"If you cry 'forward', you must make it clear the direction in which to go. Don't you see that if you fail to do that and simply call out the word to a monk and a revolutionary, they will go precisely the opposite directions."
Anton Checkhov

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

Word count this issue: 179

Estimated reading time:   1.35

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z8tISElCelE 



There is a story about the 13th Century Sufi, Nasrudin, being sent by the KIng to investigate the lore of various kinds of wisdom.  (From  The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasrudin, Idries Shah, 1966)The various wisdom teachers all recounted to him tales of the miracles and the saying of the founders and great teachers, all long dead, of their schools. 


When Nasrudin returned home, he submitted his report which contained the single word, “Carrots.”


He was called before the King to explain himself. Nasrudin explained, “the best part is buried; few know, except farmers, by the green that there is orange underground; if you don’t work for it, it will deteriorate, and there are a great many donkeys associated with it.”



I wonder then what this story tells you about wisdom? What does it tell you about experts and various schools of thought? What does it say to you about leading yourself, and leading others?


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

Word count this issue: 432

Estimated reading time:   3:20

Video: https://www.youtube.com/edit?o=U&video_id=-tvevBmOhiY 


Greetings from Vancouver, where the spring flowers are beginning to show. There is hope.


We were out for a walk last weekend, and had a most interesting conversation about ‘justification’. For example, a colleague calls and I justify my decision not to pick up by saying to myself, “I’m very busy, and I’ll get back to them.” I justify my decision to run a yellow light as it turns red with “I’m really busy and don’t have time, and besides, everybody does it.” In organizations, we justify decisions that hurt other humans by saying, “it’s just business, there’s nothing personal.” And justification appears in serious social matters as well; some might justify the killing of another human being because they were on my property. Others might justify access to automatic weapons as a right to protect myself and family from criminals, over the deaths of school children caused by a man with automatic weapons.


In all these cases, we are making a decision that at some level is at least questionable, and then justifying it.  And that, it seems to me, makes justification not just a habit, something more. Lots of things that we know are at least questionable, if not morally or legally wrong are ok, as long as we can make it seem that way. And most especially justification becomes that much more compelling when we can find a group of people who agree with us.


I appreciate that I am challenging ground here, especially on issues around which we differ on moral grounds. My public support of LGBTQ+ rights, as one example may well be seen by some as my justifying my way forward on a moral issue. (And I am happy to explore these with individuals in conversation.) And, I think we are all too often justifying our decisions as leaders so much that justification has become a basic thread in the fabric of our working world. As long as I can justify it to myself, it’s ok.


That is not a good thing. People are being bullied because that is just business. 


My colleague Olivia McIvor (kindness-speaks.com ) has a good way of engaging your thinking brain in the midst of decisions and conversations. As you make a decision, as you begin to open your mouth, ask yourself three questions;


  1. Is it true?
  2. Is it necessary?
  3. Is it kind?


I suggest that if you use these three important questions you’ll find the best direction for your decision and conversations, and that you will have to justify yourself less often.



I am curious about what you think?


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

Word count this issue: 543

Estimated reading time:   3.75 minutes

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQ70CirUffQ 



Good morning from a grey Vancouver. Between being sick and work load, I have missed a couple of weeks of Leadership Notes. I have missed the process of writing.


The “markets” have been in a bit of a tizzy with large drops over the past few days. I am intrigued by the experts who come out of the woodwork to explain it rationally. They are on a fools errand, the markets operate on two emotions; fear and greed.


I spoke about the power of emotions last Fall in a sermon at Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver. I said then, “There is some very interesting work emerging in psychology and neuroscience right now. I had the pleasure of hearing Lisa Son, PhD. the chair of Psychology at Barnard College. https://barnard.edu/profiles/lisa-son  speak this week. Son argues that contrary to the worries of minds like Stephen Hawking about how Artificial Intelligence (AI) was making computers more human, her worry from her research is that we humans are becoming more and more valued as machines.


We were expected to be quick, predictable, manageable and low or no cost to the organization. We are expected to be confident and correct. And, my observation from nearly 15 years now as a business chaplain and coach, is that she’s right. We are making ourselves captives we are reducing ourselves to our being merely part of the economic machine. We reduce ourselves to being consumers, not humans.


[The sermon continues…] I don’t know if you heard the news this week that the Nobel Prize for Economics for this year was awarded to Richard Thaler. https://www.forbes.com/sites/frankarmstrong/2017/10/13/richard-thaler-a-giant-in-economics-awarded-the-nobel-prize/#1ffd98553a10   Thaler’s great contribution to Economics? That we do not make rational decisions. I’ll say that again, you and I do not make rational decisions. We make decisions out of habits, we make decisions because of biases,  we make decisions based on emotions, and then tell our selves stories to rationalize our decisions. But we certainly do not make rational, machine like decisions. We are not machines. We are not cogs in a wheel. We just fool ourselves into thinking we are. Come out of the darkness … Listen to that sacred, still small voice inside that says, live, be free of your own shackles, and the shackles others place on you, by calling you consumer, or worker, or an asset. You are a human being, not a human doing! https://thecathedral.ca/sermons/rev-alisdair-smith-11/ 



As a leader, do not fall into the trap of believing that the markets are rational indicators, they are indicators of small but powerful negative forces in our lives; fear and greed. You and I are so much more than just those two emotions, we are full of possibility and creative opportunity, we are full of compassion for each other and for our communities, we are able to make this world that much better for our children and for all children by remembering the most powerful emotion we are capable of; love.

