Other Focused

Am I other-focused? The question calls our attention to our own motives. Why am I doing what I am doing? Am I focused on me? Who else is involved? What are their inner-most feelings? What is the common good of the relationship, the group or the organization? Am I sacrificing for the collective good? The question is transformational because it moves us out of the normal realm of self-interest. When we are other-focused, our relationships change.

When we commit to the success and the development of others, we behave differently. If someone secures a fine opportunity in another company, we do not turn angry. Instead we rejoice with them and facilitate their move and continue to invest in their development. We do this because they are of inherent value, not because they are of value to us.

When we are other-focused, other people are fully aware. They know they can trust us to facilitate their growth and development. They know not only by how we treat them directly, but by watching how we treat everyone, particularly those with less hierarchical influence than we have. How we treat people with less hierarchical power is a strong indicator of our orientation towards human community. When we are other focused, we willingly sacrifice for the best of the collective. Because it is not normal, and because everyone knows, people begin to give us two things, respect and trust. When we have respect and trust, we have moral power. With respect and trust we can do things we could not otherwise do. In particular, we can begin to build a new kind of community, a productive community in which many people are other-focused. This is a key of organizational excellence.


When am I other-focused?

How does an organization change when the leader is other-focused?

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


Self-limiting Definitions

In the fundamental state of leadership, it is natural to think in both-and terms and to gain capacities that we normally split off as “not part of us.”  Consider an illustration.

One day one of my colleagues and I were discussing the four quadrants of the competing values model.  The model articulates contrasting leadership behaviors.  One quadrant of the model emphasizes the conceptualization of the future, and the quadrant opposite it emphasizes the detailed analysis of the present.  A third quadrant emphasizes task achievement, and its opposite emphasizes concern for people.  Most people think of the opposing quadrants in an either-or fashion.

My friend told me that he was really good at conceptualizing the future, good at task achievement, and sometimes good on concern for people.  However, he said, he was terrible at details and never performs well in that area.

I told him I disagreed.  He was a little offended by my willingness to intrude on his self-analysis.  Our conversation continued as follows:

“You love to write music, right?


“You told me that sometimes you get into ‘the zone’ and really feel that you are doing high level work.”

“That is true.”

“When you are at that high level of performance, you pay great attention to details of creating music, right?”

There was a protracted silence.  First my friend looked a little shocked.  Then he looked a little angry.  Then he said, “I hate it when you do that.” We laughed.

What became clear in that conversation is that when my friend is in the normal state, he dislikes and avoids details.  When he is in the creative state, he attends to details while hardly noticing what he does.  In the fundamental state of leadership, we are more complete and less split in both our thinking and in our behavior.  Yet when we return to normal thinking and behavior, we are limited in our ability to describe transformational reality.  Nevertheless, in the fundamental state of leadership, we reflect more, feel more, learn more, and achieve more.  We become liberated from self-limiting definitions and consequently become more dynamic.  We become more complex people.  We behave in ays that seem paradoxical.  We discover, for example, that it is possible to be simultaneously confident and humble, detached and interdependent, tough and loving, active and reflective, practical and visionary, responsible and free, authentic and engaged.


Becoming Part of the Whole

I once had an instructive encounter. A person came to me who was deeply upset, pushed outside the zone of comfort by an external life event. There were many tears. In pondering the situation the person uttered an interesting sentence. “I never belong, I am always on the boundaries of every group. I work so hard and I try desperately to contribute, because I want so badly to belong.”

I resonate with this sentence. Because of poverty and ethnicity I spent most of my young life feeling like this. I wanted so badly to belong. Yet my strategies seemed to be flawed. For some reason contributions were not enough.

There is a potential benefit to being on the outside. The pain can focus your mind and you can come to a deeper understanding of group dynamics, deeper than the understanding of those on the inside. One such point of understanding is the paradox that we are more likely to become a part of the whole if we first become whole.

When we become whole our locus of control becomes internal rather that external. When we make a contribution to the whole, we do it, not to impress, but with authenticity. People feel the authenticity and put greater value on the contribution.   When we contribute with authenticity people are more likely to trust us and embrace us. The principle is as important at work as it is elsewhere.



