June 2010

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


Section 1 - Topical Topics

Leading in Tough Times

Shipper paralyses . . .
Colin was madder than he had been in a very long time.

He’d spent the entire morning in the Shipping Department impressing everyone there with the urgency and importance of getting the Blue Valley shipment on the truck and away before 1pm today.

He had checked on progress every 30 minutes right up to noon and it was all on track as far as he could see. He’d been given several reassurances that it would leave on time before he’d left for a long-arranged lunch meeting on the other side of town.

It was now close to 2:30pm and he’d stopped by the Shipping area only to discover that the shipment in question was still sitting on the dock – incomplete! The truck had long since departed without it.

The answers to his searching questions had been astounding; no one assumed responsibility for the decision not to ship – it had all simply fallen between the floorboards. Two minor items had failed to arrive to complete the package and there’d been no person in the office who could solve the problem. So, by default, nothing happened when it should have done.

Colin called the shipping group together and, with tight jaw and direct eye contact, he’d queried the sequence of events. Yes, everyone had understood what was supposed to happen; yes, everyone was aware of the problem; no, since the regular supervisor wasn’t around, no one had realized that it was up to them to make the decision to ship; yes, all could see quite clearly now that the package should have been on the truck. It just didn’t happen.

Colin lost it, literally. "What’s the point of hiring idiots who can’t think for themselves?” he ranted. "I’d be better off with trained monkeys than you lot! Now, just so this doesn’t ever happen again, let’s work out the right procedure for dealing with issues like this one.”

To his chagrin and even deeper disappointment they came up blank; there was not one idea, not a single suggestion, as to how the situation could be handled more successfully in the future. They just sat there, looking back at him, their faces expressionless. Colin didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

"You call yourselves Shippers?” he challenged, "Why, my eight-year-old son could do a better job than all of you combined. Why am I wasting my time?” He stormed out wondering if he ought to fire all four of them and start afresh.

What’s wrong with this picture . . .?
Business leaders who are ‘worth their salt’ know for a certainty that you cannot impress, motivate, direct, coach or otherwise influence any person effectively by using threats. It’s truly amazing that there are so many experienced managers who will still attempt to leverage response by resorting to threats anyway – both overt and covert.

We all recognize that people respond to threats in very distinctive ways and much related research has been conducted over recent years. Not one of the findings has endorsed the use of threatening or coercive strategies; in fact, they demonstrate conclusively that threats have precisely the opposite effect to that intended.

The research has shed much light on why people will not perform well under threat or duress and this is worth sharing. There’s a positive, highly constructive theme to the findings which can serve us well.

The Findings . . .
Firstly, there’s a direct and inverse relationship between the strength of an emotional response and the resources available for rational thought. In other words, the more emotional you are the less you, and possibly others involved, are able to think clearly.

Duh! We already knew that, right? Well it’s nice to have the evidence to support this piece of folk wisdom. What’s really fascinating about this though, the research shows that mental paralysis begins to take effect instantaneously and also imperceptibly but in a very, very big way.

A threat response which an individual is barely registering, and perhaps is completely unaware of, can reduce problem-solving capacities by as much as fifty percent, according to behavioural scientist Dr David Rock of Sydney, Australia. He describes his research findings at length in his book "Your Brain at Work”.

The brain is finely tuned – it has forever been our primary defence against all manner of life-threatening situations; it’s the old ‘fight or flight’ syndrome working. Any threat response has a significant impact, much more than we realize and it impacts us in two important ways.

Initially, it diverts all available resources to unusually acute focus and intense physical effort, in part by shrinking the blood supply to the pre-frontal cortex (site of rational thinking) - thereby reducing the vital oxygen and glucose required for brain functioning; note that the brain is an avaricious consumer of these resources even when things are going smoothly!

Next, it diminishes the threshold for registering subtle electrical signals while lowering electrochemical levels and this suppresses emotions generally; so, in effect, we’re less able to sense those hunches, instincts and intuitions upon which we depend for real insights and break-through ideas.

So, if we want people to solve problems we must eliminate or decrease threat responses substantially because even the tiniest suggestion of a threat will limit thinking abilities.

How tiny? Consider that being addressed by a person whom we consider to be more senior will reduce our rational capacities profoundly (the Boss effect). As leaders and managers, we need to work deliberately to counteract this syndrome - likely by inserting strong measures of safety and reward.

If we create positive rapport, we settle others’ fears and help them to relax so that we can reach them. I know this is something we’ve all recognized intuitively. David Rock offers some excellent ideas on how we, as managers, can do this better in his article "Managing with the Brain in Mind” – go to 
http://www.strategy-business.com/media/file/sb56_09306.pdf for your copy.

He also promotes the SCARF model which deals with all the things which are vitally important for the brain in social situations like coaching, mentoring, tutoring, instructing, and of course, leading situations. It is wonderful in its elegance in handling two related issues – how the brain handles threats/ rewards, which determines the full range of response, and in identifying the five domains within which the brain has concerns in social situations.

Coming to grips with how the brain handles threats / rewards is critical for both leadership and management success since it’s the key to creating the kinds of responses and relationships that affect contribution at foundational levels.

Fine tuning individual responsiveness through the five social domains of Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness is the hallmark of the superior leader / manager. Let’s take a closer look.

SCARF in action . . .
Paying continuous attention to the five social domains (SCARF) in particular - is critically important. Imagine how it would feel if your sense of status or relative importance were to be threatened – if you felt you were going to look bad or lose face in a situation. How would you respond if outcomes were to become increasingly uncertain or if you sensed that your autonomy was being reduced?

What if others were perceived to be hostile or indifferent to your interests or if others were arraigned against you without just cause? You would likely feel that you’d have difficulty in doing your best, making your best effort or appearing in your best light, wouldn’t you?

Now, if your status were to be enhanced because your opinions were being sought or that your personal strengths, as opposed to your perceived weaknesses, were being factored into the equation, would you perhaps feel better, safer and more receptive?

If your boss used a solutions-centered approach and led you using non-judgmental questions, seeking your preferences and /or recommendations, would this encourage your sense of autonomy and perhaps increase your feelings of certainty?

Mind you, focusing on problems, which are usually in the past and therefore more certain, might be more attractive. However, having room to make your own choices could affect the balance here, as would an increase in relatedness by sharing the burden of responsibility with others.

The preferred leadership / managerial technique in any situation has to be centered on finding the right emphasis on rewards while eliminating or containing the elements of risk and threat – it’s highly dynamic and requires both careful thought and insightful application – a delicate balancing act.

However, just remembering to keep the five domains in mind and remaining alert to the impact that your leadership or coaching intervention is having as you proceed, will steer you along the right path.

You can access more details in David Rock’s article available at http://www.your-brain-at-work.com/files/NLJ_SCARFUS.pdf

I strongly recommend that you do – it will make a profound difference - in many aspects of your life!

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

Test Your Decision Making Instincts . . .
Some very sound advice from a recent article in McKinsey Quarterly on this subject is elegantly conveyed in a short article by Andrew Campbell and Jo Whitehead of London’s Ashbridge Strategic Management Center. They offer four simple-to use tests to validate the use of both rational and emotional (gut) emphasis in critical decision making.
What I like particularly is that they work with the defensible premise that ‘gut instincts’ are inevitable (and the so-called superior rational mind isn’t always so superior) and then point out simple tests of familiarity, feedback, measured emotions and independence that can be applied ‘on-the-run’. Do check this out for yourself – it’s instantly useful! Go to: https://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/Strategy/Strategic_Thinking/How_to_test_your_decision-making_instincts_2598

What if They Held a Funeral and Everybody Came . . .
I really enjoy the viewpoints of Kenny the Monk – see http://www.kennythemonk.typepad.com. He long-since left the cloisters and has been practicing as a full-fledged management consultant, writer and speaker for many years. He retains a fresh and vital perspective on business issues which the world is coming to appreciate and value as time goes by.
One recent initiative, dealing with the issue of successful change management took a different slant. He discusses the concept that all significant change starts not with a beginning but with an ending in a provocative way. If there’s change on your horizon, this is one viewpoint you can’t afford to miss. http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/79/firstperson.html

Message Addiction . . .
In another survey it was revealed that 49% of people under the age of 25 say that they don’t mind being interrupted by electronic messages during meals and 11% say they don’t even mind being interrupted during their most intimate moments! I wonder how their partners might feel about that!
The study, conducted by Retrevo, a consumer electronics shopping site, and reported by Harvard’s Daily Stat, also reported  that only 33% of under 25’s agreed with the statement "I don’t like interruptions” compared with 62% of the over 25 age group. You can see other disturbing statistics at http://www.retrevo.com/content/blog/2010/03/social-media-new-addiction%3F

Quotable Quotes . . .
"He who knows others is learned; He who knows himself is wise."         -- Lao-Tzu

"A man may fail many times but he isn't a failure until he begins to blame somebody else."  
      -- John Burroughs

"I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time."                       -- Jack London

When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced;
Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice."    - Cherokee Expression

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Section 2 - Talk Back

Coach's Corner

A selection from frequently–asked questions

Dear Coach,
So many times I’ve been on a training course, or I’ve read a book, and had some great ideas on how to get more out of my life or my job. I get back to the office and within three weeks all my good intentions have flown out the window – nothing changes and it’s the ‘same old same old’.
Now I’m a manager and I see my people having exactly the same experience. This means that all our efforts and best intentions for constructive change could be a waste of time and money. How do we stop this waste?

I think that we’ve all been here – sliding down the steep slope of the learning decay curve. We all discover, over time, that good intentions plus a few great ideas are not sufficient to overcome the inertia and internal / external resistance to change that’s needed for sustainable improvement.

On day ‘one’ of our enlightenment we’re fired up with enthusiasm, energized beyond belief and totally optimistic over the inevitable outcomes; on day ‘twenty-one’ we’re hard pressed to even recall what the idea was that had fuelled our great intentions.

New ideas abound. With every idea comes hope, springing eternal, and we raise our expectations to the skies. These ideas originate in our mind though and we know that our brains are programmed to de-clutter frequently; anything that isn’t tied down, etched in granite or completely assimilated is soon discarded.

Picture your mind as a series of flexible circuit boards, each one laid over those already in place and making selective contacts through common / key ideas that will inter-connect them. Where there are lots of specific connections in place the new ideas will stick better. This happens with ideas that are already familiar; however, these may not have much new value to offer. When the idea is unfamiliar though it may offer much greater value, but there are fewer points of connection so the new circuit board could be readily dislodged and discarded.

Also when the new idea was first appreciated (the ‘aha’ experience) there was a rush of neurotransmitter from the unconscious mind (amygdala) to the conscious mind (pre-frontal cortex) which got us excited and more, it was pleasurable – but this ‘rush’ fades all too quickly as other new experiences are encountered.

Everything conspires against you – unless you take definitive action. This means that your rational or conscious mind has to buy into the new idea and actively work to attach and impress it permanently on your subconscious mind. Bottom line - we have to take conscious ownership of those new ideas we want to keep and act upon and then we need to nurture them until they can survive alone. This requires deliberate effort.

Here are eight possible strategies for you to think about to achieve this. Adopting any combination of these, and the more the better, represents a positive effort to reinforce the new idea and to help it survive long enough to become a new habit.

  1. Link the new ideas to your existing values – for example, you’ve just returned from a training session on dialogue techniques. You personally value and embrace interpersonal respect, positive expectations and constructive relationships; also you’d like to see an end to political agendas, frequent misunderstandings and misconstruance among your colleagues. Your best course is to focus on enhancing your values by deliberately aligning the new strategies and techniques on dialogue to your stated values, assisting others to do likewise. Pairing values and strategies will strengthen success.
  2. Practice continuous learning – the key here is adapting the new ideas to an emerging context. Of course there’ll be objections to proposed change – it’s threatening. By pursuing the idea in fresh dimensions and flexible applications you will increase its chance for acceptance. Seek out newer aspects and angles that will help you to adapt to challenges; broaden and deepen your understanding and appreciation of the benefits; and so encourage the development of variations by others.
  3. Contract for outcomes – set up an implementation plan with measurable criteria and tangible deliverables that your boss will endorse. Link these outcomes to organizational strategic intentions in the form of clear added value and identify the related capabilities that will ensure success. You’ll need a monitoring plan and perhaps a communications strategy to support the change process – everyone wants to see the scoreboard. Then ‘just do it’!
  4. Set specific goals / standards – and identify the behaviours / capabilities that will help to achieve these goals and standards so that performance can be initiated, measured and developed among those participating – there’s nothing worse than being held responsible for something that is outside your personal influence or leverage. Post the goals and standards for all to see and focus attention on them at every opportunity – demonstrating the progress being made as you go  forward.
  5. Contract with others – find a few others who are ‘on-side’ with the concept and outcomes and share the load and the glory. Work as a focused, dynamic implementation team to explore options, exchange learnings, improve the related practices, critique efforts and offer feed-forward. Be sure to extend recognition to all involved and to share fully the rewards of success.
  6. Monitor and communicate openly – choose the key performance indicators and place the results where all can access them on demand; a hockey game would not be as satisfying if you could not glance at the scoreboard whenever you had the urge. Every change will require ongoing active or passive engagement of all staff in some way if it is to become a sustainable new reality; no one wants to work for long without a clear sight of what’s happening, preferably as it happens.
  7. Realign the infrastructure – when you change any practice or procedure you will impact a number of collateral areas perhaps in significant ways. We’re all aware of individual performance incentive initiatives which are frustrated by ‘cross-the-board’ compensation programs and by escalating practices or standards which have no additional resources or supportive upgrade training available. Infrastructure changes are usually extremely complex and convoluted yet must be addressed.
  8. Reform the organizational culture – consider the appointment of fresh heroes / role models, the selection of illustrative stories, reaffirmation of rituals and different uses of informal networks for communication and decision making. Since most improvement initiatives are directly supportive of existing strategic intentions this will normally be a question of how to intensify and/or refine current practices rather than replace them.

Engaging every one of these options may be surplus to need or not worth the invested effort, but some combination of a selection of them could underwrite your intended transition. The process will undoubtedly reinforce your change initiative and give life to your best intentions.

I hope this helps.

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Commentary - Leadership:

What Love's Got To Do With It . . . by Lisa Earle McLeod
We want our customers to love us. We want our employees to love their jobs. But bring up the word "love" in the context of leadership, and people get uncomfortable. They start to fear they'll be forced to hold hands with staff and sway to the strains of Kumbaya.
The truth is, love has been the cornerstone of every successful venture since the dawn of time. From the American Revolution to Apple, the great ones are always fueled by love, by people who love what they do and who love the people they do it with. Love is actually a very effective and efficient--and much overlooked--business tool. It delivers just about the best return on investment you can get. Because when you show up with your heart, your mind works at a far greater capacity than when you leave your heart at home.
Our reluctance to embrace love as a business strategy is rooted in three common misperceptions:

Myth No. 1: Feelings aren't professional. Emotions are at the root of every human endeavor. Whether at work, at home or at the Friday night bar scene, emotions drive the action. The idea that feelings are somehow unprofessional is a myth perpetuated by people uncomfortable with their own emotions and petrified by the thought of having to deal with someone else's.
We've all encountered the Darth Vader boss in the Cubicle of Darkness at some time or other, so we all know how negative emotions can suck the life out of an organization. There comes a point when we have to get past our discomfort and openly admit that success or failure is determined by how people feel. Emotions lead to thoughts, thoughts lead to words, and words lead to action. It's not a leader's job to minimize feelings. It's a leader's job to create systems that ignite positive ones.

Myth No. 2: Love is too mushy to measure. Of course, you can't insert a heart meter into everyone at your office, but to be frank, the gauge of love isn't really how much the employees love the boss anyway; it's how effectively the boss loves them. Leaders who love make a practice of setting crystal clear expectations. They give consistent and accurate feedback. They provide people with the tools they need to get their jobs done. They're like great parents. They set up their teams for success.
It's about taking responsibility for creating the conditions that will bring out the best in others. Ask any working-class kid whose folks scrimped and saved to put him through college, and he'll tell you that love is a completely measurable entity. It's not what you say; it's what you actually do. You don't even have to be emotionally or physically demonstrative to be a loving leader. The true measure of love in leadership is how well your team understands the work that needs to be done and the significance of their role in the big picture.

Myth No. 3: Love means no accountability. The final and perhaps most fatal misperception about love at work is that loving your people means letting them off the hook. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, making the decision to love your people and your organization doesn't mean lowering your standards for them; if anything, it means raising them.
Love is all about mutual accountability. When you love someone, you expect them to give you their very best. And when they don't, you care enough about them to let them know how they can improve in the future.
The bottom line is this: Love is not for softies. Infusing love into your organization is just as challenging as infusing it into your home or anywhere else, and you don't really master the art of love until you stop thinking of it as a noun and start practicing it as an active verb. It isn't something you should be trying to get from your customers or your staff. It is a strategy you need to apply to your own actions.

Organizing your business around the discipline of love is no easy feat, but the payoff is very measurable and real. So let discomfort be damned. The real secret of lasting success is taking a good, long look in the mirror and deciding that your people and your organization deserve a leader who has the courage to stand up and love them.
Lisa Earle McLeod is the founder and principal of McLeod & More, which specializes in sales and leadership training. Her newest book is The Triangle of Truth: The Surprisingly Simple Secret to Resolving Conflicts Large and Small.

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Section 3 - On The Horizon

The Art of Active Listening...by Jeff Haltrecht

In our lead article of this month’s digest, Colin encounters a maddening situation in the shipping department that most of us can relate to from our own experiences.

He chooses to confront the situation head-on and literally attacks his employees with verbal questioning.  To his chagrin and even deeper disappointment, not one of the four individuals responds.   As the article progresses, we understand why – the more emotional we are, the less rational we become and are adversely affected from thinking of effective solutions.

What could Colin have done differently?  A number of approaches exist, of which ‘active listening’ would have been at the top of the list.

Active listening is the art of dialoguing with an open mind, being focused on the world of the other individual, and asking open-ended questions to better understand his/her situation.

When active listening is performed correctly, the other individual feels respected because you heard him/her and are considering his/her points-of-view.  With this approach, everyone’s mind is open and thinking about possibilities.

There are three elements to active listening, with all of them present and inter-woven during the conversation:

  1. Verbal communication
  2. Non-verbal communication
  3. Framing

Let’s take a closer look…

Whether you are approaching your team for a group discussion, or a person has sought you out for a conversation, apply most of your energy to gain an understanding of the other person’s perspective.

If you use non-judgmental, open-ended questions, you’ll bring out alternative points-of-view.  Listen to what is said and then clarify what you don’t understand or what points need expanding.  Lastly, follow-up with a summary of what you heard.  If you can do this with empathy, even better!

Questioning examples – also referred to as ‘seeking to understand’

  • What happened?
  • How did things unfold?
  • What is the customer’s point-of-view?
  • When you said the trucking company came and left early, what explanation was provided?

Clarifying examples – also referred to as ‘expanding upon’

  • You mentioned the new software does not accurately tabulate the data.  Do you mean none of the data is captured, or just a portion is missing, and if so, what impact is it having?
  • You mentioned the budget for the Georgetown project is $450K.  Is this just infrastructure costs or does it also include labour and general expenses?

 Summarizing example – also referred to as ‘confirming’

  • Thanks for the great work.  If I understood you correctly, your team’s assessment suggests an 11% return on capital over a 10-year period, a 15% reduction in defects and an increase in order fill rates from 94% to 96%.  The equipment is made in Canada, has a 3-month lead-time and it will take a further four weeks to install.  The supplier is ready to begin work next week, with a live date of November 1st.  Is that correct?

Your body language and tone will say more about how you are listening than any words you choose.

  • Posture - Sit or stand confidently without crossing your arms, have an open upper-body posture, and mimic the individual’s behaviour (within reason).
  • Eye contact - Maintain eye contact as a means of offering respect and saying ‘I’m listening’.  Don’t shift your gaze and pay attention to other activities in the area.
  • Tonality in the words - This deals with the subtleties of how you say things.  Was your voice harsh or soft?  Did you use complex words in your question, or kept it simple?  Did you question in a pointed accusatory manner or an open seeking-to-understand way?

It is very easy to pre-judge, frame, or assume certain aspects of a conversation before it begins.  Resist this urge and go in with an open mind focused on the other’s reality.

Before the conversation starts, ask yourself if you are:

  • in a positive vs. negative mind-set
  • seeking to understand vs. reject the position
  • discounting their view based on assumed levels of expertise

At some point during active listening, you will be able to move things forward and find a win-win solution or make a process oriented decision.  Still using your questioning technique, have the individual think through the situation and make recommendations.

He/she will be able to respond because you have not put them under pressure.  To the contrary, you have made this person feel important and valued, leading him/her to want to contribute to making the situation better.

If you like what is suggested, go with it.  If you need to build on it, do so with his/her permission and the knowledge and trust the employee values your input.

Coming back to Colin and the shipping department, we could imagine what non-verbal communication signals he was sending, let alone that he framed the situation before he even asked the first question.

Had he calmed down, sought to understand, and asked for solutions in a non-judgmental manner, he surely would feel better about his team and would have leveraged a bad situation into one of building trust for the future.

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Your Development

Polaris Leadership Academy

Maximize your team’s productivity while having more time to think about the strategic issues that drive the company

Successful leaders know that their people make the difference between good and great performance.  Building your high potential employees into the future leaders of your organization is critical to attaining the company goals, succession planning, and delivering long-term results.

When key employees are given the opportunity to grow – both in the challenges their role provides and through the development of their leadership skills – they respond in kind.

For you

  1. More time to think about the big strategic issues that generate wealth
  2. Higher moral and lower employee turnover leading to improved productivity
  3. Increased quality of ideas generated through disciplined thought
  4. Reduced level of personal stress knowing your people are contributing
  5. Improved company results through more focused execution

For your key employee(s):

  1. More productive from the confidence you have instilled in them
  2. More effective in relationships that result in higher collaboration
  3. More focused leader of teams resulting in higher impact contributions
  4. Better at making decisions because they know how to listen to the brutal facts
  5. More nimble, high performance oriented behaviour

Through insightful assessment and constructive coaching, we identify, stimulate and develop positive and enduring changes in your key people, helping prepare them for significantly more senior roles and responsibilities.
Participants become aware of their top behaviour skills and learn how to leverage them to complement the functional skills they already have.  Through the experience, they become increasingly focused, confident, and resilient in ways that contribute and add value to the business in measurable ways.

Polaris builds leaders...

  • The Polaris program is not so much about skills as it is about perspective and behaviour.  The program is designed to create awareness, stimulate action and drive planned development in line with the corporate strategies, while responding to differences in individual priorities and goal attainment.

Polaris builds coaches...

  • Polaris graduates become accomplished coaches capable of building other leaders within their own organization.  All the concepts, methods and learning materials from the program are theirs to use as they progress along their own leadership pathway.

Polaris builds support...

  • Polaris graduates build a lasting support structure.  They encounter a diverse group of other leaders during the program and are encouraged to engage in peer-to-peer coaching.
  • Graduates are able to repeat any portion of the program as often as they wish and retain access to one-on-one coaching.
  • Through the Polaris Alumni, graduates attend regular seminars and bridge calls to discuss new leadership concepts and theories, while further providing opportunities for peer support in their growth as leaders.

Call today!  David (416-254-4167) or Jeff (905-601-0311) can help determine if your employee is right for the Polaris leadership experience.  Our next program begins September 14/15, 2010.

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