October 2010

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

October 2010


Section 1 - Topical Topics

Realistic Leadership

A Real Challenge . . .

If anyone were to tell you that it’s easy to be a leader in today’s business circumstances they’d be lying through their teeth. The ‘old soaks’, as they’re irreverently known in Brit speak, would love to persuade you that things were so much tougher in times past, when the world was young, men were men and the sun was so much hotter.

Codswallop! It simply isn’t true.

Leaders today are beset with challenges that were not even envisioned in days of yore. The world is definitely a more complex and tougher place and its demands are more substantial than at any time in known history.

As we all now know, there was a brief ‘honeymoon’ for businesses in the nineties when boards of directors became very narrow and singular in their perspectives and demanded nothing more from top leaders (CEOs and equivalents) than escalating financial dividends. The two problems with this though were – this high-level strategy initiated and sustained ‘driven’ implementation strategies which made life hell for all those below the CEO and it also encouraged unwarranted laxity on ethical and moral issues. Then the chickens came home to roost!

As a result of the Enron / World.com debacles, the business arena has become substantially more transparent. At the same time technological complexity is increasing exponentially and market demands are creating escalating expectations. The customer is both educated in real time and seemingly insatiable in appetite.

Today, we are experiencing significant pressures to respond faster, with higher accuracy and sensitivity, to sustain our efforts over a broader range for longer periods and to be socially and environmentally responsible as never before. How will this end? There has to be either a renegotiation of standards or perhaps some break-through strategy that will allow us to continue to do more with less.

This, however, is simple linear thinking and it isn’t likely to resolve our dilemma; it will only take us along our current path but at an either faster or slower rate. What we really need is a dimensional shift!

How to Change Realities . . .

Firstly, what’s your ‘take’ on where we are right now?

There are many who assert that leaders are born, not made; a special breed where only the chosen few can claim legitimate membership. Others see leadership as a precise set of skills and strategies that anyone can learn, practice and demonstrate, albeit with varying degrees of success.

Beyond this, most of us think about being a leader; that it is a state that we need to attain; a role that we can play; a status that we can achieve. We own rather loose definitions too, on the grounds that leadership is ’situational’.

The premise and associated assumptions with these approaches is that leadership is a combination of qualities within the individual (inherent or acquired) and it should be expressed in proper ways to the benefit of others. Also we all acknowledge that leaders can be, and often are, appointed and that this bestows a special set of obligations and benefits; so the leadership role is structured, predictable and measurable, which means it can be assessed.

This all tends to make it rather static and unreal in my view. It suggests that it could be modified as a transactional process, improving it, either through progressive awareness or acquisition, and that just won’t cut it for me. Surely, we will need transformational change if we’re to get out of the rut we find ourselves in?

For such transformational change, I believe there are three approaches that we might profitably consider. These are:

  • Change our prime directive
  • Spread the load
  • Toughen our practices.

If we do all three, at one and the same time and on a concerted basis, we’ll invite synergy and attain a critical mass – enough impetus to shift, in a radical way, the way we think about and practice leadership. Let’s explore this.

A Different Perspective . . .

I would contend that leadership is not a state, nor can it be described as a set of qualities. It is a perspective (the way we frame realities) with associated perceptions (the values we ascribe to those perspectives). We’re all familiar with the idea that two or more people can observe a situation or circumstance at the same time and under identical conditions and yet draw completely different conclusions.

The point here is that all situations are neutral – it is we alone that attach values and meaning thereto. Consider the following story:

Shortly after Iqbal Masih was born in a small village in rural Pakistan, his father abandoned the family. Iqbal's mother struggled to support her children as a house-cleaner, but could not. When he was four years old, Iqbal was sold for $16 into bonded labour at a carpet factory. He worked 12 hours a day and was horribly undernourished and beaten by the foreman many times.

When Iqbal was nine years old, a local labour rights organization helped him escape the factory. He was given a place at a school for freed child laborers in Lahore where he would be safe. Iqbal began telling other child laborers about the law in Pakistan that made bonded labor illegal. They had never heard about this law. When children started to follow Iqbal's example and escape the factories, the owners threatened Iqbal and his family. But he didn't back down. At age 12, he travelled to Sweden and the U.S. to speak out against child labor. When he returned to Pakistan in April, 1995, Iqbal was shot and killed.

