Le syndrome du patron de gauche

The 'left-wing manager syndrome' or the denial of management

'The worst bosses are the leftist bosses,' said Arthur Brault-Moreau's father. After a very difficult experience as a parliamentary assistant, he conducted a detailed investigation into what he calls 'left-wing' management. His book, 'Le syndrome du patron de gauche, manuel d'anti-management', tries to explain how apparently evolved bosses can practise toxic management for their subordinates. This well-documented and highly relevant investigation deciphers the systemic aspect of mistreatment in some organisations and examines ways to remedy it.

As someone who is sensitive to suffering in the workplace and passionate about new management methods, the book impressed me with the thoroughness and strength of its analysis. It echoes a number of experiences I have heard and experienced in 'purpose driven' organisations and, more generally, the widespread attitude of shirking managerial responsibility. This article provides a summary of the main views and ideas that struck me, as well as some reflections that reading the book generated for me.

Left-wing management as a negation of the hierarchical relationship

"Leftist management acts like a cloud of smoke, a gaslight that makes it difficult to grasp problems, understand dangers and take steps to defend oneself. This attitude consists in taking refuge - consciously or unconsciously - behind a superior cause, in order to deny the hierarchical relationship and the resulting conflicts. This denial generates suffering.

In the 'left-wing' organisations analysed by the author, the employment relationship is not governed by the subordination laid down in the Labour Code. These structures place themselves above labour law, which is designed to protect employees weakened by an unbalanced relationship with their employer. Unable to operate within the usual framework, the employment relationship is placed in a different, often emotional register, with sometimes serious consequences. This 'hidden' management consists of taking advantage of the employee to serve a cause, without assuming one's responsibilities as an employer. Denying boss status in order to maintain the role of 'good object' leads to a spoliation of the employment relationship. "Friendship", "camaraderie", "association", are all terms used to describe a false relationship of equality that masks a real imbalance.

This attitude of rejection of management and hierarchy can be observed in many structures, far beyond the militant associations and political parties mentioned in the book. NGOs, cultural sector companies, start-ups, impact companies, 'liberated' organisations and the like are all places where suffering is regularly present behind a smiling façade. In these organisations there are often no employees. Instead, there are 'activists', 'comrades', 'friends', 'collaborators', 'entrepreneurs' and even 'family members'. We often hear: 'This is not a classic employee relationship'. In classic organisations, this may be due to ignorance or lack of interest in managerial issues. But 'purpose driven' organisations have a higher purpose: a political project, a cause to serve, a passion or a specific vision for the company.

This game of deception does not fundamentally alter the reality of the workforce. The power relationship exists because sanction and decision-making power persist. This avoidance of responsibility creates blind spots that turn into perverse effects. As Otto Sharmer says in 'Theory U', "Crises always arise from denial".

Mechanisms for generating suffering

When labour relations are not named, they give rise to other forms of power that leave no room for challenge or even discussion: emotional blackmail, guilt, the scapegoat phenomenon. "How do you say no to a boss who proposes an aperitif 'with friends' after work, when you can't stand it any longer?" asks one of the book's witnesses. By personalising labour relations, 'the leftist boss uses elements outside the salary relationship or not directly linked to the employment contract to guarantee subordination'.

Beyond the emotional register, the lack of clarification of power relations can give space to other forms of domination that structure society. Racism, sexism, homophobia... the people interviewed report numerous abuses in militant organisations that are in total contradiction to the rhetoric used. In short, when there are no rules or sanctions, discretionary power takes over.

This gap between rhetoric and reality creates cognitive dissonance, a source of mental and physical suffering. Paradoxical injunctions such as 'there is no problem with us' or 'you are my friend, not my subordinate' are paralysing. Ethical conflicts arise when certain practices are at odds with official discourse. Racist behaviour in an anti-discrimination association, for example. The author points out that value conflicts are listed as psychosocial risks, in the same way as burnout, which is also common in this type of environment. These situations of individual suffering are even more difficult to deal with or to stop when the employer absolves himself from his responsibilities, which include ensuring the good physical and psychological health of his employees.

In addition to an attitude of evasion, there is sometimes a sheer refusal to challenge and challenge authority. The boss may then turn against the recalcitrant employee, as happened to Arthur Brault-Moreau and many of the people he interviewed. The boss's challenge then triggers an outburst of violence from him - or sometimes from the rest of the organisation - which can result in the scapegoat phenomenon. Employees are unable to react, as they do not have the tools to challenge power and its violence: the strike, the right to be warned, the prevention of psychosocial risks, the CSE (Social and Economic Council), etc. Workplace conflicts are not named and therefore not addressed as such, and it is usually the subordinate who pays the price.

In short, the greater the gap between management discourse and practice, the greater the risk of suffering in the workplace.

Getting out of denial

The main way to combat these perverse phenomena is to get out of denial and align theory and practice. To reposition the relationship within the framework of subordination, so that it can be questioned, discussed and developed. Without this framework, labour relations give rise to numerous paradoxes that make them difficult to deal with. Drawing on an objective and superior reality such as labour law allows conflicts to be dealt with clearly and to abandon the emotional register of friendship, family or passion.

  1. Using checks and balances to manage conflicts

Employees can push their employer to assume its responsibilities as boss, using the tools of union action and, more generally, employee action, as some of the witnesses in this book have done. The right to strike, the right to notice, employee representatives, union involvement, recourse to the labour inspectorate... these are all resources that are often underused in small organisations out of fear or ignorance of labour law. By making them their own, employees can make demands on their employers or simply force them to comply with the law.

Even on the employer's side, the application and use of labour law helps to clarify relationships and clearly address conflicts. Prevention of psychosocial risks, management talks, and occupational medicine are all tools to clearly address work-related conflicts.

Interested employers can also go further by implementing provisions that do not necessarily apply to their facility: personnel representatives for companies with fewer than 11 employees, annual interviews, occupational medicine intervention on psychosocial risks, as I have observed in several facilities.

  1. Communicate and clarify operations

Unclear responsibilities and obligations foster misunderstanding, work overload and distress. Experience has shown that clarifying roles by means of job descriptions and organisational charts and specifying decision-making procedures helps to facilitate joint work. This clarification makes it possible to discuss the organisation of work and to confront each person with their responsibilities and obligations. In this way, inappropriate behaviour or repeated violations can be addressed and, if necessary, punished, thus preventing uncomfortable situations from persisting.

Arthur Brault-Moreau also suggests drawing up an operational charter to define the organisation's rules and allow them to be discussed. This practice, which I have experimented with, is particularly beneficial for horizontal or 'liberated' organisations, in which relations are no longer based solely on a hierarchical conception of labour relations. It will also make it more difficult to backtrack in the event of a manager being replaced, making the rules less discretionary.

  1. Reflexivity and exemplarity: rethinking work organisation to align it with its principles.

For Arthur Brault Moreau, the observation of these managerial excesses should not lead us to give up questioning the employee-employer relationship. On the contrary, this reflection must pass through what he calls 'concrete utopia'. With a reflexive attitude, organisations must be able to think about how they operate in the light of their objectives. And then regularly ensure that employees' experiences are in line with the values they uphold. Checking, for example, that the human and financial resources are available to launch a project. If not, an association may abandon an event for which there are insufficient staff and budget, thus avoiding putting employees in an untenable situation.