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

Word count this issue: 421

Estimated reading time:  3:30 minutes

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0Zpvxoz_hI 


Good afternoon, from a rainy south coast of BC.  I hope all is well in your part of the world.


About 10 years ago, in an early edition of Leadership Notes I wrote about President Obama’s inauguration, urging readers to watch his inspirational inauguration speech and see how his leadership would unfold.http://www.alisdairsmith.com/index.php/leadership-notes/103-inauguration  I always admired President Obama’s oration, and think that we can learn a lot from his communication style, and his focus on hope.


This week saw an inspirational speech too, this time from Oprah Winfrey.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fN5HV79_8B8 Ms. Winfrey’s words of hope were fresh water to thirsty ears, and again, I urge leaders to watch her speech, paying attention to the phrasing and the rhythm. 


But, there is a shadow side to such speeches, more often than not. The audience, particularly when moved, starts to see the speaker as a hero; someone who has the answers, who will save us from whatever villain might be out there. The rush to assume that Ms. Winfrey would run for  President is an indicator of how quickly so many people projected a hero role on her. And quite frankly, the same ‘hero’ role was projected on and assumed by Mr. Trump. 


Real change in a country, or even on your team is not provided by leaders as individual heroes. We do not actually need to ‘hold out for a hero’, to quote Bonnie Tyler’s old song.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWcASV2sey0 Real change comes from within each and every person on the team, each and every one of us. The word ‘inspiration’ is about bringing a hopeful spirit inside of each person listening or watching, to engage us into action for ourselves. At our best, if anything teams, organizations and countries are not looking for people coming to ‘save’ them, rather, we are looking for ways to grow our selves, to change and develop ourselves into the people deep down, we know we can be. 



Watch and learn from great communicators like Mr. Obama and Ms. Winfrey, and work with the individuals on your teams, to grow and change from within. To make a difference ourselves in the places w have responsibility. And that will change the world for the better.

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

Word count this issue: 328

Estimated reading time:  2:30 minutes



Good morning, from a stormy Sunshine Coast.


In the midst of your work as a leader, you will sometimes find that one person on your team seems to push your ‘buttons.’ Maybe they are late a little too often, or they don’t complete projects to your satisfaction. What ever the cause, at first you might have what the philosopher Paul Ricoeur https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Ricœur called a First Naiveté; you take what they say and do at face value. Eventually though, as their behaviour continues,  you begin to see them with what Ricoeur called a “hermeneutic of suspicion” that will often colour how you see them; ‘they are always late,’ ‘they never deliver,’ or ‘they just tick me off.’   And herein lies danger. 


A good  question for each of us as leaders is, ‘what am I doing or not doing that is enabling the behaviour in the other person?’ This question might lead to,  ‘What if I speak up much earlier next time?’ What specifically am I condoning here simply because I don’t want the hassle?’  By engaging in such self-reflection questions, we might begin to see the person’s behaviour through what Ricoeur called a “Second Naiveté.” Such a lens explores  “what do I want to have happen here?” “where is there behaviour from this person that I welcome?” or even, “what can I learn about myself in this situation?”



The danger of a “hermeneutic of suspicion” about a member of a team is that we too quickly morph their behaviour into who they are to us. A second naiveté pushes us away from telling ourselves all that is wrong is wrong with a person, and towards asking what good might be seen in them and what might we learn from them?


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

Word count this issue: 303

Estimated reading time:  2:30 minutes

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PN5DljuioeQ



Good afternoon from the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia I’m Alisdair Smith, and this is Leadership Notes for the week of January 1, 2018. I want to wish each and every one of you  a very Happy New Year. I hope your Holiday Season was filled with good things and great people.


I picked up a fun novel by Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay, The First Rule of Ten (Hay House 2012). The hero is a former Buddhist monk turned private eye. It’s a great concept and the book really works. And whenever our hero, Ten is his name, gets into trouble he refocuses on his breathing, draws on his learning as a monk and even meditates to clear his mind. 


In all of the research on the brain, one of the most interesting is the power of mindfulness, being “present” and using techniques like Ten to bring clarity to our minds. 


One of the questions he asks himself struck a resonant chord with me. At the climax of the novel, with Ten in the midst of a complex tapestry of problems, he sits down and asks himself, “How can I use my skills and presence to ensure that the highest good is accomplished?” (p, 200)



And so, as we begin another year of work, making a difference in organizations and in our teams, I invite you into this question; how can you use your skills and presence to ensure the highest good is accomplished?  Not just when times are tough, but even as a way of starting your day. I wonder what power might be unleashed with the answers you discover.