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What’s Your Leadership Lens?

August 19, 2018


How do you perceive the world?

Is your glass half empty, or half full?

When you interact with people, whether at work or in your community, do you inherently trust them?

As human beings we haul around a lot of baggage, the accumulation of years and years of experiences: parents, grandparents, teachers, community leaders, aunts and uncles, bosses (good and bad), and the list goes on.

How we see the world and function on a daily basis is determined by what’s called our mental models. That’s fancy talk for our bundled assumptions, beliefs and values acquired over our lifetimes. Two people who have studied and written extensively on mental models are Peter Senge and his mentor, Harvard psychologist Chris Argyris.

Senge’s 1990 widely acclaimed book The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization did a lot to help people better understand how they learn and work together, in particular within the artificial constructs of organizations. Argyris’ concept of the Ladder of Inference serves as a pathway to explain how our mental models are formed and how they evolve as we age.


Here’s a brief description of the Ladder:

Whether you think of this concept as a continuum or perhaps a movie film, we begin with real data; in other words, real life daily experiences. We interpret these experiences, selecting certain ones and then determine their meaning.

We then develop assumptions based on what we’ve drawn from our experiences and the meanings we’ve attached to them.

The next step is the conclusions we establish, which in turn help form our beliefs. From these beliefs our daily behaviours and actions emerge.

You may be thinking at this point that this Ladder is actually a circular diagram because life is not a linear process. You’d be correct on this.

Each of us is continually exposed to new experiences each day, which may reinforce the assumptions and conclusions we’ve developed. However, they may also conflict with them as well. Internal conflict will occur more often if we expose ourselves to new situations and experiences, stretching our learning into new areas.

The Ladder of Inference has useful applications, for example, to teamwork. Understanding how people can quickly develop incorrect assumptions and beliefs about co-workers can help place issues in the proper context.

Here’s a simple example:

• Bob is a member of a team. Every Monday morning the team meets at 9am.

• However, Bob sometimes arrives late for meetings.

• Bob knows there’s a team meeting every Monday, but comes late.

• Therefore, Bob is unreliable and can’t be counted upon.

The Ladder of Inference, consisting of “data,” assumptions and beliefs, in turn producing a negative attitude towards Bob, may be corrected if the team takes the time to talk to Bob. As it turns out, Bob’s a single dad with three young kids. The team may wish to discuss how to adjust their meeting time.

Now let’s look at two more detailed fictional examples of the Ladder of Inference at work in an organizational setting:

Boomer Male.jpg

Chuck: Demoralized Baby Boomer

Chuck is 52, a “young” Boomer who has worked in government since graduating from college. He’s a middle manager who keeps his head down, avoids rocking the boat and taking risks, and has a keen eye cast towards eventual retirement, which won’t come too soon in his mind.

When Chuck was growing up, he was taught to respect his elders, whether parents, relatives, neighbours or teachers. He was urged to go to college by his school guidance counsellor and his dad; learning a trade was not on the radar. Throughout his teens and college years, Chuck learned that compliance to authority was the way it is. He also learned that whether it was one of his college profs or bosses during summer jobs, that you did what you told and never questioned instructions or spoke up.

Some of these bosses, including a few of the early ones after he joined government, tended to be abusive. Chuck learned how to take criticism, sometimes insults, regardless of whether he had performed a task properly or achieved a desired result. He began to shut down, making a point of avoiding any decisions involving risk or using creative problem solving.

By the time he was in his mid-thirties, Chuck had taken on supervisory duties with a small staff composed of people in their late twenties and early thirties. He was finding it difficult to supervise his staff since several of them had no problem with speaking up, whether suggesting new ideas or objecting to some of Chuck’s decisions. “What the heck’s wrong with these young people,” he’d ask himself. “I’m their boss; they should follow my decisions.”

Yet Chuck’s boss and the higher-ups followed the “I’m the boss school of thought.” He did as he was told, having been burned a few times in the past when he had argued with certain management decisions.

Chuck was miserable; he felt sandwiched between demanding, insensitive bosses and overly confident youngsters. He wanted out but didn’t know what to do. He had job security and good pay and benefits, but hated the organization’s culture and what amounted to work with meaningless objectives.

Female Millennial

Ashley: Assertive Millennial

At age 29, Ashley is getting impatient with management in her large company. “There are too many old farts hanging around work, Boomers who should retire and let younger employees get things done,” she’d regularly tell herself.

