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


I’m sitting in Halifax Airport, after spending some time with the folks at Atlantic Central Credit Union and the amazing credit union people from across the Atlantic region. I love this part of the country; as I arrived yesterday, the Air Canada passenger agent here in Halifax greeting the plane said “welcome home” as I got into the terminal. I love Vancouver, it is my home, and I acknowledge that Halifax does have a certain seductive quality for me!




I left the conference early, to get to the airport, and had therefore to miss the end of a presentation by my friend Jody Burk of East Kootenay Community Credit Union, another of the guests speaking at the conference. Jody was speaking on collaboration and early in his remarks he commented on the difference between Big ‘L” leaders and Small “l” leaders. Big “L” leaders are the CEO’s of organizations, or the leaders of national or regional initiatives. Small “l” leaders are the leaders of departments or teams. And of course, Small “l” leaders can be anyone, at any time, who takes a stand, speaks up, or otherwise leads in their family, team, community, organization, city, province/state or country. As Jody said, the Small “l” leaders are the ones who roll up their sleeves and actually move the plan forward.




So this week, let’s honour the Small “l” leaders who make all of us look so good.




I was teaching a course on strategic planning last week in Kelowna for credit union directors. For years, I have bounced around various definitions and semantic conversations about the words vision, mission and values. There are related phrases like, guiding principles, core purpose and the like, and all are trying to describe the ‘compass heading’ if you will for an organization. One of great examples of a vision statement, in my view is Martin Luther King’s vision in August of 1963 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3vDWWy4CMhE “I have a dream”.

As the participants in the class were working on a case study, I had an insight, what if we imagine vision, mission and values at the individual level?

• A vision describes, ‘where do I want to go.’

• A mission describes why I would go there, (what common good will come from it?) and,

• values describe ‘whom will I be on the journey.’

As soon as I wrote them on the flip chart, I thought, ‘need to share these in Leadership Notes!’

As a leader, I need to know where I’m going. Yes, this is about career, but it is also about personal growth; what are your dreams? Or in the wonderful metaphor from Stephen Covey, what do you want people to say about you at your funeral?

As a leader, I need to know why I’m going there, and typically that is about a common good. Although this does not happen for all leaders, many leaders change their mission as they get older. Moving from a selfish mission about ego and financial success to doing something for the community, for the good of the city or country.

As a leader I need to know whom I will be on the journey. What are the lines I will not cross about integrity, about honesty, about compassion? And to be fair, we sometimes do not know about the line until we see it. What are the values that people can count on me for? At the end of the journey, will I be able to hold my head up and say, ‘I did it well, and I did it respecting myself and others?’

As I’ve been writing images from the Lord of the Rings trilogy have been in my mind. These three questions, I realize, drive the mythic adventures. Think of Frodo as he has to choose to leave the Shire on this grand adventure. Where is he going? Why is he going? Whom will he be on the journey? His answers to these questions emerge on the journey, and so do our answers. The first step is to leave the Shire, with an inkling at least of what the answers could be.

May this week, be one of leaving shires, and making discoveries about ourselves.


With most Canadians this weekend, we enjoyed a dinner to celebrate gratitude. And, true to form, I spent at least part of the long weekend reading. I happened upon the October 4-10 edition of The Economist, and the special report on "Technology and the World Economy", and read it voraciously.http://www.economist.com/news/special-report/21621156-first-two-industrial-revolutions-inflicted-plenty-pain-ultimately-benefited And then, driving this morning into my office, I heard part of the interview on CBC's show 'Q' with Nicholas Carr about his book "The Glass Cage" http://www.nicholascarr.com/?page_id=18 which is a warning of sorts about automation and us as people and as participants in the economy. Here's a challenging video called Humans Need Not Apply that raises some of the same questions I heard Mr. Carr asking, http://youtu.be/7Pq-S557XQU

We are in the midst of a dramatic transition. A transition, according to the Economist that is as dramatic and life changing for all of us as the Industrial Revolution was for our ancestors. Automation will be changing our jobs. All of our jobs. Medical practitioners, lawyers, accountants, scientists, truck drivers, wake up! Algorithms can do your job, or at least so much of your job that there will not be much for you to do, in the current ways we do them.

Seriously. You and I need to know that no job will be unchanged in the next 10 years.

So what as do we need to be doing? Who as leaders do we need to be in the midst of this revolution?

We need to keep learning. Read, challenge, critique and engage yourself and your people. Increase your budgets for learning, not just for training. Watch TED talks, learn from your kids. Keep Learning.

We need to get collaborative. Our biology does in fact default to collaboration and not, as our contemporary western myths often suggest, towards the individual. What is important to us is more important in the future than what is important to me. What are new ways of working together? New ways of managing and governing that focus on health for all, not just the few.

We need to be willing to break open the sacred ideas and models we've been holding onto. We as leaders all too often believe that we need to know everything. That is a myth. No one does, no one will. Assume that you are ignorant, not stupid, ignorant. Assume that you can learn, assume that how you earn your living now, will not be the same in 10 years. Avoid expertism. And know that you'll be ok.

This will be a most exciting 10 years, and there will be pain and discomfort, but deep down, we are a resilient and adaptable species. And you are an amazing, creative creature. And so are the people around you.

I for one, am excited about this revolution. I hope you are too.

