The Benefits of Adaptive Learning


The other day, I stopped by to see a friend and colleague. On his desk was one of the best leadership books of the past decade, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership by Ronald Heifetz, Marty Linsky and Alexander Grashow. It is stellar description for leadership of the importance of the capacity to adapt to changing circumstances. Adaptation is a key skill for leaders who are managing change, while at the same time creating stable, sustainable enterprises.

Peter Mello and I had the opportunity to interview Marty Linsky on the book for two Weekly Leader podcasts, Part 1 and Part 2. It is worth hearing Linsky talk about the book and his work with Ron Heifetz.

Sitting there with this friend in his office, talking about leadership, how we deal with people in various situations, I came to a realization about myself, and about adaptive leadership.

In order to be an adaptive leader, we must be an adaptive learners.

I  realized, then, that virtually everything I know, I learned from someone else.

It wasn't like a being student in a classroom learning from a teacher. Rather, it was learning by listening and observing to the lessons embedded in a person's perceptions and experience.

Listening and Observing - keys to being an adaptive learner.

Informational or Contextual?

There is no way I can tell you what I have learned from any particular individual. It isn't that type of learning.

It isn't informational learning.

Rather it is contextual learning. Learning from the context of a person is learning to see how ideas matter within a certain distinct situation.

It isn't abstract, or detached from experience. Rather, it is how an idea that transitions from the idea itself to something practical and real, that's applied in a particular situation.

The use of values in an organization is an example.

There are two types of values.

There are the ones that are on a list that the company claims are their values.

Then, there are the ones that actually are practiced by the people in the company.

These two sets of values are not always the same, congruent or even aligned.  Depending upon different conditions, the same understanding of value will have a different application in an organization.

Company A espouses to be an open, transparent organization placing a high value on communication. Company B makes the same claim. The difference is in their context.

Company A is physically structured so that executives are separated into their own discrete offices. Communication is mediated by administrative assistants, and written information distributed throughout the company. If you want to speak to V.P. Joe, you go through his assistant Mary, or look at the latest memo.

Company B is physically structured around an open space concept. My friend Dana Leman of RandomKid share with me her experience of touring the Bloomberg offices in New York. She sent me a link ot a video tour of their offices. Regardless of your position, your office is in the midst of this open concept. The benefit is a greater exchange of ideas.

So, two companies can claim allegiance to the same values, but their application of those values be totally different. To understand the difference is to understand how to these insights and apply them in your own context.

Through my conversation with Dana, my perception of how to organize office space is different.

This is how adaptive learning happens. We listen for insights for applying ideas in various contexts. The more we learn from others the clearer our own understanding becomes, and how we can be adaptive leaders.

This kind of understanding is tacit and intuitive. It isn't an understanding derived from an analytical process. Rather, our brains synthetically weave together many thoughts, impressions, experiences, and feelings to provide understanding. The more this emergent awareness is allowed to take place the greater the capacity for adaptive leadership.

Adaptive leadership is a shift away from the old command-and-control method.

It requires openness to other people, their ideas, their experiences and an appreciation of their particular context.  The easiest way to begin to learn this kind of adaptive behavior is simply to listen and apply the good ideas that you hear each day. 

The Difference Adaptive Learning has made to me.

Sitting in my friend's office, I came to realize that adaptive learning had been my practice for over 30 years.

Listen and learn from people, whomever you meet, you can learn something from them.

Listen to them, ask questions to clarify what their experience was. Listen without trying to compete. Listen to learn.

Take what is heard and seen, then, reflect, process and apply what you learned.

Share what you learned with others. Express gratitude.  

This is how the Circle of Impact Leadership Guides came to be developed. Circle of Impact
From lots of conversations over the years, about what was happening in organizations, each one contributing a little piece of wisdom and understanding, creating a holistic perspective, I learned what I was suppose to see in leadership. In effect, these are not my ideas, but rather my catalog of what I've learned from other people. These lessons have wide applicability because this is the product of contextual learning, not simply the exchange of information.

The benefits of adaptive learning are many.  Here's what I've learned.

1. We learn that Ideas matter.

They are the key to understanding where we are and how we can adapt to the changes that are constantly confronting us. They connect us to people. They are tools for being more effective communicators. All learning at the most fundamental level is about ideas. Without ideas, we are left only with feelings. As a result, adaptive leaders must also be idea people who are interested in the ideas of others, not just in what they are thinking.

2. We learn that Relationships matter.

When we place ourselves in a position to learn from every person with whom we meet, every single one, we come to understand how our interaction within a social context is where the action of organizations is found. The greater our capacity for forming adaptive learning relationships, the greater our capacity to develop the adaptive capacities of employees.  Those adaptive capacities provide employees the opportunity to lead from their own specific work context. This is part of what I mean by the idea, Community of Leaders.

