Where Leadership Begins

I met with a group of surgeons and taught them how to enter the fundamental state of leadership.  We had a great morning.  At lunch, a man wanted to talk.  He said he was captured by the ideas but there was something he did not understand.  He said there were many serious, system-wide problems in the hospital, and he did know have the slightest idea of how to get the people above him to change.

I asked about the unit he led.  He described many typical dynamics.  I asked him if he had more influence in his unit or in the overall hospital.  The answer was obvious.

I selected one of the dynamics he described in his unit, and asked him how he might apply the concepts we had just covered.  He shared some ideas.  I probed as to how the initiatives might succeed or fail.  I asked, how these successes and failures might change him.  He answered that he would have new experiences and they might give him more confidence in entering the fundamental state of leadership.  He said he would probably try still more things as he learned.

I asked if he continued to grow in confidence and, next year, was in conversation with a senior hospital executive, might he engage the person differently?  With this question the man lit up.

He said, “That is so helpful!  I start in my zone of control.  I take risks entering the fundamental state of leadership.  I have experiences and I increase in confidence.  Then I begin to focus outside my zone of control.”  As he continued, I could see him imagining his own growth over time.  He was ready to experiment with entering the fundamental state of leadership.

I continue to ponder this basic conversation.  It occurs to me that his original concern illustrates one of the reasons why people are hesitant.  They begin from hierarchical helplessness.  They focus on the constraints far above them.  They can imagine no way to alter those constraints.  They therefore choose to continue in hierarchical helplessness.  Positive leadership begins with me altering me and changing how I relate to those closest to me.  It is a progressive process.  Eventually I can learn to influence even the most distant figures in ways I could not previously imagine.



  • What is hierarchical helplessness? Is it manifest in anyone you know?
  • What does hierarchical helplessness have to do with leadership development?
  • Where does leadership development begin? What could you do to begin today?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?


* I recently contributed to an online course about the Fundamental State of Leadership.  The 2-hour course includes more stories like this blog, as well as insights and practices that will help you have greater influence and resolve challenges.  Both at work and in your personal life.  If you’d like to learn more, please click on any of the links included in the body of the blog above.

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