Category Archives: leadership

Foundations for 21st Century Leaders: Learning to Navigate Culture Change

Let’s face it. People are hard to influence. We are complex creatures, difficult to predict and downright impossible to control.

Large groups of such people only serve to compound things. Insightful leaders know this, or at least sense the immensity of the challenge. It can take years to achieve significant organizational change, if it ever happens.

New on this front is the topic of social complexity. It’s an appreciation for the many variables in play that hi-jack simple “cause and effect” strategies. As an example, say we decide to give a cash bonus to everyone who behaves in a certain way. Some will play. Many will not. But leaders will often rehash the carrot (or stick) strategy in efforts to change the organization’s behavior.

Eventually leaders tire or the bonus money runs out, and they move on to other battles. Or other organizations.

True change in an organization requires a deep appreciation of the complexity dynamic. We must setaside cause and effect thinking, to instead look at what can be accomplished when we view the organization as a network of social connections, people interacting, seeking to be accepted, seeking to learn and to grow, often in spite of the odds. Let’s attack the important topic of leadership in the context of culture change from a fresh angle. We’ll take the complexity view, and see what we uncover.

We teed this up initially 10/19, but let’s keep the focus here, as we dig deeper. Our chat on MON 10/26 from 9:30-11pm ET will use this frame:

  • Q1. Connections. Does thinking of a #21cOrg as a network of social interactions help us understand the #complexity forces at work?
  • Q2. Environment. How do initial conditions in the #workplace influence the opportunity for #orgchange to take hold?
  • Q3. Fundamental Rules. Can we identify a few specific, simple groundrules that leaders can embrace to #leadchange?
  • Q4. Edges. Does change at the edge provide new thinking on how leaders might look at #21cOrg change strategies?

I find culture change to be both fascinating, and in the right conditions, possible. No doubt it is a difficult journey. But leaders must understand people and social dynamics to drive change.

Carrots and sticks? Leave them for building snowmen.

The #orgdna community generally meets every 3rd MON 9:30-11pm ET. We use the #orgdna hashtag to compare notes and ideas, and we’ll publish a transcript right here on this post afterwards. Join the conversation. It’s a lively crowd, perched on a corner of the internet that’s prone to providing insights .. a great place to learn about learning.

Join us !! Hope to see you online.

Chris aka @sourcepov, Charlotte NC US.

Rough Waters: Leading and Learning in Turbulent Times

Making Waves, Silver Turbulence (c) 2014 Amberwood Media Group, all rights reserved

Turbulent Waters in the Organization. Can we still make headway when our emotions turn to survival? image (c) 2014 Amberwood Media Group

CHARLOTTE, NC.  Leadership and organizational learning are hard enough on a good day, when things are calm.

When our surroundings become turbulent the situation can worsen quickly, as we begin facing new obstacles. The rules change. Challenges arrive more rapidly. Problem definitions morph before our eyes. Goals begin to shift in real time. Team members may end up in different roles, and the opportunity to communicate with them may be limited.

Whether its new management, new competitors, or even new regulatory presures, leading in times of change places considerable demands on us (ref: 21st century Kotter; see also: Collaboration DNA). Learning focus can move to the back burner.

Out of fear, do we simply latch onto survival instincts?

Or do we manage to focus, somehow, on the challenges flowing toward us?

Too often, fear consumes us. When we most need our thinking and perception skills, the flood of rapid change can cause paralysis or panic.

I love the metaphor of turbulent water (think flood waters, river rapids, or heavy surf) because the notion of rough water demands attention, skills that favor balance, and a clear ability to react in the moment. In short, turbulent change requires all of our energy. If we apply the metaphor in the organizational learning context, what may leaders take away? Let’s discuss it:

  • Q1. What are some secrets for change and learning leaders seeking to function in turbulent situations?
  • Q2. Can an organization still learn when rough waters distract us?
  • Q3. Are there good arguments to suspend learning when focus shifts to survival?
  • Q4. As the world grows more connected and accelerated, the rate of flow can only increase; will we ever see smooth sailing again?

I hope you will join us MON May 12th at 8pET using hashtag #cdna. Water metaphors or no, we always have in-depth conversations. Bring an extra paddle, and let’s see where we might go.

See you online.

Chris @sourcepov

Cultures of Fear. Is ‘Old School’ still in session?

Staring up the Corporate Ladder. With much at stake, do we dare take a step?

STARING UP THE CORPORATE LADDER. With much at stake, do we dare take a step? Original art by Robert Winkler 2012.

CHARLOTTE, NC. September 2013, by

Seems risk is everywhere in the world these days, and the work place is no exception.  Not long ago we could count on the corporate world to provide a secure income and career track. Today we so often find ourselves vulnerable, unsure of our next steps, with our professional future uncertain.


I just picked up a copy of Smart Tribes by Christine Comaford, the NYT best seller that does a great job of focusing on this topic anew. She relates traditional views of leadership to ‘old school’ management styles that are based on fear: “Perform, or we’ll remove your ability to pay your mortgage ..” (p.16).

At some time or another, we’ve all witnessed situations where fear has been a factor at work.

To me, the question is how do we escape the destructive gravity of these situations, especially when there is so often critical mass pulling everyone down. Misery, they say, loves company.  Comaford offers solutions that track well with Goleman’s Primal Leadership as well as CollabDNA .. namely .. creating emotional connections, and working to influence the culture.

Let’s frame some questions that might help us on this path:

  • Q1. What are the org dynamics or management styles that make fear possible?
  • Q2. What is the difference between ‘commitment’ and ‘compliance’?
  • Q3. When is the notion of ‘accountability’ effective? Is it sometimes misused?
  • Q4. Can you describe actions, behaviors and challenges of leaders you’ve seen who were actively working to dimantle fear-infused culture?

Thanks as always for your time, insights and energy. See you at the chat, the week of 9/16. Watch for timing.


As I recently turned the pages of Susan Jeffers’ classic “Feel the Fear, and Do It Anyway” I found both comfort and common sense in the logic of “pushing through.” But in the work context, it seems the risks can so quickly outweigh the benefits. Do we dare raise radical new ideas? Think outside the safety of conventional wisdom?

Can we dare to be different?

Thanks to Scott Smith for his comment in July in the post of leaders who resist change. It caught my attention, and inspired this post.

In our Monday 8/12 edition of #CDNA, let’s ask a few questions about fear in the organizational context, to see if we might bring some new light to a area so often shrouded in the dark inner reaches of corporate politics:

Q1. Argyris (1980) spoke of fear as the unspeakable; has this changed, or is still prevalent?
Q2. Jeffers (1987) spoke of the need to “unlearn negative programming” .. is it safe for us to proceed when others around/above us have not?
Q3. Which is the more difficult fear to unlearn: survival? not knowing? or not fitting in?
Q4. As a leader, what is the first step in elminating fear in the workplace?

The 2nd week of each month at 8pm or 9pm ET, the #CDNA crew seeks to bring open minds to our ongoing conversation on organization change.

Sure, we’ll try to tap industry knowledge and the wisdom of sages along the way. But we favor a common sense approach. Challenging “what we think we know” and suspending our favorite paradigms is, almost always, the first step to new thinking.

Looking forward to seeing you at #CDNA.

Chris aka @sourcepov

Why Do Leaders Resist Change?

Our path to the present has seemed a steady march. Sure, we’ve taken detours and followed many courses. But from our factories to our business schools to Wall Street, the lessons are still loud and clear: a repeatable result, with minimal deviations, is the winning model.

Repeating what's worked, however imperfect

Repeating what’s worked, however imperfect

It’s generally true in manufacturing, when you’re making widgets. And it can work if the past holds all the secrets to our future success. There’s comfort in the formula. Within the long-stable walls of the organizations and brands and empires we’ve erected, we know which bricks need replacing.

But turning away from the familiar introduces new variables. The old rules are often irrelevant. Think about IBM. Microsoft. Kodak. When it comes to our mental models, significant change is the enemy. In our high-stakes, increasingly connected world, the risk of embracing change, or even talking about it, can send shivers down the spine of any executive who is held accountable for results. And that’s pretty much all of them. Risk of gambling on the wrong future looks greater than the risk of taking small steps from a proven though imperfect past.

We talk often on the “how” of change. But so often we assume the “why” is a given .. and go on to assume we have the critical change  mandate from the top.

Usually we don’t.

So amid the familiar chorus of embracing change for a sustainable future, it’s time to look at why that cry often falls on deaf ears.  Let’s look at the brick wall of uncertainty facing the modern executive, and ask:  Why do Leaders Resist Change?

Here are 4 questions to help us unpack the discussion:

  • Q1. Executive psychology typically presumes the need to have all the answers; how can we help leaders rethink that?
  • Q2. ‘Sense of urgency’ tops Kotter’s 8-step change agenda; must we wait for failure or concoct burning bridges to drive action?
  • Q3. ‘Group think’ can be fatal at the board level; how can this be attacked?
  • Q4. Organizational cultures can embrace or resist change, but the latter is most common; what cultural elements can drive adaptive behaviors?

Join us MONDAY 7/8 at 8pET for a discussion, the next in our 2013 series on collaborative leadership in the 21st Century. We’re unpacking the challenges one brick at a time ..

Hope to see you online .. or please, share your thoughts .. we’re hoping to extend the discussion blog-side (via comments, here), our G+ page and via twitter async ..

The @collabdna team

Building Social Capital: Can Leaders Play?

Over on the @sourcepov blog, I posted tonight about Building Social Capital.  In that post, a question is framed quite simply: “Can Leaders Play?”  There’s a call to action for leadership from the rank and file, not unlike Seth Godin’s argument in Tribes, testing our courage to step forward and engage with others.

