Creating Coherence and Unleashing Vision in Business: The Application of Anchors and Sails

David Holzmer, Ph.D.
3 min readMay 12, 2017

Note: Much gratitude to the wonderfully fun and brilliant Martha Valenta [@MarthaValenta] for her assistance in bringing these ideas into more tangible form.

Most models of management practice and business operations are based on an underlying presumption that the world is an orderly place where careful planning and logical execution consistently result in the attainment of intended outcomes. Ironically, most of these models appear to be unfazed by the fact that this rarely happens.

To thrive in our current age of deep turbulence, organizations will need frameworks for action that not only acknowledge the disruptive and non-linear nature of organizational life, but also use disruption and nonlinearity as opportunities for expanding capacities and consciousness.

In the coming years, this emphasis on growth and development — particularly through self-education — will be the critical determinant for an organization’s success or demise. The reason is simple: to survive in the face of rapidly accelerating disruption and unprecedented levels of complexity, rather than seeing upheaval as a catastrophic collapse, organizations will instead need to develop an ability to rapidly create coherence and unleash vision.

Anchors and Sails: A Model For Navigating Turbulent Organizational Waters

Throughout the next several postings I will introduce a preliminary draft of a model for effective leadership of teams working in environments where disruption and upheaval are seen as the rule rather than the exception.

This model is tentatively called “Anchors and Sails” because it posits that organizational effectiveness in turbulent environments demands that teams have simple tools for making sense of chaotic conditions (Anchors) and moving ahead toward meaningful outcomes when the future is full of uncertainty (Sails).

The Anchors and Sails model. Relational processes support teams to collaboratively make sense of past and present turbulence (Anchors), while conversational processes support teams in moving toward meaningful outcomes amidst high levels of uncertainty (Sails).

Success is Relational, Not Formulaic

The underlying logic of the Anchors and Sails model is that success in highly-disruptive environments is dependent upon relationships, rather than fixed formulas. Specifically, to consistently produce effective outcomes in such environments, rather than strict adherence to prescribed “success formulas”, leadership must instead commit to fostering psychologically-safe cultures based on high levels of trust and frequent collaboration.

The Four Anchors

Psychological Safety: The cornerstone of the entire model. A pervasive sense by all stakeholders that they can be vulnerable, admit mistakes, and share incomplete or inaccurate impressions without fear of judgment or reprisal.

Mindfulness: A willingness to be fully open to experiencing and learning from events and conditions without a need for quick judgment or defensiveness.

Interdependence: A cultural attribute that continually affirms that all team members, regardless of position, need one another to succeed. All are equally important and valued in creating valued outcomes.

Shared Experience: A common background or history in which previous trials and shared struggles serve to forge bonds of trust and reciprocity.

The key benefit to Anchors is that a team’s internal bonding and shared experience helps create a safe environment where novel approaches to current challenges is encouraged.

The Four Sails

Process: An awareness of all events — both expected and unexpected — as vital components of deeply interconnected patterns of behavior. There is understanding that these patterns are where growth and novelty are constantly emerging.

Foresight: An ability to draw from previous experience and knowledge of underlying patterns to discern possible futures.

Integration: Continually striving to maintain a holistic perspective by interweaving multiple, often-diverse, influences, agendas, and value systems.

Humility: A demonstrated sense of gratitude and service based on the premise that external events and influences — even those considered “disruptove” — can act as catalysts for individual and organizational evolution.

A Work In Progress

This current iteration of the Anchor and Sails model can be loosely thought of as version 1.2 or 1.3. A great deal of refinement and integration lies a head. In that spirit, I look forward to the feedback and reflections of those who can relate to and benefit from the model’s unique perspective.

During the next week, I will come back to this model to dig a bit deeper and forge more useful insights into its application and benefits.

David Holzmer, Ph.D.

Consultant • Coach • Author | Helping People and Companies Humanize Work and Discover Deep Purpose