April 2011

The developmental digest for emerging leader/managers devoted to growth and excellence


Section 1 - Topical Topics

Leadership and Strengths

SuperLeader . . .

There’s something of the child that remains in us all; we know it in our dreams of becoming a super hero. It’s so heroic to imagine that one could summon up unexpected and exceptional personal qualities and characteristics to resolve confounding and precarious situations – and all in a single bound!

What is this fantasy, and from where does it come?

Certainly, it’s stimulated and reinforced by graphic stories of great courage and skill, by those stirring tales of ordinary people who do extra-ordinary things and, by so doing they change the world for the better. But surely, there has to be something there, deep inside to be stimulated or reinforced in the first place.

Could it be simply mythical – a fable based on some tiny grain of reality which is then stretched beyond all recognition? Is it really just an unfounded interpretation of events fed by wishful thinking which is unattainable to ordinary folks? The frequent occurrences of such exceptional behaviors though would argue that there has to be something lurking within us all which will appear just when it’s needed.

May I suggest that even the most mortal among us have the seeds of the super hero within. It was Napoleon who said that every soldier in his army carried a Field Marshall’s baton in his knapsack. If this is so, under what circumstances would we, as individuals, seek to access these latent abilities and can this actually be done?

I think it can - let me tell you of a real life case where it actually happened.

SpeciTech’s Aspiration . . .

"Perhaps there’s a touch of spring in the air but it definitely feels like time for a new growth initiative!” SpeciTech’s CEO was putting the finishing touches to an ambitious program of activities that would, without any doubt, shake up the organization. It would definitely ‘knock the socks off’ his management team, who he was convinced, had become a tad too complacent and comfortable over the past year. "Let’s see how they all respond to this" was his final thought as he gathered his notes and set off for the Quarterly Meeting in the Conference Room.

As he described the program the shock was evident on the faces of his key managers. They were not expecting this even though they had known something was coming down. Questions and comments were few; clearly they needed time and space to absorb the demands; they most definitely had little or no idea of what the implementation strategies would look like in their respective areas.

"I’m going to suggest ten days,” was his closing shot, "then I’d like each of you to present your basic plan for execution. Let’s get back together on the fifteenth and shoot for initiation on the first of next month!”  It didn’t sound like a suggestion; it was a definite expectation!

Michael’s Dilemma . . .

Michael’s area of responsibility was logistics; he was nobody’s hero, neither in his own reckoning nor anyone else’s, for sure. He was a consistent manager, a steady worker and always managed to get the job done with little or no fuss. They all relied on him, usually without realizing the time and effort that he had to put in, and he tried very hard not to disappoint anyone.

This was different though; he recognized the enormity of the challenge even before the CEO had finished rolling out the new strategy. Now he fully understood the queries and comments that had been coming from the corner office over past weeks; now it all made sense but it was, in a word, scary!

That night he found it hard to sleep; his mind was racing. The new program would mean change, radical changes, in so many areas – Inventory, Purchasing, Planning and Scheduling, Shipping and Receiving, Warehousing and Transportation – every aspect was deeply affected. How on earth was he going to stay on top of everything? There would only need to be one small glitch in one area for everything to come crashing down around his ears.

He knew full well what that would mean; the CEO had mentioned alternate strategies like outsourcing and sub-contracting on a couple of occasions in the lead up – the writing was on the wall! How could he manage to keep things running smoothly over the next few weeks while he attempted to introduce so many changes and realign the efforts of his sixty three people? It was a challenge like he’d never anticipated. Was he up to the task?

Susan, Provoked . . .

Her feeling of shock at the ramifications of the proposed changes was brief, followed quickly by the horrible sinking conclusion that it just couldn’t be done. She headed up Sales for the main product lines, the bread-and-butter business that carried the essential revenue stream. Her business was generally predictable and stable and, in her estimation, close to market saturation point. The company had always looked to the glitzy peripheral products and services to secure the profit margins that stockholders expected.

The new program turned all that on its ear! She now needed a plan that would generate an additional fifteen percent in new business sales, while improving her existing margins by a minimum of eight percent. But the market was mature, for Pete’s sake! Where was it going to come from?

