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Are You an Authentic Leader?

October 14, 2021

I am your servant. I do not come to you as a leader, as one above others.

When you read these words did the person who uttered them come to mind? Admittedly, the world is adrift in leadership quotations. But what makes these words special is that they were said by Nelson Mandela, a man who truly suffered during the years he was incarcerated in a South African prison. Mandela was South Africa’s first black president, serving from 1994 to 1999. (He died on December 5, 2013)

What I want to talk about in this post is leadership and to pose this question, which each of us needs to answer: “Am I an authentic leader?”

We’ve heard statements that leaders are born. But then others argue that leaders can be developed. Well, how about going back in time to hear from Aristotle:

“From the moment of their birth, some are marked for subjugation, and others for command.”

Well, that may not be all that helpful, especially when the general consensus now is that leaders can be developed.

One way to look at the issue is this way: I’ve organized the debate over who possesses leadership into two types of leadership: Big L and Little L. My personal view is that only a few of us will ever have the dynamic leadership behaviours and skills to lead organizations, private, public or non-profit, large or small, or the populace of a country, state or province. Only a few of us have what it takes to be a Big L leader.

What propelled people like Winston Churchill, Mohandas Gandhi, Israel’s Golda Meir (above photo), Margaret Thatcher and Nelson Mandela to be world-class leaders? For those who are sports-minded, consider the great athletes like Bobby Orr, Billy Jean King, Wayne Gretsky or Mohammed Ali. Or how about such vocalists as Aretha Franklin, Céline Dionne or Beverly Sills?

These individuals possess an innate talent and drive that propels them to succeed. Why do some children at a very young age show an incredible skill in a certain discipline, yet other children work hard but only attain a certain level of proficiency?

To lead an organization, especially in today’s turbulent world, requires someone with unique abilities. Some of these can be learned. But there needs to be an inner drive and vision that causes that individual to want to lead others. This raises the issue of power and status, for which many people strive in their efforts to rise to the top.

So what about power?

First off, power can be an important component of effective leadership, provided it is used properly and for the right purposes. When top leaders abuse power by controlling and manipulating their subordinates, then these are not Big L leaders. They may be good managers, but when it comes to inspiring people and leading with integrity, they fall short of achieving this.

Reflect on the following quote by the late Peter Drucker, who called things as he saw them. He believed that leadership must be founded upon a constitution; otherwise, irresponsibility will result:

I am amazed that today’s prominent writers on leadership do not seem to realize that the three most charismatic leaders in all recorded history were named Hitler, Stalin and Mao. I do not believe that there are three men who did more evil and more harm. Leadership has to be grounded in responsibility. It has to be grounded in a constitution. It has to be grounded in accountability. Otherwise, it will lead to tyranny.”

Drucker was an advocate for shared leadership. He believed in employee responsibility and the need for a “self-governing community,” where individuals and teams share in many managerial activities. And this brings me to the concept of Little L leadership.

What is Little L leadership?

This is the leadership we see displayed throughout organizations and community — the day-to-day acts that people at all levels engage in. However, there are those who aren’t interested in taking on leadership roles. That’s okay. Some of them will gradually come on board, while others will continue to want to be led by their peers and managers.
This is a key point to remember when reflecting on our personal leadership styles and potentials.

It comes down to each of us being authentic in how we conduct ourselves. We need to strip off the facades we wear and own up to our weaknesses, limitations, and warts. When we’re honest and open with ourselves and others, we gain greater confidence and self-respect, plus respect from others. Be true to yourself and others will be true to you.

Here’s a personal example.

When I was in my early 30s I was promoted to manager of a team of economists. I had zero management training. Because of my own insecurities and wanting to do a good job, I became a bit of a micro manager. That was until a couple of the young economists straightened me out. It took a while but I learned to eventually let go and share the leadership with my team.

I was still the manager, but my team took a lot of initiative and consistently demonstrated leadership in their own ways. There’s no magic formula or cookie cutter approach to this. Each of us has to find our own way. In my case I had to fall on my nose a number of times.

Here are three questions you may wish to reflect on when it comes to developing your leadership skills:

1. What are my strengths and weaknesses? (Be honest with yourself)


2. What do I need to do to be more adventurous and risk-taking?


3. How can I inspire others to want to work towards a common purpose?

Here’s one piece of advice learned from personal experience: If you want to inspire others (an essential part of leadership), you need to be passionate about your cause.

Here’s a great story.

I recall watching a PBS program a few years ago that looked at the head surgeon of an emergency room in a large U.S. city. As you can imagine, an ER can be an extremely hectic and stressful place in which to work. People have to know their duties and understand the interdependency of their efforts.

What struck me most about watching this African American surgeon was his calmness in dealing with highly stressful situations in the midst of chaos. Multiple victims of car accidents and victims with gunshot wounds. As he stated to the journalist: “My staff look at me to keep it together. If I lose it, they lose it.” When his shift finished, where did go? Home? No, he went to do volunteer work with inner city Black children. For me, this guy showed exemplary leadership.

