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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


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Will Gen Z be the Disruptive Generation?

August 4, 2014
Young People2 The media loves hyperbole. If there’s a way to spin a story or add drama to it, whether needlessly or not, the media has perfected the art. Examples abound so I won’t waste your time reciting well known instances.

There’s a new storyline being developed now, but one that will take years to play out to validate the excitement that the media is attempting to stir up: Generation Z, and how it will replace Gen Y as those young people with even greater talents. Gen Y has been perceived as a generation of bright young people, between 18 and 33, who are narcissistic and spoiled, the result of their Baby Boomer parents. Or so goes the well-told storyline.

Gen Y is also a generation that was to have the world by the tail. Numerous consultants and writers raved in the late nineties and early 2000s about how this new generation would benefit from Boomers retiring in droves, its ease with technology and a strong economy.

That narrative went out the window with the Baby Boomer-fueled 2008-09 financial meltdown and the subsequent Great Recession, the effects which seem to linger perniciously. Add globalization to the mix, with work being distributed around the world, and you now have Gen Y split down the middle: those in their late twenties and early thirties who have had some success in starting careers and those younger who’ve been creamed in the job market, while their student loan debt load mounts.

Meanwhile, Gen X (the so-called Excluded Generation) hasn’t done too shabbily. They’ve got families formed, for the most part, and their career development is coming along quite nicely. Though they still hold a lot of contempt for Baby Boomers (who can blame them), Gen X has lucked out given the economic context in which we’re all struggling.

Ann Mak Just as with Gen Y, technology gurus are starting to yammer about Gen Z and how much it will bring to society’s wellbeing and to the economy. There’s no doubt that there are many rising stars among Gen Z, defined as those being born after 1995 (18 years of age and under). Take 17 year-old Victoria, British Columbia, inventor Ann Makosinski (pictured) who invented a prize-winning body-heat powered flashlight. This past June she demonstrated her flashlight at the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto, subsequently receiving the 2014 Weston Youth Innovation Award.

Makosinski is uncertain about whether she wants to attend university. She’s interested in perhaps participating in 30 Weeks a New York City design program for entrepreneurs engaged in technology start-ups. Progressive universities, having realized that MBA programs are rapidly losing their attractiveness, are introducing what are called “entrepreneurial hubs.” For example, the Thiel Fellowship provides $100,000 to teens who forgo university for engaging in entrepreneurial activities.

Then there’s 17 year-old Jack Andraka, a Maryland student who at the age of 15 invented an inexpensive dipstick sensor to detect pancreatic, ovarian and lung cancers. Despite receiving some 200 rejection letters, he persisted and finally secured a place at Johns Hopkins University and a mentor. His diagnostic method, which is 90% accurate, resulted in awards and numerous speaking engagements, including this TED Talk TED Talk.

And how about 17 year-old fireball activist Adora Svitak, who in 2010 delivered a TED TalkWhat Adults Can Learn from Kids that has received over 3.3 million views and been translated into 40 languages. Pacific Standard Magazine called her one of the world’s top 30 thinkers under age 30, describing her as an activist for feminism, youth issues and liberal politics.

pint size leadership 2 Yes, Gen Z has its share of super sharp young people who will help make our world a better place. They’re questioning conventional beliefs, such as the traditional university route to “success.” On technology, the parents of Gen Zers are pushing back on how much time their kids spend on the internet. Of side interest, the biggest demographic on Facebook is women 30 to 40 years of age.

The pandering to teens such as Adora Svitak, who are perceived by many as mini prophets, should cause society to ease off the throttle when it comes to the fascination with Gen Z. This occurred in a similar fashion, though in a different form, as noted above with Gen Y. Each generation has its unique qualities.

The much despised Baby Boom generation, now between 48 and 67, was once perceived as the renegade generation, preaching peace and love in the Sixties and protesting against the Vietnam War. Younger generations would do well to familiarize themselves with these protests. Start with the Kent State shootings.

