"Conservatism is the worship of dead revolutions."
Clinton Rossiter

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

Word count this issue: 495

Estimated reading time:   2.20 minutes 



I’ve been thinking about the distinction between the outer life and the inner life. Riffing on Ken Wilbur’s distinction between stages and states http://www.kenwilber.com I think that the outer life (Wilbur’s stages) has to do with a person’s level of intellectual maturity. Most of us in our lifetimes have grown through a few stages, eventually seeing the limits of each previous stage and moving to the next.  So for example, I live in the 21st Century, as a straight white male in Canada, with a graduate degree. I am at getting to the top of my game as a facilitator, and well respected as a thinker and provocateur. I am a very different person compared to the person I was as teenager. That is my outer life.


My inner life (riffing on Wilbur’s state) is more about how much I live connected to self and others and the Whole? How much have I overcome my sense of separateness and superiority? How much do body, soul, and spirit work together as one? Have I moved beyond simply reacting? Can I act and think in pure inner freedom? Have I grown in my heart so that I can see beyond my own needs and desires, beyond simply making other people happy, or playing games, and towards a full and authentic sense of self and other. Not replacing my ego, but moving beyond simply ego.


Ideally outer and inner are balanced. The two will inform each other, but they are not always aligned. 


I believe inner life is about my leadership, outer life is about my management. You may have had a great boss who was a great leader; s/he walked the talk, had an authentic and deeply profound experience with other people, and seemed to be able to light up a room, simply by their presence. Or, you may have had a boss who was a great manager; s/he was smart, accurate, able to make decisions and problem solve very quickly and efficiently. They were well educated and had an authority based on their intellect. 


People who are adept in both state and stage are rare. The great leaders will often have great managers around them, and if not, soon whither on the vine as details (for example) start to get the better of them.  The great manager can be quick, smart and efficient but become stalled because the people around them soon realize it is all about them and their arrogance and self styled importance wears thin. 


In our journeys leading people, we need to be both good leaders and good managers. Check with yourself; where are you? Are you working on the outer work and leaving the inner work behind, or are you so thrilled with your inner learnings that the outer work is starting to stall? May this we start to find more balance.






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

Word count this issue: 470

Estimated reading time:   2.15 minutes 



To be very transparent, I have been convinced for sometime that long term, sustainable business success is driven by relationships. Your business might be financially successful for a short period of time by ignoring or damaging relationships, after all con artists thrive and then move on to the next mark. In the long term though, con artists fail.


I was pleased, to say the least, that Fast Company magazine http://www.fastcompany.com/3045453/hit-the-ground-running/how-the-wrong-people-get-promoted-and-how-to-change-it? agrees. This great article highlights data from Gallup who have been talking about the importance of relationships since the late 1990’s and the game changing research by Buckingham and Coffman http://www.amazon.ca/First-Break-All-The-Rules/dp/0743510119 


My own work on the 5 Thrives for the Digital (R)evolution includes the Gallup research, and more. Interestingly, while the Fast Company article notes that Gallup’s research shows five rare talents of great managers:


  • They motivate their employees.
  • They assert themselves to overcome obstacles.
  • They create a culture of accountability.
  • They build trusting relationships.
  • They make informed, unbiased decisions for the good of their team and organization. 


Furthermore the research suggests that this “combination of innate talent  is so rare that it exists in about only one out of 10 people. They also believe another two out of 10 people have some of these five talents, and can become great managers with the right coaching and development.”


I believe that there are good managers potentially in far more of us, and that with the right coaching and development in the following “5 Thrives”, more of us can become good, if not great managers.

  1. Become more self-aware; know your strengths and your challenges. Know your triggers and work on building your self-reflection. That will help you become more accountable to yourself and build trusting relationships with others.
  2. Become more other-aware, using empathy and exploration with others you’ll be more successful in motivating your employees, creating a culture of accountability and building trusting relationships.
  3. Work on perseverance; putting one foot in front of the other even in difficult times so that you can overcome obstacles
  4. Learn, learn, learn, and keep learning in order to overcome obstacles, motivate yourself and others and make informed unbiased decisions for the good of the team and the organization.
  5. Find the courage to know more about yourself, to know more about others, to persevere and to learn, and you’ll grow yourself, your team and your organization.


The 5 Thrives are not easy, nor are they for the faint of heart. They are however the path to becoming a better manager, and a stronger person.





