This week Otto Scharmer, author of Theory U, and I are the speakers for a one-day leadership event in The Netherlands. We’ll both be talking about “leading from the field” as an emerging leadership paradigm.

In the last few weeks as I’ve been preparing for this event, one of my colleagues mentioned that he had been talking about “leading from the field” with a prospective client. The man’s response was, “There’s nothing new about that. We use SWOT analyses and talk about what’s happening out in the field all the time!” So it became clear that if we’re going to talk about leading from the field, we can’t assume that everyone is defining the “field” in the same way!

When I speak of the “field” in a transformational leadership context, I am referring to an energetic field – a field of potential – a non-physical space that is teeming with energy and possibilities just waiting to be explored. Leading from the field of potential, the focus is on discovering possibilities, new creation, emerging energies, what wants to happen. Some would say that this field is informed and shaped by an evolutionary intelligence that supports us in discovering the greatest potential waiting to unfold.

Contrasting this field of potential is the field of circumstance. When we lead from the field of circumstance, our focus is on problem solving, shortcomings, conflicts, and crisis management. In the field of circumstance, we live primarily in a state of reaction.

In the field of potential, people tend to experience a more open and abundant perspective on what is happening. They tend to be hopeful and creative. In the field of circumstance, on the other hand, people tend to feel limited, doubtful, and reactive.

In the same way that we make a clear distinction between the field of circumstance and the field of potential, we can also make a distinction between transactional and transformational leadership. Transactional leadership is rooted in the field of circumstance. The focus is primarily on problem-solving and is driven by a desire for results. Too often, the focus is also relatively short term. Transactional leadership rarely looks at the long-term implications or taps into long-term vision. Its focus is on how to get the best result for the moment.

Transformational leadership is rooted in the field of potential. The focus is on discovering what wants to happen, riding a wave of potential, and letting yourself be shown the next appropriate action. Transformational leadership focuses first on shifts in perception, deeper understanding, and new ways of thinking and perceiving, all of which tend to lead to much more sustainable changes and results. The key is to focus first on the inner shifts that need to occur in order to bring lasting outer change before jumping to action.

“Transformation” has become a very popular term these days and is being used in all sorts of contexts. Unfortunately, when this happens, we lose the power and true meaning of the term. The word “transformation” actually means “a change in form, appearance, nature, or character.” At the most fundamental level, it is the result of a shift in vibrational frequency and pattern at the energy or essence level. The core or essence of anything is pure energy. When transformation occurs at the energy level, we change to the degree that we can never go back to how we were before. It’s the same with organizations and with circumstances. Change that is rooted in transformation is much more likely to be lasting and sustainable.

The field of potential is the playground of transformational leadership. Limitless and dynamic, this field invites co-creation, innovation, and new realities beyond what we could have ever imagined in the field of circumstance. It is the field of the future.

When challenges arise, is your habit to go straight away to the field of potential or do you get caught in the field of circumstance?

If your habit is to go to the field of potential, keep reinforcing that practice. See how deep you can dive into the potential waiting to unfold. And if you tend to get caught in the field of circumstance, how can you remind yourself to make a different choice as soon as a challenge arises?

As a song of my youth said, “There’s a new world comin’, and it’s just around the bend…” In the field of circumstance, it takes a lot of work to get around the bend. Yet in the field of potential, get ready, because it’s likely to be an exciting ride!


P.S. If you want to know more about leading from the field of potential, you might find Chapter 17 from my latest book, Create A World That Works, helpful. The chapter is on “The Potential-Based Approach.” If you don’t have the book already, you can find it here.


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