November 2010

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

November 2010


Section 1 - Topical Topics

Abusive Leadership

Laudable beginnings . . .

James Warren (Jim) Jones (May 13, 1931 – November 18, 1978) was, on all accounts, a formidable man. That he was a leader, focusing the desire for change that’s resident in others and then facilitating the creation of a brave new reality, is beyond dispute.

He was the founder and leader of the Peoples Temple, which is best known for the November 18, 1978 suicide of more than 900 Temple members in Jonestown, Guyana, along with the killings of five other people at a nearby airstrip. This was the greatest single loss of American civilian life in a non-natural disaster until the events of September 11, 2001; the tragedy also ranks among the largest mass murders/mass suicides in history. One of those who died at the nearby airstrip was Leo Ryan who is to-date the only Congressman murdered in the line of duty in the history of the United States.

Jones founded the Peoples Temple Christian Church Full Gospel in Indiana during 1952 ostensibly as a strategy for advancing his closely held communistic / socialist leanings. His wife later claimed that he had never embraced religion but chose to use it as a way of spreading his political message of militant integration. He and his wife adopted several children of mixed heritage with similar objectives by his own admission.

The Peoples Temple grew substantially after it was relocated to northern California. Jones promoted ‘apostolic socialism’ initially but this message segued into enlightened socialism by the late sixties / early seventies, attracting many adherents, the majority of whom were black. His political star rose quickly at first but he was unable to curb his desire for self gratification and personal promotion and he lost his patronage. When he was threatened with exposure of his deceptive and dissolute lifestyle, he left the US to create a socialistic paradise in Guyana.

He was pursued by no less than a US Senator (Leo Ryan), a ‘concerned relatives’ group led by a former adherent, and a press team, who had some success in encouraging fifteen members to leave with them. The investigative team and deserting adherents were ambushed at a nearby airstrip and five persons lost their lives in a shoot-out.

Jones, apparently fearing a mass invasion by the authorities, convinced the over-whelming majority of his remaining followers to commit ‘revolutionary suicide’ by drinking cyanide-laced Flavor-Aid rather than to submit to ‘fascist oppression’. This was likely not the ‘dream’ that most were attempting to realize.

What went wrong here . . .

There seems to be little doubt that Jim Jones was a leader. His socialistic message is certainly not unique; it has been widely advocated throughout history and there’s been an unmistakable trend in its favour over the past few centuries. Also, parallels have been drawn often between Christianity and Communism even though they seem to be antagonistic at times.

The struggle for social integration has also been championed by greater people than Jim Jones and these have not led to mass suicides or any other negative occurrences that were characteristic of the Peoples Temple. The devotion of Jones’s followers is perhaps more sporadic than most but at least nine hundred souls stayed with him up to and including the end!

Jim Jones was a bright and intelligent person; he favourably impressed many important persons including Angela Davies, Walter Mondale and Rosalynn Carter. We know however that cognitive intelligence is not correlated with leadership effectiveness; social and emotional intelligence have far more impact. Jim Jones seemed to be quite adept in these areas too – he was undoubtedly a smart man.

This is not enough to establish an enduring leadership relationship with others; a significant level of insight and self-awareness is also required. There needs to be a deeper, mutual appreciation of possible consequences as well. Moving deeper, one more step, there’s a need to align perspectives (the way we frame situations, what’s included in the picture and, perhaps more important, what’s excluded) as well as the accompanying perceptions (what values we ascribe to what it is we are framing).

There was likely a measure of agreement at this level between Jim Jones and his adherents but it was certainly not consistent in content or over time. Jones had a predilection for ranging sexual practices, self aggrandizement and even political perspectives that some followers had difficulties in accepting.

This became a critical issue when Jones, as leader, attempted to focus intentions and to facilitate needed actions; some would take his lead while others rebelled and left the movement. The great majority, however, chose to stay the course, perhaps in hope of the realization of the social utopia which he promised to deliver.