When have I felt that I was on the outside?

When have I become whole and authentic?

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

Increasing Awareness and The Fundamental State of Leadership

Someone once said to me, “He or she who is most aware is the leader.” We think of the leader as the authority figure. Yet the next time you are in a group that is doing truly creative work, at any given moment, stop and ask, who is leading right now? The answer is he or she who is most aware.

In today’s organizations many people are not aware. They are in slow, psychological death. They lose hope and become progressively less involved. Surveys show the numbers of unengaged people are very large and the costs are astronomical.

Sometimes we are one who becomes disengaged. This suggests we need to make the choice to be alive. The choice can be facilitated by asking four questions in a disciplined way:

  • What result do I want to create (clarification of purpose)?
  • Am I internally directed (increased integrity and authenticity)?
  • Am I other focused (increased empathy and concern)?
  • Am I externally open (increased openness to feedback and learning)?

When we come up with authentic answers to these questions, we immediately enter an elevated life state. In that elevated state we become influential. This elevated state is the fundamental state of leadership.

In it we can elevate others and achieve things we didn’t think possible.

Whether or not we enter the fundamental state of leadership is a choice we make. It is entirely under our control. Because most people stay in the reactive state, most people act like victims. To identify a result we really want to create is to change our current psychological state. We take charge of the only thing you can really control.

Once we enter the fundamental state of leadership, the meaning of current reality changes. To experience new meaning is to make new assumptions. When this happens our old logic melts. We see things we could not see before. We access resources of which we were unaware. As our awareness increases, our ability to make a difference increases. We begin to create.

Presencing the Future (Part II)

In a blog on June 10th, I wrote the following:

“When I teach executives how to move into the fundamental state of leadership, I often suggest that they must come to embrace the future and embody the vision that they seek to realize. Many find this idea hard to understand. In the book, Leading from the Emerging Future, Scharmer and Kaufer write that to bring possibility to reality, leaders must make a shift from a conventional “ego perspective” to a nonconventional “eco perspective.”

‘This inner shift, from fighting the old to sensing and presencing an emerging future possibility, is at the core of all deep leadership work today. It’s a shift that requires us to expand our thinking from the head to the heart. It is a shift from an ego system awareness that cares about the well-being of oneself to an eco-system awareness that cares about the well-being of all, including oneself. When operating with eco- system awareness, we are driven by the concerns and intentions of our emerging or essential self— that is, by a concern that is informed by the well- being of the whole.”

The authors go on to propose that judgments must be suspended and attention refocused. One must let go of the past and embrace the future that is trying to emerge through us. This is what they mean by “presencing” the future. We must become a present manifestation of the future that is trying to unfold. They argue that this is, perhaps, the most important of all leadership capacities.’”

I would like to add something more. There are many unconventional notions of leadership here:

  • One can shift from an ego to eco perspective
  • Sensing the future matters
  • Presencing the future matters
  • The heart and head must work together
  • One must care for the well-being of all
  • Caring for the well-being of all includes the well-being of self
  • There is an emerging or essential self that has concerns and intentions
  • The emerging or essential self is tied to the well-being of the whole
  • We must embrace the future that is trying to emerge through us

To shift from the ego to the eco perspective is to enter what I call the fundamental state of leadership.   I believe that we all tend to live in a comfort centered, externally driven, self-focused and internally closed state. We, however, can choose to live in a purpose centered, internally driven, other focused and externally open state. In the fundamental state of leadership we see the purpose that is trying to unfold, we live with integrity around the pursuit of the purpose, we orient to the needs of all, and we recognize that we the whole of which we are a part is complex and dynamic. Leadership is about the constant expansion of consciousness and the co-creation of the best possible future. In pursuing the best possible future, we create the best possible self. We become a living symbol of what we are trying to bring about.



Why is leadership about the expansion of consciousness?

What is the difference between the ego perspective and the eco perspective?

