Help! My Employees are disengaged (part 2 – HIV)!

This is the second part of a blog. You can find the first part here.

Leading from the heart

After the meeting with Mr. Jacobs, Phindile reflected on their conversation. She thought about her behavior as a leader. She realized that in her pursuit to be successful, she has lost touch with people. Yes, she did talk to them when she met them in the passages. She also held monthly meetings with them. But she never really connected with them. She realized that she doesn’t know the people she works with. They also do not know her. She knew that if she connected with them, they will learn to trust her again and give her honest feedback.
She remembered a story she read about a young gifted tenor who auditioned for a song, but was rejected. The success of the audition depended on understanding the degree of sadness, vulnerability and loss. The singer was too perfect. He missed the emotional expression of the song. By wanting to sing a perfect song, he failed to connect with the listener.
Phindile knew that if she wants to be successful in leading from the heart, she needed to use the power of HIV (Humility, Interdependence and Vulnerability).

The Power of HIV

Humility and vulnerability are noble qualities. Due to childhood conditioning, some leaders do not want to be associated with them. Growing up, Phindile was taught to be “humble”. She was expected to be unassuming and never to talk about accomplishments. She would be viewed as arrogant. This conditioning has led her to see humility as being unassertive and timid. At work she saw others being hurt by people they have opened up to. She vowed never to be vulnerable. To protect herself at all costs. Phindile saw vulnerability as a sign of weakness. As she thought about her mentor and what he has taught her throughout the years, she saw that he was successful in leading people because he was an embodiment of these qualities.
She remembered that at some point in their interaction, Mr. Jacobs’ daughter was very sick. His family found it difficult to deal with the sickness. It was taking a toll on him. One day during their mentoring sessions, he shared with her the emotional and physical strain that he and his wife were experiencing. He showed humility and vulnerability. She saw that he was a human being. He also encounters challenges in life. From that day, her respect and appreciation for him grew. He showed that he also needed her. He showed genuine appreciation for her words of comfort. He taught her that they need each other
She now understood why most employees could relate to him. He never wore a mask. He was honest with his challenges. He also actively listened to people. He was fully present. . Hence employees would never want to disappoint him.
Phindile learned that being HIV is far from being unassertive, timid or weak. Her mentor was one of the most confident and shrewd business people she knew. Yet he displayed all these virtues. Being HIV is about self-acceptance, having a positive self-regard, and being enlightened. Leaders that are HIV understand their identity. They do not desert their post and give up their leadership badge.

Phindile’s reflections

Through her conversation with her mentor and the subsequent reflections, Phindile resolved to:

  • Have a mentor and or coach: Leadership positions can be lonely. The pressures and expectations can be overwhelming. Without the right support structure and team, leaders often make hasty and uninformed decisions. A Coach and mentor will help Phindile to reflect on her experiences, thought processes and behavior. She will get expert guidance and advice. She will also learn new skills and knowledge to help her become a great leader. Mentors and Coaches are objective and will give her honest feedback.
  • Connect with people: Employees listen to the words, how they are said and body language. They want a leader who shows belief and passion in what they are saying. Not a mechanistic leader who just tick boxes. Leaders also connect with people by showing them respect. Respectful leaders treat employees as human beings. They do not consider rank or level. Such leaders interact and listen to all employees with genuine interest. They acknowledge their contribution. Hence employees feel cared for.
  • Being HIV: The Human Immunodeficiency Virus was viewed by many as a death sentence. People were afraid to disclose their status for fear of being stigmatized. Many have found their life’s purpose and meaning by accepting their status. They have become activists. They teach others how to live meaningful and productive lives. They wouldn’t have been able to do so if they were HIV negative. Phindile needs to learn to remove her mask and open up to employees. They will see who she really is. They will be able identify with her and learn to trust her.
  • Set aside time for reflection: Leaders need to create time for reflection. It enables leaders to get off the dance floor for a while. To sit on the balcony and observe themselves interacting with others, making decisions as well as mistakes. It gives them an opportunity to learn from their mistakes. They are able to come back on the dance floor refreshed. They are calmer, think clearly and able to make improved decisions.
  • Ownership: Employee engagement is a leaders’ responsibility and not only the Human Resources departments. Most organizations conduct annual surveys but the engagement does not improve. This is due to some leaders’ failure to implement the recommended interventions.
  • Balance operational requirements and people issues: Organizations need good systems and processes as well as the right people to do the job. In some cases, leaders bow to the pressure of making profits. They do this at the expense of their employees. Great leaders are those who understand the importance of engagement, and are able to balance soft and hard skills.


“The real measure of any leader is the ability to leverage relationships to influence others to embrace accountability”
Peter Aceto


The Leadership Badge

The Leadership Badge

The dictionary defines a badge as “a small distinctive piece of fabric, metal, or plastic worn on clothing to show rank or membership or a characteristic; or an identifying mark of a particular brand, quality, or type of person”. Police men and women regard their badges as a symbol of honor, dignity, integrity, truth and justice. These are the ideals they strive for every day. A badge gives and helps them to define their identity and what they stand for. They wear it with pride. It reminds them of their duty to serve and protect communities, the government and their colleagues. It therefore highlights the importance of accountability.

Leadership Identity

In the workplace, people wear different badges. One of the important badges is the one worn by leaders. It may not be as visible as the one worn by Police men and women, but they wear it daily. A leadership badge should be worn with pride. It is representative of their leadership identity. Leadership identity is a set of characteristics that belong uniquely to a leader. It constitutes the leader’s personality. It is closely linked with their enacted values, and is the heart of a leader as a person. In order to determine their leadership identity, leaders need to be self-aware.


Many scholars and writers agree that self-awareness is one of the most important virtues that contribute to a leader’s success. It is the basis of Emotional Intelligence. Self awareness is more than just knowing their strengths, weaknesses, values, goals and aspirations. It includes how all these impact on those they are leading. In order to increase their self awareness, leaders are encouraged to ask themselves and answer questions such as:

  • Who am I?
  • What do I really want?
  • What do I want to be?
  • What are my values?
  • What is my unique value proposition?
  • What is the impact I have on others?
  • What is the legacy I want to leave in the organisation?


Self-awareness helps leaders to direct their behaviour. It also helps them to be centered. Centeredness implies that the leader is emotionally stable and secure. They are not easily swayed by the challenges they meet in the workplace. Centered leaders are resilient and grow from their challenges. Resiliency is defined as the ability to bounce or leap back after having encountered stressors and adversity. Resilient leaders have developed good resilient assets such as building and maintaining good relationships; emotional intelligence; and realistic optimism as well as good or healthy coping mechanisms. They never give up. They stay true to their purpose. They are able to remain resilient because of their ability to reflect or introspect.

The importance of Introspection

When defining resilience, the importance of introspection is stressed. Introspection enables a leader to move from the dance onto the balcony. The balcony is a place where a leader takes an objective stance, and watches themself dance or react to situations happening around them. From this point, a leader notices and acknowledges their actions, reactions and responses. It helps them to accept their faults, and empowers them to develop ways to improve their behavior. Hence they grow in the process. Leaders who fail to reflect do not learn and grow from their experiences. They grow weak from each encounter and end up burnt out, or giving away their leadership badge.

Knocking On Heaven’s Door

Leaders who give up their leadership badge remind me of the song “Knocking on Heaven’s door”. The song describes the collapse of a deputy sheriff who is dying from a bullet wound. He tells his wife “Mama, take this badge off of me; I can’t use it anymore. It’s getting’ dark, too dark to see, I feel I’m knocking’ on heaven’s door”.
Leaders, who do not take time to reflect, fail to develop their resilience assets. They end up giving up, and literally singing this song without being aware of what they are doing. They no longer find pride in wearing their leadership badge/ identity. Being a leader becomes a chore instead of helping them to live their purpose. They no longer find fulfillment in what they do. They sometimes behave in ways that make them lose respect and integrity. They change their identity to fit into the environment. They let the environment define them. In some cases they change without noticing that they have changed. In case of women leaders, they lose their femininity and become “butch”. They lose empathy, which is one of the strongest virtues possessed by women leaders. Because leaders have given away their leadership badge, they are no longer seen as role models. They make their followers to be afraid of becoming leaders. They fail to develop other leaders. Such leaders leave a negative legacy.

Maintaining your Leadership Badge

A leadership badge is a symbol of honor and integrity. It represents a leader’s identity. It reminds leaders that their role is to serve their organization, employees and the community. Leaders are encouraged to find their centre and develop resilience assets to deal with the ever-changing and challenging environment. This will help them to keep their leadership badge, and enabling them to leave a legacy.

Relationships matter for Engagement (2/3)

This is the second of three blogs under the title
Individual Difference in Leadership and Engagement: Why Relationships matter.
You can find the first blog here.


Conflicting Targets

The leader’s main objective is to establish and maintain performance criteria focused on the needs of the organization and its success. This objective supersedes that of providing an environment that focuses on safety and protection and that makes others engaged and successful. It’s not surprising that engagement in organizations has remained at such low levels. In 2012, for example, Gallup reported engagement levels worldwide at a mere 13% and in the US, the cost to organizations for failed engagement and increased stress is estimated at between $300 and $500 billion dollars annually.
Today, the common form of leadership is hierarchical, top to bottom. Leaders expect trust and cooperation based on authority and power, and not based on a reciprocal need for help or feeling safe. Given these forms of leadership, you will do what is asked, but you will not support or engage with them. Given these forms of leadership, employees will lack motivation. They are less likely to provide discretionary effort. They are unproductive, and are likely to spread their negativity to others. Further,

“…the risk of employees not finding the safety and protection necessary to engagement [word added] is that people will sabotage the organization. These people will chant the corporate song, but will criticize and resist top management efforts at growth and success…” (Author unknown).

Is this the kind of leadership that inspires you? Is this the kind of leadership and engagement that you inspire in others?

The new CEO

I was witness to the following example: At a meeting with the entire staff, a newly appointed CEO announced that the organization had suffered massive financial losses due to possible criminal actions by former executives. Further, the financial difficulties meant government regulators were considering closing down the organization. Changes were going to be necessary. As you can imagine, the assembled staff was visibly shocked by this turn of events. Upon hearing the reassuring words from the CEO, the staff responded by saying, “what can we do to help?” “What do you need from us?” Almost to a person, the staff was willing to do whatever it took for the organization to survive, they were willing to give of themselves and go above and beyond their specific role and duties, to trust and cooperate with the CEO. The CEO’s announcement and the plan to save the organization made them feel safe and their engagement level was higher than it had ever been. But simply having a plan was not enough.   Five years later after unfulfilled promises by the CEO, massive restructuring and layoffs, and continued failing of technology and resources, a competitor acquired the organization. In addition, during this 5-year stretch, the CEO continued to receive yearly raises and bonuses (amounting to a 40% increase), while the staff received nothing. At the staff meeting to announce the acquisition, those same employees, those that still remained, responded to this news by saying, “What does this mean for me?” “What about a raise?” “Is my job secure?”
All that the staff members who spoke out were telling me was, they were feeling unsafe; all they were saying is they could not trust their leader. The staff’s lost and disrupted relationships caused by the layoffs and reorganization, and their experience with the CEO made them more sensitive to risks of engagement and less inclined to simply trust and cooperate with the CEO to protect their interests (i.e. make them feel safe). The CEO had sacrificed others for his/her own gain. For the staff, it was not the disparity of salary and bonuses, rather it was that leadership violated the single most important tenet leading to engagement—the essence of a social contract or a supportive relationship that says, “I will keep you safe, and I will protect you.” If the conditions are wrong, or our relationships become compromised, we are forced to protect ourselves, and that is inherently bad for the organization—leadership has failed—we feel and become disengaged.
Here is another example: Upon beginning her shift, the assistant manager of a national retail chain took photos of merchandise returned to the back storeroom that had been thrown around and piled up in a haphazard manner. She said, “I am taking this photo just in case my manager asks.” What she is really saying is that she feels unsafe and is protecting her own interests against those of the organization (determining the cause and solution to the mishandling of the merchandise). When leadership fails, we are forced to protect ourselves.

Relationships matter

We learn, we trust and cooperate, and we are inspired best from people who we are connected with in positive ways. And, at no other time is that trust and cooperation tested than when one party is feeling threatened. Indeed, evidence suggests that trust between parties, employees and leaders, is almost by definition an outcome of the quality of their relationship.
It takes considerable time, energy, and attention to maintain relationships that promote active engagement in the organization and that inspires everyone to perform at their best. It is not a quick fix, and most often, when things go awry, leaders will default to “performance” mode or:

  • Are overly concerned about how productive the group is;
  • Focus on the size of their bonus or;
  • How quickly they can be promoted.

We default to what we know, what has worked in the past, and what makes us feel safe even if it is now inappropriate or no longer works.
Here is a personal example: I was stocking merchandise on shelves for an international retail organization and the shift manager came by to ask why my task had not been finished in the allotted time. As I began to respond, I could see the shift manager was not at all concerned with the explanation, but had already formulated the response to the store manager about the unfinished work—after all, it had worked successfully in the past? The focus on looking good to the store manager took precedent over any explanations of what might fix my ability to finish this task on time, now or anyone’s ability to finish in the future. If employees are not being heard or listened to, then why should they listen or respond to their leaders or supervisors? If leadership is going to ask for an engaged workforce or spend resources on programs to increase engagement, what is the likelihood of employees following or doing what leadership is requesting? Leadership is a choice, and when leadership chooses to protect their own interests above those of others, engagement suffers and performance declines.
So, what is it about relationships that makes some successful and others not so? What is it about trust and cooperation that makes some people able to trust and others to distrust. What is it that given the same set of circumstances, some people can engage with their work, while others struggle and resist?
We all know people who are in a position of leadership but are not a leader, and we all know people who are not in a leadership position, but are absolutely leaders and that we can absolutely trust to help us—“I will watch out for you as you sleep, as you will watch out for me when I sleep.”
Leaders are constantly confronted with how important relationships are—how an employees attention and performance can be high jacked when a conflict in the relationship occurs, and how strong emotional reactions to situations at work can destabilize them for long periods of time. You see this everyday in your groups but you may not be aware of the origins of these individual characteristics that shape workplace engagement and performance.
Note: This post is based, and has been expanded, on a talk given by Simon Sinek that is available on It is also based on a presentation I made at a leadership conference, May 2015, hosted by the Midwest Division of Quest Diagnostics in Denver, CO. Slides and complete citations for the presentation are available upon request.

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”

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.


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.

Fear and faith, excellent Allies.

Fear and FaithTough social times

Belgium is going through tough social times. November and December have been particularly intense in terms of manifestations and strikes. And it may not be over yet.
Union leaders say that people are very worried and afraid for all the (possible) consequences of the government’s intentions. They say it was not really difficult to mobilize their members to strike. Union members are – according to the union leadership – very ready to strike.
I fully respect the worries and emotions of people but I doubt whether strike is the proper solution. We’re not going to solve that in a blog. But the aspect of fear occupied my mind this week.


Why are people afraid ? Is it fear that drives them into striking ? Why don’t they have faith ? Faith that using other ways (e.g. dialogue instead of strike) will lead to better solutions ?
And if there isn’t any faith or trust left between unions and government, how has it come that far ?
Many questions. No simple answers.
I use sometimes the “SCARF” framework, developed by Dr. David Rock in 2008.
It explains that when our Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness (SCARF) are at stake, our brain releases reactive energy. Our brain makes us use our energy in trying to defend and keep what we have. “Let’s not loose !”

Fear and faith moving us in the SCARF framework
Fear and faith moving us in the SCARF framework

Whenever the same aspects seem to be improved (the opposite of being at stake), also exactly the opposite happens: our brain releases proactive energy. Our brain makes us highly engaged and collaborative to adopt the change. “Let’s win !”
So we move away from the change in the first case. And move towards the change in the second case.
Any simple communication on change can be enough to start this movement. Our brain continuously screens for physical, social threats and rewards. It tries to decrease danger and maximize reward. It makes decisions about everything you interact with in the world.
This is important to understand:

  • Resistance may take various forms. One can fight (e.g. by striking) or flee or freeze. It is not a rational process. People react out of their emotional brain. They act threatened and feel being victims.
  • We use rational statements to articulate our preferences but tend to rely on our feelings when we actually make choices.

Fear drives us away from change. What is needed to drive us towards change ? Even if the change may impact our SCARF negatively ?


The faith of winning on the long-term, if we’re prepared to “loose” on the short-term ?
The faith that dialogue instead will bring us faster and more efficient in that future ?
The faith that together (unions and government) everybody wins more and faster than each one staying on their own SCARF ?
I get the impression this necessary faith or trust is no longer where it should be between parties. Have some people chosen for radical self-destruction ? I do not understand why the efforts to restart dialogue and trust building, have been so low on the priority list for such a long time

What is needed to reinstall this faith ?

  • Vulnerability

    So far we’ve seen very “macho” behavior: government versus unions and unions versus government. What is going on behind the macho-masks ? Fear at both sides ? The feeling of being powerless ? The conviction the “other side” needs to take the first step ? An honest and vulnerable declaration, like “please, let’s stop this, please let’s listen and talk to each other” may help. No matter from which side it’s coming. Let’s hope these things do happen behind the screens.

  • Empathy

    Does the one side really cares for the other ? And for the general benefit ? Is the government truly feeling the worries of people ?
    Are the unions truly worried about the economy on the long-term and about necessary efforts to be made ?
    We need both to survive: happy, engaged people, embracing change, and an economy to work in.

  • Listening

    In stead of yelling to and fighting with each other on the streets, one could consider to listen. Listen, not to reply, not to give solutions on the short-term, not to recommend, not to decide, and certainly not to judge. But listen, just to listen.
    And even if we do that, I think there is still a long way to go. But at least we will be going towards each other, and not away from each other.

Fear and Faith are Allies

Fear and faith could be excellent allies to make us move from the “away” side to the “towards” side. Vulnerability, empathy and listening are the keys for a successful marriage between fear and faith.
In this movie David Rock himself explains the SCARF framework.

Amusing ourselves to Death Valley

death valley

It’s not about death. It’s about our honeymoon.

Ten years ago my wife and I had our honeymoon. We travelled to the west side of the USA. We did a fantastic tour, starting in LA, going to Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and back to LA. As it was our first time over there, we dit all the “obligatory” sites. Not that it felt that way, because I was almost literally “away from this planet”.  Seeing the stunning beauty of nature and overwhelming environments, e.g. the Grand Canyon.
We also did Las Vegas and Death Valley.

Las Vegas

Trip Las Vegas to Death Valley
Trip Las Vegas to Death Valley

Of course everybody knows Las Vegas. I have questions about the extreme decay and artificiality of this city, literally in the middle of the Nevada desert. How is this possible? I asked myself all the time walking over the strip. Well, it is. It was also a perhaps once in a life “must-see” for us. So we did see it. And we enjoyed it


In all this overdo one particular story of Suzy, a waitress in our residence, touched me. You can imagine I am also in my holidays busy with human resources. I noticed she had been very friendly to us during breakfast. Of course, she wants her tip, I thought… But when I forgot to give a tip at the end of the breakfast ( I honestly did not do that on purpose, in Europe there is no such necessary habit), she simply stayed very friendly. In fact, precisely because she continued her behavior, I thought all was ok.
A few minutes later we were getting in our car for our next stop (Death Valley, close to Las Vegas). My wife asked me if I had given a tip. No, I had forgotten the tip! And exactly that girl Suzy had been so very friendly to us.
So I returned to give her a very nice tip and offered her 1000 apologies.
She thanked me and started smiling happily. I asked how she voted with the working circumstances in Las Vegas that are not always optimal. Clients are extremely demanding and spoiled. The competition is killing; the temperature too.

Suzy’s team

She replied: Well, I work in a fantastic team of people who have suffered together some serous shit. And we made it. Things go better now than a few years ago. Our boss is giving us total trust. Sometimes this brings him into trouble with his own hierarchy but he proceeds and so far they let him. Last but not least, there is a lot of humour, sometimes there hear us laugh together at the other site of the strip. Yes, we try to laugh our stress away, together, literally. Sometimes it’s about total nonsense, but if feels so good to laugh together….

And now i am going to share your tip with a colleague who yesterday had exactly the same situation. But she was less lucky. We do that sometimes…

You are kidding ? I thought. No she wasn’t. She waved us out and went to her colleague
You can imagine that, during the ride afterwards to Death Valley, I was very silent. As I am very passionate about engagement and happiness on the work floor, Suzy had just given me a course replacing all the books ever read and blogs ever written. My wife asked me if I was ok. I said yes. Well, she knows me well enough to figure out what was going on. A rare combination of deep reflection and a slightly smiling face… we were on vacation after all 😉

Death Valley

I was not ready at all for Death Valley after this experience. For those who do not know Death Valley. It’s a must see because there is literally  nothing to see. There wasn’t even a sign indicating we had arrived. The landscape became dryer and dryer. Fauna and flora had vanished already some time ago. There was just erosion, a lot of white salt and one road. The contrast with Las Vegas could not be bigger. And the thought that people had created Las Vegas in this very environment became quite morbid. Temperatures up to 50 degrees centigrade. The brochures recommended us not to get out of the car to walk on feet. Some visitors wanting to do a “small tour” and leaving their car on the road, take enormous risks. They also recommended not to use the air conditioning all the time for obvious energy reasons. And to take in extra water.

Trip Las Vegas to Death Valley
Trip Las Vegas to Death Valley


Anyway, after driving about 20 kilometers in this environment, we were still not sure we had found the place… there was no sign. You can’t miss Vegas, but you can miss “nothing”. To our surprise there was a very small restaurant. The only one it seemed later on. We entered, ordered water and asked if we were already in Death Valley. Jeremy, the cook, answered we were almost out of it again.
Ah, ok, so this was it ?
Wasn’t it dead enough ? He asked.
Sure, sure, but now we’ve done it without “officially” knowing this was it.
That must be horribly frustrating indeed… I heard him thinking cynically.

Jeremy’s team

Then he introduced us to his team. As we were probably the only customer of that day, they were really glad to see “someone”. They all started talking about their life, their homes, their work in this restaurant, and their travelling in the USA.
Then I made a very stupid mistake. I asked if they would not rather work in Las Vegas. It’s a place were living surely is more comfortable than in Death Valley.
Never ever ! they answered in chorus. My wife looked a bit embarrassed.
I did not have to do a lot.


A man named Joe started talking. He was an African-American.
This is really the only place where nobody ever looks at me or treats me as a “black man”. Perhaps because there is nobody anyway. The brotherhood that we’ve built together here is phenomenal. We have to here. There is nothing out there. We’re up to ourselves. If we don’t continually support each other, and that goes further than professional life,  we’re all dead. And you may take that literally. We make fun, we thoroughly know each other, we are also an amateur band. When we have a conflict, we have a rule that the younger always takes the initiative to solve it. When he does so, the older start first with appreciation for his courage and listens intensively to the younger. That way, both generations work on their weaknesses: courage for the young. Listening for the experienced older. We recruit extremely carefully and exceptionally, you can imagine. Every new person must truly 200% fit in, or won’t make it.
So, for as far as someone can be happy in this place, I truly am. I would never want to switch Vegas. This kind of thing, simply does not exist there.
At that moment he boss interrupted: hey Joe, listen, we’ve truly enjoyed the show but would you please do us favor and drink your beer. Ours is gone already man…
And they all started laughing… The other side of the valley couldn’t here it. There is no other side. But I was – again – completely gone!

Two totally different places, one lesson.

Two totally different people saying exactly the same:

I want to be here because  I am happy here. And because I cannot imagine having equal fun, support and appreciation at any other place.

In both cases a specific context contributes to this:

  • a leader behaving in a certain way
  • a very intensive collaboration, co-creation and true friendship within the team
  • lots of humor
  • the awareness and gratefulness about these unique circumstances.
  • and so many other, invisible, unspoken but extremely important small things.


Other blog to read

Do Happy Cows give more milk?
This is not my movie, but it gives a clear impression of the trip anno 2012


Ready or not, Transition comes.

Tranistion comes

Transition and resilience

In an earlier blog on transition, I wrote about resilience. Resilience offers a way of dealing with continuous change. Or with transition, as I like to call it. I believe in the power of resilience. I have experienced it can make a real difference. There isn’t  a framework offering a real “grip” on continuous transition. If models do not offer support, guidance or, grip, we’re delivered to ourselves and to our resilience. Then transition becomes much more something to “live with” than to “manage”.
But there’s an interesting exception: the 3 zones of transition, by William Bridges,. It’s a framework about transition, not change. By writing about resilience I realized that this model acknowledges that

  • transition is permanently ongoing
  • transition happens almost „organically“

Many other models desperately try to manage, carry out and „close“ change as if it were the sum of ongoing projects. This model does not try to manage anything. It tries to understand transition.

3 Zones or phases

Bridges explains transition by 3 zones or phases:

  1. The zone of ending, losing, letting go.
  2. The neutral zone.
  3. The zone of the new beginning.

The border lines between the zones are not calculated “milestones”. They are “lines”. Nothing more. They could be at any other place in this graphic. Where they are is not important. It is very important that they’re there. They underline more the ongoing and organic character of transition, than any traditional model on change (management) ever would or could.

The 3 zones of transition by William Bridges
The 3 zones of transition by William Bridges

What are these zones standing for ?

1. Ending, losing, letting go

Changes includes losses. These losses can be about: (1) comfort and security, (2) familiar people and environment, (3) networks and resources, (4) expected outcomes, (5) power, influence and territory and (6) expertise.
How do you deal with losses ?

  • Don‘t be surprised when there’s overreaction.
  • Acknowledge the losses openly.
  • Define what is over and what is not.
  • Treat the past with respect.
  • Let people take a piece of the old way with them.
  • Accept the reality and importance of subjective losses
  • Listen with empathy.

2. The neutral zone

The neutral zone is a time when all old certainties break down and everything is in flux. Things are up in the air. Nothing is a given anymore. Anything could happen. No one knows the answers: one person says one thing and someone else says something completely different. The „old“ is gone and the „new“ is not here yet.
There are some dangers in this neutral zone:

  • People‘s anxiety rises and their motivation falls.
  • People miss more work than at other times.
  • Old weaknesses, previously patched over, rise again.
  • People are overloaded. They get mixed signals.
  • Systems are in flux. Priorities get confused. Information is badly communicated. Important tasks are not done.
  • People might become polarized. Some want to rush forward and others want to go backward.

How to manage the neutral zone ?
Normalize the neutral zone. Create temporary systems for the neutral zone. Strengthen intra-group connections. „We are all in this boat together.“  You can install  a monitoring team to offer a point of access to the organization‘s grapevine. This team can also correct misinformation and counter rumours. It should enable bottom-up communication and show the organization wants to know how things are going for people. Finally, the team needs to check plans or communications before their announcement.
You should use the neutral zone as creatively as possible.

3. The new beginning 

A new beginning will take place only after people are ready to make the emotional commitment to do things the new way. People want beginnings but fear them at the same time. You cannot force new beginnings according to your personal wishes. You can only encourage, support and reinforce them.
People need 4 P‘s to make a new beginning:

  • Purpose
  • Picture
  • Plan
  • Part to play

This nice movie summarizes it once more.

7 simple Mountain Rules for sustainable Leadership

Sustainable Leadership

Sustainable Leadership, a Walk in the Park?

Leadership is not a walk in the park. It’s more like walking up a mountain. And as there are rules for mountaineering, there are also rules for Leadership. You can call them safety or hygienic rules. But rules are needed to survive the often-slippery paths of Leadership. These rules make the effort sustainable. They enable sustainable leadership.

  • Rule 1: Never walk alone

    If you do, there is nobody there to help you when you’re in trouble. There is nobody to learn from. And there is nobody you can help. So look for people who can help you and actively seek for feedback and support. Sustainable Leadership is always built on others and not only on yourself.

  • Rule 2: make sure you have the right Equipment in your Backpack

    The right equipment makes you stronger and safer. Not all equipment is suitable. Look for the equipment that makes you a role model as a leader. Don’t take too much with you. It will make you heavier. If you need 10,000 steps to get there, and you have 10 kg on your back, that’s a lot of pressure on your spinal cord and joints. So you should reduce sustainable leadership to its essence (cf blog on trinity and the essence).

  • Rule 3 : before you start, know yourself.

    Overestimating your condition can get you and others in trouble. There’s no point in pretending to be stronger and fitter than you really are. The group is as strong as its weakest member. The question arises if you as a leader need to be the fittest. That’s not necessarily so. But if you want to be exemplary, you’d better not be the one who is lagging behind.

  • Rule 4: Practice and prepare

    By doing so you improve your personal fitness. You can prepare for difficult situations and manage risks. Preparation is also about gathering knowledge about the road ahead. So look for relevant sources of information and share them with the team.

  • Rule 5: Adapt your Pace

    The first thing you need to do is to define your personal target. You go up step by step and you want to avoid exhaustion. Every step is important as it prepares for the next step. Don’t go all the way up and then rest. Take moments of recovery during the trip. That will make the road much more enjoyable and the effort sustainable.

  • Rule 6: choose the Way

    Going up does not always mean to go up the steepest slope. And it does not mean there is only one way. Sometimes you need to walk around the mountain to find a suitable place to start walking. So choose the way that is right for you and your team. Do not take the path that will get you killed. That does not sound exciting to you? What’s the point in taking the extreme route just for the kick. The most important thing is that you arrive, where you want to arrive.
    When choosing the way, accept that the road is winding, and goes up and down.

  • Rule 7: enjoy the Scenery

    Even when the road is tough, take a moment to enjoy it. Look at the scenery around you and enjoy the moment. There’s a lot going on. And while you’re at it, don’t just look at the scenery. Become a part of it. As a leader you do not have to be in the forefront all the time. Getting your team at their target, that’s your true mission. And to do that, you need to become a part of the team’s context. Don’t only stand out but focus on fitting in.

The base-line: take care

If you read these rules, they seem to be valid for anyone, not only the leader. That is true. And it’s also true that anyone in a team can potentially take on the role of a leader. This should not be linked to a function. Moreover, if we talk about personal leadership, it’s about taking care of yourself and of others. Everyone can do that as a leader, as a colleague, as a parent, as a friend. Take care.
In the Austrian mountains there are walking routes that are indicated as yellow, red and black roads. The yellow roads are easy. The red ones require some experience. The black ones require that you are experienced and also absolutely free of vertigo. And beyond that you can do alpinism. When you start walking, you start with the yellow ones. But you want to go for the red ones fast. There are big differences among the red walks. Make sure you make a right estimate on the time and effort the walk will take. And for the black ones, I don’t do them.