Unlocking the Heart and Soul of Remarkable Leadership, Keith Merron
Remarkable Leadership

Leadership and Synchronicity

January 26th, 2013

In a rather obscure and yet surprisingly relevant talk on TED, Steven Strogatz addresses the issue of synchronicity.


In this extraordinary talk, he points out that fish, birds and other animals in nature naturally swarm—they act in unison. They follow a simple set of rules that appear at once obvious and yet at the same time are quite profound.  The rules are:

  1. All of the individuals are only aware of their nearest neighbors
  2. All of the individuals have

    a tendency to line up

  3. They are all attracted to each other, but they try to keep a small distance apart

It strikes me that understanding natural systems is crucial to leadership, especially as it relates to synchronicity. Among other things, it is the job of leaders to create conditions where all employees are aligned. They need to follow vision, a shared strategy, and a set of operational principles and values, the culmination of which represents an organ

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ization truly in alignment. Put simply, great organizations act in unison toward a goal and the job of the leader is to encourage or inspire that to happen.

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The human laws of synchronicity are not so different than the laws of nature. If we were to express them, they might be:

  1. All individuals are aware of one another, their needs and desires
  2. All individuals mutually adjust to one another
  3. They care about and are committed to each other
  4. There is a shared goal or reason for being

The laws of leadership might look like this:

  1. Offer a clear vision
  2. Invite commitment to that vision
  3. Create conditions where everyone can communicate toward that shared goal in a way that allows for mutual co-creation and mutual adaptation
  4. Reinforce all the above over and over again

Leaders that are guided by these laws and lead in a way that encourage the natural synchronicity of human beings and organizations seem more likely to accomplish great things and do it in a way that is ultimately satisfying.




Leadership and Maturity

January 19th, 2013

Great leadership has all to do with maturity.

A scene in the movie Tombstone, about Wyatt Earp the great lawman of the old west, illustrates the point beautifully.

Johnny Ringo, the evil gunslinger steps into a saloon and sees Doc Holliday, famous for his quickness on the draw. Doc is a bit drunk and trouble starts to brew. Ringo and Doc exchange a few quips about who is the better sharpshooter and Earp, who is at Doc’s side says to both of them, “Let it go.” But Ringo, being quite immature, doesn’t want to.  He pulls out his gun and as if to say to Doc, “You aint so hot.” He shows a bit of gun hand-play right in front of Doc’s face, intending to rile Doc up.

He twirls his gun back and forth around his finger and every now and then aims it at Doc. Doc remains placid in the face of this immature show of bravado.  Rather than take the bait, he simply lets Ringo do his silly gun play and doesn’t flinch.  He is clearly showing more maturity that Ringo. Then when it is clear that Doc isn’t going to take the bait, Ringo stops.

Had Doc left it at that, he would have been demonstrating a high degree of maturity, but alas, that is not Doc. Instead, he takes his small shot glass which happens to have a looped handle, much like the looped space in which a gun’s trigger resides. Doc inserts his finger and starts to twirl the shot glass in front of Ringo, as if to make fun of him.

Although Doc showed some maturity earlier in his self-restraint, he can’t help but have some amusement at Ringo’s expense. He held some modicum of maturity just so long and then couldn’t any longer. His machismo took over.

Now over to the other side. Earp watched all this and did nothing. He knew that these two were baiting each other and he would have none of it. He could have sided with his friend Doc and pressed the issue, but instead, he watched the whole thing and realized this was not the time or place to get hot. His cooler head prevailed, and Ringo walked out in a huff.

Maturity, someone once told me, is the ability to inhibit ones impulses and clearly Earp demonstrated that. The second is the ability to see all the forces at play—to see the system as a whole, and to make wise choices in the face of these forces. Earp could see that a gunfight might cause unnecessary harm to bystanders and that both Ringo and Doc had had a bit too much to drink. In this way, Wyatt Earp, the hero of the movie and our little story, shows signs of being a great leader. His maturity and dignity were the necessary ingredients, or else all hell would have broken loose.

I’m Finally Growing Up

January 5th, 2013

I am a very competitive tennis player. I have been for over 40 years. I put myself through college on a tennis scholarship, was a highly ranked player in the Middle Atlantic States, and even won a doubles tournament against a team that had as one of its players, Arthur Ashe’s former doubles partner. For years I have taken pride in my abilities and continue to maintain a competitive fire.

Yesterday, something happened that showed me something about myself for which, upon reflection, I feel very good about. I beat my opponent easily the first set (6-1) and was winning in the second set by a slim margin, although my opponent was playing much better than in the first set. In general, my opponent was feeling discouraged about his play, while I was feeling great. We had only a few more minutes to

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go before we were to get bumped from the court when we played what was by far the best point of the match. Back and forth we went for well over 20 exchanges until I hit a shot down the line that was one of the best I’ve hit in a long time. I could tell it was clearly in since I could follow its trajectory easily. My opponent was moving swiftly and at an angle and could neither get to it nor see it clearly. Although I could tell it was a winner, he called it out.

In a flash, I could see my past as well as the trajectory of my life going forward. In the past, I would have argued, insisting he was wrong. My competitive juices afire, I would relish in my victory. Instead, I smiled. “Great point,” I said. “You really came back there in the second set. What a point.”

In this one moment, I chose to support my opponent, giving graciously so that he could feel good and leave satisfied. I could have chosen victory. It didn’t matter to me though. What mattered much more were his feelings. I believed he called it out because it was important to him. This often happens. We see what we want to see. And clearly it mattered more to him than me. So I did the kind thing. I gave him the point. In my heart, I still won the point, but I won something more—the awareness and satisfaction of knowing that who wins and who loses is less important than the sweet journey together.

I think I’m finally growing up.

Leadership in the Flow of Time

December 22nd, 2012

Elise Boulding has offered a concept for seeing oneself in the concept of history that is both fascinating and extraordinarily relevant for conscious leadership. She reminds us of the value of seeing ourselves in the middle of history, rather tha

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n its beginning or end. She says in an interview:

“A favorite concept of mine is the 200-year present, a way of thinking about change. The 200-year present began 100 years ago with the year

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of birth of the people who have reached their hundredth birthday today. The other boundary of the 200-year present, 100 years from now, is the hundredth birthday of the babies born today. If you take that span, you and I will have had contact with a lot of people from different parts of that span. So think in terms of events over that span and realize how long

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change takes. You can see how difficult it has been to create these bodies and new ways and how in many ways we are slipping backward; but in other ways we are not. I take comfort to know that super-power hegemony has a very limited lifespan (decline and fall of Rome, the Ottoman Empire).”

Elise Boulding Interviewed by Julian Portilla — 2003

This wonderful image has important implications for leadership. What if you as a leader saw yourself in the middle of the history of your organization? You might see yourself as having taken responsibility for an organization or a culture that has a rich and perhaps enduring past. You might honor that past and also see the tensile strength of it. You would recognize that it took much effort to get here and that all choices in the past co-emerged to create the moment that is now. You would see and respect how difficult it is to change because of these forces and not apply simple and limited solutions in hopes for an easy fix of the culture. At the same time you might see and envision a glorious future and believe that your actions matter for the future success of the organization. You might take great pains to ensure that wise decisions are made in order to leave an enduring legacy. You might honor the Native American notion of making choices that meet the needs of people seven generations forward. These thoughts emerge because you see the present in the context of the past and yet unrealized future and you recognize yourself in this powerful flow.