"Life is like playing a violin solo in public and learning the instrument as one goes on."
Samuel Butler

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

Word count this issue: 323

Estimated reading time:  2:30 minutes


Hello from Winnipeg, where I am working with a client on a strategic planning session. Good work, great people and making a difference; I am very grateful.


I had the great honour of attending the retirement party for my brother-in-law, Paul Alofs, of the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation. It was a wonderful evening, for an amazing leader. Paul and his team over the last 14 years have raised a phenomenal $1.28 billion for cancer research and made the Princess Margaret Hospital one of the Top 5 cancer research hospitals in the world. It was an honour to be there to help he and my sister celebrate.


And as I said to another guest, I keep wondering why we wait for retirement parties and funerals to say such nice things about each other. (And I hope people have said nice things about Paul before Monday evening!) I also hope that people have said nice things about you this week as well. And if they haven’t they should! And I wonder have you said nice things about the people with whom you work this week? Have you said them to their face?


Three things are important to remember here:


  1. If you don’t tell me what I’m doing well, I do not know what to keep doing well.
  2. If all I ever hear from you is negative, I will begin to treat you as a foe, and pretty soon not pay any attention to what you are trying to tell me.
  3. People need to be assured, complimented, and feel seen by people whom they respect. You can make a big difference by simply seeing people and thanking them specifically for what they have done and learned over the last week.



Gratitude is vital for us, let’s make it more common in our workplaces.

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

Word count this issue: 424

Estimated reading time:  3:00 minutes


Last month, I referenced the book, An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization, by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey. I was enjoying listening to it, as I drove from Brandon to Winnipeg Another trip this past week brought me back to a prairie drive and I was listening to it again, and then a conversation with a coaching client the other day reminded me of their thinking. 


Kegan and Laskow Lahey describe three plateaus of adult mental development. In our early adult years (and these vary from person to person, but mostly in our 20s and 30s), we live with a ‘socialized mind.’ We are team players, faithful followers who seek direction. We show up and do the job. As we mature, perhaps into our 40s and 50s (remember we are all individuals so this may be different for you), we move into a ‘self-authoring mind.’ We have our own agendas, we learn about leadership as opposed to being driven by someone else’s agenda. We learn about getting things done through people, and we have our own compass and time frames. In our later years, we move into a ‘self-transforming mind’, where we find ourselves recognizing our common interdependence. We are more easily able to hold contradictions and view the world through multiple frames.


Each of these plateaus is distinct, representing a different way of seeing the world. While most adults will live within a ‘socialized mind’ plateau, fewer of us mature to being self-authors and fewer still mature into self-transforming minds. 


I believe that the wisdom we need in the coming decade is strongly related to to this third plateau: many more of us need to move more quickly towards self-transforming minds. Such self-transforming wisdom comes from the inner journey. Such self-transforming wisdom comes from connections with each other and from

having the courage to persevere in the midst of challenging and difficult times. Such self transforming wisdom comes from having the humility to keep learning and from recognizing and living into the deep interconnectedness of the universe. 

The amazing thing is that by working together, by learning together, by exploring together, looking at the quantum points between elder and young, male and female, black and white, science and art, socialized, self-authoring and self-transforming minds, we can plug into and build our collective wisdom. 


I wonder what you think?


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

Word count this issue: 517

Estimated reading time:  3:30 minutes


Greetings from Lakeview Resort on Hecla Island, Manitoba. It is crisp, clear and cold today, and an eagle just flew by. It is a good day.


Here in Canada, November 11 is known as Remembrance Day. It is 100 years ago this month that the Battle of Paschendale ended, with casualties on both sides numbering around 600,000, in the 4.5 month long battle. Violence continues to this day, in work places, in homes, on the street, in lands far away, and in small churches in Texas. 


And I’ve been wondering then about this idea of Remembrance Day. Why do we call is Remembrance, as opposed to Remembering Day? Is it just the syntax? I think in fact Remembrance is exactly the word we are after here. There is a Greek word that clergy learn in the first year of seminary. It is anamnesis. And the closest English word is “remembrance.” It is the word heard in most Communion Prayers in the Christian tradition, “do this in remembrance of me.” It is often linked with the ancient Hebrew word, zrk, a way of remembering that gives us insight into the present and the future, by making the past present.


And it is this sense of zrk, this sense of anamnesis, that I believe Remembrance Day is really all about. We are not to simply remember, not simply give platitudes. We are not simply to stand silently and offer prayers, or think about what someone did to you at work yesterday, or whatever it is we do in those two minutes of silence.  We are to learn and make a better future. Pay attention to the guns as they fire, they are bringing the past forward, they are bringing the terror into our cities and towns. And those guns and the silence is calling you and I to learn from those mistakes. Those guns and the silence are calling us to bring the past present so that we might learn the consequence of violence, the consequence of retribution and revenge, the consequence of betrayal and fear.


And so as leaders in our workplaces, what control to we have to prevent violence, prevent bullying, prevent fear from becoming the cultural norm? We have the power of modelling, of being leaders who care, who stand up for the victim, who are compassionate, and who hold each other accountable for not only the results, but how we get those results. We have the power of instilling cultures of kindness and mutual respect. And in doing so, we are building communities of kindness and mutual respect, and then countries where one day we might just be able to…


beat [our] swords into ploughshares,
    and [our] spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall [we] learn war any more;
4 but [we] shall all sit under [our] own vines and under [our] own fig trees,
    and no one shall make [us]  afraid; (Micah 4:3)



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

Word count this issue: 394

Estimated reading time:  2:30 minutes


Hello from the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia. We have come up for a few days of chores around our home here in Gibsons, interspersed with a few phone meetings and webinars. It is good to be here. And it has got me thinking about rest, what in ancient Hebrew is ‘sabbat’, or anglicized to ‘sabbath.’ 


I missed writing a Leadership Notes last week, because I was going full out, co-teaching a brain based coaching course. By the time I looked up, it was late Friday and I had missed my own deadline. And these past 7 weeks, have been metaphorically ‘harvest time’ for me, as the Fall often is. 


The ancient idea of sabbath is rest. And the neuroscience is backing up the importance of rest. David Rock and Dan Seigel developed a great model called the Healthy Mind Platter. http://www.drdansiegel.com/resources/healthy_mind_platter/  Our brains need sleep, physical exercise, focus time, connecting time, play time and linked to sabbath, downtime and time in. It is these last two that we often forgo, at our own peril. 


Downtime is rest, and taking a break. It does not involve soccer practices (play time), parties (connecting time) or exercise. It is literally sitting down, reading a book, watching an easily digestible show, or going for a leisurely walk on a beach (what I will be doing this afternoon). Your brain should not be taxed during down time.


Time in is contemplation, meditation, or contemplative prayer. It is not downtime. It is actually investing the time in contemplation, usually associated with a discipline like focusing on breathing, a mantra or rhythmic repeated prayers. It offers time to listen for the still small voice inside, and is a place where insights, given the right conditions are most likely to happen.


Both of these ideas are expressed in the concept of sabbath. And we need a bit of sabbath every week, if not more often. Sadly, we fall into traps and narratives about how important it is to be seen to be busy, and to be busy. 


I wonder then, how you are taking sabbath time; downtime and time in, for the good of yourself, your team and your family?



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

Word count this issue: 463

Estimated reading time:  3:00 minutes


Greetings from YVR, where I am safely ensconced before a flight to a gig. The snow is starting to fly in parts of Western Canada, and the business travellers have all got coats on. Interesting shift in the last week.


As regular readers will know, I’ve been thinking recently about networks. I’ve been wondering about how social media networks, like Facebook and Twitter and Instagram are metaphorically like a giant brain. 


Here’s what I mean. Your mind is a like a map; your thoughts, memories, ideas, worries, are mapped across your brain. Nodes, called neurons are connected with each other by synaptic connections, kind of like roads. There are between 75 and 100 billion neurons with something like 1000 trillion synaptic connections in the average brain. Your thoughts, memories, ideas, and worries light up various neurons and trigger reactions, or when we are thoughtful and reflective, responses. 


Facebook for example, has just over 2 billion active users. Think of each active user as a neuron. Then think of the links each active user has with his or her friends, imagine the links between 'friends' to be synaptic connections. So, many of the thoughts, memories, ideas and worries of each of your friends are then put up on Facebook, and they then light up other friends (or for the metaphor, other nodes/neurons).  And much like your brain, random thoughts, memories, ideas and worries start appearing. The image that keeps sticking in my mind is FB and social media are like the thinking and ruminating that happens every now and then at 2 am, when I can’t seem to get back to sleep!


In short, very little of the experience we have of social media is moving us forward. It is entertaining, compelling and fascinating, but it is not moving us forward.


As leaders, we need to be moving away from social media, except for entertainment, or for getting a particular message out into the network. It is not helping us move forward.


Rather than checking social media, here are three things you can do:


  1. Breathe. Take moment to breathe and get oxygen into your brain.
  2. Reach out and connect (phone, walk over) to a colleague for the 2 - 3 minutes you might be checking social media
  3. Do something creative, draw, doodle, write, play with an app like garage band.


I don’t think pulling yourself off social media completely is the answer, although that may be for some of us. Recognizing that it has been exquisitely designed to lure us into a marketplace of advertising and random thoughts, and making a different choice however, is becoming more and more important for all of us.

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

Word count this issue: 306

Estimated reading time:  2:00 minutes



Hello from New York City! My brain is full! I’ve just spent two days with my ‘tribe’ at the annual Neuroleadership Summit. An absolutely wonderful experience once more.


One profound insight, that has really got me wondering, came from a breakout group with a panel including Lisa Son, PhD. the chair of Psychology at Barnard College. https://barnard.edu/profiles/lisa-son Son argues that contrary to the worries of minds like Stephen Hawking about how AI was making computers more human, her worry is that we humans are becoming 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. She said, “have you ever met a humble robot?”


I am going to be very prescriptive here: assuming Dr. Son is correct, (and I am terrified that she is right) we are moving towards a new kind of slavery. Do everything in your power as leaders to stop, look at each person on your team, in your organization first and foremost as a human being, not a human doing. 


Here are three things to support you in this vital work:


  1. Every human brain is wonderfully creative, given even half a chance; created space for people to flex their brains.
  2. Every person has a complex story, give us opportunities to tell our stories and to listen to other people’s stories
  3. Take time every day to reflect on your own learning, and invite others to do the same. That way you will be more likely to value mistakes as opportunities to learn.



I wonder what you think? What connections are you making as you read these words?