‘Uni-Abschlüsse braucht kein Mensch – sie sagen nichts über späteren Berufserfolg!’

October 24, 2015

(Dear Readers, for once a blog post in German, as this concerns particularly German society:)

‚Uniabschlüsse braucht kein Mensch – laut Ernst & Young sagt der Studienabschluss nichts über späteren Erfolg im Beruf’ – dies ist ein schöner kleiner Artikel, den ich als ‚mutige selbst Betroffene ohne lückenlose Bildungskette‘ gern weiter verbreite, denn gerade die deutsche Gesellschaft braucht meiner Ansicht nach hier noch dringend eine offenere Haltung und ein weit weniger restriktives Handeln.

Daher hier exemplarisch mein eigener, eben nicht ‘lückenloser’ Bildungshintergrund in Korrelation zum beruflichen Erfolg – ich weiss, es gibt ‘un-geoutet’ viele wie mich, und es wäre schön, wenn wir den ‘lückenlosen Mythos‘ etwas aufbrechen könnten:

– Ich war auf der Realschule – und es war eine gute Realschule -, da das nahegelegene Gymnasium damals hauptsächlich für ständigen, langfristigen Lehrerausfall ‚berühmt’ war. Habe dann danach die gymnasiale Oberstufe gemacht.
– Im Anschluss ans Abitur die Banklehre – ich finde bis heute, dass mein Kurs im 10-Finger-Blindschreiben sowie die Kenntnisse aus der kaufmännischen Ausbildung mir eigentlich jahrelang am Besten mein Einkommen gesichert haben.
Das BWL-Studium, das Mitte der 80er Jahre ja fast ‘zum guten Ton’ gehörte, habe ich nach zwei Semestern beim Jura-Repetitor in der überfüllten Uni-Mensa in Köln trotz recht guter Noten – abgebrochen …
Politikwissenschaft in Kanada musste ich dann trotz guter Noten (BA Honors, GPA 3.86, Dean’s List) und guter Motivation wegen schwerer verschleppter Hepatitis abbrechen, und 15 Jahre lang konnte ich aufgrund längerfristiger kognitiver Schädigung als Folgeerscheinung der Hepatitis keine Fachbücher lesen
Nokia (aber eben ein finnisches Unternehmen) hat mich 1997 im großen Telekommunikationsaufschwung trotzdem eingestellt (ich sage ja gern, „In Großunternehmen fallen kurze Aufmerksamkeitsspannen gar nicht auf …“), und ich habe mich da in acht Jahren, sowohl in Deutschland als auch in globaler Rolle in Helsinki, fünf Stufen höherarbeiten und mein Gehalt verdreifachen können
– Zum Master-Studium in England (Organisational Change Consulting) hat man mich zeitgleich zu meinem 40. Geburtstag auch ohne vollendeten Bachelor zugelassen, allein auf Grund von sowohl Berufs- als auch Lebenserfahrung
– Die textlich schwierigsten Bücher konnte ich auch dort nicht lesen – die hat man mir dann halt komprimiert mündlich erklärt … Abschließen konnte ich zur Überraschung meines Prüfungs-Profs trotzdem (zwar knapp, aber immerhin) nicht nur mit ‚Pass‘ oder ‚Merit‘, sondern mit Auszeichnung!
Im Ausland gibt es keine Zeugnisse, die sind dort einfach nicht üblich, also habe ich aus meinen Auslandsjahren in Kanada, Finnland und England gar keine ‚lückenlose Beweiskette‘, die ja in Deutschland immer noch viel zu wichtig ist
– Und mein Lebenslauf ist nicht geradlinig, aber ich war trotzdem, auch finanziell, sehr erfolgreich, sowohl als Angestellte bei Nokia als auch als selbständige Unternehmensberaterin später (die 100 Tage Beraterbudget für 2008 zum Thema ‚Strategie und Umsetzung von Corporate Responsibility‘ bei einem großen deutschen Energieunternehmen habe ich bekommen, nicht ein großes deutsches Beratungsunternehmen, das auch mit im Rennen war …)
– Mittlerweile (oder vielleicht auch nur derzeit) bin ich zu 50% körperlich schwerbehindert – auch so ein Tabu in der Arbeitswelt -, aber mein Kopf ist weiterhin fähig, auch wenn der Körper nicht mehr so kann, und mit flexiblem Teilzeit-Arbeitsmodell kann ich weiterhin gut beitragen – vor allem, da mir mein Krankwerden nebenbei die Zeit zu mehr Fortbildung als je zuvor gegeben hat, so dass ich (hoffentlich) wert- und wirkungsvoller als zuvor beitragen kann. Aber es brauchte den buddY E.V. in Düsseldorf als aufgeklärten Arbeitgeber, der für Chancengleichheit steht, um mir diese Möglichkeit zu geben …!

Ich selbst bin also sehr dafür, a) von lückenlosen Lebensläufen (und vor allem diesem Damokles-Schwert ‚Ohne lückenlosen Lebenslauf ist man nichts wert …‘) wegzukommen und 
b) im 21. Jahrhundert endlich auch die Chancen*gleichheit* von informellem und/oder selbstorganisiertem Lernen anzuerkennen – auch ohne dass irgendeine deutsche Institution ihren offiziellen Kontrollstempel daraufgesetzt hat.
Und der Wert von berufsbegleitenden Fortbildungen gegenüber dem, was man ursprünglich einmal gelernt hat, sollte auch nicht länger unterschätzt werden. Es ist eben heutzutage *keine* lückenlose Bildungskette!
Ein kleines Praxisbeispiel: Ja, der hochkompetente Personalvorstand des angesehenen Pharma-Unternehmens Janssen Cilag, durch dessen Arbeit das Unternehmen ganz oben unter den ‚besten Arbeitgebern Deutschlands‘ rangiert, hat studiert … Theologie

Also – hin zu: ‚Wozu ist die Person fähig?‘ (auch eine Form der Selbstwirksamkeit) statt ‚Wer darf pauschal und u.U. aus der Ferne aburteilen, was eine Person auf Grund von vorhandenen oder nicht vorhandenen gewissen Abschlüssen kann oder nicht?‘ (eine, wie ich finde, unangemessene bildungsbehördliche Fremdbestimmung/Fernkontrolle, durch die der Gesellschaft viel zu viele Talente und Fähigkeiten verloren gehen).

Auch in Personalabteilungen ist es noch viel zu häufig so, dass da Azubis oder Assistentinnen Bewerbungen von potentiellen Führungskräften nach Standardkriterien von vornherein aussortieren dürfen, wenn nur die kleinste Irregularität im Lebenslauf auftaucht – so dass die Personalverantwortlichen selbst diese Bewerbungen nicht einmal zu sehen bekommen (was man auf Nachfrage dort erfährt – z.B.: Eine Frau, die ihre zwei Masterabschlüsse, in Biochemie und IT, beide mit 1,0 abgeschlossen hat, im Gesundheitsmanagement eine Abteilung mit 40 Mitarbeitern geleitet hat und fließend Englisch und Russisch spricht, wurde so aussortiert.)

Im Gegenzug ist es erfrischend zu sehen, wenn ein ehemaliger Hauptschüler ohne zehnte Klasse, ‚nur’ mit mit Ach und Krach bestandener Handwerkerlehre und ein paar Jahren als Zeitsoldat bei der Bundeswehr, mittlerweile allein auf Grund sowohl seiner Verkaufs- als auch seiner Führungsfähigkeiten als Regionalleiter Vertrieb für digitale Konvergenzprodukte im B-2-B-Bereich 20 Mitarbeiter hat und über 10.000 Euro im Monat verdient – ‚reingerutscht’ allerdings nicht über eine offizielle Bewerbungsausschreibung, in der er sicher keine Chance gehabt hätte (und es überrascht vermutlich auch nicht, dass die Einstellung zwar hier in Deutschland, aber eben bei einem amerikanischen Konzern erfolgte …).

Dies sind wenige, mir persönlich bekannte Ausnahmebeispiele – es gibt jedoch sicherlich viele mehr. Wir bräuchten mehr öffentliche Kenntnis davon! Liebe Leser, welche Beispiele kennen Sie?

Wir brauchen in unserer deutschen Gesellschaft allgemein weniger Angst (das andere Wort für Kontrolle) und mehr Vertrauen und Offenheit (eine Sozialkompetenz) gegenüber den Fähigkeiten von Späteinsteigern, Quereinsteigern, Wiedereinsteigern nach Elternzeit, Autodidakten, Weitergebildeten, Menschen aus dem Ausland, etc. – deren (unser!) Lernen, inklusive Kompetenz, Kreativität und Innovationsfähigkeit, kommt nicht mehr eindimensional vom Dorflehrer vorn am Pult (und in einem deutschen Ort) als einziger kontrollierter/kontrollierbarer Quelle!!

