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Confronting Capitalism: Real Solutions for a Troubled Economic System

June 7, 2015
ConfrontingCapitalism Every so often a respected economist writes a book that’s not just highly readable but that contains analyses and viable solutions to vexing economic and societal problems. Philip Kotler, Professor of International Marketing at Northwestern University, has achieved this. In addition to being known as a marketing guru, he studied economics at the University of Chicago under free market evangelist Milton Friedman, and later at MIT where he earned his Ph.D. under heavy weights Paul Samuelson and Robert Slow.

Confronting Capitalism: Real Solutions for a Troubled Economic System lays out 14 “shortcomings of capitalism.” Kotler’s approach is almost one of tour guide and provocateur, taking the reader on a journey of eclectic ideas and concepts from some of the world’s biggest thinkers, succinctly presenting them as part of his narrative, but weaving them tightly into each chapter’s theme.

In his introduction he explains why he wrote a book on capitalism, but which, in contrast to most economic-business books on the topic that defend it, Kotler takes issue. This leads to his 14 shortcomings, each of which constitutes a chapter. He also notes that economists have typically ignored the important role that marketing has played in influencing markets, especially since it is a “bedrock” of capitalism.

Kotler clearly explains what capitalism represents. It’s based on a functioning constitutional legal system composed of: a) people having the right to own property, b) their being able to form contracts with others, and c) contracts that are ruled by law. Further, capitalism is enabled by three key entities: legislative, executive and judicial powers (or what are commonly referred to as the three branches of government).

Kotler begins his tour with the persistence of poverty, shifting to income inequality and the pressures facing workers in the next two chapters. He then tackles job creation, the failure of companies covering the social costs of their operations, environmental exploitation and business cycles. He later delves into what he calls “narrow self-interest” and debt burden, concluding the book with chapters on could be called somewhat obscure topics.

Confronting Capitalism is written at the level of the lay person. Kotler has made an effort not to use jardon, or to write in a stilted academic fashion. He wants to reach a wide audience. However, with that laudatory goal comes a book lacking depth. Enumerating 14 shortcomings of capitalism is puzzling, considering that people will not relate to a long list which, one might conclude, could be even longer. Indeed, being a marketing expert one could argue that Kotler should have presented his concepts, ideas and solutions in a more marketable form, one that would help the reader retain the book’s contents more readily.

Kotler While Kotler presents a wide range of data from numerous sources to bolster his arguments, and draws from a multitude of respected individuals from various disciplines, the book maintains a somewhat simplistic tone. Economists, policy wonks, business people and politicians will gain select information and ideas from it. Yet Kotler’s book does have a lot to offer because people will be more likely to read it and, perhaps, explore more deeply some of the issues presented. Contrast Confronting Capitalism to Thomas Piketty’s tomb-like Capital in the 21st Century (one of Kotler’s references), mostly suitable as a showpiece on a coffee table. Few have actually read Piketty’s book.

Kotler’s chapters seven and eight stand out as the book’s true gems: Business Cycles and Economic Instability, and The Dangers of the Narrow Self-Interest. These two chapters are very well done.

In The Dangers of the Narrow Self-Interest, he takes us into Ayn Rand territory to explore the argument for individualism and self-reliance. Rand ‘s two best known books have become the American right-wing’s bible, notably her 1957 book Atlas Shrugged which is based on a society where its most productive citizens reject being subjected to rising government taxation and regulation. Kotler discusses the tension between individualism (liberty) and the best interests of the community and, more largely, society. He ends this overly short chapter on corporate social responsibility.

Workers Under Siege is another excellent chapter. Kotler hits the right emotive buttons by citing familiar statistics. Example: in 2012, the average US household in the bottom 90% of income distribution earned $31,000; in comparison, for the top 1% the average household income was $1.2 million. Kotler holds back from probing further, such as looking into the social costs from allowing a national economy to deteriorate in its income distribution over the past decade.

Yet Kotler does provide some illuminating statistics in his chapter on workers, something that other economists, and the media, have largely ignored: the minimum wage in reference to productivity growth. He explains that 90% of the world’s countries have minimum wage laws, with great variations among them.

“If the U.S. minimum wage had kept pace with the average growth in productivity, it today would be about $17 an hour. But productivity gains have mainly flowed to profits, shareholders, and executives instead of workers. This fact contradicts Milton Friedman’s famous statement that capitalism distributes the fruits of economic progress among all people. It is not true that all boats rise with rising productivity.”

Unemployed That is a bold and compelling assertion by Kotler, which is supported by esteemed economist Paul Krugman and journalist-author Timothy Egan who observe that cities and states that have increased their minimum wages have not lost jobs to other jurisdictions.

Kotler’s albeit brief discussion on the importance of productivity is one of the core points for the reader to retain. More on productivity would have been desirable, such as its vital role in generating wealth for a nation and how it helps sustain a healthy middle class. The same applies to productivity’s cousin innovation, essential to competitiveness at the firm and national economy levels. Yet Kotler fails to delve into the role innovation plays.

