Leading a High-Stress Team: Former Police Constable Discusses Merits of Meditation

The tech industry painted a stereotype of a play-filled office with air hockey and ping pong or calming communal workspaces with sleep pods and yoga mats. For most of us, that remains a dream. For police and other first responders, it can’t even be a fleeting thought: from “Karens” to crooks, it’s a high-stress day every day.

Rob Elkington, Assistant Professor, Trent University, and Les Sylven, a Leadership Studies PhD candidate in the Faculty of Education at the University of Victoria. His doctoral research project explores police leadership with senior Canadian police officers who regularly practice meditation and mindfulness. Les was a police officer in Canada for over 30 years, on the ILI podcast Law & Order…& Leadership This episode was produced in partnership with the International Leadership Association as part of their 25th Annual Global Conference held in October 2023. Dan Mushalko, ILI Executive Producer, shared this article as a companion to a podcast. 

Listen to the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership: Co-Creating Our Future via Apple PodcastsTuneInSpotifyAmazon MusicAudibleiHeartRADIO, and NPR One.

Let’s face it: high-stress jobs aren’t disappearing anytime soon.

In reality, plenty of jobs still put people under high pressure. As their leader, you may not be the one putting the pressure on them, but you can provide a little relief – and lead them more effectively. Our latest podcast guests – researcher Rob Elkington and retired police chief Les Sylven – have five tips to improve stress under police leadership…tips that you can adapt to your work environment, too!

1) Embrace Servant Leadership (and other new leadership approaches)

A leader’s job boils down to one critical element: providing the resources and guidance for the team to succeed. That’s really the crux of servant leadership. This principle obviously applies to any sector, but there’s an added irony for police leaders. Officers swear an oath “to serve and protect.” That oath doesn’t disappear when they’re promoted into leadership positions! From sergeant to chief, the job now is to serve the officers under their command. Add to that the copycat concept: just like kids watch their parents and imitate their behavior, so do teams watch their bosses. “Do as I say, and not as I do” doesn’t cut it anymore. Your team does as you do. In police leadership, if you want your officers to truly serve the community, model it by truly serving them.

2) Lean Into Emotional Intelligence

Simply put, lead with compassion. Heaping stress on top of someone who’s already stressed out clearly doesn’t help. Quite the opposite: it eventually leads to breakdown and failure. More than ever, people across industries are coming to work with stress and trauma on their shoulders. Realize that, show a little empathy, and you’ll figure out the best practices to motivate each individual to attain success. For first responders, in particular, the job means facing life-threatening trauma every time they clock in. As a leader, are you helping…or pushing your team closer to the edge?

3) Practice Mindfulness

Mental health issues have been rising at work across sectors. Is that really a surprise in high-stress environments? Mindfulness practices can significantly reduce the impact of stress on both mind and body. In fact, former chief Sylven is currently doing research on the benefits of mindfulness for law enforcement as part of his PhD studies, and the results are pretty clear. It enhances present-moment focus, self-awareness, and mental resilience in the face of trauma. From simple deep breathing to full-on meditation, mindfulness helps you and your team.

4) Mentor and Coach

This is another step that applies to leaders in any sector; ironically, old-school policing understood this: that’s why cop shows have the stereotype of the new rookie being assigned to the seasoned old veteran on the force! Whether it’s a mentor’s wisdom from experience or a coach’s objective perspective, getting guidance from others helps us better analyze ourselves – to build on our strengths and bridge our weaknesses. Stress creates a kind of tunnel vision, restricting your team’s view; solutions slip by unseen. Receiving that outside perspective helps broaden their view, encouraging reflection and, often, self-care. As a leader, you can be a mentor and coach yourself…but also look to other leaders, consultants, and professional programs who can resonate well as guides for your team’s members.

5) Make Debriefing Routine

As with the military, any major incident in policing is followed by a full debriefing – an analysis of what happened, why it happened, and what can be learned from it. It’s a wise route to take in any business sector, yet surprisingly few leaders take the time to do this. Without it, though, no wisdom is gained. To maximize wisdom, make debriefing routine: on a regular basis, meet with each person on your team to go over the events of the week, month, or quarter (Annual reviews, frankly, are nowhere near frequent enough to be of any real use in improving performance). You may be surprised at the gains you’ll see in both performance and morale over time!

Each of these steps is more about practice than price. They won’t require huge budget boosts – the big change rests in how you see your role as a leader. It takes personal effort, but the benefits begin to show rapidly, and their effects can last a lifetime.


Thank you for reading Innovative Leadership Insights, where we bring you thought leaders and innovative ideas on leadership topics each week.


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The Anxious Achiever

Maureen Metcalf, founder and CEO of the Innovative Leadership Institute, published this article as part of the Forbes Coaches Council. It is a companion to the podcast with Morra Aarons-Mele, the host of The Anxious Achiever, a top-10 management podcast that helps people rethink the relationship between their mental health and their leadership, The Anxious Achiever

Podcast intro from “FauxMo:”, Maureen’s digital twin and part of the ILI AI experiments.

Link to the entire interview:


Listen to the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-Creating Our Future via Apple PodcastsTuneInStitcherSpotify,  Amazon Music,  AudibleiHeartRADIO, and NPR One.

Building Leadership Cohesion

People talk about leaders aligning around a goal and what happens when leadership teams can’t find alignment. A key underlying factor for this misalignment is the lack of leadership cohesion. In her 2012 book So Far from Home: Lost and Found in Our Brave New World, Meg Wheatley says, “In today’s world, where complexity and change are the norms, leaders must work together cohesively and collaboratively to achieve their goals.”

The lack of cohesion significantly contributes to our misalignment, causing reduced trust, conflict, decreased productivity and increased turnover. For leaders, the lack of cohesion is an energy drain; everything takes longer than it should and is more difficult. While cohesion is crucial, it is rarely discussed in leadership circles.

If cohesion has that level of impact on organizations, how do leaders become more cohesive? Developing cohesion requires a concerted effort by leadership teams.

Confirm the organization’s purpose and values.

The following questions can guide you to help your team align around purpose and values. Purpose and values can be communicated through shared stories. Is the purpose clear? Do you agree with it? Is it a foundation for all high-impact decisions? Do the values serve as the foundation for the culture? Do they guide behavioral norms? Do the values align with your values? Are you proud to work for an organization with this purpose and values? What are your shared stories? Do you have a story of what success looks like?

Develop trust.

Trust is a key foundation for cohesion. It changes and evolves as our relationships evolve. Many of us have had the experience that we “lose” trust after a person violates our expectations. We also have the experience of beginning to trust someone after a period of questions. Mary Jo Bouchard’s trust model provides a solid foundation to explore trust. Each of the six elements (ASC-DOC) impacts how much we trust someone. We may trust their consistency. They are predictable, but we distrust their competence, realizing they don’t have the expertise to deliver on their commitments.

  • Authenticity
  • Safety
  • Consistency
  • Dependability
  • Ownership
  • Competence

How are you building and sustaining trust across your leadership team? Can you use this model to get more granular about where team members trust one another and where trust breaks down? We use the model with the leadership team to help them identify areas of weak trust and agree on behaviors that support a high-trust relationship.

Clear, consistent and transparent communication.

Different organizations have very different norms for communication. Some fall to the side of the need to know, while others build trust through open and honest communication. For leaders to build coherence, it is important to use communication as a key lever to foster trust. Your communication should reinforce each of the six elements of the ASC-DOC trust model. If these elements fall short, you risk reducing trust and coherence. Questions for leaders and leadership teams include: What is our communication cadence? Do we structure our communications to build trust and coherence? Do we consistently connect our communication messages to our purpose and values? Do we integrate our purpose and values into our crucial decisions?

Foster diversity and inclusion.

Cohesive teams can differ constructively. Diverse teams bring diverse points of view and leverage them to accomplish significant goals. The “2023 Edelman Trust Barometer” indicated that distrust is fueling polarization. Very few would help (30%), live near (20%) or work with (20%) someone whose views they disagreed with. In this context, diversity and inclusion can include gender, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation. It can also include different stakeholders and cross-functional groups, and in our divided, politically charged workplaces, it can include purposely inviting people with diverse views across these groups.

Guiding questions to test your performance on fostering diversity and inclusion could include: Is our leadership team diverse? How do we ensure diverse perspectives are considered and integrated into solutions? How do we ensure our culture fuels trust for people who are different?

Foster community.

People perform better and have a greater sense of well-being when they trust those around them to seek their best interests and support them in accomplishing their goals. According to Gallup, “Having a ‘best friend’ at work contributes to a thriving employee experience and to communication, commitment and other outcomes. In fact, recent Gallup data show that having a best friend at work has become more important since the pandemic, even considering the dramatic increase in remote and hybrid work.”

Fostering community is a companion to diversity. How do you foster community across a diverse group of people with multiple points of view? How do you create opportunities for team members to find shared interests when they appear different? How do you promote friendship at work, one-to-one and among groups? Do you have group volunteer projects? Do you celebrate successes? Do you celebrate failures? Do you celebrate people?

Building cohesion among leadership teams is crucial for organizational success when trust is low; distrust breeds polarization. Cohesion enables leaders to come together to solve big challenges effectively with limited energy leakage. Lack of cohesion diverts valuable resources resulting in infighting, slow decisions, unsupportive behavior, undermining activities and, ultimately, reduced organizational performance.


Maureen Metcalf is the founder and CEO of the Innovative Leadership Institute. She is an expert in anticipating and leveraging future business trends. Ms. Metcalf helps leaders elevate their leadership quality and transform their organizations to create sustainable impact and results. She captures 30 years of experience and success in an award-winning series of books used by public, private, and academic organizations to align company-wide strategy, systems, and culture using Innovative Leadership techniques. Ms. Metcalf is a Fellow of the International Leadership Association. She also serves on the advisory boards of the School of Strategic Leadership at James Madison University and the Mason Leadership Center at Franklin University. Ms. Metcalf earned an MBA from Virginia Tech. She can be reached at mmetcalf@innovativeleadership.com.


Morra Aarons-Mele is the host of The Anxious Achiever, a top-10 management podcast that helps people rethink the relationship between their mental health and their leadership. Morra founded Women Online and The Mission List, an award-winning digital-consulting firm and influencer marketing company dedicated to social change in 2010 and sold her businesses in 2021. She helped Hillary Clinton log on for her first internet chat and has launched digital campaigns for President Obama, Malala Yousafzai, the United Nations, the CDC, and many other leading figures and organizations. She lives outside Boston with her family and menagerie. For more details, visit www.theanxiousachiever.com.


Thank you for reading the Innovative Leadership Newsletter by the Innovative Leadership Institute, where we bring you thought leaders and innovative ideas on leadership topics each week.


Ready to measure your leadership skills? Complete your complimentary assessment through the Innovative Leadership Institute. Learn the 7 leadership skills required to succeed during disruption and innovation.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-Creating Our Future via Apple PodcastsTuneInStitcherSpotify,  Amazon Music,  AudibleiHeartRADIO, and NPR One.

Why Meeting Efficiency Should be Your Goal for 2022

Darren Chait, the Founder and COO of Hugo offers an article as a companion to his podcast How Collaboration Is Changing and Modern Team Dynamics.

Meeting culture and company culture are tightly related—in fact how a company meets is a good indicator of the company culture as a whole. Effective meetings are indicators of effective companies and the respect that employees have for one another. Fortunately, there are many straightforward practices to improve meeting effectiveness that lead to a dramatically better working environment.

Most companies won’t be as strict as Hugo, which sets a standard of no more than 10% of employees’ time in internal meetings, but it’s a good exercise to try. However, with years of experience in creating software that streamlines meetings—and what happens in between—Hugo can speak authoritatively on the kinds of practices that any organization can implement.

Meetings: Only when needed

The first rule of effective meetings is to call meetings only when needed, and only with the people who are needed. Synchronous meetings should be limited to the “Three Ds”: Debate, Decision-making, and Discussion. Status updates, reporting and other routine information sharing can be done in asynchronous channels, such as Slack, e-mail, Notion, Miro, and Google Docs. Likewise, quick check-ins and questions can be done through chat, voice messages, video recordings, like Loom, or even by simply picking up the phone.

While two years ago, this rule of thumb could be implemented quite strictly, since more people are working from home or remotely, using a strict system for meetings can end up neglecting some of the human interactions that people need to develop deeper trust within an organization. Technologies such as Teamflow can create an “in-office” environment for remote teams. Other companies have developed explicit practices such as virtual happy hours or regular check-ins in small groups or pairs. Especially with the level of stress many people are feeling due to the global situation or isolation at home, it’s important for managers to work in processes for ensuring that people are cared for. The companies with the highest retention rates and productivity are those where employees feel the company cares about them.

The right combination of synchronous and asynchronous methods will increase the efficiency across the organization. High-touch asynchronous methods such as video and voice recordings can help teams communicate effectively across time zones without losing the nuances of facial expressions and tone of voice.

Tracking to keep on track

Two common problems with meetings are the lack of structure and the lack of follow-up of action items. While people know that they “should” have an agenda, notes and action items, most companies do not have any specific procedures in place for making sure that happens.

Hugo formalizes and operationalizes the agenda, note-taking, follow-up and action-item assignment for meetings, while at the same time retaining flexibility. Most companies will use multiple types of meeting templates.

Daily stand-ups, retros, strategy meetings and one-on-ones have different structures. In fact, in interviews with managers we found that they often mix it up when it comes to one-on-ones with their team members, alternating between the manager setting the agenda and the employee setting the agenda. With group meetings, it makes sense to give everyone the opportunity to list agenda items or even comment on other people’s agenda items. With a transparent structure for meeting planning, it may turn out that some of the agenda items get resolved among a subset of the meeting members, even before the meeting takes place.

Transparent by default

With the rapid shifts in technology and culture, modern companies have found that transparency leads to greater efficiency. By making information known throughout the organization, solutions to problems can come from anywhere in the organization.

Meetings are no exception—looking at someone’s calendar tells you a lot about what they are doing with their work day. Having transparency into the meeting agenda and notes gives people within the organization a quick view into what their colleagues are up to. While it’s not necessary for everyone to see everything throughout the organization, access to that information is part of the company culture and leads to employees taking a higher level of responsibility.

As managers move from status meetings to team meetings that highlight brainstorming and problem-solving, having visibility throughout the organization can create a richer environment for creative solutions and proactive solutions. This goes one step beyond asking team members to come up with solutions—it allows them to have a view of the entire organization and contribute across teams.

Meeting note transparency also provides rigor in terms of understanding how and why decisions were made. Needless to say, many decisions turn out to be incorrect, and having excellent meeting notes can allow people to go back and find out why they made that decision. Rather than relying on people’s memory, meeting summaries allow an honest review of the decision-making methodology and logic, helping the organization to avoid repeating the same mistakes or making the same types of incorrect assumptions.

The takeaways for more efficient meetings

Meetings will always be an important part of working together. These best practices  will boost meeting effectiveness and employee satisfaction, and contribute to a positive company culture:

  • Hold synchronous meetings only for the Three Ds: Debate, Decision-making and Discussion
  • Use asynchronous communications for updates, reporting and quick questions
  • Set up an agenda document prior to meetings, and allow all participants to review and contribute to the agenda
  • Utilize templates for each type of meetings for fast agenda-making, note-taking and follow up
  • Integrate meeting note-taking and action items with the existing project management tools in the organization
  • Use “open by default” documentation, allowing everyone at the organization to view meeting agendas, summaries and action items
  • Try creating an upper limit of 10-20% for internal meeting time

The most effective way to implement these types of changes is to use a meeting productivity hub such as Hugo. Whether you use automation or implement these changes through workarounds, you’ll see rapid changes in your company efficiency as you maximize the impact of your company meetings.


About the Author

Darren Chait is the Co-founder and COO of Hugo.  Starting his career as a corporate lawyer in sunny Sydney, Australia he made the move to San Francisco to start Hugo with a longtime friend, following years of shared frustrations with unproductive meetings. Darren also writes for Quartz, The Next Web, Thrive Global and numerous blogs, has appeared on well-known podcasts and speaks at conferences around the world.

Analytics To Identify Dream Teams With The CEO of the Predictive Index

This week’s article is an excerpt from The Science of Dream Teams: How Talent Optimization Can Drive Engagement, Productivity, and Happiness by Mike Zani, CEO of The Predictive Index, a talent optimization platform that uses over 60 years of proven science and software to help businesses design high-performing teams and cultures and a companion to his podcast  The Science of Dream Teams.

What do you have to do next week? What will be on your plate four months from now? How about in two years? If you pose these questions to different people in your organization, you’re sure to get very different answers. Some will provide full to-do lists for different scenarios, while others will shrug, wondering why you’re asking questions that seem irrelevant to their jobs.

People across an enterprise hold wildly different ideas about the future. During the Cold War, a psychologist named Elliott Jaques carried out research on this subject and called it the Stratified Systems Theory. The idea, which was especially useful for the military, is that different jobs require different time horizons. Certain people are comfortable projecting far into the future, while others limit their view to a single week, or even a day. So the trick for a large bureaucracy, Jaques wrote, was to layer the talent according to people’s time horizons.*

If that sounds a tad theoretical, consider concrete examples. An engineer is heading up a team building a manufacturing plant. Working on the construction might be a welder who handles assignments thrown his way. He doesn’t have to plan too much for tomorrow or the next day. His time horizon can be counted in hours.

But the engineer takes a longer view. He has to consider the supplies he’ll need next month and the month after. By that point, winter storms might be blowing through. How will that affect supply chains and construction? He’s dealing with a number of variables over a time frame of several months. Next year, he knows, he’ll have a different project. But he doesn’t have to plan for it.

His boss does. She’s a regional manager who has financial responsibilities, a profit and loss report due every quarter. She’s already prospecting for next year’s projects, some of them in Europe. She’s busy calculating how many workers she’ll need, considering currency hedges, and gauging the risk of banking on contract laborers, which hinges on the job market next spring. She has to think ahead, at least a year or two.

She reports to a chief executive, who might be plotting an Asian strategy, including a massive acquisition in Japan. This person has to weigh variables far into the future, perhaps a decade, even longer.

When Elliott Jaques was drawing up his Stratified Systems Theory for the military, the expanding time frames, Strata 1 through 5 (see Figure 4.1), fit neatly into a rigid hierarchy. Privates didn’t need to think about the future, only to follow orders hour by hour. Each ascending rank required a longer vision, until you got to five-star generals, who had to consider the geopolitical implications in 5 years, or 10, of nuclear weapons development or the containment strategy of the Soviet Union.

While few of us run companies as hierarchically rigid as the military, it’s still valuable to measure the time horizons that employees are comfortable with, and to use them in the deployment of talent.

There are tremendous advantages in a workforce marked by higher strata proficiency. We strive for it in our company. One big plus is that a person who envisions what’s ahead is more likely to figure out what to do—thinking through the steps that lead in the right direction. These people need less management, and are frequently self-starters. They’re more likely to generate ideas because they’re imagining the future and scenario planning. People who think far ahead also have potential to climb into management and executive roles.

Getting a grip on strata is fundamental for designing reporting relationships in an enterprise. Think of what happens, for example, if a chief executive has an administrative assistant who functions on a Strata 1 level. To manage this person, the CEO must drop down to Strata 2, allocating perhaps 15 minutes every morning to go over what the assistant is going to do and how to handle certain calls and emails and calendar items. This is not time well spent. And for this reason, many CEOs hire executive assistants who function at high strata levels. These elite assistants can see the entire operation, and anticipate what’s ahead and what needs to be done. Often, they shed the assistant moniker and become executives in their own right.

If you’re in a small startup, you don’t need to think much about reporting relationships. But as a company grows to 200 people, it develops new levels, with executive vice presidents and division leaders. It’s while managing talent in such an enterprise, with five or six levels, that the strata take on importance. Ideally, each level will have to drop only one strata to manage its reports. Big gaps waste time and lead to frustration.

How do you test for strata? Tom Foster, a management consultant and author, proposes a question, such as: “When you finish what you’re working on now, how do you get more work?” Some people say they wait for their next assignment. Others ask their manager. Others might start to enumerate everything they know that needs to get done. The answer often reveals a person’s time horizon.

I often test for strata during the hiring process. After all, if we want high-strata employees, the job interview is a great place to screen for it. I might ask candidates to tell me a story about the most complicated project they ever undertook in their youth or early in their career. I’m not looking for altruism or team play or any other virtues. I’m focused on comfort with complexity and long-span thinking.

Some people, eager to flash their entrepreneurial credentials, tell me about a business they started. But when you poke further, there’s little there. For example, someone designs a website in college. It’s pretty good. And a local business pays him $500 to make another one. Pretty soon, he has a small business of his own, which pays a chunk of his expenses through college. That’s great, but it doesn’t show a strategic vision.

One of the best strata stories I heard was from a former high school actor named Rich Weiss. He and his friend worked on sets for a high school play. That didn’t sound so complicated to me at first. But then he described the constraints. There wasn’t much money or space. They had to figure out how to make a set that fit into the gym, one the school used for all kinds of activities. So the set had to be compact, moveable, and affordable. They had to plan in September to build it over the winter holidays, without interfering with basketball and gymnastics, and then stage it in March. Rich was clearly a strategic thinker. He now uses those skills to run important processes at our company. He doesn’t have to wait around for someone to tell him what needs to be done.

Excerpt from The Science of Dream Teams: How Talent Optimization Can Drive Engagement, Productivity, and Happiness by Mike Zani, pp. 60-65 (McGraw Hill, July 2021).

About the Author
Mike Zani is the author of The Science of Dream Teams: How Talent Optimization Can Drive Engagement, Productivity, and Happiness and CEO of The Predictive Index, a talent optimization platform that uses over 60 years of proven science and software to help businesses design high-performing teams and cultures. Zani is also the co-founder and partner at Phoenix Strategy Investments, a private investment fund. An avid sailor, he was the coach of the 1996 US Olympic Team. He holds a BS from Brown University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.


Photo by Leon on Unsplash

Building Teams By Doing Meaningful Work

This blog is a guest post by Simon Mac Rory as a companion to the podcast where he talks about his latest book, Wake-up and Smell the Coffee: An Imperative for Teams.

Alison Green, advice columnist, consultant, and author of the Ask Manager website, had a very interesting article on the BBC news website recently entitled Why corporate team-building events can be terrible – (see article at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-45260246). I couldn’t agree more with her, and in my recent book “Wake up and Smell the Coffee – The Imperative of Teams, I address the same issue in a chapter debunking the myths around teamwork. Here is an excerpt from the book on the issue.

Offsite team building can take time away from ‘real work.’

Suggest a team building session; immediately, the outdoors springs to mind. Contrary to popular opinion, I am convinced they do not help deliver an effective team. There are many variations of this, some even run by ex-special elite soldiers. Primarily they are based on completing group exercises and challenges, supposedly developing team spirit and effectiveness.

A trust circle at an off-site event!!!!!!

Every team member is encouraged to participate equally by the facilitator; the work team leader no longer has the same level of power as this is ceded to the facilitator. The team is given clear and precise goals and directions. This is not the norm at work. The degree of psychological safety is higher at these events (controlled by the facilitator), and everyone’s opinion tends to be heard. No idea is considered too wacky, as most of the tasks are wacky in the first place. Credit for new ideas and novel solutions is given as the ideas are developed. Based on this more engaged way of interacting, the team becomes increasingly successful at the tasks as the day progresses.

When they return to the workplace, they face the leader reasserting their control again, not being heard, lacking clear goals and roles, suggestions and solutions being knocked, and ideas being stolen.

What is happening with these outdoor events?

The number one problem with these sessions is their capacity to create an expectation that the team can work better together. The sessions are carefully constructed – I know because I used to deliver them at one time – precise instructions and clear objectives are given for each exercise. For starters, this is not the norm in the workplace. Often, the exercises bear no resemblance to any work-related task that the team carries out. As the day progresses, the tasks get more difficult, and most teams do complete the tasks successfully because they are designed to be completed successfully.

The outcome is a team in high spirits and delighted with their success. They are full of energy and drive to return to the workplace and prove their effectiveness with this new-found capacity to work together. But, when they return to work, lo and behold, nothing has changed. The frustration levels rose very quickly as the team members recalled how well they had worked together at the offsite but could not make it happen. The frustration levels rise accordingly, and often, the opposite of what was intended is the reality. The team is less effective and more fractious.

The offsite is a false environment. Not only do the tasks not represent the normal work of the team, but the conditions in which they happen are also not representative!

Real team development that delivers sustainable development and effectiveness happens in the workplace. Teams that take time to think about how they do things rather than what they do can always develop more effective means of working together. Teams that address goal and role clarity, planning and evaluation, composition and structure, appropriate leadership style and participation, conflict management and performance recognition, communication, and trust are the teams that will not only deliver more but will create a psychologically safe environment as a platform for their effectiveness. All of this occurs in the workplace, not outdoors or at wild and wonderful offsite events.

Team development is not about time away from real work, rather it is about the time correctly given to reflection on ‘how’ the team does things, rather than ‘what’ it does. It can and does take place during normal work hours, where it is far more effective and does not serve to embarrass and compromise any team member. Think carefully before organizing outdoor events/offsites regarding the team members and their dispositions. Remember, it is not about fun but about addressing the real issues driving team effectiveness.

About the Author

Simon Mac Rory is a specialist in team development. He works with senior staff leaders to help them discover that edge to becoming a truly high-performing team. Over his 30-year career, he has worked globally with a blue-chip client base in both the private and public sectors.

He founded The ODD Company in 2011 to deliver TDP (a cloud-based team development tool and methodology) to the international markets. Simon
operates the business from London with a Dublin-based development and support office.

Simon received a doctoral degree for his work on applying generic frameworks in organizational development and is a Visiting Research Fellow at Nottingham Business School.

Follow Simon on Twitter @SimomMacRory

Proven Path to Leadership Maturity and Effectiveness

This post is a companion to the podcast featuring Mike Morrow-Fox talking about leadership maturity and vertical development to build the leadership qualities required to lead large, complex organizations and those that aspire to make the greatest impact.

Forbes Coaches Council first published the following article in August 2016.

Future trends indicate complexity, accelerated change, and near-constant uncertainty in the coming years. These conditions will require significantly different leadership skills.

With these new demands for evolving leadership, is there a predictable path to develop leadership? If so, what does that path look like?

Leaders develop both “horizontally,” increasing their ability at their current level of operation, and “vertically,” increasing their level of complexity, emotional maturity, and opening to new awareness. Many researchers are now saying that “vertical development” is required to navigate the complexities leaders and their organizations face.

To answer what the vertical evolutionary path looks like, I reference the research of Dr. Cook-Greuter, who developed a Leadership Maturity Framework (LMF) and measurement of adult development as part of her doctoral dissertation at Harvard University. Dr. Cook-Greuter is now the Co-Founder with Beena Sharma of The Center for Leadership Maturity, a firm that facilitates vertical development in individuals, teams, and organizations. The LMF is the basis of my work with vertical leadership development because it provides a model grounded in research and is practical to use in coaching and leadership development.

Vertical development does not mean that more developed people are “better” people, but rather, in many cases, they are likely to be more effective in key leadership roles within large complex organizations. The following is a summary of the LMF describing the predictable developmental trajectory people navigate as they grow:

The Group-Centric Level

This level is about conforming and belonging. People at this level follow rules, norms and observe hierarchy. They conform to social expectations, work to group standards, seek membership and approval, and appreciate outward signs of status as a sign of approval. They attend to the welfare of their own group; those who are not like them are the “other,” and therefore outside their circle of concern. They avoid conflict, think in simple terms, and often speak in generalities. Feedback is taken as disapproval since their driving value is to gain approval and be included.

Example: This is the employee who looks to what the group is doing to determine his actions. He looks to meet the “expectations” set by the organization, fit into the culture, and do what everyone does. Belonging is his key to success; standing out or having a different opinion feels risky

The Skill-Centric Level

This focuses on comparing self to others and perfecting skills. Individuals at this level focus on being competent in their own area of interest and improving techniques and efficiency. They aspire to quality standards and are often heavily invested in their way as the only way of doing things. Decisions are made based on incontrovertible “facts.” Given their focus on problem-solving and detail, they can get caught in the weeds and not see the big picture necessary to effectively prioritize among competing demands. All consuming attention on being right can lead them to be critical of and competitive with others. They hear feedback about their work as criticism of them as a whole person.

Example: This is the employee who points out when others make mistakes and tries to correct them so they can meet the standards. Her development efforts focus on building expertise. She usually has a “better” opinion unless she is in the presence of a subject-matter expert.

The Self-Determining Level

This focuses on analyzing and achieving to effectively deliver results. Leaders at this level look toward longer-term goals and initiate rather than follow expectations. They value objectivity and scientific knowledge, seeking rational, proactive ways around problems. They often seek consensus — “agree to disagree” — and value mutuality and equality in relationships. They accept feedback to promote learning and success.

Example: This employee continually drives to meet organizational goals. He works both efficiently and effectively and is continually competing with himself and others to drive the best results. He has a five-year plan, is open to new learning, and is beginning to be more reflective.

The Self-Questioning Level

This level focuses on self in relationship and contextualizing his/her experience. Leaders at this level are concerned with the difference between reality and appearance and have an increased understanding of complexity and unintended effects of actions. They begin to question their own assumptions and views and realize the subjectivity of beliefs; and talk of interpretations rather than facts. They can play different roles in different contexts and begin to seek out and value feedback.

Example: This employee is continually inquiring, challenging assumptions, and aware of the limitations of conventional thinking. She focuses on creating an environment where everyone feels valued. She is committed to appreciating value in different perspectives.

The Self-Actualizing Level

This level is about integrating and transforming self and systems, and recognizing higher principles, complexity and interrelationships. People at this level are aware of the social construction of reality — not just rules and customs. They are problem finding, not just doing creative problem solving. They are aware of paradox and contradiction in self and systems and learn to have a deep appreciation of others. They demonstrate a sensitivity to systemic change and create “positive-sum” games.

Example: This person is continually evaluating the organization’s strategy against long-term industry trends as well as global economic conditions while embodying her values and using herself as an instrument of transformation. She is self-aware and firmly anchored in principles while having the ability to adapt based on context.

As we look to the changes leaders are facing in the near and long term, it is helpful to have a robust model for development that allows them to focus their development energy effectively. This framework, along with it, measurement instrument — the maturity assessment for professionals (MAP) — is the most robust I have seen, and I find it highly effective in supporting leaders.

About the author Maureen Metcalf, CEO and Founder of Innovative Leadership Institute, is a renowned executive advisor, author, speaker, and coach whose 30 years of business experience provides high-impact, practical solutions that support her clients’ leadership development and organizational transformations. Maureen is recognized as an innovative, principled thought leader who combines intellectual rigor and discipline with an ability to translate theory into practice. Her operational skills are coupled with a strategic ability to analyze, develop, and implement successful profitability, growth, and sustainability strategies.

Four Common Types of Difficult Employees And How To Deal With Them

This post is a companion to one of our podcast featuring Mike Morrow-Fox talking about bad bosses and their impact on organizations. 

One of the managers’ jobs is to create an environment that promotes employee engagement and produces organizational results. Difficult employees adversely impact the team members who work with them. Managers must find productive ways to address these difficulties, or they risk negatively impacting the entire working team. According to a Gallup article published in December 2016, “Compared with disengaged teams, engaged teams show 24% to 59% less turnover, 10% higher customer ratings, 21% greater profitability, 17% higher productivity, 28% less shrinkage, 70% fewer safety incidents, and 41% less absenteeism.” The research suggests that managers who address these difficult employees will produce better organizational results than those who do not.

The following is a guest post written by Jackie Edwards, a professional writer experienced in the HR side of finance and banking. As an employer, your team might not always be filled with employees who support your vision and work hard for you. At some point, you’ll have to deal with a difficult personality in the workplace. As stated in the Journal of Business & Economics, difficult employees can become one of the most challenging issues you face. Here are four common types of difficult employees you’ll likely have to come across and tips on tackling them effectively.

Dark-Side Dan

This is the employee who’s always negative. He’ll explain why it won’t work when you bring up an exciting project. It can be frustrating to deal with someone always raining on everyone’s parade while thinking his way is the only right one. However, a good tip is to see him as offering constructive criticism. He might show you the worst-case scenarios of corporate decisions that could help you make the right choice.

However, dealing with such a difficult personality can be quite straightforward. Hold a meeting with your team, give everyone a chance to discuss their skills and struggles, see what this difficult employee says, and coax them for a reply. You want your team members to be vulnerable at times, as it makes for a supportive, cooperative team.

Power-Hungry Pam

This is the employee who wants your job. She’ll take on leadership roles by trying to be seen as holding a position of power with her co-workers or trying to derail your authority, such as by ignoring your instructions. The best way to deal with highly ambitious employees is to give them lots of work so they won’t have time to try to manage other workers. Therefore keeping the workplace peace intact.

Mr. Excuse

You asked your employee to complete a task by the end of the day, but he had something important to do across town, he had to deal with a co-worker’s problem, or he was stuck with a faulty printer. He always has excuses for not doing work or not listening to your instructions. In a global survey of 10,000 adults, 42 percent confessed to lying about how busy they were at work. Although you might be quick to label this worker lazy, there could be another reason for his annoying behavior. Perhaps they are dissatisfied with work? The best thing to do is have an open conversation with him to understand where he’s coming from and how you can utilize his best qualities while minimizing his future games.

The Toddler

If this employee doesn’t like something, she’ll lose her cool, make sarcastic comments, or get into fights with co-workers. She also doesn’t deal with constructive criticism, which makes dealing with her a nightmare. If she’s a talented worker you don’t want to lose, remind her that her great work will take her far, but she needs to tone down her defensiveness as managers need to be likable to succeed. Having a real heart-to-heart with this employee will show her that you’re willing to support your team members and highlight that you’re after her best interests, which will help her see the error of her ways.

Difficult employees are everywhere and might even be part of your team. The key is knowing how to tackle them effectively so that you can use their skills and decrease workplace drama, which negatively impacts everyone’s productivity.

Organizations Have Personality Types: How Do You Fit?

Belinda Gore EnneagramThis guest blog was written as a companion to the podcast with Belinda Gore,  Building Leadership Self-Awareness Using Personality Type. In the interview and the blog, Belinda explores how she uses the Enneagram to help leaders build the self-awareness that enables them to perform effectively. 

As a reminder from a prior post, when the 65-member Advisory Council for the Stanford Graduate School of Business was polled several years ago on the topic of what is most important to include in the school’s curriculum, there was overwhelming agreement that the most important thing business school graduates needed to learn was self-awareness and the resulting ability to reduce denial in their perceptions of themselves and their actions. Pretty impressive. This speaks to the emerging recognition that we highlight in Innovative Leadership: leaders can derail the most progressive initiatives toward an organization’s sustainable success through their personality quirks and biases.

In my experience using the Enneagram system as a psychologist and a leadership coach over the past twenty-three years, I find the Enneagram to be more robust than any other system I have encountered. Many organizations are familiar with DISC, MBTI, Social Styles, and other systems, and training in these models has given employees at every level of the organization a foundation in models for self-awareness. I have found leaders at every level able to learn the rich and versatile information the Enneagram offers readily.

Just as leaders have “personalities,” so do organizations. This is just another way to think about the organizational culture, the mission or role the organization seeks to fulfill, the favored strategies for accomplishing goals, the behaviors that are rewarded and those that are not, and the subtle hiring filters that tend to screen out people who do not fit. The senior leaders of the organization may or may not reflect the culture. It is immensely valuable for leaders to determine their organization’s personality type to harness the natural strengths of that pattern and avoid the embedded tendencies that create problems. Leaders are likely to have a strong influence on the development of organizational culture, but without clear awareness, they may not realize how the leader and the group are aligned and how they sometimes work in opposition.

For example, a mid-size utility company instituted leadership development training based on the Enneagram. In assessing several hundred people within the company, it became clear that the organization has a Type Six culture of loyalty. The Type Six pattern is reflected in the company’s mission to provide reliable and affordable gas and electric energy to their customers and to promote safety for their employees in power plants and distribution. Loyalty is highly valued within the company; many employees have worked there for twenty years or more. Attention is paid to identifying potential problems and working out solutions before they occur; when there is a power outage due to weather conditions, there is an expectation that the entire workforce will be available to provide support until the situation is resolved. In some Enneagram training groups of individual contributors, up to 50% of the employees determined for themselves—using an assessment tool along with classroom training and guided group discussion—to have a Type Six personality. Among mid-level managers, that percentage drops to around 35%, and in the top group of senior leaders, less than 10% assess themselves as having a Type Six personality pattern.

This is not unusual. Why? Because leaders in the C-suites, those who have risen to the top leadership levels, are not equally distributed around the Enneagram circle but tend to cluster in another sub-grouping.

As a leader, you must understand your type to build awareness of your predispositions. It is also important to understand the organization’s type to understand better how you fit within it. Understanding your type will lead you to the following questions:

  1. Is your style a natural fit with that of the majority?
  2. What gifts do you bring because of your similarities?
  3. What blind spots exist if too many people share the same personality type?
  4. If you have a different type, how do your predispositions fill gaps?
  5. How do you manage your similarities and differences to fit and fill gaps?

By answering these questions, you will have a clearer sense of how you, as a leader, may best contribute and some of the inherent struggles if you have a different type than the majority that comprises the culture. While being part of the minority allows you to fill gaps, you may also find yourself excluded or struggling to communicate effectively. Through self-awareness and skillful interactions, you will be able to navigate any organization’s predispositions.

About the Author
Belinda Gore, PhD focuses on designing, developing, and delivering leadership, assessments, workshops, and coaching. She is a key thought leader in developing the Innovative Leadership framework. She is a psychologist, executive coach, and experienced seminar leader skilled in supporting her clients in high-level learning. With 30 years’ experience in leadership development and interpersonal skills training, she is known for helping teams discover strength in their diversity to achieve their mutual goals, and works with individual leaders to access their natural talents to maximize effectiveness and personal satisfaction. Her clients have included senior leadership in global companies, senior and middle management in corporate and nonprofit organizations, and entrepreneurs. She will lead our new service line, which is focused on helping leaders and their organizations build resilience and offering leadership team development, board development, coaching, and Enneagram assessment.

Avoiding Decision Disasters: Integrating the Gut and the Head

This guest blog was written as a companion to the podcast Interview with Dr. Gleb Tsipursky’s Tools for Avoiding Disastrous Decisions. In the interview and the blog, Gleb explores how we can balance intuition and data-based decision-making to achieve the most effective business outcomes. He explores some common misconceptions and offers recommendations to avoid them.

Let’s say you’re interviewing a new applicant for a job, and you feel something is off. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but you’re a bit uncomfortable with this person. She says all the right things, her resume is great, and she’d be a perfect hire for this job – except your gut tells you otherwise.

Should you go with your gut?

In such situations, your default reaction should be to be suspicious of your gut. Research shows that interviewing job candidates is a poor indicator of future job performance.

Unfortunately, most employers tend to trust their guts over their heads and give jobs to people they like and perceive as part of their in-group rather than simply the most qualified applicant. In other situations, however, it makes sense to rely on gut instinct to decide.

Yet research on decision-making shows that most business leaders don’t know when to rely on their gut and when not to. While most studies have focused on executives and managers, research shows the same problem applies to doctors, therapists, and other professionals.

This is the challenge I encounter when I consult with companies on handling workplace relationships better. Research that I and others have conducted on decision-making offers clues on when we should – and shouldn’t – listen to our guts. Our gut reactions are rooted in the more primitive, emotional, and intuitive part of our brains that ensures survival in our ancestral environment. Tribal loyalty and immediate recognition of friend or foe were especially useful for thriving in that environment.

In modern society, however, our survival is much less at risk, and our gut is more likely to compel us to focus on the wrong information to make workplace and other decisions.

For example, is the job candidate mentioned above similar to your race, gender, or socioeconomic background? Even seemingly minor things like clothing choices, speaking style, and gesturing can significantly affect how you evaluate another person. According to research on nonverbal communication, we like people who mimic our tone, body movements, and word choices. Our guts automatically identify those people as belonging to our tribe and being friendly to us, raising their status in our eyes.

This quick, automatic reaction of our emotions represents the autopilot system of thinking, one of our brains’ two systems of thinking. It makes good decisions most of the time but also regularly makes certain systematic thinking errors that scholars call cognitive biases.

The other thinking system, the intentional one, is deliberate and reflective. It takes effort to turn on, but it can catch and override the thinking errors committed by our autopilots. This way, we can address our brains’ systematic mistakes in workplace relationships and other areas of life.

Remember that the autopilot and intentional systems are only simplifications of more complex processes and that there is debate about how they work in the scientific community. However, this systems-level approach is very useful for everyday life in helping us manage our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Regarding tribal loyalty, our brains tend to fall for the thinking error known as the “halo effect,” which causes some characteristics we like and identify with to cast a positive “halo” on the rest of the person, and it’s opposite the “horns effect,” in which one or two negative traits change how we view the whole. Psychologists call this “anchoring,” meaning we judge this person through the anchor of our initial impressions.

Overriding the gut

Now, let’s go back to our job interview example.

Say that the person went to the same college you did. You are more likely to hit it off. Yet, just because someone is similar to you does not mean she will do a good job. Likewise, just because someone is skilled at conveying friendliness does not mean she will do well at tasks that require technical skills rather than people skills.

The research is clear that our intuitions don’t always serve us well in making the best decisions (and, for a business person, bringing in the most profit). Scholars call intuition a troublesome decision tool that requires adjustments to function properly. Such reliance on intuition is especially harmful to workplace diversity and paves the path to bias in hiring, including in terms of race, disability, gender, and sex.

Despite the numerous studies showing that structured interventions are needed to overcome hiring bias, business leaders and HR personnel tend to over-rely on unstructured interviews and other intuitive decision-making practices. Due to the autopilot system’s overconfidence bias and a tendency to evaluate our decision-making abilities as better than they are, leaders often go with their guts on hires and other business decisions rather than use analytical decision-making tools that have demonstrably better outcomes.

A good fix is to use your intentional system to override your tribal sensibilities to make a more rational, less biased choice that will more likely result in the best hire. You could note ways in which the applicant is different from you – and give them “positive points” for it – or create structured interviews with standardized questions asked in the same order to every applicant.

So if your goal is to make the best decisions, avoid such emotional reasoning, a mental process in which you conclude that what you feel is true, regardless of the actual reality.

When your gut may be right

Let’s take a different situation. Say you’ve known someone in your work for many years, collaborated with her on various projects, and have an established relationship. You already have stable feelings about that person and have a good baseline.

Imagine yourself having a conversation with her about a potential collaboration. For some reason, you feel less comfortable than usual. It’s not you – you’re in a good mood, well-rested, feeling fine. You’re unsure why you feel bad about the interaction since nothing is wrong. What’s going on?

Most likely, your intuitions pick up subtle cues about something being off. Perhaps that person is squinting and not looking you in the eye or smiling less than usual. Our guts are good at picking up such signals, as they are fine-tuned to pick up signs of being excluded from the tribe.

Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe that person has a bad day or didn’t get enough sleep the night before. However, that person may also be trying to pull the wool over your eyes. When people lie, they behave in ways that are similar to other indicators of discomfort, anxiety, and rejection, and it’s really hard to tell what’s causing these signals.

Overall, this is a good time to consider your gut reaction and be more suspicious than usual.

The gut is vital in decision-making to help us notice when something is amiss. Yet, in most situations, when we face significant decisions about workplace relationships, we need to trust our heads more than our gut to make the best decisions.

About the Author


Level Five “Strategist” Leadership for Complex Adaptive Groups

Level 5 Strategist Leadership for Complex Adaptive CollectivesThis blog is a companion to the interview with Terri O’Fallon. What is A Level 5 / Teal Organization? Terri O’Fallon, PhD, wrote this post.

The world is a complex place. We are connected and interconnected in ways from which we can no longer retreat with the Internet, and the contemporary ways make us visible to every pair of eyes that look our way. So, how do we lead in this interconnected atmosphere that is changing so quickly? When we are continually connected to the internet, how can we know that any fact in the sea of information we swim in daily is true?

In today’s climate, much truth can come from within you, the leader, by knowing how to engage with the complex, adaptable contexts we live in daily.

Four strategies support building working environments and systems that can improve a leader’s effectiveness and efficiency as a leader in a complex adaptive team or organization. These four strategies come out of the research from the STAGES developmental model, which was derived by integrating developmental approaches related to 1. our individual beliefs and values, 2. our individual action orientation, 3. the norms and culture of the team or organization and 4. the structural and systemic elements. Using these strategies will not only help leaders achieve their goals but will make work a pleasure.

  1. Support the developmental growth of the people in your organization.

We grow and develop all our lives. However, growth isn’t like climbing stairs to the top. Developmental maturity is more like blowing up a balloon. As a result, one grows and matures in wisdom, intelligence, compassion, relationships, and skills, one breath at a time. Becoming familiar with these well-documented stages of growth is an important window into the worldviews and beliefs of individuals and how those views shape your organization. Promoting developmental change and understanding how transformation occurs can shatter a hidden glass ceiling that could stunt the growth of people in your organization who are constrained by current organizational limitations.

  1. Embed goals in ethical principles that you will not sidestep.

Goals are useful targets, but they do not inherently have virtuous results. Part of success is adapting to any goal or target as new landscapes come into view. Adapting goals quickly to changing conditions can inhibit unintentional negative side effects to keep them alive and operable without adapting. Developing a set of principles that guide your adaptations can keep your revisions within ethical boundaries and enhance the results you want to achieve in the world. For example, if your principle is transparency, you would know immediately if you were hesitant to be forthright about an alteration of a process in action, and upon examination, you might discover unconscious underlying reasons for your hesitation in being transparent. Whatever the principles are, they can mold and shape goals and dictate how they are reached as they adapt to changing contexts. By deciding up front a set of principles you will not go outside of, you can quickly make decisions about any variations in your aims and be less apt to cause unintentional harm to others, society, and the bottom line.

  1. Experiment with small changes and then try them on yourself.

A strategist (level five) leader can stand back and see the systems s/he is working with and the organizational environment. This kind of leader can evaluate the weak links in the system and strengthen those places, often in collaboration with others. If the adaptation works, you will see positive change in those who work in the organization, and one way you can know that your change is appropriate is if it grows you and others. You can experience this by stepping back into the system you have adapted and noticing how you experience the change as it applies to you personally and, through that lens, how it applies to others.

  1. Work with individual and collective shadow issues.

This is one of the most challenging parts of being a strategist (level five) leader, as tested by STAGES. At strategist (level five), people are willing to take personal risks in updating their perceptions and behaviors and in addressing organizational inconsistencies. The obvious one at this level is seeing your projections (getting frustrated by others who have qualities you don’t recognize or acknowledge in yourself). You will know if you are projecting if you catch yourself judging someone or assuming something about someone, and after you reflect at the end of the day on these judgments and assumptions, you may begin to see patterns of behavior in yourself that bother you in others. It helps to write them down and provides a tool to evaluate what you judge in others and yourself.

The truth is that we can’t judge what is in others unless we also have that experience somewhere inside ourselves. For example, when driving and someone cuts you off, you may find yourself extremely angry. If you can see your projection, you might ask yourself, “Have I ever cut someone off in traffic?” Projecting our judgments is common, and we are usually unaware that we also own the same qualities we find annoying in others.

Identifying projections is very important because, in organizations, we may find fault with others for things we are doing. By identifying the projection, we can address our disruptive behavior and change our relationship with others. After we have addressed our behavior, we can invite others to do the same.

This approach helps you as a leader find both the challenging and positive capacities in yourself that you don’t see and helps you see how much you are like others you judge or criticize. This understanding alone can help resolve tense situations that inevitably arise.

These projections permeate most groups or organizations (collectives) . There will frequently be times when there are self-righteous and indignant accusations among people working together, between departments, and between organizations. Over time, unconscious collective agreements become organizational habits that can inhibit creativity and honesty and lead to ineffectiveness. Collective examination and identification of these unconscious and often limiting habits can improve effectiveness and benefit the whole organization and, potentially, innovation.

These projections are like putting a rubber band around a tree and then around your waist. You can stretch that rubber band only so far, and it will eventually halt or slow progress—or worse, snap and throw you back.

We use the STAGES matrix to identify these hidden areas, to find the specific areas that need attention, and to create interventions that are effectively and efficiently targeted for healthy adaptive change.

To learn more about the StAGES model and Terri’s work, visit Terri’s website, “Developmental Life Design

About the Author

Terri O’Fallon, PhD has focused the last 23 years as an applied researcher, Terri O’Fallon’s focus over two decades has been on “Learning and change in Human Systems”. She has worked with hundreds of leaders studying interventions that most result in developing leaders who can effectively implement change. She has a PhD in Integral Studies from the California Institute of Integral Studies.

Terri is also the co-founder of two organizations. She and Kim Barta have created Developmental Life Design, an organization that focuses on how the STAGES (developmental) model can support insight into our growth as people, leaders, guides, and coaches and the impact these insights have on our influence in human collectives.

She also partners with Geoff Fitch and Pacific Integral, using the STAGES model to develop collective insight and developmental growth experiments.