INTENTIONAL PRACTICES: Using Hypotheses to Develop Good Habits

In order to be agile and adaptive, leaders need to spend a percentage of their time developing good leadership practices.

 If you approach your world of work with a testing mindset, Then you will become clearer about what you are trying to accomplish and have a means to evaluate the effectiveness of your actions.


Intentional Practices

Intentional practice is a systematic and structured approach that helps you develop good habits. In other words, it is a practice that helps you develop good practices. Become clear about what you want to accomplish, plan a strategy to test it, evaluate what worked and what didn’t, make quick adjustments, refine it over time and decide what warrants further testing.



If you adopt a “let’s try it and see what happens” attitude into your everyday practice then will you embed a testing mindset into your work. To become intentional about testing you will need to formulate a hypothesis. A simple hypothesis can be expressed in the form of an If: Then statement that describes “what you will do” and predicts “what you think will happen.”


After you have tested your practice at work for days or weeks, ask yourself the following questions as a means to evaluate:

  • Did it get what I thought it would?
  • Did it generate positive results?
  • Did it get a new benefit I hadn’t thought of?
  • Can it be scaled up?

If it didn’t work:

  • Was it the method or approach?
  • Was it the idea itself?
  • Should I test a revised If: Then statement?
  • Should I pull the plug?

How are your leadership practices working for you?
If you formulate hypotheses about your practices, what will it get you?
Can you introduce new leadership practices differently?

Credit: Worley, C., & Williams, T., & Lawler, E. (2014) The Agility Factor: Building Adaptable Organizations for Superior Performance. Jossey-Bass.


Uncovering Covert Processes: Revealing What is Under the Table

Covert processes exist in all organizations. Although they are not always inherently bad, they can limit choices, block creativity, and can trap people in repetitive and self-defeating behavior.


A covert process is one that is hidden or under the table. According to Bob Marshak’s seminal work, it can be hidden from just you, a group of people, or an entire organization. Because all significant change involves covert processes, it is critical to consider what is covert and who it is hidden from. When you are aware of what is hidden, you can better understand the intentions before you become surprised. If you understand the nature of covert processes and recognize them, you can plan and act appropriately – especially before it might be too late.

If you understand what is hidden, Then you will be able to react more appropriately and improve the effectiveness of your actions.


A topic, thought, or behavior may be hidden for good, bad, or unknown reasons. Even if someone puts it on-the-table it can be quickly knocked off or ignored. It does not, however, go away. Instead it continues to exist and is often expressed covertly. For example, if individuals in a work group feel that open discussion of emotions is unacceptable, then most feelings will be disguised, denied, not expressed at all, or expressed through passive-aggressive behavior.


Covert processes are not easily identified unless you know where to look. Start with your gut feelings or intuition and ask yourself these questions:

  • What am I missing? (I feel like something is being left out)
  • What is under the table? (Do they know something they are not disclosing?)
  • What are they saying vs. What is their actual behavior? (Do I see & hear 2 different things?)
  • Where do I need to investigate deeper? (Is there competitiveness, a hidden alliance, a hidden agenda?)
  • What assumptions should I test? (Is Tom really aligned with Dick?)
Map Your Awareness

Gather data through observation. After a meeting or encounter, answer these questions:

Analyze Your Observations

Look at your answers to the above questions. Ask yourself:

  • How much of the behaviors I saw/heard impacted what happened at the meeting?
  • How much of what was going on did I create or have a part in?
  • Did my positive/negative thoughts/feelings play a role in what happened in the meeting?
  • What did I not see or hear that I expected to?
  • What assumptions do I need to test?
  • Do I need to follow up with anyone?
Questions to Deepen Thinking

How aware are you of covert processes at your work?
What will happen if you ignore things that you suspect are under the table?
Can you explore your gut feelings differently?

Marshak, R. (2006). Covert processes at work: Managing the five hidden dimensions of organizational change. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
Heifetz, M. &. (2002). Leadership on the line: Staying alive through the dangers of leading. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Benign Neutrality: Breaking the Cycle of Rude Behavior

More often than not, leaders will encounter rude behavior in the workplace. This behavior can quickly escalate into a cycle of negative behavior that is difficult to break using traditional approaches.

If you practice benign neutrality, Then you will break the cycle of rude behavior so that you can interact in a civil way.

Rude Behavior

Everyone experiences or witnesses rude behavior on a weekly basis. It may be as simple as person ignoring another’s opinion or as nasty as undermining someone’s efforts. If you respond or react to the behavior, you run the risk of escalating it. If you don’t deal with it, it becomes a self-maintaining cycle. Not only will it thwart your effort to get the job done, you may become burnt out as a result. It will also impact others around you, at work and at home.

Cycle of Behavior

When in a cycle of rude behavior, you may lose focus on what is important and the behavior may become toxic. Do not take it on. Ask yourself:

  • Do I feel safe talking with this person?
  • Was the behavior unintentional?
  • Was it an isolated incident?

If you answer no to any of the questions then do not discuss it with the offender. Once the behavior has continued for an extended period, being nice, giving feedback, practicing ongoing regard, and apologizing can actually make things worse. Conversely, if you over react and try too obviously to “distance” yourself, or report the problem, you may also cause harm. Instead, manage yourself using benign neutrality.

What is Benign Neutrality?

The mindset of Benign Neutrality is to remain interactive and civil with a rude person so that you can work together. Be professional, polite, non-threatening, impartial, and free of emotion. Do not shut down, avoid, display indifference, or ignore the other person completely. Act with humility and respect. This will not weaken your position but instead, it redirects the conversation to a position of: “We need to work together. What do we need to do to move this forward?”

Use the lowest level on the ladder of inference to describe: “This is what I observe; this is the data we have.” Don’t attempt to validate assumptions. Listen. Think before you speak. Ask yourself:

“Is what I am about to say: …brief? …on topic? …useful and accurate?             Does it need to be said?”

Stand firm with your statements. Don’t ask a question unless you are genuinely interested in the other person’s response. If the other person is unreasonable, use these questions:

  • I’m feeling stuck. Do you have any ideas?
  • What data or logic will change your mind?
  • How can we get more information?
  • If you were in my place how would you proceed?
  • Can you tell me how your idea impacts this situation?
  • How can I express this in a way that respects your views?
  • What is it about this situation (or me) that is making this difficult?
  • How can we work together to get this done?

Questions to Deepen Thinking

How is your approach to dealing with rude people working?
What are the consequences of shutting down and evading people with rude behavior?
If you treat people who exhibit rude behavior with humility and respect, what will that get you?

Argyris, C. (1982). Reasoning, learning, and action: Individual and organizational. San Francisco: Jossey Bass Inc. Pub.
Porath, C. (2016, April). Managing Yourself: An Antidote to Incivility. Harvard Business Review, pp. 108-111.

Making Decisions in Times of Uncertainty

As a manager you are probably good at looking at sets of data and making quick decisions. However, do you sometimes agonize over a decision because there is so much emotion attached? Do you wish you could step back, slow down, and see the various perspectives for what they are worth?

If you intentionally evaluate the possible gains and losses from taking an action, then you will make better decisions.

Evaluating Potential Gains and Losses

By nature, individuals prefer avoiding losses rather than acquiring gains. This is especially true when faced with a decision that may lead to a risky outcome. Managers are often so focused on what could go wrong that they become paralyzed. This leads to doing nothing — not because doing nothing is the best option, but because the person is in a state of inertia. They tend to make a “safe” decision to avoid risk. This in turn can lead to apathy, self-doubt, and isolation. How can you measure and weigh the reasons for decisions?

Fear No Risk!

To avoid getting caught up in the trap of doing nothing, determine the risk. When considering an action in which you are unsure of what the outcome might be, identify decision factors and assess each factor’s relative importance. Explore the potential gains and losses of taking an action as well as the gains and losses from doing nothing. Make a conscious effort to identify, analyze, and rate the alternatives between:

  • taking action as planned
  • taking an alternative action
  • taking no action

Draw the following table and complete each box:

Evaluating Alternative Actions

Once you have identified and analyzed possible actions, ask yourself the following questions before you make your decision:

  1. How do my potential gains from taking action compare to potential losses if I don’t take any action?
  2. How do my potential losses from taking action compare to potential gains from not taking any action?
  3. Which alternative makes the most sense for me in achieving my commitment?
  4. Is there an action that might make more sense?

After answering these questions you will have a clear picture of the risks. It will give you more confidence in decision-making, and eliminate self-doubts after the fact.

Questions to Deepen Thinking

How is your decision-making process working for you?
What are the consequences of allowing emotions to affect your decision-making?
Can you make decisions differently?

Tversky, A. & Kahneman, D. (1986). Rational choice and the framing of decisions. The Journal of Business 59.                                                                                                                                               Halvorson, H. (2013). The hidden danger of being risk-averse. Harvard Business Review.


Coaching Moments: Creating Opportunities to Motivate

Becoming a coaching manager doesn’t happen by proclamation or all at once. It takes an incredible amount of work, effort, and time. It also requires positive long-term commitment.

If you create frequent, brief, mostly positive, coaching opportunities, then your employees are more likely to be highly motivated.

Psychological Safety

It is important for managers to be in touch with their direct reports as individuals and as employees. A coaching relationship allows for this. To be successful, the employee needs to feel psychologically safe when talking with their manager. According to David Rock’s SCARF model for collaborating with & influencing others, managers need to be mindful of these 5 domains: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness .

The following table summarizes the SCARF Model:

Coaching Moments

While keeping SCARF in the forefront of your mind, coaching moments are focused on what a manager needs from their employee AND what the employee needs from their manager. Sessions should be structured weekly; scheduled in advance; and limited to 15 minutes. It can be done in person or by phone. These can be done separately or as part of other one-to-one meetings – as long as a portion of the time is devoted to what employees need. Additionally, both parties should be accountable for holding these meetings: employees should be encouraged to confirm and remind the manager of coaching moments. They should also be encouraged to schedule additional coaching moments when needed.

Motivation Mindset

For the coaching moments to truly motivate your employees, use the following approach:

  • It’s not about who is right; it is about making a difference
  • It is a 2-way dialogue, not a dictate
  • Focus on future, not the past
  • Ask for and listen to the other person’s ideas
  • Try not to prove the other wrong

Follow this structure at every coaching moments session:

Questions to Deepen Thinking

Do you consider yourself a coaching manager?
What will happen if you make an effort to cultivate psychologically safety for your employees?
Can you use 1:1 your time with employees differently?

Rock, D. (2008). SCARF: A brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others.
Goldsmith, M. (2015). Six Questions for Better Coaching. Talent Quarterly (#5, The Feedback issue), pp. 8-12, 29-30.
Boyatzis, R. & McKee, A. (2005) Resonant Leadership: Renewing Yourself and
Connecting with Others Through Mindfulness, Hope, and Compassion.
Harvard Business School Press.


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