Skip to content

When Leadership Matters–Throw out the Script

October 5, 2015
Obama We’re used to watching politicians rely on scripts, prepared by their advisors, the people who lurk in the shadows, typically unseen by the public. Teleprompters have become a favorite tool for prominent leaders, notably leaders such as President Obama who is a master of using them.

The public exerts a collective sigh when it’s subjected to yet another policy announcement from a political leader. It’s not just the idea of here’s more BS emanating from a politician’s mouth, but also the skepticism whether these leaders possess any original thoughts–their coterie of aides and policy advisors have ample spoons with which to spoon-feed their leaders.

Perhaps the notable exception is Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in power for nine years and facing an election on October 19, who is nothing short of a one-man band of policy generation. In short, Harper, has no time for the federal government’s once internationally regarded public service, whose purpose is to provide objective, non-partisan advice to Ministers and the Prime Minister. For Harper, it’s my way or the highway, regardless of whether it’s in the national best interest.

However, sometimes shit blows backwards when thrown in the wrong direction. Witness, Harper’s scripting during the criminal trial underway for disgraced Senator Mike Duffy, who among other things accepted $90,000 from Harper’s Chief of Staff to pay off his illegitimate living expenses. Harper’s public statements, prepared by his aides, kept shifting like desert sands as the trial’s disclosures became public.

Hayward We’ve seen this story before in the private sector. Witness the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which began on April 20, 2010. British Petroleum CEO Tony Hayward (pictured) and others in BP management tried damage control, which spiraled out of control. Rather than being honest up front, the scripting given to Hayward made the situation worse. Initially, Hayward minimized the scope of the oil spill and its impact on the Gulf of Mexico, stating that it would be “…very, very modest” and that it was “…relatively tiny.” Five weeks later Hayward changed his tune, referring to the oil spill as an “environmental catastrophe.”

A more recent example of bad CEO scripting was Starbucks’ Race Together campaign in March 2015. When shareholders met mid-March, CEO Howard Schultz had his presentation ready. The company was ready to start talking about race relations (prompted by numerous police shootings of black American males) and it wasn’t going to be deterred by critics. Baristas were to write “Race Together” on coffee cups as a means to open conversations with customers. Schultz’s opening lines were, “What I’m most proud of is the enduring nature in 40-plus years of our ability to consistently balance profitability and social impact.”

Except Schultz and his PR advisors grossly underestimated the feedback from the public and the media. Starbucks, a company with some 300,000 employees (3,500 at headquarters), got nothing short of lambasted in social media and the mainstream media. The initiative sunk quickly, despite Schultz’s initial attempts to keep it afloat.

These are but two diverse examples of when the heads of companies became trapped in their scripting, not just the physical briefings from aides and advisors but more importantly their mental models. In short, Tony Hayward foolishly tried to cover his butt and minimize the damage from the oil rig’s spill. Howard Schultz, a good man who began working in sales as a teenager in New York City, became overly infatuated with an idea, not taking time to think through its implications.

Doing the right thing, or making a common-sense decision, doesn’t require a script. Effective leaders know intrinsically what needs to be said and done. As much as getting advice from advisors and subordinate managers is important, those in top leadership positions are in those roles because it’s assumed they have acquired the necessary knowledge and wisdom during their careers. Having perspective and the ability to step back to assess an issue or situation is what it’s about in leading organizations.

Chuck out the script.

There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.

— Steve Ballmer (CEO Microsoft, 2007)

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 Trip AdvisorTake a moment to meet Jim.

Five Leadership Practices to Navigate Global Turbulence

September 28, 2015
Stock Market The end is not near.

Despite the frantic warnings and incoherent ramblings from pseudo experts, the human race will survive, at least for the time being. But if you’re a junkie for end-is-near messages, then go and have your fix.

The end of August 2015 stock market gyrations, spawned by the Chinese government’s currency’s manipulations, produced a stream of warnings from kooks, meatheads and supposedly educated people who should know better. Stock up on water, canned food and ammunition. Since ATMs won’t be working, grab your cash and hide it.

Market turmoil brings out the worst in people. The same applies to how organizations are led–except that the people in the top leadership positions are paid the big bucks for having perspective, insight and vision. In short, during periods of upheaval, whether it’s the stock market, new competitive entrants to the market or government policy changes, top leaders are supposed to have shaped their organizations to be more adaptable to change and resilient when times are tough.

