Forget “team-building” and other rafting or bungee jumping exercises! Are you ready to put yourself in danger for your team?


Didier Marlier

October 28, 2017

From Disruption to Engagement

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“I know that the game tonight is crucial, but I have decided to put myself in danger! If I truly believe in your stuff of unconditional support, in the fact that the bench should be as highly considered as the “star players” and because I do not want a team with “players and substitutes” but a team where we are all players, I have decided to let three of our stars on the bench and expect them to fully support the three who will play at their place on the pitch”… So had spoken and so acted Fabio Celestini, elected best 2016 football coach in Switzerland who has courageously taken my challenge to apply to professional Football what we do in Business, in terms of leadership and team dynamics. Our team lost at a pinch (0-1) against a stronger opponent and the President of the club… publicly thanked his coach on TV for preparing the future of his club!

Putting myself in danger for the benefit of the organization

The next day, I was elsewhere in Europe, talking with two young passionate intrapreneurs (people whose job it is to spark entrepreneurship into a large organizations). The story felt the same: they were well aware that their way to challenge and keep some dinosaurs on their toes wasn’t going to help their career but their conviction was stronger. They had chosen this job to help their organization change its mindset (instead of being skillset obsessed), they assumed that their value was in helping leaders identify and challenge unconscious assumptions in their behaviours and so they did… They are putting themselves in danger every day, with the strong purpose of supporting their organization.

Even the waiter

By a sort of interesting coincidence, the waiter in the restaurant we had lunch, started immediately on a tone of provocative humour. I remember having felt that he was a bit out of place. And he kept on. When suddenly I thought: “Here is another one who could choose to play safe, just do his job, have a transactional attitude and keep his boring job in a boring place”. But the fact was that his humour, intensity and provocations made it a different restaurant, a truly relational connection. He was putting himself in danger, for the benefit of his clients’ experience.

Why “Putting ourselves in danger”?

Fabio Celestini coaches the team with the smallest budget in the championship; Why does he think that “putting himself in danger” is so fundamental? He is acutely aware that selecting 11 players without passion, attitude and unconditional solidarity will not make it. But he also felt that, should he wish to inspire them and lead by example, he should show the way and take a personal risk himself.

Why do so many “uncelebrated heroes” prefer to scarify their career than be part of that neutrality driven “Silent Majority”, who are taking their organization to oblivion? I love the story of this CFO, man of integrity “courageously” pushed forward by his “vulgar” (in the Latin sense meaning ordinary) colleagues to be their spokesman towards a rather odd CEO. He ended up… being fired by his CEO and invited back… as CEO by the Board when they realized their mistake… He had chosen to put himself in danger, not by egocentrism but because he felt it was his duty for the benefit of the organization.

So what?

At a moment where “everybody gets digital” and… still hire firms of the past to take them there, my partners and I wonder how many will truly succeed? The way to becoming truly disruptive is not technological first, it is cultural. Peter Drucker’s good old “Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast” still holds true, even in the Disruption Economy.

Our organizations are full of people who would love to be courageous, people who would consider putting themselves in danger for the common Good. But what do we, leaders, do to encourage them? Can we seriously expect all of our people, including those 55+ fearing not to find another job, those who have children at College, a sick wife or husband, who just bought a house, can we honestly expect those to put themselves in danger? Not everybody should be expected to be a Hero. We can’t blame them for playing safe and thinking of their survival or their family first! There is also something heroic in getting up early every morning, heading with the rest of the herd towards humiliation, routine and boredom!

So how do you transform those “cautious heroes” into leaders ready to put themselves in danger for the Common Good? There are three levers we recommend you use:

  1. Install Psychological Safety with determination: As Google found out, teams with a high level of Psychological Safety perform better, succeed or fail faster and are far more creative. Constantly challenging people brings them to burnout. What they need first is self-confidence.
  2. Be relational by rule and transactional by exception: Powerful leaders put themselves in danger by lowering their guard, not shying away from being vulnerable. They do this by going towards their people rather than sit in their office, protected by a useless army of P.A.s and secretaries. Powerful leaders do not create Power Distance, they engage with their people.
  3. Treat your Heroes as Plants: Meredith Belbin, the famous British Psychologist, author of the team dynamics psychometric bearing his name, called “Plants” the most creative, innovative and status quo challenging people in the organization. He meant by that that these people needed to be nurtured and protected from the hierarchy, procedures and from the Pretorian guard of the leader, who believe that their job is to protect “the Boss” from all the bad news. I am still in shock after hearing the story of a friend and assisting her. She is one of those people relentlessly “putting herself in danger” for the benefit of the organization. She had an excellent reason to want to engage the CEO of her company (outside Europe) and was blocked for obscure reasons by an even more obscure P.A. She called me as she knew that I had an entry door to… The President of their country. I spoke to him about her project. He took the phone and called her CEO, warmly recommending he should speak to his… employee and the P.A. roadblock was removed… Now what do you do when a friend of yours isn’t intimate from your country’s President?

As Jay Rao, Babson’s innovation Guru explains, if you want to protect your plants from the burden of the existing organization do set them free, give them the duty to work transversely, bypass hierarchical lines and be provocative. Do not let them be blocked by the “Seniority means Superiority” behind which legions of mediocre bosses hide!

Putting myself in danger for the benefit of the team? I can’t resist the pleasure of sharing again the 4X100 meters (Thank you Yves Morieux from BCG). Each one of the French athletes were weaker than their individual US counterparts. History says the French worked the “baton passing” to win (and so did they). But look at this clip now from a “I put myself in danger for the team” perspective and admire how each one of the French athletes screams and encourages the person they hand the baton to, look at them running “the extra mile”, as far as their exhausted body can take it, to accompany their partner. That is the difference between winning and staying in the pack, in athletics, in football and in the Disruption Economy.


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“Engaging Leadership” has been written for leaders who are about to engage their organisations in change."

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