May 2005



Agile Leadership: Leadership as Stageplay
Thinking about leadership roles as stage roles and managing personality as stage director helped Andy Turner and Al Ross become more effective in their organizational roles. Dr. Peter Stonefield provides a brief narrative on how they learned to think of leadership as stageplay.


News Briefs
Upcoming Events


By: Peter Stonefield, PhD

Andy Turner was Marketing Director at a major software company. He was persuasive, heroic and passionate. At times, however, he became very impatient and demanding. When any of his staff reported they weren't going to meet schedule he became visibly upset and demanding. He would publicly admonish them and command them to get things back on track.

A few years earlier, Andy discovered that demanding got short term results. Over the next few years he replicated the behavior and was promoted twice. Fueled by the promotions, the commanding behavior grew rapidly and so did the unintended consequences. Many in his group became fearful and resentful. No one wanted to be in his cross hairs. As a result, they began acting more out of self preservation than a desire to make big things happen. The resentments were also blurring their perceptions of Andy's strengths. Many could no longer see his other leadership competencies like persuasiveness, drive, enthusiasm, encouragement and camaraderie.

Andy's issue is a common one shared by many leaders regardless of their style. At some time in their career, they become over-identified with a particular role, mind-set or 'success strategy' and as a result they over use it.
His "Commander" 'success strategy' made him a bigger and better leader for a while but it's over use and excesses paradoxically made it now too small for him. Andy needed to dis-identify from and get bigger than his "Commander." He needed to discover a deeper sense of "I-ness"-an inner Director that could manage his "Commander."

Leadership as a Stage Play
To facilitate the discovery of a deeper sense of "I-ness," I asked him to consider leadership as a stage play. In this leadership play, people can create and direct a cast of leadership characters or roles for different situations. It is really quite easy. Everyone already has an inner cast of semi-autonomous roles- characters or selves that they play as they move throughout their day. Andy readily recognized that he is different with his boss than with his subordinates; different with his kids than with his peers; different when presenting in front of people. I asked him to make a list of the different roles or selves that make up his personality. Andy identified some of his roles as "Manager," "Presenter," "Salesman," "Techy," "Doer," "Commander," "Marketeer," "Politician," "Subordinate," "Husband," "Father" and "Poker Player." Each of these selves are adaptive "success strategies" organized to satisfy needs in a particular situation, context or environment. They are some of his many different ways of being and doing.

When he identifies with one of these roles his sense of I-ness becomes embedded in the role virtually unnoticed. The role becomes the central aspect of who he is in the moment, determining how he perceives reality. For example, when he is identified with the role of "Techy" and says "I believe…" he is reasoning from his beliefs in the role of "Techy" and not as "Marketeer," "Politician," "Salesman," "Father," "Poker Player" or any other role he plays. And when identified as "Techy," the knowledge, beliefs and values that shape perception and behavior are often different from the other roles. From this perspective, Andy was able to dis-identify from his "Commander" and talk about it as if it were another person. He recognized the abusiveness and wanted to learn how to direct it. Andy was discovering his inner Director and was now ready to organize a cast of roles for leadership.

I asked him about the secret to his success as a "Poker Player." He told me, "I am very cool, calm and detached. I don't get upset or rattled." Bingo, I thought. Then, I asked him, "What if you could bring the detached mind set of your Poker Player to your leadership? What if, when your upset Commander begins to take over you could take on the mindset of your Poker Player and quickly let go of the upset." Over the next month Andy learned how to do just that. He continued to discover his inner Director and became more conscious of the feeling, thinking and behavior of his "Commander" and "Poker Player." When he recognized he was getting frustrated about something not being done, he would become his "Poker Player." He was learning how to step back to his inner Director and view the situation as a stage play. From this perspective he could consider what leadership role, including his "Commander" less the upset, would best fit the situation.

Over the next several months Andy became more agile and adaptive as a leader. Using the metaphor of leadership as stage play he went on to develop or refine other leadership roles like "Talent Scout," "Collaborator," "Visionary," "Coach" and "Thought Leader." One year later Andy was promoted to VP of Marketing in another division of the company.

The Banker and Musician
Other leaders have discovered their inner Director in a similar way. Al Ross, VP of a major international bank, had a highly analytical and detached management style. He was also an emotionally engaging "Musician" on the weekends. As the "Musician," Al was passionate and knew how important it was to connect with the audience and work as a team. Al transformed his leadership by adding his "Musician" to his leadership cast. He was more passionate, connected with people, celebrated the small successes, publicly recognized people and encouraged teamwork. Al got extraordinary results. In six months, Al's department reduced the average work time per service transaction by 40% while reducing staff 11% in the face of a 43% increase in volume. The department's customers were so impressed that they spontaneously started writing letters to senior management. Al's "Musician" perfectly complemented his highly analytical style and enabled Al to lead with chemistry, passion, detachment, analysis and bottom line reasoning. Not long afterward, Al was promoted and asked to perform his "leadership magic" in several new major acquisitions.

Both Andy and Al transformed their leadership and became more agile and adaptive by viewing leadership as a stage play and discovering their inner Director. In the process, they evolved their consciousness and came to view their personalities as instruments and vehicles of expression that they could orchestrate for leadership effectiveness in different situations.

Peter Stonefield, BSEE, MA, PhD. is President of Stonefield Learning Group, consultant, psychologist and author of Managing Innovation and numerous articles. He was an electronic engineer, marketing director and sales executive for the Bunker-Ramo Corporation. He has successfully completed over 150 consulting engagements, created more than 20 different training and development programs and coached over 100 executives. He has facilitated the development of 10 knowledge leveraging "Communities of Practice" in engineering and marketing organizations. His client list includes Apple Computer, Baxter Laboratories, Dow Chemical, Hewlett Packard, IBM, Intel, US Government, PPG and Sun Microsystems. He was the principal consultant to the winner of the President's Quality Award for Managing Change.


Provide feedback and opinions on Forum 2005 by taking our online survey here.

Visit our website for more information on ordering DVD's of the conference sessions.

View photos from our recent Forum 2005 here.


  • CNN Segment: Forum 2005 speaker Joyce Musil-Condon (KANDU Industries) and In2:IN director Marcia Daszko will be featured next month in a CNN segment. Exact time and date of airing will be in the next Newsletter.




We adjusted our publication schedule to bring you three newsletters before our Forum 2005. We will be returning to our normal publication schedule.

We are always looking for news, ideas, letters, reviews of books and conferences, short articles on original research, and suggestions for future issues. Please send these and other comments to