Mindset: Becoming is more Important than Being

In her book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”, Carol Dweck differentiates between having a fixed or growth mindset. Before I read the book, I assumed I had a growth mindset. However, as Friedrich Nietzshe stated in his book “Aphorisms on Love and Hate”, “not even the finest mind is capable of adequate appreciation of the art of polished maxim if he has not been educated to it, has not been challenged by it himself”. I got to be educated to and challenged during the end of the year Performance Discussion with my manager.

Listen to Yourself

At the end of the discussion, my manager said to me “You see it was not as bad as you expected. You now sound and look more relaxed than when we started the discussion”. I was taken aback by her observation and feedback. I was unaware that I looked and sounded tense. Afterwards, as I came back to my body, I realized that I was feeling tense. I could see that I had approached the Performance Discussion with a fixed mindset.
I cared a lot about what my manager thought about my performance. I wanted her to think that I am smart and I have achieved all my objectives. Knowing that I was unable to achieve all the goals we had agreed upon at the beginning of the year, I was anxious of the feedback she was going to give me. As a person who claimed to have a growth mindset, I should have seen the impending discussion as an opportunity to get her opinion on how I could have done better. In this way, I will learn and improve.
However, having a fixed mindset, I wanted my manager to see me as smart and successful. The focus was on “being” smart rather than learning from my previous year’s performance so that I can “become” smarter.
A lot of people are afraid of failing and to be labelled as failures. If goals are not achieved, they do everything in their power to blame others. Hence, most organizations suffer from a blame culture where employees do not want to take accountability. Leaders may unconsciously be promoting such a culture through their mindsets.

Fixed Mindset Leaders

Leaders who have a fixed mindset are difficult to work for and with. Some of the characteristics that are displayed by leaders with a fixed mindset include:

  • They protect their positions and see everyone with more experience and expertise on a certain subject as a threat
  • They are not willing to develop and coach their employees – they don’t have succession plans in place
  • They enjoy being needed and pride themselves that things will not move if they are not there
  • They are short-sighted and cannot see beyond their current circumstances
  • They are very internally focused and believe that everything revolves around them
  • When things go wrong, they always want to know who did wrong so that they can punish the perpetrator
  • They rule by fear so that employees are afraid to speak up and challenge them
  • They are focused and try to impress others by their status and material possessions
  • They can destroy anyone who threatens their security and status
  • They promote a blaming culture and that of command and control
  • They don’t care about the role they play towards employee engagement. They therefore accuse employees of being ungrateful

Growth Mindset Leaders

Organizations are however looking for leaders and employees who have a growth mindset. Such employees can embrace and promote a High-Performance Culture. Some of the attributes of such people include:

  • Believing in the potential of others
  • They coach and mentor their team members
  • These leaders believe in life-long learning and continuous improvement
  • They encourage their team members to learn and improve their skills
  • They allow team members to speak up as they believe in the power of diversity
  • They are agile, promote innovation and therefore able to lead in the VUCA world
  • They find it easy to recognize and reward good performance
  • Since they invite feedback from everyone, employees find it easy to receive developmental feedback from such leaders.

There is nothing new on the items listed above. Most leaders know these characteristics like the back of their hands.  Some regard themselves as the best gift to mankind. They strongly believe, just like me, that they have a growth mindset. Some leaders are in denial. Even when 360ⷪ assessment gives them feedback about their behavior, they would probably find someone to blame. Other leaders even go out of their way to find out who said what in the feedback.

What do you Believe about yourself?

The purpose of this article is to challenge the reader. We need to stop assuming that we have a growth mindset without having tested it or being challenged by it. This could either be at the workplace, in a relationship, as parents or any area of our lives.
You can start by thinking about how you feel when you are supposed to have a conversation that has a possibility of unmasking your imperfectionists. Do you care more about how smart other people think you are? Or the possibility of learning from their perception of who you are so that you can improve from it?
Are you more concerned about “being” smart or “becoming” smarter?

New Year’s Resolutions

So, for this year 2018. Which mindset are you going to adopt?
What are you willing to do to ensure that you are applying the “right” mindset?

If you want to read the book by Carol Dweck, click on the picture below.

What Scandals Tell Us About Leadership

scandalsCorporate and political life seems to be burdened by behavior the broader public does not appreciate (any more). In Belgium we are faced with a scandal in the city of Brussels. The mayor of Brussels accepted fees as a board member for board meetings that had not taken place. This in itself questionable, but what made it worse is that he took the money from an organization that looks after the homeless in Europe’s capital. The mayor stepped down, but only reluctantly. As if nothing had happened.
The case is interesting because it shows how leaders derail and how easily they derail. The thing is that contextual factors like power and money are so tempting that moral standards come under pressure. Some people think they are entitled to more than others just because they are a leader (i.e. they have been appointed). And that’s the start of a slippery slope towards erosion of values and of character.

Entitlement is the start of a slippery road towards erosion of values and character.

If leadership is based on position, power and even competencies it becomes not sustainable. Why is that? Because these elements are extrinsic and have no eternal value. Even more, to maintain power and position (or to increase it) people might engage in behaviours that do not create a sustainable value.
The only way to make leadership sustainable for organizations, teams and the leaders themselves is to base it on humanity, on character. Note that the Latin word for character is moralitas, so it’s linked to ethics. To me it’s about having empathy, being fair, being kind and having reciprocal relationships. We are all able to do that.
But under pressure these human traits may erode. The VUCA environment might even accelerate this. Kindness might be seen as weak, empathy as inefficient, reciprocity as undesirable and fairness as obstacle. Pressure, unrealistic expectations, leadership myths, power and money, … they all have erosive effects on character and on leadership. The challenge is to stay humble and human.

The challenge is to stay humble and human.

In my book on Sustainable Leadership I describe how this happens, what leaders can do about it and what leaders need to do to create a sustainable context that builds trust, creates meaningfulness, fosters growth and boosts engagement. This can be done based on character, rather than by using power and position.
I could send it to the mayor of Brussels. Or to many other leaders. Derailment and unsustainable leadership behavior is of all times, all cultures and all countries.
So if you want to arm yourself against the erosion of character and make your leadership sustainable, I invite you to read the book. And I’d like to hear what you think about it.
David Ducheyne

I am a Leader. I am a Person. The story of Themba.

This is the story of Themba, a managing director and self-made man. This blog is the first part in a series of 2.

Themba’s Family Dynamics

Themba is a managing director at a construction company. He started working there when he was 20 years old. Themba had completed his matric (grade 12) certificate two years earlier. His parents couldn’t afford to take him to university. His father, James, had been in exile for most of his young life. Themba was brought up by his mother and grandmother. James came back from exile being an angry and bitter man. He could not find work even though he had sacrificed his youth and family for the struggle. He turned to alcohol in order to deal with the anger he felt towards his country.
James was sometimes abusive towards Themba and his mother. Themba developed anger and hatred towards his father and the struggle. Even though he had good matric results, Themba couldn’t secure a bursary. After two years of searching, he found a temporal job as a clerk at a construction company. His mother, Thandi, encouraged him to work very hard. She believed that if he worked diligently the boss may put in a good word for him and he can get a bursary. Themba didn’t get the bursary he was hoping for, but was appointed permanently as an administrator.

Hard work pays

Themba was dedicated to his work. He moved up through the ranks because of his experience.  In his promotions, Themba was never appointed to lead anyone. He was a brilliant specialist. He decided to further his studies and registered for a degree in Business Management. He passed his degree with a distinction. Then, he registered and completed an MBA. His employer rewarded him with a promotion to a Senior Specialist position. After 3 years in his new position and helping the company to increase its revenue, Themba was again promoted.  This time he was promoted to a leadership position.
Themba was thrilled at the prospect of earning more money. However, he was anxious to lead people. His HR director never spoke to him about the competencies required to lead people. He just knew through his studies that he needed to know how to manage and lead. He has always been an introvert and didn’t know if he can be able to talk to people. He shared his frustrations with his wife, Kate. Kate was a manager in an Accounting firm. She had experience in leading people. She therefore understood her husband’s feelings.

Role of HR and OD

Kate was fortunate because her company had an active HR and Organisation Development division. The HR director was well-respected in the company. She was up to date with environmental and HR changes in the industry. Hence, she contributed effectively to the company’s strategic direction. The company had good Talent, Performance Management, Coaching and Mentoring strategies and frameworks in place. Kate was properly trained and prepared to transition from one position to the next. The company had a leadership philosophy which was frequently communicated to all the leaders. Leaders were also held accountable for living the company’s values through the implementation of 360° evaluations.  Employee Engagement surveys were conducted annually. Line Managers were held accountable for the debriefing of the EE results, as well as the implementations of suggestions from employees. The company also made sure that all employees knew and understood the company’s vision and priorities.
Some leaders and HR practitioners were trained as Internal Coaches. Most managers and employees would, depending on the results of their talent discussions and needs, be allocated an internal or external Coach and Mentor.
Kate shared all the interventions that her company had implemented with Themba. She advised him to talk to his HR director, Mr. Ngozi, to seek for help. Themba was envious about all the interventions that were being implemented in his wife’s company. However, he was doubtful about his CEO and Mr. Ngozi buying into and implementing these interventions. Like him, his CEO and Mr. Ngozi have never worked for any other company. They have been promoted through the ranks because of their experience. They were only interested in results, and didn’t care about the employees.

Putting up a front

On the first date as the new managing director, Themba made an appointment to see Mr. Ngozi.  Mr. Ngozi was very happy to have found someone to fill the position. During their discussion, Themba realized that if he shared his fears with Mr. Ngozi, he will be regarded as weak. It might give an impression that he was not the right person for the position. He therefore kept quiet and decided to just go along with it.
Themba had another dilemma. His team members were once his peers. So they knew each other’s strengths and shortcomings. They would sometimes manipulate him and take advantage of their friendship. In order to deal with this challenge, Themba became aggressive. He would bark orders; shout at his team if they didn’t behave as expected. He put a wall around himself to hide his feelings of inadequacy.

Is it worth it?

Then, Themba started to neglect his family. Most of his time he spent at work. When Kate confronted him, he was defensive. He also became aggressive towards Kate and the kids. He saw himself behaving the same way as his father did. He began to hate himself. Themba felt overwhelmed but didn’t know what to do. His world was crumbling down in and around him. He was unhappy but pretended that he had everything under control.
One day Kate received a call from Themba’s HR director. Themba had suffered a breakdown. He had shouted and swore at his team, peers and everyone in the company. Themba had told Mr. Ngozi that Mr. Ngozi was useless. He had failed to implement all the interventions that were implemented in Kate’s company.
So, when Kate came to pick up her husband, Mr. Ngozi asked her to explain what Themba had said. Kate’s only said “Remember to treat your employees as total human beings!”
If you were the HR director, what would be your next step?

Mercy Projects: Don’t Give Bread to Someone Who is Thirsty

This blog is about mercy projects. And why they are not such a good idea.
Today, I met someone on the train who’s life had changed drastically earlier this year. He had a promising career ahead of him. Many people saw him  as the coming man. Life had been so good for him. Until suddenly his life changed. The project got cancelled and for some reason people avoided him like if he had the plague. It was unfair.
Then someone called him on the train. He was drinking a beer, which was not his habit. He answered. The female voice on the phone enquired about his situation. He said he was feeling OK. His face said otherwise. Then she said she had a project for him. Asked if he had interest. The project was way below his former responsibilities. It was a mercy project. Someone felt pity and wanted to save him. He declined. I won’t hide, he said, but you will not see me that often at headquarters anymore.
A mercy project is a project you give to people who experienced bad fortune. You feel sorry for them and you feel the need to save them  from whatever disaster that is hanging over their head.
But here’s the thing. Many people don’t want to be saved. When people experienced injustice, they want justice, redemption, reparation, restitution. They don’t want to go into the world with a surrogate mission, a distant reflection of what could have been. If you try to save them, you show a lot of kindness, but a lack of empathy.
Acts of mercy may seem the right thing to do.  But they are most often not.

Don’t give bread to someone who is thirsty.

If you do, there will be a backlash. Mercy projects do no solve anything. They cover up.
What do we learn from that situation? It tells us how difficult compassion in a professional context is. A leader has to able to show kindness. But kindness is not the same as being merciful. Sometimes you are kind by not showing mercy. Mercy can feel like a judgement and in many ways it is. So let’s avoid them.
But, leaders can learn how to use their character as basis of their leadership, without being perceived as soft or weak.
The English version of my book on Sustainable Leadership will be published in the coming weeks. In that book I discuss the way someone can make leadership more sustainable in a VUCA world. For the moment you can find the version in Dutch here and the version in french here.

Incompetent Bosses: Can People Work for Them?

This is an article about incompetent bosses.

Incompetent Bosses

Artz, Goodall & Oswald (2016) wrote an article the in which they come to the conclusion that the competence of a boss has a high impact on employee well-being. That means that appointing managers with a deep technical expertise could be beneficial. This is counter-intuitive to current leadership development practice, that says that a leader can lead without that deep expertise. Many leadership literature and experiences show that deep subject-matter knowledge seems to even hinder the leadership capacity of managers.
In the article, the authors measure supervisor competence with three concepts:

  1. whether the supervisor worked his/her way up inside the company
  2. whether the supervisor could in an emergency do the employee’s job
  3. the supervisor’s assessed level of competence

The first two are only indirect indicators of supervisor competence. The latter is a subjective assessment by the employee of the technical competence of their manager. And here’s the thing. If you assess the relevance of deep technical knowledge for employee well-being, what do you compare it with? An employee expects a lot of things from a supervisor. How important is deep technical competence in the overall equation? And would an employee prefer someone with deep technical knowledge but with lousy leadership behavior over a supervisor with the reverse qualities?

The Boss from the Inside

Leaders who come from within a company have a higher chance of success. That is probably less because they have a deep technical know-how.  It’s more because they have a cultural fit, understanding of the social and political dimension of the organization and are more acceptable as “one of us”. And yes, understanding of the business is also a part of speedy induction into the job. A leader coming from within can skip the first 90 days.

The Competent Boss

Many employees do indeed prefer a supervisor with deep technical knowledge. Many employees still cherish the idea that they need to be able to go to the supervisor with technical problems and ask for technical solutions. They have the idea that a supervisor needs to be the best among the pack. What else would justify a managerial position? And sometimes they are very cruel when they notice that their manager knows less about the job than they do. They seem to forget that a supervisor has many other supervisory roles than having and maintaining a high level of expertise.
In 1980 (!) Sasser and Leonard wrote in Harvard Business Review
“Being a first-level supervisor is one of the most difficult, demanding, and challenging jobs in any organization. Buried in an organizational web, this person must be adroit at administering a unit and at perceiving which, among all the daily tasks delegated downward, are the most important to accomplish. Through such administrative competence, he or she must be able to link the unit’s accomplishments to the functioning of other organizational subunits.”
In that older article, the authors state that supervisors need to work on human relations and technical competence. But they also state that
“First-level supervisors must of course have technical competence in the areas they supervise. The supervisors must be able to perform the specific tasks they ask their workers to do and must, to some degree, understand the equipment and the process technology they manage.
Technological changes continue to occur rapidly, though, and supervisors can no longer hope to understand completely all the complex equipment and processes they are in charge of. New products and new processes abound.
Having good technical skills gives supervisors both enough understanding to deal with the many specialists brought in to accomplish the units’ objectives and the ability to train subordinates in their tasks.”

To Have or to Maintain Technical Competence?

Having technical competence helps. If a company would appoint a supervisor without technical skills, this person might get into trouble. And if the supervisor would have no technical skills, it would be advisable to use some of those first 90 days to acquire sufficient understanding to be able to ask the right questions. It’s hard work. As I said, workers are sometimes cruel in dealing with a supervisor they see as being less competent than they are. They will put the new manager to the test.
Maintaining deep technical competence is impossible. It is very likely that due to technological, legal, contextual evolutions the leader cannot maintain the deep competence he or she once had. He or she cannot stay ahead of the others. They will lose their position of being the best. Even if they would try, leaders will eventually and even hopefully lose that battle. Why hopefully? Because the wish to stay ahead of the others could provoke negative behaviours. These behaviors include keeping team members “stupid”, dividing knowledge and responsibilities so that no-one has the full picture, hiring people with limited or no potential, … All of these are harmful to the organization and its employees.
It is the destiny of any supervisor to have people in the team who know better. I would even say it’s the purpose of any supervisor to make sure that team members become more knowledgeable than they are. If they don’t focus on the individual development of team members, their employees will assign them the role of savior or fire-fighter. And then they leaders would be truly incompetent and lacking influence. If leaders has to serve their people, could they not better serve them by making them competent, rather than depriving them of learning opportunities?

Assessment of the Boss’s Competence

If you ask employees about their leader’s technical competence, you get will get an answer about just that. Could someone work for a technically incompetent or less competent manager? The answer is yes, provided that this manager is also a leader. Maybe the biggest contribution of a leader, is to make sure the team and every person in it, succeeds. For that a supervisor needs to create a context in which that is possible. Having deep technical knowledge might even be harmful to this important leadership role for several reasons.

  1. Deep technical knowledge might hinder the supervisor in looking for other solutions.
  2. Maintaining deep technical knowledge might consume so much time, there is no time for other leadership activities
  3. Deep technical knowledge might lead to micro-management
  4. Deep technical knowledge might reduce chances of development for team members because they do not have to look themselves for solutions as their expert-manager has all the answers.
  5. The wish to be an expert-manager might lead to dark behavior.

Losing technical knowledge

Taking on a supervisory role, means letting go off (a part of) the technical dimension of the job. The higher one climbs in the hierarchy the less technical know-how is needed. Foremen will work along his team and do similar tasks. But their managers will have more distance to the technical process. And their managers might not have a clue.
But the latter ones also will need to have enough understanding of the core technical process to ask the right questions, look in the right places, involve the right people and take the right decisions. But they will never decide about the how something needs to be done, but rather about the why, the what and the who. Losing the technical dimension is beneficiary for both the organization and the people doing the technical work.
So incompetent bosses are everywhere and performing well.

Some advice

Here is some advice for so-called incompetent bosses who enter a role without having deep expert knowledge

  • Get a taste: make sure you acquire enough to understand the business you’re in. If you’re the CEO of a wholesaler, go and work on the shop floor. Do some basic stuff, interact with the customers, get to know how things are done. But be humble and appreciative in doing that.
  • Do not pretend: if you don’t know, you don’t know. There is no point in pretending you do. There are enough people in your company who do know. Get their advice and let them decide on the technical issues.
  • Don’t exaggerate in your first 90 days. Do not throw out technical people because they’re not strategic enough. You might get rid of invaluable know-how and damage the DNA of your company at the same time.
  • Surrounded yourself with more competent people. They can deal with technical issues, train new people on the team.
  • Never assume you know. There is a temptation to transfer earlier knowledge to the current environment. Don’t assume that is possible. Be very careful when you want to enter a technical discussion. You should ask more questions than give answers.
  • Don’t feel incompetent or leave. If you feel incompetent and it continues to bother you, you might be in the wrong role. Maybe you are more an expert than a manager. If it bothers you, do something.
  • Be thankful. Many people will be willing to help you to succeed in your role. they will compensate for your technical incompetence. They will do so, because your success is also theirs. Be thankful when that happens.

Can People Really Work for Incompetent Bosses?

Yes, they can. But they can only when there is a positive return. If the manager is a leader who focuses on development of people, meaningfulness and purpose and trust they will forgive the (technical) incompetence of a leader. If on the contrary they are confronted with a weak leader who plays power games, is not trustworthy and does not invest in personal development and purpose, they will implicitly commit acts of sabotage. The lack of competence then becomes a weapon in the hands of unwilling people.
The Article of Artz e.a. (2016) does not provide sufficient evidence for the unique role of technical knowledge in the employee experience compared to other supervisory roles. However, it confirms what people have known for decades: having technical knowledge is helpful. True, the authors wanted to see what the role of supervisors is in the labor market. So if you’re boss is competent you could indeed be more happy at work. But if your boss is not a leader you could be truly unhappy.
I argue that the role of supervisors in the labor market is more oriented towards providing decent work and enabling sustainable employability (including well-being) by adopting leadership behaviors and not by having deep technical expertise.
Let the debate continue.
Read also


  • Artz, B., Goodall, A.H. & Oswald, A.J. (2016). If Your Boss could do Your Job You’re more likely to Be Happy at Work. Harvard Business Review
  • Artz, B., Goodall, A.H. & Oswald, A.J. (2016). Boss Competence and Worker Well-beingIndustrial relations and Labour Review
  • Sasser, E. & Leonard, F.S. (1980). Let First-Level Supervisors do their Job, Harvard Business Review, 58(2), pp. 113-121

Seductive Leaders use the Power of Words

This blog is about seductive leaders. They seduce people through the power of words.

Dance Lessons

Kevin has developed an innovative idea for his organization. His manager arranged a slot for him to present his idea to the top management. He was very anxious. He had never presented anything to the top management before. He knew that this was an opportunity to sell himself. He had to impress them.
Kevin’s wife, Caroline helped him to prepare the presentation. Even though everything was in place and packaged properly, he was nervous. Caroline was a retired professional dancer. She was now a part-time dance teacher and life coach. She used dance principles to coach her clients. She had seen dance transform leaders to come out of their shells. Caroline knew that it was time her husband received some dance lessons and coaching.
That evening, Caroline asked Kevin “have you considered seducing your top management to buy into your ideas?” Kevin couldn’t believe what he heard. He looked at her as if she has grown something on her forehead. He thought “of all people, Caroline knew that he was an introvert and shy. He would never dream of being bold to seduce top managers. Anyway 85% of them were males. They would think he is crazy and fire him on the spot!”

The Art of Seduction

Caroline knew what Kevin was thinking. Before he could respond she said:
“Let me explain what I mean. I know that the word “seduction” is associated with attracting and leading people astray. It also sounds manipulative. But think about this way. Seducers have certain powers that enable them to convince others to do their bidding. They have qualities that you need right now. You want top management to buy-into, commit and support your idea. You need to find a way of showing them it is a workable idea. Think about the best leaders who are able to convince their employees to buy into their vision. They have a certain charm that makes people to follow and trust that they won’t lead them astray. They have mastered the power of seduction. I think it is about time you learned the art of seduction through dance. I will meet you in my dance studio tomorrow at exactly 17:30”Caroline left him before he could think of an excuse.
Kevin was intrigued. He was not keen to take the lessons. He has two left feet. However, he knew that arguing with his wife was a waste of time. He also knew that if he wanted peace at home, he better show up and come prepared at 17:30 the next day.

Seductive Leaders

At exactly 17:30 the following day, Kevin found his wife waiting for him. Caroline was already in her teacher/mentor mode. She told Kevin that everyone is able to seduce. If they can master the skill, they can get anything they want. She advised him to use the following tips:

  1. Change mindset.

I define mindset  as “a fixed mental attitude or disposition that predetermines a person’s responses to and interpretations of situations”.  Leaders know that it is important to control and stalk their thoughts. Kevin has attended a personal mastery course. He knows the importance of positive thoughts and self-talks. He used to do his affirmation and visualization exercises. Unfortunately, he had stopped.
Caroline reminded Kevin to resume his affirmation exercises. She also advised him to visualize himself delivering a flawless and successful presentation. Kevin was further reminded of articulating who he is, what he wants, and his worth.

  1. Power posing

Caroline shared with Kevin the findings of body language and confidence research that was conducted by Amy Cuddy, a Social Psychologist. She found that when people stand in a confidence posture, even when they don’t feel confident, they exude self-confidence. She called this “power posing”. Here you can find a TedTalk by her.
Power posing also influences feelings of confidence in the poser. Power posing stimulates higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of cortisol. Testosterone is associated with male dominance, power and greater tolerance to risk. Whereas lower levels of cortisol is associated with lower levels of stress. Hence Kevin would benefit from power posing whilst presenting his idea.
Leaders need to be able to instill confidence in others. In a TEDtalk, Benjamin Zander made a bold statement. He said that before the end of his talk, everyone watching and listening to him would come to love classical music. He said it with such confidence that the audience believed him. Leaders need to learn the skill of looking and feeling confident even when they do not. Any sign of doubt, whether through speech or action, can send employees on a downward spiral.

  1. Create desire

Dancers have learned the skill of making themselves desirable. Their ability to move their bodies in sync with the music, and their dancing partners, invokes an emotion of yearning to be part of the dance from the audience. Caroline taught Kevin to make his idea desirable by focusing on answering the “why?” and “what’s in it for the organization” questions.
Effective leaders know that everyone wants to be associated with success. They speak from the heart and with passion. They believe in their ideas. They have no doubt that they will win. These leaders touch the peoples’ hearts before asking for their hands.

  1. Master your craft

Dancers excel in their craft because they spend time practicing and perfecting their choreography. Their moves look effortless. They leave the audience in awe and yearning for more. Caroline stressed that Kevin must ensure that he knows his product intimately. He must be prepared to answer any questions.
Being able to seduce is not enough. It only helps to attract and entice people. People want leaders who are capable and can deliver on their promises. Hence leaders must be able to develop, sell and give direction on the execution of strategies.

The power of words

Words have the power to build, inspire and destroy. Seductive Leaders have the opportunity to turn words that are normally used negatively into a positive experience for themselves and others.
Picture Credit: this picture has been used in another blog by Stacy Johnson.

Leadership – and Captain ’s Culpability

This blog is about the responsibility of a leader – the captain. 


Brussels airport attack was on March 22nd, 2016. A year before, on March 24th, 2015, it was co-pilot Andreas Lubitz who decided to deliberately crash his Airbus into the French Alps. In the hours and days following that tragedy, public opinion was pointing at hundreds of culprits.
His ex-girlfriend, the medical doctor, his parents,…they all should have flagged potential issues. And of course many blamed Germanwings (Lufthansa); the employer. The management first and utmost. But also the company doctors, recruiters, instructors at the aviation school,…and all of his crew colleagues who demonstrated that social peer control doesn’t work.

Guilt and Responsibility

So, what will you do when such a tragedy –perish the thought- would happen in your company? As a leader, I am sure you have implemented strong disaster and recovery plans. As well as a solid risk management policy. Fine, but how will these help you to ensure that public opinion is not targeting you and your colleagues as the prime culprits? Because don’t forget, it’s you chasing continuously for efficiency, productivity and profit while stretching your staff. So you are guilty, aren’t you?
Here, there are things to do and things not to do. The “do’s” are simple and not complex at all. Show trust! Trust in all your colleagues and staff for what they have contributed in the past and what they will be contributing in the disaster investigation and conclusion stage. The “don’t do” is the chasing for culprits; it doesn’t help you nor the victims of the disaster. Because once you offer an offender, the ball keeps running. As it will be the offender’s boss who failed; and at the end it is you the company leader becoming the guilty party. It is your job to support all your staff up to the stage where legally appointed prosecutors will take final decisions.

The Captain ‘s Job

Now of course you will learn from the disaster and do the utmost to avoid repetition. But, yes but, not everything in life can be avoided. And not everything should be regulated; certainly not over-regulated. Let’s not forget, the locked cockpit door is only resulting from the September 11 tragedies. Only days after Lubitz’ malicious act, countries implemented laws and companies regulations to ensure a minimum of two crew members in the cockpit. So what, and what about conspiracy. Should we go to three or four crew members in the cockpit? And five security guys in the cabin; on all flights? Should we stop flying because one pilot concealed sick notes?
Should you stop doing business because there is a risk that one day you may be blamed for a serious disaster? Should you stop doing business because –that’s a fact- you cannot foresee everything? Because you are not the Almighty?  As a leader – as a captain- you may be politely pleading to open the door, next shouting ‘open the damn door’, and next trying to smash the door; if the door doesn’t open you have nevertheless done the utmost to safeguard your company, your staff and your customers. That’s your job.
This blog was originally published on Great Business Life Stories.

If it is not about me, then who? (The Warrior)

This blog is about the leader as warrior. Or maybe better why the leader is not the warrior. It’s not about the leader, but about those who are led.

The Interview

I recently listened to an interview over the radio. The journalist was interviewing a CEO of a company that was going through some challenges. The company did not meet its performance targets. However, the executive team received large amounts in performance bonus. The journalist wanted to understand what was going on and the reasons for making such huge payouts. The CEO was cagey, defensive and rude. The interviewer never lost his cool. He kept asking questions to get to the truth. At the end of the interview, he politely thanked the CEO.


The dictionary defines professionalism as “the skill, good judgment, and polite behavior that is expected from a person who is trained to do a job well”. The interviewer was the epitome of professionalism. Even though the interview was difficult, I enjoyed it. I felt that the interviewer fully represented me and my interests. He helped answer some of the questions that I had. He did not take the CEO’s responses personally. He remained objective and respectful throughout the interview. He understood that his job is to serve his listeners.
This interview made me think of my behavior as a leader. When I find myself in a similar position. Having a “difficult” employee who regularly asks questions, challenges my decisions and knows exactly which buttons to push. Do I stay calm and professional? Am I open to listen to their opinion? Or do I become defensive and play “I am the boss here, do as I say. You are paid to work and not to think” line.
I also need to be aware that sometimes it is not what I say that communicates my feelings and opinions. However, my actions and body language forms part of my professionalism. We can all learn from the way the interviewer handled himself. If all leaders subscribed to the notion that we are servants of the people we lead, then we would invite and encourage such challenges. We would see them as opportunities to learn. Furthermore, we would understand that it is not about us, but the people we lead. 

Leadership and quantum physics

I know there are differing opinions about quantum physics. But let us assume for a moment that we all believed in the theory. It would be easy to accept the concepts of holography, oneness and inter-connectivity. According to holography, “the whole is contained in each and all pieces”. We are all connected. Whatever we think, do or say affects everyone in the organization. It forms part of the collective subconscious. This understanding is critical to the way leaders view their responsibilities.
Quantum physics also challenges us to consider that we live in a world of infinite possibilities. We are born to manifest this world of infinite possibilities. Our subordinates are human beings with unlimited potential to solve problems, make decisions and be innovative. The only thing standing in the way of living up to their full potential is their self-limiting beliefs. Leaders have the responsibility to help employees unleash their potential. This can be done through delegation, coaching and mentoring. This kind of thinking helps to transform leaders and their teams from approaching their responsibilities and challenges from a scarcity to an abundance mentality. The world of economics teaches us that we always have limited resources. However, we know that we have unlimited internal resources to help us get far beyond we ever dared to dream.

The Leader as the Quantum Warrior

As we commit ourselves to lead and empower others, help them in their personal journey to realize their life’s purpose and become the full expression of themselves, we become quantum warriors. Living in this way also helps us dedicate ourselves to excellence and authenticity so that we can be the best in whatever we do. Whilst in the process achieving our life’s purpose. We gain inner strength and more confidence in our roles as leaders. We know that we are part of something greater than we are. We therefore know and believe without any shadow of doubt in the ancient unpanished saying that “when a blade of grass is cut, the whole world quivers”. Most importantly we know that it is not about us, but the people we lead and the whole universe.

Entertainment as Leadership Strategy – Let me entertain you

This post is about entertainment as leadership strategy; It’s generally a bad idea. 

Shallow times

We are living in volatile and shallow times. The acceleration of life is such that we are losing touch with some ground principles of living a rewarding and prosperous life. Speed, fragmentation, constant accessibility, multiple distractions, instant satisfaction of needs, the abundance of choice (and therefore its absence) and a creeping deskilling of people lead to an existence without boredom, patience and tolerance.
To have all is not a good basis for a happy life. It’s by making of choices that we experience our freedom, which is always limited. Freedom finds its source in scarcity, not in abundance. Scarcity leads to creativity. Abundance leads to consumerism. Scarcity leads to appreciation. Abundance leads to indifference. Scarcity leads to reflection. Abundance leads to shallowness.
People have no tolerance for boredom. There is always something around the corner to experience. Check your mails. Write a blog. Call a friend. It’s a pity that we have lost the capacity to be bored. Because when you are bored you have to think and decide what you will do with the time that is passing slowly. It’s your responsibility. When I was young and I told my mother that I did not know what to do, she practically told me to bugger off. It’s a great gift to be told that. Imagine that she would have laid down her work and had sat down with me to entertain me.


And that’s what we are looking for. Entertainment. One of the greatest entertainers of our world, Robbie Williams, sings about this. Let me entertain you. Everything needs to be entertaining: work, marriage, learning. But this means that someone has to do it for you. The message is: entertain yourself. And do not mistake entertainment with existence.

So what does this mean for work? As an employer or leader one should not be tempted to start and entertain people. Yes. Work can be fun. Work is nicer when you have fun doing it. You will enjoy work more when you are having fun. That is all true. But the employer is only partly responsible for that. The employee experience depends on the context a leader creates and the attitude (and reaction) of the people working in that context.
I saw a video once of John Chambers of Cisco handing out lollipops and candy to his people. The good thing was that he came on the shop floor and talked to the people. But when I saw that video I was annoyed by it. What does it mean when your CEO gives you candy. It means he has become the Chief Entertainment Officer.

Give people choices

The best thing you can do is to give people choices. Create a context in which choices have to be made on every level. Do not preprogram every decision. Leave space for interpretation and deliberation. Be tough when needed. Popularity is not a target. Let people take the hard road. They won’t learn from the easy one. And at the end, it won’t entertain them. Don’t give out candy as a standard policy. It makes you look silly.

Stay close to yourself

As a leader you need to stay close to yourself and your character. I think that authenticity is overrated and as normative as anything else. You do your best to serve and protect people in your team and to guide them towards the required results. It helps if you can do that in line with your personal values and preferences. But if you want to entertain, you are not yourself. You are a showman or woman. So forget it. Don’t try to entertain. Just do what it takes. Have fun with it and make sure that others have fun. But they should not have fun because of you. They should have fun because the work is rewarding, meaningful, exhilarating. You’re not a clown. So do not try to entertain.
I have written a book about sustainable leadership. It will be published in Dutch, French and English as of april 2016.

Leadership Strategies for Engagement at Work

This blog is about the impact of leadership strategies on employee engagement.


John (not his real name) is a top-notch designer. He leads a team of designers charged with some highly technical work for some very particular and demanding clients. John has become extremely frustrated with his team. It seems that, throughout his workday, members of his team are constantly interrupting and checking in with John about issues that, based on the team members’ experience, they should be able to handle independently. John finds these constant interruptions aggravating. They undermine his ability to complete his own work. As a result, John is often irritable, dismissive, or perhaps even hostile towards his team members when they seek his help. As the entire team’s performance declines, John’s stress increases. Finally, John resorts to taking a sick day to avoid further interruptions and complete his work from home.

Internal Working Models

When examined as a cumulative set of experiences, John’s entire history of interactions becomes a set of memories, beliefs, and expectations about the thinking, emotions, and actions related to his role as a leader. These, in turn, influence how his future leadership strategies will be carried out. These patterns of behaviors are “internal working models” (IWM) (Bowlby, 1969). These are based upon how leaders treated him, how he saw leaders treat others, and John’s current history of interactions with others. These IWMs, which are both conscious and unconscious, serve several purposes in leadership.

  1. They help explain differences in the way people lead;
  2. They play an important role in guiding thinking, emotions, and behavior in leader-relevant contexts (i.e., engagement);
  3. They help one establish a view of the self (motives for supporting and leading others), as well as a view of others (recognizing others as worthy of support and protection).

If people lack clarity in their understanding of self or others, they will be likely to report different levels or patterns of engagement [word substituted] at different times.
Further, these mental models, when measured, are an accurate reflection of the range of both cognitive and behavioral strategies that can be associated with leadership (successful and unsuccessful). Engagement is affected because these leadership strategies can be adaptive (flexible and supportive) or maladaptive (rigid and unsupportive), depending upon the context.


We live in the most connected age in human history. Yet, our trusted relationships that serve to protect us, keep us safe, and help us to thrive in our careers are routinely ignored by leaders of all ranks. Research has revealed that the influence of trusted positive relationships continues throughout one’s lifetime, or as Bowlby (1979) put it, “from cradle to grave”. A recent Gallup’s engagement survey revealed that only 2% of employees who are ignored by their managers are engaged in their work (Gallup, 2016).
John’s initial behavior and response was geared toward avoidance of his team. This attitude is based on John’s perception of his team, or its members, as generally untrustworthy and undependable. On the other hand, he views himself as “unacceptable” or (defensible) “too good,” whereby his relationship(s) pose a threat to his leadership and control, and/or are simply not worth the effort (Sperling & Berman, 1994). Additionally, John provided the type of support that was more beneficial to himself than to his team.
From the leadership point of view today, organizations that do not pay enough attention to people and the deep sentiments and relationships connecting them are consistently less successful than those that do (Library.hbr.edu).
The moment that a leader can acknowledge that the goal of leadership is building positive trusting relationships, and that safety and security is as important as strategy and process, he/she has entered the world of engagement.


Engagement is as much about emotions as it is about actions and performance. Successful leadership is dependent on channeling emotions (one’s own as well as those of others) to support engagement and ultimately success. Unfortunately, traditional leadership theories have taught us to leave emotions and our internal self at the door. This suggests that leadership should be exercised (1) by coercion and force; or (2) compulsive self-reliance, requiring abdication of leadership in favor of distancing strategies from employees when anxiety-provoking events that need leaders to interact with others.
Do these kinds of leadership strategies make followers feel safe and increase or even maintain engagement? Empirical evidence and pertinent research convincingly show that when anxiety, fear, and coercion are lessened, and leaders and followers mutually protect, trust, and coöperate with each other, performance increases exponentially. According to Hassan and Ahmed (2011), this is the natural reaction to feeling safe and a central tenet of engagement.


Most people work under the premise, “If I cannot trust that you will keep me safe or look out for me, I must protect myself.” In the workplace, this “self protection” mechanism comes at a price, known as disengagement. As protecting oneself requires much energy, not much is left for work to be done (Kiel, 2015). This is clear in John’s case, who expended most of his energy on protecting his job (working from home), and not doing his job (leading his team).
The most fundamental, powerful, and enduring fuel for performance is a feeling of safety  in ourselves and in the world around us. Most of us spend the greatest percentage of our waking lives in the workplace. But how much energy and capacity is squandered each day worrying in conflict and competition with colleagues, or fielding questions or complaints.

Leadership Strategies

Avoidant strategies.
John exhibited “deactivating,” as one of three leadership strategies for dealing with the internal emotional disruption(s) from his team. Deactivating strategies are based on attempts to deny that interpersonal relationships (and the corresponding trust and cooperation) are important. John was unwilling to make too many emotional demands on his team. Thus, by staying home and on task, internally at least, he was under impression that he maintained his leadership position, as he avoided rejection or failure.
Anything that, or anyone who distracts the individual or frustrates what he or she is doing will make that individual feel anxious, agitated and cross so anyone who adds to the workload, demands a change in focus, threatens to fragment the task is likely to be viewed with hostility (Rhodes & Simpson, 2004).
Such distancing and defensiveness in service to oneself is hardly indicative of full engagement and successful leadership that puts safety and support of others ahead of one’s own. For John, keeping his “emotional distance” seems imperative; yet, it comes at some interpersonal and psychological costs. It means that John cannot bring all of his self (Kahn, 1990) to his leadership, severely restricting his engagement with his team and the team’s functioning.
Anxious strategies.
Another strategy type is known as “hyperactivating.” Individuals exhibiting this strategy tend to be characterized by intrusive behaviors; over involvement or micro managing of people, events, and situations; providing help and support that is not required; excessive demands for reassurance, and to pursue, often unsuccessfully, their own unmet needs for feeling safe and secure. Until these leaders are successful at feeling safe, they can do nothing else, compromising their relationships and their effectiveness. Their success would be based on shifting their focus to other’s distress and not to one’s own emotional state. These leaders may claim that they are fully engaged, but they are motivated solely by the desire to gain the favor and acceptance from the organization.
Secure strategies. Finally, a third strategy is called “secure.” Leaders that adopt secure strategies balance the needs of their followers and allow them to work independently or in groups, depending upon the circumstances. Secure strategies serve as “insurance for survival” (at least in a psychological sense). Flexible and adaptive, these strategies recognize, and leaders are willing to give, the wide range of types of support necessary to meet the needs of their followers, but not overly so! This behavior allows followers to feel safe, be more effective at problem solving, take on calculated risks and new challenges, be creative, and trust and coöperate with each other. Only after secure relationships have been restored or repaired can full engagement truly be achieved.
Leadership Strategies


Few attempts have been made to conceptualize leaders, their strategies for leading (leadership), and engagement in terms of relationship functioning. If organizations wish to improve engagement levels, they might do well to focus on the followers’ perceptions of the support, protection, and safety their leaders offer (Saks, 2006). The self-focused motives underpinning hyperactivating and deactivating leadership strategies interfere with those provisions of support, safety, and protection in relationships. Ultimately, they undermine the goal of a fully engaged workforce.
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