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Tolerating the Tolerance of Intolerance

July 3, 2016

Trump Rally

We’ve become a community of voyeurs, titillating in the humiliation, pain and travesties experienced by others. The media, omnipresent in this voyeuristic universe, has become a master in the art of instantly capturing and reporting on the salient details of a smorgasbord of lurid events.

Canadians have become among the world’s most capable voyeurs. As the political train wreck unfolds south of the border, Canada’s mere population of some 35 million is soaking up the entrails of Donald Trump’s presidential ambitions, which no doubt began as a half-hearted effort to gain access to the keys to the highest office in the land, but more certainly as a concerted attempt to further build his Trump brand and buff his over-sized ego.

And here we are now, entering the dog days of July, where in a matter of a few months either the despised Hilary Clinton, spouse to serial philanderer Bill Clinton, becomes president, or Donald Trump wins the biggest reality show of all time.

Along the way, the public (around the globe) has witnessed some of the most vitriolic comments coming from one politician’s mouth in particular. There’s no point in repeating any of them since the internet, including the accomplices of print media, TV and radio, has made them routine daily rantings.

Members of the media interview residents of the neighbourhood near the secondary crime scene following an elementary school shooting, in Sandy Hook

However, it’s not just the nasty and underhanded remarks by Trump and company that has helped refine the nation of voyeurs but also the violence perpetrated on a daily basis against a wide range of society’s demographics. Whether it’s sexual assault against women on college campuses, harassment of female RCMP members, mass shootings such as in Orlando and Sandy Hook, or racial stereotyping of people from the Middle East, plus much more, we’ve become numb to it collectively as a society. To put it another way, we’re learning to tolerate the tolerance that the media is showing towards the subject of intolerance, in all its sordid forms.

To the media at large, it’s all about ratings and bringing in revenue projections. The media has played a major role in promoting the pornography of violence and racial intolerance, spawning a new class of thirsty voyeurs. On a recent edition of CBC Radio’s Sunday Edition with host Michael Enwright, one of the guests was a 24 year-old female journalist who had worked for Newsweek covering crime and events involving violence. She burnt out from that gig due to the never-ending onslaught of violence.

She explained how the media has templates laid out that are quickly put into place when an act of violence occurs. For example, call lists to law enforcement people are activated, profiles of the victims are drawn up, including the perpetrators. Everything has a sort of cookie cutter recipe; just fill in the blanks.

During her time as a crime beat reporter, she avoided watching fiction TV, especially shows involving gratuitous violence. Since leaving this role, she has been working on covering business and culture news and events. What was striking in listening to her talk about her previous work was how young she was, yet wise to the world.


Before you feel downbeat about how low society has descended when it comes to intolerance, specifically the venal barbs uttered by politicians at others, take a moment to read the following passage from James Tobin’s excellent book The Man he Became, a biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s difficult years after he contracted polio. The dateline is just before FDR was re-elected governor of New York in 1930. The delegates to the Democratic national convention had just received an anonymous circular in the mail. It read, in part:

In the home office of every life insurance company in the United States, there is on file the health examination report of every person holding a life insurance policy….If you will examine the health examination report of Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt, you will find that he is suffering from locomotor ataxia produced by syphilis. For almost ten years, however, Governor Roosevelt has been parading himself before the public as a victim of infantile paralysis in order to gain sympathy and to hide his real affliction. Carrying on the deception further, Governor Roosevelt has induced some men of wealth to establish at Warm Springs, Georgia, a sanitarium for the treatment of the real victims of infantile paralysis. The most disgusting, vicious and really dangerous thing about this matter is the fact that Governor Roosevelt (with his loathsome and infectious venereal disease) bathes in the same pool with these poor innocent children.

Donald Trump, as vile as he may be, has spewed forth a lot of nonsense and vindictive comments, whether at Hilary Clinton, President Obama, the heads of other countries, or his Republican opponents during the primaries. But it would be hard to argue persuasively that whatever Trump has said to date could match what was aimed at FDR 86 years ago, one of the lowest points in American politics.


We, as a supposed civilized society, can continue down the path towards innuendo, character assassination and hate-filled intolerance to those “different” from us (whatever that means in a globalized community), or we can push back against the perpetrators who financially benefit from its exploitation. If there’s one individual who amply demonstrated that he could rise to the occasion and shove aside the vitriol that was shovelled at him it was FDR, who became one of America’s greatest presidents.

Stop tolerating the tolerance of intolerance that the media has skillfully manipulated to great success. The reporting of such tragic events as the Orlando nightclub murders of 49 people in June or the slaughter of 20 little children and six school staff in December 2012 at Sandy Hook elementary school is necessary to a point. However, long before the media’s saturation point is reached the message has gone out to other mentally unbalanced people that a new goal needs to be reached. It’s time to stop being a nation of voyeurs.

If civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships – the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together, in the same world at peace.
— Franklin D. Roosevelt

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Participating: The Inclusion Dynamic of Holistic Leadership

June 26, 2016

Participate 1

If you haven’t already, be sure to download the third edition of my e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader: Strategies for Successful Leadership using a Principle-Based Approach.

We all know that participation is key to achieving meaningful results in organizations, whether it’s in the private sector, government or not-for-profit sector. However, it’s easy to espouse the importance of participation, especially from the management rooftop. It’s quite another challenge to bring it down to the ground where those leading others actually put participation into daily practice. This means engaging everyone throughout the organization, and encouraging people to bring out their personal leadership attributes.

It doesn’t matter what expression is used: shared leadership, participatory leadership, post-heroic leadership or roving leadership. The point is that participation, as one of the four main components of Holistic Leadership, is critical to helping organizations create learning cultures that are based on the five enabling elements:

  1. Power-sharing
  2. Inclusion
  3. Enrolling/Aligning
  4. Collaboration
  5. Commitment

Much has been written on participatory leadership. In both the private and public sectors, it’s often espoused by senior management as how people should work together. However, what’s said publicly is often not practiced. This applies not just to management but staff as well.

Modelling the desired behaviors that accompany participatory leadership is fundamental to its eventual success. Network leaders, for example, must practice the enabling elements contained in this Holistic Leadership component. As staff, these leaders need to learn how to collaborate and how to find common ground when conflict arises. People need to take ownership of their actions and not necessarily expect management to come riding to the rescue whenever conflict among staff members breaks out.

Participating 2.jpg

Some time ago, I read an article that talked about the tacit collusion employees engage in to protect their job’s boundaries. People follow unspoken norms with respect to staying out of one another’s job areas. When these norms are not followed, conflict typically emerges. The consequence is the cementing of behaviors and practices in organizations. When a major change initiative is introduced, senior management becomes frustrated by the rigid silos that have been erected among functional groups, and which in turn contribute to resistance to the change effort.

Participating is an important component of Holistic Leadership because it provides the conduit to unleashing the potential of people. Again, this is important to those in senior and front-line managerial positions, and also to those who seek to play informal leadership roles.

For an example of an individual who excelled at Participating read the following leadership vignette.

Pat Tillman began his football career as a linebacker at Arizona State University in 1994. By his senior year he was voted best defensive player. He was also a strong business student, and in 1998 had been recruited by the Arizona Cardinals. Early on in his NFL career, he refused a highly lucrative offer from the St. Louis Rams because of his loyalty to the Cardinals.


Despite his solid performance in the NFL, he declined a $3.5 million contract offer from the Cardinals so that he could join the U.S. Army. Why? Because his country had just been attacked by al-Qaeda and he felt duty-bound to serve. He and his brother joined the Rangers in 2002, and they completed the program after the first invasion of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was later deployed to Afghanistan, where he was killed by friendly fire during a firefight. The subsequent cover-up was finally revealed, to a degree, and a U.S. Congressional investigation found that the President G.W. Bush administration and the Pentagon withheld critical documents on Tillman’s death, refusing new document release requests from Congress citing executive privilege.

Tillman was known to be well-read on a variety of topics by many authors. After the invasion of Iraq he became critical of that effort and had openly expressed his views. He had planned to pursue exploring that issue upon his return to America after his Afghanistan tour was completed.

Pat Tillman didn’t have to enlist in the U.S. Army–there was no draft at that time–but he did it out of unselfish service to his country. The road was paved to a highly lucrative professional football career, but he put that aside for what he saw as a higher calling.

Reflection Question: How do you share your leadership within your team and more broadly within your organization?

Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.
— Muhammad Ali

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

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The Discontinuity of Donald Trump

June 19, 2016

Trump Shrugging

The past six months have turned US politics on its head. As the Democratic and Republican parties fumbled their way through their tortuous primary processes, both with their odd idiosyncrasies, wisdom has been thrown out the window. Bernie Sanders, the rumpled, always-angry 74 year-old, surprised supposed informed commentators with his consistent performance and enthusiastic supporters, albeit on a single message campaign.

On the other side of the political fence, conventional wisdom has really taken a beating as the candidate who was scorned and ridiculed from the start left all of his opponents in the dust. Donald J. Trump, once again, has prevailed in what’s become a new reality show version of US politics — except in this case the stakes are huge for not just the country and its 315 million citizens but the world at large.

And through the carnival-like atmosphere one key ingredient has been missing: leadership, the kind that makes nations great and that earns the respect from others.

Donald Trump’s successful invasion of US politics through his patented take-no-prisoners approach has taken everyone by surprise. He’s a lightning bolt out of a sunny, blue sky, with no apparent logic explaining his massive popularity among not just a segment of the Republican Party but among traditionally disenfranchised Americans who have tended not to vote in the past.
But should we be surprised with his rise in political stature, or was there writing on the wall, ignored by the pseudo intelligentsia?

Understanding what the concept of discontinuous change represents and how it operates in a highly volatile geo-political world helps point us in a direction to adapt to it.

Runner in Storm.jpg

The late Charles Handy, a British management thinker, talked about how we live in a period of Discontinuous Change. It refers to change that occurs in erratic, unpredictable bursts. Handy, regarded as one of the top thinkers of all time, ranks beside management guru Peter Drucker. Author of such highly acclaimed books as The Empty Raincoat, The New Philanthropists and The Age of Unreason, Handy was at the forefront of identifying global trends.

Along a similar vein, author Nassim Nicholas Taleb talks about what he calls Black Swan events, which may be briefly defined as: “An event or occurrence that deviates beyond what is normally expected of a situation and that would be extremely difficult to predict.” (Financial Times of London.) Take a moment to read Black Swans: The Achilles Heel of Leadership for a commentary on predictability.

The 2016 political primaries in the US may be viewed, to a degree, as discontinuous events. Much hand wringing by Hilary Clinton supporters and hair pulling by opponents to Donald Trump’s candidacy has produced no satisfactory results, especially in the latter case. In Clinton’s case, she may be the presumptive winner but it was due to a lack of adequate competition in the Democratic primary process. In national opinion polling, she edges out Trump but only because people are holding their noses when indicating who they would vote for in November.

Watching Republicans collectively wipe the egg off their face as such people as House Speaker Paul Ryan and Arizona Senator John McCain tepidly offer their support to Trump is indeed a weird spectacle. Yet failure to do so would ultimately wipe out any hope of winning November’s presidential election.

The coming match-up between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump has been referred to by some political commentators as an Alien versus Predator contest: both candidates are reviled by many voters but who are going to have to, as the vernacular goes, suck it up and vote for their party.

Hillary and Donald.jpeg

What’s predictable about Trump is his unpredictable comments and behaviour, from at times rational (more as of late when trying to appear presidential) descending to intemperate and inflammatory (“The Donald” the public has come to know). However, what should we expect of Trump as a hypothetical president? More discontinuity? In other words, if we’re to believe his critics, whether voters, politicians of all stripes or business people, would Trump get an itchy finger for the nuclear missile launch button if Iran or North Korea pissed him off?

But what about Trump as a responsible president? A long-time friend who’s lived in the UK for many years and who works in pension fund investments, argues that Trump would likely mellow as president and surprise people by acting responsibly. Perhaps. The problem that has escalated since Trump has surprised the world at large by his massive success in the primaries (far exceeding his business success and TV entertainment) is a pile-on effect.

It’s become the de facto (perhaps Pavlovian) response to express how horrible he would be as president of the United States. Your correspondent, admittedly, has jumped on that band wagon. Check out Good Leaders Avoid the Donald Trump Fear Mirror.

Discontinuity, as explained at the start of this commentary, is about sudden, unanticipated events that impose dislocating effects on society and the economy. That Donald Trump is perceived as nothing short of Satan, albeit with blonde hair and wearing an expensive suit, discards any notion that he could conceivably function in a responsible and strategic manner when faced with a crisis.


Our mental models (ingrained assumptions about the world that we acquire as we grow into adults) have become locked into one mode of what the world would look like under a President Trump. That may prove to be an ugly picture if he’s elected president. Yet history is full of examples of politicians perceived as not possessing exceptional leadership skills or who faced insurmountable odds, but who surprised people when they rose to the occasion when faced with a crisis. Examples include Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela and Franklin Roosevelt.

A more recent example of discontinuous leadership is President George W. Bush. He was dubbed by some media commentators as a “certified one term president” when he was elected in November 2000. Then an event occurred that rocked the world and which completely changed the context of his presidency—911. Bush rose to the occasion to lead the country during the ensuing months. However, his second term proved to be a disaster as poor planning and hubris led to the Iraq fiasco, which is seen by geo-political experts as the birthplace of ISIS.

North of the American border, the election in November 2015 of 43 year-old Justin Trudeau as prime minister shocked political commentators, and Canadians at large. Trailing in third place in the polls and perceived as a dilettante to national politics, Trudeau surprised everyone by his perseverance in campaigning for the country’s top job. Since being elected, his government has wobbled as Trudeau tries to deliver on his numerous promises. Never did informed people think that Justin Trudeau, with his many eccentricities and at times adolescent behavior, would become prime minister. Yet Canada now has a controversial leader who must attend to dozens of intersecting issues that will determine the country’s future growth and prosperity.

The purpose here is not to compare Donald Trump (or GW Bush or Justin Trudeau for that matter) to three revered national leaders. The point is to underscore our tendency to let our ingrained mental models guide our thinking, something to be avoided in a sea of discontinuous change. In the words of the late cultural anthropologist and leadership practitioner Angeles Arrien: “Be open to outcome, not attached to it.”

It’s always good to be underestimated.
— Donald Trump

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

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Directing: The Pillar of Holistic Leadership that Gets Measurable Results

June 12, 2016

Directing 1

If you haven’t already, be sure to download the third edition of my e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader: Strategies for Successful Leadership using a Principle-Based Approach. This post looks at Directing as one of the four components of Holistic Leadership.

Management, as a vital practice to the success of organizations, continues to get pushed into the back seat in favour of leadership. The poorly understood inter-relationship between management and leadership has diverted attention from the former when it comes to the overall literature and what we read and hear in the media. In short, management is not as sexy as leadership.

In the four part Holistic Leadership model, Directing is critical to those in managerial leadership positions, especially at the senior level. We read in the management literature how managers must possess certain key elements. They need to be visionary and strategic, yet also have a burning sense of urgency to move forward. And they must be results-oriented. To achieve this means that managers must be capable of mobilizing people. Directing encompasses five enabling elements:

  1. Vision
  2. Strategic
  3. Urgency
  4. Mobilize
  5. Results

That these five enabling elements are essential for effective formal leadership is not in dispute. But what about middle managers and employees? Little has been written on the need for people at the middle and lower levels in organizations to develop their skills for these five elements. However, they are critical skills to acquire if we wish to see a change in the culture of leadership in organizations.

Directing 2

There are three main types of leaders in organizations: senior managers, front-line managers and supervisors, and network leaders, or who are also called thought leaders. Network leaders comprise people at all levels, and are typically those working in non-managerial positions. They self-initiate, working across organizational boundaries, sharing information and linking people together.

All three categories of leaders must interact because they each possess certain strengths. Unfortunately, front-line managers have not been given sufficient attention with regard to improving their leadership abilities. In terms of Holistic Leadership, front-line managers need to ensure they develop the Directing component, because they’re the ones who are best positioned to mobilize their staff. They sit on the interface between senior management and staff, and tend to have a grasp of the big picture. This means they also need to be visionary and strategic, as well as results-oriented.

Network leaders are the seed planters, sowing ideas in their organizations and bringing people together. They work typically in non-management positions. Their interaction with front-line managers is vital, in terms of reciprocal sharing of knowledge and ideas. They also play a key role in influencing senior management. Network leaders need to ensure they develop the elements contained in the Directing component if they wish to increase their effectiveness.

Consequently, it’s important that we rethink our assumptions on the Directing component of leadership. These assumptions are oriented around power and authority and who possesses them in organizations. If we really wish to see our organizations evolve to embrace collaborative learning and shared leadership, then we need to shed some of our traditional beliefs on leadership.

Take a moment to read about an incredible corporate leader who portrays the Directing component extremely well.

Anderson Carpets.jpg Meet the World’s Greenest CEO:

Ray Anderson grew up in Georgia during the end of the Great Depression and World War II. After graduating from college he worked for almost 20 years in industry. Then in 1973 he took the plunge, leaving his employer to form Interface, drawing on an idea, his life savings and funds from a few investors.

Today, Atlanta-based Interface Inc. is one of the world’s largest flooring companies, with plants in the United States, Canada, England and Australia. However, the company’s growth and evolution has been far from ordinary. For example, in 1994 Anderson took a gamble and initiated a process to transform the company using nature as the model.

His QUEST process (Quality Utilizing Employee Suggestions and Teamwork) focused on eliminating waste from cost and measuring workers against perfection. For example, it was found that 10% of each sales dollar went to waste. Between 1994 and 2004, Interface calculated that the elimination of waste represented 28% of its operating income. And from 1996 (his baseline year) to 2008 Interface cut its greenhouse emissions by 71 % in absolute tons! Yet sales increased 66% and earnings doubled. Anderson more than amply demonstrated that business can make money while reducing its carbon imprint on the planet.


Anderson and his management team were inspired earlier on by Janine Benyus’s book Biomimicry. In fact, the manager of product development was so moved that he took his design team deep into the forest to study nature to determine how floor covering could be produced using nature’s design principles. The outcome was new flooring, which when installed has virtually no waste since cut pieces are reintegrated into the production process.

“Everything stays in the flow, the material loop. All of that is basically emulating nature in an industrial system, and that remains our goal,” asserts Anderson. One of Interface’s measures is carbon intensity, the amount of petroleum removed from the earth and then processed through the supply chain to yield one dollar of revenue. The company’s carbon intensity fell by one third over nine years, and it closed 39% of its smokestacks and 55% of its effluent pipes.

Anderson referred to climbing Mount Sustainability in Interface’s pursuit of sustainability. Understanding how to climb each of the seven “faces” to the peak will yield a zero environmental footprint. His vision is called Mission Zero, referring to Interface achieving a zero carbon footprint by 2020.

What made Anderson such an intriguing person and exceptional leader is that he’s on a never-ending quest to reduce waste and to cut emissions in order to reach a zero carbon footprint. Although employees are proud of their collective achievements, Anderson worked diligently at transforming the company’s corporate culture and ensuring that all employees share his vision. Despite low staff turnover, it’s been ongoing process to ensure that the company’s values remain engrained in everyone, and that new employees are quickly brought into the fold.

Ray Anderson exemplified what it means to practice stewardship and to be a true leader in enrolling and aligning his employees towards a common purpose and shared vision. He set, and was, the benchmark to which executive leaders should aspire.

A leader in corporate social responsibility, Ray Anderson died from cancer on August, 11, 2011.

Reflection Question: Whether you’re a senior executive, middle manager, thought leader or an aspiring leader, how do you influence others? Do you have a personal vision?

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Effective Leaders Execute!

June 5, 2016

Annette in Chair

She grew up on a dairy farm in Nova Scotia, Canada, going to a two-room schoolhouse. She had daily chores to do, like any farm kid. But when her dad died when she was only eleven years old, Annette Verschuren had to carry even more responsibilities working in the barn, lugging heavy milking machines on the concrete floor until her arches dropped. As a teen she dealt with four kidney surgeries, but also won the milking competition for seven consecutive years at the Cape Breton County Farmer’s Exhibition.

Who would have thought that this Cape Breton country gal would one day become one of Canada’s most respected CEOs and dynamic leaders?

Fast forward a couple of decades after earning a MBA. After working at mining company Imasco, she decided to enter the competitive retail business. She approached Michael’s, a do-it-yourself craft supplies company, offering to invest her own money. This led to her becoming the first president of Michael’s Canada. Verschuren’s operational approach to work meant having a very succinct plan–all on one page as she notes in her new book Bet on Me. With no pretense, she talks about her mistakes and learning by doing, especially inventory control, an essential skill for retailers. During her tenure she opened 17 stores in just two years.

From Michael’s she moved to The Home Depot in 1996, and later became Division President from 2006 to 2011, with additional responsibilities for building the company’s presence in China. Her Cape Breton roots prevented Verschuren from hiding in head office. Instead, she made a point of regularly visiting Home Depot stores, showing up in jeans, baseball cap and untucked shirt. Quick to establish a rapport with store employees, she didn’t just talk business but also showed an interest in people and having a few laughs. The Home Depot’s number of Canadian stores exploded from a mere 19 to currently 154. And all from at the time a 39 year-old woman who knew nothing about the lumber and hardware business.


She also served as the Chair and CEO of NRStor Inc., a new venture focused on improving the commercialization of energy storage technologies. She’s also on the boards of Liberty Mutual Insurance Group, Air Canada, Saputo, Icynene and the North West Company. She donates her time as a board member to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health Foundation (CAMH) and the Conference Board of Canada.

Outsiders who admire Annette Verschuren as a corporate leader say that they wouldn’t want to work directly for her. Her strong work ethic, fast pace, demanding style and ‘take-no-prisoners’ approach represents a leadership style not for the faint of heart. However, one has only to look at her impressive results in less than two decades to realize that this female corporate leader is as tough and smart as they come.