So what about corporate leaders, as we look INSIDE the organization?

Is there not potential for Social Capital to emerge there?  And the related question still applies:  “Can Leaders Play?”

Often it seems our corporate leaders are removed from the fray of social interconnections in the organization, though that very dynamic – people connecting with people – remains one of the most powerful ways to foster organic innovation.

Collaboration, at its core, is about the trusted exchange of ideas in pursuit of even better ideas.  It has implications to corporate governance and strategy.

It seems executives would want to be onto this.

Here, and in the upcoming CDNA chat, we’ll look at the internal leadership angle, as we drive conversation on the role of corporate leaders in building Social Capital across the enterprise.  We’ll start with some definitions, then look to understand what needs to happen in the modern learning organization.

  • Q1. Define. If Social Capital is “building engagement skills & trusted networks to drive value” why wouldn’t leaders care?
  • Q2. Context. Would corporte leaders buy-in to building Social Captial like they might for Human or Intellectual Capital?  Why or why not?
  • Q3. Semantics. What will it take for corporate leaders to embrace “social anything” in the enterprise?
  • Q4. Synthesis. Is Social Capital part of that solution?

We’ll hope you’ll join us, MONDAY 8pET at hashtag CDNA.  We’re monthly now.  That means we’ve been saving up for even more in-depth analysis on topics that matter.  We hope you’ll join us.

– Chris Jones, and the DNA of Collaboration Team, tweeting from @CollabDNA

Would You Recognize a Collaborative Leader?

What happens when nobody stands out from the crowd?

What happens when nobody stands out from the crowd?

Great leaders can be found in many places and many companies. Some of have spent careers fine tuning their portfolio of interpersonal skills so that they’ll be effective when the going gets tough. But let’s face it. Knowing where to turn for unique leadership skills can be a challenge.

It’s often difficult to find “the real thing” among a crowded field of would-be originals.

To shed some new light on what it means to be a collaborative leader, let’s ask a few questions to help bring the seach into better focus.  For starters, let’s take a look at the foundational semantics, and some of the critical dynamics that we think are important in this space.
  • Q1. Skills. What are the key skills that a collaborative leader must possess?
  • Q2. Styles. In “Primal Leadership” (2002), Goleman calls for adopting  1 of 6 styles: visionary, coaching, affiliative, democratic, pace setting, commanding. Which apply here?
  • Q3. Behaviors. How can we recognize a collaborative leader from among others who are less collaborative?
  • Q4. Mindset. How can leaders adopt a collaborative mindset?

As we review the complex and evolving Team Dynamics (Ch.15) in The DNA of Collaboration, again and again we find leaders must play key roles to guide organizations through collaborative processes.  This discussion is a starting point for more to follow.

We look forward to your insight on this important thread.

Chris Jones @sourcepov

Pathways: In Search of Collaborative Learning (4 Key Threads)

In search of Collaborative Learning

In search of Collaborative Learning

As our CDNA conversation on “Learning to Learn” continues, we’ve begun to turn up a variety of leads in our search for the path forward, including barriers and enablers.  To many, the holy grail of organizational learning seems to be hidden from view .. though many in our crew have ventured far to find it ..

We will continue our search, but we’ll pause now and again to deep dive on what we’ve uncovered to date.

All of the topics here were surfaced in our “open mic” on FEB 4 [transcript].

  • Q1. Time.  The enemy is necessity & our daily demands; one learning goal is time to explore. Can collaborators manufacture more time? [Kim]
  • Q2. Leadership. The ability to inspire greatness, trust and action can be rare. What is it about collaborative settings that spawns the opportunity? [Scott]
  • Q3. Deep Connection. “Intermingling” seems to be a great source of emergent insight. What conditions encourage it? [Astrid]
  • Q4. Possibility. Beyond strategy and planning? The realm of hope, faith, serendipity, opportunity .. how might we get in touch with them? [Paul]

We will press ahead soon, but with these insights surfaced, it seems prudent to stop and reflect .. if not fully understand .. the factors we’ve surfaced already.  After all, “synthesis” has been a key critical thinking step since Descartes .. and in @CollabDNA, it’s Ch.16, Step 6 ..

Navigating the Spiral

Navigating the Spiral

One of the key takeaways from our 2/18 chat was the discussion of a “spiral” methodology for traversing challenges vs. a more linear progression down or across our framework.  To advance that thinking and apply it a bit, let’s reflect on the double helix model of DNA as inspiration, as we explore “Navigating the Spiral:  How do we Keep Our Bearings?”.  8pET on 2/25 at #CDNA.

We’d love your thoughts here, as comments .. or in our Twitter Chat, Monday 8pET.  Most will use tweetchat to make the connection.

See you online.

Chris aka @sourcepov


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