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Tag Archives: perspective in leadership

The leader as a facilitator – are you a lifeboat or a lighthouse?

As a manager, your job is to get things done.  But as a leader, your mission now becomes to get things done through other people.  And many times, what that really means is that you have to be a facilitator – someone who removes obstacles, levels the path, greases the wheels – who ensures that your people have the tools they need to achieve their results.  But even your involvement as a facilitator can vary.  Imagine a continuum where one end is a lifeboat, and the other is a lighthouse.

facilitatorIf you’re at the lifeboat end of the continuum, you might visualize yourself as someone who lets your employees sail on their own, navigating their own way from port to port, but you’re close by to step in if there is a crisis.  When things go wrong, you’re right there to rapidly swoop in to save the situation, and you’re gratefully lauded by those who were otherwise drowning.

facilitatorBut if you see yourself at the lighthouse end of the continuum, the image is different.  Now, you’re a beacon, a guiding light that shines brightly, illuminating the path for your people to get from harbour to harbour.  Your role is not so much to search and rescue, but rather to stand firm in the storm, offering hope and resilience to those trying to get to shore.  Sometimes it’s through advice, and sometimes it’s just by being a positive role model.

So which type of facilitator is better?

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What bungee cords are preventing you from moving forward?

moving forwardLast April, here on the blog I asked the question: What’s stopping you from moving forward?  And to answer it, I used the metaphor of paddling a kayak.  Today, I have another metaphor to address the same question.

Imagine a bungee cord

Imagine a bungee cord.  One end is attached to a fixed object and the other is hooked to the back of your belt.  As long as you stay close to the stationary end, the cord remains loose and there is no tension.  But as you walk away, the slack in the cord will begin to tighten and you’ll feel a pull on your back.  Continue to step away and you’ll find that eventually it will be a struggle to keep going. In fact, not only will the bungee cord hold you back from moving forward, but you will also be at serious risk of either losing your pants or getting smacked by a broken bungee.

All of us have bungee cords attached to us, links to the past that hold us back from moving forward.  And the more we try to get ahead, the more the stress and tension grows forcing us to stay where we are.  And often the fear of losing our pants or getting smacked by the broken bungee keeps us from continuing to try. Continue reading

A decision-making insight from eating peanuts!

peanutsIf you’re a leader, then you’re responsible for decision-making.  Which is why it we have a whole section on Problem Solving tools on the blog.  Today’s insight comes from peanuts in the shell – a concession staple at just about any baseball game!

So think about the last time you purchased a bag of these tasty treats.  As you shelled the peanuts, did you put the empty shells back in the same bag?  Chances are you didn’t, likely for a couple of reasons.  One, because it instinctively doesn’t make sense to put the waste in with the good peanuts, and two (and perhaps more importantly), every time you put the unwanted shells back in the bag, you reduce your chances of getting a good peanut the next time you reach in.

How does this apply to decision-making in the workplace?

There is a workplace equivalent to this scenario, having to do with decision-making.  As a leader, you are charged with making a variety of decisions, often requiring you to select the best choice from a number of possible options.  Using this metaphor, it makes sense to discard choices as you evaluate them as unsuitable.  Why put them back in the bag where they’ll just continue to muddle and reduce the efficacy of your decision-making?  But that’s exactly what we often do.  Continue reading

Leadership lessons from ants!

As regular readers of the blog know, I am continually inspired by the lessons in leadership that come to us from the animal kingdom.  In the past, I’ve written about bald eagles, sea otters, goldfish, and penguins, among many others.  Today’s leadership lessons come to us from ants!

Ants don’t admit defeat

Have you ever watched an ant carry what appears to be a gargantuan load?  Science indicates that ants can actually carry ten to fifteen times their body weight.  And they do – repeatedly – in order to provide for themselves and their nestmates.  Which got me thinking … if ants aren’t daunted by the sheer magnitude of what they sometimes have to carry, is there a lesson there for us as leaders?

In the workplace, we are often faced with what seem to be insurmountable obstacles in our leadership roles – looming deadlines, challenging employees, missed opportunities, apparently unattainable targets – which could, if we let them, cause us to give up and admit defeat.  Continue reading

The sorites paradox – a leadership dilemma

The sorites paradox: if individual grains of sand are removed one at a time from a hypothetical heap of sand, what is the point at which the heap can no longer be considered a heap?  At first glance, you may think that this is merely a philosophical question, but the metaphor has great applicability if you carry it into the workplace.  Consider this: if minor seemingly harmless problems or changes go unnoticed and do not individually attract attention, is there a possibility that eventually the sum total of these issues over time will result in a major setback?  And what if the significant outcome is one that, if it would have happened all at once, would have been regarded as negative, undesirable or objectionable?

In the workplace, the sorites paradox is often referred to by a variety of synonyms – creeping normality, the broken window theory, the boiling frog syndrome, and even death by a thousand cuts.  But no matter what you call the phenomenon, all versions lead to a Continue reading

Periods of vulnerability can present both threats and opportunities

vulnerabilityRecently I had a conversation with a scientist friend who told me how biologists use information about animal life cycles to accomplish diametrically opposite objectives – in some cases to purge populations, and in others to conserve them.  The secret: determining in which stage of its life cycle is the animal most vulnerable.  And it’s at these points of vulnerability that either the worst or the best is the easiest to accomplish.  It is when the animals are at greatest risk that it takes the least effort to destroy them, or conversely, to protect them.  He gave me two examples to illustrate his point.