Sometime ago, learning from John McKnight http://www.abcdinstitute.org/faculty/McKnight/ I began to understand the simple and profound idea that we are citizens, not simply consumers. In Dr. McKnight’s language, consumers don’t rebuild after natural disasters, citizens do that. Citizen, not consumer has become a mantra for me.

I like it because it is counter-culture. And I like it because of its deep truth, there is an inherent wisdom to it.  And I like it because it raises the bar; it demands action from me.

I’ve been wondering about something similar in our workplaces. Those of us who work in organizations, large and small, generally operate in hierarchies. The higher on the hierarchy, the more power I have and the more ‘airtime’ I’m usually granted at meetings for example. The lower I am in the hierarchy, the less power I have and the less ‘airtime’ I have. Back in the day for example, the only airtime I might have would be through the ‘suggestion box’, that was usually linked directly to the wastepaper can. (Not even to recycling!) But times have changed; the organizations we work in are a lot flatter, and with changes to technology driving so much of the changes to the way work gets done, there is a new power balancing act at play. Our businesses are slowly but surely becoming ‘wikis’ where rather than a small group of people write the encyclopedia and then publish it for the rest of us to read, more and more of the learning, more and more of the content of who we are, how we operate and what we do, is being written by a much broader spectrum of people in the organization. For example, boards are inviting staff at different levels to strategic planning sessions, intra company sites and forums are the norm, and broad based idea generation are the norm in most design companies. The new Blackberry Passport apparently was an idea being played with a few years ago in the middle of the design teams.

All of this to say, we are not simply ‘personnel’ or ‘assets’, we are the hearts and minds of the organization we work for, and that is not only a power, it is a responsibility. We are citizens, not employees. We are contributors, not cogs. As leaders, we need to recognize this emerging trend, and in the words often attributed to Mahatma Ghandi, “there go my people, I must follow them, for I am their leader.”

May this week find us all leading and following.


I’ve been thinking about loyalty recently; how we have a story in credit union land about how our founders, and the generation or two that came after them were loyal to the credit union. The common story is that ‘the credit union was there when we didn’t have much and now that we are successful, we stay ‘loyal’ to the credit union.’ In a business sense it is a compelling story; it’s about a shared experience that keeps bringing people back. There’s a quality of ‘home’ to the story, and for many of us, home is worthy of loyalty.
And in more recent years, the financial services business has become a commodity. Virtually everyone in Canada has access to credit, and so, the story of having a financial institution ‘being there’ when we didn’t have much is more broadly based. As long as I meet certain criteria, they will be there, and in fact they may in fact be competing against each other for my business. My loyalty can be bought in that sense.
But a new phenomenon is appearing. Loyalty based on ease. For all of the ‘cool’ factor associated with Apple, the simple fact that it is ‘easy’ is a big loyalty driver. My phone talks seamlessly to my tablet with talks seamlessly to my laptop, which talks seamlessly with iCloud. My pictures are never lost, my music moves with me, and I can even have Apple TV if I want the joy of a bigger screen. But bigger than all of that? I turn the thing on, I put in my id and it works. It works. I am of an age where I remember having to allow about an hour to set a TV up, with the stereo, all the wires, the cable, the speakers… I plug my Apple ID into a gadget and it works. And so as I look at what my new phone is going to be? Who do you think I will talk to first.
But there is a danger here. And I’m not talking only about how much info about me that Apple now has, including my credit card. I’m talking about a business environment where easy is king (or queen as the case may be). You see, as cool as an Apple product might be, it is not a human being. You and I are complex organisms and while some of our behaviours may be predictable and common, we are inherently complex. As leaders we know that only too well. There is no, “Apple ID” that magically links your team together as a team. The individual variances in thinking, in emoting, in articulating are the places that creativity and innovation seed and grow. Technology is binary, humans are, well, human.
As our technical work is simplified and commodified, honour the complexities in yourself and the people with whom you work. Assuming that they are simple too, can only result in failure and frustration.
May this week find us relishing our own complexity, even if we enjoy some simple entertainment.


Happy first day of fall! I was chuckling with a colleague today about how the rain has returned to Vancouver on this first autumn day after a sunny and warm last day of summer. Nature’s timing is sometimes impeccable.

Speaking of time, my late father used to say, “there are only 24 hours in a day.” He usually said it when he was frustrated about my time management on a chore or homework! I always thought though that there was something deeper in the phrase. And then on Friday, a friend and colleague gave me a great image about time that gave me a clue. This friend has a disability and so she uses a model of ‘coupons’ for herself. She only has so many ‘coupons’ with which to work each day in terms of her own energy level. She very clearly has to say, ‘I can do this, I can do that, etc. but that will have to wait until tomorrow for another ‘coupon.’ It actually sounds like a very healthy way of budgeting time.

And then I was thinking about my time; how do I use my ‘coupons?’ Like many of us, there is lots of work to do and, “there are only 24 hours in a day.” (Thanks Dad, I think I finally go it!) And besides work, there are family and friends, there’s re-creation, there’s my physical health, my mental health, my spiritual health. There is an old Rabbinic admonishment that says, ‘a human who does not have a single hour to him/herself every day is enslaved.’ So the ‘coupons’ are not just for work; they are coupons for budgeting my time for life. And we all have these coupons; each member of your team has coupons. Are they taking the time to spend their coupons on life or are they (or you) enslaved to the current project or chore at work? We are, after all, human beings, not human doings.

So may this week spend our coupons appropriately.