When the CEO had spoken to her ahead of the meeting she hadn’t heard the serious intent in his queries and she’d definitely under-estimated his resolve. He’d now made it extremely plain that he was counting on the increases to carry the costs of the new program and he’d challenged her right there in the meeting, "Can you do it?” She recalled her feeling of numbness as she’d responded, in front of everyone, "Sure, I can do it! Just watch out for my dust.”  Brave words – but what else could she say?

This could be a career breaker! She’d never turned down a challenge before but she’d also always seen some light at the end of the tunnel; at this point she could see none!

Situational Analysis. . .

The name of the game is ‘pulling rabbits out of the hat!’. How many times have we been invited to ‘do more with less’? We’re all worthy of the challenge but often at a loss when it comes to designing an executable plan of action. We’re strong on the ‘will-power’ but perhaps less so on the ‘way-power’!

Michael’s dilemma is simply that; he’s willing to do anything but he’s not so sure about what that would look like or whether he has the capacity. Susan has little doubt about her level of commitment and she’s much more confident that she can and will make a difference but where will she find the needed resources?

Let’s be practical. The CEO knows his business, has a realistic awareness of the market, recognizes and values the potential in his people and hopefully he has identified a bona-fide desire for improvement throughout the entire organization. If this is not the reality, in any aspect, he will be going back to the drawing board with a bitter taste in his mouth – and soon!

Let’s assume that he is on the ball and has read the signals correctly in every important dimension. He now needs to stretch his people beyond their comfort levels but not to the point of breaking. The primary challenge is to get them to look at familiar situations in innovative ways.

His assessment is that they have been too comfortable, perhaps becoming habit-bound between the ears. He needs them to change the way they are framing realities and to adopt ‘outside the box’ thinking. The new perspectives will probably affect the values that each person has been attaching to current situations and thereby stimulate fresh awareness levels and different strategies.

Pathways Forward . . .

Michael has perhaps the most obvious challenge as well as most of the resources needed to meet it. There’s a very high probability that he is sitting on a pool of both passion and talent; also there are many accessible options for him to manage his logistical operations with increased effectiveness and efficiencies.

As he speculated on the issues, he became increasingly aware that it is he, himself, that needed to change – he could no longer afford to be just a manager – getting results through other people. He must become more of a leader – harnessing the desire for change that’s resident in others and then by facilitating the creation of a sustainable new reality. He could also extend his management impact into the future by investing in his key people - by making them successful!

The challenge was already broken down and its application would be different in each of the functional areas he supervised; he would need them all to work together, to collaborate seamlessly for break-through results though. He was less than secure about the latent abilities of his departmental managers; for sure there are some who will rise to the challenges and a few who may need to be ‘reconfigured’!

He immediately saw himself as the orchestra conductor he’d been keenly observing at a concert his friends Peter and Anne had taken him and Tricia to last month. He’d been impressed but also confused about the ‘value add’ so he’d queried Peter during the intermission. Peter had invited him to view the conductor as the orchestra’s first audience and the audience’s visual of the orchestra. It made perfect sense.

That’s exactly the role he must play – liberate and blend the contributions of his virtuoso performers and channel their artistic performance so that the audience heard a symphony, not just a bunch of talented players. Participation based on a central score and immediate, focused feedback so that every orchestra member knew that they were part of something well beyond the summation of their individual efforts. Michael was ‘way-to-go’!

Susan’s challenge was deeper. She had to identify and harness contributions that her people were not yet aware of within themselves! Her task was to find the hidden talents of every individual on her team and then get them to express it in a way that contributed both to the organization and to themselves. Where to start?

Intuitively she knew that her journey into such uncharted dimensions had to begin with her. While Michael could find a great deal of additional resource in the form of cognitively oriented or acquired strengths, she would need to plumb the depths of her people’s inner passions or inherent strengths. She reviewed her own passions and will-power and was gratified to find attributes there which she hadn’t been using too much.

Pulling these into clear view immediately generated a range of different approaches; now, if she could just raise awareness of every one on her team, they’d have more than enough material to work with. Using her own inherent strengths in Team Building, Legacy Builder, Self Reliance and Social Adaptability, she set about configuring strategies that would have her people working smarter rather than harder, collaboratively rather than individually and with broader scope and greatly increased commitment.

