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  • Writer's pictureKim Hafjall


After some years in the new company, Peter co-created a new organisational culture built on inclusion, teamwork and shared responsibility. The empowerment of the different functions and production lines delivered terrific results. But Peter has a bigger ambition. He had begun to engage with other corporates worldwide, focusing on similar technologies. He did not want to grow his business by acquiring other companies. Size in itself was not what drove Peter. The mid-size regional company he leads operates very efficiently. Potential mergers and acquisitions could derail or delay the critical development and roll-out of new energy solutions they worked on.

Instead, he had co-founded a network of similar companies where corporates could explore and co-develop new solutions by sharing knowledge. They all sought to optimise profit. Still, in certain parts of the world, the access to capital markets was less developed, so some start-up companies, especially in the developing world, struggled to find the right capital to get prototypes built and tested. Peter was very aware of these challenges and had spoken with his board about setting up an investment fund that, for relatively few funds, could co-fund some of these companies against a minor passive stake in their company. That helped the local small companies in front of their banks and gave his company a potential upside if they had a breakthrough. It meant they did not interfere in how the companies were run, nor were they jeopardising their well-functioning setup due to M&A activities. With this setup, some of the solutions developed in Peters company, especially around sustainable and clean water supply, would reach parts of the world where they were most needed in a much faster way - benefiting millions of people. Besides this, Peter's company also tapped into the rising pockets of talent pools within his industry spread across developing countries.

Peter still attended to the daily challenges that inevitably arose in the company. Despite the hard work of implementing a deeply collaborative organisation, it worked better in the mothership company, where Peter could influence and lead by example. The late satisfaction survey was very disappointing in one of their affiliates abroad. Changes in the top team were required, and the local CEO position was currently vacant. It could take months to find the right candidate. Peter, therefore, travels to visit the remaining top team in the affiliate.

His mission is to help the top team function more collaboratively. Despite only being an affiliate, they produce vital components for the rest of the group, so the lack of clear leadership was the weakest link in the entire organisation. On the first day, Peter met the local C-suite one-to-one to get up to speed with what was happening. It was clear that several were opting for the vacant CEO role, but Peter was evident that his priority was to get the existing C-suite to work as one team. Soon it becomes clear that most of the five dysfunctions of a team (Patrick Lencioni, 2002) were in play. In the following days, Peter meets other managers as he embarks on one of his famous floor walks, where he engages widely and gives him a good impression of why the satisfaction survey was so poorly. Peter decides to create a field force around the local C-suite. Creating pressure from all sides, forcing the C-suite to step up and lead as one team – one CEO.

Peter takes a full day off-site, where Peter first shares his expectations. He then shares how the affiliates in other countries see this affiliate and how they had disappointed numerous times. Finally, he shares the perception of the different local functions. How they work in siloes, and the local C-suite comes across as competing around resources and responsibilities. Peter acknowledges that until now, this affiliate was hub & spoke led by the former CEO. Peter suggests that they should get a handful from each function to work on a combined solution for how to be most optimally structured across the affiliate and within the functions. The local C-suite agrees and gives this task team a few months to work on it with solid support from HR.

A few months later, Peter flies in again to join the decision meeting, but when the task team shall deliver the results to the local C-suite, Peter leaves and asks the C-suite to step up and act as a combined CEO to make the right decisions. The mandate is unequivocal! They hold their meeting, and despite disagreements, they reach decisions that all can support and will address the major concerns and challenges they face. This empowerment, combined with the field force, creates the commitment, engagement, and ownership required and has been missing for a long time. Peter is happy when he flies back that night.

Leadership Agility Compass

The Leadership Agility Compass, as defined by Joseph and Joiners, 2007, operates with four areas of competencies or focus areas for the agile leader. These are:

  1. Context Setting Agility: The larger systemic context surrounding your initiative.

  2. Stakeholder Agility: Your initiative’s key stakeholders.

  3. Creative Agility: The specific problems and opportunities your initiative must address for it to be successful.

  4. Self-leadership Agility: Yourself as a leader.

Below is a more in-depth description of a Synergist/Alchemist leader's capacities and limitations, seen through the lens of the four angles. Each leadership stage builds on the previous vertical development stages. Below, therefore, makes the best sense if you have read the blog post about the Expert, Achiever, Catalyst and Co-creator stages.

Context setting agility

- Situational awareness: Synergists/Alchemists typically have a well-developed understanding of and concern about global issues, especially regarding the human dimension of the larger environment, which is deeper than that of the Co-creator. They excel in creating environments where solutions are created in a group, or an individual dares to open up.

- Sense of purpose: The sense of purpose that Co-creators begin to experience with finding personal fulfilment and empowering others becomes more frequent and vital for Synergists/Alchemists. Their use of various forms of meditation is more widespread, and through that centring, they find space to prepare themselves for complex situations and how to get the best result. Synergists/Alchemists are better at avoiding being lost in personality conflicts, politics and the small things and remembering the larger course – what their meaningful purpose is. The “Why do they work with what they do?”.

Stakeholder agility

- Stakeholder Understanding: They build on the already well-developed empathy they got from the Co-creator stage and understand and relate to others even deeper while still being mindful of their bodies and emotions. The capacity they have to hold in mind several and often conflicting stakeholder views and interests enables them to cater for better outcomes that seek to include the needs of all parties, including their own.

- Power style: Besides mastering all the power styles from the previous stages, the Synergists/Alchemists adds the power of presence. This capacity around being centred in the present moment allows Synergist/Alchemist leaders to take a more playful approach to power where they can choose whichever style is most appropriate in a given situation and thereby embrace their assertive and receptive side simultaneously. By taking a highly balanced stance, Synergists/Alchemists can remain entirely centred in their sense of what is needed and, at the same time, be highly responsive to the felt needs of stakeholders, even when those needs seem to conflict with their own.

Creative agility

- Connective Awareness: At the Synergists/Alchemists level, connective awareness becomes even more wide-ranging and creative than at the Co-creator level. Many Synergist/Alchemist leaders can work simultaneously with the local and global and hold multiple and conflicting ideas, emotions, and possibilities in mind. The ability to cater for various needs and requirements enables them to find better solutions - often arising from a sudden thought or reflection (a kind of intuition).

- Reflective Judgement: Building on the Co-creator's ability to enter unfamiliar interpretive frameworks and imaginatively experience them from the inside out, the Synergist/Alchemist can enter even more deeply into multiple and conflicting ways of framing with the use of their present-centred awareness. This also helps them become more aware of their bodily postures, trains of thought, and emotional reactions. Synergists/Alchemists sometimes find themself in a position where they believe they have found a solution catering to all needs but are very aware that they are subjective human beings. Therefore, they seek to test the validity of their insights by involving others by asking for their views or trying their idea for validation.

Self-leadership agility

- Self-awareness: The present-centred awareness that Synergist/Alchemist leaders hold enables them to be in tune with their five senses, inner sensations, thoughts, and emotional responses. Physically they can give attention to breathing, muscular tension and other physical features. It helps them become more aware – in a non-judgmental way – of their physical expressions, like their postures, gestures, facial expression, and tones of voice. Synergists/Alchemists also become more aware of their thought processes, how much they think about past and future topics in an often biased way (tone and perception), and how little time is used to be present. This enables them to focus more on being present and working with and reduce their automatic thought trains. This awareness around physical and thoughts helps them experience their emotional reactions more directly without needing to react upon them. They may feel tense and agitated but are not letting their conscious "I" influence these feelings.

- Developmental Motivation: Synergists/Alchemists strive towards using their "talent" to the most. Feeling well-used. Both in regards to what they do, but equally in how they grow as a person both personally and professionally. They are stretching themselves beyond existing limitations. They are driven towards continued growth. Synergists/Alchemists feed much of their attention to the "present" or their deep presence in time.

Reflections points

  • Which of the strong capacities at the Synergist/Alchemist stage can you recognise in yourself?

  • Can you think of someone operating solidly at the Synergist/Alchemist stage?

  • Are you operating at the Synergist/Alchemist stage?

Overview of the five leadership stages

Note: First name convention is Joiner/Josephs*, and the second refers to Rooke/Torbert**


* Joiner, B & Josephs, S. 2007. Leadership Agility – Five Levels of Mastery for Anticipating and Initiating Change. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

**Rooke, D. & Torbert. W. April 2005. Seven Transformations of Leadership. Harvard Business Review.


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