Jim Jones was a skilled communicator, persuasive and compelling. Where there was dissonance and/or disagreement he was usually able to sway this majority, and he regularly rehearsed this by holding suicide drills. It could be that this was as much a demonstration that he had effective control over the group as it was a bona fide practice. It likely distracted people from the realization that he was actually adding little in terms of real value to group members – all were ‘high’ on rhetoric.

So, ultimately he failed to facilitate the creation of a sustainable new reality – which was his mandate. It can be argued that he was more interested in self than in others at a practical level even though his generic social concerns may have been real enough. In failing to deliver what the group members expected, he failed as a leader but at a tremendous cost – 909 persons died, 276 of them children.

The Pitfalls . . .

In every leadership relationship there’s the potential for disaster – the realization of outcomes that are far from those intended. It is a dynamic and complex relationship and there are many opportunities along the way for the relationship to depart from its true course.

Some of these are within the control of those being led and it’s not infrequently that a leadership mandate, granted initially in good faith, will be withdrawn or terminated by the group, simply because the focus or facilitation is no longer deemed appropriate to future needs – for whatever reason.

In the case of Jim Jones though, it would appear that there were ‘manipulations’, intended or otherwise, that in effect betrayed the essential trust that has to exist between the leader and those being led. There are ten vulnerable points or stages in a leadership process where intentions can be derailed which are clearly identifiable, so let’s take a look at them.

  • Improper Precedents – a leader’s claim to have special authorities or abilities which are not substantiated by prior events or other unbiased sources;
  • Manipulation of Current Realities – the leader takes improper advantage of a heightened emotional condition or suggests that the situation or consequences are different from what is presented;
  • Distortion of Causation – presenting or weighting facts / arguments in inappropriate ways (changing, distorting, withholding information) deliberately so to strengthen a proposition;
  • Distortion of Risks / Impacts – deliberate falsification of the degree of difficulty or consequences that could arise if a specifically proposed course of action is adopted / not adopted
  • Probability of Consequences – suggesting or proposing the likelihood of outcomes or benefits to an unreasonable level or extent in order to gain endorsement or acceptance of a plan of action;
  • Magnification of Potential Benefits – escalation of valued outcomes beyond realistic expectations as an inducement to get others to ‘sign on’ to a proposed course of action;
  • Unstable Commitment Levels – where there is insufficient focusing of latent desires for needed change before facilitated action is initiated and some individuals are not fully dedicated to taking action;
  • Insufficient Resources Available – while the desire for change is strong, there are inadequate resources or excessive restraints that will diminish or sabotage any remedial action taken;
  • External Influencers / Controllers – there are political and/or regulatory forces in force that are beyond the influence of the group that will limit or prohibit any desired change;
  • Undue Leveraging of Emotions – improper appeals to the basic or raw emotions of others that will distort their acceptance of present circumstances or their hope for alternative realities.

I’m sure there are other factors too which, from the perspective of those being led, might take a leadership process off its intended line; likewise there’re other motives unscrupulous leaders could adopt which might taint outcomes. It’s essential that we are all aware of the pitfalls so that we can be diligent – our future may well depend upon it.

What Can Be Done? . . .

We are all well aware that there are two sides to every story and to every leadership relationship. The effective and ethical leader will place the interests of the group being led, the individuals within that group and self interests in precisely that order of importance; less-than-ethical leaders may place these perspectives in reverse order!

The ‘red flag’ in any leadership situation is the suspicion of a betrayal of trust which will reduce confidence and cause schisms of one type or another. Surely, leadership without an acceptable threshold of trust is a non-starter. Each individual must not only trust the leader but also trust other members of the group as well as themselves; without this elemental trust little or nothing is going to change.

Trusting our self is very important simply because there’s no one who is likely to lie to us more than our self. Self deception is widely prevalent especially when our rational and unconscious minds are in conflict and not yet fully reconciled. In this state, we are particularly vulnerable to any and all suggestions and thus prey to an unscrupulous leader as well as to our own desires.

There are four defences.

Clearly, the first of these is Transparency. This is our preparedness to expose and critically examine all aspects of the leadership process - perhaps using the ten pitfall checklist above. Do we have all the facts, separated from assumptions, visible for all to see and challenge at any time? Are we open to contrary points of view? Are we in touch with our own feelings (emotional self-awareness) and open to challenges at the emotional level?

