I think we almost never entertain the countercultural question, “What do I love about me?”  When we answer it, when we become aware of our own positive core, appreciation escalates, hope grows, and courage expands.  We see our real self and thus experience increased humility, real humility.  In encountering our best self, we encounter the creative force that energizes the universe.

When we love ourselves in the positive sense I am exploring here, others are then more attracted to us.  They trust us.  And often this trust is something they can’t even define.  They want to join with us in the pursuit of meaningful purpose.  When trusting relationship is joined with meaningful purpose, relationships, groups, or organizations become more willing to sacrifice for the newly envisioned future.  They feel empowered and empowering because they are no longer locked into their problems.  They are more ready to pursue the results they want to create.

(Letters to Garrett, p. 64)

The Dance of Positive Deviants

A member of the business school staff sent me a list of quotes she liked. Three of them particularly caught my attention.

  • It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are (E.E. Cummings).
  • Radical self-care is quantum, and radiates out into the atmosphere, like a little fresh air. It is a huge gift to the world (Ann Lamont).
  • The world is changed by your example, not your opinion (Paulo Coelho).

The first quote raises this question; Why does it take courage to grow up and become the real me? Whatever culture I operate in is biased towards self-perpetuation. The culture functions to bring about my mindless conformity. The real me is the best, most conscious me. It is the new me that emerges when I am pursuing my highest purpose. When I am realizing my highest purpose I become aware of how the culture constrains human potential and how it could better elevate human potential. If I bring an authentic voice to my increasing awareness it I become a call to growth. The first, knee jerk, collective reaction is to neutralize my voice. Negative peer pressure seeks to silence me. Since I intuitively know and anticipate this adversity, I tend to live fearfully. In fear I do not enact my best self or express the voice of authentic influence. When I live in fear I conspire in the diminishment of myself and of the culture that holds me. Everyone loses while denying that they are losing.

The second quote raises this question; What is radical self-care? Radical usually means fundamental or extreme. It can also mean return to the root, as in the case of the radical sign in mathematics. We usually return to the root of the self when driven there by adversity. In the face of our greatest challenges we make a pleasant discovery. We are not diabolical or doomed. We are inherently good and full of potential. When we courageously pursue the highest good, our own goodness is realized and spread. Every time we make this discovery we make a radical or quantum change. Self-care is often seen as egotism. When we return to the root of the self we discover that self is a relational phenomenon and that the highest form of self-care is contributing our greatest strengths to the relational whole. When we realize this, we become willing to sacrifice for the common good. When we engage in radical self-care, egotism dissolves into love and we “give a huge gift to the world,” it is the realization and expression of our best self.

The third quote raises this question; Why is example more influential than opinion? My opinion is a reflection of my mind and I may or may not believe what I say. What I do is a reflection of my commitment. What I do is a revelator of what I most feel. What we do signals what we feel. Humans not only radiate feelings they detect the feelings being radiated from others. As I act from fear or from courage others note it and tend to reflect my fear or my courage. Thus what I radiate flows back to me and reinforces my fear or my courage. People are most influenced by my example. When I enact my best self, I invite them to enact their best self. A new dance emerges. This dance of the positive deviants reverses the spin of social determinism. Instead of being constrained by the culture, a few people begin to challenge, shape and renew the culture. This is why transformational leaders are so aware of their own integrity. They know that trust is the currency of transformation and that living their highest values is the ultimate lever of leadership.

The conventional administrator will take a flawed path to organizational change. To turn a culture more positive someone must have the courage to embrace their best self and express their most authentic voice. Doing this changes the music and invites a few others to deviate and dance in more positive ways. As the dance spreads the culture begins to transform itself.


When have I engaged in radical self-care?

When have I caused others to dance in a new way?

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

Generalized Reciprocity

Wayne Baker does research on and teaches a topic called generalized reciprocity. It basically means giving to the whole and assuming that life will pay us back. He tells the story of a woman who listened and took the concept seriously. She was a loan officer named Janet.

“Janet’s job was to make loans, and she was evaluated on the volume of loans she produced. One day she experienced a shift of perspective. She stopped trying to make loans and started trying to help. Instead of looking at the person across the desk from her as a loan to be made, Janet saw the person as someone with needs that she might be able to satisfy.

If she thought they didn’t need a loan, she would tell them so, even if they qualified for one according to her bank’s rules. If she thought her potential customers could do better by getting a loan at a competitor’s bank, she would give them the name of a loan offer at the bank. Eventually she engaged potential customers in a broad conversation about their lives, families, and needs, and then worked hard to help them, no matter what kind of help they needed.

She even began the practice of sharing cab rides with strangers, just so she could strike up a conversation and see if there was some way she could assist them. What happened? All she helped were so grateful that they did everything they could to help her. Even if they didn’t get a loan at her bank, they would recommend Janet to all of their friends, family, neighbors, business associates, colleagues, and just about anyone else.

The result was an explosion in Janet’s loan productivity. She made more loans – and made more money – than ever before. She had become extraordinarily successful by taking herself out of the equation and helping others without regard to how it might help her.

In the positive organization people engage in generalized reciprocity. The process is hard to understand because it is outside conventional norms. Understanding and practicing it is a source of great power. (Quinn and Quinn, Lift: pg. 154-155)


What do I believe about generalized reciprocity?

How could I implement this concept?

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

Proactive Leadership and The Founding Fathers

One of my colleagues presented in our lecture series at the Center for Positive Organizations.  He is a lawyer and he is involved in a movement to promote the practice of proactive law.  The practice of law tends to be inherently reactive and lawyers tend to let people know what they cannot do.  He shared many exciting ideas from his research.  He helped us see how law might become a more proactive function in the corporate world.  We were all impressed.

That night I watched some of the PBS series on John Adams who was a lawyer.  It depicted the Continental Congress.  In the early phases the representatives were trying to solve the problem of how to react to the tyranny of King George.  As they moved forward something important happened.  They began to envision a form of government that no one had ever seen before.  As they shifted their focus from their well-founded fears of retaliation and death, to the grand purpose of freedom for all men everywhere, they increased in unity and resolve.  It was striking to me.

Most of us seek after our self-interested survival and in doing so we proceed to undermine the unity of the group or team.  We are programed to operate in the normal assumptions of political self-interest, but it is possible to choose to move to a more proactive state.   This move usually invites others to that state as well.

We do this by first clarifying the highest collective purpose.  Doing this provides a value-based attractor, an image worthy of investment.  I am grateful for my colleague, I am grateful for the work of the founding fathers, and I am grateful for all of the leaders I have been associated with who inspire me, and remind me to act and not be acted upon.

Don’t Diminish Your Potential

There is a movie called The Help.  It is about the condition of African American women in the 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi.   The women are all housemaids.  The depiction of the everyday racism is jolting.  The women are trapped in a hopeless system.

At the risk of extreme punishment, the maids are asked by an author to tell their stories.   To do so means certain punishment.  As events unfold the women find the courage to tell their stories.  Their stories are published and become a part of the culture of the Civil Rights Movement.

Their circumstances do not improve, but, because they exercised courage and told their stories, their lives are filled with increased meaning.  They feel they are part of something bigger than themselves.  They can therefore better endure their lot in life.

I am reminded of a sentence from Parker Palmer: “The greatest punishment we can inflict on ourselves is to conspire in the diminishment of our own potential.”

We cannot compare the experience of the maids to our own lives, and yet like the maids there are times when we too feel full of fear.  When we feel this fear we “conspire in the diminishment of our own potential.”

We can learn how to engage in our own self-elevation. This does not happen through anger, resistance and rebellion. It happens through internal work. As we clarify our deepest purpose, increase our integrity and authenticity, orient to the needs of others and find ways to co-create a better future, we change and so does our context. We begin to grow in self-respect and we recognize the expansion of our own potential. This kind of courageous work creates a new life story, one that is worth living and worth telling. We become more empowered and more empowering to our community.

Gratitude and Self Change

Gratitude has been called the parent of all virtues. Observing good alters the observer in many ways.  One way is that the observer stops seeing the other people as objects the observer is free to judge and act upon.  The observer instead takes a “growth mindset” and sees the observed relationship, team or organization as a living organism trying to adapt, survive or even flourish.

If the organization we observe is not a technical system but a human system, then the organization becomes the process of life itself. In an appreciative perspective we realize that we cannot successfully act upon an organization. We have to act with it. As we become aware that the organization is an extension of ourselves, we can make a powerful discovery. We can best change the organization by changing ourselves. By enacting a better version of ourselves we attract the people to a higher level of functioning.

Principle and the Process of Rebirth

A rebirth is a fresh view, renaissance, re-awaking, revival, return, resurgence, or a new start. I met with a man from another country. We talked about his vision for changing business education in his country. Near the end of the conversation he paused. I could see him making a big decision. He was deciding if he should share what he was really feeling.

He said he wanted to tell me a story. He was once in a top leadership role in a major corporation. He took an ethical stand on a given issue and it became a source of conflict. He soon received a severance offer of six million dollars. Taking it was the logical thing to do.

He pondered the offer then he decided not to take it, to stay and fight. He said the moment he decided to live by principle, his life changed dramatically and forever. He spent the next five years in a lonely legal battle with the corporation that was now accusing him of wrong doing. He eventually cleared his name but it cost him many hundreds of thousands in legal fees. Later the men he fought found themselves in serious difficulty over the issue in question. One called to apologize.

My visitor said, “I regularly flew to big cities, was picked up in limos, went to important meetings, stayed in five star hotels, and ate at great restaurants. It was an ego trap and I fell in. When you live that kind of life you begin to believe you are important and you lose touch with reality. The five years were lonely and painful but I became clear about what matters most. I want to make a fundamental difference in the world. I want to transform my country. I want all students in my country to discover what self-leadership is and why it matters. I want to connect them up so they can spread self-leadership to everyone they meet.”

This man made a fundamental life decision to live by principle in a difficult situation. Whenever we choose to live by principle the decision immediately changes the world and the evolving interaction with that changing world changes us. We go on a journey that takes us through deep darkness and eventually back into the light. In the process we are enlightened. We experience a rebirth, a fresh view, renaissance, re-awaking, revival, return, resurgence, or a new start. Our new self is a more empowered self, and we desire to use our power to empower the people in our community. I am grateful for the story of my visitor. It is the basic story of those who become transformational leaders.


Science, Love and the Work of Self-Elevation

We had a visitor who gave a lecture on love.  It was an impressive analysis of existing research.  At one point she explained that in meaningful conversations two people may begin to mimic each other.  Their behaviors become linked in a dance like pattern.  This is called synchrony.  When synchrony occurs it increases the generation of oxytocin in the brain, which creates feelings of love.  She indicated that when two people are really attuned, speaking and listening deeply their brains also begin to function in the same way (neural synchrony).  She put up a picture of Mr. Spock and said, “It is like a mini mind meld.”  The two people become linked in such a way that they are increasing each others positive feelings.  They are putting each other in an upward spiral.

Her perspective suggests that love is a dynamic process.  She closed with an interesting thought.  She said, “love is like bread, it has to be made anew over and over again.”

The image of continually making fresh bread challenges the notion of “falling” in love.  It suggests that I will experience more relationships of love as I do the work of lifting myself, of making myself new or fresh or more conscious. When we do the work of self-elevation, when we enact our best self, we find that we have a self that we can more easily love. When we love our self, in this high sense, our ego needs fall away and we find the capacity to more fully love others.  We don’t often think about the concept of love in connection with our co-workers.  Imagine how our work experience might change if we did.

Become a Positive Deviant

Recently we had a long road trip so we listened to an audio book.  The title is American Story: A Lifetime Search for Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things. The author is Bob Dotson who spent 40 years working for the Today Show on NBC and searching America for stories of people doing good things.  In the book he shares one inspiring story after another.  The characters are very normal people, grandmothers, truck drivers, policemen and so on.  Most find a higher purpose and then they become positive deviants, people who deviate from the norm so as to contribute in positive ways.

A grandmother is left with a crack baby and ends up taking in hundreds of crack babies.  She learns how to help both the babies and the mothers change their lives.  A truck driver gets a job cleaning a lab and begins inventing better surgical tools.  He ends up teaching doctors how to do surgery.  A policeman works in a hospital in a ward with children who are going to die.  He hold conversations, learns their dreams, and ends up raising money for one child after another to visit the ocean, to go to Disney World, or to have some other desired experience before passing away.

The stories go on and on.  As I listened, an old proverb returned to me, “Bloom where you are planted.”  That is what these people seemed to do.  Often they took a challenging or even negative situation, that someone else might seek to avoid, and they transformed it so that positive things began to emerge.  As a listener I was particularly taken by the fact that everyone has the potential to make a positive difference in the world.  I was struck by the importance of playing a role that might help more people to become positive deviants.  Such a role is worth pursuing and I am grateful for the reminder to not only become a positive deviant, but to also nurture positive deviance.

Finding Your Best Self

The self is not a thing but an unfolding process.  We are energized when we are learning and progressing, and we begin psychologically to die when we allow ourselves to stagnate.  That is where we encounter the process of slow death.

Relationships often play a key role.  We have our greatest sense of joy and meaning when we connect with others in mutually enhancing ways.  When we are disempowered, when we choose “peace and pay,” we do not create or attract mutually enhancing relationships.  We are left to ourselves, depleted, tired, and disempowered.
If decay begins when we choose to stop growing, why do we ever stop?  The answer is that there are times when we cannot “unify the flow of experience into a coherent narrative.”  These are the times when we lose our sense of self and our inaction causes us to stagnate.  Like the resistant boy on the playground, we are tightly gripping our swing and cannot let go.  Our internal voice tells us to do something, to move on, to engage the unknown, but our courage fails.  We remind ourselves how much we value the pleasure we derive from the swing, and we tighten our grip.
The swing might represent any pattern of old and comfortable behavior – a job, a habit, a relationship, or any other pattern.  The present self is very tied to this established pattern.  We sense that without the pattern, the self would no longer exist.

The truth, is that the self will exist no matter what we do, but our unfolding best self will only exist when we let go of the established pattern and learn our way forward.