Redefining Leadership: Céline Schillinger on Authenticity, Diversity, and Collective Intelligence

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Selda Schretzmann
4 min. reading time

In this edition of the Agile Insight Conversation series, hosted by Sohrab Salimi, we are honored to engage with Céline Schillinger, a trailblazer in authentic leadership and champion for diversity and community building. 

Renowned for her thought-provoking book "Dare to Un-Lead", Céline brings a wealth of knowledge and unique perspectives that challenge conventional paradigms and inspire innovation. 

Join us as we explore Céline's visionary approach to leadership, delve into her passion for fostering collective intelligence, and uncover the transformative insights that have shaped her journey. 

Get ready for a conversation that promises to enlighten, inspire, and provoke thoughtful reflection on the essence of leadership and organizational dynamics.


Céline Schillinger is a recognized thought leader and change-maker in the fields of leadership and organizational development. With a background in corporate engagement and a passion for driving positive change, Céline has dedicated her career to empowering individuals and fostering inclusive communities within organizational settings. 

She has been the recipient of multiple awards for her innovative work in enhancing corporate culture and promoting diversity and inclusion. Céline's approach is characterized by a commitment to authenticity, a belief in the power of collective intelligence, and a vision for a more interconnected and equitable future in the workplace.

Watch  the full episode of the Agile Insight Conversation with Céline and Sohrab to delve deeper into Céline's journey and uncover more gems of wisdom. But first here are some of the most valuable insights from our conversation:

Authentic Leadership and Togetherness:

"It has to be authentic. It has to be really wanted by leadership because if people feel they are merely instrumentalized, if they feel that this kind of thing is just a transactional approach to get more juice out of them, it won't work. It will break the confidence further. If it's done in an authentic approach to really build partnership and create more collective intelligence and more collective...this sense of shared, wanted, willful togetherness, then it makes miracles."

For Céline, authentic leadership is pivotal in fostering a sense of togetherness and collective intelligence within a team. She emphasizes that leadership should not be transactional or seen as a means to extract more from individuals. 

Instead, it should be a genuine approach aimed at building partnerships and enhancing collective capabilities. When leadership is authentic and truly desired by those in charge, it can create a harmonious environment and yield remarkable results, strengthening the bonds within the organization and promoting a shared sense of purpose.

Embracing Complexity and Adaptation:

"The past never comes back. You can be nostalgic about music or films or whatever from the old days but the old days when people were easy to bring along will not come back."

Céline touches on the complexities of the modern work environment and the fragmentation of the world. She emphasizes that the past, characterized by less diversity, less education, and a different respect for authority, will not return. 

Instead of lamenting these changes, Céline advocates for adaptation and leveraging the opportunities that arise from embracing diversity and complexity. This adaptation is crucial for forming collectives and directing them towards certain goals in a world that has become very complicated.

Collective Leadership Capacity:

"Leadership is, in my opinion, a collective capacity that emerges from healthy, strong, vivid, dynamic collectives that are strongly connected among their members."

Céline shares her perspective on leadership as not just an individual skillset but a collective capacity that arises from vibrant and interconnected collectives. She believes that one can only be a leader if everyone around them is a leader too. 

This notion of multiplying leadership and fostering relational capabilities is central to forming lively and dynamic collectives, ultimately contributing to the emergence of collective leadership.

Employee Creativity and Freedom:

"At first, we didn't know what to do with this freedom that we were given, this freedom to join and contribute and create, cocreate. And then we realized we could use it to be more creative."

Céline's transformative journey is a testament to the power of embracing freedom and creativity in the workplace. She reflects on the initial uncertainty that came with this newfound freedom, highlighting the contrast between traditional, procedure-driven work environments and the dynamic, co-creative spaces that she advocates for. 

Céline's experiences underscore the potential for innovation and fulfillment when individuals are empowered to contribute and create collaboratively, breaking away from the constraints of conventional work structures.

Fluidity Across Organizational Layers:

"What we need is much more fluidity between the layers, the functions, the languages, the cultures and so on."

Céline discusses the need for more fluidity, which refers to flexibility and adaptability, between different layers, functions, languages, and cultures within an organization. This fluidity is essential for a company's ability to see the complexity of its whole system and to devise creative solutions that are adapted to everyone, engaging everyone, and breaking down hierarchical and social segmentation.

Diversity and Cross-Functional Collaboration:

"We reproduce this hierarchical and social segmentation which is not good. It's not good for a company's ability to see the complexity of its whole system, to devise creative solutions that are adapted to everyone, that embark, that engage everyone."

Céline discusses the need for breaking down hierarchical and social segmentation within organizations. She highlights the importance of diversity and cross-functional collaboration at all levels, not just within the same organizational level. 

This fluidity and diversity are essential for understanding the complexity of the entire system and developing creative and inclusive solutions that engage everyone. By doing so, organizations can mirror the diversity of their customers, fostering a sense of belonging and representation, and enhancing their impact and relevance.

