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Category Archives: Leadership Tools

In the post-pandemic workplace, the “new normal” has become the “now normal”

now normal

As the temporary pandemic restrictions start lifting in many areas of the country, it is clear that the world of work is nothing like what it was before.  What we thought was the “new normal” has become the “now normal”, subject to repeated mutations and variations.  As I reflect on numerous conversations with leaders in client organizations, the anticipated changes in the upcoming months as people return to their workplaces fall into three main areas.

  1. People will return to work gradually
  2. There will be increased requests to work remotely
  3. Face-to-face protocols are forever changed
Welcome to the “now normal”

In this morning’s edition of The Globe and Mail, I address these three changes in my regular Leadership Matters column, and also offer up ideas for what it will take to thrive in the “now normal”.

In the post-pandemic workplace, the ‘new’ normal is just the ‘now’ normal

If you’re a paid online subscriber to The Globe, here is a direct link to the column on their site: https://tgam.ca/3eJXdGv

I’d love to hear more about your experiences as the pandemic restrictions are being lifted in your workplace.  What are the plans for your organization?  What has changed/is changing as more workplaces open?  What is working well and what is not?  Please share what you are observing and hearing about, so that we can exchange ideas.  Please add your comment below. 

I write a regular monthly column for The Globe and Mail Report on Business, under the banner of Leadership Matters.  Here are links to some of the more recent ones:

To cultivate high-performing teams, you need two elements

high-performing teamsEvery leader’s goal is to create high-performing teams.  And in order to do that, we invest significant effort into cultivating and growing strong people who work well together to achieve our department and organization’s objectives.  It is this concept of “cultivating and growing” that got me thinking about the papaya.

My favourite fruit is the papaya.  Succulent, fragrant, and slightly sweet, just one bite instantly transports me to the warm, gentle breezes of the Hawaiian and Caribbean islands.  I am reminded of early morning drives through papaya farms, where you can stop and buy the plump ripe fruit, picked just hours earlier. Oh, I wish I could grow my own papayas.  There is one problem though … I live in Canada!

You see, even though I have the best quality seeds, no matter how hard I try, it is almost impossible to grow papayas in Canada.  Papayas are a tropical crop, which means that they need high levels of humidity for growth, and then a warm and dry climate for ripening.  And they grow best in alluvial soil which is found along deltas and riverbanks.  Alas, while we have several deltas and many riverbanks in Canada, tropical weather is sadly lacking.  The only chance I would have of successfully growing papayas in Canada would be in a greenhouse, where I might be able to replicate the ideal growing conditions.

Bottom line: to successfully grow papayas, I need both the best quality seeds and the right climate.  Which isn’t unlike what it takes to grow high-performing teams.

High-performing teams need two elements

Continue reading

Virtual leadership requires that you shift from process to results

virtual leadershipJust a little over a month ago, most of us had no idea that working from home would become the new “normal”.  Yet the COVID-19 pandemic has created a world of work that, for many of us, has shifted to “remote”.  Which means that if you have staff, virtual leadership is now a necessary tool you need in your leadership toolkit.

Virtual leadership is not new, in fact, I’ve been blogging about it since 2013 (Leadership from afar – 4 keys to making it work)!  But compared to how it was before, the pandemic crisis has made working remotely the norm.  If you are in a leadership role, then the reality that you must face that is unless you take deliberate and thoughtful steps to give your virtual team a greater degree of support, the physical distance between you and your employees will make them feel increasingly isolated.  But it isn’t just about making sure your employees feel good about the long-distance relationship.  Leaders repeatedly tell me that there is one mental roadblock that they themselves have to overcome.  And it is the concept of process vs results.

In the office environment, you could visually assess processes and outcomes – how the work was done and what was accomplished.  But in a remote environment, you can only assess outcomes.  Continue reading

Look backwards to move forward – a leadership message from the Sankofa

sankofaDo you know what the Sankofa is?  I heard it referred to briefly at a recent conference I attended, and it stirred me to research it further.  Turns out the sankofa is a metaphorical bird, generally depicted with its feet facing forward and its head turned backwards, lifting an egg from its back.  It is of great symbolism to the Akan people of Ghana, as it expresses the importance of reaching back to knowledge gained in the past in order to make positive progress forward.  Look backwards to move forward – what a great message for leaders everywhere!

As leaders, we need to draw upon and learn from our failures in order to avoid making similar mistakes and missteps in the future.  And just as important is a willingness to learn from others, and to use their experiences as stepping stones to move forward and onward.

Are you being like the sankofa?

It has been my observation that most people are disposed to learn from their own mistakes; after all, it’s not often that we tend to apply exactly the same method that we know has failed us previously.  But regrettably, a lot more infrequent is a willingness to take what others have done and build upon it.  The reasons vary.  Sometimes it’s because we like the sense of victory and satisfaction that comes from taking a project or initiative from start to finish solo.  Other times it’s because we don’t respect or like those who might have relevant experience.  Either way, we choose to go it alone and start at the beginning.  Which is a pity!

Ironically, we would achieve greater success by building upon what is already there – past experiences, others knowledge, an awareness of ours and others strengths – to create a solid foundation upon which to build even more.  The Sankofa obviously knows this.  Even the ancient Aztecs understood the value of this approach.  Isn’t it time that we all did?

So, what have been your experiences?  Are you being like the Sankofa?  Are you observing or working with people who don’t get this important concept?  Please share your perspectives by commenting below.

Crisis leadership – who’s doing it well, and how

In times of crisis, leadership is tested. And how you behave in difficult circumstances is what will ultimately define you as a leader. The COVID-19 pandemic is a living case study of how to lead (or not) in the face of calamity. Examples of good (and bad) crisis leadership abound.

In my newest column for The Globe and Mail, published just this morning, I not only offer several examples of the good and the bad, but I also outline four specific actions and behaviours that constitute exceptional leadership in times of crisis.

What does it take to lead in times of crisis?

If you are a subscriber to The Globe and Mail, you can also access the column behind their paywall through this direct link: https://tgam.ca/34cwyxo

So I’d love to hear your opinions and experiences.  Do you have great (or lousy) examples of crisis leadership to share?  Please also tell us what action or behaviour is happening (or not) that makes your situation notable. Add your comment below. 

I write a regular monthly column for The Globe and Mail Report on Business, under the banner of Leadership Matters.  Here are links to some of the more recent ones:

 

Leadership lessons from a penguin

In the past, I’ve been inspired to blog about Leadership lessons from a mountain and Leadership lessons from a sea turtle, and many of you were motivated enough to add to these lists. Stirred by a visit to the Calgary Zoo, here is a list of what leadership lessons a penguin can offer.

PenguinsThe penguin is a bird that does not fly. With feathers and a beak, it looks like a bird. And in most behavioural aspects, it acts like a bird. Except of course in this one very significant characteristic … that it cannot fly. But what the penguin lacks in flight power it makes up in aquatic grace. In the study of bird evolution, paleontologists have determined that many eons ago, the ancient predecessor to today’s modern penguin could fly. But over millions of years, penguins’ wings evolved into fins as they adapted to marine life in the Antarctic Ocean. And if you’ve ever watched penguins swim, you know that they perform with as much elegance underwater as their avian relatives do in the sky.

Two leadership lessons from penguins

The successful existence of the penguin offers at least two apt metaphors for leaders. Continue reading

Are contra-indications reducing your workplace communication effectiveness?

As a leader, your workplace communication needs to be effective.  It isn’t enough to communicate well with your employees; it’s just as important to make sure that the message is received clearly.  And for that to happen, you need to consider “contra-indications” — both “timing” and “background noise”.  Let me explain.

workplace communicationRecently, my doctor prescribed a once-daily two-week course of a fairly strong antibiotic for a low-grade bacterial infection that has been troubling me for a while.  Since I take a few multivitamins and supplements every morning with breakfast, I simply added this capsule to the daily quota.  A few days later, I happened to mention to my best friend that the antibiotics weren’t having an impact as quickly as I’d hoped.  She asked for the name of the antibiotic and (since she works in medicine) she immediately looked up the drug in an online database on her phone.

Oh no!

“Did you know that minerals such as calcium and magnesium are contra-indications to this antibiotic?” she asked. Continue reading

Influential authority vs positional authority (and the chimpanzee Mike)

The topic of influential authority versus positional authority comes up often in my discussions with leaders.  Not long ago though, it came up in an unexpected context.

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Dr. Birute Galdikas, renowned primatologist and one of the world’s leading experts in orangutans.  Just as Jane Goodall did for chimpanzees and Dian Fossey did for mountain gorillas, Dr. Birute has devoted her life to learning about and protecting orangutans.  As a (not-so-secret) all-things natural science geek all my life, meeting and conversing with her was definitely a bucket list item for me!  When Dr. Birute learned that I run a leadership development consultancy, she started drawing parallels between primate behaviour and leadership, and shared several behavioural examples and stories.

Mike, the chimpanzee, and his rising status

influential authority

One story in particular stuck with me, likely because her telling of it was so funny.  She told me about Mike, a chimpanzee that had been observed by Dr. Jane Goodall for many years.  Mike was a young male in a troupe, and quite submissive to all the other males.  That is, until one day when he accidentally discovered how he could intimidate all the other chimpanzees.  He started batting a gasoline can around, and realized quickly that all the loud thuds and irritating banging noises made the other chimpanzees nervous and apprehensive of him.  With some practice, Mike was able to run down the narrow forest Continue reading

Five lessons learned as a first-time supervisor

At various points in your career, you’ve no doubt come across terrible managers or supervisors, perhaps even had the misfortune to report to one or two of them. But, as horrible as they were, maybe it wasn’t really their fault! Perhaps they started off as first-time supervisors not knowing what minefields to watch for. And then, when they made a few mistakes, because they didn’t know any better, they continued with the same lapses and blunders, and were just never able to pull out of the quicksand.

Years ago, when I got my first supervisory role, I had my fair share of missteps.  It wasn’t until later, when I starting working with clients in my leadership development consultancy, that I realized that all my early mistakes and stumbles were actually quite common for novice leaders. So, in my latest column for The Globe and Mail that published this morning, I’ve described the five most unexpected (yet common) lessons I learned as a first-time supervisor.

Five lessons learned as a first-time supervisor

Continue reading

A liquid metaphor about achieving goals

At this time of the year, there’s a lot of thought and conversation about setting and achieving goals, and as a result, I often blog on this topic, often finding metaphors in unusual places.  Like the time my unexpected encounter with a sea otter offered some insights.  Today’s musings … about drinking water.

It’s a lot easier to drink water when you have a glass

glasswater3Potable water … absolutely essential to survival, but unless it is contained – within a glass, a bowl, or even a cupped hand – almost impossible to drink.  Sure you could kneel and lap at a running stream just like other members of the animal kingdom, but it’s a lot easier if it is in a vessel of some sort.  Even animals appreciate drinking from an enclosed source such as a pond or a puddle.

If you are focusing on setting and achieving goals and targets for your professional and personal life, this liquid reality offers an apt metaphor.  Think of water as representing dreams and aspirations, the goals and objectives that you hope to accomplish over the next twelve months.  Just like a liquid takes less effort to drink when it is contained within a vessel, desired targets are easier to achieve when they are surrounded by a solid structure.  So what is this vessel that lets you move goals and aspirations from mere dreams to concrete reality?  The outer form of the vessel may differ from situation to situation, but it must always be constructed of three components – it must be specific, it must be measurable, and it must have a deadline.

Here is an example

Let’s say that one of your leadership objectives Continue reading