Auch in Bezug auf Bildung hat Deutschland meiner Ansicht nach eine strafende Verbotskultur (“Du darfst das nicht”) und Ausschluss-Kultur (“Du gehörst nicht dazu”) – und würde dringend eine wertschätzende Kultur des Erlaubens und Ermöglichens sowie der Inklusion auch auf diesen subtileren Ebenen brauchen … auch ‘krumme’, lückenhafte Lebensläufe ‘ganz normal’ zuzulassen gehört meiner Ansicht nach zur Inklusion … Und ich merke gerade, wie ich auch da von meiner Kanada-Erfahrung geprägt bin, wo all das, wie ich meine, gesellschaftlich recht selbstverständlich ist.

Es gibt übrigens auch hier ein wirtschaftliches ‘Bottom Line’-Argument: Wenn wir kulturell zu änstlich-kontrollierend restriktiv darin sind, wen wir chancenhaft zu Macht, Status und Geld zulassen (denn auch darum geht es ja, seien wir ehrlich …), dann stehen wir der dringend benötigten volkswirtschaftlichen Entwicklung leider nur im Wege …

Für die einzelne, fähige Person ist ein erlaubendes Zulassen gleichzeitig endlich die Chance, sich aus einem sogenannten übermächtigen gesellschaftlichen ‚Über-Ich’ (Freud) oder ‚Erwartungs-Ich’ (Kuhl) zu lösen und mit eigenem ‚starkem Ich’ (Freud) oder ‚realem Selbst’ (Kuhl) frei von Scham- oder Defizitsgefühlen über eventuell nicht entsprochenen gesellschaftlichen ‚Kontrollkriterien’ sinn-, wert- und wirkungsvoll beizutragen.

Does this make sense? Hollywood producer campaigns to find cure for daughters’ rare disease

June 22, 2015

Please forgive me for, for once, not dedicating a blog post to Corporate Responsibility, consulting, coaching, or leadership training – but instead to a topic that has affected me personally.

In order to read on, you will first have to click this link to get the story (and perhaps also watch the video there).

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This is a very tricky ethical dilemma – a matter of ‘triage’? Should medical research money only be spent if it can save the greatest number of lives? Formally unethical, but practically unavoidable?

Nobody who has not gone through it themselves can fully understand these parents’ agony and pain. I have, and I feel with them 100% (18 years later, I can speak and write about it).

These parents, the Grays in Hollywood, are in a privileged position – they may actually succeed in raising the millions they want through their celebrity friends and those friends’ social media power (crowdfunding – “just give $1 each”).

However, even with raising millions ‘yesterday’, there is no guarantee a cure will be found (another ‘Lorenzo’s Oil’ case would be quite a miracle) – and even less of a chance that it will be found in time to still save these girls’ lives.

But I understand – I also fought until the last day, calling experts around the world, at Johns Hopkins, etc. As a parent, eventually giving up all wishful thinking and really accepting reality – accepting that there is nothing you can do other than letting your child die – is incredibly hard, letting go is hard, in your mind rationally wanting to agree to the doctors turning off the life support, but emotionally just not managing is hard, finally watching your child die is hard, and you have to find a meaningful way to say goodbye that you can remember forever (how many parents of children dying of cancer had to go through it?).

With this Batten disease, they say that children die between the ages of 6 and 12. With a lot of similar very rare illnesses that also start with first blindness, then seizures, then loss of motor skills, children already die during the first 12 months of their lives (as in the case of my son, Mathieu). There are countless of these very rare diseases … we are not even aware of that. But then always just extremely few children are affected, e.g. 1 in 1,000,000 or 1 in 10,000,000 births …

You don’t know at first – these children appear normal, beautiful, healthy. One young paediatrician said to me: “Well, you hear about it during your studies, but very rarely do you actually get to see one of these children …” And one professor, an eminent expert for these illnesses, said to me at the time: “Don’t even wish for your child to survive … this illness is too cruel.” So even if these parents found a ‘cure’ – at what stage in their daughters’ degeneration would it intervene? *If* they survive – then *how*? But of course, for the parents’ souls, *anything* would be better than for their daughters to die … All of these are heart- and mindbreakingly hard questions to ask and consider …

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If your children were born healthy, please DO realize how incredibly blessed you are …! These cases you never see tend to be locked away behind hospital walls … I’m just glad that there is a tiny bit of support for parents like the Grays, parents of children with very rare, genetic inherited diseases, from organizations like for example CLIMB in the UK, or ‘achse’ in Germany. And that there are children’s hospices. At least that. At least support.

