Category Archives: Freedom companies

Des leaders, pas des coaches !

Beaucoup voudraient aujourd’hui que les managers deviennent des managers-coaches. Une telle évolution est même préconisée par certains comme nécessaire pour libérer une organisation. Je ne partage pas cet avis, et je pense même qu’il s’agit d’une confusion préjudiciable à la réussite d’une démarche de libération.

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Dare to Depend on Others !

As a leader, one of the biggest errors you can make is to believe that you can be self-sufficient. In a world where it seems that the highest virtue is to be independant, this can appear as a paradox. Nevertheless, if a great leader is often someone with a strong personal vision, she or he is also a master in relating to others.

A leader is a high-quality relationships gardener

Why would people follow you ? This is the key question that needs to be answered by any leader. So, if you do not have a high-quality relationship with your followers, how can you lead ? Great leadership author Jagdish Parikh reminds us that we have to manage our relationships with “detached involvement“. This means that we always incur the risk of being too attached to people (or to objects, to events, and of course to ourselves). At the same time, no leadership is possible if it is felt as distant or superior.

You may be an exceptional achiever, a great visionary or the most respected expert in your field, it makes no difference : to get results, you will need to rely on the motivation and performance of many others – especially in the highly complex environment we are living in today. In his recent book, Humble Inquiry, The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling, MIT Profesor Edgar Schein is making a neat and… humble point about the tendancy we have to believe that a leader is the one who has answers.  One common characteristic of large-scale failures (such as the disaster of Space Shuttle Discovery) is the absence of a climate for subordinates to surface big issues as they show up. Creating such a climate is one of the roles of the leader, which implies a very deep consciousness of his dependency on others for the success of any endeavour. Asking authentic questions that surface his own ignorance is a key habit to develop such a climate, since it indicates clearly that there is no problem in NOT having all the answers.

A leader takes the risk of the other

One of the biggest problems of our times is the fragmentation of people in society or in organizations. It is often very strange to hear some executives complain about the silos or the lack of collaboration that exist in their companies, when all the systems they have put in place (from budgeting to compensation) are mainly constructed on individual (or fragmented) contributions. It is as if the large bureaucratic organization was trying through its processes to reunify separate and independant units.

The origins of this tendancy come from very far, and probably from the economic theory linked to the Enlightment views that promoted the advent of the individual, emancipated from holistic societies. I think that our challenge is to develop again a shared commitment (of employees, of citizens,…) towards what belongs to us – and not to me, or to any individual. Italian economist Luigino Bruni wrote a beautiful book, The Wound and the Blessing, around the proposal that we can only meet that challenge through the acceptance of the Other – as a potential blessing, but also as a potential wound. This means that we must not dream of a society that has eliminated all the frictions inherent to the fact of living together (the wounds). An authentic leader risks to be wounded by the world around her, by the people she meets. This is the fundamental condition for receiving the blessings that people can bring to the cause or the enterprise she his fighting for.

TraitBas2For you – leader or follower (and you know that we cannot be good leaders if we are not able to be good followers) – three questions can help you improve your capacity to relate to others :

  1. Do the persons who follow you feel that you are with them even if you are not totally melted with them ?
  2. Do you practice often the gentle art of asking instead of just telling ?
  3. Are you willing to let others bless you or are you just preventing yourself from the wounds that you can get from them ?

Never Forget Lateral Learning


In a recent session with teams of Intrapreneurs from Group Poult (European leader in Private Label biscuits), we asked to some participants to illustrate through their experience what co-creation with customers really meant. The result was brilliant. We first heard about the new relationship between a factory in Brittany with United Biscuits, and then about the way Poult has helped Michel & Augustin (a French young and “crazy” company) in its development. I was supposed to give a short presentation on co-creation, but it proved totally useless. So I did not give it. Once again, I had been totally impressed by the power of what I call Lateral Learning – i.e. learning from your peers.

