The Century of the DEO


Are leaders born or made? This is a question that has been so frequently asked. However, the answer is not clear yet. When leadership literature is studied, it is obvious that the leadership concept has been evolving. In the past, it was accepted that leaders were born. That is why the personal characteristics of leaders were underlined in the traits approach of leadership. Then, the leadership was discussed as a process of interaction between the leader and his followers. These two views of leadership should be considered, and the conclusion is that leaders are born with some leadership traits and leaders are made by developing their leadership knowledge, skills and competencies.

When the same question is being asked now, the stronger answer is that leaders are made. Why? Because the 21st Century is such a dynamically changing period that requires leaders to learn, unlearn, relearn and develop continuously. Nowadays, it is broadly discussed that leadership development is the top HR issue and the first HR priority. In Korn Ferry Global Study: Succession Matters – Impactful Leadership Development and Accelareted Learning, it is written there simply aren’t enough individuals who are “ready now” to step into senior leadership roles. This is the main reason for the leadership development activities in many companies. Leaders attend different leadership development programs in order to learn and develop. Along with the formal in-house leadership development, there is a need for additional development methods. One of the most effective methods is self-development. Self-development requires reflection, self-assessment and self-awareness. All of these can be mastered by reading and thinking. One excellent book that I have recently read, and I would like to suggest is RISE of the DEO. In this post, I am aiming to review the book and shortly highlight the characteristics of the DEO.


Before reviewing the book, it is a good idea to understand what the DEO stands for and its definition. DEO stands for Design Executive Officer, and here is its definition.


RISE of the DEO

Rise of the DEO

RISE of the DEO written by Maria Giudice and Christopher Ireland is a great book for leaders who want to read, reflect and self-develop. Maria Giudice is a Director of Product Design at Facebook. Cristopher Ireland is a Cofounder of Mix and Stir Studio. They discuss the DEO in more than 200 pages, but my review is going to be short enough to give you a general picture of the book itself.



In this first part, the DEO is depicted as a Change AgentRisk Taker, Systems Thinker, Intuitive, Socially Intelligent and GSD. The DEO is not afraid of change. On the contrary, she boldly promotes change. That is why, the DEO is a change agent. Change is accelerating, and doing nothing or not taking risks results in failures. Risk taking is so essential for survival, true originality and innovation. For the DEO, risk taking is the key ingredient of creativity, so developing the risk taking skill is vitally important for her. Actually, the DEO turns the risk into experimentation and collaboration. This means that the DEO starts with a well-articulated framework that guides the risk taking process. The DEO is a systems thinker because he has to deal with the fast speed of increasing complexity. As defined in the book systems thinking is the ability to understand connections, and it’s the recognition that much of what occurs around us is the result of linked systems that influence one another in subtle ways. The DEO sees his company as an ecosystem, and he tries to understand its interlocking connections. As a result, he masters the systems thinking skill and applies it habitually. (If you are interested, you may read more about this skill in Why and How should Leaders practice Systems Thinking?To be intuitive is to feel something without necessarily being able to explain how and why you know it. The DEO is highly intuitive since she uses her intense perceptual and observation skills or her deep expertise. For example, she can analyze market opportunities, and then use intuition to discern elusive but critical specifics. Besides, the DEO appreciates the intuitive ability in others. Social intelligence is another feature of the DEO. He prefers spending time with employees and customers rather than equipment or spreadsheets. He connects with people because he knows that every interaction is a potential goldmine for information. The DEO connects with others and integrates them into well-defined and accessed networks. GSD is the innocent looking acronym that is short for Get Shit Done. In fact, stated politely it means that the DEO makes things happen. She balances dreaming, planning and doing, and by implementing the 80-20 rule, she also directs the most efforts where it is likely to do the most good.


In the second part of the book, the two writers discuss Co-creation, Networks and Communities, Mentoring vs. Managing, Crafting Culture, Care and Feedingand Place Matters. Employees can be more insightful and intelligent collectively then they can individually. Since the DEO is aware of this, she recognizes the benefits of “we”, so she encourages and promotes collaboration, cooperation and teamwork. Knowing the positive benefits of co-creation, the DEO finds ways to make it flourish in her company. She integrates more stakeholders which results in increasing everyone’s feelings of inclusion and commitment. Joining networks and communities, is not only an indicator of the DEO’s social competence, but also a strategy by which he creates value. He tries to construct two types of networks that are deep and wide. The deep networks are composed of experts and specialists, whereas the wide ones unite a broad range of people who may have little in common. Mentoring is a very important topic today, and many companies have mentoring programs. The DEO does not manage, she mentors. Mentoring is focused on the employees, and it is about guiding them to grow and become more proficient and successful. As it is known, managing is about control and conformity.Company culture is the unique collection of beliefs and practices that communicates company values. Well-designed culture unites all stakeholders in a shared understanding of the right things to do and the wrong things to avoid. The DEO purposefully and effectively designs and builds authentic and meaningful company culture because he recognizes its power. A strong company culture reflects the DEO’s own values, beliefs and behaviors. Care and feeding are essential for employees’ happiness, and the DEO knows this very well. Different employees want different working conditions and benefits. Consequently, the DEO tries to add flexible schedules, mobile working, daycare or care for aging parents and other benefits. Keeping and attracting talented employees is only possible by caring and recognizing them. The DEO is aware that place matters. The traditional working environments were designed to separate departments and discourage spontaneous collaboration because their primary goal was to reinforce hierarchy, linear problem solving and controlled communications. On the other hand, the DEO redesigns the working place to support her company’s distinct processes and people, increase communication and collaboration and enhance creativity and innovation.


Positive Passion, Expertise, Problem Solving, Permission to Fail, Playful Workand Iterate and Evolve are the subtopics in part 3. The DEO knows instinctively that he can only be successful if he pursues his passion. The DEO is careful to express his positive passion in a manner that is engaging and collaborative because he is dependent on the skills and supports of others. Besides, the DEO motivates the employees to follow their hearts resiliently and optimistically. The DEO continues to practice his expertise as part of running the business, rather than rise above his expertise as he gains power and authority. For instance, Mark Zuckerberg’s ability to code adds to his credibility with his engineers and positively affects to the growth and development of Facebook. Moreover, the DEO’s expertise is a power that helps him to look ahead, and he also urges his company to constantly better itself or even reinvent if needed. Traditional managers and leaders see problems as negatives to be minimized. On the contrary, the DEO chooses problems carefully and uses them to explore and expand her creativity. Problem solving starts with framing the problem that means identifying what is wrong and what are the causes. DEO’s close observation and deep understanding help her to frame problems correctly, and as a result she can solve them easily. She can also solve problems creatively since she is skilled in divergent thinking which is defined as the ability to conceive of many options or alternatives. She has also mastered the acceptance of ambiguity in problem solving, so she helps the team to shift focus from the solution to process. The DEO does not fear failure. She actually givespermission to fail because she knows that sometimes it is inevitable and sometimes it is needed for success. Woody Allen says if you are not failing every now and again, it is a sign you are not doing anything very innovative. Academics and developmental scientists have studied play and its worth in every aspect of life including at work. The DEO permits play at work because it helps employees to be less judgmental and more receptive and creative. He integrates play into the company’s environment by welcoming toys and playrooms in the office. He also integrates it into the company’s processes by scheduling a planning meeting on the ski slopes or a strategy session at the zoo. The DEO feels that to iterate and evolve is natural and healthy. She also knows the benefits of an iterative approach to innovation, so she encourages employees to iterate and evolve.


The DEO has the following characteristics which are Integrity, Humility, Generosity and Originality. Integrity is very important, and the DEO who has integrity aligns his personal and business values in a way that is honest, reasonable and authentic. He is a role model of integrity, and he expects and encourages others to live and work with integrity. According to Oprah Winfrey real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody is going to know whether you did it or not. Arrogance is an exaggerated sense of superiority and dominance, whereas humility is an acknowledgement of limitations and connectedness. As a result, the DEO recognizes and values humility in himself and his colleagues. His humility helps him to generously praise others. Generositycreates value, so the DEO shares informantion because it is infinitely extendable, and sharing it does not decrease his store of it. Moreover, sharing information prompts diverse opinions and improves the overall level of discourse. He also shares connections by introducing friends and colleagues, and this is another example of win-win generosity. The DEO knows that originality does not mean adopting an eccentric stance or rebelling against everything. The DEO’s originality comes from integrating her full range of interests and talents and even including those that seem contradictory. It also comes from embracing her passions and preferences regardless of how the rest of the world reacts. DEO’s originality emerges naturally, and it demands mastery, adaptability and curiosity. Consequently, the DEO’s unique personality is easy to admire but difficult to imitate.

The two writers of the book Maria Giudice and Christopher Ireland support their ideas by writing some DEO Profiles. In every profile, they give real life examples by interviewing real DEOs such as Carl Bass (President and CEO of Autodesk), Jesse Ziff Cool (Entrepreneur and Author) and Chris Anderson (Curator for TED Conferences) just to name a few.

RISE of the DEO is an excellent book about leadership by design, and it provides guidance and workouts for leaders who want to develop themselves and become the DEOs of this century. Our world needs many passionate DEOs because there are global problems such as climate change, poverty, inequality and etc. DEOs with big hearts and humane visions should cooperate to make the world a much better place to live. I really enjoyed reading the book, and now writing about it, and I think it is worth reading. Enjoy the reading and your self-reflection process.

(Posted also on LinkedIn Pulse)

Performance Development


In order to survive, compete and succeed, all organizations should be Learning Organizations (LOs). That is why the topic of LOs was important, and I think it is even more important than 15 years ago when I conducted LOs field research. One of the research outcomes was that Performance Management is a powerful organizational system that affects learning. The other three are communication, leadership & management and vision & strategy. These four systems explained 58.7% change in learning that was defined as the sum total variable of individual, team and organizational learning. If you have been reading my articles, you have most probably remember that I have already discussed the three systems except Performance Managemet which is the topic of this article. 

Performance Management in Learning Organizations

Performance Management is a very effective Organizational System, which supports learning in LOs. In the modern business world, organizations assess their employees’ performance differently. Some of them use graphic rating scales, others use checklists. There are companies that apply forced distribution, and some other companies use field review. Which one is the best was arguable, and today it is still arguable.

Modern companies have different performance management systems and performance appraisal criteria. The criteria vary according to the required competencies for individual performance and business success. However, most probably the criteria for being a Learning Organization are not evaluated.

I think it might be beneficial to discuss the general criteria of performance appraisal in LOs. The most important criterion is that performance appraisal in LOs has to be eclectic. In other words, many sources have to be used in the evaluation of employees. Employees’ managers, peers and customers assess them. They also use self-appraisal, and they evaluate their managers as well. In other words, this is the so called 360 degrees performance appraisal. 15 years ago when I was researching about learning in LOs, 360 degrees performance appraisal was not implemented very widely. However nowadays, many companies apply it. In my opinion, it is still the most reliable since performance data is collected from many different sources.

Self-appraisal is a technique not used in traditional companies, but in LOs it is central since employees learn very effectively from assessing their past experiences, successes or failures. Employees learn by realizing and avoiding mistakes. I believe that self-appraisal is the most important because it is the most powerful tool for raising awareness, performance development and success.

In LOs, the concepts of teamwork and team learning are very essential. Consequently, peer appraisal, or the assessment of team members is cardinal in the learning process of employees. Compared to the past, I think team learning is even more important. This is the so called collective learning that is the main solution for dealing with unpredictability and ambiguity, for finding creative solutions to complex problems and for creating innovation.

Employees in LOs have to be evaluated by their customers. This information is very important not only about the performance of employees, but also for the overall effectiveness, success and image of the company in the eyes of customers. Besides, assessed employees learn about their performance. Learning from customers is even more critical today because of the dramatic competition. Customers’ satisfaction is based on customers’ experience so getting customers’ feedback is so critical.

Employees in LOs also learn while appraising their supervisors. As a result, managers learn from their subordinates. In my research, I also measured this because I believed that managers can learn from this appraisal. In the past, leadership development was not so important. However nowadays, it is known that leadership development is the top HR trend.

In other words, the most important point that has to be underlined is that performance appraisal or performance management is a must in LOs. The idea behind that is the usefulness of performance appraisal to spot the areas for learning and development. It used to be, and it is still a powerful tool for defining learning needs.

Shorly stated in my thesis, the performance data collected from the eclectic or multiple appraisal process should be used for creating a learning environment in which the organization will consequently learn and develop more, and this is actually the primary objective of being a LO.

Another criterion that should be included in the performance appraisal of employees, managers and leaders in LOs is systems thinking. Employees, managers and leaders are evaluated on their systems thinking ability, and how they use this skill. Years later, I think that systems thinking is even more essential for creativity and innovation not only on individual level, but also on team and organizational levels.

The next criterion in the performance management of LOs is personal mastery. In order to be a learning organization, its employees have to be engaged in personal mastery. They are assessed on this criterion as well. Here their commitment to learning and personal development are evaluated.

Other criteria in the performance appraisal are willingness to take risks and willingness to change and improve. I am sure you agree that these two criteria are so essential for innovation.

Learning from mistakes was in the questionnaire, and this criterion was also measured. Willingness to take risks and willingness to change and improve may cause making mistakes. The important point here is to learn from mistakes because it is the best learning that can lead to development and innovation.

Dialogues are powerful tools for employees’ learning. Employees have to be appraised in their participation in organizational dialogues. They also lead to explanation of mental models and building of shared reality and vision. How much and how often employees engage in dialogues should be evaluated as well.

The last criterion is contribution to the learning of other employees and the company as a whole. Well, most of the time employees learn from others, yet they are not evaluated about their contribution to the learning of the team. I strongly believe that team and organizational learning are more critical than individual learning because collective learning and collective creativity are the magical keys for product and service innovation, business development and success.

15 years later, when I am writing about performance management, I can see some clear similarities between the performance management in LOs and the most recent performance management trend.

Performance Management: Trend Number 6

Deloitte’s 2015 Global Human Capital Trends report is one of the most comprehensive and longitudinal studies of talent, leadership and HR challenges and readiness around the world. It was published by Deloitte University Press, and it is a very powerful prediction that can be of great use. The report discusses the top 10 HR trends among which Performance Management is the sixth.

Quoted from the report, here is the list of some of the important ideas which are driving the urgency around performance management.

  • Today’s biggest challenges include engagement, retention and capability development.
  • “Up or out” performance management process alone simply does not help address these challenges, and in many cases makes them worse.
  • Many organizations used to think of performance management as a backward-looking assessment program owned by HR.
  • Performance management is being reinvented for a new, forward-looking purpose: to serve as an efficient, focused business process that improves employee engagement and drives business results.
  • Redesigned performance management processes may or may not include year-end ratings, but across the board, they tend to focus less on evaluation and more on agile goal setting, regular feedback, coaching and development.
  • A well-functioning performance management process should facilitate good management by good managers who are trained as coaches and mentors rather than as evaluators and graders.
  • High-potential young employees want regular feedback and career progression advice, not just “once and done” reviews.
  • Companies are finding significant gaps in leadership and capabilities that need to be addressed.
  • Ratings-based performance management negatively impacts culture and engagement.
  • A new focus on managing to strengths, not weaknesses, is emerging.
  • Technology now makes transparent goalsetting and agile performance management easier than ever.
  • New models focus on team-centric goal-setting and tools to help teams improve collaboration and performance.
  • Bottom-up feedback from employees, often gathered through the engagement process, helps managers see their own weaknesses and improve their own performance, so this makes the performance management process more developmental for both leaders and their teams.
  • Done well, performance management can be one of the most inspiring and developmental events in an employee’s career, as well as drive performance improvements and organization-wide results.

After reading the above discussed report, I wanted to deepen my learning about the new trend in Performance Management, so just couple of weeks ago, on April 9, I was enrolled in Bersin by Deloitte webinar The Performance Management Technology Revolution: When “One and Done” Won’t Work. In the webinar, the evolution of Performance Management was explained. It was stated as following:Performance Management is evolving from annual event, birdensome, fixed, centralized, deferred, appraisal focussed and remediation. It is evolving to ongoing business process, flexible, agile, simple, local, real-time, development-focused and continuous improvement.

To summarize, it is time to use Performance Management as a tool for Performance Development. The word management has the meaning of external intervention in which the performance of employees is managed by others such as managers and HR. Different performance management systems have been implemented, yet the results were not very impressive. The word development has internal or intrinsic connotation, and development requires intrinsic motivation. Here employees themselves but with the support of managers develop their own performance. They are in charge of their own performance, and they develop it by continuously learning and building their competencies and capabilities. LOs are the only places that can provide a rich learining envirinment where employees and teams are agile learnerswho develop their performance, use their creative capacities and drive innovation.Do you agree that it is time to use the benefits of LOs and Performance Development?

(Posted also on LinkedIn Pulse)