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Through The Looking Glass - On Leadership

By: Dr Eugene Fernandez

Lewis was walking past the office kitchen when he overheard a hushed conversation - off with his head I say, off with his head, it was the voice of Carol his executive assistant who sounded angry.  He suddenly remembered their recent altercation over the board papers, though he dismissed this as their usual spat which Carol was tough enough to work through.

 This obviously was a personal matter, which he was loath to inquire about, as it would open up a can of worms. Besides, the board papers were due and he had to prepare for the executive meeting outlining his focus on driving the KPI’s of his division. HHe also intended to spell out the barriers imposed by some of his peers that prevented his team from achieving their goals. All this had to be done prior to a residential Leadership program next week, which the CEO insisted he attend. He felt annoyed, as it was Carol’s task to ensure all of this was organized - grimacing he entered and shut the door to his office.   

 Lewis held the view that you had to drive hard for what you want and that it was better to be tough and fair than to be loved. He often commented to his team  ‘ …we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.’  He didn’t stand still long enough to hear his team’s mumbled reply. ‘The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.’

The Achievement Overdrive

Lewis’s style is reflective of some leaders within organizations. In today’s busy and complex world, leaders can be mired in action and activity driven by a strong internal desire to achieve. Increasingly this drive for action and achievement, coupled with the pace of life, can preclude or limit time for reflection and developing relationships. This can, in turn, impact adversely on the quality of decisions made and on the lives of people at work. Since the mid-1990s the drive for achievement, labeled by David McClelland, an eminent Harvard psychologist, as one of the three key internal drivers or social motives, has been on the rise. The other two are, Affiliation and Power.

Leaders are driven to overachieve – sometimes at great cost and suffering to those around them, (remembering also that some leaders overachieve and produce good results). High-profile scandals and reduced trust in leadership and big corporations (Spreier, Fontaine et al. 2006) are seen as part of the cost of this unthinking drive.

A consequence of this drive for achievement is leaders working long hours at the cost of health, and family-life, and limited time for introspection and building relationships. Action, uninformed by reflection, perpetuates the problem and locks people and their organizations in a vicious cycle.


Leaders who do not review their behaviours can negatively impact on the organization and its systems. Langer (1989) argues there is a tendency for people to act without any ‘conscious volition’ and that many acts demonstrate a state of mindlessness in contrast to the mindfulness linked to reflecting on what we do.

Along with Mindfulness, leaders need to adopt and learn different styles that use what McClelland calls socialized power. Leaders need to also understand and become practiced at understanding the inner landscape, being mindful of their emotions and beliefs and the impact this has on their decisions. (Fernandez 2013)

 Leadership Program

The Leadership program was an opportunity for Lewis to calibrate and reflect on his strengths and weaknesses. He found it hard at first to slow down and to be part of the group, but gradually some of the messages began to sink in, he realized that the success he had to date within the organisation wasn’t necessarily going to get him to the next step.

 The programs experiential nature was at first disconcerting as he was expecting to be told via lectures what a good leader was. However through discussion and dialogue the facilitators were able to role model and articulate other styles and views of leadership.

Being a Leader

Lewis realised that a leader did not necessarily have to be in front holding the flag and rallying the troops. Leadership could also be a collective and transformational process, (Raelin 2004, Bass and Riggio 2006)  where everyone in a group takes responsibility to rotate and share the role, this was a collective view of leadership.

Each person is also a leader, exerting his or her own leadership preferences and traits within the team, this was a form of concurrent leadership and where every member considers the needs of others exemplified compassionate leadership.  All this did not detract from his legitimate and obligatory role as a leader, but added the means by which to enact it.

He began to understand that accountability and responsibility are key aspects of both personal leadership and leadership that is vested in his role within the organisation. Leadership includes an understanding of the inner dimensions of the self along with an understanding of the behaviour of others. These dimensions and behaviours have a direct and critical impact (whether conscious or unconscious) on individuals, organizations and the world at large (Goleman 2002, Sinclair 2007).

Lewis’s understanding about taking personal responsibility was challenged when he received critical feedback from his 360. He confided with one of the participants after dinner, which affirmed that Lewis had a choice, to reject the feedback and go back to doing what he always did or to view the feedback as a gift and to commit to make the necessary changes.

