Saturday, December 10, 2005


The speed and the stresses of work-life can render us oblivious to the kindnesses of others and to the call of being kind to another. Small gestures multiplied many times over bolster us. There’s nothing asked in return. It’s a currency that crosses all cultures and continents. Let’s get more conscious about kindness.

If we were lucky to have a warm family environment, the innocence of youth bathed us in kindness and steeled us for the challenges of life. We lived in the present surrounded by parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers who doted on us. Awash in gifts, birthday cards, lifts to lessons of all sorts, cheers at recitals, we moved from day-to-day feeling taken care of. Even if our childhoods were a bit shaky, someone usually showed up offering a helping hand. We did not know how much these meant to our character development.

Fast forward to the work environment. To what extent are we taking the gifts we’ve received and deliberately passing these on to another?

Not a week goes by without some research that reminds us that work life is in need of a makeover. In November, Towers Perrin HR services reported that just 17 percent of 5,100 Canadians are “fully engaged” in their work, down from 21 per cent two years ago. In the same month, Robert Half Management Resources reported that eighty nine percent of 100 public sector executives surveyed find it more difficult to be a leader than five years ago. They cite increased emphasis on government compliance regulations as the main source of stress. In turn, top leaders rely more on delegating to a strong and competent workforce. If the workforce is less not more engaged, then what does an executive do?

Linda Duxbury, Professor at Carlton University in Ottawa would say—pay more attention to the differences in generational expectations of the workplace and make work-life balance a priority. For example, Baby Busters (1961 to 1974) and The Echo Generation (1974-1990) demand more work-life balance than earlier generations. For that reason, they are not as motivated to put in the long hours required to reach for top positions. Working to live is more important than living to work. They also want respect, to be involved in decision-making and flexibility.

Here’s where kindness kicks in: it is the forerunner of being respectful of another, which in turn implies real listening. If you don’t feel kindness, you aren’t likely to pass it on. Without the reaching out to another, you lose the opportunity to engage meaningfully, soak up her views and learn something of benefit to the organization. So, genuine kindness not only spreads goodwill, it helps us get smarter.

Poets always have a way of bringing the messages together:

So many gods, so many creeds,
So many paths that wind and wind,
While just the art of being kind
Is all the sad world needs

The World’s Need
Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.

The Buck in the Snow, III Dirge without Music
Edna St. Vincent Millay

The dictionary refers to kindness as being helpful in nature. Isn’t this what leaders must do to be effective? In the spirit of the times, it won’t hurt to sprinkle a little more around.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The proof is in: bad bosses wreak havoc with our health

Old news has become new news but even more scary. Bad bosses raise our risk of heart disease and stroke, let alone other emotional and physical ailments. Studies around the world recently published resoundingly underscore that a poor boss-employee relationship can erode an employee’s wellbeing, even with seemingly mild infractions.

It’s surprising what can cause undue stress, anxiety, and headaches. According to Scott Schlieman, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto, in the November issue of Psychology Today, a boss giving unclear directions can trigger anxiety. To some, that kind of behaviour may sound benign and not within the definition of “bad”. But, unclear expectations (and lack of discussion to ensure a shared understanding of them) can drive employees “nuts”. This is backed up by extensive Gallup research. Marcus Buckingham (First Break All the Rules) lists clear expectations as the number one catalyst role of a great manager.

The more obvious stereotype of the bad boss also does its damage. Nagging, showing little respect, blaming and lack of consideration all lead to health problems for direct reports, according to researchers Brad Gilmore and Phillip Benson at the Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne and Nadia Wager at Buckinghamshire Chilterns University in the United Kingdom. While this information is not new, as numerous studies over decades have hammered home the same messages, the prevalence of the bad boss syndrome is not encouraging.

In my practice, clients lament weekly on the inappropriate behaviours of persons either with whom they work on a peer-to-peer basis or to whom they report. Participants in my leadership classes have a constant stream of bothersome boss stories. Frequently they joke that while they are in classes trying to learn how to become more effective leader-managers, their bosses (often the top executives) never set foot in a classroom. Or, the bosses do not take advantage of opportunities to interact with them at in-house sessions.

Clearly, we’ve got some work to do on developing great leaders and managers. My rationale self cannot understand why individuals in authority positions choose behaviours that are contrary to healthy relationship-building. Why? The enormous cost (in dollars) of not deliberately doing so. It doesn’t take a high IQ to make the leap from happy employees to greater productivity. That spells better customer service, more effective teams generating new knowledge, processes and products and simply more fun for all. Instead, smart people sabotage themselves: poorer results directly attributable to their less than desirable behaviours with employees.

Ego wins out over sound reason. Erroneous assumptions about how to “motivate” employees unconsciously drive the wrong actions over and over again. Control becomes more important than engagement. That feeling of importance supersedes humility. Judgments of others abound. Seldom is the scrutiny turned inward.

Maybe one solution is to try the sales technique “what’s in it for me” or WIFM on bad bosses. Surely their health is adversely affected by the stressful relationships. They might think twice if they were reminded by employees that the toxins they are spreading are contagious and do not respect position, title or hierarchy!

Saturday, October 01, 2005

No Crying in the Workplace---Hogwash!

“Cry and you’re out of here. Women in business do not cry, my dear,” warned Martha Stewart to a contestant in her new apprentice program. Is she tuned into reality? Showing tears due to joy, frustration, anger and sadness are a part of the human landscape. Let’s get over penalizing each other for our natural human tendencies. That’s old industrial economy history. Time to move on and embrace reality as it should be. Emotions, not just logical reasoning, are a critical part of connecting to each other and building great things together.

It’s true, according to researchers, that women tear up on average four times as frequently as men. But, let’s lay the blame where it belongs---hormones and genetic predisposition. We are hard wired with certain tendencies and preferences. Each of us has a natural way of orienting to the world based on gifts from our parents and many before them. Instead of deciding which ones are ‘allowed’, let’s celebrate all that we bring to any situation, provided the outbursts or displays of emotions are not hurtful to others.

Some of us like Martha, whether male or female, don’t cry easily. We’re more left-brained relying on and favouring logic, facts, step-by-step thinking and detail. We get annoyed with overly emotional people and we like to ‘cut to the chase’. Enough already of ‘active listening’ and paying attention to others’ feelings. We want to get on with the decision-making and action plan.

Some of us wear our emotions on our sleeves. We cry readily at the plight of others as well as during weddings and celebratory events. We are more sensitive to the ‘vibe’ of the meeting and organization as a whole. We bask in generating and tossing around crazy ideas at the 30,000 foot level. Details give us headaches. But, if we must, we force ourselves to get into them. We always want more time spent on the process of decision-making to ensure we’ve identified the right patterns and connections among a range of viewpoints. We don’t like to be hurried.

Then, there are the rest who walk the middle ground between logic and intuition, reasoning and emotion. We can see both sides and try to strike a balance between objectivity and subjective feelings. We are relatively comfortable in both worlds. Fortunately, we don’t tear up as easily as our very right-brained colleagues.

Put together, in the workplace, we have a healthy mix of all kinds of thinking and learning preferences, including various emotions. It’s the variety that helps great decision-making.

I am always touched by a leader who shows his emotions. He seems more real, more human. I can connect him to my life and challenges. He’s less distant from the rest of us. He walks with us.

Frankly, I’m not too keen on going the extra mile for someone who controls her emotions so well, I haven’t got a clue who she really is. Deep down, I know that the workplace is full of drama and the rush of feelings as we pursue our dreams together. I simply can’t relate to a person who stands on the river’s edge and doesn’t get in the water with the rest of us.

So, back to Martha. There is no credible evidence that a workplace is more productive and better without a few tears. A “no crying” rule while on the job reveals Martha’s preferences based on her innate talents. It’s quite possible she can’t fathom why others cry when she just shrugs of the situation. She views the reaction as a weakness. Others are moved by the struggle and feel joined by the emotional display. For many, tears respectfully shed enrich the work environment.

William Blake sums it up:

“Man was made for Joy and Woe;
And when this we rightly know,
Thro’ the World we safely go,
Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine.”

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Fault Lines in New Orleans

Former President Bill Clinton put his finger on the fiasco in New Orleans---no one person was in charge. There was the illusion with FEMA, the Federal Emergency Measures Agency, but something has gone terribly awry.

As one military commander noted whose troops will be rebuilding the infrastructure, there are two views from which to manage the situation: the soda straw and the 360. Although he meant that you have to be there to understand what it is really like, on a larger level the soda straw approach might aptly be the right image underlying the problem.

It has taken Russ Honore, the no nonsense three star army general, to fill the leadership vacuum at the top. As one television commentator exclaimed, he is everywhere 20 hours a day, hands on, cutting through the bureaucracy, getting the job done, and strongly exclaiming his non-acceptance of b.s. The people of New Orleans clapped as they watched him make order out of chaos. The New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin couldn’t be happier. He’s now got a buddy who is listening and who takes action.

I have a coaster on my desk with a famous saying: "A deviation of a hair’s breath at the center leads to an error of a hundred miles". Yet another Commission on a preventable disaster will be struck and will describe in minute detail not one but many critical errors by leaders who should have known better. The echos of prior disasters such as 9/11 and the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle crashes will most certainly be heard.

What are the echos? Silos. Inadequate sharing of timely information among the accountable agencies. No overall accountability (or power) by the right organization to plan and coordinate. Cultures that prevent people below the top from speaking up. Policy, structural and financial decisions that fly in the face of compelling evidence to the contrary---a heads in the sand approach to preventing disasters when multiple studies by reputable experts are ignored or minimized.

The 9/11 Report called for a different way of organizing government that is quick, imaginative and agile in its responsiveness, not ad hoc and incremental. Repeatedly it used the term unity, as a means of prevention and execution when trouble happens. For example, strategic intelligence and operational planning must work hand in hand. It’s a no brainer intellectually, but, in reality, much tougher to do without leaders to guide the way from end to end.

We too often think of leadership as the strategic part of the equation and operational planning as management. The New Orleans chaos suggests otherwise---we need leadership at each step of the way for decision making success and implementation effectiveness. Strategy and action are intertwined. The 360 view is essential.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Sir John A. Macdonald Likely a High “EI” Leader

It’s almost impossible to be a great leader without strong people skills. Given our perpetual fascination with contemporary and historical political leaders---why they are or are not effective---a check on their “emotional intelligence” (how leaders handle themselves and their relationships) can help connect the dots. Canada’s revered and pragmatic first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, appears to meet the “EI” criteria.

A leader’s manner matters. People watch leaders and take their emotional cues from them. In effect, a leader’s attitude toward others affects the mood around him like a “contagion” positive or negative. Douglas McGregor, a professor at the Sloan School of Management at MIT, enshrined the notion in the 1950’s with his Theory X (stick) and Theory Y (carrot). His central message: people thrive on genuine respect from others; managers who honour this desire will be much more successful at “motivating” workers than those who do not. Rutgers University’s Daniel Goleman has continued the “relationship management” theme stressing that the emotional task is the “primal” leadership capability.

Judging from recent research of 500,000 people by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves, top leaders, in general, have some work to do on their EI. The San Diego consultants found that EI scores increase with titles upward toward middle management and then steeply decrease thereafter. CEOs seem to be a hard nosed lot relying more on themselves than those around them. If middle managers are getting the message and their CEOs are not, the former are in a tough position. Clearly, we’ve got some work to do in our modern organizations to strengthen primal leadership.

In Canada’s early days, relationship-focused leadership from Sir John A. Macdonald helped lay the foundation for the nation’s resilience and moderation amidst a changing world. Macdonald was a bridge-builder, forging regional coalitions and dialogue across languages, religions and geography. Wilfred Laurier called him “gifted as few men in any land or in any age”. Historians Jack Granatstein and Norm Hillmer noted that “he understood that sugar caught more flies than vinegar.” Pierre Burton wrote in The National Dream that “the twinkling eyes, the sardonic smile, the easy tolerance, the quick wit, and the general lack of malice made Macdonald an attractive figure in and out of Parliament.”

Some things are universal. Those admirable qualities of Macdonald would be welcome in any situation. Cheerfulness and warmth spread easily like a friendly virus. They lift up moods and inject camaraderie and cooperation into any group working together. As Goleman says in Primal Leadership, “leaders with that kind of talent are emotional magnets” to which people “naturally gravitate for the pleasure of working in their presence.”

The Leadership-Management Conundrum

I am frequently asked to explain the difference between management and leadership and always find myself slightly at a loss. The two-columned approach describing one versus the other just doesn’t do justice to the reality. Because I see management and leadership linked like fraternal Siamese twins, I cannot offer up with any enthusiasm a chart that provides the right description.

I’ve taken to using the awkward term “leader-manager” as a means of communicating the connectedness. In my mind, both capabilities dance together in each of us like two focused ballroom dancers vying for mastery together. One needs the other to get inspired, agree on the plan, and provide support for getting the job done. Both leadership and management are needed throughout the entire “dance”. It is a creative collaboration that brings life to a system, to a challenge.

I have been tempted to drop the word “manager” or “management” altogether. We’re at the stage in our human history where the term seems out of date, at least in relatively sophisticated, evolving democracies. Technology has taken over many of the controlling and monitoring functions heretofore prime responsibilities of managers. We now have the luxury and freedom to exercise our natural leadership no matter what level in an organization. But, I continue to wonder if the term “leadership” is enough to encompass the full range of capabilities required to help teams and whole organizations move forward. Can “leadership” stand on its own without “management”?

The persistence of this conundrum, management versus leadership led me to review the thoughts of several of my favorite authors---Mary Parker Follett, Kurt Lewin, Peter Drucker, Warren Bennis, Douglas McGregor, Margaret Wheatley, Anthony Jay and many others. “Leadership” emerged as the preferred, more modern capability but by no means has “management” dropped out of the discussion. Instead it has taken on a more humanistic meaning that reflects the rapid rise of democracy in the workplace. To my surprise I did discover a new word that gets around the awkwardness of “leader-manager” and at the same time captures the connection: “linking leadership.”

More on this later.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Calling Up the Leader Wihin Us In A Crisis

London’s 7/7 demonstrated once again that in times of crisis, great leadership quickly shows up and guides the way out of chaos and confusion. We expected it of the formal political leaders, Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Mayor of London, Ken Livingston. They came through admirably with their uplifting and defiant oratory and calls to action. We saw it, as we did during 9/11, in the thousands of small acts of courage by emergency personnel and ordinary people rescuing and comforting the injured. What is at work here in these moments of greatness?

Let’s assume that the definition of a crisis is being jolted out of our comfort zone. The true meaning of course is in the eyes of the beholder. One person’s crisis may not faze another. Nevertheless, we’ll assume that the situation is either life- or organizationally-threatening. The solution to the crisis cannot be found in the status quo. We must draw on something else to light the way out.

Robert Quinn, author of Building the Bridge As You Walk On It, claims that “leaders do their best work when they don’t copy anyone. They draw on their own values and capabilities”. In moments of crisis, they enter a “fundamental state of leadership” that is temporarily out of their comfort zone.

Quinn outlines four steps for great leadership in a crisis:
1. Get clear on the results you’d like to create;
2. Let your own internal direction be your guide;
3. Be other directed—sacrifice your personal interests for the common good;
4. Pay deep attention to what is unfolding and learn from it as you go.

When the situation is a matter of life or death, seconds count in the immediate aftermath of a sudden unexpected crisis. Whether leadership and personal survival kicks in, as described by Quinn, depends on how well we manage our automatic biological response.

According to researchers such as John Leach from Lancaster University in England who study human behaviour in dangerous situations, only 10 to 15 percent of people remain calm, figure out a plan and lead others. The same number---approximately 10 to 15 percent---screams and cries uncontrollably. Approximately 75 percent “will be stunned, bewildered and show impaired reasoning and sluggish thinking”. The feeling of being out of control clearly overwhelms the majority of people in the unfamiliar catastrophic circumstance. Fight or flight gives rise to “freeze”. Yet a small percentage over-rides the panic and swings into action. Why?

Emergency training and prior experience in surviving a crisis appear to be key factors. The mental maps derived from the lessons of survival significantly boost our chances of finding our way out of a catastrophic situation and stepping into the zone of leadership. Drills and rehearsals really do work but we have not always been the best students. How many people really pay attention on an airplane to the directions about the emergency exits and what to do with air bags, etc.? In that we compute the unlikelihood of a catastrophe occurring in our lives, we play “Russian roulette” and ignore the “mental mapping”. Yet, it is this preparation that can call up the great leader in each of us and save our life and potentially those of many others.

This preparedness of mindset is a pre-requisite to leading organizational crises as much as a sudden personal one. If emergency training and previous experience helps, then it follows that we can better that 10 to 15 percent showing leadership during times of great duress. We can develop our potential to be great leaders by preparing ourselves mentally in advance. We can use the lessons of survival conduct in emergencies to help more of us live in our discomfort zones with great success when needed. In so doing, we can make a profound impact on our collective well-being.

There’s another kind of preparedness---preventing or reducing the risk of a catastrophe in the first place. And, there’s nothing like eyes and ears “on the ground” to increase the probability of offsetting a possible disaster. Herein lies the real measure of great leadership in these complex times—engaging many, particularly the front line, in leading the way.

We’ve done it for years with programs such as “Neighbourhood Watch” and other grassroots efforts. More recently, “Amber Alerts” for missing children have generated many successes. We’ve learned from disasters such as 9/11, SARS and the water quality meltdown in Walkerton, Ontario that the right information-gathering and sharing across “silos” as well as top notch management and supervision (meaning---accountability) would have averted or minimized the unfolding of events. Great leadership is therefore not that complicated—being a “first preventer” is always better than being a “first responder”.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

The Glass Half Full: The Road to "Here-Be-Growth" Leadership

Do you see life as “win-lose” or “win-win”? Are you a pessimist or an optimist? If you want to strengthen your leadership capacity, try turning the alarm bells down and the joy of living up. Most people respond to positive leaders because they feel more creative, enthusiastic, and willing to persist through difficulties. So say Martin Seligman and many other positive psychology researchers.

We have our share of “wedge” leaders but they always fail to inspire. They operate as if they were on a battlefield dealing with enemies and the perceived subversive side of people or the “other” side. Such negative-thinking leaders create low trust, fearful, intolerant environments. In the short run, leaders who act as if the “glass is half empty” may gain compliance. But they never win hearts, an essential pre-requisite of leading change.

As Seligman describes in Authentic Happiness, “positive emotion causes better commerce with the world”. It opens our minds to new ideas and new experiences. Philosophers use the term ethical “realists” to describe people who believe that their fellow humans are generally purpose-driven, want to make a difference and find meaning in their lives, including at work. Barbara Erickson, at the University of Michigan, places positive emotion in the bigger context of evolution. By engaging our strengths, of which optimism is one among many, we help ourselves to continue our survival. That is, by working on the glass half filled side of the equation, we “broaden our abiding intellectual, physical, and social resources, building up reserves we can draw upon when a threat or opportunity presents itself”. A positive frame of mind, it appears, is particularly helpful in difficult times.

Some leaders may worry that all this happiness interferes with critical thinking. That is, seeing the world through “rosy-coloured glasses” clouds good judgment. But, not so according to the researchers. When events are threatening, happy people apparently readily change tactics, introduce a healthy, skeptical mindset into the situation and bear down with an analytical set of tools. In that good problem-solving regardless of circumstance depends on an open mind and a willingness to engage with others, better to be an optimist than a pessimist!

It’s true that some of us have more positive affect than others—just like we’re all creative but we have different levels. Our genetic heritage charts our emotional path; however, it does not control us. We can through our will or intention develop a greater capacity to work on the joyful side of life to our benefit.

Take the win-lose scenario. In the film Beautiful Mind starring Russell Crowe, we are introduced to the thesis of the nonzero sum game in which the net result is positive (not one side or person winning and the other losing). In biology as in human history, we are seeing the impact of this theory. Despite our current experience of terrorism and other terrible acts against others, anthropologists contend that over the centuries and across the world, we have been and are moving from savage to barbarian to civilization. Translating this into “living” organizations and cultures, the more they utilize positive-sum games as a way of operating, the increased probability of surviving and flourishing.

Positive feeling is, in Seligman’s view, a win-win approach. From a leader, it sends a signal of “here-be-growth”, not win-lose, but expansiveness and wins for everyone.

The pessimists will still caution that there are times when deadly competition faces us and we must act. Eat or be eaten. Live or die. Fear and anxiety may serve us better under such dire circumstances than seeing the best in people. There are times in organizations for this mindset, for leadership that takes us through situations that threaten our survival. In society, we have our police forces and legal systems to keep dangerous behaviour in check. In the meantime, let the rest of us work on the better side of humans—a key role for leaders. Seligman’s quote from Thomas Edison, one of the world’s greatest inventors, is most apt: “if we did the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves”.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

The Road is Your Footsteps, Nothing Else

South American poet Machados is on to something. The path to the future, let alone the future, cannot be known in advance. Having intentions and views of outcomes are useful. But, don’t be fooled by specific action plans or strategies which are invented and unproven. Witness the results of the “strategies” of our national politicians. I’ll bet they did not do a SWOT analysis!

The journey to the desired outcomes is a messy business. Nature’s method of “strategizing” provides a more realistic view in today’s environment. It is a self-organizing system finding order amidst chaos and complexity. If we add to the equation, many people (connecting) and information (lots of it, unplanned and uncontrolled), the system eventually discovers good solutions to vexing disturbances, according to Margaret Wheatley (Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time). As Myron Rogers, an author in her book explains, “when an individual changes, the neighbours take notice and decide how they will change.” Belinda Stronach’s astonishing move to the Liberals supports this view. This was followed by more exchanges of information and more interconnecting of multiple players leading to one of the possible outcomes.

Strands of other forces, often imperceptible guide the journey. Stephen Harper failed to work with Belinda’s strengths, an approach that all great leader-managers utilize. If the newspaper reports are correct, he instead focused on her “weaknesses” (too soft on core policy issues, beliefs not quite aligned with his). His actions suggest that he was unable to see Belinda as a bridge between the two cultures he needs to unite—the Reform Party and the Progressive Conservatives. For the foreseeable future, it’s checkmate! Every manager of strategy, beware. Each person counts in the formulation as well as the execution steps. Even the outliers.

D. Wayne Lukas, a famed American horse trainer, who has broken every record in the history of his sport concurs. His mantra---the “horses are always right”, is core to his success. In that the term “manage” has an equine origin, meaning “to handle, to train horses”, we can stretch the analogy to humans. Lukas is adamant that developing world class talent and thus achieving world class results means paying attention to the small things that enable people (and horses) to develop their potential. The strategy that produces outstanding results follows because the spirit, the identity from which all else flows is engaged.

Thus, identity is another crucial strand, contributing to the “footsteps on the road”. For an organization, it manifests as collective identity and the collective wisdom. Using the polls as an indicator, most Canadians did not want the minority Liberal government to fall. Although the issues were hotly debated from coast to coast, the net of the conversations fell on the side of restraint rather than more chaos. Is it possible that Canadians drawing on our values as a nation overall knew what was right, at least in the short term? Take any organization and poll its members especially those on the front line. The seeds of great strategy are always there ready to be cultivated by leader-managers. It requires honouring the culture first and then paying attention to the abundant local “intelligence”.

In Here Be Dragon, Peter Newman recounts an extraordinary demonstration of a shared identity and experience shaping the road ahead. When the Germans seized Prague in the early part of 1939, the citizens found their way to St. Wenceslas Square, “the city’s and country’s spiritual heart”. Spontaneously, they broke into their national anthem—“Where is My Home?” An “invisible conductor” led them to the same spot to declare their identities. The seeds of future action were sown.

This “invisible conductor” is a great leader’s sixth sense. It is not neat. It is not based on the 25 certain steps to the future. It is more nuanced and emergent. Henry Mintzberg in Strategy Bites Back explains the process as a “recipe not meant to be followed exactly….add a drop or two of that, a pinch of the other. Let yourself be led by your palate and your tongue, your eyes and your heart”.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Just a Leaf

War is in the air these days. So is security. Underlying the 60th anniversary of V-E Day is the constant drumbeat: people want leaders who help them to remain alive, to experience the joys of day-to-day living with their families, friends and business colleagues. The Liberal surge in the polls despite our mixed feelings on Martin’s leadership may reflect the “bottom line” for the majority---we do not want war at the federal level. We want action that will help us build prosperity together. Inherent in our scenario of wellbeing is security not instability and chaos.

Think about our flag. As a Vietnamese refugee, who is now a lawyer in Ottawa points out, there is “no star, no sun, no moon and no stripe. Just a leaf.” Simple and modest. Nature-based, reflecting the value of life itself, each and every life. Such sentiments run deep especially at this time of year as the life spouts everywhere in our natural environment while we also reflect on our great wars.

“Just a leaf” embodies a strong message for any leader: build rather than destroy. Our great Canadian artist, Alex Colville who painted and drew the mud, fear and horror of WWII, claims that the experience of war sharpened his awareness of time and life’s most basic parts----a job, a house, a car, children, a dog! Not surprisingly, his paintings in peacetime commemorate the extraordinary, ordinary people in moments of disquiet and joy. It is the ordinariness of life that great leaders honour and hold sacred.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Martin Needs A Rabbit Hat Trick

When the chips are down, great leadership has the opportunity to shine. Can Paul Martin reach into his well of determination and imagination to demonstrate great leadership? It is possible if, in his mind, he believes that he can and must do it. From that point of belief, provided he never wavers, the likelihood of pulling a rabbit out of a hat increases dramatically.

Why bother though? First, the majority of Canadians do not want an election in the near future. Instead we want action that transcends party lines. It’s time to get beyond policy and execute as that, in the end, is the true final measure of great leadership—getting things done. Secondly, this spinning of wheels as a nation doesn’t help us “eat”. All parties are responsible to us to keep the momentum going on tackling the big issues that stand in the way of Canada thriving in a globalized world.

Take two policy items, the National Child Care Program and financial support needed by our cities and towns to repair and maintain their crumbling infrastructures. Applying the 80:20 rule, the decades of debates are finished, the consensus is in---let’s get on with it. If the budget does not pass, both are in jeopardy. The consequences of postponing action on these and other issues far outweigh the value to our country of bringing the federal government down over a sponsorship scandal.

In our short history, minority governments have forged many great “deals” that have benefited our lives. With no one party having the balance of power, our political leaders are forced to dig more deeply to identify and stand up for their beliefs while taking into account that which is best for the nation. They are compelled to enter into joint discussions and debates both on and off the record that cause them to find common ground despite philosophical differences. Decades of research on creativity and innovation have taught us that better solutions typically emerge under such circumstances. If our members of parliament today choose to leverage the opportunity for collaboration as did their mentors before them, they will leave an enduring legacy.

Today, that future legacy falls most heavily on Paul Martin’s shoulders. Rather than simply asking his political opponents to wait until the facts are in on the Gomery inquiry, why not also invite them to join with him in moving some critical national agenda items forward now? Why not get them inspired about the significance of the opportunity to affect Canada’s future positively, a chance that may be fleeting and not return for some time to come regardless of who is in office?

But, Martin can’t do this alone. The great leadership opportunity is available for all the party leaders to pursue. Should they conspire to take the government down prematurely without a real attempt at consensus, each will bear the burden of failing Canada.

Although not easy to see, a critical “tipping point” is facing us: which way will it go? Deng Ming-Dao’s famous quote applies: “A deviation of a hair’s breath at the center leads to an error of a hundred miles at the rim”. Great leaders manage the tipping point, the seemingly innocuous, small change in direction in the present time that can have a domino affect (positive or negative) for generations to come. This is the rabbit in the hat trick that now confronts Prime Minister Martin. This is the opportunity of legacy that his political colleagues face also. Will egos or great leadership direct the way?

A demonstration of great leadership may not save the day in the long run for Paul Martin. It is highly likely we will go to the polls before his formal time as Prime Minister is up. Let the chips fall where they may. However, if he can, at this pivotal time in our nation’s evolution, put his leadership acumen in overdrive, he may succeed in fulfilling the role for which he was elected—making Canada a better place. By persuading his political foes to postpone the election and instead to roll the ball forward on items already in the works, admittedly with some changes to suit all factions, Canada’s “flywheel” of accomplishments at home and on the world stage will gain not lose momentum.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

1000 Golf Balls a Day Revisited

Tiger Woods’ epic battle with Chris DiMarco for a fourth Masters underscores the magic and the joy of mastery. We know it when we see it. When the going gets tough, masters rise to the occasion. Both Tiger and Chris demonstrated that years of hard work do pay off when it counts. They combined skill, sheer determination and superb management of their emotions to create an unforgettable 2005 Masters. But, as they proved to us, mastery is a “shot by shot, hole by hole” challenge. It is elusive and must be earned again and again. So it is with great leadership.

I first wrote about the analogy between mastery in golf and leadership in June 2004 for the “Leader’s Edge” a newsletter for members of my website, At the time, Tiger was into his second year of struggling to regain his winning momentum against a formidable field of top golfers. V. J. Singh, Phil Mickelson and other masters in their own right were relentless in their pursuit of bettering their best. When Tiger skipped a beat, they stepped in to raise the bar. They reminded all of us, including Tiger, that there is no final destination with mastery. Like life itself, it is a journey. The results of the 2005 Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Georgia suggested to me that revisiting this interesting topic of “mastery” would be timely.

Howard Gardner’s study of extraordinary individuals such as Albert Einstein and Mahatma Gandhi (Creating Minds) reinforced already well-known research in cognitive psychology circles. It takes at least ten years of focused dedication for an individual to gain initial mastery in a field of endeavour. Thereafter, hard work still prevails in maintaining mastery and innovating beyond the first level. Assuming that the field of leadership is no exception to the ten year rule, it follows that few leader-managers will become great without using the tools of mastery. Leadership like everything else is hard work.

In the golf world, the tools of mastery continue to evolve in relation to the field of players. A high level of fitness is now a given since Tiger Woods turned pro. Many have followed Tiger’s lead improving their eating habits and transforming their flab and pot bellies into “buffed” works of art. Like Tiger, they work on their mental toughness with their “thought coaches”. They adhere to rigorous, deliberate pre-tournament regimes, for example, hitting 1000 balls a day is not unusual. They surround themselves with coaches on every aspect of their game who provide them with regular feedback. During the tournaments, they track their performance diligently and maintain an optimistic outlook in the face of adversity of which there is naturally a great deal in golf. In that few find themselves at the top of the leader board, they philosophically acknowledge the lessons learned and move on preparing for the next tournament…back to the tools of mastery to hone their gifts.

How many leaders do you know, yourself included, who work that hard at becoming a masters? We have much to learn from the masters in other fields including a sport such as golf.

Let’s examine three of the major tools: keeping statistics, maintaining optimism (acting like you are a pro) and practicing deliberately every day.

As a culmination of all their preparations, on an operational level, elite golfers are encouraged to record at least three key tournament statistics:

The number of greens in regulation (GIR). For a par 3, a GIR would be 1 shot on the fairway, 2 drives for a par 4 and 3 for a par 5.
The number of putts to put the ball in the hole. Two per hole on average is a good statistic.
The number of up and downs. When the golfer is in a mess, has not hit the fairway but a bunker, for example, if he gets the ball in the hole with 2 shots (or less), that’s an “up and down”.

If a golfer has a sense of how he is doing on his “stats” as he’s playing, he can gage his strategies and control his mind somewhat better with each ball. He can also use the statistics to set goals later.

How do these translate to leadership? What are the relevant statistics? We tend to default to the business measures familiar to all accountants and line managers responsible for budgets. Certainly, they are vitally important, but the majority are “lag” measures occurring after the fact of leadership, good or bad. What are the “lead” measures that reflect leadership mastery? Here is a list derived from those described in Robert Quinn’s book, Building the Bridge as You Walk on It, and from other practitioners:

Walking the talk—being internally-directed, continually examining any hypocrisy and closing the gaps between your values and behaviour.
Emotional IQ--being other-focused, letting go of your ego and putting the common good and welfare of others first, seeing the world through their eyes, not just your own.
Risking--moving out of your comfort zone to experiment, seeking real feedback, adapting and learning as you go. Nurturing a grounded vision that is based on “bread and salt” gained from walking around and listening to employees.
Engaging—energetically pursuing goals with and through others (no lone wolfs).

If a day for a leader is like a tournament, then these softer leadership measures are the hole by hole/conversation by conversation guide to outcomes. Imagine how much better leaders we would each become if we paid attention to these statistics every day as elite golfers do for every tournament?

The second tool of mastery, maintaining optimism in negative circumstances, is a test of character constantly. On the golf course, it can make the difference between recovery (back to par or better) or a string of bogeys and double bogeys or worse. Martin Seligman (Learned Optimism and Authentic Happiness) asserts that optimists, besides being generally in better health, are unfazed by defeat—they see it as a challenge and try harder. Pessimists give up more easily and get depressed more often. Clearly, in golf there is no room for pessimists! For leaders, realism is important but no one follows a pessimist or someone who goes around bemoaning the situation or the deficiencies of others. Optimists inspire and offer hope. They challenge people to dig deeper into their wells of creativity to overcome the obstacles.

The third tool of mastery, deliberate practice, means consciously knowing what you intend to work on and doing it every day most of the day. Golfers, to become and remain elite, need to practice three to five hours per day. For “elite” leaders, the 80:20 rule applies: spending most of your time on leadership rather than having your head buried in desk work. All of the aforementioned indicators require a leader to get out of her office frequently and when in the office to have an open door. Try this little test: when a person enters your office, do you stop what you are doing (for example, emails) and focus your attention on that person? That’s the mark of a leader showing respect for another—being “other-focused”. Just as too many priorities undermine achieving anything well, we can’t become a master by practicing more than about three things at once. These will vary for each leader on a journey of mastery, as they do for each elite golfer.

As in golf, achieving mastery in leadership, even in difficult circumstances, brings about a greater sense of confidence and aliveness. That increased well-being becomes infectious. We attract others to us to join in doing extraordinary things. Positive energy overcomes cynicism. The community of which we are a part as a leader gets stronger, more resilient and effective. There is no other choice then for leaders—they must become masters otherwise their organizations will stay below the radar of greatness.

In June, 2004, I reflected on the future for Tiger. I wrote: “Note to Tiger: Gardner and others’ research indicates that mastery occurs in ten year cycles. So, Tiger, you’ve had your first breakthrough in mastery at a relatively early age in golf (but you started young). Most don’t get there until their 30s. You are now slogging your way toward your second level of mastery. It’ll take a bit more time and we know that because you never give up, you will rise to another astonishing level in golf.”

His fourth Masters title does indeed prove that Tiger is a master par excellence. He kept his focus, worked on his game, learned from his mistakes, rebounded from missteps on the spot, and checked his emotions as best he could. He has propelled himself into another stratosphere of mastery, joining other greats in the game. It is a new beginning for Tiger and, relatively speaking, a new challenge for his competitors.

Leaders take notice. To become and remain great, with building a vibrant and successful organization as proof, never stray from the tools of mastery.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Charisma Falls Short

“The great communicator”. “A complex personality, conservative in some areas and radical in others.” “The contradictory Pope”. This is the consensus that has emerged with the death of Pope John Paul II---he achieved a “radiant public success” and he created an “unholy divide”. He was charismatic, reaching out to the people, particularly youth and the poor, but he ruled the corporation (the Catholic Church) with a “monarchical style of papal government”. In the opinion of a number of theologians and authors, the Pope unfortunately disregarded the collegiality agreed to in the 1962 Second Vatican Council. Instead, he required absolute loyalty to the party line in Rome. But, others feel that the Pope’s style in a chaotic, uncertain world was appropriate. Clearly, the views of his leadership are divided.

To continue the evidence of polarized views, the Pope as media star preached human freedom and moral opposition to war, terrorism and the death penalty. On the other hand, many expressed the view that he “leaves a demoralized priesthood, a frustrated laity, and a church in anguished, internal conflict”. His ultraconservative views on modern issues, the critics argue, created a “gated” Vatican City composed of like-minded conservatives. It appears that there are limits to charisma!

But, why do we admire charisma despite its underside? We like leaders to “walk the talk”—get out and about and connect with us. Interact. See how we are feeling. Size up the “lay of the land”. No leader can do that sitting behind a computer in an office or attending interminable meetings. The Pope traveled far and wide to meet with the ordinary folks, in particular. This enabled him to gather valuable ideas from first hand experiences, build relationships and enrich his understanding of the “front –line’ issues.

By getting out from the Vatican, the Pope also sent a message that he was an advocate. This is important to people generally with leaders. We feel more secure with a leader who seems to care about us and who is in a position to advocate for us with other powerful leaders. Our voices become his voice in helping to make a better world. It is his genuine concern for us, his comfort in an insecure world that makes him charismatic.

But then there’s “the rub”. We do expect that a leader act on the field data. We tire of the constant media outings if our voices are not translated into sound policies that reflect a balancing of competing interests. We become deflated if our calls to action fall on deaf ears and we receive “ancient answers to new questions”. Herein lies the “contradictory Pope”. The critics maintain that he chose to act on issues through his lens and that of a small inner circle. They call this an authoritarian way of leadership. Daniel Goleman, the empathy guru, would add that such a style of leadership eventually negatively impacts the culture of an organization---that style is unsustainable, in the long run.

Some may argue that it’s impossible for a leader to reconcile all the demands of his people. Better that he projects certainty and confidence, makes some tough choices. True, the clarity of certainty is important at any point in time. But, we do not like to be left out though. A prime strength of effective leaders is to engage us in dialogue in order to make the difficult decisions and to determine priorities. The missing ingredient, is that the Pope, according to the volumes of media reports since his death, did not encourage a dialogue of differences within the corporation—the church--- to assist in formulating strategy.

Thus, charisma is a tricky pathway for any leader. We know from the research on great leaders that being charismatic (a personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty) is helpful but not essential. That which matters more is humility and strong personal will to engage many in a journey of contribution together. Smart strategy is an essential part of the journey emanating from the collective wisdom. Charisma is therefore earned in a different way when a leader engages all the right constituents not just a few.

Pope John Paul II used his strong personality and his love of “being on the road” to foster conversations among various world religions to promote justice, peace and solidarity. His charisma opened doors. At the same time, ironically, the critics argue, it kept important doors closed within the Catholic Church itself. It fell short of the ultimate test for moving an organization forward so that it survives and thrives in an ever-changing world.

The future is not clear for the Catholic Church as its membership is on average declining. The next Pope has significant work to do: preserve valuable traditions while adapting to modern dilemmas. It is the latter, in the critic’s opinions, that Pope John Paul II resisted balancing. On the positive side, he has set the stage and agenda for the next Pope. His priority, based on the public debate on Pope John Paul II’s legacy, will be re-balancing tradition with modernity to integrate conflicting views. This is essential to ensure that the Catholic Church continues to be a meaningful organization for many people around the world.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Flying With Soft Power

Jetsgo’s demise after three short years reminds us once again that the airline industry is not for the faint of heart. Failure and struggle characterize the experience more than prosperity. In the case of Jetsgo, analysts have focused on common themes, such as the wrong business model, high-risk expansion strategy and cut-throat competition. All are valid factors, any one of which when done poorly would put a business in jeopardy. But, aside from these, did the analysts miss the real heart of the matter—“soft power”?

How otherwise can one explain the sustainability of Southwest Airlines amongst the detritus of struggling and defunct airlines? Many, like Jetsgo, have strived in vain to copy Southwest’s low cost no frills model. While one after another airline has fallen by the wayside, year over year Southwest survives and thrives defying all odds. WestJet, another Southwest knock-off, is the exception. It appears to have staying power, keeping true to the Southwest formula and growing steadily despite serious allegations from competitors such as Jetsgo.

Jody Hoffer Gittell of Brandeis University, who extensively researched Southwest and its American competitors, sums up the formula in one word---“relationships”. She contends that Southwest’s acumen at “relational coordination” is the core of its success. She describes relational coordination as shared goals, shared knowledge and mutual respect. These are universal capabilities that she found in other successful organizations too. She contends that Southwest’s approach is applicable to any organization for increasing efficiency and productivity, let alone creating a positive culture.

Gittell’s research compellingly demonstrates how tightly linked cross functional coordination at the front line boosts performance. Using the values of caring and respect to guide all interactions, Southwest accomplishes enviable functional interdependence with methods that fly in the face of management trends. For example, rich staffing levels, not simply good technology drive Southwest’s success. Each supervisor is responsible for 10 to 12 front line workers, the highest supervisor-to-employee ratio in the industry. Each flight at Southwest has its own operations agent who acts as a “boundary spanner” engaging in face-to-face contact with each function before, during and after the turnaround of a flight. The operations agent focuses on one flight at a time, unlike those in other airlines who juggle several flights simultaneously.

Everyone at Southwest is aware that turnaround time is critical for efficiency, customer service and the ongoing viability of the airline. When problems arise, as they inevitably do, each flight team owns the problem rather than a function. Other airlines, according to Gittell, skimp at their peril on this vital coordination process. As a result, they sacrifice the power that it generates---relationships. The dynamic social cohesion arising from the soft power of the strong relationships drive all elements of success at Southwest including continuous learning.

The “engaged” worker is touted in the management literature as essential to the longevity of an organization. Productivity studies remind us repeatedly that human skills and innovation are the drivers of growth and that we are not necessarily doing a good job at it. From the ‘engaged” perspective, we are getting compliance but not necessarily commitment often because we are unable to connect with the real world view of another and we do not share information on a timely basis. We divide ourselves up by function and title. We protect our turf often with disastrous consequences such as the terrorist calamities we have suffered through in the last few years.

Poor management related to “silos”, inadequate information exchange and lack of intelligent imagination is almost always cited as a prime reason for not preventing terrorist acts or the eventual fall of once seemingly well-functioning organizations. Yet, with leaders who actually “see” the whole rather than the parts, we can overcome our parochialism, walk together and be truly engaged in achieving outstanding results and averting potential adverse consequences. Southwest, by virtue of its overarching commitment to relationships has proven that “soft power” when implemented with heart and discipline can provide the right fuel in an extremely challenging business.

If you believe that this can only be achieved in a non-union environment, think again. Southwest like its counterparts is highly unionized. It helps to have a founder who was taught at an early age to value each and every human being and that “respect” is an absolute requirement for gaining anyone’s heart.

Jon R. Katzenbach, a New York management consultant, who also studied Southwest Airlines, believes that “pride” is the sustaining phenomenon (“Why Pride Matters More Than Money: The Power of the World’s Greatest Motivational Force”). We can surmise that empathy is a critical means of creating pride. Empathy is the way we often experience respect because to walk in someone else’s shoes, we must engage in dialogue with that person. We must listen to understand, as Stephen Covey so passionately explains. This sends a message—that every person counts. This is Southwest’s not so secret flying power.

Friday, March 11, 2005

The Importance of Martha's H Ingredient

There’s no doubt about it. Martha Stewart is one tough, resilient individual. And we admire her for that. But as the saying goes, “insanity is doing the same things and expecting different results”. To rebuild her company, Martha will need at least a dash of humility or what I call the “H” ingredient. Has the embarrassment of her trial and eventual incarceration for five months been life-changing for Martha? It’s too early to tell. To revive her company, it will not be enough just to do something altruistic for imprisoned women. Martha needs to demonstrate that she is a kinder, gentler person.

Before Martha went to prison, there was little indication that she was in touch with her “people” side. It is common knowledge that Martha irritated and was frequently unkind to many persons in the pursuit of her business objectives. Ironically, her insensitivity to people may have been a major factor in her eventual demise.

We can only surmise that Martha’s legal woes may have unfolded quite differently had she nurtured a devoted network of colleagues and employees. Martha’s legal transgressions were mild in comparison to those of other senior executives in the news charged with “white collar crimes”. Something else, such as the “H” ingredient, must have played a role, hovering below the surface, escaping Martha’s awareness and meticulousness. When the going got tough, it is possible that the right friends did not come to Martha’s rescue in the early stages when the seeds of her legal problems were taking form.

As the time drew near to going to prison, Martha remained the stoic businessperson. She never mentioned that she would miss her daughter. Perhaps she did that deliberately because it’s not “businesslike” to say such things. However, she did say that she would miss her multitudes of pets and her work. Martha emphasized in a July 2004 Larry King interview that she “wished she were the nicest, nicest person on earth, but I am a businessperson.” Does Martha equate being “nice” with not being a sharp businessperson?

Let’s hope that a valued coach will help Martha re-evaluate her assumptions and “see” that humbleness and empathy will go a long way in helping to re-ignite her company. The brand is Martha. But the brand is unsustainable without Martha tuning her attention to building a great company of excited and inspired people. It’s a matter of balance.

Daniel Goleman of the “empathy” fame would say that Martha’s styles are overbalanced on the demanding and pace-setting which negatively impact on the culture of her organization. He would likely recommend dashes of “H” ingredients such as “people come first” and “what do you think”?

Jim Collins, who undertook a five year research study to determine what catapults a company from good to great might declare hands down that if Martha can’t find a way to become a “Level 5 Leader”, her company will never truly become great. He describes a “Level 5 Leader” as “an individual who blends extreme personal humility with intense professional will”. Well, Martha has the will!

Finally, another spin on the humility ingredient is the “versatile leader”, a person who doesn’t default always to her strengths whether strategic or operational or enabling or forceful, but instead draws on the right capabilities for the particular situation. That is, a leader may have to pursue consciously that which she is not necessarily inclined to do in order to contribute to moving the organization forward positively. For Martha, that would mean being more “enabling”.

Martha loves recipes. On her release from prison, she explained to an interviewer that she was going to write some guidelines on surviving the situation she went through such as how to conduct yourself (with the media, in the courtroom), what experts to consult, etc. She lived the experience with few “best practices” on which to rely. Now, she can be a teacher to others who are unfortunate enough to get entangled with the law. Will she add to her recipe book the “H” ingredient? It’s potent.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Chess Not Checkers

There is a common thread in much of the leadership and management literature—honour the uniqueness of each person and celebrate your own before you can truly be a great leader-manager. Like chess pieces, as Marcus Buckingham explains in Harvard Business Review’s March 2005 issue, each of us is different and if treated that way by our managers, we have the opportunity to “turn our particular talents into performance”. “Average managers play checkers while great managers play chess.” In the famous poet William Blake’s words, “truly meaningful change happens only when people awaken to the infinite potential within themselves.” Great managers then enable this “awakening” and build on each person’s gifts.

Oddly, Buckingham uncouples the leader-manager link in this case declaring that great leaders do the opposite leveraging universal concepts such as “rallying people toward a better future, using stories and celebrating heroes to tap into those few needs we all share”. True, we expect this ability of great leaders but do we not also want great managers to be this way? The rallying and inspiring is equally as important at the work group level as it is at the broader organizational one. So too a top leader must work skillfully with the differences and special talents of the departments, divisions and business units for which she or he is responsible.

That’s why I like the chess metaphor because it applies to both the individual and group/system levels. Great leader-managers deliberately and intuitively manage the subtle differences and needs of the various cultures in their organizations. They do not assume that one culture prevails even if they wish that were the reality. They openly immerse themselves in learning the nuances in each part of the organization. They become an integral player in the dance of change toward a better future honouring the complexity of situations while finding the simplicity in them as well. Margaret Wheatley describes this beautifully in her classic book, A Simpler Way, that “we live in a world we cannot plan for, control or replicate…it requires constant awareness, being present, being vigilant for the newly visible.” Leader-managers with mind sets that value emergence encourage discovery “as we go”. They know that this grows our abilities individually and collectively to get good results using our visions, strategies, goals and objectives as guides.

This is a tall order for leaders and managers: to accept that we are as much a part of the unfolding drama as are those with whom we work, to embrace diversity as a means of forging unity and to trust the process works provided that we conduct themselves as alert agents within it. We are one of the chess pieces and the chess master. Like Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, everything we do affects everything else around us. Rudy Giuliani just ‘cuts to the chase’, calling the phenomenon—“I am responsible”.

So, the challenge of leadership and management, which I consider intricately connected, is more than working with the special talents of each person. It is everyone on the chess board being open to learning from the surprises of change as they happen on the chess board. Building on the views of Robert Quinn, a professor in the University of Michigan, Business School, if leader-managers play chess well, they have the opportunity to achieve “deep change”. But, checkers can cause “slow death” despite their best efforts at rational improvements. He continues, “building the bridge as we walk on it is deeply unsettling because it means learning in real time”.

Tinkering may be another way of viewing an important new skill for great leader-managers. Delight in the materials at hand. Discover what is possible. Don’t get too concerned with the messiness. Have confidence that together you and your people will create order out of the chaos.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Lasting Change with Slow Churn

"I want a culture change by Monday" now has competition--the slow movement. Slow food, slow cities, and slow living have caught the imaginations of millions worldwide. The creative destruction of downsizings and top down change management have not paid off in greater productivity. People are stressed out from too much change too fast. Despite the zeal and impassioned pleas of well meaning leaders, continual disruption has led to organizational paralysis and demotivated workforces. Enough already! Slow change is now embracing our imaginations as an idea whose time has finally come.

Leading the way in the slower life are the Japanese, reformed workaholics. After experiencing a high rate of "death from overwork" (karoshi) in the latter part of the 20th century, the Japanese, according to a recent OECD study, have significantly reduced hours worked per capita among people of working age without sacrificing productivity. In Canada and the United States, the hours are climbing. We haven't reached the heights of the Japanese during their darkest hours of overwork but the alarm bells are ringing.

"Repetitive change syndrome" as coined by Eric Abrahamsom at Columbia Business School in New York, is diverting employees attention from focussing on customers to "stick-handling" demands from the top for business process improvements. The "changeaholic" workplace is proving to be devastating to morale and employee health. As for all manner of living things, too much change may be pushing us to the edge of our biological tolerance.

The better approach is more organic and evolutionary--small scale change that leads to large scale adaption. Ontherwards, let the little experiments happen. See what works and then scale up. For example, principal Wayne Copp at Toronto's Baycrest School noticed students from low income families were falling behind in their reading ability particularly over the summer holidays. He solved the problem by setting up a summer literacy camp. His Board of Education took notice of the successful results and eventually rolled the idea across the city.

Wayne's intuitive sense of acting on an issue embodies an emerging awareness among great "change leaders". Don't try to change the world all at once. Find a solution to an immediate problem. Let the change sink in. Strike a balance between change and stability. Pace change. Counterbalance it with periods of rest to allow people to adapt systems and structures to the current new way.

Abrahamson adds: Go to your corporate "basement" and check out what you've got that can be recombined and redeployed to meet new environmental needs. Rather than "creating, inventing or purchasing something new", shift talented people into parts of the organization where their expertise is better suited to the new strategy. Instead of slashing and burning, "tinker, fiddle, jury-rig, bootstrap, cobble together and patch your way to effective change". "Change without pain".

Emerging research on change in organizations indicates that small changes reap massive performance increases. It mimics evolution in life itself. We are physiologically resilient. We are cautious in testing new territory. But after some experimentation and with proof of solid results, we move forward with gusto.

The slow movement is our natural response to being overwhelmed by waves of change without rest in-between. We can live better in an organization and produce outstanding results if we deal with the rush to change by slowing down. But at times slowing down may not always be the answer as the slow philosophy embraces doing everything at the right speed. It is a nuanced challenge for leaders.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Permitting the Small Birds to Sing

"Too little time lunching in the staff cafeteria" is one pundit's take on a key reason for Carly Fiorina's demise. He may be onto something. Since her ouster by the HP board on February 9, the prevailing opinions by the media, academics and management gurus alike have ranged from "poor strategy execution" to not delegating (having a COO) to failure to change the moribund or resistant culture of the founders, David and Bill. Likely right on all counts. But, it is the details that matter here. Carly failed to win the hearts and minds of the little people--that is, her employees below the senior executives. If she had hung out in the cafeteria, she might have even changed her strategy.

Perhaps Carly believed she had to be the keeper of the strategy, as the the board expected her to be bold and create enormous shareholder value in record time. Thus, her theatrical communications were reflective of that belief. She had to look confident even if it was ill-conceived (the merger with Compaq).

What the little people want is to be acknowledged (for the culture they hold dear) and to have hope for the future IF they make a shift in their way of doing business. They also like to be consulted and have the opportunity to contribute their wisdom. Carly tampered with the soul of the organization--it's a dangerous approach for a leader when attempting change.

Better that the "eagle permit the small birds to sing, and care not wherefore they sang", so aptly described by Winston Churchill when negotiating peace at the end of WW II. The late Arthur Miller characterized the dilemma as our "tragic right". We fear being displaced, being torn away from our image of what and who we are in the world. The "tragic right", according to Miller "is a condition in which the human personality is able to flower and and realize itself". It is possible that Carly failed to imbue employees with their potential to make a difference. Her messaging instead was that they needed to change.

In the end, Carly had few followers--surely the litmus test of a leader. No doubt her intentions were noble. But her method did not "permit the small birds to sing".

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

HP's Culture Overthrows Carly

At every level of our lives, our values and beliefs define who we are and how we act. As we are social beings shaped by geography and the traditions into which we are born and to which we are drawn, it is no surprise that Carly Fiorina lost her battle to remake HP. She fought hard to change the HP Way with a mega merger and bold restructurings. The more kind and compassionate culture of founders Bill and David smarted at the assaults. The Compaq values simply didn't cut it. The brash outsider who outwitted Walter Hewlett over the HP-Compaq merger and who shortly thereafter stopped talking about the HP culture finally succumbed to the DNA of HP.

Carly started out in a difficult place. CEOs who are outsiders do not fare nearly as well as insiders, contrary to common belief (see Charan's article in HBR February 2005). They don't know the culture. They are often brought in to shake things up. Trouble is they still have to deal with human beings who not only have a great deal of expertise, they have feelings and are proud. Any new CEO has to tread carefully to connect with the workforce and the history of the organization. Too much change cannot easily be absorbed when people are trying to get the product out the door. Radical change that flies in the face of tradition, especially one that has served a company well, is a dangerous path to pursue.

David Packard, an iron-willed yet gentle leader and Bill Hewlett a friendly dreamer together forged a workplace where people felt cared for and encouraged to rise to great heights of accomplishment. In today's insecure world, it is just that kind of workplace that thrives. Collins and Porras made the point quite clearly in "Built to Last". "Core values are an organization's essential and enduring tenets, not to be compromised for financial gain or short-term expediency". They found that builders of visionary companies focus on creating "a ticking clock" rather than hitting a market just right".

The HP clock lives on. Charisma is highly over-rated.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Work-Life Conflicts Getting Worse

It's hard for leader-managers to model great leadership and to inspire employees when they themselves are tuckered out. I've interviewed scores of overloaded and stressed out managers in the last few years who have legitimate complaints about the workplace. They work longer hours, regularly taking work home. Downsizing has squeezed their numbers causing them to have their heads buried in tasks at the expense of overseeing, coaching and mentoring. Child care and elder care just add to the stress. The research bears out their experiences. Work-life balance is more talk than action among large Canadian organizations.

Professors Linda Duxbury and Chris Higgins from Carleton and Western Universities respectively have raised many red flags with their research. Managers, in particular, are on treadmills, not of the healthy exercise kind. The greatest surprise is that men, managers and professionals and employees in the not-for-profit sector have the heaviest work demands. Furthermore managers and professionals regardless of gender in all regions across the country work are less likely to be paid for their considerable overtime hours. See Duxbury and Higgins report at

This is a complex issue that requires leadership from the very top and an awakening by managers to get better control of this runaway problem. Smart strategy and strong organizational cultures are not easily created and sustained when workload drives the agenda.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Revenge of the Right Brain

Daniel Pink's article, "Revenge of the Right Brain" in Wired February 2005 confirms my experience with our Leadership Development Program. When participants assess their preferences or styles in learning or creativity, approximately 10-15% fall into the "diverging" or innovators categories. When they place themselves on a left brain-right brain continuum, they usually cluster towards the middle or to the left with few and often none on the right. They explain that the nature of their work and the organization "causes" them to focus on logic and reason not creativity.

As Pink claims, we have succeeded very well as a primarily "left-brained" oriented society. But, China and India now can do the left-brained tasks far cheaper than the West can. Our next competitive advantage is to develop and better use our right-brain capacity.

Brain research indicates than we can induce the sprouting of new processes and new synapses over our entire lifetime. Thus, we can build our creative ability but it must be done very deliberately and be championed by top leaders.