July-August 2010

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


Section 1 - Topical Topics

Leading from the Inside

An Amygdalic Hijack . . .
Ben is a newly appointed president with a great deal of promise so I was taken aback recently when he came to a coaching session with a noticeably deflated attitude.

"I’m not so sure I’m cut out for this role,” he confided in me in his opening statement, "I think perhaps I’m not yet ready to handle all the pressures and conflicts in this job – I’m losing a lot of sleep over things I can’t seem to change!”

Naturally, I pressed for the details. It transpired that he’d been in attendance at a Board meeting ten days previously where the Chair had made a spontaneous and rather flippant remark about Ben’s credentials and track record that had ‘whacked him right between the eyes’ as Ben put it. He’d been devastated when it occurred but had not responded; he’d just sat there and fumed internally and silently. All he could think about from that point was how to get out of the meeting – but it had dragged on and on.

Immediately after the meeting, Ben had intended to approach the Chair and ask for an explanation and clarification but the opportunity had been lost. The following day, after a sleepless night, Ben had considered contacting the Chair on the matter only to discover that the Chair was not accessible. The day after that, the Chair had called on a different issue and his demeanour had been so positive and affirming that Ben decided to let the matter drop.

"The trouble is that it hasn’t gone away,” said Ben, "I’m still stewing on it; I simply can’t get it out of my mind. But what can I do about it now time’s passed; I’d look pretty stupid to admit that I was sulking over it”.

Well, I’ve been there and so have you, I’m sure. With our valued objectivity we can see that the issue isn’t really between Ben and the Chair – it’s within Ben’s head, and that’s where it needs to be resolved. The Chair is likely unaware that Ben has an issue and would likely be astonished that he had been the author of Ben’s discontent. There’s little assistance from that quarter; Ben has to deal with this himself.

The Real Issue . . .
Ben is the unwitting source of his own discomfort and he’s creating his own continuing miseries. The challenge is that it’s being generated by his unconscious mind, his amygdala or seat of emotionality in particular, and, just like the rest of us, Ben’s not able to access his unconscious directly.

We all have built-in perspectives as a result of our values and experiences in the past, a way of framing the realities which we need to face. All too often we’re completely unaware of what these perspectives (frames and filters) are doing as we use them to assess and evaluate our experiences. The Chair’s glib remarks may well have triggered some deep and hidden element within Ben’s unconscious mind that caused him to interpret the remarks as significant and threatening.

Ben’s instantaneous response could well have been a disaster; either a cutting riposte or a fawning submission, neither of which would have enhanced his career prospects. It was well that he ‘bit his tongue’ in the moment but the required immediate sequel was to deal with the unresolved conflict within, not to allow it to fester and eat away at him. This is clearly easier to say than to do.

We do not know, and more importantly Ben doesn’t know what’s resident in his unconscious that caused him to interpret the Chair’s remarks the way he did and so to lose his focus in such a devastating way. We are all at the mercy of our unconscious mind; it works in ‘real time’, so efficiently and outside our conscious awareness that we haven’t a hope of interceding as events unfold.

So, there’re innumerable potential conflicts lurking in there just waiting to be triggered by some hapless event and we can’t hope to apply the brakes once they’ve been activated. The vast majority of our ‘regretted’ responses have their origins here and the outcomes can make indelible marks on our future fortunes.

Now Ben is a president and chief executive, this is a luxury he cannot afford for his perspectives are immediately visible throughout the organization. He readily admitted that his colleagues were already responding differently towards him and his wife was down-right worried about his health. The impact was discernable and it was deflecting focus and impetus in some undesirable areas. The need for action was now!

One Viable Defence . . .
The first line of defence is a familiar one for those who’ve ever practiced strategic planning; the essential role of strategic focus. In organizational strategy we can choose between ‘operational effectiveness’ – being the very best at whatever it is we do, ‘technological or product leadership’ – having the leading edge in products and/or services, or ‘customer intimacy’ –striving for synchronicity with the needs and wants of our clients.

We do this in order that we can differentiate our self from the ‘competition’. We have limited resources, especially time, and we can’t afford to be distracted from our unique ways of satisfying our customers.

As the chief executive, Ben recognized the importance of this strategic focus and its translation into key capabilities that would be used to guide the responses and initiatives leading to intended success. I asked him how this same idea might help him with his present challenge.

After a short reflection he admitted that his current focus was definitely inwardly directed – on him and his ‘ruffled feathers’ - and that he was substantially distracted from other, perhaps more important issues. I then suggested that he consider what his personal strategic focus ought to be given his key role in the organization. He laughed.

"It didn’t take you long to pick up on that opportunity!’ he said; ‘you don’t miss a trick”. We had spent some time a few weeks back discussing the concept of a leader’s mandate to create other leaders. We’d agreed that as a manager it was his primary task to get things done through other people by making them successful. We’d also settled on his leadership role as ‘focusing the desire for change that’s resident in others, and then facilitating the creation of a sustainable new reality’. This had provoked him to think about things a little differently and to concentrate on those capabilities that would leverage results through others.

Now I invited him to explore the purpose of that approach, not just in the benefits it would bring to others but those which might accrue to him. As a leader he could push for desired results, focus on innovation and risk or invest in the development of his people. As with the organization’s strategic focus, it’s an almost impossible task to keep all three aspects in perfect dynamic balance so he would need to be clear and consistent about where the emphasis should be at any given time.

Ben was visibly relaxing as he refined and reinforced his thinking. "There’s no contest,” he said, "my primary focus is on developing my people with the encouragement of innovative approaches in support.”

"So how do the Chair’s remarks fit in this scenario?” I asked.

"They don’t!” he responded, "they’re not even relevant – so why am I worrying about them?” He had regained his personal focus and the angst of the past ten days was evaporating like the morning mist.

Defence in Depth . . .
The amygdalic hijack is seriously deflective; when it hits, it hits hard! What could be done to insulate us from its profound impact?

If you’ve been following this column for some time, you already know that I recommend the work of Michigan professor, Robert Quinn. In particular, I like his work which centers on Entering the Fundamental State of Leadership (EFSL) as well as his ground-breaking book "Deep Change”.
In a nutshell – Quinn says that too many of us are ‘other directed’ – we respond mainly to external influencers - and we’re self-focused – we dwell unduly on our feelings and concerns as a result of being manipulated in this way. The solution to this undesirable and less-than-satisfying condition, he says, is to flip – to become ‘self directed’ and ‘other aware’.

Becoming self directed is not an easy process for it demands a great deal of critical self examination and discovery – Quinn provides a guidebook to assist with this. In the process of emerging self awareness we are very likely to discover aspects of our self that are perhaps surprising and of which we’re probably unconscious.
It was written on the lintel of the doorway into the Delphic Oracle in ancient Greece – Know Thyself. Sage advice, yet so few of us take sufficient time to plan next month let alone to construct a life plan grounded in real self awareness.

I’m frequently given the opportunity to perform decision support or career development assessments on senior business people who are engaged in career moves. Inevitably, I ask the question, "Have you been through anything like this before?” and the response is usually, "No”.

Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living, and yet we go this way just once. As I complete an assessment I am told, nine times out of ten, that the exercise was truly valuable and beneficial to the individual and perhaps more important in life terms than the career change which instigated it.

It’s a small price to pay even if it only protects us from the potential disaster of an amygdalic hijack. If our responsibilities include getting results through others or focusing and facilitating the need for change then we owe it to ourselves to be focused, to be self directed and then we can be appropriately other aware.

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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A Note to Our Readers

Previous series of articles on the topics of
  • Tomorrow’s Leaders – a model for SME organizations
  • The Leadership Crucible – the ‘making’ of leaders
  • Leadership Characteristics – a comprehensive catalogue of leader qualities
  • Succession Planning – the strategic argument, principles and strategies, and
  • Managing Change – every person’s guide to painless processes
have been summarized as discussion guides for those who lead and manage through mentoring and coaching. If you would like to secure a copy for your own use, please contact us.