Unfortunately, rapid and volatile change–akin to what has been dubbed Black Swan–events often produces ugly behaviors in organizations. When employees see management panicking, instead of acting in a calm, rational manner, this transmits down through the organization at lightning speed. The effects can be calamitous: people bail from the organization like rats deserting a sinking ship, some go on stress leave and people abandon any idea of teamwork and collaboration. Productivity plummets. Accounts are lost. New business opportunities never materialize.

Lineup If you work in the public sector, as your correspondent did for three decades, the effects are equally as bad as in the private sector, except that this time taxpayers get shafted, citizens are served poorly and the national interest (e.g., national defense, industrial development or labor market training) takes a backseat to the pre-occupation with reacting to the external environment’s changes.

Here are five leadership practices, regardless of level in your organization, on how to act during volatile and stressful times:

1) Maintain your Clarity during the period of organizational stress. Doing so will enable you to maintain your perspective and to keep an eye on the long-term.

2) Develop your Thinking Skills so that you’re better able to understand what is taking place, internally and externally. Don’t reply on those at the top to spoon feed you platitudes.

3) Stay Focused and Calm. This will improve your ability to think clearly and to maintain your clarity.

4) Work at increasing your Adaptability to change. Learn to embrace change, seeking out the opportunities. As the late Angeles Arrien, an anthropologist and leadership consultant, said: “Be open to outcome, not attached to it.”

5) Take time to engage in periodic Reflection, essential to building your personal leadership and effectiveness. Doing so will enhance your clarity of the situation, help you to stay focused and strengthen your adaptability.

You’ve no doubt noted the high degree of inter-dependence among these five practices. Take some time to think about them and how to put them into practice. And, of course, take a moment to share your ideas on how to navigate whitewater change.

I am convinced that nothing we do is more important than hiring and developing people. At the end of the day you bet on people, not on strategies.

– Larry Bossidy (Retired CEO,
Allied Signal)

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 Trip AdvisorTake a moment to meet Jim.

Should Executives be allowed to Telecommute?

September 20, 2015

Pyramid The traditional organizational pyramid, complete with its hierarchy of power and authority, has been around a long time. Emerging from the work of Frederick Winslow Taylor in the early 1900s, and refined and embedded within organizations during the 20th Century, the Pyramid is still the prevalent form of how organizations are structured.

An increasingly outdated concept in a global economy buffeted by volatile geo-politics, technological advancement and climate change, the Pyramid is accompanied by the physical presence of employees within organizational silos. Managers want their staff within arms-reach. The “bums-in-chairs” mentality of productivity persists, despite huge gains in the introduction and deployment of technologies that support virtual (distance) work.

The teleworking concept has its supporters and detractors, each making their separate cases. However, these debates have been aimed almost exclusively at those working in non-managerial positions. A recent article from Bloomberg Businessweek presents an interesting perspective on executives teleworking from thousands of miles away.

Diebold Mattes Diebold CEO Andy Mattes is responsible for a minor earthquake tremor in C-suite land. He’s totally comfortable having most of his direct reports live and work from locations far from the company’s Canton, Ohio, head office.

Mattes joined Diebold, the biggest maker of ATMs in the U.S., two years ago; he was previously with Hewlett-Packard and Siemans. Since taking over the helm of Diebold, Mattes has replaced 60 of the company’s 100 executives. Some two thirds of his new executive team now live in other cities. For example, his chief strategist lives in Boston, a senior VP lives in San Jose and the Executive VP of software lives in Dallas.

This is earthquake stuff to those comfortably settled in C-suite. Imagine, a respected CEO of a big company shaking things up by not just allowing but encouraging executives to live where they prefer. But it’s a no-brainer when you consider that Mattes’ genius has enabled him to draw on the best talent in the U.S. Forget about trying to entice top executives to move to Ohio. There are alternate solutions to getting work done.

What’s especially compelling about what Mattes has achieved is that it’s actually founded on one word: TRUST. If Mattes weren’t comfortable with his own personal leadership, he wouldn’t be able to transcend to the level where he could trust dozens of his executives, living and working thousands of miles away.

Telework Consider that a mere 2.4% of U.S. workers (excluding self-employed) work primarily from home. When looking at those who telework occasionally, that statistic rises to 9.5% (2010 Census), and 40% for professional and managerial workers (2012). While these percentages are growing slowly, there’s a great reluctance on the part of employers to endorse telework. A soft economy further reinforces management’s preference to have bums-in-chairs in visual sight of the manager’s office.

