The biggest truth about leadership that you didn’t know

Big thanks to my friend Charlie Davies who switched me on to the concept of The Source recently. One of the ever growing list of things I wish I’d understood years ago. An incredibly important dimension to leadership with huge implications for all organisations that I’ve never seen discussed so explicitly before in any business book.

These reflections are based on the work of Peter Koenig who has researched the role of “source” in organizations for many years.


1. any thing or place from which something comes, arises, or is obtained.
2. the beginning or place of origin of a stream or river.
3. a book, statement, person, etc., supplying information.

The role of source

Any enterprise, project or event always goes back to a single source; the person who gave the spark of life to an idea and had a compelling vision that wanted to be realized.

In instances where one might feel that “we” had the idea together, closer investigation of the path of creation will always lead back to one particular person. The person who has the role of source has an energetic connection to the endeavour quite unlike any other member of the organization or team. The energetic connection is derived from the source-person being the first person in time to take a risk, i.e. make an investment in manifesting the idea. Often the first risk was taken in communicating the idea to a second person.

As a result, the source has an intuitive knowing about what the next steps are and will have strong reactions, often viscerally, if these insights are not honoured. For the source, the “Gestalt” of the idea can be sensed, even if others can at times have more accurate language to describe it. The effects of the importance of source can be observed, whether or not the source is acknowledged. However, acknowledgment of source will lead to an ease of flow in processes and decrease potential for conflict.

A metaphor for source

If an idea, a project or an organization was an individual we could attempt to trace back how this being first came into existence. At the beginning of the child’s life, there was the act of creation, which required a father and a mother.

Let’s assume there was a field or a dimension in which all ideas and all creations exist; the field of limitless potential. Let’s say this field is the “father” in this metaphor. The field chooses a carrier,the source, a “mother” that will bring the child into existence. This person is inseminated with the idea; the source might indeed feel as if “going pregnant” with the idea for a while prior to it’s birth.

Even after the baby (the idea, project) is born, the connection to its creators (the field and the source) is very strong. The field and the source are the genetic parents of this baby and regardless of who will help to raise the child to be an independent person – the birth parents will always remain the birth parents.

For the success or the child in life, it seems to be vital that this primary connection is recognized and honoured, even if other people do a bulk of the childrearing work or if the child is going to be adopted by another parent in the future.

The role of helpers

The role of others as supporters and helpers for the success of a project envisioned by the source is paramount. As in the metaphor of the child, a single parent would never be able to do as good a job raising the child as a whole community could. As they say: It takes a village…

The bigger the original vision the source brings into existence, the more likely the source relies on others for realization of this vision. The helpers can take on all kinds of different roles; from translating the idea into concepts or tasks, to taking on roles as “sub-sources” with full responsibility for a sub-project that feedsinto the larger source.

The more connected the helpers feel energetically to the idea/vision of the source – and this comes not just from liking the project content but from their relationship to the source and acknowledging the source’s source role – the more they are able torealize and exercise their own source within the project. This increases the momentum of the endeavour.

Each helper can form his or her special connection to the projectand become a central figure in the growth process – but the source as the point of origin must be recognized. If anyone unrightfully claims ownership of the idea, the balance in the system is disturbed and will suffer a multitude of consequences.

The source of organizations

Every organization has a point of origin, the moment when the idea was conceived and someone gave shape to what was previously shapeless. This idea of source in organizations is especially observable in family owned businesses. However, it is important to note that identifying the source may not always be as obvious as it might appear at first sight. Often, the founding of the company is attributed to one person (for example the patriarch), but the driving force behind the endeavour was in fact another (for example the matriarch of the family). It is therefore essential to examine closely who was the original life force behind the organization before drawing premature conclusions about the source.

The source can be inherited or passed on from one person to another. The passing on of the source is not a legal but an energetic act. Even if due diligence has been done to ensure that all the right contracts are in place, the source can remain with the original founder and the transmission has not occurred. If this is the case, the new leader/CEO, and subsequently the organization, will be weakened. Succession can only occur if the person passing it over and the person receiving it are conscious and open to the process. Without full transmission of the source, a struggle for dominance and recognition ensues.

A few of the tell-tale signs for the source not having been transferred (or not transferred fully) can be that the newly appointed leader:

  • feels disconnected from the business,
  • is unsure about next steps, has no vision,
  • does not feel what his or her place or purpose in the endeavour is,
  • has no execution even though has all the legal power,
  • experiences power struggles with other people in the organization,
  • is not accepted by others in the organization as the new leader.

It is important to know that only one person can fulfil the role of source. The ownership structure of an organization or the distribution of profits are not tied to being source, but the final say about strategic decisions is.

