Leadership On The Line

Subtitle: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading
By Ronald a. Heifetz & Marty Linsky


p2. And every day you must decide whether to put your contribution out there, or keep it to yourself to avoid upsetting anyone, and get through another day.  You are right to be cautions.  prudence is a virtue.  You disturb people when you take unpopular initiative in your community, put provocative new ideas on the table in our organization, question
the gap between colleagues’ values and behavior, or ask friends and relatives to face up to tough realities.  you risk people’s ire and make yourself vulnerable.  Exercising leadership can get you into a lot of trouble.

Leadership often means exceeding the authority you are given to tackle the challenge at hand.

Chapter 1: The Heart of Danger

p.12: The hope of leadership lies in the capacity to deliver disturbing news and raise difficult questions in a way that people can absorb, prodding them to take up the message rather than ignore it or kill the messenger.

p.13: … mobilize change by challenging people to answer a core but painful question: Of all that we value, what’s really most precious and what’s expendable?

The sustainability of change depends on having the people with the problem internalize the change itself.

People cannot see at the beginning of the adaptive process that the new situation will be any better than the current condition.  What they do see clearly is the potential for loss.

p.14: When people look to authorities for easy answers to adaptive challenges, they end up with dysfunction.  They expect the person in charge to know what to do, and under the weight of that responsibility, those in authority frequently end up faking it or disappointing people, or they get spit out of the system in the belief that a new “leader” will solve the problem.  In fact, there’s a proportionate relationship between risk and adaptive change: The deeper the change and the greater the amount of new learning required, the more resistance there will be and thus, the greater the danger to those who lead.  For this reason, people often try to avoid the dangers, either consciously or subconsciously but treating an adaptive challenge as if it were a technical one.

The single most common source of leadership failure we’ve been able to identify — in politics, community life, business, or the nonprofit sector — is that people, especially those in positions of authority, treat adaptive challenges like technical problems.

Distinguishing Technical from Adaptive Challenges
What’s the work? Who does the work?
Technical Apply current know-how Authorities
Adaptive Learn new ways The people with the problem.

p.15: In mobilizing adaptive work, you have to engage people in adjusting their unrealistic expectations, rather than try to satisfy them as if the situation were amenable primarily to a technical remedy.  You have to counteract their exaggerated dependency and promote their resourcefulness.  this takes an extraordinary level of presence, time,
and artful communication, but it may also take more time and trust than you have.

p.18: What makes a problem technical is not that it is trivial; but simply that its solution already lies within the organization’s repertoire.  In contrast, adaptive pressures force the organization to change, lest it decline.


  • Should we trust the government officials with information that we consider private, in the interest of our collective security?
  • can we accept the undeniable reality that we live in an interdependent world in which safety must primarily be found in the health of our relationships with very different cultures?
  • can we refashion the religious arrogance that leads people to equate their faith in God with the singular belief that they know God’s truth better than anyone else, and that their mission then is to capture the
    market for people’s souls?

p.20: Without the willingness to challenge people’s expectations of you, there is no way you can escape being dominated by the social system and its inherent limits.

Generally, people will not authorize someone to make them face what they do not want to face.  Instead, people hire someone to provide protection and ensure stability, someone with solutions that require a minimum of disruption.  But adaptive work creates risk, conflict, and instability because addressing the issues underlying adaptive problems may involve upending deep and entrenched norms.  thus, leadership requires disturbing people — but at a rate they can absorb.

p.24: The toughest problems that groups and communities face are hard precisely because the group or community will not authorize anyone to push them to address those problems.

p.27: habits are hard to give up because they give stability.  They are predictable.  In going through the pains of adaptive change, there is no guarantee that the result will be an improvement.

p.28: People hold on to ideas as a way of holding on to the person who taught them the ideas.

Chapter 2: The Faces of Danger

p.31: When exercising leadership, you risk getting marginalized, diverted, attacked, or seduced.  Regardless of the form, however, the point is the same.  When people resist adaptive work, their goal is to shut down those who exercise leadership in order to preserve what they have.

p.36: embodying an issue in your authority role ties your survival, not just your success, to that of the issue.  That’s a dangerous platform on which to stand.

p. 38 – Diversion: There are many ways in which communities and organizations will consciously or subconsciously try to make you lose focus.  They do this sometimes by broadening your agenda, sometimes by overwhelming it, but always with a seemingly logical reason for disrupting your game plan.

p.39: Whenever you get an unexpected promotion, or when some fun or important tasks are added to your current role, pause and ask yourself: Do I represent some disquieting issue from which the organization is moving to divert me, and itself, from addressing?

p.40: [It is easier to squash an agenda by overwhelming it with additional demands and details than by fighting it head on]

Warren Bennis calls it the Unconscious Conspiracy to take you off of your game plan.

p.41 – Attack: Attention, the currency of leadership, gets wasted.  If you can’t draw people’s attention to the issues that matter, then how can you lead them in the right direction or mobilize any progress?

