Tag Archives: compass leadership

how to win the game by changing the rules

When Seattle based outdoor recreation retailer REI announced they were giving employees a paid day off, and closing their stores on Black Friday, my immediate reaction was how BOLD, and how BRILLIANT!!
Even before their #optoutside campaign went viral. Even before their decision whipped media outlets into a frenzy. Even before I had a chance to read even one of the many articles that were subsequently published analyzing the what’s and whys of REI’s decision to abandon one of the most profitable retail sales days of the year, I knew that REI was doing something I respect and value very much…
They were winning the game by changing the rules!
If winning in retail is determined solely by profitability, then the numbers aren’t yet in to determine whether REI will take an overall hit, or get a longer term financial bump by their decision to close. My guess is that it will be the latter, however, their decision was a win for the company in more ways than just the bottom line and here’s why.
In every competitive endeavour, there is an underlying basic assumption that you win by doing the same thing as your competitors, just better. In sports you run faster, jump higher, score more, and, in retail it has become about opening earlier, closing later, and charging less and less in order to compete.
Then, every once in a while, someone competes in a different way – they develop a new way to land the high jump, a new underwater kick, or new materials that allow equipment improvements which provide competitive advantage. In the most basic of terms, I respect REI’s decision to say, “Hey we’re not going to try to compete by doing the same thing as everyone else, just better. In fact, we’re going to compete by not competing at all!” Balls. Disruption. I like it!
Next year, other retailers might follow suit, or they won’t, but REI won this year by being the first major retailer to have the boldness to go against the competition, against conventional logic, and make a stir and a statement while they were at it. The decision worked for REI because it was perceived as authentic and not contrived. It was in keeping with their message and culture, a kind gesture towards its employees for sure, but also an effective reinforcement of their collaborative brand, and a way to grow both employee and customer loyalty, while getting some amazing positive press while they were at it.
I tip my hat to REI for their decision to close their doors on Black Friday this year, and challenge us all to seize more opportunities to make bold decisions in 2016!

leadership lessons from the military

What surprised me the most about this article by retired four-star General and former Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, General Ray Odierno, weren’t what the lessons themselves were, but how few of them he provided, and how, through this utter simplicity, he managed to hit the nail directly on the head.
I have to admit, I almost glossed over the piece, feeling as though the military analogy has almost been overdone in business and, perhaps, may be somewhat dated and exclusionary. I decided to read it anyway, and while what I was expecting was yet another “leadership list” of the top 10 qualities that make great leaders, I was pleasantly surprised to read a simple yet detailed description of a mere 3 qualities that are absolutely integral to great leadership, whether that leadership takes place in business or in war.
The first quality is Balanced Risk-Taking, the key to this being the word “balanced”. Both risk adversity as well as excessive risk-taking can equally result in failure and financial loss in business, and cost lives at war. Balanced risk-taking requires you to constantly assess and understand the current situation, continually developing ways to gather and use information to contribute to well-thought out, yet timely and efficient risk-taking and decision-making.
The second lesson offered is to take a Holistic View to Guide Bold Decisions. General Odierno addresses balance again, contrasting leaders who wait and require every single piece of data and information for making a decision that is now too late to be effective, to those who jump in with no due diligence, costing organizations time, money, and resources when they are wrong. Neither of these leaders can compare to those individuals who can effectively balance when they have just the right amount of information to allow a bold decision to be made. Sometimes, he says “when you make a decision is just as important, if not more than, the information available. Great leaders understand this dynamic”.
Finally, General Odierno emphasizes the importance of Fostering an Atmosphere of Trust. In his own words, he says that the “foundation of any organization is trust. Trust between peers, subordinates and your leaders. Establishing and communicating right and left limits. Empowering subordinates and decentralizing decision making within those limits. Treating everyone within the organization with dignity and respect. All of this contributes to an atmosphere of trust and pride”.

Whether or not you are interested in the military, or even opposed to the military, this is a great business article that really gets to the heart of what needs to be mastered in order to achieve great leadership.

read here

Top Navigate Publications

© Copyright 2014 CorbisCorporation
Somehow, it seems to be that time of year already … back to school and back to business!
While you are ramping up, and tweaking your plans for the remaining months of 2015, allow us to be that little voice that constantly reminds you to step back and take stock. To help you do this, we have selected our three most popular Navigate publications (as determined by our readers), and have provided the links below.
In these issues, you will find important themes such as maintaining perspective and objectivity, anticipating predictable hurdles and keeping pace with rapidly accelerating and unfamiliar changes. If you have read these before, you may want a quick refresher. If you have not had the chance, now might be just the time to shake up your thinking.
Our three top Navigates are:
The Predictable Passages of Organizational Transformation – February 2015 read here
The Devastating Cost of Bias in Leadership – November 2013 read here
Blind Spots, Bias & Bravado – A Toxic Combination – September 2011 read here

a few words on the passing of Satoru Iwata

2015.07.16_a few words on the passing of Satoru Iwata

Many of us come into this world with the luxury of choice. In a sense, we control our own destinies, or at least a good portion of us actively try to, by choosing our investments in education, the jobs we take, the places we live, the people we include (or exclude) from our lives, how we spend our time and resources. We consume and acquire each day, steered by the numerous personal and professional decisions we make.

One choice that alludes us, however – no matter how rich or famous we are, or how important we are to the world, or how much more we still have to offer – is how and when our life might end. Steve jobs could have told you this. And Satoru Iwata, CEO of Nintendo, who just passed away at 55 years old, could have told you this. Cancer doesn’t care if you are a CEO. It doesn’t care if you are 40 years too young to die, or even 80 for that matter. It doesn’t care if you are an innovator, a blue ocean thinker, a transformational leader, or a good human being, and by all accounts, Mr. Iwata was all of the above.

“There are CEOs who make a difference to the lives of the people – Satoru Iwata was one of the few who did” tweeted Min-Liang Tan, the CEO of Razer Inc. This sentiment is reflected and repeated in numerous articles, tweets, and commentaries that allude to Iwata’s legacy as being not only his contribution to the success of Nintendo, but also to his character as a leader, his humility and dedication, his sense of humour, and the connections he made with both customers and employees.

I’ve included just a handful of these messages below and, as you read them, I encourage you to take a moment to consider what your legacy as a leader might be? What might be written about your character, your commitment, or your connections to customers and employees? What changes might you want to make in order to be remembered as a truly great leader?

read here

you’re never too old for fairy tales

Castle, Spain --- Image by © Reed Kaestner/Corbis

Castle, Spain — Image by © Reed Kaestner/Corbis

INSEAD is a serious institution of higher education and I often enjoy the serious and scholarly articles they share through INSEAD Knowledge. So, it was quite unexpected to find an article on fairy tales by INSEAD professor Manfred Kets de Vries.
Kets de Vries has actually written a book entitled “Telling Fairy Tales in the Boardroom: How to Make Sure Your Organisation Lives Happily Ever After” in which he forewarns executives “of the dangers they will encounter on their various quests and the fundamental issues they will confront associated with the leadership mystique”. He presents these as the five “deadly dangers” and I have listed them very briefly below:

 First danger – lack of self-knowledge
 Second danger – hubris
 Third danger – a leader’s inability to get the best out of people
 Fourth danger – a leader’s inability to create well-functioning teams
 Fifth danger – the creation of an organisational gulag

Each one of these “dangers” is worthy of serious consideration, and together they form an absolutely excellent self-reflection checklist for all leaders. It might be well worth your while to get some juice and a cookie, and tuck into this story.

To check out the article click here

rethinking brainstorming

Business people drawing plan during meeting --- Image by © Blue Images/Corbis

Business people drawing plan during meeting — Image by © Blue Images/Corbis

As a paid facilitator, it might seem risky to openly admit to the pitfalls of group brainstorming. The reality is, however, that overused and improperly executed, brainstorming sessions can be a waste of time for everyone involved. Akin to their close cousin, the improperly focused or overly frequent staff meeting, where participants dread attendance and walk away feeling stripped of productive work time, group brainstorming sessions, which have long been lauded as a linchpin of the creative process, do have some real and well-documented drawbacks. These drawbacks are, unfortunately, too often ignored in order to protect the “feel good” communal nature of the process of collaboration and working together.

In a post a few weeks ago, I mentioned Susan Cain and the TED Talk in which she spoke about creativity and independent thought. The following HBR article furthers her points, making the argument that group brainstorming has been adopted as the gold standard for creativity, with no real empirical evidence to support it, and plenty of evidence highlighting its drawbacks. Social loafing, social anxiety, regression to the mean, and production blocking, are the four main explanations provided in this article for why brainstorming isn’t always the best approach, all of the time.

So, is the message that we should stop all brainstorming, suspend all meetings, and remain isolated in our offices from 9 to 5 producing independent work? Not at all. But, being aware of the potential drawbacks of group brainstorming, as well as having an understanding of the value of independent creativity and thought, can only help to ensure that the collaboration we do engage in is effective, rather than counterproductive, for both our organizations and our teams.

read the full article here

why culture and leadership matter for disruptive innovation

Global Communications

I came across a short, but very interesting article on smartblogs.com entitled “Why culture and leadership matter for disruptive innovation”, written by James daSilva. It begins with some slightly radical, but excellent advice – daSilva suggests you should bring in “troublemakers and tinkerers”.