This reflection implies clarifying the organisations objectives, which will then serve as a filter for important decisions, allowing a balance to be maintained and avoiding an overload of work. In an association, these objectives can be found in the association's statute or project. In the case of a company, they can be defined in a statute or even in the articles of association for companies that have chosen to be 'purpose driven'. In the spirit of 'charity begins at home', putting employee welfare at the heart of an organisation's principles is a sure way to assess it regularly. At Kaplan, employee welfare is one of the three corporate mission objectives. The achievement of this goal is assessed annually by our Mission Committee.

The notion of 'concrete utopia' reminds me of the notion of maintenance, a concept derived from permaculture, which consists of regularly assessing the functioning of the ecosystem through its balance. By observing the resources and the evolution of the system, we can make changes to ensure that it remains in line with the initial design. Maintaining an organisation can be based on the control mechanisms (or checks and balances) put in place to assess the balance between (1) reality (employee experience, figures), (2) objectives and (3) operational rules.

In conclusion, Arthur Brault-Moreau believes that it is essential to question "the central place of work in our lives" if we want to fight the work crunch. Taking our eyes off the wheel helps us take a step back from the way we work. This idea echoes the working time reduction initiatives in many organisations, whose primary goal is to improve the well-being of employees. Looking at the time spent at work, these organisations are generally inclined to question their core objectives or mission.

Theory U

Fast-track U process

Otto Scharmer’s U process will soon be celebrating its 20th Birthday, and needless to say what an amazing, transformational impact it has had on so many people and organisations.


Here at Nexus we have been using it as the background to our work for the last 15 years; often to design 1-day, or 3-day workshops, but also a whole intervention with a client, spanning over several months, where we can position the most pertinent moment for the Presencing phase, and, on that basis, build the Sensing phase as a process to get there.


What is, I believe, lesser known, is that the U process is a “fractal” tool, which you can apply to any size event or intervention: from an 18-month assignment to a 1-hour meeting, or even a 5 min phone-call. The process is always the same, and follows the same sequence:

  1. Sensing
  2. Letting go
  3. Presencing
  4. Letting come
  5. Realising


So next time somebody rings you, all panicking, to tell you that a key piece in your delivery system has broken down, rather than push for your initial plan to be maintained (“I don’t care, this is what we had agreed, sort it out!”), begin with adjusting your assessment of reality to include the up-to-date situation (Sensing), let go of your previous plan, but also of your fantasy or wish that all can be under control, listen to what the situation is pushing forward as the most evident way to still enact your Purpose (Presencing), let come practical solutions to start moving forward, and start implementing it in a test-learn-adjust approach (Realising).


One of my favourite stories about how the U Process can be applied to solve complex situations in a short space of time, took place in sunny Southern France, where I was leading a team of 10 consultants in facilitating a 1-day team-building event with a 100 senior executives from a European investment company.

Our client had given us the usual assignment of ensuring that those senior execs would “produce” some tangible and useful outputs (“it’s all very good to play, but we’re here to work too!”) AND at the same time have fun (“it’s meant to be a team-building, people are here to relax and enjoy themselves!”). No particular contradiction that we hadn’t experienced before…


So we set out to design a fun process, albeit with some clear objectives and deliverables. By lunchtime, whilst the morning World Café had gone really well and the energy in the room was as upbeat as one could hope, it had become clear that the programme we had designed for the afternoon had to be reworked, because the group was in a different space and would have refused to engage with it. We had 1 hour to have lunch AND reinvent the afternoon programme.


In a great spirit of inclusion of my team’s opinion, I suggested that we had 3 options and asked them which one they favoured:

  1. Working through lunch on the redesign
  2. Working on the redesign and then have lunch
  3. Have lunch first and then redesign


Surprise, surprise, there was a unanimous vote for the 3rd option… so by the time we had finished lunch, our work-time had shrunk to ½ hour!


Aware of the challenge we were facing (getting 10 very skilled, yet diverse facilitators to agree on how to redesign a programme in 30 min so that we could go back and face a crowd of a 100 senior execs in their post-lunch dip), I nevertheless decided to play it by the “U” book, and invited my team to go round sharing how they felt the morning had gone and what they thought the state of the group was (feelings, dynamics, expectations, etc.) – in other words I invited them to start with a Sensing phase. After all, our team was very seasoned in the U process, and I just assumed that they would, just like me, find this the best way to proceed.


Well, that was counting without their high levels of anxiety… in a few minutes, 2 or 3 of them had started sharing their bright ideas of what we should do – bright, indeed, but very different one from the other, and not always compatible.


I stepped in to remind everyone that we were supposed to engage in a Sensing phase – not “jump the U”. And so repeated my request that we go round painting a picture of the group as we had left it at the end of the morning.

That only increased everyone’s anxieties: “Matthieu, don’t be silly, we don’t have time, we need to find a solution!”.

“Of course we do, I replied, and that’s why I’m asking you to stay disciplined, and follow the process that we all know can help. Now we have wasted 10 of our precious 30 minutes, so I want you to stop “jumping the U” and get down to “Sensing”! Please!”.


The silence that followed was probably a mix of anxiety, anger, disbelief – but also recognition that we had a process that could help and a leader that was not getting overwhelmed by the group’s anxiety. So people finally engaged in sharing their take on where the group was, and 10 min into that Sensing, a clear, shared, and collective picture of the reality had emerged.


Just exactly what we had to let go off became self-evident, and a sense of what the situation required was palpable in the room, even though it had not yet been verbalised. This is the typical territory in which Presencing unfolds, I just had to figure out how to help that unfolding.


As if time had stopped in that territory, we spent half a minute of deep, reflective, anxiety-free silence, where everyone was aware that we were onto something, but that trying to catch it too quickly might just frighten it.

The breakthrough came from perhaps the most unexpected amongst the team: a young scandinavian woman, who’d only joined the team recently and was rather introvert. In that thick silence, she went: “what if we invited them to create solutions for the issues they identified this morning in small, theme-based groups, and asked them to present them in the form of cooking recipes, or poems, or songs, or theatre plays?”.

We all looked at her, then at each other, and smiled: “yes, that’s great, let’s do that!”. 8 mins left before resuming the workshop.


“Ok, what do we need to make that happen, and who does what? Me, I’ll write up the instructions on the flipchart! And me, I’ll get the material ready for the groups! Ok, and the 3 of us, we’ll go rearrange the chairs!”.


Back in the room, all rearranged, 1 minute and a half to spare. Thank U !



We don't avoid conflicts - we avoid working through them!

How tempting it is to long only for spring, or summer: the days getting longer, the plants growing, Nature blossoming. So tempting that we often forget that there is only life in ecosystems because there is also death.


Similarly, in the organisations where we work, it is tempting to focus on good relationships; to preserve a certain harmony in the group; to avoid conflict. Again, this is forgetting that human relationships, especially at work, cannot be only harmonious; that conflicts are part of the relationship. And I would go even further: that conflicts can have a positive, necessary, life-giving function in relationships - that it is not right to assign them only a negative dimension.


Here's a quick explanation...


