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”

Understanding The Power Of Our Words


If I were to ask you what you thought was the greatest invention in human history, what would be your reply? I imagine for some of you, your answer would be the personal computer and all the technological marvels that now make up our digital world. For others, I could imagine hearing the invention of the light bulb being our greatest invention.

The interesting thing about this question is that there’s no right answer and that, if anything, it reveals more about the respondent and their perception and relationship to the world around them. For myself, I would say our greatest invention is language and our use of words to communicate with one another.

Granted, this might seem like an obvious answer from someone who regularly writes and speaks about leadership. But what really sparked my thoughts on this has more to do with something I heard in a talk and what it reminds us about the critical nature words play in our ability to successfully lead those under our care.

The talk in question is one given by Mohammed Qahtani, a security engineer from Saudi Arabia, which won him the 2015 Toastmasters International World Championship of Public Speaking. In his speech, “The Power of Words”, Qahtani shares a number of personal examples of how the words we use can have a dramatic impact on how others understand and view the relationships we have with them.

But what struck me the most about his talk was this comment he made about how our words can influence those around us:

“Words when said and articulated in the right way can change someone’s mind. They can alter someone’s belief. You have the power to bring someone from the slums of life and make a successful person out of them, or destroy someone’s happiness using only your words. … A simple choice of words can make the difference between someone accepting or denying your message.”

Listening to Qahtani’s words, I was reminded of two leaders and how their words served to shape how others viewed and responded to their leadership. The first leader was Click here to continue reading »”Understanding The Power Of Our Words”

Are You Inspiring Those You Lead To Be Extraordinary?


As a writer, one of the things that I enjoy discussing and sharing are stories. After all, a great story can entertain, inform, and inspire us, and sometimes even shape our understanding of how we can make a real difference in the world around us.

It’s in that vein that I wanted to share a story with you about a volunteer firefighter and what we can learn from it about how leaders can help their employees to feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves, and maybe even that they are a part of something extraordinary.

In addition to his role as one of the senior vice-presidents of a non-profit organization, Mark also serves as the assistant captain for the volunteer fire company in his town. Now while this voluntary role certainly sounds exciting, Mark is the first to admit that for the most part, his role is pretty much to offer any support the professional firefighters might need.

One night, Mark gets the call that there’s a house on fire nearby and he rushes to the scene to offer assistance, expecting to pretty much stand on the sidelines while the firefighters go to work. As it turns out, Mark was one of the first volunteer firefighters on the scene and the firefighters were still working to put out the fire, so there was still plenty to do.

Realizing that he had a chance to put his training to work, Mark looked around for the fire chief to offer his help. He soon spotted the fire chief holding an umbrella for an old lady who was standing barefoot in her pyjamas in the pouring rain – clearly this was the owner of the home the firefighters were working to save.

Just as Mark reached the fire chief, another volunteer firefighter had presented himself to the fire chief asking if there was anything he could do. The fire chief told this volunteer firefighter to go into the burning house to save the homeowner’s dog. When Mark heard this, he became excited thinking how he could now participate in helping to fight a blaze and so, he asked the fire chief what he could do to help.

The fire chief looked at Mark and said, ‘Mark, I need you to go into that house and retrieve this lady a pair of shoes.’

Clearly, this was not what Mark had expected after hearing what the other volunteer firefighter got assigned to do. But he was still happy to be able to lend a hand and to do something other than standing by on the sidelines.

Unfortunately for Mark, any excitement he had for this task soon disappeared because just as he was leaving the house carrying the pair of shoes he got for the homeowner, the other volunteer firefighter came out carrying the old lady’s rescued dog in his arms. Within moments, there was an eruption of cheers and applause as the old lady was reunited with her beloved pet.

Although Mark’s efforts were not met with as much enthusiasm by the onlookers, he still made sure that the old lady was comfortable with the shoes he got for her before he headed off to see how else he could be of help.

Naturally, Mark didn’t give this encounter much thought, that is until a few weeks later when he received a letter from the fire chief. In it, he included a copy of a letter the old lady had written thanking the firefighters for helping to save her home. The old lady also wanted to let them know how grateful she was that in her time of need, one of them had been so thoughtful and attentive as to get her a pair of shoes from her burning home.

Now one of the reasons why I love sharing Mark’s story is because it reminds us of Click here to continue reading »”Are You Inspiring Those You Lead To Be Extraordinary?”

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”

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