I have a dream, and its name is Conscious Kids! And I want us to dream together. With my colleagues at Axialent, I work with great business and people leaders around the world. Fundamentally, we help build conscious cultures and coach leaders to successfully run conscious businesses. I love what I do. I really do it out of passion, and I am rewarded by the outstanding impact this work has on individuals and organizations. And yet, I feel there is so much more that can be done to foster consciousness in our ecosystems. 

A few months ago, at an Axialent Board meeting in Barcelona, I had some sort of revelation: we could also support the leaders of tomorrow – our kids! This revelation made me feel 30 years younger, made my eyes shine, and filled me with renewed energy…and a new sense of noble purpose. I began my work toward this by preparing a series of videos where I addressed what conscious kids means concretely, how we could impact kids around the world, and how to make this revelation real.  

conscious kids

When discussing “kids”, I am referring to potentially three different groups: children ages 7-12, teenagers 13-17, and those preparing to enter their adult and professional life. 

In the first phase of these videos, I addressed the what (help kids raise their consciousness so that they are the owners of their lives), the why (our kids’ freedom of mind is at risk), and the how (to raise our kids’ consciousness and be the owners of their future).  

The what of conscious kids is the DNA so to speak. It is helping kids to become: 

  • The player, rather than the victim of their life 
  • A learner, rather than a typical teenager pretending to know everything 
  • A master of their emotions, rather than being controlled by them 
  • Someone who thinks for themselves, rather than just as they are told to think 
  • Someone who speaks their truth constructively without the fear of avoiding confrontation or conflict and without disrespecting the opinions of others. 

The why of conscious kids is somewhat obvious, yet under-addressed. Kids are facing many challenges today for which they are not prepared. There are more and more challenges coming up that nobody but themselves will have to manage individually and collectively.

As adults, we don’t yet know the solutions to the unique challenges they will face. But it is our job to prepare and empower them. As I see it, our children are endangered by three key phenomena:  

  • Social networks, which are based on algorithms that create circular thinking. Social networks do not only tell us what to think but also unconsciously how to think and what relationships to have or not to have with others. These are all the opposite of critical thinking, and of thinking for oneself.   
  • A dramatic polarization of opinions towards the extremes, which divides people within the same family, community, and country in an increasingly violent and lack of respect for others ‘world. Kids need to discover and master polarity thinking that is not taught at school. 
  • The meteoric arrival of the metaverse will immerse us — our kids first — in a world of virtual and augmented realities. Once again, for the better and for the worse. The metaverse, together with artificial intelligence and transhumanism, is revamping the notion of life and of WHO we are. Psychiatrists and psychotherapists have already evidenced how virtual worlds in some video games are leading our kids to face serious risks of loss of identity, confusion about reality, and what the sense of life is — not to mention the risks of manipulation and brainwashing in virtual reality worlds. The metaverse could also be a world of opportunities for the best — if we infuse it with consciousness and mindfulness.  

One thing for example that is of major concern, I think, is the relationship our kids should consciously build with their AI avatar(s): The avatar is their self-representation / projection in the virtual worlds. We need to help them decide and define how this avatar could be their own hero: a hero who can help them become the best version of themselves in real life, and NOT a confusing chimera of someone they are not and should never be. 

My fourth video on conscious kids was a very early reflection on how we can help kids raise their consciousness and be the owners of their life and future. A couple of possibilities include:  

  • A community-based learning & development program where kids will learn from each other, from their parents, from teachers, psychologists, therapists, and pediatricians, from their sports coach, from universities, from corporate foundations, and from all kinds of educational governmental agencies and NGOs — with the support of high-tech companies through strategic alliances. 
  • Gamification — through the investigation of how kids of different ages learn, providing video games, sports, art, and/or physical projects that are tailored to raising consciousness. 

Our aim is to become a marketplace and connector, leveraging the ecosystem of private and public initiatives around the world for raising our kids’ mindfulness, and their ability to make this world a better place for them and for others. 

Take a look at my series of videos about Conscious Kids:

Watch my entire series of videos about Conscious Kids!

At this stage I have three key inferences to be validated or not as we are confronted by realities in our experience: 

  • The ways kids learn and develop are obviously different from how we structure L&D programs for adults — and the way kids will learn & develop in the coming years and decades will be completely different from what it is today. Their world is changing dramatically at a pace that we adults might not even be able to imagine. 
  • Kids and their education are our future: I don’t know how yet, but I intuit that the kids themselves will be the masters of this game. They will tell us, we will learn from them, and they will make us grow. We will not be the teachers — just enablers, facilitators, and coaches. What a shift of paradigm in our education approach!  
  • Likewise, with AI and the metaverse we really need to figure out how together, kids and adults, we will shape the world and the life we want. 

The next step in this exciting journey is to develop the how suite further. Stay tuned for further videos in our next phase, towards the end of the year. I am looking forward to this journey ahead, and hope you are with us! 

Many organizations have identified the need to drive culture change to adapt to evolving business needs and strategies and new ways of working and retaining talent. The need is clear, and the desire is there. So, what gets in the way of actual change happening?

Most culture change efforts start with a lot of energy but quickly lose steam.  We start seeing the tell-tale signs that we’re not moving forward:

  • Senior leaders dedicate less time and focus
  • Culture activities get cancelled or postponed
  • Initiatives are superficial and there’s no real effort to change mindsets and behaviors that get in the way
  • Focus is on storytelling, but not on “story doing”

As time goes on, it gets difficult to remember why we were doing this to begin with. Because we don’t know what got us here, we wonder, can we really change? We start focusing on all the reasons why we can’t change instead of what we are missing by not changing — what other possibilities could exist.

Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a shock to the system, a call to consciousness to make us focus back on culture – an incident that publicly exposes detrimental behaviors permeating the company and tarnishes the brand, talented people leaving due to burnout and disengagement, crippling bureaucracy or missed growth opportunities.

If you are a leader or culture champion, you may be wondering: How can we jumpstart the culture change? How can we spark renewed enthusiasm and support? Instead of looking for a recipe for success, we encourage you to address the challenge with curiosity, one conversation at a time.  Contemplate who you need support from to reenergize the process and how you can best engage them in discussing the following questions:

  • Who is in? Who is indifferent? Who is out? Why is that the case?
  • Are we clear on why culture matters to our business?
  • Are we aligned on what needs to change about the way we do things today?
  • What is holding us back from making the necessary shifts?
  • How can we quickly demonstrate that things are changing?
  • As leaders, how do we need to change to ourselves?
  • What commitments are we willing to make?
  • What support do we need to fulfill those commitments?

Conventional wisdom is that change takes time; in reality, what it takes is intention and practice.  Culture changes one conversation at a time.  If your culture journey is stuck, jumpstart it by creating a safe space to discuss the questions above constructively.  It may sound counterintuitive, but instead of doing more and going fast, it may be better to focus on less and take time to reflect.  Don’t get discouraged if things don’t happen in the first conversation. Change requires intention, inspiration, a simple plan, and practice.

What would the corporate world look like if there was no curiosity at work? What if we stopped being inquisitive about the world, others, and ourselves? In times of disruptive change, individuals and leaders need to embrace both: running the present and preparing for the future. Those who are good at both will thrive in the 21st century. Curiosity is preparing for a comeback. According to LinkedIn data, there has been a year-on-year 90% growth in the use of the word curiosity in job advertisements.

As many leaders can attest to, there is a difference between complicated and complex problems. Complicated problems are what dominated our 20th century — they could be solved with technical expertise, in a methodical and relatively more linear fashion. The reality of the 21st century is that our world, and our problems, are VUCA — that is, volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. We cannot solve our problems with just the expertise and experience of the past because the variables are constantly changing. Solving complex problems require openness to new realities.

Due to these factors, the human dimension of life and work has become even more profoundly important. While humans have always mattered, the focus in the 20th century was on efficiency and production. Now, due to the complexity of our problems, there is more focus on the greyer area: the human dimension, of which curiosity is one of the central drivers of.

Today, research by SAS.com has discovered that nearly three quarters (72%) of managers believe curiosity is a very valuable trait in employees, with more than half strongly agreeing that curiosity drives real business impact (59%) and that employees who have more curiosity are higher performers (51%). Other research by SurveyMonkey found that the key ingredients for companies to weather economic downturn during COVID-19 were Curiosity and Agility. At a personal level, the Global Curiosity Institute (GCI) has established that curious professionals and leaders make faster careers and take home higher salaries. GCI has also found the need for a symbiotic positive relation between curious professionals and curious organizations. Curious organizations are those who embrace curiosity intentionally and ensure curiosity is celebrated throughout through their positive culture, processes and practices.

To enable this, what sort of culture must be created? People cannot be afraid of being wrong. They cannot be afraid of telling difficult truths. And they must feel psychologically safe. In other words, there must be cultures of learning, and where a player mindset is safe and encouraged. A player mindset is when faced with a situation, we concentrate on our own behavior and our ability to respond — focusing on factors within our control and what can be done to improve the situation. In a mindset like this, we are naturally curious, because we are constantly aware of our own actions and reactions, and can take positive action. The opposite of a player mindset is a victim mindset, where we hide behind factors outside of our control. Cultures where blaming abounds encourage victimhood, which drives curiosity and learning away.

