The rise of complementary leadership

The rise of complementary leadership

By deploying and supporting diverse teams of leaders with complementary skillsets, HR leaders can ensure they meet their goal of preparing their organisations for the future, writes Aaron McEwan

Modern superhero films might seem an unlikely source of insights about future leaders. However, popular culture occasionally offers an uncannily accurate view into emerging social and business trends.

Technology is fundamentally changing how we work, with a startling 70 per cent of employees reporting they haven’t mastered the skills they need for their jobs. The reskilling challenge is not unique to one industry, geography or even level, yet it has been identified as an employee problem rather than an issue among leaders.

Leaders cite the top changes to their roles in the last three years as a greater number of job responsibilities, the expectation to have a greater number of skills and the expectation to have a greater depth of knowledge about specific areas.

Beyond the skills challenge, leaders are being asked to meet a range of new internal and external demands. They face increased scrutiny on their decision-making, must navigate economic and social volatility, radical transparency and a multitude of new forces making their jobs more complex today.

Leadership investment vs performance payoff
Unfortunately, by leaders’ own admission, they’re facing a crisis of confidence. Gartner research finds only 50 per cent of leaders agree they are well equipped to lead their organisations into the future.

HR executives agree. Fundamentally, leaders must transform to drive business into the future. To help make this transformation, HR has increased leadership development expenditures by 172 per cent in just two years from $797 per leader in 2017 to $2,169 in 2019.

Much of this investment is going into clarifying leadership competency profiles to optimise individual leader performance against a common standard. In fact, 41 per cent of surveyed HR executives are “adding new competencies to leadership models over the next 12-18 months”.

“HR has increased leadership development expenditures by 172 per cent in just two years from $797 per leader in 2017 to $2,169 in 2019”

The rise of complementary leadership
Despite this increased investment, there is little variation in team performance based on a leader’s competency profile. Gartner examined top-performing leaders and teams across all leadership competency profiles and found that most leaders have “spikey” profiles; they excel in a few competencies but also have some areas of relative weakness. The research also found that there is no ‘silver bullet’ set of competencies or gold standard leadership model that correlates with team performance.

Rather, leaders of top-performing teams share their leadership responsibilities with others. They engage in complementary leadership; the intentional partnership between one leader and one or many leader partners to share responsibilities based on complementary skillsets.

Leaders’ individual effectiveness accounts for approximately half of team performance. Complementary leadership accounts for the other half.

Future leadership lessons from Tony Stark
The original Iron Man, released in 2008, introduced us to the quintessential 21st-century superhero in the form of Tony Stark; a white, charismatic and visionary billionaire CEO with access to unlimited wealth and technology. He had some clear strengths but was also impulsive, arrogant and insecure. The original Iron Man movie poster showed Stark as a lone figure, encased in a futuristic iron suit ready to singlehandedly take on the evils of the world.

Ten years down the track, the most successful superhero film and one of the top-grossing movies of all time, follows an ethnically and gender diverse team of superheroes. Each character brings their own unique superpowers (and flaws) to create a team that works together to defeat a vastly superior enemy. The poster for Avengers: End Game, shows all the Avengers unmasked, vulnerable and paired together with their complementary partner.

“Strength-based approaches work and individual leaders do better when they share their skills and abilities with one another to compensate for individual gaps”

As popular culture is suggesting, the world’s challenges are simply too big for one leader to solve.

As HR professionals suspected, strength-based approaches work and individual leaders do better when they share their skills and abilities with one another to compensate for individual gaps. Complementary leadership represents a new tool for leaders to boost their team performance amid complexity and uncertainty and negates their need to do it all on their own. It’s a clear recognition that no well-rounded, perfect leader exists today.

Ensuring leaders are prepared to lead their teams into the future is a key component of HR strategy for most organisations today. However, HR leaders must ensure they’re directing their resources to the right components of leader development and support. Instead of relying on leadership models, HR leaders need to enable leaders to share their responsibilities with colleagues who have complementary skill sets. This not only increases leaders’ own effectiveness, but also effectively improves their teams’ performance.

