Domino Effect Eiffel Tower

Create the Domino Effect to Overcome Obstacles – Insights from Al McDonald, US Trade Ambassador to GATT

Our job as leaders is to generate movement of groups towards a precise and worthy goal.

As individual contributors, excellence depended mostly upon our personal efforts. As we take on leadership responsibility, the complexity of our challenges multiplies.  We cannot resolve them on our own.

Great leadership implies being able to leverage, to generate a multiplier effect to your efforts. It is like the Domino Effect.

The Domino Effect

The Domino Effect states that a change in one behavior activates a chain reaction in related behaviors.  One small action instigates major change.

Big obstacles (such as resolution of conflict) are overcome by initial small moves (as in saying “hello”) which open up opportunities for intermediary steps (like a willingness to listen without judgement).

The key to mastering the Domino Effect lies in positioning each domino such that, when it falls, it impacts the next domino at its tipping point.

Check out this montage of the Domino Effect by the Eiffel Tower.  The first small domino impacts a slightly larger one, which then falls onto a bigger one, which…  Had the dominos been placed differently, they would have missed their powerful impact.

A Master in Leadership Leverage – Al McDonald

Al McDonald mastered the Domino Effect and knew how to place projects and people to connect at their tipping points.

Here is an example.

As US Ambassador to GATT (General Agreement for Tariffs and Trade), McDonald was mandated by President Carter to negotiate a global trade deal that favored US interests.

When he took on the role, negotiations were at a standstill even though his team included the best negotiation experts from each of the US Departments of ____ (Defense, Agriculture, Industry…)

If the situation were a game of dominos, they were all falling (the negotiators were doing “their job”) but instead of creating a Domino Effect and a significant impact, they landed in a flop.

“What is the tipping point? Where is the misalignment?” McDonald searched.


This post is in memory of my father, Alonzo L McDonald, who passed away one year ago. Here are photos which hung in his office.


Inherited Structure

McDonald inherited the conventional strategy for US trade negotiation success: let each expert maximize his gain.

However, efforts for individual Department gains undermined the benefit of the whole. Conflicting criteria of success ran rampant throughout the trade negotiation project.

Here is what happened. (*These examples reflect the concept and do not relay specifics of exact trade deals or responsibilities.)

When the US Department of Industry* hard-balled Asia on limiting car imports, the Japanese insisted more intensely on imposing tariffs on American grain.

When the US Department of Defense* secured a victory in limiting nuclear weaponry of Middle Eastern countries, they repudiated with increase in controls over oil access and prices.

The pursuit of maximum individual gain sabotaged their common objective to the point where all parties would lose.

Leadership Leverage in Action – Revamped Structure

This is where McDonald shifted the playing field.

He redefined responsibilities so that ALL negotiators held double interests: that of their own department AND that of the entire US delegation.

The US delegates for corn* maintained his responsibility for maximizing the interests of American farmers AND took on the responsibility of reaching an accord for ALL US good with Argentina and Uruguay.

Those responsible for arms trade* were also accountable for securing agreement on ALL US goods with major European countries.

The dual focus shifted the way negotiators played their cards.  Delegates personally experienced the detriments of their colleagues’ deal greed and inflexibility.  By replacing a silo structure with a wholistic one, McDonald initiated an awareness shift in among the US delegates.  By changing their perspective, he revamped their approach to negotiation.

Your Leadership Leverage

Where are your organization’s goals mutually conflicting?

Inconsistencies can exist at all levels of an organization, and if they were simple to identify, we would have none!

How can we put the finger on those areas of misalignment?

In the manager training program, “Be the manager you dream of having” we work on two frameworks: OKR’s (Objectives & Key Results) and Decision Impact.

These tools bring teams together to describe, debate, and decide upon the desired outcomes of goals.  We further explore obstacles to reach these optimal results.  When these potential obstacles reveal internal competition, managers know to revisit the goals.

We identify when low performance may be due to conflicting objectives rather than a team member’s lack of competencies or motivation.

The Tipping Point

Managing Motivational

McDonald addressed how to motivate senior civil servants to change their long-standing negotiating practices.

Let’s take a look at the organizational structure.

Officially, the US delegate for negotiations on grains reported to the Ministry of Agriculture.  In recognition for a successful job on the GATT, he would rise in the ranks of the Department of Agriculture.  He anticipated that what got him here (promotions in the Dept of Agriculture) would take him to his next step (again a promotion within the same ministry).

McDonald tapped into the informal influences and super-imposed a new motivational structure. 

He did not have the power to change compensation, bonus, or reporting structure.  He could, however, call people out as excellent team players or people whose commitments he questioned.   He had the power of exposing the “unsaid,” and used the personalized recommendation letter to wield this influence.

Your Leadership Leverage

You too, as a manager, have the power to reinforce a reputation.  Many employees and team leads tend to focus on weaknesses.

However, it is great achievements that inspire.

We all seek recognition for our contributions yet ranting on about our own accomplishments sounds like boasting.  That is why it is so important to broadcast another’s outstanding performance. Recipients open an email when its entitled “Recommending ____ (person’s name) to you for their excellent work.” They want to read it.

I would LOVE for my boss to receive such a note!  Wouldn’t you?

To publicize another person’s successes requires a commitment of attention, time, and effort. These rank among the most precious resources, even more rare than money.

The way we speak of our team members builds our reputation as well.  We influence when and how people listen.

When a boss known for her/his high standards praises someone’s work, we listen. Those comments speak loudly.

When that same boss highlights the performance of some yet remains silent regarding others, that too speaks loudly.  McDonald would describe them as “not making the cut.”

Since the GATT negotiation stakes were high, McDonald made it clear he would expose delegates who sought individual department gain over commitment to overall US international policy.

You can bet that anyone receiving a message with the following title will open it QUICKLY: “Concerns with allegiance of team members.  Your insights appreciated.”

I dread my boss receiving such notice!  How about you?

Leadership Leverage Insights

Al McDonald’s example teaches us to observe, understand, and shape connections.

  • Who talks to whom and what do they decide?
  • What does each player seek and to what do they aspire? What frustrates them and what are their fears?
  • How can I facilitate reaching aspirations? And, depending upon the level of resistance and importance of the stakes, how can I alleviate or intensify fears?

McDonald’s genius also lies in overlaying formal communication pathways with unofficial ones. These are the game changers.

Leadership Leverage “chez vous”

Are your managers struggling to grasp the intricacies of influence?  How much faster could your company advance if your young managers effectively align efforts and generate constructive Domino Effects?!

Let’s talk.  Drop me a line and we will schedule a quick call.

Plentiful harvest. How to measure manager success

How do you measure your success as a manager?

How do you know you are a great manager?  How do your 1st time managers know they are doing well?

Let us rephrase the question: how fruitful are you as a manager? Do you and I reap 1x, 10x, or 100x fold of our efforts?  More importantly, how to maximize our fruitfulness?  

Julie Zhuo, previously VP of Design at Facebook, defines a manager’s role is “to get better outcomes from a group of people working together.”

Yes. AND…

I also believe that EVERY manager is in the leadership-development business.  Our purpose is to BOTH secure KPI’s through teamwork AND to develop individual team members…to eventually take our role as we too move on to tackle and grow through new challenges.

The way we reach these combined goals is simple: through our day-to-day interactions.

Consider the metaphor of the farmer.  In order to reap, he sows.

What do you sow through the goals you set AND in the way you communicate and follow through on them?

