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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 Edge.com.


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


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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).


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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