Shaping leadership und corporate culture for the future

Maike Schäbitz: Hi Martin, the book came out in summer 2019. I’ve read it through, given it some thought and tried out a few things for myself. I’d love to know what motivated you to write the book.

Martin Permantier: A book like this has a long gestation period. If I think about it, it all began 30 years ago when I first played with the idea of self-development. At that time I still saw it as something of a private thing that didn’t have much to do with business or the working world. For the last 12 years ago or so at SHORT CUTS, our agency for design and communication, we’ve been dealing more with strategy and positioning for companies. How do companies come into being? What do they want? What are their values? How do they communicate? We came to realise that people have a very different understanding of values and create very different companies out of it. Frederic Laloux’s books were a great inspiration, they showed me how values, attitudes, mindsets and types of organisation are connected. I’d known about Ken Wilber’s ideas about the evolutionary development of a self, organisation and societies since the 90s. But it was Frederic Laloux and his book Reinventing Organizations that made me realise all this also fits in with the world of work and the changes it’s currently going through. These insights and life lessons have become part of our consulting process.

Maike Schäbitz: So your ideas gradually crystallised and you realised there was enough material in your head to write a book?

From practical work on leadership and corporate culture to the book

Martin Permantier: The book came about from experiences we had made in practice. We began to work with these development-oriented approaches ourselves as an organisation and then with our clients.

We asked ourselves:  what are the values and mindset that shape our common understanding of leadership.

This can be very different, especially in companies. One person might say, “I think values are great, let’s have them! Let’s write them down and pin them on the walls for everybody to see.” That’s one attitude towards values. The next says, “We’ll make a process involving everyone, because if we let everyone have their say and are transparent, we’ll arrive at values that everyone shares”. This is a completely different mindset. The models we use come partly from Clare Graves, partly from Jane Loevinger. We lean more on the development-oriented model of Jane Loevinger, who as a developmental psychologist did a lot of research in the 1960s and 1970s. The models she arrived at ordered the different mindsets in a transparent manner. In order to introduce this theory into the consulting process in a clear and concise fashion, we drew up some bubble charts. They show how different mindsets develop and the different leadership styles associated with them, and how they can build on each other. There came a point where we had so much material that we had tried out again and again in practice that we decided to put it in book form. The result was “Mindset Matters “.

Maike Schäbitz: How was the model, how were the charts and the ideas received in your workshops?

Martin Permantier: I think models are simplifications of reality that make complex things easier to understand.

A model doesn’t depict reality, it creates clarity and new interpretations.

When people say, “Yes, that’s bosses. Some are like this and others are like that. They’re just different character types,” the six mindset model can help you understand that one person might have cottoned on to something that someone else has not yet been able to. These are levels of competence than build on each other and are reflected in our mindset. The model can help managers understand where they are at and acquire new skills they don`t yet have.

Models can help us better understand different perspectives

Maike Schäbitz: Yes, that was one of the first impressions I got. You always give a lot of practical examples that illustrate the mindsets and that help you see things through the lens of a particular mindset. The crucial point for me was I was better able to understand how other people see the world and have greater understanding for their point of view. This has meant I can communicate much better, for instance with my friends, partner and different people.

Martin Permantier: Exactly, I think that’s really important. Becoming aware of your own subjectivity, that we that we only see parts of the truth, that we are all in the right and at the same time are relatively blind. A mindset model can make it clear exactly where you’re looking from. Oh, you’re looking from here and I’m looking from there. Fine. Then where are the commonalities we might establish?

The other thing I learnt was that we are always changing our mindsets.

Sometimes we are totally focused on ourselves and only see ourselves, then suddenly we come over all cocksure and see the world in black and white. Then we think numbers are everything, then we focus on our own aspirations, and then we might go into empathy mode and see human beings in their wholeness. We assume these mindsets in different situations throughout the day. A good acquaintance of mine reckons the best graphic in the book is the one showing how you mind find yourself in a different mindset at different times and in different situations. We shout and swear driving around in our cars, behaving like spoilt brats. In other situations we are empathetic and can be more nuanced than we are when we’re stuck in traffic.

Maike Schäbitz: Yes, for me it was really liberating for me to see how my mindset changes throughout the day, and in different situations, and to be aware of the mindset I or my counterpart is assuming at a particular moment…  and understand why we might have trouble understanding a certain point of view.

