LEADERS LEARN TO HEED THE VOICE WITHIN In the fast-moving New Economy, you need a new skill: reflection. Major companies -- AT&T, PepsiCo, Aetna -- are helping their people acquire it.
By Stratford Sherman REPORTER ASSOCIATE Tricia Welsh

(FORTUNE Magazine) – THE DAY AFTER Willow Shire appeared on the cover of FORTUNE, for a 1993 story titled ''Managing in the Midst of Chaos,'' her marriage came apart, a victim of inattention. Says Shire, now divorced: ''That story was a symbol of my priorities.'' As a vice president of loss-wracked computer maker Digital Equipment, responsible for $900 million of annual sales to the health care industry, Shire reported directly to CEO Robert Palmer. She says her sense of ''extreme urgency'' at work contributed to a severely unbalanced life. ''I had missed just about every school play, science fair, and teacher conference,'' she recalls. Between Labor Day and Thanksgiving last year, she took only 1 1/2 days off. Her reward came in January, when Edward Lucente, then Digital's sales and marketing chief, eliminated Shire's job in a staff shakeup -- shortly before being eliminated himself. Forced to examine her life, Shire, 46, recognized that it needed repair. ''I used to love cooking,'' she says, ''but I stopped because I didn't know where anything was in my own kitchen. It was not my kitchen anymore. My house was not my house.'' She sold the house and bought a smaller one. To give herself time to think, Shire took on just enough consulting work to pay the bills and granted herself a year of contemplation. ''The temptation is very great to jump into a big job, because that's what I know how to do,'' she says. ''But I need to not jump into what I was doing before. I believe that if you need an answer, if you listen to yourself and just trust the process, the answer will come.'' Like countless people walloped by workplace change, Shire is searching for ways to change herself. Executives generally aren't an introspective lot, but in the dawn of the New Economy -- with no job security or clear career path, with more responsibility and less certainty than ever -- stressed-out managers increasingly are turning inside for answers. The movement is far from spontaneous. Business schools from Harvard to the University of Southern California are including in required course work exercises in reflection. Mainstream corporations such as AT&T, PepsiCo, Hoechst Celanese, and Aetna are integrating various forms of introspection training into management development programs. Zillion-dollar-a-day author/ consultants such as Peter Senge (The Fifth Discipline) and Stephen Covey (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) are getting ever richer helping business people get inside themselves. IS THE NEW INTROSPECTION a fad? Of course it is -- but this may be the healthiest fad in years. To the degree that individuals are successful at plumbing their depths, those people should be better off, and the companies that employ them may gain competitive advantage. In fast-shifting markets, the unexamined life becomes a liability. ''The old management paradigm has run out of steam,'' argues Richard Pascale, a lecturer and consultant. ''When you're at the end of your rope, introspection becomes particularly important. The ability to live in the question, rather than drive for the answer, helps you keep the antennae up and the eyes open.'' One evangelist is Joseph Galerneau, head of executive training at AT&T. His challenge is to try to transform a corps of disciplined order-followers into self-starting intrapreneurs. To that end, he devotes roughly one-fifth of his $3.5 million annual budget to courses that encourage introspection. ''This company is not going to be successful unless we have people who can learn from experience,'' Galerneau explains. ''We need our people to act independently, to be accountable and responsible for managing their own piece of the business. It takes a certain amount of reflection to do that successfully.'' Today's brutal competition favors the swift. Executives thoroughly in touch with themselves can respond faster, argues Edward McCracken, CEO of Silicon Graphics, a fast-growing computer outfit with $1.5 billion of annual sales. ''The most important trait of a good leader is knowing who you are,'' he says. ''In our industry very often we don't have time to think. You have to do all your homework, but then you have to go with your intuition without letting your mind get in the way.'' To sharpen his own intuition, McCracken has been meditating daily for a decade. Jeff Campbell, until recently the executive responsible for marketing Pepsi- Cola and other drinks, contemplates on the run during daily three-mile jaunts. Says Campbell, who left PepsiCo in July: ''In a high-pressure environment, the more stuff you have flying around your head, the more valuable is the ability to get your thoughts sorted out on a regular basis so you have a centered leverage point from which to make decisions.'' In shifting markets, an aptitude for continued learning has become a mission-critical skill for individuals and organizations. ''Learning is directly related to people's capacity to succeed these days,'' says John Kotter, a professor at Harvard's business school. ''You grab a challenge, act on it, then honestly reflect on why your actions worked or didn't. You learn from it and move on. That continuous process of lifelong learning helps enormously in a rapidly changing economic environment.'' One lesson from the experience of GE and other innovators in revolutionary change is that the ability and willingness of individual employees to change is the key factor limiting an organization's ability to reinvent itself. Forceful leadership can accomplish only so much. The shift from machine-age bureaucracy to flexible, self-managing teams requires that lots of ordinary managers and workers be psychologically prepared to push the transformation themselves. ''At first, it's hard to persuade leaders to let go of control,'' says Erika Andersen, whose organizational-development firm, Proteus International in Boulder, Colorado, counts PepsiCo among its clients. Leaders, she notes, can feel they have the most to lose when hierarchies collapse. ''But once they become actively self-reflective, they realize they don't know all the answers. That sort of humbleness is very charismatic, because it makes the others on their team feel useful and powerful.'' In other words, change is personal. And it starts at the top: Organizational change begins with leaders who walk the talk by transforming themselves. As winning companies find they must engage workers' hearts as well as their minds, this increasingly emotional aspect of business is destroying the old corporate machismo that once allowed us to keep our feelings hidden and our inner lives mysterious, even to ourselves. The question is whether everyone is capable of facing down their inner mysteries. If not -- if the bull-moose go-getters hired in simpler times simply aren't capable of successful introspection -- presumably they must be replaced en masse before their employers can adapt to the new competitive environment. That's a terrifying thought, particularly for the over-50 managers who are vulnerable to layoffs yet less reflective than the baby- boomers who increasingly wield the ax. ''The amount of personality change an employer can create is minuscule,'' argues Thomas Theobald, CEO of Continental Bank in Chicago. ''In my 34 years of experience, I have been a total failure at changing other people's patterns of behavior.'' The reason some people aren't introspective, suggests psychoanalyst Abraham Zaleznik, professor emeritus at the Harvard business school, is that they can't tolerate the painful emotions that usually accompany personal change.

Many others are far more optimistic, though, including Kotter. ''If you can convince ambitious people that a certain type of introspection is central to their growth and professional success, they'll do it,'' he argues. ''Nobody ever accused me of being athletic, but I'm at the health club every day because I'm convinced it's in my and my family's long-term interest.'' THE MOST IMPORTANT conclusion from interviews with a wide array of experts is that almost anybody can become reflective, given sufficient motivation and a little guidance. Ram Charan is a consultant to GE, Du Pont, and TRW who also coaches top executives. ''In my work it is amazing how the inner self speaks,'' he says. ''That inner voice sometimes gets distorted or suppressed, but we all hear it.'' Srikumar Rao, chairman of the department of marketing at Long Island University, teaches a course on creativity in business that draws on ancient traditions, including Eastern philosophies. To awaken ambitious undergrads to the need for change, Rao challenges them to take a self-mastery test (above) that reveals how little control we have over our own minds. Rao's recommended solution: making a commitment to a lifelong process of self-mastery. Knowing how to achieve that isn't important, he argues, so long as you keep the intention constantly in mind. ''The process is more important than the outcome,'' he says. ''Paradoxically, if you can embrace that idea, you're likely to have a better outcome.'' The tools most trainers use to teach introspection are based on common sense. Rao asks students to write a list of everything they hope to accomplish in their lives -- perhaps 500 items per person -- and then gradually refine the list down to as few as two or three key goals. Stephen Covey gets people to start focusing on their core values by writing down the eulogies they'd like given at their funerals, one each by a family member, a work associate, a friend, and someone in their community. Most workshops call for group discussion of such private matters and assign people buddies who can give continuing, detailed feedback. Introspection induced by a corporation is not for everyone. There is something odd, maybe even invasive, about the idea, which brings to mind embarrassing images of 1970s T-groups. ''A lot of these corporate programs are terribly superficial,'' warns John Nathan of the University of California at Santa Barbara. Some companies, including Procter & Gamble, have abandoned training programs that rely on introspection. No one serious is recommending navel gazing, New Age narcissism, or the paralyzing downward spiral that leads to depression. Says Steve Kerr, head of General Electric's Crotonville management school: ''There is a need to be introspective, but we've got to make sure it's not failed introspection. Failed introspection is less useful than none at all.'' The sort of reflection that's gaining popularity aims at learning that results in increasingly effective action by individuals and groups. It requires facing reality within an individual psyche and in the outer world of markets and customers -- and then thinking and communicating honestly about that understanding. Some forms of potentially useful introspection don't mesh easily with the demands of corporate life. Except for the unemployed, long periods of pure seeking may be hard to come by. Joel Hirsch, 36, is on leave from his job as the executive vice president of Futuredontics, a California company that markets dentistry through TV ads. Having completed a major assignment, Hirsch says he felt confused and uncertain about the next stage of his career. He wanted to spend an extended period rethinking his life -- a desire that his status as a prosperous single permitted him to indulge. His employer was sympathetic, granting him a sabbatical with medical benefits and the continued use of a company-owned Jeep Grand Cherokee. Hirsch chose to spend his reflective time at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur. He had first visited this famous outpost of personal awareness training on a company-sponsored retreat. This time he joined an eight-month organic farming and gardening program that will continue through October. For now, his life is devoted to plowing, planting, and gestalt therapy. That regime has given Hirsch plenty of time to think -- in addition to a whopping case of poison oak. He hasn't reached any profound conclusions yet. ''October will be a moment of truth,'' he says. Hard-nosed, action-oriented business people and organizations rarely have the time or faith for so open-ended a process. Companies that want to support introspective learning, and individuals groping for a clearer understanding of themselves, need a pragmatic route through the practice of reflection, with at least some rough measurements for charting progress. The first goal of successful introspection is therefore objectivity. To produce results, reflection must be grounded in reliable information, and the more data the better. Inevitably that means getting other people involved. Leadership expert Warren Bennis, 69, relies on feedback mainly from his wife, Grace Gabe, who just happens to be a psychiatrist. Willow Shire, late of Digital Equipment, huddles with friends, mostly former colleagues. ''But if you want others to confront you,'' warns Shire, ''you have to contract with them more or less explicitly. Otherwise they won't take the liberty.'' Many executives don't want such confrontation because they are in denial, says Barry Leskin, vice president for education at Aetna Life & Casualty. He urges those who don't get such feedback to ask themselves what they are doing to block it. An increasingly popular corporate technique for overcoming denial is the 360-degree appraisal. In a 360, employees get evaluated not only by the boss but also by peers, subordinates, and sometimes even suppliers and customers. Applied with expertise and sensitivity, the practice can foster rapid personal development -- at least in people who want to improve. An exuberant manager remembers being told, ''Why don't you, for fun, say nothing at the next staff meeting and see if anyone complains.'' He got the point and changed. Though useful, 360s can become bludgeons. Warns Harvard's Zaleznik: ''You shouldn't mistake other people's opinions for data about yourself. These evaluations are teaching compliance.'' General Electric CEO Jack Welch enthusiastically supports 360s, but cautions, ''We don't want to rub the edge off everybody to the point where the whole place is round.'' Paradoxically, endless waves of layoffs are reinforcing insecure employees' urge to conform just when corporations are most in need of fresh, innovative ideas. For companies, a test of successful self-examination is that it produces not robots but strong, independent people who come together voluntarily to further shared goals. A second goal of successful introspection is that it must result in learning, not just once but continually. For individuals and organizations the idea is to create a process that filters experience through reflection to produce best practices. MIT senior lecturer Peter Senge is a sought-after expert on applying this process to organizations. ''You have to bring people's assumptions out into the open in a way that invites inquiry and learning, not debate and polarization,'' he says. ''You can be open to having your conclusions contradicted without being wishy-washy. The essence of the scientific orientation is to create well-developed views based on data and clear reasoning -- yet remain open-minded about changing those views in response to new evidence.'' Aetna's Leskin puts these theories into practice through such structures as planned, half-day debriefing sessions for participants in all major projects. The third goal is self-confidence. This is not the overbearing bravado of a drill sergeant but a willingness to face uncertainty and emotional discomfort. ''It's the ability to be vulnerable and centered at the same time, to get comfortable with your weaknesses as well as your strengths,'' suggests lecturer Pascale. The governing assumption: no pain, no gain. Few people will expose their vulnerabilities