As my colleague, Elena Ortega, wrote in her recent article, at Axialent we define culture as a set of values, norms, beliefs, and assumptions that govern how we work and what we do. So, how do we go about setting these values, norms, beliefs, and assumptions? Some believe that to define a company’s culture, its leaders simply have to state what they want the culture to be, the values, and mission statement. Having a clear vision of your ideal culture is an important step toward building a strong one. However, behaviors and decisions from leaders will always be the strongest representation of what the company’s culture truly is. Culture and leadership are intimately connected.

Culture and leadership: You cannot truly understand one without the other

Team working together with their leaderOrganizational culture and leadership go hand in hand. To understand the culture of an organization, you must examine its leaders and leadership styles. Employees learn the culture of the organization through the messages they receive from its leaders. Whether the messages are consciously sent or not, we observe what is encouraged and discouraged and usually learn to act accordingly (or are forced out).
Culture also plays a role in shaping leaders and their styles. Those leaders that “fit in” to the current culture will thrive. On the other hand, a new leader who brings a different leadership style that is not aligned with the company’s current culture will come up against a lot of resistance from the organization and its people. Culture is a strong force and leaders also receive messages about what they should and shouldn’t do to fit in. If leaders want to change the culture, all leadership must be on board to do so.
These are some of the reasons why we use the  OCI® (Organizational Culture Inventory®) and OEI® (Organizational Effectiveness Inventory®) in combination with the LSI® (Life Styles Inventory®). The culture assessment tools (OCI-OEI) allow us to take a deep dive into the current culture. We invite a cross-section of employees to answer the culture surveys in order to truly understand their experience of the organization’s culture. At the same time, we measure the top leaders’ thinking and behavior styles with the LSI tool. Because of the links between these tools, the results provide a powerful way to connect the dots between the leaders’ styles and behaviors, and the current culture.

Leaders define the ideal culture of an organization

Leaders have the power to define the ideal culture based on what they value and believe leads to effectiveness. In turn, they shape the organization’s current culture through the messages they send about what is acceptable and unacceptable. In our culture transformation projects at Axialent, we like to take our diagnostic process a step further and define the ideal culture using another Human Synergistics tool: the OCI Ideal. Combining these tools allows us to get a complete look at the culture and the work that needs to be done to achieve the optimal culture for success. The OCI Ideal shows us where the leaders of the organization want the culture to be. The current OCI results show us where the organization is today. And the LSI tool allows us to examine the leaders’ role in the culture and create a game plan to make lasting change.

Conclusion

Culture and leadership are not two separate entities but are intimately connected. One influences the other and vice versa. This powerful information can be an important driving force in creating and maintaining the culture your organization needs to be successful.

Watch this live webinar recording where two of Axialent’s culture transformation experts, Thierry de Beyssac and Anabel Dumlao, talked to Tim Kuppler, Director of Culture and Organization Development for Human Synergistics, about the importance of intentionally managing culture and leadership development in an integrated way.

This article is part of a series on integrating culture and leadership change in culture transformation work.
5 Reasons To Integrate OCI-OEI And LSI Diagnostic Tools In Culture Transformation
Culture Change: For Culture to Change, Leaders Must Change
Culture Change: Measuring the gap makes the invisible, visible

psychological safety - image of a lighthouse beacon in the dark
 

“A shared belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.” Amy Edmonson

 
As leaders we have heard about the critical role psychological safety plays in team effectiveness. Amy Edmonson first identified the concept back in 1999. In 2012, Google, through its Project Aristotle research (How to build the perfect team)*, concluded that psychological safety is the most important condition for a high performing team.
No one can argue against the importance of providing a safe place and environment for team members to voice their opinions freely without fear of retaliation, punishment or humiliation. This is a key element to team effectiveness and to an environment that prioritizes innovation and agility.
It seems like common sense, and yet in our experience working with different teams across the globe, it is not necessarily common practice. The need to nurture psychological safety is often a blind spot for leaders. It is a perfect example of disconnect between intent and impact in leadership. Most leaders genuinely want to leave a legacy through their people, they act and lead from good intent. Yet how a team interprets the actions and decisions of the leader determines the impact of their leadership.
 

Leadership behaviors that diminish psychological safety

There are some very visible leadership behaviors that drive disconnect and diminish psychological safety. These are things anyone can identify while observing a team interacting. For example: blaming others, using hostile and aggressive language, dictating what needs to be done, shutting people down, killing another’s ideas, monopolizing the conversation, combative listening, excluding people from conversations.
As well as these very visible behaviors, there are also other, more subtle, behaviors and symbols that diminish psychological safety. These are less visible and ones that we don’t necessarily pay as much attention to, and yet can have the same impact.
The following are some of the most common examples I have observed when working with teams:

  • Missing the connection: Diving directly into the agenda at the start of a meeting without dedicating some time to connect and acknowledge each other’s state of mind.
  • Nonverbal signs: According to research only 7% of messages pertaining to feelings and attitudes are in what we say. The rest of the messages are in facial expressions and tone of voice. Our body speaks louder than our words.
  • The leader opening the conversations and voicing own opinions first: This sets the tone of the conversation for the rest of the team and establishes a hierarchical message that the boss speaks first.
  • Asking rhetorical questions: Asking something with a desired response in mind shuts out other ideas and triggers defensive behaviors.
  • Being spaced out in a meeting: Multitasking, checking phones etc., while other team members are speaking and sharing ideas.
  • Going along with “just kidding” excuses: Playing along and tolerating jokes and topics that could be sensitive to people, possibly leading to feelings of discomfort or exclusion.

 

How can leaders increase psychological safety in teams?

Much has been said and written about this, adding to Amy Edmonson’s suggestions based on her research. Following are 8 key things I believe every leader should do and pay attention to in order to increase psychological safety:

  • Be aware of your own leadership style and impact on others: Learn how you perceive yourself, and how others perceive your leadership style. Identify your own strengths, derailers and blind spots, and the impact you have on your team.
  • Connection before context, and context before content: Take time to connect and receive each other in each interaction. Then set the intention for your meeting and align on the agenda before jumping into the content of the conversation.
  • Agree on operating principles: These are the rules of the game, they sum up how the team will interact together. Team members must commit to honoring these principles; not only agreeing to comply to them but also to speaking up when any of these principles are not being followed.
  • Balance airtime: Make sure all voices are heard; consciously plan team dynamics to ensure everyone can provide their feedback and contribute to the discussion. Listen and ask clarifying questions to check assumptions before sharing your opinion.
  • Turn feedback into a habit: Ask questions to the team. What’s working? What could make our meetings more effective? How can I help you become more effective? What would you like to see differently in the way we interact? What would help you improve your experience at work? Be prepared to receive others’ points of view without resistance.
  • Address undiscussables: These are the unspoken topics everyone knows about, and team members choose not to address. Put things on the table with compassion and express your truth with honesty and respect.
  • Call out uncomfortable / improper comments: Walk your talk and demand others to comply with your standards. Create an inclusive environment where everyone feels valued and respected.
  • Respect and honor your relationships: Make this a priority. Invest time in strengthening your relationships and letting people into your circle of trust. Get to know each other, learn from one another’s journeys and understand how you complement each other.

 

Creating a safe environment

Psychological safety is not something that can be taken for granted. It can take time to build and seconds to break, and should be part of every leader’s agenda. Creating a safe environment where people can openly express their opinions freely is our ultimate responsibility as leaders.
 
https://web.mit.edu/curhan/www/docs/Articles/15341_Readings/Group_Performance/Edmondson%20Psychological%20safety.pdf
*https://rework.withgoogle.com/print/guides/5721312655835136/

In a previous article, I discussed the benefits of an advanced coaching leadership strategy. Now, let’s take it to the next level and examine how to achieve an advanced coaching leadership strategy.

Take the time to truly understand the gaps

Every company is in a different situation with different challenges. Even so, the first step for any company should be to consciously understand where they are, where they need to go, and how to fill the gap between the two. The best way to start this process is to run diagnostics, examining two dimensions:

  • First, stop the never-ending intellectual discussion about your company culture and measure it. I have worked with different culture assessment tools and the top one I recommend is the OCI® (Organizational Culture Inventory) from Human Synergistics. In my experience, companies can spend months and years talking about their need for cultural transformation without reaching any actionable conclusion and results. Using a culture assessment tool allows you and your team to clearly understand the desired culture, speak a common “culture language,” and measure concrete gaps to fill.
  • In parallel, individual and team leadership assessments and transformations are a key part of the process. We all know that the number one influencer of a company’s culture is its leaders’ behaviors and mental models. There are several excellent individual and team assessment tools, and the one I would recommend for transforming a leadership culture is the LSI® (Life Style Inventory), also from Human Synergistics. It allows you to make the connections between your desired culture and your individual and collective leadership transformation. It is then easy and straight forward to make the connection between the 12 leadership styles measured by the LSI® and the mindsets and behaviors corresponding to the “Command & Control” as well as the “Advanced Coaching” Leadership strategies.

Next Steps: How to Achieve an Advanced Coaching Leadership Strategy: leaders on the starting line

Then take action

After completing the diagnostic phase, along with the accompanying debrief sessions about your results, it’s time to take action. First, I recommend taking your team on a strategic off-site workshop to define your leadership culture transformation needs and goals. Use a “From-To” analysis, driven by a solid business case for change.
From this concrete exercise, the executive committee can formalize a kind of “Manifesto.” It will summarize the commitments in terms of mindsets and behaviors that the members agree to. They will need to adopt them individually and collectively, role modeling the desired culture and its impact on the company’s strategic success.
The next step is about empowering the executive committee to walk the talk. In my opinion, the best way of achieving this is through individual and team coaching. They will build a leadership culture and cascade it progressively to the next levels, the executive team leading by example. This has been proven to be the most concrete and effective way to transform a company’s culture quickly.
However, leaders’ (of all levels) mindsets and behaviors are not the only drivers of culture. In parallel, the company will need to align the company, business, and people systems/policies/processes and symbols to the desired culture.

Conclusion

Moving from a Command & Control to an Advanced Coaching Leadership style is part of a business strategy that focuses on the decentralization of decision, control, and accountability by engaging and empowering employees.
Doing this will lead to the transformation of your organizational culture.
In a VUCA world, you can’t afford to wait half a decade to achieve such a culture shift.

An interview with Thierry de Beyssac
More and more in today’s business world, we see the traditional “command and control”  leadership style isn’t working. In this interview with Axialent consultant Thierry de Beyssac, he shares his thoughts about the need to embrace new strategies and skills in order to be successful leaders in today’s fast-changing environment and the benefits of an Advanced Coaching Leadership Strategy.

First, can you tell us what the Advanced Coaching Leadership Strategy is?

Advanced Coaching Leadership is a kind of culture and strategy. It focuses on the decentralization of decision making, reduction of control, and increase of accountability by engaging and empowering people, thus liberating an agile organization and embracing four of the six “Harvard Leadership Styles”[1].

In case some of our readers are not clear on what the six “Harvard Leadership Styles” are, can you describe them for us?

The Harvard Leadership Styles, first developed by David Goleman and published in the Harvard Business Review, describes both negative and positive leadership styles:

  1. Coercive: The “Do what I tell you” style demands immediate compliance.
  2. Pacesetting: The “Do as I do, now!” style sets extremely high standards for performance.
  3. Coaching: The “Try this” style makes people accountable and helps them find their own way to succeed.
  4. Democratic: The “What do you think?” style builds trust and commitment through participation.
  5. Affiliative: The “People come first” style creates harmony & meaning and builds emotional bonds with employees.
  6. Authoritative: The “Come and do with me” style aligns and empowers around an inspiring vision.

Which of the Harvard Leadership Styles does a “command and control” leader use?

The Benefits of an Advanced Coaching Leadership Strategy: team working together to reach the top of the mountain
The command and control style leader uses coercion when setting tasks and demands that employees do as they do, “now.” They set extremely high standards for performance. This controlled, centralized decision making and solution giving fosters authoritarian micromanagement. It creates and feeds into a competitive and perfectionistic culture where employees fear failure and blame others.

And what are the traits of a leader following the Advanced Coaching Leadership Strategy?

A leader following the Advanced Coaching Leadership Strategy (ACLS) decentralizes decisions and control, prioritizes accountability, achievement, and agility. This type of leader creates conditions for others to succeed. Instead of authoritarian, an ACLS leader will be authoritative within a clear collective vision and sense of purpose. He/she will allow for personal growth, self fulfillment, and the realization of self and employee potential. This creates a culture where feedback flourishes.

In what kind of business environment does this style work best?

The Advanced Coaching Leadership Strategy is imperative for large, complex, multi-generational, and global organizations. It creates an interconnected diverse workforce and collaborative models, which allows for an openness to company-wide culture transformation.

How does ACLS translate into the culture of an organization?

Traditional hierarchical leadership cultures tend to have centralized structures with top-down communication and micro-managing (“my truth is THE truth” leaders). In contrast, the ACLS supports cultures to have a decentralized and “collegial” governance model, with visionary leaders who empower others. ACLS leaders understand that coaching employees to grow their skills is a way to engage with them to take accountability, give the best of themselves, achieve challenging objectives, and will lead to successful teamwork.

Advanced Coaching Leadership sounds quite challenging. What kinds of mindsets and competencies are required for the ACLS?

Self-awareness and creativity are key; an ACLS leader must be able to foster collective intelligence, collective creativity, and collective accountability. They will also need an unconditional responsibility mindset: the Player vs. Victim posture. They will be able to admit that, as a leader, you cannot know it all, see it all, nor be right and creative all the time. It is key to have this Learner posture, to foster a permanent two-way feedback culture and be able to delegate.
Harvard research has shown that the best leaders master the following four, or more, of the Harvard Leadership Styles: Coaching, Democratic, Affiliative, Authoritative. These leaders run companies with decentralized and empowered cultures. They achieve high people engagement and build a strong culture of consciousness of self (mindfulness): self-awareness, self-development, unconditional responsibility, ontological humility, sense of purpose and self-actualization.

Are there any situations where the other 2 Harvard Leadership Styles work for an organization?

The Harvard research found that Coercive and Pacesetting leaders can be effective in some crisis or severe turnaround situations when combined with the other 4 leadership styles. However, these two leadership strategies have the most negative impact on the 6 effective organizational culture components (Flexibility, Responsibility, Standards, Rewards, Clarity, Commitment).
Although the Coercive and Pacesetting styles can create short term gain, ACLS leaders understand that short-term failure can further long-term learning and winning (e.g. Design Thinking kind of innovation).

You have talked a lot about the pros of ALCS, are there any downsides?

Leading a business using the ACLS requires well-trained, versatile leaders willing to use these leadership styles while facing the high pressure of the “get it done now” economy. As I mentioned just now, there will be some moments when it is necessary to understand that short-term failure can further long-term learning and winning. Developing people is often seen as too time-consuming and resource-draining, so ACLS demands a strong leader who is willing to free up time for people management. This kind of leader needs to be willing to make a short-term time and resource investment while looking at the long-term gain.

So, in the end, what you are recommending is a change of culture. What would you recommend to a leader interested in this kind of leadership and culture?

I would say, don’t talk about it and don’t “do” it… measure it, own it, and be it.
Culture is the messages that people receive about how they are expected to think, act, and interact in order to fit in at a given organization. It’s that simple, that foundational.
The “Command & Control” leadership mindsets and behaviors tell you a lot about how you are expected to think, act, and interact. The Advanced Coaching Leadership Strategy does too… albeit in a very different way.
[1] https://hbr.org/2000/03/leadership-that-gets-results

Conversations that are emotionally difficult or complex in nature are often stressful.  Whether it is difficult feedback, a performance review, communication of a change that has far reaching impact, or even a conversation to terminate a working relationship, many people struggle with the best way to have these kinds of conversations. They are challenging in person, but to have them online brings it to a whole other level. Why? In part, because we don’t have all the non-verbal clues we normally pick up on during a conversation. It is less social. The potential for misunderstandings is increased and many feel less comfortable looking at a screen and not into the eyes of the other person. With more and more companies making WFH the new norm beyond COVID19, having difficult conversations online in an effective and compassionate way is a critical leadership skill.
The 3 Keys to Having Difficult Conversations Online: man with hands openIn over 15 years of leading global remote teams, I have experienced firsthand how critical this is for the success and wellbeing of a team, its leader, and the organization. Your ability to have respectful, compassionate, honest, and straightforward conversations online will shape your culture and be a key lever for a high performance.
Let’s imagine you have to communicate a decision that will impact one of your team members and you assume that they won’t be happy about it. The easy way out would be to just send an email, communicate the decision, and hope for the best. My first and most important recommendation is to resist that impulse and muster the courage and respect to have a conversation. There are certain things that I believe should not be discussed by email, chat, or voice message. They deserve to be synchronous and in real time.

The 3 Keys to Having Difficult Conversations Online

Here are my top 3 tips for having difficult conversations online in an effective and respectful way. While some of them may seem trivial, I have personally experienced the difference they can make.

  1. Prepare for connection

Thorough preparation communicates respect to the other person in the conversation. It helps to reduce your own level of stress and increases the chances of achieving an outcome that serves everyone involved and the task.

  • Set a clear intention for the conversation and communicate the purpose to the other person with enough time for them to be well prepared. You may even ask them to reflect upon specific questions.
  • Create a respectful, safe environment. Be on time. Be mindful of not having a distracting (zoom) background. Try to ensure you will not have any interruptions. Even though this can be difficult under the current circumstances, you can try by locking the door or clearly communicating to others in your home that you need privacy. Silence your phone and computer so you will not have pings from text messages or email. Be in a calm, focused state. Ensure a stable internet connection and reliable equipment (microphone and camera).
  1. Create a shared space for exploration  

The level to which you can be focused on the person in front of you and the conversation at hand will influence how deep you can go, how much psychological safety will exist, and how creative the outcome may be.

  • If you feel it is needed, acknowledge the impact the circumstances may have. “I wish we could have this conversation in person. Because we are not able to, I want to simply acknowledge that the circumstances are not ideal, but I am committed to do my best to minimize the impact. I hope you’ll do the same”
  • Give your undivided attention.
  • Switch off self-view so you can fully focus on the other person. Whenever possible, have potentially difficult calls with the camera on and remember to make eye contact on a regular basis.
  • If you take notes, don’t type on the same device that you are using for the call. Either use pen and paper or a digital device that you can write on. Let the other person know beforehand that you may take notes from time to time.
  1. Optimize for impact 

Whenever there is physical distance, try to minimize emotional distance and be aware of the intention – impact gap. Just because you have the best intention for this conversation doesn’t mean you’ll have the impact you had hoped for.

  • Take your time – don’t rush. This conversation may take more time online than it would have in person. Plan for additional time before and after the call in your calendar, in case you need to extend.
  • Be curious, ask questions, and then listen, listen, listen. Listen with the intention to understand and not to judge or justify your perspective.
  • Check for understanding and be specific – have examples, illustrate your perspective, explain the assumptions you’ve made.

This list is far from complete but has served me well. I hope it will encourage you to strive to have difficult conversations online with respect, humility, and courage. Then a “difficult” conversation has the potential to turn into an enriching experience for everyone involved, regardless of the reasons why we were having it in the first place.

Based on our experience at Axialent, culture is the greatest lever to achieve sustainable business results. Undoubtedly, the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has had most companies in “survival” mode. As we navigate into the new normal, knowing how to “maintain” or manage culture amidst workplace disruption is one of the top issues on business agendas (and in leaders’ minds). However, this is not a new concern; many of our clients have approached us at different turning points, seeking a partnership to preserve the leadership qualities that made them unique or to reconnect with cultural traits that were key to their business success.
Understanding how culture can be leveraged to boost organizational performance is the single and most important reason to manage culture. For many of those companies who have been successful in doing so until now, the current virtual context is a game changer.
To help companies and leaders address these concerns, we first need to clarify what culture is and how it can (and we strongly suggest must!) be consciously managed… before it manages you!
 
Conscious Culture Amidst Workplace Disruption - image representing company DNA

Culture Is Like DNA

 
A company’s culture is like its DNA. Culture can be better positioned (or not) to successfully execute the business strategy, achieve its goals and fulfill its mission.
At Axialent, we describe culture as the set of expectations people hold about “the way we do things around here”. A collective mindset. The unwritten code of what it takes for “one” to become “one of us”. This develops from the verbal and non-verbal messages that members receive about what is valued and how they are expected to behave. Leadership behaviors and decisions most vividly role model these messages.
 

Conscious Culture 101

The first step in consciously managing culture is to understand your culture. In our experience, an in-depth culture diagnostic combining qualitative and quantitative tools is most precise. The second step is then to gain clarity on what you want it to be. It would be easy to say that consciously managing culture equals consciously managing the messages that create these expectations. This is only partly true. Changing (or maintaining) culture is like changing your DNA and it must occur from the inside out. No external factor will drive sustainable change. To change culture, you need to address the values, mindsets and beliefs that people hold, as well as the messaging.
This is why the focus of our work on culture is on short impactful interventions with a strong long-term backbone. We highlight the direct link to mindsets and how these impact behavior and collective assumptions. We work team by team to establish widespread high-performance habits across the organization. The image below illustrates our approach:
Conscious Culture amidst Workplace Disruption - illustration of Axialent's approach to organizational culture transformation
 

Remote Culture Leadership & Beyond

Remote environments require a different approach to culture design. Many culture defining messages have some sort of material correlation in the physical world such as in-person strategic planning and goal setting meetings; visual symbols such as office layout or parking space or informal, water-cooler type conversations with leaders. A far more conscious approach is needed to nurture culture when there is a lack of in-person connection, and this is even more critical amidst workplace disruption.
Leaders and organizations must find new ways of making culture evident to their employees. Intentional efforts to connect with people and to really understand their needs and concerns must be made. Practicing compassion with people and taking it to the next level is of utmost importance. Embracing vulnerability in each person and being humble enough to let yours emerge too. This is where true connection resides.
 

What is the Role of Purpose? Conscious Culture amidst workplace disruption

A company’s purpose is the reason for its existence; the dream and the “why” that offers meaning to its endeavors. Maintaining your company culture as we navigate into the new normal requires companies to help people remember the reasons for which they exist.
Let’s explore a few examples. If you live in Latin America you probably know Mercado Libre; it is the most valuable company in the region (Forbes Magazine, August 2020). Its purpose is to “democratize commerce and money in LATAM”. Some of the actions they have initiated during the pandemic to support the communities in which they operate are: changing their logo (from a hand-shake to an elbow-bump) to raise awareness of the importance of social distancing; they stopped charging commissions on sales of essential goods such as diapers, cleaning supplies and non-perishable food; they postponed the dates for interest and repayments of over two million loans and finally, they took over those employees facing redundancy from food industry organisations such as McDonald’s, Starbucks and Burger King.
In another example, the global logistics firm UPS is working to strengthen supply chains, so life-saving vaccines reach isolated communities around the world. The company has ramped up work with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance by committing $3 million in new funding over two years. UPS’s mission statement is “Grow our global business by serving the logistics needs of customers, offering excellence and value in all that we do. (…) Lead by example as a responsible, caring, and sustainable company making a difference in the communities we serve”. Similarly, the major global port operator in the UAE, Gulftainer, has launched a fast-track service to speed up the delivery of medical equipment. Its vision is to “consistently achieve best-in-class performance in all our port operations and third-party logistics activities worldwide”.
 

Conscious Culture Amidst Workplace Disruption

Re-engaging people with the purpose and the values your company holds is one of the most important responsibilities in leadership and it’s not an easy one, or one every leader can meet.
I love Fred Kofman’s definition of leadership. In his book The Meaning Revolution, Fred says “leadership is about getting what can’t be taken and deserving what is freely given. The followers’ internal commitment cannot be extracted by rewards or punishments. It can be inspired only through a belief that giving their best to the enterprise will enhance their lives”.  If you hope to be an inspiring leader who is able to sustain and reinforce your company culture, the first thing you must understand is that “hearts and minds cannot be bought or forced; they can only be deserved and earned. They are given only to worthy missions and trustworthy leaders. This applies not only to organizations but also to many other domains of human activity”.
Here are a some top tips to managing culture effectively:

  1. Communicate actively and visibly your company purpose (your “why”).
  2. Seize opportunities to model your company values.
  3. Prioritize health (physical and mental) and wellness and help employees do the same.
  4. Connect daily with employees and promote virtual interactions, making sure communication is a two-way process.
  5. Continue to develop leaders through coaching and make sure they are modeling empathy to employees.
  6. Publicly recognize those who model your desired culture and continue to hold people to account for performance.
  7. Harness organizational and leadership adaptability (the ability to innovate, experiment, and quickly take advantage of new opportunities) and remain open to the unknown.

 
Click here to schedule a 30 minute call with one of our experts to learn more about this topic.

For most of us, change is hard. It’s not lack of commitment or desire that gets in the way, nor lack of goals and ideas for improvement. How many times do we give up before we even try because we are afraid to fail? Or we might consider the odds of succeeding too low to give it our best, to test our own limits and explore our abilities. This self-sabotage thinking (driven by our inner critic) often limits us from unleashing our full potential and making change happen. Why does this happen? There are many reasons. However, our level of “grit” (or mental toughness) is a key component to our success in sticking to a plan and pursuing a long-term goal we feel passionate about. Strengthening our mental toughness is an essential piece of achieving real change.
Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to success. It takes a lot of effort and courage to excel at something we want to change. Most of the time, we are not ready to pay the price. We focus on the result and we underestimate the process: the time, energy, passion, and self-determination it takes to get us there.
Psychologist, Angela Duckworth, defines grit as our “passion and perseverance for long-term goals,” and claims it is a predictor of outstanding achievement. It’s “having a goal you care about so much that it organizes and gives meaning to almost everything you do.”
 

“Outer changes always begin with an inner change of attitude” – Albert Einstein

Grit in the workplace

In the workplace, grit plays a critical role in successful leadership and extraordinary performance. Organizations desperately need leaders who can create a shared vision with passion and conviction and enlist others to relentlessly pursue the future.  However, the challenge to develop grit is even higher. As leaders, we often tend to jump from existing multiple projects to new promising ideas. We can lose focus and give up easily in the face of setbacks, prioritizing immediate results. Managing the discomfort of uncertainty in our culture of immediacy and impatience can be hard for leaders.
The good news is grit is not a fixed trait. We can train ourselves to grow our essential abilities and skills, and that includes our level of mental toughness. How? By putting grit into practice.

1. Focus on one improvement goal that you feel passionately about

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road’ll take you there.”
– from Alice in wonderland, dialogue between Alice and the Cheshire Cat

We need to have a clear goal and direction that is compelling enough to drive our behavior and efforts. It must be a goal that is worth pursuing, even when we fail at it.

2. Choose an ability/skill you would like to grow that generates positive change in your life and self-development

Be realistic when setting a timeframe for improvement. Do not set yourself up for failure before even starting the journey. Here are some questions you can ask to create a vision and provide direction for yourself.
Strengthening Our Mental Toughness to Achieve Real Change: Person celebrating their success

  • What do you feel passionate about and would like to become better at?
  • What would make you feel more connected to yourself and significantly improve your well-being?
  • What have you been trying to learn for years and have failed at repeatedly?

3. Shift your perspective

Commit 100%, to your improvement goal. Make it your own personal project. Do research to learn from “gritty” people who have walked the same path. Reflect on what could work for you.

4. Break your improvement goal into key-stone habits

An improvement goal can be overwhelming. However, if we introduce small changes to our daily routine, test what works best and adjust accordingly, we will discover a set of daily practices that work for us and that we can commit to.

5. Value your progress in time

Take time to reflect on your own evolution. Don’t take it for granted. Progress takes grit! Indulge yourself with a self-celebration. Ask for feedback from your circle of trust on your improvement. A journaling practice can help you reflect on your learnings and growth.

6. Be compassionate with yourself in the face of setbacks

Setbacks are part of the game. They test our level of resilience and emotional intelligence. Be kind to yourself and expect them. Focus on your gains, results will come your way.

 7. Don’t wish for it, work for it

Keep practicing! Take action. Re-commit to your improvement goal every day. Visualize yourself fulfilling your goal and choose a set of powerful motivational mantras that can help increase your energy level and focus.

Conclusion

Our mental toughness is the inner force we need that drives us towards our goal. It gives us the energy needed to try harder, despite our failed attempts. Grit and resilience (our ability to withstand adversity and bounce back) walk hand in hand and are key to our development.
People who develop a strong level of grit are always seeking to improve and remain connected and enthusiastic about what they do. It does not guarantee success, but it can set you on the right path.
 
CANCEL procrastination: Start today!!! You can test your current level of Grit here.

A take on resilience

There are several definitions of resilience out there. The simplest one I found is that it is the ability to rise again after we fall. And we will fall. One of my favorite humans, Brené Brown, claims that if we are brave enough, often enough, we will fall. I find this hard to come to terms with. If you’ve tried to avoid falling as hard as I’ve tried, and the pandemic has brought you, your team or your business (or all three), to the edge of a cliff or over it – then you might want to read on.  The need to be building courage and resilience in times of uncertainty is stronger than ever.
I would like to look at resilience under a different lens. As a lover of metaphors, I prefer this definition from Cambridge Dictionary:  the ability of a substance to return to its usual shape after being bent, stretched or pressed.
What is our ‘usual shape?’ For me, it’s a triangle. At Axialent we depict the key to sustainable, extraordinary results through a triangle. I don’t think it’s by chance. The triangle is the only polygon that preserves its nature even when it is bent, stretched or pressed. In construction, it is the strongest shape.

The 3 dimensions of resilience

Building Courage and Resilience in Times of Uncertainty: Axialent's 3 dimensions of success
Each point of this triangle represents one of three dimensions of success, and I believe they serve as waypoints on the road to resilience.

  • The ‘It’ dimension represents the task. It is the business results, such as profitability, revenue or market share. The ‘It’ is a prerequisite for survival of any business.
  • Companies achieve results through the contribution of their people. The ‘I’ dimension reminds us that individuals need to be at their best to contribute to a firm’s success. As obvious as this may sound, our experience is that this dimension is often neglected during ‘business as usual.’
  • Just as important as individual wellbeing and engagement is the ‘We’ dimension. How groups collaborate, work as teams and foster healthy interpersonal relationships are also at the heart of a company’s success.

The pandemic has stretched this triangle for many organizations. In the past months, the ‘It’ was hijacked by what I consider a ‘hyper-VUCA’ situation. Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity have stretched their bounds. And in the midst of that, the ‘I’ came into the foreground. We’ve all witnessed companies putting the safety and the health of their people – workers, customers, and business partners – first. Although it may seem that they had no choice, this was a choice.
Covid-19 brought a hunger and thirst to connect. The lockdown made us rename ‘social distancing’ to ‘physical distancing’. No way was a virus going to sever human connection. Clients have approached us seeking our advice on how to build healthy connection at a distance, because the spontaneous reaction had turned Zoom-fatigue into a ‘thing’.
This pandemic is also causing undeniable economic turmoil. Figuring out what the new normal will look like is taking up business leaders’ bandwidth today, as they learn to become ambidextrous if they aren’t already: one hand on the short-term survival gear, and the other on the medium-term headlight switches.
Building Courage and Resilience in Times of Uncertainty: Resilient kids

Building Courage and Resilience in Times of Uncertainty

If there is no guarantee as to what the new normal is going to be and the only guarantee is that if we show up courageously in life and in business we will fall, then how can we build the courage to step into this challenge? For me, the answer is by learning to recover the triangle.

  1. On the ‘I’ dimension, first grant yourself permission to not be okay – and then do something about it. I invite you to think of your wellbeing as a responsibility to yourself and to others. Take care of yourself first, so you can be of service to yourself and others. The recommendation to don your own oxygen mask before assisting others who need your help is the perfect example of this.
  2. On the ‘We’ dimension, avoid the pendulum effect. From zero connection to never-ending conference calls and back, neither extremes are sustainable. Consider setting an intention of how you will connect with the people you care about, including colleagues that you used to bump into around the office that you no longer interact with. Tap into your reservoir of creativity to think of other channels of communication. Don’t just default to back-to-back calls.
  3. On the ‘It’ dimension, what if you choose the new normal that you want to see emerge? The one that inspires you to do great things in the world through your business. I encourage you to focus on the handful of things you can do in order to achieve that. It makes me feel more empowered, and it might just do the same for you. I believe it is far more effective than dwelling in helplessness waiting for the new normal to ‘happen to me’.

Conclusion

This is not a matter of balance. It’s not 33.33 period % of each. This is a matter of harmony. You will have built resilience when, at any time this triangle is bent, or stretched, or pressed – you still find a way to recover the triangle you want for yourself, your relationships and your business.

There are a lot of articles out there aimed at helping us navigate the “new normal” of working from home and the challenges that come with it. However, most of these articles seem to focus solely on the technicalities of managing this new situation. How do you keep a schedule and maintain a routine? How can you make sure you have a comfortable workspace at home?  There seems to be very little out there about creating real connection in virtual meetings. And that might be the thing we are missing the most about in-person workplaces.
It can be easy to think that having an effective meeting relies simply on a strong agenda or a timekeeper. However, it is the more subtle relationship interactions that help foster strong team dynamic, collaboration and performance.
Creating Real Connection in Virtual Meetings: woman at her computer
 

Creating Real Connection in Virtual Meetings

How do you begin your meetings? Do you check in first, or do you jump right in? If you jump right in, then how do you know everyone is aligned with the purpose of the meeting and fully present? Could it be that some people are distracted from other meetings or with other concerns? How do you ensure everyone can fully contribute?
Given that we are working virtually, it can be easy to miss the physical cues you may otherwise perceive if you were sitting in a meeting room or would have gathered from the few minutes prior to the meeting starting. It can be easier to misinterpret situations in a virtual context than when you have all the data of an in-person interaction.
 

Checking in with the Three C’s

Beginning each meeting with a check-in allows you and your colleagues to become fully present and openly share intentions and concerns for the meeting. The questions shared below are an ideal way to ensure you capture connection and context, not just the content (or agenda) of the meeting.