On social costs and environmental exploitation (chapters five and six), it’s refreshing that he addressed these two important issues; it would have been preferable to have spent more time examining these two key societal issues. As it is, the topics are treated quickly through a wide angle lens of various contributors to these fields.

On a few occasions Kotler makes some careless editing typos. For example, he states that the Club of Rome’s “Limits to Growth” book was published in 1992. In reality, it was published in 1972. Your correspondent well remembers this concise book as part of his undergrad economics program in the mid-seventies. Hence the importance of strict proofreading of manuscripts.

In all, Confronting Capitalism is a good tour of the inter-connected issues and challenges facing society today and in the coming years. As mentioned, Kotler raises some provocative points which need to be confronted by both government and business. His call to action in the epilogue encourages people to remain optimistic and to become engaged in finding solutions to such intractable problems as poverty, unemployment and income equality.

The fundamental fact of American politics is that we’ve got an alliance between the religious right and the accumulators of great wealth. These are the people who are running things.

– Paul Krugman

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Building Leadership from the Grass Roots

May 31, 2015
Alberta TCH When you think about leadership what first comes to mind?

Do you have images of presidents of big corporations or prominent politicians or four star generals?

Leadership is much more than that. People from all walks of life step up to the plate to take on leadership roles.

For instance, consider some relatively recent bottom-up, grassroots movements where ordinary citizens displayed extraordinary bravery and leadership: the Arab Spring, initiated by a Tunisian street peddler; the Occupy Movement which spread like wildfire across dozens of countries; and the upwell of demonstrations for a livable minimum wage by service sector people across North America.

People rise to the occasion, which has been demonstrated over centuries of human activity. A powerful read is Emile Zola’s book Germinal, set in the 1860s in northern France, where repressed and abused workers fight back through violent protest.

People rise to the occasion in Canada, America, Great Britain, Europe, the Middle East and in many other countries. In this post we’ll look at how leadership is on the move in rural Canada.

Girl and Calf Enter Small Town Heroes, a grassroots initiative started by the United Farmworkers of Alberta (UFA). More on Small Town Heroes in a moment, but first what is the UFA, what does it do and how is it helping to strengthen leadership in rural Alberta?

UFA is one of Canada’s largest co-ops. Founded in 1909, it has grown from one small co-operative to some 120,000 members. The UFA name is a little misleading since its business lines encompass not just agriculture but also construction, outdoor recreation and petroleum. However, despite its broadened business portfolio over time the UFA has continued to keep rural life and values at the centre of its work and activities.

UFA aims to create value for its members and customers by maintaining strong financial performance and by staying relevant to both the needs of producers and the community. And as with any organization, values serve as the foundation upon which the UFA operates. This inspirational video A Life Out Here talks about what it means to live and work in rural Alberta.

It’s about values.

With agriculture being the core of the co-operative’s long history, it supports and partners with numerous initiatives across Western Canada. Examples include Farmfair international, local agricultural and livestock events, and agri-tradeshows and exhibitions. In addition, the UFA partners with Shaw TV to broadcast Farm Fresh, a program aimed at educating Albertans living in urban centres on agriculture and food production topics.

UFA passionately believes that strong leadership is the key to success in rural communities; therefore, growing leaders is an important priority for the organization. Indeed, UFA has a history of supporting leadership development over many years, with Small Town Heroes being its most recent initiative. UFA engages in a number of strategic and effective leadership development initiatives.

Kids shovelling off Truck Youth leadership plays an integral role in the UFA’s community work because they are seen as the key to the future. As members of the co-operative, young people can participate in programs aimed at developing leadership skills.

For example, Alberta’s 4H program exerts a major impact on rural agriculture, with over 7,000 members, 2,400 volunteers and more than a quarter of a million alumni. UFA’s partnership with 4-H includes sponsoring such activities as the Leaders Conference, the Key Leader Program, and Achievement Days. At the heart of UFA’s involvement with Alberta 4-H is investing in the future of the province and specifically the co-operative’s new generation of leaders.

UFA recognizes the importance of volunteering for community and leadership development. Volunteers are the backbone of rural communities, and UFA wants to encourage more people to lead through volunteering. Through its partnership with the World Professional Chuckwagon Association, awards are presented to volunteers who have gone above and beyond, spurring others to give back. By giving visibility to volunteer leaders, UFA encourages more people to step up to the plate and lead.

UFA’s Generations of Support Program, which supports youth, family and agriculture, reflects its commitment to giving back to communities and thanking them for their ongoing support. And with an eye to the future, the Program enables the UFA to contribute to strengthening the viability and long-term sustainability of Alberta’s rural communities.

Over many decades, the UFA has shown extraordinary commitment and leadership to rural Alberta. Yet it has continued to innovate and explore ways to strengthen rural leadership.

Alberta harvesting Created only a few years ago Small Town Heroes acknowledges Alberta’s rural communities and towns and the important role their citizens play in the province’s economy and way of life. In particular, Small Town Heroes identifies those individuals who have contributed significantly to making their community a better place in which to live and work.