In Canada, Statistics Canada reports that in 2011 only 11% of workers did some work from home (a 2008 survey showed the same result). However, here are a few interesting stats:

• 22% of university grads work from home; only 7% of high school grads do so,
• 23% of those who telework are professionals and managers; only 7% work in sales and service,
• While 10% of women telework compared to 12% for men, only 19% of women in professional jobs engage in this in contrast to 29% for men in these occupations

Yes, there are several valid points to make about distance work by executives. Relationship building with subordinates takes a hit, as does being able to read the nuances from people when at meetings or in informal chats. Travel budgets may need to rise, perhaps significantly to accommodate periodic travel to head office. And being out of the physical loop can weaken an executive’s ability to gather organizational intel. Finally, building an executive team, which understands inter-dependency of effort and shared purpose, is a bigger challenge.

In the face of these legitimate challenges, the executive leadership model that Andy Mattes has created is still hugely worthwhile to investigate for CEOs of companies, not to forget not-for-profit and government agencies. Indeed, it’s time to retire the Taylor-inspired organizational pyramid and seek out new, more efficient and effective forms of top leadership to guide organizations in the 21st Century.

We needed to change the company’s mindset with new people….We were fishing in a small pond. We broadened the talent pool substantially.

– Andy Mattes (CEO, Diebold)

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 FBTake a moment to meet Jim.

Black Swans: The Achilles Heel of Leadership

September 13, 2015
04- BLACK SWAN RISING Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the world were predictable–or at least somewhat predictable?

It would certainly make the job of top organizational leaders and politicians in power that much easier.

But that’s not how it is; it never has been in fact. Yet when you look at how often those running corporations made dumb comments about the future, or the empty promises of politicians who seek and then gain power, you’re left wondering if these individuals live on the same planet as the rest of us. Consider these past prognostications by top corporate leaders.

There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home. – Ken Olson, Founder, Digital Equipment Corporation

We will never make a 32-bit operating system.
– Bill Gates, Founder, Microsoft

I predict the Internet will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse. – Robert Metcalfe, Founder, 3M Corporation

The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.
– Sir William Preece, Chief Engineer, British Post Office (1876)

What’s interesting is that these supposedly wise forecasts at the time, plus countless more, have all been made by men. It doesn’t say much about the insight of the male species.

Bush At the political level the public has learned to brush off, if not laugh at, the silly and vacuous promises made by politicians, including the typical annual government budgets. Unfortunately, the inability of political leaders to learn how to restrain themselves has cost many a national economy (or state or provincial economy) on a number of fronts: job loss, exit of companies for other jurisdictions, weak foreign investment, stunted technological and innovation growth, ballooning deficits, and the list goes on.

Consider Canada and its state of affairs. The country is in the midst of a federal election campaign which began in August, with the date set for October 19. This makes it the longest national election campaign in Canadian history since 1872. Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in power for almost a decade, went into the campaign in relatively good shape in the polls, though it was agreed by most political pundits that it would be a tough race among the three major parties.

Harper has had to contend with a number of known issues, ranging from crooked Conservative senators to a weak economy. However, what threw a wrench into the campaign was the Syrian refugee crisis.

Numerous examples abound of top leaders, in business and in government, being crippled because of their inability to adapt effectively to major developments. The huge numbers of Syrians exiting their country for safe havens in Europe, the UK, Canada and the U.S. has caught people off guard. Europe, in particular, is being crushed by the rapidly growing demand, with Greece, already economically destitute, doing the best it can to respond to Syrians arriving by dilapidated boats every day.

The Syrian refugee crisis is Stephen Harper’s Achilles Heel. The sudden surge in refugees seeking shelter in Europe, bolstered by the international media’s reporting, brought the crisis into main view in Canada and around the world. The drownings of two little Syrian boys and their mother served as a huge injection of compassion by Canadians, provincial premiers, municipal mayors and retired politicians of all stripes. Harper, in his traditional stubborn fashion, refused to bend, citing security concerns and Canada’s military contribution to fight ISIS (a feeble one at best, it should be noted, with a mere six CF-18 fighter jets deployed).

Taleb Although the Syrian refugee crisis has been ongoing for over four years, its recent surge in numbers combined with the international media’s coverage and the deaths of two little boys has brought it front and centre for politicians.

