Bullies, Borderline Bosses And Narcissists: How To Survive & Thrive

*As originally seen on

*As originally seen on

We’re hearing a lot about psychological safety, narcissism and subconscious bias in the workplace lately. But what’s beneath many of these challenges is BPD—Borderline Personality Disorder—a topic many tread lightly around.


Because unlike anxiety, depression, bipolar or other diagnoses, borderline isn’t easily treatable or curable. And very few people are actually diagnosed with this very difficult condition as “true” borderlines. True borderlines require navigation and survival strategies. So grab your galoshes, because we’re going in, friends.

We’re all a little bit borderline, so bear this in mind when you read the below. Here’s what BPD is, and how it’s part of your work and life and what to do about it.


What Is Borderline?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Method of Mental Disorders has a long list of criteria. Here are the ones you’ll most likely see in the workplace:

  1. Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
  2. A pattern of unstable and intense relationships
  3. Unstable self-image or sense of self
  4. Intense moodiness, rapid mood changes
  5. Inappropriate, intense anger
  6. Stress-induced paranoid thoughts or dissociative symptoms (loses touch with reality)

Heck, we all know someone that fits that criteria.

So what causes it? According to Christine Ann Lawson’s awesome work  people suffering from BPD have suffered one or more of the following traumas in their past:

  • Inadequate emotional support following parental abandonment (through death or divorce)
  • Parental abuse, emotional neglect or chronic denigration
  • Being labeled as the “no good” child by a borderline mother

When a child suffers one of the above their ability to attach in a healthy way is damaged. Then we’ll see anxiety, avoidance, ambivalence/resistance, or disorganization in their experience of attaching to others.

We’re All A Little Bit Borderline

Per Lawson, there are four types of borderline personalities:

1. The Waif: This person is helpless, sad, lonely and feels like a victim. They are trying to get others to give them sympathy and care-giving. They can be socially engaging then turn on you, seek help then reject it, and gives away, loses or destroys good things. Their mantra is “life is way too hard.” When you have a Waif in the office they’ll be emotionally exhausting and frustrating to be around.

2. The Hermit: This person lives in fear of threat and persecution from a dangerous world. They are trying to get others to share their anxiety and need for protection. They are a perfectionist and worrier, and if you misstep they’ll shut you out. Their mantra is “life is too dangerous.” When you have a Hermit in the workplace you’ll want to follow in their path, clearing up the fear they are spreading.

3. The Queen/King: This person feels empty, deprived, angry, and has an insatiable longing that cannot be fulfilled. They’re demanding, flamboyant, intimidating and feel entitled to invade the boundaries of others. They can appear all-powerful provided no one questions them. They want others to comply. Period. Their mantra is “Life is all about me, and should be even more about me. I am important and you are not.” A Queen/King in the office is tough–they’ll make others feel inferior and dismissed.

4. The Witch/Warlock: This person feels self-hatred and conviction that they are evil. They need power and control over others for basic self-esteem. The more fear and submission they can get from others, the more self-importance they derive. They are domineering, you’ll see them rage and violate the boundaries of others. Hostility masks their fear. Their mantra is “Life is war.” The Witch/Warlock is often the trickiest as they’re just plan dark and emotionally volatile.

By now I’ll bet you’ve seen some of the above qualities in many people you know—including yourself. Here’s a quick quiz, followed by a secret decoder.

Borderline Quiz

Check off any of the below statements that seem familiar, coming from your boss or other key people in your workplace. And if you say or think these things, put an X mark by it. Then you can reflect on where you learned this behavior!


Borderline Quiz Secret Decoder

Here’s the Secret Decoder System for the above quiz. Check out which Borderline types are most prevalent in your work and life. Then in my next blog we’ll cover how to survive and even thrive when interacting with these tricky types!


I hope taking the above test will help you see how common, and how challenging these behaviors are. It’s key to approach these scenarios with compassion, kindness, and yes, caution. Now let’s dive into coping strategies for this complex situation.

Who’s On First?

There’s the borderline Primary (they’re “pitching”) and the borderline Secondary (they’re “catching”). In families parents usually are Primary and kids are Secondary. At work the roles aren’t always as clear. I’ve seen Primary borderline behavior in direct reports, which I’ve then been the Secondary to, and I’ve also been the Primary. You have too.

Who has borderline behavior in your life? Do you slide into the Secondary role and get swept up in their drama? When are you the Primary?

The tricky part about Primary borderline behavior is the stance of perpetual innocence. And their need to win no matter what—even at the risk of damaging relationships. That’s the system you’re working in when you play on this field. Borderlines will also try to “recruit” you to play with them, to try to push your buttons and make you angry, to get you to sympathize and take sides, even to try to get you to fire them in extreme cases. Be cautious here.

Three Survival Strategies

Here’s the bad news: The Primary will always perceive themselves as innocent. Here’s the good news: As the Secondary you have a lot more flexibility in your behavior, meaning you get to choose (yay!) what you’re willing to be guilty of.

1. Choose Your Realm Of Guilt

Wait a sec! Guilty?

Yep. Sorry. There’s no way to win in this system, all you can do is choose your realm of guilt. To survive, and ultimately thrive with a borderline Primary (if you can’t quit or get transferred to another department) you’ll likely be guilty of many things. Key is to retain your sense of self-respect and integrity:

Here are some examples of what you’ll be “guilty” of to survive in borderline behavior scenarios:

  • Standing up for yourself
  • Having healthy boundaries
  • Not responding fast enough: pausing and saying you need time to think (if you continually do not give the Primary borderline immediate gratification they will find someone else who will! Yay!)
  • Giving in (you may need to do this—be kind to yourself—it’s an un-win-able situation)
  • Disengaging (if they are raging this is your only option—let them wear themselves out)
  • Find a way for them to get rid of you while maintaining your integrity (and hopefully getting a nice severance package)

Make sense? It might not. We aren’t dealing with a logical mind here. Borderlines don’t live in logic.

2. Navigate Their Challenges

This choice I’m not so wild about. You choose to play the game as it’s how you’ll live to see another day. Just be true to yourself in the process and know it’s just that—a game.


3. Be Curious

This is like the Anthropologist stance that I described a while ago. You are fascinated by the person’s behavior and want to understand what it’s like to be them. Two cautions though—first, close your navel center (area around your belly button) as this is where energetic attack is aimed. Second, open your heart, as borderlines need compassion. Then you can ask 1 of 2 questions (or both):

How may I serve you?

How may I give you a better experience of me?

Matt Kahn taught me both of these. In either case the borderline will likely tell you all the ways you need to change for their life to work. This is when you can kindly say something like “thank you for your feedback” and leave. The list they gave you is what they want to change in themselves. You’ve just experienced a projection. Send them love and step away. They’ll get help if/when they want to, but often they don’t want to because for the Primary borderline everyone “is messed up” but them. This is the greatest tragedy.

It’s key to remember with compassion that all borderline behavior is an unworkable attempt to manage loss and damage related to love, safety, belonging and mattering. That’s why true borderlines are not capable of deep long-term relationships and cannot be present during intense emotion.

We’re all a little bit borderline—we all have tricky behavior at times. Key is to catch it, navigate it, survive and ultimately thrive.

The Connection Between Peace & Power

You’re the CEO of your own life, and maybe even of your own business, so you often have to deal with power. As we go through life and meet people, we learn about power—specifically who has it and who doesn’t.

Got Power?

You’ll always be dealing with people who have (or think they have) power over you to some extent, yet I want you to be able to have power too—to know where it starts and where it stops, and to exercise it responsibly and compassionately over others. But how do you get it? And what, exactly, is it? Is it money? It is position? Is it prestige? Is it the ability to influence? I learned most about power by seeking out, and hanging out, with powerful people.

