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What May Explain May's Mayhem: Loss of Trustworthiness


Theresa May seems to be in trouble. Although she is holding on to power, the least one can say is that she  has lost the support she had when she stepped into the footsteps of David Cameron. Why is that?
There’s a simple explanation for that. She has lost trustworthiness.


There are 3 elements of being trustworthy: competence, loyalty and integrity.

  • Competence is about being capable of delivering. If there is confidence that someone is capable of delivering results, there is a basis for trustworthiness. Novices will be less trustworthy, whilst people with a lot of experience will be more trustworthy.
  • Loyalty is about acting on behalf of other people. If I know someone will act on behalf of me, in my best interest, I will have reasons to trust that person.
  • Integrity is about being consistent and in line with espoused values.

May has failed on all three of them.

How she has lost Trustworthiness

First, she has shown herself as a clumsy politician, with low social intelligence. On Twitter she has been named the worst prime minister in history. She has been incompetent in her campaign, refusing debates and uttering hollow phrases. The list is long.
Second, she has shown herself to be disloyal. She made the mistake to touch people’s lives by proposing out of the blue to finance social care by confiscating people’s assets down to 100,000 Pounds. This is electoral suicide and it shows how estranged she and her party is. The Labour party called this approach a tax on dementia. This is a killer name and this will haunt May and the Tories for ever. Not only has she demonstrated that she does not know how to campaign, also, she has shown she is not acting on behalf of people.
Third, she has changed her campaign on several occasions, casting shadow on her integrity. Her negotiations with the DUP are again a demonstration of incompetence (was there a deal or not?), but also she shows that she is prepared to do whatever it takes to get what she wants. This is not very integer. If results are more important than values, you lose integrity.

She’s not alone

I am not saying that Theresa May is alone in this. Many leaders would sacrifice values for results. Many leaders take U-turns when needed. And sometimes they get away with it. And not all leaders are as competent as they should be, both in politics and in business. But they get away with it. And many so called leaders are disloyal and put personal gains above general interest. And they get away with it. But with most untrustworthy leaders, it’s not that clear. May seems to be even incompetent at covering up. So she might not be a great leader, she is also not good at being not great.
So the mayhem that May may be facing today, is a result of the implosion of her trustworthiness. Combining incompetence, lack of loyalty and a lack of integrity is killing for a leader who depends totally on whether they are trustworthy. And she has only herself to blame.

Character Erosion

But I guess there is more. The fact that she has lost her trustworthiness in the eye of the public and of many politicians, is als due to a lack of courage to show character. If the desire to hold power is so big, it will erode character. Power hungry people want to become that person who can get into power. They are willing to abandon themselves. The temptation is so big that they lose the basic traits that make them human: empathy, reciprocity, kindness and fairness. That is character erosion.
I do not know Theresa May myself. What I describe here is the process behind character erosion that leads to leadership derailment. It can happen to every leader. So leaders owe it to themselves to take care of themselves and to protect their character against erosion. Even when this means to forego on power, position, popularity or personal progress.
Only then, their leadership will be sustainable.

Leaders owe it to themselves to protect their character against erosion.

Like Icarus, people who let their character erode and become focussed on peripheral gains, will fall.


What Scandals Tell Us About Leadership

scandalsCorporate and political life seems to be burdened by behavior the broader public does not appreciate (any more). In Belgium we are faced with a scandal in the city of Brussels. The mayor of Brussels accepted fees as a board member for board meetings that had not taken place. This in itself questionable, but what made it worse is that he took the money from an organization that looks after the homeless in Europe’s capital. The mayor stepped down, but only reluctantly. As if nothing had happened.
The case is interesting because it shows how leaders derail and how easily they derail. The thing is that contextual factors like power and money are so tempting that moral standards come under pressure. Some people think they are entitled to more than others just because they are a leader (i.e. they have been appointed). And that’s the start of a slippery slope towards erosion of values and of character.

Entitlement is the start of a slippery road towards erosion of values and character.

If leadership is based on position, power and even competencies it becomes not sustainable. Why is that? Because these elements are extrinsic and have no eternal value. Even more, to maintain power and position (or to increase it) people might engage in behaviours that do not create a sustainable value.
The only way to make leadership sustainable for organizations, teams and the leaders themselves is to base it on humanity, on character. Note that the Latin word for character is moralitas, so it’s linked to ethics. To me it’s about having empathy, being fair, being kind and having reciprocal relationships. We are all able to do that.
But under pressure these human traits may erode. The VUCA environment might even accelerate this. Kindness might be seen as weak, empathy as inefficient, reciprocity as undesirable and fairness as obstacle. Pressure, unrealistic expectations, leadership myths, power and money, … they all have erosive effects on character and on leadership. The challenge is to stay humble and human.

The challenge is to stay humble and human.

In my book on Sustainable Leadership I describe how this happens, what leaders can do about it and what leaders need to do to create a sustainable context that builds trust, creates meaningfulness, fosters growth and boosts engagement. This can be done based on character, rather than by using power and position.
I could send it to the mayor of Brussels. Or to many other leaders. Derailment and unsustainable leadership behavior is of all times, all cultures and all countries.
So if you want to arm yourself against the erosion of character and make your leadership sustainable, I invite you to read the book. And I’d like to hear what you think about it.
David Ducheyne

Why is Management by Fear a Problem?

This blog is about fear and trust.


Popularity Revisited

My earlier post on popularity seemed to have touched many people. There were many discussions on Linkedin and the number of views went ballistic. Why would that be?
Popularity is controversial. At first sight, popularity seems good. Popular people get a high-ranking. Popular people have a lot of people on their tail. They can get things done.
But it’s a mixed blessing.
There are two sides to popularity. People who are popular are ranked higher by their peers. But being popular is not the same as being liked. People who are popular seem to use more aggressive tactics to get and maintain their high ranking.  It’s possible to be popular without being liked, or without getting any respect.
Look at this matrix.

Who’s the leader here?

The true leaders are on the right side of the matrix. They can be either liked or not liked, but they get respect. Does someone really have to like the leader they are working for? Not at all. But it helps. However if being liked would be the purpose of leader it would make leadership unsustainable. So leaders should not strive for a status of being liked.
There will be situations that will nudge leaders towards taking tough decisions. And if they do, they might be liked less. If being popular is about being liked, than being liked is not an asset to a leader.
It happens that someone in a leadership position is likeable, but not respected. People have sympathy for this person, but they do not see that person as a leader. They might cover for the weaknesses simply because they like the person. They might even have pity for someone who is not up to the task. This situation is not very sustainable. One can even raise the question why this person is liked? Is it because of authentic behaviour, good intentions, prosocial behaviour? Or is it because having a weaker leader opens up perspectives?
The leader that is not liked nor respected has an even bigger problem. Still, there are people like that in leadership positions. How do they maintain themselves? Probably by creating a system around them. They might be very controlling. They might hire people who are weaker? They might engage in anti-social behaviour. They might use certain traits like charisma to sedate the context around them. They might use fear.

Management by Fear?

There’s a saying that it is better to be feared than to be liked. The quote comes from Machiavelli and is incomplete. The full quote is It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.” According to Machiavelli a leader had to be both loved and feared. But if we would translate the quote to current times, we’d talk about respect and trust.
Being feared is not sustainable? Why? Think about what leaders needs to do to be feared. They need to engage in certain behaviour that does reinforce their trustworthiness. Being feared destroys trustworthiness. And think about the consequences of fear? The biggest result is that fear paralyses organizations. People will only do the things that are allowed. They will avoid punishment.
There is not much to be expected from fear.  Fear is the ultimate tactic of control, but it is not sustainable. It only provokes negative behaviours, resistance, passive aggression, …
Machiavelli was right. You don’t need to be liked to get respect. And you need the respect more than you need the likes. But Machiavelli was right too when he said it’s best to have both the love and the respect.

Isn’t it about Trust?

Look at the variation of the earlier matrix.

