"In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me and by that time no one was left to speak up."
Martin Niemoller

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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: 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.


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

Word count this issue: 339

Estimated reading time:  2:30 minutes


Greetings from AC8570, enroute to Regina. This is my last trip of the year, and the last Leadership Notes for 2017.


I’d like to thank each and everyone of you for your continued support and engagement with these notes. 2018 promises a new format as I’ll add an audio version (assuming all goes well in the pilots) so that you can take a few minutes to listen, or read Leadership Notes. I’m looking forward to your feedback and ideas as I roll that out early in 2018.


For this week’s wonderings, I was inspired by my coach and spiritual director. In a session he noted that there was an interesting twist in the translation (and you know how I love words!) of the word ‘meek’ ancient texts like The Sermon on the Mount. (Matt. 5-7) The line “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”,(matt 5:5) is an example. The word in Greek that we translate as ‘meek’ is praus. This word usually refers to ‘power under control’, like a light wind, or a slow moving river. Both the wind and the river have great power, but in their quieter formats they have are compelling and comfortable. We know they have power, but it is under control and safe.


What do you think? We have this sense of ‘meek’ as quiet and almost afraid, but in its original sense it was anything but afraid. Rather it was power under control. I’d love to know what connections you make about the exercise of power in leadership. Can you think of leaders who manifest power under control and those who manifest power out of control? Who would you rather work with? Which one are you?



Happy Holidays to each of you and to your families and friends. May 2018 bring much joy, and power under control into your practice and life as leaders.

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

Word count this issue: 430

Estimated reading time:  3:00 minutes


Good morning from the Sunshine Coast, where the winter rains are settled in and the fire is humming in the corner of the living room. 


We’ve moved our “headquarters” back here for the season, and between phone meetings, coaching sessions and webinars, I’ll be getting the house in order while my ‘significant other’ is working in far flung parts of the continent for the next couple of weeks. All of this has got me thinking about the coming year.


I wonder what you are planning to learn this coming year?


All too often when invited to think about the future, we go right to our planned accomplishments and results. Interestingly, the psychological and neuroscience research is pointing to the importance of learning. We are invited to engage with life from a growth mindset. https://www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve  


Now each of us fall on a continuum between a fixed and a growth mindset, and we move back and forth, depending on the situation. When we are in a fixed mindset, we hear ourselves say things like, “I can’t do that”, “I’m no good at math”, “I’ve never been good with people” or, “I can’t sing.” We believe that talent and intelligence are fixed and we are, in the immortal words of Lady Gaga, “born this way.” At the other end of the continuum (recall that we are all somewhere on the continuum and we move back and forth depending on the situation), is when we are in a growth mindset. In a growth mindset, we hear ourselves say things like “I know this will be tough, but I’ll try”, “With some effort, I could learn math”, “I’d like to be better with people” or “I’m going to learn to sing.” 


Two key elements here; first, we can consciously choose a growth mindset. We can recognize in our own language and particularly the self talk we hear inside when we are in a fixed mindset, and ask ourselves, “what would it look and sound like if I had a growth mindset here?” And secondly, it’s about progress, not performance. I am learning guitar, I am not yet a maestro. I am learning forgiveness, I am not yet a master. I am learning love, I am not yet the love expert. 



So, as the winter rains and snow begin, what are you planning to learn in the coming year?


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

Word count this issue: 417

Estimated reading time:  3:00 minutes


Good morning from foggy Vancouver. I was driving back into Vancouver from our home on the Sunshine Coast earlier this week and was listening to Garth Brooks. In a short clip Brooks spoke of a hero of his who had taught him the importance of being ‘authentically me';  a kind of this is who I am, take it or leave it. 


It is an ethic that shouts about the importance of the individual, and it is very common in our society.  Baby, I was born this way! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xl0N7JM3wZk 


As amazing and freeing as the idea is, I’d like to offer that there is a shadow side to it as well. Saying “I am who I am , take it or leave it” can lock us into stagnation as people. We humans are wired to grow and develop; as infants into toddlers, as toddlers into ‘little kids’, into pre adolescents, adolescents, young adults, and adults. And then, we are still wired to keep growing, to keep becoming! I may well have said “I am who I am” at the age of 38, but I know that I am not the same ‘I am’ at 58, and I hope that I will not be the same ‘I am’ at 68, or 78, or 88.  


Perhaps rather saying “I am who I am”, we might say, “I am who I am becoming.” Becoming is so much more than being. Becoming implies growth, learning and developing into the people we can be.


And there is an interesting link here to how we think about a Higher Power. In the famous story from Exodus as Moses encounters the Divine in the Burning Bush, Moses asks the Divine, ‘what shall I call you?’ The answer in Hebrew (with English letters) is YHWH, which is most often translated as “I am” or perhaps a little more accurately,  “I am who I am” An equally valid translation is interestingly , “I am who I will be.” So even in our western thinking about Divinity over the last 4000 years, we’ve been working between “I am who I am,” and “I am who I will be.” 



Perhaps it is a bit of both; today I am, and I am ok with that, and tomorrow, I will be perhaps a little more grown up and I’m ok with that too.


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.