Traditional scenario planning helps to prepare an organization for the future. The method asks leaders to consider possible future scenarios and how they could affect the business’s strategy in order to formulate the best plans to tackle any given outcome. But what happens when the future suddenly seems more uncertain than ever? The wheel is moving really fast these days. What we thought was true yesterday, might not be true tomorrow. We are facing fast changing environments in which people and organizations are struggling with how to adjust to it all. Some of the more common words I have heard when working with teams in the last 90 days are uncertainty, anxiety and feeling “stuck”.
Scenario Planning 2.0 - Hands holding jigsaw puzzle pieces, Business partnership concept.

Preparing ourselves

We cannot control what others decide, what consumers want, and what governments will do. We can only prepare ourselves to see the possibilities in advance and be at our best to quickly adapt our plans. The traditional way of planning no longer works and applying the scenario planning method won’t be enough under the current conditions. The issue now is not how many scenarios we can build based on assumptions and premises, but how fast we can read, listen, and integrate new information. The world is changing too quickly to be able to make predictions as we did in the past. There are new variables and a lot of unknowns.
We need to find a new way forward, which honors the need for long term plans, while learning how to adjust with agility and effectiveness. Just think, even the definition of what “long-term” means has been upended. Even yearly plans could be considered long-term now!

Scenario Planning 2.0

Now the question is, how do we find the way forward? How can we plan and create a vision if we are still reeling from the recent changes and figuring out how best to adapt? How can we support our team members and help them feel less anxious as we forge ahead together?
The way we do this needs to address not only the business planning and strategy, but also how we can build trust within the team and inspire and energize them. It requires learning a new way of applying an updated version of scenario planning; one where the current situation changes day to day, or even hour to hour. The updated version of scenario planning means having frequent and regular conversations with your team to discuss assumptions, impact, and action plans. This is not a one-time event, but a regular exercise that will align your people and help to inspire confidence in an uncertain time. Scenario Planning 2.0 will help you and your team find a way forward. A way that is aligned despite the different perspectives about the future, and that provides the mindset and practices that can help you adjust based on new information.

Learn more

I gave a webinar masterclass to explore this methodology further through a simple, yet powerful exercise that many leaders are already benefiting from. To watch the webinar recording and learn how to run this beneficial exercise with your team, click here.

When we are facing new, difficult circumstances that we’ve never faced before, it is often much harder to respond in a constructive way. Our reptile brain unconsciously chooses between two bad options: fight or flight. Although we know this intellectually, this doesn’t mean we can get ourselves out of the trap so easily, or support others to do so.
In the article I wrote with my colleague, Thierry De Beyssac, Survivor Syndrome: Overcoming Organizational Trauma in Times of Crisis, we talked about how leaders can to respond to the current challenges in a constructive way. One of these ways is asking people what they need to be at their best, inviting them to be players and to regain control of their situation.
Survivor Syndrome: Tapping into the Player Within. Image of two business women talking
When we are in a leadership position we must challenge ourselves, not only to maintain our center, but also to be at our best to help others around us. However, many times what we see, as Constanza Busto shared in her article Survivor Syndrome: Building Bridges, is that we believe we know what needs to be done and what’s best for the other person. We can’t believe they don’t see it when, for us, it is so clear. Often, while we are thinking that about others, others are thinking the same thing about us. So, how can we escape from this unhealthy loop? For starters, as Constanza suggested, we meet people where they are, with no judgement, just making their stories and situations true and reasonable. Before we make them wrong, try making them right.
Only once that step is done, once we empathize, are we ready for the next part of the conversation. It is time to “coach them out of victimhood,” to help them connect with the player mindset. This means empowering them to think for themselves, encouraging them in a gentle and kind way, and helping them discover their next best step (just one little step) toward a new trajectory.

How do we do this?

  1. Validate their story: Make them feel safe and understood. If we could put ourselves in their shoes, we would be feeling and thinking the same thing.
  2. Ask questions that empower:
    • Help them build a small, short-term vision: “If you had a magic wand, what would be happening now?”
    • Ask “What can you do about it?”: a) Based on what you have envisioned, what is in your control? What can you influence? Is there anything you can now do to start moving in that direction? b) Is there anything you can ask someone for? Do you need to make any requests?
  3. Listen without judgement: Becoming a sounding board, coming from a place of understanding and compassion, for what they feel they can and cannot do, will make a big difference.
  4. Moving from ideas to actions: Help them commit to one “baby step” and be of service.
    • What could be your next move that you commit to try? When will you try it?
    • Can I support you in any way for you to try this?

Tapping into the Player Within

Try to follow these simple steps and remember that it’s not just the questions you ask, but from which emotional state and with what intentions you do it. Make sure you prepare to be of service from a place of humility, care, and helping others. The goal is to accompany your employees to find their own way to be effective with the tasks ahead, to gain trust in you, and feel good about themselves in such difficult times.
Remember, when a person is not at their best, the question we need to ask ourselves as leaders is: how do I choose to respond to effectively support this person to move on and be at their best? Above all, keep in mind that this is not only my choice, but my opportunity to grow and develop as a leader.
In our next article, we will discuss how we can all create a brighter future together in the months ahead.

In Fran Cherny and Thierry De Beyssac’s article, Survivor Syndrome: Overcoming Organizational Trauma in Times of Crisis, they mention “meeting people where they are” as a way of helping your organization navigate this difficult time. What does it mean to “meet people where they are?” Why it is important?  
In life, we are all seeking experiences that make us feel good, loved, and give us a sense of belonging. We crave connection. The workplacein any format, is not the exception. According to Forbes Magazine, on average, we invest a little less than half our time at work in meetings, interacting with colleagues. There are plenty of opportunities to build connection and strong, trusting relationships, and yet, often we feel disconnected and sense a lack of belonging. 
Survivor Syndrome: Building Bridges and meeting people where they are. Two hands, one on either side of a pane of glass in a windowMoreover, during difficult times and crises in an organization, leaders tend to focus all their energy in trying to survive and keep the business going; learning to transform the business while running the business. Relationships are sometimes overlooked, and connection is postponed for “when the right time comes.”
In Axialent, we believe that what we do as leaders shapes our organizational culture and how we choose to respond during crisis is what makes the difference.  
Responding to the challenge in a constructive way and supporting people to be at their best will help organizations grow their power of adaptability and resilience: two things we all need desperately, now more than ever. 

Building connections and meeting people where they are is a step toward supporting people to be at their best

So, if meeting people where they are” makes us feel loved and valued and can help us thrive, why do we often experience disconnection or misunderstandings instead? 
It turns out we can find it difficult to connect with others: 

  • It takes work and energy: Empathy is hard work. According to the American Psychological Association, people sometimes choose to avoid empathy because of mental effort it requires. 
  • It can be painful / uncomfortable to see people we love & care for suffer: We want to save people from suffering. We cannot “spare people from living the process.” The only way out is through.
  • We get frustrated and anxious for the time it takes to walk the journey: We sometimes feel that talking about what has happened is not the best investment of our time, and it’s frustrating. “Lets go into solution mode NOW!  
  • Knower Energy: We believe we know what needs to be done, whats best for the other person and what needs to happen. “How can they not see it? It’s so clear!” 
  • Our own judgment: We experience disappointment when we feel that things or people are not being good enough. We put our own expectations on others. 
  • It’s challenging to look inward at ourselves to a place where we can connect and resonate with others pain and experiences. We are not always willing to do it.  


Building bridges

So, how can we increase our connection to build bridges and “meet people where they are?”

  • Self-connection: Be aware of your own stories and emotions toward the situation. Clarify your own intentions. How is this situation making me feel? What is the story I am telling myself? How would I like to help others? What would make me feel proud, despite the results?
  • Acceptance: Whatever it is, is enough. Let go of any expectations of how things should be or how people should react. We are all in our own journey and the time it takes for each of us to process what is happening is the time each of us need.
  • Hold the space for others: Be fully present with your energy, intention, and attention. Create a safe space for people to share their own stories, without fear of negative consequences. Let people know you are in this together.
  • See people with kind eyes: Tap into your empathy and compassion. We are all doing our best to deal with our own challenges. Its ok to feel whatever each of us is feeling. Be at their serviceassume good intent, and seek to understand others’ perspectives and beliefs with genuine curiosity.
  • Help people get unstuck: The way we see the problem is the problemChallenge peoples beliefs by offering alternative perspectives and support them in creating new possibilities for their business, their relationships, and their lives.
  • Invite people to move forward: Create a compelling and inspiring vision for people to join you and reduce the exit barriers for people wanting to leave.
  • Be the change you want to see in the world: Lead your team by example by demonstrating the standards (behaviors) you would like to see in others.

Reaching out and offering our helping hands with the sole intention of supporting each other is the way we, at Axialent, choose to respond.
“Just Say No: How Your Meeting Habit Is Harming You”, 8 August 2013
“Empathy Often Avoided Because of Mental Effort”, 22 April 2019



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.

Speed matters in business.
Many executives today are leading high-growth companies and startups. Velocity-driven organizations and type A executives work hard at delivering new standards of performance and handling increased levels of change and creative tension without sacrificing trust or momentum. That is no accident though. These high-velocity and high-trust organizations are consistently working on their team dynamics and culture.
Most of us are only aware of our culture and its impact on our team’s performance when we have to adapt to something. Culture matters when there’s a problem (e.g., explosive change) – otherwise it’s just there. (paraphrased from E.Schein)
Sometimes, though, (even for business juggernauts) the continued pressure to make history and deliver on deadlines and commitments may lead to breakdowns. Despite the consistent good intentions and impressive accomplishments of the individuals on the team, team members may understandably get caught up in a “swirl” of counterproductive, cognitive conflict (causing drag forces) and affective conflict (causing drama/gravitational forces).
In physics, velocity, efficiency and momentum are negatively affected by drag. The faster you go, the more drag you create. Even tiny changes in drag can create large differences in performance.
At best, the “drama, drag and swirl” may be:

  • Distracting and diverting the team’s energy away from more value-added activities.
  • Decelerating the potential for additional momentum (i.e., maximum velocity).

At worst, the “drama, drag and swirl” may be:

  • Undermining the team’s effectiveness and ultimate success of their business objective.

Approximately $350 billion U.S in lost productivity occurs annually in organizations, due to negative behavior (e.g. swirl, toxicity) according to Gallup research. As much as 40 percent of manager’s time is spent dealing with conflict, drama and unhealthy tension another research indicates. (Source:
Everyday (default/reactive) methods for responding to this kind of tension/drag may not help regain collaborative momentum or help your organization recover quickly enough. In these cases, gravity becomes the overpowering force compelling your organization to a complete stop.
Instead of default methods of diffusing conflict, high-velocity teams and cultures practice staying above the drama, drag and swirl more effectively, with a shared set of drag-reducing mechanisms (e.g., tools, skills, mindsets). To maintain speed, they practice with these tools (see chart below) consistently — especially at critical moments when it doesn’t seem like there is time to stop and practice.

What is creating drama, drag and swirl inside of your organization?

I think that most of the important work that is done in organizations these days is done by teams. Even if people are not all sitting together in a room working simultaneously, their work is shared with others, revised, edited, informed, poked, prodded, enhanced, refined or otherwise manipulated into a product that features input from a number of people. And almost always, those other people think somewhat differently than we do. Maybe that’s because of where they’re from, or where they’ve worked, or how they’ve been trained, or the experience they’ve had in this organization or prior organizations, their age/generation, etc. In other words, their mindsets are different based on their background and experience.

In my work, I have often seen the impact of these mindset differences. And, importantly, another area of meaningful mindset difference is based on our functions. To be very clear, I am generalizing in making this observation. Not all finance people are sticklers for detail, and not all marketing people operate in the world of possibilities and potential. But many of them do—much to the dismay of people with other functional backgrounds. I think most of us would agree that organizations are much better off with the diversity of functional mindsets providing input into decision-making, idea generation, execution and other critical aspects of organizational success. But these differences can cause problems.
Have you ever been frustrated because someone across the table from you, or in one of your important meetings, rejects an idea on the basis of their legal regulatory experience? Or have you ever been flustered by someone on the team who insists that something can be done without providing any specifics about how? These are examples of cross-functional mindset challenges.

So what might we do about it? How can we work better together, have more shared success, as well as retain our sanity?
First, slow down, breathe and recognize that differences are part of our shared human experience, whether that’s convenient for us or not. Remember that those people across the table are almost always good human beings who are participating in a way that they believe is useful and effective, from the point of view of their function and their experience.
Second, take action to understand their priorities—the interests that underlie their positions. When you hear a “no” that feels like a door slamming, ask for a few reasons why that answer was given. Ask what would have to be true in order for you to hear a “yes” instead. There are other useful questions you could ask, of course. The important thing is to listen carefully to the responses. Doing so will not only provide a basis for understanding the other person’s thinking but also will very importantly provide you with key information about how to frame your response to them, such as a new proposal or suggestion.

Of course, this is easy to read here in a short blog and harder to do when the clock is ticking, the pressure is on, and we want to be finished with this conversation yesterday. Hang in there; make an effort. Perhaps others in the room will recognize how you are trying to move past differences and promote greater understanding and better results. They can join in as well. Share your intention with them and let your team know what you were trying to do and why. Chances are they will get on board.