If you believe in prayer, then pray for these parents, Kristen and Gordon, to hang in there, and pray for these little girls, Charlotte and Gwenyth, not to suffer too much … it is extremely cruel on all four of them.

I’m still not sure though whether donating money is the answer …

This is a great, big life dilemma of the kind of which, as we are young, we may not even realize they exist, or hope they pass us by, and as we grow older, they may gradually catch up with us – enter our lives, or the lives of people we know – and we learn ‘the hard way’, i.e. by experience, that a) no, we are not special, we don’t get spared and b) sometimes all we can do is exactly that: experience, notice, suffer through it, endure, accept, mourn – but say in the end: It is as it is. Life. “Always wonderful and hard – simultaneously“, as the German filmmaker Doris Dörrie once worded it so fittingly when asked about how she went on after the untimely death of her first husband, father to their then-young daughter, from cancer.

Does such experience necessarily make any of us a better person? With everything I have experienced in my own life, and it wasn’t easy, I still don’t know … I guess it just makes us people who have experienced more of ‘full catastrophe living‘, as mindfulness teacher Jon Kabat Zinn calls it …

Hopefully it can make us a bit wiser and a bit more compassionate towards others, rather than bitter and closed-up? And perhaps, in the end, “no longer judging” the ‘it is as it is’, as my mentor Dr. Albert Zandvort described the learning from his own life experience, plus becoming a bit wiser and a bit more compassionate – perhaps that’s what being around here on earth really is all about?

The Real Self, the Other, and the Community – Are You Connected?

April 25, 2015

What early experiential learning can be good for …:
In the year 2000, the International Youth Foundation (IYF) and Nokia launched their global Community Involvement program, at the time called ‘Make a Connection – to yourself, your peers, and your community’. On the Nokia side, I had the privilege to operationally run this program and contribute to growing it to individual programs in more than 20 countries, directly having impacted more than 200,000 young people by the time I left six years later.

What did young program participants learn? The program worked in three concentric circles, from the inside out:

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– ‘Make a connection to yourself’ was about what Daniel Goleman calls ‘emotional intelligence’ – being in touch with yourself, understanding yourself and your needs, being capable of managing your own emotions, especially as a teenager

– ‘Make a connection to your peers’ was about what Daniel Goleman calls ‘social intelligence’ – having good and meaningful relationships with your family, your friends, people around you (rather than being in potential conflict and/or isolation)

– ‘Make a connection to your community’ was essentially about being a citizen – being part of and contributing to a community, also through volunteering, youth activism, social projects, social entrepreneurship.

I left Nokia at the end of 2005, and a wonderful colleague from Italy took over my role. Now, almost 10 years after I left, 15 years after we started, I have gained true appreciation for the meaningful depth of the concept IYF suggested we launch together at the time. Through my work as a consultant, coach and leadership trainer, and most recently through a research and book project, I have come to appreciate in myself these three concentric circles – and have noticed how, while the program for teenagers went from the inside out, over the past 10 years I personally have moved deeply from the outside in:

– ‘Make a connection to your community’ – those were my early years as an activist, being a member of Amnesty International, ‘doing the door to door’ for Greenpeace, working at the Canadian Center on Racism and Prejudice. Those were also my Nokia years, growing the Make a Connection program. Those were even the years of writing and publishing with my then-client Nick Lakin our book ‘Corporate Community Involvement’.

– ‘Make a connection to your peers’ – those were my years after leaving Nokia, studying to become a change consultant. My mentor Jane Linklater, who had already guided IYF and Nokia in our cross-sector collaboration, strongly recommended a book to me at the time, ‘Intimacy and Solitude‘ by Stephanie Dowrick, which taught me good awareness of how to be an ‘appropriate other’, really learning how to see and understand other people as individuals in themselves, in good inter-subjectivity, and offer them good mutuality in our relationships. (Making that a topic in my Master’s thesis, I also connected it to companies/organizations and their stakeholder relations.) I’ll forever be grateful to Jane for this and many other things.