 ‘Your Peers can derail your career’, a comment made by one of the facilitators got his attention, this coupled with his low inclusion scores (Schutz 2005) projected the impression that he was remote, in reality he rarely included them in any meeting or event and whilst voicing his interest in being involved, found excuses when invited. He planned to change this immediately by acknowledging the significance of their contribution.


He decided to develop strategies to work through his high need for control which was stifling the decision making of his direct reports and their willingness to be more innovative. At the same time he pushed back on any control being exerted by his superiors, which strained the relationship. He acknowledged that there was a need to look at the deeper reason and need that was driving this behaviour.

 He realised that at times he used coercive means to stamp his authority and this had a tendency to inflame emotions rather than engage the heart.  He got tacit compliance rather than real engagement.  As Shakespeare’s Angus speaks about Macbeth, ‘Those he commands move only in command. Nothing in Love’

Engaging with the heart means connecting with where each person is.  This requires being present to them as a person. It goes beyond just having a superficial and intellectual understanding of the person. It goes deeper and means caring about them through real empathy and compassion.

Research from Neuroscience highlights that Emotions such as empathy and compassion have a positive effect on neurological functioning and personal relationships, our perceptions of events also changes to one of enablement, creating a virtuous cycle (Cameron, Inzlicht et al. 2015) (Fernandez 2015).

The time away on the leadership program challenged many of his fundamental assumptions; he felt tired but renewed, his intention was to become more of a Resonant Leader (Boyatzis and McKee 2005) who could move people powerfully passionately and purposefully.

On his return to the office, he embraced Carol and thanked her for her support, he said. ‘I can’t go back to yesterday - because I was a different person then’.

Carol replied, ‘You’re not the same as you were before’ and she smiled so much that the ends of her mouth almost met behind her head.

Lewis thought ‘if she smiles any more, I don’t know what would happen to her head! I’m afraid it would come off!’ (Carroll 1865)


Bass, B. and R. Riggio (2006). Transformational Leadership. Mahwah, New Jersey, LEA Publishing.

Boyatzis, R. and A. McKee (2005). Resonant Leadership. Boston, Harvard Business Review Press.

Cameron, D., et al. (2015). Empathy is Actually a Choice. The New York Times: SR 12.

Carroll, L. (1865). Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. New York, Macmillian.

Fernandez, E. (2013). “DOOR to Reflection.” Australian Institute of Training and Development(February): 4-6.

Fernandez, E. (2015). Is your specialisation hindering your potential ? 10 key strategies. Metanoa Blog. LinkedIn Pulse.

Goleman, D. (2002). The New Leaders: transforming the art of leadership into the science of results. London, Little Brown.

Langer, E. (1989). Mindfulness. Woburn, MA, Addison-Wesley.

Raelin, J. (2004). “Preparing for Leaderful Practice.” American Society for Training and Development(March).

Schutz, W. (2005). The Human Element. San Francisco, Business Consultants Network, Inc.

Sinclair, A. (2007). Leadership for the disillusioned: Moving beyong myths and heroes to leading that liberates. Crows Nest, Sydney, Allen & Unwin.

Spreier, S., et al. (2006). “Leadership Run Amok - The destructive potential of overachievers.” Harvard Business Review 84(6): 72-82.

Dr. Eugene Fernandez has over 25 years experience in consulting, strategy, executive coaching, leadership development and facilitation, spanning various industries and sectors globally. Contact via

This article originally appeared in Training & Development magazine December 2015 Vol 42 No 6, published by the Australian Institute of Training and Development.

Leaders Stretch more and Control less

Having just returned from facilitating two back-to-back Leadership workshops for senior managers. I reflected on the ever-present conundrum of balancing the requirements of the session agenda, which is effectively the letter of agreement with my stakeholder, and the emerging contract that unfolds within the room, to connect learning with the real life dilemmas and issues with participants.

My conundrum as a facilitator is similar to those faced by Leaders in the room. We all have agendas, goals and tasks to achieve usually with slim time margins and diminishing resources, we can drive hard with an unbending and unwavering focus on achieving the tasks at hand - the control element, or, reflect more expansively on the outcome that we are ultimately hoping to achieve.

In my case the outcome associated with improving and enhancing ‘Transformational Leadership skills’ could be attained by conjointly sharing my dilemma with the group, a frame that we want most Leaders to adopt. One of the biggest obstacles towards achieving this is my own inherent fear of losing control and letting go.

The agenda driven program allows me to retain control, it corrals learning within a predetermined template where complexity is held at bay and chaos banished. I have intentionally and premeditatedly taken away the real anguish of discovery and replaced it instead within measured, and easily learnt and navigated steps. I have done the hard thinking for you, there is challenge no doubt but it is modulated and determined by me. This reinforces and mirrors a transactional approach, that can work against the intended outcome, which is to enable a deeper understanding of transformational leadership, with enhanced capabilities in complex-problem solving, decision-making, creativity and building relationships. The irony is that the more control I exert the further I move away from developing these capabilities and achieving a transformational outcome.

Leaders/managers can relate to this around delegation. For true delegation always operates under an element of risk, it expands the threshold. The deviations, convolutions, and meanderings are the rich pathways of real embedded learning measured against the level of risk the Leader/Manager is willing to take.

Recent research from neuroscience affirms the view that the stretch involved in working through a complex problem or issue, the very convolutions involved in the journey creates rich relational pathways within the architecture of the brain and when you couple this with excitement around the learning journey, you engage the parasympathetic nervous system which further aids in embedding learning and new behaviours.

In summary. As a leader, allow people the opportunity to stretch and immerse themselves in the meandering yet richly textured pathway of learning. Understand and modulate your need for control and instead focus on and enhance an environment for peoples capabilities to expand and flourish.

Dr. Eugene Fernandez works in partnership with senior leaders/managers, co-designing and facilitating Leadership and Change interventions where real business issues and dilemmas are worked on to enhance critical leadership and organisational capabilities.

Capitalism’s Fundamental Flaw

The Philosopher Ayer states:

To begin with, it is surely obvious that there is something amiss with the attempt to incorporate the world in a deductive system, in which everything follows logically from a set of self-evident first principles…

The more factual content a deductive system appears to have, the greater the likelihood that factual assumptions are concealed in the axioms or the definitions.

An overly rational, reductionist view of human behaviour had tipped the world to the brink of financial collapse with the Global Financial Crisis. With no less than the highly venerated guru of capitalism the former federal reserve board chairman Alan Greenspan stating that “capitalism was built on a fundamental flaw”. The failure of leaders in the financial sector to pursue their self-interests in an enlightened, rational manner, as they were supposed to do. Instead, their common sense was allowed to be overwhelmed by greed, infecting the whole system that is designed to run on the basis of rational deliberation.

The “mistake” the former Chairman says he made was his failure to notice signs of infection early enough to inoculate the system, Sadly, when you are entrenched in the system it is hard to see it from outside its boundaries. The hot water and the boiling frog example comes to mind here.

Soros commented that “market fundamentalism,” a term he coined had rendered the capitalist system unsound, it was based on the dogma that markets work better for the heavy hitters to the extent that they are unregulated and for the great unwashed to the extent that heavy hitters’ capital gains trickle down to them.

He argues that there is a widespread belief that markets are self-correcting and operate like a pendulum, tending towards equilibrium. He states this belief is false.

“Financial markets are given to excesses and if a boom/bust sequence progresses beyond a certain point, it will never revert to where it came from….[instead], financial markets act like a wrecking ball, knocking over one economy over another”.

Ayer’s criticism also applies here, the system is inherently built on a set of false and naive assumptions that disregards the totality of human behaviour, focusing on a rather narrow rational lens.

We don’t have to be rocket scientists to know that this will unfortunately happen again. With the dramatic increase in Algorithmic high frequency trading the risk is now magnified.

A paradigm shift and schism will occur as it has in other areas of human endeavor.

Dr Eugene Fernandez is the Managing Director of Metanoa and has over 25 years experience in consulting, coaching and facilitation, spanning various industries and sectors globally.

