“Genius is not enough. It takes courage to change people’s hearts.”

— Green Book

In this final blog post in my culture shift series, I will take a look at some of the symbols and systems that shape workplace culture and explore one of the fundamental shifts needed for a new paradigm.
One of Axialent’s founders wrote the book “Conscious Business.” When I first read the book, I was particularly encouraged by this quote:

“Many believe that it is necessary to sell out in order to achieve economic success, or drop out in order to pursue a meaningful life. This is a false polarity. When business is conducted as an expression of your core values there is harmony between material and spiritual wealth.”

This expanded what I thought about business and settled a dilemma I had wrestled with internally. How do we transform the way we conduct business, consistently aligning vision and values, profit and purpose, and experience this harmony between material and spiritual wealth? What if more people could experience prosperity, ease and joy in their work and lives? What if you don’t have to sell out or drop out to find peace?
Research states that the average person will spend up to 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime. During those 90,000 hours, the environment you work in really does matter and ultimately impacts your success, health and well-being. How do we work together to shift systems and create more conscious cultures?
First, we become more aware of the way we think and talk about things. Language is a powerful symbol of what we value and is expressed through rituals and stories. We pass these stories on, and they express what is most important in a particular culture and signal how business gets done. For example, I recently watched the documentary about Theranos called “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley.” It was evident that in order to succeed at Theranos, you did not challenge the vision and were expected to spread the claim that the company could perform over 200 blood tests with a single drop of blood. Those who spoke up with concerns and evidence to the contrary were contacted by lawyers or the CEO and COO personally. This culture of dishonesty, fueled by centralized command, enabled fraud and mistreatment of employees.
Since many of the messages about what is valued in an organization are nonverbal, it takes effort to take a sincere look at their unintended impacts. Symbols to consider include:

  • How leaders’ behaviors set the tone: What is acceptable and what is not?
  • How budgets are allocated: What do we choose to prioritize and why?
  • How time is spent: Meetings, email, etc.
  • Who gets promoted: What is it based on? Performance, potential, relationships, etc.
  • Who leaves: Why are they leaving? Do we conduct exit interviews?
  • Recognition and compensation: Are we equitable and fair?
  • Title: Who has power and authority to make decisions?

Once these symbols and their impact have been considered, then strategies and plans can be made for organizational change. Structures that might need evolution include:

  • How you do strategic planning and budgeting: Who has a seat at the table? What is our process for decision-making?
  • Performance review and reward: Do we reward what we say we value? When competing commitments are exposed, how will we decide what to prioritize?
  • Measurement, reporting and learning: What do we measure? How do we share data? How do we learn from our missteps and utilize these learnings to inform our future choices?
  • Organizational structures: Do we need to reorganize or redesign roles to be more effective?

So what are the barriers to real change? Power and intent.
Many business practices happening today are rooted in the mental model of power over and zero-sum game, a win/lose mindset, which is contributing to a deficit of spiritual wealth including meaning, well-being and joy. Tolerating bad behaviors at the highest levels in an organization can have a negative impact on the culture, as people take their cues from those at the top of what is acceptable behavior. What is needed for greater harmony and sustainability is a fundamental shift to a mental model of power with and power through, a win/win mindset, where we really practice “partnering” to help improve all aspects of business and life. This shift in intent will require a rebalancing of valuing intellect and knowledge as much as the wisdom of the heart.

“The culture of your business is its heartbeat. Without a healthy one, the business will ultimately fail.”

— Conscious Capitalism

Just like getting an annual physical to check on the health of your body, building in practices to check on the health of your organization’s heartbeat, your culture, is essential. Here are a few ideas to consider:

  1. The Culture Journey Experience. This interactive experience helps leaders and change agents understand the complexities of culture, leadership and their connection to performance in an accelerated environment. You will explore foundational forces, current operating culture and levers for change.
  2. Assess and measure the current state of your organization’s climate and culture using both qualitative and quantitative tools.
  3. Prioritize conversations on workplace culture as part of the executive team’s agenda just as you would other business metrics.

It takes courage to examine your own heart as well, which is an ongoing practice, and to aspire for something greater — not just yourself and your organization but for humanity.

