Last week, I shared the first part of Lucas den Boer’s rich interview. Here is part two where you will continue to read how he is using complexity intelligence skills such as strategic empathy, reconfigurable mindset and purposeful self-confidence to lead large scale business transformations at Atos, but also to drive social movements and not-for-profit projects.

Disclaimer: the opinions and perspectives shared in this article are my own and that of the interviewee, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the interviewee’s employer.

Keeping the finger on the pulse and sensing small signals

When I asked Lucas about how he observed that the transformation was effective, how he could measure it, he was very thorough. He first detailed the three types of quantitative measures that he used: strategic, tactical and operational.

You can for example in the “employee experience” programme measure the satisfaction of the employee and the impact of what you have done for them and see if it increases. But I call that more strategic measurement on the long term, once every year, once every two years, and the question is what’s the value of the measurement? What I prefer to do is do more operational or tactical measurements.

He explained that the tactical measurements are elements that are measured before, along the route and after a specific change has been implemented as one part of the transformation. For example, he mentioned the reviews of customers and employees, collected in short sequence, with a few key measuring points, in order to see if that specific project in the transformation has added-value. He also uses what he calls operational measurement, which are day to day measurement of mood or satisfaction on daily basis, and the key here is to observe the trends.

When you do that on a large scale, and you have a lot of people who are delivering it, with data analytics you can find the trends and see what really impacts in a positive of negative way. Then you can find things which really add to the success of the transformation or what may be blocking [it].

Beyond the metrics and data analytics, I was pleased to hear that Lucas also uses his intuition, and senses to pick up on signals that may be more qualitative in nature.

What I do is I’m sensing the management, and the key stakeholders, but also the people on the floor. Sometimes I walk into an organisation, in a department, and I just look around, or maybe drink a coffee with someone and you can see if there is any positive change, yes or no.

But he’s not relying just on his own senses, he also likes to surround himself with a team who will be observant like him and confirm or not his views. Another point of measure he uses which again is purely qualitative but oh so revealing of what’s really going on in a transformation: he’s looking out for signs of adoption: are stakeholders and teams owning the transformation? Are they adopting new tools, postures, models, without being asked or prompted? If they do, it is definitely the greatest sign that the transformation is well on its way.

For example, at ASML, the structures and the operating model we have used were embraced by the CEO, and he loved it. [So much so he said] he would like to use it in his communication speech to all employees of ASML, in his yearly speech. At that moment, I [could] see that he believes in it and he likes it. And this is [what I call] sensing the organisation.

In the initial discussions with European Commission on the Solidarity Corps project, Lucas was originally asked to work on technologies, platforms and portals that would allow the one hundred thousand placements of youth in solidarity projects by 2020. He quickly convinced them, thanks to previous experience in non-profit, that their mission was about Europe being more united and more solidaire, that is was a shift of people’s mindset, a social change, not a techno one.

I said if you really want to make it successful, you need to create a movement, and they were thinking about it. And three months later, I was sitting in a presentation and one of the directors of EC was giving a speech to their employees and she said, yes solidarity corps it is a movement. And I said ok, we have a result.

Again this example illustrates, the type of signals that Lucas is attentive to, these small signs that the transformation is happening. I observe these in companies when I have worked with them for a few years, the language starts to change. Some words or notions that I had introduced, had encountered resistance or skepticism or surprise at first, and a couple of years later I start hearing them coming out very naturally of conversations or interactions.

When you are leading a transformation, try to sense the energy that is flowing in the organisation, and try to increase the positive energy of the organisation. A very good friend of mine is a professor and he has founded the Institute of Serious Optimism, Paul Iske, he is also the founder of… I learnt from him that you can really focus on that and you can do things to make people feel more positive regarding events, or changes in the organisation, I think if you integrate that also in the transformation, then people will see more the positive side of it, opportunities instead of limitations.

A sense of purpose and social responsibility

It was clear, right from the beginning of the interview, that Lucas den Boer had purposeful self-confidence: a strong sense of what his mission in life is and belief in himself to make it happen. Another marker, according to me, of his high level of complexity intelligence. Because being intelligent in a complex world is not just about understanding, it is also about decision-making and acting in a way that is appropriate, meaningful and efficient. This is how he introduced himself:

My life purpose is to help people and organisations improve the quality in work and in life. I think that’s the main driver of me, so, it really empowers me, it gives me a lot of energy, and when you talk about helping people and organisations, the world is changing very fast and lots of people have difficulty with the speed of change. And I noticed that I’m good at driving transformations and helping the people and organisations to make the change. That’s my philosophy.

It is interesting to see that this purposeful self-confidence became more obvious to him when he turned 40. Far from being a crisis (well that’s my sense) it seemed to be more a feeling of gratefulness for his successful career, enriching experiences and the realisation that he could give back to young people and society, whilst still working at Atos as a business transformation executive.

I felt that I wanted to do more, not only working for Atos, at big clients, although it is very interesting, so I started my own company, and I became an entrepreneur, and more precisely a social entrepreneur.

The company he created is involved with non-profit projects every year, helping them go to the next level in terms of more impact, more funds, higher visibility, better organisation, processes and technology. He sponsors websites for them, supports them with his network to get sponsors. He brings his knowledge and networks to the non-profit organisations and the other way around, using his non-profit network for opening doors in the business world. Examples of non-profits supported by Lucas are Child & Youth Finance International, Yvonne van Gennip Talentfonds, Hein Kolk Scholarship Fund, Plan Nederland and Foundation Dialogue for Peace.

You grow a completely different network, you learn, you meet very interesting people you never meet when you are working in a formal business program manager role, and that gave me so much more than working only for Atos. And the combination is for me perfect. I can manage business transformation and I can also do something for society.

It appeared quite clearly from our discussion that for Lucas leadership is about responsibility, it is about service, rather than authority and self-serving power. A gentle reminder that becoming a leader of transformation is not about the title or the status, but about the impact and the results for the whole, whether it is a small team, a business unit, a cause, or society.

I believe that every leader has a responsibility to society. If you have large transformations, you will directly create or do something that will have an impact on society and you have to be aware of it. As a leader, you also have influence and you can use that influence also for the sake of the society.

This spoke to me since the people I chose for these interviews might not be well-known, might be at very different levels of hierarchy, but they are people who have an impact on society whatever the scale might be. I’m not interested in interviewing people who just want to make their company look good. I’m interviewing people who have something to share, to give, and Lucas definitely fits the bill.

Developing complexity intelligence for future leaders

Lucas den Boer is a chess player, it has been his passion since childhood and an activity that was tradionally passed on from father to son for generations. Lucas is so passionate about it that he wishes to share it with younger generations, to the point that he is bringing chess to primary schools in the Netherlands with one of his projects Stichting Jeugdschaak, in cooperation with the Dutch Chess Federation. If they get Proof of Concept in the Netherlands, he would like to extend it to kids who are in difficult situations, war zones and poverty, by creating a logistic chain bringing chess games (board, pieces, books) to them thanks to sponsors. As chess can be played anytime, anywhere, and it gives these children positive distraction and pleasure. What’s this gotta do with our interview and transformation leadership you may ask? Well I’ll let Lucas answer this:

If I have a chess board, then I forget everything, I can have fun, every chess game is a unique adventure, it’s never ending challenge to find solutions and plans on a chess board… When you play chess you also have to think about the complexity of the board, the goals you have and the strategy you make, and a lot of various influences and elements, and you have to use intuition as well.

Lucas is a strong believer that – and research agrees – if you teach the basics of chess to children between the age of 6 and 12, they get better results at school, they can concentrate better, they can solve problems better, they are better in mathematics and other logical thinking, and most importantly it helps them think first before acting.

Chess teaches people to take responsibility for their own results, think first before you act, if you are losing then it’s your own fault, you don’t blame anything else.

It has been a pleasure to exchange with Lucas and I wish him every success in all his endeavors to transform businesses and society. As for transformation leaders, future and current, apart from learning to play chess, here is a quick reminder of the three components of complexity intelligence that can be trained:

  • Strategic Empathy: to be aware and able to understand the perspectives, interests, values and beliefs of stakeholders in the transformation.
  • Purposeful Self-Confidence: to communicate passionately about the transformation because you are acting in service of the greater good.
  • Reconfigurable Mindset: to be able to revisit your own values and beliefs, to adapt your own point of view and your actions throughout the transformation.

I’ll write an article specifically on that subject in the near future… Stay tuned.

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