Engaging the personal strengths and passions of her team members was like switching in the after-burner. There was a sudden, shocking burst of raw energy and effort that was hard to manage but wisely, Susan let it run on its own for a few days before imposing controls and governing systems. By this time there was enhanced ‘buy-in’ and levels of commitment such as she’d rarely seen before.

The Bottom Line . . .

The answers to the challenges the CEO had issued weren’t to be found in additional resources but in using the existing resources differently and more fully. There are few knowledge/skill/experience-based strategies that have not already been thoroughly applied and exhausted, if not by us, then by the competition. Our ace-in-the-hole is our people and the potential each of them has for after-burner level performance. Whether or not we benefit from such increased contributions depends largely on how we lead and manage them.

Both Michael and Susan are super heroes; each sitting on a goldmine of talent in this real-life story. Michael was coasting comfortably but suppressing the contributions of his subordinate managers in the process; surely, life was comfortable but it definitely wasn’t fulfilling and satisfying – but they didn’t realize this until they’d been goosed.

Susan’s revelation regarding the tremendous impact of her own strengths and passions served to liberate those of each of her people; what had been a good place to work became a GREAT place to contribute in every dimension. The answers in this case lay not in the systems and processes but in the raw passions of each sales person.

Michael played the part of an ‘’external facilitator’ while Susan was an ‘internal engineer’. Their strategies drew on different aspects of the people in the Company – how people worked together and how individuals powered their efforts – and both approaches worked remarkably well.

The insights and experiences gained from this intervention have led the Company to new heights; they have also raised the satisfaction and productivity levels astronomically. All that was required - two managers needed to decide to lead and manage differently!

Think about it!

I’d welcome your questions, comments and suggestions. We can all learn through dialogue and your viewpoints will undoubtedly gain more value when shared. Please contact me at david@andros.org

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Timely Insights

  • Where’s the Courage . . .

If you’ve ever wondered why some leaders and managers (perhaps including you!) don’t show more of their backbone on the job, consider this: are they too comfortable, too afraid or too much of both? A leader’s job is to role model courageous behaviors while activating the courageous behavior among those they lead.” Says Bill Treasurer, founder of Giant Leap Consulting, a "courage building” company.

Treasurer is also author of "Courage Goes to Work” and a new training program in courageous leadership. He says that businesses stagnate when people are too comfortable with their routines but also too afraid to try anything different. When people equate ‘just enough’ with ‘good enough’ and become satisfied meeting minimum standards of performance, productivity suffers.

Check out his ideas at http://www.couragebuilding.com/cLeadershipProgram.htm

  • Can You Lead with Pictures . . .

The military started this one and engineers, scientists and most type A professionals have followed suit with enthusiasm. If you want to convey a complex idea, effectively and sustainably, use visual thinking.

Visual thinking uses pictures and images to evoke ideas, thoughts and feelings and to encourage powerful conversations as well as deeper introspection. Two engineers (by training) have developed a great tool for facilitating complex issues within groups. Visual Explorer is a packet of 216 diverse and interesting images and a guide on how to use them for dialogue and effective leadership.  You can explore this at

  • Leading Change . . .  

One of my clients has enjoyed significant success with a Shulich Business School program on implementing sustainable change. Using a simple 4-box model and a change simulation process the seminar allows leadership groups to construct change strategies that actually work as intended.

Take a look at the promotional brochure. Perhaps it’s time to investigate a proven and practical strategy before going ‘down the road’ one more time?

  • Quotable Quotes . . .

"The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can't find them, make them." -- George Bernard Shaw

"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth.'" -- Dan Rather

"The brain is like a muscle. When it is in use we feel very good. Understanding is joyous."
-- Carl Sagan

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Section 2 - Talk Back

Coach's Corner

A selection from frequently–asked questions

Dear Coach,

I report to a Vice President in our organization and generally I’m happy with the relationship. He’s a strong personality and has firm ideas about things and so there’s rarely any question on where he stands on issues.

My problem is that I don’t feel comfortable about sharing opinions or exploring ideas. When I ask for his input he’s very black and white and even dismissive. He states his position and then instantly closes down.

