March 2011

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

March 2011

Coming Soon.


Section 1 - Topical Topics

Leadership and Facilitation

A Tale of Two Leaders . . .

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times . . .  So begins an epic story, written by Charles Dickens in 1859, recounting the fortunes of people in two cities – London and Paris – during the French revolution of 1789. With well over 200 million copies sold, it ranks among the most famous works in the history of fictional literature.

The novel depicts the plight of the French peasantry demoralized by the French aristocracy in the years leading up to the revolution, the corresponding brutality demonstrated by the revolutionaries toward the former aristocrats in the early years of the revolution, and many unflattering social parallels with life in London during the same time period. It follows the lives of several protagonists through these events.

The most notable are Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton. Darnay is a French aristocrat who falls victim to the indiscriminate wrath of the revolution despite his virtuous nature, and Carton is a dissipated British barrister who endeavours to redeem his ill-spent life out of his unrequited love for Darnay's wife.

Permit me to use elements of this story in order to demonstrate a modern parallel – today’s business revolution. If I may, I’ll borrow Charles and Sydney who both aspire to the role of business leader.

Charles is the well-intentioned and somewhat privileged leader who has emerged from the challenges of a working world that has changed around him even as he struggled to master it. Today, there’s an apparent workers revolt and he is in real danger of being dispossessed despite his accrued learning and significant other assets.

Sydney is an struggling leader who is presently not convinced that he has used his time and talents well in his formative years even though he, like Charles, had a good beginning. He feels he has squandered his credibility and perhaps dissipated the trust of his people. He now seeks redemption.

You will be familiar with the ending of Dickens’s wonderful story and I shall not attempt the same final reconciliation – so presume nothing. Just come along for the ride – it should be most instructive and well worth your time.

Charles in a Nutshell . . .

Charles was raised as a traditional manager in the corporate world. He joined his company straight from university in an ‘entry’ role and by a combination of judiciously rotated experiences, regular promotions and keeping his nose clean, he eventually achieved a responsible director-level position with several managers and more than sixty employees reporting through him.

He has a sound track record as a supervisor and has usually met his assigned objectives without fuss or bother. He’s in line for a vice presidency and the heady atmosphere of strategic level contributions and recognition. While he has little to single himself out from other candidates he has been loyal to the company, is reasonably popular among his colleagues and finds general favour with the senior executive ranks.

Through the twenty years of his career to-date, Charles has been rather too busy on corporate issues / challenges to be able to develop his management and leadership knowledge and skills formally. For certain, he has a great deal of related experience but much of this has been made redundant by changes that have been happening around him. He confesses to his closer confidantes too that he’s somewhat bemused by the strange, self-centered attitudes of young people who have joined the company in recent years.

Technology has been a challenge, and also the changing faces of regulations, standards and business practices, however he has done much more to stay abreast of developments in these areas; he’s even justifiably proud of his acquired computer literacy.

In short, Charles has retained the original template of leader / management perspectives and perceptions that he learned during the formative years of his business life and he’s acquired some great abilities to retain and even enhance his proficiencies and efficiencies along the way.

His ambition has been to make vice president before he is forty and he would appear to be well on his way

A Word about Sydney . . .

Here’s a different story. Sydney had the same privileged beginning as Charles but events flowed less smoothly. For starters, he wasn’t able to keep his nose as clean as he ought to have done – a free-thinker, he had an irritating habit of challenging his superiors when directives didn’t seem to make sense. He was often imprudent, voicing his opinions at inappropriate times, expecting, perhaps unreasonably, that common sense might prevail.

Over time, thanks mainly to his expert knowledge and long, hard work, he has progressed as a supervisor     / project manager, then as a departmental manager (since there was no one else available with suitable qualifications at the time) and finally he scraped into a Director’s role by learning to toe the party line more often than he had in the past. Along the way he has taken a few courses in Organizational Behavior and Psychology, primarily because he was curious about these things.

He hasn’t been developing against a master plan simply because it never occurred to him and no one had encouraged him to do so. He would describe himself as ‘pragmatic’ – doing what has to be done to get the results needed, not just by the company but also by those involved. He’s stayed up with all the external forces that have affected the company and especially those which impacted on his people – without whom he knows he’d be lost.

As he looks back over the past twenty years he wonders if he hasn’t ‘blown it’. He has a deep-seated desire to contribute more than he is at present, mainly because he can see that it’s needed and others appear reluctant to stick their necks out. He sees a good amount of mediocrity, both above and beside him, but he’s not confident that he’s that much better than anyone else.

