Mission and Positive Deviance in a Federal Agency

Positive leadership means becoming a positive deviant.  Many people have difficulty understanding this term.  A positive deviant is a person who varies from the norm in an honorable way.  They are choosing to become more virtuous for the sake of the common good.

A friend who works in a federal agency wrote.  He had been reading one of my books and came across the phrase positive deviant.  He said the idea clicked for the first time.

He reports, “I have often wondered why I have kept trying and what motivates me and then the idea of positive deviance reminded me of the last story from my reflected best-self exercise.  An associate wrote about my strengths.  Here is what he said:

“I remember talking to him one time when he was the Division Manager.  He spoke to me at length about the challenges his office and staff were facing fulfilling his idea of appropriate service to people in our program.  While he was talking to me about the specific ideas, and his well thought out plan to solve the deficiencies, I was reviewing the actual data from his station on our enterprise level performance standard dashboard.  He and his staff were performing within the top 5-10% of all offices nationally – a level the majority of his peers would be more than satisfied to achieve.  That’s when it clicked for me – his sense of mission far exceeds what the agency sets for quantitative measures associated with program success/outcomes.  He sets his own personal success level beyond what most others do and I have found this to a consistent pattern for him – perhaps even caring to the point it has an adverse impact to his own health.”



  • What is conventional management?
  • To what does a positive deviant aspire?
  • What is different about where a positive deviant finds motivation?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

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