As she said in an interview with Canadian Business magazine in May 2016, your job as a leader is to produce results. It’s wonderful to conceive ideas and concepts and to engage in conversations with employees and stakeholders. However, the essence of leadership is to initiate action for the benefit of the organization (or community). Verschueren explained it this way with Canadian Business:

“Results aren’t the byproduct of thought, but of making decisions and taking action—quickly. Whether you are an entrepreneur launching a new business, a leader within an established company trying to improve operations or the executive director of a non-profit trying to get maximum results on a shoestring budget, the ability to quickly bring solid ideas to fruition will determine your success. Anything that prevents you from deciding and acting isn’t helpful.”

The notion of action and execution versus paralysis-induced consultations and reflection is appropriate for a highly competitive, global street-fight for market share, combined with the need for governments at all levels to get their acts together to respond to the needs of their constituents. For national governments, it means not just responding but indeed anticipating trends and getting out on the leading edge to support business and to generate the needed wealth for their nations, whether it’s rebuilding crumbling infrastructure, financing social and health programs, or strengthening the country’s human capital (read that as skills, training and education).

Take some time to think about Annette Verschueren’s approach to leadership. And then take action on what you plan to do in your own context.

I believe that 80% of your overall efforts as a leader should be directed toward execution, toward making things happen. Only 20% of your time should be spent planning.
– Annette Verschuren

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

Jim Breakwater 3Visit Jim’s e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

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Teaching: An Essential Pillar of Holistic Leadership

May 29, 2016

Learning 1

If you haven’t already, be sure to download the third edition of my e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader: Strategies for Successful Leadership using a Principle-Based Approach. This post looks at Teaching as one of the four components of Holistic Leadership.

A lot has been written on the need for leaders to be coaches and mentors. This is
important to their effectiveness when it comes to leading others through turbulent change and in supporting their personal growth and development. However, Teaching as part of Holistic Leadership is broader, encompassing the learning-organization concept. Indeed,
some experts have used the expression The Teaching Organization in place of the
learning organization.

Teaching in the 21st Century becomes the responsibility of everyone in the
organization. It begins from within the individual. This is the quest for personal
mastery: to continually strive to improve oneself, and in turn to share with others.
In essence, we become stewards for teaching, because it’s seen in the
organization as highly valued and necessary to its long-term success.
Teaching, as a Holistic Leader, comprises five enabling elements:

  1. Reflection & Inquiry
  2. Openness
  3. Sharing
  4. Stewardship
  5. Personal Mastery

Learning 2

To be a teacher means being open, both to self-discovery and to the views and
feedback from others. Reflection and inquiry are critical if this is to occur, for
without them we’re not able to slow ourselves down to explore new
meanings and possibilities. Teaching is fundamental to effective formal and informal leadership.

Openness is vital to our ability to be creative and innovative. If we’re closed to
ideas and suggestions from others, how will we ever take the chance to try
something different or new? In a turbulent global economy and fast-paced societal change, where work is being distributed around the world and as organizations look over their shoulders at new competitors, each of us needs to be open to new possibilities.

The days of hoarding information and protecting one’s organizational turf are long
gone. Those who try to cling to these practices won’t last long in a globalized
world. This is where Sharing comes into play. Generation Y, in contrast to Gen X
and especially Baby Boomers, is much more adept at sharing information and
ideas. We Boomers could learn from those much younger than us.

We live on a shrinking planet, not just in terms of the impact of communications
technology but more importantly in how we interact with Mother Earth.
Stewardship is becoming an increasingly important enabling element of Teaching
as pressures on our planet grow. Again, Gen Y has something to teach us. This
generation (born between 1980 and 1995) has a strong sense of both social and
environmental justice.

Each of us is never “there.” Regardless of one’s occupation or work passion, there
is always something new to learn or a way to improve our skills, behavior or how
we interact with others. Personal Mastery is so important to who we are as
human beings. If you take the view that every day brings new learning,
possibilities and opportunities, then it’s hard not to jump out of bed every
morning, eager to tackle challenges.

Learning 3

When I talk about Teaching one particular person comes to mind: my Jazz piano
teacher, Brian Browne. A master Jazz interpreter and creator of original music
(with over a dozen CDs), Brian has played professionally for almost six decades.
Yet he’s continually exploring new possibilities, experimenting with voicings,
chords and structures – all of this while fighting cancer during the past few years. I
never know what I’m going to learn during a class. It just happens naturally.
Brian’s unique teaching style, combined with his own passion for continually
learning and improving his mastery of Jazz piano, has embedded in me that none
of us are ever “there.” We’re always interpreting, regardless of context. (Photo: master jazz pianist Herbie Hancock.)

