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I felt I’d lost everything: family, wealth, and stature. I withdrew from relationships. I started drinking heavily. I finally sought professional help for my sorrow and, with guidance, clarified my values and made choices about my future.

I engaged in a lot of self-reflection and journal writing. It became clear that I was not defined by marriage, wealth, or stature. I was more than that. I began to focus on how I could make a differ- ence for other people. I got more involved in my community.

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I felt I’d lost everything: family, wealth, and stature. I withdrew from relationships. I started drinking heavily.
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As I started to grow and feel more self<onfident, I became better at relating. At work, I now ask moreof people than I ever did before, but I also give them far more support, i care about them, and they can tell.

I began to feel stronger. I was less intimidated when people gave me negative feedback, I think it was because I was less afraid of changing and growing.




Entering the Fundamental State of Leadership

pany president; we’ll call him John Jones. The other, Robert Yamamoto, is the execu- tive director of the Los Angeles Junior Chamber of Commerce. Both once strug- gled with major challenges that changed the way they thought about their jobs and their lives.

I met John in an executive course I was teaching. He was a successful change leader who had turned around two compa- nies in his corporation. Yet he was frus- trated. He had been promised he’d become president ofthe largest company in the cor- poration as soon as the current president retired, which would happen in the near future. In the meantime, he had been told to bide his time with a company that every- one considered dead. His assignment was simply to oversee the funeral, yet he took it as a personal challenge to tum the com- pany around. After he had been there nine months, however, there was little improve- ment, and the people were still not very engaged.

As for Robert, he had been getting what he considered to be acceptable (if not ex- ceptional) results in his company. So when the new board president asked him to pre- pare a letter of resignation, Robert was stunned. He underwent a period of an- guished introspection, during which he began to distrust others and question his own management skills and leadership ability. Concerned for his family and his fu- ture, he started to seek another job and wrote the requested letter.

As you will see, however, even though things looked grim for both Robert and John, they were on the threshold of posi- tive change.

Am I results centered? Most ofthe time, we are comfort centered. We try to con- tinue doing what we know how to do. We may think we are pursuing new outcomes, but if achieving them means leaving our comfort zones, we subtly – even uncon- sciously-find ways to avoid doing so. We typically advocate ambitious outcomes while designing our work for maximum administrative convenience, which allows us to avoid conflict but frequently ends up reproducing what already exists. Often, others collude with us to act out this de- ception. Being comfort centered is hypo- critical, self-deceptive, and normal.

Are You in the Fundamental State of Leadership? Think of a time when you reached the fundamental state of leadership-that is, when you were at your best as a leader-and use this checklist to identify the qualities you displayed. Then check ofFthe items that describe your behavior today. Compare the past and present. If there’s a significant difference, what changes do you need to make to get back to the fundamental state?

At my best Today 1 was… I am…


Knowing what result I’d like to create

Holding high standards

Initiating actions

Challenging people

Disrupting the status quo

Capturing people’s attention

Feeling a sense of shared purpose

Engaging in urgent conversations


Operating from my core values

Finding motivation from within

Feeling self-empowered

Leading courageously

Bringing hidden conflicts to the surface

Expressing what I really believe

Feeling a sense of shared reality

Engaging in authentic conversations


Sacrificing personal interests for the common good

Seeing the potential in everyone

Trusting others and fostering interdependence

Empathizing with people’s needs

Expressing concern

Supporting people

Feeling a sense of shared identity

Engaging in participative conversations


Moving forward into uncertainty

Inviting feedback

Paying deep attention to what’s unfolding

Learning exponentially

Watching for new opportunities

Crowing continually

Feeling a sense of shared contribution

Engaging in creative conversations

lULY-AUCUST 2005 79




Clarifying the result we want to create requires us to re- organize our lives. Instead of moving away from a prob- lem, we move toward a possibility that does not yet exist. We become more proactive, intentional, optimistic, in- vested, and persistent We also tend to become more ener- gized, and our impact on others becomes energizing.

Consider what happened with John. When I first spoke with him, he sketched out his strategy with little enthusi- asm. Sensing that lack of passion, I asked him a question designed to test his commitment to the end he claimed he wanted to obtain:

What if you told your people the truth? Suppose you told them that nobody really expects you to succeed, that you were assigned to be a caretaker for 18 months, and that you have been promised a plum job once your assignment is through. And then you tell them that you have chosen instead to give up that plum job and bet your career on the people present. Then, from your newly acquired stance of optimism for the com- pany’s prospects, you issue some challenges beyond your eiTiployees’ normal capacity.

‘iny surprise, John responded that he was begin- iiing to think along similar lines. He grabbed a napkin

Then there was Robert, who went to what he assumed would be his last board meeting and found that he had more support than he’d been led to believe. Shockingly, at the end of the meeting, he still had his job. Even so, this fortuitous turn brought on further soul-searching. Robert started to pay more attention to what he was doing; he began to see his tendency to be tactical and to gravitate toward routine tasks. He concluded that he was managing, not leading. He was playing a role and abdi- cating leadership to the board president – not because that person had the knowledge and vision to lead but because the position came with the statutory right to lead.”! suddenly decided to really lead my organization,” Robert said. “It was as if a new person emerged. The deci- sion was not about me. I needed to do it for the good of the organization.”

In deciding to “really lead,” Robert started identifying the strategic outcomes he wanted to create. As he did this, he found himself leaving his zone of comfort-behaving in new ways and generating new outcomes.

Am I internally directed? In the normal state, we comply with social pressures in order to avoid conflict and re- main connected with our coworkers. However, we end up

When leaders do their hest work, they don’t copy anyone. They draw on their own

values and capahilities.

and rapidly sketched out a new strategy along with a plan for carrying it out, including reassignments for his staff. It was clear and compelling, and he was suddenly full of energy.

What happened here? John was the president of his company and therefore had authority. And he’d turned around two other companies – evidence that he had the knowledge and competencies of a change leader. Yet he was failing as a change leader. That’s because he bad slipped into his comfort zone. He was going through the motions, doing what had worked elsewhere. He was imitat- ing a great leader- in this case, John himself. But imita- tion is not the way to enter the fundamental state of lead- ership. If I had accused John of not being committed to a real vision, he would have been incensed. He would have argued heatedly in denial ofthe truth. All 1 had to do, though, was nudge him in the right direction. As soon as he envisioned the result he wanted to create and com- mitted himself to it, a new strategy emerged and he was reenergized.

feeling less connected because conflict avoidance results in political compromise. We begin to lose our uniqueness and our sense of integrity. The agenda gradually shifts from creating an external result to preserving political peace. As this problem intensifies, we begin to lose hope and energy.

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