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

Fundamental Choice

Authentic engagement usually increases when we make a fundamental choice.  The term fundamental choice comes from the work of Robert Fritz (1989).  He tells us that a fundamental choice has to do with our state of being or our basic life orientation.  It is a choice to live in a certain way.  It is different from what he calls primary and secondary choices.  Primary choices are about specific results.

There are many people who have chosen the religious path (primary choice), without making the fundamental choice to live in accordance with their highest spiritual truths.  There are many people who have chosen to be married (primary choice), without making the fundamental choice to live from within a committed relationship…Fundamental choices are not subject to changes in internal or external circumstances.  If you make the fundamental choice to be true to yourself, then you will act in ways that are true to yourself whether you feel inspired or depressed, whether you feel fulfilled or frustrated, whether you are at home, at work, with your friends, or with your enemies…When you make a fundamental choice, convenience and comfort are not ever at issue, for you always take action based on what is consistent with your fundamental choice [Fritz, 1989, p.193].”

To make a fundamental choice is to enter the state of authentic engagement.  To be authentic is to be genuine, actual, legitimate, true, real, pure, and uncorrupted.  We become authentic by being true to what is highest in us.  We do this by committing to live by principle to do what is right even when it is not pleasurable.  In the normal state, we flee pain and pursue pleasure.  It is unnatural to do otherwise.  Yet when we make fundamental commitments, we are choosing to be unnatural.  We choose, if our commitment requires it, to embrace pain and sacrifice pleasure.  We become positive deviants, extraordinary people.

Building the Bridge as you Walk on It, p. 117-118

Monitoring Hypocrisy

Here is a surprising point:  recognizing our hypocrisy is a source of power.  When we become willing to monitor our hypocrisy, we discover that intense personal shame drives us to close our integrity gaps.  Accepting the truth about our hypocrisy helps us to transform ourselves and others.

Others are transformed because our courage and integrity replace our cowardice and hypocrisy.  Our new self becomes a catalyst of collective change.  This is the legacy of people who operate in the fundamental state of leadership.

(Building the Bridge as you Walk on it, p. 24)

Leading Positive Change

A former executive MBA student came to see me.  He was scheduled to be in another part of Michigan, but said he wanted to make a special trip to Ann Arbor because he had something important to share it with me.

He is an executive in his early forties.  Prior to attending our program, he had worked in one of the Fortune 500’s most aggressive firms.  He entered my class believing he was already a leader, and wondered if there was anything to gain by taking the required course.

One of his assignments was to become a mentor—not a normal mentor, but a transformational mentor, a mentor who radically alters the outlook and capacity of another person.  Like many of his fellow students, this one failed to alter the person he selected for his assignment.

This happens often.  I give this difficult assignment for a reason.  Many EMBAs are accomplished executives who think they understand change leadership.  What they actually understand is change management.  The failure to help another person transform often brings humility and openness to the notions of change leadership—a valuable lesson.

In his case the failure made the student aware that what he knew how to do was be an authority figure in a hierarchy.  He did not know how to change the fundamental mindsets other people held.  He did not know how to change behavior so as to achieve collective excellence.  Because he failed the mentoring assignment, his interest grew and he reread all our course’s books and reexamined everything we covered.  He ended up valuing the concepts and was committed to live them.

He told this part of the story with a sense of gratitude.  Then he told me he wanted me to understand how important the course was in his life. A sacred feeling filled the room as he told me about it.

At the end of the EMBA program, he took a position in another large firm.  He was given responsibility for a change project of over $100 million in magnitude.  An analysis suggested it would take seven years.  He was asked to do it in three.  Others who were involved were making assumptions based on change management.   None seemed to understand what he now understood about change leadership.

He decided that if he were going to succeed, he would have to acquire moral power by living principles of higher purpose.  The first thing he did was use the fundamental state of leadership questions to help him examine his values.  In doing so, he made a counterintuitive decision.  While he was facing the greatest time pressures he had ever faced, he determined to go to the gym every day and to eat only healthy foods.    He determined to stay connected to his wife and children.  These things were the opposite of what he would have normally done.