What do you sow through the way you handle conflict AND the way you model inclusion?

What do you sow through your responses when the going gets tough?

Reaping Managerial Success

Here is an activity from my manager training workshops to bring perspective to these questions.

Look at this image. I ask the mangers, “Why are these farmers not reaping wheat?”

Reap what you sow

They answer

  • The soil is not optimal for wheat
  • They have vines and sunflower seeds, so they sowed what they have
  • They do not need wheat

… and finally, someone mentions

  • They did not sow wheat

Exactly.  If wheat is what you want, then sow it!

As a manager it means

  • If you want your team to take initiatives, be the example of initiative-taking and walk them through the process you take
  • Are you seeking qualities like grit and resilience in your colleagues? Then, be open with your obstacles and share your strategies to overcome them
  • When you expect your team members to be innovative, ask questions that invite reflection and LISTEN for the answer

Are you sowing sunflower seeds or sour grapes?!

What is your managerial style?

Instead of giving the tough feedback that will stimulate growth, do you keep quiet?

Do you think you are being kind by giving choices (“Are we good?” “How about if you send me document beforehand?”) when, really, there is no option?!

Think back to the last five moments of tension in the day.  How often were you seeking blame, criticizing team members without taking time to train them, feeding conflict, and more?

Reaping More Managerial Success

The activity with my trainees continues.  I show the following image and ask, “How come some farmers harvest by machine and others by hand?”

Sow much, reap much

Again, answers vary:

  • Some have money and others do not
  • The terrain is easier to use machines
  • Field sizes are different

It only makes sense to reap by machine when the crop is plentiful.  If you sow little, there is no need to invest for abundance.

Training Your Young Managers

I come alongside start-up CEO’s to train their 1st time managers.  The fruitfulness of the new managers multiplies is vital for the impact of the entire organization.

How abundantly are your young managers sowing?

My motivation for training 1st time managers lies in these two objectives:

  • To help young managers build self-awareness so that they are aware of what they transmit to their team members
  • To equip them with tools to richly transmit the skills and capabilities they wish to develop in their teams

How well are your young managers doing in BOTH reaching their KPI’s AND developing their team?  What is most challenging? What are you doing about it?


Check out the next article in the series on Leadership Legacy.  I present a framework which makes multiplying your impact simple.

SpaceX launch - think scaling up

Startup scaling challenge: to turn talented workers into motivating managers

What is THE MISTAKE to avoid when scaling your startup?

The thing that’s like the toothpaste that you cannot put back in the tube, no matter what.

The threat to avoid is turning your talented workers into crappy managers.

It’s your job as CEO to get this right.

You want performance-oriented team leaders who connect with and inspire their teams.  You seek the horizontal relationships true to your culture that brought you this far.

And yet, you need the processes that will take your company further.

How are you building up the next generation of managers without losing your entrepreneurial soul?

It’s like the relay race. To scale, you run facing forward. You need your leaders to put the baton into your hand, without your having to slow down or turn back. You seek a seamless connection between your vision and your leaders’ implementation capabilities.

There is a hitch.

You hired specialists.  Top experts in their field. They are confident when it comes to writing code or building a sales funnel. But they don’t have the know-how (and often nor the confidence) to inspire and develop people.

In the Beijing Olympics, the US relay teams were the favorites. Their runners scored the best individual times. Yet they dropped the baton…and the French team won.

Don’t you want the same confidence as this CEO?

“I have the conviction that we can go far together.”
– Benoit Dupont, CEO of WeMainain
after a team training by Denise Dampierre

Get Better Results as a Team

Stay with me as I share essential challenges in bringing up to speed young managers of scaling startups.

Challenge 1: To know that “what got them here” will not “take them there”

We are talking gut-knowledge, not head-knowledge.

Your new managers previously excelled as individual contributors. Many have come through an educational and professional environment where success depended upon their own performance.

Doing more of what they were doing well propelled them to the next level. Success depends upon their personal efforts.

Oops. Success depended (past tense) on their personal efforts.

What got you here won't get you there

The playing field changes when stepping into managerial shoes.

“Your job, as a manager, is to get better results from a group of people working together.”
– Julie Zhuo, previously VP of Design at Facebook

How do we learn that past practices don’t dictate future results?  It’s through the daily challenges in motivating people, organizing workload, and assuring quality outcomes the realization hits.

How can you, as CEO, speed up the process?  Help them take a step back.  But, do you have the time and energy to do so…when you are sprinting at full speed?!

Challenge 2: To equip upcoming managers with tools

Great managers cast a compelling vision, communicate it clearly, and organize to make it happen.  They bring purpose to the job, connect as people, and set up processes to optimize workflow.

These are learned capabilities.  You may have gained them on the job.  It takes time.  As the CEO of a scaling startup, time is money.

It’s worth the investment to quickly equip your managers with skills that both assure performance and build team spirit.  Give them a head start

  • to set and communicate priorities
  • to lead 1:1 meetings that uncover obstacles and boost motivation
  • to manage their emotions and those of others
  • to redirect a team member respectfully and effectively

It gives them a confident kickoff.

Employees who feel they belong and know they are valued want to contribute more.

The last thing you want is to promote your top performers, to blunder the navigation to manager, and to have them leave for the competition!

Challenge 3: To instore new habits

Knowing what to do is a first step.  That’s not enough.

You want your managers to create new habits so that building team performance becomes as natural as driving a car.

It means

  • To learn to take a step back
  • To not take challenges personally
  • To seek solutions instead of searching for blame
  • To listen first then, if necessary, to propose solutions

What you DON’T need

The easiest of these three needs to fill is N°2 – to equip with tools.  That’s what many management training programs do.

Scaling startups don’t need another program to build the right skills.  It’s good, but not enough. 

Your upcoming managers have knowledge.  They know it is important to build trust and listen actively.

But are they convinced of the need to change? (Challenges N°1)  How to keep them going when they try new tools which don’t work as expected the first time around?  (Challenge N°3)  These implicate a paradigm shift.

What they lack is know-how. 

  • How to act when you discover a team member made a mistake…AND how to respond this time so that next time errors surface quickly to get nipped in the bud
  • How to listen…when the other person lacks confidence to speak his mind
  • How to tap into collective intelligence…so that team members own the decisions

The MOST VALUABLE solution

Researchers Robert Eichinger and Michael Lombardo present the 70:20:10 model of learning.

They estimate that 70% of learning stems from experience, 20% from mentoring and personalized feedback, and 10% from formal courses and learning.

 10-20-70 model Learning development

The best manager-training program to help you scale up will include

  • a major focus (70%) on finding solutions to current and actual challenges
  • a personalized training plan (20%) to set growth goals and track progress
  • an easily accessible ressource for building new skills (10%)

That’s why I launched Boost Team Trust – Devenir le manager que vous avez rêvé d’avoir
(Yes, the program is in French.  I am American-born and a long-time Parisian.  Scaling startup clients from my in-person training encouraged me to launch out with an online solution.)

Through a 6-month online training and growth-sprint program, participants learn, Practice, and GROW as leaders.

Make a personalized Growth Plan

We begin with a 1:1 coaching session to set personal and team growth goals for the next three months.  We revise these in another 1:1 discussion the middle of the program, and reconvene at the close of six months to acknowledge progress.   These goals are personalized and can include

  • To set group guidelines together
  • To hold meaningful and regularly 1:1 meetings.  Meaningful means _____ (measurable)
  • To develop my internal network by ______ (action plan)

Learn tools when you want and when you need them

Participants have 24/7 access to training videos on managerial skills centered around tools

  • To build the growth mindset
  • To strengthen purpose
  • To connect with people
  • To create efficient processes

Solve Real Problems Together

Every two weeks we tap into collective intelligence to resolve a member’s sticky situation:  a team member is not satisfied, again – Teams that are supposed to collaborate still do not see eye to eye.This is one of the most appreciated moments of the program.

  • Young managers realize others share their challenges
  • They discover they can find solutions to other people’s problems…and learn to transpose those same ideas to their situation
  • They come to realize some of their own behaviors which might be contributing to the complication

Stay accountable and be encouraged to Keep Growing 

Every week, we connect on the community to set and review the week’s top three action steps to keep advancing towards long term goals while also managing the day to day.

Get YOUR team ready to scale

Are you aiming to take your company to the next level?  Do you want to make sure you team does not drop the baton?

I help talented, ambitious contributors become the managers they dream of having.

Run your relay with confidence.

Let’s talk.  Send me an email to set up a call.

US men’s relay team at Beijing. It takes more than individual champions to build a winning team.


Women Cambridge Crew Team Spirit

Keep team spirit…especially since we are STILL in remote work

Stay Together & Keep Motivated…even with social distancing

Group cohesion used to be easy when you could drop by each other’s desk.

Now, team spirit is work!

Your team needs encouragement.

Employees overcame the technical glitches and found ways to connect when their Internet connection suddenly dropped.  They valiantly try to stay connected when distracted by kids and spouse (the biggest kid of all!).  We all feel flooded by emails and messages that it’s hard to focus.

YOU seek fresh perspective.

You are surrounded by the four same walls.  Literally!

It’s lonely enough to be a leader when the team is together.  It’s even more solitary with remote work!

Tap Into Collective Intelligence & Get Solutions to Online Team Spirit

Meet with other professionals from different industries and backgrounds to share and swap solutions.

Come away with do-able actions steps that you would not have thought of yourself.

Team Spirit with remote work

When: Thursday, April 2 at 6:30 pm

Where: Online via Zoom


Moderated by Denise Dampierre

Participants include managers and high potentials from diverse backgrounds and mutliple companies.  Possiblity to join meeting anonymously.

What you get: 

  • Discover do-able action steps from professionals you wish you could meet
  • Get proven ways to work effectively and without distractions
  • If you’ve been struggling with coordinating your team, this solution-finding is for you
  • Prove your own intelligence and value as you participate in the brainstorming
  • Or ignore this and keep struggling 😞!
Video collective intelligence

Enter your mail address below to join the collective intelligence online workshop.

Conference call

Collective Intelligence Solutions to Remote Work – Part 2/2

Hi.  This post is a follow up to yesterday’s article on the collective intelligence brainstorming to Keep Team Spirit with Remote Work.

Effective Collective Intelligence Process

There is a process to make collective intelligence brainstorming EFFECTIVE!  Ours includes

  1. Getting into a mindset of solution-finding (vs. blame or analysis).  The focus is the future and what we can do.  Options and actions.
  2. Specifying the challenge to overcome.  Keeping team spirit is great…and a vast topic.  So we focused on the actual situation of one gentleman and how his current approach led to frustrations and that he wanted to try something new.
  3. We brainstormed solutions and opted to focus on four “families” of new ideas
    • Empathy building
    • Smooth organization – (This is where yesterday’s post paused…)
    • Building engagement – (…and here we resume)
    • Assuring performance
  4. Choosing an Action Plan. This process is FYA (vs. FYI).  For Your ACTION.  To move forward, take a step.  Then another.
  5. Follow through.  Research has shown that progress ranks among the top motivators.  Progress can be measured ONLY when there is a before and an after.  We note “before” because that’s when we feel the pain.  When our solution works…too often we move onto the next challenge before noticing how we successfully overcame an obstacle.  Follow through helps measure progress.
  6. Denise’s Action Plan & Commitment to YOU.  (Read on 😍)

Solutions (continued)


In times of crisis, the need is leadership.  YOU!

Your presence is the glue that will keep the team together.

What to share during these moments of contact?

To inspire your team with a clear, purpose-filled goal.

How does their work fit into the big picture of your company?  How will their sacrifice contribute to benefiting others during the crisis at hand?

Our young employees, in particular, seek purpose-driven careers.  NOW is the time to step up.

Additionally, team members KNOW challenges exist.  They want authenticity on your part and the invitation to contribute to finding a solution.

Which leads to the next way to connect:

To listen to your team.

Sounds easy?  It’s tough!  Many of us have been trained in a let-me-fix-it mentality that we don’t even realize we enter “fixing mode”!

Here were some questions raised that help leaders listen:

  • “What went well yesterday?  What went less well?  What should we change?”
  • “On a scale of 1 to 10, how did we do on ______ (transitioning to remote work)? What could we do to move from a 6 (for example) to a 7?”


Sustainable businesses perform.  Period.

Connecting is nice, but not at the cost of quality.  For the benefit of excellence!

Here were three related suggestions to maintain performance.

To, collectively, make the list of doable tasks needed to reach specific goals.

What’s so unique about this?  The collective element.  We are all facing novel dilemmas.  It is unreasonable to assume that the boss knows best.  Each of us only glimpses a limited perspective.  We cover more bases and avoid more details from falling through the cracks through a collective effort to break down goals into doable tasks.

To translate tasks into deliverables.

In the office we can walk by the desk and see progress.  Not so with remote.  So, how to assuage the need for some control on account of the boss with the need for the team mate’s flexibility?  Deliverables can be measured.  Either they are completed or not.

Instead of “Work on ______,”  both the leader and the team member will benefit from, “I need X.  When can you get it to me?”

Once the tasks are listed, to invite the team to choose their responsibility.

There will be “fun jobs” and more tedious ones.   No employee enjoys being assigned the latter…even though they all realize the task needs to be completed.

It’s highly effective to place the list in front of all and to wait. “These jobs need to be done.  Who will do what?”

Example at work

This worked with a start-up developper team during one of my trainings.  One person regularly complained of having to do work she did not enjoy.  Once she had mastered the basics, she should not have to be assigned those more mundane roles.   She had gained a reputation as a complainer.

In a collective solution-finding, she chose the option to list tasks and for each to volunteer for the work for which they were skilled.  Both she and her colleagues realized they could step up .  She could improve her attitude. They could also share the load of more basic tasks.  They could also all take a step back and consider how to minimize the repetitive work.

Example at home

During one vacation my family of four sons was joined by my brother’s family with triplet boys.

7 boys under 10!  That’s a lot of cleaning, clearing up, etc.

We made a list of special chores:

  • vacuuming under the table after every meal
  • putting away shoes in the front hallway so that we don’t trip
  • helping out for 10 minutes for “whatever needs to be done”

I had to keep myself from smirking when these tykes called out, “I WANT vacuuming!”

Just do it – Planning Action

Having established several viable options to keep team spirit with remote work, we turned back to our gentleman leader who had presented his situation.

What will you choose to put into action?

He chose two solutions (they both happen to be from yesterday’s post!)

  • To share videos of their workspace and thus to build empathy
  • To batch information and thus to reduce time spent in responding to each other and to increase time in value-added contribution

Follow Through

People work on what gets measured.  Follow through does that.  We set a time to reconnect.

Denise’s Action Plan & Commitment

As of today, I am launching #ResilienceBuilders.

Every day, before 6:30 pm

Find it on the Facebook group #SafePlaceToTalkAboutWork

Share your success of a tough job well done. 😨🙃😀😂!!!!

FB Group #SafePlaceToTalkAboutWorkResilience Builder 1

Conference call

Collective Intelligence Solutions to Remote Work – Part 1/2

Thanks to those who signed up and attended the event, “How to keep team spirit with remote work?”

Here is the 6-minute video, which gives you a cue to what we discussed and shared.  FYI, the video is posted on the Facebook group #SafePlaceToTalkAboutWork which I am launching now.  Join us as a Founding Member!

And, yes, this entire article is also posted on #SafePlaceToTalkAboutWork 



I began sharing how our mindset keeps us in a limited perspective. We all have blinders of sorts. And the result is that we tend to treat problems in the same way…

“If Your Only Tool Is a Hammer Then Every Problem Looks Like a Nail”

Abraham Maslow

Well, our office hammer does not work with remote!

Defining the Specifics

Remote working is a LARGE ISSUE. One of the attendees shared his leadership style and why remote was challenging for him. (Check out the video 😉)

Does this apply to you too?

  • More comfortable dealing with “rational” issues than with feelings
  • Used to rigor…which he interpreted as control
  • At work, when he talked to team members, they were present.  Now when he gets them on the phone he wonders if he is interrupting them…and he’s not sure if he’s interupting professional work or the tasks of living in confinement.  He feels disoriented.
Remote Work collective intelligence
My notes in mind map.


With his concerns in mind, we looked at four “categories” of solutions

  • Empathy
  • Organization
  • Engagement
  • Performance

It is true that we need to connect. It is also true that a business only exists if it can maintain a flow of revenue. We need BOTH people connection AND confirmation of results.

To stay focused, we looked at one solution for each of these.  There are MANY more that surely you all use.  Please share them either below or on #SafePlaceToTalkAboutWork.


Empathy, one of those overused words, is about recognizing that the other person has a different perspective and trying to understand that viewpoint.

To build empathy we settled on this solution

To invite the team to share a 30-second video of their surroundings.

The goal is to better understand the personal challenges that each of the team members is currently experiencing.  It is different to talk about it than to see it.

I connect with one colleague; she sits on the floor in a hallway to find privacy away from her two youngsters!  I still expect quality output, yet seeing her crouched with a smile reminds me to also notice and remark on her contributions. 


We focused on ways to respect each other through planning on the calendar and how often to share information.

To establish regular meetings scheduled in advance.

When juggling mutliple schedules (parents taking care of kids, doing the grocery shopping which now takes forever, catching some daylight rays…) team members are now less flexible.  One would think the opposite; they are at home!  But no.

It is easier to cancel a meeting than it is to try and get everyone together at the last minute.  In fact, it was considered respectful to plan ahead.

To batch information sharing.

This idea was my personal favorite because I related to the challenge of being bombarded by multiple notifications on email, Slack, LinkedIn, Facebook… and more.  Should I respond then?

And when I tried to find the information, what a mess!  On which channel had that tidbit been shared?!?! 🤔

The information batching meant asking these two questions:

  • Can this information wait to be shared at our regularly scheduled weekly meeting?
    if not
  • Can this information wait to be shared at our scheduled daily meeting?
    if not, then and only then, to contact the team member

If you will contact, then do it all the way.  Not an email that you hope they will answer right away.  Go ahead and pick up the phone or connect on video conference.

To be continued tomorrow….

Corona Virus imposes remote work

How will your team succeed in remote work?

On Monday, a friend announced, “We have our first case of corona virus at the office.  Our company just announced: ‘Presence Optional’. I’m now working remote.”

On Thursday, President Macron of France (I live in Paris) announced that all schools (from day care through universities) will be closed to limit the spread of the COVID-19.

We all now face remote work.  Remote work for the entire team. 

Remote work imposes “new-normal” behaviors.

Remote Work vs. At the Office

What is it like to work full-time remote?

Remote Work:  Individual Benefits

We gain

  • Flexibility with time management
    (you can launch a laundry between conference calls 😉)
  • No commuting time
    (More sleep😴)
  • More time with the kids 😋🙃🙄😖😠
    (Mixed emotions…to say the least!)
  • Savings on meals
    (…yet the distraction of constant access to the fridge…🤔)

Remote Work:  Team Losses

We also lose some of the benefits we might take for granted when we regularly interact with team members

  • Sensing colleagues’ mood
    (“Euh…Let me come back in 5 minutes…”)
  • Getting instant feedback on project progress
    (You walk by their desk and see that they are working on it.)

  • and
  • Feeling part of the team ⭐
    (“Ready for lunch/the meeting?”
    “What do you think of…?”)

Who’s Got Remote Team Spirit?

Technology tools will allow us to stay in touch via vision and audio.  Yet without touch or smell, we lack the human connection which builds trust and belonging.

Remote Team, We want YOU

Employees with soft skills and emotional intelligence will shine as team leaders.  They can keep up a positive connection and professional motivation over weeks of physical distance. 

Will that be YOU?!

Little annoying behaviors become big ones with distance.  Let’s look at two:


In the office: When Joe interrupts during a meeting, it is unpleasant, possibly even vexing.  And yet, we perceive his enthusiasm and give him the benefit of the doubt.

Later, at the coffee machine, we can mention that we too had been enthusiastic about the idea we were presenting.  To his, “Oh, I did not realize it!” we can respond, “Something to be aware of for a next time.  Cream or sugar?”  And the conversation moves on.

With remote work: When Joe interrupts on the phone, he is rude and self-imposing.  (This is a caricature…and notice how previously Joe’s actions were unpleasant whereas now his person is being judged!)  We shut down.  Why bother work with someone who appreciates us so little!

Following up to reconnect requires intentional effort.  Our paths no longer cross casually.  Do I make the phone call or not?  If this is the only topic of conversation, it feels like a reprimand.  Then we are the ones who are unpleasant work companions!

With remote working, “little” annoyances become like French cheese.  They stink with age!  Physical presence creates opportunities to nip differences in the bud.

Emotional intelligence will help you identify and resolve these teamwork-disrupting behaviors. 

How are you building your relationship skills savvy?


Your boss, Jane, has been anxious to receive the presentation you were finishing.  Satisfied with your work, you zoom it off.

No response.

Questions amass in your mind.  It is normal.  Humans fill in data void with impressions, oftentimes fears.  Did she receive it?  Did she look at it?  Is it good enough?  Is she not answering because I did such a bad job the she has to redo it but does not want to tell me?! We fill in the silence with worst-case scenario stories.

Here is what likely happened. Jane saw the report, was pleased to receive it, made a mental note to review it later, and continued with her current task.  It did not occur to her that focusing on her work (and thus not sending off a message acknowledging receipt) would deter you from your work.

On a time and mind management level, we need to know about next steps.  Is this project complete or will I have to return to it…and how soon?  Should I next concentrate on a task requiring one hour or half a day?

At the office we could drop our head in and ask, “When can you get back at me?”

In remote work, we can send yet another message…and risk more silence.

Besides, who wants to invest time in no-value-added correspondence such as, “Did you get my message?”  It feels like nagging.  It can be avoided!

No malice led to this frustration.  It is simply a lack of emotional intelligence skills.

How to Build Emotional Intelligence FAST?

As your team transitions into remote work, unexpected and challenging situations will surface.

YOUR response with emotional intelligence makes a difference!  So how to gain these soft skills fast?

