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Aloha! I'm taking a short break to relax and do some family business in Hawaii, and am so amazed at my good fortune! This really is a beautiful part of the world.  In one of my meetings this week, the conversation turned to social issues here on Ohau. For example, rents are very high in downtown Honolulu and Waikiki where many of the people on this island work. Public transit outside of downtown and Waikiki is at best servicable, and so if you work in housekeeping in one of the hotels, you may well find it best to have a car over a home, because you can sleep in your car, but you can't drive your home.

How might we imagine leadership in the face of such concerns, recognining full well that Vancouver, where I live has a huge shelterless community? Building on Parker Palmer's idea the learning is a communal act, what might it look like if those of us with permanent shelter engaged in co-active learning with those who do not have shelter. What could we learn from each other? What possibilities might emerge out of such a dialogue?

And to link this to our work as leaders in organizations, what role do our organizations play in the communities we serve? If our organizations are in fact persons under law, do they not then have ethical responsibilites in the community too? And how then do we act as leaders, modelling and supporting community based work? What is your role as a leader in an organization, inextricably linked to the community it serves?

I'll leave that for you to decide, and wish you all, Aloha.


Good morning, and I hope this finds you each well and rested after the weekend.

I've been re-reading the work of thinker, writer and education activist Parker Palmer in recent days. Palmer writes "…scholars now understand that knowing is a profoundly communal act. Nothing could possibly be known by the solitary self, since the self is inherently communal in nature." (Palmer, To Know as We are Known, EPub Edition March 2010). As I mentioned in Leadership Notes October 5 '09, I think there is an inextricalble link between learning and leading, that is, that a fundamental role of the leader is to create and/or maintain an environment where people, including him or her self, are constantly learning and growing. Palmer's note adds to this point. Leadership, as much as we like to think of the solitary self at the top of the organization chart, is in fact part of a communal act of governance. Leaders depend on followers; think about Ghandi's oft quoted line, 'there go my people, I must follow them, for I am their leader."

How do we allow for this fundamentally communal part of leadership when we are responsible for moving 'x' from point 'a' to point 'b' or making 'x' number of widgets in a presecribed time? That is, how do we manage to the standards, how do we make decisions in a timely fashion and still honour the communal nature of leadership? One practice is to be clear about the kinds of decisions we are making. There are those decisions that are necessarily made by the leader alone, where speed is of utmost importance and the need for buy in is at it's lowest. We might call these decisions, D1 decisions. At the other end of the continuum we have D5 decisions, where time is not very important, and buy in is absolutuely vital. Between these two are D2, D3 and D4 for decisions which require decreasing need for speed and increasing need for buy in. For example, in a D3 decision, the leader may say, "we have a choice of 3 possible directons, I need your recommendations on which of the three we'll choose. I'll make the choice, and to make the best choice, I need your recommendations." Clarity about which decisions are exclusively the leader's, and which are best made by the group will help ensure that we can manage to standards and create and maintain a learing environment.

I hope that your week is filled with opportunities for such clarity.

Good afternoon from a sunny and warm Vancouver! I hope this finds you well, and that you are enjoying the warmth of good companionship these days.

At a group coaching session this morning I was reminded of the importance of self knowledge in the real work of leadership development. People like me can teach you the mechanics, "the do's and don'ts" of management, but leadership is mostly about getting to know yourself, step, by step. in short, I can’t lead others, if I am not increasinlgy aware of who I am, what my strengths are, what learning I need to keep doing, what pushes my buttons, and a host of other introspective questions. Put another way, it is "all about you!"

I shared this story with the group this morning as an example. Almost 15 years ago I was working on a leadership program with a colleague (who we'll call Tim). Tim was a psychologist by trade, and a gifted coach and teacher. I was quite honoured to be in the class, and kept thinking, 'I could teach this stuff.' I chuckle now as I think about my enthusiastic ignorance! I approached 'Tim' and said, "I'd love to learn how to do what you're doing here, a 'train the trainer' kind of thing, I could learn the content and then deliver it to our clients."

He looked at me, straight on , and said, "Alisdair, people hire 'Tim', they don’t hire the content. Therefore I don't do 'train the trainers.'" I think of that moment often, I continue to learn from it, to this day. For our purposes, I think that what 'Tim' was saying at one level was he was hired not only because of what he knew about the subject, but because of what he knew about himself. I believe that to be the case in leadership more generally. Yes I can manage my way out many instances, but when the going gets tough, it's the people who best know themselves to whom we turn. How well do you know yourself?

May this week be filled with opportunities to learn more about who you are.


Good morning from Good Spirit Lake Resort, just outside of Yorkton, Saskatchewan. I trust your week has been as filled with adventure as mine has been.

I'm here teaching at a credit union directors' conference. This afternoon and this evening I'll be working with a group of directors on the role of the board in governing large corporate change. As luck would have it, a collection of articles I grabbed from my desk as I left for the airport had one that speaks, not so much to directors, but to managers and leaders in changing environments. (It's called "The Work of Leadership", By Ron Heifetz and Donald Laurie, and was originally published in December 2001, and republished by Harvard Business Review OnPoint in late 2008.)

I was struck by one paragraph this morning, "Followers want comfort, stability, and solutions from their leaders. But that's babysitting. Real leaders ask hard questions and knock people out of their comfort zones. Then they manage the resulting distress." What a powerful image.

Now I've been reading Heifetz's work, and he was a teacher of a teacher of mine, so I hold him in high regard. I would rather have the two final sentences read, 'Real leaders ask hard questions of themselves and their followers, and knock themselves and their followers out of their comfot zones. Then they mangage the resulting distress.' ('m perhaps not going to be hired as an editor for Harvard Business Review!)

All to often, I fear, especially in changing environments, we leaders assume that leadership is something we do to other people. The key to successful leadership we know though is that leadership is something we do with ourselves and with other people. Heifetz and Laurie do get this at a very deep level, calling on all leaders to a "learning strategy", and closing the article with an enigmatic, "One can lead with not more than a question in hand." wht I take away is that leadership is as much about me learning as it is about creating an environment where my team is learning. It is through learning together that the real change happens.

My this week be filled with learning adventures for us all!

Good morning to you all of you, and I hope you're all engaged in something passionate today. I have finally broken down and purchased an iPad! I am thrilled with it, in large part because of a very pleasant surprise, I have access to some business magazines and thinkers, because, "there's an app for that!"

One example will suffice, I've downloaded an app on micro strategy, albeit, published by a group who do micro strategy. Fair enough, and what struck me as I read through their overview documents was the sheer volume of adoption of so-called mobile technology. Their take is that we are in the 5th major technology cycle of the last 50 years; from the 1960's and mini-computing, through the 80's and personal computing, the 90's and desktop internet computing and now mobile technology. In the set "mobile technology" we have smart phones like the iPhone, the Nexus One and the Blackberry, as well as the iPad, and similar devices. The key finding is simply the amazing rate of adoption of mobile technology. There are 8 times as many iPhone and iPod Touch users  as there were AOL users 9 quarters after launch. There are about 60 million users of iPhones and iPod Touch right now. How big would that number be, if we added only Blackberrys

At least two fundamental questions arise for leaders. One how is our organization responding strategically to people being able to access data immediately, people being connected with each other over great distances, and so collaborating on decisions everywhere from grocery stores to factory floors, and an apparently ever increasing number of people using these devices in addition to and instead of desktop or even laptops? What's the impact of this 5th technology cycle on your business? Secondly, what's the impact on our leadership practices given that so many of us are now connected while mobile. What does performance management look like 5 years from now? How do we lead through a mobile device, or is that even possible? Or, might we recognize that as much as technology has changed our businesses and our economics, in the end we're still humans, needing to be honoured, respected and included in the group? We're still moved by story, still compelled to make a difference in our lives and in the lives of our children and grandchildren. We're still driven to find meaning in our lives and there may not be an "app for that." I am learning though to be pleasantly surprised by what is possible!

I hope each of us has an opportunity to be surprised this week!

Good afternoon from a spectacular day in Vancouver! I've been working with a client over the past few days as they wrestle with a couple of team building issues; specifically, what do we mean by a high performer? I've been reminded of Jim Collins in Good to Great, who says that the two factors commonly exhibited by the CEOs of the 'great' companies, and not as evident in the CEOs of the good companies were: humility and a drive to action. Then I came upon an interesting strudy, published in the June 2010 Harvard Business Review that tries to define "high potential employees."

That survey suggests there are four "intangible" factors:

1. A drive to excel, even at a cost to their personal lives
2. A catalytic learning capability, that transfers learning into productive action for their customers and organization
3. An enterprising spirit, a spirit of taking chances, including risky career moves
4. Dynamic sensors, that is "they have a feel for timing, an ability to quickly read situations and a nose for opportunity."

I find these points all rather interesting, and keep coming back to something one of this week's coaching clients said, "it comes down to making choices." To be successful as a leader, I need to make choices about the level of commitment I'm willing to give to the success of the organization, and still be true to what I hold as valuable in my family life. To be successful as a leader I need not only to learning all the time (and that requires humility), I need to be able to choose to apply the learning, to try things out, and to make mistakes as I learn. To be a leader I need to choose to take some risks, and to face challenges. To be a leader, I need to choose how to be when and where opportunities present themselves.

I wonder then, if our biggest competency as leaders is making and living with choices? What choices have you to make this week? How are you living with those choices? What did you learn from them? What difference did they make in the life of your organization, and for you team?

I hope your days are filled with opportunities this week, and that you relish the opportunity to make a choice, because most people on the planet don’t have that luxury.