Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Writer

Recognizing Our Power To Lead And Inspire Others


Over the course of this year, I’ve had the opportunity to travel all over North America speaking at conferences and with organizations about how we can do a better job being the kind of leader our employees need us to be.

As I travelled from the East Coast down to the South Coast, and just two weeks ago, to the West Coast when I spoke at an IT-education conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, I couldn’t help but notice a common line of inquiry being brought forward by some of the leaders in attendance.

While the exact circumstances and dynamics varied among these different leaders, there was nonetheless a common thread at the heart of each of these questions being asked – how do I get those in charge above me to be more like the leaders you demonstrated are necessary for an organization’s long-term growth and success?

Regardless of the focus of my talk or the industry in which these leaders serve, I always began my answer with the same starting point – the fundamental truth is that we can’t get people to do what we want or need, even if at times it’s in their best interests.

Consider, for example, those times when we’re given advice by our doctors for how we can improve our health. How many of us openly embrace the changes to our lifestyle that we’re being told to make? Most often we don’t, that is until our health deteriorates to the point where we no longer have the choice but to follow our doctor’s directives.

But what’s really interesting about this question is not how it surfaces in such diverse groups – from businesses to public institutions, from government agencies here in Canada to multinational organizations based in the US. Rather, what’s interesting is how in each of these situations, the leader standing before me is essentially giving up their power to be the change they need to see in their organization.

Of course, the almost immediate response most of us have to discussing power in the workplace is to view it within the lens of our organization’s structure; that the degree of power one has is relative to the position you hold within the organization.

While it’s understandable to view power from this perspective, the problem I have with this viewpoint is that it leads us to Click here to continue reading »”Recognizing Our Power To Lead And Inspire Others”

5 Behaviours Successful Brain-Aware Leaders Practice


The following is a guest piece by Amy Brann.

Most leaders we work with are passionate, committed, intelligent and dedicated. They want to make their organization the best it can possibly be. They want to support their employees and enable them to do their best work. They also want to reduce their stress levels and have a good life.

Every leader, and every person you work with, has a brain. Over the last 20 years fascinating insights have come from the field of neuroscience to help us better understand this organ that drives so much of our behaviour. Neuroscience isn’t the only piece of the puzzle, but it lends a wonderful lens through which we can see even more clearly.

1. Illuminate Contribution
We’re starting with the concept that, as a leader, you have to build everything else around. Neuroscience tells us that our connection to contribution activates our neural reward networks (which is a great thing). So as leaders one of our most important challenges is to illuminate contribution.

If the organization is set up well then this shouldn’t be too hard, it just requires an investment of attention and potentially some systems to be set up.

Remember the story of President Kennedy’s visit to the NASA space centre in 1962? He noticed a janitor carrying a broom and walked over to the man saying “Hi, I’m Jack Kennedy. What are you doing?” The janitor responded “I’m helping put a man on the moon, Mr President”.

The level of engaged brains you achieve is dramatically different if people are aware of the contribution they are making on a daily basis. So how can you do it? Hopefully you have already started. Every way you communicate internally and externally is a potential opportunity.

The one-one approach means that every time you meet with someone Click here to continue reading »”5 Behaviours Successful Brain-Aware Leaders Practice”

How Leaders Can Manage The Perception Of Progress


In much of my work with leaders and organizations in various industries and disciplines, there’s a common issue that they seek help on addressing. Specifically, how do we keep employees invested in the long-term goals of our organization?

For these leaders, the question is not so much how to improve employee engagement as it is how to sustain that enthusiasm and drive over the life span of a project or change initiative where it takes months or even years to achieve a successful outcome.

While I’ve shared strategies and insights based on what successful organizations like Pixar Studios and the European Space Agency do to sustain employee motivation over a long period of time, I wanted to explore what researchers have learned to date about what keeps our motivation going for goal completion when the end point is not so clearly defined or visible.

That exploration lead to a fascinating study done by researchers at the University of Chicago which looked at how a frequent-buyer reward card offered by a local coffee shop could motivate coffee drinkers to become repeat customers.

For this experiment, the researchers created two different kinds of rewards cards where customers would be rewarded a free cup of coffee after 10 purchases. The first reward card version relied on giving customers a coffee cup-shaped stamp with every purchase. With this reward card design, the customer’s focus would be directed towards how many purchases they had made to date.

For the second reward card, 10 coffee cup images were featured on the card and in this case, the coffee cup images would be punched out with every purchase, thereby putting the customer’s focus on how many purchases were left to be made to get the free cup of coffee.

Researchers then told the study participants that they would be given cards that were started by university students who had recently graduated so these cards would be at various levels of completion.

The researchers grouped these partially completed reward cards into two groups – group 1 had only 3 coffee cup-shaped stamps or 7 slots left to be punched and was referred to as having a “low-progress condition”. Group 2 had 7 coffee cup-shaped stamps or 3 slots left to be punched and was referred to as having a “high-progress condition”.

The researchers handed out the different scenario and design reward cards to the various participants and then evaluated how motivated research participants would be to finish the reward card to get their free cup of coffee.