Let’s look at one incredible leader who’s been an inspiration to many and
who exemplifies the Teaching component of Holistic Leadership.

Julie Payette was strong in maths and sciences as a student growing up in
Montreal. But she also loved to sing, and along the way she learned additional
languages to her fluent French and English: Russian, German, Spanish and Italian.
That wasn’t enough for this strong achiever. She later performed with the
Montreal Philharmonic Orchestra and earned her commercial pilot’s license. Her
biggest accomplishment, however, was becoming the second Canadian woman to
fly in space aboard the Space Shuttle.

Payette’s hard work to become an electrical and computer engineer and then
gaining experience in a variety of locations (e.g., IBM research lab in Zurich)
helped position her for entry in 1992 to become an astronaut. She was selected
with three other people from a field of 5,330 applicants. Payette first flew on the
Space Shuttle Discovery in 1999, and was the first Canadian astronaut to visit the
Space Station and to operate the robotic Canadarm. She served as the Chief
Astronaut with the Canadian Space Agency from 2000 to 2007.

Learning 4

In July 2009, Payette served for two weeks as the flight engineer on the Space
Shuttle Endeavour for the STS-127, ISS Assembly Mission to the International
Space Station. She then worked in Houston as a CAPCOM (Spacecraft
Communicator) for NASA’s Mission Control Center. And in 2013, she was named
Chief Operating Officer

Outside of her work as an astronaut, Payette participates in a motivational
program that encourages learning inside and outside of the classroom. She speaks
to school children and the public across Canada on a regular basis, with the goal of
fostering their own growth as human beings. She acknowledges that it can be
challenging trying to convey her message when people look at her with awe. But
as she puts it: “The impression is that we’re perfect and we’re robots, but that’s
not the case. We’re just people who have the skills and personality to do this job
well. Human beings are human beings.”

One vital message she stresses is that while academics is important to personal
growth, so too is gaining a variety of experiences that promote creativity and
imagination. In fact, she likes to tell the story that when she was going through
the selection process, she explained to the panel that her choral singing would
help make her an excellent astronaut because it made her a more rounded

Reflection Question: As a leader, how do you perceive your abilities as a
Teacher; where are you strong and where do you need to improve?

I’m always thinking about creating. My future starts when I wake up every morning… Every day I find something creative to do with my life.
— Miles Davis

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

Jim Grand Manan 2Visit Jim’s e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

Contact Jim for information on his Holistic Leadership Workshop

Take a moment to meet Jim.

Are You a Smarty Pants?

May 23, 2016

Smarty 1

Fill in the blank in the following quotation to see if you correctly identify the decade in question:

Any company that aspires to succeed in the tougher business environment of the ______ must first resolve a basic dilemma: success in the marketplace increasingly depends on learning, yet most people don’t know how to learn. What’s more, 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.

So what did you guess? It sure sounds like today’s business environment, not to forget the public and not-for-profit sectors.

If you guessed the nineties you’d be correct. It comes from a Harvard Business Review article published in the May-June 1991 issue. Written by professor emeritus Chris Argyris of the Harvard Business School, the title of the article is Teaching Smart People How to Learn. Seen as a HBR Top Ten Reads, it’s also regarded as a landmark concept piece on why organizations must work harder at creating deep learning cultures if they’re to succeed in a complex, globalized economy.

While this post highlights Argyris’ key findings and messages from his research, it’s very worthwhile to download his 1991 paper to learn more fully about his concepts and research on highly educated professionals.

Smarty 2 (1)

Argyris talks about the great difficulty that organizations have in trying to figure out how to engage their so-called top-talent employees. Of more significance, many organizations aren’t even aware that they have a problem. Why? Because from management down, employees don’t properly understand learning, thinking it refers to problem-solving. This means they focus on problems occurring in the outside world–the external environment. However, Argyris argues that people need to take time to reflect critically on their own behavior and actions, and then change this to contribute better to the organization’s challenges. People, he states, “… must learn how the very way they go about defining and solving problems can be a source of problems in its own right.”

Through his research spanning dozens of organizations, Argyris created his concept of “single-loop” and “double-loop” learning to distinguish between the two learning approaches. Simply, single-loop learning would be, for example, a thermostat that automatically turns the heat on at a set temperature setting. However, double-loop learning kicks in when the thermostat asks itself “Why am I set to 70 degrees F, and is there a more appropriate temperature setting?”

Well-educated professionals are typically competent at single-loop learning. That’s how they amassed their degrees and the many letters behind their names on business cards. And in the context of their work, they apply what they learned to solve real-world problems. Here lies the crux of the issue: their inability to engage in deeper work involving the practice of double-loop learning because of past success and the rare occurrence of failure.

So when shit hits the fan and Joe Professional makes a big mistake, the immediate response is to find blame through defensive reasoning. More important, the employee’s ability to learn freezes just when it’s needed most. Think, for a moment of an example. A big one is the 2008 financial crisis and the series of mistakes that happened over many months (indeed years), prosecuted from top managers down the line. No one seemed to get it, except for a few, of what was happening as the financial system began to implode.

Bad meet1

Organizations, as Argyris explains, spend too much time on such issues as reorganizing (moving the deck chairs), talking about corporate culture and compensation. What they don’t focus on is double-loop learning, in which people engage in reflection and deeper thinking. “Teaching people how to reason about their behavior in new and more effective ways breaks down the defenses that block learning.”

Argyris talks about the 15 years he spent carrying out research on management consultants. One of the stories he talks about is summarized below.

The manager of a team of top consultants at a respected consulting company decided to hold a half-day meeting to discuss the team’s performance following the end of a contract. The client had expressed its satisfaction with the team’s work; however, the manager believed that the team could have done better. Knowing that the team’s members, all top performers, would find it hard to self-reflect critically, the manager brought in a trusted facilitator and attempted to create an open atmosphere.

In response to the manager’s request that the team challenge him on his leadership and whether he could have performed more effectively, the other part of his request fell flat: what mistakes did the members make and how could they have done better? The team looked outside themselves. The client was not cooperative. The manager was not well prepared. He submitted to pressure from his bosses. He didn’t run project meetings well. And so it went.

Towards the end of the session, the manager made one more attempt, asking how the team could be more effective in the future. No luck. The team’s members once again pointed to the client and the manager as the sources of the problems. One consultant went so far as to make the ironical comment: “They have to be open to change and want to learn.”

Guy Hanging by Tie

This bizarre event is an excellent portrayal of well-educated people reacting defensively to protect themselves. Of particular insult was their manager operating transparently and with the best of intentions being treated callously and disrespectfully. And the end result was zero insights into how the team could improve its performance for the next client contract. A “common language,” as Argyris concludes, was never found.

In talking about defensive reasoning and what he calls the “doom loop,” Argyris states: “The manager understands the trap but does not know how to get out of it. To learn how to do that requires going deeper into the dynamics of defensive reasoning–and into the special causes that make professionals so prone to it”

So why do professionals, especially so-called top performers, fall for being defensive when asked questions relating to their work or performance?

As human beings we form from our life experiences what Argyris calls “theory-in-use,” our personal set of “rules” that guide our behavior. For the most part, we’re unaware that they exist or that we resort to them every day. However, each of us acts inconsistently at times, contradicting what’s called our “espoused theory:” what we say to the world and how we think we’re acting.

Complicating our theory-in-use is a set of four governing values that determine our behavior.

1) To stay in unilateral control

2) To maximize “winning” and minimize “losing”

3) To suppress negative feelings

4) To be rational


Defensive reasoning, therefore, helps us as individuals to keep our assumptions and beliefs private from others as we go about our daily activities. Moreover, it serves as a safeguard to prevent our beliefs from being tested objectively, whether through personal reflection or by others. In the example of the manager and his consulting team, he never had a chance. His team’s theory-in-use overrode their espoused theory.

The big challenge for those leading people, whether in intact or project teams, is investing the time, effort and commitment to help move them to a higher level of operating performance in the workplace. Ongoing learning is embedded in our daily work activities. Therefore it’s essential to approach problems, anticipated and spontaneous, in an open-minded and integrated way. Wearing blinders to opposing views or rejecting unorthodox solutions is not just potentially harmful to the organization’s performance but also disrespectful to your co-workers.

Take time to do some personal reflection and inquiry on how you approach collaborative learning.

When you are problem-solving, you are trying to get rid of something. When you are in a creative mode, you are trying to bring something into being.
‒ Stephen Covey

Holisti Leadership

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

Bay St. Lawrence BLOGVisit Jim’s e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

Contact Jim for information on his Holistic Leadership Workshop

Take a moment to meet Jim.


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