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Real Leaders Don’t Pass theBuck: A Leadership Lesson for Donald Trump

March 5, 2017

William “Ryan” Owens had upholding the good in his blood. His father was a uniformed police officer while his mother was detective. Born on March 5, 1980 in Peoria, Illinois, Owens spent much of his formative years in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but graduated from high school in Illinois. As soon as he was out of high school he joined the U.S. Navy.

After serving a short stint with the Office of Naval Intelligence in Maryland, Owens joined the Navy SEALS in 2002. He was promoted to chief petty officer in 2009 (my father held the same rank during World War Two in the Royal Canadian Navy). He served several tours of duty during his time with the SEALS, but it was the recent raid in Yemen where Owens was killed in a firefight. A recipient of numerous medals (eg, two Bronze Stars, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and three Presidential Unit Citations), Owens is survived by his wife Carryn Owens and their three children.

This was a tragic event. Yet, the work of Navy SEALS and other special operations groups is highly dangerous. Every mission has risks, but it’s the price a nation pays through the lives of their military members to keep citizens safe. Counter terrorism is an especially risky endeavour.

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When the 36 year-old Owens and his team were about to enter the al-Qaeda compound in Yemen on January 29th, they were detected and immediately fired upon by al-Qaeda fighters and Yemeni tribesmen. A helicopter was requested to evacuate the wounded Owens who later died. Three other SEALS were wounded, and a reported 30 civilians were killed during the raid

The political firestorm that erupted shortly afterwards, with initial allegations that no actionable intelligence was obtained, contributes to the growing divide in the United States (the intelligence claim was later proved false). While it may never be known precisely what useful intelligence was gathered, military officials have acknowledged that the most prominent Yemeni killed in the raid was Sheikh Abdel-Raouf al-Dhahab. A tribal leader, he wasn’t considered to be a high value target by the United States.

As if the political repercussions aren’t reprehensible enough in light that a U.S. service man was killed while in combat, Donald Trump tried to distance himself from what’s being called a “botched” raid. Trump went so far as to try to pin the blame on President Obama. In an interview on Fox, Trump stated: “This was a mission that was started before I got here. This was something they [military’s generals under Obama] wanted to do. They came to see me, they told me what they wanted to do, the generals, who are very respected—my generals are most respected we’ve had in many decades, I believe. And they lost Ryan.”

This politicizing of an anti-terrorist mission disrespects Chief Petty Office Owens. One has only to look at other ill-fated special ops missions to see how political leaders reacted. One particular tragic event comes to mind: Operation Eagle Claw.


President Jimmy Carter had a very tough decision to make. Radical Iranian students had been holding 52 American diplomats and citizens at the U.S. embassy in Tehran since November 4, 1979. (In the end, it remains the longest hostage situation recorded—444 days.) Planning and preparation for the very complex operation took months, with the date set for April 24, 1980. Operation Eagle Claw, one of Delta Force’s first missions, was born.

Problems started at Desert One, the staging area, where eight helicopters were to land. However, only five arrived in operational condition. While four helicopters were seen as being sufficient for the mission, military commanders advised scrubbing it since they wanted six or more to be operational. President Carter agreed to this request. When the helicopters were leaving, one flew into a military transport, causing an explosion. Both aircraft were destroyed and eight service men were killed.

President Carter wore the results of the disastrous rescue mission to the November 1980 election, which produced a huge victory for Ronald Reagan.

Rather than trying to deflect criticism and blame for the failed mission, President Carter went on national television to accept responsibility, stating: “It was my decision to attempt the rescue operation. It was my decision to cancel it when problems developed in the placement of our rescue team for a future rescue operation. The responsibility is fully my own.”


Real leaders, regardless of whether in politics, government or business, never pass the buck. It doesn’t apply only to those at the top but also down through the hierarchy. However, what really distinguishes a top leader is when he or she assumes responsibility for mistakes that happen elsewhere in the organization.

Take former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop as an example. Read this post on how Elop took responsibility for the mess that Nokia was in when he took over the CEO position. Elop never blamed the mess on his predecessors but used “we” in communicating to employees on Nokia’s “burning platform.”

There are numerous other examples about top leaders who owned responsibility for major mistakes or deliberate falsifications. There’s Mary Barra, an electrical engineer who had worked for General Motors for 30 years, who in 2014 was named the company’s first female CEO. When the news exploded with reports that GM had put over 1.7 million cars on the road with an ignition switch defect, resulting in over a dozen deaths, Barra owned the problem. The company was faced with a huge recall. Barra decided to address the crisis directly, and in a publicly filmed statement in front of millions of viewers, she personally apologized: “Something went very wrong…and terrible things happened.”

Then there’s the crisis that Texaco CEO Peter Bijur faced with allegations of racism from African American employees who sued Texaco for racial discrimination in 1994. The employees produced recordings of secret conversations among Texaco executives. A boycott of Texaco was organized as public outrage grew. Bijur responded quickly to the escalating crisis. He immediately suspended the executives involved before investigations had even begun. He then apologized publicly. And Texaco initiated a campaign where senior executives met with employees at all of its locations to apologize in person. Bijur followed this process with the introduction of discrimination checks for executives and managers to ensure that the problem wouldn’t re-occur.

Top leaders own problems that arise in their organizations and take effective action to correct them. They incorporate a learning component to ensure that the lessons learned are not forgotten and are embedded in the organization’s way of doing business. The starting point in the process is what has now become vernacular wisdom, courtesy of President Harry Truman: “The buck stops here.”

A lie which is half truth is ever the blackest of lies.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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The Cult of Donald J. Trump

February 26, 2017

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The past year of Trump-mania and Trump-phobia has brought out armchair psychologists, those with some work-based connections to the broad field of mental health and, more recently, actual psychologists, all of whom have taken aim at the controversial 45th president of the United States. In office for just over a month, Donald Trump has the country reeling on its heels as citizens, legislators and lawmakers attempt to keep up with his executive orders, public appearance announcements and Tweeting.

