"If you cry 'forward', you must make it clear the direction in which to go. Don't you see that if you fail to do that and simply call out the word to a monk and a revolutionary, they will go precisely the opposite directions."
Anton Checkhov

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

Word count this issue: 363

Estimated reading time:  2:30


Greetings from a rainy Toronto! I’m here speaking and leading workshops at a national credit union governance conference. The future is a common part of the conversations in the sessions and in the hallways of the conference.


Humans have never been able to predict the future, although we have paid many different people to do so since we first became conscious of time as a species. Sooth sayers, astrologers, dream interpreters, psychics and economists have all earned money from the mistaken belief that the future can be predicted. The future cannot be predicted but working together we can begin to identify some likely scenarios. The challenge is around “working together.”


All too often we fall into the trap of thinking that one of us has the answers and has the visionary capabilities. The fact is that we are social beings and no single one of us has the answers. Successfully navigating an uncertain future is always a collective affair. Even Sir Issac Newton described his success as due to his standing on the “shoulders of giants.”


In the midst of our uncertain future together, be sure to map out possible futures, talk and explore the implications therein, and always challenge people who think they have all the answers. Our future is much too complex to be left to the ideas of individuals.


Here are three ways to work together more effectively to talk about the future:


  1. Generate possible scenarios from various people including supporting rationale
  2. Pay attention to other sources of news, than the ones you usually attend to, and talk about what they say without judgement or put down humour.
  3. Stop laughing at people. Yes we are a funny species but we are threatening each others status and relatedness with every joke we make about people who are different.


There is a great benediction that contains these wonderful lines:


“For the word is not too small for anything but truth, and too dangerous for anything but love.”



May this week be one of working together, not laughing at each other.


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

Word count this issue: 302

Estimated reading time:  2:15



Good morning from a crisp Vancouver. The Fall chill is in the air in this part of the world. It feels like new years for me. And sad/good news this week as it was announced that a colleague of mine had accepted a job that takes her not only out of our workplace but out of the country.


While I am thrilled for her; this is an extraordinary opportunity for her, I am also very sad. She and I have shared work and laughs and tears over the last dozen or so years, and I will miss her.


In the days following the announcement, the reactions of people have been fascinating to watch. Some people have been quite mean to my friend, saying things like “I hate you for leaving.” In reflecting on these comments I wonder about a particular challenge for leaders; the ability to hold two contradictory thoughts in our minds at much the same time.


I believe it is entirely possible. I am both very excited for my friend and grieving her moving away. I can also, for example, know that you are an amazing, creative and unique person and be disappointed in your work this week. One does not have to override the other.



The key here is choice. Where do I want to choose to focus my attention? I honour that I am sad, and that is not the defining feature of my day. As leaders we can find ourselves in these sometimes challenging situations where we may feel or think two things almost at once. Honour both and choose your focus; which of them will bring about the greatest good for all concerned?


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

Word count this issue: 376

Estimated reading time:  2:30


I had the great honour this week of working once again with a group of young leaders, this time in healthcare. Early in our work I offered this quote from Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman’s 1999 book, First Break All the Rules.http://www.gallup.com/press/176069/first-break-rules-world-greatest-managers-differently.aspx 


 “We had discovered that the manager – not pay, benefits, perks, or a charismatic corporate leader – was the critical player in building a strong workplace. The manager was the key….An employee may join Disney or GE or Time Warner because she is lured by their generous benefits package and their reputation for valuing employees. But it is her relationship with her immediate manager that will determine how long she stays and how productive she is while she is there.”


The book, and this conclusion, was based on over 1 million interviews over 25 years and it has been a go to idea for me for 15 years. I asked the group for their reflections on the idea that the key factor driving commitment and productivity was the relationship with the manager, here and now. The comments back included great questions like ‘what about current economy and people staying in jobs just to have a job?’ and “if the data goes back now to 40 years ago, what of the generational changes?’ ‘what about the tech changes?’ As one young leader asked, if I have an app that provides me with great data and ideas about how I can be a better manager, maybe the relationships change?’ Or, ‘how many of the jobs done by people interviewed over the study are now being done by bots?’


The question that stopped me in my tracks though was ‘do we define good management in a new way now?’ My own reflection since the question was asked, was no. I wonder though, might my own biases preclude me from seeing something new emerging? 



I’d love to hear from you, is how we define “good management” (healthy, engaged relationships, and focusing on other people’s growth) changing in the midst of the changing world? 


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

Word count this issue: 376

Estimated reading time:  2:40


I was standing on a commuter bus this morning heading into a series of in person coaching sessions. The woman seated to my left was reading a magazine with the following quote set out in the type:


“Freud said that psychoanalysis is a ‘cure through love’, and I think that is essentially correct. The love is conveyed not so much in the content as in the form: the rapt attention of someone who cares enough to interrogate you. The love stows away in the conversation.” (Gary Greenberg interviewed by Zander Sherman “Who are You Calling Crazy” The Sun, July 2016 Issue 487)


(I asked her permission to take a picture of it.)


I was struck by the idea of holding someone in “rapt attention.” From a leadership perspective I think “rapt attention” drives being a “servant leader.” (https://www.greenleaf.org) And as fortune would have it, one of my coaching clients and I spent a little bit of time exploring servant leadership this afternoon. Importantly, servant leadership is not “slave” leadership, or “roll over and play dead” leadership. We are instead serving people to be the best they can be. That may well mean that I cajole, challenge, provoke and push against a person, and I do that in service of their growth. And I know that too much cajoling, challenging, provoking and pushing will invariably be understood by the other person as a threat and when we are threatened too much, we stop being our best.


The idea of “rapt attention” focuses me on attending to the needs and potential of the other person. I am giving them “love”, even when I am saying no. 


Here are three boundaries (besides rapt attention paid to the other person) to ensure that your ‘no’ is from a servant leader perspective:


  1. The ‘no’ is focused on the other person’s growth 
  2. The reason for the ‘no’ is clear to all concerned
  3. You and the other person have a clear understanding that part of your role is to say ‘no’ from time to time.



May this week be one of rapt attention and saying no with love.


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

Word count this issue: 443

Estimated reading time:  3:00


I’ve been working with a couple of colleagues this week in hot and humid Toronto. We’ve been exploring story as part of our work. I was reminded today about the philosopher Mircea Eliade’s (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mircea_Eliade) sacred story. 


‘During the Second World War, in a Nazi labour camp, the prisoners were organized into tents of a few hundred people each. Every morning, the prisoners would emerge to be marched for another day of hard labour. Upon return in the evening, only those who had worked were issued their day’s ration of thin soup and stale bread. Now of course with such sparse nutrition, prisoners would soon get sick. If a prisoner did not emerge from their tent for the days work, they did not get fed that evening, and soon he or she would die of starvation. The food was so sparse that an unwritten rule became the norm: The evening’s food was not be shared – it was everyone for him or herself. Each tent then experienced the steady rhythm of work, starvation and death. 


Now, the inhabitants of one tent were in the habit of listening to stories told by one old woman in their midst. Each night, the inhabitants huddled together protecting their meager rations listening to her stories. Then one horrible morning the tent awoke to find their storyteller sick. The inhabitants left her in the tent that morning, filled with apprehension, if not stark fear of what might happen while they were away. That night the people in this tent broke with the norm, and one by one broke a little piece of their own stale bread and a drop or two of their soup to share with the old story teller. And she told them stories. The next night, the same thing, they shared what little they had with the old story teller and she kept telling the life giving stories. Soon the inhabitants decided that she should not go out and work anymore. They would collectively guard her health by sharing their meagre food resources with her. From that day on, until the war’s end and that camp’s eventual liberation, there were no more deaths from starvation within that tent. Sure, people died, the horrors of a labour camp were not simply limited to starvation, but no more people in that tent died of starvation, and most of its inhabitants lived and survived the war.’



I wonder then what thoughts or ideas does this story prompt for you as a leader?



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

Word count this issue: 539


Estimated reading time:  3:40


My friend and colleague, David Gouthro http://www.theconsultingedge.com introduced me to Joshua Cooper Ramo’s fascinating new book “ The Seventh Sense.” https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B015ERLVBA/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1 


Ramo’s thesis is that we are in the midst of a revolution that is as massive, both positively and negatively, as the Industrial Revolution. This revolution might be called, the “network revolution.” All around us individual nodes are being connected and dramatically enhanced into networks; financial services, terrorists, and research are all dramatically enhanced by networks, and we are only at the beginning of a new epoch.


Here is a simple example; looking for a job. Any of us who have found ourselves unemployed in the past few years will have found the speed with which we have been able to get back into the workforce is predicated on the strength and reach of our network. The longer we are out of work, the less powerful our network and the less likely we can get back in. Hence the strength of LinkedIn. 


My own work on 5 Thrives for the Digital (R)evolution explores networks and connectivity, and so I am thrilled to read Ramos’ work. I commend to it to each of you.


Ramos’s work reminds me a little of the revolutionary thinking of a hero of mine, Marshall McLuhan https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshall_McLuhan  and his famous book, “The Medium is the Massage”. (The title of the book plays with his famous aphorism, the ‘medium is the message’). McLuhan’s basic point was that media were the big change agents in society, and not the content in the particular medium. For example, the mass printing of books had a much more important impact on European culture than did that content of any of the books that were printed. Or the fact that televisions were in virtually every home in North America by the mid 1960’s had a greater impact on our society than the content of any particular TV show or movie. And now today, as we are in the midst of a mobile digital revolution that significantly increases the creation and growth of networks is far more important than the data (content) moving across those networks. Once again it is the medium; mobile data devices facilitating networks, that is the message. 


So besides communications nerds like me, who might be interested in this brief look at Ramos and McLuhan, and a taste of my wondering? I think as leaders we need to be thinking about the networks we are connected into. Are they diverse enough? 


My work around “Connectivity” suggests not just that we are networked, but the danger of only being linked into like minded networks. In the same way that genetics requires that new genes enter into the system, networks need the same diversity to delay entropy and death. 


Take a few moments this week for three small shifts:


  1. Invite someone new into your network,
  2. Add yourself to a feed from a group that has a different political agenda than you,
  3. Take a different route home and use your senses to explore what’s different. 


You might just find a new perspective or gain a new insight.