May 2010

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


Section 1 - Topical Topics

Leading into an Uncertain Future

What Future? . . .

It was a dinner table conversation – you know, you’ve been there many times, right? My guests, who are deeply involved with administrating social welfare programs with a special emphasis on abused and disadvantaged children, are always intrigued by the world of business and its different perspectives.

I’d been explaining some current pressures and trends that have emerged in business leadership. I related, in detail, how recent economic disruptions have altered the perspectives of business leaders to the point that many senior people feel disquieted and even disrupted – they feel that little or nothing is the same as it used to be.

At one point I mentioned that several CEOs of my acquaintance were demonstrably nervous about their leadership role since the future was becoming less and less predictable. "They need to live in the future,” I explained, "but work in the present”.

"I can’t see how that’s possible!” responded Mary, "and even if it is, what useful purpose would that serve?’ She went on to describe how she views herself as the equivalent of a corporate president, making direct comparisons between the number of people managed, the size of budget, the significance of outcomes and the impact on society. Her concern, she stated firmly, was to master the present.

I fell into the trap, offering my opinion that she was perhaps the equivalent of a COO or general manager but that the CEO role in her field had been usurped by the policy makers and planners. She allowed that her focus was on the present, dealing with current issues mainly, but still could not identify with the role of working from the future as being particularly different from her periodic planning efforts in social service.

Now, comparisons are odious, as they say, and I shouldn’t have pursued this line. I was committed though and felt compelled to try to find parallel roles in non-business settings. I may not have been totally successful but it did challenge me to reflect on the ‘live-in-the-future . . .” concept which is so compelling in the business world. May I share some of this thinking with you?

Living in the future . . .

As an executive coach, I’ve often counselled senior executives to position their viewpoint six, nine or twelve months into the future. One rationale for this is to encourage anticipation and constructive intentionality in their thinking; another is to help them to break the limitations of "probability / possibility” type thinking and to venture into "potentiality” thought patterns – more on this later.

I’ve always realized that such repositioning is not intuitive for many, if not most, but those who do succeed will tell me that the shift in perspective had a profound and beneficial impact on the quality of their leadership. It creates a significantly different set of assumptions, a paradigm, which changes focus, interpretation, decision making, weightings and concerns. It also has a profound effect on behaviours and particularly on responses.

We know that leadership and management are different tools in an executive’s tool bag and that it’s important, if not essential, to apply each with careful consideration. Leadership addresses issues of WHAT needs to be done while management is more focused on HOW it gets done.

This means that while management is a convergent activity – bringing all available resources together to achieve a known outcome – leadership is by its nature divergent – taking bold steps into the future where no man has gone before, and this can be ‘gut-puckering’ for everyone!.

Managing, or orchestrating convergent behaviours to achieve known outcomes, demands a specific set of competencies which have been long-since taught and encouraged in our business schools;

  • Analyzing and synthesizing information
  • Presenting ideas and persuading others through rational argument
  • Securing and organizing resources and setting standards
  • Creating strategies and options to assist implementation of plans
  • Making decisions and setting priorities, and
  • Focusing communication and exerting control.

Leading and inspiring others to embrace an increasingly divergent set of unknown and perhaps unknowable options, requires markedly different competencies, and some will argue that these can be learned only through direct experience; for example:

  • Adapting and coping with risk and uncertainty
  • Collaborating and supporting others with the challenges of change
  • Accruing personal and collective resiliency and recovery from setbacks
  • Building networks and trust-based relationships
  • Mentoring and coaching others towards personal and organizational success, and
  • Learning and developing through awareness and acquisition.

Surely this demonstrates a completely different focus in our dealings with others particularly. The point of focus changes radically and sometimes this has to be achieved in a heartbeat. As an executive switches tools from management to leadership or vice-versa, attention and efforts can be moved to new dimensions, perspectives or responses that will better accomplish the desired results.

Marie is the Customer Service Director of a major distribution company. Recently she was experiencing frustration because customers were becoming more and more disgruntled despite the fact that her staff had intensified their efforts to provide needed support services. "We can’t seem to do anything right these days,” she observed, "everything that’s ever worked for us in the past appears to irritate customers rather than satisfy them!”

Enforcing corporate standard operating procedures (SOPs) and intensifying training wasn’t helping at all, so Marie decided that it was time for a fresh ‘take’ on customer needs and wants; she initiated a detailed survey and the findings were indeed revealing. There had been a major shift in customer emphasis from ‘quality outcomes’ to ‘speed of response’. What was irritating customers was that it was all taking too long - although they were insisting on the same level of service.

