I met Monika because Ricardo Fiel had referenced me as a team leader. We talked about topics related with leading teams because Monika is preparing training topics for leaders.

I really liked talking with her and felt that I could have so much to learn. Being more focused on executing I sometimes feel that I lack in the theory part.

She works at TEAMmatters where she helps companies change for the better. I learned a lot on this interview and hope it will also be useful for you.

Hey Monika, can you give an intro to your background and about what you do?

My professional background is related to change & project management focused on Organizational Development. I help a new generation of passionate leaders shape strong, healthy and adaptive teams/organizations with the right people.

I focus on building organizations with TRUST, with no politics, toxicity or misplaced talents, but with a clear purpose and the right people, so they can focus on their organizational adaptability and excellence. Organizations, where most of the days people love going to work even if it’s raining and return home fulfilled, NOT exhausted or hating their jobs, BUT setting a positive example for their kids that work can be meaningful and doesn’t have to steal their “real life”.

One of my main inspirations for the “end result” of my work is a culture and a structure that helps a company operate in the Modern Agile manner.

I gained a vast part of my experience in a consulting company in Poland working on different HR and strategic change management projects for multiple companies – among others: Polish airlines, national railways, companies from the energy or telco sector etc. but earlier I also worked in HR departments of an IT company, a bank or a brewery;) I loved the consulting work, but its crazy intensity (consulting is known for it) made me decide on a life change. I moved to Portugal (also because of my Portuguese husband) and here I started working on the similar matters, but independently. I facilitate workshops and manage change projects. So far, my biggest pride comes from my almost 4-year cooperation with 7Graus where we implement Modern Agile and we are heading for an ambitious vision.

That’s awesome Monika. How do you help leaders?

My role is similar to a “whisperer” or a coach. We could say I play “intellectual tennis” with them. ;) When requested, I offer a second opinion on people-related topics and organizational dilemmas they have, indicating a set of possible solutions. I both advise and execute them, if needed, which may happen, for example, by facilitating workshops or through individual coaching.

I help bring light to human behaviour and individual differences, which helps manage diversity in the team and increase inclusion. At the same time, it helps the leader to understand himself better and become more self-aware and confident in his leadership style. I think that, along the way, the leader learns how to be himself, and better. He doesn’t need to “play the role of a leader”; trying to be someone he’s not; he just needs to be authentic so people can trust him. Because I believe that you can’t effectively lead from a position of power but only through the authentic relationships you have with each member of your team. That’s why I believe it’s so important for a leader to know himself and master self-management first before he will try to better manage or influence others. Only with good self-awareness, we can focus on building relationships and trust with others - then, team management and leading changes are easier. And trust, here, is fundamental. All this to build organizational with no politics, toxicity or misplaced talents, but with a clear purpose and the right people, so you can focus on your organizational adaptability, growth and excellence.

There is a quotation of John Adair that I very much agree with: “You can be appointed a manager… (but) you are not a leader until your appointment has been ratified in the hearts and minds of those involved.”

What kind of changes do you help implement?

In general terms, I help to implement changes both at the individual and cultural/organizational levels. By changes, I mean systemic solutions that address problems like:

  • How can we be more effective?
  • How can we improve teamwork and team collaboration?
  • How can we motivate/engage people in their work?
  • How can we recognize efforts without a traditional, “toxic” appraisal system?
  • How can we have more people with the Agile or growth mindset?
  • How can we get people to take more responsibility/ownership?
  • How can we encourage people to hold each other accountable?
  • How can we transform to be more Agile?

How do I do it? I start with a diagnosis that helps me understand both the leader and the team. I am usually there to make something work better. So it’s a little bit like with a doctor - I listen to the symptoms but I also do some additional analysis to confirm or verify the accuracy of the assumptions (interviews or workshops with the team, surveys etc). Then, I suggest a set of potential tools or ways to address the real cause of “the pain” and we execute the “prescribed” treatment. I work in a very participative way, so I see myself as a facilitator of change - helping the leader and the team co-create and adapt the final solution to their specific context. I do it with them, not to them.

How about working with leaders of leaders? Is the approach different?

Your question stopped me and made me curious. What would you think could/should be different?:) Here, if it was a live conversation I would really like to know your opinion and understand first what triggered you to ask the question?? :)

And normally I would wait to listen to your answer first, however, following the convention of the interview and not to make it look as avoidance to the answer ;) I can say that…:

In my opinion what differentiates them most often is just the level they operate on - more strategic vs operational - but not so much the consciousness they all need to understand the concept of authentic leadership - who they are, who they are not ;) and how to understand diversity of people, and navigate among complexity of their interactions to get together to the common vision.

What is your point of view on the leaders of the leaders and their challenges, Pedro?

This is actually something that puzzles me. In theory everything should be similar, but if we’re being a line manager of a manager, there are different things to consider. I may know how to grow a developer, how to push him to be better. But I may not know how to grow a manager and make him better. How to know if he is doing a good job and being a good leader? How to know if we’re all aligned in values and have a healthy culture going on. Specially if we are leading several leaders.

Maybe it’s a question of scale. How do you scale coaching? Imagine that instead of coaching someone, you’re actually in charge of making sure that good coaching and leadership is happening at the company. Any tips or pointers?

I have many tips and pointers as it’s exactly what I do! ;)

There are three things that I would like to clarify, so I will divide it into parts.

1) Manager vs Leader

For me, speaking about a manager of a manager is a different thing than speaking about a leader of a leader. It relates to John Adair ’s quotation from earlier. I do believe that the essence of the role of the leader is similar at both the operational and strategic level. To make people feel like they are safe, matter and belong. What happens often is that the higher the leader is in “the hierarchy” the more essential Emotional Intelligence becomes to know how to win people’s minds and hearts.

Therefore I see that a manager on the operational level has different tasks than on the strategic level but, to be perceived as a leader, he has a similar path to go through. What happens often is that a) the “kind of people” you lead are different at each hierarchical level so the challenges are a bit different, and b) also we as leaders, depending on our own personal development, see the leadership and its challenges differently (we may be on different levels of leadership, therefore some strategies or management tools we will perceive differently).

Do you understand what I’m trying to convey?

I could elaborate in more details how it’s all linked again to leaders’ self-awareness and awareness of people’s nature, but I would just redirect those more interested in the topic to find more about this in Bob Anderson’s work, which I recommend, especially in relation to the point a) Pathways to Partnership and for b) 5 level of leadership.

2) Mentoring vs Coaching and Leadership

When you say that you may know how to push someone to be better, I’m curious what exactly makes it different to lead a developer over a manager? What exactly makes you more confident with the programmer? And what do you think you miss when it comes to the manager’s development? Is it the fact that you were a developer yourself and you know how it is to be in his shoes? That you have the “know-how” because it’s the field of your expertise? If so, it might mean that, for now, you help people grow through mentoring, because mentoring = I was there, I can share with you how I did it, what I learned and what I believe can help you. It’s more like a student-teacher relationship or father-son. It kind of requires that you have all the answers.

Coaching doesn’t require you to have a similar experience or knowledge as the person you are helping. Coaching = tell me where you want to go and I will help you get there; I might not have been there myself but I can help you find out what holds you back, how you will know that it works, what to do when you lose motivation etc. In general, I can help you identify and follow a clear plan on what you need to do to achieve the goal you desire, and all this will be done by yourself. The coach facilitates the process and brings accountability but the coachee designs and executes the exact path.

In my opinion, coaching is a facilitation tool for the leader to help people grow. It helps to keep a partnership between the leader and the team, based on Adult-Adult relationship (not Parent-Child pattern). That being said, I think that the leader doesn’t need to know all the answers. Instead, I think that he needs to ask the right questions so that his peers can find the answers themselves so that they can bring ideas, create solutions and come up with their own suggestions. I see the (servant) leader more as a sparring partner to discuss ideas with, give feedback and encourage peers’ independence. I believe and have observed that, in healthy organizations, development is the personal responsibility of each person, not the responsibility of the leader or an HR specialist. So, instead of finding answers for the leaders you lead, I would suggest to support them finding their own answers to questions like:

  • “What does a good leader mean to you?”
  • “If you could estimate how you see yourself as a leader, according to your definition in a scale of 1-10, where 1 is poor and 10 great - what would the right number be for you, right now?”
  • “What makes you think this way/decide on this?”
  • “How do you feel about the result?”
  • “How would you like it to be? (When?)”
  • “What do you need to be a better leader for +1 point in the scale?”
  • “How can you get there?”
  • “What more do you need to learn about to know exactly the path?”
  • “Who can help you with it?”
  • “How much time do you need for it?”
  • “How will you know that you do a good job?”
  • “How would you like me to help you?”
  • “So, summarizing, what you want me to hold you accountable for is …. (what you agree before). Yes?”

We cannot make anybody grow if (s)he doesn’t want to, if (s)he doesn’t take ownership over his/her development. By asking questions, you better understand your peers’ awareness of what change they think they need, how much they want it to happen and you can work on it. Most people don’t struggle with knowledge about how to make changes but with motivation to implement them. By offering them accountability and feedback along the process you already help immensely. And if they need an expert in a field you don’t master - don’t feel bad. Nobody knows everything! ;) We can be a mentor to few, but we can be a coach to many. I believe that the leader is there to make people feel they are safe, matter and belong, not to know everything.

What do you think is the leader’s role?

3) How to know that we are all aligned in values and have a healthy culture going on

This kind of evaluation is actually a starting point for my work!;) What works best for me is the model of organizational health described by P. Lancioni. Once, I created a 1-pager to summarize the whole model - you can download it here. I believe that answering the 6 questions listed there should help you get clarity on how cohesive the leadership team is. Also checking how you are doing in terms of the 5 functions of the team (trust, openness to conflict, commitment, accountability and attention to the results) should give you the answer. It can be simply assessed even by a survey. However, you can achieve better results with individual conversations discussing each of the aspects in more details. Then, depending on the results, you focus on the aspect that blocks development of the others.