Iqbal's story reflects the lives of over 200 million children around the world who have been forced to give up school, sports and play, and sometimes even their families and homes, to work under dangerous, harmful and abusive conditions. After reading about Iqbal's life and death, Craig Kielburger started "Free The Children” to continue what Iqbal had started: children helping children be free to live better lives.

Child labor is a very well-known phenomenon in South Asia; it’s widely practiced. Was Iqbal the only one who knew that it is wrong? Was Craig Kielburger an exceptional child? Have their actions had an impact on current realities?

It would seem clear that what changed two likely ordinary children into leaders was that they started to look at commonplace events differently than others around them. They were and are ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, each asserting that something had to change.

They were not simply voices in the wilderness, ranting and raving about injustices and inhumane practices. They are story tellers who have focused the desire for change that’s resident in other people and who then have begun to facilitate the creation of a sustainable new reality – that is, they’re leaders!

They are exceptional people, you say? Not so, consider the young man who is a ‘hellion’, living high and wide, spending his money on drink and good times, and totally irresponsible. Then he meets the girl of his dreams, they marry and start a family. In a few short months he changes from hellion into a sincere and responsible parent who works only for the future of his wife and child.

What changed? He didn’t become a different person; he simply began to look at the world differently. Things he had not valued in the past now became of paramount importance to him. He changed his focus and he worked to facilitate a new, sustainable reality. We have all been there!

A Plan of Action . . .

Back to our three points – our prime directive, spreading the load and toughening our practices. Would a little reflection on these points cause us to change our perspectives and perhaps to ascribe different values thereto?

No one would disagree that leadership can be a tool for positive and beneficial change – it can also be applied in other ways. Without the tool however, very little is likely to happen, for good or for evil. So, if leadership is a potentially good tool, we’ll need people to use it – that is, more leaders; for certain we do not have a sufficient number for our present needs, let alone escalating future needs.

It would make good sense then for us all to identify possible leaders and to encourage them to practice even more leadership. Lee Iacocca is reputed to have said, "Lead, follow or get out of the way!” Our way is clear, we must create other leaders and this is possibly the greatest contribution we could make as leaders ourselves.

The second point is to share the load, for you don’t need permission, a license, special knowledge or skills to offer leadership to others; you just need to respond by focusing their need – their desire for change, and then to help them by facilitating the creation of a sustainable new reality. Everyone can and should offer leadership when the occasion arises; all that’s needed is that you open yourself to look at the situation from a leadership perspective and contribute your strengths-in-action to assist with creating desired outcomes. Anyone can do this, at any time, and if you’re not ready to initiate it, then take the lead that’s offered by another. If we all take our turn, good things will happen!

When it comes to toughening our practices the issue boils down to our focus or perspective. If we are ‘other directed and self focused’ we’ll not offer our self as the leader; rather we’ll wait for someone else to initiate the needed action. If, on the other hand, we are ‘self directed and other aware’, we can rise to the occasion because we are focused on the need for change that’s resident in others, not on our self.

This isn’t rocket science but it will require some deliberate introspection to adjust to the desired ‘self directed / other aware’ state of mind. Dr Robert Quinn of Michigan’s School of Business has a very useful template for helping with this challenge.

The Bottom Line . . .

You won’t become a leader just by having the right genes or by studying other leaders and their concepts - although neither of these can be discounted entirely. To offer leadership all you have to do is to look at things differently, firstly by identifying the need for change that others are experiencing and encouraging them to focus to the point that action will follow. Then you can ensure the right outcomes will ensue by contributing to the creation of an improved condition for all concerned.

You and everyone else can do it; in every situation there are opportunities to make a difference. Your choice, and it really is a choice, is to offer focus and facilitation as the situation requires.

You can lead; you can follow; or you ought to stand aside so that others can.

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 david@andros.org.

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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

  • Effective Decisions – the Rule of 7 . . .

According to some very recent research, once you’ve got seven people in a decision-making group each additional person you add to the process reduces the effectiveness of the decision process by ten percent (10%)!

