Book Review: Moments of Greatness

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Book Review: Moments of Greatness

Like all leaders, sometimes you’re “on,” and sometimes you’re not. Why is that? In his book “Moments of Greatness” Robert E. Quinn clarifies why leaders don’t need to rely on imitating other leaders or poring over leadership manuals to perform at their best. Instead, leaders need to enter the fundamental state of leadership: the way you lead when a crisis forces you to tap into your deepest values and instincts. Fortunately, you don’t need a crisis to shift into the fundamental state of leadership. The author describes how you can do so any time by asking yourself four questions: “Am I results centered?”, “Am I internally directed?”, “Am I other focused?” and “Am I externally open?” Want to discover your fundamental state of leadership? 

Leaders are at the top of their game when they act from their deepest values and instincts. Usually they tap into these fundamental qualities during a crisis, but it’s possible to do so anytime—in the right frame of mind. In his book “Moments of Greatness” Robert E. Quinn describes how you can make the shift at any time by asking yourself just four questions that correspond with the four qualities of the fundamental state: “Am I results centered?”, “Am I internally directed?”, “Am I other focused? ”and “Am I externally open?” It’s a temporary state. No one can operate at the top of their game 24/7. But each time you enter the fundamental state of leadership, you make it easier to return to that state again. And you inspire others around you to higher levels of excellence.

Moments of Greatness

Entering the Fundamental State of Leadership

Preparing for the fundamental state

Because people usually do not leave their comfort zones unless forced, many find it helpful to follow these two steps to enter the fundamental state of leadership. First, you need to recognize you’ve already been there. You’ve faced great challenges before, and in surmounting them, you entered the fundamental state. By recalling these moments’ lessons, you release positive emotions and see new possibilities for your current situation. Secondly, you need to analyze your current state. When we’re in the fundamental state, we take on various positive characteristics, such as clarity of vision, self-empowerment, empathy, and creative thinking. Comparing our normal performance with what we have done at our very best often creates a desire to elevate what we are doing now.

Understanding the fundamental state of leadership and recognizing its power are not the same as being there. Entering that state is where the real work comes in. To get started, we can ask ourselves four questions that correspond with the four qualities of the fundamental state.

Am I results centered?

Most of the time, we are comfort centered. We try to continue doing what we know how to do. Clarifying the result we want to create requires us to reorganize our lives. Instead of moving away from a problem, we move toward a possibility that does not yet exist. We become more proactive, intentional, optimistic, invested, and persistent. We also tend to become more energized, and our impact on others becomes energizing.

Am I internally directed?

In the normal state, we comply with social pressures in order to avoid conflict and remain connected with our coworkers. However, we end up feeling less connected because conflict avoidance results in political compromise. We begin to lose our uniqueness and our sense of integrity. The agenda gradually shifts from creating an external result to preserving political peace. As this problem intensifies, we begin to lose hope and energy.

Am I other focused?

It’s hard to admit, but most of us, most of the time, put our own needs above those of the whole. Indeed, it is healthy to do so; it’s a survival mechanism. But when the pursuit of our own interests controls our relationships, we erode others’ trust in us. Although people may comply with our wishes, they no longer derive energy from their relationships with us. Over time we drive away the very social support we seek. To become more focused on others is to commit to the collective good in relationships, groups, or organizations, even if it means incurring personal costs.

Am I externally open?

Being close to external stimuli has the benefit of keeping us on task, but it also allows us to ignore signals that suggest a need for change. Such signals would force us to cede control and face risk, so denying them is self-protective, but it is also self-deceptive. Asking ourselves the question whether we’re externally open shifts our focus from controlling our environment to learning from it and helps us recognize the need for change. Two things happen as a result. First, we are forced to improvise in response to previously unrecognized cues—that is, to depart from established routines. And second, because trial-and-error survival requires an accurate picture of the results we’re creating, we actively and genuinely seek honest feedback.

Applying the fundamental principles

While the fundamental state proves useful in times of crisis, it can also help you cope with more mundane challenges. If you are going to have an important conversation, attend a key meeting, or participate in a significant event, you can prepare yourself by asking yourself the four questions and move from the normal, reactive state to the fundamental state of leadership. They often lead to high-performance outcomes, and the repetition of high-performance outcomes can eventually create a high performance culture.

Inspiring others to high performance

When we enter the fundamental state of leadership, we immediately have new thoughts and engage in new behaviors. We can’t remain in this state forever. It’s a temporary state. Fatigue and external resistance pull us out of it. But each time we reach it, we return to our everyday selves a bit more capable, and we inspire those around us to higher levels of performance.

Conclusion

Whether you are working with an individual, a group, or an organization, you can ask yourself the same four questions to prepare yourself and shift into the fundamental state of leadership. It’s a temporary state. But each time we reach it, we return to our everyday selves a bit more capable, and we usually elevate the performance of the people around us as well. Over time, we all can become more effective leaders by deliberately choosing to enter the fundamental state of leadership rather than waiting for crisis to force us there.

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Info on authors:

Robert E. Quinn holds the Margaret Elliot Tracey Collegiate Professorship at the University of Michigan and serves on the faculty of Management and Organizations at the Ross School of Business. Quinn’s research and teaching interests focus on leadership, organizational change and effectiveness. He has published 16 books on these subjects. He is particularly known for his work on the competing values framework. It has been used by hundreds of organizations and thousands of managers have been trained in the use of the model.