Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Two Essential Components For Effective Communication

I was speaking to a colleague today about effective communication and after the meeting, two interesting items crossed my desk.

The first was this cute story from a friend of mine.

A wife asks her husband, "Could you please go shopping for me and buy one carton of milk and if they have avocados, get 6."

A short time later the husband comes back with 6 cartons of milk.

The wife asks him, "Why did you buy 6 cartons of milk?"

He replied, "Because they had avocados."

The second item was this sound bite from a talk show hosted by Randy Simms on VOCM Radio in my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador. 

Having had my own experiences with Mr. Simms, I have seen firsthand how people like him are unable to calmly and intelligently discuss topics with facts, knowledge and persuasiveness, often preferring to fall back on insults and intimidation when their weak debating skills fail them.  Such communication style appears to be the only thing they know when it comes to changing people’s opinions. 

Listen to how Mr. Simms dealt today with the sensitive subject of First Nation’s people wanting to hunt caribou that have been protected by legislation.  Warning: Very harsh language that may actually be a violation of Canadian broadcasting rules is present in this recording.

While I don’t agree with any exemptions when it comes to protected animals, I would definitely use a different tact to persuade people to change their mind than Mr. Simms’ ignorant bully tactics.  The funny thing about bullies is that while they can dish it out, they can rarely take it and often take offense quickly when the same tactics are used against them.

But alas I digress.

These tidbits today struck me as providing two essential lessons on effective communication.

Lesson 1

Be specific when asking for something and leave no room for interpretation.

Lesson 2

If trying to convince someone to see your point of view, calm dialog that attempts to persuade through the use of information, knowledge and seeing the other point of view is far more effective than trying to intimidate someone into compliance or submission.

How effective is your communication?

Are you sure?

Because if you’re not, you may end up with 6 gallons of milk, no avocados and someone screaming in your face that it’s your fault because “you are an arsehole”, to quote a colorful metaphor as so tactlessly and ignorantly used by Mr. Simms today.

In service and servanthood,


Addendum – January 30, 2013

Mr. Simms offered an apology to his listeners this morning which can be heard here. I would congratulate him on such an apology except for the fact that he has slammed people disrespectfully many times in the past and in his apology he admits that he will do it again in the future.  An apology that comes merely to protect one’s job or to avoid the possibility of regulatory action is weak at best and is an empty action.  While Mr. Simms and I agree that hunting protected animals is wrong (no exceptions), we clearly have two different ways of trying to convince people to consider our point of view.

Was yesterday’s event a result of overconfidence, an attempt to garner better ratings, big-fish-in-a-little-pond syndrome or just over exuberance as he claims?  The reason doesn’t matter to the person on the receiving end, something we must always be cognizant of in our interactions with others.  I wonder what the previous reasons were … or what the reason (excuse) will be for the next inevitable event.

Addendum – February 6, 2013

At some point after my addendum from January 30 was posted, VOCM removed the content of the apology from their website, possibly because legal action is being considered against the station.  The link in the other addendum works but doesn’t contain the recorded apology anymore. The Google cache, however, had the original apology for a while until the webmaster at VOCM ingeniously changed the original webpage date to December 30 of 1899, causing the Google caching mechanism to get confused and lose the archived version. People who choose to hide truth or embarrassment can be creative indeed! It makes one wonder how genuine the apology was when it wasn’t worthy of being left online!

Addendum – March 1, 2013

Mr. Simms has announced his resignation from radio broadcasting.  He had a long, passionate and illustrious career in broadcasting.  It was unfortunate that it ended with this blemish at the end of it.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Security of Our Society: The Emperor IS Naked–Now What?

Reading the news that the hacker group Anonymous hacked the website belonging to the US Sentencing Commission should be a wake-up call to people in the West but I suspect for most people the news will fall on deaf ears.

I participated in an invitation-only national emergency preparedness meeting a couple of weeks ago where the presenters discussed the likelihood of our society being destroyed or disabled by different events over the coming decades and how prepared we are as a nation and as individuals to prevent or survive these events.

I didn’t sleep for a week - we live a more precarious Life than we care to think about.

Unfortunately, as in the Hans Christian Anderson story “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, pretending we are prepared for the real world and actually being prepared for the real world are not the same thing.  As the Emperor relied on the “wisdom” of shysters who proclaimed how great he looked, we often rely too much on the “wisdom” of self-described experts who tell us how safe we are when they don’t really know (or they know otherwise but won’t admit it).

The great challenge in today’s world is that the “child” who cries out that the Emperor is naked is hushed up or discredited for uttering the “ignorant words of a child”.  Meanwhile, others who think that the child may be right are silent for fear that they will be branded the same way.

Remember when the Stuxnet worm attacked the nuclear facilities in Iran?  Few in the west cared because “someone else” was taking out “the enemy”, even though there was evidence to suggest that the US government participated in its creation. 

Many of us who declared that this worm, whose source code was now publicly available for anyone to use  (including terrorists) and could be used against our own society, were dismissed as fear mongers. 

After all, one thing we have perfected in society when it comes to dodging accountability and responsibility is the art of discrediting or intimidating the people whose message we don’t like.

Meanwhile, few Americans paid attention when it was announced that two unnamed US power plants were disabled by similar attacks.  Whether Stuxnet-related or not as alleged experts argued over the nature of the attack, what matters is that a vulnerability had been successfully exploited as many of us had predicted would happen.

The warning shot had been fired but we couldn’t hear it over our need for personal overindulgence or in fairness, because many people are fighting just to stay afloat from one day to the next and don’t have the time or energy to see the bigger picture.

Do you really want to know how vulnerable we are?

The ability for Anonymous or other groups to be able to freely take down any website of their choice, whether a government website, a bank, a credit card company or anything else should be a wake-up call to people.

What happens if someone using the same techniques disables our communications infrastructure, our energy distribution, our water supply systems or similar systems?

What happens if our military or civil defence systems are compromised as a precursor to a larger event, including an event planned by another country?

The experts tell us that it can’t and won’t happen.  Unfortunately, their track record speaks volumes otherwise as our compromises to-date prove.  Their efforts are more directed to managing public relations then they are to really solving the problem.

Those of us who have worked on many of these systems will tell you that it can and it will happen - that such compromises are a matter of “when” and not “if”.  Even President Obama knows this but we are doing little of measurable value to protect ourselves.

These larger, more painful, more dangerous attacks will happen unless we get a lot more proactive and a lot more intelligent about admitting the compromised, vulnerable state that we are in.

After the admission, we will have to endure the quick wave of panic, followed by the more powerful wave of indignation that we allowed things to get this far.

Hopefully that indignation will then be followed by a resolution to make the world a better place.

Because it doesn’t become a better place merely through secrecy, indifference, apathy or crossing our fingers in the hopes that everyone is good and that everything is secure.

And while I don’t condone what Anonymous does, their actions and results in the name of social justice demonstrate our vulnerability and our weakness – socially, legally and from an national security standpoint.

What happens if someone uses the same techniques to take advantage of our vulnerability for a more nefarious reason?

It wont’ be their fault.

It will be ours – for being afraid to admit that the problem exists and for not having the courage, wisdom and strength to demand accountability and responsibility to create solutions to make our society stronger on all levels.

And so the “Emperor” that is our society is stark naked.

Let’s not be afraid to call it as it is and do something about it ….

…. while the opportunity is still within our reach, an opportunity that may be a narrower window than you might be comfortable with.

In service and servanthood,


PS The feel-good stuff that many people like to distribute, some with an effort to hide or ignore the difficulties we face, does have an important place in society.

However, it will take effort on our part to rid the world of as much evil, ignorance, apathy, indifference and stupidity as we can so that future generations will still have feel-good stuff to be inspired by.

A strong, positive future is not a right.

It is something we choose to earn and create ….. or not.

Friday, January 25, 2013

When Our Values Become Inconvenient

I was intrigued to see a Roman Catholic hospital win a malpractice suit in Colorado on the claim that fetuses aren’t really human.  The story of the lawsuit is here.

It is intriguing because a major tenet of Roman Catholic belief is that:

Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person - among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.

Unfortunately, it appears that this Catholic hospital is ok with living the values and tenets of the Catholic Church until they become legally inconvenient, at which point they make an abrupt turn to protect their own interests.

Whatever side of the pro-choice / pro-life dialog we find ourselves on, I still find it an interesting reflection on humanity that the dialog is even taking place while we admit that should we find bacteria on Mars, it will be automatically hailed as a sign of Life.

Meanwhile, we can’t agree on whether or not a fetus is alive (or even human, as in this case).

This case also reminds me of how wishy-washy many of us are when it comes to living our values, ethics and morals.

We claim to live by them when convenient or when Life is not squeezing us too hard.  But when Life squeezes us to the point where it is safer or more convenient to abandon them, then we do so as this hospital did.

Einstein reflected on this lack of personal fortitude when he said:

“Relativity applies to physics, not ethics”

Twain wondered about it as well when he noted:

It is curious - curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare.

The world would be a much better place if we were authentic in living the values, ethics and morals that we claim to embrace.

As Robert Kennedy said:

Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change.

Are you authentic as far as your values, ethics and morals are concerned?

Or do you have a price, after which you find it easy to allow them to “slide” a little.

Or even worse …. do you present them as a facade portraying that which you do not really care about but which serves as a convenient platform for the purposes of reward / self-promotion / elevation?

How do you know?

Do you even care?

Someday you will.

In service and servanthood,


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Do I Really Give a $h*t?

Preface to the original blog

I have just found out that the CBC program This and That is in fact a satire program, creating false news in the media.  The interview that they presented as news, which I commented on here, in fact never happened.

Many of us know of satire groups such as The Onion and enjoy a good laugh when they write stuff.

However, many not familiar with the folks at This and That were duped in not realizing that the people on this program, salaried at taxpayer expense, are attempting to be a poor impersonation of The Onion.

As I noted in a comment at the end of this blog, when the alleged satire / parody is so close to what is really happening or could be really happening, is it satire / parody or just distortion / falsehood?  In a world that needs clarity more than ever, I wonder if there is any real value to such noise.  I also wonder,  if one dubbed references to the CBC over the original audio track and shared it publicly, how lawyers at the CBC would respond.

That being said, I leave my blog as originally written, knowing that “Ms. Bonhart” actually exists in a symbolic way if not a real one.  People who think like this fictitious character are driving agendas in courts all around the world.  The politically correct are threatening to sanitize us to the point where we can’t say anything about anything.

And so the hosts of This and That fooled people like me and others.  I tip my hat to them.

However, the people who are really being fooled, and on a much more serious level, are those who don’t recognize where those who wish to sanitize thought, word and action are taking society.

Such indifference reminds me of this famous Bonhoeffer quote:

“First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.” - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

And with that, I present the blog as originally written …. for your amusement.



I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist. :-)

However, after listening to CBC’s This and That, I was VERY disappointed to hear their interview with Ms. Susan Bonhart, head of the Department of Employee Well Being for the Canadian Federal government.

Ms. Bonhart claims that she has the unenviable position of ensuring that the Canadian federal government workplace is “inclusive of all employees, offensive to none”.

Offensive to none?

If we are going to go on a crusade to cleanse the world of anything that someone might find offensive, then we might as well let the nuclear bombs fly and wipe everything out.