A second mindset linked to curiosity and conscious business is key: “the learner mindset”, as opposed to “the knower mindset”. Being a knower is not about being knowledgeable, but about the concept of Truth and how we interpret the reality around us. The knower thinks the way that they perceive reality is THE Truth. The learner, on the other hand, understands that their perception is ‘their’ truth, and that other truths may also exist. Being a learner is about accepting different perspectives: the knower holds expertise with certainty, while the learner may have expertise also, but holds it with curiosity. These are not permanent tags; a person can shift from one mindset to the other at will. In a learner mindset, being curious does not mean we become unproductive or indecisive. On the contrary, engaging in difficult conversations as a learner instead of a knower is more effective.

So how do you start the journey of culture change?

Anabel Dumlao; Partner, Axialent: People who belong to a culture act how they think they are supposed to act. They will try to belong, or leave the culture if they feel stifled. The first step is to realize that culture is built — that levers do exist. In other words, it starts with awareness. If you don’t realize this, you will end up with a culture by default and not by design. Culture changes when behaviors, symbols, and systems change consistently over time. When it comes to curiosity, this means that you will observe behaviors like leaders asking sincere questions, symbols like people whose ‘productive failures’ get them promoted and not expelled, or systems like learning and development that track what people learned more than the hours they spent training. The culture designed should be one where people can thrive and delight customers. And we must remember, the shadow of a leader is long. Leaders who lead by example and show up with curiosity, invite the team to follow their example. Those who don’t, stifle the team.

Stefaan van Hooydonk; Founder of the Global Curiosity Institute: Awareness is indeed the first step towards action as it paves the way for taking positive and intentional action to do something about the status quo. Intentionality is therefore crucial for companies to embrace a culture which celebrates both exploitation and exploration, both celebrating the past and embracing the unknown future. Curiosity can be measured and be managed. You can measure the status quo, and derive action plans from there. When it comes to training people, some companies focus on changing their environment, while others focus on training mindset and habits, some do both. In any case, C-suites are becoming acutely aware that what worked in the 20thcentury does not necessarily work in the 21st century. The 20th century was stable, and we didn’t require too much focus much on creativity, curiosity, or innovation. Companies like Microsoft have changed the paradigm with leaders like Satya Nadella, who inspired his management team to shift from “know it all” to “learn it all”.

Our awareness and how we approach change makes the difference between how reliant we are on past solutions, versus how curious and adaptable we can be to this VUCA world we now live in. Today, we need to be learners and problem finders. Problem-solving is when we use our current skill set to find a solution. Problem-finding is when we predict what could go wrong, which requires a much more open, curious, and imaginative mindset.

I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the pandemic a few weeks in advance and to be able to act based on the signs, intuition and experience to face a challenge that we did not even imagine what it would finally be like.

The signs were the cancellation of a project in Germany and the anger around the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The intuition, that we were facing something unknown and devastating. The experience was that of my colleague Thierry de Beyssac warning me that in the face of real crises, the “worst-case” had to be “really” a nightmare scenario.

Today, two years later, I know that surviving would have been impossible without the trust of our partners and the support and ability to sacrifice of all of us who comprised of Axialent in March 2020. Practically our entire operation was face-to-face with our clients, and involved travel throughout Europe and America that was cut off to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

That was the situation.

The first thing I perceived was fear — fear in our people, fear in our clients, fear in our families. And I understood that the first thing we had to do was to overcome fear.

I set myself three priorities to transform fear into hope.

The first: guarantee the survival of the company. We did it by renegotiating the financial structure, expanding the capital base and applying very tough cost management that included pay cuts up to 50% in the highest salaries and eliminating all non-essential expenses.

The second: talking to people, honoring our values and proposing a pact to socialize sacrifice so that no one would be left behind in circumstances in which uncertainty and vulnerability were total. The tsunami had hit us in the middle of the sailing and all of us on the Axialent ship deserved to reach port together, safe and sound. So we agreed, so we did. It is what I am most proud of as CEO.

The third: to talk to our customers and offer help and support with the ship afloat and the crew weathering the storm. They were just as scared and perplexed as we were. It was the best we could do — we helped each other. We designed new services together that helped them in a complex and challenging scenario, and because of this we were able to reinvent ourselves beyond what we would have dreamed of without the pressure of the coronavirus.

The implementation of these three priorities brought us an unexpected gift, which was to accelerate innovation. Almost without realizing it, we began to do remotely what we were doing in person. The need helped us to make possible what we previously saw as impossible — and for which we had brought a team to the company whose presence at that time was critical. Thanks to this, we found ourselves giving new answers to the new problems that the pandemic brought to the table. At the same time, none of this was easy. And although today I see these two years as a vital and invaluable learning experience, the truth is that we all suffer a lot and still continue to suffer consequences of COVID-19.

At some point, we used the tools we use with our clients to see how we were working in the midst of chaos and the result overwhelmed me. I heard things that I did not like, and it helped me to see things that I did not see. All of this helped us to correct course, and taught me how the humility to admit mistakes is the best ally to create the confidence that is needed to act and lead in uncertainty.

When they ask me what my keys as CEO were for Axialent to survive, I answer that I listened a lot and made quick decisions at the service of the people. Decisions to empower, remove obstacles and protect with an armored umbrella those who were on the front lines helping our clients, containing the budget, or reinventing our services. And underneath the armored umbrella manage the storytelling without essentially missing the truth and remembering that “a team is a state of mind” as my friend Jorge Valdano says. I considered that some bad news or explaining in detail the size of certain obstacles would only serve to increase the distress and discouragement of the team in the midst of the greatest challenge most of us had ever faced in our lives. I sincerely believe that this selective transparency, and sometimes with an optimistic bias, helped us stay on course and reach port.

The pandemic brutally showed us the difference between what we can control and what we cannot. Knowing how to make this distinction and focus energy on what is under our control is what we call at Axialent “unconditional responsibility” which, next to caring for people, are the keys to getting out of a crisis like the one we are experiencing with more awareness and wisdom. Is important to know it now since we also know that this is not last crisis we will have to live.

When we were kids, we learned so many things from having zero knowledge about them. For example, how to speak our own native language (and then others’), names to call people and things by, who are adults and who are children, what is an animal, the good and the bad, the why of everything 😉 and the list goes on.
Learning these things was a joy. We actually enjoyed the process of going from zero to then being the holder of some information that was going to help us process our experiences in the world. We were hungry to learn more and more and had thousands of questions about everything. We already practiced the 5+ why’s, often annoying our parents.
We loved to learn and to grow, and the changes that learning brought to our lives were for the most part welcomed. The big question is: what happened when we became adults that change became so stressful and anxiety generating? Why did learning and growing and getting out of our comfort zone become something to avoid?
The answer is, we probably learned something we didn’t realize when we were kids: that society didn’t always reward changing. Change became synonymous with risk, fear, and unsafety. Learning something new and growing did not always mean that there was no risk in doing so. If you made a mistake on the way to learning, there could be consequences for that. As a result, we became “knowers” who don’t admit what they don’t know. We started to take less risks, and to become more comfortable and bound by some secure circumstances and certainties we created for ourselves. Within these boundaries, we would generally repeat similar cycles but not truly seek transformative growth or change.
The trouble is less risk-taking leads to less innovation and growth. In order to enable a culture of innovation and growth, we must be willing to inspire and encourage a safe culture of risk-taking. The agile methodology to this is to take a lot of chances, and to make quick, limited impact mistakes. By testing things again and again, you then know what you can continuously improve. This environment mimics the type of circumstances we had as children. Knowing that we can be wrong, that we can make a mistake is a characteristic of psychological safety. Feeling psychologically safe allows us to feel confident in taking risks, managing, and mitigating them, and ultimately learning and growing from what did and didn’t work. We take away the fear of what might go wrong and switch our mindset to one of — even if something does go wrong, that’s good because now I know what to work on.
What is working against this approach is that many aspects of leadership in our current world are based on fear. The predominating leadership style is arguably still one of carrots and sticks: of control, domination, power dynamics, and inducing fear in the direction of some desirable carrot (monetary, title, status, etc). On the bright side, there are many organizations that are now progressing along the curve to being more psychologically safe.
As kids we were vulnerable and innocent, something we were not allowed to be as adults. This is a big mistake that agile organizations in a VUCA world are changing with an intentional culture made of vulnerability-based trust, benefit of the doubt, open-authentic communication and learner mindsets. Particularly high-tech companies, startups, and Fintech companies have created a system of prototyping, testing, and rapid iteration. The smallest companies are starting to eat up what were once the biggest ones through rapid growth and innovation. Key to this is culture and conscious leadership.
The question now is, how can you promote a culture of psychological safety this year — in your family, community, team, and workplace? By inducing a safe environment where people can tap into the child-like play and curiosity they once had, you may likely begin to see outsized results in learning, development, and growth.
Good news: we will finally reverse the course of time and rejuvenate ;-)!

For most executives we know, embarking on a transformation journey at the helm of an organization is thrilling. It’s nothing short of an adrenaline rush, like the climbing expedition we’ve been comparing it to over the last few weeks. However, journeys come to an end, and life -as well as business- goes on. Business as usual, they say. At the foot of the mountain, the heroes of the hike blend with ordinary folks and continue onward. That part of the story typically gets left out of the books because… who wants to hear about the ‘normal’? We revive that story here, in the final article of the series, The Next Normal of a New CEO.
In the first article, we laid out a roadmap for the first 100 days of a CEO and the ‘new’ leadership team that results from that appointment (from A to B in the illustration above). We continued with a second article where we explained the focus of the team’s next 100 days in its safe descent back to base camp (from B to C). We finish the series with the ‘next normal’ of this team (‘new normal’ sounds too definitive for a VUCA world).
The Next Normal of a New CEOBeginnings, or new beginnings, are exciting. They create momentum, but it’s a hard job to keep the flame alive. If the leadership team does an excellent job with the four D’s mentioned in article two, there’s a higher chance that the flame will last longer. However, they will need a sustainable fuel source for that flame because eventually, it will die out. No matter how well-intended the leaders are, their behaviors are not enough to consolidate an evolving or transforming culture. Culture needs to be hinged on systems to endure.
 

Systems and Symbols

What are systems? For us, systems are to the organization what behaviors are to individuals. They are the workflows, procedures, policies, practices (you name it) that shape collective actions. As such, they can be powerful symbols of what the company values, regardless of the words on their posters.
An example of the power of systems and symbols is how top leadership deals with ‘airtime’. What they spend time on, or whom they spend time with, sends a loud message to the organization. Take one of our clients. They decided to end their hierarchical, command-and-control leadership style because their business strategy called for swifter moves that they believed would happen with more autonomous, empowered, and customer-centric teams.
Their leadership manifesto called for them to be ‘servant leaders’. Some took on the challenge of transforming their mindsets and behaviors to become that type of leader. However, their meeting protocols remained unchanged. Front-line employees were still called to provide status updates to top leadership, which meant taking an elevator to the ‘noble’ floor, projecting the same lifeless PPTs as always, as if they were making a case in front of a tribunal waiting for the verdict.
The culture only started shifting when the executives brought the change to another level. No more status updates at the top of the high-rise corporate headquarters. They systematically took the same elevator down, attended the forums where teams did the actual work and asked questions when their turn came. Their leadership manifesto got grounded in their collective rituals, which had a compounding effect on their behaviors.
 

The Road Ahead

Other systems and symbols in an organization are how the budget is allocated (what do they spend their money on?), whom they hire, who gets promoted, what gets celebrated and punished, and how they reward and discipline. These are the infrastructure on which the leaders keep traveling when they return from their climbing expedition. They arrive eager to reach milestones on their ongoing journey toward long-term, sustainable success in the form of robust business results, healthy relationships, and personal fulfillment. Excellent leadership teams realize that:

    1. The road ahead is full of curves. They will arrive at crossroads where the tools they gathered on their way to the peak will come in handy. The good news is that, after a climb, a curvy road pales in comparison.
    2. They can’t let their guard down. Continuing to measure how the team is doing on their levels of trust, conflict management, commitment, accountability, and results is paramount for them to keep working out where they are weaker. No matter how well they’re doing, they know that the moment they quit going to the gym, they’ll get out of shape. Staying at the top of their game is a life-long sport.
    3. They need to get rid of the inappropriate infrastructure that slows their momentum, sometimes to a halt.
    4. They found their fuel – a healthy fuel that keeps the fire (the one they kindled at the fireside chat at base camp) burning and lighting the way. Holding on to their purpose, their true North, they move not for themselves, but for something that transcends them.
    5. There is a legacy to leave behind, and they have decided what they want that to be.

We hope you enjoyed the journey alongside this new CEO and leadership team. Let us know in the comments which part of the journey you found most helpful for your own!

A lot has been said about COVID-19’s impact on mental health. Research shows that rates of depression, stress, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress have risen significantly in the last year. While we have not yet recovered, some places are slowly recuperating their lost freedom, and others are still finding their way forward. We have all been affected by the pandemic. We have suffered losses in this exhausting process: from loved ones, to jobs, to our own health, opportunities, connection. And we are still mourning and longing for our losses. As organizations and leaders, how can we provide the support our people need and access our own emotional intelligence in times of COVID-19?
In this fast-changing environment where we are permanently looking for instant gratification, we often struggle. We find it challenging to connect with our own emotions and open ourselves to others’ experiences and requests for help and support. It takes a lot of courage to inwardly listen to our emotions instead of sweeping them under the rug and accepting them with compassion and without judgment.
Organizations are starting to take this issue seriously. They want to help people improve their quality of life and their working experience. They recognize the impact wellbeing and work-life integration have on midterm performance and effectiveness. In the last year, we have seen organizations deploying multiple initiatives spread across all levels, offering a complete menu of tools and skill learning to support people through these challenging times.
 

