Leadership Lessons from Eric Burdon and The Animals

Jerry Nagel and I had a front row seat recently at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis to see and hear Eric Burdon of The Animals fame and his new band. Not only were we entertained, we witnessed a delightful lesson in leadership.

A true test of leadership is how you respond when something goes wrong – in private or on a public stage of some sort (although not always literally a stage). It shows your mettle as a leader – do you give your people someone they can trust? Are you someone who brings out the best in the situation and people involved? Or, are you someone who gets angry and points blame?


Eric Burdon

At 75 years of age, Eric Burdon has had a long musical career. He is an accomplished painter, author, recording artist and a traveling bluesman for over 50 years. His musical journey began in the coal-mining town of Newcastle, England, where he immersed himself in American blues and jazz. A driving force of the Animals, Burdon helped lead the British Invasion with their first international hit, “House of the Rising Sun.” A Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member since 1994 and named one of the 100 Greatest Voices of All Time by Rolling Stone Magazine, Burdon’s long string of hits includes “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” and the Vietnam-era anthem, “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.”

 He knows when something is working and when it isn’t. On this night, the sound system was not working well. He was unable to hear himself and nor were we, the audience, able to hear his voice well. He had played the Dakota a few days before and everything had worked in perfect balance. After a couple of requests to the sound guys to fix the problem, when it didn’t get fixed, he walked off the stage shaking his head.


Justin Andres

That is when the leadership skill and style of his band leader, Justin Andres, kicked in. First, even as Burdon was walking off the stage, Andres was supporting and reassuring him. Then he looked to the sound guys to work with them on the issue. Burdon came back out, but the issue was not resolved, so he left again. Andres did not show any indication of frustration or irritation but calmly worked again with the sound guys. At one point he looked out into the audience to ascertain reaction. What he saw, in Jerry and me in our front row seat and probably others, was only support. Absolutely get it right. We could see he was reassured. We were willing to wait it out. Generally speaking, an audience wants you to be successful and will work with you. Andres gave Burdon, his band, the sound guys and his audience someone they could trust.

Burdon came back out on stage and all was now well. His voice was projected beautifully into the crowd. By this point, Andres had our attention. We watched and interacted with him and we watched the band and saw that all the band members were taking their cues from Andres. I’m sure this happens every time they play. We might not have really noticed it any other time if not for the graciousness and patience of Andres leadership in a critical moment – when it was important to slow down and stop in order to make sure Burdon and the band could deliver the performance that people showed up for.

Once the issue was resolved, Burdon relaxed into his art and it was noticeable. He began to enjoy himself. He called for a glass of wine as they played familiar hits and by the end of the evening, he was just getting warmed up. A beautiful evening of entertainment in ways we had expected and in ways we did not.

Why Asking Someone to Change How They Work May Not Be as Simple as You Think

There is solid research that points to successful change management practices and most of it gets ignored when organizations are seeking to implement change. We want it to go faster than is possible to make change stick. A key success factor is understanding the human dynamics of change – why simple requests may not be so simple when engaging human beings. This is where Worldview Intelligence provides important insights and understandings.

Worldview Intelligence

It happens all the time in work environments. The organization wants or needs to change – the way it works, delivers service, makes its products, is organized. Often this point is missed: change is not just about the mechanics of what is to be changed, it is about the people. People make up and deliver our systems and processes. Most people say they don’t mind change, but they don’t like being changed. Even when it “makes sense”. Because “makes sense” depends on your perspective.

Anais Nin - We don't see things as they are

When we are looking for efficiencies at work, we are often asking someone – or several someones – to change the way they work. To take on new responsibilities or to give up part of your role. It seems to make sense in the grand scheme of things. It is integral to the change working. If we are leading the change or innovation,

View original post 325 more words

Chaos, Order and Control are Worldviews at Play In Mergers and Acquisitions

More and more our Art of Hosting, strategic planning, team development and community engagement work is worldview informed and it makes all our work stronger, more impactful and lasting. This post is about the work Jerry Nagel and I are doing with a US based health care organization that is growing through mergers and acquisitions. As they are creating standardized systems across the enterprise they are, not surprisingly, bumping into a few challenges along the way. Worldview Intelligence has given them some insight about the challenges and how to strategize their communication and relationships differently.

