Friday, February 29, 2008

Facilitate This

Even after more than 20 years in the consulting, leadership business I'm still intrigued by the power and potential of well run group input processes. By now I've seen everything from the incredibly complex to the surprisingly simple. I've seen them both work. And fail.

Yesterday, I got a chance to observe a very effective process that said as much about strong leadership as it did about gathering great feedback. It involved a new CEO of a large, important, troubled and neglected industry group. His goals were clearly as much about demonstrating engagement and change of style as they were about hearing from key constituents.

There was absolutely no rocket science in his approach. First, he and his Chair made some introductory remarks setting the stage. Then they split the group into 3, handed each group 2 simple questions, and waited for feedback.

Then, the simple but remarkable part. As each group was presenting their input, he took notes and asked questions for clarification. On his feet the whole time. Moving around the room to get a direct look at the notes being used. Then, without hesitation or preparation, and still on his feet, he proceeded to summarize the reams of information he'd just been given. Having been assured, that he'd got the message properly, he then provided his perspective, response, concerns, and enthusiasm in a point by point fashion for everything he had just been fed.

Very, very effective. The message of "I listened, I get it, I have answers and I'm not afraid" echoed around the room. The response of the participants was predictably positive. Post-meeting I talked to a previously skeptical industry CEO who already changed sides - suspending disbelief and holding out serious hope for change.

Of course, one good meeting does not success make. But as a platform and an initial building block for change, it was very impressive. And simple. I learned something.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Leadership and Success

A couple of months ago I made a presentation to a group of managers on a variety of topics including my observations as both a consultant and CEO on leadership. Here are the couple of slides I used.

A couple of thoughts: 1) re leadership can happen anywhere in an organization - thank goodness - some of the worst leaders have the biggest titles; some of the best leaders have crappy titles - and a gang of loyal followers. A leader isn't a leader without followers. 2) Ego kills. Ego will overcome intelligence every day of the week. The root of every well orchestrated failure I've observed was someone with a big title who thought they were smarter than the world. They never are.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Back to Reality

Arrived back from Oz on Saturday evening. By today I'm feeling OK but last couple of days weren't great. You know you're body's in trouble when you leave Sydney at 7pm Friday evening and get into Honolulu at 8am Friday morning.

Come away from Australia really impressed. Quality of life as defined by bars, restaurants, shopping and great weather appears to be excellent. Depending on your view of winters, that alone could make quality there a lot better.

Interesting conversations with locals. Right now, Australia is dis-attached from what's going on in the rest of the world and but it's hurting none the less. A couple of the major banks (one government owned) have been moving interest rates up. Personal loan rates over 9%. Three increases in less than a quarter! Limo driver we took to the airport was desperate to keep his limo going - so hanging around hotels picking tourists is part of his new gig.

Some prices in Australia are steep. Gasoline at $1.37 litre. Good luck finding a restaurant with 'mains' less than $35 and appetizers less than $15. However, travel is cheap. Airfares between major cities at less than $100. Trains a super bargain.

Remain super impressed with Qantas. Their in-country and international services which include internet in all their lounges and meals/booze on all their flights is way different from the abuse we take in North America.

Return trip also included 2 legs on American Airlines. First left Honolulu 2 hours late. By Qantas standards, basically no service between Honolulu and LA. Second boarded on time but delayed 45 mins to toss off baggage from a passenger who was on the flight but the airline thought wasn't!

Maybe its the contrast to Oz but America's apparent infatuation with rules to keep everyone safe gets really tiring. At times a bit of a horrible joke too. We arrived at the Honolulu customs desk just in time for the computers to crash. Apparently there is a back-up plan, but it doesn't work if no one knows their on-line password. We got through just in time. Other 5,000 people may still be in line.

Overall, great trip. Now, back to reality.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Oz, Mate

Currently a week into a 2 week trip to Australia. My son is starting school here. Some notes on the trip.
  1. Qantas missed the memo on making air travel as humiliating and unbearable as possible. They are a serious airline. 767 from Honolulu to Sydney (10 hours) was full. Service, in economy started as soon as the seatbelt sign went off and never stopped. Two meals. Free booze. Popsicles. Hot chocolate. Nice people. If you want to show your kids what air travel used to be like, fly Qantas.
  2. The Australian cities are all cool. Sydney is big, bustling, noisy, fun. Having the worlds best beaches on the local bus routes doesn't hurt. Brisbane is a lot more laid back. Very young. Lots of students. Modern. Both are very international.
  3. The world is getting smaller. Fast. Even since the last time I was here, the Amercanization of everywhere appears to have accelerated remarkably. It's the same brands, ads, people, faces, TV programs everywhere. Too bad. The completely distinct feeling that international cities used to have is disappearing/has disappeared. Even the Aussie accents seem easier to understand.
  4. Internet is expensive here. $20/day in Sydney and Surfers Paradise. $27 (!) in Brisbane. Ouch.
  5. The internet is indispensible. For bookings, staying in touch, listening to XM radio.
  6. Driving on the wrong side isn't so hard as long as there are at least two others in the car to remind you where the lane is, stay left, how to navigate the bloody round-abouts. Happy to have the car parked in the hotel lot!
  7. Canada is cold. Minus 14. Hell. I'm staying here. Going kite boarding today.
Some pics from the travels here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Words to Live By VII

"If evolution was worth its salt, by now it should've evolved something better than survival of the fittest."

Jane Wagner. Quoted by Price Pritchard in 'Culture Shift - The Employee Handbook for Changing Corporate Culture'.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Just Stuff

Been busy lately. It definitely cuts into blogging. Some random thoughts from my travels past week or two.

First, more people need to rethink their employment situations and seriously consider becoming contractors. Let's face it - everyone is a hired gun now. The advantages of formally recognizing that you're a hired gun through contractor status range from tax planning to peace of mind. A whacky employer can drive you crazy. A whacky client is a challenge.

Second, and a related thought that would fundamentally change the employment scene - more employee/hired gun/contractors should consider building self-termination clauses into their employment agreements - ie, if you're going to be a whacky employer and you drive me away - ie, it's my decision - you owe me severance. It's unusual but not unique. Try it. Warning: you may not get the job.

Third, group facilitation is a seriously powerful business skill that every manager should have. The outcome possibilities, speed and team building benefits of group facilitation are huge.

Fourth, this baby-boomer aging thing is going to kill us. For years now we've all read about the explosion in retirements amongst doctors and nurses that is only just starting. Now I'm getting first hand exposure to it. It's freaking scary. Picture out of control demand and no supply. Just when us old farts need care the most, there won't be anyone to care for us. This isn't any consolation but you have to wonder where all those retired docs will go when they need medical care?!

Which leads to thought number 5 - two tier health care. It's alive and well in Canada. Just hidden in towers like BCE Place where 'executive' health clinics like this are thriving.

Finally, Tim Hortons. Although I did a previous rant here, I'm really a fan. That doesn't stop goofy crap happening. Today I ordered my usual "large with milk; cinnamon raisin bagel, just the way it is (as in untoasted, unbuttered - a virgin bagel so-to-speak)". That order works, everywhere, every time. Except today. Today's order was translated to extra large with milk and some unknown species of bagel - toasted. Doh?? When I suggested the order was wrong I got a 4 day old cinnamon raisin hockey puck - and 7 cents off the price?! Whatever. Except I was really hungry and ate it anyways.

Stay tuned. This week I get more exposure to the healthcare system and travel the world. Literally.

Leadership Smeadership

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