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

Word count this issue: 633

Estimated reading time:   3.0 minutes 



During a wonderful conversation with my friend and colleague Dixie Black http://www.spiritualsobriety.com/Biography.html she was talking about how our expectations often limit what we see and experience. “If your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”


Consider for example that if the world is a dark and dangerous place in your view, then what you see and experience will be dark and dangerous. If you see the world as a sometimes beautiful and sometimes scary place, you will find beauty sometimes and be scared others. 


Dixie’s point though was somewhat deeper. Our experiences, our learnings over the year are built by our neural pathways; we learn by identifying patterns. Our ancestors knew to be afraid of all large animals with big teeth; they didn’t have to work out the relative danger of each one. The shadow side of patterned learning is that we also then miss the elements that are not included in the pattern.


For example, the night of the last Federal Election here in Canada, just about 4 years ago, I went to bed here on the west coast assuming that the worst that would happen is that the Conservative Party would win a minority government. (For those of you outside Canada here’s what a ‘minority government’ means: http://canadaonline.about.com/od/elections/g/minority.htm ) I based this assumption on the pattern of my friends (including Facebook friends). most of whom would be voting New Democrat or Liberal. I was then gobsmacked the next morning when the Conservatives had won a majority government. How was this possible?! It was possible because I had not been looking beyond my own patterned learning. It was possible because I had not explored other possibilities, looked for instances and patterns that were different than the ones I was comfortable with.


As important as patterned learning is, we need to look beyond our own patterns. More often than not, we cannot do that alone; our own patterns, our own neural pathways have their own ‘gravitational’ pull. Here are some tips and questions to spark new neural pathways, to seek out new ways of perceiving:


  1. Become friends with people with different political, moral or theological perspectives. Don’t defend your positions, and don’t judge theirs. Listen and learn with each other.
  2. When planning for the future, look forward to at least two possible outcomes. For example, if you are applying for a new job always set up a positive outcome to think about alongside the positive outcome of getting the job. Maybe it is a trip, or getting something done on your bucket list.
  3. Stop watching news channels, and don’t use Facebook for your news source. Both news channels and Facebook are setting the news agenda for you, albeit in different ways. For an extreme example, Fox News in the US is very clearly aligned with certain political sensibilities. That means that other news sources are moving to fill the white space in other political perspectives. Each on their own way are giving news to fit certain patterned thinking.  Facebook meanwhile is giving you the news you are interested in by employing algorithms that look at the patterns of your searches, likes and comments. The patterns in our brains are being leveraged to give us what we like. To see things outside of these patterns then are that much more difficult. In short, go outside your usual patterns for news gathering, watch or listen to different voices. 
  4. Learn something new once a week. Try something new, a new taste, a new song, a new idea, anything, learn something new.


May this week be a week of creating new neural pathways for each of us. 





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

Word count this issue: 438

Estimated reading time:   2.5 minutes 



Enroute between meetings this morning I was listening to a pod cast of Bill Moyers interviewing a teacher of a teacher of mine, Parker Palmer. Palmer was commenting on his challenge for us to live in the 'tragic gap" between reality and what we know to be possible through our own experience.  Too much reality leads to what he calls a "corrosive reality" and too much possibility leads to irrelevant idealism. This gap is tragic because if we made different decisions the end result poignantly might well have been better. We are always living in a tension then between reality and what might be.
For example, those of us who sit in meetings and speak incessantly about risk and dismiss ideas because something similar 'didn't work last time' fall into the trap of corrosive reality. Meanwhile those of us who sit in the same meeting and suggest that the problem we face will be solved if we just work 'better' or the solution is to hope that a behaviour will change if we let him or her 'know' we are concerned by making a joke, or using the silent treatment, are trapped in irrelevant idealism. That said, we need to have both reality and possibility to move forward, to learn, to grow. A small child learning to walk in reality keeps falling but sees the possibility of walking upright all around and knows it is possible. To not keep trying is a terrible choice, regardless of the risks inherent in the current reality.
Leadership is about supporting people (and ourselves) in the 'tragic gap". Ask yourself and your team 'reality' questions like, what is really going on here? What part of this is clear, what part is unclear? What evidence do we have for our definition of reality? Is what we are saying/believing true? What are examples that support our thinking? What is your assessment? What are the risks and what risk mitigations are in place? And very importantly ask yourself and your team 'possibility' questions like, what does your intuition tell you? what could we do? what are the possibilities we see if we use different lenses to explore the issue? what is just one more possibility? what will happen if we do, what will happen if we don't? what would if be like to live in the future now? what thinking is imprisoning us?  what  could we change that would make a difference? For what do we hope and of what are we afraid? (Thanks to Meg Wheatley for these last few). 
May this week be focused on living and working in the "tragic gap."



