Appendix from book

Research on the Impact of Clear Leadership in Organizations

How do you go about creating a culture of clarity?How well do these skills actually transfer back to the job?What changes as a result of managers being trained in clear leadership?In this chapter I want to share with you what I, my students and clients have discovered to date about the impact of the clear leadership skills on people, teams and organizations and how to go about building a culture of clarity in your organization.

What I have been able to do is to study the impact of the skills on leaders and the people they lead, to study the impact of the clear leadership course on managers, and to study the development of cultures of clarity.In this chapter I want to describe to you what I’ve found and my current thinking on these and related topics.

The Impact of Clear Leadership on Organizations

With today’s “war for talent” going on lots of people are studying why people take jobs and leave jobs and it’s become a cliché that people don’t quit jobs, they quit supervisors.A lot of evidence has accumulated that a person’s experience of their work is strongly influenced by their boss.Given the nature of experience this isn’t really surprising.In one of the early studies of clear leadership we took that idea a step further and wondered if, at anybody’s place of work, there was a key manager who set the work climate for everyone.For example, if you work at a branch of a large bank, wouldn’t your work climate be more influenced by the Branch Manager than by anything going on in the larger bank?And if you worked for a company with multiple departments all located in a large building wouldn’t your climate be more influenced by the manager of that department than by the President of the company?To find out some students and I asked a random group of people if they could identify the manager at their place of work who set the climate for their day to day work experience and everybody could.In fact, most people could instantly name that person.Since level of trust consistently relates to people’s ability to collaborate and sustain partnerships, we decided to study the impact of behaviors we could link to clear leadership on trust.[1]Using a questionnaire we asked 100 people to describe that key manager on a set of traits related to clear leadership skills and their level of self differentiation and we matched their answers to questions we asked them about their degree of trust toward that manager and the overall climate of trust in the workplace.You can see the questions we asked in Table 1.We found high correlations between the their ability to keep clear self-boundaries (a proxy for self-differentiation), their level of Curious Self and the degree of trust and sense of partnership people had in that manager.Those two variables alone accounted for 78% of the variance in how much people trusted that manager, and the Curious Self items had the strongest impact.That is an astoundingly strong result, but not that surprising from the perspective argued in this book.Most people expect a person’s character and skills to impact how much others trust him or her. Maybe even more interesting was the impact of this manager’s behavior on the climate of trust in the workplace – how people rated their colleagues’.Here the key manager’s self- boundaries, level of fusion, Curious Self and Descriptive Self were all correlated with the level of partnership people described from their workmates.When we examined the interaction of these variables we found that the strongest impact on the overall climate of trust was the key manager’s self-boundaries and their fusion. That accounted for 34% of the variance in the trust climate.Look at the fusion items and the trust climate items.This study indicates that a manager that “wants to please everyone” reduces the level of collaboration amongst people in an organization. Without the clear leadership model it might be hard to understand why that is.

Table A1 Items And Factor Loadings For Climate Of Trust Study

 Trust in Manager

Factor Loading



I can talk freely to this individual about difficulties I am having at work and know that he/she will want to listen.


Most people, even those who aren't close friends of this individual, trust and respect him/her.


If I shared my problems with this person, I know he/she would respond constructively and caringly


We have a sharing relationship.We can both freely share our ideas feelings and hopes...

 Climate of Trust


I have full confidence in the skills of my workmates in my part of the organization.


I can trust the people in this part of the organization to lend me a hand if I needed it.


Most of my workmates can be relied upon to do as they say they will do.


If I got into difficulties at work I know people in this part of my organization would try and help me out.

 Clear Self Boundaries


This manager tends to be pretty stable under stress.


This manager tends to remain pretty calm under stress.


This manager bases his/her decisions on perceptions rather than facts. (Reversed)


This manager does not get upset over things he/she cannot change.


At times this manager’s feelings get the best of him/her and he/she has trouble thinking. (Reversed)


When this manager is having an argument with someone, he/she seems to separate his/her thoughts about the issue from his/her feelings about the person.

 Curious Self


This manager seeks to understand me.


This manager invites me to talk about our working relationship.


This manager wants to know what others want.


This manager is aware of how he/she impacts others.