Understanding development as a life-long process

Martin Permantier: That’s one of the main problems with or criticisms of development models, that people say “Well, that leads to making judgements and pigeonholes people.” It’s quite normal to talk about stages of development or growing competencies in children. Now they can say “I”, now they can say “we”, now they can grasp stuff. As adults, at some point we no longer look in a nuanced way.

And now that we’re over 18 we’re all supposed to have the same levels of maturity? 

Then you realise that one person says, “We’ve always done it like this,” and the next person says, “Yes, we’ve always done it like this, but we could do it differently anyway”. The second person then maybe has one more option. That’s what it’s all about, to see in which inner paradigm or construction of reality I am at the moment, and maybe there’s a loop where I can see more options – and not just see “We’ve always done it like this.” You have to nurture a more development-oriented view of yourself and see yourself as unfinished.

We recognise ourselves as a whole host of subpersonalities. It’s exciting when you see yourself in your multiplicity. 

Sometimes we experience ourselves as complete idiots stuck in old ways of thinking, and when the pressure’s off, we have another go and get better results. I sometimes feel this way in leadership situations with employees, when I feel confronted or criticised, and then perhaps react in a way where I later think, “That was a bit one-sided.” When I reflect, I realise there are other dimensions to it, that I take notice of what the other person needs, or of their emotional state. Then perhaps I will succeed in assuming a more mature mindset. Or maybe an old reflex comes up and I have the feeling that I have to protect myself, and work below my potential.

The book helps you see the “reference experiences” of the more mature mindsets, and look at corporate culture in a more holistic light. 

Maike Schäbitz: The book describes viewpoints as the mindsets evolve that I for one am not yet able to assume. I read it and think, oh that sounds really good, so if I could only act or communicate or live more from this mindset, the world would be a happier place for everyone. The book gave me my own “reference experience”. The fact that the mindsets that are more mature and complex than my habitual ones are described in detail and with so many examples has helped me focus on how I can adopt them in future.

Martin Permantier: Exactly. And this is what we experience every day at work, especially when to comes to agility, being ready for digitalisation, New Work… all these buzz words.

We have found that new agile tools are only truly effective when we change our mindset. We need to practise new thinking.

I can’t just go to a company and say, “Well, now you have to work more effectively “. We bombard the company with design thinking seminars, and after a year or so profits will be bigger. This thinking is wrong, and the model provides orientation for this. In many organisations the leaders have been conditioned to a certain kind of mindset. Obsessed with numbers, controlled by the controlling department, and now it’s, “Do things with agility, let people do everything the way they want to and lead according to their strengths.” Often, the managers themselves are the obstacles, because they’re not yet on board with this new way of thinking, or maybe they feel that they’re not allowed to do it at all. Sometimes, the holistic view of an organisation is lacking, which asks: Where do we stand with our way of thinking? What about our behaviour? And where do we stand with the structures we have created and with our culture? This is why we included so many anecdotes and stories in the book, and graphics. From this mindset it would be seen like this, and from another mindset like this, that or the other. Of course, this is a bit simplistic. These are just examples. But somehow you get a feel for where I’m at with myself, and for the assumptions I make about the world.

Being able to hold a mirror up to yourself

Maike Schäbitz: Yes, that’s it. Practise looking in the mirror with the help of the exercises and examples. I recommend everyone who’s bought the book to practise the role playing. To assume a certain mindset, ask your counterpart to assume another, and experience for yourself how it is to communicate with each other from completely different mindsets.

Martin Permantier: When you get into it, it can be quite funny, but also painful. It’s quite amusing to observe yourself, like when you’re at home and talking to your mother. Compare this role with how you act and communicate as a manager. You see two different people, but what exactly is the difference? How am I with my own kids when they’re troubled? Do I respond with total empathy? And what about with my employees, when they’ve got issues? Without being judgmental. Understand what it’s like to be human and accept the contradictions.

Is it not possible to transfer the competencies I have in my private life to the work environment?

Why do I separate them? Why doesn’t it do me any good when I feel I have to put on a mask and can’t be myself? Maybe I act below my maturity or wisdom level because my boss is fixed on numbers and I think I have to think like him or her. Internally I know that if managers focused on strengths, everything could run so much smoother. Maybe I feel I’m not allowed to say something, or don’t even want to. Most people choose their workplaces voluntarily, and so usually go along with the games played there. The model can help to make these aspects more transparent so you can understand the concerns.

