Friday, 18 December 2015

A brief 'tip of the hat'.

The Baby Boom generation is gradually giving up the reins of leadership.  Today in the USA about 10,000 people will turn age 65.  As this is the historical age for retirement it is fair to assume that a significant percentage of these people are leaving positions of responsibility.  This phenomenon began about 5 years ago.  And it will continue unabated for the next 15 years!  Full disclosure; I am a Baby Boomer FIFO (first in, first out)

If you are a return reader of my blogs you will know that I am somewhat critical of the level of leadership sophistication that exists in most organizations.  By extension it is fair to say that I am critical of my generational peers.

Today I want to give a brief respite to the criticisms in favour of a brief explanation.

When boomers entered the workforce, most of our supervisors, and virtually all of our managers and executives had two important experiences in common.  The first was that most had lived through the Great Depression. And secondly, all had survived the Second World War.  These two seminal events in our collective history forged rather hardened personalities.

On the one hand these men (yes, men) were glad to have a job, any job.  They had seen millions who were not so fortunate lining up at soup kitchens or travelling the trains looking for any employment that could feed them.  And on the other hand they were happy to be alive.  Everyone of them would have been touched by the loss of a friend or relative during WWII.  These events shaped their 'world view' and created demons that few of us have to deal with.

In the post war workplace jobs became as plentiful as apples on trees.  Those filling positions of leadership often lacked education and perspective. So they did their best, managing by seat of their pants and deploying the techniques that they had learned; street smarts and a 'commander-in-chief' model. (Both of the presidents of my first two employers were high school graduates.) 

Under the circumstances, who can blame them?  Yet these were the role models for the Baby Boomer generation.  The formal study of leadership only took hold in the 70's and most of that was looking at how leadership differed from managing.  It really did not provide clues to teach effective, authentic leadership. Even most MBA programs still deploy a 'case study' approach that focuses on processes and strategies while giving only passing thought to the subject of leadership.

Fast forward to 2015.  We have a mobile, well educated collection of potential employees.  They are 'connected' and socially aware with different priorities such as care for the planet. We have an explosion of knowledge and live, quite literally, in a global village.  It is little wonder that the old leadership models don't work. They were fashioned from a bygone era...and they really were barely suitable even then.

Leadership today demands a level of authenticity and transparency that Boomer's bosses could not conceive.  Damaged as they were they from their experiences, being macho and hard-assed were more common character traits.

Today I give thanks to the many bosses that I had in my career.  Most gave it their best.  It is just that their best was not all that good.

What I will not excuse is the void in leadership today.  I can forgive the uninformed and ill equipped of yesteryear.  But we know better now and rightly expect more from those running the show who steadfastly refuse to change.  It is these dinosaurs that need to escorted to the door, age 65 or not!

I'm done talking...

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Get the oars in the water!

Again and again, in survey after survey and poll after poll we are reminded that there is a low level of employee 'engagement'.  A 'low level of engagement' is a euphemism for 'employees don't give a ----!'

At its worst about 7 years ago the results suggested that as many as 68% of employees were in this category.  By 'employees' we are not talking just about the unwashed masses but a significant number of supervisory/managerial types as well.  Is it any wonder that so many organizations are simply spinning their wheels and consistently under-performing their best in class competitors?

If you do not count yourself amongst this group then you are exceptional...or exceptionally naïve.

To be certain, the reasons that create this environment vary from company to company. But the root of the problems can generally be traced back to a fundamental lack of leadership. We train individuals in the skill sets necessary to perform a function but there is a decided lack of training in how to motivate others.  Often times our leaders do not even know what motivates others and thus have nowhere to even begin.

Leadership is not for the weak of heart any more than it is for the courageous.

It has been said `…it is not that leadership has been tried and found wanting.  Rather it has been found difficult and left untried…`

The consequences of a disengaged workforce are difficult to fully quantify.  However, let me use this analogy.

Assume that you have a boat with 10 people and 10 oars.  If our statistics are even close to accurate then a maximum of 6 individuals - perhaps as few as 3 or 4 - have their oars in the water and are pulling towards the desired destination.  The others are mostly dead weight.  Or worse...their oars are in the water pulling in the opposite direction.  How's that for productivity??????

If you do not make it a priority to have advanced leadership qualities at ALL levels of your organization, even the best strategies will fail. 

People drive success!  It`s not objectives, not key indicators; not strategic plans, not even good intentions.  Failure is almost always linked to underperforming leadership. Improvement will not happen overnight.  We need to move the needle so that we grow from management to 'manageship' to 'leaderment' to leadership.

 If this problem resonates with you, do something.  If you feel lost, get professional advice or find a mentor. It’s time to get all the oars in the water and pulling together! Remember, effective leadership must become a habit, not an act but the dividends are worth the effort.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Leading in times of crisis.

Recent events in Paris and many other locations around the world remind us that we are living in unusual times.  Unusual for those of us in Western democracies; not so much for those in different regions.  Residents of the Middle East, parts of Africa and elsewhere deal with this climate of unrest on a daily basis.  But for most of us, these are uncertain times.

As a leader, what should your response be?  How do you instill some measure of sanity to events that seem insane?  How do you bring sense out of chaos?  How do you bring calm in the midst of the storm?

To begin you must acknowledge that the perceptions that are held, are legitimate.  It is true that 'perception is reality''; at least in the eye of the beholder.  You cannot simply dismiss the feelings that these events stir in people.

But acknowledging is not the same as standing in agreement with another.  In fact, as leader it is your responsibility to ensure that individual perceptions actually align with reality.  The fear which is paralyzing another person may, in fact, be a vicarious fear which has little or no likelihood of being played out in your circumstances. 

The truth dispels fear.  And in so doing the root of the crisis is crippled.  With a healthy and appropriate view of the situation, most people will be able to process the risks and consequences by themselves.  It is your responsibility to create an environment in which individuals are able to feel safe, trusted and valued.  In this they will find strength to face their fears.

I have frequently mentioned the need for a leader to be a person of integrity; honestly; and reliability.  While these characteristics are important on a daily basis they carry heightened importance when unanticipated crises enter our lives and the lives of those with whom we work.

Your staff may not be looking to you for this kind of leadership.  But they will be grateful if they find it!

Friday, 6 November 2015

The curse of the AD!

In every supervisory, management or leadership position there is a threefold understanding.  With the responsibility of the position one must also be given the necessary scope of authority to make decisions that impact the outcome.  When the individual accepts these parameters they also accept their counterpart...accountability.

It is like a three legged stool in which all three legs must fit.  If any one of the three is missing the stool will not stand.  Likewise, responsibility, authority and accountability must be implicit.  The absence of any renders this 'understanding' invalid. 

This equation is not new, nor is it rocket science.  Yet I am amazed how frequently it is not properly understood and deployed. 

I see responsibility without authority.  How can anyone be held accountable for the results?

I see authority without a clear definition of the responsibility to which it is attached.  This is a recipe for disaster because the expectations of the parties may be completely different.

And I see too many situations where responsibility and authority are granted but there is no accountability for the results.  In my view this is like playing the game but not keeping score.  That sounds like practice not competition!

In this discussion there is also a significant misunderstanding with respect to delegation of authority.  Too often the person delegating authority believes that they have also delegated the accountability.  NO SO!!!! 

You cannot evade the outcome that easily.  These people are quick to accept the acclaim when delegated authority produces a great result.  But they are equally adept at avoiding the fallout when things don`t go so well.  This person is the classic 'accountability deflector' and the more senior the person, the more adept many become at the game. 

As example, the CEO of a major Toronto corporation recently terminated two senior members of his staff because a project under their scope of responsibility had gone over budget  by some $400 million and was years late in completion.  I don't have a problem in principle with the terminations but in a classic case of 'accountability deflector' - the CEO - ought to be held to account as well. 

What was magic about $400 million and years late as a threshold for a decision.  Clearly if he was doing his job in an accountable fashion he should have been ringing the alarm bell when the project was over budget and late by any amount.  A project of this magnitude most certainly should have been on his radar and responded to in a much timelier manner.  And I hold the Board of Directors equally accountable for their failure to have safeguards in place to prevent this type of incompetence.

A surefire way to disengage your staff is by your abuse of this critical issue of accountability.  To deny it in difficult circumstances or to pilfer it in good have an equally negative impact on your credibility and on the commitment you can expect from others.

Leadership comes with much privilege...privilege which typically increases with the level of responsibility.  Failures happen at every level; perfection is only a goal that none of us ever reach. 

So step up and take the blows that come with being accountable.  It builds character; it builds respect; and to the attentive listener it teaches lessons that lead to future successes.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

It starts with courage!

You sit alone; your mind is not on anything specific; in fact, the silence is almost overwhelming because your life is so full of activity.

You close your eyes and open your mind to the possibilities that lay before you.  And then, without warning, the question comes?

Would you work for yourself? 

Knowing your strengths and weaknesses; aware of your shortcomings and tendencies; acknowledging your moods;  your ambitions et al.  Would you work for you?
Before you dismiss the question out of hand, take a sip of truth serum and let it play out.  Then, with pen in hand, write out the pro's and con's that come to mind.  Nothing is too trivial to record.  Remember, no one can answer this as honestly and as comprehensively as you can!  Allow your mind to search all those back alleys; closed doors; and hidden spaces.  Recall your successes, your failures, your personal wish list.

If you are brave enough, ask a confidante to honestly critique your evaluations.  You want to ensure that you have been neither too harsh nor too glowing in your assessment.  Then, once you have settled on an accurate assessment, answer the question.

Would YOU work for YOU?

Candidly, the answer does not matter.  The issue is not 'yes' or 'no' but rather one of greater significance.  What you have is a point of reference that indicates what you need to do to become a better person, and by extension, a better leader.

Assuming that you have been honest, you can evaluate if the strengths you record are actually the ones that you believe are the best to achieve your personal objectives.  Are these foundational strengths that will uphold you regardless of circumstance. Are they sufficient while you add to them?  You may have identified skills; they may be  characteristics.  Regardless, are they sufficient or simply building blocks.

Likewise, are your shortcomings grievous or something that can be forgiven when you assert to change them.  They may not be a hindrance to you now - at least in your opinion.  But if you have identified them then you have acknowledged an issue that can be improved and in so doing you may turn a weakness into a strength.

Clearly this is a difficult inventory to take.  The leader who truly wants to improve will appreciate that this is always a dynamic list and activity.  As we build strengths, especially as we move a weakness to a strength, we become more effective.  Often this allows us to uncover other weaknesses as we build the courage and resolve to clean out all the closets.

Great leaders are great strategists.  They are constantly assessing the strengths of their team and looking for vulnerabilities in the competition.  Why would you not be doing the same assessment on yourself if you truly desire to move from good to great and from great to outstanding. 

Your impact as a leader will not improve until...and do!


Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Are we any closer to normal?

A couple of years ago I wrote here about the New Normal.  See

Two years on, what has changed?

On the bright side, the US economy shows signs of recovery and unemployment is low.  But the historically low interest rates continue and the number of people actively looking for work is low thereby artificially lowering the unemployment rate.  How much of the recovery is real and how much is illusion?

China continues its march towards a consumer driven economy.  But those at the helm don't seem to know which economic levels to pull resulting in a slowing of their economic output.  This is entirely new territory for them and we can expect a 'trial and error' approach for some time.

The price of oil has collapsed which has added dollars to everyone's wallet while creating a void in their pension plans.

Europe continues to slowly recover only to be over-run with refugees from the Middle East and a corporate melt down at the world's largest auto maker.

Japan continues to wallow in tepid growth (since the late 80's) and no amount of quantitative easing seems to make much of an impact.

Christine Legarde's comments seem more and more true.  We are in a lost decade.  We are 7 years on from the beginning of the Great Recession and nothing really seems all that different.  We have put lipstick on a pig and think that things are rosy.

As a leader, how are you coping? How are you reacting?  How are you planning?

If you are not sticking to the fundamentals of business, frankly you are at risk.  Cash flow and profit are not dirty words; they are essentials to a sound business.  Planning and executing strategically are crucial factors to your success and sustainability.  This is not the time for ill-considered expansion or acquisitions.  Fire sales usually indicate that a fire is occurring and you don't need to spend resources putting it out.

There is no early end to our current predicament. We have already played most of the cards in the deck and have not found the winning hand.  Be committed to delivering excellence in all aspects of your enterprise and you will be one of those who emerges from the other side of this worm hole.  You will achieve this through some simple and basic principles:
  1. Attract and retain the best people in your industry.
  2. Develop an achievable and sustainable strategy that is well communicated and understood throughout your company.
  3. Provide regular, honest feedback on the company's performance.
  4. Look for input from all sources and consider all suggestions.  Often the people on the front lines have the keenest insight on opportunities to improve.
  5. If you are a small to mid-sized company, find a mentor who has demonstrated success.  Network with like competitors in other regions to share experiences, both positive and negative.  Be open to the fact that you cannot know everything. 
  6. Plan with the anticipation that the current business climate is here for the foreseeable future and that you must expect the unexpected.  You will need to be creative, flexible, adaptable and reactive.  In uncertain and troubled times you cannot always be pro-active. What defines your success it is your ability to respond to issues rather than your ability to predict them.
Leadership is not always a comfortable mantle to endure.  These are the times that will separate the authentic leader from the rest of the crowd!  Choose this day, how you will be recognized.

Thursday, 10 September 2015


How often have you heard it?  A company is in need of a transformation and so everyone is encouraged to:

 '...think outside the box...'

People are suddenly given permission to be creative; to think on their own; to explore possibilities; to use the God-given talents that they brought when joining the company.

Isn't it sad?  We develop work environments that discourage any expression that challenges the status quo.  We wait until things are dire.  And then insist that the thought process ought to be that which we have should have promoted all along.

We built walls and obstacles; we put land mines in the way of anyone who might wander off the path of  least resistance.  And we wonder what went wrong.

Why are our best people leaving?
Why are those who remain, so disengaged?
Why are strategies so ineffective?
Shouldn't the issue really be
'...why do we even have a box...'
Leaders need to discard the chains of control and unleash the power that lies within the teams that they have assembled.  I understand that there must be some rules; some processes that guide the day to day operations.  These things provide structure and prevent chaos.  But they cannot limit the potential of the people.

The best leaders are able to function with blurred lines.  Through experience and intuition, they recognize that different people need different limits.  These leaders are willing to own the consequences when things go less well than anticipated.

Every successful company makes mistakes.  But they became successful because they accepted the risks and worked through them; not because they limited the creative talents inherent in their staff. 

Have you the courage of your convictions to think outside the box...

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Real power!

My wife owns a small fabric shop.  In the past year it has grown from a start up to a move to a larger location as demand for the products and services that she offers has ramped up beyond our expectations.

On occasion I am called into duty.  I know little about fabric and make no pretenses either.  Were I to even try, my basic ignorance of the subject would 'out' me in a heartbeat.  Fortunately the store has a tendency to sell itself as her keen eye for fabric and the extent of selection is drawing clients from a wide radius.  This, combined with sound business practices, is creating a viable enterprise.

That said, the most powerful tool that we have employed is one that should be fundamental to all businesses, but sadly is frequently ignored. 

It is simple gratitude.

We ensure that every person entering the store is greeted personally and with thanks for taking time to visit us.  Whether they are a buyer or a looker, 'thank you' is expressed sincerely. It really is a sad commentary when so many of them are pleasantly surprised that their mere presence is appreciated. They feel valued...and feeling valued prompts a desire to reciprocate.

Our shop is small; so I am not losing my voice thanking people.  In your larger companies there are many more opportunities.  And not simply clients that you sometimes speak to...
Staff members, regardless of their role
All clients, regardless of the size of the sale
All suppliers, regardless of the value of your order
Advisors, anyone whose input has made you better
Candidly, there is no one that comes under your sphere of influence who should not be thanked for the contributions that they make to your life and to your success.   It costs you nothing to recognize others and yet it pays such dividends.  Furthermore, it is easy and provides immediate gratification for everyone.
We live in a time and space where entitlement is the operative word.  As a result, our expectations, when met, are not considered worthy of thanks.  The reality is that none of us succeeds alone.  So take time to thank those who make a difference in your world.  It is a powerful tool when used with sincerity.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

All that glitters...

It comes as no surprise when I state that we are in a long term period of low growth.  Since the economic collapse in 2008, companies around the world have had to deal with an entirely different paradigm, something that is often referred to as the 'new normal'.  Whereas companies would routinely expect double digit growth, many are now content with maintaining their status while providing stable and secure employment opportunities for their valued staff members.

This is not to suggest that there have not been those who have grown and prospered despite the turmoil of the day.  Clearly many have, as the digital age brings us many new options.  But for those who have been in business for more than the past 5-7 years in 'traditional' bricks and mortar enterprises, growth and profitability have certainly been a challenge.  In most instances the pie has not grown even in inflationary terms.  The pressure is on all leaders in these companies to find the engine for sustainability.  And here is the real issue...what is gold and what is simply glitter?

As the leader you have no greater responsibility than to ensure the long term viability of the company.  That may seem to most to be self evident.  But in the rush to improve short term earnings or growth, it is disconcerting to know how many fail this test. They have been unable to distinguish  the gold from the glitter.  In their rush to find the new 'thing' they fail to exercise due diligence and in so doing they put the whole enterprise at risk.

If sustainability is an issue, first look internally.  Have you optimized your processes?  Have you addressed productivity issues?  Are your cost centres well controlled?  Can you improve margins without impacting sales?  More often than not, you will be able to find aspects of your current operations that do not meet 'best in class' standards.  Fixing that which is fixable will generate more profits and ultimately deliver better results for your clients.  Begin your search for growth at home before looking for afield.  The best leaders have learned that all that glitters is not gold.

(I will be off for the summer and returning in September with more 'bon mots' on Inspirational Leadership.  Enjoy your holidays!)


Saturday, 16 May 2015

La Vie de Joie!

During a graduation celebration at university some time ago (don't go there), I debated with a philosophy professor.  I contended that you could probably get someone to do almost any job that was legal, ethical and moral.  There were only two conditions.  The first is that the compensation must be enough.  And the second was that there was a time limit to the position.  I proposed that I could hold my nose at something I did not like as long as these criteria were met.  Looking back, I think that there were some early roles that may have fit this description.

My assumption was that the amount of money would overcome any kind of distaste that I held regarding the position.  Further, this money would buy me the happiness outside of the work environment that I forfeited while working.

In principle I think that this is true.  In reality it is the clearest sign of immaturity and naivety that I can imagine.  The lack of joy that exists in this type of work situation will suck the life out of you regardless of the justification that you propose and no amount of money is going to buy back that deficit.

What has this to do with leadership? 

In my economy, joy is one of the foundational characteristics that a leader must bring to the position each and every day.  If you cannot find joy in what you are doing, how are you going to effectively transfer that emotion to those whom you lead?

As a leader, your staff often look to you for inspiration. You won't be able to fake it with those who work with you on a daily basis.  What this means then is that to achieve your full potential as a leader you must work in a role to which you can bring your passion and express your joy.  To do otherwise is to deny your team the leadership that they need and to deny yourself the opportunity to excel.

Life is far too short to simply exist in a situation in which you cannot function with joy.  If it once existed and now does not, figure out why and get it fixed.  If it has always been absent, or the lost cannot be found, then re-evaluate your priorities and plan to get out of the losing proposition.  Everyone will benefit from your decision.

There is always life after...and it is never too late.!

Friday, 8 May 2015

That which binds us.

There is much in the news about the different expectations between 'generations'...  Baby boomer, Gen X, Gen Y, Gen Z, Millennial.  Most of the commentaries focus on the differences between these groups, and to be sure, some significant issues are worthy of consideration.  But it strikes me that there are many more things in common that ought to grab our attention.  We spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on the negative and far to little time exploring that which binds us together.  And in my economy I would rather built up the positive and work away at the side issues as time allows.

So then, from an employment perspective, what are the key things upon which all generations can agree, that make for a productive workplace?  I submit to you that the fundamentals are these:

  1.  Opportunity: This encompasses various components.  For some it is the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities by being properly trained and equipped for the task at hand.  For others it is the opportunity for advancement.  And for others yet it is simply the opportunity to be employed. Regardless of how you want to define it, without opportunity there is little likelihood of engagement.  And the lack of engagement detracts from a productive environment. 
  2. Respect: This must be regarded as a right of all employees regardless of position.  Respect, in this context, is not a privilege to be earned.  In this I am speaking about the right to be free of harassment of any kind; free of discrimination; free of intimidation and fear.  The workplace must be, for all, a place of safety and freedom to excel.
  3. Recognition: Every person has the right to expect to be recognized for work well done.  Whether this is done at an annual review, an award ceremony or simply a 'shout out' that peers share, it is reasonable to have superior work acknowledged. Furthermore, each individual has the right to appropriate compensation for the task being performed.  There is no place for discrimination on any basis, period.
  4. Effective Leadership: Any person in any position should expect to have effective management and leadership.  To this end, the company should be involved in a  continuous improvement strategy that relates to the professional development of all individuals in any supervisory, management and/or leadership function.  At the very least, the goals and objectives of the work unit must be communicated to the employee in a manner which inspires the individual to make a meaningful contribution.
I believe that every generation would agree with these principles.  In combination, they are fair, reasonable and appropriate.  When the workplace reflects these principles in action, it does not matter which generation we are considering because all subscribe to a common set of values.  I am not dismissing the obvious differences such as communication techniques, cultural experiences and sensitivities, ambitions etc.  But I would argue that the commonalities of expectations outweigh the differences amongst the groups and that our focus on these commonalities will contribute more to the productive workplace than anything else.

As the leader, how effective have you been in creating an environment that meets the diverse needs of several generations.  Too many have simply thrown their hands in the air and their heads in the sand because they thought that it was too much work to bring these groups together as a team. But that is the essence of leadership...learning how to motivate.

Build on that which binds as these are common human values.  Only then take time to whittle away on the differences for they will become less of an issue if you have tackled the former properly.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Show how much you care...

I started to write these blogs 3 years ago out of desire to share my understanding of the issues related to authentic leadership.  For the most part I have been able to avoid becoming too repetitive.  But this time I am being deliberately so as the topic is, in my mind, that important.

As a leader, do you have the courage to answer this question?

What is your shelf life; or put in other words, what is your 'best before' date?

You may recall from earlier posts that one of your primary responsibilities is to be the person with the most passion.  You are always the `glass half full` champion from whom the rest of the team draws its strength when things are difficult.  This role can be both physically and emotionally draining with the potential of sapping you of your joy.  And if that happens, your leadership effectiveness is at risk.

Let's face facts.  At some time or another we must all move along (or aside) and allow someone else to take the reigns.  Sometimes it is a matter of age; sometimes the changes in technology require a new approach; perhaps it is simply at matter of lack of passion.  Regardless of the catalyst, will you respect your position enough to relinquish it?

In a small business this decision can be extremely delicate because of potential succession issues within the family.  In larger firms, giving up the status and influence of your role may be a blow to the ego.  But if you truly are the leader that you feel you are, you will set aside the personal aspects and do the right thing for the company.

It is a tough call!  But if you are sensing that the company needs a change then you can be pretty certain that your staff have been sensing if for an even longer period of time.  We are generally the last to admit personal shortcomings.

Get input from your partner; seek the opinion of a trusted peer; or call in an outside professional who can be honest and dispassionate.  But don't let it linger.  Too much of what you have already built becomes at risk the longer you postpone the inevitable.

Take the burden off your shoulders and show how much you really do care.  Everyone, including you, will be better off in the long run.

Friday, 17 April 2015

It's all about 'we'!

We have been led to believe that leadership is all about the individual.  But the reality is that there is a big distinction between leadership and the leader.  In fact, leadership is less about the 'me' and almost always about the 'we'.  Let me explain.

Anyone can declare themselves to be the 'leader'.  But the act of declaration does not confirm anything.  Consider the assertions of Gen. Haig after the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan.  Haig was Secretary of State when he learned of the attempt and boldly declared '...I am in charge...'  The US constitution though had already addressed such a situation and Haig was well down the list of candidates.  His comments were noteworthy but meaningless.

Though less grandiose in the grand scheme of things, our declarations are likewise without merit if our status is self proposed.  In the absence of the affirmation of others, we lead no one and thus we are no more significant than a bell without a clapper.  Furthermore, without a common goal or objective, there is no where to lead.  Simply staying in place has equal merit to chasing our tails and indeed they are one and the same.

Leadership then is must be viewed as a threefold equation.  First, there must be one individual who is recognized as the leader.  As long as this individual is appointed in an appropriate and legitimate manner, their skills and qualities are not a topic of debate.  Their appointment confers both the appropriateness and legitimacy.  Secondly the individuals being led must acknowledge the legitimacy and they must willingly support the individual.  Their option, if they oppose the leader, is simple...quit.  And finally there must be a common goal which satisfies four criteria.  The goal must be legal, ethical, moral and achievable.

These three represent an authentic leadership model.  You can now see how leadership is very distinct from being a leader.  Leadership is all about the 'we'.  Being a leader is all about the 'me', that is, the qualities, characteristics and skills that one brings to the position.

Finally, why is it important to understand this distinction? 

Any approach that does not comply with this model is not, by definition, an authentic leadership model.  For example, if you speak of a military or other crisis response situation, it is not a leadership model but a command model. If the person in charge seeks no input or exhibits no empathy to the 'followers' then that person is a dictator, not a leader.  If compliance comes by virtue of threats or actual harm, that person is not a leader but a tyrant. 

What model defines your approach?  If you are more likely to be in the commander, dictator or tyrant classification, then there is little wonder why you are not reaching your goals on a consistent basis.  Take a long look in the mirror.  If all you think of is 'me' and not 'we' then you are falling short...far short...of your responsibilities and getting the type of outcome you have earned and deserve!

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

The paralysis of failure.

They are four short words;
'...if only I had...' 

Most often they are expressed with at least a tang of regret.  Sometimes the longing is to be able to undo that which was done.  Other times the desire is to have acted on that which had been left undone.  Regardless, done or undone, it is past tense.  You cannot change the past.  But how often are we paralyzed by it?

As a leader you are no different from the rest of humanity.  You make mistakes.  Things do not always work out as planned.   

Spoiler are fallible.

What differentiates the most effective leaders from their peer group is their response to failure. Does your regret sap your confidence, your joy and your passion?  Does fear of failure paralyze you from moving forward?  Do you dwell on the mistake?  Or do you learn from it and use it to motivate you to future success?

Your team chooses to follow you because of the character that you display, day in and day out.  They are all realistic enough to know that perfection does not exist, but strength of character does.  What will motivate them to continue to follow and support you lies not so much in your ability to be perfect, but rather in your ability to carry on. 

When the inevitable happens, acknowledge it, learn from it, and use it to your future advantage.  And do it immediately. The longer you wallow in the trough of failure, the longer it will take to reach those fields of success!

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Stand on solid ground!

There is tremendous pressure on all of us to 'perform'; that is, to live up to expectations...typically someone else's expectations. This reality seems to exist regardless of the role we play.  Whether it is one of leadership, manager, or employee.  Sales, accounting, shipping.  We push and push ourselves to exhaustion.  And then we push some more.

We have electronic calendars to remind us.  We have smart phones to tether us.  We have goals to motivate us.

Sadly, despite our best qualities and characteristics; despite our skills, education and training; despite the warnings that our bodies often display; very few of us have truly found balance in our lives. 

Why is it that we adjust our lifestyles only after the heart attack.  Why do we realize an incorrect emphasis on work after  the divorce papers are served.  Why do we acknowledge that our priorities were misplaced after  the severance package has been presented.

It is extremely difficult to get yourself out of the 'now'.  The snowball has a way of building itself as it tumbles downhill. But what will it take for you to step back from the precipice?  It needn't be a tragedy if you only take some time to establish some balance in your life today.

Believe me, I have chased the golden ring.  But I always believed that if I was not able to get the job done in a normal day's work (routinely), then one of two things was probably true.  The first was that I was not doing the work properly in which case I needed to  get better trained and prepared.  Or the second was that the job was too demanding, in which case I needed  a different job.  In either case, simply putting in more hours was not an option.  I was being paid to perform a function, not to sacrifice my life.

Where are you on the scale of lifestyle balance?  Are you headed for the tombstone that reads "...I wish I had spent more hours at the office...". 

As leaders, one of our primary responsibilities is to create and execute a sustainable and achievable strategic plan and vision for the company or for our business unit.  We dedicate an enormous amount of time and effort in the research and implementation of these goals. 

But how many of us have taken the time to do the same kind of prioritizing in our personal lives?  You would be amazed at how easily you can incorporate both work and personal demands, when you take the time to plan. 

Start by remembering that none of us, literally not a single one of us, is indispensable. If that thought seems foreign to you just imagine what would happen if you were hit by a bus.  Much to your surprise and chagrin, the world will not end if you are absent.  Others will adjust; life will go on.

Find the balance.  You may be surprised at how much better you perform at the office when you really do stop and smell the roses!

Friday, 27 February 2015

Intelligent change.

You have heard it said that '...a change is as good as a rest...'  And if things have truly become stale, then this adage holds true.

But change, simply for the sake of change, can have a disquieting impact on the workplace.  This is especially true when the change becomes too frequent. Let me explain.

Often leaders have strokes of genius that they are convinced will enhance the workplace performance.  They set about to implement these ideas without due process and in so doing they ignore the emotional investment that their staff have in the status quo.  Like it or not, routine appeals to most people and there is a sense of safety and comfort in always doing things the same way each day.  So much of life is unpredictable, thus the consistency that the workplace typically affords provides that stability that people seek. 

In times of crisis - such as those that we have experienced over the past several years - there is clearly a need for change.  Budgets are adjusted, often the workforce is reduced, and a general sense of uneasiness pervades the work environment.  As the leader, a critical responsibility is to create order from the chaos and to maintain that safe haven in which your staff are able to perform to their best.

If staff reductions will be necessary, then make them wisely but quickly.  And try to do them all at once.  This will provide several benefits to all:
  1. It allows for the re-structuring and re-distribution of responsibilities to take place only one time.  This saves time and emotional distress as you move to the new normal.
  2. As painful as it is for all concerned, those who remain can adjust with a certainty that they are safe from further re-structuring and therefore they make a deeper and more thankful commitment to the job.
  3. Your external stakeholders - suppliers and clients - can adjust to the new structure with like confidence and commitment.  Too often we neglect to consider the impact to these partners because we view our changes to be internal only.
  4. Finally it reinforces your credibility and that of the company.  It demonstrates that you have prudently evaluated your options and that you have done the right thing for the company and the right thing by the employees.  If you have not done your due diligence and require frequent changes, your credibility will have been sacrificed.  There is a reason that carpenters measure twice and cut once!
Understand that I am not against change.  It is the hallmark of progressive and innovative companies.  But ensure that you have properly anticipated the wide ranging impact that any change has and be prepared to be accountable for your decisions.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Choose this day...

For much of the past year I have focused on only one side of the leadership duality.  That focus has been on the skills that leaders must master over time to be ensure that they maximize the potential of their group.

Today I want to return to the real touchstone of inspirational leadership. It has nothing to do with skills; but it is the ground from which all the skills must take root.

I speak of character.  The word itself connotes something positive.  When we speak of someone as a `person of character`, it immediately brings to mind the qualities that we admire. Honesty, integrity, accountability, passion, patience, transparency, humility...and more.

Character is built as it is learned.  Most often it has been tested and tried over time before it becomes a core value of the individual.  But once there, it is almost impossible to move. 

A great teacher and coach, John Wooden, said "...reputation is what others think of you; character is what you really are..."

You know from personal experience, that you are much more likely to respect the person of character over the person of superior skills.  In my experience I have often not even noticed a lack of skill in a leader of character.  But I have most definitely noticed the lack of character in a skillful leader.

While both character and skill are found in the most successful inspirational leaders, if you must aspire to one or the other first, always choose character.  Character moves with you regardless of your vocation; regardless of your level of responsibility; regardless of anything, because it is who you are.  Skills may not be nearly as transferable and must be continually upgraded to keep current.

In today's vernacular we hear the terminology, 'emotional intelligence'. It speaks to the need of a leader to have empathy and to respond to another's emotional state in providing leadership.  But that comes up far short of our expectations...empathy being only one of the traits of a mature leader of character.

This is not rocket science.  Unfortunately we continue to have too many in positions of responsibility who choose the 'commander-in-chief' model as a cover for a lack of character. 

First take a look around...then take a look in the mirror.  Now choose the type of leader you will be.


Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Delegate, don't Abdicate

A key responsibility of any leader is to prepare for the 'next'.  That is, who on the team has the potential to be promoted into a leadership role, either as a direct replacement or somewhere else in the company.

While training and experience are important factors in this consideration, few options are better than delegating in preparing the individual for future responsibilities.  Being given the challenge to do something that normally falls in the job description of the boss affords opportunity on several fronts.
  1. It very clearly signals satisfaction on the part of the manager with his/her team member.  This is an excellent motivator under any circumstances.
  2. The team member gets introduced to more complex decision making situations while still not being fully accountable for the outcome.  This learning process also acquaints the person with the nature of the responsibilities at the next level.  This will be important when a promotion is being considered.
  3. In some situations it allows the manager to off-load duties which are not critical but which need to be done.  In delegating though, the task must be one which is building into the individual, not simply offloading an unpleasant or unrewarding responsibility.
As the leader you must delegate, not abdicate, responsibilities.  You should ensure the following:
  1. You must be perfectly clear about the expectations, including:
    •  the time frame in which the task must be completed; 
    • the scope of authority you are extending;
    • the nature of the outcome, that is, are you looking for something to be done or only a recommendation;
    • any mandatory processes that are applicable;
   2.  You must supervise without interfering.  The individual must understand that you are available to provide direction when required and that you have not simply abandoned them to succeed or fail.
    3.  Others must be aware of the scope of authority that has been granted to assure their full cooperation as it may be needed.
    4.  Finally, ensure that you provide feedback in the form of a proper verbal and/or written review of their work.  How did it measure up to expectations?  How were inter-personal skills developed?  How did the individual grow through the process?

Delegation is an important tool in employee development.  Too often, the leader is intimidated by the notion that someone else may acquire the skills necessary to replace them and thus he/she intentionally limits progress.  This is clearly illogical thinking as one will never get ahead unless and until there is a viable option to replace them.  Lead with confidence and fully equip all those with potential.  Every one gains as knowledge and capabilities are enhanced. 

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Equal ≠ Fair

There is an old sports cliché that says that for a team to win on a consistent basis '...the best players must be the best players...'  The clear implication is that all people are not created equal with respect to skills and abilities and that some will, naturally, be superior to the majority.  Success depends on these best players exhibiting their skills on a regular basis, perhaps not every time, but most frequently.  This recurring performance affords the highest probability for the success of the team.

The same is true in business.  We are all created equal in the eyes of the law.  But no one is going to suggest that we are equal in terms of our native intelligence, personal ambition/drive, commitment etc.  In these areas we must concede that some are superior to the majority and therefore they are in a position to contribute disproportionally to the overall corporate success. 

Once you get over this reality, it now falls to the leader to create and maintain an environment which recognizes - and even supports - the duality while simultaneously dampening both entitlement and jealousy.  Talk about walking a tightrope!

Here are a few suggestions to help manage a difficult and potentially awkward situation.

  1. Routinely acknowledge everyone's successful contribution.  While the levels of contribution will be different, it remains true that the total is still greater than the sum of the parts.  So celebrate individual successes equally.
  2. Equal does not mean fair, and fair does not mean equal.  Who said that everyone must be treated equally?  The issue really is about fairness and as long as you can justify the difference, within the corporate environment, then opt for fairness not equality.
  3. Be on guard at all times for issues of entitlement or jealousy.  These are natural human responses that can poison a work environment quickly.  For the person who starts to develop an 'entitlement disposition', seek to cultivate an attitude of thankfulness.  To the jealous response, remind the individual that the opportunity for personal success typically lies more in the person than the company and that a better effort and commensurate results will lead to better and commensurate recognition.  Put the challenge where is belongs!
  4. Remember that, at the end of the day, your responsibility is to the company and not the individual.  Always to the right thing for the company...and the right thing by the individual. 
  5. Finally, always be ready to give an account for your decisions.  They must be rooted in reality, not favouritism.  Furthermore, your decisions must always be done with a view to motivate, not punish.  If your position can be confidently defended then you must do what you see to be fair.

If you have any other suggestions to add to the above, I will try to share your input in a future blog.

Have a great 2015.  Feel free to contact me if you need any assistance regarding these issues.  And if you have a topic that you would like me to write on, please send your request to me directly at


Saturday, 3 January 2015

A word, if you please...

If, in 2015, you are able to influence any of the following:
      1. The interest rates in North America
      2. Economic growth in Europe or Japan
      3. The price of oil.
      4. The Chinese economy
      5. Vladimir Putin
Stop reading now; this blog is not intended for you!

However, if you are amongst the mere mortal leaders, carry on.

There is a wonderful expression that sounds best when spoken in French.

"...Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose..."
The more things change, the more they stay the same.  For 2015,  this phrase is both appropriate and applicable.  By that I mean that the critical business principles that have created success in the past are the same ones that you will need to rely upon this year. 

As the list above reveals, the macro aspects of the world's economy are beyond our control. Therefore you must focus on those fundamentals that you can impact. 

Historically success has come to those who have excelled at these two principles.

  1. You must establish and maintain an 'emotional' connection with each of your clients.  This does not mean hugs and kisses all around. Rather, your customers must feel valued.  And they must continue to believe that the product or service that you offer truly represents great value.  At the end of the day, people vote with their wallets but price is seldom the determining factor.  In fact, most of us willingly pay more every day simply because the person / company delivering that which we seek has treated us in a manner which has made us feel as though our purchase mattered to them...we felt valued.  We made a personal decision based upon any number of tangible and intangible factors.  But in the end, we exchanged that which was in our wallet for that which we desired.  We made an emotional, albeit practical, choice.  As the leader, you must diligently identify and sustain that emotional connection.  Those who do so most often are also the ones who will be successful.
  2. You must execute your plan better and better each year.  The recommendation that you must '...say what you do; then do what you say...' has the unspoken assumption that you have identified your 'what' properly.  The implementation of your plan is obviously closely related to the first point above.  But to assume that others are not working to establish the same kinds of connections is clearly naïve and potentially fatal.  As the leader, there is never a time in which you can relax or coast on your past successes.  Some small measure of self satisfaction is fine, especially when you are acknowledging your team members' efforts. However, you have a DUTY of care to keep the team focused, alert, and engaged.  This is a daily responsibility; a contract that is renewed every time you report to work.
Leadership matters, regardless of the size of your company or your specific role within that environment.  During these times of such economic, political, and social uncertainty, it is best to hold fast to the principles that consistently deliver success.  Focus on that which you can influence (I hesitate to say control), and leave the macro issues to those who think that they know what to do. 

Take a snapshot of things as they are today and then revisit that image a few times during the year to ensure that you continue to progress towards your goal.  This should be much more than a simple financial analysis.  Make it a holistic picture that incorporates as many elements as you can.  Financial results are only a consequence of effectively responding to the intangible factors of leadership.

If any of this seems to be a mystery, seek assistance now, not mid-year or later.  Believe me, it will not cure itself.