For the most part, people criticize you when they don’t like the message.  But rather than focus on the content of your message, taking issue with its merits, they frequently find it more effective to discredit you.

p.45 – Seduction:  We use the word seduction a politically charged word, as a way of naming the process by which you lose your sense of purpose altogether, and therefore get taken out of action by an initiative likely to succeed because it has a special appeal to you.  In general, people are seduced when their guard is down when their defense mechanisms have been lowered by the nature of the approach.

p.46: Tacitly, or perhaps explicitly, your own people will instruct you to get the job done by having the people from the other factions make the tough trade-offs.

p.47: Negotiators describe a related dynamic called “The constituency problem.”  Every labor negotiator knows it well: the experience of being yanked back into the previous posture by workers who have not gone through the same compromising and learning process that the primary negotiators have endured (often lasting many long nights).  Unprepared for giving up on any of their goals, they boo and his the ‘compromiser,” branding him disloyal to the cause.

cf.: Sitting in the Fire

p.48: [Story of the author in government, over-influenced by constituents]  Although the advocates surely did not intend to undermine him by conditioning their approval on his increasingly strident advocacy of their interests, they forced him to choose between their continuing loyalty and his diminishing success in the wider community.

Seduction, marginalization, diversion, and attack all serve a function.  They reduce the disequilibrium that would be generated were people to address the issues that are taken off the table.  They serve to maintain the familiar, restore order, and protect people from the pains of adaptive work.

Chapter 3: Get on the Balcony

p.52: The only way you can gain both a clearer view of reality and some perspective on the bigger picture is by distancing yourself from the fray.  Otherwise, you are likely to misperceive the situation and make the wrong diagnosis, leading you to misguided decisions about whether and how to intervene.

p.55: [Factors to be considered in why an adaptive issue may have been avoided]

  • Style
  • Track record
  • Ripeness
  • Status
  • Prejudice

p.57: typically, the group will strongly prefer the technical interpretation, particularly one in which the “problem” lies within an individual rather than the group as a whole.  This allows for a simple, straight forward solution, one that does not require any hard work or adaptation on the group’s part.

58: After investigating the personal, technical reasons for being neutralized and correcting for them, you may will find that you are continuing to be ignored precisely because you have so much to say.  [you] may be carrying the adaptive challenge of valuing divers perspectives for [your] whole team, without being asked or authorized to do so.

Most problems come bundled with both technical and adaptive aspects.  Before making an intervention, you need to distinguish between them in order to decide which to tackle first and with what strategy.

p.59: What’s the point of getting time with the vice president if you’re not going to identify the problems that are worth his attention?

“Balancing the budget” might in fact man refashioning the organization’s agenda and changing the way it conducts business.  thus, the tasks of leadership would be to mobilize people to adapt to a world with different constraints and opportunities than they had imagined.

p. 60-61: Technical vs. Adaptive factors:

  • You know you’re dealing with something more than a technical issue when people’s hearts and minds need to change, and not just their preferences or routine behaviors.  In an adaptive challenge, people have to learn
    new ways and choose between what appear to be contradictory values.
  • If you throw all the technical fixes you can imagine at the problem and the problem persists, it’s a pretty clear signal that an underlying
    adaptive challenge still needs to be addressed. The persistence of conflict usually indicates that people have not yet made the adjustments and accepted the losses that accompany adaptive change.
  • Crisis is a good indicator of adaptive issues that have festered.

p.61: most people in authority squander the opportunity of crisis because all eyes are turned to them to restore order, even if it means ignoring the adaptive issues and focusing on only the technical fixes.  When facing a budget crisis, for example, many organizations opt for the salami cutter as a way to cut expenses (take an equal 10 percent from each division), rather than face the more difficult strategic questions.

p.62: If people have avoided a problem for a long time, it should not be surprising that they try to silence you when you push them to face it.

p.64: Listen to the song beneath the words:

… hearing their stores is not the same as taking what they say at face value.  … after hearing their stories, you need to take the provocative step of making an interpretation that gets below the surface.

When the players chase you down the field in a soccer match, they are not after you personally.  they want you because you control the ball.

In political and organizational life, no one finds it easy in the midst of action to step back and interrogate reality.

p.66: Beware of making interpretations immediately and aloud, since this can provoke strong reactions.  … Making an interpretation is a necessary step.  whether and how you voice it, however, must depend on the culture and adaptability of your audience.

p.67: Read the authority figure for clues:

When you seek to instigate significant change within an organization or community, focus on the words and behavior of the authority figure; they provide a critical signal about the impact of your action on the organization
as a whole.  … In general, no one in an organizational system will be more tuned to the levels of distress than the person in charge, because an essential part of that job is to control any disequilibrium and restore order.  In other words, authority figures sit at the nodes of a social system and are sensitive to any disturbances.  They not only act as
indicators of social stability, but will act to restore equilibrium if change efforts go too far.

p.71: In times of adaptive stress, groups exert pressure on people in authority to solve the problems that seem to be causing it.  consequently, the behaviors of authority figures provide critical clues to the organization’s level of distress and its customary methods for restoring equilibrium.

p.73: … a cooling attitude from your authority figure indicates the resistance of the larger organization to your initiative, and therefore provides an essential clue for leading and staying alive.

A plan is no more than today’s best guess.  Tomorrow you discover the unanticipated effects of today’s actions and adjust to those unexpected events.

Chapter 4: Think Politically

One of the distinguishing qualities of successful people who lead in any field is the emphasis they place on personal relationships. … The critical resource is access, and so the greatest care is given to creating and nurturing networks of people whom they can call on, work with, and engage n addressing the issue at hand.  … the nature and quality of the connections human beings have with each other is more important than almost any other factor in determining results.

p. 78: Find Partners: partners provide protection, and they create alliances for you with factions other than your own.  They strengthen both you and your initiatives.  With partners, you are not simply relying on the logical power of your arguments and evidence, you are building political power as well.  furthermore, the content of your ideas will
improve if you take into account the validity of other viewpoints — especially if you can incorporate the view of those who differ markedly from you.  This is especially critical when you are advancing a difficult issue or confronting a conflict of values.

p.81: Even people with great authority and a powerful vision need partners when they are trying to bring about deep change in a community.

p.83: Finding real partners — people both inside and outside your organization who share the same goals — takes considerable time and energy.  however, making the effort pays off.  … Creating change requires you to move beyond your own cohort, beyond your own constituents, your “true believers.”  In order to use your allies effectively, you need to be aware of those other commitments.  If you forget about them or their influence on your partner, you risk  undermining your effectiveness and destroying the alliance.

p.84: Have you ever gone to a meeting and realized that there was a “pre-meeting” that did not include you?  The pre-meeting allowed those attending to minimize their internal conflict at the real meeting, present a unified front, and isolate you.

p.87: Keep the Opposition Close: To survive and succeed in exercising leadership, you must work as closely with your opponents as you do with your supporters.

p.89: People who oppose what you are trying to accomplish are usually those with the most to lose by your success.  In contrast, your allies have the least to lose.  … If it is critical to know where people are at, then the people most critical to understand are those likely to be most upset by your agenda.

Don’t underestimate the power of doing what’s familiar.  [rather than any change]

p.90: Accept responsibility for Your Piece of the Mess:  When you belong to the organization or community that you are trying to lead, you are part of the problem.  This is particularly true when you have been a member of the group for some time, as in a family.  …  Even if you are new, or outside the organization, you need to identify those behaviors you practice or values you embody that could stifle the very change you want to advance.  In short, you need to identify and accept responsibility for your contributions to the current situation, even as you try to move your people to a different, better place.

p.92: Acknowledge Their Loss: Leslie Wexner (Founder and CEO of The Limited): “I was an athlete trained to be a baseball player.  And one day someone taps me on the shoulder and says ‘football.’  And I say, ‘No, I’m a baseball player.’  And he says ‘football.’  And I say ‘I don’t know how to play football.  I’m not 6’4″ and I don’t weigh 300 pounds.’  but if no one values baseball anymore, the baseball player will be out of business.  So, I looked into the mirror and said, ‘Schlemiel,
nobody wants to watch baseball.  Make the transformation to football.'”

p.93: The pain of ignoring our own hypocrisy hurts us more than giving up the status quo.

Asking people to leave behind something they have lived with for year or for generations practically invites them to get rid of you.

p.94: The status quo may not look so terrible to those immersed in it, and may look pretty good when compared to a future that is unknown.  Exercising leadership involves helping organizations and communities figure out
what, and whom, they are willing to let go.  Of all the values honored by the community, which of them can be sacrificed in the interest of progress?  [cf.: Built To Last]

p.95: sometimes, modeling the behavior you are asking of others presents itself as an even more powerful way than just words to acknowledge their loss.

p.98 Accept Casualties: Accepting casualties signals your commitment.  If you signal that you are unwilling to take casualties, you present an invitation to the people who are uncommitted to push your perspectives aside.  Without the pinch of reality, why should they make sacrifices and change their ways of doing business?  Your ability to accept the harsh reality of losses sends a clear message about your courage and commitment to seeing the adaptive challenge through.

p.100: People seeking to exercise leadership can be thwarted because, in their unwillingness to take casualties, they give people mixed signals.  Surely we would all prefer to bring everyone along, and we admirably hold up this ideal.  Unfortunately, casualties are often a necessary by-product of adaptive work.

Nobody is smart enough or fast enough to engage alone the political complexity of an organization or community when it is facing and reacting to adaptive pressures.  [ partner ]  …  without the heart to engage in sometimes costly conflict you can lose the whole organization.

Chapter 5: Orchestrate the Conflict

  1. Create a holding environment for the work
  2. Control the temperature
  3. Set the pace
  4. Show them the future

p.102: A holding environment is a space formed by a network of relationships within which people can tackle tough, sometimes divisive questions without flying apart.  Creating a holding environment enables you to direct creative energy toward working the conflicts and containing passions that could easily boil over.

A holding environment is a place where there is enough cohesion to offset the centrifugal forces that arise when people do adaptive work.  In a holding environment, with structural, procedural, or virtual boundaries, people feel safe enough to address problems that are difficult, not only because they strain ingenuity, but also because they strain relationships.

p.109: A little progress on a partial, relatively easy problem may reduce anxiety enough that the tougher issues can then be tackled.

p.110: When people come to you to describe the distress you are causing, it might be a sign that you have touched a never and are doing good work.
[They may also be ready to take you off of your game]

p.111: How to control the heat

Raise the Temperature Lower the Temperature
  1. Draw attention to the tough questions.
  2. give people more responsibility than they are comfortable with.
  3. Bring conflicts to the surface.
  4. Protect gadflies and oddballs.
  1. Address the technical aspects of the problem.
  2. Establish a structure for the problem-solving process by breaking
    the problem into parts and creating time-frames, decision rules, and
    clear role assignments.
  3. Temporarily reclaim responsibility for the tough issues.
  4. Employ work avoidance mechanisms.
  5. Slow down the process of challenging norms and expectations.

p. 114: most people and organizations find it more difficult to raise the temperature than to lower it.  we often encounter people in our work who resist making their communities uncomfortable, expressing something close to a moral revulsion against doing so.  This is quite natural — we often create a moral justification for doing what we want to do, and most people want to maintain the status quo, avoiding the tough issues.  In an effort to maintain equilibrium, they keep the tough issues off the table altogether, “so as not to upset anyone.

p. 116: Of course, there’s a significant chance that when you generate the heat, and take it in return, you may simply end up in hot water with no  forward progress to show for your effort.  But if you don’t put yourself on the line and take the step of generating that constructive friction, you’ll  deprive yourself and others of the possibility of progress.

Pace the work: leadership addresses emotional as well as conceptual work.  When you lead people through difficult change, you take them on an emotional roller coaster because you are asking them to relinquish something
— a belief, a value, a behavior — that they hold dear.  People can stand only so much change at any one time.  You risk revolt and your own survival, by trying to do too much, too soon.

p.119: If you suffer a loss in the family, change jobs, and move all within a short time, the chances are your own internal stability may break down, or show signs of serious strain.  the same is true of organizations an communities.  Change involves loss, and people can sustain only so much loss at any one time.

p.120: show them the future: As you catalyze change, you can help ensure that you do not become a lightning rod for the conflict by making the vision more tangible, reminding people of the values they are fighting for, and showing them how the future might look.  By answering, in every possible way, the “why” question, you increase people’s willingness
to endure the hardships that come with the journey to a better place.

p.122: you might not even be able to envision it yourself.  But if it is possible, revealing the future is an extremely useful way to mobilize adaptive work and yet avoid becoming the target of resistance.  If people can glimpse the future, they are much less likely to fixate on what they might have to shed.

Remember, Your job is to orchestrate the conflict, not to become it.  You need to let people do the work that only they can do.

Chapter 6: Give the Work Back

p.123: When you take on an issue, you become that issue in the eyes of many; it follows, then, that the way to get rid of the issue is to get rid of you.  Whatever the outcome, you will be held responsible for the disequilibrium the process has generated, the losses people have had to absorb, and the backlash resulting from those who feel left behind.

p. 124: Take the Work off Your Shoulders: “Personality conflicts” turned out frequently to mask a fundamental conflict in the division of responsibilities, the primacy of cultural values, or even the vision for the agency.

cf.: Waterline Model

Taking the easy way usually result[s] in two consequences.  … First, the underlying issue [will] inevitably rise again, sometimes in a less controllable form, because it [was] never put to rest.  … Second, by assuming responsibility for resolving the issue, [you turn] it into [your] issue.

p.127: People expect you to get right in there and fix things, to take a stand and resolve the problem.  After all, that is what people in authority are paid to do.  when you fulfill their expectations, they will call you admirable and courageous, and this is flattering.  But challenging their expectations of you requires even more courage.

Place the work where it belongs: Solutions are achieved when “the people with the problem” go through a process together to  become “the people with the solution.”  The issues have to be internalized, owned, and ultimately resolved by the relevant parties to achieve enduring progress.

p.128: Taking the work off your own shoulders is necessary but not sufficient.  You must also put it in the right place, where it can be addressed by the relevant parties.

p.130: It’s a common ploy to personalize the debate over issues as a strategy for taking you out of action.

p.134: Make Your Interventions Short and Simple. Four types of interventions constitute the tactics of leadership: making observations,  asking questions, offering interpretations, and taking actions.

p.135: observations are simply statements that reflect back to people their behavior or attempt to describe current conditions.  They shift the group momentarily onto the balcony so that they can get a little distance from and perspective on what they are doing.

p.136: Questions: When you inject your understanding of events into the way you frame the question, it becomes a loaded question.  Frequently, this poly annoys people unnecessarily.  Rather than simply making your interpretation of events available for discussion, people sense that you are trying to manipulate them into assuming your interpretation is
true and then starting the discussion where your assumptions leave off.

p.137: Interpretations are inherently provocative and raise the heat.  People by and large do not like to have their statements or actions interpreted (unless they like your assessment).  when you make an interpretation, you reveal that you have spent some time on the balcony, and  that makes people suspicious that you are not “on the team.”  they may think you are somehow “above” them.

Actions.  Every action has an immediate effect but sends a message as well.   Actions communicate.  … Actions as
interventions can complicate situations because they frequently are susceptible to more than one interpretation.

p.138: Actions draw attention, but the message and the context must be crystal clear.  If not, they are likely to distract people and displace responsibility.

p.139: In the ongoing improvisation of leadership — in which you act, assess, take corrective action, reassess, and intervene again — you can never know with certainty how an intervention is received unless you listen over time.  therefore, just as critical as the quality of your actions will be your ability to hold steady in the aftermath in order to evaluate how to move next.

Chapter 7: Hold Steady

Holding steady in the heat of action is an essential skill for staying alive and keeping people focused on the work.  The pressure on you may be almost unbearable, causing you to doubt both your own capacities and your direction.  If you waver or act prematurely, your own initiative can be lost in an instant.

c.f: Leadership with Backbone and Heart, (increasing tolerance)

p.142: Take the Heat: for most of us, who prefer to minimize opposition or avoid it altogether, the truth is that rarely, if ever, can we escape people’s anger when leading any kind of significant change.  Thus, the more heat you can take, the better off you will be in keeping your issue alive and keeping yourself in the game.

p.145: Receiving people’s anger without becoming personally defensive generates trust.  If you can hold steady long enough, remaining respectful of their pains and defending your perspective without feeling you must defend yourself, you may find that in the ensuing calm, relationships become stronger.

p.146: Taking the heat with grace communicates respect for the pains of change.

Let the Issues Ripen: Has the psychological readiness spread across enough factions in the organization or community to provide a critical mass?

An issue becomes ripe when there is widespread urgency to deal with it.  Something that may seem to you to be incredibly important, requiring immediate attention, may not seem so to others in your organization, at least not at the

p.148: What determines when, or whether, an issue becomes ripe?  how does it take on a generalized urgency shared by not just one but many factions within the community?  Although there are many factors, we have identified four key questions:

  • What other concerns occupy the people who need to be engaged?
  • How deeply are people affected by the problem?
  • How much do people need to learn?
  • And What are the senior authority figures saying about the issue?

p.151: The lack of knowledge on an issue is almost always in direct proportion to it’s lack of ripeness.

c.f: Connor’s Stages of Commitment

Because crises and tragedies generate the urgency to tackle issues, sometimes the only way to bring focus to an issue and move it forward is to create a crisis.

If you do not take into consideration how difficult the learning will be, the organization or community will box you off as an outcast, impractical visionary, or worse.  You may have to take baby steps.  It may take years to ripen the issue in an organization to the point that people understand what is at stake and can decide their fate.

p.152: The less ready a group is to resolve an issue, the more you may need to challenge authority. … You cannot keep your authority in your  organization if you insist on projects that your organization opposes.  In other words, those who have authority put it at risk by seeking to raise unripe issues.

p.154: Focus Attention on the Issue: In leading, you need to hold steady in the face of these distractions, counteract them, and then redirect attention to the issue at hand.  In an important sense, this book is about being sensitive to, and counteracting, work avoidance mechanisms that might be dangerous to you or your position.

p.157: To get the attention of higher-ups, chances are you will need to escalate your behavior or rhetoric to a level that creates some personal risk.

p.158: Getting a group to focus on a tough issue from a position without authority is always risky business.  But you can lower the danger by speaking in as neutral a way as possible, simply reporting observable and shared data rather than making more provocative interpretations.  It may be more than enough simply to ask a straight forward question in order to bring the underlying issue to the surface.

c.f: Bellman’s Getting Things Done When You Are Not in Charge

Chapter 8: Manage Your Hungers

p.163: The cleanest way for an organization to bring you down is to let you bring yourself down.  then no one else feels responsible.  All too often we self-destruct or give others the ammunition they need to shoot us down.

Leadership is, at heart, a personal activity.  It challenges us intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and physically.

p.164: Self-knowledge and self-discipline form the foundation for staying alive.

p.165: Each of us is highly sensitive to particular social dynamics and issues, and each of these sensitivities becomes a source of strength and weakness.  You may notice an issue before anyone else does and be primed for action, but you may also see it when it is not there, or react in the wrong way or at the wrong time.  Moreover, you probably miss hearing
other parts of the music for which you have a tin ear.

In each professional role you take on, you must be careful about your emotional inclination to carry the issue and sentiments of others in the organization, and be aware of how others in the environment affect you.

p.167: Power and Control: Social learning requires some challenge to the social order, but within a productive range of disequilibrium.  So someone who can bring a semblance of order to the chaos, lowering the distress to a tolerable level, provides a vital service.

p.168: Containing conflict and imposing order may create some of the conditions for progress, but they are not progress itself.

If you find yourself heroically stepping into the breach to restore order, it is important to remember that the authority you gain is a product of social expectations.  To believe it comes from you is an illusion.

p.170: Affirmation and Importance: There may be zealots among your followers, passionate for your causes and eager to use their influence on you.  In their exuberance, they may argue that your pacing strategy is an
avoidance of the issues.  Zealots are terrific at pushing the envelope, but they frequently set the wrong pace by failing to respect the views, stakes, and potential losses of their adversaries.

The skill of managing any tendency you might have toward grandiosity goes hand in hand with remaining mindful that people see you in your role more than they see you as a person.  … In the long run, dependency entraps people, and you must control your desire to foster it.  Dependence can readily turn into contempt as the group discovers your moral failings.  Indeed, a hunger for importance can make you discount obvious warnings that you are in danger.

p.172: Kept in balance, the feeling that you’re on this earth for a reason generates meaning and caring, but this need can easily become a source of vulnerability.

p.173: Grandiosity sets you up for failure because it isolates you from reality.  In particular, you forget the creative role that doubt plays in getting your organization or community to improve.  Doubt reveals the arts of reality that you missed.  Once you lose your ability to doubt, you see only that which confirms your own competence.

p.174: Acknowledging the limits of your competence is a way to stay open to earning as you blaze a trail.

p.176: “Zone of Instability” – that place where no matter how much [you do] and how good it is, it is never enough.

“What’s precious and what’s expendable?”

p.177: Intimacy and Delight: Like the walls of a pressure cooker, the holding environment requires strength and resilience.

But who’s holding you; who’s holding the holder?  When you are completely exhausted from being the containing vessel, who will provide you with a place to meet your need for intimacy and release?

p.181: Henry Kissinger: “power is the great aphrodisiac”  … long paragraph on abuses.

p.182: Because they expend a bit of energy all day long being mindful and wary, some women find it difficult to disengage from their professional role at the end of the day and let themselves relax into emotional and sexual

p.183: To allow herself to be touched deeply, emotionally or sexually, a woman has to allow herself to trust.  But it is challenging to open up our body and soul if you’ve just spent the whole day on guard.  So many women find it difficult to allow their human needs to be met, to be restored to themselves even after they leave work and get home.

p.184: Every human being needs power and control, affirmation and importance, intimacy and delight.  You cannot lead and stay alive by simply putting a silencer on yourself.  Managing your hungers requires knowing your vulnerabilities and taking action to compensate for them.

p.186: No matter how perfect your upbringing and the “software’ your parents, culture, and community may have given you, you need ongoing practices to compensate for your vulnerabilities.  You need anchors.

Chapter 9: Anchor Yourself

The roles we play in our organization, community, and private lives depend mainly on the expectations of people around us.  the self relies on our capacity to witness and learn throughout our lives, to refine the core values that orient our decisions — whether or not they conform to expectations.

p.188: Distinguish Role from Self: Confusing role with self is a trap.  Even though you may put all of yourself into your role — your passion, values, and artistry — the people in your setting will be reacting to you, not primarily as a person, but as the role you take in their lives.  Even when their responses to you seem very personal, you need to read them primarily as reactions to how well you are meeting their expectations.  In fact, it is vital to your own stability and peace of mind that you understand this, so that you can interpret and decipher people’s criticism before internalizing it.

p.189: In the guise of attacking you personally, people are trying to neutralize the threat they perceive in your point of view.

p.190: You cannot expect people to seriously consider your idea without accepting the possibility that they will challenge it.  Accepting that process of engagement as the terrain of leadership liberates you personally.  It enables you to be just as involved in working on your idea as everybody else, without withdrawing or becoming entrenched in personal defense.

Losing yourself in your ole is a sign that you depend on the institution or community for meeting too many of your personal needs, which is dangerous.

p.191: When you take “personal” attacks personally, you unwittingly conspire in one of the common ways you can be taken out of action

– you make yourself the issue.

p.192: Reacting defensively to the literal substance of personal attacks colludes with the attackers by perpetuating the diversion.  This work avoidance mechanism almost always succeeds simply because it’s so natural to take a personal attack personally.

p.195: your management of an attack, more than the substance of the accusation, determines your fate.

There is also a long-term value to distinguishing role from self.  Roles end.  If you are too caught up in your role if you come to believe that you and your role are identical, what will happen to you when your role ends?

You know you will have succeeded as a parent when your child says ‘I hate you, Daddy,’ and you don’t take it personally.  and you won’t figure it out until the second child.

p.196: We use the word distinguish because we want you to differentiate self from role, not distance or withhold yourself. … Whether you like it or not, you will embody issues in the eyes of other people, and sometimes they will tackle you when they see you carrying the ball.

p.198: Remember, when you lead, people don’t love you or hate you.  Mostly they don’t even know you.  They love or hate the positions you represent.  …  by knowing and valuing yourself, distinct from the roles you play, you gain the freedom to take risks within those roles.  Your self worth is not so tightly tied to the reactions of other people as
they contend with your positions on issues.  Moreover, you gain the freedom to take on a new role once the current one concludes or you hit a dead end.

p.199: Keep Confidants, and Don’t Confuse Them with Allies: Allies are people who share many of your values, or at least your strategy, and operate across some organizational or factional boundary.  Because they cross a boundary, they cannot always be loyal to you; they have other ties to honor.

Sometimes, however, we make the mistake of treating an ally like a confidant.  confidants have few, if any, conflicting loyalties.  They usually operate outside your organization’s boundary, although occasionally someone very close in, whose interests are perfectly aligned with yours, can also play that role.  You really need both allies and confidants.

p.200: When you do adaptive work, you take a lot of heat and may endure a good measure of pain and frustration.  The job of a confidant is to help you come through the process whole and to tend to your wounds along the way.  Moreover, when things are going well, you need someone who will tell you that you are too puffed up, and who will point out danger signals when you are too caught up in self-congratulations to notice them.

p.201 Sometimes a confidant can be explicitly engaged.  “I’m about to start a difficult process here at work.  Do you mind if I call you from time to time and just pour my guts out so you can tell me what you hear?”  Sometimes, of course, the dynamic is more spontaneous.

When you need someone to talk to in difficult times, it’s tempting to turn a trusted ally into a confidant as well.  Not a good idea.

p.203 when battling loneliness, insecurity, stress, or other pressures, the need to open up to someone can be almost overwhelming.  In this frame of mind, it’s very easy to mistake allies for confidants.  …  When you try to turn allies into confidants, you never know when circumstances may force them to choose between their commitment to their own priorities and people, and their commitment to you.  Since their previous commitment to the issue came first, it’s likely that their prior loyalty will prevail.

In our experience, when you try to turn allies into confidants you put them in a bind, place valuable relationship at risk, and usually end up losing on both counts.  They fail you as a confident, and they begin to slip away even as reliable allies.

p.204: Seek Sanctuary:  You would never attempt a difficult mountain journey without food or water, yet countless people go into the practice of leadership without reserving and conserving a place where they can gather and restore themselves.

p.206: As you attempt to lead people, you should expect to encounter emotions you cannot handle unless you have a time and place to sort them out.

Without antidotes to the modern world, we lose perspective, jeopardize the issues, and risk our future.  We forget what’s on the line.

Chapter 10: What’s on the Line

p.208: Even the word “lead” has an Indo-European root that means “to go forth, die”

People find meaning by connecting with others in a way that makes life better.

p.209: leadership [is] driven by the desire of one person to contribute to the people with whom he or she live[s] and work[s].

The fact that love lies at the core of what makes life worth living is undeniable.  Love gives meaning to what you do, whether in a corporation, a community, a classroom, or a family.  We take risks for good reasons:  We hope to
make a difference in people’s lives.

p.211: Love: An important part, perhaps the very heart, of feeling successful comes from experiencing the bonds of those you love.

p.212: The Myth of Measurement: Meaning cannot be measured.  Yet we live immersed in a world of
measurement so pervasive that even many of our religious institutions measure success, significantly, by market share.

p.213: We have rarely met a human being who, after years of professional life, has not bought into the myth of measurement and been debilitated by it.

p.214: Using measurement as a device is not the same as believing that measurement captures the essential value of anything.  You cannot measure the good that you do.

p.220: The Form Doesn’t Matter: meaning derives from finding ways, rather than any one particular way, to love, to contribute to the worldly enterprise, to enhance the quality of life for people around you.