Two aspects that are new to this leadership initiative are the introduction of online technology and a participatory nomination and voting process. Specifically, leaders are nominated by their community peers based on four key criteria:

1) See a need and act upon it without seeking praise or financial compensation,
2) Do something significant which was previously thought could never be done,
3) Have a personal vision and a belief that change can happen,
4) Do little things and big things that make an impact on the community that is lasting and memorable.

Peers build support for their candidates with home-videos, testimonials, stories and photos. The nomination process requires followers to identify and articulate candidates’ leadership attributes. Unencumbered by position, power and status, citizens are free to select leaders who put the greater good of their community first. At its core, followership is a choice, based on the leader’s ability to elicit trust, respect and inspiration. Small Town Heroes does a fantastic job of showcasing what exemplary leadership looks like. As a result, it becomes clearer and easier to emulate.

Girl Small Town Heroes has proven to be very effective at clarifying what constitutes rural leadership. In particular, it has used local role models to shine a light on key traits of good leadership, to demonstrate that leadership abounds throughout society at all levels, and to underscore that leadership often rises up from the grassroots. The power behind a collective leadership initiative such as Small Town Heroes lies in its organic nature, transparency and simple format, which can easily be replicated anywhere in Canada and in any sector.

Leadership comes in many forms: young or old, big or small, large city or small town. What’s important is for people to get involved in leading at all levels of society. As we’ve seen strong leadership rises up from the grassroots, whether it’s on the other side of the world or at home in rural Canada.

We’ve been profoundly inept at sharing the windfall of a completely unique level of resources. I’m afraid that 50 years from now, our great-grandchildren will look at what we did with our resources and they’ll rip up our pictures because they’ll be so angry at how we squandered them. Almost no other jurisdiction in the world has done so little with so much.

– Rachel Notley (New NDP Premier of Alberta, and the first woman in that role)

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Are You Finding Your Leadership Voice?

May 24, 2015
Voice Leaders come in all shapes and sizes, including gender and race.

The prevailing myth in much of the Western world, as well as in most developing countries, is that leadership is a man’s game, whether in politics or corporations.

Furthermore, in such countries as Australia, the United States, Canada, Great Britain and France, leaders have tended to be white, tall guys.

Bad habits are hard to break. Eliminating the myth that leadership resides at the top of organizations and bureaucracies, skewed heavily towards men, is a particular challenge.

Great Britain had one notable break with the leadership = males mindset: Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Love her or hate her, Thatcher was a polarizing figure during her 12 years as prime minister (1979 – 1990), the longest-serving prime minister in British history and its only female national leader. However, she introduced and saw through important changes in Great Britain, such as thwarting the straggle hold that unions had on government policy and budgets.

Canada’s only experience in its now 148-year history was Conservative Kim Campbell who took over from Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (1984 – 1993) in 1993. Campbell went down to blazing defeat in a national election less than five months later, the consequence of Canadians having soured on Mulroney during his two terms and Campbell’s ineptly run election campaign.

Australia’s first and only prime minister, Julia Gillard, rightly or wrongly, went through a brutal internal fight within her party, in which political knives covered her back. She served from 2010 to 2013.

Voice 3 Halfway around the world, Indira Gandhi was India’s only prime minister, its fourth (1966 – 1977), and who was assassinated on October 31, 1984. Next door in Pakistan, that country’s only female prime minister was Benazir Bhutto, who was elected in 1988 and served until corruption charges forced her from office in 1997. Years later in 2007, she returned from exile in Dubai to be granted amnesty. In December of that year she was assassinated in a car bombing at a political rally. Both Gandhi and Bhutto were strong national leaders who paid the price of being outspoken.

The corporate world has been especially regressive at advancing women into not just senior roles but notably those at the top. In the mighty United States of America, the percentage of women holding CEO positions is an outright embarrassment. The Standard & Poor’s ranking in 2015 shows a paltry 4.6% of women holding the position of CEO. tried to put lipstick on a pig by gleefully stating that the number of female CEOs in the Fortune 500 had leaped from 20 to 24 in 2014. This represented a measly 4.8% of all CEOs in 2014.

How about my home country, Canada? I may as well whack my fellow countrymen in the head for not getting it. Canada is not as open a society as the US, and keeping in mind it being a branch plant economy of its southern neighbor, the percentage of women CEOs in corporations is about the same. Add this statistic and the pain gets worse: In 2012 only one woman was on the list of the highest paid CEOs in Canada.

In the single word of former Saturday Night Live comedian Amy Poehler:


And for one final kick in the pants to all of us: The top 100 highest-paid CEOs in Canada now make, on average, $9.2 million—that’s more than 190 times the average Canadian income of $47,358.

But what about where leadership resides within organizations?

Let me provide just one small but powerful example.

I worked in Canada’s federal government for three decades. Two thirds of my career was in a small province on the East Coast (bordering my favorite state of Maine). During my most energizing years in the nineties, where my team of economists and I spent a lot of time meeting with employers, high school career counsellors and giving presentations to the public on careers, I also had the fortune to connect with the real people of a vast federal department. Donna was such a person.

