"The factory of the future will have only two employees: a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment."
Prof. Warren Bennis

Get Leadership Notes by Email

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: 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: 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.







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


Word count this issue: 455


Estimated reading time:  3:00


I have been researching, writing and facilitating dialogues about the future (the “new”) extensively over the past couple of years. I keep running into the “old”. For example, iTunes and Spotify are essentially gigantic juke boxes you can plug into using a portable device. Netflix is TV with a gigantic catalogue of reruns you can all up on demand. Peer to peer lenders are essentially credit unions and regardless of how cool your car is, it is still measured in horsepower and airplanes are stage coaches with business class.


The huge shift we are experiencing is really about mobile devices, smart phones. We are still nomads walking across the steppe, but now we are always connected to something or someone. We are still always seeking the next green pasture, the next opportunity, but we can talk about it with each other over vast distances. We might put our roots down for a time, but even then we are always searching across the horizon, what is next, what is new, what promises a better life, a richer life, a more fulfilled life? Our mobile devices are in this sense both a leash to keep us tethered to our group of nomads and telescopes that we can use to peer into a desired collective future that we can dream about and talk about amongst our tribe. They also allow us to glimpse the other tribes, and especially the tribes we don’t like. And with 7 billion humans and about 4.5 billion smart phones dispersed among us, there’s a lot of opportunity to talk about what we see and especially about the other tribes of nomads. We are nomads on a crowded steppe.


We need to ensure that we are speaking with the other tribes of nomads, not about the other tribes. The more connected we are with each other in our own tribes, the more we set up in group and out group barriers. 


Think about your team and your organization. As we on board people from different parts of the world (and even from down the street) we need to find ways of breaking down those barriers sooner so that we can leverage the brains and perspectives of everyone. Here are three ways to break them down sooner:


1. Ask yourself, what can I learn from this person, as opposed to what can I teach this person?

2. Sit beside the newest person in the room, it raises their status and signals that they are ok to the rest of the team.

3. Pronounce names the way the person pronounces their name, and it is ok to ask.


Remember, at one level we are simply still nomads on a crowded steppe. Collaboration is the way forward for all of us. 


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

Word count this issue: 444 

Estimated reading time:  3:00


Greetings from Gibson’s BC where we’ve been ensconced for much of the summer, commuting as necessary. Last night, as I walked by an open window, I heard a rustle in the woods outside. It was a small black bear making its way down the steep side of the ravine. I was so excited. Other family have seen bears around the house on their way to the ravine we back on to, but this was my first in almost three years. 


It is one of the joys of this particular house; it sits on the edge of a ravine and we often see deer, coyotes, and even the odd owl outside our windows. There is a wonderful sense of living on the edge here, being ready for anything. (My sister and bother-in-law live in an apartment that overlooks Lake Ontario and while they don’t see the wildlife we do, there is a grand sense of seasonal change and an ever-changing landscape. They too seem to live on the edge, ready of anything).


And, lunch with a friend and sometime colleague earlier this week got me thinking about the importance of being ready for anything. He is an amateur historian and was telling me about a book about the US Constitution (1789). This famous document he said, was written with the future in mind. “The words were not to be locked in amber.”  


Moving quickly past any of the American political discussions this might ignite, I wonder then about our roles as leaders. Ron Heifetz at Harvard suggests, ‘management is about technical challenges; authority and getting things done efficiently and effectively, while leadership is about adaptive challenges; moving people through the difficult transitions of innovation and revolution.’ 



When we live and work in cities and suburbs we risk being locked in an amber of routine and similarity. We can fall into the culture trap of “we’ve always done it that way,” or a wistful dream of some imagined history a generation ago.  Transitions of innovation and revolution become much bigger threats. Spending as much time as I can on the edge of the ravine and forest gives me a sense of the size of the planet, and an understanding that while there is a place for amber, it is in the excitement of seeing new things, experiencing new adventure and new learning, that feeds our souls. It also means that I sometimes need to have the courage to go into the dark forest to grow as a person and a leader.


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


Word count this issue: 147



Estimated reading time:  1:15


Good morning, the sea is calm and the sky is grey; a good morning for introspection. 


I was working with a coaching client last week, (I have their permission to mention this), and they used an evocative phrase about leadership:


“The leader’s perfume [cologne] should not hang around too long 

after they leave the room.”


I wonder what that phrase brings to mind for you?


For me, there are at least 3 points:


  • Don’t micro-manage,
  • Leverage the diversity of your team’s brains,
  • Your presence will last for a while even after you leave a room, what scent do you want to leave? Distasteful, overpowering, stifling or welcoming, supporting, and encouraging. 



I’d love to hear your thoughts about what this phrase evokes in you about leadership.