In contrast to that, I took part last week in the preparation of a learning event for the top 120 people of a large well-known company. The whole meeting was about “filling” the program with more and more experts or speakers. At one point, I asked if it was not possible to leverage the knowledge, wisdom and experience of the participants. The idea was finally accepted, but why did we need so much time to have it appear in our conversation ?

I guess it is because we have been educated in a system where knowledge is transmitted hierarchically from someone “who knows” to others “who don’t know”. It is considered mainly as an asset, seldom as a flow. For some of the best researchers, knowledge creation is social and happens between people. We cannot control this process. At best, we can create conditions for it to happen.

If you want to understand the profound meaning of this shift of point of view, you can watch this video made by the World Bank, that I discovered recently. It explains very clearly  the philosophy of a program called South-South Learning which differs from traditional ones where Western experts would tell to developing countries practitioners what they should do.

In my experience (as a learner or as a designer), a ‘learning from your peers’ approach has ALWAYS worked. At Team Academy, lecturing is considered as a very powerful tool, so we use it with moderation (no more than 5% of the training session time). If we want to use Lateral Learning much more, we need to really believe in people’s ability to self-manage their work*. And that’s pretty difficult !


* This expression comes from M. Weisbord and S. Janoff remarkable book on Future Search.

Bring On the Revolution of Capitalism !

iStock_000010542988SmallRecently, I came across this speech of Peter Bakker, the President of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). The former CEO of TNT, now leading this organization with more than 200 corporate members, pledges for a revolution of capitalism, in order to adress the most pressing challenges of our world : poverty, hunger, climate change… What would be the conditions for such a revolution to happen ? You can check out WBCSD vision to see what this organization stands for. As far as I can reflect on that topic, I can see at least three necessary conditions : acknoledge people not only as customers or employees, make big changes in governance and metrics, lead the inside revolution.

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Three Paths to Management Innovation (HCL, Hervé Thermique, Morning Star)

One of the conferences of the World Forum in Lille was named “Management 2.0”. Three companies – HCL, Morning Star and Hervé Thermique – shared their view on what it means to be an open, freedom-based or democratic company. As you may know, I am very involved in this topic, through some of my clients and also through a team of liberating leaders who meet regularly to share their experience. It was very interesting to see in action three different ways of conducting a similar quest. Let’s see what each company delivered before attempting a kind of synthesis.

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Bottom-Up Organizations ?

Three weeks ago, at a SOL France meeting, I’ve been lucky enough to discover a very inspiring experience. Yann Baudron, Regional manager of Hervé Thermique, explained very simply and with a lot of ingenuity the managerial system that has shaped this company over the last 40 years. For some readers, this story can look exotic… but it is true.

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Book Review : One From Many, Dee Hock

Well, this is a book that many people recommended me over the last years. But the word “chaordic” – invented by Dee Hock to describe new kinds of organizations – seemed to me so much like a typical consultant buzzword that I never read it. I could never be grateful enough to my colleague Sanna for her suggestion to add it to our joint reading list for our team learning contract : this is a MUST-READ book for anyone interested in organizations in the 21st Century !

Dee Hock is the originator and served as the first President of VISA International, the global payment system and one of the most recognized brand in the world.

What is so interesting in this book ?

