Rule of Thumb with Daario Naharis

Rule of Thumb with Daario Naharis

What is it all about

Game of Thrones is an enjoyable show with some quirky scenes. While waiting for the next season, here is a short video with a message that should be remembered.

During the fifth season, in order to quell the thirst for blood of her citizens, queen Daenerys decides to reinstate pit fights as per request of her new husband.

The opening duel features two fighters: one large man versus one smaller man. This leads to a lively discussion between Daario, the charming mercenary and the new and stoïc King Hizdahr zo Loraq.

What do we see in this scene?

There it is, laid in front of us… An arena with a pit fight between two different classes of fighters: one agile and the other powerful. The fight seems to start well for the smaller one, enthusing Daario who’s the same type of fighter. Daario then starts explaining why the queen should bet on him. The king on the other hand expresses his disagreement both in regard to what Daario says as in the way he puts it.

At the end of the fight, “against all odds”, it is the larger fighter who wins.

What do we learn from this scene?

There are two interesting parts to this scene.

First of all, the background of both people participating in the discussion.
Daario is an acknowledged veteran fighter who killed and murdered his share of people. Not only is he skilled and cunning, but he’s also very experienced. The king on the other hand has no figthing experience at all and probably doesn’t know how to properly wield any type of weapon. Instead, he experienced a lot of fights as a spectator and his analytical abilities provide him with a different type of insight.

The second interesting aspect is that both use a concept to explain their reasoning; Daario with the rule of thumb and the king with Occam’s razor.

Leadership and concepts


A rule of thumb can be defined as a principle with broad application that is not intended to be strictly accurate or reliable for every situation. While the The term is thought to originate with carpenters who used the length of the tip of their thumbs rather than rulers for measuring things. This has led to both modern uses as a unit of measure (inch) and an imprecise yet reliable and convenient standard

Daario started at age 16 as a very successful pit fighter who was later rewarded with freedom. He then chose to join the Second Sons as a sellsword, gradually climbed the ladder and became the leader of the mercenaries. All his knowledge, he acquired through hardship, lots of training, fighting and first had experience. During this fight, Daario confides about his rule of thumb: that in combat, speed and agility defeats size and strength, and he’s referring to himself as example.

Daario’s mistake is to use himself as benchmark. While he may be of average built, his fit body, strong reflexes, agility and natural talent make him an outstanding warrior; one that could easily beat the larger fighter. This however cannot be transposed to other situations. Daario, didn’t take the time to assess both fighters and just believes the smaller will win because he would. Daario mentally bestowed the smaller fighter with his personal capabilities, thus creating an image of himself in the pit. Of course he can’t lose!

This teaches us that leaders should:
1. Be able to distinguish their capabilities from others and not transpose them
2. Be able to identify strength and weaknesses of the people they’re working with
3. Take the time to assess the full scope of the context
4. Consider very carefully any form of simple profiling or decision-making

As Andy Bounds would say when asked for a rule of thumb: It depends!
It depends of the context, of what people want, of what they need.
And the only rule of thumb that can be effectively used is get informed!

King Hizdahr

Occam’s razor is a problem-solving principle stating that when several explanations arise for a specific occurrence, then the simpler solution is usually the better one.

Hizdahr belongs to the ancient aristocratic House of Loraq, one of the ruling families of slavemasters in Meereen.

Hizdahr is the opposite of Daario. Where the second was a pit fighter, the first lived the life of a slavemaster. Where one had to fight, the other was betting on the fighters. Where one lived a life of hardships, the other enjoyed luxury.

Hizdahr is first of all a businessman and his trade is slavery and pit fighters. In order to make money, he has to assess people’s worth. Slaves are his assets. He has watched many fights and use them to optimize his purchases and price assessments for individual slaves. His ego has no place during these processes.

In this scene, Hizdahr disagree with Daario with a very simple statement: “Larger man do triumph over smaller man far more often than not.”
Hizdahr is using statistics to corroborate his statement, implying that his vast expertise comes from watching pit fights all his life. His assertion is quite simple in fact: big is better than small in a fight. Unlike Daario, he doesn’t use additional artifices to try and persuade the others.

Following Occam’s razor principles, among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. Larger fighters are more resilient, have more strength and longer reach. Therefore, for a smaller fighter to win we’ll need to assume he’s fast, nimble, talented, stronger than expected, etc.
This means that the simpler answer (and statistically most proved) is that the larger fighter will win.

