What does it take to be a leader and for leadership to show up? (Part III)

This post continues and completes the conversation on what it takes to be a leader (and for leadership to show up) from an ontological perspective as put forward and taught by Werner Erhard et al. There are three foundational strands to this model: ‘integrity’, ‘authenticity’, and ‘being committed to something bigger than oneself’.  The first post dealt with integrity, the second post dealt with authenticity and this post deals with ‘being committed to something bigger than oneself’. Warning: this is a long post and it takes something to read it.  If you are looking to skim, easy to consume content, then I advise you to go and do something else.

Leadership is a choice you make for yourself

Let’s kick off the conversation through a quote from Werner Erhard et al that speaks to me, it may do the same for you:

“In a certain sense, all true leaders are heroes.  Heroes are ordinary people who are given being and action by something bigger than themselves…… Each of us must make the personal choice to be a hero or not, to be committed to something bigger than ourselves or not, to go beyond the way we “wound up being” and have the purpose of our lives and our careers be about something that makes a difference or not, in other words, to be a leader or not.”

What does it mean to be committed to something bigger than oneself?

First I will share with you how Werner Erhard et al see this and then I will give you two examples to help this way of understanding come to life.  Here is what Werner Erhard et al talk about, relate to and ring-fence “being committed to something bigger than oneself”:

“is being committed in a way that shapes one’s being and actions so that they are in the service of realising something beyond one’s personal concerns for oneself – beyond a direct personal payoff.  As they are acted on, such commitments create something to which others can also be committed and have the sense that their lives are about something bigger than themselves.  This is leadership!”

Let’s just take a look at Tony Fitzjohn (OBE): a conversationist who worked extensively with George Adamson’ and who shows up for me as a leader who gave himself being as a leader through his commitment to something bigger than himself.  Besides putting his life at risk in working with lions (he as badly mauled by a lion whilst working with George Adamson) I want to draw our attention to the following:

“The challenge facing him at Mkomazi demanded all these skills, and more. It required someone who was an experienced wildlife manager, fluent in Swahili, a bush pilot, a skilled engineer and mechanic who could build roads, cut boundaries, strip down and re-assemble 4WD vehicles and plant machinery, set up two-way radio networks, construct and de-silt dams, maintain electrical and power equipment, organize anti-poaching patrols, deal with the bureaucracy, and keep a remote camp supplied. All this, and the ability to establish breeding programs for highly endangered species whilst constructing and repairing schools in the villages around Mkomazi Game Reserve, helping with medical dispensaries and maintaining friendly relations with the local communities…..

Arriving in 1989 with nothing but a Land Rover and a hangover, he put in all the infrastructure himself: an airstrip, 600 miles of roads, dams, electricity, water. He built a house and learnt to fly, married Lucy and had four children…..

His track record includes:

  • Established and stocked the first successful Rhinoceros sanctuary in Tanzania.
  • 30 years of successful rehabilitation of zoo animals into the wild.
  • Gained National Park status for two game reserves.
  • Completed the construction of a new secondary school for 400 children.
  • Provided local communities with clean water supply, dispensary and Flying Doctor service.
  • First successful captive breeding program for endangered African Hunting Dog in East Africa.
  • Ground-breaking veterinary research into disease of endangered species.
  • 20 years of developing and supporting Anti-Poaching Units.

The modern-day requirements of this operation, staffed only by volunteers, means that Fitzjohn has to spend a lot of time traveling in order to raise funds and generate publicity for the project. He lectures at the Royal Geographical Society, schools, zoos, wildlife parks, and talks to diverse groups of supporters….”

If you want a business person as an example then I suggest looking at James Dyson, Anita Roddick, Howard Behar, Tony Hsiesh and Steve Jobs.

Leadership and the valley of tears

Many want to be leaders, few have what it takes to persevere in the valley of tears when nothing goes right, when there is nobody to count on, when there is no help at hand.  I have experienced this myself and can vouch for it.

I remember the pain, the hurt, the tears, the anger, the fear, the criticism, the questioning of my motives and character, the envy,  that I had to deal with when I set up Humanity In Action (small charity) some ten years ago.  And the only thing that got me through it was that the purpose of the charity pulled me through/around/under/over all the obstacles.

I also remember standing in front of the CEO and senior managers and refusing to carry out the CEO’s instructions.  What allowed me to take the risk despite being fearful/concerned about how I was going to pay the bills, support the family that was counting on me?  A calling, a commitment to a stand (“people matter more than things”) and a set of values of how to be in life and how to treat people.

Here is how Werner Erhard et al put it:

“.. without the passion that comes from being committed to something bigger than yourself, you are unlikely to persevere in the valley of tears that is an inevitable experience in the lives of all true leaders. Times when nothing goes right, there is no way, no help is available, nothing there except what you can do to find something in yourself – the strength to persevere in the face of impossible odds…….”

“Is that all there is to life?”

We live in a culture that encourages selfishness and the pursuit of fame/wealth/success.  Put differently we are encouraged to simply look after oneself, pursue one’s personal agenda, and leave others to do the same.  Here is what Werner Erhard et al have to say on that:

Wealth, fame, and the like, are both no more  than the scorecard for success; they are not the source of corporate or personal passion and energy.”

More importantly focussing solely on oneself and one’s personal interests does not mean that one escapes the existential question: “Is this  all there is to life?” This is how Werner Erhard et al have to say on this matter:

“No matter how good you look, no matter how good you’ve gotten your family to look, and no matter how wealth, fame or power you have amassed, you will experience a profound lack of fulfillment….. expressed by the commonly asked question: Is This All There Is?     Dealing with the crisis of “Is this all there is?” lies in having a commitment to the realisation of  future (a cause) that leaves you with a passion for living.

Werner Erhard et al go on to make a powerful point.  A point about discipline, about sticking to one’s stand.  Why does this matter?  Because we swim in a culture that is about ease, convenience, comfort, finding the short-cut and focussing on the short-term.   Here is what they have to say:

“… a commitment to something bigger than oneself empowers not only a human brain’s executive function to avoid “eating the marshmallow”, but works in the same way to empower the corporate “executive function” to forgo “eating the marshmallow”“.

As I write these words Steve Jobs pops up: his commitment to creating great products and a legacy overpowered the corporate addiction to making the sort term revenue and profit numbers.  How many times was a product introduction shelved or delayed because the product was not deemed perfect by Jobs?  How many times were ‘complications’ to the supply chain introduced (different colours…) to meet the commitment?

And finally

You might be wondering why I have dived into leadership given that this is The Customer Blog.  Because the move to customer-centricity requires leaders to show up as leaders and exercise leadership.  And it is not any kind of leadership.  It is the kind of leadership that Werner Erhard et al are speaking at. And without this kind of leadership organisations can talk as much as they like, put in as much technology as they like, redesign processes etc and they will still not show up as customer-centric as experienced by the customer.   Honestly, how many of your customers are going to help out your company when it falls on hard times?  How many are going to mourn your company when it dies?  Think RIM (Blackberry), think Nokia, think HP, think Dell……

The shift to customer-centricity requires a genuine shift to being a company that stands for creating superior value for customers: enriching their lives, improving their welfare, helping them with the issues that they are grappling with…  As such it requires a commitment to something bigger than one’s need to make the short-term numbers to collect the bonus cheques.  It requires integrity – keeping one’s promises including those that customers can reasonably expect you to keep even if you have not explicitly promised that promise.  And it requires authenticity.

Enough for today. I thank you for listening to my speaking and I invite you to share your perspective by commenting.  And if these last three posts on leadership speak to you then you might get value out of this blog:  Possibility, Transformation and Leadership. 

What does it take to be a leader and for leadership to show up? (Part II – Authenticity)

Leadership matters.  Whilst there are many ways of grappling with leadership, I value the ontological lens and in particular the ontological model of leadership that has been developed and is being taught by Werner Erhard et al. In this post I continue the conversation on being a leader (and leadership) that I started in the last post.

Warning: authenticity is not an easy conversation

Today, I wish to grapple with authenticity. To grapple with and get authenticity one needs to grapple with human existence (being and doing).  And in particular one needs to suspend one’s existing listening (how one thinks of, relates to) of authenticity.  Furthermore, it takes courage as the conversation of authenticity/inauthenticity unconceals that which we are committed to keeping hidden.  If you are not up for this today then I suggest that you go and do something else.  If you are up for the conversation then let’s begin.

What constitutes authenticity in this ontological model of leadership?

At a superficial level being authentic is being genuine, being real -“the real thing”.  Dive into this, grapple with this, and you are likely to find yourself grappling with the question “How does a human being determine when he/she is being genuine, being real?”  Put differently, “Genuine/real with regards to what exactly?”  Think of it this way,  determining whether this iPad before me is a genuine Apple iPad is a different realm of enquiry to determining if I/you are being genuine/real/authentic in the way that I/you show up in the world.  Yet we need to ring-fence it if we are to grapple with it.

In the ontological model of leadership, Werner Erhard et al are clear on what constitutes authenticity.  They define authenticity as:

being and acting  consistent with who you hold yourself out to be for others, and who you hold yourself out to be for yourself”. 

Notice that central to this definition is ‘who you hold yourself out to be’: not your personality, not your thoughts, not your feelings, not social convention…… How to make sense of ‘who you hold yourself to be’? Think of it as a declaration that you make, a stand that you take on yourself, a commitment to a set of values and/or specific future.

Authenticity is central to leadership and being a leader

How to position the importance of authenticity to leadership?  Perhaps it is best to share the words of Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic, Harvard Business School Professor of Leadership, and best-selling author:

“After years of studying leaders and their traits, I believe that leadership begins and ends with authenticity.” 

I find myself to be in agreement with Bill George, which is why I have put authenticity at the centre:

Werner Erhard et al write:

“Being a leader requires that you are absolutely authentic, and true authenticity begins with being authentic about your inauthenticities, and almost no one does this.”

Did you get that?  The access to authenticity is being authentic (confronting the truth) about where/how you are being inauthentic (not being/acting in accordance with ‘who you hold yourself out to be’).  Yet, almost no one does this.  Do your remember how the business world reacted to Domino’s Pizza decision to come out in 2010 and tell the truth about their pizzas? Surprise, bafflement, astonishment: What, you are going to own up to the fact that your pizzas taste like cardboard!

Inauthenticity is ubiquitous

Inauthenticity is the default setting and state of human existence. You, I and just about everyone is being  inauthentic – at the very least in some ways, at certain times, with certain people and in certain situations.  To date I have distinguished two kinds of inauthenticity.

First, there is the kind where I, you, sacrifice our personality, character, spirit, stand in response to external pressures: the pressure to appear to be a certain kind of person, the pressure to adopt a particular mode of living, the pressure to ignore one’s own moral and aesthetic objections in order to have a more comfortable existence. If you take the time to reflect and are willing to be open to that which shows up then you will see where and how often you have trodden this path.  Else read Sartre’s novels – they provide a great access to the inauthentic mode of being/living.

The second kind of inauthenticity is of the kind which is normally hidden from us.  This kind of inauthenticity lies in the realm of what we don’t know that we don’t know: we do not have access to our real reasons for being the way that we are being, acting the way that we are acting, and we ignore crucial facts about own lives (and the world we find ourselves in) in order to avoid facing up to and confronting uncomfortable truths. Spend some time in the counselling room and you will see this vividly: you cannot help seeing how the human being is blind to certain aspects of him/herself. Or just watch the TV series “The Office”.

Heart of the matter: we refuse to confront our inauthenticities

Imagine that you are driving a car and you find that you have a flat tyre.  Having a flat tyre is not an issue provided you are willing to acknowledge and confront the fact that you are driving a car with a flat tyre.  Acknowledging and confronting the fact creates an opening for you to take effective action: to replace or repair the flat tyre.  It is the same with inauthenticity: inauthenticity is not an issue if you and I are willing to confront where/how we are being inauthentic.

Yet inauthenticity is an issue.  It is an issue because you and I are not willing to confront our inauthenticities.  Here is what Werner Erhard et al have to say on the matter:

“..because we avoid at all costs confronting our inauthenticities, we are consistently inauthentic about being inauthentic – not only with others, but with ourselves as well.” 

If you find this assertion hard to stomach then allow me to share with you the conclusion that Harvard Professor Chris Argyris came to after spending 40 years studying human beings and organisations:

“Put simply, people consistently act inconsistently, unaware of the contradiction between their espoused theory and their theory-in-use, between the way they think they are acting, and they way they really act.”

Want to be a leader? Generate the courage to be authentic about your inauthenticities

By now it should be clear that being authentic is absolutely essential to being a leader and the exercise of leadership.  It should also be clear that the default setting of human existence is inauthenticity and as such inauthenticity is ubiquitous.  So one critical challenge of being a leader is to life oneself up from this fallen state of inauthenticity.  This is how Werner Erhard et al put it:

“If you cannot find the courage to be authentic about your inauthenticities, you can forget about being a leader……..The actionable access to authenticity is being authentic about your inauthenticities..”

As a pragmatic course of action it means that you must:

Be willing (and proactive) in discovering and confronting your inauthenticities – where in our lives you are not being and/or acting consistent with who you hold yourself out to be for others AND who you hold yourself out to be for yourself; AND

Tell the truth (to yourself and the appropriate people) about where you are not being genuine, real, authentic – the appropriate people tend to be the one’s that you are most likely to resist telling the truth to.

If you are willing to take this on then take a look at these areas

By virtue of human there are certain domains of life that suck us towards/into a state of being inauthentic. So if you are up for being a leader (or simply up for a life of freedom, self-esteem, courage and peace of mind) then take a look at the following:

Most of us are driven to look good and avoid looking bad.  Werner Erhard et al put it this way “.. most of us have a pathetic need for looking good, and almost none of us is willing to confront just how much we care about looking good..”  Look, how many of us are afraid to ask a question or voice our opinion for the fear of looking stupid, the only one who does not get it?  I say the reason so many of us insist on being right (rather than admit we are/were wrong) is to look good and avoid looking bad.  Where are you sacrificing your authenticity simply to look good and avoid looking bad?  If you do the work you will find a gold mine of inauthenticity here; it would not be going to far to say that wanting to look good and avoid looking bad runs us!

Every single one of us wants to be admired (to be recognised as a person of worth/significance/importance/high status), and yet almost none of us is willing to be with and confront how desperately we want to be admired.  And how readily we will give up our authentic voice, our stand, in a situation where we perceive that being straightforward, honest, genuine threatens us with a loss of admiration.

In many situations, many of us want to be seen as being loyal members of the group even when we are not.  How many of us are playing at being loyal simply to avoid the consequences (loss of admiration, looking bad, being made out to be wrong, being punished) of being perceived as being not loyal, not a team player.  Have you noticed how easily you will sacrifice ‘who you hold yourself out to be’ for the sake of fitting in, being admired and rewarded?  This is how you get ‘groupthink’ and the ‘Bay of Pigs’ fiasco and many others like it in organisations.

The good news if you are up for being a leader

So far this post might just show up in your listening as ‘bad news’ and leave you deflated/resigned/cynical.  So I want to share another quote from Werner Erhard et al:

“We are all guilty of being small in these ways – it comes with being human.  Great leaders are noteworthy in having come to grips with these foibles of being human – not eliminating them, but being the masters of these weaknesses when they are leading.”

And finally

If you wish to get a taste of authenticity/inauthenticity (and its importance to the human condition) then I recommend reading Book VI:The Russian Monk, Chapter 1:The Elder Zosima and His Visitors, Section (d) The Mysterious Stranger, from Fydor Dostoevsky’s masterpiece: The Brothers Karamazov.  If you have the hardback edition by Pevear and Volokhonsky then the page number is 301.

In the next post in this series I will take a look at the third foundational strand of the ontological leadership model: being committed to something bigger than oneself.

For those of you who have made it this far, I thank you for putting into this conversation that which it takes to be in this conversation.  I am grateful that you exist and that I have the privilege of being in this conversation with you.  I look forward to listening to your perspective, your experience on authenticity.

What does it take to be a leader and for leadership to show up? (Part I)

“Leadership is the capacity to give the world something that did not exist before.” Peter Block

Right now our organisations and institutions need leaders and leadership not just managers and management.  Yet management is widely distributed and leadership is rare.  And, most of what passes for leadership education and training is not fit for purpose. What is the basis of my assertion?

Why I say current leadership education is not fit for purpose

When reading through leadership material (books, courses…) I am struck by an experience I had some years ago.  The challenge in coming into the organisation was to build the capability of the organisation to sell and deliver data mining/customer analytics services.  This meant getting to grips with the customer analytics training course.  As I read the course material and talked with people who had taken the course my heart sank.  Why?

Because the course was all to do with theory and such left the participants with a bag full of concepts.  And absolutely no hands on experience in doing data mining and building predictive models.  As I result I spent three months designing/writing a new course from scratch: a course designed to leave the participants with the experience of being data miners / predictive model builders. In short, too many leadership courses espouse theory rather than call forth the participants to be leaders and exercise leadership.

Hence, in this series of posts I am going to share the work of Werner Erhard et al on the ontological model of leadership.  Having participated in a similar course (SELP), I can say there is no substitute for doing the work that is necessary to show up as leader.  The work is not easy – struggle with self and one’s existing way of being is necessary – and that is what makes it valuable.  So in this blog series I can only shares the distinctions and point out the direction.  Let’s start.

What are the 3 foundational strands of the ontological model of leadership?

The three foundational elements are integrity, authenticity and being committed to something bigger than oneself.


What is Werner pointing at when he speaks integrity?  Here is my take on it.  He is pointing at integrity as the state of being whole and complete.  That is to say words and behaviour are in perfect alignment.  What is the access to being in integrity?  “honouring one’s word”.   Notice that “honouring one’s word” is distinct from “keeping ones word”.  What is the difference?

You can honour your word by going full out to keep it. And if you know that you are not going to keep your word then right there and then you tell the person/s who are counting on you (and your word) that you will not be keeping your word.  And you clean up the mess that you have made.  This is how Werner puts it in his words:

“What would your life be like, and what would your performance be, if it were true that:

You have done what you said you would do and you did it on time.

You have done what you know to do, you did it the way it was meant to be done, and you did it on time.

You have done what others would expect you to do, even if you never said you would do it, and you did it on time, or you have informed them that you will not meet their expectations.

And you have informed others of your expectations for them and have made explicit requests to those others.

And whenever you realised that you were not going to do any of the foregoing, or not going to do it on time:

You have said so to everyone who might be impacted, and you did so as soon as you realised that you wouldn’t be doing it, or wouldn’t be doing it on time, and

If you were going to be do it in the future you have said by when you would do it, and

You have dealt with the consequences of not doing it on time, or not doing at all, for all those who are impacted by your not doing it on time, or not doing it at all.

In a sentence, you have done what you said you would do or you have said you are not doing it; you have nothing hidden, you are truthful, forthright, straight and honest.  And you have cleaned up any mess you have caused for those depending on your word.”

Why is integrity important?  What contribution does it make?  A leader is in relationship with people.  Integrity as in “honouring one’s word” develops/grows trust and creates workability and thus contributes to performance.  If you want to explore and get a better grip on integrity as Werner speaks integrity then I suggest that you read the following posts:

Coming next

In the next post, in this series, I will explore “authenticity”.  Authenticity is critical to leadership and so I have put it in the centre of the diagram (above).

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