Sunday, December 07, 2008

Replacing Advice with Curiousity One Room at a Time

Engagement is the means by which there can be a shift in caring for the well-being of the whole, and the task of leader as convener is to produce that engagement.

---Peter Block, Community: The Structure of Belonging, p. 87.
Engagement precedes problem-solving, persuasion, commitment, accountability and responsibility. It’s so powerful in its manifestation that the term “engaged” enjoys a permanent place in our hearts. If it’s alive, things are good. If not, we are just putting in time. Creativity and innovation either thrive or fail to grow. No wonder organizational and political leaders want to “engage” employees or the electorate.

Yet, most struggle with how to engage. Like a chameleon, it comes and goes but does not seem to stick around. Engagement can’t be hurried because it requires dialogue. Engagement doesn’t do well in the face of “I know best” by a leader or manager. Engagement doesn’t take root when it’s difficult to voice an opinion because of the structure of a meeting. Engagement doesn’t get to “first base” if respect isn’t in the air.

We have reached a time in our society and organizations where we crave engagement. Generation Y won’t have it any other way. Generation X and the Boomers have no trouble agreeing as they have wanted more engagement for decades. Long ago they recognized that the challenges are far too complex for formal leaders to tackle without a helping hand from all concerned. Fortunately there is an upside to the interesting times we are experiencing--- democracy of the “kitchen table”, “Main Street”, “street corner” and “water cooler” variety is back in fashion.

Although percolating in millions of places around the world, we’ve seen its renaissance most recently with Barack Obama. Besides his rapid rise from “nowhere”, he demonstrated through his grassroots approach to fundraising and organizing volunteers that he has a firm grasp on engaging others.

His ability to engage comes from who he is, how he relates and how he organizes structurally to enable dialogue. His curiosity and depth of caring for “Main Street” (who he is) underpin his solution-finding. Like Roger Bannister breaking the four-minute mile barrier, Obama has set a new high for civic engagement. The principles are equally valid to organizational life.

How that came about is well-described in Dreams from My Father. Framed by his quest to make sense of his identity within two stories---“white” and “black”---Obama’s self-reflections shape and evolve his values and beliefs, his way of being and relating and his acumen at bringing people together to achieve something worthwhile.

After a successful stint at corporate life, becoming a community organizer beckoned. The pull of his mother’s advocacy for the “oppressed”, his father’s Kenyan roots, and his largely Hawaiian upbringing where hierarchy is less dominant likely played roles in his desire to do something at the community level. Fortuitously, that experience set the stage for his know-how in organizing “room by room”.

Peter Block offers some concrete guidance to organizing “room by room” and “convening” engagement. Using the small group (often within a larger group) as the prime way to enable dialogue and create accountability and commitment, he suggests that leaders convene by:

--Coming from a context of possibility, generosity, gifts (of others) and the importance of relationships

--Asking powerful questions that invite people to co-create such as “What is the commitment you hold that brought you into this room?” “What is your contribution to the very thing you complain about?” “What are your gifts….?”

--Listening and being present (no ego).

Barack Obama discovered these guidelines as he literally went around interviewing people to find out what the community wanted to do. His mentors were a multitude of ordinary people trying to survive, raise their families, and exercise their freedom. One gave him a useful piece of advice—not to take himself so seriously. Good advice for all leaders.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Paying Attention Goes a Long Way When Leading During Crises

Every interaction is a form of confrontation---a clash of priorities, a struggle of dignities, a battle of beliefs.

--- P. Koestenbaum, In LaBarre, 2000, p. 222

White water rafting is an apt metaphor for surviving in our current environment. Times of crisis, which keep rolling in one after another, starkly show whether a leader can adapt or not. Times of crisis test the leadership within each of us regardless of position. Many don’t make it because of an unwillingness to let go of old assumptions and beliefs and be present to the new. Where are you as a leader in this regard?

For the majority of us, turmoil first comes as external and beyond our control. But, whether we like it or not, our adaptation challenge is the same as those who are in the depth of the chaos: we are left to scramble without having been there before. How can we get beyond the fear and atmosphere of negativity from the terrorist attack in Mumbai and the continued turmoil in financial markets around the world? How can we help those around us both at work and at home cope with the escalating level of uncertainty?

This is the ultimate test of leadership: dealing with the emotional upheaval (yours and that of those who look to you for guidance) and the lack of information and best practices upon which to draw.

Paying attention helps. Robert Quinn in his book Building the Bridge As You Walk On It calls this “detached interdependence”. It means paying attention to what’s happening, transcending a need to control and allowing others to find and express their full capacities. It means being humble and strong and open to others’ views, yet not being attached to whether they like us or not. Underneath the stance of “paying attention” is clarity of our purpose---personally and organizationally. People “get” leaders and managers who are inspired by a reason for being no matter how dire the external circumstances are. They will rise to the occasion.

That’s why it’s fascinating to watch what various leaders do in these unusually turbulent times. What they do is typically a direct expression of their leadership beliefs in relating to people and getting the job done. What they do becomes an internal moral challenge: to serve one’s own interests or those whom they serve. It is a challenging polarity, as Quinn likes to remind us.

An example is the CEO of Maple Leaf Foods. In confronting his firm’s role in causing people to die from an outbreak of listeriosis in August 2008, he demonstrated this moral choice. Michael McCain quickly closed down the suspected Toronto plant and apologized profusely. He repeatedly used words to the effect that “the buck stops here”. McCain did not finger point and he kept the lines of communication open with the media. His pain was obvious, showing his own vulnerability but at the same time his resolve.

In the December issue of the Globe and Mail’s Report on Business McCain said he was doing what was right. “The core principle here was to first do what’s in the best interests of public health, and second to be open and transparent in taking accountability.” Although he emphasized that the handling of the situation was very much about his team not only himself (“It’s just what we are”.), he was reluctant to identify the obvious---his team was dependent on his core values and his willingness to be adaptive.

There is much more to the Maple Leaf story yet to be told. How McCain discovered the greatness within himself to “do the right thing” will become another interesting layer. How he struggled and the mistakes he made while trying to figure his way through the horrible situation will be most informative for preparing others when calamity strikes.

Quinn has some tips and comments related to leading and adapting during great uncertainty which likely mirror some of what McCain did:

--recognize that excellence requires you to go where you have not been before
--understand that leaving the comfort zone is terrifying
--in high uncertainty, you cannot rely on knowledge
--you must surrender your sense of control and begin to learn in real time
--in uncertainty and learning, you must continually clarify the desired result
--keep it simple. Establish a few operating rules, and move forward
--the learning process is improvisational; you must create as you go
--you launch a thousand ships knowing most will sink
--it is normal to be scared
--listen carefully to criticism
--forget self-interest and focus on collective success
--give yourself time to process feedback and get through the emotions
--trust yourself and others

If paying attention is a primary tool for stabilizing a crisis and leading effectively in general, being prepared is equally important. The Mombai massacre unfortunately revealed that India was not prepared, especially at the local level. The Taj hotel burned for more than three hours before firefighters arrived. Numerous police personnel were killed. The soldiers struggled for three days to gain control.

The recent crises in India (terrorism), the United States (financial implosion) and Canada (listeriosis outbreak) make one thing very clear: smart strategic and tactical planning and good governance are essential parts of a leader’s tool kit. Adaptive leadership is the thread that binds.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Barack Obama Activated Our Natural Empathy and Cooperation

The Republicans didn’t have a chance against Obama given the context of fear from which Americans wanted to escape. According to neuroscience, we all hold to a greater or lesser extent two moral world views---conservative and progressive. Sometimes, we hold both at the same time on an issue-specific basis. These modes of thought are hard-wired into our brains through biology and experience. They literally “light up” and drive our behaviour, often unconsciously, depending on the language, images and stories of the world around us.

Applying the world view contexts to the presidential election results, the financial crisis coupled with a myriad of legacy issues (war in Iraq and climate change, for example) tipped the balance towards empathy and cooperation. Since Barack Obama’s language of hope and change related closely to the latter, his stories appealed across a broad spectrum of people who were ready for a change. His messages, so different from the fear, coercion and isolationism of the last eight years, activated en masse the progressive moral world view of millions of American voters and people from all walks of life around the world.

