Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More

Breakthrough In Leadership

Napa Valley, California, USA

August 13, 2013

This essay, Breakthrough In Leadership, is the companion piece to Presence Of Self.

It is also the fifth in an undectet of Breakthroughs: I am indebted to all the graduates of The Leadership Course everywhere who inspired this conversation.

The first time I ever saw the specific quality in the business world, I couldn't put a finger on exactly what it was I was seeing. Yes, I immediately recognized it as extraordinary. But to tell you the truth, I couldn't say exactly what it was  that was so extraordinary about it.

Photograph courtesy Verizon Wireless - Warren, New Jersey, USA - 3:19pm Thursday June 9, 2011
Training Verizon Wireless mainframe computer operators

It was day three of a five day seminar I was leading for one of my Fortune 1000  clients. Word had gotten out that whatever method I was using and whatever mainframe computer software knowledge I was imparting, was making a difference. As a statement of appreciation, I was invited to a dinner with the CEO (who was also the founder of this very successful company) and his team of executives.

The dinner was set around a massive circular table in the company boardroom. The CEO and his executive team were sitting around the table when I joined them. What I saw and heard of that group during that dinner, and the way I experienced them as I sat with them, was unlike anything I had experienced in the business world before.

When I was in my teens and in science class in high school, we did an experiment in which we laid a clean sheet of white paper on a flat board. On top of it we placed a magnet. Then, raising the board up slightly, we sprinkled iron filings over the magnet and on the paper around it, while gently tapping the board. The iron filings lined up  on the paper and around the magnet in the shape of the magnetic field emanating from the magnet. You probably did this same experiment yourself in high school, yes?

That, I thought, is what the group sitting around the CEO is like. They were fully and naturally aligned with him. The group was "as one". Groups "as one" weren't new to me. But this group, this "as one" group of executives aligned ie clearly  aligned with their CEO and founder as if they were all comprising the same magnetic field  (so to speak), was new to me. It wasn't until another twenty years or so had passed before I could distinguish and articulate what I had seen.

When I started to read and experience and get  Werner Erhard's new breakthrough work with leadership, it altered everything I had previously thought leadership was all about. My earliest model of a leader was someone like the knight who carries the flag on his trusty steed and, with a blood-curdling scream, yells "Cha-a-a-a-rge!", at which everyone follows him into battle. OK, so there's literally no knights on steeds doing battle in the world of business today. But still, that was my model: the leader is the guy who yells "Cha-a-a-a-rge!", and all the other guys follow.

Now, if you're one of the guys who follow, basically you have to buy into  what the guy who yells "Cha-a-a-a-rge!" is selling, for him to lead you. And in that paradigm, if you're the leader yelling "Cha-a-a-a-rge!", you have to sell  your audience (which means the other guys have to buy into) whatever you're yelling "Cha-a-a-a-rge!" about - that is, if  you're going to be a leader.

That's the model on which (until now) most of our leadership theories, schools of thought, and teaching have focused: the guy on his trusty steed who yells "Cha-a-a-a-rge!" must sell it to all the other guys who have to buy in to what he's selling. If he doesn't sell it successfully, or if they don't (or are unwilling to) buy into what he's selling, he can't lead and they can't be led.

Fast forward from there to the group of executives sitting around their CEO and founder like iron filings expressing his magnetism, and you have a breakthrough in leadership  if you will: from buying into whatever the leader yells "Cha-a-a-a-rge!" about, to simply being aligned with the leader. The former is leadership by doing, by daring, even by cajoling. But whatever it is, in this paradigm the other guys have to buy into it, for this model of leadership to be effective. The latter, on the other hand, is leadership by simply being, leadership by Self, leadership by inspiration. In the tired old battlefield model, the leader is the one leading by yelling "Cha-a-a-a-rge!". In the new boardroom model, the leader is the one leading by being a leader.

If that doesn't distinguish it clearly enough, leave those leaders out of the picture for just one moment and consider, instead, the other guys on the battlefield and the other guys in the boardroom. The other guys on the battlefield are followers. They follow the leader into battle. But the other guys I saw in that boardroom at dinner, weren't followers. They were also leaders. Listen (I want you to get this): they were also leaders because of the way their leader was being a leader. The other guys on the battlefield were followers because of the way their leader was leading. But the other guys in the boardroom were also leaders because of the way their leader was being  a leader.

Everyone has access to gravity. In and of itself, that doesn't ensure everyone distinguishes the distinctions  of gravity. Like that, so everyone has access to breakthrough leadership. Yet that doesn't ensure everyone distinguishes the distinctions of breakthrough leadership. The CEO and the other guys in the boardroom clearly had access to breakthrough leadership. However, without the distinctions of breakthrough leadership, what's true is their rate of producing new leaders was very, very slow - regardless of how successful their enterprise was becoming. And as for that leader and the other guys on the battlefield, their rate of producing new leaders was even slower - much  slower.

Werner's new work with leadership has laid bare the distinctions of being a leader, making them easily and powerfully available to anyone. But here's the thing: every participant in Werner's new work with leadership doesn't come away merely understanding  the principles of leadership and leading. Rather each participant comes away being a leader. This is the promise of The Leadership Course, Werner's new work with leadership developed and delivered with colleagues and co-authors Michael Jensen, Steve Zaffron, Kari Granger, and Jeri Echeverria.

For more information and to register, visit The Leadership Course: Being a Leader and the Effective Exercise of Leadership: An Ontological / Phenomenological Model website at

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