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Using the “Five Whys” to Identify Root Causes

March 26, 2017
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Tajichi Ohno was born in 1912 in Dalian, China. As a young man, he was hired by Toyota Automatic Loom Works. Toyota was later sold to Platt Brothers, a British Company, prompting the Toyoda family to use the sale’s proceeds to begin an automotive manufacturing factory. Ohno stayed with the family and began working as a production engineer towards the end of World War Two.

Japan’s weak productivity and poor automotive quality, compared to the United States, was well known, leading Toyota to begin concentrating on improvement. Ohno, an industrious engineer, put his attention to eliminating inefficiencies in the production line. His personal goal was to match, if not exceed, the productivity of U.S. automotive production. From post-war to the 1970s, Ohno and his co-workers worked systematically at driving out waste and inefficiencies. Their process became known as the Toyota Production System (TPS). And as consumers can attest, the quality of Japanese vehicles soared in the late 20th Century. The irony is that years later American and European automotive manufacturers would copy the TPS.

Ohno’s journey wasn’t easy; he met a lot of resistance from management on the need to radically change production methods. But he persisted. Eventually Toyota, as a huge corporation, embedded quality and the elimination of waste (see lean manufacturing).

One of the thinking processes that Ohno developed has become known as “The Five Whys.” He didn’t see problems in a negative light but rather as an “opportunity in disguise.” The word “Kaizen,” meaning continuous improvement, has become embedded in manufacturing around the world. As Toyota’s website explains on “The Five Whys:”

Observe the production floor without preconceptions. Ask ‘why’ five times about every matter.

[Ohno] used the example of a welding robot stopping in the middle of its operation to demonstrate the usefulness of his method, finally arriving at the root cause of the problem through persistent enquiry:
“Why did the robot stop?”
The circuit has overloaded, causing a fuse to blow.

“Why is the circuit overloaded?”
There was insufficient lubrication on the bearings, so they locked up.

“Why was there insufficient lubrication on the bearings?”
The oil pump on the robot is not circulating sufficient oil.

“Why is the pump not circulating sufficient oil?”
The pump intake is clogged with metal shavings.

“Why is the intake clogged with metal shavings?”
Because there is no filter on the pump.

Through this line of inquiry, it’s possible to identify the root cause of a problem. And it doesn’t have to be a manufacturing process to employ it.

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Ohno’s work has been applied not only to manufacturing settings but more broadly to the functioning organizations. Peter Senge, MIT lecturer and author of the acclaimed bestseller The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, integrated The Five Whys into System Thinking. Briefly, System Thinking involves stepping back to see the big picture when approaching a problem, and how it is part of a bigger system. So rather than react to a specific event, for example, effort’s needed to identify its relationship to other events. As Senge explains:
“It is a framework for seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing patterns of change rather than static ‘snapshots’.”

This is where The Five Whys can be very useful, whether on a production line, an organization’s recruitment process, or an airline’s customer service practices. It enables one to drill down to root causes when problems emerge that initially get blamed on the “system.” What gets overlooked is that human beings created the “system.”

Here’s a simple example of The Five Whys, using the airline industry as an example:

Q. Why did the passenger’s checked bags not arrive at her destination?
Because they were sent to Dallas airport instead of Miami.

Q. Why were her bags sent to Dallas?
Because the baggage handlers weren’t paying attention.

Q. Why were the baggage handlers not paying attention?
Because they’re angry at management with the delay in settling their collective agreement.

Q. Why is there a delay in the agreement?
Because of management’s insistence on a pay freeze because the airline is losing money.

Q. Why is the company losing money?
A. Because it hasn’t invested in a new computerized tracking system as its competitors have done.

This is along the line of enquiry one could take with a problem that plagues airline passengers.

The Five Whys can be a powerful tool in distilling what may first appear as an overly complicated problem with tentacles extending everywhere. However, bringing people together to collaboratively explore a problem can produce, in a relatively short time, surprising solutions.

Effective questioning brings insight, which fuels curiosity, which cultivates wisdom.
Chip Bell

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From Transactional Leadership to Reflective Leadership

March 19, 2017

BEST Post“Hi Dan,” Sheila called as she poked her head into the office of one of her managers. “Are you interested in taking a two day coaching course next week? It’s aimed at helping managers become better coaches.”“Sure, why not. Sounds good,” Dan replied. “I could learn a few tips to make myself a better coach. But to be honest, Sheila, everyone’s talking about coaching and mentoring. Just look at the shelves in the bookstores and the business sections of newspapers. Coaching’s hot stuff. Some of us were talking about this in the coffee room last week, and we basically agreed that this is probably another fad. Next year they’ll be on to something else.”

“Maybe so,” Sheila responded. “But try to go into the workshop with an open mind.”

“Okay,” Dan sighed. “What about you? Do you plan to take it sometime?”

“Nah. I’ve been around in management long enough,” Sheila said. “I’ve read some books on coaching and mentoring and have plenty of experience managing people. Besides, I’m too busy to give up even two days. Gotta run to a meeting. See you later, Dan.”

“Right………..oh, and thanks,” Dan muttered, scratching his head in puzzlement at his boss’s reply.

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This fictional conversation serves as a segue to delve into the inner side of leadership. Leadership development has traditionally been based on an externalized approach. In other words, people take training courses that instruct them on the desirable characteristics, or qualities, of leaders and how they should act. Moreover, training has relied to some extent on old assumptions about leadership. In particular, the “heroic” approach to leadership (i.e., the strong individual leader) still prevails in some areas of leadership development.

It’s only in the past 15-20 years that a growing portion of the literature has looked at leadership development from the inside out. That is to say, getting people in formal or informal leadership positions to take a hard look at themselves. “Who am I as a leader? Why do I behave as I do?” are questions that we need to periodically ask ourselves. When we pose these questions, it takes us to a deeper level of inquiry and reflection.

Few people question their basic assumptions
about the world or are even aware of them.
– Patricia Cranton

In the conversation between Dan and Sheila, each holds a different mental model about leadership. During their interaction, Dan and Sheila are each having an unspoken conversation. In other words, what is going on in their heads, which reflects their unconscious assumptions and beliefs.

Dan’s unspoken conversation:
“I’m still pretty new to my job as manager and feel kind of inadequate. This coaching stuff sounds good but people issues make me feel uncomfortable. I’d rather just focus on the technical parts of my job. But Sheila sure could use some training. She micro-manages all of her managers. No wonder she puts in 12 hour days.”

Sheila’s unspoken conversation:
“This coaching stuff’s B.S. I know how to get people to do things, and I know the work inside-out. My managers do what I tell them to do. None of this warm and fuzzy stuff for me. I’ve worked my way up the hard way, and I didn’t need a fancy degree to get where I am.”


Sheila perceives herself as a competent director, who doesn’t need to learn a new skill. Her self-image is one of “I’m already there. Been there, done that.” But yet she’s insecure with the changes underway in the organization, especially the growing emphasis on the “soft,” people skills. Her unconscious fear is leaving what is secure and comfortable for something that requires personal insight and discovery.

Dan, on the other hand, is ambivalent. He knows down deep that to be an effective managerial leader that he has a lot of work to do. Yet he’s apprehensive of the commitment he must make to go into this unknown territory. He’s not yet comfortable with having to develop a deeper understanding of himself.

One of the most difficult realizations we have as human beings is that we are never there. Even the manager who’s been in her job for 15 years and knows the issues, processes, and technical aspects inside out still has more to learn. What does she really know about herself?

The assumptions we carry with us- all it our personal baggage – affect how we interact with others, whether it’s at work, home or in the community. These assumptions, developed and cemented from our life experiences (good and bad), form our mental models. These in turn distort our leadership lenses through which we see the world. How we lead people is affected profoundly by our lenses. If a manager’s lens is distorted by the debris of hardened assumptions, this makes it that much harder for her to be open to other views and possibilities.

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In her excellent book Transformative Learning Patricia Cranton refers to Stephen Brookfield’s The Skillful Teacher who states: “…routine, habit, and familiarity are strongly appealing, and for some, the conduct of life is a quest for certainty, for a system of beliefs and a set of values*even for a well-defined social structure*that they can adopt and commit to, for life.”

Cranton follows with her own comment: “Adults will resist contradictions to their beliefs and will deny discrepancies between new learning and previous knowledge. In response to a challenge to their assumptions, many learners will entrench themselves even more firmly in their belief system and become hostile or withdrawn in the learning environment.”

Take a moment to reflect on the above paragraph. How often have you seen this behavior in your organization? How do we get beyond this type of response by people?

Focus for a moment on what this means for managerial leadership. If managers, as leaders and coaches, engage in this type of behavior, how will organizations ever take the necessary leap of faith to become learning organizations?

What do managers fear?

And what do employees fear in expressing their leadership abilities in their daily work?

Reflect further on Brookfield’s words: “The human capacity for denial knows no limits.”

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How, then, do managers transcend from a traditional, transactional approach to leadership, in which the manager negotiates with the subordinate: “Do this, and this is what I’ll give you.”

Often, these are not explicit conversations, but rather implicit understandings. The employee knows that if he does ‘this and this,’ and not ‘that and that,’ he’ll receive something in return. Does this method of ‘leadership’ build commitment from staff? Does it enroll the individual in a common vision? Or is it oriented more towards compliance and implicit consent of not rocking the boat?

The leader who understands herself and who does not fear sharing her strengths, gifts, weaknesses, and warts with her staff is on the path to becoming a reflective leader. This person understands and values the human dimension of leadership. It’s an inner journey, one that each of us struggles with for life. We’re never there, but continuously striving towards a personal vision of enhanced self-awareness and service to others.

This makes leadership a not-so-easy discipline to follow. The books, seminars, etc. promise great things to make us effective leaders. But leadership, the kind needed for learning organizations, cannot be sold over-the-counter. It’s not about techniques and gimmicks. When we understand that it’s about lifelong personal growth, filled with struggles and stumbles, we’ll have made one significant step forward.

There’s nothing more powerful you can do to
encourage others in their quest for personal mastery
than to be serious in your own quest.
– Peter Senge (MIT lecturer and author of The Fifth Discipline)

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The Six Inner Leadership Selves

March 12, 2017


Young PeopleBeing a leader, in whatever capacity, is not a one dimensional affair. There are many ways that each of us can practice leadership: at work, in our community, at home, or in an unexpected crisis situation. One thing’s clear: you definitely don’t have to be in a management position to show leadership. Take a moment to read Are You a Post-Heroic Leader?

Here’s one simple description to note the difference between management and leadership:

Managers are appointed to position; leaders must earn a following. Managers get people to perform work tasks through their authority, while leaders inspire their followers to accomplish things.

Let’s now look at six ways on how each of us can become better leaders. It’s called it the Six Inner Leadership Selves, which if practiced as a whole will produce a highly effective leader. Answer each of the following questions from a personal perspective.

1) Rock-the-Boat

a) Do I willingly comply with whatever discussions, directives and decisions that occur in my workplace?


b) Do I ask WHY, presenting constructive questions and viable alternatives for consideration?

2) Remain Centered

a) Do I get angry with my boss or co-workers, or the organization as a whole, when I get stressed?


b) Do I stay calm in the midst of organizational turmoil and what I perceive as poor management decisions?

3) Be Curious

a) Do I accept as fact what’s discussed at work or the world around me?


b) Do I take the initiative to explore what I don’t know or understand?

4) Take Calculated Risks

a) Do I refrain from taking a chance to do something innovative at work when the opportunity arises?


b) Do I constantly keep an eye peeled for how I can add value to the organization, even when there’s risk involved?

5) Be a Sponge for Learning

a) Do I not bother to try learning new skills or enhancing my knowledge in new areas, believing that my knowledge base is adequate?


b) Do I absorb what goes on around me, savouring the new knowledge gained through life experiences and reading?

6) Practice Humbleness

a) Do I believe that those in positions of management hold power and authority over others?


b) Do I approach management and leadership as inter-related disciplines whose overarching aim is to serve their followers through a collective vision?


Take time to reflect on these questions. The goal is to ultimately become a leader who achieves balance among the Six Inner Leadership Selves. That’s easy enough said.

The challenge, therefore, is for each of us to do an honest assessment to determine where we’re strong and where we’re weak on the Six Inner Leadership Selves. For example, in my case two areas where I need to strengthen my leadership are in risk-taking and rocking-the-boat. I still tend to be overly cautious at times. Perhaps because of being stung in the past in organizations where I’ve worked, rocking-the-boat was something I learned had some risk.

As I stated, each of us needs to do a candid assessment of our strengths and weaknesses. Once we do this and establish a plan for action, we’ve empowered ourselves to move forwards to become better leaders.

Are you ready to take the journey?

The possible’s slow fuse is lit by imagination.
– Emily Dickinson

Imagine a world where everyone was constantly learning, a world where what you wondered was more interesting than what you knew, and curiosity counted for more than certain knowledge. Imagine a world where what you gave away was more valuable than what you held back, where joy was not a dirty word, where play was not forbidden after your eleventh birthday. Imagine a world in which the business of business was to imagine worlds people might actually want to live in someday. Imagine a world created by people, for the people not perishing from the earth forever.

Yeah. Imagine that.

– Christopher Locke (The Cluetrain Manifesto, from the final chapter Post Apocalypso)

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Real Leaders Don’t Pass theBuck: A Leadership Lesson for Donald Trump

March 5, 2017

William “Ryan” Owens had upholding the good in his blood. His father was a uniformed police officer while his mother was detective. Born on March 5, 1980 in Peoria, Illinois, Owens spent much of his formative years in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but graduated from high school in Illinois. As soon as he was out of high school he joined the U.S. Navy.

After serving a short stint with the Office of Naval Intelligence in Maryland, Owens joined the Navy SEALS in 2002. He was promoted to chief petty officer in 2009 (my father held the same rank during World War Two in the Royal Canadian Navy). He served several tours of duty during his time with the SEALS, but it was the recent raid in Yemen where Owens was killed in a firefight. A recipient of numerous medals (eg, two Bronze Stars, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and three Presidential Unit Citations), Owens is survived by his wife Carryn Owens and their three children.

This was a tragic event. Yet, the work of Navy SEALS and other special operations groups is highly dangerous. Every mission has risks, but it’s the price a nation pays through the lives of their military members to keep citizens safe. Counter terrorism is an especially risky endeavour.

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When the 36 year-old Owens and his team were about to enter the al-Qaeda compound in Yemen on January 29th, they were detected and immediately fired upon by al-Qaeda fighters and Yemeni tribesmen. A helicopter was requested to evacuate the wounded Owens who later died. Three other SEALS were wounded, and a reported 30 civilians were killed during the raid

The political firestorm that erupted shortly afterwards, with initial allegations that no actionable intelligence was obtained, contributes to the growing divide in the United States (the intelligence claim was later proved false). While it may never be known precisely what useful intelligence was gathered, military officials have acknowledged that the most prominent Yemeni killed in the raid was Sheikh Abdel-Raouf al-Dhahab. A tribal leader, he wasn’t considered to be a high value target by the United States.

As if the political repercussions aren’t reprehensible enough in light that a U.S. service man was killed while in combat, Donald Trump tried to distance himself from what’s being called a “botched” raid. Trump went so far as to try to pin the blame on President Obama. In an interview on Fox, Trump stated: “This was a mission that was started before I got here. This was something they [military’s generals under Obama] wanted to do. They came to see me, they told me what they wanted to do, the generals, who are very respected—my generals are most respected we’ve had in many decades, I believe. And they lost Ryan.”