The Leaders Soul

I use the word ‘Soul’ intentionally to counterbalance the neurobiological determinism assailing organisations. I am not harking back to a bygone age clutching at commandment stone or pontificating from the pulpit, for even these emblems have withered when exposed to the light. Neither do I wish to link the word to a New Age mantra or the rich and deep traditions of the East.

I use it here as a means to connect with what is deeply significant to each one of us within organisations, it is a field, energy, force whatever else you may choose to call it that permeates our deeper dreams and desires, it resides within each of us though it is elusive and indescribable. No physicist, scientist, professor or neuroscientist has located it. It can’t be seen or touched, it is neither in the brain, the heart or the gut, yet it exerts a powerful influence.

Though it can’t be seen or touched, each one of us has felt it, however its not the same type of everyday feeling that you would ascribe to the senses, it resides much deeper and subtly below awareness and within awareness at the same time.

All of us have it and its potency and vitality ebbs and flows. You witness it in others - In people that lift your spirit, offer you wise counsel, support you unconditionally and challenge you to be your best. You are exposed to their humanity, their strengths, their concerns, their tribulations and their hopes. You see it in teams and organisations when they are infused with vision, purpose and passion.

We connect more profoundly with ’Soul’ when we allow our senses to grow still and enable a process of flow.

I have found the verse on Self-Knowledge from ‘The Prophet’ by Khalil Gibran a powerful enabler. I invite you to watch my short two-minute video on Youtube.

A verse on Self-Knowledge from 'The Prophet’ by Khalil Gibran. Recited by Eugene Fernandez and accompanied by his photography.

Dr Eugene Fernandez has over 25 years experience in consulting, coaching and facilitation, spanning various industries and sectors globally.

DOOR to Reflection


Eugene Fernandez

Managers and Leaders are critical agents in helping to challenge people’s view of the world by encouraging deeper thinking and reflective processes within the organisation.
The DOOR framework emerged as a result of helping managers and leaders to think and reflect on what they do and can lead to deep learning and generative change when utilised with Action Learning.

‘DOOR’ is used as a mnemonic, and also metaphorically and literally as a means to ‘open’ doorways to understanding. This article was written whilst on a family holiday in Fiji. It was an opportunity to use my holiday journey as a metaphor to illustrate and elaborate on the framework.

The ‘D’ in DOOR stands for ‘Design’, the first ‘O’ stands for ‘Operate’, the second ‘O” stands for ‘Observe’ and the ‘R” stands for “Reflect”. This then forms the first iterative cycle.

At its elementary level the ‘DO’ stands for ‘doing’. Like most Leaders, I am immersed well in truly in the Doing paradigm. For me ‘doing’ is at a most robotic and unconscious level. The ‘OR’ stands for ‘or else’ and includes divergent thinking, creativity, play, questioning, challenging, meta reflection and being present in the moment.

The open Door of the 737 aircraft was an invitation to leave behind the treadmill of Doing. Stepping inside I was met with a sun-blessed cheery face and a warm ‘Bula’ (Hello) which I followed with ‘Vinaka’ which means thank you. Those of you that have been to Fiji know that this is an invitation to slow down and to take on board what the Fijians call ‘Fiji Time’ – essentially chill out and go with the flow. A Fijian bitter (beer) eased me as I settled back into the seat and reflected on the year that was.

I have found that ‘Observation’ is usually a good place to start with the DOOR cycle. We are so busy bombarded with action that we rarely get the time to stand back and observe.

As a Leadership Consultant, I design processes to help busy executives to understand more about themselves. I’m also a conduit in enabling deeper more reflective processes to emerge, thereby helping to transform the lives of many leaders. I did this for over a decade,(Fernandez 1997) though found that whilst I enabled this for others, I rarely engaged with these processes myself. My Doctoral journey changed this through addressing the question – “How can I as a leader (add facilitator and consultant to this) shift my focus from Action to Deep Reflection?”

The lens that was externally focused was now firmly focused on me and the internal frame. Interestingly the old adage, ‘We teach what we most need to learn’, was true in my case. It helped me to see that what I encouraged in others, I needed to embody and emulate for myself. 