Next, we can encourage Clarification at every step along the way. First are we seeking to understand and only then to be understood? Are we standing guard at the portals of our own thoughts and feelings, accepting full responsibility for them and for any consequences that ensue? Are our assumptions, opinions and positions ‘suspended’ – hung out for all to inspect?

Another defence is Confirmation, the application of fairness towards others. Are we ready to suspend judgment until we have thoroughly understood and evaluated the position of others? Are we practicing empathy, trying to see the issues through the eyes of those who differ from us? Is our focus on the gap between us rather than on the personality traits and values of our opponents?

Finally, Contingencies, a plan for action that’s flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances. Do we expect that things will work out exactly as we anticipate or can we accept minor differences? Are we locked into an unfolding process that we feel has to be defended against all comers; be reasonable, do it my way?  Can we handle personal disappointments and setbacks as long as the group achieves its broad intent?

The Bottom Line . . .

There’s surely no simple answer to leadership integrity other than the subjective consensus of the group; consideration of the many tragedies in recent history reveals that there are no absolute standards to leadership effectiveness or integrity. Leadership is, and will always be dynamic, complex and situational on the whole, but this doesn’t relieve us of the responsibility for practicing due diligence at every exposure. In the eyes of history, we may be right in the short-term and wrong in the long-term, in seeking the changes we do - or vice versa,

Jim Jones was well intentioned and his leadership was not wholly misdirected or evil; it did go off the rails at some point and an insufficient number of his adherents recognized and responded to that departure. Who was responsible? He definitely allowed self interests to cloud his perspectives and perceptions and his response when challenged was hardly rational. His followers though had the power to withdraw the mandate they’d given him (and some did) but those who abdicated this responsibility paid the price with their lives and those of their children.

As leader or as follower we have an obligation to be prudent and diligent about the changes we are seeking. Every person involved must shoulder this responsibility fully and unconditionally – there’s no acceptable excuse for not doing so.

Think about it!

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A Note to Our Readers

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

  • Audit your personal efficiency . . .
The Profit-Xtra newsletter has been running a series of provocative yet helpful items geared to helping entrepreneurs reach their full potentials – the Growth Planner series.
When you're running your own business, it's easy to work hard while accomplishing very little on what really matters: helping your company to grow. How can you gauge whether you're spending your time smartly? In this installment of the PROFIT Growth Planner, we share five ways to measure—and improve—your on-the-job efficiency.
  • A Fresh Inspiration . . .
You know how a shower will refresh you? Well, if you ever have the urge to refresh your mind, here’s the equivalent – trust me!.
Sir Ken Robinson of the Royal Society for the Arts (RSA) is an original thinker and a futurist (in my opinion). Sir Ken, who has been on the lecture circuits for nearly twenty years and who has more than 150 presentations to his credit – most on YouTube – will astound you with the clarity and cogency of his thinking. He’s better than a mid-afternoon siesta! Go try him for yourself – you’ll never look back, I promise.
  • The psychology of change management . . .
Here’s even more exciting and useful material on this topic available from the website of Dr David Rock of Australia. His foundation-shaking books are an essential read for all those who seek to make a real difference to the way people perceive and behave. Find out more at his web site.


  • Quotable Quotes . . .

"No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit."                        -- Helen Keller

"The bottom line is that (a) people are never perfect, but love can be, (b) that is the one and only way that the mediocre and vile can be transformed, and (c) doing that makes it that. We waste time looking for the perfect lover, instead of creating the perfect love."        -- Tom Robbins

"Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not; it is the first lesson that ought to be learned; and however early a man's training begins, it is probably the last lesson that he learns thoroughly."                                    -- Thomas H. Huxley

"Everyone who got where he is has had to begin where he was."     -- Robert Louis Stevenson

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Section 2 - Talk Back

Coach's Corner

A selection from frequently–asked questions

Dear Coach,

I’ve got a rough diamond on my team. She’s outstanding at her job, a great contributor and her customers seem to love her. My problem is that she has little regard for how she appears to others; she has low social sensitivity, addresses people inappropriately, makes outlandish statements, and her reports, letters and emails are atrocious in terms of grammar and spelling. Her sense of humour is all that saves her from real embarrassment in our management meetings. I believe she sees herself as a ‘real’ person.

She is ambitious but this is limiting her progress. I don’t know if I should address this with her or how to tell her the facts without risking alienation. Do you have any advice?


There are actually several issues here and I’d like to deal with some general aspects before I comment on the precise issue you’ve raised.

One general question is at what point should you speak up? How pressing does the matter have to be before you feel the need to take action?

An individual’s style in relationships, communication, collaboration, conformance and similar can appear to be simply a matter of personal choice and preference. When it begins to affect others, preoccupying their thoughts and actions and influencing their responses however, it becomes an issue of general concern.

Sometimes, time and exposure are sufficient to alert individuals to the fact that their style is causing ‘noise’ as opposed to ‘signal’ in their relationships. For most people this may take a few weeks or months as they adapt themselves within a new or changing culture; there are some though who seem to be continuously oblivious to the impact of their chosen style; they’re out-of-synch with others but don’t recognize this.

When those impacted begin to express their feelings openly, it has become a definite distraction. It also has greater consequences as there’s now an adverse impact on the individual’s reputation and prospects.  There’s no question about addressing the issue with her, and the time is now!

A second general aspect is how serious or significant does the matter need to be before it limits a person’s contribution and value to the organization. Clearly, if it directly affects the value delivered to customers, the image of the organization within the industry or community, or confidence among colleagues, it is serious.

Part of every organization’s culture is a ‘public profile’ – how we want to be recognized in our various communities and for some organizations this is simply a non-negotiable issue. For these organizations, where the organizational culture is strong and well defined, non-conformance moves to a critical point quickly; in looser cultures though it can be extended and ambiguous.

On a more personal level, if the behaviour is limiting or restricting potential and developmental opportunities, it is also critically important; it has to be resolved for everyone’s benefit. As her manager, your obligation is to help her to develop to her fullest potential and to enhance her value to the organization.

So, let’s get to your particular challenge – how to influence her behaviour without risking alienation. You have already adopted a good starting position in deciding to ‘tell her the facts’ rather than attempting to coerce her in other ways. However, there are some things you need to attend to first.

Job one is to be absolutely clear on what it is you want to achieve. Do you want her to conform to some external standard or would you be content for her to smooth over the rougher spots? It’s likely that you have attained a high level of competence but is it really necessary that she emulate you? Would it be acceptable were she simply to make a genuine effort to refine her work-related behaviour?

Next, you have to establish safe conditions in order to have a useful conversation and an essential question here, since you are her supervisor, is how the intervention might relate to formal performance evaluation. It should be a separate issue in that your intention is developmental and not directly related to her contribution (which you’ve stated is ‘outstanding’). This is also a personal style issue so her privacy should be assured.

Your strategy is based on coaching – where your intention is to assist her to think about things differently in order to increase her effectiveness. The approach should, therefore, include a measure of gap analysis – where do we want to be versus where are we right now?  You could use questions of consequence – (what do you think others might feel when you . . . ; how do you think others will respond if . . .) to encourage her to process causes and effects / impacts and to examine possible consequences in her own mind.

Your role is to guide this process, not to design or control it. All the valuable thinking has to occur within her head and your job is to help her find her way to new perspectives (the way she frames events) and the related perceptions (the values that she ascribes to those events). When she sees the world differently she will change her own behavioural responses to what is happening.

You must avoid the roles of ‘shrink’, teacher, judge and parent particularly; these are the causes of possible alienation. She will form a plan of action, given your guidance and encouragement, and it will be her plan to implement and sustain.

Do whatever you need to do to ensure her success but be patient in your approach. Show your interest and support by being there when she needs you but don’t take or accept responsibility for any part of the plan – it has to be hers alone.

I hope this helps.

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Management Can Only Be Learned . . .

A colleague and friend of mine, Stig Ehnbom, who has dedicated himself to the advancement of management in New Zealand and Australia for many decades, recently drew my attention to an interesting article by Richard Barker, a Professor at Cambridge University’s Judge Business School, published in the HBR July-August 2010 edition.

