The Meaning Revolution: The Power of Transcendent Leadership

The Meaning Revolution: The Power of Transcendent Leadership


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Advisor of Leadership at Google and former vice president of leadership at LinkedIn claims that the biggest driver of motivation is the chance to serve a larger purpose beyond our careers and ourselves, rather than salary, benefits, bonuses, or other material incentives; companies that are able to successfully focus their people, their teams, and their culture around meaning outperform their competition.

Fred Kofman's approach to leadership has little to do with the standard practices taught in business school and traditional books. Bringing together economics and business theory, communications and conflict resolution, family counseling and mindfulness mediation, Kofman argues in The Meaning Revolution that our most deep-seated, unspoken, and universal anxiety stems from our fear that our life is being wasted—that the end of life will overtake us when our song is still unsung. Material incentives—salary and benefits—account for perhaps 15 percent of employees' motivation at work. The other 85 percent is driven by a need to belong, a feeling that what we do day in and day out makes a difference, that how we spend our time on earth serves a larger purpose beyond just ourselves.

Kofman claims that transcendental leaders, wherever they are in the hierarchy, are able to put aside their self-interests and help others to feel connected with others on a team or in an organization on a great mission and part of an ennobling purpose. He argues that every organization involved in work that is nonviolent and non addictive has what he calls an "immortality project" at its core. And the challenge for leaders is to identify and expand on that core, to inspire all stakeholders to take part.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781524760731
Publisher: The Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/01/2018
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 124,485
Product dimensions: 6.29(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Fred Kofman, Ph.D. is Google’s Vice President and leadership development advisor, director of the Conscious Leadership Center at Tecnológico de Monterrey, and founder and president of the Conscious Business Center International. Previously, he was Vice President of Executive Development at LinkedIn and a co-founder of Axialent, a global consulting company which has delivered leadership programs to more than 15,000 executives around the world. Fred earned his Ph.D. in Economics from the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of the trilogy Metamanagement (2001), Conscious Business (2006) and The Meaning Revolution: The Power of Transcendent Leadership (2018).

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

A Hot Workshop

Your Job Is Not Your Job

Success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself.

--Viktor Frankl

It was a sweltering July day in Vegas, so of course the conference room was freezing. The participants of my “Conscious Business” workshop pulled their jackets tight and grimaced. They weren’t just cold; they were pissed off. They looked at me icily. I knew what they were thinking.

I’ve been in situations like this many times. More often than not, typical managers welcome me as warmly as they would an onset of flu. It’s as if we’re all stuck in some Dilbert cartoon, and I can read the thought bubbles appearing over everyone’s heads.

What the hell are we doing here? one guy was thinking. I’ve got work to do!

Another bullshit workshop, thought someone else. I hate this stuff.

I decided to play into their worst fears. “Let’s start with an icebreaker!” I said in my cheeriest, most workshop-y voice. “Find someone you don’t know and introduce yourself. Be sure to tell your partner what your job is.” I could hear their mental groans as they all turned to their neighbors.

After three painful minutes, I asked for their attention. “Who would like to share?” I asked sweetly, as if I were totally unaware of how much I was annoying them. Nobody answered, of course. “You two, please,” I called on a pair. “Tell us your partner’s name and job.”

“His name is John. He’s in legal,” the woman said.

“Her name is Sandra,” said John. “She runs marketing campaigns.”

“Wrong,” I said. Sandra and John looked puzzled, as did everyone else.

Then, Vegas style, I challenged everyone in the room to a wager: “I bet each one of you a hundred dollars that you don’t know what your job is. And that it will take me less than a minute to prove it.”

Nobody said anything.

“Oh, come on,” I pushed them, “you really aren’t sure what your jobs are?” I pulled out a roll of bills, with the $100 bill clearly showing on top. “Take the bet. If you win, I’ll give you the hundred bucks. If you lose, I’ll contribute the money to the charity of your choice. Raise your hand unless you really don’t know what your job is.”

A few people raised their hands, but most of them glowered, suspecting a setup. “Let me make it easier,” I said. “Let’s not bet money but time and energy. If I win, you stay in the workshop and participate fully. If I lose with more than half of you, we close this workshop and I’ll take the fall with your managers. I’ll tell them I just couldn’t do it. They’ll never know better; what happens here stays here. And to clinch the deal, you decide whether I win or lose.”

People grimaced. Some shook their heads, determined not to play with me.

“Come on,” I pleaded. “You’re stuck with me. What have you got to lose, besides your confusion? If you win, you’ll get rid of me right now. You can tell everyone the story of the idiot who messed up his workshop in the first five minutes.”

Finally, I had their attention. Most of them raised their hands. I chose a woman sitting in the front. I peered at the name on her badge and thanked her. “Thank you for playing, Karen. What’s your job?”

“I’m an internal auditor.”

“And what’s your job as an internal auditor?”

“To assure that the organizational processes are reliable.”

“Okay, Karen, let’s begin. Everyone, please look at the clock. Karen, did you play any sports in school?”

“Yes,” she replied. “I played soccer.”

“Great! As an Argentinean, I’m wild about soccer. What position did you play?”

“I played defense.”

“What was your job?”

“To stop the other team from scoring,” she said.

I turned to the rest of the managers. “The job of a defensive player is to stop the other team from scoring. Does anyone disagree? If so, please raise your hand.”

Nobody moved.

“So now, somebody else answer me, please. What’s the job of an offensive player?”

“To score goals,” several people said in unison.

“Great, it seems we’re all on the same page. My next question is, what’s the job of the team?”

“To cooperate,” someone said.

“To cooperate in order to do what?”

“To play well,” someone else said.

“And why would the team want to play well?”

“To win!” came a shout from the back of the room.

“Bingo!” I replied. “The job of the team is to win the game. Anybody disagree with that?”

They shook their heads and rolled their eyes, annoyed at this exercise in futility. I saw someone faking a yawn. His thought bubble read, What’s the big frigging deal?

“If the job of the team is to win,” I continued, undeterred, “what is the primary job of each and every member of the team?”

“To help the team to win,” someone else said.

“Right again! Do you all agree?”

Everyone nodded.

“Here’s my last question: If the primary job of each and every member of the team is to help the team to win, and if the defensive player is a member of the team, what is the primary job of a defensive player?”

“To help the team win,” a third person muttered, clearly intuiting where things were going.

“Yes!” I pointed to the person who said it. “Please say that louder.”

“To help the team win,” he repeated.

“Okay. Please check the time. It’s been fifty-two seconds since we started this discussion.”

People still looked puzzled, so I explained. “What is the primary job of a defensive player? Is it to stop the other team from scoring or to help the team win? You all agreed with Karen a minute ago that it was to stop the other team from scoring. I hope you’ll agree with me now that it’s to help the team win.”

“What’s the difference?” asked one contrarian.

“Imagine you are the coach of a team that’s losing one to zero with five minutes to go. What would you tell the defensive players?”

“To go on the offensive and try to tie the game,” someone asserted.

“Exactly! So how would you react if they told you, ‘Sorry, Coach, but that’s not our job’?”

“I’d fire their asses.”

“Why? Doesn’t that make it more likely that the other team could score a second goal in a counterattack? If the defensive player’s job is to help the team to win, then going on the offensive is the right thing to do. If his job is to minimize the goals scored against his team, it is the wrong thing to do.”

People were smiling. I could feel the tide turning. I pushed further. “So what’s the job of the offensive player?”

“To help the team win.”

“And what’s the job of the water boy?”

“To help the team win.”

Several people were giggling, but not everyone. “I still don’t get the point about our jobs,” someone said.

“In 1961, President John F. Kennedy was visiting NASA headquarters for the first time,” I replied. “While touring the facility, he introduced himself to a fellow who was mopping the floor, and he asked him what he did at NASA. The janitor replied proudly, ‘I’m helping put a man on the moon!’ ”

I let that sink in for a moment. And then I asked them, “How many of you told your partner in the opening exercise: ‘My job is to help my company win?’ How many of you realize that your primary job is to help your organization fulfill its mission ethically and profitably? How many of you heard your partner describe his or her job as ‘contributing to increase the value (and the values) of my company’?”

In the now-not-so-icy silence, you could hear the proverbial penny drop.

Beating Your Numbers, Undermining Your Team

In 2014, Veronica Block called to cancel her family’s Comcast Internet service. She was immediately transferred to a “customer retention” representative who argued with her for ten minutes about why she wanted to cut off the service. Every time Veronica asked the representative to simply terminate the service, the rep argued with her. The representative insisted that it was all about improving Comcast’s service. “Tell me why you don’t want faster Internet service,” the fast-talking representative kept saying.

Frustrated, Veronica handed the phone off to her husband, Ryan, who had the presence of mind to record his eight-minute segment of the dialogue.1

The conversation was painful, wheedling, circular, and irrational. “My job is to understand why you don’t want Comcast service,” the rep argued, his voice rising.

“I don’t understand why you can’t just cut it off,” said Ryan.

“It sounds like you don’t want to have this conversation with me,” the rep whined. “I’m just trying to give you information.” Listening to the recording, you can practically hear the poor guy’s manager breathing down his neck. “I’m trying to help my company be better,” the rep says a little desperately. “That’s my job.”

“I can guarantee you right now,” Block replied, “you’re doing an incredibly good job at helping your company be worse.”

The SoundCloud clip that Ryan recorded and posted on his blog was played millions of times. It resulted in stories in the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times and on Good Morning America and the Huffington Post. It was definitely not the kind of publicity that Comcast was looking for, especially when it was trying to execute a widely hated merger with Time Warner Cable. Comcast later apologized for the singular behavior of its panicked employee, but not until after the damage was done.

