I had the good fortune to sit through Mr. Toyoda, CEO of Toyota, Marc Benioff, CEO of and Colin Powell speaking about the economy, business and leadership last week at Cloudforce Tokyo.

My favourite comment was from Colin Powell on failure – roughly paraphrased:

Failure is a part of life, you will fail. So learn to accept it and work through it:
1. Accept it is your failure. Don’t blame others.
2. Fix it
3. Then shake it .. move on. Too many people hold onto that failure, cannot deal with it. Never linger on the failure. You do not drive looking in the rear view mirror. You look ahead

At a school, a young girl stood up and asked a question.  She asked do you fail? He responded yes. It is part of life. You might fail a test. Do bad on a paper. Accept it. Learn from it. Grow and then throw the failure away. Move forward.

Wise words.


The topic of when to get an MBA comes up every once in a while with teammates; most frequently during career discussions with people asking “Should I go for an MBA?” HBR has finally acquired some stats on the topic (November 2012).


People who go to business school with no prior work experience enjoy, on average, a 20% return on their degree. The figure is much lower among people who’ve already held jobs, sinking to just 2.2% for those who’ve worked for 19 years. These findings emerged from a study of thousands of students by Andrew Hussey, of the University of Memphis, who says that to potential employers, an MBA is primarily a “signalling” device and therefore adds more value when a candidate has a skimpy CV. Hussey estimates that on average, 90% of the return on an MBA comes from this signalling effect, not from knowledge gained.

The answer isn’t more clear than that economically, and I would agree that there is diminishing returns as you get older and more experienced. I personally enjoy targeted courses at this point in my career, and have been fortunate enough to attend a few fantastic courses at Queens.



Years ago in England I learned a great leadership quote that has stuck with me and became part of the leadership philosophies that I follow:

“It is easy to be a bully”.

While discussing that concept with a colleague yesterday he shared a quote from a leader that he respects:

People will forget what you said

People will forget what you did

People will never forget how you made them feel

So true.



A few items shared with me over the last couple weeks:

  • From John Quincy Adams: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader”
  • The 5 Qualities of Remarkable Bosses (via INC.) and well worth reading:
    • Develop every employee
    • Deal with problems immediately
    • Rescue your worst employee
    • Serve others, not yourself
    • Always remember where you came from
  • And from the world of the quirky, but actually really good: Five Leadership Lessons from James T. Kirk:
    • Never stop learning: “You know the greatest danger facing us is ourselves, an irrational fear of the unknown. But there’s no such thing as the unknown– only things temporarily hidden, temporarily not understood.”
    • Have advisors with different world views: “One of the advantages of being a captain, Doctor, is being able to ask for advice without necessarily having to take it.”
    • Be part of the away team: “Risk is our business. That’s what this starship is all about. That’s why we’re aboard her.” (Just don’t be nameless security guy #3 – he always dies)
    • Play Poker, Not Chess
    • Blow up the Enterprise:  ….. We are often, in our roles as leaders, driven by a passion. It might be a product or service, it might be a way of doing things. But no matter how much that passion burns within us, the reality is that times change. Different products are created. Different ways of doing things are developed. And there will come times in your life when that passion isn’t viable anymore. A time when it no longer makes sense to pursue your passion. When that happens, no matter how painful it is, you need to blow up the Enterprise. That is, change what isn’t working and embark on a new path, even if that means having to live in a Klingon ship for awhile.

A few enjoyable reads.



From the HBR article with the same title:

Travel and living abroad have long been seen as good for the soul. What’s perhaps less well-known is that they’re also good for the company. People who have international experience or identify with more than one nationality are better problem solvers and display more creativity, our research suggests. What’s more, we found that people with this international experience are more likely to create new businesses and products and to be promoted.

For example, we ran an experiment in which 220 MBA students from Northwestern’s Kellogg School were asked to solve the famous Duncker candle problem. In this behavioral test, individuals are presented with three objects on a table: a candle, a pack of matches, and a box of tacks. They’re asked to attach the candle to a cardboard wall—using only the objects on the table—so that the candle burns properly and does not drip wax on the floor.

The correct solution demands the ability to think creatively: Empty the box of tacks and use it as a candleholder. The solution is considered a measure of “insight creativity” because it involves making the “aha!” discovery that the box is not just a repository for your tools but a tool itself.

We found that the longer students had spent living abroad, the more likely they were to use the box as a candleholder. In fact, 60% of students who had previously lived abroad solved the problem compared with 42% of students who hadn’t lived abroad. Interestingly, time spent traveling abroad had no effect on creativity.

Seven years ago I may not have understood this article, but I do now. Living in the UK was a remarkable experience that changed me as a leader/manager. I naively went into the UK thinking that Canada and the UK were similar and that the cultural integration would be easy. I could not have been more wrong. Those two years taught me how to work with people who were not like me, how to grasp the nuance of corporate and geographic culture and how to adapt.

It will be interesting to see how corporations view moving people around in the future. I was speaking with a neighbour who works for a global bank that is renowned for their international program. She mentioned that they were slowly closing down the program as ‘local talent was now getting strong enough that they don’t need to import people’. That may be the case, but it misses the point that the above article makes – it isn’t just about bringing in good talent – it is about growing the talent pool worldwide. I would argue that there were broader benefits beyond my development or my leading a turnaround – the entire UK team that I worked with grew, changed and benefited. We did it together.



I was asked for suggestions on a workshop a colleague was running called “Demand excellence in your sales team”. He was looking for content and opinions on how to shape the day. Here were my suggestions:

  • Leaders who must revert to demanding will fail. It is a strategy that only works for a short while. I would call it “Building excellent teams” or “Coaching for excellence”. A notion that Daniel Goleman put forth in Primal Leadership … the pacesetting style sets you on the path to failure and what you call the meeting will set the tone and expectation.
  • My themes would be:
    • Set clear expectations with the team (Performance, development, teamwork, etc.)
    • Follow up with regular 1:1s that are quality meetings. Not just a review of the funnel, but development and coaching events. Set the expectation of the leadership team.
    • Managers need to be in the field (so do executives). Participate with your sales team so that you can coach based on first hand experience. Participate in pre-call planning, sales calls and team activities.
    • Sales success and failure is a team event. Lead by example and invest in the success of your people. A personal motto – “I don’t think about how I will be personally successful. I spend all of my time thinking about how to make my teammates successful knowing that if they succeed, my success is guaranteed”

My 2 cents.



The HBR article Selling is Not About Relationships (title misleading) categorizes sales people into 5 buckets:

    • Relationship Builders focus on developing strong personal and professional relationships and advocates across the customer organization. They are generous with their time, strive to meet customers’ every need, and work hard to resolve tensions in the commercial relationship.
    • Hard Workers show up early, stay late, and always go the extra mile. They’ll make more calls in an hour and conduct more visits in a week than just about anyone else on the team.
    • Lone Wolves are the deeply self-confident, the rule-breaking cowboys of the sales force who do things their way or not at all.
    • Reactive Problem Solvers are, from the customers’ standpoint, highly reliable and detail-oriented. They focus on post-sales follow-up, ensuring that service issues related to implementation and execution are addressed quickly and thoroughly.
    • Challengers use their deep understanding of their customers’ business to push their thinking and take control of the sales conversation. They’re not afraid to share even potentially controversial views and are assertive — with both their customers and bosses.

In their analysis, they state that Challengers far outperform others, with Relationship Builders coming in dead last. Not that relationships are unimportant, their point is that the type of relationship is what is important. Challengers push the relationship, to make it better while Relationship Builders focus only on reducing tension.

This made me stop and think: How does this apply to management/leadership? I have often debated the merits of sales people transitioning from sales to management – where they can leverage their relationship skills. What this made me realize is that it is is more than that, the ability to build relationships is important but success will hinge on what type of a person they are. Consider the same definitions applied to management/leadership with a few key words edited (i.e. customer changed to organization):

    • Relationship Builders focus on developing strong personal and professional relationships and advocates across the organization. They are generous with their time, strive to meet everyone’s needs, and work hard to resolve tensions in the internal relationships. (Add: Infrequently progress from manager to leader as they are the keeper of the status quo).
    • Hard Workers show up early, stay late, and always go the extra mile. They’ll make more calls in an hour and conduct more visits in a week than just about anyone else on the team. (Add: It is naïve to think that you do not have to work hard to be successful. You do. But the person who thinks that hard work is enough stay managers. They are great ‘do-ers’.)
    • Lone Wolves are the deeply self-confident, the rule-breaking cowboys of the organization who do things their way or not at all. (Add: Often burn bridges and have difficulty moving from manager to leader as they are not a team player. After all, people follow those they trust)
    • Reactive Problem Solvers are, from the organization’s standpoint, highly reliable and detail-oriented. They focus on follow-up, ensuring that issues related to implementation and execution are addressed quickly and thoroughly. (Add: Great reporting to a leader)
    • Challengers use their deep understanding of the business to push their thinking and take control of the conversation. They’re not afraid to share even potentially controversial views and are assertive — within the organization. (Add: Can build, communicate and execute a vision … in other words, can lead).