In my book on sustainable leadership I talk about the importance of trust for a leader. Trust based on personal characteristics is what makes leadership sustainable. Being trustworthy is about being competent, loyal and integer. There is no “liked” in that definition. Being liked is not needed if you want to be trusted. Leaders who show empathy and fairness, kindness and reciprocity, will be trusted, and respected. And they might get high likability scores. They can be tough in their decisions, but fair. They can be demanding and kind at the same time.
Leaders should not strive for popularity, but for respect and for being perceived as trustworthy.

Trust and verify

Good leaders are not naïve. They will not assume everyone is to be trusted all of the time. They will not tolerate bad behaviour. Nor will they invest in low performance. A manager told me once he was in a board meeting and he came in unprepared. The newly appointed CEO asked him to stay after the meeting was over and he simply told him: “You are a disgrace to your position and to this company. If you want to stay, you will never come again to one of my meetings without proper preparation“. This leader drew a line in the sand and made it clear what he expected. So trust is not naive. It’s always to trust, but to verify if someone is worthy of the trust.
That leader had no intention to create fear. He wanted to be clear about the expected standards of performance. This is respectful towards oneself and towards others. And that’s what leaders do. They achieve results through people, who accept their leadership because there is trust.
Gaining respect is one of the engines of sustainable leadership. And leaders do that by building their leadership not on roles, competencies, power , position or fear, but simply on character. Only then leadership will be sustainable. Sustainable leaders might enjoy some degree of popularity, but it’s a consequence rather than a target.

Why Leaders Do not Have to Be Popular

Or at least, they should not strive to be popular. Why? Because being popular is rather a liability than an advantage. Why? Because being popular is not very sustainable? Why? Because it puts leaders in a very weak spot when things get rough. Or they know they will have to disappoint people at some point.
popular leaders

No Popularity Contest

Leaders in organisations usually do not get elected. If leadership is linked to a role, leaders get nominated. If the leadership is linked to a person, they receive the authority of a leader from the so-called followers. In democracies there is always a popular vote. And the thing is, today people vote for politicians because they are popular. And popularity often comes from making promises. It’s less about keeping them.
Politicians live from election to election. But leaders in organizations have to convince their stakeholders every day. And these stakeholders may have conflicting and changing interests. Leaders need to balance those interests. But it means that leaders cannot satisfy all the stakeholders all the time. And because of this leaders should not go for popularity.
I could argue that not all the stakeholders are as important. That is true. There is one stakeholder who is more important than the others. It’s the customer. Or if you work in care, the patient. Or if you work in a public service, the citizen. Why? It’s the customer who gives meaningfulness to the entire organisation. That does not mean leaders should focus on the customer to the detriment of other stakeholders (employees, suppliers).


Leadership is only sustainable if the leader balances the interests of the ones who you work for (the customer) with the interests of the ones that do the work. And the latter group includes not only the employees (or larger the people working for the organisation) but also the shareholder and the leaders themselves.
I often hear the argument that leaders should only serve the shareholder. It’s the shareholder who takes the risk by investing in the company. But even the shareholder cannot have a return of investment when the customer is not satisfied. Or when employees do not deliver quality services and products.
Maybe balance is not the best word to pick? Let’s talk about integration. What if leaders can integrate the interests of stakeholders (including their own) into their approach. In that way they are not terrorized by the expectations of only one of the stakeholders and they avoid becoming a puppet on a string. And they do not have to be popular as it does not add anything to that integration. And although I think customers should have priority, leaders should not let them terrorise their organisation either.
So the only popularity leaders should strive for, is the popularity of products or services with the customers. And that puts everything into perspective. The leader can take unpopular decisions, as long as they meet customer expectations, and integrated with the interests of the other stakeholders.

Being Popular Is not Sustainable

Leaders sometimes seek popularity with their teams. They are eager to please. But these leaders lack strength. Those who are eager to please their team members will ultimately fail. Being popular is not sustainable. There are 3 reasons for that.

  1. They will make too many promises that they cannot keep. And although every leader does that, if it happens too often there is a lack of credibility.
  2. They will indulge too much. They will sedate people by increasing their comfort zone. They will avoid debate, conflict and difficult feedback. They are unable to go against the grain.
  3. People will get used to what a leader does. And either they will not accept a change or they will demand more. It’s extremely an indulging leader to stop indulging.

Leaders need to show courage and be willing to disappoint people.  They need to take actions that sometimes go against the preferences of some of the stakeholders. But the purpose of these actions is to increase overall value. The paralysing effect of popularity is tremendous.
Leaders should also show their humanity. If there are difficult decision ahead, leaders can take them with fairness, empathy, kindness and reciprocity. Leaders who do that might become popular after all. But they did not strive to be. And the popularity is then based on deep respect, rather than on comfort.
In my book on sustainable leadership I explain what it is that makes leadership sustainable.


The Organizational Design Perspective


Strategic Organisational design

In previous blogs I have talked about organizational design. The question I want to debate here is how you start an organisational design process. My argument is that you need to start from the strategy a company wants to execute. However, as cultural elements define the feasibility of any strategy, OD needs to focus on that as well.
The bast starting point of any OD approach is asking questions. Now you can use appreciative inquiry as approach or any other kind of questions, as long as they are non-biased.
The remarkable thing is that any strategy provides you with questions you can answer from an OD perspective. And these questions give you a perspective on organizational design.  Here they are.

6 Organizational Design Perspectives

When designing an organizations there are 6 perspectives to take. Here they are:

  • Whom do we serve? This is the customer design perspective.
  • What do we want to offer? This is the product design perspective.
  • How do we want to deliver? This is the operations design perspective.
  • Who do we have on board? This is the talent design perspective.
  • What is our target? This is the result design perspective.
  • What is our purpose? This is the purpose or value design perspective. Like Dale commented previously, here you need to ask the question “why”.

So surely we need to base organizational design on different angles at the same time. And there are more questions to ask.

Questions to Ask.

  1. What is the basic strategic principle or strategic intent?
    There are usually three choices: customer leadership, product leadership of efficiency leadership. Which is it?
  2. What is the image of the organization towards the outside world?
    How does the organization want to appear to the customers, the public, the suppliers, the government, the shareholders or any other relevant stakeholder.
  3. What are the assumptions?
    This is a difficult question to answer. But every strategy holds some assumptions or hypotheses. Especially in this VUCA-world. How can we adapt an organisational design so that we can take those hypotheses into account whilst at the same time remain agile enough to cope with dissenting information.
  4. What are the illusions?
    Sometimes we think we have got it all right. But if we could find out which are the illusions and adapt the organisational design principles so that the illusions are neutralized?
  5. What are the risks?
    Every strategy contains risks, also in terms of organization. So should we not design an organization that detects and copes with those risks?
  6. Where are the challenges?
    An organisational design should facilitate strategy execution. So if we can detect the challenges we can find out what kind of organization design principles can help to overcome this. Very often one of the challenges is the gap between the existing culture and the desired culture.

In a next blog I will give an example of how to use these questions to think about organizational design.

Board meetings or bored meetings?

Board meetings have a dubious reputation. Boring. Rigged. Useless. Endless. Two years ago I have met Sir John Parker, chairman of Anglo American.  He showed me otherwise. Board meetings are moments in which one can decide about the future of the company. Board meetings should not be taken for granted.
But a lot depends on the chairman. For Sir John a chairman has to show leadership.

The opportunity of a lifetime must be seized in the lifetime of the opportunity.

For him it is an honour and a pleasure to serve as a non-executive board member. But it requires education, preparation, dedication and perseverance. Being on a board is not a hobby. You need to be willing to take the task seriously. You cannot wing it. A chairman will know that you haven’t prepared. You will ask the wrong questions.
As a board member you need to get to know the company, put your own ego aside, and think with and for the company. A board member should avoid arrogance or smugness, and should blend in.

A bad board member would

  • have difficulties in leaving the operational aspects behind.
  • wants to appear in the media.
  • be too dominant, too arrogant.
  • be a poor listener.
  • have a dysfunctional relationship with the CEO.

Some advice to be a good chairman.

  • Don’t confuse being respected with being liked.
  • leave your ego at home.
  • make sure you’re confident, integer and honest.
  • adopt a clear communication style.
  • keep on having fun.
  • focus on things you can change.
  • show deeds, not words.
  • take ownership.
  • never like awake. learn how to relax.
  • choose your board members.
  • develop an excellent relationship with your CEO.

None of us is as smart as all of us.

7 criteria of leadership

  1. Effective communication
  2. Ability to inspire
  3. Empower other People
  4. Listen and Learn
  5. Be decisive
  6. Be Courageous
  7. Be consistent.

5 rules for chairmanship

  1. Embed good corporate governance.
  2. Have an agreed upon strategy.
  3. Set up a strong central financial control.
  4. Make sure there’s a good administration, especially on compliance.
  5. Decentralize operational responsibilities.

Above all, a chairman should keep his or her hands of operational matters and not give any instructions.
Board meetings play an important role in corporate governance. We might just as well may them as effective as we can.

HR disruption: 4 Lenses to Look at How the HR Profession Changes.

In the week of March 20th 2017 I have tweeted about HR disruption under the hashtag #hrdisruption. This is the second article about that. You can read the first one here.

4 lenses to look at HR disruption

From that twitter discussion I have learned that there are 4 different ways we could look at hr disruption:

  • Lens 1: HR disrupts itself by applying  similar models of disruption on itself.
  • Lens 2: HR helps organisations to cope with disruption.
  • Lens 3: HR focuses on building capabilities that strengthen organisations.
  • Lens 4: HR gets disrupted.

You can look at these 4 lenses differently and ask two important questions:

  • What’s the attitude of HR in disruption? Is it active or reactive/passive?
  • What’s the focus of HR disruption? Is it about HR itself or is it about the organisation?

The attitude question is an interesting one. Like Jan Dillis states:

But there’s a lot of scepticism about whether or not HR is able to play a role in disruption.

(HR and Disruption in one sentence? That’s not very credible … And maybe it’s better like this)

HR disruption Lens 1: HR disrupts itself.

This is a proactive attitude oriented towards the HR Profession. We could ask ourselves if HR needs to be disruptive?
Very often we see disruption as the implementation of new technologies. In a report of Deloitte’s Bersin 9 trends are described for the HR software market in 2017. If only we have the latest cutting-edge HR technologies we are disruptive. This is of course delusional. HR is not disruptive because it innovates in terms of technology.
If HR wants to be disruptive, it needs to grasp the trends in the surrounding context.
There are three trends: the demographic shift, the automation and the talent cloud.

Demographics is clear. We live longer and will have work longer. We look at HR to find meaningful answers.
Automation is clear as well. We expect massive disruption of the talent market due to digitization. This generates many challenges for organizations.
The Talent Cloud is the third trend. There’s a new talent market coming with many (temporary) sources of talent. I call that the talent cloud. But that talent cloud is not always that satisfactory. A CIPD report shows that there are many issues.

HR should be careful not to get carried away. Veerle Verspille phrases it correctly:

Any way, we can expect different HR Models.

And of course this Deloitte report gives an overview of how human capital management will change

The question if if HR should be disruptive. The answer is yes and no. Hrdisruption has no value in itself. It only has value when it at least facilitates organisations in disruption.

HR Disruption Lens 2: HR facilitates an organisation in disruption.

Jan Dillis tweeted that HR will be the glue of the fragmented organisation. Maybe that’s too much of a compliment, but I would argue that HR can offer a lot to organizations that go through major change. One of them is organisational design.
You could say that new ways of organisation is a major contribution of HR, like Veerle Verspille argued.

And then you could say that design thinking is one of the ways HR can facilitate.

Organisation design is for sure (again) an HR contribution of the future.

Enjoy the YouTube video on Spotify as an example of this.

But also management innovation is a way HR could help organizations in disruption.

But one thing should not be forgotten. Disruption, innovation is about emotions. And therefore it’s a human thing, as is well explained in a WEF blog.