Worldview Intelligence

(This post was inspired by generative conversations between Jerry Nagel and Kathy Jourdain as we think (often) about our Worldview work, our Art of Hosting back ground and our clients.)

Mergers and acquisitions are known to have a high failure rate – anywhere from 50% to 83% or even 90% depending on which report you read. A 2010 McKinsey and Co. report indicates more attention needs to be paid to culture and that better leadership is needed in the integration of cultures. A 2015 Europe Business Review article notes that trying to bring large groups of people together under one mission is hard enough. The complexity ramps up when there are multiple branch offices, especially when working across borders with different systems that are already in place in different locations. This is where the structured approach of Worldview Intelligence opens up the exploration of what could work best as those

View original post 780 more words

Challenge of Leadership in the 21st Century: What’s Needed Now?

In an exploration with Saint Mary’s University in Halifax (one of my alma maters) about an upcoming series of leadership workshops, the team there asked me some evocative questions, worthy of sharing on the Shape Shift blog. The previous blog post explored the question of what guidelines or, in their words, rules, would I share with leaders today. Another of their questions was: Why does the area of leadership fascinate you? Why indeed?

Leadership and leadership development has had my attention for as long as I can remember. It currently has my attention because the way I was trained, or more accurately indoctrinated, into leadership (as is the case with many of the leaders I meet and work with, even younger leaders) is much different than the leadership skills needed to navigate the complexity of today’s world.

I came into leadership positions at a young age; at a time when leaders were believed to have the answers, were expected to solve problems and fix situations that popped up. This was a time when letters were written on stationary and mailed, when fax machines (which are now almost obsolete) were just new and the idea that everyone would have a computer (much less mobile devices that process as much and more than computers) was a farfetched notion. A very different world, a very different worldview.

The world has grown far more complex, social media has a strong influence and our environments and situations are demanding greater collaboration and collaborative decision making because no one person has the solution.  We need to unlearn and relearn our habitual leadership skills and strategies to be responsive and still make decisions and take actions that move initiatives forward.  We can only unlearn what is habitual by becoming aware of what is right in front of us that we cannot see, because so much of our worldview – as much as 80% – is unconscious.  This is why Jerry Nagel and I are in the exploration of the transformative power of worldview awareness.

This is a balancing act, working with dynamic tensions of collaboration and collaborative leadership – also something we are learning our way into.  Many leaders are uncertain about how to navigate this 21st Century world with skill and ease, how to draw out the collective intelligence or wisdom needed to find our way forward. In partnership with amazing colleagues, I have been using patterns and practices that help leaders make sense of the world, invite our own ‘not knowing’ while engaging the wisdom and collective intelligence of people most impacted by or having the most influence over the particular issues or challenges at hand.

These are the solutions that have staying power.  This is what this new series of programs at Saint Mary’s – but also offerings in other venues in other cities – offers: insights into navigating the 21st Century, particularly as leaders of any age feel a responsibility for the significant challenges of our times.


Transformative Questions Can Shift Worldview – Guest Author Jerry Nagel

authored by Jerry Nagel (Originally published at Growing Hosting Artistry, January 3, 2014)

 “The success of the intervention is dependent upon the inner condition of the intervener.” William O’Brien (deceased), former CEO of Hanover Insurance

QuestionsQuestions. It seems that when one adopts inquiry as a core part of a way of being in the world there are always questions. Some are simple: “How are you today?” Some are reflective: “Why did I say that? How can I help in this situation?” Some challenge us to explore areas of interest more deeply: “What is the theory behind…? How can we be intentional about collective transformation?” Some are at the core of our worldviews: “What is really real? Who am I? Why am I here?”  And sometimes a question can change our lives by creating the conditions to alter our worldview. The asking of a simple question can be a transformative experience.

Jerry Nagel Floor Teach ed

July 3rd, 2003 I experienced the transformative question that started me on a journey that would shift my worldview, although I didn’t know it at the time. I was part of a small group of people working on agriculture and rural policy issues in the United States that had traveled to Europe to examine how environmental and social values were impacting European agriculture practices.  During dinner one evening a powerful question emerged within the group that influenced our conversations for the rest of the trip.  The question was “Have we been asking the same questions [about rural development policies] over and over for so long that we don’t even know what the right question is anymore?”

This transformative moment started me on a journey of exploration, learning and self-reflexivity that has led to a shift in my worldview, a change in professional focus and a reconnecting with a curiosity about human behavior that I had explored in my early teens. It also reconnected me to a strongly held belief in human possibility that developed in my late teens and twenties and a deeper awareness of our connections to something greater that, for me, is sensed most during my times in nature.

in nature

As I explored ideas, methods and programs to find the right questions for addressing the current rural policy issues in my work back home in Minnesota in a change lab initiative called the Meadowlark Project and through my participation in the Donella Meadows Leadership Program, I couldn’t escape a similar question that was simmering within me, “What was my own personal ‘right’ question?” Having spent my professional and intellectual life working as a research economist on rural development with a worldview that assumed that if we created investments in the material well-being of people and communities (jobs, buildings, roads, etc.) then rural communities would thrive, it surprised me to discover that when I challenged my professional worldview I was also challenging my own personal worldviews and related sense of self or identity as an economist.

There were two big learnings from my work with the Meadowlark Project Change Lab. First was a recognition that while we all wanted to have the difficult conversations about the challenging and complex issues the Change Lab was working to address, we didn’t have the skills to have them. Second was a realization that while addressing the material well-being of a community was important and necessary, it was not sufficient to build a wholly healthy community. To do so both the material and human side of a community’s life needs to be addressed.

I found myself drawn more and more to actions that connected the work of rural development with one’s own or a community’s set of values and beliefs, which also connected with the work of my own personal explorations.

 “The essence of our leadership journey is about growing into our true identity as a leader and, by doing so, accessing an intelligence that is greater than ourselves and encompasses the whole.” – Petra Kuenkel, Mind and Heart, 2008

As someone trained in economics, my worldview was deeply embedded in the notion of ‘man’ as an independent actor making rational choices of pure self-interest. I found myself challenged by the paradox that we humans experience ourselves as separate, unique and free individuals, and the social constructionist perspective, which I was learning about and coming to accept while writing my doctoral thesis on worldview and Art of Hosting, that everything that we are and all that matters actually comes from our relational experiences as humans and that this begins the moment we are born (and possibly before).

These paradoxes troubled me for some time, as I also sensed that exploring them was part of the journey to connecting with my life journey. So, while keeping one foot solidly planted in the work of answering the emergent questions about rural development policy I also committed to an even more intentional self leadership exploration of the deeper questions of “Who am I? What is my nature?”

The challenge it seemed to me in this exploration was to let go of attachments to specific images of myself that would prevent me from not only participating in whatever evolutionary changes this journey might offer, but also prevent me from seeing the whole and my relatedness to it. I was beginning to understand that my journey was becoming an exploration of the ‘range’ of me rather than the ‘one’ of me.

The work my colleagues and I have taken on through the Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter invites us into a wholeness – a way to connect how we are in the world with practices that support our actions. It also invites us to continually be aware of our worldview(s) and the impact on our hosting.  For me, as an AoH practitioner and host, this is an essential element in the exploration of growing hosting artistry.

