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Under-Promise, Over-Deliver: Amazon’s Dropped Ball

September 21, 2014
sad-face I have an admitted obsession with customer service. It all started in 1978 when, as a new college grad with a B.A. in economics, I worked in consumer lending. Half of my job involved building loan and mortgage business; the other half required me to hit the road in the company car to collect delinquent loan accounts. In those days, it was none of this current day harassing phone calls (I did that, too). If you wanted money paid back you knocked on doors and hoped you didn’t get the crap beat out of you.

I lasted two years. At that point we had a little girl and I was finding it really distasteful hounding single moms for their monthly family allowance cheques. I quit my job and went back to university to earn a Masters degree in economics. I lucked out during the nasty 1981-82 recession and bagged a job with the federal government, where I worked for three decades. My most challenging, rewarding and inspiring work was working in and managing service branches. Working in policy units in the nation’s capital, where I transferred to from a regional office after almost 20 years, was a soul searching experience.

I love customer service. And it’s why, after leaving government four years ago, I work in retail, the last year being in outdoor gear and apparel.

It’s a buzz helping people. They learn from me, and I learn from them. That’s the reciprocity of customer service; it’s not a one-way street if it’s done properly.

One thing I learned long ago was to honor promises made. There is nothing more frustrating than being a customer and being told that something will be done–guaranteed–only to discover days later that your item isn’t in, that an invisible employee forgot to follow-up, or that the call center rep didn’t input the notes into your file that she promised to do.

Always under-promise, and over-deliver.


Tom Peters, the ultimate customer service champion, emphatically tells you that. Follow this advice and not only will your job as a customer service champ be easier but your customers will hug you. Yes, I’ve been hugged–by guys– at work. Usually they just shake my hand. If only they knew how rewarding it feels to be acknowledged by a hand-shake and a sincere thanks. Money means nothing in this context. It’s about two humans connecting at a brief moment in time, one helping the other.

That brings me to a story. Yes, one of my many stories.

happy-face-sad-face As much as I try to patronize local stores, sometimes, for whatever reason, I’ll order online. I tried eBay a few times and the experience was good. However, more recently I’ve ordered from Amazon on several occasions. For specific, hard-to-obtain items Amazon’s pretty good. Just a few weeks ago I ordered two small items for my smart phone. I wasn’t going to pay Rogers Communications the outrageous prices they demanded.

Amazon has been bugging me for a while to try out their Prime service, which costs $99 per year and has a two-day delivery service. In the case of my recent small order, I could use Prime, free for a month, and get the two items delivered with no shipping charge and with a guaranteed delivery date. Okay, I’m in, I decided. Maybe the 99 bucks is worth it.

I placed my order at the end of the week and received an email which included the statement that my order was guaranteed for delivery on the following Monday. Pretty cool, I thought.

Monday rolled around and after Canada Post dropped off the mail in the afternoon I checked my mailbox. No Amazon order. What??? This was not life and death stuff, let alone of national importance. But a “guaranteed” delivery date is a guarantee. Period. You can’t negotiate that. Well, okay, maybe I’m being a bit rash. Had there been a tsunami I would have been more understanding. But I live 1,000 kilometers from the Atlantic Ocean. Hurricanes? None that week. Tornadoes? Not in this neck of the woods.

So I emailed Amazon since I was curious what they would say. I received a number of replies, in what became a circular, mind-numbing loop. Here’s a sample of an email reply on Amazon’s failure to meet its Guarantee promise under Prime:

Hello from,

I’m sorry to hear that your order didn’t arrive by the estimated delivery date.

We are aware that our choice of delivery services reflects on our business as a whole, and we understand your concern. I have passed your message along to our shipping department, as I know they will want to read about your experience.

In my experience, late packages arrive not long after the estimated delivery date. Please wait until end of September 9, 2014 before requesting a refund or replacement. Otherwise, you might have to deal with returning a package.

September 9 is just an estimated date to consider this order as lost. I’m sure that your order is still in transit, you can expect the order to be delivered soon.

We’re aware that our choice of delivery services reflects on our business as a whole, and our shipping department will take appropriate action against the carrier.

Unfortunately, in spite of all of our efforts, there can sometimes be unforeseen delays, and in this case we would ask that you wait a little longer.

We take full responsibility if any item become lost or damaged while being delivered and we’re more than happy to replace these items at no additional charge.

Occasionally, the carrier website does not display any information for a delivery confirmation number. But the vast majority of packages still reach their destination, even when no tracking information is listed online.

