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Are You a Hub Spoke in Your Organization?

April 21, 2018

Young People.jpg

I remember when I was in my late twenties in the early eighties, completing my Masters in economics, replete with a two-year old, facing an ominous job market. I lucked out, bagging a term job with government which turned out to be in the end a 29 year gig.

Back in 1982, my co-workers and I were pretty pumped up to the get the first micro-computer in the regional office, an Apple III+, complete with two floppy disk drives. No hard disk.

Our colleagues in other units were awestruck. “Holy crap, is that ever cool!”
Later in 1983, we jacked up to an IBMx3, which had a monstrous 10 megabyte hard drive. Four economists shared that sucker. Man, it was great. Then it was onwards to individual 286s, 386s, 486 Pentiums, etc.

At this point Gen Y is saying, “What the hell is this old fart talking about? Everyone’s always had computers, fast ones at that!”

I remember when the early clam cell phones came out. Bar phones weren’t cool. One dude in the regional office had a clam phone. Wow!
Dateline: 1998

Then came some years later the ultracool Motorola Razr. Holy geez, can I get one of those suckers?
Dateline: 2003

And then came Steve Jobs’ innovation: iPhones. What were greeted with amazement and unbridled enthusiasm by consumers, the first couple of generations now seen as under-powered devices with limited functionality. Where will we be ten years hence with wireless devices?
Technology and society are moving so fast that each of us needs to figure out how to contribute constructively to our organizations, whether you’re in a large company, small outfit, government, the not-for-profit sector, or an entrepreneur.

This post has a few suggestions to help you.

First off, if you want to succeed at whatever you do—bureaucrat, entrepreneur, small business owner, whatever—you need to invest yourself in your work: emotionally, physically and spiritually.

It’s a heck of a lot easier if you’re passionate about your cause.

So what, by the way, is a hub spoke? Simply put, it’s a central connecting point.
Here are eight ways to set yourself apart in whatever area where you want to make a positive difference in the world, and to become in your organization, or community, a hub spoke.

1. Connect people: in your organization, community, across physical boundaries. Share what you know openly as you bring people together, whether at work or virtually.

2. Learn your ASREA:
Analyze – how to analyze situations objectively. It’s not just about the “numbers” but how you access your intuition.

Synthesize – ability to synthesize information from diverse sources to make sense of what seems like an over-loaded, chaotic world of data. Synthesizing is a valuable skill that’s growing rapidly in importance as data-overload grows and as the speed of decision-making increases.

Reflect – take time to reflect on what you’ve accumulated, analyzed and synthesized. Your gut is your best friend when it comes to making sense and what to do with all this information.

Engage – you can’t know everything or do everything yourself so engage those you trust and respect. Explore partnerships, which are how things get done more and more in today’s business world.

Act – Take time to line up your ducks, but then it’s time to execute.

3. Find your uniqueness: Where do you provide unique, value-added products or services? Sameness is not only boring but you don’t want to be seen as being part of the flock. Stand out.

4. Lead your customers into uncharted areas: Don’t just listen closely to their needs but help extend and broaden their willingness to experiment with the new.

5. Co-create the future with your co-workers: Inspire them to share your vision, in which they see themselves.

6. Become a subject matter expert: Know your stuff. Being a sponge for learning greatly helps you acquire subject matter expertise.

7. Know that you’re a mere mortal: Laugh at yourself at lot, never at others’ expense. People will respect you all the more.

8. Never by satisfied: Your learning stalls out when you no longer feel any tension or uncomfortableness. Stretch your learning until it begins to hurt.
Communication is everyone’s panacea for everything.
– Tom Peters


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Ten Rules for Succeeding as a Leader in an Age of Turbulent Change

April 15, 2018


The future ain’t what it used to be.

Known for his pithy and often mangled quotations, New York Yankees catcher and manager Yogi Berra nevertheless ended up making poignant observations. In this instance, the future keeps materializing in a typically different form than what “experts” have predicted. We tend to think that today’s society is under an onslaught of change. Indeed it is. However, huge change faced people living in Great Britain and Europe during the start of the Industrial Revolution in the mid 1700s. The same with the late 1800s.