without a compulsion that cannot be satisfied any other way. SADLY, many executives become reflective only upon losing their jobs, an experience that can shatter self-confidence and foster denial. Although outplacement firms such as Drake Beam Morin offer some counseling to the displaced, their emphasis is on getting people new jobs, not healing them. Too often, wounds remain raw. James W. Pennebaker, a professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University, participated in a study of 63 laid-off managers, many angry and hostile. He told one group to spend 20 minutes a day for five days writing down their deepest thoughts and feelings. Those people got new jobs more quickly than members of control groups, who did not confront their rage. Pennebaker believes his five-day writing exercise can help anyone in distress. A fourth goal is a radically heightened sense of personal responsibility. To ; quote the authoritative Princeton edition of the I Ching, that great-great- granddaddy of leadership guides: ''Difficulties and obstructions throw a man back upon himself. While the inferior man seeks to put the blame on other persons, bewailing his fate, the superior man seeks the error within himself, and through this introspection the external obstacle becomes for him an occasion for inner enrichment and education.'' In other words, we can take responsibility even for our own states of mind. Reflection should foster an increased tolerance for ambiguity and paradox. For companies in fast-moving markets, lengthy cud-chewing can be fatal. Tony Smith, president of Valenti Smith & Associates, specializes in training salespeople and others to achieve business breakthroughs. His unsettling technique starts with the argument that what we call ''objective reality'' simply doesn't exist. Surprisingly, most people easily accept that premise, says Smith. Next, he points out that the future doesn't exist. ''People are always trying to predict the future based on the past,'' he says. ''But getting results consistent with the past disallows the prospect of a breakthrough. Take the past out of your vision of the future, and what's left is nothing. That gives people permission to invent their own futures. We request that people commit to the future they want, even though they don't know how to achieve it, and then to create the know-how afterward.'' Paradox may be the defining attribute of the New Economy. McCracken of Silicon Graphics sees people grappling with the paradox of control: ''We all have the fantasy that we control what happens to us in our lives -- and this is especially true of CEOs. But in fact none of us have that kind of control. Meditation helps me with that, giving me more confidence that I can let go of the feeling that I have to control everything and things will still turn out all right.'' Successful introspection -- in contrast to navel gazing -- should enable people to take action. Most business people are doers, or at least pretend to be; and they should still be doers after deep reflection. Self-examination need not always cause people to change, but it should render them capable of changing when it's necessary. The goal is for people to direct their destinies, embodying their values in action every day. An example of values in action is Richard Abdoo, CEO of Wisconsin Energy, a $1.6-billion-a-year utility. A practicing Catholic, Abdoo, 50, sets aside some eight hours each week for solitary reflection. He walks, works in his basement shop, or rides his Harley motorcycle. ''You have to force yourself to spend some time away from the hustle and bustle of your job in order to get down to reality again,'' he says. ''If you don't spend enough time doing that, you can lose hold of the reins and get into all kinds of trouble.'' Three years ago, a 5-year-old boy opened a Wisconsin Energy transformer box whose lock was missing. He touched the terminals and nearly electrocuted himself, burning his arms to the point of requiring amputation and severely damaging his internal organs. When word of the accident reached the company, Abdoo huddled with a team of executives and lawyers. They called the hospital to make sure the boy was receiving the best possible care, then discussed the issue of responsibility. ''I felt it was our responsibility, and we should stand up and say so,'' recalls Abdoo. ''We have the obligation to maintain our equipment in a safe condition, and it was not in safe condition when that boy went in there.'' After listening to company lawyers and PR experts, who pointed out the risks of the strategy he contemplated, Abdoo called a press conference at which the company accepted both moral and financial responsibility for the accident. Wisconsin Energy ended up paying $25 million to the boy's family -- but won the esteem of the community it serves. A seventh goal of introspection is the achievement of balance in life. As jobs become more demanding, the conflict between one's inner needs and the requirements of work grows more intense. Sorting out priorities -- and sticking to them -- isn't easy. Andrew Ackemann, 49, a Navy vet who became director of staffing at the consulting firm Booz Allen & Hamilton, faced himself down in 1985. He was spending some 200 days per year on the road, logging hundreds of thousands of miles away from his wife, Lucy, and their four children. Despite the stress and personal privation, he recalls, ''it felt good to be doing well at Booz Allen. The adrenaline rush of success is a narcotic.'' That year he returned from a business trip a week before Christmas and woke up the next morning seized by massive chest pain. Ackemann spent the next several days in the hospital, recovering from a coronary incident. Flat on his back, listening to the judgmental metronome of a heart monitor, he did some serious thinking. ''I was on the way to massive ^ Pyrrhic victory,'' Ackemann says. ''It used to be a joke that when I came home, the kids should be sure to wear nametags. Why does the price of success include giving up family life, when your family is the reason you're working so hard?'' The enforced contemplation led Ackemann to drastically reengineer his life: He sacrificed annual earnings equivalent to half his peak income in return for time with his family and work that better expressed his soul. Ackemann took a half-time consulting job that enabled him to attend Yale's divinity school, and eventually became an Episcopal deacon. He now acts as a part-time volunteer troubleshooter for the Bishop of Connecticut, aiding parishes with organizational problems. For income, he serves McKinsey as a contract counselor to its consultants. He has also built a part-time consulting practice, based in an office just 200 yards from his family's house; clients have included IBM and Cablevision Industries. Ackemann's advice: ''Make sure the need for money doesn't cheat you out of less measurable forms of success. At work, establish the limits of what you will and will not do, and then defend them. The best companies are anxious to respond.'' Introspection should unlock one's access to creativity and intuition. Says Michael Driver, a professor at the University of Southern California's business school: ''Developing the right-brain part of our personality is most important. Although our society doesn't encourage it very much, almost everybody has the capacity to do both logical and more creative processing of information. Our training programs are very analytic, logical, decisive, and hierarchical, so we're producing half-people whose ability to handle problems is limited.'' Right-brain cogitation is as easy -- and as difficult -- as letting go. Let go first of the notion that reflection is a purely intellectual process under our control. Equally important is heeding emotions and the often disconcerting thoughts that rise, unbidden, from the unconscious. One way to tap into these feelings, advocated by Bennis and Driver, is to record your dreams every morning. Another proven discipline is meditation, an act of one-pointed focus that empties the mind and leaves it receptive even to faint impulses from within. The ultimate goal of introspection is what might be called egolessness, a state of mind that comfortably transcends selfish concerns. Jeff Campbell learned the value of this attribute as a leadership skill from reading about Abraham Lincoln. ''I was struck by his ability to make decisions without letting his ego distort his objectivity,'' says Campbell. ''I try to remember that in business most of the decisions are not about us, they're about things. What we're paid for in any leadership job is to make sound decisions with limited data. To the degree those decisions are free of ego considerations, we probably make them better.'' In an era of teamwork, people with the emotional maturity to leave their egos at home -- or at least to rein them in -- are increasingly winning top corporate jobs. Examples include CEOs Rajat Gupta of McKinsey & Co. and Chrysler's Robert Eaton. Companies that want to nurture reflectiveness in employees needn't start formal training programs. The first step is simply to value clear understanding, no matter where it comes from. For leaders, that means breaking out of the old control mentality and into a new openness. Senge suggests making the reasoning behind your decision-making explicit. That frees others to participate in considering why a decision was made, rather than just following orders. Don't be surprised, though, if once-timid subordinates start challenging your dumb ideas. For individuals, commitment is everything. Learning to reflect takes a lifetime, but it is built on regular -- preferably daily -- practice. Whatever you do to get in touch with yourself -- and it could be anything from jogging to psychiatry to woodworking to meditation -- do it for its own sake. If you give yourself to the process, goals will come to realization by themselves. If you experience pain along the way, consider it a signpost of progress. And if you gradually become more comfortable in your skin, if you feel a spreading sense of oneness with all creation, don't fight it. There's more to us than the sniveling, snarling organism that craves power and approval. The clarity and contentment we seek lies deep inside us all.


Sit comfortably in a quiet room. For five minutes, try to remain perfectly still, concentrating on a single thought or image to the exclusion of all others. Many people assume that they can control their own minds but find this exercise challenging. Its purpose is not to expose weakness but to expose the possibility of a higher level of self-mastery than most of us have yet achieved.