Supporting leaders: 3 steps for HR
To help future leaders participate in complementary leadership, HR leaders should adjust the way they support leaders in three areas:

  1. Rather than measure leaders’ capabilities against standard metrics, enable them to understand their strengths and development areas in their own contexts.
  2. Instead of creating development programs that will transform leaders’ approach, identify ways to embed leaders’ real workflows into development, so they can make immediate and effective changes to the way they work.
  3. Rather than waiting for individual leaders to develop all necessary skills, help them find the right partners to share the responsibilities.

The world has changed and so too have our biggest threats. By deploying and supporting diverse teams of complementary leaders, HR leaders can ensure they meet their goal of preparing their organisations for the future.


4 levers to grow as a purpose-driven compagny

4 levers to grow as a purpose-driven compagny

Original publication in Forbes on October 31st 2019

As untamed capitalism and corporate greed come under increasingly fierce and widespread siege, the business world has begun to respond, loudly.

In August, the elite CEOs of the Business Roundtable lobbying group released a statement promising to move away from the decades-old corporate belief in “shareholder primacy” toward a more holistic, purpose-driven approach that “serves all Americans.”

Let’s be clear: this move is a huge milestone in the recent history of management. After all, the signers of this statement lead organizations that take in a combined $7 trillion in revenue and employ 15 million people. However, whether the group’s stated goal of shifting commitments actually transpires remains to be seen.

The advantage of purpose-driven companies

Still, the business roundtable’s announcement, while greeted excitedly, shouldn’t have come as a huge surprise. Over the 11 years since the start of the fiscal crisis, more and more attention has been paid to the ethical, social and environmental responsibilities of co~rporations.

Yet businesses that do operate with a sense of purpose and of bettering society reap economic benefits. Recent studies have shown that the performance of companies with a clear sense of purpose grew by 10 times the median rate of companies on the S&P 500. 

What’s more, purposeful organizations appeal to younger people just entering the workforce. This generation has grown up connected in unprecedented ways by technology to a global community, alert to what threatens it and attuned to social justice. To reach these new or future workers of the Greta Thunberg generation, companies can’t ignore social ethics.

How to promote purpose throughout your business

Purpose is a word that packs a punch. It’s an idea whose meaning, while lofty, may be easily grasped. But attaining a sense of purpose can prove daunting, especially in the context of business and its more practical economic goals.

This can be seen in the gap between society’s expectations of businesses and its perception of results: just 39% of people think that organizations work with the goal in mind of improving the quality of life and well-being of their employees and surrounding communities.

It was with this challenge in mind that I, along with my colleagues A. Lleo-de-Nalda, C. Rey, A. Alloza and N. Pitta, set out to research the promotion of purpose in business. And to develop what we call the Purpose Strength Model compiling the successful techniques and strategies drawn from analyses of 25 purposeful businesses.

How can CEOs and managers promote purposeful business? It’s helpful to first recognize the three pillars of purpose: 

1) Coherence, or the alignment between what a company says and what it does.

2) Authenticity, or the true motivation and intention behind the things a company does. 

3) Integrity, or the naturally occurring behaviors that help maintain a purposeful drive. 

Then, it’s necessary to understand the first and most fundamental step toward building and sustaining purpose, which is constructing a shared purpose that enters the minds and hearts of all employees and inspires them to do their best, most purposeful, work.

How exactly can this communal purpose be achieved? Our model presents four factors, or levers, to attend to while sowing purpose in your organization: 

1. Strategy. The company should define a strategy for the development of a clearly defined purpose. This may sound simple, but it requires deep, prolonged reflection and understanding of corporate responsibility and ethical objectives. This strategy should include specific mile markers to be met along the road to purpose. 

2. Leadership. Company leaders must be depended upon to capably transmit the company’s purpose to employees so that it enters their minds and hearts. This leadership includes directors who promote purpose from the top of the organization and, so that purpose permeates each employee, leaders at all levels and divisions of the company.

3. Management. Systems of management and organizational procedures that guide day-to-day work and ensure that purpose is remembered each day. The organizations we studied saw fit to integrate the company’s purpose into all daily aspects of work including budget planning, talent recruitment and performance assessments. 

4. Clear communication is paramount to demonstrating that what the organization is, what the organization says it wants to be, and what it is perceived to be, all align. 

By following the model of companies who are ethically and financially successful, managers can help lead their companies into a thriving, purposeful future.

By Nuria Chinchilla

What can dishwashing teach us ?

What can dishwashing teach us ?

Original publication in on June 27th 2019

A monk told Joshu, “I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me.”

Joshu asked, “Have you eaten your rice porridge?

The monk replied, “I have eaten.”

Joshu said, “Then you had better wash your bowl.”

At that moment the monk was enlightened.

One night, I used a plate and a bowl for dinner. The next morning, they were still sitting on the counter. I was about to leave when I realized: I should wash these.

As I was rinsing the bowl, I remembered this story. I found it years ago. Leo Babauta shared it. He says:

“Remembering to do these things when we’re done with the activity isn’t just about neatness. It’s about mindfulness, about completing what we started, about being present in all we do instead of rushing to the next activity.”

I’ve always liked doing dishes. I think this story explains why. It’s comforting. Satisfying. Mindful. There’s the water, the scrubbing, and you always get an immediate result. Then, it’s on to the next item. Nothing more, nothing less.

Still, there is something deeper to this story. A much more profound message.

“It’s: don’t get your head caught up in all this thinking about the meaning of life … instead, just do. Just wash your bowl. And in the washing, you’ll find all you need.”

What if washing dishes isn’t a chore at all? What if it’s a refuge? A ladder out of the fuss of everyday life and into our hideaway. A sanctuary. A little pocket of peace, where all you have to do is be. Where no stress can reach you. No looming deadline, no existential fear, no weighty decisions to make.

When I chose to clean my bowl, I thought it was a small gesture. A sign of tidiness. But when I did it, I found it was so much more. In fact, it was everything. Enough. All I had to do was wash the bowl.

Nothing more, nothing less.

I’m not a monk and I’m definitely not Joshu. But I know this: We can transfer this enough-ness to all our activities. Folding laundry. Sending an email. Getting coffee with a friend.

Some tasks feel inherently comforting, but all tasks offer comfort if we let them be enough. Whatever we do, if we do it with intention, if we put in our whole heart, the outcome won’t matter. Because we did what we could. Because we were there. What more could we ask from ourselves than that?

Life is big, but it’s made of small moments. Small interactions, situations, and many small tasks. We can spend our days worrying about the incomplete parts of the puzzle or we can choose to look intensely at each piece. Zoom in. Get a close-up. And shape it until it fits.

Like the puzzle, we’ll never be perfect. We have just entered the monastery. But every day is a new chance to be there. And every day, when we’re done eating, we’ll need to wash our bowl.

Written by Niklas Göke



Research Highlight: Optimism is a super skill

95% of the most successful 10% of people scored “I think and communicate with optimism” with ‘very often’ or ‘nearly always’ (in a sample of 21,000).

The human mind is Velcro for the negative. Based on a high threat environment, a negative and threatening explanation might have been advantageous. Today, pessimism disables you.

Only 9% of the least resilient people score optimism with ‘very often’ or ‘nearly always’.

Question: How can I explain this adversity in one enabling sentence?

Condition: Notice but reject the easy negative self-talk

Discipline: Think and express yourself with positive language

Caution: Our times are testing. This will take courage.

What you can do right now?

  1. Ask someone close if you are optimistic or pessimistic. Explore an example
  2. Watch the content of your thoughts. Notice the words you choose to make sense of a situation. For example: “This always happens to me”
  3. Explore different ways to express the situation. For example: “What could I do differently” Notice the shift from blame to responsibility.
  4. Be alert for positive news.  Some suggest that we aim to express at least three positive observations for every complaint.

In the background:

  • Fatigue, isolation and distress will reduce optimism
  • Sleep well, be social, relax and play
  • Nurture your positive emotions – joy, gratitude, appreciation, hope, kindness

Note: With the current social instability, political malaise and climate risk, the value and importance of optimism will increase. It is well proven that optimism can be learned and has wide ranging personal and economic benefits. Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is proven an effective solution to depression. We use the term situational agility to describe the healthy and adaptive use of the optimism in key situations.

Own your joy!

When is your offline hour today ?

When is your offline hour today ?

Disconnecting incoming emails helps you to stay focused on the task at hand. While minimizing distractions, you are more productive. Working offline gives your immediate world – task or people – your undivided attention and supports your presence.

So here is a resilience practice we invite you to cultivate this week:
I plan to work offline one hour per day.

Would you try this self compassion practice ?

Would you try this self compassion practice ?

