Agility and Empowerment through Distributed Power

–The Top 5 Features of Holacracy that Any Manager Can Implement Now–

I spent a year in 2016 -17 working as Co-Founder in a start-up venture using a distributed power system, Holacracy, as the company operating system. I’ve already written two articles to answer the most common questions I’ve heard about this experience: Do you recommend Holacracy? and What did you learn from Holacracy? In this article, I’d like to highlight some of the most powerful features of Holacracy that can be implemented by any manager to enhance the key benefits: empowerment and agility.

All the systems and processes in Holacracy are highly honed and constantly under a process of improvement. But there are some features that can be used on their own and that create great value individually.

1) Meeting Processes

The meeting processes in Holacracy are very specifically designed and are a key part of the whole system. But much of the benefit comes from a few general keys that any manager could use in any meeting.

  1. Take turns in meetings so that everyone gets a chance to be heard. When you allow a space for each team member to have their say, if they choose, everyone can relax into the process, rather than having to fight for space. Those who are quieter or think at a slower pace will add value to the team that would otherwise be completely lost.
  2. Use a facilitator, not the team manager, to safeguard everyone’s time in meetings and to keep the conversation on-track. Fully delegate the role to the facilitator (more on delegation next) so that they are empowered to act quickly and confidently. This allows the manager to focus on content while the facilitator guards the process.

2) Delegation

Clear distribution of authority is a primary feature of Holacracy. The responsibilities of every role are documented so that everyone can see it, and they are constantly amended as the roles learn and adjust to the conditions of work. Here’s how to get started in capturing the full value of delegation:

Write down what each role in your team is responsible for. What are the decisions you expect them to make? What do you hold them accountable for? Let this be a shared document that all team members can see, refer to and amend so that it is up to date.

This may seem superfluous, especially from the manager’s point of view. But it is a very effective way to ensure you are delegating fully. The rule is that team members may ask for consultation and support for any decision, if they choose, but they understand that the decision is theirs to make. Also, team members are encouraged to suggest amendments to their and others’ responsibilities. Holacracy provides a full decision-making process to ensure these kinds of decisions are made fairly and with empowerment. But simply documenting the roles is a good start.

For mature managers, documenting role responsibilities can reap the benefits of greater clarity and empowerment. For managers who have a tendency to micro-manage, this discipline can be enormously helpful. For managers who tend to criticize, undermine or pamper their team members, they will probably need coaching support to live up to the documented delegation.

3) Shared Metrics

Ken Blanchard’s 2001 book on empowerment suggests sharing information as a key to engaging the best from teams. The Holacracy tool of metrics is a simple and elegant way to do this. The manager defines a few key numbers that represent important business results. The metrics are shared at regular intervals so that the whole team knows how they all stand. Metrics can include sales figures, quality standards, production outputs or anything that provides feedback to team members and a comparison to motivate action. And yes, just like FitBits get people walking by measuring daily steps, business metrics motivate action.

4) Tensions and Improvements

Before every formal Holacracy meeting, usually weekly or biweekly, each team member needs to consider what ‘tensions’ they are ‘sensing’ and what recommendations they have for resolving those tensions. This practice makes it a part of everyone’s work to notice what is not ideal, from their particular point-of-view, and to suggest improvements. The strict procedures for ‘processing tensions’ means that everyone’s views on what’s wrong are accepted, that constructive steps are taken to improve, and that small readjustments empower progress for as long as the tension remains.

Most organizations are not truly open and ready to change constantly in response to what the employees want. So this one feature of Holacracy has a huge potential to engage people in genuinely creative, constructive efforts. This system enforces a culture of creative engagement and mutual respect which overrides the common corporate cultures of complaint and passivity. And it needs to be supported and guided by leaders with the maturity to seek the value of a creative workplace culture at the expense of being right or resting on their laurels.

5) Internal Coaching

Having worked as a professional external coach for almost 20 years, I was fascinated to see how the transition to a distributed authority operating system creates a significant requirement for coaching and that a coaching approach to development is a natural companion to it. Coaching means you can both challenge and support others without usurping their responsibilities or watering down their power.

Holacratic organizations regularly create coaching roles when they sense a need for learning, growth or guidance without disempowerment. All organizations can use coaching in a similar way to compliment and support whatever managerial system they have in place. And the right kind of coaching can also be a step towards implementing all the other features in this article as well.


If the tips highlighted here are interesting to you, ask me about the specifics of using them in your case and I can point you to further resources. And if tip #5, internal coaching, is what your organization most needs to move you forward, let’s talk about how I could support your organization’s development.

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Should Your Organization Invest in Self-Management?

Self-management represents a positive evolution in the way organizations are managed. Also referred to as Distributed Leadership, and  as one of the key elements of ‘Teal’ organizing systems, it promises to harness creativity, agility and resilience in organizations by distributing authority and responsibility more evenly. It has been seen to work extremely well in a few exemplars. But is it for you? Would it be worth the investment in your organization?

My experiment with distributed leadership

Having spent almost one year working in a small self-managing organization, I now have quite clear opinions about the value of this cutting edge organizational operating system, and who can benefit from it.

Over the past year, I spent about half my time as a Co-Founder of a start-up venture in the field of clean technology. From the beginning, we committed to using Holacracy,  a system that provides all the structures required for efficient and effective self-management, also called distributed authority, which is customizable to any organizational size and purpose. Having been inspired by the promise of self-management systems, I wanted to experience how it works. It was an unforgettable experience which now allows me to see through the hype and into the reality of self-management.

The system of Holacracy

Holacracy is designed to hold an organization to the ideals of the latest breakthroughs in organizational success. Frederic Laloux’s 2014 book Reinventing Organisations created a sensation in the world of organizational development by spotlighting a number of large, highly successful organizations that have used system breakthroughs to create extraordinary results. These very special organizations operate with management systems that distribute authority much more efficiently than typical hierarchical or matrix organizations. These systems align the organization’s work around a purpose which adds value to society, and goes beyond just creating profit for share-holders. These two breakthroughs together have vast power to engage employees and harness the diverse creativity of work-forces to grow into highly agile and resilient enterprises.

Holacracy was invented over a period of years and has now been codified in such a way that any organization can adopt it, building on the structure and support provided by the consulting partnership HolacracyOne. In a sense, all the hard work has been done, and now any organization can capitalize on this very valuable organizational foundation. At least, that what it looks like on the surface.

Holacracy is like a crucible: a pot which heats metals to high temperatures in order to purify them. Embarking on a journey into Holacracy is an ordeal that tests the maturity of the organizational leaders, in particular, their willingness to trust in their people and the system of checks and balances, no matter what.

This is an inevitable aspect of any journey into self-management, and not a particular feature of Holacracy. The Holacratic system is simply a structure that holds individuals to a certain set of behaviours. It’s like wearing braces on your teeth to correct your bite. The braces do their job, but not without soreness.

The organizational system changes us

Since most of us are familiar with normal hierarchical or matrix organizational structures, we tend to accept them, warts and all, even if we may do it cynically at times. We don’t realize how much the organizational structure changes us. We don’t speak out, or even think about ideas we know our bosses don’t agree with, or issues that seem to threaten the money-making purpose of the organization. We lie low when it benefits us, and we use all the tricks in the book to dodge the system when it serves us. It’s like the old line about democracy: it’s terrible, but there’s nothing better.

A system changes the individuals within it. If you work in a Holacracy, you’ll find some things you absolutely love about it, and other things that make you uncomfortable. That’s because the system is designed to hold both sides of all the paradoxes that are required to make organizations function. We want freedom and we need discipline. We want flexibility and we need consistency. At first people may revel in the empowerment, but soon they’ll realize that they also need to be responsible. Where a corporate system allows you to hide, make power plays or just be cynical, Holacracy holds you to a higher standard, and that is uncomfortable.

The leadership prerequisite

“A company without managers” is the accusation. In fact, a Holacracy requires everyone to take the role of managing themselves and each other. By removing layers of management, a Holacracy can presumably eliminate many roles to be much more efficient. But a Holacracy will also require more coaches and trainers for leadership development, conflict resolution and time/priority/task management. As a coach myself, this type of investment is very attractive. It is teaching an organization to fish, rather than having managers supply the fish –the ability to collaborate, be agile, be creative, be responsible, work towards a purpose. Self-managing or not, organizations need more of those qualities.

Organizations considering adopting a self-management system will need a sufficient proportion of inspirational leaders who are able to sustain the commitment to the paradoxical qualities of distributed authority. Thanks to advances in adult development research, it’s possible to assess the developmental level of leaders quite accurately and efficiently. This assessment would reduce unpleasant surprises and support continuing development aligned with the needs of the leadership team in successfully enacting the self-management system.

Paradoxically, leaders who are mature enough to operate successfully in a Holacracy will already be operating in ways that capture much of the benefit of self-management. Great managers delegate fully, nurture trust, share information, build collaborative teams and motivate towards greater purposes that instill deeper engagement and more sustainable results. These are the leaders who may relish the opportunity to work in a system that supports and even leverages their leadership capacity, rather than a typical corporate structure that tends to frustrate and block the full potency of post-heroic leaders.

Self-management or not?

In summary, the choice to invest in a self-management organizational operating system depends on the level of maturity of your leadership team, plus your willingness to invest in the development of your whole organization. Those who follow this route successfully in these early days of post-heroic leadership are deeply committed to the evolution of their organizations. Are you one of them?

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Leadership Blindness and Holacracy

Whenever people ask me what I’ve learned through the process of implementing Holacracy in my start-up organization over the past year, I like to begin by saying that it’s not possible to understand Holacracy solely by reading about it. There is a lot to learn in the practice itself. While the process seems stark and mechanical, and that can be one of the most uncomfortable things about it initially, it is surprising how emotionally involving it can be to use Holacratic processes at work. And the results are invaluable.

Let me share one example.

We were near the end of a Governance meeting where we make decisions together about how to organize ourselves, who does what etc. We were operating as a small circle of about eight people, with myself and my co-founder as the most senior, experienced and forthright people in the team. Just before the meeting closed, the most junior person in the team made a proposal that would completely re-organize the way we worked.
She proposed that we form a new sub-circle that would keep some of the key work we were doing to a smaller subset of people. In fact, we had been working that way earlier, and had decided to combine the circles into one larger one. Both the other senior founder and I had discussed these possibilities at length and decided to keep to one larger circle. So, when this proposal came up, we both explained clearly and precisely why we thought it was a bad idea.

But, we had no hard evidence that we were right, and no evidence that making the change would cause harm to the organization. If the change might cause harm to our egos, that was not relevant!

The change was approved. Because all of us co-founders are committed to using Holacracy, we chose to quickly reassess our rejection of the proposal and shift into the process of enacting it. And from that new perspective, it did have advantages that we had not seen in the same way before. That’s because those advantages were more visible from a different perspective which was the view of that most junior member.

On further reflection, I also realized that in a ‘normal’ organization, that change would never have happened. Even a very empowered and courageous junior staff member, like the one in our team, would have had huge difficulty convincing us to make the change. Under the normal conditions of a corporate enterprise, she would not have had an opportunity to bring her idea forward in a forum where everyone, including the most senior and experienced people, must hear, consider and give feedback on the idea. And additionally, she would have had to prove that the change would improve things. In a Holacracy, she only had to show how it would make an improvement to her role and would not harm to the organization, and that if it might cause harm, that it is safe enough to try.

I learned from this situation how insidious our leadership blindness can be. It is really difficult to fully and clearly value different opinions, especially when they come from diverse sources that we are not used to valuing evenly. I’m reminded of the research into women serving on Boards: that organizations are more profitable when they have women serving on their Boards, and that the best results come when there are at least three women because that’s what it takes for their voices to be heard against the habitual over-valuing of male leadership. And obviously the same goes for all our unconscious biases by nationality, race, age, religion, style, personal values etc.

The beauty of Holacracy is that it gives us a process that is blind to our biases and guarantees an opportunity for all views to have beneficial influence in an organization.

Would you like to learn more about how to reduce leadership blindness in your team or organization? Please ask me.

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Leading in a Decline

drain-1254056I’ve been working with a large global organization that has laid off 10,000 people in the past 12 months and is desperately trying not to repeat that number in the coming months. So I currently have an inside seat on the challenges and opportunities that go along with such disruption. With the huge changes that are inevitably coming in the global market –no, business as we know it is not sustainable– it makes sense to learn how to lead when old ways of doing business go down the drain. Here are some of the most important tips I have learned so far.

1) Remember that we need the change

Human beings, like all animals, are designed to resist change. Change is inefficient since it means we need to unlearn old habits and patterns and install new ones. This process inevitably takes more energy and increases the risk of mistakes. And our resistance is even stronger when the security of the old way of doing things is gone.

Recently, I’ve been working in a start-up team where I am required to start using an online calendar for all my appointments. This creates angst for me because as I make this change, I know I am much more likely to make mistakes with my appointments. My clients rightfully rely on me to show up on time for coaching sessions, so this change affects my ability to provide good quality service and represents a threat to my reputation for reliability. I get a sinking feeling as I contemplate this change and I feel an urge to resist. But even though the risks are true, logically this change is the right thing to do for the whole team.

We cannot change without risk, and we absolutely need to change, and quickly. No one can be sure which is the best route forward, but we know for sure that it is not the road we are on.

So I recommend investigating your current beliefs around change and installing some new ones that can encourage you to allow more mistakes, see the uncomfortable process as needed and important, and increase your willingness to experiment with new ways of doing things.

2) Raise your moment-to-moment self-awareness

The key to making difficult changes with poise is present-moment self-awareness. In the example above, if I am present enough to notice my own visceral resistance to change, I’m immediately able to see that it is only a physical/emotional reaction and not ‘the truth’. I can distance myself from my reaction and step back enough to see the whole situation with my rational thinking mind. With that presence, I’m able to make a much better decision about how to respond to the perceived threat.

How aware are you of your current physical and emotional state? Many of us are able to feel our bodies and emotions in moments of quiet concentration such as when you’re reading this article. In challenging situations, we tend to shift our focus outside towards external threats, so it takes quite a bit of practice to be able to stay aware of what’s happening inside as well. This ability is a mature leadership strength that is a tremendous asset in challenging times as it corresponds to a steady capacity to make better decisions. You can read more about developing awareness for leaders in my article from 2011.

3) Reduce pressure

Declining business and the resulting changes inevitably bring tremendous pressure. My clients in the shrinking organization I mentioned above are rapidly re-organizing: working long hours to draw up very complex work plans while colleagues around them are suddenly moved to new roles or retrenched. Workloads increase while jobs are cut and everyone has to play new and unfamiliar roles. Personal financial worries and fears around loss of status occupy critical bandwidth in the team. It is virtually impossible to stand steady while the water swirls around your feet and down the drain.

And yet reducing pressure is one of the most important roles leaders can play in times like this. Big decisions require steady minds and clear thinking. Pressure narrows thinking and costs energy.

Of course everyone is already doing their best to fix the problems that would relieve the pressure on the business. To reduce pressure more quickly and sustainably requires strategies that are outside the current normal way of doing business. There are two modes: 1) look at the thoughts and beliefs inside your head that increase your pressure, 2) consider your personal operating system of sleep, nutrition and exercise and the affects they have on your ability to withstand pressure.

Leaders need to start by working on their own resilience and also support their teams to do the same. What are you doing to reduce the pressure on your team?

4) Find the blessing in the situation

One of the primary roles of leadership is to keep people moving towards results. When times are tough, it’s very easy to fall into dwelling on the problems, sinking into hopelessness and demotivating ourselves and others. To counteract this trend, leaders need to continually tell sincere, positive stories that light the way ahead.

Telling positive stories about the tough situations we face requires the honesty to reflect privately on our own negative thinking and the willingness to find and practice new versions on how to see reality. None of the stories, positive or negative, are actually true. And sincere positive stories help everyone keep moving forward towards what we want.

5) Gratitude, not entitlement

One of the best quick shifts in thinking I’ve found in these situations is to take a view of gratitude instead of entitlement. As we are forced to let go of the blessings and advantages we have had so far in life, rather than feeling hard-done-by, try feeling grateful. You may notice an immediate shift to a positive view. Perhaps our steady jobs, professional status, conveniences of modern living, luxuries of travel and education are not given to us for life but are the blessings we have enjoyed for a brief time only. As a leader and for yourself, turning your attention daily to the things you are grateful for is a welcome balm.

6) Discover what your heart desires

During the most intense times of change, leaders need to focus their time and energy on the immediate work and to get sufficient rest and relaxation to stay resilient. But before long there will be personal choices to make. What role do you want to play in your newly reformed organization? Is there even a place for you? When these questions come up, which they eventually will, I strongly recommend not following blindly where the organization would have you go, or even where your path thus far might predict for you, but instead take a closer look at what you most deeply want.

The changes happening in the world now give us the opportunity to shift towards a better way of doing things, not just a reformation of the same old thing. And real change comes from individual choices. In the midst of this change, we must find a way to step back into ourselves to make absolutely sure we are doing what is most important to us, in this one life.

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Spring 2016 Brings Changes, New Projects

It’s time for me to look up from my desktop to catch you up. Here are a few things that have been getting my attention lately.

Loving Your Work Website Relaunch

logo-squareWe relaunched the Loving Your Work website with a beautiful new mobile-friendly look, more clarity about who we serve and a new free quiz. We’re hoping to make it clear how we help mid-career and seasoned professionals to find clarity on their career journeys, overcome challenges and advance towards more fulfilling and joyful work or retirement. How did we do? Do you know anyone who needs this kind of help? Pretty well all of us get a little lost in our careers at some point.

Although building a website always seems to be much more work than we think it should be, this time I had truly excellent support and so the process was relatively seamless and the results are very satisfying. I’d like to say thank you to my designer Erin Ferree , my copy editor Lisa Canfield and my technical team at Bauhinia Solutions. I hope this site can help connect more people to the life-changing services of career coaching as delivered by my colleagues and I.

Leadership Development is an Imperative for Business Success

I have a sense that in 2016 there’s new clarity in the corporate world about the true value of leadership and corporate culture development. The voices of those leaders who understand the leadership imperative are resonating with the challenges we are facing.  Slowing growth, financial uncertainty and rapid societal change are forcing us to learn the lesson that it is people who create value in business, not money nor machines. In addition, the generation of millennials now entering the workforce refuse, bless them, to work the same way their parents did. They demand opportunities to learn and develop rapidly, to have autonomy in their actions and to create real value through their work. It means that for businesses to be competitive and successful now, they MUST have engaging and efficient working cultures led by inspiring leaders. 514Xbhlq35L

The new book Mastering Leadership, by Robert Anderson and Bill Adams is an example of cutting edge research that is confirming the leadership imperative. The book describes a universal model for leadership development and it includes in-depth analysis and case studies that authenticate the links between leadership, culture and business results. This book brings together the research that underpins The Leadership Circle Profile, which is one of the primary tools I use in leadership development.

As a result of these new levels of understanding and new clarity about the need for change, I’m seeing some large-scale, innovative leadership and culture development schemes emerging across Asia led by certain multi-national organizations that are serious about thriving. Our collective understanding of how to develop leaders has improved dramatically over the past decade, and now we are called to practice implementing this rapidly and on a large scale. It is a very exciting time to be a leadership coach.

If you are involved in developing leadership and culture in your organization, shall we meet up to compare notes? There’s a lot we can learn together.

Self-Organizing Operating Systems

Reinventing Org imageHave you read the book ‘Reinventing Organizations‘ by Frederic Laloux? Or have you heard of Holacracy, the new organization operating system that revolutionizes the way people work together? These works point to a new trend in organizations: self-management or distributed power. Self-organizing systems solve some of the key problems faced by most corporations these days, in particular 1) the lack of agility and bottlenecks created when decision-making is concentrated at the top of a hierarchy, or across a matrix and 2) the lack of engagement that results when workers have insufficient autonomy and weak connections to the value of the work they produce.

Frederic Laloux’s book explains how organizations evolve and it presents some convincing case studies on organizations using the world’s most mature and innovative operating systems. Holacracy is one such operating system designed to help all kinds of organizations adopt effective self-management systems.

I am very inspired and attracted to this idea of self-management. Having been self-employed for more than two decades, this is the ONLY way I can imagine wanting to work inside an organization, especially a diverse one. I am already working with a few clients to implement some of the organizational innovations into their current working systems. There are actually quite a few relatively small changes that can make a big difference in reducing managerial workloads and increasing engagement.

And, not to be overtaken, I am implementing a self-management experiment myself in a new entrepreneurial venture I am part of.  We are working on a project to provide Leadership Due Diligence services to investors who want to account fully for the leadership and cultural aspects of their potential investments. The rapid developments in our understanding of how people and organizations work best in the 21st century can help investors see beyond the surface of what creates business success and thereby make much better investment decisions which also add more real value to the world.

If you’d like to know more about how to implement self-organizing systems in your workplace, or if you are an investor who wants to support organizations that are adding true value in the world, please send me an email and let’s talk.

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Clarity and Confidence for 2016

Clarity is power! When you know clearly what you want, where you are headed and your next steps for getting there, you automatically feel much more confident. This type of confidence –grounded in your own desires– is one of the primary outcomes of coaching.

By turning your attention to what you want, and what you will do to get it, coaching moves you to develop increasing complexity of mind and capacity to create. Would you like to be more powerful in that way? You can have more of what you want –whether it is for you, your family, your company, your kind or for all beings.



New Year Clarity and Confidence Coaching Offer

To celebrate the coming of 2016, I would like to help you increase your clarity and confidence and at the same time raise some money for Room to Read, one of my favorite charities. You will take the time to reflect and plan using the Loving Your Work Annual Planning Worksheet. Then choose either to share your written results by email, or in a one-hour telephone coaching session.

Option 1:  Get the Loving Your Work Annual Planning Worksheet, answer the questions and report your results to me by email. I will read and provide feedback and encouragement.
Free with a donation of your choice to Room to Read. Email me to get started.

Option 2:  Get the Loving Your Work Annual Planning Sheet and a one-hour telephone coaching session including my feedback, new insights and support.
Regular price: HK$2800, Special price: HK$2300 (Save $500)

Feel Good Bonus: Until December 31, I will donate all my income from this initiative to Room to Read, a charity that is empowering young people through literacy and gender equality.

Act now because the year cannot be stopped! The offer is available only until January 4, 2016 with coaching appointments until January 11th.

Please email me now to get your worksheet and set up your appointment.

Happy New Year!

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Insights from Paris

Peace-for-Paris-400x222The tragedies in Paris 2015 provoked in me a flurry of reading in my attempt to make some sense from the pain. This article is a guide to some of the best thought leadership I discovered on the topic of global terrorism.

As I take the view of a responsible global citizen (I’m not saying I always take that view), I want to know how I caused this conflict and how I can think and direct my attention in ways that support its resolution in the long run. I am so grateful for the time, freedom and connections that give me access to so many different perspectives on global issues. Here are my biggest insights.

Insight 1: There is even more pain.

There is even more pain and suffering in the world every day than we know. The organizations who spend the most time and money on directing our attention (businesses, and governments) do not want us to know about all this pain. It would distract us from the simpler more self-absorbed solutions they are directing us to. Even though it hurts to look at the truth of this suffering, if we want to grow up, we must broaden our view.

Selective Empathy: Terrorist Attacks Rock Paris, Public Response to Tragedy Is Typically Disproportionate
By Daniel DeLafe

Insight 2: The global economic system must change.

What are the sources of terrorism? One of them is the global spread of commercial marketing that creates emotional needs for consumer goods and romanticizes western lifestyles while disparaging all kinds of local, more sustainable lifestyles. To reverse this trend we need to evolve a new economic system based on sustainability rather than on endless growth at the expense of environmental and social values.

How Globalization Fuels Terrorism and Fundamentalism
By Helena Norberg-Hodge

Insight 3: We must start by moving together, not against.

The only way to reduce the pain is to do all we can to help those who are suffering. If we only move to protect ourselves, we will be making a historic mistake. It is a moral, economic and political imperative that we follow the example of history’s most inspiring leaders to help those in need.

Paris: Shifting the Heart of the Collective
By Otto Scharmer

Do you share these opinions? Are there crucial pieces missing from these views?

I believe millions of people worldwide share at least the opinion that we must move together, not against. And that brings me great hope and excitement as we enter a new stage of human civilization.

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How Effective is Your Leadership?

Leadership effectiveness means using our leadership behaviours to create the results we want efficiently. It’s relatively simple to measure our results, but how can we really know if our leadership communications and activities are adding value or if how-effective-leaderour teams and followers are succeeding despite our efforts?

We Cannot Know

It is reasonable to start with the assumption that we cannot possibly know the impact of our leadership if we use only our own perspective. I wrote the article “I Don’t Know What I’m Doing” about this phenomenon.

Of course, in the simplest leadership situations, such as leading a troop of marchers, we can turn around and assess our results easily and immediately. And we can experiment (shout louder, shout faster etc.) and have instant feedback on the impact of those choices. But most organizational leadership is not that simple.

The operating function of the human brain makes it inevitable that we are mostly unaware of what we are doing. That’s a good thing, because otherwise digesting lunch would take a lot more effort. But it means that we cannot accurately assess ourselves as leaders. My own observations show that I am particularly unaware of my leadership effectiveness when I am ineffective. When I’m under pressure, or when I’m emotionally triggered, my brain tends to greatly limit my awareness. For example in a conflict when I am upset, my mind will loudly remind me why I am right, and completely ignore any other points of view that might exist. With this blinkered awareness, it is unlikely that I will make the best possible decision for the highest common purposes. I will be protecting myself, and denying it as well.

In addition to our own limited awareness, there’s the problem that our followers don’t tend to give us accurate information on our leadership effectiveness. First of all, many of them do not have the skills and experience to communicate accurately about our leadership effectiveness. It’s not easy to express the subtle aspects of communications and influencing skills. They have their own self-protective blind spots. And most frequently, business relationships are not deep enough to withstand the risks of honest feedback. Sub-ordinates prefer to keep nice, easy relations with their leaders, even though they may suffer from the leadership missteps.

Many organizational cultures undervalue upward feedback in the hierarchy. Formal mid-year and annual reviews keep feedback flowing from leader to team member, but the upward feedback questions often don’t even get asked, as if they are somehow less important or less valid.

We Can Know

By embracing the need for feedback, and using the most effective tools and methods for gathering it, we can know how effective we are as leaders, and we can use that knowledge to improve our results.

