September 2011

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

September 2011

Coming Soon.


Section 1 - Topical Topics

Leadership Facilitation

The Challenge . . .

Back to my friend Robert, you recall – the one who had his challenges in getting the attention of his ‘fast tracking, hot-rodding staff.  I’d encouraged him to use simple stories rather than logical expositions whenever he wanted them to refocus their energies. In short, it really worked and he tells me that there’s hardly a day that passes when one or more of his team are too busy to solicit fresh stories from him. He’s become the wise old man.

One of the less desirable outcomes of this is predictable. Robert loves the increased attention from his staff and wants more. So when they take his direction and begin to change their perspectives and perceptions – the way they look at the world and how they are responding to it – he wants to be right in there!

This degree of intervention is not comfortable nor is it welcomed and resentments have started to accumulate. At first it was subtle; they would smile and nod their heads when he inserted his thinking on change strategies but then they’d fail to follow through. Robert’s response to this, of course, has been to intensify his contributions and their responses have diminished further and now some even avoid contact with him. He’s beginning to feel estranged.

"They shouldn’t expect me to just back away because they have their own action plans,” he complained, "after all it was my idea that got them moving in the first place!”  He is having a lot of trouble letting go.

This is a common problem with many managers who are ‘control-centered’. It’s based in fear – fear of failure and, to a lesser extent, fear of loss of relative status. It has a direct parallel in the parent-child relationship where parents rationalize their intrusive behaviors as purely protective. We often transfer perspectives and perceptions from one theater of our lives to another without realizing we’ve done so.

So, this raises a significant issue – what is the proper and most beneficial role for the leader once focusing has taken place and a new course has been set and accepted?

Moving Beyond Focus . . .

In a word, once direction has been set, the role of any leader is ‘facilitation’. This means the leader supports, encourages and influences action without becoming directly involved.

The leader becomes mentor, resource, mediator, arbitrator, counselor, commentator, catalyst and/or coach. S/he clarifies and reinforces focus when needed, influences, runs interference, removes obstacles, offers both feedback and feed-forward on demand and ensures that both direct and indirect benefits are optimized for all involved.

Sun Tzu, the author of "The Art of War” has long been recognized as a commendable source of applied wisdom for military and business strategy. I will not ‘reinvent the wheel’ but rather comment on the vital lessons for leaders in his time-proven writings.

These ten summary points that I’ve selected from his admirable treatise competently describe how such facilitation can be best achieved:

  • Firstly, invest substantial time and energy in planning and preparation so you know what you are to achieve, why you want to achieve it and that the effort, cost and consequences are fully justified
  • Plan for quick, decisive engagements that limit unnecessary competition and conflict and which use all available resources wisely
  • Remember that the best source of strength is in unity, not might, speed, technology or artful ruses;  so employ a specific strategy and take the time that will concentrate your impact
  • Seek opportunities for your strengths and deny the opposition the chance to engage their strengths at the same time – it’s all in finding and maintaining the balance
  • Creativity and timing are the main factors that will energize and sustain your impetus / momentum so build them into your plan of action and test for them frequently
  • Identify and exploit the weaknesses in your opposition, a practical lesson that recent Gulf War Generals Schwarzkopf and Powell both used to great advantage
  • Whenever you’re in transition, manoeuvre frequently to retain and optimize your options – failure to do this has been the ‘Achilles Heel’ of so many business organizations over recent decades
  • Similarly, the seeds for survival in today’s volatile markets has been adaptation / flexibility together with a speed and intensity in response that makes it instantaneous / spontaneous
  • Design and aggressively implement contextual intelligence which enables you to be looking directly into the eyes of the opposition at all times; this way you can forecast intentions
  • Use the current context or circumstances to maximal advantage, making full use of every resource available to you, yet denying the opposition access to theirs.

This is sage advice for any entrepreneur and business leader, perhaps not Sun Tzu’s intended audience, but relevant nonetheless. I use this as a checklist on every strategy I design and implement and always to advantage.

In today’s business we could profit further by taking a closer look at three particular practicalities.

Making It Work . . .

Let’s begin by recognizing that the leader’s dual roles of focusing and facilitating change are a seamless and progressive process. It’s rare that we have the luxury to simply address one or other of the two activity-sets in isolation even though this is a highly useful tactic in itself – just make them separate discussions on the agenda.

Clearly, there’s an ‘upstream / downstream’ relationship in a relative sense so one important element is to ensure that we are checking contiguous activities at all times. Have we created a solid link between the two types of action by asking ‘why are we doing this?’ and ‘what should we be doing about this?’ as we move forward.

It’s all too easy to lose sight of the upstream connection because of the intense concentration on current activities and the net result is that we’ll run out of motivating energies among those concerned. We need to be reminded and frequently of the reasons why this is a focal activity. We can become lost in good intentions and wishful thinking, expecting others outside our direct influence to take the necessary change actions should we remain fixated on needed change but yet neglect the required actions. Have you ever used the expression, "I meant to . . .”?

Next, consider the critical issue of ownership. Whose responsibility is it? Who is accountable for its realization?  There’s a lot to be said for appointing a change champion for each initiative, for assigning project leaders and change agents and for employing shared goals / standards and responsibility. The most compelling option however is ‘natural ownership’ where individuals simply take charge of change as a personal mission, integrating the new goal with those (s)he already owns – total ownership! This is typified in the relentless energies of the entrepreneur.

The attitude is, "If it’s going to be, it’s up to me!” and that’s not too common in our business organizations once they move beyond entrepreneurship. The converse of "It’s not my job!” on the other hand impacts every one of us adversely whenever we encounter it as customers. Since we all develop our own version of the focusing vision we’ll each own a different sense of ownership and it’s this which is so often suppressed by overly diligent managers.

This brings up the third and perhaps most destructive practice, competition. In achieving change we can adopt three different variations of competition – just like golf. We can play against our partner; we can compete with the course bogie; we can try to exceed our previous best effort; our options can range from destructive to constructive.

All competition is not equal or even appropriate. If everyone is self motivated and owns an individual strategy we do not have to compete for limited resources. We can share outcomes, operating standards and even encourage collaboration and mutual support as we, as leaders, concentrate the competitive aspects on personal performance alone. The catalytic leader plays the part of the orchestra conductor, enticing each musician to play his/her best while blending and creating a symphony out of the many individual and separate contributions.

The Wheel Turns . . .

I’ve heard that managerial – staff relationships can be described as a wheel, with the boss situated at the hub exercising direct influence over the staff members along each of the spokes. Sometimes the point being made is that all connections need to flow through the center, the hub, so that a high level of control is possible. There’s another interpretation though, where each staff member is part of the rim, facing a different part of the market with the same support and opportunity to contribute as each other member.

If our attention is shifted to the rim, we can emphasize the connectedness between people at the front line. Break a single spoke and you’ve jeopardized the integrity of the wheel, if not that of the entire vehicle. The wheel needs to be perfectly round and equally supported in order to function best even though specific parts of the rim are experiencing widely different pressures from the road’s surface. The impact is beneficially regulated by the wheel’s rotation especially when the wheel is balanced.

It’s an interesting analogy and I invite you to reflect on its applications to your circumstances.

The Bottom Line . . .

Throughout this discussion, there’s been no reference to the manager being a direct, integral part of the implementation process! The military general does not fight alongside the front line soldiers, he or she fights for them by doing his/her job (which is different) as well as possible. I agree that there are stories of heroic military leaders who did fight shoulder to shoulder in the front line of battle, but this was only after the vital job of planning and organizing the battle had been thoroughly accomplished.

Perhaps the most descriptive role for the leader to adopt once the vision has been focused in the minds and hearts of those most directly involved in the change, is that of catalyst. In chemistry a catalyst is an agent that initiates and accelerates the chemical reaction but which does not form part of the result. The legacy of the change belongs wholly to those who are fully invested in the future state or condition.

It is very difficult for those leaders who feel the need to moderate and control the actions of their people – they are doomed to being ‘mere managers’. The true leader, however, who can hold him or herself remote from the detail of implementation, is like Sun Tzu’s ideal General – invisible to his victorious troops.

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

  • Are You Too Smart to Start a Successful Business?

If you’re super smart, then logically you’d be the best possible candidate to launch a company, right? Maybe not. Investment banker and business strategist Carol Roth argues that you’ll probably find it harder to succeed than someone with less brainpower would.

In The Entrepreneur Equation: Evaluating the Realities, Risks and Rewards of Having Your Own Business, Roth identifies special challenges you’re likely to face founding a firm. Her points include;

  1. You try to do everything yourself
  2. You haven’t learned how to transfer your skills to others
  3. You have more to lose
  4. You find it tough to keep things simple

If this is relevant for you, go to the article in Profit Guide.

  • Managing Generation Y . . .

No generation in today’s workforce is as maligned as the cohort known as Generation Y or the Millennials. Born between the late 1970s and early 2000s, members of the Gen Y cohort are often described as self-absorbed, impatient, overconfident and the keepers of a massive sense of entitlement. In an episode of the Business Coach Podcast Ian Portsmouth chats with Grail Noble, the founder and President of Toronto based event management firm Yellow House Events.

From 2005 to 2010, sales at Yellow House grew by 1,268 percent, earning it 41st spot on this year’s PROFIT 200 ranking of Canada’s fastest growing companies. All of that growth was achieved with an employee base comprised exclusively of Millennials. Go here for the inside track.

  • Quotable Quotes . . .

"There is nothing like a challenge to bring out the best in man." -- Sean Connery

"You must accept that you might fail; then, if you do your best and still don't win, at least you can be satisfied that you've tried. If you don't accept failure as a possibility, you don't set high goals, you don't branch out, you don't try - you don't take the risk." -- Rosalynn Carter

"When you give your children knowledge, you are telling them what to think. When you give your children wisdom, you do not tell them what to know, or what is true, but, rather, how to get to their own truth." -- Neale Donald Walsch

"If ever there is tomorrow when we're not together... there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we're apart . . . I'll always be with you." -- Winnie the Pooh

"Be yourself; everyone else is already taken." -- Oscar Wilde


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Section 2 - Talk Back

Coach's Corner

A selection from frequently–asked questions

Dear Coach,

Hey, Coach, you’ve seen the Dilbert character, Topper?  Well, we’ve got a living example in our office and he’s driving us all nuts. Anytime anyone tells a story or describes a personal experience he has to go one better.

He’s good at what he does and pleasant enough to be around much of the time, but, and it’s a big but, ‘there’s nothing he hasn’t done, nowhere he hasn’t been, and no one he doesn’t know’ and it’s getting right up our collective nose. How do you tell a braggart like this that his topper responses are inappropriate and wearing and that we’ve all had enough?


This is an interesting predicament because it’s as difficult to handle as it is common in experience; most often it’s tolerated or ignored. Just like other ‘social embarrassments’ - body odor, bad breath and careless grammar – few of us want to confront it directly.

It’s very likely that the perpetrator is insensitive and largely unaware of the impact his behavior is having on others. Assuming that there’s some element of truth to the claims being made, he may even see them as supportive and even helpful in bonding relationships. It might not occur to him that others view his unwanted contributions as bragging simply because that’s not the spirit in which they’re being offered.

On occasions, individuals may engage in such behaviors to gain acceptance within the group or even to cover deeper-seated feelings of inadequacy, but this isn’t always the case. A very few persons are pathological liars and unreasonably self-promoting but this is even more rare. We need to be sure we know the precise reason for the behavior and to avoid generalizations.

You should begin with an examination of your own motives. Why is this a problem for you and what exactly are your intentions in intervening?

Are you really trying to be helpful or are you trying to initiate a guilt trip? Are you attempting to cut him down to size or are you resolving an irritating behavior? Are you acting as coach or critic? What is it that you want as the outcome of your initiative – for him, for you, for the group? Only if your motives are pure and constructive can you hope to be successful.

Once you’ve clarified these difficult issues you face an even more daunting challenge – how can you ensure that your intervention will be accepted as well meaning and genuinely constructive? How will you hold his attention and interest once the subject matter has been disclosed? How will you execute the fine excision of the behavior without destroying the relationship? How can you ensure that he will feel safe around you, now and in the future?

We are starting to see why these issues are usually left unresolved. It will demand a great deal of honesty and diplomacy on your part and still the prospects of failure, perhaps disaster, remain high. We have arrived at the ‘effort invested / benefit received’ paradox.

Usually, an intervention such as this will work best if it’s handled from within an existing trust-based relationship. Is there someone who currently has a close relationship with Topper? If so, can you persuade this person to act as an intermediary? Safety depends entirely on love, respect, trust and confidence which take a while to accrue.

Let’s recognize that anyone attempting an intervention with prejudice and frustration in full view is unlikely to reach first base. Context (the setting), motive (the perspective) and mood (the perception) are all critically important factors in steering the precarious course to the fresh self-insights that are required for effective behavioral change.

If it’s up to you to make the attempt, you could try using an exquisitely clear motive statement right up front. "I’d like to share a few observations with you and it’s not my intent to come across as critical. This is something which could help to improve / enhance relationships within our team and I’m offering them for your consideration” Say what you are not trying to do as well as what you are.

Then describe what actually happened in two or three recent occurrences. Keep your language neutral – that of the objective observer, focusing not only on what Topper did but also on how others responded. Ask for his consent to continue the conversation periodically so that he feels he has some control.

He may rationalize his inputs or be dismissive, however, you’ve already made your point; minimize any further damage potential by making a discrete retreat. If he becomes emotional, allow him space to vent, offering to pick up the discussion in the future should he so choose. Do not press your point home in either case.

If he is receptive, once all the cards are on the table (for the selected incidences), offer your support in identifying a new paradigm for handling related situations. "Would it be helpful to you if I were to send you a signal the next time I sense it is happening?”  "Could I bring future incidents to your attention, in private of course?” If he declines your help, be gracious and withdraw with a reaffirmation of your original motive.

Success can be assisted by using a slow, deliberate conversational style, listening carefully, by attempting to understand the merit of his points and by smiling whenever appropriate. If he feels relatively safe throughout the exchange, there’s a good chance that your message will be received and even acted upon.

I hope this helps.

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Are You Self Delusional . . ?

If you’re totally honest with yourself, the answer has to be "Yes”!

We all are, despite our best efforts, and it is a continuing struggle to remain open and accepting on the issue. There’s an old saying that the one we lie to the most is ourselves and most will admit this when we’re challenged. At the same time we harbour the smug thought deep inside that we’re not as bad as some others we could name!

As a keen student of intellectual and wisdom-based processes, I was immediately attracted to David McRaney’s blogs and forthcoming book which will deal with this subject exhaustively. I’ve seen some extracts and already I’m a believer for he’s done a great deal of insightful work to clarify and explain the challenges we face.

The blog and also the book are entitled "You Are Not So Smart” which is hardly complimentary, arguing that we could all use a healthy dose of humility. However, it’s likely true and without question, this is definitely good for us.

So, we’re aware of our potential for fallacious thinking but we concurrently delude ourselves that we’ve got it under control. That was certainly my position until I began to read more deeply into his work. It was then I realized just how pervasive the fallacies are and how effectively they sustain one another.

David deals with the ‘illusions’ of asymmetric thought, placebo buttons, de-individuation (highly relevant in the UK riots recently), procrastination, the back-fire effect, and catharsis, all of which sound somewhat familiar. He also covers other topics such as priming, expectation, confabulation and apophenia as well as that I’ve no awareness of at all. Obviously, this is a bigger problem than I’d imagined.

The promise of the book is that with every reading you’ll start to see yourself in a new way; these many cognitive biases, faulty heuristics and common fallacies all stand between us and our success in life, not to mention limiting our contributions as leaders and managers.

Bottom line, it all boils down to self awareness. This is unquestionably the first step to meaningful growth and development as well as the foundation for all valued relationships. If we can accrue valid self-insights to why we act the way we do, there’s every possibility we’ll improve our contributions all round – benefiting ourselves and others.

You can get a jump start on the Sunk Cost fallacy, the Anchoring effect, and Procrastination by reviewing a short article at Fast and you can also register for David McRaney’s blog. I will warn you that reading this stuff is addictive and you may become frustrated since it’s not all there yet; however, there are sixty posts on the blog site to get you started, each of them replete with commentaries.

There’s so much for us all to learn, and what better place to begin than with ourselves. I do not know whether David McRaney has it all right, after all, research is unfolding new and radical insights as we speak, but he will certainly get you thinking. I don’t know about you but anything that makes me more conscious of those current perspectives and perceptions that I’d either not begun or, worse, stopped thinking about, is a reward in itself!

I pass this invitation along to you in this spirit; do with it whatever you will – but do something, for your own sake!

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Commentary 2 Sheila Ellerton

One of the Merriam Webster dictionary definitions of a "relationship" is a "State of affairs existing between those having relations or dealings". Hence it would follow that as a leader you are certain to have many different relationships.

In order to be a leader you need to have followers. This does not happen by accident or luck of the draw. You may have been appointed to a position of leadership but if you can't convince people to follow your lead, then you have no leadership. It reminds me of the age old adage "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" - leadership or relationship?

If you were appointed to a leadership position, then it is safe to assume you already have at least one relationship. You must have convinced someone that you have leadership qualities. So now you need to establish relationships with your followers. Each relationship is likely to be unique. There is no formula to follow so where do you start?

Start at the end! Now doesn't that sound like a conundrum?

Think about what you want to accomplish - your end result. Now work backwards. What is it going to take to bring about that end result? For example; one of the main aspects of a relationship is trust, so think about how you are going to establish that trust. You need your followers to have confidence in you, to believe that you know what you are talking about and that you keep your word and deliver on your promises. Actions speak louder than words.

So as you go forth in your career, give some serious thought to your various relationships. Your leadership will benefit.

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Section 3 - On The Horizon

Blind Spot

Having A Blind Spot:  Good or bad thing? 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 dreaded blind spot!  In leadership one might say it's a bad thing.  But is it really?  Whoever said we have to be perfect, that to have followers means having to be invincible, or better yet, to have the answer to all questions?

The truth is, each of us is imperfect and that's what makes us unique.  But you already know this.

Yes, each person has a blind spot and I would argue that not only is it a good thing, it's even better when you know what it is. 

By definition, a blind spot is a character trait that keeps you from seeing or being aware of something around you.  Using myself as an example, I am at times blind to corporate politics in very large companies.  I know it exists, but I don't always see it being played, even right before my eyes.  I'm focused on adding value to the business and assume others are too; but this is not always the case.

Knowing this trait about myself, I am now in a better position to work with it.  If I were employed at a large public corporation, I could surround myself with people who were good at corporate politics and who would keep me wise to what was happening.  Or I could choose to work for a private company with a culture that eschews political games.

In both situations, being aware of my blind spot is making me a better leader.

For most people, identifying your blind spot will take time; it’s typically not something that stands out immediately.  Look for situations that occur repeatedly, the ones where you regularly get tripped-up.  Each time ask yourself "Why did that happen?" and "Could I have seen this coming if I was more aware?"

If the answer is almost always "No, I’m not sure I could have seen this coming", you may have found the blind spot.

Talk with a close peer or your manager about the repeated events as a way to validate what you are experiencing.  Once identified, think of two or three things that you will do to protect yourself from being ‘blind sided’ next time.

I should point out there is a subtle difference between a blind spot and a weakness.  The latter is a functional skill that you are not good at and which should be delegated to someone else for effectiveness.  It is a skill weakness that can be identified from a self-assessment.

Knowing your weaknesses helps you play to your strengths.  Knowing your blind spot helps keep you out of trouble.  Subtle, but definitely different!

What is your blind spot and how do you compensate for it?

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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 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.

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

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