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Whirling Chief

Transcendence: Leading for the Highest Good of All

Last week, following a challenging conversation, someone asked me if I should consider “raising my voice” more often.

Communicating in a more aggressive tone may lead to results sooner in situations and it may certainly lead to a temporary emotional relief – yet, as a psychologist and organizational effectiveness expert, I happen to know sustainable results (and modeling) is in capsulation of self transcendence.

Back in 2007, ‘transcendent leadership‘ was introduced as a global initiative at the World Economic Forum. I was living in the US and working for a technology giant as a HR professional then and I remember being ‘struck’ by the thought of ‘self-transcendence’. I was familiar with the concept in terms of personal development (thanks to my sufi parents), I had no idea how to place in the business context.

Today, I feel privileged to not only study the concept, also to have the opportunity to share with my colleagues.

If we were to put very simply, there are two key threads to leadership:

  1. is about ‘doing’ relates to resource management, profit making, etc.,
  2. is about ‘being’ relates to growth from our natural state to higher potential.

Unfortunately, the associations we make of everyday leadership is not coherent with these two threads always. We tend to rely more heavily on one over other. For example, we have a perception that leadership is a concept limited to a select few… Yet, the perception is simply that… It is a perception because we witness most people being cast out of “leadership” roles as a result of the specific talent management systems we have…

Staying with this example, you may be surprised to hear that the best individual performers are not even always the best people leaders either. For example, in a recent research “Promotions and the Peter Principle”, my colleagues Alan Benson, Danielle Li and Kelly Shue studied over 50,000 sales reps to find sales performance was negatively associated with managerial success. They reported each increase in sales rank correlated with a 7.5% decline in the performance of each new manager subordinates. Surprising? It really should not be…

Because leadership is really not only about ‘doing’ something, it is equally, if not more, about ‘being’ a particular way.

Tying it all back to our example, it may be time we start evaluating the cost of moving our best individual contributors (ICs) into people leadership positions – especially without proper training. We need to understand for any one of us to be an effective people influencer, there is a requirement to develop self first.


We may need to find new development and recognition paths of our high performing ICs, so they are not pushed out of something they do beautifully into something they falter…

It is a fact that even as business leaders, our “smaller” self operates from a limiting exclusive focus on scarcity. It is driven by self-interest, just like our current world systems.  It wants to be successful, drive results, get recognition. It is all very human. Yet, we need to recognize we have a choice to operate from a “higher” self, precipitating an unbounded, inclusive focus on abundance. We can choose to remain whole and bring our higher versions forward in search of different life experiences. We can choose to accept the people, the situations for what they are in front of us. That doesn’t  always mean we agree with what’s in front of us necessarily, it means we value the differences without holding judgment.

I want to remind myself and invite other colleagues to recognize we are not always accountable to how people react to our orders or situations play before us, but we are always – always – accountable to the values we want to guide our organizations with.

I want to invite us to believe we are not here to prove our worth, we are simply here to share our uniqueness and abundance…


  • 19 September 2018

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