Category Archives: leadership

VUCA: from a system and problem focus to a person and solution orientation

VUCA

VUCA needs a new meaning and focus

By now VUCA is as familiar of an acronym as ADHD, AWOL, and of course COVID.  Acronyms are useful in labeling and giving importance to complex themes. Labeling a problem soothes the mind by identifying something hard to understand. The hope is then to find a solution. What if the solution were in the acronym? What if the problem-focused and system-oriented VUCA acronym became solution-focused and people-oriented? The angst derived by the former would diminish and the optimism derived by the latter would flourish. People solve problems and influence systems. So wouldn’t it be wise to promote solution-orientated attitudes and behaviors?

VUCA people transform VUCA situations

What do adolescents, first-time parents, adults in a mid-life crisis, or anyone facing a life-altering event tell you? Life is VUCA. Digitalization and globalization may be intensifying VUCA, but it isn’t anything new. What if instead of associating VUCA as a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world to dread, it was linked to Virtuousness, Understanding, Compassion, and Adaptability? Instead of being at the whim of a VUCA world, these essential human skills foster life-long learning. What effect would this reframing of VUCA and consequent skill acquisition have on our human development?

Virtuousness contains volatility

The online Cambridge Dictionary defines virtuous as “having good moral qualities and behaviors.” Fears have a tendency to rise in volatile situations. Drastic fluctuations, therefore, influence people to act impulsively with short-term results and immediate gains. A selfish mentality can develop. “Take what you can now before it is too late!” This perturbed mindset can lead to rash and immoral reactions. The accumulation of unethical decision making on a large scale in times of volatility ironically increases and compounds the volatility one wishes to diminish. A strong moral compass helps contain volatility. Virtuous people are stabilizers in times of instability.

Understanding reduces uncertainty

The online Cambridge Dictionary defines understanding as “knowledge about a subject, situation, etc. or about how something works.” How should one deal with uncertainty? Be mindful of what is in your control/what is known. Seek guidance to understand that which is uncertain or not completely known. Educate yourself. Ask questions. Conduct your own research. Simply put, be curious and learn. There is nothing more conducive to festering uncertainty than a fixed mindset, or solely relying on hearsay or one source of information. Fear of the unknown is best dealt with by keeping an open mind and understanding other realities.

Compassion humanizes complexity

The online Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines compassion as the “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.”  With nearly 8 billion people navigating complexity each day no one is exempt and no one goes unscathed. Unchecked complexity can lead to victimization and potential harm. Therefore, we need to show our compassion. Compassion humanizes the negative consequences of unresolved complexity by fostering inclusivity, a helping attitude, and raising social awareness at all levels. The pervasive, inclusive, and multi-leveled effort of the current Black Lives Matter movement is a case in point. Compassion ensures that we acknowledge how complexity impacts us all. And as importantly, it illustrates the vital role we all play in dealing with it.

Adaptability neutralizes ambiguity

The online Oxford Dictionary defines adaptability as the “quality of being able to change or be changed in order to deal successfully with new situations.” As creatures of habit, we adopt routines to creatively deal with ambiguity. Being too reliant on a fixed routine or way of living, however, can have limitations when an unforeseen significant event occurs. COVID-19 has been disrupting the routines and habits of millions of people. The further our fixed mindsets stray away from an ever-changing world reality the more we are confronted with this widening gap. This is illustrated in the digital paradox.  Unfortunately, it takes a global pandemic like COVID-19 to remind us that we are not masters of the universe. Rather, we are a part of it. And as such, we, like all other living organisms, must either adapt to changing circumstances or face unnecessary hardship.

VUCA people need to be nurtured and engaged

It is high time we better deal with volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Fortunately, with a change of perspective and focus, the answer may be hidden in the same acronym. With virtuousness, understanding, compassion, and adaptability one is better able to cope with VUCA situations. All humans have the capacity to develop and practice these life-long skills. Doing so feeds a growth mindset and cultivates a collective consciousness focused on posterity. Younger generations see the value and need of being VUCA. We are seeing more VUCA people organizing in greater numbers across continents and for causes affecting all humans everywhere. Progressive companies also reap the benefit of developing human edge cultures. In sum, VUCA people are essential for a VUCA world.

About the author

Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Human Systems Expert, Conflict Resolution Specialist, Process Facilitator, Youth Advocate, Author, and Speaker. He accompanies individuals, teams, and organizations wanting to fully integrate their human potential. As the creator of the EPIC Model, Jean-Pierre brings out the expertise in groups by encouraging authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom.

Effective Leadership – A changing of the guards

Effective Leadership

What is effective leadership anyway?

The Online Oxford Dictionary defines leadership as the action of leading a group of people or an organization. Additionally, it defines effective as successful in producing a desired or intended result.” Simply put: Effective leadership is the capacity to successfully guide the intended or desired action(s) of a person or group. According to this amoral definition, any person or group of people versed in rhetoric and/or subversive tactics can display effective leadership. But we know this not to be true. Ethical intention and the means by which outcomes are achieved are paramount. 

Essential components of effective leadership

Organizations seeking effective leadership must look beyond outcome achievement. As the current global reality demonstrates, the ends no longer justify the means. Personal integrity, social competencies, economic equity, conflict transformation, transparency, environmental stewardship, posterity, ethical conduct, and inclusivity (age, gender, race) need to be at the core of effective leadership requirements and competencies. First, companies must clarify the intention of effective leadership. Second, this raison d’être should elicit an authentic response in every individual inspired to heed the call. Lastly, leadership needs to have the capacity to skillfully and creatively orchestrate the collection, the aggregate of these diverse individual entities in order to bring the intention to fruition. How should leadership ethically and equitably influence your organization? What sustainable methods should leadership use to reach objectives? How inclusive should processes be? How should leadership ensure that all stakeholders benefit from the outcome?

Effective leadership ensures economic equity 

According to the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report, the world’s richest 1 percent, own 44 percent of the world’s wealth. Adults with less than $10,000 in wealth make up 56.6 percent of the world’s population, but hold less than 2 percent of global wealth. Effective leadership needs to become financially transparent, sustainable, and equitable for posterity’s sake. Universal economic opportunity needs to be at the forefront of all policies. Leadership needs to ensure that all humans have fair and equal access to both natural and artificial resources necessary to sustain a proper standard for living (access mental and physical healthcare included) and provide for a family when desired without jeopardizing career development.

Effective leadership is inclusive

The most translated document in the world is the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To date, it has been translated in 370 languages. Why? In addition to preserving the environment, without which humans could not exist, there is nothing more fundamental than ensuring the basic rights of all human beings. For example, which traits allowed women-led nations to cope well with COVID-19? Likewise, how can improving racial/ethnic balance in leadership better ensure basic human rights? Leadership is appropriately and ethically represented across gender and race when the ratio of those in leading roles are proportionate to those being led.

Bright Spots in closing gender and racial gaps

In 2018, Glassdoor partnered with JUST Capital to look at major corporations committed to equal pay. Remarkably, only 16 out of 920 publicly traded companies, the likes of Microsoft, VMWare, and Salesforce–just to name a few–were ensuring pay equity across gender and racial and ethnic lines. As companies close gender and racial/ethnic gaps and governments ensure human rights for all citizens, effective leadership promotes values that are transparent, ethical, equitable, sustainable, and inclusive.

Effective leadership entails environmental stewardship

The Internet of things (IoT) entails everything connected to the internet. So too are we interconnected with all living things (IoLT). When nature is out of balance so are we. We are an integral part of nature. We cannot survive without a healthy and diverse environment. As such, it is our human responsibility to care for our use of it. Environmental stewardship refers to responsible use and protection of the natural environment through conservation and sustainable practices. Aldo Leopold (1887–1949) championed environmental stewardship based on a land ethic “dealing with man’s relation to land and to the animals and plants which grow upon it.” (source: Wikipedia)

Effective leadership is intergenerational

Leadership roles in traditional organizations are often held by those who are one, two, or even three generations older than those being led. This alone is not a problem. Actually, there is a wealth of potential here. It can become an issue, however, when senior leadership is unable to incorporate the values and intentions of the younger generations of those they lead. Intergenerational learning is paramount in mutually acknowledging and integrating old and new forms of leadership. Companies who can do so will become more resilient and have an easier time ensuring an organization’s vitality. How can organizations with older forms of leadership give space for newer forms of leadership?

Acknowledging a changing of guards

Each generation has a new ideal of what effective leadership entails. Young people feel unheard and are quick to dismiss older mentalities as antiquated. Older people hold on to long-held beliefs are quick to dismiss newer realities as not being time-tested. A lack of mutual acknowledgment and respect prevents a seamless integration or transition of leadership styles. When all generations can honor the wisdom each brings, then there is an opportunity for dialogue, transformation, and growth. Newer companies and start-ups have an easier time implementing newer forms of leadership and organizational management since most employees belong to one or at most two generations. How can newer forms of leadership be given space in older and larger organizations where three or four generations are working together? As with all changing of the guards, the process must be honorable, on-going, and inclusive.

About the author

Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Human Systems & Group Dynamics Expert, Conflict Facilitator, Youth Coach, Author, and Speaker. He accompanies individuals and teams wanting to fully integrate their human resource potential at all organizational levels. As the creator of the EPIC Model, Jean-Pierre brings out the expertise in groups by encouraging authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom.

Resilience: Overcoming adversity to further one’s development

resilienceResilience: Raspberry plant growing out of isolation and darkness

Resilience in nature

Recently, I stepped into the backyard and noticed a raspberry seedling had grown through the drainage hole of an overturned pot. Occasionally, some plants manage to sprout outside the bed–seen in the background. This one had bad luck. It escaped alright, but into an enclosed container. No worries. This plant did more than escape. It did what most plants do when faced with inhospitable conditions.

Resilience according to Merriam Webster has two definitions. The latter one being, “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” For the sake of this post, this definition will be used as it best fits how humans describe overcoming hardship.

We only need the basics

Similar to the unlucky rogue raspberry shoot, we too had no idea how quickly we would find ourselves trapped in our homes and apartments, alone and isolated. However, like the seedling, COVID-19 showed us that life continues to exist even when reduced to the basics. Nature constantly reminds us of what is needed to live. In spite of darkness and isolation, the plant had enough nourishment to continue on with its purpose. This is precisely what the world should be positively taking away from the pandemic. Namely, like plants, we truly do not need as much as we think to live a fulfilling life. Besides having sufficient food, light, and water, the plant showed three key elements of resilience in overcoming hardship and challenges.

Resilience is accepting the situation for what it is

Aside from humans, no plant or animal takes umbrage to misfortune. When did complaining ever change an undesirable situation? In the book, “Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why”, Lawrence Gonzalez writes about the differences between someone dying or surviving in life or death situations. Along with Viktor Frankl’s, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, both authors discuss the importance of purpose. Both also learned of another survivor trait.  Well before Gonzalez and Frankl, the Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, born almost 2,000 years prior even observed:

“For good or for ill, life and nature are governed by laws that we can’t change. The quicker we accept this, the more tranquil we can be.”

Once the survivors accepted they could succumb in the next hours, an overwhelming feeling of relief came over them. Accepting their mortality released them from their own torment of death. Now, with a clear conscience, they were able to refocus their energy on making sure this outcome did not become their fate. And in most cases, they literally did it one step at a time.

Resilience requires going deep within to find purpose

Darkness can surround us in difficult times. Support systems may not be easily accessible. Like with the coronavirus,  reaching outward in times of need can be hampered by government measures and/or personal limitations. When such conditions exist to whom and where do you turn? You go within. Raspberry roots grow deep underground, seeking water and nutrients to sustain life. The basis of resilience lies also deep within humans too. What is deep within us? Purpose. The will to live. Resilience requires a “why.” What makes you want to dig down deep within yourself in times of hardship? Why should you persist when faced with insurmountable obstacles and overwhelming feelings of adversity? Purpose makes you want to endure. And that you find within you.

Resilience requires looking above to set a goal

Normally, the flower pot is a container that sustains and supports plant development. When inverted, however, it does the opposite. The little amount of sunshine entering through the tiny drainage hole not only provided enough nourishment, but it also provided a goal to reach. For plants the why is clear; it is the “how” that sometimes poses the challenge. In this case, the seedling overcame the hurdle. The hole whose sole purpose is normally to drain excess water now became the goal to reach. Talk about a paradigm shift! We go deep within to find our “why.” Purpose alone, however, is not enough. Purpose requires a goal to show the achievement of the mission. Otherwise, it only remains an unfulfilled dream.

Resilience is short-term survival in order to live again

Until the plant breached the confinement of the overturned pot it was surviving. Once it cleared the hole and grew new leaves outside it went back to living. Humans too can be resilient and survive in the short-term. However, the long-term goal is to live. Remaining in survival mode for too long can be hazardous. Gonzalez wrote a follow-up book, Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience. Survivors survive with the hope of living again. Unfortunately for some, the trauma that may result from the ordeal of surviving makes it difficult for some to continue on living. They remain in survival mode with deleterious results.

A vaccine is needed but insufficient

Too many humans were surviving and showing resiliency prior to the outbreak. I would like to have history portray the COVID-19 pandemic as having saved more lives than it had taken by having us–like the raspberry plant–see the light. In our case, this means seeing the bigger picture for humanity. We cannot change COVID-19. We can, however, rethink our attitude, alter our behaviors, revise our policies, and update our structures. Like the raspberry plant, we will break through the hole and come out. Humankind must benefit from the multitude of awe-inspiring acts of human resiliency now on display worldwide. Let us not allow this global resiliency to be in vain. Worse than the current impact of the pandemic would be to squander this opportunity to achieve an equitable standard of living for all. This is fully in our control. Now is our chance to strive for that ray of light!

About the author

Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Human Systems Facilitator, Coach, Youth Expert, and Speaker. He accompanies organizations in fully integrating their human resource potential. He does so by facilitating group processes that foster authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom. Jean-Pierre is the creator of the EPIC Model of development and authored What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.

COVID-19: The outer and inner leadership test

COVID-19
Image by Vektor Kunst from Pixabay

COVID-19 knows no socio-economic boundaries and is not intimidated by legal action, social media, political antics, economic sanctions, and military force

COVID-19 has no regard for titles or authority as officials, Hollywood actors, and sports stars test positive. You cannot take legal action against it.  Stonewalling will not make COVID-19 disappear. Name-calling will not shame it. Social media smear campaigns only increase its ability to mislead potential victims. Neither bribery, blackmail, nor hush money will make COVID-19 go away. You cannot levy a tax against it or block it by building a wall. So what is left in the bag of tricks of so-called leaders faced with a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions? COVID-19 can not even be eradicated with the combined use of all the world’s military might ($2 Trillion dollars global yearly spending). Imagine how $2,000,000,000,000 could help R&D find a cure. Imagine how this unfathomable amount of money could help SMEs, vulnerable populations, and families all over the world affected by the economic impact of COVID-19.

COVID-19 is the World’s Mid-Life Crisis

It usually takes a significant medical issue or some personal crisis for a person to stop and reflect on life. Your health and well-being is number one as is that of Earth. What price do you put on your health and environmental well-being? COVID-19 is shining a bright spotlight on our collective welfare. It calls into question the equality of current global economic systems. It makes evident the gaps in social welfare systems. COVID-19 makes us ask questions like what is it all for? What is really important in life? Who truly benefits from my time, talents, and energy?

COVID-19 calls into question our human existence

This is a rapidly changing situation requiring millions of people to continuously adapt, refocus, and remain calm, while not forgetting about the simple human kindness and consideration that will help us all get through this. Millions more are sacrificing their safety to ensure others remain healthy. Are we doing all this just to get back to business as usual as we did after the 2008 financial crisis? What did we learn from that economic collapse? Do you remember who was responsible for creating a volatile and fragile system? As you hunker down in your abode with family and loved ones, there is no shortage of time to reflect on what really is important in your life.  What realizations have you since come to recognize? What changes have you already made to your lifestyle that you would like to keep going forward even after the impact of COVID-19 diminishes?

COVID-19 calls upon true leadership

COVID-19’s greatest ally is leadership incompetency. It has an uncanny ability to show a leader’s true ability to lead in a time of crisis. COVID-19 separates leaders who pretend they know how to lead from those who actually can. COVID-19 relentlessly spreads each time a leader fails to transmit the social gravity of isolation for the sake of personal, political, or economic gain. Taiwan has been a beacon of the leadership needed in such a crisis due to an educated vice-president. Those responsibly leading nations, however, do not need to be epidemiologists as is the case with Chen Chien-jen. They do need to consult closely with experts in the field who know how best to respond to such situations. Leaders in times of crisis know how to deliver clear and concise directives. They know how to instinctively inspire people to act calmly, rationally, and collectively.

COVID-19 ultimately demands inner leadership

COVID-19 is a top priority for all country, state, and local leaders. The real leader, however, in combating the spread of COVID-19 is you! COVID-19 is a serious example of why competent inner leadership is as crucial in such times as outer leadership. It is the epitome of VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity). The #staythefuckhome movement is a prime example for the emphatic call to lead from within. We all have the wherewithal to choose our part in either spreading or containing the virus. A simple individual decision like self-isolating and reducing social contact taken by masses of people helps reduce the risk of furthering the spread of this contagious and life-threatening virus. As the world becomes more complex individual decisions and actions–inner leadership–will become more necessary in overcoming global challenges to achieve shared human goals that impact us all.

About the author

Jean-Pierre Kallanian is a Human Systems Facilitator, Executive Coach, Youth Expert, and Speaker. He accompanies organizations in fully integrating their human resource potential by facilitating group processes that foster authenticity, intention, and collective wisdom. He is the creator of the EPIC Model of development and the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.

For more information on how companies can better cope with VUCA by encouraging employee empowerment read my blog on Human Edge Cultures

Running Barefoot: Life & Leadership Philosophy in Motion

Barefoot running

10k Herbstlauf 2019

Running Barefoot: Life & leadership philosophy in motion

In addition to the physical and mental benefits of running barefoot, running barefoot has evolved into a life and leadership philosophy. Here are many lessons I am still learning!

  1. You always have a choice. No matter how difficult the terrain looks ahead while running or in life, there is always a next step you can make, even if it isn’t the direction you expected to go in.
  2. Trust your instincts in a difficult situation. Running barefoot is instinctive running. Humans have been running much longer without shoes than with shoes. When in doubt, trust your gut.
  3. Listen to your body. Valuable information is not always transmitted through words, nor through your shoes.
  4. You can handle more than you think. I run barefoot on gravel, snow and in temperatures just below freezing. Overcome your fears through practice.
  5. Be mindful. Barefoot running requires your full attention most of the time. Be present. Act with intention. Be mindful of your form and your conduct.
  6. Silence is golden. When running bare I am silent and can listen to the environment. I have startled shod runners and animals alike. Learn to listen with all of your senses.
  7. Take responsibility for your actions. If I step on a stone I cannot blame it. We choose how we respond to life. No one or no thing makes us do anything or react in a certain way. 
  8. Transform hurtful energy. When I step on an object I allow the unpleasant energy to run through my body and transfer it to briefly run faster. Convert as much energy into self-improvement.
  9. You need less than you think. Rid yourself of clutter. Become a minimalist with how you conceptualize and interact with the world. The less you have the more you can take in.
  10. Be light in temperament. You are physically lighter barefoot. Holding grudges leaves no space to hold something that gives you power and energy. Forgive. Let go and move on.
  11. Be non-judgmental. I received looks and was made fun of when I started. Now people are curious and ask questions. Be open to new possibilities. Ask questions if you don’t understand.
  12. Use both body and mind simultaneously. Running barefoot incorporates both. We tend to use one at a time. A more holistic experience results when engaging both simultaneously. 
  13. Have fun. There is a playful quality to running barefoot. Try something new. Laugh with others and at yourself! Life is too short to take yourself too seriously!
  14. Be adaptable. Running barefoot requires you to adapt your approach and movement according to changing conditions. Train your mind and body to be flexible. 
  15. Live in the moment. Running barefoot demands that you be present in the here and now. Scan ahead but know your next step.
  16. Stay alert. Running barefoot doesn’t allow you to be inattentive for too long. Stay on your toes and don’t get caught flat-footed!
  17. Connect with nature and discharge negative energy. When running barefoot I reap the health benefits of grounding. You benefit when interacting and connecting with nature.
  18. Be true to yourself. No matter what you do, say, or if you wear shoes or not, there will always be critics. Do what is in your best interest as long as it doesn’t prevent others from doing so as well.

About the Author

Jean-Pierre is a Human Systems Facilitator, Executive Coach, and Youth Expert. He optimizes HR and leadership potential by enhancing group dynamics, team interdependence, and individual performance. He is the creator of the EPIC Model of development and the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.

Three Questions by: Leo Tolstoy

three questions

About the story “Three Questions

“The Three Questions” is a short story by Russian author Leo Tolstoy first published in 1885 as part of the collection What Men Live By, and Other Tales. The story takes the form of a parable, and it concerns a king who wants to find the answers to what he considers the three most important questions in life.

He consults wise men, promising a large sum to anyone who could answer those questions, but their answers were too diverse and did not satisfy the king. So, he goes to a hermit in search of his help. The rest of the story revolves around both of them.

The parable

It once occurred to a certain king, that if he always knew the right
time to begin everything; if he knew who were the right people to
listen to, and whom to avoid; and, above all, if he always knew what
was the most important thing to do, he would never fail in anything
he might undertake.

And this thought having occurred to him, he had it proclaimed
throughout his kingdom that he would give a great reward to anyone
who would teach him what was the right time for every action, and
who were the most necessary people, and how he might know what was the most important thing to do.

And learned men came to the King, but they all answered his
questions differently.

In reply to the first question, some said that to know the right
time for every action, one must draw up in advance, a table of days,
months and years, and must live strictly according to it. Only
thus, said they, could everything be done at its proper time.

Others declared that it was impossible to decide beforehand the right time for every action; but that, not letting oneself be
absorbed in idle pastimes, one should always attend to all that was
going on, and then do what was most needful.

Others, again, said that however attentive the King might be to what was going on, it was impossible for one man to decide correctly the right time for every action, but that he should have a Council of wise men, who would help him to fix the proper time for everything.

But then again others said there were some things which could not
wait to be laid before a Council, but about which one had at once to
decide whether to undertake them or not. But in order to decide
that, one must know beforehand what was going to happen. It is only
magicians who know that; and, therefore, in order to know the right
time for every action, one must consult magicians.

Equally various were the answers to the second question. Some said,
the people the King most needed were his councilors; others, the
priests; others, the doctors; while some said the warriors were the
most necessary.

To the third question, as to what was the most important occupation: some replied that the most important thing in the world was science.  Others said it was skill in warfare; and others, again, that it was religious worship.

All the answers being different, the King agreed with none of them,
and gave the reward to none. But still wishing to find the right
answers to his questions, he decided to consult a hermit, widely
renowned for his wisdom.

The hermit lived in a wood that he never quitted, and he received
none but common folk. So the King put on simple clothes, and before
reaching the hermit’s cell dismounted from his horse, and, leaving
his body-guard behind, went on alone.

When the King approached, the hermit was digging the ground in front of his hut. Seeing the King, he greeted him and went on digging.
The hermit was frail and weak, and each time he stuck his spade into
the ground and turned a little earth, he breathed heavily.

The King went up to him and said: “I have come to you, wise hermit,
to ask you to answer three questions: How can I learn to do the
right thing at the right time? Who are the people I most need, and
to whom should I, therefore, pay more attention than to the rest?
And, what affairs are the most important, and need my first attention?”

The hermit listened to the King, but answered nothing. He just spat
on his hand and recommenced digging.

“You are tired,” said the King, “let me take the spade and work
awhile for you.”

“Thanks!” said the hermit, and, giving the spade to the King, he
sat down on the ground.

When he had dug two beds, the King stopped and repeated his
questions. The hermit again gave no answer, but rose, stretched out
his hand for the spade and said:

“Now rest awhile-and let me work a bit.”

But the King did not give him the spade and continued to dig. One
hour passed, and another. The sun began to sink behind the trees,
and the King, at last, stuck the spade into the ground and said:

“I came to you, wise man, for an answer to my questions. If you can
give me none, tell me so, and I will return home.”

“Here comes someone running,” said the hermit, “let us see who it is.”

The King turned around and saw a bearded man come running out of the wood. The man held his hands pressed against his stomach, and blood was flowing from under them. When he reached the King, he fell fainting on the ground moaning feebly. The King and the hermit
unfastened the man’s clothing. There was a large wound in his
stomach. The King washed it as best he could, and bandaged it with
his handkerchief and with a towel the hermit had. But the blood
would not stop flowing, and the King, again and again, removed the
bandage soaked with warm blood and washed and rebandaged the wound.

Three Questions
A 1916 cover illustration by Michael Sevier (Source: Wikipedia)

When at last the blood ceased flowing, the man revived and asked for something to drink. The King brought fresh water and gave it to
him. Meanwhile, the sun had set, and it had become cool. So the
King, with the hermit’s help, carried the wounded man into the hut
and laid him on the bed. Lying on the bed the man closed his eyes
and was quiet, but the King was so tired with his walk and with the
work he had done, that he crouched down on the threshold, and also
fell asleep–so soundly that he slept all through the short summer
night. When he awoke in the morning, it was long before he could
remember where he was, or who was the strange bearded man lying on the bed and gazing intently at him with shining eyes.

“Forgive me!” said the bearded man in a weak voice, when he saw
that the King was awake and was looking at him.

“I do not know you, and have nothing to forgive you for,” said the King.

“You do not know me, but I know you. I am that enemy of yours who
swore to revenge himself on you because you executed his brother
and seized his property. I knew you had gone alone to see the
hermit, and I resolved to kill you on your way back. But the day
passed and you did not return. So I came out from my ambush to find
you, and I came upon your bodyguard, and they recognized me and
wounded me. I escaped from them, but should have bled to death had you not dressed my wound. I wished to kill you, and you have saved my life. Now, if I live, and if you wish it, I will serve you as your
most faithful slave and will bid my sons do the same. Forgive me!”

The King was very glad to have made peace with his enemy so easily,
and to have gained him for a friend, and he not only forgave him,
but said he would send his servants and his own physician to attend
him, and promised to restore his property.

Having taken leave of the wounded man, the King went out into the
porch and looked around for the hermit. Before going away he wished once more to beg an answer to the questions he had put. The hermit was outside, on his knees, sowing seeds in the beds that had been dug the day before. The King approached him and said:

“For the last time, I pray you to answer my questions, wise man.”

“You have already been answered!” said the hermit, still crouching
on his thin legs, and looking up at the King, who stood before him.

“How answered? What do you mean?” asked the King.

“Do you not see,” replied the hermit. “If you had not pitied my
weakness yesterday, and had not dug those beds for me, but had gone your way, that man would have attacked you, and you would have repented of not having stayed with me. So the most important time was when you were digging the beds, and I was the most important man, and to do me good was your most important business. Afterward, when that man ran to us, the most important time was when you were attending to him, for if you had not bound up his wounds he would have died without having made peace with you. So he was the most important man, and what you did for him was your most important business.

Remember then: there is only one time that is important–Now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power. The most necessary man is he with whom you are, for no man knows whether he will ever have dealings with anyone else: and the most important affair is, to do him good because for that purpose alone was man sent into this life!”

About the author

Jean-Pierre is a Human Systems Expert, Process Facilitator, Youth Specialist, and Speaker. He optimizes employee engagement and leadership potential by counseling leaders and enhancing group dynamics. He is the creator of the EPIC Model of development and the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.

Siddhartha: a model for leaders

leaders
Image by pixabay.com

Leaders live an examined life

Those who lead for the sake of serving others embrace continuous learning and reflection as fundamentals in improving themselves and their leadership abilities. As Socrates stated, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I prefer the statement, “The examined life is worth living.”

Classic literature on leadership

My wife recently came across a 2015 Business Insider article titled 8 classic novels that will make you a better leader. She then asked me, “Didn’t you use Siddhartha as a model for leadership for a course you took?” I responded, “Yes, but that was long ago.” The Business Insider article by Rachel Sugar highlights literature identified by Scotty McLennan, a lecturer at the Graduate School of Stanford Business, as fictional sources for learning about leadership. According to McLennan, classical literature allows one to see the moral development of protagonists, thus gaining an understanding and appreciation of transformation processes leaders undergo.

Siddhartha on leadership

In 2003, I was in my second year of managing a 25-bed group home for delinquent youth in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Seeking to gain knowledge on leadership I enrolled in a Master’s of Public Administration program at Clark University and eagerly signed up for a class on Organizational Behavior and Leadership. I was ready for enlightenment! We had to present a historical person who in our opinion embodied leadership. The go-to figures like Martin Luther King, Georg Washington, Gandhi, and Mother Teresa were at the top of most people’s list. Having recently read Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, I immediately knew who I would pick.

The search for Siddhartha

After seeing Siddhartha second on McLennan’s list, I fervently scurraged through old computer files. To my surprise, I discovered the leadership PowerPoint presentation on Siddhartha Gautama from 2003. After having had reviewed the file I had realized that I had broken every rule there is on PowerPoint presentations! Nonetheless, I was happy to have found it. I present in this article my key takeaways on leadership from Hesse’s classic, Siddhartha.  I encourage anyone in a leadership role or aspiring to someday be in one to read this story more than once.

Part I: The Brahmin’s Son

Leaders must at times choose a path not desired by supporters but still should have their support through the trust they have gained.

With the Samanas

Regardless of their avoidant practices, leaders cannot dodge the self in reality and must appropriately learn to cope with themselves.

Gotama

Leaders radiate distinctive energy and have a presence that can be felt by others.

A leader’s wisdom cannot be learned by others, nor is one’s acquired wisdom better or worse than another’s; it is only different due to one’s individual experiences.

Awakening

Leaders at some point act independently of what they have learned and of what others think; this can be a lonely but necessary process.

Part II: Kamala

Leaders must not only rely on logic; they must learn to use their senses as well.

Leaders do not make decisions hastily; they listen to their inner voice.

Leaders are drawn to their goal; they do not allow anything to enter their mind which opposes their goal.

Amongst the People

Leaders accept all people and treat them all the same.

Leaders can still be successful if they know a little about business as long as they are calm, can listen, and make good impressions on people.

Samsara

Leaders becoming too engrossed and consumed by their material rewards can lose their effectiveness and original purpose.

By the River

Leaders need both knowledge and experience.

Leaders are not defined by titles, clothing, or possessions since these are all transitory; they are defined by their character and beliefs.

Leaders are human and therefore fallible; they learn from their mistakes.

The Ferryman

Leaders do not see nature as a hindrance or something to be conquered; they gain knowledge by learning from nature.

Leaders listen with an open soul, without desire, judgment, or opinions.

Leaders do not quantify their success in relation to time nor are they bound by it; they exist for the moment.

The Son

Leaders need to show compassion towards those they lead.

Om

Leaders have nothing to fear, conquer, or be saddened by since they are aware, understand, respect, and except all that consists of life.

Govinda

Leaders find rather than seek; the former allows you to be free and receptive. 

Leaders do not consider themselves greater or less than anyone else; they find and learn from all experiences in living things and through this process acquire both knowledge and wisdom.

About the author

Jean-Pierre is a Human Systems Expert, Process Facilitator, Youth Specialist, and Speaker. He optimizes employee engagement and leadership potential by counseling leaders and enhancing group dynamics. He is the creator of the EPIC Model of development and the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.

How to effectively navigate difficult conversations at work

difficult conversation
Photo by Thomas Kinto on Unsplash

What are difficult conversations?

Difficult conversations are those where a real or imagined fear of addressing a serious matter is equal to or supersedes the issue itself. In the workplace, this could be mediating a conflict between colleagues, confronting allegations of misconduct, placing an employee on leave as a result of an investigation, and involuntary termination. Difficult conversations tremendously impact one or more of a person’s basic needs and can result in shame, embarrassment, feelings of incompetence, or anger. Although these immediate outcomes are all possible, they can be alleviated.

Address difficult conversations as soon as possible

Issues at work grow in scope and scale the longer they go unaddressed. They can even take on a life of their own. Coworkers and even customers and clients can feel rising tensions. This was of particular concern in the group home for youth I oversaw where clients were around 24/7. Residents overheard quarrels and took sides, making matters worse. This created a toxic work environment and derailed the program’s purpose. Immediately addressing issues minimizes this risk. It also builds employee trust. A quick and prudent intervention shows that management is both confident and competent in maintaining a harmonious, safe, and ethical workplace. It supports and validates those who live and breath your mission.

Document, document, document

Difficult conversations are usually preceded by one or more notable events worthy of documentation. Hindsight is 20/20. The trick is to have 20/20 foresight. The way to facilitate difficult conversations is to sense potential personnel issues before they reach critical mass. Address and document precursors. Take the warning signs seriously. It is imperative to document supervisions and warnings. Documentation provides evidence to support an impending difficult conversation. All parties should sign all documented conversations. Signatures acknowledge that a conversation took place.

Have a policy on staff conduct

Explicit rules and expectations on employee conduct and how personnel issues are addressed send a clear message that attitude and behavior matter to the organization and are enforced. My management and leadership experience was with unionized staff. Most managers shudder at the mention of a union. HR and the union helped me resolve personnel matters in accordance with a set of rules. Yes, I sometimes could not terminate unfit employees sooner than desired. At the same time, all employees felt safe knowing that there were clear procedures.