One of the biggest barriers to mastering these soft skills is not realizing we need them.  In the examples above, both Joe and Jane were unaware.  They were acting “normally.“

We are living exceptional circumstances.  We now require “new-normal” behaviors.

And they will call on

  • Your humility
  • Your vulnerability

Sticky Situations and Constructive Responses

Here are some remote work situations you will likely encounter and corresponding constructive responses:


With imposed remote work, emotions will be running high.

Yours and those of team members (and those of the family team…. Have you tried working with kids running around and your partner complaining about the mess?)

✅ Find ways to calm yourself.  Integrate them into the day.  If you have children, teach your kids to do the same.  Coordinate “zen-time’ as well as work hours with your partner

Routines & Rituals

Remote work will get your routines, big and small, off kilter.

Your team might still meet virtually for the regular business brief, but you won’t pass by your colleagues’ desk to walk into the meeting room together.  Gone too is the pre-meeting banter that warms up the atmosphere and directs focus.

✅ Create opportunities for informal exchange as well as for formal communication.

✅ Revisit the purpose of your meetings and have very clear agendas.  Avoid letting folk get into the habit of multi-tasking during conference calls and meetings.

Control & Follow Through

How can you verify people’s efforts in remote work? If we loosen the grips of control, what will happen to quality?  

The goal is to develop intrinsic motivation in your team members.  This means paying attention to the way we communicate as well as to what is said.

“Content + PROCESS = Effective Communication”

Be vulnerable (Yikes!) with your team and let them know you might not be aware of your “controlling” behaviors.   Possibly create a sign  that invites discussion on your leadership and communication style. (an upside-down emoji 🙃, a request to pause 🆘, the words ‘Hummmmm. Encouraging?’)

✅ Learn to laugh more.  Laughter gives you and the other person those few nanoseconds required to calm down.

Laughter also releases endorphins, the “feel-good enzyme.”  In a study led by Robin Dunbar of Oxford University and reported in Scientific American, his team concluded “that the long series of exhalations that accompany true laughter cause physical exhaustion of the abdominal muscles and, in turn, trigger endorphin release. (Endorphin release is usually caused by physical activity, like exercise, or touch, like massage.)”

Just Do It…HOW?!

The above sound simple.  But how to be vulnerable without getting run over?  How to allow for critique without being ridiculed?

(I wrote more about this here:  How to be a team leader, even in a competitive workplace?)

Here is what I learned the hard way:

Be in a group

In a group, you gain outside perspective.  You have accountability to change and grow. We are humans, not robots. Transformation happens through relationships.

Learn step-by-step

Growing in emotional intelligence is like a journey. We can reach the same destination by going through different paths.  On our GPS we can choose various routes.  At each intersection we get to choose again what path to take.

Soft skill questions aboutnd with remote work
Which way to “Motivating-Leadership-Skills & Team-Engagement” ?

It takes courage to change. We climb a mountain one step at a time.  We gain soft skills in the same way.

The term “Soft skills” is a misnomer.
Soft skills are TOUGH to learn and STRENGHTEN relationships.

Plan for the long haul

Prepare yourself with encouragement and accountability to stay in the game.  You (and I and your team members) will mess up. We need help getting up, learning from mistakes, and getting back in the arena.

Humans are creatures of habit. Lasting change means breaking old habits and developing new ones.  That takes time and accountability.

Practice makes better.

So, what is the IDEAL SOLUTION? 😀

Get onboard with the BE YOUR TEAM’S M.V.P. (Most Valuable Player) program. It’s

  • Online training in emotional intelligence
  • Private community to ask questions to experts and peers
  • Coaching (individual and group) to set measurable growth goals and to stay on track

Interested?   to see if you qualify.


So, what are you doing to get your team successful in remote work?  Tell us below.




team leader

How to be a team leader, even in a competitive workplace?

Do you too find yourself managing colleagues?  It’s not just the boss who is the one to redirect a team member and give feedback on the quality of work.  It’s also you!

You might be working in an Agile team, or you have several bosses, or you are recently (or hope to be) promoted.  You were hired for your specific expertise and discover that managing people and their performance is expected from you…and it feels overwhelming, especially since you did not have the training!

If this resonates with you, read to the end of this (long !) post.

Loving work and life

“Denise, how do you simultaneously tell people they are doing the wrong thing and get them motivated to perform positively instead?

It’s novel, and I want to do it too.”

Comments like these help me realize how far I have come…and the (long and lonely)  journey traveled to become a “go-to person” to resolve relationship conflicts and to work effectively as a team leader.

What makes a great team leader?

What would it take to be your team’s most valuable player?  What does it look and sound like to be the person that bosses and colleagues WANT to work with?!

Is she/he the Superstar?

Many professionals enter the workforce wanting to prove their value.  (Who doesn’t?) It often translates into showing cohorts who is “better.”  Who works harder, longer, and attends more meetings.  

It’s a game of comparison and one-upmanship.  Not to one’s best potential self, but to others in the team.

Superstar Motto:
I am great by being better than you.
Admit my superiority.

As stellar celebrity, it is hard to celebrate colleagues’ contribution to the group’s performance.  Their success diminishes our stardom.

Yet star players still need to progress or be replaced.  To whom do they turn to grow and improve?

Not many folks.

Who sticks around to be reminded of their “lesser” status?

It’s exhausting, lonely, and, in our fast-paced world, vowed for failure.

When I graduated from Harvard Business School, I did not know of any other option than competition.  Of course, I had heard of win-win solutions but, in my entourage, where there was a winner, one would also find a loser.

Seeking superstardom often harms the team.  We talked about teamwork, yet we performed as individuals.

Are they born leaders?

Students I teach in business school ask me whether leaders are born or made.

by Dr Seuss
The superior Sneetches are born with stars on their bellies. Woe to the plain-bellied Sneetches! from “Sneetches on the Beaches” by Dr. Seuss

You have surely heard it said, “He’s a born leader.” (Hopefully you also heard, “SHE is a born leader” too!)

That is relegating people-management skills to characteristics like height or hair color.  You or I cannot change them.  We have them or we don’t.  Period.

Born Leader Motto:
I am a leader for life. Not you…ever.

But how does that function in our complex world and global economy?  How does it work for the American or French “born leader” when integrating Indians, Chinese, and Nigerians in her team?

Humm.  Awkward.

Our definition of “valuable team member” has evolved as technology rendered borders fluid.  When working with similar folk (all engineers, all of the same nationality or race…) we could imagine “one best process.”

Today, we face diversity and the most valuable employees are those that can connect with a wide variety of people, bring out the best in each, and integrate these differences into building ONE. TOP. PERFORMING. RESULT.

Team Leaders Build Strength
– theirs & others’

Studies now show that teamwork is like a muscle.  The more you use it, the stronger your collaboration skills.

Muscle Builder Motto:
What does not kill you or me
makes US stronger.

It sounds sooooo easy, yet this kind of teamwork requires humility, courage … over and over again.

Humility to admit a relationship challenge exists.  Courage to bring up and resolve the sensitive issue with the other person. Belief in the other person’s positive intent and in the possibility of an alternative outcome.

Here is an example.  A mentor of mine was honored to introduce a prominent female politician for a speech on gender equality.  After exposing her credentials, he closed his presentation saying, “She is with us today speaking about a subject close to her heart: opportunities for women.”

“If it is a worthy topic, should it not be close to men’s hearts too?” I wondered.

This one comment is no big deal.  Why not let it slide.

And yet…many such comments over days and months become demotivating.  Additionally, if I was bothered by the remark, others probably reacted to it as well.

Teamwork muscle-builders nip relationship challenges in the bud. (Scroll to the end of this post to find out what I did 😊)  They respectfully address vulnerable topics to gain clarity for all to move ahead.

How to become a TEAM LEADER?
Be the Most Valuable TEAM Player

Today, to get promoted, you need to know your expertise AND master teamwork skills (often called soft skills).

That’s quite a challenge when many of us face some these obstacles at work:

  • When a colleagues does not complete his work and it negatively impacts our performance
  • When we question our boss’s support. When you or I take initiatives (and therefore risks), would the boss have our back, or will we get the blame?
  • When we receive negative retributions (condescending comments during a meeting or being removed from the interesting projects)
  • When we have to sit through ineffective meetings where too many people attend, and previous decisions are called into question
  • When we walk on eggshells in anticipation of colleague’s or bosses’ rampant emotions
  • When our work is not recognized…or when someone else takes the recognition for our work

These situations invite competition, not collaboration.

Today, because of the fast-changing business climate facilitated by the Internet, organizations succeed by their capacity to learn and adapt quickly.  The most valued employees are those who can transform challenging situations into opportunities for teamwork.

M.V.P. (Most Valuable Player) Motto:
Transform challenges into opportunities
to learn & grow.

And it is transformative for oneself and for the team.  Wouldn’t you want these?

  • To give and get helpful and constructive feedback
  • To know where you stand and to ask for support
  • To be a contributor, not an order-taker
  • To have work recognized…and be motivated to take more initiatives
  • To manage emotions instead of being controlled by them
  • To have your time respected

When we can turn around a tense situation and bring collaboration and solutions as a team, it’s ENEGIZING for all.

It’s the thrill of leading a life of impact.  It’s the satisfaction of making a positive difference and creating a virtuous circle of enthusiasm among colleagues.


HOW to be a team player in a competitive work?

Yes, it is possible.  Yes, it is transformative.

Yes, there are skills to learn.  Yes, it’s confusing at the start.

Yes, it takes practice.  Yes, it takes getting back up after we fail.

And yes, it can be lonely.

What makes it soooooo hard to be a Most Valuable Team Leader at work?

Let’s look at how skills are built.

The Traditional (and less effective) Approach

Here is what often happens:

An employee with high-potential is sent off-campus for training in teamwork and leadership skills.  They learn about positive mindset, emotions management, active listening, delegation, connecting before correcting, effective meeting management, and more.   They leave the training INVIGORATED and ready to apply new communication tools.

Back in the office, reality hits.

She needs a colleague’s input in order to finish a project on time.  He gives her five reasons why he was not able to execute the task. She responds by countering each of the excuses.  The discussion focuses on the past.  She is frustrated because she cannot advance on the project because of another person’s fault.  He feels judged and not appreciated.

Wait!  What happened to the skills learned during the training?  Was there “connection before correction”?  Who practiced active listening?!

An opportunity to strengthen teamwork muscle just passed by…and no one noticed!!!  Everyone fell into habitual behaviors.

The Novel & Impactful Way

Learn 🤔🤓

Practice 😨🙃🙂

Grow 😃😍

As I look back on my career, I noted the turning points in becoming proficient in team building, overcoming conflicts, and developing mutually positive relationships.

  1. To realize I did not know how to motivate others

I began noticing moments when I was annoyed at others or myself, or when I was in the middle of a power play.  When I began naming these feelings, I realized there must be ways to prosper at work.  But how?

  1. To discover constructive communication tools

As I became interested in working more effectively and enjoyably with my colleagues, I became attentive to how we communicated.  I realized we used tools…like impatience, critique, or questions.  Some of these create connection while others result in distance and misunderstanding.

Learning constructive communication tools is foundational in building mutually respectful and fulfilling professional relations.

  1. To test and try the tools at work

The biggest step in the journey to a positive work environment is taking that first step of trying out a different approach to a recurring challenge.

That too was a process.  At first, I recognized missed opportunities.  “I could have managed that situation differently!”  It took weeks before I could recognize a negative relationship pattern and plan an alternative strategy.

I was alone trying to identify unhelpful habits and what triggered my responses.

It took stepping back from the day-to-day and a full agenda!  Introspection is WORK!  It is what Steven Covey describes as vitally important but not urgent.

Ah! I wished for a colleague with whom to review my actions and others’ reactions.  Even more, I wished for a sparring partner:  someone who could share a fresh perspective with me and that I could help too.

  1. To try again when the first attempt did not work

People are humans, not robots.  We do not have an “off/on” button for bad humor or for trust-building.  In other words, the same approach might not work at every time.

Abraham Maslow said,
“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

Creating a virtuous relationship cycle does not mean picking up a velvet cloth (in place of Maslow’s hammer) and treating every challenge as if it needed a good rub.

Not quite.

We each go through a process of trying to connect in a situation which had previously created stress.  And we use different tools according to the situation and the people involved.

Sometimes we recognize their emotions and manage ours.  Other times we listen and ask questions with a goal for understanding.  Some moments we might even admit that we may have contributed to a misunderstanding.

With practice we learn how to handle various instances.  Until then, we test and try.

When we resolve an issue, it feels AWESOME.  When our attempt failed to get the desired result, we feel discouraged…and even vulnerable.

  1. To get support…to keep on trying again & again

Don’t follow the Lone Ranger.  Be a Beatles groupie instead.

“Get by with a little help from my friends.” – The Beatles

I love this video of the beginner martial artist.  He made it, thanks to the insistence of his coach and the encouragement of his buddies!!!

We need that too.  Folk who tell us we can do it when we barely believe in ourselves and fall back into critique or judgement.  A team to celebrate with us when we succeed in being the team leader we want to be.

Become Your Team’s Most Valuable Player

This is the program I am now developing.


Online Training – 24/7 access

The online training modules (24/7 access) teach you the mindset, self-awareness, communication & soft skills, and insights to become your team’s Most Valuable Player.


Weekly Group Coachings

Every week, we gather online for a group coaching to resolve together a workplace challenge:

  • A colleague who lags behind on his commitments
  • A person to whom we repeat, repeat, and repeat the same request
  • Someone who makes demotivating comments…maybe without even realizing it
  • A request for a raise

It’s a collective intelligence activity that boosts novel thinking and results in creative solutions.  We all gain in confidence and energy!


1-on-1 Progress check up – every 2 months

We’ll set YOUR own growth objectives to be the leader YOU want to be in YOUR organization.

Secret Facebook Group – 24/7 access

We are an online community meeting through a secret Facebook group.  You can join anonymously.  This is a safe space to talk about work.  (Your “toxic” colleagues won’t know what you think of them!)

It’s our space to ask questions, share insights, and get encouragement as we test, try, and grow.

Wanted: Super-motivated pilot testers

The program is still in finalization stage of the personalized follow-through and coaching program.  As a believer in collective intelligence, I want to build with pilot users.

If this is your situation:

  1. You were recently promoted and realize the need for leadership skills
  2. You have a new boss and are trying to find your place
  3. You are working in an Agile team and want to collaborate better
  4. You have been in the same position for several years and seek a promotion


  1. You are super motivated
  2. You are ready to make changes in your life within the next 4 months (or now)
  3. You would like to be coached as you as you apply new skills and turn them into positive habits

Please connect by filling out the form below.

I look forward to speaking together (and if you are in Paris to even meeting in person).