 Descriptive Self (reversed)


It’s hard to know what this manager feels about anything.


It’s hard to know what this manager thinks about anything.


It’s hard to know what this manager wants about anything.



This manager has a hard time saying no.


This manager is easily swayed by an emotional appeal.


This manager wants to please everyone.


This manager tends to get too close to people.

 We did another study where we interviewed 20 managers who had been through the Clear Leadership course and their peers to ask what changes they had seen in those managers and what the effects of those changes had been on the workplace[2].The first finding of note was that over 90% of the managers said that they had changed their behavior back at work as a result of the course and those claims were supported by their peers.This is an outstanding result when you consider that most researchers conclude that less than 10% of training actually transfers back to the workplace.This finding was replicated in another study with a larger sample at another organization.[3]In both studies what emerged as the most common changes were 1) people realized when they were sense-making and became much more active in checking out their stories, 2) people used the experience cube to get clear about their own experience and other people’s experience 3) people felt much more empowered to speak up and talk about their experience with those they wanted to be in partnership with.

In the second study we asked people what they thought the impact of the clear leadership course was on the organization but didn’t give them any preset answers to choose from – we wanted to see what they would come up with spontaneously.Their responses are in Table 2. Interestingly, the most common response was improved retention.Some managers felt that people who worked for them were happier and that they had been able to initiate learning conversations with employees who had been dissatisfied to clear up those dissatisfactions.Some described conversations they had with employees who weren’t going to get something they wanted and how very different that was when they were willing to be self-differentiated and clear – how their employees thanked them for the clarity!Equally interesting was the number of people who stated that they had stayed with the organization as a result of the training program (a similar thing was found in study 1).Some said they had been ready to leave the organization but had changed their mind based on the philosophy of the course and their desire to work in a culture of clarity.Many believed that reducing interpersonal mush was increasing the overall “healthiness and morale of the workplace.


Table A 2 - Observed benefits of the Clear Leadership Course

  Grossling (2006)


Percentage of respondents who offered

this benefit without prompting

Improved Retention


Improved Healthy Workplace


Achieved Organizational Goals


Increased Collaboration


Increased Productivity


Increased Efficiency


Improved Customer Service


Note: these percentages would undoubtedly have been higher if

we had given people this list of benefits had asked them to rate them.


The most common source of improvements in organizational efficiency and productivity was improved meetings.Some respondents pointed to more focused meetings and faster decisions “...but most explained that what made the difference was not having to return to the same issues time after time. Instead, individuals using the Clear Leadership skills were better able to discuss an issue, move it forward with a action plan, and provide ample opportunity for others to continue the discussion if they believed something did not yet make sense. Participants described this process as much more effective and as saving considerable time in the long run. The benefit of supporting or furthering organizational goals came up repeatedly in various forms. For some, it was a new found commitment toward organizational outcomes. For others, it was a greater appreciation for their part in organizational functioning. Many also stated a greater appreciation for the importance of providing personnel with a big picture or context to help them make sense of their jobs and organizational decisions.”[4]   95% of the respondents in study two said they had used the clear leadership skills to manage conflict at work.This is another amazing result and has led me to study the impact of clear leadership on conflict management in more depth.  

Clear Leadership and Conflict Management  

In another early study we looked at the effect of the “key manager” on the climate of conflict people experienced at work and again we found that how people rated their workgroup’s ability to discuss problems and conflicts and manage differences productively was related to the key manager’s level of fusion and level of Curious Self.[5]The less fused and the more curious the key manager was, the better the workgroup was at dealing openly and productively with conflicts.

More recently I’ve become intrigued with an emerging approach to understanding and managing conflict.Contemporary views on conflict emphasize either a lack of agreement on things like goals and roles or competing interests as the source of conflict. Such views emphasize searching for ways to reframe conflicts so that definitions of goals and roles are shared and/or each party can satisfy their interests.A new “narrative” approach, based on the kind of social-constructionist philosophy that underpins Clear Leadership, argues that conflict is a way of making sense of a difficult relationship. We each have our story of conflict, and once having defined a relationship as being in conflict, we then act out the story.

The narrative position fits well with the clear leadership model.What I propose is that most of the conflicts people have in organizations are actually the result of stories they’ve made up to make sense of unpleasant interactions.Even though the words “conflict management” don’t appear either in this book or in the clear leadership course, I was interested to study if the way managers think about and engage conflicts changes as a result of the clear leadership course.From the results of interviewing 36 managers who had been through the course it appears that a significant number of them do.[6]

In this study we asked managers to describe how they had gone about dealing with a conflict at work since taking the course.We asked them to describe how they’d thought about it, what they had done and what had happened.We reasoned that they could still be using the dominant, interest based mental map of conflict (popularized by Uri & Fisher in Getting to Yes), they could have replaced it with a “story based” map of conflict, or they could have combined these two maps in some way.We then analyzed the interview transcripts and found, to our delight and amazement, that not one of them was thinking of conflict in purely interest based ways.Sixteen had a completely story based mental map of conflict and how to manage it and the other 16 had combined an interest based approach with a story based approach in some way.

We looked at the patterns in how people described the conflicts.The most common pattern (45% of participants) was that the conflict turned out to be a misunderstanding between stories that needed to get checked out.24% had completely rethought the conflict and come to the conclusion that they didn’t really have a conflict.They had redefined it as either something they had made up or the product of an inaccurate mental map.Even those who described their conflict as competing interests of some kind believed that their stories of the conflict had to be checked out and cleared up before anything useful could happen.Almost everyone interviewed reported thinking that conflict was a good thing, with 30% saying their views of conflict had improved due to the course. Only two respondents ascribed negative judgments to conflict.41% said that since the course they had helped others resolve conflict by offering guidance or helping them clarify their thoughts.65% had actually mediated or facilitated the resolution of conflict between other people using clear leadership skills.32% had attempted to teach others who were in conflict clear leadership skills to help them act to resolve the conflict.

I think these are amazing results.We know that collaborative work systems need to have people who can and will discuss and work through their conflicts and not rely on escalating issues up a chain of command.Why does a story based approach to conflict seem to make it so much easier for that to happen than the interest based, win-win approach most managers are taught? I think your average middle manager in your average organization doesn’t see how an interest based approach is likely to do him or her much good.To get to a win-win resolution requires that I find some way to accommodate your interests.But as a typical middle, I don’t experience myself as having much control over what I do or the resources I have to do it.Most of my work life consists of trading off competing priorities with limited resources.I’m already being pulled in 100 different directions, and trying to engage you in win-win conflict resolution is just likely to make my inability to meet your needs painfully apparent.So instead I try to avoid surfacing the conflict and work around it.But a story based perspective on conflict is entirely different.I have complete control over whatever stories I’m making up and I can potentially change the story you have simply by talking about it.If I hold the point of view that conflict is likely to be the result of stories we’ve made up I can see how putting a little effort into it might actually resolve the conflict.And what our research shows is that it does.

The stories that I’ve been told about conflicts that have been resolved through using clear leadership skills are very heartening.Mostly these are about conflicts with bosses and subordinates (as well as spouses and children) but sometimes they are about much larger groups of people.One story in particular stands out in my mind because it had such a dramatic impact on the entire organization.


Anile and Carol were directors of their respective units in a community based health services organization.They looked after the care of seniors.One was responsible for resident care (those living in seniors homes) and one for non-resident care.They each had hundreds of people working in their units and serviced thousands of seniors in their community.There were multiple boundaries where the services of their respective units intersected.There were many kinds of geriatric services that both resident and non-resident seniors needed in common.As a result there were many, many opportunities for managers and employees in both units to collaborate, but that was not happening.Instead, relations between the two units were defensive and competitive.There was a strong we versus they mentality that was evident in meetings, memos and reports.The problems between the two units were visible throughout the larger organization and came to a head when the executive began pushing on them to re-organize departments to better integrate and coordinate their services for greater efficiency and innovation.Apparently, in meetings between the two groups people “voted in blocks” for “their side” and the level of tension and conflict escalated.

