The Common Good

A few years ago I attended a formal dinner. David McCullough, the famous biographer spoke. He told two stories. The first was about John Adams who was still in the White House but who had lost the reelection. One night there was a fire in the Treasury. Adams walked over and joined the bucket brigade. The next morning in the paper they wrote; “Due to the exertions of the citizens, animated by the example of the President of the United States, the fire was extinguished.

In the second story, Harry Truman was going to appoint John Marshall to a senior position. A staff member advised against it. The rationale was that if the people were exposed to Marshall they would prefer him to be the next president. Truman responded by acknowledging that he also thought that Marshall would make a better president. But Truman indicated that his highest current concern was not about being reelected but surrounding himself with the best people possible so he could serve the country.

Adams and Truman were both making sacrifices for the common good. Their purpose, in the given moment, was to serve others. The common good was more important than their self-interest.

I often do an exercise in which I ask people to identify the person who left the most positive legacy in their lives. They do this and I ask them to share descriptions with each other. We then explore what such people have in common. One of the most frequent answers is that the people of great positive influence are so frequently selfless.

Selflessness has impact. Putting the common good first not only builds trust, it also inspires. It arouses the best in us and attracts us to want to be like the selfless person. This is called idealized influence.



Who left the most positive legacy in my life?

How do I feel about that person?

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



Discovering the Underlying Template

In 2015 Jim Harbaugh accepted the job as football coach at the University of Michigan. Over the next 12 months he became a perpetual motion machine with an electrifying effect on play, recruitment, the university, town and even the country.

Close to the 2016 signing day for new recruits, Harbaugh appeared on the Dan Patrick show in San Francisco. There was a light-hearted moment when Patrick challenged Harbaugh to convince a young man named Seton O’Connor to hit himself in the face with a pie. The humorous event, which can be seen here, actually reveals a lesson worthy of our attention.

At the start there is a brief moment of awkwardness for both people.   Then we watch Harbaugh do things that seem natural to him. First, instead of trying to persuade, Harbaugh uses inquiry. He asks Seton if he remembers George Halas, coach of the Chicago Bears.

Normally asking a question like this creates engagement. The only problem is that Seton looks at Harbaugh blankly. To the shock of everyone on the show, he cannot answer.

Pause for a moment. If you were Harbaugh, on television with this awkward situation, what would you do next? I believe most of us would get nervous and become increasingly ineffective. What does he do?

Harbaugh says, “I want you to put this pie in your face better than it has ever been done before.”

Despite his disorientation, Seton suddenly focuses. He says, “You want me to do it with enthusiasm?”

Notice that now the conversation is not about if he will put the pie in his face, but about how he will do it.

Harbaugh nods and replies to the query about the level of enthusiasm, “Unknown to mankind, better than anyone has ever done before.”

Seton seems excited but then looks at the pie and pauses. Harbaugh notices the pause and asks, “Do you want me to give you a three count?” He is referring to the count that a quarterback gives to a center so as to trigger the snapping of the football.

Seton nods his head. Harbaugh gives the count and Seton puts the pie in his own face with enthusiasm. The group explodes with glee.

It all seems so funny yet in this scene is a microcosm from which we can learn much. What Harbaugh does is clearly spontaneous and natural. Yet his efforts follow a recognizable pattern. While it may be an unconscious pattern, he is operating according to the positive mindset and the principles of transformational influence.

He can stimulate people to think and behave differently. We call this transformational leadership. Transformational leaders change cultures and people. They inspire high performance. The seemingly silly scene is a microcosm of transformational leadership.

Transformational leaders create interest or engagement. They often do this by asking questions. This was the first thing Harbaugh did.

They also provide inspirational motivation, a desirable image of the future. Instead of giving instructions, Harbaugh gives Seton the opportunity to pie himself as no one has ever done it before.   Even though he is uneasy, Seton finds the challenge inspiring and intrinsically motivating. He is ready to go.

While inspired, Seton, nevertheless, pauses. Transformational leaders also supply individual consideration and support. While they ask people to perform at high levels, they are also sensitive to individual needs and they use their creativity to help individuals commit and move forward. Again, without much conscious thought, Harbaugh offers to give the three-count. Seton is ready to act.

Some argue that leaders are born, not made. It may be that some people are naturally inclined towards transformational influence, but no one internalizes the positive template without going through their own transformative learning processes.

We were invited to meet with a group of young professionals in medicine. They wanted to discuss how to become change agents. We started with two questions. First, how did they define the word leader? They responded that it was someone who can stimulate people to feel, think, see and do things in a new way.