In a company I work with, Thierry, a senior manager attached to the sales department, began his career in the company 25 years ago. He is by far the longest-serving employee, even though he never really broke through in his career. But, little by little, he has built up a pleasant world - for him: long lunch breaks, extensive expense accounts, setting his annual targets retrospectively, sexist jokes, etc. Over the years, none of his managers have really challenged him, for several reasons:

- Thierry is a 'smooth talker', he knows how to plead his case and always has a good excuse

- His misdemeanours are, of course, reprehensible, and could - indeed should - lead to a reprimand, a warning, or even some sort of sanction from his managerial line; but none of them, in itself, is that serious. It is rather their cumulative effect that becomes problematic

- Thierry is a close friend of the union representative in the department, who would not hesitate to get on his high horse if he felt that Thierry was being victimised


So nobody has called Thierry out so far. Fear of conflict, among other things, has so far paralysed his managers, who have preferred to keep harmony in the group. Except that ...


Except that the harmony is only superficial; because many employees who work with him are not fooled, and see that Thierry does not respect the rules that they, on the other hand, are required to respect - and to which they adhere for the good functioning of the group. And underneath the veneer of harmony, there is a lot of resentment.


However, the conflict with Thierry, in this situation, would on the contrary be life-giving, and not destructive. Or more precisely: making the conflict explicit - and then of course working to resolve it - would be life-giving, because for the moment the conflict exists, but in an implicit, unacknowledged, and unworked way. It is created by one person breaking the rules, challenging the collective boundaries; not challenging it back is not conflict avoidance, it is avoiding to work through the conflict. Working through the conflict - working towards a transformation that brings organisational actors back within the boundaries of the collective - is to bring life back into the system, because it is to bring back trust in the collective, in the rules we set for ourselves and the values that underpin them; it is to show that the system is capable of regulating itself, of regaining its balance.


From the point of view of organisational theories, working through the conflict by challenging Thierry is what Agyris and Schon would call reducing the gap between espoused values and values-in-use. This gap is deadening in organisations, whereas their alignment is a source of meaning, trust and therefore motivation.


From a psychodynamic point of view, we could say that the over-investment of Thierry's managers in remaining the 'good object', i.e. the manager who is appreciated and loved - because he doesn't make waves and doesn't prevent me from doing what I want! - allowed this dysfunction to take hold. In other words, their refusal to take on the role of the 'bad object' - the one who interferes with the egocentric pursuit of my own happiness - is co-responsible, along with Thierry, for the stagnation of this dysfunctional situation.


From an ecosystemic point of view, and more specifically, with reference to our model of the 6 principles of Regeneration, it is the cycle of death that has not been well managed here. Both by continuing to allow energy to feed a behaviour that had to die (Principle #1 of the model); but also because this behaviour was an attack on life (Principle #3), which their managers should have tried to reduce to preserve the regenerative dynamics of the organisation.


A year ago, Marc, the new GM of the department, decided to address Thierry’s behaviour; he gave him three months to put it in order. The rest of the employees said: finally! Thierry then went on sick leave, apparently too shocked by his boss' behaviour.


Is Marc an expert in organisational theories? On group psychodynamics? Of the functioning of natural ecosystems and the regenerative momentum that runs through them?

Not that he knows of; for him, it's a question of common sense: when a group sets itself rules, and one person regularly breaks them over the years, it's up to the person whose role is invested with this authority to sanction him or her, to do so.


And this is perhaps the moral of this story: by wanting to avoid "hurting" people, or creating tensions, all of Thierry's previous managers have only built the foundations of a much more traumatic situation for everyone now. Authority, and the exercise of that authority in one's role, is not something abusive, quite the contrary - it is what regulates life. To hide from it, on the pretext of avoiding hurting others, is to lay the foundations for a much more violent, more hurtful outcome.

Nature knows this: it does not invest energy in what must die.



Promoting inclusive leadership from recruitment onwards

Many organisations have been committed for years to promoting a culture of inclusiveness, which guarantees all people equality of treatment, rights and opportunities to belong.  But how can we increase the chances that, from the moment they join the company, new people will be aligned with and contribute to this commitment? This is the question we were asked by the HR department of a multinational company, and in this article we tell you how we answered it.

For some years we have been developing a simple but effective model for promoting and managing inclusive leadership. The model consists of four areas of behaviour, divided into two factors for each area, each factor described in depth by specific indicators of behaviour, to aid practical observation. The model has been developed over years of fieldwork on the topic of DE&I within very different organisations and through years of reading and exploring the subject. It has been mainly used to raise awareness among employees and to accompany the performance management cycle; it is presented as a standard that then requires, of course, to be adapted and contextualised through some specific indicators.

The question in this case, however, did not concern the performance of existing employees, but the possibility of opening a window on the future of possible newcomers, in particular through assessment centre sessions aimed at testing, among other talents, the potential for inclusive leadership. After an initial phase of clarifying the objectives with the client, we created a battery of exercises and observation grids with ad hoc descriptors, which was followed by a day of training and testing of the model with the internal assessors, followed by a test of the materials on a real group of eight engineers during the assesment centre, one of the phases of the recruitment process. The model was unanimously validated, with some adjustments. We collected feedback on the experimentation, readjusted the model (in particular on the need to have more behavioural indicators on the four areas of competence to facilitate the work of the assessor) and offered a training day on the subject to another group of internal assessors (who also tested the model themselves and will be the next to use it) for a final validation.

It is clear that final validation of the model will have to await verification in the field. In particular, after a significant number of utilisations in assesment, it will be necessary to make observations on the actualisation of the potential of the competence, once the newcomers chosen also on the basis of this parameter, will have entered the role. And to go further there would need to be a control group to have a rigorous verification. If you are in a HR position and interested or interested in the trial, let's talk about it 😉!

The project has brought, so far, at least two very interesting "side" results:

    1. The first is that the managers involved did not find themselves in the now classic awareness-raising course on diversity or unconscious bias, but in a situation in which the awareness-raising had the objective of supporting a particular role for them, that of people at the entrance to the organisational frontier, decision-makers on who enters and who does not. It was an opportunity to talk together about the company's cultural models and how far these can affect the choices that are made, which, in turn, impact on performance and also on their own decision-making architecture, on individual and group decisions. In short, it was an opportunity for in-depth training without looking like it, which the people present found exciting.
    2. I was very impressed by the reaction of the young people involved in the assessment. During the part of the work dedicated to the battery of exercises on inclusive leadership, the atmosphere in the group changed radically. Surprisingly, there was more of an atmosphere of dialogue around the fireplace than an assessment centre. Rather than a competition, the participants seemed to be participating in a collaborative group in which the aim was to help each other, give each other feedback and create links. The feedback they gave on the experience was very positive. At a time when it is very difficult to find talent, and with respect to the explicit or implicit demands that the Millennial generation is making of workplaces (consistency, management of diversity, fairness, respect for the work/life balance, the possibility of the most authentic self-expression possible, warmth in ties, etc.), the message that is received in first contacts with the organization is fundamental. A company which is attentive to the dimension of organisational citizenship, of belonging, and which concretely demonstrates this attention from the very first stages of contact will see its reputation enhanced and, perhaps, become a place which the younger generations (and not only) will look to as a place capable of (re)igniting the desire and regenerating a relationship with work which for some years now has generally been losing its attractiveness.

What being Purpose-led really means

Over the past few years – and we should all be grateful for it! – there has been an ever stronger emphasis on becoming a Purpose-led organisation, and for leaders in those organisations to lead with/from purpose.


