Archive for the ‘leadership’ Category

Leadership, Vision and Landing on the Moon

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy had a vision that the United States could land a man on the moon within 10 years. It was only 60 years before that that the Wright brothers flew the first airplane at Kitty Hawk. Yet, Kennedy had this vision that we could push our creativity and limits and within a short timeframe achieve what everybody else thought was impossible. That vision rallied people and resources and ignited the imagination and creativity not just of an entire country but of the world. The interesting thing is that it was the competition from the U.S.’s enemy at the time, the Soviet Union, that spurred that vision.

Today, sadly, marks the final landing of the space shuttle.  NASA will no longer be out beacon to the cosmos.  Instead NASA’s mission is to apologize and perform “outreach to the Muslim world“.  In a twisted perversion of Kennedy’s vision, we no longer should compete against others to better mankind and reach the stars but to subjugate our interests and apologize to others for a host of litanys that had nothing to do with us.  Where Kennedy once showed strong vision and leadership, with the killing of the space program and the ‘redefining’ of NASA President Obama shows lack of leadership and stifling of creativity and innovation into a set of strange apologies.  The irony is that with all of this ‘outreach’, America is more despised than ever in the Arab world.  Why?  Because we are no longer strong leaders with visions but reactive weaklings who ‘lead from behind’, which should more aptly be called following and passing the buck.

The lesson learned is that people respect leaders who have vision, tenacity and challenge those around them instead of trying to appease them.  It is a good lesson for all of us to learn, whether we are leading families, businesses or governments.  Strong leaders have vision and rallying people to those visions.  Weak leaders simply react to events and try to please everybody.  The irony is that instead of pleasing everybody, they please nobody!

Politics and Leadership

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

Any one looking at the current group of people who want to President have to notice that there seems to be a lack of leadership. It is even true of the current occupant of the White House. Instead of leading, he seems to be more focused on re-election and playing to his base. He says one thing but in reality is doing the opposite. It is the same a lot of times with many organizations. The best politicians do not make the best leaders. Why does it seem that there is such a shortage of leaders at the very moment in history when we need them most.

The answer is that a good politician does not make a good leader. The ‘art’ of politics is to please as many people as possible. The best way to do that is to give them ‘red meat’ or tell them what they want to hear exactly as they want to hear it. You build a base of power with a specific group of people.  The ‘art’ of leadership is to have a vision, adapt and often times do what people do not want because it is needed.  Leadership is fundamentally about actions.  Politics is about words.  It helps a good leader in many ways to be a good politician, especially the ability to communicate a message clearly and effectively to others.  However, a politican can be a hypocrite, flattering those above them who have a direct impact on their ability to ‘climb the ladder’.

The reason that I am writing this is that there seem to be a lot of politicians but no leaders running to lead the United States right now.  The same, unfortunately, can even be said of the current occupant.  Sometimes it is difficult to be a leader because you have to make decisions that are in the country or organization’s best interest and they may upset your ‘base’.  When decisions are made to get “elected” or “re-elected” because they appease a certain group/ideology and because they promote your individual self-interest, you are acting as a politician and not a leader.  It seems that that is what is happening now with the current budget crisis.  As you read the various press, it becomes clear that instead of working to solve the crisis there is a paralysis as both sides pander to their respective bases.  Leadership is often the art of compromise to solve a problem and when people are simply speaking empty rhetoric above each other rather than offering solid plans to solve a problem.

Free Improvisation Exercises

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

Due to popular demand, we now have a section that features FREE improvisation games that you can use with your training and course design. These exercises, along with some debrief points, are your to use. Just click here and check in periodically (perhaps mark as a ‘favorite’) for more games as we post them. Many of these are great for leadership debriefs (especially the 3 Up/Freeze Tag), change management, and innovation as well as team building. Enjoy!


Thursday, June 16th, 2011

The reason that behavioural interviewing is so popular is that it is predicated on the very logical belief that past performance indicates future performance.  It is the same with most performance.  We can look at the what has or has not worked in the past to make a fair determination of whether it will or will not work in the present/future.  Thus the famous quote that insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting a differrent result.  That is why I found this article by Victor Davis Hanson in the National Review so interesting.  Hanson talks about President Obama’s economic policies and how he is trying to turn the clock back to the 60’s and 70’s to policies that did not work.

What I find interesting is that so many very smart people believe that centralized economic planning can work.  It has never, in the history of mankind, done anything but create poverty and war.  The problem is that mankind and our economy is so fluid that nobody can ‘control’ it.  The reason that some people have is their own hubris and ‘false ego’.  They think they are smarter and/or want more power that they want to control everything.  These leaders often end up creating their own demise as we see time and time again.

The problem with ideology is that people hold onto beliefs no matter what the evidence is.  It is the same for people on the ‘other’ side of the political spectrum.  For instance, the idea that government should not do anything.  This extends to healthcare.  There are some things that should be provided by government.  The facts, for instance, on healthcare in systems that are government funded (i.e. Canada) versus fully private (i.e. U.S.).  The facts speak for themselves.  Canadians spent less per capita for healthcare than Americans do.  The infant mortality rate in Canada is significantly lower than the U.S. and the average lifespan in the population is higher.  Yes, there are wait times for ‘non emergency’ services (i.e. MRIs), but overall it does work better.

As I write in Flexible Thinker, the problems we have to overcome are the ones we ourselves control (i.e. preconceived ideas, false ego, etc.).  Can the Canadian healthcare system be improved by some type of competition?  Yes.  However, when we shut ourselves off to looking for solutions that work (and have worked) because of ideology, we become the problem and not the solution.

Why MBAs Make the Worst Leaders

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Interesting interview from Henry Mintzberg. As many people know, i am a big fan of Prof. Mintzberg, the head of the business school at McGill University in Montreal and professor of business at Harvard. His point is very well taken. MBAs make rotten leaders. The reason is that they know how to say ‘no’ to everything, are by nature conformist thinkers and non-entrepreneurial. Most of all, though, as Mintzberg points out, they are so full of themselves that they cannot manage others.

Confidence without competence. Which to me is equivalent to arrogance.

MBA courses tend to attract people who aren’t necessarily sensitive to people issues. We have a lot of evidence that these are people more concerned with numbers, and getting themselves ahead, than dealing with people. There’s a wonderful quote which comes from an interview with Harvard professor John Kotter. He did a study of the Harvard MBA class of 1974, tracking their careers. A journalist asked him if the people he tracked were team players. He said no, they want to run the team, create the team and lead it to glory rather than be a member of someone else’s team. And that is the antithesis of team working, wanting to run the team.

The problem with most organizations, though, is that they have become lead by a social clique that doesn’t necessarily care about the people of the organization and think short sighted.  This is closely aligned with the book Freakonmics wonderful chapter about how the people who stole the cookies and candies most from the Good Sam box were the senior management.  It also reflects on the organization that it becomes a bullying organization where people are promoted by who they know and not by their accomplishments.

What is Real Leadership and Courage

Monday, April 18th, 2011

I have written extensively about leadership in the past. It is definitely a subject that interests all of us. Especially when we see the succession of mediocre politicans who rise to positions of leadership and then simply fall back on politicking rather than problem solving.   Bad leadership simply fans the flames of extremism in order to maipulate.  I was recently thinking about the late Congresswoman Gifford, who was killed by a mentally ill person.  The first thing the sheriff did (who is elected) was to play politics. 

The last circle of hell, Dante wrote in The Inferno, is reserved who those who sit passively by during a time of great moral crisis. When we have a politician who sits in a racist church for 20 years and ‘sees nothing and hears nothing’, we are wrong for… overlooking that. Likewise when we have a congresswoman who is shot for simply trying to help make this world better, we need to condemn those who incite the hatred and anger that caused her shooting. Congresswoman Giffords was a strong and brave person 

It is now time to condemn those who incite hatred on both the right and the left and won’t allow healthy debate and differences to flourish. Arguments with respect are great things because they help us to form new ideas and perspectives. Sloganeering and demonizing your opponent serves only to silence those who want to help solve problems and promotes those who only wish to promote themselves.

The best lack all conviction/ While the worst are full of passionate intensity – W.B. Yeats

We now need real leaders, even those who will stand up to their ‘base’ instead of pandering to it, take a stance and lead.  It is something we have rarely seen.

Listening to Mark Twain

Saturday, April 16th, 2011

I recently had a series of e-mails from a person whom I was considering going into a new business venture with and it reminded me of Mark Twain’s famous dictum that it is better to keep your mouth shut and have people think you are stupid than open it up and prove them right.   The problem was that I asked for a written agreement and to put together a business plan before doing a lot of work on this project.  What I discovered was that this person was a control freak to umpteenth degree and really wanted to simply be a ‘big shot’ and have me do all of the work and then eventually shoulder all of the blame.  Although he had this idea for over two years, he had done nothing with it.  He did not even want to invest $10 to register a domain name.  There is nothing like being lazy as well stupidly cheap.

After asking him for a reasonable request (which would have also helped him), he wrote me a series of  long e-mail that was particularly scathing.  I guess he had time to write these e-mails but not register a domain name and was upset that I did register the domain.  The gist of his e-mail was ‘I will tell you what to write and you will write it!’.  The funny part was that I had to prove my ability to write to him, even though I have written countless articles and books and am all over the internet, while he does not have to prove himself (even though you will not even find a LinkedIn profile of him).

There are two points to this.  One, with technology and instaneous communication, it is a great idea to think about things before commiting them to paper.  You definitely cannot take back words and even more so with e-mail.  Sometimes it is better to simply let things go or give it a few days before you write things down.  Also, silence can be powerful.  Better to be silent sometimes and let people ‘think’ they know what you are up to, than to tip your hand and show them.

The second lesson is on leadership.  It is obvious that this person will never do anything.  He is all talk and if after 2 years of an idea he does not even both to register a domain name (cost $10), then he will never do anything.  Instead of trying to inspire and collaborate with people to get things done, he simply wants to bully them to do it is his way.  Obviously after two years of going nowhere, you would think he might figure out that his way isn’t workinng.  For that, however, he should take Ben Franklin’s quote to heart.  Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

The idea of innovation is not simply having an idea, but having the dedication and openess to execute it and adapt your strategy accordingly.

Fear, Change and Politics

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

In the new television commercials for Michael Ignatieff, the Canadian Liberal candidate for Prime Minister, he tries to scare Canadians that the current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, is going to create a “U.S.-style healthcare system’ if he is elected to a majority government. Meanwhile south of the border, in the U.S., the Republicans are threatening Americans that President Obama is trying to create a Canadian-style healthcare system there.

What the politicans are doing is using fear as a campaign tactic. It is a very basic fear – the fear of change! Many people fear change – even if it is for the better. I think that there are people who would rather be kicked every day in the most sensitive parts of their body than embrace a change where the person stops kicking because their leg gets tired. Wtih fear comes uncertainty (‘the devil you know’). With change, however, there also comes growth and opportunities. Most Americans and Canadians recognize that there are problems with their healhcare system. Yet the decision-makers are focusing people more on fear than solutions.

Why Is Leadership So Difficult?

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

The problem with leadership ‘solutions’ is that so often the people giving them couldn’t lead their dog for a walk. So many people rise through organizations on being ‘politicians’ (including in our respective countries). Mediocrity rises to the top because it knows how to ‘play the game’ and manipulate both the system and others. Often times we substitute designations (i.e. MBA, PhD, etc.) or schools (he went to Harvard so he must be smart) for leadership. William F. Buclkey once famously said that he would rather be lead by the first 500 names in the Boston phonebook than by somebody from Harvard. Samuel F. Bacharach has an excellent litle blog posting on why leadership fails (hypocrisy, elitism and emotional deception) that I think says it all fairly well and straightforward. It is the problem that we see over and over again with our national leaders (i.e. Barrack Obama and Michael Ignatieff) and most major consulting firms (having worked in one I can tell you that they certainly do not live what they sell). It is why so many organizations are on the leadership merry-go-round and there is a constant stream of ‘leadership training’. The problem is that you cannot train people who do not want to learn. If you have been rewarded for being a jerk and manipulating others, the odds are you are not going to suddenly change because of a workshop.  Perhaps what we need is more REAL diversity in leadership.