Of interest is the occurrence of professionals in the psychology field speaking out about Donald Trump’s mental state, despite ethical rules laid out by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), which clearly state that they’re banned from expressing their professional diagnostic opinions. The origin of this rule traces back to the days of Barry Goldwater, when a newspaper headline boldly stated: “1,189 Psychiatrists say Goldwater is Psychologically Unfit to be President!”

The result was the APA issuing the so-called “Goldwater Rule”: “It is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination of the patient in question.”

Though not a psychiatrist, John D. Garner, a psychotherapist at Johns Hopkins University, recently ventured into this forbidden area when he publicly stated that Donald Trump was “…dangerously mentally ill and temperamentally incapable of being president.” And in 2016, Dr. Drew Pinsky, a medical doctor and celebrity physician in California, didn’t just question Trump’s mental state but also that of his supporters. While he said that Trump isn’t “insane” (which is not a formal medical term), he does show signs of mental instability.

As Pinsky put it: “There’s two definitions of sanity: one is legal definition, and that is somebody who is so out of it they don’t know the difference between right and wrong.” (Interview with CNN’s Don Lemon). Others in psychology and medical fields have more recently stuck a toe in the water by offering up some cautiously worded comments about Donald Trump.

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During the presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton and many others publicly expressed that Donald Trump was not temperamentally fit for the office of the President of the United States. That’s part of politics, and displayed Clinton’s knee-jerk reaction to the accusations that Trump levelled at her (from Libya to the Clinton Foundation to her emails). That’s part of the dirt-ball game of politics. However, those professionally trained and licensed in mental health are expected to refrain from spouting their views on whether a candidate for political office is mentally fit. It’s a mine-field loaded full of ethical ordnance.

As human beings we like—love—labels. One word that has been used to describe Donald Trump is “megalomaniac.” It’s a great sounding word, fitting for a larger-than-life reality show host who now commands the most powerful military in the world. Megalomania is defined as:

a) a mania for great or grandiose performance,

b) a delusional mental illness that is marked by feelings of personal omnipotence and grandeur.

However, some caution needs to be provided on the use of this word. It’s now more properly described as Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which raises more complex issues and left to medical professionals in the field of psychiatry and psychology. The Mayo Clinic, for example, explains NPD as:
Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultraconfidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.

It’s tempting for lay people, the media, and even those in fields linked to psychology to suggest that Donald Trump may suffer from NPD. But one treads into that mine-field.


What’s of more particular interest, however, is how Donald Trump, through the use of his strong personality, marketing genius and unpredictable behaviour, has created a quasi cult-like following of supporters. Regardless of his constant stream of incorrect statements on events (such as the recent fabricated one on a terrorist attack in Sweden), his supporters have become, if anything, more entrenched in their support for him. Just watch an interview of a Trump supporter and how they either have a starry-eyed look or are so emotionally smitten with him that they struggle to express themselves clearly.

Older Americans, for example, who have never voted in their lives cast a ballot for Trump last November. One can argue that the disgust many Americans hold towards Congress and the country’s political system in general underlies much of the reason why Trump won the election. But it also raises the question of WHY do so many Americans love the man and become so emotional when interviewed about their support for him?

It brings to the mind the subject of cults, which may be comprehensively defined as:

1. a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies.

2. an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers.

3. a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person or ideal.

4. a group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering around their sacred symbols.

5. a religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader.

It’s clear that the word “cult” is expansive is definition, and as a consequence is tempting to apply to a variety of situations and individuals.

The intersection of megalomania/NPD and cults presents an interesting study. For example, Bernie Madoff, the stockbroker and investor who ripped off his clients for $65 billion through an elaborate Ponzi scheme and who was sentenced to 150 years in prison, created a cult-like following through behaviours reflecting aspects of NPD. He died in prison in 2014.

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Then there are the infamous cult leaders who inflicted violence on their followers and society. Examples include, Jim Jones (Jonestown cyanide-induced mass suicide), Charles Manson (Sharon Tait murders), and David Koresh (Branch Divisions and the Waco, Texas massacre). And there’s the weird case of Bonnie Lu Nettles, who co-founded the UFO cult Heaven’s Gate with Marshall Applewhite. That, again, produced a mass suicide of followers.

On another front is the Unification Church, founded by the late Sun Myung Moon (spawning the term “Moonies” for its followers), which was labelled a cult (above photo, Moonie wedding). And in the late 1960s, the Children of God was created in California (later renamed The Family International of The Family) by polygamist David Berg. (See first photo.)

Take a moment to read this excellent article by Joe Navarro from Psychology Today. He includes a long list of traits of what he calls a pathological cult leader. Note that he includes organizational aspects of cult leadership, not just societal. His final comments are:

“When the question is asked, “When do we know when a cult leader is bad, or evil, or toxic?” this is the list that I use to survey the cult leader for dangerous traits. Of course the only way to know anything for sure is to observe and validate, but these characteristics can go a long way to help with that. And as I have said, there are other things to look for and there may be other lists, but this is the one that I found most useful from studying these groups and talking to former members of cults.

When a cult or organizational leader has a preponderance of these traits then we can anticipate that at some point those who associate with him will likely suffer physically, emotionally, psychologically, or financially. If these traits sound familiar to leaders, groups, sects, or organizations known to you then expect those who associate with them to live in despair and to suffer even if they don’t know it, yet.”

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So let’s get back to Donald J. Trump.

Is he a cult leader? Has he created a devoted cult that appears to see the world in black and white?

That’s left to the reader to interpret and to make his or her own conclusion; the experts won’t be of much help. The visceral emotional response to Trump’s presidency has pushed aside much of the intelligent debate on his policies and practices as president. Whether it’s the media, academics, economists, psychologists, geo-political analysts, or the lay-public, everyone now seems to hold a strong black or white opinion of Donald Trump. He’s either going to “make America great again” or destroy the country.

