June 2011

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


Section 1 - Topical Topics

Leadership and Influence

A Daunting Task  . . .

The primary responsibility for every leader is to create other leaders!

I can clearly recall how I felt when I first learned this – perplexed! There was no intuitive appreciation of what this meant, what behaviors it would entail or how I would really know that I was meeting the standard. Yet I knew that it was more than a platitude.

So, I began to investigate how great leaders accomplished this; I absorbed biographies, heroic literature and case studies, analyzed theories and models, and pursued dialogues with others who might be interested – all with little success. The idea made absolute sense but there was too much ‘noise’ and not enough ‘signal’ when it came to learning how to fulfill the expectation.

As I developed my own definition of leadership I gained some insights; a leader is one who focuses the desire for change that’s resident in others and who then facilitates the creation of a sustainable new reality. This describes the actions of a leader in bringing change to light but what about the residual impact on others. The definition says very little about what emerges other than the immediate change benefit; obviously residual benefits were occurring, if indeed they did occur, at a much deeper level.

Many people will benefit from leadership, being ‘focused and facilitated’ by others, but remain untouched by the actual process; they will not be stimulated to extend it to the larger and/or subsequent advantage of others, and so they’ll not accrue leadership abilities for themselves.

It wasn’t until I had a blinding insight that I finally realized where leadership resides in people. I’d always assumed it had much to do with genetics which were subsequently enhanced by experiences – the old nature versus nurture theme. My insight was that leadership initiatives depend mainly on how one looks at a situation and interprets events – one’s perspectives and perceptions – more so than on character or temperament or on what one might actually know or have learned.

Situational Intelligence . . .

It sounds very simple, until you begin to probe. As I started to take notice of when, why and how people would take leadership initiatives, I immediately realized that there were two factors working in concert, the rational appreciation of what was demanded by the circumstances and, perhaps more significantly, how the individual felt about the role or opportunities that were presented.

The first aspect is relatively straight-forward but, by comparison, the second – the emotional ‘bite’ – was tremendously complex. The first was usually made apparent by an immediate verbal or non-verbal response and it was usually open and transparent; the second was a miss-match of emotions that only surfaced – if they ever did – as a fleeting shadow behind the eyes.

You don’t have to be a neuro-scientist to recognize that the emotional response is far more powerful than the rational one. When confronted with a leadership opportunity many people will acknowledge what should be done but they’ll find a thousand reasons why it shouldn’t be them that initiates the needed actions.

My next question then is whether or not we, as individuals, have any conscious abilities to manage or control these compelling emotional brakes. This is where my earlier research into the literature of leadership paid off. There are innumerable stories and accounts of where individuals rose above and beyond their emotional reticence to demonstrate great leadership.

So, it can be done – but how?

For a long time this question eluded me and I would believe most others. It was only the more recent break-throughs in neuroscience that began to shed light on the matter. Among these revelations, the concept of neuro-plasticity, the ability of the brain to perform physical makeovers, that told us how we have gained the well-earned reputation of being the most adaptable creature ever in creation.

The Amazing Brain . . .

There’s an old axiom that ‘form follows function’; this means physical conformance is dictated by experience and usage. New behaviors are difficult and uncomfortable and they feel unwieldy and strange. With repetition though, they will become more comfortable to the point that they can eventually become habits – second nature.

What has happened here is that physical and chemical structures in the brain have reconfigured themselves to conform to the ‘new’ experience which is now no longer new. We have adapted the way our brain actually works. This is not unusual, in fact according to neuroscientist Michael Merzenich (1992), the brain was constructed to change, and to learn is to change how you think.

The brain seeks to ‘hard-wire’ as much as it can simply because this will demand less energy to operate – and the brain is an energy hog! Once these hard-wired structures are in place it is very difficult to displace them but there’s always room for new structures along side the older ones. The brain is forever constructing new wiring to accommodate our unfolding experiences.

Let’s put this in another way: when you change the way you think, you learn and learning is a natural process. Thinking is a critical process which involves both perspectives and perceptions – the way we see the world around us and the values that we attach to whatever it is we see. Therefore, if I want to influence the way you behave as a leader, I need to challenge the way you think so that you will change your existing perspectives and perceptions.

I am not attempting to take anything away from you in this process but rather to add new possibilities, fresh perspectives and thus realign perceptions. I cannot create changes in your mind, only you can do that.

The point is you have to do the thinking that will lead to the development of new structures – perspectives and perceptions.

Donna’s Dilemma . . .

Donna leads the project management teams in a rapidly expanding, highly successful IT Services Group. Technically, she is the best in class and her business acumen is superior to most. She supervises the operations in from three to ten concurrent projects, each of which is pivotal to the organization’s impact and image in a volatile industry – the consequences of even one failure or shortfall could be catastrophic.

After many months of ‘walking the brink’, ‘staring into the abyss’ and haunted, sleepless nights, she called me for a sanity check. "Why am I doing this?” she cried, and she was at the point of tears. "I’m losing my grip, my peace of mind and, if I’m not careful, I’ll be losing my husband and family.

Her stress signals were easy to see and they all signalled disaster; she was in ‘overload’. The stressors or causations were not as evident, so I probed. The bottom line was that Donna was trying to be a super-manager – to protect her team leaders by doing everything she could to shield them from possible failure. The sheer volume of issues that she was attempting to juggle was enormous; it was like keeping thirty or more plates spinning on flexible poles, running from one to another to recharge them before disaster struck and the plates toppled.

So far no plates had fallen but since her superiors saw her as super-successful they were blithely adding more and more workload, seemingly unaware of the crisis that loomed. Donna was paying a terrible price for her success and simply didn’t know how to get off the roundabout.

We had a conversation over lunch. She quickly recognized that her current focus on problems and details was the pathway to disaster and not the route to survival; it wasn’t quite as obvious to her though that she had to create a transformation in the way others were thinking and that a solutions focus was the place to start.

I exposed her to "Quiet Leadership” and a six-step approach to transforming performance developed by Dr David Rock, an Australian executive coach who has recently moved his practice to the US. This highly effective strategy is easy to master and produces instant results. It took Donna less than a weekend to read the book and to adapt the process to her work situation: the outcomes were spectacular – in her own words, "like a dimensional shift”.

In summary, the six steps are:

  1. Think about Thinking – learn what to do to get others to think for themselves
  2. Listen for Potential – identify where people are heading; maintain the clarity of distance
  3. Speak with Intent – craft the quality of the words you use to communicate
  4. Dance towards Insight – use a dialogue process – permission > placement > questioning > clarifying
  5. CREATE New Thinking – Current Reality, Explore Alternatives, Tap Their Energy
  6. Follow Up – use the FEELING model to link actions to habits.

None of this is rocket science but Rock’s genius is in his insightful combination of events that align the unit behaviours into a compelling system. Donna applied this system to her role as Director, Project Management and it unquestionably saved her sanity and took her to substantially higher levels of contribution.

The Bottom Line . . .

What’s in a system?

In learning and applying David Rock’s Six Steps, Donna actually did several things in a winning combination. She stopped super-managing and started to lead her people; she learned to communicate more effectively by stimulating other people’s thinking and emotions; she harnessed the power of every one else’s hearts and minds instead of just using her own; and she engaged her people by creating successes within them instead of layering on her own.

On top of this she increased longer-term effectiveness and efficiencies so that her role was easier; she built constructive coaching relationships with her staff members that encouraged their development; she used synergies of effort to a far greater extent than ever before, thereby encouraging a winning team mentality; and finally she contributed significantly greater results to the organization.

Donna called me last month to tell me that she’s just been made Vice President and that wasn’t the best news – two of her direct reports had made Director level.

She is a true leader – one who creates other leaders.

What are you waiting for?

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

  • Let Your Strengths Stand Out . . .

I was pleased to learn that Marcus Buckingham of Gallup fame has created a radical revision of the Gallup Strengths profile – StandOut. While Gallup’s original StrengthsFinder has been updated over the years, it was neither user-friendly nor relevant for business without some extra work. Now we see StandOut from The Marcus Buckingham Company.

StandOut is positioned as both an individual and team assessment. It is clearly business-focused as the report has sections to help you build on your strengths in leadership, management, customer service, sales, and forming your ideal career. The slogan is "Find your edge. Win at work.”

The assessment costs $15.00 US online. It takes about 20-30 minutes to complete. You’ll be presented with a series of timed, multiple-choice questions. Questions include workplace issues, work-life-balance decisions, ethical choices, and etiquette. Of course, with only four options to most questions, it can be hard to find the selection that fits you best. No matter – make your choice and move on, because the clock is a-ticking!

I tried it and I liked it – why not see for yourself?

  • How to make People Choose Right from Wrong . . .

Apparently it’s not that hard to do!

Some recent research by a group from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in completing a study found that all it really takes is to encourage contemplation and conversation.

They offer some simple yet compelling evidence that shows that 84% of persons who did one or the other prior to choosing between self interest and morality made the right call; by contrast, 53% of those who did neither, lied in pursuit of self interest. Corporate codes of ethics are still valuable and ethics training has some impact but the strongest influencer was the time and attention paid to ethical practices by the Chief Executive! We knew that! 

Go to the Forbes website for the full story.

  • Quotable Quotes . . .

"A man's errors are his portals of discovery."  -- James Joyce

"Work hard at your job and you can make a living. Work hard on yourself and you can make a fortune." -- Jim Rohn

"I would rather the man who presents something for my consideration subject me to a zephyr of truth and a gentle breeze of responsibility rather than blow me down with a curtain of hot wind." -- Grover Cleveland

"You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine." -- John C. Maxwell

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Section 2 - Talk Back

Coach's Corner

A selection from frequently–asked questions

Dear Coach,

There’s a person on my staff who needs to hear and take action on some serious performance issues but every time I try to approach her she becomes either belligerent or emotional? I know that it’s important that people feel safe, if you want to reach them with important messages, but this is too serious for me to sugar-coat the issues. How can I get my points across without pulling my punches and diluting essential impact and importance?


I can appreciate the dilemma but I’m going to suggest that the challenge lies in you not in her.

Yes, it’s very important that others feel safe in any important confrontation because if they don’t feel secure, you can’t retain their attention and interest so your communication will fail. Safety, however, cannot be achieved by sugar-coating or diluting the messages nor by pulling punches.

In any dialogue where you are attempting to share meaning and match understanding, the need is to balance candor with respect; you need to speak your truth while preserving the dignity of the other person. In normal dialogue this is not difficult but when one person feels they are threatened in any way it demands continuous positive and sensitive attention.

It’s like balancing a teeter-totter with one foot on either side of the point of balance – it’s dynamic -continuous small adjustments, nothing excessive or extreme in response, but rather careful balance and counter-balance between the two aspects, candor and respect.

One major challenge here is that we all want to be nice and so the way to proceed is to keep the sentiment of ‘nice-ness’ front and center throughout the conversation. This doesn’t work because candor is sacrificed.

Another problematic assumption is that emotionality can be inserted to convey or emphasize meaning and intention. But emotionality is hard to manage and even harder to read accurately so the message becomes distorted and our intentions are hi-jacked. Emotion also has a corrosive effect on rationality and respect since it will encourage matching responses and so it escalates, often out-of-control.

The third assumption is even more influential – that the success of any dialogue is dependent on both sides accepting and acting upon the outcomes. Nothing could be further from reality; all dialogue requires is that differences are heard and understood. One doesn’t have to like or accept what is conveyed, just to recognize that it represents a different view.

There’s time following the exchange for either side to carefully consider and assess the consequences of what has been heard and understood; any remedial action will ensue from this incubation. A good part of this involves the formulation of judgments and assessment of standards and then there’s a need for the development and refinement of options for possible change. This may take time and perhaps distance.

In many interactions of the type you’re seeking there’s an inappropriate rush to judgment and demand for committed action. This is all too often premature, unhelpful and even dangerous. It’s natural that people will require incubation time when confronted with unpleasant input and the intervention should be planned with this in mind.

You’re right, rather than wondering what you might say to your associate, you need to consider well how you might say it. First be very clear in your own mind regarding why you need to say it and make your motives as objective as possible. This means you must prepare your intention so that it’s elegant – simple yet powerful – and unambiguous.

You can start with respect by asking for permission to have the conversation and positioning it at a time and place that protects the dignity of the other person. State your intention, the reason why you are having the conversation, and a clear statement about the gap you discern between what is actually happening versus what should be happening using established, demonstrable facts.

Gain agreement that there is indeed such a gap and that it’s relevant to the stated intention; this can take some time during which you must listen as diligently as you present – in fact, recall the axiom that you have two ears and only one mouth - to be engaged in proportion.

If you shift to possible consequences of the gap at this point, you will likely trigger a complexity of thinking and feelings which may require time and space to sort and evaluate. A break in the process here can be very helpful and encourage appropriate initiatives in the other person. You can now present yourself as an ally in the change process at the call and discretion of your colleague.

Note that the delicate balance between candor and respect has to be maintained and time-outs can be your best option whenever the balance is strained. Do not be in a hurry to overwhelm others with your opinions, emotions, desired outcomes or charisma. Govern your own behaviors and encourage them to do likewise.

I hope this helps.


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Behavioral Reinforcement revisited . . .

There has long been a controversy over the relative merits of intrinsic versus extrinsic motivators relating to employee performance. The scholarly articles that reflect the time, effort and emotional investments are legion.

Developments in neuroscience over the past twenty years have turned conventional wisdom on its ear though and very few have noticed. Meanwhile we continue to invest prodigious resources in blindly pursuing the well-worn paths of recognition and reward systems that have little real influence on contribution and performance. It’s time to take a fresh perspective!

To begin, neuroscientists tell us that the concepts of intrinsic and extrinsic reinforcers are based on a fallacy: the brain and, therefore, the mind do not respond to either reinforcer. Thanks to fMRI technology we are able to witness the brain’s functioning as it happens and there’s no activity in the presence of such motivators.

The expected activity, the release of dopamine which induces euphoric sensations, happens under entirely different circumstances – when there’s a ‘prediction error’ - when our experience varies from our expectations.

This explains a great deal of our life experiences. It helps us to understand how and why we learn because learning depends on the extent to which behavioral outcomes are different than predicted, being governed by the discrepancy of ‘error’ between outcome and prediction.

It explains the Christmas Turkey syndrome where the first time we receive a bonus gift we are positively impacted but after three years of repeated bonuses we see it as entitlement, not as an incentive. It explains why we would not want to operate a button manufacturing machine by simply pulling a lever several hundred times each hour but we will happily stand before a slot machine (‘one-armed bandit’) and do exactly the same thing without loss of interest.

This same revelation also helps us to understand why many of us like long shots, challenging the odds with gaming activities, taking risks in the stock market, extreme sports and even traveling to unknown places. We are bored by routine and sameness simply because the outcomes are predictable and there’s little or no excitement – no dopamine rush to reward us.

I always believed that incentive programs had to be fair, transparent and consistent in their structure just so that they would be credible. I didn’t realize that with the introduction of each safeguard and check-in-balance I was reducing the impact of the intended influencer; no wonder the results were elusive!

The roots of all this are deep – our brains are hard-wired for search and forage actions; we could not just sit in a warm cave and survive, we needed to find food. Having found it we needed pattern recognition to affirm which fruits and roots were safe to eat and to discern the safe limits for risk taking. We still have the same caveman mind – it’s just a tad more sophisticated in its expression.

So what does this mean in terms of influencing the behaviors of others?

We have already discovered that we cannot ‘motivate’ others; that it’s up to them to find motivation within themselves. What we can do is construct an environment in which they will want to do this.

We have learned through repeated and bitter experiences that people do not respond consistently to imposed incentives; that they get bored with repetition; that routine and sameness will cause people to become jaded; and that they stop learning and improving, if the circumstances do not change.

We must unlearn many of our resident beliefs about what will initiate behavioral change:

  • We need to preserve opportunities for exploration and curiosity.
  • We should encourage new and fresh perspectives within the thinking of others.
  • We have to recognize that excitement of unexpected discoveries is highly valued.
  • We ought to explore which pleasures and passions register for each person.
  • We have to build on the frontiers of every individual’s experiences.

There’s no profit in flogging dead horses so let’s understand that it is not ‘them’ that need to change, it’s us, and the way we see and respond to the natural world in which we live. 

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Commentary 2

The Reason Why . . .

by Andrea Neuert, Manager, Finance & Administration, MacKinnon Transport Inc

I was invited to watch a webcast after a management meeting regarding "How Great Leaders Inspire Action” by Simon Sinek. His premise was to start with Why? It’s not what you do, it’s why you do it.

This can apply to all aspects of life … personal and professional. Whether it be engaging your child in an activity or communicating with your staff on a new policy or procedure, if we act and communicate from the inside – out, we’ll make others believe in what we are doing, thereby inspiring them to follow.  It’s important to make and maintain an emotional connection to which we’ll all respond. 

Have you ever wondered how some companies maintain long term employees who are completely dedicated no matter the circumstances of the organization?  How about employees who’ll leave an organization to follow a prior manager or supervisor because they love to work for him/her?

This is because they believe in the company that they are working for or have faith in the manager that they are following. If we can get our staff to fully engage and believe in what we are saying, we can create solid loyalty and dedication. These people will give their blood, sweat and tears for the betterment of the company and for the success of the manager they report to.

This is one of the things that attracted me to my Company, MacKinnon Transport Inc.  The people here go above and beyond the call of duty in most cases because they believe in the mission, values and founders of the Company. The number of employees who have been here more than 15 years is incredible. There has to be a reason for that, as it’s just not the norm these days.

There are leaders and then there are those who lead and inspire. Talk about what you truly believe in and you will attract others who will also believe. It’s not what you do or how you do it, it’s about why you do it.

Communicate your purpose and cause and you will be successful, because others will believe and in turn, help you to succeed.

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Section 3 - On The Horizon

It All Starts At The Top

. . . 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

What if Vancouver’s Stanley Cup malaise started at the top?

Marshall Goldsmith once said ‘What got you here won’t get you there’ when referring to a leader’s need to change in order to continue growing and achieve his/her goal.  In hockey’s chase for the Stanley Cup, I believe it’s the reverse:

‘What got you here (during the season) is the only thing that will get you there (the Stanley Cup)’

In their quest to win 4 out of 7 games, Vancouver did not act like the leader they demonstrated during the regular season, having been the NHL’s best performing team.  As the playoffs progressed, they slowly allowed their game to change.


From leader to victim.  From focused to distracted.  From blaming no-one to pointing the finger.

If you watched the series, it’s no surprise Boston won.  Many people are looking at Vancouver’s goalie Roberto Luongo or the absence of fire-power from the Sedin brothers and Ryan Kesler.

But what if the root of the problem did not lie with the employees?  What if the players, and maybe even the coach, were feeding off the attitude of the executives?

What if, having been the best team in the regular season, they expected to win the Stanley Cup vs. earning it?  If they had this mindset, and things were not going according to plan, the easy option was to blame, which they did.

A team takes on the attitude of its senior-most leaders.  If part way through a major project, you subtly shift your perspective, don’t be surprised when people follow.

For Vancouver, the final series was not the time for the organization to publicly be distracted with the small stuff.

In sports, we say ‘There is always next year’.  But in business, the reality is it’s about now.

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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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