As we conclude our insightful dialogue with Céline Schillinger in the Agile Insight Conversation series, we are left inspired and enlightened. Céline's innovative perspectives on authenticity, diversity, and collective intelligence have provided a blueprint for meaningful change and inclusivity. 

Her wisdom challenges us to rethink traditional norms and strive for a harmonious and equitable workspace. Let's carry these valuable insights forward, continue to break down barriers, and anticipate more thought-provoking discussions in upcoming editions of the series.

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Dive into the detailed transcript below to explore the depth of the conversation between Céline and Sohrab. [00:00:00] Sohrab: Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of the Agi...

Dive into the detailed transcript below to explore the depth of the conversation between Céline and Sohrab.


Sohrab: Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of the Agile Insights Conversation. Today I'm hosting Celine Schillinger who is the author of "Dare to Un-Lead" and I'm super happy to have Celine today with us. Bonjour, Celine.


Celine: Bonjour. Guten Morgen. Hello. Really happy to be here.


Sohrab: And Celine, as I usually do this, I invite my guests to briefly introduce themselves so that the community that is watching these episodes also gets a sense of whom we have invited and why and then we'll dive right into the topic of today which is your book that was published, I think, if I'm correct, in 2022 called "Dare to Un-Lead". Celine, your stage, introduce yourself.


Celine: Thank you, Sohrab. I am a French national working in France now but after that I've been living in different parts of the world. I'm the author of this book behind me, as you said. I have been a corporate executive for most of my career. I spent almost 30 years in the corporate world. I started young in small companies and mostly in Asia. I spent almost 10 years working and living in Asia Pacific, in Vietnam, in China working with other countries as well in small, medium size companies in various fields. And then joined a large pharmaceutical company headquartered in France in which I stayed 17 years including 4 years spent in the U.S. Most of my time has been spent on commercial roles, business operations, business development roles. And across the years I've developed the feeling that businesses needed to be better connected with their customers, that the sense of connection which was not so important maybe in the past became paramount in our 21st century. And so, I've started to think about that, how we can, as businesses, best connect with our customers.

And that led me to explore a giant field which is the field of engagement. How do you engage people? And then I realized that in order to engage people outside, you need to engage people inside as well. And it has progressively become my work, my purpose in life to the point that I left Sanofi, left my employer and became my own employer five years ago. I set up my own business, my own consultancy called We Need Social. I wrote this book. Started the work maybe three years ago, something like that and it was published last year. And so, I'm here to try to help companies improve how they look at their own leadership in order to better engage people externally and internally.


Sohrab: This is cool. Thanks for that introduction, Celine. And I love the fact that you have been in corporations for, I think, in total 27 years, if I counted correctly. Small corporations but then 17 years in a pretty large corporation. You mentioned Sanofi. It's, I think, one of the biggest pharmaceutical players out there with all those corporate structures that people are familiar with. Now you mentioned connection and engagement. But before we get there, I'd like to ask you. You specifically chose the title of your book, "Dare to Un-Lead". Before we talk about Un-Leading, what is leading and leadership?


Celine: As I would say many people around the world, I have long been convinced that leadership was a set of personal competencies that some people displayed and others didn't display or displayed not so much and that there were good leaders and bad leaders. I was convinced that most of my managers...that's not nice. But some of my managers have been part of this pool of bad leaders. And leadership to me until still quite recently was linked to a form of larger-than-life competency, presence in the world, some form of assurance, some form of a vision. And the world was divided between the leaders and the non-leaders, the others, the average people. I think that's a typical view of leadership which I progressively realized is extremely detrimental to us, to our businesses, to our organizations, to the people which has profound consequences on our societies.

I think maybe more deeply this approach to leadership is an ideology. It's an ideology that is here to protect certain interests, the interest of some of these people who basically own the power and to whom we give our own power and we accept to be led by some of these larger than life visionary, extraordinary kinds of people. We vote for them. We choose them as managers of departments, as senior executives and so on. It's's great for them because they have a lot of power and they lead others but it's great for us too because we feel...we sort of give away our responsibility to these people. And when things go bad, we can then blame them, criticize them like we do in France. We vote for a president who appears to be the guy who will take things in charge and then just a few months later we have the yellow vest movement and we criticize this person and we want to basically push him away. But for what? To get another person in this position who we will again criticize and want to replace by somebody else?

It's a never-ending quest for a savior. And I feel it has become completely toxic to us and ourselves. That's why I have come to believe...also reflecting on what enables engagement, people engagement in society, in companies, in organizations I've come to realize that leadership is not this. Leadership is, in my opinion, a collective capacity that emerges from healthy, strong, vivid, dynamic collectives that are strongly connected within...among their members. It's a collective capacity. It's not an individual skillset. And it's certainly not linked to assurance, vision strength. On the contrary, I think it's great to have that but relational capabilities are much more important. The ability to connect people, to weave, to stitch, to connect those collectives, to form those healthy and dynamic and lively collectives is what, to me, creates leadership.