Originally published in Forbes on September 3rd 2019

Innovators talk about the importance of being willing to “fail fast and iterate.” Like coaches, they espouse a growth mindset that embraces failure as part of the learning process. I am a big proponent of the growth mindset, but I know that it’s easy to talk in intellectual terms about failure and it is a lot harder to actually fail. Moving on and learning from failures requires resilience—the capacity to recover quickly from or adapt to adversity, trauma or stress. One component of resilience is “grit,” a species of toughness, passion and perseverance in the face of adversity. It’s “the drive that keeps you on a difficult task over a sustained period of time.” Think of Mattie Ross in True Grit, a 14-year old girl who travels long distances on horseback and endures many trials along the way to avenge her father’s death.

It only we could just pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and move on! But the truth is that failure hurts. When you don’t get the job or the promotion or when something you worked on fails, you are likely to feel disappointed, frustrated, sad, embarrassed and maybe scared. And if you are like many driven professionals, you are probably pretty hard on yourself—self-critical, focusing on your flaws and mistakes. You may even have found that this self-critique helps you to push yourself to excel. But maybe you are paying a price inside. Perhaps your inner voice is judgmental and harsh: “How could I have done/said that?” Your confidence and self-esteem get be bruised. Your thoughts spiral around what you should have done differently or you may beat yourself up about your mistakes. When you are in such a state of self-judgment, it is hard to learn or move on. Grit alone may not be enough. 

Self-compassion offers another path to resilience and to finding your growth mindset.

Self-compassion is an antidote to self-judgment, just as curiosity is an antidote to fear. According to psychologist and researcher Kristin Neff, it involves “treating ourselves kindly, like we would a close friend we cared about. Rather than making global evaluations of ourselves as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ self-compassion involves generating kindness toward ourselves as imperfect humans, and learning to be present with the inevitable struggles of life with greater ease. It motivates us to make needed changes in our lives not because we’re worthless or inadequate, but because we care about ourselves and want to lessen our suffering.”

Neff’s early research compared self-compassion to self-esteem as a source of resilience. Self-esteem relates to one’s feeling of self-worth and is often built upon accomplishment or comparison to others. Unfortunately, because self-esteem is based on an external assessment of our worth, it can desert us when we most need it—when we fail. We are left with feelings of inadequacy and self-judgment. Self-compassion is there for us. As director of the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, Emma Seppälä notes, “With self-compassion, you value yourself not because you’ve judged yourself positively and others negatively but because you’re intrinsically deserving of care and concern like everyone else. Where self-esteem leaves us powerless and distraught, self-compassion is at the heart of empowerment, learning, and inner strength.” Self-compassion has also been linked to resilience in adolescents and young adults and to reduced effects of trauma among Iraq war veterans.

There are three main elements to self-compassion:

Self-kindness instead of self-judgment. Rather than judging ourselves to be less inadequate and beating ourselves up inside, we treat ourselves with kindness.

Common humanity instead of isolation. When we suffer, it is easy to feel alone, but through self-compassion, we connect to the fact that all people suffer, and all people are imperfect.

Mindfulness instead of over-identification. It is easy to get so caught in the grip of our emotions that we over-identify with them and become overwhelmed by our suffering. Mindfulness invites us to observe our emotions and thoughts with curiosity and non-judgment.

Self-compassion is not self-pity or self-indulgence. It is a mindful practice that acknowledges experience and supports individuals in moving through suffering to healthy change.

Here’s how to practice self-compassion:

Step 1. Observe and acknowledge your experience. You might say something like, “This is a moment of suffering” or “I am having a hard time.” Being able to observe your experience offers you the ability to step back slightly from it, even just momentarily and not be caught up in it.

Step 2. Connect to our common humanity. Remind yourself that you are not alone by saying, “Suffering is part of life” or “This is not abnormal, everybody suffers” or “other people face similar problems.” You are human and imperfect like all the rest of us.

Step 3. Offer yourself kindness. Imagine you are speaking to a beloved friend and adopt a gentle tone with yourself: “May I be kind to myself” or “I wish myself well.” Try placing your hand on your heart, chest or cheek if you find it soothing or grounding. After offering kindness, you might ask, “What can I do for myself now? What would help me move on?”

These three simple steps will help you navigate the suffering that can accompany failure or disappointment. People often say, “I’m my own worst critic.” Instead, try self-compassion practice as a way of being your own friend.


Written by Hanna Hart