Women, Leadership and Power

Will feminine principles rule the future?  John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio posit this in their book, The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future, and I like to think they are right.  More than like to think it, I am actively inviting it, through the work I do and the way I do it – collaboratively, with others doing good work in the world using the practices and patterns of the Art of Hosting Conversations That Matter.  This doesn’t mean I think masculine principles are bad, just that they are overused and a rebalancing of the energies could spark the next evolution of leadership and power in life, work, play and community.

We are living now in the space between narratives as my friend and frequent co-host Jerry Nagel likes to say.  The old story of power and control, described as masculine attributes, that many of us around the world are reportedly dissatisfied with is the story that has been operational for centuries now.  The new story of consensus building, collaboration and co-creation, described as feminine attributes, is what many are longing for, even when they do not have the words to articulate it.  People I encounter in the work I do and the places I travel want to show up and be seen as full human beings rather than as the distinct parts that are “acceptable” in different circumstances – logic and rationality at work, nurturing and caring in private. When we are invited as full human beings a new essence of aliveness and creativity also shows up.

The characteristics we are yearning for now are exactly the characteristics that have been dismissed and squelched as not being effective, as too soft, as the antithesis of leadership; the characteristics of feminine principles.

The principles of masculine and feminine are being confused with gender, feminine principles have been diminished and, by extension, women have been too.  Women wanting to be successful in business and politics in the past have had to become more like men in the drive for power and authority. Even Cheryl Sandberg in her book Lean In is really asking women to to step up to their male colleagues in the way of the old narrative.  I love that her book is sparking conversation in many places about masculine and feminine principles, and I love that she is successful as a powerful woman leader.

What does it take to shift to a new narrative about women, leadership and power? It is hard to shift to new narratives.  The grip of the old story is engrained in us in ways we do not even know.  Even as we step into doing things differently, the pull of the old narrative, embedded in culture which is designed to perpetuate itself, is strong.  It takes intentionality, vulnerability and the willingness to be in good inquiry and co-learning with each other.  It takes a re-valuing of the feminine in all that it has to offer and a new understanding of what it means to be powerful. It takes the willingness to let go of control to step into patterns and practices that invite the best of our thinking, leadership and accountability to show up, the spaces were emergence lives.

It takes men embracing principles of the feminine and it takes women seeing and stepping into the strength of these principles in ways that show how powerfully they can shift the shape of the narrative we are living into now.  It means bringing for the best of the masculine principles into this rebalancing dynamic and acting with curiosity, generosity and compassion.

This inquiry is one I am excited to be exploring at a one day forum in San Francisco on June 7, 2013, which is an invitation to be in a deep dialogue together with other women about women and power, the next evolution of leadership.  There we will be exploring questions like:

1) What is the new definition of success we need to create so women can truly thrive in their personal and professional lives?

2) How do we gain the confidence and courage we need to express ourselves more authentically as professional women?

3) How do we more fully step into our leadership to vision and co-create new, more powerful systems and patterns in the worlds we live and work in?

4) What are the feminine qualities, when we as women express them more fully, make us more powerful leaders?

5) What becomes possible when we as women elevate each other and what is required to support or grow this over time?

6) What is the desired impact we want to have in our organizations and in the world?

7) What are the prejudices and stereotypes women hold which, if they shifted, would create better opportunities for women to thrive?

I am curious to see what will emerge from the inquiry and how we might set in motion, or accelerate what is already in motion, supportive leadership practices that invite the best of who we are as human beings to show up, individually and collectively.

Gossip – Harmful or Helpful?

The stories we tell shape our experiences as much and more than the experiences themselves.  For anything we experience, there are a myriad of ways the story of it can be told.  How the story is told illuminates a lot about us as individuals and about the culture of the organizations we work for.  Many of the stories told are not done so with thoughtfulness or intentionality and this makes them very revealing for anyone paying attention and even for people not so tuned in.  You want to know about a culture of an organization, pay attention to the stories told by those who work there and interact with them.