– ‘Make a connection to yourself’ – while I had always assumed that I had that, it only really happened on a much deeper level over the last few years, amongst others through being introduced to some of the complex work of Prof. Dr. Julius Kuhl, a small part of which is a distinction between a person’s ‘expectation I’ and ‘real self’. The ‘expectation I’ is what might correspond to Freud’s ‘Über-Ich’ – a subconscious introjection of what other people and society want(ed) from us. Facets like ‘be strong’, ‘be fast’, ‘hurry up’, ‘try hard’, etc. Internalized drivers that can actually drive us too hard. (Based on insights from neuroscience, Kuhl actually connects it to left-brain activity.) In contrast, there is the ‘real self’ (accordingly situated in right-brain activity) to be discovered – and sometimes (most times?), that takes time (out), deep inner reflection, some grappling, some sitting with discomfort, some real inner ‘going through transition’. Yet it is a journey that is deeply worth it, finally finding out about aspects like ‘who is my real self?’, ‘what does my real self actually feel?’, ‘what is it that my real self wants?’, ‘what does my real self want to say no to?’. This is a journey that is not necessarily wedded to so-called ‘external success’ – it is not about status, power, money. It is about essence, it is about meaning, it is about being.

So there you go – years later, I find that the theme of ‘Make a connection – to yourself, your peers, and your community’ was so wisely chosen. It is a concept that I want to re-introduce into my own coaching and relational leadership training work, supporting people in getting in touch with their real selves, learning good inter-subjectivity and mutuality as ‘adequate others’ and relational leaders, and making a contribution as citizens, individually through voting, activism, volunteering, mentoring, and possibly pro bono work, and in their organizations through what used to be called ‘corporate responsibility’, and is by many nowadays called ‘organization sustainability‘.

How do I lead? An evolving relational credo …

March 3, 2015

The other night, in a dream, someone put me on the spot, asking me provocatively: ’Can you take over here and lead?’ The dream sequence prompted me to think about what the person meant and what was required – and it prompted me to ask myself: How do I lead? Just to become more aware of it for myself.

Once I had started scribbling things down, I looked on the Internet whether other people did what I had just done. I found quite a few people, also e.g. head teachers, who had written up their leadership credos and had made them public, for colleagues and direct reports to see – inviting those colleagues and reports to always hold them to their own standards and give them feedback if they ’slipped’. I thought that was quite a neat idea. So, not copying their content – I still wanted that to be entirely my own, so did not read what they wrote – I do want to ’join that club’ and attempt to put something online. Here’s where I currently stand – to be revised and updated on an ongoing basis …:

THE FOUNDATION for my leadership approach are my values. I have condensed and summarized my most important ones, those that you cannot take away from me, to be:

  • Autonomy and integrity –
    the most important basis for me, and to define me as a person, both values go hand in hand. I need full autonomy over my destiny like I need air to breathe, and I know I need honesty – I offer it myself and need it from others. Lying does not work for me, neither does deceit. I simply don’t like hidden agendas. Mutual commitment (another important value, see below) is to me not possible without mutual integrity.
  • Communication and understanding –
    trying to truly understand others, really seeing them, in their unique ways of seeing and experiencing the world, and with their resulting needs and convictions. Also on a mutual basis – hopefully being seen and understood.
  • Mutuality, loyalty and support –
    good mutuality really creates the balance that is needed in any relationship, be it between people, organizations, or groups in society – and it means a lot to me. Such good mutuality, to me, has to include loyalty (which probably links in with my need for integrity mentioned above). And on that basis of mutuality and loyalty, being there for each other for appropriate support, in a motivating, encouraging, helpful way.

Then, a big BUILDING BLOCK for my approach is my understanding of power: I am not in the least interested in power over anybody – I believe in power with each other. (In my understanding, if you want power over others, good mutuality cannot work.)

In terms of the leadership notion itself: While I am personally fully with Peter Block, who promotes the more radical notion of ‘stewardship, an even more self-responsible and democratic approach, here I will go with ‘leadership’ as the notion that is still more commonly in use.

So where it comes to the activity, on the basis of my values and my understanding of power, I lead by

  • being authentic – offering up who I believe myself to be at this point in my own evolving; what you see is what you get. No hidden agenda.
  • being deeply interested in people, their drivers and motivations, and their personal and professional transformational development. I lead by listening actively and getting to know people. I lead by respecting, honoring and valuing people for who they are. I lead on a basis of familiarity and trust with each other.
  • good contracting between us, clarifying underlying mutual assumptions as much as possible.

I lead:

  • with a deep awareness that culture is co-created, and that each one of us contributes simply by ’showing up’, and by how we show up.
  • from behind, being supportive, and my door is always open.
  • in a circle, in a flat hierarchy and a participatory approach, co-creating both strategy and implementation. I want us to achieve great things together and ’change the game’ – also through good ’thinking together’, also with external ’best minds’.
  • by being fine with some of my reports being more knowledgeable than I on certain areas of expertise.
  • being all for it when people want to get ahead and thrive – I will, if needed, only caution them occasionally not to overwork themselves. But I will not react well to people who only do the very minimum they can get away with, leaving their workplace on the minute. I need people on my team who are self-motivated and self-managing – which does not mean that they cannot consult me on my opinion and/or advice at any time.
  • encouraging everybody to pay good attention to taking good and loving care of ourselves, with healthy, balanced lives that include sufficient sleep, rest, relaxation and leisure, healthy food and some exercise, and quality time with family and friends – as well as coaching or also therapy in as much as they can be helpful for personal evolution and inner transformation
  • aiming to offer constructive feedback as needed, and equally wanting to receive that myself.
  • learning from everybody, aware that we all learn from each other.

In that very spirit, I invite every reader of this post – if you have made it this far – to engage in conversation and feedback with me on what I have written above – thank you

Sustainability, leadership, empathy, mindfulness – what have they all got to do with each other?

February 27, 2015

I have tried to really condense my thinking on this into a few short sentences. So here you go:

Sustainability must include sustainable leadership – and that means ethical, participatory leadership. Lead in a circle, consider the concerns of stakeholders and allow/hear/consider/think with their voices, starting with your employees.

We must accompany managers on their way to becoming leaders, not leave them alone with that, but offer them relevant learning. Too many managers are left alone in their transition from management to leadership, where suddenly they are no longer just responsible for themselves, but for furthering and developing people in a team.

Sustainable leadership is about inter-subjectivity and empathy – also towards employees, communities, the environment, and future generations.

The challenge is ignorance – people who keep playing the wrong game, the game of endless material growth and ego-centrism only.

What is inter-subjectivity? Really *seeing* other individuals, as subjects in themselves, with rights, needs and emotions – not as objects for you to treat any way you please, or to consider mere extensions of yourself. Or even worse, as objects to exploit.

That inter-subjectivity perception takes empathy – and empathy is an ability that in most people (except those with certain personality disorders) can be increased through awareness raising, learning and practice.

So here is our challenge as leadership trainers and coaches – help leaders with their levels of empathy, help them with their ability to see others rightfully as subjects in themselves, in good inter-subjectivity, and expand from there to help them understand the concept of sustainable leadership – acting in the best interest of all stakeholders concerned, long-term.

We must also help leaders especially with weighing the pressures of having to produce and present short-term profit with realizing and protecting long-term strategic interests. Example: If you ‘take the profit and run’, that might work for a few years – but what does it take to do and invest differently if you want your business to be around for 20 years or longer?

In the end, whether as an individual or an organization, what really matters in today’s world is that you yourself act and behave like an ‘adequate other’ towards the people around you/your stakeholders. And that attitude and behavior requires good mindfulness.

Sustainability-focused theater play ‘Water’

January 4, 2015

It’s been a while since I saw it, yet it came to mind again, and I thought it deserved a short blog post: The sustainability-focused theater play ‘Water’, which was staged in London/England’s Tricycle Theatre.

“(The) piece begins with a lecture about the properties of water and how – like this uniquely gregarious molecule – the human race must pull together against its own nature in order to preserve the planet.
The interweaving plot strands that comprise the rest of the play make it clear that this will not happen: the cave diver who allows his competitive streak to isolate him; the couple forced apart by her career; the climate change conference undermined by self-interest; the irreconcilable half-brothers.“
From a review in TimeOut London, March 3-9, 2011

One text line in the play goes:
“We must be made to limit ourselves, however counterintuitive that may feel.”

The play is excellent and, although set in 1981, still feels timeless and acutely relevant – I wish it could be seen in more places!

Watch the trailer here

Action Learning is professional peer coaching

July 8, 2014

Why Action Learning?
“I’ve had more directly applicable job learning from this than from any conference I ever went to!” That’s what one Managing Director told me – and that is what professional peer consulting in a facilitated Action Learning group can do for you.

At conferences and workshops, colleagues and I have noticed again and again how participants seem most eager to have an exchange of experiences with each other and are looking for peer advice. Most of the time, however, little or no time is planned in around these events for such peer exchange to take place – at best, some Open Space Technology sessions will be offered. Here Action Learning, a facilitated and confidential peer consulting approach, can be a welcome solution.

What is Action Learning about?
Action Learning is all about bringing your current management or leadership issues into a trusting exchange of knowledge and experience, joint reflection, and hands-on feedback

 with five selected peers from other organizations. Complete confidentiality is assured!

Openness and trust, respect, joint co-creation of the coaching process and mutual learning are key elements of Action Learning.

How does it work?
An Action Learning group typically has six participants and a facilitator.


 Each session starts with a catch-up phase during which group members share their current news or just let the others know how they are currently doing.

The catch-up phase is followed by some members putting in own bids for help with issues they would like to talk through. In one Action Learning session, typically more than one person will bring her/his topic to the group.

 An issue holder then shares her or his issue, for about five minutes. After that, the other participants will ask questions for clarification only.

 Following issue clarification, group members can then:

o   Ask open questions

o   Offer feedback

o   Challenge and support

o   Offer suggestions

o   Offer theories and ideas

o   Offer advice

How long does it take?
Participants generally come together for a day, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 pm.
One Action Learning round typically lasts about one hour (sometimes a bit shorter, sometimes a bit longer). Several issue holders can each get an Action Learning ‘round’ during one day.

After an Action Learning day, group members go back into their organizations and experiment further with the topic they talked about, the consulting they received, and own new understanding and insights.

Participants meet again after six weeksaltogether about four to six times over a period of half a year –– to share learning experiences, and to start another round of talking through own learning and development issues around effective management and leadership.

The snake that swallowed the elephant: The change/innovation adoption curve

June 27, 2014

Do you remember reading Saint Exupéry’s The Little Prince? Who thought he’d ever be relevant for business? Yet if you can remember the story and the image of the snake that swallowed the elephant, it’ll help you remember for ever the shape of Roger’s change/innovation adoption curve. If you are yet more informed, you may remember it from Geoffrey Moore’s much-quoted 1991 business bestseller ’Crossing the Chasm.

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The change/innovation curve first sees the innovators (risk takers who desire to try new things, even if they fail) and moves to early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. You will notice there is a vast chasm between the early adopters and the early majority. While early adopters are attracted to change and want the advantage of being first, the early majority waits until they know that the change/innovation actually offers improvements worth their while. The challenge for innovators, change agents and communicators/marketers is to narrow this chasm and ultimately accelerate adoption.

Rogers explained already in 1962 that there are four main elements that influence the spread of a new idea:

the innovation – communication channels – time – and … a social system.

Achieving acceptance and adoption tends to be much harder with the late majority: They will usually only adopt in reaction to peer pressure or economic necessity. Most of the uncertainty around an idea must have been resolved for them to adopt. All the while, the laggards simply prefer to rely on past experience.

Think of different scenarios for this concept – I, for example, am an early adopter where it comes to social change; however, with certain new technologies, count me amongst the laggards … For those of us working in Corporate Responsibility, we certainly experienced the companies that only came around to it through stakeholder pressure, or being left behind in the market.
What is it like for you? In what areas of professional or personal life do you count yourself among the early adopters or early majority – and where do you tend to be a laggard?

A note on not wasting your time: For effective change, invest your energy into the early half of this model, up to including the early majority. They will be your multipliers to eventually convince the other half – while you and your energy are already on to the next change/innovation project. Convincing the late majority and the laggards would simply take too much of your creative, innovative energy and time and would be too much hard Sisyphus work.

Do you give feedback constructively? Here’s how …

June 18, 2014

Giving feedback is not always easy – or welcome. It can look like a tricky endeavor that involves many potential traps and could trigger defense, denial, rage or even tears. Yet, as learned from my mentor, the wise consultant and coach Jane Linklater, already years ago, there is a safe technique for both sides – a tried and tested seven-step formula you can follow for success.

First of all, always start with something positive. No, I mean it: Always start with something positive about the person’s actions or behavior – no matter how impatient or worked up you might be in the moment! E.g., say “I really enjoy working with you”, or “Such and such piece of work was really great”.

Second, please don’t follow with a ’but’. The moment you start with ’but’, the other person is on their inner guard – and that’s not what you want, right? You want to keep the feedback doors open, don’t you? So use the trick: Say ’and’. That way, there are no defenses going up. Instead, the doors remain wide open.

Thirdly, use constructive wording, e.g. ’This has been great – and if you could still optimize that other thing …’ Or: ’This has been great – and at the same time, there is one other aspect that I personally find difficult … could we talk about that one?’

Now the most important part starts:
Rather than saying something like: ’Everybody thinks you always are …’, stay away from the three traps that are right in those 5 little words: stay away from
4) characterizing the person (“you are“)
5) generalizing (“you always …”)
6) from giving them the impression that people are talking about them behind their back (“everybody thinks …”, “everybody else says that, too …”)

Instead, please

4) focus on their behavior only
5) quote specific situations
6) that you observed, with the effect that had on you

E.g. ’When you do such and such, like in yesterday’s meeting, I find that difficult, because this is the effect it has on me …’

7) Then, please do not end this before having given the person a clear recommendation of what behavior you would rather see, e.g.: ’I personally would much prefer if you could …’, or ‘I would find it more helpful if you did …’

These seven steps should get you through safely, and hopefully make your feedback ‘land’ more constructively with the recipient.

Now, in case you need to give extended feedback or clarify a whole working relationship, there is also a tool that provides a ‘holding structure’ that can make both attending parties feel safe during a difficult conversation.

Ideally, for that purpose, you don’t have your conversation in the office, but the two of you go somewhere offsite, e.g. to a quiet café. (And put your laptops and mobile phones away and on silent, for full attention to each other. Plan between one and two hours for your session.)

Please note: If one of you has a preference for introversion, it can be advisable to actually book a small meeting room e.g. at a hotel, as they may feel exposed if they have to assume that other people could listen in on your conversation, even if you talk quietly.

The important thing now is to have a mutual feedback conversation.

For that, you can use the four quadrants below:

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Once again, please note: If one of you has a preference for introversion, it can be helpful to share the four quadrants sheet prior to meeting up, so each of you can prepare your answers to the four questions. People with a preference for introversion don’t like having to ‘shoot from the hip’ – they prefer to think and reflect for a while before they actually speak out.

Now take turns answering each quadrant – so both of you answer quadrant 1 first, and then move on to quadrant 2. And please stick to the order and stay with it. Don’t jump into quadrant 4 when you’re supposed to talk about quadrant 2 only (please point it out to each other in case one of you does). And please don’t interrupt each other – hear each other out. Then, if you are on the receiving end, maybe ask a couple of questions to clarify, like ’You mean if I do such and such, this is how it lands with you?’ or ’So you mean if I do such and such instead, that would help?’

Sticking to that discipline, you can have really constructive and safe conversations also about difficult topics that may previously have seemed off limits. Many of my clients have made that experience, and they worked more effectively together after their feedback session.

However, if you still find it challenging to have such a conversation, you can ask a qualified facilitator to come in, sit with you two and help you through the conversation. Your HR department should be able to help you with recommending such a person.

In summary, a constructive feedback process can help the two of you towards new soft contracting between you, as a solid foundation for how you want to go on together in your work relationship.

Do you still talk CSR, or ESG impact?

June 11, 2014

ESG are ‘Environmental, Social And Governance Criteria‘ – a set of standards for a company’s operations that socially conscious investors use to screen investments. We have heard of the Triple Bottom Line before, and of the 3Ps – people, planet, and profit. Here’s ESG: Environmental criteria determine how a company performs as a steward of the natural environment. Social criteria examine how a company manages relationships with its stakeholders: e.g. its employees, suppliers, customers, local governments, NGOs, unions, and the communities where the company operates and where its employees work and live. Governance criteria deal with, for example, a company’s leadership, executive pay, audits and internal controls, and shareholder rights.

Goldman Sachs writes: ‘In our Environmental, Social and Governance Impact Report we illustrate how our work with clients helps to drive broader economic and social value. We also highlight our active engagement in the communities where we live and work and our support of an array of initiatives to promote environmental sustainability and community development.’

E.ON writes: ‘Standardized indicators from the areas of Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) are gaining in importance in the capital market for evaluating companies, which is why we structure the reporting of our sustainability performance along material ESG criteria over the past several years.’

So, from the first Environmental Reports in the late 1980s, to then CSR Reports around the year 2000, soon to be followed by CR Reports, to Sustainability Reports as of around 2005, to now ESG Reports for the past couple of years – the field keeps evolving, and as practitioners, we need to evolve with it … The important thing to remember: it remains all about impact.