Amen by Andrea O'Shea

We just finished watching another spectacular Masters golf tournament at the “shrine” of professional golf in Augusta, Georgia.   My brother Dan and his wife Andrea had the pleasure of living in Augusta for fifteen years while Dan worked for a multi-media communications company whose founder is one of the members at Augusta National Golf Club – a very exclusive group.

Andrea is a very talented architectural illustrator with a specialty in golf course illustrations.  This painting of the famous 12th hole is the gateway to what is known as “Amen Corner” where championships have been won and lost.  Just ask Jordan Speith about this hole.


Maybe more than any other golf tournament, the Masters is revered and coveted – the definition of world class signified by the Green Jacket awarded each year to the Masters Champion.

The Masters and Augusta National Golf Club are also famous for their world class guest experience and attention to detail. Being a “spectator” here is to be pampered like nowhere else.

During Masters week, I was speaking with one of my clients, the CEO of a national restaurant chain. We were discussing the dynamics involved in organizational transformation and mobilizing the team.  Like at The Masters, it struck me that there are at least three categories of leaders and team members in most organizations – spectators, commentators and players.

Spectators are those who take a “wait and see” approach to things.  It is very unlikely that they will initiate action or proactively reach out to examine, explore or innovate.  Some will be quick followers chasing after the real players to get up close and personal view on things – but definitely stay behind the ropes and not likely to stick their neck out.

Commentators come in a few varieties.  Some were players, once upon a time, but now tend to just critique others or talk about how we used to do it in the good old days. Others never really were players but either studied other players or gained academic learning.

Not all commentators are negative. In fact, some can bring added enjoyment and insight to the overall experience.  We might call them champions of positive change.  These champions live by the tenets of The Optimist Creed from Optimist International.

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Within organizations, we sometimes run into commentators that can tend to add their own spin and contribute to negative resistance building.  Just as in an electrical grid, these can be agents of drag – creating negative polarity and reducing organizational aerodynamics. We sometimes call these agents – squirters for all the negativity they spread.

Finally, there are the Players.  These are the valuable, talented and courageous who are willing to do what it takes to hone their skills and get “inside the ropes”!  Patrick Reed is the latest example as the 2018 Masters Champion.  He may not be the most popular champion ever but no one doubts his determination and grit.

In our organizations, we need a full cadre of players at all levels.  We need players who can play at faster speed, capable of taking initiative, making decisions and being accountable to themselves and others. We need team players who understand the ethic of cooperation and can operate across borders and functions to actively collaborate.  We want and need players who will buy-in and champion the values and operating principles that define who we are and what we stand for – not just some of the time.

We must have players committed to being the best and treating each other and all stakeholders like guests at Augusta National.  Especially senior leaders responsible for shaping the future and developing tomorrow’s talent.

Take a fresh look within your organizations. Do you have spectators, commentators or players?  I hope you have a high percentage of players – that is what is required for agile organizations and that is what is needed to compete successfully in this VUCA world – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. By the way, if you would like to get your own signed print of hole #12 shown above, please contact Andrea O’Shea.

The Big Lie That’s Hindering Your Agility


I’ve seen it in almost every work-related team—both those in which I’ve been a member, and those I’ve coached or led. 

It’s a blind spot that we all have. It’s a big lie we all tell ourselves.

It makes us feel good, secure, worthy. It’s psychologically soothing; it’s comfortable.

But it’s blocking our access to the truth. It’s hurting our ability to make optimal decisions. And it’s certainly keeping us from sensing and responding rapidly to change, which is the essence of being an agile leader. 

This big lie that we all tell ourselves is as follows:

My team would be extraordinary if only my teammates changed the way they act. It’s not my fault; I’m doing great. It’s about them—they need to communicate better, work harder, hold themselves more accountable. 

If that’s the lie, then what’s the truth? 

The truth is that being an agile leader demands honesty and humility about ourselves. We must have the strength to reflect on what’s going on—especially in the face of failure or underperformance—and look in the mirror. We must ask ourselves:

  • What can I do differently to bring out the best in others?
  • What are those things that I’m just not great at doing, and have I told my team about them?
  • How must I adapt my communication, my routines, my style to match the situation?
  • Am I wrong?
  • Do I really know what I think I know?

Because without such humility, we delude ourselves. We might be able to get away with it for a while when the situation is routine and predictable, when everything is a “known known.” But this arrogance—when deployed in environments characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA)—will lead to failure. 

In the face of VUCA, humility and transparency must reign supreme. And that starts with each of us being honest about ourselves. 