3. We learn that Structures are either tools for adaptive learning and leadership, or they are obstacles.

If the structure of a business does not provide a way for people to learn from one another, and to apply that learning, then it is stuck in a system of operation that is not sustainable. 

For many businesses, the structure of their organization is, seemingly, the only tangible, secure, stable, set, concrete, real thing that exists. It is a monument to the past, not a platform for constant adaptation and innovation.

4. We learn that learning matters more than knowing.

When our posture towards others is learning from them, we are less concerned about making sure they understand just how much we know.

It this is an issue for you, then practice asking questions about things you do not know. Read books in subject areas in which you have no background. Stop trying to reinforce you own knowledge, and start expanding it. Start listening for the wisdom and insight in others.

5. We learn that if we never stop learning, we also never arrive at a full and complete understanding of anything.

Adaptive learning isn't a tactic we deploy for a period of time to ramp up our current knowledge on a subject. Rather, adaptive learning is a lifestyle of openness to new ideas, fresh insights from people and a reflective approach to applying ideas by doing things differently one step at a time.

6. We learn that adaptive learning changes us so that adaptive leadership is possible.  

Adaptive learning simplifies the way we approach leadership. It becomes about the impact we need to have right now. The old way of strategic planning is having to change to become more adaptable. This approach produces leaders who are nimble, intuitive and able to take advantage of the changes that are constantly happening.To adapt is to change. To change in this way is to make a difference that matters, it is to create impact. Becoming impact focused simplifies leadership.

7. We learn that adaptive learning leads to adaptive leadership which leads ultimately to becoming a Community of Leaders.

An adaptive leader will be most effective in creating a culture of adaptive learning. To do so means that each person takes responsibility for their learning, their contributing and their responsibility to create impact. Adaptive learning starts with the personal decision to learn from others. This nurtures within the individual the personal intiiative from which all leadership originates.  It isn't just the individual initiating change. It is the whole organization as a community functioning as adaptive leaders.  This is what I see as a Community of Leaders.

Realizing that I have lived this way throughout my life, my gratitude grew towards the hundreds of people from whom I've learned. Many are no longer with us. Many have no idea of the impact that they have had on me. Many are friends who are my go-to-people for counsel when I need it. Many are random people whom I've met in passing whose stories and insight helped me gain a deeper appreciation of so many different ideas and ways of leading organizations. If you are one of these people, I thank you.

The Kindness / Gratitude Connection

Five Actions Gratitude- horizontal
A friend of mine recently commented that his business and professional relationships were transactional, not relational.  In describing them, he meant that while they were congenial, the motivation for the relationship was quid-pro-quo.  

I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine, and will only scratch yours if you scratch mine.

A transaction-based relationship exists as a function of a reciprocal economic exchange. It is a sophisticated form of negotiated shared mutual self-interest. It's nothing personal. Just an agreement between two or more people, or the culture that exists in an organization or community.

In a transactional culture, the institutional relationship centers within a game of power, influence and control. The reward in such a relationship is the validation of self worth by the organization.

Communities, where a transaction-based culture exists, is oriented around the status of the influential and prominent, and the line between those who are and are not is clearly maintained as a part of the culture.

As my friend shared his experience with me, the context reminded me of the organizational leaders whom I interviewed in the mid-1990s. In those interviews, I asked,"If you were to lose everything this afternoon, who would stand with you?"  Most answered with silence. One or two offered, "My mother?" None said their business partners, their friends, their spouse or children.

One reason the psychic effects of the recession have been so severe is that self-worth for so many business and professional people is rooted in this transactional institutional relationship. In effect,

"I am my position, title, job responsibilities and compensation package."

Displaced from this organizational setting after years of service, cast adrift into a sea of other unemployed professionals, it quickly becomes apparent that these transactional relationships cannot sustain us through life's disruptive transitions.

Like the leaders I interviewed, many people are finding that their confidence in the support and security of their institution is disintegrating. As accomplished professionals, who successfully maneuvered the challenges of operating within a transactional business environment, they now realize that they are on-their-own to chart their future course in an unknown landscape where organizational connection matters less and less, and human connection everything.

The Gratitude Response

For almost three years now, I have been on a journey of discovery related to the practice of gratitude. It all started with my reponse - Say Thanks Every Day - to Daniel Pink's Johnny Bunko 7th Lesson contest. My 7th lesson quickly became The Five Actions of Gratitude, and my thinking on gratitude most fully expressed in my 2010 Weekly Leader series, The Stewardship of Gratitude

As with most of my projects, questions are the driver of discovery.


At first, I wanted to understand gratitude, and how it can build stronger relationships and strengthen organizations. 