But I ask you, was this man born as a natural leader, or did he develop over time?

Each of us needs to see our personal quest for leadership as one that first starts with the discovery of who each of us really is. We need:

To know ourselves,
To hear ourselves,
To tell the truth to ourselves,
To be honest with ourselves.


Once we address these questions and reexamine our values and beliefs, we’ll be ready to move forward in our leadership journey. Sure, leadership skills can be learned. But the first step is a process in which we look inside ourselves.

This journey is a very personal and private one. We may or may not wish to share with others along the way. However, one thing needs to be clear and that is every leader must go though it.

Authors Kouzes and Posner (The Leadership Challenge) state:

You can’t elevate others to higher purposes until you’ve first elevated yourself….You can’t lead others until you’ve first led yourself through a struggle with opposing values….A leader with integrity has one self, at home and at work, with family and with colleagues. Such a leader has a unifying set of values that guide choices of action regardless of the situation.”

Finally…

Here are four excellent questions they pose to help facilitate the leadership journey:

• What are my values and beliefs on how people should operate in the organization?


• How strongly am I attached to my values and beliefs?

• How strong is my relationship with those I lead and with whom I work?


• Am I the right one to be leading at the moment?

The last question is especially important in my opinion. It gets at the heart of the shared leadership issue. Regardless of one’s “position” in the organization, there are times when one steps forward to lead and times when one steps back. As Kouzes and Posner state:

“To step out into the unknown, begin with the exploration of the inner territory. With that as a base, we can then discover and unleash the leader within us all.”

Connect with Jim on Twitter @jlctaggart and LinkedIn

Leading in a Post-Heroic World: Do You Have What it Takes?

October 3, 2021

Date Line: 1994, Forbes Magazine

THE NEW POST-HEROIC LEADERSHIP ”Ninety-five percent of American managers today say the right thing. Five percent actually do it.” That’s got to change.

Post-heroic leadership has gone by many names: shared leadership, participative leadership, distributed leadership, and servant leadership. The point here is that people across, up and down organizations and communities play an active role in leadership.

Positional power and authority – namely those in management positions – no longer have the monopoly on leading. The key distinction is that managers are appointed to their positions; leadership is earned. Since the late nineties, my mission has been to promote the benefits of embracing a shared, post-heroic mindset in organizations. My Master’s thesis at Royal Roads University in British Columbia was on shared leadership, entitled A Leap of Faith.

While some organizations understand the big benefits of engaging employees and actively involving them in demonstrating leadership, most unfortunately do not. And when one is in an economic downturn, the mind tends to shut out long-term, strategic thinking; the focus is on the here and now.

When an organization does embrace a shared leadership mindset, everyone accepts responsibility for the future of the organization. It’s not just a senior management responsibility. However, managers have to realize that they’re not abdicating power or responsibilities.

Post-heroic leaders are completely engaged with their followers. This type of leadership is more difficult because it’s more dynamic and requires courage by the manager. However, it’s also easier because once it’s internalized it becomes part of all managerial elements. In other words, it becomes embedded in the organization’s culture.

There are those who are cynical about Post-Heroic, or shared leadership, believing it to be a weak and ineffective form of leading. David Stauffer wrote an article in defence of Post-Heroic Leadership in the Harvard Business Review in 1998 on what he called the 10 Myths of Post-Heroic Leadership:

1.There should be little conflict at work since people want to get along well.

2. The Post-Heroic manager is a “soft” manager.

3. Collaboration is in, competition is out.

4. The post-heroic leader is a facilitator and does not make decisions.

5. A leader who makes independent decisions is acting heroically.

6. All decisions must be made through consensus.

7. Team commitment to a decision overrides its quality.

8. Only the organization’s top leader is allowed to have vision.

9. Managing as a post-heroic leader is slow and inefficient.

10. Post-heroic leadership does not produce short-term benefits.

The bottom line, over two decades ago, was that Post-Heroic Leadership delivers the results that are needed in the economy. It requires, as Stauffer put it: “…decisiveness, sangfroid, and results-oriented thinking in small measure….a leader with a solid sense of self-worth and self-confidence.” And to do this – well – means that a manager needs to have the self-confidence and self-worth to embark on this process.

If you’re in a senior management position, ask yourself this question: “Am I creating owners or dependents in my organization?” If you want people to act like it’s their business then make it their business.

So ask yourself if you’re in a position of authority: “Do I have what it takes to embrace Post-Heroic Leadership?”

And if you’re in a staff role, ask yourself: “Do I have the courage to assert myself to insist that I be taken seriously as a leader?”

You never find yourself until you face the truth. 
– Pearl Bailey

Connect with Jim on Twitter @jlctaggart and LinkedIn

Inter-generational Leadership: What’s Myth and What’s Reality–and Does it Matter?

September 19, 2021

The literature on inter-generational differences has been in hyper-drive for a while. Think tanks spew out analyses; book authors produce their take on the situation; bloggers convey their perspectives; and consultants beat the bushes for contracts to tell organizations how different the generations are and to instil anxiety (to secure more contracts).

Because this topic is a critical issue for society and the economy and job market, this leadership post looks at some of the commonly held myths. It also brings into the conversation what’s called the Silent Generation (those 74 to 90 years of age). The past 15 years (post-2008 financial crisis) has witnessed the decimation of the retirement plans of millions of North American workers, with the result being an increasing number of them now having to work well into their sixties, and in some cases seventies. And the ongoing SARS-CoV-2 (Covid 19) pandemic is witnessing escalating price inflation and massive increases in the costs of housing, both home ownership and renting.

Too much of the literature and news articles have concentrated on Baby Boomers (born between 1948 and 1965), Gen X (born between 1966 and 1979), and Gen Y (born between 1980 and 1997). So in reality we’re talking about a four inter-generational span, and not just Boomers and Generations X and Y (aka Millennials). But before we delve into this, let’s take a look at previous generations and how they perceived and functioned in the world. I’ll use my late dad as an illustration.

My dad emigrated to Canada from Glasgow in 1920 at the age of three. He arrived with his parents at the port of Halifax, Nova Scotia, but grew up in Winnipeg. After completing high school he worked as an apprentice machinist in the Canadian National Railway shops. When World War II broke out he wanted to sign up, but his dad told him that he first had to complete his journeyman papers.

In 1941 he joined the Canadian Navy. He was promoted to Chief Petty Officer, in effect running the engine rooms on two Canadian Corvettes. These were, by the way, nasty vessels on which to work, bouncing around like corks on the ocean. And by way of interest, it was Sir Winston Churchill who was influential in naming the later sports car the Corvette.

After the War, he completed a mechanical engineering degree at the University of Manitoba (paid for by the federal government). After graduating, he continued working for CN, working his way up into a management position. Along the way, yours truly was born in 1955. What I remember of my dad while growing up in Montreal and Toronto was someone who travelled extensively, spending considerable time in Africa and South Asia as a consultant. Indeed, in 2006 at his funeral one of his former bosses said to me: “Your dad sure knew locomotives.”

In contrast to today’s very relaxed dress code in organizations, it was always a suit and spit-polish shoeshine for my dad when he went off to work. When he retired from CN in 1976 and went to work for the former Canadian Transport Commission (CTC), he was amazed at how sloppy people dressed. He found that wearing a sports jacket to work was nothing short of an abomination.

Nowadays, anything goes. Maybe that’s good, maybe not. But it does succinctly tell us about different values. When my dad was forced by CN into early retirement at age 60 he was devastated. He went on to work for the Canadian Transport Commission for another seven years before entering international consulting. He finally retired at age 72. His retirement plaque from Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau acknowledged his 45 years of consecutive service with the Government of Canada.

So why am I telling you this? Because I want to illustrate how an earlier generation in North America stepped up to serve their countries and how they later went on to help build their countries’ economies. For an excellent accounting of how this generation served their nation, read Tom Brokaw’s book The Greatest Generation.

The employment contract has long been broken in North America. Baby Boomers have been the ones who were nailed with this development, while Gen X (named for it being the excluded generation) has struggled to create its own identify in the presence of the Boomers’ looming shadow. It’s Gen Y that seems to have the best grasp of the four generations that the world is indeed changing, and that corporate loyalty, slavish work hours and authoritarian power are outdated traits.

What’s the biggest concern? Is it that Gen Y can’t cut the mustard? No, absolutely not. What Gen Y faces is the lingering effects of the 2009-10 Great Recession: last in, first out; not valuing what they bring to organizations; not providing coaching and mentoring. BusinessWeek several years ago labeled Gen Y the Lost Generation. And now with the emergence of Gen Z into the job market, the dynamics of a broader inter-generational workforce presents even more leadership challenges.

The meter’s ticking. However, this time the situation’s different. The emergence of new global competitors is completely changing the economic landscape. Forget the statistics that China and India have much lower percentages of their respective populations earning diplomas and degrees, compared to Europe and North America. The key here is they collectively have a population of about 2.7 billion people. It’s about absolute numbers, not percentages.

When looked at through the organizational lens, it all boils down to this:

• If there were ever a need for coaching and mentoring in the workplace, it is NOW.
• If there were ever a need for knowledge transfer in organizations, it is NOW.
• If there were ever a need for shared leadership in organizations and communities, it is NOW.
• If there were ever a need for embracing inter-generational differences, it is NOW.

So what’s holding us back?

Is it ego, self-delusion, or just plain stubbornness?

We either come to terms with our inter-generational differences, finding common ground and moving forward collectively, or the world will pass us by, leaving Canada and the United States in its wake. It’s our choice to make.

People don’t grow old. When they stop growing, they become old. (Anonymous)

Connect with Jim on Twitter @jlctaggart and LinkedIn

Back to the Future: Are You a Theory Xer or Yer? 

September 13, 2021

The leadership field—and its cousin management—has an over abundance of information, from books, periodicals, business articles, blog posts, web sites and more. Much of it is repetitive, and many prominent book authors have regurgitated their works in subsequent editions. One might conclude that similar to Francis Fukuyama’s 1992 book “The End of History and the Last Man” that we’re now in the realm of what could be called The End of Leadership: that all that’s been written and said on both leadership and management has been achieved.

Perhaps in a contemporary sense, yes. However, as the world evolves so too must those in leadership and managerial positions. New ideas and concepts will always be critically important to organizations and more broadly society as new technological, geo-political and environmental challenges present themselves.

It’s informative and reflective to occasionally look back in time to earlier concepts and writings on leadership and management. This meant re-reading of some of the more substantive writers on these two inter-related fields. So let’s take a look at Douglas McGregor, who wrote the acclaimed “The Human Side of Enterprise” in 1960 (I was five years old at the time living in Battle Creek, Michigan). In this post, Theory X and Y are briefly described, followed by highlights of some of McGregor’s observations 57 years ago.

The way in which managers interact with their subordinates is based on their assumptions about human behaviour. These assumptions (mental models) begin to be formed when we’re young, and as we age our various experiences further solidify them. Organizations posses their own cultures, which are either sustained by passing down managerial assumptions and practices to new managers, or they are blown apart by new renegade CEOs who wish to recreate their organizations.

McGregor described the assumptions underlying Theory X as:

1) People have an inherent dislike of work and will avoid it

2) Because of this dislike for work, people must be ‘coerced, controlled, directed, threatened with punishment’ to get them to perform

3) People prefer to be directed in their work, shunning responsibility and ambition

He believed that these assumptions were not a theory but in reality determined management strategy in organizations. It was about the ‘tactics’ of control and telling people what to do in order to achieve organizational objectives.

In contrast, Theory Y deals heavily with interpersonal relationships and the creation of a work environment where people are encouraged to commitment to the organization’s objectives. But to live and work in this world requires a very different set of assumptions:

1) People do not inherently dislike work, instead seeing it as a source of satisfaction, depending on the conditions

2) People will direct themselves in working towards organizational objectives, once they have committed to them

3) Committing to these objectives is directly related to the rewards associated with achieving them

4) Under the right conditions, people will not only accept responsibility but seek it out

5) People will usually exercise a high degree of creativity in attempting to solve organizational problems

6) The intellectual capacities are only being partially used in organizations

One of the more compelling sections in his book is on the climate of relationships. McGregor provides the example of a factory superintendent who was known for screaming and swearing at his men. He gives this boss the title ‘bull of the woods.’ The paradox here is that the personnel people, who were carrying out training for managers at the time, couldn’t understand why a manager who operated in this manner could still be highly respected by his staff. Sound crazy? Well, morale and productivity were at high levels in this factory.

Although the superintendent was tough it was in reality superficial. He demonstrated consistently his concern for the welfare of his staff, going so far as to helping those who needed some financial help until payday or others who had a family crisis. He was exceedingly fair in how he treated his subordinates, and in particular solidly backed them when he felt that management was not being fair. An example is when he resigned and walked out of his superior’s office when senior management would not back down on an issue. Management chased him out to the parking lot and immediately capitulated.

These actions lead to this superintendent being held in very regard by his staff, and one major consequence was strong morale and work output. However, McGregor adds that in addition to these characteristics that a manager must also have upward influence in the organization in order to achieve certain objectives.

McGregor makes another key observation, noteworthy because he’s addressing organizations in the late 1950s yet it’s highly relevant today. It’s the ‘P’ word – participation, a concept that became very popular in the nineties and which has resurfaced with Generation Y’s entry into the job market. When management uses the façade of participation to get employees to accept key decisions, and when used repeatedly, the result is cynicism and checking-out from further participatory exercises. As he states: “…[management] will lose far more than [it] had hoped to gain by ‘making them feel important.’”

McGregor’s work may seem dated in today’s service-oriented economy, combined with technology’s impact on how work is performed and where. In particular, the increased diversity of the workforce with women’s higher participation rate and people from different countries and cultures is changing the practice of managerial leadership. However, Theory X and Theory Y still provide a useful framework on which to study the intertwined fields of management and leadership.

What would you identify as the most important things that managerial leaders must attend to if they wish to be effective in their jobs?

If you consider yourself a leader, be sure to check the rearview mirror regularly to ensure you have followers. (James Taggart)

Connect with Jim on Twitter @jlctaggart and LinkedIn

10 Valuable Lessons for Aspiring Leaders 

September 8, 2021

The following 10 lessons are not aimed at just those who wish to move into managerial positions; they’re also for those who work as project managers, team leaders, thought leaders, relationship builders, etc. And of particular note is that those holding senior positions in organizations should reflect on these lessons.

It’s important to remember that management is an appointment to position; leadership is earned. If you have no willing followers, then you’re not a leader. You may rule through dictate and compliance as a manager, but to have a true follower-ship means enrolling others in your vision.

Here are the ten lessons. And please note that they’re not in any particular order.

1) Create and nurture a learning environment where people develop the skills and competencies that will become their toolbox for life. Don’t expect traditional loyalty to the organization. As a leader, your job is to bring out the best in people and to maximize their creativity, productivity and output.

2) Constantly walk the talk. Don’t be a cave dweller, hiding out in your office behind a closed door. And don’t just be physically visible but be present in body, mind and spirit. Oh, and park the smart phone when you’re at meetings and speaking to people.

3) Show that you really care about the people you lead and with whom you work. Don’t nickel and dime people on their work hours. If you set the right tone and climate in the workplace, you’ll see an impressive increase in people engagement, creativity and accomplishment.

4) Develop an effective BS meter, where you know fact from fiction, truth from hype. By avoiding getting swayed by organizational manipulators and by sticking to your values, people will respect you all the more.

5) Realize that organizational cultural change is not a tactical exercise in ticking off the task list. It’s about people engagement and relationships. It takes time and patience – plenty of the latter.

6) Link training and learning to job performance and when it’s needed. But it’s also necessary to take the long view: investing in people for the long-term demonstrates your commitment to them.

7) Be honest when you ask for feedback, whether from small or large groups. Bringing people together at workshops, conferences, town-halls, etc. to generate ideas and recommendations, and then to ignore them, is the ultimate act of disrespect. Honour and value people’s contributions.

8) Focus on results. Let people figure out how to do their work. Coach, but don’t smother them. Micro-management is for the insecure, and something to avoid at all costs.

9) Share the leadership. Step back when you realize that you’re not the best one to lead at the moment, regardless of how high you are in the hierarchy. Let go of your ego.

10) As a leader you’re also a change agent. Be open to outcome, not attached to it. Learn to love the unknown and the opportunities and challenges it presents. Know fear; respect it; value it; transcend it.

So there you have ten lessons for leaders at all levels. This is certainly not the definitive list of what leaders need to pay attention to, but it’s a start. It will help guide you through tumultuous times, keeping you focused, energized and centred. The last word goes to 6th Century B.C. Chinese philosopher, Lao-Tzu:

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worse when they despise him. But of a good leader, who talks little, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: “We did this to ourselves.” JT

Connect with Jim on Twitter @jlctaggart and LinkedIn

Leading in a Virtualized World: 10 Traits of a Cyber Leader

August 27, 2021

The world is getting smaller, shrinking steadily due to rapid advancements in telecommunications technology. Work is being distributed to countries that would have been scorned at a decade ago.

As much as telecom technology has been a key driver to accelerating work distribution, it’s been complemented by an amazing push by emerging economies to develop their human capital. Examples abound, of which China and India (combined population of 2.7 billion) is usually held up front and centre. However, smaller countries such as South Korea, Mexico, and Brazil have made notable progress to build their human capital.

Many other countries are hungry to succeed: Turkey, Israel, Singapore, Chile, the Philippines, Indonesia, and the list goes on. In the context of a globalized labour market and as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, this post looks what are the key traits for those leading in this environment. Call it Cyber Leadership.

I’ll begin by sharing what can be now viewed as a humorous technology experience when I was a  young manager some 30 years ago and part of a senior management team. The executive head, my boss, decided to buy video-conferencing equipment to connect three sites, cities that were a few hours drive from one another. His aim was to reduce the amount of time that managers and some staff spent driving back and forth for meetings. This was totally unproductive time since in contrast to airplane or train travel it’s rather difficult to work while driving. Not recommended.

This equipment was state-of-the art and VERY expensive—at the time. The problem was that it proved to be highly unreliable. The picture quality was poor and you had to refrain from moving, otherwise you ended up with a series of blurred images. The sound quality was mediocre as well. But the worst problem was the equipment’s tendency to crash during the middle of a video-conference. It was a lesson learned because after a while the equipment in the three sites gathered dust.

Contrast that scene impressive improvements in telecom video-conferencing, such as Cisco’s Telepresence Suites, which enables organizations to connect with managers and co-workers around the globe. The connectivity is not what you expect on Skype (which has fallen behind ZOOM as a result of the pandemic). Cisco’s system requires up to 20 times the bandwidth as Skype, but the product is amazing. It simulates a conference room, so whether one group is in Mumbai, another London, another Chicago and another Toronto, the participants are able to observe body language and feel that they’re in the same room. The system is stable (as opposed to my early experience), with excellent picture and sound quality.

The hefty price tag ($300,000) that accompanies this technology, used by large companies, has a limited market, for now. Small and medium-size businesses can only dream of being able to afford this technology. However, as with technology expect continued innovations and price adjustments in the future.

Another development in open, collaborative workspaces is what’s called Co-working, where companies and freelancers share physical space. The concept is especially popular with workers in their twenties and thirties, and forward-looking companies are eyeing it because of the potential for not just operational savings but in particular in fostering creativity and innovation. And with the ongoing rethinking of physical worksites because of the Covid-19 pandemic, co-working, including the use of regional and local satellite hubs, will likely become more popular.

What’s also fascinating is how virtual collaboration and teamwork have increasingly become the norm over the past year. There are huge implications for how teams are led, whether it’s a dispersed management team, production team, design team, call centre teams, etc.

Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically changed how work is done by those fortunate enough to be in white collar jobs—connecting through tech portals such as ZOOM. Yes, it’s exciting to see these new innovations in communications technology. The challenge is the lag between what technology offers organizations, in terms of productivity gains, improved service or better product quality, and how people work at a distance from one another. Of special note is leadership and how it’s practiced in a virtualized world. And at the time of this post in mid 2021, organizations—private and public—are still working out how their employees will return to work. Many are opting for hybrid models.

What it will come down to in the months and years ahead is this: establishing effective management and leadership practices in organizations, whether it’s a hybrid model, total virtual environment, or one with most or all employees physically in offices.

If you’re a manager of a team and its members are not aligned towards a shared vision and common purpose, if each member is not clear on his or her role, and if there’s not strong inter-dependency of effort among the members, then yes teleworking will likely be a disaster. But then you’ll also have a poorly functioning group of people. Forget about calling your staff a team.

Don’t even waste your time pretending to trust your staff. You’ve got a lot to do create a team; working in a virtual context will come later. The latter is the easy part.

To be a true Cyber Leader requires a strong and sustained commitment. Technology is proving to be a powerful enabler to bringing people together from locations stretched around the globe. The possibilities are endless to how organizations can develop partnerships, organize themselves, and produce products and services. Cyber Leadership brings with it exciting opportunities for personal growth. However, it’s also accompanied by certain challenges, and with any transformational change the human dimension is always at the centre.

Whether your organization is adopting virtual teams or is planning to do so, if you’re in a leadership role are you ready to lead in this new environment?

Are you willing to be a 21st Century Cyber Leader?

Here are 10 traits, in no particular order, that are essential to effective Cyber Leadership. However, it’s not definitive; please add to this list. A 21st Century Cyber leader:

  1. Embraces change enthusiastically
  2. Keeps up with technology trends
  3. Maintains a perspective on the balance between technology and people
  4. Trusts that people will perform well when lead effectively
  5. Understands the dynamics of teamwork
  6. Is open to new ideas, possibilities and opportunities, even if they’re unorthodox
    Values diversity and different cultures
  7. Is an avid learner and continually seeks out new information
  8. Checks ego at the door, realizing others often possess more knowledge and experience
  9. Shares information openly and widely
  10. Remains centred and focused during a Black Swan event (i.e., the unknown and unexpected). JT

“Nowhere am I so desperately needed as among a shipload of illogical Humans.”
– Mr. Spock (Star Trek)

Connect with Jim on Twitter @jlctaggart and LinkedIn

Five Ways to Serve Your Organization and Build Your Leadership Skills

August 15, 2021

The process of building our personal leadership skills isn’t done overnight. That’s rather obvious. However, what may not always be clear is that leadership development within organizations is, at its core, a reciprocal process. The same applies to community service and leadership development, though admittedly in this context when one serves their community the enlargement of leadership capacity is one outcome.

The bigger challenge–hence the purpose of this post–is integrating the personal aspect of leadership growth with serving the needs of the organization. This is typically a grey area in organizations, whether public or private, as the employee struggles to meet the organization’s annual goals, live the vision, and simultaneously attend to her personal learning and developmental needs.

Smart organizations ensure that this stressful process is integrated in the employee’s daily work and scheduled performance-learning plan reviews. But these organizations are the exception.

One framework to consider comes from Peter Block, a longtime advocate of stewardship, encompassing both managers and staff. Each and every one of us must learn to put self-interest aside and put service to the organization first. Only by doing this will an organization truly evolve to a higher level.

To serve an organization well, Block puts forth five pursuits people must follow. He refers to this as enlightened self-interest.


1. Meaning: People engage in activities that have personal meaning and that are needed by the organization. Substance takes precedence over form.

2. Contribution and Service: People want to contribute positively to the organization. Specifically, they want their efforts to connect to the organization’s purpose.

3. Integrity: People at all levels of the organization must be able to express their views and what they observe taking place. Feeling “safe” to speak out is essential to a learning organization. People must be able to admit their mistakes. They must believe that the “authentic act” is always in the best interest of the organization.

4. Positive Impact on Others’ Lives: People spend a large percentage of their waking lives at work. Developing close relationships with co-workers, in which their growth and development is cared about, makes sense to most people. Yet the opposite is true to a large extent. For example, the fear a manager may have of laying off a subordinate one day may inhibit her from establishing strong relationships with staff.

This also occurs with co-workers, especially during a period of downsizing. The consequence is an atmosphere that lacks honesty and openness, one consisting of shallow and brittle relationships. How can teamwork exist, let alone prosper, in such an environment? Strong teamwork requires a high degree of interdependency and close relationships.

5. Mastery: This involves people learning as much as they can about their work. People take pride and satisfaction in their work when performing at high levels. Learning and performance are intertwined.

The strength of following these five pursuits is that it does not require the approval of senior management.

Each of us needs to set an example to our peers.

Each of us needs to set upon a journey of self-discovery. JT

You create a culture of contribution when you seek to meet both the mission of the organization and the needs of the people. – James R. Fisher Jr.

Connect with Jim on Twitter @jlctaggart and LinkedIn

10 Leadership Lessons to Succeed During Turbulent Change

August 4, 2021

To say that the first two decades of the 21st Century have been packed with major change events is an understatement. From the now 20-year war in Afghanistan, the Iraq war and the contrived conditions for its prosecution by President G.W. Bush, the Occupy Wall Street movement that spanned the globe, the 2008-09 Great Recession and ensuing financial meltdown, the Arab Spring, climatic events from enhanced hurricanes to massive fires in the U.S. and Western Canada, the rise and fall and possibly rise again of Donald J. Trump, and the SARS-CoV-2 global pandemic, which is nowhere near done with us.

Through such diverse events and their impacts on society, the environment, and organizations emerges one critically important need: leadership. Instead of focusing on leadership at the senior organizational and political levels, this post looks more at the personal and individual level as a way to help us find our way through the turbulence. Here are 10 lessons to reflect upon.

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 on either developing an exit plan or determining how you can contribute positively to the organization.

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 co-workers 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 centre 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 behaviour
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 behaviour 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 behaviour. 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. This is 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? 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. JT

By assuming the identity of a change master, you’ll greatly reduce the stress that’s generated when your organization, local community or family goes through the gyrations of major changes. – James Taggart

Connect with Jim on Twitter @jlctaggart and LinkedIn

Who’s Your Tribe?

July 25, 2021

Human beings have an innate sense of wanting to belong to a community. It’s genetically ingrained in us. This leads many people to actively seek out a like-minded group, or tribe, to join.

It might be Gen Y Hipsters, whose appropriation of elements of Baby Boomer culture creates a self-perceived uniqueness. It could be older women who are cancer survivors and who have formed a support network. It may be a LGBTQ group. Then there are those who are musicians of a certain genre, or perhaps artists or photographers. Or it could be people who seek to initiate political change through organized protest (eg, Occupy Wall Street—composed of sub-tribes, Black Lives Matters). And one can’t forget church tribes, each with its own uniqueness and interpretation of the Bible.

Whatever the tribe, the underlying premise is to provide a means for people to share their experiences, seek support from one another, and initiate change. But what do we mean by “tribe?”

In its more traditional sense, the word “tribe” has a much different definition than how it’s used today by some people. At its most elemental form, a tribe is a clan-based social structure. Encyclopedia of Britannica explains it this way:

Tribe, in anthropology, a notional form of human social organization based on a set of smaller groups, having temporary or permanent political integration, and defined by traditions of common descent, language, culture, and ideology.

Oxford Dictionary defines a tribe as:

A social division in a traditional society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties, with a common culture and dialect, typically having a recognized leader.

In contemporary urban usage, “tribe” has been morphed into a wholly different distinct meaning. Marketing genius Seth Godin (below photos) has perhaps been the most outspoken in creating a new meaning for the word tribe and stressing the importance of how people as members of tribes can initiate change though self-empowerment. Through his books, blogging and public speaking, Godin’s messaging is based on the generation and distribution of ideas in a digital world. Take a moment to watch his excellent Ted Talk The Tribes We Lead.

At the core of Godin’s talk is leadership and how tribes are enablers to initiating change through the generation and distribution of ideas. As he puts it: “Tribes are everywhere…. Tribes are what matter now…leading and connecting people and ideas.”

He stresses the importance of pushing back to challenge the status quo. And to do so means that we need to find something worth changing and then identify or create a tribe with people who really care about an issue.

Gen Y (Millennials) has a greater propensity towards tribalism, in contrast to their older cohorts (Gen X and Baby Boomers). This isn’t surprising, given that Gen Y is more relationship-based and collaborative, both at work and in the community. It’s an intelligent response to the changes taking place in the workplace and in society at large.

In an age of turbulent change, full of uncertainties for young people, becoming a member of a tribe has appeal. Being part of an identity in which values are shared and where inter-personal support is a key feature can be instrumental in helping people navigate the challenges that relentlessly emerge. And to Seth Godin’s point, it’s about people self-empowering themselves to become leaders and working constructively to make positive changes to society.

Here are three questions that Godin presents at the end of his TED Talk. Take time to reflect on them as you proceed with your leadership journey.

1) Who are you upsetting? (If no one, you’re not challenging the status quo)

2) Who are you connecting? (It’s about building inter-personal relationships)

3) Who are you leading? (If there are no followers, there’s no leadership)

Who’s YOUR tribe? JT

It turns out that tribes, not money, not factories, that can change our world, that can change politics, that can align large numbers of people. Not because you force them to do something against their will. But because they wanted to connect.
— Seth Godin

Connect with Jim on Twitter @jlctaggart and LinkedIn

The Leader Sets the Tone

July 13, 2021

You’re at a work meeting. One of your co-workers is giving a Powerpoint presentation to 30 people from both your work unit and two other units in your organization. It took your co-worker two weeks to develop a technical presentation that’s part of a major corporate initiative.Your boss is there. He’s tense, because in the audience is his boss, plus two other senior managers.

Your co-worker, in your view, is doing a decent job presenting. But he’s nervous and has made a few minor stumbles. At each one your boss intervenes to correct your co-worker, and at one point mutters something about “…lack of preparation.”

The two other managers have been glancing at their smart phones, which has added to your boss’ tension.

The presentation finally ends; your co-worker looks drained; your boss is twitching.

Back at the ranch, no sooner is your co-worker seated at his desk than the boss arrives. “What the heck was that about? Do you realize that you just embarrassed me? What are you going to do about it?” And with that he storms off, leaving your co-worker, who’s respected for his intelligence, restraining his emotions.

A month later you learn that your co-worker is leaving for a competitor and for a higher salary. A few weeks later two more co-workers quit for other companies. Your boss is getting increasingly cranky and belligerent as he loses staff and fails to meet objectives. He’s laying blame around generously.

You decide that it’s time to exit.

While this is a fictitious story, unfortunately similar situations occur every day in public and private organizations. But it doesn’t have to be like this. There is hope. And it starts with leadership, founded on three key elements:

1) Integrity

2) Modeling

3) Consistency

What is Integrity?

Definitions vary. However, the Concise Oxford English Dictionary sums it up nicely:

1) The quality of having strong moral principles. 2) The state of being whole.

The “state of being whole” has particular resonance since that is what we’re talking about with leadership. We want our leaders to be real people who understand their strengths, gifts, weaknesses, and warts. That strong self-awareness propels them to: a) work continuously at improving their areas of weakness, and b) surrounding themselves with competent people to whom they readily delegate.

This is integrity with a human face. It’s about being a whole leader.

Modelling means demonstrating your integrity through your daily actions. It’s about aligning what you say with what you do. It’s easy enough for someone in a leadership position to make promises; it’s quite another to actually accomplish it. Organizations are dynamic, full of bureaucratic politics and one-upmanship, where people strive to build their careers so that they can advance. We’ve all heard of the boss who serves upwards to senior management, stepping on employees while climbing the corporate ladder.

To model leadership behaviours effectively is easier said than done. It can be difficult for some people at first. However, it becomes a natural, daily habit when people commit to making it an integral part of their leadership journey.

This is where integrity starts to meet the road, where traction is being applied. This is where consistency enters the picture.

One of the most important things ever said to me in my leadership journey occurred some 30 years ago when I was a new manager. I was talking one day to my assistant, Julie, when she calmly said: “Jim, I always know where your head is at.”

It may sound like an odd comment, but it had an important meaning for me. However, it took years for me to fully understand it. It’s about integrity and modelling the desired behaviours, two elements I worked hard at when working in organizations, whether I was leading intact teams or project teams.

It’s about consistency – relentlessly practicing those desired leadership behaviours each and every day.

We all make mistakes, and when this happens it’s crucial to acknowledge them and to correct the situation. It’s integrity with a human face. People–your followers–will respect you all the more when you admit when you’re wrong or when you apologize to a colleague for something you said.

In your own leadership journey, be sure to take time to reflect upon your personal integrity.

Are you modelling the desired behaviours you want your followers and colleagues to see and emulate?

Are you practicing consistency on a daily basis? JT

What you bring forth out of yourself from the inside will save you. What you do not bring forth out of yourself from the inside will destroy you. – Gospel of Thomas

Connect with Jim on Twitter @jlctaggart and LinkedIn