Best Ways to Build Organizational Effectiveness from 100 Top Leaders



Steve K. Garcia, EdD

A few weeks ago, The Institute for Contemporary Leadership partnered with Entromy to identify the leadership, organizational and cultural drivers of truly high-performing companies and to showcase Entromy’s innovative insights platform in action.  We invited a select group of executive and senior leaders to share their top of mind issues, their priorities for 2018, and their thoughts about what’s working and what’s keeping them up at night. We wanted to understand the key differences between high performing organizations and aspiring ones.

The insights percolated almost instantly! Below, we talk to leadership expert Tony O’Driscoll, Global Head of Duke Corporate Education Labs, about the key takeaways from the Leadership Study and his enthusiasm for what Entromy and the Institute for Contemporary Leadership have captured.

Tony, what are the biggest takeaways?

When I saw the initial results of the Leadership Study, I was excited.  The findings validate something I’ve been thinking about for a while. In an environment characterized by volatility, uncertainty, and complexity, leadership is no longer about a small number of executives at the top of the house. In today’s world, it’s about building a leadership system across the entire enterprise; one that fosters effective decision making, enables collaboration across silos, and empowers all employees to take considered risks. This come out loud and clear in the LeadershipStudy 2018 results and I look forward to discussing the implications and details at the upcoming webinar.

Why was this study different?

What’s nice about this study is it combines the deep, qualitative insights you get from individual interviews or focus groups with the scale of an organizational survey.  The findings themselves were pretty consistent with what I would expect: leadership, the focus on and development of collaborative cultures, agility, innovation and the effectiveness of leadership programs is what elevates company performance.

What’s different about Entromy’s AI-platform is how quickly and efficiently it elicits these findings and auto-generates the results in a way that organizations can easily capitalize on.  Collecting data is typically a lengthy and expensive step, but the technology captures high quality, rich perspectives almost instantly.

What can you do with the Entromy’s AI platform?

After participating in this leadership study and experiencing Entromy’s AI platform in action, over a third of our participants asked for a deeper discussion to explore how they might leverage the technology within their own enterprise.  That’s before they even saw the survey results!  Their response is not that surprising, however, when you consider the tremendous potential of machine-learning to generate business insights for organizational health, culture change, PMI, leadership development, etc.  The Entromy platform helps transform standard operating methods as we know them by enabling efficient, agile, effective and rich readouts in real time.

How does this connect to the Institute for Contemporary Leadership’s work?

The Institute for Contemporary Leadership is an applied-research learning community, whose mission is to enable senior leaders to make a step change in their leadership, and have greater impact in their organizations and beyond.  The Leadership Study 2018’s findings highlight the specific levers leaders should be thinking about to drive organizational performance in our contemporary context.

When we saw leadership development pop up as one of the key programs that differentiates top performing organizations, we had to laugh.  We thought people might think we rigged the results.  But, of course, that’s the beauty of using an AI-based system; it’s not biased one way or another. It just tells you what the data says.

Where do we go from here?

Participants are invited to join Tony O’Driscoll (Global Head of Duke Corporate Education Labs), David Peterson (Director of Google’s Center of Expertise on Leadership Development), Steve Garcia (Executive Board Member the Institute for Contemporary Leadership) and Jan Jamrich (CEO of Entromy) as they discuss the #CollaborativeEra and the #LeadershipStudy.

If you were not able to participate and would like to learn more, contact Entromy ( or the Institute for Contemporary Leadership ( to start your discussion today. Alternatively, share or like this post, and we’ll be glad to reach out.


Learning from Disruption: The DNA of VUCA

David B. Peterson, PhD

Institute for Contemporary Leadership

Two things seem crystal clear about the future. First, things are changing faster and faster, and that trend will continue. Logically then, leaders need to be able to learn and adapt faster and faster if they want to keep pace. Second, different kinds of things are changing, and in different ways. Therefore, leaders need to learn different kinds of things faster, and adapt more quickly in new and different ways. For the first need, it’s possible that our current leadership development programs and processes are sufficient to address the pace of change. But for the second, it’s a different game entirely.

A 2013 survey from Duke Corporate Education highlights this sea change – unlike any previous year, CEOs from around the world reported significantly greater complexity and disruption, requiring them to create new paradigms rather than simply drive linear, incremental change ever faster. The problems they encounter today are multidimensional, emergent, and unpredictable. They find that their current knowledge is often unreliable or irrelevant in light of these new challenges.

So how do we help leaders learn to deal with this new, volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world? Three things are essential to thrive in this VUCA context. First, a mindset of curiosity and openness, with regular opportunities for reflection, so leaders can see things fresh, question their assumptions, and explore new ideas. Second, a community of engaged peers and colleagues to provide support, encouragement, and a safe place to cultivate new ideas and behaviors. We’ll examine these two elements in more depth in upcoming blogs.

The third element is more of a stretch for many leaders:  to prepare for a disruptive future, they will need sufficient exposure to new and different kinds of experiences such that they actually begin to feel comfortable in that space. It’s a bit of a paradox, but to get good at leading through disruption, leaders need to seek exposure to new, different, stressful, and challenging experiences:  The DNA of VUCA:  Diversity, Novelty, Adversity. Leaders with the courage to embrace this will learn faster, and will learn different kinds of things, in new and different ways, better than their peers.

Many leaders who do not embrace the DNA of VUCA will gravitate toward the familiar territory of their well-honed skills – and keep doing what has made them successful in the past. As things around them change, they lose their edge and eventually lose out to more nimble, agile learners.

Separately, each of the DNA elements contributes something useful; together, they are a potent accelerator of learning.

Exposure to diverse experiences provides a variety of lenses to see things from multiple perspectives. Leaders who have worked in different cultures, across different cultures, or those who have worked across multiple functions and organizations, learn a broader range of skills and methods for dealing with situations. They learn to flex and adjust based on the situation.

Exposure to novel experiences, when accompanied by curiosity and reflection, teaches people that they can step into the unknown, make sense of things, and keep moving. They learn not to fear the unknown, and so can keep their wits about them when faced with strange, unfamiliar situations.

Exposure to adverse experiences, especially in the context of supportive relationships – including a coach or mentor — have the potential to be the most transformational. Richard Branson claims that “The best developer of a leader is failure.” Experience with failure can teach people humility, among other things, but it is hard to approach leadership development with the lens of “let’s set people up to fail a lot so they learn a lot!” So, on the one hand, it’s critical to help people to extract the right lessons from the failures and setbacks when they occur naturally, and not shy away from confronting their experiences. On the other hand, putting people into situations where they are stretched to the point where success is not a certainty, where the stakes are high, and the outcomes matter, leads to the greatest potential for learning. Especially, as noted previously, in the context of a supportive community, a trusted coach, or a manager who is invested in the person’s long-term success.

As an added benefit, David DeSteno, a researcher at Northwestern University, has found that experiences with severe adversity actually lead to greater empathy and compassion toward others.

In the increasingly complex and challenging VUCA world ahead of us, experiences with diversity, novelty, and adversity are coming our way, whether we like it or not. Those who seek and embrace the DNA of VUCA, and learn from it, are going to be far better prepared to thrive.

Future blogs will explore other critical leadership skills and mindsets for the future:  curiosity, reflection, community, empathy, courage. I’d love to hear your questions and thoughts on what would make these most useful to you.

Thoughts on the future of executive coaching: 7 paths forward

David B. Peterson, PhD

Institute for Contemporary Leadership

It is quite possible that we entering a golden era for executive coaching. Leaders who face daunting complexity and constant change realize the value of a trusted advisor and coach to help them navigate this uncharted territory. At the same time that demand for talented coaches is growing, there are forces at play that suggest we are also on the cusp of radical disruption.

As things around us change faster, and change in new and different ways, coaches will need to evolve dramatically if they wish to thrive. Working harder and running faster will not work in the long run; we need a new paradigm, new perspectives, and a new playbook.

Coaching on the cusp of disruption

There are at least seven forces driving potential disruption in the field of executive coaching, essentially by offering better or cheaper alternatives to what coaches offer. In fact, the growing number of new coaches entering the field is already putting significant downward pressure on pricing. Key drivers of disruption include:

  1. Better self-directed learning skills. Leaders have seen how fast the business world is changing and how easy it is to become obsolete, so they recognize the need to take time and invest in their own development. They’re getting better at seeking feedback, trying new things, and reflecting on what they’re learning and how they need to change – the same kind of things that they might have sought from a coach in the past.
  2. Everyone’s a coach. Leaders can turn to their peers, their manager, HR, their friends and colleagues – many of whom are trained in coaching skills — to get advice and counsel.
  3. Artificial intelligence. AI is clearly driving disruption in almost every industry, or will be soon. Coaching is no exception.
  4. VR/AR. Virtual or augmented reality will enable leaders to get risk-free exposure to a wide range of novel, challenging situations, and experiment with new behaviors to see what works. Combine with AI and other technologies, they’ll access a virtual coach to enhance their learning.
  5. Physiological monitoring and real-time feedback. Biometrics, wearables, and even insertables (yes!) will help leaders get immediate feedback on their stress levels (reminding them to breathe deep and relax) or even monitor how attentive or distracted their audience is in a team meeting or all-hands presentation, and suggest real-time tips for how to re-engage people. It’s not that far away…
  6. Performance-enhancing drugs. If a leader can take a pill to enhance their memory, make them smarter, give them more energy and endurance – all of these are on the horizon — coaches will have to do the same or find other ways to keep pace.
  7. Changing nature of leadership. Many coaches are experts on yesterday’s leadership challenges, and slow to get up to speed on the biggest current or emerging challenges. As the nature of leadership evolves more and more rapidly, coaches will have to excel at staying ahead of the curve.

Several of these trends are growing exponentially. It’s easy to compare things year over year and conclude that change is building slowly. But our brains are not wired to see things exponentially, so we are almost always surprised when the trend hits critical mass. Bam. So now is the time to prepare for disruption.

7 paths forward for executive coaches:  Preparing for the new, emergent future

If coaching is on the cusp of disruption in the face of exponential change, coaches need to prepare now to find exponentially better ways to add value to the leaders and organizations they work with. Waiting only makes it more difficult to keep up, so it’s wise to heed the words of Jack Welch, “Change before you have to.”

Here are seven things coaches can do to play the long game for maximum impact. Most of these require a new mindset and a willingness to constantly challenge our own assumptions.

  1. Stay ahead of the market and the competition by solving for clients’ most complex, difficult, and changing needs. Find clients dealing with the cutting-edge challenges now, and figure out how to help them. Let other coaches work on the easy, safe stuff and make sure you are stretching yourself to build new insights and capabilities.
  2. Get serious about “true professionalism.” It’s been easy for many coaches to make a living by being good coaches. Some even take advantage of clients by creating dependent relationships. Maister’s book[1] makes a strong case that putting clients needs first and continually finding new, better ways to add value (rather than coasting on our reputation) is the best way to thrive as competition increases and business needs shift.
  3. Cultivate deep insight and expertise into the art and science of how people grow and develop. In essence, coaches need to be experts in helping leaders learn faster and better, and find ways to make that learning more rewarding and fulfilling.
  4. Beyond just being better at helping people develop, coaches will have to find practical ways to help people totally transform and reinvent themselves. As business and organizational paradigms change overnight, it won’t be sufficient to help people learn new things, coaches will need to provide transformational experiences that lead to dramatically different ways of thinking, acting, and being.
  5. Given the dramatic changes ahead in technology and AI, the best coaches will embrace and leverage emerging technologies — faster than the pace of how leaders and competitors are adopting them.
  6. It won’t be enough for coaches to merely keep pace with all these changes, they will have to be role models of innovation, learning, adaptability. Some may actually become role models of reinvention, but at a minimum coaches will have to become extremely fast followers and adopters, setting the pace for their clients to follow.
  7. Finally, let’s acknowledge that even following these paths may not be enough. Each coach who wants to thrive needs to take the initiative to create their own path to the future.

As you read this, are you inspired or intimidated? It’s likely that some of you are dismissive, some are overwhelmed, some are engaged and invigorated. Whatever your response, the fundamental question remains:  What changes do you see coming and how will you prepare?

I’m an optimist – I believe we can do amazing things if we put our hearts and minds to it. And my intention in this blog is positive – to provoke thinking in how we can advance the practice of executive coaching to add greater value to clients, to organizations, to our colleagues, and to the world.

Future blogs will explore some of these disruptive forces and implications for leadership development. I’d love to hear your questions and thoughts on what would make these most useful.

[1] David Maister (1999). True Professionalism.