Ep 142: The Leadership Pipeline — Part 6: Addressing Breakdowns

Completing the circle for leaders to go from an industrial era managerial approach to a transformational leadership approach, Adam Quiney reveals the final step: Addressing Breakdowns. In this episode, he defines what “breakdown” is in the leadership pipeline and goes deeper, describing the process of creating breakdowns, distinguishing breakdowns, getting clear on what’s next, and repeating this process to create breakthroughs. Contrary to what many believe, breakdowns are not all about calamities, catastrophes, and unfortunate events. They could be a pathway towards something better in the future. Join Adam as he concludes the series to learn to become the best leader you can be. 

Listen to the Episode Here:

The Leadership Pipeline — Part 6: Addressing Breakdowns

In this episode, we come to the last step of the six-part series of the Leadership Pipeline that leaders move through to go from an industrial era managerial approach to a transformational leadership approach.

These are conversations in service of creating and causing leadership. Take a moment right at the outset of this show to talk about what it means to be a leader. A friend of mine reached out and shared that he noticed that term “leader” was a little intimidating like, “I can’t be a leader. I’m not up to being a leader. How could I take that on?” I want to invite you as a reader into a different context for leadership. The typical context we have for leadership is that it is something for people in hierarchy, position or they have achieved something in their life. Once you make $1 million, you are a leader. Once you are leading 28 people, you are a leader. Once you have this position in the organizational chart above it, you are a leader. Below it, you are not yet a leader.

I think that context does us all a tremendous disservice because it puts your ability to bring the being of a leader at the effect of your circumstances. I couldn’t be a leader until I’m at this point in the organizational chart. When you’re going to show up in this context we have, the opposite of a leader, that’s a follower. Do as I’m told. That takes away our tendency to act like a leader to practice being responsible, taking ownership for how our life and our experience of life is going, getting complete and cleaning up from all of this that we talked about here becomes unavailable until we attain this position. Even worse than that since from this context, you’re going to be attempting to attain a position by being something other than what is a leader. You’re, in fact, less likely to show up as a leader once you’ve crossed this mythical line.

It’s this idea people have, “I’m going to show up a certain way once I’ve got this.” All that does is ensure they never start showing up that way. “I’m going to be calm and peaceful once I’ve cleared everything off my plate.” All that does is create more franticness. If you really want to create peace and calm, the work to be done is how can I create peace and calm in the face of everything on my plate. We could go on here. It doesn’t have to be about peace and calm but that’s the idea. When we talk about being a leader, this is something available everywhere in your life moment to moment. It’s something that’s available to you when you show up and your partner says, “I’d like you to clean up the closet now.”

You can relate to that like an imposition or you can relate to that like, “My partner is asking me for something. How do I want to be about that? What is the greater thing that I’m committed to beyond my own feelings in this moment of not wanting to have to do some work? Maybe I am going to clean up my closet. Maybe I’ve left it messy.” You get the idea. That’s the context in which we are talking about a leader. It is not something you need to attain out there. It’s something that’s available to you right here, right now. The sooner you take that on, the faster you move into this quality of being we are describing as leadership.

Declaring a breakdown is about actually slowing down. Click To Tweet

Addressing Breakdowns

Having said that, let’s get into our main topic, which is the Leadership Pipeline. We are concluding this series. This is part six. Part six is Addressing Breakdowns. This is such a crucial part of any leadership dynamic both in your own life and in the lives of the people you lead and in the work you do you take on. A reminder that this series is about the pipeline that leaders move through and they wish to go from an industrial era managerial approach to a transformational leadership approach. Last time, we talked about number five, Committed Action Towards Possibility and in this episode, we’re addressing breakdowns.

As a reminder, the six steps are one, The Leader Takes on their Own Work. Two, Creating Trust, Airing and Getting into Addressing Grievances. Three, Enrolling People in Possibility. Four, Structure to Support Creating that Possibility. Five, Committed Action Towards Possibility. Six, Addressing Breakdowns. To bring this into that context I introduced at the start of this conversation, consider that these six steps could serve you if you were to bring them into the way you and your partner did, let’s say, your finances together. Let’s say, “Our finances get by but this thorn shows up every couple of months. We then redo our budget and it goes the same way. You might be ready to reinvent and in that situation, you would take on your own work first. Notice where you have been. Maybe you’re like me. You’re the partner that’s very rigid about the budget and controls the budget but then that also allows you to be sneaky and get away with some stuff on the back end.

First, take on your own work. Get supported to see where maybe you aren’t squeaky clean. Two, creating trust, airing and getting into addressing grievances. Really bringing this to your partner and saying, “How have I led this down?” I want to share what isn’t working for me. That’s getting clear together. Three, enrolling people, including yourself and possibility. “Honey, this is what I see is possible for us. This is how I want us to be about our finances. What do you want? What’s your vision? How can we create something together?” Four, creating a structure to support that. What’s the structure? Maybe we sit down and make a budget this weekend and then maybe we make an agreement every week to check on Wednesday in the morning just to go through our numbers and look at our budget together. That is a structure and service that’s a possibility.

Five, committed action towards that possibility. Maybe that means that you have to take the steps to be in alignment with your budget. When you go over, you have to sit down and create a new meeting, etc. Six, what we’re going to be talking about, addressing those breakdowns rather than doing what we usually do, which is, “Shove them under the rug. It’ll be fixed, solving it.” We’re going to start here by distinguishing what a breakdown is. Before we get too much into the topic of addressing them, we need to get clear on what we distinguish them from what people typically assume is a breakdown.

GL 142 | Addressing Breakdowns

Addressing Breakdowns: The breakdown is the thing that occurs that precedes the breakthrough.


What Is A Breakdown

When people hear breakdown, they usually think catastrophe, calamity, my whole life in shambles. I’m crying. I can’t stop like nervous breakdown, end of the road, disaster. That’s not really what we’re using that term for here. We’re using breakdown as the thing that occurs that precedes the breakthrough. Let’s look at the example of a triple-A video game company attempting to release a new title. Imagine a video game company that is committed to creating a new title. Historically, they’ve gotten to a point in their development cycle where they’ve gone either wildly beyond their schedule so they’re overtime in terms of their budget or they’ve had to resort to abundant amounts of overtime from their developers to have things go differently.

That’s the crunch. They either release their game way late or they are, “We’re not going to release it late,” and then they crunch. Their developers have been working a ton of overtime. What happens is when they end up going over their schedule, they set a new date, a month out, hoping to make it. They’re like, “We’re over schedule. We’re not going to deliver. Let’s set a new date a month out,” only to find that the same thing happens again. Down this path, the impact is that people lose faith in the company and the deadlines become meaningless. Sure, we’re going to agree to this deadline that you’ve set a month out but who cares. It’s all made up anyhow. There’s no integrity in that commitment.

The public loses trust and the company’s promises and ability to give a deadline for when this is going to come out. The hype of a release becomes old and tiresome. The game becomes forgotten even before it’s come out. That’s one angle that may happen. Alternatively, the game company might find that they’re up against that deadline. They’re like, “This time, we will make the deadline. There’s no way we’re not going to do it. We have to make the deadline.” What do they do? They force overtime on their developers. They do the crunch. They create burnout, distrust. A shoddy product release requires numerous bug fixes and patch updates after the fact. An example of this would be Cyberpunk 2077. This game released with a lot of fanfare around it and then a disastrous launch. Before that you had games, it was probably the early 2000s, Daikatana. It was almost famous or infamous for have been plagued by delays and all of these problems. Both of these approaches that the company had taken are what we would call solving the problem.

This solving a problem is different from distinguishing and declaring a breakdown. There’s solving a problem of either being over budget in time or financials and we solve a problem by making it go away. It’s worth mentioning we tend to solve problems because we relate to them as wrong. The problem that’s showing up shouldn’t be showing up. It’s wrong that it’s here. It’s in the way of the thing we’re trying to make happen. We want to address it as fast as possible. Both of those solutions that companies made are about solving the problem. The problem is we’re not going to make our budget, time or financial. The solution is we’re going to crunch our developers or we’re just going to push it out a little bit later and then keep doing so until we do push it out.

Avoiding the breakdown hoping not to have one is like imagining you want to build a mansion where the house you currently live in sits. Click To Tweet

Neither of those is going to create a breakthrough. What has the company learned? Maybe we’ll just create an even longer deadline next time. Hopefully, they won’t run into this problem. If the issue was they didn’t really budget very well in the first place, how is this going to create any shift? We want to slow down here. The breakthrough for this company that we’re talking about might look like getting to the point where they’re like, “We’re over budget. We’re not going to make this.” Rather than immediately slapping a Band-Aid on it and trying to solve this problem, declare a breakdown and then from there slow down to see what’s going to happen. Slowing down and asking themselves, “How did this get created? What do we need to look at? What led to this? What is going on internally?” As you can imagine, even just me describing this is going to drastically slow things down initially. Solving the problem is about getting this issue out of the way as fast as possible so we can get the thing released so we have solved the problem. I hope it doesn’t show up again. It showed up again next time.

Declaring A Breakdown

Declaring a breakdown is about slowing way down. We’re going to talk about slowing down. The first thing is if you want to create transformation, if you want to create breakthrough results, breakdowns are essential. The wish-fulfillment part of the transformation, which is to say the magical thinking is that we’ll declare we’re going towards an unpredictable result. “We’re going to release this project on time, on budget, at this date. We’ve never done it before. We’re going to do it. We’re declaring.” That’s great. What tends to happen in aiming towards this unpredictable result is that we do things the way we always have. We might try things a little differently but they’re still within the same box and then we hope that magically, a different result is created.

Even though we all love Einstein’s quote about the level of thinking that got us here can’t get us there, we all know that. We also use, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and hoping for a different result.” We can say this but we can’t see ourselves doing it. What ends up happening? It’s almost invisible to us is that we’re taking the same actions and hoping we’re going to get a different result. There’s no breakdown in this. There’re just motivational posters, maybe watching a video in earnest effort. Basically, a desire to create a breakthrough but not the accompanying commitment that would support us in creating a breakdown and then going through it.

What’s crucial here is to get that breakdown must be created. It is unavoidable. Avoiding the breakdown hoping to not have one would be like imagining you want to build a mansion where the house you currently live in sits. You’re thinking you can somehow do so without having any point at which you are without walls and a roof to protect you from the elements. You could finagle that metaphor I’ve done to build a mansion around the condo and demolish the condo from within but don’t do that. Use the metaphor for the good that I’m intending it.

GL 142 | Addressing Breakdowns

Addressing Breakdowns: Most people do in the world talk about creating breakthroughs and then spending most of their time working to avoid or resist the breakdowns.


What needs to happen first is an ability to build a muscle and being with breakdown. The reason for that is problems are associated with blame and urgency. We don’t have very much capacity to sit in a breakdown and distinguish anything. Instead, we rush to solve the problem. Even when we pay lip service to something calling it a breakdown, we immediately go to the solution. The intention here is not to make it wrong but to point the human tendency, created by virtue of the world in the context we all operate in, the pressures from stakeholders, shareholders and all of this.

Part of the reason if we want to create something transformational, we need buy-in from those around us. We need buy-in from those that are leading us. We might have some breakdowns. It’s not necessarily going to be the most efficient approach for this run but it will create a transformational result that’ll have things go different for every run hence. Are you on board with that? Your teams will naturally run to the solution to the problem. As a result of that, for you to hold the stand and clearing for breakdowns to occur, not to be made wrong and for them to be distinguished, you must build a muscle first in doing so yourself. When people say, “How do I build that muscle?” You create breakthroughs in your own life and be with breakdowns that get driven up. Work with a coach that can support you in creating breakthroughs in your life, which will inevitably mean that you get pushed into breakdowns.

I’ll give you the simplest of examples. Imagine you are committed to a breakthrough in connection. Part of what gets in the way of you connecting with people is you have the story that people think you’re stupid or they might feel you’re stupid from time to time. You go out and you’re like, “My commitment is to connect with people.” I’m going to stop trying to act smart because when I do that, it gets in the way of the connection. You go and sit with them. You say something and they laugh. You’re like, “They think I’m stupid.” The solution to that problem would be to immediately correct that, use some really big words, fix what’s going on. Try to make yourself not seem stupid or do all of these things. The energy which is intended to not leave you feeling stupid to solve this problem, all of which gets in the way of the breakthrough.

If you’re really committed to connection, that breakthrough would be something available regardless of if whether people thought you were stupid. That’s what a breakthrough is. It’s the ability to create something regardless of the surrounding circumstances. Most people have not got much of a muscle on being the discomfort of their breakdowns. That’s human tendency. Instead, we’re good at solving problems. We got to create these breakdowns in our own life, stand for the breakthrough, stay with that messy uncomfortable, awful feeling of like, “This isn’t going the way it’s supposed to.” Slowing down and standing in that rather than trying to fix it so you can get away from it. Your job to some extent as a leader here is to stand for breakdowns.

Solving a problem is different from distinguishing and declaring a breakdown. Click To Tweet

What most people do in the world is talk about creating breakthroughs and then spending most of their time working to avoid or resist the breakdowns. What that does is ensures they continue operating inside the existing paradigm. It’s basically like that triple-A company being like, “We want to create a breakthrough where we do not do overtime and our deadlines have a meaning behind them.” What they do is they get to this point where they run into the problem. They’re like, “How do we avoid the problem of our public being upset with us, employees having this issue with us, overtime and the burnout?” Trying to keep those balls in the air rather than really slowing down and being like, “We’re not on track to make that breakthrough result that we committed to. We got to slow way down. First of all, we got to let go of that. We got to be honest with people. We might have to dig in and look at how this got created. What were we doing that was the same as the way we always do things? What led us to here to this moment?”

Distinguishing A Breakdown

The time to look at and distinguish a breakdown is as it’s happening, not after you’ve slapped a solution on it, solved the problem, released the thing and then gone on to what’s next six months later or as a post mortem. It’s right here now. As a leader, you have to be willing to stand for your team to create breakdowns and distinguish when they’re avoiding doing that, when they’re avoiding a breakdown rather than going towards the breakthrough. You must stand for them to create those breakthroughs and then sit with them when those breakdowns happen, slowing them down, staying with them in it and inviting them to distinguish what happened that hadn’t gone this way.

Part of what you’ll notice as you develop this muscle yourself and sitting with this is how much attention and fixation people have on solutions and thereby getting away from the problem. How that prevents us from really looking at how things went for us. People don’t tend to look at how did this get created, what led us here. They look at things through the lens of what needs to happen now to solve this. They may look through that lens like how do we get here but only in service of solving it. Even those two things might point in similar directions like playing a game to avoid losing might point you in a similar direction to playing a game to win. They’re different.

It’s worth distinguishing those two, having your people look not through the lens of what’s the solution here but wiping a solution entirely off the table and sitting in like, “How do we arrive here? What led to this?” Think of this as someone who’s committed to walking without slowing down. This person is like, “Adam, my goal is to walk consistently at a consistent rate.” Weird goal but that’s the thing they want to create. These people have a tendency to blunder into holes unwittingly. As a leader, we’re going to support them with this. We might have a conversation to see how it goes, they start walking and they land in a hole. They start complaining. They start feeling bad. Maybe you even joined them and like, “Holes suck.”

GL 142 | Addressing Breakdowns

Mythical Man-Month, The: Essays on Software Engineering

What we all want to do in this situation is build a ladder as fast as possible or some device to get this person out of the hole. Doing that will only recreate the problem of them falling into holes and it’s just going to speed up the cycle because they have not sat in that hole. They’ve not really sat there and been, “How did this happen? How did I end up here? What led to this?” The solution is building that ladder and getting them out of the hole as quickly as possible. That solution is just looking at solving the problem they currently find themselves in. It’s never going to capture the entirety of the process that leads to this. Since that whole entirety of the process doesn’t get captured, all it does is speed the cycle. This applies to individuals. It applies to companies. It applies everywhere. Only by sitting with them, slowing them down and getting clear where they are, how they arrived here and maybe even how it supports them to fall into this hole because there is always a payoff. Only by sitting in that will you be able to support them to create something different and beyond this.

This is your job at the end of this pipeline is to hold space for people to create the breakdowns rather than to avoid them. For people to take longer or to do what they believe needs to happen to create that breakthrough and when a breakdown happens, noticing when your staff are like, “This happened but don’t worry, I’m solving,” to be like, “Let’s slow down. Can we take a look at what happened because I think this feels familiar? We often end up here. We often try to solve it quickly and then that ends to the next thing.” A great book in the domain of software design but it applies everywhere is called The Mythical Man-Month.

The book is based on a premise that the author noticed that at software companies, projects would fall behind then they would throw more developers at the problem. This gave rise to this idea of a man-month. If you put a man working on a project for an extra month, you added this man-month then naturally it’s going to speed things forward. What they noticed was throwing more developers tended to make the project even later. You can see hopefully that adding a man-month, throwing another developer at a problem seemed like an obvious solution. We’re under tasked. We don’t have enough time. The solution is to get more people in it. It’s going to look good and all it does is it recreates the problem. We’re always, as a leader, looking at how can we slow things down.

Take On More Of Your Own Work

Finally, I want to talk about how this all wraps back in on itself. Addressing breakdowns will require you to take on more of your own work. As you support people in slowing down and being with breakdowns, it’s going to trigger you because you’re probably a little attached to creating these breakthrough results. That’s where your job is to bring it back to your own leader or your own coach. Say, “Can I get some support? I notice I’m a little taken out. I’m annoyed at my team.” What your leader is going to do is to support you to see how this has to happen. In order to create a breakthrough, the breakdown had to happen. There’s no way for it not to occur. They’re going to support you to move through that to work yourself out. Maybe the next step is to do some airing of grievances, see how you played a role in this and then you’re back on the pipeline again. It may not be as heavyweight as the first time you went through it but we’re always moving through this cyclically. That’s the way breakthroughs are created.

This concludes our piece on the Leadership Pipeline. If you have any questions or feedback on this side of the series, I’d love to hear from you. We’ve gone through six parts. It’s been a fairly long, robust series. I’d love to know how this landed on you. Is this helpful? Did this provide you a new way to look at the way things tend to go in your company? Did it just confuse things for you? Are you like, “I can see some stuff. I got some stuff I can take away and apply,” or, “I like the way it sounded but I don’t know what to do with this.” Any feedback you can provide is incredibly helpful. We really appreciate it. You can email us at GetLit@AdamQuiney.com and let us know how it occurred.

That’s everything that we’ve got for you. I’m going to plug our Creating Clients Course. It’s a ten-week course. It costs $1,000. It’s a paltry sum of money. I guarantee that you’re going to leave with a completely transformed way of relating to the art of sales and stop seeing it as something you have to make someone do, convince someone to do or like, “This thing I hate doing. I’m going to make myself do it.” Instead, you’re going to have this new paradigm for it. You will not only understand it intellectually but embody this idea that sales isn’t something that, “I have to do over there in order to be able to do the thing I love doing.” It’s all one and the same. That’s the promise of this course.

You can go to AdamQuiney.com/clientcreation if you’d like to learn more about that. I highly recommend it. It’s a phenomenal value, an incredible course. It’s a great way for us to go a little deeper together beyond just me talking at you. I hope you enjoyed this episode. Next time, we’re going to be talking about the notion of if you spot it, you got it. Anything you love over there, anything you dislike over there, that’s a mirror reflecting something back to you. We’ll explain both how this makes sense as well as what about those situations where I’m certain I would never be that way. I hope you’ll see why it might not be quite as cut and dry as you think. It’s going to be a good one. We’ll see you next time.

Important Links:

About Adam Quiney

I’m an obsessive perfectionist, high-performer, former lawyer, and now an Executive Mentor. I know what it’s like to succeed easily and quickly. To blindly put my happiness in the hands of achievement.

All the success, money and possessions in the world couldn’t cure my boredom. Couldn’t produce a loving, intimate relationship with my wife…and definitely couldn’t fulfill me.