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"Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly."
Robert F. Kennedy

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.

Good afternoon, the clouds have returned to the west coast and while the flowers are still blooming, the first of the leaves are turning colour. Fall, as it always does, is returning.
We saw Bill Cain’s play Equivocation last week, http://www.bardonthebeach.org/2014/equivocation . My friend Tim Elliott, http://www.timelliott.ca/biography.html who as it turned out was at the same show, said that he had two experiences of theatre; one was he enjoyed a show and went home. The second was that he wasn’t really sure what to think and the show kept coming back into his mind, challenging his thinking. He said that Equivocation was the latter kind of show. And I agree. For me, the final lines of the show, spoken by Judith, William Shakespeare’s daughter as she leaves the stage having washed her father’s body, struck deeply. “I didn’t even know I had a story until he wrote it.”
At some level, she was describing Shakespeare’s radical inclusion of our humanity, the sense that we all could imagine ourselves a Hamlet or Ophelia, a MacBeth or a Juliet. The characters he wrote about were real human beings, not cartoon characters or god like heroes or villains. They are us and we are them. Each of us is royal and each of us a peasant. Each of us is as brave as Romeo, as dastardly as Richard III and as funny as Puck . And so, Shakespeare gave us, in some way, an insight into the power of our own stories.
And, there is something I see in Judith’s line about our own legacy and authority as leaders. I see leadership as about creating space not only for our own voice, but for the voices of those with whom we work. At the most engaging workplaces, we are not creating our story, we are creating a story, a common story, with all of our individual strands weaving their way in and out of the common story. As leaders we may find ourselves speaking on behalf of our team, or describing our common story, but our work is really about listening to the individual voices and stories to find the common ground. And when people begin to realize that they themselves have a story, a compelling, interesting and powerful story, they cannot be stopped. And they never forget the leaders who first gave their voices room.
So may this week we give room to the voices and stories that surround us.


 

Good morning, and welcome to the future. Regular readers will perhaps have noticed a theme in Leadership Notes in recent months. It is increasingly evident to me that technology is dramatically changing the landscape in which we live and work. That was brought home again this week with Apple’s announcement about the new iPhone 6, Apple Pay and the iWatch. http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/apple-watch-iphone-6-models-apple-pay-unveiled-1.2759617 For those of you who are in credit unions and other financial institutions, Apple Pay is huge! They have between 500 and 800 million credit cards sitting in iTunes. Those apps you see people using at Starbucks are now so 2013; imagine paying for pretty much everything with a tap; do I need a cash machine, let alone a branch network?! And the iWatch could change much of how we work and play as well; stay tuned I say for iWatch 2, 3, 4 and 5 in the next few years.
And so I return to my overarching question this year, what does leadership look like in the midst of an increasingly networked workforce? Obviously we are still humans, but we are still evolving as a species. There is a really great piece in this month’s National Geographic  http://www.nationalgeographic.com/foodfeatures/evolution-of-diet/ called the “Evolution of Diet” where geneticist Sarah Tishkoff of the University of Pennsylvania says, “are humans still evolving? Yes!” Now, I don’t mean of course that we’re going to see dramatic differences in the next couple of years; generally evolutionary change takes thousands of years and generations. Our jaws for example have slowly gotten smaller in the last 10,000 years since we first started agriculture. But the speed of change in our cultural environment will have an impact on how we learn, how we communicate (remember actually talking on a phone instead of texting?!), and how we work together. The image I learned about a couple of years ago uses a lake and a river as a metaphor. Those of us who are older learned by storing as much information as possible in our memories; so that whether we were memorising which plants were good and which were poisonous, or learning to memorize pages of text so we could recite it accurately, or how to bake bread or build an internal combustion engine, we used our minds like a lake of data into which we swam around to operate in the environment. Those of us who are born much later, and looking at the kids born from now on, much of the information they will need will be stored somewhere else, and accessed when they need it through some kind of device, like dipping into a river full of data when we need it.  Here’s Trinity in The Matrix, learning to fly a helicopter; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6AOpomu9V6Q for example. We may become experts in how to find out, not experts in a particular thing.
One implication I see will be the increase use of the phrase, “I don’t know, and I’ll find out.” Managers and leaders will be less expected to be the fountains of technical knowledge we have been in the past. Rather I think our greatest asset will be our ability to leverage our wisdom. Wisdom is not created by the number of birthdays, but by the number of experiences. So, I may not know how to fly a helicopter, I can learn that. However, how to use one most effectively (as opposed to simply escaping ‘bad guys’), how to fly one in difficult circumstances, or even when to fly an airplane instead is a matter of wisdom and experience. It will be that wisdom that will mark us as leaders in the coming years.
So may this week be a week of experiences that build wisdom.

