Capabilities. Is there any Oxygen up there?

Career Choices

Having advanced in your career you might want to look back. And if you do, you’ll see that you are not the person that you used to be. How many principles did you have to sacrifice on the altar of corporate progress? How many situations were uncomfortable? How many times have you done something that was not totally in line with your values? The answer is probably often. And that’s not bad. Such is life. We live and we make choices.
You have to decide what you want and if you have got what it takes to be on a higher level of responsibility. But what does that mean? It means that you have to check if you have the required capabilities – not competencies – and if you are willing to make a compromise on some of your capabilities that would hinder performance on a higher level.


What are these capabilities? There are 5 of them.

  • Intelligence (IQ): Are you smart enough to analyse, come up with the necessary arguments and reasoning? Can you understand and work with the figures? Are you able to come up with the concepts and ideas that can shape the future?
  • Emotional Intelligence (EQ): Can you deal with people? Do you have empathy? Can you send consistent messages in an adaptable way to different audiences? Can you build relationships that are warm? Can you anticipate people’s feelings and reactions? Can you adapt your behavior in such a way that you do not offend your fellow-man?
  • Political Intelligence (PQ): Can you take influence? Can you network and build useful (instrumental) relationships that are of value to you and the company? Can you leverage your work by using your channels and relationships in such a way that the message you want to send gets the necessary amplification and support? Can you analyse the political landscape and act upon that analysis?
  • Moral Intelligence (MQ): Do you have a moral compass? Do you have values and principles that are important to you? To what extent are you willing to defend those in any discussion. Morality has to do with the impact of your actions on others. Are you willing to set moral issues aside to get to the result you need? Are you willing to accept e.g. bribery to enter or stay in a market? Do you want to make choices based on principles or rather based on outcome? Do you work with universal principles (what is right and wrong) or with instrumental principles (what needs to be done)?
  • Resilience (RQ): Can you take the heat? Are you robust enough to come with the stress related to the job? Can you recover fast enough from blows and set-backs? Are you able to handle the pressure that goes with the function? Do you bounce back or do you break?

Your Capabilities and your Career

These questions are important if you want to decide upon your next career steps. And what is important is that you do not need all 5 of them to the same extent on every level.
CapabilitiesYou need your IQ, your PQ end your RQ on board level. That’s pretty much the same as on executive level. On managerial level you would need all your skills, but some of them are less developed.
Now what does this mean for morality? Does this mean that you can have morally deprived people on board level? I do not think so. It means that the job requires less dependency on moral principles than other jobs. Or it might mean that you can make the moral call on board level, whereas a manager should not take decisions on moral issues by himself. It’s up to the board to decide whether we accept certain moral transgressions in a certain country to do business. I trust that people have morals on every level.
An important issue are the political skills. Politics sometimes seems a dirty word. We think of Machiavelli. But what Machiavelli described so many centuries ago, was the required behavior to survive in the political world of Florence. And many of those principles are still valid today. But sometimes political skills are restricted to knowing what to say, when and to whom. And it’s also paramount to analyse the political landscape. Who can I trust? Who does agree with me? Who are my allies? There can be positive politics. But depending on your context, you might need to sharpen these skills to become effective.
And intelligence? That you always need. I must say that the evidence for several kinds of intelligence is limited. Scientists tend to concur that there is only one kind of intelligence. Intelligence – together with attitude – determines a lot. You cannot train it, so companies had better selected intelligent people.

See it in the context

Everything above depends on the context. What everyone should do is decide if he or she has what it takes in the context in which he or she is working today. Don’t bother trying to change the context with your personal energy. You will fail. The only way you can influence the context is by working your way up. But by the time you get there you might have changed a lot. And maybe you will get there only to find out there’s not enough oxygen for you. So know yourself.

Don’t glorify your boss  

A great boss

Have you ever worked for a boss that was extraterrestrial? He or she was so inspiring that you could not believe the advice you were receiving.
(For the sake of simplicity I will refer to the boss as he. But the boss can clearly be either man or woman).
He  was available to help you evolve. We are talking exceptional here. If you have worked for such a boss, you are fortunate. Most bosses are not like that. Most of them are struggling somewhere halfway the mountain. But this one manager, this exceptional person, was high on the summit.

Don’t glorify

Well, let me give you a piece of advice. Don’t glorify him. Here’s why.