Purpose: the new key to unlocking organisational performance?


The rationale is simple: if you are clear about your organisation’s purpose, decision-making will become easier (not necessarily easy, but at least easier!), because there will be no misunderstanding about what should orient them; as soon as they’ve integrated that purpose, your staff will know what to do without you having to tell them, leading to lots of virtuous cycle loops of more meaning at work, more autonomy, more well-being, less bureaucracy, more efficiency, etc. Your customers will be more intentional in choosing you, and more faithful in staying with you; and your shareholders might even relocate their decisions in a “shared-value creation” paradigm (see Michael Porter’s work), rather than in the narrow view of the sole “shareholder value” paradigm.

In other words, leading with Purpose can only be win-win, can’t it?


Well, it’s not that simple… As always, walking the talk is the primary challenge, even more so that we may not always be aware of how much our walking may diverge from our talking. And here’s a way to think about it.


Over 70 years ago (yes, this issue of Purpose is not new!), the Tavistock Institute was already exploring these issues, naming it “Primary task” at the time. A bit later, the Grubb Institute, who worked closely with the Tavistock, introduced the concept of Purpose, seen as “the impact that an organisation intends to have on its Context; the primary reason why an organisation exists”.


Three levels of Purpose


Gordon Lawrence, who worked for both institutes and was a leading figure in that field at the time, suggested, in the mid-70s, that there were in fact 3 levels of Purpose. Because his words were a bit ‘jargonny’, we’ve adapted them to the following:

The Formal Purpose is what used to be called, up to 5 years ago, the “mission statement” of the organisation, and has now often been rebranded as the “statement of Purpose”. As its name indicates, it is the formal expression of what the organisation sees as its primary reason of being – the formal description of the impact it wishes to create in the world.


Take Renault for example, one of France’s leading car manufacturers; their website describes their Purpose in this way: “We make the heart of innovation beat so that mobility brings us closer together”. Beyond “heart” and “closer together” – probably here to access our own emotional field – the key words in that statement are “innovation” and “mobility”. Put it succinctly, Renault’s purpose is to innovate in the field of mobility.


If you ask their staff, or their customers, they will probably tell you a different story. For them, Renault is a car manufacturer. From a staff perspective, Renault’s Informal Purpose (that story that we tell ourselves in corridors’ talk, or in meetings behind closed doors) is to make lots of cars that lots of customers will buy, in lots of different countries. A customer’s perspective on that informal purpose is probably a variation on that description, something like: Renault makes innovative / reliable / nice cars with a good quality/cost ratio.


There is yet another level of purpose though; one that is less visible, but nonetheless very much at the heart of any organisation’s activity. We call it the Enacted Purpose, and by that we mean the impact that the organisation is actually having on its context, whether it is aware of it or not. It is inferred by our assessment of those impacts – including those that are not always included in traditional impact assessment, and tend to be named ‘externalities’, or ‘collateral impact’.


One take on Renault’s activities could lead us to suggest that its enacted purpose could be to contribute to climate change, by creating machines that release CO² into the atmosphere. Of course it is not their intended purpose, but their impact on the world is such that an external eye could identify it as their enacted purpose.


Leading with Purpose

Renault is clear about the place of its Purpose in the company's strategy and operations: "Our Purpose is the foundation of everything: our values, our strategic plan, our orientations in terms of social and environmental responsibility" (Renault.com website on 22/02/2022).


However, in a purpose-led organisation, the challenge for leadership is to ensure that all three levels of purpose are aligned as much as possible, or at least that all actions are aimed at aligning them – as the figure below illustrates:

In order to do that, leaders will need to undertake an honest assessment of where their organisation is on those three levels, and take the corrective actions to reduce the gap between them.

They might also need to revisit the very statement of purpose that they’ve formally adopted. For Renault, it could go something like: “We make the heart of innovation beat so that environmentally-friendly mobility brings us closer together”.


Funny how 2 words can make such a difference! By inserting a connection to its own impact on the world’s ecosystems, Renault would go such a long way in creating the conditions for transforming its enacted purpose, setting out to leverage innovation not only at the service of mobility per se, but of an environmentally-friendly mobility. This would open huge avenues of transformation, not only in terms of products (moving to electric cars for example), but also of business models (see the carpet company Interface move from selling to leasing for example, where product ownership remains with the manufacturer, who’s much more inclined to ensure a much longer shelve-life for its products).


Leading with Purpose in the 21st century


As we just saw, leading with purpose is a double-edged sword: whilst it may be tempting to attract employee and customer loyalty with an inspiring formal purpose, it will only work, in the long run, if leaders ensure that they strive for aligning formal, informal, and enacted purposes.

Could this be a put-off for organisations wondering about becoming purpose-led organisations? Well, I hope not; for in the 21st century, we have no choice but to transform our businesses so that their impacts move from being degenerative, to being regenerative. And engaging one’s company around defining its purpose could be such an energising, fruitful way of doing it.


The link between risk aversion and the inner critic: self-sabotage in transformative decisions

Emma is an executive in a multinational company. She is 40 years old and her career path is built on a continuous series of successes, brilliant results, a very fast progression, until she was promoted to her last position, as marketing director of one of the company's business units, a few months ago, crowning a goal she had had since she was young. Very quickly, the new role begins to weigh on her, not only because of the work itself, but also because of the team she is called upon to lead, her colleagues, and the extent of her decision-making, which turns out to be less than she expected. We start coaching after a few weeks in which she has felt the victim of pressure, which she considers unjustified and unhelpful in relation to the results she is asked to achieve. She is full of doubts about the company itself, which seems to betray the declared value system, but also about continuing her career in the private sector. She tells herself that perhaps she should try something more aligned with her values with a greater social impact. After a few sessions, having clarified that she doesn't want to stay in her current role, we start to explore other possibilities of roles even far away from the one she is doing, because she says she feels like a radical change. And Emma begins to have a particular behaviour in this respect. Every time an idea comes up and she seems to like it, she starts to find arguments against it: "No, I would have to train for years to do this", "I don't have the skills", "All the people I studied with are doing prestigious jobs ", "I won't succeed and I will have to go back to a company in a less important position", "I would like to but I am not able to do it"...

The risk aversion bias was identified by Tversky and Kahneman as early as 1973. It is the thought process that links risk to the possibility of losing, and which produces distorted decisions because the possibility of winning is underestimated in the face of possible losses. From the point of view of neurological functioning, the amygdala signals a threat. The striatum, which is responsible for assessing possible losses and gains, skews the perception towards losses; the insula, together with the amygdala, which is responsible for disgust, steers us away from behaviour that is considered risky. Risk aversion is related to our investment decisions, including, for example, those related to insurance. But today we will talk about this bias in connection with a psychological phenomenon that originates from it, the so-called "Inner Critic". The Inner Critic is that persistent and insistent voice that reminds us how incapable, incompetent, unsuitable and not fit we are; that makes us ashamed even to have thought of doing a certain thing, of speaking in public, of speaking at a meeting, of wanting that role, of doing something we have never done. Always that voice that makes us adopt a "fixed mindset" rather than a "growth mindset", pushing us to see, in an unconscious way, every learning as a risk, highlighting the losses that will be caused by the novelties, activating that ancestral circuit of defensive thinking, mentioned above, that was so useful to us at the dawn of our species, which now only risks to nail us to painful and unwanted situations for fear of the risk of going down new paths.

Basically, we can imagine the internal critic as a kind of little bad guy sitting permanently on our shoulder. On the other shoulder sits a much more benevolent character, the one that Doena Giardella in an article in the MIT Sloan journal calls the “inner champion” or in other literature the 'inner mentor or coach' (Tara Mohr), who suggests new ideas, creativity and tells us that everything will be OK. But the spontaneous tendency is rather not to listen to this voice and to let the inner conversation we have with ourselves and ourselves rather be directed by the person who loves us least and to let him guide our actions.

The voices that animate it can be different and come from our past: those who brought us up, parents, reference adults, school educators, sisters and brothers, but also environments that were not restraining, perceived as threatening, in which we could not develop relationships in safety, as happens, according to attachment theory, when we experienced so-called "avoidance" relationships during childhood.

The voice of the internal critic does not speak kindly to us, as one normally speaks to someone who loves us, but labels us "you are not the one  who does this kind of thing", it can be at the origin of the famous "impostor syndrome", it reminds us of all our weaknesses, compares us to others always more performing than us, makes us imagine disastrous results in which we feel a great sense of guilt and shame for what we have done. It is the voice of (fake) wisdom that tells us "don't leave the old road for the new one" " whoever praises oneself gets cheated" and that, at the moment of acting to transform and regenerate our lives, our role, our company, our family, paralyses us and pushes us to prefer the status quo rather than risk losing something, as in all changes.

It is this voice that the manager Emma in our case heard, loud and clear, as she began to think about going off the beaten path to transform her life towards something more consistent with the vocation she feels at the moment.  When we explored, during the coaching, the voice of the internal critic, some episodes of her childhood that Emma recalled, allowed us to shape the voice: in particular Emma heard the voices of her family, the criticism and advice, recommending her to go towards a course of studies suitable for her environment and social position and then the professional and career choices, the approach to work characterised by extreme devotion and perfectionism. These are voices that she has made her own, and that have often put her at risk of burnout, never making her feel competent enough, good enough, brilliant enough, performing well enough, both in relation to herself and to the other people in the company.

The inner critic risks profoundly undermining self-confidence and trust in others when he or she produces projections onto others, generating a dynamic of attributing bad intentions to ourselves, "it's their fault, they make me feel bad", "my colleagues don't like me", etc.

What can we do, concretely, about the internal critic?

  1. Tara Mohr, in the chapter of "Playing Big" dedicated to the subject, suggests above all not to reject it outright. After all, if we go back to the evolutionary usefulness of the "risk aversion" bias that lies at its origin, we can link it to the fact that one of the objectives of this critical voice is precisely to protect us from the hostility of the environment. The suggestion, therefore, as in the Jungian theory of the shadow is to welcome it, to be aware of it. A good way is to bring out the confabulation and write down what the inner critic is telling us in order to transform it. Tara Mohr suggests dividing a sheet of paper into two columns with, for example, the internal critic on the left, and the "rational thinker" on the right. In the latter column we can capture the wisdom of the message we are sending, which allows us to, for example, calculate the risks and rewards of the choice in a rational way;
  2. When the internal critic is active we speak to and about ourselves in a mean, harsh way, without empathy. Doena Giardella from MIT suggests that we include this dimension in our internal conversation. Be kind. At a time when there is a lot of talk about "kind leadership", it becomes essential to start with the self, using compassion and understanding in our internal conversation, in order not to self-harm or self-sabotage in transformation processes. The idea is to use the "inner champion" or "inner mentor" (the good guy who talks to us from our shoulder) to help us reframe criticism.
  3. In the moment when we are acting, for example in relationship with others, and we feel that in our internal conversation we are criticising ourselves, decentralise from ourselves, return to relational connection with others and ask ourselves what they need. The internal critic removes us not only from empathy towards ourselves but also from empathy in the relationship, making us focus only on our unconscious need to preserve the status quo.
  4. In the ex post analysis (of a meeting, of a change, but also of a failure) look for the silver lining, the lesson learned, the sprout of something new that has been born. Allow regeneration, we would say in Nexus.
  5. In a management position we might unconsciously reproduce the familiar script, for example by creating a work environment that can be defined as "avoidance" according to Attachment theory. In this kind of environment the internal critic could correspond to a demand, more or less implicit, for perfection not only towards us but also towards the other members of the team. In the case, for example, of a change we want to promote or of a mistake made, it will be useful to use humility to investigate the causes and the responsibilities, from what is called an "inquiring" position, of benevolent and truly open investigation, instead of resorting to advocacy, to accusation, to soliciting the feeling of guilt and shame in the team members.


From I to We: enabling a group to clarify its collective intention

If you’ve read other of our blog posts, you’ll have picked up by now that here, at Nexus, we use the U process to design pretty much all of our interventions. So I’m not going to go into details about the process itself; my purpose here is to describe a methodology I’ve been using at the bottom of the U, in that Presencing stage where a group, with Open Mind, Open Heart, and now Open Will, is invited to open up to ideas, possible solutions or ways forward, that may be coming from the situation itself – “from the field”, as Otto Scharmer puts it.


Picture this: a group of 39 people has just been working on painting together a collective picture of their lived, organisational reality, and how it connects to its context. They’ve identified their organisational strengths and weaknesses; they’ve named the opportunities and the risks around them. They’ve even dived into the shadows of their organisations: those issues that everyone knows about, but no-one dares addressing – well this time they have, and they’ve shared, deeply, about what all this is triggering in them.


The obvious next step then is: well, what shall we do about all that? What strategy, what action plan should we develop to engage in the innovation, the transformation that we need to engage in?


At this stage, the risk of “jumping the U” is at its highest – i.e. the risk of wanting to jump straight from an assessment of the situation, to a solution to remedy it. Why is it a risk? Because it is so hard to stay in the “Not Knowing”, especially when the collective picture we’ve just painted is so intense, and seems to be calling for us to act. Perhaps also because we have all been trained to ‘problem solve’, and that we derive a sense of worth out of doing so, far from the powerlessness we would sense creeping in us if we just stood still and held the space for just a little while for the ‘truly new’ to emerge …


What’s wrong with problem-solving though? Well, nothing. In fact the U process, in a way, is a problem-solving tool. But moving from the assessment straight to a proposed solution carries with it a major risk: that the solutions that come forth will only be individual proposals; ideas that come from some members of the group, particularly disposed to problem-solve, and whose ideas may have been present, in their minds, before the workshop started. In that way, we’d end up with solutions based on a pre-workshop assessment of the problems, and with a process that would be shifting from collective discernment to a debate around whose idea is better, and is the one we should follow.


The challenge at the bottom of the U is therefore clear: how do we accompany the birth of a set of solutions based on the collective picture of the reality – in all its depth and complexity – that has just been co-created by the group? And how do we ensure that the proposed solutions have really been authored by the collective – so that its members will be much more energised to implement them?


Well, this is how I did it with this group:


First of all, I gave them all some personal reflection time, in silence, around the following question: when you contemplate this collective picture of your reality, that you have just co-created, what is it saying to you? What is it pointing to?

