Super Bowl Agility - Focused, Fast & Flexible



The Philadelphia Eagles just demonstrated the essence of team agility (being focused, fast and flexible) in their stout 41-33 Super Bowl victory over the five-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots led by Hall of Fame (to be) quarterback Tom Brady.

Ever since Doug Pederson came to the Eagles two years ago to join GM Howie Roseman in an effort to pick up the pieces left over from the Chip Kelly experiment, there has been a different mindset, core belief system and team mantra unfolding.  The rewards for these efforts were celebrated yesterday and very likely will continue for days to come in Philadelphia.  If you look under the feathers at the Eagles team and organization, you will see some underlying key operating principles that helped make their victory a reasonable outcome and not a fluke.

Interviews with players and coaches affirm the presence of a shared belief system bonded in the team concept and a commitment to what that means.  This can sound typical and trite, but you can see it operating at a different level with these Eagles than the average team.  The Eagles season was marked with storybook kind of up’s and down’s as they started the season with dominance and a young quarterback, Carson Wentz, off to an MVP kind of year.  And then the unexpected VUCA-like thing happens … BOOM … injury ends his season and on the surface we would expect it also meant the end of Eagle’s playoff hopes.

What happens next is a real testament to Doug Pederson and the Eagles coaching staff and team … they adapted and ultimately thrived.  As volatility, uncertainty, complexity or ambiguity (VUCA) enters your world … will you be able to adapt and thrive?  The Eagles braintrust recognized that they no longer had the young phenom QB running the playbook – they now had a journeyman QB named Nick Foles who was next man up.  They proceeded to adapt their playbook to fit the capabilities of their resources and to leverage the core belief system that they had built to secure the team support, adaptability and commitment to change as needed.

There are many lessons you can take from this journey and carry over into your everyday world if you try.  It is very clear that there is shared FOCUS within this Eagles team and ultimate commitment to the outcome they sought … NFC Championship and ultimately Super Bowl Champions.  They demonstrated that they were FAST in their execution at all points – especially in adapting to change needed to succeed.  Their FLEXIBILITY came through in their willingness to change directions which was facilitated with the confidence they built in their system and its leadership.  Each of these three value systems involve hard work and discipline – just like Doug Pederson said in his locker room victory speech.  But the payoffs are great also as he then declared it was time for them to PARTY. 

Do you remember the 2007 half-time show at Super Bowl XLI in Miami when Prince played in the pouring rain?  This certainly was another example of Super Bowl Team Agility … his response to the producers when asked about his willingness to play in the rain was … “can we make it rain harder”!  Another example of the resilient mindset needed for agility.

Team agility can be illusive … hard to develop and hard to sustain.  Most of you are playing in your own version of the major leagues and we all recognize that  the speed of play and competitive environment gets faster and tougher each year.  How are you training your team agility and building your capabilities at being  Focused, Fast & Flexible?  Our book is filled with ideas, tools and suggestions that you can use.  If you would like more information or insights … reach out here … I’d be pleased to speak with you.


Congratulations Eagles on a deserved Team Win.



The Big Lie That’s Hindering Your Agility


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s ourselves. 

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

When the Water Level Is Low - the Stumps Will Show

tree stumps.jpg

Agility Life Lesson #11 …

When the water level is low …

the stumps will show!

I think I first heard that insightful Southern saying over thirty years ago when I was a young thirty something HR Director learning my way around the business world.  I was riding between Wrangler jeans plants with our Divisional Finance Director, Woody Miller, as we went go plant-to-plant with other senior divisional leaders and share the annual “state of the business” story with all employees. Woody was filled with simple, pragmatic wisdom that spilled beyond the moment.  I should have filled a notebook with these sayings – they were plentiful and meaningful and some have stayed with me all these many years.

The 1980’s were some very turbulent years involving heavy inflation, deflation and culminating into a disruptive crash at the end of 1987.  We had moved to England in 1986 where I was able to learn much more about business and myself as I headed up Human Resoures, Strategic Planning and Total Quality Management based out of Nottingham for a couple of years.  I found Woody’s adage applicable around the world and as economic conditions worsened – the stumps of inadequate workforce development and leadership skills, weak businesses processes and fragmented technology platforms became abundantly apparent across many industries around the world.  Across the U.S., the stumps related to textile industry production and apparel manufacturing had become so prevalent that by the end of 1990’s, manufacturing in the U.S. for these industries was found only in the history books.


Now we are living in the era of “accelerated obsolescence” where the pace of change is game changing for those unable to adapt and adjust fast enough.  Just like the water level at my lake house …. things can change so fast in today’s environment.  Last week, my dock was floating … this week it is far from it. The good news here is that it helps me clear the stumps and rocks around my dock.  If my business survival was at risk … not so good.

On my drive out to the lake today, I got word that one of my friends who had started a new business just last year has already had to shut it down.  We operate in a very competitive and consequential environment where even when you have a “great idea” … it takes more to navigate and survive.

Whether navigating on your lake, in your latest new start-up or in a large enterprise, we will all experience times when the water level gets low and our stumps will show.  The vital questions include:

  • Are you anticipating change by staying alert and proactive to scan for your stumps or those of your competitors? Or are you consistently getting caught by surprise?
  • Are you regularly generating confidence with all your stakeholders by staying connected with active communications, alignment and engagement?
  • Are you able to initiate action better and faster – operating with sense of urgency, empowered decision-making and active, collaborative teams?
  • Are you encouraging and liberating thinking throughout your ecosystem … maintaining customer-centric focus and valuing idea diversity?
  • Are you keeping your eye on the prize … with all stakeholders understanding what success looks like and how to measure it?

We are at the start of another new year … maybe high water for some and could be low levels filled with stumps for others.  Use these questions to try and identify some of the “stumps” in your operating system … could be with your leadership or workforce (people), might be your business processes and practices, or just might be that your technology platforms (or lack thereof) represent your biggest stumps.  Most important is that you stay alert and not be complacent.

One step you might take is consider doing your own “AGILITY AUDIT” to systematically examine those questions with your teams.  You might also consider engaging experienced third-party to help give you an objective, trained assessment.  Just like with your personal health, where it is vitally important to get your annual physical to monitor and detect things that could be life-threatening.  The Agility Audit helps examine your organizational health and fitness to face the faster paced, more demanding and much more turbulent operating environment.  How are your agility vital signs and where are your stumps?  Good to discover early before too late.

I would love to hear about your stump stories or perspectives on finding them.

About Tom O'Shea


Tom O'Shea, CMC
Principal, Agility Consulting
Organizational Agility Practice Leader[/caption]

Volatile, unpredictable, even erratic- these are the times we live in and exactly why Tom O’Shea is considered a trusted advisor and collaborator helping leaders, teams and organizations adapt and thrive by becoming more focused, fast and flexible in an increasingly complex and ambiguous world.


When Brutal Honesty is a Brutal Mistake


Some people wear it like a badge of honor, something that’s part of their identity. 

“I’m brutally honest.”

“I say it like it is.”

I get the appeal. We generally appreciate honesty and candid communication. We sometimes equate “brutal honesty” with strength of character or integrity.

But the truth is much more complicated. 

Sometimes—many times, I’d argue—brutal honesty is a brutal mistake. 

Let’s be clear: I’m not advocating dishonesty at all. Don’t lie. 

But for those people who think having the words “He was brutally honest” chiseled into your gravestone would be an accomplishment, I have one question: How’s that working for you? 

And related to that, what’s the quality of your relationships with people around you? If I asked your coworkers or other people who know you, would they say you’re approachable? Kind? Easy to be around? 

I think there’s an important distinction to be made regarding the ways in which “brutal honesty” is good and the ways in which it’s bad. 

Good Brutal Honesty

Sometimes there are things that people need to hear but may not want to hear. In those situations, brutal honesty can be appropriate when:

  • It’s really necessary for the good of the other person (it’s not about you).
  • You’re sharing verifiable facts or data.
  • You’re balancing your statements with compassion and empathy.

Bad Brutal Honesty

The “good” type of brutal honesty requires a great deal of skill. And in my experience, it’s rare. More often, brutal honesty can backfire on the deliverer of such “honesty.” In these situations, it’s usually the case that:

  • You’re saying something to make yourself feel better—more righteous, more “correct,” smarter—not to help the other person. 
  • You’re stating an opinion or venting about how you feel—not discussing verifiable observations or data.
  • You’re not considering how what you say will affect how the other person sees you and your relationship with him or her—it's more brutal than it is honest. 

Every time we communicate, we’re not just sharing whatever information we intend. We’re also making an implied statement about how we view the relationship with the other party. That’s why “brutal honesty” can be so tricky. And oftentimes, “saying it like it is” can result in damaged relationships, broken trust, and ultimately end up with the brutally honest communicator becoming isolated because no one wants to interact with him or her. 

Again, honesty is good. But I always try to remind myself that how I say something is just as important as what I say. 

I also try to remember that just because I think something does not mean I have to say it. 

And that’s the brutal truth. 

Human Resource Management and The Great Unlearning

Exciting changes in the world of human resources (HR) abound. As noted by Stephen Barley (University of California Santa Barbara), Beth Bechky, and Frances Milliken (both of New York University) in their recent article in Academy of Management Discoveries, 

“Few people would deny that the nature of work and employment has changed over the last four decades, not only in the United States but in many countries worldwide. Moreover, the nature of work is likely to continue to change as we move further into the 21st century.”

Such changes make HR work continually dynamic, with evolving practices with regard to new technologies, the increasing prevalence of contingent workers, and more. Barley and his coauthors also mention the rise of artificial intelligence and the rise of project-based work as fundamental shifts that will influence careers and even how people think about themselves in relation to their organizations and society. 

These changes alone are enough to keep HR leaders and other executives up at night. 

Yet I wonder if there are additional, perhaps even more fundamental shifts underway that will forever alter how people behave and interact at work. 

Those changes have to do with a recognition of the ingenious beauty of human organizing, the remarkable capacity that we all have to iterate toward something better, and the foolishness—and downright arrogance—that can accompany our best managerial attempts to control. 

Teams and organizations are increasingly finding benefits in valuing: 

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working [solutions] over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

If those values look familiar, you’ve likely seen them in the Agile Manifesto, which includes these values and a set of principles for software development. 

But here’s the thing—these values and principles have been around for decades prior to their articulation in the Agile Manifesto. That’s because they’re based in how people actually work, not in how various management systems of the 20th Century forced them to obey.

As noted in The Wharton School’s Aug. 1 article, Has Agile Management’s Moment Arrived?

“The agile approach is one that uses teams to work through a process designed to respond to unpredictability; that allows for and encourages changes in direction; that gives teams great authority and transparency; and that builds in customer or user response to the end product or service while it is still being developed.”

Because agile management thrives in a state of uncertainty, it is highly likely to continue to spread into other sectors and functions, far beyond that of software development. 

Case in point: General Electric, which has been implementing similar principles for the past few years with regard to its manufacturing—within a program called “FastWorks.”

And given that agile methods, including those advocated by Scrum, are continuing to increase in popularity, I see a tremendous opportunity—and threat—ahead for the world of HR.

Namely, in successful organizations, HR will be a central component of what I’m starting to think of as “The Great Unlearning.”

The Great Unlearning is what’s required of organizations that are fundamentally committed to a different way of working, a way that’s characterized by how humans actually interact best. 

Going back to Barley and his coauthors’ recent work, in addition to discussing fundamental shifts in the world of work, they also astutely highlight how most of management knowledge and practice comes from research and assumptions developed decades ago. They write: 

“… it is surprising how little organization and management studies have had to say about the phenomenon. Our field’s lack of attention to the ways in which work is changing is problematic because organization studies and organizational behavior grew out of industrial sociology and industrial and organizational psychology in the 1960s and 1970s.”

For HR leaders, The Great Unlearning means that they will have to undo much of what we have taken for granted as management dogma. For example, if an organization does much of its work based upon project-based teamwork, what might that mean in terms of:

  • The employer relationship—will there be much of a need for permanent employees in the future?
  • Compensation—what is the value of hourly wages if results are truly project-based?
  • Recruiting and selection—how do you find people who can perform in an interdependent, team-based environment?
  • Development—how do you help the millions of workers who are deeply accustomed to traditional ways of working adapt to new structures and ways of working? How do you help an organization nurture a culture in which new values matter more than those of the past?
  • And much more. 

The Great Unlearning for HR also includes HR as a profession taking a hard look at itself in the mirror. Although people have been preaching—rightly, in my opinion—about how HR needs to transform for the past two decades (Dave Ulrich’s 1998 Harvard Business Review article comes to mind), has it really happened?

In most organizations that I know, HR is still the compliance department, the place where you go to find out about your benefits, the people who give you stuff to sign. In today's business environment, HR must unlearn its own ways of working. HR must also help organizations unlearn the behaviors that have been taken-for-granted by employees since the Industrial Revolution. 

In short, it seems that The Great Unlearning for HR includes both a threat and an opportunity for HR leaders. 

It’s threatening for HR leaders who prefer to maintain the status quo. 

It’s an opportunity for HR leaders who are willing to take the risks necessary to make their organizations primed for the future. 

Is Your VUCA External or Internal?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 5 Steps for Agility Fitness in the Gig Economy

The 5 Steps for Agility Fitness in the Gig Economy


The volume, velocity and intensity of “noise” encountered in the Gig Economy requires the Human Resources function demonstrate agility in its policies, processes and practices to enable the organization to transform to be more Gig Economy capable. The secret to becoming more agile as an HR Team is to demonstrate that you can be focused, fast and flexible, even in the turbulent circumstances.   

The AGILE Model® offers the framework that will help you attain and sustain your HR agility fitness target as well as serve as an Agility Fitness Coach for others in the organization (Horney, Eckenrod, McKinney & Prescott, 2014).  But it takes work to achieve this agility, just like it takes work to achieve your personal physical fitness goal. 

Read More

Develop a Sense of Responsibility Among Your People

It was a new organization, a new unit in the U.S. Navy Reserve, and someone—in his infinite wisdom—put me in charge of it. One of my first tasks was to make some sort of sense of how to organize the 55 members of the loosely defined group into an arrangement that would divide the work in a relatively sensible way and allow for an efficient and effective flow of communication. 

I had some specific ideas. In fact, I had a clear picture of what I thought would work. 

Yet I paused when deciding how to proceed. And instead of announcing my plan and telling everyone to get in line, I chose a different path. 

I gathered the six people next-highest ranking people and gave them an overview of where we needed to head. I told them that we needed a workable structure and what I hoped that could do for us. But I didn’t tell them the details of my plan. Rather, I told them that I’d give them 30 minutes to discuss among themselves, and that I’d check in on them toward the end. 

They sat down around a table positioned outside my office. Leaving them, I went into my office and closed the door most of the way, leaving a small crack so I hear just enough of what they were doing to know that they were making progress. 

After a few moments of slightly stunned silence (this was apparently an unusual approach for all of them, particularly in this rank-driven, military context), they started to talk to each other. They went through a few different ideas, and then began to converge on a working model. 

When the 30 minutes were up, I went out to see how they were doing. One of them proceeded to outline a plan that was, in large part, the same as what I had already thought up on my own. But it wasn’t “my” plan anymore. 

It was their plan. They developed it; they owned it. They now felt an obligation to carry it out—a sense of duty that I’m sure far surpassed what they would have felt if I had simply given them an order. 

It cost about 30 minutes, but it resulted in a sense of duty among them that allowed me to take a step back and watch them put it into action. 

It took no convincing, no cajoling, no pleading, no threatening. It was, after all, their plan, and they wanted to see it succeed. 

In short, they now had a little bit greater sense of responsibility than they had 31 minutes before. 

“Developing a sense of responsibility among your people” is number nine of in the U.S. Navy’s list of 11 Leadership Principles, and one way to do that is through empowering other people to create and implement solutions—like I did in the example above. A sense of responsibility has to do with a feeling of obligation or duty to getting the job done and for the collective success of the team. When people on a team have a sense of responsibility, they require much less oversight from supervisors, they get the job done the first time, they proactively anticipate issues and they work faster. 

Here are a few other ways to develop a sense of responsibility:

  • Explicitly—and frequently—discuss the “big picture” of what you’re trying to achieve as a team and give examples of how people’s contributions fit into that. 
  • Clearly define your expectations, and while doing so, discuss what categories of actions are well-suited for proactive behavior. For example, if your team is supposed to serve a particular customer, define where the team has latitude in making that customer happy. Can they throw in extra products or services to reward customer loyalty? Can they spend extra time getting to know that customer’s needs? 
  • Properly incent behavior that demonstrates a sense of responsibility or ownership. These might be financial rewards, but nonfinancial ones—and even accurate, timely verbal recognition—are often rather powerful too. 
  • Do nice things for your team, tell them you care about their well-being and value their contributions. When people do nice stuff for us, we’re generally programmed as humans to feel obligated to reciprocate by doing something nice in return. In the workplace, this reciprocation often takes the form of higher performance and commitment to the group. 

Although it requires the leader or manager to relinquish some control, developing a sense of responsibility, in the long run, can make for a much more productive and efficient team. 

This post is one in a series that I’m doing on all 11 of the U.S. Navy’s Leadership Principles. Here are all 11 of those principles:

  1. Know yourself and seek self-improvement (read more)
  2. Be technically and tactically proficient (read more)
  3. Know your people and look out for their welfare (read more)
  4. Keep your people informed (read more
  5. Set the example (read more
  6. Make sure the task is understood, supervised, and accomplished (read more)
  7. Train your unit as a team (read more
  8. Make sound and timely decisions (read more
  9. Develop a sense of responsibility among your people
  10. Employ your command in accordance with its capabilities
  11. Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions

Find this thought provoking? Leave a comment, like and share!


“Whenever I talk with leaders of companies in (all) industries …  I hear a consistent theme: Frustration that they can’t move FAST enough, given the organizations they have, to stay competitive.  They know that capabilities like SPEED and AGILITY are becoming the core of competitive advantage …”. 

This is the context for why Jim Whitehurst, CEO of the $2B Raleigh, NC based open source software leader called Red Hat, wrote the book entitled THE OPEN ORGANIZATION and shares his open source code of operating principles that have helped make Red Hat incredibly successful by all measures. Not bad to generate $2 Billion in annual sales revenue and yet have a market value of over $10 Billion.  Lots of positive things have to be aligned and sustainable to generate that combination.

Whitehurst took over as CEO at Red Hat back in 2008 after a successful turnaround run as COO of Delta Airlines.  As he was being recruited to join and lead Red Hat, it was clear that the culture of an “open organization” already existed at Red Hat therefore required a significant transformation from Whitehurst to move from more traditional command and control zone to what at first felt like a totally out of control zone. It makes perfect sense that the company founded and built on the premise and manifesto of an “open source”, hyper-collaborative model of software development would instill those same tenets into how they develop and operate their organization as well.

The juggernaut to Red Hat success has been the capacity to connect all the dots – their people (both internal and external), purpose and passion in an energized ecosystem of a high engagement, full contact, transparent, authentic operating system that thrives on innovation, speed and accomplishment.  Some might call that culture – but it really is so much more … smart and activated culture or maybe enabled, dynamic culture.  Or maybe just an open organization.

Cultivating passion does not come naturally to all leaders – for many it requires a super conscious effort to give themselves and others permission and encouragement to show the emotional involvement needed to make it real.  Whitehurst’s leadership tips for leaders looking to create a more passionate, open organization:

  1. Passion is contagious … is yours positive, evident and noticeable for others to follow?
  2. Is there a clearly stated purpose or mission … real purpose (beyond profits) fuels real passion?
  3. Add passionate words to your vocabulary … like love, excited, amazing … what evokes positive future sense?
  4. Look to hire folks that are passionate … questions like – what are you passionate about … what inspires you?
  5. Create regular vehicles for people to show their “unvarnished” passion … outings, team building events, etc.

Red Hat believes in a different starting point than the traditional hierarchical organization … turning the typical pyramid upside down and placing their emphasis on the Purpose (WHY) along with a much more AGILE and engaged operating method (HOW) to achieve extraordinary outcomes (WHAT).


This organizational model is much better suited for the rampant change and extraordinary speed of play in the business world today … and tomorrow.  As we outline in our book, Focused, Fast & Flexible: Creating Agility Advantage in a VUCA World, organizational success starts with the strength of your Core Belief System.  At Red Hat, their core belief system is nurtured, massaged, activated and energized everyday which makes it stronger, truer and more potent as a success enabler with nuclear capacity to attract and retain a full network of talented contributors … a community of success.

The Open Organization and the Agile Organization share more than core belief systems – they share the realization that activated and empowered organizations need tools and capabilities to support decision making ownership and speed expected from all levels in the organization.  Interestingly, both of us also promote the use of a simple yet elegant decision making tool first introduced by AF Colonel John Boyd back in the Korean War called the OODA LOOP.  The OODA Loop framework (Observe, Orient, Decide & Act)  enables rapid and rigorous engagement to support decisions and action closest to the front lines of customer engagement.  Click the link above for more background on OODA.

So, how are you doing in your organization in all of these dimensions? I encourage you to take a deeper look at The Open Organization and challenge yourselves on what you can learn from this open source of success.  You will find the combination of our two frameworks to be quite complimentary. You can take a free self-assessment to explore your Organizational Agility Profile as well.

I would love to get your thoughts and feedback as always.

About Tom O’Shea

Volatile, unpredictable, even erratic- these are the times we live in and exactly why Tom O’Shea is considered a trusted advisor and collaborator helping leaders, teams and organizations adapt and thrive by becoming more focused, fast and flexible in an increasingly complex and ambiguous world.

As Principal at Agility Consulting and Training, Tom brings a unique blend of strategic, operational and organizational expertise and support that is rare and valuable.  With perceptive insight, proven strategies and impactful coaching skills, he helps clients at the enterprise, team and individual leader levels exceed even their own expectations. Learn more about Tom here. 

What Everyone in HR Needs to Know About Change

Models for planning and executing organizational change abound—for example, Kotter’s eight steps, among many others. These models are helpful in highlighting many of the critical aspects of organizational change, and I highly recommend immersing yourself in them. 

That being said, I find that such models often deal more with planned organizational change than with unplanned or continuous organizational change. 

And in an increasingly turbulent world, it’s important for human resources (HR) professionals and the HR function overall to take a more fluid, proactive and strategic approach toward change. The realities of the business environment continue to drive changes within organizations, and it’s time for HR to get up to speed. 

From what I’ve observed and experienced in HR during the past decade, the HR profession has an opportunity to contribute meaningfully to how organizations adapt. But we in HR may need to consider organizational change from a slightly different angle. We must start with connecting with the organization’s strategy, and we can then use that direction to guide what we do. Furthermore, we’d be well served to think about what we do a little bit differently, adopting some of what’s working well elsewhere, to get things done quickly. 

Specifically, those of us in HR would benefit from the following regarding our approach to organizational change:

1. Know your terrain. 

It’s critical for HR professionals to understand their environment, or their terrain, both within and outside of their organization. While it’s important to know what people in HR care about, it’s even more important for HR people to know what their top leaders outside of HR care about—what are the main concerns of the c-suite? We in HR also must start thinking much more than we do currently about the environment outside of the organization—where does your organization compete? How does it win? What are the big trends in your industry, and how can HR address them? These questions and others like them allow HR professionals to better understand what’s ahead and anticipate change. 

2. Think like a startup. 

The ambiguity of working in a startup is extreme. Everyone has advice; most of it seems plausible, yet some of it is contradictory. Yet you must forge ahead and create that which has never existed. Given the nature of startups, it’s worth thinking about how they deal with ambiguity and change to see what lessons we may glean for HR. I advocate for a more strategic, proactive, entrepreneurial and agile HR function that will quickly add value to the business. In addition, startups can deal with change in a more iterative fashion, taking some of the lessons we know from design thinking to develop fast prototypes, test them and continually improve—instead of letting the perfect become the enemy of the good. 

