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Pepper de Callier: Europe’s Top Leadership Coach and Bestselling Author Talks About the Digital Workplace

In this increasingly digital age, interpersonal skills are becoming even more important. That is the message of Prague-based leadership coach Pepper de Callier.

Pepper de Callier - Foto: The Economist


He recently spoke on a panel in London organized by The Economist magazine on the future of the workplace, along with several top-level, international human resource directors and a Nobel Laureate in Economics.

He is also the author of three best-selling books on leadership and personal development as well as Founder and Executive Director of Prague Leadership Institute.  In addition, he was voted Top Corporate Leadership Coach Europe — 2015 by London-based AI Media.

“The big buzz right now in corporations is ‘going digital’. You hear this a lot. 'We are going digital.'

When one global company I’m working with told me they were making a big push to go digital, I told them that doing this presents a very real danger and a paradox if not handled properly”  de Callier told Prague Monitor /

“The danger is that we run a very real risk of re-creating the silos that we spent two decades to break down. One of the biggest problems people in the corporate world used to talk about, and still do, is the silo mentality in their organization,” he said. Companies used to be plagued with “vertical silos” where there was no cross-departmental, or even cross-team communication.

“Many leaders have worked very hard trying to create human links and break down these barriers over the years and with some success. But now, as we push to become digital companies, what you have are team members spread out in different locations and cities. So, as we impose geographic separation, it creates a platform for silo thinking again,” he said.

“Now, the paradox I’m talking about is that as we become more digital, the greater the need becomes for our analog skills, which are the skills of interpersonal communication. Because if leaders cannot find a balance between the digital and the analog, they are going to lose out on creating the cohesive teams that are needed to address the challenges of the 21st century, it is that simple, he said.

“When a team is not cohesive, its performance suffers. We know through many studies that as many as 80 percent of today’s workforce are either passively or actively disengaged—not interested in their jobs. This is a huge problem.

“When you couple that disengagement with silo thinking, it becomes a perfect storm of indifference and what psychologists call threshold performance. In other words 'I am just going to do what I need to do to keep my job,'” he said, adding, “this is not the attitude that gives birth to competitive advantages.

“The engagement that is needed today—the creation of that human link—starts at the very top.  More so now than ever the example a leader sets by their words and actions is critical,” he said. But the effort has to be real and not empty gestures.


“Leaders can take people out on all these wonderful retreats. They can bring in people like me to speak to them and so on, but without ongoing support and commitment, within three or four weeks 80 percent of that motivation and momentum from the retreat drops off and after that it goes off the edge of the cliff,”  he said.

“And so what we find is this – leaders who set the example by their own behavior are the ones that create the most successful companies, he added.

“Operational improvements from the 20th century like Six Sigma and ISO 9001, Lean Manufacturing, etc., etc.,  have been delivering diminishing returns on a global basis,  according to de Callier.

“So the question is this. If we know how to run companies so well, where will business performance improvement come from? It will have to come from people, and it will come from leaders who crack the code of how to engage people. That's it. It doesn't get any simpler than that,” he said.

He stressed that there is no one-size-fits-all solution that will work for every company as corporate leaders face a variety of challenges. “These will change with geography but also through economic cycles. It will also change through the life cycle of a company, he said.

“What leaders need to implement doesn't always need to be expensive, but it does require a human element. The only thing that differentiates humans from algorithms is interpersonal skills. Artificial intelligence, high technology, in general, can only take us so far,” he said. At the end of the day it comes down to people.  They are the ones that actually make things happen.”

Another problem leaders must be aware of, de Callier pointed out, was that 80 percent of how we communicate is nonverbal. “So if you are totally digital, you are dealing with emails, text messages, Tweets, etc., as a lot of us are,” he said, which means that up to 80 percent of the meaning of the communication is at risk of being misunderstood. There is nothing that beats one-on-one contact. De Callier, originally from the United States has been based in Prague since 2004, after coming to attend an OSCE economic forum. Before that he, and his wife, Priscilla, lived in the Champagne region of France and in Tuscany. Before that, he had been a partner at executive search and consulting firms Spencer Stuart and Heidrick & Struggles. His bestselling trilogy, Common Sense Wisdom has just been published in audio, with de Callier narrating, and can be found at (Vol. 1 / Vol. 2 / Vol. 3) - Raymond Johnston - Prague, 04.07.2016