The Parallel Universe Syndrome

Abundance Organizational leadership Purpose


Key Point: I am always amazed that people in organizations have trouble sorting through when something is a “net new add,” versus integrating another way of thinking. As an example, we have introduced six leadership practices and three expected outcomes. One reaction to this framework is, “I don’t have time to add this to my daily activity as a leader.” My response is, “this is what you DO as a leader, not add to leadership.” I’m not sure how convincing I am. I often think of new ideas and behaviors as substitutes rather than additions. I find that changing habits is the really hard part. 

In a recent Harvard blog article, Deborah Rowland referenced the work of Michael Beer, Magnus Finnström, and Derek Schrader in “Why Leadership Training Fails – And What to Do About It.” She notes that these researchers, “discuss the need to attend to the organizational system as a vehicle for change before companies simply send their leaders on training programs to think and behave differently.” Rowland refers to this as the “parallel universe syndrome,” in which “leaders attend courses that promulgate certain mindsets and ways of working only to go back to the workplace and find that the office (and especially top leadership) is still stuck in old routines.” 

This definitely got me thinking about how we need to be better at connecting the dots in seeing the entire system as fundamental to achieving sticky learning. Integrating a new way of thinking and behaving as a leader will likely always feel like a parallel activity rather than a connected one, if it is considered without context. This is harder to achieve than pontificate on.

Character Moves:

  1. Always connect your personal leadership development into your own purpose and the strategy of the business. It is best when the new behavior to be embraced is actually emotionally experienced and then reinforced. We are often out of balance when receiving new information versus practicing it. Make it a system. Find a way to build in reinforcement when progress is made. 
  1. Learn from a tribe of “faculty” members. Observing others apply a desired way of working and being is often more valuable than relying on “listening” to just one guru (like me). Learn the principles, observe the behavior in action, consciously practice it, keep it connected to purpose, and continue that loop. It’s easier said than done.

Unparalleled in the Triangle,


One Millennial View: After the Chicago Cubs’ historical win over the Cleveland Indians in the 2016 World Series, it was widely observed that the Cubs’ third basemen, Kris Bryant, smiled as he fielded what would be the final out… He knew he was going to make the winning play before he did it. I’d argue that he was able to achieve that ear-to-ear confidence because fielding a baseball and firing it to first base was so second nature, and “consciously practiced,” that there was no doubt. He wasn’t successful because he was “told” how to perform these actions; he ended a 108-year drought thanks to thousands of practice repetitions.

– Garrett Rubis

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis