Like many things in life, the instrumental perspective is responsible for both individual and business accomplishment and ineffectiveness at the same time. As expressed by David Whyte in his book The Heart Aroused, “work, paradoxically, does not ask enough of us, yet exhausts the narrow parts of us we do bring to its door.”

In their attempts to address the need for innovation in the context of the instrumental paradigm, many courageous companies have learned to disrupt things in a way that allows the expression of new energy. But do not confuse this type of “disruption” with an attempt to change mental models. These companies often hire narrowly focused people and encourage them to engage in uncharacteristic and divergent ways of thinking, restricting their normal pathways of production and enabling them to create something new. Although useful to the company, the creative product born of this process is qualitatively different and distinct from creativity born of wholeness.

This energy is usually not the result of helping workers liberate themselves from self-limiting beliefs. More often it represents a cathartic expression of what has been suppressed but is still contaminated by their developmental histories, fortified by their accommodations and defenses, and designed to preserve the “integrity” of the early mental models that define who they believe themselves to be. The company benefits in the short run, but the energized contributor is likely to be left in a refractory state until he or she is recalibrated to emit another spurt of tense energy.

Business leadership recapitulates the structure and function of early family life, where power is held in the hands of the adults. Because of this, it recreates an “at-home feeling” in those who feel disempowered and at the same time offers them a context that makes change possible. Business leaders who are committed to developing the highest and best potentials in their workers enjoy optimal performance and commitment in return. They can influence the “at home feeling” from disempowered to committed.

What better gift could the business world offer society than to be the vehicle for creating a context that once again enlivens us to create? This is a “win, win, win” situation—how could it remain invisible for so long and be actively avoided in so many subtle and not-so-subtle ways? One can only conclude that the freedom to create stimulates the fear of the unknown and taps into a part of us that would rather settle for the known than stimulate the terror created by the part of our brain that interprets ambiguity as danger.

People are more likely to fully invest in what they themselves create. This is because our early experiences result in mental models which organize reality in a particular way. It is possible to value something created by someone else and commit to learning and supporting it. We can even master structures created by others but skin in the creation game is what engages us at the level of mastery, energy and engagement. What we create, we know and what we know influences our ability to create. That is the basis of commitment. There is a parallel process in relationships. Simply put, commitment to a relationship or organization is a function of the possibility of growth. Full engagement is reciprocal.

A limiting factor experienced by business is that only a small number of business leaders make the decision to “know themselves as they truly are.” Most of these leaders may have institutional power, but they cannot accomplish what they cannot “see.” They cannot offer others what they do not give themselves, nor can they create a culture that can know and liberate their own creative energy, especially if their relationship with themselves limits their capacity for empathy.

Without a “sea change” in themselves, what motivated their past achievements will determine the extent of their future accomplishments. This sea change is, and has always been, the sine qua non. We need a clearer picture of who we really are before we can reach our greater potential.

Here are a few leadership outcomes that may indicate that your level of self-knowledge is growing:
a. You notice people are seeking you out more and wanting your guidance.

b. You see other people as separate objects, not as narcissistic extensions of yourself.

c. You can offer others who seek your wisdom clarity without depleting your own energy.

d. Assuming you get adequate sleep, you can “be on your game” (i.e., maintain your “flow”) for lengthy periods of time and remain energized and rested throughout the process.

e. You notice that you have replaced “frantic energy” with calm energy and are more effective and efficient than you have ever been in the past.

f. Your emotional sense of well-being leans toward “mildly positive” throughout the day, and your hard-wired brain circuitry no longer has undue influence on your thinking.

One of the ways that we often avoid the call to uncover our greater self is through “busyness.” Busyness is different from accomplishment. Busyness can easily bring about a false feeling of engagement or self-importance.

Accomplishment that exceeds expectations is often the product of calm energy emanating from having greater access to our potential, also known as flow. The calm energy associated with flow is born in the pauses of our life—not in the filled spaces.

Optimal performance generally occurs at intermediate levels of motivation. In this state the brain is receptive to internal and external signals and adaptability and performance are close to optimal. It is important take pauses which are not wasted time but time that is filled with possibility. It is in the pauses of life that great ideas are born.

As I continue to read countless business and leadership books, I am struck by a couple of limiting beliefs that I believe to that remain unchallenged:

a. It is possible and even important to change people who work in organizations without changing their leaders.

b. Information and training alone will change mental models.

c. Once people know what is needed, they will do it.

d. If you treat people with kindness, love, and respect (as defined by the leader), their lives at work and home will automatically improve and you will have given them and the world something of immense value.

While these tactics might work for a subset of people in organizations, their strategic focus fails to take advantage of some of the most powerful variables in neuroscience and psychology.

Psychological literature suggests that information alone does little to create behavioral change. Yet thousands of people read books, go to workshops, and take personal development courses that offer information and exercises that stimulate us for only a moment and generate energy that often wanes quickly. But the experience and information gained cannot be put to long-term use because the receiver (in this case, the leader) is blind to themselves in ways that block or reduce any transformational value the information might otherwise offer. If the leader remains unchanged by the experience, it will have little impact on the heads and hearts of their followers. Only when leader is ready to “see” the emotional connection between their mental models and the experience of their followers (empathy) can the signal they intend to send can be received.

What we do not know about ourselves tries to awaken us by glinting and winking at us throughout our lives, yet most actively avoid answering the call. Life is always reminding us that we have unfinished business. There is no easy way to achieve maturity. It always involves the death or revision of old (dated) mental models that keep us thinking too small. In the words of Ben Franklin, “There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.”

If a person tends to be under aroused (low drive) then external pressure tends to improve their performance.

In fact, as external stress increases, their performance typically increases because outside pressures are pushing their arousal levels up.

On the other hand, for individuals whose arousal levels are already optimal, an increase in external pressure tends to lead to poorer performance.

And for individuals who normally have high drive or arousal levels, an increase in external pressure not only results in poorer performance but under extreme circumstances may negatively affect their health.

For these reasons, it is important to know yourself (and your team members), to know what types of approaches would work best to optimize performance, when working under pressure.