To ensure you receive this shipment, I’ll personally keep track of your package and send another e-mail on September 10. If you haven’t received your package at that time, I’ll make sure to get a refund or replacement for you.

One of our aims at is to provide a convenient and efficient service; in this case, we haven’t met that standard. I’m truly sorry, and I hope you’ll give us another chance in the future.

We look forward to see you again.

Best regards,
Priyadharsini S

Guy yelling at phone There’s a lot of mumbo jumbo in this email reply, in all likelihood a form letter with fill-in-the blank specifics. Indeed, it’s such a pathetic reply that I broke out laughing at one point, since every time Amazon sent me an email it asked for my feedback on three customer service points. Each time I responded honestly, which produced poor scores, which in turn prompted another email. It had the potential to become a never-ending loop, reminiscent of Bill Murray in the film Groundhog Day.

As I pointed out to Priyadharsini, he was incorrect in his statement on estimated delivery. Guaranteed means what it is: Guaranteed. There’s no room for Amazon to maneuver on this point. It failed to meet its Prime guarantee, and the company needs to be called out on this aspect of its service, which is usually quite good. And as I listen to online music stations I keep heating the Amazon Prime ads with the two-day delivery promise. And no, Priyadharsini never followed up as he promised.

The lesson for Amazon and any other company–small, medium or large–when it comes to customer service is this: Always under-promise and over-deliver.


It’s clear to me that Amazon has become so big that it’s losing contact with its customers. In that case, the company may already be over the top of the curve; all that’s needed is for an emerging service (competitor) to beat Amazon’s sloppy customer service.

Customer service is not something to be negotiated, debated or frittered away; it’s something to be nurtured 24/7.

– James Taggart

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Stress Test: Leadership through Integrity and Humility

September 14, 2014
Tim I never liked Timothy Geithner from the start when his tight-lipped, grim face began appearing regularly on the nightly news during the 2007-2008 financial meltdown and the ensuing Great Recession. Although he was the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and subsequently Treasury Secretary, he came across in the media as shifty, arrogant and a man not to be trusted. That perception held until 2014 when I became enlightened.

I’m usually a very good judge of character, something passed on to me by my late dad. Tim Geithner, to me, was a fat cat, a Wall Street clone who was protecting the CEOs of the huge banks and investment companies who came close to collapsing the international financial system.

And then I saw Geithner interviewed on a few talk shows during the release of his new book, including Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show (ironically, Stewart’s show was one of the few that Geithner regularly watched during the financial crisis). Geithner seems okay I thought to myself. He seems pretty self-deprecatory in his use of humor and not caught up with a big ego, and he’s smart and very knowledgeable on financial crises. Given my long work career in economics I decided to buy Geithner’s book Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises.

It was a wise decision on my part, not just because the book is incredibly informative on what took place behind closed doors during the lead-up to the financial meltdown and subsequent efforts to mitigate the effects of the Great Recession, but because I viewed Geithner through a leadership lens.

What emerged clearly for me is an intelligent man who exhibited a high degree of personal integrity during his tenures running the Treasury and the New York Federal Reserve Bank. Both he and his wife sacrificed hugely during the span of five years. He was regularly beaten up by the press and suffered false accusations by Congressmen who knew better. Yet Tim Geithner kept his head high and maintained his sense of humor and self-dignity throughout. His propensity for self-deprecation is especially prevalent in his book.

Fed Reserve2 As he states in the closing pages of his book: “…despite the stream of absurdity emanating from Capitol Hill, Congress did not ultimately block us from doing what needed to be done to save the financial system and the economy. In fact, at moments of extreme peril, enough of the nation’s lawmakers–mostly Democrats, occasionally joined by a few Republicans–were willing to do the right thing to prevent an already tragic situation from metastasizing into a second Great Depression.”

He recounts how President Obama at the start of his second term took Geithner’s wife, Carole, for a walk at an event. Obama knew that Geithner wanted out of Treasury, having worked tirelessly for four years. However, Obama stated unequivocally to her that “I can’t let Tim go now. I need him.” The President, who delegated to Geithner and others during the financial crisis and recession because he knew they were capable of effectively addressing the problems.