It is a pleasure to share ideas with you and we’d welcome your questions, suggestions and comments. They’ll assist us to refine and expand the essential value of these initiatives. Thanks in anticipation for your participation.

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Timely Insights

  • Should you do business in the buff? . . .
Open-book management can dramatically improve employee performance and loyalty. Firms that share reams of key numbers with their entire workforce say that if your staff truly understands your business and how they can shape its fortunes, they'll work harder, propose more business-building ideas and get religion on cost control. Still, there are potential downsides. Here's how to avoid them by stripping the right way. Go to Canadian Business... 
  • How happy are your staff—really? . . .
Your employees smile at you when you pass them in the hall. But are they truly happy, engaged, profit-producing people? It's a tricky business to measure whether your staff is as committed to your company's growth, vision and strategy as you'd like them to be. In this installment of the PROFIT Growth Planner, discover how to conduct an employee engagement survey that will give you a true picture of your staff's attitudes.
  • Using Linked In to find a job . . .
Here’s an underexploited resource whether you’re on the market or not. I’ve been in Linked In for several years but didn’t appreciate what a great resource it really can be – for networking – sure – but also for mining ideas, offering tangible help to others and just for learning about what’s out there. Try it for yourself.
  • Quotable Quotes . . .
"Know yourself. Don't accept your dog's admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful."
- Ann Landers      

"The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity."
- Albert Einstein      

"Remember, people will judge you by your actions, not your intentions. You may have a heart of gold -- but so does a hard-boiled egg."
- Anonymous     

"You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives."   
- Clay P. Bedford  

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Section 2 - Talk Back

Coach's Corner

A selection from frequently–asked questions
Dear Coach,
About a year ago the HR group in our company introduced a mentoring program. I believe it’s well regarded since top management talk about it from time to time and everyone who is upwardly mobile is deep into it.
I’ve been given the opportunity to have a corporate mentor recently and I’m not sure what to expect; further, I really don’t know the person who is designated as my mentor (I didn’t get to choose) and I’m concerned that it won’t work as intended. What should I do?

The benefits of mentoring are well known in terms of expected outcomes – giving less-experienced people valuable feedback, support, insight and guidance in critical areas; passing on ‘wisdom’ and sharing perspectives on institutional and industry happenings.

On the other hand, sometimes it seems as if mentoring is simply a symbolic practice that substitutes for the lack of real apprenticeship opportunities that were lost as organizations flattened themselves while eliminating many of the middle-management positions in the name of improving margins.

The apprentice process was always informal and intensely personal and its big advantage was that people learned from experience – both their own as well as that of their supervisor(s). This is what the mentorship programs are seeking to achieve, but it cannot happen if the processes followed are ritualistic and sparse.

The intended benefits are obvious but what’s not so clear is which processes will work and which are relatively useless. To begin on the right foot, there has to be a focused objective, not just for the program as a whole but for each application.

Generally, although the roles of mentoring and coaching have certain similarities, mentoring is concerned about what happens – defining the critical decisions that need to be made; establishing relative merit on available options and their consequences; evaluating the pros and cons of strategies; generating needed self insight, etc. It is not about how for this is the proper domain of the coach whose role is to enhance, encourage and support changes in thinking processes and practices.

It’s been argued that an effective mentor will offer input in seven key areas, namely:
  • Setting up and managing the mentoring relationship – assessing the match and the readiness and interest of those involved; building confidence and trust, setting agenda and standards and keeping the process on track
  • Offering sponsorships – selecting opportunities, making contacts and introductions, creating networks and advocating on relevant issues
  • Monitoring progress – raising awareness on appropriate opportunities and threats, defining needed alliances and resources to ensure intended outcomes, identifying, encouraging and reinforcing successes along the way
  • Acting as confidant – serving as a sounding board, personal advisor and counsellor, sharing professional and life experiences to add depth, testing and proving values-in –action, recommending the application of standards and safeguards
  • Pathfinding – assisting with the exploration and selection of alternatives, assessing ethical conundrums and evaluating risk and significance especially in interpersonal arenas
  • Role modelling – setting a clear example of best and considered practices, demonstrating values and principles, refining and clarifying perspectives and perceptions
  • Vitality and Inspiration – energizing action, assessing initiatives and supporting experimentation and development, aligning action with professed goals and standards.
Not all mentors offer all services and place the same emphasis on those they do offer. The first contact therefore should focus on an appropriate objective, the scope of the relationship (see above) and the time involvements. Since unqualified trust is a prerequisite for success there has to be frankness and openness from the very beginning.

While comfort in the relationship is most desirable, it’s possible to become too comfortable and thereby ineffective. This can be countered by a periodic review process and also by sharing the load between three-to-five mentors over time.

I recommend a three-phased insertion –
  1. Explore the precise objectives of the relationship in terms of expected outcomes (meeting 1)
  2. Discuss thoroughly and reach consensus on the offerings that will support the objectives together with time requirements and methods of interaction - meetings; emails, telephone calls, etc. (meetings 2 and 3)
  3.  Implement with a dedicated review of objectives and offerings every 10-12 sessions.
You have an exciting opportunity but it will require heightened self awareness and increasing self direction over time; it’s one benefit that should not last forever.

I hope this helps.

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What does the Future hold? . . .
Just take a moment to review the past decade - there’s been a quiet revolution!

Much of what we so-called Baby-Boomers (now Zoomers) experienced in our lives has disappeared. The concept of command and control which we inherited from two world wars and a great depression, courtesy of our parents, has gone for good. Leadership in our organizations has a brand-new face.

Employees today are knowledge workers and they are looking at a different world. They have options and they want to exercise them; they want meaning more so than money; they are more loyal to ideas than to other people and they are unafraid of authority.

As for us, it all came to a shuddering halt within the last ten years, starting with the collapse of the ‘dot.coms’ which were the last vain attempt at leveraging the future. Venture Capitalists had started great companies like Intel, Google and Starbucks, so many thought that all they needed was a business plan, a few brave investors and an IPO to become insanely rich. It was nonsense and it quickly went down the tubes.

Then came Enron, World.com and Tyco, taking the ethical ground from under our feet. Certainly the malefactors, like Ebbers, Skilling and their like, are behind bars but we shouldn’t forget those hundreds of ‘respectable’ firms, like Bristol Myers and Xerox, who were obliged to restate their financials for  ‘ethical reasons’. Sarbane-Oxley was the clumsy but inevitable consequence in the US and Canada’s governance processes have received a short, sharp shock in the shorts.

Then came the great financial melt-down of the past two years, inevitable in good part because Wall Street elected to continue to lie to itself about realities. The investors’ pressure for short term outcomes persisted right up to the point of self destruction and the embarrassment of government hand-outs.

We have no credibility left and the old order must pass. We’re obliged to look to the new generation for the leadership direction that we have squandered, and there’s rarely, if ever, been such a clarion wake-up call.

We must learn from what has happened. Here are a few of the lessons that I believe are worth remembering:
  • Leadership is not top-down; it’s inside–out
  • Role is unimportant; contribution is everything
  • Engagement is a personal right and obligation
  • There has to be zero tolerance on ethical issues
  • We are all responsible for everything – no blame or excuses
  • Openness and transparency are essential to corporate health
  • Clean-ups are a continuous process not something to be avoided
  • Learning is mandatory and for everyone in the organization – not just for everyone else
  • We need to embrace change and well-considered risk – there’s little worth preserving at any cost
  • Given a positive, resilient approach, there’s every possibility that we can prevail regardless of past errors.
I’m optimistic – is there any point in being anything else?  I have confidence in what I see emerging in young business and organizational leaders. There will indeed be a future! There will be new leaders!

They’ll do things differently, if for no other reason than that they do seem to have different perspectives on this world. At the heart level though they are just like us, well intentioned and impatient for needed change. We owe it to ourselves to nurture and encourage them on to success.

It’s not like we have an alternative after all

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Section 3 - On The Horizon

Who is Driving Your Agenda?

You pull into the customer's parking lot 10 minutes late for your meeting.  Traffic on the road leading to their building was very slow due to construction.  You had made this trip a dozen times before and had never been late in the past.  As you greet the client in their office, you say:
  1. Sorry for being late.  Traffic was really bad due to construction on the boulevard.
  2. Sorry for being late.  I wish the city had done a better job offering a detour to the construction on the boulevard.
  3. Sorry for being late.  I didn't allow enough time to navigate the construction.
Which of these opening statements would you make in the above situation?

The first one finds an excuse for your tardiness, the second one assigns blame to a third party, while the third has you accepting responsibility, and through your words, stating you will allow more time in the future.

The third statement would be given by a leader who is comfortable with her/himself, one who has personal humility and professional will.  This individual has taken control and is in the driver seat of his/her agenda.  Are you?

It is very easy in business for others to drive your agenda, take you off course, or worse, take you onto their course, such as:
  • Customers who ask for customization of your product or service
  • Manager's who give you off-the-cuff feedback on the yearly performance review
  • Peers who try to convince you to spend more.
In all cases, what others say and do can have an impact, if you are not aware of your own goals, wants, and needs.

We call this 'being internally directed’ and it’s an important leadership trait.  It allows you to deliver on personal goals and commitments while being aware of the external environment you impact.

Being internally directed and externally aware involves three perspectives:  focus, self-awareness, and resiliency.

Remaining focused is the starting point for being internally directed.  It is an alignment of your self-awareness and knowledge/skills/experiences with the enterprise strategy that creates a future focal point.

Leaders who live in the future and work in the present are focused and have mastered the ability to drive their agenda.

They understand the primary directive for themselves is to build other leaders, while influencing strategy and company productivity.

As you move through the day, many items will attempt to distract you from your primary agenda.  Remaining focused on your personal action plan will maintain your effectiveness.

Self-awareness helps you evaluate what resources you have and the changes you are prepared to make to achieve greater outcomes.  The more you know about your leadership behaviours, the more confident you become.

You have two types of strengths, realized and unrealized.  The former you are aware of and use every day.  The latter are behaviours you are exceptionally good at, but perhaps don't practice often enough.  Use unrealized strengths more frequently to deliver superior results with less effort.

Next are the learned behaviours, ones that you can do fairly well, but that don't come naturally to you.  These require a higher level of effort to get things done properly.  Minimize their use the best you can.

Lastly, there are behaviours you are not good at, period.  Delegate activities that require these.

Three of the most effective means of self-awareness are:
  • Direct personal feedback from your manager (if you are the President, this will come from the Board of Directors)
  • Accepting roles that expose you to new experiences and people
  • Self-assessments.

Wikipedia defines 'resiliency' as a term borrowed from the more exact sciences and adopted by psychology.  When used by psychologists it refers to the ability to overcome obstacles, navigate difficulties and to recover from trauma or crisis.  In business, we have adapted the meaning further to define our ability to deal with unforeseen events while ignoring unnecessary distractions.

Simply asked, "Can you hang in there and remain true to your purpose?"

Leaders who are internally driven develop a higher level of resiliency to help them sift through the multiple requests upon their agenda, finding the ones that are aligned with their strengths and internal goals while ignoring / delegating / deflecting items that are a distraction.

You can augment your resiliency through two simple tactics:
  • Sleeping on the issue prior to making a decision
  • Being comfortable in seeking a second opinion.
Put all three together – focus, self-awareness, and resiliency – and you will have the confidence to face any situation.  Trust your instincts and remain true to your goals.  Its your agenda - live it, breath it, deliver it!

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Your Development

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.

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.

The next program begins September 14/15, 2010.  

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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