Captain of the Rescue Boats

The person who walks around while the Titanic is sinking, and calmly begins rearranging the deck chairs, organizing the evacuation, and gets everyone off the ship before it sinks becomes, by default, the future captain of the rescue vessel in the North Atlantic.

That person also becomes a new Noah.

Here is a list of 26 icebergs (non-exhaustive, your list (and mileage) may vary) where, as the Titanic ship of state known as global society collides with them and begins to sink, you can be the default captain of the rescue ships later:

  1. Climate change
  2. Fear of change
  3. Growing use of A.I. based technology
  4. Biodiversity disappearance
  5. Lack of sufficient explanations that people can understand for necessary changes
  6. Financial systems collapse
  7. Refusal to be held accountable
  8. Developing world debt
  9. Connection economy of the Internet
  10. Rethinking of Labor Value
  11. The electrical grid in the postmodern world
  12. Lack of access to creation on the Internet
  13. Lack of courage in individuals to take risks
  14. First world educational system
  15. Scarcity of emotional labor
  16. Child abuse and victimization
  17. Lack of true, courageous statesmanship
  18. Human trafficking
  19. Increased spiritual hopelessness among the old
  20. Increased spiritual hopelessness among the young
  21. Lack of self-efficacy
  22. Growing ability to hide from what matters
  23. Thinking harder about the answers to binary questions
  24. Lack of interest in self-awareness
  25. Lack of ability to emotionally care
  26. The increasingly intractable nature of conflicts

There are other ones out there as well. There’s no lack of icebergs. There is, however a lack of people calmly prepared to be captains in future rescue boats.

HIT Piece 10.04.2016

Seeing is believing.

Why is that?

Role modeling is still the most powerful predictor of leadership success or failure.

Role modeling builds a company culture and ensures that the culture grows.

Role modeling is about both presence and absence. It’s about what is there, and what isn’t there.

Role modeling is unstated, unsaid, and often unremarked upon, but its power is acknowledged in the actions people choose.

Role modeling starts in childhood. Children follow their siblings—or don’t—directly due to what they see role modeled before them.

There are some questions to ask to determine if you’re actually role modeling or if you’re just putting on a show for an audience:

Is anyone actually watching?

Do I care what they see?

Can they learn a lesson?

Does my absence speak volumes?

Who will be impacted?

Is this a test?

Could I have done better at that last action?

Do I owe an apology?

Does it (i.e. my words, or deeds) matter to someone else?

Do they care what they are watching?

The difference between putting on a show (which is what the performer, the impresario, and the flim-flam man do) and role modeling (which is what parents, teachers, supervisors, managers, and responsible adults are supposed to do) is that putting on show requires that you answer none of the above questions.

Role modeling requires that you take responsibility and accountability for the answers to each one of the above questions.

[Opinion] Leadership Through Doing “Things That Don’t Scale”

There are “things that don’t scale” many organizations avoid doing (or abandon outright), when they reach a certain size.

Leaders in those organizations (who may have begun bravely desiring to commit to doing those things) abandon the “things that don’t scale” as other interests begin to attract their attention (see Google’s recent troubles here) and as other constituencies demand attention (see Twitter’s recent issues with investors here). Then there’s the issue of organizational gravity and 747’s.


There are three areas organizational leaders begin with enthusiasm and personalization, but then abandon later when the organization scales:

Customer service: Many organizations say that the end user, the customer, the audience member, the fan, the follower, the client, is the one that they serve, and when they are small enough and scrappy enough, they do exactly that. But at scale (and as they transition into being an incumbent in the market), the customer gets lost in the shuffle and it becomes harder and harder for an organizational leader to make the decision about whom they serve, and then to serve them in the same way they used to.

Conflict management: At scale, conflict management becomes a rote, human resource department driven process, separated from the people who are impacted by the conflicts, disputes and disagreements, and the leaders who can successfully resolve them. This is why human resource departments don’t exist in small businesses, start-ups and other organizations smaller than 50 or so individuals. There, the leader does the resolution, as a chieftain of old would, but above that, the effects of Dunbar’s Number kick in and the organizational leader doesn’t have the attention, time or energy (read “bandwidth”) to address or manage all conflict scenarios all the time.

Marketing efforts: At scale, marketing falls into the same trap as conflict management does. More for less becomes the credo, and what used to be innovative, connecting marketing efforts, becomes bogged down in micromanaging, preening and office egos. What used to be sounding boards become echo chambers and marketing efforts are viewed increasingly as a “nice-to-have” rather than as an integral part of the organizational message.

