November 2011

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


Section 1 - Topical Topics

Leadership — Let's Get personal

It was early in my career and I was a very junior officer in the Royal Air Force Regiment in a live combat situation. I was trying desperately to learn the ‘ropes’ while avoiding as many disasters as I could. Needless to say, I wasn’t always successful!

My commanding officer was an aloof and dispassionate man, precise in his style, rigid in approach and unforgiving in his attitude. I worked extremely hard – to stay out of trouble, out of his hair and, above all, away from his direct attention. I knew that, unlike the proverbial cat, I would have but one life. The first time I’d fail would also be the last.

After almost a year of this hell I was seconded together with my forty men to temporary duties with another commander for a six week period in a remote and highly exposed location. My new commanding officer had a reputation for exceptional performance under fire – he was a legend. As I presented myself for his initial inspection I was quaking in my boots, literally.

Our first conversation probably lasted all of ten minutes and I cannot recall any part of what he told me, nor am I clear on what I did as a result of this briefing. What I do remember, as though it was just yesterday, is how I felt as I left his bivouac!

He had shown a deep and genuine interest in me as a person. He didn’t address the Flight Commander role I played or the junior officer that I was supposed to be. He spoke to me; me the person, the apprehensive, uncertain, concerned, confused and yet passionate young man who was overwhelmingly worried that he was going to fall short of expectations.

He helped me to discover some things about my limited knowledge and skills, but much more about my will-power, my values and beliefs that were going to serve me and my men as we faced the daunting and dangerous operational challenges ahead of us.

He made me feel that we could succeed and that our contribution would be an essential part of the total unit’s success. He let me know his expectations and also that he believed in me, perhaps a little more than I believed in myself.

My focus shifted immediately – it took no more than ten minutes; all the concerns of the previous ten months evaporated like the morning mist. Now I really knew the expectations, not just his expectations of me but also mine of myself. He had moved my frame of reference one hundred and eighty degrees – simply by placing me as a person above and beyond the role that I represented.

The lesson here for business leaders is clear - leadership is not a right, a role or a responsibility – it’s a relationship. The leadership ‘switch’ is located inside other people – it’s their awareness of and belief in you and to find it you’ll need to focus on them.

Focusing on People . . .

At first blush, this seems like a contradiction. You should focus on them so that they become aware of you?

To understand how this actually occurs we need to consider some basics on how our minds work. Most of us recognize that we use two minds at the same time – our conscious / rational mind and our unconscious mind. They are independent of one another and operate in completely different ways.

The one we are most aware of and, therefore, attempt to control is the conscious mind. It is the slower, less competent of the two but at least we can influence it directly. This gives us the illusion of control.

The unconscious mind, on the other hand, is remarkably competent and ultra-fast but we are mostly unaware of its operation and we have no direct access to it. It can express itself through our conscious mind although the majority of its decisions are relayed in ways we cannot influence and so we are generally ignorant of its impact.

The problem is that it’s our unconscious mind that dictates most of our behavior – and we’re largely unaware of what it’s doing to represent us. Other people, on the other hand, have practically no access to our conscious mind and this includes our intentions, but they are very much aware of our manifested behavior.

So their responses are based on what they can observe, not on whatever it may be that we are intending. What they see and act upon then can be significantly different from what we might want.

Since we cannot see our own behavior independently of our intentions, while others can, we are obliged to use them as a mirror. This gives us the ability to see ourselves as others see us – if we are sensitive to their responses. This is a God-given gift, as the immortal bard tells us, and one we should value highly.

As leaders we are vitally interested in other peoples’ responses; our first task being to focus the need for change that may exist within them. We cannot ‘see’ their intentions but we can see their responsive behaviors – the product of their unconscious minds which they, in turn, cannot see for themselves. We stimulate, they respond; based on what response we see, we stimulate again and they, in turn, respond again.

If we note those response cues that attract them, versus those which repel or create avoidance, we will be able to access their self motivation in a positive and sustainable way. As my sainted Scottish aunt said so often, "Ye’ll attract more flies wi’ honey than wi’ vinegar, laddie”

Making It Work . . .

If our intention is to influence the behaviors of others, we must focus first on attracting them to bring them into our locus of control. To achieve this we have to appeal to the factors which create safety, security, inclusiveness, pleasure and well-being – the positive motivators or ‘attractors’. As we do this we must avoid those factors which cause discomfort, uncertainty, social exclusion and pain – the things they wish to avoid.

This is especially important because these negative factors are approximately four times more powerful or influential than their positive counterparts. This is a legacy from our long distant past when our life might well have depended on our ability to detect and respond to danger, threats and challenges, like sabre-toothed tigers and other predators.

Today, the threats are a lot less obvious. We do not expect to be confronted by tigers as we look for lunch but we can and will generate similar, visceral-level responses to a veiled threat or social slight from someone in authority.

The environment may not appear to be as dangerous as it once was but our minds still anticipate and respond to threats with powerful intensity. We’re unlikely to lose our life to predators today, but we can and do lose other things that might compare – our self esteem, material wealth, reputation, dignity or our social standing. In the face of such potential losses we will respond instinctively and definitively.

Clearly, it’s a full-time job just to stay out of trouble in our dealings with others; we all represent a potential threat on so many fronts and at all times. To secure and retain positive attention demands a whole lot more than simply not threatening or even offending others; we need to prove that we represent a safe, consistent and pleasurable benefit that’s focused on their welfare and well-being.

It sounds as though this could take extended time, and on occasions, this is true. It can also happen in seconds or minutes, however. First impressions, for good or bad, are realized in extremely brief time-frames and they can be lasting. If there’s a relationship already established, then extensive, prolonged and consistent exposures may be required to change any negative impressions.

While first impressions are different, they are not always clear-cut. Previous experiences guide us all; we create generic expectations and anticipations that are both good and bad and sometimes these can interfere with fresh encounters – we all have biases. To master these we need to know our self and particularly the stories that we tell ourselves about the world around us; these stories are intended to be protective but they can also be limiting and deceptive.

The easiest way to avoid the pitfalls and to establish safe ground is to shift the point of focus to the other person or onto the situation. ‘Knocking at someone’s door’ and politely asking to be allowed to visit with them will appeal to their innate desire to be hospitable. Like all ‘guests’ though, we must behave sensitively and not be too intrusive or overstay our welcome.

A Visitor’s Credentials . . .

Permit me to suggest six areas where we could make a world of difference in how we are perceived by others. To make the right impression and thereby attract their confidence and trust in you as the leader there are two inside jobs, two actions and two intentions that warrant our attention.

Starting with the inside jobs, we must be self aware. We have to discover who we are and what it is we really want; we must know ourselves. This means formulating a crystal clear idea of who we aspire to be, knowing the level of our desire and commitment and secure in our efficacy to achieve this.

Such self knowledge builds inner confidence and clarity of purpose that others can see for themselves. It makes us credible, trustworthy and authentic in the eyes of others and will attract them to our agenda. To become and remain credible and consistent we must pay close attention to the stories we carry in our heads that explain the world around us – these need to be credible and consistent or they will betray us.

Armed with this self-knowledge we now have to develop an awareness of others. This will entail seeking out, understanding and appreciating how and why their perspectives and perceptions might differ from ours. The differences are not a threat as long as we are secure in our own and thus can allow others to challenge us.

The visible manifestation of this open relationship is the presence of genuine interest in and respect for others. Their challenges on our positions should not be considered a threat but rather an opportunity for us, and them, to develop synergies, new perspectives and broader horizons. In this way the relationship between us will grow and prosper to mutual advantage.

The first of the two actions is to seek out and explore common ground.  What is it that we share with others; what principles, aspirations, passions, goals, standards and processes do, or could we have in common?

In an organization these may well be the strategic intent and corporate objectives that form the strategic and operating plans; in a profession they are spelled out in the admission codes of practice; in an initiative they can be detected in shared outcomes or results. They need to be thoroughly and continuously discussed and practiced so that they will serve as the markers on the horizon that will move everyone forward in the same direction

Next we need to develop capacity in our self as well as in others. Sharing opportunities for growth and development, remaining open to new ideas, fully considering the input of others, creating value through consensus and actively supporting and reinforcing others’ contribution is a powerful bond. People that grow together (develop), grow together (bond).

Lastly the two intentions, the first of which is to create other leaders - adherence to the prime directive for every leader; the second is to build and sustain hope through the ongoing demonstration of quiet enthusiasm, sensitive empathy and reasoned optimism.  These are the credentials of the real and authentic leader

The Bottom Line . . .

Are you authentic? Are you really focused on what’s real in yourself and in those you would lead? If you are not focused on others why would you expect them to respond to you and your interests?

Focus on others; find, create and nurture success in them as real persons and you will profit!  I guarantee it!

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

  • Make better decisions now . . .

Writing in ProfitGuide, Mike Desjardins has some great ideas for small business practitioners. He says that the ability to make clear definite decisions in a timely fashion can be the difference between leading and lagging the competition. But too often key decision-makers suffer from paralysis in making choices about the business. He offers several proven tactics to speed up and improve the quality of decisions made throughout your organization.

  • Questions Every leader Must Ask . . .

"Show me a company or organization in difficulties and I will almost invariably show you a set of leaders who are asking absolutely the wrong questions,” says professor Robert Steven Kaplan. An excerpt from his new book, What To Ask The Person In The Mirror is well worth the few minutes it will take to digest its important message.

Every leader / manager who takes themselves and their organization seriously should invest the time to consider these ideas – they could define the pivotal difference between success and failure.

  • The Perils of Bad Strategy . . .

Bad strategy abounds, says UCLA management professor Richard Rumelt; those who are able to recognize it are far better at creating good strategy. This makes good sense and his well written article offers some fascinating insights, particularly to those among us who love history and military history in particular.

There’s enough wisdom and intelligence here to stimulate even the most seasoned strategists so allow me to recommend it for your next ‘time-out’ for self improvement.

Quotable Quotes . . .

"Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle." -- Steve Jobs

"The only way to get positive feelings about your self is to take positive actions. Man does not live as he thinks, he thinks as he lives." -- Vaughan Quinn

"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

"I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed."

-- Booker T. Washington

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Section 2 - Talk Back

Coach's Corner

A selection from frequently–asked questions...

Dear Coach,

Two years ago I took the plunge and went into business for myself in the rare books / book binding business – it’s a passion with me. I love what I’m doing and I’ve been able to attract some very good accounts by delivering very high quality work. The prognosis seems to be very good generally.

My challenge is that a few of my larger clients – as measured by the volume of the services they require – are extremely slow in settling their accounts and so I’m frequently extended financially. I don’t want to offend them but I simply cannot afford to carry them. What’s your recommendation for dealing with this?


I’d like to speak to the over-riding issue here before addressing a precise course of action.

Many of us are very reluctant to complain directly. I’ve heard that nineteen out of twenty people would rather walk away from bad service than mention it; this is likely true in my experience. I, and many others I know, have suffered long and hard over an injustice before we’ve taken effective action to remedy it.

Why is this? Why do we avoid confronting and attempting to resolve the issues? Well, there’s the rub! ‘Confrontation’ stirs up a number of uneasy feelings, provokes levels of anxiety we can do without and suggests dangers that we’ll go far to avoid. Yet the word/concept is harmless – it simply means ‘eye-to-eye’, ‘face-to-face’ and up-front, and few of us have any issue with this kind of openness.

Still we make every attempt to avoid such dealings, placing them so far back in our minds that we even fail to recall they are there at all – in effect, what problem?

So, well done; you acknowledge that there is an issue and it needs to be dealt with. However, let me ask you why there’s a problem with this. You set up the initial business transaction in a responsible manner, I’m sure. You requested all the relevant information to set performance specifications for the job – expectations, timings, quality of materials, quantities, etc.  You likely also negotiated on costs, price and delivery. So why would you not include payment terms?

If you did do this and the clients have failed to honour their side of the contract, your course is clear and totally defensible so remind them of their contractual responsibilities. If you omitted to negotiate payment terms, then you didn’t plan the job completely; the old adage is that if you fail to plan then you plan to fail!

I mention this because it’s a common failing and it’s related to the ideas above about avoiding confrontation. We do not address the issue at the beginning of the assignment because we hope that payment won’t be an issue; but by so doing we can make it an issue. We would not fail to specify the work quality requirements and perform work without a precise appreciation of the client’s expectations in this area. The understanding is incomplete and this now becomes a problem for the assignment and perhaps for the relationship.

There’s nothing wrong with being upfront and clear about expectations – both ways. We all know the dangers in making assumptions. We also recognize that different people have different perspectives on priorities and even on realities. We need to contribute fully to a meeting of the minds – at the outset.

Let’s say that you did this to an adequate extent and still there’s been a shortfall on payments. All you have to do is gently, politely but firmly remind your client of the arrangement as you approach the payment deadline date(s). When this is attached to a solicitation for feedback or feed forward on client satisfaction, it will cause no offense. Should they fail to respond to your reminder you can follow through to enquire about the cause of the delay in response with a problem-solving mindset.

If the issue of payment was not adequately discussed at the beginning of the assignment, then you should request a meeting to rectify and clarify the terms. It is best done face-to-face rather than by ‘phone or (heaven forbid!) by email. Combine this initiative with a benefit for the client- new product / service offerings, more favourable terms for future assignments, collateral information, or similar.

When payment has already become a problem, for whatever reason, you would still request a face-to-face meeting to clarify the terms for mutually satisfactory business. You could open a dialogue by simply stating, "I’ve realized that when we set up the assignment, I likely omitted to clarify the payment terms with you; might we do that right now?”

The client could take immediate action, agreeing to a date for payment and to include late payment fees. If there’s no quick agreement, or a difference of opinion, then jointly explore the causes and consequences. Be very open and candid about what the late payment means to you but also seek out the impact on the client. I’ve found that when consequences are mutually explored in real time and courteously, the payment resistance often evaporates.

Not confronting the problem or failing to address it fully and openly will lead to a deteriorating relationship. What we do not put into words we’ll eventually put into our actions; and frustration is a very visible emotion.

Since your motives are honourable and constructive and if you choose dialogue rather than discussion – seeking out both sides of the issue as opposed to focusing on your own, you will probably find that confrontation can actually make the longer-term relationship even more healthy.

I hope this helps.

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Office Politics . . .

Almost every organization I deal with is infested with office politics, some much more so than others, and few are gaining any real benefits or value therefrom.

Rampant office politics is perhaps the most prevalent obstacle to organizational success and a leading cause of staff turnover. It’s truly difficult to get things done in the face of conflicting agendas, misaligned priorities, unfinished business and the interference of personal goals. Politics, though, is nothing more than the science of using power, and power is necessary to get things done.

The formal power that’s exercised by owners and appointed leaders is a major factor in driving the organization forward but the informal power that results from office politics can divert, limit and even neutralize the strategic intention. Let’s face it, we cannot live with it and we certainly cannot live without it; so it has to be managed simply because politics in any organization is an integral part of the fabric that holds people and ideas together.

Besides it provides two vital functions – firstly it acts as an EWS (early warning system) flagging those issues where there are concerns which cannot and should not be ignored. If they are ignored, they’ll only surface later in other forms and create even larger, more complex impediments to progress.

The second service is that it stimulates discourse – discussion, debate and dialogue – which is an essential element in the creation of value. We might need to discount the posturing and dramatics to find the core essence in dissent, but it’s invariably there to serve us.