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

Word count this issue: 504

Estimated reading time:   2.45 minutes 


Hope is in Our DNA


I have a good friend, a very gifted consultant, who famously said once, ‘hope is not a strategy.’  http://www.pjosler.com/people.html  She is right. This is not a time for us to simply ‘hope’ that things will turn out well.  That said, hope is in our DNA; it motivates, invigorates, pulls, pushes and cajoles. It inspires, comforts, and tickles us.  Hope is entirely intrinsic; there is no pill, there is no button to press. 


The most effective leaders know this. The most effective leaders create environments where others find meaning, where other’s presence is valued and where others can make a difference.  Think about the teachers, the coaches, the managers you’ve had in your life; the best ones had confidence in you and your skills and abilities. They gave you hope and you then chose to build on it. One example from early in my career was my boss at the time asking me to go to a client site to teach a course on a subject I was only just learning myself. I remember standing between the two beds in the hotel room, the overhead transparencies (yes that long ago) spread out on one of the beds, as I rehearsed and prepared for the gig. She had confidence in me, she gave me hope and I haven’t looked back since. 


I am neither a techno-optimist, nor a techno-pessimist, I am both. The digital (r)evolution demands that we hold the two in tension; in the place that Parker Palmer calls the ‘tragic gap”. The ‘tragic gap’ is the place between hard reality and what we know is possible. This book is about how we might thrive through this (r)evolution, sitting uncomfortably in the ‘tragic gap.” The possible we know is that we can build a better world for our children and their children, and their children and beyond. 


In the English translations of ancient religious texts from the Greek, the same root pisteou is translated as both ‘trust’ and ‘believe’. This book then is about my trust and my belief in human kind to do the right thing most of the time. My trust and belief that we strive to be the best that we can be and that we thrive through adversity and pain. I am also keenly aware of the hard realities around us; this will not be an easy next 20 years. 


I trust and believe that there is an ethic of friendship and love that exists at our deepest cores and I believe after years of working with young women and men that people growing up now are smarter, better connected and more capable than previous generations. I believe then that as difficult as the future will be, there is hope. 


Excerpt from my forthcoming book, 5 Thrives for the Digital (R)evolution to be published by Fairwinds Press



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

Word count this issue: 375

Estimated reading time:   2.0 minutes 


I had the pleasure of hearing Bishop Melissa Skelton http://vancouver.anglican.ca/bishop speak this afternoon. Her point, broadly speaking, was that while we have important markers in our lives, like graduation, wedding, or in her example, ordination, the marker is recognizing something that has already happened. A wedding marks a public recognition of an existing love between two people. Ordination is the public recognition of role and responsibilities that the person has been growing into through discernment, exploration, education and challenge. Then there’s graduation.


I had a conversation with a friend the other day, who had discovered a picture of her graduation from college some 20 years ago. She is positively beaming in the photograph. Knowing a little of her history, she has every right to be. She did the two year program in three years as a single Mum, and while working full time. It was an important moment in her life, but what was really important was, in Melissa Skelton’s words, ‘the process.’ My friend was a different person in that picture than she had been 3 years before. Now, 20 years on; executive positions, entrepreneurial success and 3 books under her belt, the processes of life have created a brilliant, articulate leader, teacher and writer. Although the academic world would not necessarily recognize her books, teaching and adventures as the equivalent of a Masters, if not a PhD, I would put her up against any PhDs I know in her subject area. 


In the midst of our fear driven society we need to see the ‘check marks on the form.’ Those check marks however are simply recognizing that which has already happened. Clearly, if you have not done the work, if you have not done the process, you shouldn’t have the check marks. At the same time, the important thing is the process, not the check marks.



There is no other honest way of getting the check marks than going through process; learning, making mistakes, making amends and learning some more. Perhaps we need to spend a little more time considering process and not getting hung up on the markers.