Transcending Stress

As individuals we may need to cope with physical illness, the death of a loved one, divorce, abusive treatment, burnout, job loss or other life demands. In organizations we may need to cope with recession, new competitors, regulatory changes, evolving customer preferences and many other such challenges. When these storms hit stress goes up. One way to cope is to self-elevate by entering the fundamental state of leadership.

The essence of the fundamental state of leadership is that answering the following four questions leads to self-transcendence. It puts us in an increased state of virtue, centers us, and increases our influence.

What result do I want to create (Increased sense of purpose)?

Am I internally directed (Increased integrity)?

Am I other focused (Increased empathy)?

Am I externally open (Increased humility)?

I received a message from a person who read my article about the fundamental state of leadership ( (See also the book, Lift: the Fundamental State of Leadership.)

Years ago, after an injury, she indicates that she engaged the “path to insight.” She learned much about who she is. The article about the fundamental state of leadership came to her at a time of challenge. She was not sure she understood it. In the midst of the challenge, someone commented on how calm she seemed. Suddenly she had a realization. She was calm because on the “path to insight” she had learned how to transform in the face of stress. As she pondered this, she realized she already knew how to enter the fundamental state of leadership. Whenever she self-elevates, stress disappears.


  • Why does leadership start within?
  • What happens when we are stressed?
  • What happens to the mind and heart if we have a sudden increase in purpose, integrity, empathy, and humility?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

Excellence and Customer Loyalty

A recent blog stated, “While we tend to learn from failure, the positive perspective invites us to identify and ponder manifestations of excellence.” Responding to this line, a relative wrote and shared an experience.

A few years ago a county official decided to try and eliminate competition in the garbage pick-up business. He did this by deciding that only one garbage pickup company could service our county. It was not the garbage service I used. My garbage man regularly would go above and beyond his job. When I forgot to take out my garbage can, he would get out of his truck, walk up my driveway, pull my can out to the road, get back in his truck and dump it. Who does that? When I got the letter that the county was trying to eliminate them from our area I acted. I am not normally one to write letters and sign petitions, but because my garbage man cared enough about giving excellent customer service I could not sit by and not take action. I, along with many others wrote the letters, signed petitions and in the end won the battle. I would not have engaged in this if it had not been for my garbage man going the extra mile to take care of his customer. The garbage man showed positive leadership in taking care of his customers and that helped save his company.

Most learning comes from failure. The positive lens opens an additional possibility. I often state, “If it is real, it is possible.” This means that if we look for and appreciate existing forms of excellence, we can present the excellence we observe and ask others to ponder, not only the “reality of constraint,” but also the “reality of possibility.” This shifts the focus and opens new possibilities.


  • How loyal are our customers or clients?
  • How do our first-line people compare to the garbage collector?
  • In relating to our first-line people do we act like the garbage collector?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?



When Does Future Determine the Present?

Occasionally an experience brings me up short. I was in a meeting focused on vision formulation. In previous meetings we prepared for this one. Each session was inspiring. These people were clearly talented and sincere, they wanted a real vision. Now we were very near to the actual specification of the vision. I asked each person to reflect on our previous insights and the possible future. Then I invited them to share their key impressions.

To my surprise, each person spoke of some logistical problem that had to be solved in order to move forward. Each point was legitimate but the exploration was now off track. If I allowed them to continue, they would have created a series of problem solving strategies. There would be no vision of an alternative future. The organization would continue to do what it had been doing. We made adjustments and progressed nicely. Yet I continually return to the experience. It was a potent illustration of the natural tendency in each of us. Based on much research, social scientists assume that people are path dependent. Here is an explanation:

Path dependence is the idea that decisions we are faced with depend on past knowledge trajectory and decisions made, and are thus limited by the current competence base. In other words, history matters for current decision-making situations and has a strong influence on strategic planning (Financial Times Lexicon).

According to this assumption, people tend to be reactive and the present tends to be determined by the past. Reliance on existing knowledge and current competencies leads us to favor knowing over learning, and compliance over creation. Our strategic vision and planning is often reactive rather than strategic.

I often ask, “When does the future determine the present?”

The answer is, when we have a purpose to which we are truly committed. When we imagine and commit to a desired future, the desired future begins to determine what we do in the present. When we wed a future, we break with convention. We begin to engage in unconventional actions and a new future begins to emerge. When we are purpose driven we are still influenced by our past but we are no longer prisoners. We integrate knowledge with desire and it takes us off the path of least resistance. We move from problem solving to purpose finding. This gives rise to learning and creation.


