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Robert Quinn
  Robert Quinn

Real Leaders Embrace Change, Regardless of Title or Position

7/27/2004 --

New book by Professor Quinn explores what makes for great leaders and great organizations.

ANN ARBOR, Mich.–Too often we confuse leadership with a title or position and believe that authority is enough to alter people and move organizations. Not so, says a University of Michigan Business School professor.

In his new book, "Building the Bridge as You Walk on It: A Guide for Leading Change," Professor Bob Quinn says that half of all organizational-change efforts fail because of ineffective change leadership and the failure to recognize that anyone who embraces deep change can become a leader who attracts others to join in the change process.

Quinn, the Margaret Elliott Tracy Collegiate Professor in Business Administration and professor of management and organizations, generated two concepts of leadership to explain his findings: a normal state and a fundamental state.

He says that most people, whatever their position, spend the majority of their time in the normal state. Although they may claim they are committed to changing some undesirable condition, they actually are committed to remaining comfort-centered (staying on the path of least resistance), externally driven (complying with existing social pressures), self-focused (egocentric) and internally closed (neutralizing external signals for change).

When a person faces a crisis and is forced to make a deep personal change, he or she has to move forward without control, Quinn says. In effect, that person has to learn to "build the bridge as he or she walks on it." In the process, people tend to move from the normal state to an alternative state in which they become more results-centered, internally driven, other-focused and externally open.

When people make the shift, they often report surprising observations, Quinn says. They are more focused, feel increased integrity, are more connected to others and experience great increases in awareness and learning. They empower themselves and become more influential than at any previous time. Quinn calls this condition the fundamental state of leadership.

"There is a universal tendency to call high-level administrators 'leaders' simply because they are in positions of authority," he said. "Yet, the majority of people, including those in the highest administrative positions, spend most of their time in the normal state. They honestly believe they are trying to bring change when they actually are working to preserve things the way they are."

In contrast, people entering the fundamental state of leadership choose to make a personal commitment to deep change and to embrace uncertainty, he says. They willingly relinquish the control, rigidity and egocentrism engendered in the normal state.

"The fundamental state of leadership is the temporary movement toward increased levels of personal and collective integrity," Quinn said. "Ever-increasing integrity is the source of life for individuals and groups, and the alpha and the omega of leadership."

His book has two important implications: one involves the uniqueness that emerges when a person enters the fundamental state of leadership and the other deals with the tools that will help anyone shift his or her mental state.

According to Quinn, when someone enters the fundamental state of leadership, he or she pursues a unique end, engages in unique relationships and, with other people, co-creates a unique outcome.

Almost all research studies and training programs focus on analyzing and imitating the thinking and behaviors of successful leaders, he says. Though this may have some value, it tends to move attention away from the most important thing: the creative state of the originator.

"To develop leaders is not to impart a set of concepts or to teach a toolkit of strategies and behaviors," Quinn says. "It is to engage the process of deep change in oneself and thereby invite others to do the same. When this happens, we truly engage in 'otherness,' and we soon begin to transform one another."

Quinn's book is an example of a new body of research called Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS). Pioneered at the Michigan Business School, this new movement has been tabbed by Harvard Business Review as one of the "Breakthrough Ideas for 2004."

Drawing on path-breaking work in the organizational and social sciences, POS focuses on the dynamics in organizations that develop human strength, produce resilience, foster vitality and cultivate extraordinary individuals.

To learn more about POS, visit the Michigan Business School's POS special report at and the POS Web site at

For more information, contact:
Bernie DeGroat
Phone: (734) 936-1015 or 647-1847