"If we could hang all our sorrows on pegs and were allowed to choose those we liked best, everyone of us would take back his own, for all the rest would seem even more difficult to bear."
Rabbi Nahum of Stepinesht

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Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

Word count this issue: 306

Estimated reading time:   2.35

Video: https://www.youtube.com/my_videos?o=U


Greetings from a warming Vancouver BC.  This is a favourite time of year for many people; as we awaken from the cold dark of winter. And, as leaders, there is much to learn from the natural world.


For example, the universe seems wired to change from within. Buds appear on tress from within, flowers start popping up from within, the hibernators emerge, infant birds come out of shells, and it is light and warmth that so often call this new life out. 


As leaders, first for ourselves and then for the people whom we serve, it is important to remember that change comes from within, most effectively called out by warmth and caring. The more I berate myself, the colder I am to myself, the more difficult it will be for the emerging me to appear. The more I try and force you, berate you, the colder I am to you, the less likely you will change. I might be able to get you to comply with my wishes, but commitment comes only from within you.  


Quite frankly the more I want you to freeze in place, the more fear I need to put in your heart. And the more I am committed to individual and corporate/community growth, the more warmth I need to bring to the conversation.


We can generate warmth in our conversations in many ways, and here are three:


  1. Be vulnerable, share stories about your own journey and mistakes
  2. Be interested in the other person’s struggle and successes
  3. Bring shared laughter to work; not laughing at people, but laughing with them



May this week and this season bring warmth to your conversations, and bring forth an emerging you from within.

Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

Word count this issue: 269

Estimated reading time:   2.20

Video: https://www.youtube.com/my_videos?o=U 


Greetings from the Northwest Coast of British Columbia, a lovely city called Prince Rupert. I sit, between meetings in my hotel room looking out over the deep water port and watching the mist circle the ships.


I’ve been thinking about the relationship between people and nature recently. Put another way, the relationship between ecology, literally ‘thinking about the household” and economy, literally “managing the household.” And I use the word relationship very intentionally here; they are one or the other questions, they are “both and questions.” As I look out over the water to the beautiful forested island across from my room, I cannot help but notice the giant container ship block part of my view. Both are important, both are vital aspects of our ecology and economy.


One strand of my thinking then is about the relationship between leadership and management. When we are thinking ecologically (thinking about the household/organization/team) we are thinking as leaders. It s about all of the connections and parts of the whole. It’s like thinking about the water, the forests, the people and the ships. When we are thinking economically we are thinking about the instant, the part itself, the elements themselves. Its like thinking about the ship alone. Both are important, both need to be deep in our practice as leaders.



So, I’m curious, where do you do most of your thinking? Ecologically or economically? Which one needs more attention in your practice as a leader these days?


Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

Word count this issue: 281

Estimated reading time:   2.00

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rkOVqa48UYI 


Greetings from a rainy Vancouver, but the snowdrops are up and Spring is arriving. 


I had a very interesting conversation recently with a leader, and we were discussing feedback questions. For example, ‘what went well?’ what would be something you would change for next time?’ ‘What new ideas or insights have you had about this job?’


They said that in an organization they were once with, they used the metaphor of a rose. The questions became, “what bloomed for you?”, “what was a thorn for you?”, “what was a bud for you?”


I was so excited to hear this idea. And perhaps it wouldn’t work in your shop, but there are three important points underneath this kind of questioning;


  1. Feedback is best explored early, and with open questions about what the person doing the job is thinking. This helps them embed the learning and build new connections about the job. Ask more, tell less.
  2. Using visual metaphors is important as our brains are wired to see through our eyes and in our imaginations. What ever the best visual is for you and the person you are exploring feedback with, use it.
  3. The idea of new ideas, new possibilities is vital. Given that every brain is unique, we can use the power of new ideas to shift our own perspective and to see new ways to improve both efficiency and effectiveness.



So, this week, as more of your team, what bloomed, where were the thorns and what new buds are appearing for you?

Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

Word count this issue: 432

Estimated reading time:   3:20

Video: https://www.youtube.com/edit?o=U&video_id=-tvevBmOhiY 


Greetings from Vancouver, where the spring flowers are beginning to show. There is hope.


We were out for a walk last weekend, and had a most interesting conversation about ‘justification’. For example, a colleague calls and I justify my decision not to pick up by saying to myself, “I’m very busy, and I’ll get back to them.” I justify my decision to run a yellow light as it turns red with “I’m really busy and don’t have time, and besides, everybody does it.” In organizations, we justify decisions that hurt other humans by saying, “it’s just business, there’s nothing personal.” And justification appears in serious social matters as well; some might justify the killing of another human being because they were on my property. Others might justify access to automatic weapons as a right to protect myself and family from criminals, over the deaths of school children caused by a man with automatic weapons.


In all these cases, we are making a decision that at some level is at least questionable, and then justifying it.  And that, it seems to me, makes justification not just a habit, something more. Lots of things that we know are at least questionable, if not morally or legally wrong are ok, as long as we can make it seem that way. And most especially justification becomes that much more compelling when we can find a group of people who agree with us.


I appreciate that I am challenging ground here, especially on issues around which we differ on moral grounds. My public support of LGBTQ+ rights, as one example may well be seen by some as my justifying my way forward on a moral issue. (And I am happy to explore these with individuals in conversation.) And, I think we are all too often justifying our decisions as leaders so much that justification has become a basic thread in the fabric of our working world. As long as I can justify it to myself, it’s ok.


That is not a good thing. People are being bullied because that is just business. 


My colleague Olivia McIvor (kindness-speaks.com ) has a good way of engaging your thinking brain in the midst of decisions and conversations. As you make a decision, as you begin to open your mouth, ask yourself three questions;


  1. Is it true?
  2. Is it necessary?
  3. Is it kind?


I suggest that if you use these three important questions you’ll find the best direction for your decision and conversations, and that you will have to justify yourself less often.



I am curious about what you think?


Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

Word count this issue: 179

Estimated reading time:   1.35

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z8tISElCelE 



There is a story about the 13th Century Sufi, Nasrudin, being sent by the KIng to investigate the lore of various kinds of wisdom.  (From  The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasrudin, Idries Shah, 1966)The various wisdom teachers all recounted to him tales of the miracles and the saying of the founders and great teachers, all long dead, of their schools. 


When Nasrudin returned home, he submitted his report which contained the single word, “Carrots.”


He was called before the King to explain himself. Nasrudin explained, “the best part is buried; few know, except farmers, by the green that there is orange underground; if you don’t work for it, it will deteriorate, and there are a great many donkeys associated with it.”



I wonder then what this story tells you about wisdom? What does it tell you about experts and various schools of thought? What does it say to you about leading yourself, and leading others?


Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

Word count this issue: 543

Estimated reading time:   3.75 minutes

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQ70CirUffQ 



Good morning from a grey Vancouver. Between being sick and work load, I have missed a couple of weeks of Leadership Notes. I have missed the process of writing.


The “markets” have been in a bit of a tizzy with large drops over the past few days. I am intrigued by the experts who come out of the woodwork to explain it rationally. They are on a fools errand, the markets operate on two emotions; fear and greed.


I spoke about the power of emotions last Fall in a sermon at Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver. I said then, “There is some very interesting work emerging in psychology and neuroscience right now. I had the pleasure of hearing Lisa Son, PhD. the chair of Psychology at Barnard College. https://barnard.edu/profiles/lisa-son  speak this week. Son argues that contrary to the worries of minds like Stephen Hawking about how Artificial Intelligence (AI) was making computers more human, her worry from her research is that we humans are becoming more and more valued as machines.


We were expected to be quick, predictable, manageable and low or no cost to the organization. We are expected to be confident and correct. And, my observation from nearly 15 years now as a business chaplain and coach, is that she’s right. We are making ourselves captives we are reducing ourselves to our being merely part of the economic machine. We reduce ourselves to being consumers, not humans.


[The sermon continues…] I don’t know if you heard the news this week that the Nobel Prize for Economics for this year was awarded to Richard Thaler. https://www.forbes.com/sites/frankarmstrong/2017/10/13/richard-thaler-a-giant-in-economics-awarded-the-nobel-prize/#1ffd98553a10   Thaler’s great contribution to Economics? That we do not make rational decisions. I’ll say that again, you and I do not make rational decisions. We make decisions out of habits, we make decisions because of biases,  we make decisions based on emotions, and then tell our selves stories to rationalize our decisions. But we certainly do not make rational, machine like decisions. We are not machines. We are not cogs in a wheel. We just fool ourselves into thinking we are. Come out of the darkness … Listen to that sacred, still small voice inside that says, live, be free of your own shackles, and the shackles others place on you, by calling you consumer, or worker, or an asset. You are a human being, not a human doing! https://thecathedral.ca/sermons/rev-alisdair-smith-11/ 



As a leader, do not fall into the trap of believing that the markets are rational indicators, they are indicators of small but powerful negative forces in our lives; fear and greed. You and I are so much more than just those two emotions, we are full of possibility and creative opportunity, we are full of compassion for each other and for our communities, we are able to make this world that much better for our children and for all children by remembering the most powerful emotion we are capable of; love.