About the Author: Stefaan van Hooydonk is the founder of the Global Curiosity Institute & Business Council Member of Axialent. This article is a shorter version of a dedicated chapter on curiosity and leadership in his book: The Workplace Curiosity Manifesto.

It is hard to be a good leader — whether the source of leadership is being an executive, running a country, or being a frontline manager. It is also hard to find good leaders. An extensive 2015 internal study of twenty thousand executive placements was conducted by the executive search firm Heidrich and Struggles. The study revealed that 40 percent of these newly appointed executives fail within eighteen months.

Curious Leaders Create Successful Cultures

A failure means the executive left, was asked to leave or was performing significantly below expectations. Consistent with data from other research in subsequent years, the success of executive appointments was no better than 50 percent. Executive recruitment seems to be a hit-or-miss activity. Candidates have an equal chance to succeed or fail.

The challenges managers face today are less predictable than they were in the last century. Solutions to problems are not so easily found in previous successes. The power to effect change requires more gentle influence than formal top-down authority. Especially now, leadership is ambidextrous. Leaders need to be good at keeping their ship afloat while, at the same time, reinventing the future. 

Curiosity in its various dimensions is well suited to assist leaders to widen their perspectives, listen intently, engage new challenges, experiment, learn faster, and build organizations that create results in times of crisis.

What is a curious leader?

In a cross-industry curiosity study led by curiosity researcher Todd Kashdan commissioned by Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, professor Kashdan posits several curiosity barriers associated with leaders.

  • Autocratic, top-down leadership behavior stifles curiosity as curious subordinates are not provided with the opportunity to question or challenge decisions, nor are they invited to explore and share novel options.  
  • The prevalence of risk-averse behavior makes leaders opt for proven and safe ideas, thus restricting creative thinking time.  
  • A preference for conformity and fear of standing out from others among managerial peers.  

The above points already highlight a number of dimensions explaining incurious leadership behavior. What becomes clear is leadership positions are sensitive to the nature/nurture divide. Leaders show up with their own level of curiosity, yet simultaneously are also adapting their individual inclination for curiosity to the context they are in.

An interesting finding in the research is that when a CEO displays a healthy dose of curiosity, the company benefits both in terms of an increase in operational efficiency as well as an above openness to exploring new territories.

When the CEO, or the team leader for that matter, is high on curiosity, the members of the organization are more likely to agree with the statement that the organization encourages curiosity. This does not mean employees at all levels of the organization automatically feel encouraged and enabled to show up curiously at work.

Next to being role models, leaders also need to establish habits and interactions, so employees are reassured curiosity is not reserved for people at the top.

Curiosity needs champions. The shadow the manager casts is an important driver for team curiosity. In my research, I have established a linear correlation between the numbers of hours a manager spends on the acquisition of new information and knowledge through reading books or articles, viewing educational videos and taking (e-) classes, listening to podcasts or e-books, and so on.

The more the manager consumes new knowledge, the more the team also follows in the curious behavioral footsteps of the leader. As a result, there is an increase in the hours the team spends on learning to mimic those of the leader. Intuitively this makes sense.

When the manager is curious herself, she will—openly or not—make it clear she values new knowledge in the team. The team will recognize that learning and intellectual exploration is important and will follow her example.  

The inverse is sadly also true. If a manager does not communicate in words or—more importantly in actions—that learning is important, the team refrains from consuming learning. Luckily, not all team members mimic the manager’s learning habits.

Some of them—the A players—are intrinsically so curious, even a non-conducive environment does not stop them from exploring. A-players are not negatively influenced by the behavior of their leader. In summary, curious managers uplift the team and stretch it beyond what they thought was feasible. Incurious managers, on the other hand, stifle the team and hold it back.

Curious Leaders Create Successful Cultures

A 2018 study of three thousand international employees conducted by the Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino disclosed the implications of workplace curiosity and the corresponding leadership support for curiosity. She states curiosity is an important aspect of a company’s performance because of the following reasons:  

  1. When curiosity is triggered, leaders tend to be more intentional and rational about their decision making.
  2. Curiosity makes leaders—and their teams—more adaptable to the dynamics of uncertain market environments.
  3. Curious leaders command higher levels of respect of their followers than incurious leaders.

Workplace curiosity works in real time. When leaders are more curious and invite surprise about everyday activities, the more it has a carry-over effect on team members.  

However, when studying in the above-mentioned Harvard Business School research how leaders viewed curiosity, Professor Francesca Gino found: “Although leaders might say they treasure inquisitive minds, in fact, most stifle curiosity, fearing it will increase risk and inefficiency”.  

On the one hand, executives realize the underlying importance of curiosity in helping to implement their firm’s strategy agenda when it comes to product and services innovation, outwitting competition, winning deals, taking calculated risks in the pursuit of novel and creative outcomes, etc. On the other hand, these same executives are rejecting curiosity as something which goes against the grain of operational efficiency of the organization or that of their team.  

A crucial misconception is that curiosity will naturally occur in any reasonably healthy workplace. In fact, curious work environments are rare. They require deliberate and consistent action. Here are some steps to help you as a leader promote a more curious work environment:

  • Put curiosity on the team agenda.
  • Show up as an all-around curious individual interested in the world, the people around you, and yourself.
  • Ask for (reverse) feedback.
  • Become aware of your question strategies. Are they open-ended or closed?
  • Baseline your own curiosity as well as that of the team.
  • Identify barriers to curiosity in the team, create quick wins and build on their success.Ask the team how they can help in creating a curious environment.

Do try out the above steps and explore on your own how curiosity can lead to building more successful and better performing organizational cultures. 

I invite you to become aware of how you show up as a leader. Are you showing up with curiosity or with judgment? Are you listening to fix or are you listening to learn? Are you projecting yourself a personal desire for continuous learning and growth or not (what type of questions do you allow in your team meetings; questions which confirm what you know already or questions which challenge the status quo)?

These questions will help you become aware of your own curiosity level, trigger you to make curiosity at work intentional and help you start measuring progress.   

Welcome to the community of curious leaders.

I have a dream, and its name is Conscious Kids! And I want us to dream together. With my colleagues at Axialent, I work with great business and people leaders around the world. Fundamentally, we help build conscious cultures and coach leaders to successfully run conscious businesses. I love what I do. I really do it out of passion, and I am rewarded by the outstanding impact this work has on individuals and organizations. And yet, I feel there is so much more that can be done to foster consciousness in our ecosystems. 

A few months ago, at an Axialent Board meeting in Barcelona, I had some sort of revelation: we could also support the leaders of tomorrow – our kids! This revelation made me feel 30 years younger, made my eyes shine, and filled me with renewed energy…and a new sense of noble purpose. I began my work toward this by preparing a series of videos where I addressed what conscious kids means concretely, how we could impact kids around the world, and how to make this revelation real.  

conscious kids

When discussing “kids”, I am referring to potentially three different groups: children ages 7-12, teenagers 13-17, and those preparing to enter their adult and professional life. 

In the first phase of these videos, I addressed the what (help kids raise their consciousness so that they are the owners of their lives), the why (our kids’ freedom of mind is at risk), and the how (to raise our kids’ consciousness and be the owners of their future).  

The what of conscious kids is the DNA so to speak. It is helping kids to become: 

  • The player, rather than the victim of their life 
  • A learner, rather than a typical teenager pretending to know everything 
  • A master of their emotions, rather than being controlled by them 
  • Someone who thinks for themselves, rather than just as they are told to think 
  • Someone who speaks their truth constructively without the fear of avoiding confrontation or conflict and without disrespecting the opinions of others. 

The why of conscious kids is somewhat obvious, yet under-addressed. Kids are facing many challenges today for which they are not prepared. There are more and more challenges coming up that nobody but themselves will have to manage individually and collectively.

As adults, we don’t yet know the solutions to the unique challenges they will face. But it is our job to prepare and empower them. As I see it, our children are endangered by three key phenomena:  

  • Social networks, which are based on algorithms that create circular thinking. Social networks do not only tell us what to think but also unconsciously how to think and what relationships to have or not to have with others. These are all the opposite of critical thinking, and of thinking for oneself.   
  • A dramatic polarization of opinions towards the extremes, which divides people within the same family, community, and country in an increasingly violent and lack of respect for others ‘world. Kids need to discover and master polarity thinking that is not taught at school. 
  • The meteoric arrival of the metaverse will immerse us — our kids first — in a world of virtual and augmented realities. Once again, for the better and for the worse. The metaverse, together with artificial intelligence and transhumanism, is revamping the notion of life and of WHO we are. Psychiatrists and psychotherapists have already evidenced how virtual worlds in some video games are leading our kids to face serious risks of loss of identity, confusion about reality, and what the sense of life is — not to mention the risks of manipulation and brainwashing in virtual reality worlds. The metaverse could also be a world of opportunities for the best — if we infuse it with consciousness and mindfulness.  

One thing for example that is of major concern, I think, is the relationship our kids should consciously build with their AI avatar(s): The avatar is their self-representation / projection in the virtual worlds. We need to help them decide and define how this avatar could be their own hero: a hero who can help them become the best version of themselves in real life, and NOT a confusing chimera of someone they are not and should never be. 

My fourth video on conscious kids was a very early reflection on how we can help kids raise their consciousness and be the owners of their life and future. A couple of possibilities include:  

  • A community-based learning & development program where kids will learn from each other, from their parents, from teachers, psychologists, therapists, and pediatricians, from their sports coach, from universities, from corporate foundations, and from all kinds of educational governmental agencies and NGOs — with the support of high-tech companies through strategic alliances. 
  • Gamification — through the investigation of how kids of different ages learn, providing video games, sports, art, and/or physical projects that are tailored to raising consciousness. 

Our aim is to become a marketplace and connector, leveraging the ecosystem of private and public initiatives around the world for raising our kids’ mindfulness, and their ability to make this world a better place for them and for others. 

Take a look at my series of videos about Conscious Kids:

Watch my entire series of videos about Conscious Kids!

At this stage I have three key inferences to be validated or not as we are confronted by realities in our experience: 

  • The ways kids learn and develop are obviously different from how we structure L&D programs for adults — and the way kids will learn & develop in the coming years and decades will be completely different from what it is today. Their world is changing dramatically at a pace that we adults might not even be able to imagine. 
  • Kids and their education are our future: I don’t know how yet, but I intuit that the kids themselves will be the masters of this game. They will tell us, we will learn from them, and they will make us grow. We will not be the teachers — just enablers, facilitators, and coaches. What a shift of paradigm in our education approach!  
  • Likewise, with AI and the metaverse we really need to figure out how together, kids and adults, we will shape the world and the life we want. 

The next step in this exciting journey is to develop the how suite further. Stay tuned for further videos in our next phase, towards the end of the year. I am looking forward to this journey ahead, and hope you are with us! 

In today´s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) and BANI (brittle, anxious, nonlinear, incomprehensible) world, our capacity to face challenges and respond effectively is key for sustained performance.  

Among the key capabilities required to navigate in this context is empowerment. 

I understand empowerment as: “The process of gaining freedom and power to do what you want or to control what happens to you”. 

So, fostering a culture of empowerment is about helping others connect with their own possibility of making things happen and driving actions towards a vision.  

We cannot “empower others”, but we can invite others to take ownership by creating the right container. People must step into their own power and ability to impact. 

Empowerment accelerates growth and leads to faster decision-making. Agile organizations that enable innovation lead to satisfied clients with high-quality products and fulfilled employees.  

Unlike autocratic leadership, a culture of empowerment encourages people to play to their strengths, grow and develop, and build self-confidence. It brings out the best in people in service of a higher purpose.  

How cultures of empowerment accelerate growth

In a culture of empowerment: 

  • people work with autonomy and with a sense of purpose (goal-directed actions). 
  • day to day decisions with a clear intent and communication are pushed downwards to ensure faster decision-making and agility. 
  • decisions are based on facts vs opinions. 
  • accountability is the other side of the coin; with greater power comes greater responsibility. 
  • leaders promote high support and high delegation.   
  • trust is the cornerstone. 

What are some of the common challenges in building a culture of empowerment? 

  1. Fear of failure: One of the most common challenges is fear of failure. In an attempt to mitigate this fear, leaders begin to micromanage others and try to control them step by step to ensure the outcome they are hoping for. This kills empowerment and innovation and causes people to feel disengaged because their creativity is being suppressed. 
  1. Lack of purpose and direction:  not setting clear guardrails of the impact we are looking for will end up in people feeling lost and with a sense of meaninglessness at work. Connecting our work with a higher purpose fuels engagement and provides guidance as a headlight. 
  1. Opposing to others’ voices and ideas: killing peoples’ ideas before they are even born is a fast segway to building an evasive and risk-averse culture with people laying low to avoid being pointed out or criticized. 
  1. Watering down accountability: leaders are responsible for creating a high trust and high support environment to drive empowerment and high accountability in their team. They set the behavioral standards that are required in the organization, they live by example, and they demand others to do the same. Holding each other accountable in each other’s roles is crucial to building this type of culture.  

In the words of Steve Jobs, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do, we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” We can build a culture of empowerment by aligning the leaders’ behaviors, systems, and symbols of the organization to reflect empowerment fully. 

These are some essential steps we need to consider: 

  1. Leading like a coach: Leaders don´t tell others what to do, they help people come up with their own answers. They support the team to open newly unthought-of possibilities and push them forward. They know their team members, are confident in what they can bring up together, and provide enough space for people to try new things, learn and become the best version of themselves. They establish clear boundaries and set the standards by role modeling. 
  1. Creating a psychological safety and trusting environment: We all need to feel safe to fail, learn and continue improving. Bringing our whole selves to work is still a challenge in many organizations. If we are living in fear of criticism or retaliation, we will hold back, and not be able to push the limits of our creativity and help the organization find new heights.   
  1. Developing feedback as a habit on your team: Having honest conversations on a recurrent basis about what has worked and what needs to be addressed in the future is needed to fuel empowerment and grow accountability. We can all easily fall into a pattern of not sharing feedback and allowing small resentments to grow over time. It takes some intentionality to do this, and a process, until it becomes a habit — it does not just happen on its own.  
  1. Shifting into a player and growth mindset: Focusing on the things that we can control and approaching our challenges as an opportunity to continue learning and growing provides us with the energy and right attitude to sit in the driver’s seat of our life and own our power to change the things we need to. 
  1. Acting courageously: Is about showing up and doing our best in congruency with our values and being detached from the potential outcome.  It takes courage to take each of these steps. There is a reason that cultures of empowerment are few and far in between at times. It can be a difficult process to begin and to work through all the barriers, but has exponentially positive results.  

Fear-based cultures constrain results by maintaining the status quo, causing people to feel to disconnected from the organization, and limiting innovation and engagement through command and control strategies. Victimhood arises, and people tend to blame others to survive and prevail in the system — while avoiding taking risks. 

Instead, a culture of empowerment brings out the best in people by unlocking their potential, increasing performance, promoting doing things well, and establishing trusted relationships with others. It is a key lever to drive sustainable growth. 


 
CXO you are, after all, known as a courageous individual & the culture is a reflection of the leadership (past and present).
Years of expertly-executed reorganizing and cost cutting have recently been exchanged for retooling and future-proofing the company against disruption, uncertainty and change. An increased ability to anticipate, adapt and respond more quickly will drive greater advantage for the organization, keep us healthy and strong for the road ahead.
“WE’RE SAYING & DOING A LOT RE: CHANGE/TRANSFORMATION”
For many months, the board and the CEO have been focused on a more generative and healthier balance of efficiency, velocity, flexibility, long-termism, sustainabla-bla-bla results, strengthening core yada-yada values, human capitabla-bla and clarity of purpose + profit bla-bla-bla. (Even if you believe in these “buzz words” – we all recognize that they can be a trigger/distraction.)
sadasdasdad
 
 
The organization is DOING a lot in the name of change with regard to strategy, vision and business process. And your company has already invested millions in new product development/innovation, agile processes/structures, office design, change management protocol, new internal communication campaigns and many town halls. You even built beautiful digital centers of excellence.
 
 
 
“BUT STILL, TRANSFORMATION ISN’T HAPPENING FAST ENOUGH”
Meanwhile, new competitors are growing rapidly and creating a significant threat. Despite all the changes you have made, the market is telling you that you are not executing fast enough and the transformation is not happening deeply enough. Your brands and digital channels are growing X times slower than your competitors. Even your newer executives, hired from companies that were “born agile and digital” are experiencing surprising difficulties and unexpected blockages from within the organization.
You strongly believe that the company culture is what’s causing the lag, drag and counterproductive friction. Culture is unintentionally undermining the execution of your growth strategy. The organization is not moving forward in terms of the performance improvements expected by now. Your leadership team wants better results. Accordingly, you committed to your pioneering CEO that you would Transform (with a capital T) your company into a courageous and adaptive, high-performance culture — one that is fully engaged, agile, creative and collaborative…one that is more capable of digital-yadayada, customer-centribla-bla, etc.
“Transformation with a capital T, which we define as an intense, organization-wide program to enhance performance (an earnings improvement of 25 percent or more, for example) and to boost organizational health. When such transformations succeed, they radically improve the important business drivers, such as topline growth, capital productivity, cost efficiency, operational effectiveness, customer satisfaction, and sales excellence.” –Bucy, Hall and Yakola (McKinsey & Co.)
THE BIG “T” RARELY FOLLOWS A “DO AS I SAY” PATH; EVEN THE “DO AS I DO” PATH HAS LIMITS
Your C-suite peers and report directs are likely somewhat cynical about the idea of culture Transformation being successful at your company (and justifiably so) — not because they think you are insincere, but because they are convinced that the system “is what it is.” The system always wins, and the system itself lacks the objectivity to be fixed by the system.

Our traditions are usually stronger than our intentions to change.

Plus when the other execs talk about being on board with fixing the culture with transformation efforts, whether they are aware of it or not, they are likely talking about transformation with a little “t.” In the spirit of Bruce Lee, rather than being in such a hurry to fix it, we’re better off if we first focus on enriching our understanding of it. Most executive teams lack a shared language and understanding of this complex topic. Most HR and change management functions don’t have the expertise to best support the executive team with an effective orientation to the topic let alone help them make a conscious choice about committing (or not) to a strong plan to develop cultural empathy and lead the way. (The strong HR execs that do have the expertise, are often caught in a very tough spot, because they are viewed as part of the system themselves.)
Most executives are unaware of how unaware they are when it comes to leading Transformation and shaping culture. We are often unaware of our own contribution to the very thing we complain about. When it comes to the big “T,” we (leaders) are often the limiting factor. Here is what I mean: Many senior executives and their peers don’t really know how culture works from a socio-technical systems (see image below) standpoint. Most don’t know the difference between organizational culture and climate. Most don’t have a clear understanding of the levers for change, the sequence of steps, the essential versus important, etc. Most don’t have experience experimenting (and learning) with emerging best practices in adult development.
BEING > DOING; BUT MOST EXECUTIVE TEAMS AREN’T READY FOR THAT
You and your peers have earned the benefit of the doubt — that you are sincere about change (+ you have more than enough courageous) — but only you know if you’re serious about the deep (identity) work of Transformation necessary to change your individual and collective BE-ING level.
 

“Most are not serious about change because it requires senior managers to change their behavior. You know how corporate bosses can be. This is not always a very welcome method. I’ve been kicked out of plenty of boardrooms.” Eric Ries (author of The Lean Startup)

 
Unlike Mr. Ries, I am actually not advocating that you should (or shouldn’t) be serious about it. (No need to kick me out of your boardroom.) I believe it makes total sense if you’re not ready yet. I believe it depends on your business context and it depends on what you/your system truly value most. If you (and your system) value control, obedience and compliance to old norms – then it is a mistake to promise new standards of courage, collaboration and creativity. It is a mistake to make promises about the big “T” when you are only ready for the little “t.”
How do you know when you are ready? Typically, readiness doesn’t come until you have suffered enough trying to fix it the old way – just focused on the doing & trying harder. Once you are dissatisfied enough with your current-level results, then you are ready to consider expanding the goal beyond executing/DO-ING the little “t” and instead work on the big “T” = the BE-ING. Our biases/norms today cause us to react to change with a disproportionate reliance on the “DOING” (technical domains/hard skills, e.g., technology, behaviors) versus securing the path to value by also focusing on the “BE-ING” (human domains/soft skills, e.g., mindsets and identity). Devaluing serious attention on the human domain (in favor of the technical) has historically been the default protocol for most corporations. To succeed at the big “T”, we need both at full strength; we need to upgrade both.

While you may be pitching the big “T,” the majority of the executive team may only be agreeing to the little “t.” Despite the frustration and burnout, if they are not yet ready to agree to the big “T,” then be patient. They will be ready soon enough. For now, “no” is the second-best answer to “yes.” At least then, you can all make that choice consciously/more deliberately. Again, they will be ready soon enough to choose readiness. Change is a chronic condition. It is persistent and long lasting. There will be plenty more suffering. Eventually, once the suffering becomes too great…those of you that stuck around will collectively be more ready to courageously experiment with the deeper, more effective work of the big “T” together.
 

It’s not your fault if you’re not collectively ready for the big “T” right now – but nonetheless it is your responsibility.

 
Here is a sampling of consistent leadership team quotes from executives (in various states of individual readiness) across many different industries:

BLAME, DRAMA AND LACK OF TRUST ARE THE ENEMIES OF RAPID ADAPTATION & COURAGE
Many executive teams approach culture change with the wrong mindset and a limited set of tools. Few ever get to the real work of Transformation.
We often hear root-cause explanations (for why it’s so hard) that sound more like “blame-centric” perspectives and worldviews, suggesting that specific people (e.g., millennials, old-timers) “who just don’t get it” make the culture work difficult. Many of us get too caught up in the drama of focusing on where/who to blame for the lack of progress. The analysts/media will blame the brand (for being exactly what they said it was — sleepy, stuck in the past). The board will blame the C-suite. The C-suite/leadership team blames the board, and now they blame you, the CXO (but not to your face). The leadership team blames each other. The leadership team blames HR. The leadership team and HR blame middle management and their inability to “get with the program.” Middle management blames leadership and their unwillingness to listen. The frontline employees blame their direct manager and the corporate ivory tower. And the suffering continues.
This response is a reflection of the current culture. The culture is a reflection of the current (and past) leadership. This tendency for blame and persecution will only stifle improvement + learning & development efforts and make it even harder. I like to say, if it’s hard for you… then chances are you’re doing it wrong. There is a much more effective response available when the team is ready for it.
INDIVIDUAL COURAGE DOESN’T SCALE. COURAGE IS A TEAM SPORT.
It’s good that you are courageous. Unfortunately, courage doesn’t scale from an individual act. Courage is a group behavior. Individual heroics are distracting and represent a VERY misguided storyline when it comes to building a courageous culture. The reality is that most courageous individuals often appear less courageous when they are working in a low trust environment. Lencioni’s work showed us that when the environment is lacking trust then the consequence is a paralyzing sense of bystander-ing that occurs from a fear of conflict, fear of speaking up and fear of making mistakes, lack of commitment, etc.
Usually, at least one leadership team member (avoiding ownership of the trust issue altogether) will say something out of desperation to bring the focus back to courage like:
 

“I just want courageous people who will try new things and charge up the hill on their own; I want generals, not soldiers waiting for me to tell them what to do. They should know what to do by now. They’re either soft, they’re lazy, they don’t care or they don’t get it. People need to know we are serious about this transformation. Maybe we should fire some of the cowardly people to make the rest move faster.”

 

 
 
The overwhelming majority of your employees aren’t lazy and they aren’t cowardly. They aren’t stuck; employees do get it. Your employees are delivering on exactly what you/your system still values most. They are actually delivering on the current, unwritten norms of the culture = conformity.
Inside an organization, courage is not something you DO alone.
 
 
 
As the existential, humanistic psychologist/philosopher Rollo Reese May famously said (alongside Viktor Frankl and other major proponents of existential psychotherapy),
 

“the opposite of courage…is not cowardice; it is conformity”— it is the need to fit in. 

Courage, like conformity, has to be the group’s agreed-upon way of BEING – a group identity – for it to be scalable and sustainable.

We have to learn to make courage an act of conformity – not an act of valor. 

 
The expert way to do that, is to learn-by-doing – with the explicit intent of becoming. (check out this multi-dimensional example of “courage as a team sport” illustrated by the SPURS)

So if courage is a team sport, how do we make courage a cultural act of conformity?
Psychological safety is the answer, according to Amy Edmondson research from Harvard. Her work illustrates how great performers who find themselves in fear-based, aggressive-defensive and passive-defensive cultures will likely behave like they are afraid to make mistakes and therefore don’t take risks and don’t pursue learning new things as energetically (or as wide-spread) as courageous cultures. The same employees, once they transfer out of the fear-based environment into a constructive culture, will behave courageously in the face of new challenges and changing circumstances. The same goes for adaptability and agility. Most organizations learn in the long run that it is not simply about DOING courageous/agile stuff; it is about BEING courageous/agile. Transformation with a big “T” is a team sport. Transformation happens more quickly and more deeply in community. Culture = the visible and invisible norms (e.g., systems, symbols, behaviors) of our community. Culture is about learning what it takes to fit in—beyond the poster on the wall and the verbal and nonverbal messages.
BE-ING CURIOUS, BEING CLEAR AND BE-ING CONSISTENT
Culture is about decoding the way we get stuff done, successfully around here – historically, currently and ideally. Leaders have to be crystal clear, aligned and exquisitely consistent about their approach/curiosity to explore those gaps.

Leaders need a reliable, MRI level of detailed visibility into the invisible components of culture (and a simple model) to understand and discuss where you are currently as a culture — and where you want to be in the near future. You need to see clearly where you have anomalies of ideal culture success and current culture gaps. To have an effective culture strategy, you can’t afford to use anecdotes or guess about the gap to be closed. It is easy to check. “Check” means the expert use of qualitative and quantitative tools. “Check” also means ask. Just ask. And your openness to receive the answers matters. Culture isn’t declarative; it’s interrogative. Here’s a line of questioning that I use to check on the awareness, urgency and alignment of executive teams involved in both the big “T” and little “t” imperatives:
I’m curious…you are a year or so into this transformation…how’s it going? What are you most excited about? What are you most concerned about? How are you feeling about the transformation?

  1. What is the business reason/goal for this transformation? What are the key metrics used to measure degrees of success in the execution of this transformation?
  2. What are the business consequences of not transforming successfully? On a scale of 1 – 10, how important/urgent is this? What if you don’t intervene and people just do (think, relate, act) as they have been doing to date?
  3. IDEAL STATE: Do the executives who make up the leadership team have clarity about the ideal culture (vision) you are transforming to? Imagine if you woke up a year from now and find that the vision has come true and your goals have been accomplished. What does that look like? When culture change has taken hold, it makes it a lot easier and more likely to achieve your industry-leading/pioneering performance-level goals. How can you tell? What does that look like/feel like? What is different? What are some key habits and areas of mastery that you are excited about? What are people inside and outside your company saying about it?
  4. CURRENT STATE: Compared to this ideal, what is missing in the current situation? Do these executives have clarity about the current culture and where you are at now? Do you have individual and collective diagnostic tools? From your perspective, how do people need to perform differently in the next X years in order to transform?
  5. CULTURE PLAN: Do the executives agree on the gap to close? Do they agree on the plan, priority and sequence to close it? What have you done already? What is keeping you from closing the gap and shifting to the ideal culture? What are the identified blockers/obstacles?
  6. PERSONAL IMPACT: Why did you raise your hand for this? What matters the most to you? Why? What happens to you (personally) if you don’t accomplish the vision? What happens to the council?
  7. Does the leadership team have clarity, shared language and understanding about how culture evolves and the impact of history on the current state? Have they identified causal factors (e.g., systems, structures) that are part of the work climate? Do they understand how they reinforce and shape the current culture and what may be levers for change in improvement plans?
  8. How well does the leadership team embody the ideal cultural attributes? How are they being supported? Are they first going to create a shared learning environment for both the technical and human dimensions of change?
  9. How many people in the organization, beyond the leadership team, are being impacted by the transformation?

NEW CONVERSATIONS AND PERSPECTIVES ABOUT CULTURE
Senior leaders report culture as being critical to business success. A new approach is needed to support leaders responsible for shaping culture.

  • Understand and appreciate the complexity and unique culture perspectives of peers and experts.
  • Understand how culture is created and the impact of history on the current state as well as important aspects of the work climate that shape and reinforce the current culture.
  • Build a common language for understanding the layers of culture using qualitative and quantitative methods.
  • Discover how culture evolves. Identify paths that increase the likelihood of shared learning and positive results with any major change effort.
  • Identify causal factors (systems, structures, etc.) that are part of the work climate. Understand how they reinforce the current culture and how they may be levers for change in improvement plans.

It is always amazing to see what is possible when we engage each other in a newly designed dialogue/mutual learning experience. Some very insightful commentary and shifts of perspective take place. Where transformation is the goal, the unit of work is dialogue.
ADDITIONAL EMPATHY AND MOMENTUM
I am always reminded that we (leaders) have a lot to learn about the complexity of culture change efforts and the impact our own leadership has on keeping the status quo (traditions) in place — despite our intentions to lead change. Perhaps in conversations like these, more leaders can begin to see how MAYBE it makes sense that our people are stuck and confused about what to do with regard to culture change because we (the leaders) are stuck and confused too. Usually, that sparks an environment/energy that is more ready than ever to learn how to shift culture more quickly and sustainably.
THREE PART APPROACH TO BUILD A MORE COURAGEOUS CULTURE
The approach and sequence matter. The means is the end.

The idea of the work to be done is simpletest and learn what works (in the context of business) to help deliver better results + build stronger team trust + create stronger sense of individual fulfillment and satisfaction. The details of the execution are complex.

EVERY TRANSFORMATION JOURNEY IS DIFFERENT
It is about engaging with others differently. It is about how we choose to take care of each other while pursuing excellence, together. Here are examples of journeys, shifts and models (used by Axialent) that are most effective at helping high-performance teams build an even more courageous culture inside of multinational organizations.
“BE agile versus DO agile” (Supporting one of the largest AGILE transformation projects in the world.)


“From Bureaucratic to Innovative” (Supporting R&D teams across the world leverage the potential present in the system.)


COURAGEOUS CULTURE IS A LIFESTYLE CHOICE
We can’t BECOME courageous just by deciding to do so any more than we can just BECOME healthy just by deciding to do so. Deciding isn’t the same as being. If everyone could just BE the better, more effective version of ourselves we would. We would all eat healthy, exercise, meditate and stop doing the old counterproductive habits that trip us up. We aren’t lazy, apathetic, lacking discipline or willpower.  We all have competing priorities – some we aren’t even consciously aware of. We are all at our own current level – working on our own next level. We are all somewhat socially-defined and self-authoring. We are all social beings. We all need to fit in. Courage is a group behavior & a way of working/BE-ING together. A courageous culture unleashes and amplifies our courage – it expands our capability to learn and adapt.

To win today, high-velocity organizations need to fuel unprecedented learning, awareness, people development, cognitive flexibility, complex problem-solving and impeccable coordination of action (at scale). To sustain it at scale, we need to build deliberately developmental cultures (mutual learning environment vs unilateral control) fostering safe, courageous, high-trust, high engagement, productive conflict/healthy debate, mutual accountability and a focus on results.
How will you help your organization become the kind of culture that is even more courageous, adaptive and agile? We (collectively) have to work on BECOMING that kind of culture over time – becoming an environment where diverse human beings can bring 110% of their grit, energy, intelligence, creativity and courage to bear on the increased challenges that face us all.
Change is a persistent, unstoppable, chronic condition (a 21st-century lifestyle) that we’ll always have to live with & embrace together as a group.
The condition is complex, but the treatment is simple. Do more of what makes you stronger: EQ/Mindsets+AQ/Muscle Building. Prioritize and strengthen the muscle groups that upgrade the culture vs fall victim to our unconscious obedience to current norms.
We’re all always working on culture — we’re either helping it become more adaptive and courageous or we’re unintentionally keeping it stuck.
CXO, You got this!?
 


We are all young revolutionaries in the early years of the biggest revolution in human history. The digital/tech revolution (a.k.a. the Third Industrial Revolution) is barely 50 years old. It took us more than 200,000 years to reach a population of 1 billion and only 200 years more to reach approximately 8 billion. But having more humans won’t help us win this war. To “beat the bots” (#BTB), we will need to BE more human. This isn’t about living in harmony; it’s just about living.
 
~8 billion of us are still learning what Game of Thrones and Facebook already know:
The best way to successfully pursue happiness and take care of ourselves is to take care of each other.
 
We are still learning how to become one healthy global community.
The exponential change— VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) — that we are experiencing today brings a spectrum of possible futures and unintended challenges (e.g., algorithmic loopholes). We think it’s going to turn out OK, but none of us knows what’s really going on or what’s going to happen next. It’s like “a horse loose in a hospital”— we’ve never seen this before; everything is changing so fast.
But there are some things that aren’t changing fast enough.
We all seek our own happiness; we’re mostly taking care of ourselves. We have the same survival instincts, selfishness and self-preservation blindspots (biases). We are prone to be focused on protecting our individual throne or on smaller tribal conflicts and drama. “It seems like everyone everywhere is super mad about everything.” In our revolution, there are many isolated individuals and communities and too much unnecessary suffering.
Too many people in the world come to these challenges of disruption, conflict and differences with the wrong mindset and a limited, outdated set of tools:

  • We approach these challenges with arrogance, impotence and counterproductive habits
  • Our brains go “reactive” during the real-life stress, emotional scarcity and sideways pressure of pursuing our goals during times of change
  • We resort to unhealthy social sorting, polarization, hostile sports fan identity politics, negative partisanship, etc.

 
THIS ISN’T ABOUT LIVING IN HARMONY 
We’re so ineffective when we’re working on VUCA alone and when we’re not fully awake— even when our intentions are good. Our traditions and fears are stronger and more reliable than our declarations and desires to change. Without a “next level” of proficiency in building healthy communities, expanding constructive cultures, finding common ground and inviting a sense of belonging, there will be continued polarization and isolation.
 
IT’S JUST ABOUT LIVING
If all we have is isolation, silos, passive defensive and aggressive defensive norms, then we can forget about adapting successfully, we can forget about innovating effectively, and we can forget about getting to the complex problem-solving more quickly. We can forget about winning this war. 
 
THE FOCUS & MINDSET OF THE PROTAGONIST/LEADER
In a healthy community, the role of the leader is to name the focus, priorities and purpose—the debate. Whether you use Facebook, read stories about Mark Zuckerberg, or have seen the global HBO sensation “Game of Thrones” by George R.R. Martin, the protagonist in each of these narratives speaks of a similar storyline.
 
FACEBOOK AS A PROTAGONIST
Mr. Zuckerberg has named the similar debate: shifting away from the old, broad mission of “making the world more open and connected” toward the next level (2017) Facebook mission statement: Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together. Progress now requires humanity coming together not just as cities or nations, but also as a global community.”
 

Despite our differences, Facebook’s new mission today is to help people all over the world find common ground and bring the world closer together— a new manifesto, presumably with new performance goals that will require increased levels of teamwork, collaboration, agility and innovation.
 
GAME OF THRONES AS A PROTAGONIST

In the Game of Thrones series, rulers of various thrones struggle mightily to bring the world closer together as one community, to join forces, to fight together, to focus on a common goal and a common enemy. The final season 8 airs April 14, 2019. In the last episode of season 7, the protagonist Jon Snow and many of the rulers of other thrones put aside their differences to build an alliance. All of these are very different communities and some are life-long, brutal enemies— and they are now risking everything to come together.
“There is only one war that matters — the Great War. And it is here. There is only one enemy worthy of our attention.”
They are more aware that the time has come to stop fighting each other and instead join forces to become one united community, with one goal, standing side by side, fighting one new, unexpected enemy (it’s in the box). In this scene, Jon Snow intends to reveal what they are up against. Jon Snow names the debate. He says:
“This isn’t about living in harmony, it’s just about living. The same thing is coming for all of us…a general you can’t negotiate with…an army that doesn’t leave corpses behind on the battlefield. A million people live in this city, they are about to become a million more soldiers in the army of the dead.” 
 
NEXT-LEVEL SHIFTS HAPPEN IN COMMUNITY
Every expansive shift from our “current level” to our “next level” happens more predictably, more quickly and more deeply in community. In an earlier scene of season 7 in the caves of Dragonstone, Jon Snow sees drawings on the walls from the Children of the Forest depicting White Walkers. He realizes that the Children and the First Men fought together against a common enemy, and now he shares that in order to win, they should too.
“They fought together, against their common enemy. Despite their differences, despite their suspicions— together.  And we need to do the same if we’re going to survive, because the enemy is real. It’s always been real.”

Rising to the next level happens during the ongoing, mutual process of raising one another up, shifting to higher levels of awareness and higher standards of purpose, relationship and performance— thus changing the way we think, behave and collaborate so we can more effectively get to the complex adaptive problem-solving needed to deliver next-level business outcomes. When you “take your eyes off of yourself” and take care of each other (train together), amazing things happen.

Just like Game of Thrones and Facebook, we are shifting from our current level of performance (previous mission) to our next level of performance (a new master plan).
In order to rise to the challenge of our next level, we have to walk that talk. We have to BE the kind of people and BECOME the kind of community that can deliver on the new mission. At the end of season 7, they tip the box over and the horrible creature is revealed…the enemy that defies their logic. It doesn’t defy our logic; it’s a zombie story about a zombie apocalypse. We all love zombie apocalypse storylines. The leaders of the thrones are in shock and disbelief about what they have just seen. Jon has made his point…he thinks.
But like Game of Thrones, in real life, we never get around to focusing 100 percent of our resources on the bigger goal of fulfilling the mission and delivering on the growth goals until we get past our own smaller conflicts, drama and distractions. Getting to the next level doesn’t happen unless we can first win the war— the Great War. For us, it is right here. Do you see it?

Note the box with the next level/new mission. What do you see standing between our next level (new mission) and us?
This line represents a massive transition, a massive transformation and a massive local+global breakthrough. To rise to the occasion, we will need to become masters at getting unstuck, liberators of our unsober minds, and masters at winning the transition. Those with the fewest blindspots win. We all know that, right? So why do we delay and struggle when it comes to prioritizing our own deep/identity work and our culture transformation programs?
 
THE STRATEGY OF REVOLUTION
As a fellow crusader, I have worked in the business transformation domain, innovation strategy space and studied social and cultural change (revolution) for a couple of decades. I have been focused on learning all I can about the challenges happening in the trenches of the Great War, specifically about this transition point. I have found insights from people you may know. I have studied the work of global scholars and collaborated with researchers and thought leaders like Gene Sharp and Jamila Raqib at the Albert Einstein Institution. They have documented the most effective techniques and strategies for nonviolent action from almost every revolution throughout history. The mission of the Albert Einstein Institution is “advancing freedom through nonviolent action.” There is an award-winning documentary on them and their work called “How to Start a Revolution.”

People all over the world seek after this documentary and their books. In some countries, being in possession of one of these books will get you thrown in jail. Countries around the world seek these books—anywhere where people are:

  • Opposing dictatorship, combating corruption and pursuing economic fairness.
  • Shifting the politics and strategy of dominant social power structures.

Securing civil rights, women’s empowerment and environmental protection.

Jamila Raqib works with Gene Sharp in Boston, Massachusetts, where she has been the executive director of the Albert Einstein Institution for the last 15 years. She was a 2017 Nobel Peace Prize nominee. Interestingly, Jamila is also a research affiliate at the MIT Media Lab where she has been exploring how innovations in technology and education can contribute to more effective, nonviolent strategies that lead to healthy, liberated communities.
 
THE ENEMY IS NOT WHO YOU THINK IT IS
Jamila and I have talked about some interesting lessons to be learned from their research that can be applied to business transformation today. You can decide if this applies to your business. I’ve been experimenting with these insights with Jamila’s help for the last decade.

One of my biggest takeaways was this: In the face of both business transformation and social revolution alike, we hear ourselves say that it is easy to spot the champions of change (revolutionaries) and the resistors of change (evil dictators). In our hearts, we instinctively feel like we are champions of change over on the right.

And since we are “champions of change (the good guys),” we are (of course) focused on the mission and are committed to defeating the remaining “resistors of change” that are defending the status quo. Very few of us, if asked, would ever say that we are in the “resistors” category. They are the problem, not us. It’s us versus them.
But if we are over here in this camp championing the mission of change, why do we still have so much trouble with change? How is it possible that only a few remaining “resistors of change” could wield so much power over the system, undermining our progress?

What do the defenders of the status quo know that we don’t? What is the counter force or the dominating power they have over us champions? What’s the other secret in the box?
The power of the status quo doesn’t come from the resistors. It comes from the implicit consent of non-resistors…the silent neutral majority…the folks in the middle.
The essence of Jamila and Gene’s theory of power is this: Without the implicit unconscious consent, obedience and silence of non-resistors, the dominant power structure would have little power. (A dictator’s source of power is not violence, guns, tanks, armies…it is the people that are cooperating, manufacturing the guns, delivering the equipment, etc.) The power of the status quo comes from the silent neutral majority’s unconscious obedience to the norm and the current-level priorities, traditions and preferences to focus on other things.

Without full awareness of what’s happening, we tend to react unconsciously in autopilot mode. We let our brains go to sleep, like the Zombies that Jon Snow was talking about.
What does that sound like or look like in business? Organizational contradictions are a clear symptom of this unconscious obedience to the status quo. When the people inside of our company are only partially awake (also partially asleep), our companies exhibit this as organizational “walk the talk” contradictions. The more leadership zombies, the more dominant the zombie culture, the more contradictions we have.

We all have individual “walk the talk” contradictions where our behavior does not match our constructive values. They may show up like common aggressive-defensive and passive-defensive leadership styles that we resort to under stress. If these styles are blindspots, that’s trouble. We can’t fix what we don’t notice.
It can also be rooted in mindsets that sound like this: “I’m not against the new mission. I’m all for change and the future, but I’m really busy,” says the zombie leader.  Busy is another safe place for avoiding the work that matters. We don’t get points for being busy. Points are for successful prioritization, efficiency, productivity and progress. “No points for busy.”(Seth Godin)
Many of us are trapped in a scarcity mindset, fixed mindset or knower mindset. These contradictions + mindsets + frozen worldviews create a sense of powerlessness.

This unconscious obedience is NOT a conscious choice but a preconscious choice. Thousands of years of evolution have taught us to focus our attention in the wrong place— the place that does not make us more resourceful and does NOT make us CHAMPIONS of change. Instead, it points our focus in places that make us trapped along with the silent neutral majority. Most of us will resort to old habits, like when we diet or have a New Year’s resolution to lose 20 pounds. For example, when it’s late at night, I’m tired and there are cookies in the pantry, I’ll give in. Or when I promise my wife and kids that I’m going to try to not yell so much or get angry so quickly over little things. Or when I tell my boss that I’m going to try to ask more questions, be more curious at work and collaborate with my colleagues more often because I’ve been told that I seem controlling or too forceful. It isn’t that I’m consciously resisting doing what I said I wanted to do; it’s my unconscious obedience to the current level–a blindspot of obedience to the devil I know.
Part of the problem is that our instinct isn’t to prepare or get ready for this kind of war. Our instinct says “just GO; go change your behavior; just do it now.” And we try to shift to new behaviors using our old mental models, summoning more willpower so we can try harder. Seriously, that’s how many of us try to fix evolutionary brain biases. Then we’re surprised when it doesn’t work.
This preconscious, zombie-like challenge especially affects those of us who think of ourselves as successful, accomplished, intelligent leaders of change and champions of the new. It affects us the most because our identity (our ego) couldn’t possibly let us believe that we might be trapped in the silent neutral majority. We think, “I got this.” We couldn’t possibly believe that we might also suffer from the same learned helplessness and unconscious biases as others. We think we are over here, but most of us are unknowingly and unconsciously trapped like everyone else in the middle.

Jon Snow says: “There is only one enemy worthy of our attention.” Can you see who our enemy is now?
 
THE ENEMY IS US 
We all have this latent zombie source code already in us: unconscious obedience to the norm. It’s how our inner game (mindset) drives our outer game (our behavior). It drives the results we get unless we choose to be conscious and rewrite it. Without awareness, we only have our default ways of thinking and behaving. Without awareness, we only have habit. We are on autopilot (asleep) like zombies.

The enemy is our own lack of awareness and socially defined, default (status quo) reactive state. Most companies are investing in the individual and collective shift away from a current level that’s stuck in a bureaucratic, zombie-like, drama-filled culture known for being too slow, territorial (siloed) and driven by toxic competition, perfectionism, risk aversion, command and control, CYA leadership… toward a more constructive culture with healthier achiever-oriented norms that are humanistic, encouraging and full of engagement.

With awareness, we have a choice. We can learn to see more and use new paradigms/mental models. With awareness, we have the ability to add multiple outside perspectives, ideas and distinctions to our own. We can choose whatever is most resourceful and effective. More options and choices help us make better decisions, design better strategies and take better action— all of which lead to better results. When we see more, we can intervene more effectively in the things that we care about most.

YOU& I CAN CHOOSE TO BE THE PROTAGONISTS
You are Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, Sheryl Sandbergand Mark Zuckerberg. You are the protagonist/revolutionary of your life, your family, your team and your community. I am the protagonist of my life. Anything that happens in my life is my responsibility. Anything that happens in your life is your responsibility. Being the kind of person that orients from a protagonist mindset more often is not an intellectual exercise. To actually rewrite the source code, walk the talk and be a champion of change versus a zombie leader, it takes practice…a lot of practice.

It is not a trivial thing to do, but it is a compassionate and kind thing to do. It takes practice to help others realize that their current story is not the whole story. We can help each other recover more quickly and help everyone find their power without insulting, labeling or blaming each other.
Transformation is a learned capability. Everybody has these muscles; they just haven’t been developed yet. To grow them, we have to train them every day. We have to get our reps in— in every conversation, every phone call, every meeting, every agenda, every disagreement, every failure and every celebration. It has to be an integral part of our community, not something we heard in a workshop or read in a book. It has to be integrated into who we are.
 
WE WIN THE WAR BY TRAINING TOGETHER, IN COMMUNITY 
If we want to build these muscles and get stronger, faster, we need to train together. That’s how adult development works: peer-based learning communities of practice, constantly building protagonist mindset muscles…together.
The protagonist knows we are always practicing something—every second of every day, we’re practicing something. Either we will practice keeping the old knower/victim mindset and zombie traditions in place, or we will practice the new ones. Whatever we practice grows stronger.

Breakthroughs don’t just happen. We have to prepare for them. And to do that, we have to come together and learn to stay awake—learn to BE more human – to stay in the tension and discomfort long enough to learn how to win this war together. We won’t beat the bots alone. We won’t make it through as individuals. We make it through as a team. The more of us who are ready, the further we get.
If you are not yet motivated to be more human – then at least be a dragon.  Just don’t be a zombie or a sheep.

EMBEDDING THE PROTAGONIST MINDSET 
Would it benefit you if you knew in advance what mistakes not to make so you could avoid the pitfalls and false starts that other champions in similar situations like yours will unknowingly make for one, two or three years before they realize it’s not working? I’ve written before about high-performance team programs, conscious business facilitators and international coaches at Axialent. They know how to design and facilitate the step-by-step learning journeys and culture change programs that help leaders embed the protagonist mindset, nurture high-engagement organizational environments and achieve exponentially better results.

CHANGE IS A CHRONIC CONDITION

THREE SOFT SKILL PRIORITIES THAT EFFECTIVELY 
TREAT THE LEADER (WITH THE CONDITION) VS. 
TREAT THE CONDITION (IN THE LEADER)

Some of us are more successful than others in the face of the change epidemic that we find ourselves in. Most of us leaders orient to change and transformation with the wrong mindset and a limited, outdated set of tools. All of us are pretty late, though, with regard to following the most effective treatment. Nevertheless, thank you, Thomas Friedman and each one of you reading this. “Thank you for being late”(versus choosing not to show up at all). Late means you are here alongside the rest of us. I’m glad you are here. We may have a long way to go before we get clear on why we are here, but we are beginning to see that your treatment is bound up with mine, so let’s get serious and work together.
Here’s a perspective on the good news, the bad news, the reality, and a more effective treatment.

THE GOOD NEWS
Now that we are learning to address change more seriously, moving beyond mere coping strategies, we see its full and exigent nature. Change isn’t a “problem” to cure, a challenge to beat, or a phase to get past. Change is a persistent, unstoppable, chronic condition(the 21st-century lifestyle) that we will always have to live with and embrace.
Everything we need to be unstoppable ourselves and to get to our next level of performance (whatever we decide that is) is already inside of us. We have more than enough capacity for change. That’s how we became successful in the first place. We already have our 10,000 hours of leadership practice. We aren’t lacking discipline, willpower, grit or hard work ethic…and no, we don’t need to consume any unicorn DNA from Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to improve our decision-making in response to change (although it wouldn’t hurt to channel our “inner-Andreessen” a bit more often).

Each of us is born with all the capacity we need for effectively dealing with change. Our amazingly antifragile brains and human spirit are why we are the most dominant species on the planet. You already know everything I’m sharing with you here; I’m just reminding you that you know it.

THE BAD NEWS
Not all of us have the conscious awareness to convert capacity into capability. Not all of us have chosen to do what it takes to bring the capability“online” yet.
We may all be sincere about our change goals, but very few of us are serious about waking up to the deep work that enables us to become the kind of leader who can actually facilitate an adaptive enough environment where transformative results are possible for our families, teams, businesses and communities.
“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.” — Richard Feynman

Chronic conditions don’t improve without intervention — when we ignore the symptoms and behave as if maybe it might slow down or the worst of it may almost be over, or maybe we can wait it out and our old success formula might kick in again and take care of all this VUCA.
As with most chronic conditions, we have spent the last few decades developing unhealthy habits and blind spots when it comes to dealing with our chronic condition of change (e.g., denial, misdiagnosis, mistreatment, delay/stalling techniques, reactivity, toxic positivity, “Victim” mindset, “Knower” mindset, front lines blame the senior executives, senior executives blame the front lines, episodic/event-driven training, treating culture change and transformation like a communications project, we intellectualize change content but don’t operationalize change readiness).
We all suffer and cause suffering when we choose to avoid the serious transformation work. This is primarily a result of our lack of mastery at staying conscious/awake. “Avoiding” is a default/autopilot tradition fueled by our lack of awareness. It is an ineffective response to change. It promotes resistance, suffering and long-term, permanent damage. Avoiding the anxiety and suffering actually causes MORE anxiety and suffering.

A recent study by Dr. Srinivasan Pillay, an international expert in burnout stress and anxiety at Harvard Medical School, found that 96 percent of senior leaders reported some degree of burnout; one-third described their burnout as extreme. Dr. Daniel Friedland, MD, and founding Chair of the AIHM (Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine), describes in his book “Leading Well From Within”a neuroscience based framework for conscious leadership, that: “burnout is an ominous triad of symptoms in which individuals experience emotional exhaustion, feel disconnected in their relationships, and experience a reduced sense of personal accomplishment in their work. Dealing with burnout is not only debilitating for the leader, but the leader’s stress can ripple through an organization, eroding the culture and significantly impacting employee engagement and the bottom line.”
Understandably, under stress, we often unconsciously succumb to the short-term avoidance and tension relief of dopamine…unknowingly feeding our brain’s bias for the status quo/homeostasis. Our default reactivity causes us to miss this moment of truth altogether because of our acceptance of temporary relief substitutes. Our satisfaction with these substitutes deceives us and stands in the way of our power to choose more effectively — to consciously prioritize serotonin and deeper, long-term happiness. When we settle for less (like this), it comes at a cost to ourselves and to others.
We haven’t brought the antifragile capability of our brains fully “online” yet, despite knowing that, in our lifetime and our children’s lifetime, there will only be chronic, irreversible change.
Like most chronic health conditions, it is persistent, frequently recurring or otherwise long-lasting in its effects. It is life long, and because it will last until we die, it is terminal. The speed of change is advancing far beyond our comprehension. Things will never be this slow again. 
That’s all we know for sure. It’s never going to go back to the “good old days.” Complex-adaptive systems like ours (e.g., company, community, country, planet) don’t transition backward. No wonder our brains tend to avoid all of that and go back to sleep — back to a ZOMBIE-like autopilot.
Nevertheless, things will never be this slow again.

THE REALITY
Change isn’t good or bad; it just is what it is. Change always happens; resistance and suffering always happen; and the right change always wins (in the end). What if we could reframe our orientation to change and learn to live with this chronic condition (stay in the tension together) in a healthier, more effective way — a way that reduces the unnecessary suffering and brings us more happiness and fulfillment?
In business transformation, when we treat the disease in the patient versus treating the patient with the disease, we fall victim to our own counterproductive form of mistreatment. We mistakenly wind up focusing more on the technical side of change and devaluing the human side of change. Our biases today cause us to react to change with a disproportionate reliance on the “DOING” (technical domains/hard skills, e.g., technology, behaviors) versus securing the path to value by also focusing on the “BEING” (human domains/soft skills, e.g., mindsets and identity). To succeed, we need both at full strength.

The hard skills/soft skills perspective has changed dramatically according to leadership research like this “Street-Level View” on Leadership Effectiveness and its impact on business performance, where senior leaders describe in their own words how leadership effectiveness (creative vs. reactive) correlates to performance and results (the return on leadership). They defined most key hard skills as table stakes and soft skills as being where you get a multiplier or canceling effect on leader effectiveness. Historically for some leaders, their over-indexed reliance on hard skills got them pretty far up the ranks. Today and into the future, leaders are reporting that their deficits on the soft skills side (their reactive liabilities) are actually canceling out their technical strengths. A lack of strength in soft skills creates a leadership-canceling effect — eliminating even a minimally acceptable return on leadership effectiveness.

As leaders of the organization, we repeat convenient myths over and over again, and we have no trouble finding plenty of people who will agree with us:
We complain: “People resist change…nothing we can do about that.”
MYTHBUSTER: People don’t resist change; we resist loss.
We conclude: “That’s just the way it is…change is hard.”
MYTHBUSTER: The reason change is “hard” for us is because we’re doing it wrong….
We justify: “We don’t have time to do the deep work of change.”
MYTHBUSTER: The scarcity of time perspective comes from how we confuse the “convenience of physical time saving with the convenience of not extending ourselves for the quest of something better” (from one of Seth Godin’s blog posts).
We profess: “I got this; I’m on board with change; I’m not the problem, it’s them; fix those resistors over there.”
MYTHBUSTER: We aren’t the heroic revolutionaries that we think we are. We are just as much of the problem as the resistor/naysayer, perhaps more so because we can’t recognize our own unconscious complicity, consent and bystandering in our nonresistance. All of us “nonresistors” are what give the status quo its power — not “them.”
Most of the misdiagnosis, mistreatment and myths around change cause us to employ a common stalling technique of focusing disproportionately on the technical/hard skills and just tweaking the system and trying harder (trying mostly the old way but harder) — just suck it up; be positive; muscle through it.

Someone tells us how to behave differently and “do” different things if you want a different result (and at some point, one of us usually talks about “cascading the WIIFMS” and/or quotes Einstein’s definition of insanity as the end-all-be-all advice for change, sigh. I love Einstein, but I hate that quote. As profound as that quote is, it seems to cause us to intellectualize the point more than operationalize action). We’ve been trying that stuff for a long time and look where that’s gotten us.
Underinvesting in the human side is NOT helping us adapt more quickly. We don’t get better in time; we just cause more suffering and permanent system damage. The data shows it is no myth that we are beyond stressed — suffering from high degrees of burnout, tension, drama and frustration that are pervasive in the systems we work in.
Nevertheless, things will never be this slow again.
It should feel like a relief to at least have a proper/useful diagnosis. After years of feeling like something was wrong with us because we were struggling just to keep up at our “current level” let alone get ahead and progress to our “next level”— at least we know we weren’t imagining all of that — we weren’t crazy after all.
GoodNow we can treat our condition more effectively.

THE TREATMENT
The condition is complex, but the treatment is simple. As technical domains accelerate change exponentially, they pave the way for higher-level work and soft skills. Yuval Noah Harari says that we can’t recommend with certainty what skill sets we should be teaching our kids (today) to make sure they are relevant contributors in the 30 years ahead, but he says our best bet is to:
“develop their emotional intelligence (EQ)and their resilience (AQ); their ability to keep changing and learning to embrace change all the time”
Living successfully with change is easier when we match our investment in hacking machines with an equal and/or more holistic/integral investment in “hacking humans”. Not just to protect our individual operating systems from surveillance capitalism but “hacking humans” in order to unleash/fuel unprecedented vertical learning, people development, emotional intelligence, adaptability intelligence, cognitive flexibility, complex problem-solving and impeccable coordination of action/effective execution (at scale without compromising trust or momentum) to continually adapt our organizational cultures to be more constructive
Business leaders and talent development both agree: “Training for soft skills” is the №1 priority for talent development.
“In the age of automation, maintaining technical fluency across roles will be critical, but the increasing pace of change is fueling demand for adaptable, critical thinkers, communicators, and leaders.” — LinkedIn’s 2018 Workplace Learning Report
Our current and future generations of leadership will focus on strengthening the most essential mindsets and soft skills of our time, to drive business growth and healthy transformation without sacrificing trust or momentum (i.e., collaboration, adaptability, creativity, persuasion/influence, attention management/prioritization), according to the most recent LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report, and similarly reported in complementary research (e.g., NLC Assessing the Future of Our WorkWEF The Future of Jobs ReportWEF Center for New Economy and Society Insight Report Towards a Reskilling Revolution in collaboration with Boston Consulting GroupHarvard Business Corporate Learning’s State of Leadership Development Study).

THREE SOFT SKILLS PRIORITIES — HOW TO GET TRACTION
Here are three soft skills/priorities to work on (forever until you die) that will help you and future generations of leaders effectively treat a chronic/lifelong condition like change. Mastering these practices will help lead the way toward healing and generating masterful results.
There are expert training regimens for each of these three soft skills priorities.
SOFT SKILLS PRIORITY NO. 1: TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF FIRST, SO YOU CAN TAKE CARE OF EACH OTHER BETTER…AND THEN TOGETHER WE GMSD (get more stuff done — the right stuff).
We are more effective leading through change when we learn to see the world and the work with new eyes. When we see the work in 3-D, we can focus and facilitate (and measure) the direct business benefits across three dimensions of success and three levels of depth:

The self (I): Facilitate high engagement/fulfillment
Explore how to expand/shift your identity and perspective — opening/awakening to see more. This is a more existential topic connected to our human propensity to learn and grow all the time (e.g., physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually) as conditions permit (internally and externally).
The team/relationships (WE): Facilitate high trust
When we show up strong as an individual, fully engaged, fully alive, we can contribute more to the team and facilitate the higher levels of trust needed to work through change and uncertainty.
The team can be expanded into the broader culture/system in which these folks operate. Since the culture/system always wins, we should intentionally explore how to make sure the culture/system is enabling, embodying and amplifying growth potential at individual and team levels versus impeding the individual/team progress with demoralizing organizational contradictions.
The task/achievement (IT): Facilitate high performance
High-performance results come from high-performing teams. The pursuit of excellence and execution standards are never compromised or softened when you focus on building soft skills; they are only strengthened. But we need to be focusing on different levers of change and sourcing from potentially counterintuitive sources of energy (not just the carrot and stick).
Focus on seeing every situation, every interaction and every challenge/strategy through this 3-D distinction. And focus on over delivering on all three dimensions of success simultaneously. The next level of high performance and adaptability (at scale) will consistently source from this multidimensional model.

SOFT SKILLS PRIORITY NO. 2: BUILD STRONGER MINDSET MUSCLES.
The reason for a specific sequence of teaching/training (mindsets first) is around the understanding that any new skills/behaviors, even the most common sense tools/skills/mechanisms, will not get sustainable traction if exercised/practiced on top of the current level mindsets/identity. Start with vertical learning: Start at the mindset/identity level while also progressively adding in more and more of the horizontal tools/skills.

As you already know, the problem with growth/change isn’t what the leader knows but who the leader is (our identity/mindsets), who we are becoming (expanding/growing into), and what level of thinking capabilities (complexity, systemic/strategic, interdependent ways of thinking, relating and taking action) we have access to.
Focus on variables in our control: Victims of change can’t innovate nor lead themselves (let alone others) through change. Victims see the world doing “it” to them; they can only react. They tend to perpetuate the myths about change. The “Victim” mindset is a leader’s (and culture’s) kryptonite. It comes from an unconscious focus on the variables outside of our control. We overcome that “Victim” mindset (reactivity) by building up our Player (Protagonist/Creator) response muscle memory by focusing on the variables that are in our control. We can’t control our psychology until we get ahold of our physiology, so it takes some time to learn how to turn off the hardwired fight and flight reactivity. But we can quickly learn to source from the “Player” mindset and play the hand we are dealt — no more sideline victim responses taking ourselves and our teams out of the game. Exploring these implications of being response-able vs. blame = the practice of self-empowerment and helping others find their power under stress is the most productive (superhero-like) way to work through chronic change.
Focus on learning, not knowing: What we know — our expertise — has a short shelf life. Our “Knower” mindset is an unsober mindset full of cognitive biases that unconsciously condition our thinking patterns and behavior based on old knowledge. We need to expand our options in addition to what we currently know and make room for lots of options outside of our current perspective. When we understand our traditional relationship to failure, learning, default thinking patterns and behaviors, we can choose instead to more often source from a more effective “Learner/Growth” mindset as opposed to being a “Knower/Fixed” in time. Our curiosity muscles drive our creativity/innovation muscles. But first, we need to learn how utterly reliant curiosity muscles are on our humility muscles. Ontological humility is the gateway to focusing on making sure our perspectives are expanding and we are becoming changed (by the process of learning). Learning how to stay in the ever-expanding “stretch” zone tension, learning how to help others expand with you, and growing to love/crave the “wobbly” feeling that coincides with the emotional labor of learning new things is where exponential growth meets exponential change.
Focus on essential integrity: Results are conditional, but WHO we are and how we treat each other while we work through change is unconditional. Our values, our purpose and the guiding principles that we stand for are always unconditional. They serve as our grounding — our sources of certainty in the face of uncertainty. It is wildly comforting for leaders to know that we can actually control something. We can take 100 percent responsibility for walking our talk. We feel infinitely stronger delivering on these values in pursuit of business goals no matter how the world around us changes. Most leaders don’t talk about these kinds of assets with their peers. When they learn to inventory them, share them and operationalize them, it is incredibly powerful on so many levels. Most do not have their own explicit measures/standards of integrity consciously present for themselves when they need them most, let alone tracking them like their most precious KPIs. When they do, it creates a substantial shift in the way they respond under pressure and the results they can create. Just doing different leadership things isn’t enough to generate the results we are committed to. We have to focus on our identity and on becoming transformation leaders — the kind of leaders who are walking embodiments of a transformation.
SOFT SKILLS PRIORITY NO. 3: LEARN BY DOING. GET YOUR REPS IN WHILE WORKING.
For sustainable progress, we need to focus on consistency over intensity. That will get us the maximum number of reps per decade. We don’t want this to feel like a New Year’s resolution. We are working on building healthier lifestyle habits, so the approach that works best with adults is to “learn by doing.”Adults learn more deeply and more quickly when they learn together in the context of business — learn during work, at the “point of need.” Treat everything like a business prototype, because it is. Apply your reps for №1 and №2 above on real issues/challenges versus just attending training events. We will need extensive, live-action practice reps, applying mindsets and skills training to personally relevant business initiatives, in order to learn how to override our automatic/default reactive, stressed-out brain responses and become the kind of leaders who can lead this transformation more effectively.
Don’t wait until after the big push, the project craziness is over, or after things “calm down” to get your reps in. Expanding these integral muscles happens in the middle of the work and the craziness. The “craziness” is always a great reason to practice and the best arena to practice in= high-quality reps. Show up, jump in and get messy! Here’s a quick example of how these soft skills apply directly to getting the work done. EFFECTIVE EXECUTION: Coordination of action (at scale) is only possible thanks to high-performing teams. That’s why all leadership teams focus on this Holy Grail. High-performance teams require high trust + high accountability = networks of endless commitments (requests + promises honor that request) to get X done by Y time to accomplish ABC goals. Raising our standards of making, keeping and checking on commitments for the sake of effective execution, better business outcomes and stronger business relationships (more trust) is a soft skill that can’t be outsourced to a checklist or project management software. We have to get our reps in while working together.
There are expert training regimens for each of these three soft skills priorities.
SERIOUS VS. SINCERE 
If we are serious about the way we are going to treat this, we will drop everything, including most of our current (important but not essential) learning and development efforts, in order to focus available investments on the deep work of transformation leadership, building organizational agility, innovation competency and culture change. Every other discretionary training investment is a distraction. It’s all a contributing part of our unconscious, long-term procrastination techniques that invisibly direct and preserve the status quo in our lives, even when we sincerely want to change.
Don’t just be a better leader; be a transformation leader. Prioritize the soft skills. Prioritize what needs to transform and why it matters to you. Prioritize which muscles need to be developed and in what integrated sequence — then get your reps in. Embed an expert-guided, deliberate practice into every day, and embrace the lifestyle changes that need to be made. Be kind to yourself as you prototype your own sustainable rituals and rhythms that you can fall in love with.
Don’t just try harder; trainTweaking the system is not enough. Hacking/dabbling undermines the leader we need you to be. Train like you’re truly committed to developing these new muscle groups for the long term by making irreversible lifestyle choices. Play the long game. It’s the only constructive game that works on a chronic challenge like change. Lets treat (support) the leader with the condition — lets not waste time treating the symptoms of the condition in the leader. Everything else is equivalent to playing small & sitting on the sidelines, waiting for time to run out (nothing but self-imposed, impotent regret, bystandering and resentment on the sidelines) — we’re better than that.
Don’t just train alone; train togetherPractice not quitting…together. Even a bad practice session is better than skipping — even do a “mulligan” — they are free and work really well too. Life is the dojo; life is the curriculum. There’s nothing to figure out, nothing else to go find. Drop everything that stands between you and your “dojo.” Let’s do more of what makes us stronger. Lets do the “pushups” together. Keep calm. Stay conscious. A boost in mental toughness will have an integrated, compound effect on us physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually.
You’re here. I am here. Let’s get serious about our treatment protocol.
Let’s get serious about the way we teach each other, to treat each other, while working. For the sake of better short and long term business outcomes on all three dimensions of success, let’s get serious about our soft skills training.
Because nevertheless, things will never be this slow again.

Change is easier when…we can see our knower mindset not knowing a thing.

Our knower mindset is an UNSOBER mindset. Our knower mindset undermines our intentions, our values and our walk…because it creates an illusion of sobriety and a toxic fabrication of the truth.

Our knower mindset is more UNSOBER than when the mind is under the influence of alcohol, hallucinogenic drugs, psychoactive drugs, psychedelic drugs and other mind-altering substances. At least with these known intoxicants, there is some acknowledgment of our UNSOBERNESS.

Our knower mindset disguises an overvaluation about knowing (especially in the face of VUCA) and preserves a fallacy about the value of knowing (e.g., knowing about our cognitive biases is not enough to overcome them. See The GI Joe Fallacy).

In successful corporations, we value knowledge, expertise, best practices, proficiency, hiring people with answers, etc., — “knowledge is power,” as they say. So are you saying that “knowing” is bad?

Of course not. We believe that knowledge is fundamental to business success. The knower mindset has nothing to do with knowledge. The knower mindset (and corresponding ‘know-it-all’ behavior) is detrimental to effectiveness and sustainable performance; but knowledge, expertise and knowing about the business is critical and fundamental in any endeavor. Our companies need executives, managers and employees who really know their stuff. And at the same time, not being able to admit that there is a provisional condition where you ‘don’t know’ or you don’t have the answer is also critical. ‘Not knowing’ is a precondition to learning; it is very difficult to learn if you cannot be in a place of ‘not knowing’ albeit temporary.
Richi Gil, Co-founder Axialent

The knower mindset is often more about saving face. We often source from the knower mindset when our identity/self-esteem becomes unconsciously attached to our status of knowing. That makes it extremely challenging to admit you don’t know something. This attachment to expertise + certainty invites biases or blind spots that make us less effective, depending on the situational context. The knower mindset breeds passive-defensive norms, aggressive-defensive patterns, internal silos, perfectionism, avoidance and unhealthy competition. It is unconscious and ineffective; it is unable to elevate thinking or engage the energy of others.

We fluctuate back and forth between knower mindset and learner mindset. What if, in addition to being very knowledgeable, we also could be exemplars of learning at the same time? What if we could facilitate a high-performance culture that embodies the learner mindset: expertise + curiosity? What if we celebrated new standards of humility or NOT KNOWING just as much as KNOWING? What if learning and curiosity were viewed as acts of conformity? Wouldn’t that help accelerate our teams’ readiness to adapt to change? Wouldn’t that increase effectiveness and business outcomes in the face of increased change?

How much do our organizations value KNOWING over not knowing?

Here is a snippet from Dr. Robert Kegan and Dr. Lisa Lahey, gurus on adult development at Harvard, from one of their more recent book interviews:

“Let’s be blunt: In the ordinary organization, nearly everyone is doing a second job no one is paying them for — namely, hiding their weaknesses, looking good, covering their rear ends, managing other people’s favorable impression of them. This is the single biggest waste of a company’s resources. Now imagine working in a place that is sending the message, every day, ‘We hired you because we thought you were good, not because we thought you were perfect.’ We are all here to get better, and the only way we will get better is to make mistakes, reveal our limitations, and support each other to overcome them.”

“Do you worry more about how good you are or how fast you are learning?” asks Ray Dalio of Bridgewater, another company we studied.

But given the increasingly VUCA world of the 21st century (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous), we’ve come to believe that being a great place to work is not enough. Organizations need to operate as great places to grow. High levels of trust, camaraderie and pride are necessary but not sufficient.

Organizations need all of their people from the C-suite to the frontlines continuously developing and deploying higher levels of capability to match the rate of change going on around them. Changing your business model or value proposition, entering a new market, responding to a new competitor, developing a new product or service, restructuring your supply chain or service delivery process — these are all highly complex challenges.

Organizations face more of them now than ever before and at an ever-increasing pace. Meeting those challenges requires something more than smarter strategy; it requires smarter people — people who can overcome their blind spots, who are neither overly confident nor overly humble, who can stand on the field and get above it at the same time.

Peter Senge says that learning organizations are where:

  • People are continually learning to see more and expanding their capacity to create the results they truly desire.
  • New and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured.
  • Collective aspiration is set free.

Learning how to master our mindsets/biases more effectively is the No. 1 personal and business challenge from which all our other challenges are born. All of us in leadership (at home and at work) today are universally, somewhat “over our heads,” responding effectively to the rapid pace of change and need for constant adaptation. So in the face of new possibilities, we need to soberly shift into learner mode more often. Learning organizations, learning environments and learning individuals will quickly evolve into the most adaptive and anti-fragile communities of the future. Others will follow suit — or likely suffer unnecessarily.

Change is easier when we don’t miss the “burning bush” moments.

 

 
I wouldn’t mind a “burning bush” moment, but who am I? And who talks like that? I mean, besides Moses.
The other day, a Jedi friend (Vid) invited/dared a group of us to notice our way of paying attention — challenging us to really focus on the quality of our attention so that we don’t miss the reveal/the messages about our mission for next year, our calling for the next 10 years, or our purpose for the rest of our lives.
It is very easy to miss…we’re all so busy.
He went on to explain how it was actually the quality of Moses’ attention that allowed him (Moses) to notice the uniqueness of the burning bush, which then caused him to take interest and dared him to draw near. With a little more care, curiosity and concern, he became “exquisitely present” and therefore ready to learn about the new master plan that was in store for him.
I wonder how many burning bushes I continuously walk right past when the quality of my attention is compromised or because I’m not really even looking for it. We certainly can’t find what we’re not looking for. If the quality of my attention is not deliberately, exquisitely, evermore present, I’m likely to just keep missing it. Am I missing it on purpose? Maybe I’m not really open to a new master plan after all. Maybe I’m unconsciously just fine settling for the old reliable “Plan A” (keeping the status quo in place), delivering my current level performance. Maybe my strategy is to change very little and just keep hoping for the best. Maybe I’m not ready for the Red Sea moments that follow the burning bush moments.
“I sure hope 2019 is better than 2018,” a friend blurted out to me in passing.
“So what are you going to do differently in 2019 to make sure that it is better?” I responded to her question with a question, knowing all along that it was really directed inward, at myself. Then I kind of got in her face (my own face) and said, “Let’s get specific. Let’s build your 2019 plan.” I think this kind of annual year-end recap/reflection and next year/next level planning exercise (see questions below) is the closest I’m going to get to a burning bush experience. I’m no Moses. For a clear, actionable plan to be revealed, I have to slow down, take my shoes off, pay attention and draw near.
Only a very small percent of the population have clear goals/priorities let alone write them down. Yet when we do write them down, we are exponentially more successful at achieving our next level goals/priorities.
This post is an invitation to myself and others to slow down, take interest and dare to draw near. Let’s spark our own pseudo-burning bush moment. Use this list of reflection-provoking, planning questions below. Modify them, make them your own, or use a different list of questions to capture your thinking for an increased likelihood of success in 2019.
We don’t want to miss the burning bush moments. We want to draw near in order to be sent out more effectively — maybe even to become a burning bush ourselves.
 

2018 Current Year/Current Level Reflection and 2019 Next Year/Next Level Planning

 
2018 Current Year/Current Level Reflection
POSITIVE:

  • What did I love most about 2018? When was I happiest?
  • What am I most grateful for from 2018?
  • Which three moments were most meaningful?

AUTHENTIC/PURPOSEFUL:

  • Where did I really use my strengths?
  • How did I live out my values/purpose?

DISAPPOINTMENTS/LEARNINGS:

  • What were my biggest disappointments? …frustrations? …failures?
  • What were my biggest inconsistencies with my values/purpose/priorities?
  • What still makes me feel angry? …sad? …anxious? …scared?
  • What is the most honest thing I can say about my disappointments?
  • What is the most compassionate thing I could say to myself about my disappointments? (reframing)

MOMENTUM

  • What momentum did I start to build in 2018 that I want to take forward?

 
2019 Next Year/Next Level Planning
(A more complex spreadsheet template is available upon request for those interested.)

  • What do I love to do that I want to do more of in 2019?
  • What core values are most inspiring to me?
  • What priorities do I want to focus on in 2019?
  • What would be most inspiring for me to accomplish in 2019?
  • What would be my heart’s desire or biggest dream?

How comfortable are you with your co-workers’ emotions? How comfortable are you with your own?
Emotions make us human. They have a strong impact on the success, collaboration and engagement of our teams. Research clearly shows that we are all critically affected by our emotions at the workplace. It also shows that the negative influence of frustration has a stronger effect on performance than the positive influence of optimism.
Emotions strongly influence decision-making, creativity and interpersonal relationships. And yet many leaders are uncomfortable with the topic of emotions or are unaware of its influence and impact on leadership, organizational culture and performance.
Conscious, courageous leaders are aware of the power that emotions hold. They harness it and make it work for them.
Let me be clear. Bringing emotions to your leadership is NOT the same as being emotional. Being “emotional” describes someone who is “sensitive” or reacts to circumstances in an intense way — when one takes things personal that are not personal. Being able to process emotions and using the powerful information they contain is a way to improve your capacity to look at the world, take action in it, and accomplish the results you are striving for. If you ignore your and other people’s emotions and the power they hold, then you set yourself up for unpleasant surprises.
The philosophy of Conscious Business regards emotional mastery as a meta mindset that underlies all other mindsets. Emotions deeply influence how we perceive the world and whether we are able, in a given moment, to choose responsibility over victimhood or curiosity over the need for certainty. The key is to consciously engage with emotions and leverage the power and energy they have. This means to engage with the power of all emotions — the so-called positive and negative ones — be it happiness, excitement, gratitude, pride, sadness, fear, anger or guilt.
Over 20 years ago, Daniel Goleman already declared emotional intelligence (EI) as a key competence of leaders:“After analyzing 181 competence models from 121 organizations, I found that 67 percent of key abilities were related to EI. Compared to IQ, EI mattered twice as much.”
Emotions arise from the stories we tell ourselves about what we observe and experience. These stories then consciously or unconsciously influence our actions. The more aware we become of our ability to influence our interpretation of a certain situation (i.e., the story we tell ourselves), the more we can direct our actions.
Have you noticed in emotionally charged situations that our good intentions often go out the window? We know how we would like to behave and show up, but we feel so triggered in the moment that we don’t care about reason or find we are not able to choose an empowering response. Instead, we react.
You can read hundreds of books or attend seminars, but emotional mastery is not about an intellectual understanding of how to lead or have difficult conversations. It is about being aware and equanimous in the moment and choosing a helpful response.
People work differently with emotions, and we recognize three different responses to emotions arising:explosion, repression or expansion of awareness, and management of the emotion. I am sure we all have experienced the harm it does when we or someone else “explodes” because of a strong, negative emotion. For the person showing the strong emotion, it may feel like a relief in the moment, but consequences for relationships and the outcomes they are trying to achieve are mostly negative. And after a short while, it doesn’t feel that good anymore either.
On the other hand, the more we try to suppress or control our emotions, the more control they have over our thoughts and behavior, not allowing us to operate from a higher level of consciousness and leadership. The secret is not to control our emotions but to balance, manage and align our emotions with who we are and how we want to lead. It’s key to productively use the energy the emotions carry to our advantage and become aware of the message it sends us so we can act in a productive way.
Let me share a five-step framework on how to increase your emotional mastery and leverage emotions in a conscious way:

  1. Become aware of the emotion. Feel it and label it. Do I feel anger or sadness? Happiness or excitement?
  2. Unconditionally accept your emotions and those of others. Don’t argue with what is. Accept without judgment and create space for the emotion.
  3. Regulate self and respond effectively to others’ emotions. Expand your awareness. Learn to respond and not react. Practicing equanimity and being able to use the power that emotions carry is a key element of emotional mastery.
  4. Inquire and analyze the story underlying the emotion. Be curious. Every emotion carries a message.
  5. Constructively express the emotion. Reframe and tell yourself a different, empowering story. Productively advocate for your own emotion. Productively inquire into other’s emotions.

Try this the next time you experience a strong emotion arising. Pause for a moment, take a deep breath, focus and spend a few moments to harness its power. Then consciously direct this power to support the people around you and the task at hand. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ll feel better, too.

Our world faces today unprecedented changes fueled by the combined forces of new paradigms. As Salim Ismail states in his book “Exponential Organizations,” amazing technology advancements are now joined by other disrupting elements such as social networks, big data, crowd sourcing and new generations, creating what he calls “the perfect storm.”

Disruption in every aspect of our life will happen at such speed and magnitude that knowing more and doing more will no longer be enough to stay afloat. Leaders, now more than ever, need to strengthen the “being” dimension: who we are and what we are here for.

Working with this new reality is not just a new learning process; it requires an inside-out transformation both from a business perspective and from a personal one.

The traditional view of business growth only driven by profit optimization must be transformed to become purpose driven, as sustainability of growth is only achieved when a deeper purpose to generate a benefit for society is the central driver of its existence. This driver can also be called love—one of the two forces that drive human behavior. The other one, the flip side, is fear. Love generates passion to create and contribute, while fear fuels self-interest, which is the dominant driver of business in our world today.

Love is rarely related to or even mentioned in a business environment today. Kenneth Boulding, one of the most renowned economists of the last century, states: “The main obstacle for economic growth today has been the incapacity of the (integral) system to boost love beyond the family ambit.”

We seem afraid to even talk about love in a business setting, yet famous economists like Boulding and Adam Smith, founding father of economics, advocate it as necessary for business growth. Smith said: “Self-interest will never be able to replace benevolence toward others as a necessary element to attain universal opulence.”

Why then have we avoided love in business?

From an economic or business perspective, love is difficult to be defined and measured. From a personal standpoint, it entails working on ourselves, facing and transcending our fears and deficiencies…not an easy job. However, everything starts there: within you, within me.

Perhaps the missing link to connect love and business in today’s world is loyalty—from customers and from employees.

It is common belief that loyalty is achieved by such things as the right price of products for customers or the best salary for employees, customer “service” or employee training. These elements are necessary conditions of loyalty but not sufficient.

Loyalty is not a function of the mind but of the heart.

Only when customers feel (and experience) that the service or product we provide is driven by a deep intention to generate a benefit for them, to enrich their life as people, loyalty can emerge. The same applies for salaries or training provided to employees. And loyalty from employees and customers is the base for sustainable business growth.

This deep intention is also called caring or love.

But the duality of forces driving our behavior as human beings is constant: love/caring versus fear/self-interest. Managing this duality is the job—the path of transformation required from us in the new time.

The way to do this is through consciousness:

  • Being aware of the intention behind each and every one of our actions or decisions, day by day, minute by minute.
  • Being aware that self-interest disguises very easily as care or love.
  • Becoming our own observers but also being aware of our conditioned tendency to judge both others and ourselves.
  • Observing yourself compassionately—with no judgment—but persistently and taking consistent action.

Understand your fears and be determined to awaken your essence: love.

“As mind merges in the heart, true understanding awakens. You are the invisible inside the visible, the unmoving inside all movements. Like space moving in space, glowing inside a thin skin called a human being.” —Mooji