Next, we asked them to differentiate between a novice, an expert, and a master. One person said a novice is someone who is just learning. An expert is a person who learns to effectively lead his or her own organization or group. A master is a person who takes the principles of leadership and generalizes them in such a way that they can effectively lead any organization or group.

The answer exceeded our expectations. They were implying that there is a generalized theory of leadership that allows a person to effectively inspire change in any situation. We have already made this claim about Harbaugh. Two other illustrations come to mind. The first was a world leader. The second is relatively unknown public school teacher.

There is a movie called Gandhi. It well illustrates his development from novice to master. At the start of his career Gandhi was awkward in his attempts to influence. Yet he continually reflected on his experiences, tried new experiments and grew into a master. At the end of his life he was able to enter nearly any situation and stimulate people to feel, think, see and do things in a new way. He, like Harbaugh, had a generalized set of action principles that he could use in any situation.

The public school teacher was someone we had met personally, a woman who struggled to get her credentials and who took years to learn how to excel, eventually becoming highly effective in the classroom. Referring to her experience as an undergraduate in an education school, she told us, you learn the “rules” of teaching. Then you go to your first class and you learn that every child is different, that each one has a unique set of needs that you have to learn how to work with each unique child.

“Then,” she said, surprising us, “you go to the next level.” Fascinated, we asked her what that was. She said that she eventually learned that every child was the same. No matter what a child says or does, every child wants to be respected, every child wants to succeed, and so on. No matter what the superficial signals suggest, they all have the same set of intrinsic needs. She told us that once she discovered they are all the same, she could effectively teach any group, old or young, gifted or special education.

This woman, like Gandhi, reflected continually on her experiences, tried new experiments and kept growing. She went from a novice at empathy to an expert who could understand and attend to the needs of each child. Operating as an expert she kept growing until she made a profound discovery. She learned to scale empathy. She learned to empathize with the whole. Now she is a master of influence. In any situation, like Harbaugh on the TV show, she can identify the collective needs of the group or individual and focus her efforts to influence on those needs. She can therefore teach/lead anybody anywhere. She is a master change agent.

We delight in the fact that she is a public school teacher and not a CEO or a world leader. She has a job that tends to be depreciated. Professionals in pursuit of power would not think of going to the local public school to find a master of leadership. Yet she illustrates an important fact; master change agents emerge in every profession and context. As people pay the steep price for acquiring the positive perspective, they become more and more masterful. Eventually they gain a theory of influence that allows them to inspire positive change in any situation. They may make mistakes, like asking about George Halas, but they tend to recover. If we look for them, even in strange places, like a TV show, we can choose to learn from them and we can accelerate our own efforts to become masters of positive influence.


What is the steep price that has to be paid to become a master of positive influence?

Who, in my personal circle of relationships, has paid the price, and what can I learn from that person?

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

An Evolving Network of Accelerated Learning

At a conference I met a woman from Australia. She is an organizational consultant who relies heavily on positive psychology. She also does much work in the media. She asked if she could do a video interview about my new book. A few months later we held the session.

Over the computer we chatted as we prepared to start. When it was time, she did an introduction for her video audience. Just before, she seemed to take a breath and turn on a personal switch. She became a little more focused, a little more energized and she spoke just a bit faster. She was consciously choosing to leave the conventional state so as to operate at a higher level of investment and invitation.

As the experience unfolded I began to notice a feeling of delight. Afterwards I noticed my mind racing with ideas from the conversation. It was clearly more than a typical interview. It was a generative conversation.

The next morning I returned to the experience. Why was the conversation so generative? Yes she had chosen to become more engaging but that would be true of most media people as they go on the air.

She had also brought something else to the interview. As I pondered, it occurred to me, that when I teach, I consciously choose to go into a similar state of elevated engagement. When I do I am usually working with people who are coming from an entirely different worldview. The ideas of positive leadership and positive organization fly in the face of conventional assumptions. They are usually interested but skeptical.

Because of their skepticism it is incumbent on me to do more than instruct. I have to establish a relationship of trust and empathy. I have to monitor for misunderstanding or resistance and adjust. I have to work in such a way that it becomes possible for the people to entertain the ideas. It often turns out to be delightful, but I am carrying the accountability. It is my role to do the hard work of transformative teaching.