  1. How do I feel arriving at this meeting?  (Connection) Take the time to connect on a personal level before moving on to the next question. As team members are juggling many different challenges, this is an opportunity to foster connection and understanding within the team.
  2. What circumstances make this meeting relevant and important to me and the team?  (Context)
  3. What results do I hope to obtain by the end of the meeting? Why are these results important?  (Content)
  4. Do I have any concerns that will prevent me from being “present” in the meeting?  (Context)

A modified set of questions can be used to “check-out” upon closing the meeting, so that all participants feel heard. It provides a space for each person to express how they felt about the outcomes of the meeting and share any concerns or issues that may not have been addressed. This concludes the current meeting and sets up future meetings with a strength of connection helping to build a strong team culture.
In addition, it is important, particularly in a virtual context, to continue to check in with participants during the meeting inviting them back in to contribute and be active.  Again, as you are not privy to the usual non-verbal cues, you may miss a person disengaging or becoming discontent.
 

Conclusion

There are many challenges to remote working, but as many companies continue to work in this way and consider a blended approach going forward, issues such as collaboration and team connection become even more important. Fostering connectivity and making sure all voices are heard is an important way to support your team as they navigate this new way of working.
 
If you would like to know more about how Axialent can support your team with a free check in exercise, please click here.

Since COVID-19 became a daily part of our lives, we’ve become increasingly accustomed to finding new ways of virtually doing what we once did in person. We’re working out with personal trainers via WhatsApp. We’re having a happy hour drink with friends over Zoom. Some are even practicing music with their band using Teams. Many of us have also been forced into remote working situations. Yet, we’re finding that our virtual experiences are not what we expected. We came into this situation with a lot of preconceived notions about what it meant to connect virtually, but our experiences have shown us something else. As we navigate the many changes in our daily life, we have started letting go of prejudices around virtual experiences.

For many of us, it was impossible to imagine doing these things online. Maybe we knew we could do them, but why would we? Some people prefer the human connection of a face to face meeting over a virtual experience. But has the change to virtual been as challenging as you thought it would be? When we were able to do all the things we loved in person, other things often got in the way. Scheduling conflicts, kids, distance and other factors often prevented us from following through.

Letting Go of Prejudices Around Virtual Experiences: Two hands reaching out to touch across a divide

Letting go of prejudices around virtual experiences in the corporate world

Prejudices around the possibilities and constraints of virtual work are commonly accepted myths in the corporate world. Yet, what I have heard from my clients in the past 3 months tells a different story:

  • “This was far more effective than I expected.”
  • “I’ve found I work more than before.”
  • “We have more productive meetings.”
  • “I never imagined we could have such dynamic and participatory learning in a webinar.”

And this feedback came from clients that unenthusiastically and with resignation accepted remote work and other virtual experiences. These reactions show that many times these experiences have exceeded previous expectations.

We could take these testimonies as indications that overall effectiveness of the virtual experience was perceived higher than previously assumed. But, what about the human connection? What about that “chemical” bond that many believe only takes place when you are face to face with others? Often, we think that working in the same physical space, face to face is essential to really support teamwork, empathy, collaboration, solidarity, and mutual commitment.

However, in  different work meetings I’ve attended in the last 3 months I’ve seen:

  • A young plant manager holding his 2 -month old baby in a regional LT meeting, while his wife took care of their 3-year-old, behind him;
  • A lovely pet cat jumping on a colleague’s desk and staring at the webcam like a new participant to the meeting;
  • A manager walking through her home in search of a quieter room, away from her husband and kids, while keeping an active virtual conversation with us;
  • A colleague’s 3-year-old getting closer to mum while she led our meeting, and waving to us in a sweet “hello” posture;
  • A shared virtual breakfast where a group of consultants and the client’s Leadership Team created a collective ice breaker space before starting a formal webinar.

In situations like these, we were able to see into each person’s intimate world. No one seemed uncomfortable with the situation: neither the observers nor the observed. We’ve gotten used to it, given that most of us are working from home in similar conditions. This new and unprecedented openness to let our intimacy be visible to others has brought a new dose of humanity to our gatherings. This is something that was also unexpected. It has become natural to invest 15 seconds in greeting the waving child or to laugh at the cat staring at the webcam. We connect as we make jokes about the barking dogs or to refer to the “picture on the wall behind you.”

Human connection on the virtual level

Seeing my client or colleague’s personal environment helps me connect with him or her on a deeper level. Even in the past, when we worked together physically, that didn’t necessarily mean that human connection was guaranteed. We all wear social masks, deliberate or unconscious. Human connection is a complex phenomenon that isn’t necessarily improved by physical proximity alone.

We always have the freedom to consciously nurture human connection in our virtual meetings. We can make it an explicit goal. At Axialent, a company that has worked remotely from the beginning, we have increased our “check in calls” during this challenging time. We meet with an open agenda to freely reflect on how we’re feeling about the lockdown. We share what we’re doing in and out of work. We’ve run the same exercise with clients, just for the sake of human connection. We’ve experienced how much deeper our bonds become as a consequence.

Perhaps you previously felt reluctant or untrusting of technology’s human potential. You may have been subscribing to the common-place belief, “virtual is not the same as being there in person; you can’t replace physical presence.” I’m inviting you to suspend these assumptions and keep your open heart available to experience human connection supported by technology. Maybe you’ll get more than you expected, and discover that, humanly speaking, it can be not only virtual, but virtuous!

If you’re interested in learning how Axialent can support your team with a free virtual “check-in” exercise, click below to schedule a meeting.