How Performance Betrays Leadership

Performance, who doesn't love it?

It drives results. It makes progress unfold quicker. It yields greater efficiencies and ultimately yields greater adaptability. All in all the drive for refined and elite performance is something many of us love and knowingly or unknowingly worship. I've been doing performance coaching for a solid decade now and I have to say performance still has a bright and curious life force within my heart. As I use the term worship here, I am pointing us toward an integrated gesture where we offer ourselves to that which is worthy. For leaders who change the landscape of the world we live in, they know how to identify that which holds great value and worth. And, they know how to drive us toward these aims with proficiency in mind.

Yet we are only looking at the bright side of performance. Performance has an underbelly. It has a dark side. It is this dark side that few leaders know how to successfully manage. The underbelly is simple, the drive for innovation, speed and responsiveness within the ideology of performance commands the leader. The leader loses his or her power. The loss of power is the forfeit of the leader. And thus we must ask ourselves an important question, as leaders are we commanding performance or is performance commanding us?

One yields greater power while the other leaves us powerless in the face of the ferocious drive for higher levels of performance.

The reason why I love performance is that it can have an intimate and alive connection with development. If there's an area I've focused my attention it is on this intersection: human performance and
adult development. Leaders must acclimatize themselves to learn how to yield both. If they don't they run the risk of not leading. And just for the record leadership is not a position, but an activity.

You are either leading or your are not.

The development of yourself and your employees as well as the organizational structures within you operate is one of your chief concerns. If you're not developing yourself, your people and your structures you aren't leading. It's that simple.

And, if you're not developing to yield greater measurable capabilities you're likely wasting your time. Development and performance need one another. Performance left it its own devices precludes or blocks development. Why? You stop experimenting. Your team stops testing new ideas. Your organization backs down from the courageous acts that risk genuine innovation. When these kinds of experimentation is pressed out of your work day and your organization's activities you have fallen off of the leaders razors edge. You aren't leading. You are following the rote mechanisms of chasing efficiencies. When people are turned into efficient cogs you lose human ingenuity, human creativity and the kind of innovations that change market places and reshape our world.

Performance, keep a hold of it or it will control you. Development, study it. This is your counterbalance, this is an ideology that can hold, regulate and interface creatively with the worthy drive for performance. When you get it right, leadership ignites. When you miss it, you're either stuck in wasting your life ruminating about possibilities that never will be or you'll be uncritically chasing more efficient ways to tie your shoes.

Lead & lead boldly. Aim for the moon, not just for performance but for the development and advancement of human kind.

~Rob McNamara
Harvard University Teaching Fellow, Leadership Coach  & Author of The Elegant Self
www.RobMcNamara.com
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Break The Limits of Your Aspirations

Take a moment to look at the aspirations, intentions and desires fueling your day to day life. What are the problems you are working to solve? What limitations are you striving to overcome? What aims do you intend to achieve?

If you've got a piece of paper near by, take a few moments to jot them down. If not, launch the notes app on your smartphone, tablet or computer. Give yourself only a few minutes to get your various drives down. Don't think too hard and don't sensor. Just write down what you've been consumed by the past few days - perhaps the past week or so.

Get going now... .


Next, circle or bold the aspirations, goals and/or drives that are genuinely worthy of your life. The question I often ask my clients is, "Is this worth dying for?"

Ask yourself this question with each of your aspirations. Answer from the most sincere intelligence you are capable of participating with right now.

If you're like most adults, you'll see a whole bunch of activities, intentions and expenditures of your precious life force that are simply unworthy of your time, attention and energy. You have two options.

Option one: Develop an exit strategy. 


Set a limit on parts of yourself. Put a boundary into place with the culture you're immersed in. Say no to the distractions that are wasting your most precious assets. While conventional assumptions maintain that the life force, perspectives, attention, energy and time that compose you belong to you, this is a lie. It's an innocent lie, but a lie the autonomous self fabricates to bolster its sense of control, ownership and self-imposed importance.

From a vantage point beyond autonomy, peering through the eyes of elegance, these assets are on loan. We might even say they are a free gift belonging to something exquisite. Your perspective, the shape, direction and quality of your attention as well as your energy and behavior that follows from this gift is an experiment. Perhaps we may think of it as a test.

The exam of life is investigating your worthiness as a human being. 

If you're expending your precious life in unworthy aims, you're failing. Failure in this context is not something to be avoided. Rather, it is the doorway into a larger elegance that commands a life that does pass life's examination.

Our autonomous (and pre-autonomous) lives are in many ways already and always a failure. Discovering the failure is the opening of a precious opportunity. And, it is a simple as this. Peer into your greatest intelligence and ask yourself, What is ultimately worthy of your life?

What are you willing to die for? 
When you find something you are willing to die for, live for it. 

The failures, distractions and empty activities of your life are to end. Regardless of the consequences, an exit strategy is required in some cases. You simply must suffer the losses and inhabit the limitations of your finiteness. Elegance requires sacrifices my dear friends. If you don't know deep loss, you don't know the greatest gift life has to offer you.

So, find facets betraying the life that has been given to you and create your exit strategies. You'll likely need more than one.

There is a second option. It is a more sophisticated response to those items on your list that are not circled or broadened in bold text. This second option is also a necessity for human elegance. As much as our more conventional intelligence would like to clarify life such that we only engage in the most significant of activities, this isn't possible.

Life will not let you divide the sacred and the mundane. You cannot separate the unsubstantial from the significant for they are married to a union fundamental to the very fabric of existence. As such, you have an invitation for transmutation or what Freud called sublimation.

Option Two: Transmutation


You do possess the power to participate with a transformation that can join the unworthy aspirations of your lesser life to the very center of your greatest of intentions. To do so you must devote every facet of yourself without hesitation, limitation or mediation. Apply yourself completely. Do not give in. Do not give up. Press forward until your body, mind and heart unconditionally demand the fullness of your life.

For the areas that an exit strategy does not work, this is your other more sane option. Sure you can collude with culture and pretend that something has more significance than it really does. Or, you can play the "good enough" game where you comfortably settle into a life of habit. Years clip by no different than leaves falling from trees. All the while, a betrayal larger than the conventional mind can fathom unfolds.

Exit or transmute, these are doorways toward elegance. Take action now. Do not delay. Do not project your larger alignment and greater aspiration into the future. This is to distort and diffuse the potency of you. You become the betrayal of your greatest purposes.

The Dialectics of Aspiration

The last step is for you to inquire if something else should be on your list, but it isn't. If this is you, I encourage you to go big. Have few aspirations, but be possessed by elegant ones. As such, go big! Let your perspective broaden, allow your imagination to dream of a world that is qualitatively more good, true and beautiful. Then live into these unknown dimensions. Yoke them from possibility into actuality. 

In order to truly go big, to dare to be dreamed by the creative advance of novelty, you must paradoxically acclimatize to a way of functioning that is free from all aspiration. The fullness and greatness of  your vision only is gifted from you if you are capable of inhabiting your greatest freedom. Liberate from your conventional aspirations. Drop them. Let them go for a short while. Get used to the space, the sheer unbounded room of your heart. Only from this place will you come to know true aspiration. 

Take action swiftly. Be infinitely still. Reflect. Clarify. Devote all of yourself to that which is worthy of your life. Stop nowhere. Give everything. 

Rob McNamara 

Performance Coach, Psychotherapist and Professor of Developmental Psychology 


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The Suspicion of Autonomy


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Autonomy can be defined as the part of you who gives, authors or creates your own law. This is what the Ancient Greek translation of the term suggests. It represents an important feature of the adult mind where the authority moves from out there, outside of you in the culture, leadership and experts whom presumably have more information and experience than you do to a fallible yet more trustable inner authority.  Power shifts from outside of you to inside of you. When you begin to establish, author and create your own laws, ideologies and methodologies for directing yourself in the world, you are participating with autonomy.

This is a highly coveted ability for many adults as most can easily recall the pains of adolescence and early adulthood where an often unquestioned authority governed their actions in the world. Perhaps it was a teacher, coach, romantic partner or boss who, knowingly or unknowingly, governed your action and conduct in the world. When these are the only two basic reference points available, the only informed reasonable decision is to preserve inner directing autonomy at all costs.




