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The Slide of America and the Rise of Armageddon

March 13, 2016

Armageddon

As we approach mid-2016, the world’s security is looking a little shaky – actually, really shaky (check out the Doomsday Clock). Despite bloated hyperbole from our political leaders, the world is facing a huge shortage of effective leadership, just when it’s sorely needed. Whether it’s Great Britain’s David Cameron who managed to get himself wedged into a June 23 referendum on whether the country should leave the European Union, or Germany’s Angela Merkel who got her country in over its head with over one million refugees, or Canada’s new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who now has to start delivering on his truckload of election promises, where are the REALLY good national leaders?

When the world was on a downward slide during the 1930s with the rise of the Axis powers (Germany, Japan and Italy) one national leader saw the bigger picture and, in the face of resistance from that country’s citizens, stepped up to the plate. Franklin D. Roosevelt, a man with his own eccentricities and quirky behavior, was the right leader at the right time at the right place. And the same can be said of Great Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill, himself an oddball in many ways.

What’s the situation today when it comes to leadership from the world’s primary superpower? Well, the world’s watching aghast at the political spectacle that has been unfolding in the United States as the Republicans and Democrats procced through their respective tortuous primaries processes. Donald Trump, upon whom I wrote a recent post Good Leaders Avoid the Donald Trump Fear Mirror, and Ted Cruz are clearly not presidential material. They actually scare the crap out of many people, whether you live in America, its northern neighbor Canada, or across the ocean.

Yet the Democrats are not ones to smirk. Hilary Clinton’s many unanswered questions related to her infamous home-based email server; the 2012 attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya; or the Clinton Foundation (just by way of some examples) pose serious concerns about her as a potential president.

Reagan Gorby

Those leading major super powers need to have an abundance of calm judgement, persistence and patience. Love him or hate him, President Ronald Reagan had the above three traits. He may have appeared disinterested at policy briefings, lacking curiosity in the minutiae of bureaucrats’ reports, but he possessed a big picture view of the abhorrent dangers of out-of-control nuclear proliferation by both the United States and the Soviet Union.

A special note to the liberal left from an apolitical correspondent: President Ronald Reagan’s desire to drastically reduce nuclear armaments held by the United States and the Soviet Union is well documented and a matter of public record. He was not a war monger as incorrectly portrayed by certain media sources and commentators.

Fast forward to today’s volatile geo-political global scene, characterized by Machiavellian practitioner Vladimir Putin, a highly dysfunctional U.S. Congress and an inept President, compounded by the rise of a serial bankruptcy real estate tycoon seeking the Republican leadership nomination, and you have a recipe for imminent nuclear catastrophe. Layer on that nuclear cake the rise of amorphous, non-state terrorist actors, notably ISIS (ISIL), and the world has suddenly become much more unsafe.

ICBM.jpg

Indeed, civilization almost came to an end during the extremely tense periods between the US and USSR, from the Cuban Missile Crisis to numerous close calls in the seventies and eighties due to confusion over misperceived ICBM attacks by both superpowers (such as mistaking geese for incoming missiles). Eric Schlosser’s brilliant but terrifying factual account of an accident at an ICBM silo in Arkansas in 1980 reveals the precarious nature upon which the United States has based, in part, its nuclear weapons defense strategy. In Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Incident, and the Illusion of Safety, Schlosser deftly incorporates other events that occurred before and during this era, such as the Manhattan Project, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the rise of the Cold War.

Along the same vein, consider journalist-author David Hoffman’s comments in his Pulitzer prize-winning book The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy, again another terrifying account of out-of-control nuclear weapons proliferation. Hoffman writes:

“By 1982, the combined strategic arsenals of the superpowers held the explosive power of approximately 1 million Hiroshimas. Even with their huge arsenal, Soviets leaders feared they could perish in a decapitating missile attack before they had a chance to respond. They drew up plans for a system to guarantee a retaliatory strike. They envisioned a fully automatic system, known as the Dead Hand, in which a computer alone would issue the order to launch.”

