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.