Also, apparent to people in the rest of the organization, Anile and Carol could not stand each other.They were able to maintain a level of civility in their interactions but apparently the tension between them was significant to others.Senior managers in the organization were debating what to do about them, becoming convinced that something drastic needed to be done.Coincidently, around this time Anile and Carol each took the Clear Leadership course independently.They knew, however, that the other had ta ken the course and the story goes that at a meeting with senior managers about the need to re-organize their departments they both looked at each other and almost simultaneously said “I think we need to have a learning conversation”. They walked over to a coffee shop and began a conversation that lasted over two hours in which they unraveled five years of interpersonal mush.It turns out their problems began when Carol strongly recommended that Anile be the organization’s representative on a big state commission into elder care.Anile had been furious, thinking that Carol had done this so that Carol wouldn’t get stuck with the extra work.It turns out Carol wanted to be on the commission, believing it would be a career enhancing assignment for both of them, but out of sense of self-sacrifice and team play had suggested Anile be their organization’s representative.

After they cleared up the mush and forgave each other, and themselves, for all the years of conflict and missed opportunities, they started talking about what they wanted going forward and they discovered they had many ideals and visions in common.Over the next weeks they began working on some bold and innovative ideas for how their departments could be integrated for enhanced and more efficient service to seniors.What most caught other people’s attention (and why I heard about it) was the changes that soon took place in interactions between others in the department.Within months the old spirit of defensiveness and conflict shifted to a new spirit of cooperation and colleagueship.A dramatic change took place that led to significant improvements in senior care and productivity and the eventual reorganization of senior care that was considered throughout the organization a huge success.  

One of my favorite clichés is that organizations mirror the pathologies of their leaders.When senior managers are fighting conflict seems to cascade down their respective organizational units.Developing and sustaining collaborative work systems requires a real spirit of partnership among its leaders – and that can be a very difficult thing to sustain.

Creating Cultures of Clarity

There’s a belief among many consultants that executive teams are an oxymoron.The nature of executive work makes it very, very difficult for them to think or act like at team.Barry Oshry has as good an explanation for it as I’ve seen.[7]   Because of the complexity and relentless pace of executive work, executive teams naturally deal with it by dividing the work up.As each person on the team focuses on their own part, they become more and more isolated from each other and begin to wonder what the other people are doing.They predictably develop stories about themselves and each other where they see themselves as doing more work than anyone else, carrying a larger burden, and thinking that others are not doing enough.Members start to feel that they aren’t getting enough respect from each other and trust begins to decline.Because they operate in very different parts of the organization, working on very different portfolios, they naturally develop very different perspectives on where the organization needs to go.Conflicts that emerge over these differences get attributed to personality issues, with little appreciation of interpersonal mush and the systemic dynamics that effect executive teams, and any sense of partnership among them falls apart.

Without real partnership at the top of the house, it’s hard to imagine how you could sustain partnership anywhere else in an organization.So the logical first step in creating a culture of clarity throughout an organization is to start with the executive team.If it’s a new team, build the processes and structures that will ensure the mush keeps getting swept away and partnership built.If it’s an established team, there will no doubt need to be significant “clean up” to re-establish the spirit of partnership the team needs.If there is someone on the executive team that is not able or willing to use the skills of clear leadership they need to be replaced.That’s a harsh statement but unfortunately I have seen the results of leaders trying to create cultures of clarity with a senior manager who is extremely fused or disconnected and/or has little interest in building partnerships with others.It doesn’t work.You only need one person who acts in ways that bullies and scares others to close down a whole group and the entire organization under them.

Starting with the senior team, working on their clear leadership skills, and then waterfalling down the organization, teaching the skills and doing clean up in each successive manager’s team, is the logical, rational way to build a culture of clarity in an organization.I’ve been able to do this once and the impact was transformational. Unfortunately it’s not what usually happens.More often Clear Leadership is offered as a leadership development experience that middle managers take advantage of.As word of the course spreads the waiting list for the course gets longer and longer.People start wondering where the senior leadership is on these principles.A couple of years after the pilot course the senior leadership does the course and changes to policies and procedures that support partnership and clarity then accelerate.Frankly, I’m amazed that a training program can have that much impact.My education, previous experience and the research led me to expect very little real change from a training course but in organizations where a significant percentage of managers have ta ken the course tangible changes in organizational behavior are evident.I am now engaged in a study to try and scientifically establish the magnitude of those changes on organizational performance.