When she was growing up in a small city, her parents kept her active in numerous after school and weekend activities. They also insisted she study hard and get good marks. If her marks weren’t up to snuff, her mom wouldn’t hesitate to call one of Ashley’s teachers. This even continued while she attended college.

Ashley was regularly told that she could do whatever she wanted to when it came to choosing a career. Her folks told her she was “super smart.”

She also worked a few part-time jobs in her last year of high school, quitting them abruptly when her bosses “pissed her off.” The same pattern continued during college when she held summer jobs. This bothered her parents, but they typically defended her actions.

During her short tenure with her company, she’s learned to get her way through whatever means.

Now that she’s worked five years after earning a MBA, Ashley feels she’s ready to become a manager. In her eyes, “If only those bozos in upper management would see that I have what it takes to manage people and to get things done.”

Ashley typically produces high quality work, for which she’s been recognized. However, to help her with inter-personal skills, one of her former bosses had tried coaching her, but that effort failed in what her peers recall as “Ashley’s meltdown.” She didn’t need any feedback from some over-the-hill guy.

Ashley’s about to turn thirty and she’s miserable: “It’s time to do some serious job-hunting and find a job where my talents will be appreciated.”
So there you have two different examples of two individuals, with different genders and from two contrasting generations.

Use the Ladder of Inference to examine how Chuck and Ashley have evolved in their perceptions and beliefs towards their organizations and in particular their peers and bosses.

You may conclude that this is all theoretical stuff, that it’s the domain of academics. If so, I challenge you to keep a keen eye on your workplace. Watch and listen to how your co-workers draw conclusions about others. Better yet, take a close look at how you operate at work.

Those of us who learn humility and who acknowledge and accept our personal weaknesses are that much stronger in the end. This is how leadership is formed and eventually earned.

People don’t resist change. They resist being changed. –
- Peter Senge

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Just How Smart Are You? Teaching Smart People How to Learn

August 12, 2018


“Any company that aspires to succeed in the tougher business environment of the 1990s must first resolve a basic dilemma: success in the marketplace increasingly depends on learning, yet more people don’t know how to learn….those members of the organization that many assume to be the best at learning are, in fact, not very good at it. I am talking about the well-educated, high-powered, high-commitment professionals who occupy key leadership positions in the modern corporation.”

Each of us has someone who has inspired us during our professional development. It may have been a boss, a community leader or someone whose writings through thought leadership have prompted reflection and inquiry. I had a few very good bosses over a 35 year working career. However, I have to be honest and admit that it’s the thought leaders who really propelled me forward.

One person who served as my leadership catalyst, who I met in 2000, and for whom I remain indebted, is Peter Senge, Director of the Center for Organizational Learning at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and author of the acclaimed book, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. However, every student of leadership–yes, Senge is a very humble and decent man–has his or her mentor. His mentor was Chris Argyris (pictured below) who earned acclaim for his theory of Double Loop Learning.

The above quotation is the opening to a 1991 landmark article that Argyris wrote for the Harvard Business Review in May 1991. Extract a few dates from the article and it could have been written in 2018. Teaching Smart People How to Learn came at an important time for corporations. Global competition was ramping up from such emerging economies as China and India; however, much has happened in the past two decades. My contention is that Argyris’ work, and in particular his 1991 article, is of vital importance to the global competitiveness of American and Canadian companies, including the effectiveness of the public sector. Here’s more from Argyris:

Most companies not only have tremendous difficulty addressing this learning dilemma, they aren’t even aware that it exists. The reason: they misunderstand what learning is and how to bring it about.

Most of us tend to approach learning as problem-solving, where we attempt to fix problems stemming from the external environment. I recall earlier in my career in the public service where courses on problem-solving were popular. However, Argyris points out that for proper learning to occur people must not just focus on the external world but also look within themselves. This means doing critical self-reflection, identifying where we may have contributed to the problem and then decide what we must do to change.

This is where Argyris introduces his concept of Single versus Double-Loop Learning. A basic example of Single-Loop Learning would be a thermostat turning itself on when the temperature drops below a pre-set level. Double-Loop, in contrast, would ask the question “why?”

At a human level, those who are supposedly highly educated and skilled excel at Single-Loop Learning. They’ve mastered certain disciplines and believe they’re capable of solving the world’s problems. Argyris argues that these professionals are actually weak at Double-Loop Learning because they seldom experience failure, and when they do (the result of their Single-Loop approach) the instinct is to blame others. As he bluntly puts it: “…their ability to learn shuts down precisely at the moment they need it most.”