To borrow from Nassim Nicholas Taleb (pictured) this is tantamount to a Black Swan event for Prime Minister Harper. Harper, his aides and his party (make that Canada for that matter) didn’t see the crisis coming. But to add to Harper’s woes has been his intransigence to adapt and respond effectively to how Canada, one of the richest countries on our planet, can assist in accepting large numbers of Syrian refugees.

Taleb’s deep thinking about societal and economic effects resulting from major change events provides valuable leadership lessons for those leading organizations or nations. He uses the term Fragilista as someone who is fragile and non-adaptive. An “Antifragilista,” in contrast, is an individual who is able to quickly adjust to unpredictable events. Here are a few of Taleb’s thoughts:

You get pseudo-order when you seek order; you only get a measure of order and control when you embrace randomness.

Complex systems are full of interdependencies–hard to detect–and nonlinear responses.
Man-made complex systems tend to develop cascades and runaway chains of reactions that decrease, even eliminate, predictability and cause outsized events.

An annoying aspect of the Black Swan problem… is that the odds of rare events are simply not computable. We know a lot less about hundred-year floods than five-year floods.

Antifragility is not just the anti-dote to the Black Swan; understanding it makes us less intellectually fearful in accepting the role of these events as necessary for history, technology; knowledge, everything.

We didn’t get where we are today thanks to policy makers–but thanks to the appetite for risks and errors of a certain class of people we need to encourage, protect, and respect.

Take time to watch this fascinating video of Taleb speaking on the topic of black swans and the impact of the highly improbable.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has reacted entirely to the Syrian refugee crisis. It has been only because of the outrage expressed by most Canadians against his government that Harper finally on September 12 announced a program to help address the crisis. It’s still inadequate but at least it’s a start. Harper, in Taleb’s words, is a Fragilista. He has not now nor in the past over nearly 10 years proven to be very adaptable as the head of a nation.

The essence of effective leadership, regardless of industrial sector or level within the organization, is adaptability to strange, weird or unpredictable events. Our world will not become more predictable in the future but even more unpredictable. Add to this is interdependency, driven by the globalization of trade, technology and climate change. Black Swan events will continue to arrive, thrusting new immediate demands for change on leaders.

Protect your Achilles Heel by strengthening your ability to adapt.

When you ask people, ‘What’s the opposite of fragile?,’ they tend to say robust, resilient, adaptable, solid, strong. That’s not it. The opposite of fragile is something that gains from disorder.

– Nassim Nicholas Taleb

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.

DSCN2815Take a moment to meet Jim.

Real Leaders Take Effective Action: The Syrian Refugee Crisis

September 7, 2015
Syrians The past four and a half years have been a horror show for Syrians. The Bashar al-Assad dictatorship has withstood the feeble, empty threats from President Barack Obama. Other major Western leaders have muttered their disapproval of al-Assad’s state-sanctioned slaughter of civilians, using everything in their arsenal from jet fighters to helicopter gunships to barrel bombs. The result to date has been close to a quarter million Syrian civilians killed.

At the time of writing, the European Union is struggling to respond to the refugee crisis. Over three million Syrians have escaped to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. Turkey, alone, has over 2.1 million refugees. The media has shown vivid photography of boatloads of refugees attempting to land on the shores of Greece and Turkey. Hungary has taken a tough approach by shutting down its train stations and taking refugees to holding camps. Indeed, on Saturday (September 5th) Syrian refugees fled from Hungary to be welcomed with open arms by Austrians and Germans.

In Canada, your correspondent’s home country, the refugee crisis blew into the open during the first week of September with the tragic drownings of Alan and Kalib Kurdi (three and five years old, respectively) and their mother, Reham. The iconic photo of little Alan face down on a Turkish beach, later lifted into the arms of a military police officer, captivated the world (your correspondent chose not to display this photo due to its ubiquitous display and the resulting emotion it has wrought).

The boys’ parents had tried to obtain refugee status in Canada but got bogged down with red tape with the United Nations. The parents, through a relative living in Canada, had submitted a letter to Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Chris Alexander, who rejected their request. However, as the boy’s aunt, who now lives in British Columbia, stated in a news interview following their deaths, “It’s not just the fault of Canada; the whole world is to blame.”

