"Learning faster than your competitors is the only sustainable competitive advantage in an environment of rapid change."
Arie deGues

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

Word count this issue: 467

Estimated reading time:  3.0 minutes


The November issue of Fast Company has a great series of graphics called 15 Ways to Work Smarter. I was intrigued to note a couple of similarities with the learning work I’ve been doing on neuroscience.

Common in a few of the 15 ways to work smarter is to remove distractions. For example use a “Parking Lot” or “Bicycle Rack” in meetings (with assignments for following up). And, don’t just turn off your notifications on your phone, make sure there is no sound or vibration at all. You see, our brains are wired to react to interruptions, like sounds or flashes. Those sounds or flashes might be a threat (like a sabre tooth tiger) to our brains and so even if we only have the vibration on, our brains react, and we stop thinking and move into reaction mode. And if that vibration, or sound is heard, even lightly by others in the room, their brains are now in reaction mode too, and the thinking stops at your end of the table for a couple of minutes.

One of the suggestions too is to move around every thirty minutes or so in a meeting; get up and move a bit. This will get the brain stimulated in a new way, and get blood moving. (Even 20 minutes of exercise a day has a profound effect on our thinking ability.) My suggestion to add to this is to sit in different seats for each meeting.

Some years ago, a friend from grad school was given the great opportunity to do an internship in Turks and Caicos. She was assigned to be the “rookie” clergy in a rural group of parishes. One of the stories she brought back was about where people sat. In a tiny parish in the country, regular Sunday service involved about 6 older women who sat in the same seats each Sunday, spread throughout the church. My friend suggested that they move closer, and was surprised to hear that they sat in this way so that they would immediately know if one of them was missing, and would then go and make sure she was ok. It was a pattern of behavior designed for safety in an out of the way place. My friend did not press the point.

The shadow side is though that we get set into these patterns and they frame our thinking. Each time you change seats, you get a different perspective, and your brain sees the world in a different way. So next meeting, find a different seat, and see the world in a new way.

May this week be one of working smarter, and new perspectives.

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

Word count this issue: 288

Estimated reading time:  2.0 minutes


I have been working on a learning project with the Neuroleadership Institute. One of the pieces that has resonated with me is the idea of “Choosing Your Focus.” In short, what you focus on, is what you think about

Five words help illustrate the idea of choosing your focus:








If I focus on the problem, or on the drama, that is what I will think about. I find myself on a hamster wheel, running around and around. Remember the old adage, attributed to Albert Einstein, “the mind that created the problem is not the mind that can find the solution.” For years, I have always assumed that adage meant that new people need to be brought in to find the solution. I was wrong. In fact, we can change our mind by changing our focus. If we move up the column into a focus on vision and planning, this amazing, creative organ, the brain, can be freed to see new perspectives, new opportunities, new possibilities.

Here are two relatively easy ways of changing your focus.

1.   If you find yourself focusing on a problem, or on some drama, ask your self, “how long have I been thinking about this?” This simple question may well change your focus and get you moving up the column.

2.   Ask yourself, what do I want out of this? What’s my objective here? Again, it’s perhaps a simple question that pushes you off the hamster wheel and starting to think about vision and planning.

May this week, be one of changing focus and changing mind.



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

Word count this issue: 265

Estimated reading time:  1.45 minutes


In an earlier edition of Leadership Notes I wrote about zombies. http://www.alisdairsmith.com/index.php/leadership-notes/256-zombies


And walking to an evening meeting last night, I listened to a great podcast from CBC’s Ideas show http://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/the-coming-zombie-apocalypse-1.3288762


It got me thinking again about the people in our offices. As I wrote in that earlier piece, “And the same Zombie mentality is true of us as leaders in our team or department; are there zombies in the organization from your perspective? Could it be that accounting are zombies? Or HR, or maybe there are one or two people “no one likes” on your team. Be very careful of treating them as zombies and creating us and them situations. Instead, reach out, find common ground, talk things through, honouring each other’s perspectives and the potential to learn from and with each other.”


I’d like to take this one step farther, the divisive nature of our political zeitgeist needs to stop. Liberals or conservatives, what ever the party name, are human beings. We are our neighbours. The divisive nature of our business zeitgeist needs to change. Competition is good, it helps us thrive, but when we ‘other’ the competition, when we treat them as ‘enemy,’ as zombie, we start to destroy our own credibility.


To be the leader you can be, make sure that there is room in your heart and mind for everyone, not just the people who think and behave like you.


Because, in fact, zombies do not exist.


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

Word count this issue: 276

Estimated reading time:  1.45 minutes


Good morning from San Francisco! I love this city. I’m here on a course called Brain Based Conversations with the NeuroLeadership Institute  (https://www.neuroleadership.com ) I have lots to talk about, and am learning lots of new things about neuroscience and how we might increase the effectiveness of our conversations at work and at home.


Of the many notes I made today, one stands out upon reflection. I wrote, “how do I speak to and about myself?” The question came up from one of the other participants, in the midst of a wide ranging and fascinating conversation in the classroom about the difference between a “fixed” mindset and a “growth” mindset. As the labels suggest, a fixed mindset is one where you “are” someone or something. For example, “I don’t swim, because I am not able to swim.” A growth mindset is one where you might say, “I don’t swim.... yet.” 


The comment again that struck me was, “how do I speak to and about myself?” Do I talk to myself, or about myself as static and unchanging, or do I talk to myself and about myself as someone who is growing, learning and becoming?



For me, this is a key question for all of us as leaders. If you are stuck in a fixed mindset, beware, the world will soon pass you by. Open yourself, be more vulnerable, and take a chance on a growth mindset. I’ll be curious to hear what you notice this week about how you talk to and about yourself.


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

Word count this issue: 288

Estimated reading time:  1.45 minutes


Hello from a rainy Vancouver. Fall is really on the way, as we took the out door chair cushions off the deck today, to be put into storage downstairs. And the time change (Fall Back, for all those concerned) is coming on Saturday. The good news is that Christmas is coming too!


I’m still reeling from all the learning and adventures in San Francisco last week and the www.neuroleadership.com sessions I attended. Looking at my notes, I was struck by one insight. In working with people, ‘remember to focus on the person, not what I think about the person.’


We are homo narrens, even homo fictus as much as we are homo sapiens. (The creature the tells storys, as much as we are the creature that thinks.) And we love to make stories up about the people around us: hero stories, villain stories. Stories about how much they do or don’t appreciate us. Stories about how smart they are, or aren’t , compared to us. And none of the stories we tell ourselves about other people are true; we make all of them up. To be the best leader you can be, ask people about themselves, inquire about who they are, where they are from, and what they think, rather than making stories up about them. You’ll find that they are far more responsive, far more part of the team, far more than you can possibly imagine, simply by getting the stories you have about them out of your head.


May this week be filled with learning about people, not making stuff up about them.

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

Word count this issue: 631

Estimated reading time:  4.0 minutes


It was Thanksgiving here in Canada this past weekend. I am very grateful for this community of conversation and exploration. Thank you for your continued engagement and encouragement in our work.


These are challenging and difficult times for all of us in leadership roles. In the Autumn 2015 edition of Strategy and Business there is a great article on the Future of Management. The authors see three breakthroughs occurring; a self management, wholeness and evolutionary processes. Self-management is about peer relationships and autonomy to get work done in the best way, not necessarily in the prescribed way. Wholeness is about creating and enhancing space for people to be who they are (as opposed to simply doing what they do) at work. Evolutionary processes are about seeing the organization as a living, growing, learning and developing organism.


I am thrilled to see these predictions, and I wish such organizations on everybody. And let’s be clear, to some degree such dreams may doomed to failure as they are either window dressing or misunderstood by participants.     


I have worked and served as a consultant many organizations and have all too often seen Self Management fall apart when a crisis (as defined by the people with power in the organization) arises and they step in to fix “the chaos”. Or Self Management is sometimes confused with everyone is equal and every decision needs to be made by consensus, thus creating chaos. Sometimes people are in your organization because they want to a job, their wholeness is really to be found elsewhere. 


I have a great friend who got an office job at the age of 55, after 35 years as an actor because he wanted benefits. His vocation is as an actor, he is whole on stage, not working for this organization. To suggest that he bring his whole self to work is at best disingenuous. 

Evolutionary processes are great until the shareholders, or the stakeholders want to focus on efficiencies. Biological processes can take some time, and may not be fast enough for quarterly results. I often think too of the old Jethro Tull song, Bungle in the Jungle when people talk about organizations as living organisms: “He who made kittens put snakes in the grass.” The natural world is often a very scary place and we would be wise to be careful about setting it up as a the model for our businesses.


And I do welcome this thinking. For our departments and organizations some takeaways are:


Self Management, the more autonomy that a group of people have, the more creative and productive they will be. Trying to control people is a fool’s errand. People generally respond better to direction than to being directed.


Wholeness, we will work on our vocations for hours without ceasing, and if your organization happens to finds a person whose vocation matches with a job, hold on to that person for dear life. Do not however try to force wholeness on others.


Evolutionary Processes, if they are to be really entrenched in your business   will challenge deep rooted assumptions like competition, and even private ownership. The planet is not in competition for gain; the living organisms around us eat only what they need. They do not have mutual funds or stock options. They do not own a home, they thrive in relationship. It is a scary world, but not an unfair or unjust one; those are human conceptions. It is not about survival of the fittest, it is about those most responsive to change. And you and I are living in a revolutionary time.



I’m curious to read of your thinking on these three ideas?