Recently I’ve been working with an organization that is struggling with morale, trust and relationships, sparked by many challenges the organization has experienced over the last few years.  The topic of gossip is a central theme and it has us all curious.  It is not the first time I have come across this in teams or organizations that are challenged or even labeled as dysfunctional.


There are many questions and assumptions in this group that are not unique to it.  How do you know when it’s gossip?  Is all gossip bad?  How do we share information?  How is gossip different than information sharing?  It’s how we decompress.  We deal with such pressing issues, it’s only natural we would gossip.

It is not “only natural” that we would gossip.  There are lots of choices around how to share information and even whether to share.  Gossip is a form of information sharing that goes beyond the facts and beyond the attempt to understand someone or something.  It has an edge.  It is often malicious.  It has the potential to impact other’s reputations in destructive ways.  Generally when gossip is a pattern in an organization or team individuals know they are just as likely to be gossiped about next as the current focus of the gossip.  And, they do it anyway.

Gossip is one way of creating alliances.  These alliances are often formed to keep others out or to target individuals in pejorative and harmful ways.  It shows up in win/lose cultures and is way of trying to win – at all costs.

It is mobile as things do not remain confidential but spread rapidly.  When gossip is rampant it often has truth, half truth and complete untruth in it and it is hard to distinguish which is which. It focuses on private and personal affairs, attributes, assumptions and insinuations about others.  There is an energy to gossip which feels conspiratorial, sucks people in but also leaves people feeling bad about themselves – sometimes without knowing why.  Sometimes it traverses into bullying.

In the organization I was working with recently, some wondered why I would focus on gossip when the pressing issues were clearly laid out in a mind map of patterns and themes distilled from employee responses to a survey.  Some named leadership and accountability as the two most significant issues.  I agreed.  I also named gossip, role clarity, boundaries as a few others and I kept coming back to gossip, much to the disbelief of some.  Patterns of gossip are also about control and power.  This comes out of the formation of alliances, being able to shut people down and pushing agendas that are of interest to a few but maybe not unilaterally to everyone.  If we can shift the pattern of gossip in an organization, it becomes possible to shift other patterns as well.  Gossip detracts us from what more is possible.  It is energy and time consuming.

As we wrapped up our day I asked two questions for the closing circle: what is your commitment to changing the conversation here and what is the intentional story you want others to know about this organization?

Some of the comments about gossip were particularly illuminating.

“I gossip when I am afraid to go to someone directly.”

“I know it’s gossip when I am eager to contribute something to the conversation.”

“I gossip when I don’t think I am as good as someone else.”

“I feel awful when I gossip.  It’s yucky.  I will not do it anymore.”

“I do not like the person I am when I gossip and I do not want to end my career at this organization in this way.”

A lack of respect for others, is a lack of respect for self.  Our outer world is a reflection of our inner world. What we say about others says far more about us than about them.

We stop gossip when we decide to stop participating in it.  When we become curious instead of playing in the judgment which characterizes so much gossip.  When we become compassionate about the situation and the people involved.  When we refuse to send gossip on.  When we hold ourselves accountable to stop and when we hold others accountable by refusing to gossip with them, when we invite them into an inquiry about what is the purpose of the information they are sharing and are they inviting a conversation about how to strategize having conversations that matter with the people involved instead of about them.



When we stop filling the space between us with gossip we have the opportunity to fill that space with generosity, curiosity and compassion, with conversations that are meaningful and relevant and to focus on successes and the things we appreciate about each other and what we do.  When we cultivate this kind of foundation, we create the base from which to have the conversations we’ve been avoiding through gossip – conversations about leadership, accountability and the deep purpose of the work we are in.

Gossip is only helpful in seeing culture and identifying challenges.  It is not conducive to healthy workplaces or healthy relationships. When we replace gossip with intentional, appreciative conversations, we begin to create the conditions for more of what is possible, more of how we can serve the needs we have identified and a bonus is that we feel better about who we are and what we do.  This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in the best of ways.