Brian: Welcome everyone to the next call in our series “Holacracy and Human Ego.” This call is on “Letting Go of Heroic Leadership.” This was an emergent opportunity from one of our earlier calls in this series. So we had this call with Susanne Cook-Greuter, introducing this idea of ego development, and what is this construct we call human ego and how does it play into Holacracy. On that call, I shared just a little bit about some of my own struggles in the past with the heroic leadership paradigm, and releasing that into something next, and now embedding it into Holacracy, and creating a system for that. As I was describing that, a lot of people really resonated with it and said that was really interesting and valuable, and a lot of questions came up around that topic of releasing heroic leadership. It’s something that we’ve talked about before in other contexts in other topics within our community calls. There was enough interest in it that I thought I’d go ahead and schedule a call just about that release, especially as it relates to attachments and our meaning-making systems at play in this context of Holacracy and human ego.
So, I thought I’d share a bit more about some of my own journey and story and struggles, dialogue some with Tom, see what comes up, and then invite all of you to jump in and ask questions. Prompt us if there’s something you’d like to hear more about, and if you have any thoughts or reflections on the topic yourself, please feel free to share them. So Tom, any other final things you want to add before we dive in?
Tom: Yes, I would actually. I think it would be helpful if we start with what does heroic leadership look like, and how does it serve? What does good heroic leadership look like? What does it feel like, and where does it show up in organizations? Then contrast that with how Holacracy deals with leadership in general, and how that allows for something that we call post-heroic leadership. Then maybe what that feels like to release from the heroic leadership that we’re mostly accustomed to, to a post-heroic leadership model.
Brian: That sounds great. On that note, Tom, what does heroic leadership look like?
Tom: I think we’ve all experienced it. I think it’s the normative for how organizations are run. We grow up being trained to be good leaders. I think it’s why leadership gets so much attention today. In general, it’s how things get done in organizations. It’s how motivation occurs, how folks get aligned around what’s needed and necessary. It’s where a lot of the tough decisions are made. There’s all kinds of languaging around leadership, making tough calls, keeping folks on track and encouraged and enabled and focused. There’s all of that, in a conventional frame, and it’s really needed. Leadership is what rallies the troops in a military metaphor. It’s what energizes and gets everybody emboldened and impassioned about what we are doing together, but it’s quite personal. It’s all about us as a team, and a leader showing up in that team, motivating that team to perform and execute.
Then it has some interesting parental kind of overlays. It’s how we grow up with parents as our leaders guiding us into adulthood. I think there’s some interesting projections of us in conventional organizations where the founders of an organization or the department head or the CEO show up kind of as parental figures in respect or in relation to the employees. There’s this deferment of “Well, the leader knows best. It’s whatever the leader wants or needs.” So it sets up some interesting dynamics of deferring decisions, allowing for us to take a more victim stance or a more passive stance in the organizations. I think that leads to the disengagement that we often see in conventional organizations, and at the same time, it’s really necessary, and it’s serving.
It’s something that I’ve experienced over 25 years of being in a professional conventional environment. I have been trained and nurtured and rewarded and bonused and all sorts of things to compel me to be a good leader. From all measures, from my successes in organization, from my successes in the conventional business world, and from the feedback that I’ve received from those that I’ve led, I’ve developed those skills as a good leader, as a good conventional heroic leader. Really getting people energized around our vision, our mission, our aim or purpose, stepping into making those tough calls fearlessly, and helping individuals that I lead grow personally and professionally. All of those are really good characteristics of a good conventional heroic leader and carrying the burden, yes, owning and carrying the burden of the success of the organization. And that’s I think where the heroic comes from. It’s to put whatever energy is necessary to make sure that our goals, our aim, our purpose, our vision shows up in the world. And to carry that heroically and personally and make sure that happens, to bear responsibility. I think that’s the way we conventionally view our leaders is somehow that they’re personally responsible for the success of any endeavor, and it’s been serving. There’s been not a replacement for it that is easily and repeatedly pointed to, something to process that we can easily and repeatedly do to replace the need for conventional heroic leadership.
Brian: Yes, beautifully put. It’s so easy I think especially when we’re working to move into a new paradigm to demonize the old, and not to say that that paradigm isn’t without its limits and its constraints and its struggles, but it has served. It’s not just a bunch of egomaniacs who, whatever. There’s a healthy positive way to do that that is still limited from the point of view of something next, and yet in the current paradigm, it served well, it’s needed, it’s useful, and there are healthy expressions of heroic leadership for what it is and where it comes from. I love the parental metaphor that you used, that’s a good one. It is, and there are healthy ways to do that, but it has a naturally parental quality to that type of leader. There’s a fusion with “I am leading.” There is a taking care of and motivating the troops and aligning the troops, that kind of quality. There is being the visionary or the spokesman, or the person running up in the front or whatever it is that shows up different ways for different styles, sometimes it’s from behind-the-scenes. It’s still a fusion with a parental leadership, a deferment to that person, that person stepping in and filling a space, and using their perspectives to drive things forward one way or another.
Tom: Yes, absolutely. I think leadership as a category is coming up against the same wall of complexity issues that other elements of our organizations are also facing. We point this out all the time in terms of how dynamic steering, paying attention to what’s needed now, paying attention to making small incremental steps to integrating perspectives, the organic structure of Holacracy. All the other elements of Holacracy allow us to deal with the complexities, the organizational and world complexities that face us today. Well, it’s the very same thing that’s pressing on our notion of leadership. So a conventional heroic leader is coming up against that same wall of not being able to deal with the complexities and demands from a personal egoic perspective, even heroically. There is a limit to that.
Brian: Yes. That makes total sense to me, and it’s again well-framed. It’s changing world conditions. The same ones that are stressing organizations as a whole are stressing the leadership paradigm that we lead from in those organizations. It is incredibly difficult to build and grow and run a highly successful organization using that paradigm and increasingly still it’s done all the time. It’s still the operating norm out there, but I think it’s getting stressed more and more with time.
Let me connect this back to our topic of Holacracy and human ego. Just notice the bait, the opportunity for attachment for the leader in that paradigm. Do you know that there’s such bait? I mean, bait is an interesting word. It makes us feel good to be the heroic leader, especially the healthy, wonderful, youthful heroic leader. We feel important. We can easily attach to it, attach self-worth, attach self-judgment, right? It becomes a reflection of us, of our ability to lead well. The fact that we are that one, that guy, that hero, right? There’s so much opportunity for attachment there. It’s so easy to get caught up in that, to swallow our own bullshit, our own story we tell ourselves about how important we are because it’s reinforced. Everybody looks to us, it all hangs on us, it rides on us. There’s so much opportunity for ego attachment in that mode. It doesn’t matter what kind of wonderful spiritual development people have or anything like that. The bait is there. It is so easy to get attached to that. With capacity comes more ability to hide that attachment even from yourself.
I’ll branch out a little bit into some of my own story with that from the past. When I think of the pinnacle for me of my heroic leadership days, I think of much of the time I was building my software company. I had mastered the art of hiding my own attachments to heroic leadership, and even the fact that I was a heroic leader and I hid it behind – I ran things behind - an inclusive style that empowered others, right? That gave everyone a voice. That got everyone involved and engaged and giving input. It was a non-traditional structure, but here’s the irony of all of that. It was still me doing that, right? It’s just subtler ways of being attached. It was me empowering others and ultimately they weren’t empowered unless I said they were empowered, right? Whew! Man, wow! How cool am I? The ultimate heroic leader by empowering others and letting them be!
Tom: I would imagine, Brian, that it showed up in your language of how you languaged yourself and others in Ternary, in your organization, such as “my organization, my staff, my people, my CEO”. It gets very much languaged in a way that’s drummed up from the personal.
Brian: Yes, it does. Again, the sophistication of – at that point in my life, I did have a certain amount of developmental capacity to draw on. Looking back to the model that Susanne shared with us or at least pointed to for us, this heroic leadership happens all over the developmental spectrum. For me at this point in time, it was the height of my, what she would call strategist developmental space, which is a rich, complex capacity to work with systems, to work with systems thinking at a whole new level, to see systems and systems and systems, and construct pretty complex structures. And, with that capacity, came the ability to hide, the ability to hide from myself that I was attached to that heroic leadership and it was all riding on me personally even as I used that to give others voice to build systems that had them participate. This was ultimately especially in the early days of Holacracy development, I had the ultimate trump card. Holacracy wasn’t written down anywhere. There was no Constitution yet documented. So Holacracy was whatever I said it was and the rules where whatever I said they were. So I could easily do this nice little ego move when I wanted to get my way and lead as the heroic leader, and still look like I was the empowering, distributed leadership kind of leader. I would simply pull out some arcane rule of Holacracy, languaged in some specific way that made sure I got my way, and it was a beautiful way to hide.
Again, as soon as we write this down and get it out of the heads of one expert and into a true system, then that capacity is removed, but at this point in time, we didn’t have that yet and it was still early in its development. So I was still changing the rules all the time as this thing got built and developed, and it made it so, so easy for me to not realize even as I’m building this system that doesn’t let others be attached to heroic leadership and lead from that space and dominate, I still was, and just often in a very healthy way but still it was limited, right? It was still limited. The more it got called out into the light, the more the ego defenses rise up and try to hide it, try to keep it as the heroic leader attached to leading from that paradigm. Again to your point, it served. It’s what allowed Holacracy to start developing in the first place. It’s what built that organization into a really incredible company that did some incredible work. It served. And now, looking back, I see a next step. I see another way, and we have systems that make it very hard to hide that attachment itself.
Tom: Yes. I think even in our conventional space, there’s some really good pointing to what was next, or what is next, in how folks language. Good leadership is to empower others around you to be successful, to be autonomous, to make tough decisions, to pour themselves into their jobs, their job titles, and to delegate that authority. Further, it’s good leadership to hire people that are smarter than you, better than you, think different than you, that can challenge you. Good leaders will bring folks into the organization that have a presence about them to challenge him or her. Yet with that pointing out of that kind of distribution of authority, that kind of diversification of perspectives is needed and necessary, it’s interesting that even with that pointing out of the need and necessity of that, there is still a collapse to an egoic trump card, that as the penultimate leader or the ultimate leader in the organization, I can still get my way. So there’s a way of escaping to the personal. No matter how good we are at empowering others or delegating authority, there’s still this underlying subtext that the leader is still the leader, the leader still holds the power, the leader still holds the trump card, the leader is still Mom or Dad and can discipline in any way. That actually gets in the way of fully distributing leadership as a process, and delegating authority equally across an organization, as opposed to it showing up as a leader, as a person. I think this begins to differentiate the bifurcation of heroic leadership collapsed to individual leaders to post-heroic leadership being differentiated into leadership as a process that can be distributed and delegated through a system.
Brian: Yes. Actually, Tom, it’s funny, you brought up some interesting points. You would even see glimpses of the signs of this back in those days. Even with the empowering system, everyone has a voice, there was still the looking up to me as the leader, the parental figure. You’d hear it show up in things like, for example, people would thank me for providing such an empowering environment, but now look at the irony in that, right? Thanking me for providing such an empowering environment as if I had to, it was on me, it was me the leader providing the empowering environment, and them looking up and thanking me for it. There is no need to thank somebody for doing that when the system holds this, because nobody’s doing it.
Compare that experience night and day to the experience that we have now in HolacracyOne, truly running with a distributed leadership model. There is no heroic leader to even thank for giving anyone a voice. We might thank each other in appreciation for just everything we’re bringing to this organization, but it’s not a parental thanking the leader figure for letting go of leadership. The system holds it. There’s a contract. There’s a Constitution, an agreement that we both signed to be part of this. The system is there. It’s an agreement among adults and peers, not a parental-child structure.
Tom: It is, and it’s interesting from my Holacracy perspective. I think the Integrative Decision Making process actually allows us to take a step into now examining a new element of organizational life, and that is the distribution of power and authority and leadership as a process. So because of the strength of Holacracy’s systems around decision-making and the ubiquity of us showing up in roles and integrating our perspectives, holding the process as sacred, the delegation of authority through that process gives us the confidence and safety now to examine leaders, leadership and leadership as a process, a new expression of dynamic steering in a post-heroic frame.
Brian: Yes. I think there’s an interesting piece here to focus on. The first move towards that is, from what I’ve seen, it’s so easy to fall into the self-delusion trap, even with organizations now that are looking at Holacracy or adopting Holacracy. The temptation is, and I felt this myself and I smacked into this fully in the development of Holacracy, is to think that we’re doing it when we’re still being the heroic post-heroic leader. In other words, I’m going to give everyone a voice, I’m going to use the collaborative process and get everyone input, but really I’m still calling the shots and I’m hiding it in that system. Holacracy can be a tool for that. It’s a tool to look like you’re going to be truly, fully releasing into the system, when actually you’re not. Yet, it’s still a first step. It’s a great step forward, but some of what we do with a lot of the leaders that we work with is helping them take that first step. They’re motivated by this for a reason, they want to go there, but then the trap is to get stuck at “I’m still calling the shots”, because it’s scary as hell for an effective heroic leader to look at truly releasing that into a system, and trusting that system to get the job done.
Tom: Not only scary as hell but in some cases…
Brian: It’s a threat to self.
Tom: Yes. It’s a threat to self, and it’s also imbedded in our legal, in our accounting, in our audit systems. The whole system is looking to a leader to hold accountable for specific performance, measures and integrity and governance, compliance and so on and so on. So there’s a fear of delegating or distributing authority of leadership as a process, and what that might do to the built-in constraints around our legal system and the organizational systems that hold individuals accountable.
Brian: Yes, definitely. It will stress all of the traditional systems that we’re used to. Another point comes up for me. I’ll say a word about consensus here. This is just off the top of my head, so tell me what you think. It strikes me that often the drive for running with a more consensus‑driven paradigm, which is actually the first step I tried on this journey from my heroic leadership standpoint in my software company. One of my first steps before the developmental philosophy started was let’s run some things with consensus and give everyone a voice and come to agreement. It strikes me now that I see that this drive for consensus in a lot of folks that we work with. Including when adopting Holacracy, a lot of organizations are in this mode of getting used to, they might not think of it as consensus, in fact, they might fully be aware of the limits of consensus, and yet the default is checking with everyone and everything, get lots of buy-in which is really going for consensus.
The thing with consensus, it’s actually – when I go for consensus, I’m giving others a voice, so I’m starting that release into something beyond just me leading, and yet I still have my voice too. It’s actually an opportunity in many ways for yet more attachment. Now in fact, I’m providing a way for everyone to get attached to “I have a voice”, whereas the full shift to a full post-heroic model is actually releasing and saying, “In many roles, I don’t have a voice.”
When you fill a role, Tom, in HolacracyOne and you make a decision with due authority to do that, there’s no expectation that my input’s going to be integrated. There’s not an expectation that you would come to consensus with me. You will use your best judgment. You will make that decision as best as you can. You will let go of whatever input you can’t integrate, you’ll take what seems useful, and that is a much deeper release than just expecting consensus when I still get to have my hook in this. I have to let go, and see my own attachment and desire to lead and to make a different decision than you did, and release that.
Tom: Yes. It is a much deeper release, and I think it’s enabled by having a trusted place to bring tensions related to that release. So we can release into autocratic decision-making within our authorities granted through governance, and knowing that we can always go back to governance or tactical meetings to process tensions around those decisions, and have a much cleaner, more elegant, more post-conventional way of processing through an organizational system.
For me, the heroic integration showed up as gaining buy-in from team members, and soliciting input to make sure that the decision that I might make and the operative word, the decision “I” would make, would be politically palatable to the group. So you end up playing politics. It’s the give and take. You’re introducing drama into this system. You’re playing with personal preferences and personal proclivities toward one thing or the other, and you’re doing the dance. You become, the individual leader becomes, the integration point for all the perspectives at play, and while that sounds really appealing to the leader and you can get very good at it, you cannot help but be biased by your own perspective-taking capacities and your own preferences for specific outcomes. So everything that you’re integrating becomes filtered with your own personal egoic expectations and preferences.
It’s the reason we teach and we talk about the biases that show up for all of us and the polarities that we’re integrating across the different perspective-taking capacities that we all bring. When the integration point is in a single person, a single human with a single developmental trajectory and a single preference around type or style or temperament, then all of that gets colored through the lenses of that single person even though they’re gaining buy-in supposedly, or at least the illusion of buy-in of what the organization might need.
Brian: Yes. Beautifully put. You mentioned something and I just wanted to highlight it. I think it’s powerful. This release into a post-heroic system or frame is enabled by a governance process that does give us a voice. It’s not the same as just releasing into a different heroic leader. When I release my attachments to leading everything to allow you to lead your roles, I’m not letting you be the heroic leader of the organization. We’re in a frame that allows each of us to lead our role, and I know that as I said something about the structure of the organization, I have a space to go to get that integrated, to process that. So it allows the best of both, really. It allows us to be heroic leaders in our roles without taking a parental quality toward other people in this broader organization where it all collapses back to fusion with me as a parental leader. Instead, let’s each lead our roles in a context that is peer-to-peer, adult-to-adult in a system. A healthy family dynamic as opposed to a throwback to childhood, if you will.
Tom: I think that’s one of the downsides of our label of a heroic or even a post-heroic leadership because it really isn’t. We want all of us to show up with our full capacities to energize every role that we fill and weed that role from the capacity we bring, even heroic…
Brian: Making autocratic decisions.
Tom: Absolutely. We can bring all of those energies that we have cultivated conventionally and fill our roles heroically, knowing that we’re in a post-heroic system where leadership doesn’t collapse to one individual. We’re all sharing in the process of leadership and delegating authority through governance, and that’s where we all get an equal voice in setting and establishing what’s needed for the organization. That’s an interesting polarity where both exist. You do have heroic autocratic leadership and decision-making in every role that you fill, while at the same time participating in an integrative process to find the way forward to delegate the power and authority necessary for the organization to take that next step. That’s not about the personal. It’s not about my personal preferences.
Brian: Yes. It’s allowing everyone to be a heroic leader of their role, while integrating together in an environment that is again the adult‑to‑adult relationship, in a different frame that is not personally fused with the parental-leader figure across the people. So it’s a fascinating both-and - not even both-and, it’s an integration, it’s a blending of what we’ve known before. It uses all the same capacities that I cultivated and developed and used to be a pretty freaking good heroic leader, I’d like to think. It uses all those same capacities. What it doesn’t do is give me the same ability to attach and dominate in a personal relationship with others from that capacity. It holds up a mirror and forces me to allow others to have the same ability, the same chance to be heroic leaders in their roles as I get in mine, but it still uses the capacity, the ability to take something and run with it and be intelligent and sophisticated and all of that. It’s still there. In fact, much more so than in an environment where I have to get buy-in and consensus on everything I do, more so and in a different frame.
Tom: It strikes me, it’s still there, and it requires a surrendering into a collective integrative process in behalf of the organization. That’s the both-and integration point. It is both heroically showing up, as you said, and surrendering into an integrative process. We’re distributing power, authority and accountability and surrendering into a process of leadership as opposed to an individual ego as leader. That is a huge shift that you cannot, simply cannot get cognitively, because it has to be habituated. I find myself four years into practice, if not daily, weekly, wanting to instinctively make a knee-jerk decision as an autocratic post-heroic leader and I catch myself, I catch the feeling, the need, the momentum, the habit that I have of doing that. Now, I have a place to process the need to make that decision organizationally, and I have an opportunity to process the need to make that decision egoically and personally from a developmental standpoint.
Brian: Yes. It’s funny on the other side of the heroic leader attachment to being that personally-viewed, taking the power, leading and all that. On the other side of that is - I don’t have as much direct experience of it, as I was always with the one more attached to being the heroic leader, but I’ve seen plenty of people surrounding me especially that just are attached to allowing somebody else to be the heroic leader, to giving up their true autonomy and power and control to a heroic leader to follow, looking for the good heroic leader to follow. There’s as much attachment in that as there is in the heroic leader as well. The system pushes on that just as much by inviting that person to own their power, their self, their capacity, to step up.
I think we see this in our broader society as well, with the tendency to expect the leader, the president, the whatever, to solve things, looking for this heroic different leader, wishing that if only they were a good leader, a better leader, a different leader. I was watching The Daily Show a couple of nights ago and they had a little skit on where they were advocating in a kind of a mock thing Donald Trump for President by saying, “Look, we’ve tried everything else. We’ve tried all of this,” and they just started going through Bush, Obama, everyone. “We’ve tried everything else. Nothing else works. So let’s just take the arrogant, obnoxious bastard and put him in the leader role. At least then, we can all not expect anything.” That’s basically the tone of it. I thought this was funny. We have tried so much, and it’s so easy to blame the leader without looking at the system itself. The question for me is it almost seems that increasingly that whole system is becoming obsolete. We’ve tried everything. There is no heroic leader who can lead from that mindset when the rest of us are giving up our power to that heroic leader and expecting them to lead. It is so difficult in that structure to deal with the complexity we face today. We need a totally different system, of course. That’s my general message. So let me get off that soapbox and just point out that there is as much attachment on the side of looking to a heroic leader to save the day. We see that in our political leadership, in our organizational leadership, and in…
Tom: Our spiritual leadership.
Brian: Our spiritual leadership, absolutely. Looking for the enlightened, the wise, the hero, the whatever, and giving up something to tha,t and again that has served historically. To a point, that has served. It has served very well. I think there’s an opportunity now for something next. There’s a need for something next. The complexity in the world is demanding it. The development that we see so many people now in the world is growing into is demanding something new that honors our autonomy more, that honors our capacities more, that honors what we can bring, our uniqueness more.
Tom: Yes. I think it’s in line and congruent with some of our teach pieces. You hear about making things no longer useful. We talk about how Holacracy makes fear no longer useful. In terms of leadership and integration around the individual egoic leader, we make politics and consensus no longer useful. The game of politics ceases to become the tool that it once was in a conventional frame.
Brian: Yes. I just want to speak to a point here. I see in the chat about the difficulty of giving up this attachment to the heroic leadership and I think it’s different for everyone really. I’ve seen so many people going through this and the challenges do seem to be different, yet there’s a common thread. For me, it was, I think, especially hard in that at the time I didn’t have a system that really helped hold it. I was developing the system at the time, which was, if anything, more attachment bait. For me, it was a massive shift and it took a crumbling of so much of my held beliefs, my self-sense, my attachments. It was a really difficult time and it’s taken years really in which it’s been a developmental shift for me as well. It went hand-in-hand. I don’t know if that’s always the case, or if it needs to be the case, but it was for me. It was like previously in my heroic leadership mode and days, I had a purpose, a sense of purpose and I was leading around that. Again, it was a very sophisticated rich way of doing heroic leadership at deep capacity. In my mind, I had built this wonderful worldview where all this made perfect sense, and I was needed in that role, and the purpose mattered and it was real. The developmental shift for me was starting to see how all of this was just this human meaning-making, all of this was just attachments. That there isn’t a solid ground underneath it, and everything started crumbling and it was hard – I fought it. I hid from it. I resisted it. The sense of meaning and purpose I had in my heroic leadership days crashed, it crumbled. I went through a sense of meaningless and purposelessness. It was a really difficult space to be in, and there was just awareness. Every time I heard anything that sounded purposeful or meaningful even coming out of my own mouth, because I was still in the role of leading that way for a while when the shift started, I would just look at it as hollow. It’s just all human ego. It’s all human meaning-making. It’s all attachments. It’s all constructions. None of it was real anymore, and it was depressing. It was a crash. It took my world dissolving under me. I thought I had solid ground to stand on. I had found the solid ground of a meaningful, purpose-driven life, with lots of context, lots of rich capacity for systems and sophisticated thinking, and all of that then collapsed under this. It’s all just meaning-making. It’s all just human construct. For me, my view of self with what as I saw all my own attachments was starting to be held up before me again and again and again. Oh, my God. It was a challenge to the very core of who I am, and there was a sense of being broken open, and it was terrifying. It was sad, depressing. It was tremendously difficult. Then there was the seed on the other side of that, the feeling of being broken open and having all of my constructed view of reality dashed against the rocks. There was this sense of profound strength, of something inside all of that, that really gave me the strength and the will to keep wanting the experiences more and more, of being broken open and not having the ground to stand on to lead heroically. Seeing me as just another human meaning-making system in a vast sea of them around with no more real ground than anyone else. Over time, and seeing that again and again and again, the attachment started releasing more and more and more into hopelessness, into – I mean it was a real collapse of world view.
Then, on the other side of that, came the ability to start picking up the pieces and building something new and something different. The funny thing is that height of collapse, if we go link it back to the ego development theory, it plays out again and again and again to some point that every other stage tends to feel like that for different reasons and in different ways, with some previously integrated world view collapsing and crumbling and then a new one starting to be built out of the ashes. For me, it went right with one of those developmental transitions between one of those integrated worldview stages and one of those disintegrating worldview stages, meaning-making states. It was - My god! It was challenging. Every attachment I had, every place I got my self-esteem was dashed and challenged, and the opportunity and the challenge was to find something to stand on on the other side even when the previous ground was gone. I had to find some way to hold a sense of self together and actually find strength in that transition, but oh, my God. It was terrifying. I didn’t want it. I didn’t ask for it. I wasn't wishing it on myself. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Yet, it was time and it just kind of happened.
This is why it amazes me whenever anyone actually wants to practice Holacracy, because it will push one of those kinds of shifts. If you’ve got a nice beautiful integrated heroic leadership worldview, what the fuck do you want this for? Yet, I get it. I get why you want this all at the same time, but really releasing the attachment to heroic leadership takes a pretty deep soul-searching. At least, it did for me. I think the same is true in different ways. It doesn’t always have to a developmental shift with it. Sometimes it does. It might be a different developmental shift for different people but for me, oh, my God. I see a lot of chats. I’m going to read some of the chats. Any reflections on any of that?
Tom: Yes. I was looking at some of the comments and the one that resonated, I think Alicia pointed out, it’s the belief that I am making a difference. I think that’s one of the chief surrender points that you were pointing to that I’ve experienced myself is the “I am” notion of where do I get my self-esteem? From moving things forward, empowering individuals, making those tough calls, the “I am”-ness, making the difference in the world to a surrender to “I am participating in a process that makes a difference. I am actually serving.” I think this is what gave rise to the phrase that we now use of being “well-used.” It’s being well-used by evolution is how I would actually language it, around evolutionary purpose. It is surrendering into that use.
Brian: Before you move on, I love that point. Could you just say that again for me? This is the replacement for the attachment to the “I am the heroic leader enacting change.” It is…
Tom: Yes. To “I am well-used.” I am well-used by evolution, by evolutionary purpose, by reality, by spirit, by mystery, by God, by whatever name that serves you. It’s being well-used by the energy of the universe to participate in making a difference and that it does not collapse to an egoic, personal identification with that. It is a full release and surrender into the power of difference-making with evolutionary energy and participating in that difference-making and with Holacracy, we have a focusing of that evolutionary energy in an organizational frame. It’s giving rise to concrete structures of that evolutionary purpose that I participate in, in an organizational frame. It’s an organizational manifestation of evolutionary purpose, which is exactly how we describe Holacracy, everything being purpose-driven and hanging off of purpose. So we have a complete system to manifest that purpose organizationally, which is of course by definition not any one of us. So we are being fully utilized, well-used in participating, in manifesting that evolutionary purpose. Not as a heroic leader, not as “I am making that difference”, but that “I participate in that difference-making.”
Brian: Yes. It’s a releasing of the self-identity coming from “I have all the answers, I see this rich complexity in these systems and I can lead them.” So if I’m not my role, if I’m not my capacity to do all of the stuff, what am I? In some ways, I’m simply a vessel. I’m a vessel for something. The feeling that I go for and love to experience, and it doesn’t come with the same heroic leader attachment, it’s just that feeling of “I’m well-used.” I go to bed peacefully when I can say, “I was well-used today” and it’s not coming from a sense of attachment or desire to lead and enact. It’s coming from a sense of “I don’t know. I don’t have all the answers to the mysteries. All I know is that today I feel well-used.
Tom: Yes. It is actually very simple and it’s elegant in its simplicity. It’s I think the chop wood, carry water notion of just being engaged in the game, and that feeling at the end of the day of giving all that you are to an effort worth that giving. That's as simple as it gets, being well-used.
Brian: Yes, absolutely. It’s a beautiful point. On that note, why don’t we pause and just open up for questions and comments. Is there anything you’d like us to speak to? Any questions? Any comments, reflections, anything about your own integration? So what’s coming up for you? I see people typing away there. Don’t hesitate if you prefer to talk.
Johannes: Hi, everybody. I was just wondering. I really loved what you’re saying and that shift from being somebody important to just being of service. I’m wondering about how to - if there’s anything you could say about the steps or helpful things to do in that shift. Like one thing that I see that when I go there, I start listening a lot more and almost start moving in a subtle way rather than a proactive way, meaning, holding a lot more space for things to surface and for others to, for the process of whatever we’re in to take shape. There is that, “Wow!” and that insecurity feeling of maybe it’s not going to work, maybe nothing happens and all these little holes to jump in and do, do ,do. So that’s the only thing I can discern right now is A) really, really listen with much bigger ears to a deeper movement in the process, and B) to resist that pull to jump in and take proactive action. I would appreciate some comments on how to make that step in the system that is asking you to perform in this old way, and in a role that holds me into forming in that old way, as well while I know something more subtle and more real.
Brian: Yes. A couple of thoughts. Again, different things for different people work, but some of the general things that jump out for me, one linking back to our last call in the topic on polarities, I think being more aware and just paying attention to polarities and which side of a polarity we might be privileging. So often with heroic leadership, there’s a privileging to maybe the knowing side of a polarity, as opposed to mystery or not knowing. So just paying attention to those kinds of things and trying to release or embrace whatever polarity it is that as a heroic leader we have been kind of neglecting individually. I think that might be an interesting thing to look at.
Another thing that was really powerful. This is actually a real example. In a company we’re working with down in Texas now, there’s a really incredible CEO, a very unique rare find who has been leading heroically because he has not had an alternative, that’s the way it’s done, and he has done quite well and built an incredible company doing it. Looking for an alternative, he eventually found Holacracy, and now they’re adopting it. He sat through a couple of different presentations I gave. In one of them, something just clicked for him, and he was laughing and he told me about it afterwards. It’s been like a mantra for him and that was the story I tell on outvoting the fuel gauge; it was the low-voltage light actually. If you haven’t seen it or haven’t heard it in one of my talks, we do it in our webinars and we have a little YouTube video on it. He said just that story about outvoting the low-voltage light, for him, has been transformative. He holds and reminds himself, whenever he has a perspective or someone else has a perspective that he doesn’t get, he said flat out in one of the meetings that “I used to lead by trying to understand the perspectives of everyone here. If I didn’t see it and understand it, then I really would try to push past it and not pay attention to it, and that was my job as a leader, but what that story did for me was give me a new mental model of ‘It doesn’t matter if I don’t see it. It doesn’t matter if the altimeter doesn’t see what the low-voltage light is pointing to. It doesn’t matter. They’re sensing a tension. Let me just get out of their way and let them process their own tension.’”
I think what a subtle but powerful shift that was. He went from being the good leader who tried to understand what everyone else was saying so that he could integrate it and he could lead through it, right? In a positive expression, he wasn’t ignoring their perspective. He would try to understand their perspective so that he could lead through them and instead releasing into, “I don’t need to understand. All I need to do is relax into a system that lets them take care of their own tension. I don’t need to understand. I don’t care. I don’t want to outvote the low-voltage light.” I watched him use that to shift how he interacts with his team members, and it’s profound. It’s like now, he sits back even when he doesn’t get it, and he doesn’t try to lead. He just lets them lead. He lets them lead through a process that lets them process their tension. He keeps bringing up that metaphor of not outvoting the low-voltage light. So for him, it was just getting that paradigm shift, that mental shift and a sense of it, a taste of it through our practice. Now it’s become almost a mnemonic or a mantra for him, which is very cool. Tom, any responses you’ve got for that?
Tom: Yes. I think practice actually is the operative word for me. As Johannes was asking the question, two thoughts came to mind. There is one path, processing what Johannes was describing of cultivating more awareness and responsibility to a new frame, a new perspective, a new shift and we can do that personally through lots of practices for cultivating that capacity personally.
Tom: Then with Holacracy, we have a different path to cultivate that capacity organizationally and participate in a relationship with that. So to reinforce that innate organizational practice that allows us to surrender into a trusted system for manifesting the organization’s aim and purpose that we participate in, cultivates that capacity, that listening capacity, that not outvoting the fuel gauge, that participative leadership-followership dynamic. So it allows us to practice those same very elements, that organizational context that we traditionally only had an individual path through spiritual practices of a variety of types, or personal development practices that help us to cultivate those capacities. So it seems like that certainly is still needed and necessary, and very beneficial to have personal development, spiritual practices to develop that capacity as humans, and now we have a new way of continuing that practice organizationally.
Brian: Tom, what do you think about Skip’s question? On the other side of the heroic leader’s journey to release into a system, what techniques can be employed to encourage or to facilitate, or catalyze, the other team members stepping up and filling that gap and embracing and owning their leadership. What helps them with that?
Tom: Yes, it reminds me of the Old Russian Cold War; trust but verify.
Brian: Yes. Seriously, huh?
Tom: Yes. It was related to the story that you tell in our trainings about the experience of hiring at Ternary an administrative assistant who was shy, demure, did not step into the process but was timid about owning her own voice and stepping into filling the gap. But overtime, with patience, not trying to change her in any way, with patience, she was allowed to find her safety and trust in the system, to timidly step into filling that gap in her own way, and once that spark was initiated, she was able to even more fully step in. So it’s to trust the process, to allow each individual to step in and lead their roles with their own capacities at play - no more, no less, and to verify that the organization is still tracking to meeting its needs and getting its needs met. So it’s both of those.
Brian: Let me add to that by saying, notice the irony in the question itself. Implicit in Skip’s question is what best techniques can be employed? Well, who will employ them? So if you ask, what best techniques can I, as the former leader moving into this paradigm and what-have-you, employ? Then, in the very foundation of that question is a trap, right? As soon as “I as post-heroic leader” am trying to employ techniques to get others to step up, I’m actually violating the very system that I’m trying to step into and build. So there is a real irony entrapped there, and I think the answer I’d offer is you let the vacuum pull them in. Nothing more than that is needed. When you have a system where they can, and they have a role and the system holds it, it invites them, it tugs at them. All you have to do is get out of their way and to Tom’s point, verify you’ve got the right person. If they’re not sucked into that gap, you’ve got the wrong person, and then there is a role of getting that person out, and getting another person in, but let the gap suck them into it. Let the purpose, the sense of meaning, their own desire to have meaningful contributions to something larger than themselves pull them into something new. In the same way it does you and anyone else. It’s not you filling the gap or helping them step up.
Even as a consultant, it’s not you the consultant doing that either. This is a trap I think consultants fall into of just being the surrogate externalized heroic leader. I think a lot of Holacracy consultants have an opportunity for something different, even as they bring their capacities and skills to bear in the transition. It’s holding to a system that will create that space that will invite people into it. So that’s just an interesting new frame for it. Very little. Get your own stuff out of the way and when you’ve got people who have a sense of internal intrinsic motivation - and most people do - and you’ve got them in the right organization where they can really be well-used, it is a powerful motivator to see that we can be well-used. It calls us forth again and again and again.
So just to wrap up. Yes, lots to reflect on. Randy, I see you’re asking for a transcript. The short answer is a clear no. Check my latest blog post, the Clarity of No. I will give you a clear no. That said, if somebody has taken a transcript or typed this up -- Deborah’s done that in the past -- that’s not one of her roles at Holacracy One -- she’s doing that purely as a contributor to the community. Certainly anyone who makes a transcript is welcome to post it, but as a general course of HolacracyOne’s business it is no one’s accountability, and not in any of our roles to make transcripts of these calls, though we do post the recordings. I certainly invite any contribution and further follow-up on the forum. So absolutely and happy to engage further there.
That said, this is our last scheduled call of the moment so I’m now off to schedule some more calls. We’ll figure out. Might wrap up this topic and move into another. It’s possible another call within this topic will pop, so let me invite all of you. If there’s another call and another topic that you’d like to dig into within the broader frame of Holacracy and human ego, please provide those suggestions on the forum. We’d love to see them. Otherwise, we’ll soon be moving into a new broader topic and you can vote on those topics or submit your own ideas for those topics on our websitecommunity.holacracy.org. So please do go there. We’d love to have your input. So thanks everyone for showing up, and have a great day.
Tom: Thank you everybody. See you next time.