Refugees Canada has the advantage of having the ability to be pro-active when it comes to assisting refugees. This is in contrast to Europe, which is forced into being reactive when refugees can walk across borders or take relatively short boat trips.

Unfortunately, Canada is in the midst of a federal election campaign (date set for October 19). Naturally, politicians engage in supreme hyperbole during such campaigns, and when tragedies occur such as the drowning of the little Syrian boys, fingers start getting pointed. It’s a fair comment for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government to receive criticism. His Minister of Immigration has proven to be a public relations disaster when interviewed.

Minister Chris Alexander’s partisanship and disrespect to anyone who challenges him is especially reprehensible when one steps back and considers the impact of the refugee crisis and how long it has gone on. Prime Minister Harper, who managed to display some emotion during a press conference following the world-wide reporting of the boys’ drownings, still emphasized the military aspect of the refugee crisis. That’s fine, except that Canada’s contribution to fighting ISIS is nothing short of a joke (six CF-18 fighter jets and support crews were deployed overseas).

Obama Syria What has been glaringly absent during what is tantamount to a world crisis is leadership. The United States’ impotent response to assisting refugees is shocking (see below). The Republican primary, with the media’s obsession with Donald Trump, is a pornographic exercise.

Great Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron is slowly coming to the realization that the planet has a problem. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel is the only national leader who has grabbed the bull by the horns. Here’s a quick summary of what six of the G7 countries (Japan is the 7th) have done since 2011 with respect to accepting Syrian refugees to their countries:

• Germany 185,000
• France 5,000
• UK 4,866
• Canada 2,300
• U.S. 1,046
• Italy 650

Note: The focus of this leadership post is on Syrian refugees. It needs mention, however, that the United Nations estimates there were 19.5 million refugees in 2014 (up by 3 million from 2013). Turkey hosted the largest number of refugees (1.6 million). Afghanistan, which was the biggest source of refugees for three decades, was overtaken by Syria by the end of 2014.

The appallingly low number (1,046) by the United States, supposedly the greatest power on Earth, the richest country and the “Land of the Free,” would be laughable were it not for the seriousness of the problem. In terms of Syrian refugees accepted as a percentage of national population, the U.S. has admitted 0.00000332 percent. Canada isn’t much better at 0.0000657 (be sure to count the zeros). In contrast, Germany is at 0.0023 percent. A huge difference.

But leadership isn’t just needed at the national level; it’s also desperately needed at the provincial-state levels, and also at the municipal level. This is where one municipal leader shone through the haze of bureaucratic indecision many years ago. That city was Ottawa, Ontario, the capital of Canada.

Marion Dewar Meet Marion Dewar (pictured), mayor from 1978 to 1985 (and a member of Parliament from 1986 to 1988). Previously a public health nurse, Dewar initiated Project 4000 in 1979 during the Vietnam-Cambodia-Laos refugee crisis in the mid-late seventies. The project’s name represented the 4,000 Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians who were brought to Ottawa and matched with Canadian sponsors. In total, Canada accepted 50,000 refugees from those countries in 1979-80.

Dewar, who died in September 2008, was a hands-on municipal leader. Project 4000 faded into Canadian history, and is unknown outside the country. Yet it is a powerful example of what a municipality can do–and indeed did accomplish–in a short timeframe. Mayor Dewar recognized there was a huge problem on the world stage: national leaders were not moving fast enough, and that action needed to be taken immediately.

Ottawa’s current mayor, Jim Watson, has revived Marion Dewar’s Project 4000 by stating that the city should consider doing something similar with the Syrian refugees. However, Watson’s tepid suggestion needs to be much bolder. Toronto’s mayor John Tory, along with at least three other mayors, has also started talking about seizing the moment to do something concrete in response to the crisis (Tory and his wife are sponsoring a family themselves).

Community and church groups are actively working to bring in sponsored refugees. Witness the story of Nabil Al Dabei, his wife, Manal, and their four children. Because they are Melkite Catholic Christians, they were in fear of persecution by Islamic jihadists in Syria. A relative, Shadi Al Khali, who lives in Canada approached several church groups to sponsor the Al Dabei family. He was finally able to get one church, St. Basils, to do so. Consider that the cost of sponsoring a family of six is around $40,000. The family now lives in Ottawa in an apartment, ready to contribute to Canadian society.