The way to resolve issues in all of these areas is not to ask the question “Well, do we grow or not?” and then try to either stifle growth or to just let growth happen.

The way to resolve issues in these three areas is to have a steady, continuously reinforced sense of organizational culture, organizational focus, and organizational energy.

Then, the leader has only one question to answer in each area every single day, and the question has “yes” or a “no” answer: Does the action I am about to lead on for this organization match up with our culture, focus and energies?

Acting on “things that don’t scale” by answering that question with either a “yes” or a “no”, opens the door to delight organizational customers, end users, clients, advocates, fans, followers and so many others. Make no mistake: it requires leadership courage to stick to performing in the areas that don’t scale, to keep doing them well, and to keep the employees and others performing them, reigned in.

Otherwise, the “things that don’t scale,” but do delight, are the very things that, when abandoned, will surely lead to organizational death.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT:

[Advice] Leadership Through Pitching and Presenting

There are two times a leader has to be persuasive, has to pitch and present and leaders are typically good at one and poor at the other:

In a small group: Small groups (anywhere between 2 people and 10 people) are groups where leaders can either shine or fail based upon their own personal hang-ups, tics, and character traits. If a leader connects warmly with a handshake (increasing cooperation) and makes eye contact (in the Western world at least) they tend to be able to navigate the small group interactions and can easily dominate the conversation.

In a small group though, the delicate balance is between speaking too much (pitching) and not listening enough. This is a discipline that bears out its presence in the ultimate small group presentation, the meeting. Most meetings represent a poor use of organizational resources because the same traits that guided the leader in even smaller groups, fail when the group grows larger.

In a large group: Large groups (anywhere between 10 people up to massive stadiums of people) are the places where leaders (like many other folks) sometimes try to “scale up” the skills that make them formidable in a one-on-one environment and they fail. This is also the place where leaders lean in on using tools to mask their inexperience, their nervousness, or their lack of knowledge/interest/passion about a subject. The reason that political leaders do well at presenting to large groups and many corporate leaders don’t is that political leaders are naturally able to “fake it until they make it” and project that passion onto the crow. Whereas hard charging, revenue-generating executives are secretly wondering why they have to do this “presenting thing” at all in the first place.

In a large group, the delicate balance is between presenting with passion and rambling on about a point. Presenting with passion is a discipline that can be coached, but the real problem is getting the leader’s ego out of the way, getting the leader into a stance of learning and then preparing the leader to succeed. And letting the props, the slides, and the crutches fall by the way side.

Ever manager, supervisor, and even employee should be taught how to connect in a small group to other people, by using the skills of active listening, active engaging, eye contact, and paraphrasing. Every manager and supervisor and even employee should be taught how to connect with a much larger group (either a meeting sized group or a larger group) by using the skills of tapping into their passion and energy, knowing their subject inside and out and using tools like Powerpoint as aids, not crutches.

But too many organizational leaders don’t spend time preparing for presentations, don’t think that such preparation is necessary (except at the point of actually having to present) and many organizational leaders look at such training as another “nice to have” but not a “critical to succeed.”

In a world of instant information (and sometimes instant wrong information about organizations) leaders need to change their thinking, or someone else will change the audience’s thinking about their organization, for them first.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT:

[Strategy] Leadership Through Influence

Leadership is hard enough without understanding the power of influence over others. There are seven areas of psychology that effectively “lock in” to each other in a hierarchical, top down structure governing human relationships. They create the context where persuasion and influence can be effective between a leader and their followers.

Many organizational leaders default to wielding titles, degrees, certifications and other forms of authority that they instinctively know followers respond to, but they don’t know the “why.” When leaders default to the stance of authority, instead of beginning at the top of the hierarchy with reciprocation; they leave their followers flying blind.  This creates three problems:

People respond to authority figures without reciprocation, commitment and consistency, social proof and liking in the same way that a child responds to a parent the first time that they are disciplined. Not well. Good leaders know that the top of the funnel has to be filled with relationship, not titles.

People lose trust in leaders because they instinctively know that leadership is abundant (look at the number of volumes about it on the website) but that statesmanship is scarce. Good leaders strive to link and connect all the forms of persuasion through the funnel, rather than leapfrogging over the ones that they aren’t personally comfortable with to get to the area that they are. When they do this, they rise in esteem in their followers’ eyes.