What the researchers found was that when the participants received a card that had 3 coffee cup-shaped stamps or 3 slots punched, the ones that got the card design that emphasized how much progress had been made so far were more motivated to finish the reward card than those who got the reward card that emphasized how many coffee cups were left to purchase to get the free cup of coffee.

Conversely, for those participants who got cards where there were 7 coffee cup-shaped stamps or 7 slots punched, the ones with the card design that emphasized how many coffee cups were left to buy to get the free cup were more motivated to get that free cup of coffee than those whose card focused on how many cups of coffee were purchased so far.

Now for those who run coffee shops or other types of stores that use these kinds of reward cards, this finding is definitely of much interest. But how does this apply to how we can become better at creating those kinds of conditions that help keep our employees motivated over the long run in achieving our shared purpose?

The answer to this question can be found in understanding what’s behind this motivation phenomenon. Click here to continue reading »”How Leaders Can Manage The Perception Of Progress”

Learning To Focus On What Matters Most


One of the things that I enjoy about speaking at conferences and at various organizations is the opportunity to meet new people. In the case of the MHLC conference I spoke at last week, it was being able to meet up with friends I made from speaking at this conference for three consecutive years, as well as meeting colleagues in the leadership sphere who I had previously only connected with by email and on the phone.

Being able to spend time with these good friends was certainly one of my personal highlights from this conference. But there was something else that I came away pondering about, and it wasn’t my now infamous encounter with the drummer from ZZ Top (that’s a story for another time).

Looking back at the numerous conversations among those attending this conference, there was a couple of times where people told me how impressed they were with how well I remembered people’s names.

Now the reason why this caught my attention is because remembering names of people I just met is something I’d hardly say I’m good at, a fact I’m sure my wife will be happy to attest to given the number of times she’s had to remind me of the names of the people she works with.

The problem is that when I meet someone new, my sense of curiosity takes over and I become focused on asking questions to learn more about the person in order to develop that connection. Consequently, I end up remembering many details about the person’s life and their work – while their name tends to be a bit fuzzy around the edges.

As such, whenever I meet someone new, I do have to work at making sure I grab ahold of their name so that it sticks in my mind for more than a few minutes.

And yet, in thinking about those moments where people were impressed with my ability to recall the names of people I met a year ago, I realized that the common thread connecting them together had less to do with remembering their names and more to do with something more significant.

Something that leaders need to adopt if their are to be successful in tapping into the collective talents and experiences of those they lead.

Now to be clear, remembering a person’s name is important, but it’s only the first step in the bigger process of Click here to continue reading »”Learning To Focus On What Matters Most”

Leaders, It’s Time To Make Work Meaningful Again


Over the past couple of months, I’ve had numerous conversations with leaders in both the private and public sector, discussing some of the key issues they face today and what they see as the main challenges they’ll face going forward.

In many of those conversations, a common theme inevitably surfaces – how do I get my employees to care more about the work we do? How do I create that environment where people are internally motivated to bring their discretionary efforts to the table?

Naturally, such questions invariably lead to discussions of how can we make work more meaningful for our employees; of how do we help them make contributions that matter to them as much as it matters to our organization.

It’s a train of thought that came to mind a few days ago when my oldest daughter returned home from high school happy to share some great news – “Leslie’s back working at our school”.

To help put this news in context, my daughters’ high school has had to make some serious budget cuts this academic year, which unfortunately included having to let go of some valuable and greatly-appreciated personnel at our high school.

Without question, Leslie is one of these employees. But thankfully, the school’s administration has found some other way to keep him involved and present in the school community, much to the excitement and delight of the students.

Now I’m sure many of you are probably thinking that Leslie is one of the ‘cool teachers’ at my daughters’ high school. The truth, however, is that Leslie is not one of the teachers – he’s the school’s security guard.

So why would my daughter and the other students be excited about his return? It’s not because they go to a dangerous school – far from it. Rather, it’s because of how Leslie approaches his job.

Since the day he started, Leslie made a point to not simply sit in his security booth. Instead, he would reach out to engage with the students, wanting to learn about their successes, and taking part in the fun activities meant to break up to monotony of the school routine.

So when news broke out that Leslie would no longer be working at the school, many of the students were sad to hear it because for many of them, he was the smiling, friendly face that greeted them at the end of their school day. He was also the cheery presence that kept them company while they waited for their parents to come pick them up.

The way Leslie approached his job reminded me of a study I share in some of my talks which found that all of us view our work in one of three ways: as a job, as a career, or as a calling.

Now, it wouldn’t be a surprise to hear a pediatrician or a firefighter talking about their work as being their calling. But for the majority of us, the more likely response we’d give is that we view our work as being our career.

In Leslie’s case, given how he used to be a professional guitarist whose work can be heard on certain album recordings, it should be a given that he’d view his current work as a high school security guard as nothing more than a job.

And yet, in my numerous conversations with him, it was obvious that Leslie never saw his role at my daughters’ high school as just a job, and he certainly didn’t view it as a career.

Indeed, it’s clear to anyone who spent time interacting with him that he definitely sees the work he does in our school as being his calling. Why is that? The answer is surprisingly simple – Click here to continue reading »”Leaders, It’s Time To Make Work Meaningful Again”

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