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leadership lab

This column is part of Globe Careers' new Leadership Lab series, where executives and leadership experts share their views and advice about the leadership and management issues of today. There will be a new column every weekday. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

I believe in miracles. That is why I witness them frequently – powerful shifts in perception that leave people saying "wow" and then wondering how.

These enlightening paradigm shifts make what seems impossible today an expectation for tomorrow. Space travel, smartphones, wireless technologies, driverless vehicles, e-commerce, and medicine-less healing – you name it, we find it. We reap what we sow. We find what we are looking for. We see it when we believe it.

A lot of people live in a different paradigm, waiting for evidence before believing anything. For many people, it is easier to play it safe and risk the paralysis of analysis over the adventure of intuitive guidance. We have to get the facts. We have to analyze all the data. We have to remove all risk.

I agree with these important steps and the discipline of rational problem-solving. There is only one obstacle we must confront. We never have facts and data about something that has not happened yet. At some point, we have to trust our instincts and our intuition. We have to believe in ourselves and in the solutions we want to manifest. Therefore, my greatest management moments are helping people make the shift from reactive management to active leadership and innovation.

I am a "zentrepreneur," a transformational leader who puts presence into practice. For the past 30 years, I have counselled organizations worldwide on how to transform their cultures from fear-based hierarchies to inspiring, innovative enterprises. This process requires "awakening" to the realities of the present, including the brutal facts, and uncovering the latent needs of the future.

We have to understand and accept the current state of our businesses, identify the root causes and execute projects at the systems level. It is simply not enough to focus on undesirable symptoms within a "box" when the box – or paradigm – itself is the problem. Often a headache is caused by imbalance or misalignment elsewhere in the body (for instance, the hips). Treating the headache with a temporary solution such as a painkiller does not solve the problem. We have to look elsewhere for true cause and effect when we are operating within a system. Organizations are like the human body. We need more than quick fixes to live a healthy, balanced, prosperous life. We need systems solutions for systems problems.

Having said this, one of my greatest management moments was walking the executive team of a major global company through the "war room" of a baseline analysis team for the first time. This team had been trained and guided through a 30-day data-collection process and was now summarizing the "story" of the data on the walls.

We had several rules for the executive team coming in for their first presentation. Rule No. 1 was no sitting down. Rule No. 2: No interruptions for 20 minutes while the team told the story of the current state – complete with several very potent brutal facts. Rule 3: No power points. All of the data was displayed on the walls with colourful graphs, charts, maps and pictures.

It was intriguing and compelling the minute someone walked in the room. The place was wallpapered with powerful data. We also had recordings we could play to bring certain data to life. Our objective was to hit the executive team with emotion and not just intellect. To change this corporate culture, we needed emotional intelligence and heartfelt commitment, not just agreement. Our final rule was that if anyone disagreed with the data and story presented, they had to disagree with facts and data to support it. We were not going to argue or debate over opinions.

Shortly after this 45-minute presentation, including questions and answers at the end, the chief executive officer of the company told me he had never seen anything like it. Every team member presented a piece of the story and the team was clearly united and passionate about the need for change. Less than 24 hours later, the CEO returned to the war room with a former CEO of the company to show him the team's work.

This was a moment of truth for the corporation. The amount of positive culture change that has already resulted is miraculous. That was yesterday. Tomorrow, we will do the same. Miraculous management moments happen every day – when we learn to expect them.

John J. Murphy (@sageleader) is speaker, business consultant, and award-winning author, including the book Zentrepreneur: A Culture of Innovation and Fearlessness.