The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in Times of COVID-19

 
Emotional Intelligence in times of COVID-19
Of all the skills we can learn, developing emotional intelligence might be the “make it or break it” key capability for this new era. It is the key skill all leaders need to cultivate to lead effectively, caring for their people. And it has never been so collectively relevant.
Emotional intelligence refers to our ability to recognize, understand, and manage our own and others’ emotions. When we can manage our emotions, we respond more effectively to any given situation vs responding instinctively in a fight, flight, or freeze mode (behaviors led by our reptilian brain).  It helps us deal with stress and see clearly, making better decisions in our life. It builds up our resilience: the ability to bounce back in the face of setbacks.
Developing emotional intelligence also helps us improve our relationships and increase collaboration. It helps us empathize with how other people are feeling, putting ourselves in their shoes and feeling in our own body how others are feeling.
While many of us agree that emotional intelligence is a key skill, most leaders lack it. The good news is that we can train our brains to master our emotions.
 

Increasing Emotional Intelligence

 
Recognize:  The first step is to acknowledge what is happening. Listening to the emotions in our body, mind, and heart, connecting with the feeling it brings along, and sustaining its discomfort. Naming our emotions can help surface them and bring some perspective.
Understand: Our emotions are feelings created by conscious and unconscious thoughts and interpretations and they all are impulses to act. Every emotion has a message and requests an action from us. Self-inquiring uncovers meaning for our emotions and the story underlying the emotions.
Express /act constructively: Regulating our response our to own emotions and others’ emotions is crucial (it is thinking before reacting). It is about being able to share our interpretations and the thoughts underlying our emotions with honesty and respect. Sharing our core truth, expressing what really matters to us, in an impeccable and effective manner, without hurting our relationships and being true to ourselves.
COVID-19 has been emotionally devastating for many of us. It has put us to the test and has reinforced the need for and importance of developing our emotional intelligence to navigate in these unprecedented times effectively caring for ourselves and others.

The first 100 days of any CEO are usually a watershed moment for the new incumbent, the leadership team, and the company. In this article, first in a series of three, we lay out what we believe makes a clear roadmap to success. We have accompanied numerous executive committees through this new leadership team journey. Their powerful testimonials about its contribution to achieving extraordinary business results, improving team cohesiveness, and growing as individual leaders, inspired us to share the approach more broadly for others who may benefit from the lessons learned.
This unique journey is like a climbing voyage, with all eyes on the summit. However, the climb starts at base camp, that meeting place where we begin the expedition and prepare for a daring feat. Here is where we encourage them to discuss crucial questions in a metaphorical fireside chat:
▶️ To whom are we roped? new leadership team journey
▶️ What are we climbing for?
▶️ What unnecessary weight can we leave at the foot of the mountain?
▶️ What will we hang on to when things go awry?
The answers to these questions set up the expedition for success. But before they start, the team needs to carefully choose what they will take in their backpacks and what to leave behind. So load doesn’t turn to burden, each member of the team needs to ask themselves the following:
▶️ What skill sets can I contribute to this expedition?
▶️ Which abilities should I acquire or enhance?
▶️ What baggage am I carrying that can become a liability?
▶️ Which frameworks, experiences, and techniques can be helpful?
Once the leader’s backpack is ready, it is vital to help the team get their own ready as well. This may be the moment to consider finding trustworthy guides to lighten the load and get well equipped for the climb. At Axialent, you will find seasoned ‘Sherpas’ for journeys like this, who ascend alongside each individual participant and equip them with the necessary tools that will help them identify their own assets and liabilities as climbers.
 

Then they are ready to climb!

At Axialent, we’ve increasingly set out to reach the leadership team summit in five stages, inspired by the work of Patrick Lencioni on cohesive teams:

  1. We always begin with trust. Without it, the way forward will be overly cumbersome. Building trust will help us every step of the way.
  2. When there is trust, we can deal with conflict constructively. We see conflict on a spectrum, where both extremes (denying conflict out of avoidance, to downright explosion) are unhealthy.
  3. A team that manages conflict constructively can truly commit. Authentic commitments require a clear request, an equally explicit acceptance of the request, and all team members’ buy-in.
  4. Practicing accountability is the next stage. The team embraces it to ensure their commitments are honored, even (or especially) when they cannot fulfill them.
  5. The expedition reaches the peak when it can focus on its collective results rather than the individual goals of its members.

 

Two tracks across the five stages of the leadership team journey

We like to say that we climb these stages with the CEO and their team following two distinct, yet interwoven paths: the individual and the collective tracks. Each leader works individually with a personal coach (who we called Sherpa above) on their development goals. In the collective track, the leadership group participates in team coaching to work on their dynamics and interactions as a group. These collective sessions are often co-facilitated by the different Sherpas assigned to the various members of the team to allow for diverse vantage points for richer observation and broader context.
We approach each of the five stages based on the following premise: as experts, we reserve the professional judgment to draw on the frameworks, distinctions, and techniques that will build the skills and capability that each team requires at a given point in time. How do we know? By running individual and group diagnostics upfront and at the end of each journey. This provides rich context to draw on, thus shaping the content to fit this particular team like no other.
At Axialent, one of our deeply held principles is believing in context before content. We go one step further. We also believe in connection before context. Therefore, when we accompany a leadership team in their first 100 days to the summit, we make it a point to start with a virtual coffee where each expedition member meets and greets the Sherpa who will be ‘climbing’ with them.
In the next couple of weeks, we will share the next article of this series, where we explain what happens at the peak and how the new CEO can tackle the leadership team’s safe descent back to base camp. Stay tuned for the Next 100 Days of a new CEO!

Innovation sounds good, looks good, but it doesn’t always feel good. Why? Because making innovation happen in a large organization is an arduous process. The story we usually hear about this topic is like a mediocre superhero movie. It shows a character that finds a superpower, struggles just a little bit, and then is victorious. By the end of the film, we know we didn’t like it, but we don’t understand why. There were endless fighting scenes and the hero was too tough. What is the problem with this? It doesn’t feel real. We need to see the pain, the characters’ real suffering to believe their journey and value their victories. Embedding innovation into an organization is a lot like this. I used to think that being an innovator was a matter of toughness or inventiveness, but it is not.
 

How is innovation like a flat tire?

 
Bear with me while I share a personal anecdote. The other day, I had a flat tire. I remember getting out of my car, seeing the flat tire and thinking: “Why today?! I can’t get a break”. I was tired. I knew I have insurance to help me to change the tire, but my macho ego was telling me:
– Can’t you change a simple tire? You have to change it with no help –
So, I hung up the call to the insurance company, grabbed the tools, and started to change the tire myself. But I couldn’t catch a break because the nuts wouldn’t loosen, so I got angry. I wanted to throw the tools and start crying. You may wonder: What are you making such a big deal out of a simple flat tire? Indeed, it was not a big deal. What was the problem?
The problem was not the tire. The problem was not that I could not find a solution. My problem was the meaning I was giving to my lack of ability to loosen up a nut. The problem was I was feeling weak and inadequate for this simple task. After my short crisis, I called the insurance company again and asked for their help. I remember telling myself: “A guy will come and laugh at me because of my poor handyman skills.” I was even thinking of creative answers to defend myself from his attacks. In other words, I was mad at someone I had not even met.
He arrived 30 minutes later. I had loosened up two nuts, but I had three remaining and a broken ego. I saw this man in his mid-50s approaching my car with no judgment. He tried to loosen them and he couldn’t. I had mixed feelings at that moment (I was kinda happy). He was very considerate and explained the nuts were hard to remove because they were old. Luckily, he had some tools to solve the issue. He took out another lug wrench, a hammer, and a long pipe and used it as a lever to remove the nuts, and voila. All that I needed was some tools and a simple lever.
 

Embedding innovation in your organization

 
Embedding innovationThis is precisely how innovation in a corporation works. It is a hard job, with multiple tasks and things to do. You might be working on designing a new solution, defining the precise value proposition, and trying to get the buy-in from different stakeholders. Suddenly, an apparently simple problem is holding things up, and you might feel like it is the end of the world. You feel shame. You question your value, your capabilities, your management skills, or even your work.
The problem might seem simple from the outside. Again, it is about the meaning we assign to why we are struggling and feeling like there is a massive wall in our way. In these moments, I have learned that the key to moving forward is to master my emotions and be aware of the mindset that I am using to see the problem. For example, being trapped in a knower mindset makes the issue personal. The dialogue in my head is: “I should know this.” Then everything starts to escalate, and things get out of control. This makes things worse because a knower mindset demands control.
But instead, I can choose a different path: The learner mindset. This requires a humble approach that recognizes that I do not have to know everything. That I can ask for help because there might be a skill or a tool that I am missing to solve the problem. That the person from the other department is not going to laugh at me, and instead, they want the opportunity to help me.
In the end, this is the better superhero movie, with a scared character who is brave enough to keep walking in the darkness of vulnerable moments. As an innovation leader, you don’t have to do it all by yourself. You do not have to have all the skills to make innovation happen. I believe that is impossible. The nuts in this story may represent an outdated process, a risk-averse mindset, misaligned incentives, or a frustrated team.
If you are developing a new product and feel stuck, don’t panic. Accept vulnerability and ask for help. You might find a person with the perfect innovative lever to loosen up the nuts fixated on an old way of doing things.
 

We expect leaders to move quickly and decisively, demonstrating agility when responding to challenging situations and emerging opportunities. At the same time, they are expected to collaborate effectively across boundaries, actively solicit ideas from others before making decisions, and foster a team culture where every person feels valued, included, and connected. How can we manage the balance between agility and inclusion?

“There is more to life than simply increasing its speed.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

This may seem like an impossible ask. Can we invest the time to learn each person’s unique opinions and ideas and meet pressing deadlines? Can we genuinely foster an environment where everyone feels included and valued while moving at lightning speed?This apparent dilemma may have deepened during the global pandemic. Organizations realized that they could move faster, be nimbler, and get things done quicker than they ever thought possible. However, some of this newly found agility and speed was the outcome of crisis management, inadvertently creating insider/outsider dynamics. As we move from crisis management to a more sustainable approach, we should take the time to discuss how to manage the balance between agility and inclusion.
Balance Between Agility and Inclusion
The first step is to acknowledge that there is a natural tension between speed and inclusion. In some instances, a more collaborative, inclusive approach can take longer than the situation will tolerate. However, speed and agility do not have to come at the expense of inclusion. A conscious leader can consider trade-offs and be intentional on the best approach to get things done.
If you are looking to manage the speed and inclusion balance for your team, here are some ideas you can consider:
 

Start by defining your intention

In conscious business, we believe that our actions respond to our mindsets, and our mindsets are shaped by our values and intentions. Being an inclusive leader requires working at the “being” level, as well as the “doing” level. Start by reflecting on what inclusion means to you. How do you want to be perceived as a leader and how your actions are reflecting that intention? Also consider how other values, such as fulfilling commitments and achievement, may be in alignment or in conflict. Check the story you are telling yourself about the situation. Are you creating a false dichotomy between getting things done quickly and being inclusive? Are you inadvertently asking others to choose agility over inclusion instead of finding a balance?
 

Tap into the wisdom of the team

Often, it’s not inclusive behaviors that slow down decisions and actions, but the ways we make decisions and collaborate. Organizational sluggishness is often the result of a lack of clarity around goals and roles in participation and passive-defensive cultural norms where people are expected to agree, gain approval, and be liked by others. If this is the case, the best way to drive change is to call out the problem, bring awareness to the situation, and ask your team and peers for ideas to balance speed and inclusion. Employees understand the need for agility and making decisions quickly. They also value a workplace where people feel that they belong and where their opinions and ideas matter. Ask them for feedback on how well the team is managing the balance and ideas on what can be done to foster more inclusive and agile collaboration.
 

Embed new habits

Identify small, but impactful habits that drive both inclusion and agility and make them part of your ways of working. For example:

  • Conduct check-ins and check-outs in meetings. It makes meetings more productive by aligning participants’ expectations, understanding context, and creating meaningful connections, even in virtual settings.
  • Be intentional about who weighs in on decisions and has the opportunity to participate. You may be inadvertently relying on the same ‘selected few’ because you trust them or like them more, instead of leveraging the talents and experience of every member of the team.
  • Make it a habit to challenge yourself and the team when making decisions. Questions like these can help you do a quick check and foster constructive debate:
    What points of view have we not considered yet?
    Who needs to be involved to get the best possible outcome in the least amount of time?
    How can we simplify or shave off time?
    What are the trade-offs?
  • When launching a new initiative, ensure that there is a project charter meeting and regular check-ins where the team can discuss the following:
    What is the best way to move quickly while keeping everyone in the loop?
    How can we create a safe space for team members to share their thoughts and feelings, even if they are dissenting?
    How will we discuss learnings and share them with others outside the team?

 
To become more agile, many established organizations have adopted the mantra “move fast and break things quickly” from the start-up world. Similarly, the key to finding more inclusive and agile ways of working is approaching the process with intention and a learner mindset. Experiment, learn from it, do it better next time, and foster a safe space for others to do the same.