Adding to the defensive patterns professionals employ when mistakes are made is the assumption that organizations make: getting employees to learn is essentially a motivation issue. So what we trot out from management are new org charts, communication strategies, employee surveys, and so on.

Double-Loop Learning is not about how employees “feel,” but rather about “how they think.”

ArgyrisLet’s take a look at recent examples that support Argyris’ contention of smart people being in need of learning how to learn. And let’s be generous and include those in senior positions in the public service. After all, we often hear about the “best and the brightest” being asked to serve their countries in senior government positions.

ou may recall the 2008-09 financial meltdown which originated in the United States, with the major architect being Alan Greenspan (former Chairman of the Federal Reserve), but aided and abetted by a star-studded cast including Presidents Bill Clinton and G.W. Bush, Hank Paulson (former Treasury Secretary), Ben Bernanke (current Federal Reserve chairman), Martin Sullivan (former CEO, AIG), and the list goes on–the best and the brightest who brought the global financial system almost to its knees.

Greenspan’s once luminescent halo is now a faded relic, with his disastrous performance as Fed chief destined for future ubiquitous financial history books. Indeed, Charles Dumas (of Lombard Street Research) states that Greenspan showed “asymmetric ignorance” when he claimed he didn’t know when asset prices were in a bubble state, yet asserted to know when plummeting asset prices were more likely to cause problems.

Here are a few select quotations from those in the supposed know:
Dateline, early 2007: “At this juncture, however, the impact on the broader economy and financial markets of the problems in the subprime market seems likely to be contained.” (Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve chairman).

On the threat of subprime mortgages during the summer of 2007: “I don’t think it poses any threat to the overall economy.” (Hank Paulson, former Treasury Secretary).
And then in May 2008, this comment by Paulson: “Looking forward, I expect that financial markets will be driven less by the recent turmoil and more by broader economic conditions and, specifically, by the recovery of the housing sector.”

We all know how that commercial turned out.

Contrast this with a statement by President Herbert Hoover in May 1930: “…I am convinced we have now passed through the worst–and with continued unity of effort we shall rapidly recover. There has been no significant bank or industrial failure. That danger, too, is safely behind us.”

However, there have been a few bright lights in the public sector. As former Federal Reserve chairman William McChesney Martin (1951-1970) once stated of the job of central bankers: “…to take away the punch bowl just as the party gets going.” At least Martin understood his role very clearly, successfully serving under five presidents.
(Source: “Crisis Economics” Nouriel Roubini and Stephen Mihm)

Smart Kid 2.jpg

Continuing our walk of shame, how about Eliot Spitzer, former Governor of New York state, and previously New York State Attorney General? Where was his double-loop learning? One could hazard a guess.

Then there’s Hurricane Katrina in 2005 on the Gulf Coast and the grossly irresponsible response by different levels of government. Did anyone learn anything from this disaster?

Obviously not, because in the same neck of the woods in March 2010 British Petroleum (BP) was responsible for the largest oil spill in world history. CEO Tony Hayward, hired to clean up BP’s sordid environmental reputation, was recently sacked as CEO. Now he has time for lots of sailing regatta while receiving a near $1 million annual pension.

One example close to home, given its proximity to my neighbourhood, is Nortel, where two cousins once worked before this once-proud Canadian company imploded as the result of managerial incompetence and corruption. This has to be the saddest corporate story in Canadian history, a company that once accounted for the majority of research and development in Canada.

In reference to the above-noted financial meltdown, let’s not forget the decades of managerial and professional head-in-the–hole thinking by General Motors and Chrysler, all the while the rest of the world was churning by as the Japanese, Korean and German automakers laughed at North America.

Examples abound of where supposedly “smart” people, working in business or public policy, thought they had it figured out and knew the answers. The problem persists. Being consumed by your own self-perceived brilliance is in reality a major learning disability, one that not only impedes critical self-reflection but also creativity and innovation. At its worst, it can result in harm to others and more broadly society and the environment (e.g., the BP oil spill).

So what explains the defensive reasoning patterns employed by supposedly smart people? Argyris argues that it’s not the attitudes held by senior managerial leaders towards initiating change or continuous improvement, for example, but rather it’s how these individuals reasoned about how they would behave, along with those they lead. Instead of people stopping every time to reason about an issue or a problem, what occurs is that each of us develops a “theory of action.” This is tantamount to a set of rules that guides us as we interact with the real world, and it also helps us to understand how others behave. Over time these rules become automatic; we don’t realize that we’re using them.

