Applying the Fundamental State of Leadership

A topic I teach regularly is the Fundamental State of Leadership. The argument is that by asking ourselves four basic questions, we can empower ourselves and turn any situation positive. The four questions are:

  • What result do I want to create?
  • Am I internally directed?
  • Am I other focused?
  • Am I externally open?

After learning the concept, a former student went home and began to apply it. He wrote with the following report.

  1. I was dealing with a customer service situation that did not have an obvious answer.  I made a decision about how to proceed, but after making that decision I didn’t feel right about it.  I reviewed the four questions and came to realize that the decision I had made was in conflict with one my values.  So I decided to go back and undo that decision, which meant calling a vendor and giving them different direction.  In essence, the value of integrity outweighed the value of not being embarrassed by calling the vendor.  I remembered your comment about “What would you do if you had 2% more courage?”  I picked up the phone and called the vendor, corrected the situation, and to my surprise the vendor was very understanding when I explained my reasoning.  Suffice it to say I felt good about myself for staying true to my values and a couple of days later the situation worked itself out without my needing to intervene in a way that made everyone happy.


  1. I am trying to close on a house in Ann Arbor.  The closing was delayed several times due to a backlog in processing at the bank.  The fact that our closing was delayed caused me a lot of cost and inconvenience.  I was getting frustrated trying to communicate with the mortgage broker and the real estate company by phone and email and didn’t feel heard.  Emotions were starting to escalate and the conversations were becoming less and less productive.  I remembered the four questions and last night decided to work through them.  I realized that what I wanted was to close in a timely way and to be reimbursed for my extra expenses caused by the delay.  The values were taking care of my family but also being respectful of the relationships involved.  I decided that rather than engage in more frustrating communication, I would request a face-to-face meeting to try and identify creative solutions.  I emailed the broker and he agreed to meet today after lunch.  I went into the meeting with clarity around my purpose, values, relationships, and a willingness to be non-defensive no matter what came up in the meeting.  The meeting ended up being very cordial, very productive, and we were even able to get the bank to commit to release the form we needed and get a closing date set.  And we did it in a way the preserved the relationships involved and in which everyone was treated with respect.  I felt good about myself for being proactive to ask for a face-to-face meeting and to show up in the Fundamental State of Leadership, which led to a great result.


  • How realistic are these two challenges?
  • What would normally happen?
  • Why did these two cases turn out differently?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?


2 comments on “Applying the Fundamental State of Leadership

  1. I’ve been re-reading Change the World, a treatise on transformation, as I’ve been contemplating my own purpose of sparking transformation. As I worked through the section on fundamental choice, I decided to pick up and read The Path of Least Resistance. In it is such an elegant, simple idea that identifying what we really want to create and then making choices can create the structure that moves toward our vision.
    Transformation is about changing form or structure. Structure drives performance. When I work with coaching clients, it is easy to get sucked into approaches that are simply aimed at “solving” the person or problem rather than realizing that transformation requires commitment and choices that alter the underlying structure. As Dr Quinn puts it so well, this requires my own transformation. I have to be present enough to make choices and reaffirm choices: for what I want, to be other focused, and inner directed. This is such beautiful work!!

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