INSIGHTS

This Month

We just returned from Paris to London and were struck by how palpable a thing culture is. You can pick up the "culture" of Paris, it's cafe life, its aesthetics, its passion for food and wine and art, its Cartesian intellectualism in the air. In London you can pick up the sense of order (God bless the queues), classical and yet edgy tempo to life and the arts, a vitality and yet a solidity, the joy of language, that cheeky sense of humor, everywhere. Cultures are living things and they affect everything, and everyone. What is the culture in your business? And is it one you would choose? Is it one that you are proud to enroll others in and invite them to contribute to? What 2-3 shifts in your culture could make the 2-3 biggest shifts to your performance? Until you find those links, you don't really yet understand the living culture that is your organization.


Archived Insights

Always strive for perspective. Hurricane Irene wreaked havoc on many people. But in the midst of the tumult, families came together, neighbors were on hand to help each other out, and people took the actions they needed to. A friend had a "hurricane party" and they went through an impressive array of wines as they awaited Mother Nature's pleasure. Another colleague got off Nantucket and got home, in time to ride out the winds and flooding...but from home...and Tweeted en route.We had to get to Singapore. So we drove in the wee hours to Toronto. Nine grueling hours, as we learned all airports would be closed, and found a flight to Singapore via Hong Hong Kong from Toronto. But by 3:30 that afternoon, hours before Irene was to arrive in New York, we were in Toronto (outside the zone of impact), on a balmy sunny day there, sitting on a patio, enjoying a cigar and checking in with friends. I write now from Singapore, and New York is back in action. And while Anderson Cooper of CNN was earnestly seeking to stoke portentous panic, two joggers happened by, right behind him, seemingly oblivious. Serious matters like Irene require serious preparation -- and we had it. They may require serious recovery -- and we should help those who need it for sure. But they also need lashings of perspective, dollops of humor, and enough adaptation to see us through the vicissitudes of life, so we can avoid the waves we need to...and surf the rest.

Venality in the world doesn't change much. George Bernard Shaw wrote a play called "On the Rocks". It was set in England in the early 30's, amidst skyrocketing unemployment and a paralyzed political process. Eerily familiar. As we watch a bankrupt political process in the US, with empty chest-thumping and speechifying, we realize that if you make "re-election" a job criteria, and placating those who fund that effort your primary passion (rather than results for your community and constituents), you create the morass we see today. Plato's dictum returns to haunt us: "What is honored in a country is cultivated there." We are overdue to honor results over rhetoric and letting actions speak louder than words.

How we treat others reveals our own character, our caliber, and our likely future success. Part of the Holy Grail of leadership is tapping and releasing "discretionary effort". This is the effort people volunteer, and which you cannot command...as it's beyond what you can expect. People offer this for a variety of reasons. One is their passion for the job being done. Two is their commitment to their colleagues and their personal pride in notting letting down people they care for. Third is the active encouragement and validation they receive for making that difference. No one is passionate about a job overseen by someone who considers contributors to be cogs at best. No one is committed to an environment where they and others are considered incidental at best. And no one whose energies aren't recharged by meaningful acknowledgement will find it meaningful to keep giving their best. Treat people as people and in light of who you wish them to be. They will always be more than you hoped for, and they'll share that with you as engage with them accordingly.

Great moments occur in leadership and life when we are fully engaged. We can't deliver much that's memorable when our attention is frittered away, our focus is scattered, or we are attempting to multi-task with such frenzy that we dissipate rather than concentrate our energies. People cannot walk in a straight line when playing with their "Crackberries" -- a surefire demonstration that we are not hard-wired for multi-tasking! If walking is beyond us...watch out! People gazing out the window, or mentally rehearsing their replies, frequently miss the import of what they are allegedly "listening" to. They either act on their misunderstanding which can be very bad, or else project conclusions onto the other person in terms of intent, or motives, or even intelligence. Getting something wrong is bad enough, totally distorting your perception of another person can be worse. Yes, you have to be able to handle many things -- but in successive moments of focus. And creating windows of focus where certain key things are advanced, be it understanding someone, be it walking from point A to B decisively, be it taking a key decision, or showing care to a loved one, is how we make real impact and real progress in all aspects of leadership and life.

Having just returned from a trip to Dubai and two to Europe helping senior leaders engage, align, confront and support each other towards a mutually identified bull's eye, I am struck by the simplicity of solutions for what are otherwise complex problems. But problems are made "complex" because the "simple" solutions are too difficult. They are simple, but not easy. So two senior leaders who inherently distrust each other's motives can be the source of relatively pervasive paralysis for a global company, making an impact of hundreds of millions of dollars (if not more) and hundreds of thousands of lives. Yet "complex" solutions involve "managing around" this chronic dysfunction. There are only three simple solutions: get rid of both of them, get rid of one of them (assuming the remaining person has healthy relationships otherwise), or invest time in getting them aligned and ideally give them something significant they simply have to deliver together. Return-on-energy must be considered here and likelihood of success. But decide, and act...and let the complexity be in the execution not in the decision. Most times we know which of three such options are called for...we must just be leaders enough to act accordingly.

We were asked by a client for a fully business-oriented session. They had an evident rash towards anything that to them even hinted at fun, or team exercises, or attempts to create bonding. At one level, I have great sympathy for them. Too many "team events" are empty sugar highs, enthusiasm-generating for sure, but with scant connection to business priorities or the real world of work. On the other hand, the false dichotomy that says the antidote is to have a deadeningly solemn exchange, bereft of imagination, humor, or any whimsy even, is at least as misguided. We need transitions, we need tempo changes, we need to tap emotions as well as intellect -- and all this can be done without losing focus on key business deliverables. With another client on a plantation in Dibba (just into Oman) and then at Ras al-Khaimah (part of the United Arab Emirates, an hour outside Dubai), the global leadership team of a major European logistics business managed to deepen relationships, identify the most critical business objectives that only they as a team could progress, identified immediate actions and priorities with clear chanpions and accountabilities, converged on behaviors they would hold each other accountable for and step up to, and even gave each other bracing but supportive 'feedforward' (future-based requests to each person based on their roles). They also spent the night at the plantation in the desert, biked around and had a treasure hunt with GPS tracking no less, learned to sand board (like snowboarding, but on the dunes), and composed and performed an African drumming routine with great gusto. Hard-bitten leaders said they were astonished at what they had achieved in a little over 24 hours and how much fun they had doing it. A leader from the North of England on that team volunteered the following "Thank you for a very special 24 hours. All of us have really commented on how much we achieved, learned and shared." Always go for both/and, the human side and the business side are inextricably woven together.

Many people ask me, "How can you get so much done?" The answer I give is the same that others give who achieve, many of whom I truly respect and admire as exceptional achievers. The answer is, "Any long-term aspiration starts with specific action you can take today." So you want to speed walk a half-marathon and today you can't walk 5k. So this week, you plan 3 45 minute walks of 2.5 miles each, and aim in two weeks to walk your first 5k . You wish to write a book. This week you write a 10 page chapter, and outline your book proposal and identify 5 literary agents you wish to send it to. You want to improve your business pipe-line, and so you identify three current clients you can ask for a referral, or four close friends who you can introduce to your business and have coffee or breakfast with to brainstorm people you can approach. You wish to deepen relationships, so you plan an uninterrupted "date" with the person you want to deepen your connection with and make sure you are fully alert, present, and there to participate. You want to find time for a skiing trip and can't take a week, so so identify a long week-end and a working budget and this week create a plan to make that happen. There is no "long-term". Everything is kicked off and activated now...or not. So pick 3-4 key goals and find some credible ways to break ground. Momentum builds on momentum and you'll find yourself farther along as you move. Inertia is inhibiting...and momentum is liberating. Find a way to to enable momentum and your dreams will be measurably as well as motivationally closer than they were just before. All achievement happens in chunks, in increments, and is grounded in the daily heroism to make progress, however measured.

