Saturday, 1 December 2018

The Best Offence

In the sporting world it is often said that the best offence is a great defence. The reasoning being that if you are not scored on, you cannot lose.

As a business leader, there is much merit in adopting a similar approach. 
When asked to list our strengths, most of us display a false humility and we try to downplay just how good we think we are.  When pushed, we reluctantly agree with another’s analysis and commend them for their honesty and insight.

But asked to list our faults or shortcomings, we struggle.  It is not that we don’t know them but rather we are unwilling to acknowledge them to others in the hope that they have not perceived them already.

My challenge to you is to look at your company through your competitor’s eyes.  Where do they see the flaws in your strategies that they intend to exploit in the workplace? 

We all have competitors and we are all trying to grow our businesses either by maintaining our piece of the pie in a growing market or by taking more from others in a lower growth environment.  Knowing our faults and vulnerabilities – playing good defence – is critical to your future success.

It is an old axiom, but nonetheless true.  It costs much more to find new business than to keep and cultivate current clients.  What firewalls have you installed to keep more of what is coming in the front door from escaping out the back?

This takes a strong leader.  It means having others criticise the hard work that you have done.  But it is constructive criticism that someone who is comfortable in their own skin is more than willing to accept.

In combat you do not press on without first ensuring that your gains have been solidified.  In the same manner I suggest that you must always be confirming the foundation upon which your success has been built.

Don’t shy away from it.  Learn from it and make even better decisions for the future. 

If you don’t, there may not be one…

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Look to the Western Sky

Most leaders approach change in a planned and reasoned manner.  Progress is made in increments, step by step as it were.  They constantly build on the known as a foundation for what lies ahead.  

For many…perhaps most…this is an equation that provides a secure platform for growth and success.

But transformational leadership demands a different approach.  And we are living in a transformational age.

The best leaders are those who are constantly defying gravity.  They are not constrained by the processes of the past.  Their vision is much broader.

Hasn’t it always been thus?  We need to challenge the conventional to achieve the ‘impossible’.

For eons, we walked the face of this earth.  Then in 1783 the first hot air balloon loosed two French adventurers from the grip of the earth.  Nothing conventional would have achieved their flight.  They had to defy gravity.

For centuries horses were domesticated to be our ‘beasts of burden’.  That is until a new invention was popularized by Ford and motor cars allowed us the break beyond the horizons and travel to points unknown.

When the first airplanes became successful, we again achieved the unexpected.  Once more, we defied gravity and entered a new era.

Throughout history, it has taken leadership willing to risk.
Computers allowed us to travel into space.  AI will open another Pandora’s Box as this century unfolds.

In all of these endeavours, it has taken leadership that is willing to attempt to defy gravity.  Not all will be successful, but those that are will change the world.

What in your business requires you to defy gravity?  Will you accept the challenge?  Or will inertia prevent you from gaining the momentum to fly?   

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Do it today!

What every leader MUST DO!

EVERY LEADER knows someone who has been harassed or abused.

Let that sink in for a moment and then allow me to repeat myself.

EVERY LEADER knows someone who has been harassed or abused.
It may be racial; it may be sexual; it may be something else.
In your defense, you may not be personally aware of the specifics.  But I can guarantee you that someone you know, probably someone who works with you or for you, has been the object of unwanted and unwarranted verbal, sexual or physical harassment and abuse. It is endemic in our culture.

Social media has made it even easier and more pervasive.  But social media only builds on a solid foundation of ignorance or tolerance of these kinds of activities that have existed for far too long.


I am speaking to men especially, for two reasons.  The first is that most positions of leadership are still male dominated.  The second is that most offenses are committed by men. 


You must start in your sphere of influence.  Everyone must know that there is a new sheriff in town.  Zero tolerance is the only acceptable level of conduct and everyone is deputized to call out offenders.  I understand that there is a risk associated with believing all accusers.  But there is a greater risk of overlooking claims and thereby perpetuating unacceptable behaviour.

Obviously this should start at the top.  Many organizations have had long standing policies in place.  But it is clear that too often these policies have been in place but not in practice.  Witness the increasing number of men in executive positions who are now coming under public scrutiny. 

Their signatures are on the policy.  Their hands are on something else.

Where do you start?

1.    Acknowledge that this behaviour is unacceptable in both principle and practice regardless of who is accused or who the accuser is.  There are no levels at which situational ethics or morality changes the facts.