That kind of hard work was not what was happening in the interview. The interviewer understood the content, not only because she read the book but because she also does the same work that I do. She spends her time trying to help executives embrace the unconventional positive perspective. So instead of simply asking superficial questions, she asked questions she really cared about.   She then built on my answers by adding thoughtful insights from her own experience and then asking the next question.

As I wrote the last sentence, a light bulb went on. She was doing something that differentiates great teachers.   Great teachers turn their classrooms into positive organizations where learning can accelerate. She was turning our interview into a positive relationship where learning could accelerate.

How did she do this? First she had to do all the conventional things that all interviewers must do. But then she enlarged the process.   She did this by adding dignity to my answers and inviting me to embrace and elevate what she had just said. She was facilitating the formation of an evolving network of accelerated learning.

What is an evolving network of accelerated learning? Consider a second illustration.

When I teach my goal is to turn all the students into a network of accelerated learning. I do the basics then I begin to ask probing questions that require students to think deeply and take the risk of saying what they really feel. At that point, I cherish the response, no matter what it is. I examine it and appreciate it. By appreciate I not only express gratitude to the person who offered it, I also add dignity to it by enlarging the meaning of the contribution. I restate it as clearly as possible, let my brain bring an associated thought, then I express the associated thought and ask the entire group a more probing question.

The group intuitively recognizes that I am engaging with them in an authentic exploration. They sense that a generative conversation is unfolding. Engagement goes up and so does the quality of the contributions. As this happens the collective intelligence expands. People realize that they are safe in taking the risk of authentic sharing.   They begin to see that as they contribute, they are creating a web of deeper and deeper mutual understanding.   They feel animated by the process helping each other open the doors of consciousness. Because the group is learning each individual is learning.

Creating a web of accelerated learning is not only a characteristic of great teachers it is a characteristic of great leaders. Great leaders build trust, show consideration, offer an attractive future and challenge existing assumptions. In doing this they create positive organizations where webs of accelerated learning can naturally emerge.

At the conclusion of the interview, I told my new friend that she was a great interviewer. She laughed. Then she apologized for taking more time than was planned. She said she felt so good about what was happening that she did not want to stop the process.  We both walked away lifted by the accelerated learning that occurred for each of us.



When have I been a part of a generative conversation?

Is it possible to consciously choose to create more generative conversations?

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



The Vulnerability of Positive Culture

Often people speak of how hard it is to change a culture. I listened to a man suggest the opposite perspective. He directs HR and has invested heavily in building a positive culture. He shared an illustration of how fast a positive culture can be lost.

Of the many things that were done to build a positive culture, he mentioned two very small but symbolically important elements. A conscious decision was made to have people be fully present in senior leadership team meetings (no checking cell phones) and to also listen fully to each other and not interrupt. They succeeded.

Recently a new CEO arrived. In terms of personality differences, the new CEO moves at a faster pace and also constantly checks for messages on the cell phone.   By the second meeting, members of the senior leadership team were checking their phones, and also regularly interrupting each other.

A person, who holds the same position in another organization, gave a similar but more devastating account. A few years ago she began learning about positive organizing and committed to create “an environment where people could thrive.”

She began a long, intense effort, focusing on both building a cohesive and competent senior leadership team and developing new skills in the workforce. This eventually led to increased employee satisfaction, increased financial performance, organizational growth, and improved relationships with partner organizations. It was truly impressive.

She then left to take another job. A few years later she met with a former colleague and asked for an assessment. He indicated that the entire positive effort had disintegrated. When she asked why, he said, “Maintaining a positive culture requires intentional leadership, a leader has to be consciously focused on institutionalizing the positive.”

 These two stories illustrate some key notions. First, a positive culture is the outcome of conscious choice and intentional effort. It takes work to change a conventional culture to a positive culture. Second, authority figures have great unconscious influence. People look to them for signals of appropriate behavior. If the signals suggest movement away from the work of positive organizing to more natural, conventional patterns, people will tend to move towards the conventional. Third, because positive organizing requires constant attention and effort, it is vulnerable. New leaders, with or without the intention to do so, can easily destroy a positive culture.



Why is it so hard to create a positive culture?

Why is it so easy to destroy a positive culture?

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





Selflessness, Listening and the Increasing Probability of Success

In the conventional perspective an executive is an expert who informs.  In the positive perspective an executive is a leader who also transforms.  This means the leader can transform beliefs and expectations and thus bring about cultural change.  The organization is always getting better.

I know a very positive leader who personifies this capacity to constantly build a more effective culture.  He is full of energy, has a photographic memory and a broad kit of management skills.  Yet these are not the characteristics that most differentiate him.  He does something that few executives do.

I had a conversation with one of his former direct reports, I will call him Peter.  In describing my friend, Peter told a story of his first conversation during his first day on the job.  My friend told Peter, “You cannot offend me.”  He explained that he always wanted to know, in every circumstance, what Peter really believed.

In many cases a direct report would be skeptical of this claim.  Few people really want to hear a genuine difference of opinion.  For this reason, in most organizations, truth seldom speaks to power.

Peter said he believed the claim from the outset.  Peter therefore committed to always share what he was really thinking.  He said that sometimes he was so direct in stating his opinions that he later felt to call and apologize.  Yet my friend never showed even the slightest offense.

Peter said, “I could not offend him because he genuinely wanted to know my opinion, particularly when it was different from his.  Every conversation was fully authentic.  There was never any posturing.”

We discussed how such communication was possible.  Eventually we agreed.  My friend always puts the common good ahead of his own ego.  Because he is a selfless leader, because he puts the organization first, every conversation has integrity.

Peter then pointed out an interesting side benefit that accrues to people of transformative influence.  “His commitment to listening meant that I was fully heard.  So if he decided to go in a different direction, I was fine with it.  I knew that he had fully heard my honest opinion.  So I was willing to trust him and support him in any direction he wanted to go.”

If you want to know if a person is a transformational leader, simply look at his or her direct reports.  If they are “yes” people the person is not a transformational leader.

Transformational leaders transform their direct reports into transformational leaders.  The direct reports are empowered people who speak with authenticity.  Their people speak to the direct reports with authenticity.  A positive organization is comprised of strong people, acting in empowered ways, while operating with high unity.

Transformational leaders create a network of unified, committed people who tell each other the truth.  In such a network of purpose, action and learning, success is far more probable than it is in a conventional organization.



Do my direct reports have the ability to offend me?

Why do transformational leaders have transformational leaders as direct reports?

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



The Caring of Real Leaders

Sometimes people tell me that the concept of positive organizing can not be seen at work. It is only appropriate to the family. As I look at many family situations I do not see flourishing and the exceeding of expectations. What I see is people injuring each other even more deeply than they do at work.

Yet positive organizing does occasionally occur in families just as it occasionally occurs at work. Observing it in families may teach us something about the kind of caring necessary to bring it about at work.

As an extended family we spend one week a year at the beach. My son-in-law calls it the “best week of the year.” This implies that the week exceeds his normal expectations. It is an experience in collective excellence.

Our week at the beach involves a focus on the common good, much planning, lots of meaningful interaction and continuous innovation and improvement. For over ten years we have worked hard to make it better and better. This has often required sacrifices. Adult males, for example, are not allowed to watch sporting events on TV. Instead evenings are devoted to activities that result in enriched relationships. Mornings and afternoons include structured activities and traditions that the grandchildren love. The entire experience is a manifestation of sacrifice for the common good.

This year I learned an interesting lesson. I arrived at the beach excited, but low on physical energy. For the first three days I did not engage with much gusto. At the beach I remained under the umbrella and when the kids were in the pool I did not go in.

Usually I feel very involved with the grandchildren but this year my efforts seemed to be interruptions in the flow of what they were doing. I was connecting with none of them. What happened next was instructive.

I began to build a theory that the grandchildren had changed. They were so involved with each other they no longer wanted to interact with their grandfather. I then started to feel offended by their imagined change.

Thankfully, at a deep level, I knew this was a ridiculous theory. They, for example, were engaging other adults as they always had. Everywhere there was data suggesting the problem was not with the children it was with me. Nevertheless I was building a theory that could only put me in a downward cycle and justify me in my desire to not change. Thankfully this time I was familiar enough with this normal reaction to override my ego.

The next day the kids were in the pool and I jumped in. Almost immediately several of them challenged me to a game of “sharks and minnows.” For the next two hours we engaged intensely. At the beach I went into the water and one of my granddaughters said, “Will you carry me out and throw me over the waves?” For the rest of week, instead of interrupting what they were doing, I joined them in what they were doing. The result was intense engagement with the people I love. It was my “best week of the year.”

Here there are implications for work. Positive organizing can occur in any setting but it requires intense effort, more than we conventionally see. Some people have to care enough to invest deeply. Once positive organizing emerges, it remains vulnerable. For a wide range of reasons, people like me can feel left out. We will then define others as problems. Usually we are not sophisticated enough to free ourselves of our own broken assumptions. This means others have to be continually attentive and willing to do the work to bring someone like me back into the flow of positive organizing. Positive organizing requires the kind of caring that is only given by real leaders.