Simply asking our followers for feedback is a good start, but the more advanced you are as a leader, the less likely it is that this method will show you how to improve. Because relatively bad leaders are quite common, team members are frequently just very grateful for moderately good leaders and they have not put much thought into how they could improve.

The Leadership Circle Profile solves this problem by integrating advanced research and technology to provide a very clear picture of leadership which works for a very wide range of leaders while providing a great deal of subtly in the results. The information is presented in a user-friendly format that allows for meaningful interpretation. The model deepens the meaning of the feedback by shining a light not only on leadership competencies –what the leader does, but also on reactive tendencies –the unconscious patterns of thinking that are behind our most intractable ineffectiveness.

 We Can Improve

Improving our leadership requires even more feedback to guide us through the change process. We need to measure leadership results in terms of the perceptions, feelings and impacts on our followers, and that can only be measured with their close involvement. The trick is to keep it very simple and to measure only a small number of criteria at a time.

The deepening relationships that result from this kind of leadership development work are good for the soul. We can build our respect for other human beings: those who we rely on to tell us how we are doing, and those who courageously aim for self-improvement in order to achieve the most difficult and important results that only excellent (and constantly developing) leaders can create.

If you are ready to learn what makes your leadership effective and ineffective, please drop me a line to set up a phone call with me, and we’ll talk about what tools would best serve you.

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I Don’t Know What I Am Doing

How often do you stop to notice what you’re doing? Once a day? Once an hour? Are you always or never actually aware of what you’re doing?


Your brain is exposed through your senses to 11 million bits of information in every moment, and you can focus consciously on only around 7 bits. So obviously you are not very aware. I am not very aware. We are very selective in what we notice.

The limits to my awareness have been very relevant to me lately as I have been both busy and stressed. I am challenging myself with an entrepreneurial project, and it is putting me frequently quite outside my comfort zone. The more my mind is caught up with figuring out the puzzles of this challenge, the less I can see, and the more time I need for processing both the analytical and emotional aspects of the work.

Have you ever stopped to notice that when you are rushing through life you are missing what is actually happening?

I noticed the effects of this pressure on my decision-making process when I caught myself adding additional pressure unconsciously. I had used a standard assumption (A therefore B) which resulted in a very tight time line for my team and I. It was logical that I would have to work over the weekend to meet this schedule, and my team would have to drop everything to make it happen on time. Luckily I did insert some space for myself to reflect, I had a relaxing evening, a good sleep, and when I woke up in the morning I realized that A did not require B. A could be C instead and that would give us an extra week in the schedule.

What specifically allowed me to make that better decision? Definitely the space to reflect is one element, and by that space I don’t mean reading or watching TV. I mean the kind of mental space you experience when the mind can wander in a relaxed fashion: a bath, a walk without purpose, eating without talking or listening, staring at the moon.

Another element that allows me to make decisions that make my life easier, even under stress, is the firm belief that I can. It IS possible to be flourishing while working. We can be both successful and healthy. I am careful to surround myself with examples of people who do this so that it can seem normal to me, even living in a city like Hong Kong which abounds with examples of people who are out of touch with themselves.

When you take a break (at last) do you remember things? Sometimes very important things?

The busier I am, the more crucial it becomes to have regular breaks. Because my brain is taken up with so much information, if I expect to be effective, I need to process information before I can input more. And yet the flood of information is so enticing. It is our training to ‘be productive’, ‘always be learning’, ‘don’t miss anything’ that actually leads us to overwhelm ourselves with information and become increasingly ineffective: rushing in the wrong direction when we would be better off sitting still.

What do you need in order to make the smartest decisions? More information? Or more time to process what you already know?

Perspective is needed. Perspective comes from standing further away from your day-to-day thinking to get a different view of it. You don’t know what you don’t know. You don’t even know what you know! But when you pause and free the mind from the tyranny of trying to find answers, or trying to get things done, you can tap into a much more complete awareness. Perspective brings clarity.

Perspective is also gained through reflecting your thoughts with someone else. That person (perhaps a Coach) must have enough experience to relate to your situation while being open enough to allow your perspective to be heard and not simply compared or subjugated to their perspective. When you need perspective to work out an issue, being heard is very satisfying.

And if there’s no one available to hear you, reflecting on paper is also very effective, either by journalling or mind-mapping. It’s important to stay relaxed as you write, or draw. Your own self-judgment can easily act as another block. Perspective occurs when you let the thoughts out as they are, and then you can see them from outside your own head for a new perspective.

