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The Ethics of Leading a Nation: Fake Leaders Need Not Apply

April 5, 2015
Gandhi Your faithful correspondent of many years and leadership posts, moving towards the 500 mark, has attempted to stay above the political fray. However, today he’s delving deeply into the leadership political arena. What needs to be stated at the outset is that your correspondent has NO political affiliation; he’s voted across the political spectrum over the past 40 years.

Many, many years ago, when I was a young economist with the Government of Canada, a colleague who was an immigrant from Turkey remarked to me that “Canadians are sheep.” Over the succeeding decades I’ve never forgotten Zeynep’s comment that day while we were discussing politics.

Canadians ARE sheep, and Americans are not much better.


Because we’re suckers for the false, sugar-coated promises of politicians. We never seem to get it, falling once again for the same BS. Then we smack ourselves collectively in the head and say, “Not next time; I’ll vote that asshole out!” And then we do it again.

Canadians are slow learners.

What finally motivated me to write this post is a Canadian Prime Minister who is intent on destroying a not just fine but, indeed, noble country. Stephen Harper is going on 10 years as prime minister, with a federal election supposedly due for October 2015. A Conservative, Harper finally achieved his majority government in the last election (his third win), which gave him his long-sought mandate to start his make-over of Canada.

Harper Hands Up Witness his agonizing four-year downsizing of the federal public service. Over my three-decades in the federal government I was part of several down-sizing efforts, only to watch the bureaucracy explode once again. If the head of an organization wants to downsize, fine, but do so quickly and efficiently. Harper’s slow death of a thousand cuts (make that tens of thousands) has been a mind-blowing exercise in client service deterioration, mounting employee stress and floundering managerial leadership.

The sad spectacle of the Government of Canada’s 1994-96 downsizing under Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien, which saw 55,000 positions eliminated to the eventual tune of some $4 billion (despite the promise of a neutral cost saving exercise of $1.5 billion), was never picked up by Canada’s sleepy media. The public service not long afterwards started growing again under Chretien, aided and abetted by Harper when he became prime minister.

Canadians over the past decade have become suckers for false promises from Stephen Harper, believing that for some reason a “conservative” prime minister is somehow more attuned to economic and budget matters than a Liberal or New Democrat Party leader.

Absolute non-sense.

The consequence of Prime Minister Harper’s inaction on the economy is reflected in his government ignoring vitally needed investments in science and technology, innovation, infrastructure, and human capital. This inaction has led to a national economy limping along, to the point where the Governor of the Bank of Canada referred to Canada’s most recent quarter’s growth as “atrocious.”

Political leaders are invariably all learning disabled when it comes to mathematics and financial matters, with some leaders being incredibly incompetent. One recent exception is Quebec’s new premier, Philippe Couillard (a neuro surgeon), whose March 2015 budget actually seems to get it, with respect to that province’s serious debt situation. However, many Quebeckers (I grew up in Montreal) aren’t all that happy, now that the gravy train has slowed. The entitlement mindset continues. (It needs mention that Quebec is a huge recipient of federal transfer and equalization payments.)

But there are other really serious issues facing those who lead nations besides finances and pleasing the electorate.

ISIS Flag Since September 11, 2001–aka 911–attention in North America, and most of the world for that matter, has been focused on terrorism. The infamous War on Terrorism, branded by President GW Bush and his gang (note Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld) helped spawn subsequent Wars on _____. You name the cause.

Recently, the rapid rise of ISIS (ISIL, Islamic State–choose a name) has been a God-send for the media. Canada’s media has locked on to the rise of ISIS and, in effect, facilitated Stephen Harper’s desire to get Canada more deeply enmeshed in helping eradicate this scourge to human kind. This initially involved sending some 70 special forces to help train the Kurds on the front lines (resulting in one Canadian soldier being killed and three injured in a friendly fire incident in March 2015). And six CF 18s, two Aurora surveillance aircraft and one refueling plane, with 600 support crews and technicians (based in Kuwait), were also sent over to help bomb ISIS strongholds.

At the end of March, the Harper government rammed through Parliament a motion to increase Canada’s involvement by including bombing runs in Syria. There is no clear consensus by informed military and geo-political strategists that entering Syria is a wise move; indeed, some believe that it will further enable Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

Unfortunately, Prime Minister Harper has always marched to his own drum, manipulating Canadians by inventing crises when he feels cornered, such as with a weakening economy. Witness his war on crime, when in fact crime rates in Canada have dropped. According to the internationally respected Statistics Canada, Canada’s crime rates have seen a two-decade decline.

