A Fresh Perspective: Changing Self and World An Interview with John Smith, September 19, 2006

Russ Volckmann

John Smith

Russ VolckmannRuss:  Welcome to the Integral Leadership Review, John Smith. It’s a pleasure to have a chance to talk with you.

John: Thank you, Russ, for the invitation.

Russ: I’d like to start off by sharing a quote from Don Beck. It was a comment about you that at least captures the scope of some of the things that we may be talking about today. It says,

“John Smith’s unique culture is entirely…” and I believe by culture he’s referring to the Hearthstone Culture, “…is entirely the initial project of his own personal experience and the bulk of the credit should go to his own perspective. He met with Richard Barrett and the two of them worked together for some time to add the concepts of seven levels and extend the notion of consciousness and spirituality.” [See review of Richard Barrett’s new book by Matthew Kalman in this issue of ILR] Later, through Richard, John was exposed to Spiral Dynamics so his company reflects both of these points of view and [he] has used the Culture SCAN research instrument several times with his associates.

There is a lot there, John. What was this personal experience and what it is that you have been building at Hearthstone?

John: Thanks Russ. I’m 56 years old. This is a journey I started a long time ago. The specific part you are referring to began about nine years ago; I had a personal experience that began to shape my life. I was driving back from Kansas City to Omaha, about a three and a half hour drive. About half way through the drive, something bubbled up out of me. What came up was, “God, I’m ready.” I don’t claim any particular religion to connect this with.

Things began to manifest after that in my personal life that led into the company. There is an old saying that an organization is a long shadow of one person and, energetically, that is very true. As I began my own journey of personal transformation, the organization followed suit. For a period starting about nine years ago and getting pretty heavy about seven years ago, it became more focused every month and every year as the journey went along.

Russ: How did that message lead to a shift or an alteration in what you did in your life?

John: Prior to that, I was doing a great job of running.

Russ: Literally?

John: Literally – meaning mentally, emotionally, physically and even spiritually – running from my emotions, running from my background. I grew up in a dry alcoholic family – constant survival, constant abuse of a nature that creates a situation where many times I wanted to run from it. So I did a great job of keeping myself busy running from those fears that were inside of me.

When this revelation happened, I began to look at those fears. I began to realize that was not who I wanted to be or who I was. That has been the biggest part of my personal journey in the last nine years.

Russ: How did you proceed? Did you work with a particular guru? Did you follow a particular tradition?

John: No, it started with a divorce about three months after the event. Then, the process was one of following my own intuition and starting meditation. I began to disentangle many of the parts of my life.

I looked back to my late teens and early twenties. Four main things came up in my life. First, I knew I would be involved in creating spiritual organizations. I did not know what that was at the time, but my intuition told me to help found or be part of creating spiritual organizations. Then another part was helping people find their full space, their completeness that they are to have in this lifetime. The third involved using computers in ways that would help simplify life and allow us to spend more time away from some of the more mundane things. And fourth is a knowing that children are the future and they have a right to grow in a safe space. How to facilitate this has been my question.

Another thing that I had forgotten about in my running years that began to surface as a theme nine years ago – and it really crystallized a couple years ago – was my daily practices.

In the fall of 1999, I was going to the Business and Consciousness Seminars down in Mexico put on by the Santa Fe Institute. I saw Richard Barrett there; it was one of the first times he went out to the world. I also saw Michael Rennie – who has had a major impact on this type of work worldwide. I began to resonate with what they were saying. It really made sense to who I was.

I also met a person who had done a lot with mind-body energy work. I realized a lot of power there.  I had gone through psychological work after my divorce and realized that this was not the answer and found an alternative through bioenergetics practices and this really made sense. I learned about the energy field – how it contained all emotions and how you could relieve the energies that you carried from the past that you did not need to carry into the future. I also realized that I wanted to do work with this, but I couldn’t fly to San Diego and that was where the best people were at the time that I could find. So I flew to them to Nebraska. They began to work with my associates at Hearthstone. We began one of the first sessions in the spring of 2000. Right now, our company still does that. About 25% of our associates do consistent work with our mind-body energy workers.

Russ: So it’s been about a six-year project so far?

John: For Hearthstone, yes.

Russ: How big a company is Hearthstone?

John: We have more than 100 associates. We were the 90th largest homebuilder in America last year. There are about 60,000 homebuilders, so it’s a very diverse industry. We’re in the top 100.

Russ: W hat is your vision for Hearthstone?

John: The vision is a couple things. My personal vision is I’m moving out of the company next year. I’ll have a new president coming into the company. The executive team is really beginning to understand and move into their full space. Speaking from the Spiral Dynamics perspective, I see Hearthstone and myself as contributors to the evolution of consciousness and the transformation of both individuals and organizations. I hope Hearthstone can be a role model in what I would call a company for the 21st Century. I want to show how we can be a model of integral thinking and how we can be a holistic second tier organization. My executive team is aligning to that. We see part of our role as helping bridge or move from the first tier to the second tier. We support what I believe is a very definite worldwide energy that is picking up momentum for that shift of consciousness into second tier.

Russ: By implication, the work you’ve been doing over these six years in accordance with that vision has led to what we think of as bottom line success for the company. Is that accurate?

John: Bottom line, we have made for a few years now about a third of what we ought to make for a company of our size. We’ve been profitable. The reason it has not been the full profit is because I made a choice of rather than grow the business to the next level, which is where the profit point was, we wanted to really lock in the cultural part of our business. We wanted to make sure that before growth happened that the culture and the people that support the culture could carry the culture to that next larger level. We’ve begun that process in our current growth stage. We’ll be doubling both profit and size in the next three years, if everything comes per schedule.

Russ: So how did you get started in this change process? You indicated that you brought people from San Diego. Are you referring to Richard Barrett?

John: No. In the first three months of 2000, like a Nexus point of energy, many things came together. One was having Richard come out to make his first survey. It was March of that year. I think it’s an interesting observation for our company. We took the survey of Richard’s, but we did not use it for three years. One of my personal beliefs is that when you are really on a leading edge of something new to you or the field around you, if you begin to measure it, you begin to really limit its potential. Although I was advised to use it, I decided to wait a few years and let us find our full potential before we began to manage it at that level. Ever since 2003, we’ve used Richard every year and to the great benefit to the company.

Richard has a set of values assessment tools and programs. It’s a state-of-the-art, values-based way to view a company. He has many offshoots of it that allow you to help individuals support their personal growth and transformation. His Cultural Values Survey is really tied into a process he’s developed and he is beginning to bring it worldwide with great impact.

The first quarter of 2000 was the most impactful one for us. I’m very cognizant of the relationship between the work we did and the development of our culture. I knew our company would grow. Since that period six or seven years ago we’ve actually tripled our size. We’ve grown substantially over the last seven or eight years and we’ll double again in the next three years.

As the company grows, I believe the most fundamental glue is culture. I want to be very conscious about it. Every organization, even a bowling league, has a culture. The question is, is it conscious or unconscious? I want a conscious culture.

We went through a process we now call “conscious-izing.” I brought my executive team in and asked them to name their five top values. What came out of it was actually a very strong alignment. The very first value was spirituality – from their field, not from mine. I kept myself out of it until they were done. Here is what showed up: “spirituality, integrity, nurturance, continuous learning and courage” as the core values of the company.

Our definition of spirituality is that “We honor our connectedness to each other and practice the principles of compassion, generosity and service which help us define who we are and what we contribute.” This is very non-religious, very much oriented to the honoring of who we are as human beings and who we’re here to be.

We then went to our associates and did the same process. We kept quiet; they did their work. It became very clear that three of our values were very strong. Two were not quite as strong, but all five were very clearly there. Over the next year we put together our definitions and they have been a very powerful glue that holds us together—a real foundation for our culture.

HearthStone Homes’

Our core purpose
discover the hero in everyone

Russ: Could we talk about that for a minute before you go on? Regarding the definition of spirituality that you stated, could you flesh out a little bit about how that shows up in the business, in the work?

John: Great question, thank you. Let me add a side bar to this. One of the other things we did that spring was to bring in a coaching academy. 85% of our associates have now gone through different parts of the coaching academy, including being certified as coaches. I wanted to have a coaching culture in our business. The reason I say that is that right now all of our standing meetings—we’re have a very team based orientation, so we have a large number of standing meetings that coordinate different parts of our business—open up with the setting of the arena. Our coaching academy is ontological, which is being based versus psychological.

Russ: Are you working with Julio Ollala?

John: No, actually it’s Dr. Maria Nemeth, the founder of the Academy for Coaching Excellence in Sacramento She has been doing this for about 25 years. I ran across her through an Omega Institute Seminar and was really impressed.

Anyway, we open up our meetings by setting the arena, which is setting the safe space for coaching. People can come into the meeting grounded. Right after that, we share our values. Then, we go through a theme. We spend anywhere from ten to twenty minutes each during about ten or twelve meetings a week for different parts of our company to come into the space. The conversation can be anything from personal experiences, external relationships, or talking about themes like choosing some time to speak about our values. We begin to delve deeper into how these affect our business and our lives.

What we’ve seen is a tremendous consistency. Our associates really do walk the talk of this; our customers see it. We have a 96% satisfaction rating which means 96% of all of our buyers would gladly and willingly refer us to a customer. This is phenomenally high for our industry. We have a 55% referral rate, so half of our business comes from referrals. The national average is about 10%. We’re about five and a half times the national average when it comes to referring business. An extremely large part of that is the conscious love-based relationship that we set up with our customers. Our sales force knows their job is not to sell a house; their job is to find what the buyer needs and really truthfully advise them on their best choices. If our houses do not match their needs, we advise them to buy a house from someone else. We want them to have their best quality of life experience. We aren’t here to make money or sell a house at others’ expense. We really want co-creation. That is the best that we’ve found so far. It has resonated with our purchasers and resulted in their referrals.

One of our values is integrity, which we define as to look, see, tell the truth and take authentic action. We train our associates to look, see and tell the truth without regard to outcome. Sometimes it costs us twenty or thirty thousand dollars or more for a mistake that was made, but through this process our associates know that we will not dodge our responsibilities for the sake of money or for the sake of something outside the truth. As we walk that talk – and they’ve seen us do that – we end up with a confidence and a caring that people resonate with and is felt by a large part of our buying population. Those are some of the examples that reflect our values and the processes we have.

Russ: Richard Barrett writes about how leadership development, which you exemplified in the work with your executive team, leads ultimately to employee fulfillment, which in turn leads to customer satisfaction and then shareholder value. That’s the experience that you’re describing. Is that correct?

John: Yes. Richard has a saying: “Organizations do not transform, individuals transform.” Transformation will not happen without the top leader or leaders leading that shift; it is not possible. I was not conscious of this. I was simply living my life the best that I could. Richard actually helped mirror that a few years ago for me to see it and I appreciate him for doing that. Up until then, it was more unconscious. At the same time, it was my personal journey: how it impacted Hearthstone and how it impacted our customers – not in an ego sense, but from the perspective of how we live our lives and how it impacts others. I am amazed by the impact that could happen as one person shifted and others began to have their awareness also shift.

Russ: It seems to me that you’re doing something pretty remarkable in your industry. House construction is not an industry we normally think of as having the kind of spiritual foundation that you talk about. What kind of response are you getting from the market, from competitors, from suppliers? For example, in the total quality management movement, one of the things that large companies did was demand that their suppliers engage in total quality management as well. Is there any linkage that you’re seeing out into the industry or into the market from the work you’re doing?

John: Yes, but not much yet. We have many supporting practices for our values and how we believe our business needs to be run. As an example, we decided a few years ago that if we could put the quality of life of our associates first, we would not be open on Sundays. That was a big deal in those days. Most traffic and people come out during the weekend, especially on Sunday. After we began closing on Sundays, our business actually increased.

As we began to look at what we call a whole systems approach, we began to tie things together. An example: we closed on Sundays primarily because the systems of our associate’s families were being undermined, in our opinion, by the work level that our sales associates had.

Another whole systems viewpoint emerged as we learned how to dance our dance together. You mentioned vendor partners or subcontractors. We have a smaller pool now. We ran Richard Barrett’s survey here this last year with our vendor partners. In some areas they had a higher level of consciousness than our company did. It was really amazing that we had attracted these people who resonated with our company and its values. They wanted to bring the best out of themselves and their companies and were waiting to co-create a combined leadership. That’s happening now with our vendor-partner council.

As an example, in using Continuous Value Improvement about four years ago, I began telling our vendor partners that there is only one cost that they had that was a valid cost. That was their profit. In our industry most vendor partners are used to having contractors beat them up for their profit, rather than to honor it. We began a process of honoring it and we got a process with some early adapters about three years ago where we agreed to go to open books. They shared all their costs with us. What happened was instead of them having to defend themselves energetically for their profit and who they are, they got on the bandwagon with us supporting their profit first and collectively. We would cut their costs, if we could, through collaboration. That’s worked fantastically.

Some of the early adapters have cut their costs 25-40% on our business, because when we delved into it, they really could see the true costs that they had. As an aside, we have been told by very reputable sources that we have the most sophisticated software of anybody in the home building. It’s way ahead of the industry.

We also look at the 4 P’s: People, Process, Planet and Profit. Profit is always the result of correct action in the People, Process and Planet arena. Truthfully, the planet just got added a year and a half ago as I began to travel the world. I always thought it was a pretty big place, but it isn’t really that big a place anymore. I began to be aware that the planet’s sustainability really needed to be added to our efforts. We are working on this now

We used the 4 P’s as a foundation for our priorities. The people are first and our processes and systems are beyond state-of-the-art for the industry. Our vendor partners now share their costs with us and we’re able to have costs substantially below the local industry. We’ve priced our homes anywhere between 8% and 20% below our competitors. The impact on the market is substantial. It’s one of the reasons we’ve been able to grow. We have such a high quality valued product that there has been a competitive impact. Our competitors are losing market share, especially now that the economy is tightening up a little bit. We’re really seeing a big shift in the market towards what we supply to our customers.

Russ: There are so many streams of what you just laid out. Let’s start with one. You talked about the computer systems that you use, the software. There was some high level of innovation that took place in relation to the use of software by your company. Do you relate that at all to these other processes that you’ve been talking about: the spiritual dynamics and the other applications around values and culture?

John: It is looking at the whole system. We would go to Ken Wilber’s four quadrants. I use a pattern called the Z; it is common in Europe with some friends I have there. You start in the upper left hand corner, to the upper right hand corner, to lower left and then to lower right. In my mind it’s actually a figure 8 because the lower right impacts the upper left if you’re being holistic with how you live your life. My story is like that.

In our company’s story we went from individual values to individual behaviors. I began to change, the company began to transform, the collective interior and then the collective exterior. Then as the exterior has changed of course it has impacted me. I’ve gotten wiser, so I’m back to my individual values. There has been a continuous “figure 8” feedback loop in our company in the last seven years. The nice thing about it is it’s beginning to filter energetically into the rest of the company, especially to the leadership of the company. It’s part of who they are to engage the same kind of process down deep inside of them.

I’m not sure I answered your question or not, Russ.

Figure 1: The Infinite Path of Development
Figure 1: The Infinite Path of Development

Russ: You went into some interesting areas, but I’m asking about the linkage between these things and the level of innovation in your company, because it sounds like there has been quite a bit.

John: Yes, we’re really a whole system and we’re starting to move into company intuition-based decision-making where we’re bringing in this dimension to the executive team and some of the operating teams. Basically, for the last six or seven years with an intuitive basis combined with the practicalities of the real world, we’ve been able to get a sense on multiple levels as to the energetic flows as well as the practical flows. We can see where there are blockages. We go in and begin to look, see and tell the truth. How can we really find the higher truth of what the situation is? Many times it is counter intuitive and they all become linked one with the other. That’s one reason we’re so cross functional.

We’ve become more and more different from the industry. We’re about as far as we can get right now from the home building industry. I’ve actually not paid much attention to the industry for about 20 years. I used to go all the time to the national meetings and realized that they did not resonate with me. So I chose to drop out, do our thing in Omaha and help the company be what it can be.

Russ: You made reference to sustainability and, by implication, the ecology. Certainly, if there is an industry that can impact the ecology and support sustainability, it’s the construction industry. How is that showing up for you?

John: We are developing a baseline and idea of where we are going. One of our consultants did a partial survey for us this last spring and it showed that, when using some national standards on sustainability, we were about 52% sustainable based upon where we could be in that one area. We were quite surprised. We thought we were a lot lower than that. Through basic practices that made sense to us, we were able to develop that.

Right now, the fundamental shift is I’m reorganizing my executive team. About 75% of my executive team is either new to their job or new to the company. Part of that was realigning the front of our business so that we become much more aware of our community development. Our whole system approach in the past was more internal, with our customers, with our associates, our partners, our vendor partners and our processes. In the last year and a half, as we’ve matured as a business. Richard’s process has helped a lot. With his seven levels, we were able to see our company in ways that we needed to work on. This began to open up some doors for us to some higher business consciousness.

So, we have reorganized and we have a person in charge of sustainability who has a passion for it. His job is to bring into the business an expert on sustainable practices this fall, although we would not see the impact until next fall or so. It takes about a year for things to show up based on our construction cycle time. we’re now looking at how to combine community with our construction practices. We have a strong desire to build homes that are substantially off the grid and do it in a mass production way. That’s an interesting story that I hope we can talk about in a couple of years because it’s something that we are really interested in. Right now, it’s a desire. People are getting lined up, the resources are being applied and the story ahead of us is to see what comes out of it.

Russ: I hope we’ll have a chance to talk about that in a couple of years. In addition to the business, you also have the Hearthstone Global Foundation. Its executive director is Susan Beck – no relation to Don Beck. What is the nature of the foundation?

John: The foundation actually evolved over the last year and a half from work that started about three years ago. We’ve done local gifting, but when I met Richard at these different seminars and Richard came to Omaha, we struck up a friendship. I went to a seminar with him in June of 2003 and asked him – one of those spontaneous moments of life which are life changing – what his dream was. He said it was to bring together different modalities of the latest technologies of organizational development, which included his process, Don Beck’s process, Appreciative Inquiry, Scharmer’s U, and some of these others. My remembrance is that he was seeing how individually they were doing great work, but collectively there is a power that had not been seen yet that could really begin to impact organizational development in a way that would bring them back into what we eventually call whole system change. It would bring the people and the process back into balance versus the polarity they’ve worked themselves into the last 10 or 15 years. Great vision! It is a wise thing on his part.

Our company agreed to finance three at that time, so before the foundation started, our company financed these whole systems change summits. We began to invite different people to them. I met Susan Beck through this process. Many other wonderful people and much collaboration came out of it. It was phenomenally successful seed money. Seed money is a theme for me. As that developed, other things began to develop. It became evident that there was always plenty of demand for money. We began to see that we wanted to continue this in a way that expanded beyond the initial one time event to a repetitive process.

Susan joined our company a couple of years ago for organizational development. She is an expert in all these different technologies and just recently has moved to the foundation to help us with that.

Russ: For the appreciative inquiry work, did you bring in Cooperrider or any of the people from Case Western or did you use more local people?

John: Diane Whitney, who co-created with Cooperrider, came to the first whole system change summit. Since then, we’ve used a consultant and then a couple of our associates have been trained through one of the AI trainers they have. We now do it in-house through our own resources of trained people.

We were doing mostly the Cultural Values Assessment, Spiral Dynamics Culture SCAN and natural design and Appreciative Inquiry with the group. Last year, our company was one of the first in the world to use the template that Richard has in his new book that came from the whole system change summits. This is where you combine together in a flow process at the correct space and time these different modalities so they paint one picture and one tapestry at a level that is absolutely phenomenal.

We are now building into the process a way we not only can track costs thousand of miles away; we can track costs of a two by four. We have a performance management system being installed. This allows our self-development leadership to track each individual. We can see who is aligned to the values of the culture and who may need coaching. We know how we can coach them to have greater success in the company. The people and processes are both able to be managed in a way that has never been done before. Having respect for individuals is extremely important here. At the same time, it allows for awareness of transformation potential for all our company associates.

The great thing I had here, Russ, is I’m just tremendously impressed by the minds of these different people that have created these things [Richard Barrett, Don Beck, David Cooperrider, Ken Wilber, et al.]. The planet is blessed by having people like this who can, out-of-the-void so to speak, bring such wisdom and have it applied to the benefit of humanity. This is something that stirs in me some great feelings.

Russ: Thank you, I share your awe with what these people are able to accomplish. Along those lines, one of the threads that has come out of the Foundation and the rest of your work has been your support for Don Beck’s initiatives in the Middle East and perhaps in the Netherlands. Can say a bit about your involvement with Don and Spiral Dynamics and how it has led to this?

John: Back to my comment of a moment ago, Don is truly one of those geniuses. He is a master of what he does and is beyond my imagination sometimes when I’m around him. I met Don through the Whole Systems Change meetings and began to get exposed to his thinking and to him. I call him a great friend now, because he is really someone I love and respect. I met him in November of 2003 and all through that period of time we saw each other at different meetings. We met and talked about a year and a half ago. I mentioned to Don at one of the meetings that if something came up that he felt would be of interest for our Foundation or for our financial support, to keep us in mind. So, again we had meetings and life went on.

Late last year, he sent an email saying he had met some gentlemen from Israel who had taken one of his Spiral Dynamics workshops. They had heard his story about how the Spiral was a major contributor in the background for the ending of Apartheid in South Africa. It intrigued them and they asked why he couldn’t do the same kind of work in Israel? They talked to Don and Don said he would do it. Don sent us an email wanting to know if we would fund some efforts in Israel to bring the Spiral wisdom to the area. It took me about two seconds to hear a real big “Yes!” We’ve had a couple of trips there now and hope to have another one later this year.

we’re coordinating with Don right now on the Center for Human Emergence. By the way, we are not involved in that although we know many people who are and we respect what they’re doing. But we’re helping to found an offshoot organization called the Center for Human Emergence Middle East. It is being formed right now to bring the holistic spiral and other second tier energy to what they have now. During the second trip when I was there, I visited with one of the local people we have a connection with who runs the Abraham Fund Initiatives. It is able to impact about 500,000 people in northern Israel, which is a large percentage of the overall population.

Russ: What’s his name?

John: Mohammed Darawshe. He’s their director of development.

Russ: Is he in Palestine?

John: No, actually he is in a small town just outside Nazareth. A side story there is I spent some time with him and his family and wonderful children and only he spoke English. His father had just gone fishing the Mediterranean, brought a bunch of fish back and we ate fresh fish. I was really resonating with him and his family. About a month ago, he had called during the middle of all the bombings and all the fighting. He was sharing how a bomb ignited and killed two people just about a block from his sister’s house. In Nazareth several miles away, two young Arab boys had been killed in the bombing. His children were spending their lives in the bomb shelters. He was trying to make light of it because back in the war in ’67, they didn’t have nice bomb shelters. They had to live in caves. So when you begin to entertain your children with stories about how you spent your life in a cave to avoid death, it really brought home to me personally, the world and what it’s like out there.

Russ: That would seem an important sidebar actually.

John: Yes. Some great people are down there; Elsa Maalouf, Rafi Nasser and Susan Beck are people that are part of the Integral process and part of the work with Spiral Dynamics. They are forming this Center for Human Emergence Middle East. Our company is providing their initial funding. we’re planning to work with Mohammed and others to begin to bring the Spiral into it.

There is great feedback. Don was down there the first time in February. He spoke to different groups, including a couple hundred people, one time. I was down there the second time in May and met with Gilead Sher, who was instrumental in the talks with Clinton on the peace initiatives they had back then. There is really a whole process. There is a moment right now that all of these different people are stepping into that I think can have great impact. It’s one of those moments in time and space where things are ripe. Life conditions are changing and people are beginning to look for something new, because they are just really tired of the old way. It’s painful enough; they’re willing to change now verses live with it. I really sense that’s happening down there with this last war.

Russ: We’ve talked a little bit about the genius of some of these people that you’ve been involved with and one that particularly strikes me and especially in the story you were just telling is Don Beck. What is it he brings to a situation such as the one in the Middle East that seems to light up the Spiral in a way that increases the hope for an effective process to occur there; can you characterize that at all?

John: Don is, again, one of those people that absolutely amaze me. I’ve spent seven days with him in Israel at different meetings. Mastery of a subject, I’ve been told, is when you intuitively know what’s happening. I think Don is beyond mastery because Don lives it. When he’s in that arena, he is masterful. He went from meeting to meeting and I watched him change. It seemed like he was being a chameleon, but not in a negative way. I watched him practice the art of being a half level ahead of the groups he was talking with. I watched as he helped them see something that they couldn’t see before, yet not be so far ahead of them that he would tune them out or alienate them. It was amazing as he went to these different groups of people, who had different perspectives from the top leadership in the government to leadership academically. These are different mindsets to regular people doing their thing. So, my enthusiasm is because he is really a master and the more that Don can spend his time doing these things, the better the planet is. He really is an international resource in my opinion. His knowledge is something that’s irreplaceable.

Russ: You’ve raised the subject of leadership, which of course is of central interest to this publication, and I’d like to talk about leadership as you see it in two ways. One is yourself as a leader and the other is leadership as a phenomenon in your business as it shows up not just in your role, but also in the roles of others. Perhaps we can start with you. You’ve referred to Richard Barrett’s Seven Levels and he applies that to leadership as well. How would you characterize your own approach to leadership?

John: I don’t know.


The Seven Stages/Levels of Personal Consciousness
Richard Barrett’s The Seven Stages/Levels of Personal Consciousness
(Adapted from Richard Barrett, Building a Values-Driven Organization.
New York: Elsevier, 2006, p. 12.)

It’s markedly different than 10 years ago. Prior to that, as I mentioned before, I was running, meaning that it’s so easy to make yourself busy that you don’t have time to really learn and know who you really are. Until about 10 years ago, I was a master at doing that. As I began to slow down and began to look into myself and things I wanted to see, the journey really became, until about a year ago, very intuitive. In other words, Hearthstone is built on the foundation of what ‘felt’ right and true. We took one step at a time and went from one thing to the next as they showed up. We kept moving through the process.

I would say the leadership style was very autocratic, very controlling, ten years ago. It has been slowly, over 10 years, transforming itself to one of equality, teamwork and recognizing the contribution of others versus being in my ego – that it all had to be me. That leadership has been shifting, so it has not really been a constant.

To lead is an Anglo Saxon term meaning “to be in front”” Part of my whole nature has been to be in front. I am a visionary. I didn’t realize what that was until a few years ago. So, living as a visionary, you’re in a future seeing how to make that future real today. For me it was moving from one step to the other as I did that. The last couple of years we’ve done the process of conscious-izing, which is consciously to bring to the known from the unknown. In our company, that’s a word that is used fairly regularly. Our associates want to bring a conscious knowing of who and what they are and who and what the business is to the forefront so we can actually know what it is and apply it in a way that has great clarity.

I’m not trying to avoid your question, at the same time I’m not sure what the answer is.


Russ: You’re doing fine. You have a vision that you’ve been building through a team process in more recent times and you are clearly one of the people out in the front of this development process, this building process that you’ve been a part of. What is most important about creating the capacity of the people in your business and your organization to bring leadership capability to the sustaining of the business?

John: What pops first in my mind is the term “Love”. When I speak of love what I speak of truly is an abundance-based viewpoint versus scarcity-based. Don speaks to this when he says that a fundamental aspect of the Spiral is life conditions. The safer and more expansive life conditions are the more people will respond to that by being expansive and willing to take a journey into their own lives.

I’ve always had a heart of love, but it was really suppressed by many things. As my heart opens, I find leaders among our associates, especially people who are willing to find the balance between the masculine and the feminine. They are moving into a space of balance and are able to have the courage to bring that into the world around them. That balance really begins to resonate with other people. As this happens more and more, they resonate back and forth. Confidence is built that doesn’t change and safety shows up. As safety and trust show up people expand more. As they expand more, they build more safety and trust. It takes on a momentum on it’s own from the seed of that leader and how well they can bring a love abundance-based view point to themselves, their life, their family, the organization, the whole thing.

Russ: So, the Z operates here as well?

John: I think the Z operates about everywhere.


I do wonder if that were more of a figure 8 because there is a feedback loop from the lower right corner to the upper left hand corner – either a Z or an 8, or infinity from that perspective. If you look at life that way, we are all individuals who are a part of organizations, whether they are society, a bowling league or whatever it is. Very few people stand alone in the world out there. There is a Z working all the time in all of us. We have four or five or ten Z’s working all at the same time based upon the different organizations and parts of life that we’re in. I’d definitely say yes to your comment, Russ.

Russ: Earlier you mentioned that things would be changing for you soon. You are stepping down as president. What does the immediate future hold for you?

John: Learning and being in balance.  I have hired a president who will be starting in November.  I will move out of a company that as a family business started when I was 8 years old.  I have been involved for over 48 years in homebuilding.  Going through the shift of this personal transformation and ensuring Hearthstone succession plan are my immediate priorities.  In addition, I know my passion for transformation will now open up doors and lead me to a global contribution.  What that is will be shown in it own time and space.

Russ: we’re coming pretty much to the end of our time and I’m wondering if there is anything that I haven’t asked you that you wished I had?

John: I have more of a comment: life is a wonderful journey and the more we can get out there and understand who we are, really understand and have the courage to look at those shadow parts of ourselves, the more we can expand. There is great satisfaction in contributing to ourselves and to our version of God, whatever that may be, and to those around us. I really want to encourage people to look at themselves – look, see and tell the truth. Look at that stuff that literally gets us spinning in the night, sometimes, and have the courage to go through it, because the journey to the other side is a phenomenal thing.

Russ: John, it’s been an honor talking with you and I hope we’ll be able to sustain this connection to hear about your adventures as you move forward.

John: Thank you very much, Russ. I appreciate the opportunity to contribute any way I can.

About: A Fresh Perspective, John Smith

Just a quick note to say how much I enjoyed seeing integral theory being put into practice by people in our integral community. It’s inspiring and reminds me that slowly but surely we are moving collectively towards a more conscious business/capitalism/whatever’s next way of being in the world. Also, am enjoying all the articles and work you do!

In the Spirit of the Season, Paul M. Helfrich