People link consensus to leadership, only if the leadership is credible. Does anybody wonder why the last landslide election in the United States for President was 30 years ago? Consensus is hard to get, hard to maintain and not a natural state of affairs. Leaders in organizations often conflate organizational silence with organizational consensus and miss the disgruntled 49% who they never wooed anyway. Sometimes leaders don’t need those followers (particularly if leaders rig the game, as in politics) but most of the time, a leader with 49% of the people in her organization who dislike her first, will never build consensus with those same followers later on in the funnel, when it matters.

When leaders default to what is easy (rigging the consensus game or wielding authority) rather than working on developing what is hard (reciprocity consistency and commitment), they do their followers a disservice. They also miss an opportunity to rise above the pedestrian conflicts that predominate most organizations and become something more than merely managers.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT:

[Advice] Leadership Through a Positive “No”

Strategic, thoughtful leadership is all about saying “no.”

Most leaders don’t do this well and they don’t because they view the word “no” through multiple lenses:

  • They view “no” as a word of power, giving them control over a situation, a person, or an outcome.
  • They view “no” as a word of separation, giving them emotional distance and feeding into their fears about the outcomes, or consequences about a situation, or a person.
  • They view “no” as a word of delineation (which it is) and as a word of escape (which it isn’t).

Most leaders don’t focus on the positives behind the word no. Instead, they tend to focus on the negatives, leading to more conflicts, not fewer.

The positive version of “no goes something like this:

Thank you for coming to me with [insert whatever the topic is here]. No, I don’t have time to talk about this right now. But, please come back [name a definitive later time here] and I will talk with you then.”

Most leaders end the “no” process here (hoping that the other party will take the hint and just go away). Then, they never perform the necessary follow-up. Without the follow-up, a cascade of psychological and organizational issues arise. Plus, the leader’s commitment and consistency (mostly the latter) gets questioned by the person who brought them the request in the first place and the likelihood of another request coming to that leader to meet a potential “no” decreases exponentially, drip-by-drip.

People leave bosses and leaders, but they work for organizations and cultures. In a leadership scenario, where time is of the essence and where a “no” is the only way out, leaders must grapple with their own perceptions of the word, other’s perceptions of the word, and the outcomes that a “no” produces.

Otherwise, when it’s time to say “yes” to something else (either explicitly or implicitly) the leadership might look around and not see anyone following them.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT:

[Strategy] Leadership Through Apology

Much is made in the Western world of the importance of an apology.

When we start out as children—and our world is starkly black and white—apology comes, not from inside of us, but from outside of us. It is a statement we are compelled to say to others when we hurt them, under threat of punishment from someone in a position of power, i.e. a parent, a guardian or an older sibling.

These apologies are rarely meant, rarely come from a place of empathy about the situation or the other person harmed, and rarely lead to long-term resolution of conflicts, hurts, or injuries.

As we grow older, however, we become used to doing everything that we can to respond to conflicts through attack, avoidance, and/or accommodation. Interestingly enough, adults use all three of these methods to get around, get past and smooth over the need to either give an apology or receive one.

Then, this tendency scales to the workplace; a hard charging environment concerned only with the acquisition of revenue, the holding of power, the maintenance of position and continual growth. And when there’s a mistake made, a wrong committed, or an injury to a customer, a client or a partner, apology becomes a place for liability to lurk in the shadows.

There’s no room for apologies in this environment when people are hurt through conflicts there.

Just get over it, and move on.

But, what if the courage to apologize, much like the courage to take a risk and resolve a conflict in a different way, were a leadership competency, rather than a trapdoor for an executive leader to lose their position?

What if we thought about the process of risk, forgiveness, failure reconciliation, and apology differently?

As was pointed out last week, people get into disputes with other people, but because organizations and workplaces operate at scale, there is little room for the individual to get resolution—or apology—at scale. The only solution is to change the way we operate in organizations at scale, and to shift the conversation around conflict, disagreement, and even injury away from litigation and toward resolution.

The only people who can do that are the people at the top of the hierarchical pyramid. The ones that set the culture of (to paraphrase from John Wayne in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon) “No apologies. It makes us look weak.” The ones that promote, and expand, the image (the myth, if you will) of the hard charging executive.

We see this beginning to happen with Zappos, and the growing interest in implementing a holocracy system in organizations. A system where there is flattened hierarchy. This is the beginning of rethinking how we redesign organizational myth and culture, but for apologies to be effective, and for the act of apologizing to be an effective leadership competency, there must be three things evident before a mouth opens to give a statement:

For organizations to continue to develop, scale and grow successfully in the 21st century, leadership training, competencies and even research has to shift in favor of increasing leaders’ development in the three above areas, before an apology-based culture is even considered.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: