"Managers manage for yesterday, because that is where they got their experience. Leadership is about tomorrow."
Theodore Levitt

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I read with interest a blog from Jeff Kehoe of Harvard Business Review talking about optimism. “What happens … when we don’t have enough optimism, … Businesses don’t get created, business investments and loans are witheld. Talented people don’t get hired…” (Optimism, Unfashionable Perhaps, But Necessary, 03.18.11)

One of the very real dangers in human endevours, be they personal or business, is when we find ourselves dwelling on the negative: we stagnate, we get stuck in fear, we often succumb to a victim mentality where risk mitigation is a polite term for hoping someone will “do something!”

Although I admittedly didn’t spend a lot of time paying attention in high school math, I do remember sine waves; those graphic representations of highs and lows. During the highs of business or personal success optimism is easy, almost too easy. It is in the lows that optimism is so challenging to grasp, but grasp it we must. Neither I nor Kehoe are talking here about a chirping, unrealistic, “everything’s fine” kind of optimism. Rather it is a deep knowing that there are good times and bad times, and that where there is life there is creativity and possibility. We need in business and in life generally to acknowledge the reality in which we live, and to know that as sure as a sine wave, bad times will follow good times, and good times will follow bad.

And most importantly, this deep, knowing optimism is not something that you can get from someone else. Yes, we can be encouraged by loved ones, affirmed by supporters, and even admired in some quarters, and those will help feed optimism, and even create a kind of surface level optimism at times. An optimistic spirit however comes from within, and needs to be cultivated from within.  It comes from acknowledging the points I’ve been raising in recent weeks; tough times need to happen in order for us to grow, facing our fears is a vital part of our development, and living into life humbly and honouring the fragility of life and relationships are all key. We see that as dark as life can be and often is, the possibilities out of growth and development,  the recognition of our own strength and power and that amazing depth of human spirit we find in the darkness, lead us to the inescabale conclusion that life is good. And out of that will come the spirit of optimism so needed in our lives and businesses today.

May each of us find that spirit within soon.


Good morning from AC 142 enroute to Toronto. I trust that the light streaming in the windows of the airplane is breaking through in your life as well. I’ve been reflecting on humility this week, triggered by three perspectives, personal, local and global. I want to link these to Jim Collins important contribution to leadership literature in Good to Great where he observes that the leaders in ‘great’ companies all share a ‘bias to action,’ and to this conversation, ‘humility’. Collins says that for him humility is where the leader looks out the window when things are going well, and looks in the mirror when things are not going well.
To build on that, here are the three humbling perspectives. First, I have been humbled by the capacity in me that is actually dark. All my life I have assumed that I was a nice guy, and what I have discovered is that I, like I suppose everyone else, have a very self-centred and even hurtful side. It has always been there, obvious to some others, but only recently to myself. My capacity for leadership is of course restricted by this dark side, but it is also enhanced as I work at accepting the darkness, as a part of me that is trying to express (poorly obviously) deep issues. Collins’ mirror may not reveal only light and strength, but a humbling darkness and weakness. Part of our journey as leaders is to respect ourselves, and that means knowing the good and the bad about ourselves, and learning to work with both aspects honestly. When my dark side appears, my brother, a very wise man indeed, has taught me about taking responsibility and not getting too hung up on how horribly I may have behaved, rather to ask the question, ‘what is the best thing to do next?’
Secondly, I have been humbled by the many email responses to last week’s Leadership Notes, inquiring about my health. One email in particular talked of how the other leader had faced his own ‘awful’ times and found “it taught me how important it is to grow your garden of friendships..” I am very fortunate to have not only a garden of friendships, but apparently a farm of colleagues and acquaintances. Thank you. Yes, it is important to look in the mirror and do the “inner work”, and eventually then we need to connect with our garden of friends if only to hear another perspective, to hear words of challenge and encouragement, and to know that in the end it is the love of a friend that makes all the difference.

Thirdly, like many on the planet, I have been watching the images of the tsunamis striking Japan. Here’s a humbling thought folks, you can have the best risk management planning, the most up to date business resumption plan, but when you’re left shivering in a blanket looking at the splintered 2x4’s that were your family store, you begin to understand that economics and business are merely vehicles to help you and your family eat and stay warm. The really important parts of life are the feel of a partner’s foot against your leg on the sofa, the laughter of private family joke, (at least we think we’re funny!), or the solace of forgiving and being forgiven, just to name a few. However busy you are today, touch base with someone you love. The business will look after itself, or not. What is important is your partner and family.

May each of us be humbled again this week.

Good morning from a cold (-2 at the airport) Vancouver! An arctic air mass has descened for one last kick it seems. I hope you are warm, wherever you are.
The week before last, I had the good fortune to share a cup of tea and a conversation with Dr. Rod Chamberlain of the Kamehameha School in Hawaii. The school is funded in part by the lands left to it by the last of the Hawaiian Royal Family, and they’re work is focused on teaching and enhancing Hawaiian culture and language for Hawaiian children across the state. An important enterprise, especially give how other first nations children have been treated over the last centuries.
In our conversation I made a joke about being a ‘howlie’, a derogatory term used by Hawaiian people to refer to non-Hawaiians. Rod asked if I knew where that word came from, and when I said I didn’t, he explained. When two native Hawaiians greet each other, they will touch foreheads, and breathe in and out, in essesence breathing in each other’s breath, or ‘ha’. When the first Europeans arrived on the islands they wanted to greet by shaking hands. (Shaking right hands in European culture means that neither of us has a weapon and are therefore friendly). This behaviour, for the Hawaiians was bizarre and alien, and so they began to refer to the Europeans as ‘ha ole’, ‘without breath.’ Over the centurie the words were contracted and anglisized into ‘howlie’.
Now upon further reflection, I have been thinking about how often we get feedback that we might at which we might first react negatively; I might be hurt to be called ‘howlie’ for example. But if I take the time, and do the reflection and analysis, I might find a deeper truth about myself in that feedback. I’ve learned to call this the “Elephant Principle.” I need a wise nose with which to investigate, big ears with which to listen, and thick skin because I may not always like what I hear. It is by engaging with the negative feedback I receive that I may well move much closer to being the leader I want to be.
May this week be filled with such opporuntities for us all.

Good morning from an overcast Vancouver. The good news is that there are buds on the trees and small shoots appearing in gardens; spring is creeping her way into winter’s hold.
I’ve been doing some studying recently on employee development, keeping my saw sharp as it were, and I have uncovered a great metaphorical equation about how we prioritize our time as leaders.  It’s from the work of Robert Simons and Antonio Davila, published in April of 2005’s Harvard Business Review. The article is called “How High is Your Return on Management?” In it, Simons and Davila offer the following equation:


That is ROM (Return on Management) = PER (Productive Energy Released) over MTAI (Management Time and Attention Invested). Put narratively, the effectiveness of my management is directly related to the amount of time and attention I put into a particular employee, to gain productivity. If I put a lot of time and attention into a particular employee and that time and attention is not impacting productivity, wouldn’t I be more effective putting my time and attention towards employees who are going to be that much more productive?

Anecdotally, my wife (the brains of the operation) is a choral singer who sings with the Christ Church Cathedral Choir, here in Vancouver. This is the best choir of it’s kind in the country, and would be in the top 25 such choirs globally. They are so good, that they are no longer able to enter the CBC Choral Competiion held biannually. After their last competition, sitting in a pub celebrating (they are an Anglican choir), I was sitting next to the Director of the choir. I asked, how do you do this? How do you take this group of performers and make them so good? His reply was simple and quick; “I focus on the stars.” As we discused this, he explained that he had started with a group of stars, a group of solid performers, and some underperformers. He chose to focus his attention on challenging the stars and the solid performers, rather than spending lots of time trying to develop the underperformers. The result? Soon enough the choir was engaged, working hard, and having fun. The underperformers began to either increase their engagement and skills, or self-select out. (There are still former choir members who think the director is mean and awful, but frankly that says more about them, than it does of him.)

I think this speaks volumes about Simons and Davila’s work. Where I put my attention and time as a leader is a very important question. The literature and my own experience and observation agree, focus more on the stars and the solid performers, engaging and challenging them. You will have to spend some time with the underperformers, but that is about helping them work up, or out of the situation. By focusing most of your MTAI on the stars and solid performers, you’ll find that the PER increases and thus your ROM increases. And that is all good!

Here’s to an effective and productive week for us all!


Good morning from a still overcast Vancouver, a bit of a change from the east shore of Ohau, where I have been for the past 8 days or so. This break gave me some time for the hardest part of leadership, ‘inner work’. Amongst other practices, I found myself picking up “What Matters Most” by James Hollis http://www.jameshollis.net/books/matters.htm. Hollis, is a Jungian analyst with a string of very readable and helpful books. One of the chapters this book is “That We Live Verbs not Nouns.” In it, Hollis argues that our ego:

“…naturally has a preference for certainty over uncertainty, predictabiity over surpise, clarity over anarchy, decision over ambivalence, and so on. Thus this Nervous Nellie ego flits about trying to make everything work, slapping her head, boxing her neighbours, obsessed with staying in charge. As part of her agitated agenda, Nellie seeks to live in a world of nouns, comforting nouns, that is fixed identities, counters on a table to be moved at will, predictable entities that can be controlled, maneuvered, and contained. And all the while, Nelly really swims in a sea of verbs. That is not things fixed, but things happening. And Nellie, tripping over this fact time to time, grows all the more unsettled, anxious, kerfuffled and flits about even more.” (Hollis 95-96) 

As part of our collective and individual leadership journeys, Hollis challenges us to live into the sea of verbs, because to my thinking, to try to lead in a world of nouns is kind of like trying to control a surfing wave!

So what might that look like in your organization? Well, first we human beings are not simply human doings. We are nouns and there is the grace and vitality in each of us But we must be so very careful of having our naming of something or someone restrict them to a particular role for our benefit, in Hollis’ profound image, “counters to be controlled, maneuvered and contained.” My colleague or direct report is not my pawn because they have a particular title or noun in the organization. In short, my ability to ‘order’ an individual is severly limited. I can have clear expectations and accountablities, but I cannot order someone around without it causing great harm to the all important relationship. In a particularly embarassing moment in my own development as a leader and manager, I once said to a direct report, quite seriously, “make it so”, trying to emulate Captain Jean Luc Picard from Star Trek The Next Generation. Thankfully he came to me later and gave me some feedback, and asked that I never do that again! (So far, I have not.)

Our team mates, our work partners, even our competitors in the organization are all people, and in that sense are nouns, but they are also verbs, people that behave and happen, grow and develop. So, when a direct report is not meeting the agreed upon standards, our focus is not on making them behave in a certain way, as if they were a monopoly piece, they will behave as they choose to behave because they are a person. Our focus must be on creating the environment where they are more likely to choose to behave in a way that adds value to the organization and the people it serves. We do that by caring, inspiring, challenging, pushing back when appropriate, setting clear boundaries based on our organization’s mission and values, and holding each other accountable for our behaviours. We do that by listening more than advocating. We do that by building trust and respect by giving trust and respect. We do that not by being our ego’s Nervous Nellie trying to control the world, but by living into a world where people will behave in honourable and healthy ways when we treat them honourably and healthily.

Here’s to a week of action and honour!

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Good morning from a rainy winter’s day in Vancouver. In conversation last evening with a friend I was reminded of an important distinction; the difference between a meeting and a briefing. I suppose I first encountered it 15 or so years ago when all of the employees of the division that I worked for at the time were called to a ‘meeting.’ Two people from head office called the meeting, and after some preliminary announcements to those of us on the management team, we were informed that we would all be laid off in 6 months time. A most curious thing occurred; some people began to debate and discuss the other options that from their perspective needed to be considered, and frustratingly, the two people from head office actually started to debate the relative merits of the other options with those people, in fact increasing the pain and frustration felt by all concerned. The lesson? This was not a time for a meeting, this was a time for a briefing.
Now, briefings can be and should be about good news as well as bad news. They can be status updates from each member of a team, or just the leader, they can be announcements about change, about new directions, clear direction and introducing new staff and leaders. Meetings are most effective when they are focused on problem solving, brainstorming, team building and creative thinking. A good rule of thumb is that in a briefing the conversation is limited to clarifying and understanding the content disclosed, and then we go back to work to perhaps implement, whereas in a meeting the conversation is about working with and modifying the content, so that we can return to work with a solution in hand, some new ideas, a stronger team, and/or some creative possibilities. Put another way, at a briefing, we may discover the need for a meeting for some of us attending the briefing, and once we have completed the meeting, we may return to brief the others on what we discovered or decided.
May this week offer times for briefing and for meetings, but not at the same time!