Sounds pretty theoretical, doesn’t it? How about this: think of a time when management in your organization introduced a change initiative. The top dog and his or her senior managers pushed down a whopper of a new change. Middle managers were told to get everyone on board. But no one bit. Hmmm. Sound familiar?
Why did this happen? For one thing, the words emanating from those with authority were not congruent with their actions. Argyris refers to this tension as Espoused Theory versus Theory-in-Use. Stay with me folks!

Smart Kid.jpg

If there’s one thing I learned over the years that helped me in my personal leadership journey it was this concept. Some might call it speaking out of both sides of your mouth at the same time. Others might call it being hypocritical when you say one thing but do another. I recall reading some time ago one definition of leadership as being, doing the same thing when you’re not being watched as when you’re being observed. Think about it for a moment.

Argyris explains it in his way: “…people consistently act inconsistently, unaware of the contradiction between their espoused theory and their theory-in-use, between the way they think they are acting and the way they really act.”

He continues by explaining that theories-in-use are based on the same governing values, from which people’s behaviour tends to be reflected. Their aim is to avoid threats, embarrassment, vulnerability or incompetence:

1. To retain total control

2. To maximize winning and minimize losing

3. To suppress negative feelings

4. To be as rationale as possible

Reflect on this.

When educated people in positions of authority or influence engage in defensive reasoning, the result is their keeping private self-doubts, inferences and assumptions that determine their behaviour. And by consequence they refrain from self-reflection, inquiry and engaging with others to explore other possibility and solutions.
I’d add, based on my observations of the above examples (e.g, Tony Hayward, Alan Greenspan), that a downward corkscrew pattern is established, in which mistakes and the failure to acknowledge them occurs, setting the stage for disaster. Witness the ongoing debt ceiling fiasco in the U.S., perpetrated and sustained by intransigent partisan politicians.

At a macro-economic level, the errors imposed on society by so-called “smart” people can be devastating when it comes to competitiveness and wealth production. Fortunately, citizens are starting to awaken to the faux-intelligentsia enlightenment, to which they have been held captive for decades. In the meantime, the Chinese, Indians, South Koreans, Brazilians, Taiwanese, etc. have leaped forward to build their economies and global market shares.

So in the end, just how “smart” are we in Canada and America? Do we get it, when it comes to preserving our environment, collective wealth and standard of living?
Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.
- John Maynard Keynes

holisti-leadershipClick here to download a complimentary copy of Jim’s e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader, 3rd Edition.

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Do You Know the Difference Between Corporate Culture and Climate?

August 5, 2018


In this post we’ll look at the distinction between organizational culture and climate. Trying to get a grasp on what makes an organization tick and understanding how people either collaborate or undermine one another is akin to trying to nail jello to the wall. It’s easier said than done.

When we talk about corporate culture we’re actually referring to the climate of the organization. Employee survey questionnaires, while making management feel that it’s doing something constructive, are intended to simply skim the surface of the organization, picking off issues oriented around working relationships and training opportunities.

There’s nothing wrong with collecting this type of information, provided that it’s understood the context in which it’s obtained and the limited uses to which it can be applied. However, when we speak of changing an organization’s culture to one of being, for example, client-centric or that of a learning organization, then we must dive beneath the surface to explore in much greater detail.

Below is a set of questions that may be of assistance to you in trying to develop a better understanding of what drives your organization and what influences employees to act the way they do at work.

• What are the unspoken assumptions that determine how work gets done and decisions made, following “accepted” practices and processes?

• How do employees (managers and staff) see themselves in relation to the environments in which they work?

• What are the shared, tacit assumptions that determine who is “in” and who is “out” when it comes to having access to information and senior management?

• How do employees get labeled?

• What are the rituals?

• How do employees accomplish their work in the context of past and existing organizational structures and processes?

• What is the nature of authority and working relationships?

• What determines how employees are rewarded and punished?

• How is power exercised?


Assessing the culture of an organization is best done by bringing people together in small groups to delve into the unspoken assumptions and beliefs on why and how things are done the way they are. Unfortunately, employee questionnaire surveys only uncover the superficial, known issues, or what would be called the espoused values of the organization. Surveys do NOT reveal assumptions because they only uncover the superficial, known issues, or what would be called the espoused values of the organization. Surveys do NOT reveal assumptions because they don’t ask the right questions.

Yes, surveys provide anonymity for the respondent. However, the consequence is that the results get parked on management’s doorstep. The response of employees is, “Okay, we’ve completed the survey. Now do something!”


What’s critical to realize is that when survey data are compiled the worst thing you can do is park the results on management’s doorstep. This is a disempowering approach to shared leadership. Employees MUST be part of the solutions and work with, not against, management. And if organized labor exists in the workplace, then it must play an active part in finding solutions.

The key is to open a dialogue in which people feel safe to participate and to express themselves. This is why participative processes that include everyone, from bottom to the top, are so powerful. They give people a voice and stimulate people to empower themselves.

Bringing people together to openly discuss values and shared assumptions sends a powerful message to the organization. Those in senior managerial leadership positions then have their work cut out for them. But this time they’re not alone. They have a whole organization of employees backing them, keen to contribute their knowledge and experience.

In seeking truth you have to get both sides of the story.
—Walter Cronkite


Click here to download a complimentary copy of Jim’s e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader, 3rd Edition.

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Leading in a Spiderweb World: Do You See the Connections?

July 29, 2018

Best Internet Concept of global business from concepts series

In an earlier post I talked about the forces of change: how events are more predictable than people wish to admit and the role of ethical leadership during tumultuous times. Today, we’ll look at some of the main drivers of change and their inter-connectedness.

Below are eight main change drivers, but they’re not definitive by any stretch. However, they account for a significant portion of the major issues and challenges facing government policy makers and corporate leaders.

1. Technology-enabling information sharing: Giving everyone a voice

2. Global Labour Markets: Bytes vs. Brains

3. Footloose Companies: Loyalty? What Loyalty?

4. Emerging Markets: Consumers on Steroids

5. Ageing population: Boomers Heading to the Walkers

6. Fiscal Overload: Time to Pay the Piper

7. Geo-Political Instability

8. Mother Earth: What about Stewardship for the Planet?

By understanding these drivers and how they’re intertwined, those wishing to exercise leadership in their organizations and communities, regardless of positional level, will have a solid foundation from which to contribute constructively to decision-making.

Today, we’ll look at the first one dealing with technology.

Technology-enabling information sharing: Giving everyone a voice

The democratization of the information sphere is of course not perfect. China, for example, censors what its citizens may access on the Internet. And then there’s North Korea. Google took the high road, in a way, by exiting China, though it had other strategic interests at stake, such as the desire not to have its systems continuously hacked.

A major reason why the Soviet Union finally imploded 30 years ago was the increasing availability of information combined with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s Glasnost (which included openness to freedom of speech). It was due less to President Reagan’s militaristic overtures, one of the popular myths among Right-Wing Conservatives.

In an amazingly short time span social networking websites have exploded, leaving the corporate world trying to figure out how to Tweet in a meaningful (read profitable way). Facebook’s growth and evolution into new profit lines (including its Instagram) continues to impress. The professional networking site is a much sought after site for corporate recruiters. The list goes on.

maxresdefaultI recall owning a three watt Motorola bag phone in the nineties. My wife and I bought it so that we could stay in touch with our four kids while doing long distance commuting to work. If I were to show that to a Gen Y or Gen Z person today they wouldn’t believe that this was a state-of-the art cell phone not much more than a decade ago. Something for the Smithsonian.


Today, we’re awed with the power and compactness of wireless devices and the mind-numbing features they possess. Indeed, smart phones aren’t even used as phones by many people, notably Millennials (Generation Y) and Generation Z.

These devices, though a perpetual nuisance on the bus or train when having to listen to someone scream at their soul-mate, have also enabled real-time assistance when crimes are being committed. Their built-in cameras have captured our elected officials in compromising situations. They allow people to serve customers faster, and help job hunters nail that elusive job.

The growth of the Internet has been a double-edged sword. For example, while it’s been a huge boost to researchers and helped to expose fraudsters, it has also reciprocally created a serious caveat emptor (buyer beware) when it comes to digesting news or buying goods and services.

As much as this is an exciting time in the accelerating growth of social media technology and the devices that permit the sharing of information anytime, anywhere, we’re very much in the infant stage in how we process the data deluge.

Where we’ll be with social media technology and tech gadgets in 2020 is anyone’s guess. Beware the futurists; they’re usually wrong. But pay attention to the emerging trends and how you can both contribute and benefit.