As an Executive Coach I see many people fall into a familiar trap: they choose power/money/self-esteem-by-association because they don’t think they can create it on their own. They think they’ll get a “contact high” from being close to power instead of by wielding it themselves. Then they’re left powerless when the job/role/title changes, the relationship sours, the association withers, or the bank balance plunges.

Concept of powerBuild It Or Borrow It

What kind of power do you want in your life and over your life? Do you want power by association–with someone or some place? Or do you want to build your own power? We can’t soar in business and life until we untangle that relationship, claim our power, and start creating with it. Make the choice now to have your own power. Then no one can take it away.

When you give your power to your company or your title, you define yourself by the work you do rather than your innate self-worth. If the job goes b’bye, so does your self-worth. I’ve been there. It’s not pretty. So the question to ask yourself becomes: Are you borrowing power or building it? Here’s how to tell: if you feel challenged, if you feel like you’re growing, learning, and stretching each day, if you are acquiring new skills, trying to be the best you possible, if you are being honest and courageous about your blind spots and working on them, you’re building power. If you were to lose your job tomorrow, you know you’d find a new, better gig. You’re not wasting time kissing up and playing office politics, you’re investing time building your skill set, finding out who you are, making your life an amazing adventure.

And that is where the real power is.

I didn’t become truly successful in business until I made the decision to stop giving away my right to feel powerful – whether it be to a person, or a title, or even my company of the moment. Power meant that supreme self-confidence that I had seen in people like Bill Gates so many years ago. Power meant that I didn’t have to grovel any longer, because I brought enormous value to the table, in many different ways, all on my own.I’ve seen too many people borrow power, instead of creating it for themselves.

Your Power Play

Maybe we don’t know how to create it, don’t think we can create it, or we let ourselves get shut down by society or the people in our workplace or family. But this is the quest – to find our own power and then keep it and grow it. I did it through my career,spirituality, friendships and volunteer work; others do it through raising their families or their role in their communities. Either way, start where it feels easiest and then expand your personal power to the other realms of your life.

It took me decades to find peace and power in my life. Whenever I got wobbly I’d get in trouble because I’d start looking for power outside of me instead of within. You’ve got to look inside alone. That’s where you find yourself. And that kind of power no one can ever take away.

Today’s Workforce Only Wants Three Things

What does today’s workforce want, really?

Early retirement?

Ever-elusive work-life balance?

Or just a decent place to work with nice people?

While the war for talent continues, the talent themselves are strategically deciding with whom they want to align. Here’s how to get them to want to align with YOU.

According to a recent study by Ranstad, employers need to brand themselves intentionally–and “branding strategies cannot be left to chance… strategies require a laser focus on building core components – factors like company culture, candidate perception/experience and employee engagement.”

I agree–we must bring the brain into the equation too, ensuring your team is recruiting, retaining, working from their SmartState. Let’s check out the latest data in the  infographic from Ranstad where you’ll find:

  • Top 3 sectors where employees want to work
  • Most important criteria when choosing an employer
  • Personality traits most desired in an employer
  • Factors that put work-life balance at risk
  • Top motivators for teams
  • Retirement expectations

What Todays Workforce Wants Infographic

How can a company rock their branding strategy?

Eat, sleep, live your values. Per Ranstad “The bottom line is, an empty brand promise can reap devastating outcomes.” Be clear about what you want and you won’t have to wage war in order to attract and retain your top talent.

So what does today’s workforce want most? As I see it financial and emotional stability, cool people to work with that they trust, and as much work-life balance as we can get.

Christine Comaford (@comaford) is a global thought leader on corporate culture and performance optimization and a neuroscience-based executive coach.

Stop Being So Predictable As A Leader: 6 Ways to Change this NOW

Does your team “have your number?” Do your kids? Your significant other? Sure they do.

Because it only takes a short period of observation to find the harsh truth: people are predictable.

Yet as a predictable leader, you compromise your ability to influence and to shift another’s behavior, which is often crucial to accelerate results, boost revenue, ensure sustainable growth. While a large part of influencing is about making people feel a sense of safety, belonging, and mattering, sometimes we need to bluntly lay out the facts. Being able to switch from one stance to the other is an immensely valuable leadership skill.