Fast forward to Hoffman’s concluding chapter where he refers to the strong relationship that Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev had developed since first meeting in 1985. At that point in time the U.S. and the Soviet Union and amassed some 60,000 nuclear warheads in various configurations. In 1986 in Reykjavik, Iceland, the two presidents met to pursue largest reduction in nuclear weapons between the two countries. Unfortunately, following Reagan’s and Gorbachev’s determined efforts nuclear weapon proliferation expanded in the succeeding decades. The nuclear weapons arsenals of the U.S., Russia and other nations are summed up below.

United States 7,100
Russia 7,700
France 300
China 260
Great Britain 225
Pakistan 120
India 120
Israel 80
North Korea 8
(Source: ArmsControl.org)

Bomber

The above comments are in the context of the 40,000 foot view of the world’s two super powers: the United States and Russia (yes, Russia can still kick some ass, despite pronouncements from commentators who believe that America now rules the roost). As much as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggressive forays into Ukraine, Syria and Georgia are of extreme concern, President Obama’s nuclear weapons revival shouldn’t be ignored.

President Obama has been misperceived by many as a more pensive president compared to G.W. Bush, not reacting to citizens’ fear of terrorism or the media’s hyperbole. However, Obama has overused the deployment of drones in the Middle East, in contrast to President Bush, causing the deaths and injuries of numerous innocent civilians. On the country’s long-term defense spending, Obama aims to boost it by one trillion dollars over 30 years. This “modernization” is being criticized by a variety of people with defense backgrounds, including former Secretary of Defense William Perry who himself oversaw the introduction of nuclear-tipped cruise missiles during the eighties.

Strikingly, Obama seeks to acquire 1,000 missiles with adjustable nuclear warhead capacity, 100 long-range bombers and a new fleet off nuclear-armed submarines. As Perry put it, Obama’s defense procurement plan will be “…more likely to erupt in nuclear conflict than during the Cold War.” And as Admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, bluntly stated, Obama’s plan involves “…spending ourselves into oblivion.”

President Obama’s nuclear-weapons extravaganza will not necessarily improve security for the U.S. or its allies, but rather further increase the risk of nuclear Armageddon.

Both Presidents Putin and Obama have set back the world when it comes to nuclear disarmament. Obama has faced a difficult rival, just as Ronald Reagan did three decades ago (indeed several rivals who rotated into power). Yet the current outgoing president never initiated a substantive effort to tackle nuclear proliferation. Unfortunately for Obama, the United States and the rest of the world, Vladimir Putin has the instincts of a predator, quickly seizing upon the weaknesses of his rivals.

Combined with the recent rise of non-state actors (eg ISIS, Boka Haram), the trend of nations arming themselves with nuclear weapons (North Korea is a particular concern) in the presence of little leadership from the U.S. presents a future of instability and potentially catastrophic consequences for human kind.

I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.
– President Dwight D. Eisenhower

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Good Leaders Avoid the Donald Trump Fear Mirror

March 6, 2016

Trump Crowd

When we talk about good leadership, what do we mean exactly?

One characteristic of good leaders is that they don’t hold themselves up as a mirror to reflect back the emotions and feelings of their followers. Leadership is about creating an enabling vision: engaging people to achieve things collectively that may have previously been thought impossible. And it’s done through encouraging people to self-reflect and to look inside themselves to bring out their best, from special skills to unique talents.

The good leader knows that while her followers may not yet be convinced about her vision, she takes the necessary time to seek contribution from everyone, to explain the way forward and to produce in the end a vision that’s embraced by everyone. One example comes to mind: President Franklin D. Roosevelt who understood that the United States couldn’t turn its back on Great Britain during the rise of the Third Reich and the onset of World War Two. FDR stood his ground against those in America who preferred isolationism, despite plenty of criticism that was aimed at him.

FDR did not mirror back the fears and isolationist attitude of the American population of the 1930s. He created a national vision that motivated the country to defeat Germany, Japan and Italy.

As I explained in Good Leaders Let the Light in, the strong leader “…is someone who can see the possibilities and the opportunities for creating cohesion, whether it’s an organization undergoing dramatic upheaval due to global competition, a community whose major employer has shut its doors, or a country that is fractured as a result of racism. It’s a tall order for an imperfect human being, but the success lies in enrolling everyone involved.”

TRUMP-ANGRY

Perhaps the world’s biggest user of the fear mirror is Donald J. Trump. One would have to be a cave dweller in North America to not have some general understanding of the Republican Primaries circus underway in the United States.

Trump has proven to be incredibly adept at holding himself up as a mirror to reflect back the disgust, outrage and contempt that many Americans have towards their national government, encompassing Congress, the Senate and the Oval Office. In particular, Trump has zoomed in with laser-like precision on the fears that many Americans have on such issues as illegal immigration, accepting refugees from war-torn Syria, and job loss in such sectors as manufacturing.

Donald Trump knows acutely where the red hot emotive buttons are and just when they need to be pressed. He caters his venal barbs to not just the President and the Democratic Party, but in spectacular fashion to other Republicans and those he has been competing against for the nomination. He has stooped to jaw-dropping lows with his attacks on women, notably FOX News’ Megyn Kelly, who he said in one personal attack was “…bleeding from everywhere.”

It seems that Trump is treating his run for the Republican leadership as a reality show of sorts. Perhaps the title The Presidential Apprentice is an apt descriptor. Except in this instance the stakes are huge, in contrast to the contrived, fictional nature of reality shows.

And all this adolescent behavior has the end goal of enhancing Trump’s brand. In one new documentary The Mad World of Donald Trump, one commentator noted that Trump’s bullying behavior comes from his father’s take-no-prisoners approach to imposing his values on his three sons. Further, the documentary refers to the young Trump being sent to a military academy not far from West Point as a way to address the abuse he heaped on his school teachers.

Trump Angry 2

As the world’s greatest contemporary show man, Trump has proven to be the master of the political circus, exploiting his followers’ irrational fears. It’s as if we’re living a bad dream – nightmare – from which we can’t awaken. And that applies equally to those of us who live outside the United States. The implications of a Trump presidency are too outrageous to imagine; along the way he is decimating the Republican Party ( GOP) and its proud history. Mitt Romney’s recent hypocritical rant against Trump’s presidential ambitions will only further cement “The Donald’s” followership.

The irony about Trump is that despite his pronouncements about being a successful businessman who built his way up in the business world, namely real estate, is that when he was starting out he was given one million dollars from his father. When he constructed his first Trump Tower he employed some 200 Polish immigrants in hazardous working conditions at $4-5 per hour to do the demolition work of the pre-existing building. (Also read New York Times article.)

His “success” actually almost came to a disastrous end due to serial bankruptcies. About 93% of his wealth resides in the US, with 80% in real estate; he’s not globally diversified as other billionaires. And then there’s his infamous golf course in Scotland which brought the ire of the local community and the government.

But perhaps most significant of all is that in reference to his claim as being a competent manager, his clannish management style, combined with an unsophisticated corporate oversight structure, reveals an almost 70 year-old man who would be over his head as president of the United States. He has little big picture corporate management experience. Add in Trump’s volcanic, unpredictable temper and one shudders at the thought that he would have his fingers close to the nuclear launch code buttons.

hope

Think about the real business world for a moment. Does the effective corporate leader during a time of organizational crisis mirror the fear and anxieties of employees? Or does she lean forward, acknowledging the challenges to be addressed but giving hope to people by laying out a concrete plan for moving ahead constructively? And she does this by engaging everyone in the organization, making her expectations clear and, of special importance, letting people know that she’s a mere mortal and doesn’t have the answer to every question. Hence the need for full organizational engagement.

The same applies to politics and political leadership. Instilling blame, fear and racism in the populace serves no one, except for the immediate gratification that some people may feel, and of course, an ego-centric person such as Donald Trump.

The true leader takes people beyond their fears, anxieties and prejudices to a new place, one they had never thought possible – and which makes society better off. This leader refuses to preach division, hate and fear.

Regardless of where you are as a leader – in your community, as a manager or top executive – always remain aware of how you communicate to your followers, both through your words and actions. Take the approach of helping people to improve themselves by collectively taking action to solve problems and to explore new opportunities.