As Managers and Leaders we influence people and processes at different levels. Our whole persona is integrally linked to the processes that we enable. We influence and are also influenced by every interaction with others - in many ways our role becomes one of co-enabling and co-creating processes with people. The old science model of the distant disconnected observer and expert plying their trade to others has had its day in the sun (Hawking & Mlodinow 2010; Kaku 2009; Laszlo 2008).

If I was to enable deep change for others then I needed to observe and recognise my own mental models and filters that constructed my view of reality. I needed to work at growing and developing further as a person. Pragmatically speaking - as a Facilitator and Leader - through self-observation I needed to understand what my own mental models and filters of the world are. How do these models and filters reinforce my view of the world? What is the breadth and depth of my worldview? What are the deeper metaphors and stories that inform my world-view? How accommodative of others world-views am I? Observation is essential as it provides the data for Reflection.

Breathing with excitement I snorkeled at the edge of a reef en-route to stepping ashore for a barbecue lunch at a secluded Sandy Cay. I reflected momentarily on a Sufi quote I often use in my programs. ‘Deep in the Sea are riches beyond compare but if you seek safety it is on the shore’. By Shiraz. The person’s name not the wine, though I did indulge in a glass at the Cay!

To keep the metaphor going, there are many species of reflection, some allow you to explore the shore, close to the surface and others enable the exploration of the depths.

Like the coral reef, there are layers of interrelated, symbiotic connections; rich, colorful and imbued with meaning and purpose.

Time for ‘Reflection’ is scant in our busy lives. Even when we do reflect, our primary means is to reflect in the middle of action or briefly on action. This surface level process reflects back the world that you know - much like the shallow pool of water at the Cay that reflected my face and the blue sky in the background. In business, ‘Review’ is compensated for ‘Reflection’ and even this is done in a cursory fashion.

Also, review - like the ‘post implementation review’ within project management frameworks - sits comfortably within established business practices. It rarely challenges the status quo or the deeper underlying issues. In this context review and surface level reflection are single loop, incremental and fragmented from the context. Deep reflection on the other hand is the vital ingredient that incubates and illuminates new ideas. Deep reflection challenges current mental models or world-views and can change the game altogether. It is uncomfortable, creates dissonance and without it we are likely to achieve no more than trivial change. (Fernandez 2008; Fernandez 2009)

Deep reflection does not occur by happenstance. Given the pace and demands of life it needs to be designed, fostered and embedded systemically in organisations. Deep reflection involves the individual as both the subject and object of reflection. Also, group/team reflection sessions are a powerful enabler of high performance. Critical skills in dialogue, inquiry, advocacy and empathic
listening help in developing openness, trust and camaraderie. (Issacs 1999)

Observation and reflection are linked to our world-views and the Meta models we hold in our head. Leaders with myopic self centered world-views who are non-reflexive impact disproportionately on the lives of individuals.

Our Observations and Reflections provide the data and critical thinking that helps us in designing something new. Design incorporates a creative forward-looking process. It can be, intentional and unintentional, planned and emergent. Design plays a key part in transforming our lives and in developing solutions that go beyond what we currently do and know. Leaders, who spend time designing and planning for the future, intentionally create better outcomes. Recent research on the brain (Carr 2010; Fine 2007; Levine 2002; Siegel 2007) also highlights the critical need to engage the forebrain in designing and creating the future. If we don’t, this part atrophies and we get locked into the daily grind.

Some time ago, I facilitated a leadership program for the Ratus (chiefs of Fiji). There were significant insights and learnings for me and I valued the cross-cultural immersion. For my children, this was a holiday where I wanted them to have a similarly immersive cultural experience apart from the orchestrated one at our resort.

Whilst waiting in the foyer the valet, David, enquired about our trip, I briefly provided the highlights and commented that I was also hiring a car so my children could see the real Fiji. He open-heartedly invited us to his house for dinner in a village amongst small sugar cane plantations. We took up the offer, exchanged phone numbers and agreed to meet at the car park of a local supermarket in town and then follow him in our car.
We decided to bring a bottle of Australian wine along with an envelope containing money as our gift. With David in tow we also bought some nibbles and chocolates for his son plus a couple of bottles of Fiji bitter. David had two bags of ice, apologising that they had no light or fridge due to a recent cyclone. He asked us to follow him. I was glad that I had hired a large all terrain vehicle with plenty of clearance at the bottom as we had to take a longer route through boggy tracks due to the bridge being damaged by the cyclone.