Marcia W Blenko, Michael C Mankins and Paul Rogers, authors of "Decide and Deliver – 5 Steps to Break-through Performance in your Organization” reveal this fascinating fact that many of us have long suspected but could not verify. This means that if you have seventeen persons in the loop, you’re SOL (simply out of luck!)

  • The Psychology of Change Management . . .

Why do so many corporate-transformation programs fail? Perhaps because too few companies understand that they must transform their employees’ mind-sets and daily behavior, not just their equipment, systems, and procedures. "The psychology of change management,” McKinsey Quarterly 2003, shows how companies can renew themselves by using psychological principles that explain why people think and act as they do—and how they can learn to think and act differently.

The McKinsey Quarterly is a subscription well-worth the small investment involved Treat yourself and your organization to some valuable break-through thinking..

  • Grabbing your Audience . . .

Public speakers have a honeymoon period of just 30 to 60 seconds, according to business presentation specialists David Booth, Deborah Shames and Peter Desberg. You must use that first minute, they contend, to grab your listeners' attention and make them want to hear what you have to say. In their book "Own the Room", the three authors suggest four techniques to ensure your presentation isn't dead on arrival.

I’ve tried all of these techniques with success, depending on my audience; the differentiator I use to decide which is most appropriate is the level of conservatism in the audience – the personal anecdote always works so it’s safe bet. Try the techniques for yourself.

  • Quotable Quotes . . .

"Don't be pushed by your problems. Be led by your dreams."             -- Anonymous

"I not only use all the  brains that I have, but all that I can borrow."         -- Woodrow Wilson

"If I were given the opportunity to present a gift to the next generation, it would be the ability for each individual to learn to laugh at himself."                     -- Charles Schulz

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Section 2 - Talk Back

Coach's Corner

A selection from frequently–asked questions

Dear Coach,

I’ve got a boss who’s impossible to please. In more than two years of working together she has yet to acknowledge any good in my work even though I’ve got a solid record of outstanding performance with everyone else in the organization.

I’m currently a Director and I’m hoping to make Vice President but I think if she doesn’t give me some positive evaluations it will kill that possibility – and she’s ‘in tight’ with the President. I don’t want to sacrifice my track record of successful performance I’ve accumulated here and I certainly don’t want to play political games (I likely wouldn’t win!); so what other options do I have?


I understand your frustrations and applaud your continuing, consistent effort to maintain your performance standards despite the circumstances; this is the mark of a true professional. However, it’s not my praise or recognition you’re seeking so let’s take a look at the root causes that might apply here.

You may be dealing with

  • A leader who’s committing the popular sin of ‘failing to clarify expectations’
  • A ‘tough rater’, one whose standards are exceptionally high for whatever reason
  • A significant difference of opinion regarding the actual value of your contribution
  • A lack of objective awareness of what exceptional performance might look like
  • A misguided strategy based on the belief that ‘hungry rats fight harder’
  • Someone who is both ‘political’ and intimidated by outstanding performance by a subordinate.
The good news is that the first five of these can be addressed by a single strategy; the final one may demand a different approach. Let’s discuss the single strategy up front because even if the cause is the final option above, you’d benefit by making an effort of this type before resorting to an Armageddon approach.

The common theme of the first five reasons is that expectations are unclear, unrealistic or undefined. So we need to create mutual awareness of what they are or could be – mutual in the sense that both sides have an equal stake and that there’ll be benefits for both parties.

Your objective is to identify the rules for ‘success’ – what constitutes success in both outcomes and related processes and the style and format in which those results are to be delivered. We also need to clarify how this success, once achieved, is going to be recognized and rewarded.

Begin by preparing your own mindset; you’ll want to be objective and constructive so make a note of the emotional impact that past and present frustrations have had upon you. Rehearse the stories you’re telling yourself about your boss’s motivations and bring yourself to the point that you can confidently expect a fair and objective outcome to your discussion,

Next create a safe setting by asking for permission to have the discussion at a time/place that’s conducive to a positive outcome, and which emphasizes the shared benefits of reaching agreement.  You could say something like, "Boss, I’d like to talk about my performance and contributions for the next quarter. My intention is to do an outstanding job, achieve the desired results and to help you and the team to succeed. I’d also like to earn an ‘outstanding’ rating in my next performance review.”

The opening statement clarifies your intentions and should assure her that your purposes are above-board in corporate terms; your statement should also encourage openness and safety for what follows.

Now we get down to the detail. You ask, "In order to do this I’d like you to help me to understand what I need to do to make an excellent contribution and to earn that rating”

If your boss’s expectations are clear in her mind, this should invite her to share the information with you; listen actively (clarify, confirm and summarize what you are hearing). If her needs are not well formulated in her mind the discussion should contribute to thinking it all through; ask questions which will clarify and encourage as much detail and ‘real-life’ examples as might be needed.

A useful technique is to enquire about what you could start, continue and/or stop doing that would make a difference, and also what kind of things should you do more/less of to enhance your results. Keep your focus on outcomes, processes and standards but also ask about format and style once these have been defined.

If outcomes are vague or unduly complex, then counter with a request for frequent review meetings. Ask too about ‘critical success factors’ – the things that have to ‘go right’ if success is to be achieved. Oftentimes, defining the boundaries of performance is as useful as describing the final results expected.

You can also prepare and offer some ‘objective’ external standards for evaluation where your performance either meets or exceeds the requirements of other persons/interest groups inside or outside the organization. This would be helpful if standards of performance are loosely described or ambivalently stated, and it helps to avoid ‘your opinion versus mine’ situations.

You end the discussion with a confirmation of your new understanding, "If I accomplish what we’ve agreed within the time frame(s) would I then be recognized as an ‘outstanding performer’? " If you get a non-committal response then go back for a better understanding; if it’s affirmative, document your new understanding in a follow-up memo.

If all this fails to deliver because you discover that there’s no intention of resolving or clarifying the relationship on her part, you may need to use heavier armament – go up the chain of command or take your case to Human Resources for arbitration. This won’t help your ongoing relationship with your boss so use it only as a last resort –and make your best effort as above before you try it.

The vast majority of situations like this are the result of the leader failing to make expectations known or clear, and this happens far more frequently than it ought. An open and constructive attempt on your part to rectify the imperfect understanding will normally be appreciated and rewarded.  Go for it!

I hope this helps.


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Communicating – 2010 Style by Robert Angel, President, The Gilford Group Limited

The internet’s social media tools have quietly revolutionized corporate communication from push messaging to conversations and listening, to the extent that a well conceived social networking strategy is now a prerequisite for remaining competitive.  Below are five principles to help you embrace social media communications and make them work.  

Business leaders and senior staff are becoming increasingly comfortable with social networks in private life as personal users of social media tools like Linked-In, Facebook and blogs. Social networking comfort in the business world is less clear cut.  Many businesses are still hesitating on the edge of the social networking pool, wondering what the potential benefits really are — and some businesses already using social networking are wondering what they are really achieving.

Do you fit into either of these categories?  If so, here are five strategic pointers to help you move forward.

1.  First Make Sure Your Organization has a Coherent Value Proposition

Your brand is your company’s personality, what you stand for and how you bring value to your customers, staff, and business partners.  A viable brand is a vital source of loyalty and competitive advantage — without it, nothing else will really matter.  Unless, you truly understand your brand before embarking on social networking, your efforts are likely to be misdirected.

2.  Regard Social Networking for What It Is — a new form of relationship building

Communication used to be pushing out messages.   Don’t make the mistake of thinking of social media as just a cheaper way of selling things.  This will likely antagonize people — the opposite of what you want.   Social networking has made communication a conversation, requiring dialog and listening.  Of course, more revenue is still a necessity, but social media helps deliver this through deeper and more durable relationships with the right individuals.

3.    Define before Design (i.e., communication goals lead content)

The critical question is, ‘what specifically am I trying to achieve from social networking?’.   It is surprising how many managers buy technology without nailing down the goals first.  This is especially true of social media when the initial investment can be quite modest meaning lessened pressure for results.  

 4.    Have a Mechanism for Tracking Results

There is certainly value in knowing how many hits your web site is getting.  More important is identifying what you should be doing differently, whether it is correcting a deficiency or making a good move even better.  This takes informed analysis effort, and it can be a stealth cost for those who do not think through social networking adequately at the outset.

5.  Review Your Communications Strategy Regularly

Strategy implies continuity and should not be changed too often otherwise confusion and worse will ensue.  However, the learnings from social networking are a good opportunity for an ongoing check on your strategy’s continuing relevance and expected results.   But, be careful!  Poor results may not mean an invalid strategy; rather, it may be your execution that needs renovating.

Where to start?  I often advise internal communications as a good way of testing out the concepts and tools with staff and suppliers, before re-exposing your organization’s brand in front of customers.  You can engage the people you work with more deeply and hone your ability to listen to feedback.  After all, you are already doing these things inside your organization — aren’t you?

Robert Angel, MBA, CA, is president of The Gilford Group Ltd., a Toronto-based marketing and performance management consultancy.  Contact him at bob.angel@gilfordgrp.com.

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Section 3 - On The Horizon

In Fear of Change

. . . 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

The air was crisp, dew covered the grass, and the trees were brilliant in all their fall glory.  It was 7am on this mid-October Saturday morning and Mark was on his cottage deck, drinking a coffee and thinking about kicking off the next 4 days of work.

A 52 year old, MBA-educated, son of a self-taught pastry chef, Mark was the owner and President of Mid-Town Desserts, a second-generation family business that hit its stride in the last 15 years under his ownership. 

Founded in 1955 by his father, Bill, and Bill’s sister, Carla, Mid-Town got its start by making award-winning desserts for mid-level restaurants in Eastern Canada.

Bill was the creative mind, focusing his energy on the combination of taste, appearance, and aroma for each dessert in their product line.  Carla was the business mind, with a keen eye for cost-effective production.  Under her guidance, they perfected the ability to freeze the uncooked desserts individually, allowing the restaurants to cook and serve on site.

Mark worked in the family business for five years starting in his late teens.  He left to complete an MBA and followed that by working in London, England in investment banking.

In 1995, he returned from Europe and rejoined Mid-Town as VP Business Development.  Over the next five years he slowly bought out his father, Bill, and his Aunt Carla.

During the ten years that followed, Mid-Town grew from $5 million to $25 million in revenue by following three strategies:

  1. New pastry desserts that focused on reduced calorie intake without reducing the taste, appearance, or aroma
  2. Increased distribution from a successful expansion into the U.S. States of Michigan, New York, New England, Vermont, and Maine
  3. Further investment in capital that partially baked the desserts at Mid-Town, allowing the restaurants to reduce the cooking/preparation time by 67%.

Weighing on his mind for the past year was how to continue the stellar growth, for he knew in his gut he could no longer push things through.  For starters, he was running out of fresh ideas himself, coupled with the inability to stay abreast of all the details on a daily basis.

Fear had gripped him in the early summer; he stopped making decisions, and was asking his employees for painstaking additional information.  As opposed to stepping back, un-known to Mark, he was wading in further.

In late July, Joyce, the Vice-President of Sales, confronted Mark with a very simple conversation that surrounded her statement "Its time you helped us lead, Mark.”  It was then he realized the only way Mid-Town was going to continue growing at the current pace was if he redefined his role.

No longer could he tell others what to do, he had to figure out how to help his people make decisions for themselves and how to include the right ones in generating new ideas.

It was time for Mark and his leadership team to change – they wanted to lead and he had been standing in their way by carrying the load himself.  He decided his new mandate was to help them grow and to share the responsibility.

As Mark finished his coffee and took in the fresh air, he mused to himself how being an investment banker with a degree doesn’t automatically make you great at leading others.  He now saw, and appreciated, a different part of his father, Bill, that he was oblivious to before – how he was great at helping people be their best.

Starting that afternoon at the cottage, and continuing for the next four days, Mark and six key employees (including Joyce) were going to craft the future vision and strategy for the organization – together!  For the first time since Mid-Town was founded, non-family members were going to decide what the company will look like, and how it is going to get there, over the coming 15-years time.

Mark felt absolutely great about that.  Not because the business would continue to grow, but because the very people who put their time and effort into the company would be better enriched from the 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 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 www.polarisprogram.com or call David at 416-254-4167 or Jeff at 905-601-0311 to find out more.

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