While Hizdahr won this bet, there is no guarantee that the larger fighter will win the next fight.

Hizdahr is an “intellectual” who do not trust the opinion of people with ground experience. Pit fights are his trade and what define him as a person. Without it, he’s nothing.

This teaches the following:
1. Listen to people who have a different background, they complement your weaknesses
2. Your actions define you, not your title


Both the rule of thumb and Occam’s razor are heuristic techniques. They can ease the cognitive load of making a decision, but are fundamentally flawed.

We all tend to use our own experience as a filter and based on our profile we prefer using field experience or a theoretical approach. Both have their advantages, and in most cases they complement each other.

Leaders are often experienced people, who stand above others. When making decisions, they have to take into consideration that other people working with/for them do not have the same aptitudes and capabilities. As such, leaders should temper their expectations.

Taking the lead with Dark Matter

Taking the lead with Dark Matter

What is it all about

This post is the third part of the “born or made” set.

Dark Matter is an enjoyable show about a six-person crew of a derelict spaceship. One day, the crew awakens from stasis one after the other in the farthest reaches of space. Their memories wiped clean, they have no recollection of who they are or how they got on board. The only clue to their identities is a cargo bay full of weaponry and a destination: a remote mining colony that is about to become a war zone. With no idea whose side they are on, they face a deadly decision.

What do we see in this scene?

During the second episode the crew has to take a difficult decision, help the colony fight their enemies or leave them to their fate and go sell the cargo. During the first episode we learn a little bit on each character and discover they all have strong and deadly personalities (they’re all criminals). So the lingering question is: who was their leader and who should take the lead right now. Up till this specific scene we have only seen one explicit discussion about the topic, which we’ll talk about below. In this scene, one and two (two first characters to awaken) have a conversation about it.

What do we learn from this scene?

In the two previous posts we learned that finding out if a leader is born or made is probably not the right question to ask and that context helps defining the meaning of leadership. In order to lead in a given situation, one has to be the most adapted to it. Whether that person gained it through experience or was born with unique personality traits, if it doesn’t suit the need, then that person won’t be able to lead.

This scene is particularly interesting because we have a bunch of people; all professionals with incredible skills and strong personalities. They all believe they’re the right person to lead, but only few of them express the desire. This is like a poker game where some prefer to show their hand and other to wait and see. Somehow, the leading role has been taken by number 2.

Number 2 is intelligent, smart, strong and intimidating to the male gender. In addition she’s the one who knows best how to handle the spaceship navigation and control consoles. Whereas all the guys were talking about what must be done, she started giving efficient orders. Number 2 explains that she stepped up and that nobody really challenged her directives; which has naturally elevated her to a position of strength.

The context is very different from traditional human social structures. Tribes, companies and the army all have their leadership models and rules. One cannot just decide to become the leader. Here however, the crew looks more like a pack of wolves. Social animals have a ranking system that could be seen as their social hierarchy and the Alpha individual is the one who stands at the top. Alphas may achieve their status by superior physical strength and aggression, or through social efforts and building alliances within the group.

While this is probably a very simplistic setting, it is also one that brings us back to whom we are before having introduced a social hierarchy. Therefore, it’s an excellent example to study real leadership.

In this scene it seems that initiative, guts and aggression may have been the differentiator. But is this really what made number 2 become the leader?

The first discussion about leadership

This second scene happens during the first episode, before the one above. We see the “deadpoolish” number 3, who is the hotshot and big talker of the group lobbying for the position of leader.

This is very interesting for the following reasons:
1. The way he defines a leader:
“Someone who makes key decisions for the group. Someone representing everyone’s best interest. Someone who’s got the final say when there are disagreements.

2. The way he tries to get the job.

Number 3 is someone with a strong ego who explicitly says what he thinks, or want people to think of him. He’s conflicted and loves to create discord. He plays the big shot pretending to be better than the others and he lobbies the rest of the crew to get the job. His description of leadership focuses on three words: decisions, interests, disagreements.