Business history is replete with examples of situations where such discourse was stifled and the final outcomes were far less than hoped for – the Time Warner merger with AOL is one that springs to mind. The architects of the deal decided to act without the usual internal debates so that office politics would not delay the decision process. They were successful in the process and major losers in the eventual outcome.

May I suggest five brief strategies that will allow office politics to do their job in alerting us to dissent while yet stimulating useful input? These aren’t ‘rocket science’ and each may need to be tailored to the organization’s culture, but each has proven value in making the organization more comfortable for the majority while not interfering with the creative processes.

  1. Use selective consultation by first drawing a political map showing interest groups, interactive styles, known agenda and vested interest groups and then invite individuals to contribute in small, controlled groups. Avoid wasting time, energies and morale by exposing all parties to every meeting – this only provides a forum for the political players.
  2. Use a two-step consultative process so that the focus is on specific issues rather than political positions. The first step deals with input gathering and the second step seeks consensual decisions. This means that you have control of the information during its most virulent phase and can manage emotional levels.
  3. Use Venn diagrams to manage the process. In order to achieve optimal input deal with each party initially as a whole circle of interest; analyze the content of each circle to identify shared or over-lapping interests and possible coalitions and then chair a decision-making session by building mainly on those shared issues.
  4. Between group meetings, hold one-on-one dialogues with the aim of promoting commitment to key aspects of the overall strategy rather than seeking endorsement of the entire plan. Allow for adaptations which will permit greater sharing, broader coalitions and specific learning opportunities for participants.
  5. Key to this entire process is the principle of separating issues from positions. All identifiable ‘positions’ or stands need to be dissected into the component factors of which they are built. This is best accomplished during cool, reasoned and controlled individual confrontations rather than in the heat of the open forum.

There are a few, fortunately very few, people who actually thrive on the political approach. They prefer to confront in public, to ignore mandates and codes of conduct / rules of engagement, to sacrifice relationships, and to fight for their personal interests whatever the cost to the group. They are not concerned with adding value to or through others and others may even be considered as dispensable, and yet they can do this in the most charming ways.

These individuals are not good team players in that when they are not persuaded that others can contribute anything to their advantage they will ‘take’ rather than ‘give’, they’ll ignore information/opinions that do not support their personal objectives and will be seemingly oblivious of any need to preserve the dignity of others.

If your objective is to create organizational value through synergy and consensus building, you’ll need to recognize that these persons will not work to earn their place on the team and they’ll contribute very little. They will use office politics solely in their own interests for they, in their perspective, are more important than the organization.

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Section 3 - On The Horizon

Jeff's Article

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.

Jeff Haltrecht’s popular article is not available this month; please look for its return in our December/January issue.

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Bulletin Board

Introducing the NEW Polaris website

We are pleased to introduce the NEW Polaris website at  The design communicates effectively the unique features and benefits of this highly acclaimed leadership development program.  You will find an excellent program outline along with resources, articles and discussion guides for your continuous learning at the new web site.  Be sure to take a look yourself and then refer the web site to colleagues and friends whom you believe would benefit from the Polaris learning experience.

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Your Development

Polaris Leadership Academy now accepting new participants

Now is the time to register for participation in the next Polaris program.  This is your opportunity to grow significantly as a leader and to become a key driver of your organization’s future.

  • Are you finding it difficult to engage and mobilize your people and/or peers?
  • Do your messages and points of view go unheard in the organization?
  • Do you struggle to build strong relationships?
  • Do you often feel like a voice in the wilderness?
  • Do you know deep down that you could do more?

If you answered ‘yes’ to even one of these questions, you will profit from Polaris.  Through insightful assessment, tutoring and constructive coaching, we identify, stimulate and develop positive and enduring leaders and managers, helping you to prepare for more substantial contributions, more significant roles and greater responsibilities.

Over a period of a full year we cover nine 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.

Visit  or call David at 416-254-4167 to find out more.

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