Rather than compare past change events during different periods over the past few hundred years, what’s more relevant is to talk about change adaptability. In this post, we’ll look at 10 rules for successful personal leadership in the age of turbulence. Hopefully, they’ll assist you in your personal learning and leadership journey.

Rule #1: Commit to Your Job. 
There’s a saying that people don’t quit their jobs but rather their bosses. Fair enough. However, there comes a time when commitment to our work and employers must be reconciled with the propensity to leave jobs when we become frustrated and fed up. I learned many years ago that the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence. What may appear to be Eden often turns out to be a worse situation – from the frying pan into the fire, as the expression goes.

This prompts a sidebar comment: if you’re in a position of hiring staff, whether as a manager or business owner, the worst thing you can do is make empty promises to attract new employees. My maxim with customer service is always under-promise but over-deliver. I would argue that this is what those who engage in hiring should practice; over-deliver by providing excellent leadership and an engaging workplace.

To commit to your job means aligning yourself with your organization’s mission (why it exists as an entity), understanding who are the customers or clients, and determine where you add value. If you find that you’re not adding value, then some personal reflection is needed.

Management guru Tom Peters commented once that you should only take on work that adds to your resume. Now this may startle some people, with the response: “Yeah right, I’ll tell my boss that I’m not going to do a certain task because it’s useless.” What Peters is actually suggesting is that we need to continually seek to learn and improve ourselves; his statement, in typical Peters’ fashion, was aimed to be provocative.

Committing to our jobs does have the element of an opposing tension to look after our own self interest. However, being only half present at work because we’re day-dreaming or commiserating in our self-perceived sorrow helps no one, certainly not our personal growth and career development.

Rule #2: Adapt Quickly to Change. 
When a big change hits your organization, emulate Superman by quickly shedding your old corporate duds for the new approach. If you can’t find a phone booth, any office will do.

The key point here is to understand that your organization is about to go through some whitewater change (e.g., merger, acquisition, downsizing, or new technology introduction) and management won’t have all the answers. However, by adapting quickly to the change, you’ll significantly reduce your stress while simultaneously showing management that you can be counted upon when the going gets tough and ambiguity is the daily challenge.

Rule #3: Learn to Focus and Go for Quality, Not Quantity
. Okay, I admit to being a multitasker. How about yourself? When in the elevator at work or waiting in the coffee line, are you texting and checking emails on your wireless, while attempting to acknowledge coworkers and friends at the same time? What about while driving? Are you checking for emails or text messages while at the traffic light?

I’ve seen people reading books while driving on the highway, or juggling a cell phone, coffee and a cigarette. My favourite story is from the Ontario Provincial Police who pulled over a motorist who was doing the ultimate in multitasking. His crime? He had a Coleman propane stove on the passenger seat and was cooking bacon and eggs. Now that’s commitment to multitasking.

All joking aside, multitasking performed while driving or walking across an intersection can have disastrous consequences. In the context of organizational work, multitasking has the negative effect of valuing the superficial and mediocrity. In what has been labeled the knowledge age, in which employees are supposedly knowledge workers, my view is that multitasking is dumbing down organizations, in particular those individuals in managerial leadership positions who parade around with smart phones stuck to the sides of their heads.

A key competitive asset resident in Canada and the United States is their well-educated populations. If our economies are to evolve to respond to the sweeping effects of technology, it’s vital that people are engaged to use their brains in meaningful ways in order to stimulate creativity and innovation. Go for quality, not quantity. Strive for the deeper solutions (see Rule #8).

When it comes to leading people, being present is a vital element of effective leadership. If you’re trying to multitask while speaking to one of your staff who’s dropped by your office, you send out the message loud and clear that the individual is not important. Focus on what your colleague is saying; at that moment he or she is the centre of your attention.

Rule #4: Be a Promise Keeper. 
One of my admitted pet peeves is people who make promises only to break them. None of us are perfect, especially yours truly; however, I’ve always made an effort to fulfill promises or commitments to others. No, my batting average is not 1000, but it’s pretty high.