Many people talk about the human side of disruption and digitization.

If  HR is about the people dimension in organisation and disruption is a human thing, HR has a bright future would you not agree?

HR Disruption Lens 3: HR builds capabilities that prepares an organisation for a disruptive world.

In that sense HR returns to its essence, but in a disruptive context.

The question HR could ask itself, is which capabilities a given organization needs to develop. And the second question is how to do that. I will blog about capability building later. But if you want to know more about this, I can refer to McKinsey.

HR Disruption Lens 4: HR is disrupted.

A fourth lens is the disruption of HR. In this lens HR plays a passive role. This is what many people seem to believe. HR does not play a significant role in disruption and will be disrupted instead. Some argue that the HR disruption (lens 1) has in itself no value.
Indeed if HR will not focus on the facilitation of organisational responses to disruption or on disruption-resistant capabilities, HR will not get any credit and will get disrupted.
I do not want to say that HR should be saved at all cost. But as the human dimension becomes even more important in a disruptive digital context, every organisation has to give attention to that aspect. And like I’ve stated in previous blogs: HR is not a function, it’s a process. Or maybe it’s a capability too.

Is it a matter of HR Maturity?

I think it is. Immature HR thinking will make sure that HR gets disrupted. In many organisations HR has never set foot outside of the payroll role. But if HR people see their own process as administrative, HR is bound to be disrupted by automation. When maturity increases HR will lose the focus on itself and focus more on facilitation and capability building. And only then it will reach its potential. But one thing is sure, the future of HR is not big data or technology. It’s about facilitation and capability-building. And most probably HR needs to disrupt itself to get there. If it doesn’t, HR will be disrupted.
HR disriptipn
Thanks to those who have participated to the discussion week. Follow the debate here.

Should we be afraid of Disruption?

In the week or 20 – 24th March 2017  if have tweeted intensively about hrdisruption. That twitter discussion is the basis of a series about hr disruption. This is the first one. 

Disruptive change

Let’s first start with disruption. What is it? Is it another word for change? Is it intense change? Is it fast or deep change? There’s a lot of talk about disruption. The term disruptive innovation was coined by Clay Christensen. It’s a word used to describe the process “whereby a smaller company with fewer resources is able to successfully challenge established incumbent businesses”.
That’s it. And by doing so that smaller company disrupts not only the smaller company, but also the bigger one.
In the face of disruptive change established companies seem to have difficulties in responding. Why is that, one might ask.
When a company is confronted with a new product, it often does not see the risk. That is because the company focuses on another customer segment.
Suddenly the new product becomes -goodBut the customers become interested anyway, when the product is good enough. And when is that? When the product is good enough in terms of performance and superior in one element such as price, size, emotional benefits, …
So what a company should not do is to neglect that new offer. Instead, it should compare its product to what the customer wants. The problem of established companies is often that it over-engineers its product by adding features that make the product more expensive without having an advantage to the customer.
In this HBR article you can find a summary of disruptive change theory. But these are some conclusions from that article:

  1. 1. Disruption is a process.
  2. 2. Disrupters often build business models that are very different from those of incumbents.
  3. 3. Some disruptive innovations succeed; some don’t.
  4. 4. The mantra “Disrupt or be disrupted” can misguide us.

It’s the last point that is intriguing. We hear that phrase a lot. But it’s not a dichotomy.

Disrupt or be disrupted?

It’s a mantra. When facing disruption, companies should not panic and dismantle their existing business. It’s commonly accepted that when companies want to disrupt, they should do it next to their existing business. So companies will manage both a traditional and a disruptive business.
I strongly believe that every sector and industry will be disrupted some day. I’m not sure that this is in itself new. There have been disruptive technologies before. These technologies have replaced incumbent technologies. However, these changes took some time. That has changed. Some disruptions are extremely fast. The traditional process of adoption has been replaced by a shark-fin shaped innovation curve.

found on

This shows how threatening a disruption can be. It’s like a tsunami.

Should we be afraid of Disruption?