He’s aware that he has deficiencies as a leader and manager but he recognizes that he has some substantial talent resident in his people. It’s often a struggle to assist them as corporate policies aren’t especially friendly and systems are resistant to needed change. He consoles himself with the idea that their time will eventually come and perhaps they’ll do a better job than their predecessors.

He would really like to make a profound difference to the success of the organization – but how?

The Critical Decision . . .

To which of these worthy persons would you give the vice presidency, and why?

The crucial question, in my opinion, is "Are you serious about change?” If you are generally satisfied that the organization is on a safe and predictable course for the future then it wouldn’t matter particularly; Charles would be the safest choice but is unlikely to generate any spectacular results; Sydney will probably be a tad more disruptive but could ‘care-take’ the position for a few years. Perhaps there’s an outside candidate?

If the decision appears to be somewhat more difficult than it should be, you have only yourself to blame. People don’t live forever and the need to prepare someone for the role is entirely predictable. This does not appear to have happened.

However, you counter, there’s been a revolution. Who could have predicted the radical changes that are happening as we speak? There’s no security in the traditional structures of business; technology and geo-political factors have taken care of that. So how can you prepare for a future when things are so uncertain? In addition, the young people of today are demanding, yes, demanding different working opportunities, relationships and rewards and they aren’t ready to compromise. This only complicates an already complex scenario.

We’re compelled to move forward into the unknown and there is little comfort in all the preparatory work we’ve done; as we’re trying to set a course and speed for the future the ground is shifting under our feet. Consider, briefly, how much business is transacted over the internet today as compared with just five years ago! Where will this be in another five years? Or in three years? Or even two years? We simply don’t know for certain and yet we must make plans; we need to invest!

An Insurance Policy . . .

At first blush, neither Charles nor Sydney seems to be what we are going to need. But wait! Let’s look again.

In our last issue of Polaris Digest we spoke at length about the leader’s need to focus – it can be both short and longer term. This is definitely an essential component of leadership in both dimensions and we cannot evade the responsibility to provide it. The other part of the leader’s role though is facilitation – the art of getting things done by and through others. If you look carefully at Sydney’s track record, this is precisely what he has learned to do.

He has learned the rudiments of human behavior and his attention has been on people rather than on systems alone. As a project manager he may well have learned the hard way that if you don’t have your people on-side, then budgets and schedules will overrun your expectations. Above all, he’s come to appreciate that if his people aren’t successful then neither is the organization.

Your insurance policy is your people, especially those at the front line of your business. If they ‘will’ the business to be successful, they’ll find a way to make it so. All they will ask in return is that you don’t get in their way – in fact if you could provide a little help, some support and encouragement, this would be icing on the cake. Given the power to act, they will create value for your customers and they’ll secure market intelligence and feed it back to you so you can plan for the future – theirs as well as yours.

In the uncertain circumstances of today’s business climate, I’d be looking for leaders and managers who have their attention on the front line of the business, not on the executive suite. Give me a rough diamond like Sydney and I’ll make him even better at the vital role of facilitating outcomes. With Charles, I’d have my work cut out!

The Bottom Line . . .

Business today is fluid – more so than it has ever been; if we are to survive and prosper, we need to be fluid too.

Fluidity in business is measured in responsiveness and adaptability. This is best expressed in the relationships and underlying culture that forms our organization. It is here, precisely, that we need to focus if we seek enduring results. Our fate lies not in our stars but in ourselves and in our preparedness to support success in others.

A Tale of Two Cities ends as Sydney faces the guillotine – a sad and undeserved end you might think. However, he also finishes his life as a fulfilled individual, satisfied that he has redeemed himself by his selfless act, able to offer comfort to another and secure that his life has been worthwhile. He finds this in offering himself for others.

The greatest accolade any leader can earn is to have created success in others, to have inspired emerging leaders, and to have left an indelible legacy in the form of others who are ready to replicate what he or she has done – perhaps even more. For a manager it’s similar – to get results through others by making them successful.

The key is facilitation, leveraging their contributions by supporting them with yours.

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

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Timely Insights

  • Insider’s Guide to PR . . .

Why isn’t the media telling your company’s story? It’s probably for lack of trying. I suspect most companies have given up hope after a short-lived, unsuccessful PR campaign—or, underestimating the power of positive press coverage, they’ve never made a pitch at all.

Whatever, it’s a question of strategic importance. Positive coverage of your company or its products can give you credibility among a large and relevant audience, often at low cost and sometimes overnight. A good PR program can also engender long-term media relationships that help you address future communication needs.