What’s been lost in the turmoil since the election is any sense of people—both pro and anti Trump— being open to outcome and not being attached to it. The Great Divide is in need of healing.

Supporters and detractors proceed at their own risk.

I have the right temperament. I have the right leadership. I’ve built an incredible company. I went to a great school. I came out – I built an incredible company. I wrote the number one selling business book of all time: ‘Trump: The Art of the Deal.’
—Donald J. Trump

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Healing America’s Great Divide—A Burning Platform is not the Way

February 19, 2017


The Continental Divide of the Americas, known in the vernacular as the Great Divide, is big. Technically it’s the hydrological mountainous divide that stretches from the Bering Strait at the top of Alaska to the Strait of Magellan at the southern tip of South America. Yeah, it’s pretty long.

There’s also another big divide, and one that’s been growing steadily in the past two years. This one isn’t geological but involves people—some 320 million inhabitants of the United States. The intransigent intolerance shown by those on both sides of the political divide—Democrats versus Republicans and those won over by Trump’s marketing genius—appears to be just as entrenched at the start of 2017 as it was during the 2016 election campaign.

Anyone remember how Donald Trump promised to heal the division in America?

Oddly, his 16 minute inauguration address on January 20th didn’t lay out a vision for America, one which could have articulated how ALL Americans could see themselves contributing to the country’s future. Instead, Trump’s address was dark and foreboding, essentially a concise replay of his campaign rantings. Sure, the United States has problems, such as with growing income inequality, disastrous high school student test rankings on the global level, and tens of millions of Americans still without healthcare coverage. But the country still has so much going for it, such as being an engine for innovation, citizens who are known for their generosity, and a land that has been embraced by immigrants for over two hundred years. Take a moment to read Why America is Good and Great.

Somehow, America the good was kept under a blanket during Trump’s inaugural address. As a reality show host, he knows how to play to the dark side of people, bringing out their raw emotions and prejudices. No one does it better than Donald Trump.


Imagine, for a moment, the top leader of a public or private organization attempting to inspire employees through a dark, negative vision of the future: Where evil lurks in the corners, why adopting an insular stance towards towards the world is the solution, and where the organization’s previous industry leadership is being reeled back.

How would employees react?

This brings to mind Nokia’s burning platform

Canadian executive Stephen Elop joined Nokia as CEO in 2011 (coming from Microsoft). He was shocked at what he saw: a world leader in cellular handsets that was steadily losing market share. Elon decided to write what has become known as the controversial “burning platform” memo, in which he stated that radical moves would be needed to stop the company’s decline.

Elop’s emotion-laden email memo was leaked to the media. Nokia’s board of directors was not impressed.

Here’s the full text of his “burning platform” memo:


There is a pertinent story about a man who was working on an oil platform in the North Sea. He woke up one night from a loud explosion, which suddenly set his entire oil platform on fire. In mere moments, he was surrounded by flames. Through the smoke and heat, he barely made his way out of the chaos to the platform’s edge. When he looked down over the edge, all he could see were the dark, cold, foreboding Atlantic waters.

As the fire approached him, the man had mere seconds to react. He could stand on the platform, and inevitably be consumed by the burning flames. Or, he could plunge 30 meters in to the freezing waters. The man was standing upon a “burning platform,” and he needed to make a choice.

He decided to jump. It was unexpected. In ordinary circumstances, the man would never consider plunging into icy waters. But these were not ordinary times – his platform was on fire. The man survived the fall and the waters. After he was rescued, he noted that a “burning platform” caused a radical change in his behaviour.

We too, are standing on a “burning platform,” and we must decide how we are going to change our behaviour.

Over the past few months, I’ve shared with you what I’ve heard from our shareholders, operators, developers, suppliers and from you. Today, I’m going to share what I’ve learned and what I have come to believe.

I have learned that we are standing on a burning platform.

And, we have more than one explosion – we have multiple points of scorching heat that are fuelling a blazing fire around us.

For example, there is intense heat coming from our competitors, more rapidly than we ever expected. Apple disrupted the market by redefining the smartphone and attracting developers to a closed, but very powerful ecosystem.

In 2008, Apple’s market share in the $300+ price range was 25 percent; by 2010 it escalated to 61 percent. They are enjoying a tremendous growth trajectory with a 78 percent earnings growth year over year in Q4 2010. Apple demonstrated that if designed well, consumers would buy a high-priced phone with a great experience and developers would build applications. They changed the game, and today, Apple owns the high-end range.

And then, there is Android. In about two years, Android created a platform that attracts application developers, service providers and hardware manufacturers. Android came in at the high-end, they are now winning the mid-range, and quickly they are going downstream to phones under €100. Google has become a gravitational force, drawing much of the industry’s innovation to its core.

Let’s not forget about the low-end price range. In 2008, MediaTek supplied complete reference designs for phone chipsets, which enabled manufacturers in the Shenzhen region of China to produce phones at an unbelievable pace. By some accounts, this ecosystem now produces more than one third of the phones sold globally – taking share from us in emerging markets.

While competitors poured flames on our market share, what happened at Nokia? We fell behind, we missed big trends, and we lost time. At that time, we thought we were making the right decisions; but, with the benefit of hindsight, we now find ourselves years behind.

The first iPhone shipped in 2007, and we still don’t have a product that is close to their experience. Android came on the scene just over 2 years ago, and this week they took our leadership position in smartphone volumes. Unbelievable.

We have some brilliant sources of innovation inside Nokia, but we are not bringing it to market fast enough. We thought MeeGo would be a platform for winning high-end smartphones. However, at this rate, by the end of 2011, we might have only one MeeGo product in the market.