I think you're not a leader if everybody around you is a follower. You can only be a leader if everybody around you is a leader too. And it comes to one of the main capabilities of leadership which is in my opinion to enable, to multiply leadership.


Sohrab: Yeah. Thank you for that. And when I was preparing myself for this conversation, I was like, "Un-Lead?" I know this. There's a book out there which is Unboss.


Celine: Oh, yes.


Sohrab: And there's a whole unboss movement and probably you've seen that. The CEO of Novartis is a big promoter of that and tries to unboss. To what extent he's successful I don't know but at least he's promoting this. With unboss I could immediately connect because with the term boss, I have a negative connotation. I'm like, "I don't want a boss." If sometimes one of my employees jokingly refers to me as boss, I'm like, "Don't call me boss. I don't want to be a boss." But leadership for me is something that's important. I teach courses on leadership. The first time I read "Dare to Un-Lead"...what does she mean? We need leadership. Now the more I dove into your work, I was like, "No, no, no. This is not about less leadership. This is about more leadership." It's about what you just mentioned, a leader not having hundreds of followers but the leader creating hundreds of leaders. And then collectively based on the context that they're in, the relations that they talk a lot about networks and we'll dive into that a bit later. Together they can create something that they couldn't do before.

One thing that I want to pick up based on what you mentioned earlier. You mentioned that it's great...if we look at the traditional thinking, the traditional used that term. That it could be great for that leader because they get all the power. And it's great for the people who give that leader the power because they give away all the responsibility. And now I think yes, that's one way of looking at it. But I think that's only probably in the short term because in the long term I think it's not good for the leader and it's also not good for those who give away the responsibility. How do you look at this?


Celine: Exactly. And I think it nail it. It creates a lot of frustration. But this frustration is ambiguous because we want the best of both worlds. We want freedom. We want to be respected. We want to have a say in everything but then we don't want this accountability, responsibility that we are happy to hand over to some people. And the leaders want both things as well. They like to be in charge, to be in power but they would love to have empowered people around them as well while still controlling everything they do, while can't have both. And I think there's a journey we all have to make. That's why I don't criticize leaders or managers or senior executives. It's not this at all. I say we are all in this journey together towards more distributed, more communal, more collective leadership. It's a journey that is beneficial for all of us. Right now, you have many leaders who are positional leaders in companies, people with certain titles who feel that they have to pull everyone. And they do it because they feel responsible, they feel it's part of their...what they feel their mission is. They're very serious, very dedicated to their work and their organization. It's great.

But they feel they have to pull people and it's exhausting. And yes, of course you have thousands of burnouts, people having to leave work every day because of that. They work day and night and they feel all this complexity of the world added to the people complexity and the young generations that want things radically different and people who want to work from home. I mean, it's so, so complex. How do you form collectives? How do you direct collectives towards a certain goal or a certain type of work? It has become very complicated, very, very, very complicated. The subtitle of the book speaks about a fragmented world. Yes, it is fragmented. And you can be nostalgic about the old days but the old days will not come back. That's for sure. The past never comes back. No, yeah, exactly. You can be nostalgic about music or films or whatever from the old days but the old days when people were easy to bring along will not come back. In the past people were less educated, they were less influenced by consumerism, they were less diverse, the workforce was less diverse. We had less access to information etc., etc.

There are hundreds of reasons why...and the values...our respect for authority was very different in the past. To my grandmother, the doctor was like a God and now we just criticize our doctors and believe celebrities instead for medical advice. It has changed radically. And I feel it's no time to complain or regret. It's time to adapt and just to leverage what we have because it also opens up a lot of opportunities if we find the right way, the right approaches to embark all those different people. And I feel like our diversity is precisely a strength. It's a huge enabler for innovation, for connection. Precisely for connection with the diversity of our customers.

If we can connect this diversity together and create this form of enabling leadership in which people do not feel afraid or shy to be themselves, to come with their own perspectives and to bring that along and form a rich melting pot of those different perspectives, this will be great. Because in the past, what you saw quite often is that people tried to fit in a mold, to fit in the dominant culture of an organization. And it worked in a way but it worked by making people poorer. Push away part of what made them special, different, etc. which is a loss. It's a loss for companies. I feel that there are new ways, especially with the support of technology, social networks, all forms of networks and also inputs we can get. We can be inspired from the world of community engagement, community building, activism that are extremely interesting for businesses even in the most regulated sectors, I would say. I have tried in the pharma sector and if it worked there, frankly, it can work everywhere. Yes.


Sohrab: Celine, you mentioned a few things that I have noted down for myself prior to this conversation. And you mentioned diversity. I'll dive into that in a moment. But before we get there, in your work, you speak a lot or this phrase comes up over and over again that work does not happen in networks. It is a network. What do you mean by that?


Celine: Yeah. In the past, you could assume that work was a task or work was a position. I am this, I am an accountant, I am whatever. Now in our knowledge economy, work is a relationship. Work is how we make sense of the world together. You can never work on your own isolated from everybody else. It does not happen. Even if your job description is extremely precise and detailed, you always work with others, with the input or yourself, your work is the input for other people and so on.

Especially in our knowledge economy. The relationship is the work. That's why building relationships is not just nice or it's not what will make work easier's the work. It's how you form relationships between this, for example, accountant and production and marketing etc. It is the quality of those relationships that determine the quality of the work. It's by enabling more connections, more relationships to happen of a better quality in which, for example, front line workers, the opinion, the perspective, the knowledge of these front-line workers is as valued as the knowledge and perspective of the, I don't know, head of marketing for example. As valued because they all bring important insights to the organization. In the past what you had most often and still in some very hierarchical or traditional companies the perspective of people at the top or people with long titles or with expert titles was more valued than the perspective of others. You worked in a very pyramidal kind of way where knowledge was supposed to be concentrated at the top and distributed, cascaded down to the bottom so that the bottom executes the work, implements the work along the knowledge and expertise decided from the top.

And it has worked for a long time. It has served us well in the past. Now it does not serve us anymore. We need much more agile as you know well but agile, fluid, connected and much more knowledgeable and curious organizations. I think Rita McGrath whom you have interviewed speaks about the curiosity in all corners of the organization. You cannot decide that...or you cannot allocate curiosity to a department like...I don't know. The innovation department for example. Everybody has to be the innovation department in the whole organization. And then you need to connect those people so that they express without fear, without the fear of judgment, with psychological safety but also in a truly enabled fashion by their senior leaders. People express what they know, what they feel, what they learned from the field, from customers, from competitors etc. You need to have a much more intelligent organization as a whole and not just knowledge being concentrated at the top or in some pockets of the organization.


Sohrab: Yeah. I love what you mentioned. And I think it's a brilliant way of looking at things, especially in large corporations where we have all of these silos. And you've been there at Sanofi, working 17 years. And really the quality of the work, as many organizations are structured, is lowered by every interaction, by every handover. But if you improve those connections between the different organizational units, no matter how they're structured...and one of the reasons in the Agile community we value cross functional teams so much is because when the people from the different units join one team, build this sense of togetherness which I also know is one of the big terms for you, they form relationships. And through those relationships they build better products. And the way you phrased it gives it a completely different meaning and sense to me. This is really good. Now you mentioned the importance of these networks which is the quality of the relationships.

And then coming back to diversity which you talked about a bit earlier, you also mentioned that diversity of perspective enriches the network. Can you give us some examples around this and how you look at that?


Celine: Yes. I have tons of examples so the hardest will be to pick one. But for example, I'll use one of the big stories I mentioned in the book as an example. Working with an airline, a German airline, the German airline was confronted to an issue, a specific business issue which was the implementation of a new technology. And the technology was supposed to do great for its customers but was kind of resisted, rejected by the sales force because the sales force felt that this technology, this new digital thing would sort of remove part of their work and basically jeopardize their positions so that you had internally quite a strong disengagement towards what was considered as a business priority by the organization.

And so, you had an expert department in charge of the implementation of this technology trying to roll it out, to push it down to people with the help of change management. Everybody knows what change management means. It means they are trying to sell us something that we are not...that is not positive for us. Exactly.

So that was the situation when I arrived. You see people being really sure that this was the right thing to do and other people in the same organization being really sure that this was very bad. And so, what do you do in this situation? You push harder? Well, you may eventually implement your solution or your technology but with what quality, with what adoption, what level of adoption, what level...and here it was tricky because the sales force contribution was really important to make this technology work. And it was a big business factor or business efficiency factor.

What I did instead was to invite volunteers from the sales force to join a team together with managers, with experts, with the department in charge, etc. and we formed a change team which worked together, which collaborated on a bigger picture, on the digital future of that company. And what this made was first, we built a partnership. Building those relationships, we were just talking about earlier, building a quality of relationship, having people see each other as partners, as equals, equals in respect, in value of their respective perspectives. But creating this partnership and then bringing along with expertise, along with the data knowledge and whatever, digital knowledge, bringing the salesforce knowledge, the front-line knowledge. And what that made when the two worked together, again, as equals in the very beginning of this project, not at the end when it's too late to really influence things. What this brought was really innovative creative ways to think about this project and eventually to implement it very successfully much faster than the original plan and with the full buy-in of people.

Because they had been members of that team, they had been part of that team and suddenly or through this mechanism, they felt no longer as the spectators or as the victims of a change. They felt as the cocreators of that change. It made a huge difference because then you can implement things in a much more organic peer to peer kind of approach. It's less brutal. It's less...yeah, it creates much less trauma inside the organization. It does not break confidence. On the contrary, it builds trust. It builds intrapersonal trust. It was quite amazing. At some point in this experience, we had a moment to reflect together and so I asked people, "What's up? What do you think?" And one of those participants from the sales force said to us, "Oh, at first, we didn't know what to do with this freedom that we were given, this freedom to join and contribute and create, cocreate." And she said, "We didn't know what to do with this freedom. And then we realized we could use it to be more creative.

Isn't it amazing? Yes, because in the way work was done until then you do this, you do that and here are the procedures and here is what we ask you to do. A very, very different approach to work. And another person added in that same reflection, "Oh, we realized that the leaders, the managers above us, they're actually humans just like us."


Sohrab: Yes.


Celine: Yes. They are. Indeed. And it's really, really funny to see this level of mutual recognition, I see you, you see me, we see each other and we know we're a part of the same team. We're no longer in the us versus them mindset which is so detrimental to collective efficiency.


Sohrab: Absolutely. It also creates a sense of togetherness. It creates empathy and all that.


Celine: Yes. But it has to be authentic. It has to be really wanted by leadership because if people feel they are merely instrumentalized, if they feel that this kind of thing is just a transactional approach to get more juice out of them, it won't work. It will break the confidence further. Yeah, if it's done in an authentic approach to really build partnership and create more collective intelligence and more collective...this sense of shared, wanted, willful togetherness, then it makes miracles, really.


Sohrab: Yeah. No, I can imagine. Now, Celine, what you share is a great story and I can really...I can imagine, I can see it in front of my eyes, the people from different units coming together, working together, coming up with better ideas as if they could, each of them, by themselves. But the whole concept behind it is not rocket science. Why do you think...and you've been in big corporations, specifically in that case Sanofi but also many clients that you've supported over the past years. Why do you think so many organizations still...resist may be the wrong word but don't run initiatives the way you just describe it? What keeps them from doing that?


Celine: Yeah. That's a great question. If I had the answer to this question, maybe I would be a millionaire. I think there are many factors. There's a cultural norm factor. It's how to change things radically or even to make small changes because all the forces for conformity in organizations come into play and then people just tell you, "No, you can do this. No, you can't do that or you have to ask permission from whomever to do this." I remember one of my innovative projects back in the days had to go through nine different departments for approval. I found another way to actually give life to this project, fortunately. Because no doubt, no doubt each of those nine departments would have found a way to twitch it, switch it off a little, make it fit into...and at the end, it wouldn't...this thing, this innovative idea would've become something really, really traditional and with no flavor and nothing left. Because it's human. We all want to have an impact. We all want to justify why we're here. I don't know. The legal department would have added something legal and technical and the IT and the whatever, compliance and so on and so on.

And for sure you cannot allow anyone in the organization to do whatever they want. It's impossible. Especially in highly regulated sectors. It's normal to have norms and stuff. But those norms and processes become so entrenched that we lose sight of the bigger purpose and we sort of dry down every...all the most innovative people I have seen in my work in large companies ended up leaving those big organizations. All of them. It's crazy. All the talent we lose, it's amazing. It's amazing, but not in a good sense. It's sad. And so, there's this, I would say, barrier which is a cultural barrier. The fact that people lack courage but also, they lack courage because of all those forces that weigh heavily on them starting with performance management but also the competition for resources, for visibility in organizations. All this competitive system makes you want to basically be approved by your manager in order to get you look up rather than looking around or looking down in the organization. And that's sad. It perpetuates this sort of old-style kind of leadership.

And then maybe the change agents also...and I take that from myself. I have evolved my own practice of change over time, fortunately. Maybe the change agents themselves or people who see themselves as such do not bring forward their ideas in the best way as well. Let's not put the blame on everybody else and think that we always do the right thing because then we only reproduce the system we are trying to change. Let's look at ourselves first. What am I doing that creates resistance against my ideas? Maybe I am partly responsible for that, right?


Sohrab: Absolutely, absolutely.


Celine: Yeah.


Sohrab: You mentioned this resistance and I think in many cases resistance comes also out of fear. And one thing that I found interesting...because when we look at the world of agility, there is this concept of cross functional teams and they are product focused and all of that. And that in many cases means that an organization, the way it's structured needs to be restructured. A lot of companies talk about a new target operating model and all of that and of course with everyone that is in a good position in the current structure, they are afraid of where I am going to end up in the new structure. And at one point when I was looking at your work, you mentioned that these networks are important because the quality of the connection increases the quality of the products and services, they don't have to replace the hierarchy.


Celine: Oh, no. Yes.


Sohrab: How do you look at that?


Celine: Yeah, definitely. This is really important, I believe. Because some organizations might feel a bit threatened by those new approaches, we can't run a large pharma company with volunteers alone. It's impossible, right? Of course, yes. But if you run this organization with siloed departments, you won't be effective either. What is great is a combination of the two. And a combination of the two it has been explained very nicely by Professor Kotter in a book called Accelerate which I mentioned in my own book. Been working with Dr. Kotter for 10 years and I've been really impressed by the actual effect of this dual organizational model in real work, in a real organizational setting where you have the pyramid, the traditional way an organization is structured which is there to stay. It is effective. The org chart will not go away. You will still have hierarchical layers because that's the way you can organize a large group of people.

But this pyramid ensures a form of stability and predictability, reliability, it is not good at agility, it is not good at innovation, it's not good at creativity. What you can do if you're interested in this is create networks of volunteers, networks of communities of practice, etc. but members of those networks are also in the pyramid. You don't want to create a separate sandbox or innovation department or whatever because then you would have two systems fighting each other which is not good. But if you have the same people...back to my accountant example, an accountant will work in the accounting department but then that person can also be a volunteer in the internal communication network for example. It's not the role of an accountant but we don't care. What we care about in this network is passion, interest, ideas and so on. And maybe this network will be on for just an event or a short amount of time. It doesn't matter. And then maybe that accountant will be part later on of another network, another community of...maybe community of practice on their job but also something else to improve whatever, the onboarding of newcomers or etc.

And it is the aliveness of this network form of work which pollinates the pyramid. It contributes to building better relationships, building partnership across layers, across functions, etc. It all contributes to creating this quality of...this relational capability inside the organization and in all directions. I really think it's a powerful model.


Sohrab: That helps me understand this. Now you mentioned volunteers. What I could interpret here is that in addition to the work that the accountant, let's stick to that example, is doing in the organization anyway, let's say 40 hours a week, they would volunteer within a network to work on another topic. But my guess is you don't mean it that way. If it's not on top of what they already do, would you advise organizations to give their people a certain percentage of their time to do this work in the networks or how do you look at that?


Celine: I look at it as...organizations can give a bit of time to their...and it would be great to give a bit of time for a bit of breathing space for people to feel they have time to innovate and so on. You can invent other ways as well. You can motivate people to join those networks, to be part of that. But you can also say, "We're not changing anything but we know it's important to have those networks of volunteers for people to innovate and connect and so on." And so, we make it part of what is valued and recognized by the organization so we're not necessarily giving people 5% or 10% of their time off to do that but we recognize it in symbolic ways. We of course as leaders, as managers or senior executives participate very actively in this movement so that people feel authorized to...they will not be criticized for joining a volunteer team. What happens often if leaders do not do that, we will criticize people joining volunteer teams for having not enough work want to avoid that kind of...


Sohrab: Perception.


Celine: This kind of, yeah, deception. But if you...what happens when people get the opportunity to volunteer in some really interesting initiatives that are part of the organization's overall's really important that those goals are tied to business. I think it wouldn't be fair to ask people to do more work on goals that are not related to what the organization is pursuing. But if you make it part of an... if it's considered by the organization as an investment, what happens is that people become much more effective at their regular work. For example, accounting work. They do it faster, they find ways, they that they can spend an hour per week or more or a bit less or whatever for a short amount of time or a longer one. They themselves become...because they want it because this volunteering kind of work is something that brings passion and joy and connections and creativity. You find ways to do your regular work faster, better so that you can spend that time on the rest.

I have seen that every time. For some specific functions like shop floors or jobs that are extremely tied to the machines or whatever, you need to find ways to extract people out of those, maybe for 5% of the work of their time, whatever. But for executive work or knowledge work, you don't even need to do that. You need to create the possibility, create the excitement, the energy and role model. Role model. If a leader themselves gets involved as a volunteer, rewards...welcomes volunteers, meets them, discusses with them on a regular basis, shares that on the internal social network, etc., people will feel that, "Oh, yeah, okay. That's what makes my presence in this company exciting, interesting and I want to get involved."


Sohrab: Yeah. Very similar to the people that after they leave work volunteer in other areas of society like being a football coach for a youth team or doing other kinds of stuff and you create within the organization the kind of initiatives, provide the environment so that people become passionate about those things and really volunteer their time. I like that concept. I'll think about it in my own company.

Now let's talk a bit about creating these movements and these communities. You bring up a quote from Mary Parker Follett which is, "Community is a process." I hadn't heard that before although I've been very familiar with her work and I love that quote because I never looked at it this way. Now can you walk us a bit through this and what community and then these movements and this activism mean to you in the context of organizations of course connected to what we just talked about?


Celine: Yeah. Mary Follett was such a prescient person, researcher. It's amazing. Her work really deserves to be rediscovered. And it was hailed by Peter Drucker a long time ago already but she seems to have disappeared from our radar screens. Fortunately, Michele Zanini who you've interviewed has also praised her work and some others. And yeah, the actual...the long... the full quote of Mary Parker Follett in this respect is that community is a creative process of integration. And I love that because if we look at community as a territory, there are some people inside the community and other people outside the community, we're just reproducing the current model of inclusion and exclusion, of segmentation, etc. Community is not a territory. There's not the insiders and the outsiders.

