An extraordinary performer will add little to a toxic environment – an environment that puts results above people, that promotes performance at all costs, that prioritizes external over internal input, that assumes lower ranked people are less important than those higher up.

So before you get to hiring (and firing, and hiring again, and firing again), make sure your internal system is working as you intend it to work. Make sure you have rewards that promote the behaviour you wish to promote. Make sure you have rules in place, or even better norms, that will guide people to speak up, to share ideas, to flag issues, and give them the freedom to follow up.

Shaping systems is a long-term effort that requires high levels of awareness, and not many organisations want to committ to that.

It’s a mistake.

The different shapes of success

Success comes in different shapes.

Sometimes it is up and to the right. This kind is easy to recognize. It is success that comes from accumulation. More of this, more of that. We just need to be mindful that what we are accumulating is what is best for ourselves, for our dear ones, for our group.

Sometimes it is down and to to the right. This kind is not as intuitive as the first one. It is success that comes from reduction. Less of this, less of that. What makes this particularly challenging is that cutting what is not best (for ourselves, for our dear ones, for our group) gets more difficult over a long period of time.

Sometimes it is right in the middle. Most people feel uncomfortable with this kind. It is success that comes from consistency. One of this today, one of this tomorrow, one of this the day after tomorrow. It turns out, in the long run it is still accumulation (or reduction). Just not as evident, arguably more impactful.

We need to be able to appreciate and celebrate the different shapes of success.

If we don’t, we are stuck in a narrative that is not our own.

All good

When we ask “how are you?”, let’s sit down and take in the full answer.

I am fine, I wish I had more time to dedicate to this project.

I am alright, unfortunately I was not accepted for that online programme.

I am well, thanks, there has been a bit of a misunderstanding with my colleague, but I am well nonetheless.

We often rush to labelling our exchanges as “all good”, and we fail to grasp the issues we might want to act upon. And then we are surprised when the minor crack turns out to be a foundation problem. We withdraw – they said they were fine, how could they lie to us? – and we make the whole situation irreparable.

Forget the first part of the answer, hand in there until the honest reality kicks in, and tackle that head-on.

How could you make more time for the project?

How can I support you in your learning and development?

What happened, and what can I do to facilitate a conversation between you too?

That’s the way to be taken seriously, to build a relationship, and to maintain the people around you engaged and motivated.


When you are in a leadership position, it will happen that something your team has delivered will be questioned by those you report to.

What to do?

You can side with the managers. You can side with the team. Or you can communicate both ways to find a solution that serves the greater good.

The first two options are shortcuts. They do work, yet they make victims: your team in the first case, yourself in the second. On the other end, making an effort to explain, ask, compromise is an investment of time and resources when you might have little of both. And that’s how you establish relationships that will make your organization, as a whole, stronger.