This politicizing of an anti-terrorist mission disrespects Chief Petty Office Owens. One has only to look at other ill-fated special ops missions to see how political leaders reacted. One particular tragic event comes to mind: Operation Eagle Claw.


President Jimmy Carter had a very tough decision to make. Radical Iranian students had been holding 52 American diplomats and citizens at the U.S. embassy in Tehran since November 4, 1979. (In the end, it remains the longest hostage situation recorded—444 days.) Planning and preparation for the very complex operation took months, with the date set for April 24, 1980. Operation Eagle Claw, one of Delta Force’s first missions, was born.

Problems started at Desert One, the staging area, where eight helicopters were to land. However, only five arrived in operational condition. While four helicopters were seen as being sufficient for the mission, military commanders advised scrubbing it since they wanted six or more to be operational. President Carter agreed to this request. When the helicopters were leaving, one flew into a military transport, causing an explosion. Both aircraft were destroyed and eight service men were killed.

President Carter wore the results of the disastrous rescue mission to the November 1980 election, which produced a huge victory for Ronald Reagan.

Rather than trying to deflect criticism and blame for the failed mission, President Carter went on national television to accept responsibility, stating: “It was my decision to attempt the rescue operation. It was my decision to cancel it when problems developed in the placement of our rescue team for a future rescue operation. The responsibility is fully my own.”


Real leaders, regardless of whether in politics, government or business, never pass the buck. It doesn’t apply only to those at the top but also down through the hierarchy. However, what really distinguishes a top leader is when he or she assumes responsibility for mistakes that happen elsewhere in the organization.

Take former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop as an example. Read this post on how Elop took responsibility for the mess that Nokia was in when he took over the CEO position. Elop never blamed the mess on his predecessors but used “we” in communicating to employees on Nokia’s “burning platform.”

There are numerous other examples about top leaders who owned responsibility for major mistakes or deliberate falsifications. There’s Mary Barra, an electrical engineer who had worked for General Motors for 30 years, who in 2014 was named the company’s first female CEO. When the news exploded with reports that GM had put over 1.7 million cars on the road with an ignition switch defect, resulting in over a dozen deaths, Barra owned the problem. The company was faced with a huge recall. Barra decided to address the crisis directly, and in a publicly filmed statement in front of millions of viewers, she personally apologized: “Something went very wrong…and terrible things happened.”

Then there’s the crisis that Texaco CEO Peter Bijur faced with allegations of racism from African American employees who sued Texaco for racial discrimination in 1994. The employees produced recordings of secret conversations among Texaco executives. A boycott of Texaco was organized as public outrage grew. Bijur responded quickly to the escalating crisis. He immediately suspended the executives involved before investigations had even begun. He then apologized publicly. And Texaco initiated a campaign where senior executives met with employees at all of its locations to apologize in person. Bijur followed this process with the introduction of discrimination checks for executives and managers to ensure that the problem wouldn’t re-occur.

Top leaders own problems that arise in their organizations and take effective action to correct them. They incorporate a learning component to ensure that the lessons learned are not forgotten and are embedded in the organization’s way of doing business. The starting point in the process is what has now become vernacular wisdom, courtesy of President Harry Truman: “The buck stops here.”

A lie which is half truth is ever the blackest of lies.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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The Cult of Donald J. Trump

February 26, 2017

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The past year of Trump-mania and Trump-phobia has brought out armchair psychologists, those with some work-based connections to the broad field of mental health and, more recently, actual psychologists, all of whom have taken aim at the controversial 45th president of the United States. In office for just over a month, Donald Trump has the country reeling on its heels as citizens, legislators and lawmakers attempt to keep up with his executive orders, public appearance announcements and Tweeting.

Of interest is the occurrence of professionals in the psychology field speaking out about Donald Trump’s mental state, despite ethical rules laid out by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), which clearly state that they’re banned from expressing their professional diagnostic opinions. The origin of this rule traces back to the days of Barry Goldwater, when a newspaper headline boldly stated: “1,189 Psychiatrists say Goldwater is Psychologically Unfit to be President!”

The result was the APA issuing the so-called “Goldwater Rule”: “It is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination of the patient in question.”

Though not a psychiatrist, John D. Garner, a psychotherapist at Johns Hopkins University, recently ventured into this forbidden area when he publicly stated that Donald Trump was “…dangerously mentally ill and temperamentally incapable of being president.” And in 2016, Dr. Drew Pinsky, a medical doctor and celebrity physician in California, didn’t just question Trump’s mental state but also that of his supporters. While he said that Trump isn’t “insane” (which is not a formal medical term), he does show signs of mental instability.

As Pinsky put it: “There’s two definitions of sanity: one is legal definition, and that is somebody who is so out of it they don’t know the difference between right and wrong.” (Interview with CNN’s Don Lemon). Others in psychology and medical fields have more recently stuck a toe in the water by offering up some cautiously worded comments about Donald Trump.

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During the presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton and many others publicly expressed that Donald Trump was not temperamentally fit for the office of the President of the United States. That’s part of politics, and displayed Clinton’s knee-jerk reaction to the accusations that Trump levelled at her (from Libya to the Clinton Foundation to her emails). That’s part of the dirt-ball game of politics. However, those professionally trained and licensed in mental health are expected to refrain from spouting their views on whether a candidate for political office is mentally fit. It’s a mine-field loaded full of ethical ordnance.

As human beings we like—love—labels. One word that has been used to describe Donald Trump is “megalomaniac.” It’s a great sounding word, fitting for a larger-than-life reality show host who now commands the most powerful military in the world. Megalomania is defined as:

a) a mania for great or grandiose performance,

b) a delusional mental illness that is marked by feelings of personal omnipotence and grandeur.

However, some caution needs to be provided on the use of this word. It’s now more properly described as Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which raises more complex issues and left to medical professionals in the field of psychiatry and psychology. The Mayo Clinic, for example, explains NPD as:
Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultraconfidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.

It’s tempting for lay people, the media, and even those in fields linked to psychology to suggest that Donald Trump may suffer from NPD. But one treads into that mine-field.


What’s of more particular interest, however, is how Donald Trump, through the use of his strong personality, marketing genius and unpredictable behaviour, has created a quasi cult-like following of supporters. Regardless of his constant stream of incorrect statements on events (such as the recent fabricated one on a terrorist attack in Sweden), his supporters have become, if anything, more entrenched in their support for him. Just watch an interview of a Trump supporter and how they either have a starry-eyed look or are so emotionally smitten with him that they struggle to express themselves clearly.

Older Americans, for example, who have never voted in their lives cast a ballot for Trump last November. One can argue that the disgust many Americans hold towards Congress and the country’s political system in general underlies much of the reason why Trump won the election. But it also raises the question of WHY do so many Americans love the man and become so emotional when interviewed about their support for him?

It brings to the mind the subject of cults, which may be comprehensively defined as:

1. a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies.

2. an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers.

3. a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person or ideal.

4. a group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering around their sacred symbols.

5. a religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader.

It’s clear that the word “cult” is expansive is definition, and as a consequence is tempting to apply to a variety of situations and individuals.

The intersection of megalomania/NPD and cults presents an interesting study. For example, Bernie Madoff, the stockbroker and investor who ripped off his clients for $65 billion through an elaborate Ponzi scheme and who was sentenced to 150 years in prison, created a cult-like following through behaviours reflecting aspects of NPD. He died in prison in 2014.

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Then there are the infamous cult leaders who inflicted violence on their followers and society. Examples include, Jim Jones (Jonestown cyanide-induced mass suicide), Charles Manson (Sharon Tait murders), and David Koresh (Branch Divisions and the Waco, Texas massacre). And there’s the weird case of Bonnie Lu Nettles, who co-founded the UFO cult Heaven’s Gate with Marshall Applewhite. That, again, produced a mass suicide of followers.

On another front is the Unification Church, founded by the late Sun Myung Moon (spawning the term “Moonies” for its followers), which was labelled a cult (above photo, Moonie wedding). And in the late 1960s, the Children of God was created in California (later renamed The Family International of The Family) by polygamist David Berg. (See first photo.)

Take a moment to read this excellent article by Joe Navarro from Psychology Today. He includes a long list of traits of what he calls a pathological cult leader. Note that he includes organizational aspects of cult leadership, not just societal. His final comments are:

“When the question is asked, “When do we know when a cult leader is bad, or evil, or toxic?” this is the list that I use to survey the cult leader for dangerous traits. Of course the only way to know anything for sure is to observe and validate, but these characteristics can go a long way to help with that. And as I have said, there are other things to look for and there may be other lists, but this is the one that I found most useful from studying these groups and talking to former members of cults.

When a cult or organizational leader has a preponderance of these traits then we can anticipate that at some point those who associate with him will likely suffer physically, emotionally, psychologically, or financially. If these traits sound familiar to leaders, groups, sects, or organizations known to you then expect those who associate with them to live in despair and to suffer even if they don’t know it, yet.”

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So let’s get back to Donald J. Trump.

Is he a cult leader? Has he created a devoted cult that appears to see the world in black and white?

That’s left to the reader to interpret and to make his or her own conclusion; the experts won’t be of much help. The visceral emotional response to Trump’s presidency has pushed aside much of the intelligent debate on his policies and practices as president. Whether it’s the media, academics, economists, psychologists, geo-political analysts, or the lay-public, everyone now seems to hold a strong black or white opinion of Donald Trump. He’s either going to “make America great again” or destroy the country.

What’s been lost in the turmoil since the election is any sense of people—both pro and anti Trump— being open to outcome and not being attached to it. The Great Divide is in need of healing.

Supporters and detractors proceed at their own risk.

I have the right temperament. I have the right leadership. I’ve built an incredible company. I went to a great school. I came out – I built an incredible company. I wrote the number one selling business book of all time: ‘Trump: The Art of the Deal.’
—Donald J. Trump

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

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Healing America’s Great Divide—A Burning Platform is not the Way

February 19, 2017


The Continental Divide of the Americas, known in the vernacular as the Great Divide, is big. Technically it’s the hydrological mountainous divide that stretches from the Bering Strait at the top of Alaska to the Strait of Magellan at the southern tip of South America. Yeah, it’s pretty long.

There’s also another big divide, and one that’s been growing steadily in the past two years. This one isn’t geological but involves people—some 320 million inhabitants of the United States. The intransigent intolerance shown by those on both sides of the political divide—Democrats versus Republicans and those won over by Trump’s marketing genius—appears to be just as entrenched at the start of 2017 as it was during the 2016 election campaign.

Anyone remember how Donald Trump promised to heal the division in America?

Oddly, his 16 minute inauguration address on January 20th didn’t lay out a vision for America, one which could have articulated how ALL Americans could see themselves contributing to the country’s future. Instead, Trump’s address was dark and foreboding, essentially a concise replay of his campaign rantings. Sure, the United States has problems, such as with growing income inequality, disastrous high school student test rankings on the global level, and tens of millions of Americans still without healthcare coverage. But the country still has so much going for it, such as being an engine for innovation, citizens who are known for their generosity, and a land that has been embraced by immigrants for over two hundred years. Take a moment to read Why America is Good and Great.

Somehow, America the good was kept under a blanket during Trump’s inaugural address. As a reality show host, he knows how to play to the dark side of people, bringing out their raw emotions and prejudices. No one does it better than Donald Trump.


Imagine, for a moment, the top leader of a public or private organization attempting to inspire employees through a dark, negative vision of the future: Where evil lurks in the corners, why adopting an insular stance towards towards the world is the solution, and where the organization’s previous industry leadership is being reeled back.

How would employees react?

This brings to mind Nokia’s burning platform

Canadian executive Stephen Elop joined Nokia as CEO in 2011 (coming from Microsoft). He was shocked at what he saw: a world leader in cellular handsets that was steadily losing market share. Elon decided to write what has become known as the controversial “burning platform” memo, in which he stated that radical moves would be needed to stop the company’s decline.

Elop’s emotion-laden email memo was leaked to the media. Nokia’s board of directors was not impressed.

Here’s the full text of his “burning platform” memo:


There is a pertinent story about a man who was working on an oil platform in the North Sea. He woke up one night from a loud explosion, which suddenly set his entire oil platform on fire. In mere moments, he was surrounded by flames. Through the smoke and heat, he barely made his way out of the chaos to the platform’s edge. When he looked down over the edge, all he could see were the dark, cold, foreboding Atlantic waters.

As the fire approached him, the man had mere seconds to react. He could stand on the platform, and inevitably be consumed by the burning flames. Or, he could plunge 30 meters in to the freezing waters. The man was standing upon a “burning platform,” and he needed to make a choice.

He decided to jump. It was unexpected. In ordinary circumstances, the man would never consider plunging into icy waters. But these were not ordinary times – his platform was on fire. The man survived the fall and the waters. After he was rescued, he noted that a “burning platform” caused a radical change in his behaviour.

We too, are standing on a “burning platform,” and we must decide how we are going to change our behaviour.

Over the past few months, I’ve shared with you what I’ve heard from our shareholders, operators, developers, suppliers and from you. Today, I’m going to share what I’ve learned and what I have come to believe.

I have learned that we are standing on a burning platform.

And, we have more than one explosion – we have multiple points of scorching heat that are fuelling a blazing fire around us.

For example, there is intense heat coming from our competitors, more rapidly than we ever expected. Apple disrupted the market by redefining the smartphone and attracting developers to a closed, but very powerful ecosystem.

In 2008, Apple’s market share in the $300+ price range was 25 percent; by 2010 it escalated to 61 percent. They are enjoying a tremendous growth trajectory with a 78 percent earnings growth year over year in Q4 2010. Apple demonstrated that if designed well, consumers would buy a high-priced phone with a great experience and developers would build applications. They changed the game, and today, Apple owns the high-end range.

And then, there is Android. In about two years, Android created a platform that attracts application developers, service providers and hardware manufacturers. Android came in at the high-end, they are now winning the mid-range, and quickly they are going downstream to phones under €100. Google has become a gravitational force, drawing much of the industry’s innovation to its core.

Let’s not forget about the low-end price range. In 2008, MediaTek supplied complete reference designs for phone chipsets, which enabled manufacturers in the Shenzhen region of China to produce phones at an unbelievable pace. By some accounts, this ecosystem now produces more than one third of the phones sold globally – taking share from us in emerging markets.

While competitors poured flames on our market share, what happened at Nokia? We fell behind, we missed big trends, and we lost time. At that time, we thought we were making the right decisions; but, with the benefit of hindsight, we now find ourselves years behind.

The first iPhone shipped in 2007, and we still don’t have a product that is close to their experience. Android came on the scene just over 2 years ago, and this week they took our leadership position in smartphone volumes. Unbelievable.

We have some brilliant sources of innovation inside Nokia, but we are not bringing it to market fast enough. We thought MeeGo would be a platform for winning high-end smartphones. However, at this rate, by the end of 2011, we might have only one MeeGo product in the market.

At the midrange, we have Symbian. It has proven to be non-competitive in leading markets like North America. Additionally, Symbian is proving to be an increasingly difficult environment in which to develop to meet the continuously expanding consumer requirements, leading to slowness in product development and also creating a disadvantage when we seek to take advantage of new hardware platforms. As a result, if we continue like before, we will get further and further behind, while our competitors advance further and further ahead.

At the lower-end price range, Chinese OEMs are cranking out a device much faster than, as one Nokia employee said only partially in jest, “the time that it takes us to polish a PowerPoint presentation.” They are fast, they are cheap, and they are challenging us.

And the truly perplexing aspect is that we’re not even fighting with the right weapons. We are still too often trying to approach each price range on a device-to-device basis.

The battle of devices has now become a war of ecosystems, where ecosystems include not only the hardware and software of the device, but developers, applications, ecommerce, advertising, search, social applications, location-based services, unified communications and many other things. Our competitors aren’t taking our market share with devices; they are taking our market share with an entire ecosystem. This means we’re going to have to decide how we either build, catalyse or join an ecosystem.

This is one of the decisions we need to make. In the meantime, we’ve lost market share, we’ve lost mind share and we’ve lost time.

On Tuesday, Standard & Poor’s informed that they will put our A long term and A-1 short term ratings on negative credit watch. This is a similar rating action to the one that Moody’s took last week. Basically it means that during the next few weeks they will make an analysis of Nokia, and decide on a possible credit rating downgrade. Why are these credit agencies contemplating these changes? Because they are concerned about our competitiveness.

Consumer preference for Nokia declined worldwide. In the UK, our brand preference has slipped to 20 percent, which is 8 percent lower than last year. That means only 1 out of 5 people in the UK prefer Nokia to other brands. It’s also down in the other markets, which are traditionally our strongholds: Russia, Germany, Indonesia, UAE, and on and on and on.

How did we get to this point? Why did we fall behind when the world around us evolved?

This is what I have been trying to understand. I believe at least some of it has been due to our attitude inside Nokia. We poured gasoline on our own burning platform. I believe we have lacked accountability and leadership to align and direct the company through these disruptive times. We had a series of misses. We haven’t been delivering innovation fast enough. We’re not collaborating internally.

Nokia, our platform is burning.

We are working on a path forward — a path to rebuild our market leadership. When we share the new strategy on February 11, it will be a huge effort to transform our company. But, I believe that together, we can face the challenges ahead of us. Together, we can choose to define our future.

The burning platform, upon which the man found himself, caused the man to shift his behaviour, and take a bold and brave step into an uncertain future. He was able to tell his story. Now, we have a great opportunity to do the same.



What’s interesting is the continuous use of “we” in Elop’s email. While employing “we” is typically preferable to “you” (and its implicit accusation tone) and “I” (as reflecting sometimes ego), in Nokia’s case the issue was about top management and its lack of foresight. Nokia’s fall is similar to Blackberry’s (formerly Research in Motion) collapse due to the arrogance and the failure of top management to pay attention to what Apple was developing with its iPhone, not to forget Android and manufacturers such as Samsung.

Indeed, Elop correctly referenced what Nokia’s competitors had achieved in just a few years, namely Apple and Android. While his memo was driven by events that had overtaken the Finnish-based company, he should have emphasized that top management assumed responsibility for the company’s slide in market share due to: a) lack of foresight, b) failure to remain aware of how the industry was evolving, and c) absent leadership to engage employees. Yes, Elon was the new sheriff in town, and he inherited a mess. And he attempted to include himself in the situation and the need for a solution.

Criticize Elop if you wish, at least he made an effort to reach out to Nokia’s employees, providing a reality check, specifying the competitive challenges, and emphasizing the need to move forward together as a company.

So back to Donald Trump and his own version of America is on fire and what he plans to do to put it out.


This is America, the Land of the Free, a nation of some 320 million people whose entrepreneurial, innovative spirit is unmatched in the world. Trump made a lot of fuss when he won the election in November about how he was going to “heal” America and bring the two sides together. “That’s what I do,” he claimed numerous times, on how he brings people together.

Well, that hasn’t actually been playing out as expected since his inauguration. Whether it’s through his sycophantic mouthpieces, such as press spokesperson Sean Spicer or counsellor Kellyanne Conway, or directly from himself, Donald Trump has insulted journalists, judges, Democrats, business people, and anyone who ventures to disagree with him. You don’t hear Trump including himself as part of the problem as did Elop. With Trump, it’s all about other people being the problem, from Mexicans to Muslims to Democrats to the media to the “coastal elites.”

Donald Trump is not capable of healing America, and indeed appears intent on tearing it apart further.

This is not leadership. Real leaders engage people, enrolling them in a collective vision, in which each individual can see his or her role in contributing to something bigger. Steamrolling people, insulting them and attempting to punish will get you nowhere.

It’s unlikely that Donald Trump, an insecure megalomaniac, will ever understand what true leadership represents. Unfortunately, he is on the path to undermine a great country of 320 million people.

People ask the difference between a leader and a boss. The leader leads, and the boss drives.
— President Theodore Roosevelt

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Contact Jim for information on his Holistic Leadership Workshop

Take a moment to meet Jim.

Justin Trudeau’s Truthiness Challenge: Is This Leadership?

February 12, 2017

Justin Heart.jpg

“Read my lips. No new taxes.”

Do you remember who uttered those now infamous words?

George H. W. Bush, who elevated from Ronald Reagan’s vice president to president, spoke those words at the 1988 Republican National Convention (written by speechwriter, and now political analyst, Peggy Noonan). Bush proved to be a competent president, though was the butt of never-ending satire from comedians. His undoing, despite huge success with his leadership of Desert Storm in 1990, was a sinking economy. Indeed, it was Bill Clinton’s advisor James Carville who made the made the famous comment: “It’s the economy, stupid!” during the 1992 national election campaign.

And that was the end of George H.W. Bush’s one-term presidency.

Telling the truth in politics has always been an elastic concept. The public long ago came to accept the grand imaginations and promises of politicians. And now, with the election of Donald J. Trump as president of the United States, the whole concept of truth-telling and what’s acceptable when it comes to the promises and statements from politicians has been severely jolted. There is no “truth” anymore, if one subscribes to Donald Trump’s distorted view of the world and his “alternate facts.” Take a moment to read What’s Your Leadership Truthiness Quotient?”

Let’s take a quick tour of the past to see what mischievous statements emanated from U.S. presidents.

Richard Nixon, when serving as a congressman and later as vice-president under President Dwight Eisenhower, enjoyed telling stories of crouching in foxholes during World War II. The truth was that he had a much safer experience during the War, serving in the Navy and unloading planes on Pacific islands.

In response to the media firestorm over the Iran-Contra issue, President Ronald Reagan told Americans in 1986: “We did not, I repeat, did not trade weapons or anything else [to Iran] for hostages, nor will we.” Four months later he admitted that his administration had actually done what he had denied.

And then there’s President George W. Bush’s insistence that Iraq’s President Saddam Hussein had hidden weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), thus prompting the U.S. military’s invasion of that country. WMDs were never found.


Of course, American politicians aren’t the only Western leaders to lie. Canada’s former Prime Minister Stephen Harper boldly stated during his 2015 re-election campaign that the country had a $1.4 billion surplus, when in fact the Parliamentary Budget Office later discovered that it was a $1 billion deficit.

Now Canada has a rock star prime minister, going by the name of Justin Trudeau. The 45 year-old Montrealer has only been in politics for a few years, and prime minister for only a year and a half. However, what the former snow board instructor and high school teacher lacks in political and business experience, he makes up partially for his extroverted behaviour and love for taking selfies with adoring fans.

What Prime Minister Trudeau is especially adept at is making heart-felt promises, emotionally delivered, often with hand on heart. “You have my word” is the popular refrain, such as when he stated in a live broadcast that his top priority (and that of his justice minister as well) is to right the wrongs of Canada’s indigenous peoples.

Add to the mix his beautiful wife, Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau, another uber extrovert, and you have the two of them holding a hand over their heart as they deliver more heart-felt statements.

Prime Minister Trudeau’s recent surprise announcement that he was canceling the government’s voting reform process stunned many people, from political observers to voters to politicians. (A parliamentary committee of MPs worked tirelessly on the Electoral reform consultation process, which cost taxpayers $4.1 million.) Trudeau’s former minister of democratic institutions Maryam Monsef dropped the ball in 2016 and was demoted in a cabinet shuffle that preceded Trudeau’s announcement to stop the process at the beginning of February 2017.

Justin 2.jpg

Trudeau’s explanation for his decision came up short. He didn’t use the expected excuse that with the election of Donald Trump Trudeau’s government would be going flat out trying to keep Canada’s relationship with the United States healthy. Rather, Trudeau came up with the contrived excuse that eliminating the “first-past-the-post” system (which often delivers majority governments) could produce election outcomes where disruptive factions are elected under “proportional representation.” Trudeau’s thinking included examples of far right-wing groups that would disrupt the country’s governance.

It’s interesting that Trudeau developed this thinking when it was becoming clear that his government was not going to be able to deliver on his 2015 election campaign promise that this would be Canada’s last first-past-the-post. Indeed, his government’s 2016 Speech from the Throne later on reasserted this promise.

The point is that it’s not the breaking of a political promise that’s the issue, it’s the manner in which Justin Trudeau makes such fanfare when delivering them. It’s the underlying emotion, sincerity and conviction, conveying the impression that this young prime minister actually has integrity.


Justin Snowboard.jpg

Justin Trudeau made over 200 promises when campaigning. This trudeau metre website notes his 233 promises, which is consistent with some other websites. Determining whether a promise has been kept or in progress isn’t the easiest task. And with the tsunami-type arrival of Donald Trump as president, Trudeau is having to react and re-position himself and his cabinet very quickly.

This is all the more to note that Trudeau was indeed a dilettante when he was elected leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, and not long afterwards elected as prime minister with a first-past-the-post majority government. However, his government was elected with only 39.5% of the popular vote. This reinforces the importance of why Canada desperately needs an electoral reform process.

It boils down to this: Justin Trudeau’s convincing hand-on-heart promises, whether during his election campaign, town halls or attending a First Nations’ press conference, underly his personal cynicism and dis-respect of Canadian voters and the populace at large. It’s shameful, considering his unrelenting plea that he would lead a transparent and honest government in contrast to previous governments.

Prime Minister Trudeau will have his hands full entering the next national election (October 22, 2019) with such issues as: deficit-fueled stimulus spending, NAFTA’s successor, US relations, defense and security, international trade, infrastructure, federal-provincial relations, climate change, and so forth. He may wish to reflect on the words of the late Stephen Covey:

Moral authority comes from following universal and timeless principles like honesty, integrity, and treating people with respect.

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

jim-grand-manan-fbVisit Jim’s e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

Contact Jim for information on his Holistic Leadership Workshop

Take a moment to meet Jim.