How to Use Project Teams to Foster a Benevolent Leadership Culture

The Vast Untapped Potential of Projects

Many organisations have realised the value of projects to focus on important and urgent work to get the job done quickly and effectively. An increasing number have moved to becoming project-based organisations as a result of the tumultuous times in which we live where the power of project teams to carry out tasks may be fully leveraged. But surprisingly few have seen the wood for the trees and understand the vast untapped potential of projects to shift leadership culture.

Workplace demands and complexity, and emerging new and sophisticated project management tools, will reinforce and accelerate the trend to project-based organisations. And there exists a huge opportunity to leverage project-based organisations in a new way – not just the running of projects to get work done in discreet chunks, but also by using projects to positively change the soul of the entire organisation.

Cherishing Esprit De Corps

The key is to tap into project ‘esprit de corps’—the proud spirit of a body of people, a team or group. Note that, although usually associated with small teams or groups, the definition does not preclude large organisations. When this dynamic—a function of benevolent leadership—is palpably present, then it can be transplanted to the rest of the organisation. The benevolent leadership model brings together all the components of the separate fields of study that have become known as authentic, ethical, conscious, spiritual, and servant leadership.

Aronson et al refer to “strategic project leadership” of which “project spirit” is a major dimension. Project spirit “deals with the excitement, passion and enthusiasm, as a driving force, which energises teams, unleashes talent, enhances project performance” and is “the collective emotional state of a project team as nurtured by management and stated by all team members.” (Aronson, Z.H. et al 2001). It is an attitudinal and behavioural construct. One that includes shared everything: purpose, real belonging, adventure, risk, discovery, responsibility, ups and downs, results and rewards, having each other’s backs, caring, and so on.

“Get used to it. Spirituality is creeping into the office… and companies are turning inward in search of a ‘soul’ as a way to foster creativity and to motivate leaders.”
~Business Week, June 5, 1995

I have been directly involved in and witnessed this dynamic in my own career:

  • A re-engineering project taught the entire organisation how to plan from right-to-left, to make sure everything got done right, on time, to budget and without endless meetings, reviews and over-planning 
  • Setting up the first Motorway Service Area in Africa required a paradigm shift both internally in the organisation and externally (by the controlling Government body, the Department of Transport) – from a vehicle-based to a people-based mind-set
  • Designing and executing a local level margin-management pricing system also needed a paradigm shift (away from national and regional pricing; and taking a more nuanced approach to price-setting in a highly competitive retail market) that then pervaded the entire organisation

The impact of these projects was impressive in monetary terms but exponentially more so in terms of introducing positivity, a growth mind-set and ‘possibilist’ thinking throughout the organisation. There is no denying the power of a small team’s shared experiences.

9 Constraints to Leveraging Projects as Incubators of Benevolent Leadership

  1. Holding on to the old

    As we inexorably transition from machine age to modern organisations, a number of leadership culture push-and-pull forces are at play. Some obvious, some obscure, some even unconscious. They direct how we think, feel and act. Inherent in this shift is a search for soul, an awakening to the spiritual (not religious). (Williams, G. & Cooper, E. 2018)

    Ashmos and Duchon pointed out the emergence of strong workplace spirituality (inner life, meaning, purpose, connection, community) nearly two decades ago. (Ashmos, D.P. and Duchon, D. (2000)

    This reinforces the need for leadership that does not command and control, but achieves outcomes via the building of sound, nurturing relationships with employees, and a simultaneous self-emptying (kenosis). When times get tough there is temptation to revert to the old way, which impacts on both organisational and project leadership.

  2. Simply not perceiving the potential

    People and organisations tend to become trapped in their own limited thinking and behaviours. Rather like being in Plato’s Cave – a situation where we are shackled and face only the back wall of the cave and can see only the shadows of the fire that blazes outside, but not the fire itself. We have only an illusion, a limited internal reality. Morgan refers to this using the metaphor of a ‘psychic prison.’ He suggests that “In thinking about an organization this way, we are thus alerted to the pathologies that may accompany our (own) ways of thinking.” (Morgan, G. 1086)

    Project Managers should be free to break organisational culture bonds as they pursue their important projects, and to find new realities that can help set the organisation free beyond the bounds of their project. This requires deft, nurturing action by savvy organisational leadership. The rewards that beckon for individuals, teams and the organisation include freedom of action, adventure, discovery, trust, collaboration, empowerment and sharing of everything from purpose to measured outcomes.

  3. The Project Manager’s Status and Credibility

    It is common in some organisations for project managers to be perceived as having less status than line managers, and less power (for example, to influence the careers of their team members). This is partly because of the relatively short life-time of projects, that when finished, see the team members returning to their original, ‘more permanent’ roles.

    The project manager’s status needs to be elevated to overcome such perceptions. So senior project sponsors ought to make it clear that project managers carry responsibility for organisational change beyond the immediate task parameters and carry primary influence in terms of their member’s career progression.  

    Suitable reward is indicated. As is recognition of what project team members are exposed to during tough projects. Their personal growth can be facilitated when remuneration is based not only on a rate for the job, but also on carefully weighted competence and contribution components.

  4. Moderating factors that restrict the development of ‘spiritual,’ benevolent leadership

    Sense and Fernando draw attention to several factors that act as moderating influences on the development of spirituality in a project. These need to be countered by the empowered project manager. Their moderating factors are:

    • Organizational culture – the culture surrounding the project may shape or inhibit the development of a suitable desirable project culture. (see Plato’s Cave discussion #2 above)
    • Attributes of the individual – the values and attitudes of the individual team members, their cognitive style and preferred way of doing things.
    • Project work process – an individual’s conception of the worth of the project can be affected by its aims, strategies, structure, and work design.
    • Attachment – project participants emotional link to the project outcomes.

      (Sense and Fernando, 2011: 507 – 509)

      The latter three factors can be countered to quite a large extent by coaching, counselling, positive peer pressure, shared involvement in determining purpose, running the project, making decisions, appreciating diversity, and other project esprit de corps factors.

  5. Rules-based operating

    Challenging projects in a dynamic business environment progress is best when there is freedom to explore, decide, and do so without direct ‘outside’ interference hampering cultural baggage and rules-based leading and operating. This is not to say that rules are unimportant, but that they become pretty much redundant when mature behaviour is in play. When behaviour is guided by values that have translated into character-virtues.

    Take ethics as an illustration. British doctors when interviewed about their training and practicing, “… complained about the over-estimation of compliance and the under-estimation of professional judgement.” (Symons, X. 2015)

    I believe that All the laws, rules, regulations, ethical principles in the world will not guarantee virtuous behaviour.” (Williams, G, Fox, P & Haarhoff, D. 2015)

    Organisations and projects should look at ethics from an agent-based perspective, not an action-based perspective (Oberlechner, T. 2007, citing Dobson). This of course requires individual development and maturation along a self-managed path of self-interest, meeting the expectations of others, then becoming principled through independent reasoning. (Oberlechner, T. 2007, citing Kohlberg, Levine, and Hewer). Of course, such maturing doesn’t happen overnight but can be role-modelled and applied in projects. Agent-based seeds are sewn.

  6. Taking the focus off people

    People carry out the work, so an over-emphasis on process, technology, over-planning and over-strategising, is unhelpful. A focus on people and relationships gets the job done, allows for upskilling, broadening, cross-functional appreciation, the development of an internal serving culture, and a way of becoming more customer and stakeholder-facing. It is people who produce the innovations, improved products, services, processes and technology applications, improved relationships with customers and other stakeholders. “The field of project management is one that has always been characterised by its joint emphasis on a blend of technical elements … coupled with its vital connections to behavioural and management concepts.” (Slevin, D & Pinto, J (2004) 

  7. Failure to harness diversity, real inclusion and genuine belonging

    Overcoming limiting differences (departmental, team, roles, ethnicity, gender, religious, thinking style) that could detract from a family and esprit de corps environment, and even result in conflict, is a key success factor for any project.

    “The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of not belonging.”
    ~Mother Theresa

    Social scientist André Laurent, Emeritus Professor of Organizational Behavior at INSEAD “… offers useful guidelines which harness cultural diversity and shows decision makers around the world how differences can become a source of synergy and competitive advantage when they are recognised, understood and appreciated.” (Laurent, A. 2019)

    “Laurent discovered a fascinating phenomenon. In brief: the best teams rely on the difference and uniqueness of their members to create something better than can be produced by a mono-cultural team. But people who fear difference and put their energy into seeing differences negatively produce little of note.

    Concerted effort to bridge the productivity gap between best and worst is a critical challenge. It requires recognition that potentially, diverse group wisdom is greater than individual wisdom; team solutions, innovation and output is greater than individual output; collectives are more secure and powerful than individuals; adaption and adoption of change smoother. Diversity is a positive must.

    Every member must feel that they belong, share accountability and can contribute. That they are accepted, valued, respected and trusted by the other members.

    Failure to appreciate and harness the richness, power and value of difference can cause barriers, threats, irritation, friction and destructive behaviour. And promote a limiting culture of conformity.” (Williams, G; Fox, P & Haarhoff, D.  2015)   

  8. Insufficiently developed Project Managers

    Last year I convened an MSc in Project Management at a prominent university and was aghast to discover no mention of the potential power of projects to bring about wider organisational change in addition to their specifically assigned task.     

    Project Managers require training in being and in applying a benevolent and serving approach to leadership (that includes the components of self-emptying, larger thinking (metanoia), unconditional positive acceptance of employees while still being fair and firm, being adept at handling diversity, open to adventure and learning, skilled at activating reflection and story, and being able to get the job done!

    If we waited for all of this to be in place before initiating a project, then we might never have any projects! There must be a balance aimed at the project leader gaining mastery before and during the course of a project, aided by astute top leader mentoring and coaching.

  9. Punitive measures applied when projects are seen to have failed
  10. Kellogg points to the sort of scapegoating organizational culture that should not be project-based. Such cultures permit defence mechanisms like displacement and projection to be used as self-preservation and bullying tactics. Clearly, several other toxic behaviours will also be present.

    “For individuals who assume responsibility for assignments or projects that prove less than successful, they could find themselves isolated to what I call ‘organizational purgatory.’

    Organizational purgatory is a wasteland where experienced or up-and-coming leaders can find themselves if they are perceived as having failed or fallen short on a key project or assignment.” (Kellogg, R. 2019)

    Projects fail for various reasons, including a lack of effective sponsorship and championing. Such failure should be shared, lessons extracted, and new knowledge applied to cushion future projects from similar failure.

Top 5 tips for successful leveraging of project teams

Here are my top 5 suggestions for CEOs of organisations wanting to successfully expand a benevolent leadership culture, and leverage projects as incubators of spiritual leadership (a notion referred to in a previous article for Culture University (Williams, G. & Cooper, E. 2018).

  1. Learn to operate in benevolent leadership mode. Behave, apply, coach and train benevolent leadership. This requires ‘leaving the action’ and doing regular, deliberate inner work. (Sometimes, like the homicide chief in Richard Rayner’s Murder Book, busy leaders and managers are too busy to do anything else but be busy: “Reflection invited danger. Better and easier to be on top of the surfboard, where the action was, riding without thought to a shore your skill might help you reach....”  (Rayner, R. 1997) Reflection and contemplation (in a context of developing deeper mindfulness) results in better leadership action and results. This requires:
    • Self-emptying (kenosis), developing the larger mind (metanoia) and appreciating interconnectivity
  2. Don’t rely on unfounded, untested theory. An Imperative is to have a healthy balance of real live experience and formal learning and qualifications. In developing project leaders, major on coaching (where process is provided under the umbrella of valid experience and content), counselling, reflection practices, collective sense-making, decision-making and problem-solving.
  3. Blend bees and butterflies. To imbed and connect projects to the rest of the organisation, have natural checks and balances in place, ensure that projects are not ‘secret’ and hidden, enhance the probability of wider ownership, and success, and feed the culture change process, use the butterfly and bee approach. Project team members are bees – devoted to the hive of activity happening within the project. Wherever possible, they actively encourage visits by, progress sharing with and inputs from affected internal departments, external stakeholders and HR and IT (to the extent that these functions are not sufficiently embodied in the project membership). This is an open, accepting, inclusive technique.
  4. Harness diversity and democracy. Better results are sure to follow as wide-ranging a diversity, inclusion and belonging as is possible. Such composition of project teams is a necessity not a luxury. This can profitably be extended to include customers and other stakeholders, the capturing of their unique insights, their buy-in, world views and valid contributions to business process design and redesign, problem definition, change plan, solutions. Engaging with rather than ‘managing’ both internal and external stakeholders adds a wonderful, too-often-neglected resource to project teams. It also sets the tone for relationships and establishing agile-feedback loops in future. This goes a long way to establishing esprit de corps. Worsley offers a useful model which covers the project continuum from stakeholder-neutral to stakeholder-led engagement. (Worsley, L.M. 2017) In this sort of environment, the learning axe is kept sharp as people learn from each other’s knowledge and discoveries as the project proceeds and excitement and passion are transplanted to the wider organisation.
  5. Trust. Think of trust as an increasingly valuable asset in an increasingly divisive and non-collaborative world. Give your trust to project teams. Ensure that sponsors run interference for them when needed. Pop in frequently as a ‘butterfly.’ Encourage the sharing of story at all levels inside and outside of the project team (an Ubuntu process that includes metaphor, imagery, symbol, myth, archetype, anecdote …), that when used appropriately (not to persuade or convince but to share and allow insights to arrive) adds greatly to building trust. This helps project leaders to ensure that the spirit of the project team is maintained or enhanced in order to improve performance (Aronson et al., 2001).
  • trusting that relationship building does lead to improved performance results
  • having a process for walking the talk and converting stated values to consistently displayed virtues
  • widening the notion of ‘customer’ – internal and external – to include suppliers, citizens and other stakeholders (especially in the sustainability arena)
  • utilising advanced conversational processes (not meetings!) to guide culture change deftly and speedily (especially in a world of rapid, turbulent change on many fronts) 


Project teams within organisations, irrespective of their nature or scale, can be used to shift wider culture and carry new ways of relating and working back into the organisation. (Gareis, R. 2010)

Indeed, failure to go to required lengths as outlined above, would be a huge opportunity gone to waste. 

The cascading of esprit de corps and positive cultural elements into the wider organisation is also made possible by the nature of benevolent leadership and spirituality that influences individuals.

According to Milliman et al, “spirituality can be conceptualised as three levels of engagement; individual, group, and organizational” (Milliman et al., 2003).

These are described as:

  • Individual level – Meaningful work
    • Enjoy work
    • Energised by work
    • Work gives personal meaning and purpose
  • Group level – Sense of community
    • Sense of connection with co-workers
    • Employees support each other
    • Linked with a common purpose
  • Organization level – Alignment with organization values
    • Feel connected to organization’s goals
    • Identify with organization’s mission and values
    • Organization cares about employees (Milliman et al., 2003: 428)

An outside-in and inside-out dynamic

The lessons from a recent (strategic rewards and recognition multinational) global research into key culture trends for 2019, are that engagement improves dramatically when employees in conducive workplace environments experience belonging, feel appreciated and respected, find meaning in work relationships and work, have access to technology that facilitates and enhances their connectivity and relationships, share and collaborate in project settings, receive regular feedback in frequent one-on-one communicating. (O. C. Tanner 2019)

I am confident that sound project management meets all of these engagement experiences. Projects can provide the needed psychologically-safe space for learning and personal growth (in confidence and competence), promote connectedness and bonding as members work closely together towards clear goals, and promote a sense of worthiness that emanates from being involved in satisfying and worthwhile activity. (Sense and Fernando, 2011)

It is arguably easier for project team leaders – rather than busy line managers and leaders – to influence or bring about their team member’s transformation. And project team members carry their learning and development back into the wider organisation.


Aronson, Z.H., Lechler, T., Reilly, R.R. and Shenhar, A.J. (2001) Project spirit-a strategic concept. In Proceedings of PICMET ’01. Portland International Conference on Management of Engineering and Technology, Portland, OR.

Ashmos, D.P. and Duchon, D. (2000) Spirituality at work: A conceptualization and measure Journal of Management Inquiry, 9(2), 134-145.

Gareis, R. (2010) Changes of organizations by projects International Journal of Project Management 28 (2010) 314-327 Science Direct  

Helgadottir, H. (2007) The Ethical Dimension of Project Management   International Journal of Project Management 27 (7) 743-748

Karakas, F. & Sarigollu, E. (2013) The Role of Leadership in Creating Virtuous and Compassionate Organizations: Narratives of Benevolent Leadership in an Anatolian Tiger Journal of Business Ethics 113:663–678 2013

Kellogg, R. (2019) How To Keep ‘Organizational Purgatory’ From Infringing On Your Career Or Your Organization Forbes. February 2019 Retrieved from

Kuppler, T. (2019) Top Ten Culture Posts of 2018 on Human Synergistics International: Culture University Jan 16, 2019 (Post #9)

Laurent, A. (2019) Profile. Retrieved from

Levitt, T. (1975) Marketing Myopia, in Fifteen Key Concepts for Managerial Success, Harvard, Business Review Business Classics, Boston, Sept-Oct 1975.

Milliman, J., Czaplewski, A.J. and Ferguson, J. (2003) Workplace spirituality and employee work attitudes: An exploratory empirical assessment  Journal of Organizational Change Management, 16(4), 426-447.

Morgan, G. (1986) Images of Organisation Sage Publications.

Oberlechner, T. (2007) The Psychology of Ethics in the Finance and Investment Industry The Research Foundation of the CFA Institute – citing Dobson, J. (1997) Ethics in Finance II Financial Analyst Journal vol 53 no 1 (January/February) 15-25

Oberlechner, T. The Psychology of Ethics in the Finance and Investment Industry  The Research Foundation of the CFA Institute 2007 citing Kohlberg, L., C. Levine, and A. Hewer Moral Stages: A Current Formulation and a Response to Critics In Contributions to Human Development, Vol. 10. 1983 Edited by J.A. Meacham. New York: Karger

O.C.Tanner 5 Culture Trends for 2019: What’s new in workplace culture  White paper Retrieved from

Rayner, R. (1997) The Murder Book  Houghton Mifflin Company/HarperCollins Publishers

Sense, A. and Fernando, M. (2011) The spiritual identity of projects International Journal of Project Management, 29 (5), 504-513.

Slevin, D & Pinto, J (2004) An Overview of Behavioural Issues in Project Management. In Morris, P W G and Pinto, J K (Eds), The Wiley Guide to Managing Projects, pp.67-85. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons

Symons, X. (2015) On Virtuous Medical Practice  Bio Edge, April, 2015

Williams, G. (2019) Living a Spiritual Lifestyle  LinkedIn January 2019. Retrieved from

Williams, G., Haarhoff, D. & Fox, P. (2015) The Virtuosa Organisation: The importance of virtues for a successful business  Knowledge Resources

Williams, G. with Chalmers, C. (2017) The arrival of corporate spiritual governance Journal of Spirituality, Leadership and Management, 2017, vol. 9, pp. 1-19 Published by Spirituality, Leadership and Management Inc. Retrieved from

Williams, G. & Cooper, E. (2018) Framework for a New Leadership Culture Human Synergistics International: Culture University Oct 16, 2018 Retrieved from

Worsley, L.M. (2017) Stakeholder-led Project Management: changing the way we manage projects  Business Expert Press, NY

Framework for a New Leadership Culture

An emerging leadership context

The world meta-narrative is shifting. We are seeing sometimes confusing, short-term shifts (although sometimes of significant magnitude) in economic, technological, societal and environmental aspects of our universe. We are straddled between:

  • Humanity’s relatively recent narrative that contains the elements of material abundance, of rampant consumption, and production by a minority and a poor and marginalised majority; simple and linear, direct cause and effect; the religious overriding the spiritual; the scientific overriding the religious; (patriarchal) order and control; and the non-paradoxical, non-ambiguous. In this story, the independent, self-serving, divisive leader rules. 
  • And a slowly emerging new and overarching, meta-narrative that contains elements of the holistic, of mutually dependent, diverse, interconnected and continuously evolving ecosystems. Sustainable systems characterised by complexity and the ability to self-organise. Non-dualism, freedom and belonging. A story where science and spirituality no longer collide, hence, more voices are being raised to herald a ‘new consciousness.’ Relationships (not separation), hi-touch partnering hi-tech, other-serving, and sound thinking practices are slowly becoming more valued by more people.