The leadership question: Are you consumed with your own brilliance, or do you wish to unleash the brilliance of others?
Jim Taggart


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Did You Call to Say Thank You?

February 28, 2016

skydiver-Sales

Have you ever been served by someone who works on commission, whether in a stereo or furniture store, automotive dealership, or insurance brokerage?

Of course you have. Commission jobs are an ingrained part of North America’s economy and labor market. And if you’re ever worked in a commission job you know that because of the pay structure that if you want to put food on the table, not to mention the other necessities of life, that you need to perform. No concrete financial results, then it’s Kraft Dinner and beans for supper.

One of the mysteries of life is that in the context of a commission-oriented pay structure, far too many people doing the selling ignore doing the vital follow-up after a sale. After being a car owner for 35 some years, I typically never heard boo from the sales person once I took possession of my new vehicle. The same applies to buying consumer items, in particular big ticket ones.

A recent example is when Sue and I decided to splurge on a new high quality bed for our spare bedroom. The sales guy at Sleep Country in Ottawa was terrific – very friendly, knowledgeable and reliable. Yet there was never any follow-up from him to see if everything went well and if we were pleased with our new purchase.

One could argue that it’s a waste of time to do a follow-up if the customer hasn’t called to complain about something. That’s the core of the problem: it’s not just to follow-up to see if the product was delivered satisfactorily and that it meets your expectations. It’s about showing that as a sales person you CARE about the entire sales experience of the customer. The potential dividend paid to the sales person is that the customer will be even more motivated to share his or her experiences with friends and family, not to forget social media, and to recommend both the company and the sales person.

Thanks

In short, the sales person sets the stage for future success by diligently following up and showing that she cares about the customer.

Well, there are a few people who are clued in and who practice what I’m talking about.

Meet Roy from Myers Hyundai, Kanata Autopark dealership.

Sue and I met Roy over five years ago. At the time I had a Mitsubishi Outlander, a great vehicle but one that I wanted to trade for all wheel drive, a bonus for Ottawa winters. However, the Mitsubishi dealership sales fellow, a nice guy, didn’t seem motivated to do a deal. I had heard about Hyundai’s significant improvement in the quality of its vehicles, so off we went to the Kanata dealership. That’s when we met Roy.

I’ve encountered plenty of automotive sales people from numerous brands over 35 years. And I’m leery, to put it politely, of such individuals. Roy came off as fast-talking. Sue was kind of bowled over. But I loved Roy. I wanted someone who was motivated to sell me a new vehicle. No BS. Just give it to me straight. What’s the bottom line on the deal?

An hour later we signed the paperwork for a 2011 AWD Tucson. That vehicle’s now paid for and solid as a rock. But the story is about how over the next several years Roy made his presence known. Always gracious and appreciative of earning our business, Roy always comes over when I’m at the dealership. He returns phone calls and emails promptly. And he gave good deals to family and friends I referred to him. That’s the A-ah moment: when a sales person’s attention to customer service pays off by referrals.

Woman Thanks

The sales experience with Roy reminds me of Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg’s comment: “If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat! Just get on.” Well, with Roy if you have the opportunity for a sales experience don’t ask for a seat number; just hop on.

Roy used to be Hyundai Canada’s top sales person. No longer. Why? Because he’s now a business manager at the dealership. Success brings promotions. For me, it’ll be a bummer when it eventually comes time to look at getting a replacement vehicle and engaging in the sales experience since Roy’s now in management. However, the other day while in for an oil change Roy came over to say hello and ask how the family was doing. When I mentioned that we’re thinking in the coming months to swap out Sue’s car he said he’d look after us personally on the numbers and the closing deal.

The sales world needs for Roys.

After the sale is closed and you’ve moved on to new customers, be sure to follow-up with that customer and others you’ve served. Show them that you care. You’ll be rewarded.

Be miserable. Or motivate yourself. Whatever has to be done, it’s always your choice.”
– Wayne Dyer (self-help author and motivational speaker)


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The Forgotten Refugees: A Humanitarian Leadership Challenge

February 21, 2016

Baby.jpgSixty million people – almost twice Canada’s population (36 million).

Sixty million people – close to France’s population (66 million), Great Britain’s (64 million) and more than South Korea’s (50 million).

What’s with the sixty million number? It’s the estimated number of people around the world who are defined by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) as being “displaced.” Note that the UNHCR has under its care some 30 million refugees, only half the world’s total. This link contains a questionnaire to test your knowledge on refugees. It helps to not just inform but to debunk some of the myths surrounding the world’s refugee crisis. As Article 1 of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees states:

“A refugee is a person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country, or who not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable, or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

The world watches grim-faced as the political spectacle continues to unfold in the United States. Republican presidential candidate wannabees beat one another up, engaging in one-upmanship to see who can most viscerally attack visible minorities and those of the Islam faith. In your correspondent’s home country of Canada, the reaction to the plight of Syrian refugees has been much different, though not without its own racial-tinged brand in some quarters. But on the whole, Canadians have embraced accepting 25,000 Syrians who have been arriving in Canada since early fall 2015 (to date, 21,000 have entered the country). One sad commentary is that the United States, 10 times Canada’s population, is talking about admitting 10,000 Syrians, yet experiencing acute anxiety.

Canada’s picture, however, could have been much different had former Prime Minister Stephen Harper won re-election on October 19, 2015. Justin Trudeau, as the country’s new prime minister, has rejected much of Harper’s xenophobic policies and practices, embracing instead the concept of a pluralistic society and the benefits it bestows upon a nation. Take a moment to read this CBC piece on the experience of Sri Lankan refugees who landed on Canada’s west coast in 2009.

Yet there’s also something disturbing about not just Canada’s new government but also Canadians when it comes to the serious issue of refugees. Indeed, the Syrian crisis deserves focused attention. However, it’s only a tiny component of a much bigger problem encompassing dozens of countries and stretching back years. And the problem is growing steadily.

Let’s step back for a moment and consider the world’s refugee–displaced persons–crisis.

Dadaab1

Close your eyes for a moment and think where the biggest concentration of refugees is located.

What did you decide?

The world’s largest refugee camp is in Dadaab (pictured), a semi-arid town located in the northeast corner of Kenya near the Somalian border. The number of refugees living in this camp is staggering, reflecting a good size North American city – 330,000 men, women and children (the latter two groups make up 80%). A correction: there are actually five camps within this huge encampment. While the refugees are allowed to move around freely, new arrivals are kept in a guarded compound until they are registered, finger-printed and issued ration cards (which takes almost two weeks to process).

Three of the camps date back to 1992, when droughts and civil wars forced people to seek refuge. Managed by the UNHCR, the encampment is operated by several not-for-profit organizations, including CARE, the German Technical Co-operation, the Red Cross, and the World Food Programme (Médecins sans Frontières assisted until 2003). The majority of inhabitants are from Somalia’s war-torn south.

“Home” consists of plastic sheeting formed into domes, under which the average family size is four, and usually a mother with young children (only 4% of the complex’s population is over age 60). The diseases found range from measles outbreaks to hepatitis to dysentery to cholera. Violence is common. Despite the desperate conditions, there are some 50 schools in the complex, market stalls sell a variety of food such as goat meat, and people hawk cell phones.

The Dadabb refugee complex is a testament to the human spirit and perseverance.

Tongolese Refugees Ghana

The scope of the world’s refugee problem almost defies comprehension. It would take pages to list and just briefly explain the situation facing dozens of countries. However, here are some examples. (Photo: Togolese refugees in Ghana.)

In 2014, Ethiopia replaced Somalia as the African country with the most refugees. Hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese have fled their country’s violence to seek refuge, helping boost Ethiopia’s refugee count to over 630,000. Eritreans fleeing their country’s onerous government regime have added further to Ethiopia’s problem. All told, East Africa’s refugee infrastructure is maxed out (including camps in Uganda and Sudan).