Harper’s latest invention: his version of Canada-lite war on terrorism. Check out this cogent editorial from The Globe and Mail.

Stephen Harper is a master of exploiting the latent fears that people have, such as with crime and, in Canada’s case, the more distant terrorism. On terrorism, the statistically remote probability of a Canadian being a victim (driving a car in Canada is a much more dangerous endeavor) is blown wide open into a contagion, fueled by a ratings-based media and irresponsible political leaders.

One would have thought that a Canadian Prime Minister would have learned from Canada’s painful decade-long involvement in Afghanistan post-911. Prime Minister Jean Chretien, in an effort to repel President Bush’s request for Canada to send troops to Iraq, deployed soldiers and support personnel to Kabul. Grossly underequipped and not adequately prepared for this type of deployment, Canadian soldiers did the best they could.

-PAO Not long afterwards, under Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin, Canadian troops were deployed to the far more dangerous Kandahar Province, which is where most of the deaths and injuries occurred. During Canada’s full stay in Afghanistan 158 soldiers were killed (including the first female killed in combat since WWII), 635 were wounded in battle and another 1,412 in non-combat operations. Indeed, of the coalition partners Canada suffered the highest incident rate of deaths and injuries. This was due in part to Canada’s lack of air transport, requiring land transport through IED infested areas. It was a sad testimony that Canadian troops had to rely on air transport from the Poles in some instances.

Read this National Post article from March 15, 2015, on why Canada’s current defence spending is unsustainable and why Stephen Harper’s government will have to reduce the number of missions.

There’s an old saying (credited to Albert Einstein and US President Herbert Hoover) that aptly captures the propensity of politicians to use war as a political tool. To paraphrase it in a modern sense: “Old men crave war; young men and women fight it.” Yes, women now fight in combat operations in many countries.

For those of you old enough, reflect back to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s use of the Falkland’s War (against Argentina) to rally the British during a time of political difficulties for her government. Her strategy worked marvelously.

War has been a staple of Stephen Harper’s government, along with his make believe world of out-of-control crime. And then there’s the very recent Bill C-51, Harper’s anti-terrorism legislation, which while containing some very worthwhile elements to assist CSIS (Canada’s spy service) and the RCMP to prevent terrorist strikes, is excessive in some areas, and in particular lacks sufficient judicial and parliamentary oversight. Canada stands alone on this point in contrast to other Western governments.

Disabled Soldier Finally, if there’s one obscene irony in this story it is Stephen Harper’s abject treatment of veterans who have served in Afghanistan and in other theatres of combat. It has been only through the persistence of a few brave veterans, combined with the media’s help, that the Harper government is at least getting the message. Whether the measures being drawn up and implemented (eg, PTSD treatment centres and enhanced payments to the injured) are sufficient will require some time to evaluate. The point here is that for a war-prone prime minister, Stephen Harper has become proficient at speaking out of both sides of his mouth.

True national leadership requires integrity: aligning actions with words and speaking the truth to citizens.

Let’s be straight here: it’s one thing for a head of state (Canada’s is actually Queen Elizabeth II) to assert that their country will not engage in foreign war engagements, even indirectly, and will restrain defence spending; it is quite another for, in the current case, a prime minister to adopt a muscular defence policy that pretends to actually be making a difference. Read that as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s macho posturing to increase Canada’s commitment to taking on ISIS not only in Iraq but in Syria.

Let’s do a quick rewind of history to remind us of what Canada was once capable when it came to the military. Here, I rely on one of Canada’s great historians, Conrad Black. Here’s a brief excerpt from his latest book: Rise to Greatest: The History of Canada from the Vikings to Present.

A 2630 As Minister of the Navy from 1940 to 1945, Angus L. MacDonald “…built the Royal Canadian Navy from 11 ships and 3,000 men in 1940 to 400 ships and 96,000 men in 1945….at the end, the third navy in the world in effective size….The Royal Canadian Air Force…grew between 1939 and 1945 from about 7,000 people and 29 front-line aircraft to 215,000 (including 15,000 women) and 125,000 aircraft, and was the fourth largest Allied air force….The Canadian Army, at 500,000, was also the third largest of the Western Allies in 1944.”

Put this in perspective: Canada’s population in 1945 was a mere 12 million; today it is 35 million.

National leadership matters–a lot–when things are at stake. Reflecting on where Canada is today when it comes to defence and security is a sad indictment of current national leadership, considering the attention that Prime Minister Harper is attempting to re-direct from socio-economic and environmental issues. In the vernacular to Prime Minister Harper: show me the money and the action.

What inspires me personally is how Franklin Roosevelt, one of America’s greatest presidents (read Conrad Black’s acclaimed biography on FDR), was not only so focused on what needed to be done during The Great Depression and World War II (both in support of Great Britain and post-Pearl Habor) but he actually delivered in spectacular fashion. How many national leaders can boast that? Certainly not Stephen Harper.

Canada’s current national leadership void, reinforced by a mostly rag-tag band of weak provincial premiers, is setting up a proud and wonderful country for years of pain ahead unless the situation is reversed soon. Canadians likely head to the polls this fall. We would do well to seriously contemplate who we wish to lead Canada. Getting out to vote is the next crucial step.

A good leader can engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger. You don’t have that idea when you are arrogant, superficial, and uninformed.

– Nelson Mandela

First photo: Mahatma Gandhi, pre-eminent leader of India’s independence.

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What is Your Mission?

March 29, 2015
purpose Each of us as mere mortals, existing on a 4.5 billion year-old planet in a speck of planetary time, needs to have a sense of purpose and contribution to our lives. It connects to leadership. Without contribution and purpose, we risk travelling through our short lifetimes as hitchhikers on a gorgeous Earth.

During my six decades on this planet, one thing I’ve learned about myself is that I need a sense of purpose and contribution; without these intertwined forces I feel adrift.

During my three decades with the Government of Canada, which started in 1982, I was happiest and felt the most full-filled when I knew that my work had substance, contributing to my organization’s mission. When I moved later into a management position, I felt even more energized when, after falling down a few times, I saw my team doing amazing stuff. Our clients loved our products and services.

My previous work in consumer lending, which began after university, lasted only two years. Realizing that finance companies were essentially ripping off people left me feeling dirty and confused. Plus, having to spend half my time collecting money, often from single moms whose deadbeat husbands had taken off, proved to be an exercise in observing human despair. I finally quit, all the while with a new baby girl, and went back to school to earn a Masters degree in economics. It was one of the smartest things I’ve ever done.

However, my public service career was not all roses. After almost two decades working in a small regional office, which served a region of almost 2,000 employees and where my team and I interacted regularly with the education system, companies and our provincial government colleagues, I moved to Ottawa in 2000.

Change Ahead Ottawa, Canada’s gorgeous capital, is a terrific place in which to raise a family, or to live if you’re unattached. But working in a federal government head office is an experience that leaves one feeling disconnected from reality, lacking any concrete sense of purpose and contribution.

I hit the eject button at the end of 2010, no longer wanting to be part of a dysfunctional culture. That culture has continued to deteriorate under Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Canada’s once internationally respected public service has become a sad spectacle, characterized by high levels of employee stress, lack of trust and respect, and political gamesmanship by the Harper government.

It’s about purpose and contribution in our lives. Work is but only one avenue where we may, if we’re lucky, attain it. I did okay for some 20 years in government.

Fortunately, I’ve always managed to maintain a strong sense of overall purpose and contribution in my life. Whether it’s been raising four terrific kids to adulthood and watching five grand children arrive; or volunteering with the Canadian Red Cross, the United Way or Scouts Canada; or returning to start playing the piano again after a 32 year absence, it’s about discovering what drives you forward and what makes you feel that you’re contributing to society.

Sunset For the past six years I’ve been blogging actively on leadership issues. I started blogging on a whim before I retired. I wanted to start something new, and because I’ve been writing professionally for 35 years I thought that blogging would be a good creative outlet to express myself. I never thought I’d stay with it this long, or create a readership from over 160 countries on six continents. That has been both inspiring and humbling.

So folks, find your mission in life. As a former undergrad classmate, Randy, said at the end of his valedictorian address on contribution to society at my graduation in 1978, “Leave a mark.”

Think of the power those three words reflect, especially if each of us truly attempted to find one way to make our world a better place.

We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion.

Max DePree

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How Distorted is Your Leadership Lens?

March 22, 2015
DSCN0203 We all wear filters which affect how we perceive the world. Let’s call it our leadership lens.

No one is immune–even super smart people.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

The challenge is for each of us to be fully aware of our filters and how they influence our leadership lens. Otherwise, our filters become so saturated that our view of the world becomes distorted, weakening our effectiveness as leaders.

Addressing how we perceive the world through our leadership lens helps make us more effective leaders because we’re able to remove the interference that can impedes our judgement. Let’s look at an example and a tool that can assist us in better understanding our leadership lens.

Mary grew up in a home where her father had strict views on women in the workplace. Men, in his view, were in charge of organizations, managed people and held public office. Women, in contrast, if they worked outside the home were in traditional roles, such as nurses, office assistants and teachers. Guys worked in the apprenticeship trades if they chose to, not women.

baby-boomer-depression-1 When finishing high school, Mary wanted to go to community college to study electronics, a three year program where graduates work as technologists. Her dad laughed at this notion, insisting that if she wanted to go to community college (as a university engineering grad he thought college was for dummies) that she study office administration. Her brothers agreed with their father.

Lacking confidence and confused, not only because of the lack of support from her family (her mom remained mute on the topic) but because of her high school guidance counselor who had tried to point her towards a career in the social sciences, Mary decided to work for a few years after she graduated.

During her four years of working in various service sector jobs, Mary encountered a number of managers, both men and women, who practiced top-down managing. Employees, in her mind, were pawns to a means to an end. Mary began to establish a jaded view of what management and leadership represented to her: top-down decision making, do-as-you-re told, no engagement of employees, and compliance if you wanted to stay out of trouble.

Eventually Mary returned to school, earning a business degree at the age of 27. It took a few months to get a job offer in her field. Unfortunately, she discovered during her first year that her boss expected more of her than her male teammates, though she noticed that her one female co-worker, who’d been with the company for several years, asserted herself by standing up to the boss. “How’s she able to do that?” Mary used to wonder.

Women with question mark After a year Mary decided to job-hunt, but took her time to research companies and their reputations on how they treated their employees. Six months later Mary left her employer to work with a small firm led by a female entrepreneur named Rebecca.

What had impressed Mary during her job interview was Rebecca’s warmth and interest in her background and aspirations. While a straight-shooter and demanding of her employees, Rebecca also believed in coaching to help them reach their full potential. During an informal coffee chat one afternoon, Mary shared her views on leadership, going back to when she was growing up to her four years working after high school to her recent first job as a new business grad. Rebecca listened intently, not saying a word as Mary spoke for half an hour.

“Okay,” Rebecca said once Mary finished sharing her story, “I have something to show you which will help you understand why you hold a certain mental image of what a leader looks like, and your perception of leadership that it’s about authority.

We all have filters, Mary, which start being formed when we’re young. As we go through school as youngsters; interact with our parents, siblings and friends; attend college; and then enter the workforce our filters continue to develop. If we have a major traumatic event in our lives this can strongly affect our filters. One of the results is how we engage with others when we’re in the workforce. If we’re given managerial responsibilities then these filters will have a major impact on how we lead others. In short, our personal leadership lens can become quite distorted.

What I’m talking about is what’s called Mental Models, the set of assumptions we’ve established over many years based on our personal life experiences. They affect how we see the world, and in turn interact with and lead others.”

Ladder_of_Inference Rebecca started to sketch on a sheet of paper as she talked. “A fellow by the name of Chris Argyris, a professor of psychology at Harvard, developed the concept of Mental Models and a tool called The Ladder of Inference. It’s a great tool to use to help people understand why and how they perceive the world as they do. Reflect back, Mary, on your upbringing, experiences in school and afterwards.

Briefly, here’s how the Ladder works.

On the first rung we capture data, as would a camera through its lens. This is our reality. We observe our parents, teachers, family friends, community leaders, etc.

From there we select data according to our experiences, any major events and emerging biases.

We then begin to assign meaning based on our interpretations of the second rung.

The meanings we’ve been forming cause us to develop assumptions.

Now, we’re beginning to draw our own conclusions as a result of our new assumptions.

Our conclusions lead us to adopt general beliefs about the world.

Finally, as individuals we decide to take action on our beliefs.”

At this point Rebecca leaned forward in her chair. “Mary, the key point to understand is that as a leader it’s vital for each of us to stop, pause and reflect on where we’re at in our leadership journey. Each of us needs to regularly revisit our assumptions and beliefs as they relate to others and society as a whole. If we allow ourselves to climb all the way to the top of the Ladder of Inference, then we’ve lost the ability to view the world in a more objective manner. Furthermore, it becomes that much more difficult to release those assumptions and beliefs.

“One final thought I’ll share with you, Mary, and it’s a hugely important one, is this:

Management is appointment to position; leadership must be earned.

Woman on Ladder Mary, if you have no followers you are not a leader. You need to enroll people in your vision if you want them to follow you. This is vital, especially for small companies like mine. We need to constantly innovate and explore new opportunities to seize and exploit. As the company’s leader, I can’t achieve that if you and your co-workers are not following me. Each of us needs to periodically re-examine our leadership lens as a check-in to how we’re interacting with the world: at work, in our community and at home.

Understanding the concept of mental models and the Ladder of Inference as a tool will assist you in your leadership journey.

So, Mary, does any of this help you in wrestling with your image of leadership, and in particular how you want to develop your career? You have a lot of leadership potential, and your co-workers have a lot of respect for you.”

“Wow,” Mary exclaimed, “your explanation really helped open my eyes to how I’ve created my own mental model of leadership. And I get just how important the aspect of followership is for organizational success. I’m with you, Rebecca.”

And with that Rebecca and Mary concluded their conversation and headed back to the office, with Mary totally energized with her new discovery and wanting to begin her journey into leadership.

The ability to perceive or think differently is more important than the knowledge gained.

David Bohm

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Five Ways to Serve Your Organization and Build Your Leadership Skills

March 15, 2015
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The process of building our personal leadership skills isn’t done overnight. That’s rather obvious. But what may not always be clear is that leadership development within organizations is, at its core, a reciprocal process. The same applies to community service and leadership development, though admittedly in this context when one serves their community the enlargement of leadership capacity is one outcome.

The bigger challenge–hence the purpose of this post–is integrating the personal aspect of leadership growth with serving the needs of the organization. This is typically a grey area in organizations, whether public or private, as the employee struggles to meet the organization’s annual goals, live the vision, and simultaneously attend to her personal learning and developmental needs.

Smart organizations ensure that this stressful process is integrated in the employee’s daily work and scheduled performance-learning plan reviews. But these organizations are the exception.

One framework to consider comes from Peter Block, a longtime advocate of stewardship, encompassing both managers and staff. Each and every one of us must learn to put self-interest aside and put service to the organization first. Only by doing this will an organization truly evolve to a higher level.

Plants in Many Hands To serve an organization well, Block puts forth five pursuits people must follow. He refers to this as enlightened self-interest.

1. Meaning: People engage in activities that have personal meaning and that are needed by the organization. Substance takes precedence over form.

2. Contribution and Service: People want to contribute positively to the organization. Specifically, they want their efforts to connect to the organization’s purpose.

3. Integrity: People at all levels of the organization must be able to express their views and what they observe taking place. Feeling “safe” to speak out is essential to a learning organization. People must be able to admit their mistakes. They must believe that the “authentic act” is always in the best interest of the organization.

4. Positive Impact on Others’ Lives: People spend a large percentage of their waking lives at work. Developing close relationships with co-workers, in which their growth and development is cared about, makes sense to most people. Yet the opposite is true to a large extent. For example, the fear a manager may have of laying off a subordinate one day may inhibit him or her from establishing strong relationships with staff.

This also occurs with co-workers, especially during a period of downsizing. The consequence is an atmosphere that lacks honesty and openness, one consisting of shallow and brittle relationships. How can teamwork exist, let alone prosper, in such an environment? Strong teamwork requires a high degree of interdependency and close relationships.

5. Mastery: This involves people learning as much as they can about their work. People take pride and satisfaction in their work when performing at high levels. Learning and performance are intertwined.

The strength of following these five pursuits is that it does not require the approval of senior management.

Each of us needs to set an example to our peers.

Each of us needs to set upon a journey of self-discovery.

You create a culture of contribution when you seek to meet both the mission of the organization and the needs of the people.

James R. Fisher Jr.

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Achieving Meaning during Chaos and Hardship

March 8, 2015
Chaos Scientists see chaos as essential for organisms to renew and revitalize themselves. The same is true of organizations. When people go through a very difficult period, they emerge stronger and with a greater sense of purpose. And in the process their personal leadership capacity grows and strengthens.

Margaret Wheatley believes that organizations must learn to work with chaos because it’s a powerful, creative force, one that produces new levels of understanding and personal growth.

