November 2009

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


Section 1 - Topical Topics

The Emerging Leader

Is it really possible to ‘create’ a leader?

The time-worn debate as to whether leaders are born or made has never been fully resolved. It may never be, because the issue is complicated, influenced by multiple variables and it’s inevitably context sensitive.

The major problem I see with the issue is its lack of relevance and helpfulness. It’s a ‘cop-out’ question that deflects attention from the real issue which is whether leadership strengths and skills can be acquired and put to use.

No one would disagree with the position that leadership is a dynamic process; it cannot be static and unresponsive to prevailing demands by its very nature. This must mean that leadership applications must be dynamic too, and that leadership effectiveness must be assessed in terms of appropriateness of response as well as final outcomes.

Every leader has certainly asked him/her self the pivotal question, "Am I good enough to take on this challenge?’ That initial moment of self doubt is surely a universal ritual for us all whenever we have sufficient time and space to consider it. Every one of the great leaders I’ve been privileged to know has admitted to the question, and without embarrassment. It’s right and it is proper!

In fact, truly effective leaders are bound to be plagued with self doubts and uncertainties. The role requires that the leader must first get to know the innermost thoughts and desires of others and then become aware of how to influence others’ behaviors in order to help them to move to a different place. This could never be easy or natural.

So, what is it that leaders can create both within and between self and others that could enhance success?

The Vital Intervention. . .
As always, we need to work with a definition of what leadership really is.

It is not, as most of us know, charisma – where we seek to emulate those who’ve by sheer force of personality have led others physically, emotionally, intellectually and even spiritually ‘over the top’. Nor is it bureaucratic – where we’ve commanded, made edicts, issued orders and dictated standards from within the system. It is not authoritative either, particularly in today’s ‘wired world’ where everyone has access to as much information, resources, and/or power - real and implied – as we do.

Leadership is the proven ability to create alternative futures. Each alternative future has to exist somewhere first, and that’s usually within the minds of others – who may or may not be aware of its existence. The leader focuses the potential future – in the form of desires and affective states – that others already own. A vision of ‘what-could-be’ is formed and fashioned within the minds of those involved to the point that definitive action becomes inevitable.

Much of this formation and fashioning takes place at an unconscious level; beyond the direct control and influence of the conscious or rational mind. This is why people respond less readily to reasoned argument than to emotional appeal – a fact well known to the advertising world. It also explains why we sometimes do things that make little or no sense; we only know that they’re important to us.

So the leader taps into the emotional needs of others and helps them to realize that an alternate future is more desirable than that they accept as normal and expected. In doing so, the leader must be careful not to remove the core element of ownership of the vision – it has to remain the full property of the originator lest it lose its driving power.

Now the leader is in a position to leverage action, through reason, negotiation, inducements (incentives and disincentives), dreams and aspirations, threats and promises. By constructing a coherent and reinforcing series of events the leader can move others towards an outcome that is more valued and appreciated than what would have ensued without the intervention.

How does this work? . . .
This process of focusing and facilitating is not easy; by its very nature it is not natural. Left to their own devices there’s a high probability that followers would not take the suggested path but would rather repeat their past experiences and enjoy their familiar and comfortable rewards. The leadership intervention is not a popular course.

We’re all creatures of habit and we all aspire to a comfortable life; the older we become the more attractive comfort and routine seems. We hanker after change but yet it isn’t always a desired option as is well demonstrated by the Change Equation thus;

C = (A + B – D) > X

where C = Preparedness to change;
A = Dissatisfaction with the status quo;
B = Availability of a desirable alternative;
D = the effort required to effect the change; and
X = the fear of the consequences of failure.

Imagine that you are in an unhappy relationship and you are evaluating your options:

  • Unless you’re traumatically or seriously unhappy you’re likely to stick around and hope for improvement – A
  • When another, replacement relationship is offered, you still may not elect to take action immediately – B
  • If you can find an ‘easy’ way out you could be tempted to initiate action, yet you’re still very cautious – D, and
  • You’ll worry about the situation back-firing; final outcomes being messier than present circumstances – X.

It isn’t hard to imagine that these considerations might arise in the minds of those who need leadership – we’ve all experienced them. So focusing the desire for change isn’t a simple proposition and it will make significant demands on the would-be leader.

The aspiring leader can become increasingly sensitive to the complexities and confusions that exist in the minds of others by a relatively simple device – emotional awareness – not of others but of one self. The more the aspiring leader is in touch with his/her own feelings, honestly recognizing and responding to non-rational emotions, the more likely it is that such states will be identified and respected in others.

The presence of tell-tale signs within oneself - suppression (it isn’t really that bad!) or denial (that’s not how I’m feeling, at all!) - are certain indications that the signs / symptoms will be ignored in others; leadership will fail.

Facilitation, the essential second phase of the intervention, will rarely work in the absence of empathy. At first appearance this would seem to be the same as for focusing, but this is not so!

Empathy demands much more of us than self awareness; it includes patience, thoughtfulness, diplomacy, sensitivity, resilience, persistence, tolerance and courage. These are among the more difficult traits and personal strengths to identify in our questing society because we have not nurtured and reinforced them as well as we should. It’s a rare individual who will invest the time and effort to develop these attributes because society, and business particularly, do not reward them openly.

Getting Started . . .
Any emerging leader should first take stock of what personal traits and strengths are prominent at this time. An honest appraisal is the start line for change within oneself and in knowing the true state of other-centered relationships. As Robert Quinn has successfully argued, our first task is to be self-directed and only then can we be properly ‘other’ aware.

Take inventory of your traits and personal strengths; know what you have in your ‘leadership toolbox’ and how you currently use these tools to create strategies for handling the challenges that you face. Experience yourself in action and know where you are strong and where you would benefit from engaging the abilities of others.

Good leaders are not supermen/women; they are collaborative, enabling, reinforcing influencers. They use their attributes together with those of others to create mutual success and benefits; they bring out the best in other people and in so doing, they stimulate leadership in others – the confidence and competence to form alternative futures.

First know yourself; then assist others to get to know themselves. The remarkable leader works continuously on increasing self awareness and on those traits and strengths that translate into empathic interventions for change.

What got you here . . .
One fact is certain – there will be so many different situations in which leadership is needed that predicting them is close to impossible. You cannot prepare for what is unknown but you can get to know yourself with deeper, more enduring certainty. You can never know everyone with whom you will need to have a leadership relationship but you can enhance your empathic abilities with every experience you have.

What has happened in the past is no guarantee that success is assured in the future and no experience can offer you anything of value other than retroactive self insight. You can ‘train’ your emotional mind to recognize and capitalize on dopamine-induced behaviours (see October issue) that will result in consistent outcomes if you will review and rehearse every single complex experience for its learning points.

You can learn to recognize and employ the ‘intuitive’ behaviors that work for you by constantly seeking to improve your experience as a leader; your past experiences will help to improve similar future events. However, you cannot override your adaptive or emotional subconscious with pure rationality – it simply doesn’t work that way!

Your rational mind will help you in new and unusual leadership situations, ones that you’ve not experienced before. Here you must reduce the variables to a manageable number and take the time to think it through, engaging the different perspectives and attributes of others to amplify your outcomes. This is learning of a different kind.

Manage your mind and you’ll grow as a leader.

The Bottom Line . . .
The main attributes of a leader are intrinsic. Those who can lead and manage themselves are more credible and more effective that those who rely on pure hype and/or raw power. "One who conquers himself is greater than another who conquers a thousand times a thousand men on the battlefield” -- Buddha – The Dhammapada. If we reflect on what it is that makes a leader attractive to followers, it is the consistent, confident traits of self awareness and empathy.

Every leadership challenge is different and they change with increasing rapidity in today’s volatile world; we cannot possibly anticipate them all. We can become self directed and ‘other aware’ through deliberate interventions and by being conscientious in our appraisals of how we work best as individuals.

The key to using our personal attributes well, as a leader or otherwise, is our ability to use our mind competently. We need to become increasingly aware of our thought processes and to manage our minds to best advantage.

Leaders invest in themselves; they become the fulcrum for effective change in themselves as well as in others.

I'd welcome your questions, comments and suggestions. We can all learn through dialogue and your experiences will undoubtedly gain more value when shared. Please contact me at

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 refine and expand the essential value of these initiatives. Thanks in anticipation for your participation.

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Timely Insights

The Power of Customer Loyalty . . .

What matters more than client happiness? Customer loyalty! Can you measure it easily? Definitely!

All entrepreneurs want to grow their businesses in terms of revenue, profit or market share. And if you're like most entrepreneurs, you're on a constant search for the silver bullet to sustained growth. 1-800-GOT-JUNK founder and PROFIT columnist Brian Scudamore thinks he has found it.

Frank visited Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappas, an online shoe retailer recently acquired by Amazon whose sales will increase by more than 25% this year. It’s a simple yet amazing answer that is applicable to any SME business.

Go to the full story.

The Danger of Success . . .

Every entrepreneur knows that problems are just opportunities in disguise. But some opportunities are also disasters waiting to happen.

When Ally Ghieri joined Dante Manufacturing as its CFO, she knew it wouldn’t be easy. Dante (not its real name) had even made the PROFIT 100 list, which meant it faced all the problems endemic to fast-growth companies: supply challenges, talent shortages and cash crunches. In short, the job looked like tons of fun.

Sadly, Ghieri (not her real name) soon found herself trying to put out an inferno with a garden hose. Under-managed and over-committed, Dante was hemorrhaging money. Ghieri would test her skills as never before trying to save a company that was collapsing under its own weight.

To help others facing similar problems, Ghieri shares the lessons she learned under fire. You can accept her rules for survival as genuine dispatches from the seven circles of entrepreneurial hell – a lesson well worth learning!

Go and get her heart-wrenching story at Canadian Business.

Quotable Quotes . . .

"What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us. What we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal."

-- Albert Pine


"When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don't adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.

-- Confucius


"In order to change the world, you have to get your head together first.

-- Jimi Hendrix


"I'd rather be a could-be if I cannot be an are;
because a could-be is a maybe who is reaching for a star.
I'd rather be a has-been than a might-have-been, by far;
for a might-have-been has never been, but a has was once an are."

-- Milton Berle

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Section 2 - Talk Back

Coach’s Corner . . .

A selection from frequently–asked questions

Dear Coach,
I’m about to throw in the towel on a job I really enjoy and where I feel I have a tremendous contribution to make. It has nothing to do with my performance and my passion for the role remains intense.

The reason is that I leave at the end of work on most days feeling that I’m close to a personal breakdown. This is because I’m the victim of bullying and harassment that’s insidious, continuous and demoralizing. What can I possibly do?

It’s remarkable that such behaviours still persist in our society in the face of the many and strenuous efforts to educate and legislate them out of existence. We have multiple and high profile laws and campaigns which are applied throughout the educational system, as well as within both business and general society, all geared to ensuring equality, respect and dignity among diverse groups.

Discriminatory behaviours persist!

What the legislation may have done is to focus attention on some of the ‘higher’ profile circumstances while leaving a multitude of other applications unattended. It’s clearly inappropriate to discriminate against others on the grounds of gender, racial origin, physical/emotional disadvantage, beliefs and lifestyle preferences but relatively little or nothing is said or done where the difference is based on age, education, specialization, socio-economic status, temperament, physical appearance or even seniority.

In fact the accepted infrastructure of our business organizations would seem to condone segregated treatment of others; we have executive privilege, managerial status and even supervisors are granted general powers well beyond those needed to perform an oversight function. Many will argue that some level of segregation is a natural social phenomenon and that ‘pecking orders’ are a way of life – accepted and even appreciated by most.

Notwithstanding the ethical considerations, which are surely paramount, there’s a solid business case for eliminating such behaviours. It is very difficult to allow that behaviours like gossiping, isolating, demeaning, ridiculing, accusing, politicking, pressuring, exposing and insinuating, are productive and add value to the organization’s purpose. At best they are neutral and at worst they detract from strategic intent.

So what can be done to remove such behaviours from our daily experience?

The short answer is to confront them. We’ve all known from our earliest experiences that ignoring or running away from bullying behaviours is ineffectual; such tactics only intensify or shift the bully’s efforts. Bullies are not receptive to submissive or placatory responses in the longer term either, for such only serve to justify their actions.

It’s very likely that bullies use these assaults on others to compensate for lowered self esteem/regard within themselves so it’s an emotional issue for them and they will not likely bow to reasoned approaches. What they do not welcome are confident responses which highlight the ineffectiveness of their strategies.

As with any other crucial confrontation the initial step is to ensure that you are dealing with the right issue, and in many cases the issue is one of a pattern of unproductive and unpleasant behaviours and/or, worse, a damaged relationship. It’s important too to recognize the stories that we might be telling ourselves (that feed the fires of our indignation and enhance our sensitivities) and to bring them under control.

Then we choose a private venue and, with consent, we address the issue in terms of ‘expectations and experiences’. "John, as we work together we have certain expectations about ensuring mutual respect and tolerance of the differences in our ideas and approach. I’m aware that I’m less exposed to the issues than you but I believe I have a contribution to make. In recent meetings I’ve sensed that you are discounting my suggestions in ways that could be considered as ridicule. An example would be . . . Is there an alternative way for us to mesh our ideas that would benefit the organization?”

It’s important to be properly prepared with concise examples and to keep the focus on seeking a constructive way forward. Do not make judgmental statements about the inappropriateness of the bully’s behaviours even if these are warranted and defensible. You are looking for reconciliation not vindication.

Should there be no change in attitude and the bullying behaviors continue then document your situation using the same ‘expectation versus experience’ format and present it in the form of a business case to a higher authority. Where the behaviours are apparently condoned or have been accepted over time, make reference to the corporate strategic intentions and expressed values to boost your business case.

Stress the attempts you have made to find a constructive solution and your preparedness to continue in the search for solutions which reflect respect, dignity and mutual tolerance. Also, be sure to alert the bully to your escalated action so that you cannot be accused of subversion yourself.

Bullying, or the condoning thereof, is probably an organizational culture issue and it may take time and patience to fully resolve but sound business practices generally will prevail, so stick to your guns!

If you’d like to think more on this issue, visit the helpful website at

I hope this helps.

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Commentary - 3 Sure-Fire Ways To Get Unbiased Opinions From Your Team

by Jeff Haltrecht

One of the more difficult things to manage with cross-functional teams is getting an unbiased opinion.  Inevitably, someone in the group talks first, putting a stake in the ground, and forcing others to either toe the line or deviate.  Even smart people who provide good input become pressured to adhere.  This is exacerbated if the person speaking first has seniority.

Groupthink will take over and solutions are not debated for robustness, leaving mediocre action plans and a lack of buy-in, and we all know where this leads.  If you are the leader of the team, it's your responsibility to identify when groupthink is taking over and use tools to ensure all ideas and opinions get on the table.

Here are 5 signs that indicate you are not getting unbiased opinions from all participants:
1.     Only 20% of the team members are speaking
2.     80% of the people are agreeing with the most senior person at the table
3.     The group has put forward less than 3 solutions/ideas
4.     The entire team keeps circling around the same problem like a broken record
5.     People are staying away from confrontational debate on key issues.

Now that we have identified when our team is missing out on unbiased opinions, we need to take action with one of three easy to use tools —  dotmocracy, one:one interviews, private voting.

This tool is the easiest to use and is very effective in supporting everyone's idea, no matter how good or bad the ideas are.  My experience suggests that in 90% of the situations, the best solutions do rise to the top.  Dotmocracy can be a planned exercise or brought out at the last minute to help the team find ideas and align.

The exercise starts with a brainstorming session where everyone is encouraged to get their ideas out, with the leader writing them on a flip chart.  Keep going until no more ideas are available.  From a robust group of people, this should generate around 20 opportunities in less than 20 minutes.

Now provide everyone with 5 yellow post-it squares or red sticky dots and ask them to vote for what they think are the best 5 solutions to the problem from the generated list.  Have everyone vote at the same time by placing their post-it/red dot on top of the ideas on the flip chart sheets.  Once everyone has completed this task, tally-up the scores.

You will find that the best ideas have naturally risen to the top, that everyone felt empowered during the exercise, and everyone feels accountable for the solution.

One:One Interviews
When dealing with very complex situations, problems with large risk, or contentious issues, one:one interviews before the team meets are an excellent way to obtain unbiased opinions.  This method is best used when needing to identify issues and potential solutions.

Speaking one:one makes the participants feel like they have been heard and it gives the interviewer more time to detail the entire issue/opportunity.

The team leader would then compile everyone's opinions into a summary and present the findings back to the entire group.  This information then becomes the foundation for decision-making.

Private Voting
Private voting is an excellent tool to be used during the team meeting when the leader wants to get an understanding of where everyone sits on a topic.  The leader would frame-up the issue/opportunity and than ask everyone to write down how they feel on a scale of 1 to 10.  Once everyone has jotted down their number on paper, the leader goes around the room and verbally collects the numbers, giving them an unbiased picture of where the team stands.

Here's an example:  "What level of impact do you think promotion A will have on our revenue in the next 3 months?  On a piece of paper write down a number between 1 and 10, with 1 being no impact and 10 being an increase greater than 20%"
Dotmocracy, one:one interviews, and private voting all deal with the same issue - lack of unbiased opinions - but come at it differently.  When used effectively, the team starts to make better use of time, getting more ideas out for debate, and making better decisions.  This is something every leader can use.

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Point of View - Seeking Strengths

This section is a guest column. Those with different and interesting viewpoints are invited to state a case on a related topic. Articles of 250 to 500 words are most welcome.

Seeking Strengths

When I first started this article, I asked myself "what about Polaris has had the biggest effect on me?”

Before Polaris and my association with David, Amanda & "P8”, I would have automatically headed to the negative and thought about things that I need to change or improve within myself.   I have realized that the most useful tool that I have gained from Polaris is not about changing or improving at all – it is about identifying and building on strengths within myself.  This has naturally progressed to seeking the strengths in others as well and has already provided great and wonderful changes in my life!

It’s not something we do easily; all throughout our years, our mistakes and failings are pointed out – not our growth and potential.  It is so easy to see the negative and such a mind shift to think about strengths in every person in every situation.  It’s a whole new way of "seeing”.  

Thinking of strengths instead of weakness has allowed me to take a second look at some of the people in my life.   It has allowed me to improve relationships with business colleagues, friends, and even family.  Identifying the strengths in others also allows us to employ those strengths for our own advantage (with the added bonus of making them feel good because of their natural and sometimes unrealized skill sets!).  I know am consciously re-training myself to see more of the strengths in everyone I know. 

I would never have guessed that such a simple concept would have such huge impact in my life and outlook.   It’s another one of those "not-so-common” common sense things we should all do everyday.

That’s how I see it anyway.

Penny McDonald

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Section 3 - On the Horizon

Positive Workplace - The 5 W’s of A Positive WorkPlace

We’re all familiar with the 5 ‘W’s of a news story  -- or a crime investigation, for that matter. 

You’ll remember the 5 Ws are about the Who, What, Where, When and Why of the story.  The order of the Ws typically varies depending on the writer’s objectives -- or the readers’ perceived position, or their curiosity.

Given the readership of this newsletter, my bet is that there are many who might well ask of the concept of A Positive Workplace . . .

WHY when we’re all still in such a tough spot;   when businesses are into their third ‘re-org’ or fifth ‘right-sizing’, why talk about  a Positive WorkPlace? 
Because a positive workplace is good for business: 

  • It helps with retention (of staff AND customers)
  • There’s greater productivity and innovation
  • Absenteeism, safety issues and health care costs all decrease

.... and more

WHAT is a positive workplace?

A positive workplace is an environment in which individuals and teams flourish as the organization itself thrives in achieving its mission.

A positive workplace is one which brings out the best within each of their people – top to bottom and side to side.   A place to excel and grow!  A safe place to make mistakes!

And it’s more — much more!

Best of all, it’s that place where we can be our best and become even better.  It’s that place we leave at the end of the day feeling energized, ready and excited to take on the same – and more – the very next day!

WHEN is the right time to focus one’s efforts in this area?

Bottom line, ALL the time — and more especially in bad times — if you want a good bottom line, and beyond, that is.!

WHERE do these workplaces exist?  More to the point, do they exist? 

Yes, absolutely, they exist.  Sometimes they are limited groups of people within an organization.  Sometimes they are company or store-wide.  Sometimes you’ll even find them within a home!

Positive Workplaces are not limited by size, generation, geography, culture or creed. But sadly,  they are often hampered by ego -- and greed.

But where to start!  Well, how about with you?

WHOYou, who!

Your mindset, mood, attitude, behaviour and language all play a part in your productivity, creativity – likeability – and performance.  Not to mention the mood, mindset, attitude, language, behaviour and creativity of others – and their overall performance.

The positive workplace, if it is going to be – it begins with me (and you!)

HOW —Want to know? 

Stay tuned!  In the new year we’ll bring you a series of practical suggestions about how to create that place in which individuals and teams flourish – as your organization realizes its potential.

Be well, be strong, do good!

Amanda -

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