I’d met Donna a few times. She was a programs officer in the small town of St. Stephen, New Brunswick (population 6,000) across the St. Croix River from Calais, Maine. Donna worked in what could be called the employment and unemployment insurance office. Her job was to be out in the community every day, talking to employers, community leaders and the general public. She was outgoing, knowledgeable and totally committed to her work to serve Canadians.

I was in St. Stephen for a presentation to business people and went for coffee with Donna. We were talking about leadership, an area of interest that Donna and I mutually shared. During our conversation, Donna made a comment that has stuck with me for some 20 years: “Jim, when I’m out in the community meeting with people, they see me as the face of the federal government.”

When I think of those words, they cut through all the hype in the leadership-management space. Whether you’re a lowly paid public servant working in a field office or a bank rep in a branch office or a call center agent, YOU are the FACE of that ORGANIZATION.


The big smucks at the top earning the disproportionate bucks, disconnected from reality and who frequently execute poorly conceived corporate strategies, are the ones in dire need of descending from 40,000 feet to ground level.

Combine this with the disrespect that is still prosecuted against women in the workplace and society and you have a recipe for corporate stagnation, defensive management routines against foreign competition and, in the end, impotent leadership. In short, the organization fails, or at least loses market share.

Reflect on these words by thought leader and author Sally Helgesen:

Your voice, your language, help determine your culture. And part of how a corporate culture is defined is how the people who work for an organization use language.

Take a moment to share your thoughts.

Ninety percent of this stuff is just not that serious; we just get crazy about it.

– Ursula Burns (CEO & Chair of Xerox, and first African-American woman to lead a Fortune 500 company)

Book CoverClick here to download my complimentary e-book Discover Your Inner Leader: Reflections to Inspire and Motivate.

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One Woman’s Fight to Reform Islam: Heretic

May 18, 2015
Ali1 We often associate the word leadership with politicians (primarily males) or big shot CEOs and entrepreneurs. However, leadership comes in another form: people who aren’t leading an organization but rather a cause. Witness the courageous work of Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai in advocating the right for girls to receive an education. Her advocacy almost got her killed by the Pakistani Taliban when she was only 15 years old. Her fight goes on.

Consider Ayaan Hirshi Ali, a Somalian-born woman who was a practicing Muslin for some 20 years, but who later as an adult made an abrupt transformation.

Born in 1960 in Mogadishu, Hirshi Ali’s politically active father, who helped lead the Somalian Revolution, was imprisoned when she was very young. Despite her father’s strong views against female genital mutilation, while he was imprisoned Hirshi Ali’s grandmother had the procedure carried out on her at age five. When he escaped from prison, her father took his family first to Saudi Arabia, and then to Ethiopia and then on to Kenya in 1980.

Hirshi Ali lived a comfortable life in Nairobi, attending a Muslim girl’s school, and when in high school she became involved in a Saudi Arabia funded program to study a more rigorously interpreted version of the Qur’an. She began to wear a hijab, which was not as common as it is today.

In 1992, when her family was living in Germany, she obtained permission to visit them, but then went to the Netherlands where applied for refugee status. She worked at a variety of jobs, including cleaning and translating, then studied at Leiden University where she earned a MSc in political science in 2000.

Hirshi Ali’s interest in human rights and assisting Somalian immigrants propelled her into politics, where she won a seat in the Dutch parliament in 2003. Combined with her revulsion with the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, and her desire to help those in need prompted her to rethink her commitment to Islam. Her outspoken advocacy resulted in her receiving death threats, thus requiring security from the Dutch government

In May 2006, she resigned her seat because of accusations that she had lied on her 1992 asylum forms. She shortly afterwards accepted a position with the right-wing American Enterprise Institute. Around that time she married Scottish financial historian (and Harvard professor) Niall Ferguson.

Over the past decade-plus, Ayaan Hirshi Ali has become known globally for her straight forward criticisms of Islam–and not just those prosecuting violence against Muslims and non-Muslims but those who sit on the sidelines and do not engage in confronting their Islamic peers.

heretic-380x500 Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now is her third book (Infidel was her first autobiography).

In a period where political correctness rules in most Western countries (my home country, Canada, is near the top of the list) Hirshi Ali pulls no punches in tackling head on the issues and challenges inherent in Islam. She begins by tracing her own journey, starting in Somalia and ending up in the US. She eloquently explains her decision to leave Islam:

“I left Islam, and I still think it is the best choice for Muslims who feel trapped between the conscience and the demands of Muhammad. However, it is unrealistic to expect a mass exodus from Islam. This fact leads me to think of the possibility of a third option. A choice might have enabled someone like me to remain a believer in the God of my family. A choice that might somehow have reconciled religious faith with the key imperatives of modernity: freedom of conscience, tolerance of difference, equality of the sexes, and an investment in life before death.”

Her clarity in identifying at the outset three “sets” of Muslims is helpful in framing her book.

