Marginalization, Learning and the Creation of Excellence

I met for lunch with a person I know who serves in an important position in a large hierarchy.  He spoke of recent events in his life that suggested intensity, stress, and little time for sleep.  The discussion unfolded around two themes.
He was feeling frustration that was part of a long-term pattern.  He is a member of a minority group and has always had to deal with marginalization.  He felt worn down.
As the conversation progressed, we focused on the fact that despite the marginalization, he has managed to succeed.  We explored how.  He spoke of his ability to take over a group, listen, identify their deepest needs, and turn them into high performers.
I asked him what being on the margin had to do with his ability to transform.  We eventually agreed that people on the margin of a system are continually challenged.  To move ahead, they have to think deeply and continually about identity and destiny.  While many fail, others acquire deep wisdom about themselves and about how things really work.  They see the whole system.
A person at the center tends to become a manager.  They see a hierarchy and they depend on authority and control.  They tend to never move from the superficial assumptions of management to the more complex assumptions of leadership.
Excellence is the integration of conceptual contrasts: mission and people, vision and strategy, hierarchy and trust, purpose and logistics, engagement and renewal.  Leaders learn to proactively shape the culture to a higher purpose.  Like an artist producing a beautiful image on a canvas, they create systems and programs of excellence and they do it while fighting the system until excellence emerges.  Evolving into this capacity requires work.  People on the margin are continually required to engage in such work.


  • What differentiates a leader from a manager?
  • How do managers learn to lead?
  • What do you believe about purpose, commitment, inspiration, trust and collective learning?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

4 comments on “Marginalization, Learning and the Creation of Excellence

  1. A manager often defers to organizational power vs. personal power – organizational power is when people follow them, not because they want to, but because the feel like they have to. When a leader primarily relies upon personal power people follow them because they want to, not be because they feel like they have to. Ryan Gottfredson Ph.D. is a leadership and management professor at the Mihaylo College of Business and Economics at California State University-Fullerton (CSUF), he just published an interesting blog article on this insight.

  2. I just stumbled upon a video of a speech you gave via Facebook. I was so inspired that I had to know who you were, after reading the comments I discovered your name, a quick Google search and a few clicks of interest led me to your blog. I’ve read every post regarding “Introductions” as well as this one. I’m fascinated by your work and philosophy. Thank you for sharing your insights about human interactions and leadership skills! My husband asked me to help him with employee moral at his Orthodontic office and I think your blog will be a great resource for me. I’m naturally a positive and high energy person, but I feel like my strength is that I truly love people. While I may have those skills, I haven’t ever had to encourage and build those in others – this is new territory but I’m excited to learn more about it. Thank you again!

    1. Sarah-this is fantastic! I’m impressed by your commitment to do something positive (and hard). Please let me know how your experience goes.

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