Monday, 23 December 2013

Put and end to New Year's Resolutions

As I sit to write this posting, January is approaching quickly.  Although there is no practical difference between December and January, most people feel that turning that page on the calendar somehow imparts an opportunity for renewal.  They can mentally put the past year behind them and they can begin to look forward to the days ahead with a renewed optimism.  It is almost as though some mystical power had been preventing them from reaching certain goals or achieving objectives that they knew were important.  But by turning the page they expect to break that spell and move in a positive direction.  And so we make resolutions...

Sometimes we write them down and, for added emphasis, we post them prominently.  Others will share these resolutions with friends in the expectation that this will make them more real.

Every January the membership roles at fitness centres take a jump.  Those resolutions for a healthier lifestyle or weight loss find hope inside these sweaty walls.  And for several days, even weeks, the crowds jostle for room in the fitness classes or on the equipment .  But then, almost as quickly as the numbers grew, they begin to decline.  By mid-February class sizes are back to normal and the regulars are able to get their treadmill of choice without issue.

The problem with resolutions - whether in our personal lives or our professional lives - is that, for most, they are only an expression of hope or desire.  The saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions was surely born of failed resolutions.  Until that hope or desire is translated into a COMMITMENT CONFIRMED THROUGH ACTION, it will remain only an unfulfilled wish.

At the same time we need to recognize that there is nothing special about January 1st.  We all have things we need to change or goals we want to accomplish that we continue to defer to some future date.  It is so much easier to create the list than to do something about it. 

NOTHING WILL GET DONE UNTIL YOU COMMIT TO DO IT AND SET IT IN ACTION.  And that can be done any day of the year.  I committed to a healthier life in November 2012 and I have been pretty faithful in attending the local YMCA 6 days a week.  I am a lot healthier and stronger.  But I am not lighter.  Why...because I have not committed to eating fewer cookies and candies.  I have used my workouts almost as an excuse to reward myself more often.  This is a commitment to change that I need to address and no resolution will do that for me.

Don't wait.  The folks at Nike hit it on the head...JUST DO IT!  Whether it is part of your strategic plan at work or a personal priority, a resolution remains only that...until it is done. Commit and act; don't write and hope.


Monday, 16 December 2013

Why male executives are afraid...of women.

In survey results reported today in the Globe and Mail, a large majority of male executives are unconcerned that there are few to no women on their boards of directors.  Over 60% of respondents had no women on their boards and the average proportion of women on boards was only 9%.  The respondents stated that they were not discriminating against women but rather the problem was that there were insufficient numbers of qualified candidates to fill roles.


MBA programs across North America have been graduating women since the first classes started in the early 1960`s.  Today, leading institutions such as the Harvard Business School have female enrolment in the range of 40-45%.  Clearly over the past 50 years there have been a large and growing number of women executives who have the competence to take on director`s roles.  The fact that few are seen as having the qualifications to become directors is a direct reflection of the discrimination that continues to exist in the `old boys network` that controls the executive levels of so many corporations in Canada and across North America.

Why are these male controlled companies so concerned of a woman`s influence on their boards.  In a word...FEAR.  Internally they recognize their own incompetence but amongst `friends` they know that they do not need to be concerned about being exposed because they hold secrets on the other members.  But if the sanctity of the network was to be altered by a non traditional member, they risk losing some of their leverage.  So close the ranks; circle the wagons; lift the drawbridge. 

Let`s disregard the fact that women make most of the purchasing decisions in the family.  From the food on the table to the car in the garage, women make the majority of these decisions. 

Disregard the fact that women represent a large and growing percentage of the workforce in such notable careers as business, law and engineering.  These just happen to be the pool from which large numbers of directors are selected.

And disregard the fact that women typically bring an entirely different world view and set of `soft` skills to the table which could provide a more balanced opinion on strategies, initiatives or mergers and acquisitions.

Some companies have the resolve to look past gender in their selection of executive and board members.  Yahoo, General Motors, HP, IBM and Facebook are just a few who have female executives in place.  None of these companies was desperate to select a women.  It was not some knee jerk reaction to public opinion.  Rather it was simply a sound business decision. 

If these industry leading companies were able to find the necessary skills and character in a woman, how can any fair minded male executive suggest that there are insufficient numbers of women to fill more that 9% of board positions.  How can 60% of companies have no women on their boards and suggest that it is ok.  It is inconceivable and offensive.  And it is detrimental to both the short and long term health of these companies.

If men would stop comparing shoe size long enough to take off the blinders that restrict their choices of executives at both senior and board levels, more companies would benefit from the inclusion of a female opinion and input.  It will require these men to set aside both prejudices and FEAR.

It is beyond offensive that we continue to have these kinds of conversations.  Whether the discrimination is based on gender or any other of the multiple considerations in today's society, to imply that only old white males have the qualifications to fill these roles is a disservice to all. 

Gentlemen, set aside your prejudices or get out of the way.  The future mocks you and  history will not defend your resistance.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Mandela's most important leadership decision

Nelson Mandela is rightly remembered as one of history's most important leaders.  Through his unfailing influence the destiny of the nation of South Africa was turned in the most improbable direction.

For many years Mandela had fought against the injustice of apartheid. In some instances he resorted to the use of violence in support of his calls to action. He advocated nationalizing the mines, land and  industry of the white minority and redistributing it to the black majority.  His was a polarizing position...but ultimately it was a failed position.

It was not until Mandela rejected this philosophy and embraced reconciliation and abandoned nationalization that he was able to achieve his goal of equality and ultimately deliver South Africa from the shackles of apartheid. He reached this decision after consulting members of the international community and he came to understand the inherent problems with his position. In effect he stated a leader's most powerful words '...I was wrong...'

From that point forward he was able to effect the changes that brought about the South Africa of the 21st century.  By renouncing the radical in favour of the morally correct path, Mandela brought together peoples of all race and colour in South Africa.  But it took an important, some would say improbable, first step of personally acknowledging that his initial approach was wrong.  Regardless of how badly he had been treated; regardless  of how long others had been abused; regardless of the contrary opinions of the many, Mandela's confession and subsequent humility allowed him to pursue peace and not vengeance.  In so doing he achieved much more that anyone dared believe was possible.

This act of leadership in action is an outstanding example for everyone in positions of responsibility.  The belief that the 'boss' is infallible is so outdated as to be comical.  And yet, so many cling to the illusion.  They do so at their peril because they alienate their staff members who cease to be followers and instead become skeptics.  When the goal is not achievable or lacks a legal, moral and ethical imperative, the probability of success is slim.  But the vulnerability demonstrated by these words results in the team members rallying to support the leader as opposed to abandoning the cause.

Four other words that carry an equally powerful and positive message are '...I'm sorry...' and '...thank you...'

Both phrases acknowledge others and their feelings. It is always critical for the effective leaders to build into their staff members.  Leadership character is at least as important as leadership skill and these simple phrases demonstrate character in abundance.

As a leader, recognizing others and confessing your shortcomings come as  'no cost' actions. Both show that you are operating with a realistic perspective of the contribution that each person is making. And both bring your team closer together and aligned with a common goal. Practice humility and its' associated qualities of integrity and honesty.  The results will often exceed even your wildest expectations.

Monday, 2 December 2013

The Enemy Within.

Today's environment requires leaders to assimilate vast amounts of information and then make important decisions to keep their organizations competitive and successful. This responsibility is complicated by the fact that everything must be viewed through the lens of economic realities that are unlike anything any of us has experienced. Add to this mix the political activities that only serve to complicate rather than clarify this new normal. The reality is that we must trust our leaders to react and rely on instincts as much as analysis because there are so few precedents to guide them.

As difficult as this situation is that is, I believe that  the greater concern is not the competition or the economic environment. Rather, it is the enemy within.  I am not referring to any kind of industrial sabotage or cyber-spying because the enemy that concerns me is usually wears the same company ID. And therein lies the problem...they are hiding in plain view. 

I am referring to the person who sees themselves as a leader...without portfolio.  They want to make decisions, not follow them.  They view those in leadership roles as being out of touch or incompetent.  Accordingly they have a personal agenda that dictates their behaviour.  Left unchecked there are no limits to the damage that they can cause because it is not simply a matter of their response but also the influence that they may hold over others.  In these cases it is true that one bad apple can spoil the whole basket.

There are several reasons that someone may take on this 'anti-leader' persona. Some people feel as though they have been passed over for promotion and look to use their current position and influence in a subversive manner to cause the leader to fail.  In this way, the individual hopes for an opportunity to replace the leader and thereby assume their 'rightful' position.Sometimes the person genuinely wants to support the leader and feels that taking a different strategy is actually helpful.  In principle they disagree with the leaders approach but they do not dislike the person and therefore they view their actions to be supportive and not subversive.  The end game is not personal recognition; it is to prevent failure. And in some instances the individual actually takes on the role of enemy.  For any number of reasons this person wants to cause as much damage as possible before being found out and dismissed. 

If any of these situations exist in your organization, you must address it aggressively and proactively.  The impact of this subversive type of behaviour is seldom limited to that which is obvious. If the individual is otherwise liked and respected, it is probable that the consequences of their behaviour will have roots in several areas.  You must identify the extent of the impact to ensure that no residual damage remains.

As part of the remedial action - which has probably resulted in a termination - the leader should perform an unbiased appraisal of the environment that fostered this act of betrayal.   That is not to suggest that someone had just cause to be subversive.  But clearly something prompted this most vile kind of insubordination.  It is not enough to rid the organization of these actions.  It is equally important to ensure that any aspect of the company's policies,  procedures or environment that may have contributed to these actions are fully addressed and amended.  If that means a corporate 'mia culpa' so be it.  This is not the time to take pride in having solved an issue.  The enemy within is seldom a fluke and will return if the proper remedial action is not properly implemented.

An engaged leader will spot the problem early enough to mitigate damage.  An aloof manager will have a difficult time even acknowledging that a problem exists.  Which best defines your style?


Saturday, 23 November 2013

The New Normal...this is as good as it gets!

It was September 8th, 2008 that Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy.  For lack of a better indicator, that is the time that the Great Recession started.  Economists will say that it must have been later because the classic definition of a recession is consecutive quarters of negative growth (how's that for an oxymoron) but September 8th was the trigger.

In reality it was the day that the camel's back broke;  the contributing factors had been building for years. And since that time our politicians, bankers and economists have been seeking a solution to the problems.  Five years later, are we really any closer to an answer?

Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, warned in November 2011 that the world faced a lost decade full of economic difficulties.  If you think that she was speaking in hyperbole just look at Japan as an ongoing reference point as it enters its' third DECADE of constricted growth.  If Ms. Lagarde is correct we have at least another 5-8 years of this economic morass.

Folks, this is the New Normal...this is as good as it gets... for a long time.  The traditional economic levers that governments and federal banks are used to pull on are not working.  It seems as though they are all simply throwing 's--t' against the wall to see what sticks.  And they will likely only know after-the-fact because every attempt takes time to play out in the real world.  There are no simulations that they can try; no tried and true theories on which to rely. 

The individual experience will vary.  Many will continue to prosper.  Others will fall under the radar.  But for the large majority, it is time to plan, prepare and react to an ongoing difficult situation.  I don't think that I am a defeatist in these comments.  Rather I am a realist. 

So recent university graduates will continue to hone their skills as baristas and not as teachers; many will continue to live at home because even rent is out of reach; and a generation will be underemployed and gradually more dispirited.  To be sure, there are 'signs' that the economies in North America are recovering.  But GDP is barely keeping up to inflation.  Europe is concerned with deflation and high unemployment especially amongst the under 25 age bracket.

I hope that I am wrong, truly I do.  But if I am right - and all the indicators point this way - then plan accordingly. 

The side show in the Toronto mayor's office and in the Senates in Ottawa and Washington provide us some a diversion.  Perhaps they too are as good as it gets in the political arena.  The problem is that their antics will pass, likely sooner than they should.  For the rest of us, hunker down because this new normal may only have just begun.


Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Natural, not easy.

Some argue that leaders are born; others contend that leaders are 'made'.  In my experience it is a bit of both.  Individuals must have the innate characteristics of leadership and those are 'born'.  The person must also have the necessary skill sets for the role and those are 'made'. 

The blend of character and skill will certainly vary from person to person and from job to job.  Some roles will require a generalist; others will look for a specialist.  Some positions will require more experience; some will achieve results with a much less.  Clearly the significance of the leadership role in the organization has the greatest impact on the mix and the requirements.

Regardless of the level of leadership that one holds, for the person to be successful, the mantel of leadership must feel natural. By 'natural' I mean that the individual recognizes the legitimacy of their role and the sufficiency of their character and skills to fulfil that role. 

It does not imply that the individual will not have doubts or that they may not fail in some aspects of their performance.  But it does mean that the individual has the necessary self confidence that is required to exercise the skills and qualities to meet the daily challenges.  This self confidence is neither arrogant nor boastful.  This self confidence is natural.

While inspirational leaders find their roles to be a natural expression of their skills and character, make no mistake, their work is not easy.  It is not always easy to accept responsibility for the performance of a team.  It is not always easy seeing the glass half full after several disappointments.  It is not always easy being vulnerable and open, when others can use that against you.  And it really is not easy to acknowledge that you may not be the right person to lead when circumstances have changed and your skill sets do not match the need.

Authentic leadership - inspirational leadership - comes at a price.  If you recognize the natural inclination to lead, look for opportunities to demonstrate your abilities.  Be aware, it won't be easy...but you won't find contentment until you try.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

The qualities of authentic leadership.

I believe that we acknowledge individuals as leaders far too generously.  That is not to suggest that true leaders do not exist.  Rather it is to suggest that leadership ought to be a position that is jealously and rigorously defended so as to retain the esteem that authentic leadership embodies. 

Too often we are quick to designate,or someone is too quick to claim, this role.  Sometimes it is due to the void of a legitimate leader and our natural inclination to be led.  At other times we make assumptions of competency based on the academic credentials or seniority of an individual.  But lets be clear.  Leadership must have both a skill set and a character set for there to be authenticity. 

We all have different ideas as to the character set that we want to see in our leaders.  I want to start a dialogue to see what you think.  I will start the conversation with a few that come to my mind.  With apologies to Jeff Foxworthy...

1.  If you have met company payroll with your credit card, you have leadership qualities.

2.  If the prospect of having to lay off staff members makes you want to vomit, you have leadership  

3.  If you would rather have TBSH than MBA on your business card, you have leadership qualities.
     (The Buck Stops Here)

4.  If you have the confidence to state your role as Leader rather than Owner or President on your
     business card, you have leadership qualities.

5.  If you know more about your staff members families than the stats of your favourite team, you
     have leadership qualities.

6.  If you would rather be known as being too honest than too successful, you have leadership

7.  If people would rather work for you and make less money than work for the competition and
     make more, you have leadership qualities.

8.  If your goal is to be known in your community before being known at your club, you have
     leadership qualities.

9.  If you want others to always know where you stand, even without asking you first, you have
     leadership qualities.

10.  If doing right is more important than being right, you have leadership qualities.

You all have thoughts on the matter based on your own experiences.  Add to the conversation by posting a comment to this blog.  In the end we can develop a grass roots definition of leadership that we can communicate to those who aspire to be leaders.  The first step of getting what we need is by expressing our expectations.  Join the conversation.


Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Boomers versus Millenials...lest we be too quick to judge.

There is a popular trend these days to do the 'Millennial Bash'.  Many authors and commentators are typically critical of those born in the period of 1980 to 2000.  Case in point is a recent Time magazine article that labels this generation as lazy, entitled narcissists.  While I may not have a problem with this generalization, we Boomers would do well to take a long look in the mirror before we become too quick with our criticisms.  Let me offer some sobering thoughts.

The Boomer generation is typically defined as those born in the period of the late 1940's up to the early 60's.  That range means that this group of Millennials is largely the offspring of the Boomer generation.  That being the case, what does it say about the job that Boomers have done in raising children that we now want to call lazy, entitled and narcissistic.  Clearly the burden of responsibility lies more with the creator than with the created.  The old saying suggests that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  So have we created that  which we ourselves truly embody but are unwilling to acknowledge.

Consider what we have done.  As Boomers we entered a workforce that was over-run with opportunities.  The fact of the matter was that there were so many jobs that even the marginally competent had no problem finding employment that paid very well and offered opportunities for promotion on a regular basis.  Even the lazy found work and could buy a car and a home and raise a family.  By comparison, Millennials have been entering a work place that, over the past decade, has been dominated by the Great Recession, a period of economic malaise that has been almost as destructive as the Great Depression which effected the parents of many Boomers.  We are far from being out of these woods as many Boomers hang on to jobs rather than retire thus further depriving this next generation the opportunity to enter the work place in a truly meaningful way. 

Even with this significant employment advantage, Boomers have done a poor job economically.  We inherited a theme of thankfulness from our parents.  They were thankful to have survived both a depression and a war.   They established for us a society of opportunity.  Yet we Boomers have turned thankfulness into entitlement.  And in that process we have created much of the economic misery that exists today,  Governments around the world are in crisis because of the massive accumulated debt that has become increasingly unmanageable and certainly is unsustainable.  But an analysis shows that the genesis of  the majority of that debt was established as Boomers entered the workforce.  We lobbied for more vacation time; for greater pension benefits; for more social benefits and all without any real understanding of how we should pay for all of it.  Now we have debts and future obligations that we are unable to pay off except with IOU's for our children and grand children.  We may not be lazy, but we sure as hell are greedy.  The real issue is that Millennials will finally get it and become more conscientious whereas Boomers have no way to renounce their greed and make the debt go away. 

For Boomers it is and always has been '...all about me...'  If that is not a reasonable definition of  entitlement and narcissism, sue me.

Along the way Boomers have turned a blind eye to anything that might challenge their perceived rights.  And so, in addition to debt, we will also pass along a world mired in a dramatic climate change.  Boomers consumed at a rate that will only be fully grasped when we are gone and others such as the Millennials go the cupboard only to find it bare.  Whether it was cars or homes; food or gasoline; clothes or electronic toys, we denied ourselves of nothing.  At least nothing that could not be acquired on a credit card.

Boomers can legitimately look to our many accomplishments with a measure of satisfaction.  We have been the architects of so many technological advances and we have overseen the volume of accumulated knowledge that continues to double at an astounding rate.  But far too often these efforts have lacked any altruistic value and rather have served to fuel that greed which I have earlier addressed.

Lazy...entitled...narcissistic.  Yes, Millennials often deserve these criticisms.  But those in glass houses ought not to throw stones.  So Boomers would do well to tone down the rhetoric and rather begin to focus on their own shortcomings.  We cannot undo that which has been done.  But we can become the example we should have been.  And in this way we can influence the Millennials and the future generations and thus, hopefully, leave something of a legacy for which we can be proud.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Where have all the leaders gone...the void of true leadership in politics.

We deserve better! 

In the 1976 movie "Network", Peter Finch portrays a network anchorperson who gets so fed up that he screams '...I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore...'

Given the current state of politics and the abysmal lack of leadership being shown at both the provincial and federal levels, I am feeling the same level of frustration.  But lacking a television studio from which to pontificate, I will use this forum.

Living in Ontario it is clear that the inmates have finally taken over the asylum.  Dalton McGuinty essentially charged the Ontario taxpayers something in excess of $500 million (perhaps closer to a billion dollars when all is said and done) in order to secure two parliamentary seats in the last election which assured his Liberal party of a narrow minority.  And now, under oath, he declared that he was simply doing the right thing for the people of each riding.  His unrepentant testimony was, in my opinion, a blatant lie and was compounded only by the cowardice he displayed in proroguing Parliament while stepping down as Premier.  Now, in order to retain power, his successor has introduced a budget which is essentially the platform of the third place party. 

What am I missing? How can we start to hold these people accountable for their actions.  Apart from an insurrection or waiting 4 years for the next election, we must have some means of addressing this type of  incompetency.  Our political leaders have always been about plying the taxpayers with programs with money borrowed from the future generations, for the sole purpose of re-election.   But the extent to which these activities have grown has passed from simple pandering of the electorate to outright betrayal of their elected responsibilities.  I'm mad as hell and I don't want to take this anymore.  The question is how to respond.

Taxpayers need to take back control from the politicians.  Their level of entitlement no longer allows them the luxury of self governance.  Politicians, and party leaders in particular, must be held criminally responsible for their actions.  Laws must be passed that hold these people to the proper level of accountability and there must be penalties that include both fines and imprisonment for those who are convicted of abuse. Defeating them in a future election is simply insufficient because, for the most part, they will only retire and collect a guaranteed and inflated pension.

We see the same entitlement and irresponsibility coming from our Senate as well.  Currently  there are several members of that group who are under investigation for misuse of public funds and we have little to no recourse in removing them from office. 

Our US friends are equally disenfranchised with the government shut down that has been orchestrated by only about 40 members of the House of Representatives.  Their collective refusal to act in the best interests of the American people on an issue already resolved through due process and legal challenges is putting in jeopardy the US economy and, by extension, the world's economy.  Their actions are, at best, self serving.  At worst they are alarmingly irresponsible.

Why must we settle for less than the best?  Why is it that politics seems to attract only those who either incompetents with elitist attitudes or those who are simply the puppets of special interest groups?  Our choices too often boil down to the lesser of the evils...dumb versus dumber.

Maybe it is just standards are too high and therefore my expectations are always let down.  But somehow I don't think that I am alone in this frustration.  I don't see any benevolent dictator on the horizon, so what are we to do.

I am open to your suggestions, even if it only to vent your frustrations as well.  The forum is open for comments.