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

As we fast approach Q4 2020, the world is still experiencing much uncertainty and fast-paced change. Although we may be struggling with how to adjust to these changes, we must find a way to reconnect together with where we are now, our future, vision, and opportunities.
Many corporations normally gather for Leadership Summits at the end of their fiscal year to review what has been achieved and learnt, reflect on the coming year, and share key outcomes with their employees via global and/or local Town Halls. This routine is now in question as large in-person gatherings are not currently possible.
Revamping your Leadership Summit and Employee Town Hall : rows of seats in a lecture hall
 

Should the Covid-19 crisis freeze Corporate annual gatherings?

I would argue definitely not, for two reasons summarized by the saying “Never let a good crisis go to waste”:

  • In the coming months, you might still have to face and overcome the kind of organizational trauma Fran and I described in our first article in the series, Survivor Syndrome: Overcoming Organizational Trauma in Times of Crisis. This potential trauma needs to be ‘put on the table’ and addressed, as my colleague Richi stated the only way out is through
  • This crisis is not only about trauma and disruption. It is also a fantastic opportunity for people and businesses to grow. Over the past 6 months we have seen many companies demonstrate extraordinary levels of resilience, agility, creativity, speed in decision making and action, collaboration, empathy and solidarity. We heard from CEOs that “we’ve shown that we can be quick, agile, innovative. Now we can’t ignore it and go back to our old way of thinking, working and interacting”.

End-of-year Leadership Summits and Town Halls are exactly the right moments to address these two issues.
 

Revamping your Leadership Summit and Employee Town Hall

As of today, for obvious reasons, there is no practical way to have global and regional gatherings in person. Having them digitally however not only makes them quicker and cheaper but potentially also more agile and impactful.
After a 6 month digital intensive “gym” practice, organizations now know that interactive and highly productive online events are possible. Alternating structured discussions in plenary sessions with breakout workshops, facilitating brainstorming sessions, leveraging voting tools, using online pulse surveys and practicing learning exercises.
Designing and facilitating digital large gatherings requires the use of professional instructional designers. Specialists who master both the technology, the content, and the online collaborative work dynamics.
 

How to do it digitally:

  1. A 2 or 3 day offsite and in-person Leadership Summit can become 3 half-day webinars. Purely focused on reflection and action rather than on the necessary, but long and often boring, information sharing.
  2. With pre-work designed to share this necessary information/insights/learning material. Including asking each individual to reflect and work on some critical questions, actions and decisions that will be addressed during the webinars.
  3. Well-structured post-gathering follow-up is also key for the real success of these digital gatherings.
  4. Will you miss the drink and dinner with your peers and managers? Nothing could replace this as such, but there are other creative ways to share a virtual moment and space of friendly informal connections.

There are similar opportunities with all-employee Town Halls, both global or regional.

  1. An in person event can be a 2 or 3 hour webinar (recorded for those not available at that time).
  2. With a pre-work platform for information sharing and individual reflection.
  3. The webinar could include active listening, along with a pulse survey for example, so you can focus the webinar on interactive connections, collective work and reflections.
  4. End with post-gathering follow-up.

You can position the Town Hall as a broadly shared conclusion of your Leadership Summit. Alternatively, the Town Hall can be in the middle of it, designed so employees’ input and questions form part of the last day of the Leadership Summit working program.
 

What should the content be this year?

In the current context of uncertainty, vulnerability and complexity we recommend that your agenda includes the following key topics:

  • Managing our organizational trauma based on data (pre-work including employee pulse survey and focus groups).
  • Leveraging our extraordinary learnings from the crisis to replicate them in a sustainable way (also prepared in pre-work).
  • Planning with agility for our future in this crisis. How can we create a future together when there is still so much uncertainty? How can we help our team members feel less anxious and find a way forward that adds value for everyone?
  • Boosting our culture transformation first where it has the fastest and biggest impact.

 

Conclusion

The more VUCA in our current world, the more we need to reconnect and take a reflective break with our people. 2020 is not the year to freeze or cancel, but rather to focus on revamping the Leadership Summit and Employee Town Hall. Do not avoid the crisis risks and opportunities issues.

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.

The truth is, sometimes I dream of going back to February of this year when the coronavirus had not yet come to challenge us and change our lives. Other times, I think that COVID-19 has stimulated reflection and accelerated innovation that we had been resisting. Living this calamity at the head of a company breaks every seam in any comfort zone. At the same time, it has given us a unique opportunity to learn about disruption and management, to understand the importance of corporate culture in navigating the storm and to realize that in the end, it is always people who matter most. Leading a company through the crisis of COVID-19 presents us with continuing challenges we never thought we would have to face.
Leading a Company Through the Crisis of COVID-19: two leaders walk side by side
 

Leading in uncertainty

In these months, the ability to find meaning in the midst of uncertainty has been critical. And to be able to do that, we must have an open mind, practice curiosity, be willing to listen to different opinions, and learn from others. We also must be willing to experiment and accept failure when it occurs.
We have spent a lifetime talking about vision in companies. Never has the ability to frame a vision and to get others on board been so Important. We used to theoretically analyze exponential acceleration, now we need to create an exciting story that gets people on board, quickly.
The ability to relate within and outside the company, to influence, negotiate, and communicate genuinely is also an important lifeline. It becomes essential when a company’s survival depends on convincing those at home that we have to tighten our pay belts and those outside that they should finance you at an uncertain time or continue to hire your services in the midst of an unknown recession.
In a new and challenging environment, of which we don’t have any previous examples to refer to, supporting people, especially those you work with directly and who manage teams, is another key management skill. Application coaching, focused on management challenges, is a very useful tool in business leadership.
 

Leading a Company Through the Crisis of COVID-19

The pandemic has changed the game for all of us. Now it is no longer a question of predicting the future, but of inventing the present. To lead in times of pandemic is to invent. It means managing change by making thoughtful and courageous decisions that design new scenarios. This requires promoting a culture of learning at all levels while providing what is needed to foster resilience. We are living in an emotional, economic, and social roller coaster. A leader’s best contribution is to empathize, help, and provide some certainty so that people find meaning in their work.
If I had to recommend one thing to leaders in these uncertain times, I would tell them to be ambidextrous. Be able to live between the old and the new. Be able to manage what is happening now and help create what is yet to come. Understand human resistance to change and accept innovation and disruption. Dare to dream and make the new normal a better normal than the one that the COVID-19 has taken from us.

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.

Culture in service of business strategy. Image showing a fish swimming in water, the water representing the culture of an organization (when you are in it you don't see it)

 

Goals and Purpose

“Become the number one or number two player in our industry.” “Grow more than our competitor in the next 12 months.” These are both valid statements of a goal for an organization and what comes next is identifying the “how” or the strategies that you believe will take you there. What could be wrong with this process? Let me elaborate.
Throughout my years of helping leaders around the world, I have found very different reasons as to why entrepreneurs start companies. For example, Disney was founded “To use our imagination to bring happiness to millions”. Google aims “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. LinkedIn aspires “To create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce”. Mercado Libre, “To democratize commerce and money in Latin America.”
These statements are the original dreams of the founders of these organizations, dreams that these successful companies were able to actualize. They set out to change the world, to transform  it into a better place. This served, and continues to serve, as an aspiration and inspiration for others to follow and to give their vital energy to the enterprise.
 

Strategy and Execution

Fred Kofman writes in The Meaning Revolution that being part of a venture that is bigger than ourselves, will transcend us and can become our “immortality project.” Fred says “I believe the most deep-seated, unspoken, and universal anxiety in all of us is the fear that our life is being wasted. That death will surprise us when our song is still unsung. We worry not just about our physical death, but also, perhaps more significantly, our symbolic one. We are afraid that our lives won’t matter, that we won’t have made a difference, that we will leave no trace in this world after we are gone.”
This is critically important. However, it is also paramount to identify the strategies that will help you achieve your goals and to actualize your purpose. This is the “how” of the enterprise. Once we know where we want to go, deciding the way to take us there will provide the blueprint for a successful journey. What will actually change the state of things is effective execution. It is here that many strategies falter. People perhaps won’t accept accountability or do what they promised to do. They may not collaborate with their colleagues or will engage in ego driven turf wars to prove “I am right, and you are wrong.” Strategies often fail not because they are poorly designed, but because they are poorly executed.
 

Culture In Service Of Business Strategy

I have discovered throughout my years as a consultant that culture is the binding element that connects all these aspects; purpose, goals, strategy and successful execution. The right culture can be an incredible asset for actualizing purpose, while the wrong culture can become an insurmountable obstacle.
I believe that these fundamental elements, actioned at the service of the purpose and done repeatedly, will change the world. They will transform it into a more conscious, loving, compassionate and wiser world; a place where people can pursue their dreams of helping themselves, others and the planet.
Axialent has been helping companies globally for 17 years to build cultures that support business strategy execution. In this live webinar, I interviewed Pedro Arnt, CFO, on how Mercado Libre (MELI) has built and leveraged an effective culture to achieve the incredible growth and success of the organization.
 
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.

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.

There is no doubt that current events are affecting business more than you ever thought possible. A lot is changing. Supply chains are shifting and customers are reevaluating their choices. Stakeholders are more present and products and services are rapidly becoming obsolete, and so on.  Have you considered how it has been affecting your organization’s culture? While our focus may be on other things, we still need to consider how we, as leaders, can drive positive culture change in this turbulent environment. What is the “right culture” to have in a crisis?
Culture is a set of learned beliefs, values, and behaviors that become the way of life in an organization. It results from the messages that are received about “what is really valued around here”. The sources of these cultural messages come from the behaviors, symbols, and systems within an organization. Current events have impacted all three of these pillars. Systems are being stretched to adapt to new realities. People’s behaviors are testing new paradigms and redefining the whole person concept. Symbols are shifting due to the new ways in which people are communicating and relating to each other.
A Culture Amp survey[1] (published in Forbes) tried to better understand organizational culture in the context of current events. It was originally done to address the effect of the global pandemic, though it could also be applied to the racial equity conversations happening right now. One of the survey’s key findings was (no surprise!): “Companies with a strong culture are much more resilient in times of crisis… Organizations that already have experience flexing this muscle are more likely to have confidence in their leadership, feel safer, and be more comfortable about their company’s plan to return to work”. The survey findings highlight the need for effective communication practices and the importance of staying connected.
The “Right Culture” to Have in a Crisis: Two men collaborating at work

What is the right culture to have in a crisis?

The empirical evidence is strong. The “right culture” to have in a crisis is one that will hold strong through the most difficult of times. Let me share a couple of examples of how effective communication and staying connected can help an organization achieve this kind of culture.
A large So. Cal. player in the technology field was going through internal turmoil in the aftermath of a change in leadership and direction. The new CEO had been challenging the existing organizational culture and was seen as cold, hard, and inflexible. COVID-19 unexpectedly changed the conversation. The CEO had the opportunity to show his/her personal, vulnerable side as the leadership team was “allowed” into the CEO’s home (a working from home phenomenon). This seems to have changed the narrative and the organization is seeing a positive change in engagement and identity. The CEO is now working on ensuring that the organization does not lose what it gained as the situation evolves.
The growing consciousness and conversations around racial inequities were heavily impacting another large company in the retail business. They immediately implemented several support mechanisms for their employees (internal). They also planned to aggressively organize their ongoing response and local outreach efforts (external). Through the process of connecting with their employees, they heard many eye-opening stories, including one from an African American single mother who said she couldn’t work late or night shifts because she was afraid to leave her teenage son alone to travel the streets at night. Her fear had to do as much with gang-related violence as with law enforcement-related actions.
The impact on culture is not just limited to the corporate world. Consider this recent headline (AP News, May 19, 2020): “Pandemic will alter Communion rituals for many US Christians”. Without a doubt, similar conversations are happening at all faith-based communities and organizations around the world. Rituals such as Communion, Gospel Choirs, Yom Kippur, Hajj, Darshan, and others, are highly symbolic of each faith’s teachings and practices.  Yet, they may need to change in this new world, and this could have a profound impact on each of these communities of faith’s culture and their ability to ensure the sustainability of their vision.

Navigating an I*VUCA world

These, and many more anecdotes from the frontlines, show that we need to address the organization’s “I*VUCA”.  VUCA is an acronym that describes the Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity of general conditions and situations.  It is often used in strategy discussions to describe the external environment.  However, I strongly believe that VUCA is an internal phenomenon as well.  Now more than ever, we need to look at the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity of the organization’s internal organizational culture.  Hence, I* (Internal) VUCA.
Now is the time for leaders and teams to reflect and understand why they are responding either effectively or ineffectively, not only to VUCA, but especially to I*VUCA.  The current environment gives us a window of opportunity that allows us to quickly access and understand how we are responding to the different challenges that the organization is facing. Investing time to understand what is working and what isn’t is a gift that the unfolding events are giving us. We cannot risk going back to our default mode at the risk of becoming irrelevant.
We know that a strong culture is one of the most powerful tools that an organization can wield. It can also be a barrier when change is needed. In Satya Nadella’s words, “Culture is everything!” Are you doing the right things to drive the culture your organization needs to succeed in the I*VUCA world?

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/janicegassam/2020/05/06/how-your-company-can-drive-positive-culture-change-during-a-global-pandemic/#7ffd241129d0