Then, I began to ask a question that got behind my original one.

When I am grateful to someone, to what am I responding?

After considerable of reflection, I finally concluded that it was human kindness.

By kindness, I mean acts that represent a certain kind of attitude and behavior that we have about people and our relationships with them.  I'm not just talking about family relationships, or close friends, but all our relationships, personal and professional.

Here's are some examples that inspire me to celebrate this human motivation.

A friend wrote me to tell about how she had been transferred to a different department within her company. While the change was good for her, it put her former boss and co-workers in a difficult position. Here's her description of what she did.

I told my ex-boss and current boss, that for my own conscience and personal conviction, I felt strongly wanting to help my ex-dept (esp my ex-bosses) as they were in very difficult times. I decided to take my few days of leave and go back to my ex-dept to coach and help them. Many, could not understand why I needed to go to this extent to help (by taking own leave) and jeopardizing my appraisal from my new dept by going the extra mile to help my ex-dept. I was not bothered because I knew what I was doing and I felt that loyalty, compassion and being there for my ex-bosses and colleagues were the most important things in life compared to how my new dept assessed me in my new appraisal.

My friend's former bosses and colleagues meant something to her. Her relationship to them was not a transactional relationship, but a professional relationship with a genuine depth of caring.

Another example that remains in my memory are the people I met in New Orleans and along the Mississippi Gulf Coast who had left the home communities, sold their homes or shut their utilities off, lock the doors and moved to contribute in the relief and recovery of the region following Hurricane Katrina. Six years later, some are still there making a difference as the region rebuilds.

I have the same respect for the hundreds, maybe thousands, of nameless people, who in the midst of the 9/11 destruction of the World Trade Center towers, the attack on The Pentagon and the bringing down of Flight 93 in rural Pennsylvania,  cared for people whom they did not know, yet were in need. Their acts of kindness and sacrifice are, for me, why we commemorate this day each year. They are a living reminder that not everyone bases their actions on a mutual economic exchange.

These examples, and many others, are for me the Kindness / Gratitude Connection.


Adam Phillips and Barbara Taylor describe kindness, in their book On Kindness, this way.

"... life lived in instinctive sympathetic identification with the vulnerabilities and attractions of others."

Kindness is not the first attribute that we'd use to describe a business. Yet, it is one that we may identify as why we are loyal to one.

Kindness is an expression of empathy.  People who are kind and empathetic are able to see in other people the challenges they face and the potential that they have.  The empathy connection, like kindness, builds relationships of strength to overcome serious life challenges.

Kindness is a leadership capacity that transcends the formal structure of the organization. 

Leaders who can engage people with kindness and empathy are able to find resources of motivation and commitment that are non-existent in a transactional relationship.

Kindness in its fullness requires a level of personal maturity that enables us to look beyond our individual interests. In kindness, we can see the dignity, value and potential of other people.

Think of the many professional situations we encounter everyday. We walk into a room. There are a dozen or more people in there. What should our intention be?

If our intention is to be kind to each person, then we enter the room with the purpose of honoring them. To do so I must see that my presence in the room is not about me.  It is about the connection that can be made between me and another person, and of the room as a whole body of people.  My purpose is not to get something, but to contribute.

Does everyone in the room deserve this sort of treatment? Obviously not. But it isn't about treating people as they deserve. That is the transactional mindset. Rather, being kind in a business and professional context is about my acting in such a way that we all are able to achieve higher levels of impact that we could have.


I am suggesting that the practice of kindness and gratitude is a strategy for strengthening organizations. And, that without it, a company is weaker, less able to manage change and adapt to their opportunities.


I am saying that a transactional mindset is inherently unpredictable and organizationally divisive, and contributes to economic instability in organizations and the global economy.


I am actually saying that leaders who only know how to work within a transactional model are weaker, and, their displays of control and ego are masks for fear and a sense of inadequacy.

Treating each person with respect, empathy and honor doesn't mean that we are simply nice to them. It is means that we listen and treat their ideas and their actions seriously. By treating them with honor, we are able to be constructively critical. Without honor, our criticism easily becomes self-serving and destructive.

With honor and kindness, we build understanding between us that elevates our mutual strategic thought processes. This is often what is missing in executive efforts to increase team communication and decision-making. It isn't about the analytical process, but about the relationship that builds understanding, unity and commitment.

A reason why so much of social networking, whether in person or online, is a waste of time is because its based on a transactional perspective. When we seek to be kind, to contribute to the welfare of others, to practice the Five Actions of Gratitude, then the social dynamic changes. 

As my understanding of Gratitude and, now, Kindness has grown, I'm also seeing how my best online relationships are mutual expressions of The Kindness / Gratitude Connection. 