We don't like to face the fact of sacrifice, even when it's for things we clearly want. Part of that is because of our broken definition of 'sacrifice'. We think of it as self-punishment or pain. But if a loved one was ill, and you took them to the hospital in the middle of the night, would you say, "Wow, that was really painful. Can't believe they punished me like that." Of course not. You'd just say, "I love them, and they needed me." Sacrifice is best understood as loving yourself enough to take care of what you need. It's a form of self-caring, considering yourself valuable enough and important enough to be healthy for, to develop skills for, to protect financial health for, to nurture key relationships for, and more. When the United States gets a pep rally at the State of the Union from the President, and a doomsday rattle from the Republicans, rather than a call to shared commitment and sacrifice, to make the hard choices -- not for self-punishment -- but for love of our families, ourselves and even our country, we know we're in a tough place. The biggest challenge isn't the economy, or global warming, or even terrorism. It's our inability to face facts, make intelligent sacrifices based on rational self-interest and self-caring, and then move on to reap the rewards of solving those problems, rather than ducking them or procrastinating them. No one will doubt our talent, our creativity or our capability in the United States -- except it seems to face facts, defer gratifcation, and reward leaders for helping us face the truth...so we can truly transform it in the direction of our dreams.

The "Lame Duck" session of Congress has been unexpectedly fertile in the United States, leading some to suggest that maybe Congress should be obliged to conduct all its business in one month each year! Certainly more has gotten done, arguably of substance and sense, than in the last two years. There's a learning here. Work expands to fill the time available for its completion. Provide a real deadline, with consequences and incentives (in this case, either we get it done now, or with the new majorities in Congress, we just won't at all), and people's imagination, empathy, communication and listening skills, all get sharpened. When companies say of critical initiatives, "We'll get to that later," beware! It usually means they won't. Here's a New Year resolution for leaders. What is one thing you know you should be doing, but have put into the "too hard to take up" category? Particularly something you know is doable and will have major impact, but will require some emotional heavy lifting and adaptation of behaviors and paradigms. Pick one, commit to it, burn the boats, follow through on it, and deliver it! I'll place a bet right now. And you can collect on the best dinner available in New York if it doesn't come to pass. Do this, and it will be the thing you're arguably most proud of next year -- and a source of great liberated productivity and almost certainly profit as well! A New Year calls for renewal!

Why do we put off decisions that clearly HAVE to be made? I can think of a personal friend whose business needs something -- it's staring her in the face, she's acknowledged it needs to be done, she can well afford it, she knows how to get it done. We agree, we part for some time, and when I hear of what's afoot in her life next, the same impasse. I have clients who are at a clear crossroads. They don't like the options, but the options (as donated by markets, resources, calendars and priorities) are what they are. And the longer they wait, the less likely that we can pick the best of these options, mitigate its downside and optimize its benefits. But they prevaricate, and their handlers and internal hacks create more empty "analyses" and "committees" to bureaucratize the inevitable. And people have the temerity to call this "consultation"! Especially as given their stated strategic objectives and the opportunity costs, you could bet all the tea in China or all the barbeque in Tennessee as to what they should and will opt for. I have had people share great ideas for a new business, and it's clear it's a low risk, high opportunity venture, which they could run with in their spare-time, instead of watching reruns of "Desperate Housewives" or empty web surfing. Six months later, it's still a "good idea" and they are no more in charge of their life than before. If we could get comfortable being uncomfortable, if we could condition ourselves to enjoy making a decision right after we've taken it (assuming a sane process of checking in with "head" and "heart"), rather than awaiting some cosmic dispensation or worse, procrastinating until a decision, often a bad one, is made for us by circumstances, we would transform our possibilities and our lives.

I attended a dinner of the global wine group, Commanderie de Bordeaux. As the name implies, these are passionate enthusiasts and collectors of Bordeaux wine. Very capable leaders put in imagination, money and passion towards creating distinctive evenings to share together. They do this on a volunteer basis and donate wine, talent and time. Yet in corporate life we think of incentives as being financial, of 'bribing' people to do things. And here are successful leaders coming through with very high standards, collaborating, cooperating out of the love of something -- in this case, shared camaraderie over the enjoyment of Bordeaux. Common causes, unifying purposes, shared enthusiasms are the most powerful energizers and motivators in the world. It's high time companies considered how to become more like an orchestra, a Girl's Scout troupe, an affiliation of Bordeaux wine lovers and less like a polarizing, deadening place of abstruse rules and disconnected work. Models of great organizational behavior are all around us. A successful bowling league displays them. Why don't we go there for benchmarking rather than up in the clouds looking for the next theory or fad? Perhaps because the answers are so simple they're not simple, and so damn easy as to be really hard. They are easy to understand and hard to do. They need energy. They need leadership.

The UN convened in New York, clogging the streets, inconveniencing visitors and residents alike, giving us a barrage of ill-mannered police officers who got to flex their "God-complex" for all to see. Don't get me wrong, I have the greatest respect for who serve and protect. However, convert them into overlords who have to convert parts of New York into a garrison city, and their better angels don't exactly surface. Countless millions were spent for "representatives" to get together, posture for TV cameras and unload hot air. Are there any commitments that have emerged that we can track? I support an organization where world matters can be debated and discussed with some measure of civility and diplomacy. But surely we can come up with something more constructive than this bedlam in one of the most crowded and busy spots on earth? What aspects of your business, from annual conferences, to the way meetings are conducted, to how performance reviews are done, resemble the pointless pomp and empty ceremony New Yorkers experienced? And how can you retain the positive intent while dumping the excess? Hot tip: have everything lead to tracked actions and commitments of strategic value. Otherwise, jettison it for the sophistry and delusion it is.

Be impeccable in your agreements. I am constantly shocked by people who commit to something, who then have to be followed through with to come through on those commitments. Then, if they abide by them, they act as if they are doing you a favor.

When you commit, come through. Respond fast. And if people don't come through on what they say, call them on it. Life and leadership are much simpler if you offer accountability, expect accountability and take a stand for reliability. Just the act of doing so, puts you in a rarefied category. It is a category of being trustworthy and referable. It's a great brand, a great reputation and an expectation you should have of partners and one you should foster in those who engage you and partner with you. If you are a source of reliability and confidence, in addition to expertise and comptence, you will flourish and deserve to!

Amazing to see the impact and power of Oscar Wilde's AN IDEAL HUSBAND at the 49th season of The Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Timeless in its impact about love needing to rescue us when we fail, and a timely warning to beware making false idols of each other. Great organizational cultures allow for mistakes...they don't endorse negligence, but they make room for human experimentation...no one poses as if they were perfect, so energy can go to improvement, not cover-ups. Moreover, the sad charade of tap dancing around issues then fades. Denial shifts to discovery and fresh design! J.M. Barrie's play about how we can get a second chance (HALF AN HOUR) would be less dramatic if we realized the role of life is ongoing creation and re-creation. We all have to outgrow today's problems as a way of realizing tomorrow's potential. The best teams enable this for their members.

I was giving a talk the other evening to a group of entrepreneurs. They had been bomarded with input on "business plans" at the one end and "business mojo" on the other. I was speaking about key paradigms, distinctive approaches and then some key tools for driving performance, building engagement and liberating passion. One attendee asked me why I had showered them with so many quotes from "so many really old people". The dumbing down of our culture was captured by the question. Some of the "really old people" were Emerson and the late, great Peter Drucker. Separated by centuries, offering timeless wisdom. Others in the "really old" ilk included Lou Gerstner, Jack Welch, Steve Jobs, Herb Kelleher, Edward de Bono. We needn't assume that the older amongst us are automatically venerable and wise. But disdain for those whose accomplishments and wisdom are worth listening to, to learn from or even to disagree with, is forgetting the memory of where we've come from, and the shoulders we're standing on to take our own big swings for the future. Santayana (old also when he passed away doubtless) told us that those who don't study the past are doomed to repeat it. Amnesia isn't wise...we need all the savvy, intelligence and insight we can get. And what the "really young" have to do is not be hemmed in by past ideas certainly, but use them to inspire their own leaps of future-creating imagination. As artist Mark Rothko observed, you have to understand the art you're transcending.

We've all watched the disaster in the Gulf, a well we can't plug or cap, BP wringing their hands ineffectually while we observe how our addiction to oil not only enriches and emboldens hideous regimes, distorts our foreign policy objectives, ruins our environment and retards our will to invent the technology of the future. We sit on some of the world's largest reserves of natural gas. We know that nuclear technology has been used safely by many countries and wind power has been harnessed effectively by others. Tragedy is not so much when we face a problem we can't solve. It's when we keep perpetuating a problem we CAN solve, and won't. It is a stark reminder that the greatest human limitations are not our faculties or abilities, but our capacity to act on tough if necessary choices -- at the right time! Galvanizing ourselves to do so is the essence of leadership. We've never needed it more.

Why are airports such fertile sources of appalling service? We were lining up to board a flight from Geneva to London. A sign said, "First/Business Class, Gold and Silver Card". Those of us who presumably were identified by this caption, congregated near the sign. This is usually also the group who is invited to Board first, right after those with children or those needing assistance or extra time. To our chagrin, when boarding was announced, it was indeed indicated that First/Business, Gold and Silver Card holders should board, but they opened up boarding at the opposite end from where the sign was placed. Not surprisingly, everyone else rushed the opening, and were told they couldn't board as they didn't have the right Boarding Card! While those of us who "could" board, were trying to claw ourselves past the crowd, eventually they gave up, and let everyone through. We asked the bored looking gate agent why they placed the sign at one end if they wanted us to be able to Board first, and then opened up boarding on the other side. "What's the problem, you're all boarding." We pointed out that by this logic, they should remove the sign, and just do general boarding rather than make pointless announcements that are illogical based on how they've organized things. Still bored, dreaming of her next sun tan in St. Tropez perhaps, she said, "The girl is over there, what can I do?" How about opening up boarding where the sign is? Not a chance! Beware the "disconnect" between strategies, tactics, procedures and the "end in mind", the actual customer experience you're after. And as Mark Twain advised, if all else fails, let people "think" you're stupid, rather than opening your mouth and removing all doubt!

I just arrived after a superb flight on Air France from Paris. First Class has a separate check-in entrance (not just line), you are whisked away to a private seating area. Your bags are dealt with, yoiur passport details entered. You are then escorted through a private security line to a lounge. Immigration formalities are handled for you, and the immigration officer (who looked like a sun-tanned extra from the Cannes Film Festival) returns your Passport to you with a smile (assuming of course they have no reason not to!). Then a private car drives you to the plane, and you are escorted aboard. Wonderful! And then you arrive in JFK...wait 20 minutes for the baggage belt to start moving and find your first class or business class tagged bags emerge last! Why, because they were loaded FIRST! Why? Who knows? An Air France rep said to me ruefully, "We're still trying to enhance the arrival experience for our Premier Customers." I replied, "Easy. Have the container with the First/Business tagged bags loaded LAST, it'll be unloaded FIRST, and just ensuring that, will put you in the top 10% of airlines." Why do we tag bags otherwise? For a flourish of color? For bragging rights at the hotel? No! So when we must check bags, we can leave with them right away! What simple solutions are you and I wringing our hands over in our businesses that can be quickly, deftly, conclusively dealt with by just overthrowing inertia and taking a simple, decisive action that makes a major difference? Let's unload the right bags first!

A Health Care Summit looms in the US as I write. People are wondering if anything will be "unscripted" and whether any "substance" will be heard. In short, will we hear pre-fabricated already rehearsed platitudes, or might real discourse occur? Cynicism comes readily and abundantly and perhaps with good reason. But as a leader if people have already concluded that your future will largely equal your past, that you can't surprise us, transcend past identities and create new possibilites, you've stopped leading. You can still be a charismatic, a rallier of ideologues whose biases resonate with yours, but you can no longer CREATE. Leadership is creativity, applied pragmatically for results, generated through a broad spectrum of ideas and positions and perspectives, brought to life by the passionate engagement of people who believe in both the destination being aimed for and the leaders guiding them there.

I spent a morning with a client who is working to shift their culture and performance. So much of what they said they had improved, so much of what they said they still had to do better came down to simple human dynamics. Spending time listening to customers, some energy dialoguing with key internal partners, building relationships within teams, connecting more with each other. "Leadership is a contact sport." Sadly, we'll do anything to avoid communicating it seems, until we've exhausted every other expedient. And yet, the shortest distance between two people, multiple agendas, across barriers, by which to build bridges and more, comes down to enriching our interactions. Offer some energy, a measure of empathy and explore together in the spirit of prototyping and co-creation -- and watch seeming miracles occur. The "soft" things ARE the really hard things. And the most important ones.

Democracy is for sale because we are. We have allowed ourselves to be "bought off" through credit card excess and madcap consumerism, letting the pigs feed at the trough in legislative cabals. As we ring in a season where the retail sales are ringing less stridently, it's a good time to reconsider values and priorities. Our liberties were hard won from the sacrifice, genius and commitment of past generations. We too will pass the torch in due course. What will we pass on? This could be a pivotal moment where we are done being hoodwinked. This could be a moment where apathy and cynicism transmutes into dedication and inspiration and drives commitment and enterprise, innovation and re-invention. Inflection points, turning points, tend to come out of downward spirals that are arrested. Like Howard Beal in the immortal movie NETWORK, we have to say, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" Let's make sure our lives, our businesses, our families, our organizations are truly part of the solution. We have to empower a future a we wish to live in and which is worthy of both our past heritage as well our vision of the future.

Sometimes facts are inconvenient and so we shutter our minds against them. In Pakistan, railing against American missteps in the past, semi-smug Pakistani audiences have been grilling the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. This as the US gears up to provide non-military economic focused grant aid to the tune of $7 billion dollars -- all borrowed of course, given the US debt. As she said to the audience, "We don't HAVE to give it to you." Indeed, and Pakistanis need to own up to the fact that if they had generated the economic resources and political will, they wouldn't need to absorb American influence. The US is considering whether to increase troop levels in Afghanistan. Yet for the cost of one US soldier stationed in Afghanistan, 20 local schools can be built. Of the schools set up there, by individual philanthropy or NGO's, most are still open and functioning, with Afghan girls being educated in them. Does anyone really believe the ripple effects from that won't be at least as profound as more boots on the ground? Re US healthcare, when 68% of bankruptcies come from medical bills in the US, and we spend 18% of US GDP (roughly double what other industrialized nations do) on health care and have poorer overall health statistics to show for it, surely the "status quo" ISN'T an option? What seminal facts, facts that cut through the rhetoric and get to the core of an issue, should you and I be studying, facing, or working to transform this month?

