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The Banana Republic of Ontario: In Search of Moral Leadership

April 10, 2016


In my recent post Should Leaders Ever be Morally Flexible? I talked about whether it’s ever right to adjust one’s morals to suit a situation. We’ve become so numb to our elected “leaders,” whether at the municipal, state-provincial or national levels, acting without integrity that it’s now ingrained in the public’s consciousness that this is how government works on behalf of its citizens. The problem deepens when senior public servants engage in moral flexibility, such as when they play around with their expense accounts, hire family members or accept bribes from business people seeking contracts.

Recently, in my home province of Ontario (Canada’s largest with a population of 13.5 million) the premier has been practicing moral flexibility. Kathleen Wynne was exposed by the media in April for effectively selling access to her cabinet’s members and to herself.

As if it wasn’t distasteful enough that special access was given to those who coughed up the money, Wynne had placed quotas on her ministers for raising funds for the Ontario Liberal Party. For example, it meant that the finance minister had to hit up Bay Street, Canada’s equivalent to Wall Street. Shaking down businesspeople for the privilege of having a face-to-face with a cabinet minister or the premier, for the bargain price of a mere $6,000, has left a bad taste in the mouth of the province’s electorate.

Realizing that she’d been caught in a public relations disaster, Wynne went into full damage control, publicly stating that the practice was to stop immediately. Of particular arrogance was when she followed this announcement with the challenge to the leader of the Conservative Party to also stop fund raising from business. What Premier Wynne apparently doesn’t understand is that SHE has the power and the ability to dispense taxpayers’ monies to favored business people who have made political contributions. Patrick Brown, as leader of the Conservatives, has no such power.

Trudeau Wynne

Poor judgement when it comes to ethical leadership is not just the domain of Ontario’s premier. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently exhibited a lapse in judgement when he allowed his justice minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, to be the guest of honor at a $500 per person reception in the offices of a major Toronto law firm. Trudeau tried wiggling out of the controversy by stating that the Liberal Party has strict rules concerning fundraising. However, his plea for understanding fell on deaf ears as criticism mounted, including from a former Liberal cabinet minister. (Photo: Wynne and Trudeau.)

Trudeau, as one political commentator has noted, has lashed himself to the mast of transparency. Yet the novice prime minister is raising questions on his moral flexibility. Another instance of this is his government’s refusal to allow the Parliamentary Budget Office (a toothless oversight body) to share budget 2016 background data with the public. The irony behind this was the PBO’s ongoing fight with the former secretive Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

However, Trudeau has inexplicably ramped up the secrecy of budget information, all in the name of his perception of “transparency.” At the time of posting this piece, Trudeau finally relented by allowing the Finance Department to release the budget information. The surprise with the data are questions over the future of such programs as the Child Benefit, given the absence of their costing in 2020.

Trudeau: a wolf in sheep’s clothing?


Back to Ontario. Citizens are once again witnessing the fast and loose actions of a premier. Wynne’s predecessor, Dalton McGuinty, served three terms over a decade. His government fell into disrepute with Ontarians near the end of his tenure. McGuinty exited before completing his third term, leaving a successor to clean up the mess. (He now teaches at Harvard.) However, an Ontario Provincial Police investigation into what became known as the Gas Plant Scandal in the Toronto area saw his former chief of staff and deputy chief of staff charged with destroying thousands of emails, considered to be evidence.

And then there’s shameful treatment of rural Ontarians and the wasteful spending of billions of taxpayer dollars on wind power. Dalton McGuinty naively barged ahead with the installation of wind turbines around the province, creating huge problems for rural residents who suddenly saw their homes and/or farms tumble in value. Most perniciously has been the negative health effects on many people who’ve been placed in untenable positions with wind turbines adjacent to their homes. Upon assuming the position of premier, Kathleen Wynne has continued with the government’s push for green energy via wind turbines. Take a moment to watch this fascinating documentary Big Wind.

An earlier auditor general report found that the wind turbine initiative and the gas plant scandal would cost Ontarians well over $1 billion. As a consequence, Ontario taxpayers are locked into a 20 year contract of inflated prices for an energy source that needs to be supported by fossil fuels, namely natural gas.


There’s something insidious about the nature of politicians. Just when it seems that a good, honest, competent person has been elected to office, a dark cloud appears bringing all what is wrong with political leadership. Every politician states that they will introduce ethical, moral and responsible government. They claim to represent change for the better for constituents. And then what occurs is the same template of graft, favoritism and fiscal irresponsibility. As bimbo politician Sarah Palin said during President Obama’s second run for office: “How’s that change thingy going for ya?”

Well, in Ontario the “change thingy” isn’t going terribly well–indeed, it’s nothing short of a disaster for the country’s largest province. Unfortunately for Ontarians, we have a few years left before the next election is held. And that will, in all likelihood, produce another leader of another political party who will practice his or her version of moral flexibility. Jimmy McGill would be impressed (photo).

Morality is the basis of things and truth is the substance of all morality.
– Mahatma Gandhi

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It’s About Brains and Leadership – Stupid!

April 3, 2016


This leadership post is about building the collective brain power of a nation, from which innovation and technology advancement emerge to strengthen its global competitiveness, and in turn its economy and standard of living.

Some pithy quotations go down in the history books as being highly malleable for borrowing. Such is James Carville’s famous comment: “It’s the economy, stupid!” Carville, for many years an endearing political analyst, was Bill Clinton’s campaign manager during his run for office against President George H.W. Bush in 1992, a time when the United States was experiencing a weak economy.

However, in this post it’s about brains and leadership – stupid! (No offence intended to the reader.) Specifically, it’s about the extremely important roles that education, knowledge, technology, know-how and leadership play in today’s brutally competitive global economy. It’s about building the collective brainpower of a nation, and then exploited in a focused manner by its political and business leadership.

Given your correspondent’s long history in the fields of labor markets, innovation and leadership, a certain amount of pent-up frustration has finally let loose to produce a commentary on his home country, Canada, and particularly a Maritime province–New Brunswick–where he lived for almost three decades.

Canadians have a peculiar perspective of how they fit in the world. Canada’s a wonderful country with a lot going for it. However, it also has a lot going against it: a massive geography, yet with only 36 million inhabitants stretched mostly as a ribbon within 200 kilometers of the U.S. border; a weak literacy rate (51% of Canadians 16 to 65 have a level 3 or higher, out of scale of 5); a continued strong dependence on exports to America (over 75% of total exports); to name but just a few “challenges.” (Photo: Canadarm)


Despite Canada’s enormous physical size, surpassed by only Russia, Canadians chuckle when they hear visitors from overseas mention that they have a relative in Calgary, Alberta, and if they could drive to visit them that same day. The problem arises when the visitor is visiting, say, Montreal or Toronto. “Sure, we can visit your uncle, but it will take a couple of days to get there.”

Canada is struggling to maintain its global standing on a variety of indicators. Unfortunately, the country has been sliding on a number of fronts, whether it’s global competitiveness (15th place), business innovation (26th), infrastructure (15th), or end of life palliative care (11th). Yes, the country comes out well on education statistics up to the end of high school (tied in 1st place with Finland), but much weaker on workplace skills training and adult continuous learning. However, education is a legislated provincial responsibility (with ample transfer payments from the federal government), with the result being a hodgepodge of education initiatives and metrics from the ten provinces.

Alberta, for example, is known for having perhaps the country’s best elementary-secondary education system. At the other end of the country, the four Atlantic Provinces continue to wallow in a sinking quagmire of poor educational outcomes. Literacy (level 3 or higher, where 3 is needed to function in society) on the East Coast (some 2.3 million people in the four provinces) is the weakest in Canada, ranging from a low of 43% in Newfoundland to 54% in Prince Edward Island (the only Atlantic Province above the national average).

In contrast, the three Maritime Provinces (Newfound-Labrador excluded) rank at the top with Ontario for high school graduation rates around 85-87%. Provinces such as Quebec and Alberta are around 70%, reflecting the wild swings in youth completing high school (the three territories are even lower). Unemployment in the Atlantic Provinces has historically been the highest among the provinces, blamed largely by neo-liberal economists for an over-reliance on unemployment insurance and welfare (the latter funded through block transfer payments from the federal government).


Canada’s provincial premiers have a propensity for navel-gazing and engaging in beggar-thy-neighbor economic policies. Of special concern are near bullet-proof inter-provincial barriers to trade on a wide variety of goods and services. This practice, now ensconced in Canada’s daily economic undertakings, is in direct opposition to the intention of the country’s founding fathers in 1867. Parochialism may have become one of Canada’s identities over the decades; it does NOT work in a globalized economy, driven frantically forward by technology and the rapid rise of emerging economies that are hungry for their economic share of the global pie.

For a long time, Canadians have managed to keep their collective head in the sand as rich provinces such as Alberta and British Columbia (and more recently Saskatchewan) have contributed significantly through equalization payments to boost the level of public services in the other provinces. Perhaps most reviling is that Ontario, the biggest province with 13.6 million people, has waffled between a “have-province” and a “have-not.” At the core of the problem is leadership and Ontario’s paucity of effective leaders in over two decades. Consider that only 11percent of Ontario companies export their products and services. Extract those that export to the U.S. and you’re left with a mere one percent that export abroad.

Canada’s current economic state, and by attachment its social welfare situation, is untenable. Alberta is hurting badly from slashed oil production due to plummeting oil prices, and will continue to hurt for the foreseeable future. Ontario limps along with a spendthrift premier who talks a lot but is not delivering responsible fiscal leadership. And the Atlantic Provinces are increasingly in a desperate situation. Newfoundland-Labrador’s relatively brief love affair with oil extraction has waned due to the global oil scene. New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island face bleak futures as their respective finances sink deeper.

Plenty of academics and business people have waded into the “have-not” Atlantic Provinces swamp to suggest their solutions, ranging from tough love on unemployment benefits to eliminating regional development subsidies to bringing in large numbers of immigrants to address the region’s increasingly warped population composition. There are merits to such ideas. However, what continually gets omitted are such key factors as entrenched illiteracy, abysmally low productivity, and poor technology adoption.

This brings to mind that across the pond reside relevant examples of coastal-based small countries that have done rather well for themselves. Setting aside historical differences, one important point to keep in mind is that Canada’s 10 provinces have enormous autonomy when placed against other countries, including the United States.

Norway Globe

So what countries are we talking about? Well, how about Norway, Sweden and Finland. Yes, Finland’s having a tough time due, in part, to a plunge in its oil exports to Russia and the country’s decision to adopt the Euro. However, the country’s well positioned to find new sources of growth, owing to it placing second in the world in innovation, helped by its numerous start-ups. And then there’s Finland’s flagship company, Nokia. In Canada, Nokia’s purchase of French-based Alcatel-Lucent in January 2016 included assuming its Kanata (West Ottawa) R&D-focused campus. Indeed, Nokia has had the perception of being primarily a mobile phone handset maker (sold to Microsoft in 2013) when in reality half the company’s business has been in telecommunications networks.

Sweden’s economy remains strong and diversified. And for Norway, sure it has oil and gas production, but that’s been only a very small part of that nation’s long history. For example, Norway began commercial aquaculture in 1970 when the first cage was introduced; it’s now the biggest producer in the world (photo: aquaculture in Norway). However, aquaculture first appeared in 1850. While 95% of production (of a wide variety of fish and shellfish) is exported to the European Union, salmon is shipped around the world.

Of significance, to address concerns such as contaminated salmon and an over reliance on prophylactic antibiotics, Norway recently has moved to eliminate them. Contrast that to Chile, another huge fish farming nation which is trying to respond to international criticism on using antibiotics.

Ironically, it was the Norwegians who in the early-seventies were asked by the New Brunswick government to share their experiences on fish farming and applications for the Bay of Fundy. New Brunswick, whose small-scale fish farming industry (relative to global competitors) has consolidated in recent years, has no-where near the sophistication of Norway’s industry. Yet New Brunswick has been in the business for four decades. It’s about technology adoption and enhanced productivity.

Indeed, it took until 2015 for new federal regulations to be proposed for Canada’s aquaculture industry to clarify federal-provincial jurisdictions on such issues as the use of chemicals (eg, pesticides to control sea lice) and the overall health treatment of farmed fish stocks. In 1998, the Government of New Brunswick ordered the slaughter of several million salmon because of the threat that wild salmon faced from a disease that spread among aquaculture farms. Canada’s aquaculture industry is about $1 billion a year. (British Columbia started into aquaculture around the same time as New Brunswick.)

Consider a few salient statistics from these Nordic countries.

Aquaculture Norway

Norway (population 5.1 million) is not the most climate-friendly country, stretching across the top of Sweden and bordering on the icy Norwegian Sea and North Sea. (Photos: aquaculture farm Norway; tidal power.) It isn’t situated in as geographically advantageous locations as New Brunswick (with its deep water ports) and Nova Scotia (with ready access to Europe and the U.S. Eastern seaboard).

Yet Norway’s GDP per capita is an eye-popping $97,000 against Canada’s $50,000. Sweden comes in at $58,000, with Finland at $50,000. Sure, Norway’s benefited from oil, and invested wisely, with $803 billion in its sovereign wealth fund as of January 2016 (the largest in the world by assets). In contrast, oil-rich Alberta, through poor fiscal leadership, squandered a portion of its royalties over many years (and, yes, it has contributed significantly to equalization payments to Quebec and the Atlantic Provinces.)

Indeed, while countries such as Russia are burning through their oil-based reserves, Norway is taking a prudent approach. As the finance minister, Siv Jensen, said to Bloomberg BusinessWeek in early 2016: “The fund has a very long-term perspective. It’s constructed to sustain large fluctuations in exposed periods.”

On unemployment, Norway is at essentially full employment, recording the envious unemployment rate of 3.5%. Finland’s and Sweden’s unemployment rates are around 9 and 7%, respectively, with Canada’s at about 7% (the Atlantic Provinces run several percentage points higher). Yet Norway’s managed to contain its inflation rate to 2% (the other three are lower).

When it comes to health, Norway’s mortality rate is between that of its two neighbors and Canada. But it has a higher fertility rate than Canada (1.8 vs. 1.6), and just behind Sweden’s which is almost at the replacement rate of 2%. Life expectancy is pretty much tied (82 years), with Finland’s slightly lower. However, infant mortality in Norway is only 2.8 deaths per thousand vs. Canada’s 5.2 (Sweden and Finland are at about 3.0).

Canada has an overall internet usage rate of 85%; Norway’s is 95%, with the other two Nordic countries at about 93%. Mobile cellular subscriptions are 81 per 100 people in Canada, while Norway has 116. However, Finland has an astounding 172 and Sweden 125, representing how skewed the statistics are when placed against Canada which has been a laggard on mobile technology adoption.


The point in illustrating some statistics from Norway and its neighbors is to underscore that very small countries are capable of achieving not just robust economies but, just as important, healthy societies from which creativity and innovation emerge. (Photo: Norway tidal power project.) In the words of the late British economist E.F. Schumacher: Small is beautiful.

That Norway is located at a very northern latitude with a less than desirable strategic geo-location shows a country that has focused national leadership with a view to the long-term. It’s not just about the immediate “now” when it comes to placating the electorate, one of Canada’s (and America’s) political competencies.

Norway may be an out-of-the-way small northern country, but what it lacks in access to sandy beaches and warm tropical waters it more than makes up in the way of brain-powered innovation. As reported in Wired’s June 2015 issue, Norway is blazing ahead on several new technologies, from robots used in drilling to social media indexing tools to expanding the use of electric vehicles through accessibility to charging stations to smart products for home remote connectivity.

It’s not just about exploiting resource extraction and related exports. More importantly, it’s about building a country’s collective brain capacity and know–how when it comes to creating a spirit of innovation and intelligent technology adoption. Smart leaders, whether at the nation-state, organization or community level, engage their constituencies to bring out the best in them, to share a vision of the future, and to move forward together to improve their well-being.

Behind the clouds the sky is always blue.
– Norwegian proverb


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Should Leaders Ever be Morally Flexible?

March 27, 2016


Viewers of Breaking Bad will remember the slimy lawyer character of Saul Goodman played by Bob Odenkirk. Representing Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) Saul, in his flashy suits, kept his clients out of prison at whatever cost.

Absent of any sense of morals or professional ethics, Saul was an ambulance chaser, par excellent, willing to do any illicit deal that pocketed him money.

In the new series (now in the second season) Better Call Saul, set six years before Breaking Bad takes place, the viewer gets the full treatment of Saul’s greasy legal skills. But now he’s going by his real name, James “Jimmy” McGill. McGill’s elastic concept of the law (eg, manipulating seniors on a bus to sign up for a tort action) and doing end-runs around the partners at the law firm where he weaseled his way into, exemplify his flexible moral code. He wears the ultimate Teflon suit, deftly flipping accusations of his immoral behavior back onto his accusers.

In a season two episode of Better Call Saul, Mike (played by Jonathan Banks) poses the question to Jimmy, “Are you still morally flexible?”

This prompts some exploration into whether it’s ever appropriate to be “morally flexible” on certain issues or in specific situations.

In the political and business world, we see examples of ethical and moral lapses occurring every day. With Saul Goodman–Jimmy McGill–it’s merely fiction. That’s fine. It’s hilarious. What’s not funny is when those in leadership positions deceive their followers, such as what the public has come to expect from their political leaders, whether at the municipal, state/provincial, or national levels.


But it also happens with regular occurrence with corporate leaders. Whether it was Bernie Ebbers of WorldCom, Dennis Kozlowski of Tyoc, or Kenneth Lay of Enron, there’s no shortage of top-level business leaders who have screwed investors and employees. Listen to their court testimonies or media interviews and these individuals mastered the art of moral flexibility, which eventually descended into criminal behavior. The line between acting without morals to actually breaking the law is indeed a very fine one. Of particular curiosity is why did only one corporate banker go to prison following the financial collapse of 2008?

For fans of House of Cards, the flexibility of morals descends into at times criminal behavior by Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) and his wife, Claire Underwood (Robin Wright). Previously a Congressman, Vice President and now President, Frank Underwood is a study of Machiavelli on steroids. His laser focus on achieving the pinnacle of power well exceeds Machiavelli’s amoral pursuit of power. Not to be outdone Claire, with her own ambitions for power, does the same, except in a more discrete way.

While House of Cards is fictitious (with some media commentators arguing the two protagonists are based loosely on Bill and Hilary Clinton’s relationship), the series reflects in many ways the manipulations, deceit and contempt towards the voting public. In short, the lack of ethical behavior in today’s political environment is a commentary on society’s downward sliding sense of what’s acceptable when it comes to morals. It seems that politicians, public servants and business people are increasingly losing sight of what is right and what is wrong.

Frank and Clair

Enter the Republican primaries circus underway in the United States. The Primaries process is revealing the party’s unappetizing underbelly. One aspect that has stood out is the absence of any sense of morals by many of the candidates. Witness Donald Trump’s extravagant promises and outrageous statements, encompassing racism, misogyny and bigotry, and his adroit moral flexibility on a wide array of issues, and you have perhaps America’s greatest elastic leader in history–moral flexibility in action.

Effective leadership involves staying true to steadfast principles and maintaining a consistent, ethical approach to how you conduct yourself daily, whether it’s through community service, managing in business or government, or inter-acting with peers as you solve problems and serve customers and clients.

As the old saying goes, “Say what you mean, mean what you say.” Be transparent in all your activities, shunning the temptation to coat the truth or to stretch it to suit your personal ambitions. Real leadership is about telling the truth, serving others and standing up for the vulnerable.

Don’t drink and drive. But if you do, better call Saul.
– Jimmy McGill

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Maximize Your PRESENCE, and Personal Power will Follow

March 20, 2016


She was a college sophomore, sleeping in the back seat of the car while her two friends were in the front. There were taking turns driving from Missoula, Montana, to Boulder, Colorado. The next moment she was waking up in a hospital room, critically injured from being thrown from the car when the driver over-corrected when the wheels hit the shoulder. She was a mess. Doctors told her that as a result of her traumatic brain injuries her IQ had dropped 30 points. Forget about continuing on at university she was told. Find a career that’s suitable to your abilities.

But she prevailed, proving everyone wrong, despite what she’d been told and the daunting obstacles that lay ahead.

Meet Amy Cuddy, PhD in social psychology from Princeton, and associate professor of business administration at Harvard University. Her research focuses on power, non-verbal communication and stereotyping. Her 2012 TED Talk in Edinburgh is the second most-watched with over one million views.

Now 43, Cuddy’s long journey back to health and onwards to graduate and post-graduate studies is a study in leadership perseverance. Her ground-breaking research into how we can use our bodies to influence and train our minds is reaching people in practical ways, from actors to business people to parents to teachers.

Cuddy Presence

At the end of December 2015, Cuddy released her new book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges. An excellent book, Presence enables Cuddy to delve much more deeply into her research and findings, and also to share selections of her numerous encounters and thousands of emails from people.

“Presence,” as she defines it for her book, “is the state of being attuned to and able to comfortably express our true thoughts, feelings, values, and potentials.”

First, however, let’s take a moment to watch her captivating 21 minute TED Talk.

In her book Presence, Cuddy stresses that presence is not a “permanent or transcendent mode of being.” Instead, we move in and out of it through our daily lives. Some would say that when we’re in this state that we’re living in the moment. But it’s also important to note that Presence is about releasing our personal power. As she states: “It’s about the honest, powerful connection that we create internally, with ourselves.”

When we look at personal power versus social power, Cuddy explains that while there’s a relationship between the two, more important is the distinction of what both represent. Social power is about exerting dominance to control the actions of other people. But it’s a limited power, she adds, since social power requires control over people. In contrast, personal power is based on being free from having to dominate others. It’s unlimited power because it requires you to access your inner resources, including values, special skills and unique personality.

It comes down to social power being about power over versus power to. Another way to express the latter, based on my leadership work, is that personal power may be seen as power with. I prefer power with because of its connotation of collaborating and sharing power with others.

Most importantly, Cuddy eloquently expresses her approach to power:
“Unless and until we feel personally powerful, we cannot achieve presence, and all the social power in the world won’t compensate for its absence.”

Later in the book. Cuddy talks about how to pose for presence, based on her interesting research findings. She also shares some of her stories from people she has met or from whom she has received emails. Her anecdote about Shannon who taught her kids to “starfish up” is not just cute but an effective way to reduce nervousness. Whether you do public speaking, chairing work or community meetings, managing projects, or being a busy parent, Presence has a very practical side to it. It’s not just about Cuddy’s research and her views on power relationships.

Take some time to check out Amy Cuddy’s research work and TED Talk. And perhaps add her new book to your reading list.

Stand up straight and realize who you are, that you tower over your circumstances.
Maya Angelou (African-American author, poet and civil rights activist)


Click here to download my complimentary e-book Creating Order & Meaning during Organizational Chaos.

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The Slide of America and the Rise of Armageddon

March 13, 2016


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

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

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

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

Reagan Gorby

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

United States 7,100
Russia 7,700
France 300
China 260
Great Britain 225
Pakistan 120
India 120
Israel 80
North Korea 8


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Good Leaders Avoid the Donald Trump Fear Mirror

March 6, 2016

Trump Crowd

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Trump Angry 2

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

seagullClick here to download my complimentary e-book Creating Order & Meaning during Organizational Chaos.

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Did You Call to Say Thank You?

February 28, 2016


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Meet Roy from Myers Hyundai, Kanata Autopark dealership.

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

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

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

Woman Thanks

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

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

The sales world needs for Roys.

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

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

seagullClick here to download my complimentary e-book Creating Order & Meaning during Organizational Chaos.

Jim Breakwater 3Visit my e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

Take a moment to meet Jim.


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