How Flexible is Your Behavior?

Most of us react in predictable ways, have predictable patterns of behavior, and have predictable speech patterns. No wonder it’s so easy for people to peg us….and no wonder it can seem virtually impossible to get through to certain people.

Chances are your employees know what you’re going to say or do in many situations before you even have a chance to react. Consciously or unconsciously they tune you out (and maybe retreat into their critter state if they think your reaction will be negative)…and any productive potential the conversation may have had is lost. Or perhaps, unbeknownst to you, the way you are acting and reacting sends others a different message then the one you meant to convey.

There’s hope. The following behavioral stances can be mixed and matched for maximum influence, rapport, and outcome. When we use different stances in different scenarios, we get different results. Thanks to all my teachers on stances: Milton EricksonTony RobbinsJerry Jampolsky, and many more. There’s the:

Mommy: Supports the recipient fully, sees and acknowledges how great they are. As a result the recipient feels huge.

Anthropologist: Behaves with major curiosity and high inquiry. This stance asks  lots of questions and is continually curious, at times even fascinated.

Drill Sergeant: Hard core, tell-it-like-it-is, no sugar coating. This stance is supremely direct but not mean.

Professor: Cool, high advocacy, factual, “this is how it is,” “when you do X, you get Y.”

Best Buddy: Highly empathetic: “I’ve been there, I know how hard it is.”

Guru: The wise knowledgeable one, often used by consultants, has a touch of Professor but is less linear and more about overview, has a touch of warmth and heart. This stance is the expert with a heart and high enrollment.

Behavioral Stances in Action

Brain-Based Proof That You’re More Effective Working At Home

image015It’s time to ditch the office. It’s time to have more control over your brain as you work, and the best way to do that is to work from home. Over the past 3 years we’ve been tracking how our clients, executives in senior leadership, sales, marketing, finance, operations, improve performance in three key areas by working from home .5 to 2 days per week.

The results are surprising. The secret is to forge these new positive habits when working from home, then bring the benefits to the workplace.

1-Make Better Decisions—Faster

40 = the number of hours per week that companies expect people to be strong decision-makers

3-5 = the actual number of peak decision-making hours that people report

You make better decisions when you have a chance to reflect on all aspects of what needs to be considered—and not when you have the proverbial gun to your head. As we know from meta programs, if you’re on the reflective end of the Active-Reflective  continuum, this is even more crucial. When you are insulated from interruptions and can control your environment you make better decisions, because you brain experiences less stress.

Speaking of stress, let’s consider the massive amount of uncertainty that exists in today’s workplace.  Thanks to Harvard Medical School research we now know that 75% of people in uncertain scenarios will make decisions based on fearful assumptions—they are expecting something bad to happen. The result is decisions that are risk-mitigation and pain avoiding, with little or no strategic vision in mind. Vision isn’t possible because fear shuts down the prefrontal cortex, so we have no access to our innovative, problem solving, planning parts of our brain.

Client result:

  • 300% increase in hours of peak decision making time each week- based on training their brain in managing their emotional state.

2-Design Better Strategies and Solutions–Faster

10% share of people who do their best thinking at work

39% share of people who do their best thinking at home

In the relentless pursuit to be strategic, extract and demonstrate value, and provide optimal solutions all the time, the workplace is a continuous pressure cooker. This means the brain is often in fear and disaster prevention instead of in analysis and designing the outcomes we want. What happens on our best day? How did Einstein form strategies and solutions? When asked how he created his theory of relativity he said first he felt it, then he saw it, then he could articulate it. He let his mind wander, have visions, form connections, then he formulated the visions into something he could tangibly communicate.

Einstein also said “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of coming attractions.” We need to engage the emotional brain by seeing, hearing, feeling ourselves standing in the future when the strategy is being executed. How is it going? How are people feeling? Are they embracing it? What’s working? What’s not? Now take this learning and ask yourself what you need to adjust right now, before you lock in and launch the strategy.

