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Month: April 2008

3 steps of leadership

Ben & Ros Zander on leadership

“The job of a leader isn’t to make decisions. It’s to make “distinctions.” “The discipline of making distinctions,” she says, “is based on two questions:

  • What assumptions am I making that I don’t know I’m making?
  • And what can I create that will give me something new?

Making distinctions is about performing small, inventive acts — acts that are totally different from normal strategizing or scheming. Leaders of the future will create categories that give people information on how to do their jobs and on how to live their lives.”

For the full article: here.

A leader’s role

A leader’s role is not to tell us what to do.   A leader’s role is to see the assumptions that we make that we don’t see that we make.    A leader’s role is to have all opinions heard.  A leader’s role is to see connections between our opinions that we don’t see.

When a leaders sketches a positive framework for us, we feel free to act and to act in coordination with each other.


It can be a tough job making sense of the whole picture.  Here are three questions that psychologists find useful?

  1. What surprises me?  What has brought me to bone-shuddering halt?  What would I like to know more about?
  2. Who else is interested in this surprise but is not saying anything?
  3. Who would be so happy if I asked them what they felt?

That’s a good start.

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A video of Ben Zander speaking on contribution

Here we are.

UPDATE: If you’ve never heard Ben Zander, the orchestra conductor, speak on leadership, I recommend it strongly.  Half an hour that will truly change your life.

Ben Zander,  comfortable of course, in front of a large audience speaks on his work as teacher, university professor and professional conductor.

He has learned to look for the spirit of musicians and talks about “one buttock playing”, “bringing the light to people’s eyes” and  “apologizing and inviting”.  With these three rules of thumb, you’ll transform the way you work with others.

Welcome to the world of ease and merriment of Ben Zander!

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The management of poverty or the poverty of management?

If you have never read The Spectator magazine, you should give yourself a treat. It is extraordinarily well written and often has news long before the mainstream British newspapers.

It is also very Conservative. Though timely, erudite and often very funny, it serves more to tell you what you don’t believe, than what you do. It is bit like exploring the inside of a hat, to work out what the outside looks like, and you do it, because the inside is more fun than the outside. Perverse?

Today, in an article intended, I presume, to support the Conservative leader, David Cameron, they wrote about poverty in the UK and two topical issues: the use of metrics, which Brits love to hate; and problem of immigrants who work for less than locals – an odd complaint for a Conservative party I would have thought, but nonetheless! Both these issues point to two themes that are current in contemporary Management Theory.


The article suggests what is wrong with so many metrics. A metric is a signpost. It tells you which way to go. A metric is not the destination.

There is only one destination that is acceptable in management and politics – that is the agreement and happiness of our constituents that we have arrived in the right place.

If we arrive in a place and they decide they don’t like it, we can’t make the argument that we followed the metrics. It just doesn’t wash!

Pick some metrics that guide your leadership. Don’t make metrics the substitute of leadership !

To the issue of poverty and politics in the UK: don’t ask Gordon Brown the numbers about poverty.  Ask him, are you happy about poverty? He blusters and says yes. Ask him, are you interested in my views on poverty – are you going to ask why I asked? He asks! You tell him.

Give him the problem you wanted solvand come back next week and tell him how well it has been solved!

Where do metrics fit in? When it is your job to supervise ‘leaders’ like teachers, nurses and police officers, ask them what metrics or signals will help them achieve satisfaction with their leadership. Don’t impose the metric though. When you do, you do not improve leadership, you do the opposite. You relieve them of the responsibility of their actions beyond that metric!

Just hold the conversation about what we want to achieve and how we are going to achieve it! That’s all!


The second story was about a Scottish joiner whose job is now done by a Pole at 6 pounds an hour. Apparently the joiner’s wife stood up and asked Cameron what he was going to do about it! Exactly what I recommend. He took the job as leader, give him the problem. His answer – ban Poles!


Couldn’t he have said: Here is my aide. Call him/her and make an appointment – we will work this out.

To the aide, he says: find me the smartest MBA student on our books.  Ask him/her to give me a briefing in a week.  I want to know about all and every industry that uses joining as a skill.   Could s/he also social-network other students to brainstorm any and every industry who can possibly use joining to advantage?  And give me a list of the top ten business people in the UK who might use joiners.

And then meet the joiner, find out what he really wants, with the MBA student on hand, and work out who should be meeting with each other to use this skill, and joining is a skill, that is obviously not being used.

Get the right people together and ask them to produce a business plan for how the joiner is going to use his skill to make lots of money (and lots of taxes).

And ask them to report back to him in a week.

Who is betting the answer would include “more Poles please” and a air ticket for the Scottish joiner to nip over to Poland to do the recruiting with his wife in tow to explain the Scottish school system (she is a school teacher by all accounts).

People don’t ask politicians questions (or managers for that matter) as a prompt to blame someone else. They want a solution.

They want positive ideas based on our skills, passions, interests, wants, hopes and dreams. This is leadership.


Managers are struggling with contemporary ideas about human capital.

In addition to money being capital, in addition to land being capital, we are capital.

Our hopes and dreams, our sense of entitlement (!): this is our capital.

Businesses of the 21st century will be built around who we are and what we want to be.  That is the challenge of management and leadership.

Building our lives around us.  Positively.  Cheerfully.  Collectively.

Cheers to The Spectator.

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Happy Britain, but not at work?

Making cheese and cucumber sandwiches
Image via Wikipedia

Yesterday, The Independent published its counter to the Rich List: the Happy List.

Did I miss the happy workplaces?  Are work and happiness antithetical?

I am dreaming of a sandwich where the filling appreciates the bread and the bread celebrates the filling.

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5 poetic steps for exiting a Catch 22

Пробка на Космодомианской набережной в Москве.

Catch 22! Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Have you ever been caught in a situation where you cannot move forwards and you cannot move backwards? It is like getting caught in a traffic jam. If you barge forward, you won’t be popular, and you won’t succeed. If you do nothing, nothing will change.


Now sometimes, we do have to ‘sit tight’. The police are on their way and they will clear the jam bit by bit. It is best to chill.

Or change one thing at a time ~ strategically?

But sometimes that isn’t the choice. Sometimes if we sit and do nothing, that is where we will stay.

But what if there are cars to the left of us and cars to the right of us; cars ahead and cars behind. What can we do?

Obviously, we have to start just like the police will: with one car at a time. And we have to be strategic.

Remember those kids games?

Did you have one of those games when you were a kid ~ they had 8 squares in a 9 square space and you had to move them around? And at first it looked as if there was no solution?

That is what we have to do: unravel the situation like those games.  Move one square at a time. Patiently, and strategically.

This is easier said than done though, particularly when our emotions are involved.

Kids’ games prepared us for life

Corporate poet, David Whyte writes about a cyclical pattern in our lives where we come periodically to a place which is ‘a traffic jam’. Our task, in such times, is to find the smallest possible thing to ease, not just ourselves, but everyone around us, out of the impasse.

I have picked FIVE quotations from David Whyte’s poems to illustrate the process.

1. The beginning. “anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you” (Sweet Darkness)

2. The call. “You are not a troubled guest on this earth, you are not an accident amidst other accidents, you were invited . . .” (What To Remember When Wakening)

3. Reawakening. “When your eyes are tired, the world is tired also. When your vision is gone, no part of the world can find you” (Sweet Darkness)

4. The departure. “Start close in, don’t take the second step or the third, start with the first thing close in, the step you don’t want to take” (Start Close In)

5. Begin the conversation. “”Your great mistake is to act the dream as it you were alone . . . Everybody is waiting for you.” (Everybody Is Waiting For You)

How long will we delay the first step – recognizing that there is a situation to be dealt with?

In more prosaic terms, our first step is always to notice we are in a jam, and rather than bluster and curse, consider the best thing to do about it. It is amazing how often we delay this simple first step.

How long will we take to recognize that the situation is not going away just because we don’t like it?

Our second step is equally as hard. We chose after all to be on the road at that time. We didn’t want this result, but after all, we chose to be here, and when think about it, the jam chose to happen when we were there. The jam is an integral part of us and we are integral part of it. We are part of its story, and it is part of ours.

How long will we take to signal to people around us that we would like the situation resolved?

And it doesn’t get any easier. Are we communicating? Or have we taken it for granted that everyone knows that we want the traffic to flow again? Do they think we are just trying to push in? Are we alert to other people who want the traffic to flow again. And can they recognize us? What is it that we do, or notice, that alerts them to our sense of what is possible?

How long before we imagine in our minds what the resolution would look like?

And are we holding back because it all seems too big? If the traffic were to flow again, what would we all be doing in unison, and what would be our part?

How long before we realize that nothing is moving because everyone is waiting for us?

And who is really holding everything up? Is it us? Is everyone waiting for us, to pay attention?

Is everyone waiting for us, to start the conversation?

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David Whyte on YouTube


Hat-tip: Sally.  Thank you.

UPDATE:  David Whyte is a English poet who now resides in Washington, USA.  Marine biologist, NGO worker and poet, David Whyte is a resource for anyone who is interested the meaning of work in our time.  He writes on our lost sense of meaning and how to recover it by reaching out to all that is around us.

His books and CD’s are available on Amazon.

This link is to one of his rare appearances on YouTube.

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Positive psychology during war

This is the best of times and the worst of times

UPDATE:  Almost two years ago, I was close to an extraordinary story of psychology during times of extreme stress and despair.  This is what I wrote then.

The beginning . . once upon a time there was an election in a landlocked country nestled just above South Africa, to the west of Mozambique, and cuddled in the north by Zambia and by Botswana in the east.

You all know the Zimbabwe elections took place a little while ago – 24 days to be precise. I have been following them closely.

The first weekend after the poll, there was feverish excitement as votes were counted and results were announced (and signed off in triplicate) at local level, polling tent-by-polling tent.

And then silence – no official announcements. Excitement curdled to despair.  Moods yo-yo’ed as events unfolded, and as pictures of stomach-turning brutality are smuggled out of the country by brave activists.  People have become palpably depressed.

And then breaking news. . . it all changed.

Somebody blew the whistle on a container ship, the An Yue Jiang, who wanted to offload munitions for Zimbabwe at Durban, in South Africa. The dockers’ union, SATAWU, refused to offload. The Anglican church and activist lawyers sought a High Court order to prevent the weapons crossing South Africa.   A German bank joined in, hoping to seize the arms as part payment for Zimbabwe’s debts.

Before the court orders could be served, the An Yue Jiang weighed anchor and left in a hurry. The saga intensified as she reported herself to Lloyds as a casualty.  People all around the world spent the weekend trying to track the vessel and petitioned both governments. and worker unions to prevent her refueling and unloading her deadly cargo.

Heads of state and political parties have begun to offer support and the citizen action continues, determined not to allow arms of any sort reach Zimbabwe while they might be used against her own people.

Positive psychology

People are understandably upset, nervous, anxious, outraged, sickened, indignant, angry. . . negative emotion abounds. Emotion is highly contagious and I have watched myself abandon the gym, eat too much, remained glued to the internet even when little was likely to happen. I have become mildly depressed and I am well fed, I am warm and dry, I am safe. I can walk out my door into the English spring.

Action restores mood

The citizen campaign to stop the An Yue Jiang unloading her cargo is compleetely spontaneous. People find the site hosting the bulletin board and join in. When I last looked, there are more suggestions, addresses and initiatives that any one person can support.

I haven’t been able to do a formal count. I don’t know what the churn of people is. I also haven’t counted the number of active and depressed posts. There are still the angry people, but they tend to be newcomers.

Sending one email to your MP might not sound like much but this is the spirit of the age. Five minutes here and five minutes there, and it adds up. A petition to Thabo Mbeki when he arrived at the UN Security Council last Wednesday had 150 000 signatures. Opinion is turning.

More importantly the mood is turning. But emotion is contagious. Moods can turn down as well as up. I was listening to SWRadio Africa this evening. A young lady had called in to discuss her views. Amongst other matters, she discussed the perpetrators of the unspeakable brutalities in Zimbabwe. She believed that people were enticed into taking these actions for small amounts of money or food, or other promises, and they went along it because they were desperate – they had no choice.

This is the essence of positive psychology: the perception of choice.

When we feel we have no choice, we take the feeling as fact, and are unable to perceive the small alternatives that are open to us. Conversely, as we cheer up, we find choices, small as they are. And as we act, we remain cheerful, improve our objective situation, see more choices, small as they are, and act again, in a positive spiral of hope.

We move in the direction of the questions we ask

The spiral is reversed awfully quickly, as I have learned sitting safely and snugly out of harm’s way. Our discourse is important. An important principle in appreciative management, a close sibling of positive psychology, is that we move in the direction of the questions we ask. When things are very bad, it is important to ask positive questions. If we don’t, then we stare the predator in the face, and we are, as the saying goes, ‘scared witless’. And for Zimbabweans who like to ‘make a plan’, that is a magnified horror.

I think it is time to spread the viral citizen campaign to reach more people and more Zimbabweans. Let’s convert despair into hope, one click at a time. Can you help?

If you are able to help, we are open to all ideas. As I write:

  • There is an urgent need for IT help to build and sustain an offshore website on which to post petition letters and addresses.
  • There is an urgent need for people to petition governments, unions and businesses who trade with the Zimbabwean government.
  • I believe there is a move to try to provide more secure communication lines into and out of Zimbabwe.

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So much talk about Gen Y, an ode to Boomers

Autumn Day

Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by J. Mullen

Lord: it is time. The summer was great.
Lay your shadows onto the sundials
and let loose the winds upon the fields.

Command the last fruits to be full,
give them yet two more southern days,
urge them to perfection, and chase
the last sweetness into the heavy wine.

Who now has no house, builds no more.
Who is now alone, will long remain so,
will stay awake, read, write long letters
and will wander restlessly here and there
in the avenues, when the leaves drift.

Baby boomers celebrate what we have achieved and make our celebration our contribution to the this new age

There is so much talk about Gen Y.  Here is the question for baby boomers.  How should we  celebrate the autumn of our years?

Gen Y will be here one day too. They might also be interested in how to celebrate the house that is ours and to make the celebration of our achievements our very contribution to this new age?

What is your house? How do you celebrate? How does your celebration contribute? How many of us can answer these questions simply?

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Why use an atom bomb when a spear will do . . .

BlankMap-World6.svg (which is public domain)

We do not get back what we put in

A long time ago when I was as young and frisky as any Gen Yes, I was furious about the unethical and aggressive behavior of a colleague.  I was fortunate to work in an organization where mentorship was generous.

An older colleague (well, he seemed old to me . . .  he was about 38 at the time!) said to me, why use an atom bomb when a spear will do?  I was young, but I was already wise enough to know that focused behavior has a downside – underestimating side-effects – so thought I didn’t feel like backing off, I did.

The idea of using small, well thought out actions is a corollary of  chaos theory – the idea that a butterfly can flap its wings and set off a perturbation that ripples through the world and causes a  hurricane in London.  The central idea of chaos theory is that

effect is not proportional to the effort!

Sometimes a single small action matters.  Use a spear if you can.  Here is an example.

Through the actions of committed Trade Unionists, a people were saved

Yesterday, I went to bed knowing that the “An Yue Jiang” was anchored off Durban with 3 million rounds of ammunition destined for Zimbabwe.  I was sick to my stomach.

Today, we woke to the news that, despite clearance from the South African cabinet to offload these and other munitions and trans-ship them several thousand kilometers across SA soil to Zimbabwe, SATAWU, the South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union, have refused to handle them.  Well, we must see how this unfolds.  But I could place a healthy bet that this action has cemented relations between the people of Zimbabwe and South Africa.  God be with you!

This is how communities are made.  Later generations may forget, but those of us who are here never will.

Thank you, brothers!  And thank you from all the people in Zimbabwe.

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Respects for the late Galba Bright

View of Montego Bay from the hillslide overloo...

In Fond and Grateful Memory

I learned today with considerable sadness that Galba Bright died suddenly in his office in Montego Bay in Jamaica two weeks’ ago.  Galba is known to all of us through Tune Up Your EQ. Born in Sierra Leone and  educated in the UK, Galba moved to the UK with Sandra who is of Jamaican descent.

The Tune Up You EQ website is only a year old and was already recognized as the reference site for handy, practical advice on emotional intelligence.  Galba was inviting, supportive, welcoming, inclusive, considerate and reliably cheerful.  We are going to miss his kind words drawing us into the discussion of emotionally intelligent lives and leadership.

I was so so sorry to hear the news.   My heart goes out to his wife, Sandra, and all his family and friends who will miss him dearly.

Nothing is so strong as gentleness
nothing is so gentle as real strength.

-Ralph W. Sockman

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