The Power of Mutual Reciprocity

Genuine accountability in relationships requires openness, transparency, and a mutual willingness to adapt and change to make the relationship work. We share a mutual intention to submit to one another's critique and counsel.

When mutual accountability works, the relationship transcends the transaction and begins to move toward a relationship that reflects the kindness / gratitude connection

Kindness fosters giving. It opens up social settings to opportunities that do not exist except when relationships are healthy and vital.  Givers are the source of this openness. Philanthropy is an embodiment of the kindness of strangers giving to causes and institutions that matter to them. Their giving creates the strength that makes a society work.

For this reason, gratitude is more than a function of social etiquette to which my grandmother would earnestly approve.  Rather, It is a fundamental part of every human relationship that completes the act of kindness by giving back in gratitude.

In many ways, the kindness / gratitude connection is a type of love.  Here is the beginning of Trappist monk Thomas Merton's, No Man Is An Island.

"A happiness that is sought for ourselves alone can never be found: for a happiness that is diminished by being shared is not big enough to make us happy."

"There is a false and momentary happiness in self-satisfaction, but it always leads to sorrow because it narrows and deadens our spirit.  True happiness is found in unselfish love, a love which increases in proportion as it is shared.  There is no end to the sharing of love, and, therefore, the potential happiness of such love is without limit.  Infinite sharing is the law of God's inner life.  He has made the sharing of ourselves the law of our own being, so that it is in loving others that we best love ourselves.  In disinterested activity we best fulfill our own capacities to act and to be."

"Yet there can never be happiness in compulsion.  It is not enough for love to be shared: it must be shared freely.  That is to say it must be given, not merely taken.  Unselfish love that is poured out upon a selfish object does not bring perfect happiness: not because love requires a return or a reward for loving, but because it rests in the happiness of the beloved.  And if the one loved receives love selfishly, the lover is not satisfied.  He sees that his love has failed to make the beloved happy.  It has not awakened his capacity for unselfish love."

"Hence the paradox that unselfish love cannot rest perfectly except in a love that is perfectly reciprocated: because it knows that the only true peace is found in selfless love.  Selfless love consents to be loved selflessly for the sake of the beloved.  In so doing, it perfects itself."

"The gift of love is the gift of the power and the capacity to love, and, therefore, to give love with full effect is also to receive it.  So, love can only be kept by being given away, and it can only be given perfectly when it is also received."

The expression of kindness is analogous to the expression of love between people. Paraphrasing Merton, we could say. 

The gift of kindness is the gift of the power and the capacity to be kind, and, therefore, to give kindness with full effect is also to receive it.

The gift of gratitude is the gift of the power and the capacity to be grateful, and, therefore, to give gratitude with full effect is also to receive it.

The fulfillment of love for Merton isn't the expression of it. Rather, it is the mutual benefit that comes from mutual giving and receiving. This is what the Kindness / Gratitude Connection means.

My purpose is to show that gratitude is not just some nice thing that we do. Oh, isn't she nice. She sent me a thank you note. My point is to show that the expression of kindness and gratitude changes a professional relationship from a transactional one to an adaptive one..

When we act towards others with kindness, we open up possibilities in our relationship with them that would be more difficult to discover if my only interest was closing the deal. We become much more aware of the situations that we each have, and those that we share. As a result our communication level is deeper, and our willingness to help the other out is greater.

The Future is Kind

Everywhere I turn I see organizations and institutions failing because they think they can sustain the past into the future. The transaction-based professional relationship and institution are relics of a much more homogeneous, economically predictable time.  It is the model of the 20th century that worked.

The 21st century is vastly different. The organizational forms of the past are disintegrating, to the point that all that is left is the commitment and desire of people to sustain the place of their employment.

The future is going to be secured in relationships of mutuality, kindness, honor, empathy and gratitude. 

These relationships will transcend all the boundaries that we spent the 20th century seeking to overcome. Where they remain are places still committed to sustaining the past.

The beauty of the 21st century is that it is open to everyone because it is built upon our relationships with one another. It is not just an ethical perspective, but a strategic development one. Making the Kindness / Gratitude Connection a strategic focus on a business, the kind of relationship we need to manage rapid, accelerating global change can be realized. The real beauty of it is that it is not institutionalize, but personalized in each one of us.

If we want to be successful in every aspect of our lives in the future, then learn to be kind, giving, grateful and honoring of the people in your life.

The Weekly Leader Series on Organic Leadership

Over the past several weeks, I've been writing a series of columns at Weekly Leader on what I call Organic Leadership. Here's what it's about.

We are in the midst of a dramatic change of approach to leadership and organization. We are shifting from an era of hierarchical institutions to ones organized around human interaction and initiative.  I'm not the only one who is saying this. However, what I don't find is sufficient attention given to is the structure of Organically led businesses.  Here are links to the columns in order of appearance.

Turn of the Tide

The Organic Imperative

The Organic Facilitator

The Organic System

The Organic Puzzle

An Organic Foundation

This shift in approach is not really about styles of leadership. Rather, it is about both the moral foundation of leadership and the structural systems of organizations.

Twentieth Century organizations were efforts in the systematization of processes, and highly successful at that. The modern consumer society would not be possible without a system of production that enabled high quality, inexpensive goods to be produced.

The 21st century is a different time. There is a moral and cultural shift taking place that is moving away from the predominant assumptions of the past two or three centuries. At the center of this shift is an emphasis on the importance and value of the person. We've heard this as an idea for a generation or more. We read books and hear speakers on the topic of personal excellence.

What is new is an understanding of how to organize businesses and organizations around individual purpose and initiative.  This is what this series on Organic leadership is focused on.

I welcome your comments, critique, stories and interaction.

Let's talk collaboration and network development

I'm writing a series at Weekly Leader on collaboration and networks.

Collaboration is not a networking strategy

Qualifying Your Network

Measuring Our Network

When Collaboration Meets Hierarchy and Independence

It is clear to me that collaboration is the future, and that what we've assumed collaboration is, no longer works.

Here's a picture of the two types of collaborative structures that I'm seeing.

Two Types CNG - simple

Alignment and the Myth of Balance

First Posted April 2010 at Weekly Leader.

  Balancing Rock

I don’t know many people who don’t want balance between their life and their work. How many spouses have complained about long work hours? How many daughters and sons have gone through their childhood with one or both of their parents working long hours at the office or constantly away on a business trip?

The desire for balance is ingrained in our psyche from generations of work that lacked autonomy and meaning. It is a remnant of the industrial era when the distinction between life and work became more distinct. Prior, life was work. The line was between the two was non-existent.

In 1899, sociologist Thorsten Veblen published The Theory of the Leisure Class: An economic study of institutions. His research marked a growing phenomenon of people separating their personal life from their work life. Veben was the one who coined the often used term, “conspicuous consumption.” His research marked a growing tension between personal life and work life. This tension is at the heart of the quest for balance.

The balance between life and work, I’ve come to conclude, is an impossible standard. It is a measure of time and activity level rather than a measure of the value of either our life or work.

Ask yourself the following questions.

1. How do you know when there is balance between your life and work? Is it a 50/50 split?

2. If you were to achieve balance, what would be different? Is it simply that you would have more time to pursue your leisure time interests?

3. Presently, which side, life or work, is more out of balance? What is it specifically that tells me this?

When we look more closely at the relation between our personal life and our work life, we find competitive interests. My personal life and my work life are in conflict with one another. I have personal goals and aspirations, and I also have an ambition to advance in my career. Too often these seem incompatible, or out of balance.

When Thorsten Veblen conducted his study, people were just beginning to discover a sense of a individual life apart from work. In his day, the emergence of the leisure class was a sign of growing economic opportunity for people whose ancestors had only known hard work and poverty. If you were smart, industrious and willing to move, you could create a new life. It is no mistake that it was during this time that the Horatio Alger stories were so popular. They crystallized a perception in the growing middle class that hard work focused on personal goals was the route to success and achievement in life.

Over a century later, the tension between our private lives and our public life at work still exists. Establishing balance is no longer an adequate answer. Instead, something more radical is.

The radical answer is the alignment of our life purpose, values and vision for impact with the work that we do.

It is radical because it requires change. It is not simply finding some trade off between personal goals and career ambition. Instead, is bringing our life and our work into alignment around our purpose, values and vision.

It is difficult to visualize alignment between your life and work without clarifying the ideas that connect it all together. I am making the assumption that we are not just aligning our purpose, values and vision within our personal or private life, but really aligning both our personal and work lives together with our purpose, values and vision. The difference matters. It is between a life of compartments vying for influence over the other, or life in alignment around the values
that truly matter to us.

We are not one person at home and another at work. We are the same persons at home and at work, and the more we align those two halves (The tension of balance still remains.), the greater impact our lives can have.

Let’s use the Circle of Impact Leadership Guides to see how this can work.

3dLeadership - Purpose-Vision-Values


Our purpose is our sense of identity. It is our awareness of who we are; what our gifts, talents, and strengths are; what the social and organizational contexts of our lives are; and, the kind of work that we want to spend our days doing. When our purpose is not aligned either personally or occupationally, then a wedge has been driven between our
personal life and work. For ultimately, to have alignment means I’ve defined who I am, and my work is simply a reflection of who I am.

If you love the work you do, then you are closer to being in alignment, than you are if you hate what you do. Our purpose is not simply what I can do well. It is deeper than that. Our purpose is rather the difference I can make that truly matters. When we are having an impact, we know it because we find satisfaction and peace of mind.