We saw the wonderful exhibit LINCOLN IN NEW YORK to celebrate the Lincoln Bicentennial (1809-2009). All across the nation there are commemorative exhibitions of this extraordinary, transcendent figure. Rail-splitter, Illinois lawyer, Senator, President, a leader for all the ages. With a life initially wracked with difficulty, hardship and defeat, Lincoln cobbled together a persona, a Presidency, an unforgettably compelling mode of expression, and a capacity to see to the core of issues and needs...and to take action accordingly. New York was a key to the Civil War, the wealthiest city and mightiest port, divided into abolitionists and those invested in the cotton trade. The exhibit painted a portrait of a leader who often had to take draconian measures -- but who found a way to take a stand in time for all time and all people, while doing what he needed to. A challenging but seminal reminder for all leaders...do what you must indeed, but make it count, make it stand for something worth giving our best for.

Why do we feel we have to strike a haughty tone when dealing with people? Years ago the researchers behind Transactional Analysis (TA) warned us of the dangers of Parent-Child conversations. Being chided, either the child in us pouts and huffs off -- or erupts, or our own Paternal counter-judgement is invoked -- a retaliatory defensiveness. Instead if we can make requests or points addressing the maturity of the other person, speaking to the better angels in their nature, enrolling their positive pride, eliciting their commitment for something we want to advance together, we'll get far more resourcefulness from them. We'll then be more likely to tap their passion and their gifts, rather than their tap dancing skills. Whether with customers, suppliers, colleagues, partners, or anyone else -- give people something to live up to in the way that you address them. Leaven judgment with appreciation and approbation, bring in objectivity and curiousity to soften the sting of sometimes necessary observations, and above all address the person you want them to be, not the crackpot that may occasionally emerge under stress. "I like who I am when I'm with you" is not a bad aspiration to try and make true for those who relate with us, in both our professional and personal lives.

Why do we feel we have to strike a haughty tone when dealing with people? Years ago the researchers behind Transactional Analysis (TA) warned us of the dangers of Parent-Child conversations. Being chided, either the child in us pouts and huffs off -- or erupts, or our own Paternal counter-judgement is invoked -- a retaliatory defensiveness. Instead if we can make requests or points addressing the maturity of the other person, speaking to the better angels in their nature, enrolling their positive pride, eliciting their commitment for something we want to advance together, we'll get far more resourcefulness from them. We'll then be more likely to tap their passion and their gifts, rather than their tap dancing skills. Whether with customers, suppliers, colleagues, partners, or anyone else -- give people something to live up to in the way that you address them. Leaven judgment with appreciation and approbation, bring in objectivity and curiousity to soften the sting of sometimes necessary observations, and above all address the person you want them to be, not the crackpot that may occasionally emerge under stress. "I like who I am when I'm with you" is not a bad aspiration to try and make true for those who relate with us, in both our professional and personal lives.

Ted Kennedy's passing was noted by people on both sides of the political aisle. Conservative commentator George Will suggested that it recalled Churchill's comment about FDR, that meeting him was like opening a bottle of champagne, and knowing him was like drinking the champagne. John McCain said that Edward Kennedy even while fighting you, loved you. As he was being put to rest, a hand-written acknowledgement was seen by a constituent, "The People's Senator". Kennedy was a flawed, personally volatile man, who resurrected himself from a slew of mistakes to engage with vitality and vivacity in the US senate, to advance causes he believed in. He transcended the privilege he came from, and became far more than the sum of his mistakes, or even his ideology. It would be fascinating if we all focused on standing more "for" things than being defined by what we "oppose". It would be empowering if we understand that change happens not just in a bolt of lightning, but incrementally, collaboratively and driven by passionate purpose. If our vulnerability can leaven our character, rather than destroy it, and if we can focus the education that shoulda accompany our pain on achievements worth outgrowing our frailty for -- then there's hope, for us, our organizations, and perhaps even the worlds we participate in and contribute to.

At the Shaw Festival we saw "Good King Charles". Shaw's play imagines encounters between the British monarch Charles II, Isaac Newton, George Fox (the founder of the Quakers, or more properly The Society of Friends), and English portrait painter Godfrey Kneller, the ill-fated and somewhat churlish royal brother (himself to be King before being ousted), James Duke of York, and some notable ladies who provide largely sizzle and personal magnetism in this play. It is unlikely these people ever met all together -- but the wonderful intellectual, cultural and social fireworks that Shaw depicts from their potential interactions are dazzling! When was the last time we assembled for our dinner parties, or Board rooms for that matter, people of such vital distinction and diversity, such that just being together would be educational? Challenging times need bracing new ideas, passions and exchanges. Let's bring dialogue and engagement, the type with blood flowing through it, back to life and leave the mindless banter and the politically correct platitudes as relics of more lackluster and superficial times -- times that made less of us than we were, and so we gave them less of ourselves than we had.

Relationships matter now more than ever. This is sometimes assumed to be a tropism, a natural or innate tendency. It's not. It's a cultivated skill, propensity and reflex. To relate to someone is to first understand them and connect with them on their own terms. It is secondarily to understand how to be helpful to them in appropriate ways, not excessively or obsequiously, not pandering to them, but just seeking to be of value. And in establishing that rapport, trust and credibility, to be eligible to also be understood and connected with in turn, to also hopefully be someone reciprovcally cared about and also potentially added value to. Harvey Mackay put it poignantly, "dig the well before you're thirsty." In other words, relationships have to precede our need for them. And whatever it is we seek, be it respect, or understanding, love, or value, we had best offer it ourselves, passionately, authentically and unstintingly. People who do seem to outlay these things proactively, invite and seem to enjoy abundance. Those that cling to these things, doling them out reluctantly and parsimoniously, seem to invite a corresponding poverty into their lives.

Many times people are wondering whether it's the right time to change or not. One of the key things to consider is whether currently the "cost" of status quo is greater than or less than the perceived "risks" of change. If so, we have to find the wherewithal to create a new path. One of the quickest pathways is to look for areas where we have recurring problems, and see how we can stop "solving" the problems, and instead move on to ensuring they no longer occur. Designing a problem out of our processes, attitudes, ways of working -- by excavating the root cause -- makes a lot more leadership sense than spending all our time in "firefighting" or "problem solving". Another way is to identify areas where we feel we can be dramatically different, and where we feel we can truly do it better than others -- because this is an area of passionate focus. Today's change though becomes tomorrow's status quo. So we have to stick with it long enough to reap the rewards while always looking for a meaningful next step, evolution or innovation.

It's interesting to note the key leaders invariably mentioned as exemplars. Some are war leaders like Lincoln and Churchill, or civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, politicians who made a powerful impact (whether we agreed with that impact or not) like Kennedy and later Reagan, Gorbachev or Thatcher. Business leaders tend to include CEO's like Welch or Gerstner or business builders like Gates or innovators like Jobs. Sometimes they are moral leaders like Mother Teresa or Albert Schweitzer or the Dalai Lama. Is there anything at all in common? A few things do leap out at you. They were originals, almost to the point of endearing, or to their critics, annoying eccentricity. They painted their vision and passion in primary colors, not in pastels. They had an ability to engage and enroll others. They, in Churchill's words, were able to go at times from defeat to defeat with no loss of enthusiasm...in fact, at times with increasing enthusiasm! They course-corrected in terms of strategies, but stayed true to their purpose. They managed to transcend the approval of the crowd or any type of herd instinct. But most of all, they were committed, and some gave their lives, to the difference they were there to make. And to that end they faced reality with humility, and transformed it with audacity. They brought to bear on this the full measure of their intelligence, their imagination, their courage and their love. Not a bad prescription for any of us!

The simple act of finishing what you start will immediately put you in the top percentile of service providers, partners, businesspeople, friends, lovers, colleagues, strategic allies, all of it. It's amazing the enthusiasm with which people launch things and then let them fizzle out when they don't immediately produce a windfall benefit. We hear "leave no stone unturned." We should add, when you turn it over, you may have to work on and work with what you find. If you don't find an immediately glittering diamond, don't write off what's in front of you, in the frenzy to get to the next stone. I'm convinced that whether it's client relationships that could be deepened, or potentials that could be better plumbed, or opportunities that need to be mined, great value resides in judiciously deciding where to put a 'stop loss' and where to continue cultivating and catalyzing. But the habit of coming through on what you agree to, until the point of time you consciously decide and clearly communicate you can't, will make you an anchor of reliability, attractiveness and appeal in today's helter skelter world of evanescent attachments and quicksand commitments.

The movie "Slumdog Millionaire" swept the Oscars. Many in India were outraged at the blighting poverty it showcased -- they questioned the integrity of the portrayal. But as the Oscar results were announced, Mumbai erupted into a frenzy of jubilant celebration. Pride is an interesting emotion. We want to be thought well of, and when we've progressed so far, we can be outraged when our less savory underbelly is exposed. On the other hand, when our artists and our abilities are acknowledged, we can transcend such concerns very fast. As we face unparalleled economic challenges, let's deploy our pride intelligently. When people misunderstand us, let's let our actions and the reality of dealing with us make the case, not our outrage. And if we do, metaphorically, sweep the Oscars, let's acknowledge with gratitude where we've now arrived, but also let's occasionally recall with some humility, from where we came. Any transformation needs to be sustained, and the past keeps nipping at our heels. Let it. Move on, as Thoreau said, in the direction of your dreams. The wake is not what drives the boat.

"The great American political divide, and arguably in Europe (and beyond) as well has been between 'liberals' and 'conservatives'. How fascinating that we find upon reflection that right now we crucially need both. Not 'liberal' in the mistaken sense adopted by critics as Timothy Garton Ash of Oxford says whimsically, 'big government and fornication'. Nor do we mean conservative in a similar desultory vein 'runaway greed, homophobia and fundamentalism'. We mean by liberal its true meaning. We mean a government accountable to the people, a rule of law, transparently functioning markets, tolerance for diversity, a commitment to the well-being of our fellow citizens. And by conservative we mean committed to solid enduring values, to respecting religious conviction and faith, valuing the family as a social unit, but most crucially believing government should be limited to its essential functions, and that individual responsibility and enterprise (though within intelligent boundaries) provides the most likely path to human progress and happiness.We don't right now need 'either/or' of these viewpoints. We need both. These are not contradictory ideas, just different ends of the continuum. Today, more than ever, we need the full spectrum."

"The harbingers of doom would have us believe the sky is falling. Spend little time wringing your hands in despair. Listen to those who suggest instead how to make it better, even in small but tangible ways. Help other people make their own business and lives better. We have to offer creativity and confidence and this month in particular, love and give with the best we've got. And let's also receive the help and caring sent our way with all the grace and gratitude we can muster."

"How hard do people have to work to help you or give you good ideas? Make yourself a pleasure to help or to advise! Ensure people get appreciation, credit, follow-up and beneficial results. Be the best listener you know. Be an impeccable confidante. Be exceptionally credible in all follow-ups. Offer helpful, but not officious or overbearing counsel. Create around yourself a living culture you want to participate in. Be a zone of assurance, integrity, empathy and professionalism. Why do all this? Why not? It's a lot more fun than the alternative. It will build your brand, your relationships, your networks, your reputation, and very likely also, your results and profits."

"Whoever wins the upcoming Presidential race in the United States, one of the things people have found most impressive about Barack Obama and his historic candidacy, is that between the Clintons and then the McCain campaign, virtually everything has been thrown at him. And he's been unflappable, poised and calm. Whether you agree with him otherwise or not, there is much to learn from that aptitude during a crisis. Panic begets panic. And we really need now from leaders everywhere is insight and imagination, not derangement. It has been said, 'try to bear lightly what must needs be." In other words co-operate with the inevitable, then get busy influencing it and recreating it. People may follow you for a variety of reasons, but your ability to complain is certainly not one of them. Sir William Osler told his students, "Live in day tight compartments." In other words, focus on living as passionately, purposefully, decisively, productively and capably as possible from morning to night. And then let yesterday go, and let tomorrow come when it will. The best way to get ready for whatever comes is to make as much progress as we can each day. Everything improves when we do."

"People have been saying the financial bail-out is a disastrous cop-out. However, we know that when Secretary Paulson asked for unprecedented powers to essentially do whatever he and Chairman Bernanke (of the Federal Reserve) opted to do, without further oversight, without considering other financial models (like getting tax-payers equity through the properties, rather than just providing a bail out), voices from around the United States, in Congress, journalists, citizens who led protests, a deluge of emails and faxes, all reverberated their concern and unhappiness. Whether the deal struck is ideal or not, no one who knew the stakes (Warren Buffet was saying we would otherwise face 'economic meltdown'), can walk away unimpressed at the power of concerned people in a democracy when they choose to wield it. There is no excuse for us to act or feel disempowered. We have to educate ourselves, then marshal our power, and intelligently make our voices heard. It is high time we returned to that most wonderful of democratic traditions -- citizen activism. By the way, the same, the very same power and potential, applies in organizations! While these are not democracies, they depend for their success on tapping the intelligence and commitment of their talent pool. Wise people will make their passionate concerns heard and felt -- constructively and on behalf of company priorities -- but definitely, not diffidently."

"When times are tough that's when real partnership is needed. When I wrote my last book with co-author Alan Weiss, the publisher asked for referrals. I got one from Dubai from a Conference company, from a professor and global consultant in Shanghai, from a senior Vice President from one of the world's largest companies, and from the head of a major philanthropy organization in New York, all in 24 hours! That was possible because of friendships forged, relationships cultivated and value delivered. I was once able to jump the queue for visas from a phone call to a corporate client who knew the relevant Consul General, get someone to carry documents for me that even Fed Ex couldn't get to the other country in time by having their CEO (who was travelling there) take it, and to have an accountant voluntarily pay a bill for me (from personal funds) knowing I was incommunicado overseas. This is not because I have a special knack more profound than adding value to people because it's fun to do. Harvey Mackay said, "dig the well before you're thirsty", he was profoundly right. Who's life can you make easier and better this month, who's doing good work you can help them get acknowledged for? Why do it? Why not? Life is better that way...and whether you get good karma from it or not, you'll have a richer life."

"I sometimes order shirts from Turnbull & Asser, and in their New York store I noticed a picture of the Joker from the movie Dark Knight. Not usual fare in venerable men's clothing stores! Until I realized the Joker's tie had been created by Turnbull & Asser! How's that for how Hollywood goes shopping and how Turnbull's signature, the creative use of color, gets parlayed into a major movie and a major 'look' (albeit a psychotic one). Picking an area of genius and building your brand, reputation and repertoire around that is smart business practice. And then you will transcend the boundaries between the 'traditional' and the 'contemporary' and when people go looking for a 'sweet spot' only you can provide, you won't be competing...you'll simply be working on perfecting your niche...and your game."

