Why relations beat skills in teamwork

A few weeks ago, my 14 year-old had a week of project-work, where he, together with three other kids from his class, should deliver a presentation and some papers on a given topic.  They only had this one week to prepare, execute and complete it and it had to be presented for the teachers and the rest of the class, the week after.

Though my kid is quite smart (his mum says), project work is not his preferred way of working, and not one of his key competencies.

The good teachers at the school say the thing I guess teachers say to every kid, and that my teachers even said to me and my friends back in the 80’s – and I’ll bet that you have heard it too: (mere…)

Six Mistakes I Have Made – learnings from leadership engagements

This slide deck covers some of the many mistakes I have made when working with leadership in general, and with UNBOSS in particular.

Mistakes contain opportunities for feedback, and I try to grasp everyone of them with that in mind.

Sometimes you win; sometimes you learn.

Now, go make your own mistakes.



What is your organizations ‘Kevin Bacon Number’?

Kevin Bacon, renowned for a long list of movies (credited for 80 movies according to IMDb), not least Footloose (1984).

Also, he has given name to the Kevin Bacon Number, which – according to Wikipedia – started as a party trick among three students at Albright College in 1994. The number describes affiliation between a given Hollywood actor and Kevin Bacon, stating that six links/degrees is enough to relate any movie appearance to a movie with Kevin Bacon in it.

Later, it spread globally to state that every person on the planet is related to each other within Six Degrees Of Separation. This has further been detailed (2011) to state that the average separation for all users of Twitter is 4.67 degrees and Facebook (2016) is three-and-a-half (3.57 to be exact).

So, why is that relevant for your organization?

The concept is relevant in order to discuss the networking strengths and weaknesses of your organization regarding formal and informal communication, resilience, and cooperation.


What I’ve learned about leadership from being in a band

I’m a consultant working with leadership, culture and motivation theory.

Also, I’m the leadsinger and songwriter in Entertaining Mona. Classic setup with drums, 2 x keys, bass, guitar and vocals. We’ve made some nice gigs and an album.

Being in a band has many similarities to being part of a team in an organisation – so here goes: What I’ve learned as a leader from being in a band.


Listen to each other – and follow their lead and ideas

When writing a song, you have a general idea of the message and the feeling you want to transmit. Make sure to tell that story to your team/band, and then let them chip in with ideas, new chords, how to lay the drums, the tempo and dynamics etc. You get a better product and song, if everyone invests in it and can mold the result.

Nobody wins, if you want to control everything.


Feedback: Understand when and how to

Yes, you might disagree with what they play or how they do it, and you might want to suggest something new or different. But, you must understand when and how to give feedback.

Is it too early in the creative process? Are they still fumbling with the chords and ideas and getting to know the problem; or are they ready for suggestions? Is he or she mentally ready for it? Was it a tough day already? Are you discussing, debating, adjusting or suggesting? Or deliberately correcting?


Have headroom for improvisation

Don’t make the work so complex and demanding, that you don’t have energy and headroom for handling sudden internal or external input or changes. Only “book” the band or team with 80% demands, to allow for agile improvisations and to listen to new input.


Allow mistakes – just call it jazz

Nuf’ said. It’s ok to make a mistake. It’s up to you to go with it and develop it into something great – or to just let it pass with a smile.


Go all in – give all you have, also when you practice, every time

Never just “sit in”. Give all you got, so that the other band-members can lean on you and feel safer.

Fill-out your role. Contribute. Take a lead.

Also, you get a far better understanding of the end-product, very early in the process.


Practice, practice, practice – the audience will know the difference

Meet often, have a plan for the rehearsal, be focused, have fun. And then, get on the road and do some gigs. The audience will tell the difference between a fumbling band, and a tight, well-working, high-performance band, where everyone feels committed and engaged.



Chemistry for Leaders 101

There are four elements of chemistry, that you need to know the effect of as leader.

  • Dopamine ← uhm, yummy
  • Oxytocin ← uhm, yummy
  • Adrenaline ← use with care
  • Cortisol ← careful, avoid!

These fab four are neurotransmitters in our nervous system. They affect your brain and body, your feelings and emotions, and your patterns of reaction. You as a leader should know these four, know which to nurture and when – and which to avoid and how.

The purpose? The fab four are key elements in establishing a great working climate, and part of your happiness at work – arbejdsglæde, in Danish! That’s why it’s relevant.

Transparent chemistry glass tubes filled with substances

Picture by Horia Varian.


Dopamine, known as the “reward drug”. Dopamine makes you feel good. You produce dopamine when you are successful, obtain results, or receive something that you are (happily) addicted to, like, when you eat great food or chocolate, from sex, from a glass of wine etc.

500px-Dopamine2.svgAnd, you get it from helping other people – and from getting help! When you help someone with a problem, both you and the one you’re helping will produce an amount of dopamine. It creates a good feeling and a bond; and since it’s addictive, you’ll automatically seek it again. The effect will be a little larger next time – and next time.

Additionally, the person(s) overlooking the two people helping each other will also produce dopamine. Not as much as the two directly involved, but still enough to notice it and have an effect.

Hence, as a leader you should seek to

  1. Encourage employees to help each other, and make it visible
  2. Establish frequent meetings in your project or environment, where you seek and get help
  3. Visualize and celebrate results, even the small ones (traceable achievements and gamification)

This is one of the reasons for having kanban-standup meetings: To bring up issues in the open in order to connect people for problem solving – and to let it be visible. We seek to establish and nurture relations between the employees. That’s also why social media is a great means for culture, as it exposes help, support, achievements and acknowledgements. Results and relations are what we seek (ref. Alexander Kjerulf, the Chief Happiness Officer).


Oxytocin, also known as “the love drug” or “the hug drug”. A drug you produce when you are in physical contact with others. It establishes care, comfort and trust; reduces fear and anger; creates smiles and happy energy.


The drug is easily produced by hugging. Some sources say, that you need as much as 30 seconds of hugging to release it, but you can easily manage with significantly less. Just the regular “man hug, with double-pat on the back”-hug will suffice.

Naturally, not everybody should be hugged. You need to know when to shake hands, when to touch the upper arm, the shoulder, and when to hug.

We had a strategy day with an icebreaker consisting of (amongst other things) everybody hugging their nearest coworker for 10 seconds. The amount of smiles and happy energy in the room afterwards was overwhelming and convincing, and it started a new cultural wave of relations and care. Lots of hugging and smiles occur, frequently. It’s contagious.

Hence, as a leader you should seek to

  1. It IS intimidating, but try to encourage a culture where you lightly touch each other
  2. Know when to shake hands, touch the upper arm only, or hug
  3. Know when to avoid it, simply out of respect of intimate space

Try to discretely lay a hand on your colleague’s upper arm for just a second next time you talk.


Adrenaline, also known as epinephrine, is a drug that prepares your brain and body for fight or flight. It enhances focus so we can think sharply and act quickly if we are in danger. 


Adrenaline is created when we work towards a deadline, when we give an important presentation, when we have a tough feedback situation, when we are exposed or uncomfortable in any way. We want to run away and avoid, and we prepare the body for fight. It’s a powerful and hence impressive drug, that should be understood.

However, if you have adrenaline rushes too often, you loose the effect, and introduce fatigue, indifference or irritation. This kills motivation and happiness at work. It’s contagious since it spreads to your colleagues. Adrenaline is followed by production of cortisol (see below). Exhaustion is a possible ultimate consequence.

Hence, as a leader you should seek to

  1. Have a balance of normal work and high performance periods – and rest afterwards
  2. Nurture an environment of comfort and calmness, with eagerness to kick ass when needed
  3. Watch for symptoms of too much adrenaline; symptoms which points towards exhaustion. Act fast, if you see the symptoms. It’s a shared responsibility between you and your colleagues

Unboss plays a vital role here. I apply motivation theories (e.g. my Unboss’ed version of Daniel Pinks autonomy + mastery + purpose = motivation) on daily basis, in order to let the motivation come from insight and inside rather than from pressure and deadlines – hence I strive to avoid “too much, too often”-adrenaline.

I talk a lot about pressure and workload, and talk openly of fatigue and exhaustion. I strive to act fast enough, because I care. We should only prioritize the important, purposeful actions. And we should strive to celebrate our victories.


Cortisol, known as the “long term adrenaline”, is produced to increase blood sugar in the brain and muscles, making you a temporary super human in high-pressure situations, e.g. when you have to get a kid out of a fire or save your village from raging Vikings. As a side-effect, it suppresses the immune system, digestive system and reproductive system,

It is a main cause for stress, stemming from heavy workload, unhealthy working climate, unrealistic expectations, lack of care and sympathy etc.

Long term exposure to cortisol will create a change to your brains or even a brain damage. It gets exhausted, and the brain cells become irritable. Nagging or numbness is a clear symptom of this. Eventually it leads to collapse and depression.

For a thought-provoking, honest and frightening introduction, please see Line Bloch’s popular article on “Stress, work culture and brain damage”, in Danish.

Hence, as a leader you should seek to

  1. Same steps as for adrenaline, see above
  2. Talk openly about stress and stress handling. Don’t stigmatize victims of stress.
  3. Act fast and consistently if stress occurs

Several colleagues and near friends have been hit by stress. I’m by no means a stress expert or stress coach, but I think it’s caused by combination of many things – amongst other our leadership/management culture.

We as leaders should be the first to work against stress. Our culture, HR, relation building, 1:1′s, delegation/mandate practices, allocation processes etc. should all be with people and care in mind.

And remember, you could get stress too. How are you doing?

Know them and use them

Know the fab four, and try to incorporate them in your leadership style and practices deliberately:

  • Dopamine ← uhm, yummy ← help each other, in public too
  • Oxytocin ← uhm, yummy ← touch (and even hug) each other
  • Adrenaline ← use with care ← balance peaks and rest periods
  • Cortisol ← careful, avoid! ← have a culture that intends to eliminate stress

It creates happiness at work – arbejdsglæde! Happy employees create happy customers, who buy more.