Performance monitoring had been focused on specific factors from the old paradigm; a new one was needed. Marie called her staff together and discussed the survey findings in-depth. There were many nods of agreement but far fewer ideas and suggestions about how future responses could be applied. Marie recognized that she must lead the team to a new reality and this would, in turn, demand a different set of behaviours on her part.

At first it was hard and very uncomfortable for her; she worried about letting go on controls, introducing uncertainty and worried about perceived personal inconsistency. But she had a dream – an empowered team operating within looser but definitive guidelines to manage the many moments of truth at customer interface – this was an opportunity to engage staff, to increase accountability and to develop ‘remarkable’ service levels as the norm.

Marie made the shift by first identifying her vision within the realities of each one of her direct reports and through them to all staff. She invested a great deal of time and effort to parallel the new service paradigm with the personal aspirations of her people, and it worked!

Then she applied her personal, inherent strengths in developing leadership competencies; the very nature of her relationships with her people changed dramatically as she focused on helping them to adapt, learn and recover as they attempted new and untried strategies. She is now perceived as a trusted friend, mentor and coach rather than as a boss, director and controller.

Marie’s vision, as well as the parallel visions of her people, kept them all ‘on track’ and it took just a few months to achieve a substantial break-through, with recognition and kudos from customers and the industry.

Getting There . . .

Visions are the substance of the future. A critical insight is based on the fact that our minds do not distinguish between imagination (the vision) and reality (what we actually experience). There’s a whole new discussion on the nature of consciousness - on how we experience the worlds in which we live - that would explore this, which we’ll reserve for sometime in the future. Suffice it, for now, to accept this common perception because it tells us that we have only to envision it to make it happen.

Dare to dream - but then act upon those dreams and do what is needed to translate current experiences to conform with the expectations and desires that we anticipate; for this makes us ‘visionaries’ as opposed to just ‘dreamers’.

We can become entrapped. We can easily expand our horizons to the point that we can no longer navigate a practical course forward; we are perhaps "cock-eyed optimists" and "Pollyannas". We can also limit our horizons so that we restrict our options and prevent a full perspective on what could be accomplished if only we’d truly dare.

Many will attempt to go to the future by simply extending the past; they work forward from the present by projecting probabilities and anticipating possibilities.  The resultant ‘tether line’ will eventually bring us up short and our freedom to create will be seriously impaired, yet there’s much safety in staying within the bounds of what is already known-for-sure and secure.

The successful few will have let go of current realities and reached out to grasp "potentials” – dreams of substance that have the necessary teeth to gain purchase and to hang on despite challenges. Letting go in order to reach forward is essential; we cannot both hold on and let go – that doesn’t work.

An essential, inherent strength required to achieve this is courage. We do not learn to be courageous, it’s within us all but not everyone has become aware of it, and there are so many who are too fearful to risk being exposed to the need to become aware. Until we truly know our self though we cannot be credible as leaders of others so direct knowledge and experience of our courageousness is a crucial awareness.

Out of courage is born confidence, and from that persistence and resilience, adaptability and other-awareness. The elite British military unit, the Special Air Service (SAS), have as their motto "Who Dares Wins” and they accomplish remarkable things, way beyond most other military organizations. Their business is leadership and their product is the ‘impossible’.

As business leaders, facing the unknowns of a volatile and unprecedented future, dare we be any less?

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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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

Using your Brain . . .

When I was a young and aspiring leader / manager I was frequently told to use my head. I knew this was an invitation to use my brain and to really think about situations and consequences before I took action. What I was never told, at least in a way I could appreciate and apply the advice, was exactly how to think about things – after all, like every one else I was  born with a brain / mind but no user’s manual, right?
Finally I’ve found some really practical advice on how to use my brain to access my mind. Dr David Rock of Australia, who advocates neuro-leadership, has some great ideas and suggestions to share. You could benefit by taking a look at his SCARF model – it will make a big difference to the way you interact with both yourself and others!

Go to  for more details, but if you have only 3 minutes to spare then try this instead

Making It All Work . . .

I’ve long been an admirer of Dr Robert E Quinn of the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan; he has done much valuable work on change management and I’ve applied a lot of his ideas in my executive coaching practice.

Robert has recently published a simple template for improving management action which is based on a sound four-phase model for interventions. Whether you use it for individual development or for bringing a team together it works very well.

He has created a great tool here, one that every professional manager can use to advantage – check it out and take it for a spin.

Quotable Quotes . . .

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

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

"Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves."  -- Carl Jung

"Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you will help them become what they are capable of becoming."         -- J.W Von Goethe

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Section 2 - Talk Back

Coach's Corner

A selection from frequently–asked questions

Dear Coach,
During meetings over the past year, I and others have noticed a creeping phenomenon among some of our colleagues that’s making us very uncomfortable. What can be done about subtle but noticeable prejudices and biases against women, other cultures and even social classes that are frequently detectable in some people’s statements and opinions? Can we really tell other people how they should think?

You are not alone – recently there’s been a discernable escalation of intolerance within business which may indicate that there’s continuing and heightened sensitivity to issues of bias or that the pressures of volatile markets are bringing differentiated and polarised behaviours to the surface.

While the root causes of bias are many and varied and the related expressions are by no means uniform, the foundational assumptions are a serious matter. Some are responses to elevated levels of personal insecurity; some are provoked by imposed socio-technical exposures such as remote working groups; some are due to improper leadership initiatives where emphases are placed on inappropriate factors like the importance of time and cost deadlines; and others may be political in nature, relating to the informal distribution of power and leverage.

In addition, it may well be a characteristic of an immature organizational culture where there’s significant incompatibility between formally declared values and the more insidious informal subcultures which are not yet well enough defined, aligned and thus coherent. In this event, it’s a pure leadership issue.

Your point that there are some who practice the biases and some who don’t, leads me to believe that yours is a cultural problem rather than one of deeper-seated individual values, properly styled as prejudices. If the organization is undergoing substantial changes at this time, it may be that the manifestations are political as defined and thus transitional and temporary in nature.

All too likely, it’s a compendium of several factors, each exacerbating the others. However, this isn’t central to the design and implementation of a general initiative to limit and even reverse the undesirable impetus and this is the focus of your question.

You can, and should do something immediately and deliberately to address the issue, so let me suggest a five–step program for action that you can launch at both formal and informal levels to signal and reinforce a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to intolerance.

Step 1 – Determine the business case for interpersonal interaction and tolerance that can be promulgated as policy. Clearly there’s no disagreement that all members of the organization need to work collaboratively to create substantial added value and that anything that impedes or disrupts collaboration has to be eliminated. This moves the focus of intent to general business behaviours and away from personal values and beliefs.

Step 2 – Identify the precise business capabilities that, in practice, will contribute to the realization of strategic intent; then measure and reinforce these alone, ignoring other offered contributions which are not aligned. It’s a safe bet that biases will not be high profile contributions but the focus again is on that which works rather than that which obstructs.

Step 3 - Actively promote those capabilities which contribute directly to strategic intent by ‘talking up’ the heroes (those who practice the capabilities in the most effective ways), telling and re-telling the stories that portray successful applications (making sure that the punch-lines are prominent), promoting the rituals and rites of passage that define the success groups; and by using the informal networks for communication and decision support that relate to these capabilities.

Step 4 – Once this is largely in place, move definitively on those who cross the lines of acceptable behaviour in word or deed - gently but firmly at first (I can’t believe that you’d truly endorse such an opinion) and critically if the behaviour is repeated (Such a viewpoint is not in line with our strategic intent or business values!).

Step 5 – Go public with your formal Values, but only when you’re certain that your informal values as expressed in your designated heroes, stories, rituals and networks are properly aligned with your published Values; make a firm and unambiguous statement on how we do things around here.

It’s important to remember that we do not have the right to tell others what they should think and how they ought to judge the world around them; we do have the responsibility, as Jim Collins has said, "to get the right people on our bus, to get the wrong people off the bus and to get the right people in the right seats”.

Prominent role models, appropriate learnings, transparent practices and an engaged informal network will clear up this problem in short order.

I hope this helps.

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Commentary - Lessons from the O Group

As a junior officer in the military I had to assimilate the ten fundamental principles of leadership before I would be allowed to take on responsibility for the lives of my assigned men. These principles have been studied, analyzed and reinforced throughout history (a fact we were reminded of frequently) and they work!

In every O Group – the setting where orders were relayed down the chain of command – the principles were deliberately applied and adapted, often to the significant benefit of those whose lives depended upon them.

There are strong enough parallels between the military and business that these principles would bear critical examination by business leaders, so here they are as best I can recall them after so many years.

  1. The Objective is paramount – referring to the importance of communicating vital information to every person involved. Each Objective was broken down into sub or interim objectives right down to the individual level and nothing else happened until this was absolutely clear. If things didn’t go as expected a court of inquiry would trace the breakdown of this process as a first move.
  2. Be fully informed and aware – which requires that you seek out the best available information on the enemy’s strength, disposition and intentions; alert to friendly and neutral forces which could assist you and, above all, aware of your own realities and critical status.
  3. Take the Offensive whenever possible – which means that you attack whenever you can, only adopting a defensive strategy as a last resort. Few have achieved victory by waiting for it to come to them, playing safe and adopting a passive posture.
  4. Keep It Simple, Sir (KISS) – this means elegance in execution (an absence of unwarranted complexity) rather than primitive strategies; it means doing all you have to do in the most effective and efficient way possible with the least possible cost in terms of lives and resources.
  5. Concentrate your forces – the enemy or target will always have a vulnerable spot – find it and focus your assault at this point, employing every resource you can to secure victory at first attempt; you probably won’t get a second chance, so do it right the first time.
  6. Be flexible and manoeuvre – this refers to being responsive to changing circumstances, open to opportunities as they present themselves, adaptable in the face of the unexpected and always receptive to alternative thinking; learn, from every situation and in real time.
  7. Secure your flanks – ensure that you work openly and constructively with others who are working on parallel objectives, those who are working in support of you, and as an unassailable and bonded team within your own ranks; your wingman has your life in his hands and you have his.
  8. Secure your Lifelines – guard against surprise by anticipating the enemy’s condition and expect the unexpected; then consider what the enemy has failed to anticipate, what you might have omitted and what could hurt you or increase your vulnerabilities. 
  9. Unity of Command – know who is in charge, who has the authority to amend your orders and who does not; there has to be absolute clarity at every level of activity and for every sub-objective so that leadership roles can be transferred seamlessly and without dispute
  10. Surprise is your most powerful weapon – do what the enemy expects but not when he expects it; be as unpredictable as conditions allow and consciously build your options at every turn so that you’re able to respond spontaneously with the highest impact.

I never had cause to question these ten principles! Think on them!

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Section 3 - On The Horizon

Engaging Employees Around Your Future vision

By Jeff Haltrecht

The lead article in this issue of Polaris Digest talks about the need to live in the future and work in the present - a great piece of insight that when practiced well, will lead to great results.  To make this a reality, you will want to engage your team around your vision and help them adapt, learn and recover as they attempt new and untried strategies.

Here are 8 straightforward steps designed to engage your employees around your future vision.  For each direct report, work your way through the list, connecting with each person individually, and the whole team as a group.

  1. Expose them to the realities of the status quo
    Let them see first hand that staying where they are is not an option.  Have them talk directly to the customer, take them out into the field, or arrange for them to work on the shop floor.  Whatever is needed for your people to see firsthand something is amiss.
  2. Know their agenda
    Work at understanding each person’s own agenda and – surprise! – learn it may not align with yours.  Understand why they chose to work with your company and find common ground that motivates them to help you bring your future vision to life.
  3. Play to their strengths
    Ensure individuals are in roles that allow them to use their strengths to succeed.  They will deliver greater results when working in areas where they excel, and won't be distracted by attempting to fix their weaker skills.
  4. Establish 3 time sensitive goals
    Goals are used best to
    1) align people’s behaviours in support of the new vision, and
    2) as a means to stretch an individual's performance. 
    Try to have 3 goals per person that are attainable through a very solid work ethic.
  5. Focus on building their self-esteem
    Self-esteem is core to believing you can achieve anything you sincerely desire.  Often in business we encounter new situations.  A heavy dose of self-esteem allows us to work our way through the new experience and deal with the set backs that come along.  Building self-esteem in your people will enable them to reach the new heights you are asking of them.
  6. Create a culture of disciplined thought and action
    Discipline should be at the lifeblood of your culture, for without it there will be a poor work ethic.  You want a consistent and thoughtful approach to analysis, decision-making, and execution that will have your team doing it right the first time.
  7. Enable them to make progress in their contributions
    Harvard Business Review recently published a study stating ‘making progress’ in their work was the single biggest motivator for employees.  Your role as leader is to help break down the barriers and coach each individual to make decisions that move things forward.
  8. Reward publicly (and coach for improvement privately)
    Everyone likes to be recognized and now is the time to do it proactively.  Take advantage of every opportunity to acknowledge great results publicly, so that others can learn what positive behaviour looks like.  And, if you need to coach for improvement, remember to do this privately behind closed doors; don’t embarrass an employee in front of others, or risk having them disengage from the business and bring others down with them.

Using all 8 steps to engage your employees will help free time to focus on the bigger and more strategic priorities that require your attention, while ensuring your future vision is attained.

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

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Reach Out

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Best of all, it's free! Take a moment for yourself and make room for a little refreshment.  

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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.

The next program begins September 14/15, 2010.  


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


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