As Professor George Lakoff, a distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley describes in The Political Mind, the differences between the two moral world views are like a nurturing versus a strict parent. The nurturing parent models empathy, responsibility for oneself and others and the strength to carry out those responsibilities. The strict parent model, on the other hand, is concerned with authority, obedience, discipline and punishment.

In political terms, the progressive view champions caring—taking responsibility, acting courageously and powerfully. The role of government is to protect and empower—a social justice model. That means having in place a range of supports for community life beyond the hard services such as police, fire, the military, roads and well-run financial and legal systems. The softer services figure prominently in the government’s agenda---a social safety net, clean water, safe food, accessible health care and education, disaster relief, consumer and worker protection and environmental stewardship, etc...

Unlike the nurturing side of the progressive view, conservative thought politically is concerned with obedience to authority—knowing right from wrong and being loyal within a hierarchy. The role of government is to protect us from evil and minimize constraints such as regulations, taxes, unions, and certain anti-individual freedom laws. This model of government is more laissez faire.
In reality, each one of us and our political leaders link these different world views in a variety of combinations. What holds sway for voters is contingent on the situation and how it impacts our emotional needs. For Obama, the “perfect storm” of issues matched his generally progressive philosophy and acumen at mobilizing people, that is, engaging and empowering individuals and groups in managing their own wellbeing in tough times.

Now that the cheering has subsided, we are left wondering whether this cool, calm and seemingly centred and caring president-elect is who he seems to be. He has yet to create the data which will prove one way or the other. Academics have taken to analyzing his language and thoughts (contradictory) and comparing and contrasting his apparent attributes to former presidents. He compares well to Kennedy, Lincoln, Roosevelt (Franklin D.), Reagan and Clinton. The pundits are conducting their post-mortems in minute detail looking for any signs of what is to come.

One of them reflects the “morning after the party feelings.” Our very own Rex Murphy of CBC TV and the Globe and Mail believes that “Hillary woke Mr. Obama out of his dangerous complacency and gave him a taste of humility—not a welcome flavour…to the Obama palate.” Murphy goes on to explain that “she found his weak spot---the patrician element in him, the high yuppie disdain.” “She also taught him that some people in politics go for the jugular.” So, who will we see? The humble Obama from which empathy and caring arise or the patrician, overly cool Obama?

In that few get training in how to be a president in advance of landing the job, like most leaders, he’ll be learning as he goes. He and we will find out who he is as the issues are confronted and dealt with.

We can be certain though that he will be more curious, open and collaborative than his predecessor based on his track record. That’s good news. In that empathy and “real” reason” are both needed, we might see Hillary again working with not against Obama. For her many supporters, that will be a welcome outcome.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Now is the Time for Managers to Ask About Feelings and Meanings

If you think life is always improving, you are going to miss half of it.

---David Whyte

Turbulent times call for special managerial skills---helping teams walk together through the chaos with the confidence that a new and stronger order will arise out of the ashes of the old. Just like a forest fire enables new growth.

This is life but we as a rule do not like such unpredictability and uncertainty. If we ignore the reality, we endanger our ability to cope and adapt. For our wellbeing at home and at work, a better way is to confront our heightened anxiety about the world around us. Let’s face it, the creative destruction of the financial markets coupled with the upcoming American presidential election add up to a great deal of edginess everywhere.

How does a manager help in these circumstances? Aside from the benefits of exercise, relaxation and fun, the critical antidote is dialogue. A good way to begin is to ask: “How are you feeling?”

If fears and anxieties can be addressed honestly and without judgment, the next steps present themselves. Hope and optimism begin to arise even when the markers are not clear. A renewed sense of “why we are here together to do something meaningful” shines through.

Margaret Wheatley in Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time has some other tips for use individually or as a team:

Start the day off peacefully
Suggestions include driving to work in silence, listening to soothing music, reflecting on a spiritual phrase or parable and starting a meeting with the first five minutes as silence.

Learn to be mindful
Keep yourself from instantly reacting. Pause so that your reactions and thoughts don’t lead you. Step back and consider other responses.

Slow things down
Take a breath in meetings when you feel your anger or impatience arising. Be proactive in slowing down the meeting, if appropriate, to think things through as needed.

Create personal measures
Know who you want to become. Ask yourself: “Am I turning toward or away?” from that aspiration for myself.

Expect surprise
Accept that life will keep interrupting your plans and surprise you at every turn of the way.

Practice gratefulness
On a daily basis, literally “count your blessings”. This helps grace, internal peace and relationships to grow.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Dion lost on emotions not substance

Our fascination with Barack Obama and Sarah Palin underscores the power of emotions in a leader’s “ratings”. That ability to connect is gate number one. Substance comes later as we ponder who will step up to the leadership challenge. Stephane Dion never had a chance as he could not open his emotional gate enough.

A story by Peter Newman in the October 22, 2008 Globe and Mail brought the mystery of Dion’s disappointing results at the polls into perspective. He recounts meeting up with Dion during the election campaign and proposing how he could win nearly every vote in the country: “Instead of Stephane, call your self Celine.” “You will win by a landslide.”
Although meant clearly as “tongue in cheek”, Dion did not react by making a witty comment or gesture. He simply looked puzzled.

Maybe he thinks too much which causes hesitation rather than spontaneity. In this instance, it is quite possible he truly did not understand because of the nuance of the joke in English. This is a problem when people want to connect first and foremost and that comes from the heart.

Based on his research on leadership, Daniel Goleman considers the emotional task of the leader as primal. “It is both the original and the most important part of leadership.” “Tribal chieftains or shamanesses earned their place in large part because their leadership was emotionally compelling.” The great French philosopher Diderot would concur as he exclaimed that “only passions, great passions can elevate the soul to great things.” Stephane Dion’s passion (which he has) could not be expressed in the right notes to be felt and heard.

This primordial emotional role cuts across cultures. The Globe Project on leadership ( found three primary leadership dimensions that are universally regarded as positives in leadership:

First is “charismatic/inspirational”. The most strongly endorsed contributor to good leadership worldwide, it is linked to being positive, dynamic, encouraging, motivating and someone who is a confidence-builder.

Next is “team integrator”. It means being communicative, informed and a good coordinator.

The third top universal leadership dimension viewed around the world as desirable is “integrity”. It relates to leaders being trustworthy, just and honest.

Judging from the media accounts of Dion and certainly from the comments to the editor pages, Dion scored well on “integrity” only. He was often quoted by critics as being a “lone wolf”, ignoring or rejecting the opinions of his advisors and caucus (for example, to play down the “green shift” and to counter Stephen Harper’s negative advertisements with some of the same). Reason seems to have won the day with Mr. Dion at his peril.

At the end of the day, reason and solid evidence must prevail for effective leadership. But our humanness demands connection first through “the audacity of hope” as Barack Obama so eloquently describes in his book of the same name and through assurances and clarity when we face threats and uncertainties. That’s why Stephen Harper still has his minority and Barack Obama is poised to become the next President of the United States by a landslide.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Democracy in Action: Rallying Around the Environment and Other Issues That Really Matter Like Financial Security

These are interesting and exciting times for democracy. Pure-bred capitalism has shown its ugly side. Main Street Canada and America are showing signs of revolt. The spirit of involvement in our collective destiny is gaining momentum, particularly in the United States and judging by media commentary, also in Canada. Perhaps the chasm in values between those who govern and those being governed will finally be bridged.

Economists of the John Maynard Keynes persuasion must be thinking “I told you so” while America’s House of Representatives struggles to stabilize a financial mess brought on by too little oversight by yours truly. In Canada, yearly polling by Ekos shows that “competitiveness” and “minimal government” ranked 1st and 3rd for the political and economic elite but 20th and 22nd by the general public. “Virtually all of the government roles related to equality, social justice, collective rights, full employment and regulation were low on the elite’s preference list and high on the general public’s.”

These results suggest that Main Street Canada is open to government providing some smart steering to address problems that the market or "trickle down economics" cannot fix. The jury is still out on the sentiments of the public in the United States. When the chaos is over, like a death in the family, there will be a re-thinking of values. Going back to the lifestyle that was will not be an option.

For an example of democracy in action in Canada, check out The website is only three days old and is humming with activity

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Beware of polically-induced "spells" as they can mess with your reasoning

What’s the difference between a campaign of ‘hard questions’ about momentous issues and a carnival of lies? Lipstick.

