Fragmented and Compartmentalized or Connected and Aligned for Impact?

Circle of Impact

The Circle of Impact is designed to show how the Three Dimensions of Leadership work together.  It is a picture of connection and alignment that leads to impact.

Unfortunately, most of us don't think this way.

Our thinking is often fragmented, compartmentalize, lacking in meaningful connection and alignment. 

It was only through conversations with people where we were trying to sort through this fragmented, compartmentalized picture that the Circle of Impact came into being.

It could have been a long or brief conversation about a specific problem or something quite general and obscure, regardless, the issue had one of three origins.

Either it was an Idea problem, which could either be characterized as a thinking problem or a communication one.

Or, it was a Relationship problem, due to either a personality conflict, a difference in values or the lack of personal engagement.

Or it was an Organizational Structure problem, related to issues of governance, program, operations or resources. Later, it became clear that the Social Structure of an organization also can be setting for these kinds of problems.

In this week's Weekly Leader column - The Subversiveness of Gratitude, I write about the importance of connection.

What we are discovering, and the practice of gratitude is showing, is that truth is not in the discrete, isolated parts, but in their connection to one another. On a human scale, this means that our identity is not our position, title or place in a system, but rather the function that we have in connection. Collaboration and shared responsibility is the ground for understanding who I am within any social and organizational setting. The connection between the parts is where the action is, and the organization lives.

What is the connection between the Three Dimensions?

Ideas are the tools for connection.

Social and Organizational Structures are the settings.

Relationships are where connections are made, and the action is.

The Ideas that matter in helping people make connections are Purpose or Mission, Values, Vision and Impact. If there is a hierarchy of importance, it is found with Values. Our conception (Idea) of our Purpose or Mission, our Vision and definition of Impact are formed by our Values.

For example, my Mission is to help individuals discover and act upon a purpose for their life and work. The ideas that give meaning to my purpose are values centered in human purpose, potential and impact.

It is also true that social and organization structures are tangible expressions of the values that are either intentionally determined or become the default values through inattention. Those values maybe about order, productivity, respect, trust or integrity. Or they may focused on wealth creation or personal freedom. Whatever the values are, they are the ideological foundation for these structures. They are seen in the effect or impact of the structure on the people who work wihtin the organization.

The three dimensions are not equal, but complementary. Look again at the Circle of Impact picture.

Purpose is an idea that is connected to Structure. The key focus here is to align the structure with the purpose of the organization. Without that alignment, the organization works a cross-purposes with itself.

Vision is an idea that is connected to both Relationships and Structure.  The focus here is a picture of activity showing what it is like for people working within the structure of the organization to achieve the desire impact. 

Ultimately, what this means is that leaders are not interested in ideas just for the sake of the ideas themselves. They aren't interested in having healthy relationships just because their values say they should. And, they aren't interested in structure just because it is needed for a business to function. 

Instead, leaders are looking for ways to utilize Ideas to strengthen Relationships and inform how the Structure of the organization can be aligned with the company's Mission or Purpose.

The Impact of the Three Dimensions of Leadership should be better communication, collaboration and coordination.

The Moral Component

When we are young, the world is an open book.

There is nothing like being 11 years old with a vivid imagination and absolutely no sense of barriers in life. Then adolescence hits, and we realize that there are some limitations.  Some people are more popular, cooler, smarter; some more troubled and broken. Others are destined for success, happiness or a life of hardship and toil.

Then the hard work of finding just how open and limitless one's opportunities are begins. It may start at 15 or at 21. It may not become important until we are 30 or even 45, and when we do, we realize that our life needs to count for something. When we discover, not just our interest or passion, but our purpose, our destiny, then life changes. Forever.

When we discover the difference our lives should make, our options are immediately reduced, narrowed, defined. We find out that life has limitations, all of a sudden, there is an end point, way out there, when we can say, "I'm done."  At least, that is what we think.

At some point, we may also discover that the pursuit of our destiny is more than just achieving something, more than simply a destination. There is something embedded in the middle of that pursuit that when we were young we could not see, maybe only feel. It was always there, but it wasn't clear to us. Then at some moment, a line is crossed, and we discover that there is a moral component to this quest to fulfill our destiny. We realize that it is no longer about just about destiny, but the journey that leads there.

This moral component is not some abstract, philosophical concept that stands as a branded idea for your life. There are plenty of people who brand their morality, wearing it on their shirt sleeve, and capitalizing on it by capitalizing it.  That is not the moral component that I see.

This moral component is something simple, deep, and intangible. It is the quality or rather the virtue that makes a difference in how we live out our purpose. It is something about who we are as individuals, about our life, work and impact.

Martin Luther King had that moral component. So did Mother Teresa, Mohandas Gandhi, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Abraham Lincoln. Each of them was their own person, standing strong as the world around them went a different direction. That is the strength that comes from the moral component.  It isn't ego that made them strong, though they probably had strong egos.

The moral component is something else. It transcends our circumstances, our place in history and the singular importance of us as individuals. It is that indelible quality that links us with others through time, and gives our destiny and purpose its meaning, and the reason our commitment and resilience matters.

Even if I live another 40 years, given my family's genetics, I see that I have now passed some indecipherable midpoint in my career.  My options are fewer now than they were just five years ago. I see it, and find peace in that. It makes things more simple, and to an extent clearer.

When you are young, there is anxiety about what your life will become, and the difference you'll make, and whether it will truly count in the end.  There are thousands of options, choices, directions to go in. Everyone tells you that you can do anything you want. However, in the back of your mind, you know it isn't true. You just want to know what that one thing is that is your destiny.

I no longer worry about that. I find that as life proceeds, the moral component grows in importance because at the end of life, it is that which is our true legacy. 

A friend said during a group conversation that he wanted his legacy to be that he was a good man, a good husband and father, and ran his business well.  The moral component for him was becoming more clear, and knowing him well, I see it in the life choices that he has made over the years. 

Philosophers and historians speak of the moral component in many ways. One of those is the difference between a naive and reflective view of history.

A naive perspective refers to a lack of self-consciousness about the values that inform our lives. There is a sense of not seeing it at all because it is so much a part of one's life, like breathing air or water to fish, we don't notice it.  There is an innocence about this approach. This experience of the moral component in life is such that we see it as continuous through time, across the generations and the foundation upon which we understand the meaning of life. It is unself-conscious because we do not hold these moral values in any objective sense. They are highly subjective and personal, quite possibly never defined in any specific sense. Yet they exist, and we tend to begin to see them when they are under threat.  They are who we are in a real sense, and this even more so as we consistently live them out in a purposeful, intentional way.

A reflective approach stands apart from the moral component, and attempts to view it objectively. Yet this is impossible in any pure, scientific sense because what brings us to this relationship with the moral component is awareness of the connection between the idea and our own lives. We become aware that we lacked objectivity in our formerly naive view of life.  We may speak of this change of perspective as a loss of innocence or coming of age or quite possibly of becoming a cynic. We experience a disjunction or disconnection between our values and the social and organizational environments where we live and work, and stand apart viewing the moral component, trying to understand how it fits in the situation we are in. 

The moral component viewed from these two perspectives is a very complex phenomenon in our lives. We may find that we want to be both naive and reflective at the same time. We want to believe in our values, seeing them as universal, transcending time, space and culture, the way life ought to be, bring purpose, peace and fulfillment.  We may see that these values are rarely lived to their fullest, that some of the greatest proponents of these values were crooks and charlatans, and that there are other philosophies or perspectives that are compelling and valid in their own right.

Where this leads for some people is to confusion and for some to an abandonment of their hope for fulfillment of their destiny. For others, they embrace the moral component as a guide to create a life of goodness and difference that matters.

The people I mentioned earlier are these people. They held to their values in a changing world where their values were not normative. We remember them as much for their courage as for the values they believed in.

As I have reflected upon this picture over the past few months, I began to see that the moral component of life and leadership matters in ways that have been lost. For many people, their naive view of the way leaders should behave and function in their roles has experienced a loss of innocence. With that loss has come cynicism. And what must come next, is a recovery of a more sober, realistic understanding of the moral component in leadership being that which brings credibility and respect to them.

Making a difference that matters, making our lives count, creating a legacy of leadership and goodness comes from recognizing and developing the moral component in our life and work.

This means that we are aware of the values that matter to us, and that we must live according to them. To stand when everyone else is running away or in cynical denial of their own loss of innocence is to live by a moral code than is more than a brand or an inspiring-idea-of-the-month. In the end, this is what separates the moralists from those who truly lead.  This is the legacy that is possible for us all if we choose.

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.

You are in control of you - Admiral James Stockdale on surviving in stressful situations

This week's Weekly Leader column - You are in charge of you - looks at the stress that Stockdale reunion - Academy of Achievementcomes from losing one's job in the context of the story of James Stockdale, the highest ranking US POW imprisoned during the Vietnam War.

A long section from an excellent interview posted at the Academy of Achievement where Admiral Stockdale tells about how he managed the psychological stress of imprisonment, and the role that the philosophy of Epictetus had in his survival.

Admiral, how did you survive psychologically? The other men you mentioned perished under the same circumstances.

James Stockdale: I don't know. I didn't feel like I had more vitality than the next one. I had things to do. I was alone a lot, and I found ways to talk to myself and to bolster my own morale. I was getting occasional letters from my wife Sybil. And she would from me. She probably wrote 50 and I got six, and I probably wrote 20 and she got two or something like that.

After I came out of Alcatraz, we all came back to the regular prison. They tried to get me to go downtown. They tried everything. They would give me the ropes three times a week. One of my original breakthroughs was self disfiguration. I was given a lot of times in the ropes in room 18, which is the main torture chamber of Hoa Lo prison. It also serves as kind of a ceremonial chamber when no prisoners are in there. In that, the only room in the building, a great big building with plate glass windows, and they had big heavy quilts that they drew across it. I was in there and they were about at their wits end. Two officers were working me over. Pi Ga, my torture guard, was always there to take me wherever they wanted. It was about mid-afternoon and they said, "Okay, you've done okay, today. Now you want to get washed up." I knew what that meant. That meant we were going downtown that night.

Continue reading "You are in control of you - Admiral James Stockdale on surviving in stressful situations" »

Work Life Lead @ Weekly Leader

Over at Weekly Leader, I've chosen to alternate my weekly Leadership Q&A column Work-life balance with a new series called Work Life Lead. The purpose is to address those issues that bridge the fine line between our personal and professional lives.

The first WLL column was The Thinning Live between Work and Life.

Yesterday's column, The Conversation Key, touches on how we can do a better job of communicating both at work and at home.

All my columns at Weekly Leader may be access through the Leadership Q&A category.

Photo credit: