CIO Tomorrow – Leadership is about Results that Matter

Leadership ImageThe following post was written by Dr. Dale Meyerrose as part of the Columbus Business First’s CIO Tomorrow Conference. Dr. Meyerrose is one of the featured speakers in the Voice America Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations interview aired on April 26, 2016.

If you were to take a “professional selfie,” what would you see? What would others see? How would the perceptions of each correlate—or not?

Many of us in the technology business built reputations on our ability to keep the IT running, perform miracles on shoe-string budgets, manage IT projects, understand enterprises and processes, and respond to emergencies. Our view of that selfie would likely reflect pride in our technical acumen and ability to deliver on many things. Important, yes. But in the macro-scheme of business, do those things really matter? Do they earn you a seat at the decision tables within your respective organizations? Do they compel the Board of Directors to seek you counsel? The evidence over many years, lo decades, is clear—they don’t!

Why don’t others, looking at that same selfie, see you as necessary for setting corporate strategy? Linked with company performance and customer satisfaction? Value your contributions as cultivating opportunities and revenue, vice as a cost center to be minimized? A crucial player in the “big” decisions over the course of time? Hmmm.

In my view, the reason is that many CIOs (and CSOs and CISOs for that matter) don’t move beyond the “plumbing” of their younger years.  Make no mistake, the plumbing has to work and work well.  However, the skills that made us good technicians and program managers early in our career, don’t translate into the talent needed to lead complex organizations in today’s demanding business world.  Consequently, I believe it critical for CIOs to differentiate what matters from what’s merely important.

  • Assigned roles and responsibilities are important, but being able to tell the “big picture” story, in a language meaningful to senior leadership is what matters.
  • Leveraging the best technology ideas is important, but execution on the chosen investments is what matters.
  • Fear-of-the-inevitable is important to consider, but the art-of-the-possible and operational success are what matters.
  • Risk and gap assessments are important, but determining the “net benefit” calculation is what matters.
  • In-sourcing and out-sourcing IT issues are important, but having the talent at the intersection of understanding both purpose and technology is what matters.

I talk to many CIOs who are frustrated by their lack of influence on major decisions made within their organizations. Many of these very capable folks have yet to realize that people relationships and determinations are more important than the technical ones. They lack the experience or orientation, to relate, in business terms, the criticality of their input. And demonstrate that it is inseparably linked with major decisions and investments—and the company’s success. Lastly, they don’t understand that strategy is more about resolve than brilliance.

Does your professional selfie look “up and out”—or “down and in?”  With almost forty years of experience in this discipline, I conclude that the former “selfie pose” is one of a successful CIO.  These are leaders that focus on the few results that matter, while leading others who take care of the myriad of other important tasks.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.


Dr. Dale MeyerroseDr. Dale Meyerrose, Major General, U.S. Air Force (retired) is President of the MeyerRose Group—a cybersecurity, executive training/coaching, and eHealth technology consulting company.  He is an adjunct instructor for Carnegie Mellon University, Institute for Software Research running their Cybersecurity Leadership Certificate program. General Meyerrose, a Southwest Asia veteran, was the first Senate-confirmed, President-appointed Chief Information Officer for the Intelligence Community after over three decades of military service.

Mergers & Acquisitions: Five Key Drivers to Deliver Value

Mergers and acquisitions

Not a well understood concept here…

Today’s post is a collaboration between Maureen Metcalf, Carla Morelli and Laura Hult focusing on mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and identifying key factors that drive success and failure. The post is a companion to a Voice America interview with the authors. They are seasoned veterans who have participated in many transactions and seen similar themes. This post and its companion VoiceAmerica interview provide insights and make recommendations to improve the probability of success for your next transaction, whether you are acquiring, selling or involved in the integration.

Research Indicates that Mergers and Acquisitions Often Fail to Deliver Desired Results

The Financial Times Press’ A Comprehensive Guide to Mergers & Acquisitions: Managing the Critical Success Factors Across Every Stage of the M&A Process says that though studies have historically set the rate of M&A failure at 50 percent or more, recent years have found it to be as high as 83 percent. One might conclude that executives and boards would eschew M&A as a way to achieve growth and profitability in favor of less risky alternatives, but that has not been the case. Despite the warning signs, the number and dollar value of transactions has increased every year for the last 20 years.

Failure Results from Management’s Lack of Knowledge or Unwillingness to Face Facts

“The primary reasons for failures [are] related to the fact that it is easy to buy but hard to perform an M&A. In general, many mergers and acquisitions are characterized by the lack of planning, limited synergies, differences in the management/organizational/international culture, negotiation mistakes, and difficulties in the implementation of the strategy following the choice of an incorrect integration approach on the part of the merging organizations after the agreement is signed. Most failure factors indicate a lack of knowledge among senior managers for the management tools that enable coping with the known problems of M&A.” Another management shortcoming is unwillingness to accept information that negatively impacts post-close projections, whether it be market data, synergies, or cultural challenges. Deal teams often find themselves looking for creative ways to meet expectations. Not meaning to mislead, they are still well aware that the scenarios being modeled are more than just a stretch. The post-close result often falls far short of the mark.

Human Factors are Among the Most Important to Consider

Human factors almost always have a significant impact on both a deal’s success and the amount of additional cost and effort required to recover when they were not sufficiently considered. The five human factors below differentiate successful deals:

  1. Understand the “why.” Both the buyer and the seller need a clear understanding of why they are initially engaging in the transaction (referred to as the rudder), such as ensuring the business moves forward when a founder retires. As the deal progresses, use the rudder and be open to refining the “why” as the deal unfolds, like realizing that another key motivation is the well-being of employees who helped build the company.
  2. Select an advisory team for both skill and philosophical fit. Advisors play a key role in the deal’s success, and their approach is as important as their skills are. A competent, “bulldog” attorney who takes no prisoners and is more adversarial than the buyer wants to be, for example, is likely to generate wariness and ill will on the seller’s part, eroding the trust and open communication that enables thorough diligence and comprehensive, realistic integration planning. In addition to the advisory team, engage someone to be a sounding board for critical decisions who can step back when other participants lose their objectivity.
  3. Maintain resilience. The M&A process is physically and emotionally exhausting. To ensure one has enough physical energy and mental clarity to make tough decisions, it is imperative that both buyers and sellers manage their energy and finds ways to rejuvenate. This will be different for different people, but should include making conscious choices about physical well-being, managing one’s emotional state, managing thinking (remain positive), and looking to a trusted advisor for support.
  4. Build trust among the team. Trust takes time and energy, when both are scarce. It is particularly important to create an atmosphere that allows people to constructively deal with negative information rather than “creatively” work around it. If the team is selected based on skill and mindsets that align well (similar values and overall approach), it will be able to work through most issues that arise. Addressing them quickly and openly is critical to sustaining a strong team, which is required when challenges arise – and they always do.
  5. Proactively plan and manage the integration. Value is only realized when the organizations are successfully integrated. The most successful integrations have cross-functional integration teams comprised of representatives from both organizations. In addition to keeping the team aligned via regular meetings, progress should be reported at the highest appropriate organizational level (from steering committees to boards of directors, depending on the size of the company and transaction) on a cadence that provides visibility and a forum for decision making when needed.

Managing human factors increases the likelihood of value being realized: people are complicated, and building a team that has the capacity and inclination to attend to them is a differentiator in an industry where many still focus on the technical elements of the deal.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.


Maureen Metcalf, Founder and CEO of Metcalf & Associates, is an executive advisor, a speaker, coach, and the author of an award-winning book series focused on innovating how you lead. She is also on the faculty of universities in the US and Germany.

Laura Hult works as outside counsel focusing on ccorporate finance. She represents private equity funds, financial, strategic and lifestyle companies as both buyers and seller. Laura structures, negotiates and protects investment value in M&A transactions, and has represented investors and lenders at every level of the capital stack.

Carla Morelli is a leader who steers people and organizations through complex change, including global M&A transactions. She delivers business-critical results that balance structural needs with human inter-dynamics; her ability to integrate multiple perspectives and mesh the “balcony view” with a detailed understanding of what is required for an initiative to truly succeed consistently unlocks potential where other approaches have failed.


Weber, Yaakov; Oberg, Christina; Tabra, Shlomo. (January 2014), The M&A Paradox: Factors of Success and Failure in Mergers and Acquisitions, Financial Times Press

Photo credit: Dan

The Brain of the Leader: Do We Really Say What We Think We Say?

Leader's brainThe following post is by guest Gary Weber, Subject/collaborator in neuroscience studies at Yale, Institute Of Noetic Sciences, Baumann Institute, Center for Study of Non-Symbolic Consciousness, Johns Hopkins, Penn State. It accompanies a Voice America Interview about how leaders can manage their thinking to improve their effectiveness. I found the conversation about how the brain actually works and how we manage our thinking versus our perception of what we are doing quite fascinating. For me, the take away was that our brain functions much differently than we were taught and by updating our understanding, we have the opportunity to reduce our stress and improve our effectiveness dramatically.

From Gary’s work: One of our great, and common (mis)conceptions is that we need “thoughts” to speak – that we “think up”, consciously, what we say before we say it.  As an experiment, take a few minutes and watch carefully what you say, and see if you do think up what you say.   Go ahead, just do it… Do we know what we’re going to say before we say it?   Or do we just hear it as it is said, and then try to see if it was a “good” thing or if we might have “misspoken”?

The quieter your internal narrative is, and the closer you watch, the easier it is to see that you have no idea what is going to be coming out when speech happens.

An excellent paper was just published in “Psychological Science” entitled “Speakers’ Acceptance of Real-Time Speech Exchange Indicates That We Use Auditory Feedback to Specify the Meaning of What We Say”, by Andreas Lind, et al., from the Swedish universities at Uppsala and Lund.

What Lind and his colleagues did was to see what would happen if someone said one word, but then heard themselves apparently speaking another word.   As Lind said “If we use auditory feedback to compare what we say with a well-specified intention, then any mismatch should be quickly detected.  But if the feedback is instead a powerful factor in a dynamic, interpretative process, then the manipulation could go undetected.”

So, if the word that was said was different from what we had mentally pre-planned to say, it would be very obvious to us. However, if we routinely have no idea what is going to be said, and only know it when we hear it spoken and then interpret it, the change to a different word will not be seen.

Thought ExperimentThe image to the left shows how this works. This is the famous Stroop effect/test, which shows you letters that spell a “color” word in the “wrong” color, i.e. it spells out “r-e-d”, but the word is colored “green”.  It takes a little concentration to do it correctly.

  • Then in “b”, you are shown “g-r-e-e-n” but it is colored “gray”, and you correctly say “gray”, but your recording of your saying “green” earlier is replayed in your headphone.
  • In “c”, you are then asked “What did you say”, and you say “green”, even though you really did say “gray”, i.e. you said what you heard, not what you actually said.

Most importantly, this did not seem “strange” to you, i.e. you really believed that you said what you heard, rather than what you actually said.  If you had premeditated and consciously said “gray”, you would have objected when you heard “green” and said “What i heard in my headphones was not what i said!”

It matters a lot exactly when the “wrong” word is heard in your headphones.  If the synchronization w/the “voice trigger” in b) was begun within 5 to 20 milliseconds after you began to speak, it was undetected more than 2/3 of the time.   The 1/3 of the “detections” are effectively less than that.  They fell into 3 categories, “certain, uncertain and possible”, with only 4% being “certain”.

For you techies, they did use a “noise cancelling” headset so that the 78 subjects wouldn’t be able to hear what they really did say.

These results were a big surprise to Lind, who put himself through the test, knowing what was going on. He felt that the speech exchanges were convincing, and said ““When you say one thing but hear yourself clearly saying something else, it’s a very powerful feeling”.

Research this compelling directly contradicts established dogma, both scientific and societal.

The question is, “However speech manifests, do we consciously pre-plan it with internal narrative?”   Speech emerges, and some functionality must be creating it, but it isn’t conscious.

Now, back to Maureen’s comments. So, what does this mean for leaders and how they work? One important take away is that as we understand the brain and how it actually works, it is important to step out of this automatic mode as much as possible and into being aware of our own thinking and actions. One way to do this is to ask yourself simple questions designed to help you gently shift from the automatic mode most leaders spend 85% of their time inhabiting and into aware mode. Imagine how much more productive you could be if you spent just 1 hour per day more aware and if you used that hour to do your highest impact work? What could you accomplish?

If you are open to an experiment, try asking yourself something like: where am I now or what am I thinking now? This is a gentle nudge to move you back to working with awareness. I tried this over the past couple of weeks and have found that I am more aware of my incessant multi-tasking in service of managing a complex role within my professional life and many family demands. My personal goal is to find the best path to accomplish my goals and make the greatest positive impact I can. If being more aware helps this process – I am all in. I wonder if it will work for you?

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

photo credit: brain TZA

Five Core Factors that Drive Innovation Success

Innovation Today’s post was co-authored by Maureen Metcalf and Kara Rising, new member of the Metcalf & Associates coaching team. Innovation is a key differentiator for a business to thrive in this time of dramatic change. Are you experimenting with new behaviors and ideas to keep your company and skills up to date or are depreciating as a leader? Julie Anixter, the executive director of Innovation Excellence shares her insight on how she defines innovation and what steps are needed to be a successful innovating leader and company and not fall behind the times or lose value with Maureen Metcalf during a Voice America interview.

Innovation is a popular buzzword today and it’s not surprising given how important it is to a thriving business. Many professionals and leaders see innovation as a four letter word with the lens that only the truly unique and talented are able to be innovators. However, innovation is just creating something new that adds value. The truth is that as humans we are innately creative and are innovating without knowing it or labeling it as such. It is in our blood, it can be learned, it can be taught and as Julie points out it “is our birthright”. There is only one way that innovation should be intimidating and that is if you believe you are unable to learn. Innovation is more than just a word that leaders throw around, it is creativity, it is problem solving, it is curiosity and critical thinking. The people who created Uber, a multibillion dollar company currently disrupting the whole transportation business, looked around at the current taxi system and said “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could track, call and pay for a taxi all on our iPhones?” They saw the world with a critical lens to identify a need and created something from that. That’s innovation.
The question from this is, “How willing are you to try new things and keep making them work?”

  1. Failure will happen with innovation but as Thomas Edison said “I didn’t succeed, I failed a thousand times”. Look at innovation through the mind of a scientist – we are then able to celebrate not only our successes but also our failures. Each failure brings data with it that can be absorbed into the process to bring us that much closer to solving the problem. Today’s businesses don’t view failure as something to be celebrated, only because they don’t always have the time or budget to keep experimenting with things that don’t work.
  2. Well-structured data and analytics programs are critical. By gathering correct data from users and the market we can easily and more accurately predict what is more likely to be successful.
  3. Innovation demands a different mindset, one that is away from perfectionism. Google Glass is a perfect example of an idea that was experimented with but ultimately did not succeed, and it is because Google is willing to value innovation and try despite failure that makes it such an innovative and successful company.
  4. Organizational Leadership is the most important factor that dictates the success or failure of innovation. They are so inherently intertwined that neither can be successful without the other.
  5. Board support is also critical to promote a successful innovative company, they make a structural commitment to support innovation, promote diversity, expect solid data gathering, and ensure they retain innovative leaders.

Julie points out that there are many models for innovation that are being used in today’s climate, but one in particular that stands out is from Steve Coley, called H1, H2, H3 all standing for Horizon 1, Horizon 2 and Horizon 3. Each of these horizons represents a facet of your business that must be focused on to achieve growth in business. H1 being your core business, H2 being adjacencies (what opportunities do you have access to), and H3 being disrupting the field. The business that focuses exclusively on H1 and does nothing with the other horizons will not succeed, and it is those companies we see falling off the Fortune 500 list today.

For innovation to thrive in a workplace, the leader must value innovation enough to allow a space to be created for workers to be able to feel the freedom to create and express those ideas in a safe place. This requires a leader to be healthy physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. If an employee feels that their colleagues or leader will not value their input or will dismiss their ideas or creates a fear of failure climate, innovation will not survive and will be squelched. Leaders also have to enable a climate that can tolerate risk because innovation is inherently risky. Judith Blazer in Conversational Intelligence, talks about how when we have the ability to co-create, co-discover and collaborate we enable the release of the hormone oxytocin, the bonding hormone, and creates in us the confidence and good feeling to continue. However when we are flooded with cortisol, the stress hormone, innovation and creativity die.

Diversity is important because it allows us to enter the real world and leave the safety of our boxes to get a new viewpoint of the problem as well as new solutions. This means choosing projects that are uncomfortable and out of your skill set to create the neuro-pathways to build innovation. Julie brings up a good exercise titled “Borrowing Brilliance”. Think of your favorite innovator, Disney, Google, Virgin, Amazon… how would they run your company?

Innovation is a necessity in our fast paced global world, to make it work we must have several elements present: a strong diverse team, an inspirational vision, clear goals to reach those visions, time dedicated to accomplishing goals, financial and human resources, stimulus to innovate, political buffers to provide a safe environment for innovation, good integrators between the data and the innovators, and solid analytics. How does your business stack up? How are you innovating not only in business but also in your personal life? What have you learned from Julie today that you can apply to take your innovation to the next level?

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

photo credit: Dean Meyers

What is Required to Shift from Survival to Thriving Long Term?

Leaders Guide to ThriveAbilityThis guest blog post was written by Robin Lincoln Wood. Dr Wood is a renowned strategist, futurist, communicator and agent of transformation. He has spent 3 decades working at board level with the world’s leading organizations in 35 countries on 4 continents. He is deeply skilled in designing & catalyzing major shifts in large scale systems, & in inspiring & empowering the teams that deliver them. This post is an excerpt of a paper that will be published in the Integral Leadership Review in October 2015.

Robin will be a guest on the Voice America radio show on September 29. This post is a companion to that interview.

Earth’s 7.3 billion citizens are currently consuming 1.6 planet’s worth of resources, thereby guaranteeing runaway global warming, climate change and suffering for billions in the next few decades. Such a wicked problem needs a whole new kind of leadership, capable of thinking and acting on a planetary scale while maintaining local viability. New kinds of leadership are emerging in response, capable of working from perspectives that access the highest leverage points in human, social, natural and technical systems, while integrating multiple disciplines, methods and tools for beneficial change and transformation. This post is a primer for the book “A Leader’s Guide to ThriveAbility”, details where we are (a degenerative, exclusive economy); where we need to be (a regenerative inclusive economy); the integral framework undergirding the ThriveAbility Journey, which explains how we get from here to there; and the role and kinds of leadership needed to assure a beneficial transition.

Toward a Regenerative, Inclusive Economy

Imagine a world powered by renewable energy, where all human beings thrive in resilient habitats; where businesses operate in a circular economy that regenerates natural capital, without a particle of waste, and are led by enlightened leaders whose goal is to maximize the ThriveAbility of all their stakeholders; where each individual is empowered to pursue their passion and make a living in service to others; where governance systems are transparent, effective and wise in the ways in which they deliver their services to their communities and populations; and where intercultural appreciation and insight enriches the exchanges between the diverse worldviews and cultures embraced by humankind.

Does that sound like an impossible dream, or pie in the sky? The co-creators of ThriveAbility would point out that every single one of these “pockets of the future” is currently observable in the present, right here and right now, somewhere in the world. It is just that the future is distributed unevenly, and sometimes hard to see when one is up to one’s neck in alligators and trying to drain the swamp.

  • How would this desirable future scenario of a thriving human civilization on a thriving planet convert into practical outcomes that are measurable and manageable?
  • What would such a future look like?
  • What kinds of leadership are emerging to get us there?

We can begin by describing in very big picture terms what a desirable future scenario of a thriving human civilization on a thriving planet might look like.

The Six Desiderata of ThriveAbility

Based on the pioneering work being done by hundreds of thought and practice leaders around the world[1], we have framed six desiderata by which we can measure the endpoint of the ThriveAbility Journey toward a regenerative, inclusive economy:

Sustainability: Natural Capital; Manufactured Capital

​1. A Circular, regenerative economy 

  1. Natural and man-made materials and ecosystems are regenerated through circular economic processes
  2. All impacts are managed proportionately to the carrying capacities of the multiple capitals

2. Long term resource planning for intergenerational equity

  1. Technologies, Products, Services and Businesses designed for durability to continue serving future generations
  2. Innovations are inspired by natural systems by engineers, designers, entrepreneurs and others working with the grain of nature.

Organizational: Intellectual Capital; Financial Capital

​3. A Transparent and Level global playing field that delivers True Value 

  1. Apply true accounting principles that measure true costs including externalities, and calculate true returns with full transparency
  2. Level the playing field towards renewable and regenerative industries through true taxation and incentives

​4. Strategic Decision-Making to Scale-Up to ThriveAble Sectors 

  1. Nurture multi-stakeholder collaboration to amplify and scale up positive impacts
  2. Investment decisions based on the ThriveAbility Index

Socio-Cultural: Human Capital; Social Capital

5. Holistic Education to Develop Complex Systems Thinking & Leadership

  1. New open business models for education that integrate physical wellbeing, mental depth, emotional maturity and spiritual development.
  2. Developmental pathways based on co-working and co-creation between disciplines and sectors that are aspirational and compelling for future generations

6. Governance Systems Aligned to Inclusive Stakeholder Wellbeing

  1. Radically inclusive and transparent governance structures that serve the different priorities and needs of different developmental levels
  2. Innovative structures for and approaches to interworking between governments, NGO’s, businesses and academia that focus on Stakeholder ThriveAbility.

We believe that starting from this “end of the telescope”, what is required for regenerative, inclusive business becomes obvious fairly quickly to key decision makers and stakeholders. In this sense the ThriveAbility Approach and Index act as a powerful catalyst and producer of the aspirations and the cognitive dissonance required to make transformative changes a reality.

To put it bluntly, we have no choice whether we should move from a degenerative, exclusive economic system to a regenerative, inclusive one that can ensure the thriving of our biosphere and ourselves.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

[1] In the course of researching and writing “A Leader’s Guide to ThriveAbility” we met with and/or interviewed 83 global thought leaders, executives and investors shaping the future of business, sustainability and human flourishing during late 2014 and early 2015. Since then we have engaged with a further few hundred such leaders via ThriveAbility live gatherings, ThriveAbility Think Tanks hosted by Convetit, and videoconferencing.

Holacracy – Innovative Organizational Operating System

Holacracy cc pat munroThis guest post was written by Alexis Gonzales-Black. Alexis is a guest in the Voice America discussion about Holacracy and implementation at Zappos among other progressive clients. Alexis Gonzales-Black is the Co-Founder of Thoughtful Org Partners, a consultancy specializing in transitioning companies from traditional management hierarchies to adaptive organizational models, like Holacracy. Prior to Thoughtful Org, Alexis spent three years at leading College Recruiting, Holacracy Implementation, and Diversity initiatives. At Zappos Alexis leveraged her background in education, training, and talent to build a force of over 80 internal Holacracy facilitators and advocates to lead the implementation of Holacracy across the company.

Holacracy is a new management model that transforms the static organizational structure into a dynamic structure that provides real clarity into roles and accountabilities.  At Thoughtful Org Partners we draw on our experience implementing Holacracy to help craft personalized self-organization strategies for companies of all sizes across all sectors.

Holacracy isn’t the first, nor the only, model of self-organization. Companies like Valve, Spotify, and MorningStar all have integrated principles of self-organization into their companies with strong results.  It’s no surprise that more agile, self-organized companies are more productive, and ultimately more profitable.

Here are a few reasons why:

  1. Holacracy lowers the activation energy for change— Activation energy is a concept that I learned about in my Intro to Chemistry classes describing the minimum energy which must be available to result in a chemical reaction. Usually at the company level, any structural change in roles, team structure, accountability, authority, policies, rules are all decisions that require immense activation energy. These decisions are labored over for days, or weeks, and when finally wrought, often feel unnecessary, or out of touch with the real work that needs to happen. The last time I logged into Zappos governance records I was blown away, that on any given day, governance meetings and processes are being used to produce hundreds of changes, ranging from small tweaks to full on reorganizations. The activation energy required to make change happen has been remarkably lowered, and all of those changes are happening in real time, in response to real tensions in the work. And business keeps moving through all of this. Talk about rapid evolution!
  2. The stories we tell ourselves — At the core of workplace dysfunction and insecurity is misaligned expectations and lack of communication tools to resolve those misalignments. Holacracy gives a forum to surface these misalignments, process them into some sort of change, and capture these changes in a transparent document for all to see. By doing this you are limiting the crutch that many, including myself, have used time and time again to justify inaction; the story of the malicious manager, or evil co-worker, or whomever else is standing in your way of making change.

It’s important to remember that the transition to Holacracy is a slow process. The mindset and ego shifts that have to take place to properly leverage the new operating system take hold slowly. It took Zappos two and a half years to get 100% of the company up and running in Holacracy. Some of the companies I’m currently working with are looking at the same timeline and shaking their heads at the commitment it requires. But that’s the deal. It takes a long time to undo a lifetime of deferring your authority into someone else’s hands. It takes a long time to face down the specter of the ‘bad manager’ and realize that you are your own manager, for better or worse. And it takes a long time, and a lot of effort to create a safe enough space that people feel comfortable showing up authentically at work. In the end, Holacracy doesn’t replace strong communication, emotional intelligence, or resilient relationships, but it’s a critical piece of a larger movement toward a better, dare I say, more human, workplace.

For more information about creating a more dynamic and human powered workplace through self-organization, reach out to 

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

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Listen to the radio series Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations.

photo credit: Holacracy Pat Munro

Organizational Disruption – Holacracy the New Operating System

The following Holacracypost is provided by guest Brian Robertson, Co-Founder of HolacracyOne. Brian will be the featured guest on Voice America, Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations on September 15 along with Alexis Gonzales-Black, CEO Thoughtful Organizational Partners and involved in the Holacracy implementation at Zappos.

If you’re old enough to remember the days when most PCs ran MS-DOS, consider the leap in capabilities that came with a new operating system like Windows. Your computer’s operating system, invisible though it may be, radically shapes everything on top of it.  It determines how the overall system is structured, how different processes interact and cooperate, how power is distributed and allocated between applications, and so on.

Likewise, the social “operating system” underpinning an organisation is easy to ignore, yet it’s the foundation on which we build our business processes and organisational cultures.  The traditional top-down, predict-and-control management hierarchy has been the standard organisational operating system for nearly a century.  Yet when we unconsciously accept the management hierarchy as our only choice for structuring and scaling companies, we lose the opportunity to innovate in this fundamental domain of company building.

Holacracy is a new “social technology” for governing and operating an organisation, which replaces the traditional management hierarchy with peer-to-peer distributed processes for structuring an organisation, defining roles and responsibilities, and coordinating across organisational functions. Holacracy aims to improve organisational responsiveness by increasing the number and scope of decisions that can safely be made quickly and locally.  It gives staff more authority and autonomy to get work done and drive continual improvements to the organisation’s policies and processes.

To avoid increased autonomy coming at the expense of coordination and scale, Holacracy also adds processes to align actions and update expectations and constraints dynamically, which everyone in the organisation can take advantage of.  This results in a just-in-time, minimally sufficient organisational structure that stays nimble and lightweight, driven by on-the-ground experience from getting work done.

One way or another, whether it’s Holacracy or another approach, the management hierarchy is ripe for disruption. The environment around our companies has changed dramatically since its introduction, and our organisations face new challenges in today’s global fast-moving world. But those of us building companies today have other options, and regardless of what we choose, I think we’ll be better off by at least asking the question: what power structure is right for my company?

To learn more about Holacracy and Zappos, we recommend the Forbes article Making Sense of Zappos and Holacracy. To learn more about Holacracy, check out their resources page.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

If you are interested in receiving our ongoing blog series or other articles by email, please sign up in the box on the right labeled Get Email Updates From Us.

Listen to the radio series Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations.

Organizations of the Future – The Challenge

Innovative Leadership Integral ModelThis post is an excerpt of a paper to be published in the Integral Leadership Review in September, written by Maureen Metcalf and Carla Morelli. This post is a companion to the Voice America discussion with Daryl Peterman, CEO of Abrasive Technology and Mike Morrow-Fox with Metcalf & Associates.

“Today any company that isn’t rethinking its direction at least every few years—as well as constantly adjusting to changing contexts—and then quickly making significant operational changes is putting itself at risk. But, as any number of business leaders can attest, the tension between needing to stay ahead of increasingly fierce competition and needing to deliver this year’s results can be overwhelming.”

–John P. Kotter, “Accelerate!”, Harvard Business Review, November 2012

Accelerating change continues to impact every facet of business. To thrive long term, business leaders must make implementing change a core competency in order to capitalize on our changing world instead of merely trying to adapt to it.

In attempts to stay abreast of rapid changes, continuous advancements in system efficiencies have been enabled by unprecedented rates of technology development. The ensuing race to keep pace with competitors and technology has proven deeply problematic: innovating functional efficiencies has become the singular focus of most corporate strategy at the expense of vision and cultural cohesion. Significant dissonance between purpose and day-to-day functioning has arisen as companies have focused their energies on functional training rather than developing sophisticated thinking, complex interaction capabilities, or comprehensive decision-making skills. Organizational strategy has essentially been reduced to improving functional processes, and technical competency has inappropriately become equivalent to strategic vision.

This shallow version of strategy has not only driven market volatility, it has worked to marginalize new organizational strategies, particularly those emerging to address the flattening global economy. Companies are applying more technology innovation to resolve issues that were actually created by a myopic focus on innovating technology.

The nature of these changes is becoming progressively more complex. Every moment of experience is influenced by the interaction between intention, action, culture and systems. All four of these basic dimensions are fundamental to every experience we have, and mutually shape them in all circumstances. Leaders must consider the four-dimensional view of reality and balance the situations they face in the most comprehensive way possible.

Balancing the whole is critical to effectively transforming your organization. A multi-faceted approach provides a more complete, accurate view of events and situations than the traditional one, which favors analysis based primarily on a systems or process view, and excludes culture and leadership impact. Leaders often take the more traditional approach to changing organizations, overemphasizing systems change with little or no consideration of the culture or how their personal mindset and actions shape the change’s content and success. Our model, the Innovative Leadership Transformation model, provides a framework that enables leaders to create continuous alignment across the four dimensions.

Companies clearly need innovation to successfully navigate both current and emerging economic landscapes – and most are not getting it. It’s relatively rare for transformation programs to deliver the results projected in an original business case.

“It’s relatively rare for transformation programs to succeed; many surveys, including our own, put the success rate at less than 40 percent. Our recent research, however, underscores the fact that certain tactics promote successful outcomes. The most important tactics are setting clear and high aspirations and targets, exercising strong leadership from the top, creating an unambiguous structure for the transformation, and maintaining energy and involvement throughout the organization. Companies that used all of these tactics succeeded more than 80 percent of the time.”

–McKinsey Quarterly, April 2009

Simply put, companies attempting to traverse the economic landscape with incomplete tactics will not succeed.

In addition to tactics, however, we must also look at the impact leadership has on the organization’s ability to successfully implement change. An inappropriately heavy focus on system performance and analytics often proves costly. Enhancing organizational capacity must go beyond increasing system functionality. More comprehensive approaches to leadership and organizational transformation must be seriously considered.

“Change-management processes supplement the system we know. They can slide easily into a project-management organization. They can be made stronger or faster by adding more resources, more sophisticated versions of the same old methods, or smarter people to drive the process—but again—only up to a point. After that point, using this approach to launch strategic initiatives that ask an organization to absorb more change faster can create confusion, resistance, fatigue, and higher costs.”

–John P. Kotter, “Accelerate!”, Harvard Business Review, November 2012

If, in addition to developing better functional processes, one also begins to clarify strategic vision, grow leadership capacity, and build a cohesive company culture, greater and more sustainable success will be achieved.

Of course, not every challenge requires a leader to change how he thinks about the business or himself as a leader to “solve” it, but many complex challenges do. One of the biggest challenges for today’s leader is developing the ability to identify which problems require complex solutions and which are merely technical in nature that can be solved using more traditional approaches. Developing complex solutions requires experimentation and often generates new discoveries. They can take a long time to implement and are not successfully implemented by edict. To succeed in developing complex solutions, leaders must fully understand the organization’s problems and challenges, their own leadership capabilities, and the barriers and resistance they will likely face.

Complex challenges illuminate deeply held beliefs and force not only a change in how work is done, but also in the leaders, themselves, and in an organization’s values. What results is more than a process change or innovation translation: a complex solution also changes personal values, beliefs, behaviors and interactions. The most effective solutions to complex challenges are those that change the leader and the organization’s relationship to processes, values, behaviors and interactions. In other words, the change process works on the leader at the same time the leader works on the change.

Leaders must be willing to face what they will need to change about themselves as well as change about their organizations to successfully solve adaptive challenges.”

– Ronald A. Heifetz and Donald A. Laurie, “The Work of Leadership” Harvard Business Review Breakthrough Leadership, December 2001

As the term suggests, “adaptive challenges” require leaders and employees to learn new ways of thinking about the work as much as new ways of doing the work. Adaptive challenges are often the most elusive, as they require that leaders change not only the organization, but take on the difficult process of looking at themselves as leaders and determining how they need to change in order to solve the challenge they face. “Adaptive change” and “transformation” will be used throughout this article to mean complex changes that require a solution involving change to the leader, the culture and the organizational systems.[1]


To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

If you are interested in receiving our ongoing blog series or other articles by email, please sign up in the box on the right labeled Get Email Updates From Us.

[1] Heifetz and Laurie built on these initial findings in their June 2009 book, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World.

Leadership 2050 – Four Key Trends and Their Impact On Leadership

Leadership FuturesAs we prepare for the inaugural broadcast of the Voice America Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations, we wanted to share a bit of what you might hear in the first show focusing on Leadership 2050.

Susan Cannon, renowned futurist, university faculty member, consultant and author, shares some of the competing trends we might expect to see. One thing that is clear from all of her work is the movement toward complexification and its connection to leadership, and the clear conclusion that leaders need to update their leadership “operating system” to respond multiple concurrent changes that will impact leaders and the businesses they run for the rest of most of their careers.

So, here is a preview of some of the trends Susan will talk about and what she has taken away from what she has seen.

  1. Let’s start with the fact that the next 30- to 35 years is going to be even more dramatically different than the last. This is difficult to fathom because the past nearly half a century has been rife with monumental changes in technology. Susan has been watching inventor Ray Kurzweil for the last 20 years because he has been incredibly accurate in his technology forecasts. Now he’s director of engineering at Google, and he predicts that at the comparative rate for technological change based on 2001, the twenty-first century will experience 20,000 times more change than the twentieth century. So that’s a lot to be adapting to—and technology is just one sector of change.
  2. Scanning the current literature in futures and foresight studies, professional scenarios, and government-sponsored research on global trends, is pretty sobering. Among the more likely trends are systemic change drivers such as abrupt climate change and sudden global financial disruption—those are biggies. Also, we see the possibility of unsustainable levels of production and consumption reaching a tipping point that rapidly deteriorates the biosphere. Likewise, runaway pandemics are a threat. We could see an even greater surge of armed conflict/failing states/terrorism potentially with weapons of mass destruction, and catastrophic water shortages over large parts of the earth.[i] Any of these trends have the potential of driving secondary trends.
  3. Positive trends that came out of Susan’s doctoral research focusing on 2020, included a trend toward the feminine values. Its continued growth indicates that it will be a long-term trend. She also concluded that two of the most powerful levers of change toward a positive future would be the changes in the institution of business (especially as conscious or enlightened capitalism continues to emerge) and a greater emphasis on developing and promoting women leaders.
  4. Former Vice President Al Gore, who is clearly a prescient guy, recently wrote a well-researched book called Six Drivers of Global Change. He concluded that “there is no prior period of change that remotely resembles what humanity is about to experience.” Gore talks about a “vacuum of leadership” and clearly supports the view that we need a radical new plan in leadership development.

The bottom line is that there is overwhelming evidence that we are already in a perfect storm of increasing complexity, accelerating change, and near constant uncertainty that exceed the mental and emotional capacities of most leaders. If leaders are overwhelmed by complexity, change, and uncertainty now, how will they cope in the future?

This isn’t intended to create fear; it’s actually good news. Historically, whenever the pressure of life conditions threatens our existence as a race, a new and more complex stage of consciousness—you can call it a mindset with a corresponding culture—has emerged. In a sense we are forced to evolve, forced to innovate and transform ourselves for our own good! There is a strong mandate for leaders to innovate and transform themselves so they can drive thriving organizations.

Even more promising is that through the study of how humans and cultures evolve over time, we know that already there is a small but increasing percentage of the population who has the mindset and capacities with the complexity and nuance that will be needed for 2050. They offer a blueprint we want to encourage.

Please tune in to the show to hear more directly from Susan about the trends, and from Mike Morrow-Fox about the leadership mindset and how to develop it.

Note: This post is drawn from a much more indepth analysis conducted by Susan in a chapter co-authored by Susan Cannon, Mike Morrow-Fox and Maureen Metcalf in the upcoming International Leadership Association Book Leadership 2050: Critical Challenges, Key Contexts, and Emerging Trends (Emerald Group Publishing, 2015). This chapter includes a more comprehensive analysis as well as thorough referencing of all trends.”

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

Photo Credit: blmoregon

Inaugural Leadership Talk Radio Show – Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations – Leadership 2050

Voice Americal Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations

Innovative Leaders Driving Thriving Organizations

Tuesday at 11 AM Pacific

July 14, 2015: Leadership 2050

Episode Description

This is our inaugural show we will be talking to Susan Cannon and Mike Morrow-Fox. Our topic is Leadership 2050. We will discuss trends and a leadership model from a chapter we co-authored in the upcoming International Leadership Association Book Leadership 2050: Critical Challenges, Key Contexts, and Emerging Trends (Emerald Group Publishing, 2015). The qualities of effective leadership can be paradoxical—requiring effective leaders to be passionate and unbiased, detailed and strategic, hard driving and sustainable, fact-focused and intuitive, self-confident and selfless—often at the same time. Such complexity is rarely found in leaders even under optimal conditions. As we move toward 2050, new contexts and conditions are poised to emerge that will create challenges.

Susan Cannon, PhD, interdisciplinary scholar-practitioner and futurist brings 25+ years to innovation, learning, and change in human systems. Currently a certified integral master coach/consultant, Vollett Executive Coaching and Evolucent Consulting; adjunct professor Organizational Development and Leadership, Fielding Graduate University; and pioneer in women’s integral leadership development, Kore Evolution. Work history includes engineering/senior executive positions, and patents. B.S. Engineering Physics, Texas Tech University; M.S. Chemical Engineering, Purdue University; Ph.D. Integral Studies, California Institute of Integral Studies.  ‘

Mike Morrow-Fox, MBA, has 20 years of experience in leading technology and human resources operations for health care, education, banking, and nonprofit organizations, as well as several years of university teaching. His bachelor’s degree focused on Industrial Psychology and Employee Counseling and his MBA focus was on Organizational Leadership. He is currently completing his Doctorate in Educational Leadership,. He is a contributor to several books in the award-winning Innovative Leadership book series

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.