One of the most surprising aspects to Tim Geithner’s key involvement during the crisis was the widely held perception among the public, politicians and the media that he had worked on Wall Street, similar to Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson (former CEO of Goldman Sachs). Geithner never worked on Wall Street, or in the financial community for that matter (it’s only since leaving Treasury that he now works for a private equity firm). He was a policy wonk, with a Masters degree in international relations and economics, who worked at the New York Federal Reserve and then as Treasury Secretary for four years after Paulson left. It’s actually amazing how some senior members of Congress at committee hearings insisted that Geithner had worked on Wall Street.

What this says is how closed minded we can be on issues where our mental models have become so cemented that when faced with the truth we still cling to our incorrect views.

Tim 2 One aspect of Geithner that especially resonated relates to leadership. He recounts earlier in his book that as the new president of the New York Federal Reserve he insisted that in his briefing notes that the phone numbers be included for the staff who prepared the materials so that he could call them directly with questions. This may seem like a small point, but it speaks a lot about Geithner’s leadership and respect for people. Two Canadian public service examples come to mind.

At the federal level, where I worked for three decades, one incredibly bright and hardworking deputy minister, who later became the Clerk of the Privy Council and head of Canada’s public service was Kevin Lynch. When he was deputy minister of the Department of Industry Lynch was known for insisting that lower level managers and indeed the policy analysts who prepared the briefing notes be available for questions. This is rare in the public service, where big egos and hierarchy are the order of the day.

A second example was at the provincial level, in a province where I spent my first two decades in government. Premier Frank McKenna, who worked grueling hours as he strove over the 10 years he was in office to pull the province up by its boot straps to be less dependent on federal handouts, operated similar to Kevin Lynch. McKenna was also known to walk into a policy analyst’s office, bypassing senior management, to ask a question or to express his thanks.

This is about leadership, and Tim Geithner measured up to the best. His humility combined with insight is striking. Here he is talking about his lack of confidence early on in the financial crisis when the prevailing view was that derivatives and other financial innovations were designed to distribute risk:

“I had no particular knowledge or insight into whether the new financial innovations were stabilizing or destabilizing, but I was reflexively skeptical of excess conviction in any form, especially excess optimism. …in this new age of mobile capital, trauma in one part of the world or one corner of the financial system could spread quickly. I didn’t see how a few years of calm or some clever financial innovations would cure the basic human tendency toward mania and self-delusion. History suggests that financial crises are usually preceded by proclamations that crises are a thing of the past.”

Tim3 Geithner is also able to very clearly paint a picture of just how bad the situation was at the outset of the financial meltdown, something that is still poorly understood, thanks to a largely financially illiterate media and some prominent right-of-center economists who don’t seem to have gotten it. As Geithner eloquently puts it:

“We had just suffered a financial shock worse than the one that had led to the Great Depression. Market volatility was more than a third higher than it had been after the crash of 1929; bond spreads would rise more than twice as high; the percentage of household wealth lost would be more than five times worse than in 1929.”

Stress Test is an excellent book, one that will be a go-to source years down the road as future economists, policy wonks, politicians and business people try to understand why the world’s financial system came to the brink, only to be saved by a handful of dedicated people who clearly understood the consequences of inaction.

Add it to your reading list.

Most consequential choices involve shades of gray, and some fog is often useful in getting things done.

– Timothy Geithner

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Lead Through Mutual Commitment, Not Compliance

September 7, 2014
Angry Male BossI was a young greenhorn economist with just a tad of related work experience. I’d worked in consumer lending after college for two years, but had grown disgusted with the countless hours I had to spend collecting loan arrears, knocking on doors and harassing single moms. So it was back to university for two years, all the while our first born was still in diapers.

So I thought I’d hit the jackpot when in the midst of the 1981-82 recession I scored a term job as a labor market economist with the Government of Canada, in what was then called the Department of Employment and Immigration. My annual income shot up 100%, and not long after starting I got on full time. I thought things were pretty good, though we still didn’t have a car, so taking a toddler on the bus to the grocery store and doctor’s appointments was always a challenge.

But I liked my work, except for one key aspect: in contrast to the finance company branch manager I’d had a couple of years previously, whom I respected as a good boss, my new government boss was completely different. Bruce was a control freak, and a mean one. When he arrived at work, always after we underlings were already busy writing reports (no PCs then), he would stop, all six foot two of him, survey his mini kingdom, taking everything in, then walk into his office.

Bruce managed through compliance (perhaps ruled is a better word). He was always trying to find fault with our work, insulting us, ridiculing us in the presence of our provincial colleagues and other federal regional office employees. He took great joy in his approach to what some could euphemistically call “leadership.”

It took two years, but Bruce was almost fired twice by his boss, the region’s executive head. Bruce’s transgressions were:
a) having an affair with a young female economist (Bruce’s marriage subsequently collapsed),
b) abuse of managerial power.

Yes, the federal government takes its time getting around to some HR issues. But it snapped Bruce out of his control-oriented approach to managing and after that he became an okay boss. He moved to Ottawa a few years later and your correspondent became the branch manager for the next six years.

Angry Female Boss I learned a lot from that two-year experience (hell-hole is not an over-exaggeration). And it was a few years later when I was leading a team of economists that I switched executive bosses from what I’ll describe as a deceitful executive male boss to a progressive female boss. Louise and I would cement a wonderful working relationship which lasted many years (indeed, while we’re both retired from the federal government and live 1,000 miles apart we still stay in touch).

It’s amazing how shifting from a compliance mindset, where managing is transactional: do this task and you stay on the payroll; to mutual commitment: you share in your leader’s vision, feel valued and are trusted. It’s a world of difference.

I well recall a conversation I had one day in Louise’s office back somewhere around 1999. I was moaning about problems I was having with some of my managerial peers who were pushing back on a change initiative. Louise turned to me, looked me straight in the eye and stated emphatically: “Jim, when you represent me at meetings you have my power.”

Powerful words, which I’ve never forgotten.

Leading through mutual commitment versus managing through compliance (tantamount to fear) produces a very different dynamic in an organization. And for an organization, public or private, to reap the economic benefits of leading through mutual commitment it is vastly preferable to do so from the top. When a CEO, president or deputy minister practices this type of leadership and demands it of her senior managers, then the process will cascade down through the organization.

Trying to inject leading by mutual commitment at the middle level, all the while contending with an executive office compliance mindset, is not just very difficult but probably futile in the end.

Tiger2 Cultural change typically comes slowly to large bureaucracies, especially governments. Therefore, to change how leadership is practiced requires the organization’s top managerial leaders to demand it and to live this every day through their actions.

Employees want to contribute to their organization’s success. They want to be treated like grown-ups. And they want to be held accountable for their assigned tasks and projects. But you can’t accomplish this when you work in fear of being humiliated by your boss when he’s having an insecure moment, or not knowing if your boss has your back when you make a mistake, or not receiving constructive feedback on your work.

Managing through compliance has no place in today’s organization. The world is changing too fast, with new economic competitors demanding that companies be agile and quick to respond to marketplace changes. Governments (national, provincial, state and municipal) need to ensure that taxpayers’ dollars are spent wisely and efficiently. And not-for-profit organizations, in the face of competing for limited funds, need to enable their employees to be at their best.

You can’t achieve any of the above if employees–human beings–are running scared with their heads down, too scared to look up and question their bosses’ actions.

Throw managing through compliance out the window and embrace leading people through mutual commitment.

Rigid identities give rise to rigid organizations.

Margaret Wheatley

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In Memory of a Leadership Pioneer – Warren Bennis

August 31, 2014
Bennis 2This summer saw one of the world’s most respected leadership experts depart our planet, heading off to join other past leadership giants. Warren Bennis died on July 31 at age 89.

Growing up in a Jewish family in New Jersey, Bennis was only 18 when he enlisted in the U.S. Army, where as one of its youngest officers he was awarded a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star while fighting in Europe. After World War II, he earned a B.A. at Antioch College (1951) and shortly afterwards a Ph.D at MIT (1955). His area of study was the social sciences and economics, and later in his career he held the position of chair of the Department of Organizational Studies. His studies at Antioch put him in contact with Douglas McGregor , president of the college, who later earned recognition for his work on Theory X (scientific management) and Theory Y (humanist management). It was McGregor who facilitated Bennis’ entry to MIT.

Bennis maintained his close attachment to academia by serving as both university president and provost, and teaching at Harvard, Boston University, the Indian Institute of Management at Calcutta and INSEAD. He also was an advisor to four U.S. presidents and consulted for several Fortune 500 companies.

In 1967 he shifted his focus from management theory to its practice, thus launching him into a long list of books on leadership over several decades. In total he wrote some 30 books on leadership, with such titles as: The Leaning Ivory Tower (1974), Beyond Counterfeit Leadership (1997), Managing People is Like Herding Cats (1999) and Still Surprised: A Memoir of a Life in Leadership (2010). One book that is viewed as a classic is On Becoming a Leader (1989).

Bennis 1 Bennis was also a prolific contributor to periodicals. Here is but one small sample from Bloomberg BusinessWeek (2009) Acting the Part of a Leader. He had the ability to take the abstract concept of leadership and make sense out of it, bringing it into the real world. His founding of the field of leadership studies further exemplifies the respect he garnered from leadership practitioners who loved his no-nonsense approach.

Bennis’ personal philosophy of leadership was that leaders are made and not born. Leadership is an array of skills to be developed and honed over one’s life, making continuous learning a vital part of one’s being. In this guest column, Bennis talks about The Character of Leadership.

Warren Bennis’ leadership peer over the decades was the late Peter Drucker, sometimes referred to as the father of modern management. Drucker, who died at age 95 in November 2005, was a sharp contrast to Bennis, the latter being articulate, energetic in conversation and handsome. Drucker, also a trained economist like Bennis, growled when he spoke in his slow, methodical manner. Both men were brilliant in their respective ways. At an encounter in the late nineties in Santa Monica, Drucker spoke about followership, while Bennis stressed leadership. Both men were right, just on different sides of the same coin.

Our world is that much poorer in intellect now that another giant has left us.

For a warm tribute to a remarkable man, read this column from Forbes.

Bennis thumb
Leaders must encourage their organizations to dance to forms of music yet to be heard.

– Warren Bennis (March 8, 1925 – July 31, 2014)

This post is dedicated to my cousin, Zach, who just returned from a nine month tour with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan

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Crisis Leadership: Clarifying What Needs to be Done

August 24, 2014
the sky is falling 2 Think of a time when you were under a lot of pressure with a very short deadline. I don’t mean being at Starbucks trying to decide on which decadent coffee you were debating on ordering. I mean serious pressure–and it doesn’t have to be necessarily work related. It could have been dealing with a medical decision relating to an ageing parent, a child or spouse.

What went through your mind at that point in time? Did it feel as if the sky was falling?

Did you have a knot in your stomach, or feel like your head would explode from trying to distill the critically important stuff from the unimportant?

It doesn’t matter the context when it comes to a crisis, or whether you’re a hot-shot CEO of a Fortune 500 Company, a small business entrepreneur, or a parent. You’re expected to make a fast decision on what may be a life or death issue, or it may be something dealing with your small company’s future, or it could be something dealing with your country, though your family’s safety is assured.

In May-June 2008, Sue and I embarked on an 11,000 kilometer (6,600 mile) Amtrak train trip across the United States. Although we’re Canadians we love America and Americans, knowing that they’re good, solid people. And having lived in a border community decades ago in New Brunswick (bordering on Maine), where EMS and fire-fighting services were shared, we know about the meaning of community.

Bull During our trip, which went diagonally from upper New York State to San Diego, up to San Francisco, then back to Chicago, Toronto and finally home to Ottawa, we met a lot of people. While I was well aware of the looming problems with America’s overheated housing market and the strain being placed on what was called “Too Big to Fail” financial institutions, what I didn’t know at the time were the daily meetings in Washington D.C. and New York City among the country’s key government policy decision makers.

Hank Paulson, Treasury Secretary, was in panic mode, desperately trying to figure out, in conjunction with his peers from other agencies, how to prevent a global financial collapse. Paulson’s infamous three page draft bill requesting $700 billion to buy mortgage-related assets, with no limits on his authority, drew apoplectic reactions from Congressional leader on both sides of the political fence. His proposed legislation (TARP – Troubled Assets Relief Program) eventually morphed, once into the hands of policy wonks, into a document hundreds of pages long.

Paulson Paulson (pictured), who was CEO of Goldman Sachs before becoming Treasury Secretary, had his head in the right place, though he took significant flak from both Democrats and Republics for his decision to spend $700 billion dollars to stabilize the financial system. He was so terrified of the prospect of financial collapse and the disastrous effect on the economy and job market that on one occasion he got a case of what he called the “dry heaves.”

His wife, Wendy Paulson, learned to “discount” her husband’s reaction to extreme stress, recounting the story in a humorous manner. She also shared the incident of when she persuaded him to go cycling in the forest to help get his mind off work, only to hear a crash as Paulson rode into a barrier. He was so deeply affected by the crisis and not able to focus on anything else that he didn’t see the barrier which was in plain view.

Yet as Paulson explains in the excellent 2013 Bloomberg Business film Hank: Five Years from the Brink, his personality has always been to immerse himself in his work and challenges. The financial crisis was one that sucked him into its vortex, and unfortunately as he states at the end of the film, he will always be remembered as “Mr. Bailout.”