"While waiting to give a session in spain for young leaders, there was a bottle-neck at check-in. The organizers had chosen a beautifully situated and arguably 'charming' hotel that left something to be desired in terms of service consciousness. As numerous jet-lagged youngsters waited for an tedious and seemingly endless check-in process requiring the issuing of numerous passwords, the copying of various passports, one of the counselors had an idea of einsteinian simplicity. Instead of wrestling with the proverbial gordian knot, she found a way to cut it. "Just take the passport photocopies she said," and forced the hotel to do just that first. That aspect took just 10 minutes. She then got the kids to nab their swim trunks and took them to the pool and beach. The hotel had therefore an hour or more to get the rest of the bureaucracy sorted and rooms ready. The kids bonded, had a superb time, the hotel ceased to be an impediment! Many times, you have to reconcieve a challenge rather than get frustrated over it! Exercise this faculty as often as you can throughout your leadership life and life in general and watch your satisfaction quotient soar!"

"Jack Canfield, of "Chicken Soup" fame once commented that your life results today are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. I don't know about that, but certainly to raise your game, and raise the stakes in your leadership life, spend time stimulating and being stimulated by people you admire, respect, and in some aspects, may even wish to emulate. Our life is certainly largely determined by the quality of our thinking, the passion evident in our life energy, our emotional health and flexibility, and our vision and perseverance. All of these receive a boost when we interact with those who are exemplars in one or more of these dimensions. Particularly seek out those who are more than what they seem. And if you bother to get to know them, that's virtually everyone. We are most enriched not just by the surface sparkle of people, but the things they really care about and are driven by. When we gain that insight into someone with real respect, we gain the beginnings of some real trust from them as well. And from that comes real sharing, and exciting mutual learning. The quality of our networks and the quality of our relationships determine therefore, to a large extent, the quality of our stimulus and the quality of our learning. And from that, results both flow and follow!"

"One of the greatest paradoxes is how you can get ahead by helping others. It's a paradox because if you seek to help others primarily to get a certain advantage, you will come across as fake, utilitarian and manipulative. However, if you can forget about your own advantage and look for ways to contribute, help others, and be a source of value, your own personal brand will benefit, and people will refer you, recommend you, and keep you in mind. This isn't a mystic nostrum, it's sheer pragmatism. In a world in which we are bombarded with sales pitches and everyone seems to want a piece of our action, when we run into genuine service, and true support, we are overjoyed. And that joy converts into advocacy, expressed enthusiasm, and in the client realm, loyal repeat business. Decide you're going to help others win. Do so and you'll be astonished at the support, collaboration and back-up you receive. You'll find that inevitably leaders most significantly achieve their goals by helping others achieve theirs."

"In periods of change we know we have new needs and imperatives. However we so often feel overwhelmed because we only "add" things. Leaders have to decide when change occurs, what they will STOP doing as well. Secondly, work expands to fill the time available for its completion. Just keep going and it will literally take forever. Limit how much time you have, and you'll sharpen your attention, your focus, your energy, and your edge (in terms of making necessary calls). Finally, a change task may be overwhelming, hence milestones (significant intervening achievements) matter and exulting in forward movement is far more critical than being "done." We may celebrate achievement, but we learn from progress. If we can set learning goals, enjoyment goals as well as achievement goals, for the change journey, we'll fire on all cylinders and convert the challenge of change into an exciting open sesame."

"Don't let barriers limit what you attempt. For years, it was considered a given that top cuisine was produced by European chefs, or chefs from that heritage. Today one of the world's most accomplished chefs is American-born Thomas Keller, who created the iconic French Laundry in Napa, and now the stunning Per Se in Manhattan. Mr. Keller has accumulated a total of 7 Michelin stars from the French Bible of Gastronomy, MIchelin (3 each for the French Laundry and Per Se and another for one of his other restaurants, Bouchon). That puts him hot on the heels of legends like Joel Robuchon and Alain Ducasse. And no one begrudges Mr. Keller his achievements. Recently at a global Wine and Food experience, Mr. Keller was the headliner, though two other top French and Spanish chefs with three stars each were in attendance. But Mr. Keller was the evident "rock star", with a waiting list of almost hundreds for each of his events. Personally, he is an affable, charming, unprepossessing artist of unquestionable accomplishment. The learning? Excel, hone your art, refuse to be limited by "conventional wisdom", and trust that true excellence and distinctive mastery will trump most qualms or prejudice. This is true in organizations, in kitchens, and throughout life."

"Recently while skiing in Courchevel late in the afternoon when the snow had become a tad icier, we saw a woman painfully trying to make it down a run that was far too advanced for her. In so doing, she created hazard for those navigating this run for whom it was an appropriate challenge, as well as for those whizzing by, simply because she was unpredictable, often froze, and flailed around.

This leads to an evident realization about achievement, inner drive and application. At one level, it is wonderful to go beyond today's limits, to be comfortable being uncomfortable. We can't grow in a comfort zone. And indeed an attitude of audacity and courage often propels us several levels beyond our current competence and allows us to get out there, to experiment, to try, even to flounder, but hopefully to fail forward and ultimately grow.

Yet, there are limits. The state of flow is a dynamic equilibrium between challenge and ability. We need to push both to experience our potential. So we also, along with courage and will, need the patience to work on our skills, rather than wanting to leapfrog all the stages of development. We have to be conscious of the needs and legitimate expectations of those around us (in this case the fellow skiers). We also have to have the very different but equally needed courage of perseverance.

A ski instructor told us his heart sank when he worked on the foundations of skiing one morning with someone, only to see them find that boring, and go careening down a far too steep hill that afternoon, thereby undermining everything they learned. Alas, they will then continue to careen. And is the aim to 'get down the hill' (they aren't Shackleton trying to make it to safety after all), or to truly learn to ski? And so in leadership and life, the aim is not just to get the job done, but to learn to lead. Only then will we be able to 'manage' not only this hill, but the many other hills we will encounter as we seek to get to where we are really going."

"As we walk around over this potentially magnificent season of togetherness and the sharing of love, we are sometimes awash in the spirit-numbing commercialism that threatens to take over and make our attempt at family community, ultimately a bit hollow. Our choices have to be about more than which brands to acquire, and they hopefully have to be about more than being passively entertained. A recent ad shows a girl depressed because her family bought her a pony, while her two friends received the latest cell phones. Of course the pony shown is unattractive, cantankerous, and roped to a dog house! Implication: activity, getting out there, having experiences, is so 'yesterday'. The only way to be 'in' is to get yet another gadget that allows us to passively imbibe videos, music and to exchange as much chatter as possible. Now, we don't have to be Luddites and we can all be wowed by great new technology and wonderful new design. But we are multidimensional creatures, so let's not let our kids or ourselves forget, that ENGAGING with the world, and adding our own imagination and passion and energy to it and to our experiences are a lot of what life's real fun and meaning are all about. This year, let's actively MAKE our own fun as much as we imbibe it from other sources. And let's make larger choices than which consumer item we're currently after...about who we're hoping to be, the results we'd like to produce, and the relationships we wish to experience, enhance and even create."

"US airlines are notoriously complaining about poor profitability. And our airports are truly atrocious in terms of service, sagging infrastructure, and overworked air traffic controllers. Somehow or the other, we don't plot cause and effect. World class airlines like Singapore Airlines pick people with the attitude of service superstars and it shines through. Singapore's Changi as a hub is a model of incomparable civility AND efficiency. Even immigration officers are pleasant! Changi has movie theaters, spas, even a health club and swimming pool, and even organizes city tours for long layovers! Perhaps we have to realize that we can't keep offering wretched service, and mediocre surroundings, and expect to generate profits, or loyalty. But this extends far beyond airlines. There are usually 3-4 key 'perception points' for each type of business. If those 3 to 4 areas shine, then brand communication will probably be decisive. If those 3-4 are unremarkable or if one or more of those key 'perception points' (for example ATM accessibility in a Bank, or layout in a bookstore, or accessibility and responsiveness for consulting partners, or user friendly online account management for a credit card company) let us down, we will flee that service or business in droves, no matter what the ad jingles say. Review your own business, and decide whether you are coming across as a Changi and Singapore Airlines or one of our distressing airport dumps that send weary passengers into under-oxygenated cabins where scowling harpies provide insipid attention."