There are basically two ways to look at disruption. We can fear it and be paralysed. Or we can embrace it and see it as an opportunity. Probably you need to do both. If you’re in a traditional business you might dread the day a young start-up eats away your market share and your profits. But instead of dreading, an established company should innovate, change, disrupt, check the disruptors, … A passive approach is never the right approach.
My next blog will be on HR Disruption: 3 Lenses on HR Disruption.

HRDisruption: A collaborative Guide on How to Cope With Disruptive Change

This blog is about hrdisruption.


The world is VUCA. Everything changes. The future has never been less certain than it is today. At least, that is what we believe. The world has always been volatile, but the change comes faster. The world has always lived with uncertainty, but people lived in stable generations. The world has always been complex, but not that connected. And finally as we cannot know everything, ambiguity is part of life.
So if it’s the acceleration that is the biggest of changes. How should we cope? What are tendencies we can capture and surf on? How should we organise ourselves? What is the perfect organisation to do so? If disruption is the name of the game, should we be disruptive?

To disrupt or be disrupted, is that the question?

And what about people? What about HR? Are they really the most important and most decisive factor in this turmoil? Should we fear the jobless future? Or is doing business still about humanity?
And finally, how should the profession formerly known as HR cope with all that? What will be the hrdisruption?
As you can read, there are many questions. I will be tweeting and posting about this the coming week. I have lined up some questions, but also resources about this. Feel free to join the conversation by adding your own opinion and resources with the hashtag #hrdisruption.

Collaborative experiment on hrdisruption

This is a collaborative experiment. I will write a blog on this, next weekend. I hope to capture the spirit of the discussions in that blog that I will post on

This is a collaborative experiment. Join the hrdisruption debate and tweet or share using #hrdisruption.

If silence is my destiny, than that blog will remain empty 🙂
Practical: in the week of March 20, 2017 a series of questions and resources will be tweeted and shared on LinkedIn. You can react on those posts, or add other posts using the hashtag #hrdisruption. I will use (some of) that content in a next blog on architects. Of course I will quote appropriately. This blog will be the 200th published blog on Join the debate and let’s create a collaborative guide to hrdisruption.

Mercy Projects: Don’t Give Bread to Someone Who is Thirsty

This blog is about mercy projects. And why they are not such a good idea.
Today, I met someone on the train who’s life had changed drastically earlier this year. He had a promising career ahead of him. Many people saw him  as the coming man. Life had been so good for him. Until suddenly his life changed. The project got cancelled and for some reason people avoided him like if he had the plague. It was unfair.
Then someone called him on the train. He was drinking a beer, which was not his habit. He answered. The female voice on the phone enquired about his situation. He said he was feeling OK. His face said otherwise. Then she said she had a project for him. Asked if he had interest. The project was way below his former responsibilities. It was a mercy project. Someone felt pity and wanted to save him. He declined. I won’t hide, he said, but you will not see me that often at headquarters anymore.
A mercy project is a project you give to people who experienced bad fortune. You feel sorry for them and you feel the need to save them  from whatever disaster that is hanging over their head.
But here’s the thing. Many people don’t want to be saved. When people experienced injustice, they want justice, redemption, reparation, restitution. They don’t want to go into the world with a surrogate mission, a distant reflection of what could have been. If you try to save them, you show a lot of kindness, but a lack of empathy.
Acts of mercy may seem the right thing to do.  But they are most often not.

Don’t give bread to someone who is thirsty.

If you do, there will be a backlash. Mercy projects do no solve anything. They cover up.
What do we learn from that situation? It tells us how difficult compassion in a professional context is. A leader has to able to show kindness. But kindness is not the same as being merciful. Sometimes you are kind by not showing mercy. Mercy can feel like a judgement and in many ways it is. So let’s avoid them.
But, leaders can learn how to use their character as basis of their leadership, without being perceived as soft or weak.
The English version of my book on Sustainable Leadership will be published in the coming weeks. In that book I discuss the way someone can make leadership more sustainable in a VUCA world. For the moment you can find the version in Dutch here and the version in french here.

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