  • In your life, how much time do you spend solving problems and how much time clarifying your highest purpose? What is your highest purpose?
  • In your unit, what is your highest purpose?
  • In your unit, when did you last engage in purpose driven, unconventional actions?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

Gratitude Journals & Conversations

An associate recently shared a simple life experience. It has significant implications. Please analyze his account.

Yesterday morning at work, I was feeling pretty flat.  I went down to the gym a little early, thinking a quick workout would help me face the rest of the day.  A colleague walked in and said a cheery hello.  I responded, and I could hear the lack of enthusiasm in my voice.  In my mind I was thinking, “I just need to finish my work out and get out of here.”

But the gratitude entry I wrote yesterday about listening to others came to mind, and that made me more open to what my colleague might say.  We ended up having a really great conversation as we both did our workouts, and I shared with her a concern I had about my work.  She said a couple of things that helped me unlock concerns I had about a meeting I had to attend later.  Near the end of our conversation, I discovered my colleague had recently started keeping a gratitude journal, and she was effusive about its effects.  I shared with her how important it has been to me to keep a gratitude journal as well.

With a renewed sense of peace, I said, “This has been a great conversation.  I’m glad you walked in when you did.  I have to go to a meeting now.  I was dreading it, but I’m not anymore.  Thank you.”  The meeting and the rest of my workday went well.



  • Given his initial feeling what caused a great conversation to emerge?
  • How did what he wrote the previous day influence his new day?
  • How did the conversation alter his future?
  • How can we use this passage to create a more positive organization?



Envisioning the Essential Transformation

This year many baseball fans were impressed by the fact that forty-five year-old Bartolo Colon was still pitching and having success. When he was a rookie he dominated batters by throwing his fastball with extraordinary speed. Now he has success despite a surprising fact. His fastball is the second slowest in the big leagues. Yet he throws the fastball 82.3% of the time, more than any other pitcher. By all normal logic, constantly throwing a slow fastball should result in disaster. He succeeds not because of speed, but because of precise command. He puts the ball exactly where he wants it, the place of greatest weakness for each individual batter.

In an interview, Pedro Martinez, a retired pitcher of great success, commented on Colon’s transformation and continued success. He said the change represents a shift away from “pride.”   It is a shift from relying on “dominance” to relying on “wisdom.” Martinez indicated that such a change is difficult and many are unable to make it.

The observation translates well to leadership. Most managers try to get things done through the assumptions of authority and hierarchical leverage. The orientation assumes dominance and derives from pride. It is difficult for a manager to transform into a leader. A leader does not operate out of pride or authority. A positive leader gains the wisdom to live selflessly and influence without authority. If is a shift few can make. Yet those who do, experience outcomes that others do not.



  • Who in your unit is a manager and who is a leader?
  • What would happen to the organization, if all the managers became wise and turned into leaders?
  • What unusual strategy could bring about this unusual transformation?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

Writing & Marketing a Great Book: A Radical Perspective on Who We Really Are

Screen Shot 2018-07-30 at 9.25.28 AMMarketing makes my skin crawl.  For years my editor, Steve Peirsanti of Berrett-Koehler, has pushed me to attend his company’s workshop for authors.  This year it was being held where I live, excuses were hard to come by, and guilt drove me to attend.  I walked out of the conference with a surprising discovery.  The discovery helps me understand what we are doing on this planet.

The content of the presentations tended to be about best practices and social media.  People spoke of those acts that, when taken, will sell books.  I listened and I wrote down about 25 useful practices.  These were valuable.  As people presented, however, I listened for a deeper message, identified occasional bits, and integrated them into a larger picture.

For me the presentations fell into two camps.  Some speakers had a message that went like this: “I broke the code by changing my perspective and made lots of money by selling myself in the following way.”  Others also spoke of breaking the code, but they had a different message.  It was not such an obvious message; I had to piece it together.  Here are the sound bites I wrote in my notebook:

How to Succeed in Social Media

  • In social media selling does not work, service does
  • Put yourself in the background
  • Remove yourself from your marketing
  • Do not promote yourself, share value
  • Know where you want to show up
  • Serve the people in your lane
  • Be curious
  • Practice empathy for your audience
  • Find out what keeps them up at night
  • Help them with their deepest needs
  • Link your core message to their needs
  • Make sure the core message is authentic
  • Continually refresh your core message
  • Give them inspiration
  • Share your stories
  • Seek out influencers and help them to help others
  • Help the influencers get their message out
  • At the end of your message, give them a place to go for help other than you
  • When you become a true servant, resources will flow to you


A Basic Need

The list reminds me of a basic human need.  I once asked Warren Bennis, the well-known author on leadership, what most drove him when he was young.  He thought for a very long time and then he answered, “I wanted to be heard.”