I don’t know what I am doing. Does it matter?

It’s not possible to know what we’re doing, in reality. It is too complicated. On the level of biology alone, we have no idea what our bodies are doing at any given time. The vast majority of our thinking is completely invisible to us.

And it’s also not possible to predict the future, although we imply that it is possible by the way we hesitate to make decisions, as if we could somehow know what will happen as a result of what we do.

But by paying attention more fully and more frequently to my present moment experience, I can make much more conscious (smarter) decisions and take more conscious (effective) actions. And paying attention to what I’m doing can be extremely satisfying. Present moment awareness, mindfulness, is the root of true happiness. What is life for anyway, if not for at least experiencing it in every moment?

Posted in Leadership, Mindfulness, News & Events, Updates from Angela | 3 Comments

Angela’s New Business Initiatives

One of the great things about owning your own business is that it never has to stay the same. Having established my coaching business 14 years ago, I have been through several different phases and I sense myself emerging into yet a new one now.

The way I explain this next phase (to myself) is that I want to lead a sustainable commercial organization that adds value to society while providing fulfilling and rewarding work for me and my colleagues. My reason is as usual, personal improvement. It’s funny to recall that the first time I started working for myself, back in 1993, the goal of my work was #1 to support me financially and #2 to give me opportunities to learn. So, in a sense, nothing has changed.


Loving Your Work Coaches, May 2014

Through my years of leading in non-profit organizations, I have proven, at least to myself, my ability to lead groups that rely mostly on volunteer labour. Now I want to prove that I can also lead in a commercial organization where people work for money, as well as for love! Afterall, when we are paid for our work, it supports us more fully and we can commit fully to it. Some of my executive clients have remarked that leading volunteers is much harder than leading paid staff, but for me it is the opposite.  I’m not absolutely sure why it feels like a bigger challenge for me. It could be some kind of moral issue, some internal resistance to using money to influence others (my Canadian socialist background?) or maybe there are some other hidden blocks that I will have to go through in order to be successful (by my definition) at this. I’m aware that whatever my reasons for doing anything, in reality I have no idea why I do anything. (Sam Harris explains more.)

So, in 2015 I’ll be taking steps to serve more clients through more coaches and offering new kinds of services, still along the lines of helping people develop themselves to be freer, wiser and more compassionate. And I am confident because I am well supported. My favorite book of the year, gives many specific examples of the most advanced ways of leading organizations for me to learn from. And I am continually inspired and supported by my business coaching group.

And there is another internal drive affecting me. It saddens me when I meet people who are suffering in their working lives. There are so many examples of this. People work too hard and face too much pressure and stress in ways that compromise their lives and values. People are treated badly at work, they allow themselves to be treated badly and they treat others badly! People compromise in their family lives and hold back from expressing their creative talents and their highest skills. And worst of all, many people think this is normal, acceptable and unchangeable.

It is very rewarding to be able to help people thrive in their working lives in ways that support their whole lives. But our one-on-one services are quite expensive and certainly beyond the resources of many people who could benefit. So I am quite committed to finding new, more cost-effective ways to support more people with career coaching.

This next phase in my business is well on the way. I already have 6 coaches who work with me on a freelance basis. Their presence encourages me to find more coaching clients who we can help! And I am currently exploring new ways to reach more people, particularly through online group coaching and community building.  Here are our two newest initiatives:

Loving Your Work Website in Traditional Chinese

because tCH



The Loving Your Work career coaching website is now available in traditional Chinese. This addition is an experiment to see if we can reach out to Chinese-speaking clients in Hong Kong.  And here it is! We have three Cantonese-speaking career coaches in our team who are eager to help people create more rewarding working lives. Do you know anyone who could benefit from career coaching in their native tongue of Cantonese?

Career Freedom Incubator

This is my working title for a large group coaching program that I want to develop. I am modelling this program after other group coaching programs in the US and Canada which are able to support up to 80 people at a time with a small team of coaches, using online forums, teleconferencing systems and occasional group meetings. My goal is to be able to provide cost-effective longer term coaching support for people who are making big career change transitions, particularly moving towards free-lancing, part time work or solo-preneurship. At the moment, the best ways to find out more are to join the mailing list on this page, or become my friend on Facebook where I let the details come out bit by bit as soon as I know myself.

Career Freedom Incubator (1)Additional instructions: Once you have completed the short form, you will be sent an email that contains a confirm link. In order to activate your subscription, check your email and click on the link in that email. You will not receive your subscription until you click that link to activate it.

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