African refugees, and those in numerous other countries on other continents, have a legitimate concern about being left behind as a result of the Western world’s pre-occupation with the Syrian refugees. In the fall of 2015, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told the EU parliament that the union’s 28 countries were obligated to take in the 160,000 refugees stuck in Greece, Italy and Hungary. He further stated that all of them would be treated equally. As Juncker put it: “Europe has made the mistake in the past of distinguishing between Jews, Christians, Muslims.” There is no religion, no belief, no philosophy when it comes to refugees.”

This is all well and good, except that many Africans aren’t convinced of Juncker’s statement, especially when a portion of them are perceived as economic refugees. It raises the question to what degree will Article 1 of the 1951 Convention (see above) be adhered to.

As painful as it was to see three year-old Aylan Kurdi, a Syrian, lying dead on a beach in Turkey (his brother and mother also drowned), which galvanized attention around the world (relatives have recently been admitted to Canada), there were no photos taken of the babies who washed up on beaches in Zuwara, Lybia, on August 28, 2015. If there had been photos taken and displayed in the media, would that have changed anything for African refugees? Would the world have sat up and noticed and taken action?

The ability and the capacity of Western countries to absorb those seeking refuge has limits. One can argue that while there must remain effective mechanisms, bolstered by action-oriented national leadership, to take in those seeking refuge on a wide range of reasons, the longer-term solution is for democratic leaders to help change the conditions under which people are suffering.
That’s the bigger picture of making our planet a more humane place in which to raise a family and to secure a safer, more productive and healthier life.

We live in the age of the refugee, the age of the exile.
– Ariel Dorfman (Argentine-Chilean playwright, academic and human rights activist)

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Creating Order & Meaning during Organizational Chaos

February 15, 2016

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My new complimentary e-book Creating Order & Meaning during Organizational Chaos has just been released. Be sure to download it. 


We’ve only just entered the 21st Century; 84 years remain. Think for a moment of all what has happened since 2000, whether around the world, in your state or province, or in your local community. What about your personal circumstances: new job or job loss; becoming a parent; loss of someone close to you; a move to another country; sickness; or discovering a life-changing opportunity. The world doesn’t stand still, and nor do our lives.

We talk about the need to meet new challenges and to build our leadership skills. However, our organizations, public and private, are still basically rooted to the models that emerged from the Industrial Revolution. As the tiny entities that make up organizations, we still want order, control, structure, roles, responsibilities and job descriptions.

This contrasts sharply with what we hear from the “experts” on the need to become responsible for our own careers and to become more entrepreneurial in how we approach work. In short, the employment contract between workers and employers is over, where people were loyal to organizations for the reciprocal benefit of secure jobs with pensions.

Accepting that the old ways no longer work and that organizations must jettison this outdated Industrial Revolution model would contribute to creating new ways of doing work and achieving results. For one thing, it would improve our collective ability to become more adaptable to change and to anticipate it.

How will this occur and where does leadership fit in?

Girl Studying.jpg

The foundation to making the shift to more adaptable organizations, composed of people who thrive on and welcome change, is learning and its cousin, thinking. The Learning Organization became a hugely popular expression in the late nineties and 2000s, giving rise to books, speakers, training videos, etc. Lifelong (continuous) learning was HR’s mantra and those in the executive leadership suites. Unfortunately, human beings have a tendency to become distracted easily.

The geo-political events starting with 9/11, and technology’s growing impact on how and where work is done, shoved learning aside. In particular, the business mindset that the bottom line is everything, combined with the devastation caused by the US-inspired 2008 financial meltdown and ensuing Great Recession, further aided kicking the concept of organizational learning out the back door.

The irony is that just when knowledge and learning – and their cousin, innovation – are most needed for competitive advantage, they’re now essentially in the back seat pleading for attention.

The aim of my e-book is to stimulate your reflections on learning in the context of organizational turbulence. It draws on the ideas of a number of respected thinkers. These individuals focus on the deeper issues affecting people and organizations.

My hope is that this e-book helps propel you forward through your reflections on learning experiences in both your personal and professional lives. If you’re in a leadership position, it offers the opportunity to self-examine your role as champion and advocate with your followers. After all, leaders must not only question existing work processes and explore new concepts, they must encourage and expect their team members to do so as well.