In family run businesses, it is not unusual that the passing of the source skips one generation. If the source remained with a grandparent that has already passed, the transfer might be accomplished through a personal ritual of initiation that honours the vision and importance of the source, before the new CEO steps fully into his or her new responsibility as the new source of the organization. If the person fulfilling the role of source is still alive, this is a ritual that can and should be conducted in person.

The role of source in leadership

In any organization, there are numerous sources for numerous projects. The vital importance of accepting that the source will “sense” what has to be done should not be underestimated. If the leader is the source, this might be easier than if another employee is the source for a particular thought or project. Regardless of the position of the source in the hierarchy, the source needs to be recognized in order to function as the channel through which information flows into the organization. Furthermore, a lack of recognition of source is noted by members of the system and feels unfair or unjust; members of the organization/team will revert to “just doing their jobs”. Trust in the leaders and or the organizationas a whole is diminished. Acceptance of source creates harmony and trust and is also the key to all people being able to realize their own source potential. The recognition of source is thus key to innovation.

If the role of source is not acknowledged in leadership, this either results in a dictatorial approach to running the company (“I am the new boss now and you will do as I say!”) or in a spineless egalitarianism (“we are all the same and we all have equal say”). The first often leads to organizations with a high number of sick days and a work morale weakened by fear whereas latter leads to inefficiency and a culture that values comradeship over performance. Both will bleed the organization of talent since intelligent and self-responsible individuals will neither choose to work for an organization in which submission to an authoritarian leader is required, nor an organization in which every process is stalled because no one ever feels empowered to take a decision.

This short article on source was written by Nadjeschda Taranczewski and Peter Koenig in July 2012. Please feel free to copy onto your own letterhead by mentioning the authors.

7 thoughts on “The biggest truth about leadership that you didn’t know

  1. I don’t get it. Maybe I’m missing something, but the source seems to be a needy child who constantly needs their ego reinforcing with a reassuring pat on the head. It seems to take the bog-standard heroic Randian entrepreneur and blends it with a degree of psychology and entry-level mysticism. And as for ‘spineless egalitarianism’, the mind boggles!

    • Hey Dave, I’m not an expert in this but here’s now I see it: The source isn’t necessarily egotistic. It’s simply about the significance of who has ‘birthed’ a particular endeavour and holds the vision for it, no matter what their character may be. There is certainly a degree of bravery in taking the first risk in developing the new idea, but they might need to recuit a truly heroic character to help them actually realise the vision. You’re right about the element of neediness though. All endeavours start from a need that the source holds. It could be any number of things like creative expression, solving a problem or adventure.

      Rather than ‘constantly needing their ego reinforced’ in many cases the source has actually left the endeavour and moved onto new things. At least they think they’ve left, but unless the source has been properly transferred then whether they like it or not they are still tied to what happens next and the endeavour might be adrift without them.

      It’s definitely rooted in the human psyche but I wouldn’t say that it’s mystic.

      • As originator, or source, of the “Source Principles”, thanks for this posting and exchange so far. My endeavour has been to give a language to the principles founders, of enterprises, organisations and projects, use when they receive ideas that they materialise; and to the nature/ordering of relationships with other people in their organisations or projects when things flow smoothly. The articulation has come not from a general a priori concept or theory, but out of reflecting on and describing what I myself do and then discovering, to my surprise, a so-far almost universal consensus in empirical inquiry amongst other founders and creators. From late 2009 till now (June 2013) I’ve presented 60 “Source Days” to business entrepreneurs, coaches and in-company teams and o far these ideas have now been endorsed many times. Not a single time have they been in the slightest way refuted. Nadjeschda Taranczewski has given them an excellent first written expression, Charlie Davies has been instrumental in helping refine them further.

        It’s still early days in my view, but through using the lens of these “Source Principles” people seem to be able to identify quickly and easily where organisational processes are sub-optimal, often as a result of adopting classical management theories which were designed to create obedient salaried-line-workers-controlled-by-managers ideal for for an earlier age; but inappropriate when what is called for are structures and processes that nourish creative, self-generating, responsible innovators who collaborate together.

        The “Source Principles” make no pretense about founders being more moral or better persons than anybody else. The principles focus not on ethics or morals but on how ideas materialise through a person’s vision. However there does seem to be a need for a certain level of maturation before a person is ready to source something. And where such a Source person has a “pathology”, for example if they are excessively driven by ego, neediness, or some other reactive drive, this will reflect through their whole system/organisation and is potentially much more painful for them than if they hadn’t sourced their organisation in the first place – while at the same time offering a much stronger impulse of course for their development! Because the pathology sets not just a personal but also an organisational limitation to the satisfactory flow of resources and relationships.

        With best wishes,
        Peter Koenig, Zürich, June 2013

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