Aligning our purpose with our work is not just doing that which I love and can do. It is aligning it with the right situation where I have the opportunity to create the impact that my purpose identifies. Purpose isn’t just another way of stating how I’m going to fill up my days with activities. No, it is about the impact or difference that I can make..


Our values connect us to people and our social settings, whether at work or away. They define what our standards are, what matters, the boundaries of what is appropriate, permitted and our measures for success. The clearer we are about our values the more likely it will be that we’ll find people who can join us in our purpose.

For this reason, it is vital that our values are aligned with our relationships. At the heart of this alignment is trust. When there is alignment, there is trust between people. When there is trust, there is openness, accountability, mutuality, and confidence. These are the relationships that we need in our life and work that enable us to fulfill our purpose. I cannot achieve it alone. No one can. We are totally, absolutely dependent upon other people to contribute to the fulfilling of our purpose. If you think otherwise, then your ambitions are set too low.


Our vision is a picture of alignment. It is a picture of what we do with the people with whom we are in relationship through the social and organizational structures where we live and work to create the impact that our purpose points to. It is simpler than that last sentence, because when we are in alignment, we don’t see the parts, but the whole. We see the effect.

A vision therefore is more like a video than a snapshot. It is a view of what we see happening. It is a visual image in my mind’s eye that is a reference point for what we are constantly looking to achieve. It is as much the experience of it as it is the what of it.

The best place to start to understand what is your vision is to ask, “What’s changed?” The change you see is the effect of the activities of your purpose and values through people and structures. If there is no change, there is no solution to problem, no resolution to an issue, no growth, no progress, no forward movement. As much as we don’t like change, if you aren’t creating change, you aren’t fulfilling your purpose, and most likely finding that your values have less and less a role to play in your life and work.

Alignment is not the same as balance.

Balance is a picture of the compartments of our life and work in tension. Alignment is the parts of our life and work, functioning together toward an impact that makes a difference that matters.

Alignment comes when we connect our purpose, our values and our vision for impact with the people and the social and organizational structures in our life.

Start by clarifying your connecting ideas. Here are two simple quesstion to begin.

What is your life purpose?

How are you able to live that purpose out in your work?

If either one is not clear, then take some time to reflect on them both.

Three more questions.

What is it that I value and how is it reflected in my relationships?

Who are the people that I know that best represent a commitment to these values?

Are those values free to be lived out in my work?

If you are unsure of any of these questions, then take some time to reflect on them.

My advice is find one person whom you trust, and the two of you begin a conversation about these questions. To bring our life and work into alignment is a radical step because it will require change. This is why it is important that we are first clear about our purpose, values and vision, and that we have established some trusting relationships with people who can help us as we begin the hardest work of bringing alignment within the organizational structure of work.

You may well find that your work does not define you as a person. If so, what does define you? How can you marshal all the best of what you have to offer to live each day making a difference that matters. To do so may mean radical change. To do so may mean that you no longer live to be a apart of a leisure class for whom conspicuous consumption is the goal. Your vision for impact takes over and guides you to discover alignment in a whole new way than before
asking the question you’d never see.

When creating alignment, our life and work are in transition.

Transition through Time

I know many people for whom the daily grind is hard and unrewarding. The prospects of radical change to create alignment is not possible as long as there are children to educate and mortgages to pay. If this is you, then realize that our lives are not stationary, but always in transition from one point to the next. The measure of our lives is not its length, but its impact. Whatever point your life finds you, you can find ways to make a difference that matters. You may not be where you want to be, but you are also not where you used to be. Begin to create alignment and the way forward to a higher level of alignment will show itself.

Live through the tension of finding balance by creating alignment. Do so and both your life and work will open up to new opportunities. Keep thinking “What is the difference that I’m making here that truly matters ?” Keep asking that question, and the way to alignment will be discovered each day.

Photo credit:

This post originally appeared online at Weekly Leader with the title The Myth of Balance.

7 Virtues of the 21st Century Organization

7VIRTUES image

My current Weekly Leader series is on the 7 Virtues of the 21st Century Organization. Check here, here and here

The 7 Virtues are a system of values that can be used to improve the functioning of an organization.

7 Virtues 21stOrg

In this post, I look at the 7 Virtues through the lens of the Circle of Impact Leadership Guides. The Circle of Impact is built around two sets of ideas. The first is that all leaders must address themselves to the Three Dimensions of Leadership: Ideas, Relationships and Structure. The key is to align the three so that they work together. The way this alignment is achieved is by being absolutely clear about the Four Connecting Ideas: Values, Purpose, Vision, and Impact. The key here is that every facet of the organization is focused on Impact, which is defined as change or a difference that matters.

Impact as change or the difference that matters is a very general definition. This means that each organization, and each division within it must define for their own purposes what impact means. As a function of leadership, this requires each person within the organization to be able to state the impact that they seek to create by their work within the system. This is how leadership becomes a shared responsibility, and not simply a positional one.

Circle of Impact- simple

The 7 Virtues

 1. Collaboratively-led:

This idea encompasses the other six virtues into a singular perspective that defines what it means to be collaborative. It means that a collaborative leader will focus on aligning the three dimensions and the four connecting ideas so that the people who are a part of the social and organization structures may have relationships that enable them to fulfill their shared vision for impact. This is what a collaborative leader does.

2. Decentralized, local control:

This function of the structure of the organization, created by policy governance and design, establishes a system of communication and accountability, built around collaboration.

3. Long tail internal operational structures:

This is a function of the alignment of structure with relationships. This means that the people who are bound to one another by a clear purpose and set of values have the freedom and may take the initiative to organize how they work together.

4. Purpose-driven organic adaptability:

This is also a function of the alignment of structure and relationships. In this context, the group or team adapts freely and with great agility to changing circumstances in order to keep their purpose foremost in their relationships.

5. Relational-asset based:

It may seem that this is a function of the relationships, and at one level it is, but the importance to treating the group or company's network of relationships as a relational asset is that these connections bring value that does not exist when the people of an organization are viewed as human resources. Relational resources are the assets to come from having a large, diverse, and widely dispersed network of relationships that feed information, insight, talent and business to the organization. From a structural point of view this is a fourth classification of resources, along side the financial, material, and human. The higher level of collaboration that takes place through these relational assets, the great value they bring to the company. These assets are what are commonly understood as social capital.

6. Values that are operational:

This a function of the alignment of the Ideas and Relationships dimensions with the Structural. Values, which inform an organization's purpose, is the core strength of a business. It is the only thing that is unchangeable. An organization's purpose can change as circumstances change. The structure can change to remained aligned with a vision that is constantly adapting to the current context of business. But the values of a company remain constant, though not necessarily acknowledged or practiced. This virtue, therefore, focuses on applying the company's values operationally. This done by asking the question how are our values represented in this decision or this policy? The greater alignment between values and practice, the greater the integrity, confidence and impact from the collaborative work of the people of the company.

7. Ownership culture of giving:

This virtue is a function of the whole community of the company.  It is the responsibility of the company's leadership to foster a culture of giving. The aim is to encourage people create a culture of giving through their own initiative and expression of gratitude. This is the kind of culture that is represented in the Five Actions of Gratitude (Say Thanks Every Day).

The complaint that I've heard over the years about a more relationally oriented business structure is that these are soft skills, not the hard skills of finance. True they aren't the same, but they are also not contradictory either. Create a culture of the 7 Virtues, and you'll see not only a transformed workforce, but a transformed business environment. If you do it sooner than later, you'll be ahead of the curve, and be recognized for leading rather than following.

Collaboration, Motivation & Leadership - Weekly Leader Posts and Podcasts

It has been sometime since I linked my Weekly Leader posts and podcasts.


Interview with Dan Pink on Motivation (Drive:The Surprising Truth About What  Motivates Us)

Organizing Grassroots Leadership Events


Is Showing Up Enough?

The Experience That Matters

The 5 C's of Lessons In Leadership

The Structure Question

The 7 Virtues of a 21st century organization

You can find more here. Thank you for taking time to read them.

Starting with a client's perceived need

Transition Point - no title

Where do you begin with clients?

Are you selling them a product?

Do you begin with what they want?

Do you explore what they perceive their need to be?

I start with a transition question. 

What's a transition question?

It is a question about what they perceive as having changed. It isn't just that it has changed, but change in some relatively permanent way, as if there is no going back.

Most people have a sense that something has changed, is changing or needs to change, but don’t have a way to see it very clearly or completely.

That is where I begin.

Once they see this transition, they are more motivated to make changes that take advantage of the transition they are in.

People see problems.

They know when things are not right or in decline.

They know it intuitively, even though that can't describe it precisely.

Once they begin to see the transition they are in, I begin to talk with them about the dynamic of the Circle of Impact.

Circle of Impact- simple

This dynamic is an interplay between our ideas, relationships and the contexts where we are involved. They are always touching one another.

I have found that when I begin to talk with someone about a project, that their perception of need is often different from their actual need.

A person's perception of transition is not just an idea. It is also a product of the interaction that they have with people, as well as their involvement as participants and contributors in the social and work contexts where they are involved. These contexts are impacted by the quality of relationships and by the ideas that govern how the structure and relationships function.

If your client's group is in transition, meaning that change is happening to them, and it isn't clear where it is going, then a lack of clarity (Ideas) about policy and procedures may be affecting the comfort and security that people feel in their relationships with each other. If there is a lack of trust then the group has less capacity to manage well the transition they are in.

See how this dynamic is played out? Try this exercise.

Make a list of your clients and ask the following three questions about their situation.

1. Is my client clear about who they are and what they stand for?

2. Do they trust the people with whom they are involved?

3. Do they feel that they have an opportunity to contribute their best?

If the answer is no to any of these questions, then there is a breakdown in the dynamic of the Circle of Impact.

Helping people move from a vague sense of change to a clearer one provides a foundation for addressing the deeper issues of their mission, vision and values. I call them the deeper issues because these are not simply ideas, but are the ways we connect the dimensions of the Circle of Impact together.

Look at the above illustration.

A mission is an idea that connects a social or organizational context not only to its purpose, but also how it is organized to achieve its mission.

If your client's stated mission and the organization of their life and work are not in agreement or alignment, then you know there is an issue to address.

How will they see this disconnect between mission and structure?

One way is that no one takes their stated mission seriously. They are simply empty words.

A vision is a word-picture of the effect of a group's mission. It captures the impact that people create through the social or organizational context where they participate?

If there is no actual impact, then you know that there is a breakdown in the Circle of Impact.

Is the breakdown an Idea, Relationship or Structure problem?

Until you look closely at the dynamic you don't know. However, it is less important where the problem is than realizing that the solution comes from all three dimensions.

My experience is that all people have values, but often don't know what they are.

They need help in identifying them.

We need a real world impact picture in order to identify them.

Values function in two ways.

1. Values unify relationships. They are the bond that unites people within a social or organizational context together.

2. Values also create the strength that everything else is dependent upon. A mission is simple a statement of identity and purpose. A vision is a statement of the results of that mission. Underlying both ideas are values, and the values really are used to create the strength that we see in collaboration.

Real strength comes from our interaction with people, whether as partners, employer/employees or with clients. 

Ideas and the structure of social and organizational contexts are the tools that we use in our relationship to make a difference that matters.

The problem for most of us, including our clients, is that we have not been taught how to see this dynamic between our ideas, structure and relationships.

Helping your clients clarify the perception of their problems and the transition they are in is the first step toward bringing significant, sustainable solutions to their situations.

Conducting your own 2009 review

We are all approaching our end of a year of many transitions.Four Questsions - Life-Work Coaching  

In the past I've written about using my Four Questions that Every Leader Must Ask as a guide for an end-of-the-year review and a way to plan for the next. 

This year, I have been impacted by people who have helped me see beyond the organizational leadership work that I have been doing for a decade and a half.  The result is a reframing of this material for individuals who living on the thinning line of life and work, and the expansion of my consulting work to include a new coaching program. 

While we do look at the change of the year as a time of reflection and new beginnings, the reality is that we can do this year round. However, if you have not, then there is now time like the present to begin to think differently about yourself as the new year approaches.

Today, in my Weekly Leader column - Reviewing Your 2009 Impact - I present the first step in a process of review and planning that will conclude in next week's column. I've prepared an one page listing of the questions that I ask in the column. I suggest that you print the list and the column and spend a few moments over the next week reflecting on the past year to 18 months.

I've said many times over the past couple years that I believe we are in the midst of one of the most significant transitions in all of human history. This is bigger than President Obama, the IPhone, the recession and the combine effects of 9/11, Katrina and the Iraq/Afghanistan war. The transition is, regardless of what you see happening in Washington, is a shift towards individual responsibility and collaborative relationships that transcend the old bureaucratic structures that are no longer able to manage the complexity of life today.

In order to be at our best, for ourselves, our families, our co-workers, our communities and for the world at large, we each need to thinking clearly about what we believe and the difference we are committed to making today. A starting place is gaining perspective and understanding about where we are and what we need to focus on next year.

I invite you to read today's column and begin to answer for yourself the Life / Work planning questions and if you are so inclined, share them with me. I believe that as you go through this process of reflection, that you'll begin to discuss opportunities that were always there, but that the lack of clarity of insight blocked your vision of them. It is my hope that from this exercise you'll find new opportunities in life and work that will enable you to have an impact that is far beyond what you would have imagine a year ago, or even yesterday.

Transition Points and Space

This week's Weekly Leader column - Living in Transition Space - looks at a different way of understanding change. Transition Points-Space
Instead of thinking of change as simply disruptive, we should look at it as a transition process. Our natural tendency will be to focus on the transition point. However, we typically living in the transition space between those junctures of change.

I'm convinced that the frequency of these transition points are going to increase. As a result, we need to develop new ways of approach our work as organizational leaders. This is what the column addresses this week.