At the midrange, we have Symbian. It has proven to be non-competitive in leading markets like North America. Additionally, Symbian is proving to be an increasingly difficult environment in which to develop to meet the continuously expanding consumer requirements, leading to slowness in product development and also creating a disadvantage when we seek to take advantage of new hardware platforms. As a result, if we continue like before, we will get further and further behind, while our competitors advance further and further ahead.

At the lower-end price range, Chinese OEMs are cranking out a device much faster than, as one Nokia employee said only partially in jest, “the time that it takes us to polish a PowerPoint presentation.” They are fast, they are cheap, and they are challenging us.

And the truly perplexing aspect is that we’re not even fighting with the right weapons. We are still too often trying to approach each price range on a device-to-device basis.

The battle of devices has now become a war of ecosystems, where ecosystems include not only the hardware and software of the device, but developers, applications, ecommerce, advertising, search, social applications, location-based services, unified communications and many other things. Our competitors aren’t taking our market share with devices; they are taking our market share with an entire ecosystem. This means we’re going to have to decide how we either build, catalyse or join an ecosystem.

This is one of the decisions we need to make. In the meantime, we’ve lost market share, we’ve lost mind share and we’ve lost time.

On Tuesday, Standard & Poor’s informed that they will put our A long term and A-1 short term ratings on negative credit watch. This is a similar rating action to the one that Moody’s took last week. Basically it means that during the next few weeks they will make an analysis of Nokia, and decide on a possible credit rating downgrade. Why are these credit agencies contemplating these changes? Because they are concerned about our competitiveness.

Consumer preference for Nokia declined worldwide. In the UK, our brand preference has slipped to 20 percent, which is 8 percent lower than last year. That means only 1 out of 5 people in the UK prefer Nokia to other brands. It’s also down in the other markets, which are traditionally our strongholds: Russia, Germany, Indonesia, UAE, and on and on and on.

How did we get to this point? Why did we fall behind when the world around us evolved?

This is what I have been trying to understand. I believe at least some of it has been due to our attitude inside Nokia. We poured gasoline on our own burning platform. I believe we have lacked accountability and leadership to align and direct the company through these disruptive times. We had a series of misses. We haven’t been delivering innovation fast enough. We’re not collaborating internally.

Nokia, our platform is burning.

We are working on a path forward — a path to rebuild our market leadership. When we share the new strategy on February 11, it will be a huge effort to transform our company. But, I believe that together, we can face the challenges ahead of us. Together, we can choose to define our future.

The burning platform, upon which the man found himself, caused the man to shift his behaviour, and take a bold and brave step into an uncertain future. He was able to tell his story. Now, we have a great opportunity to do the same.



What’s interesting is the continuous use of “we” in Elop’s email. While employing “we” is typically preferable to “you” (and its implicit accusation tone) and “I” (as reflecting sometimes ego), in Nokia’s case the issue was about top management and its lack of foresight. Nokia’s fall is similar to Blackberry’s (formerly Research in Motion) collapse due to the arrogance and the failure of top management to pay attention to what Apple was developing with its iPhone, not to forget Android and manufacturers such as Samsung.

Indeed, Elop correctly referenced what Nokia’s competitors had achieved in just a few years, namely Apple and Android. While his memo was driven by events that had overtaken the Finnish-based company, he should have emphasized that top management assumed responsibility for the company’s slide in market share due to: a) lack of foresight, b) failure to remain aware of how the industry was evolving, and c) absent leadership to engage employees. Yes, Elon was the new sheriff in town, and he inherited a mess. And he attempted to include himself in the situation and the need for a solution.

Criticize Elop if you wish, at least he made an effort to reach out to Nokia’s employees, providing a reality check, specifying the competitive challenges, and emphasizing the need to move forward together as a company.

So back to Donald Trump and his own version of America is on fire and what he plans to do to put it out.


This is America, the Land of the Free, a nation of some 320 million people whose entrepreneurial, innovative spirit is unmatched in the world. Trump made a lot of fuss when he won the election in November about how he was going to “heal” America and bring the two sides together. “That’s what I do,” he claimed numerous times, on how he brings people together.

Well, that hasn’t actually been playing out as expected since his inauguration. Whether it’s through his sycophantic mouthpieces, such as press spokesperson Sean Spicer or counsellor Kellyanne Conway, or directly from himself, Donald Trump has insulted journalists, judges, Democrats, business people, and anyone who ventures to disagree with him. You don’t hear Trump including himself as part of the problem as did Elop. With Trump, it’s all about other people being the problem, from Mexicans to Muslims to Democrats to the media to the “coastal elites.”

Donald Trump is not capable of healing America, and indeed appears intent on tearing it apart further.

This is not leadership. Real leaders engage people, enrolling them in a collective vision, in which each individual can see his or her role in contributing to something bigger. Steamrolling people, insulting them and attempting to punish will get you nowhere.

It’s unlikely that Donald Trump, an insecure megalomaniac, will ever understand what true leadership represents. Unfortunately, he is on the path to undermine a great country of 320 million people.

People ask the difference between a leader and a boss. The leader leads, and the boss drives.
— President Theodore Roosevelt

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

jim-grand-manan-fbVisit Jim’s e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

Contact Jim for information on his Holistic Leadership Workshop

Take a moment to meet Jim.

Justin Trudeau’s Truthiness Challenge: Is This Leadership?

February 12, 2017

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“Read my lips. No new taxes.”

Do you remember who uttered those now infamous words?

George H. W. Bush, who elevated from Ronald Reagan’s vice president to president, spoke those words at the 1988 Republican National Convention (written by speechwriter, and now political analyst, Peggy Noonan). Bush proved to be a competent president, though was the butt of never-ending satire from comedians. His undoing, despite huge success with his leadership of Desert Storm in 1990, was a sinking economy. Indeed, it was Bill Clinton’s advisor James Carville who made the made the famous comment: “It’s the economy, stupid!” during the 1992 national election campaign.

And that was the end of George H.W. Bush’s one-term presidency.

Telling the truth in politics has always been an elastic concept. The public long ago came to accept the grand imaginations and promises of politicians. And now, with the election of Donald J. Trump as president of the United States, the whole concept of truth-telling and what’s acceptable when it comes to the promises and statements from politicians has been severely jolted. There is no “truth” anymore, if one subscribes to Donald Trump’s distorted view of the world and his “alternate facts.” Take a moment to read What’s Your Leadership Truthiness Quotient?”

Let’s take a quick tour of the past to see what mischievous statements emanated from U.S. presidents.

Richard Nixon, when serving as a congressman and later as vice-president under President Dwight Eisenhower, enjoyed telling stories of crouching in foxholes during World War II. The truth was that he had a much safer experience during the War, serving in the Navy and unloading planes on Pacific islands.

In response to the media firestorm over the Iran-Contra issue, President Ronald Reagan told Americans in 1986: “We did not, I repeat, did not trade weapons or anything else [to Iran] for hostages, nor will we.” Four months later he admitted that his administration had actually done what he had denied.

And then there’s President George W. Bush’s insistence that Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein had hidden weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), thus prompting the U.S. military’s invasion of that country. WMDs were never found.


Of course, American politicians aren’t the only Western leaders to lie. Canada’s former Prime Minister Stephen Harper boldly stated during his 2015 re-election campaign that the country had a $1.4 billion surplus, when in fact the Parliamentary Budget Office later discovered that it was a $1 billion deficit.

Now Canada has a rock star prime minister, going by the name of Justin Trudeau. The 45 year-old Montrealer has only been in politics for a few years, and prime minister for only a year and a half. However, what the former snow board instructor and high school teacher lacks in political and business experience, he makes up partially for his extroverted behaviour and love for taking selfies with adoring fans.

What Prime Minister Trudeau is especially adept at is making heart-felt promises, emotionally delivered, often with hand on heart. “You have my word” is the popular refrain, such as when he stated in a live broadcast that his top priority (and that of his justice minister as well) is to right the wrongs of Canada’s indigenous peoples.

Add to the mix his beautiful wife, Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau, another uber extrovert, and you have the two of them holding a hand over their heart as they deliver more heart-felt statements.

Prime Minister Trudeau’s recent surprise announcement that he was canceling the government’s voting reform process stunned many people, from political observers to voters to politicians. (A parliamentary committee of MPs worked tirelessly on the Electoral reform consultation process, which cost taxpayers $4.1 million.) Trudeau’s former minister of democratic institutions Maryam Monsef dropped the ball in 2016 and was demoted in a cabinet shuffle that preceded Trudeau’s announcement to stop the process at the beginning of February 2017.

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Trudeau’s explanation for his decision came up short. He didn’t use the expected excuse that with the election of Donald Trump Trudeau’s government would be going flat out trying to keep Canada’s relationship with the United States healthy. Rather, Trudeau came up with the contrived excuse that eliminating the “first-past-the-post” system (which often delivers majority governments) could produce election outcomes where disruptive factions are elected under “proportional representation.” Trudeau’s thinking included examples of far right-wing groups that would disrupt the country’s governance.

It’s interesting that Trudeau developed this thinking when it was becoming clear that his government was not going to be able to deliver on his 2015 election campaign promise that this would be Canada’s last first-past-the-post. Indeed, his government’s 2016 Speech from the Throne later on reasserted this promise.

The point is that it’s not the breaking of a political promise that’s the issue, it’s the manner in which Justin Trudeau makes such fanfare when delivering them. It’s the underlying emotion, sincerity and conviction, conveying the impression that this young prime minister actually has integrity.


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Justin Trudeau made over 200 promises when campaigning. This trudeau metre website notes his 233 promises, which is consistent with some other websites. Determining whether a promise has been kept or in progress isn’t the easiest task. And with the tsunami-type arrival of Donald Trump as president, Trudeau is having to react and re-position himself and his cabinet very quickly.

This is all the more to note that Trudeau was indeed a dilettante when he was elected leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, and not long afterwards elected as prime minister with a first-past-the-post majority government. However, his government was elected with only 39.5% of the popular vote. This reinforces the importance of why Canada desperately needs an electoral reform process.

It boils down to this: Justin Trudeau’s convincing hand-on-heart promises, whether during his election campaign, town halls or attending a First Nations’ press conference, underly his personal cynicism and dis-respect of Canadian voters and the populace at large. It’s shameful, considering his unrelenting plea that he would lead a transparent and honest government in contrast to previous governments.

Prime Minister Trudeau will have his hands full entering the next national election (October 22, 2019) with such issues as: deficit-fueled stimulus spending, NAFTA’s successor, US relations, defense and security, international trade, infrastructure, federal-provincial relations, climate change, and so forth. He may wish to reflect on the words of the late Stephen Covey:

Moral authority comes from following universal and timeless principles like honesty, integrity, and treating people with respect.

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Simplicity IS Sophistication—and Better Quality

February 5, 2017


Think of a time when you’ve bought a consumer product or been part of a process, such as filing a complaint with an airline that lost your luggage. Have you ever had any frustrations with how complicated a new product was to operate, such as the entertainment system of a new vehicle, a smart phone or tablet, or new software? What about when you were claiming a warranty for a defective product? Or how about overly bureaucratic procedures dealing with corporate changes?

My favourite tales of abjectly bad customer service are with call centres. Whether it’s phoning (or live chatting) to set up a new service, complain about a banking or telecom screwup, or cancelling a service, call centres are in a category by themselves. The fabricated, non-sensical procedures that consumers are forced to endure, including being trapped in voice mail jail. It’s reminiscent of a bad B movie, where the hero is forced to run a gauntlet. These procedures must be conjured up by wizards in some dark corner of the world, relishing the pain and suffering they inflict on society. No one does it better than call centres.

Despite the many wonderful technological advancements that society has had bestowed upon it in the past 15 to 20 years, at the same time complexity in design and process has escalated. The late Steve Jobs, a brilliant visionary, designer and marketer, brought to consumers a radically different approach to interacting with computers and, years later, smart phones and tablets.

The simple design, operating stability and user-friendliness of Apple’s iPhone turned the industry upside down, leading to the collapse of Canada’s Blackberry (initially Research in Motion) whose top management had grown arrogant and smug with its reliable but boring and limited devices. Blackberry executives, in short, were paying no attention to what was developing not just at Apple but also with Android’s operating system and those manufacturers (notably Samsung) that had embraced it.


How about that new car, SUV or pickup truck that you recently acquired? Any frustrations yet, and not with just trying to figure out the on-board GPS system but the entire navigation console? There have been growing problems with on-board navigation systems failing within the first year. That’s not a big issue, since the basic warranty will cover it. I’ve talked to several people who have had that problem with different manufacturers, from Dodge to Honda to Hyundai. This is a repair job that’s in the vicinity of $5,000 to $6,000 if not covered under warranty.

It’s for that reason when I bought a 2016 Hyundai Tucson that I negotiated an extended warranty on the vehicle’s electronic systems. I never had to do that with my 2011 Tucson, which is working just fine. What consumers need to understand is that while companies such as Hyundai and Mitsubishi offer 100,000 km limited warranties (in contrast to the standard 60,000 km with most manufacturers), the electronics aspects (eg, on-board nav system) are only covered to 60,000 km.

The rapid growth in electronics in motor vehicles have in the order of 100 million lines of software code, depending on the vehicle. For example, FORD states that its GT model has 10 million lines of code while its F-150 contains 150 million lines. In contrast, a Lockheed Martin F-22 Rapter has just two million lines of code, and a Boeing 787 Dreamliner has seven million lines. One doesn’t have to be an electrical engineer to realize that vastly more complicated vehicle electronics goes hand-in-hand with problems at some point—hugely expensive repair costs for consumers.


At the same time, vehicle consoles are beginning to resemble the cockpits of airplanes. The recent introduction of touch screens, containing GPS, music selection and smart phone connectivity, is adding to the demands on the human brain. Multi-tasking while driving is not a desirable option, as witnessed with the escalating rise in accidents caused while using smart phones. Blue Tooth enabled vehicles, while preferred to handholding a device, still has been shown in studies to reduce driver awareness. Driverless cars, with their enhanced safety benefits, are decades off when it comes to their widespread adoption.

As a society, we’ve aspired to reach the apex of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs—and then some. That’s the polite way of saying that regular middle class people have used plastic (credit), second mortgages and whatever else they could use as their conduit to the perceived status of the upper class. Except that the latter have real money. So in the process of society building a financial house of cards (2008’s financial meltdown appeared not to be sufficiently convincing), middle class Americans and Canadians have stimulated the demand for but all the more consumer products and services. Witness Starbucks’ new $10 artisan coffee creations. What the heck is that about? Pretentiousness at its finest—and poor quality bean roasts to boot.

There’s a lot to be said for understated design simplicity and, by attachment, enhanced quality. As the son of a Scottish immigrant, I don’t have any great pretensions when it comes to consumer products. I scratch my head at some of my Baby Boomer peer eccentricities when it comes to, for example, buying very pricey motor vehicles, brand name clothing or dressed-up coffees. Keeping it simple, solid quality and reliable service are what drives me.

After some 30 years of using Windows operating systems and derivative clone computers, my wife and I switched completely to Apple: each of us has a Mac Pro, iPad and iPhone. The design, operating stability and connectivity were worth the higher costs and initial learning curves. Bill Gates’ creation, Microsoft, is a stifling, bureaucratic monopoly, producing sloppy software programming and maddeningly unstable operating systems.


We all love to crack jokes about IKEA’s products and their assembly, depicted in a series of diagrams, given the Swedish company’s huge global reach. Put the wisecracks to the side for a moment. This is an innovative company that prides itself on producing very affordable products that can be typically assembled quickly and easily with minimal tools. An excellent example is IKEA’s partnership with Better Shelter to send 10,000 pre-fab tents to Syria to house refugees. The tents, each of which comes in two boxes, can be assembled in four to eight hours with no additional tools needed. The tents are semi-rigid and each one is 57 square feet in area. Their expected life is three years, a vast improvement over current tents with their three month lifespan. The tents include solar panels and the roofs designed to reflect the sun to reduce heat inside.

This is sophistication through simplicity: using smart engineering design to effectively address a crisis that is growing around the world in developing countries.

In his well-known book Future Shock (1970), the futurist Alvin Toffler talked about “information overload” and the consequences for society. His belief was that humans would learn to simplify their world as a defence mechanism to the rapid rise in information. This simplification process would be guided by people’s perceptions and biases, despite the world’s growing complexity.

Fast forward 47 years and consider what’s been taking place with the advances in such fields as medical imaging, 3-D (additive) manufacturing or semi-conductors and Toffler’s “information overload” description seems under-stated. For example, the amount of data that’s being in the world is estimated to be increasing in the order of 2.5 quintillion bytes per day (one quintillion equals 1,000 billion). The big question is how much of this continuous increase is useful and relevant information.

Too often in organizations, public and private, employees have overly complicated change process imposed upon them, layered on top of a steady deluge of data reports, corporate procedural changes and emails. Whether it’s a new top executive’s love affair with team building, human resource hiring policies or re-organizing the company, the “system” (the term management likes to use) typically gets the blame for screw-ups, poor employee morale, weak productivity, and inattentive customer service. What gets forgotten is PEOPLE created the system. We are to blame, not some inanimate entity.

So whether as consumer, producer or innovator, learn to embrace simplicity. As Albert Einstein put it, “Keeping a business process simple requires effort.”

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
—Leonardo da Vinci

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Gandhi and Mandela Would be Proud: What’s Next after the Women’s March?

January 29, 2017

Black Girl.jpeg

It was a surreal moment. It was a big enough shock on November 8th when the election results came in and Americans reeled in horror as a reality show host became the leader of the free world. The shock finally set in on January 20th when Donald J. Trump stood in front of a modest turnout on Capitol Hill (less than half of the estimated 1.8 million people who attended President Obama’s first inauguration in 2009). TV and online viewing was estimated at 31 million, in contrast to Obama’s 38 million viewers in 2009).

Place January 20th in context with what took place the next day, Saturday, when what’s been billed as the Women’s March on Washington drew over an estimated half a million people. In Trumpian speak it was YUGE!

It’s not as much an issue of exact numbers that attended the inauguration and the Women’s March (the US National Parks Service ceased doing crowd estimates years ago following a lawsuit) but more importantly that so many people rallied together under a common vision. And of particular importance was that Americans in some 500 U.S. cities marched, making it likely the largest protest in U.S. history. Marches were held in dozens of other countries, in such cities as Vancouver, London, Nairobi, Singapore, Rio de Janeiro and Sydney.

And they were peaceful!

The various factions of feminists came together for a march that was not, of course, the exclusive preserve of females. Men joined as well. Gays participated. LGBTQ people attended. Little girls held signs with their moms. One 13 year-old Canadian teen who was interviewed on CBC Radio’s Cross Country Checkup talked about the amazing experience of marching with her mother. I thought the teen was 18 years old because of how articulate she came across.


As much as the United States has been the epicentre of attention because of the foul comments made by Donald Trump, first as Republican Party candidate and then as Presidential candidate, fueling racist and xenophobic behaviours by his supporters, peaceful Canada to the north has seen a surge in similar actions. Take a moment to read Giving Permission to Canada’s Racists. Canada’s challenge is to stamp out the emergence of hate-filled mysogynistic and racist behaviors. It has no place in my country.

The big question post-march is what next? It’s far too soon to intelligently predict just how a Trump administration will affect the rights of women and minorities, though on January 22nd the president signed an executive order withdrawing funding from NGOs that sponsor abortion overseas.

One emerging concern, as reported in some news outlets, is the introduction of legislation in five states that would criminalize peaceful protest and in one state allow motorists to run over protesters in certain situations. One of these states is Indiana, home of Vice President Mike Pence. To be fair, President Obama signed a bill in 2012 that was perceived as an attack on free speech. And lest my fellow Canadians are feeling a bit smug, my country has a sad history of repressing free speech.


The January 21st Women’s March was a celebration of sorts. The strength behind the March was that it was peaceful. The worse thing that could have happened (or happen in the future with marches) was civil unrest, including violence. This would have played into Donald Trump’s hands. And this is where the focus from January 21st needs to be: peaceful marches and protests. Doing so will: a) draw more support from people who have been hesitant to support this new movement and b) give it more legitimacy.

Two prominent individuals come to mind on the practice of civil protesting using non-violence.

Mahatma (Mohandas) Gandhi was the 20th Century’s leader in non-violent protesting, and the pivotal leader in India’s independence movement. Gandhi, born on October 2, 1869, in Porbandar, studied law and advocated for the civil rights of Indians. As a key leader of India’s independence movement, he helped organize boycotts against British companies, using peaceful forms of civil disobedience. He was killed by a fanatic in 1948.

Gandhi’s civil disobedience work began as a young lawyer in South Africa, where he lived for 21 years. Working as legal rep with Muslims, he experienced first hand the racial intolerances inflicted upon people of color. And it’s where he developed his leadership skills that he would put to use when he returned to India in 1921. While he wasn’t the first one to use non-violent forms of protest, he was the first to apply it on a large scale.

As a quiet and modest man who took on the British Empire and its institutions, Gandhi came to rely on his faith, beliefs and courage as the bedrock of his leadership.


The other individual is Nelson Mandela, who spend 27 years in prison for his resistance to South Africa’s repressive and brutal Apartheid regime. Born in 1981, Mandela was a member of the Xhosa-speaking Thembu tribe in the village of Mvezo. His father, Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa was chief. Although his name was Rolihlahla, once he attended missionary school one of his teachers dubbed him Nelson.

Mandela was the first in his family to receive a formal education, and during his university education he began getting involved in protests, starting with university policies. He became active with the African National Congress in the early fifties, and in 1955 was arrested with 155 others for committing treason. The trial lasted until 1961 when they were acquitted.

Upon being released he formed Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), a new armed wing of the ANC. As the wing’s leader, Mandela ran afoul of the Apartheid regime, resulting in his arrest for sabotage against the government. He was to have been executed, but narrowly avoided that sentence, instead being given a life sentence. Mandela was eventually released in 1990 by newly elected president F. W. de Klerk. However, it needs to be told that Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney lobbied relentlessly to have Mandela released from prison.

Nelson Mandela, while not a devout practitioner of non-violent as with Gandhi, later became a champion for peace and social justice in South Africa. He created a foundation and organizations advocating peace, and is known for his strong emphasis on reconciliation and forgiveness following the collapse of Apartheid. Continuing violence would serve no one. As a sign of respect, many South Africans referred to Nelson Mandela as Madiba, his Xhosa clan name. He died in 2013 from a recurring lung infection.


Herein lies the lesson for the Women’s movement. Three key elements have emerged:

— Faith
— Belief
— Courage

If this nascent movement is to have legs and become a sustained global movement, then a fourth key element is essential for its future:

— Perseverance

Much can be learned from the Occupy Movement, which fizzled quickly. There were too many competing interests and no common vision. The focus needs to be kept on why the Women’s March was organized in the first place. As organizers of the march have stated, “Women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights,” with the goal “…to affirm our shared humanity and pronounce our bold message of resistance and self-determination.” As such, the march was open to people of all ages, gender, race culture and political affiliation.