With that said up front, keeping promises to others–whether at home, to friends or workers, or in our community–is an essential part of who we are as leaders.

Over my 35-year working career I witnessed too many promises that were broken, and I’m not even referring to those that people broke to me. It never ceased to amaze me how, for example, a manager could make a string of promises to staff, only to not fulfill them. On too many occasions I moved in to manage a unit whose manager had left, for whatever reason, leaving the carnage of poor morale among staff because of broken promises. It’s not a pleasant situation to be in as a manager.

When you keep your promises and commitments to your co-workers, staff and bosses, including those with whom you interact in your community, you’re viewed as someone with integrity and whose word is gold. And when the occasional situation arises where you’re unable to keep a promise, then it’s essential to take the time to explain what happened to the person or people who were affected. Refrain from making up excuses; just be up front and people will be much more likely to be understanding. They may even respect you more when they see you admitting a mistake and acknowledging that you’re human.

Rule #5: Embrace Uncertainty and Ambiguity–Ride the Wave. 
Trying to resist the onslaught of whitewater change is futile. The metaphor of learning to ride the wave is very apt here, one that creates a positive and energetic outlook. Throughout history since the start of the Industrial Revolution, people have fretted about the introduction of new technologies and how work is performed. They adapted quickly, however, moving forward to create new inventions or adaptations of existing technologies.

At the organizational level the effects of globalization–characterized by most work being capable of being done anywhere around the world, thanks largely to communications technology–are having profound effects on workers. Depending on what you read and from what vantage point, the offshoring of work is viewed as ranging from being a pernicious practice imposed on North American workers to improving the distribution of wealth globally.

What’s important to keep at the forefront is not who’s right on the job distribution issue, but rather to identify what YOU control and do NOT control. You control your morale, willingness to learn and adapt, and desire to seek out new opportunities.
By assuming the identify of a change master, you’ll greatly reduce the stress that’s generated when your organization goes through the gyrations of major changes. And you’ll signal to senior management that you’re equipped and ready to contribute to helping the organization meet its new challenges.

Rule #6: Be a sponge for learning–and then SYNTHESIZE
. The amount of information is growing exponentially every day. It’s no doubt overwhelming with the massive onslaught of information we must try to absorb. As much as it’s important to keep learning (as the mantra goes) and to expose ourselves to new ideas and perspectives, my view is that the critical skill to acquire is how to synthesize this data overload. This is my personal daily challenge, being a voracious reader and keen observer of geo-political events.

The opposing tension to developing your synthesis skills is the superficiality created from multi-tasking (see Rule #3). Again, this is part of my personal daily challenge. Go for the deep perspective–find your a-ha! moment, when you discover that gem of wisdom or burning idea that catapults you to another level. Ensure that you take time to reflect and explore possibilities.

Every morning I go for an hour-plus walk, which includes enjoying some wooded areas. These morning walks help slow down my thinking, which tends to race, and enable me to look at solutions to problems I may be facing or what I should write about in my next blog post.

Rule #7: Own your attitude and behaviour. 
When I was doing my Masters in leadership residency back in 1998, we spent a lot of time in action learning teams. This was one of the more profound learning experiences of my long working career. As with any team there are sometimes dysfunctional people. What became apparent as my cohort of 55 mid-career learners went through the first of two residencies was that several of the 10 teams encountered serious problems.

My team was no exception. Fortunately, as we realized that one of the male learners on our team was imposing his baggage upon us, a female team member who was well acquainted with this type of behaviour stepped up to the plate and called him on it. Her many years of working as a social worker in maximum security prisons had sensitized her to manipulative behaviour. We got through our action learning project in better shape than other teams, due largely to her intervention. But I never forgot her words: “You have to own your own shit.” Crude, but true.

How often have you seen bosses or co-workers trying to dump their problems on others? What was the effect? Did anyone call the individual on it? What was the response from management?

