4 Territories of Leadership


Why this is important

Effective leaders bring more of who they are to work. This framework describes the 4 territories they must inhabit if they are to do this successfully.

The Idea in Brief

Effective leaders have the capacity and presence to operate in 4 change territories: Insight, Readiness, Authenti Vision, and Skillful Action.

  1. Insight is seeing clearly what is – both in moment-to-moment interactions, and over decades – and both with individuals and in complex global systems. It is seeing beyond the surface and beyond the obvious. It is about seeing how what is has come to be, and what potential futures are now possible. Insight involves going beyond our habitual ways of seeing and our prejudices to see afresh. The question: "Am I seeing what is?"

  2. Readiness is our personal freedom to think, feel and act unconstrained by our personal history. It is about being comfortable with ambiguity, paradox and not knowing the answer. It depends on our ability to manage our inner psychological dynamics and on how well can we access our inner resources – such as our empathy, intuition, and cognition. Leaders with well-developed readiness have a solid, stable foundation to their lives. The question: "How free am I?".

  3. Authentic Vision involves connecting with our purpose, identifying and choosing values, creating a compelling and worthwhile vision, and committing to realising it. A key skill at this stage is the ability to create and hold a tension between the current reality and the vision. Without the ability to hold this tension, the vision merges with the current reality and merely reinforces the status quo. It is this tension which motivates us to grow and develop. The question: "What is the difference I seek to make?

  4. Skillful Action consists of identifying the goals which will lead towards the vision, deciding on the strategies and actions to achieve these goals, and then taking effective and skillful action. The question: "How will I achieve my vision?".

The Idea in Detail

Leadership is a process of constant change and adaptation, fuelled by the wider eco-system and by the changing needs and aspirations of employees and customers, and by leaving the word a better place for your being here.

To be successful and bring about the outcomes they desire, leaders must ensure that they are active in all the core areas of leadership. But what are these core areas?

Since leadership is fundamentally change focussed and relational, any map  of leadership must share these dimensions. So the ‘axes’ of our model are from a present here and now state to a desired future state, and between the internal (I or We) and the external (You or It). These two axes create a quadrant map which describes the four territories where leaders work. These four territories of leadership are Insight, Readiness, Authentic Vision, and Skillful Action.


Leadership requires Insight, insight into what is and what is emerging and could be in the world.  Insight is a clear view of how I or we currently impact on our environment and are impacted by it.  It is an understanding of how that might change.

Leaders bring insight into organisations through their curiosity - the habit of inquiring into and paying attention to the world through a wide angled lens; of spotting and mapping its interrelatedness; of openly seeking feedback from customers and suppliers; and of hunting for others’ views and practices. Good networks across and outside of their own groups bring leaders insight; trusted peers and mentors bring insight; and occasionally insight comes from reading an article or a book. Leaders share insight not only by bringing back information from the world, but by asking questions and listening to answers. New members of the team are prized for the revelations their new eyes can bring, and new technologies, new competition and difficult customers are a welcome source of insight.The personal practices that foster insight in leaders as individuals are habits of curiosity about how they impact on others. Insight requires leaders to develop what Senge refers to as the “Fifth Discipline” of systems thinking (see Part II of The Fifth Discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization: Second edition), reading the dynamic possibilities to see how a shift in their leadership could impact on the system around them.


Insight can lead somewhere or nowhere.  It can show a potential to be different, or just present an insoluble problem.  For insight to lead to change there must be readiness to accept both the possibility for change and the power to change - open thinking and feeling.  Open thinking is contrasted to closed thinking, where an insight is denied, or arrested thinking where it is seen but not recognised as possible to change.   This need for open thinking explains the “rabbit in the headlights” syndrome that seems to affect people when they are put under external stress to change that creates fear.  In times of threat we may recognise the need to change but we are not “open”. It also explains the famous “elephant in the room” where a truth is resolutely ignored by the organisation and its leaders because to see it would require conversations that are just too dangerous, too likely to create conflict, to upset mind-sets in which the organisation is invested or disrupt the power structure.  Leaders who can lower the defence barriers and create sufficient safety for the rabbits to unfreeze and the elephants to be discussed are creating Readiness.

Practices that boost readiness are those that promote emotional awareness, confidence and open, positive thinking.  Adopting an “appreciative” or “solution-focused” practice is powerful, as are any meditative, reflective or psychotherapeutic practices that promote understanding of our own emotions and fears, and how they might be blocking us. 

Our experience of working with leaders in the UK and Europe is that they are typically more action oriented than reflective by nature and/or training. Many leaders believe that they should be emotionally self-sufficient, able to ignore or analyse away their own emotions in performing their leadership role, but they do not prioritise developing emotional self-awareness and self-mastery.  Most leaders are time-stressed and reflection, especially self-reflection, can be seen as a waste of time that could have been spent in accomplishing a task or in communication with others.  Their mental and emotional fitness are often addressed only when they are creating visible difficulties, and rapidly ignored again once coping mechanisms are in place.

Authentic Vision

Gaining Insight has given us a clear sense of the reality we seek to change; developing Readiness has freed us from our past and conditioning. Now we clarify what it is we are seeking to create and what change it is we want to make happen – that is we identify our Vision of how things could be. This vision must be rooted in reality and so is strongly linked to the Insight phase. It must be authentic in that it is a vision which moves and motivates us. Giving voice to this vision can be a profoundly creative and exhilarating process as pent up energy is released as we find a vision that expresses something of who we are and are becoming. In constructing authentic vision leaders use creative or imaginal practices and skills to effectively externalise, to represent an idea or feeling in a way that has authenticity and resonance.  Story telling and meaning making are key skills in developing and communicating vision. Authentic visions give voice to the emerging story in a poetic way and allow others to weave their own stories into them.

