With an extraordinary group of executives, I experienced a week of meaningful teaching and learning. As the week passed, people became more authentic and vulnerable. As trust climbed, we watched the emergence of collective intelligence and experienced accelerated learning. It was a weeklong conversation of excellence in which we together co-created wisdom.
There was one man who was particularly quick to move to trust, authenticity, vulnerability, and sharing. At one point he said of his peers, “I spent my life as a knuckle-headed cop. I am in awe of the depth education and capacity I see in this room.” It was a statement of the heart, and everyone felt it.
As time passed, I noted that he was also quick to share insights about transformational influence. I made a mental note that he was different and began to look for an explanation. The answer came as he told a personal story.
He had moved from local to federal law enforcement. He attended a leadership program that had a heavy emphasis on ethics and moral power. He was moved by what he learned and he determined he was going to live a more moral life.
A short time later there was a scandal and he was called upon to testify. He knew that there were far bigger issues than the ones that had been uncovered. It was made clear to him by people in power that he needed to have a “bad” memory. He faced a huge identity crisis. Was he going to take the risk necessary to live his recent commitment to principle or was he going to cave under the enormous external pressures?
He chose integrity and determined to live with the consequences. Because of his testimony, there were big revelations and the government had to change. He personally had to face the punishing dynamics that surround a whistle blower. This was not pleasant. Yet he returned to his job and focused. He did not tell the truth to gain attention. He did it because he believed he need to live an ethical life.
Later in the course, another topic emerged. We were speaking of positive peer pressure. When an organization transforms, one element is the transformation of peer pressure. When mutual expectations suddenly align with the highest purpose, members of the group begin to expect each other to do the right thing. This radically changes the dynamics and the larger transformation accelerates. The leader’s job becomes much easier because everyone is now leading.
My friend raised his hand and declared there is also an internal version of the process. I had no idea what he was talking about. He again spoke of his challenging experience but this time he made a new point.
Because of his choice to face his challenge with integrity, he had a new kind of life experience. Now he not only saw himself as one who believes in moral principles, he also saw himself as one who lives moral principles. This led to a new identity. Instead of accepting the path of least resistance as natural, he began to expect himself to pursue higher purposes and live by his values no matter what. Doing so has dramatically changed the path of his life and he has learned things that were inaccessible when he was living a more conventional life.
I was struck with his insight. When a group finally embraces a higher purpose and makes the unusual shift from fearful, negative peer pressure, to courageous, positive peer pressure, it creates dynamics that lift everyone in the group to a higher level of performance and learning. When an individual finally embraces higher purpose and makes the unusual shift from fear and ego to courage and community, she creates an internal dynamic that lifts herself to a higher level of performance and learning. The internal shift is an outcome of rebirth and it gives rise to learning and to transformational influence. What happens on the inside and on the outside are reflections of one another. Transformation is both an individual and a collective dynamic.
- How is collective decay linked to individual fear and the lack of morality?
- What is personal rebirth, and what does it have to do with leadership and with organizational success?
- Why do leaders enter a learning trajectory and access resources not available to conventional managers? What are the resources?
How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?