Stig extracted ten main points from the article with which he was in agreement and circulated them for review. I’m reproducing them here with a personal comment on each one;

  1. "the manager is a jack-of-all-trades and master of none - the antithesis of the professional” This is so true; a manager rarely has the luxury of time to invest in becoming an expert on anything other than getting things done.

  2. "The requirements of managers are attributes rather than skills. They can probably be learned, especially in a business school environment, but it is not obvious that they can be taught, which is what would be expected from a professional school” A manager faces so many different manifestations of ongoing reality and is forced to ‘wing it’ most of the time; there are very few ‘best’ or right answers to a manager’s challenges.

  3. "The skill on integration is at the heart of why business education should differ from professional education” Putting it all together in real time is the essence of success for a manager whereas the specialist accrues mastery by taking things apart so to better understand them.
  4. "The key here is to recognize that integration is not taught but learned”. Trial and error and learning from experience as you go are the key actions in gaining substantial progress and attaining results.
  5. "the alumni valued the learning environment above the curriculum itself”  It’s well recognized that there are fads in management, ideas that come and go continuously. It’s the joy of learning-by-doing – sharing actions and discoveries through application – that bonds the student body
  6. "Thus it is vital that business schools understand themselves primarily as learning environments, where individuals develop attributes, rather than as teaching environments, where students are presented with a body of functional and technical content” Helping people to learn rather than teaching them is the preferred way – Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day . . .
  7. "Effective business education cannot be delivered exclusively on line” We all know from experience that we are social animals, dependent upon others for most of what benefits us; we absolutely need to interact as we grow
  8. . . .  a lifelong learning partner, not a one-stop certification shop. That is precisely what business education should be” Life-long learning is what life is all about; why would a social subject like management be separated from other central life experiences?
  9. "Thus we should not be surprised that an academic grading system cannot reliably predict managerial ability” No one believes that the brightest, most intelligent among us have to be put in charge and we all know too that understanding people is better than understanding ideas when results are needed.
  10. "First and foremost, business education should be collaborative. This goes much deeper than networking, the much-cited benefit of business schools” If we cannot learn to use the energies of others effectively, we’ll not get much done; people are all the leverage we need for outstanding results.

For the original article, please go to this web site.

Stig and I think the article was brilliant. What do you think?

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Section 3 - On The Horizon

They Chose to Move On

. . . 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

I can’t help but wonder if James Warren Jones, featured in David’s opening article, measured his success by the number of people who would do as he instructed.  Holding practice suicide drills to me is a way of measuring control, and it would appear he counted this by the number.

Mr. Jones’ place in history is clearly disturbing, forcing me to think about a key fundamental of leadership that I had not considered before.

While the role of a leader is to build other leaders, I believe the corporate hierarchy system we use forces many of us to count our success – and power – by the number of followers, or employees, on our team, and not by how well we build others.

Is there not a better way to measure our success as leaders?

What if instead of talking about the number of people who work for us, we spoke of the number of people who have chosen to stop working for us?

These individuals gained from our knowledge, guidance, and wisdom to the point where they were confident in their own ability to lead, electing to contribute to society in more significant ways on their own, because of the impact we had on them.

These are the people who resigned, transferred, or succeeded us because they knew to be everything they could be, it was time to move-on.

Perhaps its not about ‘how many’ follow, but ‘who’ we have impacted and to what degree?  Here I’m referring to quality of impact for a few vs. a shallow and misguided impact for many.

Applying this thinking to my own experience as a leader, I know five people whom I worked with in the food industry who outgrew me and have become very successful leaders in their own unique way.

While it’s not a big number, its definitely quality, for we continue to speak and meet in person regularly.   Reflecting on Mr. Jones’ situation, I now understand the importance of these few relationships and how our shared experience is worth more than saying how many people reported to me over this same period.

Take a moment to think of who has chosen to leave your team, because of the positive impact your leadership style has had.  If that’s not the most rewarding aspect of being a leader, it should be pretty close!

Have a terrific day!

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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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