Become the one you are!

In Leading with Questions, Transforming Corporations

As an executive coach, I help my clients unleash their energies through a culture of shared leadership in their organizations. The more I observe corporate development, the more I see that corporate success might all boil down to the wisdom of Friedrich Nietzsche expressed in the Gay Science in 1882: What does your conscience say? — “You shall become the one you are.”

Initially intended for individuals, I suggest that Nietzsche’s advice shall equally apply to individuals and organizations: any organization – for profit, nonprofit, governmental – must know what it stands for, and “what its collective conscience says”, to paraphrase the philosopher. Based on my experience as a leadership coach, the most successful companies are those that made the collective effort to define a strong and clear identity: an identity that positively differentiates them and mobilizes all stakeholders for collective success around a clear mission.


For start-ups and young companies, it is about finding their niche, i.e. how they best serve their clients, and about regularly reminding themselves of the initial energy that made them come to life. Here is an example: a couple of entrepreneurs have set up an innovative company to deliver well-being products and services across Europe and Asia. After 3 years of successfully developing their brand and revenues, they reached a plateau: misalignments in team spirit created tensions and revenues did not grow as planned. I sat down with the management team and asked them what they really were running after: what was their initial spark? what was their deep-seated purpose? After weeks of internal questioning and maturing, they reached a very energetic and concise motto that fleshed out their concrete mission.

Radical team restructuring followed, guided by a renewed sense of why they were all working so hard. Strategic reorientation followed as well and new dynamic recruits joined the team, bringing it to a new level. They mobilized new suppliers and clients using the newly crafted statement of purpose. This clearly affirmed vision has helped build stronger relationships and partnerships with key stakeholders.

Today, the company is growing again. The CEO of the start-up literally thanked me for “helping her become who she is”. Feeling the energy of her teams, I bet that they also thank her for letting them become the ones they are. 


How does this translate to big corporations? Danone, with its 15 billion Euro revenues, is the world number 1 in fresh dairy products and number 2 in bottled waters: it has steadily developed its revenues and operational margins for the last 15 years. To do so, it has focused a lot of resources to develop its core identity, as well as its staff adaptability and well-being. Summarizing its identity in 10 words is one of the main levers used by Danone to unleash the energy of all its teams around one goal: “bringing health through food to as many people as possible”. These words are found on their corporate website as well as in their inner and outer communication tools. With this concise and clear-cut statement of purpose the company is capable to continuously attract and motivate pools of talents, strongly committed to “make Danone become the one it is”.


Last but not least, how can big corporations help their employees become who they are? Here is a trick given by a CEO of a major industrial player in Europe, with headquarters in Germany: when I asked him about “freedom in his company”, he mentioned that one of his key roles as a CEO is to ensure that space is provided to everyone for the expression of their creativity and potential. Why? Because, the marginalized – the “weirdoes” – are those who bring innovation, he said; so, if you do not create space for them, your company will die. This answer is not given by the CEO of a Californian start-up, but by a key executive of an old and rigorous European company. It might be useful to ask yourself if everyone in your organization is becoming the one s/he is.


To improve the quality of the leadership culture in your teams, here are a few questions you might want to ask yourself:

1. Do I know what my company, my department or my team truly stand for?

    a. If not, how can we together refine our statement of collective purpose?

     b. If yes, what can I do to let my organization become even more what it truly wants to be?

2. Are the people in my organization becoming the ones they are? What can I do to have more of them thrive in our professional environment? How can I give them more space to express their best potential and serve our collective purpose?


5 comments on “Become the one you are!”

  1. Jianfeng Ge says:

    As I know about ”GOOGLE Company”, there are always write board on the walls of its offices. So that no matter where their employees are they can write down their spark ideas immediately while they are walking, eating or even smoking. For doing businesses especially for those innovative company, a valuable idea might be the key success to win its market battle. Keep all of company’s staff being initial and creative is very important for saving company’s potential to its future market competition. However, if employees became too individual toward their works, there might be a risk that they would be less able to do a effective team work. So managers should keep their eyes on their staff to ensure they haven’t gone too far with their individualism.

  2. Jana Simonova says:

    After reading this article and firs comment I was motivated to learn something more about Google company and I have found this video how Google copany take care of their employees and which services offer to them to be let’s say more happy. The video shows how company support their employees to be who they are. And as was mentioned I t is very important for their really innovative work. I think that most important for the companies is that their employees are not just workers but that they share the company values and that they feel like a part of the team and on the other hand that they stay to be the personality with innovative and useful ideas for company.

  3. Nadya says:

    This is an interesting topic indeed. I must agree with Jana regarding the relationship with your employees. It should not be about having a look over them from time to time and controlling their freedom but it should be about integrating them into your corporate culture. As far as they share the same values, have the same goals and motivation I am convinced the workflow will be rather high and in the right direction.

    In the case with Google I do not think the great working place or canteen is exactly the “ideas incubator”. Of course it is important factor but according the psychologist Frederick Hertzberg work conditions is a “hygiene factor” but not real “motivator”. Meaning no matter how much the comfortableness in the work place increase this will not lead to higher than the middle level of motivation. There are other factors which can really boost the employees’ engagement and care about the company such as recognition, responsibilities, possibilities for development (by this he meant personal and professional but not promotions), work content. As you may know Google allow each of its engineers to spend 20 % of their time on project they are interested in. I believe only in such an environment a creative and innovative thinking can grow.

    Finally I have another example for great company management. The company is in the online sells business. At the end of each month they offer 200$ to their employees to leave the company plus a positive reference for their work. I think this is revolutionary way of sorting people and having only the once who are truly enthusiastic and live upon the company’s values.

  4. Salla Paajanen says:

    It is really important for companies to know their goals, values and what they are aiming for. If they do not know what they want or what do they want to achieve, how could they possible reach the goal? There has to be clear vision and mission of the company and it is not enough that the management or the CEO of the company knows it, but all the employees of the company should be aware of it. The companies and we as individuals should become “the one we are” and also “the best that we can be”. We have to follow our own ambition and stay true to our values. In order to please someone, you have to stop trying to please everyone and focus on innovation and be you!

  5. Laura Casati says:

    As Nietzsche was mentioned, I cannot but state that the process of you becoming who you are takes a lot of time. You have to be preapre to investigate, to be patience and to put into practice a lot of trial and errors processes .The very difficult thing, after having discover yourself, is to stick to who we are. Therefore drawing a parallel with companies is immediate : even to them it requires a lot of time to find their core competences; so much time that sometimes some of them never succeed in it.
    I knew about Google company, but it must be recognized that this approach is not suitable for every type of company. True, on the other hand, is that the less you pressure people, the more they will perform. Again on performing well, I believe a company should point its focus on the hiring process, finding the employees that not only find the company a good source of income, but moreover an extension of their way of thinking and behaviouring.

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