1) Mecca Muslims: the majority throughout the Muslim world who are loyal and devout but who do not practice violence (based on Muhammad’s early days when he went door-to-door to invite people to accept Allah as their god and that he was his messenger).

2) Medina Muslims: the fundamentalist minority–the “problem”–who seek to impose sharia, Islamic law. In short, this set aims to return Muslims to the 7th Century, reflecting when Muhammad, upon becoming frustrated with his lack of success of converting others to Islam, travelled to Medina, where his mission assumed a political tone.

3) Modifying Muslims: Seen as the dissenters, to whom Hirshi Ali belongs, they’re nevertheless very concerned about the future of Islam. An eclectic set, they include clerics and regular working Muslims. As she puts it bluntly: “In the eyes of the Medina Muslims, we are all heretics, because we had the temerity to challenge the applicability of seventh-century teachings to the twenty-first-century world.”

Hirshi Ali’s goal is to engage the Mecca Muslims. She presents five “theses,” as she calls them, based on five core Islamic concepts which she views as being incompatible with modern society:

1. The Qur’an as being the final word of God and the infallibility of Muhammad as the last divinely inspired messenger;

2. Islam’s emphasis on the afterlife instead of the present;

3. That sharia is the overarching system of law that governs the spiritual and temporal realm;

4. The obligation of Muslims to command right and forbid wrong;

5. The concept of jihad, or holy war.

She believes that the five concepts need to be amended if the Muslim world is to integrate itself into the 21st Century.

Ali2 In the midst of the dissension in the global Muslim community–the Medina, Mecca and reformist (Modifying) Muslims–accompanied by the horrific violence that continues to be perpetrated by a small, yet growing minority, fueled by the emotive-laden media coverage by the West, one person has laid bare the historical issues, yet also presented an agenda of hope: Ayaan Hirshi Ali.

As she states in her concluding chapter:

“The dawn of a Muslim Reformation is the right moment to remind ourselves that the right to think, to speak, and to write in freedom and without fear is ultimately a more sacred thing than any religion.”

Ali has done a valuable service to both Islam and the world at large. Read her book. It is painful at times yet compelling and tentatively optimistic.

It leads your correspondent to ask the question:

How many peace marches by Muslims have been held in Canada, the United States or Europe, whose aim is to: a) explicitly denounce ISIS, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, Al Qaeda and the Taliban, b) insist on equal rights for Muslim women and the end of violence towards them in Islamic dominated nations, and c) demand democratic governance by separating the state from Islam?

All I want is an education, and I am afraid of no one.

– Malala Yousafzai

Book CoverClick here to download my complimentary e-book Discover Your Inner Leader: Reflections to Inspire and Motivate.

Visit my e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

Jim Grand Manan 2Take a moment to meet Jim.

Three Notable Global Thought Leaders–And Why They Matter

May 10, 2015
global-leadership We’re adrift as a society, seeking leadership for the way ahead.

We strive for meaning in our nano-second lifetimes on Planet Earth.

And we hope for some measure of contribution to our community, and society at large, during that nano-second burst.

Life is too short; indeed, it’s brutally short for some.

In this leadership post, I share my encounters with three amazing leaders, two American and one Canadian, who have left indelible marks for the betterment of the world.

Senge 1 Global Thought Peter Senge–Mr. Learning Organization

It would turn out to be an incredibly beautiful September week in Chicago. I was in the Windy City in mid-September 2000 for a conference on the relationship between knowledge management and organizational learning, two seemingly related but still, in 2015, disparate areas. It turned out to be one of the best work conferences I ever attended, with an eclectic roster of speakers and workshops. But the name that drew me to the big event was MIT Sloan School of Management senior lecturer Peter Senge, author of the widely acclaimed The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization.

I’d been a student of leadership for many years and a big proponent of Senge’s book since its publication in 1990, using it in my project-based work on organizational learning and leadership development, and during my Masters degree in the same field at Royal Roads University.

Author of what’s seen as the 20th Century’s seminal book on management and leadership, Peter Senge is a riveting speaker yet a humble man. I had the spontaneous experience of meeting Peter (yes, I have his permission to use his first name), owing to a chance encounter, thanks to the Chicago Marriott Hotel. The evening before he was to speak on day two of the conference as the keynote, I received a phone call in my hotel room. It was Peter Senge who had been inadvertently routed to my room.

Peter apologized profusely after he realized that he had the wrong room, thinking he had one of the conference organizers. A few minutes later he called back, asking me if I would brief him on the day’s proceedings so that he could incorporate his next morning’s presentation into the appropriate context. In addition, the airline had lost his luggage, along with his speaking notes. We chatted for a while, and at the end of our conversation he thanked me again.

Senge 2 Peter’s presentation the next morning was nothing short of astonishing. No notes. He walked among us. Naturally. It was an amazing experience to be in the presence of someone so humble, so willing to concede that he was still trying to figure it out when it comes to learning in organizations. Yet he was so insightful. His subsequent workshop was excellent, and it was at the end of that session where I shyly introduced myself.