 

Good afternoon, and I hope the school year has begun with excitement and  nervousness, and for those of you in BC, that the learning for all of us continues in earnest while the government and the Teachers Federation work towards a settlement.
I had the great pleasure of seeing Douglas Coupland’s exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery on the weekend; it was amazing. One of the ideas behind the exhibition was how Coupland, born in the 20th Century, saw a 21st Century mind. For example, a very powerful part of the exhibition included large prints of what appeared to be black dots standing vertically up and down a large white canvass with a couple of smudges on them. If, however you looked through the lens of a camera in a phone the images became one of the  World Trade Centre towers, and the smudges became bodies falling. Much of the 21st Century mind receives it’s visual messages via a screen of some sort; it’s how sense is made of the world.
Now from a leadership perspective, there are any number of implications of this 21st Century mind. Do our management styles change? How do we engage people not just now in 2014, but looking forward, towards the next decades. What will the implications be for leadership and management in the next 20 years? Of course, some things will not change; we are still deep down small groups of people huddled around a campfire hungry for a good story. But how that story gets told, who is involved with the authoring of it, and how it gets disseminated will likely be very different. And if Marshall MacLuhan was right and the medium is the message, then we’re in for a rather adventurous time.
One word that keeps coming up for me as I reflect with a 20th century brain on the 21st century is ‘options’. Options in how I get my stories, options in how I tell my story, options in audience for my story, options in who I see as authority. As leaders and managers then, I see us working away from the one “right” way; towards options in our workplaces. Command and control will work for short periods, for emergencies and for some teaching, but largely, we are called to explore options with each other. This one shift, I believe will have a profound effect on our efficiency models, dependent as they are on command and control and one right way. ‘Options’ based leadership will lead to more collaboration, more cooperation and more creativity.
So may this week be a week of discovering the options available to you and your team, and finding not the right way, but the best way forward for the time being.
   

 

Good morning, the last week of summer holidays here in Canada, and the back to school rush is in full swing. My advice, if you don’t have kids, don’t go shopping this week! And  of course for parents, students and teachers here in BC, our hopes are for a settlement in this frustrating work stoppage.
I have a friend named Bob. Bob sells the “Megaphone”, a ‘street newspaper’ in front of my local grocery store. http://www.megaphonemagazine.com/ I buy copies periodically, especially if there is an interesting article. The most recent article has a very interesting article called “Battling the War on Drugs; Inside Canada’s Overdose Crisis” that I highly recommend. But what got me thinking about leadership was in my horoscope on the last page Yes, my horoscope. Megaphone’s Horoscopes are periodically just quirky enough to stop me in my tracks. Virgo’s sign reads “A creative rut has taken hold. Art tip: reignite your childlike wonder by asking, at dinner parties, what would you rather have: a dragon or a beard?”
I think it is a great question; it’s big enough, it’s ambiguous, it’s the kind of question that comes out of left field and stops us mid thought. And I’m sure it would be a lot of fun at a dinner party.  And it is a great indicator of the source of creativity in our work. I suggest creativity is derived from questions, not answers. All too often we are expected to attend meetings with answers and not questions; that old school line ‘don’t come to me with problems, come to me with solutions’ comes to mind. The key, as we’ve learned from folks like Peter Senge and Peter Block, lies in the crafting of  good questions.
Specifically, avoid questions like, ‘here is our problem, what does everybody think?’ That’s a sure way to invite crickets into the meeting room. Rather, how about (stealing from Peter Block) what is the crossroads at which we find ourselves here? Or, (stealing from Juanita Brown) ‘if our success were completely guaranteed, what bold steps might we take here?’ These and other questions are often called “Powerful Questions” in the language of Co-Active Coaching. Here’s a list of good ones; http://www.thecoaches.com/docs/resources/toolkit/pdfs/31-Powerful-Questions.pdf
As you go through your week, spend as much time asking questions as you can, and you’ll find that the creativity in your team will begin to increase. And the more ambiguous the question the better; and let me know, what would you rather be, a dragon or a beard and why?