  1. Never forget he is human.
  2. Surely there is something he can improve? Nobody is perfect.
  3. Glorification is never good for anyone. It might get into his head. Don’t glorify. Help him to stay modest.
  4. Don’t forget that the air up there is thin. And that he is lonely. So help him by being his companion, not his fan.
  5. In some cases, he might be a psychopath, using his charm to lure you into the idea you’re in heaven.
  6. Maybe the good relationship is a temporary situation. He is there at the right time. You needed him and you were willing to accept whatever downside or you did not see it.
  7. Glorification assumes that leadership success is his merit. But a good leader depends a great deal on the context where he works. And the people who work together with that leader also reinforce good leadership. Any good leader knows it’s not about him.

Appreciation is OK

Of course you should appreciate a good boss. They’re hard to find. Here are 10 characteristics that need to be appreciated.

  1. He is clear and consistent in his vision. He creates meaningfulness. He unites people around a common cause.
  2. He is credible because he walks the talk.
  3. He is vulnerable and admits mistakes. He will not try to hide mistakes, or blame others.
  4. He gives enough space for you to grow. And as you grow, you get more space.
  5. He allows others to shine and does not take all the credit.
  6. He defends you when you are in trouble.
  7. He gives attention to you as a person, listens to what you need and has attention for your personal health.
  8. He creates a context where people can thrive. He creates opportunities for people.
  9. When you talk to him, you feel an abundance of respect, kindness, fairness, … even when he makes tough calls. He never threatens you.
  10. He’s fun to work with.

If you have such a boss go up and give him a compliment. Do it now. But never ever glorify him. It’s in his and your best interest.

Johari reveals your blind Spots.

About the Unknown

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.

Donald Rumsfeld, former US Secretary of Defence.

Donald Rumsfeld said this during a press conference. I believe it was about the war in Iraq. I don’t know if he was aware about it, but with this quote he played with a framework that I like:  The “Johari Window”.

 The Johari Window

The Johari window is a technique created in 1955 by Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham. It helps people to better understand themselves and their relationship with others. It was Charles Handy who called this concept the Johari House (Johari: Jo + Hari, parts of names of the developers) with four rooms.

  • The Arena is the part of ourselves that we see and others see.
  • The Blind spot contains the aspects that others see but we are not aware of.
  • The unknown is the unconscious part of us and is seen by neither ourselves nor others.
  • The Façade is our private space, which we know but keep from others.

And if we translate these house and rooms into a window, it looks like this
Johari Window


I use it to confront people and help them to accept and understand the “blind spot”. This is an area of things you do without having a clue. And for others it’s very clear.
Or what to think about the “unkown” area. Here are the things that do exist in the relation between you and the others, without anyone consciously knowing about them. That’s pretty scary if you ask me.
The other parts are more conventional. Things that are clear for everybody in the “arena”.
Things you consciously choose not to show or share with others. So you are the only one to know the and you choose to keep them behind your “façade”.


What is the purpose of using this tool ? I sometimes use it during feedback exercises.
I start such a session with an “empty” Johari window. Ideally, during the conversation chemistry rises and there is trust. On those moments, my interlocutor and I may get inspired and we are willing to “open up” more than in usual circumstances.
That is generally the moment where the Johari window is really inviting to share with each other:

1. Feedback

Feedback about what is clear for you about the other, but what may not (yet) be clear for the other. This will certainly help the other to become more aware and develop on those blind spots.
“You really talk a lot… If there is one hour available, you talk 50 minutes in general”
“Really… Good lord… I was not aware about that, thank you…”

 2. The things you’ve always chosen to hide.

You should never feel obliged to share the things you’ve always chosen to hide and certainly when it’s about your private life. But a moment may arrive when it feels as the right thing to do. Then you’ll share things you’ve never shared before with that person. Not only as a token of strong trust,  but much more because it simply feels as the right thing to do, on those moments.
“Well, I have never shared this with anyone here before, but the reason I have difficulty in dealing with people having a lack of patience, is because my ex-husband was like that as well. And the divorce has been quite painful, and still is… So it’s certainly not an excuse, but you may understand my behavior better now… I am sorry”
“Oh no need to apologize, thank you for the trust. This must be difficult for you… And yes, this will make life easier, by at least understanding the cause…”

3. Anything else ?

Any other concerns, impressions, convictions, emotions or observations that come on the table. They may stimulate awareness on the things you and your interlocutor do not know consciously about. But that have impact on the relation or collaboration between the both of you.
“I am not exactly sure why, but it seems like every time we talk about the branding of the new product, we get distracted… we never make an action list, we never succeed to focus…”
“Yes, indeed, now that you mention it… That is true, indeed… And yes, why is a good question… I don’t know… Are we believing enough in this new product ourselves ? We all said yes in the meeting, but we had a lot of discussion before that… I thought we had that behind us, but perhaps, we haven’t yet… I am not sure”
“Oh, glad we you have the same impression… At least we can talk about it now more openly and perhaps find out the real issue sooner or later”


My suggestion is to actively invite each other to discuss these kind of topics. To make use of the Johari window. By filling it in together, and by repeating this exercise at regular moments, you will visualise and achieve a great evolution. Topics that were once all closed and unknown are now much more open. You are aware and invited to explore further.
This movie clearly explains once more.


The Transformational Power of Love in Leadership

LoveTomorrow the whole world will be celebrating Valentine ’s Day. On this day lovers celebrate their love for each other. They show appreciation by giving each other gifts. This made me wonder about love in the workplace. Specifically love between leaders and subordinates. Is there or should there be love between leaders and their teams? If there is, how is this love celebrated? What kind of gifts do we give our teams?

Defining Love

“Love” is a word that is taboo in the workplace. This is quite strange as research done by Barsade and O’Neill (2014) shows that employees who felt they worked in a loving, caring culture reported higher levels of satisfaction and teamwork.
The fear is based on our misunderstanding of what “Love” is. Love is “a strong feeling of affection” or “great interest or pleasure in something”. It is associated with fondness, liking, caring or valuing another person. Our misunderstanding makes us think that it is only based on emotions and feelings. We assume that we can only love those we have personal relationships with.
Love comes from the brain. We don’t always fall in love. We choose to love even when we know that the person does not deserve it. This is explained by the different types.


The Greeks describe the different types of love as follows:

  • Agape: the highest form of love. It is unconditional, non-judgmental, self-less and extends to all. It is deep respect and valuing of another person just because they are a human being.
  • Philia or deep friendship: the deep affection, warm, gentle platonic love towards our friends.
  • Storge: the love we have for our parents, children and family members.
  • Eros: the passionate and intense love that arouses romantic feelings between lovers. It makes lovers to “fall in love”.
  • Pragma or long standing love: the deep love and understanding between long married couples. It relates to “staying in love” and commitment.
  • Philautia, or self-love: the caring and deep respect of self. It relates to valuing and believing in the self. People who love themselves are secure in their own skin and are able to give love to others.

Exploring Love in the Workplace

Leaders should have healthy self-love first for them to show “agape” love to their members. Leaders who do not value and respect themselves or are self-obsessed, self-centered and insecure find it difficult to love others. They take things personally. They think that life revolves around them and find it difficult to serve others. Leaders who are not afraid to love others are able to transform negative, unhappy and disengaged employees into happy, confident, engaged, committed and productive members of the organization.

The gifts of love in the workplace

A man who “fell out of love” with his wife asked advise from a wise man. He told the wise man that he no longer felt anything for his wife and would like a divorce. The wise man told the man “go home and love your wife”.
Love is a verb. Leaders show love through their behavior. Some of the gifts of love that leaders can give include:

  • Patience

    Employees come in different forms, shapes and sizes. They have diverse educational background, experience, attitude towards work and commitment. Some employees will rub you the wrong way through their words and deeds. Some are informal leaders. They have the power to influence team members either positively or negatively. Patience enables leaders to understand what causes such behavior. Leaders must know how to ask important questions and be great listeners. This enables them to know their members’ strengths and weaknesses and apply situational leadership accordingly.

  • Empathy

    Empathy is the ability to experience and relate to the thoughts, emotions, or experience of others. Love is about caring about the whole human being. Leaders need to show interest in employees’ needs and achievements. This includes caring about what happens in their head (mental stimulation), hands (physical health), heart (emotional health) and heaven (fulfillment and meaningful contribution). Leaders should understand that work is not an employees’ whole life, but is part of their life. They should be mindful that employees have other commitments and responsibilities outside of work. Failure to do so leads to employees not being fully present at work. They end up making silly and unnecessary mistakes.

  • Goodwill: – do not envy

    A good leader is not envious of their employees’ success and achievements. Leaders who love their employees allow them to shine and build their confidence. They do not suffocate the employee and are not stingy with feedback. They are not afraid to be vulnerable. They understand that their role is to build other leaders and not followers or their copy cats.

  • Protectiveness

    Leaders are protective of their team members. Leaders who love their members will not rebuke, shout or throw temper tantrums in front of colleagues or customers. They understand the impact their words and behavior have on others. They create a safe environment that enables members to express their views with no fear of intimidation, make mistakes, and be innovative. Such leaders do not keep a record of wrong and always strive to catch their team doing good things. This encourages a culture of accountability as opposed to blame.

Reactions to acts of Love in the workplace

Leaders who work in organizations where love is not easily displayed might find this a challenge. Initially people may feel that something is wrong with you. Be prepared to hear your name being mentioned in the passages as someone who is out of synch with the business world. But remember that love is about serving others. Acts of love are deposits to your employees’ emotional bank accounts and the ROI is phenomenal. It has the power to transform employees to be the best they can ever be.

Learning coaches are not life coaches


Learning Coaches ?

I am working for an organization that wants some of its employees grow into learning coaches. The ambition is to generate a pool of them. These learning coaches will help to develop

  • the learning processes of their colleagues and of some external partners;
  • a learning culture, simply by starting to coach learning processes.

Logical Levels

This week I explained the Logical Levels of Robert Dilts to them. I love to work with this framework. I think it:

  • represents in a comprehensive way, a complex environment of aspects such as identity, mission, values and behaviours.
  • clearly distinguishes single loop versus double loop coaching.

Learning, and the Logical Levels of Robert Dilts
Learning, and the Logical Levels of Robert Dilts

Let me briefly explain that. Single loop coaching requires coachees to profoundly reflect on the “what” and “how” of questioned areas. Double loop coaching requires reflection on the “why”, the purpose and drivers of the “what” and “how”. Sometimes double loop level is also called the meta level: the why of the what and how.
When I explained this topic, a participant asked a very interesting and prompt question:

“This is very fine, Karl, but are we as learning coaches even supposed to discuss these “heavy” topics with the coachee ? I do not feel comfortable to question someone’s mission on earth, you know… Shouldn’t we just keep it to learning.”

I could have thanked the Gods for that question. Let me try to share some parts of my answer.
When your coaching role is clearly devoted to the challenges your coachee has with learning, you should stick to that role.  Then you are a coach for the learning process of the coachee.
The way coachees learn, as for all other things in life, is not isolated. It is part of their entire life. It’s not only about the skills they (do not) develop, about the what and how of their learning. It’s also about why they learn something. What is their purpose of their learning ? How does it fit into their personal mission?


You are a learning coach. You have observed that your coachee seems to struggle with excel.  In spite of the fact (s)he has already done a few trainings and has practiced a lot, there is no progress.
Lately (s)he has come to you to share concerns about the own learning and lack of progress made in excel.
A question could be: What precisely is difficult for you in Excel ?
An answer could be: Well every time Nadia is trying to explain me to make macros, she gets nervous if I don’t understand or do it quickly enough. And it has come so far now that I do not dare to go and ask her anymore…
A new question could be: I hear two things now: excel and Nadia… How do you want to continue?
An answer could be: Well if Nadia would just have a little more patience, I could ask all I want to ask and make progress.
Question: I hear you say you need a bit more patience from Nadia. How do you deal with teachers lacking patience, more in general, when you try to learn something?
An answer: I hate people not having patience. It reminds me of a my ex. (S)he was even worse. I am sorry, I simply cannot stand that. Should I even be telling this?
Question: You may tell, if you like so, and I will listen. We will certainly try to understand the impact of that situation on your today’s learning. Because that’s the purpose here.


The coachee is not talking about excel anymore. (S)he will very soon start talking about very personal and perhaps painful aspects of the private life.  The coachee’s values will certainly be part of that. His/her mission may even come in.

Critical part for the coach

As a learning coach it is critical:

  • not to follow the coachee in the content of the “new” story.
  • however to listen extremely carefully to it.
  • to interpret it taking a learning perspective. What elements about the ex and about patience could be relevant for the coachee’s learning process ?
  • to share your interpretation with the coachee.
  • to ask the coachee if it’s correct and to confirm or correct if needed.
  • to go ahead then based on a validated summary of all you’ve heard. What impact does all this have on the way you learn today from people with a lack of patience ?

Connecting the why with the what/how

At this stage you’ve connected the deeper why of the excel problem (the why had no link with Excel) with the what and the how (failing to make progress in Excel). You’ve done that without going in detail on the content of that deeper why. You’ve only listened and summarized. Your next question did not go further on the why. It made the coachee turn back to the what and the how.
Learning coaches should only be interested in the learning process of the coachee.  That is how learning coaches can work with the logical levels on double loop level without going into the detail of certain topics. Doing so would lead the coachee very far away from the learning purpose.


The participant seemed to understand my answer. As matter of fact the entire group was very silent all of a sudden. I asked if they were ok. Yes they were, but it was clear that the introduction into double loop coaching and these levels, had opened a new perspective and awareness for them.
Some eyes started to shine as if they were saying: “Why haven’t I seen this earlier ?” It’s the power of coaching.
This video shows an excellent summary of the Logical Levels

Entrepreneur vs Employee

entrepeneurAre you an entrepreneur ?

I remember the day I applied for an HR Services Manager role in a FMCG firm. That was 13 years ago. This blog tries to bring that memory back to life.
The notion of entrepreneur was apparently very important to my future boss.
The what?”, I asked.
That is already a good sign”, he replied. “You ask what it’s about. Most candidates do not. They simply nod their heads. I often get clichés or some examples when I ask what it means for them to be an entrepreneur.”
So I repeated my question. “What does entrepreneurship mean to you in the role of an employee ? You’re not looking for a freelance HR Manager, right ?”
He smiled. It appears he had a concern. He was worried about the job I had then. I was HR Business Partner in the financial industry. My future boss was wondering about the habits, the culture and the way things were getting done in that industry. He perceived the banking and assurance industry as rigid, hierarchical and bureaucratic. And clearly the company I was applying to, wasn’t like that at all.
I listened to his concerns.
Then I told him about the context of a merger and the related change I was working in. I talked about the uncertainties I had to deal with every day. I described how often it was up to myself  to be creative,  to find solutions, and to take decisions. Last but not least, I told him I had to work with colleagues without having any logic or formal line in the organisation.
Then he replied: “You can tell me everything you like. I can’t check all these things. But I clearly feel your huge enthusiasm talking about this. Are you sure you want to quit your current job ?”
Yes, but for other reasons, as I explained earlier.”
OK, Karl”, he said, “let me just explore a bit further your own story about being an entrepreneur.”

Entrepreneurship for Employees

“First of all”, he continued, “it is important that you do what your job description suggests. Let there be no mistake about that. But then again, that is not enough”. (From here on the quotation marks are omitted).

Two job descriptions

I would appreciate if you’d have two job description after a year in the job.

  • the one in front of you now;
  • another one that you create yourself. You don’t have to write this one down, but it definitely should exist and be visible to everybody.

The job you create yourself, could at a certain moment replace or even overrule the official one you have on paper now.
See it like this. As you have an HR background and as you are applying now for an HR function, I recommend that you use this job content as guideline. Certainly in the beginning, when all is new and you still need to find your way,

Continuous challenges

However once you’ll have found your way, I expect you to create new challenges.  And I want you to consult with me about them. Challenges can be about:

  • roles
  • job content
  • ways of working
  • initiatives
  • projects
  • strategies
  • collaborations with colleagues or external people
  • responsibilities.

Every time we meet, I’d like you to present at least one idea to enlarge, enrich, change your job. And I want you to tell me about at least one error you’ve made.
Quite frankly, I am much more interested in coaching you on those aspects than on your performance in the job as it is described. This being said…
I interrupted him with a smile. Yes, you want me to do the job as well.

The Engagement

Already on the way back, my future leader called me. He asked if I could come in the evening for a last meeting with the CEO. And I was kindly invited not to screw things up because I was number one on his list.
Guess what the CEO asked ?
The conversation repeated pretty much what my future leader had said about the expected entrepreneurial spirit. At the end of the meeting he made me a formal offer. I gladly accepted.
The first year I worked there, I thoroughly explored my entrepreneurial skills. My new colleagues really showed me all the corners of the room. I loved it!
Let me try to summarise these skills.

The skills of an employee-entrepreneur

  • Be hands-on.

    Some tasks are not part of a formal description. But someone needs to do them. Do not hesitate to do them yourself. Especially when you see no one else is picking them up.

  • Ask internal/external “strangers” for help.

    You can’t know everything. Certainly not when it’s not your job. So nobody will ever blame you for asking what you don’t know. On the contrary. They’ll appreciate it. So ask people for help. Also include people you do not know yet.

  • Read and act in between and across the lines.

    Your territory is not somewhere on the organisation chart. Your territory is the large group of people all working for the same company, or on the same projects. Network and have conversations with them regardless their function or place in the organisation.

  • Have courage.

    You’re doing things you’re not used to do.  Sometimes there’s nobody to call and ask how to go ahead. So you may have to take decisions yourself. Take risks, make errors and assume the consequences. Your boss may disagree with your final decision. (S)he will usually agree that the presented options were reasonable for the situation at hand.

  • Be results-oriented.

    Take ownership of many things. You want to complete them successfully. The result (the “what”) is much more important than the “how”. Of course within the context of common sense. You are a can-do person. You cut through and resolve problems others run away from.

  • Grow fast.

    Your judgment becomes stronger and more powerful with each experience, decision or failure.

  • Be energetic.

    You are full of enthusiasm and energy. You consistently generate results that are higher than expected.  You are fully committed to the organisation, its goals and its overall success.

  • Supervision.

    You perform effectively with limited supervision. You are able to self-motivate and set priorities with minimal guidance.

  • Multitask.

    You are flexible to create and accept new assignments and responsibilities. You can take on more than one role until these tasks can eventually be assigned to others.  You’re also willing to do things that others with less responsibilities or skills will take over in later phases.

The environment of an Employee-Entrepreneur

Of course this can only work in the right environment. An employee can only become an entrepreneur if the company encourages him/her to be an entrepreneur. I have known organisations that prefer you to do your job within the lines of your job description without exploring other areas. And that’s fine if organization and employee agree on that and find happiness in it.
Briefly, I think a culture that encourages people to become an entrepreneur, should have the following elements:

  • the belief that teams of entrepreneurial employees do better and work faster than teams of traditional employees would.
  • the willingness to accept mistakes, conflicts and chaos, than a traditional employee environment would.
  • a coaching style more focused on potential than on performance.
  • a reward policy that prioritises success in special initiatives, and not success in the normal job.
  • a very safe and trustful relationship with the direct leader.

I went through an intensive learning curve in this company. This would turn out to be priceless later in my career.

The skills of a real Entrepreneur

You’ve learned how to be an internal entrepreneur. How can you transfer those skills into being a real entrepreneur in the real market ? This is an important question e.g.  when you become consultant after a corporate career.
To be continued.

Continue reading “Entrepreneur vs Employee”

Leadership Challenges: How about Growth?

The Growth Postulate

Leadership Challenges

Leaders are under increasing pressure. Leadership today is not the same as leadership 20 years ago. This has to do with the increased and accelerating changes in our society. Leader in Mind, a Düsseldorf based consultancy conducted a qualitative research on how leaders cope with those changes and subsequent challenges. Based on this research 5 clusters of concern emerged:

  1. How to cope with Unclear strategic Orientation?
  2. How to achieve growth in a time of limited growth potential?
  3. How to manage the quality of work?
  4. How to cope with increasing social complexity?
  5. How to shape the future and to innovate?

This blog is the second in a series of five to discuss the results of this qualitative research.

Growth and Meaningfulness

The search for meaningfulness is closely linked to the challenge of strategic orientation. What are we doing here, is a question that is often asked. And the postulate of growth is questioned. Can we continue our focus on Growth?
The success of a leader was measured by the bottom-line. But since the financial crisis of 2008 people become aware that the potential for growth is limited. And the same is valid for cost cutting. But what’s the consequence of this? One major consequence is that growth and cost efficiency have lost their energy as generators of meaningfulness.

Everywhere people say that we cannot grow endlessly because the markets are saturated. How can we make more money? By spending less? We will not be able to make 20 billion out of the 15 we make today? But again 15, or maybe 15,5. We can increase our bottom-line if we become more efficient. Markets are limited.
All companies are pushing for efficiency and say that they want to increase the bottom-line. I have asked myself often the question: why?

limits-to-growthPeople are not depressed when they say this. They are simply thinking. And they are not alone. There are many studies that question the paradigm of eternal growth. The 1972 study of the Club of Rome had as title Limits to GrowthIn 1972 predictions were that we would have a problem in 2100. The revised report predicts that we would get there by 2052.
So what leaders are thinking is not so new. And it’s not a sign of fatigue. The world is becoming increasingly aware that there are limits to growth. Yet, many see growth as the sole engine of meaningfulness and direction. No wonder that people fail to see the strategic orientation and experience meaningfulness. But in many organisation the topic is taboo.

Someone asked at the conference what the Plan B is when we do not achieve our targets. And the executive board answered that there was no plan B. Expectations are that we meet our targets. If we can reach our targets through ostracism, I am not sure. Or maybe through some fear, pressure and distrust …

The search for Perspective

The new challenge for leaders is to create a culture of resilience. Such a culture enables people and companies to adapt to change and to forcefully continue to perform. The doubts leaders have are early warning signals. But leaders can organise a quest for perspective.

Personal comments

Again we need a leadership that is ready for this. Because instead of having all the answers, leaders have to work in an environment in which paradigms are shifting. How can you expect leaders to work in a paradigm that they feel is falling apart? How can you ask them to make this grand écart between what they believe and what the company is saying? The risk of not addressing this is that people will go underground. They will chant the corporate song, but will criticise top management’s reluctance to search for new perspectives. And this is worse than allowing people to be critical but constructive. What would happen if top management would say: maybe we need to shift gears. Would that bring the company in turmoil? What would happen when the CEO of a company would say: I am not sure what the future will bring? Would that be the end of his career?
I believe that we are leaving an age of paradigms. There is no longer a political separation between left and right. There is an increasing need to integrate points of view and to focus on what works. This is not necessarily opportunism. It’s an enlightened realism. And yes, the integration of paradigms in itself is world-changing because it requires a different kind of identification. We should not identify with what is behind us (both in time and ideology) but focus on what is ahead of us. And the challenges that are coming towards us are of such a scale and nature that we will not have an alternative than to change our paradigms. But this in itself will probably require some difficult societal earthquakes.
Thanks to Anette Stein-Hanusch and Britt Wrede for sharing their work. Qualitative Research is not so popular anymore but the wealth of ideas coming from this research is high. And it brings the dialogue leaders have (also with themselves) very close to the reader. More information about the research paper can be obtained here (text in German).

How to increase the Impact of Leadership Development Programs?

leadership development

The challenge of Leadership Development

Leadership is vital for achieving objectives. Leadership Development Programs aim at equipping leaders with the right skills, competencies and knowledge. But they require high investments, with too often low return.

Low Return on Investment

As an Organisational Development (OD) practitioner I want to guarantee the sustainability of all OD interventions. I have focussed recently on Leadership Development programs. Many leaders attend very expensive leadership development programs from well-known Institutions, including Post Graduate qualifications such as MBA’s from international Universities.
I have observed that when they retrun they are very excited and keen to apply what they have learned. However, after some few weeks the excitement and enthusiasm wears off. Only the theory remains. They fail to practice what they preach. They become experts on how things should be done but they are unable to do them. Some leaders become so frustrated that they leave the organisation after such an experience. Some organisations are well-known for being training and poaching grounds. For these companies leadership development becomes a never-ending circle of spending money without return on investment.

A checklist for Performance

For employees to perform at their best they need three things.

  • the right skills (training).
  • the willingness, potential and capacity to perform .
  • an empowering environment that allows them to be innovative and productive.

If these were on a checklist I would put ticks next to the first two points. The third point would be a bit of a challenge. It requires one to know more about the organisation in question, as well as the challenges that the leaders encounter.

Blame the Leader

Employees are quick to blame their leaders about their leadership style. This is more applicable to those who are in middle and junior management positions. They are faced with a challenge of successfully leading their subordinates, motivating them, ensuring that they stay engaged and be productive. And at the same time they are expected to please their own superiors.
We fail to interrogate the environment in which these leaders work. As an example, most leadership develop programs teach leaders to develop high performing teams. But in some cases the organisation does not have performance management policies and practices in place. Sometimes the culture is one of blame and not trusting each other. Sometimes the learning policy may not encourage or support employees to learn.
So it’s important for OD practitioners to help organisations to assess their work environment before spending large amounts of money on interventions or programs that will not bring any ROI.

Scan the Context

Owen, Culbertson and Dietz (2014) identified five reasons of failure:

  1. failure to link required expertise to Leadership Development efforts;
  2. a lack of understanding of “true” learning needs
  3. a lack of systemic support
  4. a lack of relevant opportunities
  5. a lack of measurement.

I believe that it all boils down to the organization’s environment. Effective leadership development programs require paying close attention to two important aspects. (Day and Michelle, 2006). You need to equip both the individual (leader) with the necessary skills to lead, as well as the social context (the environment). The purpose of any leadership development program should be to build human as well as the social capital.

Social Capital

The World Bank defines social capital as “the norms and social relations embedded in social structures that enable people to coördinate action to achieve the desired goals”.
From an organizational perspective, it is defined as “the stock of active connections among people: the trust, mutual understanding, and shared values and behaviours that bind the members of the human networks and communities and make cooperative action possible” (Chen & Prusak, 2001).
Social capital refers to the organization as a system, which includes its people, culture, policies, procedures and practices. When organizations focus on developing its human capital without paying attention to the social capital, they are only implementing Leader Development instead of Leadership Development. So leadership development should be about developing leaders to perform well in their specific organization.

Systems Approach

There are many excellent open Leadership Development programs. They tend to be generic. Leaders who attend these programs end up being frustrated because they cannot apply what they have learned. Worse, they are forced to shelf the new skills and revert back to their old ways of managing to survive.
As much as we expect leaders to have the IQ, EQ and SQ to lead, as OD and Human Resource Professionals we should be doing more to help leaders and organizations understand that focusing only on one aspect in leadership development is not enough.
For our work to have an impact and be sustainable, we need to help our clients understand that the systems approach does not only apply in their technical processes, but should also be applied in all the other Human Resources processes as well. We will be able to increase the impact of leadership development programs to the benefit of both leaders and organisations.


How to organize strategic Orientation?

strategic orientation

Leadership Challenges

Leaders are under increasing pressure. Leadership today is not the same as leadership 20 years ago. This has to do with the increased and accelerating changes in our society. Leader in Mind, a Düsseldorf based consultancy conducted a qualitative research on how leaders cope with those changes. Based on this research 5 clusters emerged:

  1. How to cope with unclear strategic orientation?
  2. How to achieve growth in a time where growth is limited?
  3. How to manage the quality of work?
  4. How to cope with increasing social complexity?
  5. How to shape the future and to innovate?

This blog is the first in a series of five to discuss the results of this qualitative research.

 Unclear Strategic Orientation

Leaders describe business evolution like a trip into the unknown. We are working in a fragmented context full of changes. Here are some quotes form the research:

When I have rapidly changing strategies, it’s the same as if I wouldn’t have any strategy. Then I have to take a stand and ask myself, what is my contribution?
Where do we want to go? How do we want to sell ourselves? That’s not clear. Definitely not. And that’s a weakness of our company, and our Board.
Suddenly the corporation doesn’t talk about Growth anymore, but about costs. That is strange for a sales unit.
We constantly talk about change, without knowing if the leadership wants it and without the sustainable creation of the conditions needed to have that change.
The boss finally started talking about the big corporate strategy, but every business unit has created a strategy on its own. The big picture is missing, so I have to orient myself towards the sub-strategies.

The main question is how to make sure people do not work on their isolated part, but feel a part of a vivid and constantly changing system. And how does perception and experience of such a greater organism arise?

Dialogue needed

What is needed is Dialogue. And the question is why leaders do not stimulate such a dialogue? One reason is that we still believe that leaders should have more answers then they have questions. But what leaders should do is to organise orientation. Here’s how.

Strategic Orientation
(C) 2014 Leader in Mind GmbH – Translation and Layout by

As you can see, it all comes down to organising an open and active exchange. But this requires a leadership that is not built on certainty and authority, but on authenticity and vulnerability. Or as a wise philosopher once said, knowing that you don’t know is the start of wisdom. The question is if the companies leaders work in will accept this kind of leadership.
Thanks to Anette Stein-Hanusch and Britt Wrede for sharing their work. Qualitative Research is not so popular anymore but the wealth of ideas coming from this research is high. And it brings the dialogue leaders have (also with themselves) very close to the reader. More information about the research paper can be obtained here (text in German).

The one Way to kill Employee Engagement

There are many ways to kill employee engagement. Here’s a possible list:

  1. Do not communicate about the goals, vision, …
  2. Never give feedback about what people are doing.
  3. Check every move people make.
  4. Put yourself first
  5. Don’t apply the team/company rules on yourself
  6. Be dishonest.
  7. Make them ask for permission before doing something.
  8. Show no interest whatsoever in who people are.
  9. Talk negatively about the company.
  10. Do not care for wellbeing
  11. Put people under pressure as motivation technique.
  12. Leave the office before other people do (every day).
  13. Think it’s normal that people put in extra hours.
  14. Allow incompetent and disengaged people to stay on board.
  15. Make arbitrary decisions, don’t bother to explain them.
  16. Do not allow people to benefit from the company’s flexible work arrangements.
  17. Tell people they’re useless.
  18. Don’t show vulnerability, don’t allow others to show vulnerability.
  19. Never make exceptions.
  20. Always make exceptions.
  21. Hire people who are weaker than you.
  22. Insist on people doing things your way.
  23. Never surprise them.
  24. Don’t show respect for your customer.
  25. Talk negatively about your boss.
  26. Never apologize for things you’ve done.
  27. Never say thank you.
  28. Be a micro-manager.
  29. Measure everything.
  30. Rank & yank people.
  31. Don’t have team meetings. Do everything in one-to-one meetings.
  32. Don’t keep your promises.
  33. Forbid people to show emotions at work.
  34. Never talk informally.
  35. Manage people with to-do-lists.
  36. Don’t show courage in difficult times.
  37. Forget birthdays (of some members of your team).
  38. Hide behind the mandate that you (do not) have.
  39. Hide things from people.
  40. Don’t look into their eyes.
  41. Never help them when they are in trouble.
  42. Say to people you’d like to fire them, but that HR won’t let you.
  43. Never defend them when they are under attack.
  44. Don’t make use of their talents and strengths.
  45. Write them emails at night, asking for answers by 8:00 am.
  46. Keep files on them, and make sure they know this. Keep track of everything they do.
  47. Blame them publicly.
  48. Think the H in HR stands for Humiliation.
  49. Think you’re irreplaceable.
  50. Never ask how people feel.
  51. Take the credit for what they’ve done right.
  52. Be indifferent to their proposals and ideas.
  53. Think you have (to have) all the answers, and if you don’t, make them up.
  54. Ask people to sty late (Hey, you’ve ordered the pizza).
  55. Build a culture of internal competition (win-lose).
  56. Don’t trust people.

In one word: be a lousy leader.