Having an overview of all these aspects is very important in my opinion. That’s why I believe that a good diagnosis is crucial to address the right actions in the right order. And we need to remember that it’s all very contextual and depends on the specificity of the organizational system design. Because people’s behaviour is a result of the environment they are in and this is a system of interactions, procedures and even proximity to the location(s) in/from which people work.

So before scaling leadership and coaching, I would definitely say that it’s better to make it work first, because you scale patterns. Make sure that your current leadership team is the right role model of what you want to “multiply”. If you are not sure yet if you have a healthy culture now, then you can make a diagnosis to avoid passing “the virus” ;) Later, as any system of family or friends - if any new member joins and sees others following similar rules he/she will adapt or the system will reject it, because we all want to be safe, matter and belong to the groups we value.

So before you scale, please check: maybe you need to fix the selection process first to ensure that you hire and promote the right people to a leader’s role. Or, you need to define the values first because they are not clear? Or maybe your leaders compete with each other? They provoke too many conflicts or avoid them? Or they don’t get feedback on how their work contributes to the company’s goals? Or the leaders need to learn some coaching tools to foster more proactive behaviours among team members? You see? There are many possibilities.

If you give me more specific symptoms of what doesn’t work I can give you a more specific answer ;) For now, I would say it’s the general direction I would suggest.

Does it answer your question? Or confuses more than clarifies? ;)

Yes that answers my question and clarifies several things for me.

On the document you referenced, you have smart organisations (technology, strategy, marketing, finance, …) and healthy organisations (minimum politics and confusion, high degree of moral and productivity, low turnover, …). Can an organisation be both smart and healthy? How do you sell the healthy mindset?

I think that we can only sell the healthy mindset to those that want it and are ready to buy. ;)

An organization is like an organism. You can either exploit it to death or take care of it so it can creatively keep exploring the world of opportunities.

Like every organism, organizations need balance. They need to be smart AND healthy. In order to stay in the game, they need processes, results AND healthy habits.

In many companies, there is a visible dominance of one of these dimensions. But, as with every extreme, there are some risks attached to it. What I can see most often is that organizations that focus only on the smart part (tasks and results) end up with a pretty toxic work environment. Many people hate working there, there is high internal competition, high rotation, low level of trust or commitment and accountability level close to zero.

On the other hand, when a company focuses only on the internal issues (healthy habits and well being of people) it may oversee external opportunities which, after all, determine its existence in the business world.

Therefore, I believe that both elements are important. Balance is crucial. Finding it is an active and continuous process. Because it’s a living organism with complex and dynamic interactions between all the parts - both processes and people. A change in one part of the system brings a new impulse or energy to the rest. It requires attentive observation. Continuously. Like in a family or a relationship. We all evolve. And so do organizations.

In a way, it may sound a bit abstract, but I think this is exactly what is very well pictured in the Modern Agile model. You can see there both the smart aspects of your business (the horizontal axis with “Experiment and learn rapidly” + “Deliver continuous value”) and the healthy social interactions within the ecosystem of your organization (the vertical axis with “Make people awesome” and “Safety as a prerequisite”).

In my opinion, balancing the two is super important because it determines the overall vitality of the whole system. It also determines the quality of its existence.

It’s possible. And it can double your results. I witnessed it. I have contributed to organizational and cultural evolution that allows pursuing the balance and I can share with you my final conclusion. It is only possible to do that with a conscious and passionate leadership team that is ready to “buy” and execute the healthy mindset. This is the critical condition, in my opinion.

What we can try to do is to make sure the leaders are aware of this duality (smart vs healthy) and the benefits of balancing the two. Then, we can verify their desire and willingness to experiment with it. Only then we can start discussing how to do it.

Amazing. I do agree with you and my way of seeing things is very aligned with yours. Even if I can’t organise my ideas on these topics as well as you do. To close the interview, my typical final questions: what topics would you expect to see on an engineering management blog? And would you suggest someone for me to interview next?

Thank you Pedro for your feedback. It’s very valuable for me. And thank you for having me here.

About the topics I would expect - I like the variety of topics and people you interview. I don’t have any expectations. I read every post with curiosity. My only wish is that you keep it authentic, practical and inspirational - the way you do it now (for as long as it brings you joy and satisfaction;)).

About a person to interview - how about Pedro Pereira Santos? Maybe you could create an AMA post (ask me anything) and this way we could interview you? :)

I can also suggest Rui Marques and Rodrigo Dias.

For me, Rui is one of the best leaders and CEOs I have ever met and worked with. Currently, he is the CEO of 7Graus and Nex. He simply has what it takes to lead people to great results - a strong belief in people’s potential, sensitivity to their needs and resourcefulness to help them set an environment in which they can do what they are best in!

Rodrigo is very insightful and in my opinion, has so much wisdom in the field of Organizational Development, combining engineering and psychological background, that it might be good for others to know that it’s possible to lead/organize teams differently, as he does it at Premium Minds.