Gaining positive media attention isn’t easy, nor is it particularly hard. Most companies have a story—or three—worth telling; they just need to match the story to the right media outlet at the right time. You also need to avoid the common mistakes that sabotage countless small-business pitches.  Here is great advice for getting your story told:

  • Sitting Breaks Yield Smaller Waistlines . . .

It is becoming well accepted that, as well as too little exercise, too much sitting is bad for people’s health. Now a new study has found that it is not just the length of time people spend sitting down that can make a difference, but also the number of breaks that they take while sitting at their desk or on their sofa. Plenty of breaks, even if they are as little as one minute, seem to be good for people’s hearts and their waistlines.

  • Quiz: Are You Hiring and Breeding Greedy and Selfish Employees? By: Robert I. Sutton, PhD 

For those managers worried they are staffing their teams with a bunch of jerks, we have this handy quiz! Answer truthfully and learn if you are a leader of obnoxious superstars.

  • Quotable Quotes . . .

"Ideals are like stars; you will not succeed in touching them with your hands. But like the seafaring man on the desert of waters, you choose them as your guides, and following them you will reach your destiny."  -- Carl Schurz

"It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things."    -- Leonardo da Vinci

"The spirited horse, which will of itself strive to win the race, will run still more swiftly if encouraged."   -- Ovid

"To lead the people, walk behind them." -- Lao Tzu"

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Section 2 - Talk Back

Coach's Corner

A selection from frequently–asked questions

Dear Coach,

Three months ago I was appointed President of a medium-sized, engineered products company and have discovered that it’s in much worse shape than described. I’ve studied every aspect; structure, key personnel, systems and processes and even commissioned a full staff survey. My conclusion is that I need to replace the current General Manager.

My challenge is that he’s been here less than two years, coming from out-of-province, and his family are still in the process of moving here.  I know that he has to go but I’m concerned that his dismissal is going to raise an inappropriate storm of sympathy – he’s a nice guy! I don’t want to be the bad guy!


You are indeed challenged – you need to do the right thing; you also have to avoid unintended consequences. So far you appear to have done all the right things, gaining an understanding of the situation from every aspect. You’ve made a careful diagnosis in context and all this before deciding and prescribing action – well done!

Your course of action must now be based on two principles – fairness and dignity.

At this point you have to consider two fundamental questions. Firstly, has the General Manager been made fully aware of what was expected of him, his performance shortfalls, and has he been given time and support for a remedial course of action? It often happens that at least one of these factors has been neglected – a lack of clarity, constructive feedback and/or proper opportunity for correction.

The evidence to support each of these points should have been properly and fully documented so that there’s no reasonable doubt. You owe it to the individual and the organization to protect the investments already made in this person; unplanned dismissals are costly in many ways!

Absence of a clear and specific mandate is common, and also unprofessional. It’s not prudent to assume that even an experienced and well-intentioned individual will fully grasp and accommodate the expectations of others without extensive discussion and confirming summaries.  My preference is a mandate which spells out what is expected in terms of the scope of the position, the available resources and restraints that apply, the specific deliverables with due dates and the relevant timings for starts, reviews and renewals.

Assuming this has been done and the performance gaps are also obvious and irrefutable, the needed corrective action, resources and time involved are frequently inadequately defined. Performance can rarely be radically improved without a deliberate plan which is constructed and supported by key people. Prior, mutual understanding is foundational to fairness.

Let me assume (always a dangerous practice) that you have satisfied yourself that all this has been properly done so we can move to the second question. It’s based on incontestable evidence that everything has been revealed and negotiated so that the desired performance improvements have had a chance to be realized.

You have been as fair as you are able under the circumstances.

How do you now proceed in a way that preserves dignity for all concerned? For certain, your decision is unlikely to be universally accepted; there will always be those who would move the earth to protect others, even from helpful changes. On the other hand, there are many too who are wondering how much longer they will be expected to tolerate deficient performance.

Let’s be clear; you are helping no one by avoiding corrective action, up to and including the dismissal of someone who is failing in the role. If the person is unable to meet the demands of their current role, despite careful and considered guidance, then you are not helping them by leaving them in place. You must act to protect and sustain all those who are adversely affected by the poor performance, and in this case, it’s the entire organization.

The decision will be painful for the General Manager certainly, but if he’s aware that he’s under-performing, I doubt that he enjoys getting up for work every day. It cannot be fulfilling to know that you’re floundering, that others are hurting because you are not in the right place at the right time, and that disaster could strike at any moment.

Quickly and respectfully relieve them of the role even if you do not yet have a full-blown replacement. I’ve witnessed individuals being left in situ for months and even years knowing that a replacement was being sought but not yet identified. The damage this causes to all concerned is immeasurable. It would be better to allow, perhaps encourage, junior staff to share the duties of the role with proper oversight than to leave someone in this kind of purgatory.

Let’s return to our General Manager, at best only partially responsible for the imprudent appointment decision, who now finds his world turned upside-down. He will need help with his transition to the next phase of his career, and this could include severance pay, honest references, public relations support, relocation counselling and time. If candour and respect are prominent in planning for this transition the damage you fear will be minimized.

You will be judged on two counts – have you acted fairly, and it’s clear that you have through careful examination and consultation across the board, and have you acted with dignity and respect. You have to make the tough decisions as President and they’ll not always be popular with everyone but they must always be fair and dignified for all concerned.

I hope this helps.


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Are You a Great Boss . . ?

This is a question that we all hesitate to ask – in case it tempts us to lie to our self. In our heart of hearts we know the answer and it’s not overly consoling. For many of us the gentle ‘weasel’ response is enough to get us off the hook – "I’m OK, but I could always be better!”

The trouble is that we tend to leave the issue right there. Having acknowledged the potential for improvement, we take insufficient or no related action. In this we are tacitly encouraged by circumstances, for there’s always an urgent demand to donate our time to others, to serve the needs of the moment and to defer personal matters until we’re too tired to even see straight.

What nonsense this is! If we owned the organization we’d be demanding that our people develop themselves to meet the emerging needs of our business. There’s no way we’d tolerate a wasting resource! Except that we do.

When I had approximately twenty staff members, and the same Vision and Mission as I do today, I would find ready excuses why individual staff members should defer their self-improvement programs until a more convenient time – except that this meant ‘never’. If I would do it, how can I blame you? Eventually I was forced to find a new way to fulfill my mandate because it became impossible to retain staff members who were not growing into emerging roles.

I’d shot myself in the foot!

Since that time, I’ve learned another truth. Many, if not most people don’t actively develop themselves because they don’t know where to begin, and working this out takes more time and effort than it’s worth. Seven years ago I decided to tackle this issue and Polaris was launched. For a select few it’s been an acknowledged blessing.

But what about everyone else? Until recently I would have told you that there’s no simple formula; every person needs tailor-made assistance to initiate the self-development process. It’s still true that many do, but it’s also true that many, if not most, are quite capable of helping them selves, especially if they have a route map to follow.

In the current issue of Harvard Business Review, required reading for any serious leader or manager, is an excellent article "Are You a Good Boss – or a Great One?” written by Professor, Linda A. Hill, and a seasoned business / public service executive, Kent Lineback. It presents a straight-forward model for addressing this complex issue, simple enough to understand and simple enough to act upon.

The first step is to understand why we avoid taking action; the second is to take inventory using a twelve-point questionnaire which is provided. Then, acting on the information that’s revealed, map out developmental priorities in three areas:

  • Manage Yourself to establish your influence connections with others and your personal relationships through self awareness and self regulation so that trust is enhanced
  • Manage your Network by becoming ‘other-centered’, sensitive to the organization’s culture and politics so that you can command resources and focus the influence of significant others, and finally
  • Manage your Team by assisting them to work together, share goals and standards, to collaborate in the creation of value and communicate constructively while receiving individual attention.

Keeping a clear scoreboard with the practice of consulting it daily using a practical ‘prep, do. review’ formula for action is strongly encouraged.

All this is spelled out in their book "Being the Boss: the Three Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader” HBR Press, for those who’d like to really master this elegant piece of common sense.

Yet, as my sainted Scottish aunt frequently reminded me, "The only trouble wi’ common sense, laddie, is it’s no verra common!

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Commentary 2

The Power of Expectations Aaron Brooks

I have been on a very interesting journey the last few years at UNIS LUMIN.  Due to the growth of our company, I have had an opportunity to tackle some unique and exciting roles, that in some cases, I probably wasn’t qualified for.  It has been an amazing experience and I attribute a majority of my success to the people I have had the pleasure of working with.   But when asked what lessons I’ve learned over the last few years and to what I attribute these opportunities, the two elements I talk most about are the power of expectations and socialization.  I can’t speak to both this time around, so today I thought I’d focus on the power of expectations.

Expectation Defined
  • Belief about (or mental picture of) the future
  • Wishing with confidence of fulfillment
  • The feeling that something is about to happen

If you look at the above definition, it’s clear that the owner of "expectations” is one’s self.  Our perception of upcoming events, our belief in how things will unfold, our hope that things turn out a certain way, lay in our control.  Think back to a time you expected something to happen where the outcome was completely different and how that made you feel? 

Expectations not only frame the success of outcomes, but also guide us in our attitudes and behaviors when working towards goals.  In business we have all been in a position where reality and expectations are not aligned.  When this happens we are left with a multitude of feelings, both good and bad, and often in a state of adaptation, reaction or recovery to bring expectations back in alignment with the new reality.  Not a very fun place to be, and at its core is the element of surprise or change and how to deal with next steps towards realignment.

Here is a common example to give context:   You walk into your performance review thinking you have done a great job all year, your peers like you, your customers are happy with your work.  You are shocked to find out that your boss feels you are lacking in some critical areas, and this is holding you back from advancement.

(See January’s Polaris Digest for commentary on negative performance reviews)

At its purist, an employee’s expectations of what makes for good performance is sometimes different from that of the person performing the performance review.  I for one have experienced this, but on the side of Management, not employee.  As a manager, you really have to ask yourself "have I identified and set my expectations of them and their role as part of my team”. 

Let’s now look at the critical content of the Polaris program that we have been focusing on thus far.  Yes, it helps us better take inventory of ourselves and gives us greater insight into who we are, but an even greater benefit is the impact these tools have in helping us set expectations and manage change.

Polaris Item

Helps us set expectations…

Personal Action Plan

Set expectations with ourselves on how we plan to grow and create success

Management Philosophy

Set expectations of them on communication, behavior and attitude and goals.

Leadership Philosophy

Set expectations with peers, superiors and employees in how we plan to execute our leadership vision

Personal Covenant

Set expectations with your direct manager on what they can expect from you

By using these plans, convents and philosophies as methods to set expectation, you help clarify goals, outcomes and behavior while reducing risk of misalignment and the impact this has on driving success for ourselves and our employees.  We often hear in sports that players are moved because they don’t fit the system, the coach or teams philosophy.  Sports does a great job of setting expectations and then holding its members accountable, we, as managers and leaders, need to do the same.

Setting expectation is one thing, ensuring they are known and consistent is the next challenge, enter….socialization.

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Section 3 - On The Horizon

The Art of Discipline 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

One of the aspects to business in North America that I find frustrating is the tendency for leaders to execute without having properly planned and tested their strategies.  This art to business – called discipline – should be present from the vision through to the execution stages.  Regrettably, it’s often lacking.

Driven by short-term thinking, I have personally experienced ‘Get it in the market and we’ll course correct along the way’.

The problem with this approach is everyone focuses on the speed to market at the expense of doing the right thing.  Lost in the process is the evaluation of multiple options and/or the analysis of what can go wrong.

In their book Execution:  The Discipline Of Getting Things Done, Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan define execution as not simply tactics, but a system of getting things done through questioning, analysis, and follow-through.  A discipline for meshing strategy with reality, aligning people with goals, and achieving the results promised.

Consider the bridge between strategy and execution as discipline; disciplined thought leads to disciplined action.  It’s the glue that holds the model together.

Now if you have been in business for some time, you know its easy to say we did lots of analyses.  But numbers can be manipulated to tell the story you want it to tell.The true magic in discipline lies in the safeguards put in place that help avoid decision-making biases and prevent jumping to execution too quickly.

A recent McKinsy Quarterly article, authored by Bill Huyett, Tim Koller, and Olivier Sibony, put forward four processes to help in this area.  They are so logical you might wish you had thought of them first!

1.     Instead of one path to achieve the vision, identify two to three solutions that will achieve the same goal.

2.     Field two independent teams to evaluate the solution(s) for the existing problem or opportunity

3.     Conduct a ‘premortem’, where five people independently and privately project themselves into the future and pretend the solution(s) has failed.  They then write down the three to five reasons why they believe the failure occurred.

4.     Write a memo to the President explaining why the ‘initiative’ should not be executed.

In practicing these methods of disciplined thought analysis, the people are both testing the strategy, while at the same time finding the right tactics to execute properly.

With employees vetting the solution, they will have the ‘willpower’ to see it through, knowing the right strategy is in place to execute with passion.  The learning from this process will lead to higher success rates in the market and greater wealth for your company.

Is that not worth the extra time and effort to your business?

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

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