The Bertha armyworm

The Bertha armyworm is a significant insect pest of canola in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and the interior of British Columbia.  Like many insects, it goes through a four stage life cycle – egg, larva, pupa and finally, the adult moth stage.  However, their vulnerability is greatest at the larval stage.  As eggs, they are not susceptible to pesticides; as pupae, they are buried in the ground and therefore well protected; as adults, they are widely dispersed and therefore difficult to control.  Because scientists know that the insect’s defences are the weakest when at the larval stage, substantial and successful control efforts are targeted at this point in the life cycle.  Continue reading

It’s time for the next customer service revolution

Customer satisfaction and customer service has been on my mind lately, primarily because I have experienced two situations first-hand recently in which two banks just didn’t get it!  Last November, I had an unfortunate interaction with ScotiaBank, and just earlier this month I blogged about how an employee at the Royal Bank couldn’t grasp the big picture.  Which got me musing about how customer service has changed significantly in just the last forty years, making it a moving target for those who aspire to exceptional levels.  When it came time to pen my regular column for The Globe and Mail, I guess it’s not very surprising then that I ended up writing about customer service. My column in this morning’s edition challenges you to envision three progressive possibilities that will ensure that your organization is at a significant competitive advantage.  You can read it here:

Artificial intelligence is the next revolution in customer service

customer service

 

Customer service has undergone at least two significant revolutions in the last forty years.  First with the invention of the 1-800 toll-free number, and then with the pervasive use of email.  Despite the significance of each of these two innovations, the underlying premise in customer service has always been to fix an issue identified by the buyer.  But it is 2018, so it is time to finally change that paradigm!  It’s time to fix the problem before your customer tells you about it.  The technology to power this transformation exists; it is called artificial intelligence, or AI.  And many companies have already harnessed its potential.

So, are you keeping up?  Or are you the company that makes your customers wait for hours on the phone for an issue to be resolved, or days for a response to an email query?  I would love to hear your perspectives on which organizations are ahead of the curve, and which are seriously far behind.  Please share your thoughts by commenting below.

What’s stopping you from moving forward?

As a leader, you no doubt have a multitude of issues to deal with – and what usually happens is that the crises get dealt with, but often everything else seems to drag on.  Thus, it’s useful to periodically ask yourself the question – what’s stopping you from moving forward?  Whether it’s streamlining an outdated work process, dealing with an ongoing interpersonal conflict, or getting that big project on your to-do list started, what is preventing you from moving forward?  I have a metaphoric perspective to offer.

Is your kayak moving forward?

moving forwardHere in the northern hemisphere, as the days get longer and the mercury begins to claw its way up out of the negative digits, collective minds turn to spring and upcoming warm-weather leisure activities.  I am no exception as I think longingly of my favourite watersport – kayaking.

Sitting low to the water at dawn, legs outstretched, the blades of my paddle slicing through the water like a knife through butter, moving almost silently across the vast expanse of the calm harbour, the stillness broken only by the rhythmic gentle sound of the oars and an occasional call of a seabird.  For me, the image evokes both serenity and triumph.  Serenity because kayaking gives me time to think.  And triumph because several miles of kayaking makes me feel like I’ve gotten a good workout.  But the picture-perfect scene quickly shatters …. when I realize that my kayak is still tied to the dock!

What is your workplace equivalent?

Sure, laugh if you must; I did too (well, much later) when it happened to me.  But I bring it up to make a very specific point.  Continue reading

What the earth sciences can teach us about creating a positive workplace culture

As regular readers of the blog know, I often discuss what it takes to create the right workplace culture.  A recent conversation with a manager at a client organization made me realize something that I (even though I instinctively know) have never fully articulated before – that the most powerful and positive workplace cultures are created over time.  Let me explain.

colcacanyonperuColca Canyon in southern Peru is one of the deepest in the world, and at a depth of 3,270 metres (10,730 ft), it is more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the United States.  Looking at it from above, you might think that this colossal fissure on the earth’s surface was created by an earthquake or other cataclysmic event.  It wasn’t.  The Colca Canyon was formed by thousands and thousands of years of erosion of volcanic rock along the line of a fault on the crust of the earth.  Unceasing erosion – water erosion from the Colca River that flows through the mountains of rock; and wind erosion carrying away the loose sediment exposing even more surface area to the elements – created the spectacular geological formation we see today.  The Colca Canyon wasn’t the result of sudden dramatic change, it is the outcome of thousands of small changes, over time.

Small changes, over time, produce significant results

Small changes, over time, can produce significant results; it’s a thought worth considering as a leader in your workplace.  Continue reading

Leadership lessons from the American bald eagle

leadership lessons from the bald eagleI am continually amazed by the insightful leadership lessons that can be learned from the animal kingdom; in the past I’ve written about sea otters, goldfish, long-nosed bats, Canada geese, and penguins.  Recently, I had the opportunity to have a close-up interaction with an American bald eagle at a bird rescue sanctuary (I took this photo on the right), and not surprisingly, there were leadership lessons to be had here as well.  Here are two interesting parallels between bald eagles and exceptional leaders.

The ability to stay high AND come down low

Eagles tend to spend most of their time in elevated locations.  When they are hunting, they soar high in the sky.  When they are resting, they look for the loftiest spot they can find in trees, craggy rocks, or even rooftops.  They can stay at higher altitudes because they have excellent vision.  Continue reading