We all want to be heard because we all want to belong.  We all desire to be valued contributors.  We all want to have a voice, to share a message that makes a difference.  Some of us are shot down in childhood and become convinced we will never have a voice.  After that, we claim we do not desire to be heard.  Some of us recover and pursue the yearning, which leads us to write an article, start a blog, or even write a book.  In the process, the need to be heard transforms into the need for fame and wealth.  Ego reigns.  Ego blinds.  Ego makes our message conventional.

In terms of fame and wealth, the book is basically dead; it is a low probability option.  Today, even some of the most recognized authors publish potent messages but sell very few volumes.  The internet means anyone can publish.  While the likelihood of being heard is still low, you can put your words out there.  All over social media, we see weak messages and vain efforts to be heard.


An Unnatural Jump    

What I took away from the conference was a new recognition of a very old concept.  If we want to be heard, we have to have a unique and universal message. We are most unique when we know and reveal who we really are.  Surprisingly, we are also most universal when we know and reveal who we really are.

It is when we know who we really are that we find the courage to reveal who we really are.  The courage comes from love.  When we discover who we really are, we encounter an evolving, contributing self we can love.  When we do that, ego goals give way to contribution goals.  We love our audience.  We want them to have what we found.

We can do this without a book.  We can have a deeply thoughtful strategy and simply use the internet to serve others.  If we do, we will be heard.  If we are heard, resources will naturally flow back to us.  The key is the unnatural jump from ego to contribution.


The Book

So what is the value of writing a book?  First and foremost, it is a discipline for knowing self and clarifying our most authentic voice.  Getting a proposal through the front door of a publisher is a challenge, and pursuing the proposal until they accept means we believe enough to be resilient.  Resilience automatically brings learning form unusual experience.  We are putting our message out there and getting feedback.  If we are living in purpose over ego, we take the feedback and we grow.  If we quit, it means ego has killed our faith in learning.  We enter the fixed mindset.

Getting the proposal accepted means some professional sees our message as having potential.  That is a temporary affirmation.  The next step is producing the manuscript.  Writing for a truly demanding editor means we are getting an even more intense form of feedback.  Our every sentence is challenged.  As we respond and we rewrite, our words increase in power, in clarity, in authenticity, and in value.  This requires constant clarification of our highest purpose and the constant reigning in of our ego.  Finally publishing the book is a joyful, personal landmark, soon followed by disappointment when sales are less than than imagined.

So what is the payoff?  The payoff is the new relationships we forge with our reading audience. In finding an audience, we find our people.  Once we reach them, we can nurture the relationship and make the effort to better understand and to better serve them.  We can do this through the internet, through speaking events, and through writing still another book, perhaps to only a slightly larger audience.  If we stay constant, as the cycle repeats, we discover more about who we really are and how we can best serve our people.


The Capstone Moment 

At the end of the conference, I shared some of this with the woman sitting next to me.  Her name was La’Wana.  She has a corporate position and she is also an author.  She turned on her laptop and told me she wanted me to see her life mission.  She opened to a beautiful page with the following words, “I am called to live my life as a distribution center, not a storage facility.”

It was as if she opened a curtain and let the sun envelop me.  I had a series of thoughts.  First, maybe everyone should write a book.  Then came the realization: everyone is writing a book.  With every act and with every word, we are producing our message which may or may not be heard.  As I walked out of the conference, I asked myself, “How can I best help everyone write a great book?”  And it occurred to me: maybe I can get into marketing after all.



  • How is authorship the same as leadership?
  • Who are the people in our organization who successfully author positive change?
  • How can we spread their excellence?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

New Blog Design

cropped-dreamstime_m_945842342.jpgYou may have noticed that the design of this blog has changed.  I wanted to share a few thoughts about why and ask for your thoughts and response to the change.
I recently attended an authors’ conference in DC hosted by my publisher, Berrett-Koehler.  I left that conference inspired in many ways.  You can read more about that in a blog I will publish later this week.  One of the things that struck me is that I should increase my efforts to center my decisions, my writing, and my actions around my purpose.  My purpose is to inspire positive change.
When it comes to art, I am most unsophisticated, but every now and then I encounter an image that holds my attention.  When I first encountered the above image I was attracted by the colors.  Then I noticed that the image was a person’s head.  As I put these two thoughts together, I imagined a mind that was being inspired, that was seeing in a new way and was therefore able to do new things.  For me, this image captured the notion of inspiring positive change.  I hope that it will help to remind me of my purpose and that it might also inspire you to make positive change and inspire it in others.
As your read future entries on this blog, it is my hope that you read with both your heart and mind and that the words inspire in you the desire to inspire positive change in others.
I’d love to hear what you think about the image, the design change and/or any other thoughts you have on inspiring positive change.  I am grateful for all the comments and ideas you have shared with me in the past.