Well, unless you are offended by war, of course.

Some humorous excerpts from the interview:

People will be forbidden to write or say the word “cheers” (commonly used as a close in emails written by Canadians).  Why?  Because “it’s something that people do when they are drinking”.

When people say “Bless you” after someone sneezes, apparently they are really saying “I believe in God – MY God”.  Instead of saying “bless you”, the officially recommended replacement is “Oh no, I heard that”.

But isn’t that what a kid says when another kid has uncontrolled flatulence?  Or is that something else?

BTW, have I offended you by using the word flatulence?

Forgive me – I’m an old fart after all and my sensitivity to the feelings of others is not as well developed as it used to be.

But I digress …. back to Ms. Bonhart ……

Instead of saying “Oh my God”, the official replacements are “Wow”, “Oh!” or “Well, huh”.

I was surprised that she hasn’t nailed the common acronym WTF yet.

Maybe that’s coming.

Some of you just got offended by my use of the word “nailed”. Shame on you for having your mind in the gutter.

Frankly, I’m glad that she gives a rat’s a$$ for cleansing the world of its brutal insensitivity when it comes to language.  It’s time people gave a $h*t about the rights of people who have gotten so sensitive in the world that pretty soon we won’t be able to think or say anything without asking for permission or risking punishment as a result.

Damn it, that’s what all of us oversensitive people deserve.

By the way, I found Ms. Bonhart’s chuckle to be insensitive and I am thinking about launching a class action lawsuit against people who chuckle while discussing important subjects.  I find such actions insulting and my day is totally shagged up as a result.

And I guess if she finds OMG offensive, then she would really not like OMFG.

Oh well.

WTF. :-)

Let’s not limit our cleansing to language

We should also realize that we are not limited to language when it comes to sanitizing our environment.

That blue shirt you are wearing?  Blue reminds me of depression.  Maybe you are poking fun at someone who suffers from it.

Red is a sexually suggestive color.  I wonder what you are suggesting to me when you wear it.  I may be titillated or I may be offended by it.  Hopefully the word titillate doesn’t offend you.

How about that 50th birthday party for a team member?  Well, a good friend of mine died on his 50th birthday and so your birthday party brings back painful memories for me and therefore shouldn’t be allowed.

That chicken sandwich you brought in for lunch?  A vegan would be seriously offended by it.

How about that Tim Horton’s bagel belt sandwich you offered me? The word “belt” reminds me of the corporal punishment I suffered as a child in school.  The traumatic memories you are bringing out in me are preventing me from working.

The sky’s the limit.

Well … unless you are offended by clichés.

There is no end to this slippery slope of stupidity, ignorance and hypersensitivity.

I’d like to sign off with my usual “In service and servanthood” closing but apparently positive-minded closings insult some people.  I have been told that my email closing “Create a great day” is insulting to people who aren’t, can’t or won’t.

I could say “get lost” but that will offend some also.

My first name, Harry, means to harass or carry out attacks against others, so I can’t use my name either because someone may make a connection between my name and bullying.

So I guess I will sign off without saying anything ….

… which will insult the people who subscribe to the likes of Miss Manners.

Damn it – I’m f ████ d.

Instead, I will close with this little ditty from Monty Python – “I Bet You They Won’t Play This Song on the Radio”.

PS  Take a look at the Federal Government online directory.  Find all the names that you find offensive, such as Dick and others, and send them a note telling them that they are offending you.  That should continue what is apparently a healthy dialog around sensitivity.

PPS I have two colleagues in NYC whose names are Dick Ahnus and Dick Weiner.  I guess I will have to demand that they change their names immediately, since merely recommending them to others sounds like I am making some type of judgement.

PPPS I wonder how Ms. Bonhart’s intentions stand up against a person’s rights when it comes to expressions of faith.  I’m sure the lawyers are exploring that as I write this.

PPPPS I wrote the other day (Two Job Promotion Trends That Worry Me) and last year (For Sale: Courtesy and Respect – No Longer Needed) about how someone in the public sector filed a grievance against me for being too respectful. I wonder how far we are willing to let this charade continue before pushing back on the silliness and ignorance of others.

PPPPPS  I apologize to my readers for appending too many postscripts.

PPPPPPS I apologize to my readers who think my previous apology was a sign of weakness.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Life–The Importance of Context

I remember many years ago as I was getting ready to mail my father a Father’s Day card that I felt compelled to put a much deeper message in it than the stock quote that was contained within.

While I wrote words of gratitude which many of us do, I also wrote that I finally “got it” – that I needed to become a father to finally appreciate what he had done for me over the years.

It was easy to be critical in my youth without having the context of the gifts needed to be a father – the gifts of wisdom, patience, correction, guidance and the many other things that a father calls upon as well as knowledge of the difficulties that a father faces daily.

The value of context changes how we see everything, doesn’t it?

How many of us look back on our earlier years and smile or shake our head as we remember how we handled certain situations with our then limited knowledge and Life experience?  Oftentimes, with our current Life experience, it feels like we are looking back on the Life of someone else.

Everyone has an opinion …. unfortunately

It seems in today’s world that we have an opinion on everything and everyone, oftentimes not having the slightest shred of experience, context or knowledge regarding the event or person.  Many claim to even know what God thinks of each event and person and they don’t hesitate to tell us what He is thinking of us at the moment.

I believe this has been exacerbated by social media in that we feel enabled and compelled to comment on everything while most of us know little or nothing about many of the things we comment on.

Maybe, instead of being hasty with a judgement or leaping in with “the answer” to a specific problem, if we took some time to listen, to observe and to gain context, then our observation or guidance might have greater value and impact for the person who needs it.

Maybe then our observations would sound less like noise and more like wisdom.


It reminds me of a favorite story of mine.

It’s a story of Rabbi Baal Shem-Tov, the founder of the modern Hasidic movement, who was overlooking his hometown with his students when the town was attacked by a group of Cossacks.  As the rabbi and his students watched, men, women and children in their town were slaughtered.  Looking up to the sky, the rabbi said "If only I were God".

One of his students asked "Master, if you were God, what would you do differently?".

Looking at his student, the rabbi replied "If I were God, I would do nothing differently.  If I were God, I would understand.".

Do you take the time to understand before you act?

How do you know?

In service and servanthood,


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Two Job Promotion Trends That Worry Me

As an objective observer and strategy advisor to many organizations ranging from start-ups to Fortune 25 companies, there is a growing job promotion trend in the middle to senior management levels that worries me.

It is has been said that “the meek shall inherit the earth”.

I would like to think that those who inherit the earth are those who make the best contribution to it, whether professionally, personally, spiritually, intellectually and the like.

In essence, those who make the world a better place!

However, I wonder if we are heading towards a trend where the people who will inherit the earth either:

- are promoted because they speak the loudest or have been somewhere the longest, seizing more and more power without having the skills or interest to wield that power appropriately

- hire / promote people who will not threaten them or push them to grow, intentionally preventing growth  in their underlings (the principle of negative selection).

These people may not be the smartest at what they do (which is ok to a certain extent).  Unfortunately, many don’t even care about learning or sharing knowledge with others.

They may not be the most collaborative.  Many prefer to do whatever it takes to win the dog-eat-dog world that they perceive.

They may not be the servant leaders that we need more of in the world.  They may see servant leadership as a sign of weakness.

They may not be the most confident in their abilities or in recognizing the abilities of others.  In fact, lifting themselves up by undercutting others may be their preferred way of advancement.

They are, however, very proficient in how they manage their career growth via the use of political or other negative means.  They are so good at it that many who would ordinarily strive to make strong contributions are often discouraged from active participation for fear of being criticized for thinking that they are better than everyone else or with the rationalization of “why should I bother when no one around me cares”.

Many good people leave altogether.

And many otherwise great contributors who stick around eventually become victims of Lawnmower Syndrome and stop contributing altogether.


When good people leave or stop contributing, it is at that point that the ignorant and incompetent relax, feeling secure in their place of perceived power.

Unfortunately, their organization is losing as a result and the feeling of security that the incompetent experience is short-lived as diminished results on their part produce diminished results for the organization overall. Eventually, many such organizations stumble or fall as a result and the sense of security evaporates as many people, good and bad, have to seek employment elsewhere.

This is not just an illustration of the Peter Principle, where people ultimately rise to their level of incompetence.  Many of the people  I am referring to have long blown the lid of that principle in how they have advanced in their careers.

I’m not suggesting that the existence of such people have reached the tipping point where they are the dominant type of management.  I have reviewed a few surveys that say they have and they haven’t so the jury is out when it comes to making such a generalization.

However, many of my colleagues and I notice that they are becoming much more common and influential.

Too much so.

Maybe these people are just becoming more confident as they rise through the ranks of society.

Maybe they feel safer in revealing their true selves in an HR world where we misinterpret the Desiderate mantra “Even the dull and ignorant, they too have their story”, thereby opening ourselves to abuse because we are tolerant of things that we shouldn’t be tolerant of.

Either way, the outcomes of the groups they manage and the organizations they contribute to are suffering as a result.

We achieve what we focus on

It is generally accepted that the values, ethics and behaviours that are tolerated or embraced within an organization are the ones that will grow within that organization, good or bad.

I was reminded of this yesterday in a conversation with a colleague when I was recounting the time I had a grievance filed against me for being too respectful.

The point of the grievance was that anyone as respectful to others as I am must be up to something and therefore I should stop immediately.

It’s a sad reflection on an organization’s leadership when a leader’s insecurity is so strong that a positive human trait represents a threat to them.

It also sends a strong statement to that person’s team that positive traits are to be suppressed or discouraged, not being welcome in someone’s world of insecurity.

As a result, the group in question suffered significantly in results and personal and professional growth.

But at least the leader didn’t have to worry about anyone below them “threatening them” with more knowledge and a healthier outlook.

The Underlying Cause

After studying leaders for many years, I think that the trend of poor or incompetent promotion behaviour is growing because of another disturbing trend.

There is a major disconnect between these people and the organizations they work for.  This disconnect is in regards to how results are measured and understanding how one person’s results impact the layers above and below them.

I believe many people have lost sight of how their efforts, contributions and results contribute to the big picture – either having not been told or because they don’t care to ask.

And when that happens, they don’t really care about who does what when and how they do it because they can’t tell (or don’t care) what the ultimate impact will be anyway.

They confuse activity with productivity.

And that’s not their fault.

It is the fault of their leaders.

Are you a strong leader who helps your people understand their measurable contribution and the impact on your team, business unit, division or company?

Can you measure it?

If you can’t or don’t measure it, then you don’t know.


The vision, mission, purpose and projected outcomes of an organization demand that we make a proactive effort to put the best people in place within the constraints that we have and that we do so to intentionally produce appropriate measurable results.

Are you making such a proactive effort?

How do you know?

In service and servanthood,


Monday, January 21, 2013

Excessive Ego–A Recipe For Disaster

I became aware this morning of another company that I had connections with that is in the process of going under.

Sadly, it had followed a recipe for disaster that I have seen so many companies follow.

Recipe for Corporate Failure



  • Intelligent strategy
  • Sharp tactical roadmaps
  • Relevant, measurable outcomes
  • Leadership humility / self-confidence balance
  • A sense of personal and professional ethics and morals


  • Excellent intention
  • Powerful vision
  • Well-developed product
  • Strong market demand
  • Phenomenally intelligent, passionate team
  • Strong market dominance potential


1. Ignore the crust recipe completely.  Foundational stuff that ties everything else together is overrated anyway.

2. Mix all the filling ingredients in a baking dish.

3. When all ingredients have become a sticky mess, proceed anyway even though the result is now predictable (at least from everyone else’s perspective).

4. Bake under high heat and pressure until everything melts into an indiscernible mess.

5. Fire may break out at this time.  This is normal and anticipated and should be ignored.  Such warning signs are for the weak and paranoid.

6. Recipe can still be saved by quickly stirring in balanced amounts of self-confidence and humility and then asking for help. Skip this step for any number of unjustifiable reasons.

7. Act surprised or play the victim when a smoking mess comes out of the oven.

8. Ignore the people who stood by you through thick and thin but were poisoned by the recipe. They didn’t matter anyway.  Better yet – blame the poor result on them if possible.

9. Discard the result, clean up everything, rename the recipe and then repeat with the anticipation that doing the exact same thing over and over will eventually produce a different, more desirable result.

Optional step: Use social media to generate buzz espousing your “success” model.  Call it “The Secret To …” or “The X Steps to Instant Wealth” for higher impact.  Another useful exercise is to cite a “spiritual” or “enlightened”  reason why your failure was actually an anticipated stepping stone to changing the world.  In this way, you can rationalize that you didn’t fail – the world did because it hasn’t caught up to your enlightened way of executing yet.

The danger of excessive ego

I have written and spoken many times about the importance of having an appropriate blend of strong strategy, sharp tactical roadmaps and relevant measurable outcomes in order to create success.

I have watched many companies go under without an appropriate blend of these items.

But the one reason for company failure that kills me the most is when excessive levels of ego cause a company’s leadership to choose corporate death over accepting help of any kind.

Insufficient ego leaves one a doormat to be stepped on by everyone.

But excessive ego is like a runaway train, killing everyone and everything in its path.

Balance is the key … as always.

In many such failures, the leadership will go on to create other failures as their excessive ego also precludes them from learning from their mistakes.

Meanwhile, the great people within the dead organization and their families are left behind to sort out what happened, many times scrambling just to survive.

And that is the greatest injustice of all.

Do you as a leader have the right balance of humility and hubris?

How do you know?

In service and servanthood,


All people and companies appearing in

or referenced by this work

are not fictitious.

Any resemblance to real persons and companies,

living or dead, is purely intentional.

Don’t be one of them.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Lance Armstrong, Cheating and Rationalization Fascination

The dialog around Lance Armstrong and his fall from grace with the admission of doping has been intriguing, with the majority of people being thoroughly disgusted.

I am intrigued by the dialog, with my curiosity falling into the category of “rationalization fascination”.

But first a digression ….

If I murder my neighbour, it is considered an illegal and immoral act and I am punished as a result.

If as a soldier, I kill the enemy (for whatever reason), I am considered a hero, doing what it takes to protect my buddy, my nation and the world-at-large.

If a woman aborts a fetus, not for the protection of herself or her unborn child but because the pregnancy is inconvenient, then this act is referred to as asserting personal choice.

If I am sentenced to death for committing a heinous crime, this act of killing is referred to as justice.

They are all the same act of taking a Life but which present four different interpretations based on context and perspective.

We live in a world of win-at-all-cost

In our world today, we are taught to do whatever it takes to win.  Sure we talk about collaboration, win-win and all of that stuff but a lot of times, the message that reaches our brain, whether because we are told implicitly or explicitly, is to do whatever it takes.

When the stakes or rewards are low in the grand scheme of things, our sense of morals and ethics is not really tested. 

However, I would posit that when the stakes and rewards are very high, it is at that point that our sense of right and wrong is really tested and we are challenged to understand what our interpretation of do whatever it takes really is.

And so while it is easy to be critical of Lance Armstrong and what he did, I wonder how many of us would automatically take the ethical / moral / legal highroad when faced with a situation where the reward potential for ourselves, our family, our company, etc. is very high.

It it easy for us to say that we would automatically do the right thing.

But having worked with many people over the years who risked huge failure in order to manifest huge rewards, I can assure you that the lines of what it is in and out of bounds get very blurry when much is on the line.

There are many gray lines in Life when the stakes are high.

And so, while I believe Lance Armstrong definitely did the wrong thing, I see a different perspective as to why he did it.

I would also suggest that if you can’t understand why he did it, then perhaps you haven’t lived to your ultimate potential yet, where you would be forced to face the temptation to violate your own morals and ethics because the reward potential for doing so was so great.

Those who have lived to their highest potential know the difficult choices I am referring to.

Lance Armstrong is a product of our society

In a society that suggests that you do what you want and beg for forgiveness later, I would suggest that Lance Armstrong did the wrong thing … but we as a society encouraged him to do so.

It’s similar to the paradox of capitalism.  In capitalism, we are encouraged to grow our business as large as we can make it …. until our success is so great that we are considered a monopoly and are broken up, fined or punished in some way for growing too large.

In the Gospel of John, chapter 8, verses 7-9, we have the popularly quoted lesson:

And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”  And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. – ESV

While I don’t condone Mr. Armstrong, for his cheating and what he put others through to cover up his actions, I can’t judge him either because I, like many in my circles, have been in the situation where I had to choose correctly.

And many of us in that situation know that oftentimes, even the greatest amongst us fall to temptation when said temptation offers tantalizing rewards or the opportunity to hide from paralyzing or humiliating punishment.

This is not a licence to just allow anyone to do anything.

However, it is not a licence to judge without appropriate context either.

And so I will lay my stone and walk away.

What will you do with your stone?

In service and servanthood,


PS It could be said that to be quick to judge others without context allows one to overlook one’s own difficulties, shortcomings or mistakes.  However, to suggest this would be judging others, wouldn’t it? :-)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Life is Difficult - Realigning Expectations in America

“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.” – M. Scott Peck

And so begins the wonderful book “The Road Less Travelled”.

Life IS difficult, complex, challenging, frustrating and sometimes painful.

It is also amazing, inspiring, uplifting, loving and filled with opportunities for growth, sharing and collaboration.

But the latter doesn’t come without sacrifice, effort and intention to make it so.

And yet many Americans believe that all the complexities of their society can be solved simply or that someone else needs to hurry up and make their life better.

Many of us have enough difficulty getting along with a friend, colleague, spouse, child or neighbour.  If we can’t do that, how do we expect American society-at-large to be so easily fixed.

Consider this ….

1. The business of government is far too complex for anyone to understand, comprehend, fix or even guide, having long outstripped the ability of its creator to control it.   The myriad of laws woven together, each law modifying, adding to or negating other laws is beyond the ability of practically anyone to understand let alone vote on.  Legislation such as the Patriot Act, Obamacare and others are often over 1000 pages in length and many times are given to legislators to vote on within 24 hours of receipt. 

Take the time to actually read one of these pieces of legislation.  I have and they are indecipherable.  Pick a random piece out of one of them and ask your state rep what the excerpt means or what the impact is on other laws.  The blank stare or cliché vomit will speak volumes.

2. The checks and balances of the American legislative system have been swept away by the use of Executive Directives, basically making Congress and the Senate more of a public relations mechanism and not a legislative one.

3. Spending continues out of control, with Fed Chairman Bernanke and others calling for the removal of the debt ceiling altogether, thereby releasing the American government to dig the debt hole deeper and faster and thus condemning future generations to some VERY painful decision.   The President is even threatening to pass his own debt ceiling legislation via Executive Directive.

4. Emergency preparedness basically means “counter terrorism” and so emergency preparedness other than in the terror realm has become more of either a public relations game (“don’t worry, we’ll protect you”) or a “cross my fingers and hope that our generic solution will be effective” belief.

How well is this working? A few examples …..

1. I was told in the early 1990’s by senior ranking US military officials that their biggest concern for American national security centered around people hijacking commercial aircraft and flying them into our public buildings.  Ten years later, we had 9/11 and public officials were publicly “caught off guard”.

2. In 2004, we had the Madrid train bombing.  A year later, having learning nothing, we had a repeat in London.

3. Airline officials will admit off the record that airline security is more of a PR game than a solvable problem.  The dedicated terrorist will do what they choose when they choose to.  The billions we spend on airline security keep us safe from the amateur nutbar …. nothing else.

The Bottom Line

Relying on legislators and bureaucrats alone is not “getting it done”. In fact, doing so is exacerbating the challenges we are experiencing.

Regardless of what any politician tells you, the “system” as it stands has its own inertia, dragging the country and its citizens with it towards an end that most strategy people can already see and which the government is creating an “answer” for.

Having sat in on meetings where this end was discussed, I can assure you that the “answer” is not very palatable for the American citizen.

The current system is a run away train and the good old days are gone.

Well, at least as we perceived them.

But that doesn’t mean that great days can’t be created in front of us.

But to do so requires that we recognize the complexity of the world we live in and to recognize that there are few if any easy, simple, painless solutions.

It requires that we acknowledge that no one person has the answer.  Politicians are least likely to have “the answer” as many don’t understand the system they believe they are guiding and many have figured out how to leverage the system for their own benefit, having recognized that they can’t do anything else with it but use it to serve their own needs.

And it requires that we recognize our personal responsibility in contributing towards a solution, including  overcoming our denial of the situation we are in.

Eric Holdeman, a leader in helping people be better prepared against disaster, once said this:

There are four stages of denial.  One is, it won't happen. Two is, if it does happen, it won't happen to me. Three: if it does happen to me, it won't be that bad. And four: if it happens to me and it's bad, there's nothing I can do to stop it anyway."

I’d like to add three more variations:

It can only happen if I think about it, therefore thinking “happy thoughts” makes it go away.

The government (or someone else) will figure it out, therefore I don’t need to worry about it.

My skills, knowledge and talent can’t make a difference anyway since I’m just one person, so why should I bother?

Guess what?

M. Scott Peck and Eric Holdeman are both right.

Life IS difficult.

And denial doesn’t make it better.

If you think it is difficult now, wait until you see what continued apathy, indifference and ignorance will produce as our sense of urgency, collaboration and results-focus fades away.

Consider this example:

The city of Pompeii was significantly damaged in a strong earthquake in 63 AD.  Assuming that bad things couldn’t happen again and despite the fact that the mountain they lived in the shadow of had a long history of volcanic eruptions, the citizens rebuilt their city, only to have it significantly destroyed in the eruption of Vesuvius 16 years later.

Denial of reality can be blissful.

It can also be fatal.

The difficulty we are creating tomorrow will make today look like the good old days unless we demand better of ourselves and others.

Demanding better won’t be easy.

But deferring such choices will make things even more difficult and painful tomorrow.

I think future generations deserve better.

I also think we can and must do better.

What do you think?

In service and servanthood,


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Life Execution: Purpose or Paranoia?

As an observer of the human experience, I enjoy understanding what motivates people to live as they do.

One of the things I like to assess that I believe provides a high level of predictability in terms of narrowing the gap between potential and results is whether they are guided by “purpose” or “paranoia” (fear).

In other words ….

Each of us is motivated to run towards something (a Purpose-filled Life) or to run from something (a fear / avoidance-based Life).  The quality and impact of our lives is in large-part derived from the choice we embrace.

After all, if I am focused on moving towards a Purpose, then I am unwavering in my intention to do what it takes to reach my goals -  collecting and sharing the knowledge, networks, finances and any other resources necessary to bring my Purpose (and the Purpose of others) to fruition.

I decide what my priorities are and act appropriately on them.  I am also not easily knocked off target in terms of goal-focus and can adjust my execution as required.

If I am running from fear, whether it is a fear of financial failure, fear of relationship failure, fear of a perceived lack of knowledge, fear of someone being better than me, fear of how others perceive me or anything else, then I am reactive - blowing in the breeze with my random actions depending on what fear resonates the loudest with me on a given day.

In this case, my fear-driven priorities probably represent the priorities of someone else who is living their Life in a Purpose-filled way (or even worse if I allow someone’s fear-focused intentions to fuel the same in me, thereby producing a really random, potentially painful result). 

My Life would look like Monty Python’s “100 Yard Dash For People With No Sense of Direction”.



I’m also not living my Life in such situations – I’m living someone else’s.

As I have mentioned in earlier writings, we can choose to live our Life as we desire or we can allow others to drive our Life as they desire.

The former takes courage and often requires that we make painful decisions.

The latter creates even more fear within and produces painful or disappointing results – not just for ourselves but for others as well.

The latter is also like trying to balance a bowling ball on a broomstick.

It sways in many directions and seems temporarily successful …..

…. but it provides little value or purpose and eventually falls, providing an embarrassing moment at best or potentially killing the person underneath in a worst-case scenario.

Do you focus on Purpose or paranoia?

While most people who are asked believe they are Purpose-focused, it is estimated that only 3-5% of people in the Western world actually focus on the former.

Are you one of them?

How do you know?

In service and servanthood,


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Blending the Spiritual and the Strategic Mind

Over the last few days, I have had an opportunity to analyze the many clients I have been blessed to collaborate with over the years as I did a mini “Good to Great” analysis of what separated the failures, almost-made-its, successful and super successful clients.

And while my analysis was not a super scientific, exhaustive study by any means, I was intrigued to discover that there was one common element across the successful and super successful clients.

The successful and super successful clients had found a way to blend their sense of “spiritual purpose” with the ability to be appropriately intelligent in the areas of strategy, tactics and overall execution.

When I refer to “spiritual”, I’m not referring to a specific faith or creed but rather one that recognizes that we answer to a Higher Authority and that a Greater Purpose / Intention seems to be at play …. a purpose and intention that guides (not rules) their actions and contributes to (not dictates) how they respond to the result of their actions.

I want to be careful not to make generalizations here within the context of a very quick analysis.  However, as I reviewed my copious notes, I noted some interesting things.  The successful and super successful clients had found a way to balance:

  • humility and hubris
  • hanging on and letting go
  • self confidence in execution and trust / faith that things always work out
  • pride in achievement while sharing (or giving away) the credit
  • the individual contribution within the context of a greater collaboration
  • wilful creation versus external events that happened “for a reason” (the belief that there are no coincidences)
  • the acknowledgement of one’s talents, knowledge and skills as a gift to prepare them for the event at-hand versus the “it was all me” mentality
  • the importance of the triple or quadruple bottom line (the latter adding “spiritual” to the common list of people, planet, profit)
  • leadership versus servant leadership.

In other words, it wasn’t just about them and how great they were.  They saw themselves as a a participant and contributor in a Greater Collaboration.

And the rest?

The rest of the crowd demonstrated interesting imbalances, specifically in the areas of:

  • I don’t need to be strategic – God / Spirit / the Universe will do it all for me “just because”
  • If I pray hard enough, it will just happen, despite the evidence that my execution suggests the contrary
  • Being strategic implies that I must be ruthless (even if I am a self-proclaimed “religious” person)
  • God is my hammer and I will beat others with His approval
  • I earned the credit so why shouldn’t I claim it
  • It’s a dog-eat-dog world – humility is a sign of weakness that I will not allow others to see
  • My talents are a result of my efforts and are not a reflection of any contribution from anyone (or Anyone)
  • Leaders exist to rule, even if it includes by force or intimidation.  Servant leaders don’t produce useful results.

Or to put it another way ….

They are great and everyone exists to serve them.  They are also either alone against the Universe (with an agnostic or atheistic approach) or that God exists to serve their needs on demand, like a short-order cook.  They also tend to burn more bridges than the other group, since they have lost sight of the larger sense of interconnectedness between people and events.

It’s like being a successful painter

As an artist, if I focus only on the cost of the paint, the brush, the frame and the canvas, the creative Spirit inside me will never be free to paint what is in my heart.

But if I focus on the creative side alone without any regard to what the materials cost and who will consume my creativity, I end up being a starving or bankrupt artist, with my creativity still trapped inside me and with my gifts being largely unknown to the masses.

As with all things, finding balance in Life is everything.

Have you found your balance?

How do you know?

In service and servanthood,


PS Dedicated to a few people I have discussed this with in recent days.  The balance you seek is within you and within your reach.  Acknowledge it, embrace it, trust it and then take action with it.  The world is waiting for your gifts.  What are you waiting for?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Paradox of Our Progress

I saw this note by a social media friend today and it caused me to stop and reflect on how well (or not) we use the tools and knowledge at our disposal.

Question: If someone from the 1950’s suddenly appeared today, what would be the most difficult thing to explain to them about Life today?

Answer: I possess a device that fits in my pocket and that is capable of accessing the entirety of information known to man.  I use it primarily to look at pictures of cats and get caught in arguments with strangers.

I won’t offer any analysis of this exchange.

I think it speaks volumes in terms of our potential and what we do (and don’t do) with it.

Are you living up to your potential?

How do you know?

In service and servanthood,


Monday, January 7, 2013

The NHL Lockout–Focusing On Whom You Serve

There are many variations around the expression “Adversity doesn’t change you, it reveals you”.

As the NHL lockout comes to a conclusion, I wonder what it reveals about the the owners and players.

Over the last 10 years or so, I have observed a number of labor disputes in the education and healthcare industries.  The workforce commonly issued many an angry statement about what they deserved, whether it was better pensions, more vacation time, better pay or about how poorly they were being treated.  One example that stood out for me was one doctor who made almost a million dollars a year, worked 5 hours a week, received 8 weeks paid vacation per year (plus sick leave) and cited that his workload was unbearable.

The management in these labor disputes talked about the challenges of balancing the books in difficult times, how hard it was to find skilled talent, how the compensation package offered matched any other comparable group and the like.

VERY rarely did either side champion the student, patient or any other group that they existed to serve.

It was if the people whom they served didn’t exist.

The same is true for the NHL dispute.  We heard a lot about how the owners were struggling to get by as more and more of them demanded their local cities carry the financial risk and burden of building new arenas in order to maximize their own profits.

We also heard a lot from players who are paid millions a year to chase a piece of frozen rubber as they complained that they weren’t getting their share and how difficult it was for them to shift from a busy workload to a life of relaxation with their family.

Digression: Imagine if first responders and military personnel were paid commensurate with their value, contribution and sacrifice.  They'd all be billionaires if we use NHL player salaries as a baseline.

The word “fan” was rarely mentioned in the recent NHL lockout.  The many people who rely on part time jobs in and around the various arenas didn’t come to mind either as they were suddenly forced to find some other source of income before the holidays.

In fact, I’m sure that the only time the word “fan” was mentioned in any boardroom was in the financial accounting of the bag of gold that was being divided.  I wonder how many people stood up during the negotiations and exclaimed “Guys, this is all garbage – what are we doing for the fans?”.

Maybe the fans don’t matter.  If that’s true, then perhaps we can shut down the arenas and allow the league to focus on TV and endorsement revenue.

As this would surely produce a cry of indignation from fans and players alike, it seems that fans do matter.

And since revenue from fans, whether in the stands, in front of the TV or at the local souvenir shop, accounts for most of the money that the owners and players were fighting over, perhaps a little more than a lame apology at the end of the lockout is in order.

As a former season ticket holder myself where I dropped hundreds at every game above and beyond the tickets themselves, I think that the players and owners have lived quite well on our revenue.

Sadly, what we think and feel seems to only matter when it appears we might withhold revenue from them.

It’s almost like mistreating someone for years but suddenly apologizing when the abused has had enough and decides to leave.  At that point, words of regret are empty, meaningless and insincere.

Any organization and the people within, whether they are in healthcare, education, government, business, religion, sports or anything else, must NEVER take its focus off the people whom it serves.

Any organization that does so is either meaningless, purposeless or deserves to be replaced by one that does care about whom they serve.

After all, if the people whom they served don’t need them, don’t get value out of them or don’t get respect from them, then why should the organization be tolerated to exist at all?

As for me ……

The players and owners did fine not thinking about me for the first part of the season.

And they will do fine if I’m not thinking about them for the rest of the season.

In service and servanthood,


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Fried Chicken and Lousy Business Execution

I was amused to read this news item today of an enterprising pair of burglars who were attempting to break into a jewellery store by cutting through a common wall shared with a bathroom facility behind the jewellery store.

Unfortunately, the bathroom facility also shared a wall with a KFC and so when they broke through the wall, they and the staff of the KFC were equally surprised to see each other.

Undeterred and demonstrating some quick thinking, the burglars impromptuously held up the KFC and made off with some cash before being caught later.

Alas ….. this is what happens when great intentions and poor execution come together.

Business is no different

I had a conversation with a prospect recently who was lamenting the fact that despite having adopted the best processes that they could find in their industry, their results were actually worse than before they started.

“What problem did you identify that caused you to adopt these processes?”, I asked.

His reply was surprisingly candid. “We had evolved to a point where we simply couldn’t work together”, he said.

“Did you figure out why you couldn’t work together?”, I asked.

“No – why does that matter?”, he replied.

“Because if you didn’t know what the problem was, how did you go about selecting a solution?”, I asked.

The light bulb that went off in his head was so bright that it blinded me on the other end of the phone.

Before you pick a solution ….

Powerful processes, fantastic frameworks and beautiful best-practices (and awesome alliteration) are all well and good.

But if you don’t know what the problem is, then the solutions you are layering over the problem often become contributors to a larger problem instead of contributors towards a solution.

If, when a problem is identified and a solution selected, the problem and solution can’t stand up to the scrutiny of “how do you know?” in a measurable way, I’d be willing to bet you haven’t identified either very well.

Some people are happy to execute anyway with the blind optimism that everything will just “work out”.

That’s like leaving your office and driving around the building in ever-increasing circles until you eventually arrive home by accident, hours or days later instead of what could have been minutes … unless you run out of fuel, fall asleep at the wheel or get derailed by a detour.

Intelligent execution is everything

If one doesn’t execute intelligently, strategically and with effective tactical roadmaps, it is very difficult to anticipate what the end result will look like.

However, to blindly execute anyway with good intentions and poor execution, as in the case of these two burglars, produces a higher likelihood that you will end up with fried chicken instead of diamonds.

Now that’s fine if you like fried chicken.

But then again, if fried chicken is your thing, you can buy a lot more with a fistful of diamonds.

In service and servanthood,