The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance. It is the illusion of knowledge.
- Stephen Hawking

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Are You Prepared for the Future? How to Deal Effectively with Global Turbulence and Uncertainty

July 22, 2018


We live in a period of what British management thinker Charles Handy has called Discontinuous Change: that change arrives in erratic, unpredictable bursts. Handy’s regarded as one of the top thinkers of all time, ranking beside management guru the late Peter Drucker. Author of such highly acclaimed books as The Empty Raincoat, The New Philanthropists, and The Age of Unreason, Handy remains at the forefront of global trend identification.

Charles Handy, however, is not the focus of today’s post. He was introduced briefly to serve as the backdrop for another respected thinker and writer who has done significant work in the areas of foresight, strategic management and scenario planning.

Meet futurist Peter Schwartz, cofounder and chairman of the former Global Business Network (later acquired by the Monitor Group) and author of The Art of the Long View, The Long Boom, and When Good Companies Do Bad Things. However, the book from which this post draws is Inevitable Surprises: Thinking Ahead in a Time of Turbulence. Although the book was released in 2003 it’s perhaps even more relevant now, given the turmoil that has pervaded the financial markets and economy since 2008.

In the final chapter, Inevitable Strategies, Schwartz presents a set of skills and behaviours to help people prepare effectively for the onslaught of change. To put you in such a position, Peter Schwartz provides this compelling set of 10 skills and behaviours. Reflect upon them and keep them in a handy location so that you can work on them regularly.

1. Build and Maintain Your Sensory and Intelligence Systems. 
First off, we’re not talking about IT systems. Rather, this is about “strategic conversations” with colleagues and friends, where your aim is to observe and interpret events unfolding around you and in far-off places, AND their potential impact on your organization and your community. Few people have a solid grasp on this. Be an exception.

2. Establish a sense of timing. 
As soon as you detect an event occurring, immediately try to determine its speed, impact, when it will exert its effect, and where.

It’s key to determine in advance what these indicators will represent and their scope. For example, do they encompass events emerging from such rising powers as China, Brazil and India? And once you’ve identified these indicators, you must watch them studiously and act quickly when you see something occur.

4. Engage Creative Destruction by Eliminating Outdated Processes. 
The world is changing quickly, with new markets emerging. Rather than operating in a reactive mode, feeling under pressure to decide which products, services, processes, organizational structures etc. to change or eliminate, it’s more effective to initiate action before urgency strikes.
Note: The expression “Creative Destruction” has a fascinating history, dating back to Marx and Engels. However, it was Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter who popularized it.

5. Avoid Denial. 
When you get whacked by a sudden change, don’t pretend nothing significant happened. Denial can lead to a worsening of the problem. Indeed, as Schwartz notes, big business and government excel at specializing in denial. My personal favourite examples are General Motors and Chrysler. Schwartz uses the AIDS epidemic as one example.

6. Know Yourself and Your Ability to Judge
. This is especially important in an environment of constant change and market turmoil. But of even greater importance is knowing when not to step outside your bounds of knowledge to take advantage of perceived opportunities. This is when danger presents itself.

7. Embrace Continuous Learning. 
The majority of failures are what Schwartz calls “failures to learn enough in time about the changing circumstances.” One major problem is how Western countries continue to approach education, and unfortunately the struggle goes on among educators on how to situate it in a global context.

8. Value Environmental Sustainability. 
Schwartz argues that this extends beyond politics and the environment to how corporations integrate and develop themselves in a global sense, understanding the effects of all of their actions.

9. Protect Yourself Financially. 
Each of us needs to create our personal safety net involving finances and insurance. However, as a society we need to also look out for those who are vulnerable and less able to protect themselves. The risks of adverse effects are much higher than we realize; hence we must position ourselves to make the necessary transitions in the future as new changes arrive.

10. Build and Grow Your Connections
. Continuously building relationships, at work and in our communities, is an essential daily practice. And relationship building and making connections requires depth, not just the shallow chats but the deeper conversations.

This set of skills and behaviours presented by Peter Schwartz are highly relevant to today’s chaotic global environment. View them as your toolbox, something you’ll carry for life as you become a master of change, or simply put: a CHANGEMASTER.

There is no recipe or playbook for doing this. There is only the ongoing knot of life to unravel. Perhaps the string that is the easiest to pull is the string of inevitable surprises.— Peter Schwartz

holisti-leadershipClick here to download a complimentary copy of Jim’s e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader, 3rd Edition.

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Leading for Success: How to Create a Culture of Innovation by Following 10 Leadership Behaviours

July 2, 2018

The marketplace is exceedingly brutal. What was technologically exciting a few years ago is now mundane. Back when it was introduced in 1979, the Sony Walkman was seen as the epitome of cool. For guys like me, we went with clones since Walkmans were too expensive at $200. (Average rent at that time was around $280.) The Sony Discman, incidentally, was first produced in 1984.

Sony finally stopped making its Walkman in 2010. However, in 2015 it introduced its new revamped Walkman at the Consumer Electronics Show in Los Vegas. Boasting hi-res audio, 128 GB of storage, an aluminum chassis with leather backing, gold-plated interior, Bluetooth and wifi compatibility, plus more, it came in at jaw-dropping $1,119.99 USD.


When Sony announced that it would cease production of the Walkman, it also noted that it would continue production for specific markets (notably developing countries). Indeed, it was the CEO of Sony who over two decades ago had to convince others in the company that a non-recoding tape device had a market. Walkmans then were as hot as the latest iPhones and Android are today. As for the new CES-launched Walkman, don’t expect to see many on the streets.

Laugh all you Millennials, if you wish. But I have a story about black and white TV for another time, all in a 12 channel rotary dial universe, when televisions had the dual function of furniture.

Why do some companies “get it” while others don’t when it comes to generating continuous innovation?

Why is South Korea’s Hyundai such a roaring success in North America when Chrysler and GM have become basket cases (though in fairness the two American companies have improved to some degree their vehicle quality)?

Why was Brazil’s Embraer able to turn itself around from financial collapse in the early nineties, becoming one of the world’s leading manufacturers of mid-sized jets?

Why is Apple able to consistently invoke paradigm shifts for consumer communication electronics, then to watch wannabe “competitors” scramble to devise their insufficient clone versions?

Why does Samsung produce such cool products, especially from a country (South Korea) that had a totalitarian government only a few decades ago?

Why has Google become the preeminent search engine?

Why is Amazon ranked number one in customer service?

What the heck happened to Sony?

Hands on Globe

There are four main ingredients that serve as the foundation for success for corporate innovation.

1. Be Curious Explorers: These individuals stay in constant contact with their customers and clients to not only ensure that the company’s products and services are meeting their needs, but more importantly they probe to find new solutions and applications. Their aim is to be first-to-market.

2. Go GLOCO: Think global, act local. Understand what’s happening in the global marketplace, then determine where you ADD VALUE. Don’t mimic what’s happening in another country or culture; tailor your products and services to the unique needs of each market niche.

3. Use the Appropriate Technology to Leverage Change: There are too many examples of failed companies that tried to drive change through technology, only to find they were pushing on a string. Understand your market, your clients’ needs, and the relevant technology to address the issue.

4. Make It So! Execute through leadership: This is where leadership really kicks into play, where YOU as the leader must now enrol and align your people towards a shared vision. And the only way this is going to happen is if you give people the space to be themselves, to create that special one-on-one relationship with a particular client, and to empower themselves to create and to make extra-ordinary things happen. Innovation.

Note: The Make It So! ingredient (yes, it’s borrowed from Captain Luc Picard of the Starship Enterprise) is so very true. Many years ago when I was a neophyte manager, my boss was a senior executive in a large organization. Louise was a remarkable executive: conceptualizer, big thinker, relationship-oriented. And a HUGE delegator of authority, but at the same time results-oriented. The two of us would talk about a proposed project and how it would advance the organization. Once conceived, she’d in essence say, “Make it so, Jim.” It was incredibly empowering.

What do we each need to do to contribute to creating a hotbed of innovation in our organizations, whether it’s in business, government, or the non-profit sector? Below is my list of 10 behaviours, not definitive by any means, which are key to dealing effectively with rapidly changing markets and consumer tastes.

1. Listen Actively: as the late leadership practitioner and author Stephen Covey stated in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Seek first to understand, then be understood.” (Habit #5). If you’re not keenly hearing what your customers are saying or signalling, you’ll miss potential business opportunities.

2. Self-initiate: Empower yourself by not asking for permission to be creative or to ask unorthodox questions. Be your own idea factory and actively seek out others to share and discuss.

3. Become a Change Master: Embrace change and what’s happening in society with enthusiasm. Don’t look in the rearview mirror; look down the highway of change.

4. Be a Sponge for learning: Never think, even for a nanosecond, that you’re almost “there” when it comes to knowledge. As humans we “know” but the smallest molecule of all the knowledge generated to the current point in time.

5. Think laterally: When you hit the wall when it comes to trying to generate new ideas and solutions for your customers, step back and reflect on the problem through a new lens. Go for a walk in the woods with a canine friend.

6. Bust Barriers: Your ideas will drown if you remain trapped in your silo. Blow up the barriers by moving across your organization. Plant seeds with those who seem ready to embrace the new. Find change agents among your colleagues.

7. Be a Trender: No, I’m not talking about what’s cool to wear or what music is in. Understand what’s going on in the world (see being a sponge) and try to make sense of it when it comes to your customers.

8. Become a Synthesizer: There’s a whole lot of information out there, much of which is either useless or redundant. But there are gold nuggets of exquisite knowledge waiting to be discovered. Learn how to filter out garbage information and distill what’s really important to you.

9. Be Adaptable: This means being open to outcome, not attached to it. Ride the wave of change, both through rough and good times.

10. Expand Your Knowledge and Expertise: If you want to be taken seriously by senior management when it comes to introducing ideas that could lead to innovations, it’s vital that you have a strong grasp on your own knowledge and what you bring to the table. Take time to solidify this. Then go for it!

There you have it folks, a few ideas and perspectives on how to move your organization forward so that your customers and clients are served more effectively and that new ones are brought in continuously. Take time to reflect on these 10 leadership behaviours and which ones you see as being in need of more attention. Take the necessary time to work on them and to hone them.

Success is not the result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire.

— Reggie Leach


holisti-leadershipClick here to download a complimentary copy of Jim’s e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader, 3rd Edition.

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Geo-Political Instability and Stewardship for Mother Earth

June 24, 2018


There seems to be no end to our planet’s problems. Whether it’s North Korea’s Kim Jong-un’s aggressive actions on ballistic missile development, which served his aim to secure a meeting with Donald Trump in June; the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict; growing concern about a failing Afghanistan state, replete with escalating terrorist bombings; rising social tensions in China due to an imbalanced population structure; Islamic-Christian tensions in Europe and the UK; the looming trade wars between the United States and Canada, the European Union and Mexico; or the long-term consequences of climate change on population migration from coastal areas, political and corporate leaders more than have their hands full.

Whew! That was a mouthful and enough bleak news to make one run for the hills.
It’s also enough to make one reconsider entering senior leadership positions in business and government.

As much as those who choose to play leadership roles in their organizations must learn to become change masters–learning to live with ambiguity, uncertainty and unpredictability–it’s equally important to learn how to recognize the inter-connections of events, seeing the nuanced patterns which at some point converge to release what can be described as potential catastrophe for the planet. Hence, the idea of living in a spiderweb world.

The issue of climate change, for example, has been front-page material in the media on and off for the past few years. It depends on the mainstream media’s budgie-like attention span. However, it’s also been assisted by volatile geo-political events.

One big challenge for senior leaders is trying to balance immediate crises with long-term strategic issues. When we hear about rising sea levels and the eventual displacement of hundreds of millions of people along coastal areas, that seems too far off. “That will be my kids’ or grandkids’ problems,” some might say.

If one looks at human capital development and the vital role it plays in a nation’s competitiveness, this is a more tangible issue but one that is still longer-term and more academic in tone.

WorldHowever, terrorist attacks are very tangible and elicit immediate responses by the public and government, though not always in a strategic way. Looking at the key underlying issues for such attacks and determining how to best thwart future ones, while simultaneously maintaining the freedom of law-abiding citizens, is a much more difficult proposition.

Terrorist groups automatically gain the upper hand when the results of their often feeble attempts at causing carnage among civilians produce repressive government measures to curtail hard-fought freedoms. My Scottish immigrant dad didn’t join the Canadian Navy during World War Two for a lark. He and his peers literally fought to ensure that Canada would remain free, along with Great Britain. There is indeed a balance when it comes to fighting terrorism, but to date it appears to be an elusive concept.

As the current Baby Boomer generation increasingly hands-off leadership roles to Generation X and, not far behind, Generation Y, there’s an opportunity to step back and ask questions about how we as a society responds to problems, whether they be environmental, business or political. I have hope that Gens X and Y will work together to come up with new solutions for Mother Earth. One thing that’s become clear is that we can no longer use old-style thinking and past solutions to address the growing complexity of our spiderweb world.

Take a moment to share your thoughts.

The significant problems we face cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.
 — Albert Einstein

holisti-leadershipClick here to download a complimentary copy of Jim’s e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader, 3rd Edition.

Jim BeachVisit Jim’s e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

Take a moment to meet Jim.