Man Welcomes Sun Our first task is to see the world differently.
– Margaret Wheatley

 



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A Dynamo Female Leader with Steadfast Principles who lived to 102

February 7, 2016

Elsie Tu 1

She came to detest British colonialism. In her mind as a community leader, it underscored the perception of British arrogance and a class-based system. However, it would take some time for her to become an outspoken advocate for the poor, a critic of government corruption and a thorn in the side of the rich. Born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne”, England, she lived to 102 years of age, dying on December 8, 2015.

Meet Elsie Tu, born Elsie Elliott, who moved to the Hong King, then a British colony, in 1951. The wife of a missionary (Bill Elliott), she initially saw her role as assisting him in his work to spread the gospel of Christianity. This required her to know her place in Hong Kong society and to essentially remain mute on political issues. After years of playing the good wife, Tu (later from her second marriage to Andrew Tu) became impatient, wanting to address the atrocious conditions many citizens were living in, such as the slums of Kai Tak in Kowloon.

She ended up leaving her husband and became active in not only assisting the poor but exposing police corruption. At the time Hong Kong had no middle class, where the elite rich and British civil servants ensured that this division remained intact. In 1963, while a member of the Urban Council, her perseverance to expose police activity in the trade of narcotics made newspaper headlines. Three years later she fought to prevent an increase in ferry tolls between Kowloon and Hong Kong. Her role as a central figure led to her arrest following the 1966 Kowloon riots stemming from the ferry rate increase.

Tu’s childhood in a coal mining area of northern England influenced her later-in-life’s actions for various causes. The second of three daughters, her parents were of very modest means. However, what the family lacked in material comforts was more than made up for by intelligent discussions at the supper table on far-ranging topics. Her father greatly influenced Tu to pay attention to the human condition and the rights of people, and to use politics as the springboard to get things done.

Elsie Elliot

As an adult, and far ahead of her time, Tu became a strong advocate for gay rights. She fought for better housing for Hong Kong’s poor, along with improved welfare services, bus routes and children’s playgrounds. And as a key part of her focus on the elite and police, she was instrumental in the creation of the Independent Commission against Corruption.

Tu and her husband, Andrew, founded the Association for the Promotion of Public Justice in 1979. Focusing on the human rights issues affecting Hong Kong’s thousands of Filipino domestic servants, she made it known that she paid her Filipino maids twice the legislated minimum wage. The couple also campaigned successfully for decriminalizing homosexual acts.

She later served on the Legislative Council (1988 to 1995), continuing to attack authorities for the repression of Hong Kong’s poor people and keeping alight the need for justice for all. When Hong Kong underwent its transfer from Great Britain to China in 1997, Tu went at it again, criticizing Britain’s weak if not “disgraceful” reforms that had been introduced too late.

While Tu’s politics weren’t always clear, being accused by some that she was pro-Beijing, what was always in focus was her unswerving commitment to standing up for Hong Kong’s underclass. As she once stated: “I’m not for China, I’m not for Britain. I’ve always been for the people of Hong Kong and for justice.” This stance linked directly to the views of the United Nations Association, which believed in self-rule and democratic reform for Hong Kong. As a consequence, Tu became a spokesperson for the Association and used this role to lobby ministers in London.

Elise Tu was not perfect. She may have been rough around the edges at times and occasionally unfocused on her brand of politics, but one thing she wasn’t was being unclear on her principles and for whom she was fighting.

The world needs more people like Elsie Tu. That’s how big change occurs.

Those who now yearn for the days when Hong Kong was a British colony should be aware of past cruelties, and realize that Britain took no steps to introduce a democratic system until it was certain that Hong Kong would ultimately be returned to China.
– Elsie Tu


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A Nation’s Test of Character: Do We Truly Value our Veterans?

January 31, 2016

Lord Veteran

One of the best props a politician can use is the Armed Forces. Remember President G. W. Bush in October 2003 standing on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, with the huge sign behind him proclaiming “Mission Accomplished,” to celebrate victory on his War on Terror? This “leadership” event happened to be off the coast of San Diego with the aircraft carrier anchored safely. Oh, how Bush looked initially macho, just having changed out of a flight suit into his Presidential navy blue suit. But the truth hit home quickly as the US media jumped all over the contrived photo op.

Or in my country, Canada, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper (booted out of office in October 2015) couldn’t resist using Canada’s military as the backdrop to boost his popularity. And then there was Harper’s predecessor Jean Chretien who didn’t know the front of an army helmet from the back. Yeah, it was pretty funny.

What’s not funny is how Canada’s and America’s military veterans, not to forget those in other ally countries, are treated by their political masters once they have either completed serving their countries or been forced to exit due to physical or psychological injuries. (Photo: Claude Lord, homeless Montreal veteran who lives in a shipping container.)

Plenty has been written in the media about injured vets being ignored by their governments. Most reprehensively is the lack of attention and treatment for PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which affects people from all walks of life and across all ages. PTSD is pernicious, an insidious disease that can destroy people’s lives and those around them.

But as if PTSD and recovering from physical injuries (such as amputations and traumatic head wounds) aren’t enough for those who have served their countries, the final kick in the teeth is too many veterans being homeless. Yes, you heard me correctly. Canada – and the Land of the Free – have thousands of vets living on the streets.

A March 2015 report by the federal government’s Employment and Social Development Department found that at least 2,250 veterans are homeless in Canada. This represents 2.7% of Canada’s total homeless people that use temporary lodging. The data come from a 2014 database that tracks 60 homeless shelters across Canada. Given the defined nature of the study, it’s reasonable to assume that there are more homeless former Canadian soldiers than publicly disclosed.

Vet Sign

In the general population, the average age of those incurring homelessness is 37, but for homeless veterans it’s 52 years of age. Of particular concern is that female ex-soldiers have a very high rate of homelessness, with 16% experiencing multiple occasions; in contrast, 6% of females outside of the military experience homelessness. With male and female veterans one sees alcoholism, drug addiction and mental health problems as characteristic reasons contributing to their plight.

Take a moment to listen to CBC’s The Current show on homeless Canadian military vets

In the United States, with its massive military machine of about 1.35 million enlisted across the four services (Canada’s only some 68,000 plus 26,000 reservists), the number of homeless veterans is about 47,700. That amounts to 3.5% of US Armed Forces as being homeless; in comparison, Canada has a veteran homeless rate of 3.3% (excluding reservists, or 2.4% including them).

homeless-veteran

It’s a very sad scene that two G7 countries, one with the claim of being the greatest nation on Earth and the other proclaiming to be peaceful and open to immigrants, would be so disrespectful and callous in their treatments of those who have subjected themselves at times to horrific conditions in the gore of war, all in the call of “serving” their countries and keeping their fellow citizens safe.

What’s wrong with us as citizens? Why do we let our governments get away with this shit?

Are we selfish, immoral beings who espouse our superficial respect for members of the Armed Forces, but only as long as we ensure we remain safe in the confines of our homes and communities, sipping on a skinny latte, multi-tasking on our smart phones and complaining to our coffee companion about how hard we have it? “Oh my boss is such an ass-hole.”

You get my drift.

We should all be ashamed – as Canadians and Americans – that we’ve reached this point.

How do we collectively turn it around?

Of course, politicians go into defensive hyper-drive when confronted with the statistical reality of their countries’ finest. New Canadian Prime Justin Trudeau has promised action, as has his chief of defence staff. Ditto for the United States. Unfortunately, we’ve all heard this same refrain before.

Promised action leads to inaction, deflected by other priorities. Attention spans of our elected officials are indeed limited. It’s up to us, as citizens who cast votes, to demand that our elected representatives stay true to their promises and not waiver when faced with competing priorities. Respecting the men and women who serve and who have served our respective countries is a calling of the highest order. That’s the leadership challenge.

Claude Lord of Montreal deserves that promise to be kept.

Death became a desired option. I hoped I would hit a mine or run into an ambush and just end it all. I think some part of me wanted to join the legions of the dead, whom I had failed.
– Lieutenant General (ret’d) Romeo Dallaire (Force Commander, Rwanda, 1993-94; retired Canadian Senator; and PTSD victim)


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