Change Your Assumptions

My wife and I were watching a movie.  The script was poorly written and the acting was not very good.  I complained about it.  My wife replied, “Perhaps we could stop complaining and, instead, look for the positive.”

I was reminded of a story. My son told me about a man who attended a workshop on positive leadership. He had already determined to leave his organization. He knew he no longer wanted to be a manager so he would devote himself to the small company he was building in his free time.   During the workshop the man was exposed to new assumptions about leadership. He was intrigued by the notion that he could engage people in a more positive way. He indicated that he would go back and genuinely try the new ideas.

A few months later my son made a scheduled coaching call. The man was excited to tell of the changes he had made and the extraordinary impacts that followed. He said that his own business has grown but he has no desire to leave the larger company. He was finding too much meaning in his work.

The morning after I watched the movie I was looking outside.  The blind in the window was down leaving only a few inches of viewing space.  I could see some grass and a portion of the pond behind our house.  Suddenly the pond exploded with light.  On the ripples there seemed to be a million sparkling diamonds.  The image was so sudden and so extreme I raised the blind.  The explanation was simple.  Thick clouds had broken open just a bit, allowing the sun to shine down like an immense flashlight on the portion of the pond I was observing.

Conventional assumptions are like the blinds in my window. They limit vision. Most organizations and most people are governed by conventional assumptions. When they are exposed to the assumptions from the science of the positive, they see new opportunities. If they act on them, they create a new reality. In the new reality the organizational pond sparkles. The meaning of life increases.

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Leaders See Possibility

I am often asked, “How do you create a positive organization?”  A friend sent me a book called Timeless Wisdom: Passages for Meditation from the World’s Saints and Sages.  In the introduction the author begins with a parable.  It is a story about an ancient sculptor in India who carves elephants from stone.  One day a king visits and asks the man for the secret of his great artistry.

The sculptor explains that once a large stone is secured, he spends a very long time studying the stone.  He does this with complete concentration and will not allow himself to be distracted.  At first he sees nothing, but the huge rock.  Then, over a long period, he begins to notice something in the substance of the great stone.  It begins with a feeling and turns into a vague impression, a scarcely discernible outline.  As he continues to ponder, with an open eye and an eager heart, the outline intensifies, until the joyful moment when the sculptor sees the elephant inside the rock.  At this moment he sees what no other human can see.  Only when he sees the outline does he begin the months of chiseling.  In doing so, he is always obedient to the revealed outline.  In the process, the sculptor connects with the elephant inside the stone.   He feels the elephant’s desire to come out of the rock and live.  With this emotional awareness the sculptor gains an even more intense singleness of purpose.  He chips away every bit of rock that is not the elephant.  What remains is the elephant (Eswaran, 2008:20).

I love this parable.  It represents the part of leadership that is least understood.  Purpose leads to a search for the possible.  At the beginning there is little hope.  Yet the person of purpose knows to continue in the deep concentration and a vague impression emerges.  Masterful leaders know to attend to impressions.  Openness and attention turn the impression into a vision available to none other.  The visionary becomes the particular future’s only representative in the world.  Disciplined pursuit of the vision stimulates action learning and eventually transformation.   The vision is no longer a concept but a living thing waiting for mortal manifestation.  Love of the emerging future leads to still more disciplined effort until that which could not be seen lives in the present.  The parable explains how to create a positive organization.