We left the highway and entered a dirt road, after some time David left his car at a friends place and hopped in our car. He did this so that he could come back with us for the more dangerous part of the ride. It started to rain, the terrain was boggy and hilly, we forded two bridges, and one made of timber had my hair on edge. My rather limited driving in boggy terrain skills was also tested. A little later the rain had cleared and we entered lush green countryside. Farmers waved at us as we passed. David commented that due to the hilly terrain and the high cost of fuel most work was done by ox and spade. The mixed community (Fijian and Indian) helped each other out during the cutting season and for other communal activities.

We arrived at a small house tucked away amongst giant Neem, Mango and Tamarind trees. There were herbs vegetables and flowers around it and chickens and goats in separate pens. The house was clean and tidy; food was cooked in an annex kitchen that was fired with timber and charcoal. Water was drawn from a boar, though the pump was not working due to the electrical wires coming down. Dinner was served in the courtyard, as the house was too hot. We had a feast of crab and fish that David and his extended family had caught the day previously on his day off from work. He stated that we were lucky as the full moon meant fleshier and plump crabs.
We explored a range of issues including about the environment and global warming and the impact on his community. He commented that he was paid $3.90 per hour, as was most of the service staff at the resort. He said that this was not sustainable and equitable given the amount the resort charged their guests. His income was supplemented by what they grew.

For example he bartered some herbs for the lettuce in our salad. David and his wife saved $20 a fortnight for the education of their son. We discussed the traits and strengths that their son was already demonstrating and we talked about their aspirations. David and his wife had hope for a better future for their son. They were realistic, optimistic and intentionally and purposefully made plans for a brighter future.My children were privy to all that was said and done during this time. We had a great conversation on the trip back about our experiences, about the deeper pervading issues in society, about the future and its potentiality. I also had an opportunity to look up at the night sky; it appeared like every star was visible and twinkled.

The story captures many aspects of the design and planning process. My intention for a deeper cultural experience meets the warmhearted opportunity offered by David. We are all designers of our life, making choices along the way that create and bring to life a future drawn from many other possible futures (Inayatullah 2008). Awareness of this is critical for if we are not willing to actively engage in this design, then we may be unconscious of the influences around us and have a future imposed on us. 

‘Operate’ is the final frame of DOOR and many of us are very good at this. In fact our whole life is engineered for this to occur; our very cortical architecture primes us for pattern and predictability. Neuroscience recognizes that this pattern making approximates 96% of what we do and this is mainly unconscious. The 4% is working memory and our window to consciousness. The DOOR’s iterative process enables us to meaningfully and intentionally work with the 4% and to understand the patterns and processes that drive us. The beauty is that when you deeply think and reflect your ‘Doing’ also becomes more present. I was present and enjoyed my time with David and was alive to the journey. I had trust in the future that was unfolding around us.

We are constantly experiencing something through our senses. It is when we place this ‘DOing’ through the filter of Observation and Reflection that we add meaning to it. Meaning which is individualised, constructed and context bound, gains significance and power through a process of Dialogue with others. Managers and Leaders who are reflexive practitioners can with their whole being
‘Be the Change they want to see in the World’.

Carr, N. 2010, The Shallows - How the internet is changing the way we read, think and remember, Atlantic Books, London.
Fernandez, E. 1997, ‘The Value of Reflective Practice in the Process of Change’, Action Research thesis, International Management Centres-UK, Brisbane.
Fernandez, E. 2008, DOOR to Action Learning Metanoa, pp 1-3
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Dr Eugene Fernandez is the Managing Director of Metanoa and has over 25 years experience in consulting, coaching and facilitation, spanning various industries and sectors globally.

He has held senior roles in Organisational Consulting and Human Capital including roles as a Company Director and Program Director for Australia’s leading Business Schools, Melbourne Business School, Australian Graduate School of Management, Macquarie Graduate School of Management and the Australian Institute of Management. Over 5000 managers have participated in his interventions. More details on the DOOR model can be found at

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