At that moment, some of the conference organizers were trying to pull Peter away from the throng of fans. I had held back and simply said: “Hi Peter, I’m Jim Taggart.” Peter stopped in his tracks, came over to shake my hand, and turned to the organizers saying, “This fellow saved your necks.” We then talked briefly, with one of the points I raised was how much I liked his concept of nested teams (an earlier idea he had raised years previously on the inter-relationship among teams, and not just within teams as is conventionally espoused). The humorous part of this is that he’d forgotten introducing that concept.

Peter Senge’s work on the concept and practice of the Learning Organization is not just as relevant as when he introduced it in The Fifth Discipline 25 years ago; it’s even more relevant in today’s economic and organizational turbulence.

For more on his work, check out these links. But first, watch this five minute video where Peter talks about systems thinking.

The Five Learning Disciplines: How They Help us Become Better Leaders

Systems Thinking: Can You See the Big Picture?

Personal Mastery: The Never-Ending Quest for Self-Discovery

Mental Models: How Do You Perceive the World?

Shared Vision: Do Others See What You See?

Team Learning: Looking Beyond Yourself

Dallaire Soldier Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire–The Canadian Conscience of Global Leadership

It is every commander’s nightmare: to be in the middle of combat or thrust into the middle of keeping the peace among warring factions, only to discover that top decision-makers don’t have your back.

Lt.-Gen. Roméo Dallaire was commanding UN peace keeping troops in Rwanda, frantically trying to get the attention of his commanders and United Nations bureaucrats in New York City. A genocidal massacre was imminent, and the general had nowhere near the troop strength to prevent it.

What has proved to be the world’s shame, the 1994 genocide of Tutsis by Hutus is a portrayal of abject leadership from the UN, the US and Western governments in general. Lt.-Gen. Dallaire was asked at the end of 1993 to lead a peace-keeping mission to the tiny, yet populous, African country, with the aim of negotiating an end to the civil war between the government and the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). The request for the peace-keepers was initiated by the president of Uganda to prevent the flow of weapons into Rwanda and the RPF’s hands.

Lt.-Gen. Dallaire assumed command of two missions, one being the UN Observer Mission in Uganda and Rwanda and the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda. It was indeed a very small mission, in which the general was supported by only one Canadian officer, Major Brent Beardsley and 81 unarmed military observers. When the General asked for 5,000 UN troops he was given only 2,600, later decreased to 500.

As the violence escalated in the midst of Lt.-Gen. Dallaire’s pleas to UN headquarters, it took only 100 days between April and May, 1994, for some 800,000 men, women and children to be brutally murdered. Being hacked to death by machete was a favored method, with the victims being Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

This sad episode in modern human history had profound effects on Lt.-Gen. Dallaire. Born in the Netherlands in 1946, but growing up in Montreal’s east end, he was tough as nails, smart and articulate. However, the horrors of what he witnessed and his inability to stop the genocide later manifested itself as extreme PTSD. His book Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda is a riveting and painful read on the atrocities perpetrated in Rwanda.

Dallaire Hands The general struggled with PTSD for years, sometimes in the public light as his fight with the condition found its way into the media. He began to speak up for veterans and became a spokesperson for PTSD. He was awarded the Order of Canada in 2002 and appointed to Canada’s Senate in 2005 where he served with distinction. In June 2014, he retired from the Senate so that he could focus his efforts on international humanitarian work and crimes against humanity, including working with the UN on the prevention of genocide.

I had the privilege of seeing Lt.-Gen. Dallaire speak at a leadership conference in 2001 in British Columbia. I’ve seen many big-name speakers; however, the general has been the most powerful and articulate speaker. With no notes and a slide show supporting his talk, he took the audience of 1,000 managers through an emotional journey of leadership and his experiences in Rwanda. The tears flowed among many of the attendees.

He told several stories, including the one of the young Canadian corporal who, with his small platoon, came across a field of badly injured and murdered people. Without calling in to his superiors for approval, the corporal led his men into a high-risk situation to assist the men, women and children. To Lt.-Gen. Dallaire, the young corporal exemplified strong leadership by self-initiating and doing the right thing without seeking approval.

Lt.-Gen. Roméo Dallaire has given so much to Canada and the world during his career as a soldier, a Senator and now global civilian leader for the betterment of people around the world, all the while fighting with the demon of PTSD. To get a sense of his commitment to eradicating the slaughter of civilians and the use of child soldiers take a moment to watch this powerful, short video of the General talking on How Can Humanity Abandon Humanity?

Covey 1 Dr. Stephen R. Covey–Distinguishing the Important from the Urgent

He was out for a bike ride. Nothing more than that.

A human being known worldwide for his decades of commitment to spreading the message of personal learning and self-improvement met his end that fateful day. Stephen Covey died in July 2012 at age 79 from complications of his cycling accident in April in Provo, Utah.