"When we learn something new we become, to some extent, someone new. We have to reconfigure who we are, perhaps even some of our values and priorities, around this new learning. The more we accentuate our knowledge, our understanding of the world, our insight into other people, our capacities or competencies, the more expansive we become as people and professionals. In a high-tech world, high-touch has never been more important. Since so much can be delegated to technology, emails, text messages, video conferences, the moments of actual interaction may be lessened in number, but they surge in importance. As time is in short-supply in a 24/7 world, the time we spend with others and they with us has to count, to matter, to be productive and/or refreshing. The more we're interested in, the more interesting we become -- the more we can be a distinctive presence for others to enjoy and tap. So, as a simple suggestion, do something in the coming period differently, distinctively, or anew. Taste a rarer wine, hike a more challenging peak, practice taking a full day off (no business, no texts, no emails), learn sensual massage with a loved one, dive into Dickens, gain a new technological capability, volunteer somewhere, listen to the beliefs of someone from a different faith, attend a classical recital, savor the company of someone you'd like to get to know better. Pick a new experience to wallow in and discover one of the most accessible and rewarding ways of revitalizing yourself."

"Our capacity to get value from experiences determines to a large extent the quality of our own thinking, the depth and breadth of our emotions, possibly some of the content of our character, and perhaps even the vitality of the ideas and impulses that course through us. In the last week, we've been from New York to Istanbul (for a Leadership Journey -- please see 'Leadership Quest' under 'How We Can Help' if interested in the concept), to Hampshire (in a picturesque corner of Surrey England), Elsinore (site of where Shakespeare placed Hamlet's castle), London, Copenhagen, and are now on the TGV from Paris to Aix-en-Provence for several days off. There have been highs and lows, glorious moments, and wearying travel, inspiring sessions and work-related moments of just slogging forward. If we close ourselves to the full range of lessons and emotions and insights and learnings, we then just 'endure' such periods of intense activity and challenge -- which also can be periods of intense stimulus and learning. If instead we open ourselves up to what we can experience, grow in and evolve from, such periods become a true 'value bonanza'. Whatever your week and wherever you spend it, let's learn to be sponges of value, taking in all we can so we can then share it with those we care about and express it powerfully in the work we do and the value we seek to add."

"Very rarely do companies offer comprehensive guidance to their customers so that they can easily avail of their service. This month using a Passport and Visa services company to get a visa, we were given a routine list of documents to provide. Our own experience suggested that a travel itinerary would also be needed. As the request was time-intensive, when we got the panic call from them the next day saying a confirmed travel itinerary would be needed immediately, we were happily ready. They are in this business and specialize in facilitating requests despite tight time-lines -- yet they offer an incomplete list of requirements and then call 'in panic'...when they are supposed to alleviate that in us!

Again, we were booking a private flight from Miami to New York with and for some clients, as we were going to do some coaching en route. We were emailed a confirmation. When we arrived at the private hangar, we were asked by three people (security, baggage handler, reception), 'What's the tail number?' We thought they were speaking in tongues initially. It turns out this is the most fundamental piece of information you need to enter the hangar, help them locate the airplane, or even to arrange for transportation to meet you at the other end. Fortunately, quickly reviewing the emailed confirmation we located it -- however, this clearly should have been the lead item in their communication to us, and indeed highlighted presumably in the several phone calls exchanged with our office.

Each week we could multiply numerous additional examples. Why don't we all take a little extra time, to provide comprehensive guidance to enable our customers to have a seamless and trouble-free experience? Taking that time and energy, even more than all the marketing hype, lets customers know they can trust us, that we care about their experience, and that the acumen we're showing here will also likely be demonstrated in whatever primary service they are asking us for."

"Most companies provide slipshod, mediocre service whenever anyone approaches them 'outside of their script'.

I sent a piece of luggage via DHL so it would be in Toronto when we landed. The contents were clothes for our summer trip and a few books. Customs held the bag in Canada because they didn't spot the combination to the lock we had provided in the paperwork. They didn't want to damage the case and so asked that we come by in person.

DHL never managed to learn the reason. Had they done so, they could have supplied the combination themselves (we had given it to them). Instead they 'assumed' it was due to the contents (Customs had never opened it, that was the point!). And when we pressed them from overseas, all they would say is, 'We can't do anything with Customs...' You could almost 'hear' her roll her eyes.

Of course had she listened to me -- i.e. that we send luggage all the time, it passes Customs all the time, just 'ask' what the nature of the issue is -- we wouldn't have had to drag ourselves there in person (thereby removing the advantage of using DHL at all). We weren't asking her to overwhelm Customs or raid the warehouse. We just wanted them to 'think', and show a modicum of proactivity.

This is commonplace, sadly not exceptional.

We need to each ask how many 'default' responses we give to our customers, our teams, our partners. Service isn't about a script, it's about inventing and imagining responses and solutions that make our collective lives easier and better. As we make that real, we express real leadership and earn real achievement. Let's make it so!"

"We often keep bad news from our teams until it's too late. Or else we don't tell them what might happen, as we struggle to avert it. However, word gets out, they can see we're anxious, and if it comes to pass, they feel betrayed because we didn't earlier take them into our confidence so they could adjust and get ready. Teams aren't children, we can't shield them from reality. When we act too parentally, we train them to become whining and immature in response. When we share 'what is', we may gain immeasurable support and insight from them. Even if they are disappointed, working through that together, brings the team together. Moreover, then our energy can go to tackling the challenge, not dreading the fallout to people who are meant to be facing and transforming it alongside us. Take the high road by engaging your team early and invite them to help you solve the problems they and you are facing. Only then will they grow, only then will you become truly a team of all leaders."

"During a Leadership Journey (please see 'Leadership Quest' under "How We Can Help' if you want to learn more about these), a client was delivering food parcels in South Africa to an HIV victim. He said he was both dazzled and humbled by the radiant smile the lady he was delivering the food to greeted him with -- the evident physical ravages of the disease had clearly not infiltrated her abundant spirit. She thanked him and the team for the food and pointed to a photograph of what she had looked like before being afflicted. He said that this woman, and her smile, courage, heart and grace would stay with him forever. Gratitude for life, choosing joy, are active aptitudes. They have to be exercised to reach their full potential. We cannot just passively imbibe life -- we have to choose to draw value from it. . Not surprisingly, these aptitudes are most often flexed by those who have little, and who therefore have to extract all possible joy and appreciation from every aspect of their lives. Let's flex our own capacity for joy, appreciation and gratitude. Let's reach 'in' to ourselves as we reach 'out' to others. Leadership is about contribution. Appreciation is the spark that animates us, vitalizes us, to deliver."