Maike Schäbitz: When we realise that we can assume different mindsets in our private lives, we tend to be less judgmental. I know I can act with love and care and empathy. But sometimes in certain situations I don’t do this because I have the feeling I shouldn’t or I’m not supposed to, or I fell flat on my face a couple of times  and am now wary.

Martin Permantier: Exactly.

We know what has to be done to make the world a better place. But we don’t do it because our hands are tied. 

It all has to do with the influence of the family of origin, with the social systems we grew up in. I found the image of us being full of arrested feelings helpful. Feelings are the driver. When you are full of emotion, when you are in love, you do everything, learn new languages, care – everything is great. But if your emotional energy is blocked, like when you say, “I don’t know”, “That just isn’t done”, or “What will the others think”, then you are often in a childish mindset and are reduced to a childish perspective. Then we are not really adults. Sometimes I have to take that part of me to one side and say, here is little Martin, here comes big Martin and tells you, listen, there is another reality and another possibility, and you’ve always managed it so far, etc. Some people are stuck in these childish mindsets because of difficult life circumstances, where common sense, balanced thinking, factual knowledge and nuanced feeling do not come easy to them, because they had no opportunity to practise it.

Maike Schäbitz: I remember once you advised me to ask myself, how old is the Maike who is speaking right now?

Martin Permantier: This is very true of some politicians. They have the vocabulary of an eight-year-old, and behind it is the reality construct of an eight-year-old who wants to be in the centre of attention, is unable to grasp complex written things, can only express his own feelings in 10 word formulas. Sometimes it’s like in “the Emperor’s New Clothes”. When I see how many rich, white, old men are elected in some democracies today, who have zero empathy… it’s quite disturbing really.

How to work with the book

Maike Schäbitz: How is the book doing? I believe the first edition has almost sold out after 4 months. Who’s been buying it? Have you had any feedback?

Martin Permantier: Yes, very different. We also gave it to a couple of entrepreneurs I know. The other day somebody wrote: “You know, I totally recognised myself here. I am so in the “self-determining-confident” mindset. But to be honest, I feel quite comfortable with it. I don’t see why I should change.” Susanne Cook-Greuter, who also writes about ego development, once said, “Deliver on the level of competence that is available to you, then development comes by itself.”

An extended mindset is not something you can aspire to, like a career, but the result of development.

With development models there’s always a bit of a desire there to unmask others, “Ha, he’s like this and she’s like that”. Also, this “Emperor’s New Clothes” phenomenon, that makes patently obvious where somebody’s coming from.   If I talk with a fundamentalist who has a dualistic and irrational world view, verging on the hallucinatory, then I realise…  common sense just isn’t there. Your own personal interests, own feelings, none of this is even noticed. Because everything behind this binary construct of right and wrong remains unseen.

In this sense, our mindset is the limit of our perception.

A lot of coaches have been buying the book. We can see that from the 1,000 or so mail orders. Naturally, these people are “people developers” who benefit  from the model, because it makes their own development transparent and comprehensible When you look at the development graphics you realise, “Hey, you are self-determined and confident, but your shadow self is still hidden. Maybe that’s why you work so much, might even be a bit depressed, because you haven’t been able to channel your emotional energy to help you expand your mindset.” A lot of the coaches who bought the book have become good contacts and have even contributed to our podcast. I think that developmental psychology models – and there are a lot of them – are still in their infancy. There’s still a lot to be done, more to be discovered. There are unlocked testing methods that can show even more clearly where someone is at right now, what developmental goals they have. We are planning further seminars for 2020 and perhaps a training course too, to learn how to apply the 6 mindset model.

Maike Schäbitz: So there will be workshops that deal exclusively with the book.

Martin Permantier: This is how we cemented our knowledge, through seminars, workshops, participant feedback. This is where the examples and anecdotes come from. You can’t just dream something up. You have to put it into practice. Then you see, “That’s a weird example, it doesn’t work, it’s not right.” Practice acts as a corrective.

It’s most gratifying the moment you start to work with people. Then you see what works and what is too theoretical or too contrived.

