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Smart Leaders Play the Long Game

September 17, 2017

 

 

Glass Globe

We live in the age of instant gratification. We want it now as consumers—hence the exponential growth of credit since the 1960s, whether in credit cards, conditional sales contracts, automotive loans or mortgages. And when it comes to business, the mindset of short-term financial results is foremost in the minds of CEOs, board chairmen (hardly any are women, incidentally) and shareholders. Consideration for the longer term, whether consumers or big-shot CEOs, is almost non-existent.

The sheep-like behaviour of consumers—coveting their neighbours’ or friends’ new acquisitions—is understandable to a degree. After all, we’re human beings who’ve been carefully and strategically groomed by corporations to desire more in our quest of perceived self-fulfillment and status. However, what’s somewhat bizarre and indeed irresponsible is when those people leading organizations engage in short-term thinking to attain some form of financial or ego-centric goal.

It doesn’t have to be the head of a company seeking financial results to please shareholders or credit rating agencies. It could be the leader of a not-for-profit organization who’s attempting to please her board of directors. Or it could be a deputy minister (equivalent to a secretary in the U.S. government) who is earning brownie points to downsize his department.

Your correspondent worked three decades for the Government of Canada, and during this time those in top leadership positions could earn bonus pay for cutting employees from the payroll. The problem was that as soon as a certain government (administration in U.S. terminology) achieved its downsizing cuts, the public service would then grow again. The losers from this game? Taxpayers and citizens.

Female Leader.png

Whether you’re the head of a private company (large or small) or a not-for-profit agency or a public sector department, your primary job is to look to the long-term: the horizon where nothing is certain, where obstacles and whitewater will challenge the organization along the way, and where you’ll need to be adaptable and to show resilience.

Someone who offers special insights into thinking strategically, and unfortunately who died too soon, is Stephen Covey (from a cycling accident in July 2012). Covey’s pithy messages from his numerous leadership books included one vitally important one: Begin with the end in mind (one of his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People).

Applying this lesson to a corporate setting means that those at the top must create a vision of the future that enrols all employees and that establishes a path with clear goals along the way. Where does your organization want to be in, say, five years? Or ten years?

Cost-cutting (people are the low-hanging fruit) is a tactical exercise that is sometimes necessary. However, it’s hardly a strategic approach to addressing competitive issues if you’re a for-profit company. If you’re part of a not-for-profit agency or government department, cost-cutting often serves to destroy morale and hasten the exit of talent.

The message here is to align short-term tactical decisions (the typical quarter-to-quarter business approach) with long-term strategy. Unfortunately, taking a long-term view is anathema to much of North American business. And hence the regular turbulence of sudden layoffs in companies as top executives strive to please shareholders and boards of directors.

Those who play the long game and make the effort to invest in building their organization’s resilience and adaptability to constant change are the strategic leaders of the 21st Century. Reactive 20th Century management approaches need to be deposited where they belong: in the dustbin of history.

Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.
— Warren Buffett


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Meet FDR’s Backbone: Frances Perkins–An Extraordinary Woman Leader

September 10, 2017

PerkinsFranklin Delano Roosevelt rates as being one of America’s greatest presidents, probably in the top three. Yet he was despised by many during his ascendancy to president and during his four term tenure. And he is still reviled by right-wing conservatives and some Republicans.

FDR, of whom your corespondent is a great admirer, was an exceedingly complicated man. He most certainly had his warts, weaknesses and biases. However, he was also a visionary who understood what America needed to do during the Great Depression and as World War Two proceeded initially in the absence of the involvement of the United States.

Furthermore, FDR was probably the most effective president at initiating and sustaining action. He launched the Civilian Conservation Core, instituted the New Deal, and deftly handled a demanding Winston Churchill during the War. He also launched a massive infrastructure program during the Great Depression, the results of which are still critical to the country’s economy.

This all sounds great. And it is. But there’s one important omission: FDR didn’t accomplish his achievements alone. One person who served under him, and who was in effect his backbone in many ways, was a woman. Her name was Frances Perkins (April 10, 1880 – May 14, 1965).