3. Embrace agility. 

As organizations attempt to cope with a turbulent business environment, they may need to move from continually seeking equilibrium to being nimble. Agility, generally speaking, is the capability to sense and respond quickly to the forces of change at all levels within the organization. HR would be well served to assess its own agility, along with the agile capabilities of the organization overall. But agility isn’t about reckless flexibility. Rather, we all need some “North Star” to cling onto as our organizations adapt and evolve. As such, HR can help provide stability through working with top management to clarify and communicate continually its core values. Additionally, “agile HR” involves moving from some of our tried and true dogma (e.g., job descriptions) to practices that reflect how people actually work (e.g., project and team charters). 

I see the next 10 years as ones in which HR will likely go through a number of dramatic shifts—because if it doesn’t, it may become a victim of accelerated obsolescence. And when it comes to remaining relevant through a different understanding of change, having an increased focus on (a) knowing the terrain, (b) thinking like a startup and (c) embracing agility will serve the HR function and those who work within it well. 

I’ll be discussing these topics in much more detail next Tuesday, April 18, from 3 to 4 p.m. EDT in a webcast with the Human Capital Institute. Click here for more details.

I’d love to have you join the conversation. 

Find this thought provoking? Leave a comment, like and share!

What Leaders Can Learn From Mr. Olympia

What Leaders Can Learn From Mr. Olympia

Imagine that you’re about to interview for the job of your dreams. Or that you’re about to give a high-stakes presentation. Or take an important test. Or simply focus on getting a few things done in the next hour. 

What are you thinking? What are you telling yourself in your mind? 

If you’re anything like 8-time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman, you’re telling yourself, “Ain’t nothin’ to it but to do it.” 

Coleman is widely considered one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time, which is impressive enough, but what I find compelling is how he talked. In particular, how he

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Are You “Rewarding A While Hoping For B?”

Are You “Rewarding A While Hoping For B?”

Incentives matter. Rewards motivate people to behave in certain ways. Using incentives, therefore, is one great way to influence the form, direction and intensity of how people act. 

Goals also matter. They help us clarify where we’re headed and how to focus our efforts. Setting difficult, specific goals, therefore, is one of the best ways to motivate yourself and others (see the numerous studies on the topic, particularly those by Gary Latham and Edwin Locke). 

But goals and incentives can—and sometimes do—run amuck. 

And when that happens, it’s often in the form of

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On Human Connection, Vulnerability and Leadership

On Human Connection, Vulnerability and Leadership

Years ago, as a young junior officer in the U.S. Navy, a few hundred of my peers and I shuffled into a large auditorium to hear an admiral speak. I don’t remember his name or his title. But I remember one phrase, one nugget of “wisdom” that he provided. 

He said, “Leaders are people who know stuff.” 

At the time this seemed like a simple, yet compelling insight. And it’s certainly the case that one source of people’s power and influence over others can be their expertise. In many situations, we follow those people who know the most (or at least seem to know the most) about how to solve problems. 

We also tend to follow people who have definitive answers. People who are decisive, outspoken, direct. 

But such tendencies grossly oversimplify the heart of leadership and what it means to connect with our fellow humans. 

The implication of treating leaders and leadership as being about “knowing stuff” is that to be a leader, you need to have all of the answers. You need to know more than the people you’re trying to lead. And your knowledge, therefore, gives you the right to tell those people what to do. 

Sorry, admiral, but this conceptualization of leadership is as sophisticated as my 3.5 year-old son—whom I caught wiping his nose on the couch cushion yesterday. 


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What’s Your “To-Don’t” List?

What’s Your “To-Don’t” List?

Some people really like to create lists. Often, these take the form of things “to do.” Some people even get such satisfaction from crossing items off of their to-do lists that if they accomplish something that wasn’t on their list, they’ll write it down and immediately cross it off. 

Know anyone who does that? (Sometimes, that’s me. I’ll admit it.) 

These types of lists are great. They help us stay apprised of what needs to happen in various parts of our lives, both professionally and personally. My weekly to-do list helps me immensely in providing structure to my week. 

But there’s another kind of list that can be helpful. It’s one that can be particularly helpful for those whose work has reached a level of complexity that’s overwhelming, a level of busyness that’s forcing them to do everything at a level of mediocrity that’s highly dissatisfying. 

That list is

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Sometimes, Be Less Predictable

Sometimes, Be Less Predictable

“I’m going to leave the room. When I come back, you will each need to be able to introduce five of your classmates to me.

"You have five minutes, starting now.”

This is frequently how I start a class at its first meeting of the semester. Sometimes, but not always, I stick my head back in the classroom after a minute or so if I don’t hear robust conversation and yell, “Get talking! You have three more minutes!”

The outcome is predictable. It’s a breath of energy and fun that kicks off the semester in a wonderful way. 

But the action itself is certainly not predictable. And that’s part of why it works.

Most of the time, 

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Can Leadership Prevent Mistakes?

Can Leadership Prevent Mistakes?

"While I was in the middle of the room, the attic floor and beams collapsed onto the second floor crashing down to the first floor where I was standing. The time between us entering the building and the time of the collapse was no longer than 90 seconds. I was knocked to the floor and was trapped under the debris. I suffered a head injury and a torn patellar tendon. The contents of the upstairs ended up in the first floor room and I could have been killed. By my judgment, approximately 80,000 gallons of water was pumped into that structure and we were ordered in anyway. This was after a previous call to evacuate 45 minutes earlier. This should not have happened!"

Mistakes happen. Sometimes, those mistakes hurt or kill people. I’ve studied them among fire fighters, who sometimes experience events like the one described above (which comes from Report 07-0001036, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2014). The mistakes that people in the fire service and other high-risk occupations make often have important safety implications. In other industries and occupations, mistakes may not hurt or kill people, but mistakes often derail projects or anger customers. They create conflict and they degrade the quality of what we make or do. 

Mistakes aren’t exclusive to any industry or sector. 

Mistakes also almost happen. These close calls or near misses—when discussed well and integrated into a learning program—can serve as powerful wakeup calls for people and teams.

Regardless of whether we’re talking about mistakes or near misses, learning from the past to improve future performance is

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Your Most Precious Resource

Your Most Precious Resource

I recently heard someone quote a deceptively insightful short poem. Titled, “How did it get so late so soon,” it’s one of many gems penned by the late Theodor Geisel, and here it is. 

"How did it get so late so soon?
It’s night before it’s afternoon.
December is here before it’s June.
My goodness how the time has flewn.
How did it get so late so soon?"

Geisel, more commonly known as Dr. Seuss, captures here the feeling that I get frequently when I think about seasons ending, new years beginning and everyone (including me) aging. 

It’s not just about nostalgia; it’s not just about how even a 100-year lifetime is but a flash in the course of history. 

It’s more than that. 

It’s about how there’s one thing

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Have you heard the phrase … “the race is often won or lost before it starts”?  Starting this weekend, we will witness several weeks of races and contests of many different varieties as the 2016 Olympics finally arrives in Brazil.  This phrase might even apply to the entire Olympics with as much controversy, uncertainty and potential drama that could unfold.  Whether your competitive landscape is 100 meters swimming or swimming with the corporate sharks on Main Street, there is one thing that is definitely true … MINDSET MATTERS.

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Why People Just Don’t “Get It”

Why People Just Don’t “Get It”

“This is important,” I said. “But it’s not hard, and I only need you to do this for a minute.”

He looked at me from under his furrowed brow, not convinced. 

“Please. Everyone else is smiling for the picture, and we want you to smile too.”

Still no luck. Just a strange noise of stubborn disobedience, something akin to a growl mixed with a whimper. 

Such went my pathetic attempt at 

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On Gratitude, Agility and Career Transitions

On Gratitude, Agility and Career Transitions

When I was a teenager, I thought I had it all figured out: My life and career would be a logical series of steps and accomplishments. I’d go to college, earn an officer’s commission in the U.S. Navy, see the world. Then, I’d probably go to law school and enjoy another set of logical steps of accomplishments toward “success” in the civilian world. 

Reality, of course, is different. 

Life—and careers—are often full of twists and turns, punctuated by triumphs and failures. Some of those ups and downs are big and public, most are

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