Many people experience great difficulty in coping with the uncertainties of rapid organizational change. They feel lost and adrift as their coworkers leave the organization, as technology exerts its tremendous impact on how work is done, and as their own futures are cast in doubt.

But why is it that some people are able to create meaning in their work during organizational chaos while others flounder?

In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl wrote that meaning saved many lives in the concentration camps during World War Two. People can withstand tremendous hardships if they search for meaning. One’s attitude towards a situation is the one thing that cannot be taken away. Here are excerpts from Frankl’s book, which illustrate the phases the prisoners went though.

Desert The thought of suicide was entertained by nearly everyone, if only for a brief time. It was born of the hopelessness of the situation, the constant danger of death looming over us daily and hourly, and the closeness of the deaths suffered by many of the others. From personal convictions which will be mentioned later, I made myself a firm promise, on my first evening in camp, that I would not “run into the wire.” This was a phrase used in camp to describe the most popular method of suicide–touching the electronically charged barbed-wire fence. There was little point in committing suicide, since, for the average inmate, life expectation, calculating objectively and counting all likely chances, was very poor. …The prisoner of Auschwitz, in the first phase of shock, did not fear death. Even the gas chambers lost their horrors for him after the first few days– after all, they spared him the act of committing suicide….

Apathy, the blunting of emotions and the feeling that one could not care anymore, were the symptoms arising during the second stage of the prisoner’s psychological reactions, and which eventually made him insensitive to daily and hourly beatings. By means of this insensibility the prisoner soon surrounded himself with a very necessary protective shell.

As time progressed in the concentration camp, Frankl’s insights grew:

The prisoner who had lost his faith in the future–his future– was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay. …He simply gave up. There he remained, lying in his own excreta, and nothing bothered him anymore.

From his experiences in a concentration camp, Frankl came to realize that the individual does have a choice of action, even when faced with what appears to be overwhelming odds. As he states: Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress.

Guy with Steam from Ears Margaret Wheatley discovered this phenomenon herself during her work with organizations that were experiencing massive change. Some employees realized that the only way they could continue to exist in such an environment was to seek out personal meaning in their work. In other organizations, Wheatley found that the senior leaders went to great lengths to explain to employees the difficulties ahead and why they were occurring.

Being honest and open with these employees helped them through these difficult periods. She explains meaning as being “a point of reference…. As long as we keep purpose in focus in both our organizational and private lives, we are able to wander through the realms of chaos, make decisions about what actions will be consistent without purpose, and emerge with a discernible pattern or shape to our lives.”

People quickly see through superficial attempts by management to get employees on side. They realize at the start or soon afterwards that the purpose is self-centered. When people resist or display apathy, their eyebrows rise. But this shouldn’t come as a surprise, and as Wheatley asserts: “Too many organizations ask us to engage in hollow work, to be enthusiastic about small-minded visions, to commit ourselves to selfish purposes, to engage our energy in competitive drives.”

Reflect on the following wise words:

Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something.

The ingredients are there. You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you. If it does, then the particular balance of success or failure is of less account.
John W. Gardner

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Creating Win-Win through Interpersonal Leadership

March 1, 2015
Happy Business Team How often have you felt that you’ve been in a win-lose situation at work, and where you were on the losing end?

Wow, more hands than expected shot up.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Indeed, to be blunt, it’s a pretty dumb concept for profit-driven companies to allow managers and leaders to operate in that manner. And if you’re working in the public or not-for-profit sectors, shame on you for even thinking of acting this way.

Whether you’re part of an organization that’s directly or indirectly serving customers or citizens, your focus should–and must–be on creating win-win solutions.

Your correspondent could never figure out during his three decades with the Government of Canada why so many of those in leadership positions, from middle managers to those at the top of the management pyramid, seemed to hold Joe and Sally Taxpayer in contempt.

There will always be games-playing and the race-to-the-top manipulations inherent in any organization, public or private. However, one of the roles of top management is to ensure that ethical behaviors are followed, that ALL employees share in the corporate vision, and that those entrusted with managerial responsibilities strive to focus their staff and teams on the needs and expectations of customers and citizens.

People Slapping HandsOne startling revelation for those in management is that being a manager is in effect an appointment to position. Leadership is a completely different ball of wax. To be a real leader requires you to have earned a followership. Only when you’ve achieved the state where your staff or team share in your values and vision (where you want to take them) can you emphatically claim to be a leader. Otherwise, you’re dictating your demands through employee compliance versus enrolment. Compliance is a tantamount to a managerial function; enrolment is about leadership.