As early as 1930 when Roosevelt was the Governor of New York, Perkins relentlessly prodded him to support social insurance. When he took office as president in 1933, Roosevelt stalled in proceeding with social insurance because he believed that the country was not yet ready for such change. During his first Hundred Days (a concept borrowed from Napoleon), FDR argued that Perkins, as Labor Secretary, should commence an education campaign on the subject to begin laying the foundation within government and the American public. In addition, he wanted a panel of experts to study what would be involved in introducing social insurance.

Perkins accepted this approach and began a focused effort during which she raised the subject over two dozen times in Cabinet meetings during 1933, and delivered 100 speeches across America in which she touted the benefits of social insurance.

Perkins and FDR

As the months proceeded through 1934 and as FDR continued to show ambivalent behaviour towards introducing social insurance, Perkins took drastic action in December of that year. At a Cabinet meeting at her home, during which the discussion became heated over whether social insurance should be run by the federal or state governments, she locked the doors to her house and disconnected the phone, stating that no one was going to leave until an agreement was reached. At 2 am a tentative agreement was finalized.

Of course, there were still many rough patches in the months afterwards. For example, it’s amazing that one of the issues that concerned Cabinet in 1935 was that an aging population would eventually contribute to a deficit in social insurance by 1980. Yes, that’s 1980, 45 years later! How often do we see politicians looking that far ahead nowadays?

Perkins was a pit bull when it came to grabbing onto an issue she believed was critical for America and then driving it forward. Hers is a fascinating story of how one woman was the impetus for a program that has served tens of millions of Americans, serving as an automatic economic stabilizer, as well as mitigating the effects of poverty among the elderly. Incidentally, it wasn’t until January 1940 that the first individual received a Social Security check, in the amount of $22.54, a Miss Ida Fuller of rural Vermont.
Frances Perkins may not be well known as an incredible leader, but she is in the ranks of other contemporaries, such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Mary Parker-Follett, seen as the Mother of Modern Management. We have a lot for which to thank Frances Perkins.

Leadership is not defined by the exercise of power but by the capacity to increase the sense of power among those led. The most essential work of the leader is to create more leaders.
—Mary Parker Follett


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The Best Manager, EVER! Tales from the Management Crypt

September 3, 2017

Management

We’ve all had good bosses, and more likely bad bosses that outnumber the former. This post is a more provocative commentary on leadership; however, it has important lessons for those people wanting to become effective, well-rounded leaders.

Your contribution is therefore important. Share your experiences of managers you’ve had: the good, the bad and the ugly. And if anyone’s brave enough, share where you’ve messed up as a manager but how you learned from the experience. And yes, yours truly made his share of mistakes as a new manager – so the kimono’s open. My sins?

When I was in my early thirties, 30 years ago, I was appointed to a management position in the area where I had worked for eight years. Yes, I knew the work technically. However, leadership, as opposed to management, is not an appointment; it is earned. Due to my own insecurities and wanting to do a good job as a manager – especially in the absence of any formal management training – I was a micro-manager.

When I’ve given presentations in the past on leadership I share this experience. And when I ask the audience how many people like working for a micro-manager, surprisingly no one has yet to raise their hand. Hmmmm. So that tells you something.

A few of my team mates who were younger didn’t like my style of management and figuratively slapped me on the head. I still thank them to this day, because many micro-managers – and there are lots out there – never “get it.” The result is high staff turnover, weak productivity, and the absence of creativity and innovation.

Fortunately, I got the message really fast back then. I worked 35 years before retiring and always despised micro-management. However, once I got over it when I was about 33 I became a delegator and, as I evolved as a manager, someone who believed in sharing the leadership. That is my personal leadership philosophy, and which was the subject of my masters thesis on leadership in the late nineties.

Micro Manager
So let’s shift gears and turn to one of my heroes: Henry Mintzberg, a professor of management at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. If there’s one leadership book you should buy, make it Mintzberg’s book entitled Managing. It’s brilliant and builds on his empirical work over 35 years. He’s one of the few really grounded authors on management. Too much of the literature over the past three decades, unfortunately, has consisted of excessively fluffy, feel-good stuff. Mintzberg, who may be perceived as a bit of a curmudgeon, is a provocative thinker and writer.

One story he recounts in a footnote in his book is that of a British CEO who refused to allow employees to walk past his office door. The result was that they had to take a set of stairs to another floor. When employees met with this CEO in his office they had to sit on a chair that was at a lower level; that way the CEO could look down upon them.

Unfortunately, and unbelievably, this guy not only got promoted but received a knighthood from the Queen! Upon his departure from the company, his advice to his successor was: a) dress properly, b) don’t smoke and c) maintain control.

The end of the story? The CEO’s successor went into his first board meeting, took off his jacket, lit a cigar and asked: “What would you like to talk about?”

Now that’s my kind of leader (minus the cigar). This new CEO was about to demolish that company’s corporate culture and build a new one.

So now it’s your turn. Share your experiences.

Companies are communities. There’s a spirit of working together. Communities are not a place where a few people allow themselves to be singled out as solely responsible for success.
— Henry Mintzberg


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Are You an Authentic Leader?

August 27, 2017

MandelaI 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.

GhandiWhat propelled people like Winston Churchill, Mohandas Gandhi, Golda Meir, 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?

ThatcherThis 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 US 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 the 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!

MeirBut 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 to 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.”


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.

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The Pornography of Donald Trump’s Presidency: When Maturity and Ethics Matter

August 20, 2017

Trump

We live in an increasingly digitized world of information, characterized in part by non-stop news. Main stream media (print, radio and television) is being rapidly pushed aside by new sources, some of which provide refreshing perspectives on geo-political and societal events, while others (which will remain nameless) peddle in belligerent, contrived “news.” Okay, here’s one faux news outlet: Breitbart. But there are plenty more of even more vitriolic alternative news sites.

By now, even the most arrogant, know-it-all journalist should willingly concede that he was totally clueless in predicting what a Trump presidency would likely resemble. That includes both right and left wing reporters. Some would incorrectly argue that Donald Trump is his own man, that he’s an independent thinker who does things differently based on his alleged business acumen.

In reality he’s simply a narcissist who, emotionally scarred by his upbringing, developed into an egomaniac in which his ego eventually exceeded his intelligence and his ability to look beyond his personal needs and wants. His petulance and strong propensity to exclude or punish people—including those he has pandered to through gushing statements—who have pissed him off has left a growing stream of entrails at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The only people who are perhaps immune from getting thrown overboard once disemboweled are daughter Ivan, hubby Jared and wife Melania. Time will tell.

Charlottesville.jpg

Each week brings a new Trump fiasco, with the further debasing of the Office of the President. It’s as if he contemplates what further misery and embarrassment he can inflict upon the White House, Congress, and the American people. The appalling riot in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend was not just a no-brainer but indeed a communications gift to Trump when it came to condemning the actions of White Supremacists, Neo-Nazis and other repulsive losers who arrived to cause trouble.

Yet Trump just couldn’t keep his mouth shut and stay on script. The visual reactions of his senior aides and secretaries (notably new Chief of Staff General John Kelly) and later reports of the grief expressed by White House staff were a testimony of an out-of-control president with zero emotional intelligence, little grasp of history (pertaining to the Civil War), and a desire to pander to a portion of his voting block.

Never in its 241 year history has the United States had such a mentally unbalanced president. And in a modern context with the proliferation of nuclear weapons, especially among unstable lesser developed countries (eg, Pakistan and North Korea), the stakes are huge. Imagine for a moment Donald Trump being president during the Cuban Missile Crisis. President John F. Kennedy, new in his role, capably handled the crisis, being resolute in his dealings with the Soviet Union’s Nikita Khrushchev yet understandings the acute sensitivities of the negotiations. No where did you hear threats of “fire and fury” being uttered by President Kennedy.
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It’s too early to predict what will happen to the disintegrating Trump presidency. Donald Trump may appear to have nine lives; however, eventually he’ll run out of luck. Former FBI director Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, while staffed with a roster of highly competent law enforcement investigators and lawyers, could get derailed by Trump. And if Mueller’s allowed to conclude his work, the past few months have shown that what may seem logical and reasonable only dissolves somehow with Trump’s toxic touch.

Americans are crying out for a mature national leader who practices inclusiveness, exhibits ethical behaviour, and enrols the country’s 340 million citizens in creating a better future. This is the task—call it Job 1—facing the individual elected to national office. Trump porn has NO place in the United States of America, replete with his background of misogyny, racism and bigotry.

The person who has come out swinging at Donald Trump and who has given an eloquent, yet forceful, scolding is former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger . This short video is well worth watching.

Rank does not confer privilege or give power. It imposes responsibility.
– Peter Drucker


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.

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

August 13, 2017

tough kid flexing muscles

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 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.

Woman FlexingPost-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 defense 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, 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


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.

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Paddling in Organizational Whitewater: Is it Technical Skills or Wisdom that you Need to Lead?

August 6, 2017

First Post Pic Whitewater Caneing

The slow job recovery from the 2008-09 Great Recession has been a tough workout for people trying to cope with upheaval in organizations: increased workloads, new technologies to adopt and understand, global competition from emerging economies, the outflow of corporate knowledge from retiring Baby Boomers, balancing the demands of parenting and helping ageing parents, and the list goes on. For those in managerial positions, attempting to function as good leaders during this turbulence is especially challenging.

There’s no shortage of advice from the self-appointed experts and countless writers on leadership. Everyone has their own angle or perspective. The purpose of this post is to zoom in on one particular aspect of leading people during what can be described as organizational whitewater. I’ll use one analogy as an illustration.

First, however, let’s look at how new university graduates from business schools have been set up for failure as leaders when they enter the real world. While a few management writers over the past few years have noted this problem, McGill University management guru Henry Mintzberg has consistently hammered away at it.

Management and leadership are intertwined. Mintzberg explains that leaders cannot be “trained” in MBA programs; it comes only with experience – falling down, picking yourself up, learning from the experience, and then moving forward.

What has occurred in the business world is that new grads don’t possess the contextual knowledge and life experiences to handle complex problems. Yes, they’ve acquired technical skills and a foundation for building their careers, but to say that they’re ready for dealing effectively with inter-related issues affecting, for example, suppliers, customer needs, unions, staff relationships, foreign partners, and production schedules is unrealistic.

Third post Pic

One of Mintzberg’s big beefs with business schools is their heavy reliance on the use of case studies. This artificial reality in his view gives graduates a false sense of capability. Learning through experience is what counts. I’ll provide an analogy that will help drive home Mintzberg’s point.

In my younger years (30s and 40s) I was very heavy into outdoor recreation. One activity I loved was whitewater canoeing (I tried kayaking but didn’t like it as much). I was fortunate to have excellent instructors, fellows in the 40s, who had been paddling for over 20 years. They were masters at what they did. It was inspiring to watch them navigate whitewater, displaying not just power but more importantly grace and wisdom. It’s not about brute strength when whitewater canoeing or kayaking. Obviously, a certain measure of technical skills is required to become proficient in the sport; however, it’s only one component of a bigger picture.

The same applies to organizations. A manager cannot expect to just force his or her ideas and will upon others. While technical skills are important, such as what was learned at business school (e.g., accounting, quantitative methods and marketing), to effectively lead people requires accumulated knowledge and wisdom.

One of the most important things I learned from my canoeing instructors was that while you could learn technical skills fairly quickly, it took years and years to build a knowledge base from your experiences. For example, there have been numerous news stories on young paddlers (typically males) who became technically proficient in handling a canoe or kayak but ran into serious problems when they got in over their heads. They didn’t understand well enough how to read a river or to take the time to map out a route, including identifying hazards (e.g, partially submerged logs). Patience is what’s critical here, and a measure of humbleness knowing that Mother Nature deserves respect.

Fifth Post Pic

Unfortunately, each year canoeists and kayakers drown or become paraplegics or quadriplegics when they exceed their technical capabilities. And it’s often the less experienced who end up in these situations. The message my instructors gave their students was to respect the river because it is unforgiving. The same applies to organizations, especially during times of economic stress.

In the context of today’s organizational whitewater, the message for new and less experienced leaders is to be humble, watch and listen for the signals, and learn from your experiences. Of particular importance is to practice patience. Do this and you’ll emerge at the other end of the whitewater a better leader and intact.


Photos by Jim Taggart (Penobscot River, Maine).


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.

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