It’s always being fine-tuned.

Maike Schäbitz: Although you said it’s mainly coaches, people developers working with leaders and teams who buy the book, I have to say the book was good for me too. It was an absolute must-read.

We are all people developers; with the people we encounter every day.

I now approach many of my daily encounters differently and with a new awareness. I don’t waste so much energy. I understand myself a little bit more. The book was my own personal development tool.

Develop leadership skills to enable New Work

Martin Permantier: Nice. That’s what we want. I think managers not developing their personalities prevents organisations from becoming more agile, sustainable and holistic, they stay stuck in old ways of thinking, they don’t evolve. If I look at my own thoughts… 90% repetitions. But when I look closer, I see I can shape my inner world. I can see how I deal with my thoughts and feelings, that I have the power to influence them. This is an amazing discovery, and once discovered you really want to open up more free space within yourself.

Maike Schäbitz: So that I don’t have to think the same every day.

Martin Permantier: Exactly. As Viktor Frankl said, “I don’t have to tolerate everything the brain says.”

Maike Schäbitz: Or don’t believe everything you think. It was an absolute lightbulb moment for me this year to realise we keep on thinking the same things every day. One thought triggers the next, and it is really the story we tell ourselves about ourselves every day. But we are able to change our perspective and maybe solve or approach a problem in a way we have never done before. That was also a real revelation for me.

Martin Permantier: Nicely put.

What’s the story I tell myself about myself? What’s the story we tell ourselves about our working life?

You might say… obviously I work to earn money. Yes, that’s one aspect. You might also say… I’m here to wake the potential in myself or others, or give that potential space. Or, I’m here to discover myself or do something meaningful, to bring something wonderful to the world. Sometimes we have to change our narrative. This wrestling with the story of our lives applies to individuals and the collective. As Yuval Harari put it, “What do we want to want?” Where does our story go now? The development-oriented model introduces a very optimistic quality, because we see we all come from the “survival of the fittest.” But we are no longer there, and where we can go to, in other words the human potential, is a much wiser place. It would be pretty good if we were all eager to develop and evolve.

Maike Schäbitz: The book really boosted my optimism. At the end of the book you take us on a trip through the history of mankind and modern German history. And even if we can’t always believe it, in some areas, like with Fridays for Future, I see awareness for certain necessary processes is growing.

Martin Permantier: Absolutely. I only have to look to my ancestors to see this change in the collective mindset. I see my grandfather, born in 1898 and brought up in the German Empire, who wanted nothing more as a 16-year old than to be a soldier. Which he became, in 1916, with all its consequences. With 400 others he stormed a French position.  60 survived the first 30 minutes. That was his reality. My father, born in 1931, lived through the Second World War. Not much fun either. I grew up in the 60s and 70s. It was a lot more peaceful, but the spaces of thought I occupied as a child were still very narrow. I’m glad our children no longer have to get the better of this, but that they are able to grow up thinking freely, in a more empathic space. I believe we can widen this collective thinking space even more, despite all the problems we have to overcome, and all the apocalyptic scenarios we are apparently confronted with. It is precisely because of this that we need to infuse our mindset with deeper and more holistic ways of thinking.

Maike Schäbitz: I agree. And think that with digitalisation, too, the question is with which mindset do we use the instruments and tools that are now being given to us. I think that with a loving, people-centred perspective, and if the pace continues at the same rate as it has over the past ten years, we will be able to cope with the challenges much better. It’s amazing what we have experienced in such a short time. Things are intensifying so quickly. We can create something wonderful with the tools now available to us.

Martin Permantier: I think that’s great, and worth putting energy into. My father has Alzheimer’s. A while back I was telling him what was going on that day. Of course, he couldn’t do anything with the information because he couldn’t associate with it. So he looked at me and said, “Oh Martin, you don’t have to tell me all that. Let’s just see what the day brings.” Yes, I thought, a wise life motto. You no longer have to be right.

You look at what happens, prepare yourself for a surprise, and see that your mindset expands.

Maike Schäbitz: Very nice, Martin. Thank you for the interview. I hope the book finds many more readers. And gives people a taste for the joy of self-development.

Martin Permantier: Thanks, Maike.

This interview with the CEO of short cuts GmbH is also available in a Podcast (in German): Click here