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Leadership 2014: Meet Five Incredible Young Leaders

January 4, 2015

Young people laughing 2014 was a year many of us would like to leave behind, forgetting many of the unfortunate events, large and small, that affected people locally and around the world. Rather than talking about the past, let’s talk about the future and what young people are contributing to making our world a better place.

Young people are showing amazing leadership across a wide spectrum. From a young man who is focused on reducing electronics waste to a young woman who is fighting against the adoption of GMO food to an entrepreneur who’s stormed the apparel world, young people are making things happen, often starting out in their early teens. And they’re not waiting to ask permission from adults, or even necessarily asking for their help.

Let’s get started.

Leslie Dewan Leslie Dewan: CEO, Trans Atomic Power

Named as one of TIME’s top under 30 leaders changing the world, Dewan earned a Ph.D in nuclear engineering before age 30. Her degrees are from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (mechanical and nuclear). In 2011, she co-founded Transatomic Power in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

As CEO, she’s leading the company’s research into the design and development of a molten salt reactor which converts nuclear waste into electric power. Called the Waste Annihilating Molten Salt Reactor, it will use liquid fuel composed of primarily spend fuel rods from U.S. light water reactors. According to Dewan, this would contain enough energy to power the United States for some 70 years. Her aim is to have an environmentally-friendly reactor within a decade.

Jason Li Jason Li: Founder and CEO, iReTron

Jason’s deep concern with the disposal of electronics and their environmental impact prompted him to create in his second year of high school. The online company pays cash for hundreds of kinds of electronic devices, from cell phones to laptops to tablets, and then sells or recycles them. His work has taken him to a variety of countries where he’s shared his ideas and concept. Take a moment to watch this two minute promo clip developed by Jason.

The company’s promise explains in detail how iReTron serves its customers. A customer simply enters the device they wish to get rid of, sees what iReTron will pay and then uses a USPS sticker to mail it to the company. Payment is usually made within a week once the item is inspected.

Earlier in 2014 Li appeared on Shark Tank, where he received an investment of $100,000 from sharks Mark Cuban and Barbara Corcoran. Now studying at the University of Chicago, Jason Li continues to build his business, helping to address the mounting problem of electronics waste.

Amy Paradis Amy Paradis: Bionic Woman

Amy Paradis’ life made a drastic turn on December 26, 2009, when a young man with a suspended licence crashed his parents’ car at 133 km per hour. The Windsor, Nova Scotia, teen was removed by other passengers (there were six in the car). Her injuries made her a paraplegic, and she was told that she’d never walk again.

Enter science and new technological developments which show huge promise for those unable to walk. In 2014, four years after her horrific car accident, Paradis, now 20, stood for the first time with the aid of what’s called an exoskeleton suit. Over the course of a few hours she walked 336 steps.

Amy Paradis promised herself and her family and friends that she would walk one day. No one thought it possible just a year or two ago. Paradis has surprised everyone. And with the aid of the EKSO Bionic Suit (only two in Canada and 75 worldwide), invented in California, she can move forward with her life, in more ways than one.

Rachel Parent Rachel Parent: Advocate against GMO foods

It doesn’t matter whether you’re pro or con GMO (genetically modified organism) foods; what’s outstanding about Rachel Parent is her principled stand on an issue of great importance to her. Parent began her campaign against GMO food at the age of only 12. Her website Kids Right to Know aims to educate young people about health and the need for proper food labelling. Take a moment to read her personal note on her website.

Parent doesn’t engage in mud-slinging or name calling, in contrast to Canadian businessman Kevin O’Leary (and former member of CBC’s Dragon’s Den). Instead, Parent is highly articulate, rational and focused on arguing for what she believes. Watch this video clip of her taking on Kevin O’Leary on the former Lang-O’Leary Exchange in 2013. It was one of those rare occasions where O’Leary was eventually silenced. Also watch this one minute clip where she promotes her slug fest with O’Leary.

Mo Bo Mo’s Bows: Founder and CEO

Moziah Bridges may only be 12 years old, but this budding entrepreneur has a highly infectious and enthusiastic personality. Mo’s Bows was founded in 2011 in Memphis with the assistance of his grandmother and her wizardry with a sewing machine. Within a short span, Moziah had sold some 5,000 bow ties, earning the business $90,000.

Each of his designs is named, for example, Reed Bold Gingham. Mo’s Bows are not cheap, both in price and quality. These are upscale bow ties with a healthy niche market.

Bridges appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank in 2013. Rather than offering an investment, Damon John offered to mentor Moziah, arguing that this was the better route instead of taking equity in the business. This contrasted with Kevin O’Leary’s usual approach of wanting royalties, which was the competing offer. Moziah wisely chose Damon John’s offer, one that will undoubtedly reap huge benefits in the coming years.

Bridges’ vision, as he expressed to the Sharks is to complete a line of men’s clothing by the time he reaches twenty years of age and to be enrolled in college.

Aitzaz In Memoriam: He Saved Lives by Giving His

Halfway around the world the scene is vastly different for young people who wish to get an education and improve their economic well-being.

He was only 15 years old. All he wanted to do was go to school that fateful day.

And then he saw the suicide bomber.

Without hesitating, 15 year-old Aitzaz Hasan threw himself on top of the bomber in front of his school’s main gates. The suicide bomber was wearing a vest containing explosives and shrapnel. Hasan later died in the hospital; the bomber was killed immediately. Amazingly only two people were injured.

Aitzaz Hasan’s selfless action that day saved dozens, if not hundreds, from injury or death in Ibrahimzai, a Shite village in northwestern Pakistan.

Moving Forward

Take some time to reflect on these young people and their accomplishments–and personal sacrifice in one instance–portrayed in this beginning of the New Year post.

What particularly inspires you from the stories of these young people?

What topic or issue would you like to explore further for your own leadership growth?

What are you waiting for?

Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

– Viktor Frankl (Man’s Search for Meaning)

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Know Fear as a Leader

December 21, 2014
Woman in Fear To say that the workplace has changed a lot in the past decade, with more changes imminent, should not come as a surprise to most people. It’s almost become a trite statement to talk about the rapid changes that organizations have undergone. People – managers and staff – know this. They live it every day at work and in their personal lives.

But what’s not been talked about very much in the past is the issue of fear in organizations. When it’s addressed in the literature it’s often in the context of learning. The aspect of managerial leadership and its link to fear has not been written about widely, and when it is discussed it is not given enough attention. Kathleen Ryan and Daniel Oestreich have carried out extensive on this topic over many years, producing several books under the theme Driving Fear Out of the Workplace.

They define fear in the workplace as: “feeling threatened by possible repercussions as a result of speaking up about work-related concerns.” Their research found that almost three quarters of those interviewed said that they hesitated to speak up because they expected some form of repercussion. However, the authors’ finding is that in most cases the “intimidating” behaviors managers show are done unconsciously. There’s also the aspect of perceptions held by employees who have come from traditional, hierarchical organizations where repressive management practices occur. As one manager stated during an interview: “No one tries to manage by fear. Our behavior is avoidance for the most part and people become afraid because of it.”

The subject of fear in the workplace centers around what Ryan and Oestreich call the “undiscussables.” These are the issues that people are afraid to discuss. They come in two forms. First, there’s the problem of someone who hesitates to bring into the open and talk to those who can help resolve it. Second, because the problem is not being discussed, it becomes a barrier to people doing their work properly because interpersonal relationships have become broken.

Man under Desk People do in fact talk about the “undiscussables.” But this is done privately in coffee rooms, hallways, washrooms, pubs, or at home. Ryan and Oestreich note: “We have come to view undiscussables as the window through which it is possible to see the dynamics that frighten people at work.” The biggest undiscussable, according to their research, was management practice. Following well behind were co-worker performance and pay issues, along with several others. Within management practice, the focus was on the interpersonal style of the boss. Other elements in this category included: how decisions were made, favoritism, heavy workloads, and ethics.

The main themes that emerged from their research were:
a) people found it very difficult to speak to their managers about their management style;
b) there was no significant difference in undiscussables at the various levels of the organization;
c) problems with co-workers were less of a problem than with bosses.

With respect to the last theme, they note that as organizations become flatter they expect co-workers relations and performance issues to become more of a problem.

Ryan and Oestreich make a key observation when they state: “One of the reasons why concerns about management show up so often is that they are symbolic of a culture of mistrust and blame….When employees focus on self-interest and see their bosses as the competition, they will not be concerned about making creative contributions to the organization. ‘Them versus us’ thinking does not lead to collaborative problem solving.”

So where does that leave the issue of fear in organizations? Two other authors Richard Whiteley and Diane Hessan talk about what they call four elements of Contact Leadership. The managerial leader who practices and lives by these qualities will help banish fear from the workplace, instilling in its place a climate of commitment, openness, and innovation. These qualities are:

1. A passion to connect with customers and employees. The managerial leader doesn’t just want to hear about what is going on but is actively involved in the work.

2. A deep commitment to creating meaning for employees in clear and tangible terms. The leader ensures that staff understand where they fit in the bigger picture and the overall vision for the organization.

3. An ability to mobilize employees and to help them grow through challenging work. The leader goes beyond enabling her staff. She is able to get them aligned and pointed towards the same goal.

4. An ability to inspire employees and to encourage them to become leaders. This means creating a climate of shared leadership in the organization.

Woman Showing Eye The key to moving beyond the paralyzing effects of fear in the workplace is for leaders to acknowledge it exists, commit to eliminating it through participative management practices and put it into action through a transparent process. Organized labor, if present in the workplace, needs to be actively included. Stakeholders, too, such as suppliers and corporate partners, must also be part of the process.

Fear has no place in companies; they have their hands full trying to maintain their market share in a competitive environment. The public sector has specific and daunting challenges trying to control spending while meeting the needs and wants of citizens. Fear among public servants is an anvil around management’s neck in its effort to become more efficient in delivering services and programs.

And the first place to start is for those in leadership position to Know Fear.

Instead of creating “us and them” distinctions, people talk in terms of ‘we.’ In spirit, people assume that “we’re all in this together.”

– Kathleen Ryan and Daniel Oestreich

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The Elusiveness of Leadership

December 14, 2014
Guy Jumping When your correspondent entered the leadership field in the early nineties, not long after starting work as a middle manager, the economy was rebounding from a recession and a new buzz around leadership was emerging. Fueled by the writings of a growing cast of respected thinkers, this buzz not only re-introduced the writings of such luminaries as Peter Drucker, Mary Parker Follett and Jay Forrester, but also sought to explore the interconnection between leadership and management.

Companies and governments, at all levels, talked about reinventing themselves using such concepts as Business Process Re-engineering, employee empowerment and shared (distributed) leadership. Corporate training budgets exploded. And not long afterwards a new book hit the market, one defined as the seminal management-leadership book of the 20th Century: Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization.

It’s worthwhile, however, to put in context that the hyperbole surrounding leadership in the nineties and 2000s was just that–largely hyperbole. This is not to subtract from the phenomenal work of Peter Senge and other great contemporary thinkers such as John Kotter, Margaret Wheatley and Rosabeth Moss Kanter.

Woman on Ladder The study of leadership and its cousin management was very active decades before. Witness the late Warren Bennis’ comment about the reply he received on telling a friend about his intent to study leadership at the University of Southern California. His friend borrowed from Justice Potter Stewart’s comment about pornography in the motion picture industry: “Look, the only thing we can ever say about leadership is that it’s like pornography. You can’t describe it. You can’t define it. But you know it when you see it. ”

Today, while much has changed in organizations as a result of intense global competition, geo-politics and technological advancements, leadership is still being actively debated. If you ask someone what traits they look for in a leader, a typical response might include, integrity, honesty, openness, vision, trust, self-awareness, adaptability, dependability, decisiveness and self-confidence.

The skills an effective leader should possess would include empathetic listening, strong communication, consensus-building, initiating change, breaking down barriers, persuasiveness and conceptual thinking.

Indeed, the list of leadership qualities is almost endless. Eugene Jennings, in a 1961 article entitled The Anatomy of Leadership noted: “Fifty years of study have failed to produce one personality trait or set of qualities that can be used to discriminate leaders and non-leaders.” Or, as McGill University’s Henry Mintzberg once noted about the endless traits attached to leadership, those of Superman would appear modest.

While the study of what constitutes key leadership qualities continues, extensive research conducted by Warren Bennis during the early eighties discovered four key traits, or areas of competence, that were shared by the 90 leaders he studied.

1) The ability to communicate a sense of outcome and direction for followers.

2) The ability to create and communicate meaning with clarity and understanding.

3) The ability to be dependable and consistent in behavior.

4) The ability to understand oneself thoroughly, both weaknesses and strengths.

Woman with Thumb Up Bennis believed that leaders must create an environment that makes people feel they have something valuable to offer and that they’re part of a larger team effort. He also observed that a new collaborative style of leadership is needed as intellectual capital becomes the key element of success for organizations.

This brings us to today’s turbulent world, characterized by speed of decision-making, corporate partnerships that span borders, and technology’s impact on how work is performed and where companies locate their operations.

Academics and the big-thinkers will continue to deliberate on just what is leadership–and its distinction yet complementarity with management. But in the meantime corporate leaders will get on with business, ensuring that their companies remain relevant in a rapidly evolving global economy.

The great myth is the manager as orchestra conductor. It’s this idea of standing on a pedestal and you wave your baton and accounting comes in, and you wave it somewhere else and marketing chimes in with accounting, and they all sound very glorious. But management is more like orchestra conducting during rehearsals, when everything is going wrong.

Henry Mintzberg

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Should Work-Life Integration Replace Work-Life Balance?

December 7, 2014
Work-Life-Balance-Sign-post People have a love for fads, whether it was the Hula Hoop in the late fifties, the big hair bands of the 80s or the moon shoes of the nineties. When it comes to workplace issues, we become enthralled with new ideas which often get blindly adopted without first thinking through the implications. Work-life balance has been one hot topic that has been talked about ad nauseam for the past few decades. Indeed, the concept was conceived in Great Britain in the late seventies, but didn’t find its way into Canada and the US until the mid-eighties.

Your correspondent became a follower of the concept many years ago as part of leadership development and change management work. A few years before retiring from the Government of Canada, he found himself part of an interdepartmental advisory committee on work-life balance. In addition to public servants on the committee, some respected people were members, representing academia and not-for-profit organizations.

As we proceeded through a series of meetings, supplemented by analytical studies on the scope of the problem of work-life imbalance in different sectors of the Canadian economy, I began to realize that this was a case of the converted talking to the converted. What became glaringly clear to me over time was that despite all the hype being espoused by senior management about the importance of work-life balance, the reality was that it was all talk.

Demanding-Boss What is valued in the Government of Canada, as typically with provincial governments, is serving upwards, namely, the deputy minister and minister via senior management. The situation is undoubtedly no different in the United States, Australia or Great Britain. The senior management mantra that citizens are the core focus of government is a feeble attempt to deflect public servants from what they know is the truth: serve upwards and you’ll stay out of trouble and get promoted.

But as our advisory committee discussed, sometimes quite animatedly, the reality in government is not work-life balance but rather working long hours which encroaches into the personal and family lives for those who wish to advance and be offered stimulating assignments. In other words, what’s actually valued by senior management is not the pursuit of balancing work with personal life, but a slavish devotion to the organization.

Some companies have tried to address work-life balance for their employees, such as shutting off email servers after work or limiting the use of mobile devices. However, what we’ve seen over the past two decades, and increasingly so, is the impact information technology is having on people’s lives. Many of the well-known technology firms recruit very bright young university grads with the lure of such features as teleworking, game rooms in the workplace and free cafeteria (or subsidized) food and gourmet coffee stations. Work is your second home–scratch that, work IS your home. Period.

Millennials-playing-foosball What such arrangements do to a degree is divert the employee’s head space into that of the employer’s needs. Employees spend more time at the office, and when away from the workplace they’re tethered by mobile devices and technology setups at home. Now, this is not all bad. Some of the positives of these types of arrangements are helpful to employees raising young children or those who must commute long distances to work.

The notion of work-life balance in today’s workplace, whether in the public or private sectors, is outdated. As a Dilbert cartoon puts it when the boss is speaking to Dilbert: “We’re no longer using the term work-life balance because it implies that your life is important.” Cynicism has become so embedded in the failed adoption of this concept that a new perspective is needed.

Perhaps, then, a better way to look at the challenge of determining how to best address the demands of work and those of outside of work is to frame it as work-life integration. This post in Forbes does a good job at trying to reframe the work-life balance issue.

However, before we get too excited and carried away with a new fad, and before your correspondent gets admonished for being sucked into a new management void, let’s step back and turn to someone who understood the importance of centering one’s life by identifying priorities and letting go of the unimportant.

quadrant-4-time-management Meet Stephen Covey, who unfortunately died in a cycling accident in July 2012. Covey wrote and spoke on leadership and learning over several decades. One of his best known books is The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Let’s look at one particular aspect of his work in the context of the 7 Habits: the four quadrants. Watch this six minute video which does a very good job at explaining Covey’s four quadrants. Suggestion: if you’re not familiar with the 7 Habits, take a moment to review them on the above link.

With Covey’s perspective and unique way of framing how we approach work and life’s challenges by identifying what’s important and not important, and what’s urgent and not urgent, the issue therefore is for each of us to determine where we wish to be. One person’s bad stress is another’s good stress. Introverts function differently from extroverts, in that one key distinction is that the former require down-time to recharge their personal batteries and to reflect. That was one of the key points of disagreement on the work-life balance advisory committee: determining work-life balance is a very personal decision. What may appear as an untenable working arrangement by one employee may be warmly welcomed by another.

Covey’s important work transcends workplace-organizational fads. Sometimes a framework, such as Covey’s four quadrants and his 7 habits, can help us achieve clarity in our personal lives, and in the long-term effectively address the continuous events that confront each of us. This brings me back to the title of this post: is it about work-life integration, or something bigger?

Take a moment to share your thoughts and suggestions.

The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.

– Stephen Covey

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Shopify This! An Entrepreneur who Embraces Lifelong Learning

November 30, 2014
Tobias-Lütke-shopify Tobias Lütke didn’t like high school very much. A keen snowboarder, the young German quit high school at age 16. While on a vacation to Whistler, British Columbia, Lütke met a young woman whom he would later marry. When he emigrated to Canada in 2002 he kept his programming job with Siemans, working virtually. However, not long after he decided the arrangement wasn’t working out for both sides; he decided to leave the company.

Lütke re-focused on his passion–snowboarding, deciding he would try setting up an online store to sell gear. But he ran into a problem when he discovered there was no satisfactory online portal through which to sell his products. He turned to his programmer skills and thus was born Shopify, which the company describes as “…a complete ecommerce solution that allows you to set up an online store to sell your goods.”

Shopify was born out of necessity, not out of an entrepreneurial vision formed by Lütke, who also had zero business education or experience. As he’s said in interviews, had an effective online portal been present he would have used it to sell snowboarding gear.

Shopify, located in downtown Ottawa, has experienced astounding growth in a matter of just a few years. From a gross merchandise volume (GMV) of $59 million and 6,656 online stores in 2009, the company more than doubled every subsequent year to a GMV of $3 billion and 120,000-plus online stores in 2014. In the fall of 2014, with 400-plus employees Shopify moved to bigger accommodations in the downtown core.

Shopify2 In 2014, Shopify closed a venture capital deal worth $100 million–not too shabby for a snowboarding-loving entrepreneur who had to Google financial terminology in his hotel room after meeting with venture capital investors in Silicon Valley when he was in the early stages of building Shopify.

Sure there are plenty of smart business entrepreneurs out there, whether in Canada, the United States, Europe or East Asia. Some have big-name MBA school degrees, some have business experience or a combination of both. But what sets some entrepreneurs apart from the rest is a combination of high intellect, strong people skills, passion and a compelling vision that keeps them laser-focused.

Tobias Lütke possesses these four traits as an entrepreneurial leader. However, he also has a fifth, or bonus, trait: he’s what one could call a learning sponge. He soaks in everything he encounters and learns from it. He tries out new things such as teaching himself how to play the guitar at age 32. Learning is a way of being for serious business leaders and entrepreneurs.

Shopify1 Lütke exemplifies what it means to be a lifelong learner while remaining steadfastly focused on his vision. He’s shown that he’s completely open to change and to adapting to new opportunities. As Peter Senge author of the acclaimed book The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization has said on vision: “The most effective people are those who can ‘hold’ their vision while remaining committed to seeing current reality clearly.” For more information on Peter Senge’s incredible work, see my post The Five Learning Disciplies: How They Help Us Become Better Leaders.

Shopify is a Canadian entrepreneurial success story. But there are many other such stories, perhaps not with quite the meteorite growth in such a short span of time. However, perhaps it’s important to note that as much as medium-size and large companies employ a lot of people in Canada and the US, it is small business that creates the bulk of employment growth. In Canada, small businesses make up 98% of all firms and create 77% of private sector jobs (source: Industry Canada). In the US, two thirds of the net new jobs created are in small businesses (source: Forbes).

But that hasn’t looked at what drives innovation. Steve Jobs, for example, a cantankerous visionary who continuously pushed the envelope on consumer technology products, wasn’t an “employee.” His elastic vision was always focused, fueled by a huge amount of passion and energy. You can’t clone that. You have it or you don’t.

Fortunately, Tobias Lütke lives in Canada and in my city, Ottawa. His story about entrepreneurship is fascinating and motivating. There’s lots more to come from the Shopify story.

Be open to outcome, not attached to it.

Angeles Arrien

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Tell the Truth. Always

November 24, 2014
pinocchio In Canada, the problem of lying and deception by prominent leaders is skewed into the political sphere. The United States, in contrast, is more of an equal opportunity employer, with an abundance of dishonest corporate and political leaders at all levels of government: municipal, state and federal.

It’s not that Canada’s corporate leaders are pure as the driven snow; rather, our political leaders for whatever reason have stepped up to the plate to make up for the gap.

Whether it’s Canada’s Senate (the country’s supposed upper body of sober second thought), replete with a number of Senators who were booted out because they disgraced the office they held (with a couple of them under ongoing criminal investigations) or certain municipal leaders (Toronto’s former mayor comes to mind), Canadians are getting fed up with what some may perceive as a run-away freight train of unethical and contemptuous behaviors towards citizens and taxpayers.

It’s not as easy as one might think to whip up a list of Canadian businessmen who have run afoul of the law. Sure there’s Bernard Ebbers (photo below), Canadian-born CEO of WorldCom, who ripped off investors for the tune of $100 billion and who is serving a 25 year prison sentence in Louisiana. Then there’s SNC-Lavalin (a Quebec engineering company) ex-CEO Arthur Porter, locked in in a Panamanian prison, with a Canadian arrest warrant out for his allegedly accepting $22.5 million in kickbacks relating to the company’s consulting work overseas.

Ebbers But then as hard as Canada tries, despite its relatively small population of 35 million, there’s nothing like the corruption and dishonesty that goes on south of the Canadian border. Some instances:

• Former New Jersey governor Jon Corzine, who played a role in the disappearance of billions of dollars from MF Global.

• Bernie Madoff’s $65 billion Ponzi scheme, which when discovered ruined many people’s life savings. It’s not yet known how many people at Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities knew of the scam, but it’s clear that Madoff was the mastermind. He was sentenced to 150 years in prison in 2009.

• There’s chutzpah, and then real chutzpah. Rod Blagojevich, the disgraced and now imprisoned former Illinois governor tried to “sell” the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama. Some reports say he tried to trade the seat for ambassadorships, money and positions within pro-union groups and even a $150,000 salary for his wife.

• And then there’s British ex-CEO of BP Tony Hayward, who will go down in history as perhaps the whiniest corporate head for his deceitful approach to the disastrous Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon oil spill in October 2010.

Telling the truth is not rocket science. Indeed, the irony with politicians who have lied to the public and then come clean (Toronto’s Rob Ford, anyone?) is that they often re-establish their popularity with their followers. This, however, can be a risky proposition, with the preferable route to be being open and honest from the start, no matter how hard it might appear to be.

gavel For those in the corporate world, lying to securities regulators, investors and other stakeholders (eg, unions, employees, suppliers and rating agencies) is a fool’s exercise, only to be eventually uncovered, with increasingly calamitous consequences if you reside in the United States–prison. Canada’s judicial system still treats while collar crime with kids gloves; the same with crooked politicians.