I think he has a lot to teach me and I want to learn, but I can’t get him to engage in any kind of dialogue. He’ll give me his position and then decline to discuss options – it’s ‘take it or leave it!’  How do I encourage him to open up and share his wisdom?


I’m likely going to surprise you on this by saying that the problem may not be what you think it is.

One of the most important lessons in life that I’ve learned is that people are who they are and others, including me, do not have the right to change them. The same qualities and attributes that can endear others to us can also get up our nose. In short we each come as a package and others may need to accept us for who we are – idiosyncrasies, quirks, warts and all!

This is an important point because whereas there are issues and options you can discuss with your boss you are encouraged to focus on yourself and your expectations first.  Your basic intention is the primary concern; if it is your intent to change your boss you will probably fail and may even lose ground in your relationship. When we attempt to control others we inevitably lose effective influence over them.

Alternatively, if your intentions are to increase awareness and share different viewpoints, then you will need to accept his freedom to accept or ignore them. If you can, you will not only present a different image but you’ll be more likely to increase your influence over him. We should respect the integrity of others while making changes where we know we have a reasonable chance of success – within ourselves.

That said – you can, and perhaps should approach your boss because there’s so much at stake here. You need to learn and grow and he needs to transfer his inherent wisdom onto you and others. This is the hierarchical obligation which has endured since businesses first became a reality in our society.

Your first step is to focus your intention; what is it you want to achieve?

From the description you’ve given it sounds as though there’s a pattern of behaviors you’d like to adjust or extend. You are seeking expanded options for the future, not redress of the past, so it’s vital that you plan the conversation for a time when there’s no specific event or issue to complicate matters. When particular issues are at stake the discussion will center on resolving, perhaps rationalizing these rather than dealing with the larger problem.

Also you need to influence future behaviors as opposed to evaluating past performance, and that’s a totally different conversation. Your focus needs to be forward, open, constructive and flexible, in fact it could demonstrate the kind of dialogue that you’d like to be having when exploring ideas or sharing opinions. Choose your time well so that the discussion can move freely and not be deflected or distracted by specifics.

Next you will want to prepare your boss for the conversation; do not drop it on him suddenly if there’s a chance he’ll close down; you could ‘tease’ him into the exchange rather than impose it. You clearly respect him, and you’d like a broader base in your relationship that he’s ready to share with you so make this plain.

Your initial approach might be, "I’d welcome the opportunity to explore some ways that we could broaden our relationship. I value and respect all you do for me and I’d enjoy and benefit from extending it. I admire many things about you and I’m keen to learn all you can share with me.

There are some things presently that are not working as well for me as I’d like. I’d like to share these with you to see if there’s a way we could communicate better on these developmental issues. Would that be alright with you?”

You will be more successful if your boss feels safe and one of the best ways to ensure this is to be absolutely sincere in your request for his permission. If he is uncomfortable for any reason, he will want to feel he is in control of the intervention before you take him forward. A direct request to proceed, and at a time and circumstance of his choosing, will work well in this area.

Finally, you need to be prepared with examples and also an awareness of possible consequences. Prepare your side of the conversation by listing all the benefits for him, the organization and yourself. Anticipate likely objections – I’m too busy. . ; I’m not the best person. . ; This isn’t my role. . ; There are other priorities. . : etc; think of suitable responses – I can be very patient. . ; You are important to me. . ; I see it as a shared responsibility. . ; I will be sensitive to other demands. . ; etc so that you’re not caught ‘flat-footed’.

Differentiate between the roles of Mentor and Coach – the former will assist you with issues of What you might do on issues, while the latter are involved with helping you with the more time consuming How things could be done. Your boss may be very comfortable with the mentor role but less so with a full coaching responsibility.

If it would help, consider sharing your points with your boss in writing so that he has time and space to reflect on his responses. The whole conversation doesn’t have to be resolved in a single sitting and often a break to consider and consolidate is valuable. Take your time.

If your boss does not rise to the opportunity, be ready to continue as you are now; this is the ultimate test of your intention – to change him or to accommodate his uniqueness. You still have to live with him and you can’t afford to surrender your ability to influence him no matter how thin this might be.

I hope this helps.


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The Power of Respect . . .

A little respect goes a long way.

A survey conducted by CCL found that treating people with respect on a daily basis was rated as one of the most helpful things a leader can do to address conflict or tension.

"At work and in our communities, we are often faced with uncertainty or tension around our differences," says CCL's Kelly Hannum, co-author of "Leading Across Differences: Cases and Perspectives”. "A key challenge for leaders is to help establish and nurture respectful relationships among many different groups."

As part of CCL's Leadership Across Differences research, a survey of 3,041 individuals across ten countries showed that being respectful was seen as a critical responsibility for all leaders, and especially when addressing conflict between different groups. "Treating people with respect seems obvious, but it may not be as intuitive as you think," Hannum explains. She specifies three key factors from the research that indicate what respect really means to people:

Respect is about listening. People feel respected when they have been heard and understood. Being genuinely interested in and open to others strengthens relationships and builds trust. You don't need to agree with or like the other person's viewpoint. Taking the time to listen to someone's experience, ideas and perspectives is respectful, even if you choose another path.

Respect isn't the absence of disrespect. Eliminating active disrespect — such as rude, insulting or devaluing words or behaviors — doesn't create respect. Respect is an action: we show respect, we act respectfully, we speak with respect. "Leaders need to know that the absence of disrespect doesn't have the same positive impact in resolving disagreement, conflict or tension as does the presence of respect," says Hannum.

Respect is shown in many ways. The perception of respect is influenced by culture and family, peers and social relationships. Status, power and role all create the context in which respect is interpreted. Leaders need to take the time to understand how respect is given and received in cultures and groups other than the ones they think of as "normal."

"You may not need to make huge changes in your behavior to be more effective," Hannum notes. "Just understanding and acknowledging as valid what others expect from you will make a difference."

Hannum advises leaders to cultivate a climate of respect in the following ways:

  • Exhibit an interest in and appreciation of others' perspectives, knowledge, skills and abilities.
  • Express recognition and gratitude for the efforts and contributions of others.
  • Openly communicate information about policies and procedures so everyone has access to and is operating with similar information.
  • Clarify decision-making processes, and when appropriate, seek input into those processes.
  • Take concerns seriously.
  • If someone or a group feels "wronged," seek to understand that perspective and apologize if it is warranted and genuine.

Hannum’s final word, "At its core, respect is a continuous process of paying attention to people. We get into habits and make assumptions that, if unchecked, can lead to misunderstandings and ineffective behaviors".

That makes you think!

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Commentary 2

The Power of Socialization

I have learned that success can be fostered by spending time understanding the power of Expectations and Socialization.  Having focused on ‘The Power of Expectations’ in last month’s Polaris Digest, I thought it only appropriate to finish that thought with ‘The Power of Socialization’ this time around.

Defining the term Socialization is challenging, this is because of the wide range of uses for the term Socialization.  It can be applied to philosophical views, community growth, government stability and the act of "hanging out with your buddies”.  Here is a great definition of Socialization as defined on Wikipedia.

Socialization is a term used by sociologists, social psychologists, anthropologists, politicians and educationalists to refer to the process of inheriting norms, customs and ideologies. It may provide the individual with the skills and habits necessary for participating within their own society; a society develops a culture through a plurality of shared norms, customs, values, traditions, social roles, symbols and languages. Socialization is thus ‘the means by which social and cultural continuity are attained’

Look now at the impact that Socialization has had on our culture. We now see trends like social media (facebook, twitter and linked IN to name a few) open communities of innovation and source projects, all embodying the core value of Socialization but with new and unique impacts.  All of this business is now keen to take advantage of to drive growth and build culture.  Discussing the business impact this has would be an article on its own…but back to how this has impacted me over the last few years.

I found that setting expectations was only part of the process, like setting goals, it’s one thing to set them, it’s an entirely different thing to make them come to life.  Just as socialization provides an individual with the skills and habits necessary for participating within their own society, socialization can help an idea or goal gain momentum, gain perspective, and help them grow and change into something that transforms the individual and impacts those around you as well.

Let’s take a look at how Socialization has helped us during our own personal growth through Polaris.  If you remember all the critical documents we discussed in the "Power of Expectations” article, what helped grow these original ideas into a philosophy and action plan was the socialization we did with peers, with our boss, our net cell group at Polaris and our coaches.  The process of sharing what you are doing and that initial response is what helped give these things life.  And as we know, these philosophies, action plans and covenants never stop growing and changing and the more we socialize these beliefs, the more they will evolve based on the very principle of socialization.

Don’t wait for your thoughts, ideas, plans and goals to be perfect before sharing them with the world; by then it will be too late for you to execute them or they may have already changed.  Share early, share often and make sure you truly listen to the feedback you get when you do share.  Take with you what makes sense and move forward.

We have only been through seven workouts, but already we see a variety of tools at our disposal to advance our socialization skills. Check out this Tool chart outlining what we have learned so far and what we can draw upon to increase our personal success.

Note: Each "Tool” mentioned has a number in brackets that outlines the workout where it was covered  for your reference.

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Section 3 - On The Horizon

How Do You Lead...

. . . by Jeff Haltrecht

Jeff Haltrecht is a principal Leadership Coach at the Polaris Learning Academy and the Facilitator of the Polaris Alumni; he is a regular contributor to Polaris Digest.

How do you lead when your followers are 6 years old?

A typical unit has 15 girls; this one had to be capped at 30.  Most units struggle to find moms as volunteer leaders; this one has 6 with a waiting list.  Most parents want to shuttle their daughter(s) a short distance to the meeting; for this one they willingly drive across town.

Why is this Sparks unit one of the most successful in Guiding?

Sparks, the pre-curser to Brownies, is the place for 5 and 6 year-old girls to both socialize and expand their knowledge through real life experiences.  Like any group, the results are only as good as the leader, and this one has one of the best.

On first blush, you would think Sally (not her real name) is just like any suburban mom with multiple jobs, shuttling kids, and putting food on the table.  But she is not like the others.

Sally has this unique ability to both inspire little girls to explore, while creating the desire to contribute from the other moms.  In the lead role, she knows an open atmosphere of sharing has to come from a team of moms, not just herself.

Every week the 1-hour program runs like clockwork.  Each mom takes a turn executing an event they have created, while another mom backs them up in a support position.  They rotate their roles over the course of the winter program, ensuring the load is carried evenly and the ideas stay fresh.

By sharing the responsibility, the group-of-6 collectively feel accountable to the 30 Sparks.  Each week their mandate is to give them an experience that is ‘over-the-top’.  Based on participation, smiles, and stories, you know they are achieving their goal!

For the key to inspiring 30 girls is actually to create a place where other moms can be their best.

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Bulletin Board

Introducing the NEW Polaris website

We are pleased to introduce the NEW Polaris website at www.polarisprogram.com.  The design communicates effectively the unique features and benefits of this highly acclaimed leadership development program.  You will find an excellent program outline along with resources, articles and discussion guides for your continuous learning at the new web site.  Be sure to take a look yourself and then refer the web site to colleagues and friends whom you believe would benefit from the Polaris learning experience.

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Your Development

Polaris Leadership Academy now accepting new participants

Now is the time to register for participation in the next Polaris program.  This is your opportunity to grow significantly as a leader and to become a key driver of your organization’s future.

  • Are you finding it difficult to engage and mobilize your people and/or peers?
  • Do your messages and points of view go unheard in the organization?
  • Do you struggle to build strong relationships?
  • Do you often feel like a voice in the wilderness?
  • Do you know deep down that you could do more?

If you answered ‘yes’ to even one of these questions, you will profit from Polaris.  Through insightful assessment, tutoring and constructive coaching, we identify, stimulate and develop positive and enduring leaders and managers, helping you to prepare for more substantial contributions, more significant roles and greater responsibilities.

Over a period of a full year we cover 9 strategies in depth through a series of interactive workouts and practicums shared with peer-level colleagues and augmented by one-on-one individual coaching.  You will gain greater self insights and awareness of personal strengths and competencies as well as learn how to leverage knowledge, skills, experience and relationships to secure enhanced results. Through this experience you become increasingly focused, self confident and resilient, contributing real value to the organization in practical, measurable ways.

A new program will be offered in the Spring of 2011.

Visit www.polarisprogram.com or call David at 416-254-4167 or Jeff at 905-601-0311 to find out more.

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