"If you go to your grave without painting your masterpiece, it will not get painted. No one else can paint it. Only you."
Gordon McKenzie

Get Leadership Notes by Email

Good morning from a grey day in Vancouver, although we are promised sun later in the weekend, so I am optimistic!
I’ve been reading a recent issue of Strategy+Business (www.strategy-business.com) and in particulr an interview with Edgar Schein of MIT about corporate culture. In it Dr. Schein explains that simply announcing that there is a new corporte culture, or a new set of values and then expecting people to move into it is a waste of time. Culture changes when behaviour changes. He says, “you solve business problems by introducing new behaviours.”
I’m reminded of two examples from what I’m sure are common personal issues. First, in a family conflict, as we all know, it’s not the words that count, it’s the actions. So if my Blackberry is attached to me 24-7 and I’m responding to emails on a Sunday afternoon, saying to my angry partner, “I’m sorry” might placate him/her for the moment, but it does not solve the problem. Putting my Blackberry away this Sunday, and then making that a weekly habit, will have a far more lasting effect, and may well change the ‘culture’ of our relationship. Similarly, if I want to get fit, simly going out and buying some LuluLemon outfits, and walking around the mall in them may be a good start, but I actually do have to change my behaviour and go to the gym, or start walking a half hour every day, to make it a habit, and to actually become fit.
The same is true in our organizations. If there is a problem with tradiness, simply having a staff meeting and saying, “let’s all try to be here on time” is not going to solve the problem. If however I say to someone who has come in late, “the standard here is that you are ready to work at your station at 9 am. What are you going to do differently tomorrow to ensure you meet that standard?” I’m more likley going to see a change in their behaviour, and following up with increasingly firm conversations if the tardiness continues, or sincere acknowledgements if they are on time, will go much farther in enforcing the expected behaviour, and thus a culture where people do in fact value timeliness.
May we find ourselves making a difference and home and at work by changing our behaviours, one small step at a time.
Good morning, and hopefully spring is making her way into your world today.
An interesting article in the December 2010 issue of Training & Development magazine caught my eye recently. Looking at research by Sirota Survey Intelligence (www.sirota.com) the article notes the following key drivers of employee commitment and retention. The top five drivers are apperently:
1. I feel my career goals can be met at this company
2. I feel a sense of belonging at work
3. My work gives me a sense of accomplishment
4. I am paid fairly
5. Senior leaders treat employees as valuable assets
So many business gurus have been making the same argument; employee retention and engagement is a question of hearts, not brains. Our challenge is that four of the top five are intrinsic, internal perspectives on the part of the employee. As a leader I can create all the opportunities for growth I can, but it will always be the employee who decides whether there is enough opportunitiy for their own goals and accomplishments. I can create as safe and welcoming a place as possible, but it will be the employee who decides if they belong or not.  I can create a culture that honours and respects the contrinutions of each individual employee, but it is they who decide how valuable they feel.
And herein lies a fundamental problem, I say yes we have to create and enhance organizations so that career opportunities are there, that people may feel as though they belong, that they can feel that they are accomplishing something, being paid fairly, and are making valuable contributions, AND, we have to recognize and honour that we are running adult organizations, and not nursery schools. Adults make their own decisions aware of the consequences and opportunities therein, adults are entitled to their own pain, adults know they are valuable not because someone tells them that, but because they feel it within themselves, they already know they are making a difference in their world.
Many of these surveys, in my humble opinion, imply that it is the organization that has all of the power around an employee’s engagement and satisfaction, when in fact the only person who can make me feel engaged and empwered is me. The challenge for us as leaders then is to create environments where I’m more likely to bring my own engagement, to bring my own power to the workplace. I’ll do that most likely in a place that treats my engaged and powerful self with respect and dignity.
May this week be filled with opportunities for each of us to honour our own engagement, our own power.
Good afternoon and I hope this edition of leadership notes finds you well and working at your best.
I’m presently sitting in the Air Canada Lounge at Regina airport. This small lounge has a TV tuned to a Canadian news channel and a show with two pundits, one right wing and the other left wing, debating, rather loudly, various points around taxation, elections and various other issues. Meanwhile I have spent the past two days working with a great group of managers from credit unions here in Saskatchewan, and one of the main points we discussed was the importance of strong relationships between a manager/leader and his/her immediate reports.
I’ve been thinking that if television is any reflection at all of our culture, those of us who believe strong relationships are key are facing an uphill climb! It seems that the way people are to behave in conflict is to win at any cost, to combat, to fight, to argue, to meet in the marketplace of ideas and keep harping on a position until by attrition, volume or exhaustion, a winner is declared. But such “world wrestling federation” examples of relationships are not accurate, nor healthy models for us to use.
The healthiest relationships include conflict, but managed, honoured and respected conflict. Engaging in conflict is one of the key ways that we learn from each other. And the key to such learning is humilty; approaching a conflict with a position, fair enough, but recognizing in most situations, I may not have all the answers, and there may be more here for me to learn. Or approaching conflict, recognizing that beneath my position are my interests, and by articulating my interests, and listening careful to the other’s interests, we may find much more in common than our respective positions at first suggest.
This week, I hope that we each may find ourselves in healthy conflict, and in that place, find learning and or common ground to move us and our organizations forward.

Good afternoon and I hope that today you take some time for yourself amidst the noise and haste of life.

I was reminded of a great old joke yesterday. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson go off for a weekend camping trip. After a day of fishing and hiking, a nice campfire dinner and a bottle of wine, they retire for the night. A few hours later Holmes asks Watson, ‘Watson, are you awake?’

Watson groans, ‘I am now.’

Holmes asks, ‘tell me, what do you see above us?’

Watson replies, ‘I see the stars.’

‘And what does that tell you?’

Watson says, pulling himself up on one elbow, ‘Astronomically, I see the North Star and know that we are in the Northern Hemisphere, astroglogically, Jupiter is in the 7th house, chronologically, I make it to be about 3 am, and meteorlogically, I say we’ll have a clear morning. What do you think of that Holmes?’

‘Well, yes all of those are true, but you’re missing an important fact Dr. Watson.’

‘Yes, Holmes, what is it?’

‘Someone appears to have stolen our tent.’

Sometimes, in our race to find new methodologies, innovative ways and means, and perhaps even to try to impress ourselves or others we miss the obvious. When it comes to managing and leading people, it is frankly the obvious, or dare I say, the ‘elementary’ that is key: treat people the way you would like to be treated; try to understand first, then to be understood; silence is your friend, and people really want only four things; to belong, to accomplish something, to be able to make their own choices in life, and to have fun. All the rest is just commentary.

May we each take the time to find and act on the obvious this week.

Good morning and I hope this edition of leadership notes finds you well and engaged with the world.
I was reminded at lunch yesterday with a friend of the important model of communication that distinguishes between information and meaning. For example, our world is filled with information, so much in fact that it is often rightly called “data smog.” However, that information simply exists, inertly perhaps, until someone applies meaning for themselves to it. Your company’s annual report, with it’s financial reports, reflections from the Chair and the CEO, beautiful photographs of happy staff and the like, is information that sits on a coffee table in the vestibule. Once someone picks it up, and starts to read it, and to make sense for themselves of it, then meaning gets applied. And what’s most fascinating is that each of us will apply our own meaning to the information. Depending on my competencies, level of interest, social context , and importantly, my financial literacy. I will likely derive meaning from the Annual Report differently from someone else.
The same model can be applied to our interpersonal connections at work. Depending on my level of what I call interpersonal literacy, I will likely derive meaning differently from someone else in the same situation. In their helpful book, “Leadership and the Sexes”, Michael Gurian and Barbara Annis note how chemicals impact how different genders respond to stress. So, as a male, I will respond more aggressively or defensively as I get triggered into a ‘fight or flight’ response. A female in exactly the same situation in the office may well get triggered into ‘tend and befriend.’ Now, thinking about information and meaning, without interpersonal literacy, if I act agressively, pushing my way through a meeting for example to get my point across, some of my female colleagues may attach meaning like I’m being a jerk, or even wonder and discuss after the meeting, “what’s wrong with Alisdair, he’s become such a jerk recently.” Or if in the same stressful meeting, a female colleague wants to defend a person in the room whom my aggression may have hurt or pushed aside in some way, I may derive meaning that she is ganging up on me, “if you’re not with me, you’’re against me” kind of thinking.
However, when I have increased my interpersonal literacy, I might recognize in the stressful situation, that I have been triggered and rather than fight or flight, I might take a couple of deep breathes and ask myself, “what is the right thing to do next?” Or if I am triggered and I see a female colleague start to defend someone, I might ask myself, how has my behaviour triggered this in her? Similarly, if I am a woman and I see a man behaving aggressively, take a deep breath and recognize that this is not about me personally, or someone else personally, this is about the man being triggered. Often the best thing to do is to speak with him privately afterwards, asking about what he found so frustrating in the meeting?, what might the impact be of his behaviour on others in the room? what did he want to have happen?
Interpersonaly literacy won’t make meaning completely clear or eradicate conflict, but by increasing it as leaders, we will be able to manage our own roles in conflict that much more effectively. May each of us find some time to learn more about ourselves this week.

Good afternoon and I hope that today brings you a deep sense of accomplishment in at least one aspect of your life.

I was speaking to a friend who is experiencing a tough time at the moment, and in the conversation recalled a wonderful and profound learning moment. From a leadership perspective and a personal one, there are times when we must let people get on with their own journey, we have to let them do what they have to do, even if it causes them and even us pain and struggle. Each of us, as a friend of mine says, is entitled to our own pain.

The learning moment happened a couple of years ago, but only really became clear in the past few days. While on a family vacation in the Aegean Sea, my dearest friend and I would often go for a run along the quay, across the sea shore and up into the hills. To this day, we cannot believe how high into those hills we would run in quite warm weather. As we returned to sea level, across the shore and to the quay again to complete the run we decided on the last day that we would just keep running off the end of the quay and into the sea. We hemmed and hawed for a couple of weeks, and finally on the last day, as we rounded the last corner onto the quay, my friend said to me, “I’m going for it!” Not to be out done, I said, “Let’s do it!” And so for that last 500 meters or so we pushed ourselves, feet pounding, hearts racing (we’d already done about 10 km), we literally ran full speed off the end of the quay, yelling as we did and hit the very cold water, woooosh! It was an amazing experience, full of laughter, exhilaration, pride, and companionship.

I started up the rocks, and slipped a couple of times on the seaweed, and then pulled myself, obviously soaking wet onto the concrete quay. I turned around and saw my friend slipping herself as she grasped for purchase on the rocks. I started down and held my hand out. Without looking at me she said, “I’ll do this myself!”

Now at the time, I admit my nose was a little out of joint for a second or two, but I realized that this was important for them, and was not about me. It was only very recently that I realized the very best support I could be was to simply be present, even to witness, and honour that my friend had accomplished something very cool, on their own terms. Sometimes the best leader or friend we can be, is to let those closest to us make their own way, and honour and be proud of their journey.
May you find a way to give someone room to make their own way, on their own terms this week.