In any case, his behavior is neither singular nor panicked; it is systemic and rational. As with most companies, Comcast’s customer retention group lives in its own silo: everyone in that group is evaluated according to a checklist of key performance indicators (or KPIs). I bet you that this hapless rep’s bonus and career depended on the number of cancellations that were recorded on his shift, regardless of whether or not it would be best for the company to stop those clients from leaving. He had a script that he had to follow strictly or he would be reprimanded. (And, most likely, his supervisor’s performance would be affected, too.)

Here is what that rep was struggling with, without understanding it. To do the best for the company (in order to optimize the system), you must, at times, do something that’s not the best for you or your particular area (suboptimize your subsystem). For example, to do the best for Comcast, the customer retention representative should have courteously terminated the customer’s service, even though that was not what his area’s performance is measured on. When he optimized for his subsystem (trying aggressively to retain the customer), he suboptimized the system (annoying the customer and eroding Comcast’s brand). By doing “his job,” the customer retention representative ended up doing a great disservice to Comcast through one of the biggest public relations fiascoes of the year.

In a normal organization, you don’t get paid to do your job; you get paid to play your role. Your real job is to help your company to win; that is, to accomplish its mission profitably and ethically. At times, your job contradicts your role, since it requires that you sacrifice your agenda, change your priorities, or take a hit in your individual key performance indicators. You don’t get rewarded for helping your company win, though; in fact, you might be punished for it, which is infuriating. How can they be so stupid! you may think. They are setting me up so that when I do the right thing, I end up worse off.

The point is that too often each individual, and each part of the organization, pursues his or her own interests at the expense of the whole. As the founding father of the total quality movement, W. Edwards Deming, observed: “People with targets and jobs dependent upon meeting them will probably meet the targets, even if they have to destroy the enterprise to do it.”2

If only they tweaked this damned incentive system to make it more reasonable, you might think. But it turns out that a perfect incentive system is a mythical entity, like a perfect car. You must choose between comfort and performance, between crashworthiness and fuel consumption, between quality and economy. You can’t have a family sedan that is roomy, safe, reliable, and economical and that performs like a sports coupe that is fast, responsive, nimble, and powerful. Organizational leaders have to make some hard choices: accountability or cooperation, excellence or alignment, autonomy or coordination. Unfortunately, collaboration conflicts with accountability, and collective performance conflicts with individual excellence.

Thus, organizations end up with an insoluble dilemma. It’s like a blanket that is too short. If you pull it up to your chest, your feet get cold; if you cover your feet, your chest gets cold. On the one hand, individual incentives create silos; on the other, collective incentives destroy productivity. Most organizations stick with the devil they know--individual performance indicators--and accept the consequent impact on collaboration.

The good news is that there is a better way to address this problem. And that is through the use of meaning--the ultimate nonmaterial incentive. The bad news is that the kind of leadership that can engage people in meaningful work is much, much harder than you think.

The Inspiring Leader

I define leadership as the process by which a person (the leader) elicits the internal commitment of others (the followers) to accomplish a mission in alignment with the group’s values.

Leadership is about getting what can’t be taken, and deserving what is freely given. The followers’ internal commitment cannot be extracted by rewards or punishments. It can be inspired only through a belief that giving their best to the enterprise will enhance their lives.

In an organization you are part of a team--internal conflicts notwithstanding. As a team member, you cannot win unless the whole team wins. You may be an accountant, an engineer, or a salesperson. You may work as an individual contributor, a manager, or an executive. Beyond all professions, roles, and levels, beyond your personal targets and goals, you are a team member and you need to align your efforts toward the entire organization’s collective success. You must cooperate with your colleagues to win as a team.

Traditional command-and-control leaders think that they can make people do this through the right incentives. They ask questions such as: How can I motivate my subordinates to achieve their individual and collective targets? How do I combine rewards and punishments to maximize results? How do I tickle their greed and fear in the right combination? Such managers may have an inkling that they can neither buy nor intimidate inspired performance, but they still believe that they can coax extraordinary efforts through carrots and sticks.

1. You can hear the SoundCloud clip here: ryan-­block-­10/comcastic-­service.



Excerpted from "The Meaning Revolution"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Fred Kofman.
Excerpted by permission of The Crown Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword Reid Hoffman xiii

Chapter 1 A Hot Workshop 1

Part 1 Hard Problems

Chapter 2 Disengagement 33

Chapter 3 Disorganization 52

Chapter 4 Disinformation 73

Chapter 5 Disillusion 90

Part 2 Soft Solutions

Chapter 6 Motivation 117

Chapter 7 Culture 142

Chapter 8 Response-Ability 167

Chapter 9 Collaboration 190

Chapter 10 Integrity 209

Part 3 Self-Transcendence

Chapter 11 Get Over Yourself 237

Chapter 12 Die Before You Die 254

Chapter 13 Be a Hero 272

Chapter 14 Superconscious Capitalism 290

Epilogue: What to Do on Monday Morning 308

Acknowledgments 317

Notes 319

Index 345

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