While the author of several books, his best-known was The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which sold 20 million copies in 38 languages. What was especially noteworthy of his many articles and numerous books, one of my favorites being Principle Centered Leadership, was their timelessness. Compared to most writers in the leadership-management-business space, whose books have limited shelf lives, Covey’s writings will be relevant for years to come.

Covey’s influence was pervasive, from lay people to human resources consultants to academics to practical business people–and around the world. Of course it helped immensely that he was hugely charismatic: confident, articulate and friendly. However, his core messages, while ostensibly commonsense–and to some superficial–held much deeper meaning. He was a practicing Mormon who, while not preaching religion, clearly held his faith’s values close to his chest.

Underlying his public speaking and writing was one common theme: personal leadership. That’s where it starts and ends. Everything else in the middle is the process you’re engaged in to discover who you are, what motivates you and how you’re going to achieve your best.

stehpen My encounter, perhaps experience is a better word, was in the late nineties when I saw him speak at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto. It was in a huge ballroom, packed full with some 1,000 people from all disciplines: big shot business people, HR consultants, leadership consultants, public servants and entrepreneurs.

With the exception of Lt.-Gen. Roméo Dallaire, Stephen Covey is the most commanding speaker I’ve seen in action. It wasn’t just how his presence filled the room combined with his strong but somewhat raspy voice, but his ability to walk out into the audience and spontaneously engage in role-playing with audience members was striking to watch.

Skeptics would call his presentation showmanship. Perhaps. However, Covey had a solid foundation from which to draw his content and comments during his seminars and keynote speaking.

If you’re not familiar with his work, or need a refresher, check out the above links, plus those below. Stephen Covey’s ability to cut through the chatter and articulate clear, concise and meaningful messages for personal growth was unique. He is, and will continue to be, missed in a chaotic world of unpredictable change. Before checking out the below links take a moment to watch Covey speaking at Brigham Young University. Note: This is a powerful and deep talk to university students and faculty. Take the time to watch it.

Begin with the End in Mind

Building a High-Trust Workplace: Today’s Sttrategic Competitive Asset

Should Work-Life Integration Replace Work-Life Balance?

What’s Your Leadership Truthiness Quotient?

Dr. Peter Senge , Lt.-Gen. Roméo Dallaire and Dr. Stephen Covey have given much to the world and in very different contexts. Dr. Covey is in another life now. But his teachings will go on for years; I’m confident of that. Peter Senge’s work on organizational learning has yet to be surpassed. His book The Fifth Discipline remains the undisputed champ of leadership-management books. And Lt.-Gen. Dallaire has recently embarked on a project in which to make the world a better place. The General is a force with which to be reckoned.

Now is the time to take up the cause of the advancement of human rights for all and the moment is yours to grasp.

– Lt.-Gen. Roméo Dallaire

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Technology: Friend or Foe?

May 3, 2015
Pyramid Technology is everywhere in our lives.

It’s been that way for hundreds–make thousands–of years.

Indeed, some of the biggest technological inventions of the past were earthshaking, changing society, the nature of work and improving the lives of people.

Take a moment to think about what some of these inventions were? Okay, go back at least a few decades. And, no, former Vice President Al Gore did NOT invent the Internet,

We tend to think in the present, or at least the recent present. However, take a look at the randomly produced list of technological inventions dating back 5,000 years. In short, technology is not a modern phenomenon.

Radios Steam turbine–1884

Cement–1st-millennium BC



Sanitation systems–mid 1800s



Electricity–late 1800s

The Pill–1960


The lever–3rd millennium BC (thanks to the Egyptians)

There are many, many more examples of technology inventions over the past several thousand years. Unfortunately, people tend to think of technology breakthroughs in a post-1750 Industrial Revolution context. The Egyptians, it should be noted, were smart cookies. So, too, were the Arabs who invented algebra and advanced trigonometry, the Greeks who invented the much-replicated symmetrical column architecture (America loves it) or the Persians who figured out how to store ice in the middle of the desert.

Hydro Of course, some much more recent inventions, such as nuclear fission (1939) and oil drilling (1859) elicit emotive responses from some people. Nuclear fusion (don’t confuse it with the fission variety) offers huge potential in the future.

The point is, technology marches on, and for the most part it has benefitted human kind.

While technology often underlies today’s conversations and media reporting, one can argue that much of this chatter is oriented towards consumer technologies (read that as electronics) and social media.

How many people want to engage in a discussion on some of the recent breakthroughs in nuclear fusion technology and the promise it holds for clean and safe energy production?

How about sustainable technologies used in developing countries aimed at improving the lives of the world’s most impoverished?

No, we’d prefer to either show off our most recent smart phone acquisition, or complain about the problems we’re having with our telecom provider, or trying to figure out how to stream or download programs and movies.

Smart Phones Society can’t see the forest for the trees. We’re getting lost in the weeds when it comes to technology and its bigger picture developments. We’re overly focusing on what could be called the urgent (to borrow from the late Stephen Covey) instead of the important.

How many of you have a smart phone?

How many sleep with it by their bed?

How many check it before going to bed and again first thing in the morning?