  1. It is first and foremost a fascinating story where a very exceptional context (the crisis of the first card payment system in the U.S.) is intertwined with the personal quest of a humble (but quite unconventional) Seattle bank executive. Having a glimpse into such an intimate view is remarkable. Dee Hock describes with a lot of enjoyable details the ups and downs of this amazing  adventure : creating a single entity with thousands of financial organizations around the world without any of them having more power than the other. The story itself is like a thriller with beautifully painted characters (like Hock’s boss – Mr Carlson – who closes every meeting with the attentive address : “Young man, did this meeting serve your purpose ?”).
  2. One from Many is also a book about wisdom. Dee Hock wrote it in 1999,  30 years after the beginning of the whole story. It is not a business case built and made up just a few years after the events it depicts. The book has this flavour of time, of long hours of reflections, without complacency but also without bitterness. Despite the seeming success of VISA, Dee Hock is not quite satisfied with the final result. So the book is not about declaring how beautiful VISA has become, it is about the difficulty to bring into life organizations as they ought to be, rather than just as they are or as they could be. This story is a story of life : how can your deepest personal quest resist adversity ? how can an idea(l) find its way through reality ? In a Fast Company interview in 1998, D. Hock says :“[The chaordic organization] idea is a baby, like a daughter or a son. We can have a vision of what it will eventually be. But we won’t see that in our lifetime.” 
  3. This book enlarges our vision of what organizations can possibly be.  Chaordic organizations is a concept that draws a lot on nature and the way it blends competition and cooperation at the same time. For D. Hock, “chaordic” means “the behavior of any self-organizing and self-governing organism, organization, or system that harmoniously blends characteristics of chaos and order” (p.13)  Creating chaordic organizations has a lot to do with design : clarifying and making purpose and principles explicit, as well as caring for processes. This is how, at VISA,  the power of one single stakeholder (Bank of America) who used to be licensing its own card and brands to other banks, would be turned into a system (with a constitution) where no one – even the VISA staff or board – had a view of the whole nor more power on other entities. It all resulted both from democratic processes (like regional elected boards) AND from freedom of action of each entity within the guiding principles and purpose of VISA. The efficiency of such a system is really fascinating, for example, when D. Hock recalls the speed of adoption of the VISA name and logo.
  4. Finally, I was really impressed by the view of leadership that emerges from this book. D. Hock is a really great leader, and despite his humility I very much doubt that VISA would exist as it is without his vision and persuasion skills. What is impressive in him is the alliance of a very (very, very) ambitious vision and down-to-earth pragmatism. Circumstances, obstacles or failures are seen as opportunities to grow and to learn. Confidence in the power of others is as huge as distrust in bureaucracy. Let me share with you one tasty quote :

In the beginning, there were no titles at NBI [first name of VISA]. When recruiting new people accustomed to the old ways, the question of titles would inevitably come up. In my desk was a long, typed list. With a serious expression, I would explain it was our custom to have each employee select their own title, which they could change from time to time if it failed to meet their needs. On the list was a rich selection : Grand Duke, Lord, Lady, Prince, Queen, Princess, King, Duchess, Ayatollah, Bishop, etc. If employees wished to add a descriptive addition, that would be all right. They could use Ayatollah of Advertising or the Grand Duke of Accounting. The only requirement was that the title must be used on all occasions. No one accepted.

Using the same logic, we had no job descriptions. I was often asked : ‘How will people know what I do ?’ – “If what you do is not readily apparent to everyone, that becomes a very interesting question” I would reply. (p. 245)

One From Many has never been so relevant as today. Maybe because Dee Hock sowed the chaordic concept like he sowed hundreds of trees in his land after he retired from Visa, he sees its development and putting into practice as very slow. Will the current crises accelerate the emergence of the type of organizations that he described more than 10 years ago  ? Or will it take – as Thomas Kuhn teached us – a whole generation to really live the paradigm shift and experiment the Chaordic Age ? Whatever the answer may be to these questions, the legacy of Dee Hock for all of us who look for more human organizations is enormous. As Renaissance people used to say : we are dwarfs on the shoulders of giants”. Dee Hock is one of these giants.

More on Dee Hock and Visa story > Fast Company article, 1995

Top 10 Books of the Last Twelve Months

Summertime is great for reading. I’d like to share with you and recommend 10 books I have read over the past twelve months. I’d be glad to hear from you : what nuggets  have you discovered lately ?

This book is really cool. You travel from studio to studio of 20 contemporary painters and you discover how they work : daily routines, material they use, etc. This is like going in the kitchen of a great restaurant. Wizardry stands in the middle of apparently ordinary spaces and tools. But these have been crafted and customized to serve a unique purpose.