When have I seen positive organizing in a family?

How often do unengaged people define others as problems?

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

The $110,000 Slide

I often begin presentations with a particular Power Point slide. I call it my $110,000 slide. At Michigan we have a three week program for top executives. We charge $110,000 for the three week experience. The participants are exposed to many professors who make many presentations. Near the end we ask the participants to each make a presentation of their future action agenda based on what they learned in the program. We tell them they are free to use any slide from any presentation. As they make their presentations most employ the $110,000 slide.

What does the slide say? On one side of the slide is a visual with a map inside the mind of a person. On the other is a quote: “If leaders cannot change individual’s mental maps, they will not change the destinations people pursue or the paths they take to get there (Black and Gregersen, 2003).”

I ask participants to restate the sentence in their own words. They explain to me that people in organizations make assumptions and their behavior follows their assumptions. So, if you cannot change the assumptions they make, that is, their mental maps, then their behavior will not change and any proposed innovation will fail.

I click a button and a statement from Peter Drucker shows up. It reads, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

As we talk about the final sentence it becomes clear that mental maps are the essence of organizational culture. Executives tend to spend their time analyzing problems and formulating strategies. They spend little time thinking effectively about cultural change.

The participants are experienced enough to know the power of culture. I, nevertheless, push the point. I make the claim that most executives, including CEOs, do not know how to change culture and that most executives are therefore not leaders. This rankles and the senior executives want to push back.  I drown them with examples of failed change efforts. Finally I ask them to examine their own experiences in culture change. The point becomes irrefutable and we spend the rest of the time talking about how to do cultural change.  In the end they see so much value in the discussion that they include the slide in nearly every presentation.


What is a mental map?

Why does culture eat strategy?

What mental maps keep us from making successful change?

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


Leadership begins with the transcendence of the conventional mental map.  Leadership is not a job, it is a calling.  It means that a person is willing to go beyond convention for the good of the whole.  The leader embodies the purpose.  The leader reinforces the purpose in every interaction.  This gives rise to positive organizing.  The process of positive organizing is a process of action.  When purpose moves people to action, they become more motivated.  They learn and grow, and they often exceed expectations.

The Positive Organization (p. 41)

If you Hear the Music, you can Change the Dance

I once listened to a talk by a man named Wilford W. Andersen. In it he told a story that helps me think about changing.   He spoke of an episode that transpired on an Indian reservation.  An old man entered the office of a doctor.  The doctor asked the old man how he could help.  The response was silence.  The frustrated doctor tried again.  Finally the old man asked, “Do you dance?”

The doctor concluded that the reticent visitor must be a tribal medicine man who used music and dance to heal.  After a moment the wise doctor asked, “Can you teach me to dance?

The old man said, “I can teach you to dance, but you have to hear the music.

”When I was a teenager I went to many dances.  The quality of the music I heard had much to do with how I danced.  Sometimes in the middle of a dance people would complain and the DJ would change the music.  The enthusiasm for dancing would suddenly peak.

In organizations the analogy holds.  Researchers speak of the organizational effectiveness value chain. The chain unfolds in the following sequence: Leadership values – leadership behaviors – organizational culture – organizational climate – employee engagement – employee performance.

In organizations the dance is found at the end of the chain. Managers focus on the dance of employee performance and they try to get people to do the right steps.  They teach the steps, observe the steps, measure the steps and correct the steps.

Yet the people dance without enthusiasm.  Today over 70% of the workforce is unengaged and over 50% of the managers are unengaged.  People at work go through the motions in order to get a paycheck.  In most organizations the dance is conventional, normal or mediocre and managers do not know how to change the music.

Some careful observers would respond that the music is the culture. Conventional cultures are ultimately driven by assumptions that we all share. The shared assumptions act like an invisible set of governing rules. Here are some conventional assumptions. The people in organizations are self-interested and seek to minimize personal costs, they feel fear, prefer the status quo, stay in their roles, speak in politically correct ways, fail to see opportunities, compete for resources, experience conflict, deny feedback, fail to learn, under perform and personally stagnate.

These widely shared beliefs are self-reinforcing. A manager who makes these assumptions will act on them and thus reproduce them.   The conventional culture is self-reinforcing and continually regressing towards mediocrity. Most of us feel nothing can be done about it.

In the positive organization it is assumed that the people will embrace the common good, make spontaneous contributions, feel confident, seek growth, overcome constraints, expand their roles, express authentic voice, seize new opportunities, build social networks, nurture high quality connections embrace feedback and exceed expectations, learn and flourish. This culture is also self-reinforcing but the self-reinforcing cycle is moving up rather than down. It produces a different dance in which everyone is getting better.

The argument that the culture determines the dance is correct but it fails to note something very important. The culture emanates from a more basic place in the value chain. Leadership behaviors emanate from leadership values. When a leader reduces hypocrisy and better lives his or her values, they tend to transcend their own ego and their self-interest becomes the collective interest. In this more ideal state they radiate increased moral power and they communicate with increased authenticity. Researchers recognize this fact and they refer to the power of people in this state as idealized influence.

The music of positive organizing originates from the human conscience. It is the music of leadership and change. When we align with it, we begin to pursue the highest good. As our bodies move in new ways, others begin to move with us and soon the organization is dancing as it never danced before.

One interesting thing about this claim is that it reverses conventional logic. In the Western World we think of leadership in terms of knowing and doing. The task is to know more and do better. Managers tell employees how they should change their behavior and executives tell managers how to change their behavior. The emphasis is always on the dance.

I fall into this trap regularly. I get caught up in my ego and I become so anxious to impress that I tightly embrace the expert role. I expect others to change because I have authority, I give rational explanations and tell them how to move their feet. While I am watching, they sometimes try but seldom with enthusiasm.

The positive perspective is not soft. In it accountability is astronomical. All failures in others trace back to failures in us. Leadership begins with changing the being state of the leader. It is about self-change, transcending the ego and pursuing the higher good. It is about continually becoming a better person with more and more idealized influence. It is about using that idealized influence to attract people to the co-creation of an emerging future. It is about building trust while constantly challenging their existing assumptions so they can hear the new music. Such a system is an integrated learning organization where people can flourish and exceed expectations.

When I hear the music of the highest good and I begin to move my body to it, I get energized and the people around me get curious. Soon they hear the music and their bodies begin to move in new ways. The great discovery is that the leader does not create the music. It is already there and it is always changing. The leader’s job is to hear the music and dance to it. When I do, some of the other people hear the music and the organization begins to move in a new way.


What music am I hearing?

How enthusiastic is my dance?

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

Way Finding: Learning from Maori Traditions

There is a woman named Chelli Spiller who focuses on the wisdom traditions of indigenous people.  She says that in the Maori culture the perspective on purpose is multidimensional.  It includes the spiritual, social, cultural, environmental and economic well being of the enterprise and leadership includes wisdom, selflessness, humility, purpose, action, awareness, and learning.

One of the things she studies is how Polynesians were able to navigate the ocean without any of the Western technologies.  She speaks of the Maori navigator as the “way finder.”  The way finder assumes that the canoe is stationary and the world is moving past.   The challenge is to be “still” and ponder the various signals in the natural context.  The island is “pulled” forward to the canoe.

These notions seem very strange. Yet they bring to mind an experience worthy of reflection.

I was doing a workshop on vision.  One of the participants said that a vision is a future state that already exists. This sentence seemed contradictory. How can the future already exist?  According to my left-brain logic, the present and future are two different categories.  The future cannot already exist.

As I wrestled with the contradiction, a retired entrepreneur spoke up and enthusiastically supported what the first man said.  “Once you see the vision, you become passionate about it and you cannot stop working on it. You become totally committed and everything changes.”

I recalled my own previous experiences working with this second man. He so believed in his vision it gave purpose to all he did. I watched him build his organization with passion.  He had extraordinary influence. When he spoke, people listened and willingly devoted themselves to the pursuit of the vision. He did not force them. He declared the vision with such confidence and selflessness that everyone seemed to be able to see it.

Once they did see it they began to extend themselves, moving forward, taking risks and learning from experience.  The learning was not hoarded. They shared and did sense making together.  As they thus moved forward, the future was being co-created in the present because the people were unified in a system of growing, collective intelligence.

In such an organization the people feel themselves moving towards spiritual, social, cultural, environmental and economic well-being.  As they do, they all become “way finders” and they collectively “pull” the future to their organizational canoe.  It all begins when one “way finder” becomes totally committed to a desired future, then everything changes.

A leader is able to imbue people with a sense of purpose.  She lights the spark of hope in those around her and helps people to “see” possibility.  I invite you to embrace the Maori notion of way finding.

(This blog is the positive passage included in my July Newsletter.  If you haven’t already subscribed, you can find it here: )