them purpose, and open paths so they can fully give themselves away. This creates transcendent motivation.

When we work for pay, we work for ourselves. When we work for a higher purpose, we work for something bigger. When we give ourselves away to that higher purpose, ego disappears and we become servants of the common good.   A new self emerges.



  • Do the people around me work for pay?
  • Are the people linked to a higher purpose?
  • Are the people finding and giving themselves away?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?


A Personal Board of Directors

Research suggests that we learn from our negative experiences and not our positive experiences. One reason is that it is natural to ponder our failures and not so natural to ponder things that are going well.

An executive told me of a toxic boss he once had named Tom. My friend shared examples of Tom requiring his people to do extreme things just to show he was in control. How could anyone be so ego driven?

My friend said, “I learned a lot. Today when I have a challenging situation, I ask, ‘What would Tom do?’ I conceptualize it and then I do the opposite.”

We both laughed but he was serious. This caused me to recall a similar process in which I occasionally engage. I have a psychological board of directors. You may want to experiment with creating one. Identify the people who left the most negative legacy in your life, people like Tom. Then identify the people who left the most positive legacy in your life. Then take a current challenge in your life and ask: “What would each person do?” Lay out the answers and then combine them into a strategy. In this way, you will be learning not only from the negative but also from the positive. If you consciously do this a number of times, you will find that you are diversifying your thought processes. You will also be accelerating your leadership development.

Now imagine taking this process to a team. You identify a challenge. You ask each person to do the above exercise and come up with a new strategy. You have each person share a strategy, open a discussion, and together construct a common strategy. You will not only have a better strategy than any one person could create, you will also provide a model of leadership development.


  • When you formulate strategies, what is your thought process?
  • Are you learning from your positive as well as your negative history?
  • Who are the people you want on your psychological board of directors?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?



Shaping the Emerging Future

We were in a film studio and I was in front of the camera. When I do this, I have a prepared message but I do not use a script. I know what I want to say but I allow myself to formulate the words in real time. I do this because I want the message to be authentic.

We were three minutes into the first segment, when the man in charge, Greg, stopped the process and said we should begin again. This surprised me. Based on previous experiences, Greg refers to me as “Mr. One Take.” I had begun to take pride in the title.

I asked if I had said the wrong words or hesitated in some way. He said, “No, but in the first two minutes you were not rolling like you are now. You have your rhythm. You are giving more. You are really connecting with the viewer. You need to do that from the beginning.”

I knew he was right. We started over and the difference was clear. At the end, I sought him out and told him I was grateful. His intervention would stay with me forever.   In the making of future videos, I will be conscious of the lesson. I will prepare differently. I will be rolling from the start.

The sense of gratitude stayed with me all day. Why?

My purpose is to touch lives, to inspire positive change. I am passionate about it. When I am in a conventional state, I tend to become ego-driven. I need to show that I am self-sufficient. Feedback is an unwelcome disruption, something I block or set aside. Knowledge and pride drive out learning. I do not realize it, but I am living in the past and I am dying in the present. There is no life in me, I am out of rhythm, and people are not connecting. I am not inspiring positive change.

When I orient to my purpose, I move forward, hungry for feedback. I am using my existing knowledge base and expanding it through the process of learning. I am integrating the past with the present while shaping the emerging future. I am fully alive, in rhythm, and people are connecting. I am inspiring change because I am modeling change. I am grateful for Greg and his disruptive feedback.


  • When do you rejoice in disruptive feedback?
  • What life purpose permeates what you do and leads you to welcome disruptive feedback?
  • When is the last time you remember integrating the past with the present while shaping the emerging future?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

Transforming Genuinely Pissed-Off Managers

We work with a major company that tends to have a narrow focus on profit. Mangers tend to carry cynicism. In the first day of a program, the participants expressed some negativity. It came out as arguments of helplessness. The culture is determined from the top. They can only respond to the culture. There is no opportunity for them to exercise positive leadership.

My first meeting with them was on day two. I opened with a challenge. I asked them to determine the difference between good and great conversations, marriages and teams. They did an extraordinary job. Using their own lists, I asked them to generate a theory of greatness in social systems. They came up with the following:

  • There is a sense of purpose
  • People feel inspired
  • There are strong and healthy emotional connections
  • There is respect, trust and admiration
  • There is integrity, openness and authenticity
  • The people feel challenged and fully engaged
  • They make willing contributions
  • There is natural collaboration
  • People rejoice in the success of others
  • Outcomes exceed expectations

I asked if they believed in their theory; they said they did. I asked where the theory came from. They indicated that they collectively drew on their experience and knowledge. I emphasized that I had told them nothing, and they created their own theory of excellence. What did this imply? There was a pause and then a golden moment. They recognized, despite all the contrary assumptions, they believed in excellence, desired excellence, and excellence comes from positive leadership.

