Agility and The Tao of Yes

Tom O'Shea |

yesIs your glass more than half full with the mindset of YES or running on the emptiness of NO most of the time?

How about your team or your company?  Maybe more than anything else, we find the “mindset” of organizations to be highly influenced and shaped by everyday behavior and language of key influential, individual leaders.   These agile leaders operate with a positive, optimistic and teachable point of view in how they lead.  I like to call that the “Tao of Yes” … signifying the code of behavior that provides the way forward … the right way.

These leaders are not always the outgoing, evangelical corporate culture missionaries who travel about holding corporate revivals (often called sales meetings) or leadership retreats – looking to convert teams into cohorts of true “believers” in the latest strategy.  Sometimes – but often not.  More often, these leaders go about their business embodying this doctrine of YES and operate in an authentic, inclusive and proactive manner driven by a can-do resourcefulness to help the team and its stakeholders succeed.

The Agility Personality Profile = Mindset of YES


Over the past five years, our firm has conducted significant research into the personality factors that make up what we call The Agility Personality Profile – led by our Agility Analytics Practice Leader, Dr. Ben Baran.  It is clear from this research that the five personality dimensions associated with leadership and team member agility include: Focus, Proactivity, Confidence, Optimism and Inquisitiveness.  Just imagine if your organization was staffed with team members high in each of these attributes together with the requisite knowledge, skills and experiences for each position … now that’s a pretty powerful and adaptive workforce! These are the attributes to a YES mindset.

Pervasive Corporate Climates for Learned Helplessness

Back in the 1970’s, Dr. Martin Seligman conducted what some considered “disturbing” experiments at the University of Pennsylvania.  In his laboratory, Dr. Seligman (also known as the father of the field of Positive Psychology) and his researchers constructed a maze to study the behavior of rats (and dogs) when exposed to conflicting motivations.  At the beginning, the rats learned to run the maze to get to the thimbles of food placed at both ends.  The research team then began to introduce “change” into the environment in the form of slight electrical shock to metal thimble as the rats tried to eat.  The rats were naturally startled with the shock and would run to the other side of the maze for “safe food” – only to find the shock there also.

 As you might know or guess, the researchers administered the shock intermittently – so the rats could not predict whether or not they would be shocked when trying to eat.  As things progressed, researchers documented the rats slowing down, many becoming depressed and some displaying dazed and confused signs of psychosis.  Some of the rats were reported to have become so disoriented they ultimately laid down in a condition that was named “learned helplessness”.

 There are many conditions playing out in some corporate climates that are contributing to a new age version of “learned helplessness” – even without the actual electrical shock.  The speed of play in business today combined with the ever thickening volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) that defines operating atmosphere we all face.  Some organizations and leaders continue to try and operate in an outdated command and control mode that saps the energy, enthusiasm and engagement of their organizations.  These organizations become “go through the motions” workplaces where team members learn there is no reason to put forth ideas, show extra initiative or expect to grow their careers.

Learned Hopefulness and the Tao of Yes

We hope and believe the future will be ruled by organizations and leaders who create “learned hopefulness” and establish a mindset of YES throughout their organizations and teams.  These are agile organizations pursing meaningful and inclusive strategies with teams that are focused, fast and flexible in delivering results that delight their team members and stakeholders. These are the organizations that customers and consumers will want to do business with and where talented team members will migrate for personal growth and enrichment.

 As we in the US experience a special holiday this week called Thanksgiving – I hope we all can participate in remembering with gratitude those gifts and relationships we have and value.  Our world is filled with conflicted mindsets that often cause extreme tension, overwhelming negativity and worse … the mindset of NO.  This can lead us to throw up our hands in a sense of helplessness.  In all quarters, it is time for us to bring focus, proactivity, confidence, optimism and inquisitiveness in building more hopefulness in each of our orbits. That will be my quest for 2017 … how about you?

About Tom O’Shea

tomoshea240Volatile, unpredictable, even erratic- these are the times we live in and exactly why Tom O’Shea is considered a trusted advisor and collaborator helping leaders, teams and organizations adapt and thrive by becoming more focused, fast and flexible in an increasingly complex and ambiguous world.

As Principal at Agility Consulting and Training, Tom brings a unique blend of strategic, operational and organizational expertise and support that is rare and valuable.  With perceptive insight, proven strategies and impactful coaching skills, he helps clients at the enterprise, team and individual leader levels exceed even their own expectations. Learn more about Tom here. 

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