Achieving Vertical Development in Leadership Programs

November 21st, 2023 by Douglas McEncroe · Sin categoría

Human,Head,And,Brain.deep,Learning,,,Machine,Learning,And,ArtificialIn my last article I looked at how the study of history can help executives’ ability to think in more complex ways, as described in Robert Keegan’s ground-breaking work on cognitive development. Building on Piaget’s work that described the stages of development that all children go through on their way to adulthood, Keegan argued that this development continues in adulthood. My article put forward the idea that the study of history can help executives develop the type of thinking that are typical in later stages of cognitive development described by Keegan and built on by people like William Torbert with his work vertical development and his description his “Action Logics” . I argued that this type of thinking is necessary when leading in a very complex world.

Today’s article will look at what we, as leadership development professionals, can do in formal leadership development programs to facilitate vertical development by encouraging  participants to apply thinking that we could say was typical of the later stages of cognitive development. I will look at one particular methodology called “Action Learning” that we used over many years in leadership programs designed to support a major organisational transformation in a large multinational organisation.

How to develop the type of more complex thinking described in Torbert’s latter Action Logics

It is not difficult to see how a more complex world with interconnections not easily visible and going to require more complex thinking than you need in the day-to-day management  in business. But what content and processes do you need to include in a leadership development program when what your client’s organisation needs is a major transformation?

I had the good fortune to work on a project during such a transformation. It was between 2003 – 2013 in Electrolux. This Swedish multinational is a true global organisation with over 57,000 employees operating in 150 countries. Back in 2003 Electrolux had what could be described as an engineering culture which was somewhat rigid and a little arrogant. It was certainly true that they made high quality appliances, but they believed that what the clients could get had to be determined by their manufacturing processes. In other words, clients would have to fit in with what our brilliant engineers could manufacture. If I can be a bit cheeky, I would also say that this thinking was underpinned by an unconscious attitude said, “and these customers were lucky to get them!”

But then a new CEO arrived on the scene, Hans Stråberg. Hans was one of the youngest CEOs ever to lead a Fortune 500 company. He actually reminded me of JFK,  with a youth and charisma that he used to great effect. Hans led one of the deepest organisational transformations ever carried out in Europe. When I think back to Hans Stråberg and try to fit him into to Torbert’s seven Logic Action Logics, I would have to say he would fit perfectly into the Alchemist stage, the most mature of the Torbert’s seven action logics. These people embrace common humanity, challenge the dominant paradigm, are dedicated to their own continuous development, are comfortable living with conflicting paradoxes and don’t treat time solely as lineal. They consciously disturb systems and have an ability to continually renew and reinvent both themselves and their organisations. According to Rooke and Torbert’s research on American CEOs, only 1% of use thinking that would fit into this logic action.

In my opinion Stråberg certainly demonstrated this type of thinking, he recognised that new international competitors from countries such as Korea had a much more customer-oriented culture and a more flexible manufacturing set up. He understood that Electrolux had to become, not only more efficient in order to control costs but needed to be much more client oriented. He needed a culture that put the client at the centre and in which the engineering and manufacturing processes needed to be built around the client, not visa versa.  This, for Electrolux in 2003 was a total revolution.

Leadership Development Program to support the organisational transformation

 To support that transformation, I was selected along with one of the partners of the Swedish consultancy Riddarfjärden, Ulrika Rasmuson, to design and implement a leadership program. Our program was delivered over 6 days in two three-day modules with a break of six weeks between each module. It was also underpinned by individual coaching. This design allowed us to go quite deep and introduce more creative methodologies. Over a period of ten years, we worked with some 700 of Electrolux’s senior leaders.

A process called Action Learning as a way of producing Vertical Development

In order to support the transformation that Hans Stråberg was looking for,  our leadership program design would need to bring real world organisational problems into the training room and develop the type of thinking that would be more typical of Bill Torbet’s three later action logics, the Individualist, the Strategists, and the Alchemists.

Up until then, with the engineering culture that I described above,  the type of thinking that was used by the executives in Electrolux, would have fit in more with the thinking described in Torbert’s two preceding stages, called Expert,  and Achiever. In the Expert action logic,  logic is followed, expertise valued, and rational efficiency is sought. In the Achiever action logic, achieving strategic goals is sought, using the team to do so. In the Achiever action logic, executives juggle day-to-day management with commercial needs. This type of thinking in many situations was and continues to be appropriate. However, if you want your senior leaders to buy into and execute a major organisational transformation, it is not going to be enough.

So, what methodology could we use to push participants to apply a different kind of thinking?

A methodology that originated in Family Therapy

Ulrica and I chose a methodology that Riddarfjärden had developed called Action Learning. Built on Norwegian psychiatrist Tom Anderson’s work in family therapy using reflecting teams, my Swedish colleagues adapted Anderson’s approach and applied  to the organisational environment. This powerful methodology brought real life organisational issues into the training room and used the potential of a group to work together to gain a deeper understanding of the problem. It required the group to think in new ways, holding ambiguity longer while they carried out a deeper and more open form of investigation. It thus gave them practice in applying the type of thinking typical of Torbet’s later stages.

A CEO who got his hands dirty

Stråberg assisted us over many years,  by showing up in person for two hours on the first morning of all the programs, a remarkable effort by an incredibly busy CEO that I have never seen replicated by any other CEO anywhere in the world. Stråberg would  set the scene presenting his understanding of where the sector was going and giving his vision of the type of transformation that the company required and describing the type of leadership that this would require. After his presentation he engaged in a sincere and open dialogue with all of the participants.

One of the problems with managers is that they have been trained to come up with solutions and to execute as fast as possible. However, when it comes to organisational issues, this approach often means coming up with a great solution for the wrong problem. Organisational issues are by their very nature complex,  particularly in a company like Electrolux which operated in 150 different countries, and, when you are trying to transform the whole organisation and even trying to see your sector in a totally different way, you really need to develop the type of thinking which is appropriate for such complexity. To develop the type of thinking,  you are going to have to come up with a methodology that really makes you go deeper into the true nature of the problem and hold the ambiguity longer,  before you go to solution.


Eight steps in the process of Action Learning that helps the group go deeper

Here are the steps you need to follow in an Action Learning Session:

  • You set up groups of 8 people made up of executives from different countries, from different parts of the business and from different product areas. This is similar to what Dave Snowden many years later described as “Entangled Trios” but with eight people in the group it was much richer in its diversity.
  • Different members bring an issue to the team.
    • Each member describes their issue and how it is impacting on the organisation.
  • The team chooses an issue to work on.
    • The team chooses the issue that seems the most important, urgent or that simply has the greatest potential impact on the organisation.
  • The team questions the problem owner using a “Investigative Journalist”.
    • In this part of the process the team appoints and coaches one member to play the role of an “investigative journalist”,  helping him or her to prepare the questions. The “journalist” must try to come at the problem from as many different angles as possible asking questions that come from a wide variety of perspectives, asking about things that at first glance would seem completely separate from the problem at hand. In fact, the team must help the ”journalist”  make sure that the questions are not too lineal in nature, that they explore widely and deeply, much like an investigative journalist would do. The “journalist” then interviews the problem owner.
  • The team generates a series of at least 5 hypothesis on the true nature of the problem.
    • After the journalist has completed their questioning, he or she returns to the group. At this point the problem owner has to sit outside of the circle, they are not allowed to intervene. They must listen only, no questions, no comments. It is like they were a ghost who is there, can listen, but cannot be seen or heard. This is an important part of the methodology design as it forces the problem owner to listen deeply.
    • During this stage the team really tries to identify what is really going on, what type of problem are we really dealing with. The facilitator makes sure that they do not start to go on to problem solving but rather keep pushing out their analysis. The objective of having to come up with at least five different hypotheses creates the discipline to keep on pushing the boundaries, to keep on exploring until the complexity of the situation is clearly set out. It also forces the group to hold ambiguity longer, something many executives are not comfortable with. As the problem owner is forced to sit outside the circle and listen to the exploration, the person who at the beginning of the process knew more about the situation, begins to see a whole new set of  elements that they had no idea of. They begin to see new connections and gain new insights.
  • The problem owner chooses the hypothesis that best describes the problem.
    • The problem owner is now allowed to communicate directly with the group again. At this stage he or she chooses the best hypothesis. He or she may even combine a couple of them and add a nuance. The fact that they have spent the last twenty minutes listening deeply gives them greater perspective which helps them see things more clearly.
  • The problem owner sits outside of the group again and listens to the search for a solution.
    • The problem owner again has to return to silent mode and listen without being allowed to comment as the group debates possible solutions. Again, the problem owner is forced to listen deeply to the discussion of the group.
  • The problem owner re-joins the group and the team tries to choose
    • At this point the group and the problem owner, work together to choose the best solution and set out the necessary actions to be taken. The facilitator makes sure that the actions are as concrete as possible.

In our leadership program we carried out three of these Action Learning sessions in each module. These sessions not only demanded that the participants use the type of thinking found in Torbert’s latter stages titled Individualists, Strategists, and at times even Alchemists but they also gave the participants a methodology that they could use again and again back at work forming groups of people that came from different parts of the organisation to investigate different situations.

These sessions helped participants find the root cause to complex organisational problems and innovative solutions that could positively impact the organisation. It also helped them see situations in a totally new light, often resulting in new understanding of the nature of the situation that they were dealing with. It also helped see connections between things that they had previously believed to be completely separate.

What was interesting is was to observe that during the Action Learning sessions, thinking that would be typical of many or Torbert’s Action Logics was used. In this way we can see that when you are leading in a complex world the type of thinking described in Torbert’s later Action Logics is going to be extremely useful. However, during a typical week you are also going to have to manage situations that require thinking that would be more typical of earlier stages or Action Logics. A mature leader will develop the type of think that he or she needs to apply when dealing with complexity, but they are also going to have to master the thinking which is more appropriate to dealing with every-day management situations. This flexibility is what will make a great leader.

The Action Learning methodology therefore helped us push the participants to use thinking that they will need when leading in a complex world. It did this in a way that traditional leadership development programs don’t.

As a final observation, if we look at the work of Jennifer Garvey Berger on leading in a complex world, the Action Learning methodology also helps participants become aware of, and then avoid Garvey Berger’s  five mindtraps. These mindtraps hinder executives’ ability to lead in complexity:

  • Being trapped by simple stories
  • Being trapped by rightness
  • Being trapped by agreement
  • Being trapped by control
  • Being trapped by our ego

We can easily see how the Action Learning process I’ve just described can help avoid all five of these mindtraps.

Making the connection between Action Learning and  the theory of cognitive development, conscious

I believe that the connections that I have made between Keegan, Torbert and Snowden’s work on cognitive development and Garvey Berger’s work on dealing with complexity with the Action Learning methodology,  can also be shared with participants in a program. The methodology is a useful tool, but I believe that showing how it connects with different ways of thinking, and how it avoids mindtraps can be very helpful to participants. At the end of the day, it is treating participants like adults, which is what they are.

History, Action Learning & Systems Thinking

Vertical development is necessary to help executives lead in a complex world. The study of history can help develop thinking which will assist us deal with this complexity. In leadership development programs, methodologies like Action Learning can also help. In my next article I will talk about how Barry Oshry’s work on understanding systems can be another useful way to develop the type of thinking we need to thrive in a complex world.

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How Studying the Fall of the Roman Empire can Help Today’s Leaders Manage Complexity

October 19th, 2023 by Douglas McEncroe · Leadership, Personal Development

Into,The,Heat,Of,Battle,,Part,Of,My,Roman,ArmyThe world is a far more complex place than it was even just fifteen years ago. Today’s leaders need to manage many moving parts, contradictory information, connections which are often hard to see and senior managers who have conflicting interests.

Many of us enjoy reading about history. I myself majored in modern and ancient history at university and continue to read books by good historians about many different periods of history. What has surprised me is how my hobby of reading history has given more depth to my work as a leadership development professional. Recently I have noticed how the study of history can help leaders think in more complex ways.

Stages of Adult Development

Over the last thirty years different thinkers have taken Jean Piaget’s theory of stages of development that children go through and built on it to apply to adults. They have observed that there are further stages of development that adults can choose to advance through. I say “choose” because unlike Piaget’s stages that children pass through automatically, each one allowing them to think in more complex ways, adults need to consciously work on advancing to higher level intellectual stages. The complexity that leaders have to manage today requires thinking from more advanced stages of development.

People like Robert Keegan, William Torbert, Nick Petrie, and Jennifer Garvey Berger, among many others, have carried out research on more advanced stages of intellectual development and described the type of thinking that is typical of superior stages. The point is that senior leaders need to continue to develop their thinking in order to arrive at these higher stages. But in order to advance to these stages, and thereby find new ways of thinking, they need to be aware of their existence and consciously work on advancing.

The advanced ways of thinking that you find in the higher stages, will help them lead in a far more complex world. This development has been called “Vertical Development”.

How to advance through Vertical Development

This begs the question, what can leaders do to advance to a higher stage of intellectual  development and think differently? Over the next few weeks, I will explore  different ways that leaders can develop vertically, for example, through understanding  Systems Thinking or learning about a problem-solving methodology called Action Learning. Today however, I want to talk about the study of history and how it can help develop the type of thinking that exists in Keegan’s more advanced stages, the type of thinking that today’s executives need in order to lead in our complex world.

The Fall of Rome

Let us take for example, the Fall of the Roman Empire. We learnt at school that the end started when the emperor Valens took the radical decision to allow Goths to cross the Danube and settle in the Roman Empire in 376AD. This led directly, so we were taught, to the Goths rebelling and the sacking of Rome in 410AD. And so ,we had in our heads the image of bloodthirsty Germanic Barbarians, clad in furs with a knife in their mouth dripping with blood, intent of murder and pillaging. Indeed, this was the image we saw in the film Gladiator when the leader of a Germanic Tribe, with the head of a Roman Messenger in his hand, throws it to the ground in a violent gesture to reject negotiation.  We were taught that the Empire came to an end due to a combination of an invasion of violent barbarians, completely foreign to the Roman World and corruption within the Empire. This presented us with a nice simple story. The reason for Rome’s fall was clear cut. But was it really so?

This  explanation for the fall of Rome reflects the type of thinking described by Jennifer Garvey Berger as one of the five mind-traps that we fall into looking to simplify a complex world. An impossible task. She calls it the “Simple Stories Mind Trap”. This is one of five mind traps that Garvey Berger presents us with. Becoming conscious of these mind traps is one way of advancing to Keegan’s higher-level stages. This simple explanation for the fall of Rome  makes us feel better, but it won’t lead us to a true insight into the real reason why such a powerful empire that gave so many people stability and peace over hundreds of years, ceased to exist.

To investigate more deeply will require a different type of thinking, an open mind to look at things differently, an inquisitive spirit to look for more variables, creativity to see how these variables interact with each other in novel ways, and an open heart to identify and question some of our own prejudices, values, and interpretations. As we will see later, this thinking will be even more effective if we do it with others, in a process of what Bill Torbert calls “collaborative inquiry”.  Honestly trying to get close to the reality of what happened, we can achieve a deeper understanding of the meaning of many different events and how they interact with other events or actions. If we can do that, we will see a much richer and subtle picture and get a deeper understanding.

Factors that contributed to the fall of Rome

Firstly, the decision by Valens was not so radical, there had been many previous examples of peoples from outside of the empire being allowed to enter and settle within. All of these worked well.  Secondly, these Goths had little to do with that image we see in Gladiator. Many were soldiers but they were also farmers and traders who had interacted with Roman officials for well over a hundred years. They spoke Latin and used Roman coin to trade. Many of them had served in the Roman army for decades, some arriving to very senior ranks. Their leaders wanted to live in brick houses with terracotta tiles and hot and cold running water, just like the Romans they admired. They drank wine, from fine ceramic cups and used olive oil, all imported from  Roman provinces as far away as North Africa and Spain. These people did not want to destroy the Roman Empire, they want to be part of it.

The Gothic rebellion started because two corrupt officials who had been sent to administer the process of assimilation kept the funds and materials for themselves. However, these two officials were not entirely typical of provincial officials throughout the empire, many others administered honestly and fairly and achieved the collaboration of the locals. Even the Goth General who sacked Rome, Alaric, had not wanted to conquer Rome, rather he wanted to be given a senior command in the Roman army, and when this was refused by the child emperor, he sacked Rome, but, in a very orderly fashion with very little violence.

This whole situation would have been avoided  if Flavius Stilicho, Regent to the child emperor Honorius, a Roman general and administrator of enormous talent, himself half Vandal, had not been executed by order of Honorius. The cause of Stilicho’s downfall was court intrigues by jealous Roman nobles who convinced Honorius that Stilicho was plotting to replace him with his own son, an accusation that was completely unfounded. The elimination of Stilicho directly led to Alaric’s success.

We therefore have another element to be considered when trying to understand the fall of the Roman Empire, namely the role of the nobles in the court of the emperor, their interests and their intrigues.

The more we study the late Roman empire the more we see the complexity of the situation. During the third century, after the reign of five extremely capable emperors terminating in Marcus Aurelius, the army, who got paid a special amount every time there was a new emperor, realised they had the power to appoint and depose emperors themselves. And every time they did, they got this special pay, called the “Donativium”. This led to an incredible turnover of emperors in the third century, some twenty in a period of fifty years. This caused countless civil wars, some more serious than others, but all weakening the empire. The empire recovered in the fourth century enjoying the reign of a number of extremely competent emperors like Constantine, Diocletian, and Theodosius, but usurpers and civil wars would continue to plague the empire.

The more we delve into the world of the late Roman empire the more variables we find. The abandonment of paganism and the adoption of Christianity as the state religion meant that the famous tolerance for different cultures, languages and religion drastically decreased. This tolerance was one of the glues that had held the empire together. The adoption of Christianity not only decreased tolerance of other culture’s religions, but also, the different schisms that existed in the early church proved to be a constant distraction for later emperors.

 The great historian Edward Gibbons, one of the pioneers in the study of Roman History, exercised a huge influence on later scholars, through his work The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, first published in 1776. Gibbons put great emphasis on the adoption of Christianity as the main cause of the fall of Rome. It is interesting to note however that Gibbons was a famous anti cleric, and this prejudice led him to give a disproportionate view of the importance of Christianity’s role in the demise of the empire.

Another important factor was the debasement of the currency started by Nero, and continued by other emperors causing tremendous inflation that weakened the economy thereby reducing the amount of taxes collected which in turn cut funds to the army.  Still another cause were the plagues, starting with the Antonine Plague, the Justinian Plague, the plague and the Cyprian, to name just three. Each plague decimated different parts of the empire, particularly afflicting the urban centres which were the beating heart of the empire. Reduced populations meant less taxes collected, less recruits for the army, less labour available for cultivation which in turn affected supplies and resources to the army.

Yet another cause was climate change which started during the first century, causing higher rainfall, negatively affecting agriculture which in turn reduced supply of grain to the army. Finally, the Diocletian reforms carried out by the very able emperor Diocletian in the late 290s AD, produced what could be described as the militarisation of the public administration. Up to then local nobles collected taxes for the emperor, kept some for themselves but also built public roads, bathhouses, arenas, theatres, aqueducts, and temples. This arrangement worked well and created goodwill between the provinces and Rome, whereas the army of public servants created a colder, more authoritarian relationship between the provinces and the central authority and chipped away at the loyalty of the provinces.

Academic Peer Review an example of Collaborative Inquiry

As you can see, the context in which the Roman Empire declined is enormously complex. There are so many elements that exercise influence. The relative importance of each of these elements and how they each interacted with each other, is subject of intense debate between extremely competent historians who dedicate their lives to this work. The best of them are open to questioning their own assumptions, they listen intensely to other historians’ perspectives and honestly try to look at the topic at hand through the perspective of their colleagues.

The truly great historians happily submit their papers for peer review showing their openness to have their assumptions, values and interpretations challenged by other learned colleagues. They welcome this as what they look for is to move ever closer to the truth in the topic they are dealing with. The willingness to submit yourself to peer review, either formally or informally though conversations, shows great maturity. It is an example of what Bill Torbert calls collaborative inquiry and is representative of the type of thinking you find in the higher stages of intellectual development.

 If you want to have a deeper understanding of what really happened to Rome, you need to work hard, think deeply, be open minded, and look for things that others haven’t seen. You need to know your own values and prejudices and ask yourself if these are clouding your judgment. If they are, you need to have the ability and humility to revisit those values and prejudices. You need to be open to having your ideas challenged through robust and meaningful conversations with others. If you are capable of doing all of that, you may well come out of this process a slightly different person to the one that started. This is exactly what senior leaders need to do today.

For the amateur historian, the study of history, in itself a very enjoyable endeavour,  is also  a good example of vertical development. It is a way of developing your thinking and therefore, developing the type of leadership needed in today’s complex world.

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Getting to the Important Stuff

July 27th, 2023 by Douglas McEncroe · Culture, Leadership, Organizational Culture, Personal Development

TimeKnowing how to manage your time seems like a skill that only junior managers would need to learn how to master. And yet, again and again I work with senior clients who are spending too much time on activities that are not creating long term value.

Important but not Urgent

Covey’s work back in the 1980s with his four quadrants classifying activities into Urgent and Important, Urgent but Not Important, Important but Not Urgent and Neither Important nor Urgent continues to be very useful. I still use it with a lot of my coachees and find it is quite amazing how much insight they get when they realise that they are not spending much time at all with activities that, although not urgent, are indeed very strategic. This, for the type of senior executives that I am working with, is a real problem.

However, the deeper question is the more interesting one. Why are they doing this? Almost all of these executives intuitively know that they are not spending enough time on the most important things and yet they don’t seem able to change things. All too easily they blame external factors:

  • It’s the organisational culture!
  • It’s my boss!
  • The clients are so demanding!
  • It’s the people from Head Office who keep on asking for things that we don’t really need!

Although the there are elements of truth in all of these utterances, they don’t represent the main reason why executives don’t get to the important stuff. Very often, more assertiveness or a good dose of courage to push back would go a long way in changing their situation.

What lies behind the inability to change?

Even more importantly, I have found that the reason people don’t change their habits is that deep down, they don’t really want to. Harvard University’s Robert Keegan has shed light on why this happens. In his work on immunity to change he has found that although the commitment to change that certain executives make is real, they have an unconscious commitment to a conflicting goal which is stronger. Kegan’s process to identify these opposing goals requires real work, but it is effective. It involves identifying what these opposing commitments are and analysing the assumptions that underly them. Very often these assumptions, under the hard light of logical analysis, prove to be false thus making it easier to reinforce the commitment to change. The very fact of making all of this conscious is, in itself, something that makes change easier.

All of this, of course, requires work and this brings us to the big question. Are you really prepared to do what it takes to change the way you do things?

That is the question I ask all my clients.

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What do you want

June 28th, 2023 by Douglas McEncroe · Culture, Leadership, Personal Development

Genie LampOne of the hardest things in coaching, or indeed in consultancy, is getting people to the stuff that can really make a difference. So often a coachee, or even a senior management team, will beat around the bush with stories about their problems, about other people or about their competition.

As a coach you can indulge your client, lending a sympathetic ear to all of these stories, or you can do what you are being payed to do and push.

“If a man does not know what port he is steering for, no wind is favourable to him.”

This phrase that Seneca wrote two thousand years ago, like most of the observations made by the Stoics with regards to human beings, is as relevant today as it was then. Before my coachee and I can do any meaningful work he or she has to tell me what they want. Who do they want to be? What do they want? I often need to ask these questions up to ten times before I get a meaningful answer. What comes before is usually an endless barrage of problems they are presently facing, often blamed on others. Perhaps the reason for this is that so many executives are on a fast moving treadmill of urgent affairs that apparently need to be dealt with today, wether or not dealing with them will provide any real long term value.  This frenetic activity doesn’t allow them enough of those quiet moments to reflect on what they really want.

Frustration on the wrong track

Being on the wrong track is a constant source of frustration for people because deep down they know they are not doing what they really want to. This of course means that they are not being the person they want to be. This is also true of companies who have opened up new areas of business that don’t really go with who they are.

Answering this question truthfully can be the beginning of some very creative work that can lead to some amazing results.

So, what do you want?

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More Serious People

June 2nd, 2023 by Douglas McEncroe · Culture, Leadership, Organizational Culture, Personal Development

Greek TragedyThe recent TV series Succession has provided some valuable observations about life in organisations. Series director Mark Mylod  always interpreted the story of the Roy family as a Greek Tragedy, where the tragic destiny of the main characters was already set from the very beginning of the series, due to their personal flaws. And so, despite the hope generated in the beautiful scene in the kitchen when the three siblings briefly returned to the playfulness of their childhood while they anointed Kendall CEO, their fate was sealed due to the flaws in their personal characters.

As Logan Roy had stated when talking to his three children in an earlier episode, “You are not serious people”, or put more crudely by Roman Roy when arguing with his siblings just before the final vote, “you’re bullshit, she is bullshit, I’m bullshit, we’re all bullshit”.

And yet, there is no doubt that they were all capable of political manipulation and the toxic nature of the leadership provided by the father allowed that to flourish.

Why do corporate politicians often thrive?

This begs the question. Why do people who don’t actually make great contributions to the success of their organisations, but who are masters in the art of political manipulation, often thrive in organisations? In my experience the answer to that question can be found in the CEO. If a CEO does not actively create mechanisms to identify people who are hardworking and who are  actually making real contributions, due to their concrete actions and behaviours, then political behaviour thrives and is rewarded.

 In some organisations, there has been a series of CEOs over a couple of decades who have not rewarded real work, thus favouring politics, and it has become part of the organisational culture and therefore harder to change.

 Others, however, have been very clear about promoting talent and rewarding hard work and encouraging leaders throughout their organisations to do the same, and their organisations inevitably thrive.

Leaders who tick the box versus leaders who create real change

Over the last thirty years I have worked with many CEOs as I designed and implemented a lot of corporate change or leadership development projects. I have seen two types of CEOs. Some who want to go through the steps of carrying out team development workshops for their senior management team, followed up by leadership programs for their senior leaders and middle managers, but who have no real intention of changing anything. In these projects I have been able to help individuals develop their leadership and have perhaps achieved some improvement in the lives of employees due to better leadership behaviours, but no real organisational change ever happened. These CEOs just wanted to show their boards that they were doing something but had no intention of changing anything. They just ticked the box.

Fortunately, I have had more experience working with some great CEOs who actively got involved in the projects from the beginning, contributed to having real conversations in the Senior Team Development Sessions, admitted errors, and made sure that actions that were agreed on as a result of the work done in the sessions, were implemented and followed up on. When it came the time to roll out the leadership development programs to their managers, they often appeared themselves in those programs to present a clear vision of what they were trying to achieve and listened to the comments and feedback of their people. In those organisations real change was achieved.

Real contributions need to be seen and rewarded. Politicking needs to be penalised

 It wouldn’t be much fun working for the Roys, and the organisation would suffer. CEOs need to:

  • Actively identify real actions and behaviours that are positive and that achieve results.
  • Communicate clearly to the organisations what these actions are, and who did them.
  • Promote these people.
  • Reward managers who are doing the same with their teams.
  • Create metrics for measuring actions that produce results.
  • Encourage everyone to communicate actions that have helped the organisation.
  • Recognise and reward managers who publicise the good work of their people.
  • Penalise people who try to take the credit for other people’s work.

These actions create healthy organisations which are happier places to work in and inevitably produce better results.

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Lead like Roosevelt

May 26th, 2023 by Douglas McEncroe · Leadership

RooseveltMany people rate Roosevelt the greatest leader of the 20th Century. What made him so great. There are many answers to this questions but let me tell you about just one of them.

In Michael Fullilove’s great book, Rendezvous With Destiny, he tells the story how Roosevelt thought out of the box in order to gain the quality of knowledge he required to take the best decisions.

In 1940 with the fall of France, Roosevelt knew that the survival of Western Civilization was at stake. He needed to know first hand the true situation of Britain left as they were, to fight the Axis powers alone. Could they survive? What was the leadership like? What did they need? What could Roosevelt do.

Public opinion in United States was still against entering the war, so Roosevelt had to find a way to help Britain and to edge the United States slowly towards direct involvement in the war.

An unorthodox approach

Roosevelt didn’t trust his ambassadors or the State Department to get him the information he needed, so he took the very unorthodox route of sending personal envoys in order to get a first hand picture of the situation and to build the relationship with Churchill. He used a personal friend, a businessman, a first world war hero and a political rival to do the job. This drove the State Department and his ambassadors crazy, but Roosevelt did what he had to do to get the results he needed. These envoys never had official titles, and the press never knew the exact nature of their mission, but they got the information Roosevelt needed, helped him build a trusting relationship with Churchill and assisted in getting the Lend Lease legislation through Congress and manage the logistics of getting the material to the British and indeed later on to the Russians. The Germans may never have been turned back without this assistance.

The number one problem of today’s business leaders

I have worked with many CEO’s and hundreds of members of Senior Management Teams. Their main problem is that they never get feedback on their own behaviour, are often not capable of communicating their thoughts to the rank and file and often don’t really know what is really happening in the day to day management of their companies. They are also often unaware of what their people think.

These senior managers often depend on Human Resources to help them learn all of the above, but the problem is that Human Resources, just like Roosevelt’s State Department back in 1940, have their own agenda and their own problems and therefore are not always the best channel for getting the senior managers the information they need.

Think like Roosevelt to get the information you need.

You need to think out of the box, look for other ways of getting the information, here are some ideas:

  • Understand what you don’t know.
    Be clear about what you need to know.
    Find out what your people think about you and about your company.
    Identify people who you could use to get information and give information.
    Think of every possible source for finding your envoys, friends, retired managers, clients, consultants, suppliers, union representatives and popular opinion leaders.
    Give your envoys direct access to you.
    Empower them to get to the people they need to talk with.
    Control the communication channels between them and you.
    Be cautious with who you tell about what you are doing.

    Leaders need to know what’s going on, they need to build the relationships that will help them get their business strategy executed and, they need to be creative in the way they do this.

Roosevelt and his envoys helped save western civilization. What could you achieve with the right information?

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It’s not personal, it’s systemic

May 16th, 2023 by Douglas McEncroe · Culture, Leadership, Organizational Culture

3d,Rendering,Of,People,InterconnectionWorkers think that senior managers are heartless, arrogant and distant. Senior managers think that workers are childlike, blaming everybody and not understanding the need to get on board with the latest initiative. Middle managers are just too run off their feet to think anything at all and clients simply feel ignored and undervalued.

If this was just the thinking in a dysfunctional organisation it wouldn’t be so bad, but the truth is that this type of thinking is commonplace in many organisations, repeating itself in recurring patterns that sabotages the real need to get collaboration flourishing up and down and across the organisation.

When problems occur people blame individual’s lack of caring, their incompetence or their difficult personalities as if people’s personal attributes were source of all organisational problems. In reality it’s not personal, it’s systemic.

Making up stories

People fall into a typical thinking pattern, they observe someone doing something and first thing they do is take it personally, then they make up a story to explain why people in other parts of the organisation did what they did, these stories almost never have anything to do with what is really going on and yet people react to them as if they were the universal truth. Then, they get angry or they disconnect, or they get even. As a result, any chance of building collaborative partnerships across the organisation or with clients and suppliers simply goes out the window.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Predictable conditions that generate typical behaviours

The key is understanding that much of the way that people behave in organisations is more a function of where they are in the system than anything else. The problem is that people see the behaviours but they don’t see the system, they suffer what Organisational Dynamics expert, Barry Oshry, calls System Blindness. According to where they are in the system, you  can predict the behaviour they will nearly always fall into.

Senior managers live in a world characterised by enormous complexity and accountability. They will therefore typically fall into overload.

Middle managers live in a world were they are pulled in a million directions, senior management asks them to get things done, the workers ask them to look after them, other colleagues from other parts of the organisations try to get their help on the latest new initiative. They naturally fall into getting crunched. They are simply run off their feet.

The people at the bottom of the organisation have less power than everyone else, they have to live with many restrictions and most often don’t have the information necessary to understand what they are being asked to do, they naturally fall into feeling disregarded, leading them to feel vulnerable.

The clients just want to get a solution to their problem but all too often they just get passed from one person to the next, they naturally fall into feeling neglected.

Our gut reactions just make everything worse

Human beings understandably will act like human beings. Being faced with something we don’t really understand we simply make up a story because we need to give situations a meaning, we need to understand what is going on. But the stories people make up usually have little to do with what is really going on and will lead to actions that will just make the situations worse.

The typical reactions of senior managers are to just keep on taking on more, thereby just becoming even more overloaded.

The typical reaction of middle managers is to slide in between the people at the top and the people at the bottom and take on their problems leading them to become even more crunched.

The typical reaction of the workers is to take on the victim mentality and just blame “them” thus making themselves even more vulnerable.

The typical reaction of clients is to stay aloof and hold their supplier responsible leading to them feeling even more neglected and badly mistreated.

First understand other people’s worlds and think differently

Oshry believes the key is seeing the organisation as an organic system and understanding that people’s behaviours are largely determined by the forces that system places on them. Once we decrease System Blindness, senior leaders, middle managers, workers and clients will realise that they can apply different strategies and behaviours that will counteract the negative pressures that the system places on them. Also, if we take into account what it is like to be in the other person’s world, then the reactions that we will get will be totally different. This will change attitudes, produce behaviours that make the system more efficient and increase collaboration.

Increased collaboration across the organisation unleashes creativity, makes the organisation more agile, creates a better work environment and above all, improves service to clients. An ideal result all around.


·      System Blindness leads to negative interpretations of other people’s behaviour.

·      Understanding system dynamics gives people new options that lead to different behaviours.

·      These behaviours lead to increased collaboration and therefore better business results.

There are ways to help your employees to see the system more clearly, and that can change everything.

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The Importance of Telling Stories

May 10th, 2023 by Douglas McEncroe · Sin categoría

Story tellingA number of years ago I attended a great two-week course at Harvard called “The Art and Practice of Leadership Development”. One of the sessions I remember best was given by a woman called Nancy Houfek, who, amongst other activities, had spent various years working in the theatre. Her session was on story telling, and as long as I live, I will never forget it.

What Nancy did was to take a volunteer from among our group who had a story to tell. It was just a normal story about how he had escaped from the course one night to return home to see his sister who lived in England and had come home to visit her brother. The participant lived with his wife and two small children who were understandably missing the daddy. The story consisted of the children’s reaction with the surprise visit, bath time and the conversation between them and their father.

What Nancy did was to get the participant to re-work the story, over and over again, each time adding new elements, sounds, colours, textures, an imitation of  his children’s voices, the exact language that they used, and above all, the emotions felt by the participant.

We must have heard the same story some 12 times but we were never bored as each telling revealed more secrets, touched us on more levels and I can tell you, when he finally told the last version of his story, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

I have sometimes related this experience to various people who have had the rather predictable and impoverished reaction of, “typical American corn” and yet in that group of about a hundred people there was something like thirty different nationalities and I can tell you that the last telling of our colleague’s story brought tears to everyone’s eyes. And so, there is something more powerful at play hear, more universal.

People have been telling stories since mankind sat around the campfire, and yet we have somehow lost the art of telling them well. But, when someone does tell a story well, it connects with our most inner being and is, therefore a powerful tool for getting messages across.

Elements that give life to a story

Today, more than ever, we need to be inspired, we need to be moved and we need to find values that we can share with other people with whom we are trying to carry out a project. Converting your daily experiences like an artisan into images that when people close their eyes can see, that make them feel is the best way to give meaning to people’s work and transmit values that give a team a purpose and gives the team an identity. To do that you need to do the following:

  • Know what the key message is that you want to get across.
  • Leave all other information that doesn’t have anything to do with your message.
  • Talk about the sounds, even imitating them.
  • Describe the textures.
  • Describe the colours.
  • Talk about what you felt, wether it was fear, anxiety, joy or happiness. Feelings are what connect people to people.
  • Use the exact same language that the people in your story used.
  • Use pauses.
  • Speak slowly.
  • Use a variety of tones and pitch.
  • Look at the people in the eyes.

Doing these things will bring your story to life and give it power. Doing these things you will connect with people on an emotional level, and this is the only way to truly mobilise them.

The most important thing about telling stories

But the most important thing is not all of the above, but rather your how you observe and reflect on your own experiences. For example, in the future I would like to write my second book and thought about how what being a father has taught me about leadership. But, in order to tell that story I am going to need to observe very well, to take a lot of photos and videos, to write down how different experiences made me feel and above all what I learnt from them. I am going to need to be really present during my experiences with my children so that I can tell a story that later has meaning and usefulness for others.

It is a lot of work, but it’s worth the effort.

So many lost opportunities

So many managers who lead people have the opportunity to perfect the art of storytelling and transmit values in a way that their people can relate to them, to get their messages across with so much more force. So many managers miss that opportunity.

How could you use your life experiences to craft stories that get your people moving?


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Dialogue Improves Results

May 2nd, 2023 by Douglas McEncroe · Culture, Leadership, Personal Development

Happy,Young,Couple,Talking,Over,Chalkboard,Background,With,Drawn,EmptyTolerance, respect, and an open mind are key to any organisation’s health. However, too often we find people from different parts of the organisation, or indeed, different levels of the organisation, approaching each other as if they were enemies.

Perhaps, given what we see in society at this moment in time, this is not altogether surprising. People seem to fall into camps with opposing views, incapable of entering into a dialogue with anyone from a different camp. And, social media and the algorithms that underly them don’t exactly help.

A Divisive World

A current example in Australia is the upcoming referendum on the Voice. People on each side of the debate, it would seem to me, have a desire to do what is best for the country and for all indigenous Australians. I believe both sides have this goodwill. However, they also  have different priorities, and different but equally valid concerns. They all have to deal with personal situations that generate pressure and stress. They all exist in different contexts, and these contexts affect their lives in different ways. True dialogue would require a sincere attempt to understand the other’s situation and explain yours. This exploration and advocacy are essential elements of any true dialogue between two human beings, but I am not seeing much of this happening today.

Organisational Conflict

And so, it is not surprising we see the same dynamics playing out between different parts of the organisation. People from marketing don’t try and understand what it’s like to be in the finance department and vice versa. What are they trying to achieve and why? What pressures does the organisation bring to bear on them. What is important for them? When they wake up at 3.00am in the morning, what worries them? What would success look like for them?

 In my experience, most people go to work with goodwill. Hardly anyone I have met drives into the office in the morning  thinking  about how they are going to screw their colleagues today. Just think how much more effective your organisation would be if people spent a little time trying to understand what it is like operating in the world of their colleagues, their boss, or their direct reports. How much better would the atmosphere be if people engaged in real dialogue?

Try this out

All organisations need collaboration, encouraging dialogue leads to more cooperation. Try these simple actions and see what happens:

Find a colleague from a different part of the organisation that you deal with every now and then and ask them:

How is life at the moment?

What are you trying to achieve?

What will be the result of you achieving it?

What benefit will that bring to our organisation?

What pressures are you working under at the moment?

What concerns you most?

What excites you most?

As you listen to what they are sharing with you, tell them about what it is like being in your world. You will find that you have more things in common than you could have imagined and the relationship between you will begin to open up.

You will see how this creates the foundation to have more constructive relationships, and who knows where that will take you.

You can train people to become good at these types of conversations, and, in a very divisive world, that is a good skill to have.

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Changing Cultures Through Conversations

April 26th, 2023 by Douglas McEncroe · Organizational Culture

Shutterstock_2139184783My clients often ask me; how do we change our culture? The main reason for this is that with a new strategy coming in, some things become less important while others actually get in the way of the strategy being implemented.

One of the difficulties of adapting an organisational culture is that most people aren’t actually conscious of it. Much like national cultures, people behave in certain ways because they share a common way of interpreting the world and their place in it. You only see your national culture for the first once you go and live in a different culture, learn the language and then start to see the world from another angle. When you return to your own country you see a whole lot of things you never saw before. Changing an organisational culture therefore requires helping the employees see their present culture and clearly understand the assumptions that underly it.

Making the new strategy understandable

A common problem that I have come across in a lot of organisations is that the senior management team has a clear understanding of what their new strategy is but if you go down two levels of management, the people have no idea of what it is. Too often the strategy is expressed in terms suitable to a McKinsey consultant but is completely incomprehensible to an average manager. The first step then is to describe the strategy in ways that the average person can understand and also, point out how it is different to the previous strategy and why it had to be changed.

Bring the people together

To adapt a culture, it is desirable to bring large groups of people together and help them become more conscious of:

  • What the new strategy is.
  • What the present culture is.
  • What should the new culture look like.

These peoples’ role in this should not be passive but rather they should work as active participants in shaping the new culture. A great methodology for this is the World Café that can be employed in meetings of 200 people yet organises them in tables of four so that people are involved in intimate conversations in which they feel free to open up. The key to these conversations are:

  • Rotating the people so that they change tables at the end of each round
  • Having clear concrete questions that they can talk about
  • Harvesting the contributions of each table so that the whole group can arrive at tangible and clear actions to be taken

I carried out some wonderful World Cafés back in Spain both for government and private organisations and achieved great results.

It surprises me that more companies don’t employ these types of actions as it can be done quickly and economically. And yet, you can arrive at achieving a critical mass of employees who understand what the strategy means to them, what the present culture is, how it needs to change and what are the behaviours that need to be adopted.

There is a collective wisdom that companies can tap into. Employees have so much knowledge and great ideas if only they were asked to participate. This is one way of converting them into active contributors in the change you are looking for.

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