2.    Develop a policy that encourages full disclosure of any violations and that also removes ‘whistleblowers’ of any fear of retaliation.  This assumes that information brought forward is truthful and verifiable so as to prevent attempts to discredit or defame simply out of revenge or anger.

3.    Communicate this policy to every person in the company.  Make it clear that no one is exempt from the expectations that the policy defines.
Clearly this is an HR initiative.  But without the implicit validation from you as the leader, it may lack the gravitas that it requires to be believed.

In my opinion there is no greater or more urgent priority.  Simply put, companies that fail to adequately step up will be penalized by both the law and by societal response.  Protecting your most important assets seems like a ‘no brainer’ but actions speak louder than words.
May your actions rumble like thunder!

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

It's not enough!

It’s not enough!

Increasingly I see those in leadership – business, politics, academia – taking strong positions against those who are in control.  They shout; they protest; they complain.  They use the media, social media, feet on the street, or the courts to send a message.  The message is almost always a negative one.

We stand against you!

We stand against your values!

We stand against your policies!

In some cases they may have a valid argument.   But that is not enough.  You cannot simply be against something.  If you oppose another’s position, you must instead be ‘for’ something.  And you must be able to articulate it in such as manner so as to demonstrate that your message is not only contrary to the present order but that it is also viable and with merit.

Opposition is easy.

You can stop traffic by simply sitting in the middle of the road.   But if your intention is to change traffic patterns, that takes much more thought and preparation.  And therein lays the rub.

Too few leaders are willing and/or able to constructively oppose.  It takes too much work.  It takes too much thought.  And it takes too much risk.  These people are like water and find the path of least resistance.

Opposition is crucial to improving circumstances.  As iron sharpens iron, constructive opposition…constructive criticism…is imperative as we evolve in every aspect of our daily lives.  Business, politics or academia must always be seeking the ‘next’ in terms of best practices.  And that occurs at the junction of ‘position vs opposition’.

Are you leading in a manner that encourages thoughtful and respectful dialogue?  Are you willing to be challenged and to open your mind to options your once discarded or never considered.

Leadership does not imply that YOU have all the answers.  But it does expect that you are willing to search for them regardless of the ultimate source.

Friday, 24 August 2018

The Lion King

Alexander the Great is quoted as having said:

“…I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion…”

My first impression of this comment was that the lion would be fearless in its’ leadership style.  But on closer examination there are a number of qualities of the lion that translate into effective leadership.  And while I doubt that Alexander necessarily had them in mind, these are equally important to the lion’s effectiveness.

1.    Despite its individual strength, lions work best in the collective strength of the pride.  This allows them greater success in hunting and in protecting against threats.

2.    Lions are very effective communicators.  Their roar can communicate up to 5 miles and yet they can hunt successfully without any sound because of their ability to read each other almost telepathically.

3.    Lions are vicious competitors but are highly social and caring within the pride.

4.    A lion’s vision is 6 times better than a human’s.  As a night hunter this provides an obvious and important advantage that they use to their benefit.

5.    Lions carry themselves with distinction that has afforded them the name of “King of the Jungle”.  There is a dignity and a presence that is both palatable and real.

Take a moment to reflect on your personal leadership style. 

Are you able to use the strength of your team to accomplish goals?  Does your style maximize potential?  Or are you the ‘do as I say’ type that dictates both the goal and the procedure to attain same?

Have you developed and polished your communication style so that others fully understand and buy into the team/corporate strategies? How do you test your style to ensure that what you want others to hear is actually being heard and understood and implemented?  Failure to communicate properly leads to frustration and lost opportunity.

Do you give a damn about your staff or are they lucky to have a job?  Increasingly employees are attracted to and retained by those companies who put employee well-being as a priority.  If your true attitude does not reflect this as a core value, you attract less than the best.  Today’s ultra-competitive workplace will soon separate you from those employers who have established this rapport with their most important asset.

Night vision is a benefit to the lion. Indeed, it is crucial to its survival. Your strategic vision is its counterpart. If you don’t know where you are headed, and why, you only hasten your demise.  If this is not a core strength, get help…professional help…before it is too late.

It has been said that one should dance like no one is watching.  But as the leader you must conduct yourself morally, ethically and legally as if the whole world could see you simultaneously.  Lead with integrity and honour befitting of the privileged role that you occupy.  That alone inspires others to service.

Alexander may have seen the warrior in the lion.  Today that is not nearly enough.  Expand your understanding and expand your performance!

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

What's truth...but a second hand emotion?

Maybe I am just too old.  I remember when a handshake was more binding that a signature; when my word was worth more than gold.

Perhaps I was too gullible but I generally believed what a news anchor was reporting.

When I looked you in the eye I expected an honest answer to a direct question.

Today we have ‘alternate facts’ or someone ‘mis-remembered’ the details of an incident. When caught in a lie, culprits simply invoke the phrase ‘…I made a mistake…’ when it really should be ‘…I got caught…’

Now lies are not new.  But when those in whom we have entrusted power lie as a natural function of their normal behaviour, authentic leaders must stand up and demand accountability.  To be certain, this takes courage and it involves risk.

But to tolerate the intolerable involves a greater risk!

Society today is behaving like the frog in the pot of water that is heating up.  Initially the frog does nothing to escape.  Only when it is too late does the frog want out of the water.  But by then it is cooked.

The behaviour we are witnessing today amongst key elected representatives around the world fails to meet the ethical and moral tests of character.  And increasingly it fails to meet the legal standard as well.

We are better than this.  Women and men have gone to war and died for the freedoms we enjoy and these freedoms are being trampled by the few who are quick to blame others for their circumstances while failing to first look into the mirror.

Now, before the water boils, leaders in all walks of life MUST STAND UP FOR TRUTH.  They must put right above wrong; they must stand for dignity and integrity; they must be loyal to something, not someone.

How well are the principles of your company communicated across your network?  Do your employees know where they stand because they know where you stand?  Do your clients know what they can depend upon because they know that you are dependable?  Do your suppliers appreciate the integrity of your company and therefore reciprocate in kind?

Let us not get so far down the lane that when we stop to ask for directions we wonder how we ever got here in the first place.  The truth has always been this ‘…evil triumphs when good people do nothing…’

Not all who read this are leaders.  That does not absolve you from action.  Speak truth to the liars.  Demand integrity.  Demand honesty.

Demand better.  The sooner that we all get started on this road, the sooner we reverse a trend that leads only to disaster.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Think again...

We tend to make judgments based on our biases and our experiences. And while these are often accurate forecasters, they are not always an arbiter of the truth.  A case in point…

You have heard, no doubt, of companies that are simply ‘treading water’.  The implication is that this state is a prelude to drowning.  Our experiences have prepared us for the worst outcome.

But the glass half full perspective is quite different.  Treading water can actually mean one of several different outcomes.  These include:

1.     Treading water is far better than sinking.  It may be a time when the company has recognized a need for salvation.  They are strong enough to keep their head above water but too weak to continue competing as they have.  Treading water allows time for them to be rescued, however that is defined.

2.     Treading water may indicate a period of reflection.  Success over a period of time has allowed the company to take a moment of reflection to determine the path it should take in the future.  Rather than blindly following a routine that may not result in future successes, these companies deliberately pause certain activities such as investments or new hires in order to preserve precious assets while laying the foundation for future growth.

3.     Treading water may be a deliberate life-saving activity.  This differs from the above in that it is a defensive maneuver in response to market forces and is done on an emergency basis.  The expectation is that things will return to ‘normal’ after cooling off period and that traditional strategies will still make sense.

As the leader, it may be appropriate for you to implement one of these options in response to your current environment.  Remember that in so doing you are actually exercising strength of character as opposed to acknowledging failure.  Saving the life of your company is clearly a better option to burying it. 

Friday, 23 March 2018

...they're probably...

Position does not define a leader.  Only actions can do that.  Here are ten clues to help you determine a person’s true role.

1.     If they build themselves by putting others down…they’re probably weak.

2.     If the person in the mirror provides them the best advice…they’re probably insecure.

3.     If they can only make their point by raising their voice…they’re probably not being heard.

4.     If only others make mistakes…they’re probably lacking self -confidence.

5.     If people of good character make them nervous…they’re probably lacking a moral and ethical compass.

6.     If their first inclination is to attack when caught in a lie…they’re probably in constant fear.

7.     If they have no ability to apologise…they’re probably vain.

8.     If their circle of trusted friends is only a semi-circle…they’re probably insincere.

9.     If they are constantly seeking praise, but really deserve scorn…they probably should be pitied.

10.    If their default response is to criticise…they’re probably a coward.

Take a closer look at those in positions of responsibility.   It doesn’t matter if it is in business or government.  It does not matter if it is the president of the company or an entry level supervisor.  If you see these signs, ‘leader’ is the least likely definition of their role. 

If you see these signs in yourself, run, don’t walk, to the front of the line and get some professional guidance and training.   Because if you are able to see these traits, you can be certain that your staff has known about it for some time.