We cannot afford to slip back, as Margaret Wheatley reluctantly reveals: “I’m sad to report that in the past few years, ever since uncertainty became our insistent 21st century companion, leadership has taken a great leap backwards to the familiar territory of command and control.”1 (Wheatley, M. 2005

Instead, in this developing new narrative, we need to hone new skills, do things differently, let go of the past and of our egotistical individualism. And heal rather than steal the future. “In nature, headlong growth and all-out competition are features of immature ecosystems, followed by complex interdependency, symbiosis, cooperation, and the cycling of resources. The next stage of human economy will parallel what we are beginning to understand about nature.2 (Eisenstein, C. 2011)

Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’ 
~Bob Dylan

Our start-point may well be the French 16th century thinker Michel de Montaigne’s wonderfully humble and provocative acknowledgement: Que sais-je?  What do I know?!

The Impact on Organisations

Based on the shift in the world meta-narrative as outlined above, organisations may expect to change as follows:

Changing the meta-narrative

Clearly, such mega changes in an organisation’s operating model necessitates deep and embedded leadership throughout. A new leadership culture. A culture of leadership.

Mary Slaughter points to a shift of emphasis from leadership and change, to leadership culture, which she defines as “shared everyday habits” within the organizational system, and “shifting leadership behavior is a lever for shifting culture, the center of the nesting doll of organizational habits.”3 (Slaughter, M. 2018)

Required Leadership Development Response: Content

Throughout our lives we are shaped by influences (nature and nurture) that guide our leadership outlook, approach, values, capacities and behaviors – some of which remain unconscious.

There are optimum times or stages where positive individual development may best be introduced, taught and applied. For example, relationship attachment, values formation, ethical maturity, and so on. But a number of emerging developmental approaches allow us to address and add these developmental needs (and shifts in line with the new narrative) well after the optimum time for their introduction.

The importance of comprehensive leadership development at all levels in the organisation cannot be over-emphasised. Development that addresses the intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, and their embodiment (physical). This importance is magnified given the perilous state of affairs in the World – environmentally, economically and socially – coupled with a seeming lack of moral backbone, widespread pursuance of self-interest, undisciplined capitalism, rampant bad behaviour at many levels, and a drastic and widespread decline in respect for, and trust of, leaders in general.

Influences that shape us

A special leadership development response is called for in respect of leaders at all levels in the organisation. Such an approach will foster lasting culture change.

Required Leadership Development Response: Process Factors

Ensure psychological safety is present for all learning methods – coaching, training, self-development – for individuals and groups. This is especially important for leadership learning where people need to be themselves in a trusting, supportive environment, as “a lack of team psychological safety may inhibit experimenting, admitting mistakes, or questioning current practices in teams.4, 5 (Tofte, G. 2016, citing Edmondson, A.C. 1999)

This creates a good culture-change climate (including the adoption of psychological safety principles and practices in the workplace to ensure ongoing teamwork). These measures may include a conversational process where (briefly):

  • on-line diagnostic questions trigger new thinking on a chosen topic,
  • which leads to immersion via carefully chosen exercises and reflections
  • followed by anecdote circle facilitation that promotes attentive listening and yields valuable qualitative information (feelings, beliefs and attitudes)
  • and in-depth analyses and interpretation then provides the means for participants to begin conversing, deciding, and implementing changes together.

Build wisdom by following a probing, existential questioning approach. “Wisdom is a practice that reflects the developmental process by which individuals increase self-knowledge, self-integration, nonattachment, self-transcendence, and compassion, as well as a deeper understanding of life. This practice involves better self-regulation and ethical choices, resulting in greater good for oneself and others.6 (Trowbridge, R. H and Ferrari, M. 2009).

The following framework combines the key topics of Servant Leadership, Mastery and Higher Purpose:

leader development framework 

Thus, leader development includes getting to know ‘self,’ confronting the shadow side, and facing ourselves. This is no small task but neuroscience shows that what has been hardwired can be rewired. Techniques like deeper mindfulness and meditation (to instil calm, enable clear focus, compassionate relating, wonder and creativity, and appreciation of sustainability imperatives; reflection, disclosure and feedback; priming and nudging towards transitions, uncovering and identifying unconscious biases, counter-attitudinal advocacy, story reframing; and psychosynthesis for triggering psychological and spiritual growth.7 (Ferrucci, P.  2004)

The questions on the diagram above cover both being and doing. They relate to work, home and social lives. They focus on the positive without neglecting what needs mending. They were for Tolstoy a lifelong quest:

In his turn, Tolstoy was of course aware that he was following in a long line of authors. In asking, “Who, what am I?”, he self-consciously echoed Socrates, Marcus Aurelius, Descartes, Pascal, Kant, Rousseau. But he believed that ordinary peasants asked it as well. Tolstoy particularly loved a story about his old nanny. She would lie alone listening to the clock ticking on the wall; the clock asked: “Who are you – what are you?” (Kto ty chto? Kto ty chto ty?). Tolstoy echoed: “This is the entire essence of life: Who are you? What are you?” (Paperno, I. 2014)

Utilise projects as incubators of the required leadership characteristics and culture, which may include:9, 10, 11 (Sense, A & Fernando, M 2011; Aronson, Z al 2001; Ashmos, D & Duchon, Dennis 2000)

  • Esprit de corps (a team spirit)
  • Purpose and meaning
  • (Authentic) Relationships and Results (What servant leadership is all about)
  • Freedom of action
  • Adventure, discovery
  • Trust
  • Sound, honest, deep and meaningful cultural/ social interactions and practices
  • Empowerment
  • Belonging and bonding (And having each other’s back)
  • The intrinsic satisfaction of doing and achieving something worthwhile
  • An opportunity to build self-esteem via the process of learning, growing and delivering
  • Collaboration
  • Utilising positive stress
  • Sharing of everything: shared values, responsibility, accountability, measures, decision-making, problem-solving …

And engaging with rather than managing both internal and external stakeholders. Worsley offers a useful model which covers the project continuum from stakeholder-neutral to stakeholder-led engagement.12 (Worsley, L.M. 2017)

Clearly, arriving at answers to these and other vital questions requires wisdom, which is a search built into the intent, content, and approach of a thoughtful, inclusive, leadership development approach.


Photo by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash.


1 Wheatley, Margaret J. (2005). How Is Your Leadership Changing? Retrieved from 

2 Eisenstein, Charles (2011). Sacred Economics: Money, Gift & Society in the Age of Transition, Evolver Editions

3 Slaughter, Mary (2018). Why NeuroLeadership Is Moving from ‘Leadership and Change’ to ‘Culture and Leadership.‘ LinkedIn, June 14, 2018. Retrieved from 

4 Tofte, Guro (2016). Team psychological safety as a moderator in the relationship between team leadership and team learning in management teams. Master Thesis: Work and Organizational Psychology Department of Psychology, University of Oslo, 2016. (involving 135 Norwegian and 81 Danish leadership teams)

5 Edmondson, A. C. (1999). Psychological safety and learning behavior in work teams. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44(2), 350–383. Retrieved from 

6 Trowbridge, Richard Hawley and Ferrari Michel (2009). Research in Human Development, cited by Massimo (the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York) in Sophia vs Phronesis: two conceptions of wisdom. September 20, 2016. Retrieved from 

7 Ferrucci, Piero (2004). What We May Be: techniques for psychological and spiritual growth through psychosynthesis. Jeremy P.Tarcher/ Penguin NY

8 Paperno, Irina (2014). Who, What am I?: Tolstoy Struggles to Narrate the Self. Cornell University Press, 1st Edition

9 Aronson, Z H.; Lechler, Thomas; Reilly, Richard R.; Shenhar, Aaron J. (2001). (Stevens Institute of Technology) Project Spirit – A Strategic Concept. Published in Management of Engineering and Technology, (Publisher: IEEE)

10 Ashmos, Donde P & Duchon, Dennis (University of Texas at San Antonio) (2000). Spirituality at Work: a conceptualization and measure Journal of Management Inquiry. Vol 9 No. 2, June 2000 134-145 © Sage Publications, Inc.

11 Sense, Andrew & Fernando, Mario (2011). School of Management and Marketing, Faculty of Commerce, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, NSW, 2522, Australia). The spiritual identity of projects International Journal of Project Management, 29 pgs. 504–513 © 2010 Elsevier Ltd. and IPMA. All rights reserved.

12 Worsley, L.M. (2017). Stakeholder-led Project Management: changing the way we manage projects. Business Expert Press NY

Why Boards of Directors Need a New Profile

Insights from psychological and spiritual synthesis

Why Boards of Directors Need a New Profile

Ongoing failures and scandals

A scan of the literature, the internet and my interviews with a number of governance practitioners has revealed that when selecting and developing board directors – profit or non-profit, the focus is very much on what they know, who they know, and what they’ve done.

Perhaps, given the awesome responsibilities of 21st century directors (both profits and non-profits), with business having a key role in overcoming probable mega-disasters in society, the environment and the economy; the focus should at least be equally on their character virtues, an other– orientation (not self-serving), and purpose.

This is especially true in an era where there continue to be huge disconnects between stated principles and values, and actual behaviours – in both the public and private sectors.1

One does not have to think back too far to recall Banks that have rigged currency rates and chased excess profit because of the ‘banking culture,’ Oil Companies responsible for a major ocean spillage after carelessly pushing the boundaries of safety, Coffee Makers using aluminium pods, Water Bottlers who will raid and deplete a community’s underground water supplies (and leave an unwanted  plastic legacy as well), Car Manufacturers who design software to cheat emission tests, a Fast-food Retailer pirating unsustainable palm oil, the Furniture Manufacturer who fiddles “forestry stewardship” figures, or the Consumer Goods Marketer who uses plastic microbeads in its cleansing and toothpaste products (justifying this on the basis that the larger plastics are a bigger threat to ocean pollution, and that their customers enjoy using their products!

“Whereas the 20th century might be viewed as the age of management, the early 21st century is predicted to be more focused on governance.”
-James McRitchie

A recent case is that of Global Retailer, Steinhoff Holdings, with their impressive codes of conduct, corporate social responsibility programmes, sustainability initiatives and learning organisation claims. They stand accused of fraud exceeding 10 billion US dollars and their larger shareholders include pension funds, retirement annuities, and provident funds administrators.

We could add to this litany of uncouth and damaging behaviour those of sexual, emotional, psychological and spiritual harassment, abuse and personal violations.

All this amounts to a systemic rape of the planet, societies, and individuals in numerous forms, by a few powerful, immoral leaders, including:

  • Deforestation
  • Stealing of tribal lands
  • Plundering of pension fund monies
  • Personal harassment and abuse
  • Depletion of underground water supplies
  • Tax legislation that favours the rich, disadvantages the poor

Expediency, greed, arrogance, disrespect and self-serving have all come into play. As has domination, violation, abuse and hurt, and the stripping away of other’s rights, self-esteem and happiness without their consent.

What has led to this highly unsatisfactory state of affairs?

All of our lives have been infiltrated over time by these behaviours.

There are complex and layered exterior forces that shape us and challenge both our egos and our souls. What we think, feel, believe is influenced by our families, communities, institutions, societies, nature and spiritual experiences. Nancy Klein eloquently describes how the big brands have influenced and often conditioned every area of our being. How the system has spawned Personal Brands, usually with incredibly strong needs to have and to show power, to control, be recognised and praised, to amass wealth. These needs of ‘hollow men’ can never be satisfied. They are products of the system that has been for too many years (consciously and/or unconsciously) driving our exploitive, entitlement-based, consumption- focused beliefs and life styles.2


Widely believed sentiments such as the following have contributed to the rise of deceptive, self-serving behaviour:

That greed is good. That the market rules. That money is what matters in life. That the natural world is there for us to pillage. That the vulnerable deserve their fate and that the one percent deserve their golden towers. 

That anything public or commonly held is sinister and not worth protecting. That we are surrounded by danger and should only look after our own. That there is no alternative to any of this.2

A new Director profile is required

A definite and sharp move is required when choosing directors from what they know, who they know, and what they’ve done – to who they are, what virtues they consistently display, and the purity of their motives.


But how? What personal growth needs to take place?

Ferrucci points us to these key dimensions of human life, dimensions that need to be synthesised in the makeup of Board Directors:

The emergence of will and self-determination

The sharpening of the mind

The enjoyment of beauty

The enrichment of imagination

The awakening of intuition

The realization of love

The discovery of the Self and its purpose.3

In its most basic sense, Psychosynthesis is simply a name for the process of personal growth: the natural tendency in each of us to harmonize or synthesize our various aspects at ever more inclusive levels of organization. In its more specific sense, Psychosynthesis is a name for the conscious attempt to cooperate with the natural process of personal development. All living things contain within them a drive to evolve, to become the fullest realization of themselves. This process can be supported consciously, and Psychosynthesis is one means to do this.4

Ophelia’s statement (used as his book title by Piero Ferrucci) is a good basis for looking at such a growth journey for director – leaders.5  

We need directors who fit the profile indicated on the chart that I’ve drawn up below (quote from Hamlet5). The chart outlines a developmental/growth model for modern Board Directors and senior leaders:


Pain, meaninglessness and possible self-destruction occur when fragmented inner elements clash, hence the need to aim at integration of body, mind and spirit and to reach ‘wholeness’ – the da Vinci virtue of corporalita examined in The Virtuosa Organisation.1 As part of the process participants tackle their shadow side, harmful attachments, addictions, desires, converted fears (for example, prejudice), egoically-driven emotions (such as anger) … and because of the neuroplasticity of our brains, we can edit, reframe and change our life stories by altering, growing new neurons, connections and pathways, get out of insecure-attachments, override limiting beliefs, develop compassion. We can literally rewire our brains over time. Change slowly but surely to who we need to become.

The model fits Servant Leadership to quite a large extent. Servant Leadership has matured and is currently enjoying something of a resurrection. It embraces a number of the ideas contained in the above model, has been around for a number of years, and is currently gaining traction in the business world. It is transformational.

Hosted by Conscious Marketer, Ken Blanchard and Berrett-Koehler Publications, over 40 speakers were involved in the October 2017 Servant Leadership Online Training Summit that recently took place over 10 days.6

We believe that the model that we present here enhances the Servant Leader approach in six clear and important areas:

  • conversion of stated values to consistently displayed virtues (via behaviour indicators)
  • combining leadership + purpose + mastery
  • widening the notion of ‘customer’ (internal and external) to include suppliers, citizens and other stakeholders (especially in the sustainability arena)
  • recognising and accessing the benefits of deeper mindfulness
  • identifying, unpacking, understanding and utilising the elements of spirituality
  • utilising advanced conversational processes to guide cultural change deftly and speedily (especially in a world of rapid, turbulent change on many fronts)

(The author may be contacted for further elucidation)

Underlying elements and practices in navigating the model, are metanoia and kenosis.

Metanoia and Kenosis

Part of the process is that of metanoia, which Bourgeault describes as the “larger mind.” “It means to escape from the orbit of the egoic operating system, which by virtue of its own internal hardwiring is always going to see the world in terms of polarized opposites, and move instead into that nondual knowingness of the heart which can see and live from the perspective of wholeness”.Integrated thinking, taking account of the six capitals (financial, intellectual, social, human, manufactured and natural), fits snugly into this description.

Nothing less than kenotic loving will suffice – self-emptying for others. If we lack genuine compassion for the planet and society, we should not be serving on any Board.

Bourgeault: “It’s almost completely spiritually counterintuitive. For the vast majority of the world’s spiritual seekers, the way to god is “up.” Deeply embedded in our religious and spiritual traditions—and most likely in the human collective unconscious itself—is a kind of compass that tells us that the spiritual journey is an ascent, not a descent.7

Ozdemir cites Karen Armstrong: “We have been living in a time of great social transformation and unrest and … we should foster compassion, self-emptying and justice,” then speaks of the approach taken by, and the teachings of, Rumi and Confucius.8

We can add the philosophy, writings and lives of Henri Nouwen, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Jesus, Buddha (the sunyata tradition).

Metanoia and Kenosis both require a deep letting go. Letting go of egoic self-importance. Letting go during times of adversity and threat. Building inner strength, resilience. Serving outwardly and transforming through letting go.

As we put the pieces together during the programme, the wisdom of Albert Einstein affirms, “Out of the clutter, find simplicity. From discord, find harmony. In the middle of difficulty, lies opportunity.”

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer has said, “The beyond is not what is infinitely remote, but what is nearest at hand.”

Daniel Goleman exhorts us to: “Finally, act now, in whatever way you are called to. Otherwise the toxic forces at loose today will define our time. But each of us acting in our own way can together create a stronger force for good.”

What is your experience in working with Boards of Directors? Have you served or held a Board seat? I welcome your thoughts and comments below.

A detailed context for this article has been published by the Journal of Spiritual Leadership and Management:


1 Williams, G; Fox, P and Haarhof, D  The Virtuosa Organisation: the importance of virtues for a successful business. Knowres Publishing  2015

2 Klein, Naomi No is not Enough: resisting Trump’s shock politics and winning the world we need. Haymarket Books Chicago 2017

3 Ferrucci, Piero What we May Be: techniques for psychological and spiritual growth through psychsynthesis. Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin  NY   2004

4 Synthesis Center web site.

5 Shakespeare, William The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark  Act IV, Scene V

6 Servant Leadership On-Line Training Summit

7 Bourgeault, Cynthia The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind—a New Perspective on Christ and His Message. Shambhala   2008

8 Ozdemir, Ibrahim, Rumi and Confucius: Messages for a New Century Tughra Books  NJ 2013; citing Armstrong, Karen, The Great Transformation: the beginning of our religious traditions. First Anchor Books 2007

9 Goleman, Daniel, How to be a Force for Good  Lion’s Roar, 29th August, 2017

Conversations That Count for Culture Change

Conversations That Count for Culture Change

Are we losing the art of conversation?

In an age where digital monologues, selfies, and superficial chats are the norm, the power of conversation is waning. Disconnected in our connected world, text, email, and social media exchanges are hardly interactive, let alone conversational.

TV, live-streamed and public-event ‘conversations,’ from political debates to discussion groups, tend to be immature, combative and divisive because there is something to ‘win,’ and because there is an ‘entertainment value’ to be optimised.

“… Communication is breaking down everywhere, on an unparalleled scale … Different groups … are not actually able to listen to each other … the consequent sense of frustration inclines people ever further toward aggression and violence, rather than toward mutual understanding and trust.1

On campuses, where “the art of debate and discourse … has largely been lost due to students who no longer feel comfortable openly deliberating ideas that might get them labelled a racist or misogynist … sexist, xenophobic.” (Taboo campus topics include drug legalisation, sexual behaviour, the environment, abortion, capital punishment, war, economic equality, affirmative action and immigration).2

Edgar Schein, doyen of business culture, believes that we live in a culture that overvalues telling.3

Yet conversation is still needed and valued. In 2011, performance artist Taylor Baldry set up a card table and three folding chairs on a street corner in Minneapolis and announced free conversations. The response was remarkable. Without any doubt, people crave authentic conversation.4


Used with permission by Taylor Baldry,

What is conversation?

Meetings, debates, idea exchanges and conversations differ. Bohm rues the fact that we humans have lost our capacity for “participatory thought”: to partake of and to partake in those things that deeply matter to us – in a natural, informal way. He sees that “… In a dialogue (conversation) … people are making something in common, i.e., creating something new together.”1 When we freely listen to each other, without prejudice, and without trying to influence, something new and creative happens. A sharing of meaning, purpose and value glues people and societies together.

Freud borrowed the phrase ‘the talking cure’ to describe psychoanalysis. I think we should use it to describe conversations.


There are conversations that we should be having at work

In many of today’s workplaces, there are topics never talked about but that should be. Like taking off our masks and being authentic, looking after the environment with a passion that goes beyond lip service, really caring for the communities we touch, not being so rules-based, overcoming change fatigue, aligning individual and organisation purpose where feasible, accepting spirituality, living the organisation’s values, introducing a loving environment, seeing past the habits and norms in different ethnic groups (eating, breastfeeding, religious rituals, marriage conventions), handling employment equity fairly and with sensitivity …

Avoided conversation topics are legion.

Employees in many workplaces feel muzzled. They believe that certain subjects are politically incorrect, will upset management or even be career-limiting if spoken about openly. Leaders introduce their own boundaries and taboos. On the few occasions where these topics do surface there is accompanying animosity, embarrassment, an adversarial attitude, anger and other negative emotions. People feel threatened and uncomfortable.

200 years ago a fable by Russian author Ivan Krylov introduced a wonderful metaphor – an elephant in the room. It is something big. So big that it fills the room. It simply cannot be ignored. It is really important. But incredibly, we fail to see it! And even if we do see it, we never talk about it.5

If they were allowed and encouraged, these conversations have the potential to make a huge difference to how people feel, think and act – to the benefit of themselves and their organisational culture and performance. A re-patterning, reframing, re-storying, re-genesis.

Imagine if …

If not allowed, left ‘underground’, then the lack of understanding, failure to express feelings, discontent and resentment festers, and opposite views take root all the more firmly.

When these ‘taboos’ are talked about in a safe, confidential and professionally facilitated manner, a lot of positive, constructive, beneficial things happen: people engage, gain understanding and insight, feel trusted and important. Teamwork and cross-department, cross-culture collaboration improves. Participants gain skill at sharing their stories, at listening to others, handling potential conflict positively. There is sense-making and problem-solving. The conversations become inclusive, connecting, positive, motivating. Not controlling, stifling. There is a new sense of pride, diversity is seen more positively. Outcomes are owned. Subsequent performance is raised, positive improvements and good results occur.

A sound conversation process is a wonderful way to trigger positive culture change without resorting to and swamping the organisational with highly structured, protracted, disruptive and threatening OD and change management interventions.

Let us make a special effort to stop communicating with each other, so we can have some conversation.
-Mark Twain

Conversation in ancient Hindu, Sumer, Roman and Greek civilisations were crucial to progress. (Socrates believed that individuals are not able to be intelligent on their own, but need the stimulation of another, others. That we become intelligent through questioning, listening, sharing, contemplating, and processing ideas that lie outside of ourselves). This essentially human practice continued with the Knights of the Round Table. It was the engine of the Renaissance. Conversation enlivened French salons. They were integral to early North American culture. And served Shaka Zulu’s ukuxoxa impi, motivational tradition (warrior conversations around a fire to comfort and encourage each other).

Anita Diamant’s book, The Red Tent, is about the rape of Dinah. The red tent was a safe, special, hallowed place where women could talk about this taboo topic.The book has been published in 25 countries and a movie made. A spontaneous “Red Tent Movement” has sprung up. In red tents, there is no judgement, a chance for equal sharing, relating and learning. Everyone’s contribution is valued. This makes a lot of sense.

Buddha and Jesus addressed large crowds, but also had conversations with small groups and (often spontaneously) with individuals. They would connect, converse and interact, use stories and anecdotes (often incorporating a parable or koan as a ‘riddle’ or ‘teaser’, as well as powerful questions) to invoke reflection, participation, and support positive action. Their teaching styles were participative, caring, and conversational.

Neither one sponsored and initiated any formal, massive organisational development intervention and transformation programme. They were catalysts for natural, organic growth.

Jesus always addressed pressing needs immediately, and in a way that brought about positive, lasting outcomes. He discussed the undiscussable. He involved those who typically were (or felt) left out – interacted gently, at their level, focused on their needs.

Imagine a powerful new resource. A process that stimulated the conversations that should happen in organisations, in a way that they count, and make the difference.

A Powerful New Resource

I’ve combined expertise with Steve Banhegyi ( to devise, test, develop and refine a method of conducting difficult conversations in safety, to the benefit of the organisation, its culture, and its members.

We begin the process with confidential and easy-to-participate, on-line surveys. Expert analysis supplies leadership with an overview of the issues preventing a positive, values-driven workforce. With this knowledge constructive, open and confidential group conversations are conducted, using anecdote circle methodology. (Pioneered and developed by Cognitive Edge Pte Ltd, anecdote circles are arguably the best means for businesses to unearth experiences, memories, feelings, personal stories and values around a common theme, a concern to the organisation, a challenge, or issue. Properly facilitated, they trump traditional interviews and surveys, allow you to get to root causes, and make sense of complex situations.

Conversations that count

The entire process – confidential surveys, preparation, group compositions and anecdote circle methodology – all combine to create a safe container where participants may overstep the limits or ‘edges’ of what they would previously have discussed. The insights and understanding participants gain may then be reinforced with internal media and other activities, ensuring long-term, enduring change. Our experience is that organisations that adopt these facilitated conversations gain hugely in terms of positive, practical suggestions for smoothing, improving, fixing and healing processes, situations, relationships and cultural dynamics. The conversation events are not designed to influence, persuade, nor convert any of the participants. They gently trigger culture change in the areas that count, without the hype, imposed control, expensive and lengthy projects and initiatives associated with organisation development, change management, reengineering and transformation endeavours. Ownership is assumed by the participants.

The process (run directly by ourselves or via selected and trained in-house facilitators using our toolkit) is designed so that participants – while addressing particular ‘issues’ – also learn to:

  • Reflect
  • Listen
  • Share differences
  • Raise and shift consciousness, understanding, possibility
  • Move forward together as a conversational community

Advice from over 100 years ago: “The object of conversation is pleasure and improvement … In disputes upon moral or scientific points, ever let your aim be to come at truth, not to conquer your opponent. So you never shall be at a loss in losing the argument, and gaining a new discovery.7


Naturally opposites or opposing views do emerge. But as in the Yin Yang symbol, they are contained by the surrounding circle. Within the anecdote circle methodology, there is room for ‘negative’ and ‘positive,’ for differences of opinion – in a safe, non-judgmental, supportive space. Contained within the anecdote circle are a freedom from normal socialisation barriers to talking about what needs to be talked about (for example, hierarchy, multiple or threatening perspectives, personal ‘edges’). In this environment we find that it is common for participants to move out of their comfort zones and let go of long-held prejudices, stereotyping, limiting beliefs, destructive emotions, obstacles to sharing, and aspects of a negative world-view.

There is in most organisations an enormous untapped source of wisdom waiting to be unleashed. The ‘Conversations that Count’ Process is in fact an adoption of System Leadership, characterised by:

  • Deep and mindful listening, tolerance and shared reflection
  • Developing collaborative solutions
  • Courageously co-creating a future

Some conversation topics that we’ve been involved with include:

  • What are the boundaries of what we’re prepared to discuss
  • The masks we wear
  • Escaping psychic prisons
  • Change fatigue
  • Diversity and discord
  • What is the spirit of our workplace?
  • Becoming story-competent
  • Stifled creativity and innovation
  • Making our workplace more cohesive
  • Language, jargon, communication styles
  • I or We in teams?
  • Superior customer and stakeholder service

There is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about.
Ask “What’s possible?” not “What’s wrong?” Keep asking.
Notice what you care about.
Assume that many others share your dreams.
Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters.
Talk to people you know.
Talk to people you don’t know.
Talk to people you never talk to.
Be intrigued by the differences you hear.
Expect to be surprised.
Treasure curiosity more than certainty.
Invite in everybody who cares to work on what’s possible.
Acknowledge that everyone is an expert about something.
Know that creative solutions come from new connections.
Remember, you don’t fear people whose story you know.
Real listening always brings people closer together.
Trust that meaningful conversations can change your world.
Rely on human goodness. Stay together.

What conversations are you encouraging or discouraging? How are these conversations benefiting the organization and its members? I welcome the continuance of this conversation and look forward to your comments below.

For more on Story Circles, see The Halo and the Noose.


1Bohm, D. On Dialogue. Routledge 1996.

2Hardiman, K. (University of Notre Dame). Philosophy professor: Students too fearful to debate controversial topics. November 30, 2016,

3Schein, E. H. Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. San Francisco, California 2013.

4Baldry, Taylor.

5Ralston, W.R.S, M.A. (of the British Museum) Krilof and His Fables: A transcription of the complete fourth edition, translated by W.R.S Ralston. Cassell & Company Ltd (4th Edition), 1883 Kindle Edition.

6Diamant, A. The Red Tent.  St. Martin’s Press 1997.

7Martine, A. Martine’s Handbook of Etiquette, and Guide to True Politeness. A Public Domaine Book first published in 1866.

8Wheatley, M. J. Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco 2009.

How often is our vision colored?

Positively facing our diversity challenges

How often is our vision colored?

Increasing Workplace Diversity is a Reality

Ask almost any workgroup to identify disruptive changes likely to take place in their future, and they’re sure to include diversity and the demographic shifts occurring across the world.

Fact: Countries, workplaces and market places are becoming more diverse. This trend will continue and represents either a stumbling block or an opportunity for organizations.

Associated Challenges Are Also Too Real

People don’t always see eye to eye. Our differing perceptions, inbuilt stereotyping, prejudices and bias-filters influence how we relate to others from different cultures, ethnicities, religions, belief systems, social classes, genders, sexual preferences, ages, personalities, education levels, language, lifestyles, thinking styles, temporal orientations, physical and mental abilities …


Recent mass migrations of displaced peoples, campaigns such as ‘Black Lives Matter’, and the imposition of racial quotas (as is the case in South Africa) have led to an enormous resentment, fear and hostility. Harnessing diversity positively is a big challenge for organizations.

On 26th August, 2016 in Cape Town, former President F.W. de Klerk’s Foundation launched the Centre for Unity in Diversity. Sadly, in this land of Ubuntu a motivation was: “The main challenge to peace in the new millennium is the inability of cultural, language and religious communities to coexist peacefully within the same countries.” The hope heralded by Nelson Mandela, and the opportunity for South Africa to demonstrate this to the World, has been squandered by subsequent leadership. That is where an inability to coexist peacefully is being fueled in South Africa. (Not at grassroots level). And the inability to co-exist seems to be an issue in many countries, and therefore workplaces.


But There Are Positive Possibilities and Opportunities? 

Psychology professor Richard Crisp has examined how positive creativity and progress may result from culture ‘clashes’, and how a protective, aggressive response to a threat from an outside group can be beneficially substituted by non-dual coalition thinking, positive perceptions and attitudes that stimulate forward movement beyond mere tolerance.1

Social scientist Andre Laurant, Emeritus Professor of Organizational Behavior at INSEAD, discovered a fascinating phenomenon. In brief: the best teams rely on the difference and uniqueness of their members to create something better than can be produced by a mono-cultural (conforming) team. But people who fear difference and put their energy into seeing differences negatively, produce little of note, and perform worst – this applies at national, regional, organization and small group levels. The most diverse teams, when they harness the richness of their diversities, become the best performing teams.2

Positive leadership role models are emerging. The new Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, was elected earlier this year. He is Muslim and a role model for all ethnic groups, religions, cultures. Anyone who has heard or observed his reasoned yet humble, gentle yet firm, ambitious yet patient approach, and his heart for inter-community relations, should be impressed. For me Khan embodies the exhortation we have from Gandhi (born into a privileged Hindu caste, known for employing non-violent civil disobedience, and who majored on building friendly and peaceful relations between ethnic groups and religions): “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” This is the starting point for all leaders in all situations.

Moving the Organization Forward

So what can organizations do to move forward?

We can raise awareness and encourage the sharing of exchanges and stories within groups where there are diversity challenges. One way of doing this is to read a book and then discuss it in teams. I often recommend Black Like Me by Texan journalist John Howard Griffin. A white man, Griffin darkened his skin to assume the identity of a black man, spent six weeks hitchhiking and traveling on Greyhound buses through the ‘deep south’, and relates his experiences.3 Another suggestion is to watch and discuss Jane Elliott’s video-taped diversity experiment, started with grade school children in her native Iowa. Immediately after the death of Martin Luther King she split her class into ‘blue-eyed’ and ‘brown-eyed’, gave and withheld privileges, treated one group as superior. In an amazingly short space of time she created a ‘racial’ divide, observed how the learning performance of the ‘inferior’ group declined significantly. When the groups were switched, the same result occurred!4 Whenever I’ve used this sort of exercise in workshops, their effect has been profound.

It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.
-Audre Lorde

We can facilitate a session where people are asked to step into the moccasins of the other. “Successful collaboration between stakeholders starts with what social psychologists call perspective taking: the ability to see the world through someone else’s eyes.5 Get people to share the unique and positive aspects of the other after spending time together, sharing experiences (for example, a labyrinth walk, visiting each other’s homes or places of worship) and conversations. Then as a next step, they act as advocates for the other – a sure way of breaking down differences. This is known as counter-attitudinal-advocacy.6

I’m not at all in favour of forced compliance, as in the South African job quota system. However, one good thing about their so-called Employment Equity Act is that it calls upon organisations to both (A) report compliance progress AND (B) train and consult with their employees to ensure understanding and support. I like the means, not the end, and the in-house exercises suggested above are aimed at involving employees fully – diversity from the inside out.

Now is the time to get rid of ‘we and them’ attitudes within and outside of our organisations. Instead of walls and barriers a more appropriate metaphor for our times is that of a bridge.

Here is a good perspective: Love Has No Labels | Diversity & Inclusion | Ad Council

Reap the Rewards of Getting It Right In Your Workplace 

Rumi the Sufi poet told the ancient story of an elephant and six blind men.

Each man felt a different part. To one a leg was assumed to be a pillar, the tail felt like rope, and ears like a huge fan. Yet another thought the elephant’s trunk was a branch of a tree … Each one was right in their own way but only by putting their different views together could the complete picture be seen.

Teams that share a common purpose and supporting values, blended competencies, are inclusive and take responsibility for contributing their individual skills to the greater cause — are on their way to better decision-making and problem-solving (diversity of viewpoints), improved agility and resilience, and higher performance levels, (It also makes obvious sense for some customer-facing organisations to internally mirror their marketplace demographics more closely).

After all, as an ancient African proverb explains, “Chra chimive hachitswaa inda: a thumb working on its own is worthless. It has to work collectively with the other fingers to get strength and be able to achieve. One finger cannot pick up a grain.7

Ubuntu means that we are human because of our connectedness to all others.

What are your thoughts? I welcome your comments and ideas on social media.


1. Crisp, Richard, The Social Brain: how diversity made the modern mind. Robinson 2015

2. Laurent, Andre

3. Griffin, John Howard, Black Like Me. Penguin 1962

4. Elliott, Jane, The Eye of the Storm (1970) – recording this experiment, and A Class Divided (1985) (A followed up with the original class many years later showed that the values that she had instilled, still remained).

5. Audia, Pino G. Train Your People to Take Others’ Perspectives.

6. Aronson E., Wilson T.D., Akert, R.M. Social Psychology (7th Ed.). Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ 2010 cited in Psychological Concepts

7. Mbigi, Lovemore & Maree, Jenny Ubuntu: The Spirit of African Transformation Management. Knowledge Resources, Randburg, 1995


Grogan, Tony, Diversity at Work2000

Evans, Malcolm, Cruel Male-Dominated Culture2 011

The Corporate Stampede To Purpose

The Corporate Stampede To Purpose

The Race Is On

The Race Is On

Organisations are clamouring to join the race to proclaim their higher purpose, raison d’être, new principles and supporting values and programmes. And imbed sustainability consciousness into their culture. It seems that business has awakened to the need to heal, sustain and nurture the environment, society and the economy; to adopt people, planet and profit bottom lines. There has been an accompanying proliferation of sustainability consultancies, service providers, academic papers and conferences.

Why Did the Race Start? What is Fueling This Frenetic Activity? 

There has been a growing realisation and acceptance by stakeholders across all walks of life of the imperative to tackle the huge inter-linked challenges facing our planet, its inhabitants and resources.

“What is needed, then, is a renewed, profound and broadened sense of responsibility on the part of all. Business is in fact a vocation, and a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life. I ask you to ensure that humanity is served by wealth and not ruled by it”.1    –Pope Francis

A significant portion of the corporate world is shifting its focus away from short-term selfish gain and towards sustainability of the longer-term common good. Examples are:

  • Sounds true                 to disseminate spiritual wisdom
  • Southwest Airlines     we exist to connect people to what’s important in their lives
  • Pirch, Atlanta              to create inspired moments in people’s lives – Jeffery Sears, CEO

The shift has been well documented and some of the factors promoting it have been:

  • Insight into the “Converging paths and interlinked destinies” and interests of corporates and societies – for example, is clear in an article by Walmart CEO Doug McMillon and SVP of Sustainability Kathleen McLaughlin, posted by consulting firm McKinsey.2
  • Fear of legislated and other penalties for non-compliance being imposed by all levels of government
  • Pressure from citizens/ customers/ potential employees (the new activists) who have adopted sustainability thinking
  • Me-too-ism and fear of becoming uncompetitive in the marketplace
  • Genuine desire to be culturally attuned to environmental and societal needs and to make a difference
  • The economic possibilities inherent in being seen to be a sustainability champion

runners3_GWThis latter motive has been fed by a plethora of sustainability networking conferences calling upon businesses to activate their purpose; opinion-leader, early-adopter and role-model talks; articles and publications:

  • More Corporations Turn to Sustainability for Competitive Edge and Profits – “31 percent of companies say sustainability is boosting their profits and 70 percent report that sustainability has a permanent place on their management agenda.”3
  • The title of an article about a Richard Branson’s book is a giveaway: Richard Branson: Screw Business As Usual, And Make Your (Huge Piles Of) Money By Doing Good.4
  • As is the subtitle of Grow—“how ideals power growth and profit at the World’s greatest companies.”5
  • And Green Giants: how smart companies turn sustainability into billion-dollar businesses.6

Powered by Regeneration

There is no doubt that a sustainability drive, supported by a clear purpose has bottom line and cultural development benefits. IBM has a Corporate Service Corps that travels the world. As part of leadership development, top employees are given a month to participate in Corporate Social Responsibility service abroad (on a project of their own choice).7 The programme fits with IBM’s aspirations to retain talent, build skills, improve market competitiveness, and promote Cultural Intelligence. And it fits IBM’s purpose of following a path of innovation, reinvention and a shift to higher value adding.