Being a soldier or mercenary, there’s no surprise here that taking decisions is the top priority for the leader. Speaking about disagreements shows that he expects them to happen and someone will be needed to safekeep the cohesion of the team. Interests, however, is a word that seems more personal and even inappropriate. Interests can be defined in many ways indeed. This word is actually the glue between disagreements and decisions. The crew doesn’t know each other and we can expect each person to have their own motives in joining the team; whether they remember them or not. Even if these motives may have changed following their memory loss, they are the fuel for potential disagreements and future decisions.

Number 3 is not a fool, so why doesn’t he become leader?
As the saying goes:

More you push a subject, more you try to sell it and less credible and trustworthy you become. Number 3, while he does love talking, is not clueless. Leadership is a pain! One that number 3 doesn’t really want. Instead, he’s testing the group to see how far he can go with each and remain his own man.

Is the leader really the one leading?

Coming back to number 2, why has she become the leader of the team?

We’ve seen in the previous post that in American Indian tribe culture, no one person was always a leader, and many were leaders at different times. When a warrior was needed a warrior was made the leader. In this case, we have a tribe of mercs who don’t know each other or even themselves and yet they have to learn trust each other and work efficiently. If all are warriors, then what are the competences required to be the leader? Should he be the strongest one?

Number 2 stepped up and has been acknowledged (later on) as the team leader and it’s the context that created it. First of all she’s the only woman in a pack of men and she’s physically their equal if not stronger. By choosing her, they don’t give any other male the Alpha position, creating a stronger bond rather than raising competition.

Speaking of competition, this may also be a male fantasm to have a strong woman leading them and could also be a good PR stunt to the external environment – 1 woman leading a bunch of mercs.

Secondly, number 2 seems to be more well-rounded skills-wise. She’s bossy and knows how to give orders and be heard, she has aptitudes for diplomacy and knows how to navigate the spaceship; which provides additional information about her background.

Number 2 may have been the leader in the past, if they had such thing, but she has an additional reason to become the leader – it’s the only way for her to be recognized as equal. If not for that, her voice may get completely lost. Therefore, to her, it’s a matter of survival.

And finally, the crew’s interests!
As number 3 stated, the leader must represent everyone’s best interests. Most of the crew members do not want to take the leadership position for different reasons:

Number 1 is not comfortable with it preferring the role of counselor, the leader may seem to be taking the hard decisions, but strategic long term choices can be suggested.
Number 3 feels it’s a pain, for him leading doesn’t necessarily come from the top.
Number 4 is the silent strength and his feelings tell him this is only a small fragment of his path. He doesn’t want to waste his energy on leading a bunch of people he doesn’t feel related to.
Number 5 is not part of the crew.
Number 6 is the wise and strong figure and would be the most obvious choice to follow naturally. However for the cohesion of the team he decides to step back and use a coaching attitude.

Taking all this in consideration, can we still say that number 2 is the leader of the team or has she just been rewarded with the leadership role?


Even though number 2 is one of the better choices to lead the crew (probably the best one in this specific case) and while she took the initiative to lead the others, it is solely because the rest of the crew decided this is for the best. Each person weighted the pros and contras to arrive to the conclusion that she may be the most suited person… for now.

There are different angles to approach these two scenes, and if we follow this one it confirms that one can have all the traits required to be a leader and yet not have a leading position. This can be explained by the actual need and who serves best the interests of the team.

Companies have today a very rigid leadership framework based on titles – what if instead they were selecting the leader based on the needs and interests of the moment?
How will it impact short term and long terms decisions?
This is something we’ll try to figure out in the next articles.

Chosen Leader with The 100

Chosen Leader with The 100

What is it all about

This is the second post in the set of examples used to find out whether leaders are born or made. It is also the second article using The 100 TV series.

What do we see in this scene?

Clarke and Lexa are both the leaders of their community. Whereas Clarke comes from a “civilized” society living in space, Lexa is the young commander of a tribe of warriors residing on earth.

In this scene, the two are stuck in an old zoo, trying to escape from a ferocious gorilla.

The scene starts with both speaking about how leadership relates to making hard choices and moves later to how one becomes the leader of the tribe.

What do we learn from this scene

We’ve seen in the previous post that for the army, leadership means taking decisions. Here again, Lexa, as a warrior confirms that:

In the second part of the scene, Lexa tells Clarke that if she dies, her spirit will choose the next leader of the tribe. Whether it’s reincarnation or through divine selection, this spiritual approach to leadership brings something very new to the table. (or should we say “very old”.)

First of all, we have to understand, that this has nothing to do with being a spiritual leader like a shaman or a priest. On the other hand, the process resembles the one of the Dalai Lama who is found rather than chosen. The Dalai Lama is believed to have the power to choose the body into which he is reincarnated, meaning that the current Dalai Lama is a reincarnation of the last. This however means that the new leader will be chosen at a very young age. Moreover, the new body will be chosen based on the spirit’s vision of the future rather than existing aptitudes and personality traits. In this case, we can assume that the next leader is born. Growing up, he may be a good leader, but to become the Dalai Lama he has to be found first.

If on the other hand the spirit doesn’t get reincarnated as Clarke says, and instead chooses the next leader, then we can consider that the spirit will use its wisdom rather than vision to select the next leader, and that based on existing attributes. Therefore, we can assume the leader is not born, but instead already made and experienced. I personally believe that this second option is what Alexa meant by saying her spirit will choose wisely.

Interesting concept

The process used by Lexa’s tribe is interesting because of the following:

1. It is not a spiritual leader who’s chosen, but a warrior leader and yet that person is chosen by a spirit.

2. The leader is selected by the previous leader; therefore the definition of what means to lead well depends of the tribe’s leadership history. The leadership role and the aptitude to lead are completely intertwined.

In American Indian tribe culture, no one person was always a leader, and many were leaders at different times. When a warrior was needed a warrior was made the leader. But when the war was over and a healer was needed to lead, he became the leader. Leadership was given to the one who was most suited to the task at a given time. Therefore the leader was selected based on his accomplishments and the requirements in the actual context. In our case, it is the wisdom of the spirit that shall decide who is most suited for the job considering the existing situation.

It would be interesting to know how the selection process is done in the physical realm. Will the next leader be chosen based on physical aptitude such as through duels? Will the spirit show a sign to the chosen one? Or will there be a spiritual ceremony where people vote such as when electing a new Pope?

Whatever the means used, this process indicates a belief that the one chosen to be the leader is the most suited person (based on the spirit’s belief). The leader is not born or made; he or she is just chosen.


In my previous post I wrote that it all depends on how we define leader and leadership. What we learn from The 100 is that it doesn’t really matter if a leader is born or made. The leader is chosen based on the context and the actual need of the community. Therefore, one can have all the required aptitudes to lead, if people (or the spirit) will not consider him to be the most suited for the job, that person will be a leader with no real flock to lead.

And yet, I believe there is more to it. Context is part of defining a leader, but we can go further.

How about you? Do you feel it makes sense? Should we add something to this post?

Leader born or Made with The Last Ship

Leader born or Made with The Last Ship

What is it all about?

This post will be the first chapter in a set of articles where we will use examples of different series to find out if leaders are born or made.

The last ship’s story revolves around the crew of a naval destroyer that is forced to confront the reality of a new existence when a pandemic kills off most of the earth’s population. Though there are no zombies or other strange beings, the show focuses as many others on survival. The main difference with other tv series is that this one has a US vessel with a full crew and no futuristic tech. I guess we could say it’s a tad more realistic than its peers.

What do we see in this scene?

This scene takes place in the second season just after that Jeffrey Michener, the newly sworn President of the United States meets the crew of the USS Nathan James. As former United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Michener was manipulated into being appointed as the President by the Ramsey brothers who planned to use him to control the USA.

Being completely unprepared and overwhelmed by the role he was given, Michener has now a very hard time taking decisions and displaying any form of leadership. He wasn’t even able to figure out what he wanted for lunch.

Command Master Chief Petty Officer Russell Jeter decided to give him some advice…

What do we learn from this scene

There are 3 different aspects studied in this short conversation:

  • Taking decisions: from a military standpoint the role of a leader is to take decisions
  • Leadership can and should be studied
  • Leadership is acquired through experience

CMC Jeter explains to Michener that whereas he doesn’t have the same leadership background as the military do, he can learn and they do trust his capabilities and his capacity as President.

Leadership, born or made?

There are many studies on this topic and perceptions widely differ. Some believe that to be a leader, one requires a set of personality traits, the right competences and the ideal context to bloom. Others believe it’s innate and will pop out anyway; context doesn’t really matter. And lastly there are those who believe that through experience anyone can become a leader.

As Connson Chou Locke explains in his post, maybe this is not the right question to ask. In his article, the author explains we have to differentiate between leadership effectiveness (performance as a leader) and leadership emergence (being tapped for a leadership role). In addition, one can be tapped for the role by taking the lead or being appointed. Therefore, initiative could be key in defining leadership.

What I like about this scene is that it very well identify the way leadership is embraced by the army. One can gain a leadership position or become a leader through study, experience and trust. A soldier starts at the bottom and gains in status and leadership throughout his career. But the most important is that it doesn’t really focus on specific competences, skills and personality traits. Of course, it is only in actual battle where people die, that a soldier will be able to display his real aptitude to command and lead his troops. (which brings us back to context)

Most studies and leadership experts estimate that leadership is indeed a combination of about one-third inborn aptitude and two-third made. And yet, this doesn’t really define or take into consideration what it actually means to lead and what makes the difference between a good leader and a bad one. Can we even state that a bad leader is a leader? When googling good vs bad leader, I mostly find articles about good vs bad boss. Does it mean that boss equals leader? Is the person in charge defacto a leader?

Moreover, if we take the army as context, there are different layers of leadership and decision-making. Whereas a general commands the army, decides strategically and gives orders in a rather impersonal way, low rank officers have to take more often tactical decisions and directly order their troops while seeing people getting killed. Higher we go in the command chain and more it becomes abstract. How can we compare and say who is a good or bad leader? Again, context seems to be playing a role in the type of leadership.

First and foremost it depends very much of how we define leader and leadership. I also believe that there is much more to it than skills, personality, learning and experience or even fate. So what is exactly missing? That is what we’re going to try and find out using other videos and the next releases.

Leader’s Speech with the 100

Leader’s Speech with the 100

What is it all about?

The 100 is a surprisingly good show that happens 97 years after a nuclear war has destroyed civilization. A spaceship housing what seems to be humanity’s last survivors sends 100 juvenile delinquents back to Earth in hopes of possibly re-populating the planet.

This show is a goldmine for everything related to leadership. There are many scenes that can be used to explain leadership or people management related concepts. Moreover, it’s really thrilling and worth the watch!

What do we see in this scene?

Early in the show, 100 adolescents and young adults are sent to earth with little chance of survival. They don’t know if they’ll land without crashing and if the air is breathable. They don’t have any strategy, they were not drilled for it nor do they have a hierarchy to take decisions and everything indicates that if they survive the landing it all might end with chaos.

As it is often the case, context creates or at least awakens the potential leaders and in this scene we see two of the main protagonists argue and make a speech to rally followers. Clarke Griffin used to be a privileged, a member of the high society within the spaceship and yet she ended on earth as a delinquent. The other is Bellamy Blake, a former guard who decided to sneak and join the stranded in order to help his younger sister who was on board. Both argue about the importance of the communication wristband that each person wears and that provides information about their well-being to the spaceship. Where Clarke believes they should keep it, Bellamy prefers they earn their privacy and with it their freedom.

What do we learn from Clarke and Bellamy

Both Clarke and Bellamy are older than most of the other 100’s. They’re more experienced and possess skills, attributes and personality traits that make them stand out. However, in a situation of survival, it is important for the group’s unity that one person claim and earn the “title” of leader and the status that goes with it.
In indigenous societies, electing the leader is often done by a form of challenge. Sometimes it’s verbal and more often it is decided with a fight. The strongest is the fittest to rule or the one chosen by the gods. In a more civilized society, it is most frequently decided through a vote, and this is where democracy pops in. Is the latter better than the others? When I see how politics impacts leadership, I’m not really convinced.

In this scene, we see Bellamy gaining the upper hand for the following reasons:

  • Most of the stranded are petty criminals and low class citizens who had little resources and education on the spaceship. They had to take actions in order to survive and do not trust the upper class. This is the first reason why they trust Bellamy more as he’s one of them.
  • If we look at the 100’s sets of values, “freedom” and “security” are probably the highest in the list. Freedom means not being in touch with the adults they perceive as captors and security can be provided by someone strong, preferably a warrior and a man.
  • The moment they stranded on earth their survival instincts kicked-in; which means that intelligent people will use their brain more effectively, whereas the majority will use their physical attributes; which again supports Bellamy.
  • Bellamy seems to be more of a charismatic leader telling people what they want to hear using the right intonations, whereas Clarke sounds more of a pain they want to avoid.
  • Lastly, Clarke tries to explain the situation and speaks about the context which may be too abstract for the people, whereas Bellamy uses the opportunity to make a real speech about the people and how the can take matters into their own hands. While Clarke seems to be lecturing and condemning, Bellamy’s speech focuses on the positive.

This resulted in Clarke having the brains (engineers, scientists…) as followers and Bellamy the majority.

How far is far enough?

We’ve seen in a previous post that leading people is not about oneself, but about the others. In her speech, Clarke explain that the 100 and the rest of the crew which still are on the spaceship have to cooperate to survive, yet for Bellamy their small group is self-sufficient. This example shows that Clarke has an holistic view of the situation and considers the stakes for everyone. Bellamy on the other hand is more of a tactician looking at what’s in front of him. While a leader should have a systemic understanding of the situation, that person doesn’t have to communicate that way and should instead focus on what’s important for the audience.

And the winner is…

Looking at this scene we clearly see that Bellamy has won this first round.

  • Before the speech, he was there all the time taking notable decisions, whereas Clarke was outside the camp and had little visibility.
  • He spoke about the people with empathy and emotions rather than about the context.
  • He is part of the story and echoes authenticity
  • He invokes their past and possible future accomplishments

Bellamy made indeed a powerful speech which forced Clarke to leave and reconsider the situation.

Speech and action

A good speaker can ignite passion within the audience. It is said that a well-delivered speech is one of the most significant tools at a leader’s disposal. That being said, a good speaker with a well-prepared speech doesn’t make a half decent leader and people tend to forget it.

During the following episodes we will see that Clarke and Bellamy complement each other and that while Bellamy had the upper hand with this speech, he will slowly start following Clarke and will consider her as the real leader of the group. She may not be the most charismatic person or the best talker, but her other traits compensate for that lack.

There are many good examples of leader speeches out there, but how many of them were really great leaders who managed to bring real change and not just a good speech?

As a leader, once you manage to stir the crowd, you will also create expectations and will have to deliver. At the end of the day, the quality of a leader is not measured by the effectiveness of his speech, but by the results, he and his people, delivered. A good speech is just the start and in a next post we will discuss how to use that start effectively.

Do you have some good examples of speeches that were the start of something great?

Dieselgate explained with The Arrow

Dieselgate explained with The Arrow

What do we see in this scene?

Arrow is the story of Oliver Queen, spoiled billionaire playboy, who was presumed missing after his father’s yacht capsized. Five years later he returns, changed and determined to clean up the city as a hooded vigilante.

As a side note, most episodes are below average and the story is only worth watching if you enjoy kung-fu fights and wrong decisions at every turn.

In this scene we see Oliver and his best friend Tommy have a conversation. Tommy has a hard time adapting to the changes in his surroundings and now that he knows Oliver’s secret it has become even more complex.


Earth is a big place and each one of us is a world on its own. People experience the context they live in as their own extension. Through our senses, we try to understand or realize what is physically going on. Our brain then computes the information and uses the data acquired to make sense and connect with our personal set of values. This basically means that the world is different for each of us based on one’s perception. More about it can be found in Husserl’s work about Phenomenology.

Cognitive dissonance and Egoïsm

When something weird and unexpected happens and we start feeling discomfort or mental stress we tend to ask the following 3 questions:
How did it happen?
Why did it happen?
What’s the impact on me?

Egoïsm, in its psychological state, view that humans are always motivated by self-interest, even in what seems to be acts of altruism. As the world is our extension, we will work on it to improve our situation. When someone experiences a cognitive dissonance such as Tommy, things get complicated. In Tommy’s case, to find back his balance, he decides to quit.

When Oliver’s friends and family found out that Oliver is back, they were in shock and had to start computing that information. In order to adapt to this new context, they had to ask Oliver certain questions: where was he, how did he survive, why did it take so much time to come back and so forth. While they felled compelled to ask these questions, they didn’t really care about Oliver’s context. They expected to have answers that will help them understand how this change, Oliver’s return, will impact their live and how they can adopt it or adapt to it.

Arrow’s story revolves around helping each other out, and yet, somehow it fails completely. Instead everything seems to be focused on selfishness. Me! Me! Me! And this is where it gets interesting.


These last couple of months were strong in emotions. First we had the stories with thousands of refugees coming to Europe and now the focus is on Volkswagen using a software to cheat.

We all remember Aylan Kurdi’s sad yet powerful picture, and while probably most of us forgot his name, we haven’t forgotten what happened. The boy’s picture and very convincing news headlines have literally put all of Europe in a situation of cognitive dissonance. The war wages a couple of years now in Syria, yet, suddenly, we realize bad things happen to innocent people. Egoïsm then kicks-in and people start to send calls to action and help arriving refugees. Now a month later, most have done their required action to get back to a congruent state and returned to their dormant self.


Volkwagen is the latest case where a giant in the car industry decided to cheat on their diesel car emissions. When this was discovered and then communicated to the masses, most people followed the same scheme.

How did it happen?
Why did they do it?
And finally because they don’t have answers to both these questions, how does it impact me?

People without a volkswagen car, do not feel directly related to the case, but still may think that their car manufacturer could do the same. Volkswagen customers on the other hand, who bought such a car with the idea they’ll pollute less, now realise they have been lied to, feel a discomfort, and want compensation.

Here again, the press started spreading fearsome headlines putting all of the world in mental stress. The company’s stock value dropped over 40% in two days and the end of the world is near…


And yet, nothing has really changed. The moment I’m writing this post, Volkswagen’s stock has increased over 20% and people are still buying their cars. We don’t really care about what happens with Volkswagen, we don’t even talk about what could happen to the tens of thousands of employees, who had nothing to do with it. While we cry out loud on Volkswagen, we don’t even try to find out the reasons behind this fraud and how this could be used in a constructive way. No, what’s important is how I can make the situation better for me.

Once the novelty effect (in this case a negative one) will go down, all of us will return to our daily routines and some short term investors would have earned a few millions.

Actually, this is the same as Apple launching their new iPhone and the reason they have to launch an s version after 6 months. Each new iPhone creates a cognitive dissonance for Apple fans (and most of the press) and they must talk about it and potentially buy it. Therefore, each time novelty ebss away, the company has to come with a new product to recreate the effect and increase (or at least maintain) sales.

How does this relate to leadership?

We’ve seen in previous posts that leadership is not about oneself, but about the (positive) impact we can have on others. The simple fact that a CEO has to step down indicates that, at least for listed companies, leadership and management are indeed to separate concepts.
Right now people are trying to make sense of the situation and once they feel they have their answer (and compensation) things will return to normal. It happened many times throughout mankind’s history, in the car industry (Toyota, GM) , with the oil industry (BP) and it will continue to happen in the future.

For you as a leader

When such large context changes happen, time is at your side. People get quickly infuriated, but when the novelty effect has gone or when they understood how the situation impacts them and what they can do about it, the situation will quiet down.

These kind of cases also happen daily on smaller scales and can be rapidly fixed. An employee that gets promoted and has a very different job, an employee who lost a relative, or someone who heard 100 people will get fired.

When dealing with an issue that changes someone’s context, it is all about helping that person answer the 3 questions:
How did it happen?
Why did it happen?
What’s the impact on me?

And this requires transparency.

In the Arrow and Volkswagen case, everything happens because people don’t get the answers they deserve and therefore focus solely on trying to weigh the impact.

Henceforth, when someone is in a state of mental stress or feels out of context, help them get back in it. Help them rebuild the context as being their own extension.

Start by explaining how the company or that person got into this situation and what it actually means. Tell them about the big picture and how they relate to it while being concrete and earnest. Give them the information and the tools they need to control their context.

Professional coaches use techniques such as Neuro-linguistic programming and Non-violent communication to help restructure the broken link. Systemic thinking is also a very powerful way to understand and explain the context and impact of a specific problem. Systems theory helps provide a holistic view of a given situation and should be taught to managers and leaders. While unknown or forgotten by business and politics, it has the potential to help solve many cases.

Once the person can directly relate to the context and has all the required information to compute, then they will be better equipped to accept the impact and come up with constructive suggestions and alternatives.

The most important is that the relationship between the leader and the follower takes place in a trusting and constructive context. Act in a different way than Oliver who keeps secrets because he believes that the truth may break his friends. You as leader are not the only one who has the right to change and evolve. Your people deserve it too and it is your role to help them get there.

In the series Oliver often say to the criminals he capture that they have failed the city. He as a leader has often failed his team, but you don’t have to.