"Many times we forget wisdom that's been around for a long time. If not jazzed up in modern vernacular we sometimes discount it...to our disadvantage. Years ago, I remember reading what Dale Carnegie said: "You can gather a lot more bees with honey than you can with vinegar.' Simplistic? Possibly, but so often honored in the breach rather than the observance. I see so many leaders, team-members and individuals 'look through' people rather than really 'at' them -- and I notice at times such lack of warmth, empathy and even minimally extended kindness -- presumably out of apathy, laziness or self-absorption. The leader who can show genuine interest in others, and affirm them authentically (which requires paying attention and observing what there is to BE affirmed) will set themselves apart -- and people will line up to collaborate, to support and to work with them. Let's be one of these people! Let's dedicate ourselves to building people up. Then even when we challenge them, they'll welcome it -- because they'll know that the intent is to help them WIN."

"As a coach and a counsellor I am often confronted by the central conundrum of change. Namely that we all want progress, we all want breakthroughs and greater happiness -- just as long as we don't personally have to make painful changes to achieve them. Often when we say 'nothing has worked'...we mean we haven't been able to find a way out of our problems that doesn't require our personal evolution. Well, there isn't one. A repeated frustration, a chronic meltdown, or a recurring mess, usually signals a learning we're ducking or an issue we're unwilling to face. When we can accept that we are being architects of our own despair...we then empower ourselves to become architects of fresh design and fresh possibility instead. Only then can we model and enable this potential in our teams. We become then a true catalyst -- and our failings become beacons...they ignite the act of 'growing up' -- the final test of a leader. Most interesting problems as Carl Jung pointed out can't be solved, they can only be outgrown."

"One of the stock excuses given for why we don't confront each other effectively or have the necessary 'brave conversations' required is that we may damage relationships. It is argued that at least now we are getting things done, even if suboptimally. If we challenge each other, we may lose even that. I've never found this to be true. I am told over and over by people that they in fact DON'T have a relationship with people they can't engage honestly; rather, it is the people they are closest to, and trust the most, they are most candid and proactive with. The issue is that 'relationship' means not only challenge, but ongoing communication and appreciation. A relationship is what entitles us to occasionally challenge, to be 'brave' together. If we actually expend the energy to connect with and appreciate each other first, if we deepen relationships, we'll also deepen all the communication that flows from them -- including the brave and challenging exchanges that are sometimes critical."

"It's hard to improve if we won't face our own need for improvement. The Arbinger Institute rightly points out that one of the greatest problems is self-deception. If I won't concede my culpability in my own distress, in my business unit's problems, in my organization's woes, then I have to blame others. Either I blame impersonal external forces, or individuals. Either way, I disempower myself. It's not the case that I am the only cause, or even the primary cause. But if I can't start with where I can take different action, then I have no leadership credibility. We are best led by those who make the changes in themselves that they ask for in others. On the plus side, when we don't feel compelled to manically blame others when holding them accountable, we can still connect with them and hopefully inspire new choices in them as well. Emotionally attacking someone just leads to them defending themselves and counterattacking. As leaders, we need to create more imaginative, more intelligently future-paving options."

"We end up reflecting at natural junctures -- the end of a project, when moving homes, at holidays, at births and deaths --- about life, about significance, about how we could have done or could do things better or differently. How fascinating and productive our leadership lives would be if we made reflection an ongoing and natural ingredient of our action. As long as thought doesn't remain abstract and produces more than private soliloquies, it is an extraordinary additive. Indeed, not only is the unexamined life not worth living, it is a life that is setting itself up for unnecessary aggravation and failure. Let's examine our motives, our assumptions, our opportunities, the facts, the challenges, the resources, and seek to glimpse a future we could help deliver. Let's also reflect on all that has worked and all the allies we have,and both experience and offer deep appreciation. Let's take enough time to reflect, so that our action can have the power that comes from being both inspired and well guided."

"People often speak about joy at work as a toss-away, as if it's about empty celebrations, or dull plaques. But joy at work emanates from a shared sense of purpose -- by caring about the company and caring about its culture. It comes from people we have invested time in building relationships with and whom we trust. Joy at work is about meeting and exceeding a customer's needs. Joy is verified when we produce a profit while also meeting the needs the people who work with us. Joy is a large word for a large number of causes. When profit and purpose support each other, when we enjoy and can respect the process by which our results are produced, and value the people who make that possible while feeling valued ourselves...THAT'S joy at work! Then, let's toss in a few parties, let our hair down, and share some good times. Wonderful additions, great icing...as long as the real ingredients for joy are present."

"Much has been written about the knowing-doing gap as it is called. It has two dimensions. The first is that we are 'technically taught' how to do something -- use an IT system, project management, how to conduct a performance review, whatever. However, the human and interactive dimensions are not addressed. We are taught it as a 'technical practise', whereas in reality all value-adding skills are finally 'adaptive achievements' -- we have to adapt our paradigms, personal mindsets and heartsets, and behaviors. The second aspect is that we are rarely stimulated, challenged, coached and supported to take that critical FIRST STEP. The biggest enemy of growth is inertia. Winning is indeed, to a large extent, beginning. And then, getting to a first achievement or milestone FAST."

"Leadership is often about the decisive few things needed to make a really big difference. Our teams languish when barraged with high-sounding abstractions, idealistic rhetoric not anchored in the imperatives of the day. Real leaders, the type that people enthusiastically sign up to follow and collaborate with, create an adamantine sense of priority based on market and customer value, instill and model urgency (not panic) to deliver it, and enroll and energise people through their own credibility and engagement to make it happen."

"Often the most devastating thing leaders can do is make it impossible to raise contentious issues, to challenge pet theories, or to offer a critique of the current consensus. What happens is that since 'unreality' becomes the norm, and people say one thing (to get along) while feeling something else entirely, the chief casualty is trust. And so when we can't challenge openly, we lose the will also to recognize others openly. Appreciation, or affirmation, or creatively supportive ideas, also remain unarticulated. Corporate communication overall then becomes tinsel as well as a charade. Ensuring that it instead remains a force for change and a way to connect with and embolden good people to support each other's performance, is a key plank of good leadership."

"People so often complain they don't have time for the things they want to do. However, we always have enough time for whatever we truly want to do. The problem is that it's politically incorrect to concede that my people aren't important enough to me, or that family time doesn't matter adequately to me. So we generate all kinds of rationalisations and smokescreens. It's time to 'personalize' the things we value -- link our values to our behaviors and commitment. 'Caring' in life as in grammar is a verb, not a noun. It is shown by what we DO, not what we profess. Making time for what matters, and generating the energy to 'show up' fully for that time, is the essence of personal leadership."

"The concept of corporate loyalty is misunderstood. Loyalty to what? Leaders build personal loyalty through being credible, through engaging and inspiring their teams. How? By giving them a clear purpose and vision to aim for, by actively committing to their personal growth, and by being authentic. But the real test of leadership is then transferring that personal loyalty to the organisation's mission. During WWII people came to love Churchill, but it was England they wanted to save, perhaps all of civilization they felt they were taking a stand on behalf of."

"One of the contributors to Sid Caesar's legendary comedy writing team said: 'He had total control and we had total freedom.' That's the winning paradox of leadership. Provide absolute visionary clarity, let there be no ambiguity about what is True North for your business. Also make sure you and your team are aligned on your 'values in action'. Other than that, allow and even demand that people challenge and seek to improve everything else -- in service of that overriding aim and the values you've chosen to be defined by. If you don't, you neuter talent and enterprise. However without havng that absolute clarity as a referee -- if you don't clarify both the goal and the penalty lines -- you are abdicating and will promote chaos rather than creativity."

"Everybody clamors to have teams. But teams require enormous energy, focus, maturity and consistent accountability. So the real question is, what objectives do you have that are large enough, to merit a team? What are some bullseyes you can articulate that are impossible to take aim at, without being a team? Trying to build a team otherwise is really just a temporary sugar high."

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