I’ve worked with many young people, notably Gen Y, both when I worked in the public sector and for the past few years in the private sector. And some are Gen Zers. What gets lost in the media and consultant-fueled commentary on how bright and talented young people are is the value of contextual knowledge and wisdom, both of which cannot be acquired in a short period of time. That Baby Boomers, and even older Gen Xers, are seen as technologically laggards and just plain boring and irrelevant is not just a mistake on the part of young people but indeed incredibly foolish when viewed through a national competitive lens.

Old and Young People like Canadian technology guru Don Tapscott don’t help the conversation by gushing effusive accolades on young people, first Gen Y and now Gen Z. Tapscott makes a valid point about engaging young people in business decisions and solutions to society’s big challenges, including the environment. However, the real challenge is determining how to break down inter-generational barriers in order to work across the generations. What appears to be happening now is a new barrier being erected, based on the emerging commentary, between Gen Z and Gen Y, let alone Gen Z from the rest of the population.

One of the huge challenges facing society is the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots. By this I’m not referring to just the economic haves and have-nots but the technological haves and have-nots. Technological have-nots–those not able to participate actively in society because of lack of access to the internet, which is tied to illiteracy–remain economic have-nots. The link between technology and economic wellbeing is inextricable.

So let’s stop the hyperbole bus before it takes society too far down a road from which it may not recover, or at least easily.

We need to value each generation for what it offers, gifts and warts. It’s a new call for leadership from each of us. Let’s dump the negative generational stereotypes and begin to collaborate across the boundaries.


Trust is something that happens within people only when it is created between people.

Chip Bell


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Do No Harm: 5 Leadership Lessons to Live By

July 27, 2014
OPS The bangs were incredibly loud. Across the street the shoppers at the liquor store and grocery store plaza were startled. The nearby homeowners called 911. And the staff at the elementary school down the street (which my two oldest granddaughters attend) were alarmed.

“Don’t worry, you won’t even know we’re here,” explained a member of the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) to local residents and business owners in the days before the explosions. For some bizarre reason, the OPS thought that using an abandoned house in the middle of a residential area for tactical training was okay. Some 40 tactical police officers, including members of the Ontario Provincial Police force’s tactical team and what are called tactical paramedics, showed up for a day of forced entry training.

As I listened to live reporting from CBC radio that weekday morning I was shocked to hear that two police officers and three paramedics had been injured in one explosion which produced a terrific bang. When the smoke cleared it was apparent that something had gone terribly wrong. The access lanes to the 417 highway were closed as ambulances raced the three paramedics to the burn unit on the other side of the city.

It was an extremely close call with no serious injuries in the end. At the time of this post, the investigation into the incident had not produced its report. However, it was clear that this was a man-made accident, one that was entirely preventable.

That an OPS member had stated in the preceding days to the community that they wouldn’t hear or see any of the training was sheer folly. The busy street corner where it happened is part of one of my biking routes. The house, which was recently demolished, is an easy stone’s throw from the corner.

While the intent of the training was not to produce exceedingly loud forced entry explosions (to rescue “hostages”) and injure the participants, holding this type of training in a bedroom community reflects an acute lack of common sense by the Ottawa Police Service, and in particular those in charge of the training and the explosives experts. One irony from the incident is that shortly afterwards a spokesperson from the OPS stated that depending on the outcome of the investigation criminal charges could be brought upon those who may have been negligent in their duties.

When people (employees in this case) are placed in a position of trusting those who are leading an event it places a special responsibility and accountability on the leaders. In the majority of cases dealing with the workplace life and death are not at stake. However, there is potential for psychological harm in some instances, such as when I was doing my residency during my masters in leadership program in British Columbia. One of the exercises initiated by one of the teaching faculty messed with some of the students’ heads. Fortunately, some of my peers were councilors who pulled those aside who were traumatized by the exercise.

RCMP CryingIn early June 2014 while my wife and I were travelling in the Province of New Brunswick the horrific shootings of five RCMP police officers, three of whom died, occurred in Moncton. The fallout of this tragedy is ongoing as retired members and existing members severely criticize RCMP’s commissioner, Bob Paulson, and senior management for failing to proactively equip the force properly, from weapons to body armour.

The March 2005 murder of four RCMP officers in Mayerthorpe, Alberta, led to calls for improved RCMP training and equipment, but nine years later not much has changed. The RCMP, to be blunt, is an organization in acute crisis, one that has a proud history in Canada, which only further lays bare the paucity of effective senior leadership.

Whether you work in construction, nursing, teaching, hospitality or fire-fighting, when you are leading others they in turn have placed their faith and trust in your skills and abilities. And sometimes the bar is raised when an error can have serious physical or psychological consequences to individuals. Not everyone is up to the task, nor should it be expected. However, when you step up to the leadership plate your focus needs to be on the fastballs coming at you.

Here are 5 leadership lessons on which to reflect:

1) A leader puts herself in the front when the going gets tough or when there are inherent dangers present.

2) A leader accepts that he is both responsible and accountable when things screw up. “The buck stops here” is more than a trite phrase.

3) A leader has her team members’ backs; she doesn’t squirm out to save her own butt.

4) A leader initiates a post-event review to ensure that lessons learned are documented and incorporated into the team’s work.

5) A leader trusts his team members’ judgement and actively seeks their advice.

What leadership lessons can you add?


Leaders must cultivate the art of helping others to share the responsibilities of management.

– William E. Halal


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Discover Your Leadership Trail

July 20, 2014
400th Post on WordPress!

Jim Grand Manan Trail We’re living in a technological age where almost any type of work can be outsourced to far-away countries, where labor market skill needs of employers are out of balance with the supply (what people have to offer) and where instantaneity and multi-tasking are robbing us of the down-time so important to personal reflection, inquiry and learning. And it’s having dire effects on productivity and innovation at the nation-wide and company levels.

What’s especially sad–and shocking– about this scene is that no one seems to particularly care, whether CEOs or politicians.

It’s go, go, go, and do, do, do in the misguided belief that somehow that we, as human beings, are capable of making informed, long-term decisions while simultaneously adding more balls to the ones we’re already juggling.

Whatever advancements we were achieving in the nineties and shortly after the start of the millennium from the insights of such people as Peter Senge whose book The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, bolstered by other thought leaders as John Kotter, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, C.K. Prahalad, and Gary Hamel (to name just a few) seem to have been largely forgotten.

Grand Manan Lighthouse It’s difficult to repel what may be deemed as the race to the bottom mindset of lowering corporate operating costs while keeping the pedal to the metal. But this applies as well to our personal lives. This was brought home this past May and June during a two week, 3,500 km trip my wife, Sue, and I made to New Brunswick, a Maritime province where we used to live. We spent a lot of time hiking in the wilderness and along the Bay of Fundy’s inspiring cliffs. And for a few days while staying in a cottage on Grand Manan Island we had no TV. It seemed weird at first but we loved it.

It’s amazing how spending time on trails in forests and, my favorite place, along the ocean helps clarify one’s thinking and center one’s personal leadership.

During our trip we also visited Sue’s folks and also saw some of her cousins. I recall talking to some of them at a family event, asking them about their kids. It’s foot to the floor all the time as parents, driving kids to activities and school events, parents’ careers, etc. But that’s no different from parents in cities across Canada and the U.S. And layered upon this “busyness” are growing demands from employers who want more achieved with fewer resources–read, less employees.

Fishing Boat When it comes to corporate decision-making workers typically have zero input. However, while we can’t control what’s beyond our reach, we can control how we react to such events. It’s about how we inject our personal leadership into our workplace to constructively contribute and to enable our adaptability to change. The same applies to our personal lives. To be switched on continuously, foot to the floor, as we juggle the balls of work, family, career development and personal activities leads eventually to burnout. It’s pretty hard to be creative and to think strategically when your brain’s shorting out from overload.

Helping our kids to pause periodically to reflect on where they’re at in life, explore (inquire) into the unknowns and possibilities, and to take calculated risks is to inject our personal leadership into their lives in a positive way.

Encourage your children to explore nature.

Take them on a hike.


Transformative learning, intellectually and emotionally, occurs when we have taken the time to stop and reflect on our prior learning and mental models, in turn validating what is still relevant, and then moving forward with the insights attained.

– Jim Taggart

Red SignsPostscript: Grand Manan Island is one of the three Bay of Fundy Isles, part of the Province of New Brunswick. Before our June 2014 ferry ride to the island, the last time Sue and I had been there was 23 years ago camping with our then four young kids.

The most meaningful part of our hiking along the island’s huge cliffs was to Hay Point at the south western tip of the island. Hay Point looks towards Maine, USA. I last visited there in 1979 with the late Father Tom Daley who took me to Grand Manan Island on two occasions. We were billeted by a lovely and generous couple who lived in Seal Cove.



Jim and Sue Grand Manan This last photo is of Sue and me at Hay Point. For me, Hay Point is the most beautiful place in Canada. And just as we arrived a fishing boat (shown in the above photo) came into view, on its way to herring weirs. It felt kind of odd being back at this bluff, surrounded by meadow, 100 feet above the ocean, surrounded by towering cliffs, 35 years later. But it felt like yesterday.

I will return to Hay Point in 2015.


Photos by Jim Taggart and Sue Butler (Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick, Canada).


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Leadership and Three Success Keys for the City of the Future

July 13, 2014
Waterloo Cities come in all shapes and sizes. Trying to rank cities by size gets rather difficult because of municipal boundaries. What’s relevant is using accepted urban boundaries to define a city. In other words, a common labor market is the key driver in determining a “city” and its socio-economic composition.

In North America, the largest cities (urban areas ) in descending order are New York City (20.6 million), Mexico City (20.2), Los Angeles (15.1), Chicago (9.1) and Toronto (6.2). Dallas-Fort Worth is hot on Toronto’s heels with an urban population of 6.0 million. For more on populations click here.

While these large urban areas are indeed big, when one considers other countries the numbers are even more impressive. Consider the top five urban areas: Tokyo-Yokohama (37.3 million), Jakarta (26.7), Seoul-Incheon (22.9), Delhi (22.9) and Shanghai (21.8). When you’re dealing with such massive urban areas it’s useful to keep in mind that they have larger economic outputs than many countries.

Whether a “city” (in most cases we’re talking about urban areas) is a puny one million inhabitants, or a paltry 75,000, each is uniquely different with a combination of natural gifts (e.g., natural resources), location (e.g., port) and people. On the latter, some cities luck out by having generous benefactors who donate large sums of money over many years which contribute to its cultural and educational amenities, not to mention business investment, such as in technology.

Fredericton Two contrasting examples of small cities in Canada can be found in the small province of New Brunswick (population 750,000), bounded by Maine, Quebec, Nova Scotia and the Bay of Fundy: Fredericton and Saint John.

Fredericton, the provincial capital, has an urban population of about 80,000. With strong British Empire Loyalist roots, Fredericton has had three key factors that have created and maintained a good standard of living and the highest disposable income in the four Atlantic Provinces:

a) a stunningly beautiful location on the Saint John River which splits the city in half;

b) being the seat of government, which provides economic stability;

c) being the recipient of Lord Beaverbrook (Sir Max Aitken) whose generosity contributed greatly to the city’s culture and stature. Fredericton has also benefitted from solid financial management from its municipal government over several decades.

The contrast to Fredericton is only 90 minutes down river: Saint John, an industrialized, blue collar, port city which has struggled economically for decades. Its workforce has much higher unemployment than Fredericton and higher illiteracy and innumeracy. Although it has the advantage of having a deep water port, Saint John competes against other ports, from Halifax to Montreal to New York City. Its tech industry is thin, and it has struggled to keep low-wage call center jobs from moving to cheaper jurisdictions.

Saint John The biggest employer in the city for decades is the locally owned Irving empire, consisting of a vertically integrated network of oil, forestry operations, forest products manufacturing, trucking, shipping, technology, steel fabrication, and the list goes on. Indeed, Canada’s largest oil refinery is owned and operated by the Irvings in east Saint John.


But despite having what could contentiously be called an economic benefactor over 60-plus years, Saint John tries in vain to right a sinking ship. Unfortunately, in comparison to Fredericton’s rock solid economic stewardship, Saint John’s municipal leadership and fiscal management has been an ongoing embarrassment and disgrace, with the outcome being lost economic opportunities.

And then there’s Canada’s capital, Ottawa, a beautiful city of some 900,000 residents (urban population about 1.1 million), not including the city of Gatineau across the Ottawa River in Quebec. The two urban areas combined form what is called the National Capital Region (1.4 million).

Ottawa Despite being the seat of government, Ottawa has had a tough time during the past few years. Up until the early 2000s, the federal public service and the high tech sector employed about the same numbers of people. And then the collapse struck, beginning in 2001. Nortel’s death took several years, but wiped out 20,000 jobs in Ottawa. JDS Uniphase, Newbridge, Cognos and Mitel all suffered various degrees of collapse, shrinking or corporate acquisition.

What propped up the economy was the public sector’s rapid growth from 2000 to 2009, expanding from 100,000 employees to 150,000. The Conservative government’s full court press to shrink the public service as part of its deficit-fighting campaign in effect pulled the rug out from under Ottawa’s economy. The concern now among business leaders is if and when the city can recover economically, especially given brutally competitive global competition for technology investment and jobs.

When it comes to today’s global economic streetfight for market share, both at the corporate and nation-state levels, we all too often forget the vital role that cities play in a country’s wealth generation through foreign investment and, in turn, job creation. At the heart of this is municipal leadership and a mayor’s and elected council’s ability to understand the big picture, the implications of standing still while others act, and the dire effects of political infighting.

Saint John’s political leaders don’t seem to get it. Fredericton’s leaders kind of get it, but have been spoilt by having the federal and provincial public services, not to mention two universities, as economic stabilizers. The City of Ottawa’s political leaders’ infighting and the lack of a coherent vision for a very large geographically dispersed city is undermining its future at the expense of its citizens.

The rest of the world–namely emerging markets–love this, watching the West bumble along, national, provincial-state, and municipal politicians engaging in one-upmanship, forgetting why they hold elected office.

singapore For a city to succeed in the future, while having natural attributes as nice-to-haves what’s more important for its long-term success are three success keys. These three success keys are:

1) Smart People – Human capital development is the primary cornerstone for the eventual success of a city, state or province, or nation. Without a strong, sustained focus on educating a population, building its skill and competency levels, and wiping out literacy and innumeracy so that everyone can participate in new economic opportunities, everything else is meaningless chatter.

2) Small Companies – Agility is where it’s at in today’s hyperspeed economy and labor market. Smart, competent and talented people are great to have–indeed essential–but companies must be able to anticipate change, even when unsure (in most cases) of what the unknowns are. While small companies don’t have the economies of scale of large firms (with the efficiencies they may bring), what they can do is turn on a dime when needed. And by having smart people small companies can make those 180 degree turns much faster and nimbly than the clumsy giants.

3) Global Connectivity – If you’re not connected get out of the kitchen–that is, where the good stuff is happening and where smart people are experimenting with what may seem as crazy ideas. Technology is not an end unto itself; however, it is a critical enabler to bringing people together virtually all over the globe to share their insights based on totally different cultural upbringings. And with new discoveries comes wealth creation.

Smart People + Small Companies + Global Connectivity = Three Success Keys for the City of the Future.

But wait! There’s something missing in this equation. While the three success keys form the foundation for positioning a city for the future, there’s one overarching necessary element.

Leadership.

The only way to create and maintain traction and momentum for a city’s development is through visionary leadership that enrolls and aligns people towards a better community–for all. Leadership, in effect, forms the glue to keep smart people; small, agile companies; and technology on the same path to the future.


Cities are central to innovation and new technology. They act as giant petri dishes, where creative types and entrepreneurs rub up against each other, combining and recombining to spark new ideas, new inventions, new businesses and new industries.

Richard Florida (The Wall Street Journal,”The Joys of Urban Tech”)


Photos: Waterloo, Ontario; Fredericton; Saint John; Ottawa; Singapore


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Leaders Pay Close Attention…and Then Act

July 7, 2014
Max  - Erica Aug 2012 Hardly any faculty is more important for the intellectual progress of man than ATTENTION. Animals clearly manifest this power, as when a cat watches by a hole and prepares to spring on its prey.
– Charles Darwin (The Descent of Man, 1871)



We humans consider ourselves to be the superior beings on Mother Earth. Indeed, we don’t like to think of ourselves as animals, though that is what we are in effect when it comes to behavior, given our propensity for violence, whether against other humans, wildlife or the environment. Perhaps, however, it’s an insult to other “animals” to say that humans are part of their animal clan.

Sue and I have an eight-year old Labrador Retriever, Max. We’ve had him since he was six weeks old. Our four adult kids love him, as do our four grand kids. Max is gentle and patient with the little ones, but nevertheless exuberant when company arrives. He also sleeps a lot–or so one would like to think.

Watching a dog sleep is an interesting occasion. Just when you think Max is dead asleep on his comfy dog bed in the rec room, one eye pops open, and then the other. It may have been the innocuous sound of a door opening or the sound of cheese being grated upstairs in the kitchen (yes, he can hear that), but Max is now alert. And he as the uncanny ability to distinguish between a visitor entering the house, which prompts a few deep barks and a scurry up the stairs, and one of our kids, which elicits another quirky behavior: grabbing one of his stuffed dinosaurs and bringing it upstairs as some sort of welcome gift.

I also enjoy watching him chill out in the sun on the back deck. He looks at peace with himself, having a good snooze. But the ears are twitching at every sound, his nose quivering at unknown scents and he’ll suddenly stand to alert to look out over the fence, only to plop himself down again and feign sleep.

Max-Charley-FergI share this story to illustrate what Max and dogs in general do so well: he pays attention all the time, even when he’s supposedly sleeping. He watches out the windows to constantly scan what’s going on out on his street (yes, it’s his street in his mind). He goes from person to person when family or friends visit, ensuring that everyone gets some attention, not to mention a donation of some of his fur. And he will lie at your feet when he detects you’re not feeling well.

For a dog with the IQ of a toddler, Max and his canine peers do a pretty job at trying to subtly teach we humans how to be present in the moment and to be aware of our surroundings. Except that we’re not doing a very good job at it.

Let’s consider top corporate leadership, where one would assume that CEOs and presidents are paying attention to what’s happening within their organization’s walls.

Whether it’s General Motors’ ongoing negative media exposure caused by years (indeed decades) of gross senior leadership incompetence of ignoring faulty ignition switches in the Chevrolet Cobalt or leaking fuel lines in the Chev TrailBlazer, or inner city drug problems and associated violence spurred on by indifferent mayors, paying attention is the role of true leaders.

As Chicago’s feisty but effective and committed mayor Rahm Emanuel stated emphatically in Bloomberg BusinessWeek on the issue of OxyContin abuse: “The heads of the pharmaceutical companies and the head of the FDA and the heads of the medical profession need to step up and start taking responsibility. You have a regulated drug that is leading to overdose and heroin addiction. Snap out of it and pay attention.”

Love him or hate him Emanuel, as President Obama’s pit bull former Chief of Staff (who drove the Affordability Healthcare Bill to conclusion), gets things done. And he’s absolutely correct when he says, in effect, that corporate leaders must pay attention to the damage they’re inflicting on society.

Mary The same applies on a much grander scale to General Motors top management which, through its arrogance and high-handed manner, caused the needless death and injuries to numerous people. That some senior executives have not been charged criminally is a mystery to your correspondent. And as of writing this post, GM’s recalls number 28.5 million worldwide, or as TIME magazine stated, “All the Cars GM Has Recalled this Year Would Wrap the Earth 4 Times.” (Photo of new GM CEO Mary Barra testifying before Senate Sub-Committee on Consumer Protection).

Or how about T-Mobile’s recent run-in with the Federal Trade Commission which is suing the company for ripping off customers for hundreds of millions of dollars in third party charges on phone bills for supposed premium services. Known as “cramming,” where a company puts misleading, unauthorized or deceptive charges through customers’ phone bills, the FTC filed its accusations in Seattle in early July. The charges, buried in customers’ detailed phone bills, were unauthorized, and in fact some customers had asked T-Mobile to stop when they discovered them.

Leaders pay attention.

They don’t cower and pretend that all is well. They suck it up, in the vernacular of my son who works in banking, and hit problems head on. General Motors’ and T-Mobile’s top management either were unaware of their respective problems or ignored them. They weren’t paying attention. In the case of GM’s new CEO, Mary Barra, she’s trying to rectify the problem, though it’s pretty hard to bring the people back to life who were killed by the company’s incompetence.

So, with that all said, what type of leader are you?

Do you pay close attention to what is going on around you?

Do you act promptly when something is not right?

And do your eyes pop open, like Max’s, when you detect a subtle change?


Intelligent life on a planet comes of age when it first works out the reason for its own existence.

– Richard Dawkins (The Selfish Gene, 1976)

Photos of dogs by Erica McTaggart


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.

10 Leadership Lessons to Succeed During Turbulent Change

June 30, 2014
happy-people1 In my new ebook Workforce of the Future: Building Change Adaptability, 2nd Edition I present four major forces that are exerting major impacts on our planet and its seven billion inhabitants. However the core of the ebook is about leadership, specifically what each of us can do, regardless of our status in society, to adapt to turbulent change. I’ve spoken about 10 leadership lessons in the past; here they are again in summary form.



Lesson #1: Commit to Your Job.
There’s a saying that people don’t quit their jobs but rather their bosses. However, there comes a time when commitment to our work and employers must be reconciled with the tendency to leave jobs when we become frustrated. To commit to your job means aligning yourself with your organization’s mission, understanding who are the customers or clients, and determining where you add value. If you find that you’re not adding value, then some personal reflection is needed.

Lesson #2: Adapt Quickly to Change
When a big change hits your organization, emulate Superman by quickly shedding your old corporate duds for the new approach. If you can’t find a phone booth, any office will do. But the key point here is to understand that your organization is about to go through some whitewater change. By adapting quickly to the change, you’ll significantly reduce your stress while simultaneously showing management that you can be counted upon when the going gets tough and ambiguity is the daily challenge.

Lesson #3: Learn to Focus and Go for Quality, Not Quantity
In organizational work, multitasking has the negative effect of valuing the superficial and mediocrity. In what has been labeled the knowledge age, in which employees are supposedly knowledge workers, multitasking is dumbing down organizations.

When it comes to leading people, being present is a vital element of effective leadership. If you’re trying to multitask while speaking to one of your staff who has dropped by your office, you send out the message loud and clear that the individual is not important. Focus on what your colleague is saying; at that moment he or she is the center of your attention.

Lesson #4: Be a Promise Keeper
When you keep your promises and commitments to your co-workers, staff and bosses, including those with whom you interact in your community, you’re viewed as someone with integrity and whose word is gold. When the situation arises where you’re unable to keep a promise, then it’s essential to take the time to explain what happened to the person or people who were affected. Refrain from making up excuses; just be up front and people will be much more likely to be understanding. They may even respect you more when they see you admitting a mistake and acknowledging that you’re human.

Lesson #5: Embrace Uncertainty and Ambiguity–Ride the Wave
Trying to resist the onslaught of whitewater change is futile. The metaphor of learning to ride the wave is very apt, one that creates a positive and energetic outlook. At the organizational level the effects of globalization–characterized by most work being capable of being done anywhere around the world, thanks largely to communications technology–are having profound effects on workers.

What’s important to keep at the forefront is not who’s right on the job distribution issue, but rather to identify what YOU control and do NOT control. You control your morale, willingness to learn and adapt, and desire to seek out new opportunities. By assuming the identity of a change master, you’ll greatly reduce the stress that’s generated when your organization goes through the gyrations of major changes. And you’ll signal to senior management that you’re equipped and ready to contribute to helping the organization meet its new challenges.

Lesson #6: Be a sponge for learning–and then SYNTHESIZE
The amount of information is growing exponentially. It’s no doubt overwhelming with the massive onslaught of information we must try to absorb. As much as it’s important to keep learning and to expose ourselves to new ideas and perspectives, the critical skill to acquire is how to synthesize this data overload.

Lesson #7: Own your attitude and behavior
How often have you seen bosses or co-workers trying to dump their problems on others? What was the effect? Did anyone call the individual on it? What was the response from management? When behavior like this occurs it can have a corrosive effect on the team and even more broadly on the organization. Don’t turn a blind eye when you see it happening. Speak up and empower yourself to help correct the behavior. Lead by example.

Lesson #8: Be a problem solver. Not finger pointer
It’s easy to identify problems and complain about them. Some people excel at this. The bigger challenge is exploring solutions to problems, and especially doing so in a collaborative manner. When you approach your work from this perspective you automatically start adding value to your organization. Avoid the finger pointers; instead, seek out people who want to be part of finding effective solutions for organizational issues and problems. You’ll be seen as the person who makes things happen, who fixes problems and, especially, adds value to your organization.

Lesson #9: Practice what you preach
Treat people as how you like to be treated, whether it’s responding to a request for information from another unit in the organization or serving a customer, client or supplier. When others see that you act consistently in accordance with what emanates from your mouth, they’ll take you more seriously and respect you for your judgment and views. Aligning what you espouse and what you actually practice is a cornerstone to leadership integrity, one essential to creating a loyal followership.

Lesson #10: Become a barrier buster
Avoid becoming entrapped in silo thinking, in which people hoard information, reject ideas from other parts of the organization (as well as from outside) and attempt to protect their turf. Rise above this and get known for being a barrier buster who openly shares information, connects people and communicates effectively across organizational boundaries. You’ll get noticed by management as someone who understands the bigger picture and is contributing to the organization’s mission and vision.

This brings with it demands for new leadership approaches. Top-down, command and control management styles have no place in our new world. It’s about collaboration through worker self-empowerment, where calculated risk-taking is a daily endeavour and individual and collective learning is nurtured and valued.

Take some time to reflect on these ten leadership lessons. Where do you see yourself strongest? And where do you see yourself needing to strengthen your skills?

Start small; focus on one or two areas. Commit yourself to becoming an effective leader.


By assuming the identity of a change master, you’ll greatly reduce the stress that’s generated when your organization goes through the gyrations of major changes.

– James Taggart


Leading in Multipolar World 2nd editionClick here to download my complimentary e-book Leading in a Multipolar 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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