To be a Win-Win leader means that you’ve yielded to the greater force of inter-personal leadership, where you’ve accepted that people as a collective through your shared leadership can accomplish much, much more.

In the process everyone is excited, motivated and self-initiated, sparking them to step up to contribute their ideas.

Successful and unsuccessful people do not vary greatly in their abilities. They vary in their desires to reach their potential.

John Maxwell

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Leadership and the Responsible Use of Power

February 23, 2015
Shoe Steeping on Man The most effective leaders appear to exhibit a degree of versatility and flexibility that enables them to adapt their behavior to the changing and contradictory demands made on them. (The Leadership Handbook, Ralph Stogdill)

It’s one thing for a leader to recognize the styles she should use with her team to coincide with their unique needs and situations; it’s quite another for a leader to actually apply these styles simultaneously and appropriately. Take a moment to check out this post on situational leadership for additional information.

As well as being able to assess their leadership behavior and its impact on others, leaders must also carefully look at how they maintain and use power. To influence the behavior of others, a leader must first understand the effect that power has on leadership styles. It’s not a matter of how much power a leader has but rather how effectively a leader uses it. While leadership is about the process of influencing people, power can be described as a leader’s influence potential.

Those in positions of influence sometimes have difficulty distinguishing the right and wrong uses of power. In these situations, people view their managers as being control freaks who don’t wish to share power but who in the same breath talk about “empowering” their staff, yet in the end fail to align their words with their actions.

Obey The notion of control in these circumstances is really an illusion. Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal in their book Leading with Soul put it this way about sharing power: “It’s seductive because it gives the feeling of power. Something to hold on to. So it becomes addictive. It’s hard to give up even when it’s not working. You can’t start a journey until you let go of habits holding you back.”

In exercising power a leader actually uses two types: positional power and personal power. The former is viewed by some to be derived from a manager’s position (read perceived status) in the organization. Positional power flows down the organization in the form of increased responsibility and delegation. A manager who’s seen by senior management as not being a good leader may have some of her responsibilities removed.

Personal power, on the other hand, is the degree to which employees share in their leader’s vision. This loyalty creates a followership, which is where a leader’s personal power is generated. It’s also important to remember that a leader’s personal power can be removed easily by her followers should she betray the trust she has earned.

Remember this: Management is an appointment to position. Leadership must be earned.

In short, positional power comes from above, reflecting the degree to which a leader is able to reward and discipline her staff. Personal power, conversely, comes from below, founded upon the level of trust between a leader and her people.

Niccolò Machiavelli, in his 16th century treatise The Prince, posed the question: is it better for a leader to be feared or loved by his followers? One could answer that it’s desirable to be both feared and loved. Machiavelli believed, however, that because it’s difficult to unite them in one person, it’s better to be feared than loved. However, he noted that a leader should inspire fear in a manner that avoids hatred because he can sustain his leadership if feared by his followers but not if he’s hated.

Woman Holding Globe Applying this concept to organizations today means that leaders must learn how to distinguish between their roles as supervisor and friend. Leaders must often have to put aside a friendship to gain an employee’s respect in order to help his development and growth over the long-term.

The relationship between achieving personal power (having rejected the pursuit of positional power) and earning the respect of one’s team members, as well as peers, is in effect an intertwined process. Machiavelli’s premise is tantamount to employing positional power as the means to creating respect among one’s so-called followers. But this is an illusion, a house of cards of leadership by fiat.

A case in point is Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, who while having achieved, however briefly, huge popularity among Russians, is at the time of writing this post imminently on his way down. Putin never earned the respect of Russians, but manipulated, intimidated and lied to them. Putin rules by fear.

Consider these words from Machiavelli, which President Putin may wish to have considered several years ago:
“A prince ought to live amongst his people in such a way that no unexpected circumstances, whether good or evil, shall make him change; because if the necessity for this comes in troubled times, you are too late for harsh measures; and mild ones will not help you, for they will be considered as forced from you, and no one will be under any obligation to you for them.”

Trust is the glue that holds organizations together. Without trust, an organization will never achieve its potential because its employees are not reaching their full effectiveness. The biggest challenge, therefore, that the individual who wants to become an effective leader faces is practicing transparency of actions and aligning these with one’s words.

This is where reciprocal trust and personal power reside, and where the journey to enrolling others in your vision begins.

Trust is something that happens within people only when it is created between people.

Chip R. Bell

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