Despite the interdependencies of vision and insight, they are different. In the early 90s NatWest Bank developed what it called a “First Choice Vision”. This vision, presented in a Business Scorecard format, was for NatWest to be first choice for customers (ie customers would bank with NatWest), first choice for investors (ie, a high share price), first choice for staff (ie, a preferred employer), and first choice for quality (ie, have high quality business processes). What the Bank failed to realise was that this was not a vision but a set of measures of whether the actual vision was being achieved – a part of Insight. In fact, the Bank didn’t have a vision of what this “first choice” Bank would look like. The resulting loss of direction was probably one factor which led to NatWest eventually being taken over by RBS.

The purpose of a Vision is to give a clear sense of direction and destination and, by being authentic, to provide the motivation to move forward. Steve Jobs, when first CEO of Apple, spent a long time trying to recruit John Sculley, then CEO of PepsiCo. Jobs famously and ultimately successfully evoked Sculley's motivation by asking "Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?" (from Odyssey: Pepsi to Apple)

Skillful Action

The action phase is concerned with transforming vision into the actions needed to bring about that vision in the world. It therefore moves from vision to the goals necessary to achieve the vision, to the strategies necessary to achieve the goals, to the action plans to implement the strategy, to actually taking action.

It relies on instrumental skills, on intelligence, energy, determination, flexibility of mind and competence. Skilful action requires a real focus on performance, on using yourself as an instrument to portray a message, to create an impact in the way that you intend. Kouzes and Posner in their book The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations call leadership a “performance art” in which the instrument is the self.

That is not to say that skillful action requires leaders to be falsely something other than they are. Successful post-modern leadership is authentic and poetic - true, but deliberately crafted. Goffee and Jones in their book Why Should Anyone Be Led by You? What It Takes to Be an Authentic Leader call this leadership performance “being yourself with skill”. The leader who puts on a good show at corporate events, but whose actions and decisions give the lie to his espoused beliefs will soon lose credibility and trust. The leader who strives to act in a way that gets approval, or has positive impact, but which runs counter to his beliefs will be subject to enormous and damaging tension. The leader who cannot use his emotions appropriately will founder under stress.

The practices that support skillful action are those that build mental and physical energy and personal dexterity.  Developing a range of emotional intelliegence skills allows a greater flexibility of response and strengthening emotional antennae allows leaders to become more skillful in choosing the most effective response.  

Just as there is a resonance between insight and vision, so there is a resonance between readiness and action. We have to have sufficient freedom and readiness within ourselves to be able to act with focus, courage and impact in our outer world.

Awareness and Will

Leadership is powered, at the hub of the wheel, by two central capacities: Awareness and Will:

  • Awareness shows us what is, both in the inner and in the outer world. It is the capacity to work through perceptions, prejudices and other illusions to an observation of reality.

  • Will enables us to create the future. Will is the capacity to make choices, to take responsibility for these choices; it is the capacity to be who we are and the ability to be the cause of what we do.

Awareness and Will are important in each of the four quadrants – with Awareness being foreground in the bottom two quadrants (Insight and Readiness) and Will in the top two quadrants (Authentic Vision and Skilful Action).

Few leaders explicitly focus on developing these capacities, either for themselves or for their organisations – but they are fundamental to creating effective, sustainable change. At the core of helping someone develop their Awareness and Will is helping them develop their sense of Self.

Applying the Model

Like any model this oversimplifies and may seem to describe leadership as a linear or circular progression, whereas it is a far richer and more complex process.  Although we have explored each quadrant in the model, and how each supports and feeds in to the others, we imagine the process is rather like a wheel, either turning or stuck.  For example, if the wheel cannot turn through Authentic Vision, then no amount of additional effort in Insight will create movement.

Many leaders have a preference for one or two of the quadrants, strong in Insight and Action perhaps, but maybe less developed in sustaining Readiness.  The most common preference is for Action; the least common is for Readiness. When leaders or their organisations get stuck, the tendency is to stay with what is familiar and do more of the same.  Working around the model can help them to focus in on the source of the ‘stuckness’ and to release their leadership potential.

Being a leader is a process of growth; we are changed by it.  Each movement through the quadrants, every turn of the wheel, brings us to a new way of being.  At times these changes may seem minor – they strengthen us and broaden our perspective but our mind-sets and operative values remain the same.  At other times the cumulative effect of renewal seems to bring us to a moment of transformation, a new mind-set, a new relationship with the world.  This growth within and across different ways of being or developmental levels is described in more detail here.

What You Can do

Ask yourself:

  • Which quadrant am I most comfortable in?

  • Which am I least comfortable in?

  • When I am stuck, which quadrant is sticking me?

  • Insight: get feedback from others on your strengths and limitations; and feedforward on what you could do differently to be more successful - specifically ask how they would know you had successfully made that change.

  • Readiness: develop habits of self-reflection and self-observation such as journaling, visual landscaping, and inner dialogue. Develop your awareness of your thoughts, intuitions and feelings so that they become a resource to you, rather than controlling you.

  • Authentic Vision: reflect on the trajectory of your life to date. Is the life that is unfolding for you the life you want? If not, then imagine the future you want by seeing, hearing and feeling what it would be like to be there.

  • Skilfull Action: Is what you spend your time on bringing your vision into being and allowing you to lead a purposeful life? What are the skills, qualities and capacities you need to develop to "be yourself with skill"?

Further Reading

This page is based on an article I co-wrote with Diane Newell entitled "A Model of Coaching for Renewal" for the January 2008 edition of The International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching.