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.