Si vous êtes francophone, SVP écrivez-moi en français.  Je le considérerais comme un signe de respect.  Vous me respectez en m’accordant la liberté d’écrire dans ma langue natale … et je souhaite vous rendre la même considération.

Maybe this program is not for you but you have someone with high potential in mind.  Please forward them this email!

P.S. How did I respond to the presenter who introduced the woman speaker talking about gender initiatives?

I SHOT UP my arm during the Q & A period and asked, “You introduced our speaker by saying that gender intiatives are an issue close to her heart.  She has devoted much of her talk to the proven benefits of diversity in the workforce.  Shouldn’t this be a topic on the hearts of men too?!”

He smiled and responded, “Point well taken.  Thank you.”

Coffee grains, ground, creme

What does cultural transformation look, sound, and taste like?! Insights by Juan Amat, GM JDE Coffee

Juan Ignacio Amat joined Jacobs Douwe Egberts (JDE) as General Manager France a year ago, after earning his stripes during 14 years at Pepsico.  Amat was attracted to the vibrant coffee market, the rich heritage of the longstanding brands (L’Or, Jacques Vabre, Senseo…), and the opportunity to build a culture of empowerment in this new company formed by a merger in 2015.

Nathalie Rolland, the Communications Manager who has been with JDE since before the merger, joined us for the discussion.

Denise Dampierre (DD): Juan, as GM of JDE France, what three numbers keep you up at night?

Juan Ignacio Amat, General Manager France JDE CoffeeJuan Amat (JA):  Denise, I sleep well, even when I drink coffee!

Here are the key numbers I track:

  1. The growth of the coffee market with respect to the rest of the dry food business. We want to keep adding customer value.
  2. Financial performance figures such as top line, bottom line, and cash.
  3. Employee engagement.

DD: How do you measure employee engagement?

JA:  We launched our first annual employee engagement survey a year ago.  That gave us a baseline.  These surveys are especially relevant when compared over time. Our second annual survey is underway.

We also developed a tool to test the engagement temperature every month during the company Coffee Talk.   The entire company is invited to a one-hour business presentation, Q & A, and learning event.  At the close the Coffee Talks, we measure engagement by asking employees whether they would recommend JDE to their entourage.

We define “Team Spirit” (“Solidarité” en français) as a sense of belonging and the freedom to bypass business silos and to go directly to the necessary sources for help and information.

We also put in place KPI’s for “Team Spirit” (“Solidarité” en français) which we define as a sense of belonging and the freedom to bypass business silos and to go directly to the necessary sources for help and information.

DD: How does one begin a cultural transformation? 

JA: We began by listening.  Our first employee engagement survey revealed that employees ranked Team Spirit among the most important values yet the least present in our day-to-day operations.

We begin cultural transformation by listening.

We realized that building Team Spirit would first require a change in mindset which could then translate into a different way of doing business.  We sought a way to generate self-questioning without destabilizing.

Nathalie Rolland (NR): It’s not easy to convey the notion of Team Spirit, and we want the teams to both intellectually and emotionally grasp this sense of mutual reliance.    In one of our Coffee Talks, we turned off all the lights so that everyone was in pitch black.  People naturally reached out for others and talked to each other to find their way.  We used this activity to demonstrate the limitations of working individually and in silos and the need for transversal cooperation.

JA: I was inspired by the 70:20:10 model for learning and development.

Aside:  According to researchers Robert Eichinger and Michael Lombardo, “Development generally begins with a realization of current or future need and the motivation to do something about it. This might come from feedback, a mistake, watching other people’s reactions, failing or not being up to a task – in other words, from experience.” They estimate that 70% of learning stems from experience, 20% from mentoring and personalized feedback, and 10% from formal courses and learning.

10-20-70 model Learning development

Back to Juan Ignacio Amat’s interview…

We wanted a culture that would develop Team Spirit through everyday exchanges, through the “70%.“

Most people, including JDE team members, think they are already performing well.  They don’t wake up in the morning and wonder how to make life miserable for others.  Instead, they rightly believe they are playing their part.  And they are proud of it.

Most people don’t wake up in the morning and wonder how to make life miserable for others!

Yet Team Spirit is about going the extra mile.  It’s about feeling such a sense of belonging that employees act as if they owned their business.  In fact, we call our employees “associates.”  Every JDE employee’s compensation is related to both financial performance and strength of human relations. At JDE, Team Spirit means investing the discretionary effort to exceed themselves and secure results.

To initiate the shift in mindset, we first invested in the “10%” through Strength-Based Management training for the Executive Committee, then the entire managerial level, and now every associate.

It’s in the space between good and excellent that we generate the greatest improvement and impact.

Strength-Based Management propelled us to focus on excellence.  Conventional management practices and the French education system focus on fixing what is wrong.  Seeking strengths is counter-intuitive, especially for a company that is as results-oriented as ours.  We used to seek out the numbers in red to scrutinize what’s behind them.

Strength-Based Management propelled us to focus on excellence. Seeking strengths is counter-intuitive, especially for a company that is as results-oriented as ours.

I appreciate the forward focus of strength-based management.  There is always room for progress. It’s in the space between good and excellent that we generate the greatest improvement and impact.  It’s incredibly more empowering and engaging than raising mediocre performance to satisfactory levels.

What you see is what you get
“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Dr. Wayne Dyer – photo from

Training our workforce is a real investment.  We are quickly reaping the return on investment.  People come up to me saying, “Juan, I felt so appreciated when colleagues highlighted my strengths, some of which I did not realize I had!” “I am so encouraged in my job.”  These are the first indication of increased amiability and engagement at work.

DD:  How do you measure success?

JA:  That’s where we create a plan for the “70%.”  What will everyday business look like?  The real testing time comes during our moments of challenge, when we are tired, and the workload is heavy, or performance goals are not met.

I already notice a changed behavior.  In our difficult moments there is less defensiveness and accusation, less blaming and finger pointing.  Instead we observe increased accountability, responsibility, and teamwork.  Yes, even in moments of tension!  Cultural change is starting, and we aim for even more.

DD: Do associates really expose mistakes?

JA: We are a company of Dutch heritage in France.  We can be very direct in saying when things are not working.  Our cultural transformation changes how we express and respond to bad news.  We use factual language with quantitative metrics to describe the challenge.  This keeps us from veering off track towards accusations.  Instead of hearing, “We can’t reach our goal because you ____!” we focus on finding solutions: “What do you need to ____?  What are you expecting from me?”  We aim to give our teams the means to say, “I need your help with A, B, & C resources.”

It’s not always easy.  Yet this is the spirit in which we aim to resolve conflicts.

Instead of hearing, “We can’t reach our goal because you ____!” we focus on finding solutions: “What do you need to ____?  What are you expecting from me?”

NR: This is a major culture change and we have had to learn skills like active listening.  Beforehand, we heard from managers, “Why didn’t you make your numbers?!” Now, with a focus on strengths, managers also inquire about our successes. “What helped you reach your goals?  What are you especially proud of this year?”

With this different kind of listening, we are more willing to receive performance-improvement feedback.

DD: What concrete actions have you put in place to imbed the strength-based, solidarity mindset?

JA: We created occasions which bring together people from multiple functions.  We created moments of conflict by design.

For example, none of the Executive Committee has his own office; we sit around a large table.  It facilitates exchange.  When one of us has a question, we simply look up to check if our colleague is available and talk the issue out.  It is a small change which makes a big difference.