From research I’ve done on transfer of the clear leadership training I’ve come to realize that changing how people lead is as much an intervention into organizational culture as it is about skill development[8].Looking at it now it seems obvious but I hadn’t thought of it before.How we act as leaders is conditioned to some extent by the organizational culture we operate in.If you think of culture as a set of collectively held assumptions then it seems obvious that most organizations will have a set of collectively held assumptions about how leaders ought to behave.If you want to change how leaders lead you have to change those assumptions.But changing culture is a lot harder than just making a list of what you want the new assumptions to be.In fact, research on attempts to install new organizational cultures based on some values a group of executives came up with show they not only typically fail, they generally result in some nasty unintended consequences.Take, for example, the current attempt to install democracy in Iraq .

When we studied transfer of the Clear Leadership training we found the biggest obstacle to people using the skills was the fear that others would think what they were doing was unacceptable in some way.They were afraid of being put down and in particular were afraid that the language of clear leadership would put off the uninitiated.In other words, they were afraid that using clear leadership skills would violate cultural norms in the organization.On the other hand, the biggest supports for transfer were seeing other people successfully using the skills, having a boss who had ta ken the course, and the opportunity for peer coaching amongst those who had also ta ken the course.I haven’t figured out what the tipping point is but there seems to be a formula that combines how strongly the key manager who sets the climate is operating as a clear leader, with the number of other managers who’ve been through the cours,e that establishes this tipping point in any unit.When that point gets reached predictable changes happen in how people interact with each other.It becomes common for people to refer to the experience cube and to use it to increase clarity.When things start to go sideways in a meeting, the person leading the meeting might take a here and now lap around the experience cube or ask someone else to. Gossip and sense-making about others in small groups is no longer tolerated.People are expected to check out their stories with each other.Managers and subordinates work more explicitly on developing partnership relationships, getting clear on what projects and processes they are jointly committed to the success of and opening up channels of communication about their experiences of those projects.

The message for those who want to create a culture of clarity through clear leadership training is that they need to get as many people through the course as quickly as they can and they need to think of supporting interventions into the organization’s culture.How do we go about shifting the assumptions we hold about people, partnership, leadership, and how we treat each other around here?How do we make it OK for everyone to be having a different experience?How do we make it OK to talk about and explore all the sense-making that is going on?How do we make it OK for people to say what they want without expecting to get it?How do we make leaders being seen learning a mark of leadership competence?There are ways to do this, probably many different ways, but that goes far beyond the boundaries of this book.I’ll just close by saying that for my money, appreciative inquiry and performance amplification are the best technologies we have at the moment to support this kind of cultural change in conjunction with clear leadership training.

[1] Chan, N.(1999) Effects of Differentiated Leadership on Trust in the Workplace. Unpublished MBA Thesis, Faculty of Business Administration, Simon Fraser University .

[2] Kanu, Y. (2003)Leadership Development Training Transfer: A Case Study Assessment Of Exterior Post-Training Factors Of A Year-Long Leadership Development Program. Unpublished MBA Thesis, Faculty of Business Administration, Simon Fraser University .

[3] Grossling, R. (2006) Evaluating Clear Leadership’s Impact on Individual & Organizational Performance Unpublished research report, Faculty of Business Administration, Simon Fraser University

[4] Grossling, ibid., p.8

[5] Radomski, M. (2000)The Effect of Differentiated Leadership on Conflict Management Climate. Unpublished MBA thesis, Faculty of Business Administration, Simon Fraser University .

[6] Bushe, G.R. & Grossling, R. (2006) Engaging Conflict: The Impact of Clear Leadership Training on How People Think About Confiict and It’s Management.Unpublished research report, Faculty of Business Administration, Simon Fraser University .

[7] Oshry, B. (2007)Seeing Systems. San Francisco : Berret-Koehler.

[8] Gilpin-Jackson, Y & Bushe,G.R. (2007) Leadership development training transfer: A case study of post-training determinants. Journal of Management Development, 26:10, 980-1004.

"Gervase Bushe has beautifully captured the interpersonal underworld … But, more importantly, he lays out a clear path and the skills needed to reach interpersonal competence and real organizational learning."
David Jamieson Ph.D.
President, Jameison Consulting,
and co-author, Consultation for Organizational Change
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