At the time of writing, protest marches are being held this weekend across Canada to insist that the federal government act immediately. Canadians, who have been asleep on the refugee crisis taking place on the other side of the Atlantic, are finally waking up. But it took the tragic deaths of two little boys and their mother and the international media’s coverage to propel people to rise up.

Marion Dewar didn’t waste time some 35 years ago when she saw an urgent need for action to address a crisis. She acted immediately.

That’s real leadership.

Don’t wait to be told what to do.

Take action. Create a partnership with those who share your vision. Then engage others.

But do something.

We cannot look at Syria, and the evil that has arisen from the ashes of indecision, and think this is not the lowest point in the world’s inability to protect and defend the innocent.

– Angelina Jolie (Actress, speaking to the UN Security Council on April 24, 2015)

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 FBTake a moment to meet Jim.

Should Corporations be Socially Responsible?

August 30, 2015
CSR The debate over whether corporations should pay attention to issues outside of profit maximization and increasing shareholder value has been around for decades. Indeed, your faithful correspondent recalls taking a course on business social responsibility in 1977, as part of his undergraduate degree in economics. Since then, what has been labeled as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has come in and out of the limelight, depending on economic conditions and which political party is in power.

While the topic of environmentalism has injected itself into the broad debate in recent years, catapulted by concerns over climate change’s impact on rising sea levels and droughts around the world, it has also had to contend with the slow recovery following the 2008-09 Great Recession. Weak job growth and anemic family income growth? Not a whole lot of interest in the environment; perhaps mostly lip service.

Governments have proven to be mostly impotent at stimulating job growth, in particular Canada’s federal government. America’s highly dysfunctional Congress, despite its valiant attempts to ruin the world’s oldest non-interrupted democracy, has largely failed. Post Great Recession, the U.S. economy has steadily regrouped, more recently growing at a respectable rate, except for the persistence of high youth unemployment. When you have a huge economy, composed of some 315 million people, a strong work ethic and a tremendous capacity for innovation, even the most vile politicians cannot undo the will of the people and, by corollary, entrepreneurship and business.

When it comes to the pernicious problem of youth unemployment, a stain on any supposed democracy, public servants have only to hang their heads in collective shame. Your correspondent devoted many years in his former life working on labor market trends and forecasting jobs of the future. Sorry to inform you that it’s all smoke and mirrors. The world has become too volatile and unpredictable, with the complexities of technology’s impacts, not to forget the emergence of newly developed countries, to try to achieve any half-assed clue on what the job market will require in a few short years.

The same problems yours truly was tackling in 1981 are essentially the same as with today, except young people have much higher real (inflation-adjusted) student debts, fewer actual job opportunities (opposed to working under-employed) and brutally high entrance costs to owning a home.

Teenage university student looking for work

Teenage university student looking for work

So what progress is being made on the youth unemployment problem? Not a whole lot from the U.S. government, and virtually nothing from Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

What sets the U.S. apart from Canada, especially most recently, is the business community stepping forward to help take on the challenge of sustained high youth unemployment.

At the beginning of August 2015, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced a plan by his company and 16 other firms to give jobs, apprenticeships and internships to 100,000 young Americans over the next three years. The bureaucratically corny 100,000 Opportunities Initiative is just the most recent example of American business stepping forward to contribute to creating jobs.

Lest anyone think that this is the brainchild of Schultz or other CEOs, take note that in 2014 some 200 European companies launched a program aimed at creating job, internship and training opportunities for young people: the Alliance for Youth. According to the CEO of Nestle Europe, Laurent Freixe: “We are confident that more than 100,000 opportunities will be given in the coming years, but it should go beyond that.”

Although the U.S. and Canada have unacceptedly high youth unemployment rates, in many European countries it exceeds 25%. The challenge is more daunting across the ocean, especially in light of Freixe’s comment: “We need to turn our kids into brilliant digital entrepreneurs.”

These well-intended (self-serving, according to skeptics) initiatives are juxtaposed against other weird occurrences in corporate land in the United States. For example, Walmart still sells assault rifles in the U.S., which contrasts sharply with its do-gooder attempt at improving the public perception that it exploits its employees, typically in the lower income strata.

Walmart is supposedly increasing the pay and improving the benefits of its massive 2.1 million workforce (1.4 million in the U.S.), a company with $485 billion in sales in 2014. Impressively, this extra-ordinary accomplishment exceeds the combined state expenditures of Texas, New York State and California. Astonishingly, Walmart’s employees cost U.S. taxpayers an estimated $6.2 billion in public assistance, including food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing (Americans for Tax Fairness, 2014).

Schultz What about Starbucks, whose re-installed chairman Howard Schultz (pictured), a made-in-America story of rags to riches, the son of a vacuum cleaner salesman, which provides ample ambivalent views from a broad spectrum of society? The company, despite its slick marketing, demanding product prices and high expectations of its employees, consistently provides high quality service (attested to by yours truly who has visited Starbucks locations across North America)

To boot, Starbucks is almost unique among employers in the service sector in that it has provided benefits to most of its employees and recently introduced a continuous learning program in partnership with Arizona State University.

Okay, let’s get it out in the open. Howard Schultz, though undoubtedly well-meaning and hoping to address a systemic problem dating back hundreds of years, misfired on his Race Together campaign. This naïve attempt to open conversations on race, in the midst of extremely heated debates resulting from the murders of numerous African Americans by police, in Starbucks stores drew immediate scorn from a wide swath of America–and around the world. With its tail between its legs, Starbucks rapidly withdrew and killed the campaign.

One can argue from here to eternity about what should be the role of business in society. Capitalist diehards will argue that the role of the corporation is to maximize shareholder wealth. Do-gooders will exclaim that corporations need to take a bigger view, embracing concerns for the environment and society, and not just profits.

The late Milton Friedman, an adherent to the tenets of the Chicago School of Economics , exclaimed: “The problem of social organization is how to set up an arrangement under which greed will do the least harm, capitalism is that kind of a system.”

Yet Jack Welch, retired hard-ass CEO of General Electric who fired tens of thousands of employees during his tenure, yet who rebuilt the company to success, saw it differently. Take a moment to read this Bloomberg Businessweek interview with Welch on the obsession with shareholder value .

Should corporations, despite any self-serving motives, engage in responding to society’s ills? Or should they restrain themselves, content to focus on serving their shareholders? And if they are to self-initiate to contribute to society do we have the right to criticize them?

Take a moment to share your thoughts.

In my view the successful companies of the future will be those that integrate business and employees’ personal values. The best people want to do work that contributes to society with a company whose values they share, where their actions count and their views matter.

– Jeroen van der Veer, Committee of Managing Directors (Shell)

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 TaggartTake a moment to meet Jim.

Leadership Pairing: Connecting the Right Hand to the Left

August 23, 2015

Superman Let’s dispel a myth at the outset: there is NO Superman–or Superwoman. Created in 1933 (1959 for Supergirl), these are fictional characters who have brought fun and enjoyment to the masses over many decades.

The same concept applies to leaders of organizations and mass movements.

No human being has ever proved to be the omnipresent perfect leader, capable of creating a crystal clear strategic vision; captivating and engaging employees, stakeholders or citizens; serving with rock solid integrity devoid of any deviations; precise and transparent communication; empathy and humor; and humbleness.

It’s a pretty tall order. Sure there are plenty of top leaders in business, government and not-for-profit organizations who have been pretty solid and effective. But we’re human beings, each of us bringing our own baggage to the dance–the result of our upbringing, life experiences and education. Yet we still have huge expectations of those at, or near, the top of the pyramid. Whether in public life or running big companies, we demand that top managerial leaders are nothing short of perfect.

thumbnail Henry Mintzberg (pictured), Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, has a lengthy background in leadership empirical research. From his PhD dissertation over 35 years ago on what managers actually do in the course of carrying out their daily responsibilities to recent research, Mintzberg has remained focused on studying the practical necessities of managerial leadership.

He’s not one to mince words. The long lists of attributes and characteristics of leaders sparked Mintzberg to assert in a CBC Radio interview: “…Superman’s abilities are modest in comparison. We list everything imaginable.”

The late Peter Drucker, the 20th Century’s pre-eminent management thinker, understood the interrelationship between management and leadership. He didn’t believe that management and leadership could be separated, stating it’s “…nonsense, as much nonsense as separating management from entrepreneurship. Those are part and parcel of the same job. They are different to be sure, but only as different as the right hand from the left or the nose from the mouth. They belong to the same body.”

When we consider the demands placed on top leaders in a volatile and increasingly unpredictable world, it’s easy to understand that the individual at the top of the pyramid benefits from a close second-in-command who complements his or her skills. The attributes of leadership need to be interwoven with those of management–the right hand with the left hand.