When talking to leaders about transformational change in their organizations, or any movement in new directions for that matter, I tell them they have to get comfortable with the concept of creative tension. I encourage them to seek out and embrace people with starkly different views, the deviants as it were, and really fan the sparks of new and creative thinking.

It all reminds me of a book I enjoyed years ago entitled “The Corporate Fool”. The author, David Firth, tells you up front that “one of the premises of this book is that sanity is tremendously limiting”. He proposes that the Fool is the perfect role model for the paradoxical and crazy thinking that is needed, and for being the person who is not afraid to speak up. Might this be the troublemaker or the tinkerer or even the deviant by another name?

click here to check out the blog

the power of positive leadership

2015.04.15_the power of positive leadership

My grandson Spencer is the student council vice-president for his primary/middle school in downtown Toronto. At 12 years old he seems well on his way to running the world, or at least a mere Fortune 500 company, and it is very gratifying to watch him thrive in a leadership role.

One of the student council’s current initiatives is to redevelop the school’s Behavioural Code of Conduct. The current Code is written using negatively based language (i.e. everything students shouldn’t be doing), and student council representatives are working alongside the Vice-Principal to re-word the school’s Behavioural Code into positive descriptors. In other words, describing what someone adhering to the Code of Conduct is doing right, rather than what those who are violating the Code of Conduct are doing wrong.

Interestingly, the process and final product are not all that different from the Competency Models we develop with clients in the “real world” of business all the time. Which begs the question … If a group of 12 and 13 year olds understand the motivational importance of using positive language to help guide behaviour, then shouldn’t all organizations and managers be capable of the same?
Some food for thought the next time you are in a position of providing feedback to your employees or team.

the authenticity paradox


Imagine speaking to a room full of aspiring business leaders. You ask “who of you wish to be an authentic leader”? Of course, you picture hands raising as very few of us wish to be perceived as disingenuous or insincere, in either our business or personal lives. In a time where authenticity has become a gold standard for leadership, however, it is important to understand the inherent paradox, a tipping point at which too much authenticity, or rather a too limited definition and understanding of what is required in order to be an authentic leader, can hinder both your credibility, as well as your organizational impact and leadership success.

So, when exactly does rigid adherence to the pursuit of authenticity turn into a stumbling block to successful leadership?

First and foremost, true leadership almost always requires us to step out of our comfort zone, take risks, and challenge ourselves and others around us to grow, adapt, improve and change. As a leader, you may regularly be forced to choose between the self you are today, and how you are comfortable doing things, and the self you could be tomorrow, stretching, growing, and leading yourself, your team, or your organization down a new and more successful path. Choosing to remain true to your current self may feel more authentic in the short-term, but growing and changing are integral aspects of leadership. Understanding that growing and changing do not compromise your authenticity is crucial. Personal growth needs to be appreciated as key component of authenticity.

Successful leadership also requires us to inspire others and generate confidence in those who work around us. Blanket self-disclosure and transparency of your every thought, feeling, and insecurity may feel like a very authentic way of leading, but too much disclosure of uncertainty can undermine your team’s confidence in you as a leader. There are few certainties in life, and, as a leader, it is your job to regularly weigh information in order to determine a course of action and then confidently lead others through it, while remaining open to necessary changes as circumstances require. Telling your employees they are an integral component of the team’s success may be both positive and authentic, however, telling a new team that you’re depending on them because you have no idea what you are doing is going too far.

Finally, selling yourself, your visions, and your ideas are another integral component to leadership success. The act of doing this, however, can feel forced and unauthentic to some people, so much so that they avoid doing so at all costs, hoping their work will speak for itself and have the impact they wish it to. This is a naïve and ineffective ideal that can impede leadership and team success. As leaders, we need to understand and accept that the promotion of our ideas, and the act of influencing others, are not selfish pursuits, but ways to create collective team and organizational successes.

For more interesting insight into The Authenticity Paradox read the full HBR article below:

read here

The Folly of Conflict Avoidance

Conflict avoidance and superficial congeniality (to quote Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric) is an odd and twisted form of logic. It might have worked well enough when our competitors were half asleep, the economy was booming and higher rates of inflation conveniently covered the cost of some of our business sins, but it is not good practice when the stakes are as high as there are now. This is when it really matters, when the going gets tough and the game gets ugly.