Few leaders will admit it, but again and again the growth of their organizations outruns their skills. If you’re one of those leaders, you know the result: as the job grows bigger than you, you get disoriented by a world of unfamiliar challenges. You then hit a wall of ineffectiveness, a stall point.

And then what? Like most leaders, you double down on the managerial and technical building blocks that have worked before. You hire new people. Or install new data systems. Or change reporting structures. As you face new complexity, you create structure to try to master it.

But that’s a tragic flaw for many leaders: They don’t recognize that what causes them to stall is not failing to master the challenges of new complexity facing the organization. Rather, it’s failing to master the increasing sophistication that confronts them in a new arena. If you’re a leader, you can engineer your way through many of the challenges of complexity but you’ll need to reinvent yourself personally if you have lagged in developing new skills, behaviors, and mindsets for a changed organization and higher level of performance.

Without a plan to upgrade yourself as the driver of a more sophisticated vehicle, you will likely deploy old approaches with diminishing returns, and in our experience, you will stall at one of seven points:

  1. When you fail to create an organizational story that delivers meaning and purpose
  2. When you can’t align and empower your direct report to deliver high performance as one team
  3. When you can’t amplify your influence among important stakeholders
  4. When you struggle in your ability to explain and lead change
  5. When your authority slips in the eyes of your followers
  6. When you fail to focus your time and energy to have the most impact
  7. When you can’t develop your own leaders or prevent them from failing
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“In today’s egalitarian and pluralistic management environment, business leaders cannot only be good at their business. They need a broader view of the human enterprise and the skills to lead extremely complex and sophisticated organizations. John Hillen and Mark Nevins, experienced and thoughtful leadership scholars I came to know at the Aspen Institute, have written a practical and enriching guide for leaders seeking to be effective at the highest levels of performance.”

Walter Isaacson

Former President and CEO of The Aspen Institute and best-selling author of Steve Jobs, Leonardo DaVinci, Einstein, and Benjamin Franklin. Also Time Magazine 100 honoree – the 100 most influential people in the world

Why won’t doubling down on your old magic help you out of a stall? Because you invariably neglect the new political, personal, strategic, and interpersonal skills needed to manage yourself and others. Predictable and inevitable, your stall then escalates into a crisis. And the crisis escalates faster the higher you go, since challenges of sophistication dwarf those of complexity at higher organizational levels.

What Happens Now? helps you to embrace this reality. It shows how mastering the challenges of sophistication requires you do things you may not have prioritized before: inspire people, nurture relationships, energize teams, groom successors, influence stakeholders.

With stories from dozens of leaders, the book illustrates the seven panic-producing stalls every leader is almost certain to hit; helps you search inside yourself to see why you are experiencing them; and gives you specific tools to jump-start your leadership engine.

What Happens Now? doesn’t dwell on leadership theory and philosophy. As advisors and troubleshooters for leaders of all kinds, authors John Hillen and Mark Nevins focus on the most menacing issue they see in organizations every day: leaders who try to solve challenges solely by muscling through new complexity with reorganizations, process mapping, data analytics, new reports and structures, and the like. The result? Organizational wreckage.

Will that be your fate? Or can you instead turn game-stopping stalls into personal growth and organization success? Can you struggle through the realization that you are the cause and launch the next phase of your lifelong leadership journey? Can you see the warning signs and reinvent yourself to become a master of sophisticated leadership challenges? Hillen and Nevins show you how. If the dozens of leaders they profile can overcome these stalls, so can you

“Over the course of my career leading companies, government agencies, and NGOs, I have seen leaders struggle with having the strategic and interpersonal skills they need to go to the next level. It is not always obvious about the new mindsets and behaviors leaders need to adopt to be effective as their organization changes and grows. It is hard to find a fresh way to think through this age-old problem but What Happens Now? is one of the most effective books I’ve seen to show leaders how to stay ahead of their enterprises.”

Henrietta Holsman Fore

Former Director of the US Mint and Administrator of the US Agency for International Development

“Success can breed bad habits in executives. John Hillen and Mark Nevins add to that research by showing the changing circumstances that accompany growth and change can exacerbate these habits and cause leadership stalls. Their framework for seeing and working through them will help leaders at all levels grow and develop as fast as their businesses in order to stay ahead of these challenges.” 

Marshall Goldsmith

Author of one of Amazon.com’s top 100 leadership books of all time, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, and voted by Thinkers50 one of the World’s 50 Most Influential Leadership Thinkers

The Authors


Mark D. Nevins, PhD, is a consultant and advisor to top executives, teams, and organizations. Earlier in his career he was responsible for learning and development globally for Booz Allen Hamilton, and for organization development and human resources globally for Korn/Ferry International. He has coached and advised a broad range of executives from the C-suite to high-potential vice presidents at large corporations such as American Express, Citibank, NBCUniversal, and Time Warner, as well as smaller companies, high-growth startups, and top-tier professional and financial services firms. A Harvard PhD and former literature professor, his views on leadership and business are informed by universal themes of the human condition as well as extensive pragmatic work with hundreds of executives and senior managers across almost all industries as well as the higher education, not-for-profit, and military sectors. Nevins has worked, taught, and traveled in more than sixty countries. An author and business writer, his previous work includes The Advice Business, a book on management consulting.


John F. Hillen, DPhil, is a leadership and strategy professor in the School of Business at George Mason University, a consultant, and a director for many companies. His views on leadership draw from his experiences as a CEO of public and private companies, a board chair and director, a US Assistant Secretary of State under President George W. Bush, and a former US Army officer and decorated combat leader. He holds degrees from Duke and King’s College London, received his MBA at Cornell and his doctorate from Oxford. A Washington Technology columnist, he writes regularly on leadership and strategy, both of which he teaches in George Mason’s MBA program. Recently recognized as one of the one hundred most influential business leaders in the Washington DC area, Hillen is a winner of a number of prestigious leadership awards in the military and business and the author or editor of several books on international security.

“John Hillen and Mark Nevins astutely focus on how leaders must behave in order to become adaptable in today’s increasingly dynamic world. What Happens Now? is a necessary read for leaders combatting the reality that what worked in the past will no longer be good enough in the near future.”

General Stan McChrystal

Author of New York Times bestseller Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World and former commander of the US Joint Special Operations Command.

Speaking Engagements & Workshops

What Happens Now? includes rich leadership development frameworks and tools for managers, executives, teams, and organizations. The authors are experienced facilitators, trainers, and coaches and have designed and led hundreds of executive offsites and retreats as well as workshops and leadership programs.

The authors may be available to speak to your organization or design and facilitate a high-impact interactive program for a few hours, a full day, or a multi-day offsite. Feel free to reach out to us if you’d like to discuss a speaking engagement or bespoke program.

Typical feedback on programs led by Nevins and Hillen is “That was the best program I have ever taken part in, and I am putting the learnings and insights to work with real benefit.” We are happy to provide references upon request.


“Over the many years I have watched and commented on the best performing companies, I’ve observed the best leaders reinvent themselves and their role as fast as they’ve grown their firm. This book helps leaders see challenges in advance and charts a way for them to stay out in front of their enterprise as they take it to new heights. A pragmatic and insightful model for executive development in growing companies.”

Larry Kudlow

Fox – Business News Anchor