The Trance of Leadership

When I was a teenager, a hypnotist came to our school and delivered a very entertaining show. Once on stage, he turned to the audience and invited us all into a hypnotic trance, counting down 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1. A handful of the teenagers actually went “under,” and were susceptible to his suggestions. So he invited these willing “volunteers” onto the stage.

One by one, he gave each of them a hypnotic suggestion. One young man was told he had to keep 19 plates spinning on top of sticks, and that if one of them broke, he would be in big trouble. Of course we all laughed, and yet while in the trance, no matter what the distraction, this boy was determined to keep his invisible (to us) plates spinning. Another young lady was told she had a huge yellow banana stuck to the end of her nose. Again, the audience laughed, and yet she experienced the banana as real, and kept trying to get it off of her nose. The antics of these poor teenagers had us all in hysterics, and yet to them, their dilemmas were urgent and real. Until… with a snap of the Hypnotist’s fingers, the spinning plates and bananas disappeared for them as well.

Every week I meet with leaders who feel trapped by dilemmas that seem real enough. And during our initial conversations, many believe that what is needed is for “those people,” or “that circumstance” to change. Yet as we continue our exploration together, most discover that they have been trapped in ways of thinking that have been limiting themselves and their organizations. Ways of thinking that are based on an illusion about what is really happening… a hypnotic trance of sorts.

How do really smart people, who have a history of success, end up in an endless loop of trying to get the proverbial banana off of their nose? Simple.

  1. They have lost the ability to be the audience.    

They have forgotten to pause, to step back and question the dilemma from multiple perspectives. e.g. “How would the other person / our customers / product development / sales / a child / someone from another culture…view this?”

2. They have forgotten they are the hypnotist.

The hypnotic trance that keeps most of us stuck in a problem is caused by a belief in assumptions that are invisible to us.  Some common assumptions that can keep us stuck:

  • “The truth is obvious, and our version of the truth is the right one.”
  • “My own internal discomfort is a signal that there is real danger here, that must be avoided at all costs.”
  • “As a leader, I need to be (e.g. in charge / the one with the best insight / invulnerable / agreeable)… no matter what.”

By teasing out these assumptions, and asking “is that really true?” we become the hypnotist again. We take back the power to snap our fingers, thus dissolving the illusion of the (limited) world our invisible assumptions had created.

So the next time you or your team are facing a problem that won’t go away, ask yourself if you are all acting in some sort of shared trance about the situation. Then become the audience for a moment, and investigate diverse, even irrational, perspectives for new insight. And most of all, remember that you always have the power as hypnotist to snap your fingers and end the illusion of limitation… by simply asking, “Is that really true?”


Peggy McAllister is CEO, Founder and Chief Mischief Maker for Essential Leadership LLC, and supports leaders and organizations engaged in creating products, services and experiences that support their highest visions for what is possible.

Come join Peggy for her Return to Wholeness Retreat for executive coaches on October 10-14 in Ireland. A recent participant described the retreat as “A life changing experience for those who are ready for this profound and sacred work.”   For more information, see “Wholeness Retreat” here on the directory. 


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