Edgar Schein’s last book is both simple and profound. If you are looking for fresh view on how to give and receive help, this is for you. Schein main point is that what makes whatever helping relationship so touchy is that it creates an imbalance between people. How can we deal with this imbalance subtly ? Find out more in this beautiful book of a wise old man.

Wow !!! I just loved this book. You may have seen Sir Ken Robinson in one of his TED talks, but The Element is different. It shows you through examples of real people how important it is for you to play “in the zone” – i.e. to find your Element.  This goes beyond what you’ve learned about emotional intelligence or creativity, it is about a lifelong quest to find where you will give the very best of who you are. And Robinson’s good news is that there is no age limit for this quest !!!

If you’ve never read a book from Timothy Gallwey, The Inner Game of Stress might be a good way to start. You will find many of Gallwey’s main themes and concepts, but framed to help you deal with stress. This legendary coach fights against many managerial myths. For instance, he tells us that stress is NOT good  and that stability is essential for performance. Now, you have to find your inner stability. And that’s where practical tools like drawing your “Tree of Resources” is so valuable. This book helped me a lot in a recent stressfull time, so I highly recommend it.

Is it necessary to present Nancy Duarte ? Probably not. Her last book his a jewel. Not only because it is so beautifully designed and illustrated, but also because it contains the results of years of research and experience. This really personal view of how to tell stories that resonate with your audience has wide implications for anybody who has a message to deliver – be it a simple presentation to your team or a public speech with a large audience. Nancy’s core message is simple : speak from your heart so that you can touch people’s hearts. But this means for you to be very clear about the future that you want to create. A special mention for the deep analysis of Steve Jobs’ and Martin Luther King’s well known speeches.

I read this book last summer and I can say that it truly changed many views I had about business in general and marketing in particular. The ambition and reach of The Power of Pull are wider, though. Seely Brown, Hagel and Davison embark us on a journey towards our present and future society. What they say is that new technologies – social media particularly – have changed the rules of the game : we leave the world of “Push” logic and behaviours for a world of “Pull”. Implications are enormous in many fields (business, education, science,…) but they require very different skills and attitudes from us. The authors invite us to take part in this flow of discovering where our passion is, sharing our knowledge, connecting with the tribes that are relevant to us – both locally and globally.

OK, Guy Kawasaki is not only an expert in the art of Enchantment but also in the art of Recycling (former books, articles or posts…) BUT his talent lies in his ability to deliver very practical wisdom… to live your life fully. His point is that whatever client or boss (or reader or family or …) you have, you can enchant their lives. And this is a GREAT purpose. Guy believes in it. Guy genuinely inspires us. Guy gives down-to-earth advice. I loved this book because it is actually a book on leadership in the age of disenchantment (a wink to Max Weber) and I think that our times desperately need such leaders.

This could have been an Appendix or a special Bonus of  The Power of Pull (see above). But I think it is much more than that. John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas decifer the new way of learning in our world of social media. Playing (like in World of Warcraft), writing a blog, following experts on Twitter,… All these activities show us new ways of learning that are essentially social (within a community), linked with passion and building on our ability for imagination and play. Learning becomes a truly lifelong activity and Seely Brown and Thomas provide usefull keys to understand how this shift changes our current mindsets and practices. A must read.

Fish ! is a simple little book that opens your mind on the potential that is already present within your current workplace. It is not because the work of your team is ordinary that you cannot transform your days through joy, fun and meaning. Fish ! describes the change of a boring and execrable workplace to a sensible and joyful one. Why not giving it a try ?

In the spirit of changing the workplace for happiness, Henry Steward – happy CEO of Happy People (Great place to Work 2010 in the UK) – proposes us a tale about the transformation of a manager. It all starts on the beach, where this poor guy is not able to enjoy any minute of his holiday… Step by step, he learns how to let his team do the work (without him having to command and control). This book is full of practical insights and you can tell that they come from Henry‘s experience – not from a consultant’s utopia. As Isaac Getz puts it : Freedom works !