Our tendency to overlook our own faults and to believe that failure originates from anything other than ourselves is natural. It’s also natural for us to attribute success to ourselves—isn’t that convenient? But in addition to becoming a blind spot that can hurt our ability to perform at a high level with others in a VUCA environment, overlooking our own role in underperforming teams or failure hurts our credibility. Namely, by refusing to recognize my own faults, it’s difficult for others to take me seriously when I provide feedback to them. 

Such behavior isn’t agile leadership. It’s hypocritical leadership. 

To get a better handle on what you’re doing that could be hindering your team’s productivity, I suggest asking for feedback from those around you. Keep in mind, however, that most of us are also predisposed to lie to each other about such matters. Most of us don’t like making other people feel bad, so we tend to gloss over negative feedback. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s complicated. And I’m not advocating recklessly brutal honesty. 

But in requesting honest feedback from people about your own behavior, you need to realize that people need to feel safe to do so. One way to do this is through a multirater (commonly known as a “360”) assessment, in which people can provide feedback anonymously (assuming the group is large enough). Such a step can be a good start. 

Beyond that, however, it’s about creating a team culture in which everyone knows where the team is heading and in which everyone truly knows in their guts that tough love is sometimes required to get the best out of each other—regardless of titles, age, experience level, and so forth. 

How do you create that feeling of safety and freedom to provide honest feedback? 

A lot of it has to do with the idea of psychological safety, which Amy Edmonson introduced in her seminal 1999 article in Administrative Science Quarterly. In that research, she found that psychological safety was associated with team learning behavior—characterized by behaviors such as open discussion of different opinions, testing assumptions, and experimentation—which was in turn associated with team performance. To create psychological safety in a team, Edmonson’s data suggested, leaders must:

  • Provide a compelling team vision and goals
  • Ensure the team has adequate resources, information, and rewards,
  • Adopt a supportive, coaching-oriented leadership style, and 
  • Respond to questions and challenges in a non-defensive manner.

Going hand-in-hand with all of these is a posture of humility. No leader knows everything, so when we’re acting as a leader, we should openly acknowledge this reality.  

Of course, the most likely case is that in most teams, everyone could be doing something a bit differently to support the team’s objectives. But instead of starting with the issues that we have with each other, it’s better to start with ourselves. 

After all, over whom do we really have the most control? 

It’s ourselves. 

So let’s open ourselves to the possibility that being a humble leader may actually increase our strength, making the teams we lead better able to cope with VUCA and thrive. 

Agility Anathema: A Culture of Optionalism

WE ARE WHAT WE TOLERATE … is a core truism that tends to shape the culture (or at least the climate) as well as shape the spectrum of accepted behavior for societies as well as our organizations!  There are many iterations on this basic tenet including some strong quotes from the leadership guru, John C. Maxwell, or one of the motivation gurus, Tony Robbins among others.  The wisdom in this adage applies fully to each of us as individuals as well as leaders of teams, functions, units or the entire enterprise.  It is equally as applicable and relevant as we think about the dynamics in our families and other social relationships.  Collectively, it rolls up into the kind of customs, mores and codes of conduct that define us in all our communities, cities, regions and countries.

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One of the biggest issues we see in so many organizations -  is the need to dismantle the ubiquitous “culture of optionalism” that is a dangerous cancer growing and getting out of control!  In our work around the world with organizations of every description and industry, we are often having this discussion in our workshops on how overcome this hurdle as we strive to build greater organizational focus, speed and adaptability to compete successfully in this faster, more turbulent VUCA world.

Invariably, as we work with leadership teams to help them build clarity in their strategy maps and plot the pathways to Shape the Future, we find that “strategizing" becomes the “easier” part of the equation.  The really tough stuff comes as the leaders go back into their teams with the conditioned programming of an existing agenda and entrenched inertia of “the way we do things around here”.  To be an Agile Leader in this world, it takes great skill and commitment to marshall the energy and fortitude to lead REAL transformation and offset the tendencies that promote this insidious culture of optionalism.

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So, what are some of the symptoms and signs of this “optionalism” cultural virus?  Do you recognize any of these organizational behaviors:

  • Few people willing to step up to make decisions, own outcomes or initiate action without prodding
  • Decisions and agreements that are made in meetings rarely get implemented on time … without any corresponding consequence
  • Senior leaders tend not to communicate information actively down through their teams … resulting in many down the line folks operating blind … unaware of strategy or group priorities
  • Rogue managers who do not own or share the core values are allowed to continue … sometimes even recognized or rewarded
  • Functional agendas and priorities “trump" the group or enterprise priorities … without consequences or accountability
  • Team members are regularly confused and uncertain … is it that people come first, or is it customers come first or is it profit at all cost … what is it this week?

Focused, Fast & Flexible - these three simple words amplify loudly as the counterweights to a culture of optionalism.  Easy to say … hard to create and sustain!  Focus is the anchor for agility when it embodies the Why, How & What for your Agility journey.  The greater the clarity of these values, operating principles and success metrics - the less room there is for optionalism to exist.  Focus directs and informs where we must build organizational speed and flexibility - especially when allowed (or expected) to percolate at all levels within the organization.  Yes, we are what we tolerate and yet we can also be what you aspire to be … if you are willing to do what it takes and have the courage to be accountable to your vision and values.  There has been lots of comparable discussion in the national news this past week or two … I am hopeful we can all work harder on this in all aspects of our lives.  Our future and the future of our kids depend on it!

I would love to hear your experiences and perspectives.

Is Your VUCA External or Internal?

Whew!  The past seven months has been a pretty chaotic time in Washington and across the globe with almost more dramatic episodes of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) than we can count.  I am pretty sure that the Hollywood screenplay writers and reality TV show producers have more material than they can use for several seasons.  If the potential consequences and implications of this global VUCA vortex were not so daunting with somewhat impetuous leaders in North Korea, Russia and beyond – one might imagine a surreal, Sci-Fi-tinged spy thriller coming to theaters in early 2018.  Let’s hope it does not continue to play out with that kind of drama.

VUCA is that term coined at the US Army War College in the late 1990’s  and is precisely descriptive of the global operating context.  The reality is that there are “layers” of VUCA operating all the time. For example, the Global VUCA layer has its dynamics, consequences, influences and implications – so does your Regional and Local VUCA spheres.  This is intrinsically part of the VUCA vortex and adds to the total complexity factor that leaders and organizations must encounter and navigate.

There is another very impactful dimension to the VUCA equation – your “INTERNAL” VUCA! As we work with clients around the world, we often see significant amounts of VUCA created INSIDE the organization that compounds and exasperates the EXTERNAL VUCA factors – creating a HYPER-VUCA condition … CHAOS indeed.  Sometimes these internal VUCA factors are deep-seeded in the organization’s culture and can range from hard-riveted silos, steadfast holding onto “the way we have always done it” stubbornness, inadequate and often inaccurate information platforms or aberrant leadership behavior demeaning organizational spirit and values.

There are many sources of internal VUCA that often show up in THE VUCA REPORT™ pulse surveythat we have been tracking for two years as well our ORGANIZATIONAL AGILITY PROFILE™.  These are called out as people, process or technology obstacles that inhibit better and faster nimbleness and adaptability … aka your agility.  Some of these obstacles are chronic and have been around a long time.  Others are newly sprouted as the speed of business accelerates and can cause spontaneous chaos for those who do not anticipate change well.  We invite you to take THE VUCA REPORT™ survey yourself and share your experiences and perspectives along with the almost 1,000 others who have so far.

We are operating in a world filled with consequences and high performance expectations.  The impact of time compression where daily expectations are for faster results and decisions combined with the reality that “the way we used to do it” is becoming obsolete at warp speed – conspire to freeze and paralyze those who are FRAGILE and sets the table for those who are AGILE.  Darwin actually said its about “survival of the most adaptable”.  You will find many tools and insights throughout our website to help you move from the fragile zone to the agile zone.

There are numerous examples of organizations becoming stymied by their own Internal VUCA.  UBER is a recent example of a darling company with seemingly magic touch … then spiraled into whirlpool of internal VUCA around leadership behavior.  Certainly the high profile scandals at ENRON, WorldCom and Lehmann Brothers represented out of control internal VUCA.  Unfortunately, there has been significant amounts of Internal VUCA impacting the effectiveness and agenda at the White House and Congress.  Hopefully, the appointment of General Kelly this week will bring an experienced leader very familiar with all forms of VUCA along with the leadership acumen and discipline to minimize internal VUCA and help build better and faster capabilities to get important things accomplished.  As in any organizations, internal VUCA distracts and undermines organizational performance.

As many of you begin your 2018 business planning cycles, it is an excellent time to examine and evaluate your forces of change and the VUCA impacting your success.  What are those External VUCA factors that you must face and overcome?  What are those INTERNAL VUCA factors that may be undermining and sapping your energy, resources and focus?  Take a look at our ORGANIZATIONAL AGILITY PROFILE™ and work with your leadership team on these questions.  I will be interested in how the conversation flow progresses.  Always remember, as my partner Mike Richardson says … the right conversation flow leads to cash flow!