I asked for insights. Someone said, “Creating a positive organization is hard work, but the payoffs are high: everyone wins. Why lead in any other way?”

We spent the morning in a conversation that reflected the characteristics described above. The learning was intense. At the conclusion, people were sharing more insights. A man who had made several wise comments raised his hand. He said, “I am going to say something I never thought I would say. I came into this week genuinely pissed off at the senior leaders of this company. Now my anger is gone. I realize that they do not matter. Regardless of how they act, I can lead. I can create a positive organization and that is what I am going to do.”

There was silence. He had just become the voice of the group. It was not the voice of helplessness but a self-empowering voice. I walked over and gave him a high five.


  • What is your theory of excellence?
  • What are the payoffs of applying your theory?
  • Is it possible that what the people above you do does not matter?
  • How can we use this passage to create a more positive organization?



A Chocolate Chip Change Strategy

We were discussing leadership and change. One executive told us she had a chocolate chip cookie theory of change. When she first joined the company, she would go to meetings and notice how many people were disengaged. She said they were like cookie dough. Usually there were also one or two people with light in their eyes. They were like chocolate chips. Her entire career she has sought to locate and link with the chocolate chips. That is how she has been able to get things done.

Her theory is our theory. When we set out to create a positive culture, we often ask a company to create a network of positive energizers. We ask them to select the most positive people from across the organization and use them to lead the process.

We met with such a group.   At the outset, the senior most person greeted them, and then they did personal introductions. The senior person reviewed the history and explained that they were being asked to guide culture change.   They were in uncharted waters and there was no existing map. They would have to create their own map.

Introductions followed. They had three tasks. They were to introduce themselves, explain how they access positive energy, and share their favorite vacation spot. Later, I asked them to reflect on the introductions. What were the patterns cutting across the group? They identified four.

First, they said that the people in the group expressed a sense of purpose and confidence. They naturally shared their challenges but talked of them as a source of strength. One spoke of a handicapped child. Because of the child, the parents and siblings tend to see their own challenges as insignificant.   Another said his father grew up in a tent, came to the United States with nothing, and is now a professor. The father’s example is so influential that the speaker believes he can access positive energy and accomplish anything.

Second, they said the people were intrinsically motivated. They love what they do.   A union member said, “I have been a lineman for over twenty years, but I have never worked a day in my life. I love what I do. Every day is an adventure.”

Third, they said the group was relational. Individuals had much to say about human connections. They spoke of immediate family, extended family, and other networks as a source of meaning. The lineman for example, rejoiced in the local union and then turned to his relationships with people in the national union and expressed genuine gratitude.

Fourth, the group was oriented to learning and growth. They particularly spoke of joy in the growth of others, expressed curiosity, and talked of learning and teaching.   One man, for example, rejoiced in his daughter and her constant progress in soccer. Another spoke of seeing herself as a teacher at work and rejoiced in the development of her people.   Many spoke of vacations as learning opportunities.

By the end of the discussion, it was obvious that the people in the room were fully alive. They were purposive, intrinsically motivated, relational, and oriented to growth. They were the chocolate chips in the organizational cookie dough. In creating positive organizational cultures, it is desirable to locate and link the positive energizers. It makes for a better organizational cookie.


  • Are you able to identify the chocolate chips in your organization?
  • Do you capitalize on their presence?
  • How might you increase their influence?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?


Nutritious Imperfection

Horst Abraham coaches elite athletes. He recognizes their thirst for achievement but makes an intriguing observation about their orientation to learning. Many of us find our imperfections painful and we practice denial. Horst says that many of his clients are “positively energized by their imperfections.” Instead of denying or becoming depressed by their imperfections, they seek to recognize and understand them. They develop “chronic discontent – but in a nutritious way.”

When people observe their imperfections and turn them into positive energy, they grow and develop. In organizations, there is often a different tendency. There is an emphasis on hierarchy, authority and expertise. When circumstances change, the system fills with uncertainty. There is a need to move forward, learning through trial and error. Yet the fear of vulnerability is great. The “knowing organization” prevents learning and adaptation. The people practice denial while the organization slowly dies.

Recently I worked with such an organization. The insistence on knowing led all the way to bankruptcy. Yet the disaster had positive effects. Today there is an entirely new culture. There is chronic discontent. One executive said, “Our new program leads the industry and is making big money. We are already changing it. We are searching out every flaw. We are continually learning how to make it better. The objective is to stay in front and it requires continual change”

The knowing organization has become a learning organization. They are “positively energized by their imperfections.” They no longer have to be experts. They are willing to be vulnerable and learn together. Instead of denying or becoming depressed by their imperfections, they seek to recognize and understand them. They develop “chronic discontent – but in a nutritious way.”


  • When have we denied reality?
  • When have we shown chronic discontent – in a nutritious way?
  • How do we turn a knowing organization into a learning organization?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?