Meanwhile, there was the project, designed by executives and consultants.  They laid out the plan and they expected the workers to implement it.  My former student knew the process would not work.  He knew he needed to be other-focused.  He needed to connect with people, understand, and build mutual trust.  He determined to spend long hours listening to the people.  He listened to their fears.  He shared his own.  He clarified that fact that he needed them.  As this process unfolded he developed a relationship of increasing understanding and trust.

This process allowed him to become externally open.  As he worked with the lower-level people, he allowed them to constantly teach him.  These people saw hundreds of issues the planners did not see.  The issues included things they wrestled with every day such as safety and cost. He joined with these lower level people in co-creating revised plans, plans everyone could believe in.

The impossible change project was completed successfully.  He said that in the EMBA program he learned valuable tools in every class, whether marketing or finance. But he now understands that leadership is the tool belt that holds all the other tools in place.  Leading the change process not only alters the organization, but it also alters the leader.

He now sees himself in an entirely new light.  He feels clear about his purpose, and he is living as a self-empowered person.  He told me that in a year he plans to quit.  His goal is to find a company that is struggling.  He wants to acquire such a company and transform it.  He wants to connect the people to a higher purpose and he wants to build a positive culture in which all the people can flourish.  He did not speak of these desires as if they were a dream, he spoke of them as if they were already a reality.


What were the most counter intuitive aspects of this story?

When have I made such counter intuitive decisions?

How could we use this passage to be more positive?

Attracting Others to the Fundamental State of Leadership

The key to getting into the fundamental state of leadership is not the analysis of techniques and practices. Developing leaders is not about getting them to imitate the thinking and behavior of other people who have been successful. It is about attracting people to the decision to enter the unique state from which their own great thinking and great behaviors emanate. This is done only when an individual chooses to become more purpose-centered, internally directed, other-focused, and externally open. It is an act of courage toward which people must be attracted.

We attract others into the fundamental state of leadership not by imitation, but by becoming unique. We increase our uniqueness by pursuing ever-increasing integrity. As we increase our integrity, we see and fit ourselves with the uniqueness of the emerging reality in which we live. Our courage invites others to do the same.

(Building the Bridge as you Walk on It, pp. 221)

September Newsletter: The Fundamental State of Leadership

This month’s newsletter focuses on the fundamental state of leadership.  It is a concept I began to develop some years ago.

A prime assumption is that most leadership development efforts focus on the wrong things.  They focus on developing knowledge and skills.  Leadership is less about knowing and doing and much more about being in a state of learning and influence based on expanding virtue.  It is about attracting people to purpose, integrity, love, and learning.  People in the fundamental state of leadership turn normal organizations into positive organizations.

It is natural for each of us to be in the conventional state.  Our default option is to be comfort centered, externally directed, self-focused and internally closed.  Leaving this normal state can be frightening and might even pose risks to our job security.  However, when we choose to leave the conventional script and enter the fundamental state of leadership, we start to see our best self emerge and the following new behaviors guide our choices.

  1. We are results centered.  That is, we venture beyond familiar territory to pursue outcomes we genuinely care about.
  2. We are internally directed.  We live according to our values.
  3. We are other focused.  We put the collective good first.
  4. We are externally open.  We learn from our environment and recognize when there’s a need for change.

These new behaviors cause us to gain a sense of purpose, authenticity, empathy, and co-creation.  We create a unique self that now exists in enriched relationships.  Our consciousness expands and our influence skyrockets.

Ryan Quinn and I just published the second edition of Lift: The Fundamental State of LeadershipThe book explains the fundamental state of leadership and how to apply it.  In this issue, Ryan describes a new software package that allows organizations to systematically use the concept in leadership development and culture change.  In the What Lifts Me section of the newsletter, you will find illustrations of people who chose to leave their normal script and enter the fundamental state of leadership.  I hope you find the material inspiring and are able to use it to create more positive relationships, teams, and organizations.

If you’d like to read more, please sign up for the newsletter here.