Peter Block says, "Community is a language." I really like that as well. You can say community is an experience. But I also really love what Mary Parker Follett says because a process means that it's never ended. You cannot say, "Okay, now we have a community. The community is like this." No, the community is a process. It's dynamic. It's evolving all the time. It needs work. It needs presence, participation and so on. And it's a creative process of integration. That means it's an integration between different perspectives, different viewpoints, different personalities and so on in order to creatively bring up new solutions, new ideas that will be owned by all the members of that community. And I feel if we could work more that way in our organizations, that would be phenomenal.

And often I can see...and for example, the company would say, "Oh, you're joining the X, whatever name of the company is, you're joining the X community." No, it's a... a company is not a community because you don't decide what a community is just by putting a label on it. A community is extremely open. That is what it should be. A community is here to welcome strangers, welcome people who are not part of the community to actually integrate their ideas and perspectives and make something new out of that together. Yeah, community's a process. I love that.


Sohrab: Yeah. Now moving into a bit of this change things. In one of the things that I heard from you, you mentioned you do not affect the system from the outside because that could be considered a threat. Inject responsibility into the system. That's what needs to be done. And when I heard that, I was like, "What have I been doing for the past decade working as a coach or consultant with so many clients being something that's outside, no?" How do you look at this after your time with Sanofi? You've also been working with organizations as an outsider but still trying to affect change. How do you do this without being that threat?


Celine: That's a great question. And I'm sure that's what you're doing. You do not bring solutions to people as a coach. If you bring solutions to people like, "You should do this, you should do that, why don't you do this, etc." They will be either immediately rejected or transformed into more of themselves. It will have very, very little effect on change. Some people may have an AHA moment but then it will...they will...sorry, they will change themselves. And this is this internal change that will make them bring change to the system. It's not you. Not you directly. I think as a consultant what we need to let go of is this desire for immediate, for rapid change, for rapid change that we can impact ourselves through our connections and so on which is possible in an organization because we're in there. We're in the system. We have all those relationships and we know what's beyond the org chart for example, what is unsaid. We're part of the culture.

From outside it's more difficult. But we can nevertheless...that's what I am striving for. We can nevertheless have an impact by inviting people to deconstruct what they thought was the reality. What we think is leadership, maybe that's not really leadership or what we think is, I don't know, Agile, maybe that's not Agile. It's by helping people consider different perspectives. It's a lighter touch as a consultant. It's not as direct but it's...I find it can be extremely powerful too but it's less direct.

Anyway, within an organization, when you're inside, you're often not as effective either as what you would like to be because of those conformity forces and internal competition I was talking about. As an external, you're less subject to politics and those internal competition forces which is great. It's an advantage as well.

I think there's a bit of both in all situations as an internal, as an external. You have levers that are just different. But one thing we need to remember in all cases is that change only starts when people decide to change. You can bring out the best ideas, theories, frameworks, etc. It only comes from a personal decision from each and every individual.


Sohrab: Yeah. Yeah, and I like the point that you mentioned. I can help people get a certain level of awareness, change themselves and then through that, change the organization. And that brings me to my last point of the things that I wanted to cover in this conversation with you, Celine. And there's also one thing that you mentioned in one of the videos is as leaders, we don't need to empower. We're here to enable. Because if we empower, we're giving someone power and we can take it back. But if we enable, we prepare them for something that they probably couldn't do probably before. Now how do we do that as leaders? What are your thoughts? I have my own perspective. Especially with my medical background. But how do you look at this?


Celine: Yeah. Well, I'm really interested in knowing your perspective.


Sohrab: I'll share it.


Celine: Yeah, please. I believe you can do that in many different ways. First, role models. You cannot preach, I don't know, courage or independence of mind or etc. if you do not display that yourself. But also having conversations, for example, about what courage means because it can be interpreted in very different ways by different people and that's fine. But at least having those conversations is a really important way to reflect and to adjust and to hear a different perspective. Role modeling, having conversations, conversations about how we do the work together and not just what is the work we do together, not just about the next general milestone or the next problem but reflecting on the quality of our relationship. Am I doing what you feel is necessary to support you? It's not an easy conversation to have for a manager because we don't want to hear negative feedback. No one wants that. But it's really important to make space for conversations about how we work together. Ideally, in the less hierarchical setting as possible. Not in a manager's office across the desk or in situations that evoke power and the imbalance of power.

Creating a culture of eye-to-eye conversations is really, really important. Creating psychological safety, making...avoiding ridiculing or criticizing people. I think I mentioned that in a book as well. I remember people going to a senior leader with a solution to a nagging problem that was there for a long time and the senior leader yelled back at them. He criticized them heavily because he felt they should have come sooner with the solution. When this kind of thing happens, you completely disable and disempower people because the next time they find a solution to another problem, they will not come to the office of the senior leader. They will not come and present their ideas because they will fear being criticized, ridiculed or whatever.

