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
It is very difficult to maintain the integration of positive opposites. I once did an exercise with two hundred bank executives. I explained the concept of tough love in detail and then asked them to write a paragraph about how they could increase their own level of tough love. When they were done we had ten people read what they had written. In every case, the paragraph contained a plan to become more demanding, tougher. In no case was there any indication of becoming more supportive, more loving.
Why was the “instruction” inadequate? I had informed them about the idea of tough love. Yet when it came to implementing the concept, they could conceive only of being tougher. They had fallen back on the natural tendency to split oppositions instead of creatively holding them.
I had made a mistake. I had tried to change them by altering their minds. Teaching them the concept was not the key. The key was to challenge them and support them in choosing to enter the fundamental state of leadership. I cannot inform people into tough love. I must be the change I want to see. Only then can I invite others into that creative state.
(Building the Bridge as You Walk on It, p. 191)
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)
Over the past twenty years, most organizations have become more tumultuous, creating greater uncertainty for everyone inside them. When uncertainty increases, so does the need for vision. In the face of uncertainty and change, people need a meaning system that allows them to connect and move forward in a productive way. Yet most organizations suffer from a lack of vision.
I remember a visit I made to a large company. A task force composed of the company’s top executives had been given three months to generate a vision statement. I met with the members of this group and I read the nearly completed statement. They asked me what I thought of their vision. I simply responded, “Who is willing to die for this vision?” No one spoke up. My question had surprised them and made them somewhat uncomfortable. Why? Because as a politically segmented group, they had executed an exercise in rational compromise and forged some abstract generalities into a statement to which no one could object. They did not generate a document with power.
(Building the Bridge as you Walk on It, pp. 136)
In sports and in business we readily recognize the need to be tough, but we often fail to see the need for love. Yet love is necessary because a coach, or a leader usually has to transform a group from patterns of self-interested conflict to cohesive, focused effort. A great team, like a great leader, maintains both a tough, disciplined focus on the task and a cohesive set of relationships full of trust and love.
A good example is the story of Pat Riley while coaching the New York Knicks, a basketball team that was riddled with internal competition and composed of warring cliques. The competition between the cliques led the players to define each other negatively and provided justification for more competition between them. They became trapped in a vicious cycle (Riley, 1993).
One day Riley made a tough intervention that transformed the team. He stood up and named the members and characteristics of each clique. Then he had the players rearrange their chairs and sit in their cliques. The exercise was simple but very graphic. Riley was communicating his message at a level that everyone could understand. He was showing them the emergent reality that they were choosing to create but did not want to see.
This kind of feedback usually stimulates anger – and Riley’s players were angry. They did not enjoy looking at their own foolish freedom. Instead of chastising them, Riley talked to them about positive values like tolerance, openness, and team spirit – values akin to love. Before this moment, the Knicks were surviving, but they were heading toward slow death. They needed to be reinvented. Riley’s intervention was one dramatic moment that was part of a much larger pattern in which he transformed the team and led them into the playoffs. (Quinn, Building the Bridge as you Walk on it – pg. 185)
At the Center for Positive Organizations we had a guest speaker. Fred Keller is the CEO of Cascade Engineering. It is a company that is recognized for its positive approach to business. He shared many inspiring thoughts and stories. There was one story that particularly stood out.
One of the unusual practices for which Cascade is known, is the fact that it successfully brings in people who are on the welfare rolls and turns them into productive employees. This idea originated in a casual conversation. He and another man talked and the other man agreed to champion the idea. They brought in 12 people who were on welfare, but in a short time they were all gone.
There were many problems that made the idea impractical. The man was ready to give up on the idea. Fred Keller encouraged the man to “rethink” it. He said, “We needed to discover how people on welfare feel and think, we needed to understand them and their culture so we could support them effectively.” So the man kept trying. They ended up going into the literature, talking with the people and working to understand the culture of poverty. They even created a poverty simulation for normal employees. Over time, the company learned how to do what it did not know how to do.
All through his talk I saw two themes, an inherent hunger to get better, and a sense of how to persist while learning from experience. It struck me that this is the very essence of what I wrote about in my book, “Building the Bridge While You Walk on It.” When we care passionately about an objective but do not know how to bring it about, we move forward into new territory and we learn as we act. We learn from experiences, particularly our failures and new competencies emerge. The keys are the hunger to get better and the ability to learn from experience.
Yesterday I was listening to an interview with the CEO of a well-known company. He referred to a book called Plan B. The book documents that many Silicon Valley firms have a history of pursuing their initial objectives with little success. Yet as they struggled forward they discover some pattern that causes them to redefine their work. They move to plan B. Often it is plan B that makes them successful.
He gave an example of a company that designed a product for use in homes. They began to notice that people were using the product in businesses. Because they were committed to plan A, they actually found the business people to be an annoyance. It took them three years to discover that the business users were a bigger potential market than the home users. They went to plan B and exploded into a highly successful company.
I often call this “building the bridge as you walk on it.” As I move forward, learning by faith, I feel vulnerable and I pay great attention to the feedback I receive. If I use the feedback to make adjustments and progress, it may lead me to the purpose I initially envisioned.
The plan B concept adds another dimension to the learning journey. In moving forward, my commitment to the original formulation of my purpose may blind me to opportunities that my journey is creating. When my awareness expands and I see the opportunity, I may select it. The selection may be a big shift in strategy or it may actually be a shift in purpose. My very identity is altered. Religious conversion is an example, post traumatic growth is another.
So having a purpose and pursuing it by faith gives me experiences. I may think they are bad experiences. If I cherish all my experiences and reflect on them deeply, they will begin to work for my good, because I will learn and grow.
It begins to become clear, that having experiences and reflecting on them with appreciation, is the integration of faith and learning. It is the motor of progression. When we are learning in real time is when we are most alive.