Sari van Poelje

personal, expert, consultant, author, Speaker

Leadership: Taking accountability as a leader – video training — May 2, 2019

Leadership: Taking accountability as a leader – video training

Leadership: Taking accountability as a leader

I’m a business consultant who specializes in business innovation. I help you innovate your business as quickly as you innovate your products.

I often meet businesses where they innovate their products much more quickly than they innovate their business, and they stagnate. They’re not on time for markets. Their leadership is old-fashioned. Their cooperation is fragmented in siloes. The commercial function and the innovation function don’t work together. I help businesses fix that in 28 weeks.

One of the things I want to talk about today is the importance of taking accountability as a leader.

I have a client who has recently bought a business from someone else, in a community of professionals. He is a brilliant guy. Very good at what he does, an experienced leader, an experienced CFO in other businesses. And he took on this business with enthusiasm.

The person who sold the business to him had said that they were going to retire, and that they were happy to leave their business behind in safe hands. They made a deal, both professionally and financially. As soon as the deal was done the seller started to agitate.

Agitation and intrigue damage business

Agitation is when you start to push against the leadership boundary. And in some way, sabotage, undermine or take over the leadership.

This other person also started intrigue. Intrigue means that you start to undermine the relationship and the boundaries between the members. What it means in practice is you start to gossip and you start to undermine the safety of belonging. All in all, this behaviour escalated into an ethical problem, and perhaps even a legal problem.

The business my client bought was starting to suffer. Clients were leaving, not because the business was bad, but because they didn’t want to be involved in a fight.

People who sell and regret it afterwards are not unique. In some ways, if you’re an entrepreneur and you’ve built up a business for a long time, it’s your baby. And to let your baby go and pass it on, is a difficult ask, is a really big ask.

To do that with grace is very, very difficult and is very seldom.

The question I ask myself in this case is what is the responsibility of the professional community around this business? Because as I said, my client bought a business in a tight-knit community of professionals where everybody knows everybody else. And as one of the professionals in that community, I really ask myself what is it that I’m responsible for in this situation? And what is it that I’m accountable for?

For me, when you’re leader in a community, you are accountable not only for your own actions, but perhaps also as a representative of that leadership, you are accountable for the behaviour of other leaders in that system. I am very aware that this is a controversial way of seeing it. For me, when someone in the community is also a leader, and I’m a leader in that community, as a representative of leadership, we have a duty to speak and we have a duty to apologize.

Because if we don’t speak, who will speak for us in the end?


Read more: Business innovation – Creating team cohesion


Can you teach intuition? — May 21, 2018

Can you teach intuition?

When I walked into the boardroom I knew something was seriously off key here. The new CEO was sitting with his back to his team. Some leaders were juggling with their phones, others were answering emails. This was supposed to be a breakthrough meeting about the strategy for the coming two years. It was one of their biggest challenges yet. What was going on?

The need for intuition is increasing as we are faced with more situations where there is a high level of uncertainty, with little precedent. Facts are unavailable or unreliable and the timeframe to act is limited or scarce. Intuition is part of the looping process and it entails forming a circuit of intuitive sensing and data collection – aggregating many touch points. The intuitive nature of looping is important when trying to anticipate the future and make good business decisions. So how do we make rapid, viable decisions in this increasing turbulence?

It pays to have good intuition: successful executives score far above average on extrasensory perception tests. There is a significant correlation between these precognitive abilities and profit ratings of their companies (Mihalasky & Dean, Agor 1986).

Many people feel their intuition is lacking or they can’t rely on it. In The Nature of Intuition Berne identified that the chief requisite for accurate intuition is an active and concentrated state of alertness and receptiveness. With practice intuitive mood can be attained more easily and the accuracy of intuition increases with  accumulated experience.

Some people are better at being intuitive: experts are better at recall and recognition than novices because they acquire habits that help them process information more quickly e.g. chunking information more efficiently. Experts also use different problem solving strategies; they take in details then create a framework that best fits the data they have and then they work forwards to explore possible solutions. Novices, on the other hand, identify specific solutions and work backwards to find a way to reach that solution.

The skill of recall involves recognizing patterns, and this is easier for experts because they already know a lot about the context in which the object of recall is embedded. For example, when I walk into a new organisation I look at the way employees and managers interact, and can already see patterns emerging.

Recognition is based on noticing similarity. To determine if two things are similar you must know which features to consider. Recognition is easier for experts because they limit the complexity of what they observe to salient points. For example I use an easy way to recognize patterns of communication:  Are they close or distant? Do they talk from a dominant or submissive position?

Women are better at intuition than men due to their greater empathic accuracy and  nonverbal skills. This is partly evolutionary as differentially selected as primary  caregivers for their ability to decipher nonverbal cues. Women developed their intuition in part as a minority group to observe how others acted before taking action themselves, and to be adaptable to circumstances.

Improving your intuition can help you and your team make better, faster decisions.

RATE: Radical Agile Transformation Exercise

Consider how you can help your team members improve their intuition. The following seven steps help you educate yourself and your team in intuition:

  1. Select or create a good learning environment, that is relevant and exacting.
    How are you providing the right environment for yourself and your team?
  2. Seek feedback actively and systematically.
    What is your process for eliciting feedback? Have you systemsied it?
  3. Impose circuit breakers, become mindful of automatic reactions.
    How do you avoid jumping to conclusions or making 2+2 equal 5?
  4. Make scientific method intuitive: observe better, speculate consciously about what you see, test ideas, generalize carefully.
    What process do you have for testing ideas? How are you taking the learning back into the team?

It pays to have good intuition – how are you training yourself and your team to develop your intuitive skills?

Bibliography: References & links

Executive ESP, Mihalasky & Dean, Agor, 1986

The Nature of Intuition, Berne, 1949

Read more on our other sites:


Intuition is essential for innovation — April 23, 2018

Intuition is essential for innovation

In 1996 I conducted a large research program on leadership development. I had been a director in multinationals for a long time, and was frustrated by the lack of behavioural results the leadership curriculum was generating. So I set out to find out what actually helped business leaders to learn.

One of the outcomes of the research was that top leaders usually said their intuition was their main source of innovation. They practiced every day at integrating intuition, data and experience to create innovation strategies.

In 1945 Berne had to participate in the  psychiatric examination of 25,000 soldiers in just four months. He had on average 40-90 seconds for each examination. Given his limited time he only asked two questions:

  1. Are you nervous?
  2. Have you ever been to a psychiatrist?

Later Berne added questions about the occupation of the parents.

From his writings we know that Berne’s intuitive prediction of the answers the similarly-clad soldiers would provide was higher than when judgements were attempted on the basis of deliberate analysis. Berne was able to guess something about the soldiers, for example their previous occupation, with a good degree of accuracy, but he wasn’t able to logically explain why. This fascinated Berne, and he started to study intuitive phenomena more.

Let’s take this back to a business context, imagine if you and your team were able to improve your intuition, you’d be able to make better decisions, faster. First, let’s look at what intuition is, then in a later article we’ll cover improving your intuitive skills.

Imagine if you and your team were able to improve your intuition, you’d be able to make better decisions, faster…

The nature of intuition

According to Berne, intuition is knowledge based on experience and acquired through sensory contact with the subject without being able to formulate how you came about those conclusions. The chief requisite of accurate intuition seems to be an active and concentrated state of alertness and receptiveness.

There are different levels of intuition to discern (Frances E. Vaughan):

  1. Physical – intuition is felt as a bodily sensation, for instance the hairs on the back of your neck stand up before you even know there might be a threat.
  2. Emotional – intuition in the form of feelings, for instance a sense of foreboding following your neck hairs rising.
  3. Mental – insight into patterns of seemingly unrelated facts, for instance in a detective movie the combination of open front door, all the lights out, not answering your hello means something is very wrong.
  4. Spiritual – intuition as transpersonal sense of oneness with life, for instance a general sense something is about to happen.

Results of intuition

Process: People with good intuitive skills lack awareness of how their judgements have been achieved. They find it difficult to show evidence for the judgment, but they are frequently right. The intuitive process occurs automatically for them.

Content: Rather than relying on backward looking (hypothesis) decision making they take advantage of forward looking (prediction) planning. They often note that their intuition is more a feeling or image than words. It is imprecise.

Certitude: People report greater confidence in intuition if there is no accepted analytic rule to solve the problem. Their intuition serves them with certitude as situations become more complex.

Speed: They report that their intuition sometimes appears quickly, they get a ready insight. For example, Archimedes in the bathtub. Sometimes they report slow building realizations, like Fleming with his discovery of penicillin, a happy accident as an extension of his many previous years of research.

Accuracy: Intuitive errors tend to be clustered around incorrect assessment e.g. total sum of purchases. Analysis produced fewer errors, but those errors were larger.

RATE: Radical Agile Transformation Exercise

Find a group of colleagues and check out your intuition. Sit across from one of them and without asking questions or commenting tune in to them. Close your eyes, free yourself of any thinking or presupposition. Sense who is sitting across from you. When you are ready, share your intuition about their father’s profession and their mother’s profession.

Even if you may not be right about the exact profession, check out if the domain you sensed was in the right direction.

Bibliography: References & links

The Nature of Intuition, Berne, 1949

Awakening Intuition, Frances E. Vaughan, 1979

Read more on our other sites:


How to increase commitment in organizations — May 7, 2015

How to increase commitment in organizations

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How to increase commitment in organizations

We often talk about the importance of leadership in organizations, but we rarely talk about the importance of membership. However without the commitment of membership, performance and leadership would not be possible. This is an article about membership and ways to increase membership commitment in organizations.

Membership is a two way street. An individual chooses to be a member, and the organization chooses to accept membership or not. An individual only truly commits to membership when they are willing to compromise their independence and accept the collective norms of the organization.

From an organizational point of view a member belongs when they meet the requirements, are willing to give up individual proclivities and are accepted by the others. This last factor is important. No matter how good you are at your job, if others don’t accept you, you will not have a career in that organization.

In the past membership commitment was relatively simple. You were in or out.
For instance, in a traditional hierarchical organization leadership was based on control and compliance, and membership on having a position inside the organizational structure. Commitment was based on lifetime employment and solidarity.

Nowadays membership is a much more complicated affair. Organizations are part of a global network of suppliers and customers. Boundaries demarcating ‘in or out’ are less clear. Leadership and membership has become much more fluid as a role and is based more and more on a voluntary relationship and short-term fulfilment of needs.

You can tell there is a commitment problem in your organization when your turn over is high, when there’s a lot of sick leave, when employees don’t want to spend extra time with their colleagues or when employees are not willing to go the extra mile to realize organizational goals.

We know that performance is higher when commitment is higher. Members in a highly committed organization are more willing to conform to group norms, are more communicative, display less turn over, and are more willing to exert effort on behalf of the organization. That is why organizations have to take a more pro-active approach to managing the commitment of membership nowadays.

There are many strategies to increase the commitment of membership in an organization based on organizational and social psychology (e.g. . Festinger (1950), Tajfel (1979). The strategy I use most when clients ask me to help them with commitment problems in their organization is based on the social exchange theory (Thibaut and Kelley,1959). Basically they say that commitment is based on a comparison of the rewards and costs of membership, mediated by the perception of alternatives, the investment made and the expectations of membership. That’s a whole mouth full, so let’s see what it means in practice.

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In practice it means organizations can influence five factors to increase commitment. For instance you can increase the rewards by giving higher salaries than competing organizations and offering good secondary benefits like education. You can decrease the cost of membership by making the requirements for membership lower or allowing others to benefit from membership, even if they are not in the in-group. For instance Apple allows others to create applications for i-phone, and markets them, even if the inventors are not employees of Apple.

The mediating factors are less clear-cut but still possible to influence. Perception of alternatives for instance: if the labour market is employer driven people will be more committed to the organization they are in. You can influence the perception of alternatives through employer branding .

The second mediating factor is personal investment. If employees feel they have invested a lot to get where they are in the company, they will leave less quickly.  For instance, celebrate success publicly and create stories on your intranet about the employees that invested beyond the call of duty and got their reward.

The third factor is level of expectations. If from past experience employees don’t expect a lot from the work place and these expectations are exceeded by the organization, the commitment is high. For instance let’s say an employee has a family member that is ill, and you give them free time and support, even though you don’t have to by law. By example you show your commitment to them exceeding their expectations, and they will repay you in kind.

Commitment problems often come up in executive coaching as well. If you are coaching people who are wondering about their commitment you can use the social exchange framework to help them decide to stay or leave and if they stay to clarify how they can increase their feeling of commitment.



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