I’ve written previously on one of the world’s greatest contemporary innovators: Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal, Tesla, SpaceX and Solar City. Musk isn’t the easiest dude to work for. To say he can be a prick would be a complement for this incredibly gifted visionary and hugely impatient CEO and entrepreneur.

Musk’s biggest challenge is to colonize Mars. SpaceX has done spectacularly well in its launches, being the prime supplier of the International Space Station, as well as carrying satellites to geo-synchronous orbit for a variety of organizations. As an acutely impatient visionary, Musk needs someone who fully understands his vision and eccentricities, and who’s able to execute flawlessly on his behalf.

Shotwell Gwynne Shotwell (pictured) doesn’t mince her words. As the Chief Operating Office of SpaceX, she’s on a mission – to Mars. Her boss, Elon Musk, is the most visionary CEO on Planet Earth. Musk is often intolerably difficult and prickly, not only to employees and peers, but experts in the aviation industry, politicians and anyone else who gets in his way.

Shotwell, on the top 100 list of Power Women 2015, graduated from Northwestern University with degrees in mechanical engineering and applied mathematics. She was the seventh employee hired by SpaceX when it was formed in 2002. Previously she was Aerospace Corporation for over 10 years.

Tough and smart as she is, Shotwell also has the ability to bring Musk’s Mars vision from 40,000 feet to ground level to engage and motivate SpaceX employees and new recruits. Her role includes embedding SpaceX’s culture in the hearts and minds of employees, a vital necessity as the company grows larger and competes against aerospace giants. Here she is speaking bluntly to about 100 interns who were brought into the cafeteria (from Ashlee Vance’s book Elon Musk):

“Our competitors are scared shitless of us. The behemoths are going to have to figure out how to get it together and compete. And it is our job to have them die. [In reference to the new Falcon Heavy rocket] Make sure your output is high. If we’re throwing a bunch of shit in your way, you need to be mouthy about it. That’s not a quality that’s widely accepted elsewhere, but it is at SpaceX.

If you hate people and think human extinction is okay, then fuck it. Don’t go to space. If you think it’s worth humans doing some risk management and finding a second place to live, then you should be focused on this issue.”

(If you think Shotwell’s cursing is out of line, then don’t go near Musk since he’s a practitioner of the “F” shot.)

The people in the cafeteria loved it, firing intelligent questions at Shotwell.

That’s engagement.

Sandberg Another example of leadership pairing is what I’ll call the odd couple, where the second in command has a longer resume than the organization’s leader. The irony continues as the founder and top dog exhibited for several years acute immaturity and shyness when facing the public and the media. And then there’s the continuing issue of privacy, an elastic concept in the social media world.

Sheryl Sandberg (pictured) has been a vital asset to Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook. Granted, Zuckerberg for the most part has stopped the profuse sweating, unblinking eyes and robotic behavior that became a trademark of his earlier interviews. Sandberg, 45 years of age, is extremely savvy and an excellent communicator. She’s engaging, smart and highly likeable when interviewed. Her COO position and communications skills have enabled her to divert much of the shitstream that has been aimed at Facebook, from the media to privacy commissioners in Canada and other countries.

When it comes to leading large companies, the public continues to maintain an unreasonable reverence and expectation of the top leader. Consider the mercurial Steve Jobs, who, like Elon Musk, was often brutal on employees and those close to him. Jobs had his weaknesses, in addition to his temperament and immaturity, in terms of running Apple. It’s why Tim Cook, current CEO, rose to prominence from when he was hired in 1998.

Cook’s first role with Apple was Senior Vice President for Worldwide Operations. Focused on reducing manufacturing costs and improving efficiencies, he shut down plants and warehouses, outsourcing these activities to contractors. In 2007, Cook was promoted to Chief Operating Officer, subsequently acting as CEO while Jobs was sick, and then assumed the position of CEO in January 2011. Over the past four years, Tim Cook’s performance has been solid, keeping Apple in its role as a major innovator.

Let’s therefore dispel the myth of CEO as Superman or Superwoman, and acknowledge that organizations function best when the right hand and left hand of the best qualities of top leaders are connected.

What makes Superman a hero is not that he has power, but that he has the wisdom and the maturity to use the power wisely. From an acting point of view, that’s how I approached the part.

– Christopher Reeve (actor)

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 FBTake a moment to meet Jim.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 559 other followers