When behaviour like this occurs it can have a corrosive effect on the team and even more broadly on the organization. Don’t turn a blind eye when you see it happening. Speak up and empower yourself to help correct the behaviour. Lead by example.

Rule #8: Be a problem solver, Not a finger pointer. 
It’s really easy to identify problems and complain about them. Some people excel at this. The bigger challenge is exploring solutions to problems, and especially doing so in a collaborative manner. When you approach your work from this perspective you automatically start adding value to your organization.

Avoid the finger pointers; instead seek out people who want to be part of finding effective solutions for organizational issues and problems. You’ll be seen as the person who makes things happen, who fixes problems and, especially, adds value to your organization.

Rule #9: Practice what you preach. 
Treat people as how you like to be treated, whether it’s responding to a request for information from another unit in the organization or serving a customer, client and supplier. When others see that you act consistently in accordance with what emanates from your mouth, they’ll take you more seriously and respect you for your judgement and views. Aligning what you espouse and what you actually practice is a cornerstone to leadership integrity, one essential to creating a loyal followership.

Rule#10: Become a barrier buster
. Avoid becoming entrapped in silo thinking, in which people hoard information, reject ideas from other parts of the organization (as well as from outside) and attempt to protect their turf. Rise above this and get known for being a barrier buster who openly shares information, connects people and communicates effectively across organizational boundaries. You’ll get noticed by management as someone who understands the bigger picture and is contributing to the organization’s mission and vision.


Of course this is not a definitive list of ways to cope effectively with change. These 10 rules are merely my interpretation of how people can approach change, based on my experiences. Each of us has acquired our own knowledge of ways to adapt. Therefore, please take a moment to add your own rule for being a successful leader.

When you come to a fork in the road, take it. —Yogi Berra

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

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Self-Empowerment–What it REALLY Means: Are You Buzzed or Bulldozed?

April 8, 2018

balanceHas your boss, or a previous one, ever said to you something along the lines of: “I’m empowering you to get this job done.” Or have you in a managerial or supervisory capacity ever said something similar to a direct report?

If yes in either or both cases, how did you feel? As a direct report, did you actually FEEL empowered? Or was your internal response, “yeah, right!” As a manager did making such a statement serve as a stimulant, providing a false sense of power and authority?

Let’s be honest, NO ONE can empower anyone else. In the words of Harrison Owen, leadership author and creator of Open Space Technology, “If I empower you, to some extent you are still within my power.”

One of the principal roles of managerial leadership (those in management positions who also play the necessary accompanying leadership roles) is to create the workplace conditions and space for people to carry out their responsibilities. As a sidebar, you can read an excerpt from my 3rd edition Becoming a Holistic Leader e-book where I talk about the complementary relationship between leadership and management. The e-book is a free download.

When we talk about employees being creative, innovative and customer focused, then it raises the bar when it comes to how managers help bring out the best in people. Saying to someone, “I’m empowering you, Frank, to provide exemplary customer service,” or “I’m empowering you, Sheila, to be creative” is, to be frank, absolute bullshit. In reality, it’s an attempted power trip by the manager.

If, on the other hand, the manager said to Frank, “What can I do to help you in your work? What are some of the obstacles blocking you from providing the best possible service to our customers?” then that’s a different ball of wax. The same applies to helping provide Sheila with the appropriate conditions in her work.

Nuture 1
However, to be fair and realistic to management there’s a reciprocity that exists. This is where the aspect of self-empowerment enters the scene. Even when a manager understands how to draw the best from her staff, not everyone will reciprocate.

As a new manager some 30 years ago, I gradually learned that while I had positional authority I had in fact little power. If I wanted to create a client-focused unit I was going to have to create the conditions for extraordinary things to happen. After falling down on my face several times as I made mistakes, things started to click and the energy in my unit was palpable. And we earned the reputation as being truly client-focused. However, it took a while and a lot of hard work, not just by me but the entire team, to reach this state of being.

In terms of the reciprocity aspect, there were always a couple of people in my unit over several years who were not as buzzed as everyone else. Self-empowerment is a PERSONAL decision and choice. Either someone decides to take that step or remain rooted in existing behaviour and actions. If the individual hates their job then self-empowerment is indeed a tall mountain to climb.

So the next time you start to talk to your staff about how you’re going to empower them, bite your tongue. Instead, start by asking a few questions about how to improve your workplace and its products or services. Then zip your lip and listen carefully and openly to what your co-workers have to say. And above all, be patient. Trust and self-empowerment were not built in a day.

You can and should shape your own future; because if you don’t someone else surely will.  (Joel Barker)

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

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What Are Your Organization’s Core Competencies? Remembering C.K. Prahalad’s Thought Leadership

April 1, 2018


Female Leader

Much of the management and leadership literature consists of books, articles, papers, etc. with short shelf lives. Fads come and go, and frequently the supposedly best-practice companies profiled disappear or suffer lingering declines to oblivion. Yet there are pieces that are keepers, retaining their value to the thought literature over time.

Let’s look at what’s referred to as an organization’s “core competence.” The irony is that this concept, created some 30 years ago, has incurred a resurgence of interest, following years of adherence to the belief that corporations exist for one sole purpose: to maximize shareholder wealth. Even “Neutron” Jack Welch, retired CEO of General Electric, has dumped on the concept, admitting it was foolish. Corporations, it appears, do indeed have more than just a pecuniary interest as a focal point.

So from where did the idea of core competence emerge, and what does it encompass?
In the May-June 1990 issue of the Harvard Business Review, the late C.K.Prahalad and his mentee Gary Hamel co-wrote a seminal piece entitled The Core Competence of the Corporation. Prahalad’s death in 2010 ago helped refocus attention on his progressive thinking and writings.

What is especially striking about this paper is just how relevant it is to today’s highly volatile economic environment. Thinking about the geo-political and economic events that have occurred over the past quarter century underscores how forward-thinking Prahalad and Hamel were when they wrote their article. This post, therefore, shares some of the article’s highlights and encourages your personal reflection on the concept and what it means for your organization.


Corporations have traditionally thought of themselves as divisions, or what Prahalad and Hamel call Strategic Business Units (SBUs). Using technology company NEC as the example, they explained that this company, whose businesses spanned (and still span) a broad spectrum, saw itself not as a collections of SBUs but rather “core competencies.”

Core competencies may be described as the composite knowledge of the organization and the know-how to organize and implement its human capital (skills) and technologies.

This may sound pretty fancy and conceptual, but it has worked well for NEC and another company that was profiled in the article: Canon. Just look at what Canon has accomplished and you’ll admit that it’s a company that knows why it’s in business, with a well-defined mission and energizing vision.

An organization that has clearly defined and articulated its core competencies is in a solid position to take on competitors and grow steadily. Its employees and technologies are aligned towards focused goals. The authors talk about Strategic Intent, which is about defining the organization and the markets it serves. For example, in 1990 NEC’s strategic intent was to “exploit the convergence of computing and communications.”
Once an organization’s strategic intent is defined, the core competencies need to be articulated. To do so means answering the following questions:

• For how long can the organization dominate the market if it’s not able to control a specific competency?

• If it loses the competency, what opportunities will it lose?
• Does the competency enable access to multiple markets?

• Do customers benefit from the competency?
Examples used include Honda’s engines, Casio’s display systems and Canon’s laser printers.

Leadership 2

When core competencies are clearly defined, it’s then necessary to strengthen them. This involves investing in the appropriate technologies, allocating resources throughout divisions, and creating effective alliances. For example, NEC forged an alliance with Honeywell in the late eighties to gain access to mainframe and semi-conductor technologies as part of enhancing its core competencies.

Current examples abound of corporations that have identified their core competencies. One example is Qualcomm, a large wireless telecom R&D company based in San Diego. Qualcomm has created leading-edge technologies that have had a huge impact on digital devices. Years ago, the company developed a screen that uses ambient light to allow images and text to be viewed, as opposed to backlighting used in laptops and Apple’s iPad. The screen is called Mirasol, and uses minimal battery power and can be used in direct sunlight. In contrast to Amazon’s Kindle which also uses ambient lighting, the Mirasol allows colour and video. Qualcomm is a company that continues to push innovation through the effective identification and application of its core competencies.