HBR IdeaCast: Turning Purpose into Performance

1077 JulAug18 Cover.inddOn June 22nd, I posted about the cover story on HBR that I wrote with Anjan Thakor about the economics of higher purpose.  We were thrilled to be invited by the HBR IdeaCast group to participate in a podcast on the subject.  The most compelling part of our podcast is hearing the CEO of DTE Energy, Gerry Anderson, share his story of how purpose turned around and saved his company.  His commitment to purpose is inspiring.

The podcast is titled, “Turning Purpose Into Performance.

Higher Purpose & Authentic Decisions

REI is an outdoor recreation company based in Seattle. Their mission orbits around this statement, “being outside makes our lives better.” In 2015, their CEO announced that they would close their 143 stores on Black Friday, the biggest retail day of the year. He indicated that the company would pay employees for the day, and he invited customers to also spend the day outside. This, of course, is economic madness. You do not close all your stores and pay your employees to not work on the busiest day of the year.

Yet there were some gains. REI had a 10% increase in online traffic on Thanksgiving and 26% increase on Black Friday. Customers were apparently more interested in the company and they were spending longer on the website. REI was becoming better known as a company worth dealing with. I doubt, however, that the increase in online traffic or image was the objective of the decision. I believe the real objective was to get people outside.

In a company that has an authentic higher purpose, all decisions are arbitrated by the purpose. This leads the company to principle driven, rather than expedient, decisions. The organization therefore does hard things and doing hard things leads to new internal and external capacities.

Internally the employees get value beyond the paycheck. In an organization of higher purpose, the culture is proactive rather than reactive. So there is more confidence and less fear. Employees have a clearer vision of what drives decisions and this clarity allows them to make their own courageous decisions at the lowest levels. In such an organization there is more understanding, trust, commitment, engagement, collaboration and learning. It is an empowering environment.

Externally, customers begin to see the company as operating beyond conventional logic. This creates interest, exploration, and learning. Customers perceive they are obtaining added value by dealing with a company of authentic leadership, authentic employees, authentic brand and authentic products.

Purpose driven organizations have to deliver the same basics as others, yet they do so in a different way.   An organization with an authentic culture is attractive to employees, customers and suppliers. Resources flow to the attractive culture.



  • What is the highest purpose of your unit?
  • What authentic decisions have differentiated your unit from others?
  • How authentic is your culture and what unique resources are attracted?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

Seeing the Dynamic Whole

Recently a person of authority confessed that he has never understood vision. Another said, “I do not see the whole, I cannot envision strategic actions that will move the whole.”

In nearly every discipline we are trained to see and analyze technical problems. This tends to be a fixed perspective that assumes knowledge and employs deductive reasoning. This is a good thing. It makes us useful to an organization.

As we move up, however, there is a need to do something more than solve technical problems. We must begin to see and envision strategic actions that will focus, unify and move the human system.

Seeing the whole means recognizing that the parts are interdependent and in constant change. The whole is continually ebbing and flowing. We have to train ourselves and others to see the whole and turn it into a symbiotic system.

This is leadership and it begins with a personal transformation in which we become a symbiotic system. It is often referred to as becoming whole or congruent. When we finally tie the logical mind to the personal conscience in pursuit of the common good, the heart and the mind become symbiotic and we begin to co-create symbiotic systems. When we live in purpose, passion, knowing and learning, we attract others.

This requires operating in four domains. First, we see, expand and elevate the domain of collective action. We identify the collective contribution of the system, the highest purpose that can inspire the commitment of all and focus the action of all.

Second, we see, expand and elevate the moral domain. We identify and inspire the closing of the collective hypocrisy gaps that are normally undiscussable and increase the authenticity of all communication.

Third we see, expand and elevate the emotional domain. We legitimize the reality of feeling and we transform negative emotions into positive emotions so as to enable trust and high quality relationships.

Fourth, we see, expand and elevate the learning domain. We envision the future and legitimize experimentation and adaptation.



  • Who is our organization is a symbiotic whole, an inspiring leader?
  • Who in our organization sees and nurtures the whole social system?
  • How could we collectively see, expand all four domains of our unit?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?