Is this urgent or important?

You may or may not share these views; but what’s important is to step back and look at the bigger picture of what technology offers to society and the world.

One of the most emotive current topics is genetically modified (GMO) food. Yet if you read from a broader perspective GMO agriculture has big potential for developing countries. But from a Western view, where GMO foods are banned in Europe, the topic produces emotional reaction from many people.

Is technology a friend or foe?

Take a moment to share your thoughts.

It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.

– Albert Einstein

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Back to the Future with Management by Objectives

April 26, 2015
Clock The management-leadership field, as vast as it is with perspectives and theories aplenty, still finds a need to recycle ideas from the past. There are only so many ways to slice and dice theories on how to motivate people; manage–make that lead–them; and link the organization’s mission, vision and operating goals to employee development and performance.

It’s clearly a task for Superman, or Superwoman. Indeed, it was McGill University management guru Henry Mintzberg who made reference to this many years ago in a CBC interview. Mintzberg’s point was that society has unnecessarily high expectations of those holding managerial leadership positions, making Superman’s abilities pale in comparison.

Here we go again with another management method, or fad if you wish, which is stealthily finding its way back into the management mainstream: Management by Objectives, or MBO as it was affectionately called back when the concept was created in 1954 by legendary management thinker Peter Drucker.

Published in 1954, The Practice of Management was subsequently developed by one of Drucker’s students, George Odiorne, who died in 1992 after a career of working in academia, preceded by experience working as a foreman in factories.

Demins The popularization of MBO in organizations in the sixties and seventies produced a juggernaut of literature, from books and journal articles to training courses and certification. Yes, you can achieve certification in specific fields under the rubric of management by objectives, such as with this organization’s IT certification process.

Management by Objectives became almost a religion in organizations during this period, given its focus on objective-setting for employees, tied to the organization’s broader mission goals. MBO received a major shot in the arm when Hewlett-Packard adopted the concept as an important part of its The HP Way. Managers were expected to develop objectives that fit with those of their peers in their organization. This required a massive planning exercise to ensure that all employees were on the same page.

Of strange coincidence, one of Drucker’s peers was critical of his MBO theory and its practice in organizations: W. Edwards Deming (pictured), who achieved world-fame recognition for his rigorous application of statistics to production processes and quality management. In fairness to Drucker, and Odiorne by attachment, Deming’s complaint was more linked to the loose application of MBO principles by organizations and consultants, which adapted them to such notions as performance standards and indicators.

MBO black and white Briefly, management by objectives may be viewed as a circular flow consisting of five key steps. The first step is reviewing the organization’s goals by the manager. This is followed by the manager meeting with the staff member to, in current vocabulary, engage them in the process and to set their objectives and identify resources.

In step three, as implementation of the plan proceeds monitoring of performance is carried out, with periodic check-ins with the employee. Then in step four the employee is evaluated by the manager to determine whether the objectives were achieved and on time. This forms the performance appraisal.

Finally, in step five recognition and rewards are done, based on the success of the employee’s accomplishments. And the process begins once again.

Fast forward to today’s corporate world, characterized by increased volatility due to geo-politics, technology’s impact on how business is being conducted and where geographically, and the rise of newly developed economies.

Does MBO have any chance of recapturing the serious attention of corporate leaders, both in the public sphere and in business?

Guy on ladder Some important considerations need attention before enrolling in 21st Century Management by Objectives.

First, as alluded to above, the world is becoming an increasingly messy place in which to do business and to govern in the public sector. One of the critical competencies today for senior leaders is to develop and maintain their organization’s ability to adapt to change, especially major unexpected events, whether geo-political, environmental or economic. And because MBO in its original conception was based on the presumed infallibility of objective setting, applying this in today’s world would be an exercise for the naïve and foolhardy.

Second, the demographics card is a powerful reckoning force, specifically the very different values, expectations and work ethics of Generation Y (Millennials), now between 20 and 34. Their more fluid and socially interactive approach to work by incorporating technology, combined with their continuous need for feedback and reinforcement, and their dislike for authoritative management, present distinct challenges for a back-to-the-future MBO re-introduction.

And third, one of the big criticisms of MBO back in its heyday was that it caused managers to focus too much on the “objectives” and not enough on the bigger picture. Tinkering with the objectives and becoming overly attached to the present undermined what was actually important to the organization. Transfer this sentiment to today’s socio-economic, geo-political turbulence and you have a potential disaster awaiting organizations that become fixated on a rigorous MBO approach.

Management by objectives was never a tried and true method, but one that fit the context of the day–to a point. Rather than trying to adapt MBO to today’s corporate world, it’s best left to theorists to play with in their labs.

Take a moment to share your views or experiences with MBO.

MBO is just another tool. It is not the great cure for management inefficiency. …Management by objectives works if you know the objectives: 90% of the time you don’t.

– Peter Drucker

Book CoverClick here to download my complimentary e-book Discover Your Inner Leader: Reflections to Inspire and Motivate.

Visit my e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

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