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"Cuando el caballo esta muerto, dejalo. [When your horse is dead, get off it.]"
Anonymous

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Good afternoon everyone, I trust that all is well in your world. I note with a great admiration that Mr. Obama has succeeded where many previous American Presidents have failed, and passed into law a healthcare reform bill this morning. Congratulations to all of our American cousins, and to the future generations of Americans who will benefit. I also acknowledge that this uncharted territory for the US and her great people. I was struck then by the Facebook status update (cut and pasted below) of my 12 year old niece :

"FEARLESS is not the absence of fear. it's not being completely unafraid. to me, FEARLESS is having fears. FEARLESS is having doubts. lots of them. to me, FEARLESS is living in spite of those things that scare you to death. FEARLESS is falling madly in love again, even though you've been hurt before. FEARLESS is getting back up and fighting for what you want over and over again."

The words are from a young musician, not much older than my niece, Taylor Swift. (I had to look her up on Wikipedia!) Ms. Swift has written a very powerful challenge that all of us, of any age, would be wise to attend. Consider "fearless is living in spite of those things that scare you to death." We each face change, at a national, corporate familial or individual level most every day. Many of these changes require great courage. I have had conversations with everyday people who have lived "fearlessly" in spite of the those things that scared them to death. In the past 24 months I have met courageous people who have had the following experiences:

Learning they've lost their job
Learning they have cancer
Learning their child has been assaulted
Learning their child is dying
Learning they are moving to a new land, far from family and friends.

Each of these people was afraid. Each of these people had fears. And each one of them was fearless because they lived, in the grandest sense of the word, in spite of the sometimes terrifying presence of job loss, disease, danger, death, and transient work lives. Each one of them continues to laugh, continues to love and continues to be the best person they can be.

I hope that you have an opportunity to be 'fearless' this week, and to live this week with courage, dignity and love. And my our American cousins live fearlessly into this uncharted territory.

 

Good morning, and I trust this edition of Leadership Notes finds you well.

I've been thinking about the importance of 'story' this past week, in part because of the sermon preached by The Ven. Dr. Ellen Clark-King on Sunday at Christ Church Cathedral here in Vancouver. http://www.cathedral.vancouver.bc.ca/news_info/sermons/2010_0314.htm  Ellen does a masterful job unpacking the great story of 'The Prodigal Son'.

I have been thinking about the stories of our organizations and for ourselves. (If you really want to be stopped in your tracks, consider, what stories do your children tell about you?! That's for another time perhaps!) To the subject at hand, what are the stories our customers tell about us? What are the stories our employees tell about working in our organization? What stories do our team mates tell about us? What are the stories we tell about our selves?

But these questions, are really only the beginning. As leaders, we are more and more becoming responsible for the story of our team, or organization; what is important to us? what direction are we headed? why are we doing what we're doing? are all questions that stories answer. For example, in catching up with a friend, he told me that his company had moved into a related line of business. Now the related line of business was unpredictable, and anyone who had an experience in it had reams of horror stories of missed deadlines, missing equipment, and frustrations. He said, "we simply guarantee it will be perfect." That was his company's story in this business; it will be perfect, guaranteed. 'Perfect' was important to the clients and to his company, 'perfect' was a simple and clear destination for all of the staff on these projects, 'perfect' was why they were in the business, because someone needed to step up to the plate. They had gone from something like 11 jobs in 2008 to 234 jobs in 2009.

What is your team or organization's story? A place to begin is to go to your organization's vision, and ask yourself, what is a story that illustrates this vision? Or go to your organiation's values, what stories can you think of that illustrate those values? Nick Nissley at the Banff Centre puts it this way, "If you don’t have a story, you're a commodity. If you're a commodity then the only thing that matters is price." I wonder if that is what you want for your team or organization?

I hope that this week is filled with story and adventure for us all! Have a great week!

Good morning all from a chilly Vancouver, where there is a threat of snow in the suburbs -- gasp!

We were at a dinner with friends earlier in the week and one of the guests asked, provocatively, "what good had come out of the Olympics?" "Of course," he said, "we Canadians all felt good about ourselves and the country, but, nationalism had a very dark side, nationalism was what Hitler exploited."

My own response to his question was that it raised that we humans seem to have a deep need to live in a world that has something "bigger", something more important than my own existence; a bigger meaning in life. Yes, it is this same need for bigger meaning that supports dangerous nationalism and war, and it supports international sporting events and global humanitarian efforts like getting aid to Haiti.

What good then comes out of these international events? That of course is the question for us all. Are these events simply opportunities for the few to make millions of dollars on the backs of taxpayers? Are these events elitist and for only the very wealthy? (I note for example that at the equivalent of $80 US per ticket, the World Cup in South Africa later this year has priced itself out of the range of the vast majority of African people.) And what of the legacy of these events? Will the hungry be fed more? Will more of the shelterless be housed? Will the sick be better cared for?

I believe that what we tap into in these events is an amazing and wonderful human experience of the greater good, the wonderful human experience of seeing beyond our own existence. The challenge is how do we use that experience for continued good? And this question is vital for us as leaders. The people with whom we work, and the people who call us leaders are hungry for bigger meaning. You and I are hungry for bigger meaning. In our organizations we experience this excitement when we make a client's day, when we finish a big project, when we work through a stressful time as a team. One of our roles as leader is to foster the growth of that feeling, that experience. How can we make more client's days? How can we finish more big projects, how can we thrive as a team. And clearly, if we can work with a client, finish a project, thrive as a team, and make a positive difference in the world, then we're bringing about a much greater good.  We'll be making a difference for ourselves, for our organization and for our communities, and perhaps that is the hoped for answer to the question, what good comes from these events? Perhaps we might even be asking ourselves, what bigger good comes from my organization, my team, my work?

May this week be a week of a bigger good for each and every one of us.

 

Good afternoon from the Host City of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games! I've been smiling to myself at the present analogy between being the Host City for th Olympic Games and being a leader. Simply put, when everything goes right, someone always finds a something that could/should have been different, and when things go wrong, someone always points it out, and attaches blame to you.  And so it goes, often feeling like a jab. On a much, much smaller scale my wife, the brains of the operation, who serves on the Strata Council on our building had an interesting moment last week. The Strata Council have ordered the replacement of the carpets in the hallways.  An email from another owner came my wife's way complaining about the colour of the newly installed carpet last week. My wife's response was to invite the complainer to join the Strata Council to help make decisions in the future. To date, there has been no response.

In leadership positions we face such occurences often, it goes with the territory we are told. My caution is that these complaints and jabs can in the long run hurt us. (We always say they don't hurt but in the long run, chronically though, they can have an impact on us.) There are a number of ways we can alleviate the pain of these jabs. I mentioned back in September the great idea of the late Jack Poole of the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee who used to buy himself shirts when he had done a great job and no one had recognized his efforts. His colleague John Furlong, the CEO of VANOC talked of receiving shirts from Jack in the lead up to the games. (I hope John has received a shirt or two since Friday!) Buying  gift for yourself is then certainly one way to alleviate the pain of the jabs. Other ways include coaching yourself back to what the vision is; what is it that we're trying to accomplish, and are we still of track? Jabs from external sources can then be recognized as part of the change process; the jabs being people resisting the change for reasons of their own. Or, from the work of Marty Linsky and Sharon Daloz Parks and others, identifying three groups of people around you; your partners, those who are in full agreement and common vision, allies, those who are alongside for the current moments, with whom you share common purpose right now, and thirdly, a confidante, a person who deeply understands you, with whom you can be competely honest and fearless. (And this person is best not your spouse, s/he does not need to hear you complain about work more often!) This confidante then can keep you on track, and more often than not, when the jabs do come, s/he can help you process through them, and can help you find a salve.

My hope for us all is that these next few weeks give us ample opportunity to learn, and to make mistakes. It is from mistakes that we learn. And I hope that each of us can find a confidante, and in return be a confidante for another leader.

And may the peace promised by the Olympic Games be present for each and everyone, everywhere.

Alisdair

Good afternoon all, and greetings from a tired, and very proud city. The Games were a smash success, especially for Canadian hockey fans! And, once again, I saw a remarkable moment of leadership in the speech by John Furlong, CEO of VANOC, at the closing ceremonies. Three things struck me about his speech as points for our work as leaders:

1. The importance of the volunteers -- Furlong did not simply mention the work of the 25,000 volunteers, he spoke eloquently and powerfully about them. In our organizations, as much as financial resources are vital, it is the people who actually make the organization work. We can talk a good game about efficiencies and effectiveness, but in the end, our success is dependant on the individual choices made by the people who turn up to work with us each and every day. Their buy in to the success of our organizaton is vital.

2. The importance of focus -- the staff and leadership of VANOC were great examples of staying focused; knowing exactly what we're delivering, how we're delivering and to whom. Furlong's comments about the first and last Gold medals won by Canadians and all of the efforts, "excitement and agony" of all of the atheletes were indicative of this focus. These were games for young people from around the world, to show and to be their best. The success of our organizations are dependent upon a similar level of focus, what are we delivering, how we're delivering and to whom?

3. The importance of legacy -- knowing where we have come from. I was intrigued that Furlong referred to the late Jack Poole (former Chair of VANOC), not just in the opening ceremonies, but in the closing ceremonies as well. Furlong mentioned only his first name in the closing ceremonies, but everyone there seemed to know exactly to whom he was referring. All too often in organizations we look at the future, and often ignore the past as irrelevant. Furlong was saying, I think, that as fun as this had been, it was due to the hard work and patience of people who were not here to share this moment. They have taught us, they have supported us, they have made us what and who we are today. Let us not forget them, and the lessons we learn from them.

I hope that for each of us this week, we have opportunity to thank the people who work with us, to rexamine our focus, and to remember the people who have come before, and made us an our organizations what they are today.

 

Good morning from an excited city! The buzz is in the air about the Olympic Games which open on Friday afternoon here in Vancouver. There are both positive and negative feelings present in the excitement; we are welcoming the world (or at least that part of the world that experiences winter) to our fair city, and we are spending $1 billion for security. Imagine what the world would be like if we were to invest an additional $1 billion every two years on food, shelter, the education of girls and young women, healthcare, and on the ability of all people everywhere to appear in public without shame. Perhaps we'd not have to have as much security for events like the Games.

Thinking about the Games from a leadership perspective, I was reflecting this weekend, after reading an interview in the Globe and Mail (a large Canadian newspaper for those of you in other parts of the planet), with American sports television producer Dick Ebersol, who has produced eight Olympic Games for American television. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/nbc-boss-bullish-on-big-audiences-great-stories---and-canada/article1458522/  Ebersol speaks in the interview about leadership stability; "I'm just saying that in all my experience, I've never been able to work with the same three [people] leading the project from start to finish. ...I just cannot tell you what a difference that makes. Just from a stability standpoint and knowing what and who you're dealing with  and what to expect, it makes a huge difference."

In my own practice as a coach and teacher, I have often spoken about how important it is for leaders to know when it's time to leave -- "when you're horse is dead, get off it!" But Ebersol is right, stability in an organization is important, especially when large scale projects are at hand. Common vision, common praxis, common language (organizational vernacular), and the vitality of sustained relationships all contribute and are immeasurable benefits for such projects. The people who work with and for you, are more likely to stay the course on a large project, if you are committed to staying on board as well. That means, quite frankly that part of your journey as a leader is to stay on a particular journey with a particular group of people, even if there is a better offer from somewhere else. You have a responsibility to the people you lead to lead them.  Of course, if you are no longer committed to the project, or if your 'horse is dead', get off, but always include in your decision calculation, what would be the impact of sustained, common leadership at this time, and is there a better time for me to leave, than right now?

Speaking of the Olympics, please keep the Olympic and Para-Olympic atheletes in your thoughts and prayers over the next month or so. These young women and men have worked very hard to get to these games, and they will experience many life changing moments. This is their time, may they experience life in all of it's abundance. And may these Games be filled with peace and enjoyment for all.