Timothy Geithner, who was president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York during the outbreak of the financial meltdown and who later was Treasury Secretary from 2009 to 2013, does a brilliant job recounting the lead-up to the financial crisis in his new book Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises”, a well written and highly readable book that should be read by a wide audience. As Geithner states in the chapter “Letting it Burn:”

“By December 2007, market conditions were deteriorating again. Credit spreads were widening, and liquidity was draining away. Real estate was in a tailspin, with foreclosures nearly double from the previous year. The credit crunch and the housing mess were also leaking into the larger economy, with unemployment rising to 5 percent; the National Bureau of Economic Research would later peg the start of the Great Recession to that month.”

Fed Reserve2 In the above instance a lot was at stake. It wasn’t a case where an individual’s personal safety or health was necessarily at risk. The consequences affected a large population, and not just the United States of 315 million people, but in effect the entire globe.

One can present a cogent argument of the senior level incompetence in both government and financial institutions, the greed of those in the real estate industry who took advantage of lower and middle income Americans, and segments of the population that wanted to pretend that they could afford homes way beyond their reach. However, the essence of this sad story in U.S. financial history is one of crisis leadership.

Fortunately, when their backs were pressed against the wall a small, key group of senior officials recognized the problem and did the right thing, jointly led by Paulson, Geithner and Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke who replaced the outdated Greenspan. Bernanke, being a student of The Great Depression, knew that a repeat of the policy decisions made almost 80 years previously would spell disaster for the U.S. and global economies. Bernanke’s response to the financial meltdown and subsequent Great Recession, as it became known, illustrates clarity in thinking and action. It’s what effective leaders do: clarifying what needs to be done.

Take some time to reflect on circumstances where you’ve been part of a crisis.

How did you respond?

Were you able to step back, clarify the problem and distill what needed to be done?

And then did you act promptly in a focused way?

The fact that our economic models at The Fed, the best in the world, have been wrong for fourteen straight quarters, does not mean they will not be right in the fifteenth quarter.

– Alan Greenspan

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Living and Leading on the Edge

August 17, 2014
TheInnerEdge_Cover This post takes a look at a new book that is joining the leadership field. Written by a respected leadership practitioner, it has arrived at a critical time for leaders who must contend with competing priorities and conflicting challenges, all the while trying to remain centered and focused on what needs to be done.

Meet Joelle K. Jay.

Jay holds a Ph.D. and is an executive coach specializing in leadership development. She assists business leaders enhance their performance and maximize business results. Her clients include presidents, vice presidents and C-level executives in Fortune 500 companies, such as Microsoft, Google, and Adobe. Her new book The Inner Edge: The 10 Practices of Personal Leadership is a welcome addition to the leadership field.

The word “leaders” was just used. But who is a “leader” in today’s society? Jay clarifies this in the first few pages of her book. A leader, she emphasizes, may be a:

– Corporate leader in business (though I’d add the public and non-profit sectors as well),
– Professional leader, whether you’re a consultant, entrepreneur or lawyer (to name three),
– Community leader,
– Family leader,
– Inspirational leader, such as within your circle of friends

The main underlying theme in this book is learning how to lead yourself. And to do so effectively means learning how to address challenges and to resist the lure of the multitasking beast whose allure is speed. Thus, Jay’s emphasis on the importance of being strategic and reflective can’t be overstated. However, what needs to be added to this is inquiry, for without it the art of seeing possibilities (something raised later in the book) may be lost in the leadership process, yet it is a leader’s guidepost to personal development.

JoelleKJay_Headshot Of significance is how Jay succinctly explains two opposing dimensions which continuously keep leaders on the edge:

The Inner Edge: Mastering how you identify strengths, weaknesses, values, feelings, motivations and aspirations.

The Outer Edge: What each of us shows the world at large.

The personal leadership challenge is learning how to connect the inner and outer edges through our daily actions. In short, it’s about congruency, or what the late Chris Argyris, Harvard professor and learning organization theorist, referred to as Theory in Use versus Espoused Theory. It’s easy to lose our personal edge, whether through corporate downsizings or mergers, or a tragedy in the family.

Personal leadership, according to Jay, is smart business. Smart organizations strive to bring out the best in each employee. Another way to phrase this is personal leadership is a way of being. Therefore, the 10 personal leadership practices while not being a ladder, as Jay notes, are more like rocks in a river where, depending on the circumstances, you’ll need certain ones to step on to deal with a specific challenge.

So what are Jay’s 10 practices of personal leadership?

1) Get Clarity
2) Find Focus
3) Take Action
4) Tap into Your Brilliance
5) Feel Fulfillment
6) Maximize Your Time
7) Build Your Team
8) Keep Learning
9) See Possibility
10) All…All at Once

Tulips Here are some thoughts on the practices, though I focus on certain ones that I see as key. The first practice, Get Clarity, caused me the most pause for thought. Jay talks about the relationship between clarity and vision. While she notes they’re not the same I wasn’t entirely clear on what her core message is. “Clarity” (a noun) is “…the state or quality of being clear, distinct and easily perceived or understood.” It also, as a secondary meaning, refers to the quality of transparency or purity. (Oxford English Dictionary)

Vision (a noun or a verb, depending on context), in contrast, is “…the faculty or state of being able to see.” It’s also used to describe the ability to reflect about the future with imagination or wisdom, such as creating a mental image of what it could be. The verb aspect of vision to imagine is rarely used.

Given this, it would have been perhaps more helpful to the reader to explain how clarity is a precursor to the process of creating a vision at the personal level, and the subsequent step of enrolling people to share in that vision (as per Peter Senge’s recognized work on the learning organization).

The sub-title of Get Clarity is “What do you want?” which is essential to helping us define clearly what we want in life, from work to family to community. With clarity comes the ability to think about and eventually form a vision.

Find Focus is vital in an age of constant stimuli, instantaneity and the urge to multitask, whether at work or at home. The sub-title of this second practice is “Where will you put your attention?” As Jay states, this practice is about “…choosing where to put your time, energy and attention.” By mastering this practice you’ll be able to move from a state of chaos to control, from random to strategic, and from inaction to action. She presents later in this chapter a five step process to develop “focus areas.”

Two practices that particularly resonate are Keep Learning and See Possibility. While the other practices are indeed important to developing one’s personal leadership, it is the ability to not just keep learning but to especially learn from one’s mistakes and when things don’t go to plan. Learning from success just doesn’t have the same power and impact as reflecting on something you did wrong or where a goal failed to be met. Note the word reflecting, which goes hand-in-hand with learning.

Likewise, learning’s partner in leadership development is seeing possibilities. It was a former boss and mentor who instilled in me the huge value of always trying to see the possible. But this means taking off the blinders, tantamount to questioning our assumptions which determine in so many ways our behaviors and actions. Thus, the practice of Take Action is inextricably linked to these two practices.

I would have liked Jay to have taken more time on the topic of coaching and mentoring, for these two closely related processes have so much to offer us in the form of enhancing our personal leadership. Indeed, mentoring has a key role to play in assisting the aspiring leader (mentee) see the possibilities. In other words, the mentor helps to remove the blinders.

Tai Chi The Inner Edge contains a wealth of resource information, packed into each chapter, to assist the reader in his or her leadership journey. The book is well organized, with a concise summary of the key points at the end of each chapter (leadership practice). There are exercises and questions for the reader to reflect upon, and each chapter starts with a short story of an individual who is going through a leadership challenge.

For the individual who is serious about strengthening his or her leadership skills, it’s important to note that Jay’s book is not a read-through and then plunking it on a book shelf. Rather, the reader needs to work through the book by reflecting on the questions and exercises contained in each chapter. And it stands to reason that because each of us is uniquely different that some people will devote more attention to some chapters than others.

Effective personal leadership wasn’t created in a day. Our respective leadership journeys should be exciting because of the many unknowns and because of the possibilities and opportunities we encounter every day. The Inner Edge is a useful guide for that journey.

For a free summary, go to The Inner

When I look into an ideal future, I see a world in which people know how incredible they are and how precious life is. They know what they have to offer: their vision, their strengths, their values. They connect to their sense of purpose at home and at work. They honor the work that they do, they do the work that they love, and they make the most of their lives by taking care of their health, their families, their loved ones, their friends, their co-workers, and their world.

– Joelle K. Jay

Leading in Multipolar World 2nd editionClick here to download my complimentary e-book Leading in a Multi-Polar World: Four Forces Shaping Society, 2nd Edition.

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Do It with People, Not To Them: Share the Power

August 10, 2014
servant-leaders_photo It seems like almost yesterday when organizations in both the public and private sectors were pumped with such concepts as servant leadership, values and ethics, and shared (distributed) leadership. Indeed, your correspondent did his Master’s thesis in 1999 on shared leadership.

Dateline: the Nineties, when a wide variety of leadership thinkers and practitioners advocated the integration of these concepts–and more–into the daily operations of organizations, small and large, public and private. These concepts, it needs to be stressed, were not new. Servant leadership dates back to Robert K. Greenleaf, and more recently Peter Block. Shared leadership goes back even further to Mary Parker Follett who was called the Mother of Modern Management by the late Peter Drucker.

And then something happened. Some call it globalization, though in reality we’re talking about pseudo globalization and more the distribution of wealth through the offshoring of jobs to far-flung places, concurrent with the race-to-the-bottom of the wage barrel, all the while the disparity of wealth continues to grow in many Western countries.

While much handwringing is going on as commentators of various political persuasions and economic orthodoxies debate what is happening in society at large, there are companies and corporate leaders who do get it and who are actually trying to simultaneously compete globally while providing their employees with challenging work, relative job security and decent incomes.

Saretsky Meet Gregg Saretsky, a leader who puts his money where his mouth is when it comes to engaging employees.

Saretsky has been the CEO of WestJet since 2010, following the sudden departure of Sean Durfy who was expected to succeed founder and CEO Clive Beddoe. Before joining WestJet, Saretsky worked at Alaska Airlines and before that Air Canada. However, he has airlines in his blood, having grown up in a family with roots in the industry.

WestJet, a non-unionized company of some 10,000 employees based in Calgary, Alberta, has only been around since 1996. However, in that short span of time the company has consistently demonstrated a commitment to superior customer service and innovation (almost alien concepts to the airline industry). In July 2014, WestJet reported its 37th quarterly consecutive profit. Not too shabby for a regional airline competing in a turbulent market.

When the company recently introduced its Encore service Saretsky knew that it was a major change to the company’s business model, which has been based on a single type of airplane (737). Encore is a regional air service using a separate operating certificate. In short, employees working for Encore have a different wage and benefits structure. What’s fascinating about this story is that when put to a vote, 91% of employees backed the new service. A sharp contrast to this is Loblaws, Canada’s largest grocer, which has slyly used the introduction of new legal separate entities as a means to break its unions and lower the wages of employees.

Encore hasn’t come without any problems. WestJet created what’s called the Framework for Fairness, a program aimed at minimizing the impact of the new service on some employees, such as those working in remote communities.

westjetdis I’m reminded of my three decades with the Public Service of Canada, during which I worked both as an economist and senior project manager in the areas of leadership development and organizational renewal.

It was not long after a major federal government departmental reorganization in the early nineties, with my organization being merged with pieces of three other departments, that I approached my boss, Louise, to propose some ideas on how in our region to integrate a new, huge federal department with a very broad mandate.

Louise was second in charge of the organization (later moving to the nation’s capital to take on bigger challenges at a national level), but the strategic thinker on the executive board, composed largely of males. Dateline: 1996.

The short version is that I was tasked to bring together a cross-section of the new regional organization to form a steering committee, which in turn organized a series of 19 one-day sessions in six cities around the province. It was actually a workplace labor inspector, part of our committee, who suggested at one meeting that instead of trying to bring 1,700 employees to one or two central points for a series of sessions, that we “Bring it to the people.”

What was called Learning Works! was emulated by other parts of the organization, which spanned Canada from coast to coast, some 28,000 employees in over 600 points of service.

The only reason this initiative happened and why it was a booming success was because of Louise’s vision and the trust she placed in not just me but more importantly dozens and dozens of employees who were essential for the successful rolling out of Learning Works! Moreover, part of the power behind this initiative was that the head of the union was invited at the outset to be part of the planning, and who was also given equal floor time with Louise at each learning event.

This was shared leadership at its finest in the Public Service of Canada. Unfortunately, as alluded to above, much has changed in a short span of time, both in the public sector and in business.

Corporate leaders such as Gregg Saretsky can give Canadians some degree of comfort that he understands the importance of sharing power with employees and how it dovetails with a company’s ability to be competitive in a brutal market.

Take some time to reflect on how you share power, whether at work, in the community or at home.

It seems to me that whereas power usually means power-over, the power of some person or group over some other person or group, it is possible to develop the conception of power-with, a jointly developed power, a co-active, not a coercive power.

– Mary Parker Follett

Leading in Multipolar World 2nd editionClick here to download my complimentary e-book Leading in a Multi-Polar World: Four Forces Shaping Society, 2nd Edition.

Visit my e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

Jim-Max ShowshoeingTake a moment to meet Jim.


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