The stampede to purpose will gain even more traction by research findings that purpose-oriented employees are the most engaged and the highest performers.8 In addition to a new Workforce Purpose Index, a Certified Purpose Leader Program has been launched. It offers training in how to create a purpose statement, lead with purpose, harness the transforming power of purpose and develop the purpose-powered organization.

Sustainability is the dominant term, but Regeneration (although not new) is gaining ground, carries both biological and spiritual nuances, and suggests advancing beyond sustainability.We will see many more approaches, products and services in the months and years ahead.

Obstacles on the Journey

Obstacles on the JourneyThe most perfect organisational culture imaginable may be when a critical mass of employees aligns with an organisation’s higher purpose, displays desired virtues consistently and intrinsic motivation (where there is a sense of belonging and meaning, realisation of a higher purpose, a chance or experience of succeeding in this endeavour) kicks in. ‘Engagement’ then takes care of itself. There is a collective of like-minds and behaviours in order to ensure the sustainability of people, planet and profit. It approaches an “… attraction which seems to transcend reality, which aspires to elevate men by an interest higher, deeper, wider than that of ordinary life.10 

It would be nice to believe that this purity of motive is what drives business leaders today. And many consumers would love that too. A consumer opinion study carried out in 23 countries showed that consumers support and trust the relatively few companies that they believe have an authentic purpose.11 They believe that these companies are making a significant contribution to society. But having seen the many disconnects between stated values and actual on the ground practices, and the deceitful use of ‘cause marketing’ in order to bolster reputation and take advantage of gullible buyers, I am somewhat cynical.12

Christopher Jamison points to the basic greed that drives consumerism and how that is manipulated by the big Brands. He speaks eloquently and scarily of how true intent is masked:

“..they give people a ‘higher purpose’ through their brand. The companies may congratulate themselves that they are serving a higher purpose but this is basically the commercial exploitation of spirituality”… and “… has a corrosive effect on our understanding of personal identity and on our sense of the sacred. Even our souls are now consumerised, and marketing is destroying people’s spiritual imagination … great corporations now inhabit our imagination, the place where greed is generated.”13 

This danger of consumers being manipulated by big corporations who latch onto the purpose effect is highly likely to increase. But inauthentic motives will inevitably lead to failure. Customers are wising up, and there has been a strong decline in their trust of big business.

Another obstacle is for organisations in service, education and care industries to assume that their road to authentic purpose will be any easier. Many of their employees are not purpose-oriented: “Our research showed that the majority of people working at non-profits aren’t primarily motivated by helping others and their own personal growth …”14

And getting caught up in the sustainability maze of processes, techniques, assessments, measures, stakeholders, systems, compliance reporting – and in so doing losing one’s way – is to be avoided at all costs.15 

Advice and Encouragement


For those leaders who seriously and genuinely wish to pursue a triple-bottom-line endeavour, rally their people around a meaningful purpose, supported by solid, virtuous behaviours, I would counsel:

  • Rigorously test purity of motive (yours and your advisers). Mindful caring, compassionate behaviours that properly and sustainably address poverty, environmental degradation, educational lacks and other human rights, ethical and economic-upliftment, must come from the inside out. They are not a function of a set of rules, polices, programmes …16
  • Involve as many employees as possible in the design of a clear (higher) purpose statement. Get them to deliberate on three dimensions – span, depth and time:
    • Span, or the scope of your stewardship (global, societal, country, region, community …)
    • The unique, chosen values that apply to your area of concern and successfully convert into character virtues
    • How far into the future you wish your impact to be felt 15
  • Become a contemplative in action as you pursue other-serving. “… contemplation is the only ultimate answer to the unreal and insane world that our financial systems and our advertising culture and our chaotic and unexamined emotions encourage us to inhabit. To learn contemplative practice is to learn what we need so as to live truthfully and honestly and lovingly. It is a deeply revolutionary matter.”18 
  • Remember that it’s not all uphill. There are marvelous interior rewards to be had on this journey.


Once in an old medieval city there were three bricklayers hard at work on the same building. A man walking past asked each of them what they were doing. The first man answered gruffly, “I’m laying bricks.” The second man replied, “I’m building a wall.” The third man looking up answered enthusiastically, “I’m building a Cathedral.” 

What are your plans to introduce a powerful purpose drive that is unique, distinct, owned by employees, is and is seen to be authentic, and consistently builds a reputation that attracts?


Illustrations by Tony Grogan

1. Pope Francis (January 2014). My message to the World Economic Forum in Davos.

2. McLaughlin, K. & McMillon, D. (April 2015). Business and Society in the Coming Decades.

3. Kho, J. (January 2012).Report: More Corporations Turn To Sustainability For Competitive Edge and Profits.

4. Ferenstein, G. Richard Branson:Screw Business As Usual, And Make Your (Huge Piles Of) Money By Doing Good. 

5. Stengel, J.Grow: how ideals power growth and profit at the world’s greatest companies. Crown Business NY 2011

6. Williams, E. F. (September 2015). Green Giants: How Smart Companies Turn Sustainability into Billion- Dollar Businesses. AMACOM

7. Chong, R. & Fleming, M. (November 2014). Why IBM Gives Top Employees A Month To Do Service Abroad. Harvard Business Review

8. Hurst, A. (CEO of Imperative Group, Inc.) & Tavis, Dr. A. (Adjunct Professor of School of Professional Studies, NYU) 2015 Workforce Purpose Index: predictive indicators of US Workforce performance and wellbeing.

9. Wood, Dr. R. L. (2015). A Leader’s Guide to Thrive Ability: A Multi-Capital Operating System for a Regenerative Inclusive Economy. Author-House

10. Bagehot, W. (February 2001). The English Constitution. (Oxford World’s Classics)Paperback–Oxford University Press

11. Morris, J. (Globescan) & Vlahov, D. (June 2016). The Public on Purpose Executive Summary: insights from a global study on corporate purpose. Conducted by Globescan in partnership with Sustainable Brands

12. Williams, G.; Haarhoff, D. & Fox, P. (2015).The Virtuosa Organisation: the importance of virtues for a successful business.Knowledge Resources

13. Jamison, A. C. (2009). Finding Happiness: monastic steps for a fulfilling life. Phoenix

14. Hurst, A. (March 2016). Why Non-profits Need to Give Workers a Sense of Purpose. The Chronicle of Philanthropy

15. Varey, W. Good for business: Transforming sustainability: An integral leader’s sustainability framework. Journal of Spirituality, Leadership and Management

16. Williams, G. Compassion essential for sustainability.

17. Williams, G. with Rosenstein, D.(2016). From the Inside Out: the human dynamics of sustainability.

18. Williams, R. (May 17, 2016). Address to the Roman Synod of Bishops in 2012, cited by Richard Rohr Action & Contemplation:The Contemplative Mind Is a Mind Liberated from Itself. Daily Meditation

Organisational Culture as Character: A Concept Worth Considering?

Organisational Culture as Character

The Subject Of Culture

Organisational Culture has been a focus for business for more than three decades and demands attention as organisations try to attract talent, overcome low engagement levels, and build their reputations and sustainability. Culture (including organisational culture) reflects in shared meaning, characteristics and behaviour (internally and with the outside world). A workable definition derived from Hofstede for organisations, “it is the mental programming that we inherit from our ancestors and pick up from the people around us.”In juxtaposition is Jung on the development of individual character, “The more intensively the family has stamped its character upon the child, the more it will tend to feel and see its earlier miniature world again in the bigger world of adult life. Naturally this is not a conscious, intellectual process.”2


Understanding organisational culture is more important than defining it, and many have attempted (successfully in many cases) to move from the abstract to the concrete by using illustrative archetypes and metaphors. To mention a few: Trina Paulus’ parable of organisational life, hierarchy and ambition, introduced the notion of a caterpillar pillar.3  Gareth Morgan looked at the complexity of organisations from many angles, and invoked the power of metaphors such as machines, organisms, brains, and psychic prisons to extend our understanding of aspects of organisational culture.4  And what about orchestras, dinosaurs, fortresses, trees, an army, the human body, gangs…

Stanford addresses organisation culture complexity by suggesting climate and weather as a good analogy for three different (but synthesized) perspectives of organisation culture:

  • A major climate zone provides a view of a dominant, integrated, single, identifiable and measurable perspective
  • Sub-climate zones or variations within a major climate zone provide the possibility of an overarching culture with internal differentiations or sub-zones (departments, teams) accommodated within – each with their own daily weather patterns
  • Fragmentation – the ambiguous, paradoxical, non-dualistic  aspect of culture5

Culture As Persona

My work is to bring healing to the organisations I work with – whether this be smoothing out of cumbersome and poorly focused business processes, poorly utilized technology or operational  dysfunction due to people ‘issues.’  Increasingly I realise that the work is about:

  • Healing people and not fixing things
  • Enabling them to be, then the doing follows
  • Focusing on the habits, thinking, emotions, behaviours, physical and spiritual needs of individuals is what adds up to meeting of team, department and organisation needs

And more and more I’m coming to the view (not yet popular!) that culture and character, organisation and people go together like horse and cart – and that we can fruitfully view organisations as personas – where dross can be turned to gold and be constantly refined over time.

“Academic institutions have turned culture – which should help us to live and die well – into abstract scholarship.” 
-Edgar Schein

The current drive for both individuals and organisations to contribute to society, manage their carbon footprint, live in harmony with others and sustainably for the sake of coming generations, strengthens this view. We too readily separate culture (society) and character (individual).

Of course organisations, unlike us, are not biological – but the analogy can be extremely useful in bringing understanding and awareness – usually the first step in any ‘intervention’, or transaction. Consider:

(1) Displayed Virtues. Some people and organisations understand that they are a part of the interconnected web of life, adopt a triple bottom-line approach and contribute to a wider world. Others espouse values without following through with congruent behaviour. Yet others chase profit maximisation (or income, possessions, status ) and selfish interests.

A Cherokee elder explained to a grandson, “There are two wolves inside each one of us and they fight constantly. One is anger, greed, desire for power and possessions, ego, deceit and self-interest. The other is peace, joy, humility, hope, authenticity and love.”

“Which wolf wins?” asked the boy.

The elder replied, “The one that you feed.”

Within organisations one may see either cohesion or fragmentation of conscience as has been set out in The Virtuosa Organisation.6

“In virtuous organizations, employees collectively behave in ways that are consistent with the best of the human condition and the highest aspirations of human kind.”7  People are attracted to curiosity, compassion, love, being present. And people who are purpose-driven are more content, focused, engaged. They’ve moved from job to career to calling.

Recent research shows that organisations driven by a higher purpose secure superior engagement.8   We should avoid either/or arguments such as ‘strategy execution is more important than strategy formation,’ ‘culture trumps strategy.’ We are not suggesting that ‘purpose supersedes engagement’ – rather that it stimulates engagement. After all, an organisation is simply a collective of like-minds and behaviours, gathered around a common higher purpose, in order to ensure sustainability of people, planet and profit.


(2)  Personality. We use convenient typologies to gain insight into an individual’s (relatively fixed) character, and how they function under normal and under stressful conditions. One example is the Jungian-based Myers-Briggs assessment.  William Bridges developed an Organisational Character Index9  based on the same ‘opposing tendencies’:

  • An Extroverted organisation looks outward to its markets, the environment in which it operates, its competition. A primarily Introverted organisation is inwardly focused on its own culture, hierarchy, style, technology
  • An iNtuitive organisation focuses on complexity, the bigger picture and unearthing new possibilities and opportunities; whereas Sensing organisations focus on current reality, events, required responses
  • The Thinking organisation makes logical decisions grounded on established processes and systems. Feeling organisations operate from a basis of feelings and virtues
  • Judging organisations prefer clear ‘black or white’ answers, while Perceiving organisations seek context, interconnections, open-ended, and non-dualistic approaches

The leader’s character influences culture. “I think it is no accident that Henry Ford’s rather severe limitations as a person and a leader have become much more common knowledge at a time when the company he founded has been trying to break away from the ISTJ character he established.”9   The story of the psychologically – opposite Dassler brothers rivals the intrigues, tensions, sibling rivalry and dynamics of those of Cain and Abel or Romulus and Remus. Rudi (Puma) was a typical, outgoing, sales person while Adi (Adidas) was an INTP (like Bill Gates).

Culture may also be influenced by a recruiter’s bias towards hiring ‘kindred spirits’, and organisations or departments may be populated with specific personality types – depending on need and function. Thus a sales force may be comprised mainly of ESFJs.

(3)  Diversity.  People do inner work to utilise strengths, achieve balance, become more well – rounded, multi – dimensional,  and make the most of our many parts.  Diversity comes in the form of personality, nationality, thinking style, culture, level of education, religion, ethnicity, gender, class, age or generation.  In organisations, diversity provides a range of viewpoints, behaviours, responses and approaches that enrich an organisation’s functioning if properly and positively harnessed.

The wave of migrations that the world is now experiencing, together with an already strong trend to more diversified workplaces (because of legislation, social pressure, globalisation) raises new challenges for organisations. How accepting are we as people, as communities, as an organisation? Do we want to separate, accommodate, integrate, assimilate others? Our hardwired prejudices and a tendency to stereotype may keep us from adapting to a new person or outgroup, and lead to resentment, friction, and conflict.

The Social Brain10 outlines a choice between:

  • a protective, aggressive response to outgroup threats
  • non-dual coalition thinking to stimulate performance, innovation, progress

Both responses have been hardwired throughout our historical development as individuals and groups. We are able to cultivate the latter, overcome instinctive (sometimes subconscious) fears, and accept and adapt.  In the long run “…diversity in our social ecologies nurtures a more creative, resilient and adaptive culture”.10  Ancient African Ubuntu (an example of a set of social values) resonates with this sentiment at both the individual and cultural level, placing value on belonging and acceptance: A person is a person through other persons. 

(4) Resilience and adaptability.  Taleb alludes to the people-organization similarity by categorizing “something or someone” as either fragile or robust (anti-fragile) in their response to random shocks – with the latter being “something or someone … who is more than just adaptable, resilient or robust and they don’t just endure shocks and change, they benefit from them and actively seek them out. 11   Three agility/ survivor traits that apply to both individuals and organizations12:

  • a clear focus on what it is they want to achieve
  • an ability to experience surprises as challenges and setbacks as valuable learning experiences, refusing to be immobilized by change
  • a firm sense that most of the time they are in control of their actions and in control of the meanings that they assign to events (although not in control of the events themselves).

“I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game – it is the game.”
-Lou Gerstner

One can extend the ‘culture as character’ analogy to include first impressions, our persona/ heart/ soul (Brand), authenticity, life stages/ degree of maturity, mindfulness, curiosity, blind spots, our shadow side … but it’s time to turn to how we go about merging individual character with organisational culture.

Blending Character and Culture

The types, characteristics, intentions, values, predispositions of people comprising any organization are legion. Blending this mix into a dominant corporate culture/ character, so that people do things, respond, make decisions and solve problems cohesively (‘align’) is a huge challenge.

Theoretically the options (to apply overtly or subtly) range from Orwellian practises – laying down the rules and meting out toe-the-line punishment, to ‘brainwashing’ and manipulation from the moment new staff are ‘on-boarded,’ to various ‘socially acceptable’ forms of coercive persuasion, conscious and unconscious influencing and conditioning, social sanctions; to participative, voluntary, cooperation. Bremer offers one such top-down and bottom-up approach:  “A motivated team of 10 can change ‘the way we do things around here.’” She advocates the power of small workshopping groups for evolving a culture – supported by plenary sessions, “building the bridge while we walk on it.”13   It is about what a culture ‘is’ which results in what (and how) the members ‘do.’ Interestingly, talk in culture-change circles these days has moved from the mechanistic notions of restructuring/re-engineering to living-system, human notions such as transformation and more recently, regeneration.

For me, key principles are:

  • seeing that having a higher Purpose acts as both magnet and glue
  • unearthing aspirational virtues and aligning these to purpose. A methodology for doing this is set out in The Virtuosa Organisation 6
  • majoring on intrinsic motivation
  • offering appropriate practices and techniques that assist people on their journey. After all, it is only human behaviour that causes damage to the planet, people and profit. And only human behaviour will bring about sustainable solutions.These may include habit-reversal and behaviour modification (raising awareness, re-imagining and visualisation that address memory, frame-switching, time-lining; narrative embodiment exercises; rituals), shared value explorations – including the exchange of cultural norms and stories, narrative embodiment exercises; and building change-resilience
  • being patient, allowing organic spread. Christianity spread in ever-expanding circles facilitated by the passing on of parables and anecdotes. “Among Buddhists, fables, fairy tales, anecdotes, adventure stories, and pious legends were very important as instructive narratives … made their way, stage by stage, across Asia Minor, Greece and Rome to modern Italy, Germany, England and France …”14
  • being inclusive, ensuring that everyone is involved. “There is an old (African) tradition where every traveller who passes a certain spot would add a stone to a pile of stones. In doing this, every traveller become part of the common purpose and identifies with a certain good cause. This ritual is named ‘isivivane.'”15  “Any public enterprise needs the contribution of the ordinary person, hence the Zulu proverb Ukuphosa itshe esivivaneni, to make a personal contribution to a great task. Literally to place one’s stone on the pile (monument).”16

What are your thoughts? I invite your participation and comments on social media. 


  1. Hofstede, G Culture’s Consequences, International Differences in Work-Related Values Sage, Newbury Park 1984
  2. Jung, C.G. The Theory of Psychoanalysis The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease NY 1915 (Reprinted by Forgotten Books, 2015)
  3. Paulus, Trina Hope for the Flowers A Newman book, Paulist Press  NY  1972
  4. Morgan, Gareth Images of organization Sage Publications 1986
  5. Stanford, Naomi. Organisation Culture: Getting It Right The Economist in association with Profile Books, London 2010
  6. Williams, Graham; Haarhoff, Dorian & Fox, Peter The Virtuosa Organisation: the importance of virtues for a successful business Knowledge Resources 2015
  7. Horne, Amanda Virtuous Organisations August, 2012
  8. Hurst, Aaron (CEO of Imperative Group, Inc.) & Tavis, Dr Anna (Adjunct Professor of School of Professional Studies, NYU) Workforce Purpose Index 2015
  9. Bridges, William The Character of Organizations: using personality type in organization development Davies-Black (an imprint of Nicholas Brealey Publishing)  2010
  10. Crisp, Richard The Social Brain: how diversity made the modern mind Robinson, UK 2015
  11. Taleb, Nassim Nicholas Antifragile Penguin 2012
  12. Lynch, Dudley & Kordis, Paul L Strategy of the Dolphin: scoring a win in a chaotic world Fawcett Columbine  1990, citing psychologists Suzanne Kobusa and Salvatore Maddi
  13. Bremer, Marcella Organizational Culture Change: unleash your organization’s potential in circles of 10 Kwikker Groep  Zwolle 2012
  14. Gruber, Elmar R & Kersten, Hoger The Original Jesus Element 1995
  15. R. Lessem & B Nussbaum Sawubona Africa: Embracing four worlds in South African management Zebra Press 1996
  16. Kokopelli Partners Limited – Advised by Eugenie Banhegyi, Steve Banhegyi, Jim Heaney Cougar and Ralf Sibande   Isivivane for change and cooperation: leave no stone unturned 2016