Though Prahalad and Hamel didn’t specifically use the words leadership and corporate culture, they were in effect speaking to this when they talked about cultivating a core competency mind-set, with managers working across organizational boundaries to engage employees, create energy, alignment and shared vision. Of interest, an important part of the process is to start the conversation of the next generation of core competencies.

The revisiting of the concept and practice of core competencies comes at a critical time for America and Canada. Prahalad’s and Hamel’s 1990 HBR article is even more important now than when they wrote it. The strategic importance of human capital development is receiving much greater recognition now, and at the heart of the core competence concept are people, unquestionably a nation’s principal competitive asset. The same applies at the firm level.

Finally, the concept of core competency is not just for business but the public and not-for-profit sectors as well. For people working in the latter two sectors, reflect on what are your own organization’s core competencies. And at the individual level, think about what are your personal core competencies when it comes to how you add value to your organization.

An organization’s capacity to improve existing skills and learn new ones is the most defensible competitive advantage of all.
—C.K. Prahalad and Gary Hamel

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Leading Outside the Rules: Corporate Culture and the Smell of the Place

March 25, 2018

Guy in Cubicle

All organizations have rules, policies and procedures, regardless of whether they’re in the public, private or not-for-profit sectors. This can be called, for want of a more sexy expression, the “formal” organization. Companies and governments have been guided by formal organizational structures for hundreds of years: kings, queens, presidents, prime ministers, and (yes) despots and dictators like Stalin, Mao and Hitler.

In the context of corporate leadership, employees (at all levels, leading up to the CEO) have come to blindly accept that hierarchies and rules are a given, that they’re a necessary evil and that without them chaos would reign. Maybe so.

However, what often gets overlooked is that the REAL way that work gets done, how tough problems are solved, and how an organization’s true leaders often emerge is through what’s called the “informal” organization. Call this the underground organization if you wish, but it’s the composite of the organization’s norms, expected behaviours, real values (as opposed to what’s espoused by senior management), tacit (undocumented) knowledge and informal people networks.

At this point some of you may be saying, “hey, this is the organization’s culture.” Indeed it is. I recall reading a management book many years ago in which the author referred to the “smell of the place” when one enters an organization. Reflect on this for a moment. When you enter your workplace, or think about a previous place where you worked, what do you sense when you enter it? Are people smiling and engaging with one another? Is the boss’s door open? Does management use the same cafeteria as staff?

I recall one organization I worked at some time ago. When being given the tour as a new employee, I was told by my guide that staff were forbidden from getting water from the assistant deputy minister’s cooler (similar to a VP in a company). Other places where I’ve worked have had senior managers behind locked doors with highly restricted access to employees.

Man in Cubicle

In my 35 years in the workforce, it never ceased to amaze me how seemingly nice people who may be neighbours, friends, acquaintances, or folks with whom you do volunteer work, can act so bizarrely at work. I’m sure that most people don’t wake up each morning, saying to themselves, “Today at work I’m going to provide crappy customer service.” Or, “Today, I’m going to hoard information and take down that idiot Fred who works in HR.” Or how about: “Today, I’m going to micro-manage Mary since she’s I think she’s incompetent.”

Raise your hand if you’ve ever had thoughts similar to this.

As supposedly rational human beings, we’d never want to admit to such petulant thoughts, let alone carrying out such actions. Yet it happens every day in organizations. Why? Good question. Perhaps it’s related in part to compartmentalizing human beings in rigid, artificial organizational constructs, in which they’re treated as if they have the IQs of lampshades.

The big challenge when it comes to corporate leadership is determining the minimum formal organizational structure against enabling the underground, informal organization to flourish. This is where you find the tension, which is constantly in flux, based on external opportunities and threats that affect the organization.

Finding the right formal-informal approach is a work in progress, with so much of it dependent on who’s leading from the top. Just when, for example, employees feel that things are improving and they’re being listened to, there’s a change at the top and the heavy, dark hand once again appears, dampening the flame of people engagement that was emerging. Of course, the reverse is true when new enlightened senior leadership enters the scene.

Leading outside the rules is a balancing act, both from a senior managerial perspective and from deep within the bowels of the organization. Given the emergence of new competitors from around the globe, it’s absolutely imperative that public and private organizations learn how to become more adaptable to change and to react quickly to both threats and opportunities. Many of an organization’s true leaders reside at what’s called the working levels. Whether they’re thought leaders, network leaders or relationship builders, these employees are extremely important as catalysts to creativity, innovation and positive change.

The next time you enter your workplace, or any workplace for that matter, pause for a moment and use your senses to soak in the vibes being given off.

What do you smell?

And do you want to work there?

You can and should shape your own future; because if you don’t someone else surely will. (Joel Barker)

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.

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Team Learning: Looking Beyond Yourself

March 18, 2018

KidsTeam learning builds on the discipline of personal mastery. It’s a process that encompasses aligning and developing the capacity of a team to achieve the goals that its members truly want. While individual learning at one level is important, it’s irrelevant at another level. Individuals may learn but the organization as a whole does not. There is no organizational learning. Teams become, therefore, the essential ingredient for learning.

There are three key components of team learning:
1. Teams must probe and explore complex issues, drawing on the talents, knowledge and experiences of one another.

2. They must work in concert, coordinating their efforts and communicating openly and closely. Trust is essential since members must be able to rely on one another.

3. Teams must interact with each other so that they can share what they learn.

Nested Teams is one way to express this interaction. Just as there must be interdependency within a team, so too must there be interdependency among teams in an organization.

Team learning must therefore be seen as being a collective discipline. To say that ‘I’ as an individual am mastering team learning is irrelevant. Team learning involves mastering the two primary ways that teams communicate: dialogue and discussion. By dialogue, we’re talking about deep listening and the free exploration of ideas. Discussion, on the other hand, refers to searching for the best view to support decisions once all views have all been presented.

For a team to grow and develop, and to be effective, it’s necessary that conflict be present. This notion may no doubt surprise some people, but unless a team’s members disagree at times, the team will not learn. To think creatively, there must be the free flow of conflicting ideas.

Of course, the team must know how to use disagreements productively. Conflict becomes then a part of the continuing dialogue among the team’s members. Senge explains: “...the difference between great teams and mediocre teams lies in how they face conflict and deal with the defensiveness that invariably surrounds conflict.”

The issue of when and how to use conflict productively is one that escapes most organizations. The consequence is the regular use of defensive routines. To admit that one doesn’t know the answer to a question or problem is to reveal one’s supposed incompetence. This has particular applications to managers because they’re expected to know everything that is going on in the organization. This becomes part of managers’ mental models. Senge states: “Those that reach senior positions are masters at appearing to know what is going on, and those intent on reaching such positions learn early on to develop an air of confident knowledge.”


When managers internalize this mental model, they create two problems. First, to maintain the belief that they have the answers they must shut themselves off from inquiry from their subordinates. They refuse to consider alternative views, especially if they appear provocative.

The second problem they create for themselves is that they sustain their ignorance. To keep up the facade they become very skilled at being defensive. After all, they wish to be seen as being effective decision makers.

Through his work, Harvard emeritus psychology professor Chris Argyris found that such defensive behaviour becomes an ingrained part of an organization’s culture. As he’s stated: “We are the carriers of defensive routines, and organizations are the hosts. Once organizations have been infected, they too become carriers.”

Organizational learning is obviously severely impeded in such a culture. This is underscored especially when teams engage in defensive routines, which block their energy and prevent them from working towards their shared visions.

The more that defensive routines take root in a team, and more broadly the organization, the more they hide the underlying problems. And in turn, the less effectively these problems are addressed, the worse the problems become. As Argyris puts it: “…defensive routines are ‘self-sealing;’ they obscure their own existence.”

