Our people need Exemplarity, not Perfection!


Didier Marlier

February 02, 2019

From Disruption to Engagement

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Each time I meet a CEO or other high-ranking Officer, who’s had the insight that the Disruption Economy requires her organization to transform itself and wants it NOW, my question comes as early as it can in the dialogue: “How badly do you want this change to take place? It is not just a matter of strategy, processes or organization. That is the easy bit. If you truly mean change, what spectacular change are you prepared to demand from yourself? Your people will not believe that change is around the corner, if they do not see you spectacularly change. They absolutely expect you to put skin in the game!”

Indeed, are we still so naïve, in theXXIst century, as to think that our people believe us when, instead of coming in persona to support them for “the most important change for the future of this company”, we send them a video clip or when we go on and on about a list of sacred “behaviours that will take us into the next Century”, we aren’t able to display a single one ourself? Is there anyone who will believe us when we claim “People are our biggest asset” after we laid their colleagues off?

Please take a look at this clip. I have no particular opinion about Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Probably many of you have seen this incident: The Prime Minister, heading in a hurry to a meeting, drops his cup of coffee…

These 1’28’’ are so rich for me:

  • Exemplarity doesn’t mean Perfection: Mark Rutte makes a fool of himself, tries to go through the fence, holding files and his coffee cup falls on the floor just in front of the TV cameras. Superman is dead! Really? Do the janitors look at their statesman as a loser after that? It is not Perfection that made those people enthusiastic about their leader, but his Exemplarity!
  • Vulnerability and Humility: I find interesting to see the embarrassed, stiff and dignified reaction of Mark Rutte’s colleagues (and honestly, I fear I wouldn’t have done better myself!) What a contrast to the Prime Minister taking the broom and towel off the hands of the first cleaner, smiling and joking while starting to humbly fix the consequences of his vulnerability!
  • Respect and low Power Distance: But what amazes me most, is this whole janitors’ team dancing, applauding and supporting him… Would your corporate culture allow this, if you, or your CEO (if this isn’t you yet…) were, while in a rush, to spill their coffee at the entrance gate?

There are three quick test I encourage you to seriously consider before you claim to want to transform your organization:

  • The Clarity test: Are you ready to create time and space for your people to digest what you preach? Will you encourage them to voice their concerns, doubts, questions, hopes and ideas and truly listen to them? Are you going to provide them with Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose so that they “own” the transformation you call for?
  • The Credibility test: How are you going to spectacularly behave differently, in a way that proves you mean change? Which “iconic action” (as one client calls them) will you take and lead to “be the change” that you want to see happen?
  • The Ultimate test: Are you ready to put yourself in danger for this transformation? Will it be your “Schwerpunkt” (focal point)? Will you arbitrate in coherence with your message?

As we all see, the World’s mood is changing fast. Business Futurist Gerd Leonhard says that “Trust is the new Currency”. And still, I see so many fake commitments, pretense of changes, false starts bearing costly disappointments for the whole organization, that I felt my duty to remind us humbly that Transformational Change is more than a communication exercise!


  1. Alne frankfort

    Masterfull, insightfull an so true
    That’s what I feel we need : honest and deep thoughts about what conscious commitment means

    • Didier Marlier

      Thank you so much dear Aline,
      Coming from someone like you, this truly encourages me! When will we finally find a great and meaningful project to work together? 😉
      Have a good week!


    What a great post (again)! Thank you for this Didier. I hope you’re being heard. Some days I feel very optimistic, some days not!

    • Didier Marlier

      Thank you Céline,
      Yes, for the ENFPs we are, attaching our most precious emotions to the cause of change, to see leaders unconditionally engage and others just unconsciously pretending, is an emotional roller coaster. I can relate to what you say!
      Have a good week

  3. Mauricio

    Thanks for sharing Didier!!
    Something that I am trying to develop at my team by now= Trust.
    It is quite hard for the people (myself included) to be vulnerable which I realize is the core raw material for trust development.
    Anyway this type of example give me more energy to go for it!!!
    Thanks again!!

    • Didier Marlier

      Thank you Mauricio. My Brazilian colleagues and friends, Marco Tulio Zanini and Carmen Migueles, are doing a lot of work on the theme of Trust. Is it given? Is it earned? It is not a behaviour but the result of several behaviours. Not having it costs a fortune to organizations as they explained it in 2012, if my memory is correct. I am with you!

  4. Bob George


    Great video, a leader who sets an example to illustrate what their vision looks like and is willing to work for it just like they expect their greatest asset, people, to perform, may have a chance to lead them forward. Any transformation requires connection through communication and action showing the cnangw that is required. I used to say that people that won’t change will be left behind, I have learned that people that won’t change will cause the whole organization to stay behind.

    • Didier Marlier

      I agree Bob. And when we know the influence that our leaders’ behaviours command, choosing which behaviour to display with authenticity becomes critical. Thank you

  5. Sharon

    Amazing post Didier! So insightful. Thank you!!

    • Didier Marlier

      Thank you, dear Sharon. Coming from you, it is particulalry appreciated! Thanks

  6. Ivo Knottnerus

    Hi Didier,

    What can I say being Dutch? :-).

    He is indeed really such a modest guy, and one who leads by example. They’d love to have him for Europe, succeeding Mr. Juncker, but he won’t go, he states. His work is not done yet in NL… I hope he stays around as PM for a while.

    All the best and take care.


    • Didier Marlier

      Thanks Ivo… Modest doesn’t match with Dutch 😉 He must be a Belgian therefore ;););)
      Thanks for your enthusiastic comment! I loved what I saw in this video, for sure!
      Have a good week end


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