As with the sales profiles, I would suggest that the Challenger will outpace the others as they are willing to paint a vision of the future, push boundaries, take risks, face big issues and execute – with relationships, problem solving and hard working contributing to that success.



I had the opportunity to golf with the President of a large sports franchise a few weeks back and found it a fascinating day asking questions about the “business of sport”. At some point, we moved around to discussing the importance of marketing and image in sports, which inevitably lead to a conversation on Tiger Woods, the  documentary “The Rise and Fall of Tiger Woods” and how his image continues to struggle. In the end, we all agreed that it is because of attitude.

Consider the following case in point (made by my golfing companion): Michael Vick. Convicted of some pretty nasty crimes – a vehicle he owned was involved in marijuana distribution, failed drug tests, petty theft and the most heinous – dog fighting that included torture and execution of under performing dogs. He was convicted federally, did his time and came out with an apologetic manner and managed his image, doing charity work for the Humane Society and a number of other important public moves (A good overview here) starting in 2009.

What happens? $100M contract and not a lot of talk about his past. Even if I am sceptical as to the authenticity of his rehabilitation and authenticity, at least he is making the right steps and has been rewarded.

Another great example of that is Martha Stewart. If there was ever a case of humility, that is it – jailed as an object lesson for others while hundreds of larger white collar, inside traders run free, she managed it with dignity and came out just as strong, or perhaps even stronger. I know that I respect her.

Compare and contrast that Tiger, which is best summarized in the article ‘Still acting like the old Tiger in a new world’:

Tiger Woods stepped from behind a microphone, thankful to be done with a short interview that felt like an intrusion. He took 23 questions, most of them about his golf, a few others about his left leg, then walked off without looking at anyone.

“That’s why you guys listen,” he muttered under his breath, “and I play.”

He was as dismissive as ever, another example of how much has changed in his world, and how little he realizes it.

He has never been apologetic or humble. He still acts like he is No.1, not No. 30, which means that people are no longer tolerating his arrogance and overlooking his shortcomings due to his strong performance.

Which reinforces how important humility is at all times. Imagine how successful these people would have been through the tough times had they been humble from the start. People tolerate arrogant behaviour from the sales rep or high flying manager/leader when they are on top, but await their fall, ready to relish in their failure.  However, those same people will help the successful person reach greater heights and through tough times if that person gives back, acknowledges the contributions of others, says thank-you, remains humble and supportive of others.

Unfortunately for Tiger, he was never coached to be that person when he was successful and it would appear that no one is around to point out the Michael Vick lesson to him now …..



I was in a meeting a few weeks ago and we were discussing how a decision had been made. In this particular case my questioning centered on the fact that our team had not been consulted, there appeared to be no broad consensus or questioning to come to the decision. The response on how the decision was made:

“Because I have done this before. I knew what the outcome would be. So we are doing it this way”

Over the last few weeks I have reflected on just how dangerous that statement is. In the end the outcome might be the same, but with certain decisions the ‘how you decide’ is as important as ‘what you decide’.

Plus, I have found that you may have done it that way before, but it is never exactly the same … things change.


I enjoyed this quote/anecdote from Fast Company on Larry Page:

So Mayer approved an “experiment” in which for several months about one of every 10,000 search requests would return a page with more than two ads at the top. As Mayer had suspected, users seemed to shun pages plastered with five ads. But the test also proved that people would tolerate more than two ads, and Google now runs up to three ads at the top of its pages. “No idea is a bad idea until the data prove so,” Knapp says, repeating what is likely the company’s second-most-popular mantra after “Don’t be evil.”

Even Page has proved willing to reverse himself if the numbers don’t bear him out. “Larry would wander around the engineers and he would see a product being developed, and sometimes he would say, ‘Oh, I don’t like that,’ ” recalls Douglas Merrill, who served as Google’s chief information officer until 2008. “But the engineers would get some data to back up their idea, and the amazing thing was that Larry was fine to be wrong. As long as the data supported them, he was okay with it. And that was such an incredibly morale-boosting interaction for engineers.”

I know many great leaders who are ok with being proven wrong and more than a few bad ones who are not.



On holiday I read a book that was given to me as a gift – Linchpin by Seth Godin. I like his books, with their ‘manifesto’ like writing style. Linchpin is written as a challenge to people with one central theme: “Be different”. I saw the teachings of a few of my best mentors in his writing. My favourite quotes:

  • On busy work – the notion that being busy does not mean success:

“It’s easy to find a way to spend your entire day doing busywork. Trivial work doesn’t require leaning. The challenge is to replace those tasks with rule-breaking activities instead”

  • On investing in yourself, reading self-help books, focusing on your development and really trying to improve day in, day out:

“Getting Things Done could actually help you get things done. A Whack on the Side of the Head could help you be creative. Sales training could in fact help you make more sales. There are books and classes that can teach you how to do most of the things discussed in this book. And while many copies are sold and many classes attended, the failure rate is astonishingly high.
It’s not because the books and classes aren’t good. It’s because the resistance is stronger. Few people have the guts to point this out. Instead, we turn up our noses at the entire genre of self-help. We cynically ridicule the brownnosers who set out to better themselves. We marginalize the teachers who are unaccredited or not affiliated with Harvard, et al. It’s a brilliant plan by the resistance, and it usually works. Don’t listen to the cynics. They’re cynics for a reason. For them, the resistance won a long time ago. When the resistance tells you not to listen to something, read something, or attend something, go. Do it. It’s not an accident that successful people read more book”

  • On expending energy in non-productive ways, reacting to that person who cut you off in traffic:

“Shenpa is a Tibetan word that roughly means “scratching the itch.” I think of it as a spiral of pain, something that is triggered by a small event and immediately takes you totally off the ranch. A small itch gets scratched, which makes it itch more, so you scratch more and more until you’re literally in pain.

You’re on a sales call and it seems to be going well. This is your particular trigger. It might lead to a sale and that would expose you to all sorts of danger, says the lizard. So you say something stupid as a defense mechanism, which leads to a stumble in the rhythm of the meeting. You say something else stupid and suddenly, as you expected, it all begins to unravel. This is your shenpa, the one you invented for yourself.”

  • On the curse of reciprocity .. this one really made me think. It is sad, but when someone gives me something – I often fall into this trap:

“It’s human nature. If someone gives you a gift, you need to reciprocate. If someone invites you over for dinner, you bring cookies. If people give you a Christmas gift, you can’t rest until you give them one back. It’s reciprocity that turned the gift system into the gift economy. Suddenly, giving a gift becomes an obligation, one demanding payment, not a gift at all. So marketers use the reciprocity impulse against us, using gifts as a come-on.”

  • On our perceptions as our reality:

“No one has a transparent view of the world. In fact, we all carry around a personal worldview—the biases and experiences and expectations that color the way we perceive the world”

  • On how to manage your stakeholders:

“The cornerstone of your job is selling your boss on your plans, behaving in a way that gives her cover with her boss, being unpredictable in predictable ways. You can’t go from being a junior account exec to flying the company’s biggest client to Cannes in a private jet and expensing it a month later. You don’t start with the confidence of the company; you earn it”

  • On change:

“1. Understand that there’s a difference between the right answer and the answer you can sell. Too often, heretical ideas in organizations are shot down. They’re not refused because they’re wrong; they’re refused because the person doing the selling doesn’t have the stature or track record to sell it. Your boss has a worldview, too. When you propose something that triggers his resistance, what do you expect will happen?

2. Focus on making changes that work down, not up. Interacting with customers and employees is often easier than influencing bosses and investors. Over time, as you create an environment where your insight and generosity pay off, the people above you will notice, and you’ll get more freedom and authority”

Throughout the book he centers on being different. If you really want to be successful it is no longer enough to work hard, do a good job, fit in. Break-out performance comes from different thinking, from standing out in the crowd, taking risks and pushing into a whole new realm. A few notable quotes:

“Lots of people can lift. That’s not paying off anymore. A few people can sell. Almost no one puts in the work to create or invent. Up to you. Great bosses and world-class organizations hire motivated people, set high expectations, and give their people room to become remarkable. There are countless people waiting to tell you how to fit in, waiting to correct you, advise you, show you what you are doing wrong. And no one pushing you to stand out.”

That last point says it all, being different is not always appreciated.

I remember having a active discussion with someone on the topic of being different over a coffee last summer. The topic was rather inconsequential, but it makes the point well enough. While members at a tennis club in England, we came to notice a dual standard. The club made it clear that they supported the Wimbledon standard of attire on the court. This was translated into women wearing all manner of attire and men being held to the standard of collared shirts. Contrary to popular belief, it can get quite hot in the greater London area.We would watch the women enjoy the sun in tank shirts while our boys ran the courts in full, heavy shirts. So we inquired about the process to change the rules, which involved requests being approved by a council of members. We then assembled photos of the top 10 male tennis players at Wimbledon in attire other than collared shirts (Most never wear a collared shirt) and submitted the request with a recommendation of change.

It was rejected by the member council, who we learned were long standing members (decades) and not interested in change. We also found out that one of the most prominent and talented male members had been waging this battle for a couple of years. Over that coffee, I made the point that progress is hard and people do not like change. The counterpoint was made “why rock the boat?”, in terms of ‘Why must you press it. Rules are rules”. Right there it struck me .. so many people just want to fit in, as Seth points out.

The only problem is, progress is only made with change. Progress is often painful, many will push against it and mistakes will be made, but in the end if it is worthwhile, someone has to have the courage to do it. The road less travelled …..

Good book.



I have been on a bit of a reading push over the last 6 weeks, catching up on magazines and reading 7 books. I am half way through Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes, a fictional book on the Vietnam war. The highly rated book reminds me of the movie Platoon, it is certainly full of despair and young men dying. There are a host of interesting leadership situations to contemplate through the book and on Sunday night I was struck by this passage:

“It used to be if you were out in the bush operating independently like we are, no one would second-guess the skipper. They didn’t have the radio power back then. Now they do, and the —- brass think they’re out on patrol. And now the smallest units are run by the colonels and generals, hell, right up to the president. Colonel and above used to be the level where people dealt with all the political shit like congressmen on junkets, television, reporters, you name it. But now those guys are running the show right down to this ——- river canyon and we’re in the politics too. And the better the radios, the worse it’s going to get. The politics is going to come right down to the company level, and people like Fitch and Scar are going to be culled out and people like you will take over.”

An interesting point. So far from the line, calling the shots and reducing autonomy of the front line leaders. One has to wonder what is lost in this new chain of command. I woke up the next morning (yesterday) to this headline, ‘Obama, aides watched and waited during bin Laden swoop’:

Brennan would not say exactly how Obama and his top advisors were able to follow Sunday’s 40-minute Navy SEAL operation unfolding in real time — but the suspicion was that some kind of sophisticated communications technology was available to them.

"We were able to monitor the situation in real time," was all he would say.

A decision like this had to be made at the highest levels due to the significant political risks. But, beyond a extraordinary situation, one has to wonder whether the technology improves leadership effectiveness or erodes it through micro-management? I lean toward erosion.



Harvey MacKay’s note on reciprocity in March offers an interesting perspective. In it he suggests that we should “practice reciprocity without keeping score”:

My Golden Rule of Networking is this:  Reciprocity without keeping score.  Simply stated, it means what can I do for you without expecting anything in return?

My definition of reciprocity is quite different.  You must give without keeping score.  No quid pro quo.  It’s the one fundamental concept that is the most misunderstood in business today.  Few people truly understand this.  You are either all in or all out.

In Linchpin, Seth Godin has a similar view:

They don’t spend a lot of time teaching you about the power of unreciprocated gifts, about the long (fifty thousand years) tradition of tribal economies being built around the idea of mutual support and generosity. In fact, I don’t think the concept is even mentioned once. We’ve been so brainwashed, it doesn’t even occur to us that there might be an alternative to “How much should I charge, how much can I make?”

Without keeping score. So counter cultural.

When I was just out of school and in my first real sales role, I had one of the best salespeople I have ever known give me many gifts with absolutely nothing in it for him. Paul was the best sales person in the company and after I got through the ‘Five No’s to Make a Yes’ test, he took me under his wing, he gave me the gift of his knowledge.

One day I showed up at his house for another session. He pulled out a box and gave me a HP 12C calculator. To Paul, the calculator was key to success in the copier business. The ability to deep dive on the financials of a deal without the help of the gate keeping internal accountants was key. It was the key to creativity in a deal, a facilitator in the quest to think differently. To frame up the time, I was new out of school. I was not making a lot of money yet (My base salary was $1500 per month plus commission). This was a very expensive gift. He had done so much for me already by teaching me, how could I accept it? I could not. I said I would repay him.

He insisted. He demanded no repayment. It was his gift to me. I remember that moment all of these years later.

Reading Seth and Harvey’s note, it made me realize how profound an impact that act had on my last 20 years. It helped me become someone who is always trying to share. If I build a great presentation, I share it. If I build a process that works, I share it. I cannot tell  you how many people I have given my 90 Day Plan template to over the years. But it isn’t always natural.

A funny thing happened to me after the Sales 2.0 conference. At the conference I presented on ‘Leading a Sales Transformation’ and during the presentation I made an offer to the hundreds of people in the room. If you send me an email after the event, I will send you the templates that I use to build a plan for a sales transformation. Now, this template might appear simple, but it is something that I have built over the last 6 years, evolving slowly but surely as I learn and grow as a leader. After the conference, my inbox was hit with forty requests for the templates. A number of those requests came from consultants and I wondered if I had made a mistake. As consultants, wouldn’t they just take my work and try to incorporate it into the services that they sell to other companies? A twinge of selfishness hit.

And then it was gone. I hit send and shared. If it helps them, great.

Thanks Paul. I will always remember the 12C.



A peer had a great insight that she shared this week:

“When I first arrived, I realized that all of our policies and procedures were built around catching the naughty 10%, which simply lowered the performance of the other 90%”

It is a statement that I have often thought about, but never articulated as well. In reviewing policies/procedures that I have seen over the last 6 years inside organizations, it would seem that this is the status quo in companies that are bucking under the weight of too much internal process.

Consider the case for contact management strategies in sales organizations. Generally, these strategies are built with a goal of ensuring that the salesforce keeps in regular touch with a client ‘X’ times per year or is built around some type of end goal such as:

At the end of 3 years we have a contract renewal, therefore at month 18 we must send out a letter, at month 20 we must meet with them and review this PPT, at month 24 we must have 1 executive meeting …. etc.

The problem being that if one were to step back and look at many of these processes, good sales teams are doing this as a matter of course and do not need the prompting. The only value that the process brings is another data point for central management to review, with questionable correlation to an improvement in sales.

This is in direct contrast to a sales basic, such as forecasting, which drives many productive outcomes such as resource allocation, executive focus to support good or struggling scenarios, inventory levels, etc. That being said, I can see how even forecasting can fall into this trap. I have read more than my fair share of articles on how large sales organizations dealt with the financial crisis (and experienced it). Many implemented draconian rigour such as world wide weekly or twice weekly forecasts with the following impacts:

    • The sales organization spent less time selling and more time working on recasting the same information that probably had not changed much. It reduced sales productivity.
    • Central management acquired an illusion of control by being busy, by feeling that they were closer to the minute by minute action. When the reality is that nothing changed. Most did not react faster, in fact they probably reacted slower as a reaction was even harder to do as they were too buried in the details to see big trends or too resource constrained due to the additional process load.

Therefore, I have decided on a new litmus test for policy and procedure approval/rejection which will center around a single question:

  • Is the policy/procedure designed to capture the ‘naughty’ 10% or does it raise total organizational performance?

If it is centered on the bottom 10%, then it needs to be rethought. It if raises total performance, then it is worth considering.



In business school we were all taught the basic product/industry maturity model moving from growth to decline. Loosely, one could apply this to a company although multi-industry/product companies often exist within many stages at one time. I think this is part of every Marketing 101 class.

The First 90 Days takes a different route, with an organizational life cycle. They focus on assessing the state of a business at a point of time, to build a framework of decision making. The premise being that the approach and decisions that need to be made in start-up mode are dramatically different from a realignment scenario. Slide share has a reasonably succinct summary here. I have read the book many times, and reread it every time I take a new role.

Having just completed How The Mighty Fall, I was left wondering whether an additional organizational model is warranted based on Jim Collins’ work. Consider the two models he discusses in his books:

The model of decline via:


The model of going from Good to Great  via:

Academically, the challenge with a model like this is that it requires an understanding of the non-concrete element of leadership and how it impacts the destiny of a division or company. The declines outlined in How The Might Fall are filled with examples of arrogant or ‘glamour’ leaders. Some who made it all about themselves instead of the company, others who painted a grand vision – shaking everything up in search of a silver bullet to remake the company (Grasping For Salvation, a.k.a. Carly Fiorina) instead of focusing on that little important thing called cash flow. Collins gave an interview in Business Week that gives a good summary of the final 3 stages here.

There is definitely a model in there worthy of business school curriculum. If nothing else, all of the books are a must read and give a complete view of what it takes to go up, and what happens when it is going down.



A great quote from How The Mighty Fall:

The best leaders we’ve studied had a peculiar genius for seeing themselves as not all that important, recognizing the need to build an executive team and to craft a culture based on core values that do not depend upon a single heroic leader. But in cases of decline, we find a more pronounced role for the powerful individual, and not for the better. So, even though I remain a leadership sceptic, the evidence leads me to this sobering conclusion: while no leader can single-handedly build an enduring great company, the wrong leader vested with power can almost single-handily bring a company down.

A sobering thought indeed. I reflect on the greatest leaders that I have worked for and I cannot help but draw that same parallel on humility, how approachable they were and the importance of leadership sacrifice to build that great team. Think Sam and Wal-Mart. Well put.



I had a forest for the trees moment the other day and it made me reflect.

Our perceptions are governed by the environment around us, and if the environment is not filled with diversity, different perspectives and broad experiences, then we could be caught not seeing the forest from the trees.

Case in point: I was reviewing a metric which had moved from 5 to 8 in only a few months. Being new to the metric, it seemed good that it had improved 40 percent in only a few months. Until someone said ‘shouldn’t it really be 20?’

It was a great reminder to step back and see the forest. Strategy time this week!

2010 07 Johnson Canyon  (23)



While in a Queen’s course on strategy and change management a few weeks ago they played a video from MIT where Anne Mulcahy of Xerox shared her ‘Leadership Lessons from the Firing Line’.

She walks through her introduction to the CEO position while Xerox was under siege with the future of the company in the balance. One of her first stories being a desperate attempt to get Warren Buffet to go back on his famous ‘I don’t invest in technology companies’ philosophy and invest in Xerox. He didn’t change his mind, but he did invite her for dinner and he gave a great piece of advice:

Focus on your customers and lead your employees like their lives depend on it”

Mrs. Mulcahy then goes on to discuss her experience during the Xerox turnaround and the leadership lessons that defined her tenure. The highlights from my notes:

· Good leaders listen, with a bias for action.

· Trust your management instincts. Companies love data, but sometimes you must trust your experience and gut.

· Create clear accountability and good aligned goals to guide the organization.

· People need a vision. Even though Rome was burning, people wanted to know the future. Her team wrote out an article of what Xerox would look like in 5 years, which built optimism.

· Invest for the best of times, even at the worst of times. Critics wanted Xerox to cut R&D, but they didn’t. Now 2/3rds of revenue comes from products that are less than 2 years old.

· Keep communicating, don’t go underground. Nothing beats face to face communications, aligns people to the goals and do not go underground.

· Remain customer focused. Spend time with customers, and continually ask ‘Would the customer pay for this?’

· Seek out the critics and look for critical feedback. Search it out, it is a blessing to find issues early on.

· Find the best talent. Hire people who are different, who have skills and views that are different then leverage those people to educate you.

· Lead by example, give credit to others and be humble.

An inspiring leader with a great story. Well worth the 30 minute investment to watch.



I recently read my first Success Magazine in a very long time. I remember reading the periodical when I was younger, but it is not the kind of magazine you see in your local convenience store.

I enjoyed this months magazine, filled with a range of personal articles. The Friend Virus caught my attention:

Your friends’ behaviour is contagious. Everything including obesity, divorce, smoking and apparently sweater-wearing spreads like a virus. An ongoing, multi-decade research project proves the extent that our friends’ behaviour affects our own. The Framingham Heart Study began in 1948 with people in Framingham, Mass. To date, the data collected on some 12,000 participants has yielded some startling results. Check this out:

· If someone you name as a friend gets divorced, you are 147 percent more likely to get divorced than if you didn’t have a friend who got divorced.

· If a friend becomes obese, the likelihood that you will follow suit increases by 171 percent.

Reflecting on the phenomenon, it makes sense. I would expand it to the work place. Spend time with someone that is positive, driving hard for results, works well with others and you are bound to see it rub off. Spend time with someone who gripes, complains and is pessimistic and the same will happen.

I have had it happen to me. It seeps in slowly, spreading and spreading until you are changed. I have also seen those people ruin teams, their demeanour slowly eating away, transforming the group.

The key is to catch it before it is too late.


I am a reasonably fast reader. I often find myself switching into ‘skimming’ mode if a book becomes a bit cumbersome. And many books do (Tom Clancy, are you listening?), with fictional books taking a paragraph to expand on the most mundane ….

He entered tentatively, the tears drying upon his cheek, the sound of the door slamming in the background as Esmeralda stormed off into the frosty night, and like the sun rising, the room opened before him as if he had just crested a hill and entered the valley of new beginnings, a yellow tapestry covering the back wall with a hint of deep velvety mauve around the edges that gave a rich, medieval Scotland impression, not unlike the crest that adorned Esmeralda’s family castle in North Wales, while to his left, the chrome faucet, that Esmeralda had just bought online during a Restoration Hardware Thanksgiving weekend sale, shimmered as the all natural yellow bees wax candle from a small shop in New Hampshire, where Esmeralda completed her Masters in Neuroscience and Insect Microbiology, threw light that danced and illuminated, giving a sense of inner peace to all who entered the sanctum and sought a moments respite or time with the trove of knowledge that was encased in the large earthen pot in the corner; The Economist, Cosmo, People, and a scruffy looking copy of Men’s Health, each yearning to educate George as he contemplated the porcelain before him.

At a dinner last week the conversation turned to a task ahead. One of our group had 2 books to read for a leadership meeting he was attending. A very interesting suggestion was made, learned during MBA days where the reading load was enormous and time precious (I paraphrase):

Read the first and last paragraph of every chapter. Read the first line and the last line of each paragraph in between.

Some would say brilliant, and worth trying, especially when reading certain business books with a simple premise that could be covered in a short article instead of 300 pages.



One of my favourite interview questions is ‘What do you do outside of work?’ Personally, I believe that a well balanced lifestyle (i.e. Having a life outside of work) leads to a healthier view, better productivity and a healthier team.

I was speaking with a friend a while back and he mentioned how his boss does not have kids, does not have hobbies and the only thing that he does is work. That lifestyle falls upon his reports in the form of non-stop emails, little respect for personal time, no ability to connect beyond work items (What do you talk about?) and an attitude which burns people out (and makes them hate working for him).

He wished his manager had a hobby.



The thing about sports stars is that there are two types, those who are good with people and those who are not. Pro Ams are the best example of this, where a group is all excited to be with a pro and he turns out to be brutally unsocial and doing it ‘because he has too’. 

Larry Robinson was great with people. Through the evening he was approached time and time again for autographs, with stories of how he inspired people when they were kids and for pictures. No problem, he was nice to everyone.

Having the opportunity to talk to him through the evening, I learned a lot about him and his views. I enjoyed his views on how to motivate his team (as a coach, with players where money is not the motivator), about his being a super proud Dad and Grandfather (Just like so many other people) and on why Canada beat the Russian Army … It was the thing I was very curious about.

What was it like to play the Russians versus in a Stanley Cup? He described it as being very different. The cup is a long gruelling slog to the top. The national games like the Canada Cup were different. They ended in weeks, were very intense and felt different, because all of Canada was rooting for the team.

He described the Russians as a unique lot. They would head north into Belarus, to an encampment circled by barbed wire, to practice non stop, studying the hockey theory of Lloyd Percival and executing like machines. He stated that when you played them, it was always the same. They were just so good, always playing at one level, their best.

So I asked, then how did you win if they always played at their best? They trained as a team all year round (unlike the Canadian team which was all stars who came together for a month,  then went off to the NHL), were well known to have the government assisting their development artificially, and were machines (he described hitting them like hitting a tree trunk). How do you beat that? He looked at me and said one word …


True in hockey. True in business. I would take drive over skill any day. You can teach skill …



Over the last couple of weeks, I have been watching with interest as old colleagues describe a leadership crisis that is going on at a company I use to work for. I asked one person, how is the leadership team communicating about the crisis?

The answer:  ‘Radio silence’.

And sure enough, that is leading to uncertainty, ‘water cooler’ talk, confusion, fear and of course, an unhealthy environment.

Personally, I have always believed that in situations like this, if there is no communication broadly, then people will fill that void by making stuff up. Truth or not, the void gets filled with hypothesis, conjecture and generally negative information.

It is amazing how much has been written about this. A great case of this is comparing how Tylenol dealt with their product recall issues and how BP botched the Gulf incident. An HBR blog post on the topic really hits the mark:

To survive, humans developed a keen ability to judge other people in terms of their intentions or "warmth," and on their ability to carry out those intentions, or their "competence." Studies in 36 countries have defined the attributes of warmth and competence to include, among other traits, the trustworthiness and selflessness that Tylenol aced and BP flunked. The degree to which consumers identify warmth and competence traits with brands strongly predicts intent to purchase, likelihood to recommend, and brand loyalty.

The same logic can be applied from brand to working in teams, and to the internal crisis that my old company is facing. How do you maintain trust and an air of competence if you are unwilling to step forward and address the issues head on?

It is all about building trust, being open and ensuring that people understand the entire picture. It is all about understanding human nature, not ignoring it.


I have this old English saying on the wall in my office. Makes me chuckle. My family picked it up for me a few months ago.

I am thinking of replacing it with a better saying that I heard:


Don’t just carry on. Think. Change something. Innovate. At the sales leadership conference there were many different conversations about doing things differently. About how new technologies and business methods present opportunities to innovate.

A big theme was online assets, how to use new technologies such as social media and the internet to increase productivity and the likelihood of success. One such company, Jive Software, talked about how their social media products help people connect to others and information faster (the consumerization of enterprise IT).

What was interesting is that while the discussion continued, invariably someone asked the question that I have heard many times before:

 ‘Are you not worried about the internet and it distracting people from doing real work?’.

That had actually been a big debate the night before at a speakers dinner (again, centered around the Internet, and whether or not social media is of value to business (e.g. Twitter, etc)). I had the opportunity to share my perspective:

  • Work isn’t the same as it was in the 70’s. I remember my Dad coming home with a briefcase and it didn’t open. Work didn’t follow him.  He didn’t have a Blackberry to answer emails around the clock, and all weekend long. If there was an emergency, he didn’t have a cell phone with him to take a call. They reached him if he happened to be home. Work is different. I personally try not to send emails on the weekend, because if I do people will answer them. And if they are answering them, when do they rest? People need to unplug, to recharge, to open their minds and clear the clutter so that they can make room for new thoughts.
  • The notion of a workday for most professionals no longer exists. How many people check their email one last time before bed? Which is why, the notion of restricting what they do at work seems unfair. Sure, someone who is surfing to inappropriate websites or spending all their time updating their Facebook page needs to be addressed. But for someone who takes a break and does something on the net, is that bad? I don’t think so. HBR suggests that we need to encourage our employees to take a break. In a blog last week, it was suggested that companies should make their employees nap! An old boss of mine use to say ‘Great salespeople go see movies’. In other words, people need a break from the stress of the job (especially sales). After all, if they are watching too many movies or surfing the net too often, there is a simple way to figure that out … it is called the month end sales number.

And last, one of the speakers made a great point about today’s employees. He said that it isn’t the internet that he is worried about, it is email. In today’s society, there is so much noise from email, and all of the other forms of communication that people get that feeling of instant gratification when they react. But the question must be asked, is that productive or is it just ‘busy work’?

People must avoid the sense of accomplishment from just being busy. It is so much harder, but ultimately more rewarding when you are doing WORK THAT MATTERS.



I had a very interesting conversation today about learning and the evolution of how people learn at the Sales Leadership Conference in Philly.

There are many theories, the experiential learner, the person who learns through structure. Concepts that have been explored for centuries at all levels. As a parent it manifests as your beliefs in public, private, Montessori, fully without structure, home schooling and on an on. In the end, I believe there isn’t a one size fits all. We will all learn in different manners and it is about access, so that we can learn in the way that best suits us.

But one thing that is becoming very clear is that learning is changing in that what you know isn’t as important, it is about knowing how to sift through information and find knowledge. Sure, a base level of information is important, but knowing how to find perspective on a problem and apply it is much more important.

Seth Godin was a headline speaker and he had an interesting perspective on the evolution of learning, as it relates to his theories on tribes (I am about to watch his video’s on TED). He did a little test on a few children aged 11-14 who were A students. He put a bobbing bird in front of them and asked them to explain how it worked. They looked side to side and then the 11 year old pulled out a pen and said ‘Teach us how it works’. His point was that getting an explanation is easy. You can get that on the web, on Wikipedia in an instance. He stated if you can write it down and explain it, it probably isn’t worth anything and teaching that young person how it worked is of no value.

But what is of value is creative thinking. The ability for those children to puzzle out that idea, to be creative, to figure it out. To think and solve problems. Something that our formulaic schools system is not interested in, school is focused on compliance and having people fit in. Can you imagine trying to explain to a teacher the method to teaching creativity? He also pointed to the games that we play as kids. He said ‘remember the game Candyland? We all played it and the rules are this – pick a card, do what it says’. Become sheep.

I always worry that the rigid approach to learning kills creativity. As one HBR blogger put it in his article ‘What Leaders can Learn from Children’ :

the curiosity of a child is incomparable. Children ask questions because they want to know. Naturally curious, hungry for information, and constantly churning new facts to understand the world around.

Seth then put up a quote which I found rather ominous:

‘The reason why they want you to fit in is so that when you do, they can ignore you’

I think he is right on the mark. In a world drowning with information, it isn’t about what you can memorize. It isn’t even about what you can find (although it is good to be able to find information quickly in the sea of data) and one really has to question the value of a test that grades based on the quality of your memory (when the reality is, the internet is a big memory bank – available virtually everywhere). It is about how you use that information to be creative, to come up with ideas, how you interpret it.

I also suggest that the vast majority of tests should be open book. Find the information fast, then do something with it – and be graded on how you use it.

And of course, challenge the norm. Something that hasn’t ever been a real personal challenge (smile).



Last week marked back to school for University and once again, business schools will fall flat with regard to teaching new business people about sales and sales management, leaving it for corporation to train ‘raw’ students who have yet to acquire the most basic of sales or sales management skills.

Many training organizations suggest that the sales training that is happening in corporations isn’t enough:

“Sales management training is the category of sales training addressed with the least frequency – less than annually, if at all.”

  • American Society for Training and Development State of Sales Training – Research Study 2009

I would wager that ‘coaching’ regardless of management class or skill, is probably under trained. Thank goodness for books.



This weekend I read Esquire’s write up on Newt Gingrich, the disgraced Republican House Speaker who is making a come-back and is a clear runner for the Presidential candidacy along with other notables, such as Sarah Palin.

It is a tawdry article, about his multiple affairs, multiple divorces and Republican leadership. One particular quote really left me slack jawed:

He asked her to tolerate the affair, an offer she refused (referring to his 2nd wife).

He’d just returned from Erie, Pennsylvania, where he’d given a speech full of high sentiments about compassion and family values.

The next night, they sat talking out on their back patio in Georgia. She said, "How do you give that speech and do what you’re doing?"

"It doesn’t matter what I do," he answered. "People need to hear what I have to say. There’s no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn’t matter what I live."

Reminds me of the theory of cognitive dissonance, which is so key to human interaction, to organizational success:

Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and actions.[2] Dissonance is also reduced by justifying, blaming, and denying. It is one of the most influential and extensively studied theories in social psychology.

Perhaps the Republican Party will only find itself again if it can put to bed fundamental conflicts such as:

  • Foundation based upon capitalism while spending trillions on defence and big government, with no balanced budget and the danger of economic collapse due to debts that become unserviceable. Ironic that Clinton paid down US debt like a mad man.
  • Reported Christian values as the foundation while reducing taxes to the rich (Remember, the eye of the needle) and refusing to spend on things such as universal health care (the golden rule comes to mind)

Seems like the Republicans need a leader who does what he/she says, desperately. Every organization does.


I read a great quote this morning:

‘A wise man learns from the experience of others; a fool by his own’

Life’s greatest lessons can be learned by watching others succeed or fail. If I look back on the last 4 years, these are definitely the most valuable of lessons and I have seen some very interesting ones. Always be watching and learning.



I have often heard a story about Bill Gates. It could be an outright lie, a falsehood, I am not sure. But it does make a point. The story goes like this; Bill Gates is famous for his abrupt manner and impatience. It was related that during people reviews or reviews of projects, he would often cut people off as they went through the ‘good’ of the project or how they had been successful in their role and say ‘Don’t tell me what you did right. Tell me what you did wrong, and how you learned from it’. His abrupt – bullying style is well known, so it does not seem like a stretch.

Personally, I have seen it time and time again. Big wins are often celebrated, but the little wins are forgotten, celebrating the journey toward success seems to never be a priority even though it is clearly correlated to success in adults and children (when done correctly). Of course, I have also been in work environments where the praise is unwarranted and the culture is one that ignores the negative, blind to the challenges ahead, which is equally as frustrating and damaging. A point that Steven DeMaio in his article ‘When being positive is positively meaningless’.

In the end, the above represent two ends of the spectrum. The Bill Gates ‘don’t praise’ mentality to the other end where praise is meaningless and dangerous. So it must be about balance. Providing critical feedback to help people learn, progress and be more successful while seeking opportunities to find people doing things right, making the effort. I like the advice in ‘The Art of Giving Praise’:

  • Be truly specific
  • Don’t confuse politeness with praise
  • Praise with action, not just words.
  • Don’t pad criticism with empty praise

And I would add, be cautious of praising skill versus effort. The article ‘How Not to Talk to Your Kids’ is a truly scary example of the dangers of the wrong kinds of praise (I have seen this one time and time again in kids):

Dweck sent four female research assistants into New York fifth-grade classrooms. The researchers would take a single child out of the classroom for a nonverbal IQ test consisting of a series of puzzles—puzzles easy enough that all the children would do fairly well. Once the child finished the test, the researchers told each student his score, then gave him a single line of praise. Randomly divided into groups, some were praised for their intelligence. They were told, “You must be smart at this.” Other students were praised for their effort: “You must have worked really hard.”

Why just a single line of praise? “We wanted to see how sensitive children were,” Dweck explained. “We had a hunch that one line might be enough to see an effect.”

Then the students were given a choice of test for the second round. One choice was a test that would be more difficult than the first, but the researchers told the kids that they’d learn a lot from attempting the puzzles. The other choice, Dweck’s team explained, was an easy test, just like the first. Of those praised for their effort, 90 percent chose the harder set of puzzles. Of those praised for their intelligence, a majority chose the easy test. The “smart” kids took the cop-out.

Seek balance.



The HBR article Envy at Work is an interesting insight into the human mind and the potential for destructive behaviour when inter-team competitiveness goes sideways. Personally, I have always been a proponent of sharing best practices whenever your team has one and saying thank-you as much as possible.

But, that is not always enough. The following quote really struck me, this goes deeper, right to human nature:

Although the German word schadenfreude – delighting in others’ misery – rapidly entered the English lexicon, the term mudita (from Pali,an ancient language of India), used by Buddhists to mean ‘rejoicing in the good fortune of others’, has not. It is the rare person whose automatic impulse is to feel glad when meeting someone smarter, prettier or richer.

An interesting point and a reminder that to build a great team, you have to watch for the warning signs. In the article they talk about one case where the employee left the company because he believed that his colleague was getting all of the credit for his hard work. The article focusing on how we, as individuals, can realize when we are feeling envious so that we can stop destructive behaviour.

One has to wonder, had he had a good manager who was watching for signs, could he have been coached out of the situation? Maybe he just needed coaching on how to represent the good things he was doing each day (so that he did not feel that someone else was taking credit) or on how to come to grips with the feelings of envy and resolve them? It was clear that he needed coaching on conflict resolution.

A great follow-up article should focus on how a good manager could have helped resolve it within a team. Personally, this article could be extrapolated well beyond work to the home life. How many children are encouraged to compete by parents? Leading to inter-family envy and dysfunction. I know that was the norm with young boys in families as I grew up, where there was always this competitiveness and I still see it today, parents encouraging their children to compete. Doesn’t that create envy and increase the propensity for dysfunction as the children compete for parental praise?

My wife has a philosophy of encouraging the boys to be competitive, but never against each other. Instead, encouraging them to support each other, help each other succeed and always seeking opportunity to raise each boy’s confidence up a level. I think it is brilliant, counter cultural and one of the reasons why our boys are the best of friends.




Catching up on my HBR reading. The article General McChrystal’s Failure of Followership has an interesting point of view on why the General has failed as a leader in Afghanistan:

The story provides more evidence that McChrystal is not now, as he never was, the kind of a follower you want as a leader. In contrast to the old days, when manly virtues seemed to suffice, in the 21st century this style of leadership will no longer wash. As the delirious reception to Obama’s nomination of General David Petreus to replace McChrystal testifies, what we want now are leaders who can be, simultaneously, followers, commanders who can cooperate and collaborate as skillfully as they can command and control. It’s a lesson as applicable to the boardroom as it is to the battle field — and one better learned before, not after, the fact.

Having just watched the Green Zone, it continues to be clear that this will require the best of leaders.



The leadership call that President Obama made yesterday, sacking his top General in Afghanistan, represents a good topic for debate.

When I was last interviewing for a leadership role I was asked a question I had never been asked before;

You have a super star sales rep. I mean that rep is blowing it out of the water, all the time. But the rep is disruptive, not being a good team player. Not following process, being demanding, among other things. What do you do?

My answer was pretty simple. In that case i would set expectations, encourage mentorship, actively engage, coach as things happened, and seek results and change. If there is not agreement to seek change (the rep didn’t see the problem at hand, which is common. Many people are in denial of their own shortcomings), then i would take a more formal route like a plan.
I wonder if the President missed an opportunity here, considering the following;

  1. The general is doing a good job and making progress in an untenable situation where others have not.
  2. The guy clearly cares, his heart and soul is in it.
  3. The Afghan President wanted the general to stay as he believed that more change at this juncture is really bad (I would agree).
  4. There was a real opportunity to demonstrate that he could look beyond the insubordination, that it wasnt about him, that it was about the soldiers and the Afghan people.
  5. That the appropriately chastised general would realize that his leader spared him, and would invest his gratitude for not ending a long career into a serious attitude change.

In the end, we will never know because it is all about that last point. The general has been involved in 2 cover up scandals, has shot off his mouth before and is clearly trying to play general and politician (which he is clearly not adept at  .. He is a tool, to be employed by a skilled leader). He also prides himself a little too much on being the rebel or cowboy. If achieving 5 was not possible then he made the right decision.
After all, success will be all about people and the team, not one general.



I was reading through an article on a new company that is entering a mature Canadian market last week. In the article, the CEO made the point that of the five companies trying to enter the mature market, only one would survive. And in a telling statement, he was quoted as follows:

“I know I’m going to be that one”.

What a curious use of the word “I”. I know the impression it left on me.

To this day, I clearly remember how I learned the “I” lesson six years ago. There was a new incoming President and I had a 1:1 with him to walk him through the status of the business I was managing. After the 1:1, I was given this piece of feedback:

                “Michael used the word “I” to much”.

“I” have never forgotten that. I was crushed, but “I” was very self conscious of the word from then on. A great lesson. It sounds trite, over used … a cliché, but there is no “I” in team. As a mentor once taught me:

“Focus on the success of your team and the people working with your team and your success is a forgone conclusion”

Remember “WE”.



The N.Y. Times article Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price discusses how people are no longer living in the moment, buried under by the ‘email a minute’ culture and too linked to technology.

Mr. Campbell continues to struggle with the effects of the deluge of data. Even after he unplugs, he craves the stimulation he gets from his electronic gadgets. He forgets things like dinner plans, and he has trouble focusing on his family.

His wife, Brenda, complains, “It seems like he can no longer be fully in the moment.”

Scientists say juggling e-mail, phone calls and other incoming information can change how people think and behave. They say our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information.

These play to a primitive impulse to respond to immediate opportunities and threats. The stimulation provokes excitement — a dopamine squirt — that researchers say can be addictive. In its absence, people feel bored.

That is a very dangerous assertion. That in the absence of activity, people feel bored. The act of doing something, of being busy is the ‘rush’ or the goal. An old boss of mine used to make a comment when I would talk about my activity level. He would first ask what I was doing, assessing whether my activities were actually productive or time filling. And often he would help me realize that many of the things I was doing were just ‘busy work’. They were not progressing me to the goal, at that time – the goal was selling more.

Email is a dangerous feeder of the ‘busy work’ feeling. And just because we are busy, it does not mean that we will be successful. It is an artificial sense of accomplishment. There is no correlation to success.

It is all about what you are doing. As an aside, I frequently turn my Blackberry off.



Last week I had to do a few big presentations. With the ‘return from vacation’ workload, it was not a good week for that because I believe in prep. When I present, I follow a couple guidelines:

1. Take a hand in the content. The best presentations are when the speaker has a sense of ownership of content.

2. Make sure the content suits the audience. Never do a ‘canned’ presentation. There is always something you can customize to connect with the audience.

3. Ensure the content has visual appeal. I have seen my fair share of presentations that have the right content but are just bullet points on a PowerPoint. It is like a first impression, visual appeal is important.

4. Simplify. Way too many PowerPoint’s are chucked full of bullet points. Less is more.

5. Check your number of slides. If you have 45 minutes and 45 slides, it will not work. 15 slides maximum in that case. It is hard to judge the rule of the thumb, but remember number 4 and do some math to figure out the maximum number of slides.

6. Most important practice. For my presentation I “dry ran” it at least 6 times. Through the process I locked down my anecdotes, noticed a few flow challenges and ensured that I knew the key points of each slide. This allowed me to think less about what I was presenting, it came across as more natural and I was significantly less stressed.

I would say that number 6 is one of the biggest mistakes people make. I do it in front of the mirror (old school) or while driving in the car or by locking myself in a room. Way too many people come into a presentation and are running it for the first time – and it is so clear.

Our boys have done speeches in front of their grade, peers, classes as part of the regular curriculum for years and whenever that happens – we ensure there is a ton of practice out loud, at home.

It works for 12 year olds. It works for 41 year olds.



I was processing paperwork over the weekend (translation: cleaning up my office) and I came across notes from a leadership conference I went to a year or two ago at Tylney Hall (click the link to see what a simple UK hotel looks like). During the conference they discussed what it takes to be a ‘Leader of Tomorrow’. The key elements:

  • Raises people to new levels of performance through recognition and praise. A leader who says thanks.
  • Creates teams that cross inter-organizational boundaries.
  • Builds a team that is enthusiastic, enjoys themselves and has hope.
  • Beating the goals is a team habit, accomplished by pulling every lever available, driving efficiency and by building a great business engine.
  • Connects individually through EQ/IQ and a varied leadership style.
  • Leads by example.

A few good points to ponder.



Last week I was listening to a speak talk about leading teams. He had a very interesting point of view (I paraphrase):

Business is not a family. Families tolerate dysfunctional behaviour.

Business is about being part of a team. You do not get born into a team. You try out for a team. You work hard and practice to get on a team. Teams do not tolerate poor performance, because it brings the entire team down. It is a privilege to be part of a team.

A very interesting point of view.



I have never been one to watch sports. I enjoy playing sports, although I am drawn to golf and recently tennis over others. Of course, as a kid growing up in Canada all we did was play hockey .. On the pond, on the canal, at recess, in the rink and of course, Saturday night was "Hockey Night in Canada" on the black and white TV.

But I never really enjoyed watching it. Which is why, shocking as it might sound, despite living in England and working for a company that had tickets at Arsenal and Wembley .. I never caught a single football game. One day ….

That being said, I was drawn to the movie "The Damn United" on the plane. Not because of the football, but because of the story. I was curious and it didn’t let me down. The summary:

After tackling Tony Blair and David Frost, actor Michael Sheen turns to another driven historical figure: football manager Brian Clough. Talented but abrasive, Clough alienates some of those around him, including his rival, Don Revie. When Clough has the chance to coach Leeds, Revie’s former team, he takes on the role of the manager of the country’s best soccer team. Also starring Timothy Spall, Jim Broadbent, and Colm Meaney, this film marks the fourth time screenwriter Peter Morgan (THE QUEEN, FROST/NIXON) has crafted a character for Sheen

I am not sure why actor Michael Sheen is drawn to playing arrogant characters, but he was as good in this movie as Brian Clough as he was in Frost/Nixon playing the driven, but equally arrogant David Frost. The story is fantastic, covering the life of a great English leader as he rises, drops and rises again.

And as it concluded, I reflected on a few lessons from the life of Brian Clough, who is “widely considered to be one of the greatest managers of the English game and the greatest English manager never to manage the England team”:

  • Teams feed on passion. On drive. On setting a goal and going for it. Set your goals low .. And you will perform low. Set your goals high, train hard, work hard, and you will get there.
  • Success is all about people. Brian achieved greatness when he inspired his team, when he built the team and they worked together. Like hundreds before and after him, his failure in Leeds was all about people. His success before and after was all about people.
  • The higher up you go, the faster you can fall.  Brian Clough let his arrogance and pettiness blind him. At his peak, he abandoned the person who helped get him there and paid the price.
  • The greatest lessons come from failure. If you are not making mistakes, you are not pushing hard enough and learning. Of course, you also need to recognize they are mistakes and learn. Fascinating to watch him go through that lesson.
  • It is never too late. To make a change, to apologize if you hurt someone, to see a situation as it is and change it. After everything he did, after all the people he hurt, he wiped himself off, begged forgiveness and started again, to go on to even greater success with his partner right beside him.

While this is a fictional portrayal (who knows how much is real), it is a great movie, with one or two things to reflect on.


Shared by a friend, and I had to laugh (check the date):

“We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams, we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.”

Gaius Petronius Arbiter, 210 BC

Unfortunately, it was not from 210. The quote is from Charlton Ogburn Jr (1911-1998), in Harper’s Magazine, “Merrill’s Marauders: The truth about an incredible adventure”

Still, an interesting quote. And of course, a great reinforcement … busy work is just busy work .. it doesn’t mean that anything is being accomplished.



Sent from an old colleague, his own personal list which makes an interesting read:

The 11 Rules of Email

These rules were born of necessity and if followed properly can help return some time and sanity into your day.

They are currently being published in Issues 8 and 9 of The Naked Leader’s “Leader Board” newsletter.

1. Inbox management – Clear your inbox every day to less than 30 emails (so the list dos not reach the bottom of outlook page). Set up folders covering each area you work on – or groups you deal with and religiously file – even if you have not always read. That way you can go back and review by topic and avoid the stress of an overfull inbox.  (Note: Not in line with Getting Things Done, but fair point!) 

2. Responding – Don’t be too quick to respond to email requests – emails are dead easy to send, and often hard and time consuming to respond to. I train people I work with and clients to call me if they want something urgent so that I know whether they are really serious and why they need a response.

3. Set a Delay – Set a sending delay of at least 2 minutes on your Outbox – it gives you just enough time to delete that accidental email. Better still you can set it for specific addresses such as clients.   (Note: I use this one all the time. I cannot tell you the number of times where I have gone ‘oops’, reopened the mail and added one last little thing or double checked something)

4. Double Check Addresses – Double check your address lines in email before you send – outlook auto insert puts odd names in there (see 3 above!).

5. Arguments – Never, ever have an argument by email – everyone loses and it is recoded for posterity. If you sense a disagreement coming, make a call or organise a face to face meeting and then circulate the conclusions by email.

6. Favourite Form of Communication – Email is not everyone’s favourite form of communication. Some people are better “live”, others like to use the phone, and others respond (even in this day and age) to formal letters or memos. Try and find out which form your key people like and use if for important communications.

7. Email ContentThe Daily Mail Test I used to work at the BBC right at the time when the big circular email scandals were taking place. We developed a very simple test for writing email content – don’t write anything in an email that you would not be happy for your mother to read on the front page of the Daily Mail.

8. Circulation List – When you need to respond to an email with a wide circulation on it stop and think. Do I need to send this to everyone? Is this “thread” wasting a lot of people’s time? (You can be sure that it is).

9. Interruptions – While internal emails can be a huge waste of time (is it so hard to either talk to someone?), they can also avoid an unnecessary interruptions. Interrupting someone at their desk wastes on average 11 minutes per interruption, so while talk is best,  email may be a useful method to log a question or thought. Equally making a note and saving it for a lunchtime chat is also a good option.

10. Getting Something Actioned – if you are sending an email looking for someone to act you need to flag this everywhere ACTION REQUIRED in the title usually means it gets read. Flagging specific asks under: “Action: John to check this issue and confirm.” Makes it really clear who and what you are asking. This only works with people you know well.

11. Getting Your Message Across – people are all really pressured by email but scan the title an first few lines. If you need to get a response from people who are busy or don’t know you very well, construct your title carefully (proposition?) and get the message over in three paragraphs – no more. If you want approval, ask for it by asking them to merely reply to that email and type “yes”. You would be surprised how well this works – it’s so easy for them to respond!

A few interesting tips to keep email productive and in control. I would add a couple extra:

12. Don’t send email on the weekend unless it is truly urgent – your employees or peers may read it. Try to give them a break, and keep them off their Blackberry so they come in ready to go on Monday.

13. Avoid ‘Reply All’ at all cost – it just clogs the system.

14. Ask yourself one question over and over – do I really need to send this email? The world has enough email. If the answer is probably not or not really, then don’t.



I was skimming through a book that I have read a few times, Major Account Sales Strategy: Rackham, this weekend looking for a particular data point when I came across this great advice:

We usually find ourselves giving two pieces of advice. The first, simply, is to reduce paperwork. In some organizations salespeople spend up to 10 hours a week completing paperwork in the name of the selling strategy. Much of this time is unproductive; much of the information is faked to a point where it’s an unreliable guide for management action. A measure of the health of a sales organization is the amount of time it spends relating to customers compared with the time it takes relating to the internal needs of the company. By this measure many organizations are sick, and we’ve seen some that border on terminally ill. So our first piece of advice is usually to cut paperwork.

Our second piece of advice is to build a selling strategy that focuses on the steps the customer takes in making a decision, not on the steps the salesperson take in making a sale. The two are not the same. As we’ll see in future chapters, strategies based on the selling process are usually far less effective than strategies based on the buying process. Our problem, as salespeople, is that it is far easier to understand the steps of selling than those of buying. And it’s far more dangerous, because we tend to base strategy on what we understand, rather than what’s effective.

Having worked in organizations that valued the process over the content or progress of the sales organization, I cannot agree more. As for the second piece of advice, that is one I need to rethink. You always gain something when you re-read the best books, kind of like finding another joke inside a Monty Python movie that you have seen 100 times.

Addition: from HBR, article ‘Wisdom on Improving Sales and Marketing’:

In your career, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about sales process improvement?

To be patient and to work for progress in small steps …  the more successful they (sales reps) are, the more resistant to change they become. Show them the big picture, reinforce process changes with tools and good management, and make it simple.

It is all about making it simple and selling how the change helps everyone. Having been at the receiving end, I know that when I understood the ‘why’, I would buy in. Bully me, or make it too complex … and forget it. Good thoughts.



I have often blogged about one of my favourite sales lessons: ‘It takes 5 no’s to make a yes’. Reading today’s HBR blog, the article How Not Achieving Something is Key to Achieving it’ serves as a proof point. In it, Peter Bregman makes a key point about his learning experience as he tried to win consulting business:

So I set up a meeting with Lily. Who cancelled. As I prepared to reschedule I noticed something unexpected: I started to enjoy the process of trying to get in, the challenge of making the sale. It became a game to me and my goal was to keep playing until, at some point, I’d say the right thing to the right person and get my foot in the door. I was, surprisingly, having fun.

And I was starting to be good at it. Scheduling. Rescheduling. Finding a way to keep the conversation going. You’d think it wouldn’t be something hard or useful to become good at but you’d be wrong on both counts.

Most of our jobs hinge on repetition. That’s how we become good at anything. The problem is we give up too soon because anything we do repetitively becomes boring.

That is, unless we have a peculiar taste for the task; if it captures our interest. For some reason, maybe we don’t even understand — and we don’t have to — we enjoy it.

That’s how I learned how to do a handstand. It always seemed completely out of reach for me. But then someone told me they learned as an adult. So I figured I could learn too. It took six months but now I can, somewhat reliably, stand on my hands.

Which has led me to believe that anyone can do anything. As long as three conditions exist:

1. You want to achieve it

2. You believe you can achieve it

3. You enjoy trying to achieve it

We often think we only need the first two but it’s the third condition that’s most important. The trying is the day-to-day reality. And trying to achieve something is very different than achieving it. It’s the opposite actually. It’s not achieving it.

The entire article is a good read. Peter then goes on to talk about the Outliers and the rule of 10,000 hours, which simply states that it is not innate talent that gets someone to the top in a field (be it sports, music or other field) but practice.

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell discusses research done at the Berlin Academy of Music. Researchers divided violin students into three categories: the stars, the good performers, and the ones who would become teachers but not performers. It turns out that the number one predictor of which category a violinist fell in was the number of hours of practice.

The future teachers had practiced 4,000 hours in their lifetime. The good performers, 8,000 hours. And those who were categorized as stars? Every single one of them had practiced at least 10,000 hours.

And here’s the compelling part: There wasn’t a single violinist who had practiced 10,000 hours who wasn’t a star. In other words, 10,000 hours of practice guaranteed you’d be a star violinist. According to Gladwell, 10,000 hours of practice is the magic number to become the best at anything.

I read the Outliers finally last month. It made me think; reading, learning, practicing, taking courses, they all add up to success. It also dispels the myth that the truly talented are just ‘born’ to be there. Or as Peter Drucker says in the 111 Thoughts on Selling:

                Work hard beats work smart. (mostly).

All about rolling up those sleeves. Management, selling, sports … you name it, no money for the person who chooses to be a coaster.



I read this interesting passage in Launching a Leadership Revolution:

A leader begins investing time in important issues, and then gets interrupted by urgent issues. Gradually the urgent issues eat away the time the leader has to spend working on important issues. The more this happens, the more urgent issues erupt, because the important things are not being handled. Eventually, the leader is engulfed by urgent crises and has no time for important, vital issues at all.

At this point the leader is finished.

It all goes back to that old philosophy of ‘busy work’. Too many people feel that being busy and the affiliated sense of accomplishment is relevant. It isn’t.

Leaders must live in the realm of the important, not in the realm of the urgent.

Interesting book. Half way through.



I was reading the recent NYTimes interview with Yahoo’s CEO and found her humility and insight quite inspiring:

Q. How would you say your leadership style has changed over time?

A. I’m calmer. I think that just comes with confidence. I would hate to describe the C.E.O. I was in ’92. I think I was pretty pathetic, actually.

And her view of annual reviews is worth pondering:

Q. And how do you give feedback?

A. I have the puppy theory. When the puppy pees on the carpet, you say something right then because you don’t say six months later, “Remember that day, January 12th, when you peed on the carpet?” That doesn’t make any sense. “This is what’s on my mind. This is quick feedback.” And then I’m on to the next thing.

If I had my way I wouldn’t do annual reviews, if I felt that everybody would be more honest about positive and negative feedback along the way. I think the annual review process is so antiquated. I almost would rather ask each employee to tell us if they’ve had a meaningful conversation with their manager this quarter. Yes or no. And if they say no, they ought to have one. I don’t even need to know what it is. But if you viewed it as meaningful, then that’s all that counts.

Couldn’t agree more. If a manager is not having those types of reviews monthly, they are not doing their job. For me, I have always gauged my effectiveness in this role based on the length of the annual review. If it is too the point with no surprises for the employee, then I am doing my job because we have communicated regularly. If not … an improvement item for my review.


I had the opportunity to listen to Jim Fisher speak about leadership a few months ago and he had a few interesting insights, specifically with regard to leadership and managing.

In the 1980’s, the United States was full of ‘well managed’ companies, Kotter and others identified that. But they lacked vision, and their focus on great management (not leadership) lead to process rigidity and a thorough pounding by the Japanese. Those of us who lived in that day and age remember the threat of the Japanese out engineering North America. He made the point that having a plan is not enough. We must have a vision, leadership, a compelling story and a plan to be successful, with the recognition that things change:

‘if we become slaves to the plan, we continue doing things long after they are useful’

A world full of change needs flexibility. We need to have that ‘vision’ of where we can go, and a plan to attain that vision, but it needs to be made out of sand – not etched in stone – ready to change as times change.

He went on to discuss one of his favourite piece of work, King Henry V by Shakespeare (making the point that Shakespeare is a remarkable man, with his plays still achieving more than 50% market share long after his death). In telling the famous story of the English defeat of the French at the Battle of Agincourt, despite terrible odds and an army on the verge of collapse, Shakespeare did it differently than those before him. He painted a picture of a great leader.

From the article ‘Blockbuster Lessons in Leadership’ (Marilyn Linton, FP, August 2003):

‘The first that the king did was have a battle plan’ Mr. Fisher observes, explaining that he knew the business of war and developed an innovative and complex medieval battle plan. His challenge then was to motivate his troops to execute it.

That leadership plan was developed after King Henry spent the night before the battle sitting around the campfires listening to his soldiers and learning how they felt.

‘Stand up and fight together!’ became the simple idea behind the leadership plan. It became evident that King Henry was going to suffer the same as his troops: ‘In real life you don’t always have the confidence your boss has as much skin in the game as you do’ Mr. Fisher says. Shakespeare had the king follow closely the rules of persuasion as taught by many business schools: Be credible, communicate shared benefits, and use vivid language for impact.

‘On the eve of battle, Henry is aware of what he is feeling. He is saying to himself ‘This is terrible. What have I done? I’m weak’. He listens to how how men feel, and he decides, in his speech not to sugar coat the truth.

‘Today, many bosses try to keep the positive spin on things. The fact is people in the trenches know how bad it is long before you do’ Mr. Fisher says.

‘Effective leadership is the combination of having a good business plan with having enough EQ to understand how to motivate people. Too much of the stuff you read about leadership talks about all the motivational things you should do to be ‘leaderly’, but if you are leaderly with a lousy plan, you aren’t going to accomplish anything’

A vision, great leadership .. and a plan. One last interesting quote on the topic of ‘vision’:

‘happiness isn’t about where we are, it is where we are going to be if we are successful … and words can bring that to life’




HBR has an interesting view on leadership openness in their June issue, which is worthy of contemplation:

‘….NASA researchers had placed existing cockpit crews – in flight simulators and tested them to see how they would respond during the crucial 30 to 45 seconds between the first sign of a potential accident and the moment it would occur. The stereotypical take-charge ‘flyboy’ pilots, who acted immediately on their gut instincts, made the wrong decisions far more often that the more open, inclusive pilots who said to their crews, in effect, ‘We’ve got a problem. How do you read it?’ before choosing a course of action.

At one level, the lesson of the NASA findings is simple: Leaders are far likelier to make mistakes when they act on too little information then when they wait to learn more. …. the pilot’s habitual style of interacting with their crews determined whether crew members would provide them with essential information during an in-air crisis. The pilots who’d made the right choices routinely had open exchanges with their crew members. The study also showed that crew members who had regularly worked with the ‘decisive’ pilots were unwilling to intervene – even when they had information that might have save the plane’ 

(HBR, June 2009, What’s Needed Next: A Culture of Candor)

I have worked for leaders who were not willing to create a culture of openness, where people held back information or were afraid to speak up – and it definitely hurt the business – opportunities lost, pitfalls not avoided. I much prefer the culture of collaboration. Good article (full version is available free online).