Be fair

There is nothing more important than when employees feel that they have been fairly treated. It reached the point where even my union steward felt I was sometimes too lenient. This was to my advantage. I have had the unfortunate task of involuntarily terminating staff and not one resulted in a grievance. On the contrary, most resulted in a parting handshake with no hard feelings. Some even thanked me for the opportunity as they walked out the door. Staff knew that if they were being let go–except in cases of gross misconduct where termination was immediate–that any of the following had previously occurred: supervision, previous warnings, EAP referral, corrective action, and collaboration between the union steward and management. In other words, there were no surprises and therefore little for management to fear.

Bring in a 3rd party

Include a 3rd party or observer when conducting difficult conversations. In my case, it was the union steward and my assistant director. As a manager I was not in the union, however, the union steward protected me as much as the employee. He became a trusted advisor in handling personnel issues. A 3rd party is recommended for several reasons. First, there is a witness in case of future litigation. Second is professionalism. The meeting can be debriefed and reviewed. The third is safety. If one is having difficulty advancing the conversation the other can take the lead role. In the event of a complete communication breakdown, the 3rd party can mediate or stop the meeting. In general, we are more likely to be on good behavior when we know there are witnesses.

It isn’t personal, it’s about the company

Leaders or managers who stand behind a clear purpose or mission have an easier time addressing difficult conversations because it is not personal. It’s about the company’s purpose. Having an overarching focus on something greater than the individual parties involved puts the matter at hand into perspective. It depersonalizes the situation. In my case, the program I led was responsible for the care and welfare of 20 at-risk youth. The program was situated in the middle of a residential area with friendly but wary neighbors. Trust was everything. All staff knew that any safety or security breach or conduct violation warranted a potentially difficult discussion. Employees were dedicated and passionate about helping young people. The program was well respected by the funding source, the company, and competing NGOs. Employees enjoyed working there as was evidenced by a staff retention rate 3 times higher than the national average.

More tips on handling difficult conversations

For additional practical tips on handling difficult conversations check out articles from Psychology Today and Forbes.

About the author

Jean-Pierre is a Human Systems Expert, Process Facilitator, Youth Specialist, and Speaker. He optimizes employee engagement and leadership potential by counseling leaders and enhancing group dynamics. He is the creator of the EPIC Model of development and the author of What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.

 

Change Management: It’s time for a change

change management
Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

Origins of Change Management

Amongst the pioneers in the field of organizational development, Richard Beckhard (1918-1999) was an American organizational theorist and Adjunct Professor at MIT. In his book, “Organization Development: Strategies and models” (1969), Beckhard defined organization development as “an effort (1) planned, (2) organization-wide, (3) managed from the top, (4) to increase organization effectiveness and health through (5) planned interventions in the organization’s ‘processes’, using behavioral-science knowledge”. 

Has Change Management changed much?

What is today’s definition of change management? The University of Virginia (UVA) defines change management as “the structured approach to proactively manage the impacts of change both at an individual and institutional level. It incorporates strategies that help individuals and the organization make successful transitions and result in the adoption of change for desired outcomes. It is most effective when all objectives – institutional, technical, and human – are fully implemented and embedded in the institution.”

Is UVA’s definition much different than the one from 50 years ago? “Structured approach” and “proactively managing” sound similar to Beckhard’s “planned interventions” and “managed from the top”. Regarding “desired outcome”, who is desiring the change? What outcome is desired? Solely relying on top management to guide and lead change processes in an information age is the equivalent of expecting only environmental experts to resolve climate change. Effectuating meaningful and sustainable change is not a one-time project with a fixed deadline and budget. It is a never-ending process and investment.

Nomen ist omen

What does change mean? What words are associated with it? Is management one of them? What does management imply? What words are associated with it? Is change one of them? Either word (change or management) used alone triggers a healthy dose of skepticism. Change usually disrupts and threatens management structures and corporate policies. Management practices usually prevent change by ensuring constant, predictable, and controllable conditions. Is that reflective of the current global and digital reality? Does the term “change management” seem like it wants to effectuate change?

Wisdom from the past

The distant past can help conceptualize an evolved form of change management. Two hundred years ago, Thomas Jefferson, one of the Founding Fathers, third President of the United States, and founder of the University of Virginia, had insight into creating a culture that ensures vitality. Below are some of his thoughts.

“I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.”

“If you want something you’ve never had you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.”

“Educate and inform the whole mass of the people… They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”
(Quotes source: quoteambition.com)

From Change Management to Change Facilitation

What would Thomas Jefferson think of UVA’s definition of change management? What Jefferson is alluding to are conditions conducive to facilitating change processes, not managing them.  Culture is neither prescribed nor managed. Rather, it naturally evolves, like the leaves in the picture. The leaves change and fall to be recycled, giving way to new growth. With minimal guidance and a clear vision, organizational culture naturally seeks to adapt, inspiring innovation and nurturing forward-thinkers and risk-takers. As Jefferson duly noted, paramount is placing people in the center by educating and keeping them informed. Only then are humans best equipped and able to ensure a system’s liveliness.

Nowhere does Jefferson explicitly mention hierarchy, management, or control mechanisms. Organizations able to process multiple realities and appropriately respond in real-time have a competitive edge in a VUCA world. Organizations fostering an aware workforce–where everyone is expected to sense and adjust as needed–will not only outperform their competitors both in scope and scale; they will lead the pack.

The need to incorporate process facilitation

Process facilitation is change management in constant motion. Managers control services and ensure product quality. Process facilitators working side by side with managers create working conditions that enable and empower all human resources to act not only as producers, but also as observers, data collectors/analysts, and change agents. Process facilitators help create a workforce that is attentive, wise to know when a shift is needed and prepared to collectively respond from down below without being managed from high above.

About the author

Jean-Pierre is a Human Systems Expert, Process Facilitator, Coach, Youth Specialist, Speaker, and Author. He optimizes employee engagement, team cohesiveness, and leadership potential by enhancing group dynamics and ensuring the successful integration and retention of young employees into organizations. He is the creator of the youth inspired EPIC Model of development.

Corporate Vitality Requires Human Vitality

corporate vitality
Source: freestocks.org on Unsplash

Technology trends mirror human challenges

I believe the proliferation of technology provides insight into the human evolutionary snags we are experiencing on a global scale. The chart below is taken from a previous blog, “The Digital Paradox: How Digitalization Beckons Human Development.” These technology trends highlight the social, political, and economic challenges headlining news and media today. Digitalization has the capacity to remind us to embrace our humanness in order to remain vital in a fast-paced world.

Emerging Technology   Respective Human Equivalent
Augmented Reality (AR) = Individual Perception / Is what I see real?
Mixed Reality (MR) = Diversity of Perceptions / Religion & Culture
Blockchain = Trust & Transparency / Global economies
Big Data = Wisdom / Our collective consciousness
Artificial Intelligence (AI) = Emotional Intelligence / Leadership
Internet of Things (IoT) = The Interconnectedness of All Living Things (IoLT) / Environment & sustainability
Bots and Algorithms = Ethical Intention / Morality and posterity

Corporate vitality requires more than technology

What is corporate vitality? According to the BCG Henderson Institute, corporate vitality is “the capacity to explore new options, renew strategy, and grow sustainably.” Technology undoubtedly helps in exploring new options, renewing strategies, and ensuring sustainable growth. However, relying on technology alone is not sufficient. Technology, as defined by the Cambridge Dictionary, is “a tool; a manner or method by which science is used for practical purposes.” Humans wield tools and implement methods. Technology alone does not ensure corporate vitality any more than a smartphone ensures effective communication. Companies promoting human vitality will ensure corporate vitality.

Human vitality is vital for corporate vitality

Vitality, as defined by Meriam Webster, is “the peculiarity distinguishing the living from the nonliving; the capacity to live and develop.” These two definitions are vital in fully embracing corporate vitality. Humans are undeniably peculiar and easily distinguishable from even the most sophisticated robots. We are also naturally designed to live and develop using a proven and well-established childhood process–the EPIC Model. Human vitality thrives in a culture that encourages diversity, creativity, and novelty. Human vitality flourishes in an environment free of judgment and comparison. It welcomes constructive feed and is more interested in conceptualizing future ideas than getting mired in the past.

Past performance does not predict future success

Companies with anachronistic hierarchical and management structures will have difficulty remaining vital. According to Martin Reeves, Global Director of the BCG Henderson Institute, corporate vitality is “the capacity for future growth and invention.” Resting on your laurels by measuring past performance is no longer sufficient. Reeves encourages companies to measure potential performance. A research partnership between BCG and Fortune magazine resulted in The Fortune Future 50. The pyramid figure from the study highlights the building blocks needed to ensure the best prospects for long-term growth.

corporate vitality
Source: https://www.bcg.com/publications/2018/global-landscape-of-corporate-vitality.aspx

Developing future growth options

An entrepreneurial spirit derives from people, not machines. Leaders of thriving organizations embrace a trial and error mentality accept short-term loses for the sake of long-term development. Innovation is not the sole responsibility of a department or a handful of person. Market ideas flourish within a vital corporate culture. Every brain has ideas in it. People just need the opportunity and space to share, shape and execute them.

Adaptive and evolving strategies

Reshaping your vision alters your strategy. Recalibrating strategy fuels innovation. Innovation helps one leave the realm of the mundane and routine. Information needed to spur innovation is no longer privileged information for those sitting at the top of organizational charts. Those at the periphery are as informed, if not more, to what is emerging. Technology has simplified the ability to fulfill our basic human desire to explore, play, inspire, and connect–the EPIC Model. That means everyone in your organization has the capacity to propose a game-changing initiative.

People, not money ensure corporate vitality

It is said money alone can’t buy you happiness. It also apparently can’t buy you corporate vitality. According to a January 2019 report from eurostat, R&D expenditure from all Member States of the European Union in 2017 was close to €320 billion (2.07% of GDP). Corak stated that in spite of the EU’s large investment sum, Europe has little to show regarding innovation and vitality. Out of the one thousand largest global firms researched only one EU company from France, Dassault Systems, made the Fortune Future 50 list. In comparison, the US (40%) and China (40%) accounted for over 80% of the companies on that list. Assuming that the EU, US, and China are on a relatively level playing field when it comes to R&D, what accounts for this disparity?

Corporate vitality is a cultural mindset

Remarkably and not surprisingly, people in positions of influence account for the majority of a company’s ability to remain vital. Those in leadership positions determine revenue sources, develop strategy, and shape organizational structures.  The general workforce is at the center of enabling strategy but account for a small percentage of corporate vitality. The general workforce should play a greater role in improving corporate vitality.  Companies whose strategy and structures promote inclusivity, shared accountability, foresight, and risk-taking have a definitive edge. Could these values essential to both corporate and human vitality be the missing link in the EU?

About the Author

As a Human Systems Facilitator, Executive Coach, Speaker, and Teen Parenting Author, I optimize employee engagement and leadership potential by counseling leaders and enhancing group dynamics. Inspired by how young people learn, I have coined the EPIC Model of development and wrote What You Can Learn from Your Teenager: Lessons in Parenting and Personal Growth.