With ever-increasing rates of change and competition within the business world, corporate leaders must shift from conventional thinking to breakthrough thinking to build high-performing teams that achieve unprecedented business outcomes. Focusing on enrollment, engagement, and empowerment—what I call the 3E approach—can help. Unlike other approaches, 3E focuses on soft skills and collectively creates a form of positive psychology to boost the performance of employees and companies in a breakthrough way.


Enrollment isn’t selling an idea or an unspoken demand. If leaders manipulate or force people into making commitments, there’s no chance to achieve the desired outcome. The key to ambitious organizational goals is to get the team on board, which is called enrollment.

Most leaders know what they’re doing, but, unfortunately, very few leaders can clearly articulate the processes and rationales behind their actions. In his well-known book Start with Why, Simon Sinek introduces the concept of the Golden Circle, urging leaders to think, act, and communicate from the inside out. Since the “what” of an initiative is the easiest to identify, most leaders start there. Sometimes they will discuss the “how,” but they rarely talk about the “why.”

In other words, they go outside-in with respect to the Golden Circle. Sinek advocates in his book that leaders should invert the order. Start with the why (purpose), then the how (values, actions, and differentiators), and then the what (products and results) in order to inspire people. By applying the Golden Circle concept in the workplace, leaders will be able to inspire action instead of manipulating people to act, ultimately creating enough momentum to turn an idea into action.

When the global engineering and real estate (GERE) organization of my company launched a transformation program last year, the leadership team had interactive enrollment sessions in every region to help the team understand the why. The GERE team had the ambitious goal of building the future to save lives, based on two critical mission statements (“We are the partner of choice” and “People are our competitive advantage”). That ambition now forms an integral part of our biopharmaceutical company’s bold aspiration to improve the lives of 200 million patients and to be a $50 billion company by 2025. Everyone on the team was invited to enroll, making their own commitment to extraordinary results. Our GERE leadership team inspired people to come together and have their voices heard in facilitative enrollment sessions.

During the sessions, team members are encouraged to speak up and share their suggestions to achieve GERE ambitions, and the group interactive discussion is supported with flipcharts and stickers to highlight the team’s outputs. We embrace conflict rather than avoid it; the team’s voice is definitely heard during the sessions. After the sessions, cohort teams follow up to assure that differing views are well considered when proceeding to the next stage of the transformation program. That leads to effective enrollment.


In the book The Virgin Way, Richard Branson shared a study by international professional services firm Towers Watson showing that companies with the highest levels of employee engagement averaged operating margins of around 27%. Meanwhile, those at the bottom end of the engagement scale were producing margins below 10%. That study shows the difference that engagement can make in the business world. After people fully enroll and declare their breakthrough commitments, they perform in ways they never have before to achieve unprecedented results.

Breakthrough thinking is free from the past and acts from future possibilities and visions. Apple is a great example of how breakthrough thinking works. Throughout its history, it has been a challenger and an innovator. From early Apple computers to the iPod, from the iPhone to the iPad, each time the company sets a vision for future possibilities.

Challenges are always accompanied by risks. High performance is risky business as the team has to deal with uncertainty to establish new ways of working to deliver unparalleled results.

Branson suggests that few tactics have a more positive impact than a leader who is prepared to drive the corporate chariot and put himself or herself right there on the front lines, fearlessly staring down the enemy. Branson calls this “corporate courage.” To fully engage the team to achieve bold business ambition, leaders have to step out on a limb far beyond current assumptions about the business.


Leaders must create a coaching culture in the company or organization to empower their people to deliver the committed outcomes. Today’s intense business competition calls for coaching culture to be instilled into business organizations. David Novak shared his success story of empowerment in his book Taking People with You. During his time as KFC’s president from 1994 to 1997, by unleashing the power of franchisees, KFC successfully introduced two popular new products: Crispy Strips and the Chicken Pot Pie, both largely credited with turning KFC’s business around.

Leadership isn’t about power or authority; leadership is decidedly more human. Practicing 3E leadership is a long-term and ongoing initiative, and that lies in the heart of employees. 3E works only if each element is practiced and leaders build a strong sense of alignment with business strategy. When you start with the why for enrollment, act from possibility for engagement, and create coaching culture for empowerment, as Sinek says in the preface to his book, “Whether individuals or organizations, we follow those who lead not because we have to, but because we want to. We follow those who lead not for them, but for ourselves.”


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