Creating, effectiveness, Leadership, media, purpose, Reflection, reporting



Spam spam spam spam, spam spam spam spam, Lovely spam, wonderful spam   – Trump, Trump Trump Trump . . . . . . . .

Where are rhe Pythons when we need them?

My morning paper, The Globe and Mail, created the world of the day in its Saturday edition. Today’s editorial suggests we “Keep calm and carry on”.  So how does its content this morning help us do that?  I decided that it would be fun to put some headlines into a word cloud generator.  The result is what you see above and the answer is “Not so much”

I restricted my Word Cloud to two sections of the newspaper –  “News” and the one called “Focus”, which includes commentary and the weekly editorial. I didn’t have the energy to cut and paste the copy of the articles under these headlines or we would see the word Trump push every other word out of the cloud.

Yes, I know that an inauguration is news through I didn’t see it on TV.  I don’t generally watch the swearing in of Canadian poliiticians on TV either though I did attend a real-life one the fall and it was moving and made me glad to be a Canadian.

But if the fourth estate wants us to keep calm and carry on here in Canada, is it effective to be as obsessed with one person as it seems to be?  I don’t need Canadians to be happy about an inauguration.  But I don’t need reporters and columnists to encourage me to be as angry or afraid as they are either.  I also don’t need them to share their disillusionment or wishful thinking that a new head of government in the country next door would suddenly become presidential.

I did feel as though I were being spammed this morning.  Reality TV has created this person and the press seem taken in by it more than anyone else.  The values that this genre inspires are mixed. I hardly ever watch it though it is a favorite of my young grandsons – unlike their father who used to like shows like Barney Miller or Get Smart at the same age.  Sometimes the Reality TV participants in their endless competitions show courage and ingenuity but more often display winner-take-all and to hell with anybody else.  If we are expected to keep calm and carry on, we need a press that focuses more on facts and less on the personal fears, obsessions and anxieties of its writers.


character, Leadership, purpose, Reflection

Salvation through Cleaning

The morning’s Globe and Mail offers some strange advice in its business section this morning.  “Clean Home, Clear Corporate Minds”  shows how far an MBA can take you from the real world and it makes me so glad I never thought of pursuing one. The article starts with the experience of a business executive who takes a break from her regular duties to travel to Montreal from San Fransciso to scrub floors, wipe desktops – and horror of horrors, clean toilets. This experience produces an “aha” moment of oneness with the universe and sends her back to Califormia productive and raring to go.

Well duh.  Had she ever thought of doing cleaning at home? Probably not.  Of course working for Zenith Cleaning as a volunteer meant she had to don a uniform and actually enter a restaurant wearing it. (I wondered if the uniform involved denim and whether she had exchanged it for her own jeans costing $200 and up. – but maybe not)  The experience of wondering if people would reject her on the basis of how she looked made her feel humble and suddenly there was an epiphany. Cleaning was a way to mindfulness.

The company founder and CEO agrees that “cleaning is as much a spiritual service as a physical act” – and has created a side business ” inviting executives to come to Montreal and work alongside his professional cleaning crews” and join them as “pilgrims”..  I guess the feckless executives could save their companies money by doing the same tasks on their own turf – but apparently they need training in using unnamed cleaning tools – (sponges? dustcloths?) – as well as operating vacuums and mops.  Sounds as though these guys and gals don’t get home much to watch the hired help – or perhaps spouses.

The article goes on to note that promoting mindfulness in the workplace is not limited to Zenith Cleaning but is also followed by Google, Apple, Deutsche Bank and General Mills – who “bring in speakers, including Buddhist monks”  – though the purpose is to improve productivity as much as relieving stress or quieting minds.  Meditation and yoga are also encouraged. An associate professor of strategy and leadership at McGill’s business school notes that people are looking for “deeper purpose beyond profit in their lives and their work”. Spirituality without religion rules. Zenith Cleaning’s founder notes that he had a conversion.  “I think I would be in investment banking and doing something very normal –

Stop right there.  Investment banking isn’t something very normal at all. If that’s what he learned at the business school that invites him back every year to speak, he’s been badly served by the thousands of dollars he’s spent on his own education. That kind of world view is one of the things that makes us so completely messed up.

But it’s telling that all this language – purpose, pilgrims, caring, meditation, humilty, spiritual awakening – have all been co-opted from the world of religions – along with the favorite business buzz-word, “mission”.   We are confusing two worlds that are pretty much opposed. Did the business schools ever think of inviting anyone from the faith tradtion that formed the basis of capitalism at its inception?  The space they are trying to fill shows the world of post Christendom does have needs that are not being met in a very effective way.

but it’s also a pretty firm indictment of communities of faith in their inabiity to compete with the religion of business with their new dogma  apostles and disciples. No one even thought of asking them.  I spent the past weekend with Phyllis Tickle – a self-described “uppity woman” who travels the world with some interesting insights as to where Christendom in particular is headed. She says it’s in the middle of one of its every five hundred year rummage sales and no one is quite sure where it will land. It may be down but its history shows this pattern of coming back changed but not out.   Nevertheless, religions – and Christendom in particular –  better speed up their determination to recapture the ownership of some of this language and thinking by owning it with more insights than we are seeing from the business schools.


HBDI, HBDI Assessments, Learning, purpose, Reflection, Thinking Styles

Thinking about Thinking – for working parents

I spend one-half day a week in a kindergarten classroom – and watch the parents deliver the small people to the door before hurrying off to work. I’m not following that harrowing routine anymore but I have been there.  Working lives are so much more complicated now that we are overwhelmed by information from all directions.  We are thinking all the time – but we spend little time thinking about the process itself.  There is help – and you can find out much more on the menu above under HBDI.

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character, Edwin Friedman, effectiveness, Leadership, purpose

Empathetic leadership?

The need for empathy has been voiced repeatedly in recent leadership literature.  So it is always interesting to have an alternative view.  I came on one recently that struck a chord based on recent experience, where I had to exercise leadership in chairing a volunteer board.

The view is that of Edwin Friedman, an ordained Jewish rabbi and family therapist, As a founder of a Jewish congregation in Washington DC he was also an advisor to many other congregations, both Jewish and Christian. His penetrating and often humorous observations cuts through much of management and leadership jargon and he appears to preach what he practises.  A Failure of Nerve, Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix was originally published in 1997 and has been recently republished with commentary by some of his adherents.

Friedman observes that empathy is a surprisingly new word – not even appearing in the Oxford English Dictionary published in 1931.  Sympathy, on the other hand has a 450 year track record and compassion goes back to 1340. Friedman sees empathy as an example of the herding instinct that characterizes 20th century anxiety. He notes that saying this is probably going to have him immediately accused of heresy.

He notes that being caring and sympathetic is an essential component of leadership and at times is an appropriate response.  What he questions is whether feeling the pain of others at an intense level makes them more responsible or actually allows them to victimize the entire group.  His whole book is addressed to parents and presidents in a rather candid way of suggesting what our response has an effect no matter what the level.

Some of this rings true for me. I found that an entire board became overly involved in the pain of a new project in a way that ultimately affected both the continuing organization and the project in a negative way. The board as a whole was accused of being dysfunctional when one might have wondered whether all members were equally willing to take responsibility. Those who had more resources became the focus of giving by the other component. What happened is that those asking became better at taking. While everyone was willing to admit that the new project was immature, we seemed to fall into the trap of immaturity among the individuals including myself to focus on empathy rather than on responsibility.

And that would be Friedman’s prescription in such as situation. One can’t change others.  One can only take responsibility for one’s self.  As a leader one may then be accused of all kinds of things, including a lack of empathy. It is taking responsibility for the direction in which things are going that is the real role. Ultimately it is about personal integrity. Friedman calls this the non-anxious presence.  It means not being held hostage by those who do not support the over arching vision – and at the same time not checking out. but staying in touch.  More on this to come.

character, effectiveness, Innovation, Leadership, purpose

The leader’s personal role

Leaders are persons first – and there are three key aspects of how the leaders affect the organizations they lead:

First they are role models.  The combine two disparate characteristics at the same time – determination and humility. They have to believe in the integrity of the purpose and mission of the organization they lead, and give others a sense of hope and meaning.  To do this requires being a good listener. It also means being able to foster dialogue.  Good leaders avoid grandiosity – a real temptation when one is at the head of the pack.

Second they have to be fast learners – students as well as mentors.  And it’s not just the ability to recognize the brutal facts; one has also to confront them.  To understand the realities it’s not just enough to know the facts and figures and the processes. Leaders also have to have respect for human beings. Finally  have to be focused on the big picture and the future, while they allow others to focus on their areas of specialization.

Third, they have to avoid the temptation to think that it is all about their personal charisma.  Instead, leaders have to be trustees of community potential. This is extraordinarily demanding and the next post will suggest some  actions that will help them do that.

Creating, Innovation, Leadership, purpose, vision

The Leader’s Real Job

The prime responsibility of the leader is to provide the vision and mission of the enterprise – whether it be a business or an organization. Sometimes the job is to create it. Sometimes it is inherited and the task is to foster it and in some cases refine it. More than anything the leader is accountable for it.

A major responsibility is not only to define the values but to be able to articulate them. An organization needs to become even more of what it is. It is easy on a day to day basis to become deeply mired in administrivia, but the leader always has to commit us to our highest purpose – one that always seems just beyond our reach. If the purpose and the principles are right, the rest will follow.

Cardinal Newman was not the best marketer of change. Fewer people all the time sing the words of his hymn, “Change and decay in all around I see”, but the link between change and decay has stuck – especially in the heads of those who were old enough to ever sing the words. But we don’t go backwards. Instead we have to focus on the impact of our actions for future generations and manage for the innovative and diverse world we now inhabit.

When we redefine change as creativity, some will respond positively. It is not enough to think that we can stop with making problems go away. We might have nothing left. and it is not so much what the vision is but what the vision does. We need to encourage tangible prototypes and build positive results that become stepping stones to the next stage.

purpose, self realization

Leadership – the Road Ahead

As promised, here is the start of a series on leadership. It is based on research that I undertook two years ago and also gives me an opportunity to reflect on what I learned since then.

There are several things to consider:
How have our views of the world changed?
What are the roles of vision and mission?
How is leadership exercised?
What are the necessary personal qualities?
How must the leader develop once he or she assumes the role?

All of these were of interest and took me on an extensive journey through the writings of the past two decades. So a revisit will involve not only those findings but what has been learned since.