The mark of a true leader, whether in the public, non-profit or private sectors, is to be always open and honest with those who have direct and indirect stakes in your organization. You may not always be popular with certain decisions you make, but you will be respected. Lying and manipulation will get you nowhere in the end, unless you enjoy a shattered reputation and, in some cases “three squares a day” (namely prison). And of course, the harm imposed on those closest to you, from spouses, to children to parents is incalculable.

Being open and transparent invites reciprocity from your followers through their deepened respect and commitment to you, the leader.

No legacy is so rich as honesty.

– William Shakespeare

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Leading in a Time of Rapidly Shifting Tectonic Plates

November 17, 2014
plate-tectonics A movement at the boundary of two tectonic plates of only eight inches will set off an earthquake.

Using plate tectonics as the metaphor, what has been happening to global manufacturing over the past three decades has been a series of ongoing earthquakes. China’s rise as a major manufacturing centre by the nineties, subsuming Hong Kong and Japan and increasingly the United States, Canada and Western Europe, escalated in the 2000s to where it was the world’s manufacturing hub.

That rank stood its ground until a series of earthquakes occurred.

Nothing is static in today’s global economy. Those at the front of the pack resting on their laurels are soon being surpassed by those nations hungry to create wealth for their citizens. The list is long, but it includes such countries as Bangladesh (clothing and textiles), Vietnam (footwear), Honduras (clothing), Latvia and Estonia (IT outsourcing) and Uganda (back office processing).

The up-to-now race to the bottom of companies seeking out the cheapest manufacturing location (read labor costs) is rapidly changing to a combination of other factors besides wage rates: technology (eg, automation), energy costs and productivity improvements.

Enter a compelling new study by the Boston Consulting Group: “The Shifting Economics of Global Manufacturing.” Yeah, I know–boring stuff by economists. Okay, sure, except that we have all a stake in the outcome.

There’s good news if you live in the United States and Mexico, not so good news if you live in Canada, and crappy news if you live in China, Brazil, Russia, India and Australia. To read this report, which is actually very interesting, click here.

So what’s this have to do with leadership?


File photo of technicians working on an engine during a media tour at the inauguration of Volkswagen's 100th plant worldwide in Silao Manufacturing in Mexico and the U.S. rebounded from their previous slide in a short span of time, while other countries such as Canada and Australia have continued to limp along, because corporate leaders grabbed the bull by the horns and initiated sweeping changes (e.g., automation, mechanization and improved teamwork approaches). And it didn’t hurt that in the U.S. some governors enacted legislation reducing red tape for business start-ups, subsidies for manufacturing plant re-location and weakened the role of organized labor.

In Mexico (see photo, Volkswagen plant), the national government has negotiated 44 free trade agreements with other countries, the most anywhere on the planet. And the country’s workers have an established strong work ethic, resilience bolstered by Mexico’s long battle with the drug cartels.

Whether one agrees with some of these initiatives and practices is not the point. What is relevant is that business leaders and politicians did something. In Canada, my home country, corporate leaders in the manufacturing sector have been tortoise-like in their desire to sharpen up and engage the world. The same applies to politicians at the federal and provincial level. Navel gazing is the order of the day as the rest of the world gets on with business.

Corp Leaders In preparing this post I checked the Toronto-based Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity (ICP), a think tank that does good research on a variety of issues. Before I retired from the Government of Canada in 2010, I had been involved in a collaborative effort with the ICP, Stanford University, the London School of Economics (LSE) and federal regional development agencies. Lack of interest from the federal government killed its participation, and I retired not long after.

The ICP continued on and released a report Management Matters, which was the Canadian component of a previously released LSE international study on the importance of effective management practices in manufacturing. Unfortunately, the ICP, whose focus is on the Province of Ontario, has not furthered its research in the past four years. That’s not to fault them, however. Where the leadership gap resides at the political is with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Minister of the Department of Industry. And, as I noted above, corporate Canada has been strikingly impotent at initiating a concerted and focused effort in the manufacturing sector.

The world is too inter-connected, moving too fast in technological breakthroughs and possessing numerous economically hungry countries for wealthy countries like Canada to stand still and ponder whether there is a problem. The hungry will eat the indifferent.

Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.

– Jack Welch (Former CEO of General Electric)

Leading in Multipolar World 2nd editionClick here to download my complimentary e-book Leading in a Multi-Polar World: Four Forces Shaping Society, 2nd Edition.

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