All is not lost, however. A team that is committed to the truth will find ways to expose and address its defensiveness. The same applies to a manager who has the courage to self-disclose and examine his mental models to determine where defensiveness may be hidden. This in turn creates energy and the willingness to explore new ideas. Openness and dialogue then become the norm in the organization.

The journey in between what you once were and who you are now becoming is where the dance of life really takes place.
 –– Barbara DeAngelis

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So Where Are We Now? — The World’s Still Standing

March 11, 2018


So what were you doing on November 7, 2016?

That’s okay if you don’t remember. Here’s a reminder, however: After what could only be called a political circus, a reality show star, who dabbled in real estate, beat out 17 contenders in the Republican Party to be the first-past-the-post ahead of Hillary Clinton.

Oh! Now you remember.

The past 14 months since inauguration day of a narcissistic 71 year-old (45th President of the United States), replete with what British author and social commentator Martin Amis has described as a “woodland creature” atop his noggin, have been a roller coaster of incredulity, orgasmic delight for the late-night talk show hosts, and repressed giggles from CNN commentators and the like. And not to forget, most obviously, the obligatory seriousness of various pseudo experts and network contributory analysts.

The only really good news in the age of Donald Trump is that the world has not exploded. For anyone with the self-imposed initiative, take the time to read up on the events leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis (October 16-28, 1962) and you will be not just impressed but actually astonished with President John F. Kennedy’s calm leadership in the art of de-escalation and crisis management. It’s one of America’s pivotal moments in Presidential leadership.

Think I’m full of shit? Well, first off, I’m a Canadian, and second I’m apolitical with no party or ideological affiliation. I’m a long-time student of leadership.
That brings me to where we are today. Usually, I’d be writing on a substantive leadership topic without any political or controversial overtones.


I must confess that while I delight in watching such late-night talk show hosts as Trevor Noah, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers, Samantha Bee and Stephen Colbert skewer Donald Trump (sorry, but I’m unable to precede his name with the word President), there’s admittedly a pre-conceived bias with these folks to crap on this neophyte politician. We mustn’t forget CNN and the other mainstream news broadcasters. Trump can’t do anything right. And we conveniently forget the revolving door of past administrations, though the current one has probably set a Guinness Book record.

It certainly wasn’t by design that Mr. Trump bizarrely stumbled into an upcoming meeting with North Korea’s haircut-challenged dictator and Dennis Rodman fan, Kim Jong-un, whose eccentricities, since claiming control of one of the world’s poorest and most repressed countries, have been fodder for Saturday Night Live.

What gets lost in the parodies of Kim is that he has proved to be highly strategic in playing the long-game with the United States and the rest of the Western world. Like son, like father, except the former has proven to be even more cut-throat and provocative. He’s closing in on where he wants to be: in a strong position to negotiate with the U.S. and South Korea to ensure his country’s long-term survival.

The idea of a united Korea is sheer folly. The re-unification of East and West Germany was hugely challenging and expensive. It’s still in progress. For example, former West Germans’ net wealth is about 50% higher than former East Germans. Materialism (eg, expensive cars) is more common with the former West. And cultural differences continue. Those who’ve studied Germany since integration expect it will take at least another generation to significantly close the gap.

Re-unifying the two Koreas dwarfs the German experience. Point made.
From a political operative perspective, Trump would be smart to work towards an official peace treaty with North Korea, and with any luck Kim Jong-un would climb down from his desire to be an official member of the nuclear weapons club. However, trusting North Korea, based on past behaviours, is an exercise for fools.

President Ronald Reagan continually used the expression “Trust, but verify” with President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986 (much to the Soviet Union’s leader annoyance). Fast forward three decades and Democrat Party leader contender Hillary Clinton rephrased it to “Distrust and verify.”

Choose your preferred phrase.

Where will we be a year hence?

United wishes and good will cannot overcome brute facts. Truth is incontrovertible. Panic may resent it. Ignorance may deride it. Malice may distort it. But there it is.
—Sir Winston Churchill (from his war memoirs)

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

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