In recent weeks we have found ourselves in situations unlike anything we have ever experienced. It’s difficult to know what to do, how to act, or what advice to follow, but one thing is clear, our world has changed and continues to change on a daily, if not hourly, basis. For that, we crave some kind of stability and a way to understand this new world we find ourselves in. I would like to share some of the best ways I have found to deal with our new reality and make the best of it.

1. Choose how to respond!

Many of us feel like we are stuck at home. Events are being postponed, people are being asked to work from home, and there is a need to change consumption habits and more.
Now the question is, how will each of us respond to this situation? How fast can we adapt and learn new ways of engaging? How can we adjust to working from home? And what if our families are also requested to stay at home? How do we deal with that complexity? How can we still deliver the content needed for people who were attending an event that has been postponed or cancelled?
Small but important adjustments in our ways of thinking and acting can create a huge impact.

2. Acceptance and next steps…

Let’s make a bold and smart move: accept that this is happening.
Once we have accepted our new reality, we are able to assess whether we need to change anything or ask for support to be as productive as possible in this new situation.
Last week when I realized I would be working from home, I took the opportunity to reorganize my home office.
Do you have everything you need to create an “office at home”? What can you do to make it work best for you? Can you ask your company for anything that would make it easier for you to be productive?

3. Home office: Setting boundaries: speak up and share

Many issues can and will arise with this new situation; and these are things that we all need to learn how to respond to.
Kids at home? Sharing a room to work in? Are there people around who are not clear about your availability? Colleagues who don’t know your situation?
Here are some ideas on how to deal with this and still be productive.

4. Generate connection while working virtually

What can you do to stay connected to your colleagues and clients, and increase effectiveness while working in a virtual environment?

  • For meetings, having your camera on, and asking others to do so too, can help everyone feel more connected and present.
  • “Checking-in” at the start of meetings with how we are doing and what we are expecting from the meeting not only makes sure there is alignment on the intention, but can also be used to open up a space for a quick personal connection.
  • How about instituting a once a week sharing of “best practices” with your team about this topic? This can help you connect as a team while at the same time increase your effectiveness and productivity.

5. Get moving!

Considering the limitations of our new situation, I think it’s important to do all we can to stay fit and healthy, both physically and mentally. The way to do it might vary for each of us based on what we like and the restrictions we have, but the need to do something to take care of ourselves remains.
The other day I went for a run outside and realized how much I needed it. There are alternative ways to stay active (and avoid the gym or crowded public places). Here I’m sharing some links to activities that I enjoy and find boost my productivity (and can be done from home!).
Quick yoga to give you a boost:

Stretching at your desk:

6. Take time to calm your mind and release tension

What is happening, is happening. Let’s just accept it. Even unconsciously, the constant stream of news and messages are increasing and generating fear and paranoia which blocks our ability to be rational and effective.
How can we connect to our best selves under the current circumstances, lower our anxiety and connect to great positive energy?
Perhaps you could stop looking at your cell phone and news so frequently? Why not put all our attention on reading a book? Or a movie we can debate afterwards? Fixing that thing at home that has been broken for a while now? Practice meditation and breathing to free up our minds? And what about seeing what you can cook with what you have available?
What we focus on expands and can completely change our mood and energy.
Let´s try to connect 100% with things that help us stay grounded, a few times every day!

7. Let’s focus on the opportunities

How can we make the most of these times where many of us are working from home? One thing that we gain is no commuting time!
This could mean more time to sleep or starting work earlier. Or this could be an opportunity to leverage the time to be with your family, meditate or do some exercise. Whatever you choose, is up to you, but the most important thing is to realize that we do have a choice.
What are you going to choose to do this week during your “commute”? What can you choose to do that takes care of your physical or mental health, and helps you to say grounded?

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.

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.
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. 
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.
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.

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.” 
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?
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.
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?
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 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.
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.

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 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

  • 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?


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


  • 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)


  • 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.

We recently attended the Conscious Capitalism European Conference in Barcelona, Spain—an event attended by 300 leaders and practitioners.
Conscious Capitalism is a way of thinking about capitalism and business that better reflects where we are in the human journey, the state of our world today, and the innate potential of business to make a positive impact on the world. Conscious businesses are galvanized by higher purposes that serve, align and integrate the interests of all their major stakeholders.
The four principles of Conscious Capitalism are very closely aligned with Axialent’s purpose as an organization.

Here are our key takeaways from the event.

  1. If we’re not healing, we’re harming.

In his speech, Raj Sisodia explained that we need to have an active role in making the world a more conscious, caring and compassionate place, and it is critical that we work toward doing business in the right way…good business. By this, we mean that businesses need to think about their customers, products and services, and consider all the aspects including the impact (direct or indirect) their actions have on their employees, suppliers, people who are not their customers, the environment and, yes, also revenue. If we don’t do this, we are contributing to more suffering, and that means we are harming. At Axialent, we work every day to heal organizations by bringing more consciousness and working at the I, We and It levels.

  1. If you believe in something, you can do it no matter what. The road will be tough; but if your belief is strong enough, you will find a way to keep going.

Ibukun Awosika, chairwoman of the First Bank of Nigeria, delivered an inspiring keynote about the complexities and obstacles that the African countries have. She also described some interesting aspects of the African society that few people are aware of, for instance, the way they behave as a community and how they care for each other. The biggest takeaway is the way she is as a human being. Despite all the challenges she has back home, she was there “fighting” for what she believed in and forging the change—spreading the message and walking the talk.

  1. “Call your heroes and share your gratitude and admiration with them.”

This is a quote from Tom Gardner’s speech, where he mentioned a number of “recommendations” based on his 25 years as the co-founder of The Motley Fool. One recommendation he has is to call or write to all the people you admire and let them know how inspiring they are for you or your organization and how grateful you are for what they are doing and the way they are impacting the world—and to spread gratitude and admiration because it feels good and not expect an answer from those you reach out to.

  1. There’s an alternative to a hierarchical mindset!

This is a very strong belief a lot of organizations and leaders hold. Having to rely on, at some point, a hierarchical structure is so embedded in modern-day business. Brian Robertson, the creator of Holacracy, shared that organizations can work as living cells; there’s no CEO cell or VP cell. The principle of this alternative way of working is that we work on having the purpose of our role and organization in mind, but we are the CEOs of our role and we can do whatever we may need to solve and start new things. Unless there’s a rule written against that, we can do whatever we may think is better to serve the purpose of the company. It is really encouraging to know that many companies are implementing Holacracy and thriving. Zappos, one of the biggest online shoe and clothing retailers in the U.S., adopted this new system and is an example of its success.

In an ever-connected world, it’s very easy for an organization’s faux pas to be blasted all over the internet. Just look at the recent Starbucks incident.
Two black men, while waiting for a friend to order, were arrested in Philadelphia because they tried to use the restroom without first ordering anything.
In just a few hours, the arrest turned into a gigantic problem, affecting the company’s reputation. As in many other similar cases, the incident was disclosed by a customer who was at the coffee shop and captured with his/her mobile phone how police officers talked to two black men sitting at a table, handcuffed them and escorted them out, while other customers were explaining to them that the two men were not doing anything wrong. Impact on the media was immediate at a worldwide level, and millions of people wondered if this situation would have occurred with two white men. This is a textbook example of how an employee’s incorrect action, inflated by social media, can turn into a major complication for any global organization since it reveals the vulnerability thereof.
Starbucks’ CEO promptly reacted, regretting the occurrence and said, The video is very hard to watch and does not represent the values nor the mission of our brand. Furthermore, he asked to meet with the two men who were arrested and decided to close 8,000 U.S. stores for half a day on May 29. The purpose of this meeting was to create more awareness around unconscious bias.
The employees were not living Starbucks’ values as stated on their website, which includes phrases such as: We are committed to upholding a culture where diversity is valued and respected. So it’s only natural that as a guiding principle, diversity is integral to everything we do.” And so training was needed.
Are those values stated real or just a marketing strategy? Closing the stores for one afternoon is not enough to achieve any sustainable cultural change.
A strong and healthy culture is part of the value of the company because it helps to develop a competitive advantage difficult to imitate. Such transformation can only be achieved by defining and developing behaviors, systems and symbols aligned with the publicly stated goals and values, lowering the occurrences of unethical behaviors, including abuse, theft and fraud.
There is an increasing number of customers and shareholders who prefer to do business with organizations that apply sustainable and conscious policies, providing them with a higher public value than that of organizations that do not apply them.
In these uncertain, complex and connected times, the organizations’ priority is to consistently align their business or strategy with sustainable behavior and leadership. The cost of not doing so is the reputation, trustworthiness and perceived value of the brand, even before the loss of income.
Think about Volkswagen, United Airlines and Well Fargo that went before them, and many more will follow.

There are many ways to change a culture in an organization, but the actual transformation comes from its people doing something different, adopting new behaviors, changing the way they have conversations and how they interact with each other.

In order to change something, we need to understand how it’s created, shaped and influenced. There are three influencers that drive culture: behaviors, systems and symbols.

“What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Most organizations have values and a mission posted on their website. They are presented to the organization in a beautiful way. However, those become obsolete if the leaders and key influencers do not role model those values. People in the organization will copy the behaviors of their leaders in order to be like them and create a sense of belonging, with the belief that the display of those behaviors will help them fit in and be successful. We learn this by looking around, mainly toward our leaders. What behaviors helped elevate them to the top? All become symbols, which we will discuss later. By themselves, behaviors are one of the most powerful tools leaders have to design and change the culture. If leaders and the key influencers can change their own behaviors by living more aligned to the values declared, people would get it faster.
If you notice as a leader that people are not displaying the behavior you would like to see in the organization, you need to first look at yourself and ask: “What am I doing (and my colleagues) that might cause others to believe it is the right behavior?” The interesting thing is, we are all leaders or an example to someone else in the organization. So in the end, we can all do something about it. I know, I know…you might be wondering why it all goes back to you. Remember the Player mindset: “If it affects you, it’s your problem.” The question is: How can you respond to the challenge?
Do you recall the secret change agents from the previous article? Understanding how behaviors influence the culture is a great way to create change.
How can you role model the behavior you would like to see in the organization?
These are related to all the processes you have in place in your organization. Some might be based on historical decisions and others might be more recent or born out of necessity. How is success in the organization measured, and how is it reported? What HR processes are in place, how is compensation defined, and what is the bonus scheme based on? How is budget allocated? These are all examples of systems at play. Systems are deeply ingrained in an organization and can be difficult to change. The question to change culture toward the behaviors you need should never be about the systems you currently have, but rather about the systems you will need two to three years from now. You need to stand in the future. Once you are there, look back to define the plan to get there.
Where do you see an opportunity for a systemic change in your organization to create the culture you need? If you had a magic wand:

  • How would people be rewarded?
  • What would the process be for allocating budgets?
  • How would decisions be made?
  • Is there any other system that is critical in your organization?

This is the most visible and recognizable. When you walk into an office building, you can get a first sense of the culture by observing people at work, how things are organized, who is where, what you see on the walls, parking lot allocations, office spaces and how people talk to each other.
Other meaningful symbols include the way a budget is allocated, how time is invested, who is promoted and who is not, and how accomplishments are celebrated. Are they individuals or teams? What values and what results are taken into account? Does any of this sound familiar?
One of the more relevant symbols is the story or stories being shared. Like any other community (from our tribal ancestors to our current days), we often share stories about how things were created and who succeeded (even creating myths). We share stories that are funny and stories about failure. We share learnings, and many times we talk about cases and people. We create symbols, ideas, myths and a future based on history. One of the most powerful assets for culture change might be which stories are being shared in the organization. When linked with behavioral change and new systems, everything comes together, making sense to people in a faster, more effective way.
What are some of the symbols in your organization? How can this be changed toward the culture you need?
What are the main stories being told? How is this conducive to the culture you want? Which stories can start being told?
In working with a large tech company, we discovered how the behaviors, systems and symbols could be quite a force at play in an organization. One of the main goals for the year was to align the company with a new set of values and create a “one company.” We looked at all the different behaviors that would be needed or changed to align with what “one company” would look like. Increased collaboration, openness, listening and sharing are all characteristics of new behaviors. However, employees found it difficult to change, and we were curious what might be getting in the way.
The organization was heavily matrixed. Employees had multiple reporting relationships. One manager would be really good at role modeling the new behaviors, while another would revert back to his/her “old, more hierarchical” ways. A second layer was that the compensation and bonus plan was entirely based on individual performance, which created a conflict of interest. On the one hand, there was an ask for collaboration and sharing, but this would possibly put someone’s bonus at risk because sharing or collaboration might not yield the same results. Why take such a risk?
Lastly, there were some heavy restrictions on the type of computers and phones that an employee could use; yet at the same time, a lot of the leaders would have the “forbidden” equipment, which made it all very confusing.
From this example, it’s easy to see how behaviors, systems and symbols could have a significant impact on the culture of an organization — and how we need to link the three and work on all of them to create an effective culture change.
Once leaders see what we explained until now, they say, “We need a culture project!” This is something you might say in your mind. And yes, there are a lot of things you can do to influence the culture, but culture change is not just a project.
This is another strong belief or myth.
Just as the Greeks, Egyptians and Romans went before us, so did the culture of your organization. The culture was already there when you arrived, and it will continue long after you leave.
Culture is a never-ending process of defining and redefining who you are as an organization — and finding new ways to bring this alive in new contexts, with new people, addressing different challenges. You are always designing the culture, and you can do a significant amount of change in a short period of time. You might call it a project if you want to “shock” the systems to address big challenges and to get specific budget and focus. However, culture — as a concept and as a whole — will continue to evolve. It will need to be taken care of beyond your timeframe, and there will not be a day where you say, “We did it!”

Now that we have busted the belief that you need everyone on board in order to start a culture transformation process, we will add an additional layer to that belief — the belief or myth that you need to start such a process at the top, with the most senior leaders, the CEO or the Executive Committee.
But do you really need them to start?
Of course, it is an ideal scenario to have the top leadership of your organization leading the culture transformation efforts — the leaders who are role-modeling the behaviors of the desired culture and are fully engaged in the process. In our experience helping global companies with culture transformation, this only happen in about half of the cases.
Remember the story in the previous article about the large manufacturing organization and how we engaged with a single team at the time. Other teams took notice and engaged with the HR team to set the teams up with their own leadership development programs, and slowly the culture change in the organization began to grow more and more obvious. After four years of working with different teams, business units and leaders, the CEO started to take notice. The overall performance of the organization kept improving, and he realized the new organizational culture was the driver for this. The organization’s board, including the CEO, is now embarking on their own leadership development journey to take the culture transformation to another level. This program will cascade to other leaders in the organization who have not yet participated. The HR team never lost sight of their ultimate desire to change the culture, but they focused their energy on those willing to engage, eventually impacting the 56,000+ employees.
Instead of focusing on who is not on board (e.g., your CEO), how can you focus on who is? Just like the innovators and early adopters, can you find a leader or a team that has the energy, engagement and appetite to start something new? The more you focus on who is on board instead of focusing on who is not, the more likely you will see those who are, and there are more than you had imaged. You just didn’t see them.
Just think about when you had set the intention of buying a new car, for example. All of a sudden, you are much more conscious about the cars around you — the colors, the ones you want, the ones you don’t like, the model, the make. You see those same cars every day on your commute, but when you actually put your focus on them, you are more aware or conscious of them.

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