We face a very uncertain future over the next four years. This is not just a big issue for Americans but Canadians, their northern neighbour and Canada’s close historical ties on economic, cultural and security grounds. It’s also a big issue for Mexico and that country’s future trade relationship with the U.S.. And it’s a big issue for the rest of the world when it comes to America’s past global leadership.

I hope that as the father of three daughters and one son and six grand children (four of whom are girls) that the Women’s March movement develops traction and moves forward in a change-invoking manner. Following Gandhi’s and Mandela’s examples of collective leadership, in which people come together under a common vision, would be wise and prudent—and, in the end, strategic.

You must be the change you wish to see in the world.
— Mahatma Gandhi

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Be Open to Outcome—The Leaderly Approach

January 22, 2017


A baseball bat and a baseball cost $1.10

The bat costs one dollar more than the baseball.

How much does the baseball cost?

According to Professor of Psychology Emeritus (Princeton), Daniel Kahneman, most people (including smarty pants Ivy League students) state that the baseball costs 10 cents.


The baseball costs five cents.

Think about it for a moment if you replied 10 cents.

In his best-selling book Thinking Fast and Slow, Kahneman takes the reader on a fascinating journey in understanding how humans think. Thinking fast is our immediate response to our environment. He calls this System One. An example is when we’re driving a car and see a red light. We don’t go through an analytical assessment of what steps to do to brake. We just do it.

The converse to System One is System Two, Thinking slow. You’re at a work meeting and wish to present a counter argument to a colleague’s comment on a controversial issue. Taking a System One approach is probably not the best route, especially if you’re emotionally charged up. Taking a System Two—logical—approach would be the preferred option.

Some of System One’s characteristics include:

— creates feelings, impressions and inclinations; when affirmed by System Two, beliefs and attitudes emerge,
— functions automatically and quickly without much voluntary effort,
— forms a clear pattern of ideas in memory,
— ignores ambiguity and suppresses doubt,
— frames decisions narrowly in isolation from one another.

Climber Hanging

That many of us have a tendency to shoot from the hip—especially extroverts—presents a leadership challenge when it comes to how we conduct ourselves at work, home and in the community. Thinking fast has its place in leadership, but thinking slow is where a leader’s true value to organizations and society occurs.

Kahneman’s work links directly to how we process and adapt to change. Two big topics come to mind, both of which exploded into view in 2016 and are now front and centre in 2017: the June 23rd referendum where the UK voted for what’s became labelled as Brexit, and the November U.S. election of Donald J. Trump.

On Brexit, the media, political “experts” and anyone with a set of vocal chords went wild. The sky will fall chimed those in the Remain camp. And following the referendum’s surprising result, naysayers have gone into overdrive. It’s become a pessimist’s orgy of gloom and doom. Take a moment to read The Hysteria of Brexit and Irresponsible Leadership.

Much of the pre and post-referendum commentary has been, in effect, Thinking Fast. People have been too emotionally invested in their preferred outcome for the UK. As they would say across the Pond: “That’s a pity.”

And then there’s been the political spectacle of the century (though we’re only into its 17th year). With some parallel similarities to the Brexit outcome, Donald Trump’s election should not have really been a surprise. If one had been paying close attention to what has been evolving in the United States, Great Britain, and Western Europe, in regard to angry citizens, being more open to a political upset would not have rocked as many mainstream journalists, academics and pollsters.

Guy Jumping

What’s unfortunate is that instead of those highly educated and publicly respected individuals (regularly interviewed in the media) taking a Thinking Slow approach when discussing a Trump administration, a Chicken Little route is typically taken. Thinking Fast and becoming emotional with often wild speculation adds nothing to the political debate in the United States. At a crucial time of political transition, intelligent discussion and analysis—Thinking Slow—is badly needed. Take a moment to read The Allure of Populism and the Confusion with Fascism.

Rather than moaning about how evil Donald Trump is and how he’ll damage America, the intelligentsia needs to get over the election results and determine where and how they can contribute to their country’s future. The visceral display of contempt towards Donald Trump by the country’s elite thinkers is characteristic of a Thinking Fast mentality, where attachment to outcome blinded self-perceived smart people. It serves no one (except their egos), especially the United States, a nation that is undergoing gyrating uncertainty.

Woman on Ladder

As a long-time student of leadership for almost 30 years, I’ve accumulated a wide variety of experiences relating to leadership development (including designing and delivering training), team building, organizational downsizing and re-structuring, public speaking, and customer service. Throughout this process, one particular thing has helped me to adapt to numerous change events. It’s what the late leadership practitioner Angeles Arrien called “Be open to outcome, not attached to it.”

Arrien, who died suddenly in April 2014, wrote the phenomenal book The Fourfold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Healer, Teacher and Visionary. It’s undoubtedly the leadership book that has had the greatest positive impact on me as an evolving leader.

As I read Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, I made the link to The Fourfold Way. Thinking Fast doesn’t cut it in a rapidly changing geo-political-economic environment. Sure there are times when you need to think fast. However, if you’re in a leadership position, regardless of hierarchy in an organization or your community, Thinking Slow is the route to take when making decisions for the longer-term. They’ll be of much higher quality, you’ll piss off fewer people (instead of making rash decisions), and you’ll contribute more constructively to your organization, community or family. And in that process, you’ll be much better positioned to adapt to change by being open to outcome and not attached to it.

It’s become abundantly clear, at least to me, that the self-perceived experts, from whatever field, are often are either poorly informed on an issue or have taken the lazy Thinking Slow approach when asked to comment on what are often very important economic and social issues. In short, they’re attached to outcome.

Your leadership challenge is to engage in the appropriate thinking mode when faced with a problem.

Four Rules For Life: Show up. Pay attention. Tell the truth. Don’t be attached to the results.
— Angeles Arrien

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