As you’ve probably picked up already, the trick is to invite participants into a disposition in which the solutions will no longer be coming from them – but from beyond them. The trick is to help them tune into the collective intelligence that has already been mobilised, and to do that, one has to turn off one’s ego for a moment, and let that collective intelligence speak – let the picture speak, and point the way.

This is best done by extracting ourselves from the working spaces used so far, and by engaging in more meditative mode: a walk in the garden (or the forest!), if you have one around your conference centre, is ideal. Alternatively, you can invite participants into a shared silence, with a soft music playing in the background.


Once they’d had sufficient personal reflection time, I invited them to create 13 trios, and gave them time to share in trios what they’d picked up about what their reality was saying to them – what directions were emerging from the collective painting itself.


Then 10 trios were invited to pair up: putting two trios together to create a group of 6. We formed 5 groups of 6; whilst the remaining 3 trios were invited to form a group of 9. All newly formed groups were given the same task: to create 2 sentences that would capture all the various things that each member picked up about what future direction the collective painting was pointing towards. For most groups, this meant that 6 people had to agree on just 2 sentences – an even harder task for the group of 9! – which really helped them focus on sentences where everyone could feel that their own experience of what the picture was saying was being included.

In a true U process spirit, I invited them not to get on with the final objective straight away (creating 2 sentences), but rather to spend time listening to one another’s experience of the collective painting, and how they felt it had spoken to them about the way forward. After that initial dialogue, I invited them to pause, for a minute, in silence, in order to connect to what was being said not just by the group members, but by the group itself: what are all our sharings put together speaking about? After that silence, it was time to share about their sense of what their group was capturing – still without trying to create 2 sentences. After a while, a new invitation for a minute of silence, this time to ponder on the question: what 2 sentences could best capture what we’ve just said our group has been connecting to? Then, and only then, was it time to craft those sentences.


When they came back to the plenary, I invited them to approach those 2 sentences with the analogy of the photo and the landscape: a photo is an instant capture of a lived experience – but it is not that lived experience. So a photo of a beautiful wild field might help me connect to that experience of the field when I was in it (the scents, the breeze, the buzzing insects, the sun warming my skin…), but it is not the experience itself – it can only be a prompt to jog my memory.

Similarly, those 2 sentences where the photos of the deep conversations they’d just add; they could trigger their memories of the meaning that flowed in their dialogue, but the real thing was the dialogue itself, not the sentences.


That preamble was important to share with them, because I then invited them to merge into bigger groups, and repeat the task! So suddenly we had 2 groups of 12, and 1 group of 15, and again each of these groups had to produce 2 sentences only. In other words, everyone had to let go of what they felt was “their” sentences, in order to produce a new pair, inclusive of all 12 or 15 experiences.


When we finally all came back in plenary to share those final 6 sentences, the experience was just spectacular: I invited each group to speak its 2 sentences, with nothing else – no introductory explanation, no particular comment – just their text. After the first group, we held a minute silence for the sentences to echo in us, and moved to the second group, and then the final group, with a 2-minute silence at the end to take it all in.


The connections, the resonance between the groups were amazing, and the room filled with a sense of awe at realising how the group, the collective intelligence, had found its own voice.

Decision-making process : Nexus’ iterative model

Decision-making is not an instantaneous event, something that occurs only at the actual moment that the decision is being made. Rather, it sits within a process that includes the build-up to the decision, the decision itself, and then the impact of the decision itself. That process can be extremely quick (minutes, or even seconds), or take a few days, or weeks.


Time is not a central criteria for evaluating whether a decision is good or not. Or rather: the time it takes to decide is not a sign of whether one’s decision is good or not. What matters more is whether the decision is taken at the right time (i.e. neither too early nor too late), and whether the use of your time has been efficient. And, more importantly, what makes a good decision is the result, the impact it has on the reality that you’ve had to decide about.


At Nexus, we use an 8-step iterative model for excellence in decision-making, which proves particularly useful when helping groups reach complex decisions:

Step 0: Setting the field

Before even starting the decision-making process itself, it is important to take time setting the field for this decision: the scope and the purpose, the timeline, which role-holders need to be involved, and at what stage(s), etc. In our own approach, we like the use the 3T model: Time, Task, and Territory. In other words, when should a decision be taken; what is the purpose, the primary task of that decision; and through which governance body. These 3 boundaries become very useful later down the process, to monitor whether the decision process is on or off track.


Step 1: Access to relevant data

Any decision crucially relies on pertinent and relevant data. This requires an open-mind, to seek sources that may not be our usual ones, but which the situation may require you to access; it also requires inclusion, so that the people closest to the situation/challenge/opportunity can be brought on board and share their data. And inclusion requires trust: these people will not share data with you twice if you lose their trust after the first time


Step 2: Gathering and selecting the data

Cognitive neurosciences have highlighted the impact of unconscious biases on our cognition, and therefore on our decision-making process. Concretely, this means that the autonomous processes we use to gather and select our data tend to be biased by our own mental frameworks. Furthermore, through our own cultural and professional trajectory, we also develop blind-spots, which prevent us from selecting important data. Engaging in step 2 as a diverse group enables you to mitigate the risk of blind spots and unconscious biases


Step 3: Processing the data

Making sense of our selected data includes inferring meaning – the process of inference is another critical one, well exemplified in Peter Senge’s Ladder of inference (MIT, Boston). Suspending judgement rather than making assumptions, resisting the temptation to draw conclusions too soon, and checking our own belief-system will prove helpful at this stage.

Whilst decision-making needs to be based on data, intuition and gut-feeling can have a place here, as they can be thought of as a non-conscious way of processing data – providing that they are explored and worked with, sifting through what really comes from the situation from what we project into it.

Team culture will also play an important role: enabling curiosity, inquiry, and speaking out, rather than towing the line in the name of loyalty, will prevent you from falling into the trap of groupthink, and making potentially unsound decisions


Step 4: Making the decision

Complex decisions require an ability to think through that complexity; to access a complex picture of the reality, without leaving out important dimensions of the situation. It also requires a particular inner disposition: calm, clear-mindedness, commitment. Fear and anger are two dispositions worth moving away from when it comes to making the actual decision.

Some decisions can only be taken by one person; but quite frequently, they can be taken by a group. The advantage of a collective decision is that it binds those who have taken it, and enhances their sense of responsibility for implementing it – thus increasing chances of positive impacts.

One interesting area to explore when looking at decision-making is time: was the decision made when we said we would? Was it when the situation required us to make it? If we ended-up making sooner than planned, or later – why? And did it turn out to be best, or not?

Another interesting area to explore is around who ended up making the decision? And why that person or that group? And how does this relate to issues of role, responsibility, and accountability in the organisation?


Step 5: Impact: Outputs and outcomes

The primary purpose of making a decision is of course to generate an impact on the situation/problem/opportunity at the heart of the decision-making process. We decide to take actions (outputs), to generate a more positive situation (outcome).

There are, however, two other elements worth bearing in mind in terms of impact, which are not necessarily part of the initial purpose, but which are by-products of the decision-making. The first one is the impact on the team: it may be coming out stronger after steps 1-4, but it may have been impacted more negatively by the experience, and/or the outcome of the decision – it is worth avoiding taking anything for granted at this stage.

The second one is our stakeholders: any decision we take impact on them too.


Step 6: evaluating the impact of the decision

How much has the problem been solved, the opportunity seized?