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

Our traditions are usually stronger than our intentions to change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senior leaders report culture as being critical to business success. A new approach is needed to support leaders responsible for shaping culture.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“John, the team has to understand that winning is our number-one priority. Winning eclipses everything.”
That’s what the CEO of a booming Bay Area fintech company told me shortly after he hired me to help accelerate his company’s already impressive success. I was meeting with him to hear his views on his team’s performance opportunities.
“Of course, the ideal scenario is for us to win together,” he went on, explaining his aspirations for the executive team. “But at the end of the day, it’s all about winning – period.”
The intensity in this CEO’s voice was clear, and I’d heard similar mantras from many other business leaders over the years. In my stints as a CFO at Microsoft and Novartis, I encountered this “win no matter what” mentality dozens of times, and I’ve often run across it working with clients at my executive coaching and leadership development firm too.
It’s not surprising that such a mindset is so prevalent in the corporate world. After all, leaders face intense pressure to succeed – not only from shareholders, competitors, and boards of directors, but from their very own teams.
And yet, I’ve also spent many quiet moments with senior leaders who lamented the harshness of a “take no prisoners” culture. These leaders have often told me that the pressure to maintain this posture puts them at odds with their highest ambitions – things like leading a balanced life, helping others succeed, treating people with dignity, and so on.
In fact, while senior business leaders might not reveal these vulnerabilities in public, they’ve often privately told me they feel torn between the imperative to deliver awe-inspiring results and the moral sacrifices they think they have to make to achieve them.
For example, one rising star on my team at Microsoft confessed, “I think I have the talent to become a corporate vice president, but I’m not sure I’ve got – or want – the killer instinct to get there!” That is, she felt torn between her personal values and the Machiavellian maneuvering she believed getting to CVP would require.
Although achieving success while living a life you can be proud of might sound like a paradox, the truth is that this dilemma can be resolved – and interestingly enough, the resolution lies in the definition of “success” itself.
To show you what I mean, I’d like to take a step back and examine a distinction we hear a lot about in today’s business world: the difference between the “what” and the “how” of a targeted outcome.
The “what” is our business results – sales growth, profits, innovation, market share, customer satisfaction, and so on. The “how,” on the other hand, consists of a series of behaviors on the road to get those results. In other words, the “how” is the way we interact with the humans around us as we strive for the “what.”
The key here is that our mindsets and values inform our behaviors, which in turn produce business results – ideally the results we’re aiming for. 
But of course, you’re not the only person whose behavior impacts your business results. Those outcomes also depend on the behaviors of the people you work with: bosses, peers, team members, and even customers.
It follows logically, then, that the way to maximize results is to optimize your interaction with other people, the humans around you. That’s the “how” that leads to the “what” you want. Neglecting the “how” eventually negatively impacts the “what” – kind of like killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.
Imagine you own a restaurant at a busy airport. Most of your customers aren’t regulars; they’re just passing through. What’s more, local labor is plentiful and cheap – so you decide to cut corners on meal quality and pay your employees a pittance.
At first glance, this business model seems to yield great results: your transaction volume stays high because the airport is always busy – and you never see your dissatisfied customers again, so who cares if they’re unhappy? Meanwhile, your stingy wages keep costs low, and when an employee complains you simply replace them with one of the faceless applicants lined up at your door. Seems like a successful approach, doesn’t it?
Well, like I said a moment ago – that depends entirely on your definition of “success.”
If your “what” is only to make money, then poor service and low salaries will certainly get you to that goal. At least in the short term. However, if your “how” includes things like serving delicious meals, offering convenience to busy travelers, and providing employment to people who need it, then shortchanging customers and employees isn’t acceptable. With those conditions in mind, no matter how much money you’re making, you’ll never feel proud of your work – or at peace with yourself.
As you can see, success can show up in lots of other places besides your financial statements.
I’m not saying hitting your goals is not important. It is. Especially if you want to keep your job. I’m saying the surest way of attaining sustainable success you can be proud of is by focusing on how you do what you do.
This is the concept of “winning beyond winning” or “success beyond success”. When you work toward objectives in a way that’s congruent with your most important values, you win – even if you don’t hit your stated goals – simply because you’ve acted with integrity.
This approach is more than a platitude for consoling yourself in case you miss the corporate mark. It’s a measure of intellectual honesty, and an effective acid test for judging performance you can be proud of.
What’s more, by focusing on your behavior, you double down on the only thing that’s truly within your control – your ability to choose your response in the situation. In every circumstance, there are factors outside your control. But one factor that’s always within your control is your ability to choose your course of action, even if you can’t control the outcome of that choice. As the sacred Hindu text of the Bhagavad-Gita says, “You have a right to your action, but not to the fruits of your action.”
As human beings, we’re endowed with consciousness, the awareness of the choices around us. This awareness allows us to reflect on whether our behavior aligns with our values, whether we “walk our talk.”
Next time you’re faced with an apparent choice between “success” or honoring your values, take a moment to pause, breathe, and reflect – and consider the possibility of broadening your definition of “success.” You might discover there’s a way for you to get everything you want.

Three Warning Signs Your Workplace Culture Might Be Toxic and How to Begin a Detox

Recently I was in a coaching session with a client who was worn out and frustrated in a way that felt different than our previous meetings. He was doing his best to stay resilient in the face of many recent and significant challenges at his workplace. At that moment, he reflected on how he was contributing to the problems he was facing. He then paused and asked me, “How do you know if your workplace culture is toxic?”
We explored his inquiry further, and I asked some more questions to understand what he was seeing, sensing and hearing from others on his team. In this series of blogs, I will be sharing my reflections sparked by this conversation and take you deeper into our approach to culture transformation.
What is culture?

  • Culture is a set of learned beliefs, values and behaviors that have become the way of life in an organization;
  • It results from the messages that are received about what is really valued around here;
  • Most of these messages are nonverbal;
  • People pick up these messages and adapt their behavior to fit in.

Your workplace culture is either an enabler or detractor of success, fulfillment and well-being. Leaders set the tone, showing what is valued in an organization through behaviors, symbols and systems. Most simply, people are watching those who are successful and have status in a group and ask themselves, “What do I need to do to fit in and succeed in this environment?”
As social and emotional beings, we have a deep need to belong and also to be valued for our unique contributions. When this doesn’t happen in healthy, mature and constructive ways, we seek out ways to get our needs met in unhealthy, immature and destructive ways. This usually happens at an unconscious level being driven by underlying insecurities, fears and patterns of reactivity and defensiveness — toxic behaviors. Toxic literally means poisonous, and toxic behaviors drain life energy out of people and create distrust. When our motives, language and actions become harmful to ourselves and to others, it is time for a detox.
Three warning signs your workplace might need a detox:

  1. People don’t feel safe to take risks and are on the defensive.

When people don’t feel safe, their energy is spent trying to protect themselves, which leads to not taking risks, less creativity and innovation — and most damaging, distrust in their relationships. What are some common threats to feeling safe in the workplace that would cause you or others to go on the defensive?
Behaviors such as put-downs, sarcasm, negative tone of voice or body language, bullying, inconsistency, rigidity, exclusion, favoritism, controlling, lying, blaming, shaming and manipulation are some examples. At various times, we have all probably been the recipient and the deliverer of some of these threatening behaviors, even if it was unintentional.
Defensive patterns happen unconsciously. When we are overwhelmed and stressed or feeling threatened, the higher order “executive functions” of our brains shut down. Critical decision-making reverts to the more primitive and reactive brain centers, which increases our tendency to fight, freeze or flight. If the record of experiences stored in the hippocampus tells the amygdala that it is a fight, flight or freeze situation, then the amygdala hijacks the rational brain, which can lead a person to react irrationally and destructively.
Unfortunately, these types of behaviors happen all too frequently in the workplace and contribute to creating toxic relationships and conversations. Taking ownership for how you could be contributing to the problem either through action, inaction or tolerance is the first step. Being open to assessing your own thinking and behavior patterns and comparing them with how you are perceived by others can help you to identify passive and aggressive defensive styles that sabotage your effectiveness as well as constructive styles that are more effective. These can also be assessed at a team or enterprise level to identify specific change levers for culture transformation.

  1. People don’t have clear plans, goals and are working in silos.

If there is misalignment at the highest level in the organization regarding strategy and business priorities, this cascades down to the rest of the organization. Depending on defensive styles, I have seen executive leaders and managers begin working aggressively toward competing goals and commitments, positioning and posturing themselves in their silos or passively “going along to get along” to avoid conflict. Even with the best of intentions, people often repeat ineffective defensive patterns out of habit during change.
In the face of uncertainty and lacking information, people make assumptions about what is happening and why. These stories often fuel feelings of fear, unhappiness and frustration, leading to disempowerment and resignation. People are less productive, they disengage, and both execution and collaboration suffer.
How can you best respond to this challenge? Working with your leaders to understand the business priorities and establishing clear goals, plans and expectations in alignment with the strategy reestablishes focus and purpose for team members. The majority of people want to do their best and will take initiative and propose solutions when there are clearly defined objectives, plans to achieve them and structures for mutual accountability.

  1. Managers don’t know what is important to people on their team.

Think about the worst manager you have worked with during your career and their characteristics. Typically, when I ask people to reflect on this, they say things like they don’t know me, they don’t care, they don’t have time to meet, they don’t listen to me, they know it all, and they seem most concerned with their own accomplishments and success.
Human beings want to be seen and valued for their contributions. Linking people’s work to something that is meaningful to them is the strongest foundation you can build for engagement. Connection to personal values provides a sense of purpose and a compass to orient individuals when times get tough. Values are the point of greatest leverage for people because they remind them who they want to be and what is important to them when things aren’t going the way they hoped.
Creating a culture where listening to what matters to people will help your organization to better care for them, validate and appreciate their strengths, and offer them opportunities to continue to stretch, learn and grow. When people sense you care about them and want the best for them, they feel safe and respected, and they will usually bring the best of themselves to the challenge.
How to Begin a Detox
The purpose of a detox is to cleanse or reset the system. Here are some tips to get you started.
Raise your awareness: A detox begins by acknowledging what isn’t working and creating a desire for transformation. This is an invitation to look within yourself and your organization more deeply to diagnose and surface what’s happening with both qualitative and quantitative data. This will help you to understand the current culture challenges and opportunities as well as the “from – to” mindset shift needed to enable sustainable behavior change and the key levers for organizational transformation.
Alignment: Partner with key stakeholders to build the business case for change, identifying a clear connection to how a toxic culture undermines execution of business strategy. Design a customized culture transformation plan, integrating values-based mindsets, behaviors, systems and symbols needed to execute in alignment with your business priorities.
Action and accountability: Support leaders and teams to embed desired mindsets and behaviors into the day-to-day rhythm of the business with coaching, pulse checks and metrics to measure impact.
Culture transformation can take years. However, one positive change or choice typically leads to other positive changes and choices. How you choose to respond can influence and impact those you work with in significant ways over time.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are three soft skills/priorities to work on (forever until you die) that will help you and future generations of leaders effectively treat a chronic/lifelong condition like change. Mastering these practices will help lead the way toward healing and generating masterful results.
There are expert training regimens for each of these three soft skills priorities.
We are more effective leading through change when we learn to see the world and the work with new eyes. When we see the work in 3-D, we can focus and facilitate (and measure) the direct business benefits across three dimensions of success and three levels of depth:

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

The reason for a specific sequence of teaching/training (mindsets first) is around the understanding that any new skills/behaviors, even the most common sense tools/skills/mechanisms, will not get sustainable traction if exercised/practiced on top of the current level mindsets/identity. Start with vertical learning: Start at the mindset/identity level while also progressively adding in more and more of the horizontal tools/skills.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How much do our organizations value KNOWING over not knowing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter Senge says that learning organizations are where:

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

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

By Fred Kofman
The worst leader is he who people despise. A good leader is he who people worship. A great leader is he who makes people say: “We ourselves did it.”
Lao Tse
Just as in the theory of systems, the whole is more than the addition of its parts. In management, the team is more than the addition of its members. That which makes a team differ from a group of working people is synergy. Through the development of a shared vision, an engagement with certain essential values, a context of mutual confidence and respect, and a unifying interpretation of certain recurrent practices for the efficient coordination of actions, a group of individuals can generate a creative energy that largely exceeds the mere addition of individual energies. Such as a light beam may organize itself by means of a crystal into a laser ray, a beam of individuals may organize itself through a field of intellectual, emotional and existential forces, producing an extraordinary team. The leader is the person in charge of creating and maintaining such field of forces.
Traditionally, the leader is identified as a person detaining formal authority. From ancient heroic myths to modern management literature, the leader appears as an individual capable of leading others. This image is valid all right, but it conceals other possibilities. In this article, we want to put forward an alternative idea: shared leadership. To do so, first we will analyze the role of the leader, and then we will propose that it can be played by a collective person. Moreover, our thesis is that in highly uncertain situations, exercising shared leadership has advantages over individual leadership. Quoting Peter Senge, “Our traditional idea about leaders — special persons who determine the direction to be followed, take key decisions, and instill energy — is based on a nonsystemic and individualist vision of the world. Especially in the West, leaders are heroes, great personalities occupying the center of the scene. As long as these myths prevail, the focus of attention will increasingly fall on immediate facts and charismatic heroes rather than on systemic forces and collective learning.” (The New Task of the Leader, the Creation of Learning Organizations — Sloan Management Review, Fall 1993.)
The role of the leader
The leader develops precise functions destined for keeping cohesion and alignment of the organization, directing it toward its objectives, assuring a maximum utilization of its resources, honoring its system of values, feeding the individual enthusiasm of its parts, and continuously regenerating the culture that supports the interactions. The leader maintains the creative tension. Every action (be it individual or collective) sets off from the difference between a present reality that is unsatisfactory and a desired future possibility. The leader is permanently busy “charging the battery” of the organization through a dual strategy: (a) interpreting the present world, (b) imagining possible future worlds.
The first focus of a leader is hermeneutic (interpretative): He looks at the world, reading its signs and providing sense to the group reality, for instance, studying the market and casting an analysis of its forces, weaknesses, opportunities and risks. As Max de Pree, ex‐president of Herman Miller, says: “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.” Much of the multiplying effect a leader exerts lies on his ability to help people see the reality in a more generative, deep and energizing way. The leader can see (and show) opportunities where others only see problems.
The second focus of a leader is poetic (creative): He looks into his heart, reading its wishes and imagining a possible reality that may make them real, for instance, making up a new way of doing business. Quoting Albert Einstein: “Imagination is more important than information because knowledge is limited while imagination embraces an infinite possibility.” The leader’s power derives from his ability to paint futures that can light up the passion of the members of an organization. This “sacred fire” that burns in men’s spirit is the fuel of the organizational engine.
Every individual exerts this leadership task for himself. The responsibility for one’s life and the actions being displayed is not feasible of being delegated. An organization that demands the subordination of personal autonomy becomes a cult that deprives individuals of power and discourages and neutralizes its members. The way to build a community collectively responsible for its creative tension has to do with encouraging a continuous reflection on reality and organizational aims.
The leader teaches and redesigns the organizational culture. A culture is a set of ideas and practices that aid a community to locate itself in the world and to sail about it — a collective “mental pattern” that organizes the experience of those participating in it coherently. Quoting Schein: “Leadership is related to the formation of the culture.” The construction of the organizational culture and its evolution management is the “sole and essential function” of a leader.
Mental patterns are systems of deeply rooted assumptions, generalizations, images and archetypal plots that influence how we understand the world and how we take actions in it. They condition our personal, organizational and social lives and help us to make sense of reality and perform our functions efficiently. They determine what is rational, correct, moral, convenient and legitimate for us. They help us decide how to interact with others and with the world so as to maximize efficiency and keep coherence.
The leader is the cultural architect. Through his example, his words and his actions, he exerts a deep influence on the way of thinking and on the way of being of the organization. With his behavior, the leader is constantly sending subliminal messages about what is good, true and beautiful — the three dimensions that, according to Plato, define the essence of a cosmovision. This design task is a fundamental lever point to create the organizational synergy. The “adequate” culture becomes the link connecting the present reality with the future vision, through efficient and ethical mechanisms of behavior.
Cultural design is a continuous task. Beliefs and behavior systems tend to become age‐stiff and lose contact with the dynamic reality that generated them. The obsolescence of certain ideas and practices represents one of the major risks threatening the survival and vitality of the organization. On a social level, Michel Foucault analyzed this phenomenon and concluded: “The history of thought and culture throws a continuous pattern of great liberating ideas — ideas that inevitably become oppressive straitjackets containing the seed of their own destruction at the moment they face new emancipating conceptions, which will eventually turn enslaving.” The leader is he who is permanently busy updating the culture, to keep it fresh and vibrating.
Every individual has a personal leadership world in this area. As a father, a mother, a brother, a friend, a therapist or a manager, the person is able to show and project his cultural influence over his immediate environment. In organizational life, the coherence of culture demands a “traffic director” who helps to negotiate and align cultural forces emanating from each individual.
The leader defines structures, strategies and politics. To implement the ideals and cultural values, the organization needs to literally “incorporate them,” or “make them corporal.” The structure is the body of the organization, the visible side of culture. The leader is the person in charge of conducting the generation and maintenance of the structures, strategies and politics. In particular, the leader is in charge of keeping up the strategic compromise against environment pressures. When the temptation for straightforward gratification threatens with deviating the organization from its objectives and fundamental values, the leader works as an “anchor” and reminder, of that which, though essential, may turn invisible to the eyes of urgency.
Such as the designing of a culture, this defining of structures, strategies and politics is a continuous and dynamic task. To keep its coherence, the organization must fit the evolution of its mental pattern to the evolution of its forms and courses of action. The leader coordinates the design conversation in which the organization permanently reinvents itself.
Again, we emphasize the necessity of an individual leadership in life. Particularly, the creation of personal structures — such as the family, the job, friends, a religious congregation or other groups — are essential actions. To live in plenitude, the individual needs to examine his conscience and implement behavior standards that enable him to be at peace with himself and ethically proud, disregarding the pressures of the moment. In an organization, different individuals gather around directing ideas. While in the past, these ideas exclusively came from the leader, in the future, they will be born from a community dialogue. (The term dialogue comes from the Greek “dia‐logos,” which stands for “shared sense.”)
Shared leadership: The leader as a collective person
The great risk of charismatic leaders is the temptation they generate in others to delegate on them the responsibility of leadership. In situations of high uncertainty and volatility (such as those proposed by the present century), nobody has enough cognitive and emotional ability to totally assimilate the complexity of reality. If the community (and each of its members) does not take upon itself the role of leadership, it is highly probable it lives trapped in its childhood, depending on what the “parents” (leaders) dictate it to do. The problem is that paternalism, be it heroic or tyrannical, generates order through the eradication of the differences.
Such homogeneity brings about peace, but it reduces the possibilities of managing increasing complexity. Organizations are coming to understand the value of preserving diversity.
Diversity, though, is a double‐edged weapon. Provided there is a common place where the different points of view can align one another seeking a transcendent welfare, the organization learns and develops with effectiveness. When the common place is absent, the discussion creates friction and wearing away rather than light and energy. We have attributed the leader the responsibility for creating that common place, but no leader can substitute the individual compromise of each member of the organization. In the world of the future, those companies that have members both individually and jointly responsible for leadership will bear a clear, competitive advantage over those where the passivity of the personnel delegates such leadership to the “boss.”

How comfortable are you with your co-workers’ emotions? How comfortable are you with your own?

Emotions make us human. They have a strong impact on the success, collaboration, and engagement of our teams. Research clearly shows that we are all critically affected by our emotions at the workplace. It also shows that the negative influence of frustration has a stronger effect on performance than the positive influence of optimism.

Emotions strongly influence decision-making, creativity, and interpersonal relationships. And yet many leaders are uncomfortable with emotions or unaware of their influence and impact on leadership, organizational culture, and performance.

Conscious, courageous leaders are aware of the power that emotions hold. They harness it and make it work for them.

Emotional Intelligence is not Being Emotional

Let me be clear. Bringing emotions to your leadership is NOT the same as being emotional. Being “emotional” describes someone who is “sensitive” or reacts to circumstances in an intense way — when one takes things personal that are not personal.

Being able to process emotions and using the powerful information they contain is a way to improve your capacity to look at the world, take action in it, and accomplish the results you are striving for.

If you ignore your and other people’s emotions and the power they hold, then you set yourself up for unpleasant surprises.

Conscious Business and Emotional Mastery

The philosophy of Conscious Business regards emotional mastery as a meta mindset that underlies all other mindsets. Emotions deeply influence how we perceive the world and whether we can choose responsibility over victimhood or curiosity over the need for certainty in a given moment. The key is to consciously engage with emotions and leverage their power and energy.

This means engaging with the power of all emotions — the so-called positive and negative — be it happiness, excitement, gratitude, pride, sadness, fear, anger or guilt.

Emotional Intelligence in Business

Over 20 years ago, Daniel Goleman already declared emotional intelligence (EI) as a key competence of leaders:

“After analyzing 181 competence models from 121 organizations, I found that 67 percent of key abilities were related to EI. Compared to IQ, EI mattered twice as much.”

Emotions arise from our stories about what we observe and experience. These stories then consciously or unconsciously influence our actions.

The more aware we become of our ability to influence our interpretation of a certain situation (i.e., the story we tell ourselves), the more we can direct our actions.

Have you noticed in emotionally charged situations that our good intentions often go out the window? We know how we would like to behave and show up, but we feel so triggered in the moment that we don’t care about reason or find we cannot choose an empowering response. Instead, we react.

You can read hundreds of books or attend seminars, but emotional mastery is not about an intellectual understanding of how to lead or have difficult conversations. It is about being aware and equanimous at the moment and choosing a helpful response.

Responding to Emotions at Work

People work differently with emotions, and we recognize three different responses to emotions arising:

  1. 1. explosion,
  2. 2. repression or
  3. 3. expansion of awareness, and management of the emotion.

I am sure we all have experienced the harm it does when we or someone else “explodes” because of strong, negative emotions. For the person showing strong emotion, it may feel like a relief at the moment, but the consequences for relationships and the outcomes they are trying to achieve are mostly negative. And after a short while, it doesn’t feel that good anymore either.

On the other hand, the more we try to suppress or control our emotions, the more control they have over our thoughts and behavior, not allowing us to operate from a higher level of consciousness and leadership.

The secret is not to control our emotions but to balance, manage and align our emotions with who we are and how we want to lead. It’s key to productively use the energy the emotions carry to our advantage and become aware of the message it sends us so we can act in a productive way.

Influence of Emotions in Leadership: A Framework

Let me share a five-step framework on how to increase your emotional mastery and leverage emotions in a conscious way:

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

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

In cased you missed it, here are the first five questions.
Dear CEO,

6) We are not going to refer to this as “the soft stuff” anymore. Devaluing the human dimension compared to the technical dimension of business is not helping us adapt more quickly. We will learn to measure and understand the direct business benefits of our transformation efforts across all three dimensions of success: i) the task, ii) the team, iii) the self. We will overdeliver on all three dimensions.

Regardless of the outside help we get, we can’t “outsource” this work. We have to do this ourselves. We have to become transformation exemplars, and that will require us to integrate the human and technical dimensions of business. We will work on designing and capturing tangible ROI from the beginning. The experts I am bringing in will teach us how to do that in a practical way that matters to us. At the same time, we can also illustrate tangible value by comparing the culture/leadership investment to the cost of NOT shifting (e.g., employee turnover, inability to attract star employees, stalled customer focus improvements, stalled innovation, slower implementation times, lack of agility).

7) Expect a significant transition during year 2 and year 3. Companies like ours that are successful shifting culture do not usually say, “we got it” during year 1. This is not an HR project; this is a business prototype, which will give us a chance to “really learn by doing.”

The experts I’m bringing in will take us through a series of 90-day sprints that will help us “learn by doing.” These prototypes will help us learn what helps us deliver better results in the context of working on the business, not in theory. They have seen and lived through all kinds of scenarios facing other peer executives in situations like ours. They heard me admit and ask the same textbook questions while giving me the objective, outside, cold-water-wake-up-call answers that we need to hear…

  • We’re stuck. How do we break free from the inertia of learned helplessness and tyranny of low expectations to get to the next level? Clarify the culture standards (and learning gaps) that we have between our current level and our desired level, then clarify how committed we are to get to the next level (and why). What’s at stake for you? me? our team? the organization?
  • How do we avoid the early-on potential for unskilled false starts (e.g., too big or too fluffy) or snapping back to homeostasis/current level? We won’t get tricked into shortcuts and we won’t “bolt this on.” Connect the development work directly to high priority business imperatives — that’s the best reason to train. We won’t treat this like a communication project; it’s a business prototype.
  • How do we accelerate the process? We will stop delaying it, and we will go deeper faster. We will let the leaders and teams also “learn by doing” with high-impact, real-world, 90-day sprints where we can experiment to see what works here (what we’re ready for).
  • How do we extend and keep the flame going? Let’s stop asking that “cascading” question right now. We’re not sure that we’re willing to do what’s necessary to even “pack the snowball tight” with the senior executives and focused experiments. Let’s focus on that first. If that sticks, then we’ll start building peer learning communities as well as formal/informal communities of practice where we all will learn while doing — we train together while delivering business imperatives.


8) Expect to pay attention to things you haven’t paid attention to before.

  • We are going to be doing something that most leaders have not been invited to do before…to courageously observe our own leadership style/techniques, the impact it’s having on delaying the organizational performance/shifts, and then optimize them according to what we say matters most to us.
  • We are going to start with the initiation phase of a vertical learning adult development program, where we will become more objectively aware of our current level and next level gaps…and we will see more clearly than ever before.We will be even more committed than ever to the possibilities that come with our next level goals. We all deserve to get to the next level!
  • It will take deliberate, focused practice to shift these specific organizational capabilities from unconsciously incompetent to consciously competent, and to deliver consistently on the high-performance attributes we have chosen. Some individuals will go faster than others, and some microcultures will influence others faster. Meanwhile, our brain’s biases, our history and our system inertia are working against us more than working with us to support the change. However, once we build our transformation muscles, we will have more wind at our back…exponential business benefits and odds of success for 202X and beyond.

9) I need you to ask for more help.

Not because you are weak but because you are strong — because you have all the power. When it comes to preparing yourself to be an exemplar transformation mentor/leader, you need to ask for more help so everyone will see that being a learner, “asking for help,” and being transformed ourselves is something we value at the highest levels of the organization. Saying “I don’t know how to do this” and asking for help is not a sign of weakness around here anymore. From now on, we win by learning.

You (we) should be asking for more feedback and more guidance on how other companies make this shift — on how to best mentor the executive team through this beyond stepping up as a public player in workshops. The majority of adult development/learning doesn’t happen in the workshop; it will happen in the learning experiences we share with each other during the course of running the business. And it will come from the social influence that we contribute in every meeting, every agenda and every interaction that we have within the leadership team.

10) We are going to lead the way.


Based on several true stories inside of multinational organizations:
When the chief human resources officer (CHRO) or any C-suite executive finally refuses to be a complicit bystander and commits to leading the business (like a real business leader)…here are 5 ways to start the conversation:
Dear CEO,

1) We have a serious problem …a culture problem.

We are witnessing a historic shift in what’s expected of us when it comes to understanding and evolving our company’s culture. We can’t deny or minimize the negative impact that our executive leadership is having on our culture any longer. The crisis of unconscious leaders is all around us, AND it is clearly a disadvantage for our business performance. This is a new era with new rules. We need to let go of some of the old success formulas…not all of them…just some. We are up to this challenge. We are going to shift the culture and expand the future-focused capabilities that we need (e.g., alignment, collaboration, curiosity, innovation, agility) so that we can not only stay relevant and competitive in the future but so that we can win. I (CHRO) am going to help you lead the way through this. I will need you to trust me. We will do this together.