As leaders the more we balance the logical (prefrontal cortex) planning part of the brain with the emotional (mammalian) area of the brain the more effective our strategies will be.

Client result:

  • 200-400% increase in the quality of strategies – by giving their brains space to feel into the future before a strategy is deployed.
  • 73-97% increase in ability to influence outcomes/others – due to more time to thoughtfully craft communications.

3-Increase Focus and Have More New Ideas

Ever had the feeling that something isn’t quite right, but you can’t quite put your finger on it? That’s the intuitive part of our brain, the insula, at work. This is why we often have great ideas when on vacation, or when shooting hoops or hiking in nature. Our brain is wandering, forming connections, resolving incongruencies, testing out theories. Working from home enables more vision time. Many of our most successful clients allocate one half to one full day per week (Fridays are best) for Vision Time. This is where they let their brains wander, and countless new products, strategies, alliances have resulted.

Our clients that allow Vision Time or even Vision Retreats (solo time in nature for a weekend) consistently crank out market-leading products, ideas competitors haven’t had, and innovative approaches to leverage assets and efficiencies. Give your brain a break and see the great insights that come from it.

Client results:

  • 300-500% increase in innovation across the company when they first followed this process themselves, then taught their teams.
  • 20-47% weekly increase in time on high value activities – due to reduced distractions and drama of the workplace

So working at home makes us faster, better, and heck, it’s even cheaper.

Christine Comaford (@comaford) is a neuroscience-based executive coach that helps leaders build cultures of trust and high performance.

Statistics Sources:

#1 above:  40 and 3-5 from Neuroleadership Institute; 75% from  Harvard Medical School

#2 above: 10% and 39% from Neuroleadership Institute

All other statistics from SmartTribes Institute clients

Fix or Fire? Who To Cultivate, Turn Around, Let Go Of At Work

I was thinking the other day of Jack Welsh’s philosophy that people fit into four categories of performance:

  1. Live the firm values and do produce: keep them!
  2. Live the firm values and are not producing: keep them and develop their performance.
  3. Don’t live the values and don’t produce: easy–fire them!
  4. Don’t live the values and do produce: all organizations struggle here. They should be fired or coached—but many organizations do neither.

Let’s turn this around.

First, recruit people that are naturally aligned with your values.

Here’s where we find our clients often struggle:

  • Candidates aren’t being screened for alignment with company values
  • Candidates aren’t being asked enough self-revealing questions
  • Recruiters aren’t using rapport techniques  to powerfully put candidates at ease—which would result in them revealing who they are

A job interview is a candidate’s “Rock Star Moment”—they’re showing you their best face, so it’s up to the recruiter to ensure that it’s an accurate face, a face we can rely on, a face that is honest. Here’s a sample list of recruiting questions that apply to all roles in a company:

  • Which of our company values are most aligned with your personal values? Why?
  • Please tell me some times in your career when you’ve most powerfully embodied our values?
  • What are the 5 career accomplishments you are most proud of? Why?
  • What are 5 adjectives used to describe you by: colleagues, bosses, friends, yourself?
  • What makes a working environment most compelling?
  • Where do you want to be career-wise in 3 years? 5 years?
  • What is your mission in life and why would working with us help you achieve it?
  • What is the most important thing in life? How do you ensure you honor it?
  • Please tell us a bit about your past entrepreneurial experiences and why/how you’d fit in with us.
  • [add all of your role-specific questions here]

Now let’s address the people in categories #2 (lives the values but not producing) and #4 (don’t live values and do produce) above. Work on turning them around with our Counseling Process first. And if that doesn’t work, it’s time to let them go. To start:

  • Determine what a realistic counseling/turnaround period is: 30, 60 or 90 days, depending on the complexity of the behavior change.
  • Next , think through the specific behavior(s) you need changed, as well as what level of support you are willing to provide.
  • Last, determine the consequences if the behavior does not change (Demotion? Termination?) or if the behavior does indeed change (Keep current job? Move to another team?)
  • Good—now schedule the meeting with the employee that needs counseling.

Our clients love our conflict resolution process below, as it helps everyone get to a shared positive understanding for growth/resolution:

  1. Set the stage – explain why you’re meeting and the outcome you want (to form a collaborative turnaround plan)
  2. State observable data/behavior – this is where you describe specific behaviors that must change and examples so the employee can “step into” the past scenarios
  3. Describe impact – the damage that these behaviors are doing to others/the company/the employee themselves
  4. Check problem acknowledgement – do they agree that there is a problem? Do they agree this problem now must end? This is the most essential step. If you don’t reach agreement here, go back to step 1. Once agreement is reached you’ll notice steps 5-7 are more pleasant, as the employee will now be engaged in finding a solution!
  5. Co-create a plan – set a time period (30-90 days) where you’ll meet weekly for 15-30 minutes to track their progress on releasing the challenging behaviors identified above. Make the plan very specific in terms of what you need to see and when you’ll know you got the outcome you wanted. If the turnaround doesn’t occur, state clearly what the consequences will be (lose job, etc).
  6. Check understanding – is everything clear? Anything else we need to cover? Reiterate desire for a positive resolution so the consequences can become irrelevant.
  7. Build small agreements – launch the plan and commit to ending the conflict once and for all. Be sure to track it frequently and make sure all concerned see the behavior change too.

What categories are your employees in? When will you address those in #2 and #4?

Christine Comaford (@comaford) is a former serial entrepreneur, White House advisor and neuroscience-based executive coach that helps leaders build cultures of trust and high performance.

Is Your Team Trustworthy? Find Out Now


Is your team trustworthy? Are you sure?

And let’s look in the mirror for a moment–do they trust you?

One key aspect of trust is accountability. If you can’t count on someone to follow through, little else matters.

Accountability is deeply tied to promises and trust. And safety, belonging, and mattering is quickly damaged when accountability is dropped. As leaders, it’s key when administering consequences to determine if accountability is being dropped because the person is in their Critter State and is stuck, if one of the three Cs isn’t in place, or if she is just intentionally uncooperative.

The Three Cs That Define Trust

In my experience, trust is broken in three ways:

Capability: Is the person truly capable of doing what was promised? Capability breaches of trust are the easiest to fix. We either help her get the skill(s) she needs or move her to a new role.

Commitment: Is she committed to following through on what was promised? Commitment breaches are more tricky—when a person repeatedly drops commitments we must find out what the underlying cause is. Use an Outcome Frame to achieve this. Ask her, “What would you like here? What will having that do for you? When will you know when you have it?” Once this is clear, we can help her shift to keeping commitments. Read more on Outcome Frames here.

Character: If a person keeps making promises and breaking them, who is she, really? She doesn’t seem to have a consistent character we can count on. Character breaches are the hardest, since we now doubt who the person really is. Was it all a front? Who’s behind the mask? Breaches of this type can take years of demonstrating consistency to win back trust.

Triggered Egos = Fight, Flight & Freeze

Now let’s talk about how the ego is triggered and how we unintentionally send someone into their Critter State. This happens when we question someone’s

Competence (sounds like safety, yes?): If you openly question someone’s ability, you are poking at the ego’s cage, so don’t be surprised to hear a roar. Better to discover their level of competence and help them increase it.

Significance (sounds like mattering, doesn’t it?): If you talk down to a person and see them as beneath you, be ready for the ego to attack—which could be in a passive-aggressive sabotaging manner.

Lovability (this triggers safety, belonging, and mattering issues): Leaders often suggest lovability isn’t questioned in business scenarios. Not so! There are always team members who are perceived as “above the law” or in the “in crowd” or “the boss’s favorite”— that is, more lovable. Those on the outside can damage your culture through dissent. Better to love all.

Lovability Is Essential

On the flip side, as we reinforce and celebrate someone’s competence, appreciate their contributions and significance, and foster a culture of equality and transparency (thus lovability), we’ll help our team stay in their Smart State.

Now that you know how trust is broken and egos are triggered, we can work on rebuilding and confirming trust and keeping ego reactions in check.

How much trust is in your team? Which of the three Cs does your team struggle with most?

Christine Comaford (@comaford) is a former serial entrepreneur, White House advisor and neuroscience-based executive coach that helps leaders build cultures of trust and high performance.

How Engaged Teams Boost Sales

Susan came to us because her company was stuck at the $250 million revenue inflection point. Revenue had risen to $262 million but slid back down, then hovered at $251 million for a few years, and the last year had been really scary—revenue had plunged to $207 million.

Susan was justifiably proud because the company had been featured in several magazine articles that proclaimed how wonderful and innovative the company was. She did not expect us to find anything amiss in the Cultural Assessment and quite emphatically told us so. She was certain her company’s problem was not getting introduced to the right investors. But she was willing to let us do the analysis anyway so that we could help her and the real problem.

What we found shocked and depressed her. Less than 10% of the company understood the company’s vision or could explain how their jobs and their performance related to it.


Why Are We Here?

A bronze plaque in the lobby celebrated the company vision and at quarterly town hall meetings a selected team TISI -0.21% member would repeat it too. Sure, they could read or even memorize the vision, but they didn’t feel it. The vision didn’t get them up in the morning, didn’t throw fuel on their internal fire to achieve great things, didn’t motivate and inspire them, and didn’t stick them firmly in their Smart State.

Deeper questioning revealed that there was little alignment in the team members’ day-to-day operations and there was no sense that they were part of a team achieving anything beyond staying profitable and staying employed, when in fact the company did have some extraordinary and compelling values.

The worst part? The company was unable to attract new talent, and was losing key players. Top salespeople and engineers were heading for the door. Without career development or a stake in continued growth, employees had little incentive to exceed minimum performance expectations. If this continued, the company would take an even deeper nosedive. It was time to act, and fast.

Why Are We Doing What We Do?

Diagnosis: The major issues boiled down to lack of clarity. The company vision existed, but it had no impact, no emotional equity. Marketing and information technology had no real accountability structures. The executive team was disengaged and constantly looked to Susan to resolve turf wars, which led to rampant misunderstandings and divisiveness.

We hunkered down with Susan and set the ground rules. Together we would rebuild this culture. She’d be a key part of it, but when we told her to back off and let her people drive, she agreed to do so.

After ninety days of leadership training and one-on-one coaching for Susan and her executive team members, the team had gradually become more and more engaged in their Smart State and less committed to their Critter State. They began to see themselves not just as managers but as leaders responsible for communicating clearly with their energy and intention just as much as with their words and directions.

Clarity Fuels Engagement

We rounded up the management team for beer and pizza late one afternoon. Together we formed a code of conduct (explicitly naming value-based behaviors) that everyone vowed to uphold. Next , we drafted the company’s mission, vision, and values. Were they perfect? Nope. Did they motivate and inspire the team? Yep. That was a solid start. Even better was that the executive team insisted on emphasizing the two most effective forms of communication at this meeting: requests and promises. Once they had the hang of it and saw the results it produced, each and every one of them committed to holding their teams accountable to creating effective meetings. The company’s meeting rooms were soon plastered with our Five Types of Communication chart (again making desired cultural norms explicit) and the new focus made meetings efficient.

Then we implemented new formats for communicating the company vision with clarity, and overhauled the accountability and reward structures. Within ninety more days, the executives and all team members were supporting one another in living their mission, vision, and values. The new statements were not that different from Susan’s version, but the team owned them and they were stated in a common language, so they could feel their importance.

The firm is now able to consistently attract the talent they need— and the communication and clarity structures helped the entire team see into their blind spots. One year later Susan’s company is zooming toward $270 million in revenue (from $207 million the previous year), with the $500 million inflection point as the target in four years or less.

Do you know your company vision? Do your team members know it? Do they feel emotional about it?

Christine Comaford (@comaford) is a neuroscience-based leadership and culture coach. Her current NY Times bestselling book is entitled SmartTribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together. 


Avoid Extinction: Become A New Breed CxO–4 Must Do’s for CIOs and CMOs

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CMOs and CIOs are a dying breed.  The role of the CMO as someone focused on brand stewardship or demand generation is rapidly evolving into something much more.  Today’s successful CMOs are taking responsibility for technology choices of the brands they steward. In fact, the Gartner Group predicts CMOs will spend more on IT than CIOs within three years!  More than ever CMOs have direct responsibility for the digital and technical elements that power both the business and brand experience. This requires not only being technically adept but relying on strong partnerships with CIOs.

CIOs are being forced in Darwinian fashion to become strategic partners to all elements of the business while they translate priorities into compelling and engaging digital experiences in collaboration with the CMO. Easier said than done!  Recently, I sat down with Steve Mann, CMO of the Research and Litigation Solutions division ofLexisNexis and Joe Norton, the Deputy CIO of Philips, to discuss the four pillars to being a Killer New Breed CMO or CIO…

1. Forget rivalry, the partnership between CIO and CMO is paramount if either of you are to succeed

Joe firmly believes in the need to partner not only with his CMO but with all internal stakeholders. “The big change in my role is that I am no longer in charge of the entire IT Strategy.  Yes I own IT for IT and the investments we make in how to control, protect and operate our IT landscape.  But my CMO and other internal clients own where we will make our strategic IT investments.   They own ‘what capability’ is needed, while I own the ‘how to achieve’ part of the equation.”

2. Become Big Data/Analytics savvy

“All applied IT is a commodity,” says Joe.  “Today, differentiation is found in data and the ability to turn it into insightful business information.”  Steve concurs and in fact believes that Big Data competency is table stakes for today’s CxO’s.  “Running an organization requires insight and everything we do – from analyzing how we develop campaigns to how we talk to customers;  our long term goal is develop deep and predictive analytics behind our actions.”

3. Evolve your decision-making style to accommodate rapid change

Joe has a real evolve or die mentality — “There has been a foundational change to what I do for a living today as opposed to my past. The pace of change is driving this.  I can no longer wait to make decisions until everything is clear and risk free.”  Steve adds that to manage this pace of change, it’s critical to embark on a change management journey to bring your team along for the ride. “While it’s crucial to make decisions when there isn’t clarity or when it involves risk, it’s also imperative that you bring your organization along on this journey or else there will be tremendous resistance to the decisions and actions proposed” says Steve.   Learning to fail fast is a great tool to have in any organization’s arsenal and I highly recommend it, but it is a journey to develop that capability.

4. Stop focusing solely on cost and quality and concentrate on utility, value, choice and openness

Organizations need to shift their perspectives and focus on the relative utility of the investments being made.  Steve drove this point home. “Such investments need to provide customers with true value. For external customers, it’s all about trust. Customers who receive value from the products or services they procure develop trust in the brands they buy from. That trust leads to a long-standing beneficial relationship between both parties.  Internal customers also expect value.  If they don’t get it from internal shared services teams, they go elsewhere.”

For Philips its about moving from control to collaboration. “By being fact-based and providing visibility into utility, value and choice, we have enabled a shift from a control oriented paradigm to one that’s collaboration based. Phillips has changed this part of its IT business model so that the organization is no longer a cost center but a collaboration center.” Joe adds,  “We work with our stakeholders to provide options and choices and my customers must make their decisions on where to spend their IT monies.”

Becoming a new breed CxO takes guile, passion and a willingness to win through change. Yielding in some places will enable you to make great gains in others.  It’s no longer enough to know your domain, if you’re going to be a New Breed CxO you must evolve to be essential in multiple areas of your business.

Christine Comaford (@comaford) is a 5-time former CEO. Today she uses the latest neuroscience techniques to coach leaders in creating predictable revenue, passionate teams and profitable growth. Her current New York Times Bestseller is SmartTribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together.