"Do not try to do the great things; do the little things with love."
Mother Teresa

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

Word count this issue: 188

Estimated reading time:  1.30 minutes


Greetings from Unity, Saskatchewan. The sky is huge, the air crisp and cool, and the work interesting and engaging. I am very fortunate. This is also my last out of town gig for 2015. It has been a good year.

I know there are still a few more weeks until the New Year, but I wonder if you have begun, like me to reflect on this past year as a leader?

Many of you will know about “The 4 Questions”  I’ve been using for years now at the end of each day. You can use the same format, but reflect on the past year.


  • What went well this year?
  • Where did I mess up this year?
  • How will I make amends? (recognizing I may not be able to make amends at this time, so what might I pay forward?)
  • For what/who am I thankful this year?


As leaders we must always be working on our self-awareness, and The 4 Questions are a great step forward.

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

Word count this issue: 400

Estimated reading time:  2.45 minutes


The world is filled with examples of terrible acts of violence; Paris and Beirut just last week, unarmed young African American men gunned down in American streets by police officers, and countless acts of violence committed against women across the planet every day, are just three that come to mind. While there are many explanations offered by pundits and experts, there is a common theme; violence is often a reaction to fear. People afraid of losing their status, afraid of uncertainty, afraid of losing their ability to make choices for themselves, or loss of community, or afraid of injustice, and wanting to right a wrong.


In our workplaces, although not as often places of physical violence, fear plays a role in creating emotional violence and conflict. The more I feel that I am respected, the more certain about the future I can be, the more choices I can make in how I do my work, the more included I am in the team, and the more fairness I witness, the less afraid I will be. The less afraid I am, the more creative, innovative, and engaged in the work I will be.


And our role as leaders is to create space for the people we work with to be creative, innovative and engaged in the work. It behooves us to lessen the fear that creeps stealthily or overtly around our organizations. Here are three simple ways to lessen fear:


  • 1.   Tell the truth. People can handle the truth. It gives them certainty, and a foundation from which to work into the future.
  • 2.    Acknowledge people. Notice them, say hello. I recall a ‘celebrity’ academic reaching out his hand and introducing himself by first name to the conference sound technician before we shared a stage together. The three of us were now in this gig together. It was a powerful moment as the sound tech was grinning from ear to ear as he left the ‘green room’.
  • 3.   Explain your decisions. People may not always like your decisions, but when you show them that you have made a reasonable and fair decision, they will be more likely to find their own way to reach a consensus in time.


May this week be one of reducing fear in our workplaces, communities and around the world.   



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: 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: 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: 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.