---David Olive (September 20, 2008). Toronto Star

As some people like to say, “There’s a reason for everything”. Maybe Sarah Palin showed up in our lives because we needed a little more levity in a generally somber political environment. Fear, violence, climate upheaval and too much suffering around the world are taking their toll on our collective middle class psyches. Sarah has certainly been a distraction and a reminder that politicians play chess with our minds because that’s the way the game is played. A few little “truthies” and corn ball metaphors here and there are needed to camouflage all problems. Do you blame them?

On both sides of the border, the campaign adage is to repeat something often enough until it becomes real even if it isn’t. Image and persuasion trump the facts because apparently that’s what we respond to.

Politicians of all stripes and philosophies have learned that to reach us they must appeal to our primal emotional instincts. Largely unconscious, our automatic “inner theatre” was formed long ago when we were kids under the “spell” of our parents, teachers, friends and the cultures in which we grew up. Our reactions are typically either positive or negative and we gravitate or move away accordingly and evaluate the policy offerings within those frameworks. Critical thinking takes a back seat to whether we like a person or not.

To override our automatic “from the past” responses is extremely difficult in the high pressure environments in which we live and lead. Sorting out fact from fiction takes time and energy. So, we resort to falling under “spells” again and hope for the best. Put another way, we search for someone who will best feed our emotions, not necessarily our reason.

A fundamental tenet of great leadership is to be on the alert to “think about your thinking”. Called the “fourth dimension”, it can save the day when chaos and complexity reign and no simple answers suffice. It can also be the tool for breaking ‘spells”.

With time, people tire of the messages of hope, the hoopla, the negative ads and the grand communication schemes. This has been demonstrated over and over again in organizations where a “white knight” from the outside has been brought in with great flourish to fix things up. Many heads roll, many promises are made and then the reality of implementation without deep expertise, without consultation and without the benefit of the facts sets in. The honeymoon quickly fades but the cost to rectify the damage is enormous.

We do wake up naturally but it takes time. The trick is to accelerate the process while we have time to avoid serious damage. It means using time-honoured leadership lessons to ensure we’re not just caught up in our emotions. Besides asking a lot of questions and gathering smart contrarians around you, look for the facts, as demonstrated by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenburg Public Policy Center though

In Canada, more so than the United States, ideological fatigue has set it, according to Frank Graves, President of Ekos Research Associates. We’re becoming more pragmatic and eclectic and certainly less attached to left-right arguments. We’re looking for “what works”.

That’s the bottom line: look for what works. That’s how nature does it.

Monday, September 01, 2008

While the Cat's Away, the Mice Come Out to Play: Canadian Listeriosis Outbreak is a Hard Lesson in Leadership Governance

Learning teacheth more in one year than experience in 20, and learning teacheth safely, when experience maketh more miserable than wise…it is costly wisdom that is bought by experience.

--- Roger Ascham (1515-1568) in The Street Master

The listeriosis outbreak traced to one Maple Leaf Foods plant in northern Toronto glaringly shines a light on the ethical and moral dilemmas underlying leadership. With 11 people dead so far and many more ill, the impact of the assumptions and beliefs of leaders within the food security system is tragic and economically costly. Only a full inquiry will unearth where the system went wrong. It’s a hard lesson in system governance and one which we will likely find was entirely preventable.

The movie Beautiful Mind gives us some clues as to the dilemmas inherent in any system and the principled solutions which are possible. Princeton University professor John F. Nash Jr. shared a 1994 Nobel Prize with three others for his research on “games theory” or the science of strategy in conflict situations. In 2005, two more researchers were awarded the Nobel for their games theory work. Clearly, the phenomenon has struck a chord in our increasingly complex society.

In layperson’s terms, Nash and other researchers have demonstrated that outcomes depend on not just your own decisions but also on what others do as in driving through an intersection. The particular scene in the movie illustrating Nash’s “ah ha” is a university bar where men and women are meeting and greeting and clearly influenced by each others’ actions. Taken further, Nash and other mathematicians demonstrated that co-operation in most instances trumps butting heads. It explains why some groups or individuals, organizations and countries succeed in promoting co-operation while others suffer from conflict. It has been used to explain economic conflicts such as price and trade wars, the workings of the stock market and why some communities are more successful (economically) than others in managing common resources. However, it won’t work without trust. That’s’ where things get “dicey”.

A clash of cultures (assumptions, beliefs and values) within the system can wreak havoc with making the right decisions. A public safety system such as food security requires many redundant checks and balances. Who does what when remains the repeatable big question as lessons are learned. There are hints in the press that government loosened the reins a little on the shop floor, giving more control to industry to police itself. Maybe that didn’t happen. If it did it would have stirred the “pot” of leadership assumptions and beliefs. What now is going to govern preventing serious food-related bacterial outbreaks in the general population?

A family story that has animated our history for 77 years provides some direction. I never understood while I was growing up why my mother Margaret would often bring up the subject of her sister Adelaide. To me it was history. To her, it was and still is painful, “what if?” history.

In my adult years, I’ve come to understand the senseless tragedy of Adelaide’s death—being at the wrong place at the wrong time when the system could do little to help her. At the same time, I have a strong appreciation of the advances that have been made to protect other young children from the same fate.

My grandmother on my mother’s side liked to travel and she yearned for her homeland. In early 1931, she embarked, with her two little girls Margaret, 5 years old and Adelaide 8, on a voyage across the Atlantic to Liverpool. Little did she know they were heading straight into a diphtheria epidemic! Within days of landing, both young girls became seriously ill and were hospitalized. Only my mother made the trip back. Why she survived and Adelaide did not remains a mystery.

In those days, although a successful vaccine had been developed, it was not widely available. It took the discovery and development of sulfa drugs following WW 11 to open up protection for the general population. Regular vaccinations for infants, children and boosters for adults are routine in developed countries.

What does this say about governance now? Since we know what prevents senseless deaths, the values and beliefs of a leader then and now no longer drive the ethics of decision-making. Instead, it’s the evidence of what works. Inotherwords, when in doubt wherever you are as a leader in the system, default to the evidence.

A just released World Health Organization (WHO) report on the determinants of health reinforces this principle. The blue-ribbon panel of International experts concluded that “social injustice is killing people on a grand scale.”

The evidence, according to the panel, is clear and irrefutable: societies, like the Nordic countries, are healthier because they spend generously on universal social programs, reduce income equalities, and regulate important health determinants such as food, housing and labour markets. In the spirit of “games theory”, the economies of these countries do not suffer. They thrive as expected. Sweden, for example, continues to do a credible job at balancing and re-balancing the needs of the free market (private enterprise) with the quality of life needs of the population, as a whole. These findings hold for rich and poor countries alike.

In light of the current food security scare in Canada, the WHO report is timely. For those leaders who wrestle with competing interests to make ethical decisions, the WHO findings “lead the way”. You might think that these findings have nothing to do with you in your organization. You might not like the WHO’s findings because of the kind of business you are in. Alternatively, the findings might be “bang on” for you. In reality, there are lessons to be learned no matter what your leadership challenges are and in what part of the system you work.

The WHO report speaks of the lack of political leadership and moral courage as key barriers. In every organization, not just government, these factors are relevant and play a role in influencing important outcomes. The food security problem in Canada, at the moment, is a symbol of the co-operative tensions in any complex system and that serious collateral damage can occur if the cat’s away.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Moving the System Forward: A Gold Medal for the Organizing Leaders of the Beijing Olympics

Life seeks to organize so that more life can flourish. Systems are friendlier to life. They provide support and stability. They also provide more freedom for individual experimentation.

---Margaret Wheatley, A Simpler Way, p.33.

The Chinese have done Canadian Sports a favour. By doing the job so well, they brought to the foreground the serious inadequacies in our system, starting at the political level. In the words of the chief executive officer of the Canadian Olympic Committee, Chris Rudge, “the rest of the world is not standing still”. It is time for the Canadian government to step up “with the big boys”.

The Chinese are to be commended for an outstanding 2008 Olympics. They spared no expense and left no stone unturned. The Chinese demonstrated what happens when leaders pay attention to the whole system. The results speak for themselves---copious medals for the Chinese and a “wow” experience overall for everyone. London and Vancouver have their work cut out for them. A new record has been set for Olympic organizing.

It’s a level of organizing where the leader’s eyes see the whole network, the nodes within it and how to connect and strengthen the nodes. Meticulous attention by the Chinese to the assets of the system (their athletes and the tools and resources needed) enabled them to grow and perform at outstanding levels. The Chinese organizing leaders repeated the approach for the event, visioning, planning, executing, learning and adapting as the story unfolds---the “bird’s eye” view as well as the grassroots on the ground view. This is the ultimate challenge and central purpose of leadership, particularly at the top. In many instances it is not done well. Fragmentation reigns.

Take the system for golf. It may be accepted as an Olympic sport in time for the Olympics in London. But, in Canada we are not well prepared for this possibility. Australia, which won 46 medals in Beijing in comparison to Canada’s 18, has about 25 players at the PGA golf level. Canada has three. The difference is a well-funded organized system in Australia. Compare that to what exists for young Canadian pros. They must find their own funding through private sources and figure out independently how to train themselves. It’s catch as catch can, as the saying goes or every person for himself.

The irony is that in the last decade a variety of stakeholders such as the Royal Canadian Golf Association (RCGA), the Canadian Junior Golf Association (CJGA), the coaching bodies and Sport Canada have joined forces to create a strong pipeline of amateur golfers. Then, everything ends, placing precious talent in a precarious position. The “war for talent” doesn’t exist in golf. No attention, meager results. RCGA acknowledges the issue in its recently published “Long term Player Development Plan”. The how of getting there is not detailed.

Fortunately, our leaders within the Olympic movement recognized a few Olympics ago that something had to be done if we were to hold our own against other equivalent countries, most notably the G8. They have fought hard for significant increases in funding and are still doing so. Slowly, the results are beginning to show. According to Rudge, 35 improvements have been made in the COC’s athlete support programs since Athens. However, in a August 25, 2008 Globe and Mail article by James Christie, Rudge also emphasizes that Canada needs more athletes in its system, more and better sport facilities and increased federal support.

But, comparatively speaking, Australia invested $250M in 434 athletes to Canada’s $111M for 331 athletes. Great Britain will be pumping in $1.16B of funding with 60 per cent from taxpayers. How are we going to keep up to the accelerated pace of other countries without our Prime Minister and his provincial counterparts throwing their weight behind sport? For goodness sake, Stephen Harper didn’t even show up at the Olympics!

Many argue that the problem in Canada is cultural. We just don’t get as excited about sports the way other countries do. But judging from our love affair with hockey and the high degree of grassroots, community participation in all manner of sports, it seems a long shot to point the finger at a cultural problem. Plain and simple it’s about leadership and priorities.

Any system can be improved with leadership “will”. Communities across Canada demonstrated this par excellence in advance of the Beijing Olympics. For every one of our athletes who won a medal, let alone those who achieved personal bests, there is a community behind them of volunteer coaches, facilities of varying quality for training and practicing and small amounts of funding for out of community events. This is where it starts. But, to continue, we need leadership at all levels of government to pick up from the communities to enable our athletes to compete at world events. Converting local championships to provincial, national, world and then to Olympic medals requires a “Chinese-type” focus and commitment.

There’s a limit though to regimentation in any system. Like nature, to improve, a system needs lots of freedom to try many things out and see what works. It’s a bit messy. Various forms of democracy are spreading around the world because humans thrive within them. It’s not far-fetched to assume that we, in other countries, have contributed to China. How that will shape up is yet to be seen.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Read More Novels, Build Empathy

When there is so much to work on to become a more effective leader, it’s heartening to find something that’s easy. Empathy, a form of social intelligence, is a desirable capability for leaders and managers. How to become more empathetic remains an enigma for many.

One very effective way is to work on “being present” with another. This is commonly wrapped up in the term “active listening”. Those who meditate naturally build their capacity to be present as they “listen” to their breathing and observe their thoughts. But, if you don’t meditate in the formal sense, how else can you add to your empathy acumen? Researchers at the University of Toronto have found out one way to do so.

They contend that reading fiction of any kind will elevate social intelligence. Keith Oakley a professor of Psychology explains that when we read fictional stories we are temporarily allowing ourselves to become another person. Presumably, our minds follow the characters and how they view the world. Since the spectrum of characters in any one novel varies from our own, the various personalities to which we are subjected literally loosen us up. We “walk in their shoes” and as a result we become a little less rigid. At a neurological level, when we see the world through the eyes of another, we are stimulating the parts of our brains that govern empathy.

So, this suggests that when you are particularly frazzled by the actions of others, make sure you have a novel on hand at work not just at home. Find a quiet spot and settle in for a little read. Come back refreshed and with a better balanced perspective!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Want More Spontaneous Collaboration? Dust Off the Chalkboards.

Imagine around every corner in your organization, you didn’t hear the din of quiet but the buzz of live chatter. To your left and right you see small groups of your colleagues immersed in excited conversation around of all things—a blackboard (or, a chalkboard depending on the term used when you were growing up). Ideas are filling the board. People are debating, rubbing out and adding ideas. Passersby stop, ponder and add their “two cents worth” before moving on.

This is standard practice in the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ontario, a theoretical physics think tank. It was founded in 2001 by Research in Motion’s president Mike Lazardis to nurture breakthroughs in cosmology, quantum gravity or string theory and other mysteries of the universe. The researchers are freed from administrative and teaching duties to sit, walk or bike around and think.

While the majority of us don’t have the luxury of just thinking, we do have the freedom to create more opportunities for spontaneous collaboration. Hallway and water cooler chats are renowned for generating new connections, ideas, innovations and breakthroughs in decision making. Why not add a blackboard to enhance the creative process?

This could be a tough sell. It is embedded in our society not to have such things around. We left chalkboards behind first in grade school and lastly in college and university where remnants existed in old lecture halls. Even flip charts are hard to find in our modern buildings. Instead, we have our heads buried in computers, PPT presentations or our individual notebooks when in meetings. None of these are high touch enough to get our collective creative juices going.

In the crime program “Numbers”, we see the blackboard magic at work. One of the key problem-solvers is shown frequently in front of his blackboard contemplating various algorithms and interconnections to make sense of a crime’s mysteries. Colleagues from the university drop by to aid in his musings. A computer is nearby for complicated calculations and data research. There’s also a lot of sitting around and tossing ideas back and forth. High touch and high tech complement each other.

We are not unfamiliar with such experiences. Retreats and workshops commonly make use of low tech flip charts and other hands on communal thinking processes to stimulate “out of box” thinking. But, flip charts, let alone chalkboards are not commonplace outside of these venues or on site meeting rooms.

For many of us, when we were kids, the teacher stood up at the front and wrote on the blackboard. Maybe it’s now time to dust off this scenario with a modern touch: all of us up at the front at the blackboard here there and everywhere in our places of work. At minimum, the level of informal exchange of information will climb exponentially. Out of that soup of ideas, something exciting will spontaneously gel.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Time is Now for a "Groundswell" Mindset Among G-8 Leaders

Let’s hope that the G-8 leaders are listening to a younger generation of advisors and more seasoned pros who are strategic thinkers. Based on media reporting so far, they seem stuck in the past unable to grasp that it’s time to be inclusive, let alone on trend with the pressing global issues.

A “groundswell” mindset means the balance of power is no longer within the G-8. It’s more than G-13 and G-20, as Canada's former Prime Minister Paul Martin lobbied so passionately for. Solutions to our complex world issues will be derived from connecting people with people to discover an array of ways forward.

That means the right kind of engagement forums and processes with the right players at the table. Leaders of all other kinds of organizations are well aware that if they don’t involve the individuals and teams who do the work and who will be most affected by executive decisions, the big issues will remain.

“Groundswell” is defined as “a social trend in which people use technologies to get the things they need from each other, rather than from traditional institutions like corporations” in the book of the same name by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. On the simplest level for political leaders, whose decisions matter so much for our collective well-being, they must broaden their reach and take advantage of blogs, wikis and social networking. Their “IQ” as a team will increase exponentially.

The showstopper is ego. Can each and every one of the G-8 leaders get beyond pride in their own ideas, protection of their power, and fear of the unknown? Creativity beckons. Innovation is at their door step. To use Jim Collins’ terminology from one of his books, the time is now to go from “good to great”.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

The Importance of Being Curious: A Leader's Real Best Friend

Personality specialists have long touted “openness” as one of the healthiest traits for surviving and thriving in our complex, chaotic world. Economists and urban planners note that organizations and city-regions with “openness personalities” have a better chance at prosperity than those which are not. Alan Greenspan, retired Chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve, characterizes the ability or talent as “being curious” versus “incurious”. Great historical leaders speak of “learning coming upon them” in order to understand what to do. Down through the ages, “being curious” has proven to be an important asset.

Alan Greenspan found Bill Clinton the most curious and successful President at managing the economy of the six under which he served during his tenure as the Fed Chair. In his book, The Age of Turbulence, he described Clinton as “fully engaged”, “an information hound” and a person who “asked a lot of smart questions”. He was also a “risk-taker” with good judgment. On the other hand, Greenspan’s most “incurious” President was George W. Bush. In his opinion, he was fixed in his beliefs and consequently was not open to exploring. While Clinton generated significant increases in new jobs, wrestled unemployment and the deficit down and improved the competitiveness of the United States, George W. Bush did the opposite. Incuriosity has its costs in every sense of the word.

Looking back to historical greats such as Churchill and Gandhi, we find a similar theme. As described in Arthur Herman’s Gandhi and Churchill, in the winter of 1896, after satisfying his fascination with becoming a “crack” polo player, Churchill set off on a crash reading program. He also traveled widely, particularly in India, to learn about that country’s challenges through his own eyes. Behind his curiosity was a belief that “large ideas would triumph over small ideas; that modern progress really would dispel prejudice and barbarism; and that human will and purpose such as his own would overcome every challenge.”

As Churchill grew as a leader so too did Gandhi. Like Churchill, he experienced many twists and turns. But always, he was “listening and learning”. In today’s terms, we would call Gandhi a “new age” person, drawn to the latest trends and ideas. Gandhi also believed strongly in grassroots knowledge—traveling around the country to see and experience the lives and struggles of ordinary folks.

While the curiosity of these leaders---Clinton, Churchill and Gandhi---did not always lead them directly to success, on the whole, their respective records stand the test of time. The least we can conclude is that “being curious” is a much better route to leadership and management success than “being incurious”. John Camillus in his May 2008 Harvard Business Review article, Strategy as a wicked problem, implies that today’s “wicked” problems which have innumerable causes, are tough to describe and don’t have a right answer, cannot be solved without curiosity and openness. All leaders and managers take note.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Another Take on Hillary Clinton's Cautiousness in Throwing in the Towel

The pundits have been out in full force largely criticizing Hillary Clinton for fighting to the bitter end. If the situation were sports, would they be so quick to rest her case? As we know in golf, tennis, horse races, soccer, basketball, hockey and the like, the competitive situation can change drastically in a flash. It matters to persist even in the face of overwhelming odds. Throwing in the towel prematurely before risk has been assessed thoroughly can come back to haunt an athlete let alone a leader facing a complex, fluid environment.

Through the sports lens, Ms. Clinton’s often quoted “perseverance” can be viewed as not just hard work and slogging but a strategic choice. Underneath that choice are other factors at work to be understood rather than criticized. How Hillary Clinton thinks and learns, thus, formulates and makes decisions, is really at the heart of her style.

Critics have gone down all kinds of harsh pathways, attributing dark intentions to her viewpoints and actions at each step of the way. Here are some samples:

“Ms. Clinton along with her husband and the loyal circle of advisors around her succumbed to the form of hubris that has felled many a dynasty past: an overarching sense of entitlement to the trappings of power.”
---editorial (June 4, 2008), The Globe and Mail.

“She stayed in the race long after it was clear that she could not win, and in the process exacerbated divisions in her party. Supporters put that down to her pluck, and she has plenty of that. But there is also more than a little ego—a sense that she, and only she, has the knowledge and the smarts to do the job. Wrapped up in that Clintonesque shawl of righteousness, she failed to see that something really big was happening.”
---Marcus Gee (June 6, 2008), The Globe and Mail.

“Ms. Clinton has this peculiar ability to suck all of the political oxygen out of the room. Mr. Obama may need to look elsewhere (for a vice-president), just so he can breathe.”
---John Ibbitson (June 6, 2008), The Globe and Mail

“The Clinton-couple, Bill and Hillary, are somewhat like a pair of decaying teeth in the mouth of the Democratic Party.”
---George Jonas (June 7, 2008), The National Post

In that evidence-based leadership is a better foundation for criticism (than a person’s perceived character), the distaste for having a Clinton near the White House makes little sense. In Allen Greenspan’s view, a die hard Republican and former Chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve under six Presidents, Bill Clinton, despite his warts and wrinkles, was the most effective President he worked with in terms of managing the economy. Such praise is not given lightly. In the same vein, Hillary has earned a reputation as a hard-working and effective senator in her own right. It would be a shame to squander such expertise and experience due to untested assumptions that she is self-righteous and full of entitlement.

Let’s instead look at Hillary for what she has to offer in the way she thinks and learns and ultimately makes decisions rather than some character flaw. We are all flawed. And, we are all gifted in a way that can bring value to leadership challenges.

Hillary likely is more of a left-brain thinker and assimilator in the way she processes information. The logic of the information matters. If she is more like academics who place great importance on how the information fits into patterns and concepts, her style of decision making can appear at first glance to be stalling for time. The reality for assimilators is that they need thinking time to weigh the options.

Of course the downside of such a style is to go overboard on weighing the options, a lament of the critics. One must decide eventually! As timing is everything, let’s give Hillary a break. She wanted certain results to be in. She got them and then she decided.

A mistake we often make as leaders is to judge others erroneously. The better way is to celebrate the gifts we each bring to the issues at hand and to understand and value how others think, learn and make decisions.

Hillary Clinton has channeled her life energy with the clarity, control and power of a martial artist. Although critics insist they have been seeing the dark side of her “dojo” and “ki”, another take on Hillary is that we have been witnessing a lighter side whose outcome will advance the greater involvement of women in politics. That will be to the advantage of all, including Barack Obama.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

North America's Elephant in the Room: Women Political Leaders in Scarce Supply

Anyone who can withstand the grueling nature of the United States Presidential nominations’ race deserves a gold Olympic medal. It has to be adrenalin and a steady diet of optimism that keeps the candidates upright and awake! In a world in which top and middle management leaders are on overload most of the time, we can identify somewhat with the brutal challenges of leading.

Now, with the dial increasingly pointing toward Barack Obama as the Presidential nominee of choice for the Democrats, the real impact of Hillary’s pending loss is beginning to sink in. In North America, we have an elephant in the room: a rotten track record of voting women to the top political post of a nation. Kim Campbell’s tenure as Canada’s Prime Minister barely counts as she was not in office long enough to accomplish anything.

Currently, there are 6 female Presidents and 7 woman Prime Ministers in the world. The Presidents are located in Argentina, Chile, Finland, India, Ireland, Liberia and The Philippines. The countries with Prime Ministers include Germany, New Zealand, Moldavia (Designated), Mozambique, The Netherlands Antilles, Ukraine and The Aland Islands. The numbers are small. But, telling in that South America is doing better than North America.

Another way to view the situation is the number of female members in the 195 countries and governments in the world. It ranges from a high of 60 % (Finland) to zero (Monaco and Saudi Arabia).

We would expect due to the length of time we have had electoral democracies in North America, that we’d at least be skirting the high end. No! At 21 %, Canada is outdone by most other established democracies except Ireland (20 %), Luxembourg (20 %), Belgium (19 %), Liechtenstein (20 %) and the United States (15 %). Even Rwanda at 25 % beats North America and, by recent reports, it is largely women who are through micro-credit initiatives rebuilding the economic foundation of that country.

Social scientists and others academics likely have many explanations for North America’s elephant in the room. We’ll hear more from them once the Democrats make up their minds. Certainly the pundits have no fear of speculating: blatant sexism! The timing is now for healing the race issue! There is no simple answer.

Although there is reason to celebrate---a fresh new face on the political scene in the United States---it feels somewhat bittersweet for women. Nevertheless, Hillary’s grit and depth and Barack’s focus on change and bringing people together have together made a positive contribution to the political emotional climate in North America. For that, we are fortunate. The times ahead will be exciting and interesting!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Annika Sorenstam's Choice: Every Working Woman's Dilemma

At first, I was flummoxed by Annika Sorenstam’s surprise announcement that she was “stepping away from competitive golf” at the end of the 2008 season. As one of the greatest female golfers of all time and with many more playable years left, why, at age 37, would she do that?

Watching her press conference and many others that followed, I began to understand---the peacefulness of her demeanor spoke volumes. She is ready to give back more. Her raison d’etre has shifted toward family and the fullness of life in general. This is every working woman’s dilemma.

To improve the quality of life for all peoples on this planet, women have a huge role to play. Many studies have demonstrated that organizations with women represented well at all levels, perform better than those who have thinning ranks of women, the higher one goes toward the top. For example, Fortune 500 companies with the most women on their boards outperform those with the fewest—52 per cent higher return on equity and 42 per cent higher return on sales (Why Women Should Rule the World, Dee Dee Myers, President Bill Clinton’s former press secretary). While this is good news, it only creates more stress for women. To effect change, we need to be where the action is. But, how does one choose between family and everything else?

The irony is that without women’s involvement, extensively and persistently, their voices will not be heard to the extent needed to make raising families easier. Take Canada’s situation on day care. Out of 14 industrialized countries, we are dead last in public spending on early childhood education and care, according to Stats Canada. Furthermore, while Canadian women outnumber men at university, and 75 per cent of women with children under 5 are in the workforce in Canada, women comprise just 30 per cent of the legislators in Ottawa (the average for Canada’s Conservative party is 16.3 per cent). Yet, in Spain, for example, women are in the majority at the elected level. What a difference that must make in better understanding the policies needed to raise the next generation while tackling the tough global issues of the day!

Annika’s story resonates. Her “axial spirit”, the desire to find greater meaning in life by being other-directed, is universal. She is joining a legion of women who have stepped out of the limelight and the “rat race” to attend to other pressing matters. If history is any predictor, she will return to the limelight after a decade or so. But, it won’t be to compete competitively. After time out to reflect and be involved in different ways in sports and in life (raise a family), she’ll be fighting with renewed vigour for policy changes in the world of sports that will impact the lives of many young people. At least, that’s my wish…..

Sunday, April 20, 2008

When Empathy Can Get You Into Trouble: The Thin Edge of the Wedge for Barack Obama

Emotional intelligence refers to an ability to recognize the meanings of emotions and their relationships, and to reason and problem-solve on the basis of them…it is the capacity to perceive emotions, assimilate emotion-related feelings, understand the information of these emotions, and manage them.

---Mayer, et al

We all know what it’s like to grieve for a loved one. So, when someone out of the goodness of his heart says to us, “I know how you feel”, the first reaction is to say, “No you don’t”. It’s presumptuous for another to claim she can step into our shoes and experience our pain. Yet, we hesitate to verbally reject that person’s kindness because he ‘meant well’. It’s quite a dilemma for both of us.

In this vein, Barack Obama fell into the trap of apparently feeling for another by naming it and igniting a firestorm of “No, you don’ts”. At a closed door fundraiser earlier this month in San Francisco, he remarked that working-class white voters in Pennsylvania towns and in the MidWest are “bitter because of job losses” and thus “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations”. Yes, that kind of thought process will get anyone into trouble! There are too many disconnects in the logic.

But, Obama wasn’t using logic. It was about empathy—an emotional connection to people’s frustrations due to the loss of good jobs in the globalized economy. He ‘meant well’ but he forgot that he really doesn’t know how others truly feel and think about their changing worlds.

With reference to Mayer’s definition of emotional intelligence, Mr. Obama perceived and assimilated the emotions. Where he skipped a beat was taking it upon himself to interpret the meanings of the emotions and translate them publicly into behaviours. He failed to balance emotions with evidence.

Using the grieving for a loved one example, we respond far better to someone’s empathy if we are asked: “What can I do for you right now”? Or, if that person simply listens to our present story and basically is a shoulder to cry on without judgment. The other takes cues from us first, as a good coach does. We also appreciate the little acts of kindness such as handwritten cards, homemade casseroles, etc., for all those visitors and generally a phone call here and there to see how we are doing. It’s at our pace and in our terms.

We look to our leaders to be good at connecting with us, not only to empathize with a particular situation but also to engage and motivate us for the long-term. Barack Obama’s faux pas illustrates that emotional intelligence does not mean “I know how you feel”. On the contrary, it means first and foremost searching for “How do you feel”?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Where Leadership and Golf Mastery Meet

Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything

---Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”

Be master of mind rather than mastered by mind.

---Zen Proverb

All the significant battles are waged within the self.

---Zen Proverb

Life seeks order in a disorderly way.

---Margaret Wheatley, A Simpler Way

Every spring brings our collective sigh of relief that winter has past and fresh growth is upon us. With new surges of energy, we make new plans for the garden, our work and personal lives before the next transition.

As the seasons go, so do sports. In the spring, it’s the Masters Golf Tournament where we bear witness to incredible talent, the result of many years of hard work. We marvel at the ability of the golfers atop the leader board to scramble out of messes. We feel for them when things don’t work out.

The leader board and great leadership intersect in the “how” of getting there. When all is said and done, there are two key interdependent practices necessary for mastering anything, including golf:

Deliberate practice (Skill Power---improving technical skills/honing routines for “competition”)

Zen practice (Presence Power----taming/letting go of the ego, being in the present, improving and using mental agility for “competition”)

Both require disciplined goal-setting, rehearsing for thousands of hours to challenging scenarios, tracking results, reflecting on the results (learning what is working/not working) and based on the feedback to self and from trusted coaches, re-setting goals repeating the cycle of practice, etc.

What is “deliberate practice”?
Improving the skills you already have and extending the reach and range of your skills.

It encompasses focusing on tasks that are beyond your current level of competence and comfort. Not practicing in a vacuum but practicing to the challenging scenarios that confront and bedevil you in the work situation, or, in the case of golf, in tournament play.

By working at what you can’t do, you turn into the expert you want to become.

What is “Zen practice”?
Becoming free of the ego, by observing rather than reacting. Making peace with the present moment.

This is the area of “self-knowing” that repeatedly shows up in books and articles on leadership as well as golf. This is the ultimate source of effectiveness. But, the journey requires patience.

The ego is a “conditioned mind-pattern” or a thought. In its dysfunctional state, it thrives on reactivity---anger, frustration, impatience, etc., distracting us and interfering with our ability to enjoy and benefit strategically from the moment.

Only “presence” can free us of our egos. Ego implies unawareness. But the moment we become aware of the ego in us, it becomes weakened.

To become free of the ego is not really a big job but a very small one.
All you need to do is become aware of your thoughts and emotions---as they happen.

This is not really a ‘doing’ but an alert ‘seeing’….. When that shift happens, which is the shift from thinking to awareness, intelligence far greater than the ego’s cleverness begins to operate in your life. Emotions and even thoughts become depersonalized through awareness. Your “story” becomes of secondary importance. It no longer forms the basis of your identity (or controls your actions).

---Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth.

Just as we typically set goals and track them to improve our technical capabilities within our field of expertise, leadership progress also needs equal treatment, especially on the thoughts and emotions side. The “presence power” technique suggests an approach that is counter-intuitive yet well-known by those who meditate: observe but do nothing.

By doing less (not doing anything with our thoughts or emotions that are not helpful), we open up the space to become more. We become more of who we really are, that is, our incredible talent can shine through more because we are not caught up in our ego (self-conscious thoughts).

In our fast-paced world, the journey of self-awareness doesn’t fit. There is no way self-knowing can be hurried. It responds to what we make of “teachable moments” as they present themselves through the course of our work lives. Each new insight must be turned into a concrete application that, in turn, has to be fine-tuned through deliberate practice.

As in golf, leadership can be learned: “skill power” and “presence power”. For those who are passionate about the “game”, mastery is possible. It just takes time. Along the way, there is fun to be had!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Stephen Harper Missed Leveraging the Earth Hour Opportunity

The success of Earth Hour participation around the globe demonstrated that small actions combined with big ideas are a powerful force for change. Such awareness, particularly when the action is simple, sets the stage for deeper and longer term behaviour change.

The sense of community the campaign engendered added to the potency of the idea. Our minds are forever imprinted with the entire experience of having fun with family and friends while achieving something practical and beneficial. In our increasingly interconnected world in which change seems too slow in coming for the many, the quick feedback on reduced power loads heightened our sense of satisfaction.

None of the success of Earth Hour would have happened without leadership in the countries and communities that participated from the top to the front line. According to the post Earth Hour reports, approximately 30 million people took part in the event, comprised of 380 communities of which 150 were in Canada.

For reasons that defy logic, if the newspaper reports are accurate, Stephen Harper missed a chance to be a more visible leader on this file. The Toronto Star’s correspondents in Ottawa noticed that the ground floor lights at 24 Sussex Drive remained on during Earth Hour and so did the lights in Harper’s Parliament Hill office. On the other hand, John Baird, Harper’s Environment Minister dimmed his household lights. In this instance, they were not joined at the hip.

Who can argue against the merits of gearing down on power usage? Harper could have reached across party lines and connected better with all of us. At the least, Mr. Harper could have used the opportunity to plant seeds for future votes.

Leading effectively is a matter of both the heart and the head----being in tune with “the people” and the evidence. In this instance, the spirit of the people and the evidence were strong enough for a leader to go with the flow.

Muhammad Yunus, winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his micro-credit success with millions of the world’s poorest families links the reality of economic change to the “excitedly multi-dimensional” nature of people. Our “emotions, beliefs, priorities and behaviour patterns can best be compared to the millions of shades we can produce from the three primary colours”. In Yunus’ view, the business of pursuing specific social goals is part of our multi-dimensional psyche, providing a meaningful way for us to step outside of ourselves and be “change agents for the world”.

Robert Quinn in Building the Bridge As You Walk On It expands on this notion:

It is our hypocrisy and self-focus that drains us.
When we become purpose-centered, internally directed, other-focused, and externally open, we discover energy we didn’t know we had.

Earth Hour captured our energy to conserve energy. It also fired up our imaginations and sense of being able to make a difference. Let’s hope that Prime Minister Harper picks up on the energy and helps us do even more.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Clinton-Obama Leadership Race Needs a Rallying Point to Break the Gridlock

Simplistically-speaking democratic delegates are in a bind. Vote for Hillary if you want depth or deep experience. Or, if breadth is the requirement, a symbol of diversity and apparent open-mindedness, vote for Obama. Both are vital for effective leadership. Too bad one of the candidates doesn’t measure up significantly on both. An either-or choice is making life difficult for the Democrats. Without resolution, they are in danger of being divided and causing confusion for voters.

My informal surveys with emerging and experienced leaders reflect the difficulties. The results are extreme: the majority for one or the other with few in-between. Hillary came out on top among approximately fifty government leaders from a range of functions. About half as many staff in a research university, also representing a cross-section of jobs, sided overwhelmingly with Barack. The reasons may lie in what an organization values: getting things done in better ways or jumping into the new and different. Certainly the democratic candidate choice must be forcing a lot of soul-searching.

With so much at stake, the situation calls out for a rallying point that will help differentiate the choice more clearly. Recent articles cite the “popular vote” as a guide. Obama wins that one. But, what are the messages underlying the “popular vote”?

Richard Florida, in his new book, Who’s Your City: How The Creative Economy Is Making Where You Live The Most Important Decision Of Your Life, presents some intriguing connections between people and economic growth that may be playing on the minds of Americans. His data demonstrate correlations between “open to experience” personalities and regional innovation and growth. He explains that openness is an important factor for attracting and leveraging diversity which, in turn, drives prosperity.

Given the dire estimates on the economic costs of the war in Iraq, Americans may instinctively be moving towards a candidate that they believe can generate recovery and growth faster. Joseph Stiglitz, Columbia University’s 2001 winner of the Nobel Prize in economics has sent a chill down the spines of political decision makers in the United States: the war has conservatively cost $3 trillion. The bleeding will continue with the cost of war veterans’ disabilities. The meaning of security is changing from protection from terrorists to protection from financial hardship and a lower standard of living. The “popular vote” may be mirroring this shift.

In the end, it’s still a tough choice: “either-or” rather than “yes-and”. Let’s hope that whoever wins is able to reach out across the divide to bring both depth and breadth quickly to the leadership table.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Is Obama Helping Us Coppice?

As the flow of ink becomes exponential describing and analyzing the escalating battle between two able presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, we search to identify and feel comfortable with the forces in play. Many pundits refer to Obama’s appeal as a “movement”, the likes of which we have not seen since the beginning of the civil rights era or the challenges to the status quo by baby boomers in the 1960s. The women’s movement led by Betty Freidan, Gloria Steinem and others derives from that time too.

We are overdue for renewal of some kind. Both candidates speak to this. Perhaps Obama does it just a little better, as in the ecological practice of “coppicing”---cutting trees down to the base every few years to allow more light to reach the forest floor.

Obama, because of his appeal to the younger generation and others who feel as if they are on the outside looking in, might be fostering in their imaginations greater diversity of opportunity faster, as occurs with coppicing. Change under his watch, they might reason, could happen with far more speed and intensity than under Hillary’s. That idea, it seems, is catching fire. That’s a movement. There is pent up frustration. Consciously or unconsciously, Obama, more so than Hillary, might represent the way to greater sunlight in the minds of an increasing number of delegates.

Are we witnessing the way of nature? Certainly, the Obama fever is reminiscent of the early days of courting when our critical minds take flight for awhile. Those instances don’t occur very often as all the right circumstances need to be in play including an unconscious biological connection gifted to us by our ancestors.

We do recover about three years out or sooner, when the hormones masking our judgment cool down and allow for a more balanced view of the special person in our life. In many instances, we were right on in our choice. Sometimes, not and hopefully, we can move on. But, at least we gave ourselves the chance at choice.

Leadership isn’t just about the facts. It’s also about art and music. It’s something that resonates deeply in our souls. We are witnessing that drama in the United States presidential primaries. We map that drama onto our own leadership experiences in our respective countries and work places to compare notes. We ask ourselves over and over again---what kind of leaders really do make a difference?

The Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama story will continue to fascinate us for a long time, regardless of who makes it to the podium. Both have enormous potential to tame the wildness of the times. Both offer pathways through the wilderness. Both have enough bandwidth to help us build more resilient societies.

But do both recognize the importance of biodiversity, a precursor for resilience? Obama’s appeal is in that direction. To deliver is another matter.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Echoes of an Original Sound

The American Presidential primaries have ignited a firestorm of civil participation not seen in a long time. This is good. Something is getting to the hearts of people across all spectrums. Could this be an original sound of rediscovered meaning and purpose in a world that has veered too far from what it takes to lead an ordinary life?

Hands down, Barack Obama has led the way with his inspirational oratory. To quote John A. Shedd, “When there is an original sound in the world, it makes a hundred echoes.” But other Presidential hopefuls are doing their share. John McCain has a great story of survival under the worst of circumstances. Hillary Clinton is a gritty woman renowned for her work ethic and ability to survive multiple dueling matches up close and personal. Obama’s background symbolizes the struggles of ordinary folks. The timing couldn’t be better for his leadership. Without a revived and happier middle class and a helping hand for the disadvantaged to get on their feet, prosperity and progress have little chance.

Much has been said about Obama’s charisma and Hillary’s lack of it. That is not the heart of the matter. Authenticity is. Is this person “for real” deep in his heart and soul? Does he care? Does he understand my situation and want to help me reach my potential? Or, is he just full of hot air? Does he have the courage to face up to and work through the forces that stand in the way of a better life for the many not the few?

Authenticity relates to a complex lifelong process of self-discovery and self-knowing, It is the opposite of self-delusion and grandeur and “I know best”. Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones in Why Should Anyone Be Led by You? offer a quick checklist of an authentic leader:

1. Consistency between words and deeds
2. Coherence in role performance, displaying a “real self” that holds all the different performances together
3. Comfort with self

This cannot be faked. Even children sense when things are not quite right about a person. They don’t like self-absorbed opportunistic adults who cannot connect to their worlds. Authenticity is deep in our souls or not.

In the absence of stability, authentic leadership anywhere and everywhere becomes even more vital. It must be earned over and over again. Whoever does that well each step of the way has a better chance of securing one of the most coveted jobs in the world than the others.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Michael Buble's Funfest: A Sign of the Leisure Economy to Come

I had the pleasure of observing a Michael Buble tour up close and personal recently. I discovered a welcoming, well-run organization with a pervasive spirit of fun mixed with---as the younger generation says--- “awesome” virtuosity. With talk of the rise of a leisure economy again, this could be a signal of things to come for managers and leaders working with the “twenty and thirty-something” generation.

My daughter Jennie and two of her singer colleagues were engaged by the organization with which Buble is partnering for the logistics side of his cross-country tour to perform back up to “That’s Life” in the Toronto and environs area. As the tour passed through Toronto, London, Kitchener and Hamilton, I willingly became the chauffeur to provide safe passage for the girls to London and Kitchener. An unexpected perk was being able to observe the clockwork activities behind the scenes and upfront. The litmus test was its impact on how we experienced being there from the beginning to the end.

Despite being run off his feet and dealing with all manner of challenges, the head logistics guy took the time to guide us to and within the venue at each step of the way. Driving directions to the place especially once at the city limits from the highway. Where to park (security was ready for us). What door to enter (and he was right there to greet and escort us). Where to hang out to get ready (dressing room). The location of the food. The check points before the performance. Who would be taking care of the women to guide them to the stage. How they would watch over their belongings while performing. The security outside the dressing room door. Periodically, he would waft by to see how we were doing. With his eye on serving Michael Buble’s overall performance for the evening, the logistics guy did all the right things: he made sure the singers were emotionally and physically-supported each step of the way.

The icing on the cake was Michael Buble and his entourage. No doubt, Buble is the fun spirit behind the whole of the enterprise. Without him, the atmosphere would have been different. Perhaps the logistics team would not have been quite as pleasant and competent.

Besides having a great singing voice, Buble is a barrel of laughs and infects all the performers accordingly. He missed his calling as a comedian. He sprinkles his performance with outlandish comments and antics. He takes his energy from the audience and engages them well in the whole experience, sometimes worrying his security detail, no doubt. His very capable live band partnered smoothly with him to entertain us and lend some lightness to the serious array of songs from Buble’s album “Call Me Irresponsible”. The opening act, a gospel a cappela group called “The Naturally Seven” was astounding in its ability to mimic various instruments and lift the rafters with their inspirational songs.

My prime takeaway from this was the importance of the emotional climate in an organization. With no effort whatsoever, I immersed myself in it and felt better for the experience. My volunteer work was unexpectedly acknowledged with free tickets to watch from the front rather than the back. I did not see big egos ensuring that a hierarchy was firmly in place. Respect for each other pervaded the whole. The prime intent was to serve the customers. With that aim in mind, no stone was left unturned.

The second takeaway was the glimpse at an emerging phenomenon once again: the “leisure economy”. Retiring “workaholic” baby boomers are discovering its allure. But by accounts from many researchers probing the brains of the up and coming generations who will be our next crop of leaders, the “twenty and thirty somethings” will want copious opportunities for leisure throughout their careers. That means on the job “fun”, definitely a culture of respect and caring and non-traditional arrangements for holidays.

Linda Nazareth, in her book, The Leisure Economy: How Changing Demographics, Economics, and Generational Attitudes Will Reshape Our Lives and Our Industries, poses some provocative questions:

“What if more people chose to work less and give themselves more time?”

“What if they start making decisions not on the basis of speed---choosing things that can be consumed or done fast, or that let them do things faster---but on other values?”

Leaders and managers are already noticing this shift. And, it’s worrisome from the point-of-view of succession planning. The Boomers are now coming to grips with the reality: the subsequent generations don’t want to be like them (having unbalanced lives). At the same time, they do want to make a difference.

This trend is good for our health, well-being and longevity. Let’s embrace it and use our creative brains to make it work. It’s good for business too.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

The "Tiger Effect" May Lurk in Your Organization

The presence of Tiger Woods in a tournament causes higher-skill PGA golfers’ tournament scores to slump. This can have implications for “tournament style” competitions in organizations when one person far outshines everyone else.

According to Jennifer Brown, a researcher from the University of California in Berkeley, California, the other top pro golfers’ scores are 0.8 strokes higher when Tiger Woods participates, relative to when Tiger Woods is absent. She refers to this as the “adverse superstar effect” which increases during Woods’s streaks and disappears during Woods’s slumps. Ms. Brown found no evidence of players taking undue risks which would have potentially reduced their performance. She concludes that “the presence of a ‘superstar’ in a competition can lead to ‘reduced’ efforts from tournament participants”.

Recent newspaper reports on Tiger’s 62nd win at the Buick Invitational in San Diego, California appear to support this research. A number of players indicated they were competing for “second place” due to Tiger’s commanding lead going into the final round on Sunday.

On the other hand, Brown contends that if another highly skilled person believes that the race is “winnable” against rivals of similar skill more or less, he or she will tend to be motivated to work harder. Within our organizations, therefore, she questions the compensation “20-70-10” system and similar compensation devices that reward the top 20% IF there is a superstar present.

This flies in the face of conventional wisdom, in general, especially for leaders who grew up playing sports and who believe in competition to raise the performance bar. Maybe it’s time to re-structure our assumptions and systems to reward the many not the few for their efforts. This also suggests that superstars require attention but not at the expense of everyone else.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Charisma: The Chameleon That Always Seeks Sunlit Mountain Tops

It tantalizes us. It provokes us, this perplexing leadership trait called “charisma”. At the same time, we crave it and we fear it, as we do not want to lose our critical judgment or look silly. We also wish we could have more of it for ourselves as the media reminds us over and over again---people love it.

Barack Obama has struck a chord deep in the American psyche. It’s about being tired of living with the tyranny of fear that has permeated our daily lives particularly since 9/11. Fear is not uplifting. Fear puts the wrong hormones into our already over stressed bodies. Fear is a downer. Fear makes us go within ourselves. Retreat from hope and community.

Apparently gospel singer Mahalia Jackson shouted out at least twice to Martin Luther King when he was deep into a “nightmare” speech in front of a throng of thousands on August 28, 1963, in Washington, D.C.: “Tell them about your dream, Martin.” This roused King from his fears (“America has given the Negro people a bad check….”) to “I have a dream…” which resonates to this day. We prefer sunlit mountain tops to the valley of darkness. It is in our nature.

There is much to do as all politicians and ordinary folks know. The middle class in both the United States and Canada is shrinking. The gap between the haves and the have nots is widening. Statistics Canada recently reported that the earned income of the “average” Canadian---the median income--- was the same in 2004 as in 1982. While the Canadian economy grew in real per capita terms by more than half, it is only the very well-paid---those above the 90th percentile of the income distribution that experienced increases in earned income. The same trends exist in the United States but not quite as starkly: Between 1975 and 2005, median family income in the U.S increased by only 28 per cent while the economy grew by 86 per cent. The average earnings of the highest 1 per cent of the U.S. pyramid rose 160 per cent between 1975 and 2005. The income of the top tenth of 1 per cent soared 350 per cent. Top CEOs in both countries now make 200+ times as much as the average worker. This does not make for peaceful and prosperous community-building.

The reasons are complicated. Decisions made by leaders on both sides of the border have mattered. More tolerance of a “winner take all” environment over the past 30 years coupled with massive manufacturing job losses linked to the rise of China and India, according to numerous analysts, have contributed to our era of discontent.

With progress not matching our expectations for overall community well being, the time is ripe for the enlightened and the good side of charisma anywhere particularly one that unites instead of divides. Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King were all well aware that positive change is not possible through fighting. Barack Obama through his record of community development and his “audacity of hope” messages now brings that approach to today’s volatile and complex social and political environment.

While charisma of the right kind beckons, in the end the true measure is getting the right things done. This is a tall order and often transcends charisma. Yes, inspiring visions are absolutely critical and finding common ground vital. But that wears thin when little happens.

In this age of wariness about our political leaders, we are always drawn to warmth, caring about others, authenticity, openness to creative thinking, evidenced–based and thoughtful decision making and action. Senator Obama has caught our attention. We can be grateful that he has re-ignited those very positive emotions that have been subdued or buried since 9/11.