Mitch Albom, in Tuesdays with Morrie: “You know what gives you satisfaction?” “What” responds Albom.  “Offering
others what you have to give.”

Fundamentally, the form doesn’t matter.  Any form of service to others is an expression, essentially, of love.  And because the opportunities for service are always present, there are few, if any, reasons that anyone should lack for rich and deep experiences of meaning in life.

p.222: Children have generative power.  They create meaning as they busily connect with whatever is happening.  But grown-ups often forget that ability.  They tend to lose that playful, adventuresome, creative generativity by which they can ask themselves” What’s worth doing today?

Chapter 11: Sacred Heart

p. 226: Losing Heart

Quality of Heart Becomes Dressed up as
Innocence Cynicism Realism
Curiosity Arrogance authoritative knowledge
Compassion Callousness The thick-skin of experience

Cloaking cynicism, arrogance, and callousness in more acceptable language does not hide the consequences of adopting them in the first place.  cynicism, arrogance, and callousness may be the safest way to live, but they also suffocate the very aliveness we strive to protect.

p.227: The hard truth is that it is not possible to experience the rewards and joy of leadership without experiencing the pain as well.  The painful part of that reality is what holds so many people back.  As we have described, the dangers of leadership will come from many people and places and take many forms, not only from known adversaries but also from the betrayal of close associates and the ambivalence of trusted authorities.

Leading with an open heart means you could be at your lowest point, abandoned by your people and entirely powerless, yet remain receptive to the full range of human emotions without going numb, striking back, or engaging in some other defense.

p.228: Sacred heart was explained as a reflection of God’s promise, not to keep you out of the fire and the water, but to be with you in the fire and water.

p.230: A sacred heart means you may feel tortured and betrayed, powerless and hopeless, and yet stay open. It is the capacity to encompass the entire range of your human experience without hardening or closing yourself. It means that
even in the midst of disappointment and defeat, you remain connected to people and to the sources of your most profound purpose.

A sacred heart is an antidote to one of the most common and destructive “solutions” to the challenges of modern life: numbing oneself. Leading with an open heart helps you stay alive in your soul. It enables you to feel faithful to whatever is true, including doubt, without fleeing, acting out, or reaching for a quick fix. Moreover, the power of a sacred heart helps you to mobilize others to do the same — to face challenges that demand courage, and to endure the pains of change without deceiving themselves or running away.

Innocence, Curiosity, and Compassion: Virtues of an Open Heart:

p.231: Keeping a sacred heart is about maintaining innocence, curiosity, and compassion as you pursue what is meaningful to you.

For change to take place, some idea has to be imported from a different environment or exploited internally from a deviant voice from within that environment.

p.232: “For twenty-five years, every time I have to terminate somebody’s employment, whether for economic or performance reasons, it is enormously painful to me, and I suffer for it.  I don’t think it is supposed to get easier every time, but I also don’t think I have to be stupid and not fire someone who is hurting the organization.  So it doesn’t mean
that I don’t act.  But perhaps I don’t have enough calluses.  How do I prevent this pain from becoming destructive, yet still stay smart about it?  In a sense, every time I fire someone, I lose a little bit of innocence; I have to have mechanisms within myself and colleagues around me to rebuild that innocence or reconnect with it.”

p.234: Most of the time, if you are honest with yourself, you know that your vision of the future is just your best estimate at the moment.  As we’ve said, plans are no more than today’s best guess.  If you lack the heart to engage with “competitor” ideas, how can your organization possibly do the adaptive work needed to thrive in that competitive environment?

Robert Kegan teaches the difference between assumptions that you hold and assumptions that hold you.  The assumptions that hold you constrain you from seeing any other point of view.  But we have a special and righteous name for them: We call them truths.  Truths are assumptions for which doubt is an unwelcome intruder.  And truths are held in place by a lack of heart to refashion loyalties.

p. 235: At root, compassion means, to be together with someone’s pain. The prefix com- means “together with” and the word passion has the same root as the word pain, as in the phrase “the passion of Jesus.


Primary Goals sits at the intersection of three core ideas about communication:
  • Leaders create vision by communicating a compelling future to their teams.
  • Teams create success based on how effectively the communicate and coordinate with each other.
  • Entrepreneurial ventures are successful only when they communicate value to people with a concern that the business can take care of
In all cases, it’s about Conversations for Committed Results.  That’s our Primary Goal.  



Copyright 2021 Primary Goals - Privacy Policy