How is the team feeling after the decision, and its impact? Is it coming out stronger, or has the process created resentment, divisions, lack of confidence? The same goes for our stakeholders in the situation: what’s been the impact on them, how are they coming out of all this?


Step 7: evaluating the process of making the decision

If we want to improve our performance, and strive for excellence, it is important to learn from our experience. Step 7 enables us to review how we went through each step, what worked well and what could be improved. Bringing in a multi-stakeholder perspective here, in a culture of openness, will ensure that you get the best out of step 7.


Step 8: Learning and improving

This is the time to harvest all the elements from steps 6&7, and to design actions aimed at improving the next iteration in your decision-making process. This means welcoming both successes and errors – the latter ones are often the best sources of learning and improvement!

The spirit here should be one of striving for excellence, rather than one of reward and punishment. And the more you involve people in the whole process, the more of a learning culture you will create, leading to better trust, and therefore better access to relevant data, better gathering and selection, and better processing: a real virtuous cycle.

It is worth noting that this learning cycle in step 8 will not only boost your organisational decision-making – it will also help you work on leadership, mindsets, values, conflict-resolution, diversity & inclusion. So that by entering through one prism (decision-making), you may, with this learning loop, develop your organisational capacities on a whole range of other issues crucial to organisational maturity.


Idealization, death of idols, and rebirth: accompanying the regeneration of leaders and their organisations

The years I have spent coaching business leaders have often led me to the terrain of the shadows: that of our inconsistencies, our contradictions, our shortcomings; those aspects of ourselves that we prefer not to talk about, even to ourselves...


Working with the shadows has allowed me to discover that there are generally 3 people inside the leader sitting in front of me:


  1. The idealised leader: i.e. the idealised image that the person has of what a leader should be, of the behaviours and style that a leader should demonstrate. This idealised image is generally the receptacle of personal and systemic projections that the person has introjected: parental injunctions, then those of teachers and other authority figures, cultural injunctions, both national and organisational, so-called definitions of leadership which emphasise qualities that are generally heroic, and often superhuman. While the coachee often begins coaching with the desire that it will enable him/her to become this 'idealised leader', one of the purposes of coaching is to allow this unattainable representation to die, for as long as it is active, it will only stifle the unique being, unlike any other being, who seeks to embody his/her own style.


  1. Coaching must therefore strive to start from the real me in a leadership role: as a human being, promoted into this role, what am I really experiencing? What are the strengths I bring to my role, the energies and talents that are unique to me? But what are also my internal tensions, my ambivalences, my paradoxes? What are, therefore, my shadowy areas, and what scenarios from the past still govern them, what wounds, what unfulfilled needs of the child I was continue to live in the adult I have become...?


  1. Once the idealised leader is dead, and once the terrain of the real self has been worked on, coaching can then accompany the birth of the self that wants to be born in this role of leader... or not! Who am I, what is my deepest intention, what talents do I bring to the world - and how can I free myself from the idealised leader in order to imagine a new way of being fully myself, in a leadership role that I would take on in this new way, and not according to the old personal and systemic mental patterns that I had introjected. How to remain free enough, too, to realise that maybe being a leader (at least in this organisation) is not for me, that maybe it was more someone else's desire that I was trying to fulfil, and that it is in fact another role that I am called to?


As I have worked with many different organisations, I have found that this three-dimensional pattern generally applies very well to their situation.

One type of organisation among others is religious congregations which - as I have learned from coaching them - are often faced with issues very similar to those of other organisations with which we are perhaps more familiar: multinationals, SMEs, NGOs, etc. Issues of leadership, innovation, change management, conflict management, resistance, etc. One of the things that sets them apart is the enormous projections they are subjected to, both by the outside world and by their own members. And this is perhaps why this model applies particularly well to them, even though I have also tested it successfully in large companies, which are seeking, for example, to reinvent themselves.



  1. Indeed, one of the main obstacles to overcome for these religious congregations is the idealised Congregation: the receptacle of external projections of their so-called wisdom conveyed by numerous books, or by a collective unconscious that has perhaps never really freed itself from the clergy as bearers of supra-human, almost divine qualities. But also internal projections coming from the members of the Congregation themselves on their Charism, their Mission, on all the good that their congregation has done, and continues to do, in the world. When I meet a congregation for the first time, it is often this idealised congregation that they present to me: the greatness of their founding history, the fervour of their members in spreading - and therefore living - the Gospel, the Word of God, etc. At that moment, I feel them trapped in this straitjacket of projections, in which none of the problems they experience, and for which they ask me for help, can exist, can be explained, or even thought about - and therefore be resolved. Paradoxically, this virtuous, all-powerful image of themselves renders them powerless to act to transform the problematic situation in which they find themselves.


  1. My job is therefore to enable them to connect to their real congregation, i.e. to the lived experience of all the members of this congregation today; and to name its strengths, its energies, its talents, its achievements, but also its dysfunctions, its paradoxes and its shadow areas, born or maintained by problems of structures, of processes, but also and often first of all by an inadequate grasp of the role of member, and of the role of leader. Today, I realise how essential this passage through the shadow zones is, because it is what allows us to reduce the gap between the espoused theory and the theory-in-use (as described so well by Professors Argyris and Schön of MIT). And it is this passage through the shadows that also allows the death of the Idealized Congregation, and opens the space for something new to emerge.


  1. And in this “Paschal mystery” that follows the death of the idealised Congregation, we can then facilitate the emergence of the Congregation that seeks to be (re)born ... or to become something else. For some, it will be by revisiting their Purpose, their fundamental Mission, and adapting it to the realities of the 21st century that they will find new ways of living and working together, and of impacting the world - ways that are much more congruent with the needs of the world, their Charism, and their real capacities (no longer fantasised through their glory years) to act in this world. For others, they will realise that they are living in the dusk of their congregation, the challenge being to pass on their charism to lay people and to focus their energies on the challenge of making ageing their new missionary territory.



In my experience, this model can be applied to all kinds of organisations, except for start-ups, which, as the name suggests, are just born. But for any mature company, for any NGO with some success behind it, for any public service that has been able to fulfil its mission in the past, the obstacle is the same, which this model can help to overcome: what idealisation has been built up around our organisation, and its past glories, which today stifles our ability to reinvent and regenerate ourselves? By putting words to it together, and letting these idols die, you will find the path to your regeneration.

Leading Transformation: From a visionary leadership to a leadership of Co-Creation

I was in Rome the other day to facilitate a Leadership Training for the General Government of a religious congregation – the equivalent, in the religious world, of a CEO and his/her executive team.

Their request sat within a broader intention: to lead the transformation of their organisation, made up of some 6000 priests missioned over 5 continents, living in several hundred communities (the basic organisational unit) spread over some 70 countries.


Two key questions structured their intention:


  1. How can we engage the whole organisation in this transformation?
  2. How can this transformation be more than a restructuration, i.e. more than just closing down some existing realities, merging Provinces (the equivalent to geographical managerial units), or “simply” reallocating human and financial resources ?


In order to help them, I initially introduced them briefly to Otto Scharmer’s Theory U, and in particular the lesser known use of the U figure, the one suggesting that in order to go beyond restructuring and a reengineering of processes, one has to engage in the transformation of mental models, i.e. the way in which, consciously but more often unconsciously, we construct in our mind our organisational reality: the purpose of the organisation, the various roles, and the key relationships and processes that enable the organisation to function.


As the figure shows, it is only when we have made explicit our current mental models, and connected to our own Intention (what is the new that we want to generate?) that we can develop new mental models, which will lead to new processes and structures for the organisation.

The 3 phases of the other, better known use of the U model would still apply: in order to engage in transformation, the organisation will need to Sense the emerging reality (both internal and external), imagine a new way of engaging with it (Presencing), and then engage in Realising it.


Whilst these two U frames were helpful to situate at what level the transformation should happen, and the key phases of the process likely to generate it, a core question remained: what kind of leadership was requested of them to fulfil their Intention?


To answer that question, I presented to them the Leadership matrix that I have developed through engaging with many organisations in consulting to their organisational transformations.

This matrix is structured by 2 axis:


  • The horizontal axis is linked to time, and defines whether the leadership is primarily turned towards the past, or the future
  • The vertical axis is linked to the level of engagement of the organisation, i.e. whether the process intends to engage parts of the organisation, or the whole organisation



In my experience, most organisations still engage with change through Traditional Leadership. They entrust a small part of the organisation (the CEO, an executive team, or special project team) to think about what doesn’t work in the current way of functioning, and then to come up with solutions. The assumption here is that a small group of smart people who takes the time to really look into it will understand what is not working, and know how to fix it.

Unfortunately, Traditional Leadership has shown time and again that it doesn’t work! Here are a few reasons why:

  • It remains focussed on the past. Traditional Leadership doesn’t question the model itself (key structures/processes/roles, products, markets, image, business model, etc.), and whether it is still fit for purpose, but rather tries to fix and repair the recurrent dysfunctions, seeing them as unavoidable rather than symptoms. It does not, therefore, check whether the current way of functioning is adapted to what the future is likely to become (given internal and external trends), and whether it might actually be the very model that needs to evolve.
  • It does not access collective intelligence. Assuming that a small group of smart people knows best is not only erroneous, it is risky! The broader you can extend your net to capture what is really going on in the business, the more chance you have to understand and therefore react appropriately. Limiting your access to real data to a small group increases the risk of missing out key information
  • It does not access your biggest resource: the collective will. How many more “change management programmes” will we need to integrate the evidence from the field that if you don’t engage people in being authors of the evolutions, you will only ever manage to get a minority on board; the rest will either disengage (i.e. passively resist) or actively resist.


Given the shortfalls of Traditional Leadership, some organisations have tried different approaches.

Amongst them, Participative Leadership has displayed some promising features, primarily in engaging a much greater part of the organisation in exploring what changes may be necessary. As people are being consulted, their knowledge of the issues at stake, and the proposed solutions, increase, which then feeds into a greater sense of and desire for engagement. However, Participative Leadership too is problematic:


  • It often remains turned towards the past, i.e. exploring possible changes to be made rather than the transformation that is required (as in Traditional Leadership)
  • The core analysis, and the core solutions-building, are often still left to a few, the participative dimension of the process being synonymous here of consultation, rather then co-creation.
  • As the responsibility and authority for analysis and solution finding is not distributed, commitment based on a sense of shared meaning and authorship tends to fade away relatively quickly, pointing to the low level of resilience of such processes


Another way of avoiding the pitfalls of Traditional Leadership is to engage in Visionary Leadership. In this approach, the focus is clearly on the Future: what is the future that we are likely to encounter? What is our current level of resources, and our mode of operating, and can we, as we are, really embrace the future or do we need to evolve? Are our products, or is our Mission, adapted for this emerging Future? Are they what this Future calls for?

In the 21st century, these are leadership questions every organisation needs to ask itself, and explore in truth: looking at what is, not just at what we wish to see.

In that way, a Visionary Leader, or a Visionary Leadership team, are clearly going in the right direction: looking at the future, and trying to prepare the organisation for it.

However, Visionary Leadership does display some major shortfalls too:


  • Too few involved: as in Traditional Leadership, handing the Visionary task to a few only limits access to data and creativity in solutions.
  • Resistance more than engagement: once the visionary person or team has identified what needs to evolve, it then has the task to engage the rest of the organisation into implementing the transformation. But most of the organisation has not had a chance to connect to what the Future may be, and therefore how we might need to evolve. Their sense-making of why we must change, and of what changes are needed, is therefore very limited. As a result, they will not be able to espouse the proposed changes just like that. A great amount of time and energy will therefore be needed to either convince them, or, if all fails, to coax them into implementing the changes. In either cases, even if the small group had come up with great ideas, their implementation may prove to be inefficient, and the process itself to have low positive impacts
  • Low organisational resilience: when only one person, or a small group, is engaged in exploring the future and proposing necessary evolutions, what happens to the organisation when they leave? Whilst Visionary Leadership may produce highly innovative ideas and strategies for the future, it fails in delivering one key elements needed to embrace this future: the capacity of the organisation as a whole to implement it quickly and efficiently, over time.


The fourth type of leadership in this matrix is the one that, at the beginning of this 21st century, holds most potential for organisations. Indeed, Leadership of Co-Creation holds on to both of the 2 key parameters:


  • It looks wholeheartedly at the future, anchoring the organisational conversations in an exploration of what the future may be, and therefore will require of the organisation
  • It engages the whole organisation in doing so. One of the key features of the leadership of Co-Creation is the transformation of the very perception of what the role of the leader is. Here, the central role of leadership is to provide and sustain the conditions in which the whole organisation can engage in a truthful exploration of what the future is likely to include, and take responsibility for proposing and implementing the solutions that seem most conducive to the organisation fulfilling its purpose in this emerging future.


Whilst the Leadership of Co-Creation manages to deliver a transformation that makes sense to all parties involved, and not just parts of the organisation, it does not equate to some kind of enlarged, referendum-based democratic process. Nor does it require the dissolution of traditional roles of authority and decision-making. To the contrary, existing roles are very often crucial to the success of a Co-Creation transformation process; what is transformed, however, is not the role, but the way it is taken; not the role itself, but the mental representation held so far in the psyche of the organisation of what the role is. For example:


  • At the heart of a process of co-creation, everyone is involved in making sense of the strengths and limits of the current model, from their own experience in their role, in their part of the organisation. Connecting to future trends in and around the business, everyone is then involved in imagining what transformation may prove vital for the organisation. Those in leadership roles bring their own perspectives, from their role, in order to contribute to the collective sense-making. Their decisions will then be based on the collective sense-making, not on the partial views they inevitably had at the beginning of the process
  • They are accountable for the decisions they will take; those are based on proposals generated by the collective, which the process invites to be responsible – and accountable – for the solutions it offers. This mutual accountability means that the main task of leadership is no longer to convince, or “sell” good solutions – but to ensure that the conditions are not only conducive for people to be co-authors, but also for them to feel responsible and accountable for its outcome
  • Co-Creation doesn’t mean putting everyone in a big room for huge collective discussions – even though such social technologies as World Café or Open Space can make this possible. It means, however, a constant transformation of how leaders engage with their teams; a change in disposition in which the leader’s task transforms into ensuring that others create solutions, rather than be recipients of them.


Once I presented this matrix to the General Government of that congregation, they were able to name the kind of process, and of leadership, that they wanted to engage in: Co-Creation.


All we needed to do then was to look in more details at how they could do this ...