Next Steps

| November 19, 2019
Leadership / Tuesday, November 19th, 2019

Below is a summary of key points pertaining to Leadership and Bliss.

1. Everyone is engaged in leadership, because each of us has an impact—positive or negative, small or large—on those we touch.

2. A good leader knows that he or she can never know everything, and is therefore always making decisions in a state of being “mistaken,” in a state of imperfect or incomplete knowledge.

3. Opportunities to influence those around us appear every day, often outside our formal designations as leaders. Almost everything we say to others “leads” people to conclusions, feelings, reactions that would not have occurred without us.

4. A good leader is called upon to move consistently back and forth between power/poise and uncertainty. In detective fiction, movies, and television, the expert investigator must often resist the urge to “close a case” prematurely.

5. The “positional” leader (someone with a formal leadership position) experiences challenges that the leader tends to perceive as hardships:

· Always having some enemies.

· Always being “parsed” for saying the wrong thing.

· Losing one’s personal identity.

· Being the person where the buck stops.

This is a partial list, but in these cases additional stress and anxiety can be activated, as well as an extended period of beleaguered reflection and second-guessing. This is largely because we tend to regard such experiences as judgments rather than as information that can usefully, constructively, and creatively inform the recalibration of our professional and personal identity.

6. Non-attachment is the ability to let go of insistence that things go a certain way, or to perceive present circumstances without an uncomfortable emotional charge having to do with dissatisfaction, irritation, anger, frustration, anxiety or exhaustion. We don’t mean to say that such emotions are bad or not useful. We need our emotions to cue us in to what we prefer and don’t prefer, to any mistreatment or injustice that calls for intervention, and to our very humanness. The idea is not to suppress or refuse emotion, but instead to listen to the message that our emotions are sending, and then settle back into the state of equilibrium from which the best action can emerge. For the “bliss leader,” non-attachment, with the intention of causing a good result in keeping with his/her value system is preferred over being blinded by an egoic demand that the world comply perfectly with his/her wishes.

7. Television shows and movies with richly drawn plots and characters help us to understand this, and provide us with what American philosopher Kenneth Burke (speaking of literature) called “equipment for living.” Media portrayals of leadership moments, characters, triumphs, disasters, malcontents, and ambiguities surely affect our conceptions of leadership—in others and in ourselves. They are opportunities/entry points into nuanced discussions of the issues.

8. “Bliss” is the capacity to gain wisdom and recover a sense of well-being. Remaining calm, focused on one’s values, and open to seeing what develops is a good response to most of the kinds of challenges that we face, but recognizing the point when you’re in a deep hole and need a friend is pretty important, too.

9 thoughts on “Next Steps

  1. In the feature film The Post, Meryl Streep plays Kathleen Graham, publisher of the Washington Post. Graham takes over the storied newspaper at a tumultuous period in our nation’s history. She also becomes one of the first women to become publisher of a major newspaper. Shortly after becoming publisher, she is informed that her reporters have obtained boxes filled with classified documents. These records were the Pentagon Papers, detailing years of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. The full weight of the U.S. government is brought down on Graham and The Post, forcing the new publisher to make an excruciatingly difficult choice: publish an article detailing the contents of the classified documents—and face potential legal action by the government that could crush the newspaper—or kill the story. In the end, Graham chooses to publish the explosive report as the clock is ticking toward the printing deadline. Throughout the film, Graham moves consistently back and forth between power, poise and uncertainty, all of which exhibit the characteristics in the fourth point of “Leadership and Bliss.”


    State of being mistaken: There are countless examples of coaches in football being criticized for going for the 2-point conversion after the TD if it fails (with much commentary from people about all the reasons it was destined to fail), but being lauded as being bold and decisive if it succeeds (with many reasons given as to how people knew it likely to succeed).

    A good leader knows that he or she can never know everything:

    · Sometimes a new leader has to step into an ongoing situation and make decisions quickly when some members of the team are not yet confident that the leader has sufficient knowledge to make decisions. The challenge in these situations is how the leader balances demonstrating confidence in their ability to make good decisions and acknowledging that they are in a “state of imperfect or incomplete knowledge.”

    · It Is important to recognize that we are often dealing with dynamic situations and must make different decisions when new information comes to light. Rather than defend a change in position, a leader can acknowledge that “while things may not have been done correctly or optimally in the past; we do not make that mistake anymore.”


    Opportunities to influence those around us appear every day:

    Principles of being a good team member also applies to good leadership. Three virtues including Humble, Hungry, and Smart (People Smart) are also important for effective leadership.

    Some example scales were introduced in the book The Ideal Team Player by Patrick Lencioni).

    (1) Humble

    ___ I am willing to take on lower-level work for the good of the team

    ___ I gladly share credit for team accomplishment

    ___ I readily acknowledge my mistakes

    (2) Hungry

    ___ I have passion for the “mission” of the team

    ___ I feel a sense of personal responsibility for the overall success of the team

    (3) Smart (People Smart)

    ___ I generally understand what others are feeling during meetings and conversations

    ___ I show empathy to others on the team

    ___ I am aware of how my words and actions impact others on the team


    The “positional” leader experiences challenges perceived as hardships:

    • People who do not know you draw conclusions about you based on your position rather than based on your personal identity.
    • In public settings, especially when they are being recorded, you have to be hyper-vigilant about what you say and your non-verbal communication. A smile or a frown can be misinterpreted. Sending a text during a meeting in response to an emergency can be viewed as disinterest or disrespect to the group when that is not the intention.
    • You may lose friendships when your responsibility as a leader requires you to keep certain information confidential; while work friends perceive your unwillingness to share as “not being a good friend.”


    In the Crown’s third season, episode 3, we see that Princess Margaret has always wished she was the monarch and feels she would be better suited for it, being charismatic and eager for attention. In this episode, the UK is in a financial deficit and LBJ does not want to bail them out because the prior Prime Minister did not support him over Vietnam. The current Prime Minister asks Queen Elizabeth to make an overture to LBJ, which turns into her asking Margaret (currently on a tour of the US) to attend a White House dinner. Margaret bonds with LBJ immediately over their resentment of playing second fiddle to others (her to Elizabeth, him to JFK) and their mutual raunchy sense of humor. She prevails, securing a bailout for the UK. When she returns to the UK, she asks Elizabeth to give her an official diplomatic role. Elizabeth is leaning toward doing so until her husband Philip advises her that Margaret’s drinking and dancing with LBJ succeeded by fluke, and she is not an appropriate representative for the Queen. Elizabeth is sympathetic toward her sister’s feelings of uselessness, and does not want to cause a rift in their relationship. Ultimately, though, she puts those feelings aside and makes the decision as the Queen to deny her request.

    1. The anonymous comment on The Crown, in response to point #6, provides a nice opportunity to further elaborate the concept of non-attachment. Queen Elizabeth’s denial of Margaret’s request in season three (which we haven’t yet watched) is preceded in season two by her refusal to give Margaret official permission to marry Peter Townsend, a divorced man. She’s faced with an impossible decision: either uphold the image of the royal family or alienate her sister. In this case, Elizabeth is not so much commendably demonstrating non-attachment as she is making a choice out of necessity (insofar as she is unwilling to challenge Church law and mores). Though doing so may require a degree of stoicism in order to get through the experience, Elizabeth may be more detached in feeling than she ought to be (this is certainly Phillip’s view). In this regard, she makes a nice case in point for a consideration of the self-abnegation (Elizabeth genuinely wants Margaret to have Peter) in deference to the office that leaders must often exercise, as this comment’s writer suggests.

      Now, once Elizabeth has made the decision to refuse her sister, there is little she can do other than express her regret and hope that Margaret will eventually forgive her. This phase will call for a fair degree of nonattachment: She will need to accept that her sister may never do so. This distinction between non-attachment and emotional detachment is an important one to note because we wouldn’t want non-attachment to be confused with lack of feeling.

      We look forward to seeing how this dynamic is revisited in Season 3!


    A good leader knows that he or she can never know everything, and is therefore always making decisions in a state of being “mistaken,” in a state of imperfect or incomplete knowledge.

    In the movie, The Joker, the audience member is never quite aware if the events onscreen are real or figments of imagination from the mentally ill main character or his mentally ill mother. In leadership, we are told various summaries of important events and then asked to make decisions, yet we may not be sure if those summaries are reliable. Nonetheless, in the end, we have to accept some of the summaries, or composites of the summaries, as being the events on which to pin a decision.


    A good leader is called upon to move consistently back and forth between power/poise and uncertainty. In detective fiction, movies, and television, the expert investigator must often resist the urge to “close a case” prematurely.

    As exemplified by the movie, Twelve Angry Men, everyone comes into heated situations with presuppositions and biases. That movie illustrates that careful reasoning must be deployed by leaders to not reach hasty conclusions. The gathering of information, the application of reason, and the virtues of discourse — these are the tools that can best ferret out the truth.


    “The leader is always expanding to include and appreciate more ways of knowing, being, and feeling in a never ending process of improvement.”

    This statement aligns perfectly with our definition of “Bliss.”

    “Bliss” is the capacity to gain wisdom and recover a sense of well-being. Remaining calm, focused on one’s values, and open to seeing what develops is a good response to most of the kinds of challenges that we face.”

    Examples of best practices in an attempt to realize this alignment are;

    Be passionate about what you are engaged in doing.
    Actively listen to those around you.
    Apply positive input toward your actions.
    Inspire others so they feel positive about taking action.
    Make time for experiences that will expand your point of view.
    Don’t wear the cloche of power.
    Be in one’s own mind and body. Embrace one’s own values.
    Be present; be IN the moment.

    Being consistent about applying these and other practices (exercise, nutrition, mindfulness) that guide you toward bliss is key “in a never ending process of improvement.”

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