Every week, I spend time one on one with each of my direct reports.  More formally, we meet as the Executive Committee every two weeks to keep abreast of our actions and to indicate where we need each other’s input.  We also try to connect personally to better understand our diverse perspectives.  This builds empathy.

We created occasions which bring together people from multiple functions.  We created moments of conflict by design.

We also created a weekly breakfast for our forty second line managers.  These are not the functional directors but those reporting to them.  I meet with a small group every week which allows them to strengthen their cross-functional relationships and me to know what is on peoples’ minds.  We take out the mega-special coffee machine and discuss informally.  I might not be able to resolve an issue they bring up; I am informed.  These breakfasts help me address any gap between what leadership is saying and what actually happens.

Every month, the sales and marketing teams meet to share what is going well, where they see opportunities for improvement, and on what projects they request for help from each other.

DD: In this cultural shift, managers will invariably need redirection.  How do you handle course correction for a team member?

JA: Here is what I do.

I begin by managing my emotions. I try to hold in frustration when we are dealing with a mistake and instead focus on being comprehensive and inquisitive. However, I let my anger show when I discover that we have had a longstanding problem that was covered up.

I begin by managing my emotions.  I try not to be too euphoric nor angry. I select the situations to express my emotions.  I try to hold in frustration when we are dealing with a mistake and instead focus on being comprehensive and inquisitive.  Let’s learn from what happened in order to avoid repeating the same mistake.  If an error recurs, it points to a lack of capability or attention. That is fixable.  I try to keep my tone of voice calm and understanding and to orient the discussion towards an action plan to bring performance back up to expectations.

However, I let my anger show when I discover that we have had a longstanding problem that was covered up.

When someone expresses an excess in accountability, like “We’re in this mess because you did not____” I interrupt the person.

The person that reveals a problem had the courage to speak up.  It can be tempting to kill the messenger, which is why I make a concerted effort to respect the bearer of bad news.  In that way, we keep finding out what’s happening within the company.

When someone expresses an excess in accountability, like “We’re in this mess because you did not____” I interrupt the person.  Maybe I should introduce more coffee breaks to bring down the temperature in the room!

NR: It comes back to Team Spirit.  If the leaders begin judging when times get tough, Team Spirit loses credibility.  We have greater solidarity and employee engagement precisely because, in those complex time, teams feel non-judgmental support from the Executive Committee.

DD: Where does the “20%” in the learning & development model come into play?

JA: Twice a year, every associate has an objective-setting discussion with his manager which includes providing the individual with an action plan to grow in technical skills and personal development.

Team members select their training from among our JDE global MOOC’s, the Learning & Development Café.  We also encourage people to shadow another associate to learn through their example or to meet up with colleagues in a different function to gain an understanding of their business.

DD: What other thought do you want share about transforming a culture and empowering teams?

JA: It’s always a fine line between delegation and control.  Finding that balance depends upon the business and one’s own self-awareness.  One extreme lies in micro-management which allows people off the hook.  “Too bad if we did not reach our goals.  I did my job.  I followed orders.”

Empowering our team requires work on oneself.  I have to stop myself from intervening and to consciously trust in my team,

Empowering our team requires work on oneself.  I am accountable for the results in France, thus I need a certain degree of control.  There are days when I have to stop myself from intervening, to consciously trust in my team, and to give them the autonomy to pursue the strategy they defined.  After all, they know the details, I don’t.

I want a team of associates that act like General Managers, each taking responsible for his business.  If I get too involved in the details, I curb their ability to take initiatives.

And now, I have a question for you!  Would YOU recommend JDE to your friends?


Thank you

Thank you, Juan Ignacio Amat, for this insightful exchange and the challenge to each of us

  • To grow by building on strengths
  • To simultaneously hold high expectations and forgo making judgements
  • To translate corporate values into an action plan and habitual behaviors

What are your strengths?  What are the strengths of that-colleague-who-bothers-me-so? (They have at least one!)  How would your relationship with this person change if you were to recognize his/her contribution?

Let us know in the comments what happened when you tried it.

Cover photo by Nathan Dumlao

Trust Gratitude Inspiration Fun

TGIF – The POWER of Vulnerability at Work

Hi folks,

Last week was intense as I led four days of training You get the insights through our TGIF:  Trust – Gratitude – Inspiration – and Fun.


I’m trusting in the power of vulnerability.  Yes, even at work.

I’m still on a “high” from the feedback of last week’s training groups.  Folk shared how much they learned about themselves and how this stimulates them to change attitudes and behaviors.  Wow!

It happened by creating an environment of trust which paved the way for authentic exchange over both strengths and weaknesses.  Vulnerability was given and received.

Team meeting

People realized they are not imposters; they have strengths that are recognized and visible to others!  They also learned that challenges present opportunities for learning.  Bye, bye to “I’m a failure.”  Hello to “I can grow.”

Here are some feedback highlights:

“I realized that I was not invisible.  It was empowering to learn how my example of doing my job with dedication and a goal of excellence has inspired others.”

“I learned that I am already brave and strong.”

“I don’t just want money.  I really want a LIFE.”

“I should stop telling myself that I’m not confident.  I discovered this is not what people think when they meet me.  It’s time for me to stop degrading myself.”


Thank you to my clients who trust me.  It is a real privilege to be welcomed into their offices and given the opportunity to challenge employees out of their comfort zone…and to come out stronger together 😊!


One of this past week’s clients is an up-and-coming startup, WeMaintain, and their daring talent strategy inspires me.

They hire for potential…which can differ from past achievement. 

Laughter at work

We met the expert on Internet of Things who learned his skill by making connected skateboards as a hobby.  A previous journalist joined them as a front-end coder.  The list goes on.

The team overflows with mutual respect.  Here is what they say about each other:

“I have such admiration for each person in this team who fully invests in the work and is ready to grow further together.”

“I feel a sense of fullness as I admire the richness of the team.  We can go far together.”


During my trainings, I use scenarios to stimulate aha-moments of learning.  The goal of one of these scenes is for participants to realize that they cannot change other people’s behavior.  They can change their own…. which then will produce a different response from the other person.

We change first.

In one of last week’s training, the role play ended up being particularly hilarious.  The principle I had hoped participants would grasp did not come through. ☹  And yet, the scene generated roaring laughter which woke us all up after lunch. 😊

Fun at work

To paraphrase the authors of Fail Fast, Fail Often (Ryan Babineaux, PhD and John Krumboltz, PhD),

Fail fast.  Tweak often. Laugh as you learn.


Wishing you a great week.

A bientôt, Denise

Neat & New Stuff

Enjoy these posts inspired by my father’s wisdom:

“Aging isn’t for sissies!”

What’s YOUR Focus Word?

Boy looking through telescope. Searching Focus word!

As life passes, one realizes time is…limited.  That’s a focusing thought!  Read on…


When It’s Urgent to Reflect

Man reflecting in parkI wrote this post after a hearing a professor speak on leadership and reflexion at a Harvard Business School reunion.  My father had encouraged me to attend the school and the place holds a soft spot for us.   Read on…

Serenity.  To Accept the Things We Cannot Change

Serenity of lighthouseWe cannot change the passage of time and the impact it has on our bodies and our relationships.  But discover what we can do about it!  Read on…

Interview with Elizabeth Moreno, CEO of Lenovo France

Jumping across rocks. Risk taking.Lenovo speaks of taking risks:  how she learned how to embrace risk-taking with confidence and thrive.  Read on…