2) Our industry, our history and our future are at odds.

It’s time for us to reactivate some of our originating startup/adaptive DNA and take our enterprise transformation seriously if we expect to win in the future.
Yes, we’re already rich, we have plenty of reserves, and we’ll probably stay afloat beyond your retirement…but we’re just floating right now. We’re not moving forward. We’re stuck. That’s not the kind of legacy we want to leave here after all this time, after all our hard work. The business case for change is undeniable, and yet we keep putting our head back in the sand, hiding in our offices, telling our employees and each other, “we got this.” But we’re just floating — and floating is insufficient. Just “getting by” is creating a long-term disadvantage for us, and it’s creating a ridiculous amount of unnecessary suffering right now.
“Just floating” is not going to be your legacy. And it’s not going to be mine either.This is not going to be fixed by having a two-day workshop or retreat. There is no shortcut. We need to shift some of our default thinking patterns/habits and close the gap on some key organizational attributes/behaviors that can make us more agile, collaborative and innovative. To be a legitimate competitor, we need to perform these attributes consistently at a professional, world-class level. This is not amateur hour or a time for dabbling/hacking away at this like it was a hobby to pick up over a weekend seminar. We have to evolve rapidly. We have to transform. We’ve been talking about this for years. If it were easy for us, we would have already been doing it. We’re stuck. We clearly all have a lot to learn. We need to adjust the way we think, relate, make decisions and take action. It’s never too early (and hopefully not too late) to ready our teams and ourselves for the future.

3) Our employees are losing faith…

So we have to act decisively. You saw what they wrote in the annual engagement survey. The research firm quantified just how much they are losing faith. You read the verbatims. You were upset by the quantity and toxicity of verbatims. You asked me:

“Who does that? Who writes that kind of terrible stuff, knowing that their bosses are going to be reading it?” Seriously, who does that? The “un-led” do that. (JL)
We can lead better. The people in our organization are telling us that we have a problem, and they want us to create a more constructive work environment.

  • They basically called BS on our leadership team’s ability to deliver on a majority of our company core values (e.g., teamwork, innovation, courage, respect, trust, creativity, integrity). They notice the incongruence. THAT IS A STRONG SIGNAL FOR US.
  • They said they have 20 percent less confidence in our business potential over the next two to three years compared to their confidence a year ago. THAT IS A STRONG SIGNAL FOR US.
  • They said they are 25 percent less engaged than a year ago across all business units. THAT IS A STRONG SIGNAL FOR US.

None of this will fix itself. We MUST ready ourselves to respond more effectively by leading a sustainable, strategic culture shift.

4) Our leadership team is not yet equipped to respond/lead a transformation like this alone. We don’t know how to do this effectively yet (and pretending to know is only making things worse). 

By our own words, we are at an inflection point that our default thinking patterns, behaviors and leadership muscles are NOT prepared for and need to change in order to achieve our three- to five-year plan success/goals — LET ALONE THIS YEAR’S STRETCH GOALS. We can do this, and I am going to lead this. We’re not transformation experts yet, so I’m going to get you and our entire leadership team the expert support, learning and development we all need to feel strong leading the way.
We will focus on consistency over intensity. We’re going to play the long game — no culture “change theater” or quick fixes. We will lead the way, with humility and empathy — not by knowing but by BECOMING LEARNING EXEMPLARS, showing that we value learning more than saving face. We are not yet personally connected to the kind of transformation that we are asking of our people, but we will be. This journey will be one of the greatest achievements of our career. We can do this.

5) To ready the organization for change  we should expect to invest in both expanding leadership capabilities and building internal capacity. 

We need to work on our inner game (transforming our mindsets) and our outer game (the way we execute the business). Our internal team of leaders will be fully involved and take on this initiative in a way that integrates with all of our existing work. Our leaders will be doing the majority of the training and development of middle manager cohorts — once we get a couple of cycles under our belt and I am confident that we can skillfully marry executive mentors and the extended leader/team cohorts into effective, sustainable programs that simultaneously support specific business priorities. For the transformation and readiness part, we will need to partner with an expert firm for the high-leverage areas that require their expertise, and we will need to be focused on the C-suite leadership development and culture change readiness (mentoring and coaching) work as well as ensuring high quality, internal capacity building.

To successfully achieve next level results/culture shift that we say we want, to maintain momentum and to build internal capacity to sustain it, I would expect us to work with expert resources/interventionists over the next three-year time frame while we build internal competency. It will more likely be front-loaded than equally spread out across those three years. It doesn’t have to be incremental learning and development dollars; we can reallocate some of our other important learning and development budget for this essential work.
Here are five more questions to engage the CEO.