Love to get your feedback and perspectives on your sources of INTERNAL VUCA and what you are doing.


Have you ever looked through a pair of night goggles when it is pitch black dark?

It really is quite amazing what you can see.  Things appear that are otherwise completely invisible to your unaided eyes.  These are invaluable tools for use by military forces as well as wild game hunters.  Night vision goggles work by using image enhancement technology that collects all the available light, including infrared light, and amplifies it so that you can easily see what’s going on in the dark.

Often these night vision goggles are used to help us identify or discover potentially disruptive creatures (sometimes human and sometimes not).  Recently, I participated in a very interesting meeting with some colleagues in another learning and consulting company. We discussed various ways of anticipating change and discovering the forces of disruptive change coming at us,  i.e. the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) that surrounds us.  This idea of night goggles came to mind.

Sometimes I think it would be very helpful if there were a corporate variety of vision enhancing technology – ways for helping leaders to “see” what is happening in and around their organizations that often stays invisible.  There are many amazing technology solutions for many things – I have my doubts whether we can simplify this equation enough to reduce it to an app or new device.  In the absence of such off-the-shelf solutions, business leaders will need to rely on training their perspectives and building awareness of the kind of questions and resources that can to help them recognize where their disruptive change is coming from next.

That is the essence of THE VUCA REPORT – a global collaborative pulse survey we launched two years ago in an effort to help us all better identify, recognize and understand the disruptive forces of change coming at us faster and faster each day. Just like with night vision goggles, as you begin to explore the right questions you can begin to see things you may not have seen before.  In THE VUCA REPORT,  we have been tracking 35 disruptive factors categorized in the areas of  technological advances, economic dynamics, environmental & social issues, geopolitical dynamics, regulatory & cyber security issues and a collection of issues grouped as workforce dynamics.

What is additionally interesting are the open-ended questions we ask …

  • What practices are you doing NOW that are helping you counter the effects of VUCA? 
  • What practices have you seen others do or that you plan to do in the FUTURE?
  • What do you see as the OBSTACLES standing in the way of making improvements in your agility?

Lastly, THE VUCA REPORT has been collecting data about the extent to which leaders believe they have the essential agility capabilities in their organizations to counter the effects of the VUCA context and navigate the future with success.  Those capabilities map out on THE AGILE MODEL® as outlined below:

As we all face the VUCA that lies ahead, it will become increasingly essential that we become better equipped with organizational night goggles or at least a better lens and skills to face this otherwise daunting future.  The capability areas outlined above give us a good roadmap for discussion and self-examination.

  • How are you doing in the area of Anticipating Change … do you keep getting surprised by your customers and competitors and sometimes even your employees?
  • How well are you Generating Confidence internally with your teams and externally with your investors, customers and suppliers?
  • How effective are you at Initiating Action on the right things – making decisions better and faster at all levels in your organization?
  • How pervasive is the drive for fresh, innovative thinking (FIT) across your organization?
  • How well does your whole team know and understand how to Evaluate Results and what real success means for all?

As leaders begin to regularly examine and prosecute these kind of questions (and more), they begin to SEE things in their organizations that they did NOT see before.  They begin to see the obstacles AND the enablers for becoming better and faster at those things that really matter.  In the south, there is an old saying “when the water level is low – the stumps will show”.  Don’t wait until your water level is too low from not adapting as needed to stay competitive and agile.  Use these AGILITY GOGGLES to see into your people, processes and technology domains and discover the opportunities for becoming more FOCUSED, FAST & FLEXIBLE … aka AGILE.

I look forward to hearing your feedback and perspectives about the lens and questions you think will help illuminate the next practices for countering the effects of VUCA in your world and helping you create the agility advantage.

The Gig Economy: VUCA and Opportunities for CHROs

The Gig Economy:  VUCA and Opportunities for CHROs

The Gig Economy is a Digital Disruption Challenge for CHROs

The era of digital disruption for Chief Human Resource Officers (CHROs) is often referred to as the Gig Economy (AKA -- contingent work, sharing economy, agile talent, non-traditional work relationships, or alternate forms of employment) where Uber and Airbnb have received most of the attention from the press.  Other Gig Economy “digital disruptors” include Lyft (ride sharing), UpCounsel (legal experts), Instacart (shopping and delivery), and TaskRabbit (odd jobs). 

The rapidly accelerating growth of the Gig Economy represents one of the most significant and all-encompassing challenges faced by human resources professionals.  The fundamental question is whether human resources can demonstrate the agility to lead the change in culture, programs, processes, and policies originally designed for work completed by full-time employees to a new era when 

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What 280 Executives Said They Face

What 280 Executives Said They Face

Turbulence ahead.

That’s one key message I learned while writing the inaugural issue of The VUCA Report™, which outlines findings from an ongoing study I’m spearheading here through The Strategic Agility Institute.

This study essentially focuses on two elements: (a) the forces of change that executives face and (b) what they’re doing about it. We were fortunate to have had 280 responses 

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This Week in Agility Research: Jan. 6, 2016

Here are a few items of new agility-related research that popped up on our radar this week. 

Proposal of Organization Framework Model, using Business Processes and Hierarchical Patterns to provide Agility and Flexibility in Competitiveness Environments
By: Oswaldo Luiz Agostinhoa

This article proposes the development of the Organization Framework with the intention of reduction or even the elimination of the dichotomy between the Pyramidal Management and Business Processes Management models, searching the necessary close association between these two administration models. The adoption of the Organization Framework tends to provide more agility and flexibility to the organization and the easier approval of the Business Processes Management model by the superiors levels of the organization, mainly for business reasons, due to the increase of agility and flexibility, necessary to compete in the very competitiveness environment of the years 2000.

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The Math of VUCA: How Many Ways Can You Combine 6 Lego Bricks?

The Math of VUCA: How Many Ways Can You Combine 6 Lego Bricks?

We live in a world of increasing VUCA.  Not least of all just because of pure math.

Think of the math involved in growing your team by adding people.

If two of us start a business today, we have one person-to-person conversation to manage. If we add a third person tomorrow, now we have three person to person conversations to manage. A fourth person the day after takes us to six conversations. Then a fifth person takes us to 10 conversations, a sixth person to 15 conversations, and a seventh person to 21 conversations! That last person adds

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How an Artist Captured the Essence of VUCA and Talent Management Agility

How an Artist Captured the Essence of VUCA and Talent Management Agility

I was asked to deliver a keynote presentation complemented by an executive panel discussion on "Leadership in a Dynamic World" at the annual Investment Program Association (IPA) Conference in Chicago this past week.  

Oh, I might also add that the audience of about 350 direct investment professionals were also engaged throughout the session through the use of handheld rating devices that enabled immediate analysis of the questions asked of them.  This was a daunting task since I was to be followed by Austan Goolsbee, former Chief of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors.  


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Chaos Is Not Your Problem. Your Relationship With It Is.

Chaos Is Not Your Problem. Your Relationship With It Is.

When working with teams of all descriptions and, in particular, CEOs and their executive leadership teams, I help them explore the secrets of agility, understanding what it is and what it isn’t, to develop agile-teamwork. 

Teams who are able to:

Anticipate Change ... Generate Confidence ... Initiate Action ... Liberate Thinking ... Evaluate Results

In particular,

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This Week in Agility Research: Oct. 26, 2015

Here are a few items of new agility-related research that popped up on our radar this week. 

Using Science to Identify Future Leaders
By: Kenneth De Meuse

A recent influx in assessment tools being developed and utilized by consulting, firms for the measurement of learning agility, has sparked research interest regarding the construct of this concept. Learning agility in itself is considered in its infancy compared to other theories within the field, and is identified as one’s ability and desire to learn, with a willingness to utilize the acquired knowledge for leadership challenges. While several consulting agencies utilize measurement tools for assessing and predicting learning agility for leadership potential,

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The Agile Startup Week 11: Experimentation and Learning, VUCA-Style

The Agile Startup Week 11: Experimentation and Learning, VUCA-Style

This week, as evident in the average ratings below by its three co-founders, was one of considerable volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) for GILD Collective. After a bit of a reduced perception of VUCA in Week 10, the team had an interesting Week 11 as part of the Cincinnati-based business accelerator The Brandery, to say the least.

A big part of their increased VUCA this week was likely due to their increased emphasis on testing new ideas in their market while simultaneously maintaining current operations.   

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The VUCA of Driverless Cars is Coming, Probably Faster & Bigger Than You Think!

The VUCA of Driverless Cars is Coming, Probably Faster & Bigger Than You Think!

Watch this TED Talk video of Chris Umson, Director of Self-Driving Cars at Google,  outlining how advanced the technology is already, of how the car sees the road, surrounding traffic, cyclists, school buses, pedestrians, road-works, traffic cops and more, making autonomous decisions about what to do.

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