And I still see people with very limited relational capabilities, skills being promoted in people management positions and that's a shame. They should be supported, enabled...recognized early on and coached because again leadership is this collective capacity that emerges from our ability to connect with each other. If we are just super wonderful technical experts and really poor at human connections, this will not work. This will not contribute to healthy collectives, healthy, creative and...and really the key is to enable people for them to self-empower because it's the self-empowerment which is sustainable, which is strong, which delivers...people don't want to be empowered by others and certainly not in cultures of fear and blame because them empowerment just means risk. And we want to protect ourselves and that's understandable, I think.


Sohrab: Yeah. I look at it very similarly. For me, empowerment means you get the authority to make a decision. Enablement means you learn the ability to make that decision. Now once you're enabled, the authority usually follows because why would I as a leader not allow someone who knows what to do to take that decision. And coming from the medical world, at med school and then years after that, in hospitals, you are constantly being enabled. You have other senior attendings that take you with themselves that you...and we refer to this as see one, do one and teach one. Usually, it's more than one. But it brings along the concept that it's all about teaching people how to do things. And once they're good enough, they become teachers of others. It's a constant evolving of yourself and an evolving of other people. And I think in business, this is done way too less. There are a few exceptions and those exceptions are usually great management consulting firms.

When I joined Bain & Company after my stint in medicine, they spent so much time enabling me to learn the different tools, the way of thinking, the way of storytelling. All of that was taught to me. Otherwise, as a medical doctor, how could I ever become a consultant? And I think if organizations and specifically leaders and managers in those organizations spend more time on enabling their people, teaching them how to do things, providing them with the mentioned psychological safety to try things and be allowed to fail at new things, then the empowerment or the self-empowerment, how you refer to it, it will basically happen automatically.


Celine: Yeah. There's one thing I would add to this because what you mentioned has a lot to do with knowledge and skills and it's basically the main part of it which is really important. But the heart part of it is also critically important. I advocate for the creation, the multiplication of agency in the system, making people more agents, feeling more in charge because they want it. Agency is made of the ability to do things. The ability means the ideas, the competencies, the skills, etc. And this is often quite well handled at least in large organizations. There's a lot of training, there's a lot of that kind of things. Ability is great. But you also need the capacity. Capacity means the support network basically. All those networks, the quality of relationships, etc. And the willingness to act. How do we create willingness to act? How do we make people want more? How do we create the desire to come forward, to bring new ideas, to connect with different people maybe across hierarchies? Have you noticed that in organizations we solve problems layer by layer very often? Sometimes we have, yeah, some great cross functional initiatives.

They are cross functional but at the same level. They are never have, I don't know, executive VPs working with front line people. Never. We reproduce this hierarchical and social segmentation which is not good. It's not good for a company's ability to see the complexity of its whole system, to devise creative solutions that are adapted to everyone, that embark, that engage everyone. And it's not great for people as well who feel sort of tied to a certain perspective linked to the layer, the level, the organizational level in which they are. And what we need is much more fluidity between the layers, the functions, the languages, the cultures and so on, the sites and so on.

And I have maybe one...brings me to this word of Agile which is in the title of your show and which I have found in many ways in many organizations become a sort of mantra but a can I say this? It was as if the organizations had digested the word agile and made it into something that is just more of themselves. Just an additional bureaucracy, an additional obscure language aimed...Scrum masters, those kinds of things that 90% of people do not understand in organizations. You have a sort of new class being created, the ones who know, the ones who teach others and the rest are just left out or they just passively wait for the next fashion, the next trend in organizations. It used to be the black belt and the green belt and that kind of vocabulary. Now it's something else and probably in five years it will be something else again. And it doesn't...of course that's not the philosophy and the essence of Agile. You know that even better than me. But this is a way I have seen organizations digest the new, the different, the complex, the thing coming from outside and just make it just more of themselves so it doesn't change anything, basically.


Sohrab: Yeah. No, I think that's some really good last words. [inaudible 01:02:27] more of it. No, I absolutely agree. And when I think about enablement, if you want people to embrace new ways of working, new ways of interacting, the relationships that people build. And I love the fact that you mentioned really cross hierarchical teams. I've also not seen them. We've seen cross functional. We haven't seen cross hierarchies. And I think that would be extremely interesting for everyone involved in those teams because that senior leader...when was the last time they directly worked with a front-line worker who's constantly dealing with customers? Many, many, many years ago.


Celine: Yeah, exactly, when they were a trainee in the organization. Probably. Yeah.


Sohrab: And I think that would also change how they strategize, how they structure the organization and all of that. Celine, we're beyond our time box but it was...


Celine: I'm sorry.


Sohrab: No, no. It was such a delightful conversation with you. And I want to thank you.


Celine: Thank you, Sohrab. It was my pleasure.