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"In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future."
Eric Hofer

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Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

Word count this issue: 455

Estimated reading time:  3:00 minutes

 

Have you seen meme’s of people with confederate flags and saying, "you lost, get over it" recently on social media?

 

 

Yes, for many they are funny, even poignantly funny, but the interesting aspect for me is that they are great examples of how we can often see other people’s foibles, follies and biases, but we’re not so good with our own. As leaders, we must consistently be working on our own self-awareness. Trust me, while you have probably not been wearing a Confederate flag on your lapel and told people they lost, get over it, you (and I) have said or done something equally equally ironic, you (and I) have just not been aware of it. 

 

Pretty much anytime you think or say that the problem is the other person, you are not aware that your behaviour, your perspectives, your actions, are at least as responsible. For example, I have this happy little story that I am not racist. At a workshop on fighting racism, a fellow clergy person of colour told me that he would never join a group of white clergy people talking in a group together because he feared wouldn’t fit in the conversation. I realized that I could count on one hand the number of times I did not fit in because of the colour of my skin. I recalled how uncomfortable that had made me feel. And to think, that this person experienced that discomfort every day. My own happy little world that “colour doesn’t matter to me” was ignoring a fundamental experience of friends and colleagues. Every time I had said, I’m not racist, someone somewhere would be rolling their eyes. What had I ever done to ensure that this colleague of mine was welcome to join our circle? Hadn’t I even thought, oh, he’s got his own friends over there (the other clergy who were people of colour)?!

 

 

The very best leaders are the ones who open themselves and their teams to new ideas, and new people, especially those who are different from the status quo. The best leaders reach out across divisions of skin colour, socio-economics, gender and sexuality. They make others feel welcome, they inquire about other people’s experience. The best leaders push away from biases that assume that everyone’s experience of the world is like their own. And they learn from their mistakes and do their best to make amends, as I will be doing with my clergy colleagues who are people of colour. It took someone else’s experience and courage to point out what I couldn’t see in myself. I hope someone does that for you one day soon.

 

Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

Word count this issue: 316 

Estimated reading time:  2:30 minutes

 

I heard a great phrase in a conference call with a client the other day. “Talent is a garden.” I wonder, what does that phrase mean to you?

 

Here’s where I went with it. Gardens are places of growth and new life. There are new plants and old plants, and some in between. There are roots  and leaves, and all of them need soil to grow. There are good bugs and bad bugs, and there are even weeds that sometimes get in, and have to be pulled. There are seeds that fall and germinate, and others that fly off into the wind. And the best gardens are tended and cared for.

 

The talent garden in your organization is similar. It should be a place of growth and new life. You need to mix and match old and young, wise and excited. You need traditions that root you. You need new ideas, like new leaves stretching for new opportunities. You need lived values that are the soil in which the garden grows. There are systems and tech that support and can, like some bugs, wreak havoc. Sometimes, people who do not fit, people with different agendas get in, and while sometimes, like weeds, they can be attractive in their own right, they are not what the garden needs at this point. The new ideas and possibilities, the seeds that get generated sometimes work in our garden, and sometimes they need to move to other gardens to flourish there. And your garden does not just happen; forethought, imagination and vision are required to create the best gardens.

 

 

So what do you imagine your talent garden needs to look like in 5 years and what are you doing right now to begin to create that garden?

 

Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

Word count this issue: 842 (This is an important piece)

Estimated reading time:  6:00 minutes

 

Good evening from a stormy Vancouver. It is one of those rainy nights that appears biblical in proportions! The theologian in me wonders if the frogs and locusts are next! 

 

Walking home from a coaching session with a client this evening, I was thinking about a conversation with an African American friend the other day. She was telling me about the experience of telling her adolescent children about the election results. I asked, “what did she tell them?” She said, “I told them nothing had changed.” She said a lot more, but it was that comment that got me really thinking.

 

I am a straight white male in my 50’s. I’m very liberal socially and left of centre economically and politically. I think of myself as the kind of man that women are safe around. I am an ally of LGBTQ people and see all humans as completely equal. I also own an apartment in downtown Vancouver and have a steady income which means I am very close to, if not inside the 1% globally in terms of wealth. As a priest friend of mine said once, if you own more than one pair of shoes you are wealthy compared to most people on the planet. I own several.

 

All of this to say, that from my perspective, much has changed. 

 

I think of it this way, if you imagine me standing in the middle of a group of concentric circles (like ripples) moving out. My happy little liberal world had a bright light shining on me and people like me. The rest of the circles, from my perspective were in shadow, and difficult for me to see. I might see something unnerving every now and then. I’d hear about a hate crime, I hear about a sexist or racist remark, but they were all in the shadows, from my perspective. 

 

It was kind of like being in a house in the tropics late at night. You learn to turn the light on before you get out of bed so that all of the bugs scatter across the floor before you step down.

 

Trump’s election turned a light on and the people doing the hate crimes, the racism, the sexism, they didn’t run away and hide. They were right there for me (from my happy little circle) to see. For me, everything changed. I could now see what I could not, or perhaps even would not see before. For people like my African American friend, nothing had changed; the racism, the sexism, the hate crimes were always there. But for me, everything changed, because now I could see. 

 

The closer into the middle of the concentric circle’s you are, the more disturbing the past 10 days or so have been. Our brothers, sisters and niblings in the circles farther away from the centre have been dealing with this for years, we’ve just been too blind to see it, or too comfortable to want to change it.

 

So now we have a choice, we can try to close our eyes and shut out the light, or we can stand up and face the sexism, and racism and homophobia in our own lives and in our own circles. In our organizations and teams, ensuring that all people are treated with dignity and respect, not because of who they love, or the colour of their skin, but because they are human beings. They are on your team because of their competencies, respect those. Help them grow into the human beings they are called to be, not to make them into clones of you or your culture or gender. Give them the opportunity to grow.

 

I watched an old friend do this masterfully a number of years ago. We had run into each other at an airport gate, on our way home from other connecting flights. He was travelling with a younger man, obviously learning the ropes in the business from my friend, the master. As we were talking the young man said something like, “oh, yeah, just like him, he’s so retarded.”  Without missing a beat, my friend turned to the young man and said, “that language and kind of thinking is not appropriate at all and needs to stop, right here, right now.” He then turned back to me and continued the conversation. He was careful to include the young man in the conversation after a minute of so of his guilty silence. It was a powerful message for a leader to send, and it was done non-violently and with an intention of helping the guy grow and develop.

 

The lights are on, there are bad things out there that those of us in positions of power and influence have missed. We cannot miss them any more. May this week be the beginning of a new day of stopping racism, sexism and homophobia in its tracks in the workplaces we have responsibility in. 

 

 

Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

Word count this issue: 362

Estimated reading time:  2:15

 

Hello from New York City!

 

This is my third trip here this year, all of them with the NeuroLeadership Institute. I am attending the annual summit and am still trying to process the amazing content from the last two days.

 

One insight today for me came in the session on the neuroscience of ethics and values. Four scientists were discussing their findings. One spoke about his insight that we’re teaching ethics in business schools and elsewhere poorly. To get into his reasoning here are some contextual pieces.

 

  1. It turns out that we tend to emulate and mimic each other. Therefore even people who say they would never cheat will cheat when they see other people doing it. 
  2. When dopamine levels in our brains go up, our moral behaviour appears to go down. And what are two drivers of increased dopamine? Sex and large amounts of money.

 

So, what happens in classrooms and offices when we tell stories about all the bad ethical behaviour? We may in fact be inadvertently giving people the idea that such behaviour is what is needed in our businesses; it is the behaviour to be emulated and mimicked. And because of the large amounts of money we talk and her about, we are more likely to seek the dopamine rush.

 

So, if you want to build a culture of trust and collaboration where people do the right things for the right reasons, stop talking about the bad guys (and it is almost always guys in these stories) who do bad things. Instead talk about the heroes, talk about the people who get dopamine rushes from doing good in the world, who are valued and honoured by our organizations and culture. One of my colleagues was talking about how good it was that in Canada we celebrate Terry Fox, and even with their sometimes cheesy production values, the “Heritage Minutes” that highlight our heroes like Nellie McClung https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SdbG6EIHrbs 

 

Who are the people in your organization that you want people emulating and mimicking?

 

 

Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

Word count this issue: 288

Estimated reading time:  1:45

 

After the US election earlier this week, I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership and values. Leadership is about standing up for our values, for what we believe to be true.

 

And ironically we are all biased, in short if you have a brain, you are biased. That is why it is absolutely vital to be listening to other voices than the ones inside your head. This is true for all of us, and most especially those of us who lead other people.

 

Sure there are times when you need to make fast decisions, to go with what you know. When time is very short and you don't need much buy in from people, go with what you know. And remember going with what you know is more than likely based on your habitual thinking. For more important and longer lasting decisions that require commitment from others you need to mitigate the risk of your habits and biases influencing your decision making.

 

Here are 3 actions you can take to mitigate your biases and habitual decision making:

 

  1. Explore multiple options and hear diverse views about  the issue, and taking those into account, learning from the diverse voices in the room, make your decision.
  2. Take a 3 week vacation away, and go somewhere there is no internet access. (This will help refresh your brain. Think of it as a kind of reboot)
  3. Make a commitment to change your mind at least once a week. Even a small change can tell your brain that new neural pathways are good.

 

 

The best leaders then hold growth and learning as a fundamental value.

Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

Word count this issue: 422

Estimated reading time:  2:30

 

Greetings from AC 8618 enroute to Winnipeg. It has been another great week with interesting work, and travel, and the adventure continues. An early meeting I was part of this week was the weekly Staff Meeting of the cathedral where I hang my clergy hat. In the mist of that meeting, the Dean, (kind of the CEO of the Cathedral), spoke up as we were exploring some of the growth issues we are working through there.

 

He said that there were three words he was conscious of around growth. 

 

  1. Homeostasis, or what we might call the “Goldilocks” effect. There will be times when the growth appears too hot, or too quick. Or there are times when growth might appear too slow or too cold.  What we’re after is “just right” growth over time, evening out the too fast or too slow, finding that balance over time.
  2. Problems, are those issues that we can solve with certain expertise and an individual or small group of people can resolve with some work and applied thinking. Fixing a leaky pipe in the kitchen or filling in when a colleague is sick are solvable problems.
  3. Dilemmas, are those more complex issues that are not solvable or fixed by an individual or a small group of experts. The fact that many of our street congregation (the people we feed every day in our Maundy Cafe) have various mental illnesses is a dilemma. Dilemmas are solved eventually by insights and dramatic shifts in thinking and assumptions by large groups of people. 

 

As leaders It often helps then to watch your organization or your team with these in mind. Are we growing too quickly or too slowly, or ever time, is it “just right?” It often helps to have some criteria or metrics for yourself to measure the growth over time and too determine what “just right looks like.” Then, in the midst of the growth, ask yourself are the barriers to growth problems that are easily and quickly solved, or are they dilemmas that require a dramatic mind shift to mitigate or alleviate? Appreciating that dilemmas will not be solved tomorrow, what do you need to put in place as a work around in the meantime? 

 

 

A good rule is to solve problems when they present themselves, and use work arounds on dilemmas. That will keep the growth in homeostasis, or like Goldilocks found,, “just right.”