Why regress back into less functional and less complex ways of being in the world? It just doesn't make sense. 

When I invite clients to be suspicious of their own autonomy, I am not encouraging them to return back to an unexamined alignment with an external authority. I am inviting them to step forward into a postautonomous way of functioning. This postautonomous move comes after autonomous functioning, it involves a more complex and thus more powerful way of functioning beyond autonomy. Suspicion of autonomy is a way for you to develop and cultivate greater developmental distance from the autonomy that likely captivates your larger power and authority as a human being. It is not a way to revert back to your less engaged ways of relating with power and authority. Nope, suspicion of autonomy is a vehicle that develops more power, more free functioning and greater authority.

For those of you who are getting all excited to have more power, more freedom and greater authority where this all resides inside of you, stop right there. This is the delusion of "more" that commonly shows up as a substitute for the legitimate development of you. Getting autonomy to be bigger is another "distortion of more" as I define it and explore in The Elegant Self. More power, greater influence and dramatic leaps forward in freedom do not belong to your autonomous self. They only show up in your postautonomous self.

Here are a couple core features of autonomy to brighten your suspicion.

1. The Preservation of Distinctness
Autonomy is in many ways a consolidation of a sense of self that is in juxtaposition to everything else. What makes you different? How are you distinct from those around you? What separates you from your surrounding culture? Autonomy naturally is invested in clarifying and articulating these boundaries. I like to think of this activity as the preservation of distinctness.

This preservation is worthy of your suspicion because distinctness breeds limitedness. If you are sincerely interested in more power, greater influence and a broader freedom commanding a larger authority you need to go beyond your distinctness to become permeable. Your subjectivity needs to be more interpenetrating with the surrounding environment, culture and relationships present. Greater permeability means more information flow. More information flow means more capacity for power and influence.

For those of you worried about becoming overly influenced by your surroundings as you loosen your defense of distinctness, you're headed in the wrong direction. Over conformity is a function of the preautonomous self, not the postautonomous self. I'm not pointing you toward the loss of your distinctness, I am just suggesting a loss of the exclusive identification with your distinctness. It's just too limited. Postautonomous functioning includes your distinctness, but is not longer limited to this way of functioning.

2. Inner Directing Governance 
You likely know this part of your autonomy really well. It is your agenda. Your schedule. Your value systems and ideology discerning what to do next and how best to do it. It is your best efforts to solve the problems you are presently facing personally and professionally. It is the inner directing authority within you that presses your will outward into your life and inward within yourself as you advocate for inner and outer change.

Being inner directed is an essential feature of adulthood. You cannot lose this functioning and remain an adult by most measures of psychological maturity. You can however lose your identification with this inner directing faculty. This enables you to retain an authority residing inside of you; however, it also frees you up to participate with larger, broader currents of aliveness that ultimately do not belong to you.

Elegance is one central facet of this postautonomous will. It is not something that can be possessed but only participated with. Sometimes it's originating source stems from deep within you. A within so profound its roots reach beyond you. Other times the originating source flowers up in your environment, culture or relationships. Sometimes it's a mixture of inner and outer life that coalesces into a force that is unwaveringly powerful. Participate with this and you'll know the kind of power and influence I point you toward.

That said, you simply will not be able to participate with this beauty or power if you are consumed by your own private autonomous agenda. Identify with your ideological drives and autonomous effort and the deeper currents of life sweep past you. This perhaps is one of the great tragedies of development, the most significant is always reserved for the most refined. As such, most adults misdirect themselves and the generations that follow. If our developmental tests are at all accurate, it is safe to assume most adults remain blind to the larger significance that surrounds them and is desperately needed.

Next time you see yourself resting exclusively upon your inner directing faculties or you see your autonomy working diligently to preserve distinctness, watch them like a hawk does its prey. Study your autonomy's movements. Assess whether it is an intentional act of your postautonomous will or if it is merely the function of habits in motion. Sometimes these are highly skillful responses in the world, other times your autonomous functioning is but a foolish gestures in the face of ultimate strategies for the advancement of humanity.

Happy hunting,
~Rob McNamara

Author, The Elegant Self & Strength To Awaken

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